Reflections on Apollon Karnieos and the Karneia

Often it is explained by historians that myths of gods that speak of their interactions with other beings bearing the epithet of the god for their name that it is a demonstration of that god absorbing the cult of a local god, setting that epithet apart from functioning epithets that lack such mythic interactions. This especially seems to be something particulary common for scholars when speaking of Apollon. Too many of them are quick to assume that this is the case with Apollon Karneios, but I find that highly improbable.

I have stated before in my post on Polythousia and Thargelia that there are two distinct cycles involved in the cult of Apollon in Hellas. One attached to grain production and agricultural activity, and the other, shared primarily by Doric states, attached to herding activity and vineyards. The latter is likely the premise of calling Apollon Bacchic in Orphic literature, as it is part of the close relationship between Apollon and Dionysos that is especially notable at Delphi.

When it comes to Apollon Karneios there is no doubt that Karneios is a cultural epithet of Apollon that places emphasis on this latter mythic cycle. Myth says he was given this name because he, with the aide of Leto, fostered his abandoned infant brother Karneios. Now it is generally agreed that karneios comes from karne, heart. It seems highly probable that Apollon, a patron of the Doric race, was connected as being a deliverer of paternal love and affection, largely from Zeus, the father of the Doric race. It is for this reason that Apollon was looked up to as a perserver and guide. We find this not only in the comemoration of fallen warriors in Apollon’s Spartan festivals, but also within the Karneia itself where Apollon Karneios’ icon is worshipped in s boat ladden with flowers in honor of him bringing the Doric race back to Hellas.

Pausanias tells us that this form of Apollon is one that is common to the whole of the Doric race. He mentions icons temples and altars for the god from Messenia to Sparta to Argos where a great temple stood to Apollon Karneios. In Messenia he is the herding god in whose horse pasture Poseidon mated with Demeter in the form of horses. He is the goat horned shepherd, likely for the reason that the Doric people used gosts for leading sheep herds. In his temple in Argos we find him not only bearing the emblem of shepherding, the herders staff, but also the emblem if the dry months of fruition, for which the Arkadians considered him one if the original two seasons, the pinecone whose opening represents the conclusion of the dry months and necessity of bringing in the vineyard harvest before the onslaught of the winter rains.

The August Karneia was the most sacred month for the Spartans, so much so that they would not participate in any acts of war for the nine day festival, and even brought troops home for it. Culminating on the fullmoon, this festival celebrates Apollon, the leader of the Dorics; as well as the first green harvest of young grapes used for making rich dessert wines even today, and the matured beasts from the spring kids from which the best was reared specifically to be sacrificed to Apollon Karneios among shepherds. The outrunning of the winter rains in autumn is likely best demonstrated by the footrace in which competitors would grasp grapes as they ran, in addition to the implications of spiritual wealth, sustinance and divinity represented by Dionysos who gives vitality to the grapes. A vase from a Spartan colony reminds us of this as we see Apollon Karneios on one side with avtivity of Karneia before his enshrined image, and Dionysos reclined on the reverse side. It is likely that Dionysos is honored prior to the races along with Apollon.

Celebrating Karneia in Alaska means a slight shifting of focus. I can and do honor Apollon as the provider and guide as he was for the Dorics. Although we do have reindeer herders up here I am not one nor do I really eat reindeer as it is pricey. Grapes as special hybrids do grow up here tho. For Alaskans August truly is the last bit of truly fair weather and by the end of the month the cold autumnal winds are blowing in. It is the end of the growing season… and this far north it also, unlike in warmer climates, is the grain harvest along with the opening of hunting season and butchering of the spring calves. Celebrating the Karneia is celebrating the gifts of his season before it concludes on the autumn equinox.

Delving into Leto

It struck me, as once again I was told that my depictions of Leto tend to look hard in demeanor. I was instantly insulted. “Look here,” I said, “this is the goddess of motherhood and all mothers. She does not look mean!” He says ” Yeah she does, and mothers are mean.”

This really made me think. Why on earth did I have this assumption that she would be some kind of sweet dainty lady. Especially given that my art always depicts her quite in opposite. When you think of it we really do not know how the ancient worshipers saw her. She has been mostly lauded in terms that just demonstrate her role as mother of Apollon and Artemis rather than of her personality. This is rather strange that such a popular goddess has so little said of her nature directly. There is a tendency therefore to latch onto descriptions of Leto as mild, kindly, and fair of appearance…. yet when you think of it, even as she posseses these vague qualities , myth has demonstrated her as being a harsh unmoving goddess at times with iron will.

This is the goddess who stubbornly trekked over the earth heavy with child. This is the goddess who when her children were threatened in the face of lack of necessities in Lycia turned an entire village into frogs. This is a goddess who interceded between father and son that Zeus not throw Apollon into the depths of Tartaros. This is a goddess who in the hymn to Apollon stood by the side of Zeus, unflinching in the face of ire from Hera. This is the goddess that though her opponent Hermes refused to fight took an active part in the warring in the Iliad. A goddess who delights in the hunt with her daughter. She punishes and takes back her gifts of plenty… think of Niobe.

