Posts Tagged ‘Metamorphosis’



November 28, 2009

Hand-in-hand, the queens of soft roses and
Sharp thorns stand over the youth Adonis,
Killed whilst his face was still as soft as that
Of one of Artemis’ dark nymphai.

Blood and nectar pours down between them, held
Aloft by Peitho and Hekate. Kind
Thanatos waits; Hermes and Iris, the
Messengers of the gods, stand by his side.

Anemones curl over the youth’s body,
Blowing in the gentle breaths of the winds.
Aphrodite and Persephone kneel
And, together, kiss their boy’s dying lips.

Life streams over his face; his eyes open.


Rhea-Kybele and Lions

October 10, 2009

Classical writings and art portray Rhea (identified with the Anatolian Kybele, thus forming Rhea-Kybele) as accompanied by, or as riding, lions. To understand exactly why this is—why Rhea-Kybele is so intimately connected with lions—one must look first to the Classical mythologies, and then to the symbolism of the lion.

Rhea-Kybele, as the mother of the gods Demeter, Hades, Hera, Hestia, Poseidon and Zeus, carries titles such as Mêtêr Theôn (mother of the gods), Mêtêr Megalê (great mother) and Mêtêr Isodromê (fast-paced mother). In myth, she is the wife (or ex-wife) of Kronos, the Titane god of destructive time; according to writers such as Hesiod, Pindar and Apollodorus, Kronos took to devouring each of their children, due to a prophecy that he would be overthrown by one of his children. Naturally, Rhea hated this and so when Zeus was born, she hid him away in the mountains, and appointed warrior daimones (spirits) to guard him. These daimones are known by multiple names—they are named the Kouretes of Krete, the Korybantes of Phrygia, the Gigantes of Arkadia, the Daktyloi of Troad or the Kabeiroi of Samothrake—but are, according to Strabo (in Geography, 10.3.7), the same group of spirits. These warrior daimones (which I will, for the sake of ease, name as the Kouretes) guarded the infant Zeus as he aged. According to Oppian, Kronos discovered Zeus when he was a child, and turned Zeus’ guards into lions: ‘And when the son of Ouranos beheld the lusty young child he transformed the first glorious guardians of Zeus and in vengeance made the Kouretes wild beasts. And since by the devising of the god Kronos exchanged their human shape and put upon them the form of Lions, thenceforth by the boon of Zeus they greatly lord it over the wild beasts which dwell upon the hills.’ (Oppian, Cynegetica 3.7.)

The second account of how Rhea-Kybele became so linked with lions is in the myth of Hippomenes, as described by Ovid. According to this, Aphrodite aided the hero Hippomenes in his race for the hand of Atalantê; however when Hippomenes won, he failed to give Aphrodite her dues, and she, incensed, drove Hippomenes and Atalantê to the temple of the Mater Deum (the Mêtêr Theôn; Rhea-Kybele). When they arrived, Aphrodite roused desire within them, and, they ‘entered here and with forbidden sin defiled the sanctuary’ of the Mater Deum. As punishment, Rhea-Kybele changed them into lions: ‘Therefore their necks, so smooth before, she clothed with tawny manes, their fingers curved to claws; their arms were changed to legs; their chests swelled with new weight; with tails they swept the sandy ground; and in their eyes cruel anger blazed and growls they gave for speech. Their marriage-bed is now a woodland lair, and feared by men, but by the goddess tamed, they champ – two lions – the bits of Cybele.’ (Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.681.)

These accounts, though, are somewhat contradictory. In the first, the metamorphosised Kouretes are placed at Rhea-Kybele’s side as a blessing and honour; in the second, lions are her attendants as a warning and a curse. In order to decide which account best fits, one must look to Rhea-Kybele’s relationship to the lion, and, also, to the way that the Ancient Greeks viewed the lion – the symbolism of the lion.

