Altar to the Healing Gods

A few months ago I made an altar to the Healing Gods that was sitting on desk, and swore it would stay up until the Covid crisis was over. Obviously it is still affecting our society deeply but, I needed my desk space back! I was foolishly hopeful when I first built it, I had just thrown it together without thinking long-term (which admittedly, is kind of difficult right now!). 

The Gods honored here are Eir, Asklepios, Hygieia, Sunna, and Panceia (“All-Cure”, a lesser known daughter of Asklepios and sister of Hygieia). I have symbols I painted for the root chakra (because our very survival is threatened) and the throat chakra (as Covid attacked the respiratory system). 

 

A week or so ago I put a shelf up above the main working altar in my bedroom. That favorite Polytheist pastime, altar tetris. Just thought I’d share the pictures.

The Old Altar:

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The New One:

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A Question for my Readers Regarding House Spirits

I have a question for my readers if anyone would like to share their thoughts. I’m assuming that most of my readers are some form of Pagan, Polytheist, witch, etc. Regardless, most of these traditions are animistic. I know that many of the Pagan bloggers I follow live this worldview, approaching the world as filled with many and varied spirits.

So when you know that everything is enspirited, and you have a relationship with the spirit of your house (not simply a household spirit like the Lares or Penates) or with a piece of land, How do you let go when you are forced to move? Do you say goodbye to your old house, or have a ritual to thank and honor it for sheltering and protecting you? It’s not likely that the new residents will do the same, after all (although with Marie Kondo stubly sneaking animism into middle-class American culture, who knows). How do you build a relationship with the next house, knowing that you’ll only be there for a year or two as well, and that eventually you’ll have to abandon that one?
This is one of the things about our culture I hate most: the impermanence. I long for rootedness and permanence and to have a lasting, decades-long relationship with the same plot of land, no matter how small. It hurts me to develop a relationship with the spirits around me and then be forced to leave them. I still remember a particular treespirit I talked to when I was a teenager and how much I missed her presence when my family moved. The lack of a rootedness and a family home is something that a lot of people in this culture, or at least my lower-class bracket of it, suffer from, and I think we are worse off spiritually for it. It does contribute to a sense of drifting and disconnection from the community around us (both flesh-and-blood and spirit community) and it contributes to a sense of isolation and even a lack of spiritual discernment – I cut myself off from connecting to plant spirits for YEARS because it hurt so much when my family moved and I lost my tree friend. Yes, I was a lonely teenager. You can call me crazy if you want, but if more people thought of trees as friends, maybe we would not have wrecked the planet like we have.

I’m sitting in the parking lot in my car (named VAN-nessa, by the way, because yes she is alive and our cars are our modern steeds), and I’m about to go into my “mundane” job, so I probably will not respond to any comments until lunchtime. But this is something that has been weighing on my mind as fall approaches, since I will have to be moving in all likelihood.

Household Worship: My Lararium

img_20161224_204052539The most sacred, the most hallowed place on earth is the home of each and every citizen.  There are his sacred hearth and his household gods, there the very centre of his worship, religion, and domestic ritual.

-Cicero, De Domo Sua 41, 109

This is a tiny cabin; there is not a lot of wall space. As such, I decided to draw a reproduction of a Roman lararium on the back of my front door (okay, its the only door in our house), instead of building a three-dimensional altar. The symbols in the top I changed up a little to be more personally meaningful, but other than that I did my best to make this a faithful reproduction. I had a few pictures of larariums on my computer that I was constantly referring back to while I was working on this. It’s been going for a few months, and I’m still planning on working on it some more.

I’m going to have a owl with open wings above the lararium, symbolizing my patroness Athena, of course. I may also put something for Janus below the lararium. I haven’t decided, it might make it look too cluttered. I’ll probably decide after the owl is done. Right now that owl is not a priority, however, I just really wanted to have a shrine to the household Gods and spirits. I’ve gotten in the habit of kissing my finger and touching it just below the lararium right before I leave the house as a request for a blessing and protection.

My worship has moved more towards Agricultural Deities (I’m living on a farm-in-progress, duh) and Domestic Gods than just the “Big Gods” like the Olympians, which is closer to way it was in ancient world. I’d like to also start a cultus for my ancestors, but one thing at a time right now. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew at a time, and I have a lot going on. Sarah* and I are still looking for jobs too, and although we haven’t had interviews yet, there are a couple of places that seemed like they really needed employees so hopefully something will pan out soon.

