sexual ethics

The moderators of a panel on abuse and sexual ethics at the Polytheist Leadership Conference are looking for speakers. If you are planning to attend please consider volunteering, especially if you are already presenting.

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Sap from a poisoned tree


Unhappy with the call to action and global magical rite that my partner Galina put out, some Wiccan child-abuse defenders have begun fighting back:

SYLVIA SAPP:  I can not support the total damning of a person for there actions. I would rather seek to heal them and help them rather then condemn them. Sexual predators need help. Some are preveios victims themselves. Who are we to further there pain and condemn them. Would that not make us the predators? Feeding on hate and sending pain to those that need help. I do not condone there actions, the thought of a child being scared in that manner is sickening to me, but I will NOT condone hate. Help the victim, both of them! The victim of society and the predators victim. You can post what you want, but so can I.

ERIK SAPP: Shortly after I started my job, I commented that even the worst of the clients the office represents are human beings and have rights. You may not approve of what they have done, but they are human beings. I also feel the need to point out that convicted child molesters are under court order to not be around children. So the author’s main argument – protecting kids – is not really valid. If the child molesters are at events with kids, they are violating a court order and can be dealt with in the courts. And if they only go to events with adults, then there are no children to endanger.

Oh, and the author is being cowardly in not allowing comments.


You want to make this a fight, oh we’ll give you a fight.

Jason Mankey has provided a handy guide to the neopagan summer festival circuit. I would recommend that people contact the organizers of every single one of those events and demand to know what policies they have in place and what steps they are taking to keep participants safe from predators. If they are anything but forthcoming and compliant don’t waste your time and energy arguing with them. Go above their heads and contact the actual land-owners as well as local law enforcement and media with your complaints. As we saw in Florida one person placing a simple phone call can make more difference than all of the BNPs and policy statements put together.


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A long strange trip

Dver came up to New York City for a visit recently, and as I mentioned we stumbled upon a group of Persians getting ready for a Nowruz parade which was synchronistically delayed so as to coincide with the Anthesphoria.

Dver sent me some photos of the floats she snapped which I’d like to share with you, as they seem to be depicting scenes from Dionysian myth:






Click to make them bigger.

Afterwards it hit me that that coincidence was perhaps more momentous than I had at first assumed. I mean, it happened while I was observing a festival for Persephone, who in Orphic tradition is associated with weaving.

And as I pointed out here, Nonnos makes Arachne a Persian maiden:

Prince Botrys, hearing the echoing call from the divine lips of Bakchos hard by, roused himself, put on his own dress, and called to sleeping Pithos. When Methe heard the voice, she reluctantly lifted her heavy head, and letting it fall lazily, went to sleep again; all through the morning the queen still remained with her eyes gathering the most sweet bloom of sleep. At last she left her bed with slow unwilling foot. Staphylos the grapelover attended upon Lyaios, offering him the guest’s gifts as he was hasting for his journey: a two-handled jar of gold with silver cups, from which hitherto he used always to quaff the milk of milch-goats; and he brought embroidered robes, which Persian Arachne beside the waters of Tigris had cleverly made with her fine thread. Then the generous king spoke to Bromios of the earlier war between Zeus and Kronos. (Dionysiaka 18.190-217)

According to Ovid aconite was the herb that Minerva used to transform Arachne into a spider and Medeia instructed Orpheus in the use of this and other magical drugs. (Perhaps even Amanita muscaria.)

And as everyone knows, Medeia is one of progenitors of the Persian race:

And again he adds: “After about 640 years had passed, Belimus was king of the Assyrians; and in his reign, Perseus the son of Danaë, who was escaping from Dionysos the son of Semele, arrived in the country with 100 ships.” Then, after describing the defeat of Perseus by Dionysos, he adds: “In a later generation, when Pannyas was king of the Assyrians, the expedition of the Argonauts sailed to the river Phasis, and to Medeia of Colchis. They say that Heracles left the ship because of his love for Hylas, and wandered amongst the Cappadocians.” And again he says; “A thousand years after Semiramis, when Mitraeus was king, Medeia of Colchis left king Aegeus; her son was Medus, who gave his name to the Medes and the country of Media.” (Cephalion, as quoted in Eusebius, Chronicle)

