An Exceptional Understanding of Apollon in Siva Nataraja

I have written before regarding Apollon and Siva, but as I am continuing my studies with Saivism this has been becoming more profound in insights I have gained. The cultural Hellenic understanding of Apollon is beautiful and profound in itself, yet when I see him through Siva, my understanding gains new depths of himself in a greater form that is beyond cultural understandings of the god in all his forms. The most striking moment for me as of yet is when I was reading Dancing with Siva and I came to the portion on the symbolism of Siva’s dance. Apollon as a divine musician and dancing god in his own nature, the lord of the weaving Crane Dance of Theseus at Delos, the excerpt on the dancing form of Siva shows itself to be the most relatable for a worshipper of Apollon when it is broken down.

Perhaps the only lack of real clarity is the drum of Siva. This is because as far as I have seen, drums were not significantly important to worship of Apollon. In some ways I can see where some folks would see Siva as containing both Apollon and Dionysos within him, as drums were significant in the worship of Dionysos, as well as in the worship of Rhea/Cybele from whom he likely inherited the drum. It is unfortunate that we do not know more about the Apollon of Crete, or really very thorough information of the Doric Apollon (as it is believed that the Doric people brought his cult to Crete) as there may be significant thing to this father of the Korybantes, this son of Korybas, that was not commonly shared through other parts of Hellas. What is apparent is that despite the lack of the drum, the harmonic vibrations of Apollon’s domain serves much similar purpose as the drum operates….provision of rhythmic order….this in itself can represent the issuing forth of creation as the drum of Siva represents. That creation itself is an act of order from chaos as we find in the illumination of Phanes who divides the substances that creation is born in the cosmic egg. This brings me greater understanding here in which my lord, who is lord of the axis, is central dance of harmony and order. A lord of the gateway through which life passes into new life….an ever renewing cycle. For as the drum, or rather the vibrations of lord of Apollon which is more commonly represented as the lyre, reminds us that as he is directs harmony, nothing ends or stops. Everything is always in motion. Energy doesn’t just die and disappear. It continues on its movement, transforming and changing, but unceasing. Apollon as lord of the tomb doesn’t represent then end, for the lord of harmonic movement there can be no true end. It is just a series of death and life. He turns all the seasons around as the Orphic Hymn says.

The lower right hand of Siva is raised in blessing, bringing preservation. Apollon is the preserver and protector. Not only of humanity in general as we have seen on many accounts, but also more commonly of children for which he is honored following safe birth after they survived 7 days, even as he is honored at the release of the soul on death for a period as it releases its bonds until the soul is escorted from the earth by Hermes. As Apollon is connected with agriculture and herding, we know that he is closely associated among the living with the preservation of humanity through the civilized arts. He is the ripener of crops preparing for harvest, and the rearer of beasts to feed men. His blessings, even as his nature is as a destroying god, is the blessing of nurturer and preservation until the moment which life is ready to be plucked. The preservation of life serves purpose, but even still it is a blessing and gift to us. On a more symbolic level, preservation also serves when we look at the god as oracle announcing religious and spiritual obligations, the will of the gods…..or even the institution of education and the arts which feed the soul in its development.  Part of his preserving grace is illumination of the path of progress to apotheosis. This is perhaps one of the greatest symbols of the throne of Apollon resting on the tomb of Hyakinthios. Not merely out of love and affection but also an indication of the grace of Apollon by which our ends are accomplished. This would certainly make sense why scenes of certain mythic victories (such as Theseus over the Minotaur) was inscribed on the throne. The throne lies upon the tomb, exactly completely measure over the process of life into the apotheosis and liberation of the soul.

The upper left hand of Siva holds a flame, which is destruction and dissolution of form. This is the balance to the drum. This is Apollon as the destroyer of which we know him. He who is the law within nature which renders all things into dissolution. Apollon as Pythios, the god of rot. Apollon as lord of the tomb in which the form decays and releases the soul within (or more anciently with funeral pyres was probably lord of the pyre with the devouring flames before burials became more common). He destroys form, with his serpent arrows (which were likely envisioned as fiery arrows by this description…fiery and venomous). Unlike ideas that Apollon’s association with the sun were by his arrows significant of light, this is not the case so much I think. Apollon when he has provided illumination he merely holds aloft his bow and light issued from it. Now his arrows are destructive fire, which is also possessed by the sun by which association here may be based.

