The Sowing, Boedromia and the Fear

Things have been rather connecting for me. First as the Noumenia for the month Boedromia, we are looking at the wrapping up of the harvest season and the start of what is for many places the start of the sowing season. This was actually a topic of conversation with a friend of Facebook in regards to the Descent of Persephone and the debate of when Persephone descended into the next world to join Haides, for there are those who firmly support her period to line up with the summer harvest of grains in June, following the immature harvest of the Thargelia in honor of Apollon rather like the Karneia harvest of grapes proceeding to the grape harvest immediately following, and the fallow period of the grain fields to correspond to her descent. While this looks good from a logical angle of relating Persephone with the wheat ear, but for me it alienates a few important points.

Perhaps the most important is that it is completely out of alignment with the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries which occur in Boedromion, which would suggest that the mysteries of the descent of the goddess were not directly connected to the threshing floor and the cutting of the wheat ear, but rather by the sowing season that follows in which the grain of the wheat ear is directly planted within the ground. This would also make sense in the context of the Boedromia which seems to me to act as a purification ritual that is not uncommon prior to harvest and planting seasons cross culturally. I have written before on the Boedromia and the power of fear in the ritual but I had never really connected it to how it fit within the framework of Athenian festivals that focused on the sowing season from the honoring of Zeus Epoptes (the overseer as I interpret it, although usually understood more directly in association of the word in context of the mysteries as one who has seen/witnessed the mysteries, therefore one that can be interpreted as the first initiate as the god who schemed with Haides with the result of instigating the mystery program and the saving of the dead by them), and the Genesia on the same day as that of the sacrifice to Zeus Epoptes which honored the ancestral dead/parents, leading up to the Mystery Program.

Yet Boedromia, for which the month is named, should logically fall into relation with the greater events occurring within the month, instead what we have is a mythic origin of the festival in which Apollon urged the Athenian to invoke Fear and shout Boe at the invading Amazon troops to save their city. I have written on this subject before here at more length in particular regarding the role of fear and its important to this festival and general importance in the mysteries. But I think the connection to purification and vitality wasn’t really brought home until I read Dver’s new website (she links to it on her blog here) on mumming and the purpose behind this as one which uses fear in order to frighten away harmful spirits in order to purify the land and bring vitality to it. I would liken this perhaps to the more northern Lupercalia practices in February in which youths, Luperci would, as wild wolves, run through the streets, striking women to encourage fertility, and I would imagine the fierceness of their visage being one that was designed to purify the city as much as the sacrifice itself. I would imagine that the Boedromia serving such a purpose as it proceeds to the mystery program, that after honoring the dead, a kind of purification underway, under the mythic guise of honoring the driving out of the Amazons. Although we cannot know for sure to what lengths this festival proceeds, or whether or not there was an actual procession of shouters of “boe!” to frighten away any ill spirits in the same vein of intent, it certainly seems plausible in its calendric relationship to the Eleusinian Greater Mysteries.

As such I could see the fascinating mumming practices that Dver has undertaken and has put up a website about to be likely very relevant to modern practice of Boedromia, as Apollon, leader of the initiates (and even making sense in those myths which call him the father of Korybantes considering their own fearsome natures) and the known sacrifice of goats to Artemis prior (both twins being honored in terms of helpers or saviors), purifies the city and its citizens to receive the blessings of Demeter. Given the very powerful, and clearly frightening, persona of the Amazons there is certain alignment to the strength and power of Demeter that should not be missed.

Given Artemis’ own participation in leading forth Persephone to her kidnapping, and the presence of the tender narcissus flower, or asphodel which it is also called especially in relation to the mysteries–which would not be able to bloom in the killing the summer during which they were dormant, we find a more logical scenario in which the winter flowering plant in such climate would align with following the autumnal purifications and sacrifices. The relationship between the purification deities Apollon (who receives double sacrifices as Zeus does during the Eleusinia) and Artemis and the descent of Persephone, and Artemis subsequent leading of Persephone to the meadow of the scene of her kidnapping/marriage is all interlinked to each other as they proceed following the summer time Athenian New Year.

Therefore it makes sense to greet Boedromia as a time of reverence for ancestors/dead parents and as a time of purification perhaps not too unlike how many pagans celebrate the Samhain season….although with a slightly different purpose as Hellenes would have prepared for the planting of the wheat grains. For those of us who are not planting grain seeds (especially among those of us  in more northern climates) we can honor this time of the year with the planting of bulbs before the onset of winter. What in Hellas would be a chilly wet time of the year that proceeds the germination of the grains, those of us in the north can recognize as the very important wet period that is so necessary for the coming of spring as the blankets of snow keep the ground from freezing deep and providing water for the crops come spring.

