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Ancient Greek Festivals

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Festivals
Elaphebolia (ἐλαφηβόλια).

The greatest festival in the town of Hyampolis in Phocis, and celebrated in honour of Artemis, in commemoration, it is said, of a victory which its inhabitants had gained over the Thessalians, who had ravaged the country and reduced the Phocians in the neighbourhood of the town nearly to the last extremity ( De Mul. Virt. p. 244 B; Pausan. x. 35. 4). The only particular which we know of its celebration is, that a peculiar kind of cake (ἔλαφος) was made on the occasion (Athen. xv. p. 646 e). These cakes were, as their name indicates, probably made in the shape of a stag or a deer and offered to the goddess.

Eleusinia Mysteries

Date : 13/15-21/22 Boedromion

When Demeter came to our land, in her wandering after the rape of Kore, and, being moved to kindness towards our ancestors by services which may not be told save to her initiates, gave these two gifts, the greatest in the world - the fruits of the earth, which have enabled us to rise above the life of the beasts, and the holy rite which inspires in those who partake of it sweeter hopes regarding both the end of life and all eternity, - our city was not only so beloved of the gods but also so devoted to mankind that, having been endowed with these great blessings, she did not begrudge them to the rest of the world, but shared with all men what she had received. The mystic rite we continue even now, each year, to reveal to the initiates; and as for the fruits of the earth, our city has, in a word, instructed the world, in their uses, their cultivation, and the benefits derived from them. Isocrates Panegyricus 28-29

Information from a culture trip in Greece:

Eleusis was the home of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the most important cult religion of antiquity before Christianity. Like most ancient religious centers, Eleusis was used for cult practices far into prehistoric times, but its fame and importance greatly increased during the 6th century BC, when a major building project was carried out by the Athenian tyrant Peisistratos. Another large-scale reconstruction occurred during the 2nd century AD, especially during the reigns of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. The cult continued to function until the end of the 4th century.

The Eleusinian religion was based on the myth of Demeter and her daughter Kore (Persephone). After Kore had been carried off by her uncle Hades to be his bride and the queen of the underworld, Demeter searched for her everywhere; when she came to Eleusis, she disguised herself as an old woman and sat by a well; the women of Eleusis, coming to draw water, tried to talk to Demeter but got no response until a woman named Baubo or Iambe exposed herself to the goddess; Demeter smiled and told the women the fiction that she was Doso from Crete, that she had been captured by pirates, and was now wandering friendless and penniless; having secured a position as nursemaid to the infant son of King Keleus and Queen Metaneira, Demeter held the baby every night in the fire, trying to burn away its mortality; one night Metaneira came upon this scene and cried out; Demeter revealed her true identity, commanded the Eleusinians to build her a temple, and sealed herself inside; since she was the goddess of fertility and vegetation, nothing grew during her isolation; finally Zeus, realizing that without crops, animals, or humans being born there was no future for the gods, commanded his brother Hades to return Kore to her mother; Hades did so, but since Kore had eaten pomegranate seeds in the underworld she was compelled to spend half of each year above the earth and half below (in fact, despite this arrangement, we never hear of Kore/Persephone henceforth other than as the queen of the underworld).

Eleusinian Mysteries

Information from a PAGAN website about this strange and mysterious event:

They are, of course, mysteries, so some things about them remain concealed, in particular, the contents of the Sacred Kistai (boxes) and the actual initiation of the Mystai (Initiates). Anyone can be initiated, regardless of age or sex. The festival is conducted by the Arkhon Basileus and four assistants. Two of these, the Hierophantes and Dadoukhos (Torch Bearer), wear the ependytes (a long-sleeved tunic ornamented at the hem and shoulders), headband and Thrakian knee-boots; they carry one or two long torches. Further, there are Mystagogoi (Initiate Guides), who guide individual postulants, often their friends, through the initiation.

