The Destroyer with a Kindly Face

For a god whose domain is largely focused on the natural forces which demolish life and form, it may seem odd that he is often portrayed looking beautiful and often kindly faced. I saw a lovely photo shared of the remains of an archaic statue of Apollon from Delphi (the same one which is the banner of my blog that I myself photographed, but at a different angle and by a different photographer) in which the person who originally shared it commented on how sweet his expression is. A person who is familiar with the sweeter and kinder images of Apollon may find it more appropriate for Apollon as known as a god of civilization and the arts than what they would think to associate with a god of destructive natural forces. Yet if we understand Apollon who is a god of civilization and the arts by his compassion and love to hold back and protect civilization from his harsher forces that it may flourish we can see very well how the god of nature’s destructive forces could have come as a being of beauty and infinite kindness and compassion.

This is more poignant when we understand Apollon as a god who has twice been exiled (once by his own means and once again into slavery by his father) and of the gods knows well concepts of suffering and tears, especially given spending a term in human existence which few gods have experienced in myth outside of Dionysos.  Thus the myth brings revelation of Apollon as a god in contact with human experience. And yet unlike Dionysos, he is not a dying god. In fact he never matures beyond the transitional point between youth and manhood, eternally young and beautiful like a serpent with which he is intimately associated and form he has often taken that sheds its skin that it ever appears to be youthful and unchanged in the height of its beauty.

The most important thing that has been highlighted in myth regarding Apollon as a god for nature’s destructive forces is that while he can be violent and appear to be cruel in some instances if myth were taken literally, it rather highlights the distinction between organic and natural death/destruction by way of nature and that of murder. Apollon is represented in both instances at once. When he is exiled he is a murderer and thus he often penalizes murderers who come to him for purification in cases of accidental death especially and sentences them to travel afar in exile to form new colonies in penitence. He understands murder as one who has committed murder in the company of the gods, and as such he represents the understood distinction between murder and organic death/destruction. Apollon is presented in literature I believe as undergoing murder because this distinction of understanding is essential for his role in nature. For a distinction between natural death and murder myth is used to illustrate the differentiation as being fully formed in the domain of the god. Although Apollon has murdered and understands murder in myth, he himself abhors murderers and sends them abroad for their purification to remove the stain of their presence. Euripedes in his play Aclestis emphasizes this understood distinction in the domain of Apollon by his confrontation with impartial Thanatos (a distinction between the god which turns time into maturity and to the appropriate time of their death for when they are ripe for it as a god of the forces of nature that include time but also storms and ravages that consequently may take human life due to their fury, and the god who is death itself and is impartial fulfilling his duty to cut down life whenever he is sent to do so regardless of the means of the death). Here Apollon laments against the cruelty of life taken before its time is ripe. In some ways we can see Apollon as a god preserving civilization as an kindness to give humanity the fullest of time to age and die of the most natural causes rather than quickly slain by hostile environments within nature and predators.

Given this his role thus is with organic natural destruction that is a product of nature only it is reasonable that he would not bear a fearsome form as say Typhon does (it is a curiosity too, one that has been remarked by at least one academic at the closeness of the names of Typhon and Python/Pythios but usually with the regard that the myth of Zeus and Typhon was meant to parallel that of Apollon and Python. Nevermind that the whirling wind of Typhon bears links to Apollons similar role as a god of wind storms. The biggest difference however is that Typhon is entirely represented as a malevolent being of fearsome visage (despite being the offspring of Hera). It may be a distinction between Apollon as a god of organic and natural destruction and Typhon as being of wholesale destruction without compassion or pity? I have remarked in the comments of my previous posts that there are some strange mythic things occurring with Typhon and his relationship with Delphyne in myth (who resembles Echidnae in many instances in her form) and the odd line up with Delphic myth and the Homeric Hymn to the Pythian Apollon. If Apollon slew her when he was days old and yet he is said to have fled with Typhon emerging as a power with the other gods, to what purpose would Delphyne have been one to hide the sinews of Zeus and why would Hermes have retrieved them with Cadmus when it would be more logical that as a local daemon following Apollon’s rule at Delphi that Apollon would have had potential authority to retrieve them but is not present. It makes some odd things going on in the literary body regarding Delphyne and Apollon, and what possible relationship he may or may not have had with Typhon, especially with Apollon’s later alignment with the sun and it being mentioned to me that Typhon was too associated with the sun. Yet all the same the distinction that appears to be present between Apollon and Typhon as destructive beings is one that is controlled by the confines of nature and one that is absolutely uncontrolled devastation.

