When Apollon departs from Delphi to journey to the lands of the Hyperborea, we may ask how do we understand and interact with Apollon at this time of the year? So in this essay I am presenting my thoughts and experiences with Apollon in the winter. This comes strictly from personal experience growing up in the far north: Alaska. In this far northern land, natural sense of time is skewed and often irregular. Long daylight hours stretching far into the night during the summer, and long days of night during the winter. So when considering a far-northern retreat of Apollon, no matter what part of the world, you are dealing with a place with this irregularity that is common across that longitude.
Apollo of Hyperborea
Muses sing their soft-lilting song, music stretching along the wings of faded dawn,
And the gentle wind carries it within his hands to deliver it across the land.
The darkened heaven is burnished crimson of many veils laying low in the sky,
A light to cluster around the burning flame held aloft in his stride,
Apollo makes way to Hyperborea! Before him the feathered griffin flies,
Guardian to the golden lands, Zeus’s mighty feathered hound,
A unity of qualities in balance and harmony–deadly and magnificent!
He carries as mount, the fair-tress Lord, swift-winged to the Hyperborean land.
Delphi rests in the clasp of winter night, within darkness there remains light,
The fires kindled in the gleam of the temple stone, awaiting the Lord’s return.
For he journeys upon his swift cart to that northern land of darkest midnight,
Where never is the light so bright that shines so abundantly within that far abode,
Upon a land of pure-light white beneath the black of night shining with bright jewels,
For the stars are like chips of diamonds set in the crown of Nyx of the wide-skirt.
Oldest of old has found a happy restful home in the land beyond the north-wind’s throne,
Where the Hyperborean flushed with winter’s cold, seated upon a heart of warmth,
With the climate of northern grace chases illness and death from their ancient door.
Upon the ice they dance among the gods, all honor beating of eternity upon primal drum,
Where the days do not measure and an echoing stillness stretches on.
There the ocean finds its port, a jagged harbor rising proud from the rocky ground,
Where the ancients sing a hollow groan, a timeless song, as the ice falls into the sea,
A land where the great whales sing, a rumble of thunder through the water,
There they gather to greet the golden Lord who sets his foot upon the risen shore.
From a land where the glacier walks with his furrowing steps from time’s beginning,
Singing his slow-moaning rasp of deep tone, the songs of his labor’s tread.
All is music in this furthest north, the chimes of the wind against the horns of ice,
And some silence of purity is a strangest melody; a movement of light creating song,
That there the aurora dances amid the heavens in array of light for a symphony;
Each finger of color is a note of sound within the heart calling to ancestors of old.
Upon that night rainbow he draws it up to a cloak and dances upon its fluid road,
See there in the heavens where he rides that rolling tide of color across the sky.
In this land on the edge of time Apollo wears his icy crown where shining prisms reside,
Radiating all the aurora’s colors of dancing light rising to heaven from the earth,
There he wears all the light, crowned of heaven and draped in silvery shining velvet.
Lo he wreathes his brow with a hundred stars shining as the white-fire of the forge,
And the earthly stars, crystalline sculpted ice within the blanket of heavenly snow,
Lying across the broad-breasted land is an ethereal glow where his footsteps touch.
Where day arises as an arch over the crest of land to quickly descend,
There the bright purity of life colors the sky the crispest blue to fall into vivid gold.
Night reclaims for her own the winter-land, nurturing within her timeless arms,
And upon her wintry-pure breast Apollo rests his head, brightest light of the night,
His voice threaded into the endless music woven within that stillness of time and space,
Enthroned upon the endless heavens and the chiseled earth–land of water, stone and ice!
This poem here well illustrates my thoughts on Apollon in Hyperborea. The main focus is that in the far north, where you have so many upon many hours of darkness, that this darkness holds a most incredible light that you would not be able to see so clearly anywhere else. We are spoiled by our cities and the modern luminescense of our lights, we do not see very well how potent the forms of light are in the darkest points of night until you are far away from it. And this is not so obvious as it is in the far north where darkness is a tangible thing, but still winter yields so much light.