In Alaska, and other northern climates we can best appreciate this time of the year with the sweet tastes and musks of autumn harvest concluded as the earth winds down in decay and the nights lengthen. It is a time before the slumber, a time of wild beasts and night terrors, a time to drive to spirits “boe! boe! boe!” to prepare for the coming life giving wet season whether one experiences it through rain or snows.

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.

Semele and Persephone

With Anthesteria amd the celebration of the returning spring as flowers bloom and kid goats are born, there is a general awe towards Dionysos who, as he ever returns from the underworld, represents a spirit of resurrection and the immortality of the soul. He is the slain bull who goes as a seed into the earth to travel the next world and be reborn. He doesn’t die for our sins, and yet his myth is a mystic program for the soul. And it all begins with Semele and Persephone.

We know that the first Dionysos, Zagreus, was born of Persephone and Zeus who came to her in his chthonic form of a serpent and impregnated the goddess without her mother’s knowledge. The serpent form of Zeus is one that is very particular, especially within domestic worship since we call the god who protects the stores of grain and other foods by the name Zeus Ktesios and place an emblem in representation of him in the form of a serpent in on his jar. Therefore we see a form of Zeus which regulates production, which preserves the grains and fruits of the earth, and is associated with the idea of harvest in general which stocks the warehouses. Thus Zeus Ktesios is honored in the household as a god who preserves the bounty of the harvest for the future. The agathos daimon (also depicted as a serpent) has often been connected with Zeus imagery for similar reasons as a god who is bring goodness to the family. So you have a serpetine Zeus, associated with abundance, who fertilized the Kore. She is associated with the flowers of the growing season, but flowers that must be fertilized and drop their lovely petals in order to bear fruits. It is for the purpose of production that we see this allegory as we honor her with spring flowers but also when grains to ripen. Therefore we can see Zagreus as a manifestation of the divine fruit born of the earth…a fruit which is cut up and consumed and then dispersed by ash as the Titans who murdered and ate Zagreus were reduced to ash themselves with the thunderbolt of Zeus.

Clement of Alexandria, in his anti-hellenismos rhetoric such as it is, speaks briefly of the mystic symbolism of those items which the titans used to lure Zagreus to his death. Items which are important (though he mocked them) for a very specific reason. Consider that humanity arose from the mud mixed with those ashes of the titans, and therefore from those ashes the divine spark was given to humanity, would you not rever the item which caused the harvest? It is only be the harvest, the sacrifice of Zagreus, that we attribute the divine spark within humanity, the immortality of the human soul. Therefore these symbols could aptly be a way to rever the divine within us from Zagreus, but also be a symbol to the way to progress foreward…as all these seperate symbols combined together could equate to the divine state. Clement of Alexandria speaks of the looking glass for instance…wouldn’t the looking glass be representative of reflection? I recently did a drawing of Mnemosyne and in constructing it I came up with the idea to use a mirror…because memory is part of the art of reflection. Pythagoras too recommended for his students to reflect every night before bed so as to encourage the memory of the soul. Even Aphrodite, the mother of harmony who obsolves conflict, is pictured with a looking glass. Certainly not from any case of vanity but a greater meaning that can be associated with the mirror of Zagreus….”I see myself as I am, I see all that I am and all the spiritual beauty I possess, I see all that I have been in the past and will be in the future, I see myself and know I am divine.” All of these peices make a whole even as Zagreus was divided into many. Therefore the mystery of Zagreus is the one which is the birth and transformation of the soul.

But this cannot be completed with Zagreus alone, Zagreus is divided, but we need the unification of the parts. So born was Dionysos to Semele, born of a mortal mother, the princess of Thebes, daughter of the hero Cadmus and Aphrodite’s daughter Harmonia/Harmony. Semele, in her love affair with Zeus, was given the heart of Dionysos, the one part of Zagreus was kept by the gods. And so the princess took Dionysos into herself. This seems to me to have some meaning in light of the practice in Athens for the Anthesteria in which the queen was wedded to Dionysos, and so is joining with the god and taking him into her, perhaps to symbolically by fertilized by the spirit of the god and birth bounty and the divine blessings of the god for the city-state I could guess. In this fashion she would be aligning herself with Semele. I know this sounds a bit strange, and even stranger in some of the mystic mirrors of the Etruscans in which Dionysos (Fulfuns) appears to be embracing his mother intimately with Apollon (Apulu) looking on with a flute player…possibly representative of Pan…just behind him.

