When I was still an avid D&D player, my group tended to happen or seek out an oracle or diviner quite often. In one campaign, my character famously ended up leading the entire arty to its death because he didn't understand the oracular messages he was receiving in his dreams. No one was mad, though: that character was truly the worst character I ever played to send oracular messages to.

Oracles tend to be vague in some way: either you have a binary oracle, which gives you a 'yes' or 'no' answer but doesn't give you any details or nuance (i.e. "am I going to die?" "yes", but there is no way to discern when it is going to happen), or a conversational oracle like at Delphi, which tended to give a riddle for an answer--one that could be, and often was, misinterpreted.

A beautiful example of this is King Kroisos (Κροῖσος), the king of Lydia from 560 to 547 BC, who asked Apollon at Delphi if he should continue his campaign against the Persians. Apollon answered that, if he did attacked the Persians, "he would destroy a great empire". Kroisos figured this meant he would succeed while, in the end, it was his own that was destroyed.

Us D&D players learned early on that, if we wanted an answer we could use from the oracles we procured, we needed to be crystal clear in the way we asked our question. I'm fairly certain the ancient Hellenes would have realized this too: if there is no room for ambiguity in the question, a lot of hardship can be prevented, after all. If the oracular question is: "Who will be king?", the answer can be quite vague, indeed, but if the question is 'Give us the name of the man who will rule Athens as king after the king who now sits on the throne of Attica is no longer able to", there will be a lot less room for maneuvering. So why, in general, didn't the ancient Hellenes phrase their answers differently?

I, for one, think there are at least two primary reasons: one answer is that the ancient Hellenes might simply have liked riddles and riddling situations. The sage Kleoboulos (Κλεόβουλος) who lived around 600 BC collected more than 3,000 riddles. The most famous heroes of Hellenic myth excelled in solving riddles; Oedipus, for example, who cracked the riddle of the Sphinx. The ancient heroes also excelled in disguising one thing as another, which requires a shrewdness one must also possess to solve a riddle. Most famously, Odysseus did this with the wooden horse at Troy, and again in the cave of the Cyclops where he hid himself away and told the Cyclops his name was 'no one', so that when the Cyclops called out for aid, he could only say that no one was hurting him--and so his fellow Cyclops' did not come to his aid.

Many--if not all--myths are layered with meaning, challenging the reader or listener to go beyond the story to find valuable lessons on life and the Theoi. it seems the ancient Hellenes had a knack for encoding and decoding meaning, and might have enjoyed this so much, they did not want to take away from their oracular messages by forcing a 'yes' or 'no' answer.

A second answer may be that the ancient Hellenes considered riddles as oracular messages acceptable might be destiny. What shall come to pass, will come to pass if the Theoi so desire. The oracular message and the interpretation of the subject and those around him have a part to play in how events are about to unfold. If the subject is destined to 'change his destiny', he will understand the hidden meaning and act accordingly; if he isn't, he will fail to see beyond the hidden meaning and the events will come to pass, regardless. One of the best examples of this is Aegeus, who visited the oracle of Delphi to get an answer on how to beget a son. in the famous words of Apollodorus in his 'Library':

"After the death of Pandion his sons marched against Athens, expelled the Metionids, and divided the government in four; but Aegeus had the whole power. The first wife whom he married was Meta, daughter of Hoples, and the second was Chalciope, daughter of Rhexenor. As no child was born to him, he feared his brothers, and went to Pythia and consulted the oracle concerning the begetting of children. The god answered him:
'The bulging mouth of the wineskin, O best of men, loose not until thou hast reached the height of Athens.'
Not knowing what to make of the oracle, he set out on his return to Athens. And journeying by way of Troezen, he lodged with Pittheus, son of Pelops, who, understanding the oracle, made him drunk and caused him to lie with his daughter Aethra. But in the same night Poseidon also had connection with her. Now Aegeus charged Aethra that, if she gave birth to a male child, she should rear it, without telling whose it was; and he left a sword and sandals under a certain rock, saying that when the boy could roll away the rock and take them up, she was then to send him away with them."

For those who have no idea of the identity of the child: the child was the great hero Theseus, and the Gods seem to have decreed that Theseus should be born by Aethra, not Chalciope, and those who understood--and did not understand--the oracular message did so for a reason.

Riddles were and are important tools, and they make divination such a difficult--and dangerous--thing to do. When I track the movement of birds, or when I lay down tarot cards, I know that I am perceiving a riddle, not an answer. The answer is in there, somewhere, but never be fooled into thinking that what you see is all there is to see: it might be all you were meant to see, however.
In the last few days, I have come across a lot of questions about the lunisolar calendar of the ancient Hellenes, most often in relation to celebrating the solstices and equinoxes, like the ancient Celts used to do, or like modern Pagan practitioners do when celebrating the Wheel of the Year. I have spoken about the calendar before, both about the sacred Hellenic month (or the 'Mên kata Theion'), and the lunar calendar itself, as well as a post on how to read the lunar calendar in relation to the solar calendar--also known as the tropical one, named so after the Greek 'tropikos' meaning 'turning'. Especially the latter one contains a summary of the coming post, so you can always go back to that one for the TL;DR version. Today, I will be looking at one question: how did the ancient Hellenes fit the lunar calendar into the solar calendar?

To answer this question, we must first look at why the ancient Hellenic calendar was 'lunisolar', meaning based on both the Sun and the Moon. From the civic calendar which has synodic months ('synodic' meaning lunar, from the ancient Greek 'σὺν ὁδῴ', or 'sun hodō', meaning 'with the way [of the Sun]'), we know that the basic calendar was lunar. There is an issue with the lunar calendar, however: The Moon revolves around the Earth faster than the Earth revolves around the Sun. In the time it takes the Earth to circle the sun once, the Moon has circled the Earth 12.36827 times (so between 12 and 13 times). The fact that the two do not match up completely means that the tropical year is 365.25 days, and the lunar year (based on twelve cycles of the 29.53 day synodic month) is 354.36 days. As such, the ancient Hellenes would have 'lost' 10.89 days every tropical year.

The festival year is based upon the lunar calendar. If 10.89 days are lost every tropical year, it will only take a few years for the festival calendar to lag behind the tropical year in such a way that harvest festivals would be celebrated while the seeds are just going into the ground. To prevent this from happening, the ancient Hellenes devised a schedule where an extra month was inserted every few years. We will get to the calculations of that in a little bit. This extra month allowed the lunar calendar to be 'reset' in such a way that the festivals always roughly matched the events they were celebrating. To do this, the ancient Hellenes looked to the Sun, and marked four points in the year where the lunar calendar had to match up roughly with our cycle around it: the solstices and equinoxes.

A solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year (around 21 June and 21 December) as the Sun reaches its highest or lowest excursion relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere. An equinox occurs twice a year as well (around 20 March and 22 September), when the plane of the Earth's equator passes the center of the Sun. At this time the tilt of the Earth's axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun. In essence, during an equinox, the period of time the sun is down (night time) and the sun is up (daytime) is roughly the same. The ancient Hellenes observed these four points in the year, and because of that, the ancient Hellenic calendar is partly solar: the solstices and equinoxes are anchor points for the otherwise lunar calendar.

Depending on the city-state, one of these four points was picked for the start of the new year. Athens and Delphi had the summer solstice, Boeotia had the winter solstice, and Milet started out with the autumnal equinox, but moved the new year to the spring equinox around the end of the 4th century BC. This anchor point was the most important; the rest were used to check the accuracy of the calculations.

I addressed the extra month that was inserted to match up the lunar calendar with the tropical one a few paragraphs back. In general--at least from what little evidence survives--we can tell that the extra month was usually inserted roughly half way throughout the year. In Athens, for example, it was usually the month of Poseideon that was repeated. The month became known as 'Second Poseideon', and would have most likely repeated the Mên kata Theion, but not the festivals of Poseideon.

In classical Hellas, an eight-year cycle called ‘oktaeteris’ was known. History seems to indicate that this calendar started off at 776 BC, at the start of the Olympic Games. It approximated the length of the tropical year with (365.25 days) and the lunar year (i.e. 12 synodic months = 354.36 days) with each other by multiplying both by eight. The tropical cycle then had 2922 days, the lunar cycle 2832. The difference between those two lengths is a well-measured 90 days, or three 30-day lunar months. So in a period of eight years, a 30-day month would have to be intercalated three times to reconcile the lengths of lunar and tropical year. In general, this was done in the third, the fifth, and the eighth year of the cycle. Doing this would lead to a calendar of 2923.5 days, or 99 synodic months. Later, the ancient Hellenes measured the oktaeteris as two four-year periods, one of 49 months and one of 50 months, and they called these four year periods 'Olympiads', to accommodate the cycle of the Panhellenic Games.

