Lenaea has come and gone, always a subtle occasion in my household. Unlike some folks I do not celebrate it with a cup wine, but rather with personal reflection over the year amid my offerings to Dionysos, as well as enjoy the laughter of comedy that reminds us all of the return of life after death as time keeps turning and the season pass one into the next. For this is the birth of Dionysos. Oh I don’t mean the other birth of Dionysos that I referred to, the one celebrated by the Thyiads in the Corycion cave, but rather the birth of Dionysos to Semele. That he, Zagreus, who struck by death by the titans, and sacrificed in a manner, returned again through the womb of Cadmus’ daughter. During this festival Dionysos is said to have been represented in the form of a mask in a basket to indicate that he is present as an infant.
Specifically Lenaea is, in agricultural communities, the festival of the winepress. This may be difficult for some of us to get a handle on symbolically since most of us neither own vineyards or make our own wine, but given that everything from actions to words themselves have a great meaning in Hellenismos infers that there is something very potent in the symbolism of the winepress n the process of making wine. But to understand this we need to approach the wine from the angle of not literally being wine as we understand it, but rather a spiritual substance that we take within us, most likely through spiritual activity, which is processed to become a great elixir of the soul. Therefore while physical wine may stimulate our senses and give the illusion of spiritual liberation for a brief time, the true wine that is fermented and consecrated within the soul is what the material wine is truly representing. I had this conversation not too many days ago with a friend in which we discussed this conclusion that we both had reached. And truly this true wine is a bit more difficult in its making than the material wine.
Therefore the making of the spiritual wine is a process that is represented in the activity of Dionysos. As the grape was cut, so too has our life been cut through each incarnation over and over and we have gathered the fruits of our lifetime of labors where they have fermented and sweetened within the soul. Each life time we pluck a few more bunches from the vineshoot of our life and add it to the basket. Of course we are already provisioned with the beginnings of this wine, and this is through Dionysos in his incarnation as Zagreus, for the death of Zagreus from which souls derived is the divine drop within that we are born with at the beginning of our existence. Then Dionysos sacrifices himself to add the potency to the spirit of the wine, enriching us through the symbol of his sacrifice as he is torn asunder, followed by his midwinter return which instigates the return of life. So then what is Lenaea representative of? Well to understand that we need to return a moment to the sacrifice of Dionysos.
Dionysos sacrifices himself to retrieve his mother from the underworld, and Semele/Thyione returns in the spring akin in imagery of the rising of Persephone. Semele is an important figure and is thus is a valuable goddess as Thyione. She is the burning woman who beheld Zeus and thus her body caught in the rapture of flames from which Dionysos was born. For a time I was briefly interested in spiritual alchemy until I realized that these points of spiritual development were already in place in Hellenismos and the death of Semele is a great example of it. This represents the spiritual Calcination process, the destruction by fire by which, through being rendered to ashes, one is purified. Then there are three other stages which can be associated with the life journey until reaching the point I discussed above, the process of fermentation which embodies the life force and is associated in alchemy to the seat of the soul. An Alchemy page tells us this about fermentation:
“Psychologically, the Fermentation process starts with the inspiration of spiritual power from Above that reanimates, energizes, and enlightens the alchemist. Out of the blackness of his Putrefaction comes the yellow Ferment, which appears like a golden wax flowing out of the foul matter of the Soul. Its arrival is announced by a brilliant display of colors and meaningful visions called the “Peacock’s Tail.” Fermentation can be achieved through various activities that include intense prayer, desire for mystical union, breakdown of the personality, transpersonal therapy, psychedelic drugs, and deep meditation. Fermentation is living inspiration from something totally beyond us.”
For the winepress we must accept that at this point fermentation has already happened, and the winepress is synonymous with the alchemical process of distillation by condensing it into its purist form. This is necessary for the step of colagulation which follows in which the elixir is released which can be found in the opening of the new wine in the Anthesteria. I realize I just gave a very simplicistic overview of the alchemy, but as I said when I realized that these spiritual elements are more or less already in place in the mysteries of Dionysos I was no longer concerned with pursuing more knowledge on spiritual alchemy which would have incorporated other elements which have little to do with my religious orientation. However for those who are interested in seeing the outline of the seven (ha there is that sacred number!) steps of alchemy that I quoted from, it is outlined nicely here: http://www.esotericonline.net/group/alchemy/forum/topics/the-seven-spiritual-and-1?commentId=3204576%3AComment%3A49850&groupId=3204576%3AGroup%3A21
As such the celebration of the winepress is the preparation of making the final product of the wine, though the wine still won’t be recognizably ready until it has aged a bit more and is opened during the Anthesteria. As such Lenaea is appropriately a festival of hope and rejuvenation, and symbolic of an ongoing important spiritual process that our souls are working towards.