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ANTHÆSTÍRIA - ΑΝΘΕΣΤΗΡΙΑ


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INTRODUCTION TO THE ANTHÆSTÍRIA 

The 
Anthæstíria (Anthesteria, Gr. Ἀνθεστήρια, ΑΝΘΕΣΤΗΡΙΑ) is one of the most important feasts of Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religionIt is the great three-day festival of Diónysos which Thoukydídis (Thucydides, Gr. Θουκυδίδης) called the “old Dionysia.” [1] The celebrations were held 11-13 of the ancient Athenian month of Anthæstirióhn (Anthesterion, Gr. Ἀνθεστηριών). In any case, the festival should be celebrated near the full moon, while the Gates are open, closest to these dates, roughly mid-February of the Roman calendar. The entire month of Anthæstirióhn is sacred to the God. [2]

The name of the festival is translated into English as The Festival of Flowers or Blossoms, and through all the three days, we wear garlands (στέφανοι) of flowers around our head, particularly our children, for, quite simply, it is said that “Vákkhos (ed. Bacchus, Gr. Βάκχος) loves flowers.” [3] The etymology of the word Anthæstíria is ánthi (Gr. ἄνθη) [4] “blossoms" or "flowers” + ístimi (Gr. ἵστημι) “to stand.” [5] In great antiquity, there stood the phallic letter ϝ (the dígamma; Gr. δίγαμμα) between the ánthi and ístimi, representing the fertilization from the God. The seed was planted at the winter solstice (Dec. 21), the blossoms appear during this festival, and the fruits begin to appear at the summer solstice (June 21). Beyond the agricultural connotations, the plant and its flower are symbolic of the Soul.

The purpose of the Anthæstíria is to serve as a great vehicle to progress souls forward, by giving them power, in particular to help the souls of those who are between lives. The Anthæstíria helps souls to heal the binding wounds of the past, to give us strength today, and to effect great good for the benefit of the future, not only for ourselves but for the whole world. The past we are referring to is not only the past from this single life, but it includes the many lives we have experienced before this one, as the soul migrates from life to life; likewise, the future.

In ancient Athens, the festival took place at a place called Límnaæ (Limnae; Gr. Λίμναε), [6] “the Lakes” (not the Thrakian city of the same name). There was a sacred lake in this area that was actually a marsh. The flower, which symbolizes humanity, comes forth from the mud of the marsh, clean and wondrous, like a white lotus. The flower is the human conscience.


ANTHÆSTÍRIA - DAY ONE – AGATHÓS DAIMOHN-PITHÍYIA

The first day of Anthæstíria is called the Day of the Agathós Daimohn (Agathos Daemon; Gr. Ἀγαθὸς Δαίμων), a custom, according to Ploutarkhos (Plutarch; Gr. Πλούταρχος), of his own people, the Boeotians. [7] It is also called the Pithíyia (“the Cask-Opening,” Gr. Πιθοίγια) because the píthi (pithoi; Gr. πίθοι. Πίθος is singular), great clay casks of new wine, were opened. [8] From this wine, libations were made and the wine was partaken of.  It is said that the drinking of wine began on this first day and continued until the last. 

“In the Bacchian Mysteries a consecrated cup of wine handed round after supper, called the cup of the Agathodaimon, was received with much shouting.” [9]

The píthi were half buried and their tops were opened. 

“A painting on an Attic lekythos of the fifth century shows winged souls under the supervision of Hermes, guide of souls, swarming around a half-buried pithos on the day of the Pithoigia, when the underworld was open for the ascent of Dionysos.” [10]

All this occurred at the Tǽmænos (Temenos; Gr. Τέμενος) of Diónysos in the Límnaæ where there were fourteen altars [11] representing the pairs of Titánæs (Titans; Gr. Τιτᾶνες), which held fourteen Mystery baskets. [12]


ANTHÆSTÍRIA – DAY TWO - KHÓÆS

In antiquity, the second day of Anthæstíria began with the Procession of the Sacred Marriage. This was a procession of a wooden ship on wheels. The wheels symbolize the centers of the soul, like the Indian Chakras. The ship was decorated with a pig as its figurehead, symbolizing Ǽrohs (Eros; Gr. Ἔρως), the attraction to the divine. At the rear of the vessel was a swan with its head turned backwards towards the front of the ship. This ship departed from the port of Pháliron (Phalerum; Gr. Φάληρον, modern Fáliro) to arrive at the Tǽmænos of Diónysos in the Límnaæ.

