A fine line of distinction

In light of perhaps some of my recent posts there may be confusion. What? Are you saying Apollon is more or less the god of *everything*? Doesn’t Hermes do some of that? In polytheism, despite how much one may wish to the contrary, there are not such distinct lines as one might find in a pagans dictionary of gods and goddesses. There are no cookie cutter gods for any one distinct thing. In polytheism you have a symphony of co-action and complimentary action that can be quite complex, and perhaps a bit confusing. But really that is one of the fun things about it. For a particular problem or situation you most likely won’t be praying to just one god that “represents” what you are wanting to solve/focus on/establish as a goal. Rather you can find yourself praying to several interconnected deities that each have a hand on slight variations of the same issue. This is really where polytheism gets fun verses the idea within popular paganism in which each name is a certain flavor or attribute of a kind of function.

This happens a lot with Apollon. We find him often intersecting with Artemis on one hand for matters pertaining to the wilderness, and Hermes can join in on these matters for safe travel through the wilderness (and all three of these gods as protective deities at the fore of the home). Likewise we have Apollon and Dionysos interacting, which has often led to a great deal of confusions about what belongs to which god (and has caused a bit of animosity I think between some worshipers), Apollon and Zeus as kingly deities, Apollon and Poseidon in the matters of the sea, etc. For instance, for matters of the heart we can have Apollon and his erote son acting as gods of the marriage song (and potential wooing which has been historically done by poem and song), in edition to the efforts of Eros, Aphrodite and so on.

In my more recent discussions involving Apollon as Guardian god and my recent post on Apollon in the Christianized World one may have seen many areas of overlap with Hermes which may have caused a bit of “wtf” reaction in some readers. This doesn’t mean what it can easily mean among popular paganism in which when one is devoted to go A, that suddenly god A can do anything for them. So this doesn’t mean that I am saying that Hermes’ domain is being usurped by Apollon, as to say such would kind of deride the purpose of worshiping in a polytheistic religion and start going toward henotheism and monotheism. Rather we can see even from the Homeric Hymn to Hermes how close of a pair of brothers Apollon and Hermes are, in fact they are trading stuff, and yet still having said stuff they traded as part of their attributes (such as Hermes who gave Apollon his kithara is also noted for giving lyres out, and Apollon who gave him the bullwhip still has that association with his bullgode). Therefore we see that these are polytheistic gods who intersect each others’ domains and give something beneficial to them without “taking over” or being one mass homogenous deity with different “faces”. Our gods after all already have different “faces”, these are epithets which describe specific duties of the god in how he or she interacts in the world, with the people, and in the cosmos in general.

Therefore when I talk of Apollon as god of the pastures and shepherds, he is the god who provides fruitfulness to the pastures, among the growth of all living things whether they be plant or animal to aid with the genitive functions of the world and the nurture of the youth and the decomposition of the dead to return nutrients to the earth. The whole cycle of life thing (if you feel like singing along to Elton John right now, do feel free). But he is not *THE* god of pastures, because we also have Pan whom we can relate as the procreative conception (via sexual stimulation and reproduction) of new life that continues life in the pastures and wilderness and flocks, even as we have Hermes who, like Apollon is a shepherd type of deity but perhaps in a more direct fashion as the companion of the flocks (souls of the living) upon the earth. Images of Hermes carrying a lamb can very indicative of Hermes with a new soul transporting it to be among the dead in Hades or to new life in the world of the living.

Likewise when we are looking at the issue of travelers when it comes to Apollon and Hermes the lines can get pretty twisty and knotty. For instance Hermes is the companion of travelers, not only of souls but we see this quite blatantly in the myth where he accompanied Zeus in his travels among mortals in the guise of a human. He can lead us into a bit of trouble, and provide for us in a spot of trouble with some good fortune or a clever trick. Apollon however is the god of the roads (both literal in the term of streets, but also to waterways traveled, and spiritual roads). He sets the path and it is by him that we are traveling, both away from him and towards him as we go from destination to destination. Hermes may the god of travelers in the most general of senses, but Apollon is praised for the safe return of travelers and for protecting of strangers/foreigners (something he shared with other gods, which is quite necessary I think), with ferrying by boat etc. I know that when I get behind the wheel of my car I have both Hermes and Apollon Agyieus well in mind, which is quite natural in the polytheistic perspective!

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5 thoughts on “A fine line of distinction

  1. Great post! If one is praying about a particular problem or situation, chances are that there’s a complex series of factors that all led to that situation happening in the first place: besides whatever seems to be the obvious dominant factor (work, for instance), there’s always the state of your household, family, landbase, and so forth, to consider. Therefore, it makes sense that one recognize that many gods can influence the situation in many different ways.

    The complex overlaps of domains/spheres of influence also shows that one cannot reduce the gods to clearly limited archetypes: “cookie cutter gods,” as you say.

    • Exactly! There are many things to consider (and in fact you put a great emphasis on this than even I did or had really considered to a great depth) when it comes to any given situation or thing, because it is not only about the thing itself but how it is impacting or being impacted on by other factors. Great insights!
      And yes that is one of several things I disliked about the archetypes notion is that it severely limits the gods beyond what is practical and historical…as well as what is realistic. Their domains are complex for a reason I say!

  2. Reblogged this on Weaving the Net and commented:
    “There are no cookie cutter gods for any one distinct thing. In polytheism you have a symphony of co-action and complimentary action that can be quite complex, and perhaps a bit confusing. But really that is one of the fun things about it. For a particular problem or situation you most likely won’t be praying to just one god that “represents” what you are wanting to solve/focus on/establish as a goal. Rather you can find yourself praying to several interconnected deities that each have a hand on slight variations of the same issue. “

    Polytheism. Sometimes, it gets confusing, adventurous fun…

  3. I am reasonably content to reduce an issue like this to likely historical processes and patterns even if it does fly a bit in the face of accepted recon principles . Chronologically the gods slightly precede the pantheons they are ascribed to. As a culture builds itself up itself from its elements, let’s say going from pastoral to early urban, society becomes more specialised and its arrangement of gods can be expected to follow suit. The earlier conceptions of these gods and their capacities will be far more generalised and more true to the gods inherent natures. The process of slotting them in to their pantheonic pigeon holes looks more to me like a human imposed schemata.

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