Sunday, October 20, 2013

On heroes and heroines

Yesterday, I offered libations and a pancarpia of dried fruits to the heroines, as done at ancient Erchia on this date. The ancient Erchians did this twice a year, once on the 19th of Metageitnion, and once on the 14th of Pyanepsion. Certain heroines--like Basile--were worshipped separately from the group as well, most likely because they were local heroines instead of universally accepted heroines like Atalanta, who hunted the Calydonian boar, slew Centaurs, defeated Peleus in wrestling, or Kallisto, who was an Arcadian princess and hunting companion of the Goddess Artemis. The Heroines recieved a white sheep in sacrifice, of which the meat was partly sacrificed and partly eaten by those who came out to sacrifice. the offering was to remain on the altar for an extended period of time and not to be cleaned off. The skin of the animal went towards the priestess.

Heroes and heroines have a special place in Hellenismos, as they had in ancient Hellas. These were humans--most with at least a part divine heritage--who were considered so brave, so skillful, so extraordinary in their lifetime that they became revered. Some were priests or priestesses of a temple, some excelled in battle, others were skilled healers or good rulers. Once they passed to the realm of Hades, their names were remembered at least once a year on a special ocassion, because the ancient Hellenes believed that if the name and deeds of a person were remembered, they would live forever and potentially look out for those they had looked out for before.

Although linked, hero worship in ancient Hellas was not the same as ancestoral worship; heroes and heroines transcended family bonds--although being related to a hero was most certainly something to boast about. Ask the Athenians.

Archeological evidence suggests that hero worship was closer to Khthonic sacrifices in execution than Ouranic ones the further back in time you go; especially in the archaic period, it seems that hero worship consisted of destructive sacrifices--sometimes in the form of a holókaustos where the entire animal was burned, sometimes in a sacrifice where only a part (most often 'a ninth' of the animal) was burned and the rest remained on the altar for the heroes to eat from until gone. The scrifices were generally burned in an offering pit known as a bothros. The food offered to heroes consisted of meat, blood, and 'food eaten by men' like grains, fruits and other every-day dishes. These were usually offered to the heroes on a table--known as a trapeza--and the heroes were sometimes offered chairs or a bench to sit on. As time went on, the living began to eat part of the meal laid out for the heroes, joining them in celebration.

Hero worship is a hot issue these days; not so much in the Hellenistic community, but more so in the general Pagan one. It reeks of Christianity, I fear, where a mortal man became holy. Heroes and heroines, however, were never revered. They were part of the tapestry of life: ideals to live up to, reminders of hard times in the past; some were their time's Matthew Shepard and stood as reminders against hate. Others were remembered for contributions to society, or for a whole scope of other reasons that made their lives important enough to remember.

We tend to forget about heroes, but unlike Gods, new heroes and heroines arise every day. I'm not just talking about people like Martin Luther King and Malala Yousafzai but people in your own life and your own community. The founder of the food program for the poor in your neighboorhood, the guy who stopped a robbery, the woman who saved a child from drowning. These are events that change lives and communities and while I am vehemently against adding Gods to the pantheon, I feel we must add heroes to it whenever we can. There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world; anyone who stands up against that, who goes out and does something extraordinary, needs to be honored and thanked, both when they are alive and after they have passed. There are people who change our lives and communities--we all know them. Remember and honor them every once in a while, for their actions, for what they taught you, and for what they have inspired to bring into the world.

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