The Serpent Arrows of Apollon and the Fire of Leto

Apollon’s arrows have been poetically described as serpent arrows. This signifies certain qualities of serpents of the venomous nature. The arrows are fiery, stingy and eating like flames in the skin, probably similar to the feel venom entering into the blood system. While I have never been bitten by a venomous snake, I have been stung by a wasp and can well understand the feeling of fire on the skin. It is an interesting turning of the imagination to imagine the arrows of Apollon projecting out, entwined with fiery serpents, dealing their death blows and consuming that which they pierce. They do not merely wound, but like greatly venomous creatures, their sting is certain death and consummation by fire.

As the Hellenic peoples saw Leto in the Egyptian Uto/Wadjet (the nurse of Horus and Bast, which may have some connection to how Leto was perceived in her relationship with Apollon and Artemis in the mysteries where the twins were regarded as the children of Demeter (Artemis) and Persephone (Apollon), we can see a definite serpentine connection as Uto is typically represented in the form of a winged cobra crowned by the sun, sometimes with the head of a woman in something of a naga or Echidna fashion. Although Hellenes identified Uto with the night, as preceding the light of the divine twins and said she escaped Typhoen by turning into a shrew, the serpentine nature of Uto is what is clear in Egypt. We can certainly get an idea of the flaming serpentine nature associated with Apollon via this association that Leto has as a matter of inheritance whether she is regarded as his mother or nurse. This oracle goddess who is both serpent and had a cult in which the shrew was given particular honor forms an interesting variation of the hunter/prey theme that I have written of before. In a sense she is herself like a self consuming fire, a self consuming serpent for she is both the serpent, the natural prey of the serpent, the shrew.  It provides an interesting dichotomy housed in one goddess  that gives some direction of thought that she is herself constantly consuming like all devouring time, nursing life and destroying it without effort and in every breath and movement. Night that is constantly bringing forth day and consuming it again.

This makes her, although she is not envisioned as a huntress, the principle companion of her daughter in the hunt. Whereas Artemis is the energy of the hunt, I imagine Leto to the be the very force of the nature of the hunt, the natural  repurposing cycle of birth and destruction. Likewise, as Apollon by his nature is preserver and destroyer, she is as the very force behind his destructive power. She, like her mother Phoebe, is one with Delphyne (which I believe may have occurred to the Hellenes historically given her association with Buto and Buto’s own oracular providence) who is both the serpent arrow of Apollon and the victim of the arrow. Yet for all of this she is possessing serpentine qualities of grace and beauty, although often concealed within the veils of shadows. Mysterious, lethal, but powerful and gracious all at once. Whereas Artemis is the mover of the energy, and Apollon directs the movement of energy…Leto is raw power itself. It is for this reason she is devouring and generating all at once and ceaselessly. Leto is inseparable from the cults of her children because she is coiled deep within both of their disciplines and natures. Her relationship with them s by necessary different than the maternal relationship of Demeter/Persephone. Fact of the matter, aside from directing and protecting her offspring one does not really see a very maternal side of Leto in terms that we commonly think of it. We see  the unknowable, the gracefully elegant, nurse and killer and fierce protectress……we see her raw power for which she was also associated with goddesses such as Rhea.

*correction: I misremembered the name. Buto has been corrected to Uto. Many thanks to Edward Butler for the correction!

Leto and the Myrtle

As I was saying before, I have been reading Nulton’s book “The Sanctuary of Apollo Hypoakraios and Imperial Athens,” and one question that the author raises, that does not seem to be sufficiently answered is why the achron inscriptions depicting a wreath of myrtles rather than the laurel which is sacred to Apollon. The author suggests that this is because achrons were also leading figures in the Eleusinian mysteries where the myrtle crown was worn.

I would argue another reason, and that would be the probable association of Leto with myrtle based from vase paintings. Although Delphi has myrtle groves, Nulton is quite right in saying that there is no known instance where the god is connected with the plant…at least not one I have come across. And yet there is a heavy presence too of the bush surrounding his cult. I propose that this is because, like Aphrodite and the mystery goddesses, Leto was associated with the myrtle. In many instances of vase paintings of the goddess we find her holding a smaller multi-leafed branch, similar but unlike, the laurel. Whereas occasionally the laurel is depicted, as held by Apollon, in its fruiting phase. It is more common for myrtle to be depicted bearing its berries, which often seems to be the case for the plant Leto carries, as well as the plant having smaller leaflets than that of the laurel carried by her son in the same scene.

