The Demetrian Wheel of the Year

October 6, 2008

This is the first of several posts that I made in a private journal exploring some aspects of my research work on the calendar used for festivals and rituals related to Demeter. After many wonderful comments in private, I made the decision to bring this work public and cross post the core material here. This is an on going process of discovery and exploration.

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I have begun a cycle of work with Demeter that will lead to interesting places. Among them, are a set of rituals I need to do, many will be just me, myself, and I, others will have invitations sent out to them on a small scale. These rituals follow what is called by some the Demetrian Wheel of the Year. As you might imagine the fall is rather busy for this harvest Goddess, which makes my life more than a little interesting right now, but I have plans and plots that will make this work without too much stress (I think). What’s bugging me is the fact that the year as laid out for Demeter’s festivals is not meshing with what I understand of growing cycles here in California. I’d sum up for you, but that really wouldn’t help – so here is the long version…

(dates are contemporary approximations of when the rituals happened in the past – the ancient Greek Calendar being rather different than our current one. The Description of what happens comes from Jennifer Reif’s “The Mysteries of Demeter” – a good book over all. )

October 7 Rites of Proerosia Preplowing rites. Blessings and magic for to

prepare the sacred field

October 15 Stenia Festival Bawdy humor, sacred sexuality. Barren

Demeter becomes Fertile Mother.

October 16 Arkichronia Festival Creation of fertility talismans. Combining

Earth and Underworld powers.

October 22 Thesmophoria Proper Celebration of Demeter’s sacred laws.

Remembering our divinity.

October 23 Rites of Nestia & Kalligenia N = The Sadness. Queen Persephone leaves

her beloved Plouton/Hades and the

Underworld. K = The Rejoicing. Ascent of the Maiden. Reunion of Demeter and Kore. Planting.

January 10 Festival of Haloa Celebration of new green growth in both

cultivated field and wild nature.

March 1 Festival of Chloaia Festival of flowers, of Verdant Demeter and

Kore, and of the green earth.

April 12 The Lesser Mysteries Ceremony of the whole festival cycle.

Purification. Consecration to Demeter.

May 15 Thargelia The Harvest. Demeter the Harvest Queen.

The seed and the Maiden are matured.

June 7 Kalamaia the Threshing. Freeing the seed grain from

the chaff, honoring Triptolemos.

June 28 Skira Festival The Maiden’s descent. In love, Plouton and

Persephone unite. The grain is stored. The fallow period begins and in the following months, Demeter becomes the Crone.

September 20 The Greater Mysteries aka The Eleusinian Mysteries Proper

The Sacred Drama. The reconciliation of

Demeter, Plouton, and Persephone. The Rite

of the Cista Mystica. The Thanatos Rite.

The Crowning.

Now… the cycle as stated here, starts in October and everything is geared toward the Greater Mysteries being the end of the cycle … so in a way, that helps me. I could do nothing now, i.e. skip the GM/EM… which just sounds wrong, or go ahead with a small thing, and then do something a bit bigger next year as a way to complete my year of processing.

The other odd thing to my poor wiccan brain is that the reason the cycle starts in October is that the planting apparently starts in October. Now maybe I am just to Temperate focused but that just sounds wrong to me. Eve in Greece, or it did back in olden days… I don’t know what its doing know… Mum… do you recall from your days in Greece? Meanwhile here, where we have a supposedly Mediterranean Climate the plants are completing a cycle of growth and harvest. We are not preparing the soil for planting. We are preparing for dark time, and a time for the land to lie fallow. Reif talks about the Proerosia as a rite of “pre plowing” – am I just not understanding? Is this something we do to prep the soil before winter so that it will be ready to take seeds and grow in the spring? … But she also has planting happening at the Rejoicing during the Kalligenia. So again with the confusion.

New growth in January I get. “The hills turn green with winter rain” is a powerful line in one of the songs from the Spiral Dance. And by March we have flowers so that I can see… but the rest is messing with my head.

