The most organized Hellenistic organization out there today, πατο Συμβούλιο των Ελλήνων Εθνικών (the 'Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes'), is in Greece. If you have ever looked through the YSEE website, you are well aware that its members have a pretty rough time in their homeland, trying to re-establish the ancient religion. Modern Greece is a very Christian country, and any attempt to practice a different religion--let alone reconstruct an ancient one--is met not only with resistance, but violence, property damage, and a great deal of threats. On top of that, the Greek government refuses to recognize Hellenismos as a valid religion, making it hard to receive funding for temples and celebrations, protection of its members and facilities, and opportunities to worship at the ancient sites. To help aid the Hellenist practicing in Greece, Stylianos K. has created an on-line petition for those who support this cause to sign.

"Native Hellenic Tradition and Religion is not recognized as a Statutory corporation in Greece. Its hellenic Non Profit Organization YSEE - "founded in June of 1997 aiming to the morale and physical protection and restoration of the Polytheistic, Ethnic Hellenic religion, tradition and way of life in the 'modern' Greek Society" - has to pay trade tax, though it is not business but a supporting movement.

What they ask are three simple and democratic things:

1. the granting of the quality of legal entity to the Hellenic ethnic religion
2. the protection of the Hellenic ethnic religion as part of the 'national heritage' of Greece
3. the institutional establishment of equality of rights ('isonomia')--equality before the law--equality of speech ('isegoria') of the Hellenic ethnic religion"

The YSEE itself has been fighting for pretty much the exact same thing since 2006, of which you can read the  memorandum sent to the President of the Hellenic Democracy, the President of the Hellenic Parliament, the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic, the Greek Minister for the Interior, Public Administration & Decentralisation, the Greek Minister of National Education & Religious Affairs and the Greek Minister of Culture, here.

Personally, I support this petition, and while I doubt the effectiveness of petitions overall, offering support to such a worthy cause is always encouraged. If this plight is something you support, I want to ask you to sign the petition. It'll only take a few seconds, and it might accomplish great things. Thank you.
I love reading other people's blogs, especially Hellenistic ones, but certainly not limited to them. Without an off-line community of my own, and with just a few regular on-line Hellenistic or otherwise religious contacts, bloggers offer me a way to test the information I possess, find new areas to explore, define my path, and often they are a font of practical tips and tricks I would never have considered otherwise.

Unfortunately, I am a busy woman, and as such, I don't get to read everything I want to read often enough. As such, it can happen that I want to share a post made on September 18, 2012 by Monte Plaisance on Echoes From The Temple. Echoes From The Temple is the official blog of the Thessaly Temenos, a Hellenistic worship group and academy based in Mathews, Louisiana, USA. In the post I referred to, Monte discusses animal sacrifice, and gives a non-Recon, but effective method of getting around the ethical and legal difficulties surrounding the practice.

"In lieu of a sacrificial animal, you can use various fruits. One that lends itself quite effectively to the task is the coconut. Using a small hand-drill, you can drill a hole into one end of the coconut and, using a funnel, pour in a quantity of red wine to fill it up. Drip wax from a candle over the hole to plug it up and at the moment that the ritual calls for the sacrifice of an animal, use a large machete or sword, used only for this purpose, to cut the coconut in two. The wine will simulate the flow of blood and is also an appropriate offering for the gods in and of its own rite. To further add to the effectiveness of this ritual substitute, you can prepare the coconut by sanding it down smooth and painting it for the appropriate use; i.e. white for Olympians, black for underworld or leave it its natural color for woodland deities.

The same can be done using any type of melon or large gourd. Sweet melons, such as honeydew and cantaloupe are especially useful in rites to Aphrodite."

I think this is a very interesting and practical way of getting around the problem. I am not sure it fits well into a Recon Tradition, but I can see how a coconut, especially one which is still surrounded by its fleshy outside could serve will to mimic the substance of a meat sacrifice--skin, meat, bone, intestines, and blood, as portrayed by peel, flesh, shell, eatable flesh, and red wine. Be careful for your fingers, though, when you cut it in half!

I might consider this practice for the future, at least until I have made up my mind about the practice of animal sacrifice. Also, I really like coconut, and if it wasn't freezing outside, I'd totally be in the mood for one right now.
Giving gifts to friends, family members, or even acquaintances and complete strangers is a long standing tradition. It existed long before ancient Hellas, but was, indeed, a vital part of its culture. It was tied to both kharis and xenia. Gifts were exchanged between monarchs of city-states to create good will, and were thus an important part of diplomacy. All votives, thank-offerings, and pinakes were gifts from mortals to Theoi. Athletic competitions always concluded with a price--a gift--awarded to the winner. Gifts were given to the submissive partner in a pederastic relationship, and to favored prostitutes and serfs. Gifts played a much more significant role in ancient Hellenic society as a whole than they do in ours today. The giving of gifts in ancient Hellas was not just a social event, however. There was far more to the practice than one might assume, and today, we will look at the tradition of gift giving in greater detail.

I have spoken of the importance of gifts in xenia before. A gift given as part of ritual hospitality was called a xenion (ξεινήιον). This xenion was expected to be expensive, and was presented to the guest upon departure. Needless to say, this practice was mostly executed by nobility, or at least the elite, and happened mostly when a man of equal social standing from another nation or city-state came to visit. In the Odysseia, Telemachos, son of Odysseus, receives from Menelaus a cup made by Hēphaistos Himself:

"But stay here in the palace, till the eleventh or the twelfth day, and I will send you off with honours, and fine gifts, a shining chariot with a trio of horses, and a glorious cup with which to pour libations to the deathless gods, while remembering me all your days."

The practice of gift giving to someone of another nation whom you might never see again, might seem counter-intuitive, but it's actually quite the opposite. By presenting a foreign equal with a great gift, not only do you establish kharis between the two of you, you also indebt the other person to you: they can not repay your kindness at this time, but they will compensate you for it when you visit, or when you are in need. On top of that, the recieving party will go home with tales of your hospitality, and your wealth, providing a boost in stature to the family and the land. It increases the honor of both, something very important to the ancient Hellenes. Gifts, in this context, functioned as a means of communication, legitimization, and mediation between benefactors and cities.

Beyond the elite, gift-giving was still very important, especially between men. The practice was a feature of the symposion, where it was displayed between men in a pederastic relationship, as well as between men of equal standing. Pederasty was where a mature male would take a young boy as his pupil and lover. The relationship was not about love: it was a social construct that allowed to boy time to get to know influential men, and to work himself up into their ranks. Because of this, there were many ritual acts connected to the practice, amongst which the giving of gifts, from mentor to pupil. Three gifts were traditional: military attire, an ox, and a drinking cup, but the youth most certainly received more expensive gifts.

One of the places the young lover would have been taken was the symposion. By allowing the young boy into the symposion it enabled the adults to prepare them for adult life and war in particular. Once the boys grew up, they became one of the men, taking young boys as lovers themselves, and teaching them the ropes of adult malehood. Gift giving in this context allows for a community to become closer, and for a young boy to prepare for his life as a man. Giving gifts--to their young lovers, as well as to those of equal age and standing--allowed men to teach the importance of equal distribution and redistribution of wealth, which was a founding factor of (mostly Athenian) society. It was also a status symbol: if one had time to visit the symposia, and give expensive gifts, they were not only citizens, but wealthy citizens, a clear mark that they were fit for greater responsibility within the political landscape of the city.

Most of these examples are from wealthy city-states like Athens, but there is evidence of gift-giving in other city-states as well. Sparta, for example, greatly frowned upon the flaunting of wealth, but they, too, gave gifts. These, however, were mostly practical in nature between the citizens themselves--fresh game, honey, perhaps a hunting dog--and were honors bestowed upon the person in the case of big events, or an a-symmetrical relationship. A Spartan winner of important sporting events, for example, would be allowed a place in the royal guard of the King, where Athenian winners would be set up for life, including food, housing, and status.

Another form of gift-giving was from a wealthy citizen to the community. This practice was dubbed 'Euergetism', from the Hellenic 'εὐεργετέω': 'I do good things'. While the money spent this way was, indeed a voluntary action on the part of the citizen, he was socially obligated to participate in the practice. Many roads and public buildings were funded this way, and thus bore the name of the citizen that had donated the funds--something we find archeological evidence for to this day.

