So, I had this idea to make this great new post, but for the most part, i’ve already said a lot of perfect things in this older post. Here, let me quote you something:
Many modern Pagans and Polytheist have this ridiculously romanticised vision of “nature” and the “natural world”. This idea that an untamed forest is a place of kindness, that the planet will just “give” everything needed to Herself and the creatures that live on Her surface. They forget that Gaia throws tantrums — or, if those fits are acknowledged, it’s always with the adage that “we humans deserve it” — forgetting the ill impact these fits have on other living things. While Gaia tends to eventually sort out Her droughts, and blights, and hurricane devatstations, these events still have impacts on plant life, animal life, human life, and even Her own face. It seems only logical to me that Gaia and Kybele are the same soul — They’re clearly a Goddess of opposites.
The bits before and following that bit are pretty good, too, though some of the latter portion has changed in the nearly two years since I wrote it.
Here are some other interesting bits that I’ve found:
According to Theoi Project (and implied in Burkert’s Greek Religion, by lack of any real index points for Gaia, properly), there was very little in the way of Gaia worship that was clearly indistinguishable from Demetre, or other Goddesses.
Gaia’s sacrifices, in ancient times, included black animals; more typical of Khthonic deities than Olympians. If you’re of the (thankfully not apparently all that widespread) opinion that Khthonoi are “spooky” and Their worship should be avoided, think about that —and the above fact.
Also, here’s a lovely fragment from later antiquity, but not necessarily irrelevant, as it seems to be in line with Boeotian tradition:
Suidas s.v. Ge (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.) :
“Ge (Earth): Since the earth is a seat of every city, as, supporting the cities, her image is that of a tower-bearer.”
(This just sort of came to me a couple days or so ago, and so I wrote it down. As best as i can tell, I can’t connect it to ancient ideas and [dare I say?] beliefs, so take this as you will. Though, by sheer coincidence, just before posting this, I took a chance on a search for ‘elephant athena”, and found this –interesting, eh?)
Hermes watched carefully as Alexandros of Makedon followed his own gilded thread of fate into India, and just then, Athene peered over His shoulder.
“Ah, my sister, I was just watching, wondering if he was going to make it. It is better than a play, to me.”
“The Dread Sisters are never wrong, though. I hear that even if They ever are, They have ways of fixing it so that only the Protogonoi would know, and few Olympians would ever suspect.”
“It’s still fun to watch, when I haven’t anything better to do. It’s like the mortals with their mythology, telling Our stories, even the same way, and knowing how it’s going to end, well, watching it on stage is different from knowing the outline of the plot.”
“Fair enough, dear half-brother.” She took down Her helmet and adjusted a pin holding her hair together. “So, when Our people make contact with the Hindu people, they’re going to make some associations.”
“When will they learn that other gods are individuals?”
“They feel it’s complimentary, Hermes. ‘The Gods of Hellas are the Gods of civilisation,’ ergo, even civilised people outside of Hellas worship the same Gods, just with local names. Or so goes the logic, at least.”
“This political turn is starting to bore me. Which animals only previously know to the Hindu people do you want?”
Without hesitation, Athene pointed to the elephant.
“Oh, that’s not what I expected. I mean, the owl is stealthy and patient, and it hunts. That pachyderm is big and tramples the foliage, and all it eats is foliage. It was also relatively easy for them to tame.”
“This is all true, but it’s certainly the wisest creature on this continent, after mankind.”
“And you say so, because?”
“It’s tamed because it wanted to be. It’s big, but only violent when provoked beyond reason, because it knows that’s the only time it needs violence. In the wild, when it is allowed to behave naturally, it is the only beast that truly knows to honour the gift of life the gods have given all tribes of man and beasts –just look.”
Athene pointed Hermes to a small tribe of elephants in the jungle, carefully having laid a burial mound over their matriarch, now stood vigil. Infants of the pack wailed -like Greek women at a funeral. Each animal waited its turn to take a little water before returning to the three day vigil among the elephant burial grounds. She then pointed out another pack of elephants outside a small village in Africa, in a region of the continent yet unexplored by Hellenes; the village had just been visited by a fearsome storm, and a man and his dog who had been unshielded by a house, lay dead, and the elephants covered him with a burial, out of respect.
