The Kyklos Apollon Ritual

Todd Jackson

It’s fascinating to watch the organic process of a ritual growing into itself. What becomes clear is that what one originally writes can never be the ritual, but only an initial sketch. It is impossible, for instance, when first scripting the ritual to know what-ultimately-will be the first step across the temenos boundary, leaving the mundane behind. One will perform some action prior to the first scripted action; the next time around, one might repeat that action. In time, it will have accrued to the ritual. A dozen such actions, and the original script resembles a plowed, flat farmland in early March. The ritual, the real ritual, meanwhile will have come to resemble a vineyard just before the harvest.

The ritual of Kyklos Apollon, devoted to the Hellenic God of purification, prophecy and the light of the Sun, is an excellent “living laboratory” for watching this process. First, it is atypical within the Hellenismos revival in that it revives nothing, but is entirely new. It lacks even the advantage of having an ancient precedent, itself the organic result of centuries of repetition, whose pieces can be gathered up and reassembled. The initial script, therefore, was a particularly flat farmland. Who knew whether there would even be any crop whatsoever?

Further, the Kyklos Apollon ritual has a weekly, rather than an annual period. A great deal of change can happen in just a couple of months. If you’re a biologist and you want to watch evolution in process, you observe fruit flies, not tortoises. Likewise, the student of ritual might be better advised to observe the Kyklos Apollon than Thargelia.

Now, just into its third year, this is what my Kyklos ritual has become: The first step across the temenos comes the night before, with the soaking of a cup of bay leaves in wine. There is a story of ritual evolution that is told by these leaves alone. There is no one Kyklos Apollon ritual; I do not have a legion of winged monkeys to set loose across the world, from Las Vegas, USA to Dublin, Ireland to South Australia, making sure that each member of the circle follows my script. The only uniformity is in the time: the ritual occurs each Sunday at dawn, as reckoned at the Temple of Delphi in Hellas. One element of our rituals has become common among us to the point of near-universality: the burning of the bay leaves.

“Bay” is simply another word for “laurel,” the tree sacred to Apollon, and the Greek for “laurel” is daphne. Our burning the leaves is at once an offering to Apollon and an act of communion with him. We surround ourselves in, we breathe into ourselves, a smoke that symbolically acts as a natural conduit to Apollon, as copper is natural conduit to electricity. We reaffirm ourselves as being within his presence, becoming, like the leaves, his symbola on Earth.

I take half the next day’s bay leaves and soak them in wine, and let them marinate overnight. For me, this is a gesture toward Dionysos, close brother to Apollon, Lord of Delphi in the winter months, and linked to him by visionaries from Orpheus to Nietzsche. I remove these leaves come morning and set them to dry. A warning here: I live in the Mojave Desert, where the wash, put out on the line, is bone-dry in fifteen minutes during summer; your wine-soaked leaves may need a full day or so. While the leaves dry, I clean my home and all the altars. I also prepare the various incenses. Here are my recipes for the flammables:

Hekate: a handful of bay leaves soaked in last week’s patchouli oil, three quarters, and some combination of wormwood, marijuana, and tobacco.

Hermes: a handful of bay leaves sprinkled with frankincense and myrrh nuggets, three quarters.

Aphrodite: a cup of bay leaves sprinkled with myrrh nuggets, last week’s rose or cinnamon oil, sometimes crushed dried rose petals.

Apollon: a cup of the wine-soaked bay leaves, now dry; two cups or more of bay leaves; lots of frankincense nuggets and last week’s frankincense oil.

The last cleaning is of myself, including my once-a-week shaving of my head bald. After the shower and putting on the clothes I wear at ritual, I take another cup of the leaves (not the wine-soaked) and set them ablaze while calling out the familiar Hellenic cry Hekas, hekas! Este bebeloi! (“May all that is unclean depart!”) that precedes many rituals, adding “May all that is touched by the smoke of these leaves be purified for the ritual.” All this day, I’ve been abstaining from red meat; after this, I abstain from eating altogether, as well as from bathroom functions and leaving the apartment. I open and close the front door at all only because of my full-time job as doorman to my cat, Shaman. Shaman doesn’t give a rat’s ass about my rituals, bad kitty that he is. His yowling at a closed door would disturb the neighbors. I suspect he’s Muslim.

