Mysteries of the Cabeiri

Sanctuary of the Cabeiri at Lemnos

The Mysteries of the Cabeiri of Lemnos and Samothrace were very important. The Cabeiri were a group of deities of the ancient Greek religion, while in the dictionary of Sudas, Cabeir means Daemon. According to Welcker and Maury, the word Cabeiri is produced by the Greek verb καίω (burn), and are the evil daemons born in the depths of the sea, who expel the flame of their father Hephaestus and destroy the ground. The religion of Hephaestus prevailed in Lemnos (the location of his workshop) and the Cabeiri were considered his children, whom he had with Kabeiro, the daughter of Proteus, who accompanied the chariot of Poseidon.

There is also the opinion, according to Pausanias, that the worship of the Cabeiri is associated with fire worship, which was introduced by the Thraco-Pelasgians and received by the Achaeans in 2.200 B.C.

Apollo is also mentioned as a Cabeiri deity.


Sanctuary of the Cabeiri at Lemnos

The modern inhabitants of the island give it a plural name: Cabeiri. It was discovered by L. Bernarbo Brea at the cape of Chloe in NE Lemnos, opposite the site of ancient Hephaestia. It was excavated by the Italian Archaeological School of Athens in 1937-39. Since 1982 research and excavations are continued.
The sanctuary of the Cabeiri was protected, by land, by a long wall at the top of the hill which hid it from the eyes of the uninitiated. The main buildings of the sanctuary were large halls of initiation (Telestiria) within which the “sacred” was revealed to the initiate, the so called Cabeirian mysteries. Their ruins are preserved in two flat areas, held up on the steep slope towards the sea, by supports.
At the back of the cella (the main interior of the temple) are the foundations of a small temple, destined for the “sacred”. The cella is divided into three compartments by two rows of five marble columns, and with a portico supported towards the sea by a strong stylobate.
A rich repository of offerings, lamps for night ceremonies, kantharoi, skyphoi, “compasses”, pottery for the sacred symposia, belong to the classical and Hellenistic phase. In the sanctuary, fragments of sculptures, terracotta and bronze figurines, glassware and many votive, honorific, liberating inscriptions were found.
The archaic telesterion is located in the southern plateau, with benches of half-baked plinths along the walls where the initiates sat. In the back there was the most holy place, the adyton, where the priest entered and the statues of the gods were situated.
It is perhaps the oldest known telesterion in Greece, even older than the Soloneio Telesterion in Eleusis. It was destroyed by fire, probably by the invading Persians in 512 BC.
The Hellenistic telesterion was built on the northern plateau and is the first thing someone sees when entering the site. It is rectangle, measuring 33 x 46.10 meters, double in size compared to the sanctuary of Samothrace and at the front it had a portico with 12 columns. It was divided into three aisles, by two rows of four Ionic columns.


Athena’s Children Boarding School for Girls

In Brauron the shape of the sanctuary is roughly the same as that of the Acropolis, however it is facing south. At this point we should mention that Pausanias does not make the distinction between Tauropolos Artemis (Loutsa) and Brauronia Artemis (Brauron), even though the shrines are 7 kilometers from each other. The ritual of the sacrifice of Iphigenia was held at the first temple, while Iphigenia withdrew to the second temple, where she remained as a priestess until her death; namely the two temples completed each others logic.
According to the myth, Agamemnon caused the wrath of Artemis and the fleet could not sail from Aulis; so he had to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia. As soon as the seer Calchas was ready to sacrifice the girl, Artemis took pity on her and replaced her with a deer. So the goddess took Iphigenia and made her a priestess in the temple of Tauris (Crimea).

The procession of the major Brauronia started at the Shrine of the Acropolis and ended in Brauron, covering a distance of 35 kilometers. This course was slow (2km/h), because basically it was a woman holiday and many of the women were possibly pregnant. Consequently it would take at least two days to cover the distance, with a possible stop in Pallini; it is the location of Pallinida Athena, where the worship of the goddess began (Gerakas). On the second day arriving in the temple at dusk, they used to camp outside the site of the temple. It is very unlikely that they covered this distance by ascending mount Hymettus.
This site is essentially a boarding house, the dimensions of which were proportionate to those of a child, for little girls of 5-10 years old, whose parents had dedicated them to the goddess before or during childbirth. These girls, “bear cubs” as they were called (what a sweet name indeed; after all even to this day little children still sleep with their teddy bears), stayed in the sanctuary, in nine rooms of eleven people, with the dimensions of roughly 5X5, therefore 25 square meters, which is a large room of the modern average residence. So therefore the Sanctuary had the capacity to house 99 girls.

