Today at dust, the 23th of Hekatombaion starts, which is traditionally the first night in a week long series of events that make up the Panathenaia festival. Last year, I celebrated the event with a wake. I am still contemplating if I'm going to do it again, but it was quite the wonderful experience; I just don't feel like doing it alone--or better, that doing it alone removes much of the function of the pannychos--as the ancient Hellenes called the all-night series of events. Elaion is planning two events come tonight and tomorrow that I do intend to join.

I wrote about the Panathenaia before, and will be copying some of that post here, but I also want to provide more information--largely with help from Robert Clark, who has done excellent research on the Panathenaia. The Panathenaia was an Athenian festival celebrated every June in honor of the Goddess Athena. The Lesser Panathenaia (Panathenaia ta mikra) was an annual event, while the Greater (Panathenaia ta megala) was held every four years and assimilated the practices of the Panathenaia ta mikra into itself. The set date for the festival was from the 23rd to the 29th of Hekatombaion and the festival was similar, in practice, to the Olympic Games but it had its own unique elements as well. In short, The Panathenaia was the 'birthday of the city' and referred to Athens. The actual practice was very involved but usually included:
  • A procession from outside of the city walls to the Acropolis
  • The hanging of a new (and elaborately woven) garment on the shoulders of the statue of Athena inside the Parthenon, named a Peplos.
  • A torch race
  • An all-night service called the Pannychos
  • A large offering (and ritual slaughter) of a hundred cows in honor of Athena
  • A meat meal for everyone at the city's expense
  • During the Panathenaia ta megala, wrestling competitions, athletic competitions, chariot races and many other horse-based games were also held. The Panathenaia was known for its boat races.
The athletic contests included foot races, wrestling, boxing, pankration (a combination of wrestling and boxing), pentathlon (five-event contest: stade race, javelin-throw, discus throw, long jump, and wrestling), four-horse chariot and two-horse chariot races, horseback race, javelin-throw from horseback, apobatês race, pyrrhic dancing, euandria (physical fitness or beauty contest), torch relay race, and boat race.  All these events, except for the torch and boat races, were held in each of three age categories: boys (12-16), ageneios (16-20), and men (20+) and took place in the Agora until 330 BCE when a stadium was built in the outskirts of Athens.

Boat races were not typically part of Greek athletic festivals, but they may have found a place in the Panathenaic festival because of Athena's connection with boat-building. Pyrrhic dancing, physical fitness, torch relay race, and boat races were tribal competitions restricted to Athenian citizens, whereas even non-Athenians took part in the track and field and equestrian events.  Except for the four last-named contests, the prizes (for first and second place only) were varying numbers of amphoras filled with olive oil. The olive tree and its fruit were sacred to Athena and the oil was a very valuable commodity in the ancient world used for cooking, as soap, and as fuel for lamps.  The winning athletes normally sold their prize oil for cash. Besides the everyday usefulness mentioned above, olive oil was in great demand by administrators of the numerous athletic festivals throughout the Greek world. Athletes rubbed themselves with olive oil before competition and scraped it off afterwards with a metal device called a stlengis.

As an indication of value, in the fourth century B.C. the prize for the victor in the stade race (a 600 ft. long foot race) in the men's category was 100 amphoras of olive oil. In terms of today's dollar, the olive oil would be worth at a minimum $39,000 and the amphoras, which held the oil, about $1600.  Greeks from other cities were allowed to compete in all the athletic contests among individuals.  The competitions among tribes were limited to Athenians.

The two-mile torch relay race with four runners from each of the ten Athenian tribes was run from the altar of Eros outside the Dipylon gate to the Acropolis. The object was to win the race without causing the torch to go out.  The winning tribe received a bull and 100 drachmas. The fire of the winning torch was used to light the sacrificial fire on the great altar of Athena on the Acropolis. The torch race was part of an all-night (pannychos) celebration also involving music and dancing on the night before the most important day of the festival when the procession and sacrifice took place. The apobatês race and the boat race closed out the festival contests.

Three musical contests involved singers accompanying themselves on kithara (kitharôidos), singers accompanied by an aulos (a reed wind instrument similar to a clarinet or oboe), and aulos players.  The prizes for these contests were crowns (for first place winners only) and cash. For example, the first prize for the kithara-singer was an olive crown in gold worth 1,000 drachmas (at least $32,000 and 500 silver drachmas (at least $16,000).

Reciters called rhapsodes (literally, 'stitchers of song') competed at public festivals in the recitation of epic poetry, in particular the Homeric poems and other poems belonging to the Epic Cycle. They performed without musical accompaniment. Prizes are unknown.

The great procession the Panathenaia was known for assembled before dawn in the following order:
  • four little girls carrying a peplos for the life-size statue of Athena Polias 
  • priestesses of Athena and Athenian women carrying gifts 
  • sacrificial animals (bulls and sheep) for the communal meals of thanksgiving
  • metics (resident aliens), wearing purple robes and carrying trays with cakes and honeycombs for offerings 
  • musicians playing the aulos and the kithara
  • a colossal peplos (for Athena Parthenos) hung on the mast of a ship on wheels 
  • old men carrying olive branches
  • four-horse chariots with a charioteer and fully armed man (apobatês) 
  • craftswomen (ergastinai - weavers of the peplos) 
  • infantry andcavalry 
  • victors in the games 
  • ordinary Athenians arranged by deme
The procession made its way on the Panathenaic Way through the Agora towards the Acropolis.  Some sacrifices were offered on the Areopagus and in front of the temple of Athena Nikê next to the Propylaea (Gateway). Only Athenian citizens were allowed to pass through the Propylaea and enter the Acropolis. The procession passed the Parthenon and stopped at the great altar of Athena in front of the Erechtheum. Each year a newly woven peplos (robe) was taken by the craftswomen (ergastinai) into the Erechtheum and placed on a life-size old wooden statue of Athena Polias ('Guardian of the City'), while every four years in the Great Panathenaea, an enormous peplos was taken to the Acropolis for Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin) in the Parthenon. This peplos was so large that it was carried on the mast of a ship on wheels (like a float in a modern parade). The connection between the ship and Athena is unknown, but the use of a ship to carry the peplos must have seem appropriate in the fifth century after Athens had built the great fleet with which it dominated a large part of the Aegean world. This was followed by a huge animal sacrifice at the Athena's altar and representatives from each deme in Attica, chosen by lot, enjoyed a meat banquet along with bread and cakes.

Now, unfortunately, it's often not possible to rouse an entire city and re-create these practices. I suggest having your own torch-lit procession, pouring libations of oil and wine to Athena. Butchering a cow is a bit much so I would stick with cake offerings in the shape of bulls, or if you feel the need to offer meat, a nice bit of beef. Partake of the meal as well, as the celebration did not call for a holókaustos of the ritual offering. Study the history of Athens, read the myths of Athena and perhaps read into the history of your own city as well, as most of us don't live in Athens at this time. If you are crafty enough, and you possess a statue of Athena, make a garment for Athena and hang it around a statue of Her. Partaking in any other kind of craft are also encouraged, as Athena is the patron Goddess of crafts.
It's time for part three of the series-within-a-series featuring the myth of Apollon and the raven. The previous parts were the constellation Corvus: the Raven, and the Constellation Crater: the Cup. This third installment is about the longest constellation we still recognize as a constellation today: Hydra, or the sea-serpent.

To recap the story of Apollon and the raven: the raven (or crow) was in service to Apollon, and 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 it is 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.

