Aegean Edicts

The Samothracian Mysteries

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A few months ago I wrote an article on ‘Recreating the Samothrakean Mysteries‘ – I’m happy to say I put the theory into practice &, well, recreated them. The final form is that of a ‘sequanto’ – a term I have fashioned to describe a 14-strong sonnet sequence that is part of a larger series of sonnet sequences. In this case it is one of the 100 sequantos that contribute to the 1400 sonnets of my Silver Rose epic – which may be perused here.


The Anaktotelestes (priests)
Three Kabeiroi – Alkon, Eurymedon & Onnes
Three Kabeirides – Axieros, Axiocersan & Axiocersus

The Korybantes

The Sanctuary of the Great Gods

I: To the sound of music the initiates are led into the Sacred Precinct of Samothraki. In the Sacristy three Anaktotelestes await. Around the theatre stand the nine Korybantes.

First Anaktotelestes:
Welcome ye beautiful Initiands,
Youth is your mantle, energy your fruit
We are the Anaktotelestes, three,
Presiders of things

Preside over us!

Second Anaktotelestes:
Upon this only day of holy days
Into our sacred precinct have you come
Must give yourselves complete to this priesthood

From freedom comes release!

Third Anaktotelestes:
& from desire
Demeter comes in sweetness like the Spring.
These rites a gift for the Kabeiroi three,
Dwelling in the Samothracian cavern

First Anaktotelestes:
Salute the island, her powers are strong

Hail Samothraki! Praise the Kabeiroi!

Second Anaktotelestes:
Into these sacred mysteries, proceed

II: The initiates are led along the Sacred Way by the Priests, with the helmeted Korybantes accompanying them on all sides playing the flute & the sounding lyre, while leaping with rhythmic steps, dancing feet and circling measures to the brassbeaten beats of their shields. At the thresfoldto the Sanctuary of the Great Gods there are crystal glasses & deep bowls of wine.

First Anaktotelestes:
Dance Korybantes, deathless as thou art
Who dwell in Samothraki’s sacred ground
By your powers alone were mystic rites
First shown Mankind, play immortal Daimones!
Beat the dance Knossian! Lead us down
This Sacred Way, replenish balmy air,
The food of life, under concave heaven,
Let lucid breaths of Zeus sustain our souls.

Second Anaktotelestes:
Are we to enter the the Sanctuary
Our old selves – no! first quaff the ruby grapes
Of Dionysis, crush’d ambrosial,
Come fill your crystal cups with elixir
Bowl-bubbling dew of vintage Lemnian.

Third Anaktotelestes:
Fill your cups, drain them whole, fill them again ,
Then enter, saying farewell to your fears.

III: The procession reaches the Anaktoron’s main hall

First Anaktotelestes:
Mystai of these marvellous mysteries,
Let us witness this Myesis, your soul’s state

Unpurified, immerg’d in mire has been
But waits on the threshfold, lovely as stars

Korybantes play music & circle the initiates – the oxhides thud under the blows of iron as they whirled them about in rivalry, while the double pipe makes music and quickens the dancers with its rollicking tune in time to the bounding steps of war-dances, accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and arms, and also by flute and outcry

Second Anaktotelestes:
Listen to the melodies of Linus
Apollo’s son adopted, hymnal praise
For nurse Demeter, mother of the Gods
Whose sceptre sway’st twyx the poles divine.

Third Anaktotelestes:
From pagans suckld in an outworn creed
What diamond dusted people you’ll become
Tho not yet born – the living parts you’ll play Are not created yet

Enter the three Kabeiroi

First Anaktotelestes:
The Kabeiroi
Have come, three sons of Hephaestus born
Two plotting mindless murders on the third

IV: Two of the Kaberoi – Alkon & Eurymedon – murder their brother, Onnes, by lulling him with wine then severing his head with one blow. Enter Hermes

Heed me! Hear me! Be still ye dwarf-boy kings
Alkon & Eurymedon, the lord Gods
Of Olympus send displeasures thro me,
Hermes, first messenger of the Divine
Who, by light leaps directs my steps to thee,
Demanding of a penitential trek
Back to Olympus, bearing on this shield,
Forg’d in the furnaces of your father,
The head of your bonnie brother, Onnes,
Cover it with cloak of ruby purple
& bury it beneath the gaze of Zeus,
Else by his vengeant lightning be struck down

Exit Hermes – to the sound of the Korybantes, Alkon & Eurymedon do all they were bidden to, including burying their brother’s headless body – they then leave the Anaktoron

First Anaktotelestes:
Mystai of the Mysteries, fill your wine
Escort Kabeiroi gone Olympus-bound

V: The procession is led outside the Anaktoron to the accompaniament of the Korybantes

First Anaktotelestes:
Play ye Corybantes, with your parents
Apollo and Rhytia, watching on
Ye who hold mountain-ranging instruments
Bringing your notes of barbarous delight

Second Anaktotelestes:
As Korybantes strain unearthly tunes
Like birdsongs underneath unnatural light
Allow your mind’s imaginations rise
& form the lofty slopes of Olympus

Alkon & Eurymedon begin to bury their brother’s head

Third Anaktotelestes:
Below them burying their brother’s head
Alkon & Eurymedon show remorse
To drums bull-bellowing Hades semblance,
Subterranean thunderings of guilt

{crying out from emulous throats}
Euoe saboe… Hyes attes, attes hyes.

