The Pyanǽpsia: Generalities
The Pyanǽpsia (Pyanepsia; Gr. Πυανέψια, ΠΥΑΝΕΨΙΑ) is a major festival of all Ællinismόs (Hellenismos; Gr. Ἑλληνισμός), the ancient Greek religion, that is celebrated by many modern people who worship the Gods, both in Greece and beyond. The name of the festival is derived from the words pýanos (Gr. πύανος) meaning “bean” + ǽpsein(epsein; Gr. ἕψειν), “to cook by boiling,” a reference to a thanksgiving meal that was offered to the God Apóllohn(Apollo; Gr. Ἀπόλλων) by the originators of the feast. Traditionally, the Pyanǽpsia is an Athenian festival honoring the hero Thiséfs (Theseus; Gr. Θησεύς) and his accomplishment in freeing the city from a monstrous tribute. The Pyanǽpsia also commemorates and honors his Ækthǽohsis (Ektheosis; Gr. Ἐκθέωσις) or deification, and thus, represents a mighty goal for all those who pursue arætí (arete;Gr. ἀρετή), genuine virtue. The Pyanǽpsia is yet a great holiday of Apóllohn, who on this holiday gives us the Eiræsióhni (Eiresione; Gr. Εἰρεσιώνη), a protection for our families and homes. It was originally observed in ancient Athens on the seventh of Pyanæpsióhn (Pyanepsion; Gr. Πυανεψιών), usually in early October.
The essential background
There is more than one way that this story is told; in the Vivliothíki (Bibliotheca or Library; Gr. Βιβλιοθήκη) of Apollódohros (Apollodorus; Gr. Ἀπολλόδωρος), the compiler of myths and history, the author says that Evróhpi (Europa; Gr. Ευρώπη) of Phoenicia was loved by Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς). The God transformed himself into a bull and transported Evróhpi over the sea to the island of Kríti (Crete; Gr. Κρήτη), where he consorted with her, and she bore him three sons, Mínohs (Minos; Gr. Μίνως), Sarpidóhn (Sarpedon; Gr. Σαρπηδών), and Radámanthys (Rhadamanthys; Gr. Ῥαδάμανθυς). After she settled in Kríti, Astǽrios (Asterius; Gr. Ἀστέριος), a prince of the island, married Evróhpi and adopted her children. The three sons, however, became enemies as they reached manhood and the result was war.
When Astǽrios died leaving no children of his own, Mínohs desired rule of Kríti. He had been living there with his wife Pasiphái (Pasiphae; Gr. Πασιφάη ), the daughter of Ílios (Helios = the Sun; Gr. Ἥλιος). But his rule on Kríti was opposed by the other brothers. Mínohs declared that the Gods themselves gave him the kingdom, and as proof, he said that for whatever he prayed, it would be accomplished. So Mínohs sacrificed to Poseidóhn (Poseidon; Gr. Ποσειδῶν) and prayed that a bull would arise from the sea and he promised that he would sacrifice this bull to the God. Poseidóhn honored the king’s request and sent up a superb bull, but Mínohs so admired the animal that he hid it in his herds and sacrificed another in its stead.
Poseidóhn was now angry that Mínohs had broken his promise, so he made the bull wild and caused Pasiphái to develop a lust for this bull. Pasiphái employed the great inventor Daidalos (Daedalus; Gr. Δαίδαλος) to devise a way to seduce the bull so that she could couple with it. Daidalos created a wooden cow on wheels in which Pasiphái hid inside. This decoy drew the bull to her, and thereby she bore a monstrous son, the Minóhtavros (Minotaur; Gr. Μῑνώταυρος; etymology: Μίνως + ταύρος, i.e. “the bull of Mínohs”), a creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull, whom she named Astǽrios (as was named the husband of Evróhpi) Now that this plague had come to his land, Mínohs shut it up in a great labyrinth, another construction of Daidalos, in order to contain the beast. [1]
Aiyéfs and the Curse of the Minóhtavros on the Athenians
During these same years, Pandíohn II (Pandion II; Gr. Πανδίων Β’), the king of Athens, was dwelling in Mǽgara (Megara; Gr. Μέγαρα) in exile, for his uncle Mætíohn (Metion; Gr. Μητίων) had usurped the throne. But after he died, the sons of Pandíohn attacked Athens and regained the kingdom, with Aiyéfs (Ægeus, Gr. Αἰγεύς), one of the sons, as king. But Aiyéfs and his second wife were childless and in fear of his brothers, so he journeyed to Dælphí (Delphi; Gr. Δελφοί) to consult Apóllohn. The Pythía (Gr. Πυθία) gave Aiyéfs an oracle:
“Do not loose the mouth of the wine-skin until you reach the height of Athens.”
