I have just realized that the only thing I seem to have posted about Apollon’s return is dated 2010, and so much has changed since then. Most of which I had revised in the course of writing my book on the worship of Apollon. It is funny how book writing gets you so much deeper into research than otherwise…that and I had a lot more time on my hands since I was unemployed at the time. As it is, I have been so busy with other things that I never even mentioned the festival Polytheus this year, I did observe it in a more simple manner than usual since I have been packing and preparing to move…but celebrate it I did. For those who are not aware, Polytheus is the festival during the month Anthesterion (usually in the first part of February but was this year at the tale end of January) which is, by the Boeotian calendar, the birth of Apollon… a period recognized at Delphi during their month Bysios and in consequently also in the Peloponnese from what I can tell, rather than the Ionian Thargelion. Thus Apollon was believed to have be born in this earlier date on the mainland and traveled to Delphi, which leads me to believe that Polytheus (the many oracles) has nothing to do with the return of Apollon from Hyperborea…but more to do with the arrival of Apollon at Delphi and for which the day was held sacred. Therefore the Polytheus I celebrate with clamorous celebration much in the character of how I celebrate the Thargelia. thus we may have a birth and “arrival” of Apollon in a sense but he is not yet *here*. I would suggest it can be as an ancitipation of the return of the god as the oracle waters flow as spring is returning. It seems like an appropriate time to gather small flowers that bloom in the early part of spring and set them on his altar. The crocus flower (the flower from the saffron), according to one source, was a favored flower for the altar of Apollon in the winter…one that could have been potentially blooming at this point of time. However, since most of us don’t have access to crocus flowers, it is appropriate, I think to substitute them with purple-colored flowers in general.
This followed through by the celebration of the Stepteria which follows shortly afterwards in which the death of Python is celebrated (recall that Apollon was only a few days old in the myth). This festival is named after the crowning of the laurel…which really is the finale of the ritual. The Stepteria is about the slaying of the Python, the exile of the god, his supplication (which includes the city from which the myth of Admetus comes that draws an interesting parallel between the exile of the god for the death of the Python and the slavery of the god for slaying the Cyclopes) to towns on his way to the sacred laurel tree in the Tempe Valley. This trip would have taken a number of days with all the stops that were made. Having arrived boughs were cut for crowns and boughs gathered to bring back to Delphi. All of this done by a boy who represented Apollon, though he is believed to have been accompanied by an entourage of followers. The actually slaying of the serpent was carried out in one of two ways..both attested to (so it is possible that both may have been done). One was a combat between the boy and another man with swords (I will refer you now to the designation of Apollon as the god of the golden sword), the other man representing Python who is defeated. The other was that a snake was set in a tent (for lack of a better word) and set on fire. Whereas for a ritual involving many people I can see a drawn out dramatic swords fight, the chances of anyone burning a snake alive are slim….which makes effigies of a serpent much more likely for destruction.
Having crowned himself with laurel, representing the purification of the god, the boy makes his way back, stopping again at all these cities rendering the blessings of the god to those who gave him hospitality. After these many days the boy arrives amid a fanfaire of singing and celebration honoring his return in the festival Herois. I believe that his festival may have occurred within the following month Theoxenia and was the pre- festival for the Theoxenia festival. It is difficult to celebrate the Herois sufficiently without the mystic journey of the boy actually happening, but the character of the ritual seems to be very much like the Theban Daphnephoria so it is possible to celebrate the essential elements of the Daphnephoria to keep with the spirit of what is happening and that is the procession of the god amid laurels…the Daphnephoria also includes a rather cool “scepter” which has two balls (a larger on at the top to represent the sun from which smaller balls (the stars) hang, and half way down a smaller ball representing the moon, which is entwined with laurel and white flowers at the top, purple flowers at the middle, and the bottom in a sheith of crocus-colored material.
This, or a simple libation can be offered to Apollon a few days before the Theoxenia and then celebrate the Theoxenia (the seventh of Elaphebolion which is coming up at the end of this month) with all props and honors. The Theoxenia marking the festivity of the gods who have gathered to Apollon’s banquet…with special significance given to Dionysos (as would merit a festival in which Apollon and Dionysos are exchanging power not unlike references to the autumn festival would have us believe).
Coincidentally this would also coincide with the return of Apollon to Delos. In the cult of Apollon on Delos there is was a long standing tradition that the oracle was active from spring equinox to autumn equinox at Delos, and then for the other part of the year at Lycia. This is on thebasis of the myth which differs from the Delphic myth in which Leto, with her infants went to Lycia and there they remained until the Old Man of Lycia (so honored by the Delian Maidens) returned Apollon to Delos. This same Old Man according to myth accompanied Apollon eventually to Delphi. So therefore I add a component of honor to the Old Man of Lycia and also engage in singing and stamping the earth with my feet in honor of Apollon’s springtime return in the manner which is described of the Delian Maidens.
I am, of course, truly looking forward to carrying out this celebration in Florida where I hope to be able to stand on the beach and see the reflection of the sun upon it as I stamp my feet for the glory of the returning god Apollon.