Giving Worship to Leto


As this is something that has come into practice more and more in my life, established more so during the last few months when I did not have access to a working computer, I thought it was about time that I should give a brief summary of my worship practices for Leto. I confess that some of what may have triggered, or perhaps encourages is a better word, to further explore into my worship of her, was becoming pregnant again after so long after the birth of my first child 13 years ago. Leto seems to be an important goddess to particularly revere by mothers, just as important as Hera who provides legitimate heirs, Eilytheia who midwives the new birth, and Artemis and Apollon who succor and protect the new babes. Leto is a goddess, great among mothers, the most blessed of mothers for bringing forth twin births (something her son Apollon also seemed to have encouraged in his time as a mortal shepherd, perhaps an influence from being the son of Leto who herself brought forth twins as he himself is numbered one among those twins).

Leto herself is a complicated goddess. Even as her son was associated with tombs in many places, in Asia Minor she seemed to have associations with the underworld herself, and her portrayals lend to her a certain mystique as a heavily veiled goddess, the “lady”, one who may have been as dark as a void, as a starless night, even as her sister Asteria was a bright starry one. Leto sometimes seems as the dark womb that births forth light which may have been a recognized part of her nature anciently and gave rise to her associations with the underworld, and her mythic association with frogs who descend into the gloomy depths of ponds and into the underworld. As such I took much consideration into crafting her image.

For home worship images of Leto are not particularly forth coming on the market, and so I satisfied myself with making a bust of the goddess which I draped with a lavender veil which, aside from indigo blue, I have associated with the twilight sky. The heavens giving birth to light of the morning. I have painted her before wearing a gray veil before too. Any color that seems to spark the imagination as a color of darkness bringing forth light seems to me to be quite appropriate for Leto. For those who are not inclined to make their own image of Leto, a statue or bust of a woman wrapped in a veil would be an adequate substitute…conveying the mystique and obscurity of Leto’s nature. Included on or near the image can be symbols associated with the goddess.

When I made my bust I chose tigers eye stones for her eyes to convey her protective nature, just as I chose garnets for her crown. The royal jade is set within her crown and upon her shoulders in imitation of clasps. Her crown I have adorned with frogs which I consider perhaps one of her foremost important symbols from myth. Other appropriate symbols would be wolves foremost, as those who guided her, as to a slightly lesser extant storks and other birds and beasts associated with the arrival of offspring. One bird, however, that is very much connected to her which would be ideal to adorn her image or altar with feathers from or imagery of, is the quail. This would be highly appropriate and ideal to include for her shrine (something of which I still need to add to my own!) Two in fact, as she is called the mother of the quails, and in this manner her twin offspring are also likened to quails for which it would be appropriate and ideal to include such representations.

When it comes to offerings, for libation I find cool clean water to be ideal. Best if you can get it from a natural fountain or stream, but as long as it is cool and clean it would probably be good. To keep the water cool during the ritual consider containing it in a dark ceramic pitcher if you have one available. This preference in my own worship is based from the myth of the Lycian frogs in which Leto, desiring access to the cool waters from which to partake, was driven away by the villagers. In my mind such an offering symbolically demonstrates that we are giving of such to her, that the sacred waters always overflow into her cup. For incense it is good to stick with common frankincense, but I have found blends of Night Queen to be quite pleasing, as well as any sweet clean scents like sandalwood, jasmine or lavender, or even the more pungent scents of pine and cedar. With these things I proceed with ritual in the typical Hellenic manner.