Aiyéfs could not make sense of it. He decided to return to Athens by way of Trizín (Troezen; Gr. Τροιζήν). While there, he lodged with Pitthéfs (Pittheus; Gr. Πιτθεύς), son of Pǽlops (Pelops; Gr. Πέλοψ). Aiyéfs told him what the oracle said and Pitthéfs immediately understood its meaning . Acting on this knowledge, he had Aiyéfs bed his daughter Aithra (Aethra; Gr. Αἴθρα). Having agreed to this, Aiyéfs made Aithra promise that if a male child should result from their union, she should raise the boy without revealing to him just who was his father. Aiyéfs now took a sword and sandals and placed them under a great rock. He told Aithra that when this boy had the strength to push the rock away and retrieve the sword and sandals, that she should send the lad to him.
Aiyéfs then returned to Athens and during the Panathínaia (Panathenaia; Gr. Παναθήναια), the great feast of Athiná (Athena; Gr. Ἀθηνᾶ), Aiyéfs sent the son of Mínohs, Andróyæohs (Androgeus; Gr. Ἀνδρόγεως), against the bull of Marathóhn (Marathon; Gr. Μαραθών), but the bull killed Andróyæohs. In anger at the death of his son, King Mínohs attacked Athens and captured Mǽgara. He prayed to Zefs to avenge him. And a great famine and pestilence fell upon the Athenians and they inquired of the Oracle how they might be delivered. The God told the Athenians to go to Mínohs, to his palace at Knohssós (Cnossus; Gr. Κνωσσός), and give him whatever he asked. Mínohs agreed to this and required of the Athenians that every nine years seven young men and seven virgins must be sent to Kríti to be placed in a labyrinth as food for the Minóhtavros.
The birth of Thiséfs and the Slaying of the Six Highwaymen
In the meanwhile, Aithra bore a son to Aiyéfs whom she named Thiséfs (Theseus; Gr. Θησεύς). When he grew to manhood, Thiséfs pushed away the rock and retrieved the sword and sandals and went in search of his father to Athens. On his way there, Thiséfs had adventures, displaying great bravery by slaying the six highwaymen who plagued the localities in which he passed, taming the road. Thus,
commenced a series of trials likened to the Labors of Iraklís (Heracles = Hercules; Gr. Ἡρακλῆς) by the ancient Greek historian Diódohros Sikælióhtis (Diodorus Siculus; Gr. Διόδωρος Σικελιώτης), who indicates that in his own lifetime, this was a commonly held belief [2]:
First, in Æpídavros (Epidaurus; Gr. Επίδαυρος) Thiséfs encountered Pæriphítis (Periphetes; Gr. Περιφήτης) the Korynítis (Corynetes; Gr. Κορυνήτης) or Clubman, for he was the son of Antíkleia (Anticlea; Gr. Ἀντίκλεια) and Íphaistos (Hephaestus; Gr. Ἥφαιστος) and he carried an iron club by which he murdered those who passed by. Thiséfs wrested the club from Pæriphítis and slew him.
Second, Thiséfs killed the Isthmian criminal Sínis (Gr. Σίνις), son of Polypímohn (Polypemon; Gr. Πολυπήμων)and Sylǽa (Sylea; Gr. Συλέα), known as the Pityokámptis (Pityocamptes; Gr. Πιτυοκάμπτης) or Pine-bender, who forced passersby to bend pine trees, but not being strong enough to do so, they were flung to their deaths. Thiséfs made Sínis share their fate. [3]
Third, Thiséfs slew Phaiá (Gr. Φαιά), the wild pig of Krommyóhn (Crommyon; Gr. Κρομμυών), who was the offspring of Ǽkhidna (Echidna; Gr. Ἔχιδνα) and Typhóhn (Typhon; Gr. Τυφῶν).
Fourth, in the rocks of Mǽgara (Megara; Gr. Μέγαρα) Thiséfs slew Skírohn (Sciron; Gr. Σκίρων), son of Pǽlops (Pelops; Gr. Πέλοψ), who forced passersby to wash his feet, but as they did so, he kicked them into the water where they were eaten by a gigantic turtle. Thiséfs grasped his feet and hurled him into the sea.
Fifth, near Ælefsís (Eleusis; Gr. Ἐλευσίς) Thiséfs killed Kærkýohn (Cercyon; Gr. Κερκύων), the son of Vrángkhos (Branchus; Gr. Βράγχος) and the nymph Aryiópi (Argiope; Gr. Ἀργιόπη), who wrestled travelers to their death. Thiséfs took him and hoisting above his head, he threw him to the ground and slew him.