Okay, the symbols in the lararium: Obviously the snake at the bottom is the Agathos Daimon, the protector of pantry and food stores. I drew Him with a crown, which to my knowledge was never done in Rome but He was sometimes depicted that way in Alexandria, my spiritual home. He is drawn facing an altar of fire, for Vesta/Hestia, and also the shelves where I keep my canned goods, my literal pantry and food stores.

The Lares are the household spirits, drawn as young men in dancing postures holding up drinking horns. I think the little baskets they carry are harvest baskets, but I’m not entirely sure. The middle figure is the genius of the family, so it symbolizes both ancestors and the spirit of family and the paterfamilias. The genius is depicted with the hair covered, because in Roman religion you cover your hair to perform religious sacrifices. My genius ended up looking more like a girl than a paterfamilias, put in a way I suppose that can be appropriate. I am in a way the spiritual head of this family; my brother doesn’t believe or practice the way that I do, so that makes me de facto responsible for the role of the paterfamilias, and in this day and age I’m not sure those positions have to be gender-specific anyway. The genius figure I was drawing from was carrying a little box, and I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to symbolize, so I drew it with a glowing light coming from it, as if it was a box of gifts for the ancestors to bestow. I recently found out that its supposed to be an incense box, that the paterfamilias is offering incense to the Househould Gods. Oh well.

 Italian peoples regarded the Genius as a higher power which creates and maintains life, assists at the begetting and birth of every individual man, determines his character, tries to influence his destiny for good, accompanies him through life as his tutelary spirit, and lives on in the Lares after his death. As a creative principle, the Genius is attached strictly speaking, to the male sex only. In the case of women his place is taken by Juno, the personification of woman’s life. Thus, in house inhabited by a man and his wife a Genius and a Juno are worshipped together. But in common parlance it was usual to speak of the Genius of a house, and to this Genius the marriage bed was sacred. A man’s birthday was naturally the holiday of his attendant Genius, to whom he offered incense, wine, garlands, cakes, everything in short but bloody sacrifices, and in whose honour he gave himself up to pleasure and enjoyment. For the Genius wishes a man to have pleasure in the life he has given him. And so the Romans spoke of enjoying oneself as indulging one’s Genius, and of renunciation as spiting him. Men swore by their Genius as by their higher self, and by the Genius of persons whom they loved and honoured. The philosophers originated the idea of a man having two Genii, a good and a bad one; but in the popular belief the notion of the Genius was that of a good and beneficent being. Families, societies, cities and peoples had their Genius as well as individuals. The Genius of the Roman people (Genius Publicus, or Populi Romani) stood in the forum, represented in the form of a bearded man crowned with a diadem, a cornucopia in his right hand, and a sceptre in his left. An annual sacrifice was offered to him on the 9th October. Under the Empire the Genius of Augustus, the founder of the Empire, and of the reigning emperor, were publicly worshipped at the same time. Localities also, such as open spaces, streets, baths, and theatres, had their own Genii. These were usually represented under the form of snakes; and hence the common habit of keeping tame snakes1.

In the top part of the lararium (the architectural term is the tympanum) is where I personalized the symbols. In most of the larariums, like those in this picture to the right, the pictures shown are a patera (a shallow libation bowl), an ox-skull, and a sacrificial knife.330px-vettii

In mine, I drew a solar disk in the center, the sole Egyptian symbol on my lararium. This disk is taken directly from the Neos Alexandria symbol, since I am deeply involved in that group and have found it to be instrumental to my spiritual development. The quote below is from the Neos Alexandria website, explaining some of the symbolism of the within the Solar Disc, since the meaning of the Neos Alexandria symbol is multi-layered.

Within the heart of the Solar Disc one can see another image closely connected to it in symbolism, the so-called Stella Vergina. As the name indicates there is scholarly disagreement about whether this represents a sun or a star – though it is generally held that the symbol was connected with the Makedonian royal family, since it is found on the larnax or burial urn of Olympias, Philip II (though some claim this urn belongs to Philip III Arrhidaeus) and on numerous coins minted by the royal family. Vergina is the modern name of Aigai, home of the Argead dynasty which claimed descent from Herakles and Dionysos and ruled Makedonia in northern Greece from 700 to 309 bce. The most famous king of this Dynasty was the son of Philip II, Alexander III known to history as “the Great” and conqueror of the whole of the eastern world. In 331 bce Alexander was crowned Pharaoh of Egypt and founded the great city of Alexandria. Upon Alexander’s death, his general Ptolemy took over control of Egypt, inaugurating the fusion of Greek and Egyptian culture which we celebrate today over two thousand years later. Like Alexander, Ptolemy was a Makedonian (and there was even a tradition in antiquity that Ptolemy’s father was not Lagos but rather Philip, making them half-brothers) and so to honor these two outstanding men – and the Greco-Makedonian heritage they were so proud of – we have included the Stella Vergina in our official symbol.

