Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times Mabon 2017
The harvest is in full force now. It is hard to believe it was just Lammas, and already, it is nearly Mabon!
Some of you are hard at work, gathering the fruits of your labor from your gardens, others, reflecting upon the fruits of your labors in your lives.
At my garden, we’ve had a very small harvest so far this year, but it’s not over yet.
We got six zucchinis, and three cucumbers. One cucumber is left on the vine, and then I think I will be pulling them out of the ground, as they have turned mostly to brown crispy dried up leaves, with a few scattered bright gold blossoms. The sunflowers, however, are the stars of the garden. We planted giant ones that are about eight feet tall now.
Our tomatoes are just now starting to produce. We shall see how well we fare!
Since the last Sabbat, however, I have harvested much more, personally than my garden has. I have somehow been lucky enough to grow closer to some loved ones, and to get back in touch with some I’ve not visited with in quite some time.
A visit with a friend I met 22 years ago reminded me of how we die back, and rejuvenate ourselves after rest.
This friend is in her mid 70’s, and died back for a bit when her husband passed. She’s back in full force, the spitfire matron of her family, and she’s out there running circles around many of us decades younger!
Not everybody has been as lucky as my friend. She was able to rebound from this horrible tragedy, and is still going strong. I know other people whose tragedies slowed them down much more, and they are still recovering, trying to get their lives back on track.
I told one such friend who is nearly recovered, that we need to strive to be like my matron friend! We have a lot of years ahead of us, hopefully, and we want them to be productive, happy, and blessed with the abundance of love, and prosperity.
It gave me a lot think about in regards to thankfulness, reaping what we sow, and good fortune. It also makes me think of how much we have to be thankful for from our elders.
All the things they did before us are the things we now build upon. Then, what we do adds to the foundations our children build their futures upon. Our elders shaped us so we could further shape others. Where would any of us be today without them?
Mabon is about the dying back of the god, who will be reborn, as does the earth. It is when day and night are equal, and afterwards, nights lengthen, creating shorter days. We move toward Samhain, the beginning of Winter.
The turning wheel of seasons and Sabbats reminds me of how, as human beings, we move through our own personal cycles. Time not being linear, we often come back around to what we began.
One way we do this is that, as we age and grow, we become wise, and share our wisdom with those we are mentoring. They in turn, mentor others. We become, for one another, the eternal and never-ending cycling life, and time, creating, and changing traditions, and sacred ways together.
I made the mistake of waiting until only a couple days of due date to start thinking of what I wanted to write about for this Sabbat! Likely, I will be a day or two late turning this article in! As usual, I pulled up the past couple years of articles to ensure I don’t write about the exact same thing again.
It dawned on me I’d only read of Mabon ap Modron. I knew we called the Sabbat Mabon, and yet I’ve never met a devotee of his, nor have I attended ritual that specifically venerated him. I was reminded that one of the early Wiccans, Aidan Kelly named the Sabbat Mabon…and lucky for me, he is on my friends list on Facebook. I say that he is one of my elders being what I consider a founder, and I consider him an elder of everybody who calls themselves Wiccan today. We are more than blessed for all he is done, and very lucky he is still there for us.
He was kind enough to agree to let me ask questions and include what he answered in this article.
First, a bit about him.
A picture when Aidan Kelly was younger- even younger than I am!
A more recent photo of him!
I, however, first heard about him from my Priest, Lord Shadow, who is a strong believer in dispelling all forms of bullshit. He spoke highly of Kelly’s publication Crafting the Art of Magic, which enjoyed a second edition in 2008 as Inventing Witchcraft.
This publication gave evidence that Wicca was created by Gardner, and showed where he got inspiration for certain things used in it. For example, there are some things that were garnered from sources like Crowley, which were in no way an unbroken set of practices from pre-Xtian British practice. Kelly listed plenty of reasons there is no evidence Gardner was actually initiated in 1939 by an established coven as he claimed.
Some people were highly pissed off by this.
Some said Kelly published secret information from Gardner’s Book of Shadows, supposed to be for Coven members only.
I always get a kick out of how somebody could be upset by the public having knowledge of Gardner’s work since he actively published so “secret” information, himself. There were actually early Wiccans who were quite upset Gardner spoke so publicly about Wicca, and they, personally were concerned about being outed from the broom closet. Much could be written on just this topic itself.
You can find Gardner’s Book of Shadows to read for free on Sacred-texts.com. Better yet, I will provide the link here. I am sure plenty of Gardnerians have personal Books of Shadows that are different from this one, however, as some create their own Books.
Gardner also drew much inspiration from Margaret Alice Murray’s writings. She had been a prominent Egyptologist, and her claims the witch trials were persecuting actual practices were not well received by everybody. Gardner was, however, more than inspired by her claims.
While some hold fast the belief what we do in Wicca is what has always been done, others reject the idea that Wicca was the folk religion of ancient Britain that went underground during “burning times”. Many assert it is modern practice, created in modern times, and inspired by modern writings, interpretation of ancient lore, and the very creative minds of Gardner and others.
Just because it’s neo practice, and an attempt to revive veneration of these old gods does not make it any less valid to many of us. With the evidence out there that Gardner created Wicca, and others like Doreen Valiente helped polish it, I have never understood the need some have to believe Wicca is a carbon copy of pre-Xtian Pagan practice. Wicca today is changing, and means many different things to many different people. Fifty years from now, it will be even more different. Wicca is a living tradition, and that means it evolves, which suits the people who practice it. That’s a good thing.
Thankfully, Kelly, himself is still teaching and writing various topics, and he’s sharing the beautiful poetry he composes.
Here is the short interview I did with him about Mabon.
Mabon Interview of Aidan Kelly
Saoirse– “Why, specifically did you name the Sabbat Mabon is my big question?”
