The Myth of the Year:

Returning to the Origin of the Druid Calendar

Chapter One

The Sequani Calendar and the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis

Page 2

The male consort of the daughter is the underground keeper of wealth and a spiritual priest, the transgressor of souls. He is portrayed as a harvest aspect of the Vegetation Year God with "a crook across his shoulder or attached to his belt." Although we have lost the priest's name, he is depicted on Minoan seals rising from the bucrania, or sacred horns, with a winged goat and a "daemon" with an animal head who holds a pitcher; he is often portrayed on these seals as the "master of animals" (Gimbutas 145). In the stars of Elembivious, he is Auriga, The Charioteer, holding a goat and three kids on his left shoulder and a bridle and whip in his right hand.

         In the west room of the east-west temple complexes of the Minoan religion, the rituals preparing people for winter or death took place. The name of the month of these rituals on Crete and Thera is "Eleusinios" (Nilsson 521). The rituals were performed in rooms that contained cult objects with traces of grain and animal offerings. The main symbol in the artwork of these rooms is the horns or the consecrated bucrania which suggest rites of renewal and rites of passage where the initiate would be re-vitalized by a ceremony of death and resurrection. Marija Gimbutas states: "I believe that rituals that occurred in the dark crypts of the Knossos temple complex relate, on the one hand, to those performed one or two thousand years earlier in the large tomb shrines of Old Europe: Newgrange and Knowth in Ireland, and the Hal Saflieni in Malta. On the other hand, they mirrored those ceremonies enacted in classical times, such as the mysteries of Eleusis, accompanied by music and dance, symbolically imitated death and resurrection" ( 136).

         The rituals that Gimbutas speaks of are marked on the ancient calendars of the Greeks and the Celts. On The Sequani Calendar, the dark half of the month, or the last half of the lunar cycle is marked for the Holy Nights of Elembivious. In the first half of the cycle, the people have celebrated their Oenach on the full moon and after feasting and settling their commercial affairs, the Holy Nights of the second half of the lunar cycle are a time for spiritual balancing before the winter. The first nine nights of the cycle are marked as time to cross the River, Eridanus, in a spiritual quest. The sixth and seventh nights of those days are specifically marked with crosses.

         On the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis, the same nine nights, mentioned earlier in the Hymn to Demeter, the Holy Nights of the Eleusinian Mysteries, are preceded by a claim time or taking of the tithes for Eleusis. Official delegations proclaiming a holy truce for the first harvest were sent in the name of the grain goddess (Mylonas 244). Again, the sixth and seventh nights of the dark half of the lunar month of Boedromion are the nights in the Telesterion where the Hiera is shown to the people and the life-in-death vision is complete.

         The last nights of the dark moon on both calendars are marked for rest, libations, and rites for the dead. The Winter Constellations appear in the night sky on the tenth day of the dark half of the lunar cycle and winter begins. On The Sequani Calendar, these nights are marked by the mysteries of Mars and Mercury; they are marked with three crosses. On the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis, the rites for the dead are called the Plemochoai. Here, a sacred vessel of liquid is poured from a pitcher to the east and west respectively in a cleft in the earth or chthonic chasm (Kerenyi 141). The mystic formula quite possibly ensures that the stored grain contained in the earth will be fertilized in order that it may resurrect in spring. The east-west directions and the pitcher correspond to the Neolithic details of the myth mentioned above.

         The Neolithic rituals and the portrait of the stars in Elembivious are also paralleled in Celtic and Greek mythology. In Celtic mythology, the figure of the Pregnant Vegetation Goddess finds her parallels in the Matrona or the Three Mothers of the Celts found in Gaul and Northern Britain. The Matrona are often depicted as three women seated on a stone bench holding cornucopias, fruits, bread, or an infant. The mother figures, as well as other Celtic goddesses, are part of a sacred triskele which represent the daughter, the mother and the crone, three phases of the feminine archetype. In Gaul, the Matrona are often accompanied by Mercury, Mars, or Epona. Single mother goddesses or goddesses with children playing about their feet are variations of the sacred mother found in abundance in Britain and Gaul.

         In Irish mythology, Anu is the mother of the tribes called the Tuatha De Danaan and in Welsh mythology, Modron, mother of Mabon, is clearly the divine lineage of the hero. In these stories, it is evident that the matriarchy is an important element in the Iron Age myths. According to Anne Ross: "It is clear then from the literary contexts that, not only were the Celts concerned with the concept of a mother goddess who presided over mortals, but they also visualized the gods themselves as belonging to and being controlled by a great divine mother, nurturer of the gods and of the land with which, like all the Celtic goddesses, she was most particularly concerned" ( 271).

