Sunday, October 23, 2011

To They Who Are...

Time has no meaning

It is but the flow of a stream

Subtle and slight

To they who are eternal

To they who are divine


Space has no meaning

It is but a fallow field

Flat and full of potential

To they who are undying

To they who are holy


Fear has no meaning

It is but a slight breeze

Felt but not perturbing

To they who are ephemeral

To they who are sublime


Death has no meaning

It is but an open door

Empty and small

To they who are infinite

To they who are sacred



Friday, October 21, 2011

Artemis, the nature goddess

In the Eastern lands, where Greeks lived side by side with other peoples of many different cultural backgrounds, the goddess Artemis took on a different aspect and demeanor than that of the mainland Greeks. This is not, of course, odd. The Gods seem to appear to people the way they are needed, so even though most of us look at the Gods with rather a limited view of their domains of influence, I think the Gods themselves share no such idea of limitation.

At Ephesus, the goddess Artemis was worshipped as a much grander form, a much grander aspect than she was in many other places, and this leads me to ask myself a question. If the Gods can each be different things to different people, then why do we need to worship so many of them? Why can't we just pick one, say Artemis, and call to her for her aid in all things?

The answer seems to be there is no reason you cannot, but that the aspects of nature, culture, etc., that a particular deity was associated with were likely those aspects of life that that particular deity took an interest in. If a deity is a living thing, a creature not  of our own making, but a truly living and eternal being capable of independent thought and will, then they must also have interests in the mortal world that we try to fathom but can only ever come partially to grips with.

This is why Aphrodite is seen as "Goddess of Love, Lust, Beauty" etc., because as the ancients experienced her, they saw that it was there that she seemed to express her power. But what if to another group of Greeks, or another culture, she expressed her power in other ways?

Artemis Statue ; Ephesus Museum

In Ephesus we see a clear example of this, but also an example of a potential problem in our attempting to make sense of the Pantheon of the Greeks.

For me, the problem is not in my personal faith. I do not believe in limiting the Gods, only in limiting my own interaction with them. What I mean by that is that I can ask Athena for healing, and I have no problem believing she could aid me in that, but that I turn to Apollo because that is what he is known for. I can ask Artemis to help me find love or a sexual partner, but I know that Aphrodite is best known for that, and therefore it is she I turn to.

Artemis' Ephesian aspect, however, proves a little problematic for me. The Ephesian Artemis seems much more of a "Mother" figure than the Artemis of the mainlanders, or other areas, and so I sometimes ask myself, is the Ephesian Artemis artemis in another aspect as "Great Mother" or "Earth Mother" or is it Mother Earth herself, the goddess we call Ge or Gaia, in an aspect that some chose to call Artemis?

The answer, to my personal beliefs, is always that I accept the deity as it is named, not as I think it should be, so this is Artemis as the Ephesians chose to worship her. It is as Artemis seems to have appeared to these particular people, because they called to her in this way and she responded.

Artemis, of course, has always had clear connections to the Earthly powers. As a Goddess of the wild places, of the mountains, of hunting, both the human and the animal kind, and as a Goddess often linked to the Moon, or some phases of it, she has always been a nature goddess. The virgin woman is, after all, the woman in her original, and therefore natural, state. The Goddess of the hunt is being called upon to aid in a perfectly natural act, that of hunting and killing food. The goddess of childbirth is being called to one of the most important aspects of life itself, reproduction. So, is it really so odd that to some people she would also be a Goddess if the growing fields, of the grain, of the honey, of all manner of things connected with a "Earth Goddess"?

On my central altar, I have a small statuette of the Ephesian Artemis, and there it represents something to me that is fairly central to my beliefs, that just as Artemis can be so many things, seemingly disparate things, to so many people, so can all the Gods, and that perhaps my relationship with them has changed from one in which I expect things from the Gods, like love or good aim or health, to one in which I am starting to dedicate the good things in my life, the good things I do both for others and myself, are the things I do, to commemorate how I feel about them in their glory. That maybe I am starting to see the Gods not simply as one thing or another, but as an omnipresent force in my life that can be so many things that I am humbled by them and made a better person as a result.

Artemis, the nature goddess, has reminded me that my own nature, and ours as people, is one I must also venerate and pay close attention to in order to improve myself.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Artemis the Bear Goddess

I have to admit, my knowledge of the cults of Artemis is severely limited. I have never taken up a study of her the way I have often for say Athena, who has been the subject of many books I have read over the years. I am hoping to rectify this.

To that end I am looking through for hints about where to start, and among the cults of this goddess that struck me was one I had heard of before but never given much thought to. It is the cult for Artemis of Brauron, the bear goddess. Now, as great as is, it is not a research site, it is a site of quotes, like a large bibliography, allowing you to see quotes from ancient sources with regard to a particular deities, heroes, and other mythological characters.

Among these quotes are these:

Callimachus, Epigrams 35 (from A.P. 6. 347) (trans. Mair) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"Artemis, to thee Phileratis set up this image here. Do thou accept it, Lady, and keep her safe."

Suidas s.v. Lysizonos gune (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Lysizonos gune (girdle-loosening woman) : She who has drawn near to a man. For virgins about to have sex dedicated their virginal lingerie to Artemis."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 23. 7 :
"There is also a sanctuary [at Athens] of Artemis Brauronia (of Brauron); the image is the work of Praxiteles, but the goddess derives her name from the parish of Brauron. The old wooden image is in Brauron, Artemis Tauria (of Tauros) as she is called."