Kelly– “Archaeological and mythological evidence is that the fall equinox is an ancient ( at least 5k years) fest associated with death and rebirth of a young person (Kore, Issac) . Mabon is the only one I could find in the Northern myths.”
Saoirse– “ I was marveling that I have NEVER met a devotee to that god, however, I have attended plenty of Mabon rites. I am wondering if you think this is typical these days, and Neo-Pagans have broadened pantheons?”
Kelly– “Actually, he is a minor character in an obscure tale in the Mabinogin, so that’s not surprising. But lots of people want to argue that he should be honored on some other Sabbat, because they don’t get what question I was asking.”
Saoirse– “And what was the question you were asking?”
Kelly– “What myth about a child rescued from death night have been associated with the equinox in Northern cultures?”
Saoirse– “And Mabon was, absolutely. That is interesting that although we don’t venerate Mabon specifically, we call it Mabon anyhow in the rites I have seen, the god who dies is not named- he is just called the god.”
Kelly– “We have the four Gaelic names for the Celtic Sabbats, but only three Saxon names for the other four, which are far older. I wanted a name poetically parallel to Yule, Eostre, and Litha. I would have preferred a Saxon name, but could not find one. And Mabon ap Modren means “son of the mother” just as Kore (girl) is “daughter of the mother.”
Saoirse– “I am thinking Balder, except he was not resurrected- unfortunately
What initial reactions did people have to your naming it Mabon? Did those reactions change over time?”
Kelly– “I used the name in the “Pagan-Craft” calendar I was putting out in 1974 (first of its kind, AFAIK), sent a copy to Oberon. He liked it, started using it in Green Egg, and it went the 1970s equivalent of viral. I don’t remember when I started getting arguments, because they are not important enough to qualify for being remembered.”
Saoirse– “I agree! Did you specifically write Autumnal Equinox rites that included Mabon ap Modron? Or had you attended any? I have not, myself, and I am wondering what you feel would be appropriate in ritual?”
Kelly– “No, our Mabon Sabbat is a commemoration of the Eleusinian Mysteries and so is focused on Kore/Persphone, with Demeter, Hades, Hermes, and Hekate and a couple of other gpoddesses in supporting roles.”
Then, Kelly was good enough to scan, and send me a copy of the ritual, which I will share here. It is a full eighteen pages long!
So, before I share it, I will share my suggested working if you don’t want to use Kelly’s, that is!
Before you read the rituals, here is the link to last years article I did for Mabon, which has a little more historic information.
Saoirse’s 2017 Mabon Working
I suggest an honoring of an elder.
How you do this all depends on what your own particular elder appreciates.
For me, I’m baking my Priest a pie. He loves my pies.
Some like to be taken out for dinner. Some just like a visit.
If however, you prefer an actual ritual, I suggest a blessing of your elder.
Unless you have your own way of doing this, I suggest a simple way of doing so.
You may prefer to do this with just the two of you, or you may do so before a group.
I love to do blessing rites at night, and by candlelight, or around a fire outdoors, personally.
Use whatever oil you deem appropriate for anointing. Be aware some people have sensitive skin, and some essential oils will burn skin if applied full strength. You can use a drop or two of your chosen oil with light olive oil, or just use olive oil, itself, which you can easily say a prayer over to bless.
Select the incense you feel is appropriate. I prefer Nag Champa for everything, personally. It’s a sandalwood blend which I use to cleanse and bless.
Select the appropriate candle. I use plain old white tealights.
Then, you will need a small bowl of water. Some people buy filtered water for this. I just use tap water, myself.
For this working, I do not suggest blessing the materials used first, because YOU are the one doing the blessing, and the materials you use to represent the elements are just representations of your, personal blessing. I realize not everybody feels his way about magical materials. If you feel more comfortable blessing the items beforehand, I agree you should do so in your own way.
You will light the candle first, then light the incense from the candle. Place the candle, incense, oil, and water on your chosen table, or altar.
Standing or sitting by your elder, tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them how thankful you are to them. (You might want to have a box of kleenex handy!)
Pick up the incense. Smudge your elder with this, and say “You are a lifegiver, breathing your wisdom and words of truth into me. I will never be lost in ignorance or confusion thanks to your words. Because of all you have taught me, I will be as a voice of truth, and teach others. “ Put the incense back in its place on your altar.
Then hold the candle up before your elder, and say, “You are a beacon in the darkness, lighting the way for me. I will never be lost in the dark thanks to your love and guidance. Because of all you have done for me, and taught me, I will be as a bright light to guide others.” Replace the candle on the altar.
Pick up the water, and you don’t want to splash a lot on your elder. Just dab a few dots of it on them here and there, or sprinkle it around them. Say, “ You fill me with the waters of life. Because of you, I will never be empty. I will never thirst. Because of all the life you have filled me with, I will go forth, and fill others.” Replace the water in its place on the table.
Pick up the oil. Put a little drop of it on your thumb, and trace your sacred symbol on their forehead. Mine is of course, the pentagram, yours might be something else. As you trace your symbol, say, “My beloved elder, I bless you in the name of our faith and our gods. May you be blessed with good health, great wealth, long life, and great love. Blessed Be.”
And then feed them something yummy!
Aiden’s Kelly’s Elusinian Ritual for Mabon Sabbat
This is a total of 18 pages, and was kindly provided for education including footnotes! Kelly wrote this, including the poetry, and its first full scale performance was in 1973. Blessed Mabon, and Blessed Be!
H. The Eleusinian ritual for the Mabon Sabbat
White Priestess, or Priestess of Jana;
Green Priestess, or Priestess of Sophia;
Black Priestess, or Priestess of Persephone;
The Black Man;
After all have been gathered into a circle, the Black Man makes needed announcements, such as about “Rain/Grow” and what to do with candles. The normal NROOGD Opening is then done, down through the Calling of the Quarters. At that point, with the Black Man still holding the sword in the center of the circle, the special ritual begins.