Firstly, The Homeric Hymn 14 to the Mother of the Gods describes how the Mêtêr Theôn is ‘well-pleased with the sound of rattles and of timbrels, with the voice of flutes and the outcry of wolves and bright-eyes lions.’ Secondly, according to Valerius Flaccus, Rhea-Kybele was furious when Cyzicus killed one of her lions and hung its head to shame her: ‘Cyzicus upon his swift horse . . . with his javelin he slew a lion that was wont to bear its mistress through the cities of Phrygia and was now returning to the bridle. And now (Madman!) hath he hung from his doorposts the mane and the head of his victim, a spoil to bring sorrow to himself and shame upon the goddess. But she, nursing her great rage, beholds from the cymbal-clashing mountain the ship with its border of kingly shields,  and devises against the hero deaths and horrors unheard of.’ (Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 3.20.) Thirdly, Nonnus describes how Rhea-Kybele’s home contains her lions, and how they are fed ambrosia – the food of the gods – by her castrated son and lover, Attis: ‘he entered the divine precinct selfbuilt of Rheia, mother of mighty sons. He freed his ravening lions from the yokestraps, and haltered them at the manger which he filled with ambrosial fodder.’ (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 25.310.)

The above sources do not indicate a hatred of Rhea-Kybele for lions; they, in fact, indicate quite the opposite. She is ‘well-pleased’ with her lions; the slaughter of them causes her ‘great rage’; and her own lover cares for them and feeds them ‘ambrosial fodder’, thus granting them immortality. This all suggests that Rhea-Kybele’s lions are not kept around her as a warning or curse; but as a blessing, as an honour to those who so protected her son, Zeus. In order to confirm—or deny—this suggestion, one should look to how, exactly, the people of the ancient cultures of the time viewed the lion.

Ancient Egyptians sometimes portrayed their pharaohs as sphinxes, thus identifying them with lions. Therefore sphinxes (and lions) were identified with power, rule and protection – interestingly, this is echoed in Rhea-Kybele’s turret crown (as identified by both Ovid and Propertius), which emphasises her nature as a warrior goddess concerned with protection of the city. The Egyptians associated two of their goddesses, Bast and Sekhmet (both originally identified as having the head of a lioness), and the god Maahes, son of either Bast or Sekhmet, with lions. Bast is the Egyptian god of pleasure, festivity, cats, ferocity, perfumes, vermin and the destruction thereof, women, mothers and motherhood and protection; Sekhmet of warriors, hunters, protection, women, motherhood, bloodlust, menstruation, death, disease and deserts; and Maahes of war, weather, knives, hunting, strength, power and protection of matrilineality. It can therefore be assumed that the Egyptians identified lions with such things as power, war, hunting, protection, women, disease and death.

Ancient Greeks “borrowed” the sphinx from the Egyptians in their own Sphinx, one of the Theres, who presided over matters such as destruction, bad luck, riddles, strangulation and the death of young men. The Sphinx is often said to have been sent by one of the gods—usually Hera (as identified by Apollodorus, The Library 3.5.8)—as a punishment to the people of Thebes, and as thus would have connection to Hera’s domain: women, marriage, weather, the heavens, motherhood, etc. This forms an interesting parallel to the Nemean Lion (said by some, such as Hesiod, to be the brother of the Sphinx), whom Hera ‘trained up and settled among the hills of Nemeia, to be a plague to mankind’ (Hesiod, Theogony 327ff). Bacchylides (Fragment 9), Callimachus (Aetia Fragments 55 and 108) and Aelian (On Animals 12.7) also describe Hera as having nurtured or sent the Nemean Lion. Due to their links to Hera (and, sometimes, to each-other), both the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion can be said to be associated with women, wrath, war, death, destruction, revenge, mothers, motherhood, marriage, the (night) sky, and so on. One must also consider Rhea-Kybele’s nature and influence; she is considered a goddess of women, marriage, childbirth (and mothers and motherhood), fertility, sexuality, madness, destruction, protection, and so on.

Linking together the views of the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, one can presume that these ancient cultures viewed lions as being connected to women, disease, death, hunting, war, power, destruction, mothers, motherhood, childbirth, fertility, protection of cities, madness and protection of women. Because of this, and the manner in which the above-mentioned sources (concerning Rhea-Kybele’s relationship to the lion) portray Rhea-Kybele’s apparent affection for lions, the suggestion that lions are at her side as an honour, rather than a warning, seems more concrete.