Euoe saboe… Hyes attes, attes hyes!


Drink, my dreamy initiands, drink deep
Release yourself from irridescent dark
By purified by such ceremonies
Which flipp’d the guilt of living Kabeiroi
Into our divine stations of remorse
Who know now only that a blameless death
Will cease the body’s eternal torment

As you live our death, so you die our lives,
Transmigrating sleep to sleep, dream to dream,
You may leave, now, the skirts of Olympus
Cast off impurities at last to merge
With the miky divinity of Gods
Like souls released from dull prisons by death
A death more permanent & more profound

The priests lead the initates away from the Anaktoron

VII: The initiates arrive at the Telete – waiting for them are the three Kabeirides beside a box.

Hail! to those on the edge of becoming,
The progression of your procession
Brings thee to the test of the Telete

We are the three Kabeirides, vestal
Daughters of the eternal Kabeiroi
Protectors of the world famous phallus
That is the penis from Zagreus hewn

Entrusted to us, by Demeter, Hail!

Anaktotelestes & Korybantes:
Hail Demeter!

First Anaktotelestes:
Both Gods & Men arose
From thee, & thro’ thee every river flows,
Celestial & life-supporting maid,
With joyful aspect on our incense shine,
Propitious to our rites, Hail Demeter!

Hail Demeter!

First Anaktotelestes:
Open the sacred chest

Axiocersus opens the chest to reveal the penis of Zagreus stood upright upon a large silver dish, which is lifted by Axieros & Axiocersa.


O Leader of the chorus of the stars!
Whisper to our psyches how the Titans
Zagreus tore apart, phrenzied, dismember’d
Son of fair Persophone & Zeus

Our fathers recover’d virrilia
Eternally & vernally arous’d

Demonstrate respect

Fill your bowl with wine

Drink deep, libations pour then to the Earth
As if Dyonisian ejecta

A gift from Demeter this ruby rite
& after hearts shall gleam with molten bronze
Bonding together in the common forge

For passion never happens without trust
& candles never melt in the darkness


First Anaktotelestes:
Drink thy fill of Samothrakean wine
Then follow the phallus of Zagreus

Follow! Follow! the phallus of Zagreus

Fair sisters hold the phallus well upright

Axiocersus leads the way with Axieros & Axiocersa together wielding the penis-mounted silver dish.

Second Anaktotelestes:
Understand priapos vitality
Generations of genitalia
Ensure no unbecoming, like a sun
Dawning every morning, perpetuates

Third Anaktotelestes:
The penis is our first-born king
Which celebrates the Gods’ creative gift
As the crown’d companion of our orgies
Admonishing revolting barbarity
By bringing beauty to the union
Of men & women, consecrated, kiss’d.

X: The processsion arrives at the Hall of the Choral Dancers to the accompaniment of the Korybantes – there are many rugs & cushions laid around a central bed on which lies Persophone eating fruit – incense wafts through the hall, wine sits in bowls

First Anaktotelestes:
This is the Hall of the Choral Dancers
Being guests you are welcome to enter
Into a sense of seal’d obedience
Exert great efforts of body and soul

Second Anaktotelestes:
This is the Lady Persophone
Solitary now, she waits for Hermes

Man’s life a day – what he is, what he’s not
Are shadows only of a lonely dream
But when the Gods shed brightness on a life
All shadows fade away, & all is light

Enter Hermes, naked, with an erection

Third Anaktotelestes:
Enters Hermes as the Fate of Heaven
Come celebrate his presence, slide your wine
Down throats of effortless lubrication

First Anaktotelestes:
Hail Hermes

Second Anaktotelestes:
Hermes hail

Korybantes & Kabeirides
Hail ! Hail ! Hail ! Hail !


I am Hermes, Messenger of the Gods
Thro’ ithyphallic images of me
I might be recognizable, ox-eyed
Queens of heaven & ministers of lust,
Ye fresh & dashing prince-like manlings all
Persophone has summon’d me

Embrace me with insatiable desire
Take me to place I’ll feel divine as you
When virgin kiss becomes the lover’s clasp.

{drawing wine}
With playful laughter, Bacchus in the mood,
Let us make this house of vinegar scant
Then passion’s gasps breaths denary consume,
Ensuring life’s anxieties vanish
Eschatogamic, to Elysium.

Hermes begins to make love to Persophone / exit the Kabeirides


First Anaktotelestes:
Lord Zeus, fumigation from Frankincense,
To these veil’d rites I, deferential, call.

