Spring is finally starting in South Bend Indiana. Appropriately enough, the warmest day we’ve had all winter was on the first day of Anthesteria. In this climate, there are no flowers yet, but the snow began to melt on the first day of the festival, and yesterday I heard birds chirping for the first time. Being on a lunar calendar, the actual date of Anthesteria changes year from year. But I have been celebrating Anthesteria for, I think, four years now. And each time, the first day of Athesteria is the warmest of the winter, when spring really starts. If it was only once or twice, it might be a coincidence. But its now been a pattern that has held true for years. It amazes me, really, but each year it feels my heart with song! Spring is REALLY coming! Winter is almost over! Hail Dionysos!
This is the altar I used for Anthesteria. Behind it you can see my regular altars, which are uncovered because this picture was taken today. I need to try to remember to keep a camera with me during ritual (to take pics before and after, not during) more often.
The altar-cloth is black and green, the colors of fertile earth and vegetation. If my medical problems had been a bit less severe recently, I would have been outside for more of the festival. Cold doesn’t do well with my pain issues. But I did take the offerings to pour outside, as well as the pot of food offered to the dead on the last day.
My plans did not go exactly as I wanted, but it worked out just the same. My celebrations are sometimes unable to start exactly when I plan them to. I live with my boyfriend and one other roommate, neither of whom is Pagan, or even religious at all. They give me a lot of freedom in the use of the house for ritual, in fact the living room of the large house we share is set up as a Temple. But still I try to schedule my private celebrations for after they leave for work or something. They are respectful, but it is distracting to have someone tramp through the living room while I am in the middle of ritual. It’s one of the downsides of the current set up, but one day I’ll have my own building for the Temple. I feel it’s better to start now, even if things aren’t totally perfect. Most of the large Christian churches in this country started in someone’s living room, or possibly in one-room schoolhouses. I have a small altar set up in my private study, but for longer rituals or festivals it can be uncomfortable or just too small.
The gargoyle figure in the center is my Silenios; the snakeskin symbols Dionysos’ Underworld aspect; the spider candle is for Erigone-Arakhne; the mask is one of my favorite symbols of Dionysos I use every Anthesteria, although I need to get a new one for next year, as this one is getting a little ragged. The right side of the altar is the spring/life/rebirth side, and the left side is the winter/death/Underworld side.
The Underworld side, starting from the far left. The sugar bowl full of potpourri belonged to my great-great-grandmother, and the potpourri was made several years ago from roses that were an offering to Athena, and more to Dionysos. The magnificent skull candle-holder was a gift from my adoptive mother and usually sits on my ancestor altar. The bones are not real, they’re plastic. The coyote scalp is real. I associate the coyote with Hermes, and Hermes Khthonios has a part in this festival. Even though it is a North American animal, I associate the coyote with Hermes in part because of the Trickster mythos They both share. Just my own personal gnosis.
The spring side of the altar, starting from the far right: two pots I decorated myself, the bottom one with ivy and titles of Dionysos relating to growing plants, and the top one with epithets of Demeter; a fairy and a centaur as symbols of nymphs and nature spirits; behind the centaur is a shell with fake grapes, real seeds and acorns, and other symbols of fresh fruit, a fertile cornucopia of spring gifts, and a small plastic “crystal” ball as a symbol of the oracles, trance-work, and physic madness, that Dionysos can inspire; a glass of sweet wine; behind the wine is the incense holder shaped like a tree spirit, which you can’t really see in this picture; in front of the wine is a candle-holder shaped like a flower with little butterflies on it, an ancient symbol of rebirth and transformation.