Later on Dver and I attended an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History on The Power of Poison where she took this photo for her Raven’s Bread blog of the three witches from Macbeth stirring their cauldron. At another display in the exhibit they projected an animated account of the story of Medeia onto a couple Greek pithoi and amphorai. I was quite amused to hear several passersby comment, “Man, that Jason was a prick – he sure got what he deserved!” A little harsh, considering, but their hearts were in the right place. I also enjoyed the cries of fright elicited by the display on spiders. The exhibit questioned the historical claim that Kleopatra was killed by the bite of a snake and instead proposed that she committed suicide through a mixture of poisonous herbs including aconite. As much as I would like to believe that because of the prominence of this herb in my cosmology (and that I consider Kleopatra to have been of the aletide type of tragic maiden) I consider it almost certain that she died of snake bite. She was a consummate political actress and considering the prominence of the snake in both Makedonian and Egyptian religious culture would not have missed the opportunity to make such a potent final statement. Besides, all of the poisons they mentioned were painful and slow-acting and we know that Kleopatra, being a consummate scientist as well, experimented with these substances on prisoners leading up to Octavian’s invasion and found them wanting. But I digress.

Also on this visit we took in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we saw this image of John the Baptist giving Jesus a blessing with the hand of Sabazios:


And we also found this amazing image of Seilenos carrying a jar:


From a tapestry depicting the Dionysian triumph of Alexander the Great:


While there Dver and I played one of our favorite games “Spot the Dionysos” which you can see the fruit of here at this post of hers. Quite a haul – despite the fact that the Hellenistic wing was closed.

Though we didn’t take pics there were a ton of images of Antinous and Hadrian, including some breath-takingly beautiful cult statues. It’s a shame that we won’t have an opportunity to play “Spot the Antinous” when P.S.V.L. is up in Fishkill presenting at the Polytheist Leadership Conference.

Which reminds me – my Bithynian Adversary is putting together some communal hymns for the Ekklesia on the occasion of one of their most important festivals (you can read about it here and here) – it would please your archiboukolos immensely if Starry Bull members contributed. Let’s make the Megala Antinoeia a true triumph and foster stronger ties between our two groups, as there often was in antiquity.

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A perfectly good motto ruined by a poor grasp of Greek


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Rotten to its core

In what is becoming an all too regular phenomenon, another Wiccan was arrested on multiple charges of child molestation. The Wild Hunt is reporting on the attempts of prominent neopagans to play damage control and distance themselves from this epidemic of abuse, but frankly I’m not sure that Kenaz Filan is too far off the mark with the statements he made in response to a comment left on Galina’s Facebook post about the magical working we’ll be doing on Beltane:

I’m not claiming that every Wiccan and every Neopagan is either an abuser or an abuse enabler. But I will say that there are elements of Wiccan and Neopagan theology and culture which are troublesome. Among the worst are

- the never-ending whines about the “Burning Times” and their corrolary, “we must stand together against Christian oppression.” (“He didn’t touch those kids, he was just looking at them while he masturbated. Is that worth starting another SRA panic?”)

- the emphasis on moral relativism and intention as the sole measure of evil. (“I didn’t mean to sexually harass you when I grabbed your breast, so it can’t be called harassment.”)

- the tendency to dismiss even the most well-documented complaints as “witch wars” (“Lady X said HP Y groped her, but she never liked him…”)

- the tendency to treat complaints of troubling behavior as “slander” and rally around the accused.

- the fact that your “community” is so nebulous as to lack any feeling of community or any community standards — and, hence, no feeling of obligation toward said community by most of its members.

Especially when you read comments such as this, which was left in that same thread:

When I was 14 I was raped by a man in our community, which was a Wiccan community. I won’t get in to that part, but what I WILL speak to is that the community shunned us, and we were no longer welcome there because I sent him and his fiance to prison where they belong. So, this is NOT the first instance of this happening in the Wiccan community, not by a long shot. I have no Qualms with peoples who are or associate themselves with Wicca, none what so ever. But there is this spinelessness, this weakness, this ‘harm none’ and I think it’s a load of horse shit. What good is harm none when someone IN your community is harming, and you have taken all your weapons away to defend the young, the disabled, or the broken? You’ve thrown down your sword, and as a community gone like SHEEP before these predators. that’s my 2c.

