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While there is very little surviving information about the Feast in question, there is enough to place this as a springtime festival. Furthermore, there is nothing about Eros’ symbolism that is specific to winter, and plenty that makes a springtime festival seem more appropriate —the cockerel, the hare, eggs, birds, youth.
Furthermore, the ancient, pre-Christian origins of St Valentine’s Day are well established. Daidala (Attic: Gemalia), the wedding of Hera and Zeus is traditionally held around the time of mid-February. Rome’s Lupercalia, celebrating the bitch wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus. Eros has nothing to do with either day. I’ve explained this at great length before. Yet the pinhead/s in charge of that list still insist “it’s a modern syncretism in line with the ancient practice”.
What ancient practice? There is NO “ancient practice” that can easily link Eros with any mid-February festivals, and the “love” portrayed in the Catholic St Valentine mythology was closer to agape than eros. The “love” we see in the Lupercalia mythos is compassionate, not erotic.The union of Zeus and Hera, even as per the mythology, was one less of passion than of politics.
That said, I acknowledge that people are going to do whatever they want to, anyway, no matter what makes sense or not. Oh well. If you want to celebrate Eros on 14 February, have fun with that. On the other hand, when you call it “The Feast of Eros” you are inviting confusion with the ancient festival. When you insist that “it’s a modern syncretism”, you not only demonstrate a misunderstanding of what syncretism actually is, you demonstrate a gross misunderstanding of the ancient calendars.
I’m willing to make a post like this every fucking year, so that people who are genuinely interested in the ancient practice can learn that this idea of a mid-winter “Feast of Eros” is just borderline eclectic nonsense based more on medieval softcore subversion of Christian mythology than on pre-Christian Græc
(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?)
“Ah, my sister, I was just watching, wondering if he was going to make it. It is better than a play, to me.”
“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?”
“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,”
I’d make a more substantial post right now, but I’m feeling a tad on the uninspired side right now, and it may or may not have to do with the fact that my head is covered in wave clips and gel (it’s really the only way to make my hair hold anything for more than an hour). I’m going to celebrate Hemara Gaia the way any urbanite should: I’m going out to a nightclub.
…but, to do it, I’m taking in a bunch of bottle returns so I don’t have to take out cash, I’m getting myself a flower from the farmer’s market, and I’ll be walking there and back (unless, of course, I drink too much to walk three blocks, which is unlikely). Also, my hair dye is all-natural botanical and vegan, and my conditioner has placenta and gel have placental proteins in them, so even though I’m not vegan, I’m not letting that shit go to waste, nosiree.
Yeah, I could probably go out and do some more work in the garden, but it’s cold, and I will not be shamed about my lacking desire to plant saplings.
You keep Hemara Gaia in your way, and I’ll keep it in mine.
God of the wild things
Of the forests and the streets
And to His companion Kybele
To whom Theban women sing
Mother of Earthly life
—©2010 Ruadhan J McElroy
You’re free to use this small prayer I wrote in your ritual, but please re-print with credit, and do not publish formally without permission.
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.”
“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:
While I acknowledge that people are going to do what they’re going to do anyway, and there’s little I can do to stop them from doing whatever goofy shit they want to do, no matter how wrong it is, I still feel the need to speak up on occasion when something that people are doing has no historical validity — if they still choose to Do Hellenismos Wrong(!), then who am I to stand in their way? Regardless of what one chooses after learning better, I know I’ve said my piece, and that’s good enough for me.
What is St. Valentine’s Day?
Most people in this day and age, even the good Catholics amongst them, drop the “Saint” prefix nowadays. The Catholic Encyclopaedia mentions three saints under the name Valentine, and Wikipedia notes as many as fourteen(!!!), but traditionally, two are most accepted to be the St. Valentine honoured on 14 February; Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. In 1969, St. Valentine’s Day was removed from the Catholic lexicon of holy feasts on the grounds that almost nothing is known of any of the Sts. Valentine, other than names, and (in at least two cases) where they were buried. Still, other Christian calendars honour St. Valentine’s Day, including the Church of England, and plenty of Catholics do still have a religious celebration of the various legends of St. Valentine —and aunt of mine one gave me a gorgeous ornate greeting card from a Catholic bookstore that re-told one of these legends, of how Valentinus of Rome was sentenced to execution for attempting directly to convert the Emperor Claudius II, and just as he was being taken out by the executioner, his jailer’s blind daughter regained her sight after Valentinus taught her about Jesus. From there, she fell in love with Valentinus, now dead (ew), and honoured his death by planting a tree of almond blossoms.