         The Celts inherited a particularly strong Indo-European tradition of portraying the pig and the boar in their Iron Age mythology as a harbinger of death, decay and burial. The boar was adopted as a clan symbol because of its ferocity to protect its own. It is associated with heroes and mortality and the battle against death as well as being associated with the vegetation goddesses and the cycle of crops. Instead of a daughter figure that must be revealed to the mother as a sign of the continuity of the vegetation cycle, the hero must hunt and kill the pig or boar as a posture of defense against mortality and death or hunt the animal to the Otherworld and return in triumph.

         In the Irish tales of Magh Mucrime, the pig has underworld connections ravaging the land for seven years creating a winter of desolation, and in the Fenian cycle of Irish mythology, Finn and his men are often in pursuit of an Otherworldly pig or boar. The Gaulish pig god "Moccus" is identified with Mercury and in the Welsh Triads there are three powerful swineherds, Pryderi, Drystan, and Coll who must follow mysterious pigs from the Otherworld across Wales or Britain. Coll's pig gives birth to wheat and barley in the journey thus associating him with the grain mother. The Welsh son of Modron, Mabon, must journey to the Otherworld or Caer Loyw and battle the magic boar Twrch Trwyth to marry his lover, Olwen.

         The third presence that appears in The Sequani Calendar and in the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis is The Horned God of mythology. As the harvest aspect of the Vegetation Year God in Neolithic culture, he is first seen associated with the bucrania as the master of horned animals and as a protector of the goddesses. However, in Indo-European culture, he is given a more dominant role than that of consort. In Indo-European culture, he is named as high priest. The figure of the priest as "one who evoked the deities of the underworld to assist in protecting the fertility of the crops and similar agricultural pursuits" is one of three defined roles of the priesthood. His name "Pont-dheh-ker" means a high priest who makes a path or bridge to the gods (Mallory and Adams 452).

         In Celtic mythology, Cernunnos is the antlered stag-god, a dispenser of prosperity who offers his wisdom and prowess, his strength and masculine powers, fecund and immortalizing as a guide through the onset of winter. Like Mercury and Auriga, he brings the vision of immortality, renewal and resurrection to the peoples of the earth. In his horned, animal aspect, he controls the animals. Beasts bow their heads in obeisance to his horned, black image and humans look to him for guidance in controlling their amassed wealth and stored grains for the winter.

         Portrayed on the Gundestrup Cauldron in a Buddhic sitting position, antlered and solemn, Cernunnos in his warrior aspect, is able to conquer the darkness in the form of a serpent, a symbol of the chthonic regions of the Otherworld. In one hand, Cernunnos firmly grasps the ram-headed serpent and in the other, he holds a torc, symbol of immortality: Twrch Trwyth. Men who are not able, like Cernunnos, to control their wealth are at the mercy of the serpent. This is most likely an Indo-European tradition of conquering the serpent as the goddess of the year, Hera. Cernunnos, divine ancestor, conquering god of the chthonic worlds, balances, like the balanced light of the Equinox, the power between this world and the Otherworld.

         In Gaul, Cernunnos is the great ancestor deity of the Gauls and in Britain, he is The Horned God of the Brigantes. Like the Gaulish Cernunnos, a stone image in Britain of Cernunnos depicts him as a horned god associated with Mercury; he is holding a purse in one hand and accompanied by snakes. According to Ross, many of the British stone figures are significantly different from their Gaulish counterparts because they are markedly phallic. Ross states that there are four basic ways he is depicted in Britain. He is seen as a naked phallic deity, as a warrior, as Mercury, and as a horned head (201).

         The Irish iconographic sources attest to a cult of The Horned God and the Irish mythology of the Iron Age reveals a certain tale in the Tain Bo Cualnge concerning Conall Cernach that accurately identifies Conall as Cernunnos. According to Ross, the tale is "of a very early and genuine Celtic tradition" (196). In the tale, Conall Cernach, like Cernunnos, is an ancestor deity of the Irish. Conall sets out to rescue the Fraech's wife, sons and cattle who have been carried off by a fierce and terrible tribe. Conall meets a crone who tells him to speak to a herdswoman because she cannot help them. The herdswoman, a diviner, tells Conall that she has heard that he is the chosen one who will save Fraech's family and kill the awful serpent that guards them. Conall attacks the fort of the serpent and the serpent slides into his belt without a struggle.

         The detail of the serpent in Conall's belt recalls the belt of the Vegetation Year God in Neolithic culture, and the image of Conall controlling or having the serpent encircle his waist recalls a recurrent image in Celtic mythology. The relationship between the great horned-god of the Celts and the serpent symbolizes the control Cernunnos has of the underworld powers. He is the path-maker and protector for the people.

