Rice, Maize, Wheat, Barley and Demeter

Wheat is undisputedly the great gift of Demeter, the sacred substance of the goddess, the very symbol of the Kore, the sacrifice of the wheat ear of whom we are partake. Second to the wheat is the purifying and holy barley which is used for purifying the altar space, tools of sacrifice and the object of sacrifice. When you hear of sacred use of barley as a food substance it is usually used in festivals such as the Pyanepsia, the kykeon of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the panspermia at the Anthesterion. Unfortunately these grains, amid all their holiness, have in common  (as with spelt, rye etc) is a grain protein called gluten which is difficult for some people to digest.

So what do you do when you are limited to, or cannot partake of the most holy of substances that is an important fixture of your worship? I, like my mother who must even avoid many shampoos due to the use of the gluten, have a sensitivity to gluten that has been getting worse as I have been getting older. Simple direct contact with flour on my arms I discovered years ago causes painful rashes on my arms which may or may not be related to the issue at hand, but eating gluten causes not only painful blisters on my back and thighs when consumed more than the most minimal amounts, but when I step over than minimalist line also causes extreme gastronomical pain.  Gastronomical pain isn’t new to me, for which reason I tend to avoid eating nuts, because I have difficulty digesting them too, but the pain with grain is something which has been increasing to the point in which I am now considering completely cutting out (or quite close) gluten in my diet. Even the smallest amounts of grain cause an uncomfortable gassy tummy that I have just had to deal with. But it has affected my relationship over the years with Demeter.

It is really difficult to fully appreciate the savior cult of a goddess of grain when grain causes  you suffering. I found that while I use the symbolic properties of the wehat and barley in my worship, that I  relate more strongly to Demeter and Persephone in my daily life and worship with other grain like products, namely maize and rice. Persephone is still goddess of the  grain ear but I conceive of it in more broad terms to include thiese food staples that I more regularly eat. Rice is a particularly large part of my diet, and conceiving of Demeter as a mother of rice has been quite profound way for me to connect with the goddess in regards to that food which sustains my household. Life sustaining foods. In the future my connection to her with maize will probably develop more to consuming of maize tortillas in place of sandwiches.

While there is a strong historical root in the wheat ear and barley to Demeter (and spelt with Ceres) there is no reason that those of us with certain sensitivities to these things cannot enjoy and appreciate the goddess in the bounty of grains in general. I imagine that if  maize and rice crops were prevalent in ancient Hellas that she would have likely been connected to these grain-like harvests to. Mother of grains I appreciate you who are savior of the races of men, yours whose bounty ever flows the basis of our lives. May your crops continue to ever be diverse and manifold. I thank you for the rice grain and the maize grain that  nourishes my body.

The Amber Tears of Apollon and the Heliades

This blog post sprung into being largely in regards to a conversation on the subject of the amber tears of Apollon on my facebook page. The conversation began when I found a reference that I wish I had found when I was writing “The Name of Apollon” that I found a suggested name root proposed quite convincingly by Arthur Bernard Cook in his book “Zeus, A Study  in Ancient Religion.” He shows evidence that the Doric name for Apollon as Apellon (accent on the e) may have been derived from the word apellon (accent on the o) which refers to the black poplar. Poplars, as we know, are the very tree that the Heliades, the seven daughters of Helios, turned into in the grief for Phaeton’s death. This is the generally known myth regarding the source of amber. However, Apollodoros Rhodios tells us that the Keltoi (or more likely a known version that was attributed to the Keltoi as a distant foreign *exotic* people from the region that it was surmised that Hyperboreia was located) that the tears of amber were not from the Heliades, but were shed by Apollon in his exile.

This only gets confusing when we see the Apollodoros clearly confuses two myths in this reference to Apollon’s exile. One is the myth in which Apollon is cast down into slavery to Admetus for slaying the Cyclops in vengeance for the death of Asklepios, and the myth in which Apollon went into self imposed exile for slaying the dragon Delphyne.  When compared to the myth of Phaeton and the Heliades we have a very strong vein shared in common with the alternate version regarding Apollon, sorrowful death and destruction (Delphyne and Asklepios for Apollon, Phaeton for the Heliades) that is necessary for rebalance and ordering that which had the harmonic order disrupted. This is something I have addressed before when speaking of the tears of Siva and the tears of Apollon here.

