Ode to Maia

Seven are the daughters of Pleione,
whose stars bedazzle the winter sky—
      most beautiful of all the seven
      is Maia, daughter of Atlas.
She it is who rejoices in May flowers’ bloom,
the lengthening days, and the growing warmth.
      She makes the heart to quicken
      as desire swells in mortals’ souls—
and not in mortals’ alone, but you too,
thundering father Jove, could not resist her.

How did Jove effect his tryst with modest Maia,
dwelling in her cave in wind-swept Arcady?
      Let none divulge what passed therein;
      let none undo her wise discretion.
But all may know and celebrate her offspring,
glorious child of Maia, swift-footed messenger,
      clever in his charming words,
      subtle in his wily deeds—
for you, august Mercury, were born on Mount Cyllene,
born to gentle Maia, bedecked with flowers.

She it was first took you in her arms and nursed you:
nourishment from the most nurturing of goddesses.
      From her the mischievous babe
      learned wisdom as well as wit,
for on your first day, O Mercury, you stole the cattle
of your proud brother, brilliant Apollo of the fearsome darts.
      Maia drew you back;
      gently she rebuked you,
teaching you justice and reconciliation: and the lyre,
seven-stringed, you made a peace offering to Apollo.

The nurturing mother of that godly nuncio
took Arcas in to foster—glory of Arcadia,
      resistless huntsman
      now translated to the stars.
A grandson of blessèd Maia, the wandering Evander,
first planted her worship in the western lands
      upon the sainted hill
      above the rolling Tiber.
More grandsons of yours, O Maia, the twin Lares
were rightly honoured at every Roman hearth.

Glory of spring, fosterer of growing things,
most exalted of the sister Pleiades,
      you I praise:
      to you I offer this hymn.
Mountain-dwelling Maia whom Jove adored,
daughter of the strong-shouldered titan,
      hail to you in Arcady
      and in every land.
Let all who love the god of travellers, Argus’ bane,
rejoice in you and offer pleasing gifts.

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Novena prayer to Mercury

While doing my annual Festivus shopping this year,* I noticed that Galina Krasskova’s novena book In Praise of Hermes had hit the shelves, so naturally I swallowed it up greedily. I was delighted to find myself among the people in the Acknowledgements, and more delighted still with the general layout and structure of these books, which really seem inspired. They’re equally adapted for the lifelong votary who wants to do something special for their belovèd deity, and for the newbie who wants to get better acquainted with a deity who’s just come into their life.

So the novena book arrived, and I realized that I had two options: (i) tell myself “Ooh, this is a great idea that I might eventually put into practice!”, or (ii) begin the very next day. I opted for option (ii), and I’m now pleased to say that it is the day for me to write a prayer of my own for Hermes/Mercury (Day VI of the nine) and post it on the interwebs.

This kind of discipline is wonderful for a number of reasons. While simple and cheap, it requires your mind to focus on a specific devotional goal each day—not just for one day, or three, but for longer than a week. Each day sets the devotee a straightforward, achievable task that nevertheless requires a bit of planning and a bit of effort. I’ve also been mentally doing this double, reading over the day’s task and the day’s prayer in the morning and then actually doing it in the evening. This, in addition to keeping closer track of my dreams than I otherwise would, has really helped heighten my Mercury-consciousness throughout the day—weekends and holidays as well as work days, sleep time as well as wake time. So a thousand thank yous to Galina for launching this series! (I’ll be needing a copy of the novena book for the Mothers too ere long as well…)

And now, the prayer:

