Monday, March 29, 2010

Ta Dio

I hear the sound of your voice
like pan-pipes laughing in my mind.
The maenad in me awakens.
I am drawn into your song.
Spinning spindle
her dance weaving
the song of the seasons.
Hair unbound.
Girdle unbound.
Spirit unbound.
A bacchante in ecstasy.

Io euoi!
Io Zagreus!

I clumsily attempt to seduce the God,
drunk on his vintage,
unaware that he has been pursuing me all along.
I run down the hillside,
seeking the solace of the forest.
Unity.
Yab-yum.

Io euoi!
Io Bromios!

In desparate passion I tear into flesh.
Blood in my mouth,
a life pressed like grapes bursting.
Limbs tangled into vines,
Tasting your sweet goat song,
Singing your raucous lament.

Io euoi!
Io Sabazos!

Tasting you.
Drinking you.
Lord of my Salvation.

Written for the Greater Dionysia 2010.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Release the Snark!

I'm being snarky on the interwebs. I'm sure you'll want to go take a look. My colleague Nehmet came up with a delightful idea for a "Stuff Pagan Culture Likes" blog inspired by the hilarious original, Stuff White People Like. I had so many ideas for derision, um, discussion that she made me a writer. So, go on! What are you waiting for?

Greater Dionysia

We are well into the City, or Greater, Dionysia festival, Elephbolion 10 -17. It is an annual festival celebrating the coming of spring and honoring the God Dionysus.

Like most Greek festivals the City Dionysia began with a pompe, a kind of parade. The pompe featured a large phallus and the carrying of wine mixed with water. The pompe ended at the theater. Bulls were sacrificed at the theater, and a city wide feast of the meat was held. After the feast a second less formal parade through the street took place, the komos, which resembled a drunken revelry more than a stately pompe.

The following day a goat was sacrificed at the theater and a series of tragic plays were performed as a competition. It is thought that the word "tragedy" comes from the Greek for "goat song".

Wikipedia states:
Dionysus was often seen as the god of everything uncivilized, of the innate wildness of humanity that the Athenians had tried to control. The Dionysia was probably a time to let out their inhibitions through highly emotional tragedies or irreverent comedies. During the pompe there was also an element of role-reversal - lower-class citizens could mock and jeer the upper classes, or women could insult their male relatives...

The plays themselves could highlight ideas that would not normally be spoken or shared in everyday life. Aeschylus' The Persians, for example, while patriotic to Athens, showed sympathy towards the Persians, which may have been politically unwise under normal circumstances. The parodies of Aristophanes mocked the politicians and other celebrities of Athens, even going so far as producing his anti-war play Lysistrata at the height of the Peloponnesian War. The circumstances of the Dionysia allowed him to get away with criticisms he would not normally be allowed to voice.
In tribute to Dionysus, here is a photo of myself, wine-soaked and vine-crowned, at a Dionysian festival last year. I'm so pleased that the Greater Dionysia is upon us. Spring is here in full force, and camping festival season is coming quickly. I've put my maenad crown aside for the winter, and am looking forward to donning it again soon!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kali, Asklepieia!

Today is the festival of Asklepieia, Elaphebolion 8, dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek God of healing. In addition to the usual libations it is a good day to begin a "spring cleaning" of the body, such as a fast or detox.

Asclepius was a son of Apollo, and his father is honored with him on this day. Asclepius's daughters are Hygieia ("Health"), Iaso ("Medicine"), Aceso ("Healing"), Aglæa/Ægle ("Healthy Glow"), and Panacea ("Universal Remedy"). The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today, although sometimes the caduceus, or staff with two snakes, is mistakenly used instead.

This Asklepieia seems particularly auspicious as it comes on the heels of health care reform in the US.

Here is the Homeric Hymn to Asclepius (trans. Evelyn-White):
"I begin to sing of Asklepios, son of Apollon and healer of sicknesses. In the Dotian plain fair Koronis, daughter of King Phlegyas, bare him, a great joy to men, a soother of cruel pangs. and so hail to you, lord: in my song I make my prayer to thee!"

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blogging for Choice

Because having the right to choose what is best for myself and my body is important every day.

An important factor for women's advancement in society is our ability to control our fertility. Without that, we are trapped by the realities of pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing; rather than a privilege and a gift, these aspects of being female become a burden.

I see attempts to limit women's reproductive freedom as no more than a gambit to keep women "in their place". To grant a fetus that cannot exist outside the womb greater rights than the woman carrying the fetus is fundamentally incompatible with the function of civil society.

In the words of supreme court justices O'Connor, Kennedy and Souter: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."

No one wants to plan an abortion. But the best way to prevent abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies: through sex education, improved distribution of birth control, and general empowerment of women to shape our own individual lives.

Among the many reasons that I'm pro-choice is because it is the only option that isn't poisoned with misogyny. I believe that we are responsible for justifying our beliefs, and just as one cannot claim that a given race is inferior to another because "it's what I believe", I don't think one can argue that men can assert control over a woman's uterus -- and future -- because they claim to believe that a fetus is comparable to a human life. That belief is a result of the fact that only women can get pregnant and only women would ever have to carry an unwanted fetus to term.

