Monday, January 30, 2012

Since I am pondering the parts...

Since I am pondering the parts of Artemis, and I am trying to come to terms with what they all mean, I want to touch on a different aspect of my personal theology that may prove useful.

I call them detached or autonomous aspects. These are aspects of deities that take on a life of their own. Aspects of deities which, in the mythic cycle and even in popular belief, become independent entities. These aspects of deities can actually be aspects of many different deities which are seen by the people as the same mythic figure. In practice, there is a fine line between acknowledging Gods and their aspects and angeloi, which I see as small aspects or pieces of a deity which behave like independent beings.

What do I mean by this? I will use a couple of examples...

The Erotes

The Erotes are like little angelic beings that in myth act at the behest of Aphrodite to pierce the hearts of people with their arrows of emotion. In essence, they are little aspects of her, the little bits of her that inspire the varying heart felt emotions of our lives. Things like infatuation, love, jealousy, desire, lust. Are they literal beings? Probably not, but through poetry we have made them real. We recognize in ourselves a little bit of the Goddess of Love and Emotion, and so we picture each of our hearts, our emotional centers, as being manipulated by these little critters. But they are all really her.


Medusa is a different kind of figure. A vengeful spirit, some might even say malevolent, yet also protective. The myth of Medusa is based in the larger epic cycle of the Greeks as the heroes of their legends sought to go forth and conquer the world around them, which included conquering their own fears, fears like Medusa, who represented to them the bitter outrage and fearsome vengeance of the Gods. 

Unlike the Erotes, however, Medusa is not the aspect of a single deity, but rather, an aspect of many as well as an aspect of feminine rage, a rage that must have festered in the hearts of many women in ancient times when women were so ill treated by men. One imagines that in today's world, that same avenging spirit remains very much alive. The essence of what Medusa represents is still very much active in the world today, a world in which women are still often little more than slaves under the thumb of barbaric patriarchal religions like Islam, and no, I won't apologize for that characterization, as I won't apologize for the same characterization of Christian churches which still insist on calling woman the subservient sex.

But the power of what Medusa represents is also something different. The vengeance and protection of the Gods themselves, especially the Goddesses. The myth of Medusa, or rather, of the Gorgons, is rooted in very ancient times, and that of Medusa herself, a mortal woman turned into a Gorgon, is rooted in the mythology of Athena, a goddess known for her rather terrible temper when it comes to propriety. But that myth is also rooted in the idea that the rape of women calls on a deep, dark, power of vengeance, a power that can turn men to stone. That is, paralyze them.

When Medusa is raped in the temple of Athena by none other than Poseidon, Athena, in her rage, transforms her into a Gorgon. To the Classical Greeks this seemed a punishment, but perhaps to earlier people it was understood as something more. Perhaps they understood that this tale spoke of the ultimate violation of a nation, the nation of Athena, being violated by another and the nation itself rising up with power beyond anything it once had and lashing out, protecting itself in the future. See, Athena did not simply transform the poor maiden into a monster, she transformed her into a creature that could protect itself against any attack. That it is Athena herself who in the mythic tale of Perseus helps him kill her, though not her power, indicates that the Goddess has retaken her power, she has made her nation strong. That in her nation women were often little more than property is one of the great dichotomies of the ancients, but myth tells us of happenings, not necessarily of the moral values of those happenings.

Ancient people placed an effigy or mask of Medusa at their home entrances, this symbolized protection, and in this we see a transformation of Medusa, from nearly demonic creature to protective spirit, and so again it seem to represent the power of a divine being.

Both of these types of beings, the angelic, and the demonic (not demonic in the Christian sense) represent aspects of greater powers, but in the case of Gorgons, Furies, Muses, Graces, etc., these can represent more than one being. The Muses can represent inspiration, but the inspiration of Apollo, or Zeus, or Hera, or Athena. The Furies can represent the anger of Gaea, or the vengeance of Persephone. The Gorgons also represent many, and in so doing so, are as agents of greater powers.

