From our lovely Hellenic witch Starlitenergies...the first in a series of essays about pagan Rites of Passage, starting with...
A wiccaning is sometimes called a Paganing, and from everything I’ve read it is a time to dedicate a son or daughter to the God and Goddess and also to name him or her. Wiccans called it Wiccaning, Pagans call it Paganing, it’s sometimes known as Witching! And it seems to be very similar to baptising/christening.
Many ancient cultures waited anywhere from three days to three months to be certain the child lived before undertaking a ceremony. Since we are blessed to have medical science decreasing the likelihood of infant mortality, choosing a moment which has a special significance to the parents is possible and can make the occasion seem much more sacred. I note that some people choose a year and a day after conception. Some suggest remembering the date to use with a passage rite when the child becomes an adult as well.
Historically speaking naming ceremonies as far as we can tell go back to ancient Greece and Roman days, I remember reading one scholar say that until an infants naming ceremony, they were not consider a part of the family, it was/is like an official welcome to the family. The ceremonies of ancient times took place at the home, as a meaningful expression of nurturing, love and togetherness. The ceremony was most often followed by a great feast, drinking and much merriment!
The Amphidromia in ancient Greece was a ceremonial feast celebrated on the fifth or seventh day after the birth of a child. It’s a family festival derived from the Athenians, at which a newly born child was introduced into the family, and in ancient times it was when the children of poorer families and girls received their names. Wealthier families held a naming ceremony for their boys on the tenth day called Dekate. This ceremony, unlike the Amphidromia, is open to the public by invitation. I say tenth but no particular day was fixed but it did take place soon after the child was born.
Before the sun set on the day of the Amphidromia the women who had lent their assistance to the birth (always women, no men allowed) washed their hands as a purification rite and brought the sacred waters to the celebration if it went ahead for before anything else could happen they examined the child for disease/deformity and then presented it to the head of the household (usually the man) and sometimes the child was rejected, this was based on gender, size of the child, the size of the family already, economic considerations, whether or not the child was born of a slave, legitimacy and the reports of the women on health and deformity. If the child was rejected it was left outside, exposed to the elements and would die. Obviously this isn’t part of modern worship and may seem harsh to our modern sensitivities.
So the child has been accepted by the head of the household. Now the mother presents her child to Artemis, the mother offers sacrifice to Artemis in thanks for the birth of her child in hopes of enlisting divine protection from the Goddess. Offerings of pomegranates, apples, honey cakes and grapes are made and the dad sacrifices a goat. The friends and relations of the parents were invited to the festival of the Amphidromia, which was held in the evening, and they generally brought presents – there’s evidence that cuttlefish and a marine polyp (a reef dwelling squid or octopus type thing) were brought as gifts. It’s thought the infant is presented with a gold necklace from his/her father with a depiction of a meaningful family symbol. The house was decorated on the outside with olive branches if the child were a boy or garlands of wool if the child were a girl; and like I’ve said before a great banquet was prepared using the squid/octopus and the offerings to Artemis.
The child was carried around the central fire of the home (hearth) by the nurse, this was the presentation of the child to the gods of the house and to the family, and at the same time it received its name, to which the guests were witnesses and danced or walked around it. The naming system of the Athenians seems to be made up of three parts. The first being an indication of family values i.e. Philia meaning friendship. The second was always the fathers name and the third or surname as we could call it was the name of the district the family lived within.
Introductions of the infant to the public world took place at a festival called the Apatouria, held annually in October/November time. All male citizens assembled and their dad or male legal guardian was required to swear before a ceremonial altar of the phratry (kin/tribe) with his hands on sacrificial offerings (usually barley and meat) dedicated to Zeus and Athena to the legitimacy of the infant. A lock of hair from the child was also offered to the family’s patron deity and to Hercules (although I’m not sure why Hercules) the father would offer a live animal . Whether or not girls were also “registered” in this way is unknown.