Second Anaktotelestes:
Look ! as the lust of Hermes burns & probes
Persophone’s slippery wound, & deep

Third Anaktotelestes:
Hear as the fount of passion gushes forth
Against intruders to her nubb’d desire

The Anaktotelestes:
The gateway to her citadel is storm’d
Her portal cleft & carried by assault

Third Anaktotelestes:
Lovers unite, vigorous interplay
Made audible in mutual embrace

Second Anaktotelestes:
& now the time has come to disavow
Your ordinary lives, Korybantes

First Anaktotelestes:
Pair our couples in a tender wooing
Let passionburts excuisite follow on

The Korybantes pair couples together, including pairing themsleves with each other & the initiates / the couples are led to the rugs & pillows


First Anaktotelestes:
Ye lustful men, ye mystai on the mounds,
Like dewdrop pearls the scent is collecting
Your lily reds are blossoming, the blue
Lotuses are opening inside her

Second Anaktotelestes:
Let Demeter’s body be transmuted
Make love to your woman, the ruddy spring
Of passion is a floodswell of kisses
Do not be afraid, she wants you to dive
Deep inside her life – again & again

Third Anaktotelestes:
Again & again – do not stop young men
Let serpents coil’d entwining round your spines
Uprise together – gasping – bursting – free…

Hermes, Persophone & the couples reach orgasm together

The Anaktotelestes:
When… entering the treasury of peace,
Life-giving breezes issue from the east.

Exit Hermes & Persophone / wine is passed around the couples


First Anaktotelestes:
Those spent of lust with Nature have communed
Demeter knows you now & will accept
Your statusus, initiated souls,
Unless you’ll share the secrets of these rites,
When death shall find & strike you as unjust

Second Anaktotelestes:
Being better in every respect
Ye pious to the Hieron proceed
Your laurell’d epopteia to receive
Under the gaze of our glittering gods

Third Anaktotelestes:
Who now have sworn your whole lives to protect
If ever daunting danger flaunts its face
Blustering boistrous winds of circumstance
Defy, offer this island’s deities
Your prayers of salvation & of love.

The Aegean Edicts (3) : Finishing an Epic Poem

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The wine that led to this morning’s hangover

Today I ended Axis & Allies. I’m happy to now declare myself to the world as an epic poet. Whether I’m any good I shall leave to all our posterities. I began the day drunk but determined; packed a wee bag of food from last night’s campfire – a jacket potato & some chilli left overs – emptied the remnants of the wine into a plastic bottle & began my hike. It was tough at first, but step by step I began to wake up, assisted very much by a dip in the Jesus Falls. I spent an hour just reviving there, watching a beautiful dragonfly sit on a rock, then go for a wee fly, then return to the same spot, then repeat the whole hypnotic sequence again.

I then began my climb up the Gria Vathra – to the source of the river Gria. At first the path was easy, but it soon broke out into open rock climbing. It was a fond moment, for when I began Axis & Allies in 2001 I used to go scrambling up the wee cliffs at Happy Valley, Tunbridge Wells, while composing A&A.

A sketch of me, early 2001 just before I began to study for A&A

I’d actually started two years ago, when I’d invented the Tryptych form in Brighton one October evening, composing two stanzas for my Waterloo poem, composed the following Summer. Here’s the first of them which still stands as the invocation to A&A.

There is a glade in an ancyent forest
Where glittering pools of molten azure
Assail ripe sense… insliding, moonbeam-bless’d,
Soul bathes in blissful dreamtimes gleaming pure;
Attended by
My nine naked maidens,
Vulvaean lullaby lilting thro’ love gardens.

She harps a song, she summons stars,
She waltzes round the waters,
She treats these sainted battlescars,
She paints a floating lotus,
She strums her summergold guitars,
Loxianic daughters!
How lovely & how livid floods thy light,
What verses & what wonders must I write?

They ring & weave thro’ tryptych tones,
Sing rich enchanted chime,
Soft music hones their mystic moans,
& so… my all must rhyme…
With hopes of flashing heroes up Parnassus slopes we’ll climb!

Finishing the first 10,000 lines, Summer 2002

After completing Waterloo, it was while travelling on a train between Bognor & Arundel, just after the floods of 2000, that I was hit by the concept of a 10,000 line epic on World War Two – 500 tryptychs in total. The bulk of these were composed in & from my base in Tunbridge Wells the following year. My composition period ran through the events of 9-11, which I also wrote tryptychs, about along with some about the birth of Rome & others on my first tour of India.

By 2006 I was then knitting all the parts together – from Troy to the modern day – & completed these on the islands of Marettimo & Malta in the early parts of 2007. From there I had four major bursts of creativity in 2008, 2011, 2016 & finally, the final 37 stanzas composed on my recent tour of the Aegean.

The last stanza was completed at the Gria Vathra itself, where I made the above film in which the very last line of poetry came to me. I was also visited by the spirit of my grandmother – it was an overwhelming, tear-draining sen sation. I think she was proud of me, as if she was attending my graduation ceremony. Here is that final stanza in full;

With groggy noggin, nine o clock, drunk still,
My steps besober’d up Poseidon slopes,
Wild dragonflies in escort hill to hill,
A spirit free from toil that here elopes
With muses nine
Naked in pools & falls
Inviting me to dine on melons, wine & rolls.

