The Thanks of Harvest

It is that time of the year where many polytheistic cultures celebrated the harvest. In Hellas the entirety of the summer and into the early autumn was the season of harvest. Grains were harvest in the first half of summer which also saw the festival of Kronia honoring the golden age of men and Kronos. The prelude to the harvest time was the Thargelia of Apollon in which the green grains were offered to Apollon in preparation for the harvest season, likely so that sunny dry weather would prevail in order for the grains to successfully ripen. Many crops rely on dry sunny periods in order to ripen, not only grains but also grapes. The initial harvest of which, like with the grain, involved the honoring of Apollon who sustains the crops. This Karneia is an interesting festival as a culmination of summer festivals to the god during this harvest period. The death of Hyakinthos in Sparta and his relation to the wheat bread the harvest of which occurred roughly around the time of his festival has a strong suggestion of agrarian sacrifice and receiving the divine blessings. The Gymnopaideia which honored the youths who have matured into radiant young men who danced unarmed for their society which no bachelor was permitted to witness, which may not only have to do with the societal obligations but symbolical of the propagation of nature and as a festival during the summer harvests it may have some relationship to honoring the propagation of the harvest which has successfully matured and whose grains would not only feed the society and sustain its continuance but also be sewn in looking towards the future. The Karneia which followed was also the shepherd harvest where spring lambs that had been reared were often butchered in thanksgiving. Thus the grains and vineyards were followed by the sacrifice of flesh. The bread, the wine/drink (keeping in mind that during this period that drinking water was often not very clean and so people depended on the bacteria killing spirits, watered down, as a drink) and meat. The very basis of sustenance.

Although many regions, especially in the further north, do not experience this summer long season of harvest (here in Alaska you don’t really see much of harvest until the end of August and early September before everything goes crashing down into an abrupt winter). All the same, August has for many cultures of Europe been a time of thanks to various gods who preserve the harvest and are responsible in some manner for it thriving. Right now may who honor Celtic gods are celebrating the festival of Lugh with the bounties of ripe fruits and grains. For Hellas this is the time of winding down towards the Eleusinia in September around the time of the Autumnal Equinox is an excellent example of the importance of harvest in the honoring of the departure of Persephone. It is proceeded by the festival of Zeus Epoptes which may have relevance to the beginning of the rainy season and the conclusion of the harvest as Zeus the overseer who plans out the proceeding events of the marriage of Persephone, as the grain is planted within the earth to germinate once more to bring plenty to the world. I have expressed my thoughts on an old website of mine that I recently refound/remembered here in which I discuss further my thoughts of Zeus Epoptes.

The Eleusinia couldbe considered the high harvest festival in all its grandeur. It honored not only Demeter and Persephone whose mysteries are the very continuance of all things in blessing of plentitude, but also as what was a time for honoring those gods who are instrumental in these mysteries. They who receive special acclaim for the blessings of the harvest. As far removed as most of us are from the important reverence of spirit of thanks for the harvest in our high tech world in which  we can get all manner of foods available at any store at any time of the year, we don’t perhaps quite understand that feeling of having your societies entire health and welfare dependent on successful crops. Most of us in first world countries don’t know what it is like to experience famine from failed crops (and pray that we never do experience it’s devastation!) It is quite understandable that during the harvest festival Apollon himself would receive two offerings. One, a goat, likely dealing with his blessings as seasonal lord of the dry warm harvest season that permits the successful maturation of the crops (more the point than the weather, but related to the weather for its necessity to this case). And the latter, a pig, something which was sacrificed to not only Apollon Noumenios but also to certain aspects of Apollon as a helper of men, like to honor him as a god of plague (ie famine in most cases).  Zeus is the only other deity that I am aware of who gets two offerings at the Eleusinia.

But that aside, there was a host of numerous deities which by necessity must be given honor to. We know of the Calydonian Boar which was sent to plague men when Artemis was forgotten during the harvest sacrifices, which could be a mythic signifier of how serious and important the role of each the deities take in providing for the dietary welfare of the people. It is more than a grain mother and daughter which gets the most emphasis, but rather a time of true thankfulness for an entire host of gods in a spirit of reverence for survival of one’s household and offspring that will not face starvation. It is not the platitudes of the American Thanksgiving  in a very generic spirit of thanks in a rather abstract way that most tend to celebrate, but a knowing and fending off of hunger that looms ever threatening. They are the gods who are by their grace the sustainers of life. Each culture has them and gives reverence to them for their mercy and kindness. It is of no wonder that the agrarian cult of Demter and Persephone which feeds and sustains mankind as a mercy and blessing would translate into the spiritual world in which souls are saved even as the crops save us from hunger.

I would recommend in all earnestly that before celebrating the end of the harvest and the gifts that the gods have so generously endowed us with a short period of fasting for those who are able to remind us how much a divine blessing food is for us as a true gift from the gods. I think that this year I must give special thanks to Annapoorna-Artemis with her lovely spoon/ladel, nurturer of life,  who extends her hand to nurse mankind until we have reached the end of our age and are ready for her arrows.

Artemis who is not only a goddess who is a divine nurse but also a provisionary of the fields by holding off the wilderness from encroaching into the fertile fields and the blessings of wilderness displaced for crops, is understandable how grievous it was to forget her, and how her mercy was instantly revoked as the very agent of the wilderness, the Calydonian Boar. was sent forth into human habitation and fields to bring death and destruction. Ever ought one by thankful of her. For Annapoorna dispensing out food, for Artemis who provides. This is especially relevant for Alaskans where given how harsh a wilderness we are surrounded with and with comparably very limited spaces for crop growing or viable for supporting herds of livestock, many people find what provisions they can in the wilderness. The wild berries, the salmon runs, the hunt. She is important not only for what the wilderness provides but for the viable spaces too that she establishes for us. Thanks be to all the gods during the time of the harvest.

Apollon and Demeter

While later Hellenists revered Apollon directly associated with the sun, this is not something that plays a great importance in my worship of him. Yes I recognize he has connections to Helios and favors Helios, but he also has significant connections to the moon in his cult outside of poetics and to the stellar bodies of the heavens, certain heavenly events being ones that were said to indicate the seasons for his festivals (as well as important agricultural and husbandry themes). For instance there are scholars who suggest that the rising of certain stars (likely Gemini, a sign that he has been astrologically linked to anciently in his worship, perhaps sharing alike certain connections with the Dioskouri who represent said body) was the actual start of Thargelia…around the 21st of May. And as for his return to Delphi, that this was signified by the rise of the constellation of Delphus (which was visible later in Delphi due to the mountains). Combined with certain festivals that were focused on fullmoons (such as Hyakinthia and Karneia among the Spartans) it is no wonder that we have a very convoluted heavenly array associated with Apollon that cannot be narrowed down to “sun god” but is often done due to historical precedent of this occurring during the Hellenistic period.

Rather, I would say that anciently Apollon had more to do with the weather. We find in the Iliad that Apollon is directly responsible for the winds with which he uses paired with the rains of Zeus and torrents of Poseidon to break down the wall of the Hellenes that had been erected without tribute to them. The association Apollon and Poseidon have with walls (and foundations) is probably due to the volatile nature of weather and to secure safe haven by their mercy and grace behind fortifications as we build our homes and dwellings. On a larger civic level this takes us further into walls and gates as fortifications against possible hostile forces. Certainly the destructive tendencies of Apollon and Poseidon when dealing with the nature climate was probably very closely tied to this. Apollon as a god associated with the weather could be destructive or he could be kind and merciful and provide the right growing conditions in a balance of moisture and dry heat to ripen grains and fruits. I have written before of my associations of Apollon with Iakkhos, as a son of either Demeter or Persephone (as we have it both ways) and clarified by Diodoros Siculus’ narration on the origin of the mysteries in Egypt with Apollon as the child of Isis and Osiris. Perhaps it is through this association that we see the real firm stirrings of a solar identity of Apollon through his loose Egyptian associations. However, my perception on this is that Diodoros made this an example for explaining how the mysteries operated in Hellas rather than making any real parallels with Egyptian religion. Apollon as Iakkhos is the companion/child of Demeter, the announcer of the mysteries of Dionysos, reveler in those mysteries (as the Orphic hymn calls both himself and Artemis as being Bakkhic…likely for good reason here), and proclaimer of Persephone whom we see rising in the Spring on a Delphic vase greeted by Dionysos, Pan and Apollon.

