Blog Archives

May’s Agon is for Hermes’ Mother Maia

The Agon for May, because I kept getting signs and omens from Hermes, is for His Mother Maia. 

Contributors will receive a Maia prayer card and the winner will receive a copy of my Hermes novena book and a full set of the Mothers prayer cards. 

I’ll be posting the winner of the Nerthus agon later tonight. 

Final Card in the Mothers Series

The Mother’s Series is finally finished. Here is the final card in the group: Penelopeia by Grace Palmer.

penelopeia painting2x4

 

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Two New Agons

Seems like this is taking off, which is wonderful to see. There are two other Agons running this month: 

The first is an Agon to Apollo. You can read about that here. It’s running from March 31 to April 30 and submissions must have been created for this agon specifically. There are prizes. 

The second is for Athena. This too runs through April 30 and there are prizes. You can read about this agon here

Check them out and consider submitting something. 

Commissioned Prayer: To Hypnos

I’ve been getting quite a few commissions for prayers. The latest was one to the God Hypnos. (If you’re interested in commissioning a piece, please check this page for information). 

Prayer to Hypnos
By G. Krasskova
(Written for S.)

Sweet Hypnos,
most benevolent and gracious God,
please hear my prayer.

Grant me the sweetness of sleep
when I seek my rest.
Help me to still my mind,
my racing thoughts,
to put the tensions
and stress of my body aside.
May Your children:
especially Morpheus,
the Oneiroi, and
Phantasmos
bless my slumber.
May my dreams be fruitful.
May I wake refreshed,
even on those occasions
when Your Son Phobetor visits.

Oh God of poppies,
of pleasure and relaxation,
please grant me Your healing touch.
Smile upon me,
place Your gentle hand upon my brow,
and grant me release from my cares
through the grace of sleep,
which only You may bring.

Hail to You, Hypnos,
Husband of Pasiphae,
Daughter of Dionysos,
Who Himself relieves care,
Hail to You, Beautiful God.

hypnos painting2x4

(Hypnos by Grace Palmer. The prayer card is available here.)

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Apollo and Marsyas: The Nature of Art

Bartolomeo_Manfredi_-_Apollo_and_Marsyas

(Bartolomeo Manfredi’s “Apollo and Marsyas.” Source: wiki commons)

I have a fascination with operatic castrati and since I’m currently doing quite a bit of research for an academic project that involves them, their music has been the subject of much conversation in my house lately. Add to that a meme a friend of mine posted on facebook wherein one of the choices was “because a human did something better than a God and that God threw a hissy fit” and I knew I had to write about the conversation my husband and I had the other day.(1) Somehow the subject of the contest between Apollo and Marsyas came up and the lessons this might hold for musicians.

In this story, Marsyas, a satyr and master musician hubristically challenges Apollo to a music contest. The contest is to be judged by the Muses and the winner would then be permitted to treat the loser anyway he wished.(2) Both God and satyr play, Apollo wins, and in punishment for his hubris Marsyas is flayed. Customary interpretations of this story revolve around the flaying specifically as a punishment for hubris, for the satyr daring to challenge a God (and thus to put himself above the right and natural order of things) and this is not an incorrect interpretation but there are other lessons to be had in this tale as well.

Allowing that one of the major lessons of this story is in fact the need for piety and humility before the Gods (amazing how “don’t be an asshole” covers so many situations in which we might find ourselves, devotionally and otherwise), I’d like to discuss here one of the other lessons, and this is where the castrati come in.

In my research I’ve noticed that there is a standard way in which historians seemingly must approach this material. Before they go into whatever it is that they want to discuss about the castrati, they must first state how barbaric or inhumane they find the practice.(3) They must first separate themselves from any hint that they might approve of the process, particularly if they are writing positively about the result (and given that the influence of the castrati pretty much defined opera for two hundred years and shaped contemporary opera too, there’s quite a bit to celebrate there).