Hail, Mercury of many names,
god of many disguises,
god who walks many paths,
god who knows no boundaries,
god who admits no constraint,
friend of many deities,
friend of brilliant Apollo,
friend of transcendent Cernunnos,
friend of inspiring Bacchus,
friend of crafty Minerva,
sometimes more than friend of golden-tressed Venus.
Hail to you of the worn traveller’s cloak,
hail to you of the shining herald’s staff,
hail to you of the flying feet,
patron of athletes,
patron of diplomats,
patron of scholars.
I sing your praises beneath the wing of the sparrowhawk.
I sing your praises under the shade of the strawberry-tree.
I sing your praises where the crocus grows.
I sing your praises beside the gentle, subtle tortoise,
and the proud and lusty billy goat,
and the dauntless discerning boar,
and the cocksure rooster,
and the emissary serpent adorned with the horns of a ram.
Your gifts are boundless.
Your words are keen.
Your spirit is unbreakable,
though it bend a thousand ways.
You, son of Maia, are the god who in the thick of battle
turned to your opponent, for combat matched,
and told her frankly you had no quarrel with her,
the gentle lover of your own august father,
and agreed with her to quit the field,
in honour undiminished to you both.
You are the god who never fears to speak
words of truth and warning, however unwelcome,
to heroes and to mortals,
assuring them of what is to come,
exhorting them to effect what must be.
You are the god who came to Tyana,
travelling with your father in disguise,
kindly receiving the hospitality of
that couple who alone would take you in,
refilling their wine-jar, sparing their goose,
and finally bestowing on them
prosperity and glory,
peace and safety,
eternal togetherness,
and the right to serve the two of you all their days.
I do not pretend, august Mercury,
to the merits of Baucis and Philemon.
I cannot demand such sweet deserts.
Only let me serve you in my turn,
contributing what I can,
seeking to walk in harmony with your fleet steps,
and let your glory shine forth unhindered
throughout this world and those beyond.

Mercury of Metz

Mercury of Metz (Espérandieu 4411)

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* All right, to be totally honest, I mean Christmas shopping. But it has pretty much nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, however, the way we celebrate it in our family.

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Taurobolium lugudunense

Cybele (Madrid)

The famous statue of Cybele, Great Mother of the Gods, in her chariot drawn by lions at Madrid’s Fuente de Cibeles.
(Photo by Carlos Delgado; CC-BY-SA)

Today, the 9th of December, commemorates an interesting foray into Phrygian religion on Gaulish soil. On this day in the year 160 CE, under the ægis of the divine Antoninus Pius, a public taurobolium was celebrated for the first time (as far as may be determined) in what is now Lyon. The taurobolium is a rite that permits the sacrifice of a bull in place of the self-castration that had characterized the galli or Phrygian priests of the Great Mother of the Gods from time immemorial. I say ‘Phrygian’, although other nationalities were doubtless represented—however, Roman citizens were not, because Roman law forbade the castration of citizens. Starting with the taurobolium of Lugdunum, the priesthood of the Great Mother was now open to Roman citizens—and indeed the high priesthood or office of archigallus. A citizen worshipper could thus be ritually reborn in the Great Mother—bathed, if Prudentius is to be believed, in the blood of the sacrificial victim, in lieu of that flowing from the act of castration.

With this innovation, the cultus of the Great Mother (Magna Mater deorum Idumæa) enjoyed a considerable accession of its prestige. The most high-born of citizens were now able to participate fully in its institutions. This was an ancient cultus that was felt to link Rome back to its Trojan origins, and the Great Mother figures in that context in the Æneid as a deity safeguarding the interests of Æneas and the Trojan exiles. The goddess with the lion-drawn chariot and the evergreen trees is identified in that poem as the mother of Jupiter (in place of, or in this context identified with, Rhea). Certainly public and private devotion to Magna Mater, including annual public outpourings of grief for the death of Attis, was widespread enough (near Trier, for example, a high-quality bronze statuette of Attis was ritually deposited in the Moselle). Catullus had earlier concluded his longish poem on Attis owning the Great Mother’s majesty and wishing to avoid for himself her cultus’ more sanguinary aspect:

Dea, magna dea, Cybebe, dea domina Dindymi,
procul a mea tuos sit furor omnis, era, domo:
alios age incitatos, alios age rabidos.

Goddess, great goddess, Cybebe,* O goddess (who are) lady of Dindymon,
far from my house, O mistress, may all your fury be:
let others be roused, let others be driven into madness.

As a person admittedly squeamish about the idea of self-castration—or self-mutilation generally, I must say—I appreciate the divine Pius’ giving devotees of Magna Mater other options. Let us therefore join with Catullus and the divine Pius in our praise, thanks, and gifts to the eternal Mother of the Gods!

