Ancient Greek Festivals
Light gold-colored candles on your altar and wear oak leaves in your hair to honor the Greek god Zeus, who is traditionally honored on June 12.
The Olympic Games were originally held in honor of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, and a sacrifice of 100 oxen was made to the god on the middle day of the festival. According to legend, the altar of Zeus stood on a spot struck by a thunderbolt, which had been hurled by the god from his throne high atop Mount Olympus, where the gods assembled.
These Games were held every four years. This four-year period acquired the name “Olympiad”, and was used as a date system: time was counted in Olympiads, rather than years.
Athletes prayed to the gods for victory, and made gifts of animals, produce, or small cakes, in thanks for their successes.
Over time, the Games flourished, and Olympia became a central site for the worship of Zeus. Individuals and communities donated buildings, statues, altars and other dedications to the god. The most spectacular sight at Olympia was the gold and ivory cult statue of Zeus enthroned, which was made by the sculptor Pheidias and placed inside the temple.
The statue was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and stood over 42 feet high. A spiral staircase took visitors to an upper floor of the temple, for a better view of the statue.
People who were not Greek could not compete in the Games, but Greek athletes traveled hundreds of miles, from colonies of the Greek city-states. These colonies were as far away as modern-day Spain, Italy, Libya, Egypt, Ukraine, and Turkey.
After the 2nd century A.D., the Roman empire brought even more competitors to the Olympic Games, but regional differences always gave the Olympics an international flavor.
Thargelia (Greek Θαργήλια) was one of the chief Athenian festivals in honour of the Delian Apollo and Artemis, held on their birthdays, the 6th and 7th of the month Thargelion (about May 24 and May 25).
Essentially an agricultural festival, the Thargelia included a purifying and expiatory ceremony. While the people offered the first-fruits of the earth to the god in token of thankfulness, it was at the same time necessary to propitiate him, lest he might ruin the harvest by excessive heat, possibly accompanied by pestilence. The purificatory preceded the thanksgiving service.
The most important ritual was the following. Two men, the ugliest that could be found (the Pharmakoi) were chosen to die, one for the men, the other (according to some, a woman) for the women. Acting as scapegoats for community guilt, they were draped in figs and led through the city. before being cast out.
Hipponax of Kolophon claims that on the day of the sacrifice they were led round with strings of figs on their necks, and whipped on the genitals with rods of figwood and squills. When they reached the place of sacrifice on the shore, they were stoned to death, their bodies burnt, and the ashes thrown into the sea (or over the land, to act as a fertilizing influence). However, it is unclear how accurate Hipponax’s sixth-century, poetical account of the ceremony is, and there is much scholarly debate as to its reliability.
On the first day of the festival, a sheep was sacrificed to Demeter Chloe on the Acropolis, and perhaps a swine to the Fates, but it is generally agreed that an actual human sacrifice took place on this occasion, replaced in later times by a milder form of expiation. Thus at Leucas a criminal was annually thrown from a rock into the sea as a scapegoat: but his fall was checked by live birds and feathers attached to his person, and men watched below in small boats, who caught him and escorted him beyond the boundary of the city. Similarly, at Massilia, on the occasion of some heavy calamity (plague or famine), one of the poorest inhabitants volunteered as a scapegoat. For a year he was fed up at the public expense, then clothed in sacred garments, led through the city amidst execrations, and cast out beyond the boundaries.
After having rid the city of any ill influences on the first day of the festival, the second day begins with a joyous attitude. It follows the basic structure of any other Hellenic festival. First, there was a procession, which included children who carried the eiresione, an olive branch decorated with woolen fillets, bread, fruits, small flasks of honey, and some with oil. The children would sing the following while carrying this:
“The Eiresione brings figs and fat bread,
honey in pots, and oil to rub down,
a cup of strong wine so you go drunk to bed.”
As they moved through the city, they would collect offerings along the way. Once arriving at the temple, the offering of the first fruits of the grain harvest would begin. From the surviving texts we learn that the offering was of two types: a boiled stew of grains and seasonal vegetables, or the loaf of grain bread called the thargelos. It is from the name of the loaf that the festival takes its name. This loaf was also called eueteria, meaning “good year.”
There would also be libations, hymns, much feasting and other activities during the celebration. Singing competitions were especially popular, in which 50 men from the 10 tribes of Athens participated. All of these were done in honor of Apollo, god of purification.
