Thesmophoria: A Guided Journey to Demeter’s Depths

Last weekend I attended the Gaea Goddess Gathering, an annual women’s festival that takes place at Gaea Retreat Center in Kansas. On Friday, September 15th, the second day of the festival, I led a guided meditation that centered the Thesmophoria, a major Greek holy day honoring Demeter and Kore. I’ve decided to share the script here for those who may be interested. The script should be read slowly but fluently, allowing for both short and long pauses where appropriate.
'Thesmophoria'_by_Francis_Davis_Millet,_1894-1897
I invite you to find comfort in this moment, comfort in the position of your body, comfort in your gaze and how it softly settles on a focal point here in the garden, or on the backs of your eyelids. I invite you to breathe in that comfort and to exhale any tension that you may be carrying. Breathe deeply sisters, belly rise and fall. Allowing each breathe in to bring peace and each breathe out to carry away tension. When you are ready I invite you to ground and center in your usual way. You may feel the earth firm and steady beneath you. As you feel called, you may allow your own energy to descend along your spine reaching into the earth, connecting with the earth, and drawing that stabilizing energy up into your own energy field. When you feel deeply rooted, you may decide to feel your energy coursing upward along your spine, up through the crown of your head and into the sky realm. I invite you to allow that bright energy to help you orient yourself to the here and now. Breathe deeply sisters. Belly rise, belly fall. Allowing the energy of earth and sky to dance along your spine, meeting at the center of your being. As these energy currents mingle within you, know that you are now grounded, oriented, and centered.
 
I invite you to continue breathing comfortably, allowing your breath to be what it is, allowing yourself to be who and how you are. Your breath is a life-line joining you to your body and mind, to here and now. At your own will, no matter where you are in today’s guided meditation, you may return your awareness to your breath and to the here and now. Breathe deeply sisters. Belly rise, belly fall.
In your mind’s eye you become aware of a gathering of women. You see that the women have gathered together at the foot of a great hill to seek blessings of fertility from the Thesmophoros – the Two Goddesses, Demeter and Kore. I invite you to attune with your deep self. How do you feel in this moment as you prepare to ascend the hill? Are you willing? Are you ready?
 
Remembering to breathe, what do you notice about the hill? What sights enter your gaze? What smells fill the air? What sounds do you hear as the women assemble?
 
As you deepen your awareness of yourself and the women around you, perhaps you notice that the women are holding various items. You know that what they carry, they intend to sacrifice to Demeter in order to ensure their fertility. Turning your gaze to your own hands, your own shoulders, your own back: what do you carry to Demeter for sacrifice in the great pit deep within the earth?
 
Remembering to breathe, you recall that the ancient Greek women who took this pilgrimage centuries before carried traditional offerings of piglets as well as serpents and phalluses made of dough – sympathetic, agrarian magic as old as the human race. Perhaps you carry the same offerings as your foresisters, or perhaps your sacrifice for fertility is different. What do you carry to Demeter for sacrifice in the great pit deep within the earth?
In this moment, as you prepare to ascend the hill, you know that you will cast it into the Megara – Demeter’s pit within the deep earth – the chasm located inside the temple at the top of the hill. This is your fruit and your sacrifice. It is what death will take and transform in order to fertilize the next crop in your life, ensuring the cycle of fertile growth for years to come. Holding your fruit, your sacrifice close to you, you know that what you carry now will be laid down in the deep earth, transformed, and returned by Demeter’s might to nourish new life.
 
Breathe deeply and remember your purpose here. You hear the women around you stirring. The procession to the temple begins. The women ascend the hill, placing one foot in front of the other, casting their eyes to the temple at the top of the hill as they gain ground. You may choose to ascend with your sisters, placing one foot in front of the other, gaining ground. What do you observe about the feel of the path under your feet? What do you notice about the sights and sounds around you? With each step taken and every new foot of elevation gained as you move up the hill with your sisters, what do you notice about the fruit, the sacrifice that you carry? Perhaps you take note of how the sacrifice makes you feel. You may view your chosen sacrifice positively and look forward to offering it to Demeter, or perhaps you feel a growing sense of another feeling as you ascend in thoughtful procession with your sisters.
 
