Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ancient well identified as Apollon divination site in Athens

Keramikos (Greek: Κεραμεικός), formerly known by its Latinized form Ceramicus, is an area of Athens, Greece, located to the northwest of the Acropolis, which includes an extensive area both within and outside the ancient city walls, on both sides of the Dipylon (Δίπυλον) Gate and by the banks of the Eridanos River. It was the potters' quarter of the city, from which the English word 'ceramic' is derived, and was also the site of an important cemetery and numerous funerary sculptures erected along the road out of the city towards Eleusis.

It was originally an area of marshland along the banks of the Eridanos river which was used as a cemetery as long ago as the 3rd millennium BC. It became the site of an organised cemetery from about 1200 BC; numerous cist graves and burial offerings from the period have been discovered by archaeologists. The cemetery was also where the Ηiera Hodos (the Sacred Way, i.e. the road to Eleusis) began, along which the procession moved for the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Archaeological excavations in the Kerameikos began in 1870 under the auspices of the Greek Archaeological Society. They have continued from 1913 to the present day under the German Archaeological Institute at Athens. Now, on friday, the Greek Culture Ministry announced a significant find at the archaeological site: a well probably used for hydromancy rituals. The well was revealed when archaeologists overturned a marble stone and it bore an inscription on the walls addressed to Apollo, the ancient Greek god of phrophecy and was probably used for divination in early Roman times, as the lettering suggests.

The ancient Greek phrase “ΕΛΘΕ ΜΟΙ Ω ΠΑΙΑΝ ΦΕΡΩΝ ΤΟ ΜΑΝΤΕΙΟΝ ΑΛΗΘΕC” as well as about twenty other pieces of writings have been found on the mouth of the well previously solely attributed to either Artemis of Hekate. The invocation phrase seems to have been addressed to Apollon, however, and it identifies the spot as the first and unique Apollon divination site in Athens, confirming the worshipping of the ancient God along with his sister Artemis and restoring the accurate interpretation of the site as a shrine.

The excavation was carried out under the direction of Dr Jutta Stroszeck from the German Archaeological Institute and the supervision of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A country for all...

Yesterday there was a local gathering to protest the deportation of two refugee children and their family back to Angola. Their green card request had been denied previously, but in response to the protest, mother and children were approved for cirizenship. Dad, who has been acused of war crimes simply for paking part of mandatory military service, is still to be deported.

Over the last few years, our immigration and refugee policies have been gettin stricter. Our political lanscape is slipping to the right when it comes to these matters and the influx of African refugeees into Europe has made the acceptance of refugees even worse than it has been. To me, it's shameful. I believe everyone is entitled to aid and safety, especially if they are risking life and limb to escape the atrocities of their homeland. We have plenty, we can share. And if we give these refugees the tools and opportunities to fit in, they can become some of our most valued citizens. That's how it was in ancient Athens, after all!

Ancient Hellenic society was notoriously strict about who was part of it and who was not. If you were not a citizen, you were either a doûlos--slave--or a métoikos, more commonly referred to as 'metic'. All three classes had their parts to play in Classical Hellas. In Athens, about half of the population were doûlos and métoikos. Métoikos were citizens of other Hellenic cities and beyond who came to Athens because of the unique opportunities the metropolis offered. Doûlos who bought their freedom also became métoikos. Because of their skill sets, métoikos were welcomed with open arms in Athens, but they very rarely became neutralized citizens; the best they could hope for was to become an isoteleia. As an isoteleia, they were freed from the liabilities the métoikos had. Former slaves never received either status; isoteleia or citizen.

Many famous contributors to Athenian culture and Hellenic history--like the philosopher Aristotle and the painter Polygnotos--were not Athenian citizens. Many builders of temples, as well as some of the richest businessmen and women weren't Athenian citizens. Egyptians, Cypriots and Phoenicians, all came to Athens and founded their own districts, with temples in which they could pray to their own Gods. It were the doûlos who were entrusted with the money trade, and all métoikos were welcomed to become doctors, teachers, or any other very important profession.

