Demeter Thesmophoros, Baubo, and Thesmophoria, The “Bitching Festival”

A Priestess offering a piglet and other items to Demeter.

In late October, we come upon a beautiful multi-day holiday from the Greeks called Thesmophoria. Held after all the pomp and ritual of the Eleusinian Mysteries, this festival was dedicated to Demeter Thesmophoros, a variant of Demeter who was the Law-Giver. After the crops had been entirely pulled in, but before the seeds for next year’s planting were committed to the Earth, women from all walks of life would leave their homes and jobs and head out to nature for their own recharge festival.

Demeter Thesmophoros
The Greeks loved to add all sorts of unusual adjectives to the Gods’ names. These adjectives were poetic descriptions representing the diverse works of the Gods or even their connection to localities. They often arose from ecstatic experiences people had with the deities, and the names would help clarify the specific role the God was playing or the particular need of the person calling on the deity.
The epithet Thesmophoros derives from Demeter’s function in revealing and disseminating two ancient secrets, the cultivation of grain and initiation to the mysteries. It is potentially one of her least known names. Most of her epithets refer back to her capacity as a provider of not only food and grains, but the knowledge to grow them, a key element in helping humanity set itself apart from other animals on Earth. Demeter and her daughter Kore/Persephone often shared the term Thesmophoros, and the two were often referred to as “The Two Goddesses,” (To-Thesmophoro) or the “double-named Goddess,” with Thesmophoros, being a plural word, often standing for both of them. “By the Two Goddesses” was a common oath especially favored by women.
Thesmos means “laws,” but it also means, “that which is set down or laid down,” as from the very late past or from God. In other words, a Universal Law, something from the beginning of time. Homer uses the word to refer to the “law of the marriage bed” of Odysseus and Penelope. It is a divine law, fate, ritual law, or natural law. Thesmos can also refer to ritual customs and rites. So we may interpret this name for her as the dispenser and teacher of the laws and rituals of the natural world, a “law” or order of conduct going back into the reaches of time and memory, harkening to an older, more natural order, than the laws of man.

This festival was one of THE most widespread dedicated to Demeter, and it was held in locations as far reaching as North Africa, Asia Minor, Southern Italy, Greece, and Sicily. Archeologists believe it may be one of the oldest festivals as well, with traces appearing from eleventh century BCE. Men were absolutely not allowed to attend, witness or even hear about the festival, ON PENALTY OF DEATH. So, y’know, if you identify as male, you’re taking your chances if you read further.

The most well-documented purpose of this ritual was to ensure the health and fertility of the Earth in preparation for next year’s crops. At some point previous to this festival, Priestesses would drop offerings down into snake-filled rooms under a temple dedicated to Demeter called the Thesmophorion. Specifically, the offerings were the bodies of new-born piglets, grains, pine shoots and bread dough shaped like phalluses. At some point during the Thesmophoria, Priestesses would descend to those snake-filled rooms, clapping rhythmically to scare away the snakes, and retrieve the decomposing offerings. They would leave them at the front of the temple for farmers to take and use as a sacred compost to mix with the seeds they would soon plant before the next rainy season arrived. This sacred organic compost was a reflection of the type of “natural law” that Demeter Thesmophoros represented.

‛η τε Αγαπη και ‛η αδελφη ηλθον εις την ‛εορτην. εθεραπευον δη την Δημητερα. επειτα δε ελουσαν και ηλθον εις την χωραν την εγγυς της πυκνος. τη˛ μεν δευτερα˛ ‛ημερα˛ ουκ ησθιον, τη˛ δε τριτη˛ ‛ημερα˛ εθυον τε και ησθιον τους χοιρους.

