A warm summer sun smiles down upon the British coastline, the low tide reflecting jewels which are wash up and dispersed upon fine sand. A welcome breeze dances around a gathering of Goddess devotees encircling a small bonfire. Amongst them stands a banner and statue depicting and imitating Botticelli’s Venus and bouquets of roses. Just before the sun sets, those gathered lovingly collect these assembled artifacts, holding them aloft, and begin to process barefoot towards the sea.
Aphrodite-Venus’s banner and sculpted face shines in the low afternoon sunlight. As the procession slowly steps, weaves, and dances, towards the sea to the beat of a drum, the sun reaches further behind the hills, casting a long shadow upon the beach. The Goddess’s image dances with them, banner swaying and statue bobbing with the dance of its carrier. By the time the procession reaches the sea, the sun has dipped behind the now black silhouette of the hills bathing the beach ahead in dusky oranges and brilliant blues. At the shoreline, a priestess steps forward and turns the Goddess’s statue to face the procession, which has now fanning out into a semi-circle.
“Hail Aphrodite!” The priestess exclaims; the party echo her.
“Hail Aphrodite!” She calls and is echoed again.
“Hail Aphrodite!” Once more she calls and the crowd echoes a response.
She is then accompanied into the water by a sister priestess. Together, they lower Aphrodite-Venus’s statue into the waves and, kneeling beside her, blue dresses soaking up the sea, they collect saltwater in scallop shells to pour upon the Goddess’s image. They are then joined by the other devotees, who also cast scarlet rose petals into the water as offerings. At the close of this ritual, the two priestesses disrobe entirely and wade deeper into the water, bodies embraced by sun-kissed azure and a rising moon as the day fades into night.
Every year devotees of Aphrodite repeat this ritual in various ways. Some years they approach the sea alone, bathing humble hand-held icons of Aphrodite-Venus and whispering their private prayers to Her. At other times, they stay home and submerge themselves in a hot bath of rose petals and salts, washing their own bodies as the physical embodiments of the Goddess.
This is an ancient ritual.
Each summer in celebration of the Aphrodisia, ancient Greek and Cypriot devotees of Aphrodite would undertake purification rituals cleansing sacred icons of the Goddess. In Athens, this involved making offerings and cleaning her cult statues and sanctuaries; in Paphos, Aphrodite’s statue would be carried to the sea and bathed in the saltwater waves. In the 21st century, thousands of years later, modern devotees of Aphrodite are reviving this festival and the ritual bathing of Aphrodite. Some continue to do this in their Mediterranean homelands, whilst others revive the ritual thousands of miles away in countries far from Greece and Cyprus. There are many ways that modern celebrations differ from their ancient past. Different kinds of offerings are given and icons are brought from people’s home altars rather than temples; devotees may drive to local bodies of water for their rituals, or priestesses lead rituals online, inviting devotees to anoint themselves from bowls of perfumed or salt water. The Cypriot Aphrodisia, with its joyful sea-bound procession appears to be most popular version of the festival to be revived by modern devotees, such as those described above.
Thousands of years later, the ancient role of Aphrodite Pandemos as the unifier of peoples perseveres and she remains a much beloved Goddess into the 21st century. To Her devotees, Aphrodite is the force that causes the rain to fall upon the fertile earth and animals to procreate; She is the instigator of desire and attraction; She is the exquisite beauty of gardens and shining jewels; and it is Her influence which can be felt in moments of profound heartbreak and sorrow. Matters of love and loss remain integral to the human experience, and though life for her devotees today may be vastly different from those of the ancient world, Aphrodite remains timelessly relevant. Recognising Aphrodite as a Goddess worthy of reverence, rejecting her sexist portrayal in popular culture, and reclaiming autonomy over one’s body and sexuality, are integral themes in Aphrodite’s revival in Goddess Spirituality.
I have come to learn this about Aphrodite through a combination of personal experiences and my doctoral research. Seeking to learn more about how ancient Goddesses and Goddess traditions are revived in the 21st century (specifically in the UK and USA), I have had the privilege to interview Goddess devotees, attend online ceremonies, and read questionnaire responses detailing devotee’s views and experiences. It is fascinating to me how ancient traditions continue to resonate with people today and how they can be transformed for revival in the modern world.
Here is where you come in! I now have three online questionnaires calling for responses from Goddess devotees of all genders and backgrounds (18+) who are located in the UK and USA, or frequently engage with Goddess communities there:
- Questionnaire #1 is about Goddess Spirituality and the ways that devotees learn about their Goddesses.
- Questionnaire #2 is for those who specifically work with Aphrodite, Aset-Isis, and/or Sekhmet.
- Questionnaire #3 is about pilgrimages to museums and ancient sites, and interactions with scholars.
You can respond to answer any or all of these questionnaires, which are available online* through the following link: https://linktr.ee/teawithathena
This is also where you can find my research blog and more information about the project.
I would love to hear from you and for you to be a part of this collaborative project.
*Questionnaires are also available as audio files and hard copies upon request.
BIO: Olivia Ciaccia. I am a doctoral candidate researching Anglo-American Goddess Spirituality’s revival of ancient Mediterranean and Egyptian goddesses in the 21st century. I publish writings for academic and non-academic readers, and in my spare time I love to go hiking – when not home cwtching my cat.
PhD Candidate in Historical Studies at the University of Bristol under the supervision of Professor Ronald Hutton and Professor Genevieve Liveley.