I want these ideas to become more prevalent again. Not as slaves or lesser inhabitants, but to give these people who are looking for safety and opportunities the chance to truly add to the country they journey to in their desperation. They want to, we need them to, and sadly we do not give them the opportunity. These two children--18 and 13--now have a chance to fullfil their potential. The eldest has already secured a scholarship for university and her brother is doing very well in school as well. They will be wonderful additions to our workorce one day and we would have been without them if the governement had, indeed, deported them. We still have a lot to learn from ancient Hellas, I fear, but at least common sense and kindness has prevailed in this case!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Inaugural Onassis Festival in NYC

It's a little early, but everyone might want to plan their October accordingly! The NYTimes’ 'ArtBeat' column this week highlighted the inaugural Onassis Festival of New York, which will run from Oct. 8 to Oct. 11 under the title 'Narcissus Now: The Myth Reimagined', thus reports Protothema.

Hosted by the Manhattan-based Onassis Cultural Center, more than 40 free events, including dance, music, film, visual art, lectures and talks, site-specific installation and a walking tour of Midtown, will be included. The inspiration for these events is the myth of Narcissus, which the center described in a statement as 'the defining allegory of the postmodern age' and 'an emblematic example of the unparalleled influence of classical antiquity on our culture'. Most events will take place at the center’s newly renovated space in the Olympic Tower, off Fifth Avenue.

Participating artists include choreographer Jonah Bokaer, dance historian Jennifer Homans, actor Paul Giamatti, fashion designers Mary Katrantzou and Narciso Rodriguez, composer Stavros Gasparatos, journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis and artist Jenny Holzer.

According to Amalia Cosmetatou, the executive and cultural director of the Onassis Foundation in America, the annual event will offer opportunities for Greek and American artists to work together on commissioned projects, and 'to explore how Hellenic culture inspires the creative arts and informs our lives'.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

PAT ritual announcement: the Kourotrophos

Yes, once more, beginning at sundown on the 29th of August, the Kourotrophos (child nurturers) were honoured. This time, we know from the Arkhian calendar that the focus of this sacrifice were Artemis and Hekate. Elaion will be organizing another Practicing Apart Together ritual for this event in the daylight hours of the 20th of August, and you can join us here.

The Kourotrophos are (mostly) female deities who watched over growing children--Gaea, Artemis, Hekate, Eirênê, Aglauros and Pandrosos, especially. This specific offering is known from the demos Erkhia (or Erchia), but duplicates similar offerings on the Acropolis of Athens.

In this ritual, we honor Artemis and Hekate. Artemis is named Kourotrophos by Diodorus Siculus, a Hellenic historian, in book five of his library:

"And Artemis, we are told, discovered how to effect the healing of young children and the foods which are suitable to the nature of babes, this being the reason why she is also called Kourotrophos." [5.73.5]

Hesiod, in his 'Theogony', explains why Hekate is Kourotrophos:

"So, then. albeit her mother's only child, she is honoured amongst all the deathless gods. And the son of Kronos made her a nurse of the young who after that day saw with their eyes the light of all-seeing Eos (Dawn). So from the beginning she is a nurse of the young (kourotrophos), and these are her honours." [404]
You can find the ritual here. The festival will be held on the 30rd of August, at 10 AM EDT, and we would love to have you join.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Question Collections post 24

I get a lot of questions from readers, and most of the time, the answers are fairly short. When I feel the question or the reply would be valuable to others as well, I make a post with a collection of them and post them in one go. Today is one of those posts.

"I have a question about miasma and ritual purification. I understand that many start with a shower and end with khernips. But what about modern conveniences? Is it okay to use scented soaps? Is it okay to put on deodorant after the shower? Can I style my hair? Or is it better to just go straight from drying off to khernips?"