εθεραπευον – honoured
ελουσαν – washed
‛η χωρα – place, space
εγγυς της πυκνος – near the Pnyx
τη˛ μεν δευτερα˛ ‛ημερα˛ – on the second day
ησθιον – ate
τη˛ δε τριτη˛ ‛ημερα˛ – but on the third day
εθυον – sacrificed
‛ο χοιρος – piglet

So, what exactly happened during Thesmophoria? Well, as best as we can tell, on day one women from all over the area would head out to the local hill dedicated to Demeter, hauling with them food, drink, incense, lamps, tents, and blankets. They would leave their beds at home filled with agus castus, the chaste tree (basically, a loud “nah” to their partners at home.) They took the first day to set up a “city of women,” away from town and prying eyes, building structures out of plant material. On day two, women would fast and purify themselves. On day three, they held a “bitching ritual.” The festivities of this day were dedicated specifically to a Goddess named Kalligeneia. The women would eat and drink their fill—avoided pomegranate, but enjoying wheat-based loaves of bread in the shapes of phalluses and vaginas – this might even be the precursor the long French loaf-, burping, farting, cussing up a storm, wrestle with each other, and even argue and fight.

But even this is a reasonably sterile interpretation. Many (male) authors over the years have insisted that celibacy was a key element. If we look at the other festival cycles happening at this time, we know that Demeter-as-Earth has just produced a massive harvest on the physical plane. Well, as any person who has had a baby can attest, often the last thing you want to think about is sex. So we may be seeing a natural receding of that femme energy to heal and restore itself.

However, the Eleusis Mysteries – where Persephone is stolen by Hades and raped as the beginning of her reign as Queen of the Dead – happens now. We also know that Demeter is raped by Poseidon at some point in her life as well as by the Titan Iasion. There is a portion of myth from the Eleusinian cycle that is often overlooked. While Persephone is missing, Demeter is inconsolable and weeps day and night. At some point, the Goddess Baubo, moved by Demeter’s pain, attempts to cheer her up.

Baubo, also known as Iambe, is an intriguing deity. She begins to tell Demeter jokes, each dirtier than the last, but she can’t even get a smirk out of the Great Mother. Finally, she lifts her dress and shows Demeter her hairy vagina and this cracks through the Great Goddess’ pain, and she gives out a hearty belly laugh.

Iambe may be the personification of the iambic meter or rhythm used in some rude forms of poetry and music, often depicted with instruments. As Baubo, her name means “entrails,” and she is sometimes depicted with a spiral on her belly. However, baubon in Greek means “dildo.” Baubo is always depicted as basically a head sitting on two legs. Her two legs are pressed together forming a solid pillar, her face is where her belly would be with her vagina on her chin. And her head is shaped like the head of a penis. I humbly suggest Baubo may have been a type of sexy Goddess concerned with the happiness and satisfaction one can receive from good, rhythmic, masturbation! Or sex/sensual experiences that shake us to our core. And also maybe this myth points to the concept that femmes connect to each other sexually in a different way than how (or if) they connect to masculine people. How healing those connections are. And how that kind of sensual energy exchange can even shake us out of something as deep as the grief of losing a child, or experiencing some kind of betrayal or violation. To be able to trust a lover enough to open up to wherever it is you need that sensation to go in your body to be healed and bring you back to your body after the disassociation that comes with traumatic experiences. Perhaps the ritual is about that.

It’s through this sense that we can now look at the festival of Thesmophoria with a new set of eyes. Perhaps this was a festival where women just took care of themselves and each other, sleeping in couples and groups, healing each other after the labor of the great harvest, the work of the Eleusinian Mysteries, as well as healing each other while they watched patriarchy slowly spread across their world.

And through that translation, we look back on Demeter Thesmophoros as a Goddess that perhaps knew a keen secret from way back in the days of yore, about how a femme could make herself whole again.

Thesmophoria 2018 Oct 20-23
How we can tap into this holiday and Goddess today (for mens and femmes):

If you identify as butch/dude/masculine, these Goddesses may seem really abstract for you (although you may be able to identify with Baubo.) If you just can’t connect, do some journaling work around your feelings on female sexual power. What does that phrase mean for you? What does it feel like when that energy is in your life, and when it is missing? Who in your life represents that for you?

For folx that are spoken to by these two Goddesses…
Get out of town if at all possible. Hold a sleepover. Hold an all femme orgy. Hold a self-care/peer-care salon. Get together with the femmes in your life and celebrate the work you have done so far this year. Eat some good food, drink some drink, smoke some smoke or do what you do to get loose. If you got some sh*t to say, say it. Air out the funky business, but make peace and find common ground at the end. Love yourself with some deep, sensual attention. Love each other. And by a new dildo (or prostate massager.)

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