In this respect Apollon, unlike Typhon, does not appear in a form that is fearful and monstrous. He would be the exact opposite of such a form, and as such his kindness could be seen as the kindness that death brings to end suffering, and that decay brings to release souls into the next world as well as make fertile grounds for new life, and the harvest of flesh that humans slaughter even as they take too the harvest of grains. He cuts down all things at their ripeness. Yet it is to natural and benevolent purpose, rather than unkindness or any concept of evil. That is not to say that he was not understood as harsh. Organic destruction is harsh, and cannot be bargained with or changed. You cannot stop a storm from breaking, or water from breaking down stone and thus releasing important minerals even as it corrodes the land. Myth reveals this by speaking of the one time he tried to halt death for his favorite, king Cadmus which called of heroic means and thereafter divination of Aclestis by her part in bravery and Herakles for bringing her back from the gates of the underworld. Yet otherwise we do not see Apollon acting against the means of his own natural law, and one particular translation of Aclestis I had even had Thanatos translated (perhaps erroneously but still an interesting translation for these purposes) of Apollon violating his law. Regardless, the grievance of Thanatos for the interference of Apollon tells us a lot about what is expected of Apollon functioning within his domain. Same could be said in regards to the hostility of the Erinyes against Apollon in the Oresteia as a god who does not condone murder and yet directed murder and protected the murderer. Even though in myth these serve very important illustrations for other spiritual things going on that often involves apotheosis, it also highlights by example of what is abnormal by remarking upon it in the most extreme terms of hostility and grievance of that which was not considered part of Apollon’s function or nature.

In this case I cannot see Apollon as being represented with any other visage than expression of kindness or thoughtfulness. Even with his bow flexed he is often with a relaxed countenance and pleasant expression rather than appearing to be in any way moved by anger or aggression. His entire being is of benevolence, as is appropriate for a god of the passage of time in the harmonic movement of all celestial bodies and god of organic natural destruction. For he does not destroy life out of hatred or anger, or even in opposition to life for which he safeguards himself by withholding his destructive forces. In this respect I do not think he can be represented any other way except with expressions of serenity and kindness without moving off target. This is not to say that Apollon doesn’t anger and can’t be violent against transgression of natural/divine law. He is as much a protector of these laws as he rules a domain within it. Even in the instance of the murder of Clytemnestra we do not find him openly dispute that murder of kin is against nature and as such in punishable, rather arguing where the line has be drawn for accurate punishment as he also demonstrates that murder of mated/wedded pairs is also against nature.   As a protector of these laws and as a protector god in general can be very fierce, but it is not what I would consider his primary state of being when it comes to destruction as it is not foremost an act of punishment but rather nature.

Apollon and the Egyptian God Set

First of all I think it is necessary to make note of the fact that I have not seriously studied Kemetic religion or Egypt even since I was in highschool. Since I am nearing my 35th birthday, that means it is has been quite a few years. And even though I felt like it gave me a good foundation I will be the first to admit that there is a lot that I have forgotten over the years (or is buried so deep it would probably take someone highly trained in hypnotism to bring it out). All the same, as today is Karneia and I am observing the movement of the year of Apollon’s functions as he is finalizing his preservation of human civilization from the devastation of wilderness (which is more accurately his domain even if he acts at holding it back out of compassion for humanity) I thought it would be appropriate to spend a moment to write about the relationship of Apollon and the Egyptian god I think most strongly resembles him: Set.

As most know when it comes to term of Hellenic-Kemetic syncretism that typically it is Heru-sa-Aset (or Horus the younger/Horus the son of Isis) with whom Apollon is usually linked historically by Hellas. I have been of the opinion for some time since reading the work of Diodoros Siculus that this association was likely most plausibly made to explain the marked difference between Apollon’s roles in the mysteries, as a son of Demeter (whom the Hellenes observed to be like Isis, while at the same time being Persephone) and Dionysos (whom they observed to be like Osiris). Thus we have a narrative of the mysteries that they must have come from Egypt and that Apollon was the son of Osiris as he was the son of Dionysos and that of Demeter (or Persephone) rather than being native to Hellas, and that Orpheus learned of these mysteries and observed them in his time there and brought them back and taught them to the Hellenes. Yet the mysteries which are reinterpreted as Kemetic have little to do with the native religion itself when looked at, nor do the Hellenic mysteries resemble them too closely. Therefore I take it more as a metaphorical translation which serves merely to help tell the mysteries without really telling them…even if it is making stuff up or changing stuff around.

