Among Goats and Cattle: The Sacred Cow and Nanny-goat

This actually started as a series of tweets but I decided I wanted to expand it in an article on my blog.

One of the things I have encountered as a syncretic Hellenic-Hindu is the holy mother symbolism in sacred animals. Generally among icons from the Hindu religion cows are prevalent as sacred mother and nurse symbolism. Just about every Devi is mounted on a cow of some kind, the cow representing that which nurturers and sustains all life and representative of the feminine nurturing influence in the cosmos. As a western person who was reared drinking cows milk and eating cow cheese and yogurt,  I can understand this attachment to the maternal nursing cow. And yet it is something that, while not altogether absent, is not prevalent in Hellenic icons and myth.

With some consideration this seems to boil down a lot to geographic variables. Unlike the wide stretches of pasture lands which can sustain numerous cattle and the fertility of the region, Hellas had a considerably rougher and harsher landscape that historically would not have been able to sustain large herds of cattle commonly. Cattle would have been exclusively the property of the wealthy who employed herders to oversee them. These would be the very cattle that would be offered as hecatombs by said wealthy individuals are in special cases such as the white bull of Minos that was to have been offered to Poseidon. Cows and bulls in such instances would have therefore have been associated with the highest and most noble of the hierarchy. This is reflected too in the hierarchy of the gods which cows are associated with Hera and Demeter, the most stately and revered daughters of Rhea, whereas bulls are connected to Zeus, Poseidon, Dionysos and Apollon (in a less direct sense as a herding god and god of the bull-goad).

Yet when it comes to matters of male virility and fertility, and feminine nurture it is far more common to see goats prevalent. Even though Dionysos is the bull god, he is also the god of the virile he-goat and companion of Pan who wears the form of a half man half goat. Apollon is associated too with the he-goat, especially in the Peloponnese, as Artemis is associated with she-goat as a nurse goddess who provides for the young. This symbolism of the divine nurse in Hellas is so strongly set in Hellas that even the nurse of the infant Zeus was a sacred she-goat. The goat is by far more universal among people in Hellas than what we would find among cattle, it is therefore reasonable that the goat is so connected with such universal nurturing and fertile deities that would have more commonly been associated with cows and bulls in India. Apollon with the curling goat horns, accompanied by intelligent goats among the Doric civilizations may very well have a similar thread to the power of the bull with Siva in Hindu imagination. The bull representing righteousness and Dharma in Hindu thought as being of the way and protector of the abode of Siva can have similar bearing to the goat which was used among Doric herders to lead and control the flocks of sheep. In any case the horned brow as the enlightened mind reaching out to the god can be attributed to just about any horned animal of consequence among bulls, goats, rams and stags (for which Siva and Nandi too held the antelope in his anthromorphic form as representative of the mind under control).

In many ways the goat served the common purpose in Hellas similar to the cattle among the noble and wealthy. When the nobles would offer sacrifice of cattle, their most precious of beasts, to the gods, the poor would rear goats for the same purpose. Where cow milk and cheese probably did get consumed among the wealthy, the common fare was goat milk and goat cheese (something which is a very nutritious and delicious ethnic food particular to the region that I have thoroughly enjoyed for years). And for this purpose the gods which are most concerned with nurturing the welfare of the living and creation of life are associated with cattle and/or goats. The queens and world mothers and nurses, the kings and world sires.

This is different from the cattle-focused demographic of India, but no less rich in its symbolic and sacred value.

Apollon and Hermes

I have noted before that in Asia Minor that the regional cults in which Leto was lauded with her twins (and Leto herself comparable to the great mother there, or Rhea in Hellenic terms) ran parallel to other regions in which Cybele was lauded with Hekate and Hermes. I have suggested in other posts that the relationship of Artemis and Hekate and the preference for one or the other often tended to be regional. I would suggest in some cases it may be true of Apollon and Hermes as well in some matters, where in other matters they are entirely complimentary and appear to be working in a cooperative constant flow.