The question is endlessly asked (by academics and other researchers): why would someone do that to himself? Why would someone allow that to be done to a child? What was the allure of the castrati (they were the equivalent of sex symbols and rock stars)? I find these questions boggling: for the voice. Are you people deaf? Have you never listened to a top-notch counter tenor? It’s like listening to the voice of God. It’s like having the heavens crashing down around you and these men don’t come close to the vocal quality of a well-trained castrato superstar.(4) I completely understand why someone would have sought to become a castrato and certainly why they were so attractive to their listeners. I mourn the fact that we can’t hear them today.

If the sounds harsh, consider my own background: I was a professional ballet dancer for the first part of my adult life. I started working with a regional company at thirteen and retired in my early twenties. I retired with crippling injuries. I knew at thirteen that I was choosing to commit to a career that would likely leave my body broken irreparably. I knew that I would have to make health and nutritional choices that were ultimately damaging. I didn’t make this choice blind and I did make it over parental objection. The call of that daimon – dance – was too strong. I have crushing pain now and very limited mobility and while I did soloist roles in the regional company for which I worked, I didn’t make it past apprentice in the New York company. I’ll go down in no history books as a competent dancer and…I would make exactly the same choice again.

I suspect that is incomprehensible to someone who hasn’t been infected with that hunger, been taken up by that daimon, felt what it is like to push the body past its limits, past pain, to fly. I know that if at twelve, someone had said to me, if you mutilate your genitals you’ll have a chance to be one of the truly great dancers, I’d have done it without question. I would have considered it a worthy trade. There are things more important than what’s between our legs and far more important than our ability to procreate or the limits of our bodies. Being in service to art, in service to something far bigger and more important than ourselves supersedes all of that. That’s what moderns don’t comprehend.

Of course, that the castrati had to be castrated before puberty complicates things. There are questions of a child’s ability to make such a long-term choice for himself (see my comments above for where I stand on that) and certainly there were children sent under the knife against their will. The consequences of early castration are not just loss of fertility. (5)I also find the way Castrati were treated socially by the same communities that idolized their voices to be repellent (the church, for instance, forbade them to marry and in regular society they were often viewed as freaks, mocked for the very procedure that gave them the angelic voices so celebrated). By the nineteenth century with “enlightenment,” industrialization, more focus on binary gender roles, more focus on ‘nature’ as opposed to constructed brilliance, and certainly the elevation of both childhood and the individual over any common good the castrati were fast becoming a thing of the past. The last operatic superstar was the castrato Giovanni Velluti for whom both Rossini and Meyerbeer composed but operatic tastes were changing along with everything else and by 1913 not even the Vatican choir allowed for them. (6)

So what does all of this have to do with the story of Apollo and Marsyas? One of the many ways that I interpret this story is as a clear indication of what is required for excellence in an art. It doesn’t matter what the art form is (dance, singing, music, painting, etc.), to truly reach the heights of greatness, sacrifice is not just required, it is demanded. Excellence has a price. Art brings us into communion with the Gods like nothing else can. The Platonic philosophers wrote about the ennobling effects of Beauty, how it had the capacity to elevate the soul and I very much believe that is true. To be in service to the arts is to be in service to the Gods when it’s done right. It’s to move in sacred currents. That carries a demanding price and sometimes the consequences are irreparable. Devotion is like that too, if one wants to do it well.

We are owed nothing, yet opportunities are given. Devotion is an art just as much as dance or opera. It’s the art of the soul and it often carries as great a price as that any performer will pay. Excellence requires sacrifice. Mediocrity doesn’t. Make a choice. I read once of one castrato (and I can’t recall which one at the moment. I’ve been reading * a lot* on the topic) who was once asked if he regretted having been cut. He laughed in the interviewer’s face. He was one of perhaps half a dozen men who could do what he did at the level at which he performed in the entire world. He was feted across Europe. His name would go down in music history. He was as close to a god as a mortal has any right to be (barring apotheosis!).

