The Queen Who Wards Off Evil
Also known as:
Official story: Alcyone is a daughter of Aeolus, but not one of the daughters who married a brother and lived happily ever after. Instead, Alcyone married Ceyx, son of Hesperus, and went to live with him in his kingdom in Thessaly. Passionately in love, they were so happy in their ideal marriage that they compared themselves to Zeus and Hera. You’d think Zeus would be honored by this compliment, but instead he felt threatened and his rage was evoked. When Ceyx sailed off to consult the Oracle of Delphi, leaving Alcyone at home, Zeus raised a thunderstorm and Ceyx drowned.
The name Alcyone refers to more than one ancient Greek spirit. Although their names look identical in English, the meanings may be variously interpreted. Interpretations in this book are based on those of Robert Graves, author of The Greek Myths.
His ghost appeared to Alcyone; grief stricken, she threw herself into the sea. The deities (maybe her father; possibly even Zeus and Hera) took pity on the lovers, and both were transformed into kingfisher birds. A related legend sprang up about kingfishers: every winter, the female kingfisher buries her dead mate, then builds a thorny nest, which she pushes out to sea. She lays her eggs on the nest floating on the ocean. Aeolus reigns in the winds for the seven days preceding the Winter Solstice and the seven days following it, keeping seas and skies peaceful so that the eggs can hatch peacefully.
This story is palpably untrue: forget about pushing it into the sea, kingfishers don’t even build nests. They lay their eggs in holes near water. The ancient Greeks who lived closer to nature than most of us do now, knew this very well. The little story about the kingfisher’s nest, eggs, and dying mate is the clue that there’s more to this tragic love story than first meets the eye.
Mythologist Robert Graves theorizes that within this story lurks a pre-Hellenic goddess, the sacred king who served her, and his ritual death by drowning. Inhabitants of the Aeolian Islands venerated Alcyone, a moon goddess and ancestral spirit who was not necessarily literally Aeolus’ daughter but a spirit who shared territory and veneration with him. The Aeolians were eventually forced to accept the Olympian religion, with Zeus as their chief god. Aeolus, famously a spirit who wants no trouble with any other spirits, survived the transition, but Alcyone, a sterner spirit, dared to compare herself to Zeus. (Kingfishers aren’t ethereal little birds; they’re feisty carnivores who feast on frogs and beat their prey to death, slamming it against stones, trees, or other hard surfaces.) The myth recalls her and is testament to her power: Zeus may raise storms but she calms them, keeping winds and waters still near her ancient holy day,the Winter Solstice. Zeus may rule, but Alcyone still asserts her sacred rites.
Alcyone protects mariners and travelers on the sea from rough weather and shipwrecks. She is guardian of lovers and matron of marriage. She bestows Halcyon Days: days of peace, plenty, and happiness: nothing but blue skies, metaphorically speaking.
Days: The Halcyon Days: Winter Solstice; seven days preceding, and seven days after
Keep a vessel of saltwater on her altar; decorate it with lunar and marine imagery; give her a prince to keep her company (but make sure she’s the dominant presence).
Present in a Halcyon Days English enamel box or use a box to fulfill a vow.
Aeolus; Alkonost; Hera; Hesperides; Olympian Spirits; Pasiphae; Zeus