Not too many years ago I had wondered how on earth Apollon could be traveling north, this god of light, during the darkest time of the year. It made more sense to me that if he were to travel anywhere during the winter it would be the south, and maybe in the summer make a prolonged visit to the far-north since we had so much more light than anywhere else during that time of the year. However the more I thought about it, the more apparent it came to me that there were very important brightness of the light that shows its face in the north. The most spectacular light is the aurora borealis, or the northern lights. These lights are so connected to the sun, even though the exist during the darkest times of the year, that they were named after Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn; incidentally the other half is named for the Greek wind god Boreas. Scientifically we know the connections of the Northern Lights to the sun, since the source of the lights is believed by scientists to be created by a combination of particles from the solarwind coming from the sun entering into the earth’s magnetosphere, the earth’s upper atmosphere (wikipedia). Growing up seeing this light in its dancing display has been for me a potent memory, even now living in the south as I do, of Apollon’s northern presence. Aside from the northern lights, the stars themselves are more visibly bright, and the moon itself is quite incredible in her light shining over the frozen land. During nights of the fullest moons the snow below captures that light and the night brightens considerably with such a beauty and purity.
Even Apollon’s music is so much more potent during the northern winter, for the reason of the deadened silence. The waters are frozen completely solid, so there is no river talking. There are no dry dead leaves clinging to the trees, instead they are bear as bones and laden with snow. Just as the night yields such a dazzling light in the winter, so does this silence lend to the most beautiful music. That stillness allows you to hear to the soft impact of snow, the tinkling song of ice, and those winter song birds, their song is heard clearly for some distance. So it is this silence that carries and heightens the most beautiful of winter music.
Now of course this does not equate with the stories of Hyperborea, a land of eternal spring, however I think we need to make some sort of geographic exceptions to the stories and focus on points of correlation rather than those that just don’t make sense since we logically know that you can go north as far as you like and just encounter the arctic. For one, in the far north there isn’t a real apparent spring or autumn, it is mostly summer and winter, but the summer itself is fair enough and mild enough in temperature that it may seem like a perpetual spring since it doesn’t have the killing heat of summer. And there are crops that do very well in the northern latitudes, particularly sun loving crops of grain and vegetables that grow abundantly and swiftly because of the long daylight hours in the summer. To another people who experience the intense heat and destruction of summer, the plentiful crops of vegetation and berries in tales of these lands would probably make them seem like some miraculous place.
And what of this land of swans? Well in the north you actually have a rather prolific presence of swans. Mythically swans have played a rather extensive role in the Northern regions. Slavic creation tale has the creator in the form of a swan. The Norse had their swan-maidens, which were also part of Russian and Germanic folklore. In Celtic mythology the children of Lir are turned into swans by their stepmother who granted them the ability to sing beautiful music that could calm any heart. The swans of the European north were frequently viewed as shape-shifters of some sort, in Celtic mythology and the Nordic mentioned above the transformation of swans into humans is a common mythical theme. But of course swans appear in many cultures world-wide in their folk-tales and myths. Still in the summer in the north, swans are plentiful to see swimming in the lakes, and very distinct with the large bodies and very distinct profiles. In the cool summers the swans return to make their nests to hatch their young, for the returning generations Alaska boasts for the largest population of trumpeter swans which migrate from their homes throughout America. Alaska also has a large population of the Tundra or Mute swans. But the Trumpeter swan is the singing swan. He sings beautifully with clear notes that are likened the sounds produced by a French horn. During the summer Alaska and Canada is pretty well the lands of swans. It is easy to imagine that European swans have a similar migrating habit, which in fact they do migrating from their homes in Europe to Siberia, which would account not only for the regularity of their appearance in northern European myth but also to the legend of the numerous swans in Hyperborea. Though the American Trumpeter swan, cousin to the European whooping swan, is the only “singing” swan compared to the honking and whistling of his cousins. Most European fables, though, refer to the European Mute swan with his global range.
A positive way to keep Apollo in your mind during his time in Hyperborea would be to set up or adorn a previously existing shrine to Apollon with things to bring to mind what has been discussed above. A picture of the Aurora Borealis at the shrine would be appropriate. As would perhaps a glacier rock, most ancient ice cutting deep grooves and compressing the stones of the earth recalling the most primal beginnings of earth. Though swans migrate away from their summer homes during the winter, the time that Apollon travels to Hyperborea, I think it would be appropriate to include them as well in some form whether that be a swan feather, or a figure of a swan. I would even suggest perhaps crystal in order to simulate the ice and snows of the far northern land. These things will be keep a visual reminder of Hyperborea and the connection with Apollon there.