Baring the Aegis: Hellenismos
Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.
Introducing Hēlios, the sun
The Hellenic pantheon literally has hundreds of Gods, Goddesses, Titans, nature spirits, heroes, kings and queens. Although the predominant Tradition within Hellenismos focusses mostly on the Big Twelve, Hades, Hestia and Hekate, Hellenic mythology is a true treasure trove of immortals. Most of these 'lesser' immortals get very little attention, and I'd like to change this. So, ever now and again, I'm going to introduce one of the lesser known immortals and try and find a place for them in modern Hellenistic worship, based off of their ancient Hellenic worship. Today, I'm introducing to you Hēlios (Ἥλιος), personification of the sun.
Hēlios is a Titan, born from Hyperion and Theia (Hesiod, Pindar), or Hyperion and Euryphaessa (Homeric Hyms). Hyperion (Ὑπερίων), meaning 'The High-One', was born from Gaea and Ouranos. He is the Lord of Light, and Titan to the east. Due to his (and Helios') epithets, there is often confusion between the two: Helios is refered to as 'Hyperion' by Homeros in the Odysseia, and one of the well known epithets of Hyperion is 'Helios Hyperion', yet the ancient Hellens distinguished between Them quite rigidly. Hyperion is the observer--and father--of many of the Titans connected to the sky. Diodoros Sikeliotes (Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης), Hellenic historian and writer of the Bibliotheca historica, says the following about Hyperion:
Theia and Euryphaessa are generally regarded as the same Deathless woman: 'theia' is the Hellenic word for 'Goddess', so it was likely 'Theia Euryphaessa' translated to 'Goddess Euryphaessa'. This means that Hēlios' family tree is as follows:
As far as confusion goes, Hēlios is also often confused with Apollo, mostly because of their conglomeration as a single Deity in the Roman era. In ancient Hellas, it was Phoibos (or 'Aiglêtos') Apollo who drove the chariot of the sun through the sky each morning, following the lovely Eos out of the heavenly gates. Phoibos Apollo is associated with carrying sunlight, but He is in no way the sun itself. That honor befalls Hēlios.
Hēlios is the sole Theos described as 'all-seeing' (Panoptes, because His rays reach (almost) everywhere on the Earth's surface. Most famously, He sees Aphrodite' affair with Ares, and warns Hephaestus of it. As such, Hēlios is regarded as the enforcer of justice and vows. From Orphic Hymn seven:
The most famous piece of mythology concerning Hēlios regards His son Phaethon (Φαέθων), by Klymene (Κλυμένη). The story is told to us by Ovid, a roman poet. In it, Klymene boasts to Phaethon that his father is the sun God Himself, and so, Phaethon goes up to Olympus to confirm. To prove His paternity, Hēlios swears of the river Styx to give Phaëthon anything he desires. Phaëthon grabs this opportunity to demand of his father to let him drive his golden chariot the next time the sun rises.
Hēlios tries to talk His son out of it, claiming that not even Zeus would attempt to drive the chariot, as it is hot with fire and the horses wild and fire breathing. Phaëthon will hear none of it, and so Hēlios must let him get on. He rubs his son's body with magical oil that will protect him from the heat and as Eos and Apollo leave the gates, so does Phaëthon.
The four horses of the chariot--Pyrois, Aeos, Aethon, and Phlegon--sensed Phaëthon's weaker hand and became virtually unsteerable. First, Phaëthon drove them too high, and the Earth below cooled and the people suffered. Then, he flew too low and entire cities burned, lakes and rivers dried up, and even the seas were affected. Mighty Poseidon tried to stop Phaëthon, but had to flee from the heat. It was Zeus who threw His lightning bolt and killed Phaëthon.
Hēlios was inconsolable, and refused to man the solar chariot for days on end. He blamed Zeus for His son's death, but Zeus rightly claimed He had no other choice. The Theoi eventually convinced Him to to take up His responsibility again, but His son's death pained Hēlios greatly. On the epitaph on Phaëthon's tomb was written:
Another piece of Hēlios' mythology comes from Hómēros who writes in the Odysseia:
Yet, not only do they not steer clear of the island, they kill and eat (unbeknownst to Odysseus), some of the sheep in Hēlios' herd as they become stranded on this island for days or even months.
The worship of Hēlios was quite widespread throughout ancient Hellas, but never in a measure beyond a cult. Athenians observed Helios as a Theos, but had no worship for Him. On the island of Rhodes, Hēlios was revered most, although evidence of His worship has been found in Corinth and Hermoine. The Colossus of Rhodes was dedicated to Him and the acropolis of Corinth was part of His worship as well.
For modern practitioners, there is not a lot to go on if you want to honor Hēlios. One can assume that manna is an acceptable offer because of His close identification with Apollo. There is also vague record of a festival on Rhodes, where a chariot with four horses was driven off of a cliff to commemorate the death of Phaëthon, but I would opt against this in modern day society. I would suggest thinking of Hēlios as He rises, and perhaps offering to Him when offering to Apollo in His solar aspects.
Helios is a beautiful, bright and all-encompassing Theos who deserves the worship of modern day practitioners. I, for one, would love to see a new cult rise in His name.
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