Change

Two weeks ago, I finished giving away most of my belongings, packed some bins for storage, and I left the country with a suitcase, two backpacks, and a carry-on.  I am living on another continent in a country where freedom of speech, religious expression, and a multitude of other things that Americans generally take for granted are not only not my right, they are things that I know not to expect.  This has changed my religious practice a lot, and I’m not back on my feet yet.  Days that are on my calendar for religious observance come, and I am aware of them and feel not only guilty but also at a loss in how to observe them.  One thing that I do know, however, is that the gods know where I am.

I used to keep 12 “permanent” shrines in my home.  All of my statues are currently living on top of the dining room hutch at my mother’s house where they will be kept safe for me but not used in any kind of religious worship.  Many of the bits and pieces of the shrines that I kept have gone to live with other devotees of those gods or gone with people that I trust to be burned for me.  Where I live now, I have no statues.  I cannot burn offerings even as simple as incense or a candle.  The walls are thin, and I’m concerned that my boss who lives next door can hear me praying in the morning.  When I first arrived, I wondered how I could let the gods know where to find me without being loud, without a flame.  Thankfully, I have a relationship with one god that is so strong that a tug on my end of a heartstring is all that I need to know that He’s on the other side.  Through Him, I’m confident that the other gods can find me as well.  I don’t, though, feel like I’m doing the best for them.  My offerings are lacking, and my shrines are nonexistent.

I was going to include a picture of my current shrine for Apollon to illustrate my point, but uploading one picture proved to be too much for my current Internet connection.  Suffice it say, it consists of a prayer card, a tin of solid perfume, three tiny glass animals (a dolphin, a mouse, and a swan), and a symbol of warding.  With me, I was able to bring my collection of prayer cards and some tiny trinkets from other shrines.  I would like to decorate a bulletin board with all of the prayer cards and make one shrine at least, but so far I have been unable to locate a store that sells bulletin boards…  I did find a tiny shot glass shaped like a tripod, so that is ready for libations, but I feel so very weird about not being able to light a flame with the offering.

I’ve also been covering my head for a number of years.  It has been a part-time practice for me, covering only on the days of religious observances.  However, my job has a very strict dress code, and I already get stared at plenty when I go outside.  I did some divination, and I got a very unexpected response regarding my covering.  They say that it’s ok for me to stop covering, that it will make it easier for me to meet people and live a life here if I stop.  They didn’t say that I had to stop or that I had to continue.  The practice has always been my choice though it has been accepted and encouraged by several gods.  Stopping covering cold turkey has actually turned out to be quite difficult!  It feels so wrong to me deep inside to go out uncovered on days that I would have covered in the past.  I’m continuing to cover on the weekends, and I get comments and looks from my other foreign co-workers (we all live in the same building), but I don’t think anyone outside stares at me any more than they usually do.

I suppose all this is just to illustrate that even through extreme change, the gods remain, and if we want to worship Them, we’ll eventually find our way.  I’m still working on finding my way here, but I’m sure I will.  These aren’t relationships that I’m willing to let go of.

Athena

The second Greek goddess that I ever had any sort of relationship with was Athena.  I don’t remember when it began, but I do know that there was a period in time while I was studying at university, especially when focusing on my minor in Ancient Civilization, that my connection with Athena was quite strong.  I knew Her long before I knew Apollon.  She is also the first Hellenic deity that I ever kept a shrine for.  The type of relationship that I desired of Her is not the type of relationship that we have, but I still honor Her regularly.  She responds less to me now, or at least less in ways that I notice, than in the past, but there are myriad possibilities for why that is the case.  That’s not a problem for me, as relationships generally change over time, but I still respect Her deeply, and I still automatically turn to Her first in many circumstances.

Apollon and Athena, while having quite a bit in common, don’t really interact much in most of Their mythology.  There aren’t any grand stories that I can think of where they work together or against each other for some purpose.  They also have very few epithets in common, but there are a few that you can explore and write about for the devotional.

Where Apollon is known as Apollon Soter (Σώτηρ), Athena is known as Athena Soteira, the feminine form of the same title, which means savior.

