(Summer Solstice, Litha, c. June 21)
Gk. Hai Therinai Hêliou Tropai.

© 1995, Apollonius Sophistes

The month of June is under the guardianship of Mercury and is sacred to Hercules and Fons Fortuna.  The first half of the month is ill-omened, and as little business as possible is conducted at this time.

Pluntêria (Grk., mid-June; ancient: last week of Thargêlion [mid-May – mid-June], perhaps 25 Thargêlion).

This is the festival for washing (pluntêria hiera) the ancient statue of Athena Polias (Guardian of the City); bathing sacred images was a common custom in Greece and elsewhere. (Women have cleaned the temple a few days earlier in a rite called the Kalluntêria, which means “to beautify by sweeping.” At this time, the priestess also refills and relights Athena’s eternal flame in the temple.) The day is considered unlucky (apophras) because the Goddess is absent from the city; it begins a rupture of the normal order, a void between the old year (which ends in a month) and the new.

Women remove the peplos (robe) and jewelry from the ancient image of Athena, which is then wrapped and carried in a procession to the washing place. The procession is led by a woman carrying a basket of fig pastries, for the fig is an ancient fertility symbol and was the first cultivated food; the sweetmeats may be offered to the Goddess at the shore. Mounted Ephêboi (young men) may also accompany the (veiled) image. It is brought to the shore (for it should be purified in running water, especially salt water), where it is bathed by two girls, the Loutrides (Bathers); the peplos may be cleaned at the same time (perhaps by a priest). That evening the Goddess is returned to the temple in a torchlight procession and is clothed with the clean peplos and adorned with Her jewels. Only the Loutrides and the women who dress and undress the Goddess are permitted to see Her naked.

The ancient statue was of human size or less, carved of olive wood, and probably showed the Goddess seated without weapons. She wore a tall, golden stephanê (crown) and She may have had a Gorgoneion (Medusa head) on her breast.

[BGR 228; PFA 152-5; SFA 46-8]

Arrhêphoria (Grk., mid-June; the exact date is unknown, but it was near the beginning the month of Skirophoriôn [mid-June - mid-July]).

Two young girls (perhaps seven years old), the Arrhêphoroi (perhaps “Carriers of Unspoken Things”) who are the ritual daughters of the Archôn Basileus (Priest-King), have spent the preceding year living by the temple of Athena Polias. Some say they have been weaving a new peplos (robe) for Athena, which they will bring to Her in the sacred procession (see Panathenaia, c. Aug. 14).

In a secret nocturnal rite, the Priestess gives the Arrhêphoroi a package, the contents of which are hidden from all three. They take the package by a secret path to the sanctuary of Aphrodite in the Gardens, and bring back another secret package. Thereafter the Arrhêphoroi are replaced by two new girls. This rite recalls when Athena gave the casket containing Erichthonios to the daughters of King Kekrôps, who acted as nurses. Two of them disobeyed Her order not to look in the casket, and when they saw the serpent-man they jumped to their deaths from the Acropolis. The name of the faithful nurse was Pandrosos (All-dew), or, according to others, the two self-sacrificing daughters were Pandrosos and Hersê (which also means Dew). (The festival’s name might also be spelled Ersêphoria — Dew Carrying.) The olive tree, which was Athena’s special gift to Athens, bears small olives if there is not sufficient dew at this time of year. Aphrodite, as Goddess of the Morning and Evening Star, was responsible for the dew, and so Her cooperation was essential.

The Arrhêphoroi wear white robes and eat Anastatos (Made-to-rise), a special light bread.

[BGR 228-9; LSJ s.v. Arrhêphoroi; PFA 141-3; SFA 39-46]

Skirophoria (Grk., c. June 27; ancient: 12 Skirophoriôn, full moon).

The Skirophoria (also known as the Skira) occurs at the time of the cutting and threshing of the grain. The Priestess of Athena, the Priest of Poseidon and the Priest of Helios go to the Skiron, a place sacred to Demeter, Korê, Athena Skiras and Poseidon Pater, for here Athens and Eleusis were reconciled. Athena and Poseidon represent city life, and Demeter and Kore represent agriculture; Helios witnesses Their oaths (as He witnessed the abduction of Korê). The Skiron is where, according to tradition, the first sowing took place. A large, white canopy (called the skiron) is carried over the priests’ and priestesses’ heads during the procession.

The Skirophoria is celebrated mainly by women (as men dominate the City Dionysia, Mar. 24–8). To bring fertility, they abstain from intercourse on this day, and to this end they eat garlic to keep the men away. They also throw offerings into the megara — sacred caves of Demeter: cakes shaped like snakes, phalluses and sucking pigs. (These become the Thesmoi — things laid down — that are removed in the Thesmophoria, c. Oct. 26.) This ceremony recalls the swineherd Eubouleus who was swallowed up with his pigs when Persephone was abducted into the underworld by Hades.

The men have a race in which they carry vine-branches from the sanctuary of Dionysos to the temple of Athena Skiras. The winner is given the Pentaploa (Fivefold Cup), containing wine, honey, cheese, some corn and olive oil. He alone is allowed to share this drink with the Goddess, to whom a libation is poured so that She will bless these fruits of the season.

[NFR 25; OCD s.v. Scirophoria; PFA 156-161; SFA 19, 22-4]

Minor Festivals

Festival for Fors Fortuna (Rom., June 24; ancient:  VIII Kal. June).

Fors Fortuna (Fortune) was honored on this day, the Summer Solstice in the old calendar. This is a time of happy and even drunken celebration; rides on boats decorated with flowers are especially popular. Sellers of flowers, vegetables, wool, bronze, etc. bring their goods to market, which they sell with praises to Fortuna, or they dedicate them to the Goddess. [OF VI.771-784; SFR 155-6]

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Last updated: 2006-02-05.