30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 12 ~ Pantheon – Moisai

The Moisai, as I see Them, are high goddesses in Their own right and only sometimes led by Apollon, depending on the festival or other context of worship. I imagine that those more feminist-minded may see any instance of Apollon leading the Moisai as a great dishonour, and I also imagine that any-one who sees the Moisai as inseparable from being led by Apollon would be uncomfortable with the notion to 9-20 Goddesses (I will get to this) without the direction of a more masculine energy1; I also imagine that more may agree with the view that I have than either of the other two camps may want people to believe. When Apollon does lead Them, it’s less as a teacher Who needs to show Them how to best use their passions and skills, and more as an orchestra conductor, there to oversee a highly talented orchestra and keep every-one in time.

Those who were not raised with classical music may tend to see a conductor as a useless entity, just there waving his hands around while everybody else does all the work — after all, string quartets and quintets seem to get on just fine without one. But when there are far more than four or five or even seven players, keeping in time with everyone-else becomes more trying on each instrumentalist, and under all that music, who can be expected to heard a metronome — or catch their place to come in on a piece one doesn’t know backward an forward? The conductor is the musician who plays the orchestra: Though ou is ostensibly there to lead, ou is, in practise, another player working with the rest to create a most beautiful racket.

On the other hand, it’s easily arguable that Apollon’s natural proficiency with every instrument and associations with the lyre make Him more a Bandleader than an orchestra conductor, illustrating His equality in talent, while displaying His importance as a force that keeps Them all together. The idea of every one of Them having no interests or relevance that can’t be given honour or tribute without Apollon just seems incredibly wrong-headed to me, but the idea that They never need His presence, or are diminished by His presence is as inaccurate as saying that Blanche Calloway had no impact on her famous younger brother’s career. If anything, I feel Their presence holds a greater potential to diminish Apollon’s; these are, after all, the Goddesses credited with sparking the flints for Hesiod’s Theogeny, Who are given tribute at the very first line of the hymns of Orpheus, and were, in Hellenic antiquity, typically given credit for the inspiration of every single piece of poetry, music, art, dance.

Their associations with artistic passions has an obvious parallel to Eros — which I find especially intriguing, as Their cult also began in Thespiae. The Moisai originally honoured are sourced by Theoi Project as either three or four, but you will notice five names: Meletê (Practice), Mnêmê (Memory), Aoidê (Song), Arkhê (Beginning), Thelxinoê (Charming the Mind). I recognise all five, and am in the camp that regards Mnêmê as the short-form name of Mnêmosynê. Theoi Project recognises these names as Moisai Titanides; Wikipedia as The Boeotian Muses (Aeolic spelling, transliterated: Moisai). These were the Moisai of Hesiod and the namesake for the Valley where the ancient Moiseia outside Thespiae was held.

The other set, or perhaps sets of oft-overlooked Moisai are called, by Theoi Project, the Moisai Apollonides, and Their names are Kêphisô (Of the River Cephisus), Apollônis (Daughter of Apollon), Borysthenis Borysthenis (?-Strength [sthenos]), and this set is named as early as the 8th Century BCE by Eumelus of Corinth as daughters of Apollon; another trio is named as Nêtê (Lowest notes of the lyre), Mêsê (Middle Notes), Hypatê (Highest Notes). The first trio are Moisai I also recognise as Goddesses, but the latter I see simply as personification of the lyre.

The most famous of the Moisai are often referred to as the “Olympian Nine”: Kalliopê (Beautiful-Voice; Epic poetry), Kleiô (Make-Famous, Celebrate; History), Eratô (Lovely, Beloved; Lyric poetry), Melpomenê (Celebrate with Song; Tragedy), Ouraniê (Heavenly One; Astronomy), Polyhymnia (Many Hymns; Choral poetry), Euterpê (Giving Much Delight; Music), Terpsikhorê (Delighting in Dance; Dance), Thaleia (Rich Festivity, Blooming; Comedy). These are the Moisai who most often feature in the mythos and are portrayed in popular versions of the myth of Marsyas as the judges of the contest, presumably even the ones who decided his punishment. These are the Moisai often credited with finding the dismembered parts of Orpheus and giving him his funerary rite; some traditions even hold that he was the son of Kalliopê. Ovid also tells a tale of the Pierides, the nine daughters of Pierus, who challenged the “Deae Thespiades” (Thespian Goddesses) to a contest; when the proper nymphai were selected as judges, the girls performed a song praising Typhoeus and insulting the Olympian gods to further rile the goddesses’ ire, and Kalliopê then performed a song about the abduction and marriage of Persephone. The nymphai obviously declared the Moisai of better talents, but the girls became insolent, hurling insults at the goddesses — and as they blasphemed, they were transformed into magpies, a bird known to attack songbirds (though in Ovid’s tale, the Moisai invented the birds from the girls); I find it interesting that British folklore also connects magpies to omens of fortune, depending on how many magpies are seen (and the local version of the rhyme), a number of different omens may be judged. :

One brings sorrow
Two bring joy
Three bring a girl
And four bring a boy
Five bring want
And six bring gold
Seven bring secrets never told
Eight bring wishing
Nine bring kissing
Ten, bring the love
My own heart is missing!
(the version my grandmother taught me)

The Iliad also mentions the story of Thamyris, the man who boasted that he was able to out-sing the Moisai, and so was cursed to blindness for his hubris.

