The Next Evolution of My Shrine

Due largely to constructional issues (as in my toddler interfering with the construction of the bookshelf that served as my previous shrine space for my fire service to Apollon, Artemis and Dionysos) it was forced into an early, and ultimately more satisfactory, evolution. In fact, it allowed me to place things in a foci to Apollon while giving appropriate equal space to each of the deities present without infringement. I plan on having eventually a representation of Pan between Apollon and Dionysos even as Leto is as of yet minor presence between Apollon and Artemis. Hestia meanwhile takes her place at the small altar before the shrine representing the duties and services of fire tending. Eventually I will need to get many more oil lamps to appropriately observe as I felt directed in this path of my worship.

In some ways it is hard to let go of previous incarnation of shrines, as each had something beautiful to lend. Yet everything is change, and even the environment of the worship is able and likely to evolve especially when unhindered to do so when one’s worship is linked to their ever changing and evolving relationship with the gods more so than rote attachment to tradition. Interesting this latest incarnation of the shrine once again faces the doorway, even though I have a small place of worship beside the door themselves. That these gods ever observe all those who enter and depart the house.




Value in a Sacred Box

In my house Apollon has a lovely box from a craft store decorated with Irises. This is not a new thing for me at all as in my youth Artemis had one as well, except hers was wooden and decorated with wood burned symbols. In my youth, at some point I had decided that a devotional sacred box was a good thing as it was a place to keep the most sacred things gifted to the deity or pertaining to your (and your household’s) relationship with the deity as a prominent deity in one’s life and household. Sadly my box for Artemis was one of many things lost to Katrina and contained many things crammed inside lost forever that were given and sacrificed to the goddess. The first clippings of my eldest daughter’s hair, the shorn length of my own hair when I got married and again when I got divorced, jewelry and stones, small trinkets and charms.  In many ways it is like the time capsule of love and adoration.  Apollon’s own box prominently has within it the cord woven by my friend Beth for my special ceremony a few years ago.  Apollon also has a smaller trinket box from Greece that bears his likeness that was itself a gift in which I keep a small shell from the island I was born, a few special gemstones and tiny tokens most of which are in there because they particularly address his domain rather than specifically my relationship to him (other than the shell that is).

Sometimes I imagine and think that perhaps at some point the humble box will be upgraded (and other prominent gods in my household are due theirs as well) to small beautiful chests in which my children, grandchildren and further descendants can perhaps add to them. Of course it is possible and likely that this will not happen, but I still dream of the possibility, of hope chests of adoration and familial connection to the gods of the household. A tangible link of energies and memories if you will.

Leto Between Worlds

I find Leto absolutely fascinating, and not jut because she is the mother of the divine twins Apollon and Artemis, but rather her power and honor despite what appears in this age to be utter mythic obscurity. In reality I making this post in continuation of my thoughts in my earlier post here. Yet we have really very little in literature regarding Leto. She makes an appearance in the Iliad in the company of Artemis, in all appearance attending to her daughter. Her myth of her pursuit and union with Zeus is a footnote (some says was impregnated as a wolf, some say as a quail. Really what she is known for is bearing her children and her labors therein in which she travailed for 12 days and nights in searching for the place where she could bear her young in her own Herculean journey. Some says she made this journey from the far region of Hyperborea to Hellas., with Athena in her company according to some sources, helper in quests. Another well known myth is her transformation of the Lycian villagers into frogs when they offender her by not permitting her access to their spring.

Yet aside from these myths, not much is apparently known about the goddess, other than that she was highly honored and enjoyed an esteemed repute among women particularly. Yet there is some fragments of evidence that can suggest what her larger nature was, one that was certainly complimented and linked to her offspring, but possessing its own great power which I touched a bit on in my previous post. Certainly her syncretism in Ionia with a local Anatolian goddess Eni Mahanahi, a local name for Annis Massanassis (who is identified with Kybele) indicates that Leto may have been considered as bearing much of the same character and power of this local deity, which provides us with an interesting insight on how Hellenes viewed Leto overall. That she was depicted veiled and seated on a wooden throne at Delos, as well as possessing her own sanctuary there as she did in Lycia makes clear that she was more than just honored by convenience as mother of Apollon and Artemis. The speculated honeycomb décor of her temple at Delos may allude to Leto being of such high quality as a queen bee dwelling hidden in the depths of the cavernous beehive. As Leto was believed to come from Hyperborea, and has two major temples between Delos and Lycia were by Delian tradition Apollon traveled between, it could almost be considered that Apollon himself is traveling among the houses of is mother.This may be especially important when considering more otherworldly character that his travel takes during the winter. Even at Delphi Leto has a presence, even if in the temple of her son rather than her own temple, but may bear mythic link to the region via her parentage by Koios (the axis of the heavens) and Pheobe who according to some Delphic traditions inherited the axis of the earth, Delphi, from Themis which I discussed in the above linked previous blog post.

