Sunday, February 17, 2019

Anthesteria 2019

The Opening of the Wine Jars

This was my 2nd Anthesteria away from my home state and my first Anthesteria in a New England climate. I was blessed to be able to spend some time outdoors each day. Although the weather was not ideal, it was not downright prohibitive or hostile, even though there have been days since then that could be described that way.

I began my Pithoigia just before sunset, at a small riverside park near my home. There’s a lot of snow on the ground still, although the day was unusually warmer (highly 30’s into the 40’s). It would have been smarter to have snowshoes, but I managed fairly well without.

At the riverside, I said some opening prayers and sounded my bullhorn a few times. I opened the first bottle of wine and shared it in libation on the frozen earth. There are no flowers yet, not even a hint of a sprout. But there is the dream of spring, the promise of it in the less-freezing weather, and certainly the desire for it. And of course, Dionysos can be found in every place and time. 

I walked and chanted, and suddenly remembered I had spontaneously altered a chant to Dionysos a couple years back specifically for this day. I can’t recall how that one went, be this one settled into:

“Come with the wine pots,
Come with the flower petals,
Come with the restless dead,
Dionysos, come!

“Come Anthesterios,
Come to us Bakcheios,
Come to us Lusios,
Dionysos, come!”

I did some tree-pulling at the top of a small hill -- something I’ve experimented with here and there, having found it depicted in Minoan art. We can only speculate on what it meant to the Minoans, but I’ve found it to be a nice way to commune with the land and trees, especially while dancing outdoors, but also in more quiet meditative moments. “Tree-pulling” is a weird term yet oddly descriptive. I usually grasp a smaller tree by its trunk and let the rest of my body fall back and sway back and forth, usually switching hands on the upswing. It’s especially thrilling if you do it near a cliff’s edge or on a hill. Tree-pulling is not unlike swinging but without a rope, expressing a natural rhythm that thrums under the surface. The practice invites your consciousness into tree-time, to notice things like the wind or the way the bare branches fractal against the cloudy sky. Old and elemental are these mysteries of the Mountain Mother.

As I walked back, I whispered to the trees (modern maenad to the Nymphae): “Dionysos is here!”

In a stroke of good fortune, I had acquired about $50 worth of fresh flowers for free from my work at the last minute, and it made my shrines at home quite beautiful.

A part of me always hopes to create something lovely on Anthesteria (it’s when I’ve made some treasured devotional pieces in the past). It doesn’t happen every year, though, and I found myself just needing to unwind and let go this time, so I honored that inclination. I played around with watercolors a little but mostly I just spent the evening listening to music and drinking an amazing bottle of Amarone wine I’d been saving for over a year.

My feast foods were wonderful. One of the reasons I got a later start in the day was that I spent time making mostly-homemade baklava (I bought the phyllo dough.) I made it because I adore it, but it’s also a perfectly symbolic dessert for Anthesteria. Layers of dough and chopped nuts akin to layers of the soil and gravel and earth. Then soaked in honey and a bit of rosewater to symbolize the flowers. I also added chopped figs, for even more of a Dionysos association. It’s the first time I made it and it turned out wonderfully; I think I can make it even better next time now that I understand the process better.

Aiora & Khoes
The Swing & the Wine Pitcher

Traditionally, I spend Khoes in silence until my ritual in the evening, so that my words are reserved to exclaim the epiphany of Dionysos. But it has other benefits, too. It releases the pressure of much mundane interaction, and allows me to keep my mind on what’s holy. Throughout the day it’s as if I’m gradually disengaging with the “normal” world and by the time night rolls around I’ve already got a solid foot in the spirit realm. It’s not a bad way to honor the hanging girls for the Aiora either, which is what I spend the first half of the day doing.

I made paper cut outs of the hanging girls this year instead of the stick and yarn figures I’ve made in the past. I also learned to tie a noose-knot with the rough craft twine. I was very happy with how they turned out, and putting them on paper allowed me to write on them, so I wrote poems as well.

Remember Erigone
Beloved of Dionysos
She swung on the tree
by her graceful throat
suspended like a ripe fruit
earth and starry heaven

Remember Ariadne
Beloved wife of Dionysos
Keeper of holy mysteries
She surrendered her mortal body
to her immortal daemon
on the isle of Naxos
So she might wear a crown of stars

Remember Arachne
Beloved of Dionysos
Weaver who knew her worth
She pays penance web by web
The Spider Queen
of primal wisdom.

I went to a park I hadn’t been to before, nestled in a quiet neighborhood. It wasn’t exactly private but probably due to the chilly weather, I had the place to myself and no one bothered me. I poured out wine, listened to music I associate with the hanging girls while swinging between setting sun and rising moon. How is it that this always strikes me anew, every year... This feeling of being in the axis of a lunar/solar seesaw?

I took breaks to hang the girls, one by one, and place a daffodil in the snow at the base of their trees. A bit of sympathetic flower magic, if you will. Some red wine in the snow like spilled blood. I stayed until the bare trees took on that eerie quality of negative space, and the stars started peeking out through the spidery branches. By that time the moon seemed impossibly bright and I was fascinated by the way the moonlight was casting tree shadows on the snow -- not something I had experienced before.

I prayed to the land spirits for a time, and then returned home to prepare myself for my Khoes ritual.

And what can I say of that, that could possibly do it justice? I am reminded that there is always more levels to ekstasis, and there is always more to surrender. There is the god of many masks, and then there is the god triumphant and manifest - without metaphor - who simply is and is right fucking here.

Alethia meets soma.

I am filled with awe.

The Pots

On my way to the graveyard, I couldn’t help but notice how the light seemed different. It seemed to glow a little brighter, as if I was seeing reality through a different filter.

The cemetery was a large and beautiful lakeside one. New England cemeteries are something else. Older, of course, and more atmospheric, with a lot of unique memorials. Unfortunately there was so much snow I couldn’t wander as freely amongst the tombstones as I normally would have, and it was colder than the previous two days so I didn’t linger overlong. But I did say a prayer to Hermes, poured out wine and left flowers in various places - and of course left the beans and grain panspermia I had cooked for the dead.

In the evening I went to a wine tasting party I had been invited to by a coworker. (Believe it or not, I nearly declined the invitation because I was going to be too busy observing a Dionysian festival… before realizing how ridiculous that was.) It was great fun. It was a group of 8-10 people coming together for the primary purpose of sharing a love of wine for a couple hours. And for me, there’s nothing quite like the giddy buzz you get from tasting a variety of wines. The most unusual was a 10 year old sparkling rosé that smelled like a sweet port but tasted like a dry champagne with strong notes of wild mushrooms!

Back at home I wrapped things up by burning some banishing herbs and bidding the keres to depart. And that was my Anthesteria.

Festivals that have been celebrated over many years tend to invite you reflect on the past and how things have shifted and evolved in life in general. But I've also found that they set the tone for what's to come. That being said, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what the rest of the year has in store.


  1. Thank you for sharing this! Ah, memories of my first Anthesterias in New England, under feet of snow. All of this was so lovely, but wow that gif of the hanging maiden! Eerie and beautiful. I need to remember that idea of not speaking all day on Khoes.

    I too have celebrated this festival over many years and watched it change and me with it. But I like the idea that it's also setting a tone for the year ahead, and based on my own celebration, I think that has some significance for me this year, as I was drawn to again perform the whole festival in a "sacred precinct" of sorts that includes wetlands and woods and a creek, my own Dionysos en Limnais sanctuary that I've been feeling called to cultivate a stronger relationship with.

    This remains my favorite Dionysian festival and I love thinking of all of us, spread out around the country (or world!) each doing our own versions but hitting the same salient points.

    1. Thanks, Dver! I didn't even know I could create or transfer gifs like that on my phone - I sort of did it by accident. Ha! Will have to experiment with that again.

      I love that you practice in a sacred precinct. That super localized focus seems really significant especially for this festival.

      I like to imagine our web of connection too. I'd wager there's an overarching tone for the year too that's felt by community, if we were to compare more notes. That whole microcosm/macrocosm thing.

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