The taurobolia of Lyon are one of several phenomena exhibiting interesting intersections between Gaul and Anatolia or its environs (others include the worship of Diana of Ephesus by the Massiliots and the worship of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus by the Rhine legions). The divine Pius was himself a Roman citizen from Nîmes and was, perhaps, particularly sensitive to the potential for rolling out a new religious program in a place like Lugdunum. That city was a citizen colony, founded by L. Munatius Plancus, peopled in part by soldiers and their descendants, enjoying a peculiar Augustan prestige for a number of reasons,† and frequented by administrators, traders, and travellers from all parts (the Syrian community there was numerous, for example). The taurobolium of 160 was avowedly undertaken pro salute Imperatoris Cæs. T. Æli Hadriani Antonini Aug. Pii P. P. liberorumque eius et statús coloniæ Lugudun. ‘for the well-being of the emperor Cæsar Titus Ælius Hadrian Antoninus Augustus Pius, father of the country, and (that) of his children,‡ and also (that) of the condition of the colony of Lugudunum’ (CIL XIII: 1751), thus involving the imperial family as well as the city itself in this sacrifice to Magna Mater.

This connection with the divine Pius reminds me that I had promised to unveil a polychrome version of the Faustina the Elder statue in the Mount Holyoke Art Museum. I do wonder whether the divine Faustina would have intimated something to Antoninus Pius about his devotional engagements with the Great Mother, or for that matter with Dionysus, Jupiter, and other deities associated with that prince.
In any case, here is one such polychrome image (we’ll call this CC-BY):

polychrome Faustina the Elder

Polychrome version of the statue of the divine Faustina the Elder at Mt Holyoke.

I used to think that Faustina the Elder’s distinctive hairdo must be, in part, a sort of crown or bonnet. However, it turns out that people who are vastly more clever with their hands than I am can do this just with braids, a few bodkins, and (get this!) needles and thread! Yes, these braids would have been sewn together by some astonishing sleight-of-hand:

Finally, as a word geek, I have been delighted to learn that, as in French one may term the cult of Isis isiaque, that of Mithras mithriaque, and that of Dionysus dionysiaque, so the cult of Magna Mater has an evocative adjective in métroaque. I don’t believe I’ve seen ‘Metroac’ used in an English-language context (though we do have ‘Isiac’, ‘Mithraic’, and ‘Dionysiac’)—except perhaps as an expression of dismay towards a public transportation system?
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* ‘Cybebe’ is a variant of the name ‘Cybele’ obviously closer to the original ‘Kubaba’. Even ‘Kubaba’, I believe, however, is less a name than a geographic epithet—like Idumæan or Dindymon.
† The federal cultus of Rome and Augustus took place at Condate, facing Lugdunum, as I have often had occasion to mention. This was first inaugurated by Drusus, the stepson of the divine Augustus (often rumoured to be the latter’s natural son, although the timing makes this unlikely). Augustus and Agrippa both, in turn, made extensive stays in Lugdunum, and Drusus’ son Claudius—the future emperor—was born there. The famous Tables claudiennes, commemorating one of Claudius’ speeches, were publicly displayed at Condate. In sum, modern-day Lyon enjoyed a curious density of Augustan (and Claudian) associations.
‡ The children of Antoninus Pius alive at this time would have been Faustina the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus (the latter two both sons by adoption).

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In honorem Veneris Cloacinae

Cloacina shrine (coin)

Shrine of Venus Cloacina as depicted on a Roman coin. (Image by CNG Coins, CC-BY-SA)

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, there’s many a pagan—not necessarily Gaulish in orientation—who worships Nemetona for the perfectly understandable purpose of sanctifying a ‘sacred space’; similarly, I suspect that Cloacina has many worshippers who would not necessarily admit to having a strongly Roman affiliation. This, of course, is for the reason that she is (in the parlance of our times) the goddess of sewers.* From this circumstance flows a motley torrent of blog posts and goddess-a-day–type descriptions whose writers, affecting a chuckling incredulity, describe her as the goddess of filth and purity: oh the paradox! oh the silly ancients! However, there are, as I’m sure many of my readers will have realized, very serious reasons for building a good strong relationship with Cloacina—a relationship that requires no more blushing or double entendres than, say, changing a belovèd child’s diaper (on which more anon).

