Sappho (Σαπφώ) was a Hellenic lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos (Λέσβος) around 620 BC, although the exact date is unknown. She wrote beautiful and highly romantic poetry that comes and goes straight to the heart. One of my favorite hymns is by her: the Hymn to Aphrodite. Yesterday, I got sent a 2010 interview by Peter Camarda, who interviews the late local SF writer/philosopher/activist Arthur Evans. A large part of the interview centers around a reading of Sappho's hymn to Aphrodite, in both english and ancient Greek. The discussion about the hymn is also very interesting, so for anyone interested in ancient Hellas, Sappho, and poetry, this is a must see. I have also included my favorite translation of the hymn below. Enjoy!

"Iridescent-throned Aphrodite, deathless
Child of Zeus, wile-weaver, I now implore you,
Don't--I beg you, Lady--with pains and torments
Crush down my spirit,

But before if ever you've heard my pleadings
Then return, as once when you left your father's
Golden house; you yoked to your shining car your
Wing-whirring sparrows;

Skimming down the paths of the sky's bright ether
On they brought you over the earth's black bosom,
Swiftly--then you stood with a sudden brilliance,
Goddess, before me;

Deathless face alight with your smile, you asked me
What I suffered, who was my cause of anguish,
What would ease the pain of my frantic mind, and
Why had I called you

To my side: "And whom should Persuasion summon
Here, to soothe the sting of your passion this time?
Who is now abusing you, Sappho? Who is
Treating you cruelly?

Now she runs away, but she'll soon pursue you;
Gifts she now rejects--soon enough she'll give them;
Now she doesn't love you, but soon her heart will
Burn, though unwilling."

Come to me once more, and abate my torment;
Take the bitter care from my mind, and give me
All I long for; Lady, in all my battles
Fight as my comrade."
The ancient Hellenes were very keen people, interested in all things nature, science and philosophy. They searched for answers to questions about their life, as well as the Theoi, and they theorized structurally about any discoveries they made, be it in health care, science or paleontology. Especially in the latter department, there are a few discoveries that might have shaped a large part of ancient Hellenic mythology and religion in general. Today, we'll be discussing some of those.


Nichoria (Νιχώρια) is a site in Messenia, a regional unit in the southwestern part of the Peloponnese, Greece, on a ridgetop near modern Rizomylos, at the northwestern corner of the Messenian Gulf. It was the home of an Acropolis where many--what we now call--fossils were stored. The Nichoria bone was discovered by the ancient Hellenes roughly around 1000 BC. It is the blackened and petrified thigh bone of an extinct mega mammal--likely a woolly rhinoceros, or a mammoth--that roamed southern Hellas around one million years ago. The rusty-black color of the fossil bone indicates that it was most likely collected from the lignite deposits near the ancient town of Megalopolis, some 55 kilometers (35 miles) away from Nichoria. The Megalopolis basin was known in antiquity as the 'battleground of the Giants', where first the Titanomachy and then the Gigantomachy was believed to have taken place. The dense concentration of large fossil bones found at the basin inspired the belief that entire armies of giants were blasted by Zeus' thunderbolts, and the Nichoria bone--the distal end of a right femur, 15 cm (5-6 inches) wide, about twice the size of a regular human thigh bone--was most likely believed to have belonged to one of these giants. If the myth or the bone came first is unknown.

The one-eyed giants might have their origins in the recovered skulls of Deinotherium giganteum, which, loosely translated means 'really huge terrible beast'. Skulls and even tusks have been discovered in temples of the island of Krete, placed their by the ancient inhabitants. The Deinotherium is a distant relative to today's elephants. It stood about four and a half meters (15 feet) tall at the shoulder, and had tusks that extended over a meter (4.5 feet). It roamed Europe, Asia, and Africa during the Miocene (23 to 5 million years ago) and Pliocene (5 to 1.8 million years ago) eras before becoming extinct. As the image to the right shows, the large hole in the front of the skull was the anchor point for the trunk, not the eyes, but the skill of a young Deinotherium combined with the fearsome reputation of the cyclopses, makes it easy to see why the anciente Hellenes might have identified these skulls as belonging to Odysseus' captor.

The grýphōn (γρύφων) is a mythical creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle's talons as its front feet. They feature in much Hellenic artwork, and Adrienne Mayor, a classical folklorist, proposes that the griffin was an ancient misconception derived from the fossilized remains of the Protoceratops found in gold mines in the Altai mountains of Scythia, in present day southeastern Kazakhstan, or in Mongolia. Looking at the skull of one of these dinosaurs, it really isn't a big leap; Protoceratops is about the size of a sheep or large dog, and they have a powerful jaw, and protruding bird-like beak. As a dinosaur, the rest of the skeleton would also have resembled a densely packed lion, one capable of carrying the weight of a man. The wings could simply have been assumed lost in time, or perhaps small bones found in the area would have indicated that the 'griffin' once took flight.

There are many more examples, and for anyone interested in this topic, Adrienne Mayor's book 'The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times' is an absolute must-read. From a review of the book:

"Above all, in The First Fossil Hunters Mayor proves two basic points: that many of the classic Greek and Roman myths did have a basis in fact, and that the basis for these facts were fossils. Using evidence collected from personal interviews, trips to Greek and Italian museums, and careful studies of classical myths and geology, Mayor continues to prove the two above points throughout her 360-page book. 

[...] Throughout her book Mayor continually proves the two basic points that she originally set out in the introduction: that many Greek and Roman myths had a basis in fact, and that these facts were often fossils. However, she goes beyond this basis thesis, and proves that Greeks and Romans frequently encountered the fossilized remains of mammals and dinosaurs, and that they developed very sophisticated concepts and myths to explain this bewildering and often confusing fossil evidence. Like their modern counterparts, Mayor writes, the ancient fossil hunters collected and measured impressive petrified remains and even displayed them in temples and museums. They attempted to reconstruct the appearance of these creatures through art and sculpture, and went even further in attempting to explain their creation and extinction."

Mammoth bone image source here; Cyclops image source here; Protoceratops skull image source here.
A very good friend of mine lost someone tonight, and came to me for spiritual advice on how to deal with this grief. He is not Hellenistic, but values the lessons of Hellenismos on life and religion, and as such, he wanted to hear about funerary traditions within Hellenismos, and ancient Hellenic practice. What came out what a bit of a rambled Facebook message that was vague enough for interpretation but was anywhere from complete. As such, I write this today--in a hurry before an appointment--with love and sorrow in my heart, for a friend who suffers, and a young girl who lost her life.

The ancient Hellenes believed that the moment a person died, their psyche--spirit--left the body in a puff or like a breath of wind. Proper burial was incredibly important to the ancient Hellenes, and to not give a loved one a fully ritualized funeral was unthinkable. It was, however, used as punishment of dead enemies, but only rarely. Funerary rites were performed solely to get the deceased into the afterlife, and everyone who passed away was prepared for burial according to time-honored rituals.

A burial or cremation had four parts: preparing the body, the prothesis (Προθησις, 'display of the body'), the ekphorá (ἐκφορά 'funeral procession'), and the interment of the body or cremated remains of the deceased. Preparation of the body was always done by women, and was usually done by a woman over sixty, or a close relative who was related no further away from the deceased than the degree of second cousin. These were also the only people in the ekphorá. The deceased was stripped, washed, anointed with oil, and then dressed in his or her finest clothes. They also received jewelry and other fineries. A coin could be presented to the dead, and laid under or below the tongue, or even on the eyes, as payment to Kharon.

During the prothesis, the body was put out in the courtyard for a day, placed on a bier (as seen on the funerary plaque to the right). Relatives and friends came to mourn and pay their respects. Everyone, but women especially, grieved loudly and respectfully. It was possible to hire professional keeners, who sang ritualized laments and dirges, tore at their hair and pounded their chests in lamentation of the dead. The more grief was shown, the higher the level of respect for the dead.

