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.

Semele and Persephone

With Anthesteria amd the celebration of the returning spring as flowers bloom and kid goats are born, there is a general awe towards Dionysos who, as he ever returns from the underworld, represents a spirit of resurrection and the immortality of the soul. He is the slain bull who goes as a seed into the earth to travel the next world and be reborn. He doesn’t die for our sins, and yet his myth is a mystic program for the soul. And it all begins with Semele and Persephone.

We know that the first Dionysos, Zagreus, was born of Persephone and Zeus who came to her in his chthonic form of a serpent and impregnated the goddess without her mother’s knowledge. The serpent form of Zeus is one that is very particular, especially within domestic worship since we call the god who protects the stores of grain and other foods by the name Zeus Ktesios and place an emblem in representation of him in the form of a serpent in on his jar. Therefore we see a form of Zeus which regulates production, which preserves the grains and fruits of the earth, and is associated with the idea of harvest in general which stocks the warehouses. Thus Zeus Ktesios is honored in the household as a god who preserves the bounty of the harvest for the future. The agathos daimon (also depicted as a serpent) has often been connected with Zeus imagery for similar reasons as a god who is bring goodness to the family. So you have a serpetine Zeus, associated with abundance, who fertilized the Kore. She is associated with the flowers of the growing season, but flowers that must be fertilized and drop their lovely petals in order to bear fruits. It is for the purpose of production that we see this allegory as we honor her with spring flowers but also when grains to ripen. Therefore we can see Zagreus as a manifestation of the divine fruit born of the earth…a fruit which is cut up and consumed and then dispersed by ash as the Titans who murdered and ate Zagreus were reduced to ash themselves with the thunderbolt of Zeus.

Clement of Alexandria, in his anti-hellenismos rhetoric such as it is, speaks briefly of the mystic symbolism of those items which the titans used to lure Zagreus to his death. Items which are important (though he mocked them) for a very specific reason. Consider that humanity arose from the mud mixed with those ashes of the titans, and therefore from those ashes the divine spark was given to humanity, would you not rever the item which caused the harvest? It is only be the harvest, the sacrifice of Zagreus, that we attribute the divine spark within humanity, the immortality of the human soul. Therefore these symbols could aptly be a way to rever the divine within us from Zagreus, but also be a symbol to the way to progress foreward…as all these seperate symbols combined together could equate to the divine state. Clement of Alexandria speaks of the looking glass for instance…wouldn’t the looking glass be representative of reflection? I recently did a drawing of Mnemosyne and in constructing it I came up with the idea to use a mirror…because memory is part of the art of reflection. Pythagoras too recommended for his students to reflect every night before bed so as to encourage the memory of the soul. Even Aphrodite, the mother of harmony who obsolves conflict, is pictured with a looking glass. Certainly not from any case of vanity but a greater meaning that can be associated with the mirror of Zagreus….”I see myself as I am, I see all that I am and all the spiritual beauty I possess, I see all that I have been in the past and will be in the future, I see myself and know I am divine.” All of these peices make a whole even as Zagreus was divided into many. Therefore the mystery of Zagreus is the one which is the birth and transformation of the soul.

But this cannot be completed with Zagreus alone, Zagreus is divided, but we need the unification of the parts. So born was Dionysos to Semele, born of a mortal mother, the princess of Thebes, daughter of the hero Cadmus and Aphrodite’s daughter Harmonia/Harmony. Semele, in her love affair with Zeus, was given the heart of Dionysos, the one part of Zagreus was kept by the gods. And so the princess took Dionysos into herself. This seems to me to have some meaning in light of the practice in Athens for the Anthesteria in which the queen was wedded to Dionysos, and so is joining with the god and taking him into her, perhaps to symbolically by fertilized by the spirit of the god and birth bounty and the divine blessings of the god for the city-state I could guess. In this fashion she would be aligning herself with Semele. I know this sounds a bit strange, and even stranger in some of the mystic mirrors of the Etruscans in which Dionysos (Fulfuns) appears to be embracing his mother intimately with Apollon (Apulu) looking on with a flute player…possibly representative of Pan…just behind him.