If Leto’s association with Persephone was common in Hellas, and particularly understood in the mystery program, it would seem reasonable that oath inscriptions by the achrons in the temple would bear the myrtle of Leto, the mother of the god, in place of the laurel. The sacredness of this plant was associated as one of Aphrodite as a plant that graces brides. In such a case the mysta wearing the garlands may have been thought to resemble the bridal attire of Persephone in her adjournment into the next world. The association of Leto with the myrtle plant can easily be seen then in the context of her relationship with Zeus, as an early chthonic wife, an appropriate association then with Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, and chthonic Zeus or Dionysos. Even the legend of the origin of the myrtle speaks of a daughter attempting to seduce her father and transforming into the myrtle while fleeing the wrath of her father. the birth of Adonis is comparable to alternate versions in which the boy was born from the myrrh, and in turn may have some parallel relationship to the likeness of Adonis in representation to Apollon.

In a sense, whereas the laurel of Apollon represents the purification towards the ends of initiation, the myrtle carried by his mother would represent the bridal initiates of the mysteries. therefore the laurel carried by the twins is the preliminary to the myrtle carried by Leto.

But it is just a thought…

The Purification and Expiations of Winter

It has been snowing, although at this hour the snow from last night and this morning is slowly melting away, I spent some time this morning before work watching the large fat flakes of winter scatter from the heavens across the ground. Ah winter, it has arrived. I can clearly understand why once it was considered to be two seasons, rather than four to have been imagined. The season of fruition, of life, that which is the summer part of the year, and that of winter. Not a season of death so much, for death happens throughout the year, with the burning heat of the sun and the dwindling of life in autumn. Death is always around everywhere. Rather it seems more to be about the washing away, the purification (for which we have January named after Janus by the Romans, recognizing that there must be a cleansing before the return of life in the spring.

It becomes about sowing the crop for the next year, with prayers and all hope that the next year be fortuitous . It is the rainy season through which the clouds roll over the heavens. In warmer climes winter is marked by downpours, in cooler climes by blankets of snow. Wash away, O Gods, and prepare. This washing of the earth is simultaneously not only purifying but also fertile. The very season in which men dared not to travel on the sea and offered libations to Poseidon is the same season in which Pan, that virile god, fertilizes the land. He seeks and finds Demeter. Zeus, coiled into the recesses of the soil into the arms of Persephone. In the darkness, that which is cleansed is impregnated. Zeus, the impregnating golden shower. And lusty Dionysos rises just before the dawn of spring with his hallowed festivals which the honorable dead hold dear, and the fruit of the last year is tasted with the first casks open in the dawn of spring during Anthesteria, amid the lambing/calving season in which Apollon’s pastoral birth occurs, he who is lord of the season of fruits.

For all this talk of Purifications and Expiations it begs the question, why is the god of purifications, Apollon, away in the far lands during this season? If we consider that Hyperborea on one level, as was observed by some ancient opinions, was synonymous with land of the west (Elysium), even that which the gardens of Apollon in which even his “Libyan” gardens were confused by Pindar and to which he took Kyrene the lion-slayer, we find that Apollon is present in the winter but acting on another plane. This would likely not be too dissimilar to Persephone in the winter who is away from the company of Olympians but very much present on another chthonic level. If we consider that Hyperborea may have been the equivalent to Elysium, or some specific part of Elysium, and Apollon’s own mother was from this sacred land it certainly draws strong parallels to mystic tradition in which Persephone is the mother of Apollon as Iakhos, master of the winds. The great castle of which were considered all the liminal periphery of the next world even as the house of Helios and Selene, the two luminous bodies of the heavens had castles into the underworld to which they retired. This makes Apollon, in the winter, a chthonic force that acts from within/from afar.

He is not present in the downpour of rain, but within the earth, purifying it, even as the Erinyes, his elders (who Aeschylus has complain of Apollon as a usurper god of their providence as a clear demonstration of his powers and direct relationship to them), are purifying the dead who come into the underworld. He is working hidden, the Letoide (child of Leto, the hidden/obscure) on the fruits of the earth. For he makes fruitful, makes the cows carry twin calves, and the ewes twin lambs. He is as wealth in some respect, the wealth of plenty and crops, a suitable brother for Ploutus, the god of wealth. He is the god, who in the Orphic hymn views the very roots of all things. He cleanses all things at its deepest level. Even as the streams themselves lead to the underworld and the greatest among them (Styx, Lethe and Mnemonsyne) run forth there, Hesiod too, in his Theogony, calls all the streams and Apollon among them as those which are ordained for nurturing the young. The waters nurture and purify, and Apollon is among them.

