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)


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)

G is for “Godspousery”

While I don’t care for the term godspouse, it is perhaps one of the most well known terms to describe the mystic relationship that develops between the soul of a human and the god the soul belongs to. Plato describes the act of Eros on the soul, and myth often shows Eros (or Aphrodite) acting to play the matchmaker between human souls and the gods. Of course most of this is regarded as nothing more than mythic generation of heroes etc, but these myths also serve as an important spiritual dialogue to our souls to take root with the love inspired in the soul. Ten years ago when I first started down this path in my relationship with Apollon, you could throw a rock and be quite unlikely to ever come close to hitting another godspouse. Now I am feeling inclined to write on this subject for my pagan blog project entry rather than what I had previously planned just because there has been instances coming up recently in which emotions have run high over misinformation regarding godspousery and assumptions that have been made. Therefore I am hoping that this post will clear some of those things up. These are in no particular order of importance, and I may miss a few points, as I am certain that there are many more which are relevant. If I missed something please feel free to add another point to the comments section.

1.) Misconception: Godspousery is a new pagan fad indulged in by young women (usually in their 20’s) engaged in without much consideration or forethought towards the consequences of jumping into that kind of relationship with a god.

Answer: While it is true that there are a number of new godspouses on the scene who fit that bill, there are many folks out there who have been around and have had such a relationship established successfully for a number of years. Among them there are many instances where it is seldom jumped into but has a kind of “courtship” phase before deciding on taking on that kind of relationship and level of devotion. Nor are all godspouses even women. Which leads me to point 2.

2.) Misconception: That all godspouses are women engaged in a bridal relationship with a male god.

Answer: Nope. In fact there are men who engage in this relationship with male gods, and with goddesses, and women who engage with this relationship with goddesses even as there are women who engage in it with gods. When I say women and men here I mean for it include heterosexual, homosexuals, transgenders et al. Despite what the current most vocal majority is, godspousery has no sexual or age prerequisites. It is a calling of the soul, an attraction inspired by Eros between the soul and the god. Right now there appears to be a majority of godspousery showing up among cisgender women, but that perception may very well be skewed by how many folks are silent on the subject. Many men seem to be more reluctant to talk about it publicly.

3.) Misconception: All godspouses are of a Nordic or Heathen religious tradition.

Answer: This perception may again have to do with the vocal majority, as it may *appear* that is most common with Odin and Loki, but it is not altogether accurate. I have met individuals who are godspouses to gods from various pantheons of gods. Myself included obviously.

4.) Misconception: There is absolutely no historic basis for godspousery.

Answer: This is kinda of a tricky statement, because history is not always quite that detailed. Setting aside the myths (in which as I noted above many such situations arise), you do have instances in which mortals were considered brides of gods. From a Hellenic perspective, the initiation imagery of women for the mysteries of Dionysos have a distinctive bridal imagery to them with Dionysos and Ariadne looking on. Likewise the Pythia was widely considered the bride of Apollon, and literature seems to indicate similar concepts of the sybils. Virgil’s Aeneid certainly suggests a very intimate relationship between the Sybil at Cumae and her god. Of course whether these kind of personal relationships were common outside of these very prominent cult settings we will likely never know, although great devotion of love to a gods seems dubious that it was uncommon, else how sympathetic and tragic would have the death of Hippolytes been without the understanding of his love of Artemis and his preference of her company and scorn of entering into marriage. Or the rise of Plato’s philosophy in regards to addressing the subject of the soul’s attraction and love towards the god to which she belongs (soul typically represented in the feminine form symbolically). So it very well may have not have been unheard of, but likely not common either. However, in modern times I have heard that there are cases in which girls take a bridal relationship to gods in Hinduism, and there is a lot of marital symbolism in Hinduism with the concept of the soul’s union with god, especially it seems with the textual material dealing with Krishna. In another direction, a book on Santeria showed beautiful pictures of a room in which a devote gave to his lwa wife (I probably got the term lwa wrong, I often confuse the terminology between Voodoo and Santeria). There are also suggestions in history of kings entering into marital pacts with powerful goddesses in some northern regions….how much of that is true though I can only hazard to guess.

5.) Misconception: Making the decision to be a godspouse means that you are agreeing to being enslaved by that god/dess into his/her service.