My worship of Leto seems to take form in terms of offerings and address to the goddess in a manner which is modest and simple, which seems appropriate for the character of the goddess herself who never seems to have asked for much from her worshipers. She has few temples in the ancient world in fact which were specifically built for her. One in Delos that I know of, and the great Letoon in Asia Minor near the river Xanthus. Otherwise her worship seems to have been instituted in the local cults of her children and her imagery adjoining theirs. As there are also no known surviving festivals or feast days attributed to the goddess, it is therefore it is logical that most common practice be to honor her with her children in one’s household worship (as I have her shrine in place with those of Artemis and Apollon and give to her offerings when I address offerings to them daily). In fact for those who may not have noticed, with the exception of lavender and Night Queen, most of the incenses I give her are ones I commonly give her children already, as they seem equally pleasing to her as to them. One can of course begin new festivals, and I have been considering seriously what date to set the my modern spring festival Feast of Frogs to honor her as a mother goddess and goddess of children and the portal of life and death through which all things cyclically pass even as frogs pass to and fro from the cold dark depths.


Apollon’s shrines

I actually have a few different shrines, or places of worship, for Apollon in my house. At the front door I have a space set up for Apollon Agyieus, Artemis, Hekate and Hermes. At the hearth I have Apollon with the other Olympians as a general household altar. Near the hearth is the main shrine of Apollon for the house with the large statue I made of Apollon along with the dancing figure of Apollon. In my bedroom is a personal shrine for Apollon for my prayers before bed and upon waking. This latter one is still developing. It is where I have my divination tools and more personal items in contrast the simpler big shrine to him in the living room. I am also planning a very specific statue of Apollon for this personal shrine in my room of Apollon Lykeios, the first form of Apollon I ever worshiped and one of the most important epithets of Apollon in my worship and life, and in this region where I live (Alaska).

My personal shrine is where I can play the most so to speak. It is not used by the household or even approached or seen by visitors coming into my house as it is established in my personal room. This also means that I feel free to go from more traditional representations of Apollon in art, and go to my first icon images of Apollon I created as Lykeios. Even though I know that the hellenic gods were characteristically not depicted with the heads of animals, but rather taking the full forms of animals, I find it more symbolic to do this though and make Apollon Lykeios as a wolf headed god as I depicted him in my youth in a painting I had made as his first icon.

When it comes to household shrines I do think the way they manifest has something to do with how they are being used. The shrine of Apollon Agyieus among the doorway gods, and that of Apollon with the Olympians at the hearth, are quite simple as they are used for quick daily offerings. the larger living room shrine and the personal shrine though develope differently because they serve as a further focus. In all liklihood something similar will develop for other gods in the household over time. It wasn’t too long ago, in my youth, when Artemis had the largest shrine in the household. So we shall see.

Now that I am not moving around so much and plan on staying put, I imagine that things will develop much more. Though my home may end up being more shrine than living space in the end LOL.

A word on artisans

The subject was brought up, in a comment to one of my other posts about supporting pagan shops, saying more or less that pagans should make their own religious supplies rather than buying overpriced  creations made by artisans. This therefore is a subject I felt needed to be addressed in its own post…though as an artisan myself it is quite possible that this will be a rather biased perspective.

First of all I think that it is important to recognize that the creation of one’s own ritual items and items of worship is of course important and often preferable. I have never met a local artisan who told anyone to not create their own things, nor one who advocated that worshipers should buy their art much less pushing their creations as a necessity over the individual artistic expression. That said, there is no shame in saying that artisans create things that others may not have an inclination or the ability to do. And though artisans are present at local festivals and events, shops very rarely purchase our original work…and such upscaled prices in devotional imagery found in shops are rarely products of local artisans but rather are castings and mass produced novelties. Nor do you find many artisans bitching and whining about not having “community support”. We more or less do what we do, advertise a bit and put our stuff out there and do the best we can. We recognize that folks can and do make their own stuff (and I certainly encourage such creativity), but offer an alternative of something that might meet the fancy of a customer. And yes we do charge what we consider our time is worth…but I don’t think that this makes it “upscale pricing”. Frankly, as an artisan I find this rather insulting since I do try to make my things within a reasonable much so that I am barely making any profit on it. Case in point, take into consideration that for a single 50 dollar original statue I spend about 20-30 dollars on supplies (depending on whether or not I need to buy more of a specific color of paint). I will then proceed to work on the statue for about 10 hours give or take a couple of hours. That means for my time I am only charging about 1-2.50 an hour for my time. This makes my family question whether or not it is even worth it…but I consider it worth it because I don’t do it JUST for the money.

