Icarus and Plato’s Chariot of the Soul

First of all forgive this post, since I have been on unpaid maternity leave I am consequently typing this from my phone.

Plato in his Phaedrus speaks of the nature of the soul, that as a winged chariot it seeks to be close to the god it adores. This attraction of the soul drives it upward to the deity like a moth circling perilously close to a flame. The gods themselves are as a divine fire which the nearness to them causes the wings to be consumed and the soul to fall.

In a previous post I have spoken of the myth of Phaeton in comparison to this to show the necessity of the harmonic balance, but in terms of the personal soul this is best demonstrated by the myth of Icarus and the god as similar to the burning sun, whereas the sea represents the far lower levels that souls of men commonly occupy…boat-like in their travel akin to Dionysos in his youth representing as a soul on earth seated in the ship as a spiritual vessel. The boat is not unworthy and is the common vessel even as a flightless chariot but it is the winged chariot that allows passage to higher levels.

The winged chariot thus representing the ideal of escape from common mortal ends (demonstrated as threat of imprisonment and execution)to another destination. Daedulus, who is considerably wise and evolved advises his son, the youth or younger soul, in what manner to traverse on their wings. Daedulus thus transverses without incident. Icarus, however becomes so enamored that he comes too close to the sun which consumes his wings by melting the fragile substance, thereby he plummets to the earth to his death, or rather for the soul to a new mortal incarnation.

When we are reminded that we are not gods by the Delphic wise-men, it is a reminder that we ought not to attain such nearness outside of what the gods initiate and what nature allows in our spiritual evolution (as per Daedulus). That by these means we live righteously and develop spiritually.

Conflict in myth

There seems to be a tendency, perhaps from baggage we have from previous religious experience, to view conflicts in myth as a polarity of good versus evil. Therefore that there has to be one in the conflict who is “good”, and one who in the conflict who is if not utterly “evil”, is undesirable, corrupt, or in opposition to the principles of the good.

Falling into this attitude, whether intentionally and unintentionally, is naturally easier when it comes to battles between gods and non-gods (or divine beings that are contrary to the order of the gods such as the Titans). In the construct of myth we are already having an literary exchange going on that there is something favorable with the victory of the god over the non-god. For those who don’t investigate further into the myths this can encourage a view of polar assignment. However, when we find these conflicts, or beings to which was assigned as “evil” or “oppositional” reappearing in other forms in myth it can illuminate the intricate relationship between these beings. I have gone into an example of this last month in my post Apollon and the Serpent, which deals with the contrast of Apollon’s victory over the serpent of Delphi and the reappearance of said serpent as a local daimon with Apollon. With the exception of the battle with Typhon, I don’t think that there is a single instance where there is any being represented as wholly evil and necessary to be utterly destroyed. Even in the case of the Minotaur we have it from Pausanias that on the throne of Apollon at Amyclae that the Minotaur is not slain in this representation but rather bound up and led by Theseus.

Similarly in the case of Titans, those which sound perfectly fearsome, and quite possibly dreadful, we find that in the war between the gods and the titans that they were actually on the side of the gods. Therefore there cannot even be a dividing line between Gods and Titans in any kind of good/evil dichotomy. And even then we find Cronus, who had lead the Titans in the war, was eventually unbound by Zeus and established as the ruler of the blessed. Therefore even Cronus cannot even be said to be a dreadful or terrible divine being (despite devouring his own children and being forced to regurgitate them by Zeus and Ge’s efforts, and despite the war) because as the ruler of the blessed he is the king of a most happy place of the afterlife which souls desire to attain. Between the Titanomachy and the Gigantomachy alone it can get pretty convoluted! And this is not counting hundreds of myths in which you have monster battles that have the hand of the gods setting monsters in place and supporting them. The sphinx, for instance, who is portrayed in myth as a terrible creature was actually given the puzzling rhyme by Athena from the Muses to test men with (and was eventually overcome by the hero Oedipus).

The thing that seems to slow people down though, while they are quick to jump into good/evil dichotomy in the above cases, is when you have violent contest between the gods themselves.  Surely if a violent contest meant that there was a battle against evil, then it should be applied here. However, the gods are not evil. Nor do I feel that it is accurate to just generally say that god x and god z are enemies because that get into a tiff (over territory, over conflicts of their children, choosing sides in a conflict, or even working in conflict that is supposed to encourage human development). Especially if we take into consideration other instances where while the gods may have been in opposition in such and such myth, that they are allied together and seem to be on good terms in other myths. An excellent case would be all the rebellions against Zeus’ early reign in myths by even his most devout children.

