or should I lie with death my bride

Motherfucker.

So you know how I’ve been obsessed with the Seirens ever since I discovered that they played a role in the Southern Italian Anthesteria?

Well, I’m reading this article that compares tarantism to other ecstatic dance cults (most of which I’m pretty familiar with) when I come across this:

Christina Pluhar in her introductory notes for the La Tarantella – Antidotum Tarantulae Compact Disc writes: “The origins of this ritual dance are attributed by some theorists to the cult of Dionysus that was disseminated in southern Italy over the centuries. Mythology has left us two tales of the origin of the tarantella that are still told in Sorrento and Capri Homeric poetry preserved in oral traditions. One of these relates that the Sirens tried to enchant Ulysses with their songs, but failed to do so because he had been warned beforehand and stopped his ears with wax. Thereupon the Sirens called the Graces to their aid, asking to be taught an erotic dance. But the Graces made fun of the Sirens and invented the tarantella, knowing full well that the Sirens had no legs and would not be able to dance it… Since that time the tarantella has been performed by the young maidens of Sorrento, who learned it from the Graces.”

Mind you, liner notes aren’t exactly what I’d consider a reliable authority but it sure suggests I’m on the right track with this line of inquiry. Which, kiddies, is why I always trust my hunches – the Seirens were coming up way too often for it to just be coincidence.

On the other hand, discovering improbable connections like this always makes the world feel a little unreal.

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it’s like a giant in my heart

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I think part of why this is going on is because of the line I wrote:

So maybe he just doesn’t want my worship anymore.

No, not the “Woe betide! I’m so vile no one could possibly want the things I offer!” bit because even at my most depressed I don’t really believe that. (I’m fucking Sannion, for Christ’s sake. Everything I do is awesome.)

But there’s more to worship than just tending shrines and keeping festivals. I know that, I’ve been one of the strongest advocates for branching out into other forms of devotional expression for ages. And yet, take those things off the table and my immediate, instinctual response is, “Where’d the worship go?” as if I can’t even see all the rest, as if that stuff doesn’t matter.

It’s interesting when you crash up against your mental conditioning like that.

And as hard as this is, I find it incredibly valuable because I’m being given the chance to work on it, to clear out all of that junk thinking that’s cluttering up my mind and influencing my actions.

That’s a big deal with Dionysos. Everyone thinks he’s this laidback, fun-loving gentle deity and he is, absolutely. But he’s demanding and uncompromising in a way I’ve never seen any other god act – and that’s including the gods who are total hardasses.

“Who are you?” he asks. “Be free,” he commands.

It’s deceptively simple, sounds a bit too much like feelgood newage jargon.

Except he means it – at every level, in every way possible.

He doesn’t want you to become perfect, but you’ve got to own your shit. You’ve got to know your head so well you can tell where every thought is coming from and why and you have to act from a place of complete integrity. If you deviate from that even an inch, he’ll make you aware of it. And the more you do, the more it’ll weigh on your soul until you have a violent outburst of madness. That’s what madness is, a desperate flight from the confines of perception, expectation, and the unbearable pressure of maintaining a lie. That, and a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Who are you, he asks – not who your friends, your family, your colleagues and co-workers, society at large see you as; not who you wish you were, who you’re trying to become – but who you are. And if you answer anything but truthfully he’ll strip it all away until the answer’s staring you in the face. (And in certain extreme cases all that will be left of you is a face, isn’t that right Pentheus?) Because he wants you to be free and you’re never less free than when a lie has taken root in you.

There’s big lies (“I’m straight,” when you love sucking cock) and there’s little lies (“those pants don’t make your ass look fat at all”) but every lie encroaches on your freedom. He’s a god who’s okay with lying (art is nothing but lying, albeit lying to convey a higher truth) but it has to be done consciously. The lies you don’t realize you’re telling yourself are the really dangerous ones. And so the lie I’m working on ripping out of myself is the lie that things have to remain the same. πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει.

And any time I doubt that I’m going to watch this video:

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scratch scratch scratch

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This is kind of how I’m feeling with everyone talking about their Anthesteria plans. I’ve been keeping this festival without interruption since I was fourteen or fifteen, no matter what changes or weirdness my life was going through.

And this year I’m not.

Why?

I can’t even really say. It made sense at the time, when all the signs came together and I did divination to confirm. Dionysos wants me focused on other things, not shrine-work and keeping festivals.

That feels like an eternity ago (though it’s more like a couple weeks) and the certainty has long since faded.

I’ve had structures stripped from my life before, pretty radically at times – but nothing like this. Everything is different, I have nothing familiar or solid to rely on for my bearings and this new stuff, whatever it is, hasn’t fully materialized so I can’t even busy myself with that as a distraction.

I don’t understand why I can’t keep festivals any more. Why is it so incompatible with this new thing, whatever it is? Or is it just the disorientating process that’s necessary? Maybe my faith is being tested. Will I do this simply because Dionysos told me to?

Thing is, I don’t doubt Dionysos but I doubt myself all the fucking time.

Especially here, now, with this.

It could be that I’m being repurposed because there’s a growing need for that work to be done – but maybe that’s just my ego trying to justify this and make it more palatable. Maybe I’ve fucked up so badly he’s removing me from action so I don’t harm myself and others. Except if I’m right this work is even more about people than my last “job.” So maybe he just doesn’t want my worship anymore.

One of the nice things about having done this stuff for as long as I have is that I’m quite familiar with that small whispering voice of lies and doubt that bubbles up any time things are stressful, strange or in transition. I don’t yet know how to stop it completely (and I’m not sure I’d ever want to, as it keeps me honest, humblish, and from falling into some of the snares that my predecessors have) but I can ride it out without letting it take root in my soul and bring everything to a screeching halt. Which is improvement, I suppose, because in the beginning I’d let that shit waylay my devotions for weeks or months at a time. The key is to take everything that’s said and transform it into the fuel of devotion, use it to make visible my shortcomings and goad me on to try harder and do more. In some ways my inner critic is my greatest ally and truest friend.

And it’ll be no different here.

But man, I really miss festivals – especially Anthesteria, which encompasses the totality of his mysteries.

So all you who can, put in a little extra oomph this year for Sannion, who can’t.

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Who is this?

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The Gospel according to Matthew 21.1-10
And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village that is over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any one say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. Now this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, Meek, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass.’ And the disciples went, and did even as Jesus appointed them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their garments; and he sat thereon. And the most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way. And the multitudes that went before him, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, Who is this?

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caryagiti

Miranda Shaw’s description of gaṇacakra:

The feast is an esoteric ritual that unfolds in many stages. The sacred space for the ceremony is demarcated by geometric designs drawn on the ground with powdered pigments, and an elaborate array of offerings and foods are laid out. The participants don special insignia like bone ornaments and crowns and use musical instruments of archaic design for inducing heightened awareness. Practitioners sit in a circle and partake of sacramental (dry) meat and wine (often liquor) served in skull-cups. The feasts also provide an occasion for the exchange of ritual lore, the ritual worship of women (sripuja), and the performance of sexual yogas. The feast culminates in the performance of tantric dances and music that must never be disclosed to outsiders. The revelers may also improvise “songs of realization” (caryagiti) to express their heightened clarity and blissful raptures in spontaneous verse. (Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism pg 81)

Has some interesting parallels with Anthesteria.

What’s funny is that I was thinking of how Anthesteria was celebrated in Italy and its possible Spartan antecedents and specifically how Carya functions as a cognate of Erigone in this strain of tradition:

The wife of Dion, king of Laconia, was Iphitea, daughter of Prognaus, who had kindly received Apollo. In return Apollo rewarded her by conferring upon her three daughters (Orphe, Lyco, and Carya) the gift of prophecy on condition, however, that they should not betray the gods nor search after forbidden things. Afterwards Bacchus also came to the house of Dion; he was not only well received, like Apollo, but won the love of Carya, and therefore soon paid Dion a second visit, under the pretext of consecrating a temple, which the king had erected to him. Orphe and Lyco, however, guarded their sister, and when Bacchus had reminded them, in vain, of the command of Apollo, they were seized with raging madness, and having gone to the heights of Taygetus, they were metamorphosed into rocks. Carya, the beloved of Bacchus, was changed into a walnut tree, and the Lacedaemonians, on being informed of it by Artemis, dedicated a temple to Artemis Caryatis. (Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentary on the Eclogues of Vergil 8.29)

When I came across the reference to that ritual.

