(PBP) B is for Boundaries and Birth

Perhaps a significant, and often overlooked, providence of many deities has considerably to do with boundaries. These are differentiated from portals/doorways in that a boundary doesn’t necessarily imply that there is a point of passage, although often there is one for which we can see boundary related gods associated also with gated entrances. Such is certainly true for two well-known boundary gods: Apollon and Hermes whose representations were erected at either side of the courtyard gate. Both of these gods in the domestic worship of the oikos preserve the boundary between the intimate space of the courtyard from the world-at-large. This of course is appropriately paralleled by the providence held by Artemis and Hekate at the portal, the door to enter the house that seems to create two parallel cooperatively functioning boundaries.

In essence the boundaries represent the liminal edges between the worlds, one which all of the above mentioned gods have considerable access to as they pass into (like Hekate and Hermes) or hold position at this edge of the world (like Apollon who is associated with cemeteries in parts of Ionia and Arkadia, and  and Artemis). The mythic relationship between Apollon and Hermes in the Homeric hymns likewise suggests that Apollo may have once been specifically associated with underworld functions that Hermes took over, one in which the sun is believed to have sunk into the underworld (as it sinks into the river of Okeanos which in itself represents this liminal boundary and Apollon’s resting thereon is represented poetically in Hesiod’s Sheild of Herakles by the description of the swans resting on the river Okeanos). By stealing his cattle when the god is conspicuously absent, he is then given in exchange the cadaceus, his serpent entwined wand, and a bullwhip from Apollon in exchange for the musical inventions of Hermes (the kithara and the pipe). Nevertheless Hermes retains his associations with the instrument which he can similarly gift upon others, just as Apollon doesn’t cede his relationship with the boundaries with the netherworld….a relationship which is stressed in his cemetery cult in which he provides and protects the soul for 30 days as it is attached to the grave until which point Hermes escorts it.

Therefore we see Apollon as the god at the boundary (so named Apollon Horios) to which the soul passes from living and death, and Hermes who escorts the soul into the next phase of life. In similar manner we may see that the worship of Apollon and Hermes as the front gates represents the god at the boundary between the road and the home (for which he is called upon as Apollon Agyieus…Apollon of the Roads and turns away evil to preserve the harmony of the house), and Hermes (who as a god of boundaries is generally viewed as a god who protects travelers as travelers frequently cross land boundaries, and in a spiritual sense in which Hermes is associated with the boundaries over which the dead cross) is viewed as the god which draws good things into the home, and likewise averting ill things from entering. Apollon’s association with the demos, cultural norms and practices (both mundane and religious), sacred law (as we particularly see as the guardian of the regulations of the Olympic Games as Apollon Thermios together with Artemis Thermia) etc which crosses from the public sphere into the household. In a more indirect manner it can also be associated with Apollon’s oracular station as well in which the god transmits divine knowledge across the boundaries between the divine and mortal planes of existence.

In contrast Artemis and Hekate at the portal are more strongly associated with the opposite function of passage into life…inclusion into the oikos perhaps, which includes adoption, guest-host relationships, and the more immediate entries via birth for which both goddesses are strongly associated with birth as a portal goddess. If Apollon and Hermes make the exchange of the passage from one existence into a new state via death and destruction, then we adequately see a paralleled reflection represented in the placement of torch bearing goddesses of birth, and in at least one case Artemis (as a lamp and dragon bearing Artemis Hegemone at Arkadia. This Artemis who leads, which in its relation to a cult center of Demeter in Arkadia not unlike that of Artemis at Eleusis, can suggest one who leads into a passage of a new beginning for which the both the torch, with which both she and Hekate are most popularly depicted, bears much the same symbolism as the more domestic light via the lamp.

However this is not suggest a polarity either in which Hermes and Apollon represent one kind of passage, and Artemis and Hekate another, for we understand that Hermes likewise leads Persephone out from the underworld (as is associated with escorting the dead during the Anthesteria) and Apollon is associated with the new birth of the month. So it is not singularly destruction of the negative things that may try to enter the oikos at the gates to provide passage for the good things that benefit the oikos, but also the transformation that occurs (both destructive and genitive) that occurs as the gate door swings both ways as visitors and family members pass to and fro.