We do have weapons at our disposal beyond firmly worded policy statements and social activism. If you’re interested in being part of the Beltane magical working contact Galina and she’ll get you the details. The culture of tolerance and silence within neopaganism is as much to blame for this as the actual perpetrators of abuse. If these people aren’t willing to root the evil out of their midst we must do everything in our power to bring it to light and damn them by association. One way or another, this shit has to stop.

Sad Young Blonde Child

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Galina has a message for child-abusers and those who would defend them.

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What is remembered lives

If there’s one area of ancient religion that contemporary polytheists have been negligent in reviving it’s hero-cultus, much to the detriment of our communities as I’ve argued here.

That criticism doesn’t really apply to my Bithynian Adversary who is zealous in praising the dead, as he recently did here and here for the great Memnon, son of Tithonos and the Dawn.

Read and remember.


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The Magical Fruit

Ever wonder why the Orphics and Pythagoreans aphosiousthaized beans?

Jack Faust has gathered together a ton of sources (here and here) which point to why.

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Carnie folk talk funny

Hearzey fearzolks! Yearzou shearzould chearzeck earzout thearze nearzew prearzojearzect earzof mearzy frearziend Dvearzer whearzich earzis earzon thearze hearzistearzorearzy earzof thearze cearzarnearzivearzal earzand thearze spearzecearzial learzangearzuagearze earzof cearzarnearzie fearzolk. Thearzis earzis earza tearzotearzallearzy bearzadearzass bearzook earzand wearzebsearzitearze.


If you don’t understand what I just said, click here.

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Oh what webs we weave

During the last weekly chat (which you can read the transcript of at the Facebook page) there was some interest expressed in getting a conversation going on the more esoteric aspects of spinning and weaving. Well, our resident Klodone (maker of our official green akousmatikoi bracelets) has posted some fascinating material on following Ariadne’s thread which closes with this delightful proposal:

I’m happy to facilitate that, and to talk about what I have learned, either individually or in a group. I’m not sure what form that might take. It’s not practical for me at the moment to hold live chats, although we might do that in the future. A discussion board somewhere, maybe? A community blog on Livejournal or Dreamwidth? Or a mailing list? If you’re interested in participating in such a thing, let me know, either in the Disqus comments here or by email (madgastronomer at gmail dot com). We’ll see what we can manage.

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A wonderful opportunity for members of the thiasos of the Starry Bull

A very talented artist from Italy was struck by the work y’all are doing (such as coming up with the set of daily prayers) and so has offered to donate some of her hand-crafted sacred images to the community. The only thing she’s asking is that folks pay the shipping costs, which generally run around 15 Euros. You can contact her at, which is also her address at Paypal. And be sure to check out her Etsy shop GoldenSwanSongs for some more great pieces.






Hekate Soteira medallion.




Wall-hanging Dionysos.


Jade among flowers Anthesteria pendant.

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Completely inappropriate

It was a nice, warm spring day and I was feeling well for a change so Galina and I went into town only to discover “Closed for the Holiday” signs on all the storefronts.

Not cool, man. So not cool.

What kind of town shut’s down for Hitler’s birthday?

As we were getting back into the car my barbarian consort growled, “We’re Heathens. We don’t stand for this racist horseshit.” Revving the engine we tore out of there, nearly running over a little blond girl in a pure white dress carrying a basket full of what appeared to be large, brightly colored pellets of Zyklon B.

For those who are planning to attend the Polytheist Leadership Conference in July don’t worry – we’re hosting it a couple towns over in Fishkill.

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An absolute monarch is an absolute evil


In response to my post on Constantine, dunkelza shared these insightful remarks:

Interestingly, I fault Constantine more for what he did to Christianity than for what he directly did to polytheism- as you point out, he was not baptized until he was on his deathbed. My concern is that he took a mystery religion that was largely about helping the oppressed and turned it into an expansionist state religion for the sake of unity.

While he certainly didn’t establish Abrahamic monotheism (thanks for that, Deuteronomists… :P ), he harnessed it for military gain. The end result being that he militarized the Filter with the might of a superpower. Worse, he hijacked an entire religion from its owner and gave it to Someone else- I’m still not sure Who.