Answer: People who identify as god-slaves, whose relationship with their god is defined solely by the work they do for them, do exist. Sometimes (and I must stress this because I have not personally seen it often) a godspouse (who also usually does some kind of work on behalf of his/her beloved) will also identify as a godslave, but these terms are not synonymous. A godspouse does not necessarily feel enslaved to his/her god, anymore than you feel enslaved to your mortal spouse. It is of course a very serious commitment however. Love and intense devotion and loyalty go a long way that as with any loving relationship, a godspouse is likely to do what pleases his/her beloved just as much as people do every day for those that they love. We do however, recognize that we are not by any means equal to the gods and not gods ourselves, and therefore are placing ourselves in very uneven relationships power-wise, which also means that there are some sacrifices. But typically the gods are not ogres and do not demand anything more than what is suited to our own individual relationships with them and what we need, and what we are capable of. We may be ensnared by Love/Eros but it is a positive thing, there are no chains (unless, again, that is something particular to your relationship… on whatever level lol).

6.) Misconception: For women being a godspouse to a male god is anti-feminist.

Answer: Again, not so. As mentioned above there is no enslaving to a god’s will thing going on (typically), and as a matter of love it shouldn’t be judged as anti-feminist anymore than any women who engages in a marital to a man. There is an imbalance of power which may make it more pronounced to some feminists that there is a relationship of extreme inequality going on which act as triggers for them. However in any relationship one establishes with a god, you are going to be the inferior in the relationship, that is just how it goes. That is not say that we lack value, or boo humans kind of thing. We are self determining and quite capable of saying no and refusing anything our gods put before us, but it is easy to be a bit of a pushover for one that you love and do things that you feel that the god wants or will please him out of no other reason but love.But rather it is a recognition that we are not gods and therefore are not going to be on equal playing ground when it comes to power nor should one expect to be treated with some kind of reverence from others. We should not aspire or pretend otherwise…to do so could potentially lead to some serious delusions and hubris (for only the gods can deify, we can’t determine ourselves to be as they are). Also this idea of gender based inferiority is rather absurd, not only because gender based inferiority takes a huge backseat to any concept of inferiority to the gods in general, but also because it makes an assumption that the gods have a set literal sexual form. But the gods are not biological beings, they are greater than that. Therefore whereas their identities are often tangled up in a particular gender, often in relationship to their domain, many gods have been known to appear in a female form in some myth or another. Therefore the whole female inferior to the male argument is rather invalid. And as such it cannot be anti-feminist.

7.) Misconception: All godspouses are seers/spirit workers.

Answer: I think this misconception has caused some of the greatest friction when it comes to godspousery, or rather between godspouses, especially of the older and younger generations. There is an assumption that being a godspouse means that you must automatically become a seer, which is really an absurd assumption because those beloved by the gods in myths formed a variety of functions and had a number of various talents, but has also caused frustration. This frustration is due to new godspouses finding that they either lack the ability, or inclination, to fulfill this role. So I will say right here and right now, although a lot of godspouses find it fulfilling to be a seer/spirit worker it is not a prerequisite! Like the beloveds of history and myth, we all have our own directions our work will take us that can touch on any small part of the vast domain of the god one is “married” to. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have a knack for things in several areas, including divination/interpretation of signs/spiritwork/etc, but having that knack and even engaging in it on a personal level doesn’t mean that is what you are supposed to do or what their calling is. What your calling is will likely work itself out over time.

8.) Misconception: All Godspouses are celibate.

Answer: While there are many godspouses who make a choice to be celibate, this is something that is determined by their own individual relationship with their beloved god/dess. Sometimes the gods indicate that the desire for their mortal spouse to be unwed and/or celibate. I suspect it has more to do with the needs of the mortal spouse in particular. While it was not requested of me I have gone through several long periods of celibacy and have recently come to the conclusion, that some other godspouses I know have come to, that the commitment to the god too easily conflicts with the emotional needs of a mortal partner. In short it can seem unfair to the other person, and can sometimes cause some hostile feelings towards the godspouse’s spirituality. That said, there are godspouses who have very successful marriages and romantic partnerships. So in the end it is really about what is best for us all individually. I don’t believe that the gods call us to do anything in particular that isn’t already part of our disposition.