The position of the legs of Siva Nataraga as described by Satguru Sivaya Subrahmuniyaswami is perhaps the most relative as his role as gatekeeper, god of the boundaries. For one foot is placed upon an earthbound spirit confused by its sloth (or unevolved soul) while the lifted foot is promise of liberation. If the processes of life and death are a symbol for the journey of the soul then we can see the liberation of destruction of form itself and the release of the soul is also a symbol of the progression of the soul into apotheosis, into unity with the gods rather than trapped in the human cycle. Apollon as the charioteer has a direct link to the chariots of the soul described by Plato in which each soul has a chariot which attempts to rise to be near the god it adores, but undisciplined, without spiritual progression, they cannot sustain nearness and are ever falling. Close to the earth are great masses of soul chariots. I have long said that the contests of Apollon and the liberation by destruction (the myth of Marsyas in perhaps a rather important one that combines both of these themes) are ways of explaining Apollon as the gatekeeper. As I said above he is enthroned upon the very process of apotheosis, which indicates that he is the god of the gateway of apotheosis which only souls can pass which are proven. Apollon being enthroned on the tomb of Hyakinthios serves purpose similar to the gesturing to the upraised foot by Siva Nataraja with his lower left hand.

The end of the passage is summed up very well, that I think all followers of Apollon can benefit from in understanding Apollon’s greater transcendental being:

“The birth of the world, it’s maintenance, its destruction, and the soul’s obscuration and liberation are the five acts of his dance.”

I am just touching the very utmost tip of Saivism but so for it has been very profound for me.

Apollon’s “monsters”

There is no lack of monsters in Hellenic myth. We have numerous dragons and beasts that in myth plaque cities and represent challenges for noble heroes to defeat.  The drawback is that this colors the perceptions of the monsters themselves. Often they get characterized as being “evil”  or in some sense truly malevolent due to their juxtaposition with the heroes. What seems to be ignored is that usually these monsters are employed by the gods for their tasks, they serve a purpose in myth as a form of testing the heroes. This can be true to of heroic gods, or gods who have considerable station attributed to them from the defeat of a monster as a model for the demi-god heroes to come. In such cases in Hellenic myth we have Typhon for Zeus and Delphyne for Apollon. Although Typhon seems to be a special case of being a progeny that threatens the rule of the gods, and so, like the titans, was imprisoned we find that the control of Typhon is related to Zeus’ control of the order of the cosmos and its wellbeing. Now Typhon by Echidna had many offspring, and the literalist would say evil evil evil of Typhon, evil evil evil of Echidna, and thus to their offspring too. Nevermind that one of the most loved monsters…Cerebus, is one of their offspring. All in all the monsters are in themselves daemons who serve the purpose of the gods.

For Apollon he has a few of his own monsters. Delphyne I mentioned above is perhaps one of the most central and important monsters. Although often depicted just as a serpent, she is also known as having the upper torso of a nymph which has led to her being confused with Echidna in source material. Perhaps as an echnida-type of “monster” then, as *the* Echidna, spouse of Typhon, was slain by Argus and should be distinguished from Delphyne, the Echidna-like dragoness of Delphi who nursed Typhon and in whose layer guarded the sinews of Zeus which had to be retrieved by Pan and Hermes that Zeus could be victorious in his battle with Typhon, the offspring of Hera. Although she is caused a bane to shepherds, I wonder if this may be a confusion due too with another “dragon” of Delphi, a man, son of Gaia, who looted pilgrims and whom Apollon killed for assaulting Leto with the aid of his twin. Delphyne  then presented the obstacle to Apollon in his “heroic journey” that he had to overcome her to win his seat at Delphi. There is suggestion that Themis and Phoibe were titles of Gaia. If so this would concur with Apollon’s “grandmother” posing an obstacle forth for him to overcome, as we find Hera often doing for her own children and step children. There are ideas out there that I feel go too far extreme in denouncing the heroic journey of gods and their fights with certain daemon-monsters as patriarchal culture over a native matriarchal culture. I find this a huge stretch of imagination, and also a misunderstanding of the allegorical nature of the myth. This interpretation would be nothing more than another literalistic kind of interpretation.

