Apollon, the wolfcult, and werewolf monster

This is just a post I am writing more for the fun of it, because as a kid one of my favorite monsters was always the werewolf. It wasn’t until later that I got pulled in an utterly fascinated by the wolf cults associated with Apollon, as well as with Zeus and Pan. Although not portrayed to my awareness with an anthromorphic wolf form that was popular in medieval werewolf depictions, these wolf gods exhibited the organic predatory cycle within nature often connected with themes of death. This is a far cry from the violent bloodthirsty werewolf legends of the medieval period which is separated from nature and spirituality into something monsterous and unnatural. Yet these werewolf legends of later periods likely had root in the wolf cults of various deities of Greece and Rome that were likely demonized and feared in ages of ignorance and superstition. For make no mistake, the wolfish characters of these gods were often attached to destructive forces in nature and often to the realms of death, burial and the underworld, however even in this cases it did not associate with them with evil.

Apollon has a very rich wolf cult mythology. Myth references wolves as being important cult creatures prior to his very birth. In some versions Leto takes the form of a wolf in her pregnancy (a goddess who has a significant underworld cult) , and in others she is led by wolves following the birth of the twins into Lycia. As wolves were known in Greece as creatures of the twilight hours between day and night there is a presence of Leto’s association being those very points before the dawn and after sunset where they sky is still faintly grey or dark bluish from the receded light. Apollon’s own association as bearing the wolf light as we see in Apolldoros Rhodios’ Argonautika profoundly follows this illustration of the association of this divine family with the hours between day and night when predators roam by the faintest light. The wolf becomes at the same time synonymous with light in his cult, in which he bears forth the light which some also take into meaning that he is born into light even as he is the wolfish god. The wolf thus is associated with the very kindling of light, and a hazardous time, just new beginnings and last hours are as we understand from Hellenic birth and death rites which are surrounded by miasma, where by death a soul is being relinquished into the next world through the decay of the body and is therefore at the boundary, and with birth that the first several days are of such fragility with the other world so near with the possibility of the newborn slipping into death. The Hellenic tendency to depict Apollon Lykeios as a youth with his hand upraised over his head in a crowning gesture is a kindly image, and is likely invocative of the god’s protection during these early periods of life even as he presides at schools for the young as they are gaining education for their transference into adulthood. This kindly Apollon is as the pastoral Apollon who protects the herds from predation in order to stave away famine and preserve the community. He is master of the wolves.

Yet he also takes a wolf form, as does Zeus and Pan. Not anthromorphic but a form that is described as simply being a wolf, or at other times sends a wolf as his envoy for which a massive wolf was erected before his temple at Delphi. As a wolf, for instance he destroys the Telchines of Rhodes by which he is called Telchinios, associating the wolf further with violent winds/storms that can be just as damaging on crops (with other creatures that are his such as mice and locusts) as wolves are to livestock. Apollon as the wolfgod is the god of the destructive forces of nature, but also the god who is merciful when it comes to those forces as the wolflight leads into day. As such Apollon’s role in death and destruction is a measured one and natural one that is necessary too for preserving life, one that is not ominous, but rather cyclic and representing perhaps a completion of a cycle which would not be out of step for Apollon in which his Pythian festivals were originally every nine years representing the conclusion of a divine cycle/divine year. Similarly as we also have Apollon as Noumenios in which one monthly cycle has concluded and another cycle begins with the first light.There is, of course, a lot of speculation about to what lengths any local wolf cults may have taken in regards to Apollon and other wolf gods, or if there were any devotees of wolfish character to the god. Although a friend of mine from Hellas has asserted that the original werewolves in Greece were the children of Apollon. In Tarsus, which was colonized by Argives, the the wolf cult of Apollon was of particular important and may indicate the importance of the wolf cult among Dorics particularly. In coins from Tarsus Apollon was depicted holding two wolves, which is especially interesting in one coin scene in which Demeter approaches Apollon with his wolves as she is looking for Persephone.  One later poet Lycopron, said the two wolves were the hounds of Apollon and represented his two prophets. That is as close as we come to a direct identification between the wolves and one who serves Apollon in ancient literature so far as I have found. Looking at Apollo Soranus and the implementation of the Hirpi Sorani, the wolf priests of Apollo, after his conflation with Soranus, is perhaps even more telling about such wolfish servants of the god.

Apollon’s connection in Italy to Soranus seems to have largely been based off these wolf cult connections between the native god and Apollon. While the wolf priests seemed to have arisen after his conflation with Soranus which suggests a possible previously known mystic wolf cult of Apollon with wolf priests prior to the identification, Soranus himself was perhaps as close to Anthromorphic as we get, sharing similarities with the Roman god of the underworld Dis with his wolf cap. Although depictions in regards to the wolf cult of Soranus with anthromorphic wolf men could easily be equally representations of Soranus as much as possible representations of the Hirpi Sorani. Although Apollo Soranus on coins were typically represented as a youth crowned with serpents, what appears to be a pick ax possible for carving out tombs which was an important feature of the cult of Apollo Soranus, and a star by his head. Yet images associated with the Hirpi Sorani has a wolfish man who appears to be coming out of the ground or urn before people who appear to be participating in a rite. There is a definite sense of religiosity with this images which is a contrast the devious werewolf monster sneaking around looking to main and attack.

Yet we also find in Rome Lupercus, a god particularly of note during the Lupercalia (although without a very clear role that is known about other than the festival  being connected to his name, and more specifically the Lupercii, the priests of the festival who sacrificed a goat in the sacred lupercal cave, and used the strips of flesh to whip women as they roamed the streets to encourage fertility. This festival which occurred during the month of purification before the start of spring follows with the above observations that have been made in regards to the wolf cults of Apollon. The sacrifice of the goat in the cave certainly as boundary/underworld characteristics which may infer that the wolfish god and sacrifices to whom, allowed the passage of spring and fertility to rise from the underworld as an acting boundary deity between the two worlds. This does not invalidate associations of Faunus with festival which has also been put forth in scholarship in While Lupercus has only vague associations with Apollon in historical identification, like Apollon, he is depicted as a youthful male and particular attractiveness. A pastoral relief panel of Lupercus in connection to Lupercalia quite likely shows the youthful god with staff (like Apollon) observing the she-wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus while Mars (to whom the wolf is sacred) stands behind them facing Lupercus.

In a sense we get this idea of the wolf priests as being boundary responsive roles, whether at the predawn of spring during the month of purification or in funerary cult associations with Soranus. As Apollon was associated with both of these things in Hellas with his own Boeotian/Delphic/Spartan birth in February likely in association with the come of spring, as a tomb god, we can see how the wolf cult may have manifested as a mystic cult of followers of Apollon in Hellas as well as in Italy. The role of these individuals often concerned with volatile, aggressive, fertile and deathly features lays fertile ground work for demonization of any linger traces of wolf cults in early Christianity, and may have inspired the fierce werewolf monster which is ruled by animal passions and appetites (and thereby its viciousness is also attributed to its insatiable appetite for flesh) and thus looses the civilized humanity to the monster possessing them, often for the purpose of devastating the flocks and herds of neighbors.

As such, despite the werewolf lore, the wolfish cult and people of the god may be an inspiration to those who belong to Apollon, that as being of his, that the wolves of Apollon may have a place in the world honoring this liminal pastoral god who brings forth civilization by his grace, and in honoring his place in the cycles of nature as destroyer and god bringing the first light. Although werewolf lore may have been corrupted and descended from such cult activity, we can reclaim the symbolism of the werewolf while acknowledging that we are not defined by what it became in any sense while embracing what it means to his cult as we are not fearful of his mysteries.

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