After setting up the festival shrine, I went walking in the river wash near where my husband and I used to live. I had remembered the last time Anthesteria fell late in the year like this it had been such a pretty explosion of flowers, seemingly overnight, in this wash. But every year is different. This year, many plants were popping up but not blooming yet. Still, there was no shortage of blooms… there was the fiery orange flowers on the stalks of globe mallow, the yellow petaled flowers of the brittlebush, and the delicate folded creosote blossoms, as well as the sunny puffballs on the sweet acacia trees. I also smelled the orange blossoms for the first time this year, which means it is officially spring (in my head).
Things were different in this place though. Whole trees under the bridge where there had been no trees before. Unfortunately that was the only pleasant change. There was much more dirt bike tracks, some encroachment from nearby development, and more trash--more than I could put a dent in on my own. And on another level, it just… wasn’t mine anymore. I knew that intellectually, I think, but in coming back I suppose I needed to resolve something about that on a deeper emotional level. (Like revisiting the park of my childhood on Anthesteria several years ago. Does Anthesteria bring forth the ghost of our past just as it does the ghosts of the dead?) It did make my heart ache, just smelling the spring from there, though - it’s very particular, and of course particularly reminiscent of the best couple years of my life.
There is perhaps something about this festival in regards to the intersections of time. I remember thinking on Lenaia that the more deeply present you are in the moment, the more noticeable the shadow of death (any wonder that our death-fearing culture is all about distraction?) To be fully present in the moment is to be the witness of the moment constantly dying and birthing the next - every hour, every minute, every second. And nothing pulls me into the present moment quite like this festival, when everything seems particularly brighter and stranger somehow.
As I walked, I remembered a particular memory from a almost 2 years ago, that may be connected to some healing I’m trying to do now… which I will write about at a later time. Nevertheless, it was illuminating and I was glad for it.
I found a spot that was nice enough to sit and spend some time in. I said some impromptu prayers to Dionysos to begin the festival, blew on my bull horn, and poured out some white wine onto the desert floor.
I was happy to see bees were buzzing in the creosote bushes.
As the sun went down, I gathered some flower stalks and creosote branches and made my way home, where I adorned the shrine with these things and began the festival proper. I put on music, and began working on some art. In the past, I have made masks or painted. With no particular art plans this year, I took out my acrylic paints from last year and started opening some books and looking online for any images that spoke to me. I found one of Dionysos and Ariadne I liked, and although it seemed overly ambitious, I figured I’d give it a try… I sketched in pencil then began with paints. (All while drinking, of course.) I was actually pleasantly surprised how it turned out. I might do this in the future with other vase images.
(I had playlists of music that I had created last year for each day of the festival - a ready-made convenience which I expected to appreciate, but instead almost completely abandoned this year. For some reason putting things on shuffle seemed to work better. I think, if anything, I’ll have to create a new set list each year because each Anthesteria has a distinctive feel to it.)
My feast this year was incredible. I had gone a little nuts at the farmers market. Cheese, zaatar bread, flat bread, tomatoes, tangerines, grapes, edible flowers, greens, olives, baba ganoush, pomegranate jelly, baklava…. AND goat. This was the first time I’d tried goat, and I had slow cooked it all day in milk and honey with some fresh fennel tossed in.
I had splurged on a REALLY good bottle of wine this year. It had been so long since I’d had a bottle like this -- in fact, I’m not sure I’d EVER had a bottle like this -- so complex and aged so well that it was velvety and sensual and it almost made me not want to eat any of the great food I had because I wanted to have that beautiful, unspoiled first taste on my tongue again and again and again...
I shared it in libation and felt grateful to be alive. (A feeling which is itself a gift.)
Some part of me was aware of it raining all morning as I slept.
As usual, I spent the day in total silence.
I did some divination because I wasn’t feeling sure about swinging. And indeed, the div was strongly against swinging, and i got the sense that I needed to focus more on the sacred role I would take on in the evening. Feeling a little sorry I wouldn’t connect with Erigone like I did last year, I instead spent some time finishing my art from the day before, and walking the streets and parks of my neighborhood and communing with the energy of the land. During my walk (which was very chilly, compared to the temperate weather on Pithoigia and Khutroi) I came across large puddles of water in the park and couldn’t help but be reminded of the marshes of Dionysos Limnaios, and ponder the significance of places where water meets earth.
All during the festival there were some really majestic, dramatic clouds, the three dimensional sort that seemed both far and close in such a way that lent a peculiar vastness to the sky. Sometimes they were like lumbering ships, and sometimes they seemed like distant mountains.
And then the night’s ritual… which can’t be spoken of, except in poetry.
Reflecting on Anthesteria now, I see an inversion in mood and energy compared to last year (and past years). This year, Pithoigia had a sort of uncharacteristic somberness to it. And where last year Khoes had been busy and full of heart-wrenching and revitalizing epiphany, this year it was calmer and focused and yet left me totally exhausted. And the usually miasma-filled Khutroi ended up being… well, uplifting.
A friend had done some divination for me before Anthesteria that indicated I should change how I observe Khutroi, and explore more deeply my feelings for the dead.
I took some flowers and leftover feast day foods to the cemetery and had a picnic in my favorite spot where the hedges give a bit of privacy. I took off my shoes so I could feel the cool earth with my toes. It was peaceful and pleasant and comforting. I then started making some flower crowns from the flowers I had brought. A friend sent me a message to check up on me, and I told him what I was doing. He said something (sincerely) about it being romantic. And that made me smile, because it was romantic - being present and surrounded by the bones of the dead and the spirits who had joined me, while sharing food and weaving flowers and enjoying the spring day. I felt much more at home than I had at the river wash on Pithoigia.
I wove a flower crown for myself and one for the dead. The one for the dead I tossed up unto a tree branch -- throwing it perfectly on my first try, which seemed like a good omen!
I visited my grandmother’s grave before I left too. We were never close, and I’m not even sure how she felt about me, but I find it easy and natural to send her love now. I put some of the last flowers and creosote sprigs on her gravestone, along with a strawberry and some wine.
At home, I spent some quality time at my husband’s shrine. I put on a record of some of ‘our’ music and I shared the remainder of the *really* good bottle of wine with him. And then i did an exercise that my godmother had given me to do several months ago but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do until now - I did some journaling/automatic writing in the form of a conversation with my husband. The goal being to open myself up to both him-in-memory and hopefully (eventually?) him-in-spirit.
It seems like the simplest thing. But emotionally, it was one of the hardest fucking things ever. It was an act which tapped into a huge tangled ball of fear in my chest, with threads like “But what will it say about me, or him, if it doesn’t work at all?”, “But how can I even trust myself….”, “This isn’t enough, isn’t enough, isn’t enough….I need to really hear him and not pretend to hear him...” and “What if I’ll know this is a big joke and he really isn’t okay, or there, at all?” And other even less rational things that can’t be put into words.
The whole time I cried, a torrent of tears that couldn’t be stopped. But the words came too. And even his voice came, in my head, with very little coaxing. It wasn’t easy, and it hurt so much that I wanted to run away even while I was transfixed. But it also made me smile a little, and the ball untangled a bit. I promised I would do this again.
I opened his urn. Looked at his ashes-that-used-to-be-him. Put a pinch in the very last of the excellent wine, and drank it down.
I have a project I’m working on that I’ve been calling “devotional performance art” that will involve the dead and theatrics and fortune telling all at once. I had realized about halfway through Anthesteria that Khutroi would be a good day to well and truly begin, to try and summon that persona and bless it. So I did my first version of her in makeup. She isn’t completely coming through yet, but it is a beginning and it felt right to have begun.
So with my own face made into a mask that would have even the goth kids looking askance.... I said to the dead, “So do you want to go dancing?” And so we did.
I was aware of them all around me as I danced. I remember that awareness more than anything, because otherwise I tranced the fuck out.
I stopped at the swings on my way home. I sat on the swings for a moment, but it still didn’t feel right. So I walked the labyrinth instead, then went home, smudged and spirit-swept out the Keres, and collapsed.
Hermes subsequently did not get his panspermia until the next morning. I’m hoping the dear trickster didn’t mind too much.
I have a deeper understanding of how this festival allows me to put myself into accord with the seasonal shift. In the weeks preceding it, my mood had been lagging behind, in a lull of grief more suitable for winter -- so much so, that I felt resistant to seeing some of the first flowers the week before Anthesteria.... That thrust of life, of warming up and speeding up, of moving forward-ness, of involvement and engagement, it can be jarring. Anthesteria is the crossroads where past meets future, life meets death, spring meets winter, and where we learn how to say yes to all of it at once.