Demetre and the Palace of Kadmos

When I C&P’d that section at the beginning of the first of my posts about Demetre, I was immediately reminded of my first post about Ares.

Kadmos and the Ismenian Dragon.

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.

[ReBlog] The Scared Band of Thebes « stefanosskarmintzos

The Scared Band of Thebes « stefanosskarmintzos.

The Theban Sacred Band at a strength of 300 men, was composed from the most distinguished youths of the city especially those who had excelled in athletics and sports. They were always under arms and in constant training maintained at public expense. They were heavy close order infantry (hoplites) and their equipment was superior to that of the rest of the Theban army.

Linen armor reinforced with bronze scales. Courtesy of “Hellenic Armors“

Although Plutarch considered the unit as the brainchild of Gorgidas, (1) the Thebans had a unit of 300 elite hoplites (logadae) from the time before the Peloponnesian War. The unit was wiped out in a night surprise assault with the aim to conquer Platea as is reported by Thucidides in the first book of his histories and probably was never reconstituted because of grief or embarrassment about the failure.

Go click the link to read the rest.

Good news for Hellenic women and “teh dredded m00nbl00dz”

It’s not miasma.

I’ve reasoned this before, but didn’t feel arsed to citing a source before.

Today, I was looking through old threads in a LiveJournal community, and came across a thread discussing this topic, and some-one in the comments said they could cite quotes from Walter Burkert on this, that menstruation ≠ miasma. I had Greek Religion literally sitting in front of me as I came across that, so I decided to look it up.

Interestingly, the index contains no reference words to “menstruation”, so I decided to search Google Books for this keyword, and there is very little. Indeed, the most direct reference is AN ENDNOTE. The note is to the following passage on page 78:

The Indo-European word for sacred, hagnos29 is defined and narrowed down in Greek through its opposition to defilement, mysos, miasma. The conception of specifically cultic purity is defined by considering certain more or less grave dislocations of normal ife as miasma. Disturbances of this kind are sexual intercourse,30 birth,31 death, and especially murder. … Curiously, the hagneia may even involve a prohibition on bathing: the contrast with everyday life or some future act of cultic purification is more important than obvious cleanliness.

That last part included for what should be painfully obvious reasons.

Endnote #31 references a German essay (“Die Gebrauche der Griechen nach der Geburt”) and summarises:

Menstruation is understood — even medically — as purification (katharsis); the cult take notice of it only insofar as a number of priesthoods are expressly reserved for older women.

I was able to find the original German essay, but since I don’t read German (and only have the vaguest comprehension of spoken German in art films) I relied on Google’s translation abilities, and needless to say, Google borked it up good, so I’m going to take Burkert’s summation of this as it is. After all, Greek Religion was originally published in German, and with English being a Germanic language, this arrangement of nouns and such is not something that can be easily borked in translation by a human translator. So, yep, menstruation is the vag washing its hands, as it were.

So, there you have it: Menstruation is not, Not, NOT “miasma”, and anybody who says it is obviously hasn’t even cracked open what’s generally regarded as a definitive text for Hellenic reconstructionists — or perhaps just never read it thoroughly, or is just too stupid to understand what he read.

And for those of you who didn’t gather from the last part of the quoted passage, “ritual purification” isn’t merely approaching the Theoi with a physically washed body — indeed, ritual purification varied by cult, so while mainstream poleis cults had khernips stations at the front of the temples for suppliants to douse their hands and faces before entering the main area, this is but one example of what hagneia entails.

So, I’m really not that invested in the term “Pagan”, eh?

I’ve read a few of the recent posts around the pagan blogosphere on the relevance of the word “pagan” and the “pan-pagan” community. Normally, I try to eschew simply re-stating the thoughts I share with others, especially if they’ve done a perfectly adequate job — and indeed, many already have.

My first forays into “the pagan community” as an adult were very focused: Hellenic polytheism, Hellenismos, the religion of the ancient Hellenes — and about a dozen or so other terms, some of which have been downright goofy (like “gentile Hellenes”, as I noticed a few people tossing around for about ten minutes, in Internet Age™). By and large, it stays that way. I read a few “pan-pagan” blogs, or at least the few I consider intelligent-enough (well, OK, I read The Wild Hunt and it’s “family blogs” and Patheos: Pantheon, and occasionally, I’ll read something else), but I don’t really go to “pan-Pagan” events, and I find most “pan-Pagan” message boards to be equal parts dull and insipid and occasionally incredibly irritating (the primary exception being The Cauldron; The Pagan Forum isn’t bad, but it also is lower in activity than some).