Literalist interpretations would say one hand that the dragon is an malevolent force that Apollon has to conquer and is as such evil. The feminist-matriarchal interpretation on the other hand says that these is really a myth revealing an old regional goddess being overcome by an invading god. Allegorical interpretation says that both of these are not the best way to view the myth. After all we do find Delphyne present in artwork as a kind of guardian spirit that is not directly addressed to her slaying myths. Gaia/Themis/Phoibe set her as guardian of this spring of the oracle. Apollon defeats her, gains his laurel crown, is purified (which suggests blood guilt debt particularly given his exile and purification requirements) and returns to his oracle, is said tho to pour libation to her and thus would seem to be honoring her as a daemon of the place. She is allegorically purified by his fire and resides as a local protective daemon attached to the oracle thereafter. Her presence can be seen on a vase painting in which Apollon is approaching the Erinyes at Delphi and we see a figure that is often mistaken I think for an Erinye above the tripod which I believe is actually the daemon-guardian Delphyne as she gazes down on the Erinyes unkindly as Apollon approaches one. The serpent in her hair is quite alike the full half serpent images of the “monster” facing off with Apollon.

Orestes_Delphi_BM_GR1917_12-10_1

apollon battling python

Delphyne is not the only instance where we see a woman-serpent type of daemon associated with Apollon. Apollon on occasion for punishing Argos sent another echidna-type dragoness as a plague. I find these to be almost like nagas, and as such are particularly connected with the cult of Apollon as nagas are connected with the cult of Shiva. Edward Butler was kind enough to point to me that nagas too didn’t always have shiny reputations especially among followers of Vishnu. This reinforces this association for me of being that serves the purpose of the gods that may not be wholely doing awesomely kind wonderful things…but as a daemon doesn’t necessarily need to either. They serve the direction of the gods and purpose there put. It just depends on what god you are looking at, which may affect how you perceive the daemon and its role, and also how you are looking at the purpose of myth as I mentioned above. So in a positive sense this daemon type is associated with Apollon but also I would say with Hera.

Another popular “monster” associated with Apollon are griffins. I have spoken of griffins numerous times on my blog, so I won’t go into too much depth other than to say that griffins tend to act as guadians and mounts for Apollon. As such they represent the guardians not only of his blessed guardian (or rather the passage into) but also carry him back over the mountains upon his return with the blessed grains from Hyperborea. Griffins are creatures that are naturally shared with Zeus, wherein they are called the hounds of Zeus, and in some sources also with Dionysos wherein we find references to griffins being leopard spotted rather than having the body of a lion. Griffins are the divine combination of both the royal lion and the swift bird of prey, both of which are sacred to Apollon and Zeus particularly.

K5_7Apollon

The last “monster” I want to include here are the Kledones/Sirens. I lump these together because the Kledones at Delphi were the “voices”, and I believe were also associated with another temple of his mentioned by Pausanias but the city of which I cannot recall offhand. The Kledones were said to sing prophecies from the roof of Apollon’s temple in its most earliest incarnations and enchanted visitors to the temple. The Kledones are treated almost wholly benevolently (and whose title Apollon has as an epithet as Apollon Kledones), whereas the Sirens tend to be a mixed bag but doubtlessly have an association with the Kledones and may be another form of the same creature (which in my opinion they are). Sirens are believed to the predecessors to the Muses. They were believed to rules the seven harmonic spheres prior to the muses, and their contest with the muses is perhaps one of the best known (following which the muses adorned themselves with the feathers of the Sirens, perhaps symbolically assuming the cosmic spot of the Sirens). It is not surprising perhaps to find a “monster” associated with beautiful entrancing music or sounds being connected with the cult worship of Apollon. Music as persuasion was well understood among Hellenes on a spiritual and practical level, so the concept of a creature who can sway men with her song either to accomplish certain ends, or giving forth prophecy would likely well fit in. Unlike modern interpretations of Sirens as mermaid type creatures, they were typically represented as bird like creatures.