Water and the sea have deep connections with Diónysos

“In spring, then, he comes riding over the sea to celebrate his epiphany in the Ionian city states. Hermippus speaks of the many good things he brings with him in his black ship ever since he has been sailing the wine-dark sea. The famous cylix of Exekias shows him on the high seas in a ship equipped with sails and overgrown with a mighty vine. The ship-car in which he makes his entrance at the Anthesteria still carries memories of his journey over the sea.” [13]

The sea, in this context, hearkens to the Middle Sky, from the earth to the moon. The Middle Sky is ruled by Poseidóhn (Poseidon; Gr. Ποσειδν), who rules the Sea as well. The Middle Sky represents the middle or liquid area of the Orphic Egg. Ploutarkhos, in his essay On the Face Appearing Within the Orb of the Moon states that:

“Every soul, dismissed from the body, wanders for a time between the earth and the moon.” [14] 

So, it is believed that the souls of the dead who are awaiting rebirth, remain in the Middle Sky, and we honor these souls at the Anthæstíria. We pay homage not only to the souls of the mortals, but also the divine beings who dwell in the Middle Sky, Daimohnæs (Daimons; Gr. Δαίμωνες) such as Ækáti (Hekate; Gr. Ἑκάτη).

Within the ship was the ágalma (agalma = statue; Gr. άγαλμα) of Diónysos Ælefthæréfs (Eleuthereus, Gr. Ελευθερεύς), Diónysos the Liberator. There were two people on board the ship: the Árkhon-Vasiléfs (Archon Basileus or King; Gr. Ἄρχων Βασιλεύς) of Athens and the Vasílissa (Basilissa; “The Queen” Gr. Βασίλισσα). The Sacred Marriage is between Vasílissa and Diónysos.  In ancient Athens, this represented the marriage of the city to Diónysos[15] The Sacred Marriage also represents the marriage of the soul to Diónysos.

The temple of Diónysos was opened on the Day of Khóæs (Gr. Χόες, from the word khoí, Gr. χοή), and this day only in the entire year. [16]

The marriage party preceded to the Tǽmænos where they were greeted by the Gærarai (Gr. Γεραραί; from yiráskoh [Gr. Γηράσκω] “I grow old,” [17] referring not only to the age of those women chosen, but also to their symbolically being old souls), seven pairs, fourteen women in all, who represent the pairs of Titánæs. These women fasted and abstained from sex for three days, in order to give strength to Vasílissa so as to marry the great God. They took an oath in front of the priest [18] and sacrificed at the fourteen altars of the Tǽmænos in honor of the cutting of Zagréfs (Zagreus; Gr. Ζαγρεύς) into pieces by the Titánæs.  

The Gærarai led Vasílissa to a building outside the Tǽmænos in the Athenian Agorá (Gr. Ἀγορά) called the Voukólion (Boucolion; Gr. Βουκόλιον) for the symbolic marriage. 

In the evening of the second day of Anthæstíria, was the celebration of Khóæs. The khoí is a large earthenware jug for wine. At the Khóæs, the people are said to have drank as much as possible after having eaten very hot spicy food. The food represents the divine fire which makes you thirsty for Aithí(Ether; Gr. Αἰθήρ)

symbolized by the wine. The khoí jars were decorated with wreaths of flowers. This was in honor of when 

Orǽstis 

(Orestes; Gr. 

Ὀρέστης) came to Athens to be judged; he drank with King Dimophoohn (Dimophóöhn; Gr. Δημοφόων) to honor Diónysos. They left the garlands of flowers from their heads on the jars.

“Orestes, according to one legend, when fresh from the pollution of the murder of his mother Klytemnestra, arrived at Athenai during the celebration of this Festival; and as no one could drink with him, Demophoon the son of Theseus, who then reigned over the Athenians, in order to spare the feelings of his guest, made every man drink out of his own cup, and hence the legendary origin of the custom. [19] From this day Dionysos had the name of Choöpotes or Deep-drinker, and he who could take the most wine was honoured by a crown of leaves, the crown being an ornament which, as noticed, Dionysos was said to have invented.”  [20]


ANTHÆSTÍRIA – DAY THREE - KHÝTRI

The Anthæstíria is also a feast for those souls, the Kíræs (KeresGr. Κήρες), who have passed before and who dwell in the Middle Sky between births. During the festival, they are thought to roam the earth amongst the living, and at the end of the rituals on the third day, the main priest sends the dead away, that the Anthæstíria is no more.

During the rituals this day, a bowl of panspærmía (panspermia; Gr. πανσπερμία), a dish containing many types of seeds, is offered to Ærmís (Hermes; Gr. Ἑρμῆς) Khthonic, to Diónysos, and the souls of those in the Middle Sky. It is never eaten; it is the food of the dead. The panspærmía was cooked in clay jars called khýtri (Gr. χύτροι, which is the plural of χύτρος or χύτρα, an earthen pot), hence the name of the third day. Ærmís Psychopompós (Gr. Ψυχοπομπός) takes the souls of those who have become divine; the Protective Deities, his representatives in the Middle Sky, take the others. It is for this reason that we include the hymns to the Deities of the Middle Sky in our ritual on this day. If available, it is particularly appropriate to have two kǽrnos (kernos; Gr. κέρνος) on the altar for this day, one for Ærmís Psychopompós, the other for Diónysos.

