Gender-exclusive gods

This post from Aspis of Ares has inspired me into further thought about this topic. Though I have refrained from commenting on the activities of Pantheacon (largely because I was not there and have no relationship to Dianic Wicca), his post did make me think specifically about gender-exclusive worship practices and to what extent they had relevance in Hellenismos and the worship in the ancient world. As a disclaimer I would like to point out that in my youth I did read some on Dianics, and found it lacking on an assumption that there are historic cults which were gender-exclusive…in particular putting emphasis on one goddess from which the tradition takes its name: Diana, the Roman counterpart of the Hellene goddess Artemis. So it seems that the best place to start is in discussing the assumptions about Hellenic goddesses worshiped in this tradition. This should not be interpreted as an attack on Dianic Wiccans, they after all should feel free to practice as they like, but rather as introduction for addressing the problems with assumptions of male-exclusive gods in the worship of Hellas.

From my reading material on Dianics there are three particular Hellenic goddesses to which the femme-centricism is focused as goddesses associated with some kind of “feminine mysteries” which just doesn’t really exist in the way that seems to be assumed, nor holding any supremacy in relation to the masculine gods: Artemis, Demeter and Persephone. The relationship of Demeter and Persephone appears to be emphasized in Dianic Wicca as the sole purpose of the turn of the seasons, which is in contrast to forms of Wiccan in which the shift of seasons are attributed to the relationship of a masculine and feminine divinity. While there were a very small handful of festivals of Demeter and Persephone that were celebrated only by women, this really is more of an exception rather than the norm and took place during the autumn season. All other festivals were celebrated by initiates irregardless of gender or social status, which makes the cult of Demeter perhaps one of the most inclusive ones in Hellas, as the mysteries were equally available to all Hellenes and peoples who spoke the language. Additionally, unlike Dianic practices which move away from the participation of male gods in the mystery of Demeter such as Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hermes and Apollon to name a few who were honored at festivals of Demeter such as the Proerosia.

As for Artemis, I can almost understand the confusion about her. With the list of her nymph companions, her association with the legendary Amazons, and her abhorrence of Actaeon seeing her bathing after the hunt, could suggest that the goddess is of the kind which only appreciates the female company and excludes males. However, with the exception of the Brauronia, which was only celebrated by girls, all other coming of age rituals were celebrated for and attended by both boys and girls, and sometimes even exclusively by boys as in the case of the trial at the altar of Artemis Orthia during which the endurance of boys entering adulthood as a soldier was tested by whipping. Likewise Artemis was honored at the birth of girls, and honored by nurses of boys. Aside from the practical cult of Artemis, one also has to take the myth of Hippolytus into consideration: a hunting companion of Artemis who not only was honored via certain cult centers in Greece, but also in the myth of Diana at Nemi, a place to which the revived Hippolytus was believed to have departed and in the local cult was presided over by a priest. This doesn’t sound like a goddess who particularly excludes males and favors women. In fact aside from the process of childbirth, over which she would naturally preside as a goddess of the portal of birth, Artemis has very little to do specifically with women past the age of maturity, and even prior to maturity was equally concerned with the male.That Artemis also took on a slight masculine identity can also be seen in the case in which Artemis, like Aphrodite, has been portrayed as a bearded goddess.

This should be understood as many people like to set up Artemis and her twin Apollon into a dichotomy in which everything feminine is protected by Artemis, and everything masculine by Apollon. Yet with Apollon too we see many many instances in which females take part. The largest distinction seems to be made only shortly after an infants birth (7 days afterward, in which its birth was celebrated after surviving the first week of life) in which garlands of laurel were hung for a boy (or in some case the olive of Athena), and white fillets of wool for Artemis at the birth of a girl, and perhaps at the death of males and females in which we have examples of Apollon slaying males, and Artemis slaying females. But this seems more to be along the lines of gender distinction of the twins themselves, not necessarily of their worshipers, who are otherwise linked with each other, operating in most cases as a whole together, and reflecting each other and working cooperatively. In neither case can we say that either of these exclude the opposite gender, and each possessing very few celebrations or activities which are femme or masculine centric, and not necessarily among the same sex as Apollon had female only gigs like the weaving of his chiton by the women at Chiton for the Hyakinthia (which yes was celebrated by both men and women), and the previously mentioned whipping of boys for Artemis Orthia. Even festivals which seemed to focus on a specific gender weren’t necessarily as exclusive as we think…in which case the Gymnapaidaie of Apollon, while most references focus on the participation of male youths in vigor, athletics and dance, also included dancing girls and is called by as a feast of women.