Regardless, the St. Valentine’s Day endorsed by the manufacturers of sweeties, greeting cards, and sellers of amputated plant genitalia bares little resemblance to a the more subdued event traditionally endorsed by churches.
Prior to Geoffery Chaucer, in Parlement of Foules, there was no widespread association between the feast of any Saint and romantic love —or so sayeth the overwhelming amount of leaders in relevant fields. There is, though, reason to associate mid-February’s Christian Saints’ Day with ancient pre-Christian festivals of the Mediterranean:
As per the Attic calendar, the month of Gamelion corresponds with a span of roughly mid-January to mid-February of the Gregorian calendar, and Gamelion is when the wedding of Zeus and Hera is celebrated annually. The corresponding Boeotian month of Hermaios hosts the Daidala festival, which is essentially identical to Gamelia, in intent and mythos; the Daidala festival for this year happens to fall on 19 February.
Then there’s the Roman Lupercalia, a festival that spans 13-15 February, and is a fertility festival to honour the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus.
Obviously, fertility symbols mingled, symbols of love mingled, and after Chaucer’s mention of love-birds (For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate,) things just seemed to stick.
What is the Feast of Eros?
While little is known concretely of the Feast of Eros, one this is: It is a springtime occasion. Looking far back enough on HMEPA will confirm that this has consistently been a celebration consistently held after the vernal equinox. Not in February or an equivalent month, not any time in winter.
Eros position in the Hellenic pantheon as a fertility deity certainly means it will share some symbolism with Lupercalia; His associations with romantic love will share some symbols with Daidala; modern celebrants of St. Valentine’s Day certainly have no issue of using “His” image (or rather, that of Cupid; often assumed to be a Roman equivalent, but I have my own opinion on that), even if there is never any intent to honour Him in name.
The fact that the Feast of Eros is a springtime festival probably places it more in line to have syncretic imagery with Easter than to be celebrated as a swap for Valentine’s Day. The date is something rather important here; it signifies the Feast of Eros as one of renewal, youth, beauty, re-birth….
…not to say the winter landscape lacks beauty, and certainly some plants actually need that period of frost to properly germinate, but as a trickster, Eros is a deity who’s in that in-between —like an Equinox— and rather blunt. There’s certainly a beauty to winter, but it’s the beauty of Nyx, His Mother, the beauty unseen by the average person, a short-reigning beauty that will bow out gracefully when it is time for the dazzling Eros to come forth.
This said, I see nothing inherently wrong with honouring Eros on 14 February, as His secular guise is certainly everywhere on that day, and His work certainly afoot. But is it the Feast of Eros? History tells me no. Basic logic tells me no. Most importantly: My instincts tell me no.
There are all sorts of reasons to celebrate different deities, and some have several days in a year to do so, even by ancient calendars. If going by Hesiod, then the fourth of every lunar month is sacred to Eros (in addition to Aphrodite, Hermes, and Herakles), so clearly one can celebrate a deity more than once a year. But certain holidays have certain meanings, and the meanings for St. Valentine’s Day don’t line up with what is known of the Feast of Eros in date, nor in symbolism of their respective dates in particular, so clearly there is little, and that’s assuming there is any logical reason to syncretise the two holidays.
Again, I acknowledge that people are going to do what they wish, regardless of what things actually mean and what nonsense what they’re doing makes, but if anybody wants my opinion on it, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend syncretising St. Valentine’s Day with the Feast of Eros. They are two completely different holidays, set at two completely different dates, and thus two two completely different sets of symbolism.
No, really, Athena doesn’t care about your sex life.
While I’m at it, The “Eroscillator” brand sure is expensive —I find this appropriate, especially considering all the graphics illustrating the superior design, and not to mention the goldtone of everything (and not to mention an actual gold-plated Eroscillator), I just can’t afford any of it.
And I gotta give props to Pjur brand’s Eros line of lubes; the Power Cream is honestly the best thing I’ve ever used.
I love Adonis.
Though there’s Peanut Gallery commentary decrying any worship of Him and Kybele in a Hellenic context as “un-Hellenic”, it’s pretty obvious that Their cults had been thoroughly Hellenised by the time of Hesiod (if you haven’t seen people making such ridiculous claims, consider yourself lucky; in fact, I consider myself a lesser person for even mentioning it). I find myself especially fascinated with Ptolemy Hephaestion frequently linking His love as shared with Aphrodite and Apollon, which may seem unusual to those who are only familiar with the versions of Aponis’ mythos that link Him with Aphrodite and Persephone.
