In November Galina Krasskova sent me one of her extra copies of Depth of Praise: Poseidon Devotional by Terentios Poseidonides, or Terence P. Ward. Perhaps because I have always been devoted to Athena, Poseidon is sometimes hard for me to connect to, despite how much I respect Him. And that itself, being able to say I respect Him, is a recent evolution in the last five to ten years or so — in the beginning of my journey into Paganism I made the mistake that many newbies make of taking the myths as Bible truth. In myth, Poseidon and Athena are nearly always shown as being in conflict over one thing or another. Yet They often shared patronage of cities, and sometimes temples. In practice They would be worshiped together, particularly in cities along the Greek coast such as Athens.
This devotional is short, only 66 pages, so I thought that I would breeze though the entire book in one sitting. How wrong I was! There is a lot to contemplate in these pages, and I found myself frequently putting it down to think about what’s written and to absorb it more fully. I had a few moments that I would describe as actually blowing my mind a little bit.
I’d actually like to share one of those little moments that completely reworked the meaning of a well-known myth for me. I’m sure that most of the people who read this blog are at least somewhat aware of many of the myths, but just to be sure I’ll share it anyway. When Athena and Poseidon were originally competing to see Who would win the patronship of the city of Athens (spoiler alert: look at the city’s name, lol), each of Them created a gift for the people of the city. Athena created the first olive tree, which provides food, wood for burning, shade, and oil for food and medical purposes. The olive was (and still is!) a hugely important part of Greek cooking. Depending on the version of the myth, Poseidon either created a horse, which was too wild to ride and ran away (being tamed at a later date, obviously), or a salt-water spring where He struck a rock with His trident. The people of Athens considered the usefulness of both these gifts and decided to grant Athena the honor of being their patron Goddess. In the hymn to Poseidon Erechtheus, a different view of this myth is recounted:
The Athenians thought long and hard
before gifting the city’s patronage to mighty Athena.
They weighed her gift of olives
Against the spring you summoned forth.
Blessed indeed were they to have such a spring!
For while grey-eyed Athena received the honor,
It was the salty brine with persevered the fruit
and transformed the way nourishment was shared1.
Somehow, this connection never occurred to me. Even though I am researching how to grow olive trees and persevere olives myself, since I’d like to grow olives on my homestead eventually (although it’ll most likely have to be in a greenhouse to survive the winters here, we are planning on eventually having such a greenhouse to grow citrus and other Mediterranean and tropical plants in). I knew you need to brine the olive fruit to make it edible, you HAVE to soak it in saltwater. Yet somehow I never connect this practical knowledge to the myth. I never realized that the salt-spring Poseidon gave to Athens was needed to make the fruit of Athena’s tree useful. It was an incredible realization that, most likely, would have been obvious to the ancients. For me, that realization alone made this book worth the read. And it takes a devotee of Poseidon, in myth my Goddess’s rival, to make me realize it.
And btw, how awesome is it that after over 15 years of worship there is STILL so much to discover? Polytheism, practiced right, will never lead to spiritual stagnation. How could it, with so many different Deities and Holy Powers (to borrow a term from Galina), with such inherent variety and plurality to our Divinities? The thought that I’ll always have such discoveries to make about my Gods, late into my old age, makes my heart sing. I’ll never be bored. May I always be learning more and always in engaged in joyous worship of the Theoi!
The gorgeous cover art was done by Grace Palmer. It’s quite evocative, and projects a sense deep calm, wisdom, and invitation. I wonder if the artist sells prints. If I was going to set up an altar to Poseidon, I’d probably go with a print of this painting. I generally don’t like most of the available statues for Him. My brother, who is not Pagan but sometimes finds meaning in the symbolism, even said that he liked it enough to hang it up on the walls as art. Coming from my brother that says something, too. This piece is used on the Poseidon prayer card, from the series of prayer cards that Galina sells. I have the Odin card from the same artist, and I love these little cards and hope to get more at some point.
The hymns in this book are organized by epithet or title, most of them ancient and attested to in the original sources, but also modern ones gives to Poseidon by author. The poetry is interspersed with beautiful black and white illustrations by Richard Goulart. The combination of poetry and artwork is very effective. The book ends with a section about offering to Poseidon and suggestions for dates that would be appropriate to honor Him, which is a great way to structure a devotional, I think. The poetry, hymns and art explore sides of Poseidon not commonly known and opens the mind to Him, and then the last two sections gives the worshiper a little basic information to begin to pursue a relationship with the Deity if they are called to do so. Congratulations is to be given to Terentios Poseidonides, I’d say he did an excellent job of honoring the God he plainly loves with all his heart. Go buy his book if you can, I don’t think you’ll regret it.
1Terentios Poseidonides. Depth of Praise: A Poseidon Devotional. 2016. page 5.