         In Greek mythology, the figure of the path-maker is Hermes or Mercury. In the "Hymn to Demeter," Hermes' task is to bring Persephone back to Demeter in his chariot. Although he is a less ominous figure than Cernunnos, Hermes serves a similar purpose as messenger and path-maker between the forces of the Underworld, Hades, and the Earth, Demeter. Most importantly, he carries the vision of immortality that Demeter is shown in order that she may know that her daughter will be kept safely through the winter months and returned in spring. Likewise, the people of the earth are secure because their seeds will be safely stored for the winter to be used again in the spring.

         Hermes is a pre-Olympian god associated with the phallus and the snake. He is said to have stimulated plant growth, and he is the keeper of the flocks. Hermes carries a kerykeion or magic staff that has snakes twisted around it. With his kerykeion, he is able to summon souls from the Underworld. In the mysteries of Eleusis, the kykeon is a drink offered to the initiates before they witness the Hiera or vision of Persephone brought to them in Herme's chariot. According to Gimbutas, Hermes is a psychopomp whose function is concerned with hibernating and regenerating (163). As high priest of the Eleusinian mysteries, his function is to transform and alleviate the people of their fear of winter and death.

         The myth of Demeter and Persephone is one of the central myths in Greek mythology that has definite roots in Neolithic culture. Demeter is the aspect of the Pregnant Vegetation Goddess that is associated with the fruits of the earth, the grain and the harvest, and her daughter is the grain maiden and queen of the dead. Demeter's sacred animal, the sow, has Neolithic roots and her daughter's association with sprouts, seeds, and the piglet is also Neolithic. According to Gimbutas, the Neolithic myth of Demeter and Persephone involves the daughter of the grain mother descending to the Underworld to hibernate and live in the Underworld as Queen. Persephone's "torch light quickens the grain: the seed does not die, but continues to live in the underworld" (160). She is portrayed as a queen enthroned, holding a dove, a pomegranate, a torch, and ears of corn.

         In the mythology of the Indo-Europeans and the Bronze and Iron Age peoples, the Underworld becomes a place of gloom and the seed or maiden is extinguished instead of hibernating. The mother and daughter are both abducted by gods and mourn their separation. The new moon of Equos in The Sequani Calendar and the new moon of Metageitnion in the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis both mark this event as the Sacred Marriage of the horse to the king. Demeter as Demeter Erinys, the angry one, is abducted by Poseidon, and Persephone is abducted by Hades. Demeter must wander the earth in search of her daughter, and the earth experiences winter because of her grief. The Sacred Marriage is in the first 15 nights of a 55 night cycle marked on the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis.

         The search and discovery of Persephone is the next 30 nights of the 55 night cycle covering the light and dark halves of the tenth lunar cycles on both calendars. The entire lunar cycle, entitled Elembivious or Boedromion, is dedicated to the search for and discovery of the seed as it sleeps in the earth. In a spiritual sense, we are searching for life-in-death. The final 10 nights of the 55 night cycle is the light half of the month of Edrinios on The Sequani Calendar and the light half of Pyanopsion on the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis. This last part of the 55 night cycle is to cross into death or winter to the Otherworld or Underworld.

         Both calendars seem to keep 5 year cycles in order that the solar and lunar cycles are in sync. The Sequani Calendar starts every 55 years on one of the four major phases of the moon for the same reason. The Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge and the lunar calendar stone at Knowth mark those 55 year lunar cycles. On The Sacred Calendar of Eleusis, these cycles are also marked. Obviously, these cycles are marked to keep accurate time with the sun, moon and the stars. The creation of the 55 nights on the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis might then be seen as a microcosm for these larger cycles of time. In this way, the ancients celebrated the season of one year and the season of life simultaneously. The metaphors expand and the meaning enhances as the natural events, both cosmic and definite, are connected.

         For this reason, the entire month of Boedromion is devoted to the rituals of Demeter and Persephone, the symbols of "spring-summer and fall-winter in a cycle of constant renewal" (Gimbutas 161). The rituals begin on the first four nights of the dark half of the lunar cycle when the initiates walk fourteen miles from Athens to Eleusis to cross the bridge over the river to the temple of Demeter where they wait at the sacred well or kallichoron outside the temple. Dancing and the sacrifice of a piglet are part of the ceremonies as well as the ritual cleansing of the body and the soul in fasting and prayer.

         In the mythology, Demeter must wander the earth and then come to the omphalos or entrance to the Underworld to mourn. Demeter assumes the guise of a crone and Hecate, the actual goddess who is the crone, attends her. Maidens from the house of Metaneira help Demeter by sheltering her for days, but all is to no avail until Hecate brings Hermes. Hermes, the transgressor of souls, then enters the Underworld to retrieve Persephone and bring her to Demeter. On the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis this day, the fifth day of the dark half of Boedromion is called "Pompe." Torches and a procession of priests approach the Sacred Gate where the initiates, posing as Demeter, wait. They cross the bridge between this world and the Otherworld and the veil is lifted.