“Adonis, having become androgynous, behaved as a man for Aphrodite and as a woman for Apollon.” – Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Bk5 (as summarized in Photius, Myriobiblon 190)
There’s a fragment from Hesiod that describes Adonis as the son of Phoenix (son of Amyntor), and most primary sources name His mother as Smyrrhna, who had a metamorphosis into the tree from which myrrh resin is harvested.
In myth and in cult, there are many easy comparisons to Dionysos — from a position in life-death-rebirth cults, his apparent links to sexuality, vegetation, and Khthonic deities (especially Persephone), academic and ancient syncretic likening to Osiris, and the public face of His cult was decidedly female (though this is where things begin to differ — male Dionysians existed in ancient times as much, if not more, than in modern — male Adonians, at least in the ancient Hellenic world [I haven’t a clue about the Phonecian or Syrian world where it’s clear His cult originated], seem apparently non-existent and, even in modern times, seem few, at best). But at least in the Hellenic world, it’s very clear that they are not the same — in some mythology, Aphrodite bore Adonis a daughter, Beroe, who is one beloved of Dionysos.
His cult likely came into the Hellenic mainlaind through Kypris, the birthplace and local name for Aphrodite, and by about the 6th Century BCE, was already well-known in Hellas. This is not insignificant: This not only cements a relationship with Aphrodite’s cult, it also really shows the aforementioned Peanut Gallery where to stick it — MWAHAHAHAHA!!! 😀
Seriously, folks, at this point in time, I think it’s safe to admit that the Adonis cult was thoroughly Hellenised. The academia really tries to “un-Hellenise” Adonis, and indeed, many of these arguments seem to make sense, until you get into several glaringly apparent facts:
1) Adonis is a central part of Aphrodite’s Hellenic mythology — and I word it this way because a significant amount of Her mythology and cult is clearly “imported”, comparative mythologises easily link Aphrodite to nearly every Near Eastern Goddess from the Babylonian Ishtar to the Zoroastrian Anahita. If one is going to conclude that Hellenic polytheists should worship only Hellenic deities, then there is an awful lot of archaeology that could easily reason that Aphrodite’s cult is not “indigenous” to Hellas any more than that of Adonis’.
2) It’s absolutely likely that Adonis’ cult was “imported” at the same time as Aphrodite — and even the much-touted Walter Burkert (apparently Greek Religion is a veritable gospel to some people), sure seems to agree with this idea:
The cult of the dying god Adonis is already found to be fully developed in Sappho’s circle of young girls around 600 [BCE]; indeed, one might ask whether Adonis had not from the very beginning come to Greece along with Aphrodite. For the Greeks it was well-known that he was an immigrant from the Semetic world, and his origins were traced to Byblos and Cyprus. His name is clearly the Semetic title adon, Lord. For all that, there is in Semetic tradition no known cult connected with this title which corresponds exactly to the Greek cult, to say nothing of a counterpart to the Greek Adonis myth. (pp176-177)
Indeed, investigating Near Eastern mythology, the closest deity with a cult matching the Adonis cult is we see named is “Tammuz”, not Adonis. Perhaps “Adonis”, in this instance, is merely a loan-word made name?
3) The name Adonis, while clearly being the sticking point for identifying His cult as “foreign”, as a language arts major I can clearly see as a mere convention on the same level as “Kytheria” or “Kypris” as a name for Aphrodite — and one clearly accepted as “Greek enough” for many scholars for centuries — indeed, Thomas Taylor takes “Kypris = Aphrodite (= Venus)” for granted in translating the Orphic hymns — and indeed, Cyprus was Hittite land until fairly late Bronze Age; which would be roughly the period estimated for the import of Aphrodite and Adonis cults. Indeed, in most mythological traditions, Cyprus is also the birthplace of Adonis, not merely His cult — so it obviously flabbergasts that somehow this can make Aphrodite “Hellenic enough”, but not Adonis.
One can clearly only begin to imagine the whys and such for the reluctance to accept Adonis cult as “Hellenic enough”, when all evidence clearly shows that it is so. One idea may simply revert to etymology — though clearly acceptable early on in the Hellenisation of Adonis cult practise, later it became a sticking point due to what would now be called racism or nationalism — kinda the same logic “birthers” use to accuse President Barak Obama of being born well-outside U$ soils, in spite of all clear evidence to the contrary. Another idea being that since His cult, in ancient times, was dominated by women to the point of apparently becoming female-only kept the cult well outside the “mainstream” of the civic religion, and so, in a sense, “foreign” to ancient writers, who tended to be men — it could therefore arguably be sexism that kept the Adonis cult regarded as “foreign”; if one considers that many often wrote of the Adonis cult and its symbols with a hint of derision (it’s arguable that the old idea of “green leafy salad = women’s food” is an idea started in ancient Hellas — not only is lettuce sacred to Adonis, but one writer once joked [or perhaps seriously believed] that lettuce causes male sterility), this hypothesis makes a lot of sense on paper.