Can anyone really believe that abortion would even be an issue if men had to face the possibility of giving birth to and raising a child because of one night of failed contraception?

I think Florence Kennedy said it best: "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."

NARAL

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hymn to Pallas

I sing now of the gray-eyed Goddess and Her love for the virgin Pallas.
Together grew these maidens, strong and lovely on the shores of Lake Triton.
Devoted to each other, long were their games of love and battle.
Under the olive groves they embraced, finding delight in the idleness of youth.
In fields of barley they played the war game with wooden spears, tunics tearing.
In jest Athena rolled upon Her back as Pallas raised her sharpened stick.
In paternal panic Zeus thrust the aegis between the sparring girls.
The spear glanced from the terrible gorgon gaze of the aegis wounding Pallas.
She fell into Athena's white arms, bloody and swooning.
The corpse of Pallas grew cold in the Goddess's embrace.
Athena, young and radiant, wailed to the heavens bemoaning the loss of Her lover.
She took up a piece of olive wood from their love bower and with great skill
fashioned a likeness of fair Pallas from the rough timber.
Athena draped Her aegis over the image, keeping it safe and sacred.
She took the name of Her playmate and added it to Her own.
So evermore when poets speak of Pallas they speak not of the nymph but of the Goddess.
Such is the love of ever-near Athena for those who honor Her.
So are we wrapped in the aegis of Her protection.
So are our crafts devotions to Her supreme skill.
Athena, may I always be protected under your aegis.
May I speak with wisdom and listen with the steadfastness of olive wood.
May I sing of your glory now and always.

Athena's Day

Today is the third day of the Athenian month of Elaphebolion and is, like all third days after the Noumenia, sacred to Athena. Special libations were poured to her on this day, along with extra sacrifices. I like lighting a bit of frankincense and saying Homeric Hymn 39 to Athena, my favorite of Her hymns. Sometimes I enjoy writing a new hymn for Her, or offering a piece of sculpture or fiber-art that I've worked on to Her. Anything I can do to mark this day as special above and beyond my daily devotions to Athena I see as a good thing to do on this day.

How do you honor your patron Gods? When do you honor them?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I've got you under my skin

I'm sure it's Pagan blogging protocol to have at least one post about your tattoos. If you don't have any tattoos then, obviously, you are not a True Pagan.(TM) I realized that I've neglected to mention anything about my body ink which I shall remedy now on pain of having my good Pagan blogger card membership revoked.

I've two tattoos, both with spiritual/religious significance. The first is a large blue celtic knotwork pentacle on my left shoulder in reference to my Witchcraft background. The second is a small red star of Babalon on my right ankle in honor of my work in Thelema and as a founder of the Babalon Rising festival. I've been slowly saving up for my next piece, which will be of an owl of the type found on the reverse of some Athenian drachma. This will be in deference to Athena and my own personal connection with owl as a totemic spirit.

I have plans for several more tattoos along my spine. Laurelei and I are considering matching Kallisti apples at our solar plexus. I am also considering a gorgon mask, a spider in a web, a labrys and a serpent spiral. All of these have connections to Athena, along with other personal symbolism. If you wonder why there are so many options in the "queue" while so few pieces have actually materialized, it is because I am very particular about getting a tattoo. I usually wait a minimum of three years after I've settled on a final design before I get the work done. I figure if I still like it and want it after three years time I can probably live with it being there forever.

I design some part of each of my tattoo artwork, and below is some flash of various designs that I currently have/will have/am considering.




Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Love and Wine

Heavy clusters of grapes hang from the gnarled vines: indeed, Aphrodite is only more attractive when united with Bacchus; their pleasures are sweeter for being mixed together. Apart, they have less spice.
Pseudo-Lucian, Erotes: description of the temenos of Aphrodite at Knidos

Wine is the milk of Venus.
Ben Jonson
"[Wine] provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance."
Shakespeare, Macbeth Act II Scene III

Well, what does Shakespeare know about it anyway? The Greeks, wise in the ways of moderation -- including the moderation of moderation -- mixed their wine with water and knew the merits of raising a cup in the spirit of romance.

So let me toast the beauty of the lovely Laurelei, dutiful servant of shapely Aphrodite, and sweetest of mates.

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss within the cup,
And I'll not ask for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise,
Doth crave a drink divine;
But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.
Ben Jonson

Miasma, Katharmos, and Womanhood

"Never omit to wash your hands before you pour to Zeus and to the other Gods the morning offering of sparkling wine; they will not hear your prayers but spit them back"
Hesiod 'Works and Days'
Birth, death, sex, murder, foreign influences, impiety, and certain bodily fluids all bring about miasma, pollution. This pollution can be of the body, soul, household, family, city, or land. The job of the purification [katharmos] of family miasma ultimately fell to the women of the family. Women were the washers of corpses, and the bearers of children. Women themselves were not viewed as harbingers of miasma, on the contrary, whereas semen seems to have been the pollutant that caused miasma during intercourse, there is no evidence of menstrual fluid having properties of miasma. Of course, there is still some debate about this (see comments section of link) in the Hellenic community.