O Apollon Hyoerboreios, you assuredly are working from afar, from the far places, hidden and obscure, O fiery chthonic lord, O Soranus of the wolfen cap, you cleanse all by your fire, you Lykeios stir the howling winds O Telkinhios. For you have set aside your golden crown, dancing in the night, You who purify even as the rain of Zeus washes all the world. Let us begin anew..

I see why the Dorics considered the onset of winter following the autumn equinox to be the beginning of a new year. It makes a certain sense to me. As much sense as the probable reason why the Romans, who were likely strongly influenced by the Southern Italian Hellenic colonies (Grecia Magna) moved their own traditional new year from March to January. All things best begin with the purifications, as who have given ritual unto the gods well know!

Artemis, Hekate and Demeter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balance has become the key.

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

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.


PBP: X is for the Xanthus

Xanthus, of all the river gods, which I talked briefly about in my previous PBP post, is the most fascinating to me. This is the god of the sacred river in Lycia, though in the Iliad it seem to be featured closer to Ilium as to take part in defending Troy and especially active in the battle of the gods in this epic poem. This is alluded to because Hera has Hephaistos use his flames against the waters of Xanthus to boil away the water which causes enough distress that Xanthus finally gives way. The Iliad statues that Xanthus was the divine name of the river given by the gods, but that the river itself was called by mortal Scamander. That said, in myth, Xanthus gets his acclaim from the myth of Leto in which the goddess, after birthing the twins in Delos, is said to have traveled to Lycia, to the Xanthus river, where she bathed Apollon and the holy water was consecrated to him. Apollon is not the first god to have a river made sacred from the act of bathing the infant god, this is also the case of Zeus following his birth.

The reason Xanthus was chosen to be the bathing place for the infant was quite probably for a couple of different reasons. For one, of all the river gods this is the only one which is attributed as the son of Zeus and as such made it perhaps of greater prestige on that factor alone that Apollon be bathed in the greatest of rivers. It may also be because of the curious nature ascribed to the river in which it possessed two springs. One which issued cold water, and the other that issued forth hot water. It is said that was near this river that an oracle of Apollon was built to which, according to Delian legend, Apollon spent half of the year when not at Delos and so there had an ancient oracle. Therefore, it could be said that Xanthus perhaps played a part in the mysteries associated with Apollon in Lycia as Peneios played at Delphi as a purifying agent associated with the oracle. That it has a yellow color, which the name Xanthos also refers to, may have associated the river with the light of the sun. That another myth apparently ascribes the creation of the river to the birth pangs of Leto may suggest that Xanthos may have emerged as amniotic fluids that had surrounded the twins in the womb, and therefore would also have made Xanthos the first water to touch the twins and logically in this sense would have attributed him as the son of Zeus even as Hesiod names the river, as all rivers, the offspring of Okeanos and Tethys. It is of no doubt that Leto was particularly paid great honor is Asia Minor, where she was conceived as a great goddess with powers over the underworld in Ionia, and the Letoon, is a temple specific to Leto of which I have read of no other instances where she is given her own temple aside from that at Delos. This may then be an idea in which Delos and Lycia are both considered birth places of Apollon, one that was perhaps recognized by Delians in their relationship with the city.

Likewise the Old man of Lycia who returned Apollon to Delos and accompanied Apollon to Delphi to construct Apollon’s temple there, was said to have brought him back from the side of Xanthus to Delos initially. Therefore establishing two parallel traditions: One in which the Apollon is brought from Lycia, and its Hellenic interpretation that the god was returned to Delos from Lycia. I believe, if my memory serves me, that he was the first to discover the god at the side of the river and is therefore associated as the most ancient seer associated with his cult. The maidens of Delos in fact had a song that they specifically sang in his honor during their performance in the festivals.

