Mounukhía Ritual by Gitana

Mounukhía Ritual
by Gitana
Performed by the Hellenion Proto-Demos tes Hagnes Persephones

The ritual itself is a modern reconstructionist version of the ancient festival of Mounukhía. The name comes directly from the name of a steep hill near the Athenian port, which was sacred to Artemis. This particular festival worshiped Artemis in a combination of two of her aspects. One, in which she is called Pótnia Therôn, or Mistress of Animals, honors her as goddess of the hunt, and of wild animals. The other aspect is Artemis Fosfóros (light-bringer) which celebrates her as a lunar goddess. The timing of the festival also incorporates both of these aspects, as it is held on the full moon in early spring. We held this ritual in April 2007.

To prepare for the ritual, all participants should be showered, wearing clean clothes, and free from míasma. They also should be wearing stephanoi.

Prior to the start of the ritual, the priest and/or priestess will purify the ritual area with sulfur. An altar is set up in the center of the space facing the East, and if possible a cult-statue of Artemis is set up on or behind the altar. Other decorations, such as images of the goddess or her sacred animals, may be placed about the room. A water bowl (perirrantéria) will also be set up beforehand, which contains khérnips (lustral water) in which participants will wash their hands upon entering.

Participants assemble in a location away from the ritual space, and carrying all ritual items, they process to the location. Music, live if possible, will be played during the procession. The order for the procession will be as follows:

the maiden carrying the barley and knife
the hydrophóros (water-carrier)
the thumiamaphóros (incense-carrier)
participants carrying the sacrifices, offerings, and food for the meal
flute player (if more than one, they are spread out in the procession)
and lastly the spondephóros (libation-carrier).
Participants who are not carrying anything will follow the spondephóros.

Upon coming to the ritual space, each person will stop to wash their hands in the khernips before entering the space. Anyone who is not ritually clean from miasma will not be permitted to enter. If a purification is needed, such as for one who has recently given birth or who is in mourning, please have these rituals done before the Mounukhía.

Participants then enter the space, and moving in a counter-clockwise direction, circle the ritual area three times. This serves as an additional purification of the space. In ancient times, this would have been a dance; if possible, try to do a circle-dance step, leading with the right foot. All ritual items will then be placed on the altar or nearby table (as instructed), and each person is then free to stand where ever they choose. It is not necessary to stand in a circular formation.

The priest takes the khérnips and sprinkles the participants, sacrifice, offerings, and altar with the water. He says,
“As the khérnips is pure, so you are pure. May you be cleansed of all míasma.”

The basket of barley is then passed to each participant so they can take a small amount of barley. (Be careful when reaching into the basket as the ritual knife is buried underneath the barley!) The priestess then steps to the altar and offers the following prayer.

[Note: Artemis is an Olympian deity, and thus one or both palms should be lifted up during prayer.]

“Hear me, Artemis Fosfóros [light-bringer],
Pótnia Therôn [lady of wild beasts],
Artemis Agrotéra [the Huntress],
Orthía [straight],
Artemis Lafría [of the hunt],
or by whichever name it pleases you to be called.
You are the child of Leto and sister to Apollon.
You stand upon the shadowy hills and windy peaks, drawing your golden bow and rejoicing in the chase.
The tops of the high mountains tremble and the tangled wood echoes awesomely with the outcry of beasts. We sing your praises on this sacred holiday.
We have prepared special offerings for you of amphiphóntes and delicately spiced dishes.
We ask that you tame our wild hearts, lest we become beasts in your eyes, prey to be shot through with your golden arrows. Grant this to us, and we shall assemble in your honor again.”

She then steps back, and all participants throw a small amount of barley at the altar, sacrifices, and offerings. The priestess takes the ritual knife from the basket and cuts off a small portion of the meat offering and of the amphiphóntes and puts it in the altar fire. That is allowed to burn for a moment. The fragrance and smoke should be allowed to rise freely. Then, the rest of the sacrifice/food offerings are lifted up for Artemis to see, and then it is divided up. The first portion is given to the goddess by placing it in the altar fire. (If that is not possible, it can simply be placed on the altar, and may be deposited in a wooded area after the ritual.) The rest is set aside as the human portion.

