Monday, August 22, 2011

Goddesses in the Dirt: Thesmophoria - Women Swearing and Throwing Piglets

Unearthing the Divine Feminine, one archetype at a time......
Issue #17: Thesmophoria


The Thesmophoria was an ancient fertility ritual practiced only by women in honor of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. Ancient Greek women were not allowed to spend time away from their husbands except for this rite, and enjoyed the opportunity to be independent. The festival was most likely held at the site of the Pnyx, a hilltop in Athens. It lasted several days - some accounts state three days and two nights, some accounts say it lasted five days. It was held from the eleventh to the thirteenth of Pyanepsion (which roughly corresponds to the month of October.) For the duration of the ritual, women abstained from sexual relations and avoided foods connected to the goddess Demeter, such as the pomegranate, whose seeds were considered offerings to the Chthonic, or earth-related deity. Virgins were not permitted to attend the festivities. 


Prior to the onset of the rites during a period called the Stenia, selected women placed fertility objects, such as phallus shaped bread, pine cones and sacrificed piglets in a snake-filled pit and waited for the contents to decompose. Then the women retrieved them and placed them, mixed with grain, on an altar. 


The festival consisted of three distinct parts: the Anodos, meaning 'the way up', the Nestiea, or the fasting, and the Kalligenia, or 'beautiful birth,' and celebrates the myth of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, who mourns the abduction of her daughter Persephone by the god of the Underworld, who does not allow anything to grow until her daughter is returned to her. 


The first day  - the Anodos - was the procession in which women approached the cult area carrying offerings. The second day was spent in mourning in honor of the goddess Demeter's sadness as she pined for her daughter's return, taking no food or drink. This was followed by a period in which the women engaged in foul language and jokes, in honor of Demeter's servant, Iambe, who attempted to cheer up her mistress by telling her jokes to bring her out of her sorrow. This also served to help the participants let off steam after a day of fasting and self-discipline. 


The strangest activity was during the the third day, which involved the sacrifice of piglets - specifically ones that had been previously thrown into chasms (in antiquity, piglets were associated with female genitalia and as such, fertility.) This commemorated the disappearance of the pig farmer Eubouleus, who fell into the crevasse of the earth along with Persephone when she was being abducted by Hades.
Red-figure lecythus showing a young woman about to throw a piglet into the megaron. Fifth century B.C.
Athens, National Archaeological Museum.
Like many other rituals, the Thesmophoria was directly connected to the agricultural cycle and celebrated the seasons of planting and of harvesting by honoring the goddesses responsible for the fertility of the crops. It was one of many rituals throughout the year celebrating the sacred festival cycle of grain, including the Haloa (December), the Lesser Mysteries (February) the Skirophoria (June) and the most famous mystery cult of all, the Eleusinian Mysteries, held from 15 - 21 Boedromion (September). 


Photos courtesy of Google images

19 comments:

  1. So very interesting Amanda. I recently found out that in antiquity, there was a temple dedicated to Persephone in the town in which I now live. There is nothing left of it anymore and it was used to build palaces and churches in the time of the Knights. When I heard about Persephone, I thought of you, of course :)

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  2. An odd 'coincidence.' I just finished reading 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,' which is about a woman whose cells have been used in research for over a half a century. She had aggressive cervical cancer.

    In one of the family interviews, a relative claims he saw visions of a headless pig haunting the town while the woman was dying of tumors that grew at a terrifying rate-- thus supplying hardy cell culture.

    It was a short passage but it left an impression on me. I didn't realize the porcine symbology until I read this.

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  3. The vegetarian in me cringes for the poor little piggies. However, I am fascinated by the rituals of ancient women, the way they coped under extreme restrictions. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the women were swearing!

    Thank you for sharing these Amanda. So, you are Persephone (a Cancer?) are you married to a Hades (Scorpio?) ;)

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  4. Such fascinating rituals, Amanda.

    I haven't been over for a while, and see you've changed your header picture. This one is FABULOUS. I could sit all day in front of my computer at revel in it!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

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  5. Fascinating!
    Thanks for your kind words, Amanda, and congratulations on your new publication.