The world would likely have been better off if Christianity has remained in Jesus’ hands and Constantine had simply incorporated His worship into the pantheon of Powers venerated by the empire. On the one hand, as you point out, that is what he tried to do. Unfortunately, on the other, Constantine convened and strong-armed the First Council of Nicaea, which standardized Christianity in ways that made its violent colonialism almost inevitable.

The following millennium and a half of religious genocide are not directly his fault, but he does bear some responsibility for setting the stage- just as Curie, Wells, and Einstein have some precursory responsibility for nuclear weapons and the world those weapons created.

Which demonstrates the wisdom and prudence of the Romans, for it is extremely difficult to balance temporal and spiritual power well:

Why is the so-called rex sacrorum, that is to say ‘king of the sacred rites,’ forbidden to hold office or to address the people? Is it because in early times the kings performed the greater part of the most important rites, and themselves offered the sacrifices with the assistance of the priests? But when they did not practice moderation, but were arrogant and oppressive, most of the Greek states took away their authority, and left to them only the offering of sacrifice to the gods; but the Romans expelled their kings altogether, and to offer the sacrifices they appointed another, whom they did not allow to hold office or to address the people, so that in their sacred rites only they might seem to be subject to a king, and to tolerate a kingship only on the gods’ account. At any rate, there is a sacrifice traditionally performed in the forum at the place called Comitium, and, when the rex has performed this, he flees from the forum as fast as he can. (Plutarch, Roman Questions 63)

Indeed, just because I argued that Constantine was a Dionysian figure does not mean that I believe that he was an admirable man or that he made the right decision. I think he tried to do what he thought was best for his country in a time of crisis but acting for “the greater good” rarely turns out well. I’d go one further and say that the closer one gets to Dionysos the more likely one’s actions are to have tragic consequences. And I use that word in the specifically Greek sense:

One of the essential elements of tragedy is harmatia or the fatal flaw in the hero through which he brings about his reversal of fortune and suffering. Very often in trying to avoid performing an evil act he inadvertently commits an even greater evil. The complex, contradictory emotions this rouses in the audience and what it forces them to confront about themselves and their society is what makes something a tragedy. Without that moral tension – a mix of pity and revulsion – you’ve just got a terrible, sad situation. In other words there’s no tragedy without a good person making wrong choices.

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If we’re not supposed to eat animals why are they made of meat?

In addition to seafood (and especially fish) I must now aphosiousthai all of the sacred animals of Dionysos, which means that:


Are all off the menu, except on festival days when it’s permitted to transgress this prohibition, particularly if I’m doing some kind of ritual consumption of the animal to absorb the god’s dunamis. Though this severely restricts my diet it doesn’t mean that I’ve gone vegetarian (vegetarianism is a distinguishing mark of Pythagoreanism not Orphism, especially not the more Bacchic strains of the tradition) as fowl and swine are still permitted. That last one surprised me a bit as pigs are one of the animals commonly sacrificed to Dionysos and they played a role in the Eleusinian mysteries so I was assuming that they’d be verboten but I checked with him and it doesn’t seem to be an issue for me.

Part of what led me to suspect that my purity requirements had developed in this way is that any time I’ve eaten meat other than chicken, turkey or ham over the last couple weeks I’ve gotten massively ill. Of course any time I’ve eaten pretty much anything since Liberalia I’ve had pronounced gastrointestinal distress but consuming beef and goat seems to take it to a whole new level of horrible. After an especially bad bout of sick kicked off by a dinner party I attended on Friday I finally broke down and consulted Dionysos about this and got the confirmation I’ve been dreading. (Hence my avoidance of performing divination on the matter – if I didn’t actually know I could go along pretending I didn’t have such a restriction no matter how strongly I suspected.)

Oh well.

On the other hand, eating these animals only during ritual is going to make them powerful tools for the alteration of consciousness and bringing me into alignment with Dionysos so I guess there’s that!

Plus there’s plenty of animals that have no association with the god – yeah, I’m looking at you emu and zebra! Wander into Beacon and I will eat the hell out of you, simply because I can.