We already can see a more clear distinction between Artemis and Nephthys, the sister-wife of Set as imagined as a kite, a bird that Aristophanes in his play “the Birds” associated with Artemis particularly. That and a very particular nurse goddess as well as a companion of Isis and goddess who has particular attachments with death, if Demeter is like Isis, we can see the huntress/nurse Artemis to be akin to Nephthys more so than the joyous Bastet, especially given myths where Artemis takes a larger participatory role in the rape of Persephone for which we can see Artemis and Demeter standing in distinctive roles when it comes to the departure and emergence of Persephone. In fact she shares a number of powers quite similar to Isis that it is rather awe-inspiring, and a goddess of the twilight (which I think is more apt for Artemis as it is for Apollon) as the vessel of Re descends into the underworld. In the temple of Hera at Argos we get a sense of this kind of relationship when in the hallway of the goddess Pausanias observes that the statues of Demeter and Persephone (which could be taken in similar context if replaced with Dionysos who likewise descends and was later added to the mysteries of Demeter) faced that of Apollon and Artemis at the other side of the hall. There is an immediate relationship here of a particular pairing facing off, which are parallel and oppositional (not in a bad way). Apollon and Artemis act specifically on Persephone (or Dionysos in which it is even more clear). If we had Demeter and Dionysos facing them we probably could have had an interesting parallel for the Osiris-Isis and Nephthys-Set pairings, and even more interesting given the supportive relationship Nephthys has with Isis and affection for Osiris that brought along Anubis the funerary god (which can both be linked to Hermes Psychopompos (which is far more common)  and by my opinion to Apollon as guardian of the tomb) who is also called the son of Set in some texts.

Typically, as I mentioned above, in order to fulfil the purpose of the Hellenic narrative we have Apollon associated with Horus, usually based on his serpent slaying (never mind that Set is the ultimate force against Apep the great serpent) and largely due to his medicinal/healing attributes, as well as solar characteristics that become particularly emphasized in Apollon’s later cult. That is not to say that Apollon had zero such attributes, but it is more likely that he was a god of the twilight and in the solar context would have had more in common with Khepri, the god who brings the sun into becoming, and in some things I have read also been associated with the sunset. I am not sure what that may have in common with Set at all, but it is an observation and there has been on author who pushed for a recognition of the name of Apollon coming from an altered form of the name of Khepri. All the same, while Apollon is particular to that time of the day as the god who turns round the days and seasons (and therefore appropriate as god of becomings and endings) his cult is largely more distinctive as a god of natural destructive forces (which includes the sun which in hotter climates can be a bane that withers crops and destroys life as well as decaying flesh), as well as the more ancient associations with the wind storms that we see lingering in particular cult traditions and specifically in the cult name of Apollon Telkhinios.

As I have said in other posts, Apollon as a god of healing, abundance, civilization etc should usually be examined through the lens of what his name is, what his primary action is. He is the destroyer. That name is not accidental, but has a very particularly purposeful meaning behind it. That makes him more appropriately a god of the wild places, of famine and illness etc. Yet as myth demonstrates, he loves humanity and is compassionate. Therefore I see his guardianship of cities and pastoral flocks etc as a intentional holding back of that which is within his domain in order for human life to prosper. As we see with Rudra in India and Set in Egypt, or Rashef in Mesopotamia (none of these being *evil* gods by any stretch of the imagination) it is not uncommon at all to see a god of destruction/illness be petitioned for exactly the opposite purposes. Therefore it is reasonable to understand how a god of the destructive forces of nature and the wild lands would be a god who protects civilization. Certainly makes sense to me how and why Set would have been king of Upper Egypt! There is some quite odd commentaries out there that the Greeks associated Set to Typhon, when that would more accurately probably should be aligned to Apep.

In fact when looking close at the roles that Set provides (keeping in mind he also had very important supportive roles to Osiris and Horus) that his role as a slayer is not uncommon to the domain of the god and not unnatural to what you find with Apollon, particularly when looking at the relationship of Apollon and Dionysos in which Apollon is not only one who lauds Dionysos and is the first to greet him as a god but is also a god who can be seen as assisting the slaying of Dionysos. The Thyiades (who were named after a nymph who was a lover of Apollon as well as a follower of Dionysos) is perhaps a good starting point of looking into this relationship. But perhaps more strongly would be the iconographic imagery of the wolf and the bull, and instances of contest between them. Or even Theseus (with strong links to Apollon) and the Minotaur (even though I have stated before the Minotaur is strongly linked also to Apollon as guardian of the gates). Apollon as a year god and Dionysos as a seasonal and dying god thus have this natural dance that they go through which I think is appropriate to for that Osiris and Set, that the one god who loves the other who must dye, is the god who cares for him but also is the one who cuts him down by necessity. Even the exile of Set has a very strong taste of the exile of Apollon who was banished from the company of the gods for his transgression of murder. That which is necessary in nature is not always popular in any case among men or gods in myth it seems.

