Sunday, January 8, 2012

Examples of Affirmations in Prayers

The word “Affirm” means to “validate, assert as true,” or “declare one's support for” a given subject. In the context of affirmations made during the course of ritual, magical or spiritual work we have many given examples of it occurring.

I say this because reading Robert's last entry on the subject has me thinking about it.

Most prayers revolve around affirmations: a good example of this is the Psalms, which can be thought of as a sacred hymn or song. Let us consider the affirmations in Psalm 23:
“The Lord is my shepherd...”
The Lord is a totally awesome guide.
“He restoreth my soul...”
The Lord is totally holy and good for my soul!
“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.”
Have I mentioned how awesome, Holy, and filled with 'goodness' the Lord is? No? Well, he totally is.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

With the Lord beside me, I am Without Fear, even when dwelling in the Land where Death's Shadow doth abide. His Holy Might is besides me, and therefore I may walk with security. The Lord is like totally cool, man.

And so forth. But, lest we think that 'songs sung with a harp for spiritual purposes,' are uniquely Christian – let us examine a few of the Orphic Hymns that I have been so fond of discussing lately. In particular, I'm drawn to Hymns #27 and #28 (Hermes and Persephone, respectively) today.

Hymn #27 begins:
“Hermes, draw near, and to my pray'r incline, angel of Jove [Zeus], and Maia's son divine;
Studious of contests, ruler of mankind, with heart almighty, and a prudent mind.”
Unlike the way that Psalm 23 begins, with an affirmation of the Lord and his mighty stature, the Orphic hymns often begin with a blatant request for the attention of the spirit or God that is being called upon. This is obvious here with the lines “draw near,” which his presence as the messenger (angelos) of Jupiter pretty obviously facilitates. His familial line (son of Maia) is designated, and his attendant positions: he favors those in contest, he rules mankind (as an Olympian, or a God), and he has a benevolent heart and a prudent mind. In the last case, the Homeric Hymn to Hermes tells us that: “He sang the story of the deathless gods and of the dark earth, how at the first they came to be, and how each one received his portion. First among the gods he honoured Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, in his song; for the son of Maia was of her following.” I have discussed Mnemosyne before, but her relations with Hermes – while not explicitly stated – seem to at least be implied, both in his phenomenal mental faculties (he appears to even be able to bathe or drink from the Lethe without problems) and his use of the poetic arts for his various purposes.
“Celestial messenger, of various skill, whose pow'rful arts could watchful Argus kill:
With winged feet, 'tis thine thro' air to course, O friend of man, and prophet of discourse:
Great life-supporter, to rejoice is thine, in arts gymnastic, and in fraud divine:
With pow'r endu'd all language to explain, of care the loos'ner, and the source of gain...”
Again we see an affirmation of Hermes role as a deity of skill, and I suspect that the reference to “Argus” in the Hymn is an alternative spelling for “Argos,” the dog. This ties together with his strength in the arts of thievery (“in fraud divine”), and one imagines that being an amazing gymnist would facilitate better methods for breaking and entering, at the very least. One particular drawback openly stated is that Hermes also loosens care, and the Hymn openly admits this.

For the most part, even the traits that some might frown on in Hermes, the Orphics affirm as important to his sphere of work. Later on in the Hymn, his cunning with words is referred to as the “dire weapon of the tongue,” again demonstrating that the abilities and spheres of influence that are primary to Hermes are not distinctly 'wonderful,' but suggesting to me that his mastery of them is part of what makes him “divine.” While we might typically shy away from the dark side (if you consider theft less than divine, for example) of the Gods, the Orphic hymns do not demonstrate this tendency at all. Instead, the Hymns seem to be a pretty open-minded representation of the deities.

