In honor of Leto, the mother

As one who loves Apollon, Leto has an important place my in home. I am not sure how much worship she gets in modern Hellenismos. It is clear that she had a significant following historically. It is pretty clear though that her worship was inseperable from that of Apollon and Artemis as she is typically depicted in the company of her children, and in one case from Lydia she was represented too with the nymph Ortygia. Her accompanying role to her children in much of Hellas is contrasted by Lycia where her cult may have had a stronger position than in many other places, as her name seems to have translated into meaning “woman”, infering that Leto may have been considered a goddess of prominence. However, the alternate translation of her name (“Unobserved”)  is also revealing and not unassociated with her role in Lycia and other parts of Ionia as a goddess associated strongly with the underworld. This name suggests a hidden nature of the titanide. As the sister of Asteria, it is quite possible that there may have been some contrast between the bright Asteria, and her darker hidden sister Leto, both of whom were desired by Zeus..one who married him and the other who fled into the sea to escape him and became the island Delos. Such darkness may very well aligned Leto both the underworld and to the dark envelope of night from which light is born. It seems as a matter of coincidence that Leto was said to come from Hyperborea, a land beyond the furthest north (which is in itself connected to long seasons of darkness).

In such respects we can, for the purpose of reconstructing her worship, can probably infer some commonalities between Leto and Persephone, or her neice Hekate. Indeed if we consider for a moment the role that Zeus takes as Chthonic god as her position as one of his earlier “wives” (for which the suggestion on theoi.com that her name Unobservable or To Move Unseen, we may regard this to refer to modesty that is associated with the lives of married women), there may be some early parallel to Hades and Persephone. In the Theogony Leto is specifically addressed as a goddess who is always mild and kind to the deathless gods, which implies to me that she is of such character as one would expect of a hidden underworld goddess…one who is kindly by nature as would be a goddess who receives the dead. Of course that she is poetically often described as being present on Olympos, particularly in the poem of Hesiod in the Homeric Hymn to Apollon, this only seems to imply a retention of her power and esteemed position, as she is the one who receives the bow of her son and unstrings it. She is the receiver and bearer of light. In this fashion I imagine Leto as a beautiful woman, garbed in black or gray, with a sympathetic and kind face. An obscure goddess illuminated only by the presence of her children in whose company she delights. For she never appears where they are not. In the Iliad she is inseperable for the side of Artemis.

Actually when it comes to the Iliad I think we can learn something from the manner in which the gods are paired in the war of the gods that reveal something. Some gods we see nothing if (such as Demeter and Hestia…Hestia perhaps because she never leaves the hearth of Olympos, and Demeter perhaps because she is unaffiliated in such concerns). The lot of gods in whom they are combating is certain quite purposeful. Apollon and Poseidon (whom Homer reminds us worked cooperatively before in Ilium) and have associations with the traversing of the sea and harbors are matched against each other in the quarell. Athena takes part against Ares, both gods who are esteemed in the art of war. Hera and Artemis are set against each other in which we have the queen of gods and men being challenged by a goddess who is often called queen in her own right and is ascribed as the daughter of Hera by the Thracians. Hephaistos’ fire is countered by the streams of Xanthus. And Leto is set against Hermes, a god whose functions lay in the traversing between the world of the living, that abode of the gods, and the underworld. So for me this pairing is rather significant, even as it is amusing by the fashion in which Hermes yeilds the contest to Leto refusing to raise hand against her.

I would suggest even that the strange scepter which she is often depicted as bearing resembles both a young plant shooting up, and with its spirals, a labyrinth type pattern of a kind, as a goddess who issues forth the light which returns to us every spring and a goddess of the hidden way. Certainly she must be associated with some kind of road or passage as she herself was made the journey from place to place (in the company of Athena apparently) until she arrived on Delos. This almost chthonic vision of Leto is rather complimentary in fact to versions of myth which assign Artemis’ parentage to Demeter (as another chthonic goddess) and Poseidon. There seems to be a certain assigning of the earth and the new upwelling of streams in the Lycian account of the birth of Apollon and Artemis (as revealed by Quintus Smyrnaeus in his The Fall of Troy) that speaks of the Xanthus appearing when Leto, in her labor pains, tore up the earth of the plains with her hands.