[First Speech of the Sacred Herald]
It happened one day that the Lord of All Unseen was driving his chariot around the boundaries of Sicily, checking the firmness of its foundations, to be sure that the giant who is pinned beneath the island could not tear it up, and so expose those who dwell below to the frightening rays of the Sun. As he drove, he was seen by the Lady of Mount Eryx, whom some call Aphrodite, and some call Persephone, as she sat upon her airy throne.
WHITE PRIESTESS [Music #1, Venus’s Song]1
Here I sit upon my hill,
Maiden of every young man’s dream,
But I am living proof, my love,
That women are rarely what they seem.
For here I am the Queen of Death
And yet the Queen of Love:
My right hand holds the pomegranate
And my left, the dove.
I dance in many masks for men,
Sing many songs, play many parts,
And by my hands tell who I am,
Just before I break your heart.
I am the White Lady of your dreams
Whom you both long and fear to seize.
I lead you on through silver lands
Of singing stones and melting trees.
Wherever you look, you see me there:
Aphrodite on her shell,
Luna sailing through the leaves,
Persephone in Hell.
And now, my love, a tale we’ll tell
Of lovely wars and witty strife:
As poets always have foretold,
Death will be overcome by life.
This mountain is an organ pipe:
Beneath it Typhon groans and shakes
Where Zeus has trapped him for his crimes,
Breathing fire and belching quakes.
Hades, Lord of All Unseen,
Rides around the island’s coasts,
Fearing the quakes will let in light
To terrify his subject ghosts.
So, love, go pierce his gloomy heart
And let him chase me by the shore
Until I turn and capture him
And win the last third of my war.2
And so, resolving to regain the rest of her former realm, she dispatched her Eros to pierce his heart. Thus it happened that, heartsore and lonely, Hades came to Zeus, to ask for the hand of Kore, the only daughter of Zeus and Demeter; and Zeus, for his own reasons, gave his permission.
Soon afterward Kore was out one day, gathering flowers beside the sea with her companions, the daughters of the ocean. Suddenly, wild a wild clamor, there appeared a great golden chariot. Its driver scooped Kore up in his arms, and disappeared with her into a chasm that opened in the earth.
Demeter, her mother, hearing Kore’s fading cry, ran to find her, but she was nowhere to be seen. Demeter searched over the entire world, until finally, weary and despairing, she came to Eleusis, in disguise, and accepted a position as nursemaid to the King’s infant son. In gratitude for the royal family’s hospitality, she began the make the child immortal, by laying him in the fire every night. But one night the Queen came upon them, and screamed in terror. In sudden anger Demeter cast the child upon the ground, and told the Queen that her child would remain mortal. Then, revealing her true identity, she ordered that a temple be built for her and that the mysteries of Eleusis be founded.
BLACK MAN/HERMES raises sword and sings the following as recitatif.
[Music #2, Agyrmos]
Keep solemn silence! Keep solemn silence! We sing, to Demeter and Kore, to Her who bears fair offspring, to the nourisher of youth, to the wealthy one, and to the threefold Graces. If your tongue is comprehensible, and no blood is on your soul, attend! Attend! For here we begin the mysteries of the Twofold Goddess, and of Her gift to mankind, that death is no longer our evil. To all who do this with us, abundant good shall come. Io! Evohe!
The BLACK MAN/HERMES steps back to the altar, and the three priestesses step forward.
[Music #3, Kore’s Song]
Cora, my child, so gentle and wild,
Dance, while flowers sing praises for you.
Kore dances into center of circle and continues dancing.
Soon you must pass into woman’s knowledge;
Dance in your innocence, soon to be lost.
The Gods have their plans, despite those of man,
For all of nature depends on changing.
You have been chosen to turn the seasons:
Soon will the Lord of the Night share his throne.
Behold, He comes, the Lord of the Drum,
Hades dances into circle; he and Kore dance a duet of seduction.
With his brilliant white hair and laughter.
He who rules Death is the perfect lover:
He brings you flowers though snow’s on the ground.
ALL THREE PRIESTESSES
Persephone, what do you see
From your throne in the land of secrets?
The flowers of summer have long since faded;
Yet even in winter there’s fire in the ground.
Hades and Kore conclude their duet by dancing out of the circle and down to the sea. The priestesses return to the altar.
[Music #4, Demeter’s Dance of Grief]
dances into circle and mimes a search for her daughter, then lights her two torches at the cauldron. She gestures all to come forward to light their candles, then leads all down to the sea.
To the sea! To the sea! Haladay mustai!
At the sea, BLACK MAN/HERMES halts the procession.
plants her torches in the sand, strips, and plunges into the sea. Rising from the sea, she stands briefly between the torches, then her attendants wrap her in towels, then replace her robe. Picking up her torches, she now leads the procession on a devious path to the underworld.
At the entrance to the underworld, all are instructed to put out their candles as soon as they have found a place to stand inside. The next speech is said in the dark, as bullroarers sound.
Here, in the lands below the earth,
We come to seek a recompense.
A girl is dead. That’s clear,
And all too close to home, for every time
We ask “What does it mean?” and, being human,
Cannot rest until we have an answer.
For behold! Demeter, the mother of all life,
In rage at the loss of her daughter,
Has sealed herself up in her temple,
And all life has slowed and stopped.
Here time itself stands still.
But now Zeus nods, the knot unties,
The balance is transcended.
For it is not Kore who’s restored, but us:
It is Persephone who comes, and she is every girl
Who faces a door she must go through,
Through which she can never return.
Hear the mystery of Eleusis!
The Queen of the Dead is the source of our life!
sings, to tune of Music #1
Our Lady is the Queen of Death,
And yet the Queen of Love:
Her right hand holds the pomegranate,
And her left, the dove.