Roman author Gaius Julius Hyginus (64 BC - 17 AD) talks about the serpent's continued function in his Astronomica:

"This is the sign on which the Crow sits and over which the Bowl is placed. [...] As long as the figs are ripening, the crow cannot drink, because on those days he has a sore throat. So when the god wished to illustrate the thirst of the crow, he put the bowl among the constellations, and placed the water-snake underneath to delay the thirsty crow. For the crow seems to peck at the end of its tail to be allowed to go over to the bowl." [2.40]

Another hydra the constellation is associated with is the Hydra vanquished by Hēraklēs as his second labour. After his victory over the Nemean lion, Hēraklēs is send off to handle another sticky problem: the Lernaean Hydra, who was raised from the earth by Hera just to end the life of Hēraklēs. The Lernaean Hydra (Λερναία Ὕδρα) was the offspring of Typhon, and layered in the swampy lake of Lerna. He realized he would need help for this labour, and asked it of his nephew Iolaus (Ἰόλαος). Together they devised a plan: Hēraklēs would cut off the heads, and Iolaus would sear the stumps shut, in this way, the heads could not regenerate. When Hēraklēs returns to Eurystheus after completing the labour, the king decrees that, because Hēraklēs could not have completed the labour without the help of Iolaus, the labour will not count against his total, and he will have to do an extra one to fulfill his debt.

On the hydra, Pausanias writes in his 'History of Greece'. He speaks of the birth place of the hydra, and of his alleged number of heads:

"At the source of the Amymone grows a plane tree, beneath which, they say, the hydra (water-snake) grew. I am ready to believe that this beast was superior in size to other water-snakes, and that its poison had something in it so deadly that Heracles treated the points of his arrows with its gall. It had, however, in my opinion, one head, and not several. It was Peisander76 of Camirus who, in order that the beast might appear more frightful and his poetry might be more remarkable, represented the hydra with its many heads." [2.37.4]

Constellations are often associated with the constellations they are surrounded with, and with no constellation this is clearer than with Hydra. Aratos, a Hellenic poet who flourished in Macedonia in the early third century BC, speaks best of Hydra in regards to his surrounding constellations in his 'Phaenomena':

"Another constellation trails beyond, which men call the Hydra. Like a living creature it winds afar its coiling form. Its head comes beneath the middle of the Crab, its coil beneath the body of the Lion, and its tail hangs above the Centaur himself. Midway on its coiling form is set the Crater, and at the tip the figure of a Raven that seems to peck at the coil." [443]

The constellation Hydra is visible at latitudes between +54° and −83°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of April.
I have been helping a friend out with a very important work assignment, and I still have quite a bit to do, so I am going to have to sit today's blog post out. Not wanting to leave you hanging, here is a three-part series on ancient Hellas, which I found very interesting and hope you enjoy as well. I'll have actual text for you again tomorrow. The description of the documentary reads:

"It was perhaps the most spectacular flourishing of imagination and achievement in recorded history. In the Fourth and Fifth Centuries BC, the Greeks built an empire that stretched across the Mediterranean from Asia to Spain. They laid the foundations of modern science, politics, warfare and philosophy, and produced some of the most breathtaking art and architecture the world has ever seen. This series, narrated by Liam Neeson, recounts the rise, glory, demise and legacy of the empire that marked the dawn of Western civilization. The story of this astonishing civilization is told through the lives of heroes of ancient Greece. The latest advances in computer and television technology rebuild the Acropolis, recreate the Battle of Marathon and restore the grandeur of the Academy, where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle forged the foundation of Western though. The series combines dramatic storytelling, stunning imagery, new research and distinguished scholarship to render classical Greece gloriously alive."


The Golden Age

Empire of Mind
After the Acropolis in Athens, and Plato's Academy in the same city, Turkey has made steps to preserve its own cultural heritage in a digital format: four temples of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon will be transformed into a 3D platform and visitors will have a chance to see these ancient venues via their tablets and phones, thus reports the Archaeology News Network. On the shortlist for digitalization are the temple of Zeus, the Altar of Athena, the Red Basilica and the Asklepion.

Pergamon (τὸ Πέργαμον) was a small settlement during the Archaic Period, located in Aeolis, today located 16 miles (26 km) from the Aegean Sea on a promontory on the north side of the river Caicus. The main sites of ancient Pergamon are to the north and west of the modern city of Bergama in Turkey.

The ancient city of Pergamon rose to greatness after receiving a huge sum of money as war expenditures, and became the most eminent center of culture of the Hellenistic period for 150 years. One of its rulers, Eumenes II (197-159 BC), took the acropolis of Athens as an example and had the acropolis of Pergamon adorned with works of art, after which Pergamon became one of the most graceful cities of the world.

One of the most famous buildings that once stood on the property is the Altar of Zeus and Athena, which used to be located to the south of the theater. Eumenes II constructed it as a memorial of the victory against the Galatians. The Altar has the shape of a horseshoe and its dimensions are 36.44 by 34.20 meters. The high reliefs on the outsides of the altar depict the Gigantomachy. At Pergamon, nothing remains of the altar but its foundations; the rest was removed from the site and shipped to Berlin.

The Red Basilica was (and honestly still is) a great temple of the Khemetic Goddess Isis and/or Serapis (Σάραπις), a Graeco-Egyptian God. It is located about one kilometer south of the Acropolis. The temple was built by the Roman Empire, probably in the time of Hadrian and possibly on his orders. It is one of the largest Roman structures still surviving in the ancient Greek world. Although the building itself is of an immense size, it was once part of a much larger sacred complex.

The Asklepion is located three kilometers south of the Acropolis, down in the valley, and was the Sanctuary of Asklēpiós, the God of healing. There was a sacred spring where the ill came to wash, and a large hall where they would sleep so Asklēpiós could appear to them in dreams and provide aid.

The aim of the 3D project is to present Pergamon to the world. Bergama mayor Mehmet Gönenç said that "...through this project the mystery and the magic of the ancient city would be revealed and would also be transposed to the present day". With this project, people would have the opportunity to learn about the area, he added.

Gönenç and the Bergama Chamber of Commerce held a press conference at Tonozlu Hall and said Bergama was a very important area of heritage for the world and for Turkey, which was why the project had been launched, as well as to contribute to the cultural values of the society.

No word yet on when the project will be completed.

Last year, I got a chance to visit the Pergamon Altar to Zeus and Athena, now in Berlin. It was a double experience for me; on the one hand, it is a striking marvel of architecture and seeing it made my heart swell with pride for the Theoi and the ancient Hellenes, on the other hand, seeing these stones so far from their original construction site was infuriating, and having to view them as a tourist attraction even more so. That said, I greatly enjoy the virtual tour of the Acropolis in Athens, so if the tour will be anything like that, I am sure I can get behind this project. Are you excited to have digital access to these treasures?

Image source: Wikipedia commons.
Vacation time tends to turn my brain into mush when it comes to which day of the week it is. I had no idea yesterday was Friday and it was time for another Pagan Blog Project post. So, here we are, a day late. Sorry!

As a woman, I tend to pay extra special attention to things that were 'female only' in ancient Hellas. It makes me feel closer to the Theoi somehow to apply the gender roles They were so familiar with to my daily life and my worship. As the gender balance was very clear in ancient Hellas and not so much today, and mostly because I live in a two-women household, there is not that much gender role tradition I can incorporate into my daily practice. Although I am the kurios for our household--a traditionally male role--I try to at least be very female in appearance when I come to the Theoi, and for that purpose, try to wear skirts. I also wear my hair up as a sign of devotion, and as a sign that I am married by the Gods (although my legal statues does not reflect this yet. Only the woman I love gets to see my hair undone, and although she is not a Hellenist and thinks all the 'restrictions' I place on myself are silly, she does appreciate the gesture of loyalty and devotion to her.

I am straying from the point of this post, however. Today I wanted to take some time to talk about the ololygē (ὀλολῡγή); the ritual scream women made, usually when an animal was sacrificed, but also at other sacred times. Of course, this is something I will not be needed in the regard of animal sacrifice, but it is interesting to come to the roots of this practice to see if it can be salvaged for modern use.

 Within animal sacrifice, the cry would have been uttered after the animal's throat was slit and the sacrifice accepted; I pose that this cry was thus delayed until some of the blood was poured into the fire and it crackled, popped, and most likely leaped up as a divine sign. At this point, the women cried out in the ololygē. The ololygē was thus a sign of the sacred, a cry of joy, not--as earlier scholars posed--cry of distress and relief of tension that was released the moment the blade cut into the neck of the animal. In fact, later scholarship finds very little excitement--either positive or negative--about the actual death of the animal; it is the Gods' acceptance that counts.