We see too much of the protective nature of Apollon in Set as Set is the god who protects the sun barge during its nightly traversing of the underworld. And Set as a god who restrains the desert is very much in line with how I see Apollon as a god restraining the wilderness/wolves/locusts/mice/etc. Even Set slaying Apep has a similar imagery to Apollon slaying the Python. Nevermind associations of particular animals such as the boar. Unfortunately in later periods Set gained enormously unpopularity. He is just not as pretty as Apollon apparently, and invaders saw set as being more common with Typhon and evil forces that natural destructive ones, whereas Apollon’s reputation remained fairly intact until Christianization of Hellas.  In fact philosophy and later traditions that veered more into a solar cult and away from his original cult worship as a god of the natural destroying forces of nature probably did more to preserve his image than anything else. Associations Apollon had with falcons due to his swiftness of travel were played upon to show that Apollon spent time in Egypt as a falcon god makes such associations with Horus and solar cults even more pronounced. His relationship to Harmony becomes more pronounced in the writings of Plato and overshadows his more known destroyer associations……but overlooking that as god of the year who turns round the seasons part of the harmony is the necessity of destruction. Yet I think it was the shift of focus from the less destructive features of Apollon’s cult onto that which he preserved from his own forces that did a lot for his cult to not go a similar route as that of Set in later periods. I mean I have wondered a time or two, even as Set has been linked erroneously with the mad chaos that is Typhon) if plays on Typhon weren’t reminiscent or reflective in some manner of the Cretan contest between Zeus and Apollon as son of Corybas (who himself was transformed into a black dragon), and shows up again when Apollon battles the second Python (not Delphyne but the son of Gaia). It all makes an interesting turn of the mind.

Happy Karneia!

I have been really amiss this year with blogging about festivals…usually because I forget to write something before hand or directly after and after a few days I decide not to bother with it. But as Karneia is one of my favorite festivals of the year I have been watching the fullmoon approach with a sense of excitement, especially as the weather has been cooling down and autumn starting to turn its way round into the pattern of the year’s dance. Today was perhaps the first really autumn day weather-wise. The sky was crystal blue and the sun shining down, and yet there was a definite nip in the air, and a smell in the air of plant life ripening and breaking down into decay. Autumn always has a rich smell to it, and so the beginning of this wonderful smell always delight my nose.

Even though Karneia was celebrated over several consecutive days, as it culminated on the fullmoon that is when I celebrate it as a solitary worshipper. So for those who are planning on celebrating, it is coming tomorrow after sun down! This actual is great timing for my household since we will be spending the afternoon at the state fair, where there will be goats, and sheep, and cattle, as well as giant Alaskan cabbages and pumpkins (not to mention the funnel cakes, cotton candy and other tasty fair foods to gorge oneself with). It takes a feast of the beginning of autumn to an entirely different level this year, one that exemplifies the beginning of the season for my household just as the Karneia, with its harvest of immature grapes and special-raised rams, marked the beginning of its own particular harvest. And while I will be honoring the plentitude of gifts that Apollon brings by staying the foul weather and in a year that spends so much time encased in ice and snow, recedes the temperamental weather just long enough to bring new life to the landscape however briefly, I will also be honoring Dionysos of this festival time, who laughs and dances with the Satyrs among the whirling Doric maidens, and Apollon is honored with the Shepherd’s cloak as flowers are poured into his boat in offering.

I actually rather wish  I had some basket making stuff this year. I have woven a basket in years but I would love to make a special Karneia basket with a wide bottom that can be worn on the head in festive dancing for the gods before Apollon Karneios and in the company of Dionysos as those afore-mentioned dancing maidens….filled with those sweet things of autumn harvest. Whereas it is likely that these baskets, if they contained anything, would have held the tender grapes of the harvest, as we don’t have grapes this far north and it represents the initial harvests in general it would be more appropriate to have an assortment of things of that nature to have up here….that and the horn of a ram I think (considering that Zeus comes before Dionysos in this particular role and is himself the ram, and so was perhaps similarly honored, and Apollon honored as the shepherd). Maybe next year if I think about it far enough ahead of time rather than last minute…..especially since I would have to order basket making supplies.

Still I am looking forward to the high celebration that Karneia will present this year as it is occurring late enough in the year this time to coincide with local festivities. It is certain to make the occasion a grand time and one which can be happily followed by offerings to Apollon Karneios and to Dionysos. So to all who are celebrating….a very happy and blessed Karneia to you!

