A year ago today, I woke up after my initiation into Eclectic Religious Witchcraft. I was coming off of a three-day fast and was high as a kite from the experience. It hadn't been an ordeal, it hadn't been grueling, it had been performed by three wonderful women whom I love dearly and it was an experience that I will never forget. The hours I spent prior, during, and after that ceremony are amongst the hours I have felt the most loved in my life.

Back in those days, I realized I wanted to leave Eclectic Religious Witchcraft, but I had invested eleven and a half years into that--or a similar--Tradition as a solitary. I knew the God and Goddess well, and my initiation was to be a cumulation of my experiences with Them as well as a goodbye. I can't tell you, exactly, how to wrap you head around an initiation as a way of saying goodbye, but it was a heart-thing, so I guess you do not have to.

I was initiated by a close friend and her coven. They were aware of my situation and--as it was going to be one of the first initiations my friend performed as lead--agreed to take me on anyway. There was a trial period before that night, of conversations and the sharing of information. It was established I had more than the basics down, so the decision was made.

I won't tell you too much about the experience. There were lots of tears--not just mine--and I was dedicated not in the first place to the God and Goddess, but to my patron Goddesses at the time. Afterwards, I helped dedicate someone new to the path; something I'm still proud of and joyous about. To see the wholeness I felt at that moment reflected in the face of another is a powerful thing.

I have never regretted my initiation. I'm extremely glad I did it. From that point on, the chapter was closed and I could open myself up to a new one I had known was coming: Hellenismos. I left Eclectic Religious Witchcraft as a priestess, and stripped all of it off to follow my heart and my Theoi.

On this Samhain eve, I remember that night most of all. I think I always will. While I don't celebrate Samhain, I will think about those hours in the company of the women I love and remember their beauty, their passion for the Craft, their devotion and their openness and be forever grateful. They have given me two of the most precious gifts one could ever receive: perfect love, and perfect trust.
Through a fellow blogger, I came upon an article about an author's loathing for the Pagan sellers of all the Witchcraft stuff one can buy. The post boiled down to saying that monetizing your faith takes power away from you, and simply buying your equipment will lead to hollowed out rituals. The post is here.

There is a long discussion in this from the Witchcraft perspective, but I'm not going there. I'm not going there because I left that path behind and the more I look back, I realize what a tangled--but beautiful--mess it is. Instead, I'm going to write about this from the Hellenistic point of view and take you back to Ye Olden Days when the Ancient Hellens still practiced their faith in their temples.

Religion was entwined with daily life to such an extend that you'd be hard pressed to find a pottery seller who had not depicted one or more of the Theoi on his work. Near just about every temple was a stand which sold small statues which one could sacrifice to the Theoi at said temple. Every temple complex had a treasury where the various gifts of the devoted were stored. Religion, back in the day, was big business--as it should be. It helped instill the presence of the Theoi in daily life.

I have said before that I wish more people would turn to monetizing Hellenismos. I'm still looking for that pendant, I still can't find decent statuary that I don't have to fly in from America or China, the thrift store is still my best friend in terms of finding items I can actually use in ritual, and I am still very happy for my semi-local new age bookstore annex supply shop, so I can at least find the incense I need for my daily devotionals.

I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with making money from your faith. If you're good at writing, I encourage you to write. If you're good at dry-walling, I encourage you to dry-wall. If you're good at religion, make your money that way. I'm at the point where I'm saving up so I can ask a jewelry maker to make me that dodecagram pendant I keep being nudged about wearing.

I do understand the author's frustration, though. Witchcraft is becoming a sated market where a lot of stuff has little meaning to the actual practice. I think I would prefer being on that end of the spectrum compared to the black marketing hole of nothingness where Hellenismos is located. I'd rather wade through the crap than find myself in an extremely limited religious position where the tools I feel the Theoi deserve, are none-existent, improvised or too rich for my blood.

I make no money off of either Baring the Aegis or Little Witch magazine, and I'm okay with that. Making money off of your faith, I feel, should always be for the best interest of said faith. I won't cheapen Hellenismos by letting Google randomly place advertisements on this blog. I feel this may be where the original author is absolutely right for saying that The Stuff is becoming more important than the faith: making money from your faith in a way that is in line with your faith is fine. Using your faith as a marketing strategy? Not that great.

All in all, the issue is complicated. I may not agree on flooding the market with items that make money off of faith, but, like Jason at The Wild Hunt, I believe that good work deserves good pay. So here is to hoping the Hellenistic community raises its artists to a new level. And because I'm still so partial to her work, check out Esma Designs when you get the chance. She may not be Hellenistic, but she makes incredible Hellenic jewelry.
Modern society always seems to put itself above the ancient societies that preceeded it, but without their inventions, we wouldn't be what we are today, and we certainly would not have what we have today. The ancient Hellens were masters of literature, art, philosophy, mathematics, geometry, astronomy, medicine and many other sciences, but they also constructed some inventions we use to this day. Here is a list of 25 of them. How many were you aware of?

Anchor: the Hellenic contribution to ship construction is huge. You've heard of the Argo, right? The Hellens were also some of the firsts who made long sea voyages and who build ships that could not be brought to shore, thus forcing them to find a way to tie their ships down when there was nothing to tie them to. Anchors of huge stones have been around since the Bronze Age, but the Hellens were the first to solve the problem in a technological manner. Most often these anchors--often referred to 'teeth' (ὀδὁντες, dentes) in Hellenic poetry--consisted of sacks or buckets which were filled with stones, although later versions were made of stone and already had the shape of anchors so well know today. Every ship had several anchors.

Alarm Clock: the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (428–348 BC) was most likely the first to possess an alarm clock. It was a water clock of some design that, when having counted to the desired time, played something with the sound of a water organ. Ctesibius (285–222 BC) had a device which would drop balls of some sort onto a metal plate at a specified time, thus waking up the sleeping party.

Automatic Doors: Heron of Alexandria created a hydraulic system, based on steam power, which automatically opened the doors to an Alexandrian temple. The engine used air from a closed chamber heated by an altar fire to displace water from a sealed vessel; the water was collected and its weight, pulling on a rope, opened temple doors.

Catapult: accounts of Hellenic versions of the catapult date back to 399 BC. They often shot out arrow-shaped projectiles, not boulders, but the mechanism was very much the same as the later medieval catapults.

Cement: cement is a binder, a substance that sets and hardens independently, and can bind other materials together. Although the word is Roman, the Hellens already had a version of it, adding limestone to a mixture of clay, water and sand. It was used from 100 BC onwards, and mostly in what is now the coast of Turkey.

Central Heating: although the Romans perfected the design, the ancient Hellens already had a system in place where a fire heated up air, which was then forced through pipes hidden under the floor. The air warmed up the floor and, in turn, the room. Slaves kept the fire burning, of course.

Clock Tower: the ancient  Tower of the Winds dates back to about 100 BC. It housed a water clock which was connected to eight sundials on the outside of the tower. The entire mechanism has since vanished, but the tower remains, including the depictions of the eight wind deities: Boreas (N), Kaikias (NE), Eurus (E), Apeliotes (SE), Notus (S), Livas (SW), Zephyrus (W), and Skiron (NW). I have seen the Tower of the Winds in person, and it's beautiful. It's also (one of the) first clock towers of the world.

Coin Money: long before the rule of the Hellens, we developed a trade system that relied on a token, not goods. Commodity money was born, but the Hellens were the first to develop coins of different sizes and materials and put a value on various trading goods.

Crane: in the sixth century BC, the Hellens invented a way to lift the heavy stone blocks onto the emerging temple walls: a crane. Holes drilled into the stone suggest ropes were attached to the blocks, and pulled up to be fitted in place.

Crossbow: like the catapult, crossbows emerged in ancient Hellas and were a favored weapon. The arrows they fired traveled far, were absolutely deadly, and the weapon was relatively easy to load.

Lighthouse: the famous lighthouse of Alexandria was constructed around 300 BC, by Sostratus of Cnidus. With a height around 400 ft (120 m), it stood as one of the tallest man-made structures on Earth for many centuries. It was one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Maps: Anaximander, who lived from 610 to 546 BC, was the first to create maps with the concept of latitude and longitude, and it were later Hellens Eratosthenes and Strabo who created maps of the entire known world at the time, which--granted--was not the known world as we know it today.

Odometer: an odometer--as car enthusiasts will most likely know--is an instrument that indicates distance traveled by a vehicle. In ancient Hellas, it was used to measure the distance between cities. Although the actual device was never recovered, some of the measurements were. They were so accurate that some form of technology had to be involved.

Plumbing: in the 400s BC, Athens began to develop highly extensive plumbing systems for baths and fountains, as well as for personal use within individual homes. Many houses in ancient Greece were equipped with closets or latrines that drained into a sewer beneath the street. They seemed to have been flushed by waste water. Some of the sewers were fitted with ventilating shafts.

Sinks: the ancient Hellens were the first to have an automated sink with running water, so both hands could be washed at the same time.

Showers: especially in gymnasia, large, communal, showers could be found. As it wasn't manly to wash with anything but cold water, it was doubtful the water was heated. There are also vase paintings of female athletes using showers.