Herding, Music and the Arts of Civilization:
In the matter of herding we have as per the hymns the situation where Apollon traded his herding staff and whip to Hermes in exchange for the pipes and lyre, both of which were inventions of Hermes. Nonetheless, despite this exchange of goods, we do not see the giving over the domain but rather a symbolic cross over in their sharing. Apollon did not magically cease being a god of the herds and divine shepherd. We see his role as divine shepherd highlighted by his son Aristaios who was likewise addressed as the shepherd Apollon for his herding specialty. In fact herding is one of part of the significant presence of civilization. Aristaios furthered this by providing further wealth and benefit of herding through cheese and honey (apiary…bee herding/raising is kind of awkwardly put in the classification).  Music is not apart from herding as we find that herders have often been among the most culturally established of musicians as they coax by song their charges to rest. From this humble area music becomes a highlight of civilization and civilized contest as an orderer of thought. Certainly the complexity of music, and even its mathematical attributions as we see in Pythagorean theorem would classify music alongside the arts that rise as the hallmark of civilization, whereas others such as Astronomy would have common classic roots on the herder/navigator/planter lifestyles of civilized existence in which observation of the heavens mapped out the seasons and appropriate times for activity. That Apollon was lord of the shepherd staff, god of the goad, is not detracted at all by Hermes as god of shepherds and caretaker of flocks anymore than it does the same against Pan.  Likewise Hermes too continues to be a musical god and benevolent gifter towards musicians. I do not even think it can be divided between “courtly/city music” and “country/peasant music” as these gods are not constrained to such environmental oppositions to each other. Apollon is as much a god of the wild lands as he has in his keeping cities. In fact it may be as a god of the wilderness who gifts the civilized arts that we can best understand him as a protector of civilization against the threats of the wilderness (such as slaying mice, wolves and locusts that prey and crops and livestock which are also his). And Hermes too is very much both a god of the rural life and the city merchant.

Divination and Logos:
Directly connected with their boons towards civilization through the arts and herding, both gods are intimately connected with divination (connected in one hand with the art of Astrology through observation of the heavens, and through observation of natural world) and with Logos (speech). In this case however there appears to be some slight variance of distinction between them.
In the case of divination, Apollon instructs Hermes in the Homeric Hymn where he may gain access to matters of diving through understand of the natural world by being taught by Apollon’s own bee nurses the Thryaie. However, the way of the oracle is utterly closed to Hermes as this was specifically allotted to Apollon’s charge. Only Apollon could reveal in perfection the absolute and divine hidden will of Zeus and the gods. This may very well be attached directly to their own placement in association with Logos. Apollon is Logos as truth, whereas Hermes is associated with Logos by way of persuasive speech. Hermes is far less concerned with truth and more towards  “selling his point.” It could be argued that the persuasive nature of music can be attached to it’s parentage by Hermes too. Apollon, as truth, is the oracular god because he dwells at the purest vantage point of seeing in all directions, whereas Hermes hints at possible futures with signs that may persuade (or be persuaded by) certain outcomes.

Of the Streets:
Apollon and Hermes are both , more or less, gods of the way. This is both applicable in the ceremonial initiate procession, and also in the most literal terms of the city roads. Generally speaking Apollon is a protector of the road, usually in so much as a protector of where the road meets with the threshold of a place. He protects the place (whether that be a business or household_ from the potential evil that can come up the roadways. He is a god of the roads more in connection with traveling from one destination to another without being afflicted by evil. This is conceptually similar to Apollon and his role in war in which he is invoked to protector warriors against evils that may come up in warfare (such as personal harm). This is also applicable towards Apollon as a god of exiles sent abroad to make a new home. Hermes is a protector, overseer and provider of the journeyer himself, unlike the broad sense of Apollon’s protection against befalling evil. He provides for the overall wellbeing of the traveler that they arrive where they are meant to arrive and in good state, as well as the concept of the adventurer and explorer who set out without specific destination aimed for but rather for education and experience, and the ultimate drive of the soul.

Death and Underworld:
This brings us to my last main point. Apollon is the destroyer god, and therefore his influence along the sacred road is limited. His way extends no further than the tomb where the ultimate division takes place. In the age of heroes if this tomb was met in a heroic death then one could escape the common fate of men in the next life. Among initiates it was upon death that they would be selected to go to dwell among the blessed. Apollon is the lord of the tomb in this purpose, as the slayer of men. It is from his care that Hermes escorts his charges to whatever destination is meant for them, even as he escorts Persephone and even as he receives the divine babe Dionysos. Apollon is king of the world, but Hermes is guide between all worlds. Apollon takes company with the ghosts of the tombs while Hermes escorts souls to the next world.