I also find it curious that in the relating of the gods (with the exception of Athena and Zeus) fled into Egypt from Typhon, that Leto become a shrew-mouse. Interesting the mouse and the mongoose snake (the mouse representing night and the snake representing day) were both directly associated with the Egyptian Wadjet who was revered as a goddess of childbirth, protector of children, a goddess associated with justice, and eventually considered the protector of kings. She is also a nurturing goddess as the one who helped Isis nurse Horus, and was associated with plant growth–specifically the papyrus. For a general overview on Wadjet you may wish to read further here. If we consider that there was some alignment in Hellenic thought between Leto and Wadjet we are seeing a goddess associated with divine rulership, law, death, and growth…all of which is compatable with my vision of Leto, and my theories on the relationship between Leto and Themis who bore such similar sons, and the latter who nursed the son of Leto on ambrosia. The early association between Wadjet and Isis just makes it all the more convenient too.

Therefore if we thought the mouse was an appropriate symbol for Apollon as Apollon Smintheus, we must consider the shrew mouse (the most common species of mouse in Alaska–much to my amusement) to be a sacred symbol of Leto. Likewise this draws some interesting comparisons when we consider that the heavenly axis of her father Koios was the eye of a stellar dragon, which paralleled the dragon of Delphi, the serpent of the oracle last in holding of Phoebe prior to Apollon, and the associations with the serpentine Wadjet, we see a goddess associated with two animals that burrow within the earth, and the latter of which is a creature associated with immortality, it presents us with an interesting chthonic deity.

Yet among the  birds Leto is strongly associated with the stork, as we understand from Aristophanes’ Birds. It is a mute bird, clattering their beaks for communication rather than any kind of song. The clattering sound is rather eerie from what I have heard in their nesting grounds when I visisted Morocco, like some primitive primal noise that rises on the air and makes the hairs on your arm raise ever slightly. And like the swans associated with Apollon, the stork is also attached to its mate (and to its nest for that matter). To back up whatever chthonic nature Leto has, the stork has been associated with bearing wealth (which reminds us of Plutus) by some Germanic peoples, and with the underworld by Estonians, and in Baltic mythology has been associated with killing insects and reptiles. Of course sacred birds make an interesting mix as the swan is also associated with Ares and Zeus, so too is the stork also associated with Hera. Overall the stork is representative typically of nurturing parenting that tends to be common of earthly goddesses.

So for a shrine to Leto here is what I recommend. A representation of the mouse and the serpent, perhaps something related to the stork (I have a stork’s feather myself), an image draped in darkish fabric to represent that which is hidden.  I would even add a pair of lights to her shrine to represent the twin lights that she gave birth to for the world. Any imagery related to infants and mothers would also be appropriate. Leto is by far the earthly goddess of mothers, she who receives and gives forth life. Her worship is, and shall ever remain, and important part of my oikos, and it would please me know others are also giving her active worship!

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Of fish, dolphins and frogs

Once again please bear with me since I am still doing this via phone.

Since I have been speaking recently of liminal animals, particularly that of goats, dogs, and wolves in recent posts, I thought I might take a moment to address another that is perhaps often overlooked…and that is the aquatic animals and their relationship to various gods. Poseidon as the god of the sea (and thus also the space in between the extremes) is most notable for being associated with such creatures in everything from fish and dolphins to mythological creatures such as seamonsters and hippocampi (seahorses in the most literal sense). These creatures are as such associated with the boundary between the world of men, and the unknown world as expressed by the unfathomable depths to which men did not (and still to some degree do not) have access. As such we see also dolphins carrying Proserpina in Italian art depicting her return, and we have images of Aphrodite riding upon a dolphin as she emerges in her birth from the sea. And we have Apollon who takes the form of a dolphin as a guide and is honored as Delphinus in respect to his dolphin form that he takes. This similar idea can also be expressed by the fish oracle of Apollon at Patara, Lycia. The presence of the dolphin in the cult of Apollon is fairly well known, and it is unsurprising that a god connected as he is with ports/harbors, mariners etc would not have strong aquatic associations in the means of sacred animals and even oracular forms if the sea is the liminal point between between worlds and Apollon is a god which traverses them both easily and illuminates the unknown. And then we have goddesses we take finned forms themselves such as Aphrodite Syria, and Artemis Eurynome of Arkadia.