There were several different forms of the Stella Vergina used in antiquity. It could have eight, twelve, or sixteen points – and we have opted for this last because that number held deep symbolic value for the ancient Egyptians. Sixteen represented abundance, fertility, completeness, and perfection. Sixteen was considered such a holy number because of its connection with the Nile river and the god of the Nile’s inundation Hapi (whom the Greeks called either Apis or Neilos). The association with sixteen arose because of the nileometers which were used to gauge the holy river’s levels. These nileometers contained markings a cubit apart – at around 8 cubits, the river would swell its banks and bring the much-needed nourishing waters and rich alluvial soil necessary to produce abundant crops and keep Egypt from being swallowed by the desert wastes that surrounded it. Sixteen cubits saw the river at its most powerful and beneficial heights. Anything above that would be disastrous. Therefore this number came to represent the god in both his fertile and benevolent aspect.

For some, the Stella Vergina may also resemble a compass star, which can suggest finding one’s way amid the tumultuousness of life, and the gods as guides in the process. It further symbolizes the hope of many of us that revived pagan religions will someday be found in all four corners of the globe and that the worship of the gods will flourish everywhere once more.

The little bundle of grapes to the left is for Dionysos, Who has been a powerful on-again, off-again Divine relationship in my life for the last decade. I originally thought that the knife to the right was supposed to be used to harvest grain, but after some research found out its supposed to be a sacrificial knife. Either way I’m not sure I did I great job on it. Anyway keep in mind that I’m hoping to have a large owl with outspread wings above the lararium at some point, and maybe something for Janus below it. We’ll see how it goes.

*All the names of my friends and neighbors have been changed for their privacy.

1http://www.classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/tools/dictionary.php?regexp=LARES&method=standard

A History of My Shrines and Altars

This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time. Like many Pagans, I’ve had various altars and shrines throughout the years. Putting altars together is an act of devotion in itself, carefully picking each piece for its symbolic significance as well as its aesthetic qualities. Shrines beautify a home and give you a place to mediate on the Gods and to perform rituals. Crafting an altar is a meditation in itself. And like many Pagans, I enjoy looking at pictures of other people’s sacred places. It can be a wonderful learning experience to look at them, to get new ideas, and it can also make a solitary Pagan feel not so alone in the world.

So for all these reasons, I’ve been wanting to write something of a history of my shrines and altars. I have a lot of pictures from many of the places I have lived. These are not all the altars I have ever had, but many of them. These pictures also serve as a record for me, since many of these items are unfortunately lost to me. I’ve had a couple of bouts of homelessness, and when that happened I had to pare down my belongings and gave away many of my sacred items to other Pagans I knew since I couldn’t keep them all. These pictures are a record that those altars still existed, and in a way, this post becomes a cyber-temple, and even years from now as long a wordpress is still up, people will still be able to see them.

This altar is not from the first place I lived as an adult, but from the second. The first place I lived was a one-room apartment on the bad side of town, and I only lasted about three months there. This setup is from the second place I lived.

This is the main altar I had in that house. As you can see it has a Grecian feel, but is not dedicated to any particular Deity. The athame and wand is hanging on the wall behind it, but you can see the tools of Hellenic ritual on the altar. You can see see the offering plate, the khernips bowl, the bowl of barley. The idea behind Greek statue with the mask is that it is to represent my Agathos Daimon or juno.

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This is the altar to Aphrodite and Eros that was in my bedroom in the house in Niles. The plush rose was a gift that was given to me by my SO at the time on our 3rd date. The statues themselves were a lucky find at Goodwill, I got them for $4 a piece! Sadly I no longer have them anymore, these are a few of the things that I need photographic evidence of.

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This is the lower part of the shrine, which sits under the shelf. The heart shaped box in filled with candles that look like chocolates, in case you can’t see what that is. Behind it, on the paper, is a handwritten poem that was part of a devotional activity.

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An altar to the Muses. You can’t read the title of the little book because of the quality of the picture, but it says “Spells for Creativity”. Unfortunately that beautiful statute broke during one of my many moves later on. I packed it with lots of bubble-wrap, but I guess it wasn’t enough. Sigh. The picture tacked to wall behind the altar is actually an aquarium background.

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An altar to Wisdom, in it’s many guises. Athena, my Goddess, foremost. But also a picture of a sphinx, Hermes with the baby Dionysos, and a drawing of a Buddhist monk. The snakeskin came from my kingsnake, Medusa. The scene on the side of the little Greek vase is of Maenads and satyrs.

