PBP: G is for Goddesses, Gods, Generation, Goats and Grain

I decided to get a jump start on this early in the week in case I forgot about it Friday, and really also because this is inspired partially by a conversation I had recently. I know the title is a bit of a mouth-full but all of these ideas shall be present in the post.

First off, I love my religion as it is populated with a number of gracious goddesses and kindly gods. There is never a lack for a divine being for whatever the situation may be or for any function within nature. That said, I can appreciate too that there is no literal creator god in the Hellenic religion (as in a divine being who created all the cosmos outside of it). Rather the gods and goddesses are part of the cosmos. This of course resolves any problem of trying to determine if the cosmos were created by some elusive divine mother, or by a divine father. And really I have issues with the very idea of a singular creator outside of the cosmos, because regardless of which way it goes it is going to be misogynistic and utterly related to nature, and as I firmly believe that the gods are part of nature and what we see physically in nature reflects the divine, I have issue with this idea that EITHER a father God or a mother Goddess can be an omnipresent creator. Now conversely within Hinduism you have a unified expression of a kind of Mother-Father divinity by way of creator pairs that are as one (Brahma-Saraswati, Vishnu-Lakshmi, Shiva-Parvati/Sakti). They are one together. Saivism has that Shiva/Siva as predominant and yet Sakti is a part of him, and they are one together. Shaktism is in reverse, in which Shiva is part of Sakti. They are together, both god and goddess and procreative function of the cosmos. Such as the symbolism of the drum of Siva in which the two parts of the drum represent the male and female which together create. This is not unlike the division of the Olympians equally among females and males creating specific pairs of unified function. Most obvious being Zeus-Hera as a marital unity, and Apollon-Artemis expressed as a twinning unity. There are some philosophical traditions that even suggest that Zeus and Hera are the same as Apollon and Artemis on a different level, and that this follows to Persephone and Dionysos at another level again. I am still unsure how I feel about this, but I am just putting it out there.

This is not say that there aren’t different kinds of creation that can be done solo, or even among being of the same sex. I do not want to indicate that all forms of creation are necessary between a goddess and a god. However, procreative creation of life is. There are very few instances where you see a god create by themselves, and usually it is not by themselves in the strictest sense. Athena is born from the head of Zeus and is called motherless, and yet she was conceived in the womb of Metis whom Zeus swallowed, following which the gut of Zeus (rather like the gut of Kronos), fathered Athena and she burst from his skull. But Zeus did not conceive her on his own, he just bore her on his own. In contrast we have Hera who out of anger at Zeus over the birth of Athena concealed herself away to birth Hephaistos alone. Now there is some interpretation that this conception was done solely of herself, but we also have Hephaistos called the son of Zeus in many variations. A clue may be given in which the myth is expanded upon by the Romans that Flora aided Hera in the secret in how to conceive by herself. Now flowers (that which is in the domain of Flora), although they cannot fertilize themselves) procreate asexually. Pollen is transferred, without any sexual contact or form of union by a third party between blossoms (in the form often of bees or butterflies etc). Therefore what we likely see with Hera’s conception of Hephaistos is the goddess conceiving of the god in a manner not unlike artificial insemination. Zeus fathered Hephaistos, but the conception was not born of union between Zeus and Hera in their marital bed, but apart. Hephaistos was so closely identified with Zeus by some regions that we find in Arkadia that Hephaistos is called the Warish Zeus. A somewhat related myth would be the conception of Cecrops who was conceived when the semen of Hephaistos spurted and landed on the thigh of Athena as she was evading him, which she thus wiped to the earth from which Cecrops was born. Here we have a more complicated imagery though because we have the fertilization occuring between the figures of Hephaistos and Athena, but Athena remains without child because the earth itself served as the womb (though she looked after Cecrops with what I would say is nearly maternal attention).

This procreative generation between male and female occurs through the most potent symbolism of fertility, maternity and paternity. Particular if we consider the cultic importance of the he-goat and she-goat (and also the bull and the cow alternatively). The identification of Demeter with Europa who was conceived by the bull Zeus speaks to this. As do many instances in which we find gods inclined towards fertility and nurture associated with these. Demeter, Aphrodite, and Hera are all associated to varying degrees with cows, as Poseidon, Zeus, Apollon and Dionysos for instance are linked in varying degrees with bulls. Likewise we have Artemis (the great nurse), Apollon, and Pan associated with goats, and the nursing of the infant Zeus by the goat Almathea.