To a lesser degree there does seem to also be a femme-focus on Dionysos, due largely in part to the presence of the maenads. I have seen them in feminine mystery material compared as part of a feminine mystery that contrasts the Amazons. While it seems to be agreed upon that the first celebrants of Dionysos were female, and that the maenads (the first of which, and the actual original maenads) were his followers, it is also true that in the legendary history of Dionysos that males were not excluded either. For instance, in Euripedes Bacchae shows the king and the seer in full celebration of Bacchus, an activity of which returned their sense of youth, vigor, and general merriness. Likewise men took the part of the satyrs in the Bacchic processions in honor of Dionysos. And certainly the co-mingling of sexes during the Dionysia celebrated at Brauron (yes the same Brauron where the Brauronia was celebrated in honor of Artemis). In point of fact celebrating Dionysos doesn’t particularly work with just one sex in my opinion…it can be done certainly…but it seems to miss some of the features in which Dionysos, who often acts as a bridge between genders, not only as a fairly feminine male god but also in the act of his worship in a society, particularly among the Athenians, in which unmarried women and men spent a large part of their time segregated, is honored. In this manner his worship seems to fall in a similar line with that of Demeter in that it tends to be inclusive by its nature.

In general, I can’t think of a single god or goddess of Hellas whose worship is specifically exclusive. Even Ares, as Pete pointed out, cannot be considered a deity that excludes female worship, with the exception of very particular festivals. In this light I have a difficult time swallowing claims that any of the gods are by their nature gender exclusive…not among the most feminine of goddess nor the most masculine of gods. Therefore those who take up worship of these gods and attempt to modify them into male only or female only cults just isn’t personally agreeable to me, or do I find it particularly healthy. I have seen arguments in which women say that they need male-excluding worship in order to help them heal or to celebrate something particular to their biological function, but the downplay of the male gods (who do have close relationships with the goddesses) and exclusion of males regularly seems to inherently lacking as nature is not focused either way. So this goes the same in my consideration for female-excluding regular worship practices. Of course this is coming from someone who does not consider biological plumbing as something sacred or magical….neither male phalli or female uteri. Such is only sacred as it pertains to gods, and not always actively a part of the worship of every god or goddess either, especially when we consider that many of the Olympian goddess refrained from procreation altogether. In fact I see the honoring of the divine phallus having more to do with the penetration and fertilization of the mortal soul, and the fertilizing of the earth than any trumpeting of the male biological gender specifically. Women who reject “male energy” because of abuses carried out by certain men, as therefore associate the phallus with something negative and domineering, are missing out on something important. In fact there is nothing that can work to healing such abuses than accepting the love of males, especially male gods, that are introduced in a non-sexual manner. And before anyone gets huffy, this is coming from a person who experienced some really unpleasant stuff and found myself fulfilled by Apollon by accepting him during a period of vulnerability. This is perhaps why Dianic Wicca has never appealed to me, that even in my youth as a follower of Artemis.

That is not say that some few celebrations can’t be gender focused, typically set upon social situations of “gender” rather than celebrating biological functions, but the reality is that these were few and far between from what I understand, and not a regular mode of worship. Honoring the gods seems that it is best carried out in regular practice in the spirit of inclusiveness.


Persephone’s Descent and Return

Bear with me..I am typing this from a mobile phone heh.

There is a fairly widely supported theory that Persephone’s time in the underworld is concurrent with the summer during which the heat reaches its heights during which, supposedly the earth would have lain fallow until planting resumed in the autumn. In this theory then Persephone is rising in the autumn. However there are several problems with this idea, and reasons why I don’t accept it into my own worship.

1. There is no festival anywhere near the beginning of summer which would indicate the descent of Persephone. There are those who suggest that the Lesser Eleusinian Mystery in the spring is the descent of the Persephone however this falls out of alignment with other festivals. For instance it is so closely placed to the Anthesteria, a festival of flowers, that it generally conflicts with the nature of Anthesteria. Likewise this disregards that Thargelia in May was celebrated with green unripened wheat in Athens, and that Rhodes had festivals for Apollon and Dionysos Smintheus in which they killed rats that would eat the plants, as well as a festival to Apollon to prevent “rust” from attacking wheat. It also startlingly conflicts with other ideas that scholars have that Apollon brings the wealthy of grains from Hyperborea in the summer.