Breathing, at last you reach the sanctuary at the top of the hill and you glance back at the path you ascended. You remember that this path was called Anodos or The Way Up by the ancient Greeks. Holding your fruit, your sacrifice, you recall that this was also the name given to Kore’s path up from the underworld, back to the world of the living, bringing fertility and growth back to the world by her mother’s grace. As you cross the threshold to the temple at the top of the hill, you remember that the annual Thesmophoria festival honors Kore’s loss and the promise of her return, praying for the end of Demeter’s wrath and the beginning of her favor. 
 
Inside the temple, priestesses of Demeter approach two great slabs of ornate wood that appear to cover a vast and deep well. As the priestesses remove the slabs you realize that the wood covers not a well but the Megara of Demeter, the seething pit containing the composting remains of previous fruits, previous sacrifices. With a deep breath you stand before the Megara and cast your own sacrifice into the pit. What fruit did you sacrifice in order to draw up fertility from the earth of your being? Breathing deeply, you may choose to take note of sensations you are experiencing.
 
As you contemplate the sacrifice that you’ve thrown into the pit, you see additional priestesses approach the Megara: the bailers. You notice that they are simply but purposefully dressed, perhaps for a sacred but very physical task. With focus and intent, each bailer comes to the edge of the Megara and with the help of her fellow priestesses lowers herself down deep into the pit. These holy women bail up the remains of previous animal and plant offerings, sacred fertilizer for the community’s fields and gardens. 
How will Demeter transform your sacrifice? You may continue to ponder this question as the bailers carry several containers to the altar for blessing. In your own way, you join the priestesses and your sisters in praying for fertility – the fertility of the land, the fertility of the animals, and your own fertility in whatever way is meaningful for you.
 
As you observe the fertilizer from the Megara on the altar, you understand that the cycles of fertility are complex, requiring life and love, sacrifice and decay, transformation and renewal to ensure that life and love reign again in their season. How will you use Demeter and Kore’s fertile gift? What will you allow it to cultivate and nourish within you and your life?
 
As you continue to breathe deeply and comfortably, you hear a priestess of the Thesmophoros announce that the holy work of the day is done. The women gathered in the temple begin to stir and move toward the temple door. You join your sisters. Before you cross the threshold of the temple you thank Demeter and Kore for their blessings. 
Step by step you descend the hill, leaving the temple behind you, but remembering the work that you’ve done there, the sacrifice you made, and the fertile gift you received. As you descend the hill, you steadily grow more aware of yourself and your sisters in the here and now. As you allow your weight to sink more and more deeply into the earth and you feel her rise to meet you, you understand that here and now is Gaea Retreat Center. You remember that your breath can guide you home. You recall that each breath in and out is a call to feel your feet and legs, your thighs and hips, your arms and hands, your torso and head. Breathing yourself more fully into your body, you feel your eyes flutter open and those gathered here in Flora’s garden come into view.
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Deity Offerings Series: For Odin

This post is the first of many in which I will be detailing the offerings that I give to the deities and spirits with whom I’ve built strong relationships over the years.

December 2017 will mark the ninth anniversary of my taking up the runes and the beginning of a deep and serious relationship with Odin. Over the years I have worked to grow closer to Odin and to understand his preferences in all things, especially as those preferences influence my devotional work. One important concern in building a mutual and healthy relationship with any deity is sacrifice and offering. Here I present a list of common offerings that I make to Odin. In the lore we see the Old Norse words mjǫðr, vín, and ǫl used most often (which are beer or ale, wine, and mead respectively) to describe alcoholic beverages available at the time. Each has its place in my work with Odin in addition to other offerings.

