(PBP) B is for Boundaries and Birth

Perhaps a significant, and often overlooked, providence of many deities has considerably to do with boundaries. These are differentiated from portals/doorways in that a boundary doesn’t necessarily imply that there is a point of passage, although often there is one for which we can see boundary related gods associated also with gated entrances. Such is certainly true for two well-known boundary gods: Apollon and Hermes whose representations were erected at either side of the courtyard gate. Both of these gods in the domestic worship of the oikos preserve the boundary between the intimate space of the courtyard from the world-at-large. This of course is appropriately paralleled by the providence held by Artemis and Hekate at the portal, the door to enter the house that seems to create two parallel cooperatively functioning boundaries.

In essence the boundaries represent the liminal edges between the worlds, one which all of the above mentioned gods have considerable access to as they pass into (like Hekate and Hermes) or hold position at this edge of the world (like Apollon who is associated with cemeteries in parts of Ionia and Arkadia, and  and Artemis). The mythic relationship between Apollon and Hermes in the Homeric hymns likewise suggests that Apollo may have once been specifically associated with underworld functions that Hermes took over, one in which the sun is believed to have sunk into the underworld (as it sinks into the river of Okeanos which in itself represents this liminal boundary and Apollon’s resting thereon is represented poetically in Hesiod’s Sheild of Herakles by the description of the swans resting on the river Okeanos). By stealing his cattle when the god is conspicuously absent, he is then given in exchange the cadaceus, his serpent entwined wand, and a bullwhip from Apollon in exchange for the musical inventions of Hermes (the kithara and the pipe). Nevertheless Hermes retains his associations with the instrument which he can similarly gift upon others, just as Apollon doesn’t cede his relationship with the boundaries with the netherworld….a relationship which is stressed in his cemetery cult in which he provides and protects the soul for 30 days as it is attached to the grave until which point Hermes escorts it.

Therefore we see Apollon as the god at the boundary (so named Apollon Horios) to which the soul passes from living and death, and Hermes who escorts the soul into the next phase of life. In similar manner we may see that the worship of Apollon and Hermes as the front gates represents the god at the boundary between the road and the home (for which he is called upon as Apollon Agyieus…Apollon of the Roads and turns away evil to preserve the harmony of the house), and Hermes (who as a god of boundaries is generally viewed as a god who protects travelers as travelers frequently cross land boundaries, and in a spiritual sense in which Hermes is associated with the boundaries over which the dead cross) is viewed as the god which draws good things into the home, and likewise averting ill things from entering. Apollon’s association with the demos, cultural norms and practices (both mundane and religious), sacred law (as we particularly see as the guardian of the regulations of the Olympic Games as Apollon Thermios together with Artemis Thermia) etc which crosses from the public sphere into the household. In a more indirect manner it can also be associated with Apollon’s oracular station as well in which the god transmits divine knowledge across the boundaries between the divine and mortal planes of existence.

In contrast Artemis and Hekate at the portal are more strongly associated with the opposite function of passage into life…inclusion into the oikos perhaps, which includes adoption, guest-host relationships, and the more immediate entries via birth for which both goddesses are strongly associated with birth as a portal goddess. If Apollon and Hermes make the exchange of the passage from one existence into a new state via death and destruction, then we adequately see a paralleled reflection represented in the placement of torch bearing goddesses of birth, and in at least one case Artemis (as a lamp and dragon bearing Artemis Hegemone at Arkadia. This Artemis who leads, which in its relation to a cult center of Demeter in Arkadia not unlike that of Artemis at Eleusis, can suggest one who leads into a passage of a new beginning for which the both the torch, with which both she and Hekate are most popularly depicted, bears much the same symbolism as the more domestic light via the lamp.

