Lessons from the Lessers: Iris
Article ID: 15358
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 1,725
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Author: Rachel Iriswings
Posted: April 28th. 2013
Times Viewed: 3,462
This is the first of what I hope will be a series of essays regarding my interactions with spiritual beings who, in my opinion, deserve a little more respect. By writing these, I hope to draw attention to some of the overlooked or underrated beings, and perhaps I will inspire a reader or two to think outside the box and explore new possibilities. Disclaimer: some of the information I present is based in lore, but much of it is my Unverified Personal Gnosis, based on my personal experience and interpretation. Your mileage may vary.
I consider myself fortunate. I didn’t have to wait until I reached the end of the rainbow to find the gold.
I began working with Iris, the Greek personification of the rainbow, shortly after I became a Pagan about two years ago. As I was still developing my spiritual system, I wanted to expand my work with deities, and I figured I should start with the Greek pantheon because I am most familiar with that branch of mythology. For my first attempt at reaching out to Them, I chose a couple that I thought did not get as much attention these days: Iris and Hephaestus (I will probably write an essay for Him soon) . Sitting quietly in my room one night, I focused my breathing, calmed my mind to the best of my ability (which, even now, is something I struggle with; don’t feel bad if you do too) , and asked Them to join me for a simple conversation. Long story short, we chatted, I thanked Them, I let Them return to their business…and Iris stayed.
Although it was Artemis who called me to Paganism, She has since stepped back and allowed me to do my own research and learning (She is a supporter of independent women, after all) . Iris, on the other hand, was glad to take an active role in my life. She has been a muse for me, flitting in and out of my head with ideas of what to write, draw, paint, string with beads, sing, etc. Though, admittedly, Her presence is sometimes distracting (i.e. bringing me jewelry ideas when I’m trying to do accounting homework) , She has already given me many lessons in the short period we’ve spent together.
Iris is, first and foremost, the rainbow. Her parents are Thaumas and Elektra, respectively a sea god and a cloud nymph. Rainbows were often seen bridging the sea and the sky; this likely contributed to the well-known image of Iris as the winged messenger (but more on that later) . In most cultures, the rainbow is a symbol of hope and happiness. (I have heard that in some Japanese myths, the rainbow is an evil symbol, but I will not discuss that here because I am still researching that claim.) Seeing the bright colors of the visible spectrum of light arching across the clouds is often a cheerful event for children and adults alike. The beauty of a rainbow can inspire peace, tranquility, and creativity. In addition, rainbows in nature are typically seen when sunlight is refracted by rain or mist; this prismatic effect is achieved through the balance of seemingly opposing forces. A rainbow may be caused by the separation of wavelengths of visible light (hey, She’s a Goddess of physics, too!) , but its beauty goes beyond each individual color. It emphasizes both the diversity of the colors and the unity of the bands of color in every ray of light.
Much like the word “gay, ” rainbows in our culture have gone from simply meaning “merry” or “festive” to being closely associated with homosexuality; the association is strong enough that I feel it must be briefly addressed here. This topic was not nearly as controversial in ancient Greece as it is in modern America, and no mythology exists, to my knowledge, regarding Iris and Her views on sexuality. (While some writers claim that Iris, rather than Aphrodite, is the mother of Eros/Pothos, my dealings with Iris lead me to believe that She is a virgin Goddess dedicated to Her duties to Hera and Zeus.) When I asked Iris of Her opinion of the gay rights discussion, Her answer was mixed. She told me that She does not mind the use of the rainbow as a symbol of gay pride; on the contrary, She encourages the association of Her symbol with love. She seems disappointed, however, that Her symbol is attached to so much debate between people who are on different sides of the issue. It is indeed unfortunate that a typically joyful symbol can also inspire hatred, and it is my hope that we find a peaceful end to this conflict.