Preparation — 13th-14th

Preparations begin two days before the Mysteries proper (13th Boedromion): on the 13th two mounted Epheboi (Youths) travel to Eleusis and and on the 14th they accompany Ta Hiera (the Holy Things), contained in round Kistai bound with purple ribbons, which are brought by wagon to Athens, where they are received at the shrine (Eleusinion). (Mylonas has guessed that Ta Hiera are Mykenean goddess figures.) An official, the Phaidryntes (Cleaner) of the Two Goddesses, reports their arrival to Athena's priestess (as at the Skira, Athena's priestess pays her respects to Demeter's). (The Two Goddesses are, of course, Demeter and Persephone, but Their names are considered too sacred to be mentioned in the rites.)

1st Day: Agyrmos (Gathering) — 15th

The would-be Mystai, who must have already been initiated in the Lesser Mysteries, gather in the Agora. The Kerykes (Herald) calls for them to step forward, and informs them that they must have "a soul conscious of no evil" and that they "must have lived well and justly." Those afflicted by blood-guilt or other impurity are warned away. At this time names may be taken, and it may be ensured that the postulant is already initiated in the Lesser Mysteries. The postulant spends the remainder of the day in spiritual exercises recommended by his or her Mystagogos.

2nd Day: "Seaward, Initiates" — 16th

The second day is for purification. The postulants travel to the sea (or other place of ritual cleansing). On the order "Seaward, Initiates!" they enter the water with their offering so that both may be purified by salt water. In ancient times the offering was a piglet, which was supplied to the postulant, for the pig is sacred to Demeter. In the evening the piglet was sacrificed and the postulant was sprinkled with its blood; later there might be a feast on the pork.

3rd Day: "Hither the Victims" — 17th

The third day is for the main sacrifice to the Two Goddesses.

4th Day: Epidauria — 18th

On this day the postulant secludes him- or herself indoors to prepare mentally for the initiation. There are also celebrations for the god Asklepios, for on this day in 420 BC He came, with his daughter Hygeia (Health) and His sacred snake, and requested the Eleusinian initiation.

5th Day: March to Eleusis — 19th

The mounted Epheboi, the postulant Mystai, their Mystagogoi, initiated Mystai, and the officicals escort Ta Hiera back to Eleusis. The procession begins at the shrine of Iakkhos, and his priest, the Iakkhogogos (Iakkhos Guide), leads the procession with the sacred image of Iakkhos, which depicts Him as a torch-bearing youth. Iakkhos is the Eleusinian name of Dionysos/Bakkhos; in the procession He is the joyous attendant of the Two Goddesses, and mediates between Them and the Mystai. The marchers are accompanied by musicians (flute, harp, voice); all join in the ecstatic cry, "Iakkhe!" ("Shout!"). The Mystai wear garlands of myrtle and may carry bakkhoi, which are bundles of myrtle branches tied with wool; they may also carry a sack of travel necessities on a pole. Religious observances ar made a sacred sites along the way. At one place the Krokidai tie a yellow woolen thread (kroke) on the right hand and left leg of each postulant. At another place disguised men verbally abuse the postulants, which may drive away bad luck. The final part of the procession is by torchlight, because Demeter is traditionally depicted seeking Kore by torchlight. At night the postulant offers to Demeter the Kernos, which is an earthenware dish with many small cups attached; small offerings of the fruits of the earth (grain, peas, beans, etc.) are placed in the cups. The postulant shares these with the Goddess.