The view that the ololygē was a sacred cry of joy is reflected further by the fact that the same word was often used in plays. Here, the cry was sometimes shared between men and those who played women, and occurred when something especially divine took place. It also comes back in poetry, especially that which was performed as a kind of play, like in the Dithyrambs by Bacchylides (Βακχυλίδης), a 5th century BC lyrical poet:

"Theseus appeared beside the ship with its slender stern. Oh, from what thoughts did he stop the war-lord of Knossos, when he emerged unwetted from the sea, a marvel to all, and the gifts of the gods shone on his body. The splendid-throned maidens cried out with new-founded joy, and the sea resounded."

It seems that the ololygē was a way to mark a moment of divine presence; a way to put emphasis on the sacred. In this light, the ololygē is not outdated at all, but it is, however, vague. What follows is completely inferred by yours truly as a likely scenario after reading the precious little information about this cry. I pose that the women uttering this cry had their hands raised to the Theoi--as was customary when addressing and acknowledging the Theoi in any way. I think that the cry itself was not so much the horror-filled scream we're used to seeing in movies, but more a loiud utterance of praise on behalf of the Theoi. In fact, I think it might have been fairly close in feel to the praise gospel choirs give to their God: the exuberant exclamation of 'Halleluiah, praise the Lord!' that the ancient Hellene would have felt for the Theoi as well. I also doubt all women screamed out the same thing; it might have been quite the cacophony. Of course, this is speculation of the highest degree, and if you have any further information, I would love to hear it. As a note, I think wailing for the dead was done in much the same way, but with the hands cast down towards the earth, and utterances of praise to the deceased, as well as prayers to the Khthonic Gods.

Especially in group ritual, women could fulfill the ololygē easily; at home, I, for example, already give praise to the Theoi in a similar manner. Especially in group ritual, the ololygē would give female participants an extra way to feel included, an strengthen kharis with the Theoi in question. It would also look and sound quite captivating, I would think. Do you have experience with the ololygē? I would love to hear about it!

 Image source: here.
I'm sure this is not news to many; ancient Hellenic sculptures were not left bare and white: they were painted in vibrant hues of blue, red, and yellow, often embellished with gold, and adorned with jewelry. The ancient Hellas Hollywood tries so valiantly to feed us is, in fact, very dull and dreary. Depending on the translation Euripides' play 'Helen [of Troy]' even reflects this:

"My life and fortunes are a monstrosity, partly because of Hera, partly because of my beauty. If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect, the way you would wipe color off a statue."

The idea of white marble dates back to the early 16th century, when the Renaissance began excavating statues that had been buried in the earth for centuries. Color traces still visible to the naked eye, deep in the folds of draped clothing, went unnoticed. Following what they believed to be the Greek and Roman example, Italian sculptors conceived their creations as uncolored, and suddenly all statues ended up plain white marble.

A couple of years ago the Vatican Museum hosted an exhibition called 'The Colours of White' of some of the most famous classical statues and antiquities with reproductions painted as close to the originals as they could make them, made possible because many statues contain trace amounts of pigment from their original coats of paint.

In order to identify paint and color, UV light is used. UV light makes many organic compounds fluoresce. The technique is usually used by art dealers to check if art has been touched up--since older paints have a lot of organic compounds and modern paints have relatively little--but on ancient statues, UV light makes the tiny fragments of pigment still left on the surface light up to become visible to the naked eye.

Even if you disregard colors fading and changing over time, many spots of paint can't be interpreted as specific colors. To distinguish color, scientists look at the original plant and animal-derived materials used to create the pigments of the paint. These materials are anything from crushed stones or shells to insects and plant roots. These materials do not change over time, and would still look the same today as they did thousands of years ago.

To identify these materials, the statues are flooded with infrared and X-ray spectroscopy. This technique relies on the fact that atoms are picky when it comes to what kind of incoming energy they absorb. Certain materials will only accept certain wavelengths of light; everything else they reflect. Spectroscopes send out a variety of wavelengths, and the pattern of wavelengths which are not returned are compared with materials known to be used for paint colors. Infrared helps determine organic compounds, X-rays identify rock and mineral material. Together, researchers can determine approximately what color a millennia-old statue was painted.

At the start of this identification process was German archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkmann. He has spent the past quarter century trying to identify colors and create full-scale plaster or marble copies hand-painted in the same mineral and organic pigments used by the ancients: green from malachite, blue from azurite, yellow and ocher from arsenic compounds, red from cinnabar, black from burned bone and vine.

This process, and the results, can be viewed in the video below:

Personally, I think the ancient statues look gorgeous in their reconstructed color glory. They bring life to them, and show how devoted (and/or vain) the procurers of these sculptures were: vibrant colors--or really colors of any kind--would have been incredibly expensive. I have seen people react to these painted statues with disdain, feeling the ancient Hellenes would have most likely not used such gaudy colors, but I think they would have: only the best for the Gods they worshipped, the victors of athletic competitions, and heroic soldiers.
I have been looking to paint my own small collection of statues for a while, and was going to do so yesterday when I unexpectedly ended up pulling flooring at a friend's house for the majority of the day, so if I get a chance, I will do this today and edit this post with pictures. I think reflecting the ancient Hellenic way of making statues--namely, painted, and sometimes clothed--is an important part of the modern Hellenistic mindset, and would love to hear if you agree.

EDIT: I found the time to paint both my statue of Pandora and the karyatis who resides on my altar permanently today. Here is the result, although they are not yet finished. Both still need gold and touch-ups.

Image source: Smithsonian
Elaion is getting an overhaul; we have joined Facebook, our mentoring program is back on, we are thinking of redoing the website, and we are also looking to create a list of books and sources that those looking to get into or delve deeper into our faith. I have started that list today, and I would love to have your opinion on it. You can find it on the left hand side, under 'Go to: Reading List', or clicking the image below. It is very much a work in progress, but I would love to hear already which texts are absolutely missing from this list? What book, essay, video, or ancient source has helped you connect with your faith? Which of these would you never have anyone read, ever? I would love to hear about it!

Image source: here.
A heavily overlooked epithet of Zeus is that of Rain Bringer; Ombrios (Ομβριος), or Hyetios (Ὑετιος). More than likely these two were the same Theos, in a different epithet; 'Ombrios' comes from the Hellenic 'ombros', meaning rain. 'Hyetios' most likely comes from the mountain range of Hymettos, where at the very top, an altar to Zeus Hymêttios (Ὑμηττιος) stood. Oftentimes, the worship of Zeus took place on mountains, but because almost all epithets of Zeus would be worshipped on mountains, it was deemed somewhat inappropriate to favor one aspect of Zeus over another, and give Him a specific title; instead, the sanctuary was dedicated to an epithet of Zeus that gained the name of the mountain itself. This way, Zeus could be worshipped on any mountain by any epithet; so while there is no evidence of other mountain sanctuaries to Zeus Ombrios than the one at Hymettos, that does not mean other mountain sanctuaries would not have attracted pilgrims looking for rain. There might have been a small difference between the two, however, as Zeus Ombrios was seen as the bringer of lasting rain, while Zeus Hyetios brought heavy rain (or storms).