2. This theory of wheat harvest in spring assumes that the ripening of wheat occurs in a period with rain. This is not true. Wheat needs considerably amount of rain to begin growing but they also need a dry period in which to ripen. Festivals to prevent “rust” (a micoorganism which attaches itself to grain plants) occurs in unseasonably wet environments. We see this is in the above mentioned festival to Apollon, and in Rome there was a similar festival in the summer for Mars who likewise protects the grains. Wheat has a fairly long growing cycle, but like most vegetation one that is thankfully sped up in northern climates due to longer hours of sunlight that the north has in comparison to more southern climates, so that grain can be grown anywhere.

3. This idea also assumes that harvest and planting does not occur, more or less, side by side…which is rather daft. One can harvest, and in some instances burn the reminants of the feilds (such as seems to occur with sugarcane harvest), and then go back over a couple weeks later and start planting. In many subtropical climates there is a very fine line between harvesting and sowing seasons. I once had a friend from Nola who said that her figs, and other trees, she would shake in the autumn to help speed along the dropping of the old leaves and within a very short period there would be new leaves emerging.

4. This idea also ignores that the symbolism involved in autumn planting…the seed is going into the earth…the grains from the harvested/sacrificed ear of wheat is going into the earth where it may be fertilized by the rains of Zeus and bring blessed prosperity upon us all. Whether this sprouting occurs in winter or spring in cooler climates matters not. We set the seed into the earth (just as the flowers and trees let loose their seeds naturally to lie dormant in the earth until the appropriate season comes) with the hope for growth and a new harvest.

So here we have celebrated the return of flowers with Anthesteria (not ignoring the fact that there are hardy plants that may have blooms in winter such as violets..and even the crocus was said to bloom in the winter) in which all the beautiful flowers of spring have colored the world. We see the poppy blossom in opposite of the wheat ear. The tender young growth of wheat is growing for certain, drinking having drunk and still drinking the rains of winter and those of the approaching spring.

So whereas some will hold to the idea of Persephone’s time in the underworld during a fallow summer, I see no reason to adopt this idea.

Boars and pigs

It seems like it would be appropriate at this moment, having concluded with deer and goats, and considering the dawning of the spring season….to address the subject of boars and pigs. Pigs are animals that have something of a bad rap that have become almost synonymous with poor health. I have my husband on one hand saying that people shouldn’t eat swine because it is unclean, and on the other hand there is another group counting how much fat content pork has….gods save you if you like bacon, ham or ribs! Or sausage for that matter (which seems to be a big part of much Italian and Greek cousine from what I can see). The word pig is even given as insult if you have a bit more girth about you. The pig has become synonymous with being fat, ugly, unhealthy, dirty (because obviously the fact that the animal is smart enough to protect its skin from sunburn by applying mud is just too ewwww for modern tastes), and altogether destructive to local ecology (as we understand from importations of pigs into environments where they are not native and the destructive of native habitats and wildlife in places such as Australia and in the southeastern United States where wild boars roam). In short, any noble or redeeming character the animal has once possessed has all but disappeared in this era. There have been some attempts to save the image of pigs by indication of their intelligence…often through popular children’s tales…but these have barely made a dint. Granted this is from an American perspective, and it may be that the reputation of pigs is not quite so dismal in other parts of the world, but it is in this kind of environment (at least in the USA) that people are discovering the beauty of Hellenismos….in which the pig/boar does have important significance.

Now I classify pigs and wild boars together because it seems the biggest distinction between them is that pigs are nothing more than domesticated boars (of which there are various types). Here is a good description of them from a website called Hog Stoppers:

“The difference between the wild and domestic animals is largely a matter of perception; both are usually described as Sus scrofa, and domestic pigs quite readily become feral. The characterization of populations as wild, feral or domestic and pig or boar is usually decided by where the animals are encountered and what is known of their history. In New Zealand for example, wild pigs are known as “Captain Cookers” from their supposed descent from liberations and gifts to Māori by explorer Captain James Cook in the 1770s.
The term boar is used to denote an adult male of certain species, including, confusingly, domestic pigs. In the case of wild pigs only, it is correct to say “female boar” or “infant wild boar”, since boar or wild boar refers to the species itself
One characteristic by which domestic breed and wild animals are differentiated is coats. Wild animals almost always have thick, short bristly coats ranging in colour from brown through grey to black. A prominent ridge of hair matching the spine is also common, giving rise to the name razorback in the southern United States. The tail is usually short and straight. Wild animals tend also to have longer legs than domestic breeds and a longer and narrower head and snout. European adult males can be up to 200 kg (sometimes up to 300 kg in certain areas, particularly Eastern Europe) and have both upper and lower tusks; females do not have tusks and are around a third smaller on average.

