In Search of Symbols

While some people don’t feel the need to adorn their bodies in a way that declares them to be for the use of the gods, some do.  Some of us wear jewelry or have tattoos that belong to a god in some way or for some reason but are pieces that no one could identify as such without our explanation.  Others search for more obvious yet personally meaningful symbols to use to represent the gods they love.  Today, I’d like to provide a few of Apollon’s epithets that could give you ideas for devotional art, including tattoos and jewelry.  The devotional is still accepting submissions, and both artwork and written pieces on these or any other of His epithets are welcome.

Agraios (any hunting weapon)
Agyieus (a cityscape, a road, a wall)
Aigletes (lightning, sun, any depiction of a storm)
Daphnaios (laurel)
Daphnephoros (bay branch)
Dekatephoros (1/10, or any visual depiction of that fraction)
Delphinios (dolphin, snake/dragon, sailing ship)
Didymeus (sun and moon, two lights, anything meaningful to you twinned)
Dikeros (two horns or any two horned animal)
Dionysodotes (grapes or any other symbol of Dionysos)
Ebdomeios & Hebdomagetes & Heptamenaios (the number 7)
Eleleus (the earth or if you’re a veteran, whatever war or battle cry or your version of “hoorah” or whatever it is that marines on TV say)
Embasius (a boat)
Enolmos (tripod)
Enthryptos (cake)
Erithius (sickle)
Erythibios (mildew or mildew on something)
Eupharetres (quiver)
Euryalus (the ocean)
Exakasterios (any warding symbol that is meaningful to you)
Hekatos & Hekatebolos (arrow or bow and arrows)
Helios (sun)

Don’t forget, you can always leave a comment or send me an e-mail requesting an assignment for the devotional.  I’d be happy to give you some direction.


How It Could Be

a shrine Hué, Vietnam February 2018

I spent most of my Chinese New Year vacation in Vietnam.  From Hanoi to Da Lat, I was struck repeatedly by one thing – the prevalence of street shrines.  Because I was there during the lead up to and the actual holiday of Tết (Chinese New Year), I don’t know how many of these shrines are maintained throughout the year and how many were just because of the holiday.  I don’t know the reasons for putting these shrines in the public spaces I found them in, nor do I know who is expected to clean up after them.  Quite a few had clearly started out as shrines and become trash heaps, which is not a trend that I’d like to see replicated elsewhere.

Because Tết is also a time when many people make offerings to ancestors, I also saw

a man burning offerings on the street Hanoi, Vietnam, February 2018

quite a few people burning hell money (the term used in China – I’m not if it’s the same in Vietnam; money intended for the use of dead relatives and ancestors in the afterlife) on the street.  How great would it be if those of us in other countries could just as easily light a fire in front of our homes or places of business to burn our offerings to the gods?  No one gives a second glance (except me trying to take a photograph without being rude or intrusive and hoping to capture more of the fire than of anyone’s face), and it’s completely normal.

Lucky Turtle, Sung Sot Cave Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, February 2018

In Vietnam, turtles are considered to be lucky and bringers of longevity and prosperity.  In this cave, people make monetary offerings to this stone formation that resembles a turtle, then they touch the turtle’s head.  I borrowed some small money (5,000 dong) from a coworker to make my offering (and then quickly transferred the money to him via WeChat).  You just cannot pass by the turtle and ignore him or pat his head and not pay.  It wouldn’t be right.  This isn’t quite the same as a street shrine, but it’s a large protected cave with many visiting tour groups that has become a place to make offerings publicly and openly, something that many of us in the rest of the world wish for.  In China, this same type of situation is fairly common, but in America, not so much.

On another island in Ha Long Bay, famous for being visited by a Russian cosmonaut

a shrine on Ti Top Island  Ha Long Bay, Vietnam  February 2018

accompanied by Ho Chi Minh, there was a shrine just outside of one of the rest stops up the mountain where they sell food, drinks, and souvenirs.  I don’t know who this shrine is for, but the offerings were fresh and abundant.  Guavas, wax apples, dragonfruit, oranges, incense, cookies, cigarettes, and more – Fruit and cigarette offerings seemed to be very common with packaged cookies a bit less so.  Incense is ever present.

