According to the ancient Athenian calendar the fourth day after the dark moon each month is dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite, beautiful mistress of love and sexuality. A powerful deity whose domain in antiquity stretched from the Near East to Magna Graecia and beyond, Aphrodite was worshipped by all aspects of society. A goddess considered so potent, so pervasive, that not only did she feature in the celebrated literature of the day — the epics of Homer — she was considered to be directly responsible for starting the Trojan War. Remember, both Helen and Paris were beloved of Aphrodite!
As a student and dedicant of Aphrodite, I believe in love as a physical, carnal, wild force — represented by the Goddess of Love — although I do not claim to understand its mystery nor to competently control its attracting power. Indeed, I aspire to worship Aphrodite in fact, as a sort of placatory gesture directed toward her — I have spent many more years being the victim of her wiles than I have in embodying any sort of role as mistress of her realm. Sometimes I have felt to be almost persecuted by her, the way she makes me weak, smitten and goo-goo over someone, against my will...
Research and practical experimentation have convinced me that the religious forms and methods of the ancient Greeks were valid and that they can be effective and meaningful today. So, when the religious impulse strikes me — as it does every so often — and I feel the need to step into the liminal realm of the gods, I perform a thank-offering to Aphrodite for all the things she has given me — even those things that I haven’t asked for, and that have caused me pain (I suffer to learn!). I also ask for her continuous blessing and that she direct me towards a deeper understanding of her nature.
The way I go about formal worship is to first make a beautiful place for the Goddess’ epiphany: I set up an altar in my garden, place an image of Aphrodite upon it along with scallop shells (she was born from the sea); goat figurines (buck goats are sacred to Her); libation bowls filled with wine, oil and barley; a candle; a censer with frankincense incense; flowers and a bowl of lustral water for pre-ritual washing. I also dress in diaphanous robes and jewelry and wear make-up, because Aphrodite is concerned with indulgent display, not austerity.
At the altar I wash my hands with the water and sprinkle my surrounds. Next I strew barley upon it as an offering symbolising the gifts of the earth. I light a candle representing the hearth goddess, Hestia — who is always honored first in Olympian religion — and pour some wine to her. Then I read the two Homeric Hymns to Aphrodite —I believe the Goddess enjoys hearing them, and they also give me insights into her character. I subsequently pour libations of wine to Aphrodite and to two of her handmaidens, Peitho (persuasion) and Ambologera, (remover of old age).
Sometimes I break out of a strictly Reconstructionist ritual mode and recite something modern, such as the following contemporary invocation/prose-poem to Aphrodite, written by performance artist Joanna Frueh:
Venus Verticordia, changer of hearts, look me straight in the eye, then hug me, then look me in the eye again. Tell me stories about your ancestor, Aphrodite, our mother of Eros, whose child – his name, his works and play – have usurped Aphrodite’s authority.
Aphrodite, full of grace long before the birth of Mary, sometimes I fear I’ve lost you in the slim pickings of the sex-goddess incarnations who slightly reflect your radiance so wayward from the ironic lucidity I see in perfect pictures.
Venus Verticordia grieves: our mother Aphrodite, a wide-ranging aphrodisiac, an erotic pharmacopoeia, is stripped down to one simple, insufficiently effective drug. Aphrodisiac: mistaken for merely a substance to ingest.
Aphrodite, you stimulate me in intricately erotic ways. You arouse the pleasure I feel in my own beauty. Erotic: you mothered the meaning of this word, whose profundity is minimized by the synonym sexy – a useful colloquialism, shorthand for aphrodisiac.
Monster, mother, huge in the ability to praise yourself, I can look at you any time I see myself. Aphrodite, save me from the self-contempt elicited by approximating the ideal beauty. She is a fluffcake and a stalker who has betrayed monster/beauty, the pleasurable corporeality that is your domain.
Aphrodite, help me build the body of love.
(Poem by Joanna Frueh. Monster/Beauty: Building the Body of Love. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001, pp. 9-10.)
Next, I light the traditional frankincense granules and offer thanks for the past graces I have received, and I pray for future blessings from several different manifestations of Aphrodite, distinguished by her epithets: Aphrodite Epitragidia (buck goat), Cyprian (from Cyprus), Philomeides (laughter-loving) and Eleemon (merciful).
After the formalities, I sit and meditate before the altar, listening for any communications from Deity. Sometimes I murmur my troubles and wishes to her at this time. To conclude, I pour a final libation to Hestia, then end the rite and dismantle my altar.