Greek_-_Black-figure_Kylix_with_Sirens_-_Walters_4837_-_Detail_A

Now why I am discussing all of this? Because as they are connected with aspects of Apollon’s cult and his divine functions I have started including their imagery in pairs on my altar. I have the griffins in place, but will be adding a pair of Echidna-like “dragonesses”/nagas as well as a pair of Kledones/Sirens.

 

Why it is Beneficial for a Devotee of Apollon to Participate in Dionysian Mysteries

I have said this many times, that for years I have had a difficult time really getting close to Dionysos. I have had some inspiration moments related to him, but it seemed connections with him have always been fluid and have had their difficulties. And this has nothing to do with the Nietzchian Apollonian/Dionysian Dichotomy that is so popular…because I do not agree with it at all. But rather, I was often unsure of where I really related personally to the mysteries of Dionysos as a devotee and servant of Apollon.

Now when I was participating in an Orphic ritual in Hellas, I was given a small lamp to hold during ritual and was told that this is part of what those who belong to Apollon do. We are lightbearers (such as the leaders of the initiates, the mystagogs). For some time I have identified Apollon with Iakkhos in this understanding of Apollon who interacts with the mysteries of Dionysos and Persephone in multiple levels of being. He is the father of the Korybantes on one hand, the son of the Cretan Kourete Korybas. Thus he is associated with the actions of the Korybantes as they did for Dionysos what the Kouretes did for Zeus (and as Ephesian told it, the Kouretes played the same role for the birth of Artemis and Apollon at their Ortygian grove). The mystic dance of initiation, the protector and devourer of the god. Apollon’s domain in which he is associated in general to the rearing of the young to maturity (after which comes the slaughter and harvest as we see during his summer festivals) is intrinsic to his nature and is very much inseparable from his relationship with Dionysos. He is at once the god who is protector/rear and slayer of Dionysos while at the same time being the son of Persephone (or Demeter) and Dionysos. He is bound to Dionysos. Just as Dionysos tends to be linked to the passage of the sun through the heavens, Apollon is the passage of the heavens through time…he directs the movement of the heavens and all bodies within the heavens (including the son). That Apollon was later confused with the sun I think confused matters considerably, but I think just as Dionysos is symbolically related to the sun, so is Apollon’s relation to it on a symbolic level.  Anciently it was said that Dionysos is the sun at night and Apollon is the sun at day. This seems to just be a figurative way of showing that Apollon is the illuminator of the mysteries (which the sun is present in the heavens! that is the important key point), while Dionysos is the mysteries.

This means that for one who fully wishes to devote their lives and service to Apollon that it cannot be done by keeping things on a separate Dionysian/Apollonian level. This doesn’t seem to be the case for devotees of Dionysos, who get along just fine without engaging in Apollon (although I have known some who have undertaken certain activities on behalf of Apollon). But for someone who belongs to Apollon this is a different matter, and trying to understand our place in it. For Apollon is the nurturer of the young, the preserver…how does this play out with Dionysos? Apollon is the destroyer….that one is a bit easier understood I think through the Thyiades who alternately honored Apollon but raved in the winter for Dionysos and were said to slay the god with their hands. And then Apollon is the god of the burial, he would buries Dionysos slain by the titans. So how exactly am I meant to Work in relation to the Dionysian mysteries? Especially given my relationship is strongest with Apollon Karneios who seems to have a more blatant relationship with Dionysos.

