The Muses: An Introduction

Apollon has at least two epithets that refer to Him as the leader of the muses.  These are Μούσαρχος (Mousarkhos) and Μουσηγετης (Musagetes).  The latter has been translated as patron and companion of the muses as well as leader of the muses.

There are actually three different sets of muses, two of which bear a relation to Apollon.  The first set is the set that we think of most often when we think about the muses.  They are the Olympian muses, the set of nine muses who are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddesses of music, dance, and knowledge.  The lyre (kithara) and flute have become symbols for all nine of the muses, and the swan and magpie are both sacred to Them.  In art, they are sometimes depicted wearing crowns of feathers, which refer to their triumph in musical contest over the Sirens (who lost their feathers to the muses).  The muses have sometimes been thought of as nymphs, which would affect the offerings given to them as many do not give wine to nymphs, but you will have to develop your own relationship to Them and rely on your own UPG (unverified personal gnosis) for that information.  I have offered wine to Euterpe before with no sense or indication that it was taboo or not accepted.

Καλλιοπη – Kalliope (Calliope) is the muse of epic poetry.  Her attributes include a tablet, stylus, and roll of paper/scroll.

Κλειω – Kleio (Clio) is the muse of history.  Her attributes include a scroll and an open chest of books.

Ερατω – Erato is the muse of erotic poetry.  Her attributes include the lyre.

Ευτερπη – Euterpe is the muse of lyric poetry.  Her attributes include a flute.

the shrine in my home for Aphrodite, Hebe, and Euterpe

Μελπομενη – Melpomene is the muse
of tragedy.  Her attributes include a tragic mask, the club of Heracles, a sword, a crown of vine leaves, and a pair of cothornus (cothornoi?) – they are calf-length boots with upturned toes, which were used to costume characters in tragic plays.

Ουρανιη – Ouranie (Urania) is the muse of astronomy.  Her attributes include the staff and the globe.

Πολυμνια – Polymnia (Polyhymnia) is the muse of religious hymns.  She often appears in art without attributes to identify Her.  Her posture is usually one of contemplation.

Τερψιχορη – Terpsichore is the muse of choral song and dance.  Her attributes include the lyre and plectrum (pick).

Θαλεια – Thaleia (Thalia) is the muse of comedy.  Her attributes include the comic mask, a shepherd’s staff, and a wreath of ivy.

The second set of muses is a set of three to five, depending on your source and view.  When They are a set of three, it is Arche and Thelxinoe who are generally excluded.  They are titans, daughters of Ouranos and Gaia.  They are referred to as the elder muses or titan muses.

Μελετη – Melete is the muse of practice.

Μνημη – Mneme is the muse of memory and may very well actually be Mnemosyne, the mother of the previously mentioned set of nine muses.

Αοιδη – Aoide is the muse of song.

Αρχη – Arche is the muse of beginning.

Θελξινοη – Thelxinoe is the muse of charming the mind.

The final set of three muses are the Delphic muses.  They are the daughters of Apollon.  They are referred to as the younger muses and the Apollonides.  There are two conflicting sets of names for this set of muses and nothing (that I’ve found) is known of their domains separate from from what can be inferred by their names.  I am not certain of any correlations between the two sets of names, so I am not intending to imply that Kephiso is equivalent to Nete, nor the same for Apollonis and Mete,  nor Borysthenis and Hypate.

Κηφισω – Kephiso was named after a local river.

Απολλωνισ – Apollonis means daughter of Apollon.

Βορυσθενισ – Borysthenis means strength.

Νητη – Nete refers to the lowest note on the lyre.

Μηση – Mete refers to the middle note on the lyre.

Υπατη – Hypate refers to the highest note on the lyre.

A note about the lyre: The number of strings on a lyre and the notes which they play vary.  Some sources talk about seven stringed lyres because the number seven is sacred to Apollon, but in art, the number of strings shown varies.  The lyre that I play has 13 strings.  I chose it because I wanted more potential for what I could play.  The more strings one has, the more notes one has, the more songs one can potentially play.  A key thing to consider when choosing music for the lyre (excepting a few modern versions, but not mine) is that one can tune a string up or down a bit, but this cannot be done in the midst of playing a song, so if you want a string to play a sharp or a flat, the note must be sharp or flat throughout the song and then the lyre must be retuned before a song with different notes.  All of this is to say that on my lyre, the lowest note is usually a C, but it can be tuned down to a B flat if necessary.  The highest note is an A, which can be tuned up to A sharp, and the middle note is a B.