Gift giving was of vital importance in the Archaic and Early Classical times, most notably in a social, ethical, economic, and political context. In the Classical period--which witnessed the development of elaborate monetary and law systems--the giving of gifts, and the associated benefits, became less prominent in economic and political contexts, though it did remain central in social and religious systems. Gift-giving and reciprocity did return to the Athenian stage, however, in the Hellenistic age, when much of the previously described took place.

Gift giving was of unparalleled important to the ancient Hellenes, but has lost much of its standing today. For those who reconstruct the ancient Hellenic religion, it might be a good exercise to examine these practices, and implement a symbolic exchange. Lavish gifts would not be necessary, but a parting gift by the host on days then the group comes together might make a nice, ritualistic, reminder that the contributions of the group were welcomed, and the effort to travel to the meeting place recognized.

Image taken from: Sparta Reconsidered
A few days ago, PaganSquare blogger Gus diZerega posted a blog post on nature religions within Paganism, a reply to a lovely post by Joseph Bloch. Paganism--as used by Gus--seems to include any pre-Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religion, and is separate from Neo-Paganism, which he classifies as 'modern revival of Pagan spirituality by people coming from within modern society'. The focal point of Gus' post was that, whether the ancient or modern Pagan cultures agree or not, they were, and are, nature worshippers. As such, reconstructionists of said religions are also nature worshippers. I'm paraphrasing here, so please, read Gus' words for yourself.

I disagree with Gus' conclusions, but I will not go into his writing here. I simply introduce Gus and his post to introduce PaganSquare reader Trine, who commented on one of my replies to Gus with a question I would love to dedicate a blog post to. Her post went as follows:

"I am curious - would you be interested in writing a blog post on your Hellenistic view on the reverence of (or indifference to) nature and on pollution? What I read above is that oil spills, trash in the woods, bee hive death due to insecticides, etc. does not really concern you as much as other topics may, because Hellenism is not a nature-based religion. My question, or curiosity, regards how you would approach this in terms of your Gods - is an oil spill offensive to Poseidon? Is littering in the wild and limiting the natural habitats of wildlife offensive to Pan, or Artemis? And how did the Hellenes approach this?"

The first thing I will say, is that I am not an expert on anything, and the second that other Hellenists will have different views on this subject. It all depends on where you draw your inspiration for Reconstruction from; there are, after all, philosophical foundations for a more 'nature based Hellenismos', as we will see. What this post will focus on most, is that religion, philosophy, and ethics are connected, but they are not completely codependent. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but the conclusion of this post will be that nature is important within Hellenismos--it is partly though nature, after all, that the Theoi can manifest--but the focus in Hellenismos is different than in a nature based religions.

Perhaps I should take the time here to express my definition of 'nature worship'. Nature worship, for me, is a system of religion based on the veneration of natural forces and phenomenon--for example, celestial objects such as the sun and moon and terrestrial objects such as the elements, trees, and rain. These are seen as sacred, or holy, unto themselves, and not in relation to a deity or other higher power. In many nature religions, nature as a whole is considered a--or the--(supreme) deity, if the worship of Gods is included in the practice. Because nature and natural phenomenon are considered sacred or divine; preservation, eco-warriorship, and the minimization of the carbon footprint are often important influences within the religion or Tradition. The best description I have ever read of the practice of nature worship comes from Edain McCoy, whose teachings I have quite a bit of trouble with, but the quote applies and goes:

"The cycles of nature are our holy days, the earth is our temple, its plants and creatures our partners and teachers."

I think this is a beautiful sentiment, and have even felt this way for a good few years when I was just starting out. I still care greatly about the environment, and I recycle, try to take public transportation, and turn off the lights when I leave the house. I don't litter, and I try to pick up other people's trash whenever I'm out for a nature walk. I will most certainly call out those I see littering. I eat organic meat--if I eat meat at all--and buy animal products which have provided the best possible life to the animal the product came from. All of that, however, is not directly tied to my religion. It's because I'm a decent human being, who is aware of the destructive influence of humanity on the natural world, and if I have kids some day, I would like to leave them some of the beauty that the natural world can offer.

As for Hellenismos; Hellenismos has two major focus points: the Theoi, and community. Both are connected in some way to nature--both in a negative, and a positive way--but are also distinctly separate from it. The Theoi make Their presence known to us through natural phenomenon. Zeus Ombrios, for example, controls rain and thunderstorms. We might see a fight between Gods and giants in the eruption of a volcano. As ancient Hellenic philosopher Thales of Milete said: "all things are full of Gods".

Community mattered greatly, because the influence of one, could impact the many. If one person upset the Gods, the entire village of city could be punished--as the other members of the community did not stop this hubris. It was largely because of this dynamic, Socrates was put to death. In another response to a reader question, I discussed that everyone who was allowed to attend public festivals--and that differed per festival--was present for them, as it was a massive, state funded, boost of kharis for the city-state as well as everyone who attended.

When the Gods are displeased with us, They might fail the harvest, flood our lands, wreak havoc with earthquakes, or punish us in any number of other--nature related--ways. As such, proper worship of the Theoi was important. A natural disaster would always be followed by a flurry of divination and sacrifice: in order to prevent a second--perhaps even worse--disaster, it was vital to discover which Theos or Theia was displeased, and to appease Them with ritual and sacrifice. Perhaps, then, the Gods would look favorably upon Their followers again. Besides shared worship, the focus on community allowed the ancient Hellenes to survive, despite the hardship that the natural world could bestow upon them.

The ancient Hellenes lived in and with nature, but also struggled against it. Because the world was a dangerous place, it was vitally important to appease the Theoi closely connected to (natural) phenomenon before stepping out into it. Because of this, sailors would offer to Poseidon, traveling merchants would sacrifice to Hermes, and farmers would offer to Demeter. They hoped that their boat would not sink, that they would not be robbed and killed, and that their crops would grow, so they would have food to eat and surplus to trade or sell.

To return to the reader question: pollution wasn't a much known thing or issue in ancient Hellas. While the ancient Hellenes did some permanent damage to the environment--most notably in the poisoning of soil and water with mercury and lead--the extent of pollution was such that nature's natural processes could balance it out pretty decently. Modern day pollution is, of course, a fair bit more severe. It is everywhere. We're draining the planet dry, cutting forests down unapologetically, littering, overfishing, etc.

It is important to note that--especially post-Plato--the world was seen as a living organism on its own, which contained all other living organisms (a precursor to Lovelock's much later 'Gaia Theory'). Plato emphasized the interdependence between the micro and the macro, nature within and without. He also introduced or popularized the notion that the world was not created by the Gods, but that the Gods are craftsmen, fashioning a pre-existing and disordered natural world to make it fit an eternal and ideal pattern. The Hellenes before Plato would not share many of these ideas, so we return to the question of inspiration: from which time period does the reconstructionist reconstruct his or her practice?

If we look at Plato and Lovelock, we might interpret recent earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, and other natural disasters as the planet's way of protecting itself from the influence of humanity. If we take this standpoint, and look at the philosophies of the Hellenic time period before Plato, we could still interpret these natural disasters as the will of the Gods. We explain modern ecological issues--global warming, for example--in a scientific manner, but that scientific phenomenon might just as well be the hand(s) of the Gods, like the ancient Hellenes believed. The Gods, or Lovelock's Gaia, displeased with humanity's disrespect of nature, of Them, of ourselves, of each other, or for any other number of reasons. I am getting a bit off-topic here, however.

I think we need to take better care of our planet, but I think the interpretation that an oil spill offends Poseidon is a modern one. It is such by necessity--as there were no oil spills in ancient Hellas--but it is important to note that Poseidon has control of the sea, He is not the sea. He might manifest in the wave that topples the boat, but He is not the wave. This is, in my view, the major difference between the ancient religions and the modern nature religions: the ancient Gods control nature, they are not nature itself. I do not worship Demeter by farming fields of gain, but I will need Her blessing if I want my harvest to succeed. I do not commit an offense towards Artemis by cutting down a forest, but She might still punish me for my actions if She had other plans for that forest, or the animals in it.

