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!