[Music #5, Proclamation of the Mystery]
Holy Brimo, the raging slayer, has born the holy child, Brimos, in fire!
The mighty Goddess has given birth to the mighty God!
All sing back “Io! Evohe!” and orchestra immediately breaks into Persephone’s Dance.
[Music #6, Hymn to Victorious Persephone]
Khaire, Persephone Nike!
At the crash of the gong, the underworld is flooded with light; Persephone leaps into view and dances wildly to the music of the hymn.
Who is great in the sheaves of the last of the wheat
When the mowers cut it all down!
She is the one with the power!
She will dance on the skulls of the last of the great
As they turn to honey and wine.
She holds the branch of renewal!
For the sword cuts the branch to the ground in the fall
But the branch will blossom in spring.
Hail to the dance of the Black One!
She has trampled on death and has shown us the path
That will bring us each to rebirth!
Make way for the Queen of Hell!
Persephone marches out, followed by the BLACK MAN/HERMES. She takes one torch and begins to lead the procession back to the circle.
BLACK MAN/HERMES uses other torch to relight everyone’s candles, then joins end of procession, followed by the musicians. Back at the circle site, Persephone continues dancing as the circle reforms. When it is complete, BLACK MAN/HERMES signals the musicians to silence.
Persephone draws an ear of wheat or corn from her bosom and holds it aloft for all to see. Demeter screams in anguish as Hades crawls forward from under her skirt, then leaps to his feet and dances over to join Persephone in their Wedding Dance.
[Music #8, Marriage Song of Moon and Sun]
I am the white and somber wench,
Knife of the hunter,
New of the moon.
I climb the hill of the changing halves
And burn in leaves of the verging trees.
Leap of the shadow,
Flash of the arrow,
Crimson and silver I reap and weave.
I am the gold and amber man,
Sired by the sun,
Born of the moon.
I slay the Gorgon for my shield
And take the musing Moon to wife.
Sword of the father,
Wand of the mother,
Sunwise and whirling I ride the sea.
I am the green and secret wife,
Fire of the wedding,
Bells of the sea.
I wind the round of the breeding moon,
O furrow the earth beneath my knees!
Blue of the harpers,
Gold of the pipers,
Threefold and singing I plow the seed.
I am the iron and scarlet man,
Blow of the hammer,
Cry of the steel.
I riddle the secrets of the trees
and lead the dance of the harvest moon.
Forge of the mother,
Spark of the maker,
Fourfold and lightning in every nerve.
I am the black and comely bitch,
Pipes of the crescent,
Beats of the Earth.
I stir the fire of the howling night
and bless the cup of the fertile seas
Gongs of the dancers,
Flames of the banners,
Sunwise in silence I clear and sow.
I am the black and violet man,
Branch of renewal,
Words of the owl.
I guide the track of the spiral dance
Across the sky and under the waves.
Mask of the hero
Reversed in a mirror,
I am the reaper who stays to sow.
BLACK MAN/HERMES AND GREEN PRIESTESS
now charge the “eggs and tea”: chopped hard-boiled eggs in a tambourine or other drum, and the “kykeon” (mixture) tea in a cymbal.
[Music #9, Blessing of the Offerings]
When Her name is memory, Her voices are a choir.
They stir the cup of music, of poetry and fire.
And when Her name is Mystery, She brews the cup that sings,
“All who drink shall be reborn;
All shall have the gift of kings.”
BLACK MAN/HERMES AND GREEN PRIESTESS
She stands before, she stands beside:
The Maiden has become the Guide.
The spiral dance, the egg of life
Replace the apple and the knife.
The priestesses and any helpers now serve the eggs and tea around the circle.
Demeter brings a vessel of water to the center, and three times casts a handful of water into the air. Each time she does so, Black Man/Hermes cries out loudly
[Music #10, Blessing of the Initiates]
There is an immortality
Of the spirit and the body and the mind,
And all three immortalities
Are my gift to mankind.
There is always more; there is no end.
So rejoice! For death cannot win!
Whenever the serpent begets the bull,
The bull will father the serpent.4
Blessed be they who have seen beneath the surface of the world.
They have seen the end of life, and its Goddess-sent beginning.
Thrice blessÇd5 are they who have seen these mysteries,
For when they go to the house of the Unseen Lord,
They alone shall live in happiness.
But those who have never shared in such holy rites
Will suffer every sorrow in that house,
Until they fade away into the darkness.6
Sing each phrase back to me after I sing it to you.
[Music #11, Marturo hos Pepoika]
I have fasted.
I have drunk the kykeon.
I have eaten from the drum.
I have drunk from the cymbal.
I have entered the wedding chamber.
A kid, I have fallen into milk.
I have seen beneath the surface of the world.
I have seen the end of life
And its Goddess-sent beginning
And they are the same.
I am an initiate of mysteries.
I shall not fade away.
The ritual now ends with the normal NROOGD “Grounding and Opening of the Circle.”
Appendix to the Sabbats: Eleusinian Mysteries
The most important Athenian festival was that of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which have intrigued scholars for centuries: because the contents of the Mysteries were an Athenian state secret, we cannot be sure we have any clear idea of what happened during them. The Mysteries fell into two periods: the earlier, in Anthesterion, was called the Lesser Mysteries, and probably involved a ritual or drama about the life, death, and resurrection of Dionysos; the later, in Boedromion, was called the Greater Mysteries, and was definitely centered on the myth of the Rape of Persephone, as told in the Greek poem called the Homeric Hymn To Demeter. It has often been thought that initiation into the Lesser Mysteries was required before initiation into the Greater Mysteries, but this does not seem feasible, since in Roman times many people came from around the Empire in Boedromion to be initiated at the Greater Mysteries. (Of course, it could be that the earlier requirements were liberalized during the Imperial period.)