Further Thoughts on the Stepteria

The Stepteria has three principle things going on…set aside the whole fighting a dragon/monster scenario. Really that has little to do with it. Dragon is what nature designs its nature to be. Being harmful to people is a side effect of its massive territorial nature in western myth (as would be the consuming of livestock). Delphyne is neither a god nor a man. Typhon, whom she reared at the request of Hera, was evil, because he was not a dragon or a creature of such innate nature. As the child of god, while the way he reared may have ruined him in many ways instilling in him  a destructive lifestyle, he was of a higher state. He was of the divine stock, whereas Delphyne was a creature of the earthen stock. The Erinyes are not exactly pleasant and are considered pretty baneful but they are not considered evil as the do as their nature dictates that their role in the cosmos is. Dragons do as their natures dictate that they do. So set Delphyne more or less aside in the specifics of being a monster (something which distinguishes her from the other Python who looted pilgrims to Delphi). Apollon slaying her was not personal, but a matter of just what he did…as was the purpose of decaying her on the ground.

This leads me to the first point. Delphyne in many ways represents the purpose of Apollon as Pytho, the decayer. He frees the spirit from the miasma that has attached to it simply from life. He frees the soul from the burdens of its life and form. The most expedient way to do this was by burning (hence we see early practices too of funeral pyres being used). However painful it is for us, it is a liberation. And how liberating it is for us, it still instills grief among those who are left behind. Why would the residents of Delphi have funerary rites for Delphyne if not to appease her and a sacred relationship with her that they benefit from. Her bones and flesh literally becomes the sacred precinct. She is transformed into a guardian spirit of the precinct by all of this. But all it carries certain ramifications….and his own purifications for having to deal intimately with it is part of his cycle. I would say that Delphyne allegorically takes the place of every innocent life he slays out of his natural role.

This is the second point. Apollon exacts nature’s laws in which Thanatos operates, in that which is born and lives must die, that which is miasmatic must be expunged for the welfare of all. Stepteria ought to make us deal with very harsh realities about our own natures and that we have our own “impure” inclinations that are just part of being living beings. And that at the end of our days we will have to lay down to rot in order to be freed and progress. As such this cycle with Delphyne purifies Apollon by the river Peneios and by Daphne for his duties in nature. There is a reason why Apollon is associated with so many purifying agents…..it is often because he himself is need of their use prior to anyone else having their use available to them.

Lastly, it is a recognition of transformation and change. It is unyielding and always eventual. There is nothing evil in the act of destruction but it is a necessity with its own consequences within nature. We cannot find against it, but ought to celebrate it even as we mourn for it. Change is hard, but it is a blessing even if it doesn’t appear so. That Delphyne’s bones and ashes were used to make the foundation of the sacred precinct of Delphi we can not a punishment (and while Apollon did punish Telphousa in myth, there is really no indication that his battle with Delphyne was a punishment but rather the movement of forces.

By celebrating the Stepteria, we see that it is aptly named….the crowning festival. This may seem at odds with the rather downer mythic component of exile. In reality it stresses victory. victory of the god yes, but also a kind of spiritual victory. We ask that the god crown us, that the god slay  us, destroy us, and remake us by cleansing us. The boughs that were gathered likely to crown heroes from the Pythian games probably has the same emphasis. The proof of worth, the remaking of the self to be crowned heroically to dwell among the blessed. Stepteria is a most holy sacred festival of our lord even as we grieve and purify as we await to celebrate his return. We identify with Apollon and with the serpent..  

Blessed Stepteria

Following the birth of Apollon during the Delphic Polythousia (or the Theban Prostateria) that occurs on the 7th day of the Delphic month Bysios (derived from Pythios) or the Theban month Prostaterios (Anthesteria to people who are only familiar with the Attic calendar lol) in the this month following (reminding you all that I am a  month ahead of most people by my calendar since I celebrated Poseidon II last year) this month (Attic Elaphebolia) honors the slaying of the dragoness Python and the narration of the myth of the return of Apollon next month.

For those who are not familiar with the myth, Apollon following his birth, arrived at Delphi. There are two variations of this myth. One in which he has come as a grown man, and another in which he and Artemis are carried to Delphi by their mother. There he encounters to the guardian of the stream Castilla. In the Homeric hymn to Pythian Apollon we find a description of Delphyne as a great bane of a creature who is a plague bringer and devourer of flocks. Apollon slays her either with his golden sword or with his bow, either alone or with the aid of his sister (as all of these versions exist). He (or they in the case of Artemis as well) departs Delphi in sorrow, weeping in his exile. Myth has it that as he leaves for Hyperborea that his tears fall as amber on the earth.

