Arrephoria

by Melissa

(3 Skirophoria) A festival to Athena, during which two young girls dressed in white garments carried “unspoken things” (things about which no one could speak), possibly the peplos for Athena, which had begun to be woven at the feast to Hephaitos months earlier.  They carried these “unspoken things” at night from the top of the Acropolis down to the garden temenos of Aphrodite, located at the base of the Acropolis.  They then carried something else from the temenos of Aphrodite back up to the top of the Acropolis (Parke, p. 141, citing Pausanias, I.27.3).  However, it is also possible that this festival and its timing was confused in Classical and Hellenistic times with another festival, one to Erse, the Goddess of dew, which was likely observed at the time that fields were seeded in late fall (Parke, p. 142-143).

Burkett also thinks that girls might have carried dew but not to honor just Erse.  He notes the underground passage they traversed when they descended to the garden of Aphrodite passed an ancient spring, from whence they could have carried moisture (p. 229).  He further surmises that the festival commemorated Cecrops’ two daughters who fell from the Acropolis, Erse and Pandroso—both named for dew (or tender growth).  In any case, Arrephoia may be a ritual for fertility and likely part of the agricultural cycle.  It is more obviously the beginning of the process that winds up the old year before the New Year commences, since in Athens nothing was carried over from one year to the next.  This completion of the year entailed a ritual process of festivals and sacrifices to a multitude of divinities, all seemingly related to the city’s first king, Erechtheus, from Mycenaean times (Burkertt, p. 233).

Modern practice: On this day, begin to finish unfinished projects and to clear away debris and what is no longer needed, to make room for the new.

Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, 1977
Parke, H.W., Festivals of the Athenians, 1977.