Spiral Staircase: Temple A at Selinunte, Italy, was special. It was build around 480 BC. Selinunte was one of the most important of the Greek colonies in Sicily. There were five temples, but of only the 'E'-temple, it is sure whom it was dedicated to: Hera. Who the A-temple was dedicated to is not clear, but it had a unique design feature: the first spiral staircase in history.

Steam Engine: it was a children's toy, designed by Heron of Alexandria. He called it an aeolipile; a cylinder, arranged to rotate on its axis, having oppositely bent or curved nozzles projecting from it. When the cylinder is pressurized, steam blows through the nozzles and the aeolipile spins around. It was the first steam-powered anything, and extraordinary in its own way.

Surveying tools: the Hellens were well aware that a building needed a solid foundation, and a city needed proper planning in order to stand safely for a long time. More on the latter below, but for both, it was incredibly important to pick out a good building site. In order to do this, the Hellens devised many tools to test the soil, measure out the slope of the ground, and gather other valuable information before building their structures. It shows; much of what stood then, survives to this day, more or less intact.

Thermometer: Philo of Byzantium was a Hellenic Jewish philosopher who discovered that air expanded when heated.He attached a tube to a hollow sphere and extended it over a jug of water. When the device was in the sun, air expanded out of the sphere and into the water, creating bubbles. When he put the device in the shade, nothing happened. Around that same time (+/- 50 AD) Heron of Alexandra worked on the first thermometer for medicine.

Umbrella: they were made from larger bones, wood or plant leaves, and used to block rain or sun. While they certainly were not up to par with modern umbrella's, they served their purpose well.

Urban Planning: in the Hellenic city of Miletus, a grid formation was used for residential and public streets and areas. This was around 400s BC.

Vending Machine: Heron of Alexandria made another contribution to our current wellbeing. He invented the original vending machine. It dispensed water when a coin was put in. When the coin went in, it fell on a pan that was itself attached to a lever, which opened a valve. The pan would tilt until the coin fell off, thereby turning off the water.

Water Mill: even back in the day, power was needed to set mechanisms to work. In 300 BC, in Perachora, the first waterwheel was most likely created, and toothed gearing is also attributed to the Hellens, who managed to set in motion various devices with it.

Wheelbarrow: it seems like something someone in the stone age would have come up with, but it wasn't. The Hellens were the first to create a one wheeled cart around 400 BC. They were used on many construction sites throughout ancient Hellas, and who can blame them? Every little bit helps when you're creating massive temples.
One a forum I frequent but rarely post on, someone asked how far we would go for the Gods. The question referred to requests made by the Gods to prove our devotion; like Abraham, being asked to sacrifice his own child to the Christian God. I was shocked at how... rational the answers were. I understand not wanting to sacrifice a child, of course, but never--in any of these myths--was the child actually killed. Most of the answers on the thread came down to a refusal of said request, and the disbanding of Their worship, even if the deity in question showed up before them in person and told them to do it.

On the one hand, this is probably a healthy reaction. It may be time to talk to a psychiatrist if you start experiencing these types of thoughts. Then again, who knows how many psychiatric patients just get worse and worse because the deity they were hearing in the first place tries to shout through the medication-induced fog? Maybe some of the famous people who heard the voice of God weren't completely well, but they did manage to inspire the entire country of France to rise up against the English invaders, amongst others.

I have said before that I don't hear the voices of the Theoi, and I have never heard the voices of any other God or Goddess either, except in my dreams when I was a child. Yet, if Athena appeared before me, in shining armor and divine beauty, I would fall to my knees and do anything She asked of me without a second thought. Why? Because I believe in the Theoi--and other Gods--and believe that They have insights we lack, as simple mortals. I trust the Theoi, so if They feel I should take certain actions, I will.

Then again, I have given myself to an 'easy' pantheon; as best as I can remember, only once was someone asked to sacrifice their child to the Theoi: Agamemnon, who was asked by Artemis to sacrifice his child to Her so he could redeem an act of hubris against Her. In return, She would allow the wind to blow again, so the warships could sail to Troy to reclaim Helen.

When I was sixteen, I took part in a school musical version of Euripides’ 'Iphigenia at Aulis'. The play started with the Hellenic army waiting for the wind, and ended at the point Iphigeneia (Ἰφιγένεια) is sacrificed and saved by Artemis. I played Agamemnon, and it was awesome. Not just because a short, cute, sixteen year old girl was allowed to play one of the greatest military leaders in Hellenic history, but because it forced me to delve deep into the myth and understand the reasons behind Agamemnon's decision to go through with the sacrifice. 

For those unfamiliar with the ending of the myth: as Iphigeneia willingly steps up to the altar to be sacrificed--realizing her life is of lesser importance than the impending war, or simply to appease her father--Artemis appears and switches the girl for a deer just before either the fire can burn her, or the blade pierces her skin.

Note that the one Hellenic myth--correct me if there are more--where a sacrifice is asked that seems beyond reasonable, the sacrifice chooses, of her own accord, to be sacrificed. And is saved by the Goddess she was sacrificed to. Then again, Agamemnon did lose his daughter to Artemis: She took her away, so perhaps it was a sacrifice after all. 

In a prior post about hubris, I stated that I vehemently do not believe the Theoi--or other Gods--always have our best interest in mind. I think the Theoi have Their best interest in mind, first and foremost, and if we want that for Them as well, then They will help us any way that they can. When we don't--and thus commit hubris--the Theoi become our worst enemies.

The Theoi need not be appeased. They have always been happy with regular devotional sacrifices, with Their hymns, with simply being in the minds of Their followers. As such, we will never have to 'prove our devotion' unless we commit hubris against Them. So if Athena appeared before me, and told me to do something, it would never be to prove my loyalty: it would be to redeem myself. It would be a final warning, and I'd be incredibly joyous that the Theoi care about me enough to allow me a chance for redemption. So, yes, I would do it. In a heartbeat, whatever it is. And I'll do it, secure in the knowledge that whatever is asked of me, is asked by an immortal being who understands the world much better than I ever will, and who is trying to save me.

"O powerful Nike, by men desired, with adverse breasts to dreadful fury fired, thee I invoke, whose might alone can quell contending rage and molestation fell. 'Tis thine in battle to confer the crown, the victor's prize, the mark of sweet renown; for thou rulest all things, Nike divine! And glorious strife, and joyful shouts are thine. Come, mighty Goddess, and thy suppliant bless, with sparkling eyes, elated with success; may deeds illustrious thy protection claim, and find, led on by thee, immortal fame."
- Orphic Hymn 33 to Nike 

Although often considered a minor Goddess, Nike (Νίκη, pronounced 'ni-KÉ', unlike the sport's brand 'NÍ-kee'), winged Goddess of victory, had a privileged position in ancient Hellas; the same position She should have for any modern Hellenist who partakes in any type of competition, battle--medical, moral, political, judicial, social--who is looking for love, or is locked in some other type of struggle.

According to Hesiod, Nike was born one of four siblings: her brothers Kratos (Κράτος, 'strength') and Zelus (Ζῆλος, 'zeal'), and her sister Bia (Βία, 'Force'). Their parents are Pallas and Styx. When the Titanomachy broke out, Zeus called out to everyone to take the side of the Theoi in the war. Styx answered the call and reported for duty along with Her children. Nike became Zeus' charioteer and is often depicted by His side for it. Along with her siblings, Nike, was also a sentinel to Him, standing beside his throne. With Victory on his side, Zeus simply could not lose.

Another deity Nike is closely related to, is Athena. In fact, some say Nike is an epithet of Athena, most commonly referred to as 'Nike Athena'. In this regard, Nike Athena is an epithet of Athena that is closely related to 'winged thought'; a great intellect, and victory through tactical planning of the upcoming battle.

It is not odd to find Nike in the presence of Athena and Zeus: both rarely--if ever--lose. Victory is always on their sides. Other Theoi Nike favors are Ares and Hera; Ares as the victor of battle, Hera--presumably--as the victor of just judgement, like Athena. In some versions of the myth, Nike is the daughter of Ares and an unknown female. This is most notably so in Homeric Hymn 8 to Ares:

"[Ares] father of warlike (eupolemos) Nike, ally of Themis."

Nike is most often portrayed as a young woman with a billowy dress and beautiful wings attached to Her back. Both the statue of Zeus at Olympia and the statue of Athena at the Parthenon held a statue of Her in Their right hand. Two world famous statues of Her have survived more or less intact: the Winged Victory of Samothrace, as pictured above, and the statue of Nike by the hand of Paeonius.

There are also references to other statues of her, most notably one on the Acropolis in Athens where She had her own sanctuary. The temple of Apteros Nike ('Wingless Victory') was a small temple with eight Ionic columns. The wooden statue of Nike that was placed in there was wingless on purpose: the Athenians wanted Nike to stay in their city for ever and never fly away. Nike is also portrayed on the Olympic medals.

We all have struggles in our lives that we could use some divine help on. Especially when there can be only one winner, Nike is a wonderful deity to give sacrifice to. In the Orphic tradition, she was appeased with fumigations from Manna--Frankincense crushed to a powder. She will also accept libations of (red) wine. Speak of the speed with which She flies, the justness of Her judgements and the importance of Her duty.