Certainly the Doric station of Karneios with his pinecone, a natural barometer, indicates a god who is foreseeing and attending to the season of growth while keeping his gaze on the rainy season to come. In fact this plays a very pivotal point with Apollon’s nature as a prophetic god if we consider that Apollon is attending to weather patterns that would ideally lead to a ripening of grain and plant life to provide seed for the next year’s crops as well as be a form of sustenance, we can see that planting and harvest would be very much in keeping with his foresight. It may have originated agriculturally. When should I move my herds to different pastures? When should I harvest the grains? It would all play out, probably in part by the movement of the heavens which priests would have kept a strict eye on. As agriculture is very closely tied with civilization (after all we find earth goddesses from Gaia, to Themis to Demeter all attributed with crafting laws) it is not hard to see how things would extend from the cultivation of the earth to a cultivation of spirituality and humanity (via the arts). He is the leader of the Muses as well as the leader of pastoral nymphs for this reason….it is interrelated. Health and wellbeing being another facet to this overarching compass. He is destroyer…and provider. He is sustainer and keeper of harmony and balance. He is a guardian of laws as we find at Olympia, those same laws attributed to goddesses of the earth. That is because his role impacts all the way through….and this makes his relationship with Demeter and Persephone so vital.

Other factors of course indicate his weather associations, aside from being called their king by the Dioskouri in the play Elektra, he is also considered one of few gods permitted to use the thunderbolts of Zeus (along with Athena), which would account for comments about prophets searching for Pythian lightening to indicate that they begin their journey from Athens to Delphi. His winds can bring in the abundant rain clouds of Zeus or push them away, he can howl with the winds or calm them. The very presence of the winds in relation to him mythically puts further weight behind this that the winds would be acting in his myths and cult, notably the two extremes (the two original seasons as Pausanias tells us) Winter and Spring….the winds of those seasons being Boreas and Zephyr.  We also know that in Hera’s temple in Argos that in a hall Pausanias notes the presence of four statues facing each other…Demeter and Kore at one side facing the statues of Apollon and Artemis. This is not to mention Apollon’s seasonal presence in the temple of Demeter and Despoina in Arkadia.

It is for all these reasons and more that I consider the relationship Apollon has with Demeter to be one of the more important ones among the gods, and a reason why Demeter’s presence is on the upper tier of his shrine on the other side of Artemis from himself. This actually adds an interesting dimension to Thargelia celebrations in which in Athens on the sixth day of Thargelion, whereas we find no references to Artemis, we find that Demeter was honored as Chloe (the green) likely part of the festivities of the harvest of the green ears of grain at the nativity of Apollon.

I would wager to guess that this is part of why Apollon when adopted by the Etruscans and Romans did not carry significant solar characteristics. Most scholars have suggested it was because of popularity of a local sun god Sol, but it is plausible that it had more to do with being adopted before his associations with the son in the Hellenistic period got a good foothold. In fact, his appearance in the company of various scenes in Etruscan art indicates more of a supportive role, as a weather/season-related divinity would have versus that of a solar god. Such as present at the birth of Fulfuns (Dionysos), and the suckling of Hercle (Herakles), or even prophet activity of other Etruscan deities. As being paired in direct mirroring with Artemis is quite likely that Etruscans when they adopted Apollon viewed Aplu and Arteme as being mirroring each other and having directly to do with similar activities….usually involved with nature and the translation of the activities of nature into the welfare of civilization.

Daughters of the Horse

Most of the younger collection of Olympians are most commonly said to have been sired by Zeus, with a few exceptions of gods who are presented with alternate fathering, this may have been as part of a development at some point in Hellas history in which many of the dominant gods were arranged as his children in order to justify their relationship with him and their belonging to his rule (and agreeability to it). That is to say that being fathered by Zeus may have rendered some sensibility to the governance of these deities with realms of function that are particular to Zeus’ spiritual aetheric rule. Apollon presented in Crete as being a son of Corybas, and one who competed with Zeus for rule according to local myth, is an excellent example of the son of an earthy almost chthonic god. His father being a great dragon of a god and follower of Rhea. Apollon here is one who, despite also being a earthy god, like his father, associated with herding and fruition of crops, was born possessing such similar powers of aetheric light and power that it makes him a natural rival of Zeus. A rivalry that, upon loosing to Zeus, was neutralized and Apollon was born as a son of Zeus through the ambiguous lady Leto. The parallel nature of Zeus and Apollon in many respects seems to play out in Orphic hymns in their common identifications with Pan and Helios. Apollon became a favored son of his father and one so, understandably, intrinsically a part of the father god that he often acted as an extension of his father’s will through carrying out his father’s designs and his role as oracle.

Yet two goddesses of alternate parentage are also apparent, daughters of Poseidon. One is Artemis, the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon, a tamer of horses, and holding certain fame as such throughout most of the Peloponesse. The other is Athena who was regarded as the daughter of Poseidon particularly in Crete and Libya, the yoker of horses. Edward Butler, in conversation with him, made a great case for the fathering of these goddesses by  Poseidon firmly attaches them to the physical world, whereas the fathering by Zeus attaches them to the spiritual world of the intellect (my paraphrase..he is welcome to elaborate here in comments below!). As such the fathering of these goddesses serve very particular cases to the nature of these goddesses which is a bit different from the alternative parentage of Apollon shown above In the case of Athena we have a goddess who is looking to separate herself from her parentage by her own power. I think that this can be part of an understanding of her being conceived by Metis. She becomes a daughter of Zeus by her own volition, surrenders her power unto to him and in a way becomes a part of him as he mythically consumes her via the myth of consuming her mother and she emerges again from his head, her nature completely enjoined with his as his nous. It is not hard to imagine that her original form may have been very close to the aquatic dwelling feathered sirens as an archaic bird goddess with chthonic attachments (considering that the realm of Poseidon touches on both the heavenly and the chthonic it is easy to see why her is so fluid in her domain between these principles in more subtle ways…such as her association with the gorgon Medusa which may have been a reflection of an earlier identity of the goddess that the death of Medusa by her involvement becomes part of her harnessing and control of her earlier chthonic leanings under her more elevated form).

As such Athena provides an intermediary service, the earthy horse of Poseidon (which in some mythic version he produced out of competition with her for Athens, and in other mythic versions he produced as a gift for Demeter) becomes yoked by her and by her efforts transformed into a winged spirit horse, even as the death she orchestrated for Medusa yields the winged Pegasus. Even though she is no longer identified or a part of Poseidon her natal relationship with Poseidon is effective in her transformative and elevating principles. She weaves the cloth of the chrysalis which surrounds the earthy and works to transform it into the beautiful spiritual being. She is thus operating on the threshold of Poseidon’s domain into the aetherical.

Artemis is another story, however. She is firmly planted within the domain of the earthly and works from the opposite end of Athena. This can be best seen as her role and huntress/nurturer. She propels forward from the earthly state, driving forth all. She is the tamer of the horse, the one who gentles that which is wild and uncontained (energy) in order that it service life to move forward and evolve. When Odysseus’ horses  ran off wild, he prayed to her and later erected a temple to her as a tamer of horses when he had recovered them by the shore. This may in some manner echo the way Hippolytus is portrayed dying in which he, by the shore, driving forth his horses, is recovered by Poseidon who sends his great bull to slay the youth by causing his horses to throw him  from his chariot in their fright. As favor to Theseus, Poseidon undoes the art of Artemis. Other versions of the myth say that Asklepios revived him and the went to Italy to dwell there with his goddess. As such this could also be interpreted as a boon to his daughter Artemis.