Right before sun up on the next day, the ekphorá took place. At this time of day, not too many people were outside yet, and this way, miasma was limited to only the grieving family. Women played a major role in funerary rites, a much bigger role than men, but both walked the procession. Men cremated or inhumed the body and gave the final offerings. They also, obviously, constructed the tomb or grave. Men led the way to the cemetery--carrying the bier--followed by the women, and then the children. There was a flute player who served as an indicator that there was a funeral going on, so other inhabitants of the city or village could avoid miasma.

After arriving at the tomb or cemetery, the women turned back, most likely to prepare a large supper at home, and certainly to purify it. The men remained and burned the body (a mostly Athenian practice) or otherwise set up the body. A related mourner first dedicated a lock of hair, then provided the deceased with offerings of honey, milk, water, wine, perfumes, and oils mixed in varying amounts. Any libation was a khoe; a libation given in its entirety to the deceased. None was had by the mourners. A prayer to the Theoi--most likely Hermes Khthonios--then followed these libations. It was also possible to make a haimacouria before the wine was poured. In a haimacouria, a black ram or black bull is slain and the blood is offered to the deceased. This blood sacrifice, however, was probably used only when they were sacrificing in honor of a number of men, or for someone incredibly important. Then came the enagismata, which were offerings to the dead that included milk, honey, water, wine, celery, pelanon--a mixture of meal, honey, and oil--and kollyba--the first fruits of the crops and dried fresh fruits.

Unlike the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Hellenes placed very few objects in the grave, but monumental earth mounds, rectangular built tombs, and elaborate marble stelai and statues were often erected to mark the grave and to ensure that the deceased would not be forgotten. Grave gifts were allowed in many places, but could not cost more than a set amount all together. These elaborate burial places served as a place for the family members to visit the grave with offerings that included small cakes and libations. The goal  was to never be forgotten; if the dead was remembered always, and fed with libations and other offerings, their spirit would stay 'alive' forever. That said, especially in Athens, names on grave markers were restricted to women who died in childbirth and men who died in battle.

After the burial, the family stayed in mourning for a month. During this time, or perhaps a little less long, they were ritually polluted due to exposure to the underworld through the deceased. As such, they could not take part in festivals, nor offer to the Theoi, nor visit temples. They would frequent the grave or tomb often, however, and present the dead with khoes and burnt sacrifice of cakes and fruit.

So, how do we perform these rites when our loved ones are not Hellenistic? How do we give them the best Hellenic chance in the afterlife, or deal with our personal grief in a religion that was not their own? And what if it was their own, how do we deal with it then? Many modern funeral rites bear striking resemblance to the customs of the ancient Hellenes. The body is washed and cleaned, then laid out to be visited. There is often a procession to the burial place or crematorium. We are still allowed and encouraged to show our grief during the funeral or cremation. There is always a place where the deceased can be visited; either a grave, a field where the ashes were strew out, or an urn. Some funeral homes allow family members to help with washing and dressing of the deceased, and you can pretty much request anything you want in your own will, including the inclusion of a coin.

At home, when you are not actively involved in the funerary rites, you can still make the khoe to Hermes Khthonios, and present him with coin(s) for the dead. Tell him you will pay for their passage, should they need it, and pray that He and Kharon will accept. Grieve loudly, especially if you are a woman. Tell stories of the deceased, and make sure they are never forgotten. After the funeral or cremation, cleanse yourself and the house thoroughly. I would not recommend bringing the ashes of the deceased home with you, as this would permanently pollute the house.

I feel for my friend who lost someone, and for her family. May Hermes Khthonios carry this girl safely to where she wants to be, and may the Theoi look kindly upon the mourners. Ease their suffering and alleviate their pain. May the deceased always be remembered, and live on through story and laughter.

Image source: attic funerary plaque
I'm taking the day off today. The Anthesteria was wonderful, and I greatly enjoyed it. Sadly, it also kept me from writing a little, and I have a million and one things to do, people to visit, and other work to catch up on. Sorry, guys. I'll be back tomorrow. In the mean time, have a gorgeous video on the secrets of the Parthenon in Athens.

"The Parthenon was part of an ambitious building campaign on the Acropolis that began around 450 b.c. A generation before, the Athenians, as part of an alliance of Greek city-states, had led heroic victories against Persian invaders. This alliance would evolve into a de facto empire under Athenian rule, and some 150 to 200 cities across the Aegean began paying Athens huge sums of what amounted to protection money. Basking in glory, the Athenians planned their new temple complex on a lavish, unprecedented scale—with the Parthenon as the centerpiece. Surviving fragments of the financial accounts, which were inscribed in stone for public scrutiny, have prompted estimates of the construction budget that range from around 340 to 800 silver talents—a considerable sum in an age when a single talent could pay a month's wages for 170 oarsmen on a Greek warship. The Parthenon's base was 23,028 square feet (about half the size of a football field) and its 46 outer columns were some 34 feet high. A 525-foot frieze wrapped around the top of the exterior wall of the building's inner chamber. Several scholars have argued that the frieze shows a procession related to the quadrennial Great Panathenaia, or the festival "of all the Athenians." By incorporating this scene of civic celebration, the scholars suggest, the Parthenon served not merely as an imperial propaganda statement but also as an expression of Athens' burgeoning democracy—the will of the citizens who had voted to fund this exceptional monument."
It's the final day of the Anthesteria, and it has been a wild ride so far. Although I did the rites alone, I did time them with a very dear friend in the US so we performed our rites together. It was very inspiring, and gave me a sense of community that was wonderful to feel. I created a wreath on the first day, and took it out yesterday afternoon with copious amounts of wine offered to Dionysos. I'm not a drinker. In fact, I only drink alcohol when I perform rites to the Theoi, so the amount of alcohol I have consumed the last few days is really quite extraordinary. Still, it would probably measure out to two wine glasses total. It's enough to give me a buzz, and the carpet some beautiful wine stains. Such is the nature of a rite to Dionysos.

Today--or, actually, last night--the last day of the Anthesteria started. On this day, called Khytroi (χύτροι 'pots'), everyone joined in a procession to the temple of Dionysos. It was a somber day consisting of the preparation of a mixture of a panspermia, grains and beans boiled together, along with honey which was offered to Hermes Khthonios on behalf of the spirits of the dead, especially those who died in Deukalion’s flood. The slaves, as well as the dead, were then told to go home, as 'the Anthesteria had ended'.

A special part of the appeasement that took place during Khytroi was the appeasement of the Keres, most notably in driving them off. The Keres are the female daímōns of violent or cruel death, including death in battle, by accident, murder or ravaging disease. They hound the battlefield, in search for the newly dead. They might have help those not favoured by a certain Theos or Theia to find a gruesome death at the hands of an enemy. From Hómēros', Iliad:

"Aphrodite forever stands by her man [Paris] and drives the Keres away from him. Even now she has rescued him when he thought he would perish." -- Zeus to Hera.

The Keres might be the evils released from the jar Pandôra opened in her curiosity. From Hesiod's Works and Days:

"For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills [kakoi] and hard toil [ponoi] and heavy sickness [nosoi] which bring the Keres [Fates] upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly."

No matter where they came from, they might very well have visited upon the ancient Hellenes quite often during the winter time. With sickness, possible food shortages, cold spells in certain areas, and other disasters that can have a profound influence on life already strained by winter time, the threat of the Keres would have been very real to them. With the Anthesteria, the house and people were cleansed and the dead, along with the Keres, were appeased and driven off. The ancient Hellenes prepared for spring, by casting out the baggage of winter. Much like we clean out the old at the Hene kai Nea, so we can start fresh on Noumenia.

I'll be making a (slightly improvised) panspermia today, and will be putting out a plate at the same crossroads I would usually set out Hekate's dinner at the Hene kai Nea. I will yell 'out you Keres, daímōns, and spirits, the Anthesteria are over!' and come home to uncover my shrines. I hope you have had a wonderful Anthesteria, I most certainly have. Until tomorrow, when we are cleansed and ready for spring.
"It is often said that history repeats itself. Perhaps this is only because we fail to learn from the past. Many of the problems we face today were also encountered by the ancients. Poor governance, social injustices and economic hardships are not new phenomena, and yet we repeat the same old mistakes, time and time again. While the study of the ancient texts seems remote and distant, it can help us make sense of the world today. Let us pledge then, to revisit and revitalize the many lessons the classics have to offer us."