For as much as I find it hard to interact with other Hellenes (I’ll get to that in a mo’), I find it ten times harder to keep my head around most people of other paths, especially very individual-focused paths. The few articles I posted to WitchVox, several responses I got in return, though well-meaning and generally positive, offended me on many deep levels that left me wondering if they’d even read the article, much less the person information I’d posted in my WV profile about my path — one quote that especially sticks out in my mind, in response to an article about Urban Spirituality where I mention the compatibility with my own path, was from a woman and she had congratulated me on “discovering [my] goddess forms in a concrete place” — I had made no mention of such, first of all, and only have the vaguest idea of what that might mean, that I find it hard to imagine why she felt the need to congratulate me on something she had no real idea if I’d ever done.

I have some local friends who some may refer to as “scene pagans” as opposed to “religious pagans”. Before moving to the area, I spent a weekend at the house of one of them and was met with flabbergastion that I’m in an automatic habit of burning incense daily — now, I’ve since re-thought the idea of bringing said into another person’s home before assuming it would be fine-and-dandy, but the feeling of my throat leaping gutward never quite shook, and the tension felt when at first it was assumed by the friend in question that I was somehow just randomly lighting things on fire in the guest room was immediately clear. To me, this is “what pagans are supposed to do” — to them, this was something pretty far “out there”, especially as it was simply a Friday and not a religious festival for either their tradition or mine.

While I clash with other Hellenes, this is usually just personality clashes, or arguments about nuances of belief or interpretation of primary sources — the kinds of arguments that even a lot of people in the same sects of Christianity or Hinduism may have (as a quick example: I’ve met Hare Krishna who advocate veganism, and I’ve met those who prefer to be semi-vegetarian, eating mostly vegetarian, but occasionally having meat, especially if offered some as a guest in another’s home; my father, though generally easily described as Irish Anglo-Catholic had been married four times, including two divorces, and supported abortion in many circumstances that even many other abortion-permitting Catholics would have found excessive). Little, if anything I do, will seem “foreign” to the average Hellenistos or Helleniste. Where we differ is regional focus (I prefer the Boeotian region, while most seem to be focused on Attika, and at least a highly visible minority may be described as “Hellenistic”), semantics, philosophy (Diogenes, FTW!). We don’t tend to differ in what we do, and we don’t tend to differ in the broadest areas of belief. We have a generally shared mythology and religious culture, even if the details may serve as bone-picking moments.

Now obviously, I disagree with the sharp and strict sense of “separatism” that some vocal Hellenists seem to favour — I don’t give honour to Aegyptian deities, and I don’t generally give much thought to Roman deities outside of Britannia, whom I’ve adopted strictly as an ancestral deity or daimon, but I generally don’t mind Hellenic syncretics, and simply regard them as another sect or as giving cultus to deities whom I simply do not. As said Burkert, “Polytheism is an open system” and it’s hard to have contact with so many cultures and their gods without seeing the occasional deity who simply can’t fit into a mould previously set by one’s native pantheon, and thus finding a moment where one may consider that deity’s validity. And, like Sannion, I find it peculiar that so many who seem to give emperor Julian so much regard fail to take into account that the man’s own religious practises would be “eclectic” by the standards said people have established. I can live with where Hellenes and I tend to differ, whether I like said people on a personal level or not, but it becomes harder to find a comfortable area of common ground with the average American individuality-focused pagan.

In theory, I have no real problem with Eclectic practises — again, it’s usually just something that I simply don’t do. I know that Eclectic and other individuality-based pagans can take that approach intelligently, and give some amount of respect to cultural traditions whilst creating something unique and spiritually valid. Where it becomes problematic is when it’s assumed this is the “Gold standard” for the pan-Pagan population — and indeed, every time I’ve ventured into certain more-unsavoury areas of said community, I find people taking things and tossing them together all willy-nilly, a downright perverse sense of pride in collective anti-intellectualism and anti-academia, and an acute lack of self-examination with some ideas that, at best can be a sign of unhealthy narcissism and, at worst a charlatan. The _michigan_pagans e-mail list features people who will mock you for any amount of book-learning (outside certain publishing houses often decried as “fluffy”), and also boasts a moderator who will harass you over personality differences — apparently some find an informed spirituality “incredibly shallow” or one that “can’t possibly be real” and some men in their late forties with have such a downright infantile response to men in their twenties being so flabbergasted at the “enforced fluff” around one that after the latter unsubscribes, the former will forward the latter every single nasty post made by list members to the now-unsubscribed party, requiring one to alert Yahoo to the harassment.

