Hera, agatha tykhe and the infancy of Herakles

As I was working on a drawing of Hera, I was inspired to sketch behind her hand (holding reigns, which are symbolic of the goddess who acts as charioteer but also symbolic I think of controlling of the storm winds by this airy goddess) the serpent Agatha Tykhe. As Agathos Daimon is often associated with Zeus, we find Agatha Tykhe associated with Hera However, unlike Agathos Daimon who is viewed as entirely benevolent, we find mixed sentiment on the power of Agatha Tykhe, which I find to be quite appropriate as fortunes and prosperity does change with the shift of the winds, and is also appropriate in her relation to Hera who is likewise seen to deliver mixed fortunes in the myths under allegorical guise.

For of all the gods, we find Hera’s pressure and trials to be more vigorous and perhaps more demanding towards those who belong to Zeus. As usual such thoughts lead to Herakles and I recall the myth of his infancy in which Hera sent two snakes to kill the babe in his cradle. If the myth were taken literally it would be seen as nothing more than vengeful act of the goddess in sending two deadly creatures to invade the crib (and something quite elusive and easily hidden as a serpent). However if we look at it from a symbolic standpoint we see it as a first trial against this holy son, two serpents which could easily represent the duo serpents of Zeus and Hera via Agathos Daimon and Agatha Tykhe. These forces challenge him, and are subdued by him in his infancy. It could indicate that though throughout his life he would be burdened with trials in which gods and fortunes appear to be working against him, that he is not overcome by them and is victorious by his strength of soul. Certainly fortune has never been kind to Herakles in the myths.

Therefore for my first image of Hera I think it is appropriate to depict her not with her common imagery of the peacock but with her associations to the winds and winds of fortune, and the cuckoo, bringer of rain which can be both a blessing and curse depending on the context of its arrival (crop beneficial rains being a positive, incessant flood rains being another thing). But also a reminder that though this things can have both positive and negative perceptions carried by us, in the end all these actions are good even if we cannot see it at the time, and something we ought to be thankful for as it aids in our own growth and development.

A shrine for Hera, Artemis and Eileithyia

Certain life changes and events prepare an opportunity for worship one’s god in different groupings. Although I have been a mother for 13 years, the expectation of a new baby that is growing within me has prompted a focus on these three goddesses who are particularly important in terms of preparing for birth, and the process of birth itself.

With my first pregnancy I was quite a devout follower of Artemis but was young (19 years old) and still slowly learning about the gods, however, naturally I followed inclination and historical knowledge regarding Artemis’ role in childbirth and honored her thusly during the months that lead up to the birth, silently prayed to her during the labor and birth, and after the birth. I was confident that my years of devotion (and fulfilling a personal pledge of virginity until the age of 18…which also had the side effect of not ever being asked during my highschool years apparently lol) that Artemis would bestow upon me an easy and complication free birth. When I had pledged my years of virginity to her service I had said that if it pleased her any child born from my body could be a girl child and would be raised honoring her. And it passed, by coincidence perhaps, that my first child was a girl. And this child has been raised honoring Artemis (although Artemis is not one of the deities most favored by her) as I vowed. Now after 13 years, after two failed attempts at marriage, and a rather small handful of brief affairs, I find myself pregnant by chance just when I had already figured that I was likely not going to have any more children. This child, conceived during a brief affair (which the father wants nothing to do with….which may really be more of a blessing since that means no interference in raising my child the way I see fit in accordance to my beliefs) is reminding me of the blessings that Artemis brings in these matters. With my first child, aside from several months of acute morning sickness I had no other symptoms that accompanies pregnancy. And aside from issues with my water not breaking quickly enough which led to a prolonged period before real labor hit, the labor itself was uneventful and fast. Despite the exhaustion that flooded me from the hours before labor while I was contracting, I was flooded with strength to deliver her quickly and without too great of pain.

Of course 13 years later, with my body less youthful I am not as confident that such will be the case this time. But I give worship with prayers in hope for such a good birth this time around. And while I know scientifically what determines the sex of the baby, I am still curious to see here in a few months if my words in youth at the age of 14 are going to bear out for another girl in favor of Artemis. If it is a girl I will be bestowing my daughter with the name Artemisia for a middle name to honor her (if a boy the middle name will be Apollonios in honor of Apollon). This time I am considerably more of a polytheist and therefore have extended such worship to include two other goddesses included in the process of birth: Hera and her daughter Eileithyia. Although Hera technically presides over the birth of children of married couples (which is not the case here) and it is dubious that I would be able to have a table for her in the birthing room at the hospital, I am still including worship to her as a goddess of beneficial favor for childbirth. Likewise Eileithyia, the goddess of the labor and birth is an important goddess to give prayers and offerings to.

In Krete Eileithyia and Artemis were conceived of as sisters, daughters of Hera. Eileithyia as the goddess who aided the birth of new life, and Artemis as the goddess who acted as nurse to the newborn. Thus, with their mother Hera, these three goddesses are valuable to give collective worship to by the new mother (or ideally the new parents if both parents are involved in the pregnancy). A temporary shrine can be erected to the three goddesses. In my case I am making a shrine plaque that will represent the three goddesses together. This shrine will be sustained long after the birth to in which I plan on giving offerings to these goddesses on the birthdays of my children (something which sadly never occurred to me before in all 13 years of my daughter’s life). I have already composed a hymn for them for the Hera Anthology, and so the construction of this shrine is the next step for which I will give regular offering and prayer for the next several months.

Hail to the goddesses who continue the life of the oikos.