But perhaps I digress….
I was initially attracted to Adonis as an extension of the “flower boys” — His floral associations include roses (in some versions of the mythos), windflower / anemone poppies, and the “adonis” genus of flowering plant. I make no secret of my veneration of Narkissos as a Daimone and Hyakinthos as hemitheos. Even Krokos, Paeon, and The “flower boy” myths intrigue me on many levels: For starters, think about what a flower is — not what it represents in this culture, but what it is. It’s a part of certain plants, but which part? The genitals. In a certain light, it can seem kind of perverse how much —severed plant genitals— er… cut flowers play a part in (especially heterosexual) romance, courtship, and marriage. The boy gives the girl a cluster of severed, essentially hermaphroditic genitals to show he likes her. A few centuries ago, especially the middle classes, the boy’s visit would then only really last as long as it took for girl to pluck the protective petals from around the reproductive centre. Near the end of the wedding ritual, where people especially like to be surrounded by these hermaphroditic plant parts, the bride throws another bushel of genitals on her friends, with the hope that the cycle will start anew. And if that’s not enough for you to handle? In many flowers, it’s the especially phallic-looking bit in the centre that’s the “female” part of this hermaphrodite.
It’s clear that Western culture is seriously obsessed with sex and sex organs — even when it tries to pretend it’s not, it’s filling children, especially girls, with an onslaught of symbols of fertility and virility and Martha Stewart is joyfully arranging severed genitals in various vases, often with the especially phallic lady-bits, right there on daytime telly (that woman seriously seems to love her lilies and callas — which aren’t lilies, they’re arums, and their “male bits” are typically attached to the “female bit” — now THINK ABOUT THAT).
I find it hard to get close to Aphrodite. Not for lack of trying, mind, but perhaps she senses something about me (In Real Life™, I tend to be generally more comfortable getting emotionally close with men, while women I tend to befriend more casually — and the few exceptions to this kind of prove the rule, in their own unique ways), and either decides to maintain that distance, or simply appoints any and all contact to be through one of “Her Boys”: Either Eros, Whom I’ve already become especially close to, or Adonis, another Flower Boy for my bouquet.
Narkissos, I consider especially precious. My own views of His mythology apparently differ from the mainstream, and the versions of His mythos I hold most dear (and indeed, there are dozens of ancient re-tellings and re-imaginings — the Battlestar Galactica franchise has had fewer re-interpretations by a wide margin) seem rather obscure, even if they’re versions that still seem to maintain the dominant trappings of the popular versions. To me, He is a holy daimon: A spirit of self-love, and a protector of those unloved. His namesake flower is sacred to Him, as are mirrors and reflecting pools; the species narcissus poeticus is especially sacred, as this is the exact flower He gave form to. He comes to you in a form reminiscent of you see yourself, perhaps a daimon of the Ego Ideal. He is the son of a nymphe and river god of Thespiae. His spurned lover, Ameinias, became anise; you can help to heal the tears Narkissos shed for both His own cruelty and for Ameinias with an offering of anise. Also, a bit of anise in a coffee for a reading may shed light on who loves you. Popularly, at least historically, He seems to have an especial link with gay man, and “narcissism” was initially used as a term for the “sexual perversion” of male-male love.
Hyakinthos’ flower, contrary to modern assumptions, is the delphinium larkspur. He is the son of the Moisa Goddess Kleio and Magnes’ son Pieros (Magnes being the first, now legendary, king of Magnesia, and a son of Zeus), and in some mythological traditions, He is either brother or cousin to Daphne — and perhaps the common-enough urge to link their myths is part of the collective consciousness trying to remind people of this (presumably?) once-ancient connection. By Spartan tradition, Hyakinthos is identified with the Thessalian Hymenaios, the God of marriage and the wedding bed, carrying associations with virginity, True Love, and legitimate partnership — again, I have to voice flabergastion that at the fact that so many modern Hellenic polytheists insist that only heterosexual partnerships have a right to spiritual or ritual legitimacy. Did Apollon not love Hyakinthos in the mythos? Is a god’s love not legitimate? Is the love felt by a mortal somehow unture? (If so, then logically, no marriage with a base of love, which is indeed what the overwhelming majority of Western marriages are, can possibly be ritually legitimate within Hellenismos — and I seriously doubt that very many people would want to get behind a fringe religion with self-proclaimed “authorities” who endorse a return to strictly-arranged het marriages based in social-climbing and dowries.) Or would people rather wax philosophical about “symbolism” and “metaphor” in myth rather than accept that the best symbol of a thing is the thing itself — and the mythos she the thing itself as a deep love and bond that was met with a tragic end. Though mortals may be imperfect, even flawed things can be true, legitimate — death is the greatest, most glaring flaw that mortals have, when compared to the Theoi, but our deaths are overwhelmingly true, a truth that is glaringly obvious.