Instead conflict in myth is part of the spiritual growing pains, in the cosmos, in civilization, and even in influence on our souls. The conflict between Zeus and Hera (or rather Hera and the offspring of Zeus, so including Zeus more indirectly by his actions in fathering said children) is perhaps one of the most well known sources of conflict that people like to label as abusive, and yet when you look at this children you can see that the conflict introduced by Hera, and the conflict of her relationship, brings growth. And so you have such a hero as Herakles, who is too all appearances utterly tortured in myth, whose name means the glory of Hera and who was received in good will by Hera in the end and married to her daughter Hebe. The conflict serves a purpose in polytheism. It is not always about good and evil (not that it cannot be about that too in many cases such as in the case of Typhon) and therefore it is best to approach is to set aside such dichotomy as the absolute last consideration to be applied to a mythic event, and consider instead what else is going on in myths. With the rarity of any kind of *absolute* evil in polytheism, this also means that rejection of gods or divine beings because of mythic conflicts is unwise, and even unkinder to reject their followers.

Vows

Here next month I will be taking vows, I am still working out how exactly what form those vows will take. Language is a very particular thing, and with something as important as vows/oaths, one should carefully consider the language that they are using in expressing those vows in a very exacting manner.

What some folks may not realize, and others who have been close friends for longer periods, is that I have been what is termed a godspouse for nearly a decade now. Now before you run for the hills all my skeptical friends, you should realize from my previous posts on the subject that I take something of a philosophical bent to it as I believe that this is a natural state that can develop of the souls love for a god that it is attracted to and with whose company the soul belongs (which Plato speaks of). In fact my understandings of my relationship with Apollon have been helped a great deal by philosophy and brought into a reasonable light. Therefore I tend to be more pragmatic about it rather than all “woo”. It is a natural spiritual state and relationship, although not one that everyone necessarily feels as part of their own relationships with one of their gods, it is still not something that necessarily is a huge deal for anyone outside of the person enjoying the relationship. The reason I don’t write much about it is because it is a very personal subject for me, but one I also have tried to speak of with great care in the past when speaking of it to keep a neutral tone (posts that I have written in the past can be found here, and here), because it is something I don’t particularly take a lot of time to talk about publically. After all it is between me and Apollon, and has nothing to do with anyone else’s relationship with him. I really can’t fathom why anyone would be particularly interested in what I have to say about my relationship to be honest. However, with some recent drama discussing godspouses, I can’t say that it hasn’t made an impact. Granted I have been probably saved from the biggest segments of drama because I stay away from tumblr as if it were the den of plague and disease. It seems to breed drama by habit, and so I prefer not to stray that way. However, there have been some commentary regarding vows that I wanted to discuss, as there appears, from what is being said, to be a rash outbreak of young girls giving, and being encouraged to give, vows to gods that they experience attraction and love for. There is a lot of worthwhile points being introduced into discussion as well that I may address later, but because I consider vows/oaths to be a matter of utmost seriousness this is where I wanted to focus first.

First of all as a disclaimer let me say that I have been enjoying this particular relationship for nearly a decade, but I never formally took vows or had any kind of ceremony (which is being rectified next month). Why? Well frankly because I was in no hurry to. I enjoyed the development and building of my relationship with Apollon leisurely. I studied and got to know him historically and philosophically (a pursuit which shall never end by the way because there is always more out there to learn), and got many years in of worship, love, devotion, and following his course. I played once with the idea many years ago of taking vows, but then shelved the idea because I found that I was unsure of exactly how I wanted to proceed with those vows, and to leap into vows without careful consideration seemed quite unwise. So instead of jumping into formal vows, I have just relaxed and enjoyed the journey.

There is really no hurry ladies and gentlemen (and I am including men here because godspouses come in many diverse varieties). The gods aren’t going anywhere, and you will likely have a full and long life. Take the time to get to understand what is going to be entailed when you make those vows, take the time to consider with the exercise of foresight of what vows exactly you want to make and if they are something that you will want to commit to for the long haul (because breaking oaths sworn to gods is not a good thing). This means you need to have realistic expectations of yourself. Developing your relationship with your deity slowly will give you the advantage of knowing how your relationship manifests (because these relationships are not cut and dry but rather differ drastically from person to person) and also about how you feel about your relationship. Please note that the following is not a conclusive list but just some suggestions.

