We know that as the seasons cycle around we note the absence and return of the daughter of Demeter as life too delcines and returns. But we also acknowledge an overlapping cycle of the sun’s light that increases, reaches it’s height, and then falls again into darkness. Anyone who grows plants knows how important light is to the growth of plants, though different plants require entirely different light situations. But it is this light that creates a growing season that brings plants into its fruitfulness and the waning light into autumn that brings autumnal vegetables into their own ripeness. In some areas in the world certain foods can not be grown because of the length of the growing season, and yet other foods can reach mammoth proportions because of the rulership of light in the sky, these being mostly vegetables. With the first blush of summer where Thargelia rests we are aware of two things: the changing of the seasons into it’s beginning climb, and the fruitfulness of many plants already (depending on where you live of course). The longer hours of sunlight assists in stimulating the fertility of the plantlife, and yet for something to be productive it must be purified much like the early spring/ late winter festival of lupercalia which was primarily a purification ritual, but also celebrated life and fertility as women who desired children would welcome the lashes of the wips of the Luperci. And in human experience we know that to begin something new, it is often necessary to perge the old which would be detrimental to our own growth. So likewise for Thargelia we celebrate both purification and crops. We can recall the Pythian Apollon destroying the plague-bringing serpent Python, and yet the waters that became of its blood nurished the land, just as we can acknowledge the valuable assistance of Apollon in the growth of food-stuff to fill our bellies.
Typically the Thargelia is held over two days during the lunar month Thargelion. The first day of Thargelia beginning on the holy day of Artemis, the 6th of the month. This was the day for the purification of the community, and so good to remember not only Apollon who strikes down the ills, but also for Artemis as a goddess purification. On this first day a man and woman would be chosen to act as pharmakos, and after being walked around the community they would be removed and abandoned acting as scapegoats that had absorbed all the ills of the community. Now this may cause some modern practitioners to baulk but there are ways to incorporate the pharmakos into the ritual in a satisifactory manner; and that would be through building one. There are many ways you can go about this. You can make a cloth doll, carve a human figure, buy clay, or make a sort of “modeling clay” available from household ingredients for which there are many recipes available online. Here is one such recipe that makes a crude but quick doll that is bio-degradable and therefore safe if you wish to abadon it, burn it or bury it somewhere:
1/2 cup potato starch or corn starch 1 cup salt
1 cup boiling water
Boil the mixture until it is similar to a soft-ball; then knead on waxed paper. Wrap the clay in a wet cloth, and place in air-tight container to keep it moist. Once it is finished allow it air dry for at least 24 hours.
If you feel inclined you should feel free to add personal ingredients to the pharmakos since unless you are living in a large community or there are going to be many people participating, this doll will serve mostly for your singular purification. I would also recommend that you not feel pressured to take the doll around your entire community. It would serve quite well to take it around the property where you live, or if you are feeling ambitious–the block you live on. After finishing your trek you may dispose of the doll in whatever way you decide is best, though burning seems to be the prefered method. It is sometimes necessary to strike and remove that which is a part of you for the better of your being as is reflected by the Python. Serpents are sacred to Apollon, and this destroying god who could ravish with plagues destroyed the plague of men and livestock Python. On the outset it may seem entirely negative in purpose and design, but it is a necessary part of the ritual.
In recognition of Artemis on her day, and coorelating nicely to the purification ritual of the pharmakos, you may want to incorporate some the ritual elements of her festival as Artemis Orthia in Sparta. On this day cheese would be laid upon the altar of Artemis guarded by men bearing whips. In Spartan fashion, boys transitioning and preparing for adulthood lived apart from their families and these boys would go to steal the cheese from the altar. Invariably they were caught and whipped. What may seem like a brutal practice to modern sensabilities, served a purpose. These boys in this transitional phase of their lives were leaving childhood for adulthood as a warrior. They were slowly being perged of the soft youth. It is quite possible that this served as a form of purification for the boys. Scourging is not unknown historically for purification of oneself, and can be used quite effectively for these purposes if you have a mind to try it. I recommend it, for in the end despite the stinging skin there is a wonderous feeling of being able to breathe more easily and a new life in the body. If you have another person handy who is willing and that you trust, you can have them flogg you across the back if you prefer, or if you don’t have one available, self flogging is rather simple and you will be able to reach most places with your scourge. There are several people who have followed this (or done instead) a ritual purification bath in light of the goddess bathing and renewing herself in her favorite haunts. If you used in addition to the flogging you will certainly feel cleanly inside and out.
The second day of Thargelia is the holy day of Apollon, and is marked by the offering of the first fruits to the god. As remarked earlier in this article, the fruitfulness of these plants wouldn’t be possible without the hours of nurturing light shining down on them. And in southern climates it is the mid and late spring sun which is most beneficial, where as in contrast the light and heat of midsummer tends to kill everything more often than not. In offering the first fruits you are really utilizing grain in making the thargelos to offer to the god. I recommend getting self rising flour if you can’t get barley flour and follow pretty close to basic bread instructions. Here is my adapted thargelos, for this recipe I would highly recommend dividing into either four loaves for managable full sized loaves of bread, or 10 palm sized loaves which are ideal for me personally since they are easy to share among guests (if you have any celebrating with you), to offer in ritual, and store. You can of course add additional grains, fruits and nuts to personalize it:
boil approximately 1 1/2 cups of barley until soft
mix 2 packages of active rise yeast with 4 3/4 cup self rising bread flour
mix with 2 cups of water
dimple and top with olive oil– let rise
knead in honey, raisins, cinammon and more flour until dough is elastic
dimple and top with olive oil– rise 2
Divide into seperate loaves
in a bowl mix 1 egg with a dash of milk
brush egg mixture onto the top of the loaves
dust with cinammon (optional)
bake in the oven at 350 degrees until brown
In celebrating the Thargelia in the ritual to Apollon recall these functions of Apollon that represented why you were purifying, and why you are offering him grain offerings through the thargelos. Celebrate the warmth of community spirit as you feast, for as anyone from a large mediteranean family can tell you that nearly everything revolves around the family eating together. The ills have been driven out and now you celebrate, feast and make-merry in presence of this god who purifies, renews, and ripens plant life. And if you want to feed left crumbs to the birds it certainly wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.