Greek Festivals

Aphrodisia, festival of Aphrodite, ancient Greece was, according to Wilson’s Almanac celebrated on or around February 6th. If you’d like to invoke the Goddess of love, sex, and beauty, you can prepare for a feast honoring Aphrodite’s loving sensuality and warmth.

  • Decorate with pink carnations; they are the flowers of friendship.
  • Burn warm yellow sandalwood scented candles – sandalwood loosens inhibitions.
  • Put symbols of love including pomegranates, apples, and seashells out in blue ceramic or crystal bowls.
  • Invite friends to bring an aphrodisiac food for sharing (cherries, oysters, papaya, chocolate, truffles, red wine, etc).
  • Open a window or door slightly.
  • Join hands around the dinner table.

Recite this invocation:

Aphrodite, Greek goddess of friendship, love, and life
Come join us, bring peace and eliminate all strife
We welcome you with fruit, flowers, fire, and fresh air
Release us from anxiety, stress, or despair

Come down; be with us
Grace us this special day
We call you with love
We hope you will stay.

Repeat three times with sincerity.

Who is Aphrodite?

Aphrodite is the Olympian goddess of love, beauty, sexual pleasure, and fertility. She is regularly attended by few of her children, the Erotes, who are capable of stirring up passion in both mortals and gods at the goddess’ will.

Portrayed as both insatiable and unattainable, Aphrodite was born near the coast of Cythera out of the foam (aphros) Uranus’ castrated genitals created when they fell into the sea. Even though married to Hephaestus, she had affairs with all Olympians except Zeus and Hades, most famously with Ares, the god of war. She also had famous romances with two mortals, Anchises and Adonis.

A Ritual for The Aphrodesia

  • Colors: Sea green and white
  • Element: Water
  • Offerings: Shells. Fishes. Promises to aid expectant parents.
  • Daily Meal: Ocean fish. Shellfish. Sweet things, especially desserts. Whipped cream.

Altar:

Lay with a cloth of sea green, strings of pearls, white lace, many scallop shells, colored glass sea floats, abalone, small shells with hearts and fishes painted on them, and a large chalice of Greek wine with frothy sugared egg whites floating in it.

Invocation to Aphrodite Genetrix

Lady of Sea-Foam,
Green as the ocean from which
You sprang, with pearls
Of whitest foam,
Aphrodite Genetrix
Love that creates all Life,
We thank you for the Love
That sparked our existence.
We remember that we were all born of love
Whether it was brief and poignant
As a firefly’s courtship
Or solid and lasting
For half a century,
Whether it sprang from the body
Or the heart, or the soul.
You who bind the proton to the electron
And so bind the world together,
May we never forget your gift of attraction
That makes us all human
Even as you are divine.

Chant:

Amor Invictus
Amor Invictus

The ritual for this day is the Great Rite, performed by one man and one woman, as Aphrodite Genetrix is the matron of procreative sexuality. If done symbolically, the man plunges a blade into the chalice held by the woman, and then it is poured as a libation.

Ideally, it should be done literally, either by members of the house or by two who have come in for this purpose. If outsiders, it would be an auspicious time to conceive a child. All sit facing outwards in a circle and chant as the couple are wrapped in a red cloth and lay together in the center, and when it is done all repair to their rooms and either contemplate love or have ritual sex, alone or together.

Sources:

There is not a lot of information about this particular feast day and the dates given for it vary widely. Our calendar lists it as January 30 – 31, but some calendars assign it to January 17 – 18, others say April 18 – 19, May 26, July 9 – 10, or October 13. None of these calendars have any information other than that it is called “Feast of Charities” for the Greek goddesses known as the Graces. I don’t think anyone really knows much about it.

I did find a Feast of the Charities Ritual at Llewellyn. Here it is:

  • Color of the day: Orange
  • Incense of the day: Sage

Today is the Feast of the Charities. These old Greek goddesses of beneficence were known to the Romans as the Gratiae, or “Graces.” They are Aglaea, whose name means “splendor,” Euphrosyne, or “joy,” and Thalia, or “mirth.” The Charities bestow charm, beauty, and creativity on their worshipers. In this regard they serve a similar purpose to the nine Muses. Generosity and festive activities please these goddesses.