By giving yourself time you will know 1.how you really feel and react to the presence of possible additional romantic emotional ties outside your relationship with your god (only time and practical experience really reveals this accurately regardless of any what if scenarios we might imagine); 2.whether you *really* want to be celibate for the rest of your life (note that you can be actively celibate or not by choice without making this a part of your formal vows, it is not an essential part of being a godspouse and I know happily married godspouses just as I know celibate nun/monk types); 3. what you are willing and capable of committing to in terms of devotional works (note that not everyone is meant to be a seer by gods); 4. a realistic devotional life if that works into your vows (vowing that you will do libations seven times a day and then realizing afterwards that it didn’t work out quite as you had imagined would be a bit of a kick in the arse); 5. consideration that things are ever going to be changing as your relationship grows in ways you won’t anticipate, so not to make vows that will be a hindrance to exploring new avenues with your god (for instance I have given up eating meat as a devotional act for Apollon but I am unlikely to make this a vow because who knows what can happen in the future), with time and experience under belt you will have a clear idea of just how things have changed and how often during the course of your relationship; 6. how to create vows that are meaningful to your developed relationship and come from the heart rather than trying to form elaborate vows based on what you imagine is ideal but have little to do with your relationship with your god; 7. (and perhaps the most important to my thinking) to be sure that it is love and not infatuation on your part, because you wouldn’t want to make vows and then two months or five years later decide that the god in question has lost his appeal and now you are moving on elsewhere and casting those vows aside.

There are of course many more items that could be ticked off but my brain ran out of steam. Folks who have other points are more than welcome to add them. In the end sorting out your vows and making them is a very important step and should be treated respectfully and in full awareness of the consequences of those vows. You don’t have to wait a decade like I did, but my best advice to young godspouses is to not be in a hurry. But when the time comes it will have even more meaning to you, as will whatever pomp and ceremony you decide to weave around them.

And to my other readers, don’t worry these kinds of posts won’t pop up all that frequently. I am still very much a private person.

sculpting Apollon and other renditions

As an artist I typically make more artistic devotional representations of Apollon than any other god. This is for a reason, because the writing of hymns and creating images is part of my Work in his honor. I am not a seer, and I only dabble with medicine in the form of herbs, nor am I some great musician etc. This is the primary form that my work for him manifests, by creating things of his worship that can be utilized by others, and in this fashion also sharing my vision and understand of him. For those who are newer to this blog, there is a link to the right that will take you to my poetic blog The Poems and Verses of Lykeia under my websites. While I do write devotional poetry occasionally for other gods, it is always under his inspiration and guidance….and there are far more poems there than for any other god truth be told!

When I sculpt or paint him there is a difference than how my poetic offerings manifest. With poetry is actually rather simple, I connect ideas and create forms through various ideas via inspired verse. This is direct and manifests fairly quickly. A piece of art is another matter. An ink drawing is perhaps the simplest because it is black and white and deals with simpler expression via the pose of the god. I convey everything in light and shadow and in the form of his depiction. On the other hand a painting requires much patience and also a complex work with what hues I will use that are particular to conveying his nature in the painting. I must take the simple expressions that I would use in a drawing and add layers of meaning to it through the use of color. Sculpting takes this one step further because I also paint the sculptures. Therefore a sculpture not only has the elements of the other two, but is three dimensional, with each angle speaking of the god. With more complex statues this can include symbolism at each side, but even in the gestures of a simple statue this can be a difficult thing as the form is directly conveying my vision of the god, and as such each gesture and line of the body in a statue is very particular to expressing the nature of the god. This is more difficult with gods I am not familiar with for this reason, because I am not making something with which I have a familiar impression of the god involved. But for Apollon, the familiarity manifests in very similar images. The paintings are similar, and the statues are similar. My representations of him are rather identifiable as coming from me just by the details I use to convey his presence. Every work is unique but at the same time it is familiar and contains a thread of sameness through each piece that if every piece I created were put together it could be observed that there are slight divergences (even more so with my one anthromorphic statue of Apollon Lykeios) but that despite the uniqueness that comes with original pieces, there is an underlying unification between them all in which when placed all together one could seem them as expressions of the same god. And this can be found most clearly not only in the posture, but mostly in his face, and expression carried thereon which is the focus of worship. For the worshiper would gaze upon the face of god represented more than anything else, and that this is where the singularity of my multiple devotional peices of art can be found is very meaningful for me as it confirms for me that every move of my fingers and hands that created this is part of what I am meant to do. This is my Work for him.

a special time

So I am arranging for a special ritual, probably for sometime around the end of April when the trumpeter swans are migrating back and the snow will be mostly melted. A time of beginnings in a way as Aprils tend to be here with daffodils and tulips occasionally making their appearance. I am warm all over and giddy with excitement, a kind of euphoria is in the air. I have chosen my color schemes (Mediterranean blue and sunset orange) and have set myself to gathering what supplies I have determined will be necessary. Just today I was at the store and I was looking at some orangey roses thinking of how lovely those will look on the altar. It was tempting to go ahead and buy them, but they certainly will not last that long! I also looked at handfuls of fresh bay leaves sealed in a container but our stores in this country have a habit of bait and switch…as in it is not the original plant but rather an American substitute that supposedly has a vaguely similar aroma and taste as laurel has. Still I contemplated them because I would love to have fresh laurel leaves for the occasion.