In different areas, Apollon was known as Apollon Zosterios (Ζωστήριος) and Athena was known as Athena Zosteria, again the feminine form of the same epithet.  This epithet seems to have been used by people in specific areas for gods who protected their area or group.

Athena is not widely hailed a healer, but like Paian (Παιάν), Athena has also been known as Athena Paiônia.

Athena is linked to Cyprus as Athena Telkhinia just as Apollon is as Apollon Telkhinios (Τελχινιος).  Lykeia has done a wonderful job writing about Apollon Telkhinios here.

 

 

Poseidon

It seems as if many people choose the gods that they worship, at least until they’ve had direct experience with other gods, by affinity – they choose gods who rule the areas of the world that they themselves cherish.  If I were to have done this, surely I would have chosen to venerate Poseidon.  I grew up in the northeastern part of the United States and  have spent most of my life within an hour of the ocean.  However, Poseidon never seemed terribly present here.  The gods of the north (Aegir, Ran, and their nine daughters) seem much more at home in the North Atlantic than Poseidon, though Poseidon certainly can be and is venerated here.

When I visited Sicily for the first time (ok, the only time, but I plan to return), swimming in the Mediterranean is where I first felt the presence of Poseidon, Amphitrite, and the other sea-gods of our tradition.  When I swam in Cala Rossa (the picture in the header of this blog), I was alone in the cove as it was nearing sunset, and I was in water over my head surrounded by volcanic rock, and I just thanked and thanked again these gods for allowing me to swim in their space and for allowing me to be aware of their presence.  For me, these waters were somehow more sacred than the waters I’d previously visited in my life.  They were more full, or at least more full to my awareness.

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Bath of Venus between San Vito lo Capo & Zingaro Nature Preserve, Sicily (Melia Phosphorou, 2015)

It was probably helpful that all over Sicily, the gods are remembered in the names of places.  The first place I swam was in the Tyrrhenian Sea off of the northwest coast of Sicily.  I took a boat tour along the coast from San Vito lo Capo to the Zingaro Nature Preserve.  During the trip, the captain pointed out a rock formation and told us that it was the Bath of Venus.  I did not get to explore that bath, I was merely able to photograph it from the boat, but I was able to swim later in the trip, and jumping off of the boat into the clear blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea was amazing.  I parked myself in the water with a snorkel so that I wouldn’t even have to come up for air.  I could clearly see the rocky sea floor and I watched fish swim by me.  I did not want to leave.

I’ve also already written about my experience of swimming in the waters off of Syracusa and encountering the warm stream of Arethusa on its way from Greece to her fountain on Ortygia.

In addition to my personal experiences swimming in His seas, I’d also like to talk a bit about the relationship between Apollon and Poseidon.  Colonization is one area where both gods were extremely important.  Apollon provided oracles that gave both permission and instruction for people to form new colonies, He is also the god that they prayed to before embarking on the voyage to their new homes and upon disembarking.  However, it was Poseidon whom the people needed to provide a safe voyage, and His seawater was used as khernips when they made the first sacrifices at the foundation stones of their new colonies.  Apollon does have several epithets related to His role in colonization, and it would be wonderful if one of you would like to write about one or more of these epithets for the devotional.

Archégetes (Αρχηγετης), Founder of Towns; Leader and Protector of Colonies; Director of the Foundation; Leader of Colonists

Delphínios, of Delphi; Slayer of Python; of the Dolphins; of the Womb; of Sailors; God of Colonists; Dolphin God

Embasius (Εμβασιός), God of Embarcation

Epibaterios (Επιβατήριος), He Who Conducts Men Aboard A Ship, Seafaring; of sacrifice upon disembarkment

Horios (Όριος), He of the Boundaries; of the Borders; Protector of Frontiers; of the Boundary Stones

Klários, Supervisor Over Cities and Colonies (klaros: allotment of land)