Unlike with Athena, we see very little interaction between Artemis and her other father Zeus, other than  her mythic birth as his daughter and her gifts of sovereignty given to her by him as he did for Apollon. Most of her domain is fully entrenched in the domain of Poseidon. This is just more evident in the Peloponnese. In fact Leto as a constant companion of Artemis would tell us more that this is more to reinforce her position as the daughter of Zeus, which was more successful in other parts of Hellas. Meanwhile in the Peloponnese’s Artemis retained her more gorgon-like features and Potnia theron winged form was familiar from Boeotia to Sparta to Olympia. We also see Artemis Eurynome as a river dwelling goddess in a mermaid like form like responsible for the after birth nurse care and purification of Zeus. From her iconic charms in Sparta depicting her face with horses heads and her widespread cult as the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon in this part of Hellas, it is easy to see how by her more earthy nature while still possessing heavenly illumination that she was confused with Hekate who enjoyed similar popularity in other parts of Hellas as they possessed very similar natures as goddesses of the ways, divine nurses, and goddesses of beasts, lamination, nocturnal activity and their associations with the earth, heavens and seas. The distinction being that as a titan daughter  of Asteria and Perse Hekate already had all three jurisdictions, and Artemis came into her heavenly one later which like accounts for myths in which Hekate is said to have reared Artemis.

Unlike Athena, Artemis remains very much the daughter of Poseidon as much as that of Zeus, if not more. Her greatest acquisition perhaps from her fathering by Zeus is her role of illumination and her association with Apollon whom she acquired as her mythic twin, in all probability to their perfect parallel-sameness of natures. They were in all ways one and so in their adoption by Zeus they became his twins, his twin lights. In this manner you have Apollon (likely the son of Rhea/Samothrakian Demeter children the Korybantes served, and Artemis as daughter of Demeter) “reborn by Zeus through Persephone as under the guise of Leto which would hold with the multi-facet way that they would enter into the mysteries and how later philosophy would say that Apollon Zeus and Dionysos are one while Hera Artemis and Persephone are one. Likewise serving a very important parallel in the mysteries in which Artemis and Apollon are concerned with the leading of initiates, leading along the way on an earthy liminal level, whereas Hermes and Hekate perform a parallel role for the divine goddess. Differing echoes of related domains that is tied together by this mixed parentage.

In fact,  as Dionysos was also called the son of Hades, it is also possible that Apollon as the son of Corybas was the son of Poseidon under a local cult epithet related to the cult of Rhea. Given the popularity of Poseidon in parts of archaic Hellas it would certainly stand to reason that he would send out his son to counter the rising sovereignity of Zeus (remember not all myths have Poseidon being swallowed, but also have him reared with lambs placing him in similar juxtaposition with herding that we find Apollon who tends to the pastures and herds). The triad of Zeus-Poseidon-Hades thus becomes overlapped with a triad of Zeus-Apollon-Dionysos to relate to similar concepts, but one under the supremacy of Zeus overall.

There is certainly a rather oppositional character between Zeus and Poseidon through many myths, with the exception of the myth of Troy, and this was only because Poseidon was pissed off. We do see an instance where Athena conspires with Poseidon (and other gods) to overthrow Zeus, but this is a rare testimony to her relationship with Poseidon. All that is really apparent from her parentage by him is her nature (like Apollon) as a charioteer, and yoker of horses. Apollon, meanwhile enjoys a much more stable and constantly overlapping relationship with Poseidon, not only as a charioteer and builder of walls, but also given his many associations with the seas. But only Artemis was revered continually as a daughter of Poseidon even as she was worshiped as a daughter of Zeus as firmly entrenched as she is in her love for the earthy realm with its lush woods, rivers and seas enacting as a nurse to all things.

Artemis, Hekate and Demeter

So similar are the natures of Artemis and Hekate that it sometimes causes argument in regards to which is more appropriate for certain forms of worship, namely those various points their natures intersect. I have tried, not quite satisfactorly to myself, puzzle out how these goddesses fit together. After a while I started to come to the conclusion that there is no satisfactory way to separate these goddesses, and I think that this is a conclusion that Athenians came to as well in the classical era where we find references of Artemis-Hekate in the work of Euripedes in his Seven Against Thebes.

For I have noticed something quite distinct, that aside from a few notable sanctuaries (the one at Brauron being in direct competition with Sparta as the inheritor of the Taurine Artemis) Artemis seems to enjoy a bit less popularity than Hekate, and much of worship seems to be very narrowly defined. I think this is part of what causes some to argue that the Eleusinuan temple of Artemis is not really for Artemis, because they see no real function for Artemis in Demeter’s sanctuary, especially when Hesiod, a rather famous Ionian poet to whom the Homeric hymns are typically attributed to, speaks of only the aid of Hekate outside of Demeter and Persephone in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter as the goddesses who aids Demeter in recovering Persephone. This aid was freqently celebrated in Attic vase paintings depicting Persephone with Hekate and Hermes.  So then how possibly could Artemis fit in? To discover that we need to move away from Attic and allied resources and take into consideration that the conquered Eleusis was said by Pausanias to have the exact same rites as those of Demeter at various points in the Pelopennese. In a couple of places this can be attributed to just a migration of the Eleusinuan cult, where Demeter is surnamed Eleusia. But in many cases that is not so. In Messenia we have mention of three Great Goddesses of whom Pausanias doesn’t name, but says that their rites are exactly the same as those at Eleusis. The identity of these goddesses can be peiced together from his subsequent writing on Messenia’s neighbors, Arkadia and Laconia. First he mentions that it is in Messenia, in the feilds of Apollon’s horse herds, that Demeter, in her grief over loosing Kore, hid herself in the form of a mare and there Poseidon, in the form of a stallion, copulated with her. From this mating, Pausanias tells us, Despoina was born. Pausanias tells us that Despoina is a title for the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon, just as Kore is a title for the daughter of Demeter and Zeus. He initially tells us that it is forbidden to say the name of the goddess, but then a few pages later informs us that Artemis is the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon. Which he makes further clear when speaking of the sanctuary of Despoina in another part of the Pelopennese where one enters first through the temple of Artemis Hegemone, and from there you come to the inner part of the sanctuary where there are two images. The main image being that of Despoina (holding the sacred kiste) seated beside Demeter, with another statue of Artemis nearby holding a torch in one hand and a dragon in the other.

Now, this isn’t the only instance of Artemis acting as keeper of a sacred kiste, for in one of her sacred cities in Asia Minor we find her receiving the sacred kiste of Dionysos from Troy in myth. In fact it in Asia Minor you really see the overlay of Artemis and Hekate. For you see triads of Cybele, Hekate and Hermes lining up directly with those of Leto, Artemis and Apollon in differing cities, largely because this part of the world was colonized by Athenians and Laconians both creating a hodgepodge of differing foci. Of course the interesting thing is that Ephesus, whose Artemis so unresembles the Attic Artemis to the point of people saying nowadays that they are not the same goddess, is said to have been mythically founded by an Athenian prince, bears more in common with Artemis outside of Attica. Such can be stressed by very Persephone like imagery in her temple of the Thessalian queen Aclestis, wearing the crown of Persephone as she is escorted back among the living by Herakles. It is also in Ionia that we find Leto identified with a great mother goddess in Lycia and in other parts identified with the dead.  The nature of Leto becomes distinguished as bearing commonality with Demeter. The parental relationship evident with Demeter quite plausibly was well known and recognized in Hellas which likely inspired the account of Diodoros Siculus who said that Artemis and Apollon were worshiped with their mother Demeter in Egypt… their recognized relationship with Demeter probably factoring the Hellenic-Egyptian view of Bast and Horus as twin children of Isis, something that did not previously exist in Egyptian religion before then as far as I am aware.

So then how does Leto, the fruitful mother become distinct with few other instances of her in myth and cult…and never without her children?  It is because this is her identity specifically is attached to het children. She is as the exhalation of the earth that imparts light… just as the natural vapors of the earth mingled with the air in Hellenic thought to provide nature’s relevations through the oracles. Her very nature is meant, as given by her name, to be obscure …and seems quite intentional. As is Hesiod producing her sister Asteria to present as the mother of Hekate. For we see no other mention of this titanide outside of this particular theogony, which states that she was held in esteem by Hera for escaping Zeus by plunging into the sea in the form if a quail, setting up her continued existance as Delos whereas Leto conceived as a quail in one myth.  Thus Hekate for all that Hesiod acclaimed over her, possessed just as vague of parentage.