— Lykeia (4/08/2013)

Giving Offerings to Apollon

By Lykeia, Jan. 21, 2015

Inspired by a friend’s comment today, and the fact that at sundown tonight we celebrate the Noumenia and so honor Apollon Noumenios, I wanted to take a moment to talk about giving offerings to Apollon. I rarely have given much consideration to touching on this topic because I figured that this was something so rudimentary that most of my readers would not be interested in it. However, it turns out that may not be the case and there may very well be *someone* out there who will find it helpful who are feeling a bit lost in the establishment of their relationship with Apollon through offerings in worship.

Unlike most of us who may have grown up going to church in which services comprises solely of singing and listening to a pastor (more or less) with the occasional communion type of service perhaps thrown in which confirms the Christian believer’s faith in their god and is their manner of giving worship, the presenting of offerings to the gods is perhaps the most core part of worship in polytheism. Music is of course not excluded from worship, nor is dance and other forms of devotion, but usually speaking there is some kind of substance offered in which you are “feeding” the gods. This is an important basic part of establishing and developing and confirming your relationship with the god or goddess in question. This offering is often encased in traditional methodology of procedures, gestures and symbols that tends to differ from culture to culture. For instance, Roman worship tends to be a lot more complicated in its formulaic manner than Greek worship. During my brief time with Nova Roma I did memorize each of the individual gestures performed for approaching the altar, addressing the god, praying, and presenting the offering. In contrast the Greek rituals have two primary gestures dealing with communing with the god: one in which the hands are raised palm up (although some say that to chthonic gods one should have the palms down), and another where the hand is raised above the head in a kind of crowning gesture. Unlike the previously described Roman gestures, these gestures are not sequential but are alternative…either one works.

Of course the ritual for individual gods is within the same traditional cultural context that is used for other gods. That is to say, there is little variance in how one would give offerings to Apollon than how one would do for say Aphrodite, Athena, Zeus etc. The ritual construction can be seen as the common road of spiritual travel in which the gods have a history of recognizing. There of course may be personal variations, but general the whole of the ritual in its skeletal form looks pretty similar. The only thing that I tend to leave out as a solitary worshiper unless I am worshipping in with a body of people (which has happened a total of one time) is the procession. Likewise if you are doing rituals in your home which has a permanent home/altar for the gods there is less necessity for purifying the area as our altars and shrines tend to be purified with our household in monthly rites at the Deipnon.

With Apollon the matter of giving offerings and worship gets a bit more complicated because it depends on where you are giving the offerings. Many people who are devoted to him will likely keep an individual shrine or altar for Apollon in addition to his usual place in the household before the doorway where he is represented as upright stone (traditionally a black stone…I am still looking for the perfect black stone myself and so using a white quartz stone instead at the moment). At the doorway the manner of giving offerings to Apollon tends to be rather simple, usually involved garlanding his stone in some manner, usually with laurel, and pouring libations directly over the stone. This more simple method is largely due to being a daily activity as people are entering and leaving the household to protect the integrity of the household as well as the person who is leaving/arriving. There is no flame lit, Apollon is a constant presence residing there in that stone by his own representation as being the very form of the stone itself. This is a trait he shares with Hermes as well as a couple of other gods who have similar forms. As the god is installed at the property and is functioning at the property, feeding him there at the stone reaffirms his establishment there and his protections there. It is done on behalf of the household in general, and really is not part of building one’s own relationship with him in a very significant way.

In the case of a shrine or altar in which you are inviting the presence of a god in your ritual is where you come down to the regular interaction and relationship building with the god. It is here where you are presenting gifts to the god to establish Kharis with him. For most worshippers this may be irregularly, at certain important feasts and holidays (such as in celebration of his birthday), for those who are devoted to him or are interested in developing their relationship more with the god this may be weekly, monthly or daily. Although the stone for Apollon Agyieus is still normally adorned and receives libations, the actual ceremonial offerings for Apollon Noumenios occurs within the household. I would consider this a kind of banquet of Apollon in which Apollon may be a primary deity being honored…a guest of honor, but in which all the other gods of the household are also provided for.