For a more modern approach, we have this idea:
- Themes: Cleansing; Offering; Forgiveness; Magic
- Symbols: Ritual Tools
- Presiding Goddess: As the Greek goddess who created all sacred rituals and ceremonies, Hosia oversees this rite and directs your magical energy toward successful manifestation.
To do Today:
Follow Greek tradition and leave Hosia an offering of fruit, bread, or wheat to encourage her assistance. Next consider creating a personal ritual for cleansing or forgiveness. Hosia will guide your hand in choosing words and actions suited to the working. Alternatively, take out your ritual tools and ask for hosia’s blessing on them saying:
Hosia, these are the tools of my hand, heart, and spirit.
They symbolize the elements and the corners of creation.
Today I ask that you empower them for working magic,
and regulate their use for the greatest good.
May they always direct my energy in perfect love and trust.
So be it.
In ancient Greece, a scapegoat (often a criminal) was often identified to bear the sins for an entire community, then either sacrificed or banished into the wilderness. A way to adapt this practice is by designing an image of something you need to banish, then “driving it away” by putting it in the car and leaving it in a remote spot. As you turn away, ask the goddess Hosia to witness the rite and to empower your efforts for positive change.
According to some pagan calendars, May 14 is listed as the Birthday of Apollo. However, according to the mythology, Apollo was born on the seventh day of the month Thargelion. Wikipedia goes on to say that this was according to Delian tradition, and that according to Delphian tradition, it was the seventh day of the month of Bysios. The seventh and twentieth, the days of the new and full moon, were also held sacred to him.
If the exact date is important you you, I’d suggest you take a look at the Wikipedia article on the Attic Calendar which gives the names of the months and their approximate times in the year. For the purposes of simplicity, I would suggest that the 7th day following either the New or Full Moon in May (May 17 in 2017) would fit the criteria and make for a fine day to celebrate the birth of the God of Light Apollo.
Who is Apollo? Here’s a brief profile:
Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto. His twin sister is Artemis. He is the god of music, playing a golden lyre. The Archer, far shooting with a silver bow. The god of healing who taught man medicine. The god of light. The god of truth, who can not speak a lie.
One of Apollo’s more important daily tasks is to harness his chariot with four horses an drive the Sun across the sky. He is famous for his oracle at Delphi. People traveled to it from all over the Greek world to divine the future. His tree was the laurel. The crow his bird. The dolphin his animal.
From May 19-28 is the time of the Greek festival of Kallyntaria and Plynteria, a time that is also known as a time for “spring cleaning”. Most of us have already started our spring cleaning in various forms, but this particular time of the Sacred Year is dedicated to spiritual cleaning – the cleaning and nurturance of the sacred places.
The Greeks were good at that, and they called this festival Kallyntaria and Plynteria, by which they meant making a special effort to clean the sacred statues of the goddess and god. With all that incense burning and dust gathering, the sacred images get pretty dirty, and you had to take them to be washed in the nearest rivers or lakes, submerging them and letting them reunite with the life-giving waters. Afterward, the women dressed the goddess in her jewels, with much ceremony, and paraded her proudly back to her home in the temple. No singing or fun was allowed during this procedures. These festivals were solomnized because it was work, not play.
The same principle applies to us today. Let’s get those brooms out, and wash the house from top to bottom, really giving it an old fashioned purification. What could be more natural than to transform the old custom of spring cleaning into a religious devotion!
For modern Pagans/Wiccans, now is the time to strip down all the old decorations and adornments of your alter or personal magic space and to do some spring cleaning. If your alter has statues or images of the particular God or Goddess (or both) take them to a local river or stream (if you live near one) and bath the statues in the rushing water. If you are no where near a river, you can use either spring water from bottles, or rushing water from your sink.
If your statues and tools are not made of material safe enough for getting wet, then pass them over pine, frankincense, myrrh, or sandalwood incense. You can also use both water and incense to cleanse your magical wares if you feel it necessary. Clean the dust and and clutter your alter may have accumulated in past celebrations. If you still have Beltane items on your alter, now is the time to remove them and gently store them away for next year.
Celebrate this time of cleaning by partaking of refreshing drinks such as fruit juices like lemonade or limeade. Foods can be on the spicy side, incorporating garlic, onion, and spicy peppers for both purifying and cleansing. Don’t forget to offer some to the Gods :).
March 23 is the fifth day of the Quinquatria. A five day Roman festival to honor Minerva which coincides with the five day Ancient Greek festival to honor Athena – her Greek counterpart. Here is a ritual designed for group participation. It can, however, be modified for the solitary practitioner.