Sixth, Thiséfs slew Damástis (Gr. Δαμάστης; also known as Προκρούστης or Πολυπήμων) who kept a resting-place for travelers in the plain of Ælefsís which contained a small bed and a big bed. Damástis took the short people and nailed them to the long bed and stretched them to fit it, but the tall people he put on the small bed and cut off whatever hang beyond the end of the bed.
Thiséfs, the Bull of Marathóhn, and the Minóhtavros
By the time Thiséfs arrived in Athens, Aiyéfs had married Mídeia (Medea; Gr. Μήδεια), who persuaded her husband to kill Thiséfs, as she convinced him that the young man was a great threat to him. In hopes of destroying Thiséfs, Aiyéfs first sent the boy to the Bull of Marathóhn, but Thiséfs defeated it. Now Mídeia and the king conspired to poison the lad, but just before Thiséfs drank the poison, he gave Aiyéfs the sword and sandals. When the king saw these things, he dashed the cup from the hand of Thiséfs and saved his life. Having uncovered Mídeia’s treachery, Aiyéfs expelled her from the city.
Now the time arrived for the third tribute to King Mínohs. In hopes of slaying the Minóhtavros and ending the torment of the Athenians, Thiséfs offered to be one of the seven young men. Before leaving on his voyage, Thiséfs went to the Delphinium as a suppliant, carrying a bough of olive wrapped with pieces of white wool, asking Apóllohn’s help. He also consulted the God at Delphi and the oracle commanded that the entourage honor Aphrodíti as their guide.
Having arrived at Kríti, Thiséfs won the help of Ariádni (Ariadne; Gr. Αριάδνη) the daughter of King Mínohs. The young woman had fallen in love with Thiséfs. She consulted Daidalos, the creator of the labyrinth, who had Thiséfs enter the maze, laying a string behind him to find his way out. Thiséfs slew the beast and escaped from the labyrinth, leading his Athenians back to the ship to flee home to Athens.
The slaying of the Bull of Marathóhn and the Minóhtavros completes the eight Labors of Thiséfs, the other six being the killing of the six highwaymen on his journey to Athens (see above). These labors represent obstacles which Thiséfs had to conquer on his great journey in pursuit of arætí. [4]
It had been arranged that if Thiséfs survived and killed the Minóhtavros, they were to raise white sails on the returning ship as a sign, but Thiséfs forgot and absent-mindedly left black sails in place on the ship. Seeing this, his father, King Aiyéfs, killed himself, assuming that Thiséfs was dead. [5]
After the burial of Aiyéfs, Thiséfs paid homage to Apóllohn on the seventh day of Pyanæpsióhn [6] for the safe return of his entourage and his great victory over the Minóhtavros. The men made a dish of pýanos (Gr. πύανος), broad beans or fava beans, and vegetables, the only provisions remaining from their journey, cooked in a common pot (χύτρος or χύτρα, an earthen pot), from which they ate a thanksgiving meal, offering some to the God. [7] The men also carried the Eiræsióhni (Eiresione; Gr. Εἰρεσιώνη) in procession “to signify that scarcity and barrenness was ceased…”[8] It is this meal given in thanks to Apóllohn and the carrying of the Eiræsióhni that we recall in our practice of the Pyanǽpsia. And we ponder and celebrate the great Arætí (Arete; Gr. Ἀρετή) of Thiséfs and all the mighty heroes who achieve Ækthǽohsis.
The Meaning of the Eiræsióhni and Its Use in the Pyanǽpsia
There is Mystical meaning to the journey of Thiséfs to Kríti. The Minóhtavros represents the power of Nous (Gr. Νοῦς), the mind of Zefs (Zeus; Gr. Ζεύς). [9] Thiséfs conquered the powers of Nous and achieved deification. The Minóhtavros is represented in the feast by the Eiræsióhni, a branch of olive. If you do not have an olive-tree available, use a branch of oak (sacred to Zefs), a branch of bay-laurel (sacred to Apóllohn and all the Gods), or a branch of any tree (representative of the Aithireal Vehicle of the Soul); all are appropriate. The Eiræsióhni represents the cortex (the outer shell) of the Orphic Egg. It is Nous, the mind of Zefs, wisdom itself, symbolic of the enlightened mind.