In fact when it comes to the origin of Hekate we find a differing version inside of Attica alone, in Brauron, where Hekate was said to have originated as Iphigenia. That Hekate is so vastly reduced within Attica alone is rather startling. But as infrequently as one sees evidence of her presence outside of Attica in a truly notable way, it should not be surprising either to find her so reduced. Although among tragedians Hekate’s popularity skyrocketed, in terms of cult she seems to have been honored frequently as Iphigeneia, which Hesiod mentions in his catalogue of women, as she was acclaimed over poetically as Perseis (the daughter of Perses). Certainly as with all gods Hekate has diverse parentage that attributes to her functions as a goddess. As such the stress in her functions likely varies from place to place. So it would be a mistake to think she was held in equal esteem throughout Hellas, rather Artemis and Hekate are almost interchangable depending on where you are. What is clearly distinct of Hekate that is worshiped in Hekate in those few places mentioned by Pausanias is not a kourotroph of nurturing nature outside of Athens, but a goddess of the dead and witchery, a goddess of the night, wheras Artemis is kourotroph.

Neithet position is more correct than the other tho, which was finally agreed on by Athenian playwrites when discussing Artemis outside if Athens, for only then does Euripedes call her Artemis-Hekate in recognition of Artemis bearing qualities like Hekate, and for which we see the goddesses interchangably addressed in the Orphic hymns.

Unfortunately this peaceful interchange has made matters a bit less so among modern worshippers. Unlike Apollon and Hermes who have several areas of overlap but never were identified as more than the closest of brothers and whose worshippers enjoy a happy interaction, the mingling of Hekate and Artemis causes some rather heated disputes, especially as not all worshippers do so through the Athenian lense as it were. But it would be nice to see some positive exchanges.

As one of Pelopennesian leaning and devoted to Artemis I try to not ignore Hekate. As such I honor both Artemis and Hekate at the entrance. I honor both, with Ge, during Korutrophia, even tho it is Artemis I recognize particularly as such. I honor Artemis ad Despoina and companion/sister of Persephone during her time among the gods, and Hekate as her companion in the underworld, and it is Hekate I honor with Apollon in regards to death and burial, just the same as key keepers.

Balance has become the key.

brought to you by my laborous typing on my phone. As always please forgive grammatical and spelling errors.

PBP: E is for Eleusis and Elaphebolia

First I want to say that I loved Eleusis when I got the opportunity to visit and have my naming ceremony there. The first thing you see when you enter the entrance is the temple of Artemis, as daughter of Poseidon and Demeter. I have spoken of this interpretation before in my blog as one that is actually rather common and Pausanias especially speaks of it in the Peloponnese where Artemis is given a higher status as Despoina, the mistress. In Eleusis we don’t know much of her though aside from the fact that she has a temple there at the entrance of the sacred precinct. There are some who like to try to assign the temple to Hekate because Hekate shows up in mythic context to the rape of Persephone and in imagery of Persephone’s return out of Hades, yet Artemis has a very important cultic link to the mysteries of Persephone too. It is she who is said to have been with Persephone when she was kidnapped. The Orphic Argonautika suggests that this was in purposeful design in arrangement with the plans of Zeus, though other myths have it that Artemis ran after the chariot of Hades as he swept Persephone away from Artemis and Athena, her playmates.

Not far from the temple of Artemis, between the temple and the temple of Demeter is an upright giant relief of two crossed torches, likely the symbol of the two torch bearers in the mysteries. Some say that these are Dionysos and Hekate, but given the nature of the context of what we know of the roles that Artemis and Apollon play in the mysteries OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof Demeter and Dionysos elsewhere, it is more likely that it is the Bacchic gods Apollon and Artemis. It has been suggested in one book, the Road to Eleusis, that the leader of the procession are representative of the sun and the moon. Though Apollon and Artemis are not the sun and the moon, their domains are associated with the functions of the sun and the moon as it were, as both bodies of light have agricultural importance and are keepers of the passage of time (In one post I spoke of Apollon and Helios as per the Orphic hymns which you can find here.) As fiery deities of light, it makes perfect sense that these divine twins and chorus leaders, be the perfect leaders of the procession. I wrote more of it here specifically in regards to Apollon. On the part of Artemis her presence here is a bit more clear as if we look at other parallel mystic cults of Demeter throughout Hellas we often find it concert with Artemis as Despoina (which is likely linked to Artemis in earlier manifestation as Potnia Theron, Potnia referring to Mistress) and also as bearer of light and leader. In fact at one particular temple of Demeter and Despoina Artemis is represented as all three in the same temple as one most first pass through the temple of Artemis Hegemone (the leader) in order to enter the temple of Despoina where the goddess is also represented not only as Despoina seated by Demeter, but also as a figure holding a torch in one hand and in the other dragons.

This is not to dismiss the importance of Hekate but rather that Hekate, Dionysos, Apollon and Artemis serve very specific functions at Eleusis as I have indicated before in the above linked post in regards to Dionysos and Apollon. There is of course philosophical traditions which state that Dionysos and Apollon are the same god, which we find immediately from Plutarch, a philosopher and priest of Delphi, and likewise Artemis and Hekate were at one point viewed as the same deity. I don’t particularly agree with this so much in point, but I do think that they have very closely occurring roles. Therefore you have Artemis involved directly in the leaving of Persephone and chasing after the chariot, which may be the true origin for the running maiden figure from Eleusis. Then you have the light bearing youth (a form of Apollon) who aids Demeter in search of her daughter, even as Apollon is called the god who brings the golden harvest in other places and is likewise intimately connected with harvest of beast and vineyards as a god of light. Meanwhile you have Hekate who aids Demeter by bringing news of hearing the cries of Persephone from her cave, and Hekate who is the leader of the goddess specifically in her return. There are those who use the Homeric Hymn for Demeter as evidence that this is Hekate (line 52) but here we see Hekate with her torches as an announcer of what she had witnessed, paying attendant on Demeter which does not say that she was associated with the initiates. This is not the first instance in which we see Hekate as a companion or leader of a goddess as she has been called the handmaiden of Aphrodite and in one vase painting seems to be leading the return of Artemis as she stands before a chariot of deer. There is thus a very interesting relationship here between the liminal Artemis and the Khthonic role of Hekate playing out, just as there are a very clear relationship between Apollon and Dionysos at harvest. Demeter brings the grain, Dionysos brings the liquid wealth in his wine as both he and Persephone (representing the ear of wheat) cycle through seasonal life and death for these gifts….son and daughter of Demeter, with Apollon and Artemis (also considered children of Demeter as we see particularly represented by Diodoros Siculus in his description of the mysteries via a layer of Egyptian creative interpretation) as liminal keepers of time, transitioning and moving forward life’s development/growth and sacrifice/harvest.

Therefore when I think of this image of Eleusis that is what I think of.  Whereas at the other side of her temple is the sacrificial pit where the pigs were thrown into the fires for the sake of the initiates. Beyond the temple of Artemis is the great temple of Demeter, beside which sits her well. As a tourist you walk through the temple to get to the other side where the road progresses from her temple, past the Ploutonian Cave (where there is also a small temenos with an altar) to the road leading to the gates of the Telesterion into which the initiates entered, and that is where I had my naming ceremony. Within the Telesterion you can imagine how glorious it was anciently, and as you walk to the far end you can see sacred markers. The bundle of wheat ear, the bull, the double torches, the drum and so on. I had taken pictures of these painstakenly and pray that I can get my portable harddrive fixed where they are stored because I found them to be truly touching and quite profound.

The Lesser Mysteries are coming shortly as they were said to have occurred toward the end of Anthesterion at which time those who desired to be initiates were purified and became mystai. These mysteries are said to have been instituted on behalf of Herakles at the time in which he wishes to participate but the Greater Mysteries were closed to him as a foreigner (apparently this changed over time as the Eleusinian Mysteries became known as being accepting of just about anyone who spoke Greek and could afford the price of a pig). The Lesser Mysteries therefore largely served to induct new initiates even as we have the return of Persephone. It may have been believed that Persephone herself was receiving the new initiates even as she was received, as we find Persephone is given credit for decisions for the fate of souls after death. Persephone and Dionysos by their nature are credited as the only gods that can save souls from the fate of death suffered by mortals for instance. And in the Orphic hymn to Hermes Khthonios we see that his position of leading the dead to Hades is also bestowed by Persephone. Even at Ephesus the return of Admetus’ wife Aclestis shows the queen returning with a token of Persephone, likely indicating that Persephone granted this just as she was the main player in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that caused Eurydice to be allowed to ascend with her husband to the world of the living (though a shame that he failed to wait to look upon her and so lost her again. So I would take it that the Lesser Mysteries were celebrated in part as the acceptance of Persephone for those who are initiated to her care.

