Polytheism & Syncretism

Yesterday, I read an old article written by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, which discusses what is meant by and how many people respond to syncretism.  While we don’t agree on every point, I acknowledge that Lupus is an accomplished academic with a thorough understanding of the topic.

Lately, I have been reading Apollo: The Wind, the Spirit, and the God : Four Studies by Karl Kerenyi, which is kind of amazing, to be honest.  There are definitely moments where you read for awhile and then realized that he’s managed to talk himself around something very interesting without actually addressing it directly, which then leads you to wonder why you’re reading, but then the next page gives you new insights or incredible language.

The transparent glimmer playing in the darkness which we could label “the Apollonian color” is only one of many colors.  (p. 66)

In context, Kerenyi is not arguing for or against polytheism.  He’s discussing Apollonian religion in the context of the Phaedo.  Yet, I find this statement to be a beautiful description of polytheism.

Like the language of color – the boundaries of each color vary from language to language, with some languages, “grue” languages, for example, using one name for colors in the range of what English speakers would call green and blue.  Each shade can be separated as distinct, but the names for several shades may be the same or many, depending upon who is doing the speaking (what language is being spoken), so the same is for our gods.  While we may be able to separate personalities down into even the individual epithets of gods, so do some people view several gods (as I name them) one and the same.  Who is distinct and Who is one is a Mystery.

 

Honey and Almonds

I think we all have moments when we wonder whether or not our offerings matter, if we’re offering the right things, if… if lots of things.

Yesterday evening, I made offerings (honey and almonds) to Hestia, Artemis, Leto, and Hermes.  I have a closer relationship with Leto and Hermes, and maybe even Hestia, than I do with Artemis.  I made the offerings to the first three earlier in the evening – it being the eve of the 16th of Gamelion, after all.  I make offerings to Leto whenever it is a day belonging to either Artemis or Apollon as she has no day of Her own, and Hestia receives first and last, of course.  It is the Lenaia, so I probably should have made offerings to Dionysos as well, but yesterday I didn’t.  While I have been blessed with His presence, we are not very close, and I have not yet begun to celebrate the Lenaia annually.  I am aware of its passing, which is a beginning.

As I looked at the shrines piled high with offerings, as I sang prayers and lit candles, I had those same wondering thoughts that we all do from time to time, the thoughts that seem stronger when we make offerings to gods whom we venerate but with whom we lack a particularly close connection.

Later, after I had made offerings to Hermes, I walked around my darkened apartment.

The only lights were the moon and city lights shining in through the windows and the lights from Hestia’s shrine in the kitchen, Artemis’s and Leto’s shrines along one wall of my living room, and Hermes’s shrine over my desk in my living room.  I felt the air grow stiller and quieter, and I looked around.

In that moment of increased stillness and silence, I realized that I felt right.  It can be difficult to carry that feeling around through whatever we go through in our daily lives, but knowing that I can find that feeling by giving to Them is important.  Sometimes, the thought behind the giving is more important than if the gift is necessary.  Sometimes, a gift is a way of showing love and devotion.  In the exchange, we can find peace.

Χρυσοκομης

Today, on the evening beginning the thirteenth day of the month of Gamelion, it seems an appropriate day to discuss one of the epithets that Apollon shares with Dionysos.

Khrysokomes – translated variably as golden-haired and of the golden locks

It is rare, though it does happen, that Apollon is depicted without golden blond hair.  (This prayer card is an example.)  Dionysos, however, is usually depicted with dark hair.  Why do they share this epithet, then?

Apollon and Dionysos both have been given solar aspects.  For Apollon, there is often conflation with Helios, or even Eos (as a youthful god of the dawn), but truly, He is the god of light.  The light of the sun, the moon, the stars, the candle flame, the bonfire, your nightlight – these lights all emanate from Apollon.  Dionysos’s solar aspect can be seen in connection with photosynthesis – the sun is needed to produce the fruit of the vine.  It can also be seen where the sun (as it rises and sets each day) is connected with regeneration – something the twice-born god knows well.  Dionysos is also generally spoken of in this regard in relation to his marriage with Ariadne.

