wolves and goats

I find it quite interesting that gods who have strong associations with wolves, share similar associations with goats in both Hellenismos and Religio Romana. In this there seems to be a natural order taking place symbolically in which the two are intricately tied. Take for instance (in honor of this day of Lupercalia) the Roman gods Mars.

Lupercalia crosses over into three specific areas symbolically in the sacrifice in the Lupercali cave, a sacrifice carried out in honor of the place where Remus and Romulus (the founders of Rome and sons of Mars) were nursed by the she-wolf. First and foremost we must keep in mind in this ritual that its importance is connected to the birth of Rome and the prosperity of the Republic (and later the Empire). It therefore stresses the lineage through Mars. Though Mars shares many similarities to the Hellenic god Ares, there are scholars who cast him in a stronger assocation with Apollon in his more ancient aspects when speaking of relationships of cults than with Ares, from whom he later adopted much of his myths and characteristics. However the indigenous cultus of the god stresses his association to the fields (in which he shares association with Apollon as both gods are those that ward off “rust” which attacks grains) and there protection foremost from which it is believed that his more war-like characteristics developed in extention. Therefore it is natural that the god be associated with creatures of the feild, unlike his Hellenic counterpart Ares who shares less associations. Mars, for instance, is directly associated with wolves, and the wolf of the Lupercali cave was one that was sent by him to nurse his sons until a shepherd found them so that they would not freeze from exposure or starve. In that cave a cast of boys (all from noble families) were chosen to play the part of the Lupercii (as Lupus is latin for wolf we can infer that they are playing the part of wolves). The sacrifice carried out in the cave is one of goats and dogs (the latter being a traditional sacrifice to both Ares and Mars…in the case of Mars it was red dogs). Previously in a post on goats and deer I spoke of how the female goat is associated with nursing, as a goat was a nurse of Zeus, and the male is associated with fertility, it can be inferred that this ritual sacrifice is intended on two parts. One, it honors the nurse of the two heroes but the sacrifice of an animal associated with nursing. The second we see directly in the purpose that is carried out…the strapping of women with the strips of goatskin to promote fertility. This would appropriately honor both Mars, the father of Rome, and Faunus, the rustic god of Italy indirectly in one ritual. I say indirectly only because the description of the ritual itself does not directly mention Faunus (nor does it directly mention Lupercus) but I cede the point that in accordance to the lore of Italy that he may very well have been present indirectly and symbolically in association with the sacrifices carried out in the cave and the legendary roots of the sheperds being the original lupercii, that in ritual were actually the youths of patrician (noble) families in Rome specifically connected to the sphere of the children of Mars. It can be said that in mythology the origins of the Lupercalia lay with Faunus and his shepherds (from Romulus and Remus took part and upon being engaged in the festivities, according to Livy, were captured by Numitor’s people) but that these origins lay in the mythic history of the festival and the primary portion of the festival is in honor of the she-wolf of Mars. However, regardless of whether we are speaking of Mars or Faunus, the sacrifice of the goats (and dogs) at the cave of the wolf is very important symbolism. Therefore the wolf which destroys and protects is part of the cycle of the fertile and nursing goat, an idea which we see carried out in the cults of very closely related Hellenic gods Zeus, Apollon, and Pan, and slightly with Artemis via her epithets Lykeia (wolfish) and Kourotrophos (nurse), the latter of which I had discussed in my previous post on goats and deer.

Lupercalia, according to Roman legend, is said to have sprung from the Lykaia of Arkadia, upon the mountain of which on three hills there were three temples. The temple of Zeus Lykaia in the middle surrounded by the temples of Pan and Apollon to either side. Despite the emphasis given by later Italian recorders to the prominence of Pan on Lykaion, it is indisputable that Zeus Lykaia was the prominent figure in the Arkadian cult…one which was echoed in Kyrene, in Libya, where there was a second mountain called Lykaion were Zeus Lykaia was honored following the Arkadian aspect. According to myth Zeus assumed the form of a wolf for nine years and on the 10th year (one divine year) was restored, a pattern that was followed by Demaenetus when he tasted of the sacrifice to Zeus. This form of Zeus supposedly may have been related to the myth in which Arkadians took the form of wolves for nine years after swimming across a pond, after which, if they hadn’t consumed human flesh, would regain their state. All of which must be tied to the king Lykaon, coincidentally the father of Callisto who became a bear. He was the first to be transformed into a wolf by Zeus for the punishment of offering Zeus (in human disguise) human flesh, that of a child, to feast upon. Zeus’ tasting of human flesh may be related to this form of Zeus, as Lykaon is credited with having sacrificed a child to Zeus which was what transformed Zeus into a wolf for nine years. Though there is no direction mention of Pan in the myth, it is wide known that Pan was an important deity among the Arkadians and the fact that both Pan and Apollon had temples joining that of Zeus Lykaia is an important feature in which we see three wolfish gods honored together, and of whom have important features as gods associated with shepherds, the fertility of feilds (to which bees can be connected) and livestock, and oracles. And all three of whom are represented in association with goats, as both Apollon and Pan are called Tragoidos, and as bearing goat, or ram, horns in Peloponnese and its associated colonies…such as that in Libya in which Apollon-Ammon (called Karneios in Peloponnese) and his wife Kyrene are ram-horned, and Zeus-Ammon is likewise horned at his oracle near the Egyptian border.