However this is not suggest a polarity either in which Hermes and Apollon represent one kind of passage, and Artemis and Hekate another, for we understand that Hermes likewise leads Persephone out from the underworld (as is associated with escorting the dead during the Anthesteria) and Apollon is associated with the new birth of the month. So it is not singularly destruction of the negative things that may try to enter the oikos at the gates to provide passage for the good things that benefit the oikos, but also the transformation that occurs (both destructive and genitive) that occurs as the gate door swings both ways as visitors and family members pass to and fro.

Such is also true of Hekate and Artemis that whereas the portal represents birth and the productive life of the oikos, are also associated with the departure from the oikos. This includes the entrance into the unknown/wilderness as members physically depart the home to engage in the world outside of the household, and as the passage of life via death in which the oikos is reduced by the exit of a member. This is natural as Artemis represents the liminal world, the woodlands beyond the city boundary…a huntress and destroying goddess. Meanwhile Hekate passes, like Hermes, into the netherworld and is often associated with the hidden knowledges for this.

Therefore there is no direct polarity between the boundary of Artemis and Hekate at the portal, and that of Apollon and Hermes at the gate, but rather they are fluid and cooperative with each other. There is the fact that we have more protective deities at the outer entrance at the boundary and gate of the oikos courtyard, and goddess associated with nurturing the young as Kourotrophoi at the portal of the oikos and the intimate life of the family…this seems to be the biggest difference for which they are assigned very specific designations of worship in the oikos.What is interesting though is how many rivers are assigned to gods associated with boundaries and the liminal zone. This is particularly true with Artemis and Apollon, both of whom have a significant number of epithets that refer to rivers (which act as natural boundaries both in geography but also as the children of Okeanos and Tethys who as stated above is associated with the liminal boundary between worlds) associated with their worship and mythos (example Apollon Tilphossios, god of the spring Tilphossa, Apollon Ismenios of the river Ismenos, and Artemis Alphiaiai of the river Alpheios). Such a strong symbolic association with boundaries and the liminal zone may have something to do with the strong associations of Leto with motherhood/childbirth and in many places in Ionia, particularly Lycia, with the underworld. I do think it is curious that Leto, who bears such strong associations, is comparable almost with the myth of Asteria (her sister and mother of Hekate) who, upon plummeting into the sea in order to evade Zeus became as an unanchored island which has been described at times as wandering beneath the surface of the sea. Therefore the rising of Delos (the transformed Asteria) in order to provide a place of birth for Apollon and Artemis is provided via the transference of the body from the unknown into the sunlit living world. Her dwelling beneath the waves is quite similar to Hekate’s position at the mouth of caves which are the entrance/doorway into the next world. Therefore it seems that in the case of Apollon, Artemis and Hekate there is a strong hereditary relationship with boundaries and portals.

Of course this prooves an issue for modern worshipers since not everyone possesses a front gate. The closest it seems to get is among those families who have an entirely enclosed yard through which one would have to enter the gate in order to reach the front door. Otherwise the boundaries of the oikos are consolidated at the front door for which worshipers may be presented with no other option but to combine the designations of boundary/gate together with that of the portal and worship all of the above gods together in a fashion…though possibly seperated by different shelves if possible. But it also means that it limits the options of where at the door things can be placed since typically as front doors swing inward there is relatively little room to place shrines at either side inside the doorway, and most prefer not to have anything for Apollon and Hermes outside the doorway because of concerns of vandalism or theft. This requires some creativity. This is also the most regular form of worship for the gods in relation to the boundary as, compared to daily comings and goings—for which offerings are given to these gods, births and deaths are less regular occurrences within the oikos and far less worship will involve such direct manifestations of the role of the gods associated with the boundaries, aside from specific festivals that honor such roles.