Of course the story follows that Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus for a boon, and so that when he agreed to give her anything that she desired, her wish to see Zeus in his true form caused her to combust leaving behind the premature Dionysos which Hermes rescued from the ashes of his mother and brought to Zeus so that Zeus could sew the infant into his thigh (a very strong procreative symbolism there associating Dionysos with the sexual center of Zeus!). Dionysos was thus born a third time, directly from Zeus this time and set about his youth and adventures being raised in the mortal world and his desire to join the gods (via the instruction of Apollon who was, with his company of Muses, the first to recognize the god. Eventually Dionysos departs to the next world to gather his mother that she may be among the company of the gods. This departure is represented by the tearing apart of the bull and the ivy by the Thyiades who consume it. Essentially Dionysos is sacrificed by the women of his retinue and becomes a part of them, from their consumption of him. In such way he is coming into contact symbolically again with the substance within humanity even as he moves to the next world. Aristophanes’ in his play Frogs puts an amusing spin on the whole adventure which leaves out the death of the god and engages in amusing conversations with the souls of the deceased that commulate in a test of knowledge between those much lauded in the next world…giving a nodd to the idea that the knowledge of the soul that it has accumulated places it in a higher level in the next world. This makes Frogs an entertaining and also relevant comedy for this season, a seaon which is celebrated coincidentally with comedies….as comedies address a different venue of the mortal existance than the tradgedies do as the former are arranged in a celebration of life. In any case Dionysos and Semele do not emerge together. No something else happens. First Dionysos returns, he is the infant in the Liknen basket who is born in a cave on Parnassus.

Paranassus is quite a fascinating place. It is not only the mountain which overhangs Delphi, the navel of the world, but it is also the place where the remains of Zagreus were buried by Apollon. And it is from this mountain in which the bones of the earth (the stones…perhaps also symbolically merging with the bones of Zagreus who is buried there) were thrown to create new people after the Flood. Therefore Parnassus has a strong association with death and resurrection just by these means. It is no wonder then that in the cave of Pan, high in the mountains, that the Thyiades, in midwinter, would greet the return of the infant Dionysos.

Semele, alternatively, comes with the spring. In such respect she is aligned directly with the Kore. There is an image of the return of Semele which is quite profound. A vase painting which showns a mound. To one side is Apollon (with Pan beside him), and to the other side of the mound is Dionysos. All three gods are gazing down into the ground. There Semele is rising with flowers and all the emblems of spring with her. She is likened to the Kore who is ascending to the divine company. And thus Semele is the as a goddess of spring flowers herself. I had seen, yesterday, a lovely statue of Dionysos with a small figure of a woman that I had assumed was Semele as it appeared she has a small fire in her hand, but later found out has been called by academics Spes (the representation of Hope) carrying a lily. I am not entirely sure what they base the labeling of the figure as Spes off of, but the lily does not distract me from an identification with Semele as a goddess who returns in the spring. And her return is characterized by her divine name Thyone who is described as the fiery mother of Dionysos and is recognized as representative of the unification between Dionysos and the celebrant in which they partake frenzy as they are filled with the divine essence of the god. Which again connects back to the spirit of Anthesteria as we see Dionysos joining with the queen during this ritual, the very act of which is governed by Thyone. I would hazzard to suggest that it is in this fashion, this interaction of Dionysos, the thrice born god that helps the human soul slowly gather up the peices, the symbols of Zagreus by which the god was distracted by the titans, and bring them unity. Dionysos in this fashion is the liberator of men because he rejoins men to the gods, that which is represented by the communion with his wine.

So hail Dionysos on this Anthesteria!

A related inquiry on deer and goats

This is a post I have been meaning to write for the last few days, but I have been thinking of just how I wanted to present it. It is certainly no secret that in Hellenismos there are a prominence of horned animals sacred to gods. There are the oxes of Hera, the bulls associated with Zeus, Poseidon and Dionysos, the goats of Pan, Zeus, Dionysos, and Apollon, the deer likewise associated with Dionysos, Apollon and Artemis. And naturally many other gods that I just can’t think of at the moment. Clearly there is some powerful symbolism at work that animals who have some form of bony substance protruding upward from their foreheads have some special relevance in our worship. The idea even carries forward into the medieval  period with the sacred symbolism of the divine via the unicorn imagery which any person half way familiar with the unicorn tapestries would have some vague knowledge about.

