Blessed Stepteria

Following the birth of Apollon during the Delphic Polythousia (or the Theban Prostateria) that occurs on the 7th day of the Delphic month Bysios (derived from Pythios) or the Theban month Prostaterios (Anthesteria to people who are only familiar with the Attic calendar lol) in the this month following (reminding you all that I am a  month ahead of most people by my calendar since I celebrated Poseidon II last year) this month (Attic Elaphebolia) honors the slaying of the dragoness Python and the narration of the myth of the return of Apollon next month.

For those who are not familiar with the myth, Apollon following his birth, arrived at Delphi. There are two variations of this myth. One in which he has come as a grown man, and another in which he and Artemis are carried to Delphi by their mother. There he encounters to the guardian of the stream Castilla. In the Homeric hymn to Pythian Apollon we find a description of Delphyne as a great bane of a creature who is a plague bringer and devourer of flocks. Apollon slays her either with his golden sword or with his bow, either alone or with the aid of his sister (as all of these versions exist). He (or they in the case of Artemis as well) departs Delphi in sorrow, weeping in his exile. Myth has it that as he leaves for Hyperborea that his tears fall as amber on the earth.

However in the Stepteria we have the program of the slaying of Delphyne acted out in which the youth, standing in for Apollon, slays the dragon. It has been suggested by scholars that this may have either been by throwing a live serpent or effigy of a snake into a structure to burn to death as Delphyne was consumed. So doing, he would flee immediately, taking no part of food or comfort. There he would be at the mercy of strangers as he traveled from town to town with his attendants, acting the role of an outcast in exile before finally arriving at the Tempe Valley. There he would be purified by entering the laurel grove and would cut branches from the sacred laurel at the side of the river Peneios to return with them to temple around the time of the spring equinox to the temple with great celebration.

For this ritual, unless you have a sacred river and laurel trees to act out the exile on a small scale (or the means for roughly a month of camping) the best way I have found to celebrate this ritual is to praise Apollon, the slayer of the serpent, to invite him of the golden sword to liberate and free, to destroy the miasma that infects our homes and cities and regions. Invite the shooter from afar to pour out his arrows as he begins the season of his return. From paper make a small serpent (or out of any other flammable substance) and set this in a fire safe bowl upon your altar, as you do so lighting it on fire as you praise Apollon as purifier and averter of evil, praising him for being Pythios, who causes things to rot and pass away to release all things for new rebirth. You are welcoming here too the dawn of spring as you destroy the fortifying wintry dragon. I then follow this with grieving for the exiled lord Apollon, and grieving for the death of the dragoness as was carried out in Delphi. I pour offerings upon the earth for her even as Apollon does to appease her spirit as he flees.

The ritual should be finished with a simple meal, the fair of exiles without friend or shelter, relying on what little they could manage. A humble meal  should follow. Tonight we are having some chicken and roasted potatoes. Simple fare without extras or indulgences. For seven days then I pray to Apollon for his return. On the 21st day of the month that is sacred to him I enact my own ritual that I call the Daphneaia which is about his entrance into the holy grove and his purification by the river Peneios and Daphne. Until then it is a time of reflection, awaiting purifications of the Daphneaia.

Post Ritual Update:

This year I did something a bit different. I had burned the paper serpent in a brass incense burner bowl and watched her dissolve into dust from the flames even as I prayed to Apollon. I had forgotten to mention above that it is appropriate to read from the Homeric Hymn to Pythios, which I did reading the segment of her destruction. Following her destruction I pray to Apollon that that which is miasmatic, that which breeds evil is not in and of itself evil in all entirety and that he cleanses and purifies all things to release us from the bonds. I lamented for Delphyne and lauded her place that she gained as guardian spirit of Delphi as upon her bones the precinct rested. I poured the libation, not directly on the earth this time, but upon her ashes (which will be disposed of upon the earth at some point this evening), lamenting her death as I did so. I then followed as my usual lamentation for his exile that he shall not be among friends, that he departed for the far lands and left all bereft of his presence as he attends to his blessed cleansing.