If you wish to simply honor Her, try to think of Her when you see a competition going on which She will eventually settle, be it the presidential campaign, a sports event or a fight. Remember how often Nike passes just judgement upon mortals--and the Theoi--and how severe Her influence is on our lives. Once you realize that, you will never be able to see her as a 'minor' Goddess again.

Image source
Yesterday, I posted five videos on seven wonders of ancient Hellas: the Theatre of Epidaurus, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, Apollon's Temple at Delphi, the Colossus of Rhodes, the settlement at Santorini, the Palace of Knossos, and Athena's sanctuary at Athens: the Parthenon. Today, I'll tell you a bit more about the wonders, the mythology behind them and the influence of these wonders.

The palace of Knossos
The palace of king Minos at Knossos (Κνωσός) is legendary because it was home to the minotaur who roamed the maze beneath it. In the myth, Theseus--a young, brave, hero--lets himself be amongst those who will be sacrificed to it, and with the help of Ariadne's string, is able to kill the minotaur and leave the maze again, unharmed. It's one of the myths that everyone knows. The palace in which the myth takes place, however, is less well known but equally impressive. It is an architectural marvel, which was incredibly ahead of its time. Even the ruins are impressive.

Myth tells us that the entire palace complex was designed and built by Daidalos (Δαίδαλος), under contract of king Minos. The most famous part of the building was the maze, which lay below the entire structure. Yet, the entire palace was a trap for anyone who did not know his or her way around it. Daidalos was held prisoner in the palace after its completion, just so he would never be able to spill its secrets to anyone. This led to the myth of Daidalos and his son Íkaros (Ἴκαρος), escaping from the palace with wings made of feathers and wax. Íkaros never reaches the mainland: he either flies too high and melts the wax, or flies to low and gets the feathers wet. In both cases, he dies in the waves.

Knossos was undeniably the capital of Minoan Crete. The ruins of the palace are located about twenty minutes south of the modern port town of Iraklio. Knossos was inhabited for several thousand years, from the neolithic to 1375 BC, when it was abandoned after its destruction. The first palace on the low hill beside the Krairatos river was built around 1900 BC on the ruins of previous settlements. It--and many of the other buildings--were destroyed around 1700 BC by an earthquake or invaders. It was rebuild and destroyed or damaged again and again by earthquakes, volcano eruption, invaders and fires, until its abandonment. With its demise came the demise of the Minoan civilization.

Apollon's temple at Delphi
I have already written quite a bit about the Oracle at Delphi, yet the temple is equally impressive as the oracle(s) that it housed.

From being dedicated to Gaea, to a main site of worship for Apollon, the huge complex has a place in a great variety of myths. There are few which are not inspired or aided by the words of the oracle, after all. The complex was also the site of one of the Panhellenic Games.

The Delphi complex held the temple of Apollon, the Amphictyonic Council (a council of representatives from six Greek tribes that controlled Delphi and also the sports events), various treasuries where the votive offerings to Apollon and/or the oracle were stored, the altar of the Chians (the main altar, located in front of the temple of Apollon, funded by the people of Chios, the stoa of the Athenians (A series of seven futed columns, used to house Athenian war trophies and collect the stories of freed slaves), Sibyl rock (the rock where the prophet Sibyl sat to deliver her prophecies), a theatre, the Tholos (the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia), a gymnasium, a stadium, the Hippodrome (where the running events took place), the Polygonal wall, the Castalian spring, and a large variety of athletic statues.

The theatre of Epidaurus
It's was--and is--a huge theater, seating 15.000 people. The theater was designed by Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th century BC. In the time of the Hellens, the theater had thirty-four rows. Another twenty-two were added in the time of the Romans. While there were many theaters in ancient Hellas, the theatre of Epidaurus is famous for its perfect acoustics. Even today, you can hear a match being struck on the stage from any point in the theater. For a limestone construction that's 2400 years old, that's pretty impressive.

As far as I'm aware, the theatre does not feature in myth. Yet, many plays of the ancient times would have been performed there. The theatre was further surrounded by huge structures. Besides the theatre, the polis of Epidaurus featured a ceremonial Hestiatoreion (a banqueting hall), baths and a palaestra (a wrestling school).

The Colossus of Rhodes
Like the modern statue of Liberty, Rhodes had its own colossus, in the shape of the island's patron God--well, Titan--Helios. It is said to have stood a little over a hundred feet, or thirty meters, tall, on a fifty feet, or fifteen meters, pedestal. It was made out of bronze over an iron, or wooden, framework. Although there are accounts that place the statue over the harbor entrance, like pictured to the left, a construction like that would be incredibly hard to make even today. It's more likely the statue stood on one side of the harbor entrance or a little off onto a hill. Wherever it stood, it would have been an incredibly intimidating sight to behold for anyone meaning the island's inhabitants harm: a constant reminder that they were protected by a very powerful Titan.

The statue was, in fact, paid for by enemy money. After Alexander the Great's death, a war broke out over his succession. sides were picked, other sides got angry and Rhodes found itself besieged. When the cavalry arrived, the attackers fled, leaving much of their equipment behind. The inhabitants of the island sold the equipment and invested the money in the statue.

The sheer size of the statue gave it much of its glory, but also the fact that it was made with copper plating over a frame, made it a construction nightmare. Yet, the statue stood for nearly sixty year--until an earthquake literally shook the statue apart.

The statue of Zeus at Olympia
Another very imposing statue is the statue of Zeus at Olympia. The seated statue, created by the Greek sculptor Phidias, was thirty-nine feet, or twelve meters, tall. Ancient accounts say that, if Zeus would have stood, he would have unroofed the temple.

The statue was richly decorated with ivory and gold-plated bronze. The sculpture was wreathed with golden olive shoots and sat on a grand throne  cedarwood, inlaid with ivory, gold, ebony, and precious stones. He held a small statue of crowned Nike, goddess of victory, in his right hand, and in his left hand, a sceptre inlaid with gold, on which an eagle perched.

The statue was eventually destroyed, either in the fire that also destroyed the temple, or before, when it was carried off by Romans who either used the stone and precious metals to create something new, or to repurpose the statue as a representation of one of their own emperors. While it stood at Olympia, it was the literal seat of Zeus' power, and a focal point of His worship.

The settlement at Santorini
The legend of Atlantis is actually of Hellenic design and is based in mythology. In Greek, the term 'Atlantis' means 'island of Atlas' (Ἀτλαντὶς νῆσος), and it may very well have applied to Santorini.

It was Plato who brought new life--and myth--to Atlantis. According to him, Poseidon fell in love with Cleito, the daughter of Evenor and Leucippe, who bore him five pairs of male twins. The eldest of these, Atlas, was made rightful king of the entire island and the ocean--called the Atlantic Ocean in his honor--and was given the mountain of his birth and the surrounding area to rule over. It was also Plato who wrote that Poseidon made Atlantis--a huge island with a volcano at its center--His home after Zeus, Hades and He divided the world.

Plato's description of Atlantis would have fit the ancient hellenic version of Santorini well. It was a large, mountainous, island, with an active volcano at its center. The large settlement on the island was build around said volcano. Poseidon's influence on the island isn't a stretch of the imagination at all; there was sea and ocean all around and from time to time, the entire island would tremble due to the volcano.

The volcano eruption decimated the settlement, but from what archeologists and scholars have been able to piece together, the settlement was a sight to behold while it stood. It had walls eight meters tall, three story houses, beautiful frescos and a rich economic climate. The volcano eruption preserved much of the ancient city of Akrotiri, despite the huge lagoon the eruption left at the center of the island.

The Parthenon
It is perhaps the most famous of ancient Hellenic monuments: the Parthenon (Παρθενών) atop the Acropolis in Athens. It was the focal point of Athena's worship and is a major tourist attraction to this day. Because of its cultural significance--back then as well as now--it's part of the official seven wonders of the ancient world.

The building that has survived to this day was not the first temple to Athena to grace the mountain. There was an older temple, but it was leveled by the Persians in 480 BC. After that, steps were undertaken to bring about an even more impressive temple for the  patron Goddess of Athens. Despite a huge statue and a small altar, the Parthenon never housed the cult of Athena's worship. It was a status symbol for the city, and a show of devotion. Any religious rites concerning Athena--like the Panathenaia--were executed in or around another, smaller, building on the northern side of the Acropolis.

Like so many Hellenic monuments, fire, war, and conquest wreaked havoc on the temple. The treasures that were housed within it were robbed, mostly by the Romans, and the temple fell into disrepair. The stone that remains now is mostly the outer shell of the building, but as someone who has seen it with her own eyes, I can tell you it's breathtaking. I would have loved to see it in all its grander. It may not have been a major religious hub, but it was--and is--one of the best know structures dedicated to a Deity. For that alone, it is rightfully called a wonder.

Image sources: palace of Knossos, Apollon's temple at Delphi, Theatre of Epidaurus, Colossus of Rhodes, Statue of Zeus at Olympiathe settlement at Santorinithe Parthenon.
It's one of those incredibly busy weeks, and I'm simply not able to write anything for you today. So, I'm giving you part one of two of a special on the seven wonders of the ancient Hellenic world. Today is just video, tomorrow, I'll tell you a bit more about the seven: the Theatre of Epidaurus, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, Apollon's Temple at Delphi, the Colossus of Rhodes, the settlement at Santorini, the Palace of Knossos, and Athena's sanctuary at Athens: the Parthenon. Enjoy!