Of course the story follows that Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus for a boon, and so that when he agreed to give her anything that she desired, her wish to see Zeus in his true form caused her to combust leaving behind the premature Dionysos which Hermes rescued from the ashes of his mother and brought to Zeus so that Zeus could sew the infant into his thigh (a very strong procreative symbolism there associating Dionysos with the sexual center of Zeus!). Dionysos was thus born a third time, directly from Zeus this time and set about his youth and adventures being raised in the mortal world and his desire to join the gods (via the instruction of Apollon who was, with his company of Muses, the first to recognize the god. Eventually Dionysos departs to the next world to gather his mother that she may be among the company of the gods. This departure is represented by the tearing apart of the bull and the ivy by the Thyiades who consume it. Essentially Dionysos is sacrificed by the women of his retinue and becomes a part of them, from their consumption of him. In such way he is coming into contact symbolically again with the substance within humanity even as he moves to the next world. Aristophanes’ in his play Frogs puts an amusing spin on the whole adventure which leaves out the death of the god and engages in amusing conversations with the souls of the deceased that commulate in a test of knowledge between those much lauded in the next world…giving a nodd to the idea that the knowledge of the soul that it has accumulated places it in a higher level in the next world. This makes Frogs an entertaining and also relevant comedy for this season, a seaon which is celebrated coincidentally with comedies….as comedies address a different venue of the mortal existance than the tradgedies do as the former are arranged in a celebration of life. In any case Dionysos and Semele do not emerge together. No something else happens. First Dionysos returns, he is the infant in the Liknen basket who is born in a cave on Parnassus.

Paranassus is quite a fascinating place. It is not only the mountain which overhangs Delphi, the navel of the world, but it is also the place where the remains of Zagreus were buried by Apollon. And it is from this mountain in which the bones of the earth (the stones…perhaps also symbolically merging with the bones of Zagreus who is buried there) were thrown to create new people after the Flood. Therefore Parnassus has a strong association with death and resurrection just by these means. It is no wonder then that in the cave of Pan, high in the mountains, that the Thyiades, in midwinter, would greet the return of the infant Dionysos.

Semele, alternatively, comes with the spring. In such respect she is aligned directly with the Kore. There is an image of the return of Semele which is quite profound. A vase painting which showns a mound. To one side is Apollon (with Pan beside him), and to the other side of the mound is Dionysos. All three gods are gazing down into the ground. There Semele is rising with flowers and all the emblems of spring with her. She is likened to the Kore who is ascending to the divine company. And thus Semele is the as a goddess of spring flowers herself. I had seen, yesterday, a lovely statue of Dionysos with a small figure of a woman that I had assumed was Semele as it appeared she has a small fire in her hand, but later found out has been called by academics Spes (the representation of Hope) carrying a lily. I am not entirely sure what they base the labeling of the figure as Spes off of, but the lily does not distract me from an identification with Semele as a goddess who returns in the spring. And her return is characterized by her divine name Thyone who is described as the fiery mother of Dionysos and is recognized as representative of the unification between Dionysos and the celebrant in which they partake frenzy as they are filled with the divine essence of the god. Which again connects back to the spirit of Anthesteria as we see Dionysos joining with the queen during this ritual, the very act of which is governed by Thyone. I would hazzard to suggest that it is in this fashion, this interaction of Dionysos, the thrice born god that helps the human soul slowly gather up the peices, the symbols of Zagreus by which the god was distracted by the titans, and bring them unity. Dionysos in this fashion is the liberator of men because he rejoins men to the gods, that which is represented by the communion with his wine.

So hail Dionysos on this Anthesteria!

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 🙂

Offering to Zeus Epoptes

There is pretty much nothing known about the traditional Athenian sacrifice to Zeus Epoptes, aside from a footnote about the fact that it was done in the month of Metageitnion. The general consensus appears to be that Epoptes means “watcher” or “overseer”, but irregardless I consider it is most highly appropriate in honoring the god who is all-seer. It is hardly a coincidence that those who were initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries were likewise called epoptes in reference to the fact that they were people who have seen or witnessed through the ceremony of initiation. So this brings me back to what mythic scene links to the two of these ideas so closely together. I determined it was the agreement between Zeus and Hades regarding the marriage of Persephone. Zeus as one who foresees all things would likely have been aware in this myth of what would happen in result, but also the spiritual benefits that would arise via the mystery program at Eleusis and the sending of his daughter from among the blessed. Therefore I see him as the one who is overseeing the progression of the soul, and the god who is sending his daughter in response to mortal suffering (even though this too causes suffering of a different kind with the season of famine) to be as queen with Hades before she may again arise. Therefore Zeus is first and foremost the witness of this program, in such that he can be seen as the grand designer of the initiate’s way. This seems quite appropriate considering how close this sacrifice is the program of the mysteries at Eleusis in the following month.

Therefore for this ritual I have decided a simple image (which I plan on remaking on a nicer scale for the next year) of Zeus together with Demeter and Persephone. This is the central image for the ritual offerings. During the body of the ritual I also read a small part of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and the Orphic Hymn to Persephone, as well as the Orphic Hymn to Zeus as the bringer of rain for the ripening of the earth, the preperation of the autumn harvest. So hail to you Zeus Epoptes, you who gave your daughter to Hades for the welfare of all mankind, you who are first and greatest among the epoptes.

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.