Wisdom Shrine
My next house was much bigger, and I shared it with several roommates. It had a large foyer, and my roommates allowed me to set up my altars there, since my bedroom was pretty small. This is the altar set-up that was in the foyer. On the bottom level, far left is an altar to Triton and Sea-Gods, and the bottom level to right is altar to Muses. The mask above everything, which in my last house I used on a statue for my Agathos Daimon, is here rededicated to Nyx, Mother of Night, Who bore Earth Herself and therefore everything else came from Her. On the far left is a metal plaque of the Greenman. Below will be closer pictures of some of the individual altars so you can see some of the details.

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Top level, Middle: Dionysos. The framed picture of Dionysos is one I drew myself (shameless plug: you can get that design on a t-shirt here . The tarot card is the Fool from the Mythic Tarot. The shell contains first fruit offerings. The grapes are plastic but the dried corn is real.

Dionysos foyer
Bottom Level, Middle: Artemis. Two statues of Her, the larger bust was one I hand-painted.

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Close-up of the hand-painted one:

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Top Level, Far Left: Khthonic (Underworld) Deities, represented by Their cards in the Mythic Tarot: Hadies (the Death card), Persephone (the High Priestess), and Hekate (the Moon). A snakeskin hangs from the steps, and a small skeleton in a Mexican Day of the Dead style that was a gift was a friend.

Khtonic Deities foyer

Below the Khthonic Deity altar, the altar to the Nymphs and Nature-spirits, featuring my own artwork, a large chunk of quartz I found on a beach in California, and a cool little wooden box with art made of feathers that I found at a thrift store.

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Top Row, Far Right: Aphrodite and Eros. The Tarot card in the middle is the Ten of Cups from the Mythic Tarot, depicting the marriage of Eros and Psykhe. The white statue I use to symbolize Eirene, Goddess of Peace.

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An altar to Athena, Apollo, and Artemis that used to be in my office, where I did most of my writing in the time

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Above that altar: This was a collage of Greek Gods that I made on a wooden base. This one of my first forays into collage art, which is now one of my favorite devotional activities.

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This was when I had the altars in my bedroom instead of the foyer. The statue next to the snowflake is to symbolize Demeter in mourning, and was only used in winter, when the wooden Persephone statue was moved to the Underworld altar. I eventually changed my Zeus and Hera statues to ones that I felt matched better, and when I did I passed these two onto one of my best students who took my Olympos in Egypt class. I’m glad they went to another polytheist, especially because that’s where I got them from – another polytheist who didn’t need them anymore. Having statues that were already used as sacred objects was awesome, they came “pre-charged”, as it were, and it helped to build a sense of community with people I had only known online as well.

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Athena Nike, with fresh offerings of flowers, on the top shelf of my desk:

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After that I established the Temple of Athena the Savior in my living room. I’m not going to type out the detailed descriptions of everything in the Temple when I already did it, so I’m included a link here in to page Pictures of the Temple .

Below are pictures of the coffee table that served as a temporarily that was set up for festivals.

Birthday of Sobek

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Adoration of Athena. The incredible painting was done by Samatha Lykeia Sanders.

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Festival of the Reconciliation of Hephaistos and Hera. Hephaistos’s side is covered until halfway through the ritual, since He has fled Olympos. Dionysos is in the middle as the One Who brought Them back together again.

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Hephaistos’s side, a framed collage I made, after being uncovered.

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An altar for the spring festival of Antersterisa.

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Festival of the Savior-Gods of the Pharos.

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Far left of the altar: Herakles, Alexander, Isis

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Far right of the Pharos altar: Athena Nike, Zeus, the Dioskouri

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An altar for the Gamelia or Theogamia, the celebration of the marriage of Zeus and Hera.

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This cheap drawer set I painted to turn into an altar. Each corner of the pentacle on the drawer is a different color, one for each element. I was going to add more flowers on the left side, but I never got to more than the pink tulip-looking one.

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The altar is to Athena, Apollo, Buddha, Neith, and Anubis

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The small altar I had while I went to school in Tucson, Arizona. It was set-up in the top two shelves of my bookshelves. I was hoping to get into nursing school at the time so I was paying a lot of cultus to Asklepios and considered Him to be my professional patron.

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The collage has pictures of Athena, Artemis, Apollo, and Isis. The beautiful statue of Athena I bought from fellow Pagan Dorothy Wood (RIP). That statue is one of the few that I wish I been able to hold onto over the years. Its one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, its simply gorgeous.