Ephesia Grammata Apollonia


Reblogging this because it I found it fascinating. I have long attributed Hyperborea as to be a special land of the blessed in the next world, and the wolves here which come from different zones of the funeral pyre are certainly quite reflect of different zones of influence of Apollon when it comes to the subject of death and destruction…..and then the salvation of the soul of his favored. I am not familiar with the Ephesia Grammata but this all lined up well with my own thoughts and beliefs.

Originally posted on Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous:

[June 7th; given the nature of my earlier post, I wash’t sure if I should give this one first or second, and decided for the sake of suspense that I’d give it second today…hope you like it! For more on why this holiday exists, see this post, which a more fleshed-out version of may appear in print in the near future, and which includes the idea that the Ephesia Grammata “divine grammatical beings” will be celebrated in their six-letter form on 7-6 for Artemis and on 6-7 for Apollon.]

Why does Apollon have the seven letters of the Ephesia Grammata? Not difficult.

Croesus the Lydian plundered Ephesus, but learned the secret of the six letters of the Ephesia Grammata from the Megabyzoi priests of Artemis. At last, after he was placed upon the pyre by Cyrus the Persian, he had an opportunity to test whether he had any favor…

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The Theology of my household Pantheon

As a multi-cultural syncretist, I am more interested in the gods than a hierarchy of the gods, the theogamy (or familial lineage which is always subject to change from place to place even in a specific culture) or how the cultures ordered the gods (although I try to make myself familiar with such orders as it informs me on how the gods were further seen and their roles within the context of the culture), but more over, as I address in a previous post, the syncretic nature of my religion in which some gods are recognized to be the same whereas others are worshiped independently is an important part of how the multi-cultural household pantheon ends up looking like.

This is because I recognize that there are several gods who are, more or less, what I would consider universal divine beings that can be found in numerous cultures across the world. These are what I call the core gods of the household and cosmos who order and fundamentally influence on the highest level the functioning of the oikos. Again multi-cultural expressions of these divine beings means that they are not going to appear in the same way and in some ways may take on a form, given their cultural context, which makes enough of a distinction to make syncretic worship uncomfortable in practice even if it works on theoretic levels for some people.

For instance there are some people who have a very negative experience in pairing the Hellenic goddess Aphrodite and the Yoruba Orisha Oshun, even though as far as I can tell they are fairly identical. But there are those who say that they have too different of a feel and that even shrine sharing has been problematic in a working religious atmosphere. I have not had any issues in regards to conceiving of them in the same headspace, but I do recognize a significant ethnic difference in the way the goddess manifests which is quite pronounced. This is a bit different from the more fluid cross cultural manifestation of Aphrodite in Hellenes and Rati (also apparently believed to be Radha by some in India, who is of course an aspect of Lakshmi whom I see as Demeter. But then this expresses the close relationship in my mind between Demeter, Persephone and Aphrodite in a mystic sense that doesn’t phase me at all) the goddess of love, sexuality, desire and passion.

At this moment my household is largely duo-religious between Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and Hellenismos (Greek polytheism), however a few Orishas have been around for a few years that I am starting to shrine build to. The difference here is that as I don’t have the financial means at this time to be brought into that spiritual life I can’t claim it as part of my household religion, even with shrines to Oshun, Yemaya (whom I equate with Artemis) and Obatala (whom I equate with Apollon) present.. Even though in the case of Yemaya and Obatala there appears to be more given a lack of objection seemingly to be included into my syncretic shrine I am hesitant to do so at this time. It took me a few years to fully integrate Siv-Apollon into a singular shrine of worship. It may never get there. There may always be a pronounced culturally divide that keeps the worship area quite distinct, even if in the same general area as the shrine for Siv-Apollon and Parvati-Artemis. Even though I can see a more fluid cultural merger in these cases, especially with Obatala and Apollon-Siva, as lord of the white cloth and clarity of the mind/self, I do not feel it is something that can be forced.

Because of this, and the fluctuating way that gods may make an appearance into my household, things are always changing and growing. The primary gods of my household may show their faces in more multiplying ways through other cultures, or they may not. Other individual gods may make a presence and be honored thereafter. This is a spiritual life. It is not carved into stone. Each of the gods who find a way into my household are beloved and honored by me.

The Bakcheion Fundraiser


Getting the word out there. I am all for intense devotional opportunities and experience that honor the gods…and any fundraiser designed to further this goal is wonderful. So I encourage my readers to donate what few dollars you can spare and get the word at this fundraiser is winding down for a great Bakcheion celebration at Many Gods West.