This is not a soft coddling goddess. She is the creative breath of the earth, light producing when mingling with aether. She possesses the soft nurturing and hard unyeilding characteristics of a mother. She is as the lioness.

Priestesses and Motherhood

Let’s face it, what we think of and expect when we think of a priestess is vastly colored by the cultural impacts of the classical world. We are barraged by imagery of young maidens adorned in ritual robes isolated from the rest of the world in lofty temples in serenity or dancing in wild abandon. These are the kind of images that we have in classical representations that have carried through into neo classical and contemporary art. It is simply what we expect, especially for those following in worship of ancient gods of the classical world. For we also possess the knowledge that the priestess positions to be had were typically filled by maidens or elderly women past their sexual peak
and childbearing years. This adds to the expectation that priestesses should not be encumbered with families of their own. Simply because it goes against this vision that seems to be so cherished.

Of course, let us speak plainly and note that this had never been an expectation for men. Men were expected to marry and provide heirs. We see examples of priests with children frequently, and perhaps most notably through Calchas in the Iliad whose daughter was taken from him by the Achaeans and refused the rights of ransom for her return. More historically we know that the priests at Eleusis was a hereditary priesthood. So what is the difference? It is but a matter of culture. In the classical world it was expected that women stayed home and tended to the running of the household, and anyone who has had to do this without modern conveniences knows that this will occupy that person’s day before sunrise until sunset. Even the chore of maintaining the hearth pretty much guarantees that they are not going to be able to go very far from the house. Therefore women were by lot housebound the majority of the time, except for certain festivals, whereas the men had the freedom to have a life among his peers that would allow him to have a priestly occupation, trade, teach etc. Such freedoms were usually enjoyed to some extant by unattached maidens who often performed religious service for goddesses and gods of the state until they were of marriageable age. The laments of one mother in a play (the exact play escapes me) of her unmarried daughter who will be possessing no other choice but to serve Apollon if she didn’t find a husband soon illustrates this. It was fine and good thing to be such when young but as an adult women were expected to marry and be without such options.

Marriage is fortunately less of an issue in the modern era among worshippers, but still you might be surprised by how many priestesses are unmarried, though it seems a bit more common to have a domestic partner which may or may not include a romantic relationship. However it is not fussed over to any great degree if a woman is married, or so it seems. There are a number of married priestesses, though likely still in the minority. A lot of this is due to modern technology that makes running a household much smoother, especially for a household containing only adult members. The stigma seems to rest still with having children, even though this was not historically seen as the primary barrier anciently. Children were typically a part of marriage, so it was unlikely to see priestesses possessing them. However I would like to note that the Pythia did not get dismissed for raising Ion as her son. The stigma then us a modern one in which it has become the norm for religious leaders and clergy in the polytheistic community to be childfree.

The result is that priestesses who are mothers feel like they are being dismissed as being less of a leader and priestess because they have familial obligations. For any priestess to be told more or less to tend her children and leave leadership and priestly duties to others is a slap in the face.

It is not easy being a priestess and a mother any more than it would be to be a priest and a father. We have to make sacrifices in order to be able to serve our gods. We have to tighten an already strained budget to provide necessary supplies for worship, not to mention festivals that we cannot afford to make as lavish as we want. This includes sacrifice of sleep for rituals and Work after the kids are in bed, or catching up on communication with other priests and worshipers. To work on writing projects or any other projects we consider necessary Work for our gods. Those who serve are called to do so, and we work hard to follow our calling and be good loving parents. Nevermind that most worshippers don’t even want our children around. How many times has there been discussion of public events and organizers want it to be childfree. Ironically these children of priests and priestesses are growing up in households if such intense religious devotion and worship that there is a good chance of them becoming such themselves.

Modern technology gives a lot of aid to mothers being able to contribute on large scale as priestesses. We ought not to be considered less if a priestess or religious leader for being a mother.

Fiberwytch Supermoon Giveaway!


I have a cord from this wonderful artist on my shrine, I highly recommend her work to add a bit of something special :)

Originally posted on Wytch of the North:

10513253_804057949615653_5151456604081396988_nTo celebrate this year’s incredible THREE supermoons (tonight, in August, and in September) I’m having my first-ever Fiberwytch Giveaway! The prize? A custom-designed ritual cord, made from luscious, soft local wool, hand dyed by me and carded with gorgeous locks, silk, bamboo, and lots of sparkle, then spun with intent by hand, soaked with herbs and essential oils, adorned with hand-selected charms, and charged and consecrated with the energies of your choice.

Before I begin working on your cord, you will tell me who or what to dedicate it to (god, goddess, festival, magical purpose, celestial body–whatever!), you pick the colors, the herbs and essential oils for finishing the cord, and up to 2-3 charms to adorn it with, and I spin it for you, absolutely FREE! (My cords normally sell for approx. $25-60.  You can take a look at some of them here and here.)

You can use my…

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Polythusia and the Theban Birth of Apollon

Pausanias tells us that the Thebans believed that Apollon was born in the precinct of Thebes on a small island created by the flow of two rivers, the Olive and the Palm, between which it rested. He went on to say that Delphi held this date, and that the Spartans agreed with it. Unlike the Ionian Thargelia at Delos which celebrated the birth of Apollon at the beginning of the season of ripening grain, the Theban birth occured in what would have been the equivalent of the Athenian month Anthesterion, the Delphic month Bysios.

