Sunday, 9 December 2007


(click on above image to enlarge it)


The Mystery Calendar : The Maiden and the Chariot Rider throughout the Year

Before we go any further, it will serve us well if we get clear on what Virgo and Bootes do throughout the year. I’ve taken the date of 600BC, and a latitude of 38°, that of Athens and so also close to that of Eleusis and indeed Sicily, the home of Daphnis and the place where Persephone goes down in some versions. These then were the figures I fed into my astronomy software. The main time of day that concerns us is evening; we want to know which constellations were revealed when the curtain of sunlight was drawn back after sunset and the stellar performance commenced. What was happening at dawn is also of significance at particular times. (For an idea of what the constellations do in the current period, add a month or so to each event.)

Let’s start in mid October, shortly after the time of the Eleusis Mysteries, and follow the year through to the next Mysteries. In October 600 BC Virgo was already set before sunset, and Bootes the Herdsman (and in the Eleusinian context the Ploughman?) was setting (ploughing?) on the western horizon. Virgo in fact remained absent from the evening skies from October through to February (the Maiden back with Hades during the Winter?), with Bootes also being partly set by sunset, and effectively completely so in Midwinter – “Dionysos descent into the Underworld” as in the Athenian festive calendar, and expressed in Dionysos’ visit to Hades in Aristophanes’ comedy The Frogs, performed at the Lenaia festival in January.

But in March they were both, Virgo and Bootes, visible just after sunset, not in the West anymore but rising on the eastern horizon, just as nature warmed up and plant growth burgeoned. This was the time of the Anthesteria (28th of February), the festival in which the Athenians celebrated Dionysos’ return from the Underworld. So in Longus’ novel Daphnis and Chloe (Bootes the ideal shepherd and Virgo the virgin) “wait for the end of Winter as for a resurrection from Death).

From March through to June Bootes and Virgo were (and still are) seen higher and higher and further across the sky (from East to West) when the Sun-curtain went up in the evening, and Bootes actually reached the very top of the evening sky in June, “Daphnis at Heaven’s Gate” in Virgil’s Vth Eclogue (now in July).

The two constellations then began to get lower in July and August, i.e. as the Dog Days set in, Daphnis on the wane as in the First Idyll of Theokritus, and perhaps also Daphnis going down to the stream in the Virgil Eclogue. In August Virgo was only visible for a short time in the evening before she set in the west.

Then in September at sunset Virgo was setting with the Sun (going into the Underworld in the Golden Chariot as the Hymn to Demeter?), indeed the Sun was in Virgo, and at Dawn too the majority of Virgo was not yet risen. Only the stars Beta Virgo and Epsilon Virgo may have glimmered dimly through the pre-glow of Dawn, but not the bright star of Virgo, Spica. So at this time the Maiden was absent both in the morning and in the evening, and indeed all through the night – “The Disappearance of Persephone” during which Demeter searched in vain for her beloved daughter.

“Then for nine days queenly Demeter wandered
over the Earth with flaming torches in her hands.”

Some of Bootes was risen before Dawn at this time, but not yet his bright star, Arcturus.

By middle of September, however, bright Arcturus rose just before the Sun, as if heralding the immanent return of the Maiden.

“But when the tenth enlightening Dawn had come, Hecate, with a torch in her hands, met her, and spoke to her and told her news…”
“And the daughter of rich-haired Rhea answered her not, but sped swiftly with her, holding flaming torches in her hands. So they came to Helios, who is watchman of both gods and men, and stood in front of his horses.”
Then by the end of September, at last, Demeter’s wait was over as the bright star of Virgo, Spica, rose before the Sun, “The Return of the Maiden from the Underworld” celebrated by the initiates at Eleusis. The day of initiation at Eleusis was Boedromion 20, October 1st. And that brings us back to where we started.

“And Aidoneus, ruler over the dead, smiled grimly and obeyed the behest of Zeus the king. For he straightway urged wise Persephone, saying:”
"Go now, Persephone, to your dark-robed mother, go, and feel kindly in your heart towards me: be not so exceedingly cast down; for I shall be no unfitting husband for you among the deathless gods, that am own brother to father Zeus….
And when Demeter saw them, she rushed forth as does a Maenad down some thick-wooded mountain, while Persephone on the other side, when she saw her mother's sweet eyes, left the chariot and horses, and leaped down to run to her, and falling upon her neck, embraced her.

Being clear on this cycle will greatly help us in understanding the Greek agricultural Mysteries, both those of the Grape that we look at in this chapter, and those of the Grain that we shall look at in Chapter Four. For the full Athenian calendar with festival dates, see

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