The first incense is to Hestia, I light it while preparing the khernips water. I splash the water on myself (and any visitors) before entering my altar room.

Where Hestia does receive her typical honors as first (if not last) of the theoi honored, the true “opener” of the ritual is Hekate, and now-at least one hour prior to Delphi dawn- is the time to approach her altar.

I address Hekate, while lighting the tea candle beneath the dish of fresh patchouli oil, and then the bowl of flammable incense, with a stick of patchouli incense. I address her as she in whom commerce between Gods and mortals is even possible, as binder of the circle. And I light the single tea candle that rests upon Persephone’s altar-still new, still underdeveloped.

I light Aphrodite’s flammable incense and offer her wine mixed with water, and address her as the Goddess in whose power the bay leaf is bound as symbol-recalling here the Daphne myth, and the crucial role of the arrows of Eros, her son.

Now I’m entering deeper into a meditative state, and the scent of patchouli just accented with rose is throughout the apartment.

At least a half-hour before Delphi dawn, I approach Apollon’s altar, not yet for Apollon himself but for the libation cups that serve as shrines to other Gods. First of these, Zeus, as Demiurge. I usually offer him beer. (Yes. Beer. I am yet a barbarian.) Next Dionysos-a cup of wine. I splash wine also into the dish that services my Idios Daimon, cut it with water (Pellegrini, or even better, Greek mineral water), finally lighting a single bay leaf and dousing it in the wine/water. At that point, I take up the twelve-pointed star medallion that always rests on Apollon’s altar and is my own insignia as his priest. I dip the medallion into the Daimon wine/water and offer praise to the ancients, which always include the heroes Lykourgos of Sparta and Iamblichus; I address also my own higher emanations, up to the angelic. Then I put on the medallion.

Fifteen or twenty minutes before Delphi dawn, and I splash the Omphalos that sits before Apollon’s altar with Pellegrini water, mindful that I am also wetting the navel of the world in Delphi, and declare the Kyklos.

Then I light Hermes’ flammable incense, and with his lit stick incense I light Apollon’s two tea candles: the one that stands at the front of his altar, and, now, the one that rests beneath his dish of fresh frankincense oil. I address Hermes as the God who holds the secret of magic words and magic speech.

Some minutes before the dawn at Delphi, I sink even more fully into mindfulness. By now, the ritual doesn’t feel like a unique event, but like a return to a place that always exists, is always present, and always waiting to be revisited. It has become an eternal point at the center of a life that, otherwise, is passing in time.

I turn on the music. Generally Classical, sometimes Middle Eastern or Mediterranean, with a leaning toward guitar, violin or piano concerti. Often it’ll be a piece I haven’t heard until this moment, and the sense is of Apollon and I sharing a music connoisseurship.

At Delphi dawn I address Apollon in typical Hellenic fashion, with a string of epithets, and offer a libation of pure Pellegrini water, then set his cup down at the front of his altar; this is the same cup which, years ago, at the beginning of my worship of Apollon, was the very first piece, before any of the statues, before anything. This is the cup that would have been placed, simply, on the ledge of a window.