The fact of the matter one would be very hard pressed to find any historical reference to an ancient religion in which you have a lone deity which procreates solely of him or herself. At least not until the Abrahamic religions. As such goddess spirituality typically just reverses the mode of the Ambrahamic religions, to make them goddess-centric instead. Therein you have a goddess who bears the cosmos of and by herself, and then conceives herself (and in some slightly more polytheistic trends..an actual separate daughter). Sometimes you will also find her conceiving a son as well, though this seems to be an optional variation. I have nothing against people who want to have this world view, it just feels strange to me when it is approached using the Hellenic gods. Demeter (who is often used as a model in this spirituality) did not conceive of Persephone of herself alone, she was conceived by Zeus (who incidentally I hate being referred to by goddess spiritualists as a PIE sky god, he is not the sky, his domain is aether, the fluid energy which surrounds every living thing, the falls in rain to fertilize the ground and collides and snaps in lightning in a storm). Nor did she rear Persephone, who is symbolized by the wheat ear, without the participation of any gods for Apollon’s domain of light nurturers the wheat to maturity and for this purpose he is called the god who brings the golden harvest from Hyperborea. The gods and goddesses are working together in a unified whole, not apart from each other. Sometimes goddesses with other goddesses for certain things, and gods with other gods, but always they are in tandem together, and especially among the goddesses and gods together to bring about the creation of life. I can’t even agree with statements that say that god is both female and male because god has no biological gender, but is called mother because she bears forth new life. This seems to be a conflict in ideas in which on one hand gods and goddesses are genderless, but yet it concepts of a creator deity is a mother goddess because she bears forth new life. This concept argues against itself in my opinion because you can’t be without gender and have an identity based off a biological sex activity. Well you can, but not without conflict of reason. I can accept that gods and goddess create by their unification with each other, because I do ascribe to divine gender and therefore I recognize that both are important for creation that is reflective in nature, including Mother Goddesses (such as Leto, Rhea, Demeter etc), as these are balanced out with Father Gods. Whereas they don’t have biological bodies and such urges, they do have functions of their domains which correspond on a symbolic level of female and male functions, goddess and god. Just a bit more expansive.

And then you have Selene, but I believe that she is called male and female in her orphic hymn is attributed more to the fact that she takes on the light of her brother Helios in order to shine (something that was recognized by the ancient Hellenes). Therefore she is filled with male essence which she radiates even as she is female. Rather being both male and female in the literal sense and still being functionally a goddess in every sense.

PBP: E is for Everyday Rites

So I realized that accidentally messed my alphabet up and did H out of order with the rest. So if you are confused, that is what happened. And so you wont’ see an H post later because you already got it 😛

The idea for E is entirely cribbed from a blog I follow, here, because I thought it was a pretty awesome idea for the E entry.

Despite how much noise we all tend to make about major festivals and occasions, the real heart of the religious experience lies in the oikos, and what we do on a daily basis. Now I follow a fairly rigorous domestic calendar which breaks down to honoring different gods on different days, but in this post I am going to set that aside and focus on the things that I literally do *every day*.

Because I bathe the night before (not only because I get up so early for work, but also because living in an subarctic environment going to work with wet hair is..well..crunchy to say the least) it cuts down on what I have to do after first rising. I take care of my personal hygiene things right away and will include washing my hands and face, and washing off my legs and feet with a damp cloth. Depending on how crunched I am for time (such as if I stayed up too late the night before which resulted in hitting snooze on my alarm for an hour) I will change directly into my work clothes. However, if I have time and got up early enough I will dress in a clean kaftan. Thus clean I will light incense on the household altar for all the gods of the household and all the Olympians in general. I then progress to light incense on each of the major shrines of the household, most particularly at my largest shrine dedicated to Apollon. Of course this means that the air is pretty heavy with incense, and the smoke is clinging to me pretty well too since i am amid all of it. Typically at the shrines and altar I just make a general prayer for the blessings of the gods upon the household for the day, but at the shrines by the door way for Hermes, Artemis, Hekate and Apollon I specifically ask them for their protection of the house and to draw prosperity and good fortune within of the course of the day (the former is particularly directed to Apollon and Artemis, and the latter to Hermes).


I only ask for it during the period of the day as it is a daily ritual it isn’t necessary to go really long term. And in any case it doesn’t seem very classy to give an offering once and expect the gods to take care of you and yours with no further worship paid except when the mood strikes. Therefore every day I renew my offerings and renew my prayers. In the evening I do the opposite, following my shower, by thanking them for their blessings throughout the day, and thanking the gods of the doorways particularly. In each case my daily ritual tends to consist of a simple offering of incense and lit candles, although I do occasionally give libations of liquids such as pure water and sometimes coffee to those gods that seem to appreciate it. In any case it is done twice a day, and sometimes I will visit my shrine to Apollon a third time if I come home during the midday for my lunch break. Whenever I come home I simply place incense on the shrines of the doorway gods to honor them for my homecoming as a small thanksgiving and acknowledgement of my passage through their doors. This doesn’t include impromptu offerings and expression of devotion to Apollon whose shrine I most regularly frequent during the course of the day. As can be seen in the above picture, I can feel inspired to visit his shrine at any time of the day or night. The picture above was taken around 11pm.

Typically most of my prayers also tend to impromptu for daily rituals. I only break out the composed verses and traditional hymns when I am doing full ritual for some special occasion, or if I am feeling particularly motivated to do so. But usually I just go with what inspiration is bubbling up inside and compose something on the spot from the heart to honor and greet my gods.


PBP: H is for Heroes

I will be the first to confess I don’t give a great deal of personal attention to heroes, despite the fact that in Hellenic religion hero cults were fairly popular. Once in a great while I will give a nod to Herakles, and I do observe some of the major Athenian festivals focused on Theseus. But most of the big name heroes I don’t do much for on a personal level. This is to say I don’t have favorites, but those heroes I admire don’t always result in regular cultus being paid to them.