Needless to say that this shall be a grand occasion with sweets from the bakery and champagne maybe or a really nice red wine. I shall put a bit of effort into my own appearance going with the color theme, including flames hennaed on my palms and a new tattoo that is being scheduled…a small delicate serpent in said colors to go around my wrist. I am still trying to decide what kind of music I want. When I was in the store there was a sample playing from a cd called Zen garden or something along those lines that I fond rather uplifting and beautiful. But I really haven’t decided on anything concrete there.

In a sense it feels as if there is so much to do for this occasion, and yet at the same time rather than being stressed or trying to figure out how I am going to get it all together, I feel like I floating blissfully bathed in warm light. There is stuff to gather and stuff to make, but it is all good. And I can’t wait.

On personal sacrifices and devotions

There has been a lot of blogging lately in regards to more personal devotional relationships people have with their deities, things which go to personal sacrifices that they have felt necessary to make in pursuit of their spiritual life and said divine relationship, to how they feel being impacted by said deity. I have heard from numerous devotees a similar experience among certain gods for being gods that like to turn things topsy turvy on them for instance. In comparison I would say that my relationship with Apollon is more tame, I don’t feel like I am regularly being deconstructed and rebuilt on some sort of emotional-spiritual roller coaster. But then as most readers are probably aware, I don’t talk about the personal experiential side of my love and devotion to Apollon. Mostly because it really isn’t anyone’s business, but also because no one else is likely to find it relevant to their own worship. But I am breaking out of habit for this rare post to speak briefly of how my spiritual life is. First I must ask forgiveness as my words may fail to capture the true depth to put things into words I seldom make the attempt to try to express, but hopefully it will give an idea.

My spiritual life is one of consistency and intensity. There is no build me up and break me apart as I said above, but rather it is like being consumed entirely by flames. Not just metaphorically in that I feel all that I am being consumed into him as all of my life (even though I do give worship to other gods as is appropriate) is taken into his worship and all my activities and life directions are aimed towards his honor and worship. But it is also literally, as in feeling the intense press of heat, like flames eating away at my flesh to touch and illuminate my soul housed within. Now as someone who has had a particular fear of fire being anywhere near my person this may seem unusual that I would embrace said spiritual life…but it is what it is. His presence is like living fire, destroying all that it touches, while the emanations at a further distance bring vitality for fertile generation. It is terrifying and exhilarating, it is warmth and unbearable scorching, and a nearly blinding luminescence  that blurs the edges of the world daring me to try to discern between illusion and reality, for reality is not always as it seems. For truth is that which is stressed within all the fire and light, a never ending yearning to seek truth which is hidden and in plain sight.

But with all this love and devotion it impacts my life, for a cherishing of each moment of devotion and prayer affects those who are close and near who feel perhaps shut out or that I am inaccessible. It is hard on even mortal spousal relationships to have that kind of love and devotional foremost in your life. Perhaps in another era things would have been different in my life as I would have had the opportunity to perhaps serve a temple or some sacred place, to be able to focus all time and energy without concern on my lord and king. But such is not the way things are, it is not possible, and so it seems that “real life” of work and bills gets little more than a sparing effort whereas most efforts and thoughts are directed to my devotion and the expression of that devotion through the arts. It is also expressed when I am able to move off on foot through the secluded woods in utter silence, or to sit beneath a deluge of water and feel it soak deep within my bones.

And things are always evolving further. Not with erupt changes in direction, but with fluid movement into new things and experiences, and new sacrifices to be made. I recently gave up meat and eggs due to a feel of need to remove contamination from my person. Meat was already beginning to cause me stomach issues but when I looked at if from a spiritual level I realized that my best course of action in my spiritual life was to move towards purity, and this meant removing corruptive substances. Now I know some folks like to put tea and coffee in that category, but at this point I am not inclined to agree anymore than I would agree to put wine into that place, for I find these to serve specific purposes that are beneficial. But I have found an impulse to surround myself with pure things. I have long developed the habit of bathing daily, but also now wear rudraskha beads at all times. I pray and let the clean clouds of incense rise so regularly that the smell of incense will probably linger in this house long after I am ever gone from within its walls. Even my inclinations towards covering as a kind of barrier between that which is undesirable in the world and a self containment.