Special rites of katharmos fell exclusively to women, such as the pinning up of hair during most rituals (women typically wear their hair down in ritual only if in mourning, or in certain orgiastic rites, such as those of Dionysus). Purification could also take the form of dancing, which is often associated with women.

The most common form of katharmos today is the preparation and use of khernips. Khernips is created by adding a smoldering brand, such as lit incense or a leaf of smoking herb to salt water. The khernips is then used to wash the hands of supplicants before a ritual takes place or an offering is made.

I have heard some individuals argue that katharmos is nothing more than good hygiene. While I agree that hygiene is a valuable element of working within a Hellenic worldview I see katharmos as something deeper. Katharmos could be achieved by music, tragic theater (k/catharsis), and dance in addition to the more common act of washing. Even medicine itself is a form of katharmos, something to bear in mind when considering the placebo effect.

Likewise, some people equate miasma with sin. Miasma does indeed seem to be related to primal cultural taboos concerning power and transition, but it is not sin. Sin is "the concept of acts that violate a moral rule" Miasma makes no moral judgment except in the case of murder. Confusion can stem from the idea that murder is the greatest form of miasma and carries the most severe consequences. Wikipedia wrongly states that the miasma of murder can only be purified by the death of the murderer.

Nashville Parthenon Pilgrimage


My family and I are planning a pilgrimage to the Nashville Parthenon on Saturday April 10, 2010. We'll be there at Noon EST until they close at 4:30 pm and we'd love to see some friendly faces from the Hellenic community there. Laurelei has blond hair. I have dark brown hair. We'll both be wearing dresses and have flowers in our hair.

The gift shop at the Parthenon is a Hellenist's dream come true, so come prepared to drop some drachma. They even have pink squeaky Venuses (Venusii?) and, really, who doesn't need one of those?

This pilgrimage is something I've been planning for over a year and is part of a devotional commitment I've made to Athena. If you've ever wondered why I'm so mad for Her, when you see Her 42-foot gilded statue you'll understand. Don't think that its just about Athena, though. There are wonderful reproductions of the Parthenon marbles on site that depict all of the Pantheon. If you live within driving distance and you haven't been to the Nashville Parthenon consider this a sign that it's time.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who Defines Orthopraxy?

I've heard it said throughout the digital agora that is the online Hellenic community that ours is a religion of orthopraxy not orthodoxy. We Hellenics are concerned with the action of doing our faith rather than believing it. So long as we are practicing a kind of "baseline" Hellenic Polytheism we can be included in the hallowed fold.

But what is baseline Hellenic Polytheism and who defines it? The surface answer is that Hellenic Polytheism is best defined as a Recontructionist religion based on information that we have available about the Ancient Greeks. The problem with this definition is that this body of information presupposes that the "Greeks" had some kind of unified practice. In truth the Ancient Greeks were a loose conglomeration of city-states, each with its own rituals, temples, mystery teachings, and, yes, orthopraxy.

So what constitutes modern Hellenic orthopraxy? Is it worship of the Dodekatheon, and if so, which set of twelve takes the honors? Is it the maintenance of a hearth, a Ktesios jar, a bomos, a shrine, a temple? Is it adherence to the Delphic Maxims? Is it adherence to the virtues, and if so, just which ones? (I do like the modern version of the Metron outlined here.) Is it devotion based on the HMEPA? Is it daily offerings? To whom? What kinds of offerings? Who decides? YSEE? Current authors? Wikipedia? If the Gods are still talking to us just how much wiggle room for UPG is there?

Frankly, I have struggled too long and too honestly to develop my personal path for anyone to dissuade me from it by claiming I'm not doing it right. But does that give me the right to claim that I am a Hellenic Polytheist? Can I successfully make the argument that I can be a British Traditional Witch, a Neo-Shaman, a Thelemite, a member of the local UU church, and a Hellenic Polytheist? Why not?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Owl Movie

*studders* O-o-owl movie. Owl Movie. OWL MOVIE! Ack! *dies from the awesomeness* Seriously, though, how did I not know about this? Did you see the little Athene Noctua? OMG! *hyperventilates* I haven't been this excited about a film since the Lord of the Rings movies came out. *runs off to watch the trailer again*

Hellenic Clipart


The Neokoroi list featured an excellent link for Hellenic Clipart recently. It was just too good not to share. Just look at all of those lovely line art drawings of Athena! These images are royalty free for public use. I expect that they will find their way into Under Her Aegis. Here is the Greek clipart link. And for my Alexandrian-minded friends they also have a lovely Egyptian clipart section.

Crown of Violets is now available


I mentioned that Asteria Books has been busy, and one of our labors became available today! Crown of Violets, a collection of devotional work dedicated to Aphrodite is now in print. I contributed to this collection and Laurelei edited it and has many pieces in it herself. The ebook is only $2.50, so if you've any interest in Aphrodite at all please do check it out.

Why did Athena desire the golden apple?


"Why should a keen yearning for lovely beauty distress her [Athena], to whom Klotho had assigned a marriageless and childless virginity."
~Telestes, Fragment 805 (from Athenaeus, Scholars at Dinner)
This question has vexed me for months. It has prompted its own share of hack fiction on my part (see Athena's Illiad Parts 1 & 2) and a slew of UPG revolving around what feel like conversations with the Goddess on good days and slow descents into madness on bad ones.

