Music for the Gods

I like to pray with song. I have been working on writing songs for the gods that I worship regularly, but it can be a painfully slow process sometimes. The muses do not work on our schedules. Some of my songs have been published, and while I am not a fantastic singer, and not a soloist by any stretch of the imagination, I am willing to make some recordings in order to help those of you that would like to sing my songs yourself. In some cases, I have written the lyrics and music myself, in some cases I have collaborated with others, and in other cases I have set new words to existing music.

For Hestia, I set the Homeric Hymn to Hestia (trans. Shelmerdine) to Rachmaninov’s Bogoro Ditse Devo. This was published in First and Last, a devotional anthology edited by Terrence P. Ward. It is a choral piece in four parts. The alto line contains the entire hymn, but when I first began singing this, I was singing soprano, so I tend to sing the soprano part when I pray. (Please forgive me – I’m singing from memory and recording on my laptop.) You can listen to it here.

This song for Apollon was the first choral piece I ever wrote and the first time I ever wrote my own sheet music. A friend did have to help me fix it after (he’s fixed or helped to arrange most of my sheet music), but this felt like something entirely new for me to be doing. It was written in 2011. The sheet music was published in With Lyre and Bow, a devotional anthology edited by Jennifer Lawrence. What I’ve uploaded for you is the version that I sing by myself, not the choral version that you can see in the book.

This song that I wrote for Hermes is perhaps my favorite one of them all. It doesn’t have sheet music because the timing is too complex for anyone I know to write. I wrote it over a few weeks at the end of 2013 and into 2014.

For Artemis, I had a dream one night (in maybe 2005) and woke up and immediately sent an e-mail to my choirmaster (Raven Kaldera – Asphodel Pagan Choir). The email was mostly full of nonsense about how the song in my head sounded like the pounding of horses’ hooves but that I couldn’t make anything even remotely like what I heard in my head come out of my mouth. It also had a bunch of epithets, some verses from Seneca and other classical writers, and a few random verses. Raven was kind enough to take my middle of the night brain blather and turn it into an actual song. He continues to give me credit for writing this song, but I do believe it is more his creation than mine. I will give you a link to a (bad) recording, but it is meant to be sung by a group (though it is a unison piece), and I actually have no idea of the correct pronunciation for some of the epithets and am fairly sure that I have been pronouncing them wrong for years. Sadly, I do have a recording of the choir singing this (with guitar accompaniment), but I don’t have permission to post it on the Internet, so I’ll do my best on my own. I can share the sheet music in pdf form if you’re interested. Just drop me an email (pythioumelissa at gmail). Free for all contributors to the devotional… kidding!) The recording is here.

A friend adapted a prayer that I wrote to be a song for Leto, but we were still working on it when he moved away, and alas, I don’t have permission to share what we did end up with. A song for Leto is definitely still on my to-do list. Have you written one? Soundcloud has been pretty easy to use even if it is daunting to think that you’ll all hear me singing… I’d love it if any of you who have written songs for the gods would share your work in the comments.

For Aphrodite, I reworded Randall Thompson’s Alleluia. As his music is still under copyright, I cannot share it with you here, but if you have the sheet music (which can be purchased fairly easily), it is easy enough to substitute. A-lle-lu-ia becomes A-phro-di-te.

The song that I put together for the muses was done at about the same time as the one for Hestia, and it really is a companion piece. I had just graduated from university in 2004, and while at university, I had been introduced to two Rachmaninov pieces that the choir director then deemed too difficult but that I loved. I set Shelmerdine’s translation of Homer’s Hymn to Apollo and the Muses to Rachmaninov’s Slava. The pagan choir that I had joined also deemed this song too difficult, and we never performed it, but I remain hopeful even if I now live on the other side of the world. The song is in four parts, but it does split into nine (maybe it was 11) part harmony at some point. The alto line has the entire hymn, and I will do my best to sing that for you. It is my most used prayer to the muses. I do have the sheet music for this – just e-mail me if you’d like to have it.

For Juno, I wrote a wedding song. It was published in Queen of Olympos, a devotional anthology edited by Lykeia. This was written in three parts, and I’ll do my best to sing one of them from memory, so it’s probably a little off from the sheet music, but if you can’t read sheet music… have you figured out that I’m not a real musician yet? Again, I collaborated with Raven Kaldera on this, and I’m pretty sure that at times I’m singing some of my original music and not what was published, so apologies for that. This is the folk process, right? Here is the recording.

I wrote a choral piece for Nanna (in 2013), but this one needs to be sung by a choir, and there is no way that I can even attempt to sing it by myself. I will upload a midi file, and you can drop me an email if you are interested in a pdf of the sheet music. It has never been performed, and I wrote this song in thanks to her, so if you have a choir that would be willing to sing it, please do. If you do, I’d love to see a video or hear a rough recording.

I wrote this song for Skaði in 2007 over the course of several nights driving to graduate school. There is no sheet music, but the lyrics were published in a devotional. However, I don’t even know the title of the book. If you have seen this before, please leave me a note in the comments telling me the name of the book – I would love to see the rest of the devotional.

