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Wild Gods

A community honoring Artemis, Pan, and Dionysus

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Artemis

Orphic Hymn to Artemis

Hear me, O queen,
Zeus’ daughter of many names
Titanic and Bacchic,
revered, renowned archer,
torch-bearing goddess bringing light to all,
Diktynna, helper at childbirth,
you help women in labor,
though you know not what labor is.
O frenzy-loving huntress,
you loosen girdles and drive distress away
swift arrow-pouring goddess of the outdoors,
you roam in the night.
Fame-bringing and affable,
redeeming and masculine in appearance,
Orthia, goddess of swift birth,
you are a nurturer of mortal youths,
immortal and yet of this earth,
you slay wild beasts, O blessed one,
your realm is in the mountain forest,
you hunt deer.
O revered and mighty queen of all
fair-blossomed, eternal,
sylvan, dog-loving,
many-shaped lady of Kydonia,
come, dear goddess,
as savior to all the initiates,
accessible to all, bringing forth
the beautiful fruit of the earth,
lovely peace,
and fair-tressed health.
May you dispatch diseases and pain
to the peaks of the mountains.

— translated by Ben Wolkow and Apostolos N. Athanassakis, in The Orphic Hymns

Caretaking

Recently I read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. It was recommended by a teacher in ethnobotany and edible and medicinal plants who I’ve taken a few classes from. Within a few chapters I understood why she praised the book so highly.

On some level many of us know that something is wrong. We know that the way we live isn’t sustainable–unfortunately “sustainable” has become a buzzword, ironically robbing it of meaning–and that we damage the Earth in ways that will take a long, long time to recover from…while meanwhile, the damage continues.

This is something that either bothers you or it doesn’t. If it does, Braiding Sweetgrass comes as close as anything I’ve read to laying out another path. Because everyone who agrees that there’s a problem is largely in agreement about what the problem is. It’s solving it that’s challenging: because, first, finding and articulating a vision of what that solution is, of what that other way looks like, is hard.

In general we have some notions about getting back to the land, about eating local and consuming less. These are generally good things to do because they help develop awareness of the bigger problem, the one that individual choices cannot solve because it is systemic.

Braiding Sweetgrass makes its case via the sciences of botany and ecology, the interdependencies of spirituality and religion, and the grief and passion of people who have seen their land ravaged and their way of life all but destroyed. It’s facile to observe that much of the argument for saving the planet is really about saving ourselves: the planet will continue to exist, probably even with life on it, long after our species has worn itself out.

Kimmerer, though, points out that in devouring our world, we are also devouring ourselves. I see it not only in industrial agriculture that produces more than we could ever use, then wastes it due to market forces; the determined glutting of markets for everything from oil to timber in pursuit of profit; but also in the grinding poverty from which people living in the richest country in the world cannot escape; the stress, anxiety, and rage within even those who by any standard are doing well; the rampant paranoia of a nation as unable to come to terms with its past as with its future.

Wild Gods is dedicated to living in partnership with the world that birthed us. This isn’t just a nice idea, but essential. Kimmerer herself asks the question: who will arrive at Hekate’s Crossroads first? Those who will save the world? Or those who will destroy it?

Björk, “Hunter”

hiketeria

hiketeria_June2017

Artemis, Great Lady, steward of the wild, protector of the young, hunter, mountain dancer, torch-bearer, guide.

We ask your protection this month and every month: guide our hands in the work we have dedicated to your service, watch over our families’ children, our friends’ children, all children in danger of hunger or harm. To you we offer evergreen cedar of the land we care for in dedication to you and to the earth. We ask that you accept these offerings and grant us your blessings.

So mote it be.

Huntress

Artemis_whiteplate
Drawing based on an Attic red-figure kylix by Douris. Drawing by Dugald Sutherland MacColl, 1894.

Mounichia

Labrys, a Hellenic religious group in Greece, performs a Mounichia ritual to Artemis.

Hymn: To Artemis

Artemis I praise, sister of bright Apollo,
first-born of blessed Leto, dear child of Zeus.
Fairest among maidens, you roam the wilderness;
the enchanting nymphs are your friends and companions.
You take joy in wood and meadow, swift-footed one,
you who loves dance and games, you who wins every race.
As the wild lands are yours, so too are the wild beasts;
huntress you are–with bow your skill is unsurpassed,
always do your arrows find their mark. Artemis,
O kindly one, you ease the sharp pains of childbirth,
and you are the fiercest protector of children.
O luminous goddess, I praise and honor you.

(Author: Hearthstone. Source: Hellenion.)

prayer

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Patch by Alley Valkyrie

 

If you find yourself

chasing after her

you’re doing it right

Diamastigosis and Artemis Orthia

nama_artemis_orthia
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.

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

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