By all means, make yourself pretty and good smelling! the ancient Hellenes sure did! This whole shower-as-part-of-katharmos is a modern invention. Katharmos, or the act of getting ritually clean, starts the second you walk into the area you have designated as sacred with the intent of performing ritual. Your shower happens way before, as does any primping. Then, you prepare your mind and start your procession into the area. this is when katharmos starts. You wash your hands with khernips–lustral water, which you prepare there and then, or you could possibly have stored–sprinkle the area with the water and strew barley groats as if sowing them. That’s your purification. As you can see, all of the things you worry about happen long before!


"I'm really new to Hellenismos so I have a lot of questions, but in particular I have one about khernips. Do I have to use them every time I pray, or could I limit it to rituals? I am lacking in resources but I don't want to offend the gods in any way. Thank you in advance!"

You use khernips every single time you perform a rite for the Gods. This includes (daily) sacrifice, festival celebrations, etc. The only exception for the ancient Hellenes would have been the drops of wine tipped on the ground during a symposium (a social gathering where wine was consumed and philosphical talk was indulged in) or before a meal. In general, though, if you plan of getting in contact to the Gods, get ritually clean with khernips. Praying, really, is not an act that befits Hellenismos if partaken in as a standalone activity: you pray during ritual. The two are synonymous. I hope this helps!


"Do you know any Gods that were associated with Ravens/Crows?"

The only one that comes to mind is Apollon. For a variety of reasons, Hermes is often associated with these birds as well, but there is no ancient evidence for this. Apollon, on the other hand, has a long history with the birds. It seems odd that a deity associated with light is also associated with an animal with an image as negative as the raven. Ravens are often associated with battlegrounds, cemeteries, and death, with the rotting of carcasses, and funerals. In Hellenic myth, they are also associated with vision beyond that which is present. With oracular visions, and with spotting that which can not, or should not, be spotted.

One myth that associates ravens with Apollon is the myth of Koronis (Κορωνίς). Koronis was Apollon's lover, and was pregnant with His son, when she fell for another man, a mortal man, Ischys (Ἰσχύς). A raven--then white--had been assigned by Apollon to watch over His lover, and when the raven returned to tell Apollon of Coronis' betrayal, Apollon was furious the raven had not pecked out the eyes of the mortal whom his lover fell in love with. In a fit of rage, Apollon turned its feathers black.


"I've been reading your blog for a long time and you are one of my go-to sources. I have questions about statues which have left me stumped for months. My alter is far more "cluttered" than your own. Recently I've started to make it more deity neutral. Where would you suggest I place my statues? Would you mind sharing how you display your own? I've considered individual alters. Do you know any sources with images that might guide me? Thank you for all the amazing work you do and have a great day!"

I think there is an easy source of your confusion: there is a huge difference between an altar and a shrine. An altar is one of those basic necessities within Hellenismos, and it differs from a shrine. Where an altar is a ‘work space’, dedicated not so much to a specific deity, but used to do the bulk of the (daily) rituals, a shrine is a devotional area where an altar might be located. In ancient Hellas, the shrine was usually a temple, the altar an actual altar, standing outside of it. Household worship took place at a multitude of shrines. Labelling something a shrine does not mean you can’t sacrifice at these spots in your home. In general, you decorate a shrine but leave the altar rather bare.

As for your statues: I put them up on my shrines, not my altar. That’s why it’s bare-ish ;-)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Call to the Gods from 'The Oresteia'

Probably beyond all others, I am in love with the three plays of 'The Oresteia' by Aeschylus. There is something about the imagery and the use of language that sucks me in every single time. Besides, I love me some dark tragedy! There are so many pieces from all three plays that can be used as inspiration for your own worship. Today, I would like to share the opening of the third play, The Eumenides, in which the Pythian priestess calls upon the Gods.

The Oresteia was originally performed at the Dionysia festival in Athens in 458 BC, where it won first prize. Principal themes of the trilogy include the differences between revenge and justice, as well as the shift from practicing personal vendetta to a system of litigation. The name derives from the character Orestes, who sets out to avenge his father's murder. Enjoy!