Of course there are always new directions moving. It is like I am slowly being consumed by the flames, rendering me to ash bit by bit, and an unending winding of a symphony that is building layers of experience into its crescendo. Perhaps this symphony is nothing more than the music of my own soul. Whatever the end shall be, I do not know, but I shall not be Cassandra who laments at the fire of Apollon as he draws near. Although it is as breathing in close-sitting flames, and that my very skin would at any moment threaten to peel, it is a pleasure and a beautiful thing that causes my heart to race.

There are sacrifices that are often made to live a spiritual life of devotion, but I can’t think of any, regardless of how this manifests from god to god, who regrets it or has second thoughts of it. I cherish it, and because I cherish it there is no need to speak of it. And so I will end here after giving this brief glimpse.

Doxa is born of the heart

I read a lovely article today by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus which discusses the concept of belief (doxa) as one that is experiential and refers to an intimate level of trust. I found this particularly moving because this one of the things that makes doxa such a beautiful part of our relationship with the gods. Getting to know the gods may start with an analytical “well this seems reasonable, or I find it profoundly moving for x reason” in which case one may begin to get to know gods that make sense to them on a logical level or via other attractions, and yet belief itself seems to be intimately connected with how we experience the gods in various ways, it what makes more comprehendible to us in our daily lives, our spiritual development, and in our limited understanding of the workings of the world and cosmos. Doxa is not, in my opinion formed by creed, it is not so just because we are told it is absolutely so and to trust it without experience but on the authority of another. Rather, doxa is, again in my opinion, born in the heart as a kind of spiritual infant that is conceived in even the smallest contact between the self and the god (or goddess). It is this experience which inspires a feeling of trust and devotion to a god (s) or goddess(es) in question. Naturally because this is something that is born from individual experience, its expression will also vary in degrees of intensity and the form it takes. It keeps the flame kindled for the gods on the internal altar of your soul during our daily mundane activities, and is nurtured by regular exposure to experiences with the gods through devotion, prayer and ritual. I don’t see it as something to comfort one in a relationship with a distant deity who is vastly irregular, but rather a natural part of an ongoing continuous relationship with the gods.

As a child I had no connection to the religion of my parents. It didn’t make sense to me on a logical level and did not touch me on an emotional or experiential level. It was alien and seemed to rely entirely on external ministry. As a child I read a myth, and saw the beauty and complexity contained within the myth, even as it frustrated me with my inability at that time to unravel any of its complexities. It was the myth of Actaeon, and though it is hardly a sweet myth, I saw something of the nature of Artemis which sparked an attraction….not doxa but rather a reaction that inspired me to seek her to see if I would develop a relationship with her. Attraction is not love in relationships after all, although it is a fundamental starting place, likewise attraction towards the gods is not doxa although that too is a great place to start. So I begin to do small things to honor her, to tentatively reach out and discovered her in my small way over time. Apollon came a few years later on the heels of his sister I discovered as an adult that one twin was never afar from the other and through Artemis I gained my first experiences with Apollon that developed even further. Oh the flames of my beloved lord, the heat! No experience has ever been like the experiences I have had with Apollon.

This of course was occurring around a time when I was honoring Aphrodite because I noticed through experience that she is rather active. For a long time these were three principle gods of my home, the first two through attraction and experiential doxa, and the latter just from the doxa as I had no real attraction to Aphrodite. However, despite the fact that I didn’t incline towards Aphrodite, the experience of her is what generated the whole heartedly belief in regards to her. And so it has happened gradually with various gods of my household. Logically I know that they are there due to tradition and by the means in which the gods interact, but my belief in each was inspired by interaction with them one by one.

I think that there is a difference between holding doxa, about having belief, in the gods that are attached to your worship by experience, household and ritual, and honoring those which are attached by tradition on their auspicious days. The latter case often opens the door for the former to occur, and often the latter is done out of respect to those gods we do have a relationship of doxa with. There are many gods that I say that I understand the role the god plays traditionally (the collective doxa of the tradition that is) and appreciate it, I understand the way this god is connected to such and such gods that I love. In honor of the gods that I love I extend gratitude by giving offering to this other god, their relation. From there it can potentially grow, or so it seems in my own experience, to an point of experience with the god. Hermes, case in point, is one of the gods that I had taken longer to develop any kind of experiential doxa with, whereas Dionysos, Poseidon and Helios were all relatively early. There are other gods, such as Pan, that I have admired, but that I have yet to experience and so lay more on the periphery of my regular worship activities that are connected to my own doxa.