In ancient Hellas, there were small shrines put up at certain trees, lakes, and other features of nature: these were placed there to honor the home of the nymphs, and usually worshipped the nature spirit of said place, as well as the Theoi they were connected with. I mention the nymphs, because in the worship of dryad, nereids, oreads, and many of the others, one could potentially see the worship of nature. After all, this worship centers around a tree, a lake, a mountain, or any other feature of the landscape. Yet, the honors went to whomever lived inside that feature of the landscape, and while these beings were--and are--usually tied to this feature, they are, again, not part of it.

The ancient Hellenes were dependent on nature. There is no denying that. It is only logical that the Gods of the ancient Hellenes controlled that very nature the ancient Hellenes were so dependent on. This holds true today as well, even though the western world has largely lost sight of the role of nature in our lives. We perceive--by and large--that our food comes from the supermarket, not the field. If we need something, we order it with the click of a mouse button. If our car is out of gas, we fill up the tank at the nearest gas station.

Modern Hellenists have the religious obligation to retrace the route our household items have taken, and give proper thanks to the Theos or Theia who made it possible for us to make use of these items. The modern human has the ethical obligation to look at the way these items were produced--by the hand of child workers, sprayed with chemicals, at the expense of animals, etc--and decide if this is a trend they want to have continued. For Hellenists--who pride themselves on having a strong ethical framework--their actions might lean towards ecological activism, or at least personal 'green' behavior, but I dare say that this is philosophy, not religion, and there is a difference between the two. Religion and philosophy have a different goal; one to guide mankind in the way of the Theoi, the other to understand mankind. Both fuel the ethical framework of a person, but only one is religion.

My religion is not a nature religion: my religion focuses on the Theoi, and the influence They have on my life, and the lives of those I love. Nature, in my religious views, is a medium through which my Gods can manifest. My philosophical views inspire me to see the world as a beautiful whole, of which I am am a tiny part. My ethical framework requires me to take responsibility for my consumption of goods and services, and to limit the harm I do to my environment to the best of my abilities. I am not an eco-warrior. That is not my ethical path in life, but I am a 'green' person. Yet, my ethical framework is not my philosophy, nor my religion. My philosophy is not my religion, nor my ethical framework, and my religion is not my ethical framework nor my philosophy. The three overlap, are tied together in a way that cannot be unbound, but they are not the same. This is why my religion is not a nature religion.
Every day, the average human utters about 16.000 words. A good portion of those are figures of speech--the use of a word or words diverging from its usual meaning--or sayings. Today, I wanted to share some of the figures of speech and sayings that can be traced back to ancient Hellas and/or Hellenic myth.

"A Herculean Effort"
Meaning: a great effort.
Source: Hēraklēs, son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene--who was a bane in Hera's life, simply for being born--was stricken mad by the Queen of the Gods and killed his five sons by his wife Megara, oldest daughter of Kreōn of Thebes. When he was released from his madness by a hellebore potion--provided by Antikyreus--and realized what he had done, he cried out in anguish, and went on a long journey to cleanse himself of the miasma caused by these killings. First, he visited the oracle at Delphi, who, unbeknownst to him, was whispered to by Hera. The Oracle told Hēraklēs to serve the king of Tiryns, Eurystheus, for ten years and do everything Eurystheus told him to do. Eurystheus gladly provided Hēraklēs with these labors--ten of them, one for each year--and eventually ended up adding two more, resulting in the Twelve Labors of Hēraklēs. Hēraklēs was told to: slay the Nemean Lion, slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra, capture the Golden Hind of Artemis, capture the Erymanthian Boar, clean the Augean stables in a single day, slay the Stymphalian Birds, capture the Cretan Bull, steal the Mares of Diomedes, obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon, steal the apples of the Hesperides, and to capture and bring back Kerberos. All of these tasks were incredibly hard, and required every ounce of strength Hēraklēs possessed.

"A Sisyphean task"
Meaning: (performing) an endless or repetitive task.
Source: Sísyphos was a scheming and conniving king, who tried to pull a fast one on the Gods many times over. He betrayed Zeus, tried to trick Thanatos, Persephone and Hades, and killed innocent travelers on his roads--an offense against xenia. For all these offenses, Sísyphos was sentenced to push a boulder uphill for all eternity, as the boulder would roll down the slope again the second he reached the top.

"Achilles' heel"
Meaning: one's weakness or weak spot.
Source: Achilles was a great warrior, destined to live one of two lives: a long and boring one, or a short but heroic one. Knowing her son would choose the latter, his divine mother Themis tried to limit the risk of Achilles dying a premature death by dipping him in the river Styx. As such, Achilles became impenetrable to harm, save for his heel, where his mother had held him as she dipped him in the water. This spot eventually became his downfall, and Achilles died on the battlefield of Troy. The stories of his invulnerability were a later invention, around the first century AD. Before that, the myth simply stated that Achilles was shot in the heel with an arrow, and he eventually died of that wound, because it would not heal.

"Beware of Greeks bearing gifts"
Meaning: be weary of those with something to offer, they may have ulterior motives.
Source: In the war for Troy, the Hellenes needed a way to conquer the walls of the city. They tried to fight for it, but were unable to. In Virgil's Aeneid, it is written that the Hellenes built a wooden horse, and hid away in it. The horse was offered to the Trojans as a gift, and the structure was accepted into the city. At night, the Hellenes snuck out of the horse, attacked the city, and conquered Troy.

"Caught between a rock and a hard place"
Meaning: making a hard choice; choosing between two undesirable options.
Source: During Odysseus' travels to get home, he must run his ship through a narrow passage. One the one side are rocks with a cavern. In this cavern, Skylla, sea monster with six heads, lived, and she would take one of Odysseus' men with each of her heads. On the other side lay Kharybdis, a great whirlpool which would suck in any ship that came too close. It is up to Odysseus to choose one or the other. Eventually, he chooses Skylla, and looses many brave men, his ship, however, is in tact. As such, Odysseus had to choose between a rock and a hard place.

"Dog is man's best friend"
Meaning: the loyalty of dogs is undisputed
Source: In the Odysseia, Odysseus finally returns home after many, many long years of travel, and long years of war. He is in disguise when he reaches his house, which is overrun by suiters of his wife. His fateful hunting dog, Argos, has waited for him all these years, and recognizes his master right away. Finally reunited with his master, the old dog dies, happy, and at peace.

"Food of the Gods"
Meaning: food so delicious, it is almost divine
Source: Nectar--the drink of the Gods--and ambrosia--the food of the Gods--are the dish of choice on Olympos. If a mortal man or woman would eat or drink either of the two, they, too, would become immortal, or at least their aging would stop for a while.

"Gordian knots"
Meaning:an extremely perplexing puzzle or problem.  
Source: It seems that king Gordius of Phrygia laid out a task for whomever wanted to be the ruler of Asia Minor: he tied a know so complex, no one managed to untie is. Eventually, Alexander the Great came to the land, and cut the know with his sword, thus 'passing' the test. 'Cutting the knot' became a saying for taking something by force, or making a decisive action. 

"Having the Midas touch"
Meaning: a fortunate person, someone able to make everything a success.
Source: In Hellenic mythology, Midas was the king of Pessinus. It seems some of the peasants under Midas' commands brought the king the unconscious satyr Seilenos, who had drunk himself into a stupor. Alternatively, Seilenos toppled over in Midas' garden. No matter how he got there, Midas took good care of him, and as a token of appreciation, Dionysos--Seilenos' student--offered Midas a wish. Midas wished that everything he touched, turned to gold. This is where the saying comes from.

"Hounds of Hell"
Meaning: something frightening, or evil.
Source: Guarding the entrance to Underworld is a great dog, either with just one head, or three, or fifty. His name is Kerberos, and you can pass him once, on your way in, but never again, as there is no way out.

"Leave No Stone Unturned"
Meaning: search everywhere.
Source: The catch-phrase was first recorded by Euripides in his tragedy 'Heracleidae'. The play focusses on King Eurystheus, who hunts the children of Hēraklēs after he passes away. The actual quote comes from the line: "Now, after he was taken hence, was I not forced, by reason of these children's hatred, and because I was conscious of an hereditary feud, to leave no stone unturned by slaying, banishing, and plotting against them?"