Circles, man. Fucking circles.

What’s even weirder? Last night while watching the Clash of the Gods episode on Perseus I got the sense that I needed to acquire some new ritual tech in light of the pruning that’s been going on with my religious practice. Now a combination symposion/séance/heroxenia wouldn’t exactly be new tech for me but if I gave it some Orphic and tarantic flourishes and made it my primary form of devotional expression – that could be interesting. I’m seeing all kinds of ways this could come together – including adding the Toys of Dionysos into the mix. Badass.

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Ἀνθεστήρια κατά Νέα Υόρκη

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Suidas s.v. Anthesterion. It is the eighth month amongst the Athenians, sacred to Dionysos. It is so called because most things bloom (anthein) from the earth at that time.

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Vi veri veniversum vivus vici

V

Reading this, I thought of this:

Evey Hammond: My father was a writer. You would’ve liked him. He used to say that artists use lies to tell the truth, while politicians use them to cover the truth up.

V: A man after my own heart.

from V for Vendetta, a film based on a graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd.

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This song is what it’s like inside my head a lot of the time

But not enough of the time. I need to work on that.

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What would you like to see me address?

I’ve put a lot of thought into what I could teach here at the House of Vines to express my gratitude for the wellspring of support I received after my injury and dental problems. (If anyone’s feeling generous, the mountain of bills is growing as I just started physical therapy so I can still use donations.)

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And I’m drawing a complete fucking blank. Technically not true: I’ve got a couple ideas – I just seriously doubt that they’ll be of interest to most folks. So instead of teaching a single class I’m going to write 30 pieces on topics of your choosing!

And then, to keep the cycle of charis going, I’ll put this together as a book and donate the first three months’ worth of proceeds to a charity.

There’s no guarantee I’ll accept everyone’s suggestions or that all of the pieces will end up in the anthology – I’m only going to write about things that excite me, because I think that makes for much better reading and I prefer books with a semi-coherent theme. Plus I’m going to let my Muse guide this process so exploration of your topic may end up as an essay, a piece of fiction or modern mythography, some poetry, etc.

Here’s the master list of topics, which I’ll update with your suggestions. What would you like to see me address?

30. Analysis of the myth of Priapos and Hestia.
29. The role of ordeal and asceticism in Hellenismos and Bacchic Orphism.
28. A guide through the Labyrinth.
27. Temple prostitution.
26. Kybele and mania.
25. Thracian presence in Magna Graecia.
24. The hero Taras.
23. The hero Melampous.
22. Exploring trance and ecstasy.
21. Artemis in Magna Graecia.
20. Thyone.
19. The Asian campaign.
18.
17.
16.
15.
14.
13.
12.
11.
10.
09.
08.
07.
06.
05.
04.
03.
02.
01.

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Ch-ch-ch-changes

Long time readers of this blog may recall my intense dislike for Christine Kraemer, who used the little bit of power she’d been given to carry out personal vendettas (such as the one she waged against polytheist philosopher Edward Butler here, here and here) and strenuously advocate for the rights of confessed and convicted child rapists (as she did here and here.) In fact, her behavior was often so vile and underhanded that I made a conscious decision to no longer provide coverage because it was just dirtying up the House of Vines.

Needless to say I was immensely pleased to read Jason Mankey’s announcement that he’s taking over as channel editor for Patheos Pagan. Not only is the guy smart, funny, dedicated, respectful and generally uninvolved in the incessant dramas that have come to define the blogging culture at Patheos Pagan under his predecessor’s tenure – probably the best thing one can say about him is that he’s not Star Foster, who helmed the stultifera navis before Kraemer. (I always had this sick fear/hope that they’d reinstate her but I guess she’s too busy off being a Wiccan, Hellenic polytheistatheist, Christian, Hellenic polytheist to bother even if they wanted to.) My personal preference would have been John Halstead but I’m sure that Mankey will do just fine. Maybe he can even do something to fix the mass exodus of polytheist bloggers that took place there under Kraemer’s watch.

Just in case they’re considering bringing on new talent, some authors I’d like to see get wider exposure are:

Heathen Chinese
Lykeia
Deo Mercurio
Kullervo
Wayland Skallagrimsson
Camilla Laurentine
Aridela
Aldrin

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mimico rusu

One of the options in my fund-raising effort (which is still going on!) is an essay of your choice. Wynn Dark asked me to take a crack at interpreting a Priapic myth. Here’s the result.

The earliest reference to Priapos that has come down to us is a comedy by the 4th century BCE playwright Xenarchos; all we know is its title which was named for the ithyphallic divinity who, following the conventions of the genre, likely appeared as a character on stage. Considering the prevalence of such myths told about him, and the inherent comic potential they possess, it’s likely that the play featured an unsuccessful attempt by Priapos to rape a goddess or nymph. The poet Ovid mentions that he was unable to assault Lotis (Fasti 1.391), Pomona (Metamorphoses 14.534) and Vesta, whose story I’ll quote as emblematic of the others:

Should I omit or recount your shame, red Priapus? It is a very playful, tiny tale. Coroneted Cybele, with her crown of turrets, invites the eternal gods to her feast. She invites, too, satyrs and nymphs and the spirits of the wild; Silenus is present, uninvited. It’s not allowed and too long to narrate the gods’ banquet: night was consumed with much wine. Some blindly stroll shadowy Ida’s dells, or lie down and rest their bodies in the soft grass. Others play or are clasped by sleep; or link their arms and thump the green earth in triple quick step. Vesta lies down and takes a quiet, carefree nap, just as she was, her head pillowed by turf. But the red saviour of gardens prowls for nymphs and goddesses, and wanders back and forth. He spots Vesta. It’s unclear if he thought she was a nymph or knew it was Vesta. He claims ignorance. He conceives a vile hope and tries to steal upon her, walking on tiptoe, as his heart flutters. By chance old Silenus had left the donkey he came on by a gently burbling stream. The long Hellespont’s god was getting started, when it bellowed an untimely bray. The goddess starts up, frightened by the noise. The whole crowd fly to her; the god flees through hostile hands. Lampsacus slays this beast [the donkey] for Priapus, chanting : `We rightly give flames the informant’s guts.’ You remember, goddess, and necklace it with bread. Work ceases; the idle mills are silent. (Fasti 6. 319)

As Ovid notes, Lampaskos was an early center of the god’s cult; according to Pausanias the people of Lampsakos revered Priapos more than any other divinity. (Description of Greece 9.31.2) His cult spread from Mysia in Asia Minor (where it was as equally popular with the Greek colonists as it was with the natives) to central Greece and Italy, eventually being taken up by the Romans. Attempts were made to give this strange foreign god a respectable lineage – Dionysos (Strabo, Geography 13.1.12), Hermes (Hyginus, Fabulae 160), Zeus (Suidas, s.v. Priapos), Pan (Macrobius, Saturnalia 6.5) and even Osiris (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.6.1) were claimed to be his father. Usually Aphrodite was his mother.

Aside from being a personification of the phallos, Priapos presides over the fertility of animal and plant life and is a powerful apotropaic force, defending against thieves, burglars and malefic charms and spells. Images of him, often crudely made and emphasizing his enormous member, were placed in gardens and outside homes to protect those within. Indeed it is primarily in this capacity that he appears in the bawdy collection of anonymous Latin verse called the Priapeia. Although most of the pieces involve prostitutes stealthily sneaking into a garden to “make use of his tumescence in their filthy self-abuse” as one blushing Victorian scholar described it, or the god threatening to forcefully sodomize thieves and witches, in a few instances we catch a glimpse of his role in adolescent rites of passage and his power to heal. Interestingly Petronius describes a mystery-cult devoted to Priapos in his novel the Satyricon with precisely those aims. The priestess Quartilla has contracted malaria and hopes that by overseeing the rites (which involves a mock marriage of children and the rape of a man by an individual representing Priapos) she will be cured of it. As encountered in Petronius, these mysteries of Priapos bear a strong resemblance to contemporary Bacchic, Eleusinian and Isiac mysteries – though whether they represent an actual cult or are a literary mish-mash intended to satirize these sacred institutions remains unsettled in scholarly circles. We do know from Diodoros, Strabo and other authors that Priapos was given a role within a variety of mysteries so perhaps that element is authentic.