Imperial City, Hué, Vietnam  February 2018

In the Imperial City, there were several shrines.  I’m not sure if they were shrines built for previous inhabitants (the dynastic rulers of Vietnam and their families) or if they were shrines built by those royal personages that are still maintained.  The fact that they are still maintained is what is impressive to me.  This series of buildings, some restored and some in ruins, could have easily been left as just remnants of the past, but it’s more than a museum.  Someone is still regularly lighting incense.

I’ll leave you with a few more shrines, and I sincerely hope that one day, we can all walk down the street and pass shrines for our gods, too.  Imagine leaving an offering as you walk to work, to grab coffee, to the train or bus, or anywhere you go.  Imagine being reminded with every step that your gods are present.  Imagine knowing that other people are worshipping these gods too because you can see the evidence left from their offerings.  Imagine taking it upon yourself to remove the debris from and clean up a shrine that is laden with offerings and sees daily visitation from people you don’t know.  Imagine what our world could be like.

a shrine in Hué, Vietnam  February 2018
a shrine in Hué, Vietnam  February 2018
a shrine in Hué, Vietnam  February 2018

Praying to the Son of Zeus

To be more specific, I’d like to discuss prayers to a specific son of Zeus, Apollon.  The call for submissions remains open, and I am still looking for material, especially prayers, to Apollon under many very specific epithets.  He actually shares quite a large number of epithets with His father, and I’d like to compile a list of those here for you today.  In addition to prayers, I’d love academic writing (with citations) and essays that explore the relationship between Apollon and Zeus and that focus on their sharing of the epithet of your choosing.  I am also willing to assign epithets to those who feel they need a bit of direction, so just toss me an e-mail at pythioumelissa at gmail to request one.

Agétor (Αγήτωρ), Leader and Ruler
Agónios, Helper in Struggles; Who Helps in Contests; of Contests
Àlexikakos ( Άλεξικακος), He Who Wards Off Evil; Restrainer of Evil; He Who Diverts
Kataibates, He Who Grants a Happy Return Home (from war or abroad) – note that when referring to Zeus, this epithet may have an entirely different meaning that, at least according to, has to do with His descending with thunder and lightning.  The differences in the way the same epithet can describe the two gods might be a very interesting topic to explore, no?
Katharsios, the Purifier
Khrysáoros (Χρυσάορος),With Sword of Gold; Wearer of the Golden Sword
Klários, Supervisor Over Cities and Colonies (klaros: allotment of land)
Lykeios (Απολλών Λύκειος), of the Wolf (Wolf-Slayer?); of the Light (Light Bringer?); Destroyer; Protector from Wolves; Giver of Light; Wolf God; Deliverer from Wolves; Born of Light; Born in Lycia (In the case of Zeus, the meaning of this epithet seems to be less disputed and directly relate to His worship in Lycia)
Moiragetes, Leader of the Moiroi (Ruler of Fate); Guide of the Moirae
Phuzios/Phyxios, He Who Protects Fugitive
Soter (Σώτηρ), the Savior

Happy writing!


What is a picture worth?

Ever since Labrys first published the English version of their book, Hellenic Polytheism Household Worship in 2014, there has been something of a controversy in the English speaking Hellenic communities over the use of pictures on shrines.  The book unequivocally states that statues must be used on shrines and that pictures are prohibited.  I would give you an exact quote, but I gave away my copy of the book when I moved to China.  If anyone has a copy and wouldn’t mind leaving a quote in the comments, that’d be very helpful.

I bought the book when it first came out, and I was in communication with the author, Christos Pandion Panopoulos, via a Facebook community.  The English translation is riddled with errors, and I volunteered to find them all and offer corrections as they were planning an e-book version of the text where they would be able to correct all of these errors.  I do not believe the e-book has come out, yet.  In any case, through this communication, I was able to get some insight from the author on some of the more controversial statements in the book.