The goat/ram appears to have a direct relationship in imagery to an idea to a sovereign divinity who brings prosperity by interacting with and fertilizing the world. Such imagery in relationship to sovereignity can also be recalled by a certain myth related to Atreus in which a golden lamb was to confer kingship upon whomever possessed it. Likewise the flying golden-fleeced ram, the son of Poseidon who rescued Phrixus and Helle, the children of king Cretheus, from being sacrificed (the latter whom fell into the sea…that place being called Hellespont after her) and upon carrying Phrixus across the Black Sea to king Aeetes in Colchis, was sacrificed to Zeus (or in some versions to Ares) and his fleece hidden in the holy grove of Ares, was the object of the heroic quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the pleasure of King Pelias. The associations with fertility are of course significant because this ram became the constellation Ares which signifies the time of year when grain is sown according to Psuedo-Hyginus in his Astronomica. This certainly aligns too with imagery of Apollon and Pan together greeting the rising of Semele which would be likewise associated with ideas of sowing and the return of vegetation. Thereby we see the the goat associated with fertile masculine deities of some regard as a divine king, yet of the Lykaion trinity of Zeus, Pan and Apollon we see three levels at work. First we have the high king Zeus, ruler of the world and aether, from whom all things issues. Second we have Apollon, the bright king, the king of light, the king who walks across all the earth. And we have Pan who is the rustic king (recognizably set apart by his distinctive half animal characteristics who opperates in cooperation with Apollon and revels with Dionysos)…and yet all the Orphic hymns to all three seem in some manner to refer to each other. There are, of course, numerous other deities associated with goats/rams such as Dionysos and the aforementioned Ares, but in this post I am concentrating on the divine association of wolves and goats which are expressed in only a few deities.

Thus within Pan, Zeus and Apollon we are presented gods that are connected with destruction via their assocation with wolves, but are also bringers of prosperity and abundance as we can see with their goat associations. They are the wolves that cull of the weaker members of the flock, they are the destroyer of wolves that may prey excessively upon the flock…in such they are both wolfish and protector/shepherd gods who oversee the welfare of the flocks and their healthy increase. Since both slaughter/destruction/sacrifice and fertility are necessary for the welfare of the flock, it is necessary for gods associated with some kingly title and duty to be associated directly with both functions as destroyers and saviors (the savior aspect of Zeus often partaken by Athena who possesses the skin of Almathaea…the aegis).

As far as I can see, regardless of which deity it is for, such festivals as the ongoing Lupercalia, which celebrate both the protective/destructive nature of the wolf (for the wolf is also protective as it is a social animal that cares for its young within a solid family group) and the fertility and nursing attributes associated with the goat are highly appropriate at each turn of the season…and likely accounts for their celebrations at different parts of the calendar through the Hellenic and Roman world. Generally speaking my focus when it comes to a shepherd’s festival in which goats/rams are sacrificed tends to be at the Karneia for Apollon Karneios prior to the start of autumn, but I can see the relevance at the beginning of spring in relation to this.

Of dogs and wolves

Today I was inspired to speak briefly about the symbolic differences between dogs and wolves. Now I suppose to some this may seem like splitting hairs because there is a point at which there is a very fine line between the two especially since wolf-dog hyrbids are still pretty well known. And if they are able to cross-breed then they are of the same species and therefore pretty close to being the same. However what is being missed in such considerations is that the dog and wolf represent very different things, especially in Hellenic religion in which you have god (such as Apollon, Pan and Zeus) with very specific epithets that refer to wolves that generally speaking refer to a more wild/untamed and often solar destructive feature of a god, and goddesses (such as Artemis and Hekate) with very specific epithets that refer to dogs which seems to refer to their more liminal roles, as well as Ares. The exception to this of course appears to some small degree with Artemis who does bear an epithet Lykeia in reflection of her twin’s epithet Lykeios, but the cult of which only occurs in Troezen in association with Hippolytus, the son of Theseus and the amazon queen Hippolyte.