And again, we come back to blues — immortal blues for Love Himself. From “…something borrowed, and something blue,” to “L’amour est Bleu” (perhaps is is not insignificant that this song rose to fame via the Hellenic singer Vicky Leandros? LOL). The first I saw Hyakinthos, I knew the Spartans were onto something with their associations with Hymenaios, for the first time I saw Hyacinth (in a dream, mind), He was at a small pool or spring, sitting on a rock at the centre of a thick round of His flower, peacock feathers tied into His hair (giving allusions to Hera, a Goddess whose domains include marriage), and Apollon identifying this breath-taking youth as His beloved Hyakinthos, who He “fought the West Wind for, and won”. Their love, as I see it, is a wedded one that is renewed annually with Hyakinthos’ death and rebirth. He is therefore arguably, too, an Erote of Love Renewed, of Tragic Love, and a god of rebirth from tragedy.
Because of my interest in Boeotian traditions, especially of Thespiae and the surrounding area, I often revert back to Hesiod. Hesiod names a beautiful Thessalian boy beloved of Apollon, Hymenaios — or at least this is the Evlyn-White translation of the relevant fragment. The pseudo-Apollodoros notes a Thessalian Hyakinthos was seduced by Apollon away from Philammon, and that this Thessalian youth was accidentally slain by discus. Clearly this mythology is an example of one-in-the-same, simply with different names. At this point, I’m convinced, and urge: Whether you call Him Hyakinthos or Hymenaios, call on Him to bless the bond of love.
List behind cut:
This is possibly one of my favourite films, and not just as an extension of my weakness for ridiculous films about Christian mythos (if you want ridiculous in your Christianity, The Apple is the best yet). While carrying the airs of serious art film, Sebastiane has a ridiculousness to it, don’t get me wrong (from the liberties taken with the saint’s mythos to Jarman’s response to questions about the film’s profuse nudity [“we couldn’t afford costumes after the first scene”] to the fact that it inspired an episode of Father Ted, Sebastiane‘s ridiculousness is hard to ignore), my love for this film has more to do with the fact that the more I watch it, the more I see something that I didn’t before realise was there.
This film is a sometimes shallow, but sometimes incredibly deep metaphor for a closet case (and in case you can’t see it, Jarman has explained this in many interviews and in his memoirs, which span seven volumes). Sometimes the metaphor is so deep, you have to view the film repeatedly to get it.From pretty early on in the film, its established plot focus is the relationship between Sebastiane, the Christian and one of only two characters who isn’t shown to even surrender to sex with men for lack of women (the other being Maximus, who, on repeated viewing, represents society and the Middle Class that Jarman grew up in, in specific — Maximus is not only disdainful of homosexual preferences [to excuse his own presumed, but unseen, occasional dalliances with boys for “a quick one”], and xenophobic in comparing the openly gay characters to “Greeks”, but he is devoid of genuine spirituality, giving it little more than lip-service and making the rare allegory; his most notable references to the Gods of Rome is to mock the Captain in front of the other men), and the Roman army Captain, Severus, ostensibly a polytheist, and the character with an obsessive and unrequited love and lust for the title character. Severus uses his position of power to force Sebastiane into a debatably S&M relationship (which, interestingly, appears initiated by Sebastiane) in which Sebastiane is the tortured one, and which is periodically interrupted with outbursts of pleading from Severus, because this isn’t what he wants — he wants to love, be loved, make love.
This is all pretty obvious to people who can watch the film and think a millimetre or two deeper than the most literal interpretations of what’s on the screen — which would be a bunch of naked guys running around, mostly shouting at each-other in Vulgar Latin (as opposed to the Classical Latin learned by most people today), and occasionally tying each-other up and throwing hot lamp oil on each-other, and a soundtrack by Brian Eno, because why the hell not? [Aside: All who argue the genius of Eno will be beaten with cement-filled milk jugs, with the exception of Eno himself, as that would be counter-productive to my Eno-veneration.]