Considering how frequently he is associated with aggressive sexuality one may naturally wonder why he is incapable in myth of consummating a union with assorted goddesses and nymphs. Is it all for the laughs – or is there something more behind it?

Both, I suspect.

Diodoros remarked:

And in the sacred rites, not only of Dionysos but of practically all other gods as well, Priapos received honour to some extent, being introduced in the sacrifices to the accompaniment of laughter and sport. (Library of History 4.6.1)

Ovid’s account of the attempted rape of Lotis likewise takes place during a Dionysian ritual, culminating in this scene:

And now he was poised on the grass right next to her, and still she was filled with a mighty sleep. His joy soars; he draws the cover from her feet and starts the happy road to his desires. Then look, the donkey, Silenus’ mount, brays loudly, and emits untimely blasts from its throat. The terrified Nympha leaps up, fends Priapus off, and awakens the whole grove with her flight. And the god, whose obscene part was far too ready, was ridiculed by all in the moon’s light. (Fasti 1.391)

Laughter, likewise, plays a role in the Priapic mysteries of Petronius’ Satyricon, during Quartilla’s interrogation of Encolpius. Dennis P. Quinn, in Quartilla’s Cure, observes:

Then, Quartilla’s mood suddenly changes from weeping to laughter. She begins to kiss Encolpius and rejoices in the prospect of following what course she pleased (18.3). She then clapped her hands and began to laugh so loud that it frightened our three main characters. The ancilla and virguncula joined in with the farcical laughter (mimico rusu), leaving Encolpius at a loss at how they could have changed their mood so quickly (19.1). There is a commonality to other mystery religions here. For example, the participants in the Isis cult would begin one part of the sacred drama in exaggerated sorrow for the fate of Osiris’ dismembered body, and then, when Isis’ re-assembly of the god was proclaimed, the worshippers would all break out in hysterical laughter. So it is possible that, although the Priapic rite has not yet begun, Petronius is poking fun at the use of emotion in ritual, of which the Priestess Quartilla seems to be experts. But perhaps extreme emotional shifts were actually a part of Priapic ritual. When we examine some of the sources describing the Dionysiac cult, for example, like  Augustine who describes in disgust the anticipatory giggles of an audience about to see the huge prick of a Priapic mime, it becomes clear that laughter was an important element of Priapus’ appeal. He looked so disgusting that he was funny. This is also true for the initiation scene as Petronius constructs, or reconstructs: the actions are so disgusting that they are funny, or at least intended to be so for some. Indeed laughter is often portrayed throughout the initiation scenes.

We get an even stronger sense of laughter’s meaning from Iamblichos’ description of aischrorrêmosunai which he associated with phallic imagery:

To answer your question, the erection of phallic images is a symbol of generative power and we consider that this is directed towards the fecundating of the world; this is the reason, indeed, why most of these images are consecrated in the spring, since this is just when the world as a whole receives from the gods the power of generating all creation. And as for the aischrorrêmosunai, my view is that they have the role of expressing the absence of beauty in matter and the previous ugliness of those things that are going to be brought to order, which, since they lack ordering, yearn for it in the same degree as they spurn the unseemliness that was previously their lot. So then, once again, one is prompted to seek after the causes of form and beauty when one learns the nature of obscenity from the utterance of obscenities; one rejects the practice of obscenities, while by means of uttering them one makes clear one’s knowledge of them, and thus directs one’s striving towards the opposite. And there is another explanation too. When the power of human emotions in us is everywhere confined, it becomes stronger. But when it is brought to exercise briefly and to a moderate extent, it rejoices moderately and is satisfied. By that means it is purged and ceases by persuasion, and not in response to force. It is by this means that, when we see the emotions of others in comedy and in tragedy, we still our own emotions, and make them more moderate and purge them. And in sacred rites, through the sight and sound of the obscenities, we are freed from harm that comes from actual indulgence in them. So things of this sort are embraced for the therapy of our souls and to moderate the evils which come to us through the generative process, to free us from our chains and give us riddance. (On the Mysteries 37.3-6; 38.13-40)

Aischrorrêmosunai can mean obscene speech, jokes and laughter and served an important function within the mysteries, as Arnobius of Sicca (Adversus Gentes 5.25-26) relates:

In her wanderings on that quest, she reaches the confines of Eleusis as well as other countries — that is the name of a canton in Attica. At that time these parts were inhabited by aborigines named Baubo, Triptolemus, Eubuleus, Eumolpus, Dysaules: Triptolemus, who yoked oxen; Dysaules, a keeper of goats; Eubuleus, of swine; Eumolpus, of sheep, from whom also flows the race of Eumolpidæ, and from whom is derived that name famous among the Athenians, and those who afterwards flourished as caduceatores, hierophants, and criers. So, then, that Baubo who, we have said, dwelt in the canton of Eleusis, receives hospitably Ceres, worn out with ills of many kinds, hangs about her with pleasing attentions, beseeches her not to neglect to refresh her body, brings to quench her thirst wine thickened with spelt, which the Greeks term cyceon. The goddess in her sorrow turns away from the kindly offered services, and rejects them; nor does her misfortune suffer her to remember what the body always requires. Baubo, on the other hand, begs and exhorts her—as is usual in such calamities—not to despise her humanity; Ceres remains utterly immoveable, and tenaciously maintains an invincible austerity. But when this was done several times, and her fixed purpose could not be worn out by any attentions, Baubo changes her plans, and determines to make merry by strange jests her whom she could not win by earnestness. That part of the body by which women both bear children and obtain the name of mothers, this she frees from longer neglect: she makes it assume a purer appearance, and become smooth like a child, not yet hard and rough with hair. In this wise she returns to the sorrowing goddess; and while trying the common expedients by which it is usual to break the force of grief, and moderate it, she uncovers herself, and baring her groins, displays all the parts which decency hides; and then the goddess fixes her eyes upon these, and is pleased with the strange form of consolation. Then becoming more cheerful after laughing, she takes and drinks off the drought spurned before, and the indecency of a shameless action forced that which Baubo’s modest conduct was long unable to win. If any one perchance thinks that we are speaking wicked calumnies, let him take the hooks of the Thracian soothsayer, which you speak of as of divine antiquity; and he will find that we are neither cunningly inventing anything, nor seeking means to bring the holiness of the gods into ridicule, and doing so: for we shall bring forward the very verses which the son of Calliope uttered in Greek, and published abroad in his songs to the human race throughout all ages:—

With these words she at the same time drew up her garments from the lowest hem,
And exposed to view formatas inguinibus res,
Which Baubo grasping with hollow hand, for
Their appearance was infantile, strikes, touches gently.
Then the goddess, fixing her orbs of august light,
Being softened, lays aside for a little the sadness of her mind;
Thereafter she takes the cup in her hand, and laughing,
Drinks off the whole draught of cyceon with gladness.

A slightly different version of this fragment from an Orphic poem is provided by Clement of Alexandria in the second book of his Exhortation to the Greeks:

This said, she drew aside her robes, and showed a sight of shame; child Iakchos was there and with his hand he, laughing, tossed and jerked it under Baubo’s womb. Then smiled the goddess, in her heart she smiled, and drank the draught from out the glancing cup.

Laughter has the power to banish sorrow and other ills, connecting it to Priapos’ many apotropaic functions. In his myths he is both the one who drives away through laughter and the one whom laughter drives off – especially in the myth of his attempted rape of Vesta who is synonymous with the hearth and the home itself, according to Cicero:

The name Vesta comes from the Greeks, for she is the goddess whom they call Hestia. Her power extends over altars and hearths, and therefore all prayers and all sacrifices end with this goddess, because she is the guardian of the innermost things. (De Natura Deorum 2. 27 )

And the author of the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite:

Zeus the Father gave her high honour instead of marriage, and she has her place in the midst of the house and has the richest portion.

Which sets up a polar opposition with Priapos, god of outdoors:

This god is worshipped where goats and sheep pasture or there are swarms of bees. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 31. 2)

Other polarities abound. Hestia is immobile; Priapos leaps up and is constantly on the move. Priapos is the protector; Hestia is what must be preserved from defilement. Priapos is licentious; Hestia chaste.