"By educating ourselves and our children in the classics we can do our part to equip all with the timeless wisdom so often forgotten today. The Classics are steeped in wonderful stories of human achievement, endeavor and disaster. It is a history of humankind and part of western heritage, a heritage which should not be lost."

These words of wisdom come from the owners of Classical Wisdom Weekly, in an effort to preserve the study of the classics, if not in the modern school system, then at home. Classical Wisdom Weekly challenges us to take action in not only reading these classics ourselves--as many Hellenists will do, to better understand the Theoi and the ancient Hellenes--but also to share these texts with family members, children, in study groups, and with anyone else who will listen.

On Baring the Aegis, I refer to the classics again and again, taking bite-sized chunks out of them to make a point, or to place the work in perspective. I try to educate and make people aware of the classics. As a result, I have signed the petition attached to this campaign with delight, and knowing I will be able to fulfill this pledge easily. still, I will also try to share the classics offline, with friends, and family members. Within Elaion--of which I have recently been made a full member--our new members study process will soon start, and we'll delve into the Oresteia by playwright Aeschylus. I greatly look forward to it.

So, I am asking you to pledge yourself to the campaign as well, to let no one forget the classics upon which our society was built. To educate yourself and those around you, and to learn the lessons the ancient Hellenes already knew, but which we have forgotten along the way. Sign the pledge if you agree, because Classical Wisdom Weekly has a point when they say that 'it is only through studying the past that we can hope to deserve a better future'.
The Greek word 'Dodekatheism' broadly translates as 'the worship of the twelve Gods'. It is used to indicate either the entire movement of Hellenic Reconstruction, or solely to indicate a movement within Hellenic Reconstruction that focusses on the worship of The Twelve Olympians--usually consisting of Zeus, Hera, Athena, Hēphaistos, Hestia, Aphrodite, Poseidon, Ares, Demeter, Hermes, Artemis, and Apollon--with Dionysos (usually as a replacement for Hestia), and Hades, tagged on.

When used to indicate the entire movement of Hellenic Reconstruction, it is seen as an alternative to the terms 'Hellenismos', 'Hellenic Recon', and 'Hellenism'. 'Hellenismos' is a word coined by the Emperor Julian in the 4th century AD. He was the first to group the entire religion of ancient Hellas into one label, the ‘Hellenic way’, which, at the time, encapsulated pre-Christian religion and the legacy of Hellenic philosophy and culture. In modern Greek, the term translates roughly as 'Hellenism, the Greek nation.', which makes it a good term but not necessarily the most accurate. As it focusses on the Greek nation, it not only does not limit the practice to ancient Hellas, it also doesn't refer to religion in a direct manner, and has a certain ethnical ring to it that might exclude those who are not born in modern day Greece or who cannot trace back their lineage to ancient Hellas.

The word 'Dodekatheism' has been used for some time within modern day Greece to refer to the ancient Hellenic religion, as the term encompasses much more of the required meaning; it refers to religion, it speaks of the Gods worshipped in ancient Hellas, and it has a modern and inclusive ring to it that I can appreciate. Within Elaion, the term Dodekatheism is used to indicate the religion, and I most certainly understand why. On this blog, I use 'Hellenismos', however, as the term is more wide-spread, people are used to it, and I have a weakness for it. I also do not want this blog or myself to be linked to the movement within Hellenismos where only The Twelve--plus, perhaps, Hestia (when believed to have been ousted by Dionysos, which is often the case) and Hades--are worshipped.

So, lets talk about Dodekatheism as worship of The Twelve. This belief is held most famously by modern  practitioners like Timothy Jay Alexander, and it stems from the idea that the total number of Gods is both finite and innumerable, and all are contained within or divisions of The Twelve as a result.

From the website:

"[The] totality of all things makes up a multiplicity of a single ultimate thing, the One. The One contains all time, all space, all intelligence, and all spirit. It is all-inclusive, and functions everywhere unhindered yet without diminishing diversity or individuality. The One is seen as the source of all spirit, matter, and of all created things. In a closed-system (the One being that system and containing all things) it is an implausibility for there to exist an infinite number of things. By containing all things, the One is itself infinity. A thing that is contained cannot be infinite. Therefore, while it is possible for the total number of Gods to be innumerable, there can only ever exist a finite number. We can then reason the total number of Gods is both finite and innumerable. The Twelve refers to the Twelve Olympian Gods, or Dodekatheon, who are considered the supreme Cosmic Gods. [...] We can reason these twelve are in primary possession of the world, and can consider all other Gods are contained within or divisions of these."

I personally do not subscribe to the notion of the One any more than I subscribe to a system where The Twelve are all Theoi you need to worship to practice Hellenismos. To each their own, but Dodekatheism as practiced in this regard is based on an age of ancient Hellas far later than what I subscribe to, an age built on philosophy, not theology.

I think it's incredibly important to worship not only the Twelve Olympians, but the entire pantheon of Gods, Titans, nymphs, heroes, and spirits. To think of Khionê when the snow falls, and Hēlios when the sun shines. To put food out at the crossroads on the new moon, and to draw strength from Hēraklēs and Theseus when you are going through a rough time. To beg not only Zeus Ombrios for rain, but also the Anemoi. To appease the dead when the growth cycle begins anew. To me, this is what it means to be a Hellenist, no matter the term you give the religion.
At dusk today, one of Hellenismos' most important festivals (if one can give classifications to the festivals at all) starts. It's the Anthesteria, and held in honor of Dionysos Limnaios, wine, and the dead. The Anthesteria was held annually for three days, the eleventh to thirteenth of the month of Anthesterion. It is an ancestral festival, the oldest of the festivals for Dionysos in Athens, a time of reflection and trust in the new growing season to come, a time to celebrate with the spirits of the departed the indefatigable resurgence of life. The festival centered around the celebration of the maturing of the wine stored at the previous vintage, whose pithoi were now ceremoniously opened, and the beginning of spring. The three days of the feast were called Pithoigia (after πίθοι 'storage jars'), Khoes (χοαί 'libations') and Khytroi (χύτροι 'pots').

On the first day, the pithoi were brought to the city of Athens and opened in the temple of Dionysos. Everyone from age three and up wore garlands of new flowers, and many were present when the pithoi of new wine were opened, and a libations was offered to Dionysos before drinking of it. It was a truly celebratory day.

On the second day, all temples were closed, except the temple of Dionysos. Social order broke down on this day--as slaves were permitted to celebrate alongside everyone else--and there was a drinking contest in the afternoon where three liters of wine were drunk in complete silence, from khoes. Whomever finished first, won. At the end of the day, the garlands that had been worn were wound around their khoes which they then took to the priestess in charge of the sanctuary at the Limnaios (the marsh) to be dedicated. The wife of the Archōn Basileus--the Archon in charge of religious and artistic festivals--the Basilinna might have taken part in a sacred marriage with Dionysos, either with her husband acting as a conduit for Dionysos, or one of His priests. Geriai, priestesses or followers of Dionysos, might have assisted in this ritual, or would have held their own cult rituals on this day. Young women swung in trees and decorated them to commemorate the death of Erigone, as chronicled below.

On day three, everyone joined in a procession to the temple of Dionysos. It was a somber day consisting of the preparation of a mixture of a panspermia, grains and beans boiled together (a good recipe can be found here), along with honey which was offered to Hermes Khthonios on behalf of the spirits of the dead, especially those who died in Deukalion’s flood. The slaves, as well as the dead, were then told to go home, as 'the Anthesteria had ended'.

The origins of the Anthesteria are based in myth. After the battle of Troy, King Agamemnon returns home to his wife Klytaemnestra (Κλυταιμνήστρα). When Agamemnon returns, playwright Aeschylus in his Oresteia, writes Klytaemnestra as not having been faithful to her husband. She has taken as her new lover and husband Aegisthos (Αἴγισθος), cousin of Agamemnon, and when Agamemnon and his young slave come home, Klytaemnestra kills them both. Orestes (Ὀρέστης), son of Agamemnon and Klytaemnestra ends up killing Aegisthos, as well as his mother for her crime, under orders of Apollon. Yet, the matricide is a terrible offense in the eyes of the Theoi, and the Erinyes--Khthonic deities of vengeance--are sent to kill Orestes. They chased him relentlessly and upon reaching Delphi he is told by Apollon that he should go to Athens to seek Athena's aid.