  • Get some friends together and dress up.
  • Arrange each other’s hair.
  • Dance and sing, or perform some sacred theater.
  • Visit an art gallery or walk through a street fair.

Alternatively, do something nice for the less fortunate. Bundle up old clothes you never wear anymore to recycle for the less fortunate, or hold a food drive and donate the results to a local charity. (Yes, the term comes from the name of these goddess, “Charities.”) You could also donate your money or time. Give of yourself, and you shall receive “grace” from the Charities in return. Be kind and giving, and your creativity will overflow!


Agathos Daimon means “good spirit” and is a religious observance held on the second day of each lunar month, immediately following the Noumenia. It is the third celebration of a trio of household monthly observances. A good spirit usually refers to a type of divine being that is less powerful than a God, is personal to each family, and can bring the family good luck, protection, or some type of assistance. Household spirits are usually seen as either snakes or as a young man with a horn of plenty in hand.

More about this spirit can be found at The Powers That Be:

Some celebrate the Agathos Diamon by pouring a libation to the spirit and asking for his continued blessings on the family. If there is something in particular that your family wishes help with, give an additional offering to your family’s protective spirit. Although we know we can always approach the Gods directly, the Agathoi Diamones are seen to be helpful intermediaries between the Gods and man.

The second day of every Athenian month was also a sacred day, devoted to the Agathos Daimon (good spirit). The name daimon does not mean the evil demon of modern Christianity, (although it did have a negative form, called the kakodaimon), but was thought to be an aspect of Zeus, as Zeus Ktesios, Charitodotes, and Epikarpios, titles as giver of increase and joy.

Agathos Daimon is most often represented in the form of a snake, a symbol of healing. However the daimon is also a function of one’s being, a characteristic inherently neither good nor bad. The philosopher Sokratēs talks of his own daimon as a small voice which speaks to him and warns him to refrain from certain actions.

Hence, one prays for a good daimon, an eudaimon, and goodness from the gods for the coming month and also for the favor of father Zeus as Agathos Daimon.

  • One must be on good terms with it. ~Burkert.
  • The daimon active about me I will always consciously put to rights with me by cultivating him according to my means. ~Pindar
  • The great mind of Zeus steers the daimon of the men whom he loves. ~Pythagoras

Many modern Hellenes follow the practice of pouring a libation to their own Agathos Daimon on the second day of the lunar month. Possible prayers include the Orphic Hymn to the Daimon.

Thee, mighty-ruling, Dæmon dread, I call, mild Zeus, life-giving, and the source of all:
Great Zeus, much-wandering, terrible and strong, to whom revenge and tortures dire belong.
Mankind from thee, in plenteous wealth abound, when in their dwellings joyful thou art found;
Or pass through life afflicted and distressed, the needful means of bliss by thee suppressed.
‘Tis thine alone endowed with boundless might, to keep the keys of sorrow and delight.
O holy, blessed father, hear my prayer, disperse the seeds of life-consuming care;
With favoring mind the sacred rites attend, and grant my days a glorious, blessed end.

Aeschylus in the Suppliant Maidens says: “May Zeus grant that it go well with us. For Zeus’ desire is hard to trace: it shines everywhere, even in gloom, together with fortune obscure to mortal men.” Kleanthēs prays: “Lead me, O Zeus, and thou O Destiny” and also, “If so it pleases the Gods, so let it be.”

Agathos Daimon is also associated with Dionysos, especially with His gift of wine. A feast was often closed with a small drink of unmixed wine, called either Agathos Daimon or Zeus Soter (savior), as though supplicating the god that they may do nothing indecent or have too strong a desire for the drinking, and may receive from it all that is noble and salutary.

Also, whenever you see a snake, give a prayer to Agathos Daimon and even pour a libation. In Hellenistic and Roman times, family ritual areas were often decorated by snakes.

Source: Hellenion

The Noumenia is the first day of the visible New Moon and is held in honor of the household Gods.  The Noumenia is also considered the second day in a three day household celebration held each lunar month – Hekate’s Deipnon is on the last day before the first slice of visible moon and is the last day in a lunar month, then the Noumenia which marks the first day in a lunar month, followed by the Agathos Daimon (Good Spirit) on the second day of the Lunar month.

The Noumenia is a celebration of the start of a new Hellenic month and seeks blessings for the household.   Offerings such as incense or honey cakes are made to your household Gods at your family altar.

