Thiasos Bakkheios Through the Year

The ritual year for Thiasos Bakkheios starts with the Winter Solstice. The calendar of Attica (which many Hellenic reconstructionists use to set their ritual year) begins with the first new moon after the Summer Solstice, but I’ve found that scheduling with modern folks works better if the calendar starts closer to the secular new year.

napa-vinyard

Our winter quarter begins with the night of the winter solstice and ends the day before the spring equinox, generally from sometime in the third or fourth week in December to the third or fourth week in March. As we gather on third Saturdays, this puts the first meeting of the winter quarter in January and the last in March.

In California vinyards, winter is the time when the grapevines are dormant, and the wine that has been pressed is laid up in barrels and bottles.

Winter was, in classical Greece, the busiest season for Dionysian festivals. The grape harvest was in, new wine was being pressed, and vessels of mature wine were being opened. Lenaia, the Anthesteria festival, the Rural Dionysia, and the lesser Eleusinian Mysteries were all held in the winter. While we are not trying to recreate any particular calendar of ancient rites, it’s important to understand when and why the ancient Greeks celebrated Dionysos if we’re to continue in the correct spirit. Public worship and Dionysos as god of Wine seem to be good themes for winter.

As a group in the San Francisco Bay Area, Pantheacon is a huge consideration. As of 2017, we will have been hosting Dionysa at Pantheacon for three years running. It’s easily the biggest event the Thiasos has does, and our main public offering. Consequently, the Thiasos winter schedule tends to revolve around our Pantheacon event.

The meeting in January is an Eortie, to plan for and make or gather the materials we’ll need for the Orgia in February. March’s meeting is a Symposion, to debrief after Pantheacon and share anything we might have learned while we were there.

The spring quarter runs from the spring equinox to the summer solstice. In the vinyards, the buds are opening and flowering. In ancient Greece, they were celebrating the harvest–as in modern California, the winter was the wettest part of the year, and a lot of food was grown while the water was available.

The Urban Dionysia may have started as a harvest festival, but it became a festival of poetry and theater, beginning with a massive parade and the purification of the Theater of Dionysos. It’s a time for renewal and new beginnings, and that’s the theme of Thiasos Bakkheios for the spring.

April’s meeting will be an Orgia, with an emphasis on getting input from the God on the new year and securing blessings on any new undertakings. May’s Eortie will, if possible, enlist the Thiasos in helping start a new batch of mead. June will be a Symposion, perhaps focused on poetry and theater.

Summer quarter runs from the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. The vines are growing clusters of grapes, which will ripen at the end of the season, and new buds which will open in the spring. So far as I know there was no major Dionysian rites in Ancient Greece in the summer.

That said, there were annual festivals that celebrated Dionysos’ life and death. One year, He would be honored as a cthonic god, then next would celebrate his rebirth. So I would like for us to alternate themes in summer: Dionysos’ rebirth and life in even-numbered years, and his time in the underworld in odd-numbered years.

The meetings in summer–Orgia in July, Eortie in August, and Symposia in September–will explore these alternating themes.

Finally, autumn quarter runs from the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice. California vinyards harvest their grapes, press and ferment their wine, and set it to rest. This was the season of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries in ancient Greece, and so the theme for Thiasos Bakkheios in autumn is mystery and transformation.

October’s meeting will be Orgia, November’s will be Eortie (and, hopefully, we’ll bottle mead), and December’s will be Symposion.

Naturally, specific meetings may change emphasis according to the needs of the members of the Thiasos, but it’s often useful to have a plan ahead of time.

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About Lon Sarver

Lon Sarver is a polytheist priest of Dionysos, living in the San Francisco Bay Area and contemplating (with a healthy amount of dread) making a second attempt at a career in Marriage and Family Therapy. View all posts by Lon Sarver

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