And that brings me to the pivotal issue that I am addressing, and that is the subject of monetary compensation. We generally aren’t demanding, or even strenously suggesting, that anyone buy our art, but it is disheartening to hear people speak so diressively about the price artisans charge. I have seen more than once people who feel that works of art should be free or at minimal cost. Many things get turned down by potential customers because it is “too expensive”. I can sympathize with people who like something but genuinely can’t afford it…and I have been known to work with folks, such as making payments to make it more affordable which places the item in “layaway” until the peice is paid for. However, I am far less sympathetic when the same people will spend around upward of 50 on crystal balls, and other mass produced items, from a pagan shop and yet complain about the prices an artisan asks for their work. It is not reasonable to ask an artisan to gouge themselves in order to make it what you consider “affordable”. Artisans have as much right to make a profit on their hard work, as anyone does for their work that they spend hours of their day at, our work is just more sporadic in this venue which requires us holding down other jobs. In result we tend to *always* be working in one form or another, and so have no delusions about how much time we are putting into something versus the income generated from it. To ask us to practically give away what we create, or sell at minimal cost that would barely cover supplies, is to insult our work.

Bottom line is, you don’t have to buy our stuff if you don’t like, want or need it; however, if you want it but don’t want to pay what we ask for it then that is your decision. But it is not fair or reasonable for people to make pot-shots at artisans because we won’t give you our peices for nothing. Nor should we be blamed for the prices levied by pagan shops for ritual tools, icons and the like…majority of which doesn’t even come from us. That said, we are a part of our local communities, and I think perhaps sometimes this includes some of the more colorful elements of it. We are hardly some kind of parasite as some opinions seem to make us out to be, just because we create and know the value of what we create.

a word on statues

I thought I would take a minute and speak briefly about statues, or rather the statues of the gods that we have in our homes, on shrines and altars. There is something so special and unique about these sacred images, and a quality in our worship practices that could be extended to reliefs and painted images that we use to represent the gods. But the inherent value of these images is not so much that they are artistic renderings of the gods, bringing the gods more directly into our imagination. It is because they are part of our worship that makes them sacred and special, and more so that because they are part of our activities of worship they are not things that are mere possessions, but are things that we have gifted to the gods and have become property of the gods.

Because they have becomes as property of the gods that they serve as intermediatories between us and them, as symbols and representations of communication between us and them. It may be said that is due in some part upon artistic inspiration on the part of the original creator of the images, the original artist. By these means that have initialized the thread of connection in our worship, but this doesn’t really manifest until we imbue these images as gifts to the gods, as representations of them that we hold in honor and esteem, that which serve as our focus in our communication with them.

So it really isn’t a surprise that statues, and sacred images in general, have played an important part in religious history. Even so far that the grand primary image of a local cult was often secured within the temple where most would not see it. In some cases specific statues were imbued with particular properties, such as the statue of the Tauric Artemis that was said to have, when found in Sparta, to have driven those who glanced upon it mad. But most other statues were gifted to the gods as representations of the power and excellence of the god, and attributed to specific powers or manifestations. That these were gifted can be rather well known by commentaries about statues that were commissioned as gifts to the temple, and were dedicated to the temple after great acheivements or events.

So how does this relate to our worship? By seeing that the statues and images we have not casual possessions, but are sacred items that belongs to the gods. And that means properly taking care of them (cleaning them, preventing damage etc) and treating the statues and handling with respect. And when a statue becomes broken this may also mean dealing with the remains in a respectful manner (ie not just throwing them in the trash can). When statues break beyond reasonable repair I prefer to bury them as I would bury a dead relative and they are given up to the earth, who is the nurse and mother of all gods and men. I believe that understanding what part religious art/statues play within our worship and relationship with the gods, gives us a better appreciation of these media that express our devotion, understanding, and love for the gods….and that love which they hold for humanity.