The Mysteries, according to both Greek legend and archaeological data, originated around 1500 B.C.E., give or take many decades, and were at least in part imported from Crete. Preserved by the local families, the Mysteries underwent a theological reform, as evidenced by the Homeric Hymn To Demeter, around 700 B.C.E., that is, at about the same time that the Athenians annexed Eleusis to their state and made the Mysteries the official religion of the Athenian empire. The Mysteries remained the central rite of Greco-Roman paganism — every civilized person tried to make the pilgrimage to Eleusis at least once in a lifetime, just as Muslims now make their Hajj to Mecca — until the fifth century C.E., when an army of Christian monks was sent in by the Byzantine emperor to tear the buildings at Eleusis down to the ground brick by brick, in order to prevent the people from going there, as they had continued to do.7
Despite the famous “secrecy” of the Mysteries, it was no more effective than the current “secrecy” of the Craft movement. We have more data about Eleusis than about any other pagan religion of antiquity, and we almost certainly do know what was done there. There is a famous story that Aeschylus, who was a native of Eleusis, as soon as his first tragedy had been produced, was called before a council of priests and accused of giving away the secret of the mysteries. Aeschylus, however, responded, “I didn’t know it was a secret”8 — which became a catchphrase in the classical world — and proceeded to demonstrate that, since he had never been initiated, it was the council of priests who were giving him information they were oathbound not to reveal (a position I have found myself in relative to the more orthodox Gardnerians). He was acquited, of course, and the Eleusinian families then proceeded to adopt the new costumes that Aeschylus had designed for his actors as the official ceremonial robes for the Mysteries9: even in the classical world, life imitated art. Since this very first tragedy would have enacted scenes perfectly familiar to us from the Greek myths, we do know what happened at Eleusis — but since we don’t know even the title of that first tragedy, we don’t know exactly which myth holds the secret. Still, it is possible to make some educated guesses, and I believe that Professor Walter Burkert of Zürich has broken the code.
Month 3. Boedromion, “month of helpers,” 30 days; began in August or September.
5 — Genesia = Nekusia = Nemesia, the clans’ feast of the dead.10 On the Proerosia see Clinton p. 22. In “the ritual of the sacred plowing observed at Eleusis, . . . members of the old priestly family known as the Bouzygai or Ox-yokers uttered many curses as they guided the plough down the furrows of the Rarian plain.”11 That “fair-tressed Demeter, yielding to her passion, lay in love with Iasion in the thrice-plowed field” (Odyssey 5.125-7) is the mythic analog to the folk ritual worked at this festival. As Plutarch (Moralia 144) comments about the three sacred plowings, “most sacred of all such sowings is the marital sowing and plowing for the procreation of children.” Obviously this Greek ritual, at the beginning of their growing season, is quite parallel to those in northern Europe associated with Beltane.
11 — The epheboi sacrifice a bull to Dionysos, under direction of the archon.12
13 — Preparations for the Eleusinian Mysteries begin: a troop of epheboi, perhaps having been purified at the Nekusia, in their “customary dress,” march from Athens to Eleusis.
14 — The epheboi escort the priestesses, and probably the other officials, from Eleusis to Athens. The priestesses carry the sacral items kept at Eleusis to the Eleusinion at the foot of the Acropolis.13 They halt for a rest at the “Sacred Figtree” in the suburbs of Athens.14
15 — This day was the Agyrmos, “assembly,” which was, according to Hesychius, the first day of the Mysteries. The Archon Basileus summoned the people to the Painted Porch to hear the Hierokeryx, the sacred herald of Eleusis, in the presence of the Hierophant and the Dadouches, call, “Keep solemn silence. Keep solemn silence. We pray to Demeter and Kore, and to Ploutos and to all the other gods, for here we begin the Mysteries of the Twofold Goddess . . . “15 The Hierophant then declared, “I speak to those who lawfully may hear: depart, all who are profane, and close the gates. . . . If your hands are impure or your tongue unintelligible, I charge you once, I charge you twice, I charge you thrice to stay away from the sacred dance of the chorus of initiates. Let all others who believe in the Two Goddesses perform the Mysteries, under the blessing of Heaven. Lady Demeter, nourisher of our souls, make us all worthy to celebrate your Mysteries.”16 He also apparently declared that initiates (at least for the duration of the festival) had to abstain from the flesh of barnyard fowl, eggs, fish, beans, pomegranates, and apples (these seem to be the rules of the nine-day “fast” that probably began on this day), and that touching these things made a person as taboo as touching a woman in childbirth or a corpse.17 He then probably announced, “At our sacred Mysteries, all Hellenes shall offer first fruits of their crops, according to ancestral usage. . . . To those who do these things shall come much good, both good and abundant crops, to whomever does not injure the Athenians, or the city of Athens, or the Two Goddesses,” that is, Demeter and Kore.18
16 — Synoekia: sacrifice of 2 oxen to Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria, “of the clans.”19 On this day the cry was Halade mustai20, “Initiates, to the sea!” All who were going to be initiated had to walk the six miles to Piraeus, driving a piglet before them, be purified in the sea with the pig21, then drive it back to Athens. We can be sure the day’s events were not overly dignified. It was to this day that Athenaeus (13, 590) referred when he wrote, “Phryne [a famous courtesan] was even more beautiful in her unseen parts. . . . At the great assmbly of the Eleusinia and at the festival of Poseidon, in full sight of the whole Greek world, she removed her cloak and let down her long hair before she stepped into the water. It was she whom Apelles took as the model for his `Aphrodite Rising from the Sea.'” (This passage is especially valuable in proving Aphrodite’s connection with the Eleusinian Mysteries.) Clement of Alexandria, in revealing what he says are the secrets of the Mysteries, begins with Aphrodite, saying, “a cake of salt and a phallus are given to the initiates, . . . who bring the tribute of a coin to the Goddess, as lovers do to a mistress.”22
17 — A sow is officially sacrificed to the Two Goddesses in their temple in Athens. Each initiate sacrifices a sheep, whose fleece is needed for the initiation, as well as the purified piglet.23