"First, in this prayer, of all the gods I name 
The prophet-mother Earth; and Themis next, 
Second who sat-for so with truth is said- 
On this her mother's shrine oracular. 
Then by her grace, who unconstrained allowed, 
There sat thereon another child of Earth- 
Titanian Phoebe. She, in after time, 
Gave o'er the throne, as birthgift to a god, 
Phoebus, who in his own bears Phoebe's name. 
He from the lake and ridge of Delos' isle 
Steered to the port of Pallas' Attic shores, 
The home of ships; and thence he passed and came 
Unto this land and to Pamassus' shrine. 
And at his side, with awe revering him, 
There went the children of Hephaestus' seed,
The hewers of the sacred way, who tame 
The stubborn tract that erst was wilderness. 
And all this folk, and Delphos, chieftain-king 
Of this their land, with honour gave him home; 
And in his breast Zeus set a prophet's soul, 
And gave to him this throne, whereon he sits, 
Fourth prophet of the shrine, and, Loxias hight, 
Gives voice to that which Zeus his sire decrees. 

Such gods I name in my preluding prayer, 
And after them, I call with honour due 
On Pallas, wardress of the fane, and Nymphs 
Who dwell around the rock Corycian, 
Where in the hollow cave, the wild birds' haunt, 
Wander the feet of lesser gods; and there, 
Right well I know it, Bromian Bacchus dwells, 
Since he in godship led his Maenad host, 
Devising death for Pentheus, whom they rent 
Piecemeal, as hare among the hounds. And last, 
I call on Pleistus' springs, Poseidon's might, 
And Zeus most high, the great Accomplisher. 
Then as a seeress to the sacred chair 
I pass and sit; and may the powers divine 
Make this mine entrance fruitful in response 
Beyond each former advent, triply blest. 
And if there stand without, from Hellas bound, 
Men seeking oracles, let each pass in 
In order of the lot, as use allows; 
For the god guides whate'er my tongue proclaims."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Important finds reported at two excavations in Laconia

A new Mycenaean palace has been found on the Sparta plain during the archaeological surveys which have been going on since 2009 at the Aghios Vassilios Hill near the village of Xirokambi in Laconia. Among the finds were Linear B tablets, a very valuable discovery considering the fact that they come from a Protohistoric period of the Helladic area where written sources are scarce. The Archaeological news Network reports on these finds--and it includes lots of images of the finds so head on over there!

The Aghios Vassilios excavations are headed by the Director Emerita of Antiquities, Adamantia Vassilogamvrou and are considered to be among the most important systematic surveys in the Protohistory of the Hellenic world.

Another important ongoing excavation is that of the Sanctuary of Apollon Amyklaios on the Aghia Kyriaki Hill in Amykles of Laconia, headed by Professor Emeritus of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens Angelos Delivorrias. There one of the most important Greek sanctuaries has been revealed, dating back to the Geometric period. The research team slowly but patiently also tries to shed light on the issue of the Apollon temple (Amyklaion Throne), which has engaged many archaeologists over the years. This survey is being conducted under difficult circumstances, as the Sanctuary has been severely damaged in the past.

The Aghios Vassilios excavation
The archaeological investigations conducted since 2009 at the Aghios Vassilios Hill near the village of Xirokambi in Laconia revealed a new Mycenaean palace on the Sparta plane. By using methods of geophysical survey buried building remains have been located at an area covering 3.5 hectares.

Habitation is believed to have started during the transition period from the Middle-Helladic to the Late-Helladic/Mycenaean period (17th-16th c. BC), based on the dating of the cemetery of stone-built cist graves and simple shafts at the top of the hill. The first building phase of the settlement is also dated to the same period.

According to the evidence found so far, these buildings were destroyed during the LH IIB-IIIA1 period (late 15th-early 14th c. BC), possibly due to a fire. After this, a new strong and extended palace complex was erected at the site. These buildings were arranged around a big central courtyard, on the south and western sides of which a stoa with a colonnade of pillars has been excavated.