Oikistes (Οικιστής), He Who Establishes New Colonies

Apollon and Poseidon built the walls of Troy together.  Due to supporting Hera in Her rebellion against Zeus, they were both sent to serve King Laomedon who had them build the walls around his city.  However, when he refused to compensate Them for their work, Poseidon sent a sea-moster to attack Troy.  Apollon, on the other hand, remained a supporter of Troy during the Trojan War while Poseidon supported the Greeks.  Some epithets of Apollon that relate or could relate to this protection (and not otherwise mentioned in this post) include:

Agyieus (Αγυιευς), Protector of Streets and Public Places; Defender of Cities; of the Streets; Protector of Roads and Homes; God of Streets and Ways; Leader

Boedrómios (Βοηδρομιος), Helper of Those in Distress (at war); Who Helps to Conquer; Rescuer; the Helper

Eleleus (Ελελεύς), Uttering a War Cry; Circling the World; God of the War Cry

Apollon and Poseidon don’t seem to share as many epithets as one might expect.  Well, perhaps at first glance I was the only one expecting them to share more epithets?  Apollon has quite a few epithets that are related to the sea, and I guess I expected to find more of these also associated with Poseidon.  However, the only epithets I found them to have in common were Πατρος (Patros), which means father, ancestral and Σώτηρ (Soter), which means savior.  I will, however, share the list of Apollon’s epithets (not otherwise mentioned in this post) that seemed to me that they would be shared by Poseidon.

Áktios (Άκτιος), He of the Foreshore; of the seashore; God of the Shore

Anax (Αναξ), the Great King

Epaktios, Worshipped on the Coast

Euryalus, God of the Broad Sea

Kosmoplókos (Κοσμοπλόκος), Holding together the world

Saligena, Rising from the Sea

Zosterios (Ζωστήριος), He who surrounds (a place or person) with His protection; Encircling the World as with a belt

Ancient Ethics in a Modern World

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic rhetoric largely surrounding laws, moral codes, and the treatment of women and outsiders in both Jewish and Muslim holy texts.  The detractors of these religions seem to be taking the texts far more literally than most practitioners of these religions do.  Now, this post is not meant as a defense of governments that deny their citizens freedoms and choices that are considered to be basic human rights in many countries around the globe.  Those countries are not, and should not be, representatives of either of these religions.  Judging an individual Jew or Muslim or their religions as a whole by the conduct of any government, any religious ruling body, or any religious leader is an error.  These religions both have books that were written a long, long time ago.  Most rational practitioners of these religions have learned to adapt certain teachings to fit their modern environments and legal systems, and they don’t find this to be in conflict with their core religious beliefs.  They aren’t lurking outside your home waiting for a chance to stone you.

In Hellenismos, we don’t have such books.  There is no written word of the gods full of laws to be followed and beliefs and practices to maintain.  We are largely reconstructing and reviving our religion based on archaeological research and extant texts that were largely meant for entertainment.  I am sure there are things that we are getting wrong.  However, we are not trying to revive or reconstruct the cultures of any ancient Greek city-states in their entirety.  My love for the gods does not extend to a belief that ancient Athenian society and social customs, especially as they pertained to slaves and women, are something to strive for.  Why, then, do so many assume that someone of a different faith strives for the very worst (by our 2017 American moral and social standards) to be found in their holy texts?

In terms of moral code for Hellenismos, many people will point you toward the Delphic Maxims.  I love that they still exist and that we are able to read them and consider them, but I don’t believe that following all of them will make us better people or bring us to better service for the gods.  For example, the ninth maxim is “Γαμειν μελλε,” or “Intend to marry.”  It may seem harmless or even good advice on the surface, but what about our LGBTQ brothers and sisters?  In many places, including modern Greece, same-sex marriages are not legal.  Therefore, many people are legally unable to fulfill this maxim.  Should they be judged for that?  In antiquity, people didn’t marry for love.  Marriages were arranged, and sexual orientation didn’t matter as your marriage had nothing to do with who you loved or were attracted to.  It was a duty.  Should it still be a duty?  Should I marry the man my mother (I have no father, grandfather, or uncle) chooses for me regardless of my opinion on the matter?