One of the fuzzier metaphors is Jarman’s use of polytheistic imagery juxtaposed with apparent homosexual longing and used to contrast Sebastiane’s refusal to give in to this longing and his Christianity. Scene Two opens with Sebastiane showering himself from a well with a large water jug one morning as Severus watches on, and Sebastiane’s voice narrates imagery of an unnamed “young god” conquering Nox before standing in his chariot, “his body glittering” being “like the gold in lapis” as the camera focuses on large areas with Sebastiane’s body covered in sun-sparkling droplets of water. To the untrained eye and ear, as Sebastiane’s voice was heard briefly in the previous scene, this may seem a morning prayer with the unnamed “young god” perhaps being Jesus standing high above all other gods (and I know this, because I’ve had to explain to people, yes, even other GBLTs, that this scene wasn’t what they thought it was); but if you do think just a tiny ways further, it’s apparent that this is either Severus imagining Sebastiane’s voice and such imagery as a manifestation of his own longing, or Sebastiane knowingly indulging Severus this pleasure and thus is reciting it himself, and thus giving himself a measure of disconnect from the scene so that even though he was knowingly teasing the other man, the pantheonic imagery allows him to assure himself that his heart wasn’t in it, absolving himself of Christian Sin.
In one of the soon following scenes, Sebastiane leaves the six other men to be by himself in a secluded pool, and in voice-over from Sebastiane is an odd homoerotic prayer all too careful to eschew not only the mention of a single,transcendental deity, but any of the more obvious Christian imagery (to a largely Christian United Kingdom), in favour of something probably more reflective of Jarman’s degrees in art than anything else:
Hail god of the golden sun
The heavens and Earth are united in gold
Comb your hair in the golden rays of light
In your hands the roses of ecstasy burn
The wheel turns full circle 
Cooled by breezes from the four quarters
The swallow has risen in the East
The doors are open
Your body, your naked body
Initiated into the mysteries, step forth 
That beauty that made all colours different
Comes forth into the world
Hail god of the golden fire
Your beauty holds my heart captive
I’ve watched this film so many times, this prayer no longer has a concrete meaning. I have reason to believe Jarman wanted it this way. The first line is obviously in lock-step with Jesus allusions, at least according to the fine kooks over at JesusNeverExisted.com(1), but the rest is so steeped in homoeroticism, ostensibly pagan imagery (lines 4, 5, 10?, 13), and the only reliable imagery I can muster up from around that period (~300CE) and that region for swallows would be as a symbol of the household Gods and Aphrodite/Venus. I’d accuse Jarman of intentionally making this pagan if it wasn’t for the fact that I know he was a Christian of extremely liberal philosophies (of course, it’s very clear that Sebastiane is not portrayed heroically in this film, but instead as a creature of pity).
The following scene reveals Sebastiane’s “initiation” of the “S&M relationship” between himself and Severus, by refusing to fight. Following the beatings, Justin, Sebastiane’s sole friend and sympathiser in the film, offers comfort and a vague warning that this could go too far.
In a following scene, Severus watches Anthony and Adrian make love in the sun (and despite 1976’s X-rating, this is tamer than the sex in some episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). He turns to Sebastiane and asks “Are you still a Christian?”
“Then remove my armour.”
Severous touches Sebastiane’s shoulder seductively, which Sebastiane refuses. As punishment for this, Severus cock-blocks Anthony and Adrian to come over, after which we see the three of them tying Sebastiane up and out in the scorching sun. Following this, we see the other men playing with a time-travelling Frisbee™ (I can’t really excuse that one, either), and this scene is cut short when we see what is presumed a heat-induced hallucination of Sebastiane’s: Standing over and looking down on him is a youth wearing a leopard skin with head, and carrying a large branch I have yet to identify. Identified as “Leopard Boy” in the credits, he says nothing and apparently fades in and out from Sebastiane’s consciousness. (Feel free to click that image to get the full size; I really want to know what that branch is from — I also apologise for the quality of the image, the film wasn’t shot with the best film, and it’s an inexpensive Kino release, this is honestly the best screen-cap I could catch.)
We then see the other men on a “pig hunt” (because no UK-produced film about anything seems truly complete without allusions to Lord of the Flies, wouldn’t you agree?) During this hunt, Justin throws down his spear and goes to Sebastiane, who is still out in the sun hallucinating Leopard Boy; this is also the scene where it’s made obvious that this is Sebastiane’s hallucination. Justin asks “Why are you doing this?”
“His eyes are so beautiful. He has sky blue eyes.” As does the actor playing Severus.
“What are you talking about?”
“His hair is like the sun’s rays. His body is golden like molten gold. This hand of his will smooth away these wounds….”