Phanodemus (Athenaeus 10.437c-d) describes what happens to Orestes next, as it is this practice that was reenacted again and again, during the second day of the Anthesteria:

“When Orestes arrived at Athens after killing his mother, Demophon [king of Athens] wanted to receive him, but was not willing to let him approach the sacred rites [to Dionysos] nor share the libations, since he had not yet been put on trial [and had not yet been cleansed of miasma]. So he ordered the sacred things to be locked up and a separate pitcher of wine to be set beside each person [instead of sharing a drinking vessel as usual], saying that a flat cake would be given as a prize to the one who drained his first. He also ordered them, when they had stopped drinking, not to put the wreathes with which they were crowned on the sacred objects, because they had been under the same roof with Orestes. Rather each one was to twine them around his own pitcher and take the wreathes to the priestess at the precinct in Limnai, and then to perform the rest of the sacrifices in the sanctuary.”

As mentioned, Orestes arrives at Athens during an existing festival to Dionysos. It is posed that this festival was the Aiora, a festival instituted to commemorate the death of Erigone, her father, and their dog Maera. The story goes that Ikários (Ἰκάριος) was such a fine winemaker that he could produce wine so strong, those who drank it appeared to be poisoned. His skill turned out to be his undoing; Íkaros was killed by those who drank his wine, thinking the wine maker was out to kill them. His daughter Erigone was taken to his body by the family hound, Maera, whereupon both she and the dog committed suicide by hanging. It may have been that Dionysos was so angry over the murder and the following suicides, He punished Athens by making all of the city's maidens (or only the daughters of those who had killed Ikários) commit suicide in the same way. The citizens of Athens turned to the oracle of Delphi to stop these suicides, and the oracle told them to burry the three with honors, and appease their spirits. The Athenians buried the bodies with full honors, and a festival was founded where young Athenian women swung in swings, and hung ribbons, cups, and dolls in trees.

The Anthesteria might sound like a confusing festival, and it was, in a way. The three days were almost completely separate events, but have a few things in common. It's a fertility festival, but birth is linked to death. All life is linked to death, after all, and both birth and death were miasmic events. After the rough winter, everything was dead: the soil, the remaining food stores, people... miasma tainted everything. So, as new life began from the ashes of the old, Dionysos was invoked and sacrificed to, to cleanse the old, to remove the miasma resting upon the earth and the people. It is not odd to find mythology connected to this festival which is so strongly linked to miasma, birth and death.

How does a modern Hellenist celebrate the Anthesteria? Sannion has a wonderful solitary Anthesteria ritual, but you can, of course, create your own. The first day should focus upon the fertility aspects of the festival: the coming abundance of flowers, wine, and fruit now the spring is almost upon us. Day two began at night, and was filled with... well... sex. People were intoxicated, enthusiastic about the upcoming spring and the end of winter, and they tended to find each other in the dark of night. I would suggest starting there for day two, if you have the option.

On this second day, cover any other shrine you may have in the house, but the one on which you will honor Dionysos, to prevent them from becoming tainted with miasma. Think about Orestes, and what he was forced to do--fail either his father by not punishing his killer, or fail his mother by killing her, and dooming himself, regardless--and think about hard decisions you have had to make, and ask forgiveness for them. If you are of legal age and have the opportunity to do so, empty a glass of wine, and feel it swirl in your stomach, as restless as the spirits of the mythic dead who will come up from the Underworld tomorrow. Swing on a swing, as high as you can, and revel in the feeling. Decorate trees with knick-knacks. If you made yourself a garland, take it outside, preferably something wet, and beg that Dionysos accept it and cleanse you of the pollution you carry within you. Again, this night is perfect for making love, especially in honor of Dionysos.

Keep your shrines covered for the third day, as miasma has not yet been lifted, and the dead roam the earth freely. Give honors to family members, and others who were close to you, who have died. Speak with them and try to find closure. Make them a meal; a panspermia is best, but eggs, leeks and garlic also work well. There are different stories surrounding the eating of the panspermia yourself. Some say no one was to eat from it, but Walter Burkert in 'Greek Religion' notes:

"On the 13th Anthesterion, the day of the Pots, grains of all kinds are boiled together in a pot along with honey. This is the most primitive cereal dish of the early farmers, older than the discovery of flour-milling and bread-baking; in funeral customs it has survived down to the present day. But the idea of food for the dead, conjoined to an abridged version of an ancient source, has lead to the mistaken view that the living were actually prohibited from eating from the Pots. According to the full text, it is only the priests who are barred from eating this food, in accordance with the fact that all sanctuaries are closed on the Choes day. The meal of pottage is linked to the myth of the flood: once the water had subsided, the survivors threw everything they could find into a pot and cooked it as their first meal after the cataclysm, an occasion for summoning up new courage and yet in memory of the dead. One sacrifices to the chthonic Hermes for the sake of the dead and eats from the Pots in the certainty of life regained. The day of defilement is over, the masks and the dead lose their rights: 'Out you Keres, the Anthesteria are over' became a proverbial saying."

Yet, Harrison in 'Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion' has the following to say:

"The panspermia has not, I think, been rightly understood. In commenting on it before, misled by the gift-theory of sacrifice, I took it to be merely a 'supper for the souls.' No doubt as such it was in later days regarded when primitive magical rites had to be explained on Olympian principles. But it was, to begin with, much more. The ghosts had other work to do than to eat their supper and go. They took that 'supper', that panspermia, with them down to the world below and brought it back in the autumn a pankarpia. The dead are Chthonioi, 'earth people', Demetreioi, 'Demeter's people,' and they do Demeter's work, her work and that of Kore the Maiden, with her Kathodos and Anodos."

Where you stand, you must decide for yourself. I will not taste of the panspermia. Like with the Deipnon, however, setting outside the meal will lift the miasma from your person and the house, so afterwards, you can uncover your shrines again.

The Anthesteria is a festival of deep, emotional, involvement, and it is best celebrated by emerging yourself as completely as you can. As with any rites to Dionysos, transformation within yourself is almost always a consequence. The Anthesteria is a heavy festival, but filled with joy, regardless, because you are working towards spring. Burdens will be lifted from you. Rejoice with all that is left behind in mind, and you will get through these festivals just fine. Enjoy!
A few days ago, I talked about where we, as Hellenists, and I, as a person, find our ethical framework. Most of mine comes from Hesiod's Works and Days. Long before I knew Hesiod, or his writings existed, my ethics mirrored his. I want to share some of his writings with you today, because they are solid, sincere, ethical guidelines and pieces of advice that I believe will bring anyone who follows them closer to the Theoi, and themselves. That is what they did for me, anyway. You can read Works and Days here, in a translation by Evelyn-White, but the words below are taken from the Loeb translation, as done by Glenn W. Most, as that translation makes a lot more sense to me.
  • Give heed to Justice and do not foster Outrageousness, for Outrageousness is evil in a worthless mortal; and even a fine man cannot bear her easily.
  • Those who give straight judgements to foreigners and fellow-citizens and do not turn aside from Justice at all, their city blooms and the people in it flower.
  • A man contrives evil for himself when he contrives evil for someone else, and an evil plan is most evil for the planner.
  • If someone is willing to speak it out publicly, then far-seeing Zeus gives him wealth, but whoever willfully swears a false oath, telling a lie in his testimony, he himself is incurably hurt at the same time as he harms Justice.