At this point I should divert off course for a moment and talk about offerings. In many cases when giving offerings for multiple gods it is best to give offerings which are satisfactory to gods present, unless you have the ability to give a separate offering to each god. Usually for Hellenic gods this comprises of fatty meats and bones, wine and breads/cakes, in addition to some kind of fumigation of incense (typically frankincense tends to be the usual). Of course in times where I am giving individual offerings to Apollon I may include other incenses he seems to favor (such as cinnamon, sandalwood and rose for starters) and can give libations of things such as rum, honeyed-wine and mead. Raw honey and milk are also great offerings for him. Now some like these brought to the altar with all pomp in special decorated vessels, which is a lovely idea and special vessels can affirm who the offering is for in a very visual symbolic manner (and a reason why there are historical cases in which special cups and vessels were reserved for the worship of specific gods..more commonly in Roman worship but not rare in Greek worship). At best I have special offering bowls that are permanently on my altars. If you are not doing some community procession to the altar I tend to recommend you already have the vessels of the offerings on the altar or on a table near the altar (I use my coffee table as my altars are all accessible from my living room at this point where I am living).

As I said before, if you are giving worship in your house purification of the area, unless there is some specific reason why you feel that the sacred space may have been violated or polluted, is not necessary as it has been taken care of with the vigorous cleansings and purifications that occur monthly. However, if you are in a new space or outdoors, sprinkling the area with khernips, lustral water, is a good idea. Also performed is the scattering of barley. Indoors this tends to be messy and problematic, so I have adapted this custom to a jar of barley on my altar which, before the ritual begins, I remove the lid and take out a handful of barley, offerings prayers to the gods as I let it fall from my hands back down into the vessel on the altar…symbolically dropping barley grains down on the altar. This purpose of the ritual act is the same if carried out a bit differently. Afterwards the flame of Hestia is lit, she who carries by her flames all offerings to the gods. Again, in household worship this tends to be symbolic as most are not in position to burn food offerings in the course of ritual, but does work in offerings of incense as a manner of releasing the perfume into the air for consumption by the gods. And before you start thinking that as Apollon is a fiery deity himself and therefore offerings to Hestia is unnecessary, I will be quick to point out that Apollon himself adores Hestia (as demonstrated in the myth in which he and Poseidon competed to marry her) and she had a prominent place of honor at a large hearth within his temple. Hestia’s presence is absolutely necessary regardless.

When it ritual there is a part of calling the attention of the god, and a secondary part of presenting the offerings. The former part tends to be stressed the most in literary works. Ancient plays often have lovely invocations of the gods in which the worshiper calls on the attention of the god in question.  People often feel inspired to use these traditional prayers, whether particular invocative lines from a play, or, more often, from actual poems and hymns penned for the gods by ancient poets. The Homeric hymns commonly get used, as do the Orphic Hymns. And there are folks out there who are writing modern “hymns” for the gods that can be seen all over the internet, myself included! If you want to do it off the cuff, or compose something yourself, these usually include a greeting to the god, an adoration of the god (recognize the power of the god), recognition of a time that the god has helped you (if applicable), and other praise and invitation (the last part is especially noticeable in the Orphic hymns. This part never gets old, and becomes part of the most meaningful part of your worship. I go back and forth myself between off the cuff and ancient prayers as I feel inspired to do…and often I will do both! You are not only entreating the god to be present but also welcoming him, and celebrating his presence.

Manners of presenting offerings tends to vary from worshiper to worshiper. It seems as long as you are calling attention to the deity that you are offering this item on behalf of yourself (presumably your household too) and anyone else you wish to include, that this works well enough. I tend to go off the cuff with various poetic things that come to mind when I am giving offerings, but people who are just starting may be more comfortably having  written formula that will make the offering meaningful and less nerve-wracking. Generally speaking it doesn’t have to be anything more than this:

” O lord Apollon, (fill in any meaningful epithets you want to address), please accept this offering of wine/incense/cake/etc that you may feast upon it and it may please you. Accept this offering I present to you on behalf of myself, my household (fill in anyone else you want to include) in thanks (you can include specific things you are thanking him for) and that you continue to bestow your blessings upon me/us (can also include anything in particular you need his help with more immediately).”

The offering is either traditional, or can be anything that you find is particularly pleasing to the deity. For instance it is usual to have some kind of pork offering for Apollon Noumenios, which may or may not have also something to do with the sacrifice of pigs to Apollon in the Eleusinia. As your ritual is about your relationship with the god, the only mandatory thing with offerings is that it is something the god enjoys, and if said god has any taboos on certain types of offerings that these are observed. And no, there is no taboo against alchohol with Apollon, as I have said before in my blog (and will readdress here) this is an assumption usually based on a particular rule regarding the Pythian games mixed with Neitzche dichotomy ideas where anything of Dionysos would be offensive given to Apollon. There is nothing, however, to support this and I have found this is definitely not the case…especially not for a god that the Orphic hymns call Bacchic.