We should perhaps then infer that the upward horn represents itself a state of divinity, from which we can also construe significance in the horn of plenty with which we are familiar with. In Roman art we see Fortuna (Fortune) and Ceres carrying the cornucopia brimming over with the wealth of the world that the gods have given to us. In Hellenismos we are familiar too with a myth of Zeus in which the goat Amalthaea who nursed him was sacrificed by him and it is her horn from which the horn of plenty comes, she who sustained the king of heavens. This of course lends a very particular symbolism associated with goats….the male goat representing masculine fertility (for Zeus is very fertile in his nature, as is Dionysos who was carried near this fertile zone of the god for his final period of gestation), and the female goat representing the divine nurse. Therefore it is not surprising to me at all when I see a goat image in Thracian rhytons (drinking horns) because this divine fertilization I connection closely to the very essence of the wine which Dionysos so liberally distributes. Likewise a female goat portrayed in proximity to a goddess indicates a function of the goddess as a Kourotrophos deity. There is for instance one statue of Artemis with a young animal which some say is a faun but also looks to me, because of its size and general shape, to perhaps be a goat instead with the small budded horns on its head and curled tail. But I guess we will each have to decide for ourselves what we think it is.

In symbolism stags have a great deal in common with goats if you get right down to it…differing mostly that deer are typically not associated with the nurse aspect, but are instead as fauns are often pictured as nursing from the Maenads (probably referring to the first Maenads that are nymphs and not literal historical followers of Dionysos). In such respect they are recepiants of “divine” nourishment (via the possession of Dionysos within the nymphs) which  seems to link them to a greater specific connection between the divine and the mortal…as a bridge between the two at a greater symbolic level. Perhaps rather the mortal desire to draw closer to the gods, and pursued by Artemis when they are mature (whereas the young faun is represented peacefully at her side. Apollon, alternatively, has been represented in Hellenic and Etruscan images as holding a stag within his hand. He is seldom pictured with a faun…usually only in cases where he is in the company of his twin, but is always associated with the adult male deer, and to a degree the hind of Artemis…a sacred golden horned female deer. Such imagery with this deer are generally very specific though to the myth of the labors of Herakles.

To understand more on ancient thought regarding the symbolism of deer I would like to take a moment to share a quote that was shared with me….granted it is from the Roman historian Pliny, but I do think that it is somewhat revealing:

(Natural History, Book 8, 41): A stag, when wounded by an arrow, can eject the arrow from the wound by grazing on the herb dittany. If bitten by a poisonous spider, the sta…g will eat crabs to cure itself. (Book 8, 50): The stag is a gentle animal. Stags are very lustful; the mating season begins after the rising of the star Arcturus. When deer hear hounds, they run down wind to avoid giving themselves away with their scent. Deer are simple animals, surprised at everything; they can be charmed by song and by a shepherd’s pipe. To cross seas they swim in a line with each deer’s head on the back of the one in front of it, and they take turns moving to the back of the line. A stag’s age can be told by its horns or its teeth. Stags lose their horns every year, and retire to secret places to do so; their right horn, which is never found, is said to contain a healing drug. The smell of stag horns burning stops an attack of epilepsy and drives away snakes. Stags are at war with snakes, drawing them out of their holes with the breath of their nostrils. Stags live a long time; the ones that Alexander the Great had put gold necklaces on were caught a hundred years later, and the necklaces were found to be covered with folds of fat. Stags are not subject to feverish diseases, and eating venison is said to prevent fevers in people. (Book 10, 5): Stags fight with eagles: the eagles cover themselves with dust, perch on the stag’s horns to shake the dust in its eyes, and beat the stag’s head with their wings until it falls. (Book 11, 115): The breath of stags scorches snakes.

We can therefore infer that the stag represents a sense of community support via their cooperation in navigating streams (ei currents of life as I can see it representing), with swift movement (which can infer swiftness physically but also mentally and on higher levels), that they are long-lived and so like any long-lived animal are probably associated with a concept of immortality or the divine state, this also seems to be addressed by so called curative and protective properties within the flesh and horn of the stag, as well as the fertility symbolism that we find in goats too.