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The last altar I whipped up in house I lived in Indiana. Artemis was the center of the altar. This was the altar I put together after two years of not practicing. I was having a “dark night of soul”, spiritual crisis. I wanted to believe, but I had seen so much shit that it gets hard to some sometimes. But I put this altar together and I prayed to Artemis, I poured my heart out to Her. My brother and I had been trying to find land, but it was difficult with our terrible credit. This was after all the crap with my family had gone down and we had to cut ties completely with our father; it was just me and my brother, and that doesn’t make it easy. I told Artemis that if She helped me to find land that my brother and I could homestead, we would name it after Her. Less than a moon’s turn later, we stumbled onto this place, and it all worked out. She answered by prayer, and quicker than I could have imagined. So we named this place Artemis Acres, fulfilling my promise to Her. She has an even more special place in my heart now.
I don’t know if you can tell in this slightly blurry picture, but there’s a Vulcan IDIC symbol, from Star Trek, hanging on the wall. IDIC stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, which I always loved.

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Center of the altar: Artemis, deer antlers behind Her. A Parthenon, a Loki figurine (it’s a Marvel figure, but I’m going to paint the hair red to make it more historically correct), a glass owl, seashell, and Klingon bat’leth. I’m a huge nerd and the symbolism of Star Trek speaks to me, what can I say?

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My matching Zeus and Hera statues from Sacred Source. The little owl by Hera’s feet, and the large pottery to Her right, is Navajo horsehair pottery that I bought at the Four Corners (the corner where 4 states meets – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah). Anubis, a herm made by a fellow Pagan and member of Neos Alexandria. A figure of a woman with a sword , a Warrior Woman. The teapot belonged to my great-grandmother. A flat stone with an owl carved on it, a rose quartz, a labradorite
heart.

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Far Left of the altar: sand dollar, Loki cup, Thor figurine, wooden turtle, amethyst pillar, tiger’s eye heart, a flat stone with a 12-point star laser-carved into it.

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So, that’s not all of my altars, but is most of them, not counting specific festival shrines.And so that brings us to today. A few months ago set up my altar in the cabin. My room is in the second level, the loft. This didn’t really start to feel like home until I had an altar. I’m a truly a Pagan, and I’m not happy when I can’t practice. Having a shrine changes my entire attitude about a place. But I don’t have any pictures of it yet, so I guess I’ll just end this post here, and at some future point I’ll post pictures of the altar I have now.
That’s it, my friends. I hope this has been inspiring. Keep worshiping the Gods!

GMC Poetry: Prayer for a Peaceful Home (Hestia)

Fair Eirene, Goddess of Peace

Spread Your feathered wings over my home.

Gentle Hestia of the flame, Who dwells in the hearth

Let us remember the value of family.

Let only words of love be spoken here

Let harmony reign in this house

And the hearts of those who dwell within.

Eirene, Hestia, sweet Goddesses

May You both fell welcome in my home.

Call for Submissions: Devotional to Hestia

I’m excited to see this one happening. Hestia doesn’t get a lot of attention, She  deserves a devotional of Her own. I hope there are lots of good submissions, so please spread this call far and wide! Original post here.

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Bibliotheca Alexandrina is seeking submissions for a devotional anthology to honor the least and greatest of Olympians, in a volume entitled First and Last: A Devotional for Hestia. Firstborn of her mother Rhea, and last to be disgorged from the gullet of her father Kronos, Hestia receives first and last offerings from many Hellenic polytheists, but does not play the kind of public role associated with her siblings. In antiquity, her cult was mostly of the household rather than of festivals and temples, and she was not as prominent in the myths of the day. Nevertheless, as accepter of sacrifices Hestia receives her due, what is sometimes called the least and greatest of offerings. She is the hearth of the Hellenic home, the keeper of the sacred flame of the gods, guardian of hospitality, and keeper of oaths.

Appropriate submissions will discuss aspects of Hestia in antiquity and/or modern practice, including but not limited to:

-her role as a virgin goddess, and the significance of her rejecting two divine offers of marriage from Apollon and Poseidon;

-her connection with other deities, including

-Hellenic theoi, especially Hephaestus, Hermes and Hekate; and

-relationships with and syncretic forms with non-Hellenic gods, such as Taweret, Bes, Frigg, and Brighid;

-and comparisons/contrasts with the Roman goddess Vesta, and Vesta’s links with the lares and penates;

-explorations and reimaginings of the tales and myths Hestia features in;

-accounts of personal devotional practices such as veiling, maintaining a hearth/flame, offerings, et cetera;

-research into her cult and sacred sites in antiquity;

-ancient and modern rituals;

-ancient and modern hymns;

-artwork; and

-recipes inspired by or used as offerings to Hestia.