Next, the spondephóros steps forward with the wine for the libation. Lifting the jug up for the goddess to see,
he says, “Pótnia Therôn, we offer this spondé in your honor.” He then pours a little into the altar fire. (If that is not possible, it may be poured into a pan that is held over the fire, or simply into a bowl previously set on the later, to be deposited with the food after the ritual.) The goddess will signal that she has accepted the offerings by making the fire flare up.

As this point, the incense carrier steps forward with the incense, and holds it up for the goddess to see.
S/He says, “Artemis Fosfóros, we offer this incense in your honor.” The incense is then placed on the altar.

After a moment, the priestess again steps forward to offer hymns to Artemis. She recites the Orphic Hymn to Artemis.

“Hear me, O queen, Zeus’ daughter of many names,
Titanic and Bacchic, reverend, renowned archer,
torch-bearing goddess bringing light to all, Diktynna, helper at childbirth.
You aid women in labor, though you know not what labor is.
O frenzy-loving huntress, you loosen girdles and drive cares away;
swift, arrow-pouring, you love the outdoors and you roam in the night.
Fame-bringing, affable, redeeming, mannish,
Orthia, goddess of swift birth, nurturer of mortal youths.
Immortal and yet of this earth, you slay wild beasts, O blessed one,
and your realm is in the mountain forests. You hunt deer,
O august and might queen of all, fair blossoms, eternal,
sylvan, dog-loving, many-shaped lady of Kydonia.
Come, dear goddess, as savior, accessible to all
the initiates and bring earth’s fair fruits
and lovely Peace and well-tressed Health;
and do banish disease and pain to mountain peaks.”

Altar for Mounukhia ritual, celebrated by the Proto-Demos tes Hagnes Persephones. Photo by Gitana.

At this point, other participants may step forward with votive offerings, libations, or incense offerings. They recite the following:

“Stag-hunter Artemis, on the hills. You eagerly hunt with fawn-killing Dionysos.” (Dionysiaca 44.198)

“Zeus has made you [Artemis] a lion among women, and given you leave to kill any at your pleasure … you hunt down the ravening beasts in the mountains and deer of the wilds.” (Iliad 21.470)

“Artemis Khruselákatos (with shafts of gold) loves archery and the slaying of wild beasts in the mountains, the lyre also and dancing and strong-voiced song and shady woods and the cities of upright men.” (Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite)

“The lone huntress Artemis, who … has yoked the brood of savage lions for Brómios [Dionysos], who is enchanted even by the dancing herds of wild beasts.” (Pindar Dithyrambs Heracles the Bold)

“O Artemis, thou maid divine, Díktunna (of the Nets), huntress, fair to see, O bring that keen-nosed pack of thine, and hunt through all the house with me.” (Aristophanes Frogs 1358)

“Praise Artemis too, the maiden huntress, who wanders on the mountains and through the woods.”
(Aristophanes Thesmophoriazusae 114)

“Driving off with her fast-trotting deer over the hills … fawning beasts whimper in homage and tremble as she [Artemis] passes by.” (Argonautica 3.879)

“Artemis, whose study is the bow and the shooting of hares and the spacious dance and sport upon the mountains.”
(Callimachus, Hymn 3 to Artemis)

If there are any votive offerings to be made, the participants may step forward with those, hold them up for the goddess to see, say a few words from the heart, and place it on the altar.

After everyone has had a chance to make an offering that wishes to, the spondephóros once again steps forward and makes a final libation. He says, “Hail to you, child of Zeus and rich-haired Leto. We shall assemble in your honor again.”

The priestess then explains that the ritual has ended, and invites everyone to the meal and games that will follow. (This may take place in the same space, or perhaps in the dining room, etc.)

Copyright © 2007, by Gitana