(PBP) E is for Elaphebolion

Since, as of writing this post, there are many upcoming events in March, many of which fall in the lunar month of Elaphebolian, I figured it would be appropriate to dedicated my letter E of the Pagan Blog Project to it, which catches me up to everyone else who is on E this week.

Like many months in the various Hellenic calendars (and I say various since each city state had its own distinct calendar more or less) Elaphebolian takes its name from an Athenian  festival, and epithet, of a deity. In this case it is the celebration of Elaphebolia which honors Artemis Elaphaia, Artemis of the Deer (elaphos), or rather more specifically Artemis Elaphebolos, the Shooter of Deer. This festival (which was celebrated on the 27th of February this year because of the way the lunar calendar fell) is typically celebrated by the making of cakes into the shape of deer. Personally I prefer to dig out the deer shaped cookie-cutters that are easy to find during the xmas season (I say deer shaped because they are shaped like leaping deer rather than the more robust reindeer) and make small deer shaped sugar cookies to celebrate the occasion which can be enjoyed by the entire household (and one batch is quite easily gone by the end of the day). Usually I decorate them with swirls of frosting to appear as new growth in honor of the spring season. these can also be made more traditionally with dough mixed with honey and sesame seeds, but it seems that my family takes to the sugar cookies better. In any case either way you are dealing with a sweet treat.

There are a few factors that I consider when preparing for Elaphebolia. First is that I honor Artemis as the driver of the deer-pulled chariot. There are worshipers who believe that Artemis, like Apollon, departs to Hyperboreia during the winter. Though I haven’t seen any resources which speak of Artemis in Hyperboreia, there does seem to be a certain emphasis on the twins traveling together (such as in version of the myth of the slaying of Python in which Artemis also helped him and the twins roamed about to purify themselves). Even the presence of Artemis with Apollon in Hyperboreia in the myth of the labor of Herakles where he chased her hind, is suggestive of her presence there. There is also a vase painting in which Artemis, in a deer chariot is returning to Olympos with Hekate proceeding her with torches held aloft. This is certainly suggestive of a departure and return of the goddess. If the image of Hekate had been absent I may have felt otherwise, but to me this imagery possesses a distinctive returning symbolism with the guiding light of Hekate before her.

Of course Artemis returns before Apollon. This makes sense on different levels. On one level, as the shooter of deer, she is the one that chases her pray to the gateway of her brother. Therefore she is preliminary in this spiritual process and advances first. So we have first the return of the deer drawn chariot, and the return of the shooter of deer who, upon her return, begins to actively act in the world, energizing life that it progresses forward. That she arrives before her brother is also represented in a Delian vase in which her brother, returning with Hyperboreian maidens, is greeted by his twin at the altar on Delos with a deer beside her if my memory serves. This may seem to be a bit contrary to the festival, but though it is honoring her as the shooter of deer, this role is not separate from the lady of the deer in general (please see this post for more details about the relationship of Artemis with the image of the stag which I feel is pertinently related to the Elaphebolia). Spring, after all, also brings the birth of the new fawns, which she will nurture and care for in preparation for their hunt.

In Delphi, this month is Theoxenios which celebrates Theoxenia, the banquet of Apollon in celebration of his return to which all gods are invited, and among them most especially Dionysos. This is in direct parallel in which Dionysos is the guest of honor in the autumn transference of the oracle to Dionysos too. It shouldn’t be missed that during this month we also see the departure of Dionysos from Delphi and the celebration of the Great Dionysia as the god returns the cities with all fanfare, celebrated with the performance of comedies and contests in that line in celebration of the return of spring. In a sense the Elaphebolia sets up the series of following festivals as an important part of the progression of spring.

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