After the offering you can include any kind of devotional activity to honor the god while he is present at your ritual, this often includes singing (or some form of music), dancing (my preference), or any further gifts you want to give or anointing of the statue, or any dedications you wish to make. This is the celebratory/festive part of the ritual if it is being done for a festival or any kind of special occasion (or if you just really want to just because). This is often a good time to focus on what form of the god you are honoring and for what purpose (in which most events ongoing would have been tied to this concept).

I do want to note that if you are including other gods in the ritual, which is common, that in my experience it is best to include them before Apollon (or whatever god is the primary god being worshiped), in that manner while you have invited and given offerings to “guest” gods and goddesses, the rest of the event stays on target of the main deity in question. The occasion remains about him while the other gods get to partake. For myself, I include the gods of the Orphic month that I am worshiping in and Zeus and Hera usually.

Finally the ritual concludes with a final offering to Hestia in thanks to her.

Well that is about it in a nutshell. If I have forgotten to write anything down I do apologize, but mostly I hope that someone has found this helpful!

Further Thoughts on Stepteria

The Stepteria has three principle things going on…set aside the whole fighting a dragon/monster scenario. Really that has little to do with it. Dragon is what nature designs its nature to be. Being harmful to people is a side effect of its massive territorial nature in western myth (as would be the consuming of livestock). Delphyne is neither a god nor a man. Typhon, whom she reared at the request of Hera, was evil, because he was not a dragon or a creature of such innate nature. As the child of god, while the way he reared may have ruined him in many ways instilling in him  a destructive lifestyle, he was of a higher state. He was of the divine stock, whereas Delphyne was a creature of the earthen stock. The Erinyes are not exactly pleasant and are considered pretty baneful but they are not considered evil as the do as their nature dictates that their role in the cosmos is. Dragons do as their natures dictate that they do. So set Delphyne more or less aside in the specifics of being a monster (something which distinguishes her from the other Python who looted pilgrims to Delphi). Apollon slaying her was not personal, but a matter of just what he did…as was the purpose of decaying her on the ground.

This leads me to the first point. Delphyne in many ways represents the purpose of Apollon as Pytho, the decayer. He frees the spirit from the miasma that has attached to it simply from life. He frees the soul from the burdens of its life and form. The most expedient way to do this was by burning (hence we see early practices too of funeral pyres being used). However painful it is for us, it is a liberation. And how liberating it is for us, it still instills grief among those who are left behind. Why would the residents of Delphi have funerary rites for Delphyne if not to appease her and a sacred relationship with her that they benefit from. Her bones and flesh literally becomes the sacred precinct. She is transformed into a guardian spirit of the precinct by all of this. But all it carries certain ramifications….and his own purifications for having to deal intimately with it is part of his cycle. I would say that Delphyne allegorically takes the place of every innocent life he slays out of his natural role.

This is the second point. Apollon exacts nature’s laws in which Thanatos operates, in that which is born and lives must die, that which is miasmatic must be expunged for the welfare of all. Stepteria ought to make us deal with very harsh realities about our own natures and that we have our own “impure” inclinations that are just part of being living beings. And that at the end of our days we will have to lay down to rot in order to be freed and progress. As such this cycle with Delphyne purifies Apollon by the river Peneios and by Daphne for his duties in nature. There is a reason why Apollon is associated with so many purifying agents…..it is often because he himself is need of their use prior to anyone else having their use available to them.

Lastly, it is a recognition of transformation and change. It is unyielding and always eventual. There is nothing evil in the act of destruction but it is a necessity with its own consequences within nature. We cannot find against it, but ought to celebrate it even as we mourn for it. Change is hard, but it is a blessing even if it doesn’t appear so. That Delphyne’s bones and ashes were used to make the foundation of the sacred precinct of Delphi we can not a punishment (and while Apollon did punish Telphousa in myth, there is really no indication that his battle with Delphyne was a punishment but rather the movement of forces.

