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 winter solstice

So the winter solstice is tonight (according to my calendar anyway), and I am preparing to celebrate it. I remember celebrating it back home and getting up early in the morning to witness the rising of the new sun. Which is a lovely way to begin, especially wrapped in a warm blanket and a hot cup of coffee in hand. So I may very well do that in the morning once again. It seems like too lovely of a thing to not continue doing.

While I observe the winter solstice, I will admit I don’t put alot of planning into it. Not like I do for the Poseideia or the Dionysia. I still place importance on it, but perhaps not quite as much as others do. Nor do I use the three day ritual that was invented for the occassion. But nor am I of the crowd that feels that celebrating on this day is an entirely modern innovation. I do agree that it is not a ritual that is attested to historically, and as of yet no one has found reference to a worship being conducted. But does this mean I think that nothing was done? No not at all. I look to the fact alone that the Hellenic calendar years began (according to a great article I read some time ago regarding ancient Greek calendar) either on the summer solstice like at Athens, at the spring equinox, at the autumn equinox such as at Delos, or at the winter solstice which I believe was celebrated in Rhodes (if I am remembering correctly) and possibly also at Sparta which either recognized the new year at the autumn equinox or the winter solstice. The point is that these four events are part of a calendric system that places importance on these particular solar occassions, and while we don’t have major solar festivals handed down to us regarding these events, nor do we seem to have a complete list and explanation of every ritual, minor or major, that was part of ancient life. Therefore it is quite possible that an observance was part of ancient life for the occassion, but whether it was treated of any great importance is unknown. It is quite possible that compared to the Rural Dionysia and the Poseideia, such an event was something of a minor annual ritual welcoming back the sun that may be have been carried out in the domestic household or local community (village/neighborhood etc) rather than expressed as a large gathering festival, and therefore was considered of little historical note. But these are merely my speculations on the matter. It just seems unlikely to me that a people who aligned their calendars to coincide with such occassions would have entirely ignored them altogether.

If I am remembering correctly and it was Rhodes that celebrated the new year at the winter solstice this would make a kind of sense considering that Rhodes was considered sacred to Helios specifically, and he was most honored. It would seem natural then that the appearance of the sun after the longest night (which admittedly would not be as pronounced as it is in the far north which is perhaps why in Hellas the solstice isn’t as pronounced as it is in the worship of the people of the far northern reaches), the new sun and the progressive lengthening of days would have been taken as important particularly at this island and therefore honored as their new year.

But regardless of historic speculation, most modern worshipers do include the winter solstice into their ritual lineup, whether they use the three day ritual written by Hector Lugo, or something of their own creation. For myself I have some hymns to read for honoring the winter solstice that will include honoring Apollon who is shedding light from afar in Hyperborea, Helios Eleutherios, Poseidon, Selene and a few other gods. And I will let the light burn at the candles on my altar in honor of the sun on this darkest night and hail Helios the Liberator. I have no special feast planned as I did for the Poseideia and I will for the Rural Dionysia. An offering of light and frankincense to the sun in the evening before, and a libation to him again when I watch the sun rise in the morning.

Poseideia part 2: Zeus, Poseidon and the cosmos

As I was walking home from work (and it was lightly drizzling but I was thankful to be spared a two and a half mile hike through a downpour) I spent much of the trip thinking of the relationship between Poseidon and Zeus, and their interplay in the cosmos and its relationship to the solstice. Part of this thinking was inspired by a question raised by my friend Aj, who queried how Poseidon was involved in this matter of precipitation when much of it is attributed directly to Zeus. I had initially responded that this was due to a overlap in their domains, and that both Poseidon and Zeus had something directly associated to the coming of rain and snow…an interaction in this point. So my first thought was breaking it down into the domains of the three brothers (who have been called the three Zeuses, which suggests an intimate tie and blending between these three gods and their domains).

