Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Question Collections post 7: calendar edition

I get a lot of questions from readers, and most of the time, the answers are fairly short. When I feel the question or the reply would be valuable to others as well, I make a post with a collection of them and post them in one go. Today is one of those posts, and because I got a few questions directly or indirectly related to the Hellenic calendar, I decided to bundle them up.

"Just a quick question concerning the Hellenic Calendar. When it comes to the months and the festivals & observances within that month, are these observances, etc based off of seasonal events? Currently I am putting together a calendar for myself suited to the southern hemisphere and considering Australia's seasons are opposite to that of Greeces, would I need to swap around the months in which the festivals are held. For example traditionally Gamelion is in the Month of January & February which in Greece is Winter where as in Australia it is Summer so should I therefore adjust my calendar so that Gamelion is July & August?"

Hellenists on the Southern Hemisphere have two (well, three actually, but we'll get to that) choices: you can either follow the calendar of Greece and celebrate harvest festivals in Spring, or you can go against the grain, adapt the calendar to fit your seasons but remain half a year ahead/behind ancient Greece. Which one you choose depends on your priorities, I think. Let's work the pro's and con's of both scenarios.

Follow the original calendar: you have the benefit of being in line with the majority of Hellenists, which is awesome, but not essential. What does matter, though--at least to me--is that it is the calendar the Gods are used to. As a Traditional Recon, most of what I do, I do because the Gods were worshipped that way in ancient Hellas (or at least as close to it as I can get). As such, it matters to me that I perform a certain ritual on a certain date.

Adapt: so, you'll be out of sync with just about everyone, but most likely you will be in sync with local Hellenists--and that is a major plus. You might not be celebrating the festivals when the ancient Hellenist did, but at least you are celebrating them in the proper season.

In general, you can draw conclusions about the nature of the festivals by the God or Goddess to which the festival was dedicated. Demeter, obviously, is linked to agricultural festivals, Athena--usually--to the polis, or to a major historical event, etc. I am very happy I do not have to make this choice, but in my opinion, a blend of the two choices would be best. Craft a calendar where the agricultural festivals follow your seasonal cycle, and leave the polis and historical festivals where they are. Some will not blend well, but most, I suspect will fall into place quiet readily. I wish you the best of luck.

"How does the concept of Poseidon II work in the Hellenic Calendar. For example in Feb 2016 we have 29 days in the month rather than 28. So on the 29th would that be 1 Poseidon II and then March first being 2 Poseidon II?"

The ancient Hellenes had a problem: Hellenic months were either twenty-nine or thirty days in length, since the moon orbits the earth in roughly 29.5 days. Hollow months had twenty-nine days, full months had thirty. The ancient Hellens chose not to alternate the hollow and full months according to a set schedule ("Hekatombaion is a hollow month"), but instead, the duration of each month was declared just before month's end. The thirtieth day was always included; in a hollow month, the twenty-ninth day was left off of the calendar.

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

As far as I am aware, by the way, the next Poseideon II is from 22 December 2015 to 21 January 2015.

"Are there any hymns for the Agathós Daímon?"

I'm filling this one under 'calendar related' seeing as I am assuming the person who asked it probably wants to use it for His festival. As you might be aware, I have my own thoughts about Agathós Daímōn. On the second day of the new Hellenistic month, we give sacrifice to (the) Agathós Daímōn, on a day named after the 'Good Spirit'. The Agathós Daímōn was always a positive in one's life, and was generally seen as the source of personal or familial good fortune. Libations of (unmixed) wine were given to Him with each newly opened case of wine, and during feasts and symposium, Agathós Daímōn received the first libation. When crossing a snake on the road, it was also customary to pour out a libation, just in case it was a herald of Agathós Daímōn, or Agathós Daímōn Himself.