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Constantine chose wisely


I forgot to mention why Constantine chose Byzantium as his imperial capital – the city was sacred to Dionysos. According to Herodotos (Histories 4.87) when the Persian Dareios set up a stele in the city commemorating all of the nations who had been absorbed into his empire he did so in front of its most important building, the Dionysion, so that everyone would be able to read the dual Greek-Assyrian inscription since they so frequently gathered there.

And then there’s this delightful anecdote which Athenaios (Deipnosophistai 10.59) relates:

And Phylarchos, in his sixth book says that the Byzantines are so exceedingly fond of wine that they live in the wine-shops and let out their own houses and their wives also to strangers: and that they cannot bear to hear the sound of a trumpet even in their sleep. On which account once, when they were attacked by the enemy, and could not endure the labour of defending their walls, Leonidas, their general, ordered the innkeepers’ booths to be erected as tents upon the walls, and even then it was with difficulty that they were stopped from deserting, as Damon tells us, in his book on Byzantium. But Menander, in his play called the Woman carrying the Peplos of Athene, or the Female Flute-player, says-

Byzantium makes all the merchants drunk.
On your account we drank the whole night long,
And right strong wine too, as it seems to me,-
At least I got up with four heads, I think.

Though no longer the patron deity of Constantinople, Dionysos remained a prominent god in the city up to its fall at the hands of the Turks. Indeed he frequently appears on Byzantine works of art and was openly honored during the Brumalia and Kalends festivals. In fact one of the later Byzantine emperors staged a Dionysiac triumph with revelers costumed as satyrs and nymphs attending him as he rode through the great basilica on the back of a donkey to shame the greedy patriarch and his scheming, overbearing mother.

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Hope to see you in Fishkill!

And as a follow-up to the last post I’d like to remind folks that the Polytheist Leadership Conference is filling up fast. We only have three presentation slots left and a lot of folks are registering to attend. If you’re interested in sharing a room or carpooling, be sure to check out this post where folks are connecting and making such arrangements.

Just a couple months left! Everything’s going to be different after Fishkill.


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I know I’m not one of your favorites, and I’m not welcomed in your house, but I could use a little attention, please.


I’ve been seeing a bunch of stuff about Constantine the Great in the pagan blogosphere the last couple days in anticipation of Easter.

Unlike a lot of folks I don’t get my hate on when it comes to this Emperor since he was basically an opportunistic devotee of Dionysos who exploited the potential for social cohesion in the nascent church to bolster a floundering Rome. At this point the empire had been greatly destabilized by close to a century of petty foreign wars and civic strife, and was on the brink of economic collapse. There had also been massive droughts and famines and a plague that wiped out close to a tenth of the population. He attempted to reform Rome’s institutions from within to address these problems and met with little success since the senatorial class was deeply entrenched and resistant to change lest they lose their power base so he looked outside to the church as a model for social and political cohesion, repealing the ban on the religion and granting it official imperial patronage. This eventually proved a disastrous move, but it’s unfair to fault him for making it considering the problematic situation the empire found itself in. He was pretty much fucked no matter what he did. So he made a deal with a devil – a deal, by the way, which permitted the Western Roman empire to limp along for another hundred years or so and the Eastern branch to persist until the fifteenth century. In that light his efforts must be seen as something of a success.

But the man himself was no conventional Christian – he continuously put off receiving baptism until his deathbed, at which point he was too weak to protest further and the sacrament may have been performed on him without his consent. When he rededicated a city on the site of the ancient Byzantium to serve as the new imperial capital (the first fully Christian city according to tradition) temples to Tyche and the Dioskouroi were built. A court panegyrist hailed him as being under the divine protection of Apollo and Jupiter years after the incident at the Ponte Milvio and the court historian Zosimus (himself a pagan) recounted how Constantine erected numerous statues to Apollo. Even after he began using the Chi Rho symbol Constantine minted coins with the image of Sol Invictus. Though he made legal concessions to the growing Christian elites (for instance substituting hanging for crucifixion for capital offenses and passing laws that privileged the church with state support and outlawed magic and divination) his primary goal was fostering religious tolerance. He permitted sacrifice in the temples and the celebration of festivals, provided that they were non-compulsory, and gave local, regionally specific cults imperial sanction:

“Let no one disturb another, let each man hold fast to that which his soil wishes…”