As such belief is an essential, but also profoundly personal, part of Hellenismos as it forms a bond between us and the gods, and between the gods and our children and their children through continuous establishment of this relationship in our households. This is not say that all experiences are the same, or that all are in the form of some kind of calling because subtle is often how the way is shown. In my youth, though Artemis upholds often seemingly violent characteristics in nature, I also experienced her compassion through a very subtle experience. A butterfly, its wings bruised and torn laying helpless, easy prey for any bird or to be crushed beneath a foot. I plucked that butterfly carefully from the ground, and why I did so an understanding came as I watched that small butterfly crawl up to where I held a small handful of bluebell flowers, that whereas death is part of nature an inescapable that the sweet mercies, while it cannot stave off death, can bring pleasure to those moments of life as few as they are. For this small butterfly it was a flower on whose nectar its kind feasts. So I set it in a flowering bush with prayers and continued on my way that it could enjoy the beauty and sweetness for what short moments it had left. This may sound like nothing by the words, but in the experience there was so much more to it than what I can verbally express. I was fourteen years old at the time, and that was one of the initial profound experiences that developed my doxa in relationship with Artemis.

Being Klytie

I have often mentioned how much in common I have with the myth of Daphne and how that one, and the myth of Kyrene, as well as that of Hyakinthos, are very important myths to me spiritually. But there is another that has profound meaning that I think can be taken to heart regarding the relationship one has with any god, and that is the myth of Klytie.

For those who do not know Klytie’s myth is the one that centers around the origin of the sunflower. There are of course different variations of this myth. One I have seen most commonly was that she had loved the Helios, the sun god, and was taken to his bed. But the celestial gods, in their way through the heavens may not linger with mortals. We see this well in the myth of Selene whose lover was sent into a deep sleep so that she could kiss him in her passing. Sometimes it follows that he departed her bed to go visit the bed of another, or that he never had lain with her at all but that she fell in love with his bright face and loved from afar unable to join him.  Whatever the cause of his departure, her life became focused on his comings and goings in her life, even if she could not touch him at his great height, she spurned all other things, to continually keep her gaze upon her lord whom she loved. Eventually her body passed away and instead she became the sunflower who forever turns its head to watch the path of the sun. In a sense this bears a great similarity in meaning to the myth of the chataka bird which spurns the water flowing on the earth to drink solely from the drops of water that fall from the sky, which is a myth commonly expressed to mean spurning the worldly for relationship with one’s god. Or the chakora bird who cries to the moon that it loves but cannot join, drinking from moonlight. Klytie rings of both of these to me, because wherein many myths portray the loves of gods passing away due to some tragic event that led to their demise, Klytie’s gaze does not spare a glance to any but her god and therefore by her personal sacrifice born of love for the god her physical being passes.

The feeling that a devotee may have towards the myth of Klytie may vary of course depending on the level of devotion that they feel is appropriate or that is present in their devotion, but it is bound to be meaningful on some level to those who engage in relationship with their gods by the concept of devotion one has towards a god. Thus the devoted soul, with their gaze focused on their gods will flower and blossom even long after their body has perished. In my relationship with Apollon this is very much an important element, and for this reason I have contemplated tattooing Klyties flower, the sunflower, on my person as a spiritual reminder of her blessed myth.

Worship of Apollon: Benefits to the soul

I have been going back and forth regarding whether or not I wanted to write this. For the reason mostly that I don’t want to give the impression that the gods should be worshiped out of what they do *for* you, as I am of the opinions that the gods, in and of themselves, are worthy of our worship. But it is hard to ignore the fact that among the multitude of the wondrous things that they do in our cosmos, that as things extend from macrocosmic to microcosmic, that these same things are effecting us. Therefore, part of the beauty of their domains is what they do in impact to the soul. For the domain of each god gives its gifts to us in our spiritual development. For instance, Ares is by our side fighting the difficult battles that the soul engages in as she develops, Artemis spurs the soul forward to progress, and Aphrodite harmonizes the energies of the soul. So in this post I would like to discuss how the soul benefits from Apollon’s domain.