The sanctuary of Zeus in the mountain range of Hymettos (Υμηττός) is located in the Athens area, in East Central Greece. Numerous offerings have been found on the site of the sanctuary that stood near (or on) the very top of the mountain, including a pit full of shards and a large stele with cuttings for a small bronze statue, possibly of Zeus Hymêttios. These offerings have been dated to the 8th-7th centuries BC. Pausanias makes mention of this sanctuary (as well as one on Parnes) in his History of Greece:

"The Athenians have also statues of gods on their mountains. On Pentelicus is a statue of Athena, on Hymettus one of Zeus Hymettius. There are altars both of Zeus Rain-god and of Apollo Foreseer. On Parnes is a bronze Zeus Parnethius, and an altar to Zeus Semaleus (Sign-giving. There is on Parnes another altar, and on it they make sacrifice, calling Zeus sometimes Rain-god, sometimes Averter of Ills. Anchesmus is a mountain of no great size, with an image of Zeus Anchesmius." [1.32.2]

The mountain would, in ancient times, have served as a natural weather station; in fact, it is still regarded in that capacity today. A thick concentration of clouds near the summit would undoubtedly have spelled rain. Zeus in his epithets of Rain Bringer is more than likely an agricultural deity; small shrines to Zeus Ombrios would have dotted the land, often located on or near fields for easy access and as markers: those who sacrificed to him would expect he rain to fall on or near the shrine. That said; sometimes the rain simply did not come. A fictional account noted down by famed writer Alciphron describes a sacrifice to Zeus Ombrios that was in vain:

"A drought is upon us. Not a cloud is to be seen in the sky, and we want a regular downpour. You have only to look at the ploughed land to see how dreadfully parched the soi is. I am afraid all our sacrifixes to Jupiter Pluvius [Zeus Ombrios] hve gone for nothing, and yet all we villagers outdid each other to make a good sacrificial show. Each man brought what he could according to his means and ability. One brought a ram, another a goat, another some fruit, the poor man brought a cake, and the positive pauper some lumps of decidedly mouldy incense. No one could run to a bull, for our Attic soil is thin and cattle are scarce. But we might have saved our expense. Zeus it would seem is 'on a journey' and cannot attend to us."

Sacrifices of the animal kind were not at all scarce in relation to Zeus Ombrios, but there is also mention of human sacrifice. When the Eleans consult the oracle during a prolonged drought, they are instructed to sacrifice a noble boy to Zeus. A youth named Molpis volunteers, rain falls, and the Eleans build a sanctuary of Zeus Ombrios, setting up a statue of Molpis there. Of course, these accounts are old and not altogether trustworthy.

Personally, I rarely pray to Zeus Ombrios for rain; I mostly pray for him to keep the rain away. When I still worked outdoors a lot, I would pray to him every day I went out, to just keep back the rain until I got home--especially during late autumn and winter. In winter, I also prayed to Khionê to keep the snow at bay. Quite recently, I have been praying for rain for a farmer friend of mine every day; he's in Arkansas and dealing with hot and dry weather that are threatening his crops. so far, he has gotten two days of rain, and it looks like he might salvage his harvest. I have a close emotional connection with Zeus Ombrios, and regard Him very fondly. Perhaps you might look into His worship and subsequent aid now too.
Hekate is extremely important to me in my household worship. Like some of the early ancient Hellenes, I view Hekate as Hesiod's Hekate, the single-faced Titan, who rules in heaven, on the earth, and in the sea. She is a Theia of childbirth--to both animals and humans--and it is She who bestows wealth on mortals, victory, wisdom, good luck to sailors and hunters, and prosperity to youth and to the flocks of cattle. Yet, if mortals do not deserve Her gifts, she can withhold them from them just as easily. After the Titanomachy, Zeus bestowed upon Her the highest of honors. This is the Goddess I honor daily during my nighttime rites, but I do integrate some later practices and thoughts about Her; including Her role as protector of the house and 'crossroad Goddess'.

Personally, when I hear 'crossroad Goddess', I think Supernatural's crossroad's demon. I think it's exactly this modern view of supernatural forces at crossroads that makes it difficult to understand Hekate's role as a Goddess of crossroads. I therefor don't use the tem 'crossroad Goddess', because it is somewhat deceiving; Her imagery would have stood at crossroads, and offerings were left there for safe travel, but the crossroads Hekate was most valued for protecting was the crossroads leading from the street to he home; a 'T'-shaped crossroads where Hekate ever vigilantly watches over the threshold.

In this incarnation, She is a Goddess of purification, expiation, and protection, associated with thresholds and gates, both reaching back to the Underworld association. This view of Her dates back to about the fifth century BC, where Hesiod's views date back to about the seventh century BC. I wrote about the development of views on Hekate in this blog post about Her, and She has been worshipped in many ways throughout the ages.

As Cara Schulz so eloquently puts it in her talk about Hekate, Hekate guards the home from forces outside of it--both from natural and supernatural forces. Ancient Hellenic (especially Athenian) homes were walled off to create a courtyard; the only entrance to the home was a single door, and a single threshold. This was where Hekate's influence was felt. As such, Her influence is stationary; where Apollon and Hermes' protection extends to journeying and travels. Her worship is more domestic, at least for me.

There were statues of Hekate placed at three-way crossroads not leading to homes; these served the same purpose as 'threshold statuary', though; protection and purification. Much later, Christian, sources, warn followers away from 'placing devilish charms at springs or trees or crossroads' to alleviate illness.

In modern household worship, Hekate's role is generally considered as an averter of evil; a protector who keeps misfortune, illness, danger, and bad luck away from the oikos. This is why She often shares shrine space with Hermes and Apollon, near the entrance to the home, or at the crossroads from the street to the driveway; a crossroads, indeed, but very different than some might imagine.
I was going to write an awesome long about mythology and/or ancient Hellas, but then I found the sound library of and it all went out the window. I've been listening to sound files for the past half hour.

I have learned long ago that Hollywood ruined my ability to pronounce anything even vaguely Hellenic in a manner that the ancient Hellenes or their modern offspring would recognize ('dih-mee'-tur', really?). I've been trying to get back to the way I used to pronounce the names of the Theoi; Dutch pronunciation is actually much closer to the Greek than the English version. It's hard to unlearn something, though, especially when I recite the hymn--for example--in English.

While hunting for something else on the internet, I stumbled upon's sound library, which has sound files of the names of Titans, Olympians, many of the other Gods, mythological creatures and heroes, in both Greek and English. I especially love listening to both files for one name, and spotting the differences. Let's just say that there are plenty.

I'll get you a proper post tomorrow, but for today, you should be set with this database. Enjoy!

I am very happy and proud to announce that Elaion now has a presence on Facebook in the form of a group we would love to have you join. Robert and I discussed stepping outside the comfort of the Yahoo groups for a long time, and we decided that a Facebook group would not only allow members to network easier, but also to help us get the word out about Elaion, a group we are both very passionate about--and many with us.

The Facebook group can be found here:

I joined Elaion a few months ago, and found a home there very quickly. I am a full member now, a moderator, and a partner to group owner Robert Clark. This Facebook move is very exciting for both of us.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask any Elaion member who has an online presence in the form of a group, blog, website, youtube channel, etc. connected to Hellenismos, to share this medium with me. We will make that information available to the new Facebook group, as well as the Yahoo groups so these resources can be more easily found by members and non-members alike. We will also take interesting posts and videos from those mediums and link to them in the Facebook group when we feel our members could benefit from it. To add your medium to the list, please follow the instructions posted in the e-mail distributed through the Yahoo groups. We hope to have the first version of this list up soon.

Until that time, we hope you will join us on Facebook; the list is open to all who are interested in our flavor of Reconstructionism, and it is a place to get help and in-depth discussion about Hellenismos. We hope to see you there!
Starting the Elaion Facebook group, I hoped to have it be a medium for seekers to ask questions. Not 24 hours in, the first question has been asked, and I figured it would be good to share it with you. The question is: 'Is there a calendar that puts important dates onto a Julian-type calendar?', and the inferred question: 'How do I read it?' 

On Baring the Aegis, I have made available an overview of the monthly as well as yearly calendars. These are the festival dates I adhere to, and many were taken from the HMEPA calendar which can be found here. It is important to note that the ancient Hellenes started a new day at sundown the day before. Instead of starting a new day at midnight--or in the morning--like we do today, they started it at sundown of the previous day. This means that when looking at the HMEPA calendar, one ancient Hellenic day is stretched out over two modern days; from sundown on day one, to sundown on day two, when a new day began.