18 — The initiates remain indoors, preparing the Kykeon, “mixture,” a tea of barley and mint, and baking pastries, probably in the shapes associeted with fertility. Outdoors, the uninitiated engage in a procession honoring Asklepios, and pour libations to Dionysos.24
19 — Early in the day the initiates, the Eleusinian officials, and all others gather in the main square of Athens, all wearing myrtle wreaths and white robes or other special garb; the priests and priestesses wore red or purple cloaks, and the Hierophant and Dadouches wore a strophion (a twisted piece of cloth, worn like a sash) and had long hair.25 The statue of Iakkhos (in late classical times thought to be Dionysos as an infant) is brought from the Iakkhaion, to be carried on its annual visit to Eleusis. The same band of epheboi (obviously an “honor guard”) serve as an escort for the Eleusinian priestesses, carrying the sacra, in baskets on their heads, back to Eleusis to begin the celebration of the Mysteries. The procession is headed by the pais ap’ hestia, the “child initiated from the hearth,” whose initiation was paid for by the state26, and who represented the entire Athenian people; he or she wore a garment that left the right shoulder bare, and a short chiton (to just above the knee), carried a myrtle staff, and was followed by all the other such children from preceding years who had not yet reached adulthood.27 Everyone in the procession wore a myrtle wreath on his or her head. The 14-mile procession to Eleusis begins, passing out of Athens via the portico at the Keramicos. There are many stops for resting and performing rituals at places along the way thought to figure in Demeter’s search for the lost Kore. One is a sanctuary devoted to Zephyrus, Demeter, Kore, Athena, and Poseidon, at the place where Phytalus invited Demeter into his home to rest, in reward for which she give him the fig tree.28
At the Kephisos bridge, the crowd is entertained by a woman who plays the part of Baubo or Iambe, telling “obscene” jokes and performing “obscene” dances (which certainly included exposing her genitals to the crowd).29 There was apparently another purification in the salt lakes, the Rheitoi,30 and after crossing the narrow Rheitos bridge, the Initiates apparently were challenged by priests and had to give passwords, then had a thread tied between the right hand and left foot.31 We can also suppose that Aristophanes’ rather mild parody in The Frogs, lines 324-459, gives us a very good idea of what was actually sung during the procession to Eleusis.
20 — At sunset, when the next day began, torches were lit, and because the Greeks would have used a 7/8 rhythm (or something similar) for a procession, it turned into a torchlit dance. It may well be that they now went not directly into Eleusis, but instead down to the beach, where there may have been a ritual concerning Aphrodite, and where the initiates were probably sworn to secrecy by having the Hierophant’s key placed upon their lips.32 The torchlit procession then proceeded up from the beach and into Eleusis proper.33
The first event within the sacred grounds of Eleusis was probably a women’s dance around the Kallichoron, the “well of fair dances,” where Demeter was believed to have sat and mourned. The next would have been the Kernophoria, the offering of first fruits carried in the traditional kernos (a vase with multiple chambers), in the small temples of Demeter, Persephone, and Ploutos in the Eleusinian precinct — and offerings to chthonian deities were normally carried out at or after sunset.34
21 — On the day of the 20th and on through the 21st, the initiates were probably taken blindfolded through a series of purifications and consecrations one at a time. They probably each had a guide who had been initiated in a preceding year35, who could actually now see the procedures and so became known as an Epopt, “witness.” We have descriptions and vase paintings of candidates seated on a low throne, with left foot on a fleece, veiled and holding a torch, with a priestess holding a winnowing basket overhead, then with priests and/or priestesses dancing in a circle and singing around them.36 Judging from the “password” quoted by Clement of Alexandria — “I have fasted; I have drunk the kykeon; having worked with what I took from the basket, I placed it in the chest, then back in the basket” — each initiate must have worked some ritual with some of the sacral objects in the baskets that the priestesses carried on their heads in the procession. Clement also lists what these objects were: sesame cakes, pyramidal and spherical cakes, cakes with many navels, balls of salt, a Dionysian snake (which is obviously a phallic symbol), pomegranates, fig branches, fennel stalks, ivy leaves, round cakes, poppies, marjoram, a lamp, a sword, and a “comb,” which Clement explains is a euphemism for something that represents the female genitals.37 Perhaps the ritual worked involved placing the phallic symbol in the vaginal symbol, as some scholars have guessed, but obviously innumerable different kinds of rituals were possible with such objects.
22 — The central event in the Mysteries was a night-long ritual in the Telesterion, the Hall of Initiation, and this was the logical night for it to have happened. The initiates stood on raised steps around the edges of the Telesterion, and saw and heard something like a ritual drama.38 As Plutarch describes, “Just as persons who are being initiated into the Mysteries throng together at the outset amid tumult and shouting, and jostle against one another, but when the holy rites are being performed and disclosed, the people are immediately attentive in awe and silence . . . he who has succeeded in getting inside and has seen a great light, as though a shrine were opened, adopts another bearing, of silence and amazement, and, humble and orderly, attends upon” the gods.39 Similarly, Dio Chrysotom says, “This is like placing a man in a mystic shrine of extraordinary beauty and size to be initiated. There he would see many mystic sights and hear many mystic voices, light and darkness would appear to him alternately, and a thousand other things would occur.”40 Galen mentions that an initiate would have given himself up “wholly to the things done and said by the Hierophants.”41 Lucius of Apulia says of his own initiation, “I approached near to hell, even to the gates of Persephone, and after I was ravished throughout all the elements, I returned to my proper place. About midnight I saw the sun brightly shine. Likewise I saw the Gods celestial and infernal, before whom I presented myself and worshipped them.”42 Perhaps this is metaphor, but it could easily be a description of a Craft initiation.