The Olympic Games were a moveable festival which combines the lunar and solar calendars. The date for celebrating the Olympics was determined as the eighth full Moon following the first full Moon after the winter solstice, as Elis--the city-state where the Olympic Games were hosted--started the year with the winter solstice. The calculation is as follows: start with the first full moon after the winter solstice, then count forward eight more full moons. With this calculation, the first Olympics occurred in (what is now called) August, 776 BC. From this date, count 49 more full moons to July, 772 BC, for the next Olympics, and then count 50 more full moons to July, 768 BC for the third Olympics. This completes the cycle of 2923.5 days, or 99 synodic months every eight tropical years.

By the 5th century BC, the ancient Hellenes realized that 99 lunar months was not a totally accurate equivalent of eight solar years, and that a longer cycle of 19 years would work even better because it was nearly equal to 235 lunar cycles. 19 years x 365.25 days = 6939.75 days, and 235 synodic months x 29.53 days = 6939.55 days. This more precise cycle is attributed to Hellenic astronomer, mathematician and engineer Meton (Μέτων). Meton's cycle assumes 19 tropical years to have 6940 days, as well as 235 synodic months. Seven years of the 19-year cycle would have to have 13 months, the other years 12 months. Where the eighth year cycle ended up off by two days at the end, the cycle of Meton was only off by about half an hour at the end. It was still not completely accurate, though, so Hellenic astronomer and mathematician Kallipos (Κάλλιπος) multiplied the Metonic cycle by four and removed one day so that 76 years had 27759 days. His calculations led him to a cycle that matched up so well, there was only a 22 second difference in favor of the tropical calendar. Interestingly, these new cycles never seemed to have been used for the civil calendars in ancient Hellas, perhaps because they took a boatload of calculations, and were not easy to fit into the now established four-year cycle of the Panhellenic Games.

This concludes the math session for today. Hopefully, this post has cleared up some of the confusion about the importance of solstices and equinoxes. In short: they mattered a great deal for the festival calendar, but they were not celebrated as festivals themselves. All they did was help anchor the lunar calendar to the solar one; an important feat, but not a religious one. Understanding the calendar of the ancient Hellenes matters; it helps bring perspective on the seasonal cycles the ancient Hellenes observed, and helps you realize how in tune with nature they actually lived while always striving to push their society forward by trying to comprehend and work with the natural cycles. They did not take them for granted: they considered how the world worked, and their understanding of the way the Moon revolves around the Earth and the way the Earth revolves around the Sun is a prime example of that.
Seven months ago, I wrote a blog post about ancient Hellenic hairstyles. As part of that post, I shared my personal choice in how I wear my hair, and why. In short: I always wear my hair tied up in some way, unless I am home alone with my partner. I am also growing my hair out. I veil during major religious rites, but only as a form of decoration for my hair. I don't veil outside the house, and rarely do it for my daily household worship, unless the mood strikes me. While I addressed this in part in that blog post, the seven months that followed have brought some more clarity to the practice and when I was asked to explain why I bind my hair last night, I figured I would share the message with you.

Me in preparation for the Elaion PAT ritual for the Kourotrophos on 23 August:
hair tied up, veiled and wreathed.
When I started out in Hellenism, I used to pin up my hair solely for ritual, as wearing the hair down was considered either a part of funerary rites in ancient Hellas, or as part of a rite to the Underworld deities, at last for women. In the Eleusinian Mysteries, unbound female hair was miasmic, and the practice carried on outside of the walls of Eleusis as well. My current practice was largely fueled by these practices and wearing my hair bound almost full time to avoid miasma was logical for me. Whenever I am outside of the house, or inside the house with anyone other than my significant other, I keep my hair bound, and usually up. This is a religious thing, but not so much a devotional thing.
As a Hellenist, I draw a lot of inspiration from ancient Athens (as the most evidence of Hellenic life survived in that city), where no one outside of close family members and female serfs would ever see a woman's hair undone. Arguably the only male who ever saw the hair of an adult woman undone was her husband. I find a lot of beauty in this. My girlfriend is not religious, but we have talked about this practice of modesty so she is the only one who sees my hair loose, and we both find it adds something special to our relationship. Not only is part of me reserved just for her, for me personally, it is a way to show that I am solely hers. We are now at a point where my girlfriend sometimes offers tips on how to do my hair or does it for me, and I can see in her that seeing me with my hair undone is starting to be a noticeable event in our household.
Seven months ago, I was at a point where I got highly uncomfortable when caught with my hair undone by someone who was not supposed to see me like that. Now I am at a point where I actively make sure this never happens. Binding my hair--even sloppily--is one of the first things I do in the day, and there are 'emergency' hair ties everywhere around the house. As we live in an apartment building with a shared hall-space, housemates can simply knock on the door. We always call them in with a shout. My girlfriend now looks at me first to see if I still need a second to grab an emergency hair tie, or if my hair was already done up.
Having progressed into Hellenismos well over a year ago, a lot has changed for me, and by extension, for my girlfriend. I wrote before that, when I still practiced Eclectic Religious Witchcraft, it was easier to live around my religious practice. I never did my rituals when she was around, and I didn't have a very strict daily practice. It was an issue she could turn a blind eye to. 

My progression into Hellenismos has made turning a blind eye pretty much impossible. I have a strong daily practice, I read, research and write a lot about it, and I have most certainly changed since I started practicing. Letting go of many conventions from my Witchcraft days has freed me from a lot of shackles I was unaware I was opposing at the time. The transition has been fluid for me, but my girlfriend in an incurable theist, and she worries for me a lot. She worries that I am spending too much time on a construct--if you will--that does not exist. From her point of view, what I do must be nuts.
We have been more open to each other about this lately, with a couple of long talk--sometimes difficult ones--where we have managed to find some common ground to continue on from. I doubt she will ever fully understand my religious practices, but she is making her peace with it because she can see how much peace and joy my religion is giving me, and how I am letting go of so many struggles because of the clarity it brings me. It's good for me, and for that reason alone, she will support it.
The way I wear my hair--partly for her, partly for the Gods, in equal measure--has so far acted as a bridge. It helps her find beauty in something she inwardly opposes (i.e. religion), and it helps me show her that the household, the Theoi by extension, and she are the things in my life that matter most to me. Binding my hair has been acting like a glue lately, to show my girlfriend where she fits in with this dramatic change of devotional focus in my life. Binding my hair has helped us get closer, and that is very special to me. It's why I continue it when my scalp itches, when I am having a crappy day and do not want to bother with my hair, when I frantically look around for a hair tie when the doorbell rings. Binding my hair brings the two most important things in my life together, and I will not give that up.
Remember when I wrote about how construction workers in Thessaloniki happened upon a very well preserved 70-meter section of a Roman marble-paved road while building an underground train station? Do you also remember how the entire project was turned upside down to preserve the road? Yeah, not so much in Libya.

An excavator at work in late July [Credit: Areej Khattab]
Several reports have come in that local residents of the area surrounding the Kyrene necropolis recently destroyed part of the necropolis, an ancient Greek city in north-eastern Libya, to make way for houses and shops. Kyrene (Κυρήνη) dates back to about 700 BC and was the oldest and largest Greek colony in eastern Libya, a region now known as 'Cyrenaica'. Only the nearly ten square meter necropolis remains of the ancient city of Kyrene. The necropolis was in use between 600 and 400 BC, and includes 1,200 burial vaults dug into the bedrock and thousands of individual sarcophagi that lie on the ground. Kyrene was named UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.
Local whistleblower Ahmed Hussein, an archaeology professor at Bayda University in eastern Libya, has taken it upon himself to make the world aware about what is happening to the ancient site. In his own words:
"I have been trying everything to stop this disaster. I appealed, in vain, to the archaeological authorities as well as the local authorities. I contacted one of the brigades in charge of the city’s security, who informed me that they could intervene only if the authorities made an official request, but they haven’t made the slightest move to get involved… I even called the Culture Minister on his mobile phone. I left a message but I haven’t heard anything yet."