Ironically I have seen some of the same criticisms of ballet children that I’ve seen about the castrati: it’s abuse. How can a child make that decision, etc. etc.(7) One such included a documentary about a leading Russian ballerina. The narrator could not stop talking about the brutality of the training and the sacrifice required. Yes, and she’s one of maybe ten women in the world who can do what she does. She had some of the best training in the world, and it’s training she herself wanted. I find it far more offensive that a second rate film maker is complaining about her sacrifices than that she’s consciously making them. Excellence requires certain choices and sometimes those choices hurt.

I think that’s the second lesson to be found in the story of Marsyas and Apollo. It’s not just a warning against hubris, it’s also telling us what is required to reach the heights of a practice: sacrifice. Perhaps it’s a warning against the hubris of assuming we can find greatness without the work or the cost.

Far from being appalled by the castrati, I rather think that when we as a culture began putting the mediocrity of the individual over the glory of art, over arête, over those things that represent the best of who we are as a people, that was when the real moral and cultural decay began and that’s what horrifies me the most because it’s not just sacrifice for the arts that modernists find problematic, it’s veneration of and sacrifice for devotion too and yet, if we wish to truly find excellence in our devotion, it’s going to require hard work and sacrifice on par with that of the best of the castrati or the best ballet dancers. We should be willing to bleed for our devotion, to bleed for our art, to bleed for our dreams. That’s Marsyas’s lesson: nothing is free, and one doesn’t reach the top of one’s game without painful hard work. We all have those talents and skills that we were given. The gap between that and excellence is what we choose to do with them and how much of ourselves we’re willing to bet in the bargain.(8)

Notes:

1. The meme in question meant to be humorous, and I found it funny but it edges well into territory that while not impious necessarily bears watching. Humans do not do things better than the Gods and I think to allow that idea to take deep root in our minds is problematic. A joke is one thing but we’re constantly being bombarded by pop culture movies and tv that even when entertaining put forth the idea that humans are superior to the Gods and it’s important to recognize when that’s happening.
2. One source implied that of course the Muses would vote in favor of Apollo but I think that rather They would vote for the better musician. To do otherwise would be to violate the very Arts whose mysteries They govern. It is also to ascribe to Gods our own pathetic lack of integrity.
3. The Castrati were the rock stars of the 17th and 18th centuries. Castrated before puberty (often by their own request), they were men with pure, powerful soprano and alto voices. They commanded great applause and even greater fees and dominated the opera stage for two hundred years. The phenomenon began in the Byzantine church (the earliest recorded castrato singer that I’ve been able to document so far is a Byzantine choir master in 400 C.E.) and ended in the Papal Choir of the Vatican in 1922. We actually have recordings of the last known castrato: A. Moreschi. Unfortunately, they don’t give any sense of what his voice was actually like. Not only was he never an operatic virtuoso, but the recording technology of the time was in its infancy and could not capture the main bulk of his range. You can hear this with contemporary recordings of female stars like Nellie Melba too: the main part of the tessitura, its frequencies couldn’t be recorded so the voice sounds thin and given the limitations of recording, also out of tune. It’s unfortunate but early video recordings of the great dancers of the imperial ballet, like Pavlova and Spessivtseva show similar issues and in no way do justice to their subjects.
4. A couple of my favorite counter tenors include F. Fagioli, P. Jaroussky, A. Scholl, and the winner of this year’s Metropolitan Opera prize, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen. Then there’s natural soporano M. Maniaci, who is in a class by himself. Each of them is singing work originally written for the greatest castrati of the baroque age and a the recent interest in baroque music has allowed for a mini-renaissance of counter tenors. 🙂 The counter tenor voice is a very different voice from that of the castrati, and both are different again from female sopranos. They’re very different instruments.
5. The ends of the bones don’t harden and so most castrati were, for their time, very, very tall. Depending on when the castration was done, they may or may not be able to have sex. If the operation was performed when they were very small, their genitals might not have grown to adult size. The results, according to way too much medical literature that I’ve had to read for my research, varied significantly. If their voices didn’t hold, if they didn’t have what it takes to be truly great, they were resigned to church choirs. Some became priests. I think it’s likewise important to note that ‘childhood’ was not then the cossetted state that it has become now for better or worse. There were different expectations of children and many parents gave their children over to the knife so that the boys would have a better future than the parents could otherwise give them.
6. I often wonder what it must have been like for Velluti…a generation before him, castrati were super stars and while he had an extensive career, he was the last of his kind and knew it and was often greeted as much with horror as acclaim…not to mention Meyerbeer and Rossini don’t hold a candle to Porpora and Handel when it comes to showing off a high voice.
7. Like with castrati, there is a time limit to the training. If a dancer doesn’t make that decision young, they’re not going to have a career and they certainly aren’t going to reach the heights of that career. A childhood is a small sacrifice to pay for such an opportunity, in my opinion (having made that choice). There are rare exceptions. Melissa Hayden for example, one of Balanchine’s stars began dancing at sixteen. She is a rarity and frankly not in the same league as the best Russian or French dancers who began as children. I began my ballet training at ten and that was at least three years too late. There’s a sweet spot with certain elements of the training too. If a girl, for instance is planning to go on pointe, that should happen after two years of near daily training (in the west, I’d say around 12, but in major ballet schools, if they’re training for several hours a day from the time they’re seven or eight, you might see it earlier, around ten. Without that multi hour daily training regimen though, putting a child on pointe before twelve is criminal. The bones just aren’t ready.). Going on pointe too early without proper preparation can severely damage the feet but going on too late, after say 15 can also be problematic. It is much, much more difficult to develop the competence and fluidity on pointe that one needs for professional work if the feet aren’t broken to it young. As the bones harden, it’s that much more difficult to gain that combination of strength and flexibility that makes proper pointe work possible.
8. Here is a BBC documentary on the castrati that is useful for those with no prior knowledge. Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. The whole thing is about an hour.