Because of all this, one can further understand the nature of Rhea-Kybele. Her links to motherhood, women, fertility, protection, war, death and destruction become even more pronounced; and as such, the links between lions and these matters becomes more solid. In conclusion, then, Rhea-Kybele, when accompanied by her mountain-roaming lions, gains further prestige and connections as an incredibly powerful goddess. Her lions remind onlookers of the benefits of her favour, and of her love for warriors, women and the fertile wilderness – even with their humanity destroyed, her Kouretes linger at her sides, loving and protecting her with everything they have.


Read Write Prompt #7

October 8, 2009

Read Write Prompt #7: Free Day

Random theme: Loving a Thing.

He crafts her with his eager, artist’s hands;
He will make Life: it is his destiny.

When she is complete, he leaves her to set.
He will not spoil the coming day; he waits.

The sunlight kisses the arch of her throat,
And turns her a delicate shade of gold.

The harshness fades beneath his fingertips,
Warmed by the unsteady beat of his heart.

His hands tremble as he touches her lips;
He thinks he feels her breath against his skin.

He nips at her cheek, tastes the welcoming
Softness; something fierce blossoms in his heart.

He kisses as he prays, letting his mind
Focus on the gods: please, he whispers. Please.

Her touch is faint, but there. Her fingers twitch, once,
And then relax again. Her eyes – still cool.

He breathes upon her wrists, coaxing life to
Begin: her pulse is hesitant, wary.

Lips meet lips – soft skin replaces the stone,
As humanity floods into her veins.

Thank you, he murmurs to his smiling gods.
To her, he says his first words: I love you.

She blinks – her first – and her lips crease into
A smile. She speaks, smoky: I love you too.


Aphrodite: Goddess of the Body

September 24, 2009

When Aphrodite is discussed—as is often inevitable in Hellenic Polytheist circles; for who can truly say they have never felt anything for this goddess?—the subject of her influence is, of course, always key. She is named the goddess of beauty, of love, of sex; and even of war, grief, death. I propose, though, that we push aside these names and dub her, for simplicity’s sake, Aphrodite: Goddess of the Body.

As the daughter of Ouranos (as asserted by writers such as Hesiod, Cicero, Apuleius and Nonnus)—born of his castrated genitals plunging into the sea—Aphrodite would be, in terms of power and influence, on the same level as the Titanes; in truth, she would belong to a generation between Titan and Olympian, for she would have been born in the period between Kronos’ castration of his father and the birth of Zeus. Her mythologies regarding the time between her birth and her arrival at Olympos are not extensive: the classical writers speak only of her love for the sea-god Nerites and of her arrival at Rhodes, where she ‘was prevented from stopping there by the sons of Poseidon’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 5. 55. 4). In retaliation, Aphrodite struck them with madness. Immediately thereafter, it seems, she returned to the sea and continued on until she reached Kypros, where she was met by the Horai (according to the Homeric Hymn 6 to Aphrodite) or Peitho and Eros (according to Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5. 11. 8). Finally, a child- or youth-Aphrodite of the seas is mentioned by Pausanias, as a depiction on the base of Poseidon’s statue: ‘Thalassa holding up the young Aphrodite, and on either side as the nymphs called Nereides.’ (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2. 1. 8.)

Alternatively, Aphrodite is borne of Zeus—who is first and foremost king of the skies or heavens, and as thus can be identified with Ouranos, Protogenos god of the heavens—and Dione, whose name springs from Dios, which means Zeus or Divine One. (I, personally, would argue that Dione is the goddess of divinity, and as thus her name is so deeply connected with Zeus’ own because one of his primary influences is as guide or leader of fate—Moiragetês—and the keeper of the order of the cosmos –Kosmêtês.) As the daughter of Zeus, she would be level simply with the other second-generation Olympian gods – Apollon, Ares, Artemis, Athene, Dionysos, Hephaistos and Hermes, and as the daughter of Dione she would be on par with the other minor Titanes. As such, Aphrodite loses much of her immense power under the constraints of this myth of her birth; I, personally, choose to focus on her as Aphrodite Ourania (‘the heavenly’) rather than Aphrodite Pandêmos (‘common to all’).