A significant part of the problem may be because I don’t feel any relativity of the heroes in my daily life. I can appreciate the spiritual allegories served in many of their myths (for which I have taken part in some of the major festivities), but on a personal level there lacks a connection. It was different of course if it is a local hero. I imagine that in ancient Hellas the heroes of one’s city state were nearly seen as ancestrial figures because they were so positively connected to one’s homeland. Therefore there was a premade condition of connection with the hero based on geography. For those of us living outside of Hellas this can be problematic. Of course there are heroes like Herakles who were widespread Heroes and took part in many city-states over the course of his myths. In fact, Herakles of all the heroes is the one who really got around and is therefore perhaps the most tangible to worshipers of various backgrounds, and tends to be one hero was more or less universally appreciated throughout Hellas. Another widespread hero, or rather pair of heroes, at least through the Peloponnese, were the Dioskouri, who served not only as protective household gods of the roof, but also important civic heroes.

Now among heroes it seems that we have different classes, and what kind of hero they were likely played a great part in how they were honored. On one hand you have heroes who do great deeds, such as Persues (a personal favorite), Jason (another big time personal favorite), Bellerophon, Achilles, Herakles, Theseus, Atalanta, Cadmus, Triptolemus, Crecrops, Sarpedon etc. Then you have the (usually prematurely slain) children of the gods, many of whom were beneficial in some fashion to mankind either before or after the death: Local mythical city founders are a big one, such as Delphus, but then you also have heroes such as Achilles (again), Asklepios, Orpheus, Teneros, Trophonios, Aristaios etc . And then there are the souls who are loved by the gods and are immortalized, usually either after being kidnapped to dwell with the gods or the souls carried up among the gods followin death: Endymion, Kyrene, Hyakinthos, Ganymedes, Adonis etc

I would have to say that other than my less regular observances for my favorite heroes, perhaps the most regularly honored heroes in my household are Kyrene and Hyakinthos, and three sons of Apollon (Trophonios, Asklepios and Aristaios). Although I have been thinking of honoring Jason more regularly as well if  can figure out just how I want to do it and how regularly I wish to do it. As well as what benefit could be understood from honoring Jason….because each hero often has a different cultic focus depending on the hero. Sometimes it is just a sense of cultural kinship as in the case of Ion for the Athenians, and Hyakinthos for the Spartans. Other times it is very specific purpose of honoring, such as for Asklepios being petitioned for healing, or Trophonios as an ocular divine hero. And other times, such as my purpose for honoring Kyrene, it is symbolic of some tie to a specific god and a connection you are nurturing with them by additionally giving honor to that hero or heroine.

So there is an importance to giving reverence to heroes, and it is something that is often overlooked. Something I am quite guilty of myself to be honest.

PBP: G is for “godspousery”

While I don’t care for the term godspouse, it is perhaps one of the most well known terms to describe the mystic relationship that develops between the soul of a human and the god the soul belongs to. Plato describes the act of Eros on the soul, and myth often shows Eros (or Aphrodite) acting to play the matchmaker between human souls and the gods. Of course most of this is regarded as nothing more than mythic generation of heroes etc, but these myths also serve as an important spiritual dialogue to our souls to take root with the love inspired in the soul. Ten years ago when I first started down this path in my relationship with Apollon, you could throw a rock and be quite unlikely to ever come close to hitting another godspouse. Now I am feeling inclined to write on this subject for my pagan blog project entry rather than what I had previously planned just because there has been instances coming up recently in which emotions have run high over misinformation regarding godspousery and assumptions that have been made. Therefore I am hoping that this post will clear some of those things up. These are in no particular order of importance, and I may miss a few points, as I am certain that there are many more which are relevant. If I missed something please feel free to add another point to the comments section.

1. Misconception: Godspousery is a new pagan fad indulged in by young women (usually in their 20s) engaged in without much consideration or forethought towards the consequences of jumping into that kind of relationship with a god.

Answer: While it is true that there are a number of new godspouses on the scene who fit that bill, there are many folks out there who have been around and have had such a relationship established successfully for a number of years. Among them there are many instances where it is seldom jumped into but has a kind of “courtship” phase before deciding on taking on that kind of relationship and level of devotion. Nor are all godspouses even women. Which leads me to point 2.

2. Misconception: That all godspouses are women engaged in a bridal relationship with a male god.

Answer: Nope. In fact there are men who engage in this relationship with male gods, and with goddesses, and women who engage with this relationship with goddesses even as there are women who engage in it with gods. When I say women and men here I mean for it include heterosexual, homosexuals, transgenders et al. Despite what the current most vocal majority is, godspousery has no sexual or age prerequisites. It is a calling of the soul, an attraction inspired by Eros between the soul and the god. Right now there appears to be a majority of godspousery showing up among cis-gender women, but that perception may very well be skewed by how many folks are silent on the subject. Many men seem to be more reluctant to talk about it publically.

3. Misconception: All godspouses are of a Nordic or Heathen religious tradition.

Answer: This perception may again have to do with the vocal majority, as it may *appear* that is most common with Odin and Loki, but it is not altogether accurate. I have met individuals who are godspouses to gods from various pantheons of gods. Myself included obviously.