Traditionally, the household Gods consist of Hestia, Zeus Ktesios, Hermes, Hekate,  Apollon Agyieus, your household’s Agathos Diamons and can include any ancestors you honor.  However, many Hellenic Polytheists do honor more Gods at their family altar.

 

You can celebrate the Noumenia with the following rituals:

  • Decorate their home with fresh flowers, evergreen branches, or other seasonal decorations.
  • Serve a big family meal and eat it at the dining room table.
  • Create a list of family goals or projects to get done or start within the next lunar month.
  • Bake a special dessert that you only make on this day – such as Honey Cake.
  • Like the ancient Athenians, you can burn frankincense and read the Orphic and Homeric hymns to Selēnē.
  • Replace the ingredients in the Kadiskos (see below) with fresh water, oil, and fruit, and bits of food.

The Kadiskos is a small jar containing food stuffs that we receive from the Gods and give back in reciprocity. Refreshing the Kadiskos is part of preparing for Noumenia.  Here are directions for Making a Kadiskos.

Hellenic Worship:

Hellenic worship makes notice of the New Moon, because it marks the beginning of the month, rather than the more obvious full moon, although many Hellenic festivals are held during or near the time of the full moon.

“The first day of the month was new moon day (noumēnia), recognized as a holy day throughout the Greek world.  It was so holy that at Athens, no other festival ever took place that day.  It was celebrated by a public ritual on the Acropolis and by private offerings of frankincense to statues of the gods.”

Herodotus says that, in Sparta, meat, barley meal and wine were distributed to the citizens by the Kings on the Noumenia.

Hymn To Selene

Orphic Hymn 9 to Selene says that she “Delights in stillness and in the kindly, auspicious night.”  Many of the Orphic hymns, and this one especially, reminds us that the arrival and passage of each new month is a reflection of the cycle of lives, with birth following the period of dark death.  So as She is “a sure token and a sign to mortal men,” so we can trust in the cycle of rebirth and renewal.

Orphic Hymn 9 ~
Fumigation from Aromatics

Hear, goddess queen (thea basileia), diffusing silver light, bull-horned, and wandering through the gloom of night.

With stars surrounded, and with circuit wide night’s torch extending, through the heavens you ride: female and male, with silvery rays you shine, and now full-orbed, now tending to decline.

Mother of ages, fruit-producing Mene (Moon), whose amber orb makes night’s reflected noon: lover of horses, splendid queen of night, all-seeing power, bedecked with starry light, lover of vigilance, the foe of strife, in peace rejoicing, and a prudent life: fair lamp of night, its ornament and friend, who givest to nature’s works their destined end.

Queen of the stars, all-wise Goddess, hail! Decked with a graceful robe and amble veil.

Come, blessed Goddess, prudent, starry, bright, come, moony-lamp, with chaste and splendid light, shine on these sacred rites with prosperous rays, and pleased accept thy suppliants’ mystic praise.

More Hymns, Prayers, and Invocations can be found at Widdershins.

A Prayer For The Noumenia

In honor of the Noumenia of Anthesterion:

I have seen the moon
thin curved glow
hovering on delicate breeze
divine above the pink horizon
gentle horns pointing
toward tomorrow
We are all re-born now
owning no past
Yesterday is cleansed
complete
Greetings to you,
Goddess!
Guide us around
the next cycle of life
until we meet again
May we use it wisely

~ by Melissa

Source: Hellenion.org

Nowadays, whenever we hear the term Bacchanalia getting thrown about it is typically used to describe wild partying that has gotten way out of control. In the popular imagination, the Bacchanalia are often characterized by frantic participants moshing together in a pit of sexual orgies.

The Bacchanalia were free-spirited and sexually charged festivals that involved pagan mysticism, wild sex and divine communion which allowed its celebrants’ to achieve states of euphoria that hovered between divine ecstasy and the oblivion of nothingness. Those who have spent a week at one of the Hedonism resorts in Jamaica would probably find the sexually charged atmosphere of the Bacchanalia remarkably familiar.

