Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Cult of Aphrodite: Rites and Festivals of the Golden One

Book Review: The Cult of Aphrodite: Rites and Festivals of the Golden One
by Laurelei Black (Asteria Books 2010)

This book is about modern interpretations of the Cult of the Love Goddess Aphrodite. It serves as a practical guide to celebrating Aphrodite in rites based on historical ones of the Hellenistic period – so one could say that Hellenistic Reconstructionism is the focus as well. This is a great book for the Hellenistic neo-pagan and for devising rituals in general. I was hoping for more lore and myth regarding Aphrodite but there is some. The book is nicely illustrated throughout by Natalie Long.

There is a calendar of festivals related to Aphrodite and rites for daily veneration, weekly veneration (Friday is her day), and monthly rites (the 4th day of the new moon is devoted to her). There is some info on the structure of Ancient Greek religion and a great list of correspondences for Aphrodite, various attributes and symbols.

The author notes that Aphrodite was not the subject of many public rites and suggests that her cult was more private. “...She was honored in every wedding ceremony, in every bed, in the mourning of a lost love, in childbirth, ...”

She gives a concise overview of Greek ritual activities. Libation,or offering food and drink is mentioned. The sponde, refers to a controlled pouring of liquid on the ground as offering, sometimes also taking a drink to share the offering with the gods. Next is procession, or Greek pompe, which was common in Greek festivals. Drums, flutes, panpipes, cymbals, bells, dance, and chanting could accompany the procession. She mentions that the Greeks used dances similar to line dances or the one known as the “grapevine.” Feasting is a part of most rites and celebrations. Animal sacrifice was common at most Greek festivals although perhaps not in rites in honor of Aphrodite for the author mentions that: “Empedocles tells us that Aphrodite is repulsed by bloodshed in Her rites.” She mentions that she does not think vegetarianism was widespread among the Greeks, except among the Orphics (and I might add the Pythagoreans who may well be related to the Orphics). She is said to specifically find pork to be offensive although it is known that pig sacrifice was a typical offering for the Grain/Earth Goddess (Demeter). The temple or grove where rites are performed is called the temenos, or sacred space. Each deity had a specific temenos and priesthood. One means of purification rite is the use of lustral water (Gr. khernips), usually spring water, or water purified with salt and flaming branch, or incense. There was a practice of ritually washing the hands with khernips when entering the sacred space as is done in many ritual cultures. She notes a general call for silence preceding rites. She also note the special role of the goddess Hestia as keeper of the hearth and temple flame, she being honored in every home and in every rite. She goes on to discuss ideas for altars, shrines, and temples. She also talks about the Greek propensity for prayer, poetry, and plays in their ritual adorations.

She offers a quick daily lustration rite for the Goddess and also a weekly devotional rite preferably done on Friday, the day sacred to the Love Goddess. Then there is an offering rite for the 4th day of the moon (4th day from new moon). Next is our well known Feast of Eros (Cupid) usurped as Valentine’s Day although in ancient times it was in April or May Eros is the son of Aphrodite. Eros/Cupid has a lot in common with the Hindu Kama, also an arrow-shooting god of desire. She recommends aphrodisiac foods and sensual accoutrements for this feast. As in several of these rites she includes Homeric and Orphic Hymns. It should be noted that the Homeric Hymns coming from the Mycenean Greek or Anatolian Homer through oral/bardic tradition are very old. The Orphic Hymns though not as old were likely composed before or in early Hellenic times.

The next rite is called the Rite of Peace and takes place on April 1st. April is the month of Aphrodite/Venus. April follows March, the month of Ares/Mars. So April is the month where Love overtakes War. In the rite the Goddess of Love subdues the God of War (for a time).

Next are the rites called Anagogia and Katagogia that commence on the dark of the moon in May. Here is recounted Aphrodite embarking (Anagogia) on a nine day journey to sea and then returning (Katagogia). The origin of Aphrodite is that she arose from the ocean foam near the Island of Cypress in the Mediterranean seeded by the sperm of the sky god Uranus whose genitals were swallowed by the ocean. She is called the Golden One. She was venerated on both sides of the Mediterranean, in Sicily, Greece, Libya, Anatolia, by the Phoenicians (among whom she may have originated), and she merged with Egyptian ideas of the Love Goddess as well.

Next rite given is a rite of Athena where Aphrodite plays a minor role. It is called the Arrephoria and occurs around the 3rd day of the moon in June. Regarding the relationship of Athena and Aphrodite the author states that: “Both Goddesses are descended from the Paleolithic bird and serpent goddesses of the Fertile Crescent. Both Goddesses are mated closely with Hephaestos and Ares in myth.” The Arrephoria rite notes the friendship of these two deities in the form of a Mystery. Two young girls aged 7-11 traditionally appeared in the rite carrying a basket of secret and “unspoken things.” It is speculated that they may have been dew (sperm) and wool (Athena’s peplos) associated with the birth of Athena’s son Erechtheus, the first king of Athens.

Next is the Aphrodisia – celebrated on the 4th day of the moon after the summer solstice. This is the bathing feast of Aphrodite where it is said she first came on land at Paphos. “Classical writers say that this ritual included “instructions in the Mysteries of Aphrodite” and that the participants are given a measure of salt and a phallus.” It was also noted that these were rather bawdy proceedings. Aphrodite’s daughter Peitho (Persuasion) is also honored in this rite. So Aphrodite is regarded as the Mother of Persuasion – as she persuades Paris of Troy to accept Helen as a bribe to answer the riddle of the Golden Apple thrown into the ball by Eris the Goddess of strife and chaos – and so the Trojan War began.

Vinalia Rustica is next, a Roman festival celebrating the oldest temple of Venus founded by her son Aeneas, the founder of Rome. Not much is said about this fest excepting that it is good to perhaps establish or celebrate the establishment of one’s own temple or shrine.

Next is the Adonia – a mourning festival for the death of Adonis, a young lover of Aphrodite. Adonis and Aphrodite were celebrated as well among the Phoenicians of Lebanon and the Syrians. Lettuce and Fennel were grown in earthenware pots. Red roses and anemones are also associated with the story as Aphrodite rushed to save Adonis she pricked her skin on the thorns staining the white flower red. She transformed his blood into the anemone flower. So this basically a funerary rite of Aphrodite in mourning.

The Epitymbria is next. Epitymbria means She of the Tombs and is celebrated by the author’s Cult of Aphrodite Asteria in the dark moon of October. Apparently this refers to a lesser known rite of Dionysus, being both of mourning and orgiastic.

The Symposium of the Hetaerae is next given. It appears to have been an Athenian custom of drinking parties with prostitutes. Apparently the many Greek vases depicted these parties are among the earliest known pornography. Typically the prostitutes were also trained musicians and dancers, as well as knowing art, politics, science, and philosophy.

Finally there is a selection of hymns to Aphrodite attributed to Homer, Orpheus, and Sappho. In one Homeric hymn it is noted that there are three madens that seemed to escape Aphrodite’s love snare: Athena, Artemis, and Hestia – all without lovers. Aphrodite is said also to be the daughter of Zeus. She is often referred to as laughter-loving Aphrodite.

Anyway – fun book – quick read – perhaps we should all make some time every so often for the Love Goddess as we often get caught up in love’s intrigues and pains and pleasures.

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