By celebrating the Stepteria, we see that it is aptly named….the crowning festival. This may seem at odds with the rather downer mythic component of exile. In reality it stresses victory. victory of the god yes, but also a kind of spiritual victory. We ask that the god crown us, that the god slay  us, destroy us, and remake us by cleansing us. The boughs that were gathered likely to crown heroes from the Pythian games probably has the same emphasis. The proof of worth, the remaking of the self to be crowned heroically to dwell among the blessed. Stepteria is a most holy sacred festival of our lord even as we grieve and purify as we await to celebrate his return. We identify with Apollon and with the serpent.

— Lykeia

Blessed Stepteria

Following the birth of Apollon during the Delphic Polythousia (or the Theban Prostateria) that occurs on the 7th day of the Delphic month Bysios (derived from Pythios) or the Theban month Prostaterios (Anthesteria to people who are only familiar with the Attic calendar lol) in the this month following (reminding you all that I am a  month ahead of most people by my calendar since I celebrated Poseidon II last year) this month (Attic Elaphebolia) honors the slaying of the dragoness Python and the narration of the myth of the return of Apollon next month.

For those who are not familiar with the myth, Apollon following his birth, arrived at Delphi. There are two variations of this myth. One in which he has come as a grown man, and another in which he and Artemis are carried to Delphi by their mother. There he encounters to the guardian of the stream Castilla. In the Homeric hymn to Pythian Apollon we find a description of Delphyne as a great bane of a creature who is a plague bringer and devourer of flocks. Apollon slays her either with his golden sword or with his bow, either alone or with the aid of his sister (as all of these versions exist). He (or they in the case of Artemis as well) departs Delphi in sorrow, weeping in his exile. Myth has it that as he leaves for Hyperborea that his tears fall as amber on the earth.

However in the Stepteria we have the program of the slaying of Delphyne acted out in which the youth, standing in for Apollon, slays the dragon. It has been suggested by scholars that this may have either been by throwing a live serpent or effigy of a snake into a structure to burn to death as Delphyne was consumed. So doing, he would flee immediately, taking no part of food or comfort. There he would be at the mercy of strangers as he traveled from town to town with his attendants, acting the role of an outcast in exile before finally arriving at the Tempe Valley. There he would be purified by entering the laurel grove and would cut branches from the sacred laurel at the side of the river Peneios to return with them to temple around the time of the spring equinox to the temple with great celebration.

For this ritual, unless you have a sacred river and laurel trees to act out the exile on a small scale (or the means for roughly a month of camping) the best way I have found to celebrate this ritual is to praise Apollon, the slayer of the serpent, to invite him of the golden sword to liberate and free, to destroy the miasma that infects our homes and cities and regions. Invite the shooter from afar to pour out his arrows as he begins the season of his return. From paper make a small serpent (or out of any other flammable substance) and set this in a fire safe bowl upon your altar, as you do so lighting it on fire as you praise Apollon as purifier and averter of evil, praising him for being Pythios, who causes things to rot and pass away to release all things for new rebirth. You are welcoming here too the dawn of spring as you destroy the fortifying wintry dragon. I then follow this with grieving for the exiled lord Apollon, and grieving for the death of the dragoness as was carried out in Delphi. I pour offerings upon the earth for her even as Apollon does to appease her spirit as he flees.

The ritual should be finished with a simple meal, the fair of exiles without friend or shelter, relying on what little they could manage. A humble meal  should follow. Tonight we are having some chicken and roasted potatoes. Simple fare without extras or indulgences. For seven days then I pray to Apollon for his return. On the 21st day of the month that is sacred to him I enact my own ritual that I call the Daphneaia which is about his entrance into the holy grove and his purification by the river Peneios and Daphne. Until then it is a time of reflection, awaiting purifications of the Daphneaia.

Post Ritual Update:

This year I did something a bit different. I had burned the paper serpent in a brass incense burner bowl and watched her dissolve into dust from the flames even as I prayed to Apollon. I had forgotten to mention above that it is appropriate to read from the Homeric Hymn to Pythios, which I did reading the segment of her destruction. Following her destruction I pray to Apollon that that which is miasmatic, that which breeds evil is not in and of itself evil in all entirety and that he cleanses and purifies all things to release us from the bonds. I lamented for Delphyne and lauded her place that she gained as guardian spirit of Delphi as upon her bones the precinct rested. I poured the libation, not directly on the earth this time, but upon her ashes (which will be disposed of upon the earth at some point this evening), lamenting her death as I did so. I then followed as my usual lamentation for his exile that he shall not be among friends, that he departed for the far lands and left all bereft of his presence as he attends to his blessed cleansing.

