Leto Between Worlds

I find Leto absolutely fascinating, and not jut because she is the mother of the divine twins Apollon and Artemis, but rather her power and honor despite what appears in this age to be utter mythic obscurity. In reality I making this post in continuation of my thoughts in my earlier post here. Yet we have really very little in literature regarding Leto. She makes an appearance in the Iliad in the company of Artemis, in all appearance attending to her daughter. Her myth of her pursuit and union with Zeus is a footnote (some says was impregnated as a wolf, some say as a quail. Really what she is known for is bearing her children and her labors therein in which she travailed for 12 days and nights in searching for the place where she could bear her young in her own Herculean journey. Some says she made this journey from the far region of Hyperborea to Hellas., with Athena in her company according to some sources, helper in quests. Another well known myth is her transformation of the Lycian villagers into frogs when they offender her by not permitting her access to their spring.

Yet aside from these myths, not much is apparently known about the goddess, other than that she was highly honored and enjoyed an esteemed repute among women particularly. Yet there is some fragments of evidence that can suggest what her larger nature was, one that was certainly complimented and linked to her offspring, but possessing its own great power which I touched a bit on in my previous post. Certainly her syncretism in Ionia with a local Anatolian goddess Eni Mahanahi, a local name for Annis Massanassis (who is identified with Kybele) indicates that Leto may have been considered as bearing much of the same character and power of this local deity, which provides us with an interesting insight on how Hellenes viewed Leto overall. That she was depicted veiled and seated on a wooden throne at Delos, as well as possessing her own sanctuary there as she did in Lycia makes clear that she was more than just honored by convenience as mother of Apollon and Artemis. The speculated honeycomb décor of her temple at Delos may allude to Leto being of such high quality as a queen bee dwelling hidden in the depths of the cavernous beehive. As Leto was believed to come from Hyperborea, and has two major temples between Delos and Lycia were by Delian tradition Apollon traveled between, it could almost be considered that Apollon himself is traveling among the houses of is mother.This may be especially important when considering more otherworldly character that his travel takes during the winter. Even at Delphi Leto has a presence, even if in the temple of her son rather than her own temple, but may bear mythic link to the region via her parentage by Koios (the axis of the heavens) and Phoebe who according to some Delphic traditions inherited the axis of the earth, Delphi, from Themis which I discussed in the above linked previous blog post.

Given the plausible link of Leto with certain fresh water dragon cults, and her own syncretism with the Egyptian Wadjet (again see previous article where I discuss all of this) we see a clearer character of Leto as a goddess who dwells between worlds, who herself is a state ever becoming and renewing. Unlike Wadjet, who is fiery and light emanating, Leto does this in a more subtle fashion. The dark hidden goddess, emits her light through her continuous generative nature. She is by her fashion the eternal mother, blessing wombs of women with life, as her womb issues life and light. When people talking of Apollon and Artemis as Lycian as in terms of being born in light, I do not think that this is to be taken literally as in a designated place of light, but that they issued from their mother’s womb in an array of light. As such in can be considered that the light that they bear originates and comes from within their mother and is her eternal manifesting light. As such Leto appears to designate as a power generating goddess from which light eternally springs even as Leto is said to take on the character of being pregnant leading up to the birthday of the twins at Delos. This would certainly make sense given her underworld cult connections, and any loose associations she may have with Rhea, Demeter or Persephone as life manifesting from the within the recesses of the earth.

She is thus is the shrew goddess and the serpent goddess who dwells within the cavernous earth as they are observed slipping within their dens. Or the wolf who likewise den within the ground. Even the frog which is associated with her in its travels between the seen and unseen worlds as it slips within the water and nurselike tends to the reeds of Apollon rooted in the underworld. Even the imagery of the beehive is fitting as bees naturally make their nests hidden away whether inside a tree or hole, or even as a round nest like a stone. Even apiaries resemble hills. Naught is really seen of life except the bees issuing from out of it and returning to it, the divine nectar, the honey, is hidden deep within as the queen is. I would imagine that the quail and rooster who cries with the transition of night and day is perhaps a later association that developed as Apollon and Artemis became equated with the light of the sun and moon specifically. Even these tie in well with the essence of the becoming and manifestation of being as comparable with night rather than the underworld specifically. Although her contest within the text of the Iliad in pairing against Hermes further supports the earlier underworld characteristic that was the prevalent. Her association with springs and rivers such as with the river Peneus and the river Xanthus certainly carries this further as rivers are often linked with travel between worlds even as the sea and any other body of water tends to be. Water is by it natural liminal.

