A Month of Devotional Thought — Demeter, Day 11

Today’s post is going to be one of the longer ones concerning Demeter as it deals with Festivals and days/times sacred to her. There seems to be an entire cycle of festivals dealing with the agricultural year that can be tied to Demeter.

Probably the best known of these is the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, whose initiates were supposedly granted a blessed afterlife unless they committed a grievous offense against the Theoi after their participation. However the Greater Mysteries were only one of over a half-dozen festivals in this cycle, some of whom were actually necessary to prepare the initiates for participation in the Greater Mysteries.

The festival that I *think* is the first in the cycle is the Proerosia which prepares for plowing the fields during the beginning of the Ancient Greek agricultural year (in many places throughout the world this is harvest, but for grain crops like winter wheat this applies). As this festival is best known for being held at Eleusis, it can be inferred that this is linked in some way to the Greater Mysteries.

It is followed in the Attic Festival Calendar by the Thesmophoria which in Athens was celebrated as a five-day festival which included a woman-only component. It is theorized that this festival was a ritual reenactment of Demeter’s search for Persephone and her grieving over the loss of her daughter. It includes a portion where women would tell jokes in honor of Iambe called the Stenia. Little is known about the Stenia other than this and that it was women-only in a culture where most of the festivals were open to both genders. There was a sacrifice of piglets at this festival and with the information given about other festivals, the corpses of the sacrifices were used in other festivals to fertilize the fields.

These festivals were followed by the Haloa, a festival that appears to have been named after the “halos”, or threshing floor, where the grain is separated from the chaff so that it can be stored for use. Unfortunately, this festival is another one where there is little known other than it appears to have included a fertility rite as one of it’s components.

The next festival in the cycle is the Lesser Mysteries, occurring about half-way around the year from the Greater Mysteries. Although it was originally a separate festival from the cycle, when it was incorporated into it, participating in the Lesser Mysteries became a requirement for participating in the Greater. Part of the myth behind this is that Heracles was involved in their founding in order for him to become eligible for the Greater Mysteries through purifying him from blood-guilt.

Sometime approximately around the modern month of May is the Thargelia festival, which is also shared by Artemis and Apollo as it commemorates their births. The first day of the festival is where the connection to Demeter occured with a sacrifice being offered to Demeter on the Acropolis. This is also the day where the Pharmakos (scapegoat) was used to purify the city/home.

The mid-summer Skiraphoria is the last festival preceding the Greater Mysteries and involved preparing the fields by taking decayed animal matter to plow into the fields in order to help make them fertile.

The Greater Eleusinian Mysteries are the festival that seems to be the culmination of the festivals I have mentioned and included a mystic experience which was forbidden to be discussed. Unfortunately, this is the same prohibition that has caused these mysteries to be lost to time. Although people are trying to create new mysteries, this is a great loss.

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