Apollon, Artemis and Action of Nature

I remarked in a conversation with a friend yesterday that it seems to me if I were trying to simplify the domains of Apollon and Artemis that it would not be a boxy sun god musician/healer and moon goddess huntress bit that is typical, but rather when examining their domains that they seem to fall along two very distinct activities within nature, that which is cyclic that involves timely death and then again to generation, and that which is life sustaining and nurturing, which includes concepts of food provision.

While both Apollon and Artemis have characteristics of the other, generally speaking Apollon takes the former part, the god of the action of nature which is cyclic which is the biggest part of the Orphic hymn to him. Roles which indicate the god as nurturing are usually linked to keeping back banes (attacks of famine inducing critters and hostile weather for crops, beasts of prey for livestock, and premature death and illness towards humans) which would produce untimely destruction. He is that which ripens all things for the time of their destruction by means of protecting it from those very forces of his which  would destroy it. In Euripedes Aclestis there is a great quote in his confrontation with Thanatos that I frequently use in which Apollon challenges that death should only come for that which is ripe for it. This is part of the harmony of his divine song. He ages and matures things until they are ripe for their destruction, just as he holds off foul weather for the fruits to ripen to plant new seeds.

Although he is the destroying force in nature, it is to a purpose, just as his warding the living from his destructive forces is to a purpose. Destruction is necessary to breed life. Compost is a rich fertilizer that brings the healthiest and most prolific plants. The decomposed flesh of Python created the sacred ground of Delphi from which the holy fountain rose. The natural death of beasts frees up resources for the young (anyone who lives in an area with high numbers of prey animals that lack significant numbers of natural predators know well how problematic this can be). And let us not forget the number of plants that are given room to spring to growth after a forest fire, or even those seeds which require seasonal fires in order to germinate.

As a destructive god (and preserving god by warding off these forces) he is the god of every natural force which destroys life. He is the god of locusts and mice which can bring plagues of famine. He is the god of wolves. He is the god of the winds which when they are not doing their mild functions of natural corrosion can be just as dangerous of blight on food stores and shelter when storms get out of control on land and sea, and his is the fire which consumes all things even as fire within the earth warms his thermal springs therapeutically. As such the nature of the benevolence of the destructive forces within nature we find him loosely paired with the symbolism of the sun, whose heat could destroy with terrible droughts and heat and bring forth life in the spring. Naturally we find him too then linked with carrion eating creatures (which wolves can be at times….they are opportunity eaters), and ravens.

Artemis as the sustaining and nurturing part of nature is the energy of the natural world. She is the food provider through the hunt and through lactation of the nurse, or even in connection to the welfare of crops. As such she is connected to powerful females of the animal kingdom such as the fiercely protective maternal bears, and the huntress lionesses, as well as dogs who not only lovingly care for large litters but exemplify the protective and loyal part of her nature and as hunting dogs as providers too for mankind. Other creatures which represent wealth of food, especially those species which generate quickly such as rabbits and hares, are reasonably sacred to her in association. Ultimately she is that which is always propelling life forward. If Apollon is the dance and the path, then she is the dancer and the one hunting prey down the forest trails. She vitalizes that which he orchestrates from the moment she receives the new life, and pursues forward each living being into growth as an bow launches and arrow. As she slays the beasts she is part of that which is instrumental and connected into the evolution and natural progression of life as one things yields to another form. In such respects she is connected to the moon which increases and decreases (even as Apollon is associated the cyclic nature of the moon) in which the growth of life is aptly symbolized.

Together the divine twins play the most important and principle parts of nature, and that is how their domains are best summed up to me when put to more general forms, but this makes far better sense to me than the standard summation of their domains that are common.

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The Apollon of My Childhood and Youth

Although I often speak of Apollon and my relationship being established with him at a later age, he is actually one of the earliest deities present during my childhood. However at that time he was the least recognizable of all the gods of this earlier part of my life. Poseidon whom I more often than not called Father Sea before I came to understand Poseidon as his identity was a distinct divine being to me, especially as an island child. Artemis in my youth was very much fully formed in my awareness with her presence in my life. Apollon was ambiguous until much later. He came to me in a wholly unhuman form. He came as a wolf first, a white wolf with burning blue eyes, whom during the period that I was terrified of my closet, would come from the closet and rest his comforting presence at the foot of my bed during the night  between my body and the closet so that I could rest peacefully (along with an army of stuffed animals that I also inserted between myself and the closet). As I grew older I started to understand him in a more anthromorphic wolfish form, although he still regularly appeared as a wolf. I had dreams in which he would stalk through them as a wolf. In one such dream I was a woman in white accompanied by a silver wolf and a black wolf through forest as he observed from a cliff above as I made my way towards him. In another dream he took the form of a man called Raven (funny allusion there to the close relationship of wolves and ravens) who was actually a wolf in the form of a man who was chastising me for not staying where he left me. I can’t even pinpoint when it dawned on me that this was Apollon, but I do recall when I was in my early twenties and made the decision to start worshipping Apollon due to my devotions to Artemis and for this purpose I made an icon painting of him as a anthromorphic wolfman with a silver and black wolf to either side of him. This was the image of my lord of the period when I was living in New Orleans too and was something lost to the Hurricane Katrina’s appetite.