They are such because we human beings tend to understand them as such, because in them we are able to separate the aspects of the great Gods that seem undignified or dark and place them somewhere more fierce or terrifying. It would seem unbefitting of the Holy Mother of all things to lash out at us with destruction, so her power made manifest in the world around us can seem like that of Furies, as can the power of any Goddess.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

At odds with Artemis.

I find myself at odds with Artemis. I think, perhaps, because it is Winter, I am not finding myself in the proper mood and state of mind to explore the aspects of this goddess that is a force of nature. There are still woods and wills and deer in Winter, of course, but it becomes harder to set out and try to put myself in their midst at this time of year.

It is not, of course, necessary to do this, this goddess has so many facets that I could explore them and leave the others to the coming Spring, but I find that I prefer to be dragged, kicking and screaming into whatever the Gods make available than to try to force it. 

So far, however, I have come across an aspect of this goddess that forces us to look into our faith and come to terms with what it means to believe in something so surely that you know it to be truth, even if others do not agree. Artemis, I think, forces us to look at this because she, perhaps more than any other goddess in the Hellenic pantheon, is mired in contradiction. Artemis, the virgin, is also the huntress. Artemis, the protector of children can also be the killer of women. Artemis, the mother, can also kill niobe's children. Artemis, the healthy runner in the woods, can also be Artemis the plague.

This isn't uncommon in Pagan religious theology and iconography. Unlike the Christians (and the other Abrahamic faiths) the Greeks did not try to force their Gods to be either all good or all bad. They understood that these beings, these divine forces of nature and the universe, acted from a place far more vast than our own, and as such, some of the things they did seemed bad from our perspective.

But for some deities, this can come off as too much. It is not that I question her power or her good will or anything like that, but that I am having trouble putting them into a series of parts in my mind that make a whole. For this, I will have to take some time this Spring and try to connect to her more natural aspects, her more pervasive energies.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Say no to SOPA


Bios and Zoë

Thinking about the arrows of the Gods, symbolic as they are of divine interaction with the mortal world, I am brought once more to a concept which must be central to any consideration of the Gods, the concepts of life.

I remember reading, a long time ago now in another city in another state in what seems a different life in Walter Burkert's book on Dionysos that the Greeks had more than one word meaning life. These were not simply synonyms, however, but conceptually different words that when used expressed different things about life.

The first word relevant to this discussion is Bios, from which we get the word stem bio as in biology. Bios is mortal life, biological life, life based in the animal and vegetable world. We know today that this life is based on things like cells, DNA, RNA, and is organic in nature, meaning based on the organic element carbon. Biological life is strictly mortal. It begins, reproduces, and eventually ends. In doing so, it also mutates and changes, improving and evolving as it interacts with the environment around it, an environment which is often very hostile to it. Biological life adapts, and that is its greatest strength.

Biological life is linked, and is reliant on, its environment. It exists as part of the very natural rules, physical laws, that make the universe itself possible because it arises from them. Terrestrial life is linked directly to the elements and conditions that the Earth provides, and it adapts to suit it, being forced to do so as it survives. Life on Earth is of Earth. It contains within it the very elements that make up the Earth, from carbon to metals and complex molecules created by geological processes long ago. The Earth gave birth to us, and we are part and parcel of it just as we are part of our mortal parents.

The planet Earth, however, is also mortal. It came into being, it exists and continues to change and evolve, and one day it will die, the internal processes that keep it going slowing down and stopping, like the heart of an animal stops. Perhaps it will be destroyed, the sun growing and engulfing it as it progresses into a new stage in its "life", because the sun too is mortal. One day it will grow and then shrink, leaving behind a simple white dwarf, and eventually even that will dim and die away, forgotten in the broad arm of the galaxy. And the galaxy too is mortal. Mother to the sun and earth, it too will eventually be torn apart by a collision with a sister galaxy, perhaps merging into one, or being destroyed as two new galaxies form around the cores that continue to grow and swallow up matter, the enormous super massive black holes.