Justin looks to the blond Severus, who just then stabs the pig.
“Justin… He is as beautiful as the sun, this sun which caresses me… is his burning desire. He is Phoebus Apollo[n].” Delirious cut to Leopard Boy stepping away. “The sun… is his… burning kiss.”
“This is madness,” notes Justin. “Why don’t you run?”
“His beauty is enhanced by his anger. It is his anger which is divine. His punishments are like Christ’s promise. He takes me in his arm and caresses my bleeding body. I want to be with him. I love him. Justin, you don’t understand. Take it away.” Cut to a pool of blood in the sand surrounded by spears.
Later, there is a scene of S&M-like torture for Sebastiane from Severus, which is conclusively ended when Justin takes some food to Sebastiane and pleads, “You must eat. Why are you doing this?”
“I love him. He is beautiful. More beautiful than Adonis.”
First off, after taking notes from this film last night (including lengthy transcriptions of dialogue by hand because all I have is a desktop computer), and especially after writing this all down for my blog, I’m really confused as to why I’ve ever had to explain this to people — it’s very painfully obvious what’s happening in the desert scene — but for those of you who want to hear it from me, yes, it’s Severus who is being referred to as “Phoebus Apollo” in this delirious speech of Sebastiane’s unattainable desire. The Leopard Boy is most assuredly drawing on Dionysian imagery, implying this may be either a manifestation of Sebastiane’s true nature and desires that he’s cut himself off from, or potentially even divine communique, beckoning Sebastiane to release himself from this pain by allowing himself to love, be loved, make love. The ostensibly polytheist Adrian and Anthony contrast Sebastiane and Severus by being both open and unashamed about their love; the only nay-saying they face is from Maximus, who the other characters seem to barely tolerate. This juxtaposition especially stands out because Jarman’s own Christian beliefs make the positive portrayal of homosexual love between Anthony and Adrian, and the arguable “morality lesson” against closeted and denied homosexual desires of Sebastiane a truly unique specimen.
The comparison to Adonis is also apparently intentionally vague: Is Sebastiane referring to “this” as allowing himself to be tortured as a means to keep himself from giving in to desire, thus he is saying it is Christ who is “more beautiful than Adonis”, or is “this” allowing himself to be tortured just to have Severus touch him, and thus it is Severus who is more beautiful? Perhaps it’s both; actually, considering Jarman’s body of work, it’s almost definitely both. The imageries of both Dionysos and Adonis, it probably could go without noting, are not casual references — these are imageries of life-death-rebirth deities known in Hellenic mythology for bisexuality and (at least occasional forays into) effeminacy. Furthermore, I really can’t help but notice that imagery of Adonis and that of St. Sebastian are often eerily similar.Sebastiane’s execution is preceded first with another S&M scene, one that ends with Sebastiane denouncing Severus as an impotent drunk and defiantly asking “[Do] you think your drunken lust compares to the love of God?” This would be basically a portrayal of “suicide by cop” — lacking the ability to make these desires go away, Sebastiane chooses martyrdom as an easy out. The next scene starts with a virtual ocean of goats on the move, and sitting among them is Sebastiane, in a crown of grapes. This, I had to screen-cap on general principle, it was just so blatantly referencing Dionysos, and really, it has to be seen to be believed. The only conceivable explanations I can imagine for this is perhaps Severus laying one final claim — or possibly Jarman attempting to trick the audience into thinking they’ve seen a Christ-figure in a crown of thorns surrounded by “devils” of goats. Thinking about it for a few seconds, and knowing Jarman’s films the way I do, it’s probably both. But what the hell do I know?
It is instead Justin who is crowned in vines, alluding to Justin as the true Christ-figure in this film, and laying down an implication of Jarman’s own brand of Christianity as all-loving when one considers some earlier scenes in the film (none of which had much, if anything, to do with this piece’s perceptions, so I’ve left them alone for a later time) Severus announces Sebastiane’s execution and immediately falls to tears. At Sebastiane’s execution, Maximus also forces a bow and arrow in the thorn-and-robe-clad Justin’s hands, and makes him pull back and release a final shot — one positioned to seemingly aim for another actor’s buttocks — I believe this imagery was also as intentional as it was to put these characters in that specific scene.
When you re-think Justin as the true Christ-like figure in the film, it’s apparent that the film has Christian sympathies despite Sebastiane himself being very definitely a non-hero and debatably both protagonist and antagonist, as was Severus, but looking at and examining the well-placed polytheist imagery (because the Apollonian and Adonian allusions of St. Sebastian alone simply aren’t enough) reveal that Jarman and his film had other sympathies.