I then played my wooden flute for Delphyne. In Delphi the youth representing Apollon would as Apollon play the flute for Delphyne as Apollon was said to have done. Its long mournful tones singing to her passing and mourning too his banishment from the company of men.

In the end there are many ways you may come up with to celebrate this festival that will all be spiritually fulfilling and meaningful.

 

Advertisements

Prostateria, born among lambs

First, you just gotta love how dysfunctional Hellenic calendar systems are. I am celebrating this month what is usually called by the Hellenic name Anthesterion but I call by the Boeotian name Prostaterias, whereas others celebrated Poseidon II this year and are a month behind in Gamelion. So perhaps this post (and subsequent post I may make tomorrow) can be of some use then for others who come along into that month.

It is hard to imagine, where here it is cold and icy, that in other parts of the world this is the lambing season. That Dionysos’ grand festival, the Anthesteria, takes place amid this very early spring atmosphere as winter is ending and the activities of spring are coming in. Yet, as widely known as the Anthesteria celebration is, Plutarch also reminds us that Delphi and Sparta recognized and agreed with the Boeotian birth of Apollon at the Theban Delos (a natural island created between two rivers named Olive and Palm) that also occurs this month. In fact it occurs at sundown tonight.

Unlike the Thargelia which takes certain distinction in the role of Apollon in the ripening grain that gives his birth in May, this early spring birthday of Apollon seems quite appropriate for the herding lord that he is in a sense being born among lambs. Those that see a certain continuity between the cults of Poseidon and Apollon can probably see how this may symbolically echo alternative myths of Poseidon in which he was not swallowed by his father but, as an infant, hidden among lambs.  Although there is nothing known of anything dealing with herding beasts in the Boeotian birth of Apollon (really little is known about it other than this information shared by Plutarch) it is easy to grasp upon these theme, especially given the shepherd feasts to Apollon at the end of summer as the god who is born at the time of lambing is the appropriate god to deliver sacrifices to when the spring lamb has been well fed and reared.

Certainly the sacredness of white wool as an emblem of purity would be an interesting association to Apollon as the herder. The same white wool that adorns doorways at the birth of girls in honor of Artemis, Apollon wears in the locks of his hair. Why not, wherein at the Ionian Delos, Leto departs of Lycia to purify her babe that instead his swaddling that the Homeric hymn makes brief mention of was made out of the pure white wool from which he leapt made in full vigor whereas the Ionian myths of Lycia has him a helpless babe until arriving there  (contradicting other myths in which the babe at just a few days old went to construct his temple at Delphi. This takes us to two threads regarding Delphi. The Ionian thread in which Apollon, after returning from Lycia grown arrives at Delphi as an adult. And another in which Apollon and Artemis arrive at Delphi as small children/babes with her mother which would reasonably align more with the Boeotian birth of Apollon and the events of the Stepteria at Delphi in the following month in which Apollon slew Delphyne which was celebrated with a child acting as Apollon both in slaying Delphyne and in acting out the exile). It is possible that the Homeric Hymn blends these two elements of his births in its narration of the birth of Apollon making it relatable regardless of the audience. It never mentions the whens are other specifics really. But that is just my personal thought on that.

Still in the question is, what possible relationship did the lambing season and Apollon’s birth have? This is about the time of the year where the moose and reindeer are preparing to drop their calves, so this is not entirely insignificant for me. Up here, long before there are flowers we see the return of migratory critters and the dropping of calves. Here may lay a distinction in view of a migratory god such as Apollon who is associated with such creatures, and vegetation gods who dye yearly and are reborn with the spring (of course Dionysos is an interesting difference here because he is born in the winter still when the ivy grows abundantly which gives him a somewhat distinctive difference from other vegetation deities who adjourn for the winter in the underworld). Remember too that Apollon, as serving as a slave to Admetus, was said to have blessed the herds with bearing twins. This certainly points to an importance of Apollon in the calving/lambing season, that he was conceived as being born among them as one who is caretaker and herder, overseer of the lambing season and the rutting season in the autumn before he himself adjourns away.

