SPEAKER I: The days are still long, but becoming shorter. Outside the sun blazes overhead and the air is hot and dry. Tonight some are celebrating Lammas and the plentiful grain, others are celebrating Lughnasadh and the god Lugh. Tonight we celebrate the Herakleia and the god Herakles, or as he is more popularly known, Hercules.
SPEAKER II: The Herakleia was, and still is, a celebration of the life and death of the god Herakles. In ancient Athens it was celebrated in a magnificent gymnasium called Kynosarges right outside the city walls. There was feasting and drinking and feats of strength performed in the god’s honor; and of course sacrifices and offerings were made. But we are not ancient Athenians, we are 21st century Texans, so our rite will be a bit different.
SPEAKER III: How many of you think of Kevin Sorbo when you hear the name Hercules? [wait for hands to raise.] Now how many of you think Disney and church-choir Muses? [wait for hands to raise]. Both of these helped put the name “Hercules” into pop culture, but neither sufficiently captures the original story of the god. Neither captures the humanity of the god, not his hopes, his trails, and his pain, and his quintessential humanness. He was, after all, known as the friend and protector of man.
His story is one of terrible tragedy and hard-earned redemption. It is one filled with pain and hope. It is a story about doing what must be done, and it is a story about Humanity, for we all suffer tragedy, joy, sorrows, and set-backs, triumph and defeat. We are all struggling and fighting to reach our highest potential, the story of Herakles is the story of what it means to be human. Only the details differ.
OFFICIANT: Now let us ground our beings, center our minds, and attune our spirits to each other and to the worlds around us, both seen and unseen.
MEDITATOR: “Get comfortable, close your eyes, and take a deep breath.
<pause – breathe – pause>
Take a second.
<pause – breathe – pause>
And a third.
<pause – breathe – pause>
You all came from somewhere to be here tonight, some from very close, and some from very far away. See yourself now not in this time and place, but in a time and place very far away. See yourself in a hilly countryside. There are no modern buildings, no modern vehicles, no modern technology. The only things flying are birds and insects. It is the heat of Summer, just after the barley harvest, and it is time for the Herakleia.
Begin walking down a dirt road. Feel the hard ground under your sandals… the Sun is hot, but a strong breeze makes it bearable. Continue walking down this road.
After a while, you come to a fork in the road. Standing there are other people, who like you are on their way to the Herakleia. Greet them as friends and neighbors.
Now pick up the journey again. Together with your new friends, take the road to your right, and continue walking over the hilly terrain.
After a while, you approach a city. You hear music, and the cries of vendors selling food, garlands, incense, and items to be offered to the Gods. You find a stone bench in the Agora, and you sit and rest, taking in the sights of the city.
You see a group of young men moving toward the city gate. They are wearing the garlands of victors. These will be the guides for the procession to the temple. You get up and find a place near the front of the gathering crowd, and you notice several large bulls, with horns sheathed in gold.
A drumbeat begins, and a choir of strong voices, both men and women, begin singing hymns to Herakles. The procession is starting. You, your friends, and all the participants find the pace and begin to move as one.
You go out of the city and down another dirt road toward a mountain. This is snowy Olympus, the Mount Olympus of our world. Zeus rules the Golden Olympus, where the weather is always fair and the land is lush and green. We mortals cannot travel there.
The road begins climbing up the mountain. A reverent hush falls over the procession – the only sounds are of the drums and the choir.
The road bends and as you turn, you see the Temple of Herakles. The officiants lead the bulls into the temple grounds, followed by the young victors you saw earlier.”
OFFICIANT: “Here our journey from long ago ends. Now we will process into our own Temple of Herakles. On the way in you will be sprinkled lightly with khernips, a type of purifying water. Please rise and follow [OFFICIANT].”
Play First Pythian Ode by Pindar as performed by Petros Tabouris
(Leader do not process until you hear the music/singing. There should be a purifier to the right side of the entrance sprinkling khernips lightly on the processing party. Ideally they are using an olive branch, oak branch, or bay sprig to do this)
OFFICIANT: (go to Altar of Hestia. Throw a handful of barley onto it. Light candle and incense and say) Hail oh daughter of Kronos, noble and gentle Hestia. As it has been done and is done, we honor you first as is custom. Graciously attend our rites. (Now have all the other priests through a handful of barley onto the main altar.)