As I’d said at the beginning of this post, the film takes great liberties with traditional St. Sebastian mythos — which tends to portray him as a 3rd Century CE Rasputin (id est, he was hard to kill) — to instead create an Anterotic fable about “the gay closet” and its effective cowardice.
It’s also not lost on me that St. Sebastian is probably one of the Christian saints steeped deepest in polytheistic imagery: His patronage includes not only arrows, but also plague, and even Wikipedia’s writers and editors have noticed the correspondences with Apollon. Being also one of the religion’s earliest saints, it can effectively be said that he’s probably one of the easiest examples of early Christianity syncretising martyrs with the old Gods. At least in my own mind, this makes the Dionysian imagery somehow all the more appropriate, and brings to mind an epithet shared by Dionysos and Eros, “Eleutherios – The Liberator”. Which in turn brings to mind Severus’ relationship with Sebastiane as both “Abros – Tender” and “Algesidoros – Pain Inducer”, both engaged alternated in a futile attempt to release Sebastiane from his self-induced prison of repression.
(1) Like all the best kookery, the Jesus Never Existed people have a bit of truth on there, and a fair amount of internally consistent evidence for their purposes; I also generally agree with them that, at best, the dominating and most consistent “evidence” for the existence of “Jesus Christ” is no more “consistent” than it would need to be to support the hypothesis of “Christ” as a composite of a few rebellious, vaguely Platonic Jews from around 20-35CE of the Roman Empire. I’m outing their “truths” instead as kookery cos the crux of a fair amount of their arguments seem to make their “evidence” into something more than what it is, or outright something that it is not. Don’t take my word for it, though; dig around on their site and judge for yourself.
Recently, I’ve noticed some interest amongst Queer men (and some others) in on-line Hellenic (and Graeco-Roman-Aegyptian) circles in the revived cult-worship of Roman Emperor Hadrian’s deified beloved, Antinous (Antinoos in Greek). To a rather small group of individuals, this mere idea is controversial, at best (though they tend to describe it as “Ew! Icky for-een cultus to a Kept Boy™! get it away from MY Hellenismos!” — oi theoi, I almost wish I was joking). I’m going to ignore them, mainly just for being generally unpleasant, but also because 1) they ignore the fact that within the Hellenic religion, “foreign” cults were embraced often-enough that two rather famous ones, Kybele and Adonis, are generally considered thoroughly Hellenised (and really, it seems Antinoos’ only “crime”, in his veneration, is being born far too late for these people); and 2) even if one doesn’t consider Antinoos of ta theoi, his veneration doesn’t seem out of line with certain schools of ancient hero-worship. That said, well, if certain people wish to continue to breathe farts and talk poopie, I’m hardly going to stand in their way — free country and all that.
Now, I’m on this one Antinoos e-mail list (which I’ve been essentially a “silent lurker” to until about an hour ago) and it hit me as I went back to a few sites of info that, while often likened to Dionysos, I see a closer relationship to Hyakintos in Antinoos. Hell, if I wanted to tke a lead from my Token Hindu Friend™, I may even venture to posit the idea that Antinoos was an “avatar” of Hyakintos.
This is pretty much just one of those ideas that just popped into my head in the last hour, and I thought I’d share, cos there’s no real reason not to.
Also, from that same list, Phillupus had this to say:
Interestingly, Antinous is compared to Hyakinthos (and other flower-boys of Greek myth), but never syncretized to him…In several texts, in fact, Antinous is said to be “better” than these other flower boys (Hylas, Narcissus, Hyakinthos, &c.) for various reasons.
Whether one interprets Antinous’ ancient cultus as heroic or deific, the fact is that he was called “Heros” at some places (e.g. Delphi, Socanica, &c.), and “Theos” (e.g. Rome, Leptis Magna, Mantineia, Antinoopolis, Hadrian’s Villa, &c.) in others…those who dispute this are simply at odd with the facts. His cultus was not a foreign import, he was of Greek ethnicity and culture himself, and he is called a “native god” in places like Mantineia, Arcadia generally, and back home in Bithynia. Again, those who assert otherwise are doing so in ignorance of the facts as they are available on the most reliable sources on this matter.
And, Thespiae does have a definite connection to the cultus, at least as I see it. Hadrian’s bear-hunt trophy was dedicated in the Eros temple in Thespiae, asking for the kharis of Aphrodite-Ourania (patroness of male homoerotic love) in finding a young eromenos, and this was right around the time (c. 123-124 CE) that he would have met Antinous, by most estimates.