In the case of Phaeton, the young son of Helios, the sun swinging wildly from its perfect course, out of harmony with the earth and the heavens caused the heavens to burn, the seas to dry up, and the earth to freeze. Zeus strikes him down to destroy the disruption. Zeus does likewise to Asklepios who disturbs the natural order of the cosmos by reversing death. Apollon, who is usually a rebalancing and destroyer of disruptions to harmonic order, in reaction slays the Cyclops smith of his father. Apollon too here is operating against his own nature and is cast into slavery as a corrective measure. Both exile and slavery serves a similar purification purpose in the Greek religion. Herakles himself submitted himself to a period of slavery for his purification. This is likely the purpose for the confusion of the two myths of Apollon. Not that the author got them confused, but it is likely an intentional identifying factor. Wether to his imposed slavery or self imposed exile, Apollon is weeping the tears of Amber for what  was done. It is grief and sorrow that all men express  for change that is necessary for maintain the order of nature. For death. It is that the thing for which men grieve, and when we have a god as close to humanity as Apollon who grieves likewise there is established a link of symbolism for us. It is a natural part of experience to grieve for our loss, and sorrow is part of mortal lot. It is a tool of  the mortal experience. The amber tears are sacred as the divine compassion and love that recognizes the necessary suffering and loss that occurs in life. The experience of sorrow is purifying in itself as we can understand when we are experience particular cathartic moments. This nature renders the amber as purifying itself like the laurel leaves.

If Cook is right and the Doric Apellon bares relation to the black poplar tree, this may be a link in the myth of Phaeton and the Heliades as being among his divine “court”? Likewise Dryope, a beloved consort of Apollon,  who became a nymph of the black poplar when carried off by the hamadryads and replaced with the tree much like Daphne as Cook points out. This could also be part of the symbolic root of the Agyieus stone at the entrance which may have represented the formless god similar to a black poplar trunk, in vein similar to their purpose of garlanding it with daphne leaves. The connection to the poplar with the entrance to the home could be considered in relation to the natural habitat in which the tree grew in loamy soil. As Apollon’s first original Pythion temple in Athens was in a rather swampy area this can give some obvious connection to those specific conditions being particular to Apollon in general, but the position of the Heliades in poplar form at the river bank is perhaps more precise in its symbolism….the border between land and sea. It could then be seen as appropriate to garland the Agyieus stone of the household with a string of amber.This can be especially useful for those who do not have the ability to garland it regularly with fresh laurel.

The Hunt and the Hare

I was so tempted for a moment to title this post “Lucky Rabbits Foot” but that was so far abroad from the topic that it seemed that it would be completely misleading. This post is not about good fortune that the rabbit may or may not bring (not so lucky for the rabbit as they say), but rather the little know importance of the rabbit in the cult of Artemis and Apollon. In fact, it was something that I was a bit unaware of to. Oh yes I know that a particular vase painting of Artemis Bendis, the Greo-Thrakian syncretism of the Thrakian Bendis with the Greek Artemis, depicted her holding a hare as she stood before her seated twin. And I did know too that rabbits were depicted with Artemis on particular vessels in Thebes according to Pausanias, so I was not completely ignorant on the matter. I just didn’t understand the relationship.

The hare or rabbit is pretty universally among pagans revered as a symbol of fertility, given the large litters of young they have and rapid manner in which they multiply, and yet its association with Artemis seems to have little direct to do with fertility in any direct way. I discovered this when I came across a reference of Xenophon when researching the hare which states that from Apollon and Artemis came the sport of dogs and game, the art of hunting that they taught Chiron in order to honor him, and he and turn taught it to his own students. This would certainly explain the scene of the great hunt tapestry that was described by Euripedes in a scene at Delphi in his play Ion. Like the deer, a game animal closely connected to the divine twins, the hare can be considered  a kind of substitute for the deer…a lesser more common substitute. Here is the loose connection to fertility, that unlike large game beasts, owing it is rigorous breeding habits, hares are typically plentiful wherever they are found. It is of no wonder that Xenophon would designate an entire chapter to hunting the hare with the use of dogs and net. I was always confused on how the net, attributed to Artemis directly in an epithet, was used in hunting…indeed he describes the process in which nets were set for hares and dogs drove the quick beasts into the net. Of course the hunt begins, as Xenophon tells us with a prayer to Apollon and Artemis and a promise of tribute to the gods for a successful hunt.