The Anthæstíria is a mighty vehicle to heal the wounds from past lives, as the Kiræs call for justice, and this is one of the main reasons for the festival.  We help the Kíræs with our prayers and offerings and we also heal the sufferings that have occurred to ourselves in our previous lives. By doing all this, we effect those souls who will be dwelling in the future as well.



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 that are not of a standard nature can be found here: GLOSSARY HOME PAGE.

[1] Thu. 2.15.4

[2] Suidas, Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D

[3] The quotation stating that Vákkhos (Bacchus, Gr. Βάκχος) loves flowers comers from Ovid Fasti 5.345.  

Concerning the children wearing garlands of flowers around their heads, we have this quotation of Flávios Philóstratos (Flavius Philostratus; Gr. Φλάβιος Φιλόστρατος) from his work Iroïkós (Heroikos; Gr. Ἡρωικός):

"And when the children of Athens were crowned with flowers in the month of Anthesterion, in the third year of his son's life, he (ed. Ajax) set up kraters from there and sacrificed according to Athenian custom. Protesilaos said that he also observed these sacred festivals of Dionysos as established by Theseus."  (Flávios Philóstratos Iroïkós 35.9; trans. Jennifer K. Berenson Maclean and Ellen Bradshaw Aitken, 1977, B. G. Teubner, Leipzig; 2001 English translation, Flavius Philostratus Heroikos, Society of Biblical Literature [Atlanta, GA, USA], p. 119)

[4] ánthos (Gr. ἄνθος) being singular, L&S p.140, right column.

[5] L&S p.841, left column.

[6] Aristophánis (Aristophanes; Gr. Ἀριστοφάνης) Ran. 212, trans. Gilbert Murray:

"O brood of the mere and the spring,
Gather together and sing
From the depths of your throat
By the side of the boat.
Coäx, as we move in a ring.

As in Limnae we sang the divine
Nyseïan Giver of Wine,
When the people in lots
With their sanctified Pots
Came reeling around my shrine."

[7] Ploutarkhos (Plutarch; Gr. Πλούταρχος) Q. Symp. VIII.3.

[8] Ploutarkhos Q. Symp. III.7.1.

[9] Nicola, De Ritu Bacch. apud Gronvius, vii.186. ; GDM1 p.233.

[10] Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life by Carl Kerényi, 1976, Princeton Univ. Press, p. 303.

[11] Etymologicum Magnum s.v. γεραιραί.

[12] Psudo-Demosthenes LIX (In Neaeram), 78.

[13] Dionysus: Myth and Cult by Walter F. Otto, 1965, Indiana Univ. Press, p.163.

[14] Ploutarkhos On the Face Appearing Within the Orb of the Moon, at line 286.

[15] Arist. De Rep. Ath. III. 5:

"In his (ed. Aristotle) discussion of the official residences of the various archons he notes that in past days the King Archon used to live in a place called the Boukolion near to the Prytaneion, 'And the proof of this is that to this day the union and marriage of the wife of the King Archon with Dionysos takes place there. In a place called the cattle shed' the Queen Archon was married to Dionysos.  The conjecture lies near to hand that in bygone days there was a marriage to a sacred bull.  We are reminded that the worshipper of Sabazios was said to 'herd' the God.  Be that as it may, at the festival of the Anthesteria the Queen Archon was given in marriage to Dionysos..."

[16] Thoukydídis (Thucydides, Gr. Θουκυδίδης).

[17] L&S p.348, left column.

[18] The Oath of the Celebrants:
" 'I fast and am clean and abstinent from all things that make unclean and from intercourse with man and I celebrate the Theoinia and the Iobaccheia (ed. Iovakhia) to Dionysos in accordance with ancestral usage and at the appointed times.'  Unhappily though we have the oath of purity we know nothing definite of either the Theoinia or the Iobaccheia.  Only this much is certain, a sacred marriage was enacted by a woman high-born and blameless, and that marriage was a Mystery." (Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion by Jane Ellen Harrison, 1903, Princeton Univ. Press., p.537)  

Oral sources inform this author that the Thæoínia (Theoinia; Gr. θεοίνια) was a celebration of Vákkhos as the God of wine and that the Iovakhia was a celebration of Ióvakhos (Iobacchus; Gr. Ἰόβακχος); we have the Vakkhic shout, "Io Vakhae!"

[19] Suidas.

[20] GDM1 pp.233-234.


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