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.