Mead

Mead is the first and foremost offering for Odin as it was the greatest and grandest of beverages among the Vikings – the iconic libation of kings and those favored by them. As such, mead is an appropriate offering to Odin especially as an acknowledgement of his status as Mighty God and Most High. In addition mead has deep associations with magic and poetry.  It’s also often aligned with the runes given that they are mysteries which one may access through sacrifice, magic, and deep draughts of this holy brew. So it is bound up with Odin as shaman, rune-winner, and wordsmith as well.

By cunning and wit Odin won the mead for the Gods and favored mortals. He entered Gunnlöð’s court, seduced her for three nights, took the mead in three long gulps, and flew away in eagle form, escaping Suttung – the Jotun owner of the mead, before Odin – who was in hot pursuit. We learn of these works and their blessings in the Skáldskaparmál:

En Suttungamjöð gaf Óðinn ásunum ok þeim mönnum, er yrkja kunnu. Því köllum vér skáldskapinn feng Óðins ok fund ok drykk hans ok gjöf hans ok drykk ásanna.

But Odin gave the mead of Suttungr to the Æsir and to those men who possess the ability to compose. Therefore we call poesy Odin’s Booty and Find, and his Drink and Gift, and the Drink of the Æsir.

~Brodeur translation

Yes, mead is first and foremost for me in my devotional offerings to Odin. However, he is a multi-faceted god with many aspects, and many interests and investments. Consequently, there are other alcoholic beverages, in my experience, that when well given will gain his favor.

Wine

Lore is often cited in order to make the point that Odin is sustained solely on mead. In Grímnismál verse 19 commonly used to argue this point, the original Old Norse word vín is translated as mead:

Gera ok Freka seðr gunntamiðr
hróðigr Herjaföður;
en við vín eitt vápngöfugr
Óðinn æ lifir.

~from the Codex Regius

The chief inur’d to toils in war,
Removing from the feast afar,
Bids Gerr and Freker daily eat,
The smoking honors of the treat:
But Odin, great in martial deeds,
With mead, immortal vigor feeds.

~Cottle translation

Freki and Geri | does Herefather feed,
The far-famed fighter of old:
But on wine alone | does the weapon-decked god,
Othin, forever live.

~Bellows translation

However, a closer look reveals that vín is actually more accurately translated simply as wine. Odin is sustained “on wine alone”, if we rely solely on this bit of lore. What we know about wine within its temporal and cultural context is that it was hard to obtain because of the lack of grapes in Scandinavian lands. It could be acquired through trade with wine producing countries, but was quite expensive for this reason. As a result, it was reserved for nobility, especially kings, and Odin is absolutely that, so I give him wine to honor him as nobility.

In addition I work with a number of Greek and Roman deities. Within those ancient cultures, wine was central to the symposium. The symposium was an aristocratic event marked by poetry readings, the singing of hymns, deity libations, philosophical conversation, political strategizing, and entertainment of a musical as well as a sexual persuasion. Symposia seem like events that a seeker of knowledge and wisdom from a distant land (who also has skill with disguises) would have happily wandered right into the middle of. And so I use wine to honor Odin as scholar, philosopher, and political mastermind as well as god of commerce, trade especially by ship, and long-distance travel. In my experience many wines available today suit his tastes well. I find that Odin appreciates blood red wine in general, as well as most German varieties.

Beer and Ale

Óminnis hegri heitr sás of ölþrum þrumir,
hann stelr geþi guma;
þess fugls fjöþrum ek fjötraþr vask
í garþi Gunnlaþar.

A bird of Unmindfulness flutters over ale-feasts,
Wiling away men’s wits;
With the feathers of that fowl I was fettered once
In the garths of Gunnlodr below.

~Verse 13 of the Hávamál , in its original Old Norse above with The Viking Answer Lady’s English translation below

In the Havamal we have the Sayings of the High One, who is generally accepted to be Odin himself. From the above verse we see that Odin is well acquainted with ale and the feasts that it presides over, and during his encounter with the giantess Gunnlodr he drank deeply of the ale he was offered. We also know from Hymiskviða aka The Lay of Hymir and from Lokasenna aka Loki’s Wrangling that the gods serve ale/beer at their own feasts too.