PRIESTESS OF HERA: ( Throw a handful of barley onto the altar. light candle and incense, say) Hail oh Queen of Olympus, Daughter of Kronos and Rhea, Wife of Zeus, you who are the stinging goad that pushes us to fulfillment, Queen of the Wind and Ruler of the Starry Skies. Come, allow us to tell of your role in the life and death of Herakles, allow us to honor you graceful Queen of the Gods. Please attend our rites.
PRIEST/ESS OF ATHENA: (Throw a handful of barley onto the altar. Light candle then incense, say) Hail oh Grey-Eyed Maiden, Daughter of Zeus, Crafty-Weaver and Skilled Fighter, you who support heroes in their quests, Lady of War and Civilization. Come, allow us to tell of your role in the life and death of Herakles, allow us to honor you brave-hearted Maiden. Please attend our rites
PRIEST OF HERACLES: (Throw a handful of barley onto the altar. Light candle then incense, say) Hail oh Friend of Man, son of Zeus and Alkmene, come now and let us tell your story, of your labors, of your joys and sorrows, successes and failures. Come now and let us tell of your glorious life and your tragic end. Please attend our rites, blessed Herakles
Success by Emily Dickenson
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,
As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear!
OFFICIANT: Let us now hear the tale of Herakles!
STORYTELLER I: Herakles was born to Alkmene, one of the many mortal lovers of Zeus, King of the Gods. Hera was none too pleased about this and conspired to get revenge against the children of Zeus for this transgression. When Herakles was just a baby, she sent two snakes after him, and while his half-brother Iphicles was terrified, Herakles bravely dispatched them. His mother Alkmene and his foster father feared the wrath of Hera, so they left the babe in the mountains leaving his fate to the gods. His half-sister Athena found him and took him to be nursed by Hera. The goddess nursed the young hero and he grew strong and powerful. Some say she recognized the young boy, others say she did not. Which you believe is for you to decide.
PRIESTESS OF HERA: Hear our prayers, oh Hera, noble Queen of Heaven. Let us find strength and understanding in our hardships, let us see through the smoke and realize the clarity and wisdom in our struggles. Let us always strive to face them nobly, resolutely, and courageously, never to shirk from our duties.
STORYTELLER II: Herakles grew into a man and married a beautiful woman named Megara, with whom he had six sons. Hera, still nursing her old grudge against the man for the infidelity of Zeus, drove Herakles to madness. In his bout of insanity he slew his six sons and his beloved wife believing them to be enemy soldiers; he dispatched them with his bow. When he regained control of his senses he was deeply grieved by his own actions. He did not blame what he did on Hera, however, and underwent purification and then sought a way to atone for his crimes. He went to the Oracle at Delphi and received commands to perform twelve mighty labors.
STORYTELLER III: He slew the Nemean Lion, a giant beast which he had to wrestle into submission. He slew the Hydra, a monster who grew two heads for every head that was cut off. He captured the golden hind of Artemis, an animal that could outrun an arrow. For his fourth task he had to capture the Erymanthian Boar, a monstrous pig. He then cleaned the Augean stables in a single day, no easy task as they contained over 1000 divine cattle and had not been cleaned in over thirty years. Most famously, he went into the realm of Hades and captured his ferocious and infamous guard dog Kerberos, more commonly known as Cerberus. Among his other labors was the slaying of the Stymphalian birds, the capture of the Cretan Bull, the stealing of the mares of Diomedes, the theft of Hippolyta’s belt, the rustling of the Cattle of Geryon, and the acquisition of the Hesperides Apples. Throughout all these things Athena bore with him, lending her wisdom, advice and support. Allowing the hero to complete the tasks on his own merits, but never abandoning him.
PRIEST/ESS OF ATHENA: Hear our prayers, oh Athena, Grey-Eyed Maiden. We ask for gentle support in the challenges that life brings to us, we ask to remember that we are never truly alone, for our ancestors walk besides us and our gods have long memories, we ask for the wisdom necessary to rise to our challenges and do what must be done.
