Understanding the Mystic Nature of Apollon via Classical Hellenic-Egyptian Syncertism

Yes that title is a mouthful, but it is aptly descriptive and demonstrative of “look I have the internets again!”. What does this mean for you, dear reader? It means that you no longer have to struggle through slightly garbled posts made from my phone. I want to take a second to bemoan the months of posting from my phone….it was wretched. Ok, bemoaning done. I now have the luxury to once again write posts of length to adequately express myself, rather than abbreviated posts that takes over an hour punch out on my phone.

When it comes to the mystic nature of Apollon, I think it is important, as I pointed out in another post, to observe that there is a difference between a god having a mystic program and a mystic role, and a god possessing an entire mysteries that surrounds them as the pinnacle. I have pointed out before that Apollon does possess a yearly mystic program of his own in which he arrives from the far land, and at Delphi especially wherein he had several festivals that built up to his return that centered on an reenactment of the mystic return of the god. This is of course, quite distinct from the mysteries of Persephone/Demeter and Dionysos which are salvation mysteries. Apollon, in his mystic nature plays a vital role in this mysteries. In fact, I would say that his mystic nature is essential to his role in these mysteries, and is entangled within them in how acts within them. In a way, this makes understanding his mystic nature important in a larger scheme.

But as with the mysteries, what we have is more allusions than direct information. This can be frustrating, because we understand a number of deities that are intimately tied to it but have an unclear vision of how they are attached when we do not understand their mystic nature and are following with solely with what we understand from the general cultis to the god. True enough we can find small clues in their general cult. The fact that Apollon is a god who brings destruction, and by his association with beasts that could potentially cause famine (wolves, locusts and mice) we can see a strong agricultural association which would highly impact the cults of agrarian cultures. For Demeter he protects the grain, that of which the bounty he said to bring with him on his return…something which I have suggested is attached to his return at a time when the green heads are about to develop on the wheat. His return promises the development and the health of the grain. Sacrifices to him, particularly noted in Rhodes, in which he is a god of the grain rust, serves the same purpose as he plays as a diverter of locusts as we find him hailed in Attic where he was attributed as such for turning aside a plague of locusts. Likewise we find Apollon as Smintheus at work in the vineyards destroying the mice that would decimate the crop. So we see that the health and wealth of the harvest is intimately connected to the nature of Apollon.

However we still do not see HOW exactly he fits in. How is part of the dance of the mysteries. This is where we find a valuable resource in the writings of Diodoros Siculus, who made syncretic observations, one of which spoke of the syncretic nature in the Hellenic and Egyptian Mysteries. This of course does not mean that the Hellenic mysteries ARE the Egyptian ones, or that the Hellenic gods ARE the Khemetic gods, but rather that the Hellenes made these associations based on their understandings of their gods. And part of that would notably be the Mysteries which was of high acclaim in the Hellenistic period. In that sense syncretic material is highly valuable for Hellenists to further develop how the Hellenes saw their gods….and far, far, less valuable for Khemetics who would find that Hellenic material to be unreliable in studying Egyptian religion.

Diodoros claims that the origins of the mysteries were brought by Orpheus from Egypt, of course a foreign origin story would be plausible in addressing something of which seems uncharacteristic of traditional common Hellenic religion, recalling that the popularity of initiation into the mysteries was not something that was common to the population at large until the Hellenistic period. Prior to that the mysteries would have been viewed as something mysterious and potentially dangerous, even as it sprung up in Hellenic soil within the common religion. Therefore it is not surprising that some would try to pinpoint a foreign origin for the mysteries as an explanation of the seemingly unusual roles and natures of the gods demonstrated within the mysteries. Egypt being by far more exotic in its religious practices was a likely candidate for comparison, especially with the Hellenes doubtlessly noticing commonalities and basing syncretism on those commonalities. To get back to the point, Diodoros as a non-Egyptian observer, uses the Egyptian model in order to explain the mysteries and how the gods were viewed in the context of the mysteries.

There he says Apollon and Artemis are the children of Isis. Now, whereas Isis is identified with Demeter, she is also strongly identified with Persephone. There can be some argument that the line of separation between Demeter and Persephone is purposely vague, even as at times the line of separation between Dionysos and Zeus can seem that way, especially when viewing the younger Zeus as Pausanias describes in Arkadia. But I digress. Just as in the Eleusinian mysteries with the parentage of Iakhos is generally attributed to either Demeter or Persephone, I will just pick one..and say Persephone throughout the rest of this. So in discussing the origin of the mysteries we Diodoros stating Persephone bore to Dionysos, or rather Osiris as the Hellenes recognized him in Egypt, Apollon and Artemis. He doesn’t necessarily call them twins here, but I have always seen the myth of them being twins to be more of an allegory of them having twin natures, reflective natures of each other. Myth compacts the birth of Apollon and Artemis into a singular event, although taking place in two different locations. In the common version where we find their mother as Leto, we see them born with Artemis first and Apollon second, and yet in the Peloponese where Artemis is recognized as the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon, as the goddess Despoina, we see the reverse that Apollon is the elder in whose horse-pastures she is conceived.  So it is not unremarkable that Diodoros does not state that they are not twins. Again keeping in mind the flexibility and interchangeability of Demeter and Persephone, seeing this alternate parentage in myth is not alarming. And in light of the fact that Leto has several characteristics not unlike Persephone (such as recognition as queen of the dead), and the participation of Artemis in the abduction of Persephone by Haides, we find a rather finely woven, albeit tangled, mystic web.