And yes, they too are mortal, slowly leaking information in minute particles, and one day when the stars have burned out and the former galaxies are nothing but enormous black holes drifting in the vastness of space/time, they will slowly dissipate and die, and then the universe, also mortal, will settle and die a cold lonely death.

We share in that universal nature, the one thing all things in the universe have in common, their mortality.

Biological life, then, is an organic manifestation, on a small scale, of the reality of the universe, and we, who have adapted and changed to suit the environment it throws at us have grown into thinking rational creatures that can ponder this very reality.

But Biological life, the Bios, is dependent on the universe, which while mortal seems to us eternal in the same way that the universe relies on far greater things that are not actually mortal, but are truly eternal, truly immortal. We call them Gods (or God, if you have been brainwashed into thinking there is only one) and they exist as a form of life called Zoë.

Although we get the stem Zo, as in Zoo and Zoological, from Zoë, the term in a religious sense indicates life as a constant, ever present, eternal thing. The Gods are categorized not as Bios, but as Zoë, because they do not take part in the same processes of life that Bios does. We call this form of life divine, and we call the individuals Gods, which we honor, worship, or otherwise acknowledge as having an important role not only in our lives but in the very life of the universe itself.

Unlike Bios, which is self contained and individual, divine life is more diffuse, more spread out into the very universe itself, and it is not possible to think of them, the Gods, as being even limited in terms of interaction, for they overlap, merge, cross each other, combine and separate, and are, for all intents and purposes present in all things, living or not, organic or not, in various combinations.

Zoë is part of the eternal realm. The Eleventh dimension, that dimension of space which is the container of all things. It is timeless (eternal) and spaceless (infinite) and we call this realm by many names. In our religion, Olympus, Elysium, Tartarus, and Hades are names we give to different aspects of this realm. The life of this realm is, by its nature, eternal (having no beginning and no end) and infinite (having no spatial limitation) and are, here, privy to all of existence.

Unlike Bios, Zoë is vast. An individual God is infinite in form and has no need to account for time. One would even wager that the concept of time itself is likely a difficult one for such beings. One might even ask if the universe itself, molded and guided as it is by the Gods, is not a kind of experiment on their part to understand these concepts. But I tend to think they are beyond such games and could find easier ways to understand such things.

Unlike Bios, Zoë has no need to reproduce, but they do create. They have no death, but they do change. They have no need of sustenance, yet are fed by our adulation. The universe is as a laboratory of sorts, I admit, but it is also something else. Their work of art. Their child. Their most cherished creation, for it is given by them a portion of their own being, which to us seem not like people, but powerful forces, forces that act in accordance with their natures but always in balance with the other forces of nature.

That Bios seeks to understand them by clothing in flesh like its own is not so mysterious, what remains a true mystery is if, perhaps, there is a small spark of them in each of us, what happens to them when those small sparks rejoin them, become part of the whole universe again. Does my life bless that spark with something good, something wonderful, or will my ultimate gift to the Gods be my misery, hatred, and unwillingness to change. 

I think I shall endeavor to bless that spark with a little joy, a little pleasure, and a little love.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Arrows of the Twins

The question of faith brings up a question. How much of myth, legend, and poetic storytelling should be taken literally, how much as fancy, and how much of it should we assume is meant to teach us something about ourselves, about the Gods, and about the paths of life?

They are questions meant for individual consideration, of course, as each of us has to decide this for ourselves, but I do think it important that we who have walked this path longer reach out with our words so that those who come along behind us are not lead astray by overly zealous or overly literal interpretations of ancient texts.