As both Aphrodite Ourania and Pandêmos, it is undeniable that Aphrodite’s concerns seem more to be with the body than anything else. As Aphrodite Ourania, she holds together the atoms in the bodies that the gods adopt; without her pull, the gods would all be abstract, shapeless beings much akin to the Protogenos god Khaos. As Aphrodite Morpho (‘shapely, of the form’), she holds together the human body, too: the human form. As Aphrodite Ambologêra (‘delayer of old age’), it is she who brings about the constant cycle of cells dying and being replaced in the body, and she too is responsible for youth and the young; and as Aphrodite Despoina (‘the ruling goddess’ or ‘the mistress’), she is blatantly responsible for the body as the goddess who ‘rules’ it. Further evidence comes from the myth of Pandora’s creation: Aphrodite ‘shed grace upon her head’ – shed life upon her; gave her life – ‘and [gave her] cruel longing’ – desire – ‘and cares that weary the limbs’ – menstruation; the cycle of fertility in the female human body. Thus, it can be concluded that she who so inflames the body is responsible, too, for its continued existence; without her, there would be no shape to the body—we would all just be a random mesh of DNA strands clinging together—and, even if by some miracle the body was shaped, it would be incapable of fighting illness, or remaining fertile, or producing young, and so on.

It is as Aphrodite Pandêmos that she becomes a simple—if ‘simple’ is a word that can ever be used to describe a goddess, and a goddess such as Aphrodite at that—goddess concerned only with the matters of the heart. She becomes common to all the people; she strikes, or sends her son Eros to strike, any whom she pleases, be they god or mortal, with the shaft of desire. ‘This is the portion allotted to her amongst men and undying gods,—the whisperings of maidens and smiles and deceits with sweet delight and love and graciousness.’ (Hesiod, Theogony, 176 ff.) If you whittle her down just to Aphrodite Pandêmos, that is all she is: the goddess who presides over love as a collective, and love affairs, desire, love poetry, sensuality.

As Epistrophia (‘she who turns to love’), Apostrophia (‘averter of unnatural desires’), Nymphia (‘bridal’), Migôntis (‘[of the] marital union’), Hêrê (‘of Hera’), Apotrophia (‘the expeller [of unnatural desires]’) and Gamelii (‘of marriage’), Aphrodite becomes, well and truly, a goddess of marriage and marital love. That is, though, to be expected: she is the goddess who binds people together – on an molecular level, as Aphrodite Ourania, keeping the body together; on a sexual level, Aphrodite Philommeidês (‘genital-loving’), keeping lovers together; on a communal level, as Aphrodite Pandêmos, keeping the community together; and on a marital level, as Aphrodite Gamelii, keeping married partners together. Indeed, Aphrodite’s influence as a goddess of marriage is clearly very strong; Pausanias described ‘a cave [in which] Aphrodite is worshipped, to whom prayers are offered . . . especially by widows who ask the goddess to grant them marriage’ (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10. 38. 12) and Aeschylus once stated that, ‘she [Aphrodite], together with Hera, holds power nearest to Zeus, and for her solemn rites [of marriage] the goddess of varied wiles is held in honor.’ (Aeschylus, Suppliant Woman, 1030.)

That, though, is still not all there is to Aphrodite. She also holds the epithets Symmakhia (‘ally’), Areia (‘warlike’) and Hôplismenê (‘armed’). Thus, with these titles—as well as her relationship with Ares, the Olympian god of masculinity, passion, war and blood—she becomes a goddess not just of love and form, but also of war. She becomes a goddess of grief and mourning—the love for those who have died—and she becomes a goddess of nationality – the love of one’s nation. As such, she, by association, becomes also a goddess of hate: hate for those that the soldiers fight, for love and hate both stir the body with equal vigour, and the body is undeniably Aphrodite’s tool.

Then there are her associations with the sea to consider. Her very name comes from the word Aphros, meaning sea-foam. She held several epithets alluding to her nature as a sea goddess: Anaduomenê (‘rising out of the sea’), Euploia (‘fair voyage’), Limenia (‘of the harbour’), Pontia (‘of the sea’) and Xenia (‘of the foreigner’). At a very basic level, she could be considered connected to the sea only because of one of the myths of her birth—from Ouranos’ castrated genitals—but with Aphrodite, nothing is only skin-deep. She holds sway over the four realms: the sky, as Aphrodite Ourania, the heavenly; the sea, as Aphrodite Pontia, of the sea; the earth, as Aphrodite Porne (‘fleshy, of flesh’); and the Underworld, as the khthonic Aphrodite Androphonos (‘killer of men’).