So apparently it doesn’t take very long to go from pig back to boar. Differences appear to more or less superficial. Likewise in myth they do same to take different roles, in which the pig is connected agricultural goddesses such as Demeter and Persephone, and the boar has links to Ares, Apollon and Artemis who harness its more aggressive features. However, despite the form of these roles, there is no difference between them. So it is appropriate to consider them more or less together.

In Hellenismos the pig is identified specifically with the cult of Demeter and Persephone. This takes into consideration that the pig is appropriately representative of the earth and its procreative nature. This may relate in some degree to the girth of the pig, but perhaps has more to do with the nature of the pig itself. Among domesticated pigs, as described above, there is a tendency to wallow in mud in order to protect their sensitive skin. Domesticated pigs, for whatever reason, have lost their tougher bristly coats, and therefore submerge themselves within the earth. Of course wild pigs are mostly nocturnal animals by habit anyway, and are, suprisingly, a borrowing species of animal.

“The animals are usually nocturnal, foraging from dusk until dawn but with resting periods during both night and day. They eat almost anything they come across, including nuts, berries, carrion, roots, tubers, refuse, insects, small reptiles–even young deer and lambs.
Boars are the only hoofed animals known to dig burrows, a habit which can be explained by the fact that they are the only known mammals lacking brown adipose tissue. Therefore, they need to find other ways to protect themselves from the cold. For the same reason, piglets often shiver to produce heat themselves.”

This presents us with an image of a borrowing animal which is sensitive to the elements/environment, takes some refuge within the earth, that takes all things with into itself without distinction, that is a female-community social animal (living in female groups called sounders, during which males only enter for breeding season after which they leave), and produces multiple offspring (like many other animals connected with fertility such as rabbits, dogs, etc).

Therefore, one level we have an animal of which the female members represent and are closely linked to earth and agricultural goddesses (agriculture also being the seeds of civilization and community). If the soul is also considered one symbolic level to be feminine (via the mythic representation of Psykhe) it may infer something in regards the initiation process in which the individual offers a sacrifice of a piglet  in order to enter into the mysteries. I would hazzard to suggest that this piglet is representative of the human soul. I have talked before about associations that can be made with young animals and the immature youthful identity of the human soul in which humanity can be referred to in association with young animals (which nursed and cared for by the gods) and the adult animals are generally directly associated with the gods. So the initiates make a symbolic sacrifice of themself, a kind of mock death which they perform right beside the temple of Artemis Prothyrea (of the portal) as a symbol of passing the first gate of Eleusis before they can enter deeper within sacred citadel which possesses a second smaller gate into the Telesterion where the initiation rites were carried out.

It should not surprise us to see Artemis associated at all with the area in which the piglets were sacrificed. Though we more often see boars directly associated with her in myth, she is a femme-centric deity through which we can appreciate her association not only with lionesses (an animal which she can be seen holding in images characterized as Potnia Theron type images that seemed to have remained fairly common representations of her in the Peloponnese) but also with wild pigs that also connect her with her earthly domain. Thus the dangerous wild male boar becomes a natural tool of destruction rendered by her. We can see three cases which are connected with Artemis.

One of which I will mention first because it is the most indirect association, and that is the boar which slew Adonis. Now there are two distinct versions that we see here, and they are dinstinguished by the male god participating. One one version, that is perhaps the most commonly recognized, it was Ares who either took the form, or sent, the boar spurred by his own jealousy of Aphrodite’s lover. In the other version, which is elluded to in Euripedes’ play Hippolytus (and by that reference we can assume that it was a pretty well known version) was that Apollon sent/took the form of the boar to slay Aphrodite’s lover on the part of his twin Artemis, as well for his own reasons which are stated more explicitly below. For at the end of the play we see Artemis address Hippolytus that in return for Aphrodite’s offense she too will slay the one whom Aphrodite loves. Of course in the end it turns out that both Hippolytus and Adonis become deified from this exchange, but it does pose an interesting medium in which again we are presented with an image of the boar symbolizing death and a kind of blessed rebirth. This is not to say of course that the two versions of the myth are incompatible either…it could be Ares and Apollon both got in on it and featured a duel representation of the destructive component of the myth as they are referred together also in war (which I have spoken of at length before in regards to Apollon’s association with war and his relationship with Ares). This earthly end/destruction that rises to a new birth can also be viewed in the context in which I was informed that it is common for offerings of pig to be given to Apollon Noumenios, who is honored at the Noumenia as the new month manifests. Similarly we can see offerings of pig to Apollon (and Zeus..probably in his Cthonic character) in autumnal festivals of Demeter such as the Proerosia.

