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.