In the post about Médousa, I mentioned in passing that I don't feel the Hellenic and Roman Gods are one and the same, although they are often painted as the same Gods with a different name. I'm going to try and explain the differences, and my view on Them, in this post. This is going to be a bit tricky because, well, I don't know a lot about the Roman Gods. I figure some find this an odd thing to say--with the many similarities--but it is something I feel very strongly about.

For one, the Theoi came first. The Roman empire came up about a thousand years after the rise of the Theoi.  Hellenic mythology featured the Hellens, their stories and their cities, while Roman mythology focussed on the Roman people, their stories and their cities. The Hellens had the Iliad as a major introductory and poetic text to introduce the Theoi, and the Romans had their own text: the Aeneid, a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans.

Differences in the two societies also reflected on the Gods and Their importance. For one, the Hellens valued  physical prowess, but it were poets and scholars who were held in the highest regards. For Rome, it were the warriors who received the most attention. This reflected in the Gods of both people as well: the Roman Gods resemble the Hellenic Gods, but they are stricter, harder and possess more bloodlust. At the same time, they were also pruder when it came to excesses of any kind. Ares, temperamental God of War, has his Roman counterpart in Mars, yet, Mars is a much stabler God, who is also in charge of agriculture and fertility. Baccus, the Roman equivalent of Dionysos, lost all ecstatic rites that made the worship of Dionysos so famous.

Another major example of the differences between the two religions was that the Romans had no set shape for their Gods: they looked different to every individual. They were not revered for Their beauty, like their Hellenic counterparts. The Hellens knew exactly how their Gods looked. They were often described as having muscular bodies (for the men), beautiful eyes and hair (both men and women), and delicate ankles (women). They were role-models to strive towards. Not so for the Romans.

The Roman culture also had a thing for the afterlife. Where the Hellens focussed on this life and saw death as an inevitable conclusion of it, the Romans struggled to do good deeds and live good lives to be rewarded in the afterlife. They felt that, if they had been good enough, brave enough, warrior-like enough, they would take their place with the Gods after death. The Hellens worried more about the judgement of the Theoi while they were still alive and knew they would go to the Underworld afterwards. Of course, things changed in that regard already: the mysteries brought the idea of awareness after reincarnation, and parts of the Underworld fell into disuse.

It seems to me, that the Romans tried becoming Gods their whole lives, while the Hellens accepted their lot as mortals, and respected the Theoi as all-powerful and all-ruling. A frame of mind like that shows in Gods that get neatly packaged, made non-threatening and can be rivaled by mortals. Yet, because of the warrior mentality of the Romans, the Gods that became more predictable and less formed, also became harder. They still punished socially unacceptable behavior, and myths from the Hellenic period got retold from the viewpoint of a warrior's society.

I think it's important to find the source of a myth and see when it was written. I'm not saying there isn't something to be learned about the Theoi from Roman mythology, but one should be aware that these deities may not be the same deities. Because of my limited knowledge of the Roman era, I don't have the tools to interpret these myths against the backdrop of Roman society, and can thus not translate them back to a Hellenic framework, or--perhaps more accurately--I can't let go of my Hellenic framework when I read them. The mythology of the Romans may not match the mythology of the Hellens. Like the Roman Médousa myth, some myths do not add to the Theoi, only subtract from Them. I let these myths go, and leave them for a Religio Romana, who may find more value in them.

How do you handle Roman mythology? Are their stories part of your understanding of the Theoi? Do you feel the Roman and Hellenic deities are the same deities? Should a purely Hellenic practice disallow any Roman myth? What do you think?
Welcome to another installment of the constellation series. I'm on a mythology binge so I thought it was time. As the fourth constellation, I have for you Argos Navis, a collection of constellations which together form the ship Argo, on which the Argonauts (Argonautai, Ἀργοναῦται) sailed to find the Golden Fleece.

The Argo Navis was an ancient constellation which has since been disband. It was a huge constellation, the largest in existence.  In 1752, the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille subdivided it into Carina (the keel of the ship), Puppis (the stern), and Vela (the sails). Back in ancient Hellas, it was still one, large, constellation and it represented the ship on which one of Hellas' greatest heroic journeys was undertaken: Iásōn's (Ἰάσων, Jason) quest for the Golden Fleece.

The Argo (Ἀργώ), meaning 'swift', was built by the shipwright Argus. He was a member of the Argive royal house, and his fmily was favored by Hera. Becasue of this, anyone who sailed on the Argo, would have Her aid. Argus was aided in the planning and construction of the Argo by Athena, and possessed in its prow, a magical piece of wood from the sacred forest of Dodona, which could speak and render prophecies.

The tale of the Argonautai is long, and complicated. As so many kings in ancient Hellas, Pelias (Πελίας) unrightfully laid claim to his half-brother's throne. He became the king of Iolkos in Thessaly, and fell in disfavor of the Theoi because of his actions. It was prophesied that a member of the rightfully royal bloodline would one day punish him, and he was likewise warned to watch out for a man with only one sandal.

Pelias didn't believe in half measures and murdered every prominent descendant of Aeolus he could, but spared his mother Tyro's youngest son, Aeson. Instead, he imprisoned him and forced him to renounce his claim to the throne. Aeson complied, and eventually was set free. He married  Alcimede, who bore him a son named Diomedes. Alcimede successfully saved her son from certain death by having her nursemaids keen as if the boy had been stillborn. She secretly packed him off to Mount Pelion, where he was raised by the kéntauros Kheiron (Χείρων), who changed the boy's name to Iásōn.

From Kheiron, Iásōn learned the arts of combat, sports, medicine and music. When he reached adulthood, he was send back to Iolkos with proof of his royal birth. On the way there, he had to cross a river and found an old woman on the bank of it, who begged everyone who passed by to carry her through the water. All but Iásōn ignored her. He took her onto his back and he helped her across, although he found the journey tougher than he had ever thought possible. He also lost one of his sandals in the mud. As he put down the old woman, she turned into the magnificent Hera, of whom he would continue to receive support now he had passed her test.

As soon as Pelias laid eyes on the youth with one sandal, he knew what would happen now. And thus, he devised a plot to get rid of Iásōn. As Iásōn presented him with an offer to keep some farms and cattle, while Iásōn claimed his rightful place on the throne, Pelias happily accepted, but warned Iásōn that one task had to be completed first: the proper burial of king Phrixos.

Phrixos, thus told Pelias, Iásōn, had been saved from being sacrificed to the Theoi by a ram with golden wool. The Theoi had not demanded this sacrifice, but his step-mother Ino had paid off messengers from the oracle of Delphi to demand so of her husband out of hatred for the boy. The ram had carried him off to Helios' palace, where he was accepted into the household. The ram was sacrificed to Zeus, and the fleece was hung from a tree in a sacred grove of Ares, guarded night and day by a dragon that never slept. Pelias was haunted by Phrixos, and swore to Iásōn Phrixos would not rest until his ghost was taken back to Iokos, along with the Golden Fleece. If Iásōn did this, he swore by Zeus, to relinquish his throne to him.

Iásōn jumped at the chance. Kheiron had taught him well, and a chance to prove himself was all he desired. And so, he hired Argus to build him a ship, and send out messages to the various royal families to send them their young heroes for this voyage. Many jumped at the chance, although it's unclear how many, exactly. Argus may have undertaken the journey himself, as did Atalanta, Bellerophon, Kastor and Polideukes, Hēraklēs, Nestor, Orpheus, Perseus and Theseus. The number of Argonautai lay somewhere between forty and fifty.

The journey would take the brave Argonautai to many dangerous places. The first was Lemnos, where the women had been struck with madness by Aphrodite for failing to properly honor her. they had killed all men on the island, and all slave women as well. When the Argonautai reached the island, Aphrodite enchanted the women to seduce them, and thus halt their journey. Hēraklēs was the only one who did not go off of the ship, so he was able to convince the others to ship out after a long, long wait.

The next challenge came in the form of the Gegeines; Earthborn giants with six arms. The Argo sailed to Doliones where king Cyzicus ruled. In search of supplies, he allowed then to look for supplies on Bear Mountain, but failed to warn the crew of its inhabitants. When most of the crew left for the mountains, the Gegeines attempted to raid the ship, but Hēraklēs, along with a few others, held them off long enough for Iásōn and his men to return. They set sail int he dead of night but got turned about. They ended up on the same shore where the Argonautai and the people of king Cyzicus failed to recognize each other and many of them were killed, the king amongst them. When morning came, the Argonautai were shocked and ashamed, and organized a burial for the dead king. Hēraklēs took his leave here, as his tasks were not yet completed.

For twelve, long, days, the weather was so bad that the Argo could not set sail. The crew waited and grew hungry and thirsty. Mopsos, a bird auger, eventually deduced that the men should sacrifice to Rhea, mother of the Theoi. They did, and food and drink came to them by way of animals and low hanging fruit. The wind also died down, and the expedition was saved.

Next, they reached Bebryken, where they were challenged to a fist fight by king Amykos. He was so strong, he killed every opponent with one hit, and tossed those who refused to fight into the sea to die there. It was Pollux, son of Zeus, who accepted the challenge. He managed to win his fight gloriously, but the followers of the king were furious and wanted revenge. They fought the Argonautai, but were no match.

