Sunday, October 4, 2015

On ending the Mysteries

Very slowly, we are moving on to the end of the Eleusinian Mysteries. The last few days were dedicated to the transition back to one’s own home, family, community, and work--to the rest of one’s life, with a new way of seeing.

Day nine was called both 'Plemochoai', Pourings of Plenty, and 'Epistrophe', Return. It is possible that these terms describe both the ninth and tenth day, but like much about the Mysteries, this is unclear. This day was a time for offering libations. We are not quite sure to whom, but it makes sense that the libations were twofold, or either of the following: libations to the ancestors as part of the mysteries of the Afterlife, and/or libations to the 'regular' household deities as part of the return to regular life.

What we do know for certain was that special ritual vessels were used to make these libations. They were called 'plemochoai' and were specific to the Mysteries. They were vessels with a turned-in rim, a high foot, and a lid. Possibly, the same vessels were used to tip out water sacrifices to Demeter and Persephone the day after the major initiation rite.

'Epistrophe' implies re-crossing boundary between the liminal realm of sacred ritual to return to the more ordinary experiences of daily life. These libations, but also the simple acts of packing bags, cleaning up the fields and sactuaries, and and saying goodbye to newly made friends and acquaintances would have brought with it a sense of normalcy after the long days in which the whole point was to put aside everything normal. In these days, all things regula would slowly have been re-introduced and once ready, it was time to travel back home. The Mysteries were over, but the experience would have lingered forever.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Entertainment updates: 'Troy: A Fall Of A City'' , Olympus', and 'The Odyssey'

An update on some Hellenic themed entertainment. A new series announcement, one likely to bite the dust, an a little more information on another project: 'The Odyssey'.

'Troy: A Fall Of A City' being developed
Rejoice or brace yourself, the BBC has announced they will be producing an 'epic TV series on the Fall of Troy'. The series will be a re-telling of the siege of Troy titled ‘Troy: A Fall Of A City’. The upcoming TV series, which will reportedly cost 2.7 million euros per episode, which will make it one of the most expensive ever produced in BBC’s history. So far it has been described as ‘a bold and visceral drama’ and hopes to rival HBO’s great hit: 'Game of Thrones'. As BBC1 controller, Charlotte Moore revealed it will be ‘intimate and epic, gripping and exhilarating, rich with psychological intrigue and human drama’. According to reports, the Troy series could span across 8 or more episodes.   

'Olympus' most likely cancelled
This series follows the adventures of Hero (Tom York, Tyrant), the bastard son of King Aegeus (Graham Shiels, Guardians of the Galaxy), who is the holder of the Lexicon. The Lexicon is the secret code that allows man to enter Olympus, the legendary home of the Gods. The first season has come to a conclusion and Syfy has yet to cancel or renew Olympus for Season 2. Olympus wrapped up its first season averaging just a 0.1 rating in the 18-49 demographic based on the overnights. If it is relying on its Syfy ratings, then its chances of a second season are considered to be very slim. But if its international partnerships and financing are strong enough, then it might still have a chance.

'The Odyssey' might net itself Hugh Jackman
I was already quite excited about this project spearheaded by 'Hunger Games' director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, but recent news has my inner geek girl tingling with joy. TheWrap reports Jackman is in early talks to play Odysseus, the legendary hero who encounters all manner of trials and tribulations on his epic ten-year quest to get back home after the Trojan War. While he hasn’t locked in a deal just yet, he’s had “multiple conversations” with the filmmakers about the project. The Odyssey shoots in 2016.

Friday, October 2, 2015

On fasting for the Eleusinian Mysteries

If you have been followign along with my posts about our Eleusinian Mysteries celebration, you know that today is a voluntary fasting day. But why are we fasting? And should you do it?

The mythical foundation for the Eleusinian rites is of course described in the second Homeric hymn, to Demeter, as assumed to be written by Pámphōs (Πάμφως), an early Hellenic poet, who is mentioned by Pausanias to have lived earlier than Hómeros himself. Pámphōs was the author of various hymns to deities, including the hymn to Demeter, and was connected to the mysteries as such. From the Homeric hymn to Demeter:

"Bitter pain seized [Demeter's] heart, and she rent the covering upon her divine hair with her dear hands: her dark cloak she cast down from both her shoulders and sped, like a wild-bird, over the firm land and yielding sea, seeking her child. But no one would tell her the truth, neither god nor mortal men; and of the birds of omen none came with true news for her. Then for nine days queenly Demeter wandered over the earth with flaming torches in her hands, so grieved that she never tasted ambrosia and the sweet draught of nectar, nor sprinkled her body with water."
Initiates were also instructed to fast each day from dawn until sunset, following the example of Demeter who would neither eat nor drink while searching for her lost daughter. In the evenings initiates could eat and drink, except for the traditionally forbidden foods.
Fasting is a very ancient phenomenon. In fact, an original starting date cannot be given. Fasting is the act of voluntarily withholding food from your body for a longer period of time than you would normally be without it. Great thinkers like Hippocrates, Plato and most of their students were avid practitioners and promoters of medicinal fasts and felt that a fast helped them think clearer.

