Thargelia and ” Letoon”

This weekend I happily celebrated the Thargelia, celebrating the birth of the divine twins Apollon and Artemis. Naturally, Thargelia is one of my favorite Apolline festivals of the year…though truth be told  favorite festivals is a pretty long and inclusive list since I tend to love all of them since I love him so! All the same there is something special for the birthday, and I try to go all out with it to the best of my ability. I had a selection of music chosen from reconstructed greek melodies, to classical peices, and even a couple of berber instrumentals for the dancing in the ritual. Close at hand were also my finger cymbals which are an appropriate stand-in for the large cymbals that were traditionally used for the Thargelia, along with many kernels of frankincense smoking on the hot coal.

I know many folks like to use the 6th of Thargelion as a purification period and the evidence of what is supposed by at least one scholar to have been a rare event in which members of the community were driven out of the community and slain. The concensus from what I have seen seems to be mostly that this was a isolated activity that was unlikely to have been carried out yearly (hence occurring in times of extreme duress) and specific to a certamin demos, the name of which I don’t recall to be honest). However, this has been latched onto by modern worshipers, and is simulated by the creation of substitute pharmakoi, usually out of paper or some similar substance. For myself, though, I do most of my purifications some weeks before during the Delphinia, during which Theseus came to the temple of Apollon to purify himself after shedding blood, and for which maidens and youths proceeded to the temple yearly during the Delphinia for purification, which I suspect may have some connection to the youths and maidens selected to journey to Delos. Therefore, with the personal and household purifications carried out earlier, Thargelia in my home is carried out solely with the greatest sense of celebration, starting on the 6th and the main part of the festivities on the 7th honoring Leto, Artemis and Apollon.

This brings me into the next occassion upcoming, which ironically seems almost repetitive since Leto is greatly honored as mother during the Thargelia, and within weeks (typically falling in the same month) with Mother’s Day I have, for the past few years, extended worship to her as the perfection of motherhood. Typically Apollon and Artemis are more of a footnote in this ritual, whereas they are in the foreground the previously mentioned ritual, as this occassion is one that I use to emphasize the greatness of Leto who bestows her blessings upon women, and whose own womb was so prosperous that she delivered twice its burden with the twins. Such can be characterized too in the line from Euripedes Aclestis in which Euripedes in the chorus speaks of Apollon, the shepherd, who, when in service to Admetus, caused each ewe and heifer to bear twins. So, in some respects, I liken Leto as the ewe or heifer, often more so with the heifer in the cow’s sacred connection to the earth and Leto’s own earthly association by which in Asia Minor she is so intimately associated with the underworld . And such earthly parallels may make sense that Artemis’ ascribed mother fluidly transfers in cult between Demeter and Leto, and from there probably helps along the transference of Artemis and Apollon as children of Isis, who seems to have characteristics of both Demeter and Hera, in Egypt. As Leto is believed to stem from the Lydian word for “Lady” it seems like a designation of particular significance in her cultus to greater than her typical casting in myth that is little more than a footnote in association with her children. The other translation of her name refering to a kind of obscurity or invisibility likewise seems as a parallel opposite of her heavenly sister Asteria (who became part of the earth when she manifested as Delos after her flight from Zeus). Leto seems to me, therefore, to represent the dark cavernous earth from which life springs…the aether and earth creating the light, which is reminiscent of what Plutarch says of Delphi that the air of the site as special quality to it from the mixing of aether and earth in that place. Aether and earth together bring illumination (both in the form of light and oracular insight, etc) and life.Therefore, the budding time of May seems quite appropriate for honoring her, even as Demeter is honored on the 6th of Thargelion as Chloe (the green), and Apollon is honored with the thargelos (made of the first fruits). It is all tied together with a suggestion of a ripeness of life and the consequent celebration thereof, for which Mother’s Day, which I am dubbing the ritual of the day as Letoon, after the name of her temple, culminates in the moist fertility of spring (justly represented by the frog which dwells both on land and in the waters beneath the surfacejust before the killing heat of summer arrives and I celebrate Hyakinthia during which no bread is baked during the grieving for Hyakinthos.

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