An excerpt from my recent RUDRAGANIKA (A)Arti-cle looking at the Female Retinue of the Indo-European Sky Father – in this piece, uncovering the remarkable concordancy of elements concerning members of this Retinue as tenders to the Axis Mundi, the World Tree or Sthambha.
This is particularly oriented toward the Ash Nymphs, although also links into various other salient understandings for both mythic and archaic female figures acting in a ‘priestess’ competency as well (c.f. the Thyiades we had considered elsewhere and in a previous extract).
The full-length piece can be found here –
Illustration, as per usual, by HC – who’s done a beautiful job of bringing together various elements and the ‘feeling’ for the essence under discussion !
However, it is my suspicion that some of what is entailed by the many and various ‘Nurses’ of Dionysus is also drawn from this attendant well. Insofar as we find these figures later hailed amidst the Nymphs etc. of Dionysus alongside these other more direct ‘RudraGanika’ style clades. Perhaps the ‘Matrika’ conceptry we have aforementioned has similar genesis – after all, a Mother is, in amidst other characteristics, potentially one who grants milk to a newborn child. And, considering that it seems quite likely that milk played a key role in oblationary libations to the Sky Father deific in ‘post’ form (that which informs the ShivLing of the Hindus, the Irminsul of the Germanics … and we may fairly presume the ‘Phallic’ altars of Dionysus) – perhaps here, too, we find the Priestess typology in esteemed evidence. Offerings of Milk, figuratively referenced, at the time of the God’s unveiling and immanentization out here into this world of ours through the mechanism of the Rites.
This situation becomes even more intriguing considering the import of the Meliae in this regard – at least, certain of them – to the infant Zeus, Whose story (we must more properly say – Whose Myth), after all, that of the infant Dionysus is most closely and self-referentially-intentionally ‘templated’ upon. Melia ( μελίᾱ ) means ‘Spear’ (or Ash tree – from whence the good spears come). Meli ( μέλῐ ), meanwhile, refers to honey. These terms might *seem* simply homophonic – however, it has long been observed that that does not *quite* appear to be the case; with an intriguing coterminity suggesting instead that a coherent underpinning root has flowered into both. My own personal reading upon the situation is that ‘Honey’ has become connected with the Ash. This may logically be connected to the ‘honey-dew’ often observed to accrue on certain species of tree due to insect engagement, however I am not convinced that is necessarily the full story.
Rather, I suspect the coterminity of ‘Melia’ and ‘Meli’ is in part because the deific figure presiding in relation to *both* the Ash *and* the pointedly rather sweet Empowering Elixir is at the center of all of this. We see this with the famed Spear God, Odin … or Rudra … being strongly associated with the Mead of Poetry (Kvasir – That which is Pressed) / Soma (That which is Pressed); and ‘Madhu’ most certainly also accrues as a way to refer to the brew in the Vedas precisely because of its sweetness, honey being very much involved. Another potential support for this should concern the situation of the Ash Tree in Nordic mythology and cosmology – wherein we likewise find an oblation being applied to this Ash by ‘Ash-Nymphs’, with the oblation in question being of a white colouration : and therefore, quite plausibly, resonating with the utilization of Milk (often combined with Honey etc. – when we are making Panchamrut, the ‘Five-[element] Amrit’) which is employed in our Shaivite libations upon the ShivLing (itself, whilst often these days a black lozenge-shaped stone representing Shiva in aniconic form – in more archaic source-material also stated to be correlate and worshipable through the Sthambha [‘Sacrificial Post’] of Vedic times, Trees, etc.].
A potential point for follow-up in these regards might incorporate the later Nordic beliefs in the ‘Askafroa’ [‘Frau of the Ash’], a group of Dryadic style female beings of fearsome disposition pointedly offered oblations on Ash Wednesday in the post-Christianization era. The style of this oblation is recognizable to us – as it is comprised of a pouring of liquid upon the roots of an Ash tree in order to apotropaically satisfy the female guardian spirits of that tree-species. Given that Ash Wednesday has no connection to Ash Tree (the ash in question being a Christian application of the remains of fire to the forehead), we might plausibly ask whether there was some archaic ‘conflation’ which had gone on … one which drew together the imported Christian date of Ash Wednesday, with the situation of the God linked in the similarly imported seven day week to Wednesday (‘Woden’s Day’) Who is most definitely strongly linked to the Ash Tree (c.f. the situation of at least two of the ‘Ansuz’ derived Runes in the Old English rendering – Os and Aesc, as we have detailed elsewhere in reference to the relevant rune-poem). And Who, as we have and yet shall see … most definitely also has quite the coterie of female guardians and retainers.
In the earlier Nordic sphere, the female beings that perform this vital service of oblation for the Axis Mundi are, per the Gylfaginning, Norns. To quote from the text:
“It is further said that these Norns who dwell by the Well of Urdr take water of the well every day, and with it that clay which lies about the well, and sprinkle it over the Ash, to the end that its limbs shall not wither nor rot; for that water is so holy that all things which come there into the well become as white as the film which lies within the egg-shell”
We might ponder whether the underlying etymology for ‘Norn’ – which effectively traces back to a PIE term (*h₁ner-) for ‘Inner’, ‘Under’, ‘Within’ [c.f. Ancient Greek ‘Nerthen’ (νέρθεν), ‘From Under’ (the ‘-then’ (-θεν) being ‘from’)] should prove pertinent. Not to *displace* the conventional understanding of Norn as deriving from, effectively, a term for ‘Northern’ – after all *the* Axis Mundi is likely in the North – but, of course, this notion that the cultic situation ‘at the root’ (both figuratively and mytho-literally) might be thusly located is clearly not exclusive with it being, well, a ‘cultic’ situation. Helpfully, ‘North’ etc. is also from that exact same Proto-Indo-European root.
Perhaps this situation, of a female coterie performing sacred offerings to an embodied form of the God, is what is referenced in that passage of Pausanias which speaks of the worship in the city of Bryseae –
“A temple of Dionysos still survives there with a statue in the open air; only women are allowed to see the statue inside the temple; and all the ceremonies of sacrifice are performed in secret by women.”
[Guide to Greece, 3 20 3, Levi translation]
Yet let us move forward, in earnest.