With breakfast done the climb began
Force following the shadow
Of something more than that young man
Who started this years ago
From path to rock I laughed & ran
The joyous gigalo
‘This way,’ say Clio & Calliope
Perch’d on steep stone, strumming ukelele.

He dove into that perfect pool
With bed of Autumn leaves
Sat on a stool of granite cool
He elegant recieves
One final line of poetry, what tapestry he weaves.

It was an apt place to finish. Legend has it that Poseidon crawled out of the sea to perch upon Mount Saos – which towered high above me on the climb – in order to watch the Fall of Troy across the Aegean Sea. A metaphor perhaps, for an epic poem to rival the Iliad, if I may be so bold.

So what next? Well, I have started to put the 100 cantos online, where you can also find an abridged version I made available to buy in book form. But the poem is now ready to be read in its entireity. 900 tryptychs divided into 100 cantos. I hope to have it all available for perusal soon enough, & Greece seems the perfect place to do it.

Damian Beeson Bullen

The Aegean Edicts (2): Reconstructing the Samothrakian Mysteries

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The Argonauts sail towards the isle of Samothrake: Electra’s island grows larger, guarding the secret of the Thracian rites of the Kabeiroi and other gods… Thyotes the priest meets the Argonauts and bids them welcome to the land and to the temples, revealing their Mysteries to his guests. Thus much, Samothrace, has the poet proclaimed thee to the nations and the light of day; there stay, and let us keep our reverence for holy Mysteries. The Argonauts, rejoicing in the new light of the sun and full of their heavenly visions, seat themselves upon the thwarts and depart from the island 

Valerius Flaccus: Argonautica

O Samathraki, what a joy! Where have you been all my life. I got here via Thessalonika on an A/C coach for 30 euros to the port of Adrianopolous. Then it was a 14 euro ferry to the island, which on the approach really feels like you are crossing over to Arran. I’ve been staying at the municipal campsite for almost a fortnite: its like a musical festival in the woods by the sea, but without any music stages or stalls – its quite the young team but they all think I’m in my 30s so I’ve blended in well enough!

Samothraki is an island of oak trees, pebbly beaches & waterfalls; & in these twelve days I’ve managed to climb most of Mount Saos -the highest mountain in the Aegean – an eight hour mission, just halting shy of the 1.611 metres ‘Fengari’ (moon) summit, followed by some canyoning in the rocky gullies back to Therma. My favorite pasttime, tho, is the morning ritual of walking to Therma, having some coffees, then spending an hour in the hot sulphuric springs, from where I’d buy fresh bread & take the meandering back roads to the campsite. Very conducive for literary thought!

My adhoc campsite ( a work in progress)

So why Samothraki? Well, I was drawn here by a profound personal identification with Orpheus – possibly the first poet AND musician in history. A pilgrimage to one of his old haunts should provide much materielle for an Aegean edict, & so it has proved. So let us begin with what we know about Orpehus, & with me being a bona fide euhmerist, that means he would have been most definitely real.


He first came to prominence among the Rhodope Mountains of Thrace, now mostly in modern Bulgaria, strumming his magical creations on an equally magical lyre. Pindar called him the Father of Songs, his voice being so sweet and powerful that he could charm wild animals, divert rivers & even lull the rocks to sleep. He was also said to be one helluva wise king, accredited with teaching humankind a long list of subjects such as healing, prophecy & astrology. Diodorus Siculus gaves a good account of him;

Since we have mentioned Orpheus it will not be inappropriate for us in passing to speak briefly about him. He was the son of Oeagrus, a Thracian by birth, and in culture and son-music and poesy he far surpassed all men of whom we have a record; for he composed a poem which was an object of wonder and excelled in its melody when it was sung. And his fame grew to such a degree that men believed that with his music he held a spell over both the wild beasts and the trees.

And after he had devoted his entire time to his education and had learned whatever the myths had to say about the gods, he journeyed to Egypt, where he further increased his knowledge and so became the greatest man among the Greeks both for his knowledge of the gods and for their rites, as well as for his poems and songs.


A single literary epitaph, attributed to the sophist Alcidamas, credits him with the invention of writing. He was also the official bard of Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece, & it is probably through him the story was recorded for posterity. A more positive literary accreditation comes thro’ Diogenes, who claims Orpheus to be the author of a cosmogony on the course of the sun and moon & a poem on the generation of animals and fruits. Then there are the Orphic hymns, of which Pausanius writes;

His hymns are known by those who have studied the poets to be both short & few in number. The Lycomedes, an Athenian family dedicated to sacred music, have them all by heart, & sing them at their solemn mysteries. They are but of the second class for elegance, being far excelled by Homer’s in that respect. But our religion has adopted the hymns of Orpheus, & has not done the same honour to the hymns of Homer.