I can understand Aphrodite and Hera's claims to the golden apple inscribed KALLISTI: for the fairest. Both Goddesses were associated with golden apples in myth. Hera was said to own the Garden of the Hesperides which housed the orchard in which the apples grew. Aphrodite is sometimes named the owner of this orchard as well, and She uses the apples to good effect in the myth of the marriage of Atlanta. In addition to this, cases can be made for both Aphrodite and Hera as the "fairest" of Goddesses. Aphrodite's beauty is legendary, and Hera is praised as the cow-eyed and white-armed perfect bride.

So why did Athena, who has no prior mythological associations with golden apples and who is praised for Her wisdom, skill, and cunning over Her fairness of countenance insist on claiming the KALLISTI apple?

In my experiences with Athena She has presented Herself as a maintainer of peace. Her associations with war come from a place of skill, strategy, and a love for heroic deeds. She seems to abhor strife. She is noted as the greatest weaver, and serves in this role like a latter day Fate. When contrasted with Ares, Athena becomes a preserver Deity, whereas Ares serves as a destroyer.

But surely a Goddess as wise and thoughtful as Athena would have known that the KALLISTI apple would cause nothing but strife?

Athena has a special role on Olympus. She is the wearer of the aegis, which She shares with Zeus, and is the only God that Zeus trusts to wield his lightning bolts. Athena is the keeper of powerful relics. In the folds of the aegis are the head of the gorgon Medusa and the kista of the Arrephoria, both of which no mortal can look upon. One turns men to stone, the other drives them mad.

When the KALLISTI apple rolled into the wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis I propose that Athena knew fully well how powerful it was. She saw that it was an instrument of strife and would bring a terrible fate to all who looked upon it. Her wisdom said to claim the apple as Her own, to keep it safe in Her aegis with the other weapons of Olympus.

It was not vanity that brought Athena to the Judgment of Paris, but Her deep wisdom.

Athena's Illiad - Part 2

Introduction

Part 1 is here. I'm considering scrapping this version of Part 2 entirely and jumping directly into the Illiad material instead. I may keep the first paragraph and save the rest of this version for the end of the story. I'm concerned that the reference to Keats is a bit forced.



Athena's Illiad - Part 2

On Olympus debate was stirring about exactly what Aphrodite meant by offering Paris the most beautiful woman in all of the world. We Gods knew that there was a mortal living who was more lovely than any woman in all of time had ever been. Her name was Helen and she was the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta. The Kings of Greece had nearly gone to war with each other over her hand in marriage. To preserve the peace of Greece all of the Kings had pledged that Helen's chosen husband would be defended against all invaders and usurpers who might lay claim to fair Helen. A number of the Gods seemed convinced that Aphrodite was offering Paris the love of Helen. I was dumbfounded by this talk. Certainly Aphrodite would not risk the peace of Greece for her prize. Paris, well aware of the fabled beauty of Helen among mortals, plied his father Priam into a peacekeeping summit with Menelaus across the Aegean in Sparta. I tried to find fair Aphrodite, to dissuade her from this madness of offering Helen as a prize, but she was gone. Gone to Sparta to appear before Helen, offering forth the use of her magical zone – a golden girdle which made its wearer irresistible – and promising the love of a young and handsome prince en route to Sparta's shores.

Helen and Paris were awakened to love at first sight. Aphrodite's son Eros shot his arrows straight to their hearts, and truly, never had a mortal looked more lovely than did Helen bearing the zone of Aphrodite. Paris knew that the promise of Aphrodite had been fulfilled as Helen confessed her passionate love for him by the light of a sputtering oil lamp. Paris smuggled her away to Ilium that night, taking leave under cover of darkness like a petty thief. Ares, lord of war, rejoiced. He and his mother Hera would have their war. Zeus ignored the whole debacle. “What business have I with the love affairs of mortals?” he claimed, absolving himself of the coming bloodbath. “If you have a care about it, speak with Aphrodite,” he advised me. But Aphrodite had taken her leave of Olympus. She dwelt now in the violet mist around the mast of Paris's ship as it sailed swiftly through the Aegean Sea. She lent her starry crown to guide them back to the great city of Ilium. She took up residence within the hulking walls of Troy.

