Hera’s Month of Devotional Thought: Day 11 – Festivals & Holy Days

Χαίρετε πάντες!

Today’s topic will be the festivals and holy days which are sacred to Hera. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The perhaps most well-known festival is the Theogamia (Θεογαμία), sacred to Zeus Teleios and Hera Teleia commemorating their Divine Marriage. This festival takes place on 27 Gamelion, a lunar month corresponding roughly to January-February. Because of the festival, the month of Gamelion was viewed as an excellent month to marry in antiquity, and it can be so again if one so desires.

Another important and perhaps less well-known example is that of the Heraic or Heraean Games. That’s right, the Olympics had a counterpart for women, dedicated to Hera Olympias. Women were not allowed at the Olympics, let alone partake in it; that s to say, married women were forbidden from doing so. Unmarried girls could attend the Olympics, in the hopes of finding a suitable husband in some athlete. But back to the Heraea, in these Games, unmarried girls could compete in pretty much the same competitions as men did, though never nude. Instead, they wore a chiton – just like men did who performed heavy physical labour.

The Heraean Games were founded in myth by Hippodameia, to honour Hera and thank Hera for Hippodameia’s marriage to Pelops. The reward for the winners was largely the same as for men, they received wreaths of olive leaves (not laurel), and a choice portion of the sacrificial meat from animals sacrificed to Hera, that would be cows or oxen.

At Plataia in Boiotia, a festival called the Daidala was celebrated. Its origin myth goes thusly: Hera was angry at Zeus for some reason or other and had retreated to Euboia. Zeus was unable to convince her to leave and reconcile. Kithairon, at Plataia, gave him the advice to make a wooden image of Hera and spread the word he was going to marry a new bride. Zeus did as Kithairon advised, and when Hera heard of the marriage she quickly went to Plataia, ripped the veils of the “bride” and laughed at the deception she had fallen for upon seeing the wooden image. Then she ordered the “rival in love” to be punished by being burned still. The Daidala festival commemorates this reconciliation.

The Daidala was conducted as follows, according to Pausanias (Description of Greece 9.2.7 – 3.8). Near Alalkomenai is a grove of oak trees that are used to make the daidala-images. To determine which tree to use, offerings of meat would be left in the grove, and when crows arrived to eat the meat, they would be carefully tracked to which tree the crows took the meat to eat it. When the tree was determined it was chopped and made into the Daidalon, which is then burnt in the festival. Off note is that two of these festivals exist, the Little Daidala which is peculiar to Plataia and said to be six-yearly, and a Greater Daidala that is common to all Boiotians, and is celebrated every fifty-nine years. That period is chosen for a period in which the Plataians were in exile and could not celebrate the festival.

When the images are made for the Greater Daidala, the partaking poleis would attain one by lots. Larger poleis had an image for themselves, smaller poleis would pool their resources together to get a Daidalon. During the transport of the Daidala, some poleis have bridesmaid accompany it. They are taken to the peak of Mt. Kithairon, where a wooden altar has been prepared. Magistrates from the various polis would then sacrifice a cow to Hera and a bull to Zeus, I  do not know whether Pausanias means one cow and one bull a sacrificed in common, or each polis or group of small poleis sacrifices a separate cow and bull. Incense and other offerings are also placed on the altar. Then individual people could also sacrifice animals or other things. When finally all sacrifices had been made the altar was lit afire. Pausanias, having attended this festival, records that he had never seen a blaze to high or seen from so far. He also notes that the fire consumes the sacrifices whole, so I assume from this that it was a holokautos-sacrifice, wholly burnt and not eaten by any worshippers.

On Samos, Hera Samia was honoured yearly during a festival called Toneia. During this festival, her cult image was ritually bound with branches of the lygos-willow (Vitex agnus-castus). This tree is sacred to her as according to myth, Rhea came to Samos to give birth to Hera, and as Hera was being born she gripped a lygos-willow.

This is all I have been able to find anything substantial on, though doubtlessly there were various Heraia festivals in different poleis, and temples with specific local cults of Hera must also have had specific celebrations.

As a final not, I have taken to filling up the “empty” days in the Attic calendar with honouring Gods associated with that day. For Thursday that would be Zeus, and I also honour Deities associated with the main Deities of that day. Thus I have started honouring Hera on the same day as Zeus. However, as the day names are named after the Seven Planets, Venus, usually associated with Aphrodite in Hellenic sources, is also associated with Hera. The planet was apparently shared between the two quintessential Women’s Goddesses, so honouring Hera on Fridays may also be appropriate.

Ἔρρωσο!

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