The cult of Bacchus was a mystery religion that originated in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and spread throughout Greece and into southern Italy where it became extremely popular among the Romans. Despite their notoriety, not much is known about the Bacchanalia. This is largely due to the fact that mystery religions were closed to the uninitiated and their inner-workings kept secret from the outside world. However, scholars have managed to piece together fragments from ancient legal documents, historical texts and plays that can help give us a glimpse into the bacchanalian festivities.

The Bacchanalia first appeared in Greece around 700 BC and eventually found their way into Italy around the fourth century BC. The first bacchanals were held twice yearly in the middle of winter and were reserved for girls and women who performed their rites naked. By the time Rome had become the preeminent power in the Mediterranean after their victory over Carthage in the Second Punic War (202 BC), the rituals had opened up considerably making them quite popular with the natives.

Admission was extended to men and people of all social classes; even slaves could even join in on the fun. With the increased popularity, celebrations were taking place as often as five times a month.

The time and location of the bacchanals were usually closely guarded secrets. Priests and priestesses preferred to hold their gatherings in secluded forests where their privacy could be ensured. On the day of the festival, devotees would prepare some goats by painting their horns gold. Special torches dipped in sulphur and charcoal was also made. Devotees often wore fawn skins that emulated forest animals. Skimpy outfits or even complete nudity was also par for the course. Participants would often carry along their favorite sex toy; women would bring sexy wands while men might bring along a wooden phallus.

After nightfall celebrants would proceed to a forest clearing by dancing to the sounds of crashing cymbals and loud music. Once the celebrants arrived at the appointed place, they could be seen quaffing down wine, dancing, leaping, whirling, screaming and generally working themselves up into a frenzied state. They would inspire each other into ever greater acts of ecstasy, whereby the whole scene would descend into a writhing mosh pit of sexual orgies.

The aim was to achieve a heightened state of ecstasy in which the devotee’s souls would be temporarily freed from their physical existence. It was in these moments that the worshipers hoped to commune with Bacchus and obtain a glimpse of what they would someday meet in the afterlife after their resurrection.

The festival would reach its climax with frantic feats of strength and ecstasy, such as ripping trees out of the ground and eating the raw flesh of their sacrificial animals. The latter act was a sacrament similar to communion where the devotees assumed the identity of Bacchus. By symbolically drinking his blood and eating his body, the devotees believed they became one with Bacchus.

The euphoric devotees would then rush over to the banks of a nearby river with their flaming torches and dip them into the water. Since their torches were made with sulfur and charcoal, they would emerge from the water still burning, a symbol of Bacchus’s power.

Source: The Bacchanalian

According to various sources, February 26 is Hygeia’s Day. I did not, however, find any specific rituals associated with the Goddess Hygeia. However, because bathing is so fundamental to basic hygeine, and Hygeia is the goddess of Healing and Hygeine, a healing ritual bath seems appropriate.

Healing Ritual Bath

Take a lit silver or white candle, some salt, and a healing oil (such as carnation, violet, sandalwood, or narcissus) into the bathroom. By the candle’s light run a tub of very warm water. Cast some salt into it, add a few drops of healing oil, and then step into the tub.

Relax. Feel the warm salted water sinking into your pores, through your skin, sterilizing the sick or unhappy portions of your body.

Visualize any illness or bad feelings as “black worms” leaving your body. When you feel the water teeming with them, pull the plug and let the water drain out. While it is draining, chant:

The sickness is flowing out of me.
Into the water, down to the sea.

Only when the tub is completely drained stand up. It is best to immediately splash your body with fresh water (a shower is ideal) to remove the last vestiges of the disease of sickness-laden water. Repeat as needed to speed your body’s recovery.

From: Earth Power

Anthesteria, held on February 11th, celebrates the maturing of the wine and the beginning of spring. It’s an Athenian festival in honor of Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, winemaking, and wine. The celebration lasted for three days in the month of Anthesterion (from the Hellenic calendar in ancient Attica).

The word Anthesteria is associated with “flower” or the “bloom” of the grape. A. W. Verrall (Journal of Hellenic Studies, xx., 1900, p. 115) wrote that it was a feast of “revocation” where the dead were recalled to the land of the living.

In ancient Greece, Anthesteria was the name of a festival during which the participants ritually expelled the Keres, evil female spirits, from their houses.

  • The First Day

On the first day, called Pithoigia (opening of the casks), wine from the newly opened casks was offered to Dionysus and everyone in the household, including servants and slaves. The home and children were adorned with spring flowers.