After the war, when Aphrodite and I were speaking to each other again, I asked her why she had done it. Why, out of all of the women in the world, did she have to offer forth Helen as Paris's prize? Helen, who had been promised to be defended by the myriad kings of Greece. Helen, whose beauty was trumped up by Aphrodite's art. Helen, who she knew would start a war to rage across the sea. Aphrodite drew forth the golden apple from the folds of her peplos. I had not seen it for many a long age, and was surprised at its luster. She regarded its inscription KALLISTI – for the fairest. Her answer was measured, spoken in the most dulcet tones. “This apple was meant for the fairest of Gods. Although it would have been wise for it to go to you, it would not have been truthful. I offered Paris the most beautiful of lovers. I could have given him someone less beautiful than Helen, but I would have been breaking my word.” She turned the apple in her hand, catching the light. “Truth is the mark of beauty. I promised Paris his true love. How could I be false to him when I offer forth truth?” She spoke these words and they fell like a muse upon the ears of poets. One Keats, regarding a Grecian Urn depicting the Trojan War, added them to a verse, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

This then is why, for all of my wisdom, I am not a champion of beauty. I seek skill. I do not rejoice in truth, but in craftiness. I am called a war Goddess, but in my heart I long for peace. The only joy I take in war is the nurturing of heroes, true champions of skill. Through war I have gained and lost the best of heroes. Hector was supposed to be my champion, but he was taken from me by the cruel division of conflict. From the battlefield I found another – a warrior who fought with his mind as much as his hands. My Odysseus. But his is another story for another time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

On Health Care Reform and Xenia

Julia Ergane's blogs have quickly become some of my favorite destinations in the web. Really, how could I not like her? She's a Hellenic Polytheist devotee of Athena who knits and is a retired librarian. And here I thought I was so very unique. Ah well.

Now I find out we hold similar political views as well. Julia blogs thoughtfully on the concept of Health Care Reform in the U.S. as an obligation to Xenia, hospitality. I have read criticisms of this concept that refute that Xenia has nothing to do with government entitlements, and that it rather highlights personal responsibility. I respectfully make the assertion that a public option in health care is more than just Xenia, it is Ethike Arete, the practice of habitual excellence, or ethics. How are we as a culture to protect ourselves from the miasma of disease when we cannot afford to treat those diseases? How is allowing a disenfranchised person to languish without adequate health care ethical?

I will readily admit that I have a personal stake in the fight for a public option. I am a hard-working, educated adult who is currently without health insurance. I do not currently have a primary care physician, as I cannot afford to pay out of pocket to see a health practitioner. I am currently without hormonal birth control, as I cannot afford to pay for both the ongoing cost of a prescription and a full yearly exam. I am not a freeloader for expecting the right to affordable health care for myself and my family.

The public option is the ethical choice. It is the hospitable choice. It is the right choice for Hellenics.

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day, which I'm told is a much bigger deal overseas than it is here in the U.S. It would have to be, since the only reason I even know about it is due to my habit of lurking on third-wave feminist blogs.

I have to admit that the first reaction I had upon discovering that today is International Women's Day was similar to Will Forte's salute to Women's Herstory Month: did you see what I did there? on last weekend's SNL.



Specifically the part where Mr. Forte gaffs "Good job women, enjoy the month of March 'cause that's all you get!" Which pretty much sums up how I feel about all of these [blank] History Months or [blank] Awareness Weeks. It's not as if anyone wakes up in March and says "By golly, I didn't know women even had history until today!" Increasing visibility of disenfranchised persons is admirable, but it is a full-time job, not something to be highlighted just once a year.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Athene Noctua

I thought I would devote a bit of space to Athena's animal companion, the Little Owl.

The Latin name for the Little Owl is Athene noctua, which will come as no surprise to my Wiccan and Thelemic brethren as I've been using the name "Noctua" publicly in those circles for more years than I wish to count. Glaux, the name I use in Hellenic groups, is the Greek word for this same type of owl.

The Little Owl is native to most of the warmer parts of Europe, Asia, and north Africa. It is not native to Great Britain, but was naturalized there. It was also successfully introduced to New Zealand. It is closely related to the American Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia).

There is a gray Middle Eastern type of Athene noctua known as the Syrian Little Owl. The ornithological journal Dutch Birding has advocated naming it a separate species: Lilith's Owl (Athene glaux).

The Little Owl is famously depicted on the "tail" side of Greek coins, from the earliest silver tetradrachms to the Greek Euro.

Here is a lovely video of a Little Owl in the wilds of Spain.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Arrephoria Hymn


Night comes all-bedewing
As I set my mewling son
Into the kista-basket

They said I was one of only three
Immune to your own son's arrows
Yet you have conquered me at last

I cover the kista and send for the maidens
Knowing that I must tell you alone the secret
That we now share a husband

I admonish the maidens not to look in the basket
Knowing that they will regardless
I crafted their grandmother Pandora, after all

They dutifully journey down my sacred hill
Two fall prey to womanly curiosity
Madness and death are their husbands now

The third completes her delivery
Into your grotto and into your hands
She gushes of your legendary beauty

The maid bears the kista back to me
Inside is my serpentine son sleeping soundly
And a bridal gift from you, my secret sister-wife

Khalkeia Hymn


When I was born from my father's brow
A bright and terrible Goddess
It was your hand that wielded the axe
You who served as midwife
To mighty Zeus's agony

As I danced I knew you watched me
Olympus shook and Helios reeled
And it was no surprise that you asked
For my hand, or the Golden Kyprian's,
As ransom for your mother's torture

I envy your dove wife
Who prefers to take bloody battle
To Her bed and bosom
When your hands are the most skilled on Olympus
And your fire burns hottest

You always knew I would come
Come down into your forge
The center of your creative fire
To beg a new set of armor
And to flash my quicksilver eyes at you

You had been waiting for me
Had built me a bedchamber of bronze
A marriage bed of wool
Virgin though I am
You took me in the heiros gamos

They say I scorned you
That I thrust you from me
And abandoned your seed to earth
Mother I am to your child
Yet virgin I remain

And still I come to you
Each year just before the time
Of Zeus the Storm Bringer
I take the bronze key from my aegis
And enter the khalkeia

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Muppets Meets The Wicker Man


*sings* "Two great tastes that taste great together!"