In the example above, the 12th ancient Hellenic day of the month (this month, in this case, Hekatombaion) stretches from (dusk on) the 20th of July, to (dusk on) the 21th of July. Next year, this date will be different, because the ancient Hellenic months were either twenty-nine or thirty days in length, since the moon orbits the earth in roughly 29.5 days. Hollow months had twenty-nine days, full months had thirty. The ancient Hellenes chose not to alternate the hollow and full months according to a set schedule ("Hekatombaion is a hollow month"), but instead, the duration of each month was declared just before month's end. The thirtieth day was always included; in a hollow month, the twenty-ninth day was left off of the calendar

A full lunar year is 354 days long. Because the earth rotates around the sun in roughly 365 days, an extra month was inserted into the calendar every few years--usually every third year. This month was usually a repeat of the previous month, most frequently Poseideon, but there are references to repeats of Hekatombaion, Metageitnion, Gamelion, and Anthesterion. It is unknown if the festivals which fell in this month were repeated as well, if other festivals were held, or if no festivals were celebrated at all. How long this month was, depended on the previous years. The ancient Hellenes had a tendency to repeat days to suit their needs, usually to postpone the arrival of a certain date. Assembly meetings, for example, were not held on festival days, so if the meeting was urgent, the previous day was repeated and the festival day postponed. A standard extra month would have been thirty-three days long, but it rarely was.

Long story short: if you know the ancient date of a festival, you can use the HMEPA calendar to find the appropriate modern day equivalent, but you need to do this every year, as the lunar nature of the ancient Hellenic calendar causes the dates to shift.

To make it a little easier, I also maintain a public Google Calendar which has all the festivals and monthly worship cycles I use for the Baring the Aegis calendar. Events stretch over two modern days, just like they would in ancient Hellas. Hopefully, this will help keep track of where we are in the ancient Hellenic month.

On the top left of this blog, right below the small bio is a small box with today's modern date, and the dates that would have fallen on this modern date if the ancient Hellenic calendar was still used. In the case of the example on the left, 'Middle First' is the eleventh day in the Hellenic month Hekatombaion, and this day started on July 19, at sundown. It lasts until sundown on the 20th of July, and then 'Middle Second', or the twelfth day of the Hellenic month Hekatombaion, starts. This lasts until sundown on July 21.

Hopefully, this will help you keep track of the festival days, and demystify the HMEPA calendar.
Tonight, the 12th of Hekatombion marks the start of the ancient Hellenic Kronia festival. I have written about this festival last year, but didn't go into detail about how the festival was celebrated in ancient Hellas. To recap last year's post: the Kronia honors Kronos, Zeus' father, not to be confused with Khronos; creator of the Gods and Lord of Time. For more on His mythology, see last year's post.

In Athens, Kronos and Rhea--His wife and sister--shared a temple. They represented an age before the Theoi took to rule; a time when societal rules did not exist yet, and there was no hierarchy. As such, on the day Kronos was worshipped, the fixed order of society was suspended, and slaves joined--and even ruled over--a banquet given by their masters; they ran through the streets screaming and hollering. On Krete, they could whip their masters. As much fun as this was, the day served as a reminder that for a society to function, societal rules were necessary, and as such, it was also necessary for Zeus to overthrow His father and assume the throne.

Besides a banquette, the Kronia must have been celebrated with an official sacrifice as well, in the temple to Him and Rhea, as the Kronia was a harvest festival of sorts. Unlike many rites to Demeter, the Kronia focused on the harvest--most likely of cereals--that was completed around this time. It was the end of a hectic period where slaves were worked hard, and their masters as well. A communal meal and a little bit of payback on the side of the serfs was most likely at the root of this festival, along with gratitude for the successful harvest; the Hellenic summers were too hot to grow much of anything, so the food eaten in this barren season ahead needed to be taken in and thrashed (where needed) prior to the swell of summer heat. The Kronia was a good mark for this.

There is a little bit of evidence that human sacrifice--in the form of 'scapegoat' rituals was performed on or around the date of the Kronia in the very distant past, but by the time Hellas--and especially Athens--became civilized in the way we speak of today, this practice was long outdated. It seems that a criminal condemned to death was taken outside of the city gates for a reason now lost to us, possibly fed copious amounts of wine, and then killed in honor (or placation) of Kronos. Needless to say, there is no reason to bring this practice back.

What one can bring back is a sacrifice to Kronos and a communal meal. We don't have serfs any more, but a family meal is always a good Hellenistic tradition. What kind of offering Kronos received is lost to us, but I suspect it was an animal sacrifice. Of course there are many alternatives today, and libations of wine, offerings of 'first fruits' in the form of grains, or cakes come to mind. here is an Orphic hymn to Kronos, which one can recite with fumigations of Storax:

"Etherial father, mighty Titan, hear, great fire of Gods and men, whom all revere: Endu'd with various council, pure and strong, to whom perfection and decrease belong. Consum'd by thee all forms that hourly die, by thee restor'd, their former place supply; The world immense in everlasting chains, strong and ineffable thy pow'r contains. Father of vast eternity, divine, O mighty Saturn [Kronos], various speech is thine: Blossom of earth and of the starry skies, husband of Rhea, and Prometheus wife. Obstetric Nature, venerable root, from which the various forms of being shoot; No parts peculiar can thy pow'r enclose, diffus'd thro' all, from which the world arose, O, best of beings, of a subtle mind, propitious hear to holy pray'rs inclin'd; The sacred rites benevolent attend, and grant a blameless life, a blessed end." [XII]

Image source: Kronos
Divination is a gift from the Gods, a way to contact the Gods directly through oracles and seers. It was something heavily relied upon in ancient Hellas, and in its mythology: many war, quests, and epics started with a visit to Delphi. Especially in Hómēros, divination by way of birds features heavily, and it has had my interest for a long while. Almost a year ago, I wrote about oiônoskopos for the Pagan Blog Project, in a post about oracles, seers and divination, and from that point on, I've been teaching the art to myself. Today, I would like to share what I have discovered.

Oiônoskopos, like many of the divinatory practices, was considered a 'technical' or 'learned' art, opposed by 'natural' or 'unlearned' types of divination. Typically, natural divination was understood to include dreams and the reading of utterances of others or yourself, and to be the older and more reliable form of divination as these types were communicated more directly by the Gods. Aristotle and the Peripatetic philosophers found value only in natural divination. Technical means of divination was everything else; anything that depended on acquired human skills, such as the reading of entrails, the behavior of birds, or birthmarks. Most form of divination, called 'mantikē', playwright Aeschylus states in 'Prometheus Bound', were taught to us by Prometheus himself:

"And I marked out many ways by which they might read the future, and among dreams I first discerned which are destined to come true; and voices baffling interpretation I explained to them, and signs from chance meetings. The flight of crook-taloned birds I distinguished clearly—which by nature are auspicious, which sinister—their various modes of life, their mutual feuds and loves, and their consorting's; and the smoothness of their entrails, and what color the gall must have to please the gods, also the speckled symmetry of the liver-lobe; and the thigh-bones, wrapped in fat, and the long chine I burned and initiated mankind into an occult art. Also I cleared their vision to discern signs from flames, which were obscure before this." [477]

Birds have always perceived as one of the most important means of conveying information from the divine world to the mortal world. This could be because they literally occupy the space between earth and the realm of the Ouranic Gods spheres, or--as Walter Burkert puts it--that the presence of birds (especially birds of prey) meant food. Looking out for birds was considered prosperous and spotting them a good promise of food--a good omen, if you will. Many animals can perform this function, and our divinatory practices may have been derived from even older survival strategies where humanity learns from the natural world around them. Bird interpreters (ornithoskopoi) did not limit themselves to birds, although the avian realm was their main means of divination; they looked at all kinds of animals for omens.

Oiônoskopos was a skill when performed by a mantis, but anyone could watch what the birds did and draw his or her own conclusions. Hesiod expertly advises the reader to look up into the sky if they want happy lives:

"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." [828]

That said, if you wanted a good interpretation of your own sighting, or an expert answer to a question, you visited an ornithoskopoi. How, exactly, the ornithoskopoi performed a reading has been lost to us, but we do have some information to go on for reconstruction of the practice. Evidence from surrounding and later cultures has survived--most notably from the ancient Near East, Etruria and Rome--and from these accounts, it is clear that there were most likely detailed rules to the practice.