It's interesting to note that Agathós Daímōn is reported as receiving libations of unmixed wine, instead of the standard mixed libations of the Ouranic Theoi. This Khthonic aspect of His worship brings me to two possible explanations of the nature of Agathós Daímōn: a link to Zeus Meilichios ('the kindly one'), a Khthonic epithet of Zeus, and a link to Zeus Kthesios, the household protector. Artwork found at Lebadeia suggest a marriage between Zeus Meilichios and Agathe Tyche, and Zeus Meilichios--like Agathós Daímōn and Zeus Kthesios--is a snake God, often represented as one as well.

So, recapping: there is a good possibility that Agathós Daímōn is linked to Zeus and thus hymns to Him would work for Agathós Daímōn as well. I am partial to Orphic Hymn 72. There is also a short hymn from the Papyri Graecae Magicae, also known as the 'Greek Magical Papyri'. They are a body of papyri from Graeco-Roman Egypt, which each contain a number of magical spells, formulae, hymns and rituals. The materials in the papyri date from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. The manuscripts came to light through the antiquities trade, from the 18th century onwards. One of the best known of these texts is the so-called Mithras Liturgy. It's quoted in Themis by Harrison.

"Give me every grace, all accomplishment, for with thee is the bringer of good, the angel standing by the side for Tyche. Therefore give thou means and accomplishment to this house, thou who rulest over hope, wealth-giving Aion, holy good Daimon. Bring to accomplishment and incline to me all the graces and divine utterances."

Monday, September 1, 2014

Greek-Italian exhibit now in Athens

Are you, perhaps, anywhere near Athens from now to October 31? If you are, you probably have a lot of things to do and see, but you might want to make time for a new exposition at the National Archaeological Museum celebrating the common cultural destiny of Greece and Italy and its impact on European culture.

Athens to display 25 masterpieces from Greece & Italy
A sculptural pairing of the tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton dating to the
2nd century BC on loan from Naples. These are Roman copies of the
Athenian originals, probably from Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli
[Credit: National Archaeological Museum of Greece]
The Archaeology News Network reports that the exhibition is entitled 'Classicism and Europe: The destiny of Greece and Italy'. It features twenty-five masterpieces from Greece’s and Italy’s major museums, spanning a period of 4,500 years, from the early prehistoric civilizations of the Aegean to the Archaic era of the 6th century BC. It represents the rise of democracy in ancient Greece and then the rise of Christianity through Byzantine art, right through the Renaissance, featuring works by El Greco and Mattia Preti and ending in the 20th century.

The exhibition was launched in Italy on March 28, to mark the start of the Italian presidency of the European Union, which succeeded that of Greece. At the 28th of August, the exhibition opened in Greece. The exhibition has already been presented in at Rome’s Presidential Quirinale Palace.

Ellines.com reports that the Greek exhibits include some iconic works from the country’s most important museums: the relief of 'Thinking Athena’ from the Acropolis (460 BC – Acropolis Museum) a Linear B clay tablet from Pylos (late 13th century – National  Archaeological Museum), two Cycladic figurines from Naxos (3000 BC – National Archaeological Museum), a rhyton shaped bullhead from the palace of Zakros (Minoan period- Archaeological Museum of Heraklion). The collection further includes Greek paintings, such as the 12th century 'Our Lady of Mercy' from the Byzantine and Christian Museum, as well as El Greco’s 'St. Peter' from the National Gallery.

The Italian exhibits include the Sculptural Group of the Tyrannicides – Harmodius and Aristogeiton (2nd Century AD – Naples, National Archaeological Museum), Ludovisi Acrolith (480 – 470 BC – Rome, National Roman Museum, Altemps Palace) and Caravaggio painting 'John the Baptist' (1605-1606 – Rome, National Gallery of Ancient Art of Corsini Palace).

Sunday, August 31, 2014

SyFy's 'Olympus' coming to a TV screen near you come 2015

BBC's Atlantis is getting competition in the 'Hellenic mythology on television'-department. Come 2015, US network SyFy is airing Olympus, a 'mythological drama series which will take viewers into the action-packed world of humans, Gods and monsters'.