Of dogs and wolves

Today I was inspired to speak briefly about the symbolic differences between dogs and wolves. Now I suppose to some this may seem like splitting hairs because there is a point at which there is a very fine line between the two especially since wolf-dog hyrbids are still pretty well known. And if they are able to cross-breed then they are of the same species and therefore pretty close to being the same. However what is being missed in such considerations is that the dog and wolf represent very different things, especially in Hellenic religion in which you have god (such as Apollon, Pan and Zeus) with very specific epithets that refer to wolves that generally speaking refer to a more wild/untamed and often solar destructive feature of a god, and goddesses (such as Artemis and Hekate) with very specific epithets that refer to dogs which seems to refer to their more liminal roles, as well as Ares. The exception to this of course appears to some small degree with Artemis who does bear an epithet Lykeia in reflection of her twin’s epithet Lykeios, but the cult of which only occurs in Troezen in association with Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and the amazon queen Hippolyte.

However, this exception can be easily understood because Artemis is the only truly independent goddess that really actively and personally destroys anything. Hekate may have associations with the dead as a significant part of her cultus, but doesn’t really take part in the destroying part whereas Artemis hunts your ass down with an arrow notched in her bow which she does as part of the natural order and really nothing to do with social systems. However as a huntress she is not accompanied by wolves, though she can be herself somewhat wolf-like, she is accompanied by hunting dogs, a symbol which speaks of the close association between the souls of the dead and protective spirits that oversee them. Thus also the dog imagery in the graveyards as dogs sit as sentinal guardians, some of which can be seen if you ever vention on a tour of Athens and its museums. The dog is present because it is part of the liminal edge through which we all pass in the cycles of life. The domesticated dog was used for hunting, and therefore was instrumental in nourishing the household, and as time passed its companionship of men and loyalty became one of the highlights of its nature by which the animal could be alternately sweet to its family and vicious to unwelcome intrudgers. Naturally the dog then takes the form of a kindly, and powerful, guardian animal for which poets speak that Cerebros is kindly to the dead as they enter but doesn’t allow them to pass out before him again on their own accord. Likewise the dogs accompany Hekate as companion to the goddess of this liminal portal, as they do with Artemis. In such respects dogs have great social and personal spiritual significance in relation to the human soul and its passage through life and death.

Such also rises a conception of war-dogs trained  in combat which can defend and strike in cases of need. There was a specific breed of dog in ancient Greece (now extinct) called the Molssus which was specifically bred to hunt large dangerous game..such as predators…as well  as act as guard dogs of property and participate in war. It should be of no surprise then that Ares is associated with dogs either as war itself is not particular to nature but rather to conflicts in human society in which case he may protect or cause utmost devastation. And certainly some ancient civilizations considered Ares as a protective presence for he he is called upon many times in prayer by Thebans in Aeschylus’ play Seven Against Thebes that the walls of Thebes would not fall and the children of Ares be spared. And of course we are all familiar with the old saying “let loose the dogs of war.” Dogs are just part of our experience as human and spiritual beings. In such fashion, unlike wolves which are entirely and seperately apart of nature, the dog is a creature that is enjoined and functions within the human experience.

So when someone says to me that wolf is more appropriate to depict with the gods than a domesticated animal such as a dog I have to look at them in askance. Because this opinion is operating out of the idea that the wolf, an animal which is wild, is closer to the gods and domesticated dogs, being a creature of human civilization is further removed from them. This seems to come from two factors. 1. The high status of wolf in neopaganism symbolically that celebrates not only the free qualities of nature but also is just simply really awe inspiring. Lets face it a wolf is just cooler than a dog, that is what it comes down to. 2. A tendency in modern paganism to develope extremes in which anything of civilization is considered inferior. Therefore domesticated dogs are inferior to wolves as humans are inferior to gods. In such thinking if this means that the dog is further away from the divine because of its connection with human civilization. Therefore we start seeing ideas manifest of wolves in company with Artemis and Hekate where never before have wolves been associated. Frankly both of these ideas are missing the point.

Wolves may seem more nifty in an abstract artistic way because of what they represent, but they are not superior to dogs…they are different and representing very different things…all of which is divine. Unlike modern paganism which tends to view civilization as corrupt and against nature, Hellenismos doesn’t embrace this idea. Granted people do some pretty shitty things to nature in the name of civilization, but this is a front for individual human greed and have nothing to do with the main principles of civilization. The definition of civilization is not destroying nature. It is possible, if we can get past corporate greed, for civilization to be harmonic with nature. In Hellenismos both nature and civilization are part of the domains of the gods and it is the gods’ functions with each of these that is glorified with different symbols.