So at sundown today and into tomorrow until sundown, I will honor Apollon Prostaterios, lord before the doors, lord of the renewal of life, herder god. I will honor him who was born between the rivers.

 

Lenaia 2014 part 2

Lenaia 2014 part 2 (2)

Today I celebrated Dionysos with his upright image, wrapped in ivy from his shrine. Unlike the feelings from the previous day of stretching, and awakening, today was quite different of an experience. It was probably one of the more attention catching intense for me than any festivals that I have had in recent history for Dionysos.

lenaia

Formulaically, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in the way I conducted the ritual. In fact, several of the hymns I read were the same as those from yesterday. Again I read those hymns for Zeus and Hera, and Hephaistos and Hestia who rule this Orphic month. And whereas I ended yesterday with the hymn to Semele, today I began with that hymn before proceeding to the hymns for Dionysos. The hymns I read for Dionysos were the following:

1) Hymn to Bacchus
2) Hymn to Liknitus
3) Hymn to Lysius Lenaeus
4) Hymn to Amphietus Bacchus

Lenaia 2014 part 2

Things got interesting though following the reading of these hymns, and the offering of portions of wine and incense at each hymn read for the gods. It was then that I picked up the small finger drum that was on the shrine. This was a tiny drum that I brought with me from Morocco on my second trip there. It was on this drum that I tapped my fingers at increasing speed, and as I was doing I found myself swaying to the beat and as the rhythm increased my blood sparking and firing. At one point I started to shake hard enough that I slammed the small drum down on the altar in finale, followed by another generous portion of wine offered spontaneously to Dionysos with a cry to Dionysos. It was then that I swallowed down some wine, greedily gulping it down as is not my custom when drinking wine. The cold liquid ran down my throat but did nothing to quench the fire burning inside of me. Such fire I have only experienced in prayer to Apollon regularly, and on only one occasion in prayer to Zeus.

After bringing a glass of wine from the altar to my boyfriend with a prayer to Dionysos, I then reclined in the couch swimming for many moments in a cloud of euphoria while I watched a recording of a comedy routine. This lasted for about a half hour following the ritual.

Lenaia 2014 part 1

Lenaia 2014 part 1

While I know that Lenaia is celebrated technically over several days I had decided to reduce it to a two day affair this year. This is better than other years where I have just celebrated it on one day. I am still in the processing of figuring my way around Lenaia. From vase paintings it seems that the celebrations of Lenaia included two important stages, for which reason I decided to do it over two days with a day devoted to each stage. One stage in the basket, and the other stage erect on a pole or column.

Lenaia image

Therefore the first stage honors the newly born Dionysos, son of Semele. He is represented as a mask within a basket. Offerings are presented to him in this fashion honoring him as the baby Dionysos. I didn’t have a basket small enough that I could find, so I ended up perching the small statuette had I made some years ago, wrapped in green cloth to represent the coming of spring, and the coming of new life of the vine.
On this first day I decided to forgo offering wine, and instead made an offering that is commonly offered to nymphs and other earthly daimons, milk mixed with honey. Tomorrow shall be the occasion to break out the wine. Rather than a rigorous festival, there was sweet anticipation in the air, and a sense of pushing forward. Even the babe within my womb stretched herself out during the prayers as if she too were affected by it. The sensation of new life springing forward in a rush.

For this ritual I said the following prayers. Aside from the prayers given to Hestia and Hephaistos (for the Orphic month, and also because Hestia is always honored first anyway), and those given to Zeus and Hera (who are honored at every ritual) I read the following hymns:

1) Hymn to Silenus, Satyrus and the priestesses of Bacchus
2) Hymn to Lysius Lenaeus
3) Hymn to Lyknitus Bacchus
4) Hymn to Ippa (who the hymn seems to identify with the mother of the gods)
5) Hymn to Semele.