The Wicker Man (the original version with Christopher Lee) is my favorite movie. As those who know me very well know, I'm also a fan of The Muppet Show. So I was filled with delight to find this comic mashup of the two today on The Wild Hunt blog.

You can view the wonderment here.

The Gods in Living Color


Vinzenz Brinkmann shocked the art world and shattered cultural beliefs when he unveiled his exhibition "True Colors" which restored bare white Classical sculpture to its multichromatic original glory. I love the restorations, and I think they can tell us a lot about Classical color associations with the Olympians.

In a discussion on the Neokoroi Yahoo Group about the Gods and their color attributes it was agreed by many people's UPG that Athena prefers dark red and soft yellow. Interestingly enough Brinkmann's restoration of a statue of Athena has her robed in rich saffron.

Another restoration of Athena shows a strikingly complex pattern on her aegis in gold, blue, and red with grass green snakes.

We as a culture are not accustomed to seeing these sculptures in vivid color. The effect has been called "kitschy" by some observers and even "garish" or "ugly" by others. Yet, to quote a Smithsonian article on the exhibit:

Listen to Helen of Troy, in the Euripides play that bears her name:

My life and fortunes are a monstrosity,
Partly because of Hera, partly because of my beauty.
If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect
The way you would wipe color off a statue.

That last point is so unexpected, one might almost miss it: to strip a statue of its color is actually to disfigure it.

These restorations let us look at the past with new eyes. If a picture is worth a thousand words, think of the significance that these colored statues have for Hellenic Reconstructionists! Brinkmann has something to say about the relevance that these images would have had in the minds of the ancients in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

"We think of white marble figures as aesthetic monuments," Mr. Brinkmann says.

"We think of them as static, frozen in a museum installation. But we've learned

by our studies of polychromy that the interplay with architecture and the large ornaments on the pediment of large structures in fact turned them into actors on a kind of stage. And the more color they had, the more lifelike they looked." Much in the manner of the builders of medieval cathedrals, the Greeks told their great legends in pictures...

"The emotional response of viewers here is as intense as it has been everywhere else. The new view of antiquity upsets some people. Unconsciously, they register the message that images lie. Artists through the ages have been working hard to achieve just that. The aesthetic ideal of the Greeks was mimesis: the imitation of life. And it was color that brought their statues to life."

It is interesting to think that we culturally accept that the ancient Egyptians and Etruscans used lavish bright colors to bring their artistic visions to life, but we think of the ancient Greeks as more "Stoic" and staid in their use of color. Many modern Hellenic Reconstructionists will even tell you to worship in white linen fabrics, which is a terrible anachronism. The ancient Greeks loved color and pattern and used it abundantly in their clothes and on their statuary.

Athena's Illiad - Part 1


Introduction

I've been working on a short story piece for a few months now. It is a retelling of the Judgment of Paris and the Illiad from the perspective of Athena. I'll be posting sections of it here for feedback and criticism. Oh, and yes, I did make the golden apple graphic to the right. Feel free to snag it and do whatever you like with it. I'm sure Eris would want it that way.

Athena's Illiad - Part 1

When mortals read the words of the poet Homer they hear one side of a very complicated tale. It is my opinion that all of the Gods were judged harshly by his laureled pen. As for myself you may be surprised to discover that I loved the city of Troy. Not as I loved my dear Greece, of course, but I never sought the destruction of Ilium. At least, not in the beginning. Troy was ruled by a dynasty descended from my beloved son Ericthonius. From this line I strived for generations to produce a hero that would be unmatched in skill and wisdom. A hero that would fight with heart and mind as much as hands and grit. Troy was also the home of my Palladium, a relic which reminded me of my first and best love, Pallas. I collected relics. In my goat skin bag were the Kista of Athens, Zeus's lightning bolts, and the head of the gorgon Medusa. I was the only God of clear enough mind to bear these tools of destruction. Had I only been given that most destructive of relics to begin with the war with Troy would never have happened.

When Priam's first son was born I knew that the seeds of heroism I had planted in the walls of Ilium had finally born rich fruit. Hector would grow to be a man of wondrous renown, not only for his heroic deeds but also for his quick and agile mind. I invested my time in insuring him a future of glory. If I had the wisdom so many praise me with I would have been less involved with the elder son of Priam and more interested in the growth of his younger son Paris. Paris was a vain and lazy youth with a slow mind prone to outside influence. If only I had seen! It was only ever my intention to preserve the peace of Greece. Alas, I could not see that far.