I then played my wooden flute for Delphyne. In Delphi the youth representing Apollon would as Apollon play the flute for Delphyne as Apollon was said to have done. Its long mournful tones singing to her passing and mourning too his banishment from the company of men.

In the end there are many ways you may come up with to celebrate this festival that will all be spiritually fulfilling and meaningful.

— Lykeia

Prostateria, born among lambs

First, you just gotta love how dysfunctional Hellenic calendar systems are. I am celebrating this month what is usually called by the Hellenic name Anthesterion but I call by the Boeotian name Prostaterias, whereas others celebrated Poseidon II this year and are a month behind in Gamelion. So perhaps this post (and subsequent post I may make tomorrow) can be of some use then for others who come along into that month.

It is hard to imagine, where here it is cold and icy, that in other parts of the world this is the lambing season. That Dionysos’ grand festival, the Anthesteria, takes place amid this very early spring atmosphere as winter is ending and the activities of spring are coming in. Yet, as widely known as the Anthesteria celebration is, Plutarch also reminds us that Delphi and Sparta recognized and agreed with the Boeotian birth of Apollon at the Theban Delos (a natural island created between two rivers named Olive and Palm) that also occurs this month. In fact it occurs at sundown tonight.

Unlike the Thargelia which takes certain distinction in the role of Apollon in the ripening grain that gives his birth in May, this early spring birthday of Apollon seems quite appropriate for the herding lord that he is in a sense being born among lambs. Those that see a certain continuity between the cults of Poseidon and Apollon can probably see how this may symbolically echo alternative myths of Poseidon in which he was not swallowed by his father but, as an infant, hidden among lambs.  Although there is nothing known of anything dealing with herding beasts in the Boeotian birth of Apollon (really little is known about it other than this information shared by Plutarch) it is easy to grasp upon these theme, especially given the shepherd feasts to Apollon at the end of summer as the god who is born at the time of lambing is the appropriate god to deliver sacrifices to when the spring lamb has been well fed and reared.

Certainly the sacredness of white wool as an emblem of purity would be an interesting association to Apollon as the herder. The same white wool that adorns doorways at the birth of girls in honor of Artemis, Apollon wears in the locks of his hair. Why not, wherein at the Ionian Delos, Leto departs of Lycia to purify her babe that instead his swaddling that the Homeric hymn makes brief mention of was made out of the pure white wool from which he leapt made in full vigor whereas the Ionian myths of Lycia has him a helpless babe until arriving there  (contradicting other myths in which the babe at just a few days old went to construct his temple at Delphi. This takes us to two threads regarding Delphi. The Ionian thread in which Apollon, after returning from Lycia grown arrives at Delphi as an adult. And another in which Apollon and Artemis arrive at Delphi as small children/babes with her mother which would reasonably align more with the Boeotian birth of Apollon and the events of the Stepteria at Delphi in the following month in which Apollon slew Delphyne which was celebrated with a child acting as Apollon both in slaying Delphyne and in acting out the exile). It is possible that the Homeric Hymn blends these two elements of his births in its narration of the birth of Apollon making it relatable regardless of the audience. It never mentions the whens are other specifics really. But that is just my personal thought on that.

Still in the question is, what possible relationship did the lambing season and Apollon’s birth have? This is about the time of the year where the moose and reindeer are preparing to drop their calves, so this is not entirely insignificant for me. Up here, long before there are flowers we see the return of migratory critters and the dropping of calves. Here may lay a distinction in view of a migratory god such as Apollon who is associated with such creatures, and vegetation gods who dye yearly and are reborn with the spring (of course Dionysos is an interesting difference here because he is born in the winter still when the ivy grows abundantly which gives him a somewhat distinctive difference from other vegetation deities who adjourn for the winter in the underworld). Remember too that Apollon, as serving as a slave to Admetus, was said to have blessed the herds with bearing twins. This certainly points to an importance of Apollon in the calving/lambing season, that he was conceived as being born among them as one who is caretaker and herder, overseer of the lambing season and the rutting season in the autumn before he himself adjourns away.

So at sundown today and into tomorrow until sundown, I will honor Apollon Prostaterios, lord before the doors, lord of the renewal of life, herder god. I will honor him who was born between the rivers.

— Lykeia