My relationship with Apollon through most of this time was through wild jubilant dancing, howling as a wolf to his honor, burning tobacco for him (which is a practice I have long since stopped doing after my forced departure from New Orleans as I found better things to burn that he prefers more so).  I understood him as a god of appetite, voracious spirit, a god of liquid fire and billowing winds that roared and would steal my breath when I tried to walk through them. This was Apollon as I could understand him best in my far northern origins and homeland in Alaska. In New Orleans I started experience more complicated and varied manifestations of himself that was more appropriate to his Hellenic nature, but his wolfish nature was always foremost. Even in my childhood when I chased after Artemis through the woods he was present like a flash of brilliance or sudden rustle of leaves, consuming fire and heat. He was present in the raw nature of everything I experienced growing up in Alaska, ever watchful and vigilant. He was present in the brush of wolf fur across my cheek the first time I touch a scrap of wolf fur as a child. He was the hunter, protector and loving companion through much of my youth, until I developed my relationship with him as an adult and it took on a different kind of relationship than that which was there during my childhood.

Even now as Karneia nears, he is the wolf beneath the goats clothing, the wolf watching restless beneath the vigilance of the herder. The first stirrings of autumn are in sight, a wind rustling gently across the land, a chill in the night air. The wolf is preparing to shed his domestic guise, to run wild through the winter as Hyperboreia receives him. Like a werewolf of lore splitting his humanized “flesh” and form. During the winter I see him most clearly again as this first form of Apollon I have known so long, during the winter I see Lykeios who dwells ever within Karneios. The wolf who is the goat and the goat who is the wolf. He becomes in the winter very much the bard singing in the comfort of the hearthside. The predator and protector against predators. The guardian of all gateways, beloved Prostaterios who was born in the time of lambs. Apollon who is the god of the wild woods who paves the way for civilization to be born, burnishing the illumination of truth and knowledge for the spiritual progress of mankind. Yet even as he comes in the kindest, most beautiful and gentlest of forms, a songster, a poet, a golden archer, a god of youth and beauty, the wolf is always present, natures destroyer and culler of herds and flocks…of men and beasts, a twilight god destroying both darkness of night and light of day. Yet the wolf is familial, devoted, loyal, a feeling creature rather than a heartless cruel feeding machine. He loves all those under his care, and although he destroys, he is compassionate and loving towards us all, else he would not take the herder guise, the leader of Muses, the lord of civilization. He is a wolf at heart, providing the best for his family, human that we may be.

Apollon, the wolf god, and the autumn harvest

Inspired by a conversation elsewhere, I want to take a minute to speak about the wolf god Apollon as related to this seasonal time of the year as summer is winding down and autumn is on its way. I have said before that Apollon typically acts as the destroying (and also in contrast in the preserving) divinity in nature. As such he is the god of (and repeller of) such harvest/crop destroying creatures as mice, locusts and even wolves who prey on livestock. Yet as a seasonal god at this time of the year I have spoken more particularly about Apollon Karneios as the god pastoral god who holds back the autumn storms for the ripening of the vineyards (and likely orchards etc). As someone who lives in a very northern climate which most fruiting crop doesn’t work because of how quickly the autumn weather moves in and lack of long periods of warm dry weather necessary for fruit to adequately ripen. Thus Apollon Karneios who allows the crops to ripen is not a solar god, but rather a god of the winds, who controls the stormy weather to permit the ripening and successful harvest of crops. The connection between the averting of harmful winds/storms can also been seen in Rome with the Nemoralia which served a secondary purpose of averting harmful storms from the fields. This is very much the key in understanding Apollon as the ruler of mild half of the year, in which he tames the destructive winds to allow life to flourish, even as a deity of the wild places permits civilization to rise from the wilderness, which is very much how I see Apollon and Artemis in relationship to civilization as typically both deities prefer abodes outsides of the city limits.