The second most common description of Iris is that of the winged messenger. She is not as popular as Hermes is, but She is the original messenger of Zeus and Hera. I’ve heard that Hermes is kept busy presiding over commerce, thievery, athletics, public speaking, shepherds, travel, and other tasks in addition to his role as a herald. However, Iris is wholeheartedly devoted to Her duties as handmaiden and herald of the Greek pantheon. Her “rainbow side” may be upbeat and carefree, but her “messenger side” is serious and determined. She has informed me that Her relationship with Her colleague is neutral at best, but She does not concern Herself with Hermes because She knows that the gods will entrust Her with a delivery before anyone else. (It is my understanding that the ancient Greeks assigned Iris messenger duties solely because rainbows cross the sea and the sky. I remember reading somewhere that heralds in that society were always male; I will add that source to my footnotes once I find it again.) Since messengers bridge gaps and relay information, some of Iris’ most important traits are language and communication skills, respect, and understanding. (And yes, She actually has wings; it might be worth mentioning that Her sisters are the Harpies.)
Another common aspect of Iris’ imagery is a pitcher, which typically contains ambrosia, seawater to refill the rainclouds (the task She is presumed to be doing when a rainbow is seen connecting sea and sky) , or cleansing waters and dews. Iris also uses this pitcher to bring water from the river Styx to Olympus when a god needs to swear an oath of great importance. To make a vow on the waters of Styx is such a big deal that breaking such a promise comes with a ten-year punishment! This is a powerful reminder of the value of honor, trust, honesty, and integrity. It reiterates the importance of a sense of duty, and it reminds me to set clear goals and focus and persevere until those goals are fulfilled.
I cannot tell you for sure whether Iris was portrayed with a caduceus before it became a defining symbol of Hermes, but the caduceus’ origin as a herald’s rod makes it appropriate for both deities. Today, the caduceus is a medical symbol, and it is easy enough for Iris to adopt its associations of caring, charity, and healing. She is already portrayed as a kind-hearted Goddess anyway; She has no enemies and holds no animosity toward anyone (except perhaps Hermes, but if so, She does not let it distract Her) .
With all of these wonderful characteristics, it’s no wonder that Iris is my patron deity. I have had no trouble incorporating Her into my life. She appreciates any little thing I do for Her; I have yet to designate a holiday or a specific ritual or offering for Her, but She doesn’t mind. At a local Pagan event last summer, I bought a colorful bead bracelet that I dedicated to Iris, and I wear it whenever I want to have a visual reminder of Her energy. I wrote an acrostic poem, which can be found in my deviantART gallery (if you’ll pardon the self-advertising) . I also recently found in a local shop a gorgeous, glittery greeting/inspirational card with an image of Iris designed by Josephine Wall; this card is the centerpiece of my deity altar. Most importantly, I keep Iris’ bright energy in my heart and mind at all times.
I have worked with Iris on a number of things. I have already mentioned Her role as a muse for my creative works and Her radiant, endorphins-with-wings personality. When I am stressed, She brings me feelings of innocence and serenity. She constantly reminds me to look at things from different perspectives and to maintain a strong sense of curiosity. I asked Her to bring Her energies to the people of Newtown, Connecticut as I was watching some of the interfaith services that took place after the shooting. I have considered (and am still considering) the possibility of becoming a priestess someday in Her name. I have yet to find any evidence that Iris ever had any temples or clergy in ancient Greece, and I thought it would be neat to be the first official priestess of Iris; She really deserves more appreciation.
I admire the beauty of all the colors wherever I look, and I especially value them because I have poor vision. As much as I dislike the thought of surgery, I will get Lasik in a heartbeat if that’s what it will take for me to continue to admire Her artwork in the world around me. I most definitely believe that Iris will be with me for a long time, if not for the rest of my life.
Even lesser known beings can become significant influences. I would highly recommend exploring and expanding your spiritual territory. Please do not allow yourself to overlook, underestimate, or discount anything of which you don’t have a full understanding. Consider both lore, if there is any regarding the being in question, and your own UPG. Take advantage of good fortune, welcome surprises, and create opportunities.
You may have heard the saying, “Keep your heart open, and love will find its way in.” Maybe a certain colorful, winged Goddess will find Her way in too.
Never stop learning.
P.S. For the record, I think the iris is a wonderful flower, but my favorite is the poinsettia.
Location: Fremont, Michigan
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