Just following the end of Anthesterion and the Lesser Mysteries the month turns to Elapheblion and the festival of Elaphebolia celebrating Artemis as the slayer of deer. This seems to me to be placed very particularly in which we see a contrast in two vital functions of Artemis. We see her as the torch-bearer in the Lesser Mysteries closing out the month of Anthesterion, and then we find her as the huntress. I have discussed before on this blog the close association between the functions of Artemis as nurturer and huntress. She is called in Crete first and foremost the nurse and companion of the midwife goddess Eliethyia. It follows that the goddess which nurturers the young of all life, is also the goddess that pursues them through development and slays them at the end of their life. This which we find in co-supporting role with Apollon in which Apollon and Artemis are often placed together nurturing, rearing and destroying the males and females of all living species. Therefore Elaphebolia directly following the Lesser Mysteries plays and important reminder, and perhaps plays an even more subtle reminder of the role of Artemis in the mysteries in the abduction of Persephone, to all of us as Artemis throughout the yearly festivities transitions back and forth between her two primary functions, just as we see following Elaphebolia the celebration of Mounykhia and Brauronia that honors Artemis as the goddess who cares for young girls and her instrumental relationship in their transition out of childhood which we particularly see in her early autumn festival Kourotrophia during which youths and maidens dedicated to her the tokens of their childhood by giving their toys to her altar.

The assertion made here that Herakles in acting as the torch-bearer in the Lesser Mysteries was acting in the place of Hekate makes more logical sense if we consider that the pair of twins were torch bearers in which case Herakles was most probably taking the role of Apollon as he did in his  youth in another festival Daphnephoria where he played the part of the bearer of the laurel as the god coming to the temple. Herakles has many intersecting points with Apollon in his myths, and so it seems plausible that if the Lesser Mysteries were established in their legendary history by Herakles that he would have been taking the part of the male torch bearing god, Apollon.

A most Blessed Poseideia!

And the time has returned again for Poseideia. Last year to celebrate Poseideia I had posted regarding the relationship of Zeus and Poseidon in regards to the moisture of winter. You can find that post here. So I have thought perhaps to continue my discussion of the divine blessings of the moisture to the earth this Poseideia with heartfelt wonder of the mingling of the moisture with the ploughed fields of Demeter. For even as Demeter was seized by Zeus on the mountains of Rhea and fertilized with the holy daughter Kore (Persephone), so too do we have in this time of the year, during Demeter’s mourning for her daughter, that Poseidon pursues and mates with Demeter to bear Despoina (Artemis), keeper of the sacred kiste, the mystic box.

This is symbolized beautifully by the union of horses, Demeter in the form of a Mare and Poseidon in that of a Stallion. She hides herself in the herds of Apollon’s son, to escape Poseidon’s attentions but the god is not fooled and pairs with the goddess in their horse forms. Though Pausanias says that the identity of Despoina is not to be known outside of initiates he makes it pretty clear a few paragraphs later when he says that Artemis is the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon. This is stated at Delphi, and is particularly celebrated in Messenia and Arcadia, the latter of which Pausanias says had identical practices as those at Eleusis. Furthermore the connection to Artemis to horses is pretty well known in the Peloponnese where, particularly in Sparta, numerous jewelry has been found in which the face of Artemis is depicted with that of a horse to either side. And another locality praises Artemis at the spot where Odysseus was able to catch his horses that had escaped. Artemis here can be identified in some respect to the tamer of the horse, even as Athena is the yoker of the horse. But this is going quite afield of what I wanted to talk about.

The month of Poseidon is largely a celebration of the planting season attached to those that also occur around the end of November that are typically attributed to Zeus. This is perhaps the festival that is part of the germination of the seeds. Persephone is the queen in the court of Hades, and Demeter is wandering in her sorrow, withdrawing her abundance from the world with the winter season. The moisture of Poseidon finds Demeter and impregnates her, as the winter rains cause the tiny grains to burst open for tender sprouts. This is a hazardous time because anything can makes these small sprouts die in their very vulnerable stage. Demeter afterwards takes herself to cave in Arcadia where she hides away, and where she likely bears Despoina. Depoina as keeper of the mystic box I feel has a great deal to do with this tender return of life. Dionysos is also born shortly thereafter and so the box is perhaps more intimately associated with the birth of Dionysos in the Corycion cave.

The Kiste in this instance seems to take the place of the basket that we also see next month in the Leanea where Dionysos is represented as a baby in the basket. The kiste can also refer to the heart of Dionysos that was carried by Athena in a box to be implanted in Semele for the birth of Dionysos in Thebes. However here it is likely to refer in general to the arrival of Dionysos with the first germination of young plants. A parallel can be found here in the Ionian tale that Pausanias tells in which after the fall of Troy in which the kiste which carried the sacred image of Dionysos, and drove anyone mad who caught a glimpse of it, arrived in the sacred citadel of Artemis and there was kept with certain mysteries of Dionysos that seemed to have included Artemis. In a sense hear Artemis is bearing the mysteries of Dionysos, much in the same way that we see Artemis represented in relation with Despoina, she is the mistress and is also represented as a torch bearer, the leader of the way, the goddess Hegemone.

Thus Poseideia sets all of these things in motion as Poseidon fertilizes the land and Demeter. He is sea-foaming stallion, white as the whiteheads of the waves, crashing upon the land. Or in more northern climates the rush of the snow blowing through the sky. It is the run of rain stamping with a steady thrum of hoof-beats on the ground. He takes the broad dusky mare of the earth. The fertile mare, whom the Sycthians treated much in similar manner to the cow, by taking the milk from her which was remarked upon in Hellenic literature. This flows after the mating, when she is infused with moisture from him.

So happy Poseideia to all, and may we all takes thanks in the heavenly moisture (in its myriad forms) that permeates our world.

The two Cosmic seasons, four seasons, and Alaska

Before I have talked of the division of the seasons, as per Pausanias, into two one of which is ruled by Apollon, and the other half by Pan, and that this works well for me as an Alaskan. So I wanted to take a moment in light of this winter season and its upcoming holidays, to expound on that a bit more.

The two cosmic seasons more or less, as far as I can discern in their relationship to Apollon and Pan who rule them, as one which is a period of sowing/flowering/growth…the rainy season in which the blessings of heaven permeate the earth and bring forth the beautiful bounties. And the second being the season, ruled by Apollon, as one of cultivation/fruition/maturation. If we take this from lore in which Apollon spends half of the year at Delos and Delphi from equinox to equinox before going abroad (whether that be to Hyperborea or to Lycia) we get a clear idea of the part of the year that Apollon has dominion. By Mediterranean climate, he arrives after the season of lambing, after the season of flowering. He is arriving around the time where the first signs of the immature grains are appearing, those which will be offered to him during Thargelia two month later.

With his arrival we still have the presence of the spring blossoms, and the Hyakinthia exhibits the transition from spring into summer in his seasonal domain with the last signs of the spring flowers before the summer heat that were piled upon his altar. But these are the remnants of those tender flowers that have been growing so vigorously before his arrival. He is not a god of spring blossoms, but rather of the cultivation of the crops for which he has been depicted not with blossoms, though various flowers are attributed to his cult such as the Hyakinth, the Iris, and Crocus, but with shafts of wheat and grapes. His is the season of maturation in which the fruits of the earth are preparing themselves for their respective harvests throughout the summer and into the fall. By the time of the autumn equinox most of this harvesting is well concluded, that of wheat and that of the vine. That bread was forbidden at the Hyakinthia certainly relates it in part to harvest and this cultivation period, though it is left out in respect to Hyakinthos who died prematurely before he was ripe before his time. This phrase also comes to us in the literature of Euripedes in Aclestis (as I have mentioned a number of times) in which Apollon states to Thanatos that death should only come for those who are ripe for it. Here is that firm connection of cultivated ripeness for harvest.

Apollon thus is also connected strongly to creatures which are detrimental to the harvest. First there are the locusts that consume everything, and particularly the tender flowers before they can go to fruit. Then there are the mice which will feed upon the young grains and fruits. These are creatures that ruin the crops and so Apollon is the averter and destroyer of these creatures for the sake of the cultivated harvest, just as he destroys that which would corrupt or cause some damage to us in the cultivation of our souls.

