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Twelve Days of Diónysos
ΔΩΔΕΚΑ ΗΜΕΡΕΣ ΔΙΟΝΥΣΟΥ

Γενέθλια του Διονύσου

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The Twelve Days of Diónysos

The Twelve Days is one of the great festivals of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. 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 (Genethlia; Gr. Γενέθλια), i.e. the birthday, of Ælefthæréfs Diónysos (Gr. Ἐλευθερεύς Διόνυσος), 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 the Orphic Rhapsodic Theogony (See The Sixth King), 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," and these same Greeks insist that the observance of the festival extends back to ancient times. Nonetheless, the authenticity of this date has been challenged, and this author has searched for some passage from antiquity to confirm it. While there are many websites that claim that Christmas is actually Diónysos' birthday, most offer little in the way of citations; nonetheless, there is significant evidence which may be found in the note below [1].

Naturally, it is immediately evident that not only does the birthday fall on the Christian holiday, but the multi-day observance follows exactly the twelve days of Christmas, but it is not that we are abducting the Christian holiday...exactly the reverse:

"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." [2]


The Twelve Days celebration honors the Olympian Gods as well as Diónysos
 

The Twelve Days of Diónysos is a great celebration of Vákkhos (Bacchus; Gr. Βἀκχοςin which the Olympian Gods are honored on successive days in the order of the Natural Laws over which they have dominion:

Dec. 25 - Æstía THE BIRTHDAY OF DIÓNYSOS

Dec. 26 - Áris

Dec. 27 - Ártæmis

Dec. 28 - Íphaistos

Dec. 29 - Íra

Dec. 30 - Poseidóhn

Dec. 31 - Athiná

Jan. 1 - Aphrodíti

Jan. 2 - Apóllohn

Jan. 3 - Ærmís

Jan. 4 - Zefs

Jan. 5 - Dimítir

The Hellenic religious day begins not at midnight, but at dusk of the day before, so you may do ritual at sunset on the 24th of December, and in a like manner for each of the days.


To honor Diónysos we recite his great hymns

All of the Orphic hymns to Diónysos may be recited on each day of the festivities, or just those you like; it is your personal choice. The most important hymn, however, is number 30 (XXIX To Bacchus in some versions of the Thomas Taylor translation), and it should be recited in addition to any of the others. The hymn 46.To Liknítis (Gr. Λικνίτης) is also particularly relevant as it refers to Diónysos of the líknon (Gr. λίκνον), i.e., the cradle. Kradiaios (Gr. Κραδιαῖος) Diónysos is the infant Vákkhos (Gr. Βἀκϰος), taken from the thigh of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς) and given to the Goddess Ípta (also Ippa; Gr. Ἵπτα) to be taken to Mount Ídi (Ida; Gr. Ίδη) in a winnowing basket (the líknon) with a snake wound around it, placed upon her head. [3] Therefore, hymn 49 to Ípta is another good choice. Ípta went up the mountain to the Mother of the Gods, where baby Vákkhos was guarded by the Kourítæs (Couretes; Gr. Κουρῆτες). [4] Ípta is called the nurse of Diónysos, as it states in her hymn.


If you use the Thomas Taylor translation of the hymns, the version we prefer, the numbering in the older editions is off by one increment; this problem has been corrected in the Prometheus Trust publication entitled Hymns and Initiations. Because so many people have the older numbering, we are providing those numbers designated as OTN, i.e. "old Taylor numbering," along with Taylor's titles for the hymns.

Next follows a list of all the Orphic hymns which relate, in one way or another, to Dionysos.  

29. PÆRSÆPHÓNI  [Gr. Περσεφόνη]  (OTN ["old Taylor numbering"]: XXVIII. To Proserpine)

30. DIÓNYSOS  [Gr. Διόνυσος]  (OTNXXIX. Bacchus) This is the most important of the hymns to the God. Please visit the following link for help understanding the hymn as well as the Greek text and a very helpful transliteration: The Orphic Hymn (30) to Diónysos.

