I have spring fever something bad this year. This is my first spring with the new house and the new baby, and I can’t stay inside. I’m planting all the things in the garden. There’s a raised garden in the shadier side yard for lettuce, broccoli, and other edible shoots and roots and sun-loving plants in containers for now. I can’t not plant things in the ground, and living in an apartment is hugely stifling when you want to get your hands in the dirt on a regular basis.
It’s getting close to Thargelia, Artemis and Apollo’s birthdays, and my celebration doesn’t look much like the ancient festival of the same name. Instead of throwing the ugliest dude in town off a cliff or beating a goat with a stick while chasing it to the city limits as a sacrifice to purify the people, I just clean out my cabinets. This involves a lot of baking and disposing of ancient artifacts like five year old corn syrup and a packet of au jus mix I know I didn’t buy. This serves the very practical purpose of making sure there’s nothing in my cabinets from the Carter administration as well as the spiritual purpose of giving me the opportunity to practice non-attachment. If I can let go of a mostly used jar of molasses from 2007 and if I can use up the very tasty peaches in my freezer, I can let go of other things. “I might neeeeeeed it!” is no excuse. Everything must go. It’s an act of trust that good things will come into my life again and it’s a cathartic act, removing those things that are old, bad, stale, expired, gross, or no longer useful from my life.
Part of this process is the panspermia. Literally, this means “all the seeds,” but my inner thirteen-year-old giggles every time. It really just means “bean soup” and I make it from the beans, grains, and vegetables lurking in my cabinet and deep freezer from the previous year. Some years, it hasn’t been that great, but the quality of my panspermia (heehee) has improved with time and experience. Even so, this is nobody’s favorite part of Thargelia, so while we’re having our soup, Sophia tells the story of how Apollo and Artemis came to be born. This story was very encouraging to me late in my pregnancy and the way she tells it praises Leto for her endurance and courage rather than demonizing Hera, as many who have told this story do.
Apollo is sort of a god of all trades and at Thargelia, he’s honored for his role in agriculture. This first night is the feast of the last fruits, but the next day is the bright and glorious feast of the first fruits, which is both tasty and alliterative. This time of year is exactly aligned with when the strawberries first come in around here, so they figure centrally in our celebration. Strawberry shortcake is a favorite, as is eating them out of hand. In my case, it’s more like hand over fist. The second part of our festivities is a feast of first fruits, followed by our annual maypole dance and fire. This is the point at which we transition into Beltaine, one of the few Wiccan traditions we’ve kept. When trying to come up with the proper name for the combined celebrations, Thargelia/Beltaine just kind of transformed into Thar-jellybean. I like it. It’s cheerful.
Our maypole is situated right next to a garden so that in order to dance the maypole, you have to dance over the tilled earth. After many years of a successful garden, we’re reluctant to give this tradition up. I’m planning on taking some of the ashes from the fire to add mojo to my own garden. The garden is a great place for fertility energy, what with all the literal fruit-making and all.
So, in this season of new growth, I want to offer something new and growing. I’m not a reconstructionist, but neither am I Wiccan. I’m a Hellenic polytheist, to be sure, but not one invested in the ancient rites. My religion is syncretic and wholly modern, so reconstructionist groups have never really been a good fit for me. Some friends and I have started a new group that I’ve named Eleutherian Hellenics, a.k.a. The Free Hellenics. My idea is that this is a place an open forum welcoming to all forms of Hellenic worship and/or practice including, but not limited to syncretic practices, Wicca and Wiccanesque practices,
Recons, NeoHellenists (yeah, I just made that term up, what of it?), and all those interested in the gods of Ancient Greece. Our guiding principles are the pursuit of arete and what I like to refer to as Wil Wheaton’s lost Delphic Maxim: Don’t be a dick.
There are some really great people there, including all the members of my worship group, Baruch Arete, and other people I’ve met here and there or whom I’ve known for years. So far, the conversations have been very warm and open. We’ve started to explore the role of the Theoi in modern media, who the Theoi are, the differences between the Greek and Roman gods, and we’ve touched on a bit of philosophy. We talk a lot about our relationships with our gods, but not a whole lot about how they are depicted in the ancient texts. We could, but we just haven’t. Anyway, that’s my offering to celebrate spring and honor the gods. I hope it grows into something beautiful and nourishing to the soul.
In the mean time, here’s a recipe for Traditional Irish Soda bread that I’ve been using to get rid of the large amounts of flour in my cabinets.
Traditional Irish Soda Bread
3 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
approx. 1 cup milk, soured with 1 Tbsp vinegar
(In the absence of self-rising flour, add 1tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour.)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Combine all ingredients into a sticky dough. Knead a few times on a floured surface, then form into a round, flat shape and place into a dutch oven or iron skillet. Cut a cross into the top of the dough with a sharp knife. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake an additional 15 minutes.