4. Misconception: There is absolutely no historic basis for godspousery.

Answer: This is kinda of a tricky statement, because history is not always quite that detailed. Setting aside the myths (in which as I noted above many such situations arise), you do have instances in which mortals were considered brides of gods. From a Hellenic perspective, the initiation imagery of women for the mysteries of Dionysos have a distinctive bridal imagery to them with Dionysos and Ariadne looking on. Likewise the Pythia was widely considered the bride of Apollon, and literature seems to indicate similar concepts of the sybils. Virgil’s Aeneid certainly suggests a very intimate relationship between the Sybil at Cumae and her god. Of course whether these kind of personal relationships were common outside of these very prominent cult settings we will likely never know, although great devotion of love to a gods seems dubious that it was uncommon, else how sympathetic and tragic would have the death of Hippolytes been without the understanding of his love of Artemis and his preference of her company and scorn of entering into marriage. Or the rise of Plato’s philosophy in regards to addressing the subject of the soul’s attraction and love towards the god to which she belongs (soul typically represented in the feminine form symbolically). So it very well may have not have been unheard of, but likely not common either. However, in modern times I have heard that there are cases in which girls take a bridal relationship to gods in Hinduism, and there is a lot of marital symbolism in Hinduism with the concept of the soul’s union with god, especially it seems with the textual material dealing with Krishna. In another direction, a book on Santeria showed beautiful pictures of a room in which a devote gave to his lwa wife (I probably got the term lwa wrong, I often confuse the terminology between Voodoo and Santeria). There are also suggestions in history of kings entering into marital pacts with powerful goddesses in some northern regions….how much of that is true though I can only hazard to guess.

5. Misconception: Making the decision to be a godspouse means that you are agreeing to being enslaved by that god/dess into his/her service.

Answer: People who identify as god-slaves, whose relationship with their god is defined solely by the work they do for them, do exist. Sometimes (and I must stress this because I have not personally seen it often) a godspouse (who also usually does some kind of work on behalf of his/her beloved) will also identify as a godslave, but these terms are not synonymous. A godspouse does not necessarily feel enslaved to his/her god, anymore than you feel enslaved to your mortal spouse. It is of course a very serious commitment however. Love and intense devotion and loyalty go a long way that as with any loving relationship, a godspouse is likely to do what pleases his/her beloved just as much as people do every day for those that they love. We do however, recognize that we are not by any means equal to the gods and not gods ourselves, and therefore are placing ourselves in very uneven relationships power-wise, which also means that there are some sacrifices. But typically the gods are not ogres and do not demand anything more than what is suited to our own individual relationships with them and what we need, and what we are capable of. We may be ensnared by Love/Eros but it is a positive thing, there are no chains (unless, again, that is something particular to your relationship..on whatever level lol).

6. Misconception: For women being a godspouse to a male god is anti-feminist.

Answer: Again, not so. As mentioned above there is no enslaving to a god’s will thing going on (typically), and as a matter of love it shouldn’t be judged as anti-feminist anymore than any women who engages in a marital to a man. There is an imbalance of power which may make it more pronounced to some feminists that there is a relationship of extreme inequality going on which act as triggers for them. However in any relationship one establishes with a god, you are going to be the inferior in the relationship, that is just how it goes. That is not say that we lack value, or boo humans kind of thing. We are self determining and quite capable of saying no and refusing anything our gods put before us, but it is easy to be a bit of a pushover for one that you love and do things that you feel that the god wants or will please him out of no other reason but love.But rather it is a recognition that we are not gods and therefore are not going to be on equal playing ground when it comes to power nor should one expect to be treated with some kind of reverence from others. We should not aspire or pretend otherwise…to do so could potentially lead to some serious delusions and hubris (for only the gods can deify, we can’t determine ourselves to be as they are). Also this idea of gender based inferiority is rather absurd, not only because gender based inferiority takes a huge backseat to any concept of inferiority to the gods in general, but also because it makes an assumption that the gods have a set literal sexual form. But the gods are not biological beings, they are greater than that. Therefore whereas their identities are often tangled up in a particular gender, often in relationship to their domain, many gods have been known to appear in a female form in some myth or another. Therefore the whole female inferior to the male argument is rather invalid. And as such it cannot be anti-feminist.

7. Misconception: All godspouses are seers/spirit workers.

Answer: I think this misconception has caused some of the greatest friction when it comes to godspousery, or rather between godspouses, especially of the older and younger generations. There is an assumption that being a godspouse means that you must automatically become a seer, which is really an absurd assumption because those beloved by the gods in myths formed a variety of functions and had a number of various talents, but has also caused frustration. This frustration is due to new godspouses finding that they either lack the ability, or inclination, to fulfill this role. So I will say right here and right now, although a lot of godspouses find it fulfilling to be a seer/spirit worker it is not a prerequisite! Like the beloveds of history and myth, we all have our own directions our work will take us that can touch on any small part of the vast domain of the god one is “married” to. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have a knack for things in several areas, including divination/interpretation of signs/spiritwork/etc, but having that knack and even engaging in it on a personal level doesn’t mean that is what you are supposed to do or what their calling is. What your calling is will likely work itself out over time.

8. Misconception: All Godspouses are celibate.

Answer: While there are many godspouses who make a choice to be celibate, this is something that is determined by their own individual relationship with their beloved god/dess. Sometimes the gods indicate that the desire for their mortal spouse to be unwed and/or celibate. I suspect it has more to do with the needs of the mortal spouse in particular. While it was not requested of me I have gone through several long periods of celibacy and have recently come to the conclusion, that some other godspouses I know have come to, that the commitment to the god too easily conflicts with the emotional needs of a mortal partner. In short it can seem unfair to the other person, and can sometimes cause some hostile feelings towards the godspouse’s spirituality. That said, there are godspouses who have very successful marriages and romantic partnerships. So in the end it is really about what is best for us all individually. I don’t believe that the gods call us to do anything in particular that isn’t already part of our disposition.