In this manner we can understand Leto further as a manifesting, tending, and life giving divine being, that which is life giving and nurturing, yet of fierce temper, aggression, and unpredictability. She is overall queenly and primal, goddess of the golden spindle like her daughter. She is the cavern from which the winds of life and transformation emit.

— Lykeia (11/15/2015)

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In Honor of Leto, the Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lykeia (3/09/2012)

Ritual Meal, for the Feast of Leto

For the Feast of Leto, prepare a delicious meal, one that you would have no reservations in sharing with the Goddess, as well as Her Children. Set the table nicely, and in the center, prepare a small altar for Leto, with some space for Artemis and Apollon. Utilize whatever images or icons you prefer when making this space. Include a large plate upon which you will place servings of food for your Honored Guests.

Next, you will want to invite Leto, and your other Guests.

Ex: “Blessed are You, Leto, Sister of Asteria, Daughter of Phoebe! Sweet is Your name upon my/our lips! In all of my/our days, shall I/we ever strive toward Your Grace and Excellence!

“Blessed are You, Leto, Daughter of Koios, Consort of Zeus! Ever shall Yours be the way of cunning! Let all brave women follow after Your example, seizing that which they/we desire foremost!

“Blessed are You, Leto, Mother of Artemis, Mother of Apollon! Starry is the veil which covers Your holy face! Within the mystery of twilight, You are the center, the cause from whom ambition emanates!

“Blessed are You, Leto! Be welcomed here, to this seat made comfortable for You! Partake of this meal that I/we have prepared! And please, accept these offerings given freely by Your people!

“Great Goddess, I/we have come only to honor and praise You!

“Hail Leto, Mother of Wolves!”

“Blessed are You, Artemis, Swift-footed Goddess giving chase like no other! Be welcome to rest here at this table, to make merry, and to feast in the name of Your Mother!

“Blessed are You, Apollon, Prince among Gods, and the Preserver of Honor! Be welcomed here to this table, where You might find comfort, as well as sustenance, in the name of Your Holy Mother!

“Blessed and Divine Twins, be welcomed here in peace and in reverence! Hail Artemis! Hail Apollon!”

Once the food is ready, place each dish upon the table in offering, while saying a few words to indicate such.

Ex: “O Divine Leto, please accept this ______ (name of dish), that it might fill You with the sustenance of my/our love!”

You may also address Artemis and Apollon at this time, though it is really only necessary to address the Guest of Honor when offering dishes. Repeat for each dish offered to the table.

Now, everyone should be seated at the table, and all should offer thanks to the Theoi for the bounty gathered before you, first with a small bit of food offered to Hestia, by burning it in a candle flame, or saving it to be burned or buried later.

Ex: “Hestia, Most Sublime, I/we make the first offering to You, as is the/our custom. May You bless this table, and I/all seated before it, that my/our hearth and home might be ever peaceful and secure.”

Next, food should be distributed first to Leto, then to Artemis, then to Apollon, all upon Their plate at the center of the table. After your Guests have been served, everyone else may serve themselves.

Eating, discussion, and general merry-making may now commence. Examples of this could be songs sung, poems or adorations recited, myths told, or experiences shared.

With the completion of their meal, whomever wishes to leave the table must first address Leto, thanking Her and the Twins for being present.

Ex: “Glorious Leto, Illustrious Twins! Thank You for Your presence at this table, which was prepared in honor of You, for this great feast day! May our love given, accompany You back to the Northern heights of Hyperborea, from whence You have come! O Ladies! O Lord! May You be pleased!”

At the very end, before the last person leaves the table, a final food offering should be made to Hestia…

Ex: “Blessed Hestia, Keeper of the Hearth, again, I/we thank You for the peace and gentleness You have brought into this, my/our home! My/our gratitude hangs thick in the air, like the tasteful aroma which has filled this place of feasting!

“Hail to You, Hestia, and farewell!”

…and care should be taken to clean up the table.

Finally, all participants should return to surround the table, to give final thanks/goodbyes to Leto (and the Twins), for all that She does, and will do, in helping us to further understand ourselves within the roles to which we find ourselves attached.

Ex: “Blessed are You, Leto, and Blessed are Your Children, who enact the very essence of Your demeanor! You, who are bold! You, who are driven! You, who commands life to submit to Your will! Great Leto, I/we thank and praise You!