“It’s a simple form of religion,” the grey-eyed and unowned one pointed out, “but for a creature so far from man’s genetic material, they have been granted the wisdom to know the gods, and so not only do I favour them, but I believe our father will, as well.”
“But what gods do they honour?”
Athene thought for a moment, and then suggested, “they clearly honour the gods of the earth, and of intelligence. They cannot speak the names of these gods, so they could never ask the gods their names. They know only some basic vocabulary of any language of man, so formulating a question on paper or in the mind is outside their abilities. They therefore honour whatever gods will accept them. The Hindu people treat them with honour, so those amongst the Hindu honour Hindu gods. Those there, amongst the Maasai, if the elephant is tame, it worships the Maasai people’s gods. Why should they be any different from human beings? There are several species of elephant, with dozens of tribes, each.”
“You were able to see all that?”
“Of course. My vision is finely attuned to scouting out the wisest creatures, and the wisdom of these creatures is like the brilliance of the sun when compared to the twinkle of a star.”
“Stars are really whole galaxies, just as the humans see them from Gaia, you know?” Hermes pointed out.
Athene slapped the back of His head in that sisterly way, and said, “I know that. It’s the metaphor that’s important —and you know that, too,”
Poseidon had a daughter with Pitane, the nymphe of a Laconian spring of a city She gave Her name to. Pitane named the girl Euadnê, and Euadnê grew to be quite beautiful, and she was raised in the Arkadian palace. As Euadnê grew older, Apollon became smitten, and asked Pitane to arrange that He could perhaps lay with Her daughter, and, with joy, Pitane agreed and took delight in dressing Her daughter for the occasion.
When Apollon lay with Euadnê, He believed He was clear to communicate His identity, but Euadnê, unaware of who her real father was believed she was completely mortal and didn’t really believe Him, and having never eaten the sweet nectar of Olympos she was more mortal than the deathless ones, so perhaps it was in her best interest not to, as she was certainly aware of the fate of Semele. When Euadne became full with child, she hid it from her parents, and when the time came, she bore the boy alone and took him far beyond the palace, leaving him in a patch of violets, in hope that someone would find him, and give him a decent life.
On Euadne’s walk home that night, her step-father had a dream that she had given birth to the son of Apollon and had left it in abandoned amongst the tiny purple flowers. When Euadne returned home, the king greeted her and then sent her back out to retrieve the boy. When she arrived, a shepherd had found the child, intending to raise him alone.
“But this is my son,” Euadne pleaded, weeping. “My father tells me I have born the son of Apollon and I must take him back home to retain the god’s favour over Arkadia.”
“But you exposed the child to the elements at the outskirts after carrying him for over half a year; I have been with the boy for barely five mi utes and have already given him a name. I had a vision of a child amongst the wildflowers and when I awoke I felt compelled to find it. Apollon gave me this son to raise as my own and finally make my family happy, by giving them a grandson.”
“If you truly want the child and to become part of his life, my father can have us married. You would receive a handsome dowry for saving the boy.”
After a moment to consider this, the shepherd agreed to return with Euadne to the palace and formalise the engagement with her father that the girl had offered. The engagement was announced, and the wedding was big and lavish.
The boy was named Iamos, after the violet patch, and like this step-father, received visions and prophecies. This gift later led him to Olympia, where he established the Iamidai, the House of the Violets, which continued for centuries in ancient times to hold prophecies and oracles of Apollon.
The violet is sacred to Apollon, and the colour named after it is the colour of prophecy, divination, fate. I’ve always linked it to the Moirai.
In that first segment, it seems that legend has it that Kadmos’ legendary palace became Thebes’ first temple to Demetre, which suggests that —assuming Thebans did, in fact, habitually syncretise Demetre with Erinys Telphousia— that while Kadmos’ task earned Ares’ wrath, it was still within the will of Demetre. This also solidifies my thoughts on Demetre as a Great Mother of Civilisation and sustainable urban planning. It also speaks to the kind of mother She truly is: While She certainly has Her loving and nurturing aspects (as should be obvious), She’s also pragmatic and realises that sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good, and sometimes what She has begotten is standing in the way of progress and must be eliminated.
