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Twelve Days of Diónysos
ΔΩΔΕΚΑ ΗΜΕΡΕΣ ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟΥ

Γενέθλια του Διονύσου Ἐλευθερέως

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The Twelve Days is one of the great festivals of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion. The commencement of this holiday is December 25th and the festivities continue on for eleven more days, according to Greek tradition. It is the called the Yænǽthlia of Ælefthæréfs Diónysos (Γενέθλια του Διονύσου Ἐλευθερέως), the birthday of Diónysos the Liberator.

Why is this such a great festival in our religion, one of the most important and sublime, and why are we celebrating Diónysos as the Liberator? It is because this festival marks the fulfillment of the providence of our father Zefs who is the highest (Ὕπατος) of all the Gods, and who, when he created a new generation of beings, foresaw that we would be trapped in anxiety, and to alleviate our sufferings he conceived a son who, with his Mysteries, would free us from an endless circle of rebirths (κύκλος γενέσεως). All of this can be found in Orphic theogony, the story of the origin of the Gods.


The legitimacy of the festival

The Twelve-Days-celebration is mostly unknown outside of Greece, but this author was told that "just as birds fly and dogs bark, all Greeks know that Christmas is Diónysos' birthday." These same Greeks insist that the observance of the festival extends back to ancient times. The authenticity of this has been challenged, but there is significant evidence to confirm its truth.

In the Panárion (Πανάριον), a treatise on Christian heresies, written by Æpiphánios (Epiphanius, Ἐπιφάνιος) [315-403 CE approx.], the Bishop of Salamís (Σαλαμίς), there is a curious passage concerning January 6th, this date being the Christian feast of the Epiphany (Ἐπιφάνεια, in antiquity: Θεοφάνεια). Æpiphánios states that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth took place on this day. Later, the word Epiphany came to refer to Three King’s Day, but apparently at this time it referred to the nativity. But why do we have the sixth of January date given by Æpiphánios rather than December 25? It is resultant from when the Julian calendar was introduced into the ancient Egyptian, which saw January 6 as the winter solstice. [1]

Æpiphánios continues saying that on this same day, the pagans were celebrating great feasts in various localities, and, he states, that in Alexandria they had a festivity at the temple of Kóri (Core, Κόρη) at dawn, celebrating the birth of Aióhn (Aeon, Αἰών) by Kóri. As is well known, Kóri is Pærsæphóni (Persephone, Περσεφόνη), the mother of Diónysos by Zefs (Ζεὺς). Aióhn is a God who is identified with various deities, one being Diónysos [2] as well as Osiris (Σοῦδα), who is usually identified by the ancient Greeks as Diónysos (Περὶ Ἴσιδος καὶ Ὀσίριδος Πλουτάρχου and elsewhere). Æpiphánios continues giving examples, that in Pǽtra (Petra, Πέτρα), on the same day, they celebrate the birth of the “son of the ruler of all” (Ζεὺς) by a virgin. This all can be found in Πανάριον 51.22.3-11. He translates Κόρη as "virgin" because the word can refer to an unmarried daughter, but everyone knows that Κόρη is Pærsæphóni.

Æpiphánios mentions Aióhn by name as the deity whose birth was being honored on the same day as the celebration of the birthday of Jesus, but who is this God? Aióhn is identified with Diónysos in the teachings of Orphismós (Orphism). This identification is definitively proved in a note, supported by numerous citations, from a book by Vittorio D. Macchioro on Orphism:

"Aion was son of Kronos (Euripides: Heraclidai, 898), that is, identical with Protogonus according to Hellanikos' theogony (Kern, p. 130, 54; p. 158, 85); but Protogonus, Dionysus and Phanes are identical (Aristocriton Manichæus: θεοσοφία 116, 15, Buresch; = Kern, 61). Erichepaius was identical with Dionysus (Hesychius: Ἠριξεπαῖος; Proclus: In Platonis Timœum, II, 102 D, E; = Kern, 170); Phanes with Erichepaius (Orphic Hymns, VI, 9). Protogonus was one of the names of Phanes (Damascius: Quœstiones de primis principiis, III; = Kern, 64) and of Erichepaios (Proclus: In Platonis Timœum, 29A; = Kern, 167); Phanes was Aion (Proclus: In Platonis Timœium E; = Kern, 107). An inscription of a statue of Aion at Eleusis (Dittenberger: Sylloge Inscriptionum, 3rd ed., 1125) affords a statement about the identity of Phanes (Dionysus) and Aion. Aion was son of Kore, that is, the mother of Dionysus (Epiphonius: Panarion, 51, 22, 8-10). Epiphonius mistakes the Goddess Kore for the Virgin, owing to the meaning of the Greek word ϰόρη. [3]

Macrobius writes in the Saturnalia (I.18.9-10) in the fourth century (CE), equating Diónysos with the sun, and the winter solstice identified with the birth of the infant God. For this and other reasons, the birthday of Diónysos was intended to be celebrated on the Winter Solstice, which we in modern times know is December 21st. So why do we celebrate the birthday on December 25th? …because of tradition. Due to calendrical mistake, in antiquity, December 25th was believed to be the Winter Solstice, so they celebrated the birthday of Diónysos on that day and no one through history saw fit to correct it to the 21st. The Christians decided to conceal the ancient holiday beneath the Christmas celebration for reasons of their own. 

In the modern religion, we honor the birth of the Sun just after the Winter Solstice (at dawn the following morning) and then we celebrate the birth of Diónysos at dusk on the 24th, dusk being the beginning of the Hellenic religious day (the 25th). The first lengthening of the day after the solstice cannot be perceived for three days, hence the “birth” on the 25th giving legitimacy to the 25th as the date of the holiday.


