I had a discomforting Anthesteria last month. Not because of the festival’s darker qualities, but rather because for the first time, they didn’t happen for me. So I’ve been trying ever since to figure out why. I’m still not certain, but I’m okay with a little uncertainty as long as I can find the pieces.
The first thing, for those readers who aren’t Hellenic, is a little background. Anthesteria is, ostensibly, a wine and flowers festival for Dionysos with a hint of ripping the veil. It is three days long, starts out with Pithoigia, where new wine is opened and shared. The next day, Choes is a bit more mixed. There’s a good bit of drinking, a marriage to Dionysos but there is a sense of melancholy. The last day, Khytroi is a festival of the Dead. Think of it as being similar to neopagan idea of Samhain.
Nature-wise, I put it as the promise of spring and renewal for the year. You clear the dead out at the end, and you are left with flowers and wine and Dionysos, the god who comes and who is indestructible life. Together, this creates a festival with a large range of emotional impacts and that typically for me, will manifest each day. This year, this really didn’t, no matter what ritual work I did.
Here’s what I did. I usually see Anthesteria as needing to be placed within a set point and time. People generally start it within a couple of days of each other, depending on when they start their days. I actually ended up starting about a full day ahead of others, because the world came alive around me (seriously, 50 degree weather, I could see green things and it was beautiful).
The first day was wonderful, and I performed a meaningful and extensive ritual. I had wine (Dancing Bull. Appropriate!), I danced and read poetry and prayers. It was excellent, and it brought Dionysos from lurking on the corners straight to the forefront.
And then, instead of getting more and more melancholy or a festival of the dead, everything just kept getting more beautiful and vibrant. I never got the rest of the festival and I couldn’t create it through ritual. It was very much a going through the motions.
So, I’m trying to figure out if I did something wrong shifting the date. So I went back to examine the rest of the days that other people had and compared them to the overall feeling of the day. No dice. I didn’t feel any change.
Now, what might be different is my schedule. My work schedule doesn’t work well for successful ritual work for me. And it won’t change for a little while yet, so I’m trying to work with it. It’s ironic that my early morning shifts were better for ritual work than my late starting shift.
But I don’t think this explains everything. During the three days, even if the ritual and day itself didn’t reflect the mood it was hoping for, I never stopped feeling Dionysos. He was very present, in the sort of hovering over my shoulder way he has with me.
I want to contrast this: a few days ago was the Diasia, a festival dedicated to Kindly Zeus. I don’t work much with him, but as I went about cleaning and making my home not a pigsty, I sang and prayed to him. It was very productive and very meaningful, if not intense.
Sorting this out might take a little awhile. But, it hopefully it just signifies a shift in how I need to do things rather than something, you know, bad. Or maybe my dead just didn’t need to come out to play this year.