Given the plausible link of Leto with certain fresh water dragon cults, and her own syncretism with the Egyptian Wadjet (again see previous article where I discuss all of this) we see a clearer character of Leto as a goddess who dwells between worlds, who herself is a state ever becoming and renewing. Unlike Wadjet, who is fiery and light emanating, Leto does this in a more subtle fashion. The dark hidden goddess, emits her light through her continuous generative nature. She is by her fashion the eternal mother, blessing wombs of women with life, as her womb issues life and light. When people talking of Apollon and Artemis as Lycian as in terms of being born in light, I do not think that this is to be taken literally as in a designated place of light, but that they issued from their mother’s womb in an array of light. As such in can be considered that the light that they bear originates and comes from within their mother and is her eternal manifesting light. As such Leto appears to designate as a power generating goddess from which light eternally springs even as Leto is said to take on the character of being pregnant leading up to the birthday of the twins at Delos. This would certainly make sense given her underworld cult connections, and any loose associations she may have with Rhea, Demeter or Persephone as life manifesting from the within the recesses of the earth.

She is thus is the shrew goddess and the serpent goddess who dwells within the cavernous earth as they are observed slipping within their dens. Or the wolf who likewise den within the ground. Even the frog which is associated with her in its travels between the seen and unseen worlds as it slips within the water and nurselike tends to the reeds of Apollon rooted in the underworld. Even the imagery of the beehive is fitting as bees naturally make their nests hidden away whether inside a tree or hole, or even as a round nest like a stone. Even apiaries resemble hills. Naught is really seen of life except the bees issuing from out of it and returning to it, the divine nectar, the honey, is hidden deep within as the queen is. I would imagine that the quail and rooster who cries with the transition of night and day is perhaps a later association that developed as Apollon and Artemis became equated with the light of the sun and moon specifically. Even these tie in well with the essence of the becoming and manifestation of being as comparable with night rather than the underworld specifically. Although her contest within the text of the Iliad in pairing against Hermes further supports the earlier underworld characteristic that was the prevalent. Her association with springs and rivers such as with the river Peneus and the river Xanthus certainly carries this further as rivers are often linked with travel between worlds even as the sea and any other body of water tends to be. Water is by it natural liminal.

In this manner we can understand Leto further as a manifesting, tending, and life giving divine being, that which is life giving and nurturing, yet of fierce temper, aggression, and unpredictability. She is overall queenly and primal, goddess of the golden spindle like her daughter. She is the cavern from which the winds of life and transformation emit.

Syncretism as a Tool

In my foray with syncretism I have discovered that syncretism, while it fits nicely into one’s philosophy and general understanding of a deity, it is otherwise rather difficult and unwieldy as a construct of worship. I discovered that in my attempt for a syncretic worship of Apollon and Siva into a singular Siv-apollon that while it fit neatly in my spiritual understandings and spiritual outlook that it was frankly a pain in the ass to make a cultural merger without sacrificing beautiful things about each one’s ethnic worship. Some may say that such sacrifices are worthwhile and necessary, and that they did in fact happen in areas where such syncretism did occur. My observation is that in such areas though it was as an entirely new birth of a being that was called by one way or another depending on the people talking abut the syncretic deity. For instance, an image of Siva or Apollon in accordance with my syncretic view I could talk about using either name depending on what cultural standpoint I am representing or audience I am speaking to, but I usually only refer to the deity as one or the other even with the same image and cultural cult. Here I saw the true value of syncretism, not as something to particularly change my worship into a thing which completely and adequately  addresses singularly both cultural forms of the deity, but rather a manner of deepening my understanding of the deity in the ways that one culture may expresses more thoroughly than another culture, or further elaborate upon, specific traits of a given deity. My worship otherwise remains separate. The small naga image that I got to represent Leto I call Leto, even though recognizing is cultural original and form of the image. The small image of Annapurna is present is called Artemis as a nurturing goddess even as recognizing the syncretic tie between Artemis and Parvati of whom Annapurna is a specific form. Even the dancing Nataraja figure is quite meaningful to me as a representation of Apollon is very specific ways in association with his cult that I have discussed in a previous post.