Roman accounts allude to special places the ornithoskopoi went to divine. Perhaps these spots simply proved good vantage points but there could have been more to it; perhaps the overlay of a grid-type structure on the sky that was easy to recall when the same spot was used over and over again. Roman bird diviners made use of such a grid and called the segments 'templa'. Sophocles and Aristotle do mention that the left section of the sky was considered negative, and the right section of the sky was considered positive. A divide like that, however, would not be tied to a specific location. For the eager practitioner, however, it is a place to start.

The type of bird one saw most likely made a difference. An eagle--Zeus' bird--would have had a huge impact, and any bird of prey would have been considered an especially strong omen. No listing of auspicious birds survives, as far as I am aware--if one was even ever made--but from a purely personal viewpoint, formed by years of modern divinatory practices as well as an understanding of ancient Hellas, I would say that most types of birds meant different things to different diviners, and that this choice was a personal one. That said, birds obviously tied to a specific location or profession would have served as good omens for a question related to those areas; the sparrow for questions about the household, for example, and a woodpecker for carpenters or even home renovation.

It seems that the behavior of the bird would have had  huge impact as well; a bird of prey swooping to catch another bird or a prey on the ground would perhaps have spelled victory for the ruler asking if going to war was a good idea, while the panicked cries of alarmed birds was perhaps a bad omen. I will give two examples of the interpretation of bird omens here, just to illustrate the frame of mind of the augurer: the first from Hómēros' Odysseia, the second from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon.

"So Telemachus spoke, and Far-Seeing Zeus sent out two eagles from a high mountain peak. They flew for a while with outspread wings, side by side in the currents of air, but when they were above the voice-filled assembly they swiftly slanted their wings, circling round, gazing down on the heads below, and death was in their gaze. Then they clawed at each other’s head and neck with their talons, and soared away eastward over the roofs of the town. [...] "I say these words to the Suitors especially, since disaster approaches them. Odysseus will not be far from his friends much longer, and I believe even now he is near, sowing the seeds of dark death for all these men. Yes, and he will bring trouble to many another of us, who live in clear-skied Ithaca." [Bk II:85-128]

"I have the power to proclaim the augury of triumph given on their way to princely men—since my age still breathes Persuasion upon me from the gods; [...] the inspiring omen appearing to the kings of the ships—kingly birds, one black, one white of tail, near the palace, on the spear-hand, in a conspicuous place, devouring a hare with offspring unborn caught in the last effort to escape. Sing the song of woe, the song of woe, but may the good prevail! [...] Then the wise seer of the host, noticing how the two warlike sons of Atreus were two in temper, recognized the devourers of the hare as the leaders of the army, and thus interpreted the portent and spoke: “In time those who here issue forth shall seize Priam's town, and fate shall violently ravage before its towered walls all the public store of cattle. Only may no jealous god-sent wrath cast its shadow upon the embattled host, the mighty bit forged for Troy's mouth, and strike it before it reaches its goal! For, in her pity, holy Artemis is angry at the winged hounds of her father, for they sacrifice a wretched timorous thing, together with her young, before she has brought them forth. An abomination to her is the eagles' feast.”" [104]

There were occasions that were more significant than others for divining, during which a bird could mean more or less than it otherwise would. Birds spotted at the start of a journey, or while on the road (hodion) were considered more important, as they pertained specifically to the journey at hand, and the ancient Hellenes really did not like to leave home to begin with. It's not inconceivable that prominent Hellenes invited ornithoskopoi to be present at the start of journeys, just to hear their thoughts on the journey ahead.

This leads me to the tricky part of oiônoskopos: you need birds. Ornithomancy was usually spontaneous in nature; you could patiently wait in the sacred spot and wait for birds to cross your line of vision, but it was up to the Theoi to send you birds if they pleased. The Roman way of solving this problem was by keeping birds especially for the occasion of a reading, but I have found zero evidence so far that the ancient Hellenes did this as well. My gut instinct is to say that forcing an oracular message in this way would have been considered hubris, and was not practiced, but I have no evidence at all to back this statement up with.

So now for my--ever evolving!--system: I don't have a special spot, although I have found that a good view of the open sky is n absolute must. An area away from the city helps, as you move away from domestic birds only. I live near a heath and there is a hill overlooking a large clearing; I tend to sit there. To divine, I raise my hands to the sky, pour a libation, and ask Apollon, Zeus, 'or other Theoi willing to grand me an answer' to send an omen. Then I sit and wait. I have found that you will know in your gut when it's time to pack up and leave; sometimes, there is no omen coming. I focus on one portion of the sky, and divide it into as many possible outcomes as there are; if it's a yes or no question (my favorite for this method of divination), I put 'yes' on the right, and 'no' to the left. If an answer has three or more choices, I divide the field into that many possibilities, not so much in a grid-like fashion, but like a pizza (see below on why). This happens, for example, with questions where waiting, acting now towards the goal, or abandoning the pursuit are all options.

I tend to just go by feel on which bird is the one to interpret, but as a general guideline, I go with the one who does not cross the boundary into the other section before leaving my field of vision. This is why I don't use a grid; the bird would have to fly through some of the other sections to get to their desired quadrant, mucking up the reading. If I know what type of bird eventually grants me a reading, I take that into account, going with what I know of the bird, or can later look up. I also look at what it does. If it just sails pleasantly through the 'yes' section, I know it's going to be an easy endeavor, if it fumbles through the same sector, swerving and diving, I know it's going to be a bumpy ride, but it will end positively.

Important to note is that I always keep my ears open; sometimes I will look away to a sound on the ground and find my answer there; a hare running through the sectors, or driven into a hole by a shadow overhead; these signs are just as important to me as the birds up high.

I'm not terribly good at ornithomancy yet, and at least half of the time, there is no omen at all, or I have missed it. What I have divined is usually true, though, although I realize looking back on them that I missed details I should have interpreted. Tarot, for me, is a much easier and less time consuming endeavor, but it's one absolutely foreign to the ancient Hellenes, so I would rather work on my skills as a bird interpreter for the rare instances where I require divination. If you have any tips or tricks, I welcome them; until then, I'll just keep my eye on the sky.

Image source: Swallow
Growing up, my mother taught me a good few valuable lessons, but the one that has undoubtedly kept me out of trouble most was leaning to keep my mouth shut if I didn't have anything positive to contribute to the discussion. If all you're doing is pushing air and adding venom, then it's best to just remain silent. So, now I sit unraveling discussions out, I try not to take things personal, and when I contribute to any discussion, it is with respect to the other person, their opinion, and myself.

What I like most about our commandment-like scriptures--most notably the Delphic Maxims and the Tenets of Solon--is that they make sense. Following them helps you be a better person; to practice Arête, and you don't really need to study them at all to follow them. Most--if not all--made complete sense in the ancient Hellenic culture, and as our modern culture is inspired hugely by ancient Hellas, they are often still engrained within our own; if you're lucky, you are taught them at home, or in school, like to keep your mouth shut if you don't have something positive to add.

Almost all of the Delphic Maxims fit into the Tenets of Solon in some way. Take my example of keeping your mouth shut; it's the modern stating of the ancient maxim 'Restrain the tongue' (Γλωτταν ισχε). This maxim, along with  few other (most notably 'Control yourself' (Αρχε σεαυτου), 'Control anger' (Θυμου κρατει), 'Pursue honor' (Δοξαν διωκε), 'Long for wisdom' (Σοφιαν ζηλου), 'Exercise nobility of character' (Ευγενειαν ασκει), and 'Make just judgements' (Κρινε δικαια)) make up Solon's tenet of 'Make reason your guide'--or what I like to remember as the modern 'Think before you act'.