However, there may be an even more esoteric significance behind Priapos’ attempted rape – his phallic exuberance stirs up the life-force promoting generation in the plants and animals that are under his care. Without him matter would be barren and stagnant.

Hestia, according to that skillful etymologist Plato, is that matter:

Take that which we call ousia (reality, essence); some people call it essia, and still others ôsia. First, then, in connection with the second of these forms, it is reasonable that the essence of things be called Hestia; and moreover, because we ourselves say of that which partakes of reality ‘it is’ (estin), the name Hestia would be correct in this connection also; for apparently we also called ousia (reality) essia in ancient times. And besides, if you consider it in connection with sacrifices, you would come to the conclusion that those who established them understood the name in that way; for those who called the essence of things essia would naturally sacrifice to Hestia first of all the gods. Those on the other hand, who say ôsia would agree, well enough with Herakleitos that all things move and nothing remains still. So they would say the cause and ruler of things was the pushing power (ôthoun), wherefore it had been rightly named ôsia. (Kratylos 400d – 401b)

If obscenity contributes to the purification of matter, as Iamblichos asserted, then Priapos’ actions towards Hestia take on an entirely different connotation – as do the whole system of mysteries overseen by Quartilla.

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Look at me! I’m a powerful mage! I’m johnny humanist! I’m a godspouse who knits!

Over at the Wild Hunt they’re pondering the question: Do Pagan Bloggers Help to Shape Pagan Culture? Some interesting responses, to be sure.

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What’s my take? I’m so glad you asked.

Online paganism and polytheism are essentially an elaborate role playing game. We create our characters and then sit at a computer screen and make them do stuff and interact with other people.

Everyone does it. Some of us are just more consciously engaged in the process.

Everything you do, everything you say, everything you share online is you crafting your character. And it is fundamentally artificial because you exaggerate certain traits and leave out details that don’t conform to the narrative pattern you’re weaving and some people just make random shit up – but most of all because on some level, however unconscious, you are aware that you’re performing for an audience. You crave their attention, their involvement in your story and so you alter your character to get it – whether positively or negatively. (People, by the way, are much more understandable and tolerable once you realize they’re just playing a character in your story.)

And if you think you don’t do all of that and maintain any kind of online presence beyond that of a strict voyeur, you’re either a liar or an idiot.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily. (I am a sannio after all!) I do believe we need to be conscious of this, however, on both a personal level and in regard to our interactions with others. One should always remember that this is fundamentally a game we are playing and never, ever mistake it for real life or the real world or take any of it too seriously.

There are roads and forests and gods and friends and a million and one beautiful things that exist offline.

Like a community of people to worship and share experiences of the holy powers with.

That’s why I’m here. That’s the game I’m choosing to play. All this *waves arms* it’s a means toward that end.

All my criticism and satire – it’s to show you that those things aren’t real, that they hold no power over you, and there’s something bigger and better and real waiting around the corner. Break your shackles and go find it!

No no – not that corner, the other one, the one with the weird bull-shaped shadow on the wall … Yeah, that’s the one!

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puff puff pass

I’m as skeptical of the intentions of the “super secret” clique that formed to represent the interests of Wiccans and Witches (especially following on similar efforts by Pantheon Foundation and Pagan Pro) as the next person … unless that person happens to be Wild Hunt commenter Wolfsbane:

2015: The American Council Of Witches was constituted. The Greater Pagan community snickered and guffawed.

By 2023 however, that had changed. A definite chill had descended over the Greater Pagan community.

That was because the mere thought of a summons to appear before The American Council Of Witches filled ordinary Witches and Pagans with unrelenting dread. For those whom a summons was issued disappeared, never to be seen or heard from ever again by their friends or loved ones again.

Pagans who publically disagreed with the edicts of The American Council Of Witches had a unfortunate habit of disappearing in the dark of night. Vans and non descript sedans bearing the symbols of The American Council Of Witches would be seen in the vicinity of the of the homes of these Pagans. Uniformed officials would get out and enter the domiciles of said Pagans and then suddenly leave with the offending individuals, shackled and a sack draped over their heads.

Occasionally a body would be found a few days later. It was inevitably defaced to the point the forensics of the local police and other law enforcement agencies could not identify them, even with the most modern techniques.

The message was clear. If you value your freedom and your life you do not speak against The American Council Of Witches. The word of The American Council Of Witches was law within the Greater Pagan community.

Neopagans can’t even sustain community centers let alone wield the apparatus of a police state. So while these folks may put up an annoying website and will probably bungle more interviews with the media, possibly setting back communal PR a bit, I seriously doubt anyone need fear Wiccans coming for them in the night.

Besides, if they do you’ll probably hear the clang of gaudy jewelry and detect that ubiquitous patchouli stench with ample time to prepare.

Not that a lot of preparation is necessary.

*cracks knuckles*

Bring it, Elfglitter Moonswanopalcoyote.

Oh man, I can’t even type that shit with a straight face.

Everything is just so surreal and absurd. Am I stoned? Seriously, I feel like I’m stoned and I haven’t even started smoking. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it’ll all make more sense then.

*15 minutes later*

Nope.

Anyway, Dver said exactly what I’ve been thinking this whole last week:

I often look at it all and wonder, what if we put all that energy, that goes into dealing with other people and hashing out “community” and making organizations and breaking them down again and putting on expensive conventions and making names for ourselves… what if we directed it all to the gods instead? Because frankly, sometimes it seems like the gods are just a footnote to all this very human drama within our religion(s). (I’ve even seen, more than once, people prioritizing dealing with interpersonal issues over actual worship within religious settings, to the point where they have no energy left for Them.) While I can see the potential, at least, that some such endeavors might have to better honor the gods, that more often seems to lose out to all the infighting and egos and chit chat. When it comes down to it, the real work of building cultus for the gods and spirits, of reviving not the structure or appearance but the meat and bones of personal devotion and a living relationship with the divine world, happens largely in the private moments: the heartfelt prayers and offerings witnessed by no other human eyes, the sudden awareness of divine presence during a quiet walk, the omen which answers an important question, the sparks of connection, the ongoing practice of reciprocity.

So while some of you are out there in the fray, I will be over here in my little corner, worshipping spirits that no one else even knows, making those connections, trancing out, and staying the hell away from other people and their distractions. If you’re burnt out by all this constant conflict, I invite you to join me (metaphorically of course – I cannot emphasize enough the part about being away from other people). Never think that your spiritual work has to be public or socially involved for it to matter. All of these human constructs will fall (most of them very, very quickly), but the offerings will still need to be made, the libations poured, the veil parted, the gods honored.

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many felt unsafe walking alone

While a lot of the post-Pantheacon racial discussion has centered on a satirical publication that was distributed over the weekend, I’m glad to see that folks are finally getting around to discussing something of far greater importance that happened – and I don’t mean Sam Webster’s very public meltdown, which is shortly going to have a pretty serious ripple effect if the rumor mill is to be trusted. (As full of delicious schadenfreude as that may be.)

No, what I’m talking about is this:

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It’s a photo Stephanie Del Kjer (courtesy of Crystal Blanton) took of the honor guard that arranged itself in front of the People of Color hospitality suite.

Attendee Courtney Weber explains why this was deemed necessary:

Several white Pagans shouted “Racist!” at the People of Color Caucus hospitality suite door. Others barged into the suite, wanting confrontation. In the numerous panels on the subject, participants of Color mentioned that if the Gods worshiped were European, they were often encouraged to go worship Gods of Africa. One young woman pointed out that Pagan iconography and art is almost exclusively white. As a Black woman, she struggles to find a vision of the Goddess that mirrors herself. More than one person of Color said they felt the discrimination in their faith community was even greater than that in the mainstream culture. Some even paired up to walk each other to sessions at PCon as many felt unsafe walking alone

Bolded for emphasis.

Take a moment and let those words sink in. Really sink in.

And then go back and read the full accounts by Courtney and Crystal.

People have criticized the politicization of what they’re calling “radical polytheism” in recent years – considering what institutional neopaganism is becoming, I think it’s all the more necessary that we radicalize.

This shit it not okay and it is incumbent on all of us to take a stand against it.