I think that this very pertinent to how ancient cultures identified their deities as manifesting in other cultures and pantheons. A person for instance who recognized a goddess in a foreign land and called her Artemis would continue to call her Artemis, and locals and other foreigners in cases of prominent internationally celebrated cults in communication with Greeks would likewise call her Artemis to express the deity as the Greeks saw her, and even make inscriptions side by with their own names and titles addressing her as this same deity in instances of conjoined communities. This did not change the fundamental native cult, which due to similarities of cult and syncretic understanding of the deity would still be seen as a cult of Artemis. Thus it could be said that one a level, as a syncretic deity that something new was formed from the merger of the two identities but wholly recognized in cult and worship as one or the other at a given time in practical worship and address.

As such we know that the Greek created too certain mythic relationships in their syncretic view of the gods that had nothing to do with the native cult and was a way of further explaining the Hellenic cult. This was particularly useful when discussing the mysteries for instance. It is of no wonder that the Hellenes who saw their Demeter as bearing the same nature as Aset whom they called Isis most probably due to the fertility and grain/plant bearing quality of the earth, and Apollon bearing a similar nature of Heru, or Horus whom the Hellenes already recognized as poetically associated with the falcon, and even the nurturing fierce feline quality of Bast that would have aligned with some of their ideas of Artemis. None of these are perfect syncretism as anyone could provide a list as to why not. A big one on it being that these were not considered twins of Isis as explained by Greeks. Yet this corruption of myth in syncretism was favored to explain a Hellenic mystery in which Apollon and Artemis were regarded as children of Demeter, and Leto’s identification with Wadjet as their nurse explained how the Hellenes saw their gods in more mystical sense in a way that is hinted at but they don’t really want to spell out, especially regarding the exotic mystic nature for which Egyptian religion was regarded.

As such the syncretism of Demeter with Isis tells us a lot….not particularly about Isis coming from a Greek perspective,  but rather about how the Demeter was regarded. Cross cultural comparison is a very useful tool in order to get a more adequate expression for the strongest yet subtle characteristics of the gods. Demeter doesn’t seem to get much mythic attention outside of the mythic cycle regarding the rape of Persephone, yet her association with Isis richly spells out the kind of strength and power and qualities of Demeter in her cult and worship more than Hellenic myth does by itself. Same for Leto, whom with her association with Isis and fragments of her known cult in different parts of the Hellenic world we see a very vital and essentially nurturing chthonic goddess. Apollon’s swift and lethal militaristic nature is played up in his association with Horus, as well as his later dominant solar cult, in addition to the prominence of his healing nature. Artemis’s nurturing side is emphasized with Bast in which in representation of a cat rather than a lion more commonly associated with the cult of Artemis can well illustrate the constructive and benevolent feline nature that aids humans. This unifies her huntress and nurse qualities in a way we do not otherwise see directly. This of course just a very brief and incomplete example to illustrate my point here.

As such even if syncretism is not a spelled out thing in one’s worship in every address and actual oof wrship, as a tool it can potentially serve a very fulfilling and vital purpose for those who recognize deities cross culturally but prefer not to mix worship.  As such I see syncretism as a tool for worship rather than a manner of worship in and of itself. A valuable tool all the same. As a tool it is most useful as a way as used by the ancients…as a way to express the deity in a way that is not the most common or popularity. This is particularly useful when dealing with icons that more adequately express certain characteristics of emphasis that is in common in surviving imagery, even as it is useful for building as philosophic-spiritual concepts regarding the gods, and other aesthetics of worship.

Hephaistos and Ares

A little blurp I started on twitter has the rocks really rolling around in my head….just how close is the relationship between Hephaistos and Ares? I started with the remark that Hephaistos in Argos was called the Warrior Zeus according to Pausanias which suggest that Hephaistos was recognized as attached to the warrior nature of Zeus (much like we see Dionysos connected to the genitive functions of Zeus, or Athena to the nous/mind of Zeus).. Yet this seems odd considering that it is commonly held that Hephaistos was conceived by Hera alone in result of Zeus birthing Athena on his own (although Hephaistos is still held to be a son of Zeus in other traditions), so it seems odd that he would have this title onto himself when the recognized child of Zeus and Hera as war god is Ares. That made me start to wonder if there is some kind of mystery in the relationship between Hephaistos and Ares that ties them intimately together.