"Oedipus Complex"
Meaning: a child's unnatural desire of their parent of the opposite sex, and jealousy of the parent of the same sex. Freudian theory.
Source: Oedipus was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta. King Laius was fortold his son would kill him and marry his mother, and so he left him to die on a mountainside. The child was found, however, and raised by King Polybus and Queen Merope. Oedipus eventually heard of the prophecy about him and fled, not wanting to hurt his adoptive parents, who he believed to be his biological ones. Fate would have him end up on the same road as King Laius, and in an argument over whom would step out of the way, Oedipus killed his father. He then traveled on and eventually met and married his mother. The myth continues on, but this is the part where the figure of speech comes from.

"Pandora's box"
Meaning: to perform an action that may seem small or innocuous, but that turns out to have severe and far-reaching consequences.
Source: I've written quite a bit about Pandôra on this blog. Pandôra was created by the Theoi as punishment on humanity after Prometheus stole fire from the Gods. Pandôra showed up on the doorstep of Prometheus' brother Deukalion, with a pithos she was told never to open. Eventually, curiosity got the better of her,a nd she opened the jar. In some versions of the myth, all evils of the word flew out, but Pandôra managed to trap hope in the jar. There are many, many inconsistencies in the myth, but the figure of speech stuck.

"The face that launched a thousand ships"
Meaning: one person causing a terrible event.
Source: One fateful day, three Goddesses got into an argument about whom was most beautiful. Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena, all laid claim to a golden apple tossed into the crowd at a banquet held on honor of Peleus and Thetis. Eris had thrown the apple, which was labeled 'for the most beautiful'. The Goddesses could not decide who was the fairest, and so They asked Zeus. Zeus appointed Paris, A Trojan mortal, to choose in his stead. All three Goddesses undressed for Paris when asked, and all offered him gifts, if he would choose them. Aphrodite, however, promised him the most beautiful of wives, and PAris chose Her. Aphrodite picked Helen of Sparta as Paris' new wife, but Helen was already married, to Menelaus, who would eventually bring war down upon Troy to reclaim the wife he lost. Helen became the woman whose face 'launched a thousand ships' in war.

"To rise from the ashes"
Meaning: to be reborn
Source: No singular myth about the famous bird survives, but the phoenix was know to the ancient Hellenes. It was a mythical bird that lived its life, immolated, and was reborn from the ashes of its previous incarnation.
It's been a little while since the last constellation post, so here we are again. This time, I'm tackling a little one,  Corvus, the Latin word for 'raven' or 'crow'. It comes from the Hellenic 'korax'. It's one of three constellations linked to a myth I will only partly reveal today, as it makes much more sense to place it with the constellation Crater, which will be the next one I tackle.

The raven and/or crow is connected to Apollon. For a variety of reasons, Hermes is often associated with these birds as well, but there is no ancient evidence for this. Apollon, on the other hand, has a long history with the birds. It seems odd that a deity associated with light is also associated with an animal with an image as negative as the raven. Ravens are often associated with battlegrounds, cemeteries, and death, with the rotting of carcasses, and funerals. In Hellenic myth, they are also associated with vision beyond that which is present. With oracular visions, and with spotting that which can not, or should not, be spotted.

One myth associated with the constellation Corvus is that of Apollo and Koronis (Κορωνίς). Koronis was Apollon's lover, and was pregnant with His son, when she fell for another man, a mortal man, Ischys (Ἰσχύς). A raven--then white--had been assigned by Apollon to watch over His lover, and when the raven returned to tell Apollon of Coronis' betrayal, Apollon was furious the raven had not pecked out the eyes of the mortal whom his lover fell in love with. In a fit of rage, Apollon turned its feathers black. Apollodorus wrote about this event (3:10:3), and the events that followed:

"Besides them Leucippus begat Arsinoe: with her Apollo had intercourse, and she bore Aesculapius. But some affirm that Aesculapius was not a son of Arsinoe, daughter of Leucippus, but that he was a son of Coronis, daughter of Phlegyas in Thessaly. And they say that Apollo loved her and at once consorted with her, but that she, against her father's judgment, preferred and cohabited with Ischys, brother of Caeneus. Apollo cursed the raven that brought the tidings and made him black instead of white, as he had been before; but he killed Coronis. As she was burning, he snatched the babe from the pyre and brought it to Chiron, the centaur, by whom he was brought up and taught the arts of healing and hunting."

In another myth, Corvus represents a raven or crow in service to Apollon, who was sent out on an errant for the Theos. He was asked to bring water to Him, but instead, he paused in his quest, most commonly assumed is that he stopped for a meal of figs. When the raven returned without water, Apollon questioned him. Instead of giving a straight answer, the raven lied, and said he had been kept from the water by a snake. In some accounts, he actually had a snake in his talons as he said this. Apollon, however, saw that the raven was lying, and flung the raven, the krater with which the raven was supposed to collect water, as well as the snake into the sky, where they remain to this day. To punish the bird further, Apollon made sure the krater would forever be just out of reach of the bird.

This Apollon-oriented constellation is visible at latitudes between +60° and −90°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of May.

How could the ancient Hellenes who might have seen a sight like this not have assumed it was a battle between Zeus and one of His powerful foes--Typhôeus perhaps? These pictures were taken by German photographer Martin Rietze at Sakurajima volcano on a former island off Japan, and were originally found here.

I often try to explain to non-believers how I interact with my Gods, and how, when I say 'I see my Gods in everything' this is possible. I can't be sure, of course, but this seems a perfect example of how both I, and perhaps the ancient Hellenes, conflated the natural world and the influence of the Theoi on it. A major storm, a volcanic eruption, lightning battling with fire and smoke, Gods and giants fighting, and our human--limited--eyes only seeing the special effects. This is the way I see my Gods, and it fills me with awe.
The number one question that brings people to this blog is: 'do people still...', followed by any number of things related to Hellenismos: '...practice the Thesmophoria',  '...worship the Gods of ancient Greece', '...offer to the Gods of Hellas', and every time I see that, it makes me smile and makes my heart ache, all at the same time.

On the one hand, it means that someone has found this blog, and found someone who does practice what they wonders about. Here, they can find ways to do the same, and not feel so alone. On the other hand, I imagine someone drawn to the worship of the blessed Theoi, who does not realize that that is perfectly normal, that it's encouraged in some circles, and that it's a valid form of religion. That's the thought that makes me a little sad.

At the start of this blog, I talked about my progression into Hellenismos, and I said that all the times I've progressed, it has been a relief. I took all I had learned with me into my next step of religious evolution and while I never looked for a new home, every time I progressed, it was a new homecoming. Finding religion has always been liberating for me, and I wish that on everyone who finds this blog through a sanity check, or simple curiosity.

Religion, to me, has been a literal life-saver, but I know plenty of religious people who still struggle with the day-to-day, let alone the overarching. It's not an easy fix. In fact, it's not a fix at all, but it can be a glue to tie the various pieces of life together and give it new shape and meaning.

All in all, it takes guts to admit to anyone outside of Hellenismos that you worship the Gods of ancient Hellas in a manner as close to the ancient Hellens as you can get. Trust me, I know the looks, and the whispers, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Hellenismos is my home, my sanctuary, my refuge when times are tough.

A very close friend of mine has worshipped the Theoi for nearly forty years. He is the most pious, most worthy, most gentile man I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, let alone befriending. The Theoi treat him kindly, and he values all They have given him enormously. I can see the kharis he has built with the Theoi, and yet, he still wonders on occasion if he is worthy enough for all that is bestowed upon him. When he speaks out about the Theoi, I am so proud to call myself his friend. When I hear the stories of his worship, I know I have a lot to live up to.

I could not even imagine him not being worthy of blessings in the eyes of the Theoi. And yet, we all doubt our own worth in one way or another. We all have times when we could have--should have--spoke out about our devotion to the Theoi, or failed to follow their teachings in a lapse of strength or willpower. Yet, our Gods are benevolent Gods, who wish well for those they have built kharis with. They will always offer a home to seekers, and even to those who lapse, and in the end, we will do right by Them.