To this end, I want to end this blog entry by looking at the Hymn to Persephone, #28.
“Daughter of Jove [Zeus], almighty and divine, come, blessed queen, and to these rites incline:
Only-begotten, Pluto's [Plouton's] honor'd wife, O venerable Goddess, source of life:
'Tis thine in earth's profundities to dwell, fast by the wide and dismal gates of hell:
Jove's [Zeus'] holy offspring, of a beauteous mien, fatal [Praxidike], with lovely locks, infernal queen...”
In this case, the designation of familial ties (to the hymns, at least) specifies Persephone as the daughter of Zeus. Her state as the Queen of Hades is reinforced prior to the request for inclination toward the particular rites in which the Hymn is being used, which I take as to an affirmation of her importance to the “Orphic” sphere of thought. She's then treated to various other affirmations: “the source of life,” “Pluto's honored wife,” and her great insight (“earth's profundities”) is honored. What is interesting is the affirmation that she is Praxidike: The Exacter of Justice. In this instance, we might turn to the Orphic “Gold Leaf” tablets which have been referenced before in this blog: “And to be sure, they will consult the Subterranean Queen, And they will give you water to drink from the lake of Mnemosyne...” (Orphica Tablet from Hipponion c. 400 BCE. Taken from Bernabe, p.8)

To be sure, it would suck greatly to run into Persephone if one had crimes on their hands and she was appearing in her role as Praxidike.
Source of the furies [Eumenides], whose blest frame proceeds from Jove's [Zeus'] ineffable and secret seeds...”
When the Furies are mentioned, they are typically referred to as the Eumenides (Kindly Ones) because of their sheer danger. There are two hymns specifically to the daimons, #68 and 69. One set appears to be the Erinyes, with which we again find reference to Praxidike: “The boundless tribes of mortals you descry, and justly rule with Right's [Dike's] impartial eye.” In this case, they hold the righteous eye of Justice similarly to Persephone. In fact, I strongly suspect that this indication shows that to those using the Hymns, Persephone is the ruler of the spirits referenced in the two hymns. The latter, #69, again references Persephone: “Holy and pure, from Jove terrestrial [Zeus Khthonios] born
and Proserpine [Phersephone], whom lovely locks adorn.”

This suggests that Hades (Zeus Cthonios) and Persephone are literally the parents of that range of daimons, and their rulers. This is particularly different from other sources for the parentage of the Furies. It does, however, make sense. By identifying Persephone as the 'exacter of Justice,' the Furies (who punish the unjust) necessarily fall under her jurisdiction, if you will.
Mother of Bacchus [Eubouleos], Sonorous, divine, and many-form'd, the parent of the vine...”
This is a reference to the Zagreus myth, and Persephone's importance to that myth. Instead of dragging this out, I want to just point out the last set of requests and how they tie together with the affirmations of the Hymn:
Last in extreme old age the prey of Death, dismiss we willing to the realms beneath,
To thy fair palace, and the blissful plains where happy spirits dwell, and Pluto [Plouton] reigns.”
As “Praxidike” and the ultimate judge of the Orphic soul, these conferences (the right to abide in the House of the Dead, the fair palace, or the blissful plains of happy spirits) are hers alone to give. The mention of the happy spirits, incidentally, makes me think of the “happy mystic band” who appear in Aristophanes comedy, The Frogs.
HERACLES: And next the breath of flutes will float around you,
And glorious sunshine, such as ours, you'll see,
And myrtle groves, and happy bands who clap
Their hands in triumph, men and women too.

DIONYSUS: And who are they?

HERACLES: The happy mystic bands,

XANTHIAS: And I'm the donkey in the mystery show.
But I'll not stand it, not one instant longer.

HERACLES: Who'll tell you everything you want to know.
You'll find them dwelling close beside the road
You are going to travel, just at Pluto's gate.
And fare thee well, my brother.
But then again, if you could spend half an eternity dancing madly and crowned in a state of perpetual intoxication, wouldn't that be something worthy of an affirmation?

Prayer. It totally sucks less than some people think it does.


Anonymous said...

Minor note:

Pretty sure "Argus" in the Hermes hymn refers to the thousand-eyed giant Hera set to guard Io to keep Zeus from boning her. Hermes was sent to free her, and he told Argus an insanely lame story and literally bored him to death. It's another reference to Hermes' skill with words--he could straight up kill you just by talking to you.

Jack Faust said...

@Anon: Thank. You. Fucking seriously. This is the kind've correction I yearn for.