But what particularly interests me is the symbolism with the mind. More so than most other horned animals, it seems that proportionately to its skull the antlers of a stag have a more pronounced upward extension as it ages…the older it gets, the more impressive its rack gets which is quite curious considering that deer tend to drop their antlers. But there is just something entirely awe-inspiring of seeing a five-point (or more) buck. In such respect it seems likely that the symbolism of deer is connected to achieving a state of consciousness close to the divine level which is accomplished through rebirth (and therefore associated too with Dionysos who, like is maenads, is also represented wearing the spotted faun’s skin). This doesn’t seem to far-fetched of an idea if we consider a different culture for a minute, and think of the hindu religion. I had recently read that when the stag is represented with Shiva it is because the stag is associated with the mind, and Shiva is able to control the swift moving mind and bring it into stillness. Though this is a different symbolism, a kind of divine state of mind does seem to be represented.

Dionysos himself, and his followers, appear by necessity to be direct connected to deer in its faun state, as we also find the greatest number of associations of the deer with Artemis. I think that this is particularly telling. In one hand we have the flayed faun…the young immature..hornless…deer who is slain which I think speaks to me of mortal rebirth. And this is the faun that is suckled by Maenads and is tended kindly by Artemis. Thus the fawn represents mortal life that enters exits and enters into life through numerous incarnations, that is fostered and cared for by the Kourotrophos, that is suckled by nymphs, that is held by Dionysos until the stag comes finally to Apollon who represents the divine boundary…Apollon of the Boundaries, the end of his sacred road. He who receives Dionysos. He who receives that which is slain by his twin….whether that be her stags or her goats (the latter of which he used in myth to build their horn altar at Delphi).

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.

Hymn to Zeus

Hail Zeus, father, all-encompassing king
Upon your holy crown the griffins ring
You who proceeds from the aetheric throne
Seated at the summit of the heaven’s dome
Ruler of famed Olympos. You who sprung
From the devouring lion of ravenous tongue
Of which springs heaven’s consummate fire,
You who cast Kronos your inexplicable sire
Into bonds, regulating his intemperate nature
Even as he had once, in creating the feature
Of the endless sky, pinned about the girth
Of his mother Ge, the most bountiful earth,
The broad breast of his quick-winged father
Who ever blew his seed, into his awful tether.
Hail you, keeper of the lion and the eagle
In whom all things, the strong and fragile,
Are contained in your unending embrace
Father of the gods and all the mortal race.
You who as the two-formed eagle and serpent
Occupying at once the root and the summit
As an oak tree raising unbending limbs high
Reaches aloft into the winds of the sky
And the roots entwine in the dark deep
Soil into which they, serpentine, creep
Into caverns below; you whom praises sing
Hail to you, oak-crowned and mighty king
Who raises aloft two horns of his divinity
Lord of the world in your sacred trinity.

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).

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!

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!

considering Zeus

Today it is a gray rainy winter day, the rain is pouring down hard enough to make a rapid rhythme on my roof. All of the sky is obscurred with dense gray clouds. It is days like these that I think of Zeus is within and invigorating all things in the world even as the rain drops into the earth where it is absorbed to become part of a large network of underground water and watertables that enrich our earth. When it is rainy I appreciate just how different Zeus is from some concept of a far heavenly deity. He is the king of gods and men not because he is reigning from afar, but because he is intimately apart of all things in our world, fertilizing the earth and bringing forth plenty. He is Zeus Kteosis who dwells in or households protecting the prosperity therein with the very substances that rise from the gifts he gives us. He issues forth the cornucopia, the horn of plenty from the nanny goat who nursed him as an infant, bring nature’s prosperity to all of mankind. When it is raining I imagine the season as the bull of Zeus, furrowing the earth, purifying and fertilizing it, particularly in this climate in which the cold rainy days are merely a predecessor to spring in the south, lacking the frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall. But even as a born and raised Alaskan I can appreciate the snow, the buildup of which is necessary for prosperity during the season of growing. God is in the rain, and the rain brings the blessing of Zeus, infusing the world, feeding the rivers and streams (many of which were considered sacred). The world is as a great basket into which the gifts of Zeus is poured, and these gifts come in the rain. Even glass, one of the greatest gifts of nature to civilization is born of Zeus’s gift within the earth. When it is said that Zeus is within all things, it is not because everything is literally part of some monotheistic view of Zeus, but rather that nothing would be, nothing would flourish without Zeus interacting within all facets of our world. As the wine brings the blessings of the gods to the souls of men, the rain of Zeus is divine blessings to all the world and all living beings within it. It seems to me that Dionysos is great because he is doing something of the work of Zeus is more a specialized in directed manner, acting within Zeus’s domain and part of its function. So hail Zeus, rain bringer.