Those are the big ones that come to my mind. Please do feel free to address anything I forgot in the comments!

PBP: F is for Fire

There are several Hellenic gods connected intimately with fire, and therefore I thought this would be a nice subject for this Pagan Blog Post.

Apollon and Artemis:
I have already spoken of this a bit in my post on Apollon and Ge, but I will summarize the main points. Apollon and Artemis are by their nature fiery deities. They are torch wielders, illuminator and destroyer of darkness, and bringer of revelations. This is not only in the oracular sense with Apollon but by the nature that light of fire reveals reality for which we have the Orphic hymn praising Apollon as a god who reveals the forms (not to be confused as a creator of forms like Hephaistos) of every kind in the world. In this same sense we have Artemis as goddess of the portal in its correlation to the opening of the womb who by her illumination reveals the world to the newly born infant who first opens his eyes at birth. Likewise Apollon Noumenios serves a similar function at the opening of the month, the Noumenia, in which the first light of the moon reveals the beginning of the new month as the moon appears to be born anew. As torch bearers they are connected with the torches of Demeter, Artemis figuring strongly in this as Despoina in the temple of which she was prominently represented as a torch bearing divinity, and in the case of Apollon as the youth who with torch in hand aided the search of Persephone with Demeter. Thus their light illuminates the mysteries to mortals. They are also the destroying principle of fire, the ravenous mouth of flames which devours indiscriminately, as both Apollon and Artemis slay the male and female forms of every kind of life. With Apollon the association of fire directly to this predominant part of his nature is quite expressive in his myths and in poetic narratives about him. He is a god who wields fiery serpent arrows, and is a god who rots, destroying material substance, by harnessing the pure rays of the sun. To read more about the fiery nature of Apollon I would advice to read the post on Apollon and Ge.

Much of what can be said of Artemis in association with fire can also be addressed to Hekate in terms of light of new birth, which is reasonable because she shares many common characteristics with Artemis. However, the primary form in which we see fire connected to her is as a guide. There are those who would also say revealer saying that she reveals the arcane, but as this doesn’t figure much into my understanding of her, I say that her torches serve dominantly to guide of gods and souls, as we find her with her torches guiding Persephone from Hades, and concept of her at the crossroads with her torches where she keeps company with the spirits of the dead.

As I said in my post on Apollon and Ge, I don’t so much as associate her directly as being a fire goddess, but fire is hers by the manner in which she is the sustainer and tender of the fire, she is the hearth, the oikos, sustaining the flaming heart. She feeds the fire constantly as we find her described as dripping oil from her locks of hair. It is thus reasonable to connect her more to the earth which holds within its arms ever churning flames and Hestia as associated with such containing structures as the hearth and oikos is. This is perhaps what brings about her relationship with both Apollon and Poseidon in the myth in which both gods pursue her hand. In one sense a fiery god Apollon, a god of cosmic and terrestrial magmatic flames, who is attracted and seeks union with the goddess of that which loving contains and vitalizes the flames. Given her relationship to the earth via her structural, nurturing and sustaining nature, there is Poseidon who seeks to wrap his arms ever around the earth which encircles the seas (as he likewise mate with Demeter to breed Artemis/Despoina). The saltine nature of the sea also possessing a fiery purifying quality, for which we can also understand how Apollon is likewise connected to the sea.

As said above the sea possesses by its saltine nature a fiery quality, as well as transformative movement of energy. I have often connected Apollon specifically with this aspect of the seas, via the currents, but it is obviously, as being part of Poseidon’s domain, something which must be ascribed to Poseidon. Add to this that Poseidon himself possesses the raw seismic energy as a god of earthquakes, and like Apollon possibly also associated with thermal springs in addition to his associations with various forms of sweet water (fresh water). The closeness of the relationship between Poseidon and Apollon is hinted at in the Iliad, and it seems natural as possessing different kinds of manifestations of fire within their domains.

Zeus is also a fiery god, as nothing can speak so clearly of than the myth of Semele in which his mortal lover burst in flames when she spied upon his true form. The closeness of relationship between Apollon and Zeus not only as father and son, but also as kings, probably rests on this nature of fire and light. Zeus’s fire and light manifests primarily through lightning born of aether….aether being the initial source of light according to texts. From Zeus manifested the first light and the first fire, and from him consequently in myth, Apollon in many versions, is his son. That Apollon is one of few gods who has handled the lightning of his fire is quite telling of this relationship (the other being Athena). In fact the philosophical idea of Poseidon, Zeus and Hades being the three Zeus can relate to this concept of fire as a primary and central element of the cosmos…it is thus found in aether, found in the liquid material of the seas, and within the earth which would tap into the chthonic nature of Hades who himself possesses the riches of the earth which are born from arrangement of elements in the cooling of fiery liquid rock. That Zeus’ foremost enemy Typhon was buried beneath the weight of a volcano can potentially align both Zeus or Typhon with the violent destructive outbursts of the volcano, and yet the creative side of volcanic activity would not be something we would ever associate with Typhon but more likely with Zeus. In a sense when it comes to fire the natures of Apollon and Zeus are closely entwined, something which becomes apparent in the association of Zeus and Apollon with Helios in the Orphic hymns and likewise in their more chthonic guises.