Truly the Karneia marks the coming end of his Season as the spring lambs have matured into rams ready for sacrifice and the first of the grape crops are cut to mark the beginning of the vine harvest. Aside from Boedromia, which shortly follows, this is really the last festival of Apollon of the season (this is distinctly different from Pyanepsia which has less directly to do with Apollon aside from being a thanks giving by Theseus as promised for his safe arrival in Athens). It marks the height of his domain, following the summer killing heat, are the rewards of the vine harvest of that which has endured and from the sun has fattened and sweetened. this marks the beginning of the death of Dionysos as he himself too is preparing to be sacrificed for the essence of the wine. As it was pointed out to me, the pinecone is a natural barometer for the return of the rains, so with that in mind it is natural that Apollon Karneios hold the pinecone because he stands at the threshold of the rainy seasons, and the pine cone matures and opens in preparation for the end of the cultivation season of light for the season of rains and sowing.

Thus we have the second Cosmic Season, the season of the life-bringing rains which causes each seed to germinate and the livestock to fatten with young. This is the season of Pan, the moist fertile season. During this season we have prominent festivals of Zeus the rain bringer, for Dionysos of the flowing vitality, and Poseidon. In fact Poseidon has a whole month named after him in the Attic calendar which is named for his midwinter festival. Here we see the joining of the domains of Zeus and Poseidon intimately that the earth moistens. It is a season of lack in some ways because the season has passed where one can feed off the land. Now one is dependent on their stores until the fruits of the earth come again. Certainly there are winter flowers that are edible and some leafy greens, but it is the preserved harvest which is the main staple. The rainy season thus is a time of hope for the next year that while the previous year yielded its plentitude (or perhaps it has not and you are praying that not another year will pass in famine) you hopes are hinged on the seeds germinating and the young plants that are growing and flowering.

With hope it is thus reasonable to say that this is a season of some joy and merriment. Romans for instance celebrated Saturnalia, with all its mischievous misrule and cheer, with the abundance that the year had brought and gifts exchanged that were made when the rains made it less likely to be doing business outside. But the plentitude and the hope of the next year is apparent in all the festival proceeding from around the Autumn Equinox, from the Eleusinia, the Greater Mysteries, throughout the many festivals of Demeter and Kore, and those of Dionysos to the Lesser Mysteries around the Spring Equinox, it is about hope. And hope is associated with the wine as one ancient famed poet of Hellas indicated. The wine, the gift of Dionysos, bringing warmth in the cold winter. We see this hope too in the programs of Demeter that span this Season of Pan along with those of the wine press for Dionysos and his birth.

Now Alaska is clearly not the Mediterranean by any stretch of the imagination. Yet this division of two cosmic season in the year is quite sound with what I experience here. We have our season of light with its rapid increase of such greater periods of light than experienced elsewhere. We don’t really have a spring. But the four seasons I find to be less cosmic and more local because what seasons manifest and how they manifest is dependent on geography. The two cosmic seasons of light and rain rarely manifest differently for the world continues to turn on its axis in the same course year after year. But geography determines how the four seasons, those beautiful maidens, will progress which varies even in different parts of the Mediterranean as it does world wide. The spring flowers and tender growth is very short lived here, just a few stubborn daffodils and tulips pushing through the snow and a slight blush of blossoms before summer comes bearing forth. And likewise autumn dances through like a leaping doe, barely here one moment before gone to winter. And winter is one lengthy queen.

And yet we depend on our winter precipitation as much as any other place. It may come in the form of snow rather than rain, but it is still a necessity. It keeps the seeds and bulbs warm beneath the earth so that the permafrost which is such a threat to the frozen north, can’t kill them or freeze the ground so solid that in the spring the shoots can’t spring from the earth. And though last summer was atypical, we usually don’t get a good deal of rain during the summer, and thus our ground water, much of which is established from winter melt-off from the mountains, it is vitally important to us and for the growth of our plants as well as being a preventative measure against forest fires. And likewise our wild creatures bear their young during this season. The sheep and rams in the mountains bear their kids, the caribou deer and moose their foals and calves in the earliest blush of spring.

The same song is being sung, even it doesn’t manifest the same. We may not have the lush growth, warm temperatures and sweet flowers in the early months that so many other places experiences them, our summers may be too short to bring a wide variety of fruits or grain crops, but we do have the same cosmic song being sung and bearing out even if those daughters of Zeus vary the interpretation a bit.

Religion and Localized Flora and Fauna

I was asked not too long ago about what changes I noticed to my religious practices of having a mediteranean religion in an arctic (well just shy of arctic actually since I don’t live that far north in Alaska) environment. So I thought I would take a moment to blog about that.

As I have inferred in a previous post as a person who grew and came into worshiping the gods early in life, and having grown up in this environment, it is something that never really occured to me. Alaska was my home during the formative point of years in which I was “meeting” various gods of my religion, and therefore was a tangible part of my religious experience. You must understand that I never even lived outside of Alaska, with the exception of one year in the first grade when we moved to Washington state, in a more southern climate, so the flora and fauna and even the weather and general environment of such places just never registered much with me. But it seems about time to rather point out how things of Hellenismos relate to my religious life in this part of the world.

As I had mentioned before, Demeter was not a huge part of my early religious life largely because Alaska is not an agricultural based area in our seasons. We have a very short growing season, and therefore I associated her with the brief growing periods that were a brief brilliant joy during the year between mid May and mid September, and the very brief autumn in which the good smells made the world richer in sensory texture. This was how I understood Demeter, as a goddess who, with her daughter in company, more or less wandered north for about three or four months, following closely behind the bird migrations, before leaving again. An season of celebration, but not a huge note in my experience of the year itself during which the growing season is minimal. Of course things have changed since then as I see Persephone more present in a sense as everything sleeps here for the long long dark winter and so she represented in the winter that seed and root within the earth being nurtured by the protective covering of the snows from the frigid arctic wind.

Which leads me to Zeus. Zeus more often than not I associated with snow. Rain is something we don’t get a lot of, though I did experience quite a bit when I visisted my dad in the southeastern parts of Alaska where the Tongass National Rainforest (a temperate rainforest) is. so I did have a fairly long association with Zeus in connection to thunder, lightning and rain from these visits and in lesser occurances in my more northernly home. But the winter was the blessed snow. Don’t get me wrong, it is cold, miserable to move in, and there is usually tons of it. But it is also beautiful, and very very important to our local water supply. The snow covers the earth keeping it insulated even as it provides important water to the soil in its lower warmer levels, and later becoming groundwater that our plants depend on during the summer. Not enough snow means drought in the summer. Of course this has changed a bit too to include Poseidon who rules over the winter month in which much snow comes, and as a god associated with the precious liquid of water in general. But as a state plentiful in eagles, I could always see the eagle of Zeus, regally soaring in the skies. Other animals we don’t really have. There are no bulls, we don’t even have cow or ranches with the very slight exception of one protected valley where a dairy farm was erected that has adequate protection from the worse of the elements) with the exception of the very virile and aggressive bull moose which I guess could be a stand-in now that I think of it. They are certainly the more impressive in appearance and size of our herbivores. In fact, I would likely associate both Zeus and Dionysos with the bull moose when paying respects to local widllife. And the fiercely protective moose cow can likewise be attributed to both Demeter and Hera. Essentially in much of Alaska moose has often acted as a stable of human life in a similar manner that cows have played in other parts of the world. We even have laws to which every citizen is entitled to be able to get a license for one moose a year, and subsistance hunters generally get more than that from what I understand. Moose noses are used in making a kind of fatty berry mix as emergency food the way some folks use jerked beef, and the size of a moose could easily feed a family, and quite probably their neighbors, for a good amount of time.