Sewers, of course, are places—conduits—courses of water. In the ordinary course of affairs, there are naturally deities of place, of passages, of bodies of water. If we take seriously the old maxim that the whole world is full of gods, then there is hardly any excuse for imagining that no deities will have anything to do with sewers. On the contrary, in addition to the considerations aforementioned, there is a further distinctive function that may engage a deity’s interest—namely that drains and sewers are indispensable to cleanliness and hygiene, particularly in densely populated areas. If you’ve ever lived or worked in a building where the water gets shut off for a day, or where the plumbing is suddenly not to be trusted, you’ll discover with a jolt how essentially drains really are in many domains of life … and if you’ve ever been so unfortunate as to live without running water, as many millions of people do, then you’ll know this lesson far better than I do.

Enter the goddess Cloacina in all her beauty. She is, in the first instance, the tutelary goddess of the Cloaca Maxima in Rome—a particular place, a particular sewer, that has its tutelary deities as any other would. But Cloacina has the special and wider vocation of bestowing cleanliness by the plain expedient of letting waste water reliably flow out. It is, therefore, simply wrong to think of Cloacina as primarily or essentially a goddess who delights in excrement or filth.† Nobody installs a sewer system for the sake of gathering together liquid and solid waste and frolicking around in it. On the contrary, sewers and drains exist for the purpose of establishing a proper separation between the clean and the unclean. The unclean has its place, to be sure—and without that place, it would be impossible for anything else to become thoroughly clean.

Venus at the bath

Venus at the Bath by John William Godward (1901).

And so it is that Cloacina assumes the more transcendent function of enabling beauty as well as good health. In this role it is easy to see why the Romans identified her with Venus. (I doubt I am alone in taking a shower before going on a date!) We participate in the genius of Cloacina not merely in the WC—although her effectiveness there is most welcome—but also in the bath … and, crucially too, in the kitchen. The effect in each case is to distinguish between the clean and the unclean, to expel what is unclean, and to allow what is clean to flourish. Hence my baby-changing analogy above: changing a baby’s diaper is an act designed less to celebrate bodily functions, or gather together the output, than to ensure the child’s comfort and well-being by separating the child from its inevitable waste and enabling it to emerge clean and unencumbered. Humble as it is, it is also an act of love—and such acts deserve recognition and return.

Happily, there are many opportunities for us to make offerings to Venus Cloacina. Most of the times when I pour out a libation, if I’m doing it indoors, it goes into a vessel. Once my main ritual is done, that vessel eventually gets emptied into a sink. This I’ll accompany with the following prayer, or some variation on it:

Aue Cloacina!
I pray that you might convey this offering of mead [or whatever] to Juno [or whomever],
taking whatever portion of it may rightfully be yours,
with my grateful and pious thanks.
[pour out the vessel and give it a rinse, seeing that all goes down the drain]
Macte uirtute esto!
[perform an adoratio to Cloacina]

In my own mind, “whatever portion” is basically all of the remaining liquid, the odour and spiritual sense of the offering being destined to the other deity—but I leave this to the deities themselves to sort out.

I’ve often thought it would be lovely to have an image representing Venus Cloacina—perhaps in the guise of Venus at her bath, as above—hanging over the sink. The most convenient arrangement, in my quarters, would be a magnet made of the painting above attached to the mirror—but sadly my mirror is not magnetic!

Our interactions with Venus Cloacina may indeed be thought a fit analogy for religion writ large: distinguishing the pure from the impure and rendering grateful and pious thanks to those through whom we can apprehend what is greater, more beautiful, more potent than ourselves.
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* To call any deity “the goddess of such-and-such” is of course reductionist, potentially insensitive, and easily open to misinterpretation. Such canting expressions are, however, in common use, and they are not always without utility.
† There are other deities who will cheerfully fill such roles.