As best as I can tell, once I start travelling outside my own tight-knit community of Hellenes for the “pan-Pagan community”, there is little incentive for establishing common ground. Even “ex-community, please-don’t-call-me-Hellene-I’m-my-own”-types are noticeably different to interact with than the “spiritual anarchists” than dominate, well pan-Paganism, likely because of that commonality of experience, not just with other Hellenes, but with dealing with pagans on the outside of that community — they seem to understand what the other “doin’ my own thing” Pagans are doing wrong when interacting with recons, and so have a relaxed approach to sane recons (and tend to avoid the nutters). Furthermore, I’ve noticed a trend, whether this is relatively new or long-established, I cannot say, of “scene pagans” who tend to be more eclectic and “religious pagans”, who tend to be more recon in practise*. You know what I mean when I say “scene pagan”: They tend to venture out to public rit and maybe even set up a shrine or altar for major festivals, maybe even go to regular pan-Pagan meet-ups, but even on deeper glance, it’s apparent that spirituality and practise are dead last in their approach to religion, behind going to events and conventions, behind “polyamoury” circles, behind organic foods, getting wasted, and so much else. What makes them “pagan” seems rather superficial, and it’s like “pagan” is the new term for “hippie”. This is different from those who may be deeply religious but make efforts to keep different aspects of their lives “superficially separate” — after all, a deeply religious or spiritual person naturally is influenced by their religious culture in all other aspects of their lives; and obviously quite different from those who are deeply religious and very obviously flaunt their religion’s influences on one’s life. I know it’s not my place to judge, but most of the people I tend to designate as “scene pagans” will actively eschew religious or spiritual discussions, even when things are obviously going to remain civil, and give no real signs of even having a religion except a few times a year — and some of these people are quite lovely folk, but I just tend to have even less incentive to look for any religious or spiritual common-ground, and am always left wondering just what got them interested in paganism, anyway.

As for the term “pagan” itself, as I’ve said before, I’m not married to the term at all. I think it’s become a little too “unloaded” in recent years and don’t blame any one pagan grouping more than any other for this. While, ideally, I’d like to retain a “rather Victorian” impression of the word, I lament that I cannot. Perhaps this is due to ultimately coming to paganism as an adult, and an adult long-jaded by a perceived superficiality of the “pagan” community? I know not, and ultimately, it matters not, because even if I came to Paganism in my idyllic youth and stayed pagan through into adulthood, and thus retained a benign mental image, this isn’t the common mental image held by the overculture, and this isn’t the common mental image held by most within the “pagan” umbrella. The cultural drift is, at this point in time, quite deeply rooted — perhaps in time, it will loosen, and perhaps continuing to fiddle with it will loosen, or perhaps the root will react by digging itself deeper, as a means to try and protect itself. I care not for strategies to get rid of this trend, cos I’m not especially bothered by it — after all, “polytheist” means something, and even in ancient times, when “paganus” was especially pejorative, it was vague.

So was there a point to all this? Probably not. This may, in fact, just be another cantankerous polytheist shouting into the cold unforgiving (and not to mention paradoxical) Khaos-Kosmos of the Internet that is both a formless void while being everything and anything, and this shouting is destined to fall on the ears of a few. Perhaps it will be the start of yet another useless bickering. Perhaps I’m just putting too much thought into what’s essentially nothing, what with this widespread meme that somehow words don’t actually mean anything. If anything, I hope that perhaps religious communities are being and will continue to be forged for the better.

*as always, these are not absolute judgements, there are those of each in each group

A pair of quotes

From Hellenismos Today by Timothy Jay Alexander (context: introduction to Hellenismos):

“Hellenic Reconstructionism allows for a great deal of diversity in beliefs and practice because of the very nature of ancient Greece.” (pg. 19).

and in the following paragraph (also pg. 19):
“Each city-state [polis] had a unique religious calendar. They had their own versions of the myths. The practices of each city-state could almost be described as separate denominations or even religions.”

See for yourself, this page available on Google Books preview (also, screen-cap taken for when he re-sets his Lulu preview permissions).

From this, we can conclude what I and others have been saying all along; indeed, it supports my theory that Hinduism is the way that polytheistic religions evolve naturally (after all, Shinto shows many parallels, albeit with a uniquely Japanese take on it), and that Hellenismos will be best served through the establishment of diverse sects and philosophies, Thiassoi to specific deities (including less popular minor deities, such as Kirke [for you modern-day Pharmakoussai]).

If this was a “one size fits all” religion, then why, when looking into the actual history, do we discover that different poleis did things differently? And if all these thirty-odd Hellenic tribes allegedly respected each-other as equally Hellenic (as one kid recently dared to alleged to me, a philoboeotian, in an e-mail), then what was the deal with Athenians regarding Boeotian Hellenes as “barbaros” (non-Hellenic speakers — after all, such chauvinisms usually come from Athenians, both past Athenians and modern Attic-focused polytheists)? There is a wealth of Hellenic diversity that should not be ignored or cast away because of the agendas of an extreme minority.

Who is a “Recon”?