Syfy's Olympus EXCLUSIVE Concept Art - H 2014
Concept art for Olympus, featuring Hero

Olympus comes from writer Nick Willing, previously responsible for Syfy’s Neverland (2011), Alice (2009) and Tinman (2007) miniseries, and legendary executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. (Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, The Odyssey, Gulliver’s Travels).

The series will centre on how a few brave men and women banished the Gods to the realm of the unconscious: a place they called the Underworld, or the Kingdom of Hades. The series follows Hero on his journey as he 'transforms from a fresh-faced and raw young man through the dramatic experiences of betrayal, love, disappointment, empowerment and exile, until he emerges a ruthless leader of man and a match for the Gods themselves'.

The first season will have thirteen episodes, and filming is underway in Vancouver and London. Thunderbird Films, who produce the series, hasn’t announced the cast yet but says that is coming soon. According to Chris Regina, Senior Vice President of Programming at Syfy:

“Olympus is a fantastic blend of action, intense thrills, creatures and great story telling. It will feature characters from mythology in a way never before imagined.”

I'm fairly certain we shouldn't expect the new Syfy series to stay true to the source material at all, but as the producer of a great many very good fantasy and science fiction shows, I expect Olympus to be entertaining, engaging, and hopefully include a few memorable and strong female characters.

Are you excited about another TV show set in ancient Hellas? Would you like me to recap it once it starts airing? Let me know.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The serpent and rebirth

About a week ago, I posted about the dragon slayers on ancient Hellenic mythology. My wonderful friend Robert Clark, Co-founder of Elaion, the Hellenic organisation this blog is associated, read the post and emailed me some of his thoughts on drakons (serpents) and the meaning behind them in mythology. I found them so inspiring that I would like to share them with you today.

"Well into the third century, the human soul was understood to take the form of a serpent (snake) on leaving the deceased body.  Apollon kills the Python as He is the 'new Python' in a sense, a protector and averter of evil par excellence. The Pythia gave her oracles from the spring that was under the Temple of Apollon. The Kastalia spring was used for cleansing before entering the precinct of Delphi. There is the healing serpent of Asklepios and the two serpents of the kerykeion, the Agathos Daimon and Agatha Tyche, the crescent moon and full moon and perhaps the disk of the sun, the likeness to the horns of consecration, etc. that permeates our religion. 

Cadmos as instructed by Athena in Ovid's Metamorphoses: 

"She commanded him to sow the dragon's teeth in mellowed soil, from which might spring another race of men. And he obeyed: and as he plowed the land, took care to scatter in the furrowed soil the dragon's teeth; a seed to raise up man." 

In the end, Cadmus and Harmonia are turned into serpents:

"Weighted with woe, bowed down with years, their minds recalled the time when first disaster fell upon their House:—relating their misfortunes, Cadmus spoke “Was that a sacred dragon that my spear impaled, when on the way from Sidon's gates I planted in the earth those dragon-teeth, unthought-of seed? If haply 'tis the Gods, (whose rage unerring, gives me to revenge) I only pray that I may lengthen out, as any serpent.” Even as he spoke, he saw and felt himself increase in length."

Harmonia is also changed into a serpent:

"Oh, why not, ye celestial Gods, me likewise, to a serpent-shape transform!”— So ended her complaint. Cadmus caressed her gently with his tongue; and slid to her dear bosom, just as if he knew his wife; and he embraced her, and he touched her neck. All their attendants, who had seen the change, were filled with fear; but when as crested snakes the twain appeared in brightly glistening mail, their grief was lightened: and the pair, enwreathed in twisting coils, departed from that place, and sought a covert in the nearest grove.— There, then, these gentle serpents never shun mankind, nor wound, nor strike with poisoned fangs; for they are always conscious of the past."