Hephaistos and Athena:
I am addressing Hephaistos and Athena here together for a reason, and that is that they have a particularly unified front when it comes to a particular form of usage of fire: that used by potters. Both Hephaistos and Athena were honored by these artisans. Hephaistos is naturally understandable. The fire has often been called his for the clear reason that among all the gods he most effectively wields fire to a purpose, and has all manner of methods for controlling the output of fire. This is seen in the Iliad when he used his billows to cause such a fire rage at Xanthus that the god suffered painfully as his waters began to dry up beneath the onslaught. Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound likewise calls fire the bright flower of Hephaistos, which seems to refer to the positive application of fire within the hands of the god. As I mentioned in my post in regards to Apollon and Ge, Hephaistos takes fire, even raw fire in the form of magmatic fire, and from the fire fashions every form in nature. Whereas Hestia can be related as much to the kiln as she can be to the hearth, Hephaistos utilizes all the tools at his disposal in order to bring about good things….for which he is appropriately married to Kharis (Grace). Hephaistos is also ascribed a warlike character as he is called the warlike Zeus in Arkadia in association with cult of Hera there, though this is likely due to his fashioning too of armor as he is the favored armorer of the gods, particularly Athena. Athena meanwhile is connected to the nous of Zeus. The nous in itself is connected to the sphere of aether and so she is intimately as well. So it would be of little wonder if she shared a commonality with fires of aether that her father enjoys, particularly as she was born from him alone…and from his mind (the nous) at that. As mentioned above she, like Apollon, is one of few gods who is known to have wielded the lightning bolts of her father. It is perhaps the intellectual fire of the mind associated with Athena that has made her as an alternate pairing with Hephaistos who effectively uses fire constructively. Thus the sharp precision of the mind and the careful tutelage of use of the kiln would have also made them an effective pair of gods to worship together.

Helios is considered in Hellenic religion the purest source of fire. As I have mentioned above, the Orphic hymns associate him to a degree with both Apollon and Zeus that brings a strong sense of importance and royalty in our understanding of Helios. So too does the notion that all sacred fires were lit by using glass beneath the sun, for only the purest flames could be gathered from him for this purpose. the cultic association with Helios and the sea in places such as Rhodes further illuminates the connection between flames and the sea, especially gives that Helios was believed to sink beneath the western waves. Meanwhile Selene gathered to her the emanations of Helios with which her light grew and ceased. That Selene’s light was reflective and utterly dependent on Helios is something mentioned many times in ancient literature. In a sense Helios is the most visible fire god we have and therefore of profound importance to us.

I am sure that there are many others that could be mentioned but these are those that come foremost to mind….and my daughter is nagging me for the computer.

PBP: E is for Eleusis and Elaphebolia

First I want to say that I loved Eleusis when I got the opportunity to visit and have my naming ceremony there. The first thing you see when you enter the entrance is the temple of Artemis, as daughter of Poseidon and Demeter. I have spoken of this interpretation before in my blog as one that is actually rather common and Pausanias especially speaks of it in the Peloponnese where Artemis is given a higher status as Despoina, the mistress. In Eleusis we don’t know much of her though aside from the fact that she has a temple there at the entrance of the sacred precinct. There are some who like to try to assign the temple to Hekate because Hekate shows up in mythic context to the rape of Persephone and in imagery of Persephone’s return out of Hades, yet Artemis has a very important cultic link to the mysteries of Persephone too. It is she who is said to have been with Persephone when she was kidnapped. The Orphic Argonautika suggests that this was in purposeful design in arrangement with the plans of Zeus, though other myths have it that Artemis ran after the chariot of Hades as he swept Persephone away from Artemis and Athena, her playmates.

Not far from the temple of Artemis, between the temple and the temple of Demeter is an upright giant relief of two crossed torches, likely the symbol of the two torch bearers in the mysteries. Some say that these are Dionysos and Hekate, but given the nature of the context of what we know of the roles that Artemis and Apollon play in the mysteries OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof Demeter and Dionysos elsewhere, it is more likely that it is the Bacchic gods Apollon and Artemis. It has been suggested in one book, the Road to Eleusis, that the leader of the procession are representative of the sun and the moon. Though Apollon and Artemis are not the sun and the moon, their domains are associated with the functions of the sun and the moon as it were, as both bodies of light have agricultural importance and are keepers of the passage of time (In one post I spoke of Apollon and Helios as per the Orphic hymns which you can find here.) As fiery deities of light, it makes perfect sense that these divine twins and chorus leaders, be the perfect leaders of the procession. I wrote more of it here specifically in regards to Apollon. On the part of Artemis her presence here is a bit more clear as if we look at other parallel mystic cults of Demeter throughout Hellas we often find it concert with Artemis as Despoina (which is likely linked to Artemis in earlier manifestation as Potnia Theron, Potnia referring to Mistress) and also as bearer of light and leader. In fact at one particular temple of Demeter and Despoina Artemis is represented as all three in the same temple as one most first pass through the temple of Artemis Hegemone (the leader) in order to enter the temple of Despoina where the goddess is also represented not only as Despoina seated by Demeter, but also as a figure holding a torch in one hand and in the other dragons.