It is that final influence—over the Underworld—that seems so alien in connection to Aphrodite. But the connection does hold: as well as the epithet Androphonos, she is also Aphrodite Anosia (‘unholy’), Epitumbidia (‘she upon the graves’), Melainis (‘black, of night’), Skotia (‘dark’) and Tumborukhos (‘gravedigger’). Thus, one cannot deny her khthonic aspects – the question simply is how, exactly, she influences the Underworld. It is primarily because love—and therefore she; or Eros, at her command—kills; wars are never waged for anything but the love of oneself, or one’s country, or of money, or of one’s religion, etc, etc. Love is the primary force behind everything, and it is love that Aphrodite commands: thus she is the goddess of death, deadly love, and the grief for that which it leaves behind.

For me, personally, it is only when you take all of these aspects into account that you finally get the full picture of who Aphrodite is. She is a goddess of the heavens, a goddess of the earth, a goddess of the sea, a goddess of the Underworld, a goddess who keeps the body together, a goddess who directs love and desire, a goddess who rules over marriage, a goddess of the community and a goddess of war. And yet she is more than that: she influences love poetry, music, dance, festivity – she is a goddess to whom no doors are closed, and to whom there are no boundaries. All of the emotions and states that affect the body—life, hunger, desire, fury, hatred, humility, embarrassment, blood, madness and death, to name but a few—are under her command: the body is her vessel, her plaything, and, to her devotees, there is no forgetting that. If you are impious, she can literally unravel you at the seams – and although it is always better to treat gods with respect, as opposed to disrespect, I think that especially applies here!


Thoughts on The Hesperides

September 6, 2009

They are the keepers of the golden apples–the glorious, intoxicating apples owned by Hera. The apples draw sunlight into them throughout the day and burn with their own gold-red glows at dusk. The Hesperides, silent and golden nymphai, are the heralds and guardians of the sunsets. It flows in their blood: delicious and honey-lovely.

They have, for skin, golden tree-bark. Their arms are edged with prickles; dark leaves spread out in place of their fingers. Their elbows are like thorns – long, wicked, curved daggers of bone. It is easy to think of them as delicate, fragile, smiling nymphs–but that is not all they are. They are also the cruel daughters of Nyx, gleaming with blood and shining with sunlight.

They are numbered three, or four, or seven, or nine: their true number is impossible to count. Their golden eyes make thoughts flee the mind; they kiss away logic and dance until rationality flees. In the days, they are like plants: feet apart, arms outstretched to the sky, breasts and bellies bared to Boreas’ winter winds. They are silent and still, breathing sunlight into their wide, delicate lungs–until someone dares try to breach their orchard, or until night falls.

At night, they leave Ladon–shimmering, golden, hundred-headed Ladon–in charge of the orchard. They depart to drift through the air, hunting for swirling storm-winds to guide them to blushing newlyweds. They don’t glow gold during the night: they gleam scarlet, though lines of gold thread through the veins and stand vividly out against all that red, red, red. They sing – bridal music and the hums of the dead. They are beautiful and awful, and they are utterly intoxicating–particularly so when they hold one of the apples against their bellies and revel in its golden heat.

They are not merely the essence of sunlight, of sunset. They are guardians of the treasures of the gods: even their beautiful teeth–perfectly white, perfectly formed–are capable of wrenching limbs from bodies and skin from bones. They, like all nymphai, are both wild and civilised: or, at least, they gleam gold under the illusion of civility.

Seductivity boils in their ichor-blood. They are spirits–wild girls–who prey on those who seek that which they guard. It is when someone, human or divine, trespasses that they truly come to life; after all, the night frees them from their stasis but not from their duties. Trespassers are met with the same lovely-awful fate: the naked Hesperides turn from their posts to gaze upon them. They sing and dance, sliding forward and drawing their leaf-fingers over soft lips or bristled chins. They cannot impose themselves upon the trespasser; but if said man or woman pauses to throw his or her arms around the lovely throat of a Hesperide and hungrily kiss them, the payment they offer–the payment ordered by the Moirae–is their lives.