Where They are considered a judge for Apollon shows me that He considers Them His equals. The other mythos show no real involvement with Apollon and primary source descriptions of Boeotia give evidence that They were worshipped in Their own right, separate from Apollon. But I’m not one to throw the baby out with the bathwater; aside from the fact that worshipping Apollon alongside the Moisai at least some of the time gives some commonality with other modern Hellenistai, the fact that I do see Him linked in some mythology, and that I do see Him as a god of music and the arts is all I really need to reason this decision.

As if that weren’t enough, Hesiod also links Them to the Kharites and Erotes:

[Theogeny, line 58] Anmd when, as the seasons turned, the months waned,
many many days passed and a year was completed,
[60] She [Mneme] gave birth to nine daughters of harmonious mind,
carefree maidens whose hearts yearn for song;
this was close beneath the highest peak of snowy Olympos,
the very place of Their splendid dances and gracious homes.
The Kharietes and Himeros dwell near Them and take part
[65] in Their feasts. Lovely are Their voices when They sing…

Fragments from The Anacreontea further strengthen this connection, even beginning to describe a tale of the the Moisai tied up Eros with garlands of roses and given Him to one of the Khairetes to ransom Him to Aphrodite. Apuleius also envisioned Them performing with Apollon at the wedding of Eros and Psykhe. Their domain over the arts and as a namesake of museums, also associates Them with education, a sphere of influence most commonly seen in Athene — indeed, the Library at Alexandria began with a temple to the Moisai, and its layout still continues to influence modern university campuses.

I do feel that many modern Hellenic polytheists have tendencies to overlook the Moisai, or just tack them onto their own cultus as “attendants of Apollon”, or simply underestimate the importance that these Goddesses had to the ancients, or still have to other deities.

1: While I definitely see Apollon as more typically masculine in presentation and demeanour than Eros or Adonis, I also tend to envision him as decidedly more effete in both than, say, Ares or Herakles.

List behind cut:

0. Intro to meme
1. Beliefs – Why Hellenismos?
2. Beliefs – Cosmology
3. Beliefs – Deities
4. Beliefs – Birth, death and rebirth
5. Beliefs – Sacred sexuality
6. Beliefs – Divination, mysticism and various woo shit
7. Beliefs – The power of prayer/reciprocity
8. Beliefs – Festivals
9. Environmentalism
10. Patrons – Eros
11. Patrons – Apollon
12. Pantheon – Moisai
13. Pantheon – Adonis
14. Pantheon – Nyx & Kybele
15. Pantheon – Every-One Else
16. Nature spirits, Khthonoi, & The Dead
17. My ways of worship
18. Community
19. Hellenismos and my family/friends
20. Hellenismos and my love life
21. Other paths I’ve explored
22. Hellenismos and major life events
23. Ethics
24. Personal aesthetics and Hellenismos
25. Favoured ritual tools, and why
26. Any “secular” pastimes with religious significance, and why
27. How your faith has helped you in difficult times
28. One misconception about Hellenismos you’d like to clear up
29. The future of Hellenismos
30. Advice for seekers


2 thoughts on “30 Day Paganism Meme: Day 12 ~ Pantheon – Moisai

  1. When Apollon does lead Them, it’s less as a teacher Who needs to show Them how to best use their passions and skills, and more as an orchestra conductor, there to oversee a highly talented orchestra and keep every-one in time.

    This is how I see Apollo in the sense of "leader of the Muses" also. I don't know if you've ever seen the translation of the Orphic Hymns on the Sybiline Order's website, but whoever did that translation changed it to "Companion of the Muses", which really irks me. The meanings aren't the same and it's a bunch of "oh my god, it's the end of the world if you call a male figure a leader of female figures" crap.


    • I don't recall if that's one of their ones that I've read, but I do recall talking to you about this before — and yeah, the two words have completely different meanings. While at other times, I do see Their relationship as more companion-oriented, that's not something that would be necessarily given a line in the Orphic hymn to Apollon, and if it is, why isn't He described then as a "companion to Athene"?


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