So to seekers, who wonder about their own sanity, or about their own worth, I would say to stick with it. You have found this website and perhaps you have found a bit of a home here. Our religion is beautiful and practical. All it requires is a keen mind and love for the Theoi. The rest will come. For now, feel at home, here and in worship of the Gods who speak to you. Everything happens as They wish it to happen, and everything that should happen will happen in time. Until then, enjoy your homecoming. I could not be happier to have you.
A little while back, a special petition was making the rounds on-line, mostly at social networks. It was a petition put forth by Antonios Koropoulis of the local Hellenic community of Eleusis, and asked for the return of the statue of Demeter at the city gates of said city.

I didn't report on it because there was very little English information to go on, and I had a bunch of concerns that were never addressed: where did this idea come from? Who will implement it? Will people be allowed to worship there? Where is the money coming from, for instance, as Greece is currently struggling greatly with financial issues. As one respondent said "People are starving to death and they're worried about a statue?". It was such a fair point, I personally did not sign the petition.

Never the less, on February twelve, 2013, the City Council of Eleusis accepted the request to install the statue of the Goddess Demeter in Eleusis. The Mayor acknowledged that the issue was worth considering, and put it on the agenda for the next council meeting. It would be put to a vote.

In very encouraging and joyous news, it seems the city council of Eleusis has heard the petition and, on the twenty-second of March, 2013, decided that the return of the statue of Demeter at the city's gates is, indeed,  something that's good for the city. It seems the members of the Municipal Council of the city voted 'yes' twenty-two to two. That's actually very encouraging.

None of my question have been answered, so I can't tell you anything more than this, but as soon as I get any more information, I will most certainly blog about it. For now, I am just happy and grateful Demeter will return to guard over the blessed city of Eleusis.
Sorry for the title, it's a bit fabricated. It was the only way to make this timely post about the Dionysia ta en Astei fit in the Pagan Blog Project structure, which posts every friday. As for this post, it will be about the Dionysia ta en Astei, and the theatrical plays that were performed there. I have written about both before, although the focus of that post was slightly different.

The Dionysia ta en Astei (Διονύσια τὰ ἐν Ἄστει), Dionysia ta Megala (Διονύσια τὰ Μεγάλα), Great(er) Dionysia, or City Dionysia, was and is a true theatric festival of Dionysos. The City Dionysia is held on the 10th to 17th days of Elaphebolion. It is thought to have been founded, or at least revived, by the tyrant Pisistratus (around 530 BC), and was held in Athens, when the city was once again full of visitors after the winter. The festival honors Dionysos Eleuthereus (Διονυσος Ελευθερευς), who was said to have been introduced into Athens from the village of Eleuterae (Ελευθέραι). The festival focuses on the performance of tragedies, but has included the performing of comedies since 487 BC. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia.

We've looked at the archōns of Athens before. The archōns served one-year terms for most of the time the system was in place. Organizing the Dionysia ta en Astei was prepared by the Archōn Epōnymos, not the Archōn Basileus, who was in charge of religious affairs. The Archōn Epōnymos chose three tragic poets to compete in the Greater Dionysia, right after he was elected. He then chose the chorêgos (χορηγός) for the festival, and three actors. The chorêgos was always a wealthy Athenian, who would train the selected actors,  the chorus, and would pay for any part of the productions not paid for by the state. These expenses included costumes, masks, rehearsal costs, all sets, props, special effects like sounds and lights, as well as the musicians--all except the flute player, who was paid for by the state.

According to myth, the festival was established after Eleutherae, a border-town between Attica and Boeotia, chose to become part of Attica. The Eleuthereans had an established festival of Dionysos--which then became the rural Dionysia--and celebrated to occasion by bringing a statue of Dionysos to Athens. The Athenians, by then not big on the worship of Dionysos, initially rejected the statue, but Dionysos punished the Athenians with a plague affecting the male genitalia. The Athenians, rightfully spooked, accepted the statue and honor of Dionysos, and the plague was cured. These events were recalled each year by  two processions, the first, carrying the statue of Dionysos from His temple outside of the city of Athens into the city, and the second where various groups proceeded through the city to the theater, arrayed in groups distinguishable by color or other articles of dress.

Dionysos was a métoikos in a city of Athens, a resident alien, and on the first two days of the festival, the métoikoi of the city got to wear brightly colored festival clothes--mostly purple--and carried trays of offerings in the processions, something métoikoi never got to do otherwise. The Athenian citizens, on the other hand, wore their day-to-day clothes and carried wine and bread with them, or herded the bulls which would be sacrificed. At the end of the processions, the statue of Dionysos was placed in His temple in the theater district, and sacrifices were made to Him. Flute players and poets held contests, and were eager to outdo each other. After all of this, the festival most likely became very Dionysian, indeed.

Singing and dancing had always been a big part of the City Dionysia, but after a while, the structure of the seven day festival became more apparent. Instead of random singing and dancing, from the third day onward, everyone flogged to the theaters to view the plays, whose names and creators had been announced the day prior. The next three days of the festival were devoted to the tragic plays. The three chosen playwrights performed three tragedies and one satyr play each, one set of plays per day. Famous playwrights include Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles. They were judged by judges (agonothetai) chosen on the second day.

On the sixth day of the festival, five comedies by famous playwrights like Philemon, Chionides, and Aristophanes were performed. Comedies were of secondary importance at the Dionysia--the Lenaia was far more important for those--but winning the comedic prize at the Dionysia was still regarded a great honor. It seems that, from the fifth century BC onwards, plays could be recycled, and the audience seemed to have appreciated it. These plays were fan favorites, and were not rushed to completion.

Another procession and celebration was held on the final day, and the winners of the competitions were declared. The winning playwrights won a wreath of ivy, or a goat, although, when old plays were performed, the producer was awarded the prize rather than the long-dead playwright.

The Dionysia ta en Astei always seems like the perfect time for an impromptu karaoke competition, or one of those performance nights you had at camp. Personally, I think it would be a hoot to perform plays or other forms of entertainment for other members of your thiasoi. Alternatively, watching movies, attending plays, or even engaging in a few rounds of Rock Band or Guitar Hero would greatly amuse Dionysos. It's a time to have fun, but also to take a critical look at humanity and society: that was the purpose fo many of the tragedies. Remember that undercurrent while you revel, and the Dionysia ta Megala should be a great success.

Image source: Dionysos
As promised: The new issue of the magazine. Verry little--if any--Hellenismos in this one, but you might enjoy it, regardless. It was a lot of fun to make and although it involved a couple of  thirteen to sixteen hour non-stop work days, I was actually done well on time. I'm proud of myself. Enjoy the read, and tomorrow, I'll be back with more Hellenismos.

As you are all undoubtedly aware, I founded Little Witch magazine back in September 2010, a quarterly, on-line, magazine that covers as much of the Neo-Paganistic umbrella as possible. Every three months, on the equinoxes, both a Dutch and English magazine go live. Today, of course, is no different. I will post the Spring 2013 magazine here this afternoon, as it launches around noon, but because I've been so busy with it, I don't really have a post for you. Sorry about that.

I am well aware the Greater Dionysia begins at sundown tonight, but a post on the festival will have to wait until tomorrow (if I manage to bend the title and subject as such that it can serve as an 'F'-post for the Pagan Blog Project), or Saturday. Sorry about that, people, again. Unfortunately, there are too few hours in the day to accomplish everything I wish to accomplish sometimes.

Until this afternoon, I will leave you with an image of Battlestar Galactica's Laura Roslin, depicted as an ancient Hellenic Goddess (sort of). I think that's oddly fitting. Also, if people have not watched Battlestar, do so. You will thank me afterwards. There are lots of Hellenic references in it, a fact I greatly appreciated.

A few days ago, Baring the Aegis reader and Athenian tour guide George Rockos shared an image and a bit of an ancient Hellenic custom on the Facebook wall of Baring the Aegis. He spoke of a practice where a red-and-white piece of string was tied around the wrist, and called it 'Martes'.

It seems the name this practice is best known as is 'Martenitsa', and refers to a mostly Bulgarian practice that is very much alive and kicking. Within the tradition, Martenitsas are gifted to loved ones on the first of March, and then worn until the month ends, or a stork, swallow, or blossoming tree is spotted. At that point, the Martenitsa is hung on a tree as an offering. We all know March is a temperamental month, so it is not odd that this practice in Bulgaria and other Balkan countries serves to appease Baba Marta: 'Grandmother March'. Other names for the modern festival with very antique roots are: Marta, Marti, Martaki, Martitsi, Martogaitano, Martuvane, and many more.