So I am trying to sort out this planting cycle thing Part Two

… June through October is not a fallow time in California. Though honestly is there ever much of a fallow time in CA? I went looking for growing season information starting with Wheat:

Wheat ( Triticum aestivum L. ) can be classified as winter or spring growth habit based on flowering responses to cold temperatures. Winter wheat development is promoted by exposure of the seedlings to temperatures in the 38 degrees to 46 degrees F (3 degrees to 8 degrees C) range. Such types are usually planted in the fall which exposes the seedlings to cold temperatures during late fall and winter. Spring-types, however, do not require exposure to cold temperatures for normal development and can be planted in spring. Both winter- and spring-types, when properly grown in Minnesota, head in the late spring or early summer and mature by mid- to late-summer. this from: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/cropsystems/DC2547.html

grrr. Everything I am turning up in my web searching is showing me exactly the same thing as what I thought I knew from two years of working in the Produce industry and from actually paying attention to both what comes in at Whole Foods and to the Farmers Markets. While we might get classified by some as a Mediterranean climate, we have the growing cycle of the Temperate Zones only better. But overall the cycle is similar.

What all this means food wise is that the summer fruits are ending now. While you will see peaches and nectarines in the stores, they are past their peak. Ditto for all of the berries. I have been told that Pears are coming into season – the interesting ones, not the year round crap, so I need to try some of the good stuff and enjoy.

Oranges have become a year round crop, so I can’t actually tell what their natural cycle is. Same for Apples. I did find notes that January is the month to tend to Apple planting and apple trees. I know that fall is “apple season” in my head. Back east is was when we would get the organic apples in to the farmers market. And apples last through winter because they store well so that is why they are one of the common fruits used in the fall for feasts. Same with onions and potatoes. If you store them right, they will get you through a lot of tough times.

The vegetables I am less clear on. Artichokes are summer. Cucumbers are traditionally summer but are force grown now for year round use, same with all the lettuces, celery, carrots, and tomatoes. The heirlooms you get in the summer though. Corn is a late summer / early fall crop. Here’s a lovely blog by a Bay Area gardener who is growing corn: http://mybayareagarden.blogspot.com/ The squashes have specific seasons depending on their nature: Winter squash or Summer squash. The Zucchini have been over grown so most people don’t know that they are a squash let alone that they are supposed to have a season. *sigh* Pumpkins of course are a fall/winter veggi. I *might* get one from my attempt to grow them this year, which would be way cool.

So I am back to the fact that I am not convinced that the cycle as practiced in ancient Greece fits contemporary Northern California, or really any of North America for that matter. What to do about that is another matter. …

See it’s the May date that really starts my problems. The Thargelia – Harvest in May. For Temperate zones this is the beginning of summer. While we all call Summer Solstice The First Day of Summer, in Pagan/Wiccan terms Beltane is the first day of summer and Summer Solstice is the Height of Summer and the Height of the Gods power – hard to be the beginning and the height of something at the same time, how did you get to the top of the apex anyway? Here things are still reveling in life and growth and sex for Goddess sake. Who wants to be harvested now? Just after Beltane? Yuck! So now. That does not work for me. Ditto the Kalamaia on June 7th – Thressing and seed from the chaff? That’s John Barleycorn time. Nope, not working for me. Skira Festival June 28th – the Maiden’s descent. Excuse me? What is she doing going down in the bright sun? And then Demeter is supposed to be a Crone at the height of the growing season for this region. I don’t think so. Nope, also not working for me.

Ok… Wiccan wheel of the year – starting at harvest for a visual:

August 2 Lammas First harvest

Sept 21 Mabon Harvest festival threshing. Seed from the chaff

Nov 1 Samhain New years. The dead. Mourning and Celebrating.

Preparing for fallow period.

December 21 Yule Festival of Ligts during the dark. Land lies cold. No

growth. Dark nesting seeds.

February 2 Imbolg Milking of the lambs, celebrating new life in the

sheep. One last storm before spring.

