Thargelia once again celebrated in Greece

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.

Thargelia celebration near Athens. [Photo provided by YSEE]

Thargelia celebration near Athens.

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.

Attendees gathered for the Thargelia ritual near Athens [photo provided by YSEE]

Attendees gathered for the Thargelia ritual near Athens.

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.

Two young girls lead the procession to the altar. [photo provided by YSEE]

Two young girls lead the procession to the altar.

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.

Left: A hymn is sung Right: libations are poured [photo provided by YSEE]

Left: A hymn is sung
Right: Libations are poured

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.

The Thargelia celebrated in Rhodes. [photo provided by YSEE]

The Thargelia celebrated in Rhodes.

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.]

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9 thoughts on “Thargelia once again celebrated in Greece

  1. Sweet ! Total support for the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes! This is is the kind of events I wish I could attend one day.

    To celebrate this, here’s a mighty tune by a band affiliated to YSEE, Kawi. I could not find a song that I know of about Apollo or Artemis so here’s one about the Fates :

  2. Very nice. I wish them the best with their continued efforts.

  3. The calendar linked in this article, as well as another calendar that I use for Greek holidays, places the Thargelia *this* weekend (May 23rd and 24th) rather than last weekend. Is there some discrepancy in these calendars?

    • Most ancient Old World calendars, with the major exception of the Roman calendar from which our modern civil calendar is derived, are based on a lunar month and a solar year. Since the lunar cycle is about 29.5 days, it does not fit evenly into the solar year, which is slightly more than 365 days. Twelve lunar months are shorter than one solar year; thirteen lunar months are longer.

      To keep lunar calendars lined up with the seasons, they either add an extra month to the year from time to time, or add intercalated days that are part of the year but don’t belong to any month.

      If some years have twelve lunar months and some have thirteen, festivals that fall on a particular date in that calendar will not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian (post-Roman) civil calendar that we are used to. The calendars do not line up exactly except over a cycle of eight to twenty-eight or so years. Within that multiple year cycle, the holiday falls on a different Gregorian date every year. Depending on whether it’s a twelve month or thirteen month year in the antique calendar, the festival can fall nearly a month earlier or later on the Gregorian calendar.

      The Jewish calendar is like this, which is why in some years Easter and Christmas fall during Passover and Hanukkah and some years they don’t. I believe that ancient Greek calendars are like this also. I think you can read more explanations of this by looking up “Metonic cycle”.

  4. The NROOGD tradition in the SF Bay Area runs the Eleusinian Mysteries every so often, depending on who’s up for arranging it in a given year. We would have the Lesser at PantheaCon, celebrate Hecate’s birthday in August, and then depending on factors often outside our control, run the Greater at the end of September or beginning of October.

    We were going to try for this year, but coordinating various schedules and geography just didn’t work for enough practice.