ORPHIC HYMN TO NIGHT
Today, where I live, we changed our clock time. Yesterday’s 7 p.m. is today’s 6 p.m. and the evenings get dark. This introduces the Samhain season for me and all that it brings. Here is a Hymn to Night, conventionally ascribed to Orpheus. According to translator and editor Apostolos Athanassakis, they were most likely written in their present form in the early third century AD in Pergamum, a city in modern Turkey .
I shall sing of Night,
mother of gods and men;
We call Night Kypris,
she gave birth to all.
Hear, O Blessed Goddess,
jet-black and starlit, for you delight in the quiet
and slumber-filled serenity.
Cheerful and delightful, lover
of the nightlong revel, mother of dreams,
you free us from cares,
you offer us welcome respite from toil.
Giver of sleep, beloved of all,
you gleam in the darkness as you drive your steeds.
Ever incomplete, terrestrial,
and then again celestial,
you circle around in pursuit
of sprightly phantoms,
you force light into the nether world,
and then again you flee
into Hades, for dreadful Necessity
governs all things.
But now, O blessed one – beatific,
desired by all – I call on you
to grant a kind ear
to my voice of supplication,
and to come, benevolent,
to disperse the fears that glisten in the night.
Apostolos Athanassakis talks about Orphic hymns as instances of a devotional mysticism that uses “the power of clustering epithets” for the creation of “an emotional and spiritual crescendo that might raise our human spirit and help us approach the divine”. They remind him of Vedic hymns, Rumi’s verses within the Islamic Sufi world, and aspects of his own Orthodox Christian background. The hymns are beautiful to read – and it is worth remembering that they are designed for group practice in a charged, incense laden atmosphere, with repetition upon repetition, perhaps accompanied by swaying, movement or dance of various kinds.