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  6. This was absolutely fascinating - as usual! Thank you!

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  7. Interesting! I can only imagine how the Athens looked so many years ago during this strange fest

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  8. I bet the women enjoyed their time alone!

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  9. Thanks for all the interesting information, Amanda.

    As it was a "womens' thing," I leave it at that.

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  10. Hi Amanda, some of those traditions wouldn't be out of place at a hen night ;)

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  11. Dear Amanda, always a joy to take a walk down the ancient Greece with you.;)
    Are you as fascinated by ancient Rome as well, or do you find the Greek past to be more enticing.;)
    I guess mankind has at all times been governed by rituals and rites, even if the extend to which we believe that they control - complement our life varies. Even I have small rituals and ceremonies, that make me feel relaxed and safe.
    Forgot to mention last time how much I love your new header image.
    Thank you also very much for your recent comment, so very touching and poignant, showing your deep understanding of my current state of mind. I guess you as a fellow Cancerian you always will;)
    xoxo

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  12. Times change, yet stay the same.

    Having just returned from my annual gathering with fellow non-virgin women, I can totally relate to nearly everything about this post.

    Arriving with arms full of offerings, the honoring of the goddess, meditation, foul language and jokes, letting off steam, and throwing piglets into chasms.

    Wait. That piglet thing may have happened after I returned home. I'm a bit foggy on that.

    Great post as always, Amanda. Thank you! ♥

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  13. This was fascinating! Glad I stumbled on your blog today. Makes me want to tell foul jokes and swear--wait--I already do that, even on not party days. I might stop at throwing piglets into chasms, though. Enjoyed the read.

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  14. The women at first seemed so different and yet the same as us today after all. Coping bizarre behavior that boomerangs back to the future.
    Last night in my women's group we talked of laughter as healing. So next times we will bring jokes to belly laugh at as well as Hafiz poems to soothe the soul.
    Alas - got my feet and shoes slimed by a couple of piglets at a "pick all you can" veggie farm last weekend. The piglets picked me. Cute but messy.

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  15. decomposed penises! ahaha, that would have been a good warning for those sex den men at pompei :^)

    how interesting a girls' get-away. i love knowing sexuality and sensuality in one way or another was acknowledged among women. the older i get, the more i like knowing that!

    amanda, what if anything do you now about the 'sames' from china (snowflower and the secret fan)? you spin such great stories. might you tackle this one some day, or is the continent all wrong?

    i am chuckling as i imagine decomposed penises. i can't help it.
    :^)
    love
    kj

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  16. loree - i would love to investigate that temple - do you think you might do a post on it someday? (hint, hint ;-)

    suze - i've heard a lot about that book. would you recommend it? (porcine symbology and all......)

    yoli - i am married to a taurus (grounding is necessary for us cancers!) i have many scorpio friends, however, and find them tres simpatico!

    ann- thanks so much - i'm happy you like my new header foto - i thought it turned out well ~

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  17. rosaria,

    kind thanks, my friend.
    xoxo

    maggie - you are welcome - i'm happy you enjoyed this tale from the past!

    ola - it would be fun to go back in time and spy on these rituals!

    geli - i think women in any century savor their alone time!

    xoxo

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  18. r-bear - yes, this is a primarily a woman's thing. but the divine feminine is open to everyone ;-)

    annie - how right you are!

    zuzana - i am very intrigued by rituals from all the cultures of the old world - the romans took a lot from the greeks and improvised in creative ways - the walls from the house of mysteries at pompeii is one excellent example.....

    jo - some things never change! as they saying goes, what happens in vegas, stays in vegas...... ;-0

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  19. julie - thanks for stopping by and for the kind comment! and yes, throwing piglets is a bit much, but hey - when girls get together on party nights, anything can happen....

    sistah — piglet sliming!! yikes!! sounds like quite the experience!

    i agree, whether in ancient or modern times, women need - and will find ways - to express themselves!!

    kj - oh please tell me more! i don't know anything about the 'sames' of china but am now very intrigued.....do tell

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