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Ἐπιφανεία of Arduinna

I’ve been silent for too long—at least as far as this blog goes—in part because I’ve been busy with election and other stuff, and in part because I have a rather longish election-themed post that I’m not sure is worth posting (see below for one bit of it). However, today I turn my attention to Arduinna, goddess of the Ardennes, and let me tell you why.

On this date in 1894, the minor planet known as 394 Arduina [sic] revealed herself to the eye of mortal astronomers. I like these anniversaries, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, because they provide useful dates not plucked out of the blue for commemorating a number of deities whose historical feast-days have not come down to us. I’ve therefore been observing this 19 November as the ἐπιφανεία of Arduinna.

Arduinna as Diana

An Early Modern drawing of Arduinna-as-Diana, based on an interpretation of CIL VI: 46 from Rome.

As far as I can work out, there are three main strands of historical information regarding Arduinna and her ancient cultus. The first is the epigraphic evidence, including the indisputable fact of an altar dedicated to ‘Ardbinna’ at Gey in what is today Kreis Düren in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. This accords well with what we know from elsewhere, viz. that there are deities manifest in particular places who usually share a name with that place, and that many such places are forests, rivers, springs, mountains, and so on. The second strand of evidence is one or two bronze statuettes showing a female figure riding sidesaddle on the back of a boar. One of these is from the Ardenne region; the other I’m not sure about. The third strand is, perhaps, more tangentially related to the goddess Arduinna, namely the story (given by Gregory of Tours) that Walfroy the Stylite found the people in his part of the Ardennes (that on today’s Franco-Belgian border region near Margut) much devoted to the goddess Diana; that there was a large statue of her on the summit of the hill overlooking Margut; and that people would chant in her honour as they drank and revelled. Walfroy disapproved of all of this, and rounded up a gang of Christian fanatics to profane the sanctuary of Diana, pull down the statue (which they could do only with great difficulty using ropes and winches), and desecrate it by demolishing it with hammers. What Daesh is today, Christians like Walfroy were in the 6th century. But I digress.

Whether Diana of Margut was really one and the same with the goddess Arduinna worshipped at the other side of the Ardennes several centuries earlier may perhaps be doubted, and there is certainly nothing very remarkable about 6th-century Treveri worshipping Diana, given that we know they had been worshipping Diana under that name for some centuries. However, Arduinna will, like Diana, have been a woodland deity, probably one invoked by hunters, for the Ardenne is rich in game; considering Arduinna as akin to Diana is therefore not such a stretch. And at the same time, am I the only one reminded in this of Freya?

Freya by Grace Palmer

Freya by Grace Palmer: prayer card available from Gangleri’s Grove. Am I the only one who sees Arduinna in such a depiction as well?

Raise your glasses with me, therefore, and join me in chanting this litany:

Hail Arduinna! O come in joy to us.

Kind to those who seek refuge,
Hail Arduinna! O come in joy to us.

Delighting in the freedom of the wilds,
Hail Arduinna! O come in joy to us.

Bounteous goddess, kind to hunters,
Hail Arduinna! O come in joy to us.

Delighting in the company of nymphs,
Hail Arduinna! O come in joy to us.

Welcoming woodsmen into your plentiful glades,
Hail Arduinna! O come in joy to us.

Borne along by the dauntless, bristled boar,
Hail Arduinna! O come in joy to us.

Cavorting with the deer, the rabbit, and the squirrel,
Hail Arduinna! O come in joy to us.

Enthroned upon the lofty wooded hills,
Hail Arduinna! O come in joy to us.


In addition to which, I poured out a libation of wine for Arduinna earlier today in a local forest, before proceeding onward to a spot that I have found agreeable for worshipping Cernunnos as well. Pro tip: Consider worshipping liminal deities on the edge of a pond or other body of water at twilight as the wind ruffles the surface of the water.