The dictionary defines reconstruction as:

1. to construct or form again; rebuild: to reconstruct a Greek vase from fragments
2. to form a picture of (a crime, past event, etc) by piecing together evidence or acting out a version of what might have taken place
[World English Dictionary]

It can therefore be fair to say that Religious Reconstruction is hardly the act of making something exactly as it happened or was done before. That’s not to say that reconstruction is not sometimes meticulous, but it’s also not the act of making a broken vase unbroken — after all, more often than not, you can see the glue holding the fragments together, and most significantly, you can almost always see that there are fragments being held together. Another popular analogy is to take a house that has been damaged by flood or by fire and rebuild it. You’re not going to make it exactly as it was before, you know this. If the house was old enough to have lead paint in it, well, good luck making it exactly like it was before. If it was that old, then there was probably some electrical wiring and water or heat piping that would not fit with modern codes — again, good luck with that. A thing that is reconstructed is never exactly the same as it was before — if it was, then it wouldn’t need to be reconstructed, that’s just basic facts.

Furthermore, how to reconstruct, say, ancient art is often debated by art historians, art restorers, and archaeologists. A basic Google search for “reconstructed Venus de Milo [Aphrodite of Milos]” will turn up many different ideas of how the statue’s arms should be positioned and what, if anything, she’d have in her hands. Some of these ideas are obviously not supported by easily sourced evidence of how the statue was originally found and what she was found with, but some of the photo-manipulations obviously show skill and knowledge (albeit, knowledge of basic art) that these would be fair hypotheses if there was no other evidence.

Religious reconstruction is nothing more than forming a hypothesis, an educated guess, and more often than not, forming several hypotheses of what could have been, or what upgrades to the electrical wiring would need to be made. While there is a wealth of evidence in existence of what the ancient Hellenes (and other tribes) did and did not practise and believe, there are still a lot of gaps that could use some putty, a lot of corroded pipes that need replacing, and a lot of questions whose original answers have long crumbled away into dust, but those questions still need answers.

The long and short of it is that arguing over who is and is not “recon” is no less mental masturbation than any other mental exercises that have no real-world applications. It’s not as important as actual practise; if you’re actually practising your religion in a form and spirit consistent with that of ancient Hellas, then this will speak for itself. If you are not, then that is between you and the Theoi to judge whether or not it is improper or impious.

The Oracle has been received!

You want to know how to make Oliver Stone’s 2007 epic “final cut” of 2005’s Alexander even better?

Well, lacking the technology to digitally replace Angelina Jolie, the method I use to make it better is to watch the Japanese animated series Alexander Senki (Reign: The Conqueror in the U$ — to avoid confusion, I’ll call it “Reign” through this post) first.

The thing about Reign is that… it’s weird. Yes, I know, it’s a Japanese cartoon drawn by that dude behind Aeon Flux, but that only hints at how weird this series is. While Stone took his liberties and glossing-overs with Alexander to make for a better story, so did the Japanese production team behind Reign obviously did their research as an outline of “Alexander facts” have been juxtaposed with “Alexander lore” from The Greats contemporaries, biographers, detractors, etc…. But what makes Reign so weird is the almost “hyper-legendary” liberties taken — things that are so impossiblely weird for Alexander’s time or now or even basic laws of physics.

The Olympias in Alexander was reasonably realistic, all things considered. The common “lore” that she was some kind of sorceress has been tempered down to Dionysian cultist and, as one who grew up with parents who acknowledged me as a “gifted” child, I honestly see her sometimes-kooky reverence for her son as existing within a believable realm. But in Reign, she’s an outright crazed “snake witch” who gives birth one month premature in a pool of water with an impossibly massive constrictor wrapped around her body and sending her into orgasm.

And that’s not even touching on the Pythagorean Ninjas. Yes, I’m serious.

Now, Reign can, and should, be given pass because it’s a sci-fi epic and “the known world” in Reign, well, really is the whole world, as it appears at the beginning of the first episode to be floating, unattached, in space, all Dark City-style. And like I said, Pythagorean ninjas. This isn’t a biopic; this is essentially its own story using names and a loose interpretation of an historical outline for the plot.

…but it’s also just weird enough that I can’t bring myself to calling it “good”. It’s decent-enough; it’s well-done, for what it is. On the other hand, I’m too familiar with the history it pays tribute to consider it much more than a splendiferous pyrotechnic display of weird.

…and in comparison, that makes Stone’s Alexander look like Alexander, or at least Ptolemy himself was the story consultant. What it fudges up from ancient biographical accounts of Alexander the Great were honestly only done out of decent story telling. The casting may have needed a little work (even outside of my opinion of Angelina Jolie, I think Colin Farrell could have either himself done better, or a better actor could have been cast, but overall, he did it decently enough to be enjoyable. Hell, even the direction could have used a little work, but overall, it’s an enjoyable watch and respectful of the history it pays tribute.