PBP: Q is for quail

I didn’t choose quail just because nothing else came to my mind for the letter q, but also because quails have a fairly interesting role mythically. First, I would like to make an observation that one when it comes to rustic imagery the images I find the most plentiful are those of quail (along with those of hunting dogs, ducks, pheasants, and deer). As a bird that is often hunted, this is perhaps not a huge surprise. Though I do find it interesting that, as indicates, from the writing of Servius, that Delos was called Ortygia (from ortux which means quail) because Leto arrived on the island in the form of a quail. This of course parallels another myth in which Leto’s sister Asteria, transformed into a quail, and thus plunging into the sea, to escape the affections of Zeus. In both cases we have something of a hunting theme going on….in the case of Leto, Zeus transforms her into such a creature as she is hunted, so to speak, by Hera. In the case of Asteria, she becomes a quail herself, to flee from the pursuit of Zeus. In the case of Asteria, the starry, it is not unlikely that the quail is also related to her due to its speckled breast in a fashion not unlike the relating of the speckled breast of the falcon to Heru-wer in Egyptian mythology as being like stars.

The book, Zoological Mythology by Angelo De Gubernatis, also has a fastincating section devoted the representation of the lark and the quail in mythology, which he aligns with the summer sun and moon (which seems quite appropriate for the quail in some instance to be associated with Leto, the mother of Apollon and Artemis,who have numerous festivals from spring to autumn in common with the spring arrival of the quail and his absence in the autumn which certainly aligns with the Hyperborean cycle of Apollon, the son of Leto). Though the author begins with vedic myth associating the quail with the sun, he then proceeds with a fairly lengthy discussion of the quail in Hellenic and Roman myth. He gives as an example of Roman thought, that because the moon takes sleep away from the quail, and the quail thus cries out and  becomes excited and aggitated with the rise of the moon, that the quail was associated with Latona, it was in this form that Iupiter laid with her. It was also believed that during the night that the quail ate the poisonous hellebore, and was itself poisonous, as well as being a bird that would announce evils to come to its feeders, and being used as a fighting bird in games. In many these ways he begins to relate the quail to similar characteristics as the cock.

The result is that the image of the quail that is a solar animal, though one who is active during the night when its cries can be heard, and of such a ferious nature that we can see perhaps that the quail is a kind of solar bird guardian during the night, one that is aware of evils. It is logical then why this bird would have been associated with the mother of Apollon, as lord of light and averter of evils. Leto,whom Aristophanes,in his Birds,calls the mother of quails.

Anyone who has ever seen a quail would note the beauty of its feathers, the blue neck,its gold breast, its red cap, and its ruddy wings speckled golds, white and black. They are truly beautiful rustic birds. I once had quail feathers, when I lived in eastern washington state,and the feathers could be found everywhere one set foot, and the callof the birds an eerie sound in the night), upon my household altar.

My shrine for Leto is in need of a quail!

In honor of Leto, the mother

As one who loves Apollon, Leto has an important place my in home. I am not sure how much worship she gets in modern Hellenismos. It is clear that she had a significant following historically. It is pretty clear though that her worship was inseperable from that of Apollon and Artemis as she is typically depicted in the company of her children, and in one case from Lydia she was represented too with the nymph Ortygia. Her accompanying role to her children in much of Hellas is contrasted by Lycia where her cult may have had a stronger position than in many other places, as her name seems to have translated into meaning “woman”, infering that Leto may have been considered a goddess of prominence. However, the alternate translation of her name (“Unobserved”)  is also revealing and not unassociated with her role in Lycia and other parts of Ionia as a goddess associated strongly with the underworld. This name suggests a hidden nature of the titanide. As the sister of Asteria, it is quite possible that there may have been some contrast between the bright Asteria, and her darker hidden sister Leto, both of whom were desired by who married him and the other who fled into the sea to escape him and became the island Delos. Such darkness may very well aligned Leto both the underworld and to the dark envelope of night from which light is born. It seems as a matter of coincidence that Leto was said to come from Hyperborea, a land beyond the furthest north (which is in itself connected to long seasons of darkness).

