As an Alaskan, wildlife preserves are a big part of life. Alaska has considerable amount of space dedicated as wildlife refuges and state parks, perhaps the most well known of which is Denali Park which attracts numerous tourists every year to look at wolves and other critters that live on the land surrounding the giant mountain. The land remains minimally touched (and with strict rules regarding winter activities so not to disturb hibernating critters) in order to afford a sanctuary to wild life. It is all too easy to think that the concept of developing intentional preserves is a product of modern civilization, and thus to make logic assignments religiously to the concept of preserves.
Typically this takes the form of honoring Artemis as a goddess connected with preserves out of an association with her general role as goddess of wild beasts. While this is a logical association to make, I feel that she is best honored in those role in such as she protects the young, as a goddess who protects for the ultimate end purpose of slaying, as she slays the adults. This doesn’t strike me as really the purpose of preserves and refuges, which is better covered regarding laws on hunting seasons and in regards to take immature beasts and does….and general regulations controlled by the Department of Fish and Game. In such respect I have always had trouble really making that association in honoring her as a goddess of preserves and protected wildlife parks, aside from keeping virgin forests and fields in her honor as such that she preferred to stride through and hunt the wild beasts through. So though I never honored her as a goddess of preserves or wildlife parks exactly, I have honored as goddess of the wealth and richness in natural resources that are a part of our state, and as a goddess oversees those who manage such things for the future.
However history does show us that there are instances of ancient preserves and gods associated with them historically. When flipping through a book on Cyprus (because I am fascinated with the Cyprian cult to Apollon who names him as God of the Wood and honors him on the highest point…not unusual for a god honored high in the mountains in other places), the history book makes mention that the forest surrounding his temple, the wood dedicated to him was historically a deer preserve. That there is an intricately interconnected relationship between the domains of Apollon and Artemis is something that I have pointed out on numerous occasions, and why the Cyprians honored Apollon as god of the wood, god of the preserve may be for very complicated reasons. Not only because Apollon is associated with remote places, but perhaps because he is a god likely to keep something untouched just for the sake of keeping it untouched. For migratory animals a preserve is a wonderful thing in giving them safe harbors, something of which Apollon himself presides over.
In reality the concept of preserves can be seen logically as a co-independent effort in a religious frame of mind in which both Apollon and Artemis ideally ought to be honored. From the standpoint that preserves often provide temporary shelter to migratory animals, and often in places which are ideal birthing grounds for herds, we can hail Artemis as a goddess who gives safety to the young even as we hail Apollon as a god who provides safe harbor in general to all things, and provides continual safety for non-migratory beasts and predators. In such a case I would honor Apollon as god of preserve itself, acting in co-influence with his twin even as I would honor Artemis as goddess of wildlife management. Apollon as god of the wood acting with Artemis as goddess dwelling within the wood, even as we find in the myth of the Calydonian Boar that the mountain the boar sprung from named for the son of Apollon, and was a site associated with Apollon’s worship, even as Artemis acted from it.
This is would not be the first time we see similar alignment as Apollon being hailed as god of the wood in partnership with another god. He acts as this with Dionysos who dwells within the tree, perhaps showing as a third angle in this idea as Apollon protector and guardian of the space (and appropriately attributed to Apollon who acts as such in various cultic duties, especially in the domestic one), Artemis who acts on the space (ie the huntress/nurse) and Dionysos who dwells within the living things of the space, who is a part of that which receives the protection and action for its good. We certainly find similar relationships between Apollon and Dionysos, and Dionysos and Artemis in the ancient world in which they are closely tied. Certainly Dionysos is often just as associated with wild spaces and cultic spaces, and often having divine functions that overlap, shared with his siblings. This, therefore, seems to be an ideal triad of purpose. Thus do I see them operating together. All three equal and working in perfect concert with each other to perform their necessary parts in the unity of civilization and nature that is necessary and the wealth of spiritual symbolism imbedded within.
Let us sing hail in revelry to Dionysos whose band strikes madly through the woods, Dionysos fertilizing, resurrecting, rising up, the infant nestled in the mountains, the boy upon the mountainside, and buried again in rest within the recesses. Let us sing hail to Artemis who nurtures the young within the wood, who hunts that which is ready to be hunted and slain, sing in praise of her noisy band of hunters as she pursues the acorn fed deer. And let us sing of Apollon, the guardian of the space, the all-seeing one, who turns his gaze all about from his high seat upon the mountain, within the woods, the lord of the boundaries who receives the slain ones from his twin, who buried Zagreus upon the holy mountain and issues welcome to Dionysos. We sing for Dionysos clad in fawn skin, we sing for Artemis who slays the stag and doe, and we sing for Apollon who holds the horned deer within his hand, who stands with doe and fawn. For the wild space and creatures which we preserve are important echoes and parts of the soul of the world, and our own spiritual journeys. Without the wild spaces and beasts, without them we are lost and alone.
Chief Seattle once spoke in a rather famous quote “”If all the beasts were gone, man would die from loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beast, happens to the man.” I would include with this from a Hellenic spiritual that if all the beasts were gone, not only would we suffer the loneliness of spirit, but we ourselves would be lost in the unknown, unable to spiritually grow, stagnant in our own void. The necessity of preserves therefore is not something that should be lost upon us. Seeing the wild deer within the wood should be such an experience that humanity ever has to remind us of the sacred things pertaining to the gods.