The boar naturally then has become a subject of specific heroic feats. Perhaps one of the better known examples wold be the Erymanthian Boar (which may very well have been the same boar which slew Adonis, since the version of the tale in which Apollon sent the boar it is said to for his part to have been for the purpose because Aphrodite blinded his son Erymanthius…from whom logically the boar would have taken the name as it would from the place in which the boar roamed. It hardly seems as coincidence in any case, and the mountain itself may be associated with the myth of Apollon’s son who was blinded for seeing Aphrodite bathing…a common punishment for mortal men who transgress in this manner). It is perhaps then on the sacred mountain of Artemis, Erymanthos, in which these whole drama is contrived that appropriately sets up the setting for the fourth labor of Herakles (following up from the labor in which the hero has persued her hind that may further establish a link between Artemis and the hero). From the myth of this labor we learn that the mountain is the home of the centaur Chiron, whom Herakles is visiting and ends up poisoning with one of his arrows (which leads in later as a reason why Chiron agreed to give up his immortality…and so end the pain of the poison arrow… in exchange for Prometheus’ freedom whether that be figuratively by giving Herakles his strength or making a more literal bargain with Zeus that aids Herakles’ when he frees the Titan). So we see this grounds to be a focal point as a kind doorway between death and life, which is quite appropriate given the nature of Artemis. And likewise appropriate to whatever links it has with Ares and Apollon who are also connected to death and destruction. For whatever reason Eurystheus wanted it, and Herakles captured it by driving it into the snow via the advice of Chiron, but the king was so terrified of it when it was brought to him that by his wish Herakles disposed of it. In Cumae there was displayed a set of boars tusks in the temple of Apollon that were said to have been from this animal, on the belief that Herakles threw it into the sea and the boar swam to Italy where it later died and was there perserved.

Therefore if we take the labors of Herakles as a totality of parts in his deification (rather like the “toys” of Zagreus that Clement of Alexandria spoke of from the last post) we can see an important idea of each labor myth, as far as I see it anyway. So whereas he chased down the horned hind that I spoke of before, he is now confronting an animal directly associated with the seemingly very strong and near unbreakable cycle of death and rebirth of which he gains mastery of. Sounds like an important component in any case of being deified if we consider that his labors are the processes of his deification as per the instructions of Apollon that only once he has committed these labors would he be a god, all of which incurs as the result of his madness-inspired sacrifice of the self symbolized by the death of his two sons from the influence of Hera. It is interesting that Artemis figures in some manner in several of these labors, which insinuates her role in propelling foreward her “prey.” She is closely connected with the Amazons in myth from whom Herakles takes the girdle (which has its own symbolism), there is the hind of which we already spoke, and the boar.

But the most well known boar connection with Artemis is the myth of the Calydonian Boar (which was sent by Artemis in anger for being forgotten during the harvest sacrifices)..but Apollon again is not far away as we are told that Meleager’s spear was later dedicated to Apollon’s temple. This presents us another interrelated image of the boar in association with the relationship between Apollon and Artemis. What is remarkable about this tell, however, is that brings together an entire cast of heroes (a cast which we see much of in the tale of the Argonautika in pursuit of the golden fleece…and like the quest for the fleece ends up being minus Herakles which sets apart the journey of the son of Zeus from that of the other Heroes). The implications seem to be similar in the arrangement of the myth of the Calydonian Boar and the Erymanthian Boar in which we have a dangerous creature, a bringer of destruction, of which each hero is participating for the distinction of wishing to kill the animal. In myth it is the spear of Atalanta who delivers the fatal wound to the animal, which is finished off by the spear of Meleager. In recognition of this fact Meleager awards the remains of the boar to her, which causes a huge uprising that ultimately ends in Meleager’s death in that the firebrand (the fragile symbol of human life) that had been in safe keeping of his mother is snuffed out in retaliation for the consequential death of her brothers (which insidentally also led to her and Meleager’s wife to hang themselves). And yet the spear of the hero was perserved in the temple of Apollon which speaks of certain greatness of the hero. Therefore we see a richness in death symbolism here directly related to the hunt of the boar. That the hide of the boar was believed to have preserved in the temple of Athena seems to attribute not the boar to her, but rather the process in which the hero (who is usually attended by her) has become victorious over that which the boar represents. Or so it seems.