In such respects we can, for the purpose of reconstructing her worship, can probably infer some commonalities between Leto and Persephone, or her neice Hekate. Indeed if we consider for a moment the role that Zeus takes as Chthonic god as her position as one of his earlier “wives” (for which the suggestion on that her name Unobservable or To Move Unseen, we may regard this to refer to modesty that is associated with the lives of married women), there may be some early parallel to Hades and Persephone. In the Theogony Leto is specifically addressed as a goddess who is always mild and kind to the deathless gods, which implies to me that she is of such character as one would expect of a hidden underworld goddess…one who is kindly by nature as would be a goddess who receives the dead. Of course that she is poetically often described as being present on Olympos, particularly in the poem of Hesiod in the Homeric Hymn to Apollon, this only seems to imply a retention of her power and esteemed position, as she is the one who receives the bow of her son and unstrings it. She is the receiver and bearer of light. In this fashion I imagine Leto as a beautiful woman, garbed in black or gray, with a sympathetic and kind face. An obscure goddess illuminated only by the presence of her children in whose company she delights. For she never appears where they are not. In the Iliad she is inseperable for the side of Artemis.

Actually when it comes to the Iliad I think we can learn something from the manner in which the gods are paired in the war of the gods that reveal something. Some gods we see nothing if (such as Demeter and Hestia…Hestia perhaps because she never leaves the hearth of Olympos, and Demeter perhaps because she is unaffiliated in such concerns). The lot of gods in whom they are combating is certain quite purposeful. Apollon and Poseidon (whom Homer reminds us worked cooperatively before in Ilium) and have associations with the traversing of the sea and harbors are matched against each other in the quarell. Athena takes part against Ares, both gods who are esteemed in the art of war. Hera and Artemis are set against each other in which we have the queen of gods and men being challenged by a goddess who is often called queen in her own right and is ascribed as the daughter of Hera by the Thracians. Hephaistos’ fire is countered by the streams of Xanthus. And Leto is set against Hermes, a god whose functions lay in the traversing between the world of the living, that abode of the gods, and the underworld. So for me this pairing is rather significant, even as it is amusing by the fashion in which Hermes yeilds the contest to Leto refusing to raise hand against her.

I would suggest even that the strange scepter which she is often depicted as bearing resembles both a young plant shooting up, and with its spirals, a labyrinth type pattern of a kind, as a goddess who issues forth the light which returns to us every spring and a goddess of the hidden way. Certainly she must be associated with some kind of road or passage as she herself was made the journey from place to place (in the company of Athena apparently) until she arrived on Delos. This almost chthonic vision of Leto is rather complimentary in fact to versions of myth which assign Artemis’ parentage to Demeter (as another chthonic goddess) and Poseidon. There seems to be a certain assigning of the earth and the new upwelling of streams in the Lycian account of the birth of Apollon and Artemis (as revealed by Quintus Smyrnaeus in his The Fall of Troy) that speaks of the Xanthus appearing when Leto, in her labor pains, tore up the earth of the plains with her hands.

I also find it curious that in the relating of the gods (with the exception of Athena and Zeus) fled into Egypt from Typhon, that Leto become a shrew-mouse. Interesting the mouse and the mongoose snake (the mouse representing night and the snake representing day) were both directly associated with the Egyptian Wadjet who was revered as a goddess of childbirth, protector of children, a goddess associated with justice, and eventually considered the protector of kings. She is also a nurturing goddess as the one who helped Isis nurse Horus, and was associated with plant growth–specifically the papyrus. For a general overview on Wadjet you may wish to read further here. If we consider that there was some alignment in Hellenic thought between Leto and Wadjet we are seeing a goddess associated with divine rulership, law, death, and growth…all of which is compatable with my vision of Leto, and my theories on the relationship between Leto and Themis who bore such similar sons, and the latter who nursed the son of Leto on ambrosia. The early association between Wadjet and Isis just makes it all the more convenient too.

Therefore if we thought the mouse was an appropriate symbol for Apollon as Apollon Smintheus, we must consider the shrew mouse (the most common species of mouse in Alaska–much to my amusement) to be a sacred symbol of Leto. Likewise this draws some interesting comparisons when we consider that the heavenly axis of her father Koios was the eye of a stellar dragon, which paralleled the dragon of Delphi, the serpent of the oracle last in holding of Phoebe prior to Apollon, and the associations with the serpentine Wadjet, we see a goddess associated with two animals that burrow within the earth, and the latter of which is a creature associated with immortality, it presents us with an interesting chthonic deity.