Why I have a raven to represent Apollon Agyieus

At my front entrance, beside the Herm I have a handcarved wooden raven (not carved by me, and apparently the artist isn’t doing them anymore. He is not very small, though not as big as a real raven (I love my winged monsters, aka ravens, that I grew up with…my mother never understood why I was so attracted to them hehehe) he is more the size of a live crow and his appearance is not quite as fluffed up as an Alaskan raven. I have considered that my native ravens are perhaps the biggest poofy version of ravens that exist but everything is bigger and poofier the further north you go, so perhaps he may be true to size of a southern raven (I think the artist hailed from the south-west). So this beady-eyed ravens is settled near the Herm, looking into the interior of the house, since he can not be set outside to look around the exterior of the house (largely for the same reasons that I do not set my herm outside) …not only is he not weather proofed but I don’t trust people to leave him alone and not break him.

I know from research that historically the representation of Apollon Agyieus was a big black stone on which libations were poured that sat opposite of the herm just outside the entrance, but I have had to modify this for several reasons. 1. I don’t have a huge black phallicy-shaped stone and don’t see any reason to sculpt this and paint it black, if I ever get a natural stone that can be shaped then I would probably put that there with the raven. So instead I have a big black bird, a heraldic animal of Apollon. Now getting the background information I will go into *why* I put the raven there to specifically represent Apollon Agyieus.

The primary reason is that the raven itself represents most accurately Apollon of the boundaries/portal (much like the hawk to me represents the quick darting nature of the god, growing up in a state plentiful with hawks and falcons (and keeping an eye on my mother’s chihuahuas whenever they went outside) I am quite familiar too with this heraldic symbol. And the swan with the beauty of the light, and the growing season. The swan heralding in Apollon’s return in the spring and the god being drawn away in the autumn in a swan chariot, they represent immortality and life. So then among the winged creatures heraldic of the god we have the raven, the dark feathered bird of the god at his oracle. The all-seeing bird (as he was the one who saw the affair of Coronis and got blackened for his trouble) is appropriate for a god who resides at any boundary, a god who can see into and perceive all things, a god who protects the prosperity of the household and the soul. In my book I very briefly discussed the raven in my chapter about Apollon Agyieus which thus inspired me to set the raven there upon recieving him again in a box of my stuff. His black feathers more or less align him with the unseen and a warding against evil as well as a token of continuance and prosperity. These latter points seem to supported particularly by the ravens which were said to surround the Pagasean altar of Apollon at Pherae, the very place were Apollon was said to have servd as a slave for Admetus. These ravens were said to flock in considerable numbers around the temple of the god in his extensive grove perserving the precinct. This when reading instantly brought to mind the legend of the ravens at the tower of london whose presence was said to safeguard the country. That London orginated as a Roman settlement (granted the the tower itself is not from that period) I can’t help but to wonder if it is pure coincidence or if there was something originating out of the cultic tie between Apollon and the raven.

Therefore this perspetive bird, the bird of the oracular god, the god who vaniquishes illness and evil, the carrion-eater (which aside from its coloring also suggests a link to the boundary between the living and the dead), seems to be the perfect representation of the god who resides at the domestic boundary, protecting its inhabitants, and the god who resides at the periferial edges of the soul protecting it from evil. So in short that is why I have a raven to represent Apollon Agyieus.

Goldleafing paintings

Recently, with the painting of Apollon’s departure to Hyperborea, I have experimented with applying gold leaf to paintings of divine imagery. Though I probably wouldn’t add it to *every* painting that I do of the gods, I do find that it provides an interesting component. In this case I used gold leaf as the center of the sun just behind Apollon’s head forming a kind of divine halo (though a little too low set to really look like a halo), as well as using fleck of it in his eyes and in a few of the stars around him, not to mention that the heart of his torch is created from goldleaf and an accent on his lyre. Does this mean I plan to get carried away with this? No.