Stand against all forms of discrimination. Against oppression and intimidation. Against erasure and silencing. Against homogenization and the destruction of our traditions. Against those who would accrue power and wealth by exploiting fear, division and naïve hopes.

Orpheus the prophet of the Bacchic faith proclaimed that Dike sits enthroned beside Zeus.

That means that if you have no regard for justice, for fairness, for right order – you have no regard for the gods.

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Always bet on Ivy

I suspect in the coming days we’re going to see whether the Coin or the Word holds more power.

ivy-over-ruins-forum-rome-italy

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Sometimes it’s olive.

Since the post-Pantheacon blogosphere is focused on race, I guess I’ll share a couple thoughts as well.

Race is a really weird thing for me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m Blackfoot Indian and Southern Italian but neither of those are really conscious parts of my identity, except insofar as I’m a Magna Graecian polytheist. (And as far as that’s concerned, my interest in the region stems primarily from a desire to know everything I can about a particular expression of Dionysian religion rather than delving into my ethnic origins. It’s just a felicitous happenstance that I’m sprung from the same soil as the gods I worship.)

Normally.

And then I go out and someone asks if I’m Mexican (when I’m neatly groomed) or Arab (when I’ve grown out the beard.) It’s especially fun when they do this slowly, carefully enunciating their words. (Look motherfucker, I’ve written nine books and been cited in academic journals – I’m more fluent in “American” than you are!) Or when they follow me around the store or eye me like I’m wearing explosive underpants and preparing to claim my 70 virgin brides. And getting on an airplane? Super fun.

Race isn’t really who I am – it’s who other people think I am and regardless of where they fall on the color spectrum they’re unanimous in asserting that I’m not like them, that I don’t belong.

Although I may be too dark for the whites and too white for the darks and regularly face prejudice and discrimination, albeit on a fairly minor scale, I recognize that my position and ability (however unintentional) to “pass” affords me a certain degree of privilege, so I don’t feel bad that no one will ever think to invite me to contribute to a publication or panel on issues facing people of color. Just the fact that I don’t necessarily think of myself in terms of race is proof of that privilege. And that I’m unlikely to be gunned down by police while out taking a nightly stroll, even if I happen to be wearing a hoodie.

But that’s a fairly recent phenomena.

My people came over, best as I can tell, in the 1920s or 30s, so we missed the worst of it. But things were pretty bad for Southern Italians, both here in America and back home.

Lachrista Greco writes:

In 2002, NYC DJ Chuck Nice, who is African American, said: “Italians are niggaz with short memories” (Guglielmo & Salerno 1). The Italian American claim of “whiteness” has been a contentious issue in the United States, going far back before DJ Nice’s comment. It began back in Europe with sayings like, “Europe ends at Naples. Calabria, Sicily, and all the rest belong to Africa.”

Southern Italians have consistently been discriminated against in the US and in their native country. In Guglielmo & Salerno’s book, Are Italians White?, they explain this phenomenon:

To justify such beliefs, they relied on the ‘evidence’ provided by Italy’s leading positivist anthropologists, who argued that the darker “Mediterranean’ southerners were racially distinct from the lighter ‘Aryan’ northerners because they possessed ‘inferior African blood’ and demonstrated ‘a moral and social structure reminiscent of primitive and even quasibarbarian times, a civilization quite inferior.

The above passage explains how African Americans are seen as the “quintessential racial ‘other.'”

As southern Italians immigrated to the US in the 1900s, the categorization of them as “non-white” was explored further. Historian Matthew Jacobson said, “‘It was not just that Italians did not look white to certain social arbiters, but they did not act white'” (Guglielmo & Salerno, 11). This was because many Italians who first moved to the US took on similar work that African Americans did, and also transgressed color lines, which upset white supremacists. Other ways in which Italian Americans learned they were “inferior” included: lynchings, native-born Americans protesting against riding in streetcars with them, the exclusivity children experienced with regard to schools and social groups, segregated seating in some churches, and negative images of Italians in US newspapers.

These lynchings were a common practice in the Reconstruction era of US history and later, as this review of the documentary Linciati discusses:

The number of Italians and the geographic range of the lynchings are astounding: there are a total of over 50 documented cases of lynchings of Italians in such places as New York, Florida, Mississippi, Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Chicago, Florida, and Seattle, Washington. In this powerful, and painful, documentary, M. Heather Hartley illustrates the violent prejudice that many Italian immigrants and Italian Americans faced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The film examines the convergence of social, economic and historical causes of the unspoken history of the lynching of Italians throughout the U.S. during this period. The most dramatic case of lynching occurred in 1891 New Orleans, when 11 Italians were lynched by a mob. This event, which is widely known in Italy even today, is mentioned in a brief paragraph or footnote in most American history texts.

I certainly didn’t learn about that in school. Hell, they barely covered Sacco and Vanzetti! Nor did I learn about how pervasive hatred for Southerners was in Italy’s North until I began researching tarantism. I mean, I knew my grandmother had disliked Northerners (to the point of Toscana being the worst swear she’d utter) but I had no idea why or how deep that mutual prejudice went.

Over the years my mother shared a number of stories about growing up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood and the experiences her immigrant parents had gone through. (There’s some confusion as to where our people came from: I’d been raised with the understanding that we were Sicilians, but towards the end of her life I tried to pin her down on the specific city or village and all the ones she mentioned were in the Salento. As that locale is personally significant to me, being the cradle of tarantism, I tend to go with that version, especially since I have no way of verifying as my mother was the blacksheep of the family and disowned for marrying an Indian.) A lot of her accounts dovetail perfectly with what Andrea Dottolo describes in Situating Whiteness in Italian Identity:

Both my father and I were teased as children, also in response to our dark tans in the summer, called mulignan— Italian slang for melanzana (meaning eggplant). This term is generally used as a racial slur against African-Americans —commenting on the darkness of skin. It has been further Americanized into moolie, a more popular racial insult. One reason for this common experience that my father and I share is our similar coloring, hair texture, and certain distinct facial features. Now for the dirty little secret: My father’s family is from Sicily, the bottom of the Italian cultural and racial hierarchy. I was only half-jokingly told as a child to never admit that I was Sicilian. But often, my phenotype could not hide me (these statements came from my mother’s side of the family, of course, who were from the Naples area. This is especially paradoxical because Naples is not exactly northern Italy). Northern Italians are known to be merchants, upper class, cultured, and unmistakably light-skinned. Southerners were historically agricultural and manual laborers, the working poor, notably darker-skinned, and therefore discriminated against within Italian culture. Raffo explains cultural notions about Sicilians:

Italians in the U.S. are the southerners, the dark ones, the ignorant peasants who carry statues of the Virgin Mary through their neighborhoods and faint with religious passion. They are not the Venetians or Florentines, the ancestors of the deMedicis, the Michaelangelos and daVincis. No, those are Europeans. Historical moments eventually led to the creation of democracy. Italians, well, they are something different. They come in large and dirty numbers to Ellis Island. Too many of them really. Not all the way white. Certainly not white enough, rich enough, or intellectual enough to understand Faulkner. This is not about race. This is about class. About culture and history. And then it is about race. (201)

Due to these differences in race, class, culture, and history, my parents’ marriage was close to an interracial one, and this prejudice was even more pronounced generations earlier. In Were You Always an Italian? Maria Laurino locates herself as an Italian woman, and describes the history of Italian racism against people of African descent, exemplified in the murders of several Black men in Bensonhurst, New York. She writes,

I felt the danger of being a modern participant in the complex historical relationship between the southern Italian, whose land borders Africa and was dominated for centuries by dark-skinned Moors, and the black man. At the beginning of the century, olive-skinned southern Italians brought an ambiguous racial identity to their new land, causing a U.S. Senate to label them “nonwhite”; and ethnic historians have noted that because Italian-American agricultural workers in the post-Reconstruction South resembled their black coworkers, they were similarly subjected to the restrictions of Jim Crow legislation. Over a hundred years later, the intertwining of olive and chocolate, still threatened the sense of Italian-American wholeness; the Bensonhurst neighborhood fought to maintain its slight tilt toward the whiteness on the melatonin scale. (125)

In attempts to taunt me as a child, my full lips and curly hair acted as evidence for my tormentors that Sicily is the closest land to Africa. The rest of this logic was never outwardly stated, but this meant to them that I, too, was Black, and, by extension, somehow less. Perhaps it is precisely because of these “slight” distinctions in color that Italians are so preoccupied with maintaining these differences, invested in their whiteness, and therefore their privilege. Guidice accuses her fellow Italians of racist practices:

How could those people even begin to think that these folks from Algeria or Morocco or Eritrea are less than them based on skin color? Half the time, they’re the same color. The cultures are so inter-dependant and connected. It’s an absurdity that I don’t get—and that I do get, too. (Bulkin 228)

You should read the rest. There’s a lot of interesting stuff there. And if all of this is new to you, I recommend checking out Wikipedia’s page on Anti-Italianism.