I have fasted in the past, finding it a very useful tool for cleansing my body, clearing my mind and regaining focus on the things that matter. Regulars fasts have been proven to be very healthy, if you do it right. There is a method to fasting, and it depends greatly on the length of the fast. A fast is a cathartic tool because it cleans up the toxins in our organs and blood. It's a natural purge. Fasting also strengthens the will, and allows us to focus on something other than meals and snacks. It frees us up to pursue intellectual endeavor, and that process is also part of katharmos.

Fasting is a beautiful practice and I feel it should be a regular part of the Hellenic Tradition, but it's important to listen to your body before even attempting it. A short fast should only be done when your body needs it or, in this case, when your body is in a good enough shape to do it for a religious festival. If not, cheat a little and use the fruit shakes. If that's also too much, pick something else you love to go without; if you smoke, vow to go without cigarettes for the day, if you're a big coffee drinker, give it up for the duration of your 'fast'. What matters is that you give something up. That you go without.

So, for today, grieve with Demeter over the loss of Her daughter and remember a time when people went without food because Demeter had not shared Her secrets yet. Once you get hungry, remmeber to be grateful of the source of your food. Take no bit for granted once you have completed your night time 'initiation' rite and make sure to thank Demeter for Her gentle care.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Existential comics: 'The Apology'

There have been many comics about Socrates' trial through the years. Many stories, videos, articles, essays, and books, too. Many of them have been satirical in nature, as it is very easy to make fun of someone who pretty much signed his own death warrant. As long as it's 2000+ years ago, of course.

2414 years ago, one of Hellas' greatest thinkers stood trial before a jury of 500 men, chosen by lot. Socrates (Σωκράτης), a philosopher who was of the opinion that people should not be self-governing; they needed to be led, like a shepherd led a flock of sheep. He was of the opinion that the average Athenian neither had the basic virtue necessary to nurture a good society, nor the intelligence to foster such virtue within themselves. As such, he was against the democratic system that came to fruition in the city of Athens at the same time he did.

Socrates was vocal about his ideas. He took to the streets and proclaimed them loudly, often while looking down upon those who passed him. Socrates' anti-governmental and reformatory speeches spoke to the Athenian youth. In a trying time after the loss of a major offensive against Sparta, old and young Athenian men--and their ideals--collided, and Socrates put fuel on the fire. Socrates' actions seem to go from being laughable to being subversive around 417 BC.

After a brief stint of tiranic rule over Athens, flueled by Socrates' ideas, Socrates managed to make himself even more unpopular by continuing the teachings and speeches that had caused the death or exile of hundreds of Atenians during the rule of the tirans. Another uprising in 401 against the democracy--although unsuccessful--might have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back; Socrates was sued by Melitus, a poet. Laertios, who appears to have seen the original trial minutes describes the vote that concludes one of the most famous trials in history:

"So when he had been condemned by two hundred and eighty-one votes, being six more than were given in his favour, and when the judges were making an estimate of what punishment or fine should be inflicted on him, he said that he ought to be fined five and twenty drachmas; but Eubulides says that he admitted that he deserved a fine of one hundred. And when the judges raised an outcry at this proposition, he said, "My real opinion is, that as a return for what has been done by me, I deserve a maintenance in the Prytaneum for the rest of my life." So they condemned him to death, by eighty votes more than they had originally found him guilty. And he was put into prison, and a few days afterwards he drank the hemlock, having held many admirable conversations in the meantime, which Plato has recorded in the Phaedo."

In short: Socrates would have lived if he had kept his mouth shut--and the comic I'd like to share today pretty much nails Socrates'attitude! I loved reading it, and I hope you do, too!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

On the 'hiera' of the Eleusinian Mysteries

Many ancient Hellenic religious traditions--and especialy Mystery Traditions--have 'hiera' (ἱερὰ), sacred objects. These objects are usually tucked away in a basket or box and only taken out (if at all) at very specific, very special occasion. The Eleusinian Mysteries had their own hiera, and they were a large part of the rites.