We know that, according to myth, after overthrowing Kronos the brothers drew lots to see how they would divide the kingdom of their father, which logically enveloped all three of these domains as would have Ouranos whom Kronos had neutered usurped his kingdom as sole hier. The fact that Ouranos, the etheric sea, would have primordially held sway in all three levels we can differ from the fact that Ouranos fertilized Gaia, the first capture of water within the earth, and development of groundwater and the springing of life. Because he could directly embrace the earth we can associate this with the waters and skies that closely touch the earth, and he also presides at the etheric heights even above this. Cosmically this could refer the interaction of ether in three states which includes its development within the solid and liquid states. The liquid state being flexible, transforming, communicative, and intermediary. The solid state being live-giving, solid, transformed by being acted upon, and form as the lowest common state. And the ether being the highest state, transmutable, expansive/big. And this intersects down within the three other levels as ether is within all things. And this is the kingdom of Kronos that the brothers divided among themselves.

Poseidon, as keeper of the intermediary domain and the liquid nature is the connection point of communication between the earthly domain of Hades and the etheric domain of Zeus. For our world this domain includes the liquid-vapor sky, and the seas which are not too distinct from each other. This line seems to blur visually when we look at a sea-line in which the sea appears to disappear into the sky and the often almost perfect reflection, especially in the case of the Mediterannean sea. Ancient philosophy speaking on hunting (which philosopher escapes me at the moment) continues this thought by addressing a commonality between fishing and hunting birds, and specifically refers to birds as creatures which swim through the sky. Likewise a speech of Socrates in one of the dialogues of Plato, I think perhaps Phaedo in which he is addressing the immortality of the soul, speaks of how our skies are like the sea of the blessed isles, and our seas are the skies of lower levels (I am paraphrazing here). This appears to be backed up with later Roman imagery which depicted Persephone rising to rejoin the gods in spring riding on the back of a dolphin, and an ancient poem by Aratos, called  The Phainomena, describes the constellation of delphus (the dolphin) as one which rises with the spring, swimming from the unknown into the heavens again. Thereby we see also the dolphin associated with transference and the process of transformation, which is quite appropriate in the winter season with is the transition between autumn and spring, and an important one in the fertilization of life which I spoke quite a bit in my previous post. And then seems likely that this season would begin with a month named after the god of the intermediary realm, and the movement of gestation which will bring about new birth. It is from these fertile water raises the new sun, and Dionysos is celebrated all the winter long with numerous festivals which celebrate fertility and life.

But as the ether resides in all, and is particular a part of the liquid we also recognize an important interplay between Zeus and Poseidon here. Zeus, as it seems to me, is acting through the domain of Poseidon. The rain is a gift of both gods in a sense, receiving its form and nature via the domain of Poseidon, but initiated in the domain of Zeus, the gatherer of clouds. He is arranging and drawing upon the moisture. It is like the preemptive intelligence acting on the substance in order to cause an action. It is initiated in the domain of Zeus and carried out through the domain of Poseidon where it eventually gathers within the domain of Hades to which much ground water could also be attributed as all things within the earth are so attributed. Therefore the movement of the ether acts upon the liquid to cause an effect upon the matter and the matter in turn transforming. All three brothers are really working within a singular cosmic system.

That we honor Zeus particularly in the autumn proceeding the rainy season during harvest and sewing we are honoring the preemptive domain, divine intelligence acting upon the fertility of the earth. The intent of growing by sewing, even as we may hope that Zeus is sewing the clouds for winter rain or snow. That we honor Poseidon direct after this during the rainy season seems quite natural, even as we indirectly honor Hades in the spring with Persephone’s return to the company of the gods and the earth flourishes with life fed by the ground waters. And the return of the solstice sun just exemplifies the power of Poseidons’ domain (even as intermediary between that of Zeus and Hades) that new life and rebirth is generated. Which seems to be echoed not only by the festival of Dionysos but also by the celebration of Zeus and Hera during the Theogamia which yearly honors their nuptials which speaks indirectly of generation.

So, once more. I wish everyone has had a beautiful Poseideia!


As I am preparing to celebrate Poseideia this afternoon before work (I was going to do it last night after work but caught up doing so much other stuff that I was exhausted by the time I was finished..so we are having it this afternoon) it got me thinking of what Poseideia means and how it is relevant at this time of the year. It doesn’t hurt that I saw a great explanation prepared briefly by Lesley Madytinos about the association of Poseidon with liquid in general and the relevancy of liquid during the winter. And it certainly makes sense as to why Poseidon is greeted with such a major festival in the middle of the winter (not a time of the year to be out on the boat from what I understand) rather than it taking place in the summer when all manner of fish and sealife are pulled from the sea. And while I do not doubt that summer festivals occurred in his honor with this intention the most well known festival celebrated is in winter!