It seems that the traditional Bulgarian martenitza can include coins, cloves of dry garlic, beads, iron rings, hairs of horsetails, snail shells, in addition to the white and red threads. It is considered a talisman, a charm against evil forces. It seems that 'children wear their martenitzas on the right wrist, around the neck or on the breast, while young girls and brides wear it around the neck or woven into their hair. Men, however, tie the martenitza above their left elbow or left ankle. Martenitzas are tied on young animals and all fruit trees'.

Although I can not find any reliable sources that definitively state so, there are those who claim that the practice was also known in ancient Hellas, and there are two versions of this lineage. One is that the ancient Hellenic version of the practice is called 'Martes', or 'Martis' (μάρτης), and was linked to a well-known Hellenic deity: Ares. Ares, it seems, was born in ancient Thrace, now a part of Bulgaria, and the ancient Thracians asked Him for much of the same things as Baba Marta is asked for today.

The second trace of the tradition of Martenitsa to ancient Hellas comes in the form of a 'króki' (κρόκη). It seems that, during the walk from Athens to Eleusis for the (lesser?) Mysteries, the mystai stopped various times, and one of those times, officials known as 'Krokidai' would tie a yellow woolen thread known as the 'króki' around the right hand and left wrist of each of them.

Whatever the case, the tradition is kept alive even in modern day Greece, and if it appeals to you, you might enjoy adopting this practice next year. If anyone has more, or more reliable, information on this practice, I would love to hear about it.
When I was younger, I used to be a regular at the local hospital. Nothing too serious, mostly check-ups, but I still owe a lot to a few doctors in my life. I've been fortunate that the operations I needed in my life all went well, and I attribute that mostly to the physicians who performed them. Today, at dusk, the festival day of the Asklepieia starts. The Asklepieia (Ἀσκληπίεια) was held on the eighth day of Elaphebolion, in honor of Asklēpiós, who was honored monthly on the eighth. The Asklepieia is linked to the Epidausia, celebrated six months later, as both were special days where those in the medical profession--as well as those seeking medical counsel--made sacrifices to Asklēpiós.

To describe the festival(s), we must first look at the worship of Asklēpiós, and the buildings that bore the same names as the festival. Asklēpiós was, and is, a much beloved Theos. He started out being honored as a hero--most notably in the Iliad--where his sons joined the battlefield of Troy as 'son(s) of the great healer Asklēpiós'. According to (amongst others) the Homeric Hymns, he was born as the son of Apollon and Koronis:

"I begin to sing of Asklepios, son of Apollon and healer of sicknesses. In the Dotian plain fair Koronis, daughter of King Phlegyas, bare him, a great joy to men, a soother of cruel pangs. And so hail to you, lord: in my song I make my prayer to thee!"

It seems Asklēpiós was such a fine healer, he could even bring the dead back to life. As dominion over the dead lies firmly in the hands of the Theoi, Zeus struck Asklēpiós with a lightning bolt, but placed his image into the sky as the constellation Ophiochus. This event also led to His apotheosis--his deification--and from that point on, around 400 BC, He was worshipped both as hero and Theos, or sometimes only one of two.

Worship places of Asklēpiós were called 'asklepieia' (Ἀσκληπίεια). An asklepieion (Ἀσκληπιεῖον) served as a temple, a hospital, and as a training-institute of the healing arts. The most famous of all the asklepieia was located at Epidaurus, and large parts of it are preserved. The site is open to visitors. In ancient Hellas, the sick would come to an asklepieion and offer a sacrifice to Asklēpiós--amongst the recorded sacrifices are black goats or sheep, gold, silver, or marble sculptures of the body part that required healing, and coins--in hopes of healing. They would then settle into the abaton (άβατον) or enkoimeterion (εγκοιμητήριοn), a restricted sleeping hall, which was occupied by the sick alone, or sometimes by a group of them, as well as a good few snakes.

Snakes are considered sacred animals of Asklēpiós, and they promote healing. Our modern symbol of medication and healing, the asklepian, still shows this. The species of snakes found in the temple, on the grounds, and in the abaton were most likely Zamenis Longissimus, also known as the Aesculapian Snake. They can grow to a length of up to two meters, and are non-poisonous.

The sick would spend the night at the abaton, and would receive counsel from Asklēpiós Himself in his or her dreams, during an induced sleep known as 'incubation', or 'enkoimesis' (ενκοίμησις), where the patient drifts between waking and sleeping, and is said to be susceptible to messages of the Gods. If the god did not visit the patient the first night, incubation was continued on following nights. Asklēpiós would either heal the supplicant directly in the dream state, or tell him what to do to cure his illness or affliction. The priests listened to the dream, as described by the patient, and would divine the meaning of the Theos from it. As such, all healers were also master dream interpreters who would divine the treatment to be followed from the patient's account of the dream. Treatment often consisted of supplication, fasting, a special diet, meditation or prayer. There are accounts of surgeries having taken place at the asklepieia as well.

As for the festival of Asklepieia: there are two incarnations of it, the regular Asklepieia, and the Asklepieia Megala (Μεγάλα Ασκληπιεία). The Asklepieia Megala, or 'greater Asklepieia', was a huge event, and part of the pan-Hellenic games. In 242 BC, during the Mercenary War, the sanctuary at Epidaurus was granted immunity from war, and the Asklepieia Megala was established as a festival of athletic and musical competitions, held every four years, for a nine day period. Theater performances were also a huge part of the festival, and the famous theater of Epidaurus still stands today, one of the seven wonders of ancient Hellas.

The first of the festival days was spent preparing for the actual festival. The second day, religious exercises were undertaken. All temples and shrines were richly decorated and sacrifices were made to Apollon, Asklēpiós, Artemis, and Leto. Perhaps and the children of Asklēpiós--Hygieia (health, cleanliness, and sanitation), Iaso (recuperation from illness), Aceso (the healing process), Aglaea (beauty, splendor, glory, magnificence, and adornment), and Panakea (universal remedy)--also received sacrifice. Apollon received the first offering along with Asklēpiós: a cock, the fowl associated with Asklēpiós. They also received barley meal, wheat, and wine. Asklēpiós was then gifted a bull, a second bull was sacrificed to His male associates, and a cow to His female associates.

On the eve of the third day, a statue of Asklēpiós was driven through the precinct, and followed by torch-bearers and priests, who sung hymns to Him. The priests sang and spoke the praise of the Theos. There were vigils throughout the night, and during the daylight hours of the third day, there were feasts. The succeeding days were given up to athletic contests in the stadium, races, wrestling contests, singing contests and theater performances.

The Asklepieia Megala was only held at Epidaurus; all other asklepieia--as well as at Epidausus the other three years--held only a small ceremony for the Theos. The festival did not include athletic games outside of the Asklepieia Megala, but there might have been a focus on singing, and there might have been large banquets, held after sacrifices were made to the Theos.

Today, we should be reminded that doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, even if it was edited, and that all doctors are the hands of Asklēpiós. If you were putting off a doctor's or dentist's appointment, this is the day to plan them on. It is, of course, encouraged to give sacrifice to Asklēpiós and seek His guidance for all doctors and those in the medical profession, as well as our own health, and that of those around us. If you are struggling with your health, sacrifice to Asklēpiós and ask for Him to come to you in your dreams on this night. Note down your dreams in the morning (and of subsequent mornings, if you did not receive an oracular dream), and see if you can gleam a solution to your problems from them. This day is also a good day to fast, or to eat very healthy. Perhaps you can make a promise to yourself to eat healthier, or go to the gym more often. Think of your health and how you can stimulate it.

Image source: asklepian.
On the sixth of the month of Elaphebolion, the people of Athens and Phocis (Φωκίδα), and perhaps other cities and city-states, held a modest ritual that gave its name to the month: the Elaphebolia (Έλαφηβόλια). It appears that the festival was a major festival in honor of Artemis Elaphêbolos (Αρτεμις Ελαφηβολος) down to the time of Plutarch. It was mainly observed at Hyampolis, to commemorate a Phocian victory over the Thessalians. Afterwards, it seems to have lost its grander, most likely in the face of the Greater Dionysia which was held only a few days later, starting on the tenth of the month, and the Asklepia, held on the eighth.