Like the hunting of big game that we see in heroic exploits (such as Meager, Atlanta and a host of heroes hunting the Calydonian boar, or Herkales’ hunt of the Ceryneian Hind) that exemplifies the hunt of nobility as a spiritual exercise, the more common rabbit serves similar purpose that is accessible to anyone armed with a hound and a net. The relationship of Artemis to the natural principle of energy (as a nurse that which is sustaining, and a huntress that which propels forward) the hunt of the hare is an almost perfect example of the goddess hunting forth beings on a spiritual level from one state of existence to another as the soul progresses, the hare fleeing  before the dogs entering into the net that entraps it until it is ready to move on again. Apollon as one who receives the hunt of Artemis, destroyer god and god of the divine gate is the natural other half of this process for which he too is called the hunter and for which Xenophon states that tradition attributes the gift of the hunt from both deities. The hare, which like the deer, moves swiftly is a further mark of spiritual movement. The theoi are those who run, and therefore the pursuit and hunt of Apollon and Artemis is one of spiritual progress to apotheosis, to the liberation of the noble soul. Although Artemis protects all young, nurturing them until they are of the appropriate maturity for the hunt, images with the goddess with rabbits I would suspect indicates not so much the goddess protecting the rabbit, but that she is presenting it.

Unlike the deer of the progressed soul, however, the rabbit is like the common man, he is small and vulnerable with no resource against predators other than hiding. He is prolific to be sure, numerous in his environment wherever he lives like men across the other, and like the souls of men, he a lot a period of time sleeping away from the world before he comes again in the spring. The  hare is the very symbol of the souls of men in their relationship to the cycle and their  relationship with the twins, even as the flesh of the hare in more practical worldly terms satisfies the hunger of men who subsist on it as deeply entrenched as it is  the cycles of death and life. Hares and rabbits of various breeds are plentiful, and from which many may erratically be driven in common with every push. Many enter at a time through the large mystic gates, but through the narrow mystic gates that leads to liberation of the soul, fewer at a time reach that destination. The hare is like the first phase as the deer is for the second stage. And it is of interesting note that the dogs are more expertly interacted with in the hunt of hares than what Xenophon discusses with the hinds and the  boars. This could suggest that the dogs of Artemis particularly gather up the younger less progressed souls. The rabbits are like all of those charioteer souls as Plato describes entangled together near the surface of the other, in contrast to few that briefly get to rise near the god that it adores.

It would seem that Xenophon classifies hunting in three levels. Whereas he spends much time regarding the virtues undertaken in the hunt of the hare which requires superior handling of the dogs, the hunt of the hind requires greater personal skill on the part of the hunter, and the hunt of the boar is the most dangerous and most manly of hunts which lauds the boar hunt as the most noble form of hunting and one that is quite rare. Therefore we have the common rabbit of Apollon and Artemis, the deer which is somewhat more associated with Artemis and is the  beat of her chariot, and lastly the boar which is typically contacted almost singularly with Apollon, the boar of which has been depicted pulling his own chariot and the kingly chariot of Admetus that Apollon  procured for him, and Artemis to a lesser degree.

In closing there is no small symbolic attachment to the hare/rabbit in the cult of Apollon and Artemis and especially in regard to the mysteries. The hare calls for a certain level of spiritual appreciation. The association of the rabbit in Vedic mythology with Chandra the moon recalls to mind that strong lunar association that these divine twins possess that may or may not be incidental  and could point to a potential Indo-European  foundation in cult.