Ahmed Hussein inspecting tombs destroyed in July 2013 [Credit: Areej Khattab]
Hussein explains what is already lost, and what the local residents plan to do with the ground they have now claimed:
"About 200 vaults and tombs were destroyed, as well as a section of a viaduct that dates back to approximately 200 A.D. Ancient artifacts were thrown into a nearby river as if they were mere rubbish. They plan on selling the land in parcels of 500 square meters to real estate developers and private individuals. The latter will be able to build homes and shops. Since these tracts of land are sold without any official documents, they go for very cheap prices, such as 15,000 dinars [about 8,900 euros] per tract. However, it is well known that 500 square meter tracts in this area are valued at about 100,000 dinars [about 59,000 euros], at least when they are sold legally."
It appears that, in Libya, customs and practices tend to carry more weight than the written law. Custom say that this land traditionally belongs to families who live in nearby farms. There are no official documents to support the claim, yet their claims are not contested by the government. As such, the authorities have yet to respond to the destructions, or word of local building plans.
500 square meter tracts marked off in order to sell them [Credit: Areej Khattab]
Obviously, this is a great loss. According to myth, the nymph-huntress Kyrene (Κυρηνη) was spotted by Apollon while wrestling with and subsequently strangling a lion in the jungle. He immediately fell in love with the courageous heroin and seized the girl before carrying her off to the Hill of Myrtles (Myrtoessa) in Libyan North Africa where the Hellenes later founded the colony of Kyrene in her honor. The area itself seems to have been occupied already or prior to the arrival of the settlers, as even older archeological finds under the Classical buildings indicate. The archeological remnants by these civilizations is also threatened by the current destruction.
The city of Kyrene rose to greatness over the export of the Silphium plant, or silphion, a member of the giant fennel family], which once grew only in Kyrene. Classical physicians and herbalists recommended the plant as both contraceptive and abortive, as well as a remedy for coughs. The plant was heavily cultivated and became more valuable than its weight in silver. The plant went extinct by the second century AD, which meant a great loss of income for the city. Cut into a cliff faces overlooking the Green Mountain plateau and all around Kyrene are thousands of tombs and individual sarcophagi that were built and used from the 6th century BC onwards, first by the Hellenes, then added to by the Romans and Byzantines up to the 6th century AD. Some of the tombs still contain traces of their distinctive Hellenistic facades. The Necropolis of Kyrene was one of the most extensive cemeteries in the ancient world, and part of it is now lost.
There is no word yet about what is to be done now to see to it the necropolis is not further destroyed, and there is no word on punishing the perpetrators. With Libya's current regulations and unrest, I am sure the preservation of the necropolis is low on the agenda nationally--but perhaps internationally, some pressure can be put on the Libyan government. The site is, after all, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. For now, all we can do is spread the word. I will keep you updated on further developments.

Hello, there isn't a real post today--please come back tomorrow for one of those. You are welcome to skip this post, but I need to have a major nerd freak-out, because since August 21, I have my own tag on The Wild Hunt!

The Wild Hunt--for those unfamiliar with it--is, in their own words:

"[a] primary destination for those interested in following news relating and of interest to modern Pagan religions and other minority faiths. Founded by Jason Pitzl-Waters in 2004, The Wild Hunt has grown to become one of the most-visited and popular destinations exploring these topics. Recruited to Patheos.com in the Summer of 2011, The Wild Hunt decided to exist as an independent entity once more in the Summer of 2012. In addition, The Wild Hunt has now expanded into a media outlet with paid contributors and two paid staff members."

I have followed The Wild Hunt for years, and got to know the voices of many Pagan authorities through their articles. It's one of those websites I visit once a week to read up, and when I did so yesterday evening, I came across this article, a 'Pagan Voices'-segment which quotes people in the Pagan community when they have something interesting to say about Paganism... and near the end, there is me, with my post on Facebook's then unwillingness to stand with its Pagan users. Please excuse me while I have a huge, nerdy, freak-out moment.

Okay, so, this isn't an ego-thing (well, maybe a little, but it's not mainly an ego thing). What this is, is a huge nerd thing, in the best sense of the words. This is finding your words wedged in between those of P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, whom I greatly respect, and HecateDemeter, whose blog I have been reading for years. Also, I have a tag on The Wild Hunt! I greatly dislike what Blogger does with the font when I use italics, but the moment warrants italics. This is me, Dutch girl me, on The Wild Hunt! That's like... camping outside the game store to pick up one of the first copies of Mass Effect 3, or visiting ComicCon. To me, that is that level of epic, glorious, nerdy, win. Why? No clue, but my day is made! Thank you, Jason, you have made me a very happy woman.
On the 20th of Metageitnon, the Attic demos of Erchia held a small sacrifice to Hera. The epithet described in the surviving material is listed as 'Thelkhinia' (Oελχινια), but it is the only mention made of that epithet anywhere--it also doesn't mean anything in the ancient Greek tongue. Most likely is that there was a spelling error, and the 'h' needs to be removed, leaving the more commonly used epithet 'Telkhinia' (Τελχινια). If this is the case, the epithet most likely refers to a place title: 'Of Telkhinia', located in Cyprus. Pausanias describes this epithet (and a temple to this epithet) for Athena in Boiotia. The description is from his 'Description of Greece':

"In Teumessos [in Boiotia] there is also a sanctuary of Athena Telkhinia, which contains no image. As to her surname, we may hazard the conjecture that a division of the Telkhinians who once dwelt in Kypros came to Boiotia and established a sanctuary of Athena Telkhinia (of Telkhinia)." [9. 19. 1]

Diodorus Siculus, in his 'Library of History', however, gives an extended account of the cult title--in this case it does not refer solely to Telkhinia, but to four mysterious magician-smiths and/or sea daimones native to the islands of Keos and Rhodes. There are others who describe these smiths as well, and they all describe them as excellently skilled, but that is where the similarities end. To some ancient writers, they are cultivators of the soil and ministers of the God, to others, sorcerers and envious daimones, and to others again, skilled artisans. Diodoros subscribes to the latter theory, and he makes mention of Hera Telkhinia:

"The island which is called Rhodes was first inhabited by the people who were known as Telkhines (Telchines); these were children of Thalatta (the Sea), as the mythic tradition tells us, and the myth relates that they, together with Kapheira (Capheira), the daughter of Okeanos (Oceanus), nurtured Poseidon, whom Rhea had committed as a babe to their care. And we are told that they were the discoverers of certain arts and that they introduced other things which are useful for the life of mankind. They were also the first, men say, to fashion statues of the gods, and some of the ancient images of gods have been named after them; so, for example, among the Lindians there is an ‘Apollon Telkhinios’, as it is called, among the Ialysians a Hera and Nymphai (Nymphs), both called ‘Telkhinian’ and among the Kameirans a ‘Hera Telkhinia’. And men say that the Telkhines were also wizards and could summon clouds and rain and hail at their will and likewise could even bring snow; these things, the accounts tell us, they could do even as could the Magi of Persia; and they could also change their natural shapes and were jealous of teaching their arts to others. Poseidon, the myth continues, when he had grown to manhood, became enamoured of Halia (Brine), the sister of the Telkhines, and lying with her he begat six male children and one daughter, called Rhodos, after whom the island was named. [...] At a later time, the myth continues, the Telkhines, perceiving in advance the flood that was going to come [Deukalion's flood], forsook the island and were scattered. Of their number Lykos (Lycus) went to Lykia (Lycia) and dedicated there beside the Xanthos River a temple of Apollon Lykios (Lycius). And when the flood came the rest of the inhabitants perished,--and since the waters, because of the abundant rains, overflowed the island." [5. 55. 1]

All we know for sure is that at Erchia, the sacrifice was of an all-black, female, lamb that cost seven drachmas. The sacrifice was not a holókaustos, so the festival goers would have shared in the little meat the animal possessed. the cut for the Gods was not to be removed from the altar. Female victims were reserved for female Gods; all-black victims usually to khthonic deities. If that was the case, the belief could have been that thy were appeasing envious daimones rather than artisans. In this much later (5th century A.D.) account by Nonnus, in his 'Dionysiaca', the Telkhines are described as such:

"[When Rheia summoned gods to join Dionysos in his war against the Indians:] The spiteful Telkhines (Telchines) also came also to the Indian War, gathering out of the cavernous deeps of the sea. Lykos (Lycus) came, shaking with his long arm a very long spear; Skelmis (Scelmis) came, following Damnameneus, guiding the seachariot of his father Poseidon. These were wanderers who had left Tlepolemos's land [Rhodes] and taken to the sea, furious Daimones of the waters, who long ago had been cut off from their father's land [of Rhodes] by Thrinax with Makareus (Macareus) and glorious Auges sons of Helios (the Sun); driven from their nursing-mother they took up the water of Styx with their spiteful hands, and made barren the soil of fruitful Rhodes, by drenching the fields with water of Tartaros." [14. 36]

There is no mention of a daylight or nighttime sacrifice, but due to the lack of a holókaustos, I assume it would have been a daytime offering. The records make no note of a wineless sacrifice, so wine was most likely involved. There is much unknown about tomorrow's sacrifice, but perhaps this will give you an idea, regardless, to whom you are sacrificing.
The last I wrote of Hēraklēs, our hero had successfully navigated Eurystheus' scheme of getting him killed by help of Artemis. Hēraklēs completed another labour, made Artemis happy, and saved the day. All was well in the world of Hēraklēs. At this point, Hēraklēs is aware he still has eight labours ahead of him: he completed three successfully, but the labour with the Lernaean Hydra was disqualified because he had accepted the help of his nephew and lover Iolaus. It was most certainly an unfair ruling, but nothing can be done about it: Hēraklēs must continue with his quest in hopes of cleansing himself of his crime.

The fourth labour is to capture the Erymanthian Boar, which got his name from the mountainside and swamp it roamed on. It seems Eurystheus realized that capturing something can be a lot more deadly than killing something, especially when that something is bigger and badder than any of its peers. That said, Hyginus in his Fabulae describes that the task was not to capture the boar, but to kill it, which Hēraklēs accomplished. As far as I am aware, though, he is the only one. Pausanias mentions the boar in his 'Description of Greece', saying:

"There is also a legend that Heracles at the command of Eurystheus hunted by the side of the Erymanthus a boar that surpassed all others in size and in strength. The people of Cumae among the Opici say that the boar's tusks dedicated in their sanctuary of Apollo are those of the Erymanthian boar, but the saying is altogether improbable." [8.24.5]

All who write about the labour agree that it is a difficult one. A boar is a ferocious animal, and even modern day hunters take care when hunting boar. Diodorus explains why this labour might have been the hardest so far:

"This Command was thought to be exceedingly difficult, since it required of the man who fought such a beast that he possess such a superiority over it as to catch precisely the proper moment in the very heat of the encounter. For should he let it loose while it still retained its strength he would be in danger from its rushes, and should he attack it more violently than was proper, then he would have killed it and so the Labour would remain unfulfilled." [4.12.1]

This labour became even harder to complete for Hēraklēs when he met the kéntauroi (or 'centaurs') on his way to the boar. Our hero went the long way to visit Phontus, a kéntaur who dwelt in a cave on Mount Pholoe, who was the son of Seilenus and the nymph Melia. Having heard of Hēraklēs, Phontus entertained him in his cave, and provided him with food. Hēraklēs, thirsty from the savory meat dish, asked for wine, but Phontus said he only had the wine that was communal to all the kéntauroi, and he did not dare touch it. Hēraklēs convinced him to do so, regardless, and the kéntauroi came galloping to the cave. Hēraklēs fought them, and many died. Phontus, inspecting one of Hēraklēs' arrows dipped in hydra poison, which the hero had used to kill one of the kéntauros, dropped it onto his foot and he died of the poison as well. Hēraklēs, grieving for the death of Phontus, buried him near his cave. There are many accounts of this, but the most beautiful--abide lengthy--description in my opinion is from Diodorus:

"About this time that Heracles was performing these Labours, there was a struggle between him and the Centaurs, as they are called, the reason being as follows. Pholus the Centaur, from whom the neighbouring mountain came to be called Pholoê, and receiving Heracles with the courtesies due to a guest he opened for him a jar of wine which had been buried in the earth. This jar, the writers of myths relate, had of old been left with a certain Centaur by Dionysus, who had given him orders only to open it when Heracles should come to that place. And so, four generation after that time, when Heracles was being entertained as a guest, Pholus recalled the orders of Dionysus.

Now when the jar had been opened and the sweet odour of the wine, because of its great age and strength, came to the Centaurs dwelling near there, it came to pass that they were driven mad; consequently they rushed in a body to the dwelling of Pholus and set about plundering him of the wine in a terrifying manner.

At this Pholus hid himself in fear, but Heracles, to their surprise, grappled with those who were employing such violence. He had indeed to struggle with beings who were gods on their mother’s side, who possessed the swiftness of horses, who had the strength of two bodies, and enjoyed in addition the experience and wisdom of men. The Centaurs advanced upon him, some with pine trees which they had plucked up together with the roots, others with great rocks, some with burning firebrands, and still others with axes such as are used to slaughter oxen.

But he withstood them without sign of fear and maintained a battle which was worthy of his former exploits. The Centaurs were aided in their struggle by their mother Nephelê, who sent down a heavy rain, by which she gave no trouble to those who had four legs, but for him who was supported upon two made the footing slippery. Despite all this Heracles maintained an astonishing struggle with those who enjoyed such advantages as these, slew the larger part of them, and forced the survivors to flee.

Of the Centaurs which were killed the most renowned were Daphnis, Argeius, Amphion, also Hippotion, Oreius, Isoples, Malanchaetes, and Thereus, Doupon, and Phrixus. As for those who escaped the peril by flight, every one of them later received a fitting punishment: Homadus, for instance, was killed in Arcadia when he was attempting to violate Alcyonê, the sister of Eurystheus. And for this feat it came to pass that Heracles was marveled at exceedingly; for though he had private grounds for hating his enemy, yet because he pitied her who was being outraged, he determined to be superior to others in humanity.

A peculiar thing also happened in the case of him who was called Pholus, the friend of Heracles. While he was burying the fallen Centaurs, since they were his kindred, and was extracting an arrow from one of them, he was wounded by the barb, and since the wound could not be healed he came to his death. Heracles gave him a magnificent funeral and buried him at the foot of the mountain, which serves better than a gravestone to preserve his glory; for Pholoê makes known the identity of the buried man by bearing his name and no inscription is needed." [4.12.3 - 4.12.8]

Apollodorus gives an extended account where the fight claims another casualty besides poor Pholus: the kéntauros Kheiron, teacher of heroes and kings:

"Thence they took refuge with Chiron, who, driven by the Lapiths from Mount Pelion, took up his abode at Malea. As the centaurs cowered about Chiron, Hercules shot an arrow at them, which, passing through the arm of Elatus, stuck in the knee of Chiron. Distressed at this, Hercules ran up to him, drew out the shaft, and applied a medicine which Chiron gave him. But the hurt proving incurable, Chiron retired to the cave and there he wished to die, but he could not, for he was immortal. However, Prometheus offered himself to Zeus to be immortal in his stead, and so Chiron died. The rest of the centaurs fled in different directions, and some came to Mount Malea, and Eurytion to Pholoe, and Nessus to the river Evenus. The rest of them Poseidon received at Eleusis and hid them in a mountain." [2.5.4]

Moving on, Hēraklēs finally reached the Erymanthian Boar's territory, and unlike the Golden Hind of Artemis, he did not have to chase after the boar at all. At the first challenging shout, the beast charged him, and Hēraklēs frightened him off so he could pursue and capture him more easily. In the words of Apollodorus:

"And when he had chased the boar with shouts from a certain thicket, he drove the exhausted animal into deep snow, trapped it, and brought it to Mycenae." [4.12.2]

Apollodorius Rhodius, a Hellenic epic poet and scholar of the Library of Alexandria who flourished in the third century BC writes the ending even better in his 'Argonautica':

"...he [Hēraklēs] carried the boar alive that fed in the thickets of Lampeia, near the vast Erymanthian swamp, the boar bound with chains he put down from his huge shoulders at the entrance to the market-place of Mycenae" [122]

Another little tidbit by Diodorus, to which the image at the top of his post relates:

"...when it came to the struggle he kept so careful an eye on the proper balance that he brought back the boar alive to Eurystheus; and when the king saw him carrying the boar on his shoulders, he was terrified and hid himself in a bronze vessel." [4.12.2]

This labour was quite costly to Hēraklēs, who not only singlehandedly slew most of the kéntauroi, but also killed two good men--and all over a bottle of wine, I might add. Hēraklēs still has many labours ahead of him, and his adventure is far from over. For now, though, we will let our hero recover from this ordeal.