Artemis Elaphêbolos is the stag-killer, the shooter of deer, the huntress, who relishes the chase. She's the slayer of prey, both animal and human, and in ancient Hellas, she guarded Hyampolis and the surrounding cities from the horrors of war.

The festival was most likely quite grand right after the war, but slowly became a festival which consisted almost entirely of a single offering. In the early days, the offering was always a stag, one per family, most likely. As the years went on, however, and the expansion of cities drove the stag far into the Athenian hills, only the city's elite was able to offer a stag to the Theia. Everyone else made due with cakes in the shape of stags. It seems these stag cakes--called 'elaphos' (ἔλαφος)--were made out of a basic dough, honey, and sesame seeds.

It's always striking to me that Artemis was--and is--worshipped as both a nurse and midwife, as well as a hunter and a Theia who would take lives instantly; especially the lives of women and girls. Apollon, her brother, took the men and boys. Artemis holds the balance between life and death, and she does so without judgement. All who are born must die, eventually. Yet, why offer male animals to a Theia who takes the lives of females? Perhaps it is simply a matter of a prized hunting animal: even to this day, bringing down a stag garners a lot of prestige in the hunting community. Perhaps the stag--as a male--represents active fertility, and to end his in sacrifice to Artemis gives her dominance over the cycle of life and death in some way.

Whatever the case, the Elaphebolia was an important festival of Artemis. The 2013 festival day started at dusk on the seventeenth of March, and will continue until dusk today. As Artemis Elaphêbolos is Ouranic, the sacrifice would have been made during the daylight hours. For modern practitioners, reconstructing the sacrifice is relatively easy: stag-shaped cakes, sacrificed to Artemis Elaphêbolos. Various hymns to Artemis have survived which can be recited. In the end, it's about recognizing Artemis' power over life and death on a day sacred to Her. A most worthy reason for a festival, if I ever heard one.

Image found: here.
The weather is absolute crap here, but Spring is coming, I can just feel it. To help it along, I'm posting a story my good friend Ragnild wrote for me after I asked her to help me set up this crazy idea for an on-line magazine. I published it in the first issue, back in December of 2010, and I want to repost it again today to help hurry along that Spring feeling. Also, I came across this on Facebook and could not help but share:

"Have you ever heard the tale of how Winter came to all the lands? No? Then sit down by the fire and enjoy the story my child. You see, when I was your age, so very long ago, my grandfather told me the story of how Winter came to our lands. It was of nearly forgotten, ancient, times. Back when the Gods still walked the Earth, when they were still revered and loved.

Then, so very long ago, Demeter, Goddess of harvest, walked the Earth together with her daughter Persephone. Demeter’s daughter was the Goddess of Spring and she made sure the lands were gentle and lush and food was plentiful. People were happy. Both Goddesses were loved and brought much joy and warmth upon the world.

All was well until one sun filled day, Demeter and Persephone were out in the fields. Demeter performed her duties as a Goddess and made sure the harvests would go well and the people would have plenty to eat. Persephone, enjoying the beautiful day, had decided to gather flowers for her mother. 

What is that you're asking? What kind of flowers? Well, there were many beautiful flowers growing in the field, but the most beautiful flower in the entire field, the one that grabbed Persephone's attention was a bright yellow narcissus. It was perfect; the yellow deep and rich like the sun on a cloudless day, its stalk perfectly straight and its leaves without flaws. 

It was so perfect and fragrant, the young Goddess couldn't help but pick it and once she did the ground split beneath her feet and the Earth swallowed her up. It was a frightening experience as poor Persephone had no idea what had just happened to her. Persephone landed and Hades, Lord of the Underworld, came storming in riding his golden chariot. Immediately Persephone knew where she was and it did not calm her fears. 

Hades took her with him and, to Persephone's utter shock, proposed to her. He told her how much he loved her and how he had watched her from afar, how he yearned for her and wanted her to become the Queen of the Underworld. Persephone couldn't stand the thought of the endless darkness that awaited her in there but Hades would not let her go.

As Persephone did not return later in the day, Demeter began to worry, as all mothers do. She searched and searched but her beloved daughter was nowhere to be found. Hopeless, she wandered around the lands and neglected her duty as the Goddess of Harvest because of it. 

With Persephone gone and Demeter bitterly searching for her, the lands began to wilt and die, grass turning a muddy brown and trees losing their lustrous leaves. Harvests failed and the people began to despair.

It was during her travels Demeter learned that it was Hades who had taken her daughter. She begged with Zeus, Persephone's father, to convince Hades to release her daughter. Zeus could not stand to see the suffering of the people and of Demeter. He told Demeter that he would see what he could do, but he did not promise her anything. 

He left to find Hades in the Underworld. When Zeus returned, he told Demeter that he had been able to work out a deal with Hades. Persephone could return but only if she hadn't eaten from the Underworld's gardens. And before you ask, yes, the Underworld does have gardens. How else can they feed the souls that live there? Now, let me continue with my story child, for it is getting late.

Now, as you may have noticed, Persephone had been gone for quite some time and even Gods and Goddesses get hungry at times. Hades had seen her grow hungry and had brought her a pomegranate. Little did Persephone know what would happen if she ate from his gardens and took the offering gladly.

Demeter returned to the underworld together with Zeus, wanting to see her daughter. Their meeting would have been a festive one, had it not been for the fact Persephone had already eated from the fruit when her mother arrived. 

Demeter cried bitter tears as she told her daughter of the deal. Persephone had grown quiet and pale, knowing Hades had known about the deal before offering her the pomegranate. Luckily for her she hadn't eaten it entirely and she had only swallowed six seeds. 

The Lord of the Underworld would not shirk the agreement he had made with Zeus and agreed that Persephone would stay in the Underworld for six months every year; one month for every seed she had eaten. 

When Persephone was away with Hades in the Underworld, Demeter would weep and depress, choosing to walk the Earth and travel instead of acting out her duties as Goddess of Harvest. And it is so that Winter came upon us, only to be chased away by Persephone when she was free from her duties as Hades' wife and Queen of the Underworld."
Thessaloniki in modern day Greece is dealing with a situation: an excavation conducted by the 9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities at the Venizelos station has brought to light a very well preserved 70-meter section of a marble-paved road, the remains of buildings dating back to the sixth to ninth centuries AD, as well as big public buildings of the 7th century; a rarity for the Byzantine world. Trouble is, the site of the find is part of a new subway tunnel and platform which are being built to transport 250,000 passengers daily, and thus decrease traffic congestion and air pollution in the city. The entire subway project has a price-tag of 3.5 billion euros (4.6 billion dollars), and was co-financed by the European Union. To keep the road, the entire subway project would have to be abandoned. To save the subway project, the road would need to be moved, or destroyed--the same thing, according to archeologists.

Now, the road is not Hellenic, so strictly speaking, it does not belong on this blog. Yet, the dilemma of preservation versus innovation knows no boundaries of time and place, and the next find that ends up threatened by modern needs could very well be from ancient Hellas.

As a Hellenist, and as a mortal who is aware of the sacredness of history and the importance of discovering and preserving the treasures of the past, I feel a deep desire to preserve and restore the sites of our ancestors. As a child of the modern age, however, I am aware that the past--sometimes--is simply the past, and modern progress is needed to preserve a quality of life that we have all become accustomed to. Sometimes there is no choice. Stratos Simopoulos, Greece's secretary general for public works has spoken out about the subject to the BBC--and note that the same could be said about any ancient site:

"We realise how important the find is, but it is impossible to keep it there. Everything else is hot air. I respect the archaeologists, but I ask them to respect our expertise as well. The debate can go on for some weeks, but if a practical alternative is not found by then, we are not willing to wait forever. Politics is not only about consensus, but also about collisions."

From that same article: Despina Makropoulou, the head of the Ninth Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities and of the excavation, insists on preservation, saying that these ancients sites are Greece's capital--again, an argument that could be made about any ancient site:

"It is self-evident that we should preserve and showcase the finds for current and future generations. In Greece, we are not in the business of making cars, our heavy industry is culture, the heritage of our ancestors. We must be proud, but also worthy of this heritage."