42. MÍSA  [Gr. Μίσα]  (OTNXLI. To Mises)

44. SÆMǼLI  [Gr. Σεμέλη] (OTNXLIII. To Semele)

45. DIÓNYSOS VASSARǼOHS [Gr. Διόνυσος Βασσαρέως]  (OTNXLIV. Dionysius Bassareus Triennalis)

46. LIKNÍTIS  [Gr. Λικνίτης] (OTNXLV. Liknitus Bacchus)

47. PÆRIKIÓNIOS [Gr. Περικῑόνιος] (OTNXLVI. Bacchus Pericionius)

48. SAVÁZIOS  [Gr. Σαβάζιος] (OTNXLVII.Sabasius)

49. ÍPTA  Gr. [Ἵπτα]  (OTNXLVIII. To Ippa)

50. LYSÍOS-LINAIOS  [Gr. Λυσίος Ληναίος] (OTNXLIX. To Lysius Lenæus)

52. TRIETIRIKOS  [Gr. Τριετηρικος?]  (OTN: LI. To Trietericus )

53. AMPHIÆTOUS  [Gr. Ἀμφιετοῦς] (OTN LII. To Amphietus Bacchus )

54. SEILINÓS, SÁTYROS, VÁKKHAI  [Gr. Σειληνός, Σάτυρος, Βάκχαι]  (OTNLIII. To Silenus, Satyrus, and the Priestesses of Bacchus)

74. LEFKOTHǼA  [Gr. Λευκοθέα] (OTNLXXIII. To Leucothea)

75. PALAIMOHN  [Gr. Παλαίμων] (OTNLXXIV.  o Palæmon)


DOWNLOAD:  HYMNS OF ORPHEUS INCLUDING THE ANCIENT GREEK


Follow this link for a song which may be sung for the holiday: Lullaby to Zagréfs.


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.


NOTES:  (Abbreviations can be found on the bottom of this page:  Glossary Home)

[1] In the Panárion (Gr. Πανάριον), a treatise on Christian heresies, written by Æpiphánios (Epiphanius; Gr. Ἐπιφάνιος) [315-403 CE approx.], the Bishop of Salamís (Gr. Σαλαμίς), there is a curious passage concerning January 6th, this date being the Christian feast of the Epiphany (Gr. 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). 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 or Kore; Gr. Κόρη) at dawn, celebrating the birth of Aióhn (Aion or Aeon; Gr. Αἰών) by Kóri. Aióhn is a God who is identified with various deities, one being Diónysos (Guthrie, W.K.C. A History of Greek Philosophy: The Earlier Presocratics and the Pythagoreans. Cambridge University Press, p. 478.) as well as Osiris (Σοῦδα), who is usually identified by the ancient Greeks as Diónysos (Πλούταρχος [Plutarch] Περὶ Ἴσιδος καὶ Ὀσίριδος and elsewhere). Æpiphánios continues giving examples, that in Pǽtra (Petra; Gr. Πέτρα), on the same day, they celebrate the birth of the “son of the ruler of all” by a virgin. This all can be found in Panárion 51.22.3-11.

But why do we have the sixth of January date given by Æpiphánios rather than December 25? This can be resolved as follows:

“As to the dates, Norden has shown that the change from January 6 to December 25 can be explained as the result of the reform introduced by the more accurate Julian calendar into the ancient Egyptian calculation which had fixed January 6 as the date of the winter solstice.” (Greek Myths and Christian Mystery by Hugo Rahner, 1971, Biblio and Tannen [New York], where this quotation may be found on p. 141.) 

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 a deity identified with Diónysos in the teachings of Orphismós (Orphism). This identification is skilfully demonstrated in this quotation, supported by numerous citations, from the notes of 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
(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.)

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 infant God:

“…some images of father Liber are fashioned in the form of a boy, others of a young man, sometimes also bearded, or even elderly…But the different ages are to be understood with reference to the sun. It is very small at the winter solstice, like the image the Egyptians bring out from its shrine on a fixed date, with the appearance of a small infant.” 

(Macrobius Saturnalia Books 1-2, trans. Robert A. Kaster, 2011, LCL 510, Harvard Univ. Press [Cambridge MA and London England], where this quotation made be found on pp. 249-251.)


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

[3] Dionysos by Carl Kerényi, 1976, Princeton Univ. Press, p. 260

[4] The Orphic Poems by M.L. West, 1983; Sandpiper Books 1998 edition, p. 74, from West's reconstruction of the Rhapsodies.

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

[6] Bishop Jacob Dionysius Bar-Salabi, as found in Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries by Ramsay MacMullin1997Yale Univ. Press, p. 155)

[7] Bell's New Pantheon; or, Historical Dictionary of the Gods, Demi-Gods, Heroes, and Fabulous Personages of Antiquity, by John Bell, 1790. Printed by and for J. Bell, Bookseller to his royal highness the Prince of Wales at the British Library, Strand. (London, England), p. 141.

