this strange and difficult festival has provoked a convoluted and yet fascinating train of thought this year, so i thought perhaps the time has come for me to do a long-ish post about what's going on in my little pea-brain.
i've attempted to do something for all three days of anthesteria for the last couple of years, and each year i inchworm a little closer to getting a handle on it. i don't for a second think i've got it yet, but this year did bring me some insights that are helpful to me and may not mean a dang thing to anyone else.
the 'backwardness' of anthesteria has always troubled me. i like my religious observances to start off dark and end up sparkly, a progression to the light as it were. anthesteria will not cooperate. it moves restlessly from celebratory to gloomy. why should i want to end up there? it also tends to cover a lot of disparate ground, from dionysos to marshes to orestes to erigone to wine to silent drinking games to banishing spirits of the beloved dead. huh? there's just not enough commonality to be able to weave it easily together. should i focus on the hieros gamos between the basilanna and dionysos, or protecting my shrines from miasma? should i swing joyfully or mourn for ikarios and erigone? how do i move from dionysian excess to leaving panspermia for the dead then telling 'em to piss off?
i am a simple gal, and festivals this complex perplex me.
so this time i tried just going with bedrock unpacking. rather than try to figure out what it all meant to ancient greeks, what does the festival say to me?
the first day, pithogia, is the uncorking of the new wine. okay. i'll start there. any time we've got dionysos and wine involved, we're looking at visceral issues, blood and semen and the pump and flow of life force. the wine we're dealing with here is new wine, not the lovely stuff that's been aged and mellowed, wine with depth and nuance and savor. this stuff is sharp and bitter and hard to swallow. it's raw and fresh. it doesn't have the perspective of time and experience, it's NOW and you'd better take it or else. the opening of the wine jars can be equated to wombs and graves, which historically resonate together. we have birth, with all its roaring and wild agony and ecstasy, and the stench of death without which there is no new life, like it or not. pithogia is in my face. it's dionysos rampant before me, brooking no denial. the associations with hades cannot be overlooked.
i took my wine out to a dio area in my yard, a pine tree being choked to death with grapevine. ever year i cut that vine back to no avail, and as time passes i become more aware that the dryad doesn't want to be rescued. dying in His embrace. i mean, how would YOU want to go?
as i poured the libations at the roots i heard a chime in the trees overhead, a thicket of evergreens. i have never heard this before. it was as clear as the clicking of the keyboard as i type this, a tinkling windchime about 4-6 feet directly above my head in one of the pines that surround the dio/hades shrine right here. not the ethereal music i get sometimes when i'm moving through Other, but immediate and real. i have never heard chimes there before, have not hung windchimes there, have lived here for 11 years now without ever experiencing this. it went on for some time. i have no clue what this means. i went out today and poked through the trees. no chimes.
the next day, khoes, the day of pitchers, was exciting. i went for an exhilarating run on the battlefield, eventually covering about 7 miles (a long run for me) in the strange early spring sunshine. february is usually iron-clad and brutal, but not monday. it was glorious, warm sun and a raging roaring insane wind. i got stuck in the mud when i first tried to park in my usual spot (a metaphor? think, priestess, don't just do what you always do. you could see the mud, why did you think it would treat you differently just because it's *your* spot? pay attention to your world! and don't allow yourself to fall into ruts.) as i ran, the world went from hushed, to a distant roar, to a huge non-stop buffeting wind that alternately shoved me along and tried to halt my progress as i slogged through the awakening farmland of the battlefield. the winter trees were creaking and skreeking, clattering and chattering as i moved under them, bonefingers snapping and laughing breathily at my labored human progress. i rarely feel spirits on the battlefield (it's my opinion that they have pretty much moved on, leaving behind only memory loops that the sensitive can perceive) but there were Others about on this weirdly beautiful creepy sunlit day. had it been anything but a bright february morning i'd have been totally creeped out. as it was, i was creeped out but intrigued and delighted too. and yes, i saw tiny tiny purple flowers, and the first faint hint of new green in some of the fields.
pitchers. they contain. and pour out, but in controlled amounts. the wild rampaging glorious terrifying raw energy of pithogia has boundaries placed around it. orestes is miasmic, but still welcomed. the shrines are covered, but celebrations go on. balance is tentative, but sought. and in this balance comes union, the hieros gamos, the little death that brings regeneration. i didn't end up swinging or decorating my erigone tree, but i brought her and Her Husband an offering and spent some time there contemplating the dark twist on the Girls Underground archetype and how folktales generally have these resonant bass undertones.
there's a lot more going on here, but my egg-self is starting to grope toward the depths.
finally khutroi, pots, the day of gloom dedicated not so much to dio, but to the dead, and to hermes kthonios. it was a busy day, and i didn't get my panspermia made until evening had fallen. i wandered about my squishy slushy farm under bright stars and an incredible waxing moon, astounded at the silence. the machismo wind had died down, and it's too soon in the spring for insects, so the quiet was profound and eerie. even by persephone's shrine (which is close to the dio-and-dryad tree) there was no sound, no hint of the baffling windchime music. i left some of the panspermia and raw milk at the portal to the underworld, at hermes propylaios' herm, and then walked down the lane to the pond that lies across in the big cow farm we face. you know how mist rises and forms wavering insubstantial shapes on water on misty nights? well, that didn't happen. but it FELT like that was happening. a feeling of vague terror gripped me as i stooped to leave the panspermia on the wet shore of the pond, but also a strange anticipation. sara's horses were motionless, staring at me, then turned and stared at something behind them. i couldn't see what it was, but it scared me, so i crept away from the pond as quietly as i could, clutching my ritual offering vessels, and returned to the lane. the horses quit staring at the *something* and went back to staring at me, which was fine.
hermes. why hermes? well, dionysos is the liberator, the raw new wine that tears down inhibitions and lets even those wrapped in miasma to party hearty, for the queen to wait for her dark lover, for the dead to walk, for rules to be broken. hermes isn't a lawmaker, but he is a creator of boundaries, and a psychopompos. those wandering dead need to be led back to their realm. revelers need to be sobered and reminded that in the darkness lurks danger. hermes, the inscrutable. he is not an easy god. the trees murmured and laughed quietly over the herm, amused by my fear and perplexity.
back to the house i went, to smudge the house and ritually banish the keres.
i'm still wrapping my head around that part. period ritual cleansing of miasma i get (and do pretty much each deipnon.) but WHAT dead show up at anthesteria and WHY they get kicked to the curb hasn't really become clear yet.
which is cool. who wants all the layers to be unpeeled at once? it's good to have more Mysteries to discover.
there was so much i didn't do this time. i didn't really get intoxicated (on pithogia i had a glass of wine, made my older son drink a beer which he didn't want, and fell asleep on a movie we watched together.) i really don't drink much so that's not something i'm comfortable doing. i set up a lovely altar on day 1 but my ritual wasn't really standard hellenic, it was spontaneous and eclectic. i didn't cover my shrines on days 2 and 3 (but i should have, will definitely do that next year) or put ribbons on the erigone tree. no drinking contests, or wreath-weaving, or buckthorn-chewing, or swinging, or hieros gamos-ing. i want to do more next year, but i really don't know which elements i will feel called to incorporate. or eschew.
a couple of years ago i went down the rabbit hole on samhain. at ostara i figured it was time to ritually re-emerge, but i haven't really. there is so much going on with this underworld Work. i guess it was kind of silly to think i'd knock that out in that short amount of time. and honestly i'm okay with that. it's an odd path, but one i'm not regretting, for all its difficulties.
and i think it's no coinkydink that i've been impelled to work on hamlet for the last month, even though i'm not going to be teaching him this spring (i'll be leading off with my fave, romeo and juliet, and probably following that up with a comedy.) so why work on developing a syllabus that i'm not planning to teach right now? the danish prince has had a lot to offer, with his morbidity and philosophizing and paralysis and madness. writing this class has been about my own education, not what i can offer the kids.
phew! okay, my pea brain is wrung dry. time to feed the mares and veg in front of 'big love' before i collapse.
too much anthesteria musings can make you mad.