We do nothing to honor gods like Artemis and Hekate by changing their dogs into wolves, because this ignores their fundamental domains and the beneficial gifts they bring to humanity as goddesses of the portal and kourotrophs (in which we can defer symbols of whelping bitches). We can love the dogs of Artemis, Ares and Hekate equally as we love the wolves of Apollon, Pan and Zeus in that they represent different forces in our world and spirituality.

Hekate and Artemis in the home

Following further with domestic worship, I wanted to address further the roles of Hekate and Artemis in domestic worship. In my previous post, it can be noted, that among those gods that were listed as gods important to the domestic worship, Hekate, not Artemis, was mentioned. Yet I feel it would be a great error to assume that Hekate filled the functions of Artemis within the household or rather that she replaced her. At first glance it may seem as such since Artemis is a goddess of the portal just as Hekate is, but in the home it is Hekate specifically who dwells at the doorway of the home (the most immediate portal that we possess into our intimate space after passing the first portal between the world and our homes at the gate guarded by Hermes and Apollon. Of course as I have mentioned before that due to the structure of most modern homes it has rendered us without courtyard and gate so we end up with a gathering of all three deities at the front door usually. But it seems to me that this traditional format served a very important symbol. Hekate is at the door, at the most intimate portal because this is the door closest to us in our regular life and experience. In the case of a old style home with a courtyard, family life continued to different extents outside of the house within the courtyard but was typically of a different character of the more intimate life within. Symbolically this can represent the house as the self, and the courtyard as a buffer zone between the self and the outside world, and at the edge of this traditional buffer zone was Apollon and Hermes who master the greater entrance.

At this point you, my dear reader, are probably wonder how the heck Artemis has anything to do with this. On the outset it appears that Artemis herself is of the outter zone without any relation to the gate, courtyard or the inner home. This may be true in some ways as Artemis was often traditionally associated with the wild spaces, but Artemis is not absent from the household. We do know that she and Hera were part of the rituals of birth, and that the doorway of the house was decorated in her honor if a girl child was born within the house (just as a male child has a different decor in honor of Apollon). And we also know that upon returning from the wilds, from the hunt, offerings were delivered to Artemis upon the return as seems evident to any who have read Hippolytus who, upon returning home, carried with him garlands he had made in virgin meadows, in order to present them to Artemis upon his return (and spurning Aphrodite). Therefore we can see Artemis as a goddess who is distinctly moving through the outter most areas into the most intimate. I even strongly feel that this is somehow related to Proclus’ statements about Artemis being the goddess who gives forth the pure spring (or something of this nature…in my mind I consider it divine goodwill and pure energies) on the part of the high gods to mankind. She acts as a vessel of a kind of divine spring from what I understand. This seems to follow in this line that the goddess is encompassing that area between the Olympians and man. This is part of her function as goddess of the portal in addition to her placement in regards to death and birth which are portals between the living and souls of the dead.

The thing that is especially curious then is how Hekate and Artemis relate to each other. There are some pagans who believe that they are in reality the same goddess, either directly or, more popularly in neopaganism, as part of a maiden-mother-crone trinity that did not exist in ancient Hellas. This trinity is based off a kind of trinity that did exist which unified the domains of Artemis, Selene and Hekate, but there is nothing to suggest that even in such depictions that they were considered the same goddess, and Artemis and Hekate at very least were both depicted as youthful maidens. How it relates to moon worship is also often thought of Artemis is honored at the waxing moon, Selene at the full and Hekate in the waning or new moon, which is also a modern interpretation. Hekate was honored at the Deipnon during the dark of the moon, the boundary between the end of the old lunar month and the beginning of the new one. It is the passage through the unknown, the death and rebirth of another being. Artemis meanwhile has no known worship with the waxing moon, other than the convenient fact that the 6th and 7th of the lunar month.. both occuring within the first quarter of the moon…were sacred to her and her twin. Instead, the 16th of the lunar month, the fullmoon, was known to be sacred to her and she had an important fullmoon festival every spring.