They wear petals in their tangled hair; during the long, sunny days, flowers twist around their ankles and snare them to the ground. It is these flowers–the trespassers, metamorphosised into plants–that they pluck petals from and shower themselves in. It is evidence of their cruelty and their power: it is the visible evidence that they are far, far superior to humans, even if both they and mortals serve the gods.


Hermes Khthonios and Hekate Khthonia

August 19, 2009

Hermes is, perhaps, one of the more underappreciated gods. He is an Olympian, and thus respected for that: but that is not all he is. He has another duty, far more grand than his role in the myths as a simple messenger, and that is the role of guiding the dead to their final resting place. He lead the dead from their bodies to the Underworld, to be taken in Kharon’s boat into the realm of gloomy Hades. In this role, he becomes a god not just of the earth and skies, but of beneath the earth: he becomes a Khthonic god. He becomes Hermes Diaktoros or Pompaios—the guide—and Hermes Kataibatês, the descender.

When Persephone was abducted by Hades, it was Hermes who, at Zeus’ eventual request, flew down to the Underworld to retrieve her. It was not Zeus himself, nor, indeed, any of the other gods, Olympian or not. It was him: the messenger of the gods both above and below the world. Although Persephone did not accompany him back, it would later become Hermes who would descend to take and return her when her six months in the gloomy Underworld had ended.

Perhaps it was in this role, guide rather than messenger, that Hermes Khthonios became so intricately involved with Hekate. She, Persephone’s minister; he, Persephone’s guide. Pausanias and Propertius allude to Hermes Khthonios lying with, and producing children with, Underworld goddesses or nymphai: Daeira and Brimo. Daeira, mother of Eleusis by Hermes, was identified with Hekate through their joint connections to the Eleusinian Mysteries; and Brimo, a goddess of the Underworld, was identified with both Daeira and Hekate. The name ‘Brimo’—the angry, the terrifying—is frequently considered an epithet of Hekate’s—therefore making Hekate the consort of Hermes Khthonios, and, if the connections between Hekate-Daeira and Daeira-Brimo hold, the mother of Eleusis by Hermes.

Further to this, Hermes Khthonios and Hekate did not have just Persephone in common. Both were also guides of the dead: Hermes Khthonios directed souls down to the mouth of the Underworld, and Hekate lead them back up as ghosts. Perhaps, then, they could be said to have a dualistic relationship; for they are both antagonistic and companionable towards one-another, for Hermes Khthonios restricted the shades of the dead, and Hekate Khthonia freed them.

Both Hermes and Hekate have yet another shared aspect. One of Hekate’s two sacred animals is the dog, particularly the hounds of the Underworld (the kunes khthonioi), due to Queen Hekabe’s metamorphosis into a black bitch. According to Apollonius Rhodius, Lycophron, Ovid and Virgil, to name but a few, Hekate’s arrival from gloomy Hades to the mortal world was heralded by the ‘baying in the night’ of dogs. Hermes, too, has a connection with dogs, as the god of animal husbandry and the god of guard dogs. Thus, Hermes and Hekate are bound further: her arrival incites dogs to bay, creatures of which he has dominion, perhaps as a warning to those who would venture into the goddess’ path (and thus be beyond Hermes’ protection of the home and of travellers).

Although one’s personal experiences and alternative sources may contradict a sexual relationship between Hermes Khthonios and Hekate, it is undeniable that there is a relationship. They are the opposite of one-another, the perfect companions and the perfect balance: Olympian-Khthonian and Khthonian-Titanide; light-shadow and shadow-light; sky-earth and earth-sky; and feminine male and masculine female.

Hermes Khthonios could not exist without Hekate Khthonia, and vice-versa. They need each other: the Underworld, the mortal world and Mount Olympus all need balance to exist and flourish, and Hermes and Hekate provide the joined worlds with some of that balance. They are Divinities with a foot in each world, tethering one to the next and yet keeping them separate. They are Underworld gods, earth gods, sea gods, sky gods: and they could not truly exist in any other form.