Lunar Calendar and Monthly Devotions


Χαίρετε πάντες!

There’s been some discussion recently about the Hellenic calendar in the Hellenic Polytheistic Community (Ελληνική Πολυθεϊστική Κοινότητα) on Facebook and I’d like to compile some of the information here. This post will be rather long as I’ll discuss monthly devotions, and when possible clarify the source where necessary or available to me. Some other information I found somewhere on the web (but forgotten where) and are unsourced, which I’ll also indicate. Other’s are personal inventions, and I’ll give my reasons for them.

First some information on how the calendar works. The Hellenic calendar is a lunar calendar, with a solar component. In other words, the months equal a full lunar cycle. It begins with the Νουμηνία festival, which is the first day of the month, when the first sighting of the lunar crescent after the dark phase of the moon occurs. And it ends with Ἑκάτης Δεῖπνον, the dark phase of the moon, 29 or 30 days later – depending on the individual cycle. A first source of confusion arises here. Νουμηνία would mean something like “New Moon”, and indeed some Hellenists use that term for this day. However, in modern terminology “New Moon” has somehow come to mean the dark phase of the moon, when the moon is not visible in the sky. In my honest opinion, the term “New Moon” as per the ancient idea makes more sense. It is more logical to call the moon “new” when indeed it becomes visible again after it’s dark phase. Consequently I believe “Dark Moon” to be a more suitable name for the dark phase of the moon. This would be more intuitive, and I honestly don’t understand how the “New Moon” shifted in meaning here. I shall whenceforth use the term “Dark Moon” for the dark phase of the moon, and “New Moon” for the next day when the first slice of the lunar crescent is (theoretically, depending on weather conditions) visible. Keep this in mind as you read the rest of this blogpost.

Then, concerning the actual dating of things; Ἑκάτης Δεῖπνον occurs on the Dark Moon. It is important here to remember that the ancients counted the days from sunset to sunset, rather then the modern midnight to midnight. Therefore, if, like just a few days ago, the Dark moon occurs during the morning or noon, then Ἑκάτης Δεῖπνον is celebrated on the evening following that moment. The previous Dark Moon occurred at 13.48h CET (approximately I don’t remember precisely) on the 5th of september. Therefore Ἑκάτης Δεῖπνον began at sunset on the evening of the 5th of september, lasting until sunset on the 6th of september. In turn, the New Moon or Νουμηνία starts at sunset on the 6th of september, and lasts until sunset on the 7th of september. And so on.  Remember also that the lunar calendar doesn’t completely coincide with the solar calendar, so the dates in the Hellenic lunar calendar will be different each year of the Gregorian calendar in common use in our modern world.

Because of this difference between the solar and lunar year, there was a risk that after a while the months and yearly festivals would shift outside of their proper season. Especially for agricultural festivals this is important. No use having a harvest festival when just ploughing the fields and sowing the seeds. In order to keep  the calendar in sync with the seasons, the Hellenes added an extra, 13th month to their calendar every third year of the olympiad (period of four years). This keeps the calendar roughly in sync. The Athenians usually doubled the month Ποσειδεών in the middle of the year (to them). This second Ποσειδεών was then called Ποσειδεών Β’ using ancient Hellenic numerals. The month that gets doubled may vary across poleis as different states have different month names, and different points of  the “new year”.

Each month there is a cycle of monthly celebrations, and on top of these there are yearly festivals, or festivals held every few years. I will only discuss the monthly celebrations here.

Day 1: Νουμηνία

This is the day when the lunar crescent is first spotted. This is a holy day for Σελήνη, Ἀπόλλων Νουμήνιος, Ἄρτεμις Νουμηνία, and the various household Gods. On this day the καθίσκος of Ζεύς Κτήσιος (of the Pantry) is refilled with fresh offerings, traditionally consisting of seasonal fruits, libations, and olive oil. I usually leave it for a month and empty it on Ἑκάτης Δεῖπνον. Other change it weekly, and on the Νουμηνία. I prefer leaving it for a month – I use a vacuum closed storage jar to prevent rotting. If you libate olive oil in the καθίσκος, that oil will also seal off the offerings from oxygen, preventing rot.

Day 2: Ἀγαθός Δαίμων

Holy day for the Protector of the Household.

Day 3: Παλλὰς Ἀθηνᾶ, (αἱ Χάριτες)

Παλλὰς Ἀθηνᾶ is worshipped on this day, though I can’t name sources this information is quite standard. Χάριτες is something I found somewhere on the internet, but don’t remember where, and also haven’t been able to confirm by ancient sources yet.