  • The Second Day

The second day, named Choës (feast of beakers), was for visiting. People dressed for the day, some even dressed as Dionysus. They spent the day visiting friends and family as well as the local drinking clubs were drinking games were held. Some folks offered wine to deceased relatives by pouring libations on the their tombs.

For the state, however, if was a formal day with secret ceremonies in one of the sanctuaries of Dionysus. The basilissa (or basilinna), wife of the archon basileus, would marry the god of wine in a special ceremony. She was assisted by fourteen Athenian matrons, called geraerae, who the basileus chose and swore to secrecy.

Both Pithoigia and Choës were considered unlucky and defiled days that necessitated atoning with libations. From this the souls of the dead would come up from the underworld and walked the earth. People chewed on buckthorn leaves and smeared tar on their doors to protect themselves from evil.

  • The Third Day

The third day, Chytri (feast of pots), was a festival of the dead. Cooked legumes were offered to Hermes, son of Zeus, and he would make the souls of the deceased depart.

Sources:

The 23rd of August marks the Ancient Greek holiday of Nemesia, – the festival of the Goddess Nemesis – the Goddess of Fate, Revenge, and Divine Retribution. Blood sacrifices were traditional on this day.

  • Note: According to some sources the Nemesia fell on August 21.

This purpose of this festival was to ‘avert the nemesis of the dead’ in order that they could steer away the suffering or punishment of the living.

The goddess Nemesia, very basically, is the Spirit of Retribution against one’s own arrogance before the gods. Because she had this dual-nature, being both fortune and retribution, the Cults would celebrate in her honor to make sure they did not face her fury and could indeed have the gifts of fortune bestowed upon them. In many cases, she was worshiped by generals and gladiators who would pray for strength in combat. But surely this was not all.

She was invoked against those whose hubris and arrogance got the better of them, and served as a force of divine reckoning. She also appears in both Greek and later Roman mythology as an avenging force protecting those who have been violently wronged by their lovers. During the Imperial period of Rome, Nemesis was adopted as a patroness of victorious generals, and of gladiators entering the arena.

The Cult of Nemesia was later associated with Fortuna in Imperial Rome, the cult of Nemesis-Fortuna, which honored Nemesis as the deliberate balance to the random chance of Fortuna’s selections.The all-powerful Nemesia-Fortuna was worshiped by the Freemen of Hadrian and was considered to have a dual-nature about her.

This dual-nature in Nemesia is something which seems to me symbolic of our human nature. We have this spirit of fortune but also this spirit of retribution within us. At least I do.

Sources: State of Information and Pagan Wiccan

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.

At the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians allowed the founding of a sanctuary for the Goddess Bendis and shortly afterward created a state festival, the Bendideia, for her.The first celebration was held on the 19th of Thargelion (May–June), 429 BC, at the Piraeus, the seaport of Athens.

Many pagan calendars list June 6th as the modern equivalent date for this festival honoring the Moon Goddess of Thrace. Other sources give that her festivals were held on the full moon preceding or coinciding with the solstice – and if so, the dates would vary from year to year.

For a description of the festival we have this excerpt of a conversation between Socrates and a friend describing that festival (from Plato’s Republic):

Sokrates: “I went down yesterday to the Peiraios (Piraeus) with Glaukon (Glaucon), the son of Ariston, to pay my devotions to the Goddess [Bendis], and also because I wished to see how they would conduct the festival since this was its inauguration. I thought the procession of the citizens very fine, but it was no better than the show, made by the marching of the Thrakian contingent [i.e. the mercenary force who policed ancient Athens]. After we had said our prayers and seen the spectacle we were starting for town . . . “

‘Do you mean to say,’ interposed Adeimantus, ‘that you haven’t heard that there is to be a torchlight race this evening on horseback in honor of the Goddess?’

‘On horseback?’ said I. ‘That is a new idea. Will they carry torches and pass them along to one another as they race with the horses, or how do you mean?’

‘That’s the way of it,’ said Polemarkhos, ‘and, besides, there is to be a night festival which will be worth seeing. For after dinner we will get up and go out and see the sights and meet a lot of the lads there and have good talk . . . Let this complete your entertainment, Sokrates, at the festival of Bendis.’

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