Such is also true of Hekate and Artemis that whereas the portal represents birth and the productive life of the oikos, are also associated with the departure from the oikos. This includes the entrance into the unknown/wilderness as members physically depart the home to engage in the world outside of the household, and as the passage of life via death in which the oikos is reduced by the exit of a member. This is natural as Artemis represents the liminal world, the woodlands beyond the city boundary…a huntress and destroying goddess. Meanwhile Hekate passes, like Hermes, into the netherworld and is often associated with the hidden knowledges for this.

Therefore there is no direct polarity between the boundary of Artemis and Hekate at the portal, and that of Apollon and Hermes at the gate, but rather they are fluid and cooperative with each other. There is the fact that we have more protective deities at the outer entrance at the boundary and gate of the oikos courtyard, and goddess associated with nurturing the young as Kourotrophoi at the portal of the oikos and the intimate life of the family…this seems to be the biggest difference for which they are assigned very specific designations of worship in the oikos.What is interesting though is how many rivers are assigned to gods associated with boundaries and the liminal zone. This is particularly true with Artemis and Apollon, both of whom have a significant number of epithets that refer to rivers (which act as natural boundaries both in geography but also as the children of Okeanos and Tethys who as stated above is associated with the liminal boundary between worlds) associated with their worship and mythos (example Apollon Tilphossios, god of the spring Tilphossa, Apollon Ismenios of the river Ismenos, and Artemis Alphiaiai of the river Alpheios). Such a strong symbolic association with boundaries and the liminal zone may have something to do with the strong associations of Leto with motherhood/childbirth and in many places in Ionia, particularly Lycia, with the underworld. I do think it is curious that Leto, who bears such strong associations, is comparable almost with the myth of Asteria (her sister and mother of Hekate) who, upon plummeting into the sea in order to evade Zeus became as an unanchored island which has been described at times as wandering beneath the surface of the sea. Therefore the rising of Delos (the transformed Asteria) in order to provide a place of birth for Apollon and Artemis is provided via the transference of the body from the unknown into the sunlit living world. Her dwelling beneath the waves is quite similar to Hekate’s position at the mouth of caves which are the entrance/doorway into the next world. Therefore it seems that in the case of Apollon, Artemis and Hekate there is a strong hereditary relationship with boundaries and portals.

Of course this prooves an issue for modern worshipers since not everyone possesses a front gate. The closest it seems to get is among those families who have an entirely enclosed yard through which one would have to enter the gate in order to reach the front door. Otherwise the boundaries of the oikos are consolidated at the front door for which worshipers may be presented with no other option but to combine the designations of boundary/gate together with that of the portal and worship all of the above gods together in a fashion…though possibly seperated by different shelves if possible. But it also means that it limits the options of where at the door things can be placed since typically as front doors swing inward there is relatively little room to place shrines at either side inside the doorway, and most prefer not to have anything for Apollon and Hermes outside the doorway because of concerns of vandalism or theft. This requires some creativity. This is also the most regular form of worship for the gods in relation to the boundary as, compared to daily comings and goings—for which offerings are given to these gods, births and deaths are less regular occurrences within the oikos and far less worship will involve such direct manifestations of the role of the gods associated with the boundaries, aside from specific festivals that honor such roles.

 

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2 thoughts on “(PBP) B is for Boundaries and Birth

  1. Oddly (or maybe not) I have a very strong association of Boundary with Poseidon, specifically of the surf, that spot where land and sea meet and become other. The association most certainly goes back to our first meeting, and that spot remains a very holy spot for me.

    In our household, Odin’s the guardian of our gate/front door, but then that’s hardly surprising.

    • Not add at all. In fact I have mentioned it a few times. I am not sure if you have read my blog on dolphins, fish and frogs…but I did mention Poseidon briefly when talking about these animals associated with the movement through the liminal space and crossing boundaries, for which it is not surprising that boundary and portal deities are associated with them. I always take into consideration that though Artemis and Apollon have very important roles over the navigation over the sea and the harbors at the edges, that all in all the sea itself is Poseidon’s.
      Of course I find it curious that Artemis in some variations is called the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon too 🙂

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