In any case, whether we have the pigs of Demeter and Persephone, or the boars associated with Artemis, Apollon and Ares, we have an animal that is deeply connected with the mortal state and its connection directly with the earth. The earth brings us into being, in an environment against which we have little protection, and in which offers certain death to us in our mortal forms of flesh and blood, but is also receives us kindly and by the mysteries of nature we progress and are reborn….with the hope that eventually we will take the boar by the tusks and be reborn into a greater blessed state.

Proerosia 2011

This was my first time celebrating Proerosia, and it is usually because I forget and then remember the following day when Pyanepsia rolls around. But this year I was on top of things, which is in part thanks to an incredible network of reminders! Unfortunately as with all first time rituals things didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. I discovered that the barley I had thought I had somehow disappeared. So I was without barley to make the drink for Demeter which is discussed in her hymn (the water, barley, and pennyroyal mixed together according to the english translation). I already knew I didn’ thave the pennyroyal but I figured I would substitute that with honey which is a not uncommon offering for Demeter. But alas the barley was gone so I ended up dissolving the honey in water and setting the dish on the altar while I waited for the proper moment to give the libation. In good mood for the ritual I was thus inspired also to write a poem for Triptolemus who is a divine being associated with the planting season. In addition I had picked out a whole slew of poems from the Orphic Hymns including the poems to Pluto, Sabazios, Artemis etc.

I did notice that if I lit the candle under the burner and left it going through the invocational hymns at the beginning of the ritual then it does almost get hot enough to melt the frankincense (or at least softens it considerably so that what is left of it pretty much dissolves when the libations are added. The effect was rather different than what I had expected from my experience with the equinox. Rather than the bittersweet somberness of the latter ritual, this one was imbued with a current of subtle energy humming. It was rather unlifting in of and of itself! And so that was my Proerosia. Bless Proerosia to everyone and I pray that everyone has a great Pyanepsia tommorow! More on Pyanepsia tommorow night!

Autumn Equinox 2011 part 1: Descent of Persephone

I celebrated the “kidnapping”/marriage of Persephone as the first part of my Autumn Equinox ritual (part 2 to be carried out this afternoon with a ritual for the transference between Apollon and Dionysos/Departure of Apollon for Hyperborea). This is one of my favorite rituals of the year just because of the feeling of tranquility that comes with it, there is something appropriately subdued and bittersweet with the ritual as we acknowledge that Persephone has departed from the company of the gods to dwell at the side of her husband. That it is bittersweet is not abnormal, that is the sort of feeling that accompanies any sense of marriage if you think of it…the girl, now a wife, departs from the home of her father and mother to make a home elsewhere of her own. Back in the day, before the advent of internet, this provided the potential that the parents would not see their daughter again, especially if they moved far away. this is almost the opposite of the high festivity with the marriage of Zeus and Hera. It is still a large celebration but the spirit of it is different with the inconsoluable mother, the virgin bride swept away from her home not entirely willing (*cough* arranged marriage *cough*) and the accompanying transformation in life as we see the change of the seasons.

This ritual is something of a big affair in my home. Firstly because there are alot of gods that I pray to in the context of the ritual so that means alot of hymns. Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Zeus, Persephone, Dionysos, Hermes, Poseidon, Artemis and Apollon, Helios, Hekate, and Cthonic Hermes. This is far more than what is typical in most of my rituals. I also broke out my recorder for this ritual as I did for Karneia and played on it, all low sweet notes rather than the higher cheerful ones in memory of Demeter’s pain. All during this ritual I felt a sense of settled within, or a sense of the self seated firmly at the core of my heart. It is difficult to explain in any other words…but this is what contributed to the calming effect of the ritual…just the internalization involved…a strong connection to the true self within. It is just a powerful experience.

