The Nurses

There are many names for and stories of the nymphs who raised Dionysos. Some of their names are genealogical, some local. They are called the Hyades, the Lamusides, the Lamides for their families, or the Dodonides, the Naxiai, the Nysiai or the Mysiai for their place of residence.

As the Hyades, they are the daughters of Atlas and Pleione, and the sisters of Hyas, a daimon of rain, and the Pleiades. When Hyas was killed in by a boar Libya, they wept and wept at would not be comforted, and were called Hyades for their brother whom they mourned. Zeus found them at Dodona (hence Dodonides) and gave the Infant Dionysos to raise, which brought them out of their grief at last, and the sisters and their charge moved to Nysa, where Dionysos was brought up, so that they became known as the Nysiai. When Dionysos was grown, the Hyades became the first of his Mainades, and danced with him, and were put to flight by Lycurgus and took refuge with Theris. In time, though, they grew old, and Dionysos went to Medea to beg her to make them young again, as she had done for Aeson. She did, and Dionysos asked his father Zeus to set them among the stars in thanks for their service and love, and he took Hyes, the Rainy One, as one of his own mystic names.*

In other stories, they were called Lamides or Lamusides, daughters of the sacred river Lamus, and were likewise charged with the care of Dionysos, or were Hyades in Mysa, named for Hylas the lover of Herakles whom they drowned in their well (Herakles’ search for his lover became a yearly festival in Mysa), or they raised the child on Naxos instead of Nysa, accounting for the rest of the names mentioned. But I think it is the version I have given that makes the story most meaningful to the thiasos.

They are literally a part of the Starry Bull in the Heavens, their stars forming the head of Taurus, and their brother was slain by a boar, starting their story and their division from their sisters. One of their number bore the name Thyone (or Dione) before Semele was retrieved from under the earth and took it up herself. In Hellas and Magna Graecia, the helical rising (rising and setting along one horizon, and not traversing the sky) of the Hyades came in the fall, just as the rains began, signaling the start of the plowing season. Their rain brings life back to the parched earth, but also rages in storms.

Their number varies, but Pseudo-Hyginus, in Astronomica, says that they are seven (which fits nicely with the weekly calendar of the thiasos), and gives their names as Ambrosia, Eudora, Pedile, Coronis, Polyxo, Phyto, and Thyone.

All my life, I have been energized and rejuvenated by then rain, and I have felt moved for some time to develop a cultus for the Hyades. I put it off all summer long, knowing that it was not their time of year. But at the Autumn Equinox, I celebrate the beginning of Fall and the return of the rains in Seattle, and so I now begin, and will carry on through until Spring, when the rains taper off. And although the head of Taurus first peeped over the horizon proper a month ago, it is only now that it becomes visible over the trees.

A festival of the Hyades is best held during the beginning of your local rainy season, wherever you are, whenever that happens. Even the deserts of the American Southwest see a rainy season. Celebrate them then, the day the purple clouds come rushing across the horizon and the dry washes are suddenly full. Celebrate them when the pouring monsoon starts, and know that they, too, have their fury, just as their own dear Lord does. Celebrate them in the gentle rains of spring, when the weather warms enough that snow no longer falls, and the ground begins to thaw. Celebrate them in the rain. And so, since today, the Equinox, is bright and warm, I will wait until the next rainy day to give them offering and call aloud their names.

If you wish to celebrate the Hyades, then on that rainy day, if you know a place where nymphs dwell, go there. Bring offerings of honey or mead, and wine, and eggs. Bring silver or grey ribbon, and tie it to trees or pin one end under a rock and let it stream out like a rivulet. If you do not know a place where nymphs dwell, then take your offerings and walk in the rain. Tie your ribbons wherever you find a place that seems right. If you find a place where offerings might be placed, leave them there, or go back to your home and leave them on an altar. Leave a broad bowl out to catch the rain, and cleanse yourself in it, or offer it to Dionysos, a gift from his nurses passed along by you.

During the rainy season, these are the prayers that I will say every week to the Hyades, alongside my other weekly prayers.

I pray to Ambrosia
Who nourishes us with her tears
Who feeds the earth with rain
I pray to Ambrosia of the Hyades

I pray to Eudora
Who gives the kind gift of rain
To cleanse and to lighten us
I pray to Eudora of the Hyades

I pray to Pedile
Who wanders and dances
In joy and in sorrow
I pray to Pedile of the Hyades

I pray to Coronis
Who crowns us with stars
Given to her by the baby she nursed
I pray to Coronis of the Hyades

I pray to Polyxo
Who cradled a child
And raised him on water and honey
I pray to Polyxo of the Hyades

I pray to Phyto
Who waters the vine
To give blood to the grape
I pray to Phyto of the Hyades

I pray to Thyone
Nurturing mother
Twice-beloved name
I pray to Thyone of the Hyades

And so I establish the practice of this cultus, and I invite any from the thiasos of the Starry Bull to join me in it, and anyone else who wishes, wherever they are, whenever it rains there. Give thanks for the rain, for it feeds the vine, and seeps deep into the earth, joining the rivers of the Underworld.

*This is drawn largely from Pseudo-Hyginus’ Fabulae and Astronomica.

Rebecca, the MadGastronomer, is the Klodone of the thiasos. She spins, weaves, and makes things. She’s over here doing her own thing. You can read more by her at Ariadne’s Thread and Arachne’s Tapestry.

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