So, now that I’ve truly bared my soul (and my voice) to you, I hope this was helpful. I also hope more of us will write music for the gods and share it with each other. Writing music is both an offering and a service, both to the gods and to our community.


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Do Hellenic Polytheists converse with gods?

Yes. However, not all conversations are two-way. When we pray, and we should all pray, we are conversing with the gods. We may or may not receive a response.

A basic outline of Hellenic ritual style includes prayers that do several things. The first is that we praise the gods – we tell them how great they are and why we worship them, why we love them, why we adore them. You can think of this type of prayer as an oral love letter to the divine. It cannot be too long, too wordy, and no amount of praise is too much. Let your love and your adoration bubble forth from within yourself as much as you like. The second is that we identify ourselves for the god. Especially if you are praying to a god that you do not have a close devotional relationship with, you want to remind this god who you are and why they should listen to you. Tell them what you have done for them before – offerings you have made, articles, books, poems, prayers, songs you have written, acts of service that you consider yourself to have done in their name, anything you can think of. The third type of prayer is an explanation of your libation or other offering – simply telling the god that this gift is for them. You can explain why you chose this gift or say anything else that you feel you need to say. The fourth type of prayer is where you outline for a god a problem you are having and request their assistance in some way. This isn’t something you need to do at all, but it is a type of prayer. The fifth type of prayer is a prayer of thanks. Thank the god for what they have done for you, for their very existence, for listening to your prayers, for whatever you are thankful for.

We generally pray aloud to be sure that the gods hear us. They are not ever present, all knowing, or all powerful, and their attention is not everywhere at all times. Depending on your relationship with a particular god, you may have a different way of getting this god’s attention that allows you to then pray quietly or silently and still be heard, but this is not a given.

In regards to receiving responses from the gods, there are many possibilities. Some people hear responses, both clearly audible and more in their mind’s ear. Some people see visions. Some people have dreams. Some people see omens. Sometimes the gods don’t respond. Sometimes the gods respond, but we don’t recognize the response. Divination (from an outside source – not done for yourself) is something that can help with discernment and potentially clarify any responses that you do receive.

Praying to Hera

Tempio di Giunone, Agrigento, Sicily August 10, 2015, Melia Phosphorou

I regularly worship Hera on the 2nd and 11th of each lunar month. I got these dates through divination, as I was unable to find any from antiquity. The diviner used a binary system and a series of questions to determine how many days she wanted each month and which dates she wanted.

tea light holding slate tile painted by me for Hera, October 2016

I began worshipping Hera regularly after she indicated that she wanted to be among the deities that I pray to before I divine. I actually don’t exactly remember how this was indicated to me (a likely clue that this experience should not be shared – I’ll probably remember when I finish writing), but when I was writing my divination prayers, I wrote a verse for her and then went about building a shrine for her. Since moving to China and severely compressing my belongings, I no longer have separate shrines for different gods, but I still venerate Hera. I am partial to an image of her and Zeus together painted by Lykeia, which is available as a prayer card. Prayers for her are plentiful, and I will point you toward some of my favorites.

Devotion: Prayers to the Gods of the Greeks is a lovely book by Hester Butler-Ehle that contains many original prayers, including quite a few lovely ones to Hera.
Queen of Olympos: A Devotional Anthology for Hera and Iuno is a Bibliotheca Alexandrina devotional edited by Lykeia that contains quite a few prayers.
This is a prayer to Hera that I particularly like by Chris Aldridge.
Lykeia ran an agon for Hera that got quite a few very good entries.
Galina Krasskova is a talented writer who occasionally writes prayers on commission, and a lovely one to Hera was done for one of her Patreon supporters.
The Homeric Hymn to Hera – I’ve been using the Shelmerdine translations since I was in college.
This is a prayer for Hera that I particularly liked by J. Martinios Agathokles.
Hearthstone keeps an excellent blog entirely made up of prayers to the Hellenic gods. She has quite a few for Hera.
There is a verse for Hera in my litany To My Many Gods that I wrote two years ago.
There is also a verse for Hera in my Diviner’s Prayer to Seven Gods that I wrote in September of 2016.


Reconstruction or Revival?

I do not identify as a Hellenic reconstructionist because I am not attempting to practice the same religion as any specific period in history in any specific place using literary and archaeological evidence as my cornerstones. Strict reconstructionists limit themselves in their practice to those practices for which we have historical evidence. For some people, this methodology helps to prevent them from becoming “too” syncretic or eclectic in their practice. For some, it feels stifling. In addition to religious practices, reconstructionists are more likely to attempt to reproduce other cultural elements from their ancient time and place of choice. Revivalists, on the other hand, are not attempting to recreate the past, only to worship the gods who once had widespread worship.