  • Misery is there to be grabbed in abundance, easily, for smooth is the road, and she lives very nearby; but in front of Excellence the immortal Gods have set sweat, and the path to Her is long and steep, and rough at first--yet when one arrives at the top, then it becomes easy, difficult though it still is.
  • The man who thinks of everything by himself, considering what will be better, later and in the end--this man is the best of all. That man is fine too, the one who is persuaded by someone who speaks well. But whoever neither thinks by himself nor pays heed to what someone else says and lays it to his heart--that man is good for nothing.
  • Whatever sort you are by fortune, working is better, if you turn your foolish spirit away from other men's possessions towards work, taking care for the means of life.
  • Shame is not good at providing for a needy man.
  • If someone grabs great wealth with his hands by violence, or plunders it by means of his tongue, as often happens when profit deceives the mind of human beings and Shamelessness drives Shame away, then the Gods easily make him obscure.
  • Invite your friends to the feast, but let your enemy be; and above all call whoever lives near to you.
  • Do not seek profit evilly: evil profit is as bad as calamities.
  • Be friendly to your friends, and go visit those who visit you. 
  • Give to him who gives and do not give to him who does not give: for one who gives is a giver, but no one gives to a non-giver--Give is good, Grab is bad, a giver of death. For whatever a man gives willingly, even if it is much, he rejoices in the gift and takes pleasure in his spirit; but whomever snatches, relying upon shamelessness, this congeals his own heart, even if it is little.
  • It is fine to take from what you have, but it is woe for the spirit to have need of what you do not have.
  • Let the payment agreed for a man who is your friend be reliable; and smile upon your brother--but add a witness too: for both trust and distrust have destroyed men.
  • If the spirit in your breast longs for wealth, then act in this way, and work at work upon work.
Even all the way over here in the Netherlands, I have realized long ago that Fox is not so much a news station but a 'sensation station'. It's a place where all presenters, news anchors and contributors have one foot firmly wedged into their mouths and fear mongering is a daily commitment. Well, the lovely people at Fox found another subject to spike debate: the university of Missouri, back in the fall of '12, included Wiccan holidays in their 'Guide to Religion', putting Wiccan festivals on par with festivals from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, but also Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, the Baha’i faith, Shintoism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Hinduism. I'd say we're in good company there.

The festival calendar serves as a tool for faculty, to help them schedule events on dates that everyone, of any religious denomination, can participate. Nowhere does it say that an event--like a test, meeting, or activity--can not be held on festival day. It simply informs the teacher that certain students might decline to take part, might be on a fast, or might have to excuse themselves for regular prayer. For students, the guide serves as a platform to achieve greater religious understanding within the diverse student body.

A total of forty-two holidays are listed in the University of Missouri's religious calender, with eight Wiccan festivals listed which accounted for nearly twenty percent of the holidays in the school's guide. Mail Online has made a lovely pie chart to show the break down of festivals, as seen to the left.

News media took to the change a few days ago, and eventually it reached Fox. Fox, of course, knew all along that Wiccans are nuts for believing in something as outlandish as the divinity of (or in) nature, and for following the Wheel of the Year, even though they were wonderful about getting recognition for Pagan casualties of war, a few years back. At any rate, Fox most certainly feels this to be true, and thus, they aired these fabulous commentaries:

Personally, I am not offended by the opinions expressed in these clips. The ludicrousness of these allegations and the obvious lack of research takes all credibility away from these people and Fox News. Then again, I am not now, nor have I ever been truly Wiccan. I was not initiated, I have no knowledge of inner court material to speak of. I have tried to imagine how I would feel if these statements were made about Hellenismos, and realize that I'm secure enough in my religion to realize that these people don't have a clue about what they're talking about. On top of that, the people who regularly watch Fox News are most likely never going to be our allies anyway. Of course, that doesn't excuse a network to use a religious minority as a cheap joke.

For those of you who are outraged at the stupendously incorrect messages Fox are spewing, there is a petition you can sign. It can be found here. The petition demands an apology, although I'm not sure that will ever happen or is actually something that we should want to accomplish. Whatever happens, I'm putting out a call to remain calm and poised. I'd rather us Pagans and Wiccans keep our dignity and don't go to Fox, foaming at the mouth. Yes, they put their foot in their mouth, and no, they didn't do any research what so ever. Yet, we will not win anything by presenting us as anything other than civilized human beings. So write your letters and sign your petitions, but please, keep it civil. Keep calm. We don't need Fox for validation. Personally, I'd rather celebrate the university in question for their good--and inclusive--work. I'd rather focus on that.

I hope this blows over soon, and that Fox takes their foot out of their mouth without making even bigger fools of themselves. Until then, I hope we are all secure enough in our faiths to see that this is just hot air, harmful only if you let yourself get caught in it. Congratulations, Wiccan/Druid/Neo-Wiccan/some-forms-of-Pagan Missouri University students: it's wonderful you get this kind of equality.
Remember when I basically said that with Cepheus, we had come to the end of the Andoméda-related constellations? Yeah, I unintentionally lied. There is one more: Cetus, located in the aquatic portion of the sky, where many water-related constellations are places.

Cetus is the Latin spelling of the name; the ancient Greek form was Kētos (Κῆτος), or Kêtos Aithiopios (Κητος Αιθιοπιος, Ethiopian Monster). It was the name of the sea monster sent by Poseidon as a favor to the sea God Nereus, who was insulted by the queen of Ethiopia, Cassiopeia, who boasted that either her daughter, or she, or both were equal or even greater in beauty than Nereus' children, the Nereids.

Cetus tormented the coast of Ethiopia, drowning many and wiping entire towns off of the map. Ethiopia's king, Cepheus, went to an oracle to find out how to stop the suffering of his people, and was told to chain his daughter to a rock on a cliff so Cetus could devour her. The royal family resisted, but eventually did what they were told. What happens next is beautifully told by Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses:

"Chain'd to a rock she stood; young Perseus stay'd his rapid flight, to view the beauteous maid. So sweet her frame, so exquisitely fine, she seem'd a statue by a hand divine, had not the wind her waving tresses show'd, and down her cheeks the melting sorrows flow'd. Her faultless form the heroe's bosom fires; the more he looks, the more he still admires. Th' admirer almost had forgot to fly, and swift descended, flutt'ring from on high. O! Virgin, worthy no such chains to prove, but pleasing chains in the soft folds of love; thy country, and thy name (he said) disclose, and give a true rehearsal of thy woes. 

A quick reply her bashfulness refus'd, to the free converse of a man unus'd. Her rising blushes had concealment found from her spread hands, but that her hands were bound. She acted to her full extent of pow'r, and bath'd her face with a fresh, silent show'r. But by degrees in innocence grown bold, her name, her country, and her birth she told: and how she suffer'd for her mother's pride, who with the Nereids once in beauty vy'd. Part yet untold, the seas began to roar, and mounting billows tumbled to the shore. Above the waves a monster rais'd his head, his body o'er the deep was widely spread.

[...] So when the monster mov'd, still at his back the furrow'd waters left a foamy track. Now to the rock he was advanc'd so nigh, whirl'd from a sling a stone the space would fly. Then bounding, upwards the brave Perseus sprung, and in mid air on hov'ring pinions hung. His shadow quickly floated on the main; the monster could not his wild rage restrain, but at the floating shadow leap'd in vain. As when Jove's bird, a speckl'd serpent spies, which in the shine of Phoebus basking lies, unseen, he souses down, and bears away, truss'd from behind, the vainly-hissing prey. To writh his neck the labour nought avails, too deep th' imperial talons pierce his scales. Thus the wing'd heroe now descends, now soars, and at his pleasure the vast monster gores. Full in his back, swift stooping from above, the crooked sabre to its hilt he drove. The monster rag'd, impatient of the pain, first bounded high, and then sunk low again. Now, like a savage boar, when chaf'd with wounds, and bay'd with opening mouths of hungry hounds, he on the foe turns with collected might, who still eludes him with an airy flight; and wheeling round, the scaly armour tries of his thick sides; his thinner tall now plies: 'Till from repeated strokes out gush'd a flood, and the waves redden'd with the streaming blood. 