Thank you, Robert, for your words of wisdom.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pandora's Kharis raised $100,- for The Trevor Project

Pandora's Kharis is proud to announce that our monthly fundraising has raised $100,- for The Trevor Project, America's leading organization in providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24. The Trevor Project is determined to end suicide among LGBTQ youth by providing life-saving and life-affirming resources including our nationwide, 24/7 crisis intervention lifeline, digital community and advocacy/educational programs that create a safe, supportive and positive environment for everyone, and we can help them do that. Please read below a letter of thanks by The Trevor Project's CEO and pitch your cause for next month on the Pandora's Kharis Facebook page.

Dear Pandora's Kharis:

On behalf of the nearly 100,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth served by The Trevor Project each year, we are deeply grateful for your financial contribution.

Your gift of $100.00 supports our life saving and life affirming for LGBTQ youth. Your support not only enables us to continue the important work of our 24/7 crisis and suicide prevention Lifeline, but also enables us to expand our community and school educational initiatives and operate our online LGBTQ social network, TrevorSpace.


Abbe Land
Executive Director & CEO

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why polytheism matters in reconstructionism

I am currently reading 'Coping With the Gods - Religions in the Graeco-Roman World' by Henk Versnel. It's a book published in 2012 which 'investigates how ancient Greeks could validate the complementarity of dissonant, if not contradictory, representations in e.g. polytheism, theodicy, divine omnipotence and ruler cult'. It's fascinating reading, and I wanted to share with you a bit from the start of the book, about polytheism and the foundation of its divine framework.

Versnel starts his book by investigating polytheism, putting forth two seemingly opposite viewpoints as represented by Walter Burkert and Jean-Pierre Vernant, both acclaimed scholars of the ancient Graeco-Roman world. All students of Greek religion, he says, stand in debt of at least one of these two protagonists, many of both. This is true, I think. Burkert was included in the first few books I ever read on the subject, and Vernant stands proudly on my bookshelf to this day.

These two scholars have differing views on a very important topic: is a pantheon of Gods founded in chaos or--what Versnel calls--kosmos, and can you define a God from a pantheon separately from it? Burkert states that:

"[A] polytheistic world of gods is nevertheless potentially chaotic, and not only for the outsider. The distinctive personality of a god is constituted and mediated by at least four different factors: the established local cult with its ritual programme and unique atmosphere, the divine name, the myths told about the named being, and the iconography, especially the cult image. All the same, this complex is easily dissolved, and this makes it quite impossible to write the history of any single god."

Vernant views a God quite differently:

"A god is a power that represents a type of action, a kind of force. Within the framework of a pantheon, each of these powers is defined not in itself as an isolated object but by virtue of its relative position in the aggregate of forces, by the structure of relations that oppose and unite it to the other powers that constitute the divine universe. The law of this society of the beyond is the strict demarcation of the forces and their hierarchical counterbalancing. This excludes the categories of omnipotence, omniscience and of infinite power.

Versnel concludes from this the following:

"Significantly, the only conviction which the two scholars do share, namely the idea that it is impossible to adequately define one single god in isolation from others, precisely reveals the gulf by which they are separated. Vernant explains this aporia by his conviction that no god exists (hence: can be described) in isolation from other gods. Together the gods construct, as we have seen, “the polytheistic system as a rigorously logical ensemble, designed for the purpose of classifying divine capacities and powers.” Burkert, in his definition, avoids these terms, and gives a radically different reason for his inability of fully describing one god in isolation: each god as an individual is defined by a number of characteristics, dependent on variations in time and place. These characteristics, however, are variables associated in untransparent and seemingly arbitrary shifts with a great number of other gods. While for Vernant the coexistence and relationships of gods are the conditio sine qua non for an individuation of each god, for Burkert the very same pluralist variety of gods and their transformations constitute the germs of the potentially chaotic nature of Greek polytheism."

