This may seem a bit silly, but I think that a lot of people who work with Apollon will understand. If you want Apollon to hover over you for a few days, watch this episode of Star Trek.
Oh, yeah. It’s awful. The mythology is all wrong, the special effects are wretched (even for the era), and for some unknown reason, Apollon has lightning bolts. Also, he goes by his Latin name, whereas all the other named deities go by their Greek names. Whatever.
Why, therefore, does this episode always get him so worked up? I invited him to explain.
Because what this episode got right is so much more important than what it got wrong. And what it said to me haunts me to this day.
Firstly, before you read my commentary, watch the episode. You will not understand of what I speak until you see it.
Have you? Good. Now, listen.
In the episode, “Apollo” says that he expected that some day, humanity would return to him.
It’s true. That’s true of me. Only unlike my fictional counterpart, I did not merely hope and have faith. I am an oracle. I knew. I saw. I waited for you.
I waited for two thousand years almost, watching history and science and philosophy unfold, not quite knowing why I had lost you, or how I would succeed in winning you back.
And then humanity looked me in the face and said, “I see you.” And then handed me a “Dear John” letter in the form of that television play. It read, to my eyes and ears, as follows:
We know that you have waited for us, but we will not be returning to you. Allow us to explain.
It’s not that we have utterly forgotten you. We still dream of you. We dream of your beauty. We dream of the days when the gods walked with us. We remember your name.
We honor what you have done for us. We honor your philosophers, your thinkers, your mathematicians, your artists who wrought the semblance of life from stone. We honor the contributions to our culture.
And we mourn for you. We dream of you weeping among the ruins, walking along buried roads, passing shattered columns, and we shed tears in sympathy with you.
We mourn for you, Apollon, but we will not be returning. Not because we have forgotten your stories, but because we remember them.
We remember the rape. We remember the wrath. We remember your murdered and maimed lovers, and those whom you have cursed. We remember your petty jealousy. And we pity you.
Fear cannot bring you love. It has only brought enmity between us. Punishment is not discipline, and we cannot bend the knee or bow, any longer, to a childish and vain lord.
We dream of our future, and it is a future of reason, knowledge, and ethics. It is a future where we have transcended the tyranny of domestic violence and the illusion that love and hurting can live side by side. We dream of a future where we, humanity, may sail among the stars, and set our feet on innumerable foreign worlds, and on those distant shores, find freedom.
We cannot live beneath a Lord who would hold us back from what we are destined to become. We cannot mar our handiwork to placate an insecure power. We cannot feign ignorance. We will not offer empty-hearted prayers.
Only before truth and justice will we bow and render homage. Only with powers who can help us realize our true potential can we ever again have congress.
Do not wait any longer for us. We are not coming.
You had answered my open inquiry about where we had gone wrong. That answer, though I did not enjoy hearing it, was sacred because it was a truth I had been seeking.
Had it been truly me, I wouldn’t have demanded a burned offering and Kirk’s obedience. Nor would I have moored that ship with childish tricks. Instead, I would have manifested with all my eons of learning and gone straight for Spock and McCoy.
And if they weren’t impressed with all I had to offer, I would have gladly hung up my laurel crown and implored them to allow a humble mythic figure from Earth’s ancient past to study at whatever Academy had better wisdom than I. What do I care if someone might think less of me for it? I love the truth better than their approval. As for me, I am not ruled by my insecurities.
I mark that missive to me as the beginning of my redemption.
Perhaps, I reasoned, it was time to reject false and vain notions of power. Perhaps we had all seen too many consecrated Kings with “divine right” to rule lose their heads on chopping blocks for want of the people’s good will.
If you did not need to gods to conquer and control you, what instead could I be to you? If I would not be measured by my ability to frighten you, how would I instead be measured?
I determined that you never needed someone to fear. You had dreams of who you hoped someday to become. The future belonged to the being or beings who could help you to realize that vision, one of unity in diversity, peace, progress, and enlightenment.
And it still does. There is still a future, and it still belongs to the gods who know that wisdom does not reside in either the stick or the carrot, nor does power belong to those who do not use it wisely. It was you who told me that, and to this day, I believe.