While Her rural associations are impossible to escape, so too are Her urban aspects, as I noted before. Likewise, just as much as She values tradition, She also wills progress.
I’m now reminded of a bit from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, suggesting that while every other deity in the Hellenic pantheon was borderline useless to Man, it was Dionysos and Demetre, agricultural deities, who stood alone in being beneficial. As problematic as Hamilton’s dismissal of other deities is, I can certainly see some similarities between the two, especially in Their domains of “opposing” values somehow united in harmony through Their guidance.
This comes back around to Kadmos, who (modern scholars argue) was initially a unique Boeotian cult hero, and later was syncritised with a Phoenician adventurer. From that story, the still-later symbolic mythology arose of Kadmos inventing the alphabet and introducing people to agriculture (further linking Kadmos and Demetre), and also becoming wedded to Harmonia, which is argued to symbolise the union of an “Eastern” love of learning with a “Western” love of beauty. How Kadmos’ mythology truly developed is lost to time, but the symbols clearly reiterate a union of apparent opposites, and also closely associate the hero with Demetre. Considering this, it therefore makes perfect sense that his palas was soon converted to a grand temple to Demetre.
Now, the archaeology only debatably confirms some of the folk beliefs about Kadmos, including the origin of the alphabet coinciding with the founding of Thebes. The Phoenecian alphabet wasn’t introduced to Hellas until after the estimated date for the Trojan War. While the modern Hellenic alphabet is clearly descended of Phoenecian script, a far older text, called “Linear B” amongst those who study these things, is on tablets that have been found in a disproportionate abundance in and around Thebes, and so this may coincide with Herodotus’ relaying of Kadmos’ founding of Thebes, and bringing his knowledge with him, as significantly pre-dating the Trojan War. Unfortunately, few symbols of Linear B, at best, resemble any form of the Hellenic alphabet known today, but clearly the Linear B writing system was widespread throughout Thebes.
Considering that this became widespread in Thebes from a most-direct origin of the palace of Kadmos, again, this seems to symbolically reiterate the associations of Demetre with Civilisation and urban development —no civilisation in Earth’s history, living or extinct, has ever developed cities without a system of writing. By this, we can infer that writing is also sacred to Demetre; oral tradition is too easily manipulated and can be problematic in its attempts to learn history. After all, the Cyrenaic school was on to something in pointing out that the only true source of potential knowledge we can have is experience, but they were also sceptical of this knowledge in that we cannot truly know the experiences of everything that led up to what we experience; thus oral history seems especially superficial. To gain a better understanding, if not true knowledge, of history, we can learn from the paper trails (and, in this modern era, other recordings) of what happened; this experience is, too, superficial, but has greater potential for understanding than oral traditions alone. Again, we see Demetre as a Goddess of balancing Tradition and Progress in a harmonious and sustainable whole.
I conclude that Kadmos was, thus, most likely a unique Theban hero later syncretised, and that this Theban hero, in all the feats attributed to him, was doing Demetre’s Work on Gaia’s face. Though the alphabet he introduced did not stand the tests of time, we cannot blame because a slightly younger script managed to flourish and Theban pride attributed it to him, anyway; the exacts become less important when the intention still manages to flourish.
In the grand tradition of re-purposing mythology, I give you this offering, Hedone, who offers us all the simple gift of delight and joy, which can be quite base as much as quite profound.