The Mystery of Delphyne and the Tears of Apollon

Apollon came to land in the cradle of Mt Parnassos, and there he set up his temple. The first temple of myth was made from cuttings of laurel branches, the second incarnation of the temple of beeswax and feathers that was said to have been born away to Hyperborea by a wind, the third of Bronze which was said to have been swallowed by the earth. Two more temples are attributed to Apollon of human construction. Yet Apollon set the foundation of his own temple, and in doing so it said in myth that he came into confrontation with the dragoness Delphyne. The Homeric hymn stated that she was a bane to herds, a predatory creature, thus as the nature of the dragon. Yet Apollon is named Delphinios that is not only related to the dolphin in the form of which that he brought his priests to Delphi (although ancient images of dolphins look a bit sea-dragonish to me) but also likely to Delphyne as much as he is called Pythios after the rotting action that he inflicted on her for which she is called Python. This is an important feature as whenever we have shared epithets between Apollon and Artemis it is due to obvious clear shared features playing off of each other. We see this is terms of Daphneios and Daphnaea in which they are both of the laurel, in Kitharados and Kitharadia (warning I always butcher the spelling here for some reason) in which both are players of the kithara, with Artemis we see this particularly in Sparta), Lykeios and Lykeia, Hyakinthios and Hyakinthia (where Artemis is portrayed bearded), and a host of many other names..including Delphinios and Delphinia, and Phoebus and Phoebe which are of a particular feminine root mythically rather than the usual masculine mythical root in their shared epithets.

While Artemis and Apollon share a relationship through their maternal heritage with Phoebe, Leto’s mother, it is quite probably that Apollon is called this more in relation to his twin who would be considered the heir of Phoebe as much as Apollon appears to be as a heir of Koios (in the hymn to Apollon by Kallimachus this seems most apparent as the implements of Apollon are hung on the great pillar representing the pole of Koios which may also have a link to one reason why Apollon is represented aniconically is an erect upright stone). In this sense we see why Apollon is called Phoebus, and why Phoebe is said to have given to Apollon as a birthday gift. Do we mean Phoebe as in the maternal grandmother of Apollon or Phoebe as in Artemis who proceeds Apollon in birth. The connection between the former Phoebe and Delphi has been strongly related to the connection of Phoebe and Koios as a pair of the axis. Phoebe at Delphi at the axis of the earth of the dragon Delphyne, and Koios at the axis of the heavens with the great heavenly dragon which the polar star represents the eye of such dragon. Phoebe and Koios then can themselves be seen as great guardian dragons of the axis themselves, which would go a long way  to demonstrate the importance of serpents in the cult of Apollon and Artemis, as well as the naga-like representation of Delphyne. The association with Artemis directly with Phoebe (descent from her in myth) implies that Artemis Phoebe could be very well seen mystically as the slaying of the huntress (the allegory of the hunter turned into game is prominent in her own myth via the myth of Actaeon who in one version is a suitor of Semele and in another myth seeks to be a suitor of Artemis). The hunter prey dicthotomy is very  strong in the cult of Apollon and Artemis. Artemis who is Lykeia is the goddess of the hunt and of the hunting dogs  that would be trained to attack wolves, and Apollon Lykeios who is at once wolfish and slayer of wolves. This may be somewhat behind Plutarch’s analysis of Apollon and Dionysos at Delphi as a singular god in which Apollon represents that form of the god which is destroying of the self. But I digress.

The tears and grief of Apollon  and his self imposed exile otherwise is way over the top if it was nothing more than a dragon that he killed. So would be the elaborate funerary customs of Apollon libating to the  Python if she was not symbolically linked to Artemis. Certainly other versions attest to the twins killing the dragon together but this is more likely a variation playing on the confusion of two different Pythons of Delphi, Delphyne and the son of Gaia, Tityos, who was slain by Apollon and Artemis for his attack on Leto and for whose death would account for their joint departure for purification intended at Crete but without exile. This confusion between the two myths brings Artemis more actively into the Delphyne myth cycle where she is otherwise not clearly present. This may very be intentional as a way to indicate to the mystical nature represented in the allegory of the slaying of the dragoness.