On the first day of the Myteries, the 14th of Boedromion, the priestesses of Demeter and Persephone took the basket of the hiera of Demeter from Her temple in Eleusis to Athens, and carried it on their heads along the Sacred Way (Ἱερὰ Ὁδός, 'Hieros Hodos') that initiates themselves would walk in a few days. The procession along the twelve miles of the Sacred Way, accompanied by an honor guard from Athens and villagers, would have arrived at Athens at the end of the day, no doubt being welcomed by celebrants already in the city. A priest of Demeter climbed up to the Akropolis to announce the arrival of Demeter’s sacred objects and her entourage, to the priestess of Athena. In this way, the relationship of these two Goddesses and of their two, once independent regions, were accorded mutual respect. It's interesting to note that Athena had Her own hiera, which featured heavily in the Arrephoria festival. That night, the procession of priestesses, priests, initiates, and other celebrants would have paraded through the Agora up to the sacred precinct of Demeter in Athens, called the Eleusinion, between the Agora and the north slope of the Akropolis. There, the hiera would have been taken into her temple, with singing and dancing.

On day five, many thousands of celebrants joined the pompe--procession--from Athens to Eleusis, led by the priestesses of Demeter and Persephone carrying the basket of hiera. Celebrants left early in the morning from Athens’ sacred gate at the northeast corner of the Agora) and proceeded along the Hieros Hodos to Eleusis.

On 20th and 21st of Boedromion, the initiates entered a great hall called Telesterion; in the center stood the Anaktoron ('palace'), which only the hierophants could enter, where sacred objects were stored. Before mystai could enter the Telesterion, they would recite a line that shows the hiera have made another appearance before this time. From Clement of Alexandrias 'Exhortation to the Greeks':

"And the formula of the Eleusinian mysteries is as follows: 'I fasted; I drank the draught; I took from the chest; having done my task, I placed in the basket, and from the basket into the chest.'"

We do not know what the hiera were. The content of the kiste, a sacred chest, and the kalathos, a lidded basket was a well-guarded secret. It would have been shown to initiates during the initiation, but they were sworn to secrecy. Thomas Taylor, in his 'Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries' says the hiera were 'a golden mystical serpent, an egg, a phallus, and possibly also seeds sacred to Demeter'. There is no further source listed.

For our rites for the Mysteries, the hiera do not make an appearacne. We do not know what they are, and so we cannot recreate even the idea of them. The hiera will most likely always remain an intriguing mystery about the Mysteries, one I would love to find out more about.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Expositions: 'Following Hercules' in Cambridge and 'Cycladica in Crete' in Athens

Two new exhibitions have recently started and I'd like to share them for those who are anywhere near Athens and/or Cambridge. They are 'Following Hercules' in Cambridge, England and 'Cycladica in Crete' in Athens, Greece.

'Following Hercules: The story of classical art' at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Hēraklēs is one of the best loved heroes from ancient Hellas. Known in antiquity for completing twelve labours that confirmed his status as a God, Hēraklēs is today tasked with one more-to show visitors to the Fitzwilliam Museum how sculptures made in the Mediterranean millennia ago came to define western art, thus reports the Archaeological News Network.

Hēraklēs inhabits each of the forty objects on display, which range from exquisite miniatures and Renaissance prints, drawings and paintings, to Wedgwood cameos and a giant polystyrene statue. The result is an arresting visual experience of differing scales, styles and material, which gives ongoing meaning to the ‘classical’.

The Museum of Classical Archaeology’s cast of the Farnese Hercules is central to the exhibition’s story and awaits your visit on the Sidgwick Site. Hercules is one of the oldest casts on the site and one of several to have come, via the Fitzwilliam, from the same early nineteenth-century collection in Battersea. Come and meet him, discover more about his story, and more about the cast of characters that accompanied him to Cambridge. In the process you will see why casts of Hellenic and Roman art remain awesome and relevant.

The exhibition opened Friday 25th September, in the Fitzwilliam Museum and The Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge, and runs through Sunday 6th December, 2015.

'Cycladica in Crete' at the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens
The International Symposium 'Cycladica in Crete: Cycladic and Cycladicizing figurines within their archaeological context' is organized by the Museum of Cycladic Art under the auspices of the University of Crete, with the participation and collaboration of the National Centre for Scientific Research 'Demokritos' and the Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs, and with the support of National Geographic and the Cycladic Art Foundation. The Symposium will take place on Thursday 1st and Friday 2nd October 2015 at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. This reports the Archaeological News Network.

The purpose of the Symposium on the Cycladic and Cycladic-type figurines from Crete is to illuminate the sort of relations between the Cyclades and Crete during the 3rd millennium BC in light of modern research through the discussion of all the relevant finds that have from time to time been made in Crete. There are 23 papers on the topic to be given in the Symposium by well-known scholars from Greece, Britain, Germany, Belgium and the United States of America.