Not much is missed by the sharpness of my silvery owl eyes. At the wedding of Thetis to the moral Peleus I saw Eris slip in from the sidelines. I watched as she rolled that golden ball of chaos into the wedding feast. I knew instantly that it was a tool of death and destruction. It would only be safe hidden safely within the folds of my goat-skin aegis. I darted across the hall, swift as any bird of prey, and clutched at the golden apple. It had fallen at the feet of that dove, that violet crowned Goddess of Love, Aphrodite. I can see now that I was fortune's fool. Had I not been so eager to prevent chaos I would never had been its instrument. As it was, I snatched the apple from Aphrodite's silken hand just as she read its inscription: KALLISTI, for the fairest. Fast enough to make my head spin deceitful Hera was at our side, demanding the apple for herself, as was befitting the Queen of the Gods. Aphrodite insisted that the prize, having fallen at her lovely feet, was rightly hers. And I, overcome with terror at the chaos thrumming forth from the little golden ball in my hand, could only shake my head in disagreement with them.

If my father read the horror on my face, or could simply sense the overwhelming menace that the apple radiated I do not know. I only know that as swiftly as lightning he took the apple from my grasp. Would that he had kept it! Like a wryneck Hera slithered up to her husband. Did she not deserve the apple? Had it not come from her evening orchard? She flashed him her fox smile and petted his arms, cooing like a cuckoo that the apple should be hers. Aphrodite gasped. "The apple came to me," she pleaded. "Am I not the fairest of the Gods?" Zeus looked to me for guidance. "Give me the apple," I assured him, "and I will protect us from the dark fate that it promises." Mighty Zeus furrowed his brow. "I will not choose among you." He proclaimed. "But on the slopes outside of Troy is a shepherd named Paris who has proven himself to be a fair and worthy judge. Let him choose who shall claim the golden apple."

We all knew of this Paris. He was Priam's younger son and had recently judged Ares's bulls as finer than his own. Zeus seemed to think that this made Paris a fair judge. Aphrodite, Hera, and I knew better. In preparation to meet Paris Aphrodite shed her already sheer peplos and donned her golden girdle. Hera also freed herself of her purple vestments and elaborately braided her coppery hair around her golden crown. She readied a cask of gold and jewels to take to Paris. I understood then that to win possession of the apple, to save the fate of Gods and men, I would need to lower myself before Priam's son. I slid off my beautifully woven peplos and adjusted the aegis around myself for the sake of modesty. Hera laughed scornfully at my actions. Aphrodite rubbed love philters into her skin. What was she planning? And what could I offer Paris that would make him come to my side?

We found Paris resting beneath a cypress tree near his grazing flocks. Hermes handed him the apple and laid the task before him, eyes twinkling. Hermes seemed unduly amused by the entire embarrassing situation. But how could I expect him to understand the importance of that little golden apple? How could any of us have known just how terrible Paris's judgment would be?

Hera made her case first. She strutted about, every bit the peacock that she so admired. Was she not the fairest of Goddesses? And what gifts she offered Paris! The cask of gold and jewels would make him richer than all the kings of Greece, and I heard her promise him still greater power and wealth. Such was the domain of Hera. She promised war that would expand the power of Troy throughout Greece and eastward to Phrygia. I could not let her succeed. She would undo the peace of Greece and all that I had worked for. I strode forth, eager to make my own case. "Paris," I commanded, fixing him with my quicksilver eyes, "power lasts only a little while. I can give you fame that will last forever. Only I can make you a hero the likes of which men will sing of long after your temples are rubble and your body is dust. Only I can offer you immortality, dear Paris." Paris considered this, and I could see that I had won him from the claws of Hera. "But now I must hear from Aphrodite," said the youth. I swallowed hard, wondering what the golden Goddess of Love would offer forth. "Beloved Paris," breathed forth her honeyed voice, "Power is fleeting, and glory is cold. I offer you great love, my Paris. Love the likes of which the world has never seen. Love that will be sung of for as long as any hero tale could ever be, and love that is glorious while it lives. I offer you the love of the most beautiful woman in all of the world, Paris. She will love you fully, all of the days of your life." I knew that I was beaten. Paris was utterly transfixed by Aphrodite's promises. Paris proclaimed, "Power is the providence of my father King Priam. Glory is the hallmark of my brother Prince Hector. These are not of me. I pledge my troth with Aphrodite and declare myself a servant of Love!" Hera fumed, eager to leave. As Paris placed the apple into Aphrodite's hand I was filled with hope that the apple's chaos had been averted. Hera would not have her war, and what harm could come from the innocence of true love? What harm indeed.

Thalia Took


I'm quite the fan of Thalia Took's artwork and writing. She has also heard the call of Athena, and has answered it creatively, with several lovely images. One of them is reproduced to the right. I was quite taken tonight with a brief story she wrote in Athena's voice. You can read the tale here.

The line "For this is truth: though I am a liar, I am entirely trustworthy." fairly ripples with the voice of the Goddess.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Reciprocity and Sacrifice


Ask any of the chickies in my pen
They'll tell you I'm the biggest mother hen
I love 'em all and all of them love me
Because the system works
The system called reciprocity!

--When You're Good To Mama; Chicago Soundtrack

In Hellenic Polytheism a lot of emphasis is placed on reciprocity. Although it was known of in ancient Greece spellwork was generally frowned upon as a form of hubris. If you wanted to influence the outcome of a thing it was required that you sacrifice to the Gods.

