Thursday, February 7, 2013

Blessed be the marriage of the King and Queen of the Theoi!

On a day pretty close to Valentine's day us Hellenists honor a beautiful festival of love and social stability: the Theogamia, also known as the Gamelia. This festival celebrates the anniversary of the marriage (gamos,  γάμος) of Zeus Teleios (Τελειος, Of the Marriage Rites) and Hera Teleia (Τέλεια, same). Zeus Teleios and Hera Teleia were considered the patron Theoi of marriage, although we are unsure if They were given sacrifice to when a man and women wed in ancient Hellas.

I have described the ancient Hellenic idea of marriage before: marriage in ancient Hellas was a family affair. The father of the son--who was often in his thirties by the time he got married--opened negotiations with the family of a bride in her teens. The two families came to an agreement about dowry, a contract was signed by the father of the groom and the father of the bride in front of witnesses, and the groom met his new wife--often for the first time--before taking her to bed.

In another previous blog post I wrote about Zeus and how He returns to His wife Hera every night despite his affairs. In the Odyssey, Odysseus's entire journey is aimed at going home to his wife Penelope. Marriage provides you with a stable foundation; it's family. Even if you are not close to your own ancestors, you can find and/or create love and shared DNA. It is this bond that we celebrate in the Theogamia.

We know very little about the actual festival. In ancient sources it's sometimes called 'hieros gamos', the sacred marriage, and was referred to as a domestic festival. A day to spend at home, with your wedded partner. Hera Teleia was the primary deity of the festival, with Zeus Teleios being of secondary importance. It was celebrated for sure in Athens, and most likely also in city-states around Athens. It included a shared dinner, and presumably lovemaking, between husband and wife. Unmarried men were most likely free of religious obligations, and were free to dine out.

There seems to be a suggestion that the gamos of Zeus and Hera was enacted as part of the rituals of a hieros gamos festival, but there is no concrete evidence for this. The closest we get to a Hellenic 'Great Rite' is a ritual performed near Knossos in Krete, but the details are so very vague that we can't be sure about anything.

It doesn't take much imagination to fill in how to best celebrate this festival. If you are married or have a partner, have a nice dinner together, have some romance, spent the night together and bond. Think about ways in which you will help, honor and love your partner in the year to come. This day--or this month--is of course the best to get married! Appropriate hymns are the Orphic Hymns 15 to Zeus, and 16 to Hera as well as the Homeric Hymn 12 to Hera. I want to leave you with a quote from the Ilias, that has nothing to do with the Theogamia itself, but does describe the eternal love between Zeus and Hera so very beautifully. Enjoy the Theoigamia, everyone!

“Zeus, the Cloud-Driver, saw her, and instantly his sharp mind was overwhelmed by longing, as in the days when they first found love, sleeping together without their dear parents’ knowledge. [...] ‘Hera, [...] let us taste the joys of love; for never has such desire for goddess or mortal woman so gripped and overwhelmed my heart, not even when I was seized by love for Ixion’s wife, who gave birth to Peirithous the gods’ rival in wisdom; or for Acrisius’ daughter, slim-ankled Danaë, who bore Perseus, greatest of warriors; or for the far-famed daughter of Phoenix, who gave me Minos and godlike Rhadamanthus; or for Semele mother of Dionysus, who brings men joy; or for Alcmene at Thebes, whose son was lion-hearted Heracles; or for Demeter of the lovely tresses; or for glorious Leto; or even for you yourself, as this love and sweet desire for you grips me now.’” (Iliad XIV)


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