A blessed Noumenia

I am thinking that Noumenia is really turning out to be my favorite day of the month, generally speaking. Not only does it give me a perfect reason to honor Apollon, but given its celebratory nature, it also gives me a reason to really cook and enjoy myself in the process. Not to mention provide little treats that we don’t often enjoy. One such treat is ham. Today we cooked a ham, and enjoyed many wonderful treats as Noumenia coincided with the holiday celebrated by the larger portion of my family…Christmas. So they enjoyed feasting for their holiday and I really got a taste of how I would love to pass every Noumenia…with a ham in the oven (for I was recently told that pork was a favored offering for Apollon Noumenios), some sweet treats for little fingers, and wonderful drinks. It all seems quite appropriate for ushering in the new month after all the cleaning and refreshing from the old month.

Pork for this reason also seems quite appropriate, an animal associated with fertility and the underworld (and thus reasonably associated with Persephone), it seems ideal for a festival representing the departure of the old month and the birth of the new….something again quite appropriate in celebrating Apollon who is the god of the boundaries as Apollon Noumenios brings in the new month with the first light. Such seems quite evident with similar autumnal offerings to Apollon that involved sacrifices of pigs to him among few other deities. And thus offerings and feasts of pork at the Noumenia in comparison to his other observed traditional rituals during the month and year, seems rather unique. Considering also the expense now-days of ham, it is unlikely to occur more than once a month. But that seems to make it all the more special for a regular Noumenia dinner.

I think that we, as modern worshipers, need to really make the most of this monthly ritual, and put our all into it. It is not just the passage of time, but is also a renewal and beginning for all of us, with all the blessings of the gods bestowed upon us and our household. We should make each Noumenia a time of great occassion and celebration to praise the gods of the oikos and to honor Apollon Noumenios. I am determined to make it a significant part of my regular religious life held to higher standards that what I have been. It will become a regular occassion of happiness and sharing of blessings in my home, and something that will enrich the life of my daughter and bring her joy.

And so I lift my cup and wish everyone a most happy and joyous Noumenia (rather belatedly though as I have been passing the larger part of the day celebrating rather than typing hehehehe).

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!

where Hestia dwells

I am certain I have probably spoken of this before, but since I wrote of Zeus Ktesios, it has turned my mind towards relevant household worship, and when thinking of household worship Hestia prominantly sticks out in my mind and where we honor her in our households. The modern adaption of the domestic worship of Hestia is rather fascinating since, in our day and age of furnace-heated houses and stoves, people often find themselves as they first begin worshiping the gods with less of an inkling of what to do with Hestia without a fireplace present in their homes. So it is often a debate of where is the best place to honor the goddess when traditionally she was worshipped at the hearth which not only heated the home but also cooked the food before the production of stoves. The hearth was literally the place where nearly all domestic activity took place, and modern technology leaves many of us floundering about helplessly trying to figure out where her appropriate residence in the household now that we no longer have this particular life vein of the home.

This leaves many to try a practical approach, and one I have seen come up quite often among people of the Hellenic and Religio Romana communities in the past, which is to consider well where is the literal flame in the house now. This has prompted people to set a small station for Hestia on or beside their stoves with the idea that the continuous pilot light of the stove is the modern dwelling of Hestia. While I can understand the practicality and reasoning behind this idea, it is just not one that has ever taken root in my own household. As often as I would try to even reserve a space for Hestia in the kitchen, much less near the stove, the actual act of her worship tended to not take place anywhere near the stove or even within the kitchen itself. And there is a reason for this behavior that I have discovered over time. I am just not quite so literal. In own view of Hestia it is not so absolute that it is fire and only fire that makes her presence in the house, but rather it is more stressed in my understanding of Hestia that it is about the center, the heart and core, of the home, which historically used to also be where the hearth was for reasons already stated…it was necessary!

My view may be influenced a great deal about my household experiences as a child in that nearly all of the homes we had there was a fireplace. In fact in one house the living room was pretty nearly divided in half because the fireplace was set directly in the center of the room and acted as a partial wall. There is a long history in my childhood memories of the fire being built up (because lets face Alaska is just *cold* in the winter and it was a comfort on different levels to have a roaring fire, especially on the weekends when everyone was home) and the family gathered together there playing board games, watching movies with popcorn etc. In fact in my family when I was growing up (and something my younger siblings have missed out on) there was an emphasis on the fact that the evenings were considered family time. So the fireplace has a very prominent place in my childhood memories as a fixture in a room that we gathered and one that I have a sentimental attachment to that is strong enough that I would leap at the chance of having a home with a fireplace again. But it is not so muchabout the literal presence of the fire, but rather because that represents to me the center of the home, and the center of family life.