image XIII

So the sanctuary covered a surface of 4.000 square meters, which means that there was a ratio of 40-50 square meters per child, while today in the best case scenario this ratio is 16,5 square meters per child. These rooms had a south-eastern orientation and, for reasons of protection, faced a courtyard. So the harmful northern wind was blocked by a wall, so that the site could be accessed from the east and west. The use of double protection from the north wind for this place, together with the blind wall of the rooms, is a very clever architectural solution. So the children were protected by the building and stayed there until their first menstruation, where they logically learned about the female natural troubles. There were similar shrines throughout Attica with the same rituals as that of Brauron. Today of course there is no similar building in the world.
There are plenty of statuettes of girls exhibited in the museum of Brauron, like the one holding a rabbit, through which anyone can perceive the tender education and the supervision which must have been provided by the Athenian state.
Suffice it to see their smiling faces with the Attic smile, dressed in double layered warm clothes, in the measurements of a child, where the posture of good nutrition can be seen. When there is such attendance in the shrine, like that of Brauron, from Athenian mothers visiting their children, the artist has no other choice but to precisely depict the reality of the operation of the shrine, something that is evident in his statuettes.
Before we proceed in our research, we should consider through the worship the issue of gender equality in relation to Christianity. In Christianity, the Virgin Mary comes in third, after the Father and the Son and as the God-Mother is projected with “virginity” being her basic virtue. So there is a patriarchy and the worship seems to be male dominated. In the Olympian Pantheon the roles seem to be divided; six male and six female roles. Even the chthonic gods are divided based on the Sextet which, according to the Pythagoreans, indicates “Harmony“. Furthermore Hera, the protector of family, was not in an advantageous position in relation to Aphrodite, the goddess of Love, who was not inferior to the virgin Pallas Athena or the virgin Artemis. Furthermore, Hera was not inferior to Zeus and acted independently like all gods. Zeus simply tried to maintain some balance in various ways while he often had to face conspiracies.

The climate conditions of Greece, its geographical relief map, but also its position in the marine area of the Mediterranean Sea, do not favor the development of gods like, for example, those of Egypt or the Arabic Peninsula, where the climate conditions are inhospitable and there are vast expanses, deserts, large populations or vast states.

Brauron is located slightly below the 38th parallel and directly opposite Ephesus, where the famous temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world torched by Herostratus, was located. Alexander was willing to fund the completion of the new temple, as long as his name was inscribed on the building. The answer he received however, was that it is not fitting for a god to present gifts to other gods.
The temple of Ephesus turns towards the cradle of the Ionians, Tetrapolis which was founded by their primal ancestor Xanthus. The temple of Artemis in Brauron (image XIII) then turns to the east, towards the temple of Ephesus. And that is the typical example of the connection of sacred sites. Namely the direction of the temples was not arbitrary, because architecture is a science where everything is justified; even the aesthetic side. The Sanctuary of Iphigenia as it is natural faces the temple of Artemis. Furthermore, behind the Sanctuary of Iphigenia was her tomb. So the Sanctuary of Iphigenia as a chthonic goddess has a western orientation and that of Artemis as a celestial goddess, an eastern one. (The temples of the Ancients project their opening while the Christian temples project the Shrine.)
Artemis is basically a nature goddess, that is why the sanctuary was built near the river Erasinus, which always flooded after the rain and is an important wetland rich in vegetation. The floor of the temple of Artemis is in its natural state, with the rocks entering the site. This archaeological site is among those destroyed by the Persians. Moreover the idol of Artemis brought by Orestes from Tauris was taken by Xerxes to Susa. 180 years later it was found by Seleucus and sent to Laodicea of Syria, where it still existed during the days of Pausanias, in the 2nd century A.D.
Brauron was also one of the twelve prehistoric towns which united during the years of Cecrops with the City of Athens. Cecrops was one of the mythical kings of Attica, which was named Cecropia after him, while initially it was called Acte.