The Twelve Days of Diónysos

Not only does the birthday of Diónysos fall on the 25th, but the multi-day observance follows exactly the twelve days of Christmas, which conceal the ancient holidays. 

According to Greek legend, the Kallikándzari (Callicantzari, Καλλικάντζαροι) are mischievous creatures similar to the Irish faeries, gnomes, goblins, and elves. They become terribly excited during these holidays and cause all kinds of trouble until they are "polluted" by the Orthodox priests with holy water on the last of the Twelve Days, only for them to rise again next year at Christmas. There is a suspicion that the Kallikándzari are none other than our blessed Gods, "Lilliputianized" to diminish their importance, and that, perhaps, they become exuberant at the birth of mighty Diónysos and of his joyous celebrations every year, or perhaps they represent obscured memories of the train of revelers of Diónysos from the great festivals which took place in winter.

"The superstitions and customs connected by the modern folk with the Twelve Days are undoubtedly an inheritance from ancestors who celebrated the Brumalia and other pagan festivals at the same season of the year. These ancient festivals, though Roman in name, probably differed very little in the manner of their observance from certain old Greek festivals, chief among which was some festival of Dionysus. This is rendered probable both by the date of these festivals and by the manner of their celebration. For the worship of Dionysus was practically confined to the wintertime, at Delphi his cult superseded that of Apollo during the three winter months; and at Athens the four festivals of Dionysus fell within about the same period --- the rural Dionysia at the end of November or beginning of December, the Lenaea about a month later, the Anthesteria at the end of January, and the Great Dionysia at the end of February. As for the manner of conducting the Latin-named festivals, Asterios' description of the Kalándae in the fifth century plainly attests the Dionysiac character of the orgies, and Balsamon, in the twelfth, was so convinced, from what he himself witnessed, of their Bacchanalian origin, that he actually proposed to derive the name Brumalia from Βροῦμος (by which he meant Βρόμιος) a surname of Dionysus.

The mumming then, which is still customary in some parts of Greece during the Twelve Days, is a survival apparently of festivals in honour of Dionysus. Further the mummers dress themselves up to resemble Callicantzari (ed. see below). But the worship of Dionysus presented a similar scene; 'those who made processions in honour of Dionysus,' says Ulpian, 'used to dress themselves up for that purpose to resemble his companions, some in the guise of Satyrs, others as Bacchae, and others as Sileni.' The mummers therefore of the present day have, it appears inherited the custom of dressing up from the ancient worshippers of Dionysus and are their modern representatives; and from this it follows that the Callicantzari whom the modern mummers strive to resemble are to be identified with those motley companions of Dionysus whom his worshippers imitated of old." [4]

"Many attempts have been made to account for the Kallikantzari. Perhaps the most plausible explanation of the outward form, at least, of the uncanny creatures, is the theory connecting them with the masquerades that formed part of the winter festival of Dionysus and are still to be found in Greece at Christmastide." [5]


NOTES:

[1] See Greek Myths and Christian Mystery by Hugo Rahner, 1971. Biblo and Tannen, New York, p. 141.

[2] A History of Greek Philosophy: The Earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans by W. K. C. Guthrie, Cambridge University Press, p. 478.

[3] FROM ORPHEUS TO PAUL: A History of Orphism by Vittorio D. Macchioro, 1930, Henry Holt and Co. [New York], where this quotation may be found on pp. 251-252, note 22.

[4] Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion: A Study in Survivals by John Cuthbert Lawson, 1910. Cambridge University Press (London), pp. 228-229.

[5] Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan by Clement A. Miles, 1912; p. 245.


BABY DIÓNYSOS: This is a painting of the infant Diónysos, created by contemporary Hellenic artist Lykeia. The myth has it that the Goddess Ípta placed a líknon (winnowing basket) containing the newborn Diónysos on her head and climbed up Mount Ídi (Ida; Gr. Ίδη). Here we have baby Diónysos, cradled in the líknon, adorned with ivy and wrapped in the pelt of a leopard. Around the basket is a snake, symbolic of Earth. Encircling the little God are the signs of the zodiac, representing the months of the year over which the Olympian Gods have dominion. Ípta appears in the upper left corner of the painting with the líknon on her head.  





PLEASE NOTE: Ritual in our tradition is not permitted to be displayed in a public place. If you have a sincere desire to learn more, please write: Inquire.HellenicGods@gmail.com.


The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony.
We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.
Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.
How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.


The logo to the left is the principal symbol of this website. It is called the CESS logo, i.e. the Children of the Earth and the Starry Sky. The Pætilía (Petelia, Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase (Γῆς παῖς εἰμί καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος) are the inspiration for the symbol. The image represents this idea: Earth (divisible substance) and the Sky (continuous substance) are the two kozmogonic substances. The twelve stars represent the Natural Laws, the dominions of the Olympian Gods. In front of these symbols is the seven-stringed kithára (cithara, κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo, Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus, Ὀρφεύς).




PLEASE NOTE: Throughout the pages of this website, you will find fascinating stories about our Gods. These narratives are known as mythology, the traditional stories of the Gods and Heroes. While these tales are great mystical vehicles containing transcendent truth, they are symbolic and should not be taken literally. A literal reading will frequently yield an erroneous result. The meaning of the myths is concealed in code. To understand them requires a key. For instance, when a God kills someone, this usually means a transformation of the soul to a higher level. Similarly, sexual union with a God is a transformation.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.
Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.
Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.



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