Monday, March 2, 2015

Sex and shrines

"I was reading up on your 2013 post about Anthesteria in preparation for tomorrow night when I came to the bit about covering your altars to prevent miasma. My main altar is in my bedroom. Should I be covering it every time my husband and I have sex? Have I been polluting my altar for years?"

The post in question can be found here. In it, I talk about covering your main household shrine as a sort of tribute to the fact that for the final two days of the Anthesteria, all temples were closed besides the one of Dionysos. Seeing as this festival is partially an underworld festival, it carries miasma. It is a practice I have adopted for anything underworld-related; I also do it when someone close to me dies, for example, until I can purify myself.

Sex in Hellenismos is.... complicated. Hellenic society was complicated when it came to sex; the ancients saw sex as completely natural and--unlike many today--had no inhibitions and very few taboos when it came to straight up heterosexual sex. Anything else had societal stigma's attached to it. They did however have many thoughts and rules surrounding ritual cleanliness--miasma and katharmos.

The ancient Hellenes viewed sex differently than we do today. In general, they accepted lust for sex as a disease--as madness that needed to be given in to on occasion to preserve sanity. It was the result of a disturbance of the healthy equilibrium between body and mind. Sexual desire made one loose mastery of their intellect--which was a huge ideal in ancient time. Women shouldn't be encouraged to give into that madness too often, but husbands did have the legal obligation to relieve this need in their wives at regular intervals so as to prevent them from becoming dangerous.

Mikalson in 'Ancient Greek Religion' mentions that intercourse led to miasma and that a bath was required before entering a temple after intercourse as a form of katharmos. He, however, does not give a source, and I don't know one either. It is a reoccurring idea, though, mostly centred on the male's excretions during the activity. The Hellenic religious organization 'Labrys' echoes the sentiment, but also without sourcing.

I keep my altar in my bedroom as well--as we live in a one bedroom apartment and we have sliding doors to corner off the bedroom during the night. During the day the space is part of our living room. What I do have is curtains to shut off  the bed from the room beyond and thus creating a temporary barrier between the bed and the altar. When I make love to my girlfriend, I'm mindful to keep these curtains closed. Honestly, I mostly do it because otherwise I feel like there are Gods watching with popcorn, but hey, miasma is an issue too.

We all incur miasma, every single day of our lives. It has nothing to do with sin, shame or guilt. Miasma is a consequence of living. We breath, make decisions, come in contact with others, and along the way, we become too human--for lack of a better term--to petition the Gods. The divide between the purity and cleanliness of the Theoi and our human mortality and imperfection, keeps us away from Them. Miasma is not about being physically dirty, although that is a part of it, and katharmos is not about becoming physically clean, although that is a part of it as well.

After a lot of research into the workings of miasma, I have come to the conclusion that miasma is linked to distraction. Anything that takes your mind off of the Gods during ritual can be considered miasmic. For example, murder causes miasma (when not committed as part of a war, soldiers were not tainted with miasma for killing their enemies), but only once other people became aware of the fact that you had committed an act of murder. As such, if you were exiled and you travelled to another town where no one knew what you had done, in essence, you were not miamic to the rites and people around you. If you can keep your head in the game the morning after and you have taken the proper steps to clean both yourself and the space, then by all means, do the rites. If you can't, well, then it doesn't matter where the shrine is located, now does it? If you mind is still on last night's events, you have no business petitioning the Gods anyway.

Real talk: we don't live in ancient Hellas anymore and while I am a huge stickler for practicing Traditional Hellenismos, not all of us have a huge altar in our garden that we can perform sacrifices at twice a day. Most of us don't have a wood stove or some such to offer at. We live in the now, and as such, we are forced to take certain liberties and deal with the consequences. As such, I would encourage a barrier, but if you don't have one and you have sex next to your household altar, make sure you and the space are clean when you give sacrifice. Sprinkle khernips, take a bath, change the sheets, make sure your mind is entirely on the ritual and not last night's marathon session. Give the Theoi their due in an area that is clean and tidy. Compartmentalize.

