The Anthesteria began at sundown, but I have felt it in the air with keen anticipation all day. Right now, at 7 PM, I am in my apartment eating dinner — ginger pork over rice with broccoli and toasted seaweed snacks — and after I finish eating, check Twitter, and ritually shower, I will open what is likely the only bottle of wine that I will drink this year.
Sometimes, I wonder what exactly draws me so much to the Anthesteria. Before 2018, Dionysos was a god I venerated only during the Anthesteria. I knew le was important to a lot of people and that ler venerators and devotees are numerous online.
Regular readers know that I have been compiling resources and reading a lot about women’s cultus in Greek and Greek-adjacent religions and that my interest in this was first piqued during an Internet fight with T. J. Alexander when I was about 20. Before last year, I knew that Dionysos was historically important in women-only rituals and that it was a good idea to figure out what that meant in contemporary life, especially with the positive impact that modern feminism has had on women. However, the years passed, and I was suddenly in my 30s.
I left Dionysos’ image up after the Anthesteria last year. I purchased Shoyeido incense that smelled like fresh fruits, as if my shrine were a grove in an apple or pear or citrus orchard. I bought Sannion’s Ecstatic and used reading it to organize my thoughts.
There was a lot going on last February, boiling to bursting. That’s when I broke down and started seeing a therapist. I won’t go into that here because the details are not Anthesteria-relevant, and they’re not things that I would really go into with readers who are mostly parasocial strangers.
One bad event in early March led to a commitment to say the Oration of Aristides nightly for 30 days. I was wired and in a ridiculously bad place.
The breaking barriers and boundaries thing with Dionysos has traditionally made me very uncomfortable. What made me avoid Dionysos when I was younger were posts I read online about lim intervening in individuals’ lives, about lim flaying them to put together something and someone that was wholly different. I have trauma, and when one is already psychologically bleeding out, the last thing one needs is for someone to drive wounds deeper.
I wrote a poem a short while ago about that, “Loosening Bonds (On Mysteries).” During the Oration, I corrected my thinking on that and learned that there was such a thing as being stitched together again.
While I’m reluctant to talk about mysticism in public, the process of coming to know a god obviates the possibility that le is not aware of the devotee. No god has ever given me the sense that le is unaware that I have trauma. Apart from one time in my teens, no god has given me an edgy, hardcore experience of the type that are often emphasized in the “This is How You Know I’m For Real” narratives that many people write online. A relationship is more often developed with practice, discipline, and dedication. You do the rituals. You make a space that is an invitation for a god, physical and mental. Sooner or later, you hit a still, small expanse that stretches endlessly in the mind. It only really happened once during the Oration, the time when I learned everything would be okay. For other gods, like Hermes, it took months. For Seshat, it’s nearly there. For Apollon, it’s usually there. (This poem is somewhat about that process, although it’s more about why one should not think about certain nameless things.)
For the first few days, the Oration of Aristides rapidly got off track. I spent most of the time reciting the words wondering exactly how many times I should recite, whether I should just say it two or three more times after I had decided to stop.
The worst thing to give a hyper-organized person with anxiety is an open-ended deadline or task.
My solution several days into the 30 days was to order prayer beads. They are finite. It takes me 11 minutes to recite them using the Oration on the stone beads and io evohé on the wooden ones. I picked stones that reminded me of the image of Dionysos and the leopard. Of ivy. The stick of incense takes 20 minutes to burn, enough time to recite one or two hymns, recite the prayer, and rest in stillness after the chant is complete.
After the 30 days, I started reciting the Oration on some of the lunar calendar’s purification days, essentially whenever I felt like I needed to. I know the words, or at least how I think the Greek is pronounced, by heart now.
I recited them this morning. The sidewalks are icy on my way into work from snow and freezing rain, and the safe, shoveled route goes by the Planned Parenthood. I avoid walking by it on Wednesdays and Fridays when the anti-abortion protesters are there because they bring miasma. They also heckle any woman who walks past, often shouting after her.
This Wednesday and Friday, there was no alternative route. I whispered the Oration under my breath as I approached and found a place on the sidewalk to stare at. I avoided eye contact. Three recitations. The Anthesteria starts tonight, and you bought wine on time. You can’t wait for it, right? Feel the air so sweet and thick. I reached the intersection and crossed.
When I was younger, the Anthesteria was a lot like the Oration: It had a specific beginning and end to mark the start and stop of Dionysian worship, just enough taste of liberation and of wine to do one’s duty. The richness of mythologies weaving into and out of the festival drew me, too, because my brain loves playing with complexity. The mythological and folkloric contexts make my mind twist and turn as if I am in a labyrinth.
I also love ghosts. I love stories about the restless dead, of women unbound by bodies who wreak havoc beyond the grave. Last January, I wrote a ghost story about the Anthesteria and teenage girls that I haven’t yet managed to get published, possibly because only people who read this blog are the kinds of people who care about stories like that. Dionysos will hear it tonight.
Happy Anthesteria. I wish you, your families, and your ancestors all of the joy of the season. ♨️