From what I recall, the reason that Panopoulos and his group believe that one should never use a picture (two dimensional artwork) of a deity on a shrine is because the deity literally inhabits a statue (three dimensional artwork) that is on a shrine but cannot do so with a two dimensional object.  I have had many statues with shrines, and when I have felt the presence of a god, I have never felt it to be in (or only in) a statue.  I have always felt it near me, behind me, in front of the shrine, perhaps even filling the entire room.  I don’t think a physical vessel is necessary to hold a god.  I think they will come if they choose to, and I don’t think any physical object can hold or contain them.

In my opinion, I think the Labrys community is reacting to the use of ikons in Greek Orthodox Christianity and in wanting to set themselves apart, they have come to believe that pictures are bad but statues are good (whereas in the Greek Orthodox Church, ikons (pictures) are good, and statues (idols) are bad).  In other areas of the world, we react to other things in the dominant religions around us, either incorporating them into our practices or rejecting them wholeheartedly based mostly on our own personal histories with those religions.

If you are considering artwork for a shrine, consider why you want it.  Is it a gift for the god in question?  Is it beautiful and inspiring?  Does it remind you of your prayers in a mnemonic kind of way?  If any of these are your reasons, that I don’t think whether the piece is in two or three dimensions really matters.  If you really want to know if a particular piece is ok for a particular shrine, the best advice that I can give you is to get divination done by a trusted diviner.  The gods can and do make their opinions known.  You do not have to believe everything you read.

Making Offerings

Why do we make offerings?  For some of us, this question is incredibly easy to answer.  Giving a gift to those we love brings us joy.  However, some people do not (perhaps yet) have the same personal connections that give them a feeling nearing love or have the same desire to please the gods.  Why should they make offerings?  What differentiates an offering from partaking in some activity that you enjoy that is tangentially related to the domain of the god you profess to worship?

We aim to have reciprocal relationships with the gods.  In most cases, this goal is not actually realized.  There may be a god to whom we pray and make offerings that takes no notice of us, or there may be a god who has helped us that we didn’t take notice of.  However, the surest way to get the attention of a god is to consistently call their attention to you in a positive way – prayer and offering.

An offering is a gift.  If the god does not get any benefit (even if you don’t fully understand how they benefit, ie. you don’t understand how they partake of the wine or other item you’ve offered), it is not a gift.  Your enjoyment of an activity is for you, it isn’t for the god in question.  Finding joy in giving is not the same as sharing.  At the school I work for, I recently noticed a motto or saying painted onto the vertical portion of the steps that lead up to my classroom.  I am misquoting from memory, but it essentially says that it is better to share than to give.  I, personally, neither agree nor fully understand this sentiment.  It is nice to share, often, sure, but there are times when sharing leaves neither person fulfilled or satisfied.  There is also a misconception that having someone watch you do something that you enjoy will also be enjoyable to them.  It might be.  They might really enjoy listening to you play music (if you’re good), or watching you dance (if you’re good), but people rarely enjoy listening to a beginner play the violin.  The difference here is that if you are good at playing music, you are giving an aural gift to the listener when  you play.  If you are a beginner, listening to you play is not a gift, no matter how much you enjoy practicing.  Is there an element of enjoyment for the spectator of your activity?  When attempting to turn an activity into an offering, it is also very important that your prayer clearly state that intention.  There is quite a difference in inviting someone to listen as you play music just for them and in asking them for something and then ignoring them while you play music for yourself.  Your action is the same.  You are still playing music.  However, the feeling of the spectator, inclusion and gift or exclusion, is quite different.  Consider what you are actually offering and whether or not you have successfully made it clear that it is indeed an offering and not just something you are doing for yourself.