But his true allegiance was to the cult of Dionysos, as his grandson the Emperor Julian made clear. In his satirical piece The Caesars (written for the occasion of the Saturnalia) Julian has the great emperors of the past summoned to a feast of the gods with Dionysos advocating for the inclusion of Constantine:

In the silence that followed, Kronos turned to Zeus and said that he was astonished to see that only martial Emperors were summoned to the competition, and not a single philosopher. “For my part, he added, “I like philosophers just as well. So tell Marcus to come in too.” Accordingly Marcus was summoned and came in looking excessively dignified and showing the effect of his studies in the expression of his eyes and his lined brows. His aspect was unutterably beautiful from the very fact that he was careless of his appearance and unadorned by art; for he wore a very long beard, his dress was plain and sober, and from lack of nourishment his body was very shining and transparent, like light most pure and stainless.

When he too had entered the sacred enclosure, Dionysos said, “King Kronos and Father Zeus can any incompleteness exist among the gods?” And when they replied that it could not, “Then,” said he, “let us bring in here some votary of pleasure as well.”

“Nay,” answered Zeus, “it is not permitted that any man should enter here who does not model himself on us.”

“In that case,” said Dionysos, “let them be tried at the entrance.  Let us summon by your leave a man not unwarlike but a slave to pleasure and enjoyment. Let Constantinus come as far as the door.”

Constantinus was allowed to speak next. On first entering the lists he was confident enough. But when he reflected on the exploits of the others he saw that his own were wholly trivial. He had defeated two tyrants, but, to tell the truth, one of them was untrained in war and effeminate, the other a poor creature and enfeebled by old age, while both were alike odious to gods and men. Moreover his campaigns against the barbarians covered him with ridicule. For he paid them tribute, so to speak, while he gave all his attention to Pleasure, who stood at a distance from the gods near the entrance to the moon. Of her indeed he was so enamoured that he had no eyes for anything else, and cared not at all for victory. However, as it was his turn and had to say something, he began:

“In the following respects I am superior to these others; to the Macedonian in having fought against Romans, Germans and Scythians, instead of Asiatic barbarians; to Caesar and Octavianus in that I did not, like them, lead a revolution against brave and good citizens, but attacked only the most cruel and wicked tyrants. As for Trajanus, I should naturally rank higher on account of those same glorious exploits against the tyrants, while it would be only fair to regard me as his equal on the score of that territory which he added to the empire, and I recovered; if indeed it be not more glorious to regain than to gain. As for Marcus here, by saying nothing for himself he yields precedence to all of us.”

“But Constantinus,” said Silenus, “are you not offering us mere gardens of Adonis as exploits?”

“What do you mean,” he asked, “by gardens of Adonis”?

“I mean”, said Silenus, “those that women plant in pots, in honour of the lover of Aphrodite, by scraping together a little earth for a garden bed. They bloom for a little space and fade forthwith.” At this Constantinus blushed, for he realised that this was exactly his own performance.

While Julian is harsh in his judgments on his grandfather (and gets in a couple good swipes at Jesus later in the piece) it’s important to keep in mind that τρυφἠ was an essential quality in the Dionysian model of kingship promulgated by the Ptolemies and other Hellenistic monarchs. (Plus Julian had an axe to grind since a lot of his family had been executed and he himself was forced into exile early on during the dynastic squabbles of Constantine’s sons.)

Another indication of Constantine’s Dionysian character was his choice of location when he summoned representatives of the Christian churches to iron out their theological and personal differences. The ecumenical council (where he basically locked the bishops in a room and told them that if they didn’t reach consensus he was going to have them all killed) took place in the Anatolian city of Nikaia which had originally been founded by Dionysos himself:

This city is named after the nymph Nikaia who is said to have been the daughter of Kybele and Sangarios, the ruler of the country. Preferring virginity to cohabitation with a man, she spent her life hunting in the mountains. Dionysos fell in love with her, but she rejected his advances. After his rejection Dionysos tried to achieve his desire by a trick. He filled the spring, from which Nikaia used to drink when she was worn out from hunting with wine instead of water. She suspected nothing and, acting as normal, took her fill of the deceptive liquid. Then drunkenness and sleep took hold of her, and she submitted to the wishes of her lover. Dionysos had intercourse with her, and fathered Satyros and other sons by her. (Memnon, History of Herakleia 28.9)

One wonders if this naiad was involved in Constantine’s famous vision while crossing the Tiber, when the words Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα appeared before him in the heavens.