This would also be pertinent to the symbolism of the amber tears of Apollon. The only other myth of Amber that we really find is in regarding to the Heliades, the daughters of Helios and sisters of Phaethon who became poplar trees that wept tears of Amber for the death of their brother. I was asked a short while back to discuss the connection between the death of Phaethon (whose name means shining) and the death of Python, aside from the similarities in their names. Here we find Phaethon representing a disruption in nature, he drives the sun chariot out of balance creating chaos and catastrophe on earth, and is slain by Zeus in order to correct the balance. Even though we do not find these tears being shed by Helios, but rather by his daughters in his place perhaps, it is linked to the sacrifices necessary for the harmony and balance of nature. Death is a necessary process but memory is eternal even as amber is a somewhat permanent transformed form of organic sap. Death is transformative, and so the myth of Phaethon demonstrates this clearly with the transformation of his sisters, and the eternal amber, a substance closely associated with other earth deities perhaps in a chthonic association. Similarly we find in the slaying of Delphyne a keeping of balance. Predators are necessary, but predators have their own predators and nature corrects over populations of predators to prey resources. Malevolence, regardless of anything suggestion of it that may be attached in the course of story-telling portion of the myth, is not a factor. Nor is it a factor of good versus evil, or of god versus goddess as is popular among goddess-spiritualist retellngs of the myth. Rather it is a grief over the necessary of sacrifice, the fruit of destruction, and the cycles of life and death that are so much part of Apollon’s cult (and in a manner Helios cult as well). Delphyne remains as a benevolent daemon at Delphi under the guise of Python and her representations around the omphalos, and the celebration of her sacrifice at the end of each divine year, and Apollon’s grief for slaying that which is representative of his other half, his twin Artemis, and the taking of the name Pythia by his oracle brides. The close relationship between life/light (which we see in Phoebus and Phaeton’s names) and Pythios/Python is something that contains symbolic weight of the balance of life and death.

Although carrying mythic differences, the association of Apollon’s tears over Delphyne is remarkably similar to the rudraska tears of Rudra upon the death of Sati/Shakti. In myth Sati immolated herself, who had already been grieving for her separation from Rudra/Siva and then suffered insult and non-presence in the company of her father (who neither acknowledged her presence in either her literal presence or even her presence via her connection her husband by refusing offer Prasad to Rudra/Siva. This sense of separation is being out of harmony in my view, a sense of imbalance or a state needing correction. At her death Siva brought forth destruction, calmed only by Visnu dividing the body of Sati (thus the body wasted away like we find with the myth of Delphyne) as Siva wept tears that became the rudraska that is most holy. Siva afterwards paid penance by retreating into the mountains of the Himalayas, a self imposed exile which led to unity again with Sati when she came again as Parvati. Separation unity, life and death, harmony and balance that is all one.

The amber tears of Apollon carry the full of the weight of the mystery of Delphyne and carry an honored status in my view that is not dissimilar to the rudraska, and I know many devotees of Apollon who wear amber for him or find amber to be a highly important devotional item in his worship. To this ends I plan on, in my own personal worship with the  unified shrine of Apollon, Siva, Parvati and Artemis, to string the rudraska beads (from a strand my baby broke) with amber beads to wear during worship to so honor this one sameness element.

Honey, Preservation and Immortality

Today I was reading about how honey has been used as preservative for embalming, and this clicked something in my mind. I have often tossed around the connections that may exist between gods who are associated with bees (and honey) but there never seemed to be a really strong definitive relationship regarding the symbol of the honeybee that was a unifying feature. Yet this feature made perfect sense when I put together the historic practice of using honey for embalming in association with gods who have a strong connection to the dying process and apotheosis, a process in which the soul of a mortal is deified that it may join the gods.

The association with honey and the dead can be found mythically in the tale of Glakos, son of Minos who fell into a jar of honey and there died. The honey within embalmed and preserved him, rendering a kind of immortality as the flesh did not dissolve and the soul depart upon release from the flesh (as I have noted is the chief connection with Apollon and the remains of the dead, the process of destroying the physical form in order to release the soul to the service of Hermes). A seer, whose service belongs to Apollon, restored the child to life. Apollon’s domain seems to be the boundary, the gate the determines  the destination of the soul after death. Will the soul retain form and be able to be liberated from the flesh to join the gods, or will the soul  be stripped bare and sent to the court of Haides to drink of Lethe. Apollon features in several apotheosis myths which clarifies this role and strengthens this importance of his domain.  Not only for the apotheosis of Hyakinthos, but also for Marsyas who was transformed into a river god, and even Sarpedon whose body he was appointed to anoint. Nevermind the corpse of Dionysos whose charge he was given over which he tended to and buried on Parnassos, the same mountain where Apollon was nursed by the bee-nymphs, the Thryae to whom he sent Hermes to learn basic divination. The connection here of the bee to divine mind, to foreknowledge is perhaps hand in hand with  the association fo honey with immortality, and why Apollon himself, given his associations was also significantly pared with prophecy serving a connection of mortals to the gods. And tge Pythias have been called Melissae (honeybees) as well, not to mention that Glakos’ own daughter served as sybill at Cumae . Divination inspiration was construed as a kindof honey  when given whether that be prophecy, or its close kin, poetry. Pindar was said to have had drops of honey dropped on his lips by the Muses in order to gift him with such great poetic vision. This is not to forget that the quality of raw honey was used as an antiseptic for the purpose of healing. It is pure, gold, and divine.