As I said before, Aphrodite is the goddess, which is depicted through her relationship with Ares, who harmonizes the energies of the soul. This is described by Plato in Phaedrus as the chariot of the soul and the two horses, one good and the other wild-eyed. When they are unharmonized the chariot rises and falls. You can say that the struggle for the chariot always rising, that energetic wild-eyed mare leaping forward, is reflective of the working of Ares. It is cacophonic, unbalanced, surging with power. Aphrodite though harmonizes the mares, taming the wild mare, so that the mares may rise together. This is creative harmonization. Now we turn to another book of Plato, Cratylus, in which Socrates is telling us that one of the meanings of the name of Apollon  is as god who maintains harmonic movement of bodies. He is not the creator of harmony, anymore than he is the creator of the lyre that he plays so sweetly, but he implements it to a higher level. How he does so can be seen in the myth of Marsyas, a myth that gets a particularly bad rap by literalists.

In the myth of Marsyas we find the silenos who has mastered the flutes that he found. The flute becomes a symbol of his soul, and by mastering his own beautiful music of his soul he comes into contest with Apollon. We find different symbols at work here, for Apollon is a divine musician but is also a boundary god, and these things cannot be separate from each other because every power of Apollon is operating under one force within his domain in subtle ways. Music, boundary, and destruction. These are all together. It is by the progress of the soul, and its creation of its most high and divine music that Marsyas, representing the soul, is able to approach Apollon’s domain, and as such is represented as a challenge. For the soul is challenged before the guardian, just as we see the heroes in the Iliad before Apollon as guardian of the citadel. For sake of myth we have judges brought in. We have the Muses present which are the daughters of memory and thus are associated with the achievements of the soul. We also have Midas, the king with the golden touch who sits as judge…which makes perfect sense as gold is directly linked to divinity and thus also why Apollon has gold, not blond I mean literally gold, locks of hair. This is the divine contest of Marsyas’ soul. And so he plays, and he is victorious in the contest. What follows from a literalist standpoint seems brutal and in a fashion is very much so brutal because transformation and change is not easy and soft. Apollon hangs the victor from the tree and proceeds to skin him alive, removing his flesh as all the divinities weep for Marsyas. Released from his “flesh” Marsyas is transformed and becomes ever after a divine river. Thus we also see in ancient myth heroes, often mythically identified as children of gods, who become as gods, who dwell on the isles of bliss.

But this also carries over into the idea of the victorious soul in general, and Apollon who crowns the contest victor in laurel, as well as greatest of poets. Laurel is a symbol of purity, and Apollon purifies through death. The initiates partaking of their own symbolic death in the mysteries of Eleusis, would first attend the temple of Apollon Daphnaeaus before going down to the sea to purify themselves and their sacrifice. He acts in this fashion in a minor way in between each lifetime, as he governs the law of death (as we see in the conversation between Thanatos and Apollon in Euripedes Aclestis) for through death he purifies the soul of whatever corruption she has acquired over the course of her mortal life. Plutarch represents this part as being carried out by the Erinyes who flog the soul until they are purified and after which attend whatever area of Hades until they are to enter the world again. At the final death, and the forward progress of the soul into blessed state, Apollon personally wreaks this purification upon the soul before the soul is veiled in gold and received by Hermes to dwell among the blessed. Thus is crowning themselves in laurel, the victors of the games also prove themselves in contest to be most advanced in a symbolic fashion and ready for the purification of Apollon.

The concept of purification enters also our spiritual wellbeing in our daily lives too. Apollon Agyieus who stands guard at the household whom we greet with prayers  upon returning to our house in a fashion acts as purifier, that whatever corruption you have obtained from being out and about among others, that it is blocked from entering the sanctity of the household. Likewise as a healing god Apollon removes that corruption which is causing disharmony in your being that is manifesting as symptoms of illness. Therefore his work is acting dually on the body and soul together in most instances in our daily lives. It is because he is connected so personally to our daily regular lives and wellbeing that he probably bears the closest similarity with Helios who oversees all mortal activity, and also why Apollon is a shepherd. Christians may not examine too closely the action of their Jesus as a shepherd, but with Apollon it is quite well understandable. He cares for the flocks and herds, particularly the young, he sheers their fleece seasonally (thus he purifies us with each life-season) and at the end he butchers the grown ram (in which the mature soul is destroyed by the god).  Thus is he is a loving and ever near god who extends his favor upon us.

As the god of light he is also bringer of Truth to the soul, which is symbolically represented by his function as it was carried out in the world as an oracular god and was also associated with education in which schools still retain the name lykeium. Thus as he nurtures and rears us, along with his twin cooperatively, he also instills over lifetimes, Truth into the soul as we are slowly educated through lifetimes of experience and often in contact with the arts of the Muses who are beyond all the greatest of educators. The soul which becomes enlightened is the soul which knows Truth. His associations with inspiration also are kernels relating to this because inspiration, though coming through a mortal filter, are kernels of divine truth coming into the world. Which may very well be why Socrates related poets and seers in a close fashion.