Apollon is, and has been, easier to identify with. As I said in the above mentioned post Alaska’s seasons are largely light-based, which is especially true the further up in Alaska that you get. We also have a number of wild animals that are significant to his worship (and to those of other gods who share these animals). Swans we have (which are sacred to Apollon, Zeus… and Ares from what I am told). In fact we have the largest species of swan, the trumpeter swan, that migrates up here every year from all over the U.S. in returning to their breeding grounds. Trumpeter swans are so called because of a musical french horn kind of sound that they make. We also have ravens galore which are particularly associated with Apollon, and the various species of hawks and falcons which I have always assigned to his worship). We also have wolves, again something he shares with Zeus, as are wild goats (aka mountains goats) and sheep (aka dall sheep) which live in our mountains throughout the state…the latter of which is another important subsistance animal for several tribes, particularly further north. And while we don’t have true dolphins here we do have porpoises and their cousins the orcas, both of which I associate to both Apollon and Poseidon in lieu of the dolphin and because of their very similar chacteristics.

Meanwhile Artemis has her deer in the more southern parts of Alaska, and caribou in the more northern reaches. The caribou I find distinctly appropriate since they are the only species in which the females are also horned and that puts me in mind of the sacred deer of Artemis. Athena has her owls, though sadly the owls which are sacred to Ares don’t live in this state though I might say that the clever snowy owl could easily work for both of them in the manner that his changing feathers during the seasons allows him to blend in and ambush his prey. Aphrodite has her geese, and sparrows…and the haunting song of the loon is something that I associate with her. Hera may not have her cuckoo or peacock here, but we do have the arctic tern that I consider a kind of stand-in for the cuckoo in some respects because it has not too disimilar nesting habits…though I think terns are more aggressive, though beautiful, birds. And the snowy egret, though i have never seen one myself, is supposed to be the most majestic bird in our state aside from the eagle. that I would consider worthy of taking the place of the peacock.  And so it follows.

Fauna is fairly adaptable and similarities of symbolic traits can be overlapped in some respects to give you a connection in your religious life with your local environment. Flora is a bit harder though I must admit because none of the trees or plantlife is native to here or even able to withstand the temperatures to allow outdoor transplant. Laurel, olive and oak don’t survive outdoors. Instead we have the late-budding aspen trees, the pale willow (which I tend to associate in lieu of laurel sometimes..especially the treasured diamond willow and in fact in my youth I used it as a sacred tree along the same lines of what is thought of in regards to laurel), and tons of pine and birch. Wheat doesn’t grow well here except in aforementioned valley and perhaps a few other isolated areas. However, beekeeping is pretty productive up here if one gets honeybees from colder environments rather than mediterannean stock bees which don’t hibernate long enough for our long winter and end up starving. Maple harvesting is also something of a big dealin some areas.

There are some things I am still trying to intellectually figure out how they relate, but when it comes to the gods themselves I don’t have any problems really connection to my local landscape. But it is a worthwhile thing to think about all the same 🙂 One’s local environment after all is as an extention of one’s oikos…it is what is immediately connected to you.

Gender-exclusive gods

This post from Aspis of Ares has inspired me into further thought about this topic. Though I have refrained from commenting on the activities of Pantheacon (largely because I was not there and have no relationship to Dianic Wicca), his post did make me think specifically about gender-exclusive worship practices and to what extent they had relevance in Hellenismos and the worship in the ancient world. As a disclaimer I would like to point out that in my youth I did read some on Dianics, and found it lacking on an assumption that there are historic cults which were gender-exclusive…in particular putting emphasis on one goddess from which the tradition takes its name: Diana, the Roman counterpart of the Hellene goddess Artemis. So it seems that the best place to start is in discussing the assumptions about Hellenic goddesses worshiped in this tradition. This should not be interpreted as an attack on Dianic Wiccans, they after all should feel free to practice as they like, but rather as introduction for addressing the problems with assumptions of male-exclusive gods in the worship of Hellas.

From my reading material on Dianics there are three particular Hellenic goddesses to which the femme-centricism is focused as goddesses associated with some kind of “feminine mysteries” which just doesn’t really exist in the way that seems to be assumed, nor holding any supremacy in relation to the masculine gods: Artemis, Demeter and Persephone. The relationship of Demeter and Persephone appears to be emphasized in Dianic Wicca as the sole purpose of the turn of the seasons, which is in contrast to forms of Wiccan in which the shift of seasons are attributed to the relationship of a masculine and feminine divinity. While there were a very small handful of festivals of Demeter and Persephone that were celebrated only by women, this really is more of an exception rather than the norm and took place during the autumn season. All other festivals were celebrated by initiates irregardless of gender or social status, which makes the cult of Demeter perhaps one of the most inclusive ones in Hellas, as the mysteries were equally available to all Hellenes and peoples who spoke the language. Additionally, unlike Dianic practices which move away from the participation of male gods in the mystery of Demeter such as Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hermes and Apollon to name a few who were honored at festivals of Demeter such as the Proerosia.

As for Artemis, I can almost understand the confusion about her. With the list of her nymph companions, her association with the legendary Amazons, and her abhorrence of Actaeon seeing her bathing after the hunt, could suggest that the goddess is of the kind which only appreciates the female company and excludes males. However, with the exception of the Brauronia, which was only celebrated by girls, all other coming of age rituals were celebrated for and attended by both boys and girls, and sometimes even exclusively by boys as in the case of the trial at the altar of Artemis Orthia during which the endurance of boys entering adulthood as a soldier was tested by whipping. Likewise Artemis was honored at the birth of girls, and honored by nurses of boys. Aside from the practical cult of Artemis, one also has to take the myth of Hippolytus into consideration: a hunting companion of Artemis who not only was honored via certain cult centers in Greece, but also in the myth of Diana at Nemi, a place to which the revived Hippolytus was believed to have departed and in the local cult was presided over by a priest. This doesn’t sound like a goddess who particularly excludes males and favors women. In fact aside from the process of childbirth, over which she would naturally preside as a goddess of the portal of birth, Artemis has very little to do specifically with women past the age of maturity, and even prior to maturity was equally concerned with the male.That Artemis also took on a slight masculine identity can also be seen in the case in which Artemis, like Aphrodite, has been portrayed as a bearded goddess.

This should be understood as many people like to set up Artemis and her twin Apollon into a dichotomy in which everything feminine is protected by Artemis, and everything masculine by Apollon. Yet with Apollon too we see many many instances in which females take part. The largest distinction seems to be made only shortly after an infants birth (7 days afterward, in which its birth was celebrated after surviving the first week of life) in which garlands of laurel were hung for a boy (or in some case the olive of Athena), and white fillets of wool for Artemis at the birth of a girl, and perhaps at the death of males and females in which we have examples of Apollon slaying males, and Artemis slaying females. But this seems more to be along the lines of gender distinction of the twins themselves, not necessarily of their worshipers, who are otherwise linked with each other, operating in most cases as a whole together, and reflecting each other and working cooperatively. In neither case can we say that either of these exclude the opposite gender, and each possessing very few celebrations or activities which are femme or masculine centric, and not necessarily among the same sex as Apollon had female only gigs like the weaving of his chiton by the women at Chiton for the Hyakinthia (which yes was celebrated by both men and women), and the previously mentioned whipping of boys for Artemis Orthia. Even festivals which seemed to focus on a specific gender weren’t necessarily as exclusive as we think…in which case the Gymnapaidaie of Apollon, while most references focus on the participation of male youths in vigor, athletics and dance, also included dancing girls and is called by as a feast of women.

To a lesser degree there does seem to also be a femme-focus on Dionysos, due largely in part to the presence of the maenads. I have seen them in feminine mystery material compared as part of a feminine mystery that contrasts the Amazons. While it seems to be agreed upon that the first celebrants of Dionysos were female, and that the maenads (the first of which, and the actual original maenads) were his followers, it is also true that in the legendary history of Dionysos that males were not excluded either. For instance, in Euripedes Bacchae shows the king and the seer in full celebration of Bacchus, an activity of which returned their sense of youth, vigor, and general merriness. Likewise men took the part of the satyrs in the Bacchic processions in honor of Dionysos. And certainly the co-mingling of sexes during the Dionysia celebrated at Brauron (yes the same Brauron where the Brauronia was celebrated in honor of Artemis). In point of fact celebrating Dionysos doesn’t particularly work with just one sex in my opinion…it can be done certainly…but it seems to miss some of the features in which Dionysos, who often acts as a bridge between genders, not only as a fairly feminine male god but also in the act of his worship in a society, particularly among the Athenians, in which unmarried women and men spent a large part of their time segregated, is honored. In this manner his worship seems to fall in a similar line with that of Demeter in that it tends to be inclusive by its nature.

