I have been going back and forth regarding whether or not I wanted to write this. For the reason mostly that I don’t want to give the impression that the gods should be worshiped out of what they do *for* you, as I am of the opinions that the gods, in and of themselves, are worthy of our worship. But it is hard to ignore the fact that among the multitude of the wondrous things that they do in our cosmos, that as things extend from macrocosmic to microcosmic, that these same things are effecting us. Therefore, part of the beauty of their domains is what they do in impact to the soul. For the domain of each god gives its gifts to us in our spiritual development. For instance, Ares is by our side fighting the difficult battles that the soul engages in as she develops, Artemis spurs the soul forward to progress, and Aphrodite harmonizes the energies of the soul. So in this post I would like to discuss how the soul benefits from Apollon’s domain.
As I said before, Aphrodite is the goddess, which is depicted through her relationship with Ares, who harmonizes the energies of the soul. This is described by Plato in Phaedrus as the chariot of the soul and the two horses, one good and the other wild-eyed. When they are unharmonized the chariot rises and falls. You can say that the struggle for the chariot always rising, that energetic wild-eyed mare leaping forward, is reflective of the working of Ares. It is cacophonic, unbalanced, surging with power. Aphrodite though harmonizes the mares, taming the wild mare, so that the mares may rise together. This is creative harmonization. Now we turn to another book of Plato, Cratylus, in which Socrates is telling us that one of the meanings of the name of Apollon is as god who maintains harmonic movement of bodies. He is not the creator of harmony, anymore than he is the creator of the lyre that he plays so sweetly, but he implements it to a higher level. How he does so can be seen in the myth of Marsyas, a myth that gets a particularly bad rap by literalists.
In the myth of Marsyas we find the silenos who has mastered the flutes that he found. The flute becomes a symbol of his soul, and by mastering his own beautiful music of his soul he comes into contest with Apollon. We find different symbols at work here, for Apollon is a divine musician but is also a boundary god, and these things cannot be separate from each other because every power of Apollon is operating under one force within his domain in subtle ways. Music, boundary, and destruction. These are all together. It is by the progress of the soul, and its creation of its most high and divine music that Marsyas, representing the soul, is able to approach Apollon’s domain, and as such is represented as a challenge. For the soul is challenged before the guardian, just as we see the heroes in the Iliad before Apollon as guardian of the citadel. For sake of myth we have judges brought in. We have the Muses present which are the daughters of memory and thus are associated with the achievements of the soul. We also have Midas, the king with the golden touch who sits as judge…which makes perfect sense as gold is directly linked to divinity and thus also why Apollon has gold, not blond I mean literally gold, locks of hair. This is the divine contest of Marsyas’ soul. And so he plays, and he is victorious in the contest. What follows from a literalist standpoint seems brutal and in a fashion is very much so brutal because transformation and change is not easy and soft. Apollon hangs the victor from the tree and proceeds to skin him alive, removing his flesh as all the divinities weep for Marsyas. Released from his “flesh” Marsyas is transformed and becomes ever after a divine river. Thus we also see in ancient myth heroes, often mythically identified as children of gods, who become as gods, who dwell on the isles of bliss.
But this also carries over into the idea of the victorious soul in general, and Apollon who crowns the contest victor in laurel, as well as greatest of poets. Laurel is a symbol of purity, and Apollon purifies through death. The initiates partaking of their own symbolic death in the mysteries of Eleusis, would first attend the temple of Apollon Daphnaeaus before going down to the sea to purify themselves and their sacrifice. He acts in this fashion in a minor way in between each lifetime, as he governs the law of death (as we see in the conversation between Thanatos and Apollon in Euripedes Aclestis) for through death he purifies the soul of whatever corruption she has acquired over the course of her mortal life. Plutarch represents this part as being carried out by the Erinyes who flog the soul until they are purified and after which attend whatever area of Hades until they are to enter the world again. At the final death, and the forward progress of the soul into blessed state, Apollon personally wreaks this purification upon the soul before the soul is veiled in gold and received by Hermes to dwell among the blessed. Thus is crowning themselves in laurel, the victors of the games also prove themselves in contest to be most advanced in a symbolic fashion and ready for the purification of Apollon.
The concept of purification enters also our spiritual wellbeing in our daily lives too. Apollon Agyieus who stands guard at the household whom we greet with prayers upon returning to our house in a fashion acts as purifier, that whatever corruption you have obtained from being out and about among others, that it is blocked from entering the sanctity of the household. Likewise as a healing god Apollon removes that corruption which is causing disharmony in your being that is manifesting as symptoms of illness. Therefore his work is acting dually on the body and soul together in most instances in our daily lives. It is because he is connected so personally to our daily regular lives and wellbeing that he probably bears the closest similarity with Helios who oversees all mortal activity, and also why Apollon is a shepherd. Christians may not examine too closely the action of their Jesus as a shepherd, but with Apollon it is quite well understandable. He cares for the flocks and herds, particularly the young, he sheers their fleece seasonally (thus he purifies us with each life-season) and at the end he butchers the grown ram (in which the mature soul is destroyed by the god). Thus is he is a loving and ever near god who extends his favor upon us.
As the god of light he is also bringer of Truth to the soul, which is symbolically represented by his function as it was carried out in the world as an oracular god and was also associated with education in which schools still retain the name lykeium. Thus as he nurtures and rears us, along with his twin cooperatively, he also instills over lifetimes, Truth into the soul as we are slowly educated through lifetimes of experience and often in contact with the arts of the Muses who are beyond all the greatest of educators. The soul which becomes enlightened is the soul which knows Truth. His associations with inspiration also are kernels relating to this because inspiration, though coming through a mortal filter, are kernels of divine truth coming into the world. Which may very well be why Socrates related poets and seers in a close fashion.
Therefore even though Apollon, in the wide breadth of his domain is more than worthy of anyone’s devotion, his action upon us is also something that we should desire. By giving him worship we are entering into a kind of relationship with him which acknowledges the part he plays in the cycle of the soul and encourages his activity within our lives.