A church built by Constantine to celebrate the miraculous healing of his daughter from a disease very similar to the one suffered by the Proetides was later mistaken for a temple of Dionysos, further attesting a link between the two. But the real cincher for me is Constantine’s posthumous activities, primarily his involvement in the Orthodox Greek festival Anastenaria:

The Anastenaria is a traditional ritual of fire walking which dates back to pagan times. Barefoot villagers of Ayia Eleni near Serres, and of Langada near Thessaloniki, and other places, annually walk over hot coals. As there are variations in the ritual from place to place, the following description is largely based upon the performance of the festival as celebrated at Ayia Eleni, the most authoritative Anastenarian community, and the illustrations are from the ritual at Langada. On the eve of the feast of Saints Constantine and Helen (May 20th) the Anastenarides gather in the konaki, where the participants dance and sing to the music of the Thracian lyra, and a large drum. After some time, the dancing generates extreme emotional and ecstatic phenomena in the devotees, particularly in those dancing for the first time. This manifests itself in the form of violent trembling, repeated rocking backwards and forwards, and writhing. The archanastenaris hands out icons from the shelf to some of the dancers. The Anastenarides believe that during the dance they are “seized” by the saint, and enter a state of trance. On the morning of the saints’ day (May 21st) the Anastenarides gather at the konaki before leaving together in procession, accompanied by musicians and candle bearers to a holy well, where they are blessed by the holy water. Next, they sacrifice one or several animals to the saints. In Ayia Eleni, the animal must be over one year old, and of an odd number of years of age, the most acceptable being seven. The beast must also be unmarked and it must not have been castrated. It is incensed, and then led up to a shallow pit excavated in a place previously indicated by the Archanastenaris in a trance, usually beside the roots of a tree or at the agiasma. At one side of the shallow pit candles are lighted, while, on the other stand pots of holy water and the sacrificial animal. The beast is turned upside down, with its head tilted upwards, at the edge of the pit. Its throat is cut in such a way as to allow its blood to soak into the earth. The carcass is hung and skinned to the sound of music, and the raw flesh and hide cut up into equal parts put into baskets and distributed, amongst the families of the village in a procession from house to house.

Though attached to the name of one of Christianity’s greatest saints, the church attempted to suppress these practices as a survival of Dionysian ecstatic worship:

Among scholars the origins of the Anastenaria, as opposed to what the cult has become today, are a matter of considerable dispute. Although there is no evidence in ancient literature of fire-walking rituals associated with the god Dionysos, most scholars connect the Anastenaria with the widespread cult of that divinity. This association was also made by the Church authorities when they condemned the practices of the cult. Folklore scholar George A. Megas observes that “the cradle of Dionysiac worship was precisely in the Haemus area where the Anastenaria are danced today, passed down by the Greeks to the neighboring Bulgarian villages.” This latter point is made clear by the fact that the prayers used by the Bulgarian Anastenarides are recited in Greek, and that the transmission of the rites from Greeks to Bulgarian settlers in the area is a matter of historical record. Moreover, the evidence of mid-winter and carnival customs is that much that was associated with the Dionysian cult has survived throughout northern and central Greece. Katerina Kakouri has established a close connection between these customs and the Anastenaria in Ayia Eleni.

There are some amazing videos of Anastenaria on Youtube that you should check out if you’re interested in seeing the Dionysian parallels for yourself.

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We’re watching the big tent catch fire

Galina Krasskova posted a very interesting conversation she had with her colleague Kenaz Filan. I was going to quote a tantalizing excerpt from it to excite your interest, but how do you choose when the whole thing is so damn good? Go read it for yourself.

