The ancient Pagan festival of Thargelia is once again being celebrated publicly in Greece by members of The Supreme Council of the Greek National (YSEE), an umbrella group working to restore the traditional polytheistic religions of Greece.This isn’t the first time YSEE members have celebrated the Thargelia, a celebration honoring the Gods Artemis and Apollon. The Thargelia was celebrated May 17, which roughly corresponds to the 6th day of the month Thargelion in the ancient Athenian calendar. In pre-Christian Athens, the observance took place over two days. It focused on driving bad things out, such as diseases that affect humans or crops, and bringing good things back in, such as healthy children and the first barley harvest.
The rituals took place near Athens at the foot of Mount Parnitha and on the Greek island of Rhodes. Approximately 60 people attended Athens ritual, while a much smaller group attended the one in Rhodes. Vlassis G. Rassias, priest of Zeus and Apollo, and the General Secretary of YSEE, said that attendance for a YSEE ritual can vary from 50 to 200 people.This rituals began with a procession to the sacred site, led by two young girls bearing flowers, which symbolize the good that the community would like to bring in. During ancient times, these two children would have been twins in honor of the divine twins of Zeus and Leto, Artemis and Apollon. On the banners, the symbol for ΣΥΛΛΑΤΡΕΙΑ, which means reverence of two Gods, is seen. Other important imagery for the twins include an Apollonian tripod standing between Artemis’ crescent moons. The attendees are already loosely gathered on the other side of the altar. The acting priest then declares the altar as operating and protected, and then, the altar fire is lit. “We light the altar fire invoking [the] Goddess Hestia, but only with the flame of our hearts as our holy flames remain extinguished under the Christian rule, and then we uncover our cult statues,“ explained Mr. Rassias.
Artemis and Apollon are honored with hymns and prayers. Next libations of oil and wine are poured. Community members are also invited to place offerings on the altar. Finally the central wish of the community is spoken to the Gods, the Gods are thanked and saluted, and then the ritual closes.While the whole ritual is considered sacred and spiritually fulfilling from its first moment till its last, sometimes “tears come to the eyes of newcomers at some very certain moments of the whole ceremony,” said Rassias. He explained that the basic ritual outline, which is different from what most American Pagans and Wiccans are familiar with, remains virtually unchanged from classical times.
Rassias said, “Our ritual outline is given to us by the people that brought the Hellenic Religion to our times, through the dark ages of persecutions, from the end of the Eleusinian Mysteries and the closure of our philosophical schools to Georgios Gemistos-Plethnon, Marullus Tarchaniotis and the “Stradiotti” and then to our secret societies in the 18th century in Northern Italy and the Ionian Islands.” He said that the Hellenic ethnic religion, commonly called Hellenismos in the USA, has had a continuous existence from the Late Antiquity until present day. He is thankful those practices were never fully eradicated by the Christian church.YSEE hosts many public rituals to support its mission of reviving the Greek ethnic religion and supporting the rights of those who practice the religion, in Greece and abroad. They have member groups and branches primarily in Greece, but also have an active branch in New York.
To see videos of other Pagan rituals performed in Greece by Labrys, another traditional Hellenic organization, go here.
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[Editor’s note: All photos used in this article were taken by Irakis Patramanis, Yiannis Bantekas and Costas Kehagias. Permission to use the photos was granted by YSEE.]