The 44th maxim is “Υιους παιδευε,” or “Educate your sons.”  On the surface, there is no fault to be found here, but if you look at the entire set of maxims as a whole, you will find no such directive regarding the educations of daughters.  I would hope that most if not all modern Hellenic polytheists would look at this maxim, understand that it was written in a different time, and apply the directive to value and pursue education as something that is equally important for their daughters.

The 95th maxim is “Γυναιχος αρχε,” or “Rule your wife.”  This is the very idea that I often hear slammed when people discuss Judaism and Islam.  Both religions have fairly well-defined gender roles that are more adhered to the more orthodox one is, but what no one seems to remember is that we have this idea, too.  This idea, no matter where you find it, started a long time ago.  The feminist battle for equality is not a new thing, nor is it just a monotheist or Abrahamic thing.  In addition, a very important aspect of the feminist ideal of equality is that women get to choose for themselves.  If a woman chooses to take on a practice that other people view as oppressive, if it is her own choice (not a choice made under duress by family or government), she is not being oppressed.  To deny her the opportunity to make that choice would be oppressive.

In fact, there are a few maxims that I think we could all do well to remember.  Ξενος ων ιςθι.  If you are a stranger, act like one.  If you have never been a part of a Jewish or Muslim family or community, you are an outsider.  You don’t know everything.  You haven’t walked in those shoes.  Accept that there are probably things that you do not know or understand, and listen to the people who are a part of those communities when they have something to tell you about themselves, their practices, their beliefs, or their communities.  Do not assume that you know better than they do about who they are.  Ψεγε μηδενα.  Find fault with no one.  It isn’t your place to judge the religious beliefs or practices of anyone else.  You do not have to adopt someone else’s way of life for your own, but we ought to accept that they live the life that they have chosen to live.

I was going to choose just one more maxim to leave you with, but there are many more that apply.  Instead, I’ll just say this.  If we want to be accepted and have our religious views accepted rather than mocked and ostracized, we need to extend that same favor to others.  We cannot gain the respect that we do not give to others.

Ask and… well, I’ll try my best.

Some of you (all of you?!) are excited to get to work writing and researching and painting and drawing and sketching and doing all of the creative things you do to honor Apollon in the devotional, but you need a little help to get started.

No problem!  I have epithets coming out of my ears!  If you’d like me to do divination and assign one to you, please e-mail me at pythioumelissa at gmail dot com.  If you just need a little inspiration to spark your fire, look no further.  Another list of epithets!

  • Apollon Daphnephoros, Carrier of the Bay Branches; He Who Carries the Laurel; He who carries the branches of laurel
  • Apollon Deiradiotes, He of the Ridge
  • Apollon Dekatephoros, To Whom The Tenth Part of the Booty is Dedicated
  • Apollon Délios, Born on Delos; of Delos
  • Apollon Delphínios, of Delphi; Slayer of Python; of the Dolphins; of the Womb; of Sailors; God of Colonists; Dolphin God
  • Apollon Delphios (Απόλλων Δελφιος), protector of the shrine at Delphi
  • Apollon Despota, the cruel master, Master of the House, Master of the Family, Absolute Ruler
  • Apollon Didymeús (Απόλλων Διδυμεύς), double light; Twin
  • Apóllon Dikéros (Απόλλων Δικέρως), two-horned
  • Apollon Dionysodotes, Who Gives Dionysos; Who Gives Us Dionysos; Bestower of Dionysos

Honoring the Moon

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Diana and Endymion by Pier Francesco Mola, c. 1660  (Switzerland)