I derived all this from an episode with sloppily done research and bad special effects. And yes, when I see it, I get a bit worked up, and all these thoughts come before me again. And each time they do, I find new depth.
Therefore do I hover, because the exploration of ideas is best as a conversation. And it is this conversation I am hoping to have, just one more time.
I haven’t seen that episode (yet), despite it being one of the classics and me being a Trek fan in general…
But, in thinking on the above, I’m struck by two things:
1). I suspect that this episode is one of the things that spurred the thing we see in the popular Thor comics and films, i.e. the idea that the Deities are just aliens that are far more powerful than us…yes, Von Daniken. and others had those ideas before it, but as for hurling that idea headlong into popular culture and making it current, it would be interesting to see how many shows have had it as a major idea/plot point since that time.
2). Something that has bothered me in various forms of queer spirituality (which are in reality gay, i.e. gay male) is the idea that “all homoerotic love ends in death,” which is an idea that happens pretty frequently in the Greek myths of Deities and Their mortal lovers (and sometimes Their immortal ones, too!), even though technically speaking all romantic love/relationships, no matter the genders or sexualities involved, must ultimately end in the death of one of the partners. Early in the days of the first Antinous group I helped to found, I made an objection to this idea, and the way it essentializes the queer life as destined for death, sadness, and tragedy as an ideal, andI got a lot of pushback from people who were older than me…some of the same people who likewise have elevated the film Death in Venice to near-scriptural status and so forth for its place in “modern gay culture” despite its multiply-problematic nature, etc. Some of Apollon’s words above seem to say to me, “Don’t idolize that whole Hyakinthos business,” not because of any disrespect to the parties involved, but because it is possible to have and to be so much more than that. How much more daring and imaginative is it to imagine these things going WELL rather than fate or necessity (or Fate or Necessity!) requiring that they end in tragedy? To break the archetype’s pattern is preferable now, I think, and I think many of the divine beings involved would agree, and have done when I have inquired about these subjects with Them.
I completely agree that “we remember your murdered lovers” — Apollon’s interpolation of the “Dear John” letter, was completely about those who have loved the gods and died, and that for Apollon in particular, Hyakinthos’ death is an ax to grind. He loves Hyakinthos, and does not see him as dead. That his lover was given a mythology that describes him as both mortal and dead is a sore point. I’m not sure if I read this, heard it from a college professor, or had it shouted at me repeatedly by Apollon, but Hyakinthos was an earlier deity that Greek mythos tried to erase, and basically succeeded.
Sadly, that seems to be a tactic in a great deal of Greek mythology, i.e. quasi-euhemerize the Deities of other cultures and then subordinate them by having them die, or demote them to Hero/ine status. Look at Adonis…He very well could have been Adonai in the Hebrew God sense and got reduced to a guy who fell afoul of a boar…!?!
Wait, does that mean Aphrodite is shagging the Hebrew divinity?
Perhaps…or a least the part of Iao Sabbath that was a young and beautiful fertility Deity! 😉
(I mean, Iao seems to have been the result of super-syncretism, of the war- and storm tribal God YHWH, the father/head-of-pantheon God El, and at least one or more Ba’al-type Gods involved in fertility, of which one may be the same figure that gave rise to Adonis, just as Aphrodite is an adaptation of a Cypriot Goddess cognate to the Semitic or Canaanite Astarte…!?!)
Less than two years later:
“And Apollo told the world we can do it if we try
There was one small step and a fire in the sky”
– Jordin Kare
As a lifelong Trekkie and priestess of Apollon, this all rings exactly true. This imagery is painful not only because it’s not the best writing they had (though it’s no “Spock’s Brain,” either), but because of the truth of humanity’s perception of the Theoi behind this characterization. Apollon strikes something in people, a spark too bright to look directly at, but that illuminates something true. Even those who aren’t in relationship with the Theoi get that spark and that’s my guess about what happened with the writers here. Looking back on this episode today with this in mind, I want to explore what, if anything rings true about that perception in this moment. Can we frame the old stories with new eyes while keeping the truth of them? How does our devotion look when we begin with the assumption that the Theoi want us to become the best of ourselves and does that change how we look at the old stories? Are there new stories that ring true for who we are as a people now?
