Everyday Prayers: Analysis of “Hymn to Ariadne”

This series, which I hope to publish every Friday, will focus on specific prayers for the Thiasos of the Starry Bull. These prayers may be original creations, chants, translations of ancient prayers, or analyses of modern ones, but all will be useful for members of the Thiasos. That said, let’s get started!

This week’s post was delayed by a day because of my celebration of the Pannykhis of Ariadne.  Technically, I’m still celebrating it–it’s not yet six in the morning here, and it promises to be cloudy, so dawn–such as it will be–is not yet here.  In light of the Pannykhis, though, I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the collectively-written Thiasos Hymn to Ariadne.

One warning: WordPress’ quote format doesn’t seem to handle poetry well (if my last Everyday Prayers post is anything to go by), so I’ll be putting the prayer into paragraph format.

Ariadne, wise and clever daughter of Crete, you go where others dare not travel.  When we are troubled or worried, be there to give us Your wisdom.  Help us when we are lost or take the uneven steps on our path.  Remind us there is hope at the end of our patience.  Unlock the puzzles we find ourselves in, Mistress of the Labyrinth.

Much of the prayer references the classic myth of Ariadne as a princess of the Cretan king Minos, who lends his name to the civilization that flourished there before the rise of mainland Greek colonies.  The story goes that Minos, a prosperous king, had promised Poseidon a bull sacrifice.  He did not think his own cattle were worthy offerings, and when he expressed this concern to Poseidon, the Earth-Shaker sent Minos a beautiful white bull out of the sea.  Of course, Minos was to sacrifice this bull.

But he didn’t.  Instead, he kept the bull to improve the pedigree of his own cattle, and sacrificed one of the native bulls instead.  Upset that Minos had held back, Poseidon cursed Minos’ wife, Pasiphaë, with an unnatural affection for that bull.  Minos’ in-house engineer designed an alluring cow costume for Pasiphaë to wear out in the pasture, and, well, nine months later, Pasiphaë gave birth to a monster that was half-bull himself.  This was the Minotaur–in Greek, literally, Minótauros, “Minos-Bull.”

He had a name.  He was, technically, Prince Asterion of Crete.  Asterion, Greek for “Star,” makes the original Starry Bull the half-brother of our Ariadne.

No one could know of the child’s true nature, and so he was given his own set of quarters (constructed, again, by Minos’ in-house engineer).  Made up of twisting, turning passages, it was called the Labyrinth, and few knew how to leave the maze once they had entered it.  Princess Ariadne discovered a trick to it.  She, like all young women of high social status in the ancient Greek world, was taught from a young age to spin wool into thread and to weave that thread in tapestries.  If you took a ball of thread and unwound it as you traveled through the maze, you could simply follow the yarn back when you wanted to leave.

We are never told, in the myths, if She ever used this trick Herself; all we know is she was able to teach it to another: Theseus, the Athenian captive, who wound his way to the heart of the Labyrinth and slew Asterion there.

In the Thiasos of the Starry Bull, the labyrinth is not just an underground maze; it’s the path we each walk through our various cycles of life, death, and rebirth (be that literal or metaphorical).  In life, we often can’t see what we should be doing until it’s too late, hindsight being 20/20 and all that; in a maze, you can’t see where you should be going unless you’re viewing the maze from above.  Since Ariadne knows the way through the labyrinth, we can trust in Her to guide us through its passages.

(An important note, and one which didn’t fit into my nice, neat narrative above: there is some mythic evidence that Ariadne began her theological life as a Minoan Goddess, so She has a long history of veneration prior to her role in Greek myth.)

Swinging, spiraling dancer of the shadowy in-between–your love and your wildness can only be contained by the stars.

Star and spider imagery are common threads (pun unintended) of the Thiasos pantheon.  Ariadne’s spinning and her magical thread link Her to the spider; the stars here reference her future coronation and Her Goddess origins (her mother, Pasiphaë, shares her name–“Shining on All”–with Selene the Moon).