So what has this to do with Apollon as the wolf god you may ask? It is really a very simple play on symbolism that we find in common with Pan, Zeus and Apollon, that the pastoral god who protects the herds from the wolves is also the wolfish deity. The god is quite literally the wolf in the sheep’s (or goat’s in the case of Pan and Apollon) clothing! He is identified with the herds and represented as horned as the very beast he is aligned with. As a herding god for Apollon it is more commonly goats whom the Dorics used as flock leads for their sheep. This doesn’t replace the wolf god, but rather delivers another aspect to him. He is both the wolf and the god who holds back his very nature from consuming that which is under his care. Therefore the honoring of Apollon Karneios, regardless of his horned imagery, is very much the honoring of the wolf god Apollon, as he is giving honor for preserving the herds even as he perserves the crops from famine and storms, and is so honored with sacrifices of goats and sheep.

Therefore as the god of the approaching autumn he is very much the howling wolfish god as August storms threaten to roll in with gusting winds. In my mind, as I don’t put much emphasis on later solar cult associations, I consider Apollon’s Hyperboreia retreat in the autumn and through the spring, during the stormy season, as being an unleashing of his own tempest. Apollon is not a god who seasonal dies but one who brings around the seasons himself. I have stated before that in my locality I don’t see Apollon as departing but rather released from his civilized duties back to the wilderness, running as a wolf with ravens flocking around him. The winds making the doors and walls of the house shudder and groan….and in the winter creating potential white out conditions from snow. His restraint during the warm dry time of the year when his heat can be felt most keenly felt and his illumination is most apparent with his restraint is no longer present as the purpose has been done. He is as the wild hunter with his twin, of same spirit together unbound. He is the one who slays the seasonal dying god, the bull Dionysos, as the Thyiades of his own Delphi rave and tear the bull as Apollon, the wolf god (as he was so represented at Delphi) is the sacrifice of the bull. His are the winds unleashed destroying ever vine and shriveling every greenery by their blasts. The Dioskoui, wind gods in their own right, so hail him their king! For this purpose too he has been identified in some cases with Iakkhos, the boy of the winds.

Karneios and Lykeios are one, and elements are both are present in the Roman cult of Soranus, Apollon is foremost the wolf god, and from him issues the flames bringing warmth and illumination like flowing magma, whereas his the divine exhalations, at Delphi the mingling of the essence of the earth and the air. Even as he is the winds billowing the seas surface, and the god is the heavens axis about whom the heavens turn to predict the periods of fair and foul weather for  prosperity of farmers and seafaring men. He is Apollon Telchinios, the storm and wolf god of Rhodes who destroyed the storm sorcerers, the Telchines. He is also the wolf-light, the god of the interminably periods between the movement and change of seasons just as the wolf light of the day, the twilight during which wolves were believed to be especially active and prowling, divides the transitions between night and day. The light, just as the civilization, is issued by his grace. He opens the doorways for the sun for which Helios lauds him. His winds are the movement of the cosmos, his divine song issuing from his breath, pushing and drawing all things forward. His winds carry one through the gates on the wings of a swan.

These same ideas can be applied almost entirely to Rudra too who was petitioned to preserve people and herds etc, and who had wide mouthed howling dogs (or perhaps more in the likeness of wolves than real dogs considering how non domesticated this god is), and who sons were said to be as voracious wolves.

Hail the wolf god of the wind, preserver and destroyer of life!

Music of Apollon: healing, sight, harmony and destruction

The Orphic hymn has a beautiful line in it to Apollon in which it addresses the god as one who turns the seasons by his song, reminding us of the cyclic nature that is so very much a part of his domain (or exit out of the cycle in myths of deification such as in the cases of Marsyas, Hyakinthos etc) as we see the end always beginning again the new. This concept is perhaps best understood in the passage of time in Hellenic thought wherein the final year of a cycle was also simultaneously the first year, and Apollon Noumenios, begins too the new lunar month in every monthly course. The close dance of death and birth are always present together, even as in both cases certain miasmatic presence is accrued with both the release of death and the hazards of the first days of an infants birth after which Apollon and/or his twin are typically lauded. It is a harmony of nature, which appears to have foremost appreciated by Socrates in Plato’s Cratylus wherein he speaks of the meanings inherent in the names of the gods. Thus this keeping of harmonic movement of the cosmos in balanced score is perhaps most profoundly represented by his attribute as a player of the kithara or lyre. As most may recall, this was not an invention of himself but rather of Hermes. Given that Apollon has a more archaic nature as a pastoral deity he likely had related associations with music that were more organic, such as that of singing which can certainly demonstrate such a fondness in myth for the kithara that gave him an accompaniment to his voice. This point has been reinforced in myth by the contest between Marsyas with his pipes and the superiority of the abilities of the kithara that allowed Apollon to sing in company with the plucking of the strings.