And yet … my level of identification isn’t much beyond that. It’s something I’ve read about. Patchwork memories of stories my mother told me. And most of those stories happened to other people – cousins, aunts and uncles, her parents and their parents and so forth. I think the worst she suffered was some teasing from the Irish and Polish Protestant kids when they took her out of parochial and put her in public high school. She received worse than that from her family over my dad. And me? The absolute worst I’ve received is not getting a couple jobs I applied for – and that was probably because they thought I was Mexican.

I’m not sure what point I’m trying to get across, especially in the aftermath of the shit that went down in San Jose – except maybe to remind folks that race isn’t just a black or white issue. Sometimes it’s olive.

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The aniconic idol-maker – how’s that for a paradox?

Shortly after moving here I began receiving two conflicting strains of advice from my gods and spirits. On the one hand I was pushed to acquire a bunch of statuary and sacred images, which went against my natural inclination towards anti-materialism. (For the previous eight years I lived in a 300 square foot apartment without a bed, television or other essentials of modern life.) On the other hand I was pushed to adopt an even more radical rootless, vagabond existence by paring down the system of practices, festivals and other devotional tools I’d spent more than two decades developing.

For a while I assumed that the first strain was relevant to the public work I was doing as archiboukolos (maintain a central shrine to all the gods, heroes, spirits, etc. of the Starry Bull pantheon so that I could generate charis on behalf of the thiasos and perform specialized rites for members as needed) while the second strain had to do with my own personal practice. But when it became apparent that it was necessary for me to step down from that role I was faced with a bit of a quandary: why would they encourage me to get all of this stuff when they never intended for me to use it?

So I figured I was supposed to set up some other shrine or sacred space and began working on various iterations – only to be met with a series of increasingly improbable and insurmountable obstacles. Every single time it got past the theoretical stage something would happen to thwart my efforts: a bout of food poisoning, an emergency session with a client which resulted in me getting sprayed by a skunk, unexpected house guests, the fall that busted up my knee, the roof springing a leak right above where I’d decided to move the shrine after the last place didn’t work out, my tooth cracking in half, etc.

I tried to find meaning in these random afflictions while ignoring the obvious, underlying imperative. The tricky thing is, I’m not sure that the conclusions I arrived at were necessarily wrong – they were just little extras tacked on to the recurring message of “stop trying to do shrine work.”

I think part of why I was so resistant to it was a failure of vision on my part. If you take away festivals and shrines and all of their associated devotional activities and routines and don’t have strong ties to place because you get rebuffed every time you go out and attempt to establish a connection with the local land spirits … what’s left?

A lot, actually. And it ends up strongly resembling what the Orpheotelestai did, which I was told at the beginning should be my model for this phase of my work.

I’d get a glimpse of it, see how it all fit together, see what I could do and become … and then everything would vanish and I’d start feeling like it wasn’t enough. It was nothing like the familiar devotional routines I’d developed over two decades of practice. Too flowing and internal: smoke and words and ecstasy that left no sign of their passage. It would be so easy to slip into fantasy and nothingness, especially since I’m already prone to acedia. I didn’t want to be one of those people who mistook blogging for religious practice and talking to the sock puppets in their head for communicating with the gods. I wanted to do something real, something that mattered, something that left a mark. And so I’d latch onto the idea that I needed to set up a shrine and develop a schedule of prayer and offerings, provoking further correction.

Of course my fears were groundless. What I was being nudged towards wasn’t a dissolution of practice, but a different kind with a different focus. There would still be plenty for me to do – indeed more than I had as a shrine-keeper or steward of place. But because that vision hadn’t fully developed in my head I gave space to other concerns.

Like what the hell was I going to do with all of the statuary and sacred images I’d picked up over the last year? Certainly they wouldn’t have pushed me to acquire this stuff if I wasn’t meant to do something with it … right? Or had I been wrong? Were my receptivity and discernment off in those incidences? Had I simply wanted these things and ascribed my desires to the gods and spirits?

The answer came to me a couple weeks back while putting together the Toys of Dionysos course, though full comprehension only dawned a few moments ago, prompting me to make this post.

Unsurprisingly, since I’m a writer and chresmologue, the answer arrived through a text:

At Delos, too, there is a small wooden image of Aphrodite, its right hand defaced by time, and with a square base instead of feet. I am of opinion that Ariadne got this image from Daidalos, and when she followed Theseus, took it with her from home. Bereft of Ariadne, say the Delians, Theseus dedicated the wooden image of the goddess to the Delian Apollo, lest by taking it home he should be dragged into remembering Ariadne, and so find the grief for his love ever renewed. I know of no other works of Daidalos still in existence. For the images dedicated by the Argives in the Heraeum and those brought from Omphace to Gela in Sicily have disappeared in course of time. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.40.3-4)

This passage is dense with meaning for me (tons of stuff about image and catharsis and Daidalos as demiourgos and Ariadne presiding over the equally though differently redemptive Lethe and Mnemosyne) but I’m not going to go into all of that here. What I’ll share is the clue (heh) I got about what I’m supposed to do with the idols now that I have them. You see, I was never meant to acquire them for my own use. I found them so that I could pass them on to others. Not, however, in the condition that they came to me in. I’m going to decorate, consecrate, bless and open them up as divine vessels and then do work to receive the appropriate cultus for the idol, including offerings, prescriptions, prohibitions, purifications, rituals, hymns and so forth. And then I’ll sell them for people to use – just like Orpheus and Mousaios did. Of course, I want to make sure these go to a worthy home so I’ll perform divination to determine both price and if the idol wants to be transmitted to that person, but I think this has some pretty huge implications and am really excited about starting this work. A while back I came up with a name for my various projects – Bacchic Orphic Arts – and I think this would be perfectly encompassed by that.

However, before I rush into anything (and inadvertently bring some new calamity upon my head) I am going to amply confirm through divination that this is indeed what I’m supposed to do. I may be a fool, but I ain’t stupid.

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Beloved

For those who need a refresher, here’s what the great cyclopedia of the people has to say about Queen Amata:

Amata (also called Palanto), in Roman mythology, was the wife of King Latinus of Laurentum. She and Latinus had a daughter Lavinia, and no sons. When the hero Aeneas sued for Lavinia’s hand in marriage, Amata opposed him because she had already promised Lavinia to Aeneas’ nemesis Turnus. At the same time, she was instigated by Alecto, who acted according to the request of the goddess Juno. Hiding her daughter in the woods and arousing the womenfolk of the Latins, she managed to stir up the war between the allies of Turnus and Aeneas’ Trojans and his allies. When Amata was informed that Turnus had fallen in battle, she hanged herself.

In other words she’s an alétide and prototypical tarantee. There’s the poisonous bite triggering a state of uncontrollable frenzy, the whip and goad, the disastrous marriage, melancholic depression and powerlessness, madness as a cloak for rebellion, fleeing into the woods and finally swinging from a rope, among several other points of contact. And while tarantism is usually brought on by spiders the taranta can also appear as a snake or scorpion.

To make matters even better, consider the following:

Turnus can be seen as a “new Achilles,” due to his Greek ancestry and his fierceness. According to Barry Powell, he may also represent Mark Antony or local peoples who must submit to Rome’s empire. Powell adds that in the dispute between Turnus and Aeneas, Turnus may have the moral upper hand, having been set to marry Lavinia first. However, Turnus must be stopped since he is running counter to the force of destiny.

Sooner or later Marcus always shows up.

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Dionysos in Italy

My current obsession is figuring out how Dionysos got to Italy.