Originally posted on The Gargarean:

Bakcheion ritual logo

I know there are a few fundraisers going to get members of the polytheist community to the Many Gods West conference. It’s so awesome that we can all contribute to these and somehow and be part of the conference even if it’s impossible for ourselves to get there.

The Bakcheion fundraiser will be ending in 20 days and it’s only at 24% as of writing.

While I strongly encourage that we give to fundraisers for individuals, just consider that the Bakcheion’s funding is going to a group and also a ritual. This includes travel expenses, accommodation, room rental for the ritual, ritual gear, offerings and whatever other expenses for the entire group.

What’s more the members are offering awesome perks, from divination to handcrafted items.

Please consider donating.


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Artemis and Parvati: Where syncretism appears to contradict

I was reading a brief description of Parvati shared on a facebook page which described her as a mother goddess of “love, fertility and devotion” and the first thing that came to my mind is that it is quite probable that with these kind of keywords in mind that people are probably massively going “what the fuck?” everytime I say Parvati-Artemis or Artemis-Parvati. So I thought I would do a brief post regarding this because given the imperfect nature of syncretism and the fact that no one god is going to perfectly present themselves fully to the letter in another culture that when is doing syncretism there is a lot more fluidity of exchange involved than a direct one on one copying of the god. I know that when people see Apollon-Siva or Siv-Apollon that there is probably more than person going “but Apollon doesn’t wear a leopard skin” and call that the decisive matter of a particular asthetic. But then one has to think about what those things mean given their culture context. Siva has been often called one who is also wearing a deerskin and even an elephant skin in some texts I have read symbolizing different things in which the god gained mastery over in pertaining to the skins he wears at a given time. Therefore my syncretism doesn’t deal with iconic symbolism of things such as what the god is wearing or even what animals are sacred because the context of these things differs so much between cultures, but rather in looking at how they relate on different levels.

Firstly let us look at the issue of love. I have seen Lakshmi called a goddess of love, and to ascribe Parvati as a goddess of love affirms a certain quality of these goddess in which love can be ascribed as a motivating force between the actions of these goddesses and the gods that they have union with and form they are the principle vitalizing and energizing halves of these gods. For Parvati it is almost literal as she is inseperably linked to Siva on a far greater level than we see with Lakshmi or any other goddess. The relationship with Parvati is often considered the ideal of the householder and wife. Now this appears to contradict Greek religion in which Artemis is the eternally unwed virgin by her own request. I would consider part of this to have to do with the relationship of the husband and the wife and how it was viewed culturally in each given place. There are doubtlessly very big differences in how marriage was viewed in ancient Indian and Hellenic cultures, but even given that the marital relationship between Parvati and Siva as complete harmonic equality and existing away from society in their own little world as it were is quite unique. It demonstrates even profoundly different from the relationship of Lakshmi and Vishnu were the goddess attends to the god in a loving, demure and tending way.

That said, the pure and unconditional level of devotion is unmistakable in Parvati. She is consistently giving of herself to Siva, but in terms of equals. She may pour libations upon his linga, even Artemis pours offerings into the bowl of Apollon, but she is otherwise in positions of elevation sitting or standing beside the god when not completely merged into a perfect half of himself. Artemis is likewise the twin of Apollon, she is his perfect half and reflection, and her love and devotion for Apollon is almost exclusively reserved there. She is even credited with slaying Coronis for faithlessness to Apollon while bearing Asklepios so great was her offense on her twin’s behalf. She is ever by his side whether in the oikos, and even place sharing in numerous sanctuaries and temples. In the Iliad she has the pleasure of also being the one to harshly criticize him. They are utterly unified on so many levels, even if the other in no directly present the one’s temple you can see cultic cross-over and mergings in their functions. There is no real division between what is pertaining to Artemis and what is pertaining to Apollon exclusively. Such is the measure of their unity that is expressed in terms of equality by their relationship as twins. A phenomenon which would not have existed if Artemis were the wife rather than the twin of Apollon. As his twin she is unified with him and in adoration of him without the carry over of social expectations of being a wife. That so many of Apollon’s lovers bare semblance to Artemis would even suggest something more profound going on symbolically in which the lover is a representation of Artemis engaging with Apollon in ways that are not part of the lawful societal-determined system of things. This allows her to maintain her status of equality with Apollon even when showing such devoted and singular love to him that she does not bestow on other gods. As a virgin goddess, and from my vague gatherings of neoplatonism where she is addressed something of a being likened to a pure river, we can see the water Artemis pouring in offering into the bowl of Apollon as giving over her vitality to her twin for his use. Her energy to his order. Therefore with Parvati we see a love of devotion between equals of necessary complimenting powers. There is no separation of love and devotion, and it would probably make more sense if presented as devoted love rather than as two distinct and separate things. In devoted love there is a very much a choice in the matter, you choose to give yourself wholeheartedly over to care for another and to help them. The Devi-Gita is fascinating to read because we see the birth of Parvati into the world as a very intentional thing in order to be joined with Siva. It is intentional rather than romantic, organic rather than romantic.

