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.

1 comment:

Julia Ergane said...

Hector--As I look at the statue of the Ephesian Artemis I actually feel something quite older: Rhea, Queen of the Titans, or the Great Mother Goddess, who is later adopted with many misgivings by the Romans (her male acolytes self castrated themselves). She was definitely connected with Aphrodite and several mid-Eastern dieties as well who were very blood-thirsty. Of couse, YMMV. :-)