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.
An interesting and challenging aspect of taking on responsibility for stewardship of land if you’re a nature-worshiping polytheist is the necessity of entering into communication with the entities and spirits in residence in that land. As I embark on such an enterprise, an acquaintance’s observation that as Americans, the land we live on is not necessarily in alliance with us resonates deeply. Not only is the land of which I’m proposing to take stewardship recently clearcut commercial timberland, but it has some earlier prior history of which I am ignorant, because that history has been erased. Did other people whose relationship to the land ran along different lines once live there? Almost certainly.
Wild Gods has a fairly set ritual structure and specific deities with whom we work, inspired by the work of Labrys in Greece and other reconstructions of ancient Greek religious practice. Yet at the same time we are aware that we are engaging in these practices in a time and place outside their origin. There is a wide-ranging and contentious discussion to be had on this subject; right now I’ll say that given how concerned ancient Greek religion was with place, we likewise engage in our practice conscious of the place in which we do it in both specific and general terms: where are we right now, and what entities reside here that might be gratified or offended by what we’re doing–and, more generally, what is the historical, cultural, and spiritual context in which we are operating?
Every full moon I perform a ritual termed the dadiai, based on a historical full-moon offering of cakes to the goddess Artemis. For this full moon, I wanted to open communication with land of which I propose to take stewardship, and of which I have necessarily obtained legal ownership for that purpose. (How the concept of land ownership plays into all of this is yet another large and contentious topic.) How to adapt my practice, the means I possess for attempting this task, to a respectful and meaningful end that will help accomplish its purpose? Especially since I don’t know what the historical and potentially pre-historical inhabitants would have done?
One must start somewhere. For this ritual, I chose to address first the aspects of the deities I work with that I wished to evoke. I wasn’t just calling on Artemis, I was calling specifically on the aspect of Artemis which cares for and stewards wild places. I wasn’t just calling on Pan, I was calling specifically on Pan as the spirit of wilderness that endures against incomprehensible opposition. I wasn’t just calling on Dionysus, I was calling specifically on Dionysus as the spirit of rebirth and renewal. Incorporated into all of this was explicit acknowledgment of the spirits of the place I was in, an element I brought with me from the witchcraft Tradition in which I was trained.
Thus this communication was also an introduction. Hello. I’m new here. I know you have been abused and much has been taken from you. Here is what I’m proposing to do about that, and here are the the names in which I do this work.
There’s something in us that goes for the quick fix, and polytheists and witches are as susceptible to this as anyone. In this work, however, there is no quick fix. You cannot expect the spirits of a damaged land to take your word for anything. The most optimistic interpretation I have of the response I got was: We’ll see.
It’s enough. For now.
Lady Artemis, we ask your protection for the children of our families, and of our friends’ families; for those suffering the upheaval of displacement, by choice or by force; for those harmed by thoughtless politics and cruel policies. Aid us in the stewardship of the air and water, of the forests and the mountains, and all the creatures who live thereon. So mote it be.
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d.
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.
hiketeria: a branch wound with fillets. Offered in supplication.
Lady Artemis, goddess of the wild, of children and animals and all wild things, hear our entreaty. Now is a dangerous time for Your creatures, even as we await the blessing of spring, for everywhere the children of the world and the great wilderness of the world is in danger. Help us to protect what is sacred to You. Help us to be Your stewards in this time. Guard our paths and may Your torch shine bright. Io evohe, so be it.