Sunday, July 27, 2014

Greek Myths

A question I'm occasionally asked is "how can you worship a deity that did (insert questionable or downright awful thing here) in mythology?" I think it's a fair question. When I first started looking at Greek deities and their myths, more than once I went, woah, wait, they did what? However, when I started digging deeper a few things became clear...

First, we have to remember that these myths are not holy text. They're not the word of God, or anything like that. They're not often meant to depict literal events. They're stories, and while some of them did have religious significance, many myths were told more for entertainment purposes. Likewise, we have to consider who wrote the myths. I don't just mean that they were written down by humans, but that surviving written sources were often written by educated men in particular. Often the view of a deity we gain if we only look at the myths surrounding them is not complete, we also need to attempt to look at the religious cults and folk religion that surrounded them.

We also have to consider the cultural filter with which we view these myths. Our culture is quite different from that of ancient Greece in many ways. One example that I see come up a lot is the meaning of virginity in Greek myth - Athena, Artemis, and Hestia were all considered virgin goddesses. Virginity is something that carries a lot of baggage for many in our modern culture. The whole link to purity, to how sex is sinful and dirty, and so on. Some say that virginity in ancient Greece just meant that the woman was not dependent on any man, and had nothing to do with sex. The truth is somewhere in between. One school of Greek thought was that men were projective, and women receptive, so when a woman and a man had sex, the woman was no longer wholly herself, a part of the man would always be in her. So yes, independence played a part in Greek virginity, but so did sex... just not for the same reasons sex plays in virginity today. (This is actually a huge topic in itself, all three of the Goddesses I mentioned remained virgins for different reasons... I'll have to revisit this topic in the future.)

These cultures had different morals and concepts from us today, and these are often reflected in the myths they created. Again, we have to remember that myths are created by humans, and sometimes elements of myths are perhaps more reflective of a culture's ideas truly something reflective of the deity involved. Yes, these people created these myths and included particular deities for a reason, but again, these are not divine revelations, they are human created stories.

Another thing to consider is that myths often have several versions, and of course could change through the years. Sometimes myths are in fragments, and we're trying to put a puzzle together when we don't have all the pieces. As an example, there's a myth where the hunter Actaeon sees Artemis as she's bathing, because of this she turns him into a stag and he is then killed by his own hunting dogs. I mean, that's kind of harsh, right?

Well, maybe. It depends on how much of the myth we look at. Some versions of the myth Actaeon enters into her sacred grove (or cave) where the spring is, knowing full well that this was her sacred ground, that it was off limits to him. Some say he stumbled upon her on accident, but kept staring at her when he knew that he should look away. Other myths say he had been boasting about being a better hunter than she was, and was entering into her sacred ground to hunt when he came across her in the lake. Some myths imply that he was planning to brag about how he had seen her naked. Some even speculate that in the earliest versions of this myth Actaeon was one of her hunting companions, and when he saw her he attempted to rape her.

Often myths have a deeper symbolic meaning, as well, if not several layers of deeper meaning. Let's hop over to ancient Egypt for a moment. Osiris was a god who is said to have ruled Egypt for a time, he was a kind and gentle king, he was fair, good, and the people loved him. He was eventually killed by his brother, Set. On the surface, that's pretty inexcusable.

However, let's look at these gods and what they rule, among other things Osiris is a god of the green vegetation, as well as the cultivated crops, and Set is a god of the desert. It's the same idea we see in many myths, where the gods reflect the seasons of nature, where the grain god dies, the harvest sustains the people.

Now I'm not saying myths are useless, that we should ignore them, or anything like that. Myths are an important tool to understanding a deity, and the role they played in their culture. However, you do need to try to look at these myths through the lens of the culture they came from, you need to consider how the myth was handed down, and perhaps changed over time, the role of story in the culture, what role the myth played in religious cults (if any). It's also important to understand that myths are only play a part in understanding a deity - there are many other aspects to consider besides the myths that may surround them.