This epithet is used by Hesiod in Theogony (I use the translation by Apostolos N. Athanassakis) in reference to Dionysos.  Is this done to “match” the appearances of Ariadne (a granddaughter of Helios) and Dionysos, or to reflect His godhood in her humanity?

Semele, daughter of Kadmos, yielded to Zeus’s lust, and she, a mere mortal, is now the divine mother of the dazzling and deathless god in whom many exult.  Alkmene gave birth to invincible Herakles after she had lain in love with Zeus the cloud gatherer.  And Hephaistos, the lame smith of wide reknown, took as his buxom bride Aglaia, the youngest of the Graces.  Golden-haired Dionysos took blonde Ariadne, daughter of Minos, to be his buxom bride, and then Zeus made her ageless and immortal.  (lines 940-949)

I believe that the gods have the ability to be shapeshifters – this is oft-attested to in different ways.  It makes sense that what one artist sees would not be what other sees, yet both images would still be of the same god.  This idea leads me to think about why some religions forbid the painting and sculpting of images of the gods – perhaps it is in part so that one doesn’t see a painting or statue and trust it or the artist more than our own experiences?  So we don’t imagine that Who we saw couldn’t possibly be Apollon or Dionysos because of something so simple as the color of His hair?

Personally, I very rarely see the gods, and when I do, it is mere glimpses of what would barely be a square inch on a human being.  However, I do often feel Apollon as a golden mist.  He has other epithets commenting on his goldenness, and I hope that some of you will take it upon yourselves to discuss this and others in pieces that you will then submit for the devotional.

“Each in his own tongue.”

Should we, worshippers of the theoi and speakers and natives of other languages and lands, learn Greek?  Is the complex and unpractical ancient Greek of the scholars best?  Will modern Greek suffice?

I, a lover of languages and prolific accumulator of words, will never tell someone not to study a language that calls to them – whether that call is personal, professional, religious, or familial.  I’ve studied languages for all of these reasons and more, sometimes just because they were available!

Is it necessary to study Greek in order to pray?  Is it necessary in order to make offerings?  Is it necessary in order to serve?  Is it necessary in order to love?

I don’t think it is.  The gods are smarter than we are.  While not omniscient, I do believe that the gods can hear and understand us no matter which languages we speak.  The gods were not born of Greece – They have simply come to us today through the Greeks.  If They have Their own language, I doubt it is one that we could learn.  Where we fail with words, They can hear our tones and see our faces and limbs.  We are visible to Them.  We do not speak or act in a vacuum.  We are not alone.

 

“Of course, I accept your offering.”

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.

Call for Submissions – He Who Rules With Honey

I am seeking submissions for He Who Rules With Honey, a devotional anthology in honor of Apollon. Submissions open January 4, 2016 and close January 24, 2017, with an expected release date of spring 2017.

I am interested in a variety of material, including but not limited to: prayers, hymns, songs, essays, and visual artwork. One piece of artwork will be chosen for the cover of the book and printed in color. All other pieces will be printed in black and white. Pieces are acceptable in any language, provided that you include an acceptable to you English translation to be printed with your piece.

In your work, please focus on a single epithet of Apollon. This devotional will be divided among His many names, with a limited number of pieces printed that reflect each one. When submitting, please note for which epithet your piece is intended. If you would like to be assigned an epithet to focus on, please e-mail me at pythioumelissa@gmail.com.

Multiple submissions by the same author are acceptable and encouraged. All contributors will retain the original copyright for their work. Previously published material is acceptable as long as the author holds the copyright for the material.

All submissions must be original or include accurate citations. Any plagiarism will disqualify an individual from submitting any work at all. I reserve the right to edit spelling, grammar, and punctuation, especially of prose.

All artwork should be sent via a jpg e-mail attachment. All text should be sent via a doc or pages e-mail attachment. Please send all questions and submissions to me at pythioumelissa@gmail.com. Contributors to this project will not receive monetary compensation. Each published contributor will receive a coupon code to purchase two copies of the book at cost and may request a free pdf version for personal use.