Take for instance the fact that both are closely united with Aphrodite. Hephaistos as her husband (although he later takes Kharis as his bride, yet when know that this is also a recognized title associated with Aphrodite and is likely directly associated with Aphrodite as a goddess of the Khairites/Graces. Ares as her lover whom she both mellows and enflames. They even have an awkward relationship with Athena, Ares as one who is constant contest with her, and Hephaistos whose adore was spurned by her and yet still touched by his semen as she fled his company and yet is often depicted in her company as one who forges and mends her armor. Yet whereas Hephaistos is the god for the forge and smithy, Ares too in his Orphic hymn seems to have some direction towards the end of creating arms and implements of agriculture as he is called to give forth his weapons to Demeter, suggest that he transform his weapons of war into tools of agriculture…or if nothing else he feeds his metals into the forge of Hephaistos to transform them. In either case we have hot natured deities associated with war and the tools of warfare

What I find interesting is alternative myths, that are believed to have been based on those of Hephaistos, wherein Ares is conceived not by Zeus but by a flower. The direct inspiration and borrowing from the former into the latter is not without interest. It may suggest a more close relationship in how the gods functioned and were viewed, even if they appeared functionally very different as one was a lamed god and the other one who was called poetically most loathsome among the gods and yet was praised in hymns for peace keeping and keeping men in obedience of the laws of the state. Between the two we can see a certain functional benevolence in which warfare protects the homeland and strength of arms aids in peace and order among the citizens, wherein the tools of war give rise to new tools and potential benefits for humanity. We find this still true today as warfare gives rise to new inventions. The important thing of course would be the tempering of Ares that he not go off on a mad ruckus but rather stay near the home and give protection and aid to its development.

Even in their relationship with Aphrodite we can get a touch of this in which the goddess is bared with what could be considered the noble constructive nature of warfare via Hephaistos, and the more bold, ruthless and valiant nature of warfare through Ares through his passion and fury. This is certainly reflected in their respective offspring where the children sired by Hephaistos to the goddess are of benevolence to humanity, whereas those sired by Ares are troublesome and violent. Yet under the tender ministrations of Aphrodite it can be considered there that he assumes a nature not unlike Hephaistos in laying down his arms and benevolently functioning as the Orphic Hymn calls upon him. Even the Kaberoi, children of Hephaistos, were considered to be of mystic deities of a warrior nature not unlike the Korybantes (the children of Apollon) and the Kuretes..

It does give some food to thought it how profound a mystery might be lurking beneath it.

Fire Tending Devotions Stage 1

Whereas I still need a pillar to set up before the shrines to have the main lamps on for my fire tending observance this here is step one with each of the shrines (in one unified case) lit with their oil lamps. It is kind of funny how much bigger and brighter  Dionysos flame is, he whom I honor as the principle spark, the origin of all fire. Of course intellectually I know that this is due to the fact that his oil lamp is wide and shallow, whereas the lamp of Apollon and Artemis has a narrowed spout and is deeper. Still they are both quite beautiful. I have realized that I am now using my last two wicks which means that I am going to have to order a bulk package of cotton fiber wicks from to be shipped to me. The only thing I am irked about is that my statue of Naga Kanya (representing as Leto) *still* hasn’t arrived yet. I am going to have to drop a note to the seller and let them know I didn’t get it for some reason. Eventually I will be making a personal cult image of Dionysos (I already have something specific in mind) and will need to have a very small image to set in his drinking cup in order to be the main feeding image of the god as I have for Apollon and Artemis as can be seen in their picture. There was a kind of feeling of a wellspring settle over me as I poured the libation over the twin statues in the copper offering bowl and a well being settle over me as lotus incense burns on the shrines.

There is so much that will be developing over the next few months with this practice that every baby step seems like a wonder!

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Religious Imagery and the Question of Appropriation

It appears that since I don’t follow Patheos that I miss out on a lot of stuff, but the address towards whether ancient religious imagery can be appropriated or not was one that I found rather curious and spent the better part of the last hour contemplating. My response ended up being yes and no, and really the line between them is pretty fine and largely conditional.

For instance a theist borrowing the image from another theistic group in an almost syncretic identification based on cross-cultural shared symbolism and meanings which aids the former’s religious worship, especially in conditions which are inhospitable to the worshiper’s religion or in one which they do not have access to traditional imagery I would not consider appropriation. We find this a lot in more recent history in regards to the use of saint and angel images but many diaspora religions and others, some of whom identify as pagans. This is plausible for those polytheists who follow religions that no longer have surviving intact example of their ancient icons in replica form or even original form to be inspired by if they possessed the skill to reproduce them.  I do not find this as appropriation as it is the cross cultural identification and a loose syncretization  in which shared symbolism makes sense and even maybe the motivating factor for it. For instance for myself I identify Leto in some regards with the dragon Delphyne, and she had a serpentine form as identified with Wadjet in Egypt. I find commonality for both her and Delphyne with the Asiatic Nagas. Therefore I have an image on its way (if it ever gets here!) of Naga Kanya as an appropriate icon of worship that I used based off this cross cultural identification. This is a case of what I would consider a theist identifying and making use of the icons of the cultural that they are identifying their own religious worship with.