STORYTELLER IV: Despite the fact that many of these tasks were set about by Hera and made difficult by her the hero did not hate her. He made offerings to her and praised her throughout. Herakles did finish the labors. He even married again to a woman named Deianira (Day-an-EE-ra) who loved him dearly. She wove a cloak for him and on his return from his last adventure she presented it to him smeared with a balm, a balm which she was told would cause him to love her forever. She was lied to. Once the hero had pulled the cloak close to him his skin began to burn with terrible pain. He pulled the cloak off but it only burned more fiercely until the hero finally saw death as the preferable option. His friends built him a funeral pyre and he threw himself upon it. The hero was dead.
But his story was not over.
For his great and wonderful deeds the gods in Olympus gave him the highest honor and allowed the hero to become a god. Athena swooped down from the peaks of Olympus in her chariot and retrieved the hero from the Pyre and instilled him in his new station as a god. He then married a goddess called Hebe, a favorite daughter of Hera’s, and began his duties as the Friend of Man, lending his strength to mortals in our moments of most dire need.
PRIEST OF HERACLES: Hear our prayers, oh Herakles, Mighty Friend of Man! Your strength and perseverance inspires us, your story is the story of every man woman and child. Let us remember our own strength. Grant us endurance, fortitude, dedication, and the ability to see all tasks through.
OFFICIANT: Herakles was spurned and driven by the rage of Hera, his life made difficult and caused him to commit acts which almost broke his spirit. But he overcame. He was not bound by his past and rose to the challenges which were presented before him. Perhaps Hera seems cruel to you, but consider this. If she had not done what she did Herakles would have lived and died as a mortal, he would not have realized his destiny and ascended to godhood. Herakles roughly translates as “the glory of Hera” Was Hera truly angry at him? Or did she use her anger to direct Herakles in fulfilling his destiny? I cannot answer for you, but it behooves us to keep in mind that the things and people who oppose us may in turn be our greatest allies.
[a moment of silence]
STORYTELLERS: (wait for OFFICIANT to give signal) We have told the tale of Herakles
OFFICIANT: We have heard the tale of Herakles
Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
OFFICIANT: Let no one speak an ill-omened word!
PRIESTS: For it is good to pray!
OFFICIANT: Let us offer these prayers with joy!
PRIESTS: For it is good to pray!
OFFICIANT: Let us turn ourselves towards the gods!
PRIESTS: For it is good to pray!
OFFICIANT: Hear our prayers oh holy and mighty immortal ones! Let us carry within our hearts the lessons that the story of Herakles tells us. No matter what has happened in our past, we are not bound by it. It will always be there and we do not have to forget it, but it need not control us. Let us remember that our hardships, our struggles, and our challenges help us do what we were meant to do, for as Herakles shows us, the road of excellence is wrought with difficulties. Let us also remember that no matter what television, movies, and popular culture tells us, we are never truly alone in our journey. We have the support and backing of our family, our friends, our ancestors, and our gods. We cannot do everything, but we can do what we were meant to.
PRIESTESS OF HERA: pick up tokens, raise towards the gods) Hera, let these tokens be a reminder of the necessity of struggle and challenge and of the wisdom and growth that these struggles bring. hand basket to Priestess of Athena
PRIEST/ESS OF ATHENA: pick up tokens, raise towards the gods Athena, let these tokens be a reminder of the support that we can find, be it direct or indirect and let us find comfort in the knowledge that we are never truly alone. hand basket to Priest of Herakles
PRIEST OF HERAKLES: pick up tokens, raise towards the gods Herakles, let these tokens be a reminder of strength and perseverance. Allow us to remember that sometimes following our True Will is hard, but in doing so we strive to meet our full potential. set basket on altar
OFFICIANT: If you are comfortable, please take a token as they are passed around. If for any reason you do not feel ready or willing to take a token of the blessings you are under no obligation to do so
(WINE-CARRIER and BARLEY-CARRIER should pass out tokens)
(After everyone has received a token)
OFFICIANT: Come now, if you wish, and pray to the gods. After you have spent a moment in communion with Hera, Athena, or Herakles, pour a libation of mixed wine into their bowl in thanks for them hearing you.