Playing with Bulls: There is not only one

While I am going to be focusing and bulls and cattle in general in this post, it is going to serving as an example that can really be applied to any sacred animal (for instance the swan which is a sacred symbol of at least Apollon, Ares, Aphrodite and Zeus, with probably a number of others to be thrown in as well), because there is an idea at times that an animal sacred to a particular god is *only* sacred to that god. It can sometimes be seen as something of a bitter line of contention too among devotees who just can’t fathom how this animal that they consider as a most powerful example of their god’s nature and domain can be shared with another deity. This is particularly the case when you have deities that have been scholastically and popularly perceived as being oppositional to each other. And yet despite how much some of us may want to cling to very insular and segregated concepts of the gods, history shows us that is not really the case. In most cases just about any animal that you see attributed to one god, you can find attributed to at least one or two more, at minimum. The swan I gave above is a good example, another example can be the turtle which is commonly assigned as belong to Hermes but is also an animal associated with Apollon, the form of which he took to seduce one of his lovers. And yet perhaps the most widely shared animal, aside from the serpent, which in reality perhaps the most common sacred animal among many gods, would be bulls. Aj has a great article in which she highlighted many bull associations that can be read here.

From the above article you can get an idea of just how diverse bull imagery and associations were, and more importantly why. Because she covered the why so well I don’t think I need to go into it. Clearly though in Hellenismos the first gods that come to mind when one thinks of bulls though it is Zeus and Dionysos. This is not a unfair bias because both have heavy cultic bull associations, especially Dionysos. But, sometimes the emphasis on Zeus and Dionysos, especially the latter, with bulls will sometimes overshadow the importance of bulls in the worship of other gods. Don’t get me wrong, bull imagery is very important in my worship of Zeus and Dionysos, and in the case of the latter also calf imagery. I would love to have bull horns for their altars to be honest. But if I were to commission a drinking horn (which I do plan on doing someday when I can afford it) it would not be for either of these gods…but rather for Apollon. For it is Apollon who has been depicted with the rhyton (drinking horn). Now for folks who are stuck on the idea of the dichotomy of Apollon and Dionysos as opposite polarities may say “Whoa, hold up! What?!” Just as they probably would have done regarding Apollon and snakes. The idea of Apollon and Dionysos as polar gods often effect how people see what is sacred to the gods, and therefore Dionysos gets categorized in the box of wild god, wild things, bull-god, drink etc. And Apollon gets put in the box of civilized, sober, swan-god. Yet both gods being equally civilized and wild, both gods liking the bacchic festivities of drink, and both gods sharing several sacred animals. So whereas Dionysos may have his drinking cup exclusively, Apollon has phiale (not exclusively) and is the only god I have seen with a rhyton to date (but I am not going to say exclusive, I am just saying the only one I have seen as of yet).

Despite popular understanding, bulls, oxen and cattle in general are sacred to Apollon. Pausanias tells us of a statue of Apollon in Caria in which the god has his foot upon the head of an ox, even as he tells us that in Delphi Apollon was given a devotional gift of a large bronze bull. And speaking of devotional gifts, a lovely find in Bulgaria came to my attention today. A small perfume bottle in the shape of a bull was found in the temenos of Apollon. We are also told in the Orphic Argonautika we are told by the poet that Orpheus was continually hounded by the double bull-goads of Dionysos and Apollon which I think is rather significant. Apollon also tended the cattle of Troy while the great wall was built by Poseidon, which we are reminded of by Homer through the dialogue of Poseidon in the Iliad. And of course none can forget the Homeric Hymn to Hermes in which Apollon must recover his cattle that were stolen by his brother Hermes (and which is a subject of one lost play in which Apollon is aided by the help of satyrs in his search for them). By extension we even find Apollon’s son Aristaios making the first domestic beehive out of the carcass of a bull. Certainly the bullwhip (and symbols of herding) that he traded to Hermes for the flute and kithara remain as much his as the kithara and lyre remains Hermes and have been bestowed by Hermes upon mortals.

Of course even as  Apollon’s connection to bulls are often overshadowed by Dionysos, it can also be seen at times in Poseidon’s connection to bulls overshadowed by Zeus. Poseidon himself is the great bull of the sea (Poseidon Taureos). Poseidon’s association with the Cretan bull, which he sent from the sea, of course is perhaps the greatest testimony to this connection he shares. Another deity to whom bulls have been sacred, who is often forgotten because the cow is more often attributed to her, is Hera. Pausanias tells us that anciently in Argos two bulls were used to pull the priestess of Hera to the temple. Yet on an occasion the bulls were late arriving, and so the sons of the priestess pulled their mother (acting as bulls in their stead) and died for it. Ever afterwards oxen were used, and the application of the title of ox-eyed to Hera further associates her with oxen. Even though we find that the end result is a favor of oxen, the fact that bulls are the traditional vehicle of choice for Hera (in the form of the presence of her priestess) is important and can’t be reduced to merely her relationship with Zeus (to me that would be like saying that deer are sacred to Apollon only because of Artemis, and that laurel is sacred to Artemis only because of Apollon etc). According to theoi.com Hera’s servant Argus was mythically connected to the bull, who following the death of the bull which ravaged Arkadia, covered himself in its skin.

Other gods associated with bulls are Helios and Selene (which Aj does touch upon the bull representing both the sun and the moon). In the Odyssey we find that Helios has an island with a great pasture of cattle sacred to him, and for Selene we find that she has everything from a cart driven by bulls or oxen, when not using horses, to being described as a goddess who is bull-eyed. There are quite probably others but these are the most immediate that come to my mind. It just goes to show that when it comes to sacred animals, regardless of what animal it is, there is never only one god to which it belongs.

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.

(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.