(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.



Pompaia, speculated to possibly have occured on the 16th of Maimakterion will be falling on my birthday this year (November 13th) so that will be an interesting day to say the least having a day of personal festivity and birthday cake being the same day of a festival in honor of Zeus and Hermes which is suspected of acting as a festival to turn away adverise forces of nature. I guess what you considered to be an adverise or beneficial force of nature would depend largely on where you live. I know growing up in south-central Alaska, though snow in November wasn’t exactly celebrated, it was a bit worrisome to not have snow by November. This is because our local watershed was sustained almost entirely by winter meltoff. A mild winter always meant drought, but with the subzero temperatures not having the protection of snow also meant greater permafrost damage and therefore a delay for any kind of spring planting. There were a few occassions in my memory where the ground was so hard because of this that we literally could not break up the frozen earth until into June. Therefore in such a climate a prayer for a great blanket of snow would be considered good, whereas freezing rain and cold dry days are considered in the long term adverse.

Now to turn the lens in the other direction, living in the south has its own different environment altogether. Alot of people do fall planting, there are tender plants growing in the winter, and we do not lack of rain during the year so don’t have to worry about being drought-ridden because of a lack of snow, nor do the temperatures get so severe here because of the alignment of the earth to the sun. That said, because of how hot the summer was there is alot of speculation that the winter is going to be particularly brutal. This means abnormally cold weather and snow fall for which this region is not accustomed. Therefore during the Pompaia I would be more likely in this region to ask that the winter not be brutal with heavy snows and cold winds for which the local population is not acclimated, but rather the cold rains and nippy days that it is typical of a winter here from what I understand.

We don’t realize just how much devistation abnormal winter weather can cause until we have seen it. I remember in the spring of 2010 when there were the blizzards in the south. And seeing on the news how the winter crops of Florida (fruits, citruses etc) were widely¬†endangered by the atypical weather. So I can but pray that the winter weather remains in its appropriate regional balances with excesses or declinations that could adversley harm the local ecologies and peoples.

I will have to give some thought on how how I will celebrate it. I don’t have a sheep skin or cadaceus to parade around my home. Nor would I be likely to sacrifice a bull in honor of Zeus and Hermes lol. But with this in mind I will see if I can get a bull horn (I have an instrument made of cow horns that I can play if I feel inspired to do so) and set it on the altar, perhaps filled with vegetables something like a thanksgiving cornucopia. If I can’t find a literal horn I may have to make do with a symbolical one made of wicker or ceramic as the sell during the thanksigivng holiday. More on this later as I think it out.

Autumn Equinox 2011 part 1: Descent of Persephone

I celebrated the “kidnapping”/marriage of Persephone as the first part of my Autumn Equinox ritual (part 2 to be carried out this afternoon with a ritual for the transference between Apollon and Dionysos/Departure of Apollon for Hyperborea). This is one of my favorite rituals of the year just because of the feeling of tranquility that comes with it, there is something appropriately subdued and bittersweet with the ritual as we acknowledge that Persephone has departed from the company of the gods to dwell at the side of her husband. That it is bittersweet is not abnormal, that is the sort of feeling that accompanies any sense of marriage if you think of it…the girl, now a wife, departs from the home of her father and mother to make a home elsewhere of her own. Back in the day, before the advent of internet, this provided the potential that the parents would not see their daughter again, especially if they moved far away. this is almost the opposite of the high festivity with the marriage of Zeus and Hera. It is still a large celebration but the spirit of it is different with the inconsoluable mother, the virgin bride swept away from her home not entirely willing (*cough* arranged marriage *cough*) and the accompanying transformation in life as we see the change of the seasons.

This ritual is something of a big affair in my home. Firstly because there are alot of gods that I pray to in the context of the ritual so that means alot of hymns. Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Zeus, Persephone, Dionysos, Hermes, Poseidon, Artemis and Apollon, Helios, Hekate, and Cthonic Hermes. This is far more than what is typical in most of my rituals. I also broke out my recorder for this ritual as I did for Karneia and played on it, all low sweet notes rather than the higher cheerful ones in memory of Demeter’s pain. All during this ritual I felt a sense of settled within, or a sense of the self seated firmly at the core of my heart. It is difficult to explain in any other words…but this is what contributed to the calming effect of the ritual…just the internalization involved…a strong connection to the true self within. It is just a powerful experience.