Academic and artistic submissions will also be considered, be it poetry or prose.

All works must be original. Please submit no plagiarized or public domain material. Scholarly articles must provide proper citation for all sources in the form of a bibliography and in-text citations. Previously published submissions are acceptable, as long as the author retains all rights. After publication, the author will continue to retain all rights to any submissions accepted for this anthology. Upon acceptance, the author must complete a permission to publish form, and include a brief author biography to be included in the anthology.

Please send any and all submissions and queries either in the body of the email or as .txt/.doc/.rtf attachments to Terence P Ward at tpw@protonmail.ch.

The editor reserves the right to make minor changes to formatting, spelling, and grammar, if necessary; he also reserves the right to request modifications, or to reject submissions entirely.

No monetary compensation will be provided. Instead, each contributor will be provided with a coupon code which will allow them to purchase three copies at cost. Each contributor will also receive a .pdf copy of the devotional for personal use. Proceeds from all sales will be divided between charitable donations in honour of Hestia and production costs for future publications from Bibliotheca Alexandria.

Acceptable length is anywhere from 100-10,000 words, with the exception of poetry. Any artwork submitted should be scanned in or created at 300 dpi and sent as a .jpg or .tif file.

Submissions open 1 January 2016 and close 1 June 2016, with a projected release date of Summer 2016.

Day of the Agathos Daimon

And the second day of the lunar month belongs to the Agathos Daimon, both the personal Daimon that tumblr_mc0kp15NzV1rolsbao1_500watches over you and the household Daimon who guards your family and whose special domain to protect the pantry and food stores. Offer Him a few drops of unmixed wine, or milk mixed with honey. He seems like an abstract God, but I can tell you from experience that He answers prayers. When I feel Him, it’s as a calm, cool, snaky Presence, if that makes any sense. He’s never spoken to me. I’ve had back-and-forth conversations in my head with some of the Gods before. Its usually Hermes Who does this. Its not often, but it happens. But the Agathos Daimon is not wordy. At least He has never come to me like that. He’s just there. Calm and comforting, and He responds in the world around me.

Interestingly, I had a job interview scheduled for this morning. Before going in, I prayed to the Agathos Daimon and opened up to Him about how much it would mean if I not only got the job, but would be able to be begin working quickly. I was not only hired, but my first day is Monday.

I’ve appealed to the Agathos Daimon before I was in desperate situation, usually over an immediate survival thing like not being able to pay my daimon2hearing bill (in the middle of winter in Michigan) for example, and somehow, when times are really bad, He always seems to come through. I wish there was more talk about this amazing God. I’d love to see a devotional to Him one day. I think the worship of Him adds so much not just spiritually, but in a practical, measurable way into one’s life. Check Him out if you have not before.

 

 

 

GMC poetry: Bes

Dancing Bes

Who delights in the loud clamor of drums

And the din of war

Leonine dwarf

Out of Nubia

Crowned with the ostrich feather

Guardian of the Horus-child

Who stands at the door

To protect those who dwell within

O Lord of Punt

Chase away the mischievous spirits of misfortune

And bring only sweet music and joy to this home

Guard my children

Bless my animals with fertility

My farm with productiveness

And protect all living creatures under my care.

If you do this, O fearsome fighter of wild beasts,

Then I will continue to offer you barley and wine.

GMC: Bes, Agathos Daimon, and Household Worship

GMC: Bes, Agathos Daimon, and Household Worship

So, Bes and the Agathos Daimon both shoved up in the same month, which I find fascinating. A cursory examination of Bes’ symbolism shows that He was regarded in Egypt as a protector of the home. He is sometimes also called Aha, which means “fighter”. There do not appear to be any temples to Bes or formal rituals for Him. Instead, His worship was entirely in the home. Many statues have been found in household shrines for Him, often near the door so He can guard it. He especially protects young children and pregnant women.

Bes is depicted completely differently than any other Egyptian God, and in fact is believed to have originally beebesdenderan a foreign God from another part of Africa than was adopted in the Middle Kingdom. He is depicted as stocky, bearded dwarf, often with his tongue sticking out. He is shown sometimes shown with lion-like features such as a tail and mane, or wearing an animal skin as a cape. Some scholars think that in earlier times that He was drawn as a lion rearing on its hind legs. He also wears a crown of feathers (which alludes to His African origin). His name may also come from the Nubian word for cat, ‘besa’. Unlike every other Egyptian God, He is never shown in profile, but head-on, face staring out at you. Bes is usually naked, but sometimes wears the short tunic of a soldier.