Yet among the  birds Leto is strongly associated with the stork, as we understand from Aristophanes’ Birds. It is a mute bird, clattering their beaks for communication rather than any kind of song. The clattering sound is rather eerie from what I have heard in their nesting grounds when I visisted Morocco, like some primitive primal noise that rises on the air and makes the hairs on your arm raise ever slightly. And like the swans associated with Apollon, the stork is also attached to its mate (and to its nest for that matter). To back up whatever chthonic nature Leto has, the stork has been associated with bearing wealth (which reminds us of Plutus) by some Germanic peoples, and with the underworld by Estonians, and in Baltic mythology has been associated with killing insects and reptiles. Of course sacred birds make an interesting mix as the swan is also associated with Ares and Zeus, so too is the stork also associated with Hera. Overall the stork is representative typically of nurturing parenting that tends to be common of earthly goddesses.

So for a shrine to Leto here is what I recommend. A representation of the mouse and the serpent, perhaps something related to the stork (I have a stork’s feather myself), an image draped in darkish fabric to represent that which is hidden.  I would even add a pair of lights to her shrine to represent the twin lights that she gave birth to for the world. Any imagery related to infants and mothers would also be appropriate. Leto is by far the earthly goddess of mothers, she who receives and gives forth life. Her worship is, and shall ever remain, and important part of my oikos, and it would please me know others are also giving her active worship!

Of fish, dolphins and frogs

Once again please bear with me since I am still doing this via phone.

Since I have been speaking recently of liminal animals, particularly that of goats, dogs, and wolves in recent posts, I thought I might take a moment to address another that is perhaps often overlooked…and that is the aquatic animals and their relationship to various gods. Poseidon as the god of the sea (and thus also the space in between the extremes) is most notable for being associated with such creatures in everything from fish and dolphins to mythological creatures such as seamonsters and hippocampi (seahorses in the most literal sense). These creatures are as such associated with the boundary between the world of men, and the unknown world as expressed by the unfathomable depths to which men did not (and still to some degree do not) have access. As such we see also dolphins carrying Proserpina in Italian art depicting her return, and we have images of Aphrodite riding upon a dolphin as she emerges in her birth from the sea. And we have Apollon who takes the form of a dolphin as a guide and is honored as Delphinus in respect to his dolphin form that he takes. This similar idea can also be expressed by the fish oracle of Apollon at Patara, Lycia. The presence of the dolphin in the cult of Apollon is fairly well known, and it is unsurprising that a god connected as he is with ports/harbors, mariners etc would not have strong aquatic associations in the means of sacred animals and even oracular forms if the sea is the liminal point between between worlds and Apollon is a god which traverses them both easily and illuminates the unknown. And then we have goddesses we take finned forms themselves such as Aphrodite Syria, and Artemis Eurynome of Arkadia.

Though Pausanias expresses some doubt as to how Artemis Eurynome can actually be Artemis, he does remark that the people of the area are quite firm in their belief that this is Artemis, and thus we can see that the name Eurynome is an epithet of her in this capacity which assigns attributes of the sea goddess specifically to this inland cult of Artemis where two important streams met. Euyrnome is by and large associated with the parallel functions of Artemis at the aquatic level over “pastures” as well as functions as a kind of divine nurse wherein Eurynome literally receives and nurses the infant Hephaistos after he was flung from Olympos. This daughter of Okeanos may compare in some fashion with the version of myths in which Artemis is attributed to parentage of Demeter and Poseidon…which though most strongly attested at Eleusis, is also evident symbolically by the close association with the horse that the goddess enjoys through the Pelponnese and her close association with particular rivers and springs in myth can reflect this alternative parenthood that clearly serves a very strong symbolic purpose. Thus it is of little surprise that she is thus honored at the meeting place of the Lymax (After-Birth…the source of which is the place where the infant Zeus was delivered and Rhea was bathed after his birth) where it falls into the Neda. Though Artemis is considered mythically a daughter of Zeus, we often see Artemis and Apollon, and Athena too in some myths, attributed to pre-Olympian manifestations…thus Apollon as a father of the Korybantes who cared for the infant Zeus it is not difficult imagine Artemis, the divine nurse, associated with the river related to the birth of Zeus. Especially as the Okeanid Neda was specifically one of the nymphs who cared for Zeus, which likely made this spot where the worship of Artemis Eurynome carried related to this connection of receiving and “nursing” the god. Kallimachus specifies how Neda secreted the infant Zeus away  to place him in the care of the Melian nymphs and the Kuretes that would raise him. Overall this place is then associated with two things…the delivering of Zeus after his birth and the purification of the mother by bathing.