At Dutch Bobs campsite, with Dylan from Dublin and the three Georges

With Orpheus as my inspiration, & Samothraki my base, let us search thro’ the annals for the moments which they tally, beginning with the following interesting passage by Diodorus Siculus;

Some historians, and Ephoros is one of them, record that the Daktyloi Idaioi were in fact born on the Mt Ide which is in Phrygia and passed over to Europe together with Mygdon; and since they were wizards, they practised charms and initiatory rites and mysteries, and in the course of a sojourn in Samothrake they amazed the natives of that island not a little by their skill in such matters. And it was at this time, we are further told, that Orpheus, who was endowed with an exceptional gift of poesy and song, also became a pupil of theirs, and he was subsequently the first to introduce initiatory rites and Mysteries to the Greeks.

We get the idea here of Orpheus being taught a series of ‘initiatory rites and mysteries’ which had come to Samothraki via Phrygia, in modern-day Turkey. It is the purpose of this Edict to attempt at least a partial reconstruction, or reimagining if you will, of the long-lost, highly secret Samothracian mysteries, of which Diodorus Siculus said;

The details of the initiatory rite are guarded among the matters not to be divulged and are communicated to the initiates alone; but the fame has travelled wide of how {the Kabeiroi} appear to mankind and bring unexpected aid to those initiates of their who call upon them in the midst of perils. The claim is also made that men who have taken part in the mysteries become both more pious and more just and better in every respect than they were before.

The chief object of the Samothrakian mystery rite is to make somebody ‘more pious and more just and better in every respect than they were before.’ The initiate will also have some kind of protection laid on by the Kabeiroi whenever these dieties are summoned to help. We also learn from Diodorus that Orpheus was an initiate into the Samothrakian Mysteries, being taught it by the Kabeiroi themselves;

On top of Mount Saos with Bonb n Dylan

In the course of a sojourn in Samothrake they [the Kabeiroi] amazed the natives of that island not a little by their skill in such matters. And it was at this time, we are further told, that Orpheus, who was endowed with an exceptional gift of poesy and song, also became a pupil of theirs, and he was subsequently the first to introduce initiatory rites and mysteries to the Greeks.

What Orpheus learnt on Samothraki would form the basis of early Greek religion – so pretty seminal stuff really. There is a nice section in the third century BC ‘Argonautica’ by Apollonius Rhodius, which shows Orpehus in connection with the rites.

The Argonauts beached this ship at Samothrake . . . Orpheus wished them, by holy initiation, to learn something of the secret rites, and so sail on with greater confidence across the formidable sea. Of the rites I say no more, pausing only to salute the isle itself and the Powers [the Kabeiroi] that dwell in it, to whom belong the mysteries of which we must not sing.

Again we sense the superstitous fear of recanting the rites; some folk got struck by lightning & stuff, so, the fear was genuine. Luckily for me I’m in no position to retall the Mysteries as they were, but only as I conject. I’m relying on getting something wrong, or missing something out, to survive my personal sojurn on Samothraki. But anyway, without further ado, lets see if we can reconstuct at least some of the essence of what the Samothakian Mystery was all about.

The physical evidence of the Mystery ceremony can be found at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothraki, a sprawling religious pan-centurial site which contains the three sacred precincts which the initiate had to move through in order to complete the Mystery procession. These were the preliminary Myeses, the Telete & the Epopteia. One schol of thought states that after a prosective initiate had been prepared in the Sanctuary’s Sacristy, the Myesis took place in the Anaktoron’s main hall, followed by the Telete in the inner adyton at the building’s north end. Once this concluded, the mystai (initiates) could proceed to the Hieron where they acquired the higher degree, the epopteia. Another school of thought prefers to place the initiation in the recently excavated Hall of Choral Dancers.

I visited the Sanctuary this morning, getting there at 8 to have the place to myself & get into the zone. They key element to the visit was discovering teh theatrical circle of the entry complex that connected to the old city – Paleopili – whose cyclopean walls stretch up mount Saos – extremely beautiful. From here the initiates would descend along the paved sacred way into the holy valley for the Mystery itself. It was on such an occasion that Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II, met his mother, Olympias. With the Mystery procession being divided into three seperate parts, we are looking for the general outline to three different aspects of the Samothrakian Mystery. These are actually findable, tho’ contained in scattered texts.


In his ‘Exhortation to the Greeks’ the second century AD Christian writer, Clement, pretty much divulges the theatrical contents of the first part of the mystery.

If you would like a vision of the Korybantian Orgies, this is the story. Two of the Korybantes (Kabeiroi) slew a third one, who was their brother, covered the head of the corpse with a purple cloak, and then wreathed and buried it, bearing it upon a brazen shield to the skirts of Olympus. Here we see what the Mysteries are, in one word, murders and burials! The priests of these Mysteries, whom such as are interested in them call ‘Anaktotelestes’, add a portent to the dismal tale. They forbid wild celery, root and all, to be placed on the table, for they actually believe that wild celery grows out of the blood that flowed from the murdered brother .

If we are to recreate a mystery, some people, a number undetermined, need to be presiding over proceedings & call themselves the Anaktotelestes. We also need to tell a stoy of two brothers turning on another brother, then carrying his head on a shield to Olympus – possibly in penitence or perhaps as a votive offering. I’m not so sure we need to include the celery, but there’s enough detail there to paint a good opening section of this intiatory tryptych.