“Hail Mother Leto! Hail the Holy Twins!  Hail, and farewell!”

— Columbine

Contemplating Leto

Leto is the principle of causality.  In taking control of Her life, first by leaving Hyperborea, the place of Her birth, then by orchestrating the events of Her eventual arrival upon Olympos as Zeus’ Consort, She causes the wheels of fate to turn, by Her will.

This is a Goddess who exercises power, who asserts Herself in ways that are perhaps more familiar and relatable to poor, or otherwise ostracized women, rather than the lofty and oftentimes unattainable glories of Hera, and the domain of marriage. Leto is another side of the nature of a woman’s power, the nature of force which exercises its will on the world through cunning.

Leto tell us, there is a cause to all things, all situations, and if we would not be taken along by the cause of another, we can be our own cause, and exercise our own will.

The fair-haired and veiled Consort of Zeus is much more complex than the face of motherly demure She is so often characterized by, in what writings we have on Her that survive. Which of course gives us very little information on how the peoples of the past truly viewed Her. In this, we must often rely on doxa, both shared and personal, and on our interactions with Her via dreams, and through symbolism.

When we view Leto, we often do not see one who is tied down by conventional motherhood, though a large portion of our understanding of Her comes directly through Her role as Mother of Artemis and Apollon. We see a Goddess of liminality– of twilight– flanked by wolves, which are fierce predators. This sheds some light into the obscure areas of Her personality. which we can see on the periphery.

Leto suffers no insult lightly, either to Herself or to Her Children, and when She rides out during the darkening days, She does so unveiled, revealed, even as Nyx unfolds Her cloak of stars in the darkness. And in Her awful glory, what does Leto reveal to those who meet Her gaze? It is a glimpse, a mere taste of the wilderness that we have left behind. And in this wilderness, few are more fierce than the Mother of Wolves.

This is the Goddess whom Niobe insulted, the Goddess whose honor is defended by Artemis and Apollon, and the traits which spurred Them in these actions are but a few that They have inherited from Leto.

When we view Leto, yes, we see the Divine Mother, we see She who birthed the Holy Twins, but we see also a complete Goddess, a whole Goddess; Someone with a past, a history, a life that began long before the birth of Her Children.

And in that, we may find common ground for the growth of our relationships with Her, as well as for our own, personal growth.

There is much yet to learn from Leto in regard to keeping our identities intact after becoming parents, and also in celebrating who we were beforehand. In our (American) culture, motherhood specifically is easily dismissed as a necessary but trivial pastime, yet is also lauded as the highest pedestal a woman can be seated upon. This dichotomy is of great detriment to society, however, and it is Leto who can help us to reintegrate the disparate themes of motherhood/parenthood, and to find the balance of ourselves within the roles, as She shows us in Her own life, and lore.

Leto, who is often quiet, who is often veiled, is the same Leto who does not flinch in the presence of Hera, or any Other. She is the same Leto who throws off her veil to ride vigorously through the wild– the same Leto who, for reasons of Her own, and with plans of Her own devising, fled Her birthplace to stake a claim to the varied lands and peoples of ancient Hellas– and was well respected throughout.

Therefore, for the upcoming Feast of Leto (Perihelios 9/Jan. 15, 2019), let us show respect for our Goddess, through shared ritual and feasting. And may we be always reminded to look beyond the surface of things. There is depth in what is hidden, and there are lessons to be learned from what we first must decide to seek.

— Columbine

Semi-Monthly Oracular Statement

In the Seventh Year of the Treasury, on the First Day of the New Year, Noumenia of Treasury Month Perihelios (I) – Jan. 7, 2019

**** Solomon’s Seal/Delta ****

“And now is the time to step back. Mankind has allowed itself to be guided toward a path of ultimate destruction. Your works upon the world have made Gaea bleed, and Her innocent children flee in droves to places of ill-repute, wherein they are subjected to carnage unimaginable to your fragile eyes.

“That you believed you were in control was the worst folly of all. And you will worry. And you must. Though We, the Blessed Gods, will do what is necessary.

“And so, you must let go the reigns, and We will guide you instead. Back away from the brink, and let inspiration carry you toward the solutions, and the justice, you seek. Live in the flow of Nature, and breathe in the dawn stretching across the world, for it will change the very fabric of your existence.”

— Apollon

(Tarot of Hellen/Greek Alphabet Oracle)