Image property: here.
Today is my birthday. At 6:40 AM, I turned 28. I don't celebrate my birthday, I haven't since I moved out of my parents' house. I made a lame attempt the first year, but I am not good at birthdays. To be honest, social gatherings without a specific purpose (like ritual, or work, or studying, etc.) are not part of my skill set. During birthdays (my own or otherwise) I end up cleaning dishes, getting drinks, and running around like a headless chicken. It takes me days to recover emotionally. So, I took the smart way out, and stopped celebrating my birthday. Now the day actually feels festive.

My girlfriend and I have found a really good way to deal with my birthday: the morning is ours, for private celebration and groceries. The afternoon is for my parents, my girlfriend's parents, and the few friends who really want to be there to wish me a happy birthday. Around five PM, everyone leaves, and in the evening, my girlfriend and I have a nice dinner out. This year, we're eating tapas.

The ancient Hellenes did not celebrate their birthdays either. Families celebrated the birth of a child, a coming-of-age feast, and feasts after death held on the anniversary of the day of birth (or death, depending on the scholar), but otherwise there were no annual birthday ceremonials. The birthdays of many of the Theoi were ritually acknowledged once a month, but the individual did not celebrate theirs. Herodotos notes this in his Histories, when he describes the birthday practices of the Persians.

"Of all the days in the year, the one which they celebrate most is their birthday. It is customary to have the board furnished on that day with an ampler supply than common. The richer Persians cause an ox, a horse, a camel, and an ass to be baked whole and so served up to them: the poorer classes use instead the smaller kinds of cattle. They eat little solid food but abundance of dessert, which is set on table a few dishes at a time; this it is which makes them say that "the Greeks, when they eat, leave off hungry, having nothing worth mention served up to them after the meats; whereas, if they had more put before them, they would not stop eating." They are very fond of wine, and drink it in large quantities. To vomit or obey natural calls in the presence of another is forbidden among them. Such are their customs in these matters." [133]

This, of course, changed with the Romans--especially the Emperors--but the ancient Hellenes found the birthdays of the Gods much more important.

I look forward to the day. I will enjoy the time spent with my girlfriend, and presents are always good. On my wish list? Lots of ancient Hellenic plays. Lets see if I find the time to read them in the coming year.
Well then, it seems as if the marketing and Public Relation geniuses at Facebook finally realized that they had more to lose from not removing the offending pages on burning witches than to gain from keeping them up! Many of the groups calling for the death of witches have been closed down already, and the ones who are not yet closed, might be closing soon. Congratulations everyone!

I am not naïve enough to think that this decision was made over any other reason than money. I still feel strongly that the original decision to leave them up was made for the same reason, after all. I am in the corporate communications field. I know quite well how the mechanism works: as long as no one rocks the boat, don't offend anyone by changing the status quo. Well, we have rocked the boat. We have been rocking it loud enough to alert the news media, and thus, Facebook had to step up and step in. It's cheaper to invest in existing users, after all, than try to pull in new ones.
We have been rocking the boat all over the internet, and far beyond. Facebook's lack of decision making skills was featured on the Examiner website, CNN iReporter, Before Its News (in the Christian section, no less), and local American news station KIMT TV 3, which also did a video segment of the report which is worth the watch, amongst others.
We are not there yet, but it's a step in the right direction--a humanizing and rallying step--not just within the community, but outwards as well. Thank you all, for stepping up against hate, towards Pagans as well as (mostly) women in (especially) Africa for whom being killed over the accusation of witchcraft.
Ah, one more 'Q' post, and then I'll be without them for another year. That's a good thought! On that cheery note, I figured out another subject for the 'Q's: quorum votes. The word 'quorum' reminds me of Battlestar Galactica, which has the 'Quorum of Twelve': the governing body of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, composed of one representative from each colony. The 'Quorum of Twelve' was actually a Christian reference by the creator of the series, but in a universe heavily influenced by the Greek legacy--where the names of the Twelve Colonies and their planets are similar to the names of the constellations in the Greco-Roman zodiac, many people are devout followers of the Theoi, and characters often had nicknames like 'Athena' and 'Apollo'--the quorum is actually fairly reminiscent of ancient Hellas.


A quorum is the minimum number of members of a deliberative assembly necessary to conduct the business of that group. I have written a little about the ancient Athenian quorum before, but before I get to that, let me explain the Athenian government body really quick--or at least the parts relevant to this post. There is a longer summary to be found here, but as that is a Pagan Blog Project post as well, I am just going to assume you have read it. So, short summary:

Back in Classical ancient Athens, if you were adult male Athenian citizens who had completed their military training as ephebes, you were required to partake in the democratic assembly of citizens, called the ekklesia. It consisted of about 25,000 voting citizens. The ekklesia, in turn, was managed by the boule of 500 citizens, taken from the ranks of the ekklesia. The boule, finally, was managed by 50 members of the boule, called the prytaneis. Everyone in the ekklesia voted, but their votes were tallied by the boule-members of their tribe, who related the votes to the prytanis of their tribe, who then tallied and proclaimed the votes. Previous to the Classical age, smaller assemblies would dispense judgment, or the judgment was dispensed by the king.

Perhaps the most well-known example of voting in ancient Athens comes from Aeschylus' Eumenides where Orestes faces divine judgment after slaying his mother in revenge for the death of His father. Athena presides over this judgment, and Apollon speaks for Orestes, but the vote is in the hands of the Athenian people, although Athena has the winning vote in case of a tie.

"O men of Athens, ye who first do judge the law of bloodshed, hear me now ordain. Here to all time for Aegeus' Attic host shall stand this council-court of judges sworn, here the tribunal, set on Ares' Hill where camped of old the tented Amazons, what time in hate of Theseus they assailed Athens, and set against her citadel a counterwork of new sky-pointing towers, and there to Ares held their sacrifice, where now the rock hath name, even Ares' Hill. And hence shall Reverence and her kinsman Fear pass to each free man's heart, by day and night enjoining, Thou shalt do no unjust thing, so long as law stands as it stood of old unmarred by civic change. Look you, the spring is pure; but foul it once with influx vile and muddy clay, and none can drink thereof. Therefore, O citizens, I bid ye bow in awe to this command, Let no man live, uncurbed by law nor curbed by tyranny; nor banish ye the monarchy of Awe beyond the walls; untouched by fear divine, no man doth justice in the world of men. Therefore in purity and holy dread stand and revere; so shall ye have and hold a saving bulwark of the state and land, such as no man hath ever elsewhere known, nor in far Scythia, nor in Pelops' realm. Thus I ordain it now, a council-court pure and unsullied by the lust of gain, sacred and swift to vengeance, wakeful ever to champion men who sleep, the country's guard. Thus have I spoken, thus to mine own clan commended it for ever. Ye who judge, arise, take each his vote, mete out the right, your oath revering. Lo, my word is said."

In the Eumenides, twelve judges then come on stage and cast their vote in one of two urns--one to vote Orestes guilty, the other to vote him not guilty. The results are tallied and Orestes is cleared of blood guilt.

Voting in Classical Athens would have been much the same. Prior to the changes to the political landscape of Athens in the sixth century BC and onwards, made by Solon and Kleisthénês, it appears votes were more often settled by talking or shouting during assemblies. As this was of voting was decidedly personal, those of higher birth or greater power would have been able to sway votes. Solon, especially, worked hard to abolish these influences in decision making. The far more neutral voting system of 'bind' votes, where votes were cast in urn or other holders was considered far preferable.

Votes were tallied in a few different ways: one was to use stones of varying colors, and ascribe one color to 'yes' votes, and the second color to 'no' votes. All lots were case into a single urn, which was cracked open after everyone had voted, and tallied. The second option was the one portrayed in Eumenides: two urns, one type lot. A third option was a particular one; it was only used when deciding who would be ostracized. When a person was ostracized, potsherds (ostraka, ὄστρακα) with names scratched on them were used as lots, and he who received the most votes, was ostracized for ten years.