Bes was believed to drive away evil spirits, often by dancing around the room and yelling, especially during childbirth. He also entertained children, so that when a baby or toddler smiled or chuckled for no reason, they said that Bes was in the room making faces at them. I’ve seen Him referred as a “Fool Shaman”. Because He drove away evil spirits causing death, harm, and illness, He came to be associated with all good things in life, particularly music, dancing, food, alcohol and sex.

The Agathos Daimon, or “Good Spirit”, was depicted as a coiled snake. The Agathos Daimon was primarily a household spirit, protector of the home and individual. A protector of the home in general, His specialagathos daimone concern is watching over the pantry and the food stores. While in our modern society this may seem a strange or very minor job for a God, in fact in the ancient world it was one of the most important. When you grow your own food, harvest it yourself, and preserve it, then it is a substantial investment in time and energy. Moreover, try to imagine a world where there are no grocery stores to run to when you are hungry. This food must get you and your family through the entire winter, and any lean times that many be coming. If there is a drought, or some other kind of natural disaster, the supplies will need to be stretched even further. Suddenly, the God of the pantry doesn’t seem so minor. The Agathos Daimon was considered so important that after the Noumenia, the Greeks set aside the first day of the lunar month honor Him. Tame snakes were kept in the households of Greece and bowls of milk and honey left out from them. In return, they rid the house of mice, which were very dangerous because they could eat all of your food stored for the winter, not to mention they often carry dangerous diseases

Everyone is also thought to have their own Agathos Daimon, attached to them like a guardian angel. But in Alexandria it became the patron of the city as well. Alexander had a special relationship with the Agathos Daimon, and signs of snakes have been said to follow him many times in his life. When Alexander first drove the Persians from Egypt, one of the first things Alexander did was to go to the Oracle of Ammon at Siwah. But Alexander and his men got lost in the desert their way. By one version of the story, two serpents appeared to lead the way to the Temple of Ammon and out of the danger of the desert:

 

In fact Alexander’s army went astray, and the guides were in doubt as to the route. Now Ptolemy son of Lagoes says that two serpents preceded the army giving voice, and Alexander told his leaders to follow them and trust the divinity; and the serpents led the way to the oracle and back again. But Aristobulus agrees with the more common and prevalent versioCn, that two crows, flying in advance of the army, acted as guides for Alexander. That some divine help was given him I can confidently assert, because probability suggests it too; but the exact truth of the story cannot be told; that is precluded by the way in which different writers about Alexander have given different accounts[1].

 

While Alexander’s visionary city was being built, a huge serpent appeared at the building site every day and terrorized the workers. Alexander had to order that it be killed, but afterwards he built a shrine to on the spot to ask forgiveness, and buried the body of the snake. The Alexandrians instituted a special festival for the household snakes (and presumably the Agathos Daimon, although it’s not specified) on the 25th of Tybi.

 

And they began to build the city of Alexandria in the middle of the plain. … And a serpent used to come to those who were busy working, and it frightened the workers and put a stop to the work. Because of the serpent’s raids, Alexander came and said, “Let it be captured by the workmen wherever it is found tomorrow.” and upon receiving the order, they subdued and slew the beast when it came  to place that is now called Yark (“Place of Habitation”). And Alexander asked that a shrine be built there, and they buried the serpent in it.  And he declared that the excavation for the foundations be made nowhere else but on the same spot, where to this day the high mountain called Albiwrk (“Mound”) appears. …. and there were donkeys and mules at work there. For Alexander was still there on the twenty-fifth of Tubi, building the city and that very shrine for the serpent. Thus, when these snakes came into the houses, the gatekeepers worship them as kindly spirits, for they are not poisonous, like wild animals, but rather, drive out poisonous beasts. And sacrifices are made to him as being of the family of serpents. And the king ordered that grain be given to the guards. And when they had ground the grain and made bread, this was given to the inhabitants as in time of great rejoicing. On account of this, to this day these customs are kept among the Alexandrians on the twenty-fifth of Tybi. They garland all beasts of burden, and offer sacrifices to the god, and render homage to the serpents who safeguard the home, and make a distribution of bread[2].

 

Alexander had many other interesting and sacred encounters with snakes in his life, including a dream where a snake brings him the correct herb to heal the poison the Ptolemy was dying from in India[3]. This is the same Ptolemy who will eventually become Alexander’s successor in Egypt. Snakes continued to be a very important symbol in Alexandria. Although this story is related to Asklepios, it illustrates the importance of snakes in the religious life of Alexandria:


Egyptian histories relate that in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphos there were brought from Aithiopia to Alexandria two live Drakones and that one of them was fourteen cubits long, the other thirteen; and in the time of Ptolemy Euergetes three were brought, one was nine cubits long, the second seven, and the third snake one cbit less. And the Aigyptians assert that they were tended with great care in the temple of Asklepios[4].