The title of this post is The Arrows of the Twins, and I titled it that because those arrows, metaphorical arrows I should say, are part of the issue at hand. In myth, several deities are said to shoot arrows at mortals, an act of aggression at best, yet these arrows are almost always allegories for things such as disease, health, love, hate, jealousy, etc. When Eros fires his arrows into the hearts of men it is an allegory for the lust that we men are prone to. When the Apollo fires poisonous arrows, they are allegories for disease, and when Artemis fires her arrows at a birthing mother, it is an allegory for that most tragic of deaths.

The ancients understood, as we sometimes forget, that the Gods are not so much super-people as they are unimaginable forces of nature. Forces beyond our power to fully understand, yet which we must try to understand if we are to grow and evolve as sapient creatures. When we speak to newcomers to our path, our religion, we must try to be clear about this because the mythology studies in schools are useless in educating them about more than the idea that the Greeks were a silly people who believed in a man riding a chariot in the sky.

We must make it clear to them all that our myths are heavily allegorical and that the nature of the Gods is essentially unknowable, even if we can come very close to understanding some of their aspects. That with the good comes the bad, because the Gods act not to satisfy our whims but to assure the balances that keep the universe running.

The Gods are not evil, nor are they good, those are concepts brought to us by the friendly neighborhood Christians who would like nothing better than to convince you that you are an impure sinner that needs them to save you. We must reassure them that the arrows of the Gods are not meant to hurt us or save us, but to assure of us the full breadth of life, which sometimes includes suffering and sometimes joys beyond imagining. We must be willing to question them as well, because the arrows of jealousy can be balanced by the whispers of wise counsel in our ears and the recklessness of love can be balanced by the knowledge that the arrows of Apollo can sicken and weaken you.

We do not have a moral guide in our religion. Even if we did, it would be woefully outdated and old fashioned, so we must remind our young charges that the arrows of the gods can strike and that the best defense is to recognize them and act in accordance with the principals of wisdom, balance, and caring. And so, Apollo and Artemis can strike us down only that we may get back up, stronger and better than ever, but we, not they, make the decision if that happens.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Since I started on the Artemis point of the star, some things have been on the periphery of my consciousness, things that seem to be pointed out by the world around me. I think most of us know what it's like to have something brought to mind in a meditation or a prayer and then have the world around you constantly reminding you of it.

As part of my work, which is actually work I am trying to do on myself, not necessarily for the gods, I find the idea of faith coming up over and over again. I am especially troubled but the confusion we Americans seem to have about what faith means and how it relates to belief.

What do I mean by that?

In all manner of discourse I now hear people saying "I believe" or "I don't believe" with regard to things they see in the real world. This is a kind of negation of reality, especially with regard to things people like to speak about  but which they actually know nothing, or little, about. It is this same kind of discourse which has brought to the fore things like the debate between creationism and evolution.

On both sides, people will say that they believe their way is correct, yet know little by way of the other side of the argument. This proves a problem in any rational discourse, because people will simply dig in to what they "believe" without ever giving the other person a chance to make a logical argument. What makes it worse, however, is that as a result, even when something is proven more likely, or possibly proven true by science, those who "believe" may simply decide that to hear such proof is blasphemy and therefore refuse to hear it.

This is not faith. This is simply stubborn refusal of reality.

Faith is a form of belief, but it is not, should not be, a stubborn refusal to accept facts. To deny the earth is a globe, for example, because an ancient tome says it is flat would be to expose oneself as an idiot.

Not, that is not faith.

Faith is trust. Trust that the Gods, in whatever form you may worship them, have a hand in the workings of the universe, and that regardless of how science reveals their work to play out (how they accomplish these works) you can still hold on to the reality of their existence. And faith can stand up to the scientific disproving of ancient myth, because myth, like science, has always been a way for humanity to explain the world around them.

You don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, and you don't throw the Gods out with quantum physics.

Why it is Artemis that has set me to pondering this I don't know, but it is perhaps as a way to prepare me for when I am ready to move forward, because when I do I will have to face my definitions of faith and belief.