Now it is time to take a minute to reflect on what winter is because different geographic areas have their own idea of what winter means in the northern hemisphere (and the southern hemisphere at the reverse times of the year) and this may cause bias and confusion as to what winter is. But in a nutshell what it is is a gathering and accumulation of liquid in order to fertilize and sustain life through the growing seasons (whenever said growing season is to occur. In more tropical locations this can be instanteously. I was quite startled for instance when I went to Morocco in January, and while there was a bite to the air, it was green with life and delicate little flowers. Not the heavily perfumed hibiscus and blossoms of the summer that I am accustomed to, but delicate little flowers that I would have associated with spring…in the middle of winter. But according to my husband it was winter, not spring. So even then I found myself in a position where I had to reevaluate what I was familiar with in the seasons and not transpose them on another geographic location. Because while I may have associated it with spring, it was not spring and spring in that area brought its own variety and its own flora and fauna…and weather… distinct from winter.

I grew up in Alaska. Now any Alaskan will tell you there are three seasons in Alaska: Summer, Winter and Breakup. We bypass autumn usually (though less anymore from what I understand as winter has been coming later the last decade than it had been during my childhood and young adulthood..but since I am talking of personal experience I will just stick with what I know from when I was there)…it is more of a blink and the trees are bare. And then it snowed from late September until breakup started usually in the beginning of April. Breakup is just that…the snow and ice are breaking and melting in alarming speed. Winter itself though is white and gray, it is wet and cold. Unlike warmer places there are no winter flowers, there isn’t even grass visible except maybe some impressively tall marshgrass poking out from the snow, and the trees are all in deep slumber. Yet even while they are in this deep slumber they are slowly developing (and very slowly..you hardly notice it happening) little tight hard brown buds as they sleep to prepare for spring life. All the while the snow is accumulating and doing two important things. As was pointed out to me, as snow layers, important nitrogen is getting down into the soil which is essential for the fertility of plants and for seeds to grow in the spring. The second is that we were very dependent on meltoff from winter snow. A lacking in snow could cause all kinds of problems. The first problem is that drought will occur which causes wildfires (I recall a rather bad fire around Big Lake when I was in highschool), and the second is related to the first is that drought occurs, drying everything up. Another problem with lack of snow in the winter is dangers of permafrost which causes damage to the ground and delays the growing season until well into the summer. Therefore Alaska is depedent on liquid accumulation (though presented in a frozen form) in the winter.

Now here in North Carolina it is different. There are geese here moving through here in December, delicate flowers, buds on trees, and soft green grass. It is not quite as *green* or flowery as Morocco, but this is also not sitting beside or on the mediteranean sea with the warmer waters, but it is still different that where I grew up at home. Now my first winter in North Carolina was atypical for North Carolina, but now I am seeing a usual North Carolina winter it has caused me to put more thoughts in it. I had some exposure to this when I lived in Arkansas, but Arkansas wasn’t green at all in the winter. Just yellow and muddy (and with all the clay in the mud it was quite a red mess). However small shoots of spring flowers could be seen as early as the end of December. My hyacinth had tiny green spikes poking up from the ground, even though there were few if any discernable flowers. Of course I was aware from a friend’s say so (who had spent all of her life in New Orleans) that in that part of the world where she lived she wouldshake the old leaves from her trees in her yard in the fall and there would be new buds of new leaves growing under the old leaves. But in all cases there is rain, and rain and more rain. Torrentual downpours really in some cases. Flooding can occur, there is a musty smell in the air from wet soil, and this was often occupanied by chilly weather.

So in connecting the commonalities we see one major feature. Water..a liquid welling into the earth. Poseidon’s realm and domain, and place where he overlaps with that of Zeus. And while other creatures and life is sleeping, beneath the frozen rivers of the north the fish are still going on. Sea (and water ingeneral) life is always continuing throughout the year, never sleeping. It may migrate a bit but it is always there. Which is part of what has made them a valuable source of food to people for centuries. Not to mention the fact that it dries and stores easily for winter resources as onhand food. The water and the earth are working continuously with each other to promote fertility for the year, and to give prosperity to us all.

So hail Poseidon, and happy Poseideia to all!