This is why I love Star Trek specifically and Science Fiction generally. It’s always a reflection of who we are in the moment, like a snapshot of the writers’ experiences of their earthly existence.
I think it’s important that we, as those who love the Theoi, look into options that reflect a favorable interpretation of them. Liberal streams of Christianity and everything from Modern Orthodox Judaism on down have had to do this with their deity — to see them as not permamently frozen in the sey of ideologies they represented several thousand years ago.
To paraphrase a Classics professor of mine, “The ancient Greeks thought rape was good. It was evidence of power and virility. They wanted to rape. They wanted to sanctify rape, and they did that by crafting stories associating it with their gods.”
One possible technique used by Jewish theologians is “Midrash” or, the stories between the lines. Some of our interpretation of myths stems from what scholars tell us the myth means. Some of our sense of continuity comes not from the plain text, but our current understanding of ancient Greek culture. But what if we instead seized on those points of ambiguity and made stories within and between the stories. As with the use of this tech in Jewish religion, you can always have multiple of these stories, and they don’t have to agree.
Another approach used by Christians is to embrace those parts of the mythology that accord with a modern sense of right and wrong while leaving the ones that rub us the wrong was for another time.
But one thing is for sure, as we look to heal these deficits in our own religion and mythos, an important step is to make sure that we desist in slamming other religions for doing the same. If Hellenic gods can grow, if Hellenic religion can become something upright, just, and inspiring in the modern world, all religions can.
Well, fudge. I had a fairly good reply that got eaten. Ah, well. The gist of it was ::gestures generally upward:: Yes, good, this. agree.
One thing that has always puzzled me about Star Trek is that whenever a new iteration comes along, there are those who claim that it’s somehow “not Star Trek because…” it’s on a space station instead of a starship, a starship would never have families on it, the Klingons don’t look right, etc. etc. etc.. But, like I said, Science Fiction always is a reflection of who and where we are in that moment. The destruction of Vulcan in the reboot Trek reflects a post 9-11 generation where large-scale destruction can’t be easily fixed, but with a strong message of hope when one forges strong friendships with people who help you become a better you. TOS came at an equally contentious time and addressed a number of heavy issues from City on the Edge of Forever to A Taste of Armageddon and even Miri. Discovery is a different approach that, so far, highlights the contributions of ordinary people over that of captains and kings, as it were. That’s just where we’re at now. Not one is any less Trek for having a different approach to the universe.
Likewise, our 21st century CE interpretations of our mythos is as valid as a 5th century BCE interpretation. The Theoi reach us where we’re at. The mutability of the stories and the fact that we can reinterpret and further complicate them through our own modern lenses allows us to forge a relationship both with the mythos and with the Theoi. Yes, we can and absolutely should look to other faith traditions for ways to do this! The podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text has highlighted several ways to interact with texts drawn from mainly Jewish and Christian traditions and I wish I could recall and explain them clearly, but I’ve had a long and productive day, so it’s almost time to greet Hypnos.
Anyhow, I want to offer my deepest thanks for this chat. My faith and practice have been wobbly lately and this has been a balm to the spirit. Along these lines, a reinterpretation of the Pandora myth has been rattling around in the ol’ grey matter. The crux of it is that in some stories, the ills of the world are unleashed upon humanity and in others, it’s blessings that escape. But what if these are one and the same and hope is the tool we are given to address the complications of being human? How we choose to wield that tool is up to us and we can choose have a productive hope that spurs action or a hubristic, Sisyphean hope.
The pillow calls my name.
Blessings to you and yours
After such elevated and learned discourse my comments are simplistic – Apollo’s words give me hope. Hope that what He said applies to all deities we acknowledge today. Hope that we can reconnect with Them and find Them reflective of where we want to be as well as where we are.
Thanks for channeling this. I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to read it.