 

The Agathos Daimon was often equated with Serapis, Zeus, and Osiris. He has no titles that I am aware of. As a household God, there are few myths about Him that I could find. His symbols include the snake, cornucopia, wine, barley, and all produce of the fields. Cultivating a relationship with your personal Agathos Daimon can be very rewarding. Socrates said that he was so in touch with his Agathos Daimon that when he was out walking and came to a bend in the road, it would tell him which path to take. I’ve prayed to my household Agathos Daimon for help in troubled times when I had no heat in my house because of serious financial problems, and somehow I always pulled enough money together to survive, however tight and difficult the circumstances. The Agathos Daimon gifts the family that honors him with good luck, health, wisdom, and an abundance of food at all times of year.

One thing about Bes that strikes me as different from the Greek household Gods (or rather, the household aspects of the Olympian Gods) is than He seems less serious and more joyful, loudly so. Many of classical Deities associated with the household project a sense of quiet dignity, of seriousness. Hestia symbolizes and values calm, emotional steadiness, domestic tranquility. Zeus is the stern pater familaras, in His form as Zeus Herkios, “of the Fence”, He protects the boundary behind the safe haven of home and the danger world “out there”. Even in His less stern aspect as Zeus the Kind, where He is specifically related to the protection of young children, He is given a Khthonic, or Underworld aspect, which speaks to me of solemnity, silence, and seriousness.

But Bes is different kind of household God. He delights in loud clamor and thunderous music, riotous dancing, boisterous laughter. In fact He specifically uses these things to drive away the evil spirits in the first place. He is considered a God of good luck and happiness, some of His blessings to the family that honors Him. A few years ago I would have thought Bes was somewhat silly (He is, I think, but in a fun, wholesome, good kind of way) and I probably would have preferred a much more serious God. But life is hard and sometimes we need a break from seriousness. I think now that our culture has an obsession with behaving “grown up” to an unhealthy degree, to such a point where some people I know make fun of me, a 28 year old woman, for enjoying animated movies that are aimed at children. Some shows with dark, gritty realism are wonderful (Jessica Jones rocked!), but sometimes I just need to get the hell away from the grimdark for a while. Life can be grim. Life can be dark. What’s wrong with adults enjoying the levity and light in a “kid’s” movie, many of which specifically celebrate the beauty of life in a way that adults’ movie just don’t? (Incidentally, I can’t wait for Zootopia).

Anyway, all this has me thinking that if I were to integrate Bes into Zeus my household worship, it’s another way to make my practice more authentically Greco-Egyptian, instead of mostly Greek but with Isis and Anubis thrown in as well. For more than a decade and a half I have worshipped the Greek Gods in one form or another. Conversely, the Kemetic side of my practice is only a few years old, and I am still finding my way around the Netjer. Many of them don’t speak to me on a personal level, even if I have studied Them and find them intellectually interesting. Besides Isis and Anubis, Who have become increasingly important in my practice, I have had a few positive experiences with Sobek, Who I admire greatly. But I could see Bes working out well in my household. It probably doesn’t come across in my writing (I hope), but in “real life”, I am a serious, anxiety-ridden person with a short fuse. I don’t like to think of myself as an angry person, but I am easily angered, and when I allow myself to become angered I often verbally lash out in hurtful ways. This is something I am working very hard to control and rectify. I don’t need more seriousness. Part of my problem is that I take life too seriously. I think Hermes is trying to teach me to lighten up, and I can see Bes injecting some much needed humor into my life. The challenge for me right now is that I am at a bit of an in-between time, household wise. Most of my belongings are in Missouri, but my brother and I still have a few more trips to make before we’ll be officially moved out there. Even then, we still need to frame out the windows in the cabin, insulation, install the bathtub, dig the well, hook up the solar power, etc. Getting the homestead running will take a minimum of 2 months. So my “household” is a little spread thin right now.

You know, I have the hardest time with endings. I did four pages of research, writing, and random thoughts, but I sometimes I can’t write a good ending to save my life. So, anyway, I’m posting this as it is, without a perfect ending wrapping up all my thoughts. Sorry, its late and I’m tired and eager to get it out there. Have fun with the GMC!

Amanda Artemisia Forrester

[1]    Arrian. Anabasis. 3.3.4-6.

[2]    Pseudo-Kallistenes. Alexander Romance. 84-90. Armenian translation.

[3] Cicero. On Divination II. LXVI .

[4] Aelian. On Animals 16.39