Valentinos was a keeper at the temple of Orion’s hero cult in Tanagra, Boiotia —at Hyria. He was intelligent, but many saw him as aimless, for after his daily chores of cleaning, fetching and boiling new water, changing clothing and jewellery on the statues that needed it, and collecting the offerings at the timely intervals in order to make room for new ones. After his work was over, he’d go out with his equally youthful friends and take in the delights that the city could offer them, both imported and domestic wines, plays, usually by some Thespian company or another, but often enough with treats from Athens or Cyrene, and on the way home to their apartments over the city’s baths, they’d stop by the old and crooked gentleman who’d park his donkey and cart outside a restaurant that had closed for the evening, selling second-hand and otherwise cheap book — few of the titles were great literature, but every so often, you’d find a second-generation scribe from Pindar’s work, or an illustrated scroll of The Askran Curmudgeon, and every now and again, the boxes of loose racy illustrations of gods and mortals —always four for a small coin— would have some beautifully worked picutres than managed to convey the bliss or an orgasm or the accuracy of how tiring some of those India-influenced positions could be; they’d stop by this cart, browse earnestly, and almost never walk away with more than one good read and a two or three good pictures for each and pair up, either with each-other or the “Akolouthi” women, the free-status versions of the pornai, and so deserved better pay, for they often had earned the skills to earn every last bit of coin nomisma.
Then one evening, Valentinos had become separated from his friends in talking to a girl. He told them to go ahead when he saw her, and then, from no-where, the former pimp from a young-ish girl Valentinos had laid with in the last week spied him turn a dark corner and took the opportunity to stab the youth in the back, slashing his insides, for he’d heard that it was the temple boys buying books and scrolls and pornographos from his former girl’s father that led to her debt repaid, and her freedom won. It was intolerable because she was popular, and perhaps causing despair would work to the old pimp’s favour?
As Valentinos lay bleeding out, he asked his feminine companion if she was alright.
“Oh, Valentinos, that vile creature could not see me. He sees only the children of Eris.”
“Ah,” he said with a cough that expelled a little blood, “he ignored you.”
“No, it’s that he cannot. You see goodness and delight in everything around you, so of course Hedone would show you Her human form.”
“She does, now?” Valentinos asked slyly, as he started to feel himself fade.
“I knew something awful was going to happen to you tonight, but in your heart is the purest feelings of delight. Your family believes you lack ambitions, but what better aims you have for yourself is to be more joyous than they were. They are rich but miserable people, and you take only as much of their money as you need—”
“Well, it’s all they offer. They expect I’ll want more, at which time [coughs hard] they expect me to learn ambition.”
“But you have other desires.”
“I do. I just want to delight in the world around me. I would love to visit Thebes, or Cyrene, or even Athens and Alexandria, but if that’s to be, it will be. All the delights in the world I could want for the moment are here in Tanagra [coughs, sputters]. If that changes, I’ll find a way to seek other delights.”
“And you know this so purely, my friend. You are one of the most natural and pure followers of delight there is in this world today, so I’m here to reward you. What has been your greatest delight, my friend?”
“Today? I changed the cape over the bones of Orion. It’s the softest red wool from Phrygia, and when I affixed it back to the wall…,” Valentinos coughed and wheezed, then spat blood from talking to fast to get his words out with his last breaths.
“Take your time… you have a little more than you may think.”
“After I affixed it back onto the wall over the case of bones, the sun hit it just the right way that it seemed to glitter, even though there wasn’t a bit of gold thread in the wool. I thought to myself, ‘it shall never again look this beautiful, and I have this lovely town and the greatest Boeotian Gods and Heroes to thank’.”
“I know, and so I will affix you to Orion’s cape in the stars, you shall hold it all together, and so Alpha Orionis shall now glow red and pulse like a heart with joy.”
“But why me, Goddess? Surely there are others greater, who’ve given not just delight to themselves, but to others?”
“In relative measure, you’ve given more joy to others than you believe you have. The old man you buy books and scrolls and pictures from used to be a gambler, and sold all four of his daughters for the loan to pay his debtors. Between you and your friends combined, one-by-one, his daughters’ freedom has been bought back, indeed, one of his older daughters is your favourite Akolouthi girl, and the younger such woman you laid with days ago—”
“The one who thanked me queerly? She was his youngest! Oh, Goddess, tell them they don’t have to thank me, ever. Their joy was a pleasure to give, and I give it with no expectations.”