I am not an authority on ancient Hellenic philosophy, by far, but I do want to mention Plato and his student Aristotle for a moment, as we are discussing common sense. I love the English term 'common sense'. The Dutch equivalent means 'logical thought', and does not quite pack the same punch. Common sense implies that what is morally and ethically right or wrong is understood by the community which the individual is a part of; as such, actions are culturally understood to be either right or wrong. Plato believed in a Good that did not chance according to circumstances and individual folly (paraphrasing here, there is far more nuance in his actual writings). As such, the Platonic ideal is autarkia (αὐτάρκεια)--self-control and self-sufficiency--which would only be possible if we assume that our lives are under the sway of the idea of the Good that would be universal and therefore unchanged by any external circumstance.

Aristotle disagreed, saying that ethical deliberations and choices are always determined by the particular situation that we are in, where the right course of action can never be determined in advance. If human action were governed by rules--laws, maxims, tenets--then we would never have to deliberate about our actions, because it would always be clear and transparent what the correct action is. We would simply have to learn these rules in advance to be sure that we would not make the incorrect and unethical decision.

Taking an example from my more eclectic Pagan days: are you allowed to defend yourself against the burglar who enters your home and threatens to kill your family, even if it means killing him? This is why we have addendums to our laws; murder is forbidden, but if self-defense can be argued, you might walk away without (external) punishment.

The maxims and tents are guidelines, and if regarded as such, Plato's ideals of Good and autarkia are valuable, because just looking at the list of Delphic maxims, it is easy to envision these ideals were shared throughout the whole of Hellas. They even resonate well with modern society. Yet, as Aristotle points out, using maxims and tenets as laws is futile; there will always be situations where any of these guidelines will lead to an evil action, or one with great cost to the individual and those around him. Moderation is in order, therefore, and it so happens to be that that is one of the most important and well known Delphic Maxims: Nothing to excess (Μηδεν αγαν)
The Nichols Museum in Sydney currently has an exposition of Lego brick wonder going on. The Nichols Museum (paraphrased from their website) is home to the largest collection of antiquities in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere. The museum was founded in 1860 by Sir Charles Nicholson, and is Australia's oldest University museum. As part of their current exhibitions, they are featuring a reproduction of the Acropolis in Legos, both as it was in the fifth century BC and as it is today as one of Greece's most popular tourist attractions. It was created by 'the Brickman' himself, Ryan McNaught, and will be on display until 2014.

I loved Legos as a kid, and still have a few cardboard boxes of the stuff on my attic for any future children I might have. I made some pretty amazing stuff with my Legos, but nothing as awesome as this, I assure you. Taking to the internet, I went on the hunt for more Hellenic-inspired Lego work and I sure found some amazing odds and ends! Enjoy the Lego wonder!

Acropolis at Nikaia Antipolis - by  Krazy Kastle Krak Guy
(seriously, click that link, the details!)
Bonus Lego creation:
I have already written quite a lot about the Hellenic hero Hēraklēs, whose name was later Romanized as 'Hercules'. In fact, I am writing a continuing series about his labours. That said, this post will not be just about him, because there were others associated with the myth, despite the name.

The name of the constellation in ancient Hellas was Ἐγγόνασιν, The Kneeler, or On His Knees. That said, the ancient Hllenes already associated the myth with the hero Hēraklēs. Hyginus, for example, in his 'Atronomica' describes:

"Eratosthenes says he is Hercules, placed above the dragon we have already mentioned, and prepared to fight, with his left hand holding his lion skin, and his right the club. He is trying to kill the dragon of the Hesperides, which, it is thought, never was overcome by sleep or closed its eyes, thus offering more proof it was placed there as a guard. Panyassis in the Heraclea says of the sign that Jupiter, in admiration of their struggle, placed it among the stars; for the dragon has its head erect, and Hercules, resting on his right knee, tires to crush the right side of its head with his left foot. His right hand is up and striking, his left extended with the lion skin, and he appears to be fighting with all his strength.

Aeschylus, in the play entitled Prometheus lyomenos, says that he is Hercules, fighting not with the dragon, but with the Ligurians. For he says that at the time Hercules was driving away the cattle of Geryon, he journeyed through the territory of the Ligurians. They joined forces in trying to take the herd from him, and pierced many of the beasts with arrows. But after Hercules’ weapons failed, worn out by the number of the barbarians and lack of arms, he fell to his knees, already suffering from many wounds. Jove, however, out of pity for his son, provided that there should be a great supply of stones around him. With these Hercules defended himself and put the enemy to flight. And so Jove [Zeus] put [t]he image of his fighting form among the constellations." [II.6]

Yet, Hyginus also mentions other possibilities and other noteworthy people who have an opinion on the matter; Araethus, for example, who calls this figure Ceteus, son of Lycaon, and father of Megisto:

"He seems to be lamenting the change of his daughter to bear form, kneeling on one knee, and holding up outstretched hands to heaven, asking for the gods to restore her to him." [II.2]

For those who these names are unfamiliar, Megisto is in some writers another form for Kallistô, the mother of Arcas, who is also called Themisto. I have discussed the happenings with this family before, for the constellation Boötes, but will recap for the unity of this post. Arcas (Ἀρκάς), son of Zeus and Kallistô (Καλλιστω). After Arcas was born, Hera caught wind of the affair and turned Kallistô into a bear. Alternatively, Kallistô was a priestess of Artemis, and Artemis punished her for losing her virginity by turning her into a bear. Because of the metamorphosis, the boy was raised by his maternal grandfather Lycaon, who would later kill and serve up his grandson to the Theoi as dinner, for which he was turned into a (were)wolf. When Arcas grew up, he went out to hunt and found a beautiful bear. He chased her through the woods. The bear--his transformed mother Kallistô--ran towards him as soon as she recognized her son. Arcas was terrified and raised his bow to shoot her. Zeus intervened swiftly and placed Kallistô and her son in the sky. Kallistô became Ursa Major and Arcas either Ursa Minor or Boötes.

Hyginus goes on to quote Hegesianax, who says that:

"...he is Theseus, who seems to be lifting the stone at Troezene. Aegeus is thought to have put [corrupt] and a sword under it, and warned Aethra, the mother, not to send him to Athens until he could lift the stone by his own strength and bring the sword to his father. And so he seems to try to lift the stone as high as he can. In this connection, too, some have said that the Lyre, placed nearest this sign, is the lyre of Theseus, for he was skillful in all the arts and seems to have learned the lyre as well. This, too, Anacreon says: Near Theseus, son of Aegeus, is the Lyre." [II.6]

Theseus was fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, whom had both slept with his mother Aethra, and was thus destined to become a hero. In order to claim his rightful place as ruler over Athens, he had to uncover his father's sandals and sword from under a stone in his mother's birth land where Theseus grew up, and bring it to his mortal father. Theseus lifting the stone at Troezene would have been his first heroic act, and thus worthy of immortalization in the stars.

Hyginus offers a few more options:

"Others call him Thamyris, blinded by the Muses, kneeling as a suppliant; others, Orpheus, killed by the Thacian women because he looked on the rites of Father Liber. Again, some have said that he is Ixion with his arms bound, because he tried to attack Juno. Others say he is Prometheus, bound on Mt. Caucasus." [II.6]
I have written about the affairs with Ixion and Prometheus, so for reference, please visit those posts. I have also written about Orpheus, but with a different constellation: Cygnus: the swan. In it I describe how Orpheus wanders the world after loosing his wife for good, and stumbles upon revelers who rip him apart. His lyre is placed into the sky and Plato describes that Orpheus is turned into the constellation Cygnus because he does not want to be reincarnated as a woman, a risk he would run if he stayed in human form. It seems others thought he was put into the sky as a man regardless, and near his lyre at that.