The word Eiræsióhni suggests two possible derivations. It may be from the verb, “I ask” or “I say” (ærόh; Gr. ἐρῶ), denoting a supplication to Apóllohn. It may also derive from a word meaning “wool” (ǽrion, Gr. ἔριον), as the Eiræsióhni should be decorated with pieces of wool, deep red or purple (porphýra; Gr. πορφύρα) and white. The deep red wool symbolizes the cosmic fire; the white symbolizes the upper levels of deification. White is also the color associated with Apóllohn, who is the chief God of deification and the guardian of the Mystíria (Mysteries; Gr. Μυστήρια). In addition to pieces of wool, you may decorate the Eiræsióhni with figs, cookies, small bags of beans, honeycombs, tiny jars of honey or olive oil or wine, candy. If you cut a large Eiræsióhni, you may mount it vertically and keep it for a couple weeks in a place of honor in your home, after which you would mount it above the entry-door of your home as a protection. In times of great trouble, leaves of the Eiræsióhni may be burnt as an offering to Apóllohn. The Eiræsióhni remains above the door for a year, until the next Pyanǽpsia, where it may burned on a fire or placed outside where you make offerings, and replaced with the new Eiræsióhni.
In ancient times, as a part of the Pyanǽpsia the Eiræsióhni was carried to the temple by children who had both parents still alive. The children also brought Eiræsióhni to private homes in hopes of getting presents. A song was sung with the procession of the Eiræsióhni:
The Eiresiône Song
from Plutarch, Life of Theseus, 22.5
eiresiônê suka pherei kai pionas artous
kai meli en kotulêi kai elaion apopsêsasthai
kai kulik’ euzôron, hôs an methuousa katheudêi.
Modern Greek pronunciation:
Capitalized syllables are emphasized according to the poetic meter.
EE-re-si-ON-NE SEE-ka fe-RE KE PEE-on-as AR-tous
KE me-lee EN ko-tee-LEE ke e-LE-on a-POP-SEE-SAS-the
KE kee-lik EF-ZO-RON, OS AN me-thee-OU-sa ka-THEV-dee.
Pausanias has the song:
‘Eiresione brings
All good things,
Figs and fat cakes to eat,
Soft oil and honey sweet,
And brimming wine-cup deep
That she may drink and sleep.’
Observing Pyanepsia today:
This is another harvest festival but has several features that were particular to Athens: the panspermia meal and offering, the retelling of the legends of Theseus and the carrying of the eiresione. First, you will want to prepare a panspermia for your feast and ritual.
Some of this panspermia should be placed on the altar and, if possible, burned for the God. If not, share it with nature afterwards. At the feast, serve the panspermia with rich bread and wine. Avoid meat. During the meal, after hymns to Apollo, read Plutarch’s Life of Theseus.
Create an eiresione. Ideally, use an olive or laurel branch. If this is not available, Russian olive or bare branches to which you attach olive-shaped leaves would be appropriate. Another good choice would be a branch from a local fruit tree. Wind the branches with strands of white or purple wool, preferably not spun. Attach pastry shapes and fruits of all kinds, especially figs. Provide your guests with small gifts.
What was hung on the Eiresione no doubt depended on the wealth of particular worshippers; we hear of white wool and purple wool, vessels of wine, figs, strings of acorns, cakes; nothing in the way of natural produce came amiss. The Eiresione once fixed over the door remained there, a charm against pestilence and famine, till the next year; then it was changed for a new one.
Ritual Washing:
Ritual washing with invocation to Okeanos: Okeanos whose nature ever flows, from whom at first both Gods and men arose; sire incorruptible, whose waves surround, and earth’s all-terminating circle bound: hence every river, hence the spreading sea, and earth’s pure bubbling fountains spring from thee. Hear, mighty sire, for boundless bliss is thine, greatest cathartic of the powers divine: earth’s friendly limit, fountain of the pole, whose waves wide spreading and circumfluent roll. Approach benevolent, with placid mind, and be forever to thy mystics kind.
Purification – water sprinkled from a bay branch – Be gone all corruption and evil” (three times). Blessed Okeanos, may your bright waters purify this space, and prepare both me, and it, for the rites that are about to unfold.
Lighting of the lamp for Hestia:
[1] Hestia, you who tend the holy house of the lord Apollo, the Far-shooter at goodly Pytho, with soft oil dripping ever from your locks, come now into this house, come, having one mind [5] with Zeus the all-wise —draw near, and withal bestow grace upon my song.
Libation of wine to Hestia
Strewing of barley groats around the altar (circling clockwise three times)
Lighting of the sacrificial fire.
Lighting of the incense burner with frankincense .
Invocations and offering of khernips: To you who nurtures us into being, who nurtures us through life, and who accepts us unto Thee again, I honor you with khernips etc.