Herodotus, Histories 6. 138 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"The Pelasgians dwelt at that time in Lemnos [C6th B.C.] and desired vengeance on the Athenians. Since they well knew the time of the Athenian festivals, they acquired fifty-oared ships and set an ambush for the Athenian women celebrating the festival of Artemis at Brauron. They seized many of the women, then sailed away with them and brought them to Lemnos to be their concubines."

Suidas s.v. Arktos e Brauroniois (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Arktos e Brauroniois (I was a bear at the Brauronia) : Women playing the bear used to celebrate a festival for Artemis dressed in saffron robes; not older than 10 years nor less than 5; appeasing the goddess. The reason was that a wild she-bear used to come to the deme of Phlauidoi and spend time there; and she became tamed and was brought up with the humans. Some virgin was playing with her and, when the girl began acting recklessly, the she-bear was provoked and scratched the virgin; her brothers were angered by this and speared the she-bear, and because of this a pestilential sickness fell upon the Athenians. When the Athenians consulted the oracle [the god] said that there would be a release from the evils if, as blood price for the she-bear that died, they compelled their virgins to play the bear. And the Athenians decreed that no virgin might be given in marriage to a man if she hadn't previously played the bear for the goddess."

Sanctuary at Brauron


You may wonder what these quotes mean to me, but it is not so much their meaning as their attestation that I was looking for, and that last one, a description of something I always find intriguing about religious ritual, in this case, a ritual for the Goddess Artemis, and that is the re-enactment of an even from the far past. Just as many Christian cultures re-enact the birth of Christ during Christmas, or the Passion during Easter, so too do many Pagan festivals and rituals work to re-enact something of importance to the people in the past.

For reconstructionist pagans, such as Hellenistoi, there comes a small problem, the problem of disconnection. To the people of Athens who celebrated this festival in which girls, quite young, performed this "playing the bear" for Artemis had a special connection to this bear event. To them, especially to a particular tribe or deme, this event in which a bear was killed unjustly for essentially behaving like a bear, had special significance, and while we may seek to understand what it was, apply psychological reasoning to it, or seek to empathize with it, we cannot truly know what it was those people thought or why this partiucular event was of such importance to them that they commemorated it in religious ritual forever.

There is, of course, the pestilence, and the blaming of the pestilence on the unjust actions of the girl's brothers, a common thing in ancient times, and sometimes even today in our own culture, and maybe even a hint of a time when a young girl was chosen as a sacrifice to serve as a scapegoat.

The story of the bear drawing blood from the girl here symbolizes the possible sacrifice of the scapegoat, and the anger of the brothers and the taking of the life of the bear perhaps a transference of the scapegoat status to an animal rather than a human.

I think this particular myth, as with the myth of Iphigeneia, entrusts to us a history of the shift in sacrificial methods of the Hellenic people. From a time when savage human sacrifices or human scapegoating was performed to a time when an animal was used instead, and in the case of this bear, where there was a shift again from the use of a wild bear, taken in and tamed for the sake of using it as a scapegoat, to using a kind of "passion play" instead.

I see in this myth a shift in the relationship between man and the gods.

As for Artemis of the bears, it seems not at all odd to me that Artemis of the bears would send a pestilence to the people after the misuse of this bear. Not because Artemis as a deity has a problem with the killing of animals, but because maybe she has a problem with the use of a wild beast not normally used as food, though it is certainly edible, for something like this.

The girls in the saffron robes symbolize a shift in that relationship. A shift away from superstitious sacrifices to sacrifices based on the consumption of animals, allowing us to share what we eat with the Gods. But also, a shift in the ritual forms, taking them away from the savage and making them more and more an expression of our artistic imaginations. 

Artemis of the bears. The aspect of Artemis that seeks to remind us to pay respect to the world around us, especially to the life that surrounds us.



Monday, October 10, 2011

Different reactions...

I am talking here about a different kind of reaction, and to something physical, not to the Gods, although I guess I could argue that everything involves the Gods in some way. Yesterday, I awoke to a nice day, a Sunday, no work, my birds chirping happily in their cages, and everything fairly normal, the way I like it. I had to do a little cleaning, a little vacuuming, a little dish washing, but that's all a normal part of life. I did some web surfing, some TV watching, listened to some music, meditated, and did a little reading.

But something happened in the afternoon that shook me. I walked into the kitchen and noticed that something was wrong with one of my bids. A female cockatiel who'd taken on the name Missy. Normally, I don't name birds. They do not respond to names, unless they are parrots, and even then I am not sure they do, but as I went on, I found that I was always referring to these two as buddy and missy, so they became Buddy and Missy.

She was not breathing normally, and as the minutes passed, it got worse and worse until finally, I reached into the cage. I knew right away it was deadly serious because she did not try to get away. Missy was much friendlier than Buddy in that respect. If she was out and flying around, she would get on my hand, and she had no problem climbing onto my shoulder, or even my head, but normally when reaching into the cage, both she and buddy would not want picked up. This time, however, she did not move or struggle, and her breathing was a horrible loud wheezing. I tried to get her to drink some water, but she would not take any. Just minutes later I watched as the life drained out of her.

Missy is gone.

My reaction was not subtle.

I am not an emotional person. I am not prone to crying or even lots of any other emotions, but I had some kind of weird semi-crying semi angry mess. I am not sure how to explain it, but this little bird had provided me with something that is now missing, and I find myself saddened.