ÁGALMA - ΑΓΑΛΜΑ
SACRED STATUES IN ÆLLINISMÓS
The Cult Image or Cult Statue
In Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, we use statues to represent Gods. The word for such a statue is Ágalma (Gr. άγαλμα, ΑΓΑΛΜΑ. Plural of Ágalma is Agálmata; Gr. Αγάλματα, ΑΓΑΛΜΑΤΑ). Being that the statue is meant to bring to mind divinity, it is treated with great homage, as though it were the God it represents. We have immense love and respect for our Gods, therefore, we treat such statues with great devotion and reverence; they are holy objects. The Ágalma can also be seen as a votive offering dedicated to the God represented by the statue, as such, anything offered or dedicated to a God is sacred.
Historically, because we are not shy in our veneration of the Gods, there has been criticism from outside the religion, that we practice idolatry, the worship of images. Nonetheless, we are quite clear in our understanding: the statue represents the God, it is an analogue of the God. The God is not, somehow, "inside" the image, the statue is not itself a God. The Greek word for idolatry, eidohlolatría (idololatria; Gr. εἰδωλολατρία), is a creation of ancient Christian writers . We do not use the word, because it has no meaning in regards to our practices. But it must be understood that these very same writers, who espouse an exclusivistic religion, also believe that our Gods are not true divinities, which, of course is highly offensive to us who love the Gods.
Agálmata and Orphismós
The rituals of Orphismós call for particular effigies. One can do ritual without even one Ágalma, but ideally you would have a bare minimum of statuary. In particular, Agálmata of all the Twelve Olympian Gods are used for the altar (usually not all at once, of course). Also, it is useful to have a small statue of the Naxian Sphinx, which represents the deified soul. Much more rarely, we use Agálmata of the philosophers, Pythagóras (Pythagoras; Gr. Πυθαγόρας), Sohkrátis (Socrates; Gr. Σωκράτης), and Plátohn (Plato; Gr. Πλάτων) in particular. Beyond this, any image of a God who might be dear to you is appropriate.
What to do if you do not have statues
There many statues needed for Orphic ritual. Consequently, it can be a considerable expense to obtain them all. Do so with delight and care, one by one. You do not need them immediately; we make do with what we have. If you cannot afford the statues, do not let this stop you from doing ritual. This author has participated in many rituals with no statues whatsoever, even while at Dælphí (Delphi; Gr. Δελφοί) with Athenian teachers. We improvise.
You could, potentially, use symbols to represent the Gods, such as a representation of a thunderbolt for Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς), of a drawing of a flame for Æstia (Hestia; Gr. Ἑστία). If you have artistic talent, this is an obvious employment your imagination, which, I'm sure, would be a great pleasure for the Gods we love.
If you cannot afford the statues that you need to do ritual, you can download this little page. There are images of all twelve Olympian Gods as well as an image of Diónysos (Dionysus; Gr. Διόνυσος). Each image is 2" tall and the file prints out on one sheet of paper. Paste the entire page to a sheet of poster-board and wait for the glue to dry. If you are able, spray the pasted images several times with a translucent varnish such as Krylon Acrylic Crystal Clear. Now that you have the images all pasted and varnished, wait until they are completely dry and carefully cut them out. You would treat these tiny images as though they are regular Agálmata, keeping them in a respectful place; since they will be used for ritual, they are sacred. When you can afford to, you can one-by-one replace these with statues:
It is difficult to find a complete set of the Olympians, all of which match. Nonetheless, you can visually create the illusion of a matching set by mounting smaller statues on marble bases, to raise the height to a medium level. Here is an excellent source of all kinds of bases: Bases 4 All Inc. : Genuine Marble Base, Wood & Glass Bases For Sculture, Glass Art & Rcongnition Industry.
The following procedure must be performed with care because certain mistakes can ruin the project. Nonetheless, this author has successfully mounted many statues; it is not so very difficult.
The Care of Agálmata
Because the statues represent divinity, to own them is not casual, but is a responsibility. They are very beautiful, but they should not be used as mere decoration for our homes, except by serendipity. Ideally, Agálmata should be stored and covered, or venerated in a shrine, a place of honor, until they are needed for the altar. If possible, this place of honor should be kept away from the eyes of visitors who do not understand our traditions. And they should be kept clean. One method is to wash the statue of each Olympian as their zodiacal month commences, or more frequently, if possible. The area around shrines should also be kept clean.