Soon they reached the court of Phineus of Salmydessus in Thrace. The king had been blessed with the gift of prophecy, but had shared too much of Zeus' secrets. For that, Zeus send Harpies to his door every day to take his food. The starving king begged the Argonautai for help, and received it. The Harpies were killed (or, in some versions of the myth, chased off) and the expedition continued.

The only way to reach their destination was to sail through the Symplegades, or Clashing Rocks. These huge rock cliffs came together and crushed anything that traveled between them. Phineas told the crew to release a dove when they approached these islands, and if the dove made it through, to row with all their might. If the dove was crushed, he was doomed to fail. Iásōn released the dove as advised, which made it through, losing only a few tail feathers. They went for it and, with the aid of Athena, made it through with only minor damage to the stern of the Argo. The clashing rocks were forever joined, leaving the way free for others to travel.

Before reaching Kolchis, their destination, the Argonautai would halt twice more. Once in the land of the Mariandyn, where they lost their navigator to illness, and Hera just barely saved the expedition by making Ankaios speak winged words of confidence that he could steer the ship. And he did. The second wait came in the form of a terrible storm for which the Argo needed to be protected. When the storm died down, they found the shipwrecked nephews of Iásōn, who had been on their way back from Kolchis, and were accepted into the Argonautai right away.

Once the Argonautai reached Kolchis, their struggle wasn't over. King Aeetes was unwilling to part with the Fleece, as it had brought great prosperity to his lands. He devised three tasks for Iásōn: to plow a field with fire-breathing oxen, to sow the teeth of a dragon into the field, and to overcome the sleepless dragon guarding the Fleece. Aided by Mēdeia (Μήδεια)--who was made to fall in love with Iásōn by Athena and Hera, who convinced Aphrodite to convince Eros to shoot his arrow--Iásōn completed his tasks and fled with Mēdeia and her younger brother Absyrtus, aboard the Argus.

As king Aeetes' war fleet hunted them down, Mēdeia did the unthinkable: she killed her brother and, in some versions of the myth, dismembered him, throwing his body parts into the sea one by one. His father made sure all parts were recovered and the Argo was able to get away. In all versions of the myth, Iásōn is shocked by this act, as well as the magick she implored to aide him in his other quests, but in some, he takes Mēdeia onto dry land to allowed her to cleanse herself of the miasma incurred by the murder she had committed.

After this, the Argo makes it home safely, after first passing by the Sirens who are so well known from the Odysseia--harmless because of Orpheus' louder and more beautiful music--and the boulder throwing Taltos, a bronze man with one blood vessel which ran from his neck to his toe. The blood vessel was held closed by a single nail. Mēdeia practiced her magick again, and put the giant to sleep. Then, she removed the nail, and Taltos bled to death.

Again, it was Mēdeia who saved the expedition, as Pelias refused to give in. Yet, he had become an old man in the time Jason had been gone, and when Mēdeia offered to make him young again, his daughters jumped at the chance. Mēdeia told the women that they should kill and cut up their father and put them in her cooking pot. This way, she would be able to perform her magick and the king would be reborn in his prime. The girls did as told but Mēdeia did not add the magickal herbs needed to complete the spell, and Pelias remained quite dead. Iásōn and Mēdeia were exiled for their crime by Pelias' son.

Yet the story of the Argo is not quite over. According to playwright Euripides, Iásōn betrayed Mēdeia, and wedded Kreousa (Κρέουσα), daughter of king Kreon of Korinth, instead of her. Mēdeia recounted all the help she had given him, and reminded him of his vow to marry her, but he told her that she should not be angry at him, but at Aphrodite, who had made her fall in love with him. Angered and ashamed, Mēdeia enchanted the dress Kreousa would wear for her wedding, and it caught fire as soon as she put it on. The fire killed both her and her father. Out of fear for retaliation, or out of a desire to hurt Iásōn even further, Mēdeia killed the two sons she had with Iásōn and fled.

Iásōn was punished for his treachery: Hera abandoned him and the mast of the Argo squashed him as he lay sleeping on the Argo one night late into his lonely and tortured life. The Argo was consecrated to Poseidon in the Isthmus, and was later placed into the sky and turned into the constellation of Argo Navis. The constellation has fallen apart over the years. Carina is visible at latitudes between +20° and −90°. It is best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of March. Puppis is visible at latitudes between +40° and −90°, and is best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of February. Vela is visible at latitudes between +30° and −90° and is best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of March.
The legend of Médousa (Μέδουσα) is one of the hardest myths to deal with out of ancient Hellenic mythology. It tells the story of a beautiful woman, who got raped by Poseidon, and gets transformed into a hideous monster who can turn people to stone just by looking at them, by Athena, because of it. She spends the rest of her life trapped on an island, in isolation, while brave warriors try to kill her for her head, which will still turn people to stone once cut off. Perseus eventually does so and gives the head to Athena to place on her shield. The circle is complete and Médousa is dead, after a lifetime of horror which was not her fault to begin with.

It's one of the best known Hellenic myths, and the movies, series, books, comics and other mediums which feature it--or Médousa--are endless. Percy Jackson comes to mind, and Clash of the Titans, but there are many others. What's less well known is that this particular myth doesn't date back to ancient Hellas, but ancient Rome: it was written by the Roman poet Ovid, in 8 B.C., in his Metamorphosis

"...He [Perseus] told of his long journeys, of dangers that were not imaginary ones, what seas and lands he had seen below from his high flight, and what stars he had brushed against with beating wings. He still finished speaking before they wished. Next one of the many princes asked why Medusa, alone among her sisters, had snakes twining in her hair. The guest replied ‘Since what you ask is worth the telling, hear the answer to your question. She was once most beautiful, and the jealous aspiration of many suitors. Of all her beauties none was more admired than her hair: I came across a man who recalled having seen her. They say that Neptune, lord of the seas, violated her in the temple of Minerva. Jupiter’s daughter turned away, and hid her chaste eyes behind her aegis. So that it might not go unpunished, she changed the Gorgon’s hair to foul snakes. And now, to terrify her enemies, numbing them with fear, the goddess wears the snakes, that she created, as a breastplate.’"

Yet, Médousa was a well known figure in ancient Hellas, so well known that the images of her cut off head adorned everything from armors to stoves. Her name meant 'guardian', and her head frightened off enemies as well as little children who would otherwise have burned their hands. The blood from the veins on the left side of Médousa's head was allegedly capable of killing, but Asclepius, a great healer, used the blood from the veins on the right side of the head for saving lives.

In ancient Hellas, Médousa was one of three sisters, Khthonic daímōns called Gorgons. They were named Médousa, Stheno (Σθεννω), and Euryale (Ευρυαλη), and were born to the ancient marine deities Phorkys (Φόρκυς) and Keto (Κητώ), his sister. They were part of the Phorcides (Φόρκιδες), the offspring of Phorkys. Their sisters were Echidna (Ἔχιδνα, half woman, half snake), the Graiai (Γραῖαι, 'old women', sharing one tooth and one eye), and Ladon (Λάδων, the dragon serpent who guarded the golden apples in the garden of the Hesperides). This view comes from Hesiod:

"And to Phorkys, Keto bore the Graiai, with fair faces and gray from birth, and these the gods who are immortal and men who walk on the earth call Graiai, the gray sisters, Pemphredo robed in beauty and Enyo robed in saffron, and the Gorgones who, beyond the famous stream of Okeanos, live in the utmost place toward night, by the singing Hesperides: they are Sthenno, Euryale, and Medousa, whose fate is a sad one, for she was mortal, but the other two immortal and ageless both alike. Poseidon, he of the dark hair, lay with one of these, in a soft meadow and among spring flowers. But when Perseus had cut off the head of Medousa there sprang from her blood great Khrysaor and the horse Pegasos so named from the springs (pegai) of Okeanos, where she was born."

According to Apollodorus, Médousa and her sisters came into the world with snakes on their heads, instead of hair, with yellow wings and brazen hands. Their bodies were also covered with impenetrable scales, and their very looks had the power of killing or turning to stones. Médousa was the only mortal of the three, and in nearly all versions of the myth, has her head cut off by Perseus, who gifts it to Athena. The big difference? In the Hellenic version of the myth, Médousa was never a beautiful maiden who served as a priestess to Athena and was punished for being raped.

There is a third version of the myth, inspired, it seems, by Hesiod, in which Médousa was a very beautiful maiden who lived far to the north where the sun did not reach. She begged Athena to allow her to leave and see the sun, but Athena refused. Médousa got angry and shouted at Athena that she was only disallowing her request because she was jealous at her beauty. Athena, angered, turned her into the monster she is so famous as today. There is a variation of this myth where Médousa tells the sculpture of a statue of Athena that he would have done better making a sculpture of her, because she was far more beautiful. The result is the same; Athena takes her beauty and forces her into isolation as punishment for her hubris. Apollodorus, interestingly enough, also confirms this:

"It is affirmed by some that Medousa was beheaded because of Athene, for they say the Gorgon had been willing to be compared with Athene in beauty."