So, how do you define a God if you try to define Them without the boundaries placed upon Them by Their pantheon? How does a single God influence the foundation of the entire pantheon? And, if it is impossible to define a single God without referring to their pantheon, does that lessen Their power? Burkert finds that the domains of Gods bleed together in such a way that the boundaries between the Gods shift, lessening their individuality and--in a way--their power. Because these domains overlap so much--many Gods boast healing powers, many Gods watch over sailors, many Gods guard the home, etc.--a single God needs the other Gods to fully blossom and define themself. Because these domains shift and bleed so much, an entire pantheon is at risk of falling into chaos.

Vernant views this differently, saying that the way the domains of the Gods bleed and mix is exactly what binds the Gods together into a whole. It's not chaos but kosmos: a universe created by interlinkage in which all the Gods rely on each other to form a cohesive whole. As Versnel says, when we ask whether the Greek pantheon was chaos or kosmos, this does not mean that the two terms should be necessarily conceived in Vernantian or Burkertian terms. What it means is that it is important to keep these two viewpoints in mind when studying the ancient Hellenic religion and the people who practiced it. These are two ways of looking at something that simply was--without explanation or guide. There is no indication that the ancient Hellenes thought of their belief system as either chaotic or kosmologic. It's modern reasoning applied to ancient practices--but as such, it does matter.

To get back to those questions posed two paragraphs up, I don't think you can adequately define a God without referring to their pantheon. I can tell you that Athena is perceived as female, that she represents thought before action, that she is a virgin Goddess, and that she is associated with Athens. What I can't tell you is why. Without being allowed to refer to the framework in which She resides, I cannot explain to you who her mother and father are, and why that matters to her dominion over intelligent thought. Without referring to Hēphaistos, I cannot tell you how I know she is one of the virgin Goddesses. Without mentioning Poseidon, I can't tell you why She is associated with Athens. Her relationship to people, Gods, and places in mythology--as well as (local) cult worship--are what makes Athena the Goddess that She is. So if I were to take her outside of this framework, I feel She would, indeed, lose much of her power. In this way, a single God defines an entire pantheon, because everything is connected. Take one God out of it, and--as Burkert says--the entire pantheon would fall to chaos. As Vernant illustrates, though, you simply can't take a single God out of the pantheon, and as such, these is no chaos--just kosmos.

Polytheism is the belief in many Gods. Those who reconstruct the religious views of an ancient culture often do so with a single pantheon in mind--a single framework in which they operate and worship. This is why Reconstructionist need to worship the pantheon as a whole: you simply can't worship one God, or three, or eight: all Gods need every other single God in the pantheon to fully blossom and come into Their power. Burkert and Vernant are right in saying that these forces work together, and while Burkert's dissonant may not hold true in an established pantheon, it most certainly can in household worship. I'll end this post with a quote by Versnel, who states the following about the ancient Hellenes, and which is good advice for every modern practicioner of Hellenismos:

"Greeks (that is: some Greeks) pushed frontiers in their quest for consistency, coherence, unity, rationality, order. The Greeks never lost an awareness of living in a dissonant, pluralistic, diverse reality. One specific feature of Greek culture, as opposed to our modern culture, is that it displays an unmatched capacity to unashamedly juxtapose the two, tolerating glaring contradictions and flashing alternations."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Metageitnion updates

A while ago, I decided that on the day of the Hene kai Nea, I'd post a monthly update about things that happened on the blog. It's a little late this month, and I think I skipped one, but here we are again.

Changes to the blog:
Anything else?
Pandora's Kharis, a charity circle for and by Hellenistic Polytheists, was launched a few months ago and is currently collecting for The Trevor Project. If you want to donate, you have until tomorrow! Join us on Facebook if you would like to pitch a cause for next month!

Are you looking for an online shop to buy incenses and other Hellenistic basics from? Try The Hellenic Handmaid on Etsy.

That is it for the last month's updates, as far as I can remember. Have a blessed Deipnon!