Pour water or khǽrnips (chernips; Gr. χέρνιψ. Consecrated water) over the Agálmata and carefully wipe dry. Q-Tips are helpful for the crevices found in some of the more intricate statues. If your statues are exposed to much smoke from resin incense, you will have difficulty removing the deposit which can settle on them. Soap and water will not remove most gums and resins; they are not water-soluble, or only partially so. Carefully try things like alcohol or orange-rind cleaners. Acetone will melt some statues.
There is a extremely powerful cleaner on the market which I highly recommend for images constructed of the most common resin-castings. This cleaner is so powerful, however, that I recommend trying it only on a small hidden section of the statue before attempting to clean the entire image. It has the potential of removing paint from a statue. You should be extremely careful using this cleaner on anything made of bronze or copper; it has a strong reaction to some bronzes, deteriorating the surface and almost instantly make it turn a greenish blue (you can "antique" some types of bronze with this cleaner). The cleaner is called Challenger PC-737. The ingredients are proprietary but it is a strong alkaline detergent that does include potassium hydroxide. Place the statue in a sink and spray the PC-737 all over it. Let it rest about a minute and rinse with hot water. Amazingly, all the resin will simply wash away, usually with just one application.
For statues that you are afraid to use Challenger PC-737, try various other cleaners. Some of the polishes for marble will also remove resin build-up. One such polish is Renaissance Micro-Crystalline Wax Polish, typically used for statues made of marble, soapstone, alabaster, and others. The polish will remove most of the resin and will also give a beautiful luster to the Ágalma.
Ancient Writings in Defense of Images:
Porphýrios (Porphyry; Gr. Πορφύριος) defended the use of images:
"As the deity is of the nature of light, and dwells in an atmosphere of ethereal fire, and is invisible to sense that is busy about mortal life, He through translucent matter, as crystal or Parian marble or even ivory, led men on to the conception of his light, and through material gold to the discernment of the fire, and to his undefiled purity, because gold cannot be defiled.
"But they have made the representation of Zeus in human form, because mind was that according to which he wrought, and by generative laws brought all things to completion; and he is seated, as indicating the steadfastness of his power: and his upper parts are bare, because he is manifested in the intellectual and the heavenly parts of the world; but his feet are clothed, because he is invisible in the things that lie hidden below. And he holds his sceptre in his left hand, because most close to that side of the body dwells the heart, the most commanding and intelligent organ: for the creative mind is the sovereign of the world. And in his right hand he holds forth either an eagle, because he is master of the Gods who traverse the air, as the eagle is master of the birds that fly aloft - or a victory, because he is himself victorious over all things." (Porphýrios On Images, Fragment 3, excerpt, translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford)
Díohn Khrysóstomos (Dio Chrysostom; Gr. Δίων Χρυσόστομος)
Díohn Khrysóstomos defended the use of images, and, in particular, the use of the human form with a cult-image, in his meanderings of how the great sculptor Pheidías (Phidias; Gr. Φειδίας) would have defended his famous statue of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς) at Olympia:
"For mind and intelligence in and of themselves no statuary or painter will ever be able to represent; for all men are utterly incapable of observing such attributes with their eyes or of learning of them by inquiry. But as for that in which this intelligence manifests itself, men, having no mere inkling thereof but actual knowledge, fly to it for refuge, attributing to God a human body as a vessel to contain intelligence and rationality, in their lack of a better illustration, and in their perplexity seeking to indicate that which is invisible and unportrayable by means of something portrayable and visible, using the function of a symbol.... For certainly no one would maintain that it had been better that no statue or picture of Gods should have been exhibited among men, on the ground that we should look only at the heavens. For although the intelligent man does indeed reverence all those objects, believing them to be blessed Gods that he sees from a great distance, yet on account of our belief in the divine all men have a strong yearning to honour and worship the deity from close at hand, approaching and laying hold of him with persuasion by offering sacrifice and crowning him with garlands. For precisely as infant children when torn away from father or mother are filled with terrible longing and desire, and stretch out their hands to their absent parents often in their dreams, so also do men to the Gods, rightly loving them for their beneficence and kinship, and being eager in every possible way to be with them and to hold converse with them." (excerpt from The Twelfth or Olympic Discourse: or, On Man's First Conception of God, 59-61 by Díohn Khrysóstomos, from the translation by J.W. Cohoon in 1939, found in the 2001 edition of Dio Chrysostom: Discourses 12-30, Loeb LCL 339, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA USA and London England, pp. 63-65, 59-61)