Therefore even though Apollon, in the wide breadth of his domain is more than worthy of anyone’s devotion, his action upon us is also something that we should desire. By giving him worship we are entering into a kind of relationship with him which acknowledges the part he plays in the cycle of the soul and encourages his activity within our lives.

The Image of the Gods

Having worked on a sculpture of Apollon I was put in a position that wasn’t the first I had encountered in my artistic depictions of the gods, and that is feeling limited in design to be able to represent the gods within rather human limitations. Therefore I was forced to choose what the god was holding in his hands rather than be able to explore a wider inter-related scope, because I was dealing with the limitations that are imposed on the human form when constructing an image of Hellenic deity.

The gods of Hellas are, for the most part, of a human construction. There are exceptions such as Pan who, though possessing goat-like features, that part of his body which is humanoid is expressed in the same form as human form. The same exceptions are found among various gods who are depicted with horns or animalistic appendages in the lower torso, such as mer-man type images of Nereus. In all these cases that which is humanoid follows a very typical  and recognizably humanoid pattern with the common features. Of course there are beings classified more as “monsters” who don’t follow this rule. They aren’t gods but are usually giants, such as the hundred handed giants, or cyclops for instance with their very unhuman singular eye.

It is very rare to find such variations among the gods, particularly among the Olympians. Perhaps it is in celebrations of the beauty of the human form that the addition of an unhuman appearance might have been viewed as barbaric and distasteful. Or maybe there is a certain discomfort in an image which is clearly very different from humanity. Such may also explain the general absense of native animal-headed deities, something which is common among Egyptians with whom Hellas had a very long historical relationship. Instead unhuman features seems to have been reserved for fearful gods such as Gorgons (and certain related expressions of Artemis and Athena to a degree via her relationship with Medusa) and Erinyes/Furies. Their very unhuman appearance served a function that conveyed the awesome and frightening power of these gods even if they did not inspire a close feeling towards them. The only Olympians that I have found distinctly unhuman distortations of humanoid features are referenced by Pausanias from the Peloponnese. One was a cavern dwelling Demeter with four animalistic heads (of which there was the head of a horse, and another of a dragon.. I don’t recall the other two offhand), and an Apollon image from Sparta on the roadside, perhaps representing a kind of Apollon Aygieus figure, in which the god was depicted with four ears instead of two. Yet we know that this is unusual just by how Pausanias treats these images. Naturally I am not including Hekate in this list because she was represented by three distinct bodies when represented in the multiple expression rather than possessing distorted humanoid features.

And yet there is a limitedness in this, and makes me wonder that in clinging to images of gods as totally human are we liable to forget that they don’t actually possess human bodies. They are not human after all, but are so much more. What could be gained in our relationship with the gods by expanding into imagery expressions of them that lapse outside of the humanoid comfort-zone to indicate just how unhuman, awesome, and powerful that they are? This is not a new idea to me since in my childhood I depicted many of my favorite gods with irregular humanoid features. It was rather common for me to give them multiple arms doing different things, because there was some spiritual truth that I saw in this idea. The gods aren’t limited, they don’t just possess two sets of hands…but many hands doing many things all at once. They don’t possess are human limitations.

This is one reason why I admire Eastern and Hindu art. I like the fact that in Hindu art the gods can be alternatively depicted with a more human presence, or with something obviously beyond human with the expression of multiple arms. The same can be seen in artistic depictions in Asian art, such as a video I saw not too long ago of Kuan Yin and her hundred hands in contrast to statues which more often depict her with a distinct human appearance. I like this because all at once a god can be perceived as being relatable to us in a very human form, and yet can also be represented as being more.

Therefore as artist and worshiper I feel almost restrained. I am hesitant to depict Hellenic gods outside of traditional depictions because others may see them no longer recognizable Hellenic deities, and yet there is this desire to create something beyond the humanoid expression in figure. How I would love to create an image of Apollon in which all of his holy symbols could be simultaneously be weilded and in action at once. Maybe I will as a private peice. A private peice of devotional art can be different, as I demonstrated with my statue of the Dance of Apollon, and doesn’t necessarily have to obey conventionally recognized imagery of the gods. Perhaps that is the necessary starting place. It is doubtful if such images will ever become a part of Hellenic worship in general, which I feel is a shame but I also understand the desire to adhere towards tradition, even as I shown above that there were exceptions within the traditional portrayal. So in the end…who knows?