We are told by Plutarch that of that month it was originally only the one day in the whole year that the oracle was open, on the seventh day of Bysios, but to further honor the birth of Apollon the temple eventually opened monthly. This shows evidence supporting the Theban birth of Apollon being recognized at Delphi and makes chronological sense better than my original figuring of several months of journeying from Delos and Bysios being his arrival at Delphi. It never sat well with me though because the time frame was too long between Thargelion and Anthesterion, and the battle of Apollon with Delphyne during the Septeria, which supposedly occured immediately, would have been a whole month of seperation, not to mention significantly disagreeing with Plutarch. So what is the significance going on here?

The main difference between the births of Apollon is the focus on crop type. The Thargelia focuses on the birth of Apollon attached to the arrival of grain crops. His birth celebrates the first green grains of wheat. This touches on the concept of Apollon as the bringer of the golden grains, the gifts of Hyperborea as celebrated in Delos. Therefore in Delos and other Ionian city states, including Athens, celebrating the birth of Apollon in conjunction of such gifts would make sense. Elsewhere, however, Apollon was honored more in association with herds than grains. As suc his birth during the lambing season during the month of Anthesterion made considerable sense, that the god of herds would arrive with lambs. This would follow with Plutarch associating the Delphic festival Polythusia, as it originally was the only day of oracles, with the birth of the oracular god, as well as falling within the Delphic festivals of Septeria and the return of Apollon from his year long exile in the month Theoxenia, which would happen to line up with the Delian return from Hyperborea/Lycian Patara (mythological/real worship). Hypborea was not originally part of the Delphic exile myth from what I can tell, where Apollon departed in exile seeking purification. Hyperborea enters via the Old Man of Lycia (honored at Delos particularly for the Ionian cycles) arriving at Delphi with two Hyperborean youths (who are part of a later Delian cycle arriving from Hyperborea to Delos, to avenge the death of the maidens who accompanied Apollon’s first return from Hyperborea) to build Apollon’s first temple. Recalling that Delphi was caught in the middle between Ionian Athens and Doric Sparta, we can see here an example of how Delphi mingled in Ionian myth with its native cycle that was more agreeable to the Spartans.

Given the symbolisms of these births I appreciate and honor both as his birthdays with slightly different foci as shown above. I honor both Thargelia and Polythusia to celebrate his birth in accordance to these different symbolic mythic cycles.

Worship, Devotion and Prayer

There is no absolutes when it comes to fluid nature of one’s personal relationship with the gods. How one person interacts with one god may often be not only significantly different from the way they interact with another god, but may also differ from situation to situation with that same god. I find that is especially true for anyone who devotes themself to particular deity. 

As a priestess of Apollon I can say that there is no one way I approach him. I do give him teverence in the traditional Hellenic fashion of ritual once or twice a day as a matter of respect. Not only respect to him but respect towards the culture that he manifests through. It also helps that Hellenic ritual is not horribly complicated either! I have done full Relugio worship with the appropriate gestures etc and find Hellenic ritual to be of a very simple format. So much so that after a few times the steps become automatic and fluid. It actually takes more effort for me to recall the order to write them down than it does just do them.

As a priestess I find it appropriate to at least once a day perform a ritual at his shrine, however I do think that the most important points for doubg ritual , if for whatever reason I had decided not to do daily rituals, would be to make the effort to honor him in ritual during festivals of importance by formal ritual, because of the sacredness of the occassion. Being versed in formal ritual is also important if leading public worship. Unlike more intimate ways a devotee or priestess may have of communicating with their deity, for the purpose of doing worship inclusive of others who may not have an intimate relationship with him. It is for this reason I feel it should be, if for no other reason, for me to be sufficiently versed on correct Hellenic, and Roman for they honored him too, rituals. This can be well illustrated by Homer in which Calchus, priest of Apollon needed not any ritual to call upon his god, and yet when th Achaeans remedied the situation he assisted them with giving ritual to Apollon to turn aside his wrath. It seems implied here that full ritual is not necessary for all forms of worship but is necessary on a whole.

And outside of Apollon, for those gods I do not have a personal relationship with, I find it necessary on behalf of myself and my oikos to give prayer and worship for the purpose of kharis through appropriate ritual.

With Apollon, and a couple other gods that are more intimately involved in my life, such as Poseidon, Artemis and Aphrodite,, it is not unusual for me to break out into praise and prayer. To play, laugh and express myself. From Apollon he may communicate at one moment through a poetic verse, the next by the humm of a honeybee or raven’s song, and the next again by the moan of rocks on a mountain or crashing waves, and the play of flames or light through the leaves of a tree. And the ways I express my devotion manifold from planting flowers for him, singing, dancing, painting, sculpting, to writing of him. It is not necessarly my worship of him but it is a vital part of my relationship with him as his priestess.

in short the way prayer and worship manifests is by its nature varying with many factors involved.