When I visited Rome in 2006 (I think it was), I had not yet made the paradigm shift to Hellenismos.  I was a fairly eclectic polytheist keeping a few shrines for a few different goddesses from different pantheons.  I had had feelings for Athena that were not reciprocated, yet She was present in my life.  Everywhere I went in Rome, I encountered Roma, the goddess of the city, and I remember being very frustrated because all the images I saw of Her looked to me like they were really of Athena or perhaps Minerva.  I kick myself now for the gorgeous paintings, statues, and temple remains to Apollo that I must have missed, but I was very focused on Athena during that visit.  It was only on my trip to the Capitoline Museum that my attention was torn away by another goddess.  It was Selene.  There was a painting of Her that I wish I remembered better, but I stood in front of it just staring at it for what seemed like a long time until my rather bored then girlfriend dragged me away.  When I search the Internet now for that painting, I’m never sure if what I find is the right one as none have captivated me through my computer screen the same way that I was captivated by the original work hanging on the wall of that museum.  I know that the painting was of Selene and Endymion and that it also featured a tree.    I think the piece shown here by Pier Francesco Mola must have been what I saw, but I don’t feel the spark of recognition that I feel I should.

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marble sarcophagus with Selene and Endymion, early 3rd century C.E. (Rome)

I didn’t think about Selene much again for quite a long time.  Then in 2014, a friend took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  To date, it has still been my only trip there, and the few hours we spent there that morning were not nearly enough.  As we walked through the hall of classical sculpture, I recalled the painting I had seen in Rome.  I told my friend about it, and she showed me a frieze of Selene and Endymion on a sarcophagus.  I seem to be caught and held by their story each time I encounter it in person.

I don’t honor Selene regularly.  I find it difficult to know another god of the moon so well (Mani, the Norse god) and to also know Selene.  Sometimes I imagine that They have some sort of club house up on the moon where Selene, Mani, Luna, Chang’e (嫦娥), and all of the others hang out together.  Some of these gods are the actual celestial bodies themselves, and others, like Mani, carry the moon (generally pulled by a chariot) across the sky (except, you know…Mystery), and some of these gods (like Selene) both are the moon that we see and carry the moon.  That notion can help parse the different personalities for the single body, but I also wonder if perhaps these different spirits (the spirits of these gods, not that they are spirits rather than gods) mingle together to form the moon.

If I knew some of these other gods better, including Selene, perhaps knowing how they are different from Mani would help me to see Them all.  In my experience, Mani is extremely generous, loving, accepting, and almost child-like in his love of things that sparkle, shine, and make little tinkling noises.  He is captivated by beauty, yet it is His beauty (and Selene’s) that captivates so many of us.  What fills Selene’s heart with joy?  What captivates Her?

We know that She was and is captivated by the beauty of the eternally sleeping Endymion.  She visits him where he lays in his cave – a story of tragic romance to be sure.  She loves him and has borne him 50 daughters over the years, yet he has slept through it all.  There are a few different accounts of how he came to his immortal sleep, and in some it is through the passionate plea of Selene to Zeus, yet in others it was his own reward and he was actually in love with a goddess who would never return his feelings – Hera.  In this latter scenario, Selene only found Endymion after he began his eternal repose, and he has never been aware of their ongoing relationship. Are Endymion and Selene both the tragic victims of unrequited love?

Selene does share an epithet with Apollon, and I wonder if there is a Selene devotee out there that would like to write about it?  Could it be you?  Selene is known as Phoebe (not to be confused with Apollon’s grandmother) just as Apollon is known as Phoibos.  As the name means “bright,” it is no wonder why these gods of light and celestial bodies that emit or seem to emit light bear this epithet.

Update: He Who Rules with Honey

We are now a little more than halfway through the extended 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, photographs, 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, investigations into epithets shared with other gods, photography of statues, etc…), then no one else has done it yet, so just think, you could be first!

At this point in time, I do not have nearly enough material.  Apollon has well over a hundred epithets, and I’d like to cover at least half of them in this book.  This is intended to be a volume that none of us could possibly create on our own as none of us know Him in all of these ways.  This book is only possible if we work together.

Fewer than twenty epithets have received submissions (though there is more than one submission for some):

  • Agyieus
  • Akesios
  • Alexikakos
  • Argyrotoxos
  • Belenos*
  • Boedromios
  • Delphios
  • Erythibios
  • Hyperboreos
  • Karneios
  • Klarios
  • Latoios
  • Lykeios
  • Mantikos
  • Moiragetes
  • Nomios
  • Noumenios
  • Phoibos
  • Pythios

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!