When we are able to, we burn our offerings.  When we burn offerings, they are exclusively for the use of the gods.  We cannot share them.  Since this is the ideal manner in which to make offerings, it stands to reason that we are not meant to share in what we offer to the gods.  This isn’t to say that you can’t also have a glass of wine when you offer wine to a god, for example, but the wine that you poured out for that god is not for you.  It is wine from the remainder in the bottle or from another bottle that you can drink.  You’re not sharing what you offered, you’re just also having the same thing that you offered.  I think this distinction is important to understand.

While I do not agree with all of the views put forth by this author, I think his explanation of why we give offerings in the section of this page titled Mortals, Ǽrohs, and the Gods is quite beautifully written and says much of what I have said in different words.  Please note that this author writes from a specific Orphic perspective, one that I do not share.

An offering is a gift, an expression of love.  When love is shared, joy is felt.  Find your joy.

There are times when a particular god might indicate to you that They intend or would like for you to share in something that has been offered to Them.  This is significant and unusual.  Do not assume that this is the case for all gods or all offerings.  It is a special situation.

Death & Dying

As we navigate our way in the world, we encounter people who impact us profoundly and who are taken from our lives far too soon.  Would there ever be a time that wasn’t too soon?  I know that I often find myself at a loss when someone has just died.  People tell us to pray in our time of loss, but I find myself wondering just who I should be praying to and why.  I have faith that the gods will do what they can for the deceased with or without my prayers.  Am I praying for my own reassurance that this is the case?  Am I begging for something that wouldn’t be done otherwise, or am I begging for something that is already happening?

Apollon is connected to death in His own way, and I would love to see some people explore that connection in art and the written word for the devotional.  Below, I offer you some suggestions of epithets.  I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

I’d also like to reiterate that submissions are accepted in any language, so long as an English translation is also provided.  If your submission is accepted for publication, both your original piece and the translation will be published.  If you feel uncomfortable writing in English (you feel that your English translation is not as good as what you wrote in the original language), I am completely willing to work with you to edit and revise your translation.

  1. Agraíos (Ἀγραῖος), Hunter, Slayer
  2. Ekataeveletaes (Εκατηβελετης), Far Darting
  3. Erithius, God of Reapers
  4. Hekatebolos (Εκατηβόλος), Who Strikes from Afar; the Far Shooting; the Shooter from Afar
  5. Hekatos ( Έκατός), Who Kills Many (with plague); Shooter From Afar; He Who Shoots From Afar; the Far-darting; Plague-Bearer
  6. Lykoktonos, the Wolf-Killer; the Slayer of Wolves
  7. Parnópios (Παρνόπιος), Grasshopper; Locust, Destroyer of Locusts
  8. Sauroktonos, Lizard Slayer
  9. Smintheios (Σμινθευς), He of the Mice (Mouse-Catcher?); Lord of Mice; Rat Slayer; Mouse God; He of Prophetic Powers; Destroyer of Mice
  10. Soranus, Guard of the Cemetery
  11. Thanatos, He of Death; Striker; Destroyer; Death-Bringer
  12. Paián (Παιάν), Healer; Deliverer from Evil or Calamity; Battler; Striker; Destroyer; Physician of the gods; savior; Deliverer from Pain

Finding Inspiration

He Who Rules with Honey is continuing to accept submissions indefinitely.  After extending the deadline several times, I have come to realize that this might turn out to be a much longer term project than I had initially anticipated.  With the sheer number of Apollon’s epithets, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise that a book of this scope would turn out to be a huge project.  I hope you will continue to bear with me and submit as the muses inspire you.

Today, I thought I would offer some of Apollon’s epithets related to the muses and inspiration for your consideration.  I would love to see your prayers, poetry, songs, essays (both academic and personal), artwork, and photography.

Kitharohdós (Απολλων Κιθαρωδος), Lyre-Playing Singer
Moúsarkhos (Απόλλων Μούσαρχος), Leader of the Muses
Musegétes (Απολλων Μουσηγετης), leader of the Muses; Patron of the Muses, Companion of the Nine Muses