I light the pot of flammable incense while speaking words from the Homeric Hymn to Apollon (Pythian) which, to me, indicate the Apollonian priesthood:

enth’ ek nêos orouse anax hekaergos Apollôn,
asteri eidomenos mesôi êmati: tou d’ apo pollai
spintharides pôtônto, selas d’ eis ouranon hiken:
es d’ aduton kateduse dia tripodôn eritimôn.

enth’ ar’ ho ge phloga daie piphauskomenos ta ha kêla:
pasan de Krisên katechen selas: hai d’ ololuxan
Krisaiôn alochoi kallizônoi te thugatres
Phoibou hupo rhipês: mega gar deos embal’ hekastôi.
enthen d’ aut’ epi nêa noêm’ hôs alto petesthai,
aneri eidomenos aizêôi te kraterôi te,
prôthêbêi, chaitêis eilumenos eureas ômous:
kai spheas phônêsas epea pteroenta prosêuda:

“Then, like a star at noonday, the lord, far-working Apollo, leaped from the ship: flashes of fire flew from him thick and their brightness reached to heaven. He entered into his shrine between priceless tripods, and there made a flame to flare up bright, showing forth the splendor of his shafts, so that their radiance [445] filled all Crisa, and the wives and well-girded daughters of the Crisaeans raised a cry at that outburst of Phoebus; for he cast great fear upon them all. From his shrine he sprang forth again, swift as a thought, to speed again to the ship, bearing the form of a man, brisk and sturdy, [450] in the prime of his youth, while his broad shoulders were covered with his hair: and he spoke to the Cretans, uttering winged words.” (from Perseus Digital Library, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White)

Once the fire is well-established, I read the Orphic Hymn to Apollon. The ancient Greek is transporting, and I feel linked to all who worshiped Apollon in the past, all now present and joining in the ritual.

Apóllonos, thumíama mánnan.

Elthé, mákar, Paián, Tituoktóne, Phoîbe, Lukoreû,
Memphît’, aglaótime, ieie, olbiodota,
khrusolúre, spermeîe, arótrie, Púthie, Titán,
Grúneie, Smintheû, Puthoktóne, Delphiké, mánti,
ágrie, phosphóre daîmon, erásmie, kúdime koûre,
mousagéta, khoropoié, hekebóle, toxobélemne,
Bákkhie kaì Didumeû, hekáerge, Loxía, hagné,
Deli’ ánax, panderkès ékhon phaesímbroton ómma,
khrusokóma, katharàs phemas khresmoús t’ anaphaínon;
klûthí mou eukhoménou laon húper eúphroni thumoi;
tónde sù gàr leússeis tòn apeíriton aithéra pánta
gaîan t’ olbiómoiron húperthé te kaì di’ amolgoû,
nuktòs en hesukhíaisin hup’ asteroómmaton órphnen
rhízdas nérthe dédorkas, ékheis dé te peírata kósmou
pantós; soì d’ arkhe te teleute t’ estì mélousa,
pantothales, sù dè pánta pólon kithárei polukréktoi
harmózdeis, hotè mèn neátes epì térmata baínon,
állote d’ aûth’ hupáten, potè Dorion eis diákosmon
pánta pólon kirnàs kríneis biothrémmona phûla,
harmoníei kerásas {ten} pagkósmion andrási moîran,
míxas kheimonos théreós t’ íson amphotéroisin,
eis hupátas kheimona, théros neátais diakrínas,
Dorion eis éaros poluerátou horion ánthos.
énthen eponumíen se brotoì kleizdousin ánakta,
Pâna, theòn dikérot’, anémon surígmath’ hiénta;
hoúneka pantòs ékheis kósmou sphragîda tupotin.
klûthi, mákar, sozdon mústas hiketerídi phonei.
(transliteration by Michael Standingwolf)