OFFICIANT: Come now, oh Herakles, Athena, and Hera, and accept our offerings!
PRIESTESS OF HERA: To you, oh Hera, we offer this frankincense [give incense], we give this gift of bread [give bread], and we give this offering of mixed wine [pour libation].
PRIEST/ESS OF ATHENA: To you, oh Athena, we offer this frankincense [give incense], we give this gift of bread [give bread], and we give this offering of mixed wine [pour libation].
PRIEST OF HERAKLES: To you, oh Herakles, we offer this frankincense [give incense], we give this gift of bread [give bread], and we give this offering of mixed wine [pour libation].
OFFICIANT: And to you gentle Hestia, we give a final offering of frankincense, a final offering of bread, and a final offering of mixed wine. [pause for a moment] Now let us enjoy food and drink in your presence.
(Pass out cups and serve wine and grape juice for the drink, pass out some sort of bread for the food portion. Play Calling of the twelve gods and Hymenios by Daemonia Nymphe the same artist.)
OFFICIANT: (after everyone has been served) We have enjoyed food and drink in the company of the gods, let us now thank them for their presence.
PRIEST OF HERAKLES: Hail, oh Herakles. Let us remember your name now and forever. We thank you for your blessings, for heeding our prayers, and for accepting our offerings. We bid you farewell, mighty Friend of Man.
PRIEST/ESS OF ATHENA: Hail mighty Athena. Lets us remember your name now and forever. We thank you for your blessings, for heeding our prayers, and for accepting our offerings. We bid you farewell, sturdy Grey-Eyed Maiden.
PRIESTESS OF HERA: Hail, oh Hera. Let us remember your name now and forever. We thank you for your blessings, for heeding our prayers, and for accepting our offerings. We bid you farewell, blessed Queen of Olympus.
OFFICIANT: Noble Hestia, most gentle among all the gods, we remember your name now and forever. We thank you for your blessings, for heeding our prayers, and for accepting our offerings. We bid you farewell gentle Hestia. (pause for a moment) our rite is ended, our offerings made, and Their stories told. Go in peace and go in the grace of the gods.
MEDITATOR: “Again find yourself in the Temple of Herakles on Snowy Olympus. As our rites here are complete, so are the rites there. Return at your leisure, down the mountain, past the city, down the long road, and back to your home. Feel the ancient past fading, and find yourself back in this place, and this time.
Open your eyes, and be here now.”
ASPERGER: “Tonight we have celebrated the Herakleia. We have honored Herakles, the Friend of Man. We have honored Hera, Queen of Olympus. We have honored Athena, the Grey Eyed Maiden. And we have honored Hestia, Gentle Goddess of the Flame. As we leave this temple and return to the ordinary world, let us remember their blessings and the power of their struggles.
PRIEST OF HERAKLES: “Let us rejoice in the company of the gods!
All: “Let us rejoice!”
OFFICIANT: Ring bell.
I recommend the following order for the processional:
PRIEST OF HERAKLES
PRIEST/ESS OF ATHENA
PRIESTESS OF HERA
It helps to have those with scripted parts to be in matching garb. We said “Let the people in white assemble first and then follow behind them.”
I recommend wearing white clothing, preferably white linen or white wool, as this is more traditional.
This is a late-summer kind of ritual, traditionally the Herakleia takes place in the month of Metageitnon. It should take place before the sun goes down.
It is also not intended for a strict-recon group, but rather a mixed group who may not be familiar with Hellenic deities. It may be modified to suit your needs
Herakleia Ritual Script by Conor O’Bryan Warren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
FREE USE WITH PROPER ATTRIBUTION, LINKAGE, AND NOTES OF CHANGES MADE
GUIDED MEDITATION CREATED BY JOHN BECKETT AND CONOR O’BRYAN WARREN
CREATED BY CONOR O’BRYAN WARREN WITH GUIDANCE FROM JOHN BECKETT
FIRST PERFORMED AT DENTON CUUPS’ HERAKLEIA RITUAL ON AUGUST 2ND 2014