Its an interesting feature of the Greek language that if you rearrange the letters of EPOS – Epic of the testosterone-fuelled Illiad kind – you get PEOS. Continuing with the penis theme, the Cabeiri were famous for recovering the phallus of Zagreus, which had been dismembered by the Titans, & establishing it in the shrine of their Mysteries. This piece of theatre should then constitute the second sction of the tryptych – so where there was a head on a shield in the first part, there is a penis in a casket in the second, kinda thing. Its very much like the grail ceremonies ascribed to 12th & 13th century Templars, & there could very well be a connection.

Zagreus was worshipped by later followers of Orpheus & seems to be a Dionysian figure, born of the union between Zeus & Persephone. The story goes that he had his tackle hacked off by the Titans, only for it to grow back at a later date. Herodotus himselef gives us some great background.

The Korybantes are also called by the name Kabeiroi, which proclaims the Rite of the Kabeiroi. For this very pair of fratricides got possession of the chest in which the virilia of Dionysos [Zagreus] were deposited, and brought it to Tyrrhenia [i.e. Lemnos], traders in glorious wares! There they sojourned, being exiles, and communicated their precious teaching of peity, the virilia and the chest, to Tyrrhenians for purposes of worship.

So here we have an account of the Kabeiroi worshipping the penis of Zagreus/Dionysis which was placed in a chest. The second part of our mystery should tell the story of how they found the chest & the penis. Simple Mystery Play stuff, really, straight from the Towneley manuscript.



The final part of the ceremony involves a story between Hermes & Persephone, which if we connect with the orgiastic nature of the Mysteries leads to only one workable plausablity. This would be something like Hermes & Persephone getting it on big time & then the initiates joining in the party. Herodotus tells us;

The Athenians, then, were the first Greeks to make ithyphallic images of Hermes, and they did this because the Pelasgians taught them. The Pelasgians told a certain sacred tale about this, which is set forth in the Samothrakian Mysteries

The Athenians received their phallic Hermae from the Pelasgians, and those who are initiated in the mysteries of the Cabeiri will understand what I am saying; for the Pelasgians formerly inhabited Samothrace, and it is from them that the Samothracians received their orgies.

Looking elsewhere in the classical ouevre, we find a sacred legend spoken of by Cicero, which states that Hermes was the son of Coelus and Dies, and that Proserpine desired to embrace him. So we can now create a general outline of the entire Samothrakian Mystery.

Part 1: Two brothers – the Kabeiroi – kill a third & carry his head to Olympus on a shield.
Part 2: The Kabeiroi discover the castrated penis of Zagreus & place it in a chest.
Part 3: Persephone seduces Hermes & all the initiates join in & form an orgy.

This would the followed by the initiate becoming initiated, ie taken under the wing of the Kaberoi. Aristophanes intimates that the mysteries were particularly calculated to protect the lives of the initiated. Herales & Alexander the Great were both big fans & put their successes down in no small part to their initiations into the Samothrakian Mysteries. An example of the Kabeiroi protecting an initiate can be found in the vita of our very Orpheus;

There came on a great storm and the chieftains the Argonauts had given up hope of being saved, when Orpheus, they say, who was the only one on ship-board who had ever been initiated in the Mysteries of the deities of Samothrake, offered to these deities prayers for their salvation. And immediately the wind died down Diodorus Siculus


Alcohol is the definitive lubricant to orgiastic behaviour, & it seems the Samothrakian ritual orgy was no different. In the lost play, Cabiri, by Aeschylus, the two gods welcomed the Argonauts to their island and initiated them in a drunken orgy. So we’re gonna need booze, & lots of it!


Now then, who will be playing out the mystery for our initiates. Well, besides the presiders of things, the Anaktotelestes, we’re gonna need three Kabeiro & a three nymphs. The 5th Century BC mythographer Akousilaüs the Argive, calls Kadmilos the father of three Kabeiroi, who in turn are the fathers of the Nymphs called the Kabeirides. Pherecydes states that there were three Nymphai in total, and that sacred rites were instituted in honor of each triad.

According to Herodotus, the Cabeiri who were worshipped at Memphis in Egypt resembled the dwarf-gods (Pataïkoi) whom the Phoenicians fixed on the prows of their ships. So maybe that means our Kabeiri will need to be a little short, or even boys, which is gonna be a bit weird at an orgy, right? That the Kaberoi were boyish is suggested Pausanias.

The Amphisians also celebrate Mysteries in honour of the Boy Kings as they are called. Their accounts as to who of the gods the Boy Kings are do not agree; some say they are the Dioskouroi, and others, who pretend to have fuller knowledge, hold them to be the Kabeiroi.

The Korybantes

Pherecydes also tells us that the Kyrbantes/Corybantes had taken up their abode in Samothrake. Strabo has a lovely passage about the Korybantes

They poets invented some of the names by which to designate the ministers, choral dancers, and attendants upon the sacred rites, I mean Kabeiroi and Korybantes and Panes and Satyroi and Tityroi. 