Day 4: Ἑρμῆς, Ἀφροδίτη Πάνδημος, Ἐρώς, Ἡρακλῆς, (Ποσειδῶν, Ἀπόλλων, Ἑρμαφρόδιτος)

Honouring Ἑρμῆς, Ἀφροδίτη Πάνδημος, Ἐρώς and Ἡρακλῆς is pretty standard. I have a source for Ἑρμῆς which I’ll give shortly. I have also found that Ἀπόλλων is honoured on this day, which I can also source. The same goes for Ἑρμαφρόδιτος. I can at current not source the worship of Ποσειδῶν on this day though.

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“τετράδι τῇ προτέρῃ, τῇ μιν τέκε πότνια Μαῖα.”
– Homeric Hymn 4: εἲς Ἑρμῆν, verse 19

” […] on the fourth day of the month; for on that day queenly Maia bare him.”
– Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes, verse 19.

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“Πρῶτον ἔνη τετράς τε καὶ ἑβδόμη ἱερὸν ἦμαρ:
τῇ γὰρ Ἀπόλλωνα χρυσάορα γείνατο Λητώ.”
– Ἡσίοδος, Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι, verse 770-771.

“To begin with, the first, the fourth, and the seventh – on which Leto bore Apollo with the blade of gold – each is a holy day.”
– Hesiodos, Works and Days, verse 770-771, translation: Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

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“καὶ ταῖς τετράσι δὲ καὶ ταῖς ἑβδομάσιπροστάξας οἶνον ἕψειν τοῖς ἔνδον, ἐξελθὼν ἀγοράσαιμυρρίνας, λιβανωτόν, πόπανα καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἴσω στεφανῶντοὺς Ἑρμαφροδίτους ὅλην τὴν ἡμέραν.”
– Θεόφραστος, Ὁι Χαρακτήρες, §16.10-16.11.

“Also on the fourth and seventh days of each month he will order his servants to mull wine, and go out and buy myrtle-wreaths, frankincense, and smilax; and, on coming in, will spend the day in crowning the Hermaphrodites.”
– Theophrastos, Characters, §16.10-16.11, translation: Richard Claverhouse Jebb, 1870.

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Day 5: αἱ Ἐρῑνύες, Ὅρκος, (Δίκη, Ἄρης)

Honouring the Ἐρῑνύες and Ὅρκος is standard information, which I can also source. I also have a source for Δίκη, and Ἄρης I include as a personal innovation.

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“ἐν πέμπτῃ γάρ φασιν Ἐρινύας ἀμφιπολεύειν
Ὅρκον γεινόμενον, τὸν Ἔρις τέκε πῆμ᾽ ἐπιόρκοις.”
– Ἡσίοδος, Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι, verse 803-804.

“On a fifth day, they say, the Erinyes assisted at the birth of Horkos whom Eris bare to trouble the forsworn.”
– Hesiodos, Works and Days, verse 803-804, translation: Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

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“We have heard from the Pythagoreans that the number five is number of Dike, and among them are told the causes of this..as She punishes all those who stray from the divine law, as told by Plato (Laws IV, 716a).”
~ Scholia to Hesiod, Erga, 802-804

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Day 6: Ἄρτεμις, (Λητώ)

Ἄρτεμις is worshipped standardly on this day, though I can cite no source at the moment. I also honour her mother Λητώ together with her.

Day 7: Ἀπόλλων, (Λητώ, Ἑρμαφρόδιτος)

See the sources I provided on Day 4 for the worship of Ἀπόλλων and Ἑρμαφρόδιτος. I also honour Λητώ on this day.

Day 8: Ποσειδῶν, Θησεύς, Ἀσκληπιός

I can source the worship of Ποσειδῶν and Θησεύς, but not Ἀσκληπιός yet.

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“θυσίαν δὲ ποιοῦσιν αὐτῷ τὴν μεγίστην ὀγδόῃ Πυανεψιῶνος, ἐν ᾗ μετὰ τῶν ἠϊθέων ἐκ Κρήτης ἐπανῆλθεν. οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ ταῖς ἄλλαις ὀγδόαις τιμῶσιν αὐτόν, ἢ διὰ τὸ πρῶτον ἐκ Τροιζῆνος ἀφικέσθαι τῇ ὀγδόῃ τοῦ Ἑκατομβαιῶνος, ὡς ἱστόρηκε Διόδωρος ὁ περιηγητής, ἢ νομίζοντες ἑτέρου μᾶλλον ἐκείνῳ προσήκειν τὸν ἀριθμὸν τοῦτον ἐκ Ποσειδῶνος γεγονέναι λεγομένῳ.
καὶ γὰρ Ποσειδῶνα ταῖς ὀγδόαις τιμῶσιν. ἡ γὰρ ὀγδοὰς κύβος ἀπ᾽ ἀρτίου πρῶτος οὖσα καὶ τοῦ πρώτου τετραγώνου διπλασία, τὸ μόνιμον καὶ δυσκίνητον οἰκεῖον ἔχει τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ δυνάμεως, ὃν ἀσφάλειον καὶ γαιήοχον προσονομάζομεν.”
– Πλούταρχος, Ὁ Βίος τοῦ Θησέως, §36.3-36.4.

