(edited 7/8/15 to add links and a paragraph re: reading suggestions)
Okay: just call me a follower.
I don’t tend toward jealousy, but I have to say: there are so many ‘talk about your deity’ memes showing up on my feed, between the 30 Days of Devotion posts, the one from Tumblr and people talking in general, I just . . . feel left out. Also, damn it, I want to see a 30 Days of Poseidon tag in my blog.
I am not aiming to finish this in a month’s time, but I am aiming to get through all the questions. Granted, some of the answers are going to have a twist because I’m too opinionated and contrary to do it any other way. 😉
I. A Basic Introduction
Here’s the first glimpse of opinionated and contrary Jo: while I find the mythic ‘origins’ stories fascinating (though somewhat horrifying; Kronos ate His children), I’m not one to take them as anything more than stories. I don’t say that in a dismissive way – stories hold a place of sacred honor in my worldview, and they are powerful beyond what we give them credit for – but I dislike the way we treat stories these days. I dislike especially the way we look at surviving lore and treat it as gospel, as The Truth, as though there is only One Way of something being true. Case in point: nearly everyone knows the story of Zeus and His siblings birth, right? Kronos following in the footsteps of His father, trying to destroy His children and avert being overthrown. In the popular version of the story, Rhea switches Zeus out for a rock. The god is whisked away to be hidden, to grow up secluded and protected, so that He can later return and save His trapped siblings.
There are other versions of that story. In one version (which comes down to us via Pausanias — yay for Pausanias!) Poseidon is never eaten but rather is also whisked away, hidden within a flock of lambs, to be raised away from the eyes of His father, and thus protected. The Hellenic stories are all like that – there is more than one version for almost every popular tale, and that’s only the tales that survive down to us. The idea of an extant codex of stories told just so, and those versions being the only ones, is a bit like the modern idea we have when we think of Greece of the past – it’s not true. There was no unified Greece the way we see Greece today; it was more complicated than that; at the very least, one could not say there was a country so much as an amalgamation of connected city-states. So, while I look at the myths for inspiration and any way of understanding Poseidon better, I also do not treat them as being set in stone.
Historically the name Poseidon (and its variants) is an old one, dating back to the Bronze Age – His name shows up in the Linear B tablets (with more frequency than Zeus, just sayin’) though like with so many of the gods, the actual meaning of His name is still debated. One theory has been “Lord of the Earth”, and considering the connection He has to Ge via Delphi and considering the frequency with which His name is connected to more chthonic aspects via the Linear B tablets, and considering how late in history the sea became His domain, I think it’s not a terribly theory.
And this is where my interest in retelling bits of information that you could get on your own from better sources about Poseidon’s origins completely fades away. There are sites you can check out: Theoi.com is great; Tuft’s Perseus Project is another one, and their Hellenic and Roman material is comprehensive; Wikipedia’s Poseidon page doesn’t suck, either. Learn about Linear B, and if you can get your hands on any of the books showing the tablets and dissecting them, take a look at them. Read Homer, read the Homeric Hymns, read Hesiod, read Pausanias’s Guides to Greece. Dive into secondary sources if you’d like (Greek Religion by Walter Burkert, though all of his books are worth looking at; I especially enjoyed Greek Folk Religion by Martin Nilsson) but read the source material when you can.
My favorite suggestion for getting a basic introduction to Poseidon, though, is and will always be: reach out to Him and allow Him to introduce Himself. He has a fierce and fearsome reputation, but if you approach Him with due respect, He will respond in kind.