We live in an age where progress is the only way forward, and where money rules supreme. Especially in a money-starved economy like modern Greece, the government can not stop a development because of an archeological discovery. I would love to rule on the side of preservation, no matter the cost, but the reality of the situation is that modern men is bound by its economy, and that economy does not give a damn about an old Roman road. I understand Simopoulos, but in my heart I agree with Makropoulou.

Still, I think I would fight harder if the find contained a sacred site like a temple or shrine; the level of sacredness of the site matters to me, it seems. Yet, while the site has been studied extensively, there is always more to learn, and even if we had learned it all, simply beholding it has its value, no matter if Gods were worshipped at that site or not.

I'm torn about the decision. I wish for preservation, but understand that the value of such an effort will most likely never top a new development. As for Thessaloniki, there is no solution to the problem just yet. The project is already five years overdue. There is still hope of a situation where the modern metro station can co-exist with the ancient road, but the chances of the road surviving are slim. I'm still on the fence about this. My heart bleeds for the destruction of yet another ancient site, but I also feel helpless knowing that saving this ancient site would require not just a financial injection, but a global shift in thinking, a shift that is not likely to happen.

you can read more about the ancient site here, and about the bind Thessaloniki is in here. What is your opinion? Do you feel there is a difference between ancient sacred sites and other ancient sites? Can you see a solution to the predicament? I would love to hear from you.

Image source:
Time for another Pagan Blog Post with a letter that isn't in the Hellenic alphabet! As such, I get to be creative and provide you with an overview of the life of a fisherman in ancient Hellas, and of the great importance of fish in the ancient Hellenic diet. In ancient Hellas, fishery was a valued but underpaid skill, and one practiced for centuries. The earliest representation of a fishing scene in ancient Hellas dates from the year 1500 BC, and is found on a vase dug up on the island of Melos (Μῆλος), a volcanic Greek island in the Aegean Sea, just north of the Sea of Krete. It's extremely likely, however, that the act of fishing was practiced long before that.

While fish was a staple food of the ancient Hellenes, those who caught it were considered amongst the lowest of society. It wasn't a very glamorous job, and it paid very little. Fresh fish had to be consumed within one to three days of being caught. It is assumed that most fresh fish was taken to the local agora and sold there. Fish appeared only as a luxury item beyond the coastal towns. There is evidence of fish being transported in amphorai across water, and also that the ancient Hellenes knew how to preserve fish in a manner of ways.

Amongst others, fish could be preserved by salting, smoking, drying, or being made into fish sauce. Fish sauce, also know as garon (γάρον), was prepared from the intestines of small fishes through the process of bacterial fermentation. Makers of fish sauce would pick out the parts of the fish they wanted, and would then macerate them. Following that, they were cured in the sun for up to three months. Eventually the mixture fermented and liquefied. The clear liquid that settled on the top was skimmed off and sold as garon, the rest was used (probably locally) to flavor dishes. Garon was high in nutrients and contained a high amount of protein and amino acids. It kept for a good while and from the fourth or third century BC on, it was made and transported throughout Hellas. Fish processing facilities dating back as far as the 5th century BC have been found along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of modern Spain, Morocco, Portugal, and in the Northern Black Sea region.

Hómēros makes several references to the methods of fishing in ancient Hellas, amongst which nets, lines, and harpoons. It was common for fishermen to post watchmen on the cliffs to look out for shoals of fish at sea, after which they signaled the boats below. Hómēros gives the names of only two distinct species--the dolphin and eel--but Hellenic writer Oppianos (Ὀππιανός) describes a large variety of fishes which were known to the ancient Hellenes, either in his time (around the third century AD), or earlier. His writings include: grey and red mullet, muraena, mormyrus, basse, tunny, ox-ray, sea-sheep, skate, hake, bonito, fox-shark, torpedo, cuttle-fish, squid, anthias, cantharus or black sea-bream, admos, saupe, melanurus, sword-fish, needle-fish, and dentex, but also prawn, crab, oyster, star-fish, lobster, sting-ray and turtle. It can be assumed a large section of these fish served as dinner.

Oppianos' Halieutica is one of the greatest sources of knowledge about the fishing tactics in ancient Hellas we have to this day: very little writing and pottery decorations were made about the lowly job of fishermen, and even fewer have survived. From Oppianos, for example, we know how a fishermen was supposed to present himself, and who of the Theoi favored them:

"First of all the fisher should have body and limbs both swift and strong, neither over fat nor lacking in flesh. For often he must fight with mighty fish in landing them — which have exceeding strength so long as they circle and wheel in the arms of their mother sea. And lightly he must leap from a rock; and, when the toil of the sea is at its height, he must swiftly travel a long way and dive into the deepest depths and abide amongst the waves and remain labouring at such works as men upon the sea toil at with enduring heart. Cunning of wit too and wise should the fisher be, since many and various are the devices that fishes contrive, when they chance upon unthought-of snares. Daring also should he be and dauntless and temperate and he must not love satiety of sleep but must be keen of sight, wakeful of heart and open-eyed. He must bear well the wintry weather and the thirsty season of Sirius; he must be fond of labour and must love the sea. So shall he be successful in his fishing and dear to Hermes."

It is clear that the ancient Hellenes loved their fish. It was the most preferred dish to accompany their basic grain diet, the favorite relish, or 'opson' (ὄψον). Hellenic rhetorician and grammarian Athenaeus of Naucratis, who lived around the beginning of the third century AD, wrote one of the best summaries of the opinion on fish as a dietary staple:

"It is no wonder, my friends, that among all the specially prepared dishes which we call an opson, the fish is the only one which has won its way, on account of its excellent eating qualities, to be called by this name, because people are so mad for this kind of food."
I'm currently going through a somewhat tiring time in my life. There is so much happening in my life right now, so much going on that I have to deal with, that I'm running around all day, trying to get everything done in time. None of it is bad, but all of it is draining. I have blown through my reserve of blog posts in the last few days, and I have to scramble to get something--anything--together these last few days. This is not a big deal, life happens, and when it does, you deal with it. I write shorter posts, I grasp for inspiration, I muddle though, and after a while (read: the twenty-first) it'll pass. This is not a sympathy post. I wouldn't even have said anything if it didn't serve to make a point.

You see, I have made a commitment to the Theoi. When I finally transitioned into Hellenismos, I put my hands up at the altar of the Gods I keep in my home, and I vowed to worship the Gods with everything I am, I vowed to study Them, Their myths, and Their culture. And then, I swore to uphold one of the most important Delphic Maxims there are: to teach a youngster (Νεωτερον διδασκε).

Being a youngster, I feel, has nothing to do with age, or even knowledge. It has to do with being a student. Everyone can be a student; I'm a student every day. There are people who have experienced so much more than I have, who know so much more than I do, whose relationship with the Theoi, or one specific Theos or Theia are humbling to me. These people teach me--every single day--to be a better worshipper, writer, or simply a better human being. Some of them are aware they teach me (and others like me), others do not.

Like some of my teachers, I am aware--or, more accurately, I am made aware--that I, too, teach, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I take pride in my work here on Baring the Aegis, and making a commitment to post something every single day is one of the biggest religious commitments I have ever made. From June second, 2012, on, I have taken readers with me on my search for knowledge. Much of what I write, I was unaware of until I wrote it down. It's been my privilege.

A while back, there was an internet thing I'm too tired to link to about the focus on worship dropping in the face of tough times in life. As I sit here, exhausted, with a to-do list that makes me feel like Atlas, I know that whatever happens, I will have a post for you in the morning, and the morning after, and the morning after. It might not be long, it might not be profound, it might be just an insight into my life, but it is a post. It is something with which I honor the Theoi. Perhaps, it helps me teach. Whatever it is, it will be there, because that is the promise I made in the presence of my Gods.

So no matter what, I hope to continue to teach, and I hope you all will bear with me until the twenty-second, when I will have passed my deadlines. I have said it before, and I will say it again, you guys make writing worth while. Your kind words, your comments, your likes, your views; you allow me to fulfill my vow to the Theoi, and for that, I will always be grateful.