Though Pausanias expresses some doubt as to how Artemis Eurynome can actually be Artemis, he does remark that the people of the area are quite firm in their belief that this is Artemis, and thus we can see that the name Eurynome is an epithet of her in this capacity which assigns attributes of the sea goddess specifically to this inland cult of Artemis where two important streams met. Euyrnome is by and large associated with the parallel functions of Artemis at the aquatic level over “pastures” as well as functions as a kind of divine nurse wherein Eurynome literally receives and nurses the infant Hephaistos after he was flung from Olympos. This daughter of Okeanos may compare in some fashion with the version of myths in which Artemis is attributed to parentage of Demeter and Poseidon…which though most strongly attested at Eleusis, is also evident symbolically by the close association with the horse that the goddess enjoys through the Pelponnese and her close association with particular rivers and springs in myth can reflect this alternative parenthood that clearly serves a very strong symbolic purpose. Thus it is of little surprise that she is thus honored at the meeting place of the Lymax (After-Birth…the source of which is the place where the infant Zeus was delivered and Rhea was bathed after his birth) where it falls into the Neda. Though Artemis is considered mythically a daughter of Zeus, we often see Artemis and Apollon, and Athena too in some myths, attributed to pre-Olympian manifestations…thus Apollon as a father of the Korybantes who cared for the infant Zeus it is not difficult imagine Artemis, the divine nurse, associated with the river related to the birth of Zeus. Especially as the Okeanid Neda was specifically one of the nymphs who cared for Zeus, which likely made this spot where the worship of Artemis Eurynome carried related to this connection of receiving and “nursing” the god. Kallimachus specifies how Neda secreted the infant Zeus away  to place him in the care of the Melian nymphs and the Kuretes that would raise him. Overall this place is then associated with two things…the delivering of Zeus after his birth and the purification of the mother by bathing.

Lewis Farnell in his The Cults of the Greek States talks briefly of the cult of Artemis under the Lacodaemons which honored Artemis as the nurse of the hyacinth, for which we may also see a parallel worship with the festival celebrated by the nurses of boys in secrecy in the same land every year…which again connects with a liquid, fluid nature of the goddess which nurtures even as she is the goddess of the wooded pasturelands. Likewise as a goddess of mariners she bringer of all to haven, or port (something which is specifically attributed to Apollon as god of ports) even as she may hunt her prey through her woods…she brings all to their destination. Therefore there is likely some very important association with the destination of these two meeting of springs that is being here honored which is connecting with the fluid nursing character of Artemis. And yet a nodd to her woodland aspect as cypresses planted all about the temple to Artemis Eurynome, the mermaid formed Artemis wrapped in golden chains. Such similar associations between the woodland and the aquatic realm is the device of the net which is used to secure both prey hunted on land, and fish hunted from the depths of the sea for which have other associations of Artemis with epithets of Dictynna and Britomartis.

And that finally brings us to the frogs. Aristophanes has a chorus of frogs, caretakers of the reeds, that praise in their song the following liminal gods: Artemis, Pan, Apollon and Dionysos from where they dwell in the underworld (perhaps another association of frogs inhabiting lower levels of water that may be associated with the underworld). These are the same animals which are renowned in myth in which Leto, in her travel through Lycia, transformed shepherds (or in some version villagers man, woman and child all) into frogs for rejecting her attempts to bathe her children there in their waters. This bathng of Artemis and Apollon by this myth is of particular importance, and we see it too in that Xanthus, in whose water Apollon is bathed is held in high esteem and all of Patara is honored. As Leto also has strong associations with the underworld in Lycia and Asia minor it carries a strong portal symbolism too between life and death, which brings to mind the Egyptian frog goddess Heqet who presided over births. Likewise the symbolism of the bathing carries further in which we see both Artemis and Athena exacting punishment for being spied upon in their baths, for in which case for Artemis is one of her most commonly known myths that it resulted in the death of Actaeon whereas for Athena the blinded violator was given the gift of prophecy. Therefore we see the watery realm symbolism further associated with this idea of foresight (for which we can understand Poseidon’s oracles as well), purification (on the part of the goddesses in myth), and transformation as typically the water is what is used as the vehicle of delivering the punishment. Frogs are very important to this transformative nature of water because it is in the water that this transformation occurs that allows them to go from living solely beneath the water to be able to emerge from it. This naturally brings to mind Plato’s Phaedo I believe it was in which our heavens are described as being like the sea of a higher world (my paraphrase here)…and therefore this transedence can also imply emerging into a higher state too. Which may explain in part the importance of the frog symbolism that it was carved on the doors of Delphi according to Plutarch.