I have no real interest to make a polytheistic version of Byzantium art in which everything holy was accented in gold leaf. Though I think the look is pretty, I don’t think it is really necessary in all cases. I do want to try a portrait painting of Apollon with gold leafing for his hair and have a few other ideas (like doing a gold aura around Zagreus in the painting I am working on with him together with the Titans) but what I plan is rather minimal usage of gold leafing. Or if I do use it in other works it will probably be very minimal accent that is not so plainly apparent as it is in this Apollon painting.

In conclusion goldleafing on the painting has been successful, but should be used moderately in my work. That said it gives  a new detail in commissions that is available so that if people want an image of their deity with goldleafing applied I am confident that I can apply it effectively. A friend of mine uses it another way that I have yet to try in which she mixes the goldleaf crumbs in with her paint. It would be interesting to experiment and see how that would give some vibrancy to some god’s royal robes! Maybe when I get around to painting Hera I will try that!

Daphnephoros painting

I am truly delighting in this painting I have been working on of Apollon Daphnephoros. I often just work on it when I have some paint of some hue left over from the Titans/Zagreus commission that seems to work. Such as the prussian blue of the capes of Koios and Krios suddenly was used for the serpentine form of the vanquished Python curled around the sienna colored omphalos. And the goldenrod yellow that I adorned Theia with became the background of the painting for Daphnephoros, the warm light of the sun over which the green leaves of the laurel shall be painted. Light enters throughout and purifies. And like wise a general hue in Apollon’s hair. Though the colors are simple there is something just so capitvating about this image of Apollon.

Perhaps it is the way he appears to be looking down kindly through his eyelashes, and the smile that curves his lips. Or is it the somewhat exageratted coif of his hair. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I got a bit more familiar with rendering male anatomy with these recent paintings that gives him the filled out strength of an athletic youth rather than lending a muscle-bound appearance. There is just something about it, and an essence of eternal kindness as he pours out the libation to the earth from his cup. Apollon is a god of great compassion as the purifier and destroyer of corruption. Hail to him who recieves the initiates and purifies them beside the sea. Hail Apollon Daphnephoros.

sacred creations

I think that there is a positive move lately towards investing in sacred art, and by this I mean religious arts that have been created by people who actually worship the gods, to have as part of their regular religious activities. Not too long ago it seemed that everyone was buying museum replicas (which are nice, and I own some myself, but I recognize that they are copies and often turned out impersonally in a assembly-line system rather than being crafted by the hands of the artist out of genuine passion for the gods), but anymore I have seen people creating for themselves, or purchasing from people who are doing the creating. I have noticed for example that this year I have sold more paintings of the gods then I did the year before, and have seen a prolific number of images of what others are creating for their own household use. This is wonderful! These are by far more valuable than anything one can purchase at a shop of decorative statuary. Religious icons (for lack of a better word that I can think of at the moment) being crafted by worshipers for worshipers and therefore invested individually with a great deal of meaning.

That there is a certain sacredness to certain forms of art can be assured. Think of for example those girls who labored for quite some time to make Athena’s dress for Panathenaea, full of beautiful mythic images. Or any similar occassions for various deities. I for one would love to be able to do complex weavings for Apollon for Hyakinthia and Karneia (and I plan too which is why I am looking into how to build a simple loom). Nevermind that we are given a level of control of how we want to symbolically represent some mythic elements that are not available in romantic-period arts, or even little known epithets of gods that we favor but are not available. We are given such freedom to create in honor of the gods and for the gods that it gives art a greater and more meaningful purpose…and it is to these ends that I have been focusing much of my attention in doing myvarious paintings, especially my Apollon and Dionysos series of paintings. Art is an expression of reality, of inspiration and of vision. So hail Hephaistos, bringer of form, hail Aphrodite harmonizer of elements, hail Apollon leader of the arts, hail Athena, great crafter! Hail gods who inspire the art and aid us in their creations!