“The chief sacrifice which the Athenians make in his honor comes on the eighth day of the month Pyanepsion, the day on which he [Theseus]came back from Crete with the youths. But they honor him also on the eighth day of the other months, either because he came to Athens in the first place, from Troezen, on the eighth day of the month Hecatombaeon, as Diodorus the Topographer states, or because they consider this number more appropriate for him than any other since he was said to be a son of Poseidon.
For they pay honors to Poseidon on the eighth day of every month. The number eight, as the first cube of an even number and the double of the first square, fitly represents the steadfast and immovable power of this god, to whom we give the epithets of Securer and Earth-stayer.”
– Ploutarkhos, Life of Theseus, §36.3-36.4, translation: Bernadotte Perrin, 1914.

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Day 9: General holy day for all the Gods, (αἱ Μοῦσαι, Ἀπόλλων Μουσαγέτης, Ἥλιος, Ῥέα)

The idea that this is a general Holy Day is pretty standard as well, though I also specifically honour the Μοῦσαι as they are nine in number, and their leader Ἀπόλλων Μουσαγέτης. I found somewhere on the internet that said Ἥλιος and Ῥέα are also honoured on this day. I have not found a source for this as of yet.

Day 11: αἱ Μοῖραι, (Ζεύς Μοιραγέτης)

Worshipping the Μοῖραι on this day is pretty standard, and I also honour Ζεύς Μοιραγέτης on this day, as their leader.

Day 12: Δωδεκάθεον

A personal innovation of mine is to honour the Twelve Olympians on the twelfth of the month.

Day 13: Διόνυσος, Πᾶν

Also a personal innovation. There is a modern story of how Διόνυσος received the Olympian throne of Ἑστία. This story is not found in ancient sources however and is spurious. nevertheless, Διόνυσος does have an ambiguous position as “thirteenth Olympian”. Therefore I honour him on this day, and a companion of his in his rites, the goat-footed Πᾶν also a reveler in feasts and a God of primal nature.

Day 15: αἱ Ἐρῑνύες, Ὅρκος, (Δίκη, Ἄρης)

Some say that all the fifths of the month, of every “decade” – which here means a “week” of ten days, so there are three of these “decades” in a full month of 30 days. Here it means that these deities are honoured on the fifth day from the beginning of the first decade, the fifth after the beginning of the second, and the fifth from the *end* of the last decade. This means that even when a month has 29 days, it’s still the same “date” in the lunar calendar.

Day 16: Ἄρτεμις, (Λητώ)

Another “standard” day of worship, but no sources right now.

Day 18+19: Apotropaic rites

I belive this goes back to Hesiodos, but I am having trouble tracking it down right now.

Day 20: Ἀπόλλων, (Λητώ)

Another “standard” day of worship, but no sources right now.

Day 21: Παλλὰς Ἀθηνᾶ

Another “standard” day of worship, but no sources right now.

Day 24: αἱ Ἐρῑνύες, Ὅρκος, (Δίκη, Ἄρης)

Another “standard” day of worship, but no sources right now.

Day 29/30: Ἑκάτης Δεῖπνον

The Dark Moon, the last day of the month. The time to make sure you have fulfilled vows or make up for offerings not yet given. A time to tie up loose ends, clean out the house, and purify it and yourself from any μίασμα you may have gotten during the past month. Ἑκάτη is honoured by leaving a meal at the crossroads where the path from your front door meets the public street, and leave it at her shrine there (you’ll have to get a bit creative if, like me, your front door immediately meets the public sidewalk/road). You then turn around and without looking back enter the house, and stay home the rest of the night. Because Ἑκάτη roams the world in wrathful form on this night, together with the wrathful spirits of the dead who received no proper funeral rite and thus can not enter the Underworld. Therefore she carries with her terrible μίασμα from the Underworld, and must be appeased with her meal. Staying indoors prevents you from receiving said μίασμα, and causes the Goddess to attract any lingering μίασμα from you and your household and thus remove it. During the rest of the month she is more gentle and doesn’t carry any μίασμα, but cans till be called upon for purification. Otherwise, she will sit at her shrine and ward off any μίασμα, evil, or other unfavorable things from the household.

That’s about all I wanted to say for today. I hope you found it informative and useful.

Ἐρρώσο.

5 comments on “Lunar Calendar and Monthly Devotions

  1. […] customs, but also on certain Roman and other traditions, as well. (You might also want to check out Jonathan’s and Elani’s, too, for a more strictly Hellenic […]

  2. Aldrin says:

    This inspires me to post something similar!

  3. Nymphaea says:

    Quite lovely!

  4. fieldstones says:

    Very helpful, wonderfully concise, thank you for posting this!

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