Beer and ale are on my list of offerings for Odin. As a wanderer Odin moves among gods, mortals, and etins alike – whether overtly or in disguise – seeking knowledge and wisdom, bestowing gifts and asking favors, laughing and loving, and shaping wyrd and weaving wonders. That mighty god can and will drink the beer and ale that would have been available in any hall or household at any time. Beer or ale would have been the equalizer in that both nobility and common people who have had access to it and consumed it. It’s my belief that any drink offered in the spirit of frithful hospitality (no foul play involved) was and will be well received by Odin.

Other Libations

In addition to mead, wine, and beer/ale, I offer Odin honey whiskey, whiskey, and vodka. I keep hard liquor on hand in larger quantities than mead, wine, and beer. In my experience, he enjoys them. As stated above any fare given in frithful hospitality can potentially be acceptable to him.

Incantations

Because Odin is a god of poetry as well as the written and spoken word, I offer improvised as well as painstakingly crafted verse in the form of a recitation or a song. I also sing songs and recite poetry from others of his devotees who have been so kind as to share their work on sites like Odin’s Gift.

Suffumigations

I often burn incense for the deities and spirits that I have relationships with. For Odin, I burn mugwort or wormwood (either alone or in combination with other herbs and resins) because both have strong associations with travel throughout Europe. I also burn ash bark and leaves because of this tree’s associations with Yggdrasil and with the Ansuz or Æsc rune. From among the resins I give frankincense, myrrh, and dragon’s blood. I often associate frankincense with heady, elevating, contemplative/meditative, soul caliber raising energies which fits well with Odin’s might. Myrrh has the power to draw me into the dark for reflection and/or healing and so I have come to see it as an extension of Odin’s might. Lastly dragon’s blood is one that I’ve come to associate with Odin and burn in his honor because I associate it with everything hot and martial. It is a resin of warfare, happy to lend its energies to anything from campaigns against general stray astral entities causing trouble unintentionally to campaigns against big malevolent things that need to be full-on exorcised, and so dragon’s blood is Odin’s because I haven’t forgotten his ties to the fight and dragon’s blood packs a punch.

Food Offerings

I rarely give food but it’s not unheard of for me to do so. I share a meal with Odin every once in a while. If the lore telling us that Geri and Freki receive Odin’s food is accurate, I’m happy to offer to Odin’s canine allies in this way.  I have also given them red meat, unattached to a larger meal that I’ve made for myself. To Huginn and Muninn, Odin’s ravens of thought and memory, I’ve given hard boiled eggs which they seemed to like. The wolves and ravens need love too!

I hope that the above gives others a starting place in establishing an offering rich devotional relationship with Odin, and for the folks who already have that kind of relationship with him, hopefully some of the above sounds familiar. Hail Odin!

August to December at Wayfaring Woman

In the last third of 2016 I took a bit of a break from writing and significantly reduced my work here at Wandering Woman Wondering and at Wayfaring Woman (my column on the Agora at Patheos). I’ve included links below to the articles that I did not previously link here. Some of them are updates and revisions to work that I previously presented here on Wandering Woman Wondering, and some are new.

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Magical Masking and Dionysos

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2016/08/wayfaring-woman-magical-masking-and-dionysos/

The Roman God Mercurius – An Introduction and Ritual

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2016/08/wayfaring-woman-the-roman-god-mercurius-an-introduction-and-ritual/

Gifts From the Heart – An Autumn Spiced Guided Meditation

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2016/09/wayfaring-woman-gifts-from-the-heart-an-autumn-spiced-guided-meditation/

Guarding and Protecting Your Magical Workings

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2016/10/wayfaring-woman-guarding-and-protecting-your-magical-workings/

Hekate’s Hounds – Warders Between Worlds

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2016/10/wayfaring-woman-hekates-hounds-warders-between-worlds/

I hope you find these to be useful stepping stones along your own path, or at least intriguing in some way 😀