However, this exception can be easily understood because Artemis is the only truly independent goddess that really actively and personally destroys anything. Hekate may have associations with the dead as a significant part of her cultus, but doesn’t really take part in the destroying part whereas Artemis hunts your ass down with an arrow notched in her bow which she does as part of the natural order and really nothing to do with social systems. However as a huntress she is not accompanied by wolves, though she can be herself somewhat wolf-like, she is accompanied by hunting dogs, a symbol which speaks of the close association between the souls of the dead and protective spirits that oversee them. Thus also the dog imagery in the graveyards as dogs sit as sentinal guardians, some of which can be seen if you ever vention on a tour of Athens and its museums. The dog is present because it is part of the liminal edge through which we all pass in the cycles of life. The domesticated dog was used for hunting, and therefore was instrumental in nourishing the household, and as time passed its companionship of men and loyalty became one of the highlights of its nature by which the animal could be alternately sweet to its family and vicious to unwelcome intrudgers. Naturally the dog then takes the form of a kindly, and powerful, guardian animal for which poets speak that Cerebros is kindly to the dead as they enter but doesn’t allow them to pass out before him again on their own accord. Likewise the dogs accompany Hekate as companion to the goddess of this liminal portal, as they do with Artemis. In such respects dogs have great social and personal spiritual significance in relation to the human soul and its passage through life and death.

Such also rises a conception of war-dogs trained  in combat which can defend and strike in cases of need. There was a specific breed of dog in ancient Greece (now extinct) called the Molssus which was specifically bred to hunt large dangerous game..such as predators…as well  as act as guard dogs of property and participate in war. It should be of no surprise then that Ares is associated with dogs either as war itself is not particular to nature but rather to conflicts in human society in which case he may protect or cause utmost devastation. And certainly some ancient civilizations considered Ares as a protective presence for he he is called upon many times in prayer by Thebans in Aeschylus’ play Seven Against Thebes that the walls of Thebes would not fall and the children of Ares be spared. And of course we are all familiar with the old saying “let loose the dogs of war.” Dogs are just part of our experience as human and spiritual beings. In such fashion, unlike wolves which are entirely and seperately apart of nature, the dog is a creature that is enjoined and functions within the human experience.

So when someone says to me that wolf is more appropriate to depict with the gods than a domesticated animal such as a dog I have to look at them in askance. Because this opinion is operating out of the idea that the wolf, an animal which is wild, is closer to the gods and domesticated dogs, being a creature of human civilization is further removed from them. This seems to come from two factors. 1. The high status of wolf in neopaganism symbolically that celebrates not only the free qualities of nature but also is just simply really awe inspiring. Lets face it a wolf is just cooler than a dog, that is what it comes down to. 2. A tendency in modern paganism to develope extremes in which anything of civilization is considered inferior. Therefore domesticated dogs are inferior to wolves as humans are inferior to gods. In such thinking if this means that the dog is further away from the divine because of its connection with human civilization. Therefore we start seeing ideas manifest of wolves in company with Artemis and Hekate where never before have wolves been associated. Frankly both of these ideas are missing the point.

Wolves may seem more nifty in an abstract artistic way because of what they represent, but they are not superior to dogs…they are different and representing very different things…all of which is divine. Unlike modern paganism which tends to view civilization as corrupt and against nature, Hellenismos doesn’t embrace this idea. Granted people do some pretty shitty things to nature in the name of civilization, but this is a front for individual human greed and have nothing to do with the main principles of civilization. The definition of civilization is not destroying nature. It is possible, if we can get past corporate greed, for civilization to be harmonic with nature. In Hellenismos both nature and civilization are part of the domains of the gods and it is the gods’ functions with each of these that is glorified with different symbols.

We do nothing to honor gods like Artemis and Hekate by changing their dogs into wolves, because this ignores their fundamental domains and the beneficial gifts they bring to humanity as goddesses of the portal and kourotrophs (in which we can defer symbols of whelping bitches). We can love the dogs of Artemis, Ares and Hekate equally as we love the wolves of Apollon, Pan and Zeus in that they represent different forces in our world and spirituality.