At last the dropping wings, befoam'd all o'er, with flaggy heaviness their master bore: a rock he spy'd, whose humble head was low, bare at an ebb, but cover'd at a flow. A ridgy hold, he, thither flying, gain'd, and with one hand his bending weight sustain'd; with th' other, vig'rous blows he dealt around, and the home-thrusts the expiring monster own'd. In deaf'ning shouts the glad applauses rise, and peal on peal runs ratling thro' the skies. The saviour-youth the royal pair confess, and with heav'd hands their daughter's bridegroom bless. The beauteous bride moves on, now loos'd from chains, the cause, and sweet reward of all the heroe's pains"

Cetus was visualized by the ancient Hellenes as a hybrid creature, with enormous gaping jaws and the forefeet of a land animal, attached to a scaly body with huge coils like a sea serpent. In some ancient drawings, Cetus comes out more comical than frightening, but the Cetus of myth was nothing to laugh at. Other visualizations of Cetus are in the form of a whale. This is mostly due to the latinization of the name; Cetus is the Latin word for the order Cetacea which includes the whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

The constellation Cetus is visible at latitudes between +70° and −90°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of November.
Yesterday, I got into a bit of a discussion about Hellenismos and the foundation of its ethical system. The person I was debating this with, stated that in the Hellenic Era, myths lost their standing as literal facts, and as such, they should not be used to structure the ethical system of modern Hellenistic religion. Instead, we should focus on philosophy, as set out by the ancient Hellenes in said era. Examples include Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle but also 'pre-Socratic' philosophers like Xenophanes, Pythagoras, and movements like Pluralism and Sophistry. There are many more, of course, and many of them older. Stoicism comes to mind, as does Epicureanism. Wiki has good introductions to all of those, but seeing as the focus of this post will not be on the actual philosophies, I'll not explain these terms further at this time.

Seeing as this was the view of my opponent, it is only logical that my thoughts on this differ from his. I have discussed the importance of defining the age or era of ancient Hellas you draw your major inspiration from before, in a blog post about said ages. In that blog post, I also specify I am a follower of the Classical period, a period where the popularity of scholars and poets increased, but had not yet overtaken the minds of the followers of the Theoi in a way. This is the age in which Socrates was put to death for endangering Athens with his ideas.

Needless to say, at least to those who frequent my blog, I am very invested in mythology, and most--if not all--of my ethical, social, and religious framework comes from the accounts of ancient writers like Hómēros, Hesiod, and all the playwrights. I believe in a form of literal interpretation of mythology. From that post:

"Literal: this one is related to the previous three and is probably the most controversial one; Hellenists are called to see the myths of the Theoi as a literal interpretation of the nature of the Divine, as well as history as a whole. What happened in the myths, literally happened. It's called living with the Theoi on a daily basis. It means seeing the divine in everything. Lightning is just as much a scientific phenomenon as Zeus' mighty weapon cast down upon the earth. The little girl who guided Odysseus to the palace of Alcinous was just as much a little girl as the personification of Athena. The two overlap and co-exist. And as such, Hēraklēs' madness was brought on by Hera, and--at an even more basic level--Hēraklēs existed. He may have existed in multiple men, but there was once a man so powerful that he could only be the child of Zeus, and the many extraordinary things he did could only be attributed to a man aided by the Theoi. Literalism is tied to supernaturalism in a way that can not be untied, and as such, I feel it is part of Hellenismos. To chalk the myths up to metaphor is to deny the Theoi."

As I explained in that post, this is my vision, my view, on Hellenismos, and it might not fit yours at all, while we both honor the Theoi in a Recon manner. If so, think of the ages of Hellas and see if you subscribe to an earlier or later era, or a different region of Hellas.

I feel myth was inspired by the Theoi Themselves, while philosophy was created by humans who saw society and drew conclusions from it. These conclusions often included a religious aspect because society was religious (even though the ancient Hellenes didn't have a word for 'religion'), but at its core, they deal not with religious matters. they deal with the influence of religion on humanity and society. As such, philosophy--of which I am a great fan, by the way--will never be the foundation of my faith, because religion and philosophy have a different goal; one to guide mankind in the way of the Theoi, the other to understand mankind. There is nothing religious about the latter.

Myth, on the other hand, was written by human hands, but with the Theoi in mind. They describe events in a way the ancient Hellenes viewed them--guided by divine hands. As such, it is far more logical to me to look for ethics in mythology than philosophy--this is the way the ancient Hellenes saw the world, and if I want to re-create their worship, I, too, must learn to look at the world through their eyes. They encourage and discourage certain behavior upon which the Theoi looked favorable or frowned upon. It is this behavior pattern I, as a Reconstructionist of ancient Hellas, look to adopt. For me, that is the core of Reconstructionism; to adopt not only the Gods, but also the mental framework of religion of the culture that you are invested in. This is why I go on and on about ancient Hellenic culture on this blog: to understand them is to understand a little more of the Theoi, and of the behavior desired of me. 

My opponent and I worked it out: we applied a 'live and let live' mentality to our discussion and we both learned something from it. I got to cement my feelings about mythologically inspired ethics in a blog post, and he--hopefully--learned not to make sweeping generalizations in the future. Again, I don't have The Truth™ or the One True Way™. Your milage might--and probably will--vary. To me, that's alright, as long as we can be civil and respectful to each other. 
Yesterday, I got a wonderful e-mail from a reader of Baring the Aegis, who came here through the Pagan Blog Project. Many who participate in the project are some form of Wiccan or witch--the writer herself included. The writer told me about reading this blog with only a Wiccan mindset to rely upon, and asked me the following question:

"How does Hellenistic worship work in a group? Is it more like a circle with equal participants sharing tasks, or is it more like a congregational model we know from most Christian churches with one or a few priests in front performing the rites and the rest of the participants witnessing without performing tasks of their own? Or is it completely different?"

Because I write with Hellenists in mind, I realize I don't often make comparissons between Hellenismos and other religions or Traditions. Her questions are therefor absolutely logical. For those of you who also came here from a non-Hellenistic, or non-Recon path, I wanted to share my answer to her with you, just to see if I can clear up some confusion.

It's important to differentiate between household religion and state religion when looking at ancient Hellas and modern day Hellenismos. The two were virtually inseparable in ancient Hellas, but the difference has a huge impact on Hellenismos today. One thing to always keep in mind is that both household religion and state religion were practiced in groups; what differed was the size of the group and the grander of the offerings. Within household worship, it was the male head of household (based on age) who led the ritual, but every single member of the family--including mistresses and slaves, should the family unit, or oikos include them--was in attendance during rites. The male head of household, known as the kurios, led the proceedings, but through sacrifice, everyone was made part of the rites. Household worship offered the ancient Hellenes a way to ask specific guidance, counsel or other assistance from the Theoi, as well as build kharis, ritual reciprocity, with the household deities, seeing as They were the ones who looked out for the family.

State worship was led by the Archōn Basileus, the magistrate in charge of religious affaires. He was assisted by the priest(s) or priestess(es) of the Theos or Theia. The priests took care of the practical side of the rites, like getting the fires started, preparing the ritual tools, baking sacrificial cakes and/or leading the animal(s) who would be sacrificed to the temple, as well as killing and butchering them. Everyone who was allowed to attend these rites--that differed per festival--was present for them, as it was a massive, state funded, boost of kharis for the city-state as well as everyone who attended. Whoever attended was made part of the ritual by taking part in ritual cleansing, chanting, making music, dancing, the tossing of barely groats, or presenting the Theoi in question with other sacrifices. They also ate of the meat from the animal that was sacrificed, and as such, the whole of society was included in a state rite.

While the two were invariably linked in ancient times, there was a difference between the calendar of the Mên kata Theion, the 'sacred month', and the city-state's festival calendar. The events on the festival calendar--which were hosted by the city, and included anyone who was allowed to participate--returned yearly, or sometimes every two, four or five years. The events on the Mên kata Theion were much smaller in scale, were practiced per oikos, and returned every single month. The festival calendar lists both, just to get a feel for them.

In modern day Hellenismos, the Mên kata Theion is observed in household worship, and the events on it are usually solitary events, as only one member of the family is usually a practitioner. By default, the practicing party, wether male or female, becomes kurios. He or she will ask for prosperity for the oikos, build kharis with the Theoi, and present problems of the non-practicing family members to the Theoi in hopes of guidance or aid. Most modern practitioners do celebrate the festival calendar in some way, but these festivals were celebrated with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at once, and much of the practice is lost when trying to celebrate them alone. Small groups of Hellenists are springing up, often including a few oikoi, and they often have better luck recreating the feeling of communal worship.

