The Breath of Boreas

It is getting colder (but hey this IS Alaska after all), noticeably so. The breath of winter is draping everything in a hard frost, which makes that six am puppy walk a bit biting. Thank goodness that the breed of puppy I have is half Akita so she has that thick double coat to keep her warm. They sing songs about Jack Frost nipping at your nose, if that is so then Jack Frost has to be adopted, or unofficially claimed, son of Boreas. Or just Boreas reimagined. For the kingdom of Boreas is one of ice and snow and cold blowing winds (he is after all a wind). He is the very substance of the winter air rather than the season of winter. He flies down, winged, from his high snow-encrusted mountains, his breath all around us in the air, biting at whatever skin is exposed to him. The dew in the air is crystalized by him for which the frost paints patterns on all things and by his breath the rain falling from the sky turns to snow that coats the earth of the northern regions in a thick insulated blanket to protect it from his bitter cold breath. And the trees stand as silent headstones, sleeping throughout the winter.

Apollon is said to venture far beyond the kingdom of Boreas. But why Boreas in particular? Apollon has a noticeable connection to the winds, not only as a god of winds himself, harnessing them for destructive and beneficial ends, but also personal mythic relationships with two of the winds. One is Zephyr in the spring in the myth of Hyakinthos, and in the myth of Hyperboreia we have Boreas. The connections with Zephyr seem more obvious because Zephyr is highly active in Apollon’s season, with the blessing of verdant growth during the mild first half that nourishes young plants. Even in the tale of Hyperboreia we can come back to Zephyr because Apollon’s garden seems to be described as one continually blessed by Zephyr with the mildness of his weather as an eternal spring. And yet to approach this place you have to go beyond the  kingdom of Boreas. Of course Pindar reminds us that it would be in vain to seek out this land, for it does not exist here where we may find it. It is exists beyond the gates of winter, the gates guarded by the griffins. A few days ago I approached this subject in my post on the Purifications and Expiations of Winter, but I wanted to continue more here in my thoughts on Boreas and his relationship with Apollon in particular.

As winter in some areas would be concerned with the sowing of seeds for the next year’s grain and crops, even in more mild climes there is naught much more besides some hardy small flowers that bloom and delight. Many of them, such as pansies, are edible however. But as the rainy season (whether that be actual rain showers or snow showers of the northern regions) it tends to be the indoor season. It is a sleepy and restful season compared to other times of the year, and becomes so the further into winter you go. Winter in many ways been compared to death, not only for being the season in which Persephone reigns in the underworld, but also for the sparse barren nature of the season. Winter is intimately connected to death. So we find Boreas and his kingdom associated with the boundaries of death in a seasonal sense but perhaps also in a symbolic sense as a boundary to the Underworld. One that may be transversed by gods directly into the land of blessed, but not accessible to mortals. It is through this gate that Leto came, and it is through this gate that Apollon travels to his sacred garden. Perhaps it can be seen as his special VIP entrance directly to his private corner of the land of the Blessed where those cherished by him he has directly had crossed in their apotheosis. The garden which was his bridal chamber of Kyrene before it was imagined in Libya.

Even as Apollon himself is a gatekeeper god, Boreas would seem to act as such for Apollon, and the griffins too with which Apollon has been pictured, those gold loving creatures who likely find bliss in the pure gold radiance of Apollon as he comes near. Griffins which are  horse killers, that would seek to attack the soul chariots of mortals. These griffins would be nearly as fearsome as Cerebus himself but far less welcoming to any souls less they be driven in Apollon’s own swan chariot. And if these alone are not dissuasive then Boreas himself is, his bitter breath driving all away, to return to the comfort of hearths, or in the case of souls, to more welcome routes.

The sacredness of the north is also affirmed by the Etruscans who were widely respected in the ancient world for their augury. Etruscans placed the highest of the gods to dwell in the northern quadrant of the heavens. For any to seek to attain this kingdom would have been probably seen as hubric as Bellerophon’s attempt to climb Olympos on the back of winged Pegasus. And what happened to him? A hornet stung the stallion, throwing the rider to his death. Beware those who attempt the roads of the gods. This is no less true, by far, than with Apollon in his northern route. This distinguishes him from Persephone and Dionysos whose routes are clear markers for the way for human souls. Few, does Apollon take upon his sacred northern road. King Croesus being one example whom Apollon took up for his devotion according to Pindar. And Pindar too I would imagine, and all the great poets. Those whom he loves. So I greet the breath of Boreas as reminder of this holy route, for the part he plays.