These are the first words that Apollon ever said to me.
Once upon a time, when I was in my early twenties, I celebrated Kharisteria. A devotee of Artemis that I am friendly with arranged a weekend festival, which included sacrifices to Artemis, games in Her honor, and god possession. If you do not wish to continue reading, I understand.
The weekend began with attendees, including myself, processing to two different ritual fields after washing our hands and faces in khernips. At this point in time, I sang in the choir for a diverse pagan group that was helping to put on this festival. In fact, the choir master was hosting this festival on his land. I was participating in the vegetarian sacrifice – bunny shaped cookies to be tossed in a bonfire. I wish I could remember the song that we sang then. It was quite beautiful, but I can’t remember it at all.
There were many games and races held in honor of Artemis, and I don’t remember if I participated in more than one or not. It’s amazing to me as I write this how little I remember. I can’t even remember the year or exactly how old I was. There are moments that are vivid and moments that are gone. The contest that I remember the most was the archery contest. The woman who had planned the festival had been a competitive archer and had brought her bow for people without one to use. It was not my first time shooting, but I don’t think I had shot an arrow in at least five years, and I didn’t own my own bow at the time. We shot at a life-sized deer shaped target. Striking the head was worth three points, the neck two, and the body one. We each got three arrows. I scored a head shot and two neck shots and won the contest. I remember being thrilled.
Later that day, Artemis appeared in the flesh (the devotee/priestess who put this together was Her horse). I remember that all of the winners of the various contests were lined up for Her inspection. She stood in front of each of us and looked us up and down and maybe said a few words to some. I have no idea what She said to anyone else. My ears were ringing, and I couldn’t look up. When She stood in front of me, She said, “Archery. That’s my favorite.” I was given a small painted box with a stone inside prepared by the priestess.
In the evening of the following day, we were informed that Apollon was going to appear. A friend of the priestess was going to be able to serve as His horse. We needed to prepare a welcome for Him. I agreed to dance. I had started studying Middle Eastern dance at least seven years before, which both connected me to my heritage and gave me a way to move my body that I was comfortable with for the first time. I had long dedicated my dancing to Apollon, but I had had no real connection or experience with Him until this time. I knew when Apollon had arrived, but I couldn’t look up. I knew that I had to keep dancing and do my best to be graceful. It didn’t matter that my arms were heavy or my stomach muscles were starting to hurt. I had to keep dancing. I had to be graceful. I danced until a sort of court was set up for Him a bit away from where I was.
It was agreed that we would sing for Him, perform for Him. I’m sure I sang with my choir, but I don’t remember. Individuals sang for Him as well, but I don’t think that I was one of them. I was feeling shy yet attentive. I watched Artemis with Him – Their relationship together was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was clear that They are deeply devoted to each other. When there was a gap in the singing, I encouraged a friend whose voice and songs I am a big fan of to sing one of her pieces for Him. She agreed to the second song I suggested. At some point, I noticed that He was sitting with an empty plate. I told this same friend that I thought He needed more cake. She looked at me, and said “So why don’t you give it to Him?” I cut another piece of cake and put it on a plate. I then walked over to where He was sitting with my body bowed over, my eyes cast down. As I approached His side, I asked, “Would you like some more cake?” and held the plate out to Him. He looked at me, through me, into me – I froze. I don’t know what He saw, what He was looking at. Then, he spoke. “Of course, I accept your offering.” My brain scrambled – this wasn’t good enough, that’s not what I meant. I just didn’t want Him to want more cake without anyone giving it to Him. An offering felt like it should be more, be bigger. The tone in His voice felt like, “You silly girl. I accept what you have to offer. I wouldn’t deny you the chance to give me what you have.”
When I think of Apollon, the word that comes to mind is “gracious.” I began to love Him that day.