In general, I can’t think of a single god or goddess of Hellas whose worship is specifically exclusive. Even Ares, as Pete pointed out, cannot be considered a deity that excludes female worship, with the exception of very particular festivals. In this light I have a difficult time swallowing claims that any of the gods are by their nature gender exclusive…not among the most feminine of goddess nor the most masculine of gods. Therefore those who take up worship of these gods and attempt to modify them into male only or female only cults just isn’t personally agreeable to me, or do I find it particularly healthy. I have seen arguments in which women say that they need male-excluding worship in order to help them heal or to celebrate something particular to their biological function, but the downplay of the male gods (who do have close relationships with the goddesses) and exclusion of males regularly seems to inherently lacking as nature is not focused either way. So this goes the same in my consideration for female-excluding regular worship practices. Of course this is coming from someone who does not consider biological plumbing as something sacred or magical….neither male phalli or female uteri. Such is only sacred as it pertains to gods, and not always actively a part of the worship of every god or goddess either, especially when we consider that many of the Olympian goddess refrained from procreation altogether. In fact I see the honoring of the divine phallus having more to do with the penetration and fertilization of the mortal soul, and the fertilizing of the earth than any trumpeting of the male biological gender specifically. Women who reject “male energy” because of abuses carried out by certain men, as therefore associate the phallus with something negative and domineering, are missing out on something important. In fact there is nothing that can work to healing such abuses than accepting the love of males, especially male gods, that are introduced in a non-sexual manner. And before anyone gets huffy, this is coming from a person who experienced some really unpleasant stuff and found myself fulfilled by Apollon by accepting him during a period of vulnerability. This is perhaps why Dianic Wicca has never appealed to me, that even in my youth as a follower of Artemis.

That is not say that some few celebrations can’t be gender focused, typically set upon social situations of “gender” rather than celebrating biological functions, but the reality is that these were few and far between from what I understand, and not a regular mode of worship. Honoring the gods seems that it is best carried out in regular practice in the spirit of inclusiveness.


(PBP) C is for Cattle

Among all the common symbols of rams, goats, and deer, we would be amiss to ignore to one of the most prominent of cult animals: cattle. As an animal that was perhaps one of the most prized (and likely the most costly) animals of sacrifice, it is perhaps not so strange that these are linked to a very specific collection of deities in the forms of bulls, cows and oxen. In a more generic sense cattle are connected loosely to Apollon and Hermes in the sense that these are the animals which they are associated with as herdsmen. It was the cattle of Apollon (perhaps, as I have suggested in my book Crowned with Nine Rays, aligned with the cattle Geryon in the west..that by their location may represent souls in their collective, not to mention domesticated, habit of living and their prized value among the gods) that Hermes stole, and who Hermes took to herding upon exchanging his pipe and kithara for the bullwhip and cadaceus of Apollon. Neither of these gods are in fact directly linked to cattle outside of their basic providence over the function of herding and caring for cattle. It should be pointed that such association with cattle doesn’t specifically refer to bulls  (which were often kept away from the herds for breeding purposes if memory serves me), but rather in a more generic sexless manner.

However, when it comes to bulls we see an entirely different matter. In the coarse of this section I will be referring to information about bulls from this website. The most important thing about a bull is that it is a fully intact male bovine. Naturally then those gods which are associated with the bull are particularly fertile deities, very distinctive from the gelded steers and so not to be confused! This includes Poseidon from whom the Cretan/Marathon bull came, as well as Dionysos who has been frequently depicted with bull horns on his head and carries epithets that referred to the god as horned (likely in reference to this feature). Dionysos has also been compared by some with the Apis bull of Egypt that was reared and sacrificed. Foremost, though, is the association of the bull with Zeus. In the myth of Europa he takes the form of a bull to carry off the maiden of his affections away from Hellas. As the bull of heavens, it is appropriate too that Hera is closely associated with the cow…the combination of their bovine characteristics compiling in the myth of Io, wherein the priestess of Hera and lover of Zeus was transformed into a beautiful cow. Meanwhile the only goddess that seems to have a direct association with bulls is the moon Titanide Selene, which may refer to the horned aspect of the moon, though is revealed more commonly in poetics which refer to her as “the bull-eyed” similar to how Hera has been likewise called “ox-eyed” or “cow-faced”. In the latter case it may refer to large, warm, soft eyes compared to a somewhat more aggressive gaze of the bull.

The association of Hera with the cow may also be linked to conflation of Hera with the cow-horned Isis, just as Aphrodite has been associated with the cult of Hathor. That said, there seems to be less direct associations with the cow in the Hellenic worship of Aphrodite. Though bearing associations with the cow, Hera is more commonly connected to the ox. Though there seems to be some who specifically distinguish between cattle and oxen claiming that the latter is a very selectively bred type of sub-specie related to cattle, this doesn’t appear to be a universal classification. At the above cited website there are other opinions that oxen have not always been regarded as separate from cattle, but rather referring generally to cattle that are bred and trained specifically for draft labor rather than for a food source. It can be said again to be procreative in line with the bull and cow symbolism in a more controlled manner, rather than the general associations of cattle with food products (ie nurturing functions). Hera then can said to be as the nuturing cow, the procreative cow, but also as the ox. It seems quite important that her priestess was drawn particularly by a pair of white oxen. So sacred were these that when the white oxen had failed on an occasion to draw the priestess, her sons, Cleobis and Biton, were immortalized for assuming the role of oxen and sacrificing their lives in this role by pulling their mother’s chariot in Hera’s honor.

The oxen-drawn chariot of the priestess seems to have some relationship too the martial chariot of Zeus which is referred to in a myth wherein Zeus tricked Hera into returning him by a pretense of marriage in which he and his “bride” were drawn in such a chariot. So whereas a bull represents the masculine virility and feritlity, these oxen instead seem to be directly associated with the production of the earth as plow animals. In which case the Theogamia of Zeus and Hera may very well be associated with a cosmic-scale life-producing union which would be appropriately characterized by a marriage-cart drawn by oxen, as symbols of their marriage union bringing prosperity and life. One which is reflected by the role of the Oxen associated too with Demeter. There is nothing of marriage to this particular symbol but is directly related the propagation of life (with the aid of of the yoke and plow invented by Athena which harnesses the purpose of the oxen) for immediate application to our world.

Demeter, meanwhile, has not associations that I have found directly to either cows, or oxen. Her oxen pair are specifically the vehicle to which her purpose is done. In such a manner I would hazard to say that the two oxen are the oxen of Zeus and Hera’s marital cart, which is being utilized by Demeter in order to produce foods. It is from this force that Demeter’s grain comes, perhaps being an appropriate symbol of the fathering of the Kore by Zeus. It seems to be of some interest that in Egypt both Hera and Demeter were associated to cult of Isis. This certainly seems to indicate some flexibility in later Hellenic thought between the identity of the two goddesses, the latter of which has little body of myth outside of that of her daughter’s mythos. This is not to suggest that they are the same goddess, but rather that their domains have a significant point of merger that seems the most evident in the symbolism of the oxen, which as connected to the marital union can bring some alignment between the grieving widow aspect of Hera when she separated from Zeus (which the mock-wedding mentioned above put to an end) and the grieving mother of Persephone, for which the oxen are utilized to break up the hard earth to sow the grain to return the Kore.

It can be suggested that the relationship between Hera and Demeter is not unlike that Zeus and Poseidon. This can be particularly interesting when we compare the bull of Crete to the image of Zeus as a bull in the myth of Europa, indicating a close alignment of imagery of a white bull of great beauty emerging from and submerging into the sea. As an animal associated with fertility, and therefore life producing semen, it suggests a liquidity of the bull’s nature which is further carried out by Dionysos who brings the moist fruits to the earth. This is a bit different imagery that the less sexualized oxen (probably for the fact that male oxen, as labor animals, are often castrated and therefore generally do not carry the same kind of raw symbolic associations. In the end we are presented with imagery of the fertile and nurturing cow who accepts the fertile semen of the bull, and yet with her more controlled companion ox (who may be a bull since it isn’t always the case that oxen are castrated though that practice is regular) she is able carry forth civilization and progress.