Proklos relates that, “In the most holy Mysteries, the initiates at first meet many sorts of spirits . . ., but on entering the interior of the temple, . . . they genuinely receive divine illumination, and divested of their garments [my italics] they participate in the divine nature.”43 (Proklos, as a devout dualist, obviously disapproves, but I think it must look familiar to any modern Witch.)
It is very difficult to assign a sequence to the events that may have taken place in the Telesterion, but I think Harrison’s logic holds water: the Sacred Marriage would probably have been celebrated before the birth of the Sacred Child.
Asterius44 wrote, “Isn’t there the descent into darkness, the sacred intercourse of Hierophant with Priestess, he and her alone? Aren’t the torches extinguished? Doesn’t the vast assembly believe that what is done by the two in darkness is their salvation?” He was probably misinformed about Eleusis; yet his words describe precisely the attitude of Witches toward the Great Rite.
Apparently what happened next is that the doors of the central chamber, the Anaktoron, were thrown open in a flood of light from a great fire that could be seen for miles from the open roof of the Telesterion45, and the Hierophant appeared, displaying an ear of wheat to the silent crowd and shouting, “Holy Brimo has brought forth a mighty son, Brimos!”46 We know that the Hierophant displayed the “secret sacred objects” (and that is what his title means) kept in the Anaktoron, into which only he was allowed, as only the High Priest of Jerusalem was allowed into the innermost sanctuary in that temple; and that he had an extensive speaking or singing part in the proceedings, partly from within the Anaktoron.47 He may have carried the sacred objects around the Telesterion in a procession, followed by all the other priests and priestesses48; this would be parallel with the Torah procession in the synagogue. There was also much dancing; Lucian commented that there are no Mysteries without dancing, and that those who violate the secrecy of the Mysteries are said to “dance them out.”49 With a rolling beat upon a gong that produces a roar louder than a jet plane,50 Persephone herself appeared — or so her priestess would have appeared, to the eyes of faith.51 Apparently her wedding to Hades was celebrated, for Michael Psellos asserts that the words, “I have eaten from the drum, I have drunk from the cymbal, I have carried the kernos, I have entered the bridal chamber,” were sung as an accompaniment to the Anakalypteria of Kore; this term might mean only “unveiling” or “reappearance,” but it is the common Greek term for a wedding.52
Walter Burkert also argues that another key event would have focused on the pais ap’hestia, the “child initiated from the hearth,” who represented the Athenian people, and who was the ritual analog of the infant Demophon, “voice of the people,” in the Eleusinian myth. Burkert argues that the child, doped with opium from Demeter’s own poppies, was placed in a swing, and swung through the fire — but when the swing returned, in it was a ram, which was then sacrificed, and its fleece used for the next year’s initiates. Obviously this ritual is related to the story of Abraham and Isaac, and it seems fitting that the same story should turn out to underlie both Greek and Hebrew religion, whose roots all go back to the eastern Mediterranean culture of ca. 1500 B.C.E. Burkert also feels that the key to the Greeks’ strong feelings about the ritual at Eleusis is that during it they were formally adopted as children of Demeter — perhaps in a ritual that involved marching under her throne53 — so that when they went before Persephone’s throne to be judged, they would be judged according to the rules for kin, not those for strangers — and that made all the difference in the world for Greeks.
23 — The final events at Eleusis included the rite of the Plemochoai, top-shaped vases, which were tipped over, one toward the east, the other toward the west, just about at sunset, to pour a libation down into the earth, perhaps into a chasm.54 It was probably also on this last day, and perhaps as part of the same ritual, that “looking up to the sky they cried `Rain!’ and looking down at the earth they cried `Grow!'”55
2 I shouls asmit that this song was asses in the version that was part of my “doctoral dissertation in the form of a three-act myisical comedy” and was not in the original script.
3 We know from Hippolytus 5:2 (Ante-Nicene Fathers, V, 51) and from Proclus on Plato’s Timaeus 293 (cited by Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 161) that this “Rain/grow” bit of fertility magic was among the closing ceremonies at Eleusis, perhaps out on the Rharian plain, where it could not have been kept secret.
4 This is obviously a fragment from some sort of ritual; it is given by Firmicus Maternus 26; Arnobius 5:21; and Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation, 2:14.
5 This “thrice-blessed” term was standard in wedding songs; e.g., see Odysseus’s remarks to Nausicaa in the Odyssey.
6 This stanza is a rather free amalgam of the “beatitudes” in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter 480-482; Sophocles fragment 753 Nauck (from Plutarch, Moralia, 21F); and the Pindar fragment (137 Sandys) from Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, 3:3,17.
7 Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers, 475-6.
8 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 3.1.17, and Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, 2.14 (p. 361, ANF).
9 Athenaeus 1.21d.
10 Farnell, III, 23.
11 Frazer’s ed. of Apollodorus, Library, p. 227.
12 Placement is best guess; Willetts, Cretan Cults, p. 49.
13 Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 151.
14 Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists, 602;20.
15 See Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.4, 20.
16 Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 3.13.118b; Tatian, In Graec. 8; Theon of Smyrna, On the Utility of Mathematics, p. 22; Aristophanes, Frogs, 369-70, 886-7; Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet, 38.
