Variations on the May Feast in the Hellenic Tradition(s)

While many of my pagan friends and colleagues are celebrating Beltane this weekend, those of us who identify with or practice within Hellenic paganism have a number of options on our celebratory calendar. Which deities will I honor? Will I emphasize the community/civic aspects of the holiday, or the agricultural cycle? What aspects of Hellenic culture correspond most closely to what the larger pagan world is celebrating? 

When it comes to answering questions such as these, Hellenic pagans are in luck. Ancient Greek religion does not require that we adhere to an orthodoxy in our practices or beliefs. In addition, Hellenic paganism is particularly rich in both its theology and mythology, so we have an enormous amount of material from which we can mine.

In other words, there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to celebrating the May Feast (or whatever you call this time around May 1). Here are a few ideas:

Observe the Festival of Thargelia

Thargelia is a summer festival observed during the first week of the month of Thargelion. The month and the festival are named “for the thargēlos or bread specially baked for the occasion from the first flour of the year and carried in procession to the altar” (Zaidman and Pantel, 38). Alternately, Burkert describes the Thargelia as coinciding with the beginning of the corn harvest (226). In both cases, it is clear that the festival marks a critical phase in the agricultural cycle.

More on that shortly. But Thargelia is also an occasion to mark the  birth two of the most important deities in Hellenic religion: the twins Artemis and Apollo.

Artemis & Apollo

My friends know that I can go on and on about these two. They are my patron deities and I’m something of an evangelical pagan when it comes to them. Have you heard the good news–er, I mean the very interesting and somewhat good news about the goddess Artemis? (Gotta work on that speech!) So today I will restrain myself and keep it simple. Why celebrate these two particular deities during the May Feast?

Of the two, Apollo’s significance is most obvious. He’s the god who controls (and hopefully prevents) crop blight and plagues such as mice and locusts. Honoring Apollo is a straightforward means of trying to keep the corn harvest safe.

Artemis’ connection to the agricultural cycles is less apparent, but she too plays an important function. As the deity whose domain includes wilderness, hunting, and birth, Artemis also plays a pivotal role in the livelihood of the ancient Greeks.

Demeter & Dionysus

Another alternative to the Thargelia would be to celebrate and honor Demeter and Dionysus. Not two deities that are usually associated with one another, but they share some important correspondences. Demeter is the deity of grain and all cultivated vegetation, while Dionysus’ realm includes wild plants (and wine!).

Marking Demeter’s reunion with her daughter Kore might also be appropriate at this time, since (at least in the northern/western hemisphere) farming has begun and the forests are thriving with new plant life.

So there are a few possibilities for celebrating the May Feast as a Hellenic pagan. I’m sure there are many more, and I’d love for you to tell me about them in the comments below. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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