So no, I don't think you need to cover your altar whenever you have sex (although I would encourage some sort of barrier between your altar and the bed out of respect). I do think you need to do much more extensive cleaning of the space if you have your altar in your bedroom and you've just had sex. The sight of crumpled sheets and your sleeping lover would undoubtedly bring distraction, and that I would warn against. As a final note: enjoy each other. Share love. These things are far too important to hold off on. Your worship matters but it can be adapted to suite the needs of the entire household--and at its core, that is the main focus of Hellenismos: providing a healthy relationships with the Gods to our family so they in turn may bless us and guard our household.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Behold the face of an Amazon warrior!

Protothema reports on a remarkable feat of modern skill and ancient beauty: the woman depicted below was created by tested and tried methods to restore a face on a skull. In this case, the skull belonged to a teenage Amazonian warrior.
 

The remains of a 2,500-year-old female body unearthed at the Altai Mountains suggest that she may have been a member of the elite all-female virgin Amazon warriors revered by the ancient Hellenes. She lay entombed beside a much older man, accompanied by shields, battle axes, bows and arrowheads. A close examination of her body indicated that she had once been active, a skilled equestrian and archer. Furthermore, nine horses, four bridled, were buried with her, accompanying her to the afterlife.

Aged sixteen at the time of death, the teenage warrior girl’s face was revealed using intricate taxidermy techniques. Siberian archaeologist Dr. Natalya Polosmak had located the remains of the teenage warrior in 1990. Buried in her riding clothes, with horses, Polosmak explains that representatives of the little-known members of a Pazyryk elite, in which women, for social and economic reasons, were allowed to be war-like were buried in this way, these women were known from multiple mentions of the legendary Amazons. Hippokrátēs wrote of these women as a Scythian group famed for their mastery of mounted warfare:

“The women, so long as they are virgins, ride, shoot, throw the javelin while mounted, and fight with their enemies. They do not lay aside their virginity until they have killed three of their enemies, and they do not marry before they have performed the traditional sacred rites. A woman who takes to herself a husband no longer rides, unless she is compelled to do so by a general expedition.”


Saturday, February 28, 2015

PAT ritual announcement: the Anthesteria


At dusk on Sunday, one of Hellenismos' most important festivals (if one can give classifications to the festivals at all) starts. It's the Anthesteria, and held in honor of Dionysos Limnaios, wine, and the dead. The Anthesteria was held annually for three days, the eleventh to thirteenth of the month of Anthesterion. It is an ancestral festival, the oldest of the festivals for Dionysos in Athens, a time of reflection and trust in the new growing season to come, a time to celebrate with the spirits of the departed the indefatigable resurgence of life. The festival centred around the celebration of the maturing of the wine stored at the previous vintage, whose pithoi were now ceremoniously opened, and the beginning of spring. The three days of the feast were called Pithoigia (after πίθοι 'storage jars'), Khoes (χοαί 'libations') and Khytroi (χύτροι 'pots'). For more information about the festival, please go here.

For those of you who would like to join Robert and myself in ritual, elaion has a first: a ritual a day for the duration of the festival, so three days in total, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. There is a PAT ritual event on the Elaion Facebook page that we would love to have you join.10 AM EST. The ritual itself can be found here for day one, here for day two, and here for day three.

Friday, February 27, 2015

On kids and Hellenismos

"So I watched Cara Schultz's video on your blogspot about Hecate and household worship. Early on, she said that household worship is passed on. Does this mean it's forced onto your children? I've always promised that I wouldn't force religion on my children and I would be torn between that if I had to honestly but I don't want to displease the Gods."

The video in question can be found here. It's a Google chat session where she spoke to The Order of Hekate about how Hekate was worshipped in ancient times, as well as the basics of Hellenismos. Her talk incorporates Hekate's Deipnon, Noumenia, Agathós Daímōn, household worship, household worship vs. state worship, the future of Hellenismos and interfaith work. It's a long video, but it's very worth it, especially once Cara gets on a roll. Cara, for those unfamiliar with her, is a member of Hellenion, the largest Hellenic polytheist organization in the United States. Her workshops on Hellenismos have been held at some of the largest Pagan gatherings in the United States, including Pagan Spirit Gathering and Sacred Harvest Festival. She is also the Managing editor of the Pagan Newswire Collective and founder of International Pagan Coming Out Day.