The honeybee is, for me, one of the strongest links between Dionysos, Apollon and Hermes. Dionysos, the liberator of the soul, Apollon as god of the cemetery/destroying/freeing god, and Hermes as escort of the soul who either draws up the deified soul as he lifts the newborn Dionysos or escorts them to the halls of the dead. And then there is Zeus, the first mystic god, and father of all three brothers.

This given, Zeus is perhaps the best place to start, and his sister Demeter. Zeus is foremost connected intimately with the earth and her mysteries, this is part of his mystic character. Gaia raising Zeus, nursing him and caring for him (and teaching him) is quite involved, probably starting from his very birth in the cavern in Crete where the Kouretes, the escort of Rhea, are likened to angry wasps clamoring about in the cave where they dwelt with Zeus (and the Cretans believing that wasps continued to reside within and protect that sanctuary). That Zeus has also a Chthonic form and has been likened to Haides, there is probably something to be said regarding the connection between the living, the divine and the dead that is very much ingrained in the honey/bee symbolism. Demeter  too, often serves as a kind of mother of the dead and goddess of the saving initiation, by whose mysteries  the mortal soul is released, nourished , perserved and given over to the blessed state. It is of no wonder that  hers were also called, like the Pythias, bees of the goddess. The same can be said of Rhea and Cybele who are the most clear predecessors to the  domain of Demeter, earthly mystic mothers, mother of Zeus and all the gods on one hand, and initiator of Dionysos on the other hand.  Artemis’ powerful association with these goddess, and as a favored daughter of Zeus, and her prominent role as Kourotroph, a great nurse goddess, likely has much to do with her own strong associations with  honeybees. Of course her other ole as a huntress which drives forth life to its end is perhaps also very much connected here, she, in many ways provides the means for which new life may mature. Like the honey that is created by bees for their own larvae to feed upon. This may be an important point of her  relationship  with Demeter as her mystic daughter. Although bees are not hunting creatures as one would imagine being associated with Artemis, they are nurturers and protectors which are just as siginificant to her cult as that of the huntress.

The sacred mystic nature of honey, however, is most  clear in the myths surrounding Dionysos. Milk and honey, offerings to nymphs and to the dead, spurt from the thyrsus of  the god and his maenads, and comes from the ground wheresoever they strike. If honey is that substance which is a gift from other gods, Dionysos, as a kind of  younger Zeus, is the bestower of honey, he is honey-sweet. He is the essence of the realized divine state. And Hermes is the god who receives  it , who delivers it forth. He is one who has received the divine gift and knows how to utilize it. If other gods oppoitimize raw honey and mead, Hermes I would call the candyman….the refined product of a most sacred  substance of divinity

In any case , regardless of which of these above gods you are devoted to, the honeybee is an important and  significant symbol that is appropriate to honor them with.  I, myself, have a  honeybee pendant  that is gold, citrine and diamond that I wear chiefly for Apollon but also for these other gods as well who share this close relationship with my lord.