         In The Sequani Calendar and the mythology of the Celts, this is marked as crossing the River on the sixth and seventh nights of the dark half of Elembivious. On the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis, the initiates enter the temple to experience the Hiera on the same nights of Boedromion. A yellow ribbon is tied on the leg and hand of each initiate to symbolize his or her illumination or vision and each drinks the kykeon. The tying of one leg and one hand is reminiscent of the powerful stance of the Druids where they raise one hand and one foot and close one eye to summon the powers of the Otherworld. Having experienced what Carl Kerenyi calls a "vision beatifica," the people understand the powers of life and death.

         Unfortunately, Persephone has tasted of the pomegranate, or the fruits of the dead and must return to the Underworld to remain underground for the winter. The celebrations on The Sequani Calendar are marked by three crosses and the appearance of the Winter Constellations. The Sacred Calendar of Eleusis marks them as the Plemochoai or rites for the dead. In the "Hymn to Demeter," Hecate becomes the minister and companion of Persephone, and Rhea, the goddess of the earth, becomes the companion to Demeter and asks Demeter to join the families of the gods. On earth, the people are given a sacred calendar in order that they may eternally celebrate the mysteries of life and death in accordance with the stars, the moon, the sun and the cycles of the earth's fruits.

         The lunar cycle of Edrinios, the last lunar cycle of the celebration of the 55 night cycle, is named for the constellation of Eridanus which appears on the Eastern Horizon at the beginning of the month. Eridanus, the River, is our spiritual guide through the celebration of this lunar cycle. Here, the moon is celebrated in two distinct phases. The first phase is celebrated in the powerful light of the nights of the full moon itself. On the tenth night of the month, when the full moon passes the Hyades, known as the piglets, the second phase of the celebration begins and lasts until the moon is waning in its third quarter. These are the contemplative and sacred nights of the celebration performed by the priestesses of Persephone who are represented by the constellation of the Hyades.

         In the 55 night celebration of the grain harvest, Edrinios is the last part of that celebration. The 55 night cycle begins with the Sacred Marriage of the people to the land as a symbol of our commitment to the harvest; it takes place in the dark half of the lunar cycle of Equos. The second part of the 55 night cycle is the entire month of Elembivious and it is devoted to embracing the oncoming winter through a spiritual awakening to life-in-death and a realization of our human potential. The culmination of that cycle reaches its peak in the Holy Nights of Elembivious where we are given spiritual peace to face death and make it through the oncoming months of winter. The last phase of the 55 night cycle is to ensure that the seeds of our labor are safely stored for the winter; this essential month is Edrinios.

         On The Sequani Calendar, Edrinios is marked as Tiocobrextio, a celebration of the tribes. The three days around the full moon are the time of the first phase of the Oenach. The second phase of the Oenach is marked on The Sequani Calendar with three crosses before the moon begins its third quarter; this is when the full moon passes the Hyades. On the Sacred Calendar of Eleusis, the celebration is in the month of Pyanopsion, the eleventh lunar cycle of the Greek calendar. The first phase of celebration is called the Proerosia and the Pyanopsia of the Thesmophoria. The second phase of the celebration on the Greek calendar is the festival of the Thesmophoria itself; it too takes place on the nights before the third quarter.

         Both celebrations have their roots in the Neolithic culture of Europe and the Mediterranean. They were the times for the storage and the blessing of the seeds, a sacred activity carried out by the women of the tribes. The Hyades are an apt representation of these festivals as they are the piglets of Persephone, most likely represented by her priestesses. In the night sky, they appear as a cluster or group and their rising signifies the beginning of winter. They are often immersed in a cloud of streamers, as if protected by a veil. They are protected as the seeds of our labors must be protected. Before they had a name in the myths and legends of the Celts and the Greeks, they appeared as a sign in the sky that it was time for the winter seeds to be carefully protected and stored.

         Marija Gimbutas describes three types Neolithic temples, one of which she calls the temples dedicated to the Pregnant Vegetation Goddess. In the temples were found masks of pigs, clay figurines of young, mature and crone women, and figurines with grain stuffed inside. The temples housed seeds in underground pits, in offering pits in the corners of the temple courtyard, or in "pithoi" jars. Stored grains were blessed and cared for during the winter months and the women who cared for the temples were part of a Neolithic matriarchy. According to Gimbutas, the care and maintenance of the Neolithic temples was organized by councils of women with several levels including that of priestess and attendants (Gimbutas 120).

 

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