This is not to dismiss the importance of Hekate but rather that Hekate, Dionysos, Apollon and Artemis serve very specific functions at Eleusis as I have indicated before in the above linked post in regards to Dionysos and Apollon. There is of course philosophical traditions which state that Dionysos and Apollon are the same god, which we find immediately from Plutarch, a philosopher and priest of Delphi, and likewise Artemis and Hekate were at one point viewed as the same deity. I don’t particularly agree with this so much in point, but I do think that they have very closely occurring roles. Therefore you have Artemis involved directly in the leaving of Persephone and chasing after the chariot, which may be the true origin for the running maiden figure from Eleusis. Then you have the light bearing youth (a form of Apollon) who aids Demeter in search of her daughter, even as Apollon is called the god who brings the golden harvest in other places and is likewise intimately connected with harvest of beast and vineyards as a god of light. Meanwhile you have Hekate who aids Demeter by bringing news of hearing the cries of Persephone from her cave, and Hekate who is the leader of the goddess specifically in her return. There are those who use the Homeric Hymn for Demeter as evidence that this is Hekate (line 52) but here we see Hekate with her torches as an announcer of what she had witnessed, paying attendant on Demeter which does not say that she was associated with the initiates. This is not the first instance in which we see Hekate as a companion or leader of a goddess as she has been called the handmaiden of Aphrodite and in one vase painting seems to be leading the return of Artemis as she stands before a chariot of deer. There is thus a very interesting relationship here between the liminal Artemis and the Khthonic role of Hekate playing out, just as there are a very clear relationship between Apollon and Dionysos at harvest. Demeter brings the grain, Dionysos brings the liquid wealth in his wine as both he and Persephone (representing the ear of wheat) cycle through seasonal life and death for these gifts….son and daughter of Demeter, with Apollon and Artemis (also considered children of Demeter as we see particularly represented by Diodoros Siculus in his description of the mysteries via a layer of Egyptian creative interpretation) as liminal keepers of time, transitioning and moving forward life’s development/growth and sacrifice/harvest.

Therefore when I think of this image of Eleusis that is what I think of.  Whereas at the other side of her temple is the sacrificial pit where the pigs were thrown into the fires for the sake of the initiates. Beyond the temple of Artemis is the great temple of Demeter, beside which sits her well. As a tourist you walk through the temple to get to the other side where the road progresses from her temple, past the Ploutonian Cave (where there is also a small temenos with an altar) to the road leading to the gates of the Telesterion into which the initiates entered, and that is where I had my naming ceremony. Within the Telesterion you can imagine how glorious it was anciently, and as you walk to the far end you can see sacred markers. The bundle of wheat ear, the bull, the double torches, the drum and so on. I had taken pictures of these painstakenly and pray that I can get my portable harddrive fixed where they are stored because I found them to be truly touching and quite profound.

The Lesser Mysteries are coming shortly as they were said to have occurred toward the end of Anthesterion at which time those who desired to be initiates were purified and became mystai. These mysteries are said to have been instituted on behalf of Herakles at the time in which he wishes to participate but the Greater Mysteries were closed to him as a foreigner (apparently this changed over time as the Eleusinian Mysteries became known as being accepting of just about anyone who spoke Greek and could afford the price of a pig). The Lesser Mysteries therefore largely served to induct new initiates even as we have the return of Persephone. It may have been believed that Persephone herself was receiving the new initiates even as she was received, as we find Persephone is given credit for decisions for the fate of souls after death. Persephone and Dionysos by their nature are credited as the only gods that can save souls from the fate of death suffered by mortals for instance. And in the Orphic hymn to Hermes Khthonios we see that his position of leading the dead to Hades is also bestowed by Persephone. Even at Ephesus the return of Admetus’ wife Aclestis shows the queen returning with a token of Persephone, likely indicating that Persephone granted this just as she was the main player in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that caused Eurydice to be allowed to ascend with her husband to the world of the living (though a shame that he failed to wait to look upon her and so lost her again. So I would take it that the Lesser Mysteries were celebrated in part as the acceptance of Persephone for those who are initiated to her care.

Just following the end of Anthesterion and the Lesser Mysteries the month turns to Elapheblion and the festival of Elaphebolia celebrating Artemis as the slayer of deer. This seems to me to be placed very particularly in which we see a contrast in two vital functions of Artemis. We see her as the torch-bearer in the Lesser Mysteries closing out the month of Anthesterion, and then we find her as the huntress. I have discussed before on this blog the close association between the functions of Artemis as nurturer and huntress. She is called in Crete first and foremost the nurse and companion of the midwife goddess Eliethyia. It follows that the goddess which nurturers the young of all life, is also the goddess that pursues them through development and slays them at the end of their life. This which we find in co-supporting role with Apollon in which Apollon and Artemis are often placed together nurturing, rearing and destroying the males and females of all living species. Therefore Elaphebolia directly following the Lesser Mysteries plays and important reminder, and perhaps plays an even more subtle reminder of the role of Artemis in the mysteries in the abduction of Persephone, to all of us as Artemis throughout the yearly festivities transitions back and forth between her two primary functions, just as we see following Elaphebolia the celebration of Mounykhia and Brauronia that honors Artemis as the goddess who cares for young girls and her instrumental relationship in their transition out of childhood which we particularly see in her early autumn festival Kourotrophia during which youths and maidens dedicated to her the tokens of their childhood by giving their toys to her altar.