I personally get enjoyment out of sacrificing to the Gods. It is remarkable to think that sacrifice could be an enjoyable process, but because the nature of Hellenic Polytheism is orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy I can do just that. Oddly enough to the modern mind, it doesn't matter if you feel like you are doing something sacrificial as much as it matters that you are actually doing something that qualifies as a sacrifice. Thus, burning a few grains of frankincense feels pretty good to me. It smells nice, is inexpensive, and it makes me happy. However it qualifies as a sacrifice. It is the same with writing a hymn. I enjoy it and it counts as an offering to the Gods. Whereas if I gave up chocolate, as an example, I may think of it as a sacrifice, but it does not count as one.

Back to reciprocity. There are many reasons I honor Athena above the other Gods of Olympus. She resonates with my work and my desires in a way that is difficult to put into words. I doubt that most people would claim Her as a mystic's Goddess, but She is that for me. At the root of our relationship is reciprocity. Do I imply that Athena needs me in some way? Of course not. I, on the other hand, do need Her. I write Her hymns, She offers me rationality with warmth. I burn to Her incense, She gives me profound peace. I blog in Her service, She gives me things to write about.

Reciprocity.

It is the defining characteristic of why I can claim knowledge of the truth of the existence of the Gods. I do therefore They are.

Worshiping Athena

What do you get for a prehistoric Goddess who can make anything?

The books will tell you the obvious, that you should recite Her hymns in an ancient Greek dialect (although none of them can agree just what that sounds like) while you make libations of olive oil to Her on the third day following the new moon. That her priestesses in Athens wore white robes. That she's something of a stiff.

I respectfully disagree.

Oh, sure, She likes hearing Her old hymns recited, but she likes it even more when you have something new to say. The books are correct in that you really can't use enough olive oil when working with Her. You'll find that you bathe in it, that you rub it in your skin, your hair; that you buy products just because they contain that blessed ingredient. Honoring Her on the third day after the new moon is good. Honoring her at the start of something new is better. She delights in creation, and in the activity of the mind.

She likes red. Deep red. Garnets are a favorite. You'll find that you paint your nails garnet, and paint images of Her draped in rich crimson silk. In the Middle East She was called Anat, and is noted in myth for Her bloody raiment.

You will say a little prayer to Her whenever the pungent salt of an olive bursts in your mouth.

You will find that you take up the fiber arts. You will teach yourself how to spin yarn from wool fillets. You will collect exotic yarns. You will knit and weave as an excuse to procure more yarn, to spin more skeins. Your craft room will overflow with sculpting tools, paintbrushes, blank canvas, fimo, beads, embroidery floss, and assorted Simplicity patterns. That is, if it didn't already. She probably saw you coming.

Owls will flock to you. She likes it when you are dumbfounded by one of them, wild, up close, and in broad daylight. Give Her coins and feathers and burn frankincense whenever She sends one your way.

You may seriously consider purchasing a spear. She revels in a good Pyrrhic war dance, and it just isn't the same without a good spear.

There is a danger of becoming engrossed with turn-based strategy games. She likes games of war as much as any real battle, for it is strategy and cunning that pleases Her most. She abhors war. It is a way for heroes to prove their mettle and that is all. She is a Lady of peace, civics, and prosperity. It pleases Her when you choose your words carefully in a debate, and when you work for peace in your environment.

She is known for Her shining eyes. The little blue glass beads that Greece has become famous for, marked with blue staring eyes to repel the evil eye, are favored by Her. Iconography of St. Lucy, especially her almond-eyed medals, make good offerings.

Frankincense is always a favorite, but she also likes a bit of dragonsblood on occasion. It is Her deep red color, and has serpentine associations that honor Her snake-tasseled aegis, Her gorgon-bearing lamen, and Her son, the serpent of Athens. Snakeskin is a lovely addition to her shrine.

She likes beef -- most of the Greek Gods do -- burned from rich deep red to ash on Her altar, seasoned only with salt and hymns.

Make a pilgrimage to the Nashville Parthenon if you can. Her image will knock the wind from your lungs and make you weep with wonder. Better still, travel to Her native land of Greece and walk through Her holy city.

Her festivals can tell you a lot about Her preferences. The ninth day after the new moon in January was a major sacrificial day for Her. In late May Her image was removed from the temple to be washed each year. In early June She shared a the mystery of Her son's conception and birth with Aphrodite via a very holy covered basket -- She is known for keeping artifacts of great power and mystery tucked into Her aegis. Late July is Her birthday festival. She was feasted with games and gifted with a newly woven peplos -- She enjoys new clothes as much as the rest of us. Late September was another day of sacrifice. The end of October marked a mysterious hieros gamos festival between Her and Hephaestus concerning a bronze bridal chamber. She is fond of offerings of bronze.

Be clever yet humble. Be brave yet cautious. Be creative yet piously give thanks to the source of that creativity. Wear white robes if they suit you, or a silver tetradrachm on a chain close to your heart. Do good deeds. Work for peace. These are the offerings Athena favors most. Honor her with reverence and joy.