Votive of Artemis Orthia, from Archaeological Museum in Athens

I have now been dedicated to Artemis for over 15 years. Dedication is an ongoing process: not only does one learn more about the appropriate rituals and devotional activities to one’s deity, but the gods progressively reveal themselves to be more complex and multifaceted, the longer one associates with them.

Artemis is no exception. In the beginning I understood her as fans of Greek mythology often do: Apollo’s twin, exclusive to women, ever virgin yet paradoxically concerned with childbirth. Yet the more I engage with her, the more work and research I do, the more I find that these apparently straightforward characteristics possess subtleties that aren’t readily evident. What’s more, they didn’t hold in every place the goddess was worshiped in the ancient world, or were understood differently in different places and times. Artemis being Apollo’s twin, for instance, seems to have been a particularly Athenian notion.

Artemis Orthia is a particularly (perhaps peculiarly) Spartan take, an evident syncretism of the great Greek goddess with a local deity, perhaps due to the latter’s association with animals and initiation–these are two areas where the association with Artemis seems to have been universal, if differently applied in different places.

The diamastigosis was an initiatory ritual for Spartan youth, who would attempt to approach the altar (delightfully, laden with cheese) while being driven back by priests wielding whips. The idea wasn’t so much to avoid the whips as to endure them in order to reach the reward. A most Spartan ritual, to be sure, and at root not all that different from rituals to Artemis in other contexts, which often involved endurance of a physical challenge or some sort of athletic or other physical contest. Then too, initiatory rituals on the whole generally involve some sort of privation or danger as a test before welcoming the initiate into full membership in a group. One distinguishing feature of the diamastigosis is that it seems to be something initiates underwent together, rather than individually.

At this stage of my practice I have begun focusing on work with the different aspects and expressions of Artemis that I encounter, either through personal experience, the development of devotional work, or research. The gods of ancient Greece are not monoliths, any more than any other gods are. Though ancient Greece was a very different place from the societies we live in today, understanding how they thought of and interacted with their gods reveals exciting possibilities for present-day devotees.

Altar at the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, Sparta. (Source: Barbarism & Civilization)