The presence of icons of the gods as matter of art and décor I also don’t object to. They are kept mainly for the sake of their beauty and cherished in appreciation for themselves as they are. This has served to preserve many ancient images that may have otherwise been lost and demolished if there had been those who appreciated the asthetic quality of the images. I would consider this similar to numerous statues that hoisted publically both modernly and anciently which would have had meaning to some folks and been just admired by other folks. An attractive image can be kept and displayed for the sake of its attractiveness without being appropriation as no qualities are attached to it other than an asthetic appreciation for its form and often a sense of curiosity and appreciation for the native culture from which it came which I think can apply to many collectors of various replicas of ancient art. In fact those who collect images for aesthetic reasons tend to be very well informed about what the object is, what deity or spirit is represents, and even in many cases how it was used. Identification of deities in their statue form in modern times can often be due thanks to rather obsessive meticulous collectors and historians (ie professional collectors) lol.

What I would consider appropriation would be the use of a religious icon for that which it was not intended. That is to say an icon and can be ornamental and it can be used in cultural and cross cultural theistic worship, however when one takes a religious icon, designates all of its original symbolism as being without value and/or false but ritualizes the icon for an entirely different ceremonial/ritual purpose that neither recognized or honors its original meaning, I would consider as walking the fine line into appropriation. This is due a blatant ignorance and misuse of an important spiritual/religious symbol in a way that has nothing to do with its original intent, and often done so while deriding the beliefs regarding that image. This would be in a similar category of other religious and ceremonial things which have been taken from other cultures and completely misused in a way that is no way tied to what it was intended to be used for. This is a recognized rampant issue among those who appropriate native American symbolism and spiritual objects and re-designating them without any knowledge or education about said items. As such I can understand the objection to non-theistic use of theistic images for humanistic spirituality as appropriation, especially in cases where theistic spirituality is being derided and disrespected. Further it seems that there would be no reason for non theistic individuals to use theistic imagery and icons. By utterly dismissing and removing any theistic identity to the icon it is no less desecration and destruction towards the item than it would be physically removing it from the earth. It is damaging towards the history and education of the theistic spirituality from which it arose. Especially when there are many ways a non theistic spiritualist can express their spirituality without borrowing from theistic imagery in ways that theists, and especially polytheists regardless of the state of its native culture, consider blatantly disrespectful.

To put it this way from a theistic perspective, the image of the gods are more than just images but are representations of very real divine beings and spirits, to spiritually make use of it and destroying the theistic identity with the image can be considered a kind of subtle violence towards the gods and spirits we revere no less insulting that someone taking an image of the god and smashing it to bits. Does it harm the deity? No. Does it potentially damage or influence human-divine relationship via the use of that sacred image? Yes I would say so as one blog reminded of sacred symbolism that were appropriated and co-opted for foreign use to their original meaning and use and now have such negative connotations because of this that it has been abandoned by a number of folks such as the case with the swastika. This blog poster through this example provided a very good reason that we should object to the use of sacred theistic images for completely other and unrelated purposes (and while I understand the value of non theistic humanistic spirituality it is very different from theistic worship in the use of the icons as spiritual intermediaries no matter how the image is dressed up or how attractive it is made to look if it is not used for the purpose of worship then it is falls under the realm of other purpose).

Now on a personal note while I hate the concept of gods existing as archetypes, and have hated it ever since I was first introduced to it. A non theistic humanist collect images of the gods as part of this philosophy of archetypes (but which still is attached to the identity of the god) as décor and collectible art doesn’t bother me or cross into the realm of what I consider appropriation. I would only personally consider it such if it crossed into a non theistic spiritual use of those icons/statuary. Even then I can object all I want, but I can’t change what you are doing nor would I fool myself into thinking I had any input on what you do in your spiritual practice. All the same though, I would hope that said individual would not be surprised and understand the root of the objection rather than getting up in arms about it. It isn’t an attack on their non-theism or spirituality but about protecting and preserving the sacred in our own spirituality from the potential harm, pollution/miasma and any damage through causing harm to the divine link between gods and spirits via the representation with their worshipers. Thus we are going to take it personally as we take our relationship with the gods whom we revere and adore quite personally.