The hilasmós of Athene

The hilasmós of Athene
by Sannion

Background

This is a rite of appeasement and cleansing honoring Athene Hellenia and Achaia, forms of the Goddess revered in Magna Graecia, particularly Metapontion and the region of Daunia. Returning from Troy, Epeios the maker of the Trojan Horse and the incomparable warrior Diomedes were stranded in Italy, and in order to gain Athene’s assistance the heroes constructed temples for her wherein they dedicated the tools and weapons by which they had gained undying fame or kleos. Later on the Metapontines and their allies in a battle with neighboring colonists massacred a group of suppliants who had sought refuge at Athene’s altar, bringing down upon them the wrath of the Goddess. Consulting the oracle at Delphoi the Metapontines were informed that the pestilence and impurity could be removed only by instituting a festival during which images of the slain youths were set up and loaves of bread offered to the Goddess. For further information please consult the readings for reflection.

Supplies

Hammer, nails and other carpentry tools
Knife
Tuft of wool and or spindle
Wicker basket
Flowers
Bowl for chernips
Lustral water + branch (olive may be substituted for bay or ivy)
Incense
Libation bowls
Libations of milk, water, honey and olive oil
Supplies for making dolls
Loaf of bread
Spears or canes
Rattles, cymbals, castanets or other noisemakers
Any additional offerings the group wishes to make

Note: in keeping with Daunian custom, all attendees should wear black clothing.

Preparation

The centerpiece of the altar should consist of a wicker basket in which a knife, hammer, nails and other carpentry tools have been placed. Either in front of or around the basket set the tuft of wool and spindle and strew the altar with flowers. Also set out libation bowls and other offering dishes. Make sure that the libation vessels and any other offerings are open and ready for use.

The Rite

The ritual leaders should make chernips, cleanse the space and participants in the normal fashion, and then facing the altar proclaim:

O Athene the Weaver, industrious Goddess, we dedicate our labor to you this day, that it may be pleasing to you and bring harmonious order to us and our community.

The participants then proceed to fashion the dolls (which represent all those unjustly slain) while one of the ritual leaders keeps time by pounding a spear or cane on the floor in a steady, rhythmic manner.

When this is finished all should gather before the altar, holding their dolls.

Recite the Homeric Hymn to Athene, or other appropriate verse:

Hail Pallas Athena,
guardian of the city,
dread Goddess who, with Ares,
loves deeds of valor,
the sack of cities,
the shouting and the battle.
You are the savior and preserver of heroes
as they go off to war and as they return home.
Hail, Goddess, and give us good fortune and happiness!

The libations are then poured out and incense burned for her.

The participants are then bid to come forward and present to her the dolls and any personal prayers or offerings they wish to make.

Then the loaf of bread is brought forward and blessings are requested on behalf of the community, both for the living and the dead.

Then the participants take up their instruments and make raucous, martial music to honor the Goddess and drive away impurity from the land and community.

This lasts as long as it needs to, with the participants encouraged to approach the altar and commune with her as they wish.

Once it is finished, thank Athene for her presence and blessings and ask her to be present during the symposion, where she will be honored with wine, food and good philosophical conversation.