I don’t use the term “revivalist” to describe myself, but I suppose it is pretty accurate. I, among others, am reviving the practice of worshipping the Hellenic gods. I use some information gained from literature and archaeology to inform my practice, but I also use UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis), PCPG (Peer Corroborated Personal Gnosis), and divination. In addition, through practice, I drop what doesn’t work for me, and I continue what practices do. I adapt to my situation – the time and place I am in in the world. I have a living and ongoing relationship with the gods (those who choose to have a relationship with me).

One thing that both reconstruction and revival have in common is that neither is an unbroken tradition from pre-Christian Greek city-states and colonies to the present time. Both reconstructionists and revivalists acknowledge that there are huge gaps in what we know about the gods, and how they were worshipped in the past. There are some groups that claim to have such traditions, but I have never seen anyone able to produce any evidence beyond “an older person in my family says so.”

In my opinion, there are very few strict reconstructionists. Most Hellenic polytheists probably fall on a spectrum somewhere between reconstructionism and revivalism, though the revivalism portion of that spectrum is larger and encompasses more ways of being. Neither is objectively better than the other. Both reconstruction and revival are personal preferences in what you consider acceptable for your own worship of the theoi, of the gods.


How is Deipnon Determined?

Deipnon is the night of the dark moon and the following daylight hours.  The first step to determining when Deipnon will fall in your area is to look up the time and date of the astronomical new moon (which is actually the dark moon) and sunrise.

If the astronomical new moon is before sunrise, you can count that night as Deipnon and the next night as the Noumenia.  If the astronomical new moon is after sunrise, that evening is Deipnon.  There is some room for a judgement call on your part, though, when the times are particularly close.

Let’s use February 2019 in Henan, PR China for our example since that’s the next Deipnon and where I am.  The astronomical new moon is February 5th at 5:03am.  Sunrise is at 7:21am.  In the most technical manner of speaking, we could consider those two hours and 18 minutes to be enough to make Deipnon begin at sundown on February 4th and continue until sundown on February 5th, but I generally prefer a bigger margin, or at least for the dark moon to not happen at a time that I think of as morning.  This, however, would be your call.  I will celebrate Deipnon from sundown on February 5th until sundown on February 6th.  Incidentally, the Chinese, Jewish, and Muslim lunar calendars agree with me on this one, but they don’t always.  Hellenic polytheists cannot reliably count on one of these other large groups with many functioning calendar apps to do the legwork for us.  It’s something that we really need to calculate for ourselves.

I am curious about your take on this judgement call that I’m making.  What would be your preference and why?

Divination: (Almost) All Systems Go

On my recent trip back to the US, I retrieved most of the divination accoutrement that I didn’t bring with me when I first moved to China, so I am once again available for almost all of the divination services that I offer.  The Delphic Maxim Oracle, however, is still unavailable.  It was simply too heavy for me to bring back this trip.  I may work on creating a new set here at some point rather than retrieving my original one.  I have not yet updated the Divination Services page, but right now the only things to be aware of is that I am on Beijing Time for live readings, and they are not available by phone for American clients.  They are, however, available by audio or video call via WeChat to clients in any country.  Google Hangouts as a method of contact is limited by the effectiveness of my VPN, so WeChat really is the best option.  My availability is limited, and the mostly likely days to be able to get an appointment are Wednesdays and Thursdays.  If I don’t get back to you right away, please be patient as I am living behind the Great Firewall of China.  I will get back to you as soon as my VPN is working and I am able to check my e-mail.

Apollon & Hades

While the lords of light and darkness don’t seem to have much in common, there is a bit. Would any devotees of Hades like to explore this connection for the devotional?

First, there is their involvement in the story of Orpheus.  Orpheus was either the son or student (or both) of Apollon.  His parents were either a Thracian king and queen or Apollon and Calliope, which would give Orpheus his own divine birthright.  On his wedding day, his wife, Eurydice, died after falling into a nest of vipers.  Orpheus played music so mournful that all of the nymphs and gods wept with him in his grief.  He traveled to the underworld, and when he arrived there, his music was even able to move the hearts of Hades and Persephone.  He was given permission to lead Eurydice out from the underworld provided he didn’t turn around to look at her until they arrived in the upper world.  Unfortunately, Orpheus was unable to resist and as soon as he reached the upper world, he turned to look at his wife who had not yet left the underworld.  She vanished before his eyes, and he was unable to retrieve her a second time.

In addition, Apollon and Hades both had lovers who who underwent kataphytosis, or were transformed into plants.  Like Daphne, Hyakinthos, and Kyparissos (Apollon’s loves), Hades loved Minthe, a mountian nymph.  She fancied herself better than Persephone, and either Persephone or her mother, Demeter, trampled her and transformed her into garden mint.  Leuke was another nymph loved by Hades.  He abducted her and took her to the underworld where she was transformed into a white poplar and placed in the fields of Elysium.

Apollon and Hades also share one epithet – Isodotes, which means He Who Binds All Equally, or perhaps Impartial.  For Apollon, it usually refers to his giving of oracles and the binding of the querent to the answer.  For Hades, it refers to the fact that all souls eventually enter his domain.

Finally, there were oracles (of a different sort – these were necromantic) at several temples of Hades.