However in the Stepteria we have the program of the slaying of Delphyne acted out in which the youth, standing in for Apollon, slays the dragon. It has been suggested by scholars that this may have either been by throwing a live serpent or effigy of a snake into a structure to burn to death as Delphyne was consumed. So doing, he would flee immediately, taking no part of food or comfort. There he would be at the mercy of strangers as he traveled from town to town with his attendants, acting the role of an outcast in exile before finally arriving at the Tempe Valley. There he would be purified by entering the laurel grove and would cut branches from the sacred laurel at the side of the river Peneios to return with them to temple around the time of the spring equinox to the temple with great celebration.

For this ritual, unless you have a sacred river and laurel trees to act out the exile on a small scale (or the means for roughly a month of camping) the best way I have found to celebrate this ritual is to praise Apollon, the slayer of the serpent, to invite him of the golden sword to liberate and free, to destroy the miasma that infects our homes and cities and regions. Invite the shooter from afar to pour out his arrows as he begins the season of his return. From paper make a small serpent (or out of any other flammable substance) and set this in a fire safe bowl upon your altar, as you do so lighting it on fire as you praise Apollon as purifier and averter of evil, praising him for being Pythios, who causes things to rot and pass away to release all things for new rebirth. You are welcoming here too the dawn of spring as you destroy the fortifying wintry dragon. I then follow this with grieving for the exiled lord Apollon, and grieving for the death of the dragoness as was carried out in Delphi. I pour offerings upon the earth for her even as Apollon does to appease her spirit as he flees.

The ritual should be finished with a simple meal, the fair of exiles without friend or shelter, relying on what little they could manage. A humble meal  should follow. Tonight we are having some chicken and roasted potatoes. Simple fare without extras or indulgences. For seven days then I pray to Apollon for his return. On the 21st day of the month that is sacred to him I enact my own ritual that I call the Daphneaia which is about his entrance into the holy grove and his purification by the river Peneios and Daphne. Until then it is a time of reflection, awaiting purifications of the Daphneaia.

Post Ritual Update:

This year I did something a bit different. I had burned the paper serpent in a brass incense burner bowl and watched her dissolve into dust from the flames even as I prayed to Apollon. I had forgotten to mention above that it is appropriate to read from the Homeric Hymn to Pythios, which I did reading the segment of her destruction. Following her destruction I pray to Apollon that that which is miasmatic, that which breeds evil is not in and of itself evil in all entirety and that he cleanses and purifies all things to release us from the bonds. I lamented for Delphyne and lauded her place that she gained as guardian spirit of Delphi as upon her bones the precinct rested. I poured the libation, not directly on the earth this time, but upon her ashes (which will be disposed of upon the earth at some point this evening), lamenting her death as I did so. I then followed as my usual lamentation for his exile that he shall not be among friends, that he departed for the far lands and left all bereft of his presence as he attends to his blessed cleansing.

I then played my wooden flute for Delphyne. In Delphi the youth representing Apollon would as Apollon play the flute for Delphyne as Apollon was said to have done. Its long mournful tones singing to her passing and mourning too his banishment from the company of men.

In the end there are many ways you may come up with to celebrate this festival that will all be spiritually fulfilling and meaningful.

 

Reminder for Submissions for the Spring Ed. of the Journal of Apollon

Reminding folks that the deadline is approaching for the spring edition of the Journal put out by the Order of Apollon. I will need submissions by March 7th at the latest for a spring equinox release date. I highly encourage all those who are devoted to Apollon, or who otherwise give adoration to Apollon to submit their entry for the journal.

Participants are encouraged to submit a variety of things. Really only your imagination is your limit. Prayers, poetry, essays, art, reviews, new original translations, rituals, divination methodology, healing methodology etc. The preference is for material to keep mind to  the season of growth and fruition, but for some topics season is unlikely to be pertinent at all which we completely acknowledge.