When Valentinos didn’t return to work, one of his friends began looking all over the city, and soon found him in the dark alleyway; his body still there, scraps taken from it by the odd dog for the alleyway was a seldom-used stairway to the city’s Adonis Gardens on the rooftops for the women of the apartments. Valentinos’ friend carried the body toward the direction of his family’s home, and passed the old man with the books and pictures. Soon the old man’s daughters, all now free, caught the sight, and came over to their father to watch with him. When Valentinos’ friend took his body around a corner and out of their lines of sight, the youngest daughter, Phile, looked up at the sky.
She told her sisters and father to look up at the sky. “Don’t you see?”
“Don’t we see what, my dove?” her father asked.
“Orion is higher up in the sky tonight than usual. He must be holding out his arms for His fairest neokoros.”
Her sister Naia, Valentinos’ favourite, then noticed: “And the pin on the Great Hero’s cloak seems sort of pinkish, or a light red, like the sun bleaches his hair in the depths of summer.”
Then their father spoke up: “This is glorious, my girls! The hero of Boeotia sees this youth was of a pure heart, and to take that from this world is worthy of honour. So we shall keep the twenty-first day of Hermaios sacred to the joys and delights that Orion sees this youth has given.”
This year, 21 Hermaios is in 14 February. You may feel free to celebrate Hedone’s gift of the colour of Belelgeuse, a very large pulsating star which, along with the rest of Orion’s constellatiuon, is closest to the midpoint of the southern horizon around early February. And no, I did not make up this nickname for Betelgeuse:
“The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.
The true dance is an expression of serenity;
it is controlled by the profound rhythm of inner emotion.
Emotion does not reach the moment of frenzy out of a spurt of action;
it broods first, it sleeps like the life in the seed,
and it unfolds with a gentle slowness.
The Greeks understood the continuing beauty of a movement
that mounted, that spread, that ended with a promise of rebirth.” Isadora Duncan
I’ve been fascinated with the 1920s since I was a little kid and delighted in the occasional Chaplin film on cable, so it’s not at all surprising that I’d come across the career of Isadora Duncan.
Duncan is regarded as the creator of Modern Dance (though in dance communities, this is sometimes hotly debated). While Modern Dance performances are clearly similar to ballet in some ways, the Modern Dance movement in the early 1900s was born from a distaste that many dancers had with what they perceived as a rigidity and “unnatural movement” in classical ballet. While there are now several schools of Modern Dance, Duncan’s dance was based on the dance depicted in ancient Hellenic pottery, sculpture, Graeco-Roman mosaics and neo-Classical Renaissance art and sculpture.
If we seek the real source of the dance, if we go to nature, we find that the dance of the future is the dance of the past, the dance of eternity, and has been and always will be the same… The movement of waves, of winds, of the earth is ever the same lasting harmony.” Isadora Duncan
Though she did have formal teachers giving her a background in classical dance, she ultimately rejected much of this training for improvisation and a sort of Neo-Pagan Romanticism. She once famously proclaimed that the Goddess Aphrodite Herself taught Ms Duncan in the art of dance on the beaches of California.
Her parents were once wealthy, but became rather poor shortly after Isadora’s birth, when her father lost his bank; her parents later divorced when she was seven-years-old. The experience of growing up impoverished, she and her mother and sister giving music and dance lessons to support the family, likely bred her Communist ideals, which would later lead her to defect to Russia. In spite of gaining Russian citizenship, she lived her last years in France, as well as a significant portion of her life prior.
“There are likewise three kinds of dancers: first, those who consider dancing as a sort of gymnastic drill, made up of impersonal and graceful arabesques; second, those who, by concentrating their minds, lead the body into the rhythm of a desired emotion, expressing a remembered feeling or experience. And finally, there are those who convert the body into a luminous fluidity, surrendering it to the inspiration of the soul.” ~Isadora Duncan
Despite being clearly a subversive influence on the world of artistic dance, she never completely fit in with Bohemian crowds, but her free-spiritedness and natural draw to shake up convention kept her from truly assimilating into high society. In some respects, her nature could be seen as Dionysian.
