The idea for this post came to me last night as I was settling in for the evening, but I was just too blasted tired to write it, so I will try to remember as much of the points that I had wanted to make last night. I was thinking last night how the most regularly scene information about Artemis is in regard to her as a huntress goddess (and it is this feature that some folks make as a case for being the goddess of wild animals) or a moon goddess. The latter I think I went on about quite enough in my post about Hekate and Artemis but I will briefly sum up:
Artemis really isn’t a moon goddess exactly. Though it was popular later on to make her a moon goddess (more typically seen in the Roman cultus to Diana if you want artistic examples) during later periods, this inovation seems to be a connection between a goddess of light, a torch bearing goddess who often used the torch by night and was so represented in accounts of Pausanias often bearing a torch and bow in hand, with the lunar light. In my previous post I maintained that her association with the fullmoon specifically seems to have more to do with what the fullmoon represented in her own domain, rather than Artemis being a goddess specifically of the moon. And that is the coming of life from infancy into fruitfulness. Such can likewise be maintained when we see Artemis as companion of maidens and youths. She was the companion of Hippolytus who spent his youth in her company, she was the playmate of Persephone until Persephone was abducted/married (even chased after the departing maiden), and was honored as a goddess who presided over youths and maidens until the point that passed into adulthood and marital age. Therefore it is reasonable for me to see how this connection is made to Artemis at the fullmoon, and for which I honor her at the fullmoon, even as I honor Selene who is the goddess of the moon, or rather the lunar titanide. It is reasonable that her torch, while it can be associated to lunar light, is the light of life, the moving spirit pursued through the forests of life.
She is the torch bearing (or lamp carrying depending on which image you are going with, since at Argos in the templeof Despoina she was depicted bearing a lamp which is far more domestic than the torch) lady of the portal who greets forth the newly born and inspects the perfection of the born that they survive. Hence in her honor garlands adorned the doorways in honor of the birth of girls (and likewise for boys in honor of Apollon who is very much a boundaries deity in his own right and enjoys a certain crossover with his twin that is logical for twins as far as I can see). It is therefore also reasonable that, while it is common to imagine Artemis as the dart-shooting goddess (and certainly there is enough praise of this goddess in this respect both in ancient and modern times), she was equally, and perhaps more importantly a divine nurse and nurturing goddess. Early depictions of her in Thebes and in the Peloponnese depict her winged carrying animals (not dead animals she has slain, but just carrying them) whether that be stags, leopards, lions or rabbits (the rabbit being particularly popular in Thebes). In the colony of Messilia (modern Marseilles in France) there was a large statue of the goddess just outside the city in which she was holding an infant on her lap embraced to her chest. And one of my favorite vase paintings depicts the goddess with her bow and guiver at her back and she holds forth a bowl to give sustenance to a swan.
But art aside there also numerous poems and rituals that pay particular importance to this function of Artemis. In Sparta the nurses of boys held an annual ritual to Artemis, in Athens there was the Kourotrophoia in honor of Artemis Kourotrophos who raised children to adulthood in was honored by the giving of toys and dolls at her altar by those who exited childhood in young adulthood during the month of Metageitnia to name a few. Even her spring time ritual Mounykhia seemed to celebrate the development and passage of girls and was honored with a round cakes and lights. And so I have come to understand and associate the torches of Artemis with this primary focus of Artemis, caring over the young from the moment of birth particularly to the point of maturity (though this doesn’t necessarily mean that she stops all association afterwards but that this period is particular to her domain). From which point she takes on the other part of the nurturing goddess, to play her part as the huntress. To pursue the developing adult, to hunt them and chase them through the sacred woods, to chase them through life.
This act of the hunt I see as an extension of the nurturing domain of the goddess. She does not hunt without purpose. She pursues all living things because it is necessary and part of the divine order for her to do so in her own part of pushing life to evolve and for us to progress both as a species and as individuals. So she hunts all things. The boundary between man and animal is truly thin, and we see Actaeon transformed and slain as a deer. The higher beings hunt the lower beings, and this process aids in the development of the species, and the gods are above us all. So it is natural that while she assists in our own hunts, she is hunting us all alike too. Hence the title for this post, because she is both at the same time whichever way you turn it. You cannot seperate the hunt and the nurse from the persona of Artemis, and really why would you want to? It makes Artemis involved in all parts of mortal life in a very reasonable way that is appropriate for a goddess who prefers the wide expanses of the earth to the company of the other gods. And it is perhaps this close connection with the earth, the energy relationship between the earth and the moon which is important for the development of life, that logically also calls her the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon, Despoina, even as she is the daughter of Leto and Zeus. The connection here has something interesting in it to since in my research I read some JSTOR articles which talked about Ionian cults of Leto in which she was associated with the earth and the underworld (and that the mythical (versus the legendary source of the myth) Hyperborea being equated along similar lines with the islands of the blessed and being the so called birthplace of Leto just makes it all the more interesting to speculate about). Just saying. I believe this all plays into the unique domain of Artemis and her interaction with us all.
May she caretake our young, all the young of the earth from the seedling to the fawn to the babe snuggled in his mothers arms. May she hunt us through the unknown that we strive to become better. And may at the end of our days, her arrows pierce us tenderly.