In a room of the Western Stoa storey an archive of the palace was kept. Its excavation hasn’t been completed yet. The unbaked clay tablets carved with Linear B texts were preserved thanks to a fire which has however destroyed the new palaces during the LH IIA period (14th c. BC). The archive contains tablets of all the known types found in other palace complexes, leaf-shaped or page-shaped, labels and clay seals. The texts refer to the supply of goods to a sanctuary (or sanctuaries), male and female names, places and the title άναξ in the genitive case (άνακτος).

One of the excavated buildings on the east side of the courtyard, Building A, is being associated to cult/religious rituals. The fire has “baked” and preserved part of the brickwork and clay mortar of the inner separating walls. Until now 10 rooms have been investigated. They contained many typical cult objects and vessels, such as clay figurines of bovids and an ivory statuette of a male figure holding a young calf or bull, a big clay rhyton of a bull head, a stone double-rimmed jug, two big Tritons etc.
Furthermore, many decorative objects, seal stones, Egyptian scarabs etc. have been found. In one room, possibly laid in a box made of organic material, 21 Bronze swords were kept, while underneath the floor of another room a dense layer of animal bones, pottery and valuable miniature objects was found. This layer might be related to the fire remains located in the surrounding area, on the eastern side of the building.

The abundance of wall-painting sherds depicting typical Mycenaean era scenes found in the backfill of a second building (Building B) and in a deposit in an unbuilt area suggest that the palaces were decorated with frescoes.

The Aghios Vassilios palace complex offers a unique opportunity for archaeologists to investigate the creation and development of a Mycenaean palace center and gain a rare insight into the political, administrative, economic and social organization of the area. Also new evidence is expected to come to light about the Mycenaean religion and linguistic and/or palaeographic issues.

The excavations of the Sanctuary of Apollon Amyklaios
The systematic excavation conducted in the framework of the 5-year Amykles Research Programme and completed this month under the direction of the Professor Emeritus of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens Angelos Delivorrias, Dr. Stavros Vlizos (Ionia University) and the supervision of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Laconia, has revealed the continuation of the precinct on the western side of the Aghia Kyriaki Hill, where the Sanctuary of Apollon Amyklaios is being located, 5 km south of Sparta.

This important find is completing the more than encouraging results of the excavation works so far. From 2009 until 2013, the whole surface of the Aghia Kyriaki Hill, connected with the function and monuments of the sanctuary, has been thoroughly investigated.

Remains of the Early-Helladic/Middle-Helladic settlement were located at the top of the hill and the first monumental phase of the sanctuary was dated back to the Late-Geometric period, based on the discovery of the older precinct.

At the same time though, the location of the foundation trench of the so-called Throne of Apollon has offered new evidence about the dimensions of the building. At the northwestern side there is a monumental portico completing the picture of the Archaic sanctuary.

This year’s investigations also changed the view that the precinct had a horse-shoe form, as it runs through the whole western slope of the hill, reaching a length of 50 meters and preserved up to a height of 1.20m. On its whole length the wall rests on the natural porous rock of the hill, which has been carved to create two terraces of 2.50m total width.

Questions about its further route towards the south and its connection to the known corner of the monumental precinct remain unanswered. In the biggest part of the wall the subfoundation of big rough stones is being preserved, as well as parts of the inner masonry of big breccia stones, limestones and porous stones.

The building of the wall cannot be dated as the layers and movable finds are disturbed. Interventions on its outer side however can be dated to the Late Antiquity and the Early Christian years.

Based on the excavation survey, at the northwestern side of the wall, near the monumental entrance to the sanctuary, a Roman era construction has violated part of it to build a cistern (4x4m). In this building, which is very well preserved, the floor is made of square clay plaques, while the inner wall surfaces are covered with hydraulic plaster.

This room contains a unique find: in the centre of the room an intact Doric capital with hypotrachelium was found. Due to this unusual typology it can be attributed to the Apollon Temple, as a similar one (now in the Archaeological Museum of Sparta) had been found during past excavations in the sanctuary.