- Colors: Blue and brown
- Elements: Air and earth
- Altar: Upon a brown cloth light five blue candles, incense, and many tools of the crafter.
- Offerings: Make something.
- Daily Meal: Let those whose craft is cooking or baking make what they will as an offering.
Quinquatria Invocation III
Bones and clay of earth,
Flesh of trees and vines,
Thread from plant and animal,
Metal drawn from the ground
And forged in fire,
Our hands are midwives
To these unformed substances,
Given to us by the grace of the Mother,
As She gifts all her children.
We birth creations of beauty
That bring a smile to the eye,
We birth creations of usefulness
Made to be seized and worked day after day,
Fitting easily into the hand
That uses them unthinkingly.
Oh, ye many gods of the sacred touch,
Grant us the power to make manifest
With these our own humble hands.
(All approach the altar and select a tool, and speak their intentions towards it. Tools are then taken outside and laid on the Earth, and the Tool Blessing is said over them. Then, for the rest of the day, craftwork will be done, or things made or repaired.)
Tool Blessing (to be spoken or chanted or sung):
Father Labor, Mother Survival,
All brown gods of work and sweat;
Strong of arm, feet on Earth,
Bless this tool in Earth I set;
Sharp and keen, firm and fine,
Never break and never bend;
Be my strength, aid my skill,
Fill my hand and be my friend.
Found in: Pagan Book of Hours
March 21 is the third day of the Quinquatria. A five day Roman festival to honor Minerva which coincides with the five day Ancient Greek festival to honor Athena – her Greek counterpart. Here is a ritual designed for group participation. It can, however, be modified for the solitary practitioner.
- Color: Blue
- Element: Air
- Altar: Upon a blue cloth lay many musical instruments, blue candles, a clear glass bowl of water, and a fan made from a bird’s wing.
- Offerings: Song and music.
- Daily Meal: Light vegetarian meal.
Quinquatria Invocation II
(to be sung)
Hail Athena, true and bright,
Sharp your blade and keen your sight,
Goddess of a Thousand Works,
Giver of the soul in flight.
Guide our touch as we reach out,
Weaver, crafter, artisan,
Guide our urge to build and make,
Guide the power of our hands.
Mentor, teacher, patient tutor,
Maker of heroes through the years
In the epic glance of history,
Giving sight to blinded seers,
Giving purpose to the wanderer,
Giving courage to the weak,
We beseech you, armored Lady,
By the Word of Power you speak,
Like the wind that blows so cold
And bright and clear through minds of grey,
Stand beside us when we falter,
Sweep our weakness clean away.
(The rest of the day should be spent in song, whatsoever has been chosen by the community as the absolute best that they can do, as an offering. Songs can be solo offerings, or as a group. Those who wish to give private offerings can play instrumental music after the main group has left.)
Found in: Pagan Book of Hours
An ancient Greek custom of honoring Artemis’s birthday with a Full Moon cake is still seen today in our birthday cakes. The Greeks even put lighted candles on the Moon cake.
To honor the birthday of the goddess Artemis, bake or buy a small cake or cupcake. In Moon Magick, D J Conway recommends this ritual be performed on the night of the March crescent – it feels more appropriate to me to do the ritual on the night before or the night of her actual day.
Dress in nice clothes as if you were entertaining a friend. Cover your altar or spiritual place with a nice cloth. Put the cake with a small candle on it in the middle of the altar. Set pictures or statues of animals around it for decoration. Artemis loves cats of all kinds, deer, and all wild animals. Set a glass of juice or wine next to the cake.
Take a sip of juice and light the candle. Sing “Happy Birthday” to the goddess if you wish – or simply and sincerely wish her a happy birthday. Then say:
Lady of Wild Things, Moon Huntress,
Mistress of magick and enchantment,
I chant your lovely name for protection.
Artemis! Artemis! Artemis!
I whisper your praises to the Full Moon.
Cradle my restless, worn spirit
In the secret places of your deep woodlands.
Renew my life, swift Artemis.
Cut yourself a piece of the cake and eat it. Drink the juice. Tell the goddess why you need protection. When you are finished, thank her for the help that will come. Put the remainder of the cake outside as a feast for the birds and animals.