Lest anybody be in any doubt, as a Bernie Sanders supporter, I was utterly sickened by the election as US president of a billionaire drowning in white, cisgendered, heterosexual male privilege and surrounded by a motley entourage of yes-men and neo-Nazis. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been praying daily to the divine Antoninus Pius to avert the awful calamity of a Trump election. I was therefore interested to see that other people have been ‘tipped off’ to a Trump win in divination and visions, because I got a flash of that myself the Saturday before the election. I was praying to the divine Pius, and I got this feeling from him, like, ‘Listen, I can’t help you.’ This was about a week after the Comey letter, when Hillary’s poll numbers had taken a real hit, and things were starting to look serious. So I said to myself, yes, he’s right, and went out to canvas for the rest of the afternoon. Not that this did much good; Hillary won Illinois by a commanding margin anyway—but all the same. Given how close all of these results were—and therefore how real the chance was of any Republican, no matter how unacceptable, winning the presidency (regardless of the popular vote, which is of course significantly in the Democrats’ favour)—I’d just like to echo a sentiment of Galina Krasskova the other day about how nearly we have missed Ted Cruz becoming president. This outcome is extremely bad—though just how bad may not be clear for some little while—but, at least from the standpoint of religious minorities in the US, it could have been even worse.

Let those who can, take comfort from that thought.

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Meeting Faustina in Massachusetts

I recently met a friend for a wee road trip in Quebec’s Eastern Townships and in Vermont. I was pleased, along the way, to honour some genii and gods of land and water that I had never encountered before (the god of Lake Memphrémagog made an especial impression on me) as well as to pour out a libation of wine for Mercury on the summit of Mont-Orford. The climbing of which, by the way, made plain how lamentably out of shape I am!—a revelation for which I consoled myself with some local cheese and ale. The Eastern Townships reminds me somewhat of the Auvergne or Limousin—and is not Quebec, after all, a kind of extension of Gaul in North America, after a fashion?

Needless to say, however, no trip to New England could be complete without a stop at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, which houses perhaps the most charismatic portrait bust of Faustina the Elder that I have seen.

Faustina the Elder/Mt Holyoke

Faustina the Elder: marble sculpture at the Mt Holyoke College Art Museum

This is actually the image of the divine Faustina that captured my attention when I was first learning to be a Faustinian devotee a year or so ago. In this face, you can discern a good deal of the equanimity she shares with her husband the divine Antoninus Pius, but also great gentleness and thoughtfulness; there is even the faintest hint of a playful smile about her lips. I took a good number of photos, and will erelong be producing a polychrome version that I expect to share here by and by.

I rather liked Mount Holyoke College. Faustina resides in the midst of some very fine artwork—including busts of her own nearest and dearest (there is an 18th-century representation of Faustina the Younger, for example)—and the museum itself is at an attractive spot on campus, near a large pleasant pond and stream. It also seems quite fitting for her to be housed in a liberal arts school for women.

The birthday of the divine Antoninus Pius was September 19. From that day until our election day here in the US, I will be praying daily to Antoninus Pius for the well-being of our republic and for justice and good governance. Feel free to join with me in this. Here is the text of one such prayer, following phraseology from Eutropius, an evocatus named Q. Talotius Allius Silonianius in Lusitania, and other sources:

Salue, díue Antóníne pie!
Vir fuistí ínsignis et quí meritó Numae Pompilió conferátur;
pius propter clementiam díctus es;
inde inter díuós relátus es et meritó consécrátus.
Nulli acerbus, cunctís benignus,
uirós aequissimós ad administrandam rem publicam quaerens
cum orbem terrae nulló belló per annós uíginti trés auctoritáte sólá réxistí.
Díue Pie, te precor ut rem publicam nostram saluam serues.
Tribuas pácem iustitiam incolumitátem populó Ciuitátum Foederátárum
faueasque populó.
Aue díue Antóníne Auguste Pie, Pater Patriae,
optime et sanctissime omnium saeculórum prínceps.

Hail, divine Antoninus Pius!
A man extraordinary wert thou and justly likened to Numa Pompilius;
thou art called “pious” because of thy own clemency;
presently wert thou called back among the gods and justly consecrated.
Bitter towards none, to all obliging,
seeking the fairest of men to administer the republic,
alone thou ruled for twenty-three years with no war in all the world.
Divine Pius, I pray thee to keep our own republic safe.
Mayst thou bestow peace, justice, and good health to the people of the United States,
and mayst thou favour the people.
Hail, divine Antoninus, august and pious, father of thy country,
best and holiest prince of all ages.