I will grasp the thread you offer, the one that snakes through my heart, and I will not be afraid.  Axe-dancer, swinger on the vine, net-weaver, mistress called wife,

Snakes–clever word usage, as serpents also figure largely in the symbolism of the Thiasos.  “Axe-dancer” refers to the possible origin of the word “labyrinth” as coming from an archaic Greek word meaning “double-sided axe”; the double-axe was also, archaeologists think, a religious symbol in the Minoan and Greek worlds.  Swinger on the vine refers both to traditions in which Ariadne commits suicide and to other Dionysian heroines who die of hanging: Erigone, Arakhne.  The hanging imagery also ties Her further to spiders, as does “net-weaver.”

Mistress-called-wife refers to her ambiguous romantic relationship with Theseus: he promised to marry Her, then abandoned Her on Naxos.  (Interestingly, some regions of the Hellenic world did not consider the abandonment intentional, but chalked it up to a bad storm that blew Theseus’ ships off course.)

–you that make the trees grow erect and fruit, you whose face is sweet and fierce by turns, ferocious hunter,

These are references to her other possible Goddess associations.  Some archaeologists hold that Persephone and Artemis both had Their origins in Crete.  Of course, making trees erect is an unsubtle innuendo for Her marriage to Dionysos.

–hidden behind meek face ripped and torn by the beaked monster within, mad and maddening paradox in the skin of a maiden none too maidenly,

The only part of the hymn I don’t feel I understand adequately!  Can anyone comment with what this refers to?  I’d appreciate it.

–bless the land with the blood you shed and that shed by your followers, may it stream through the labyrinth as water from the earth.

This could possibly be a reference to blood-letting sacrifices, but I find it more likely that it refers to blood shed in animal sacrifice.  This second explanation further ties Her to the necessary recurring death of the Starry Bull, her half-brother Asterion (who is then reborn as Dionysos, in Thiasos tradition).  The blood of Asterion, the Starry Bull, Dionysos–it is all the same symbolism.  In Hellenic traditions, bull’s blood could purify someone of miasma; symbolically, Dionysos’ blood is also wine; it can even be rainwater, given Dionysos’ rain-bringing epithets.

Of course, since the labyrinth is also the path our souls take in death, it’s hard to say which way this purifying blood is flowing.  Does it flow from the world of the dead into the world of the living to absolve us from inherited miasma?  Or does it flow from our world into the world of the dead to smooth our passage and that of our ancestors?  The answer is both.  The Starry Bull pantheon blur those lines frequently.

Betrayal was neither your intent nor your sin, my lady, but for surpassing love and mercy you were punished.

The obvious interpretation here is Her clemency to the imprisoned Theseus, who was going to be put through the Labyrinth as a snack for Asterion.  One other way of interpreting it, however, is that  She showed mercy on her half-brother, trapped in a maze he did not build, living a life he did not ask for, and her directions to Theseus ensured a mercy-killing.

For helping those in need, you were helped in yours, forsaken then reclaimed queen among mortals!

And here, triumphant, we have Ariadne’s rescue by Dionysos.  He saved Her on Naxos, where Theseus had abandoned Her, and made Her a God like Him.

Deep love can lead us into danger and despair; lead us from danger into the safety of divine embrace, lead us from despair into the hope of divine love.

If you want a short version of this prayer to use, perhaps, as a chant or a meditative phrase, I recommend the above lines.  They are the heart of this prayer.

I pray to Ariadne, who guides the way to the Starry Bull and returns from under the earth.

And now, readers, you understand the import of this sentence.

Hail Ariadne!

Emily Kamp is a Hellenic polytheist, devoted in particular to Hestia, Hermes, and Dionysos the Starry Bull. When not teaching high-school Latin or making horrendous puns, she is the moderator of an online shrine to Hestia (which doubles as a daily devotional for polytheists of all stripes).

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