So, yes, Hellenismos works very well in groups--in fact, that's the default. Due to the low number of practitioners, it's often not possible to practice that way, a fact I lament quite often on my blog, I'm afraid. As for a structure--if you want a modern reference, then it would be somewhere between a highly hierarchical coven and a Christian church service. There are modern practices that remind me a great deal of the festivals of ancient Hellas; Bhuthan, a landlocked state in South Asia located at the eastern end of the Himalayas practices Vajrayana Buddhism as a state religion. They are a modern example of polytheistic worship, and they practice many of the religious ceremonies the ancient Hellenes practiced as well. Here is an example of a state festival where priests bring out the statue of Guru Rinpoche so it can be cleaned and cleansed. This is a practice also ascribed to the ancient Hellenes, who did this once a year with most primary temple statues. Most famous is the bringing out of the wooden statue of Athena. The video shows some basics that were practiced in ancient Hellas like the chants, the burning of incense, the procession, etc.

This is the extend of my reply to this wonderful reader. I hope it offers a bit of clarity to other readers as well. If you have a question you don't want to ask in public, you can use Facebook or the gmail account 'baring.the.aegis'. I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

[Published with permission]
You would think that, from a culture that has the letter 'D' in its alphabet, there would be a large variety of D-words to choose from. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are still a few, but I wasn't in the mood to write about most of those. Today, I'm going to delve a little deeper into certain aspects of the Eleusinian mysteries in order to express the importance of the torch in ancient Hellenic worship.

The Temple of Hēphaistos in the Athenian agora during a modern torchlight procession.

The cult of the Eleusinian mysteries is probably the best known mystery cult of ancient Hellas. We might not know a great deal about what, exactly, went on during the rites, but we know that for Athens--and far beyond--the nine day Eleusinia (Ἐλευσίνια) festival in honor of Demeter and Persephone was one of the most important of all times. I'll tackle the Eleusinian mysteries in two weeks, when we get to the 'E's, but for now let me suffice in saying that the Eleusinian mysteries, which had festivals throughout the year, were tied to agriculture through Demeter's refusal to perform her duties as an agricultural Theia while her daughter Persephone is with Hades, and to the afterlife and Underworld through Persephone's return to the surface of the earth after her mandatory stay with Hades has ended.

One of the titles of the officiants within the Eleusinian mysteries was 'Dadoukhos' (Δᾳδοῦχος): torch bearer. They were ranked after Hierophants, and the office was inherited through several Athenian family lines. Torch bearers literally carried torches in processions, they oversaw the nighttime rituals, and represented several key moments in the mythology surrounding the Eleusinian mysteries.

The mythical foundation for the Eleusinian rites is of course 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 her [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. But when the tenth enlightening dawn had come, Hekate, with a torch in her hands, met her, and spoke to her and told her news: "Queenly Demeter, bringer of seasons and giver of good gifts, what god of heaven or what mortal man has rapt away Persephone and pierced with sorrow your dear heart? For I heard her voice, yet saw not with my eyes who it was. But I tell you truly and shortly all I know." So, then, said Hekate. And the daughter of rich-haired Rhea answered her not, but sped swiftly with her, holding flaming torches in her hands."

In some versions of the myth, Persephone is led out of the Underworld not by Hades in His golden chariot, but by Hekate Herself, carrying torches to light the way out of darkness; a ritual that continued year after year. It is most certainly true that Hekate and Persephone are good friends:

"Then bright-coiffed Hekate came near to them, and often did she embrace the daughter of holy Demeter: and from that time the lady Hecate was minister and companion to Persephone."

Many of the mysteries rites were conducted in the dark, and vase paintings and reliefs show many Theoi with torches, overlooking the secret rites. Triptolemos (Τριπτόλεμος), for example, is depicted on various vases from the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries BC, holding an ear of corn, sitting on a winged throne or chariot, surrounded by Persephone and Demeter with pine torches. The Ninnion Tablet depicts Demeter, followed by Persephone and Iakchos, an epithet of Dionysos, and then the procession of initiates of the mysteries. Then, Demeter is sitting on the kiste inside the Telesterion, with Persephone holding a torch and introducing the initiates. The second row of initiates were led by Iakchos, now a priest, who held torches for the ceremonies. It were these divine shoes the Dadoukhoi filled.

We will return to the Eleusinian mysteries soon, but for today, a glimpse at its wonders. May the torches of the Theoi always light the way.
Well, the government might be having some trouble, but Greece is not forgetting the ancient monuments. News of the continuation of not one, not two, but three restoration projects recently came over The Archeology News Network; Delphi, the Sanctuary of the Great Gods and the Medieval castle of Samothrace, and the Temple of Apollo in the ancient city of Side are all getting make-overs.

The Operational Program Thessaly will invest €600,000,- ($803,000,-) to enhance and preserve the ancient holy site of Apollon. The restoratory work will focus mostly on the Temple of Apollo, the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, the Gymnasium and Castalia.

After the site is thoroughly surveyed, the work will focus on cleaning up and restoring several key features of Delphi's survived monuments. The mosaics will be cleaned, the fixation of surfaces of monuments will be checked and restored where needed, and an ancient bronze column will be constructed and placed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Another primary focus will be the improvement of the functionality and aesthetics of the site as well as some interventions which aim at a better serving of disabled people. 

The National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF)-- the reference document for the programming of European Union Funds at national level for the 2007–2013 period--will fund the conservation works at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods and the Medieval castle of Samothrace. In ancient times, the site served as a worship area to Axieros, a deity related to Cybele and Demeter, Kadmilos, an ithyfallic deity identified with Hermes, and the Cabeiri, ithyfallic demons identified with the Dioskouroi. Surrently, the site houses some fo the treasures found at the site, in both storehouses and a museum.

The Archeology News Network reports that excavations at the area have ceased since 1995.  There are, nevertheless, some areas where conservation works are urgent. The work will be carried out in two phases, both taking three years. From the article:

"The first phase of the project includes the reconstruction of the terraces, the conservation of the architectural members and the rest of the monuments at the Easter Sector. Among them is the Propylon of Ptolemy II. In the second phase, the monuments on the western side of the Sanctuary will be restored, and in the third phase the works will focus on the central area of the site, where the most significant buildings of the Great Gods’ worship are."

Another feature of Samothrace is its castle. The aim of the renovations is to make the castle visitable, which means that work on the fortification of the walls will continue, the last of the surfaces of structural members with decayed plaster will be jointed, and when summer arrives, the area surrounding the castle will be cleaned up and made safe, opening the way for tourists and other interested parties to wander the castle itself, and not just look upon it from a distance.

The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism has launched a restoration project for the historic Temple of Apollo in the ancient city of Side, stating that the project is undertaken to preserve the cultural and historic assets of the ancient city of Side, which has great importance as a tourist attraction in the country. The temple's remainig columns suffer from corrosion from the moisture and saltwater right next to the temple, and are in need of some fortification.

The Ministry of Culture attempts to cycle through restoration and preventitive work on its national treasures, being well aware of the national value of these monuments. The 2000 year old temple to Appollon is next on the list, after a 35 year waiting period since its last restauration.

The Networt reports that the project is being led by Assistant Professor Hüseyin Alanyalı and his wife, Assistant Professor Feriştah Alanyalı, who also launched a landscaping project around the restored sites in Side--the Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Tyche, the Temple of Dionysus, the Temple of Athena and a basilica--last year. It seems ot me the temple of Apollo is in good hands, indeed.

All images taken from their respective articles, as linked to in this post.
A few days ago, I spoke about coming of age ceremonies in ancient Athens, and referenced the Arrephoria (Ἀρρηφόρια) festival. Today, I want to take some time to discuss this secret rite to Athena Polias in more detail. The festival wasn't a state festival; young girls in the service performed a ritual for Athena Polias as a public service, but beyond those girls, their mentors, and perhaps their parents, no one was very concerned with it. As with most secret rites, I'm sure people knew a rite was being held, but knew it was not their business to interfere. As long as the rite was performed, all would be well for them.