Spring Return

In the past, Apollon’s return in the spring has been part of the highlight of my year, as spring approached this year I came to certain epiphanies about Apollon in this region (I say this region because it seems that even in Hellas you do not find widespread joint belief about a departure of the god….and in Delphi it was originally every 9 years rather than yearly, whereas Delos had yearly departure to Lycia for half of the year. But there is no other literature from anywhere else in Hellas regarding this matter specifically, with the exception of Apollodoros Rhodios who only says that in the Argonautika that the Argonauts met with Apollon passing by them on his return to Delphi without further specifications about where the god is returning from and what the context of his return is set. In Alaska, Apollon’s just doesn’t strongly express any kind of return and departure. Part of this may be because there isn’t a huge agricultural tie (such as Apollon bearing the wheat ears from Hyperborea.. ie bringing the return of the ripening season with his own return. In fact his agricultural roles are fairly minimal around here, whereas he is more prominent in a more nomadic hunter/herder role that is highlighted by his influence over civilization and some slight agricultural roles around here.

I am personally becoming of the opinion that Apollon himself doesn’t quite fit the settled civilized role. Although he has Delphi as the historic seat of his worship, Apollon’s myths are characterized by a sort of wandering nature of the god, as he delights in the peaks of the high mountains and the deep valley, ceaselessly moving as all things move him with him in harmonic accord. This is the very nature of the nomadic god, changing round the seasons. This doesn’t negate the importance of civilization, for even nomadic cultures are civilized and fit the definition as we find that the ancient Hellenes categorized the qualities of civilization to be based on just a few mandatory principles usually involved with production, such as the ability to make cheese, something which in ancient observations classified the “barbaric” Scythian nomaidic peoples as being among the “civilized”. Herein too lies the real value of the divine musician too, as a god who can settle and calm his herds  in even the worse of conditions, soothing and bringing peace, but also the tempo of life ever moving and changing with the seasons, and the unity of the tribe on a social level in the highest importance. Harmony and unity.

I never really saw it before until this winter past when I saw him as some sort of wintry Shamanic god coming down from the Steppes region, bristling with animal furs and a wolf cap lined with red wool, dark, shining, golden, with the bones of prey hanging from necklaces around his neck as he swayed to some rhythm like a heartbeat of the earth itself. A flute at his hip with which to summon winds and to lull the herds with melancholy songs of winter. Adorned with the feathers of swans and ravens, and heavy brassy bells. Fire exudes from him, reflecting off of the ice and snow, even as ice hangs from his curling horns. Timeless. This is how he came to me in a vision in the winter. Not of some linen-clad youth in  paradise garden but of a god who exists ever between seasons (Hyperborea existing simultaneous with him in between time). He exists at once in this blessed place and roaming the wide earth. His nomadic nature however won’t permit him to be contained, hence you find at such prominent temples as Delphi and Delos that the god needs to depart, not that he is leaving the world, but that he is unable to remain fixed continuously. To  stay fixed , to be as stagnant water, is not fitting with his nature, the serpentine ever renewing lord.  He merely sheds away time as he passes, the slayer and announcer of the dying god. He is the wolf, the creature of twilight standing between the  night and day, belonging to both and neither.

This is not to say that I hold no purpose for his  departing, temple manifestation. Temples served a purpose not only for honoring him but at specific temples also to serve for an oracular spot to serve the region to which people could gather. . The complex mythologies of his return highlighted the important relationship Apollon had with these given temples (and in the case of Delos and Lycia, the relationship that these temples had to each other) at which he served very particular purposes, confused with his seasonal presence among crops during the fruiting season. I suppose there is a certain logic to the season of the temple oracles to be unified with the fruiting season of Apollon, which would make his  departure from the temple and the wane of the warm dry season corresponding in a sudden epiphany of movement. I suppose it may be easier to think that the blessed place of the god exists separate of himself and is a place to which the god himself must retreat to rather than a state that  is with him wherever he goes. Therefore when he is not at the temple  the  temple ceases its function, the blessed doorway is closed, the way is guarded by griffins and without access.

And so it has dawned on me that in my worship it is best to not see him as a coming and departing god to some nether region hidden and obscure, but that he himself is obscure except when he wishes to reveal himself. He is as ambiguous by his nature as he is by his oracles…but always ringing truth. Therefore he is always “present”  but present in different ways. So my solution is this to my practice as he has revealed, and something that I have meditated on during his return this year rather than with any lavish festival.