The Tityroi, by the way, were flute-playing, rustic daimones in the train of the god Dionysos. A future director could chuck them in alongside some satyrs if they wished, but our main focus are the Korybantes, of whose activities at the sacred rites Strabo saying they were;

Subject to Bacchic frenzy, and, in the guise of ministers, as inspiring terror at the celebration of the sacred rites by means of war-dances, accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and arms, and also by flute and outcry

We can now see the Korybantes as a backing band / dancing troupe. There is an ode said to have been composed by Orpheus himself which really brings the Korybantes to life;

‘Tis yours in glittering arms the earth to beat, with lightly leaping, rapid, sounding feet; then every beast the noise terrific flies, and the loud tumult wanders through the skies. The dust your feet excites, with matchless force flies to the clouds amidst their whirling course.

We also have accounts by later classical authors which any future director or choreographer of this recreated Mystery should get their head around. Nonnius provides some poetical & brilliant details, who is followed by Strabo, whose equally poetical description should also be taken into account.

The helmeted bands of desert-haunting Korybantes were beating on their shields in the Knossian dance, and leaping with rhythmic steps

The oxhides thudded under the blows of the iron as they whirled them about in rivalry, while the double pipe made music, and quickened the dancers with its rollicking tune in time to the bounding steps.

Lions with a roar from emulous throats mimicked the triumphant cry of the priests of the Kabeiroi Nonnius

The instruments… are mentioned by Aiskhylos for he says… ‘stringed instruments raise their shrill cry, and frightful mimickers from some place unseen bellow like bulls, and the semblance of drums, as of subterranean thunder, rolls along, a terrifying sound Strabo


It is now time to introduce the Earth Goddess, Demeter, into the mix. Pausanias tells us:

I must ask the curious to forgive me if I keep silence as to who the Kabeiroi are, and what is the nature of the ritual performed in honour of them and of the Meter (Mother).

Demeter is an interesting addition to the Mystery, & thro’ her we get a little more, tho quite garbled, information. Pausanius again;

Demeter came to know Prometheus, one of the Kabeiroi, and Aitnaios his son, and entrusted something to their keeping. What was entrusted to them, and what happened to it, seemed to me a sin to put into writing, but at any rate the rites are a gift of Demeter to the Kabeiroi.

Here the names are wrong – Prometheus & Aitnaios – but they are two males together like the Kabeiroi should be. From here we can ascertain that Demeter entrusts them with an object, which has to be the penis of Zagreus. It is also interesting that the rites are a gift, so we kinda have to mention that & have the Kabeiroi say thanks – probably in some kind of opening prologue.

So here’s the final outline of the Mystery, which Id like to actually compose while I was on the island.


Three Kabeiroi
Three Kabeirides
Demeter possibly, tho she may just be invoked

There will also be the presiding Anaktotelestes & nine Korybantes to provide the music, when, ‘subject to Bacchic frenzy, and, in the guise of ministers, as inspiring terror at the celebration of the sacred rites by means of war-dances, accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and arms, and also by flute and outcry.’

Part 1: Demeter introduces the Mystery. Two brothers – the Kabeiroi kill a third & carry his head to Olympus on a shield.
Part 2: The Kabeiroi discover the castrated penis of Zagreus & place it in a chest. The wine starts to flow in the name of Zagreus/Dionysis.
Part 3: Persephone seduces Hermes & all the initiates join in & form an orgy. Demeter is thanked.


To finish, where would be the best place to put on this Sweet Little Mystery. Well, Samothraki of course, & its famous site of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. The most famous artifact ddiscovered there was the 2.5-metre headless marble statue of Nike, now known as the Winged Victory of Samothrace, dating from about 190 BC.  It was discovered in pieces on the island in 1863 by the French archaeologist Charles Champoiseau, and is now in the Louvre in Paris. The Winged Victory is featured on the island’s municipal seal.


The Sanctuary of the Great Gods is to be found at Palaeopoli (“old city”), the ruins of which are situated on the north coast of Samothraki. Considerable remains still exist of the ancient walls, which were built in massive Cyclopean style. The museum was closed when I went along, but I wondered if they still had the bowls mentioned by Diodorus Siculus

The Argonauts, they say, set forth from the Troad and arrived at Samothrake, where they again paid their vows to the Kabeiroi and dedicated in the sacred precinct the bowls which are preserved there even to this day

The Aegean Edicts (1): The Tomb of Achilles – early clues

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Sat on a rock, reading Homer, eating grapes