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More on the religious life of Lokroi

Though I tend to emphasize the cults of Dionysos, Persephone and Aphrodite in this polis (the second most important in Magna Graecia after Tarentum) plenty of other gods, heroes and spirits were honored there, as this passage from Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus demonstrates:

The Locrians, seized with alarm, had recourse to the Spartans, begging their assistance with humble entreaties. But the Spartans, disliking so distant an expedition, told them “to ask assistance from Castor and Pollux.” This answer, from a city in alliance with them, the deputies did not despise, but going into the nearest temple, and offering sacrifice, they implored aid from those gods. The signs from the victims appearing favourable, and their request, as they supposed, being granted, they were no less rejoiced than if they were to carry the gods with them; and, spreading couches for them in the vessel, and setting out with happy omens, they brought their countrymen comfort though not assistance.

This affair becoming known, the Crotonians themselves also sent deputies to the oracle at Delphi, asking the way to victory and a prosperous termination of the war. The answer given was, that “the enemies must be conquered by vows, before they could be conquered by arms.” They accordingly vowed the tenth of the spoil to Apollo, but the Locrians, getting information of this vow, and the god’s answer, vowed a ninth part, keeping the matter however secret, that they might not be outdone in vows. When they came into the field, therefore, and a hundred and twenty thousand Crotonians stood in arms against them, the Locrians, contemplating the smallness of their own force (for they had only fifteen thousand men), and abandoning all hope of victory, devoted themselves to certain death; and such courage, arising out of despair, was felt by each, that they thought they would be as conquerors, if they did not fall without avenging themselves. But while they sought only to die with honour, they had the good fortune to gain the victory; nor was there any other cause of their success but their desperation. While the Locrians were fighting, an eagle constantly attended on their army, and continued flying about them till they were conquerors. On the wings, also, were seen two young men fighting in armour different from that of the rest, of an extraordinary stature, on white horses and in scarlet cloaks; nor were they visible longer than the battle lasted. The incredible swiftness of the report of the battle made this wonderful appearance more remarkable; for on the same day on which it was fought in Italy, the victory was published at Corinth, Athens, and Lacedaemon. (20.2-3)

Afterwards they always left room in their battle formations for the Dioskouroi, who brought them great victories.

Apollon (being the preeminent god of the Dorians after Herakles) was extremely important and several month-names throughout Magna Graecia and Sicily were derived from his Hyakinthia festival, which I’ll be discussing at length in a future post.

And here’s another interesting anecdote by Justin about Aphrodite, showing that her martial aspect was recognized in the area:

The Locrians, being harassed in war by Leophron the tyrant of Rhegium, had vowed, if they were victorious, to prostitute their maidens on the festal day of Venus; and as, on neglecting to perform the vow, they were unsuccessful in another war with the Lucanians, Dionysius called them to an assembly, and advised them “to send their wives and daughters, as richly dressed as possible, to the temple of Venus; out of whom a hundred, chosen by lot, should fulfill the public vow, and, for religion’s sake, offer themselves for prostitution during the space of a month, the men previously taking an oath not to touch any one of them; and, in order that this should be no detriment to the women who released the state from its vow, they should make a decree, that no other maiden should be married till these were provided with husbands.” This proposal, by which regard was shown both to their superstitious observances and to the honour of their virgins, being received with approbation, the whole of the women, in most expensive dresses, assembled in the temple of Venus. (21.3)

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I just saw this post by Alyxander Folmer over at Patheos and wanted to draw attention to it:

I have NEVER been more proud to have to scrap an article. The Heathen community acted both quickly and decisively. Several organizations, including The Troth and Heathens United Against Racism, were quick to speak out against Frazier, contact CNN with corrections, and even start a petition to CNN. As happy as I was to see our community step up and make a statement, one effort in particular caught my attention more than the rest. H.U.A.R. started a benefit to donate money to the victims’ families. I am elated to see so many Heathens speaking up, but I am even more thrilled to see our community backing its words with ACTION: not just distancing ourselves from a madman, but trying our best to make amends for the wrongs done in our name. That is the kind of community I want to be a part of, and the kind of community I knew we could be. The benefit has already raised over $1800, and I want to see that number grow. To that end, I offered a Fund Matching Drive through Huginn’s Heathen Hof (my personal page) to support the H.U.A.R. benefit. As of the time this article was posted, nearly the entire $150 has been matched, but the drive isn’t over yet. I realize that not everyone has enough to give, and many of those who do can’t give much. Any donation helps, no matter how small. Thank you all for your support.

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