I am to seek him out where he reveals himself, in some hollows of the wilderness and set for him a monument to which I am to visit in recognition of him as herald of spring, bringer f the warm fruiting months, giver of harvest, fattener of beasts maturing beneath his watchful eye. Here I shall give offering to him at the beginning of this season and at the last day of his season, to honor he who provides and nourishes even as he destroys. He who is both the life giving day, and the destroying night, he who tends the fields of summer and hunts, driving aloft great herds, in the snowy drifts of winter. Provider of game, warder against famine.  By this measure I am to honor him, and at that site I will address him by his ancient names, and by that name which  is given by the nature of the site to honor him as god residing at that monument.

So now I just have to find it.

Servant of the Gods

Today I saw posts from friends talking about the yearly salary of pastors and my brother announcing the finding of his church home, and it is striking to me, yet again, how very different this is from polytheistic religions, whether you are talking about Vedic, Hellenic, Germanic etc. It is this concept that worship and service to the gods is something external that is done on your behalf by another, and that those who serve the gods have these positions to minister, council and be an overall support system for the masses. In reality, when we look at religions such as Christianity, we find that their clergy has a different focus than that of polytheistic religions. Namely, that the clergy person is acknowledged as a leader and moral compass. They are chiefly responsible for their “flock” and spiritual guidance of those in attendance.

I have said before that there is a distinction that should be made between ” a leader” and a “priest”. Christianity melds these two concepts and so many polytheists try to follow along this model as being what they are accustomed to. We are used to have authoritative religious supervision over every facet where it has really never existed before. We have had leaders who lead in rituals as a kind of civic head of the family kind of way, but generally their service to the gods is fairly on par with that of other worshipers. With the combination of clergy and leadership roles in Christian (and similar) clergy it makes the worshiper as nothing more than an observer witnessing the rites being undertaken on their part. This necessitates for them having a “church-home”, because the spiritual religious life is dependent on this religious witnessing rather than performance, whereas for their polytheistic counterparts their church-home is quite literally the home with the head of the household performing leading the rituals with their families in attendance and taking part in the  worship activities.

So then what is the purpose of the priest? Unlike the leader whose duty it is to serve the people, the priest merely serves the god. This doesn’t necessarily put them in positions of leading rituals (although they often took leading parts in processions) but rather an observation of certain taboos, and a rigorous depth of religious observances and prescribed Work on done behalf of their deity to please the deity in question. This can take the form of education, many servants of the gods take to writing informational material, or by offering very specific services and skills. Regardless, the focus is continually on the god that said person serves, and each action is performed in devotion to the deity. A priest may choose to lecture or answer specific questions, but overall their focus is not on the activity of the worshiper, nor is it in acquiring converts or expansion. The service to their god is the whole of their experience and dedication. We can look to Rome to actually very well illustrate this for the  priests were elected into the position and  were expected to observe the protocols due to their position, which rarely had anything to do interacting or serving people or even their personal inclinations. It was all about their service to the gods, even if this served to earn them other forms of prestige.

This  is parallel in Hellas, wherein at temples priests who served there were often selected  by officials to conduct certain sacrifices and observances for the temple, but that this did not negate unofficial priests and sibyls who did their part in their service. But none of these took on the responsibilities that you find in Christian clergy…and for very good reason. When you get right down to it…it is a conflict of interest.  Whether you are on behalf of the people or  working on behalf of the gods. This is not to say that leaders can’t be highly devoted individuals. It is just different specializations and foci. By combining and merging the clergy and leadership roles creates the kind of relationship between priest and worship that you find in Christianity and decreases the influence and value of home worship in which the family  would lead its own worship. In  polytheistic religions where the home is by tradition the center of  the religious life this model  is then highly incompatible and one we should not be trying to mimic.

In short, we need both gifted community leaders AND devoted priests, but in recognition that these are very different kinds of service roles that preserve the integrity of the worship community rather than stripping from it. We also need to acknowledge the benefit of the lay worshiper. Not everyone has the time, energy, or desire or perhaps even devotion to devote so much of their life to either of these. When we realize that our religion is not a theocratic body and that the real value of worship rests within the individual and home with priests and a support system and community leaders for guidance, then we may find that more people will find this far more rewarding spiritually in their own responsibility for the spiritual welfare of themselves and their households. A division of responsibility empowers the individual householder and preserves their autonomy when the priests do not desire to take charge of the lives of the worshipers and the leaders do not desire to meddle in the worshiping activity of their community.