Unraveling Arrhephoria: Athena's Sacred Ritual

May 16, 2024

Unraveling Arrhephoria: Athena's Sacred Ritual

Unraveling Arrhephoria: Athena's Sacred Ritual

Continuing our series on ancient festivals and holidays, we turn our attention to the Goddess Athena and her feast day. Athena is the Olympian goddess of wisdom and war strategy, and she rules over weaving, pottery, and related activities. Towns would place her shrine at fortified hilltops as it was believed that her presence there would help protect the area in times of war. The most famous of these shrines is at the Acropolis of Athens. Athena is often represented in art wearing a war helm, a breastplate lined
with snakes, and holding a spear in her hand. She is commonly accompanied by an owl, which became a symbol for the city of Athens, and a symbol of wisdom through association with the goddess.

The Mysteries of Arrhephoria

Athena’s festival day, Arrhephoria, falls on the 3rd day of Skirophorion, the final month of the Athenian calendar. This
year Arrehphoria falls on June 10th. This month was important to Athenians because it was a time to prepare for the new year, so rituals for purification and protection would be performed throughout the month.  

Because there are so few records of Arrhephoria, the ritual is still shrouded in mystery. Scholars believe it may relate to the myth of Athena and the Sacred Basket. In the story, Athena entrusts the three daughters of Cecrops (the first King of Athens) with a sacred basket containing the serpent-child Erichthonius. Athena instructed
Aglaurus, Herse, and Pandrosus not to look inside the basket until she returned, but two of the daughters let their curiosity win and peeked inside. Upon seeing the serpent-child, they went mad and jumped from the Acropolis to their deaths.  

Mirroring the myth, the two main participants in the Arrhephoria ritual were two young girls of noble lineage called Arrhephori. They would have spent the last year in service to Athena at the Acropolis, preparing for this final ritual. The Arrhephori would carry baskets
filled with unknown objects down to the garden at the base of the Acropolis, where new baskets would be picked up and brought back to the top. Some scholars suggest that these baskets
carried live snakes, phallic trinkets, or even small sculptures of infants. After this ceremony, the Athenians would celebrate with music, dancing, and a large feast.

A Path for Modern Worshippers

Many followers of Hellenism or Hellenic Reconstructionism will celebrate Arrhephoria as a feast day for Athena. For them, it is a time to give special attention to the Goddess, make offerings, and celebrate in her honor. 

This festival day also marks the beginning of the end of the Athenian year. Since ancient Athenians avoided bringing unfinished projects and business into the new year, this would be a busy period in which they would work on completing those projects. If you wish to incorporate Arrhephoria into your own pagan calendar, dedicating time to complete any unfinished projects is a good place to start. If these projects involve fiber arts or pottery, or if they are of an intellectual nature, you might consider dedicating them to Athena.  

You could clear space for Athena on your altar, light a candle in her honor, or use a statue to represent the goddess and welcome
her into your space. Athena accepts the typical Greek offerings of bread, milk, wine, honey, olive oil, and incense. If you choose to celebrate with a partner or in a group, you can spend time playing games of strategy such as chess. Ingredients like Olive leaves, yarrow, and willow can be included in any spellcraft practiced on this day.

You can gather all supplies from our shop in Asheville or our online store. Join us in celebrating the Goddess Athena this June.