Though posthumously, she’s been idealised by some as a sort of radical femme-inist of the school of “sisters doin’ for themselves” because her dance schools were famously all-girl, early on she sought to include boys amongst her pupils of dance and philosophy, but ultimately, it was financiers who made the decision for her single-sex education in dance, and men trained in a lineage that can be traced back to Isadora Duncan herself, while increasing in number, are still rare; I know of only one male dancer to have ever been directly taught by Duncan herself. While examinations of her personal life definitely show many feminist sympathies (and also a bisexual with at least one noteworthy and passionate affair with another woman), she refrained from identifying her socio-political ideaologies as anything more than Communist, Socialist, or Marxist, which is easily argued to be inherently feminist, if not explicitly, much less radically so. The ultimate downfall of her schools, though, was her idealism; even her school in Moscow at a time of the early days of Russia’s totalitarian form of Communism suffered financially because the state had not yet made a suitable provision for the arts that could keep the school afloat, and Duncan was so firm in her belief that commercial performances cheapened the artistry she taught students to value, that she’d just as soon close a school left in the charge of a star pupil than tolerate her students performing on a commercial stage. In honour of her value of art over money, Duncan legacy dance troupes are largely non-profit.
Love is an illusion; it is the world’s greatest mistake. I ought to know for I’ve been loved as no other woman of my time has been loved. -Isadora Duncan
Her style of dance she always stressed to be very natural in its approach to the movements of the body, and improv is a major element to Duncan’s style of modern dance (though the choreography is often surprisingly intricate). Emotion and the expression of through the whole body with dance is another defining characteristic of Duncan’s style. Unlike ballet, which tends to place greater value on women dancers who are especially light-weight, and often with an unspoken mantra of “the lighter the better”, Duncan dance values any body that can move with the natural grace and convey the emotions integral to a piece; though this often means fans of ballet and some other dance regard Duncan dancers as “fat” and “out-of-shape”, the inherent athleticism in Duncan dance illustrate that Duncan dance not only keeps one in good physical condition, but also that the movements celebrate all shapes and sizes of graceful. Typically performing in bare feet, hops, skips, leaps, and arm movements tend to be regarded as the most basic elements of Duncan dancing, and Grecian-inspired dance costume is clearly preferred by Duncan herself, and those continuing to dance in her lineage.
The only surviving / known film taken of her dancing is not only extremely short, but clearly gives more attention to Isadora’s costume adjustment than her dance, which is shown as little more than a few hops. The circumstances under which this film was shot, I do not know; it’s likely that it was an experiment taken by a friend, or perhaps setting up the equipment took so long she had become tired. This is certainly not representative of the great dancer that shook up the art world and caused a sensation in the Early Twentieth. For more representitive video, there is no shortage of video of dancers of the Isadora Duncan legacy.
Interestingly, for all of Duncan’s glorifications of the Greeks, Aphrodite, Eros, the Moisai, the Khairetes, and all her applause for the wisdom of the Greeks and the inherent natural beauty of her reconstructed Greco-Roman dance, the music she selected, and that is still popular with dancers of the Duncan legacy, is movements by Romantic composers, and often music not written with dance performances in mind. This rather odd choice, all things considered, still lends to a graceful and beautiful interpretation of the music, I can’t help but wish to see Duncan dance performed with reconstructed Greco-Roman music.
Off the stage, Duncan was a flamboyant character, being practically immune to the typical ill effects of scandal, and a well-regarded eccentric. She rejected Christianity for Classical and Neitzchian philosophy, eagerly entertained Romantic Neo-Pagan imagery of her own character, and often read tarot cards for friends, strangers, and herself. Still, for all her fabulous life, it was marked with great tragedy; her marriages ended bitterly, her children died in a tragic automobile accident, her own life cut short when her excessively long scarf she regarded as something of a trademark wrapped around the axle of her Amilcar, choking her, then snapping her neck, then nearly dragging her body down the street just as her lover realised what was wrong. She died at fifty, but not before leaving an indelible impression on not only dance, but all of the arts (having inspired painters and sculptors).