It seemed that finishing with the hymn to Semele was the way to go, and was profoundly moving particularly in reading that last hymn. I then spent some time playing my wooden flute in honor of Dionysos before closing the ritual. Something playful and flirty, but also containing some longer drawn out notes to pay tribute to the tragedies that were composed for the winter performances during the Lenaea competitions.

On a side note, following the ritual even the ivy plant that I had temporarily set on the altar for the festivities was perkier when I had returned it to Dionysos’ shrine!

Giving Thanks

Today I had encountered a question that caught my attention. Someone wanted to know how to give offerings of gratitude to a goddess who had recently assisted them. While I had no specific recommendations for the deity in question, it did make me pause to consider what I normally do when I want to show specific gratitude for the overcoming of some particular difficulty…and there have been many instances of this too, or even a sudden blessing that appears in my life?

The simple solution which many folks seemed to jump on the quickest was to make a gift of something sacred to the deity, some image, icon, feather or other sacred associations. I think that this foremost comes to mind because it is the easiest to conceptualize. I want to thank the god or goddess and I want it to be something tangible that will stay there on the shrine for ever and ever and ever. And I do think that this is appropriate every now and then too. I do agree for really big things I would love to get some new icon, as it was often the custom among Hellenes to thank the gods for favor shown to them by dedicating images of the gods. The problem with this of course is that in the modern context we have limited space, whereas anciently this was done at temples, and often at great cost (therefore typically dedicated from the wealthy members). And while statuary is easier to come by now I think, we still run into the problems of just running out of room. When it comes to matters of practicality there is only so long that we can amass stuff that is permanently lasting before we are overwhelmed by it. If you think of it even temples had this problem! At the temple of Leto at Xanthus there was a votive pit near the temple where icons and offerings were buried to make room in the storage so to speak. Therefore unless it something *huge* that we are thanking for, more often than not permanent offerings are not the way to go, unless you have a very sparse set up for the deity in question. For instance I would probably be reluctant to get more statues to put on my shrine to Apollon for thanksgiving, but there are numerous gods that I either need images for or that could use another image in my mind for whatever reason, especially if it is one of the important gods in my household.

This is not to say that there aren’t long lasting gifts that don’t roughly fit into this category that could be appropriate. Replacing an offering plate with something new and special could be nice, or any other tool of worship such as a small pitcher for libations especially dedicated for that god or goddess in question. A small box to keep sacred items in, or a small box for keeping incense used only for that deity in. Vases, incense burners etc can all potentially fit in that category and are ultimately can be either permanent or replaceable as situations come down the road.

In any case, when it comes to practicality, we have to consider what we can give the gods that will be pleasing, that is not something we give them every day. For instance if you offer frankincense regularly to said god or goddess, while an extra portion would probably be a plus I would probably not limit it to this if I was feeling particularly very thankful for blessings and aid given. However that doesn’t mean that incense can’t be a lovely gift, especially if it is something that one goes through the extra cost to procure especially for that deity and kept set aside as a gift only for that deity. For instance, I have a vial of rose oil that I only use for anointing my statue of Aphrodite as it was a gift for her. Her statue gets weekly anointed and fumigated with incense (which I have a nice little selection for). Such items are regularly in use and do have to be replenished at which time of replenishing you can offer it once again in thanks for said momentous blessings that were given in the past.

Perhaps one of the simplest gifts though, and one which I think is highly appreciated by the gods, is a bouquet of flowers. These are nature’s own natural perfume, and often flowers have been used ceremonially for special offerings. Apollon was offered crocus flowers in the winter, and his altar during the Hyakinthia was laden with different blossoms. In the play Hippolytus we also find the young hero returning home from his hunt with flowers gathered for Artemis from a virgin field. In some ways I think that flowers are even a more special offering just because the length of time they last is outweighed by the effort. If you have the ability to gather wildflowers this cost would be considerable less, or if you have blossoming plants in your house or garden, but there will be times that these are not available. Here in Alaska with how short our growing season is the only way to really procure fresh flowers is at a local florist or market 8 months of the year. Therefore, spending around 20 dollars or more on a bouquet of flowers that will only last for about a week becomes symbolic of great affection and devotion, that the pleasure of the gift received becomes well worth it, even knowing that it can only be enjoyed a short time. Perhaps that makes it even the sweeter.

