Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My wake for Athena: part one

Within Hellenismos, we reconstruct a great deal of ancient festivals. One of the major ones is the Panathenaia. The Panathenaia was an Athenian festival celebrated every June in honour of the goddess Athena. The Lesser Panathenaia (Panathenaia ta mikra) was an annual event, while the Greater (Panathenaia ta megala) was held every four years and assimilated the practices of the Panathenaia ta mikra into itself. The set date for the festival was from the 23rd to the 30th of Hekatombaion and the festival was similar, in practice, to the Olympic Games but it had its own unique elements as well. In short, The Panathenaia was the 'birthday of the city' and referred to Athens. The actual practice was very involved but usually included:
  • A procession from outside of the city walls to the Acropolis,
  • The hanging of a new (and elaborately woven) garment on the shoulders of the statue of Athena inside the Parthenon
  • A torch race
  • An all-night service called the Pannychis
  • A large offering (and ritual slaughter) of a hundred cows in honor of Athena
  • A meat meal for everyone at the city's expense
  • During the Panathenaia ta megala, wrestling competitions chariot races and many other horse-based games were also held
Unfortunately for me (and other Hellenics), it's not possible to rouse an entire city and re-create these practices. This is why Hellenics often condense the festival into a single night (or day, if night time worship is not possible). During this night, the procession is added to by the bearing of a torch. Libations are poured to Athena, most often with olive oil, milk, wine and/or honey. Butchering a cow is a bit much so most of us stick to the offering of a piece of beef to Athena and partaking of the meal as well, as the celebration did not call for a holókaustos of the ritual offering. We study the history of Athens, read the myths of Athena and some of us read into their own city's history as well, as most of us don't live in Athens at this time. Those of us who are crafty enough, make a garment for Athena and hang it around a statue of Her. Partaking in any other kind of craft are also encouraged, as Athena is the patron Goddess of crafts. 

So, this is what I'll be doing tonight. I've planned hourly libations, a lot of study and worship from dusk to dawn. I plan to start and end the celebration with the complete, Orphic, celebrations which Orphic practitioners performed daily. I'm greatly looking forward to it and I think it's an important step for me. Eight hours alone with my thoughts and the Gods is something I rarely have the luxury of having so I plan to get everything out of it that I can. I labeled this post 'part one' as part two will come tomorrow with my experiences.

Until then!

Update: Part two here.


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