Making a festival from scratch: the Priapeia

Whoever worships “minor deities” knows the struggle: historical information is scarce, tends to be fragmentary and/or scattered across centuries and locations, and just overall badly documented. Priapus is one of those, who, having joined the pantheon later than most (not before the 3rd century BC) and having had several different forms of worship, albeit all modest ones, does not have much to his name. No recorded hymns, no festivals, and a limited list of epithets.

But Priapus is a god dear to me. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed my occasional gushing, and so for the past year or so I’ve tackled the work of filling the gaps. I started with the epithets, gathering the historical ones absent from and creating new ones, then I moved on to writing two hymns, and then, a few months ago, the idea of a festival started budding.

This is what I’m going to detail here. As per usual, my disclaimer will be this: this is obviously all UPG, no matter how many links and references to historical practice I’ve used, the fact is Priapus didn’t have organized worship, and if he did (like it’s hinted for Lampsacus), it’s been lost. Another flaw -at least for a recon-leaning practitioner- is the mix of influences at play, which place this invention in no particular era and uses Roman elements of this god on a Greek religious template, making it an “unidentified religious object” closer to whatever the fuck happened in late Antiquity than anything else. That’s enough warnings, here’s how I did it.

Identifying the basics

Some of the important points to consider were:

  • Name?
  • For who?
  • For what?
  • How long?
  • When?
  • How?

In my case, the three first questions were already partly answered: for Priapus, following the classic naming convention, and to celebrate the harvest season, especially of figs and apples, as those two fruits are especially important to him. This also partly answered the “when”: somewhere between late August and early September.

Since I work with the Attic calendar, I checked how busy that time of the year was and found that this time is actually very calm (probably because historically the people would be busy doing the harvests). Before I choose a specific date though, I had to figure out how long the festival should last.

All those questions were either completed or answered to via divination: the length would be 2 days (one first divination method had hinted towards something short, another gave me the exact number). From then on, I could choose a date. For convention, I chose one that fell on a weekend this year, but since the lunar calendar is what it is, this will not be the case in the following years. The date chosen was the 20-21st of Metageitnion, aka August 28-29th for 2021.

Refining the purpose of the festival

As expected, divination led me to refine my initial ideas:

  • Priapus insisted I add Aphrodite (his mother) to be honored by his side. It made even more sense once I remembered one of her epithets is Kepois “of the garden.”
  • He seemed less interested in celebrating abundance rather than stocking it in preparation for “rough days” which I understood as winter. This is the answer that completely redefined what the “how” part of the festival and overall organization would be: instead of being solely a thanksgiving-like celebration, the focus shifted on including an activity to it. Thus, I will be using some of this time to eg. pickle cucumbers, freeze some seasonal fruits, make jam, etc. as long as it serves the purpose of keeping seasonal produce for later.
  • The order of things was also determined via divination, as such the first day would include an opening ritual and would be followed by the activities I just described. Whereas the second day would be the feast day and would end with a concluding ritual.

At this point, I felt I was starting to have something that had a solid logic to it. I continued planning details, such as writing another hymn that would be specific to the event, but what was interesting to experience was that the more time I put into it, the more fleshed out the logic became. So much so that I’m now considering making this a pair, akin to how certain festivals mirror each other (like the Asklepieia pair or even the Thargelia/Pyanopsia pair).

I have yet to work on this second Priapeia, which I’ve set to be on Elaphebolion 20-21. For now, I do have an overall idea of what I want to it be: honoring Priapus as garden work resumes and possibly even linking him back to his original role as a sea god (as spring also means resuming sailing). I’m sure he’ll have his word on what he wants once I get to it, but the method to set it up will be roughly the same.


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