But since I do not live in a home with a fireplace anymore, like so many folks, I also had to determine where I wanted to honor Hestia, and as I said the kitchen didn’t work out to well. It seemed a logical choice for sure. Aside from the pilot light it was the one place in the home where fire and heat was utilized for a purpose as old as mankind’s mastery over the substance…cooking. But as logical as it sounded, it just didn’t work out that way, because for all the bustling about the kitchen, cooking, preparing foods etc, it wasn’t the center of the house (and not so much in the literal sense but in the sense that it wasn’t the place where the family spent any time together for any length of time). Now I do understand for other this may be different, and that their familial relationships may be very centered around the kitchen, especially if that is also where the family partakes of their meals, and therefore the idea of the family center may very well be rooted in the kitchen. But that was less the case for me. Not that there wasn’t alot of family bonding that took place in kitchens, especially on the holidays where several women in the family would be crammed into one small kitchen trying to cook twenty different things while the gabbed.

And when it came right down to it, the center of my household turned out to be the living room, regardless of whether it had a fireplace in it or not. It was, and continues to be, the one place where the family spends the most time. This is so much true that when I tried to move my computer into my bedroom I ended up moving it right back out into the living room because spending time writing and working on my computer in my bedroom felt so isolated from the rest of the family. It is also why most of my statues of the gods are in the living room (though I have to keep my domestic altar in my bedroom at this time while my father is staying with me because he had a fit when I tried to have it in the living room). The living room is the center of life in the house. And therefore that is where Hestia dwells, irregardless of it being hearthless and irregardless of where the pilot light is. There really was no use trying to force the issue into something “logical” and “practical”. And in the living room is where I keep an oil lattern for Hestia. It will be a happy day when I get back the glass lamp cover that I had made especially for this (and I would be happy to make one for anyone who wants one for a modest fee) because this lamp, etched with an image of Hestia, issues the beauty of the goddess in the heart of the house. I can’t keep the lamp lit 24/7, and especially when I am not home to supervise it, but when I am home the lamp is lit welcoming to all family and guests. And there she dwells with Zeus who dwells at the center of all households too.

Hail Hestia, may you bring the generous spirit to our homes and hearts, and that the great hearth at the center of all things burns brightly to warm us and bring happiness and prosperity.

ktesios jar

The jar of Zeus Ktesios, the kethiskos, is perhaps one of the more recognizable items of Hellenic domestic worship, and rightly so! Though food storage has improved dramatically over even the last few decades, it is still even as it always was, and important issue. In ancient times, and not so ancient times before modern technology stepped in, the ability to safely preserve food through seasons of leanness was important. This is particular true of things like dried fruits, oils and grains. Meat preservation is of course done, especially with fish, but it seems that the more reliable staples of the diet that would have been the most depended on would be the fruits and grains. In american history, the pasttime of having that great apple pie during the winter holidays is in part due to the habit of drying apples for the winter of which I am certain are more palatable to be eaten when baked into a pastery of some kind! But grain is the big one to provide the historically most important staple that everyone, even the poorest person could enjoy, ….bread. Unfortunately storing dried fruits and grains wasn’t quite so easy for our ancestors since any stockpile of such foods attracted vermin. This of course gave rise to possessing animals in the household for terminating such pests…such as cats and members of the weasel family (the latter was a surprise to me but I had always been curious of the depiction of the lady with the weasel by Di Vinci. And while modern technology has been a boon to the preservation of food, it is not flawless. So in one sense honoring Zeus Ktesios as the god who preserves the bounty of the household pantry is not so far removed as we would like to think. Our homes can still be invaded by pests that can chew right through bags and boxes…and lets face it…you can’t fit *everything* into the fridge…I should know.. I tried it 😉

But having addressed food storage, the kethiskos represents a less literal preservation of bounty, where the foodstuffs represents the wealth of the household, the health, and the good things in general coming into. Zeus Ktesios is preserving all the blessings that he gives to us, and the kethiskos acts both as a representation of his gifts, and as offerings to the god as well. As such it is an important fixture in the Hellenic domestic religion, and can take many forms. While traditionall it was a vessel, that from all descriptions sounds a bit like a small bucket, imprinted with a serpent, modern worshipers have created them from earthernware jars painted with snakes,  and glass airtight jars painted or with a serpent charm hung from the rim. And these are typically filled with richness of foods that the earth provides: grains, seeds, oil, and honey usually, but may include other ingredients in addition.

There is also a great variation in just how often this jar is changed out. It seems more often that people do this around the Noumenia as a monthly ritual. For myself, I do it every thursday which I have designated as the weekly Zeus’s day. This not only cuts down on the stink but makes a nice weekly ritual in honor of Zeus who dwells within and safeguards the wellbeing of the house. So really it seems to boil down to personal preference. The kethiskos can be kept in a pantry (if you have one). Since I do not have a pantry, I just keep it in the kitchen where it actually looks charming and a bit decorative. And I do recommend a good lid to prevent accidents!