Lewis Farnell in his The Cults of the Greek States talks briefly of the cult of Artemis under the Lacodaemons which honored Artemis as the nurse of the hyacinth, for which we may also see a parallel worship with the festival celebrated by the nurses of boys in secrecy in the same land every year…which again connects with a liquid, fluid nature of the goddess which nurtures even as she is the goddess of the wooded pasturelands. Likewise as a goddess of mariners she bringer of all to haven, or port (something which is specifically attributed to Apollon as god of ports) even as she may hunt her prey through her woods…she brings all to their destination. Therefore there is likely some very important association with the destination of these two meeting of springs that is being here honored which is connecting with the fluid nursing character of Artemis. And yet a nodd to her woodland aspect as cypresses planted all about the temple to Artemis Eurynome, the mermaid formed Artemis wrapped in golden chains. Such similar associations between the woodland and the aquatic realm is the device of the net which is used to secure both prey hunted on land, and fish hunted from the depths of the sea for which have other associations of Artemis with epithets of Dictynna and Britomartis.

And that finally brings us to the frogs. Aristophanes has a chorus of frogs, caretakers of the reeds, that praise in their song the following liminal gods: Artemis, Pan, Apollon and Dionysos from where they dwell in the underworld (perhaps another association of frogs inhabiting lower levels of water that may be associated with the underworld). These are the same animals which are renowned in myth in which Leto, in her travel through Lycia, transformed shepherds (or in some version villagers man, woman and child all) into frogs for rejecting her attempts to bathe her children there in their waters. This bathng of Artemis and Apollon by this myth is of particular importance, and we see it too in that Xanthus, in whose water Apollon is bathed is held in high esteem and all of Patara is honored. As Leto also has strong associations with the underworld in Lycia and Asia minor it carries a strong portal symbolism too between life and death, which brings to mind the Egyptian frog goddess Heqet who presided over births. Likewise the symbolism of the bathing carries further in which we see both Artemis and Athena exacting punishment for being spied upon in their baths, for in which case for Artemis is one of her most commonly known myths that it resulted in the death of Actaeon whereas for Athena the blinded violator was given the gift of prophecy. Therefore we see the watery realm symbolism further associated with this idea of foresight (for which we can understand Poseidon’s oracles as well), purification (on the part of the goddesses in myth), and transformation as typically the water is what is used as the vehicle of delivering the punishment. Frogs are very important to this transformative nature of water because it is in the water that this transformation occurs that allows them to go from living solely beneath the water to be able to emerge from it. This naturally brings to mind Plato’s Phaedo I believe it was in which our heavens are described as being like the sea of a higher world (my paraphrase here)…and therefore this transedence can also imply emerging into a higher state too. Which may explain in part the importance of the frog symbolism that it was carved on the doors of Delphi according to Plutarch.

Thus whether it is possessing a fish’s tail, or taking the form of a marine creature, as symbolically related to specific aquatic animals, it delivers a wealth of meaning potential within it.

the shrine of Apollon and Artemis

Largely because of space issues (I just haven’t had that many shelves and available table tops) Apollon and Artemis have been sharing shrine space in one united shrine. On many occassions it works out quite well because I can make prayers and libations to both together, and it feels tied togethr with the representation of Leto there too. It just seems so very *right* sometimes and quite convenient for when I wish to pray to the family so to speak.

But over time it has been gradually trickling into my brain that I pray to, and give libations to, Apollon alot more than Artemis, and it just seems to be awkward…like maybe I am ignoring Artemis who is right there beside him. I know in reality it is a non-issue. I seriously doubt the gods care even the tiniest bit. But it just seems to me that if I am going to spend more time addressing them seperaely than I am praying to them together, perhaps it would be a good idea then to move Artemis to the shelf just below Apollon’s (and adjust the placement of other statues accordingly). Therefore it would possible to pray to them together as part of a single shrine, and yet being on two seperate shelves they will be seperate shrines too.

Seperating the shrine would be little work. Leto would naturally go on Artemis’ shrine largely because Leto is often depicted as being a companion to her daughter Artemis more commonly than she is shown with Apollon. Everything else is pretty much already divided out on their perspective sides so it would just be a matter of moving Artemis’ side downward. This will in no means reduce the worship to Artemis, but will rather just give her own seperate area of worship as she had before.