March 21 Ostara flowers and green growth

May 1 Beltane Vibrant life growth all around

June 21 Litha Height of growth and sun.

But what if we pushed all of those back a few months? If the Thargelia is actually a cognate to the first harvest that the Celts and contemporary wiccan’s celebrate as Lughnassad / Lammas, and Kalamaia is what we celebrate at Mabon / Autumn Eqinox, then the Maiden descends into the underworld with her lover at oh I don’t know… Samhain? Heck, I’m easy… it could be any date about two weeks after Autumn equinox, so the 1st of October even. Which for contemporary pagans works out nicely since some of us end up doing the Greater Mystery anytime in the first two weeks of October, and really that makes much more sense to me (though why that would be I think is a separate diatribe) .

It also seems to me that the Rites of Proerosia happen out of order here in Northern climates. I suspect, though I need to do more digging because its not a rite I am familiar with yet, that it has more cognates with Imbolg magic and that level of preparation before spring than it does with Mabon’s harvest magic. If I am correct, I would vote to move this rite to early February between Haloa and Chloaia – honor the human work that needs to go into helping the land be ready to produce on an agricultural scale vs celebrating what nature does naturally when the rains come (Haloa) and after plowing and work has been put into the fields (Chloaia).

Hmmmm….

Alternatively move Proerosia to January when the land here is rich and wet and able to receive. Prepare it for the work ahead. Then push Haloa and Chloaia each back. That puts Haloa in February as the celebration of green growth as the rains begin to slow and trickle off. Chloaia at Beltane and the Festival of flowers. Move the Lesser Mysteries to June / Summer Solstice – the height of Demeter’s power with so much growth happening all over the place. Then we are in sequence with the other dates for the local harvest. That feels better, it doesn’t leave the whole summer without festivals to honor the Goddess who brings us the yummy stuff.

Haha! The damn cycle does map to the stuff in my head!! So this is what I think it should look like:

January Rites of Proerosia Preplowing rites. Blessings and magic for to

prepare the sacred field

February Festival of Haloa Celebration of new green growth in both

cultivated field and wild nature.

May Festival of Chloaia Festival of flowers, of Verdant Demeter and

Kore, and of the green earth.

June The Lesser Mysteries Ceremony of the whole festival cycle.

Purification. Consecration to Demeter.

August Thargelia The Harvest. Demeter the Harvest Queen.

The seed and the Maiden are matured.

Autumn Equinox Kalamaia the Threshing. Freeing the seed grain from

the chaff, honoring Triptolemos.

October 1 Skira Festival The Maiden’s descent. In love, Plouton and

Persephone unite. The grain is stored. The fallow period begins and in the following months, Demeter becomes the Crone.

Pre Thesmophoria

October Stenia Festival Bawdy humor, sacred sexuality. Barren

Demeter becomes Fertile Mother.

October Arkichronia Festival Creation of fertility talismans. Combining

Earth and Underworld powers.

Thesmophoria Main

October Thesmophoria Proper Celebration of Demeter’s sacred laws.

Remembering our divinity.

October Rites of Nestia & Kalligenia N = The Sadness. Queen Persephone leaves

her beloved Plouton/Hades and the

Underworld. K = The Rejoicing. Ascent of the Maiden. Reunion of Demeter and Kore. Planting.

October 10 – 25 ish The Greater Mysteries aka The Eleusinian Mysteries Proper

The Sacred Drama. The reconciliation of

Demeter, Plouton, and Persephone. The Rite

of the Cista Mystica. The Thanatos Rite.

The Crowning.

Now this still leaves me with what to do about all the damn rituals I need to celebrate… but if I can get Demeter to agree to this calendar, then I think I have something to work with. I see a meditation in my future.

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A few days later… I learned more… that changed my world view again!

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One Response to “The Demetrian Wheel of the Year”

  1. I concur with everything, ok well pretty much everything you posted above. Refreshing to come across such sharp and well written content. Assiduus usus uni rei deditus et ingenium et artem saepe vincit!

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