17 Porphyry, On Abstinence, IV.
18 Harrison, Prolegomena, pp. 150, 155.
19 Nilsson, 1951, p. 166.
20 According to Clinton, p. 13, the term muesis originally referred to the preliminary instruction, or catechesis, which could be given at any time during the year by any member of the Eumolpidai or Kerykes families; this was not an initiation, but quite parallel to the guidelines that any Witch would now give to a newcomer before bringing him or her to a circle. The final ritual of the Mysteries was the telete, which took place in the sanctuary of the Telesterion, performed by the Eleusinian priests and priestesses, only once a year. Thus mustes would be better translated as “catechist” than as “initiate,” and telete does have the sense of completion.
21 Plutarch, Phocion, 27,3.
22 On the events of this day, see Harrison, Prolegomena, pp. 152-4. Clement of Alexandria, Protreptikos, 2.13.
23 On all this see Aelian, Animals, 10,16; and Aristophanes, Peace, 373-5.
24 Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 56.4; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, 4.18.
25 Clinton, p. 33.
26 Initiation was expensive; it added up to at least 12 obols, according to Clinton, p. 13, and that was about a month’s pay for the average Athenian. Hence paying for someone’s initiation was a frequent gift, especially for slaves and courtesans (as we know from Demosthenes’ Against Naeara, 21), since it could not be taken away from them.
27 Clinton, p. 108, 111.
28 Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 151.
29 See Hesychius and the Suda under Gephuris.
30 See Hesychius on Rheitoi and Pausanias, Attica, 38.1-3.
31 See Photius, Krokoun.
32 See Sophocles, OEdipus at Colonus, 1045-53; Pausanius, Elis, 1.20.3.
33 The use of torches for nocturnal processions was no secret; and I think the “torchlit search for Kore” (as in, e.g., Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 1.21) was merely an allegorical interpretation of this procession in light of the story of Demeter and Kore.
34 Here Psellos’s second icon fits: torches because it was night; drums and cymbals as both musical instruments for the procession and vessels to pour the offering, in the form of a pelanos.
35 Referred to by Plutarch, Moralia, 765A.
36 See Dio Chrysostom, Discourse 12, 33; Plato, Euthydemus 277d; Eph. Arch. 1885, p. 150. Gilbert Murray, Five Stages, p. 23, says the Dadouchos is the initiator during this stage. If Aristophanes, Clouds, 259ff, is not just foolery, the catechist was also sprinkled with flour or chalk at some point.
37 Clement of Alexandria, Protreptikos, 2.18-9.
38 See, e.g., ibid., 2.12. That the rituals lasted all night is stated by Clinton, p. 38, citing I.G. II2, 3639; see also Greek Anthology, XI, Epigram 42.
39 Plutarch, Moralia, 81d-e.
40 Dio Chrysostom, Discourse 12, 33.
41 Galen, de Usu. Part., 7.14.469, cited by Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 157.
42 Lucius of Apulia, The Golden Ass, 11.23. For a similar description, see Plutarch, Moralia, frag.178.
43 Proklos, Platonic Theology, p. 7.
44 As cited by Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 563.
45 It is referred to by Plutarch, Themistocles, 15.1.
46 See Burkert, Homo Necans, for a convincing argument why this passage from Hippolytus, 5.4, is trustworthy. Brimo is a title of Hecate, who seems to complete a triad with Kore and Demeter; see Apollonios of Rhodes, Argonautica, 861-2, 1211, and Lycophron, Alexandra, 1175ff; Propertius 2.2.11 presents this Hecate Brimo as a lover of the Hermes who is a major deity of the Samothracian Mysteries. This line also seems to be reflected in Euripides, Suppliants, 54, which takes place at Eleusis.
47 See Clinton, pp. 39 & 46, citing I.G. II2, 3411, and Aelian, Varia Historia, frag. 10.
48 Clinton, p. 47.
49 Lucian, The Dance, 15.
50 Ovid, Art of Love, 610; Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 140, citing Apollodorus of Athens as quoted by the scholiast on Theocritus, Idylls, 2.10. Olivier Messiaen, scholar and classicist that he is, uses this sound in his Et Expecto Resurrectionem Mortuis, “I Expect the Resurrection of the Dead.”
51 See Clinton, p. 47, and the sources he cites.
52 These words are cited by Clement, op. cit., 2.14, and discussed by Psellos in his comments on the third icon. See also the scholiast on Plato, Gorgias, 497C, cited by Harrison, Prolegomena, p. 158.
53 E.g., see the ritual described at the end of the final myth in Plato’s Republic.
54 See Athenaios 11.496.
55 Given by Proklos on Plato’s Timaeus, p. 293; also mentioned by Hippolytus 5.2. Aeschylus, fragment 25, in which Aphrodite declares that she is the cause of the amorous rain that impregnates the earth to bring forth Demeter’s gifts, also shows that here again Aphrodite is tied to the Eleusinian rites. Hesychius gives “Konx hompax” as the final words of the initiation; despite much scholarly ingenuity at restoration, these appear to be indecipherable nonsense.
About the Author:
Saoirse is a recovered Catholic. I was called to the Old Ways at age 11, but I thought I was just fascinated with folklore. At age 19, I was called again, but I thought I was just a history buff, and could not explain the soul yearnings I got when I saw images of the Standing Stones in the Motherland. At age 29, I crossed over into New Age studies, and finally Wicca a couple years later. My name is Saoirse, pronounced like (Sare) and (Shah) Gaelic for freedom. The gods I serve are Odin and Nerthus. I speak with Freyja , Norder, and Thunor as well. The Bawon has been with me since I was a small child, and Rangda has been with me since the days I was still Catholic. I received my 0 and 1 Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, and my Elder is Lord Shadow. We practice in Columbus, Ohio. I am currently focusing more on my personal growth, and working towards a Second and Third Degree with Shadow. I received a writing degree from Otterbein University back in 2000. I have written arts columns for the Arts Council in Westerville. I give private tarot readings and can be reached through my Facebook page Tarot with Saoirse. You can, also, join me on my Youtube Channel.