Archaeologists suspect that Athena, Médousa and Poseidon found their origins in Libya. They came to Hellas through Crete at the dawn of Hellas. In the beginning of Her rein, Athena may have been a snake and fertility Goddess--a trait she shared with her Libyan counterpart, who had Her own cult--and may have either had a priestess who fit the Médousa myth or--and this is more likely--Médousa had her own cult as a snake, fertility and (menstrual) blood Goddess. Especially the latter may be linked to the myths concerning Médousa's blood.

Athena's role as a snake and fertility Goddess is still visible in the myth about the child she had with Hēphaistos;  Erichthonios (Ἐριχθόνιος), who was half man, half snake. It's even posed that in the early days, Athena was married to Hēphaistos and had His child willingly. As Athena was stripped of Her roles as a fertility and snake Goddess, Médousa's myth came into being, where Athena distances Herself from sex and snakes, by punishing an epithet of herself (Athena Tritogeneia, perhaps: 'born of Trito', a lake which was supposedly located in Libya), or the Libyan snake Goddess Médousa, who may have still been attached to Her worship. By placing Médousa's head on Her breastplate or shield, Athena's mythology is continuously linked to Her Libyan heritage, but harmlessly so, to Her new image of a virginal warrior.

Few references remain to Médousa's Libyan cult. There's vague reference to Médousa being a patron of Libya as a whole, or that she was the Goddess most worshipped by the Amazons. She was linked to protection, snakes, menstrual blood, blood, fertility, and femininity in general. If this is true, it's understandable why her worship did not match the Hellenic religion: for one, she's most likely a very powerful female deity. This did not match the hierarchy of the ancient Hellens, and so, Médousa became a monster, and was dealt with accordingly. Blood was one of the fluids that caused serious miasma, and menstrual fluid wasn't even spoken of in ancient Hellas, let alone revered. Not a single Goddess would have it in their portfolio.

I don't like Ovid's version of the Médousa myth. In my view, it's an embellished version of the myth which overshoots its purpose. It also puts both Poseidon and Athena in a very bad light, and takes a lot away from Médousa. As an Hellenist, I am going to pull the Recon card and ignore the heck out of the Ovid myth. I hope that works for you as well. In all honesty, Athena can be a harsh Goddess, but most of her brutal mythology (like Arachne) applies to Minerva, Her Roman counterpart. I'm not saying these two are not linked, but I consider the Roman pantheon as a separate pantheon, with harsher deities. I'll get back to that in another post. For now, I hope this post redeems Médousa a bit, and puts her in a new light for you.
You guys! In the five months this blog has been around, you have racked up* 10.000 hits on this blog and another 16.000 at Witches & Pagans. Also, 'Baring the Aegis' has just passed it's 150th post. No one is more surprised than I am, and this is me being incredibly grateful for your support, your words, your internet addiction and your willingness to put up with my Whedonesque love of hearing myself write. And yes, yes, I know that about half of those hits are Google bots and people stumbling upon something they were very much not looking for but still, 36.000 hits ain't bad, even if you divide it by two. So once more, thank you, thank you, thank you.

In other news, Facebook is trying something new where page administrators must pay to promote their posts, or run the risk of their post getting washed away in the bubbling timeline of their subscribers. I'm not sure how this is going to work, but it's about seven dollars per promoted item, so I'm not going there. From what I gather, everyone who is subscribed to the Facebook page will still get the daily update, I just don't know where it'll end up on your timeline.

I want to ask you, my awesome readers, to see if you notice a difference. If the updates suddenly stop showing up for you, they may be lower in your timeline. I would appreciate any feedback on this. If you want to be sure about receiving the daily update of a new post by way of Facebook, please go to the Baring the Aegis Facebook page and click the 'gear' button next to the 'like' button. If you select the option 'Add to interest lists', and then use the 'Make a name for your sites' option to create an interest list, you'll have the updates in your interests. Of course, just visiting the Baring the Aegis blog website is also an option. I'll keep you all informed about this, seeing as I'm not exactly sure myself how much not paying to promote will hurt delivery of the message.

Again, you guys rock, and I'm a very happy writer. I am also a bit annoyed with Facebook, but what else is new, right?

* either today or tomorrow
I came to Hellenismos from a Three-fold-Law-filled path. I sent years not asking anything from the Gods for myself. The closest I ever got was asking to grand me the strength to aid someone else. I realized even back then that the Law was limiting the magick I practiced, so I stopped practicing it all together. I never subscribed to the 'love and light' mentality. When I transitioned to Hellenismos, letting go of the Law was like a weight had been lifted. Suddenly, I had the freedom to ask for things I needed badly in my life, without feeling guilty. I didn't expect the Theoi to grand any of my pleas, but They did, in most cases.

One of the Delphic Maxims is to 'pray for happiness' (Ευτυχιαν ευχου). It's one of the maxims that were so opposite to the practice I left behind, it felt positively alien. You can imagine how my first sacrifices went. To give you a hint, it went a bit like this:

"Blessed Goddess Hestia, Goddess of home and hearth, accept these offerings of incense sweet and barley white. If my offerings please you, and you erm... you... wouldn't mind spending a little time on my family, please keep us safe and erm... we could really use an opportunity for work and money because things get tight and well... okay, I'm rambling, I'm sorry. Please, don't be offended. I'm sorry, I'll go away now."

I got better at it; pretty fast, actually.

I go on about kharis a lot on this blog, and rightly so. Kharis, the reciprocity between us and the Theoi, is one of the cornerstones of Hellenismos. In fact, I think it may be the goal of Hellenismos as a whole. If not, why bother? And I don't mean any disrespect by that, not to Hellenists, and most definitely not to the Theoi. But isn't it true that we sacrifice and are pious because we need something of the Theoi? Part of it comes from the goodness of our hearts, but mostly, we would like some divine aid when we really need it. At the least, we practice so the Theoi won't smite us.

The ancient Hellens prayed to the Theoi for everything. They prayed for health when someone got sick, they prayed for wealth or food when they were poor, they prayed for protection when they were in trouble, they prayed for courage and honor in battle, and they prayed for guidance in times of turmoil. In short, they prayed for happiness. Small statues were found in shrines with inscriptions of wishes, very often for fertility and/or protection, especially for Goddesses who had those domains in Their portfolio.

This maxim is a stark reminder of the ancient value of kharis, and it proved very liberating to me. How do you feel about this maxim? Does it go against what you've been taught or does it match what you've been practicing?
"Death came suddenly and it was mercilessly painful. You are aware you have passed: you can hear the keening of the women in your family, taste the metal of the oboloi in your mouth. You are no longer cold, or hot, and there is no pain. Sensation is for the living, and your memories start to fade already. You are no longer part of the living. You are dead, and your guide is waiting for you. 

Hermes Psychopompos, the winged guide of the newly dead, descends and takes your hand. Below you is the ocean: Oceanos' divine body. You used to watch it glisten in Helios' bright rays, but today, everything is dull and lifeless. You are speeding west, guided by the blessed Immortal. Below you, you can see land again and a mighty river. The land draws you down, and you stand on the ground without feeling it. It is here that Hermes Psychopompos leaves you, in the capable hands of Kharon, on the bank of the river Acheron. 

The ferryman looks old and ageless at the same time. He holds out his hand, but you can't understand what he wants from you. Then, his hand closes around a coin, and he steps aside to let you into his boat. Without moving, you are suddenly on the boat, looking to the shore where shadowy figures of the dead gather, longing to make the journey with you. But they have no coin to hand over, and are forced to wander the bank of the Kokytos river year after year, until the ferryman takes pity on them. Today is not their day.

The river fades into the darkness of a cave. The river of woe joins with the river of hate; the river Styx that seems to have no end. Kharon moves the boat forward in a steady rhythm. You reach the dock sooner than you expected to. Kharon waits silently for you to get off of his boat. You dare not move. Beyond is a field of grey, a sunless cavern filled with the shadows of the dead. The fields of Asphodel; the dreary resting place of the common Hellen. Before the fields stand a huge gate, and an equally huge dog, with three growling heads, foaming at each mouth. Kharon waits, and then you are in the field. The gate stands behind you, Kerberos a constant reminder you can never go back.

You wander, still remembering much of your life. The fall you took as a child that gave you a weak knee, the smile of your spouse on your wedding day. You remember your child being born. It makes being here impossible to bear. The memories will not fade, because before your judgement, you are not allowed to forget. You hold on to them as long as you can, but then you walk through the field, to the compound in the distance. Hades' compound, where the Dread Lord and His beautiful wife live. You walk to forget. Thus, you come upon the judges. 

Rhadamanthys, Minos and Aiakos wait for you at the trivium in the courtyard of the compound; the trivium, Hekate's sacred crossroads. If you still had a heart, you would feel it beating in your throat now. But you do not. Any decision the judges make is alright. The memories hurt. You are cut off from your loved ones, from Helios' powerful rays. Tartaros is not your place, you know that much. You have honored the Theoi, you have done right by your family. You do not fear judgement. You wish to go back to the Asphodel meadows and drink from the river Lethe; you wish to forget. More, you wish to reach Elysium, the island of the blessed. In the distance, the Lord of the Dead and his Queen Persephone must be.