The assertion made here that Herakles in acting as the torch-bearer in the Lesser Mysteries was acting in the place of Hekate makes more logical sense if we consider that the pair of twins were torch bearers in which case Herakles was most probably taking the role of Apollon as he did in his  youth in another festival Daphnephoria where he played the part of the bearer of the laurel as the god coming to the temple. Herakles has many intersecting points with Apollon in his myths, and so it seems plausible that if the Lesser Mysteries were established in their legendary history by Herakles that he would have been taking the part of the male torch bearing god, Apollon.

PBP: D is for Daphnaeus and Daphnephoros

Daphnaeus and Daphnephoros both are appropriate epithets of Apollon. Daphnaeus refers to Apollon as the god who is of the laurel. This connects the laurel intimately with his identity as much as the bow and the kithara or lyre. In a mythic context we can imagine Apollon bringing the laurel into his identity as he wreathes his head with laurel leaves as his sacred plant. Artemis is also called Daphnaea which draws a similar association between laurel and the plant, but with like with so many cases where she shares an epithet with her twin it is unclear if one is borrowing the epithet from the other, and if so which god had it first? It has been speculated, by Pausanias I believe, but I might be misremembering which ancient author I got it from, that Artemis was called this because her image was made from wood of the laurel. It is quite plausible if that is a potential reason for her possessing that name that Apollon too may have had cult images made of laurel wood at some time. We do know that according to Delphic myth that the first temple of Apollon at Delphi was believed to have been made from laurel boughs. In such a case we can understand the laurel as something which Apollon is honored through and within. The presence of the laurel would thus be a vessel that represented the divine presence of the god. This seems reasonable as the Pythia was often pictured holding a bough of laurel either as a representation of the god, or perhaps her own identification with Daphne, the first priestess of Delphi and the first whom Apollon had loved.

Daphne herself is an interesting figure, especially if we look at the myths of Daphne with the Peloponnesian versions in mind. The Peloponnesians expanded upon the myth of Daphne to give her characteristics quite like that of Artemis, running with her own band of nymphs. Now this idea of a love of Apollon carrying characteristics of his twin is nothing new as we also see his wife Kyrene to be something of a reflection of Artemis as well. Before she had ever taken the form of the tree she was loved by a youth who disguised himself as a maiden because he loved her. Apollon, jealous, caused it to be revealed that the youth was male in which case he was expelled from their company. This then can be followed by the Delphic myth in which Apollon himself chases after the maiden who, seeing that she cannot outrun Apollon (and really who can? This is the god who can outrun Hermes) calls for help. In some versions her father, the river god Peneios (her father in Peloponnese is another important river..the Ladon) transforms her into a laurel tree just as Apollon embraces her. In another version she is swallowed by the earth and the laurel grows out from her tomb. It is likely this version which is referred to at the Daphne temple of Apollon where the god was depicted giving libation to the earth.

Speaking of the temple, the Daphne temple was located just outside of Athens and was an important stop for initiates on their way to Eleusis just before they went down to the sea just beyond the temple to purify themselves. The association with the temple specifically with purification is likely pertaining to the nature of the laurel in relationship to Apollon. He is the purifier and as Daphnaeus he is a god who purifies as the plant does. This is something we see in particular in vase paintings of the purification of Orestes in which the god stands behind the seated Orestes and a pig is slain above him for his blood guilt and nearby a laurel. In myth the laurel grew after the event to mark the spot where the god purified Orestes. Furthermore, in the reenactments of his purification following the Stepteria festival shows the god traveling down to the Temple valley where the Peneios river flows and there a sacred laurel tree provided branches to be cut for purification and carried back to Delphi. This tree may have been cultically regarded as the very tree that the nymph transformed into by the Delphinians.

The youth thus carries back the laurel, himself representative of the returning god just as he was representative of the slaying and fleeing god during the Stepteria, and is called as the Daphnephoros. He is the laurel bearer. Apollon himself acts as divine laurel bearer and those who carry the laurel in his honor are also called Daphnephoros. In Thebes there was a festival which I strongly suspect due to its nature and falling around the same time, was a parallel to this return of Apollon. The Daphnephoria was a festival in which Apollon, by oracle, indicated the means to stop a terrible ongoing battle. After which the matter being resolved a festival was initiated in which at the fore of the procession was a youth carrying laurel to the temple in the very manner in which we see at Delphi. Apollon comes to his temple bearing the items of purification with him. It was naturally considered to be of high honor to be the Daphnephoros (and as such came with strict requirements as did the position at Delphi) for the youth selected. Parents of the youth at the Thebes dedicated tripods to Apollon, including, according to Pausanias, the father of Herakles when he himself took the position in his youth, as Pausanias notes a tripod dedicated by his mortal father Amphitryon.

Apollon is thus the god of the laurel, but also the god who bears the laurel in wielding its purify influence, in which case Daphnaeus is descriptive of the god himself, and Daphnephoros is descriptive of an action of the god (much like the epithet Pythios as he himself isn’t rotting but causes the action of rotting), one which is symbolically carried out in festivals by the performance of youths acting his part in capacity of bringing forth the laurel in sacred events.