Thus whether it is possessing a fish’s tail, or taking the form of a marine creature, as symbolically related to specific aquatic animals, it delivers a wealth of meaning potential within it.

the shrine of Apollon and Artemis

Largely because of space issues (I just haven’t had that many shelves and available table tops) Apollon and Artemis have been sharing shrine space in one united shrine. On many occassions it works out quite well because I can make prayers and libations to both together, and it feels tied togethr with the representation of Leto there too. It just seems so very *right* sometimes and quite convenient for when I wish to pray to the family so to speak.

But over time it has been gradually trickling into my brain that I pray to, and give libations to, Apollon alot more than Artemis, and it just seems to be awkward…like maybe I am ignoring Artemis who is right there beside him. I know in reality it is a non-issue. I seriously doubt the gods care even the tiniest bit. But it just seems to me that if I am going to spend more time addressing them seperaely than I am praying to them together, perhaps it would be a good idea then to move Artemis to the shelf just below Apollon’s (and adjust the placement of other statues accordingly). Therefore it would possible to pray to them together as part of a single shrine, and yet being on two seperate shelves they will be seperate shrines too.

Seperating the shrine would be little work. Leto would naturally go on Artemis’ shrine largely because Leto is often depicted as being a companion to her daughter Artemis more commonly than she is shown with Apollon. Everything else is pretty much already divided out on their perspective sides so it would just be a matter of moving Artemis’ side downward. This will in no means reduce the worship to Artemis, but will rather just give her own seperate area of worship as she had before.

on honoring mothers and lovers

This was a post that I really had a hard time decided what to call it to best convey what I wanted to talk about, and that is namely the relevancy of honoring the mothers and lovers (not necessarily romantic lovers in the case of some gods but those who loved the god in question and was deified for it) to the worship of that god one particularly *follows*. As one who follows Apollon I have invested a great deal of personal time into learning more, about and intigrating into my worship practices, such figures related to Apollon. I may not extend the same level of importance to all of Apollon’s loves (and I really don’t have the energy because if we look at myths there were *alot* and usually this varied from location to location where there was something legendary individual who was loved by the god) but there are key figures that pop out to me as being of high importance, perhaps because I tend to personally lean more towards the Doric-Spartan culture and their colonies. Therefore it is quite reasonable that I honor Kyrene and Hyacinthus who are two notable figures, the former of which gave her name to an important colony in Kyrene, Libya. And Kyrene recognized its relationship to Sparta (via their colonization at Thera) by annual participation in the Hyacinthia. Typically though I only specifically honor Hyacinthos and Kyrene in an annual sense, though I have images about my house and speak fondly to them at random occassions. This means that I hold Hyacinthia every year at the end of spring as summers dawns, and every August during the Karneia I pay respect additionally to Kyrene who is likewise depicted ram-horned like her spouse Apollon Karneios.

These two mythical beings are particularly relevant to me (among others such as Daphne etc) because of my own position as a follower of Apollon. They represent the work of eros between the soul and the god which is a lovely guide and model for the follower of said deity. This is not uncommon, after all many followers of Aphrodite, for instance, pay particular reverence to Adonis. But it seems to be more stressed among some gods (particularly Aphrodite), and less stressed among others. However, because they represent the union and loving relationship between the mortal soul and the divine they can have potential positive influence upon us, and therefore securing their relevance. Especially for those of us who do not come from any specific hellenic kin-group to which we could attach cultural importance. I do believe that there is a small difference between honoring Hyakinthos as a cultural hero, and honoring Hyakinthos as a personal hero so to speak. On one hand it isabout one’s heritage and the heros of one’s culture and the bound between the culture and a god important to your culture (and therefore all participated in the Hyakinthia anciently in a cultural sense regardless of their personal feeling of attraction towards Apollon. However as individual, especially one not of the culture, we can find relevance and importance in the loves of our gods on a personal level that is beneficial while different than original cultural celebration. This goes the same for nearly every localized relaitonship between a hero/heroine/nymph/prince/princess and a god which similarly celebrated such relationships between their communities and their gods. Therefore anyone who follows a particularly god is bound to find a number of such figures that can enrich their worship and their lives in following said god or goddess.