As said in the post on coming of age ceremonies, young girls rarely had a role to play in household worship. The family only had them with them for thirteen to fifteen years, on average, after that, she joined her rightful place at the oikos of her husband, where she carried more (religious) responsibility. Outside of the home, however, young girls were placed in service of female deities quite often, especially in city-states like Athens. The girls who were selected for this were in service of Athena Polias for an entire year and were called 'Arrephoros' (Ἀρρήφορος), Arrephoroi as a group, consisting of four members.

The Arrephoroi were always girls between the age of seven and eleven, although seven and ten seem to be the ages that are mentioned most often. They were selected from the wealthy and powerful families of Athens, as those families were considered to be especially blessed. Excavations on the Acropolis have led to the discovery of their quarters, and even their playground. It seems even mini-priestesses can't be priestesses all the time. The young girls seem to have favored ball games, and were lodged near the Erechtheion in an area which was the main inhabited area on the Acropolis in Mycenaean times.

The Arrephoroi had three important tasks to perform in their term. One of the tasks the young girls assisted in was the creation of the peplos for Athena Polias, which was presented to Her during the Panathenaia. Secondly, they were almost solely in charge of grounding the meal for the honey cakes which were placed upon the altar of Athena during religious ceremonies. As a special part of their service, they performed the Arrephoria. During the Arrephoria, the priestess of Athena Polias gave the young arrephoroi sealed baskets to carry to a nearby cave. Here, the girls were supposed to enter, walk the corridor, set down their baskets at the end and pick up ones which have stood there for a year. When they returned with the baskets, it signaled the end of their year of service and they were dismissed. They were replaced with new girls who would serve the Theia. Pausanias has the fullest description of the festival described in book one of his 'Description of Greece':

"Two maidens dwell not far from the temple of Athena Polias, called by the Athenians Bearers of the Sacred Offerings. For a time they live with the goddess, but when the festival comes round they perform at night the following rites. Having placed on their heads what the priestess of Athena gives them to carry--neither she who gives nor they who carry have any knowledge what it is--the maidens descend by the natural underground passage that goes across the adjacent precincts, within the city, of Aphrodite in the Gardens. They leave down below what they carry and receive something else which they bring back covered up. These maidens they henceforth let go free, and take up to the Acropolis others in their place." [1.27.4]

Excavations on the north slope of the Acropolis have, indeed, recovered this underground passage. The man who located it was Oscar Broneer. He also discovered the passage had been in use during the Late Helladic times (from 1550 BC on) when it had artificial steps. Most likely, the tunnel led to a well, or had led to a well in the past. In Classical times (5th through 4th centuries BC), it seems the passage led to an open-air precinct of Aphrodite and Eros--the sanctuary Pausanias mentions.

It seems this ritual has ties to the ancient Athenian myth of Erichthonios (Ἐριχθόνιος), child of Hēphaistos and Athena, through Gaea, who was half man, half snake, and left in a basket by Athena, to be cared for by three of Her young attendants at the Acropolis, with clear instructions not to open the basket. They did, of course, and were scared so by the sight of either a snake in the basket, or Erichthonios' deformities, they cast themselves off of the Acropolis in terror. Yet, despite his deformities, Erichthonios became king of Athens and ruled it long and well. Myth tells us it was Erichthonios who founded the Panathenaiac Festival in the honor of Athena.

One thing in Pausanias' passage needs further explanation, namely that the priestesses of Athena themselves also did not know what the young girls carried into the passage. It seems the current Archōn Basileus, as the incarnation of the mythological kings of Athens, was in charge of selecting four Arrephoroi from a list of potential candidates. As soon as the young girls took up the service, he became a father to them, like Kékrops had been the father of the young attendants who had received the basket bearing Erichthonios from Athena. It was his ritual responsibility to make sure the girls wouldn't peak into the basket--although the actual training would have most likely be done by Athena's priestesses who took care of the children throughout the year--and to fill their baskets for the Arrephoria. Most likely, the children also took the retrieved baskets to him, or he collected and emptied them after they were presented to Athena Polias.

The Arrephoria was a rite of passage for a select few girls, but it was not a coming of age rite. The Arrephoria taught these children, often no older than ten years old, the most important aspects of the work of women; weaving (through the peplos), baking (through the cakes), and caring for children (through the carrying of the baskets in secret). They were taught responsibility, and service to the divine. After they were dismissed, the girls were too young to partake in the next step phase of their lives--marriage--and so they went back home, where they waited to be old enough to perform for Artemis and leave their childhood behind.

The rite itself, where the girls journeyed into the cave, was most likely celebrated at the start of Skirophorion. The date of the rite would most likely have varied, although we place it on the third of the month--Athena's sacred day--for convenience sake. The date in ancient times would most likely have changed because of the function it had, a function we have not yet discussed. It seems that there was a certain fertility aspect to the rite, not for humans, but for the olive tree. Erica Simon, in 'Festivals of Attica: An Archaeological Commentary' describes (p. 45-46) that the rite was most likely performed when the first dew settled on the sacred olive tree on top of the Acropolis--very near where the girls were housed--or when dew was about to settle onto it. The theory is based upon the work of Deubner, who first made this connection.

My knowledge on olive trees is limited to the mythical, but it seems that they at least need some water to come to fruition. In climates as dry as Hellas, dew was needed to produce rich fruit. The months following Skiraphorion are crucial to the olive crop, and in ancient times, olive trees--and Athena's sacred olive tree--were vital to the survival of Athens. Olive oil was a main export product, it was used in nearly everything, from cooking to sacred rites, and Athena's olive tree atop the Acropolis had been her gift to the city, which led to her patronage over the city, instead of that of Poseidon. It is said that the sacred olive oil gifted as a reward for winning the Panathenaia te megala was harvested from that very tree. Its survival, and the bearing of good fruit, were therefor essential.

There are a variety of links to dew surrounding this rite; 'arrhephoros' can be translated as 'dew carrier', two of the sisters who were charged to care for the basket were named after dew--Pandrosos and Herse. In some versions of the myth, only two of the sisters opened the basket; Herse and her second sister Aglauros. Pandrosos remained faithful to the Theia's wishes and was rewarded the care of the sacred olive tree. A sanctuary was raised in Pandrosos' honor, the temenos of which encircled the sacred olive tree. It was called the Pandroseion and occupied the space adjacent to the Erechtheum and the old Temple of Athena Polias.

The Arrephoria was performed to appease Athena and to assure the best possible (divine) conditions for the sacred olive tree--and, by proxy, all olive trees--to grow and bear fruit. These young girls performed a vital part of this rite to make up for the failings of Herse and Aglauros, and this would also explain why Pausanias describes only two girls made the journey, while most accounts attest four Arrephoroi were selected each year. I must also make note of the location of the underground tunnel--leading into a sanctuary of Eros and Aphrodite--which strengthens the assertion that this rite was a fertility one, and Aphrodite was asked to take care of the growth of the olive trees, just as much as Athena was. Based on Pausanias' statement alone, the suggestion Aphrodite was involved in the festival at all is shaky, at best, but it does make a lot of sense.

The Arrephoria is an intricate rite, which has lost much of its meaning today, now Athena's sacred olive tree is long gone. Yet, many olive trees remain, and Athena's dominion over them, and us, is still strong to this day. If there are kids in your thaisos, you might turn this into an activity where the oldest male member of the group fills two small baskets, and two female children (preferably) take them to a previously dug pit in the ground, where they bury them. Next year, these can be swapped out for new baskets. A vital part of the rite would be for the children not to look into them, of course. If your thaisos is childless, the two youngest female members of the group could perform the rite. Alternatively, or secondly, libations of wine and/or water can be made to Athena and Aphrodite, who presided over the the growth of the olive tree, and the prosperity of the city that came with it. Requests for good fortune for yourself of the thaisos you belong to can be added, and would be a beautiful modern twist to an ancient rite.