Cleansing (short & sweet)

Cleanliness and purification are important in the worship of the theoi, the Hellenic gods.  Some gods are more particular about this than others, but you cannot err on the side of being too clean.

There are two simple methods used to cleanse areas in which you would like to create a shrine, the shrine itself, and statues and other items you would like to keep on said shrine.

Aspersion of Khernips: You can sprinkle khernips on an area or item to cleanse it.  You can also pour it over your own hands and face.

There are multiple methods of creating khernips (Hellenic lustral water).  The most common is to douse a burning dried bay leaf in spring or salt water while praying to Apollon.

Barley: Sacrificial knives are generally kept buried in a basket of barley in order to keep them clean for upcoming sacrifice.  Barley kernels can also be tossed onto a shrine or at the feet of a statue for cleansing.  Personally, I tend to leave a small dish of barley on each (indoor) shrine at Noumenia in the hopes that they will work to keep the area clean throughout the month.

Khernips can be used on the body, but it is for cleansing a body that is already physically clean.  Methods for cleansing the body include:

Bathing: Traditionally, men were encouraged to bathe in cold water while women were permitted to use hot water and steam.  Personally, I think that there are times when both are appropriate.  There is also the choice between standing water (like a bath) and running water (like a shower).  I generally find running water to be more helpful in taking things away and standing water to be more useful when needing to soak something up.  Your opinion may differ.

Fasting: Fasting is a method for cleansing both the body and the mind.  There are different ways that one can fast, both partial and total.  In a total fast, one might consume nothing or only water.  In a partial fast, one might refrain from only certain foods – perhaps meat or grains.  I have long had a realization that some foods are “cleaner” than others, and sometimes I realize that I need to only eat “clean” foods.  There is no source material for which foods are clean, it’s entirely something that I intuited once upon a time.  In general, most fruits and vegetables are clean, and anything greasy is not.  Very little meat is clean, but some can be.  Some fruits and vegetables are cleaner than others – mostly citrus fruits and vegetables that I see as crisp, like lettuces and celery.  Milk, yogurt, and cheese can be clean, but not always.  Butter is not generally clean.  Don’t worry if you can’t follow my logic here.  What I think is clean and what you think is clean might be different, and that’s ok.  Your fast is between you and the gods.

Aside from our bodies, our space, and our things, we should also make an effort to keep our minds and souls clean.  I am not here to dictate what that means for you exactly, but for me, it means that I should be honest – both to myself and others.  I should not do things that I know to be wrong.  I should not put myself in a place where I am surrounded by people who are doing wrong.  I should not listen to harmful ideas without standing up to them.  I should step away when I can no longer think critically about what I am hearing.  Staying clean can require strength, and if your strength ebbs, you may need to retreat and gather your strength before you can cleanly be in a space with people who are not clean again.


Update: He Who Rules With Honey

We are now halfway through the submission period for He Who Rules With Honey, and I have received some breathtakingly beautiful submissions, for which I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

All of the submissions that I’ve received so far have been prayers and artwork. I would love to have a prayer for each epithet, so this is absolutely fine, and I’d love to see more. If you have other ideas for pieces you’d like to submit (poetry, re-imagined myths, essays about personal experiences, academic papers, etc…) then no one else has done it yet, so just think, you could be first!

Only a few epithets have received submissions:


If you have been considering addressing one of these epithets, please do! If you have been considering addressing one of His other epithets, please do! If you would like me to assign you an epithet, please e-mail me! (pythioumelissa at gmail)

Thank you for all of your hard work so far. I am confident that together we can create a volume to truly honor Him, my most beloved of gods.

*I had originally been intending only to address Greek epithets in this book.  I have received one submission for Apollo Belenos, but while the submission is fantastic, I am not yet sure if it will be included.  I suppose some of that decision rests on what else is submitted.  So, go ahead, submit!