Serpent as Primal Ancestor: Selected Indo-European and African Cultural and Religious Contexts

Dahomey greeting given to a python encountered in the wild: “You are my father and my mother. Be propitious to me.”

My father is coping well, overall, with his monthly chemotherapy treatments, and I’m very grateful for having the opportunity to spend so much time with him. This past Sunday was the most important Serbian cultural one for my parents and me: The Feast Day (Slava, pronounced SLAH-vuh) of our family’s patron saint, John the Baptist. The activities surrounding ritual purification with talismanic water (blessed during a special Mass by a bishop using sprigs of dried hyssop, basil, and rue) clearly are vestiges of pre-Christian Slavic customs designed to promote renewal. I gladly welcome the opportunity to fully celebrate these time-honored customs with my family. So after Sunday’s private Mass (held for families observing their John the Baptist Slava), Dad and I headed straight for my brother’s grave a short walk away from the monastery entrance. The Chicagoland area was gifted with nearly 10 inches of snow from the previous day’s storm; the day was sunny but cold, with a daytime high temperature of 11°. As I watched my frail, cancer-stricken father wade into the snow to make offerings of ritual foods at my brother’s grave, my heart immediately felt weighted by a heavy sadness.

dadatcemetery

Dad clearing space in the snow to leave offerings of ritual food on my brother’s grave.

I thought about the importance of the day, and how the uniquely Serbian concept of the Slava is a patrilineal one, with different saints “assigned” as protectors to Serbian clans, and I wondered which Pagan Gods those saints displaced. How far back into the mists of antiquity did this observance go? I thought about the cultural importance attached to the male head of the household and the enormous magico-religious role played by that man in every Serbian family, about how he serves as bringer of luck (or the lack of it) to a Serbian family’s Sudbina, or Destiny, and how he serves as mediator between the present and the past, between the living and the dead, stretching all the way back in time to the First Ancestor (i.e., the God of the Underworld, Veles), who incarnated as a serpent. I also thought about similar beliefs held about the head of the household and the connection to serpent-ancestors in ancient Greek and Roman religions and contemporary East African and West African ones. The cultic practice dots definitely connected in my mind in strikingly similar ways, as the research I’ve done and share below bears out. Join me on this cross-cultural spiritual odyssey into the serpentine Labyrinth of the Ancestors, won’t you?

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Just Listed on My Etsy Shop: Sterling Silver Athena Devotional Necklace

The stirring opening lines of the “Homeric Hymn to Athena” evoke the Goddess so beautifully:

“I begin to sing of Pallas Athena, the glorious goddess,

bright-eyed, inventive, unbending of heart,

pure virgin, saviour of cities,

courageous,

Tritogeneia.”

My devotional jewelry tribute to Athena, available for sale on JackalMoonDesigns, features a stunning sterling silver replica of an ancient Greek drachma as the pendant, depicting Athena in profile on the front and Her totem symbol of the owl on the back. (The coin pendant was something I bought directly in Greece while perusing the wares in a Thessaloniki market in 1998!)

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Thoughts on Yesterday’s Inherit Chicago Event: “Female Power Models in Greek & Indian Mythology”

I had the opportunity yesterday afternoon to attend a series of performances of great relevance to contemporary Polytheists and the struggles many of us face in the West of assuring our dual Overculture (dual in the sense that it is both secular as well as overwhelmingly Abrahamic monotheism-influenced) that our modalities of religious worship constitute living, grounded-in-the-here-and-now traditions, not ones consigned to the dustbin of history. Made possible by a collaboration between the nonprofit organizations Inherit Chicago, the Indo-American Heritage Museum, and the National Hellenic Museum, the performances in question all related to the theme of “Female Power Models in Greek & Indian Mythology.” Dr. Lori Barcliff Baptista, Director of the African-American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, served as the moderator, introducing the sets of performances and facilitating audience discussion between them and at the end.  Continue reading

Hymn to Hekate

“Hymn to Hekate”

(c) A. Applegate 2017

 

We give greetings to fair Hekate,

Mighty monogenes--sole child of starry Asteria and the Son of Eurybia.

Titaness of the Threefold Realm of Earth, Sea, and Sky,

Revered above all the Ancient Powers by Olympos-dwelling Zeus Himself.

With pleasing eyes, accept our sacrifice

Hekate Khthonia,

Mistress of the Underworld surrounded by swarms of spirits,

And open the ways to the dreaded realm of Thy majesty,

O Brimo,

That we may claim our rightful power in service to Thee.

 

With pleasing eyes, accept our sacrifice

Hekate Krataiis,

Strong One of the Wine-Dark Sea,

Who birthed death-dealing Skylla,

And open the ways beneath the waves,

O She-Wolf, O Sea Wolf,

That we may draw into the depths of our being

Unending praise of Thee.

 

With pleasing eyes, accept our sacrifice

Hekate Soteira,

Queen of Angels, Savior of the World-Soul,

And open our ears to receive Thy counsel in the Music of the Spheres.

Hidden Hekate, fair of face,

Mighty Hekate, Lady of Power,

Lead us through the crossroads at the behest of Thy grace,

In our magical endeavors,

Help our workings to flower.

In heartfelt devotion,

We kneel before Thee,

Goddess Incomparable!

Io, Hekate!

Hekate altar

My Hekate altar is the heart of my temple space. Photo (c) A. Applegate 2017.

Hymn to Hermes

“Hymn to Hermes”

(c) A. Applegate 2017

 

We give greetings to Hermes,

Clever Son of Zeus and Maia,

Wanderer of all the worlds

God of great cunning

Who, on His very first day of drawing breath,

Proved Himself a maker of music and mischief,

Strummer of the lyre,

Thief of the cattle of Apollon

The One Who achieves fame amongst the Gods by His deeds

The Prowler by night Who lurks in the street before the gates.

 

We hail holy Hermes

Who wards all wayfarers

Whether travelers for pleasure or commercial pursuits,

or those seized by thanatos

Who wend their way into dark caverns to be seated as guests

in Hades’ great, gilded halls

 

We hail Hermes Psychopompos,

His most sacred charge

Serve as our unerring Guide, our Companion, O Khthonios,

May Your lamps reveal the Mysteries

Glory gleaned in gloomy depths

To those ready to receive the Light of Your Wisdom

 

Hermes of Arkadia’s dawn

Hermes by Persephone’s shade

Be here with us as our magic is made!

 

Io, Hermes!