During an ostracism (ostrakismos, ὀστρακισμός) each member of the ekklesia would choose a politician they wished to have 'ostracized', or exiled for ten years. If any one name received a majority and a total of 6,000 or more votes, that man would have to leave Athens. The picture up top features some excavated ostraka naming prominent politicians still well-known to historians today: at the top, Aristeides, son of Lysimachus on the left, and Themistokles, of the deme Phrearios on the right. At the bottom, Kimon, son of Miltiades on the left, and Perikles, son of Xanthippos on the right. Ostracism was often used preemptivel, as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant. As such, ostracism had no relation to the processes of justice; there was no charge or defense, and the exile was not in fact a penalty; it was simply a command from the Athenian people that one of their number be gone for ten years.

For a small category of votes a quorum of 6000 men was required, and ostracisms were included in that number. Another was the granting of citizenship to métoikos, if they had done something important for the city of Athens. These decisions were considered too important to leave up to smaller numbers.

The Athenian direct democracy we are now unfamiliar with besides when judging rounds of Top Model or Idols, allowed every (adult male) citizen the exact same vote, and equalized the political landscape. Quorum votes were especially important, as the decision was not only backed up by 6000 men, but they had voted on it together, bringing these men--and the city of Athens--closer.
I have a fascination with caves, and I have visited many of them in my relatively short life. I have been to narrow natural caves full of stalagmites and stalactites, to huge caved in domes where upon emerging into the light was a truly spiritual experience, to man-made loam caves with the bloody scratch marks still etched in the soft stone, left by lost explorers, looking to get out. I have visited tiny caves known for their beautiful sediment, and caves only known for the concerts held there. Some of the caves I visited weren't interesting at all, but the guide managed to share its lore so convincingly that these caves have a special place in my heart, regardless. The one thing I have not done, but always wanted to do, is worship in them.

There is something primal about caves, especially natural ones. They take years upon years to develop, being etched out one grain of sand at a time by stubborn streams of water. Some caves have been around since the age of mankind, and often long before that. Caves had a special place in ancient Hellenic worship, and were often devoted to the ancient Gods, such as Zeus, Apollo, and Cybele and particularly to Pan and the Nymphs. Caves in Their honor could and can still be found all over the Greek countryside. They were dark places full of votive offerings and altars, which would come to life during rituals attended by the ancient followers of the Gods.

We have quite a bit of information on cave worship in ancient Hellas, and Krete in particular. Caves were important to the inhabitants of Krete since Neolithic times, first as homes, then as burial places, and eventually places of worship by the Middle Minoan period. We distinguish three categories of cave sanctuaries: the grotto (mainly a large niche), the simple cave (deep, but usually consisting of one large space), and the complex cave with multiple rooms, possibly reminiscent of a maze. The majority of the latter two contain elaborate stalagmites and stalactites, as well as water sources, making them mystical and otherworldly places per excellence, as well as practical places to worship in a religion where the sprinkling of water-made-sacred is a staple.

Caves in the ancient Hellenic religion often connect to the wild and unknowable: not only do they often house 'monsters' (like the Cyclops in the Odysseia, and the Centaur Kheiron), but they are the houses of 'wild' women like Calypso, as well as of the Nymphs, and Pan. Yet, these are not completely wild; they occupy the space between the untamed wild and the carefully tended field of civilized life. Their places of worship--when they attracted cult worship, like the Nymphs and Pan--including caves, but also actual gardens, do not represent the rule of mankind over nature; it is better to say that these places represent ideal nature--untamed, yet safe, comfortable, and full of beauty. A true natural sanctuary. Jennifer Larson, in the excellent essay 'A Land Full of Gods: Nature Deities in Greek Religion' speaks of this connection to the idea of the 'divine garden' and caves, saying:

"During the archaic and classical periods, the nymphs were credited with the ability to 'seize' individuals and inspire them. These nympholepts [persons seized by the Nymphs] sometimes withdrew to cave shrines and spent their lives communing with the nymphs and other resident gods. They welcomed visitors and may have acted as prophets. One such nympholept was Archedamus, an immigrant from Thera, who devoted his life to the maintenance of a sanctuary of the nymphs at Vari in Attica (Figure 3.1). At the instruction of the nymphs, he cut stairs, sculptures, and inscriptions into the rock of a cave, and outside it cultivated a garden. At a cave near Pharsalus, Pantalces left a long inscription inviting worshipers to enjoy themselves and take pleasure in the sanctuary. He refers twice to the growing things that he planted, and tells how the nymphs made him an overseer of the place. He lists the resident gods: the nymphs, Pan, and Hermes are mentioned first, then a number of gods concerned with the health and nurture of youths: Apollo, Heracles, Chiron, Asclepius, and Hygieia. Archedamus’ and Pantalces’ shared conception of the proper way to honor the nymphs includes the idea that their dwelling is not a temple but a cave, a natural shelter with certain analogies to human structures, but distinct from them. It is permissible, even necessary, for the human worshiper to improve on the natural contours of the cave." [59]

Divination is attested to cave worship more often. In Minoan times, caves were places one visited to go on a type of vision-quest ritual, whereby the worshipper went into a trance to encounter a deity. In the later Hellenic periods, this type of ritual use seems to have faded, but divination still played a large part in the ritualized function of caves. Pilgrims to the oracle of Delphi brought hundreds of seashells from the Corinthian gulf as gifts for the Nymphs, who were said to share a cave with Pan at the sanctuary. In the cave, knucklebones from sheep and goats were used in an old divinatory tradition called 'astragaloi'. Oracular forms of knowledge were inspired by Apollo and the Muses, and they often came from the bottom of a cave, like at Delphi. There are many other testaments to caves where visitors flocked to the receive prophetic dreams, oracular messages or other divine messages.

Besides an oracular function, caves were also sometimes considered entrances to the Underworld--indeed, the Underworld itself, located under the surface of the Earth, is an immense cave. At Eleusis is a shallow cave, the Cave of Hades, or as it was known then, the Precinct of Plouton. The would be initiates of the Mysteries would have visited this cave as part of their preparation. Most likely, there were sacrifices made here, and perhaps rites of purification. The cave was considered the exact place where Kore was abducted, and for the initiates, it would have been a place to of death, from which only the purified would return to 'live again', like Persephone.

Interestingly enough, many Gods were born in caves: Maia (a Nymph) lived in a cave when she gave birth to Hermes, Zeus was hidden, if not birthed, in a cave on mount Ida (pictured right), where He and His mother Rhea were worshipped, Dionysos spent His infancy in a cave, and I am sure there are more examples. In fact, the cave sanctuary of Eileithyia at Amnissos was wholly dedicated to birth, and the Goddess of childbirth, who was said to have been born in the cave herself was given offerings of honey. Within the cave, there is a large stone resembling a pregnant belly, and a stalagmite resembling a female body. Eileithyia’s cave is mentioned in the Odysseia:

"He anchored at Amnisus, a tricky harbour, near the cave of Eileithyia, and barely escaped shipwreck." [19.188]

Birth and death both opened up passageways to the Underworld, this is why both carried miasma. That both passageways are connected to caves--which can most certainly appear as passageways themselves, as we have seen with the Cave of Hades--does not feel at all like a coincidence to me.

Caves did not always have a religious function: they were also used as places of punishment, and sometimes a tool of capital punishment, where the captured died a slow death by starvation and thirst. This process is documented by Sophocles in 'Antigone', as Creon condemns Antigone to death in exactly such a cave for trying to recover the body of her brother from outside the city walls against Creon's wishes. It is certainly feasible that non-mythological persons were condemned to death in much the same way. From 'Antigone':

"CREON: Know ye not that songs and wailings before death would never cease, if it profited to utter them? Away with her-away! And when ye have enclosed her, according to my word, in her vaulted grave, leave her alone, forlorn-whether she wishes to die, or to live a buried life in such a home. Our hands are clean as touching this maiden. But this is certain-she shall be deprived of her sojourn in the light.

ANTIGONE: Tomb, bridal-chamber, eternal prison in the caverned rock, whither go to find mine own, those many who have perished, and whom Persephone hath received among the dead! Last of all shall I pass thither, and far most miserably of all, before the term of my life is spent. But I cherish good hope that my coming will be welcome to my father, and pleasant to thee, my mother, and welcome, brother, to thee; for, when ye died, with mine own hands I washed and dressed you, and poured drink-offerings at your graves; and now, Polyneices, 'tis for tending thy corpse that I win such recompense as this."