Does this make Artemis a so-called fullmoon “mother goddess”. No particularly no. But Artemis is the nurse of youth, and images in which she gathering forth the eggs in her statue at Ephesos, her statue at Messilia in which she has a small child gathered to her chest etc, are less examples of Artemis as a mother, for she bears no young herself, but acting as a nurse to all living things. Artemis nurses them through their youth into the fullness of their adulthood. Therefore Artemis being honored at the fullmoon, the height of the month and full maturity of the moon, seems logical and reasonable in honoring Artemis as the nurse of all life and less as a “moon goddess” for which Selene is honored as the mother of the months and the passage of time via the lunar calendar.

So calendrically, with Artemis being honored more commonly on the fullmoon and Hekate at the dark of the moon it would seem that we have a polarity issue going on, except if we consider that Hekate at the dark of the moon is heralding the productive period of Artemis. Anymore I consider Hekate the handmaiden of Artemis, the herald of the goddess. And some of this was inspired by a fragmented vase that I once saw in an article in which Hekate was approaching Zeus with her torches outstretched, and just behind her a deer-drawn chariot of Artemis. This would also explain some of the confusion regarding Artemis and Hekate in places like Sicily and Eleusis in which they appear to share epithets and functions. Just before the temple of Demeter in Eleusis for example there is a great temple to Artemis of the Portal, the daughter of Demeter and Poseidon. One such myth  that could shed some light on this is a version of the kidnapping of Persephone. Artemis had been playing near by and chased after Hades’ chariot as far as she could. This could be what some running goddess images typically associated to Hekate could be refering to in part. Hekate, meanwhile, heard the passing of Persephone and is depicted artistically in escorting the goddess back to Demeter and her company with the gods. Therefore it is reasonable to see Hekate, though a seperate goddess, intimately connected to the movement of Artemis, and though some myths attribute Hekate to teaching Artemis the art of hunting, Hekate herself is largely sedintary, dwelling in her zone in communication with Artemis. As such a kind of handmaiden, Hekate could then be seen as an extension of Artemis’s domain and influence serving very specific functions, especially when it comes to areas (like among the dead) into which Artemis doesn’t venture.

Therefore in the household worship they perform a kind of interrelated dance together, and would not be entirely inappropriate to have images of Artemis near the doorway with that of Hekate as a visible presence of Artemis. Such was not unheard of Rome for example from where there are remenants of images of the Ephesian Artemis that were installed outside the doorway (an interesting contrast really to Hekate’s place inside the doorway).

Some years ago I had an altar set up across from the front door (because really there was no room beside the door to fit it) on which I had images of Artemis (the Ephesian Artemis because this one was then as it is now one of my favorite depictions of the goddess) and another of Hekate. Of course back then in my early 20s being a bit more literally minded when giving libations I didn’t pour them into bowls but rather tipped a cup of wine at the mouths of the statues and when the wine dribbled down to the foot of the statue then it was enough that the statue had “drunk its fill” when the wine reach the foot. So if a person walked in that front door within an hour of the ritual (because I waited at least that long before cleaning up) I imagine it looked rather gruesome nevermind that it was only wine! And while such memories make me smile I would advocatea less gruesome presentation of Artemis and Hekate (as if Hekate didn’t already get enough bad press!) and use a bowl, or my preferred tool…an oil warmer to evaporate the wine.

Incidentally I still have one of the small statues of Artemis that once graced that shrine, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if reminants of wine could still be found in the folds of her clothes despite washings 🙂 The little smile on her lips is like a secretive smile since this was the very first statue of Artemis I bought, and she has really seen it all!