6th Day: Initiation — 20th

On the day of Initiation sacrifices of corn meal are made to the Two Goddesses. In sympathy with Demeter when she mourned the absent Kore, the postulants fast and prepare themselves mentally for the sacred rite. Towards evening, like Demeter when she accepted the drink from Metanaira, the postulants drink the Kykeon (mixed drink), comprising water, barley meal, and pennyroyal. (There is debate about the ingredients of the Kykeon, but this is the formula given in the "Homeric Hymn to Demeter.") The initiation, which lasts throughout the night, takes place in a closed building called the Telesterion (Initiation Place); in its centre is the Anaktoron (Place of the Anax — King), the "Holy of Holies" to which no-one but the Hierophantes (Revealer) is admitted. The specifics of the initiation are, of course, secret, and have not been revealed to this day (though a great deal of conjecture has been published). However, they involve Things Said, Things Done, and Things Revealed. There is music, song, and speech; there are ritual actions; there are revelations by torchlight. Thereby the Mystai participate in Demeter's joy at the restoration of Persephone. The effect of the Mysteries on the initiate is profoundly transformative. Even the clothes worn during the initiation are consecrated thereafter. The Epoptai (Those Who Have Seen) are the initiates of the highest level (who must have been Mystai for at least one year), who have beheld the supreme symbol of Demeter, as Triptolemos, the first Initiate, beheld it, and they have witnessed the Hieros Gamos (Sacred Marriage) of Demeter and Zeus.

7th Day: Plemokhoai — 21st

Each Mystes has two water-filled Plemokhoai (Flowing Floodtides), which are earthenware vessels shaped like a spinning-top. One is tipped out to the east and the other to the west, while the Mystes pronounces a spell known only to initiates.

George E. Mylonas, Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries. Princeton University Press, 1961

Thomas R. Martin on the Eleusinian Mysteries

Kykeon

THE DIVINE MOTHER AND THE VEIL OF DEATH The Mysteries of Eleusis by Sanderson Beck

In Greek:

Τα Ελευσίνια Μυστήρια υπόσχονταν στους μυημένους

Eleutheria / Games of Freedom

Dedication: In honor of those who lost their lives for the liberty of Greece.

A general assembly of all the Greeks being called, Aristides proposed a decree, that the deputies and religious representatives of the Greek states should assemble annually at Plataea, and every fifth year celebrate the Eleutheria, or games of freedom. And that there should be a levy upon all Greece, for the war against the barbarians, of ten thousand spearmen, one thousand horse, and a hundred sail of ships; but the Plataeans to be exempt, and sacred to the service of the gods, offering sacrifice for the welfare of Greece. These things being ratified, the Plataeans undertook the performance of annual sacrifice to such as were slain and buried in that place; which they still perform in the following manner. On the sixteenth day of Maemacterion (which with the Boeotians is Alalcomenus) they make their procession, which, beginning by break of day, is led by a trumpeter sounding for onset; then follow certain chariots loaded with myrrh and garlands; and then a black bull; then come the young men of free birth carrying libations of wine and milk in large two - handed vessels, and jars of oil and precious ointments, none of servile condition being permitted to have any hand in this ministration, because the men died in defence of freedom; after all comes the chief magistrate of Plataea, (for whom it is unlawful at other times either to touch iron, or wear any other colored garment but white), at that time apparelled in a purple robe; and, taking a water - pot out of the city record - office, he proceeds, bearing a sword in his hand, through the middle of the town to the sepulchres. Then drawing water out of a spring, he washes and anoints the monuments, and sacrificing the bull upon a pile of wood, and making supplication to Jupiter and Mercury of the earth, invites those valiant men who perished in the defence of Greece, to the banquet and the libations of blood. After this, mixing a bowl of wine, and pouring out for himself, he says, "I drink to those who lost their lives for the liberty of Greece." These solemnities the Plataeans observe to this day. Plutarch, Lives , Aristides

Pausanias Paus. 9.2.6 :

Even at the present day they hold every four years games called Eleutheria (Of Freedom), in which great prizes are offered for running. The competitors run in armour before the altar. The trophy which the Greeks set up for the battle at Plataea stands about fifteen stades from the city.

Epidauria (τὰ Ἐπιδαύρια).

Dedication: Asklepios

Date : 17 or 18 Boedromion

Pausanias (Perseus)

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