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Be sure to check out my other sites:

Wyrd Curiosities at Etsy

My academia.edu page

My amazon author page.

Walking the Worlds Journal

My art blog at Krasskova Creations

My blog about all things strange, weird and medieval.

And if you like what you see, consider becoming a sponsor at Patreon.

Mothers Card Project Update

I want to give folks an update on how the Mother’s Prayer Card project is going. (I could just title this: Grace Palmer is awesome. She’s been whipping these cards out and they’re gorgeous). 

So far, we have cards completed for 

leto-painting-2x4

Leto, Mother of Apollo and Artemis

semele-painting2x4

Semele, Mother of Dionysos

maia-painting2x4

Maia, Mother of Hermes (I think this one is my favorite 🙂  There’s just something about little. baby. Hermes).

metis-painting-2x4

Metis, Mother of Athena

thetis-painting-2x4

Thetis, Mother of Achilles

The next card currently in progress is Leda, Mother of Helen and the Dioskouroi. If anyone would like to donate to this card, please contact me at krasskova at gmail.com (usual perks apply). 

Once the cards are all finished, I’ll offer them A) as a complete set; B) as a complete set with a signed copy of the novena book; and C) individually. 

Cards still to be done include Alcmene, Danae, Penelopeia, and Pasiphae. 

Submission to Hermes Agon

Here is another [gorgeous] entry to my 2017 Hermes Agon.  Ellen, the creator, is willing to send this to the first person to make a minimum $50 donation to the Mothers Prayer Card Project. Any takers? (The image de Morgan’s painting “Mercury,” the same as on the cover of my Hermes devotional). 

ellen-hermes

New Give Away at Good reads

Hey folks,

I’m running another give away on Goodreads. Head on over and friend me there, and put in for this free book. It’s free. Free is awesome. lol. (I don’t choose the winner. For those wondering, when the give away is over, goodreads chooses the winner by some technological miracle and notifies me, after which i send out the book). This time I’m offering my newest devotional ‘Honoring the Mothers.” You can also pick up a copy (not for free 😉 ) here

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Honoring the Mothers by Galina Krasskova

Honoring the Mothers

by Galina Krasskova

Giveaway ends January 18, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

Starting 2017 Off Right. :)

Happy New Year, folks. I’ve finally flopped down on my sofa after doing my New Year’s Eve ritual — ancestors, Asynjur, then the Roman Deities that I typically honor on this night, so three rituals in all plus setting out offerings to all the vaettir– and I very much hope that 2017 brings health, joy, and wealth to us all. Let it be a year of happiness and success. I pray that the good, immortal Gods block misfortune and malintent from entering our homes and our lives this year. May They bless us with all good things throughout the year, even in the midst of our challenges.