There are some allusions in this exhortation that I hope none can mistake—one man in this race is anything but aequus ad administrandam rem publicam, to say nothing of the threat he poses to peace, justice, and the rule of law at home and abroad. However, I shall resist the urge to rant further, and here conclude!

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For Mercury, inventor of the lyre

I beg to place before the world a playlist of songs in honour of the god Mercury. The keynote—struck at the beginning as well as the end—is Gustav Holst’s Hymn of the Travellers, which I’ve had occasion to refer to earlier on this blog; I encourage anybody interested to listen through to the end, because the second rendition by the choir in New Zealand is really worth hearing. Immediately following the Hymn of the Travellers, and for reasons that will doubtless be as immediately obvious, is Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam”. I’ve chosen a bluegrass cover of this song (!) in order to make the lyrics easier to follow, and for the benefit of people who don’t like screaming, growling, and amps (yes, I’m told such folk exist!). And also because it’s awesome. Honestly, I get chills down my spine when I hear the bluegrass version of “Wherever I May Roam” immediately after the Hymn of the Travellers.

Mercury (Reims)

Mercury with money-bag, rooster, and turtle.
From the Musée Saint-Remi in Reims.

Some of these songs have an obvious thematic connection to travel, communication, diplomatic finesse, etc. And flight. I always liked Modest Mouse’s “Float On”, for instance, but thinking about it as a Mercury-themed song just enhances its worth to me so immensely. The songs are written from a variety of perspectives, obviously, which I hope is not too jarring. In some of these songs, “I” is either Mercury or (more likely) a person participating in his genius; in others, like “Like a Rolling Stone”, “you” is someone who fell afoul of Mercury; in some, “I” is a mortal devotee of Mercury, while in others such as “Everytime”, “I” is someone who perhaps like Chione has been loved by Mercury and now left behind. In “Stolen Car”, I picture Beth Orton teaching lessons learned the hard way from engagement with the son of Maia.

In other cases, I’ve favoured instrumental pieces in E-minor—playfully identified in the CBC “Signature Series” as the key of the trickster or handsome rogue. Which, wouldn’t you know it, happens to include some of my long-time favourite orchestral works, including Dvořák’s ‘New World’ symphony (Symphony No. 9) and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. The former is additionally of obvious Mercurial significance since (a) it was written by Dvořák while sojourning in a foreign land, (b) its themes are alternately pastoral, fleet-footed, and lofty, (c) the second movement includes the familiar “Going Home” theme, etc., etc. The latter piece—I mean The Lark Ascending—again has a pastoral subject that also features quickness of flight, harmony, solemn majesty, heartbreaking beauty… Mm! Perfect. (E-minor. Just sayin’.)

Now, my own plan for this playlist is that I will be able to put on my headphones and listen to it at work. However, I encourage anybody else to give it a listen if you find yourself similarly at liberty and curious. (Ah, at liberty and curious! How Mercurial.)

As I’m a native English speaker and listen to way more English-language music than that in other tongues, English songs predominate; however, I’m pleased to say that there are also pieces in French, German, Portuguese, the Auvergnat dialect of (dit-on) Occitan (je vous remercie, M. Canteloube !), and ancient Greek, as well as one memorable song—one of my favourite folk metal tracks—that is in Russian, German, Dutch, Swedish, Lithuanian, and Latvian (if I haven’t omitted any!).

This playlist has a bit of a funny origin story. Having heard about the 31 days of devotion initiative promoted by Galina Krasskova, and its variation by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus consisting of a week of devotions for different deities (including Hermes and Lug Mac Ethlenn, inter some very fine alia!), I thought to myself, “Maybe I can jump on this bandwagon in a modest way. I’ll start with one deity, work my way through the questions as I can, and then add maybe one or two additional deities if I can make time.”

So that first deity in question was Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus, and you can see my post on the subject here. For some reason I struggled to think of music that would appeal specifically to IOMD. By contrast, where to begin with music for Mercury? I just started coming up with one piece after another. I also mean to record some audio tracks of my own—including readings of Orphic and Homeric hymns—and burn them, with some of this music, to a disc to listen to on my commute. But that’s a work in progress yet!

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