Oh my gods the work…
So I was perusing the Hellenion Chat yahoo group today. I follow it but rarely contribute. Anyway, I was checking out a thread by my buddy Sean about which festivals everyone celebrated and whatnot, and further into the discussion, Sean said this:
The best thing about ancient Hellenic festivals is the volume from which we have
to choose when we want to celebrate. Hundreds of festivals, each with unique
offerings and symbolism can be easily replicated and/or adapted to modern
practice. There are a myriad of ways to honor the Theoi.
The worst thing about ancient Hellenic festivals is the volume from which we
have to choose when we want to celebrate. Hundreds of festivals across a wide
geographic area and vast historical time-frame make it hard to find exactly what
one is looking for.
Damn is he right! There is so much out there on our religion, that if you’re willing to take the time, you can find some pretty crazy stuff. At the same time, occasionally you get only the tiniest shred of evidence. A quote in a history, a fragment of an inscription; scant evidence is the bane of Aresian religion.
One of my luckiest ever finds was a paper I found using Google, about Ares in Halikarnassos. Later I found it was an excerpt of a dissertation about Ares’ cult in ancient Greece, and it has been quite a boon to helping reconstruct festivals and sacrifices and the like. For instance, an old Linear B tablet details offerings for various gods, including Ares. Part of these offerings included a large amount of horns. A later reference to a horn altar suggests these supplies may have been designated for just such a purpose: to construct/decorate an altar of Ares. Unfortunately, it is only one tablet, and a single reference that may or may not be related. The stinginess of the evidence sucks!
Thankfully, despite it’s rather modest showing, we do have evidence to work with. Scholars of the Homeric tradition may have overlooked Ares’ cult for a very long time, but we are fortunate enough that today’s scholars, religiously Hellenic or not, are eager to move past that tradition and learn more. We no longer have to rely solely on Athenian sources; evidence from Sparta, Thebes, and Asia Minor can be found, as well as sources even further afield. We can find new sources that have done away with the romanticism of the 1800’s, the Christian bias of earlier periods, or the most awful Jungian influence of the early- to mid- 1900’s. It’s a pretty great time to be a recon.