I want to start this year with something creative, fun, and that emphasizes the love and devotion we have for our Gods. As I was making offerings tonight to Pietas and Pudicitia, I kept thinking that if i could pick a keyword to govern my 2017, I’d choose devotion a thousand times over.

Anyway, each month I want to run a mini-Agon. I’ll choose a God or Goddess and offer a ‘prize,’ inviting you, my readers to submit prayers, poems, or art. On the last day of the month, I’ll choose a winner via divination. Everyone who submits may have a prayer card (just let me know which one you want when you submit), and the winner will get a card plus a small gift. I’ll alternate between Greco-Roman Deities and Norse-Germanic Deities since that’s the nexus at which I work.

January’s Deity of choice for me is Hermes. 🙂 He’s awesome and I think it fitting to start the year with a Hermes agon. So those of you who are interested, submit your art (photos of), prayers/poems to krasskova at gmail.com. Make sure to put “Hermes Agon January 2017” in the subject header and to let me know what card you want. The winner will get a card and a signed copy of my Hermes novena book, plus a small surprise gift.

Happy 2017.

bookcoverimage

 

New Year’s Eve Ritual

A few days ago, someone asked me about the New Year’s Eve ritual that I typically do for the House. I promised I’d post it here, so here it is. I alter this a little every year, but the barebones scaffolding remains intact: 

New Year’s Eve Ritual

cardea750x1200

I don’t usually share House rituals, but I’m moved to share our New Year’s Eve ritual. This is one that many of us will be doing in our own homes as the year turns. I share it with you here, for those who may be wishing for some idea of what type of ritual to do, but who might be coming up short. This New Year’s, my cultus deorum practice took the lead with defining the ritual.
(Do this so that you begin on the 31st and end on the 1st. 🙂 Adapt it as you need and wish. Five Deities are invoked: Cardea, the Goddess of the door hinge, Limentius, the God of the threshold, Forculus, God of the doorway, Janus, God of beginnings, doorways, passages, etc. –January is named after Him, and Hermes.) (The image above is Cardea by L. Perkins)

Pre-ritual prep:

Take a ritual bath to prepare yourself and dress in clean clothing.

I. Begin by cleaning all your shrines, both to the Gods and the ancestors.

II. Make an offering to your ancestors, thanking them for all their help and protection in the previous year and asking for their continued blessings.

III. Make an equal offering to the house spirits.

IV. If you have a mask, don it now and take up a noise-maker (drum, rattle, even a can filled with some coins) and open a couple of windows. Go through every room in the house making as much noise as you can, cleansing it via sound of any stagnant or unhelpful or malignant energy. Sweep your house, every room if possible and sweet out the door. Then vacuum. (I’m practical. My mother was Swiss lol).

Take off the mask and put away the noisemaker.

V. Light four candles and ask the blessing of fire on your home.

VI. Go to the front door. wipe it, the threshold , and the lintels down with an infusion of juniper or verbena, or some other sweet and cleansing herb (I think Florida water is a good substitute). Hang colored streamers from your door (colored wool would have been traditional), anoint the hinges with a dab of olive oil. Asperse the door three times with verbena water, florida water, rose water or some other sweet smelling infusion.

forculus-limentinus-painting-2x4

Offer the following prayers After each prayer, set or pour out an offering glass of wine:

Prayer to Hermes

To Hermes:

I sing of Hermes, the favorite of Bakcheios,
the wily one with mischief and wisdom in his heart.
He stands at the cross-roads, a pillar connecting the worlds,
whose foundation is in the underworld
and whose eyes survey all that transpires in heaven.
He is the lord of magic, the inventor of words and religious rites, the trustworthy one who knows the secrets of the gods
and interprets their will for mankind. (The image here is Forculus and LImentius by G. Palmer).