Mother may be the biggest point of contention because unlike Parvati, Artemis is not a mother, unless we take her likeness in Kyrene who did mother children by Apollon. The goodness and benevolence of Aristaios can almost be comparable to Murugan, but this is something I need to give more thought to. That said, Artemis is a great nurse, who acts as a mother to all of life even if she is not a producer of life herself (again this being a necessary part of the societal constraints of her necessary relationship with Apollon). As divine nurse she is shown as fulfilling this very maternal association, for she tenderly loves and cares for all living things. She may be a harsh disciplinarian when necessary, she may get angry and chastise, and she almost ruthlessly pushes us to evolve and move forward as all mothers do with their children. It is certainly understandable why certain scholars had associated her so strongly with Rhea as a kind of maiden reinvention of the goddess into the family of the gods.

And one should not take lightly the raging temper of Parvati when provoked in myth where she takes a form like Kali. Such is truly her ferocity, and why, like Durga, she is rides a lion as her mount. The lion is one of those creatures that seems to have an almost universe symbolic show of raw power and strength between Indians and Hellenes. A very good notable reason for the strong lion associations with Artemis too.

The nurturing, loving, brutally harsh, and fiercely loyal nature of Artemis-Parvati is what makes her such a powerful and wonderful goddess to have a relationship with regardless of which cultural lens you are honoring her from.

Making duo-tradition syncretism work for me

Often when I explain that I am Hellenic (over a decade there) and Hindu (baby Hindu at that) there seems to be a concept of following some sort of Eclectism. In reality it ends up being more complicated than that because I am not just picking elements of what I like but rather merging two full religious traditions. But making it work means I have to recognize too what is purely Hellenic and what is purely Sanatana Dharma. That means in daily private home based private worship I have to still distinguish things. Where in general prayers and in shrine building I often show off my syncretic beliefs, I also do traditional rituals of each religion. This also requires me to recognize that there are not perfect syncretisms, and while many gods syncretize and shrine share for that reason, most other gods do not and are worshipped independently.

This means whereas I have a big shrine for Siv-Apollon and Parvati-Artemis, and another big shrine for Zeus-Vishnu/Dionysos-Krishna, and Lakshmi-Demeter with Hera and Poseidon sharing there too, and another shrine for Athena-Saraswati, and a new shrine starting for Ganesha-Hermes…..I also have various non syncretic shrines and worship places in and around my house.

It means that while Monday has become my day for Apollon-Siva overall and my regular offerings reflects this, that my puja to Siva is wholely Hindu regardless of whether or not I address him at any point as Siv-Apollon. It means that when I celebrate Apollon’s birthdays or other major cult festivals that it is wholely Hellenic regardless of whether or not Siva’s name comes into it.

It doesn’t mean banning Hindu murti during my Hellenic festivals, or setting aside Hellenic icons during pujas. It doesn’t mean isolation, but rather a shift of focus of how I worship and interact with the gods given the purpose of what I am doing when I am doing something of particular importance.

It does mean that my regular worship at syncretic shrines tends to contain elements of both Hellenic and Hindu worship, which really has so many commonalities that with my regular offerings that they flow into each other seamlessly. This is due to the fact that unlike festivals, in which the heritage, the god and tradition are of importance as festivals are loaded with very particular meanings (even if they translate well cross culturally), in personal daily worship it is just about you and the gods, there is no other meaning involved. It is purely the engaging in the relationship and honoring however is best to honor them as they have expressed to you over time. One learns what is good and what is not through experience when having a syncretic oikos, when being of a duo-tradition household.

Sometimes there are small mistakes that are made, often based on certain presumptions, but in the end it is a very rewarding spiritual way of living even it is ends up being a bit complicated to thoroughly embrace more than one way of spiritual living and interacting with the gods. And it may be a bit overwhelming at times lol. But it works for me.