This does not negate how worth while offerings of special food items are. Honeyed cakes, sweets, etc require the cost and effort of making, and have a very short life, but can be of great source of pleasure to the gods. Cakes were often used as a bloodless offering appreciated by the gods. Therefore the importance of offering a small tray of cakes and sweet pastries to be shared with the deity in question can be very rewarding both as an offering and in one’s relationship with the deity, as sharing food with the gods tends to be. Especially if one takes the time in crafting said sweets with keeping in mind those things which the particular god or goddess enjoys (for instance making cakes shaped like deer or goats for Artemis and Apollon, or making candied rose petals for Aphrodite).

There are of course non-tangible offerings such as the playing of a music instrument for the god, the composition (or having someone else compose) a poem for said god/dess that acknowledges the favor given, singing, dancing, and other mediums that can bring a brief instant enjoyment to the god/dess you are honoring is all acceptable gifts for them and are very workable. In the end what is appropriate is what speaks to you and what you feel is a good way to give thanks. These are but some ideas.

Giving Worship to Leto

DSC00351

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.

 

Blessed Day of the Sun

Hail to Helios, the kingly one, o inferno of the heavens. Hail Helios shining star of life, conqueror of night. Hail Helios, o victorious one, may your light infinitely, nourish all life and illuminate our minds and hearts.

Today is the solstice, and prayers to Helios are on my lips for the longest day of the year. Here in Alaska where our summers have such long interrupted periods of light, Helios is as king, shedding his light to feed all life here. Our winters may be dark and long but the reign of Helios in the summer is a beautiful sight to behold! Therefore it is with happy heart that I celebrate the Helioguennia, and honor the beautiful Helios in his cart of radiant white flaming mares. For the past two days I have celebrated the winding down of spring by celebrating the Hyakinthia. For the second day of Hyakinthia I selected a picture to go on my shrine of a youth being embraced by Apollon, as Muses grasped his horses and all about being flew. To me, this represented the arrival of Hyakinthos among the host of Apollon (for more about this read Plato’s Phaedrus in which he is discussing the “armies” of the gods of collected divine being, spirits and souls). West_Phaeton It turned out that the picture was actually an illustration of the petition of Phaeton to Apollon to drive the chariot of the sun. It did not strike a very strong chord with me as representing Phaeton, and was unrecognizable to me as such, nominally because of the context of the scene altogether. But also because I do not consider Helios (the actual mythic father of Phaeton) and Apollon to be the *same* god. I do think that they can be linked together as Apollon-Helios to honor their cooperative natures operating harmonic together, but I do not consider Apollon literally the sun anymore than I consider Artemis to be Selene. There are strong associations and very deep working relationships between Apollon and Helios, and Artemis and Selene to be sure, but these relationships are also quite fluid as Apollon and Artemis are generally the twins of light, and by their unified nature don’t tend to fall along absolute distinctions. Therefore Artemis has often been associated too with the sun (and on this day of Helioguennia there are people who celebrate the day with context given to the chariot of Helios standing still in the sky as he observed the dancing of Artemis and her nymphs), and Apollon has very clear associations with the moon (not only as Noumenios but also considering that his Doric festivals tended to culminate on the full moon). This fluidity may also be responsible not only for the worship of Apollon-Hyakinthos, but also of Artemis Hyakinthia (in which the goddess apparently is depicted bearded). With this in mind today during the Helioguennia I will be honor both Apollon and Artemis with Helios, and then later on this weekend on the 23rd I will be honoring them both with Selene on the full moon which shall be a super moon.

Sadly in a great show that the gods have a sense of humor, after weeks of beautiful sunshine today is overcast and chilly. All the same, I shall raise prayers to the gods and give offerings in celebration of Helioguennia. I hope that everyone has a beautiful solstice however they may be celebrating it!