Caves were often focal points of local worship, and not every cave was considered sacred. Some, however, had mythology connected to it, and this made them excellent places for worship. The sober atmosphere of natural caves, coupled with their unique beauty, set them apart from the civilized world. This makes it easier to connect to the spirit of the wilderness, to Nymphs and Pan. The fact that their darkness can hide even the most gruesome of monsters makes them just a touch more dangerous--unless they are dedicated to the Nymphs or Gods, then they are quite safe to enter and worship at; a practice most certainly wide-spread in ancient Hellas.

Image source Cave of Zeus: Wikipedia Commons
Pete, over at Aspis of Ares recently wrote such a wonderful article, I have to share the highlights with you today. His post is about some of the things that he has learned during his years in the Hellenic Polytheist community, and the beginning of his devotional practice. It is aptly titled: 'S**t I Wish I had Known'. His main points:
  1. Devote yourself to the Gods, and also to people
  2. Keep a diary and record your experiences and offerings you give
  3. Start slow
  4. Be patient and persevere
  5. Pack your big-kid underpants
  6. Don’t forget the Gods
When I first started out, I dove in head first. For me, that works: I take everything I know I should be doing and do it to the best of my abilities and knowledge. Along the way, my practice got refined, and slowly, I start taking out some things that were not Recon enough and added others in their place. I don't like starting slow. That said, in a way, I have done that: I keep adding Gods to my daily prayers as I learn more about Their influence on my life and household worship in general, and I slowly reach out more and more to the community that is available to me on-line. That said, there are a few things that I wish someone had told me when I started out, and that I would like to tell you today.
  • Practicing Hellenismos as a lifestyle is easy. There are few new ideas to wrap your head around--the most important being arête, kharis, and xenia--and then you can basically live a Hellenistic life.
  • The ancient Hellenes used things in their household worship that were available to them. When you start out, you don't have to invest hardly any money: take two bowls from your kitchen, one for pouring, one for pouring into. Buy wine if you can, use water for libations if you must. Burn what is in your spice rack for incense. Money should never be a reason to delay your active practice.
  • Focus on your household worship. This is the cornerstone of our faith. Routinely sacrifice to the Theoi, say a few words to Hermes a you leave the house, provide all your shrines with regular offerings. Practice the Hene kai Nea, Noumenia and Agathós Daímōn. Find a routine, and stick to it.
  • The festivals are great, but it took me a while to realize that most of us are not part of a large enough community to reconstruct the festivals. We can, however, celebrate household versions of it by pouring libations to the Theoi honored during them.
  • You don't have to be a scholar to practice Hellenismos: others in the community will be scholars for you, and most of them will be wiling to share. Frequent blogs, join groups, ask any question that comes into your head. Many of us, myself included, are willing to help you if you ask nicely.
  • Philosophy is an important part of Hellenismos, but if it doesn't appeal to you, leave it be for the time being. Get back to it when you are ready.
  • Mythology is an important part of Hellenismos, but if it doesn't appeal to you, leave it be for the time being. Get back to it when you are ready.
  • There is no 'wrong' or 'right' way to practice Hellenic Polytheism, only people who think there is.
  • There are, however, guidelines to practicing Traditional, or Reconstructive, Hellenismos. Anything with watchtowers, athames, or other Neo-Pagan influences is not part of Hellenismos. If you don't follow the basic ritual structure, your practice might not apply either. that said:
  • There is nothing wrong with a non-Traditional practice. Period. And let no one tell you otherwise.
  • 'Community' is not just religious. Get involved in your city. Do volunteer work. Pick up litter. Keep your city and the people in it in your prayers.
  • Never forget your immediate family in your prayers. The people who are actually part of your oikos should be on the top of your prayer list.
  • Pray for your friends and family. It's a big no-no in the Neo-Pagan world, but your friends and family are part of your extended oikos, and you can extend your kharis with the Gods to them.
  • No matter how passionately you feel about your viewpoints, be a good person. Practice arête in your religious community. Don't be a jerk.
I will add more to this list in coming years, I suspect, or I might make a new post entirely. That said, are there things you wish you had known when you first started out?
I am a huge proponent of the right--God-given or otherwise--to free speech. I think we live in an age where individualism is valued to such a degree, however, that 'freedom of speech' has the potential to become a tool. A political one, when used to silence the opponent, or even a religious one, when used to incite hate or anger onto another religion.

Over the past few days, the on-line Pagan community has come together over some clear examples of the latter form of free speech: several Facebook groups have come up slandering witches (mostly) and actively calling for the eradication of said witches. I leave witches un-capitalized because I fear the founder(s) of these groups are ignorant enough of the modern Pagan movement to be completely unaware that there is even a potential for religious views within the practice of Witchcraft.

These groups happen. They have happened before, and will happen again. In general, I feel freedom of speech applies in these instances: the founder(s) of those pages are within their right to create these pages and speak their mind. That said, freedom of speech should end where others get hurt--and people are getting hurt. From this point on, a monitoring authority should step in and take away the public forum that is used by those harmful to others.

I strongly feel that we should never shut up someone speaking their mind, but we can let them rage in the solitude of their own space. This is the mature, responsible thing to do: parents do it all the time, as do teachers, as so judges. This is the exact reason we make laws. We say: "you are a free human being, but others are free human beings as well. Within this building, this state, this country, this world, we have made rules you have been made aware of. These rules were made to make life better for everyone. If you ignore these rules, you will be punished. You have the right to free speech, you do, however, not have the right to be a jerk. If you are a jerk, I will make sure no one comes to harm."

Facebook has these rules in place. I was made aware of them when my request for these Facebook groups to be removed was denied. The qualifying factors for hate speech on Facebook are the following (emphasis mine):

"Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition."

I reported the groups I encountered, and asked others to do the same. I have realized now, though, that that is an effort in futility, as Facebook has obviously put an automatic response on any report of a violation concerning these groups. This is why you will find no link to these groups here.

For a while, Facebook's lack of (permanent) action puzzled me. I could not imagine how these pages did not qualify as hate speech towards a religious group. Then it hit me: in order for something to register as hate speech towards a religious group, the person judging the complaint needs to first appreciate that we are talking about an actual religion. Facebook, it seems, does not recognize Witchcraft as a religion, nor is aware--or willing to be made aware--that it is part of a larger movement within the religious firmament. I have two explanations for what happened, and both aren't pretty:
  1. Facebook does not recognize that Witchcraft is a religion--as most of the complaints were filed under 'religious hate speech'--and thus views these pages as humorous.
  2. Facebook is more inclined to side with the Christian side, and allowed the hate speech towards a smaller, not directly addressed, religious group to continue.
The first is a case of willful ignorance, which I find shameful and despicable. The second option is discrimination, and that is one of the things that authorities higher than the Facebook company can address, as discrimination is against the law in America, where Facebook HQ is located.

I take issue with the groups on Facebook and all that is posted on them, but I have a bigger problem with Facebook itself which had the opportunity to enforce their own laws, and failed to do so. This issue is no longer about free speech: that limit has been reached the second Facebook chose to disregard their own rules. It is now about a company willfully ignoring the rights of a specific group that make use of their service. That is a criminal act.

Heather Freysdottir has been my main source of information on this topic, and she has called for readers to report the Facebook pages to Interpol, so they can do what Facebook has neglected to do. I call for another course of action: to not report the page, but Facebook itself to a higher authority. Heather has rightly said that if you substitute 'Jews' for 'witches' the groups would have most likely--hopefully--been removed. Facebook's inability to act cannot go unchecked.

Paganism has come to a junction in its formation. In all honesty, we have been moving towards it for a while. We are coming into our own as a movement, and while our religious rights are still frequently tramples upon, we have also had our wins. We are ready to take on the greater responsibility of speaking up when we are done wrong. We have gotten the confidence for that, earned through long years of being laughed at and disregarded. We do not have to sit by and be silent. We are entitled to more and better than having to substitute 'Jews' for 'witches' ourselves, just to see how bad the situation is. Some of us in the Pagan community practice a religion--a true religion--with true Gods, no more but also no less important than God or Allah. We have the power and the right to stand up for that towards the outside world, and we have the right to be regarded as a movement that matters. Facebook--or any other company--cannot keep us from that right.

To help resolve this issue, there is a petition going around that I would ask you to sign. Petitions show support, and well-signed petition show greater support. I would ask you to sign it whether or not you consider yourself a witch, or even a Pagan. This is not about labels, it's about human rights.
On the sixteenth of Metageitnion, beginning at sundown on the 22nd of August, the Kourotrophos (κουροτρόφος, child nurturer) honors Gaea the true Kourotrophos and the two Goddesses who protect women and children, Hekate and Artemis. Elaion will be organizing another Practicing Apart Together ritual, which I would love to have you join.