Summer Sunday

A young white-tailed deer resting next to a field of growing corn.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Northern Starflower (Trientalis borealis)

The northern starflower is a small, perennial plant, which grow only a few inches tall. They are commonly found in woodland areas, and do well in shady areas with moist soil. Northern starflowers have small blooms from mid-spring through mid-summer, which then turn to seeds. They are generally found in clusters, since they can also spread through underground rhizomes.

Northern starflowers are so called because their white flowers look like little stars. While the flowers can have anywhere from five to nine petals, it is common for them to have seven petals (which is uncommon for flowers). Additionally, they generally have seven sepals and seven stamens, and sometimes seven leaves.

There doesn't seem to be any folklore about the northern starflower, at least not that I've been able to find. Nor does it seem to have any medicinal uses, and it's not really edible.

Still, the flower has some potential ritual uses. For example, seven pointed stars are often considered protective symbols, so one might place some of the blooms on an altar for a protective working, or in a protective charm bag. Some associate the seven pointed star with the fae, and so it might be used in their workings. I also saw a few northern starflowes with eight pointed blooms, and the eight pointed star is a sacred symbol of Ishtar, and sometimes of Venus and Aphrodite, as well. An eight pointed star could also be symbolic of the four quarter and four cross quarter days. Northern starflower might also make a nice decoration or offering to deities associated with stars, such as the Egyptian goddess Nut.
Starflower is listed as endangered in Georgia and Kentucky, and threatened in Illinois and Tennessee. So if you come across them in one of these areas, please just enjoy them where they are.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rearranging the Shrines

I've spent the past few weeks (yeah, weeks, it's been a slow process) trying to bring a bit of new life to my shrines. Either they'd grown a bit stagnant, were no longer relevant, or were just in bad locations which meant they weren't getting the proper attention. I've found that often shrines and altars grow and change on their own with use, but sometimes they just need a total overhaul.

This was all originally prompted by the changes I wrote about in my last post, About halfway through that whole process my hearth shrine just started to feel off. I decided to move it to a different place in the kitchen, and I tried a lot of different arrangements, worked with different materials and styles, and nothing was clicking for me. Eventually I realized what needed to be done, and it's coming along... okay. I'm having a hard time deciding exactly in which spot it would work best.

I've decided to move Artemis' shrine into the kitchen where most of the others are. Right now I'm looking at other statues of Artemis, and considering maybe using a framed picture instead, since the statue I have right now doesn't fit the space well. I'm also debating which of two spaces would make for a better hearth shrine and which a better shrine for Artemis. Unfortunately I only have one "large" spot, so I need to decide which requires more room.

I also felt it was time to establish a proper shrine to Hekate, rather than just setting up a temporary one when needed. That's coming along rather well, as it was really just a matter of clearing off a spot that wasn't really being used for anything, and putting the 'temporary' items up. Again the issue is that I only have one large spot, and I'm not sure the small shelf where I've decided to put Hekate's shrine into will be big enough for what I generally use it for... I may have to continue using part of the hearth altar for some of Hekate's festivals. For day to day use, though, the small area works well.

Last, but not least, I took away the pillar candles from my Hathor shine and added in some new tea light holders. Oh, and I bought a beautiful new offering dish! Still in the mail, but I'm excited to add it in. Hathor's shrine is by far always the easiest shrine to maintain, perhaps in part due to location, perhaps because out of the deities I currently honor regularly, Hathor has been around the longest. I've had many years to experiment and discover what is appreciated.

Friday, July 18, 2014


I've struggled with writing this post for a while now. I'd write long, detailed paragraphs, delete them, write something simple, be unhappy with it, and never really got anywhere. Much of what I considered writing about is really too personal for me to put out there right now. I'm also still processing a lot of it. I thought writing it out would help that process, and in some respects it did, but I think most of it is best left to a private journal.

I will say that the last eight months have been a long journey. I think I vastly misunderstood a message from Westya at the beginning of all of this. There were a lot of disconnects, many twists and turns, struggles to sort through information, symbols, and so on, and it was rough. Then in the end, there was Hestia. That answered many questions, but of course created more. I am still working through most of those.

The two are of course fairly similar in many ways, one being a reconstructed predecessor of the other, but they also have their differences as well. The big picture of my hearth practice is still the same, but the details have changed.