Autumn Equinox line up

I always enjoy the equinox rituals, and I use plural here for a reason because equinox is a two day event for me with different focuses. The first day (the day before proper equinox–or calendric equinox) is reserved for celebrating the departure of Persephone. I know some folks celebrate it earlier depending on when the moon falls (so sometimes it can be closer to the equinox and sometimes—like this year—quite some time before). Sadly I got my calendar turned around and missed Boedromia this year *sigh* I really need to remember to actually write out my calendar so nothing gets accidentally forgotten…I was just so caught up in Karneia that it skipped my mind. But for the departure of Persephone I always celebrate it on the first day prior to the first day of autumn. So for this year that will be September 22. On the 23rd, the first day of autumn I celebrate the transference of power from Apollon to Dionysos as Apollon retreats to Hyperborea.

Though I do not feel a strong sense of absence or seperation from Apollon, and in a sense “follow” him spiritually which means that I continue to do things afterwards, there is a a more noticeable hike in my interaction with Dionysos. For the most part I don’t do much in the way of devotional things during the majority of the year, except for the period between fall and spring. So this ritual is a big deal though not quite as big of a deal as the Spring equinox Theoxenia 🙂 I really cut loose for that LOL. What is great is that I have the day off for the equinox this year. Amusingly though the altar for Apollon is the day after my ritual, but I can decorate in mind of Apollon’s retreat to Hyperborea and include some information at the altar about Hyperborea and the fairwell of Apollon until spring 🙂 so it is all good since it is still close enough to the equinox to be more or less and extension of my own festival the day before. So it shall be a busy week indeed! And of course I look forward to Panoleptos’ race to Demeter which mimicks Pan’s search for Demeter. It shall be a lovely component of the beginning of the autumn season 🙂

thoughts of the first harvest

In preperation for Karneia I was thinking of the significance of the first harvest and what that may mean to us on a spiritual level. It is seen also in the celtic celebration of Lughnasadh ( I apologize for butchering the spelling there) as well as in Hellenismos with the festival of Karneia–the so-called shepherd’s festival during which Apollon was offered grapes even as Lugh’s festival has a deep association with the harvest of another fruit–the apple. That there are multi-cultural festivals that tie into an idea of a first, or initial harvest prior to the main harvest season of autumn it does make for some interesting contempulation.

We know that the second harvest..the wheat harvest of autumn is directly tied to the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Persephone. A divine being who returns the world below (which really makes her closer to us as the mortal world has been noted by Plato as being below that of the isles of the blessed as we are living beneath the sea to make a general paraphrase) then to return again among the divine. This coincides then with the passage of the seasons. After the first harvest though it is not the end of a growing period during the year, really we get at least one more month afterward of steady growth. Even in Alaska where I grew up there was the plentitude of growing things in September until near the end of the month when the hard frosts finally arrived, though the winds between mid-August and in autumn were strong and cool. Therefore in comparison to the great autumnal harvest, the first harvest of summer seems rather small and of little worth. And it is the autumnal harvest that gets all the attention for the transition of the soul…but this idea often seems to be carried out incorrectly because it is drawn on the idea of the soul following Persephone from life to death, yet this ignores that Persephone is a goddess, the daughter of two great Olympians, so whereas her cyclic journey can be interpretted in some ways in connection with the journey of the soul…she is divine returning to the earth from the blessed abodes of the gods. She is the harvested wheat that is both replanted to return in the spring but also is made into bread to sustain the living. She is the comfort to all, both living and dead really, and she provides this comfort by her journey from the divine abodes, even as life perishes and people are sustained by the harvest that they have cut.

So then having established that the second harvest, the autumn harvest, is the harvest of the divine daughter, what can we say then about the first harvest. The fruit harvest. I think a significant clue can be inferred by the offering of grapes during the Karneia, the grape which is the symbol of Dionysos and likewise also a symbol of the unperishing soul of mortals that is transforming (for the grape is made into the wine is it not?). Therefore we can say that the first harvest is more about mortal death (and thus also linked with the sacrifice of the ram by shepherds) and the progression of the mortal soul. We are the lamb that has been nursed and reared into adulthood, we are the cultivated blossom that has been fertilized and born the fruit. So whereas the second harvest is based on the transition of the Kore, the first harvest is based on evolution of the human soul under the domain of Apollon and is thus overseen by Apollon in his festival Karneia, Apollon the shepherd who has cared for us, guided us along the mountainous paths and into the valleys, and the shepherd who slays us.

We are the tender fruit of the first harvest, and Persephone is the golden grain of autumn which too shall be reaped under the great eye of Apollon.