Every summer, the natives flee as the hordes descend upon our local area, to rampage across the landscape, pillaging and plundering and spending $5 for a small lemonade. Art Fair returned to Ann Arbor this week, loved by its many visitors and hated by most local residents for the disruption it causes to our lives. I’m not actually a resident of Ann Arbor, and my apartment in Ypsilanti is far enough away that I don’t even notice an increase in car traffic. But I work downtown, and delivering flowers means I not only have to maneuver around the closed streets, I also have to find creative places to park for those few deliveries I need to take there. I can appreciate the economic boost it gives our local retailers during the long, slow summer months, though I’d feel better if our flower store saw some of that boost as well. Nobody comes to art fair to buy a vase of roses. >8)
Being an ADF Druid, I’m constantly studying the things that happen around me and asking myself if there are any ancient customs that are similar. In this particular case, I can’t help but think of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which happened annually in a small town near Athens for many centuries. No, I’m not thinking in terms of the mystery rite itself. Although we still don’t know exactly what happened during the climactic part of the weeklong ceremony. It’s pretty unlikely that it centered around any kind of artwork.
No, I’m thinking in terms of the massive influx of people who came from all over the Greek-speaking world to take part in it, and the hordes of merchants who got there first to ply their wares. What must it have been like to live in a small community like that, but to have that many people show up for nine days out of every year? Did they look forward to it, did they dread it, or a little of both? If Art Fair is any indication, it probably leaned more toward dread. Then again, living in a city that was the center of worship for a major Greek goddess certainly must have counted for something in the hearts of the people. Rather than the scattershot energy of people with too much money wandering the streets looking for ways to get rid of said money, the focus and devotion toward Demeter must have felt different.
We can’t know for certain, of course, so this is all in the realm of speculation and Unconfirmed Personal Gnosis, a concept which deserves its own article later. >8) For now, I’ll just ponder what happened millennia ago and what happened last week, and I’ll wonder what it would be like for us modern neo-Pagans to have a similar kind of devotional festival some day. (Yes, I know about Starwood and other big festivals, but those aren’t devoted to one particular religious ceremony. Festivals with lots of different groups doing lots of different things sound like a very different kind of festival. Actually, now that I think of it, they sound a lot like Art Fair, and I think I’ve had as much of that as I can stand for one summer!) Our Grove’s Lughnasadh is like a small step in the direction, but I can only imagine what a Lughnasadh with hundreds in attendance would be like, both it terms of the ritual and the festivities surrounding it.
Anyway, enough rambling from me. Here are a few links with good information on the Eleusinian Mysteries, if you’d like to read further.
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF