Our festivals

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As is appropriate for a tradition rooted in the soil of Southern Italy:

The city of Tarentum offers sacrifices of oxen and holds public banquets nearly every month. The mass of common people is always busy with parties and drinking-bouts. And the Tarentines have a saying of some such purport as this, that whereas the rest of the world, in their devotion to work and their preoccupation with various forms of industry, are always preparing to live, they themselves, with their parties and their pleasures, do not put off living, but live already. (Theopompos, fragment 233, quoted by Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 4.166 e-f)

We have a great many festivals in the thiasos of the Starry Bull. I intend to write more detailed accounts of each of them, but for now I would like to convey something of their nature through a selection of quotes.

Agonalia (January 9)
Some believe that the day is called Agonal because the sheep do not come to the altar but are driven (agantur). Others think the ancients called this festival Agnalia, ‘Of the lambs’, dropping a letter from its usual place. Or because the victim fears the knife mirrored in the water, the day might be so called from the creature’s agony? It may also be that the day has a Greek name from the games (agones) that were held in former times. Though the meaning is uncertain, the king of the rites, must appease the gods with the mate of a woolly ewe. It’s called the victim because a victorious hand fells it: and hostia, sacrifice, from hostile conquered foes. Cornmeal, and glittering grains of pure salt, were once the means for men to placate the gods. [...] The altar was happy to fume with Sabine juniper, and the laurel burned with a loud crackling. He was rich, whoever could add violets to garlands woven from meadow flowers. The knife that bares the entrails of the stricken bull, had no role to perform in the sacred rites. [...] You should have spared the vine-shoots, he-goat. Watching a goat nibbling a vine someone once Vented their indignation in these words: ‘Gnaw the vine, goat! But when you stand at the altar there’ll be something from it to sprinkle on your horns.’ Truth followed: Bacchus, your enemy is given you to punish, and sprinkled wine flows over its horns. The sow suffered for her crime, and the goat for hers, but what were you guilty of you sheep and oxen? Aristaeus wept because he saw his bees destroyed, and the hives they had begun left abandoned. His azure mother, Cyrene, could barely calm his grief, but added these final words to what she said: ‘Son, cease your tears! Proteus will allay your loss, and show you how to recover what has perished. But lest he still deceives you by changing shape, entangle both his hands with strong fastenings.’ The youth approached the seer, who was fast asleep, and bound the arms of that Old Man of the Sea. He by his art altered his shape and transformed his face, but soon reverted to his true form, tamed by the ropes. Then raising his dripping head, and sea-green beard, he said: ‘Do you ask how to recover your bees? Kill a heifer and bury its carcase in the earth, buried it will produce what you ask of me.’ (Ovid, Fasti Book One: January 9th)

Compare Virgil, Georgics 4.419-558.

Agrionia (November 24)
Proitos had daughters, Lysippe, Iphinoe, and Iphianassa, by Stheneboea. When these damsels were grown up, they went mad, according to Hesiod, because they would not accept the rites of Dionysos, but according to Akusilaos, because they disparaged the wooden image of Hera. In their madness they roamed over the whole Argive land, and afterwards, passing through Arcadia and the Peloponnese, they ran through the desert in the most disorderly fashion. But Melampos, son of Amythaon by Idomene, daughter of Abas, being a seer and the first to devise the cure by means of drugs and purifications, promised to cure the maidens if he should receive the third part of the sovereignty. When Proitos refused to pay so high a fee for the cure, the maidens raved more than ever, and besides that, the other women raved with them; for they also abandoned their houses, destroyed their own children, and flocked to the desert. Not until the evil had reached a very high pitch did Proitos consent to pay the stipulated fee, and Melampos promised to effect a cure whenever his brother Bias should receive just so much land as himself. Fearing that, if the cure were delayed, yet more would be demanded of him, Proitos agreed to let the physician proceed on these terms. So Melampos, taking with him the most stalwart of the young men, chased the women in a bevy from the mountains to Sicyon with shouts and a sort of frenzied dance. In the pursuit Iphinoe, the eldest of the daughters, expired; but the others were lucky enough to be purified and so to recover their wits. Proitos gave them in marriage to Melampos and Bias, and afterwards begat a son, Megapenthes. (Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 2.2-3.1)

Anthesphoria (April 12)
Because the country round about Hipponion has luxuriant meadows abounding in flowers, people have believed that Kore used to come hither from Sicily to gather flowers; and consequently it has become the custom among the women of Hipponion to gather flowers and to weave them into garlands, so that on festival days it is disgraceful to wear bought garlands.(Strabo, Geography 6.1.5)

orpheus

Anthesteria (11-12 Anthesterion)
Nor did the morn of the Broaching of the Jars pass unheeded, nor that whereon the Pitchers of Orestes bring a white day for slaves. And when he kept the yearly festival of Ikarios’ child, thy day, Erigone, lady most sorrowful of Attic women, he invited to a banquet his familiars, and among them a stranger who was newly visiting Egypt, whither he had come on some private business. (Kallimachos, Aitia 1.1)

Arachneia (June 28-29)
The families of the tarantati hire the musicians, to whom many gifts are given and a great deal of drink is offered in addition to the daily compensation agreed upon, so that they may take some refreshment and thus play the musical instruments with greater vigor. It follows that a man of modest conditions, who laboriously earns a living with the diligent fatigue of his arms, in order to be cured of this illness, is often forced to pawn or sell objects of fundamental necessity, even if his household furnishings are shabby, in order to pay the aforementioned payment. It must be considered that no one would want to expose himself to this misfortune if he could combat the poison in another way, or if he did not feel compelled to dance from the bottom of his heart. I will spare the details of the many other aids and expedients the poison victims use to raise and cheer their melancholy spirits during the dance, items also needed for one reason or another. For instance there are artificial springs of limpid water constructed in such a way that the water is gathered and always returns to flow anew; these springs are covered and surrounded by green fronds, flowers and trees. Further, lasses dressed in sumptuous wedding gowns have the task of dancing with the tarantati, festively singing and playing the same melody with them during the dance; then there are the weapons and the multicolored drapery hung on the walls. All of these, and many others, cannot be procured without payment. (Ludovico Valletta, De Phalangio Apulo 92)

Epiphany (January 5-6)
It is accredited by the Mucianus who was three times consul that the water flowing from a spring in the temple of Liber Pater on the island of Andros always has the flavor of wine on the fifth of January: the day is called the god’s gift day and if the jars are carried out of sight of the temple the taste turns back to that of water. (Pliny, Natural History 2.106; 31.16)

On the following day Jesus was baptized and both his divine father and helper-spirit were present for it.

Furthermore, the tradition that Dionysos was born twice of Zeus arises from the belief that these fruits also perished in common with all other plants in the flood at the time of Deukalion, and that when they sprang up again after the deluge it was as if there had been a second epiphany of the god among men, and so the myth was created that the god had been born again from the thigh of Zeus. However this may be, those who explain the name Dionysos as signifying the use and importance of the discovery of wine recount such a myth regarding him. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 3.62.10)

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Feast of the Dionysian Artists (December 8)
We should enlist them into bands of perceivers to tour the Labyrinth during their mysterious nocturnal appearances. The Lords have secret entrances, and they know disguises. But they give themselves away in minor ways. Too much glint of light in the eye. A wrong gesture. Too long and curious a glance. The Lords appease us with images. They give us books, concerts, galleries, shows, cinemas. Especially the cinemas. Through art they confuse us and blind us to our enslavement. Art adorns our prison walls, keeps us silent and diverted and indifferent. (Jim Morrison)

Feast of the Dionysian Kings (August 1)
During this night, it is said, about the middle of it, while the city was quiet and depressed through fear and expectation of what was coming, suddenly certain harmonious sounds from all sorts of instruments were heard, and the shouting of a throng which none could see, accompanied by cries of Bacchic revelry and satyric leapings, as if a troop of revelers, making a great tumult, were going forth from the city; and their course seemed to lie about through the middle of it toward the outer gate which faced the enemy, at which point the tumult became loudest and then dashed out. (Plutarch, Life of Antony 75)

Feast of the Dionysian Martyrs (October 7)
But so great were the numbers that fled from the city, that the praetors Titus Maenius and Marcus Licinius were obliged to adjourn their courts for thirty days, until the inquiries should be finished by the consuls. Since the law-courts were closed and those who had charges brought against them often had fled, the consuls were forced to make a circuit of the country towns where they made their inquisitions and held the trials. Those for whom the only crime was initiation were left in prison while those that they could prove had committed a host unspeakable crimes were punished with death. A greater number were executed than thrown into prison; indeed, the multitude of men and women who suffered in both ways was very considerable. The consuls delivered the women, who were condemned, to their relations, or to those under whose guardianship they were, that they might inflict the punishment in private; if there did not appear any proper person of the kind to execute the sentence, the punishment was inflicted in public. A charge was then given to demolish all the places where the Bacchanalians had held their meetings; first in Rome, and then throughout all Italy; excepting those wherein should be found some ancient altar or consecrated statue. (Livy, History of Rome 34:18)

Feast of the Dionysian Prophets (July 3)
Yoga powers. To make oneself invisible or small. To become gigantic and reach to the farthest things. To change the course of nature. To place oneself anywhere in space or time. To summon the dead. To exalt senses and perceive inaccessible images, of events on other worlds, in one’s deepest inner mind, or in the minds of others. (Jim Morrison)

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Hekatesia (August 13)
After I came to the enclosures and the sacred place, I dug a three-sided pit in some flat ground. I quickly brought some trunks of juniper, dry cedar, prickly boxthorn and weeping black poplars, and in the pit I made a pyre of them. Skilled Medea brought to me many drugs, taking them from the innermost part of a chest smelling of incense. At once, I fashioned certain images from barley-meal [the text is corrupt here]. I threw them onto the pyre, and as a sacrifice to honor the dead, I killed three black puppies. I mixed with their blood copper sulfate, soapwort, a sprig of safflower, and in addition odorless fleawort, red alkanet, and bronze-plant. After this, I filled the bellies of the puppies with this mixture and placed them on the wood. Then I mixed the bowels with water and poured the mixture around the pit. Dressed in a black mantle, I sounded bronze cymbals and made my prayer to the Furies. They heard me quickly, and breaking forth from the caverns of the gloomy abyss, Tisiphone, Allecto, and divine Megaira arrived, brandishing the light of death in their dry pine torches. Suddenly the pit blazed up, and the deadly fire crackled, and the unclean flame sent high its smoke. At once, on the far side of the fire, the terrible, fearful, savage goddesses arose. One had a body of iron. The dead call her Pandora. With her came one who takes on various shapes, having three heads, a deadly monster you do not wish to know: Hecate of Tartarus. From her left shoulder leapt a horse with a long mane. On her right should there could be seen a dog with a maddened face. The middle head had the shape of a lion [or snake] of wild form. In her hand she held a well-hilted sword. Pandora and Hecate circled the pit, moving this way and that, and the Furies leapt with them. Suddenly the wooden guardian statue of Artemis dropped its torches from its hands and raised its eyes to heaven. Her canine companions fawned. The bolts of the silver bars were loosened, and the beautiful gates of the thick walls opened; and the sacred grove within came into view. I crossed the threshold. (Orphic Argonautika 122ff)

Hermaia (November 4)
Chorus of Evocators: We, the race that lives around the lake, do honor to Hermes our ancestor … Come now, guest-friend, take up your stance on the grassy sacred enclosure of the fearful lake. Slash the gullet of the neck, and let the blood of this sacrificial victim flow into the murky depths of the reeds as a drink offering for the lifeless. Call upon primeval Earth and chthonic Hermes, escort of the dead, and ask chthonic Zeus to send up the swarm of night-wanderers from the mouth of this melancholy river, unfit for washing hands, sent up by Stygian springs. (Aischylos, Psuchahogoi fragment 273)

Kalends (January 1)
What wickedness takes place during this feast; fortune-tellings, divinations, deceptions and feigned madnesses. On this day, having been seized up by the furies of their bacchant-like ravings and having been inflamed by the fires of diabolical instigation, they flock together to the church and profane the house of god with vain and foolish rhythmic poetry in which sin is not wanting but by all means present, and with evil sayings, laughing and cacophony they disrupt the priest and the whole congregation applauds for the people love these things. (Richard of St.-Victor, Sermones centum 177.1036)

orpheus

Katabasia (October 27)
Phalloi are consecrated to Dionysos, and this is the origin of those phalloi. Dionysos was anxious to descend into Haides, but did not know the way. Thereupon a certain man, Prosymnos by name, promises to tell him; though not without reward. The reward was not a seemly one, though to Dionysos it was seemly enough. It was a favour of lust, this reward which Dionysos was asked for. The god is willing to grant the request; and so he promises, in the event of his return, to fulfil the wish of Prosymnos, confirming the promise with an oath. Having learnt the way he set out, and came back again. He does not find Prosymnos, for he was dead. In fulfilment of the vow to his lover Dionysos hastens to the tomb and indulges his unnatural lust. Cutting off a branch from a fig-tree which was at hand, he shaped it into the likeness of a phallos, and then made a show of fulfilling his promise to the dead man. As a mystic memorial of this passion phalloi are set up to Dionysos in cities. ‘For if it were not to Dionysos that they held solemn procession and sang the phallic hymn, they would be acting most shamefully,’ says Herakleitos. (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks 2.30)

Lenaia (12 Gamelion)
Hear, O blessed son of Zeus and of two mothers, Bacchos of the vintage, unforgettable seed, many-named and redeeming demon, holy offspring of the gods born in secrecy, reveling Bacchos, plump giver of the many joys of fruits which grow well. Mighty and many-shaped god, from the earth you burst forth to reach the wine-press, and there become a remedy for man’s pain, O sacred blossom! A sorrow-hating joy to mortals, O lovely-haired Epaphian, you are a redeemer and a reveler whose thyrsus drive to frenzy, and who is kind hearted to all, gods and mortals, who see his light. I call upon you now to come, a sweet bringer of fruit. (Orphic Hymn 50. To Lysios-Lenaios)

Liberalia (March 17)
Now as to the rites of Liber, whom they have set over liquid seeds, and therefore not only over the liquors of fruits, among which wine holds, so to speak, the primacy, but also over the seeds of animals:— as to these rites, I am unwilling to undertake to show to what excess of turpitude they had reached, because that would entail a lengthened discourse, though I am not unwilling to do so as a demonstration of the proud stupidity of those who practice them. Varro says that certain rites of Liber were celebrated in Italy which were of such unrestrained wickedness that the shameful parts of the male were worshipped at crossroads in his honour. Nor was this abomination transacted in secret that some regard at least might be paid to modesty, but was openly and wantonly displayed. For during the festival of Liber this obscene member, placed on a little trolley, was first exhibited with great honour at the crossroads in the countryside, and then conveyed into the city itself. But in the town of Lavinium a whole month was devoted to Liber alone, during the days of which all the people gave themselves up to the must dissolute conversation, until that member had been carried through the forum and brought to rest in its own place; on which unseemly member it was necessary that the most honorable matron should place a wreath in the presence of all the people. Thus, forsooth, was the god Liber to be appeased in order for the growth of seeds. Thus was enchantment (fascinatio) to be driven away from fields, even by a matron’s being compelled to do in public what not even a harlot ought to be permitted to do in a theatre, if there were matrons among the spectators. (Augustine, De Civitate Dei 7.21)

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Maiuma (May 2)
But those who have gone up to Daphne in pagan fashion have had no regard for the truth, which is so terrible and on account of which everything moves and trembles. But in the dark moments of the night they even lit lamps of wax in the stadium and added incense, stealthily bringing about their own destruction; and it was certain strangers, take good note, who informed me of this while trembling and crying. Do you not see the nets of the Calumnator, and his hidden traps, which on the one hand have as a pretext the joy and pleasure at first sight and lead on the other hand to idolatry and the celebration of festivals in some ways criminal and harmful? And are you not ashamed, when we call ourselves Christians, we who were born on high for the purification which comes from the water and the Spirit and call ourselves children of God, to run equally to the solemnities of Satan, which we have renounced by divine baptism? For whenever you change your clothing and afterwards go up to the spactacle, dressed in a tiny linen tunic, which hides the arms but not the hands, waving about a wooden stick and with all skin shaved with a razor, so to speak – look, is it not quite clear that you have made the procession and participated in the celebration? (Severus of Antioch, Homily 95)

Melinoeia (September 9)
I call upon Melinoë, saffron-cloaked nymph of the earth, to whom august Persephone gave birth by the mouth of the Kokytos, upon the sacred bed of Kronian Zeus he lied to Plouton and through treachery mated with Persephone, whose skin when she was pregnant he mangled in anger. She drives mortals to madness with her airy phantoms, as she appears in weird shapes and forms, now plain to the eye, now shadowy, now shining in the darkness, and all this in hostile encounters in the gloom of night. But, goddess and queen of those below, I beseech you, to banish the soul’s frenzy to the ends of the earth, and show a kindly and holy face to the initiates. (Orphic Hymn 71 to Melinoë)

Pannychis of Ariadne (2 Briseusion)
There are many other stories about these matters, and also about Ariadne, but they do not agree at all. Some say that she hung herself because she was abandoned by Theseus; others that she was conveyed to Naxos by sailors and there lived with Oinaros the priest of Dionysos, and that she was abandoned by Theseus because he loved another woman. [...] A very peculiar account of these matters is published by Paion the Amathusian. He says that Theseus, driven out of his course by a storm to Kypros, and having with him Ariadne, who was big with child and in sore sickness and distress from the tossing of the sea, set her on shore alone, but that he himself, while trying to succour the ship, was borne out to sea again. The women of the island, accordingly, took Ariadne into their care, and tried to comfort her in the discouragement caused by her loneliness, brought her forged letters purporting to have been written to her by Theseus, ministered to her aid during the pangs of travail, and gave her burial when she died before her child was born. Paion says further that Theseus came back, and was greatly afflicted, and left a sum of money with the people of the island, enjoining them to sacrifice to Ariadne, and caused two little statuettes to be set up in her honor, one of silver, and one of bronze. He says also that at the sacrifice in her honor on the second day of the month Gorpiaeus, one of their young men lies down and imitates the cries and gestures of women in travail; and that they call the grove in which they show her tomb, the grove of Ariadne Aphrodite. Some of the Naxians also have a story of their own, that there were two Minoses and two Ariadnes, one of whom, they say, was married to Dionysos in Naxos and bore him Staphylos and his brother, and the other, of a later time, having been carried off by Theseus and then abandoned by him, came to Naxos, accompanied by a nurse named Korkyne, whose tomb they show; and that this Ariadne also died there, and has honors paid her unlike those of the former, for the festival of the first Ariadne is celebrated with mirth and revels, but the sacrifices performed in honor of the second are attended with sorrow and mourning. (Plutarch, Life of Theseus 20.1-5)

Praxidikaia (September 23)
But the most astounding of all these arguments concerns what they have to say about the gods and virtue. They say that the gods, too, assign misfortune and a bad life to many good people, and the opposite fate to their opposites. Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the gods to serve them. And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, according to which they arrange their rites, convincing not only individuals but also cities that liberation and purification from injustice is possible, both during life and after death, by means of sacrifices and enjoyable games to the deceased which free us from the evils of the beyond, whereas something horrible awaits those who have not celebrated sacrifices. (Plato, Republic 2.364a–365b)

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8 thoughts on “Our festivals

  1. What should be proper protocol if one of these festivals occurs at the same time as, but seems to run directly counter to the festival of another deity one follows? You’ve said before that we are not limited to only the Gods & Goddess of the Starry Bull pantheon–I’m referring to the Liberalia, which occurs during the “holy week” of Kybele, wherein fasting is involved. Especially since Kybele & Dionysos have such a close connection

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    • One thing I’ve done in the past when that’s come up is to do one festival in the early day and another at night – but if the themes, etc. are in conflict default to the more important of the two and if you feel you need to do both perform divination to see if details can be altered or the date temporarily moved.

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  2. Since its rapidly approaching, any suggestions for observances for during the vigil for Aridane? Especially anything for those of us that aren’t particularly close to her (I have picked up her worship only since starting the daily devotions of the Thiasos of the Starry Bull)?

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  3. Pingback: Important notice: the date of the Pannychis of Ariadne has been changed | The House of Vines

  4. Pingback: 30 days of devotion in one night | The House of Vines

  5. Hmm, I may have to put some of these on my calendar as well.

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  6. Pingback: αἰσχρολογία | The House of Vines

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