As for your question... I don't believe religion should be forced on a child, but there is a difference between forcing religion upon a child and including them in worship. Children emulate; that's how they learn. When they see mommy or daddy raise their hands at the household altar, they will want to do it, too. It's something that their parents do--and obviously like to do--so why shouldn't they? I don't see an issue in allowing your children to playfully participate in household worship. Tell them the stories of ancient Hellas, allow them to grow up with the Gods in their lives if they so desire.

Therein lies the rub, though; this theory only works if you have a child who shows interest in participating in rites and festivals. If your child does not and you still make them... well.. let's say that you and I are off to a rocky start. I firmly believe adopting religion is a choice. It can be made by only by only one person: you. As a parent you have the right--and yes, I think the Hellenic responsibility--to teach your child the ancient ways, but if they say no, then the answer is no. Perhaps they will come to you when they are older, perhaps they won't. That's under their control, and perhaps the Gods, who may call to them.

Back in ancient Hellas this was a non-issue; everyone knew the Gods to be real and the festivals were gran, fun, and came with lots of yummy food and playtime. There were flowers and pretty clothes and days off. Festivals were brilliant times for kids and of course they participated! Our modern rites are often not that grand, and a lot less exciting for kids. Some children will be drawn to them, others won't.

We, as (future) parents, pass on what we know. Especially Hellenismos--which is a household religion--serves from initiating the new generation into it, but there are limits to what I think you are ethically allowed to push onto your children. I would say the general guideline is: 'are they going to turn out assholes or end up dead if I don't? Yes? Then tough luck, kid, you are learning this'. Religion is not life or death, and being non-religious or finding faith somewhere else does not make you an asshole. So no, I don't condone forcing religion onto your child if they don't want it, and in Cara's defence, I highly doubt she does either.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The sacred mountains of Hellas

The imposing mountains of the Greek nature have always played an important part in the life of Greeks, who incorporated them in their myths and legends as sacred places full of spiritual energy.
Since ancient times, the mysterious rocky peaks of the Greek landscape were thought of as the abode of Gods and mythical creatures that drew their power from the clear sky, the rocks and the lush vegetation covering them. Protothema recently posted the following list of the most beautiful Greek mountains featured in Hellenic mythology.

Olympos

Nowadays, the Greek mountains are popular destinations among outdoor enthusiasts, as they offer the ideal environment for hiking, fishing, four wheeling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, climbing and camping. However, their spiritual energy can still be felt by those who visit them with an open mind and a desire to escape from the hectic life of the city.

Mount Olympus
The highest mountain peak in Greece, it was regarded in ancient times as the home of the Hellenic Gods. It was also considered the site of the War of the Titans, where Zeus and his siblings defeated the Titans.

Mount Othrys
This beautiful mountain in Central Greece was believed to be the home of the Titans during the ten-year war with the Gods of Mount Olympus.

Mount Ida
Located in the Rethymno regional unit in Crete, this mountain was sacred to the Hellenic Titaness Rhea, and on its slopes lies one of the caves, Idaion Andron, in which, according to legend, Zeus was born.

Mount Parnassus
This mountain of limestone in central Greece towers above Delphi, north of the Gulf of Corinth, and offers stunning views of the surrounding olive groves. According to Greek mythology, this mountain was sacred to Dionysus and the Dionysian mysteries; it was also sacred to Apollo and the Corycian nymphs, and it was the home of the Muses.