Your life is judged, you are judged. You wait, and look to each side. Left for Tartaros, where the river Phlegethon burns, but leaves everything it touches intact. Right for Elysium, where the ghosts of the blessed reside amongst the blameless heroes. Or back the way you came for the meadows where Lethe flows free, where the dead flutter around like bats, and those initiated into the Mysteries drink from Mnemosyne, so they will not forget their previous life when they reincarnate. You wait, and are judged."

For the ancient Hellens, this is what dying would look like. This is how I see my 'life' after death. When I pass, I will walk to my judgement. Sadly, life after death may be the closes I will ever get to the ancient Hellens, and the Theoi, so because of that, I have a great bit of interest in the Hellenic Underworld. So lets look at the short story I wrote--I won't call it a meditation, because traveling to the Underworld is something one should not attempt in any way, shape or form--to learn a bit more about the last resting place of the ancient Hellens and modern Hellenists.

The Underworld is described as lying in the west in the Odysseia, and there is an entrance that can be reached overseas. Yet, the dead enter the Underworld through one of five rivers surrounding the Underworld.

Acheron (Αχέρων) - The river of woe. This is the river that Kharon ferries the dead across, from the land of the living, to the realm of Hades.
Kocytus (Κωκυτός) - The river of lamentation. Those who could not pay Kharon, were destined to walk the banks of this river--a side river to the river Acheron--for one hundred years.
Phlegethon (Φλεγέθων) - The river of fire in the Underworld. It's a side river of the river Styx and is said to be permanently on fire, yet never burn anything it touches. It's located in Tartaros.
Lethe (Λήθη) - The river of forgetfulness. It runs through the Asphodel meadows, and the dead have to drink from it to completely forget about their lives on Earth. Those who were initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries--linked to Demeter and Persephone--were allowed to drink from Mnemosyne and are allowed to remember.
Styx (Στύξ) - The river of hate. The Acheron joins with the Styx at the moment the land of the living makes way for the Underword, and as such, She is a portal, and the most famous of the five rivers. It is said to wrap around the Underworld nine times. Styx was also the river upon which the Theoi, and mankind, swore oaths which could not be broken, an arrangement agreed upon by Zeus and the Goddes Styx in return for her aid in the Titan Wars. If a Theos or Theia did break an oath made upon the river Styx, they were forced by Zeus to drink from the river, upon which They fell into a deep coma for a year, and were then cut off from Their worshippers for nine more. For mortals, breaking an oath on the river Styx was something you simply did not do, and it's the gravest vow to make, one that is not made lightly.

The Underworld has various areas where the dead are housed, but also where the various Gods and Goddesses of the Underworld--called 'Theoi Khthonioi'--reside. Several of the Gods and Goddesses have already been discussed; all the rivers are Gods or Goddesses who have their home in the Underworld, and there are Kharon, Kerberos, and the judges: Rhadamanthys, Minos and Aiakos. Yet, there are a lot more. The most well known are Hades and His consort, Persephone.

Hades, brother of Zeus, son of Kronos, is the Lord of the Dead. The Underworld is His domain. He rules it with his beautiful wife--and niece--Persephone, whom He stole away. She resides with Him in their home, a large mansion at the crossroads between the Asphodel meadows, Tartaros and Elysium. This crossroads is sacred to Hekate, and located in the courtyard of the mansion. The maiden Goddess Hekate is a companion of Persephone, whom she led out of the Underworld after Zeus decreed it to be so. She vowed to Demeter to stay with Persephone in the months She spent under the earth, and takes this vow very seriously.

Kronos is an Underworld deity as well: Zeus eventually released His father and made Him king of the Elysian Islands. Other Gods, like HypnosErebos, Nyx, Makaria (daughter of Hades and Persephone, who watched over the blessed dead, who had been initiated into the Mysteries), and the Erinyes (three Goddesses of vengeance and retribution) also make their home in (a part of) the Underworld. The Moirai, the three Goddesses of fate, have their own space in the Underworld as well. Other Immortals who share the Underworld are deamons and nymphs.

In the daímōn-section, we have the the Arai (daímōnes of curses), Askalaphos (who tended to the orchards of Hades and was transformed into a screech owl by Demeter for bringing Her bad news about Her daughter), Kakodaimones (Deamones which cause all kinds of harm), Empousa (a daímōn with flaming hair, the leg of a goat and a leg of bronze, who parents vowed would come after their children if they didn't behave), the Oneiri (dream spirits) and Epiales (the daímōn of nightmares). Other daímōnes include: Eurynomos (who stripped the flesh off of the corpses of the dead), the Lamiai and Mormolykeia (vampiric, succubus-like, daímōnes in the following of Hekate), Melinoe (who led the souls of the dead back to earth to haunt the living). Menoites, furthermore, herds the black-skinned cattle of Hades, and Thanatos, the winged daímōn of death, is Hades' minister.

There are also a few Underworld nymphs: Daeira (a companion of Persephone), the Lampades (torch bearing nymphs in Hekate's following who may have looked over the blessed dead on their way to Elysium), Leuke (a nymph abducted by Hades and transformed into a white poplar which stands in the Elysian fields), Mynthe (a beowed nymph of Hades, who Persephone turned to dust and Hades turned into the mint plant), and Orphne (wife of Acheron).

As for the dead, they had three places to go in the Underworld: Tartaros, where those who were punished for all eternity remained, the Asphodel meadows, where everyone who had lived a good life wandered about endlessly, and the Elysian fields, where the children of Gods, the blessed dead and those who had lead extraordinarily honorable, brave or otherwise well-respected lives resided.

The ancient Hellens believed the Underworld was a neutral place. One did not desire to go there in the least, but it was part of life, and as far as the afterlife went, it was dull and sunless but nothing like the hell of Christianity. The worst part about it is being without the touch of loved ones, and forgetting who you were. In the Odysseia, Odysseus meets his mother's spirit at one of the entrance points to the Underworld. She tells him:

"Oh, my child, most unfortunate of men, Persephone, Zeus’ daughter, does not deceive you: this is the way it is with mortals after death. The sinews no longer bind flesh and bone, the fierce heat of the blazing pyre consumes them, and the spirit flees from our white bones, a ghost that flutters and goes like a dream."

Nobody wants to think about dying and the dead for too long, so I will end this post here. May it have given you some insight into the workings of the Underworld. 
Alright, there is good news, and bad news. The good news is that I figured out how to kill the weird zoom thing the camera did. The bad news is that I only discovered this on the second day of shooting this video. Also, the first day, it was this sunny-but-cloudy day, so the camera had a bit of trouble with the light. Therefor, the first minute is a bit rough but after that, it gets lots and lots better. Next time will be perfect (and also better lit).

Alright, so on to the video tutorial. In the spirit of the Deipnon and Noumenia we have just celebrated, I am going to show you what to do with, and how to prepare, a kathiskos. As I will explain in the video, the kathiskos is a small jar filled with foodstuffs which is stored from the Noumenia (first day of the lunar month) until the Deipnon (last day of the lunar month) in a shrine to Zeus Kthesios. It's purpose is to protect the pantry.

The ancient Hellenic scholar I refer to in the video is Anticleides, and he wrote:

"It is necessary to make the symbol of Zeus Ktesios (Protector of the Household goods or He who cares for the prosperity of the Household). We take a new Kathisko with two ears (handles) through which we thread white wool and yellow thread which we take over the right shoulder so that it hangs in front. We put anything we find and ambrosia in it. Ambrosia is pure water and oil and all-fruit. This we put inside."

Enjoy! And remember, if you have requests, let me know. I'll gladly make another video.

I'm a bit smitten with Hesiod (Ἡσίοδος). He was a Hellenic oral poet who lived between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Hómēros. I would dare say that his work--especially 'Works and Days' and the 'Theogony', along with Hómēros' 'Illiad' and 'Odysseia'--has shaped the way scholars and practitioners of Hellenismos view ancient Hellenic society, religion and way of life. This is why I strongly feel that anyone who feels drawn to the Theoi, might benefit from investing some time in reading these four classic works. If you're lost in finding a way to start practicing Hellenismos: read these four. Everything will fall into place. It did for me.

Today, I'm listing the auspicious days from Hesiod's Works and Days; the special days in a month where things should or should not be done. Note that the Hellenic calendar is lunar, so the month begins on the day after the first sliver of the moon is seen. You can read the full text of Works and Days is here.

As most of these don't relate to modern life or the life of a non-farmer, I don't practice all of them, but it's good to know this was something that at least a portion of the ancient Hellens thought. Perhaps there are some you can integrate into your own life? I know I pay special attention on the days where a God or Goddess is involved, and I take care to ask for a bit of extra protection on the unkindly days.

