This month’s House of Zephyrus Hellenic ritual will honor Artemis, Goddess of the Moon, and her twin brother Apollo, God of the Sun (among other things. Apollo is the “God of” a LOT.) The ritual is designed to commemorate two Athenian festivals that were celebrated back to back during the month of Boedromion, which roughly corresponds to our September/October. So, yes, we are kind of out of season. However, the upcoming lunar month of Elaphebolia (which begins with the New Moon on March 17), takes its name from a festival honoring Artemis, so dedicating our work this month to Her does have some foundation. And, because it has been my experience that it’s not very easy to call one twin without calling the other, we dedicate this month to Apollo as well.
The two festivals we are dealing with are the Kharisteria, which is celebrated on the 6th of Boedromion in honor of Artemis, and the Boedromia, which is celebrated a day leater on the 7th in honor of Apollo. As a note, every sixth and seventh day of the lunar month is considered sacred to Artemis and Apollo, respectively, since according to mytho-history they were born on the 6th and 7th days of the month. I am not sure exactly which one, but somehow I doubt it mattered much.
Artemis and Apollo are pretty familiar Theoi to most people. In their aspects as astrological deities, Artemis and Apollo are the goddess of the moon and the god of the sun. They are the twin children of Zeus and Leto, who is a Titan goddess of shadows. Artemis is the elder twin, and having been born first, she assists her mother in the birth of her younger twin brother. This is why Artemis, the quintessential virgin goddess, is also a goddess of childbirth. In case anyone was scratching their head over that one. Both Artemis and Apollo are usually portrayed with matching silver and gold bows, with which they slaughter their enemies (or anyone who insults their mother) when the occasion calls for it.
Leto, with baby Artemis and Apollo
The Kharisteria festival commemorates the Battle of Marathon (490 BCE), during which a force of about 10,000 Greeks attacked an army of somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 Persians. Before doing this, the Greeks promised Artemis that they would sacrifice a goat to her for every Persian they killed. Apparently Artemis liked this concept – the Greeks won the battle and killed thousands of Persians, effectively expelling them from Greece proper for about a decade.
There was only one problem: At the final count, the Greeks realized that if they sacrificed one goat for every defeated Persian, they would wipe out the entire goat population of Attica. So they asked Artemis to make a small compromise: please accept 500 goats on this day every year. When I say ‘the Greeks’ here, what I actually mean is the Athenians and their allies. We have to remember that Greece was not a cohesive country per se at this point in its history. The Spartans allegedly didn’t show up to the battle at all, because they were busy celebrating a festival of their own – at least according to Herodotus.
The Boedromia was celebrated that day after the Kharisteria. As an appropriate follow-up to the giving of thanks to Artemis for the great victory, this festival celebrated Apollo in his aspect as “Boedromios,” the helper, particularly the helper of those fighting wars. The festival is thought to commemorate either the mythical defeat of the Amazons or the semi-mythical defeat of the Thracian king Eumolpus. In any case, like the Kharisteria, it celebrated victory over Greece’s (or Athens’) enemies.
Our version of these combined festivals celebrates Artemis in her aspect as bringer of victory, and Apollo in his aspect as the helper in achieving that victory. We are also invoking Apollo as the God of Prophecy – divination will feature prominently in this ritual.
The first part of the ritual re-enacts, symbolically, the sacrifice of a goat. No, we are not sacrificing a real goat.
Last time, we tried to fold origami goat heads, which was fun, but ambitious. This year I will bring the instructions, but what will probably happen is we will draw or write on pictures of goats. As we draw and/or fold out goats, we focus on a battle we are fighting right now, or a battle that we know is coming up on the horizon. This can be a battle with an outside entity or with one’s self, and of course it’s not a literal, physical armed conflict. At least we hope not.
What we are doing, simply, is creating a binding spell and asking Artemis for her help in overcoming whatever it is we want ‘bound.’ I have found it is more effective to be specific and concrete, such as “Artemis, help me have the energy and courage to confront my asshole boss about X,” rather than a general “Artemis, help me overcome my lack of energy.” I mean it’s not like Artemis can’t help with both, but in any sort of magic it’s good to be specific. The word or phrase describing or capturing your challenge is then written on your goat.
And now Apollo comes in. Before we make our goat sacrifices, we will consult with Apollo, via the Greek Alphabet Oracle, and request some sign, advice, or guidance in identifying what WE have to do to overcome the challenge we have identified. Because if there is one thing I have learned about the Theoi, it is that they will help you do just about anything and they WILL make shit happen – but you need to do your part. They can’t help you get a job if you don’t fill out an application.
So, using the Alphabet Oracle, we identify the action we need to take. One of these days I will write something in detail about the Alphabet Oracle, but for now suffice to say that works something like the Norse Runes. Each letter of the alphabet has a certain divinatory meaning. For more information, check out the website made by the person who developed this system for modern Hellenic pagan use: http://opsopaus.com/OM/BA/GAO.html
Once we have our action in mind, we bring our goats back to Artemis. We make a commitment to doing whatever it is we need to do – to the extent that we are able and inclined, of course – ask for Artemis’ support and strength in doing the rest, and seal the prayer by…BURNING THE GOATS!!
…Okay, so I like spells that involve fire. But it is the traditional form of presenting an offering 😀
The ritual will be held on March 17 at 6 pm, after Hellenic Pathworking Class. Yes, this also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day. So, if you don’t feel like celebrating Ireland by drowning yourself in green beer, come celebrate Greece by lighting paper goats on fire! There is no charge to attend ritual, but donations to the temple are always welcome, as is food/drink to share!