This singing feature is probably also closely related to the prophetic nature of the god, for not only is he a god who oversees cycles making him a god who sees patterns of all things that have been and to come, but the close relationship between poets (who typically sang their work with a lyre of some kind) and seers is one that has been made also by Socrates as noted by Plato as a source of divine inspiration coming through similar channels. Certainly the Pythia’s oracles in metered verse (probably done singing or in a sing-song manner) lends a very thorough connection between the two. Therefore it is quite natural that as a god whose personal power comes through his vocalizations (albeit with the company of his stringed instrument to his liking…enough so that he bargained with Hermes for it). In some ways it is amusing because when we think of the music of Apollon we do not imagine his music being the power of his singing, but rather attached directly and solely to an external instrument whether it is kithara or the flute that he also attained from Hermes in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Yet it seems that his abilities as song-master and vocalization is perhaps the most important key to understanding Apollon’s music as he sings forth the intricate dance of the cosmos and the delicate weave of moving bodies therein by his lyrics. That by this he is Logos as truth, a golden unbreakable song. And by which too that Lycurgus, when given instruction from Delphi, used a poet to sing of the laws to coax people into following them by delivering in the most perfect form the persuasion of truth to their minds and souls. Or by relation, the belief that Thrakians had that singing to the soul of an individual could aid in curing their illness by restoring the order and harmonic balance to the soul via song.

And then there are the Kleidones, who were attached to his Delphi cult as well as at another location that escapes my memory at the moment. At Delphi, during the time of the bronze temple in that location according to myth, these Kleidones, described as being akin to Sirens) would perch at the pediment of the temple and sing their prophecies there. The close relationship they bear with Sirens can probably draw the relationship of Sires more acutely with Apollon, especially given their relationship to the Muses who are beloved by Apollon and are part of his divine company. The Sirens, prior to the Muses taking the position, were believed to be original divine beings of the celestial spheres. These duties were taken over by the Muses, and yet we see the Sirens in myth trying to take over the duties too of the Muses by challenging them to a contest of singing (which the Muses won and as penalty the Sirens had their feathers plucked to be worn as headdresses by the Muses in their triumph). Sirens are in myth, however, also embody the most dangerous form of music, that which can lure and entice men from their purpose (which is why Plato wanted public music to be ideally only of a certain type and without such threats) as we see in the Odyssey in which their songs lead directly to death. If Muses are one part of Apollon’s company as embodiments the perfections of civilization, I would consider the Sirens to be their shadowy sisters in his company….and a kind of natural harmony occurring between then. I do at times wonder if the adorning of the Muses with feathers could be seen as a direct relationship between the identify of the Muses with the Sirens…. perhaps in a less civilized and more violent type of being that has less to do with the civilized arts that better the soul and more with their place in the natural world in which song not only creates but is part of the cycle of the seasons between birth and death. The would certainly make sense in the context of song in the cult of Apollon.

For Apollon, the most beautiful singing was so attached to his nature that death of that which was most sacred to him was credited as possessing the most beautiful songs moments before their death. Swans (one of his heraldic animals and creatures that were known to pull his chariot to Hyperborea) particularly were spoken of in this manner, that before their death it was only then that they would beautifully sing. This idea to passed to humans who belong to him as well as exhibited by Cassandra in Ascheylus’ play Agamenon in which laments before her death where characterized as such beautiful funerary singing that it is addressed as her “swan song”. It is not hard to imagine why laments, accompanied by the keening of the flutes, would be part of his musical sphere, even if it was banned at Delphic contests for a time because it was considered too depressing of a subject to be fit in honoring the god, even though it had an ancient tradition in place as an offering to him, and he was said himself to play such laments at the funerary libations he gave to the Python. After all the paean is known not only as a song in honor of the god for a victory (as indicated by the myth of the paean in relation to the slaying of Delphyne by the village men), but also as a lamenting song (as per the paean in the myth of Hyakinthos). Obviously someone eventually saw sense because after a number of years it was permitted back into the Delphic contests.I have may times said that if Dionysos was the god of theater and the masks of men acting through the passages of their lives, then Apollon is the leader of the chorus who brings revelations in their laments and praises.

That said, even though I belong to Apollon I sing like a raven, but I take it to heart that ravens for all the cawing are beloved by him too, and hold the song for myself as a more spiritual thing that comes across in a different way…through poetry and art primarily. So while great singers and poets are beloved and especially gifted in this manner by him, possessing enormous singing ability isn’t strictly a requirement of those who are his thankfully! Besides as I have indicated above his song is so much more vast in his domain and nature than simply putting together beautiful narratives in musical form. It is the very mechanism of the functions of his domain.