The Cycladic culture, one of the most important cultures of the prehistoric Aegean, flourished in the 3rd millennium BC. During that period the islands of the Cyclades had a leading role in the transit trade in the Aegean, thus acting as intermediaries in the movement of raw materials, ideas and products of technology originating from areas both within and beyond the Aegean (such as inland Asia Minor and the Black Sea) from one end of the archipelago to the other.

In the period of the floruit of the Cycladic culture, around the middle of the 3rd millennium BC, the influence exerted by the Cyclades on other Aegean areas is intense. Cycladic products, including both raw materials and finished objects of Cycladic provenance or inspiration, are widely circulated in the Aegean. The reverberations of marble Cycladic figurines, in particular, were so great that they are not only imported but also appear to be copied in areas beyond the Cyclades, particularly in Crete, which has produced the largest number of Cycladic and Cycladic-type figurines from all the other areas of the Aegean: about 90 such figurines have been found so far in excavations in Crete, sometimes in contexts providing information about the “archaeology” of ancient times. This taken together with the fact that these figurines are often found smashed in the way they are in the Cycladic islands suggests that they were not simply imported or copied as objects of prestige and social differentiation but also conveyed the symbolic meaning they had been assigned in the Cyclades.

Monday, September 28, 2015

On the forbidden foods of the Eleusinian Mysteries

Because I hope some of you are partaking in the Eleusinian Mysteries with us these coming days, at least a portion of this week's posts will be about the Mysteries, mostly about the little details. Today: food.

Initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries were instructed to fast each day from dawn until sunset, following the example of Demeter who would neither eat nor drink while searching for her lost daughter. Fasting, as we know, is a means of cleansing the body, a time when the body’s cells and tissues dispel impurities. More than that, it is a mental exercise of willpower and awareness. In the evenings initiates could eat and drink, except for the traditionally 'forbidden foods'. What these forbidden foods were, however, is cause for much debate.

Porphyrios, in his 'Abstinia' claims that meat, fowl, red mullet fish, red wine, apples, pomegranates, and beans were off the menu for the initiates of the Mysteries, as he says:

"In the Eleusian mysteries, likewise, the initiated are ordered to abstain from domestic birds, from fishes and beans, pomegranates and apples; which fruits are as equally defiling to the touch, as a woman recently delivered, and a dead body."

It also seems that at the entrance to the temple of Demeter at Eleusis, tablets were placed containing a list of forbidden foods. The list included several kinds of fish--the whistle-fish, gurnet, crab, and mullet. In all probabihty the whistle-fish is that known as Scicena aquila, a Mediterranean fish that makes a noise under the water which has been compared to bellowing, buzzing, purring, or whistling, the air bladder being the sound-producing organ. The whistle-fish and crab were held to be impure, the first because it laid its eggs through the mouth, and the second because it ate filth which other fish rejected. The gurnet was rejected because of its fecundity as witnessed in its annual triple laying of eggs, but, according to some riters, it was rejected because it ate a fish which was poisonous to mankind. It may well be that other fish were interdicted, but archeologists and historians agree Porphyry was probably exaggerating when he said that all fish were forbidden.

Birds bred at home, such as chickens and pigeons, were also on the banned list, as were beans and certain vegetables which were forbidden for a mystical reason which Pausanias said he dare not reveal save to the initiated. The probable reason was that they were connected in some way with the wanderings of Demeter. Pomegranates were, of course, forbidden, from the incident of the eating of the pomegranate seeds by Persephone, causing her annual return to the Underworld.

Eggs are a controversial matter. They are attested as banned foods in the Orphic Tradition, appear in lists attested to Pythagoras, and those of several other wise men. While there is no direct relation to the Eleusinian mysteries, Most--if not all--of the other foods listed as banned within the Eleusinian Mystery Tradition also appear on the lists of these other (Mystery) Traditions. As such, for me personally, I abstain from eggs as well. It makes sense seeing as they came to be through the process of a birth--something attested to being miasmic.

We do not encourage our members to go on a ten day fast, eating only ad night. What we do encourage is a one day fast, in the daylight hours of October 2, the day of the actual initiatory rite. Now, a few words of warning and wisdom: fasting is a practice that's reserved for healthy adults and non-pregnant women. It's not suitable for children, the elderly, pregnant women or anyone with medical or psychological conditions which may be triggered by a lack of food. If you're struggling with eating disorders or anything else that may be triggered by a fast, pick something that does not involve food or drink, like electronic devices. Go through the day without using a cell phone, your computer, the radio or the T.V.. Especially in a religious setting, it's the 'going without' part that matters most.