O Goddess, Earth, of Gods and men the source,
Endu’d with fertile, all destroying force;
All-parent, bounding, whose prolific pow’rs,
Produce a store of beauteous fruits and flow’rs,
All-various maid, th’ eternal world’s strong base 5
Immortal, blessed, crown’d with ev’ry grace;
From whose wide womb, as from an endless root,
Fruits, many-form’d, mature and grateful shoot.
Deep bosom’d, blessed, pleas’d with grassy plains,
Sweet to the smell, and with prolific rains. 10
All flow’ry dæmon, centre of the world,
Around thy orb, the beauteous stars are hurl’d
With rapid whirl, eternal and divine,
Whose frames with matchless skill and wisdom shine.
Come, blessed Goddess, listen to my pray’r, 15
And make increase of fruits thy constant care;
With fertile Seasons in thy train, draw near,
And with propitious mind thy suppliant hear.
Invocation to Apollon:
Khaire Apollon, healer, teacher, averter of evil . . . Libation to Apollon Homeric Hymns 21 To Apollon Phoebus, of you even the swan sings with clear voice to the beating of his wings, as he alights upon the bank by the eddying river Peneus; and of you the sweet-tongued minstrel, holding his high-pitched lyre, always sings both first and last. And so hail to you, lord! I seek your favor with my song.
Recounting of the first Pyanepsia with prayers to Theseus and to Apollon for success and bounty during the coming year
Offering of panspermia and Libation – with prayers that the sacrifice and libation be acceptable, each followed by a ululation.
Passing the new eiresione over the sacrificial flames with prayers and ululation as an offering to Apollon to be placed on the door. At that feast they also carry the so-called “eiresione,” which is a bough of olive wreathed with wool, such as Theseus used at the time of his supplication, and laden with all sorts of fruit-offerings, to signify that scarcity was at an end, and as they go they sing:
EE-re-si-ON-NE SEE-ka fe-RE KE PEE-on-as AR-tous
KE me-lee EN ko-tee-LEE ke e-LE-on a-POP-SEE-SAS-the
KE kee-lik EF-ZO-RON, OS AN me-thee-OU-sa ka-THEV-dee.
Burning of the old eiresione and an offering of boiled beans in the sacrificial fire with prayers of thanks for Apollon’s blessings during the past year, followed by a ululation. Prayers
Invocation to Zeus:
[1] I will sing of Zeus, chiefest among the gods and greatest, all-seeing, the lord of all, the fulfiller who whispers words of wisdom to Themis as she sits leaning towards him.
Be gracious, all-seeing Son of Cronos, most excellent and great!
Prayers (for blessings, protection, family, and those in need, etc.) Invocation and libation Helios: Khaire Helios . . .
[1] And now, O Muse Calliope, daughter of Zeus, begin to sing of glowing Helios whom mild-eyed Euryphaessa, the far-shining one, bare to the Son of Earth and starry Heaven. For Hyperion wedded glorious Euryphaessa, [5] his own sister, who bare him lovely children, rosy-armed Eos and rich-tressed Selene and tireless Helios who is like the deathless gods. As he rides in his chariot, he shines upon men and deathless gods, and piercingly he gazes with his eyes [10] from his golden helmet. Bright rays beam dazzlingly from him, and his bright locks streaming from the temples of his head gracefully enclose his far-seen face: a rich, fine-spun garment glows upon his body and flutters in the wind: and stallions carry him. [15] Then, when he has stayed his golden-yoked chariot and horses, [15a] he rests there upon the highest point of heaven, until he marvelously drives them down again through heaven to Ocean.
Hail to you, lord! Freely bestow on me substance that cheers the heart. And now that I have begun with you, I will celebrate the race of mortal men half-divine whose deeds the Muses have showed to mankind.
Horai libation and invocation:
DAUGHTERS of Jove and Themis, seasons bright,
Justice, and blessed peace, and lawful right,
Vernal and grassy, vivid, holy pow’rs,
Whose balmy breath exhales in lovely flow’rs
All-colour’d seasons, rich increase your care, 5
Circling, for ever flourishing and fair:
Invested with a veil of shining dew,
A flow’ry veil delightful to the view:
Attending Proserpine, when back from night,
The Fates and Graces lead her up to light; 10
When in a band-harmonious they advance,
And joyful round her, form the solemn dance:
With Ceres triumphing, and Jove divine;
Propitious come, and on our incense shine;
Give earth a blameless store of fruits to bear, 15
And make a novel mystic’s life your care.
Invocation to Hestia: Daughter of Kronos, You whose eternal flame illumines all our worship, come to this oikos with blessings. Blessed Goddess Hestia, Goddess of home and hearth. To you, I offer last of all, as a pious mortal should. Tend to those whom I love, and guard the houses of the pious.
Libation of wine to Hestia
Extinguishing of the lamp


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