Literary essays from a pilgrimage to Troy

With the world some weird kind of pagan ritual lockdown, I thought it a better time than most to head off the beaten tracks & go searching for the fabled burial mound of Achilles & his best pal, Patrocolus. Since Schliemann digging Troy out of Hisalrik Hill in the 19th Century, the idea that Achilles fought & died in the Troad moves from phantasy to possibilty – the next two stages are plausable & probable, but we’re not there yet.
emily smithson.jpg
Emily seeing me off on my travels at the Smithson Farm, Burnley
So, leaving rainy Edinburgh behind I caught a train to Burnley for a pleasant couple of weeks family time – the first in months with train after train from Edinburgh being cancelled on me. Then it was off to Manchester airport & a 6AM flight – I spent the overnighter chatting to a homeless guy who sleeps there, recently turfed out on the streets again about the same time medical staff were ordered to pay hospital parking again!
Greek graffiti – Thessalonika
Anyway, I’m leaving the UK to get away from all that, so off I tripped to Thessalonika on a plane full of mask-wearers. I stayed in the steep old town a couple of days – full of hundreds of street cats who apparently are fed by all & sundry & get routine visits from the vets. From there I went to Sithonia, the middle finger of the Chalkidki peninsular, with Mount Athos – the holy mountain – rising gloriously across the bay. I’d set off walking at 6.30 AM, at sunrise, & got as much as I could in while the sun wasn’t yet blazing – its reached the late thirties most of the week. IMG_20200725_094952.jpg
First campsite – VouVouro
There’s also a lot of blooming steep bits! Anyway, as soon as I’d get tired I’d settle at the nearest campsite – VouVouro was nice & also the latest one – Paradise Beach – a few k north of sea-girt Sitra, where I am writing this now over some strong double greek coffees & uploading the video below. Trust me, Paradise, is, well Paradise, & they even let me DJ on the beach after I imposed my audition on them – they were loving my skills!
Mount Athos at sunrise
The video basically has me blethering on about a series of clues latent within Book 23 of the Iliad – Patroclus tear-stained funeral & mourning games – which give some interesting pointers for a would-be investigation into the site, being;


‘The Acheans withdrew to the Hellespont’

In recent years a theory has arisen that Besika Bay – to the west of Troy – is where the Greeks landed their ships. Homer clearly states it was to the north, by the Hellespont. Two stalwart contenders for the tomb have been the burial mounds of Kum Tepe & Kesik Tepe, both facing the Hellespont. However, archeaology at the sites has only ever gone back as far as the 6th Century BC, meaning the real tomb is out there, elsewhere.
Kesik Tepe


There is a dead tree stump, an oak or a pine, rotted in the rain, & it is flanked by two white stones. The road narrows at this point, but the going is good on both sides of the monument, which either marks an ancient burial or must have been put up as a turning-post by people of an earlier age.

Homer is here describing the mid-way point of a chariot race. The turning post will be long gone, of course, but the two white stones might well stand in the same spot still. Homer also describes the turning-point as being ‘far away on level ground,’ giving us further detail.


Antilochus, that veteran campaigner, saw a place where the sunken road grew narrow. It ran through a gulley…

Between the beach & the turning point Homer is describing a narrowing of the road.


There is one final clue found in Book 24, in which Priam goes to plead with Achilles to stop dragging his son Hektor’s body about & leaving it the dogs. On the way we learn that once the old king of Troy & Hermes (in disguise) ‘had driven past the great barrow of Ilus & stopped their mules & horses for a drink at the river.’ So that’s plenty of info to start visualizing what to look out for when I get to the area. Also helpful is the fact that the Bronze Age coastline was apparently much closer to Troy than it is today, making my job that little bit easier. I’ll also be studying the rest of the Iliad for my clues – I’m reading it backwards at the moment actually, I find the first few books a bit heavy & stifling, & I want to retain my excitement about the project, to be frank. _38790313_turkey_troy2_300map.gif I shall finish the first of my Aegean Edicts with a couple of sonnets from my time so far in Greece. In the morning I am heading to Alexandroplis & from there by ferry to the island of Samothrace, arriving at sunset & within spitting distance of the Troad. Its good timing really, the Greek government this week has gone mask crazy making folk wear them in hotels & hostels & all public space. I think a rugged island away from all the world’s worries is the best place to be right now.

Sitra 29-07-20



There is a heat they call the burn of Greec Beginneth in July, by Autumn screams Out in the day we English pray for peace In shady spots as lava spurts & steams.

In the labyrinth of Saloniki Street cats handsomely treated as they prowl Door to friendly door thro sweet, unsneaky Hunts for meaty morsels; fresh, fair & foul.

Adventuring against the mid-day sun Sauntering slow slopes up to Genti Koyle Hat soak’d in sweat, what buenavista won, From Mount Olympus, between sea & soil

The coast drove east to Chalkidiki’s hand, Three-finger’d, into blue Aegean fann’d!

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I found myself in Paradise a few K shy of Sarti I’d headed there solely beacuse it rhymes with ‘wild love party’ A wee secluded nudist beach with pyres of burnish’d driftwood So thought I’d stay a gracious while as Thracian poets should Across the soft, Singitic Gulf Mount Athos rose redeeimng All souls who gazed upon its point immortally updreaming As monkish men swam out to heaven seven times a day Libating skinsalt to exalted Thetis in the spray I gazed on Aphrodite & I swoon’d before Athean & then I saw Cassandra I’ll die happy cos I seen her; The infinite projectison of her body set me blushing Into a catacoombe of lust, libido wolves uprushing, Then in the rockshade softening I drank my surf-cool wine Watching Cassandra frolicing, voluptuous, divine.