Painting Apollon

Since I have been working on another painting of Apollon recently I wanted to speak about just how I approach painting Apollon. As one who follows Apollon and loves him painting him has always been one of the greatest of pleasures for me. I take pleasure stroking every line of his face and form as I imagine it. And in truth there is a great deal of resemblance between all my paintings of the god in the shape of his face..whereas a great deal of variety can be seen in paintings that I do of other gods. I think this is because out of affection I have a very uniformed way that I see him in my mind’s eye, certain characteristics that have built up on how I understand the god.

For instance he has a gentle curve of his jaw and lips as a testimony to the slightly feminine appearance of a youth. If you don’t believe me then think for a moment on how many highschool boys have *convincingly* dressed up as women for halloween. I went to school with boys who could have easily passed for teenage girls and looked better in a dress than I did. There is a certain androgony in the appearance of youths and that is reflected in the way I portray Apollon. So Apollon is typically painted with softer features, just as Dionysos is regularly similarly depicted by me (with the exception of one image I made of Dionysos as a bearded figure).

However perhaps the thing which is also undeniably evident is his golden hair coloring. To specify here I am not painting him blond. His hair, if you look at the paintings, is quite literally yellow-gold. I am point in fact painting him with gold hair, not blond hair (I have painted blonds before and they have considerably lighter coloring than the glowing burnished color of Apollon’s hair). So this golden hair has nothing to do with racial appearances. I strongly dislike the idea of ethnic phenotypes, since I really don’t think that those exist, but such human phenotypes have nothing to do with the gods in any case. So I give my gods all manner of hair coloring…and Apollon is always painted by me uniformly in gold because he has dominion over the principle of light. In fact in my most recent painting regarind the return of Apollon I am considering adding tints of gold leaf to his hair to make this even more pronounced.

Lastly in terms of articles of clothing, there are three colors maximum that I tend to use for clothing Apollon are white, blue and purple. Specifically for the latter a light “crocus” purple which associated in my mind with Apollon as a royal deity…King Apollon. Blue is less often used by I use it occassionally because it is a popular color refering to the color of the skies when dominated by light during the daytime. My preferred color though is using white for reasons I had already mentioned before in a blog post regarding the color of white….as the color of light and encompassing all colors of the spectrum.

Lastly I more often depict him with a lyre, as leader of the muses, bringer of inspiration, god who draws forth the order of seasons with his harmonic melodies. I don’t disinclude his bow but I have it lax on his shoulder…available to use when necessary but not predominantly in his grasp.

Apollon series

So I have decided to start a series of paintings revolving around the worship of Apollon..more specifically his myths and certain key epithets. This idea started with the plans I am now making for the painting called The Dawn of Spring and the Transference of the Oracle of Delphi (with a personification of spring in attendance following his chariot) in which Apollon arrives to Parnassos and is greeted by Pan and Dionysos. I am planning this specifically for the festival of his return for next spring (though I will paint it this summer so it will be ready long before then). then I thought what about a correlating one in which Dionysos is the arriving figure accompanied by autumn and Apollon is preparing to depart.

From there it was just a bit of musing to think of ideas for the pursuit of Daphne, The wedding of Kyrene, Hyakinthos, The pastures of Karneios, etc etc. In short, considering just how rich Apollon’s mythology and the mythic body associated with his worship is it is probably going to keep me busy for a long long long time 🙂 But the good news is that I am not in any hurry to do all of these, so there will be plenty of other things I will be working on at the same time, including a commission that will take most of the remainder of summer to complete that features Zagreus and the Titans.

So I shall be a busy busy bee, but I will enjoy every second of it! An artist enjoys having purpose 🙂