[8] Ovid, Fasti, i.185-190.

[9] Martial, viii.33,11

[10] from Act 4, Scene 2; Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

[11] found at the conclusion to Twelfth Night, attributed to Shakespeare.




A BRUMAL SEASON OF FESTIVITY: 

There is a folk tradition in Greece called the Twelve Days of Christmas. These holidays correspond exactly with the Twelve Days of Diónysos, which are concealed or covered by the Christian holidays, so say the Greeks who practice the ancient religion. The Kallikántzari (Callicantzari; Gr. 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 Kallikántzari 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.

"Quick, begone! we must begone,
Here comes the pot-bellied priest,
With his censer in his hand
And his sprinkling-vessel too;
He has purified the streams
And he has polluted us!"  [5]

"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]


Birthday of the Unconquered Sun:

The Romans celebrated the Dies Solis Invicti Nati, "the birthday of the Unconquered Sun" on December 25th for the same reason as the Iliouyænna (Heliogenna; Gr. Ηλιούγεννα). It is on or around the 25th that one can perceive the first lengthening of the daylight hours, hence the "birthday."

"It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day." [6]

  

Brumalia:

The Romans celebrated a feast of Diónysos, instituted by Romulus, called variously the Brumae, the Brumalia, or the Hiemalia. It was also practiced in Greece as a foreign festival during the period of the (Roman) empire. There is confusion regarding the dates of Brumalia, some saying that it was celebrated twice a year, vix. on the 12th of the calends of March, and on the 18th of the calends of September. Others say that the Brumalia was celebrated on the winter solstice. [7]


Iliouyænna (Heliogenna; Gr. Ηλιούγεννα :    

The Iliouyænna, the Birth of the

 Sun

, is a traditional holiday celebrated in December commencing just following the beginning of the month of Capricorn, the Winter Solstice, December 21. The Solstice is a sacred holiday unto itself, next follows the birth of the Sun (Iliouyænna). In ancient times it was sometimes thought of as occurring at the waxing three days later which was the first day which appeared longer, the three days seeming as though the days were equal in length; but there are differing opinions, some thinking of dawn on the 21st or 22nd as the "birth."

More Roman Winter Festivities:  

During this same season, the Romans celebrated the birthday of Mithras and also the feast of Saturnalia, in honor of Saturn.  The Saturnalia was a very popular holiday with much feasting, gift-giving, and merriment. There was a custom of holding a banquet whereby the slaves were served by their masters, a custom which has been preserved in the military of some countries with the officers serving their troops at Christmas.

The Sabine tutelary Goddess Strenia (Salus) was honored in ancient Rome on January 1. The people exchanged various gifts (strenae) of  figs, dates, honey, branches of laurel and palm, and other things, in hope of a year of joy and happiness. [8] The fruits were gilded. [9]


"MALVOLIO: I say, this house is as dark as ignorance, though
ignorance were as dark as hell; and I say, there
was never man thus abused. I am no more mad than you
are: make the trial of it in any constant question.

FESTE: What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl?

MALVOLIO: That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.

FESTE: What thinkest thou of his opinion?

MALVOLIO: I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion.

FESTE: Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness:
thou shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras ere I will
allow of thy wits, and fear to kill a woodcock, lest
thou dispossess the soul of thy grandam. Fare thee well." [10]
WHEN THAT I WAS A LITTLE TINY BOY [11]


When that I was a little tiny boy
With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain
A foolish thing was but a toy
For the rain it raineth ev`ry day

Chorus: With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain
For the rain it raineth ev`ry day.

But when I came to man`s estate
With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain
`Gainst thieves and knaves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth ev`ry day.

Chorus: With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain
For the rain it raineth ev`ry day. 

But when I came, alas!, to wive
With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain
By swaggering never could I thrive,
For the rain it raineth ev`ry day.

Chorus: With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain
For the rain it raineth ev`ry day.

A great while ago the world begun
With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain
But that`s all one, our play is done
And we`ll strive to please you every day.

Chorus: With a heigh-ho, the wind and the rain
For the rain it raineth ev`ry day.




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.  








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; Gr. Πετηλία) and other golden tablets having this phrase 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; Gr. κιθάρα), the lyre of Apóllohn (Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων). It (here) represents the bond between Gods and mortals and is representative that we are the children of Orphéfs (Orpheus; Gr. 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.



S

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