You see, practically every country – if not city – where he was worshipped has a myth of arrival, which has him appearing to a representative of the place (the majority of the time this person is a member of the royal house, but in a number of instances they may be an impoverished peasant) and either receiving hospitality, however humble, for which they are rewarded with wine and knowledge of viticulture or rejection and violent opposition which inevitably brings about madness and child-killing. In a number of instances Dionysos seduces the wife or daughter of his host, begetting heroic offspring that either supplant the current royal line or fill an important, hereditary position within his cult.

The closest I’ve come to finding an example of this mytheme for Italy are the following.

In the 7th Homeric Hymn Dionysos is captured by Tyrsenian pirates while on his way to Naxos. It’s possible that in some variant of this story they brought him back to Tuscany with them. He was certainly popular in the region, known under the names Fufluns, Pachie, Loufir, and possibly Tinś. But that’s extremely hypothetical, especially since most accounts have the pirates wiped out mid-sea and Dionysos claiming ownership of their vessel, which necessarily precludes a return to Italy.

Alternately, we know that the Tarentines, who were descended from the Spartan Partheniae, kept the Dionysia, a festival which in Athens and Ionia tended to be associated with myths of arrival. The Spartan version of this myth is as follows:

DION, a king in Laconia and husband of Iphitea, the daughter of Prognaus. Apollo, who had been kindly received by Iphitea, rewarded her by conferring upon her three daughters, Orphe, Lyco, and Carya, the gift of prophecy, on condition, how­ever, that they should not betray the gods nor search after forbidden things. Afterwards Diony­sus also came to the house of Dion; he was not only well received, like Apollo, but won the love of Carya, and therefore soon paid Dion a second visit, under the pretext of consecrating a temple, which the king had erected to him. Orphe and Lyco, however, guarded their sister, and when Dionysus had reminded them, in vain, of the com­mand of Apollo, they were seized with raging mad­ness, and having gone to the heights of Taygetus,they were metamorphosed into rocks. Garya, the beloved of Dionysus, was changed into a nut tree, and the Lacedaemonians, on being informed of it by Artemis, dedicated a temple to Artemis Caryatis. [Serv. ad Virg. Ed. viii. 30.] (Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology)

So perhaps that served as the basis for the Tarentine Dionysia? But even if Dionysos’ cult did come over with Phalanthos and his men, the story of Carya doesn’t really serve as an aition for his arrival in Italy.

Pliny (Natural History 3.60) mentions a competition between Bacchus and Ceres for ownership of the region of Campania, similar to the contest of Athene and Poseidon for Athens. But battling a goddess is very different from battling a king or his daughters and there’s nothing in those bare lines to imply alien status on Dionysos’ part.

There’s the story Clement of Alexandria relates in the second book of his Exhortation to the Greeks:

If you wish to inspect the orgies of the Corybantes, then know that, having killed their third brother, they covered the head of the dead body with a purple cloth, crowned it, and carrying it on the point of a spear, buried it under the roots of Olympus. These mysteries are, in short, murders and funerals. And the priests of these rites, who are called kings of the sacred rites by those whose business it is to name them, give additional strangeness to the tragic occurrence, by forbidding parsley with the roots from being placed on the table, for they think that parsley grew from the Corybantic blood that flowed forth; just as the women, in celebrating the Thesmophoria, abstain from eating the seeds of the pomegranate which have fallen on the ground, from the idea that pomegranates sprang from the drops of the blood of Dionysos. Those Corybantes also they call Cabiric; and the ceremony itself they announce as the Cabiric mystery. For those two identical fratricides, having abstracted the box in which the phallos of Bacchus was deposited, took it to Etruria–dealers in honourable wares truly. They lived there as exiles, employing themselves in communicating the precious teaching of their superstition, and presenting phallic symbols and the box for the Tyrrhenians to worship. And some will have it, not improbably, that for this reason Dionysos was called Attis, because he was mutilated. And what is surprising at the Tyrrhenians, who were barbarians, being thus initiated into these foul indignities, when among the Athenians, and in the whole of Greece–I blush to say it–the shameful legend about Demeter holds its ground?

But, again, that doesn’t really fit the parameters of the myth.

There’s Livy’s account of the introduction of the Bacchanalia:

A low-born Greek went into Etruria first of all, but did not bring with him any of the numerous arts which that most accomplished of all nations has introduced amongst us for the cultivation of mind and body. He was a dabbler in sacrifices and a fortune-teller, not one of those who imbue men’s minds with error by professing to teach their superstitions openly for money, but a hierophant of secret nocturnal mysteries. These were initiatory rites which at first were imparted to a few, then began to be generally known among men and women. To the religious element in them were added the delights of wine and feasts, that the minds of a larger number might be attracted. When wine had inflamed their minds, and night and the mingling of males with females, youth with age, had destroyed every sentiment of modesty, all varieties of corruption first began to be practised, since each one had at hand to satisfy the lust he was most prone to. Nor was the mischief confined to promiscuous intercourse; false witness, the forging of seals and testaments, and false informations, all proceeded from the same source, as also poisonings and murders of families where the bodies could not even be found for burial. Many crimes were committed by treachery; most by violence, which was kept secret, because the cries of those who were being violated or murdered could not be heard owing to the noise of drums and cymbals. (History of Rome 39.8)

But that took place in historical time, with a human votary in place of Dionysos. As such it only half counts.

So does that mean there existed no narrative of arrival, and if so why?

One possibility I’ve considered is that Dionysos is an autochthonous Italian. After all, Persephone was raised (if not born) in Sicily and some accounts make her Dionysos’ mother. Of course, none of those accounts are associated with Italy, where Dionysos was clearly regarded as the son of Zeus and Semele and his relationship with Persephone tended towards the erotic rather than the maternal. However Dionysos’ birth from Zeus’ thigh is such a popular theme that I wonder if at some point there wasn’t a tradition that located this event in Italy – note its frequency of appearance on Apulian drinking vessels and this bit of folk etymology from Nonnos:

Hermes Maia’s son received him near the birthplace hill of Dracanon, and holding him in the crook of his arm flew through the air. He gave the newborn Lyaios a surname to suit his birth, and called him Dionysos, or Zeus-limp, because while he carried his burden lifted his foot with a limp from the weight of his thigh, and nysos in the Syracusan language means limping. So he dubbed Zeus newly delivered Eiraphiotes, or Father Botcher, because he had sewed up the baby in his breeding thigh. (Dionysiaka 9.16-24)

But then last night I came across this interesting passage from Vergil:

And they’re the why, such transgressions, a goat is sacrificed
on every altar to the wine god – since our elders started to stage plays
and the sons of Theseus rewarded talent along the highways and byeways
and, with drink taken, took to hopping here and there,
a dance on greasy hides, and toppling in soft grass.
So too, Ausonian settlers – who came from Troy –
recited their rough-hewn verse to entertain the masses,
and put on scary masks cut out of bark
and called on you, Bacchus, in rousing song,
and in your honour dangled from the tips of pines tender tokens.
And it ensues that every vineyard crests and fills,
valleys teem, and deep ravines –
anywhere the god took in with his goodly gaze.
Therefore, as is only right, we accord to Bacchus due respect
with songs our fathers sang and trays of baked offerings
and, led by the horn, the sacrifical puck is set before the altar
and his spewling innards roasted on hazel skewers.
(Georgics 2.380-396)

Vergil has the Ausones bring their tragic traditions with them to Italy from Troy and connects these rites with askoliasmos and oscillatio, both of which are strongly tied to Ikarios and Erigone.

Why does that matter?

Do you know what one of the most important locales within Ausonian territory was called? Saturnia.

Why does that matter?