Numa Pompilius, the Roman king who was, apparently, a student of Pythagóras, disagreed with the use of images, as related by Ploutarkhos (Plutarch; Gr. Πλούταρχος):
"His opinion, also, of images is very agreeable to the doctrine of Pythagoras; who conceived of the first principle of being as transcending sense and passion, invisible and incorrupt, and only to be apprehended by abstract intelligence. So Numa forbade the Romans to represent God in the form of man or beast, nor was there any painted or graven image of a deity admitted amongst them for the space of the first hundred and seventy years, all which time their temples and chapels were kept free and pure from images; to such baser objects they deemed it impious to liken the highest, and all access to God impossible, except by the pure act of the intellect." (excerpt from Ploutarkhos Life of Numa Pompilius, translated by John Dryden, revised by Arthur Hugh Clough in 1864. We are using the 1992 edition entitled Plutarch's Lives: The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans Vol. 1, The Modern Library/Random House [New York NY USA] where this quotation can be found on p. 88)
SOURCES OF AGALMA: There are few sources of statues that cater specifically to those who practice Ællinismόs. Consequently, the typical sources are Neo-Pagan or Wiccan stores that sell such statues, although there are many others who sell statues of many kinds:
Bobdog428, an Ebay seller, has exquisite genuine bronze statues of many kinds, rather large, including some appropriate for worship. Although still expensive, their prices are far more reasonable than elsewhere. Bronze is forever: bobdog428 | eBay
Greek Flea Market sells some nicely small, more contemporary bronzes, which many Greeks favor. The author was given a pair of these as a present when he left Athens: GreekFleaMarket.Com
GoddessGift.net specializes in statues of Goddesses. I had a very positive experience with this website when an order went wrong. My purchase was refunded even though I had damaged the statue: GoddessGift.net
Hellenic-art.com has statues of resin in various sizes and also some bronze: Hellenic-art.com
Marble Creations 82, shipping from Greece, has matching Agálmata of the 12 Olympians, available either individually or as a complete set. The set includes Diónysos (Dionysus; Gr. Διόνυσος) and eliminates Æstía (Hestia; Gr. Ἑστία), so, you would need to purchase a statue of Æstía. These statue are very small but they are some of the nicest depictions of the Gods available, and the diminutive size can be an asset for certain rituals: marblecreations82 | eBay
SomaLuna has many statues, mostly resin, of an appropriate size: SomaLuna Greek and Roman StatuesSouvenirs From Greece offers many statues that cannot easily be obtained in the United States, including bronzes and castings of various materials: Souvenirs From Greece
Ágalma (Gr. άγαλμα, ΑΓΑΛΜΑ) Ágalma is a cult-image or sacred statue. This word, like many Greek words, has many meanings, depending on the context, but all the various meanings of this word seem to have some pertinence to our discussion, for Ágalma can also mean glory, delight, or honor. Ágalma can also be a pleasing gift, an offering to the Gods (L&S). Therefore, an Ágalma can be seen as a votive offering dedicated to the God represented by the statue.
Agálmata - (Gr. Αγάλματα, ΑΓΑΛΜΑΤΑ) Agálmata is the plural of Ágalma.
Zóhdion - (Zodion; Gr. ζῴδιον. Plural is Zóhdia [Zodia; Gr. ζῴδια].) Astron., sign of the Zodiac. The term Zóhdion can also refer to a carved statuette or a small painted figure. (L&S p. 758, right column)
 The Greek-English Lexicon's (Liddell & Scott) entry for ειδωλολατρία can be found amongst the definitions of εἰδωλό-θῠσία (L&S p. 483, right column), where it will be noticed that the citations are all Biblical.
(Petelia; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kosmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. Ὀρφεύς).
PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as
, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.
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