Kala Noumenia!

Hello, good readers of the Wild Hunt. I am Sannion, a Greco-Egyptian polytheist affiliated with the group Neos Alexandria, and a resident of the fine city of Eugene, Oregon where Jason will presently be making his home. In his absence he asked me to fill in as a guest blogger here, and as luck would have it the day that was allotted to me happens to be the Noumenia of the Makedonian month Gorpiaios (or Metageitnion if you’re going by the Athenian name.) Noumenia means the festival of the new moon, which the ancient Greeks considered to be the appearance of the first sliver, something that can take some getting used to if you’re more familiar with the astrological reckoning of new moons.

Hesiod (Works and Days 770) designated the Noumenia as the holiest of days, and it appears to have been among the oldest and most widespread of the Hellenic religious observances. Its antiquity is attested by the fact that Homer mentions it in the Odyssey (21.258) – a significant fact when we consider that he names only one other religious festival in his epics. Furthermore, the Noumenia continued to be observed well into the Christian period, since we find bishops in Byzantine Egypt during the 5th century railing against those who continue to light lamps and burn incense in their homes for the ancestral gods and spirits on the new moon.

The sacred nature of the day can be seen in the fact that no other festival was allowed to fall on the date in Athens and no legislative assemblies of the ekklesia, boule, or tribal associations occurred at this time. In fact, all important business was suspended as we learn in Plutarch’s 25th Roman Question – though it seems that the markets may have remained opened.

Generally, it was seen as a day to stay at home and celebrate with the family. Sacrifices were made to Apollon, Selene, Hera, Hekate, Hermes, Hestia and the household gods. The domestic shrines were cleaned and then wreathed with flower-garlands, and then incense, wine, and cakes were offered anew to the gods. (Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Food, 2.16)

The Noumenia is perhaps just as popular and universal for contemporary Hellenic and Greco-Egyptian polytheists as it was for our cultural ancestors. Ours is a diverse community, and though we may have different festival calendars, honor different gods, and even employ different methods of worship – most of us still do at least something to mark the Noumenia. Here are some examples of how different people in the community celebrate this day:

Here is a Noumenia ritual from the group Neokoroi. Here’s another ritual, by Timothy Anderson. Here’s Miguel Oliveira’s thoughts on the Noumenia, and a lovely hymn he wrote for the occasion. Here’s another hymn written by Lykeia. Here is Allyson Szabo (author of Longing for Wisdom) talking about her Noumenia experiences. Here’s some more commentary from Gede Parma, and finally some from Kenn.

In keeping with that, I would like to share some of my own thoughts about this day and how I celebrate it.

To me the Noumenia is a time of new beginnings, of renewal. Each month we are given a chance to start over, to get it right. Living in this fast-paced, hectic world with endless distractions, frustrations, and demands on our time and attention, it is easy to lose our way, to forget the things that are important to us and sometimes we may even become estranged from our gods. We may have set out to maintain a regular religious routine, or to make important life changes like eating better, exercising more, watching less television and the like – only to have life get in the way. It is easy to feel discouraged, to see all the missed opportunities and our life slipping away from us. But the Noumenia provides us with an opportunity to stop, get our bearings, connect with the divine, recharge our spiritual batteries, and renew our commitment to living the sort of life that, deep down, we have always wanted to. It is a time to clear away the old and outmoded, all the things that are cluttering our lives and holding us back, so that we can make room for new and wonderful blessings to enter them.

That is why the first thing that I do on the Noumenia (if I have not already done it on the previous evening, which is the deipnon or dinner of Hekate) is a thorough cleaning of my apartment, from top to bottom. Admittedly, this may not strike some as a particularly spiritual act – but it has taken on great significance for me. There is something deeply rewarding about all of that physical labor, especially when I use the time to think about all of the mental and spiritual “junk” that I need to remove from life as well. It is also a devotional act since by filling my home with numerous shrines to my gods, I have invited them into my life and agreed to share my space with them. The gods should not be subjected to dirty laundry, stacks of dishes, clutter and dust – and in truth, neither should I. By making my home neat and orderly, a fitting place to receive my gods – I am making over my life in a similar fashion, for one’s home is, after all, a reflection of one’s own being. I have noticed, in fact, a strong correlation between my mood and my surroundings. When the place is messy and disgusting I tend to feel stressed, anxious, and sullen – but when it is sparklingly clean and well-ordered (or as close as it gets to that, because come on, I am a guy and a bachelor after all) my heart is light and my mind soars more freely. After I have cleaned my apartment, paying special attention to my shrines and the clearing away of any offerings I may have left on the altars – I begin a series of devotions that can last anywhere from an hour to the remainder of the day.

I begin by lighting candles and incense and pouring libations for each of my household gods. I spend a little time at each of their shrines, reciting poetry and hymns, praying aloud from the heart, or just talking to them in a casual manner. Then I just bask in their presence for a bit, enjoying the beautiful sight of an active shrine full of offerings, thinking about my gods and spirits and what they mean to me, going over past encounters I’ve had with them, and what I hope to do for them in the future. If I have an ongoing oath to them, I will renew my commitment to it and think of ways that I can live up to it over the month to come.

After I have done this for each of my household divinities I next turn to the remaining gods of my rather large multicultural Greco-Egyptian pantheon. This is actually one of the most important things about the Noumenia for me, the opportunity to touch base with all of the other deities. Over the years I’ve managed to collect a smallish pantheon of gods and spirits who receive the bulk of my attention and devotional practice. These are very important gods to me, and I deeply enjoy the intense and personal nature of our relationships. But the other gods are important too, and worthy of my honor even if they haven’t made their presence as strongly felt in my life as the core group that forms my personal pantheon. So on the Noumenia I take some time to honor them as well, making collective offerings to the bunch of them, reciting brief prayers to individual gods, and generally I pause to think about them for a while and all the amazing things they have done and continue to do in our world.

After this I go into a quiet, meditative state, just sort of letting myself be in the presence of the divine. I often come away from this feeling peaceful, calm, collected – ready to face the challenges of life, grounded in an awareness of the all-pervading presence of the my gods and spirits. It doesn’t matter what else is going on in my life – all the anxieties, fears, frustrations and doubts just melt away in the face of the gods.

After that I will sit with my calendar and make plans for the upcoming month. I look at the festivals that are approaching and think about what I would like to do for them and the supplies I’ll have to gather to celebrate them properly. I go over my writing and creative projects, and any other plans I may have either percolating in my brain or carried over from the previous month. I think about my life and what I need to do to make it better. In short, I plot out the rest of the month, making concrete plans of action, because honestly, I’d never get anything done otherwise.

At that point, it’s usually pretty late and so I make myself a lavish dinner, feasting in the company of my gods and sharing a portion of the meal with them. Then I make a final offering and go out for a walk, usually going on a long, circuitous route that ends up at one of the nearby parks where I do a lot of my outdoors worship. As I stroll through the dark city streets I let my gaze drift up to the heavens and note the lovely sliver of moon, just barely visible through the darkness – yet full of such promise and potential.

This is one of my favorite parts of the Noumenia – and in many ways, one of the most important. By anchoring my religious calendar to the phases of the moon it helps me connect with the cyclic powers she contains as well as the rhythms of nature which are all around me. It’s so easy to lose sight of this, to get caught up in the manic intensity of our modern lives. So much is going on all the time, a thousand tiny things constantly clamoring for our attention, that we’re often not aware of anything outside of our own heads. Weeks can pass by in a blur, and half the time we wouldn’t even know what day it was without the anchors of what show’s on television or what trivial thing is happening at work. The earth and the moon, however, run at a slower pace, possess a deeper and more sacred wisdom, and I have found that pausing to take note of that, slowing myself down enough that I am then able to attune myself to that more divine motion is an incredibly rewarding thing. Many people find it hard to follow the lunar Hellenic calendar, especially at first. But I find it well worth the effort. These energies are real and powerful, and life runs much more smoothly when we slow down enough to be aware of them, open ourselves enough to be conscious of their influence in the world around us – and the world within us as well.

And that, dear friends, is how I celebrate the Noumenia. Often we talk about the more theoretical aspects of our faith – our conceptions of the divine, the importance of ethics and building up community, the interpretation of ancient texts, and the assorted controversies that plague our diverse communities – but I think that it is also important to discuss what we actually do for the gods, how this feels and what all this means to us today as modern practitioners of ancient faiths. Hopefully I have provided some small glimpse into the religious life of a Greco-Egyptian polytheist here in the hinterlands of Oregon. At the very least I suspect y’all won’t be complaining that my entry was too short.