While most sources place Ikarios and his tragic daughter in Attica:

The constellation Bootes. The Bear Watcher. Some have said that he is Icarus, father of Erigone, to whom, on account of his justice and piety, Father Liber gave wine, the vine, and the grape, so that he could show men how to plant the vine, what would grow from it, and how to use what was produced. When he had planted the vine, and by careful tending with a pruning-knife had made it flourish, a goat is said to have broken into the vineyard, and nibbled the tenderest leaves he saw there. Icarus, angered by this, took him and killed him and from his skin made a sack, and blowing it up, bound it tight, and cast it among his friends, directing them to dance around it. And so Eratosthenes says : `Around the goat of Icarus they first danced.’ Others say that Icarus, when he had received the wine from Father Liber, straightway put full wineskins on a wagon. For this he was called Boötes. When he showed it to the shepherds on going round through the Attic country, some of them, greedy and attracted by the new kind of drink, became stupefied, and sprawling here and there, as if half-dead, kept uttering unseemly things. The others, thinking poison had been given the shepherds by Icarus, so that he could drive their flocks into his own territory, killed him, and threw him into a well, or, as others say, buried him near a certain tree. However, when those who had fallen asleep, woke up, saying that hey had never rested better, and kept asking for Icarus in order to reward him, his murderers, stirred by conscience, at once took to flight and came to the island of the Ceans. Received there as guests, they established homes for themselves. But when Erigone, the daughter of Icarus, moved by longing for her father, saw he did not return and was on the point of going out to hunt for him, the dog of Icarus, Maera by name, returned to her, howling as if lamenting the death of its master. It gave her no slight suspicion of murder, for the timid girl would naturally suspect her father had been killed since he had been gone so many months and days. But the dog, taking hold of her dress with its teeth, led her to the body. As soon as the girl saw it, abandoning hope, and overcome with loneliness and poverty, with many tearful lamentations she brought death on herself by hanging from the very tree beneath which her father was buried. And the dog made atonement for her death by its own life. Some say that it cast itself into the well, Anigrus by name. For this reason they repeat the story that no one afterward drank from that well. Jupiter, pitying their misfortune, represented their forms among the stars. And so many have called Icarus, Boötes, and Erigone, the Virgin, about whom we shall speak later. The dog, however, from its own name and likeness, they have called Canicula. It is called Procyon by the Greeks, because it rises before the greater Dog. Others say these were pictured among the stars by Father Liber. In the meantime in the district of the Athenians many girls without cause committed suicide by hanging, because Erigone, in dying, had prayed that Athenian girls should meet the same kind of death she was to suffer if the Athenians did not investigate the death of Icarus and avenge it. And so when these things happened as described, Apollo gave oracular response to them when they consulted him, saying that they should appease Erigone if they wanted to be free from the affliction. So since she hanged herself, they instituted a practice of swinging themselves on ropes with bars of wood attached, so that the one hanging could be moved by the wind. They instituted this as a solemn ceremony, and they perform it both privately and publicly, and call it alétis, aptly terming her mendicant who, unknown and lonely, sought for her father with the god. The Greeks call such people alétides. (Hyginus, Astronomica 2.2)

Critolaus knew an alternate version:

The story of Ikarios who entertained Dionysos is told by Eratosthenes in his Erigone. The Romans, however, say that Saturnus when once he was entertained by a farmer who had a fair daughter named Entoria, seduced her and begat Janus, Hymnus, Faustus, and Felix. He then taught Icarius the use of wine and viniculture, and told him that he should share his knowledge with his neighbours also. When the neighbours did so and drank more than is customary, they fell into an unusually deep sleep. Imagining that they had been poisoned, they pelted Icarius with stones and killed him; and his grandchildren in despair ended their lives by hanging themselves. When a plague had gained a wide hold among the Romans, Apollo gave an oracle that it would cease if they should appease the wrath of Saturnus and the spirits of those who had perished unlawfully. Lutatius Catulus, one of the nobles, built for the god the precinct which lies near the Tarpeian Rock. He made the upper altar with four faces, either because of Icarius’s grandchildren or because the year has four parts; and he designated a month January. Saturnus placed them all among the stars. The others are called harbingers of the vintage, but Janus rises before them. His star is to be seen just in front of the feet of Virgo. So Critolaus in the fourth book of his Phaenomena. (Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories 9)

This passage from Vergil shows that it was generally understood that Dionysos and not Kronos was the god hospitably received by Ikarios in Italy. Alternately, one might infer from it that the Ausones transferred the cult of Dionysos from Troy but Vergil elsewhere makes it clear that he was already in Italy when they arrived through the story of Queen Amata, who under the goad of Alecto participated in Bacchic revels in Latium (Aeneid 7.341-405):

Straightway Alecto, through whose body flows
the Gorgon poison, took her viewless way
to Latium and the lofty walls and towers
of the Laurentian King. Crouching she sate
in silence on the threshold of the bower
where Queen Amata in her fevered soul
pondered, with all a woman’s wrath and fear,
upon the Trojans and the marriage-suit
of Turnus. From her Stygian hair the fiend
a single serpent flung, which stole its way
to the Queen’s very heart, that, frenzy-driven,
she might on her whole house confusion pour.
Betwixt her smooth breast and her robe it wound
unfelt, unseen, and in her wrathful mind
instilled its viper soul. Like golden chain
around her neck it twined, or stretched along
the fillets on her brow, or with her hair
enwrithing coiled; then on from limb to limb
slipped tortuous. Yet though the venom strong
thrilled with its first infection every vein,
and touched her bones with fire, she knew it not,
nor yielded all her soul, but made her plea
in gentle accents such as mothers use;
and many a tear she shed, about her child,
her darling, destined for a Phrygian’s bride:
“O father! can we give Lavinia’s hand
to Trojan fugitives? why wilt thou show
no mercy on thy daughter, nor thyself;
nor unto me, whom at the first fair wind
that wretch will leave deserted, bearing far
upon his pirate ship my stolen child?
Was it not thus that Phrygian shepherd came
to Lacedaemon, ravishing away
Helen, the child of Leda, whom he bore
to those false Trojan lands? Hast thou forgot
thy plighted word? Where now thy boasted love
of kith and kin, and many a troth-plight given
unto our kinsman Turnus? If we need
an alien son, and Father Faunus’ words
irrevocably o’er thy spirit brood,
I tell thee every land not linked with ours
under one sceptre, but distinct and free,
is alien; and ‘t is thus the gods intend.
Indeed, if Turnus’ ancient race be told,
it sprang of Inachus, Acrisius,
and out of mid-Mycenae.”
But she sees
her lord Latinus resolute, her words
an effort vain; and through her body spreads
the Fury’s deeply venomed viper-sting.
Then, woe-begone, by dark dreams goaded on,
she wanders aimless, fevered and unstrung
along the public ways; as oft one sees
beneath the twisted whips a leaping top
sped in long spirals through a palace-close
by lads at play: obedient to the thong,
it weaves wide circles in the gaping view
of its small masters, who admiring see
the whirling boxwood made a living thing
under their lash. So fast and far she roved
from town to town among the clansmen wild.
Then to the wood she ran, feigning to feel
the madness Bacchus loves; for she essays
a fiercer crime, by fiercer frenzy moved.
Now in the leafy dark of mountain vales
she hides her daughter, ravished thus away
from Trojan bridegroom and the wedding-feast.
“Hail, Bacchus! Thou alone,” she shrieked and raved,
“art worthy such a maid. For thee she bears
the thyrsus with soft ivy-clusters crowned,
and trips ecstatic in thy beauteous choir.
For thee alone my daughter shall unbind
the glory of her virgin hair.” Swift runs
the rumor of her deed; and, frenzy-driven,
the wives of Latium to the forests fly,
enkindled with one rage. They leave behind
their desolated hearths, and let rude winds
o’er neck and tresses blow; their voices fill
the welkin with convulsive shriek and wail;
and, with fresh fawn-skins on their bodies bound,
they brandish vine-clad spears. The Queen herself
lifts high a blazing pine tree, while she sings
a wedding-song for Turnus and her child.
With bloodshot glance and anger wild, she cries:
“Ho! all ye Latin wives, if e’er ye knew
kindness for poor Amata, if ye care
for a wronged mother’s woes, O, follow me!
Cast off the matron fillet from your brows,
and revel to our mad, voluptuous song.”
Thus, through the woodland haunt of creatures wild,
Alecto urges on the raging Queen
with Bacchus’ cruel goad.

While not an arrival myth this passage does have some fucking profound implications. Which I’ll save for a separate post.

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Toys of Dionysos course beginning Monday

Hey folks! I’ve sent out invitations to everyone on my list. If you haven’t received one and feel you should, or are interested in taking the course and need to make a payment arrangement, contact me and we’ll get you signed up. The first lesson will be sent out Monday, February 16th.

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