Diodoros thus calls Apollon and Artemis the children of Isis (Persephone) by Osiris (Dionysos). Although Bast took on lunar characteristics during the Hellenstic period, likely due to her conflation with Artemis and Artemis’ own lunar associations, she is notably a fiery diety, even as Artemis herself despite lunar attachments. Bast is solar as is Helios (but then so are many Egyptian deities). The alignment of Artemis with Bast is likely due to the nurturing and hunting characteristics of felines among other things, the basis here being that Artemis is bore to her mother as a nurturing goddess and hunter who acts by moving her prey by driving it. This would be complimentary to a goddess who is a leader of dance and would also have performed as a leader of initiates, as is her twin. Unfortunately, as this post is not about Artemis I am not going to spend much more time discussing her further in her relationship with Bast in this post, but I think I addressed here the primary elements that address the mystic nature of Artemis as nurse of the living, and a huntress as a provision of that nature.

Apollon as Horus demonstrates complete loyalty to his mother before all others aside from deference to the rule of his father. This is common to in myths of Leto where we find Apollon acting against any who would assault (or insult) his mother. Set aside the more warlike characteristics of Horus (which Apollon also possesses) this would be the foremost notable syncretic address being made here in addition to his ability to repel/destroy evil or harmful (which also in turn addresses healing which would be a side effect of being able to do so). If we consider Apollon as the child of Persephone (Isis), we would find that while his twin led her to his marriage bed, that Apollon is the light which  serves her spring return and the return of the grain. This differs from the premise of the actions of Horus in which it is his father Osiris whom he is fighting for whereas in the Hellenic mysteries it is the mother who has descended to the next world. Following the defeat of Set, Horus works with other gods, such as Anubis and Thoth (both who are aligned with Hermes who is another significant figure of the Hellenic mysteries) in the resurrection of Osiris. As such as we find Apollon as the child of Persephone as Iakhos. He is the light that aids the return, and he is the ruler of the winds. Apollon is a noted god controlling the winds, not only as Telchinios in Rhodes but also in the work of Homer where Apollon destroys the wall of the Achaeans in cooperation with the torrents of Zeus and the floods of Poseidon working in tandem. That Apollon’s sacred garden is beyond the winds is a mark that his sacred place is untouchable by the very element which is his.

I would suggest that the late period conjoining of Set with Horus probably has some relationship with how the Hellenes in Egypt regarded their god. Apollon being a god which opposes and challenges, but also the god which redeems. He is the light that destroys by decay and heat, and he is the unbridled wind tearing apart the living. Even if the conjoining of Set and Horus has nothing to do with Hellenistic thought, it is something that I think is noteworthy that these gods are combined and as such express the nature of Apollon in a more poignant way than either god standing alone could. Both as on one hand a sibling of Persephone, and then again at the same time as the son of Persephone. He leads the initiate to vanquish that which is opposed to them, to confront fear, which I have discussed before is something pertinent to the role of Apollon, and embattle it in order to come to their own death and revival in initiation. That is what I think the debt to Persephone is, that she produced her children, not be strictly be saviors, but leaders unto salvation. They lead the initiate on the road of Persephone to her destruction and her return. That they follow the journey of Persephone they so owe her.

Although Apollon and Artemis are not mentioned by name in Eleusis, although we do find that the temple to Artemis in Eleusis is to the goddess as the daughter of Poseidon and Demeter, the overall cast of characters appears to be different. However when we look at Messenia and the Peloponnese, which Pausanias tells are the exact same as those at Eleusis we find these to be central figures: the great goddesses (likely Kore/Persephone, Demeter and Despoina/Artemis), Hermes, Hagne (Pausanias calls Persephone but may have been a water nymph according to scholars), and Apollon Karneios in the Karnian grove. The presence of Egyptian motifs in the Andanian rule in Messenia can likely draw a stronger correlation between Hellenic mysteries and Egyptian syncretism. That Horus is said to have donned the horned crown, and Apollon Karneios is specifically a horned god it is an interesting coincidence, and that denotes a kind of divine authority and providence akin to horned animals ascribed to other divine kings and queens (bulls/cows, goats, deer). There are of course other unnamed gods called collectively in the Andanian rule the great gods. The Andanian rule goes into great detail over particulars for sacrifice, processions etc but nothing about the mysteries themselves, other than the assurance from Pausanias that they are the same (probably in principle if not in exact detail) as those at Eleusis, and that together the Attic mysteries and Doric mysteries are equated to Egyptian mystery of Isis.

Unfortunately at this time I lack detail knowledge on the mysteries of Isis to go much further on this, but it will likely be something I will devote my attention for an eventual release. I think that the syncretic relationship between Apollon and Horus (or Horus-Seth) is a pertinent one to understanding the nature of Apollon, particularly in terms of his mystic nature which seems to be revealer, leader, and king land-holder (the karneion grove, the pastures of Apollon etc).

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