Now when it comes to the mothers, I really think that she be given, but it does surprise me how little there is out there celebrating the mothers of the gods we follow. I am speaking specifically of the mothers here because typically it seems that honor is extended to the fathers (which is most of the time Zeus, and in the case of the Olympians it is Zeus with the exception of his siblings). These are the orignating source of the gods we adore, and the womb that issued them. Though the exception does seem to be that many who particular love Dionysos do place an importance on Semele. But this should not be disregarded at all among the Olympians either. Especially considering that half of said Olympians have the great mother Rhea as their mother, and how much prodding does one need to give honor and worship to Rhea!? But nearly each Olympian also has a mother (with the exception of Athena whose mother, Metis, was swallowed by Zeus after conception in the myth of Athena’s birth, but even Metis can so be honored). Therefore followers of Hermes’ can give tribute and respect to Maia, those of Artemis and Apollo to Leto,  those of Aphrodite to Dione, Ares and Hephaistos to Hera (again not a difficult one lol).

The way that I honor Leto is by placing her as part of my main shrine to Apollon and Artemis. I have thought many times of giving her her own shrine but I found more often than not that I was including addresses to her in my regular prayers at their shrine, and so I moved her to their shrine. Since there are no traditional statues of Leto to be had, I selected a figure to represent Leto, named it as Leto and set it with a stork’s feather (the stork being the bird representative of her according to Aristophanes). She is also a major part of a major rituals to Apollon. In the Theoxenia at Delphi which celebrated the return of Apollon from Hyperborea she is represented as pregnant and is again honored at the birth of Apollon during the Thargelia. And I give her honor during the time that Apollon is in Hyperborea, the homeland of Leto.

In closing, we can find something valuable to add to our regular worship practices of the god/dess that we follow when we include the loves and mothers of the god/dess. It also developes our own understand of our relationship that we enjoy. It altogether enriches our spiritual lives in my way of thinking.

Frogs

I recently read a couple of blogs regarding the Egyptian frog goddess Heqet, and I found it stirring interest ideas and memories to my mind. I recall not too long ago I had associated her largely with Hekate due largely to a providence over birth, and also a similarity in names phonetically. But when I read of Heqet this time, I found myself thinking of another goddess entirely, and one which rang strongly to me as a goddess hailed as a divine mother, and who in some parts of the Hellenized world (most specifically as I have read in Anatolia) was considered a cthonic goddess. Namely Leto, the very goddess who was said to have turned a Lycian village (or shepherds depending on what version you are reading) into a mass of frogs for denying her the water that they so loved. Frogs the singers between the world who I actually devoted some brief time to in my book on Apollon because they came up so many times, not only associated with his mother in the above mentioned myth, but also described by Plutarch as adorning the entrance doors of the temple at Delphi, and in Aristophanes Frogs connected intimately with the music of Apollon. Noting that both Artemis and Apollon are portal deities, and the connections that they have with death and birth, and their own mother hailed as a goddess of motherhood and worshipped at the same time by others as a chthonic deity, it is not too difficult to imagine a relationship between Heqet and Leto symbolically as symbols of motherhood, transformation, music, movement, and the unknown.

It is a nice coincidence in this that I have always had a fondness for frogs which is partially what rivited my attention so strongly in the last year when I was researching and again when I came across the posts on Heqet. Frogs in so many ways represent life to me. Even as a child I was raising tadpoles, keeping frogs in aquariums, and admired the small green ceramic frogs that my grandmother gave me that she had made (which have long since sadly disappeared). Frogs are the very essence of the cosmic harmony, the transformations from one form to the next, and the deep well of the unknown. If Artemis and Apollon are lightbearers, and Apollon is illuminating the darkness of the unknown, it is not difficult to image his mother submerged deep within welcoming her children. So whereas I am not Khemetic and don’t do Hellenic-Egyptian syncreticism, coming across these things are wonderful in that they get me thinking more about my own worship.