Thamyris  (Θάμυρις) is new to this blog. He was the son of Philammon and the nymph Argiope, and a Thracian singer who was so proud of his skill that he boasted he could outsing the Muses. He competed against them and lost. As punishment for his presumption they blinded him, and took away his ability to make poetry and to play the lyre. Hómēros outlines the tale in the Iliad:

"From Pylos, and lovely Arene; from the ford of the Alpheius at Thryum, from well-built Aepy, from Cyparisseis, and Amphigeneia, Pteleos, Helos, and Dorium, where Thamyris the Thracian met the Muses, as he came from Eurytus’ house in Oechalia, and they put an end to all his singing: he who had boasted he would win his contest with those aegis-bearing daughters of Zeus, they blinding him in anger, robbing him of his sweet gift of song, so he forgot the cunning of his harp; in their fleet of ninety hollow ships the warriors came, led by Nestor the Gerenian charioteer." [II: 581-644]

It seems there is great variety in the interpretation of the person the constellation depicts, but whomever it is, they are visible at latitudes between +90° and −50°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of July.
The temple complex at Eleusis was one of the most elaborate and widely used sanctuaries around in ancient Hellas. It was the home of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and thus served as the cult's sanctuary. Like many--if not all--ancient monuments, the ancient temple site of Eleusis has not withstood the test of time and humanity particularly well; foundations remain, but much of the grand complex is completely gone.

Remains of the Telesterion

One of Eleusis' grand features was a large hall, capable of housing thousands by the 5th century BC. The hall, known as the Telesterion served as the key hall for the Mysteries; here the initiates were shown a reenactment of the events that led to the founding of the Eleusinian Mysteries in the form of an elaborate dance, and they were shown the sacred relics. Anything that hppened at the Telesterion was considered especially secret, and the punishment for revealing what went on in the hall was death.

The Telesterion was destroyed by the Persians after the Battle of Thermopylae, and was rebuilt some time later by Pericles. In AD 170, during the rule of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, if was destroyed again by an ancient tribe called the Costoboci, who launched an invasion of Roman territory south of the Danube. Marcus Aurelius had the Telesterion rebuilt. In AD 396, the forces of Alaric the Visigoth invaded the Eastern Roman Empire and ravaged Attica, destroying the Telesterion, after which it was never rebuilt.

Now, the Archaeology News network reports, an agreement of cultural development has been signed between the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports and the Region of Attica. With a budget of €100,000,-, the Telesterion is getting an overhaul. The following restorations and initiatives are reported:
  • topographic and architectural mapping
  • full documentation of the current state of the monument
  • archaeological-architectural documentation
  • submission of proposals about its protection and the enhancement of the Telesterion area.
  • 200 scattered architectural members will be moved during the second and third month of the project, while part of them will be documented and photographed.
  • rescue interventions will be carried out on walls and figurines
  • rock samples will be collected from the rockmass
  • the damages of the monument will be recorded and evaluated to specify the type of necessary rescue interventions
It is quite a list, and it's not surprising that the project will take 24 months. It will be conducted by the 3rd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, who oversee all matters concerning the discovery, safeguard and protection of Hellenic heritage, their exposition in museums, the conservation, reconstruction, study and publication of the monuments as well as the administrative duty to assure the observance of the legislative decrees concerning the antiquities.
It seems that the debate about the role of Unverified Personal Gnosis in religion has once more entered the blogosphere. I support the discussion, and I want to add to it somewhat by providing a bit of a guide to proper UPG management today. Please note: this is my view on UPG, and your mileage may vary considerably.

I put a lot of stock in the Hellenic ancient sources, scattered as they may be, because while these were the accounts of one man or one woman, they were copied repeatedly, used in religious settings by many, and traveled the whole of Hellas. These weren't documents stuffed away in some guy's drawer that happened to be preserved for 2000 years; these were copied, copied, and copied again, and one of these many copies has survived to the present day (generalizing, of course). Luck of the draw. As such, we can assume that some of the documents (say, for example, the Orphic hymns) were read and repeated by many, and that is what makes them valuable. Hómēros was a best-seller of his time, and that is why we still have access to his writings. People must have identified with what they read, or they would not have read it and carried it on.

That said, I take no issue at all with UPG, and that is a sentiment I see reflected in the Hellenistic community quite a lot. What I have an issue with is people passing of UPG as fact. To me, it's wonderful that you have discovered Hermes likes libations of rum, and more power to you for giving it to Him. When you start insisting that I need to give rum libations to Hermes, we have an issue, because I will always take the 'opinion' of the ancient writers over the opinion of a modern practitioner. That is why I am on a Recon path. If I were on a non-Recon path, I might run off to the nearest liquor store in search of rum.

It's not a matter of who is right, or who does it 'better', it's simply that Recon means following the ways of the ancients as much as possible, and even if no one in ancient Hellas would have agreed with the ancient writer whose work has survived to this day, it is still a description of one ancient person's practice--and for me, ancient trumps modern every single time. So that is why at least the Hellenistic community will always ask for sources when you make a statement; they need to be able to differentiate between ancient and modern--not to instantly dismiss the latter, but to make a well-informed decision if they should or should not.

Ideally the term 'Unverified Personal Gnosis' is used to label one's own experience as a new and untested hypothesis, although further verification from other practitioners or ancient sources may lead to a certain degree of verifiability. Personally, I try to go from Unverified Personal Gnosis to Shared Personal Gnosis to Confirmed (Personal) Gnosis. This is why the Hellenistic community in general is open to the sharing of UPG--generalizing here--because others may have had the same experience (which lends credibility to the experience) or references to source material with which the UPG can be confirmed. There is a certain degree of science about it, when viewed like this, but it requires the receiver of the UPG to be open about his or her experiences and accept the fact that this hypothesis may be false, or at the very least unverifiable. If this is the case, using the UPG for your personal practice is fine, but doling it out as the Holy Word and Ultimate Truth will not get you far.

So, say you have received a piece of UPG, where 'UPG' here refers from anything like information gleamed during meditation to a hunch you have about a subject after coming across a throwaway line in scholarly work; how do you proceed?
  1. Consider your UPG as a hypothesis that can either be confirmed or disproven, or--if it makes you feel better--verifiable or unverifiable.
  2. Collect possible sources. Preferably, you go straight to scholarly work or primary sources for this, but heck, a Google search works wonders these days as a starting point. This is background reading.
  3. Begin reading in detail. Find information that explains, describes, analyzes, contrasts, or gives expert opinion and viewpoints on the subject. You are seeking to form your own judgment, based on what you read from your sources.
  4. Evaluate the sources you use. If it's Wikipedia, go to the sources used to write the page, if it's a blog or website, check their sources as well. Try to go back to primary, ancient, sources for everything; even (or should 'say 'especially'?) scholarly work becomes outdated.
  5. At this point there are a few options: either you have found evidence to support your UG, you have found evidence that discredits your UPG, or you haven't found anything at all. In the first case, you might end your research here: your UPG is now Confirmed (Personal) Gnosis. In all three cases, it is also possible to take it public.
  6. Share your UPG on (Hellenistic) forums, lists, Facebook groups, your thiasos, friends, or any other medium you are comfortable with and ask if others are familiar with this information (Shared Personal Gnosis), or if they can confirm it with ancient sources. Be open with it, and although it might sting a little, try to accept that others do not share this view, or have no sources to confirm (or disprove) your thesis. UPG can feel like your baby, but if you want to apply it outside of your household worship, it needs to be able to take a (research) hit.
  7. This is perhaps the most important one: if your UPG can't be confirmed, don’t let it get you down for long. The fact that our experience or hunch can't be confirmed now, does not men it can't be confirmed later. Even if it's disproven by modern scholarship, this could still change. Even if UPG turns out false, there is no reason not to apply it to your household worship: the experience is yours to do with as you please. If it is unconfirmed or disproven, however, please mention this when referencing it towards other Hellenists.
Our UPG is often very personal, and sometimes hard to share with others. I have a few of those experiences as well, and while I can confirm some of them with scholarly or primary sources, others, I find no mention of. If and when I mention these experiences on this blog, I always explain it is either UPG, my personal opinion, or a stab in the dark by yours truly. That way, you have a means to decide of the statement is relevant to you and your practice.

One more tip (and plea) for those reading and commenting on other people's UPG: you might not agree with it--in fact, you might vehemently disagree--but there are better ways to go about expressing this than an eye-roll and a snarky remark. Comment when you have something helpful to say--either in the affirmative or the negative--and please do so with a bit of tact and decorum. Who knows? That piece of UPG might end up shaping the Tradition.