"Mark the days which come from Zeus, duly telling your slaves of them. [...] For these are days which come from Zeus the all-wise, when men discern aright."
- Hesiod 'Works and days'

1. Sacred
4. Sacred, good day to bring home a bride, good day to begin building narrow ships; open a jar on this day
5. Unkindly day; sacred - Horcus (Oath), Eris (Strife)
7. Sacred - Leto, Apollon, Artemis
8. Good working day, good day to castrate boars and bulls
9. Good working day
10. Good for the birth of males
11. Good working day - Shearing sheep, reaping fruit
12. Good working day - Shearing sheep, reaping fruit, female works, castrating mules
13. Best day for setting plants, good day to set out supplies; worst day for the start of sowing
14. Sacred day, good for the birth of a female, good for taming sheep, shambling, horned oxen, guard dogs and mules
15. Unkindly day; sacred - Horcus (Oath), Eris (Strife)
16. Good for the birth of males (though he will be 'fond of sharp speech, lies, and cunning words, and stealthy converse'), good day for castrating sheep and children, good day for fencing in a sheep-cot; unfavorable for plants, bad for the birth of a female, bad day to get married
17. Sacred - Demeter, throw down grain on the (threshing) floor; good for cutting beams for houses and ships
19. Improves towards the evening, harmless to men in the month Hekatombaion; good day to get pregnant or to give birth to either boy or girl; never an unkindly day
20. Wise men should be born
24. Good day in the morning, less so towards evening
25. Unkindly day; sacred - Horcus (Oath), Eris (Strife)
27. Good day for opening wine-jars, good day for putting yokes on oxen, mules and horses, good day for bringing ships out of dry dock

"These days are a great blessing to men on earth; but the rest are changeable, luckless, and bring nothing. Everyone praises a different day but few know their nature. Sometimes a day is a stepmother, sometimes a mother. That man is happy and lucky in them who knows all these things and does his work without offending the deathless gods, who discerns the omens of birds and avoids transgressions."
- Hesiod 'Works and days'
A long time ago, I promised to look closer into the act of rape in ancient Hellenic mythology, and despite that promise, I haven't written about it in a cohesive way since. It's a difficult topic and while that doesn't usually hold me back, it's also a topic about which a lot is written but nothing is proven beyond a doubt. Paraphrasing the available information leads to an incomplete picture, but I'm going to try my best.

This post is inspired by a comment on yesterday's post, where I, amongst others, describe how Zeus raped Hera so He could marry Her. Understandably, this didn't go over well. Rape is a terrible act, a shameful act, with dire consequences for all involved. It's 'the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.'

Dr. Susan Deacy, in her excellent essay 'The vulnerability of Athena' describes three categories of rape in myth: parthenoi (maidens, 'those who are unmarried') who reject normal female activities and wish to remain unmarried; parthenoi who are lured away from the paternal oikos, are raped and give birth to remarkable offspring; and rape as a representation of marriage.

I have noted before, that there is no word for 'rape' in the ancient Hellenic language. What we would consider rape, was assumably either a property crime, or an act of violence. The roles of women in ancient Hellas were a lot different than the roles of women today. In my post on suicide, I wrote the following:

"In ancient Greece, women were almost solely in charge of raising children. Their lives consisted of taking care of the hearth, her husband and her children. Any status a woman had, was tied in with her husband. Women in ancient Greece were groomed to function in pairs. It was because of this that a widow was passed on to another male as soon as possible."

A free woman could marry, and she did so when she was quite young. In my post on children, childnessness and the hearth, I wrote:

"Marriage in ancient Greece was a family affair. The father of the son--who was often in his thirties by the time he got married--opened negotiations with the family of a bride in her teens. The two families came to an agreement about dowry, a contract was signed by the father of the groom and the father of the bride in front of witnesses, and the groom met his new wife--often for the first time--before taking her to bed."

I add to this in my post about ancient Hellenic taboos:

"Prostitution was common, and men tended to have concubines. Some even lived at the house. Demosthenes, a Hellenic writer from ancient Athens, was recorded as saying: 'we have courtesans for pleasure, concubines to provide for our daily needs, and our spouses to give us legitimate children and to be the faithful guardians of our homes.'"

In short, a free woman married her husband when she was in her teens. Her husband took her from her home, and into his. He introduced her to Hestia through the hearth and that was that. They were now married. From that point forward, they had sex only to produce children. Love rarely entered into the equation, although I pose that a good few of these couples eventually ended up loving each other, even if it may not be the romantic love we value today. Sex games and sex for pleasure for a male was had with prostitutes, concubines and—perhaps—with their younger male protégées.

We tend to equate 'rape' with the absence of love and mutual consent, but in ancient Hellas, marriage itself was an agreement between men about a woman. Rape in ancient Hellas was therefor not tied to the approval of the woman--any sexual act on her part was performed without love and consent anyway—but to the approval of the men surrounding her.

I find it important to pause here for an adjustment of terminology. From this point on, I will use 'rape' only when it is absolutely clear the men surrounding the women in question would object to her having sexual relations with the man in question. For all other instances, I will use terms which describe a sexual act, no matter if they are forced upon or wanted. This, to further illustrate the views of ancient Hellens.

In ancient Hellenic society, free women lived separate from men. They rarely had interactions with men not from their oikos. Still, there are accounts of women being sexually assaulted, and monetary fines that were issued to the perpetrator. From this, we know that sexual assault and rape were criminal, and shameful acts. The question is: was the sexual assault/rape criminal and shameful, or was it criminal and shameful to take someone else's property from them? And if so, could a father accuse a man of sexual assault/rape, if he married her? 

Most of the laws concerning this topic relate to adulterers; a man who caught his wife cheating, could bring the man she was cheating with to court. Plutarch, in a discussion of law, says that Solon gave 'to the one who catches a moichos (an adulterer) the right to kill him, but if anyone seizes a free woman and forces her, he assigned the penalty of one hundred drachmas.' This means that adultery was seen as a far more serious offense than sexual assault. 

In order to get married, women were encouraged to be virgins. Especially in mythology, this proves difficult when a God lays their eyes on them. Some are saved by other Deities. They get transformed into plants, trees or animals—although the latter rarely prevents the God from having sex with them—to get away from the God in question. These usually fall in the first, or sometimes second, category laid out by Deacy. Examples include Daphne, who was chased by Apollon and transformed into a laurel, and Europa, who was abducted by Zeus, has sex with Him, and is abandoned.

Myths are educational tools. They teach morality and ethics. Through myths, we can understand the way the ancient Hellens thought a little better. In my opinion, the question of rape lies in the outcome of the mythological sexual act: does the sexual act lead to marriage or not? In cases where it does, the sexual act is not so much rape as we understand it, but an illustration of the start of a marriage. This would be the case with Zeus' rape of Hera. So what of all these mortal women who are abandoned?

To answer this, I feel we must first take a firm step back from mythology. We have seen that sexual assault and rape were criminal offenses, but they weren't punished that severely. Still, one hundred drachmas was more than most men could pay. In modern times, one hundred drachmas would equate to roughly $ 6000,-, with the day wage for a skilled artisan being around one drachma. Ancient sources also tell us that men were only punishable for sexual assault or rape if they raped a woman—or possibly a man—above their own rank. No one was punished for raping a slave, for example, and the practice was common.

So then, what of Gods? It stands to reason that hierarchical rules also apply here, as myths are formed by the men who tell them. Who is higher in rank than a God? And, above all, who is higher in rank than Zeus? If Zeus desires a woman, He is free to take her under ancient Hellenic law. It also stands to reason that a God lower in standing, say Apollon, would be punished severely for raping a Goddess above his standing. If Zeus had not claimed Hera, and He had laid claim to Her, I am sure He would have been unsuccessful, and perhaps would even have been punished.

Looking at mortals, nymphs and 'lesser' Immortals, nearly all Gods outrank them, so the ancient Hellens would have seen no problem in a sexual act between a God and these women. An exception to the rules and regulations applied to mortal adulterous men, would most likely have been made for the Gods as well. Their Divinity would allow Them to 'overrule' the mortal marriage without bringing shame to the husband, although there seems to be a threat stemming from a demi-God son (as can be seen in the myth of Perseus).

This has become a long post and it's not exhaustive in any way, shape or form. It is merely an illustration of ancient Hellenic culture and ancient Hellenic views upon sexual assault and rape. So many years later, our attitudes have changed. Women's rights have come a long way, and with them, the criminalization and social rejection of rape. Yet, in ancient Hellas, these views were different, and Hellenic myths reflect this. As uncomfortable as that may be to some or most, this does not change anything about the facts and the myths.

Yes, in a good few of the myths where a woman is raped, the sex was non-consensual. Even if it was consensual, it wouldn't reflect in the myths because a woman was incapable of consenting to anything; only her father, brother or husband could. I don't sugarcoat these facts; many say that the rape is figurative, that it is meant as an outpour of divinity upon a mortal. It may very well be, but that doesn't change the fact that myths often reflect the culture they were formed in, and that a form of non-consensual sex most likely was the foundation of the accounts which formed these myths. It isn't pretty, but there it is.

This doesn't stop me from worshipping the Theoi in any way, shape or form. I have spoken before about religion dictating the reconstruction practice, not the culture. Non-consensual sex will never be a standardized part of Hellenismos. Any follower who wishes it to be so, wishes it to be so because of his or her own desires or a blatant misinterpretation of reconstructive practices.

I hope this post clears up some of the confusion and bad aftertaste some myths seem to leave in one's mouth. It is a practice we, as humans, have left behind. These myths were formed in a time where things were very different. I don't excuse the practice of accepted rape in ancient Hellas because there is nothing to excuse. Who am I to judge an ancient society or it's myths? Especially, who am I to judge the Theoi? All I can say is that rape is not a part of Hellenismos and the Theoi are not revered because of these sexual escapades. It's a part of Them, just like their dominion over thunder, the sea, the Underworld, or love. They are not defined by it.