Praise for Hermes:

In gratitude let my lips pour forth praise
for Hermes, the wily one, the master of many guises
clever in his plotting, who wanders over wide ways
with feet so light they never leave a track
for the huntsman to follow. Ghost-like, shifting,
who flits through our thoughts and knows how
to carry off our deepest, most well-guarded secrets,
King of the land of Sleep who guides the
dreams like sheep through one of the two gates
to find their way to us while our bodies rest,
and with the same staff he uses to check
their step he can conjure illusions and
shape reality to his will, he can cause poisonous
roots to spring up from the earth and brew
strange philters to protect against the witch’s charms,
for Hermes is great in magic and the inventor of
powerful words. Those words he knows how to use,
to bend the rules of society and trick the canny
businessman out of his money. Hermes wants for
nothing for through hard work, cleverness, the
weaving of fine tales and simple treachery or theft
he can get whatever it is he wants and even
managed to sneak his way into the bed of the lovely
Aphrodite whose soft, warm flesh delighted him so.
Hail Hermes, is there anything you cannot
accomplish? If so I am ignorant of it.

(prayers by sannion)

hermespainting2x4

(Hermes by G. Palmer)

Prayer to Cardea

I call to You,
Sweet Cardea,
Guardian of all passageways.
Without your leave no blessings may flow.
You are guardian and keeper of the earth:
You open that which has been closed,
and close that which has been opened.
Bless us this night and in the year to come
with an abundance of all good things.
To You, gracious Goddess
we pray.

(prayer by Galina)

cardea-painting2x4

(Cardea by G. Palmer)

Prayer to Forculus

I hail You, Forculus,
Gracious Guardian of the door.
I ask Your blessings and protection
on my home and in my life
in the year to come;
and I thank you for
for watching over me
in the year now past.
To You,
doorkeeper of the earth,
I pray.

(prayer by Galina)
Prayer to Limentius

I pray to You, LImentius,
God of the threshold.
I thank You for the grace
of Your protection and care
in the year now past.
I ask that You watch over
and protect me
in the year to come.
To You, keeper of the threshold,
I pray.

(prayer by Galina)

Prayer to Janus

Sing I Ianus,
lord with two faces,
who opens the door,
and causes unexpected things to occur.
To those who have your favor,
no obstacle blocks their path.
You create the way where none appeared before,
and bring helpful spirits through to aid us in our work.
No great task is begun without first invoking you,
gatekeeper of Olympos who holds the keys
to all the temples of the gods.
O Ianus, unlock the door of my mind
to let powerful verse spill forth,
like the Nile in flood season.
O Ianus, unblock the gates of the underworld,
so that Demeter’s rich bounty can fill the land.
O Ianus, make smooth the way so that men’s prayers may travel up
and reach the ears of the Blessed Immortals.
Ianus I sing!

(prayer by sannion)

janus-painting

(Janus by G. Palmer)

Make the following offerings:

*refried beans (seriously, a traditional dish for Cardea lol. She likes the ancient Roman equivalent of re-fried beans)
*a bowl of milk and honey
*sweet wine
*fresh water

*bread and butter
*anything else you feel moved to give.

light a little incense

Hang a wreath on the door and ask for the Gods’ protection (if you have hawthorn, this is particularly associated with Cardea and is very protective. Laurel would have also been traditional for these wreaths but don’t sweat it).

Say: “joy to this house” three times.

VII. Go back inside and give an offering of grain and salt or salt and bread to the fire.

VIII. eat something sweet, symbolic of welcoming sweetness in the new year.
It’s also nice if, at this point, you can share a meal – however simple–with those you love

IX. if you have the skill, sit and do divination for the rest of the year. (This is a good time as head of your house to do household divination. You can always follow up with a professional diviner if anything comes up that’s troubling or you feel needs to be further addressed.)

X. When you are next out, give food to the poor/homeless/hungry.

 

(the prayer cards above, unless otherwise noted, are by Grace Palmer. All may be found here.)