Mount Pelion
Located at the south-eastern part of Thessaly in central Greece, it forms a hook-like peninsula between the Pagasetic Gulf and the Aegean Sea. In Hellenic mythology, Mount Pelion was the homeland of Kheiron the Centaur, tutor of many ancient Greek heroes, such as Iásōn, Achilles, Theseus and Hēraklēs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On the 'Deus Ex Machina'

Every writer, movie buff, theatre lover, and game connoisseur knows the term: deus ex machina; 'God from a machine'. The term (pronounced as 'Day-oos eks MAH-kee-nah') is a calque from the Hellenic ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός (apò mēkhanês theós), which has roughly the same meaning. The term has evolved into a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. Depending on how it is done, it can be intended to move the story forward when the writer has stuffed up and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or as a comedic device.

The term was coined in Hellenic tragedy, where a machine was (and still is) used to bring actors playing Gods onto the stage. The machine could be either a crane (mechane) used to lower actors from above or a riser that brought actors up through a trapdoor. The idea was introduced by Aeschylus and was used often to resolve the conflict and conclude the drama. Although the device is associated most with Hellenic tragedy, it also appeared in comedies.

Aeschylus used the device in his 'Eumenides', but it was with Euripides that it became an established stage machine. More than half of Euripides' extant tragedies employ a deus ex machina in their resolution, and some critics claim that Euripides, not Aeschylus, invented it.

In Aristophanes' play 'Thesmophoriazusae', the playwright parodies Euripides' frequent use of the crane by making Euripides himself a character in the play and bringing him on stage by way of the mechane. Aristotle was the first to use deus ex machina as a term to describe the technique as a device to resolve the plot of tragedies. Antiphanes believed that the use of the deus ex machina was a sign that the playwright was unable to properly manage the complications of their plot:

"When they don't know what to say, and have completely given up on the play, just like a finger they lift the machine, and the spectators are satisfied. Here is none of this for us."
 
Aristotle also wasn't a fan and he criticized the device in his Poetics:
 
"As in the structure of the plot, so too in the portraiture of character, the poet should always aim either at the necessary or the probable. Thus a person of a given character should speak or act in a given way, by the rule either of necessity or of probability; just as this event should follow that by necessary or probable sequence. It is therefore evident that the unraveling of the plot, no less than the complication, must arise out of the plot itself, it must not be brought about by the Deus ex Machina- as in the Medea, or in the return of the Greeks in the Iliad. The Deus ex Machina should be employed only for events external to the drama- for antecedent or subsequent events, which lie beyond the range of human knowledge, and which require to be reported or foretold; for to the gods we ascribe the power of seeing all things. Within the action there must be nothing irrational. If the irrational cannot be excluded, it should be outside the scope of the tragedy. Such is the irrational element the Oedipus of Sophocles."

Despite that, the effect of the device on Hellenic audiences was attested as a direct and immediate emotional response. Audiences would have feeling of wonder and astonishment at the appearance of the gods and often adds to the moral effect of the drama. Even in modern plays, books, and movies, the deus ex machina can have this effect. How about the Hulk showing up near the end of The Avengers to punch that alien battleship/whale on the nose? Or the Eagles showing up at the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to carry our near-dead heroes home? I, for one, felt extreme elation and excitement at both. When used too much, or too obviously, the deus ex machina can be a cheap trick, but when done well, it can be quite brilliant.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Competition to redesign the entrance to the Acropolis

In an effort to make the Acropolis more accessible for disabled people, the culture ministry is ready to announce an international architectural competition for proposals to solve the problem, thus reports Protothema.


The goal of the competition is to restore iconic Greek architect Dimitris Pikionis’ original vision, in the 1950s, which aimed to allow visitors to gain a panoramic view from all angles. Unfortunately, overcrowding at the main entrance--on the hill’s west side--has created problems for contemporary visitors. Architects are invited to redesign the area leading up to the Acropolis--from the Propylea--to ensure they are more user-friendly, particularly for people with mobility problems.

As part of this initiative, the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) has already approved a change of location for the ancient site’s gift shop, while it plans to eliminate the Herod Atticus Odeon and the Dionysiou Areopagitou (Dionysus the Areopagite) pedestrian way entrances.

Plans are also underway to create a new facility at the site where the old Acropolis museum building remains on the hill’s SW corner--the only structure built in the modern era amid the temples that form the quintessence of classical antiquity.