Note: I think it’s nice to simply honor the gods without necessarily asking for anything in return. A powerful blessing could be as simple as a recitation of her names and titles. For example:
Hail Mistress of the Animals
My heart opens to the Moon Huntress
Blessings to She of the Wild
Love to the Most Beautiful
Praise to the Lady of Many Shrines and Many Cities
I Worship the Lady of the Wild Mountains
Adoration to the Opener of the Womb
Gratitude to the Mistress of Magic and Enchantment
Artemis! Artemis! Artemis!
For maximum effect – repeat each line three times.
Another note: This ritual can be tweaked for use for any god or goddess on his/her day. Simply find an appropriate invocation – or rewrite the one above to fit, and decorate the altar with whatever might please your chosen deity.
Sources: This post was put together by Shirley Twofeathers for Gypsy Magic, and was moved to its new home here at shirleytwofeathers.com you may repost and share without karmic repercussions only if you give me credit and a link back to this website. Blessed be.
In ancient Greece, on the 16th and 17th of January, there was held a festival in which offerings were made to the Wind Gods of the eight directions.
Black lambs were offered as sacrifices to the destructive winds, and white ones to favourable or good winds. Boreas (North Wind) had a temple on the river Ilissus in Attica, and between Titane and Sicyon there was an altar of the winds, upon which a priest offered a sacrifice to the winds once in every year. Zephyrus (West Wind) had an altar on the sacred road to Eleusis.
If you are not big on animal sacrifices, you might consider the following:
- Singing or playing The Winds Four Quarters
- Doing a Ritual to the North Wind (since it is January)
- Learn how to use the four winds in magick.
- Practice some windy magick
Alternatively, you might go outside and stand in a high place and offer a pinch of herbs or spice to each of the four winds. Something sweet to sweeten whatever might come your way, might be appropriate.
More about these Windy Gods can be found at The Powers That Be
Poseidon was once worshiped in every part of Greece as a God of general importance to the community. In ancient Greece, the feast day in his honor was widely celebrated at the beginning of the winter.
POSEIDO′NIA (ποσειδώνια), a festival held every year in Aegina in honour of Poseidon. It seems to have been celebrated by all the inhabitants of the island, as Athenaeus calls it a panegyris, and mentions that during one celebration Phryne, the celebrated hetaera, walked naked into the sea in the presence of the assembled Greeks. This was possibly because in Greek mythology, the sea god Poseidon is one of the most lascivious of the gods, producing more offspring than other note worthily randy gods.
Greek calendars vary from place to place, but in Athens and other parts of ancient Greece, there is a month that corresponds to roughly December/January that is named Poseideon for the sea-god Poseidon. The month of Poseidonia’s most anticipated and most important festival is the feast of the Poseidonia, a winter festival in honor of Poseidon. Since Poseidon is a sea god it is curious that his festival would be held during the time the Greeks were least likely to set sail.
It was celebrated with the pouring and drinking of wine, merriment, bonfires, and most likely a form of gift giving. Not much more is known about the way it was celebrated.
On a larger scale, “there was a festival once every fifth year at Sunium in honor of Poseidon – evidently, then, a major event. Also, animal offerings to Poseidon were a common feature at the feast days of other gods, including the “festival at the temple of Hera on the 27th of Gamelion,” which honored the goddess “together with Zeus the Accomplisher, Kourotrophos and Poseidon.”
Collected from various sources
In Greek tradition, the Goddess Mnemosyne gave birth to the Muses today (June 14) – the nine creative spirit children that give our lives so much beauty, song, stories, tradition, humor, dance, and sacred music. For a magickal celebration here is something from A Daily Guide to the Magic and Inspiration of the Goddess.
- Themes: Creativity; Knowledge; History; Art
- Symbols: Fountains; Springs; the Number Nine
- Presiding Goddess: Mnemosyne
Greeks sometimes worshiped Mnemosyne in the form of a spring, alluding to her profuse, flowing energy. Mnemosyne means “memory.” Remembrance is this goddess’s gift to us, memories of all the wonderful moments of our lives.
To do today:
Absolutely anything thoughtful, creative, or inspiring will grab Mnemosyne’s attention and encourage her participation in your day. Try donning a unique combination of clothing that really motivates you to do your best, or something that provokes fond memories from the past. Wear an aroma that arouses your inventive nature or cognitive abilities (jasmine and rosemary are two good choices, respectively).
If there are special arts that you’ve learned from family or friends, celebrate them today. Hum that little ditty from your childhood, dust off that neglected craft item, try those recipes, listen to old songs, and let Mnemosyne fill your hours with the encouragement that comes from fond “musings.”