“Blest Paean, come, propitious to my pray’r,
Illustrious pow’r, whom Memphian tribes revere,
Slayer of Tityus, and the God of health,
Lycorian Phoebus, fruitful source of wealth .
Spermatic, golden-lyr’d, the field from thee
Receives it’s constant, rich fertility.
Titanic, Grunian, Smynthian, thee I sing,
Python-destroying, hallow’d, Delphian king:
Rural, light-bearer, and the Muse’s head,
Noble and lovely, arm’d with arrows dread:
Far-darting, Bacchian, two-fold, and divine,
Pow’r far diffused, and course oblique is thine.
O, Delian king, whose light-producing eye
Views all within, and all beneath the sky:
Whose locks are gold, whose oracles are sure,
Who, omens good reveal’st, and precepts pure:
Hear me entreating for the human kind,
Hear, and be present with benignant mind;
For thou survey’st this boundless aether all,
And ev’ry part of this terrestrial ball
Abundant, blessed; and thy piercing sight,
Extends beneath the gloomy, silent night;
Beyond the darkness, starry-ey’d, profound,
The stable roots, deep fix’d by thee are found
The world’s wide bounds, all-flourishing are thine,
Thyself all the source and end divine:
‘Tis thine all Nature’s music to inspire,
With various-sounding, harmonising lyre;
Now the last string thou tun’ft to sweet accord,
Divinely warbling now the highest chord;
Th’ immortal golden lyre, now touch’d by thee,
Responsive yields a Dorian melody.
All Nature’s tribes to thee their diff’rence owe,
And changing seasons from thy music flow
Hence, mix’d by thee in equal parts, advance
Summer and Winter in alternate dance;
This claims the highest, that the lowest string,
The Dorian measure tunes the lovely spring .
Hence by mankind, Pan-royal, two-horn’d nam’d,
Emitting whistling winds thro’ Syrinx fam’d;
Since to thy care, the figur’d seal’s consign’d,
Which stamps the world with forms of ev’ry kind.
Hear me, blest pow’r, and in these rites rejoice,
And save thy mystics with a suppliant voice.”
(Thomas Taylor translation)

Once the flame has died out, but the smoke is still rising, I pass the smoking put around my body while reading the words that indicate and accompany purification. Also from the Homeric Hymn to Apollon (Pythian), they are the words Apollon spoke to the dying dragon. I find this the most potent passage in all the ancient literature:

ho d’ epêuxato Phoibos Apollôn:
entauthoi nun putheu epi chthoni bôtianeirêi:
oude su ge zôousa kakon dêlêma brotoisin
esseai, hoi gaiês poluphorbou karpon edontes
enthad’ aginêsousi telêessas hekatombas:
oude ti toi thanaton ge dusêlege’ oute Tuphôeus
arkesei oute Chimaira dusônumos, alla se g’ autou
pusei Gaia melaina kai êlektôr Huperiôn.
hôs phat’ epeuchomenos: tên de skotos osse kalupse.
tên d’ autou katepus’ hieron menos Êelioio,
ex hou nun Puthô kiklêsketai: hoi de anakta
Puthion ankaleousin epônumon, houneka keithi
autou puse pelôr menos oxeos Êelioio.

Which translates: “Then Phoebus Apollo boasted over her: ‘Now rot here upon the soil that feeds man’ You at least shall live no more to be a fell bane to men who eat the fruit of the all-nourishing earth, and who will bring hither perfect hecatombs. Against cruel death neither Typhoeus shall avail you nor ill-famed Chimera, but here shall the Earth and shining Hyperion make you rot.’ Thus said Phoebus, exulting over her: and darkness covered her eyes. And the holy strength of Helios made her rot away there; wherefore the place is now called Pytho, and men call the lord Apollo by another name, Pythian; because on that spot the power of piercing Helios made the monster rot away.” (Perseus Digital Library, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White)

By now the altar room, indeed the entire apartment, is pretty much filled with smoke; till the following evening, I and all my clothes will smell of bay and frankincense. I turn out the lights and sit still and silent on a backless stool before Apollon’s altar, a chip of amber resin in each palm, for as long as the music lasts-a half hour to an hour-or much longer if I’m doing particularly deep work. Sometimes the music will take me up and I’ll be compelled to dance. Good ritual is being pulled into some deep, silent place, while I am mindful of the Sunrise in Hellas, around the other side of the world, while I sit in the dark of Night. Great ritual is light, as though flying, with an electric quality, and when the music has taken over; the whole universe condensed into Apollon, myself, and one piece of great music, sharing a radical presentness.

.Ie Paian.

For more on the Kyklos Apollon ritual, please visit kyklosapollon.org.

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