The Kourotrophos was an offering to the Kourotrophos; (mostly) female deities who watched over growing children--and especially boys. This specific offering is known from the demos Erchia, but duplicates similar offerings on the Acropolis of Athens.

In this ritual, we honor Gaea, Artemis, Hekate, Aglauros and Pandrosos. Artemis is named Kourotrophos by Diodorus Siculus, a Hellenic historian, in book five of his library:

"And Artemis, we are told, discovered how to effect the healing of young children and the foods which are suitable to the nature of babes, this being the reason why she is also called Kourotrophos." [5.73.5]

Hesiod, in his 'Theogony', explains why Hekate is Kourotrophos:

"So, then. albeit her mother's only child, she is honoured amongst all the deathless gods. And the son of Kronos made her a nurse of the young who after that day saw with their eyes the light of all-seeing Eos (Dawn). So from the beginning she is a nurse of the young (kourotrophos), and these are her honours." [404]

Aglauros and her sister Pandrosos seem to have been fertility deities in Athens. They were eventually regarded as daughter of the Athenian king Cecrops, however, and myth tells us the sisters were entrusted with the care for Erichthonios, hidden away in a basket. He was the son of Athena and Hēphaistos, who grew to term in the Earth (Gaea), and would later rule Athens as king. Aglauros had a sanctuary on the Acropolis in which young men of military age swore an oath to her as well as to Zeus and to other deities. Herse, sometimes regarded as a third sister, has no mention in these accounts.

Gaea, as a mother and raiser of many children, of course receives honors as well during the Kourotrophos. Pausanias, in his 'Description of Greece' says:

"There is also a sanctuary of Ge (Earth) Kourotrophe (Nurse of the Young) [at Athens], and of Demeter Khloe (Green). You can learn all about their names by conversing with the priests." [1.22.3]

We are also considering adding Eirene, as Euripides, in Bacchae says the following about Her:

"The god [Dionysos], the son of Zeus, delights in banquets, and loves Eirene (Peace), giver of riches (olbodotes), goddess who nourishes youths (thea kourotrophos). To the blessed and to the less fortunate, he gives an equal pleasure from wine that banishes grief." [420]
As the ritual is quite lengthy, you can find the full version here. The festival will be held on the 23rd of August, at nine AM EDT, and we would love to have you join.
Currently, I am in bed, typing as quietly as possible so I do not wake my girlfriend who is fast asleep. Normally, I get out of bed to type my blog post, but we have a houseguest who is currently sleeping in the living room. This means that I am cut off from my books for this post, so the subject automatically turn to something a bit more personal, today that is prayer in the ancient Hellenic religion and in my modern one.

Probably the best definition of 'prayer' I have ever happened upon was by William D. Fuley, who says: "prayers (and hymns) are attempts by men and women to communicate with gods by means of the voice". It is simple, elegant, and accurate. Especially in the ancient Hellenic religion, it was important to raise one's voice when hymns were sung, and especially so when prayers were made.

I am going to generalize here and say that a hymn was sung to the Theoi, with the aim to please the God in question. They have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning contains two things: a note that the hymn is about to begin, and an announcement of whom the speaker/singer is addressing. In the Orphic hymn to Pan, this is beautifully done:

"I Call strong Pan, the substance of the whole, etherial, marine, earthly, general soul, Immortal fire; for all the world is thine, and all are parts of thee, O pow'r divine. Come, blessed Pan, whom rural haunts delight, come, leaping, agile, wand'ring, starry light;"

The middle part tends to focus on why the God or Goddess in question is not only the best in solving the problem that will be posed to Them later on in prayer, but why they are the best, period. The middle section contains all the wonderful things the deity in question has done, His or Her greatest accomplishments, and above all, it contains a description of the deity. For Pan:

"The Hours and Seasons [Horai], wait thy high command, and round thy throne in graceful order stand. Goat-footed, horned, Bacchanalian Pan, fanatic pow'r, from whom the world began, Whose various parts by thee inspir'd, combine in endless dance and melody divine. In thee a refuge from our fears we find, those fears peculiar to the human kind. Thee shepherds, streams of water, goats rejoice, thou lov'st the chace, and Echo's secret voice: The sportive nymphs, thy ev'ry step attend, and all thy works fulfill their destin'd end.

O all-producing pow'r, much-fam'd, divine, the world's great ruler, rich increase is thine. All-fertile Pæan, heav'nly splendor pure, in fruits rejoicing, and in caves obscure. True serpent-horned Jove [Zeus], whose dreadful rage when rous'd, 'tis hard for mortals to asswage. By thee the earth wide-bosom'd deep and long, stands on a basis permanent and strong. Th' unwearied waters of the rolling sea, profoundly spreading, yield to thy decree. Old Ocean too reveres thy high command, whose liquid arms begirt the solid land.

The spacious air, whose nutrimental fire, and vivid blasts, the heat of life inspire the lighter frame of fire, whose sparkling eye shines on the summit of the azure sky, Submit alike to thee, whole general sway all parts of matter, various form'd obey. All nature's change thro' thy protecting care, and all mankind thy lib'ral bounties share: For these where'er dispers'd thro' boundless space, still find thy providence support their race."

The end is a prayer onto itself. The surviving hymns often conclude with a call to the deity in question to listen to the request that follows, and to grant it, should They be so inclined. The hymn to Pan concludes:

"Come, Bacchanalian, blessed power draw near, fanatic Pan, thy humble suppliant hear, Propitious to these holy rites attend, and grant my life may meet a prosp'rous end; Drive panic Fury too, wherever found, from human kind, to earth's remotest bound."

Hymns were sung to please, to bring forth. It was a way to celebrate the Deity in question, but also to make Him or Her more inclined to grant the following request. Hymns were accompanied with music and dancing; they were true celebrations in that regard. They were performed to establish existing kharis and built upon it: when the Orphic Hymns ask for 'a hymn' instead of incense, they request a show that entertains the Gods.

A prayer was carefully formulated to convey a message as persuasively as possible to the God, and was thus often spoken. The idea was not to please, but to request. They made use of the established and just now strengthened kharis to petition the Gods for aid. Where the hymn is an offering to go along with material sacrifice, the prayer is not an offering at all.

Hellenic prayer and hymn-singing is not a private thing; unlike the Christian type of praying we are used to today--a praying that is intimate, calm, and very much private--the Hellenic form of praying did and does everything it can to draw attention to itself as a public display. It is a form of heightened expression which claims the attention of a God. Hymns are a means to get a divine spotlight upon you, because without it, your prayer will fall upon deaf ears. This is why hymns and prayers always go together in the typical structure of (ancient) Hellenic ritual: one is useless without the other.

Ancient Hellenic prayers were made standing up, with arms raised. If you were the one pouring libations, the arms needn't be raised as high, but the libation-bowl was poised. For the Ouranic deities, the palms faced upwards, to the sky. For the Khthonic deities, the palms faced downwards, to the earth. To both, the voice is raised, so as to draw as much attention as possible.

I can't sing the ancient Hellenic hymns, but I do sing modern songs sometimes, when they apply. Not as a replacement of hymns, but as an addition to it. In general, I sing before reciting the hymn, as I do not want to break up the hymn. After the hymn, I commence with my prayer. Except in very rare instances, I always pray during formal ritual, mostly during my daily rites. I have prayed to Hermes when out on the road, opening with a short hymn and a long prayer to get me safely home when I was really too tired to drive. I have prayed to Athena before tests in school.

I can't always be overtly vocal with my hymns and prayers, although I wish I could. My evening rites are performed a meter or so away from my girlfriend who is by that time trying to sleep. In school, I could not very well shout out a hymn to Athena. That said, for prayers performed during times of need, I perform standard ritual before or after, making offerings to the Deity in question as part of a debt to be paid for the aid granted. It is my part of upholding our kharis. When we move out of our one bedroom apartment and into an actual house, I will have a room set aside to honor the Theoi. When that happens, I will be able to sing and raise my voice to praise the Theoi come day and night. Until hat happens, though, I will make due as I must with many things in our religion. I pray the Theoi are please with my sacrifice, regardless of the volume.