The horse, however, engaged and gave the Greeks great trouble; yet being unable to surround their enemies by reason of the narrow space, and Heaven also rendering the Greeks some assistance with lightning, rain and thunder, the barbarians were seized with fear and turned to flight. In this action all the Cumaean horse fought brilliantly, and they were allowed to have been the chief cause of the victory; but Aristodemus, nicknamed Malacus, distinguished himself above all the rest, for he alone sustained the attack of the enemy and slew their general as well as many other brave men. When the war was at an end the Cumaeans offered sacrifices to the gods in thanksgiving for their victory and gave a splendid burial to those who had been slain in the battle. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 7.4.2-3)
Death, however, saves us from confusing ourselves with our identities, be they civic or metaphysical. Death belongs to the individual, whereas identities are shared. In this way, when I know myself truly, I know that my mortality and my possible immortality are at stake … Plato’s continuous insistence on writing philosophy not as texts but as dialogues set among actual existing individuals attests to his desire to preserve philosophy in relation to real individuals such as Socrates. While professional philosophers subsume individuals to categories, Plato presents philosophy as a function of Socrates … Death is not an abstract category, unlike civic law; death chooses each one of us separately. (Vishwa Adluri, Initiation into the Mysteries: the Experience of the Irrational in Plato)
Aristodemus was called by the citizens Malacus or “Effeminate” — a nickname which in time came to be better known than his own name, either because when a boy he was effeminate and allowed himself to be treated as a woman, as some relate, or because he was of a mild nature and slow to anger, as others state. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 7.2.4)
Aristodemus allowed a few days to pass, during which he performed his vows to the gods, and then, when the proper time came, he said he desired to give the senate an account of the circumstances of the battle and to show them the spoils taken in the war. Then, the authorities having assembled in great numbers, he came forward and made a speech, in which he related everything that had happened in the battle; and while he was speaking, the accomplices in the plot with whom he had arranged matters rushed into the senate-house in a body with swords under their garments and killed all the members of the aristocracy. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 7.7.3-4)
Reading Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities I came across the following:
(τὰ σπάργανα). A generic term for children’s playthings, such as rattles, dolls, toy hatchets, swords, etc. The name is also given to objects of a similar description tied about the necks of children, either as amulets or for purposes of identification (Plaut. Mil. Glor. v. 6; Cist. iv. 1, 13; Rud. iv. 4; Oed. Tyr. 1035). Specimens of these are represented as worn on the neck of a child in a statue of the Museo PioClementino —viz., a half-moon (lunula) on the top of the right shoulder; then a double axe (securicula ancipes); next a bucket (situla argenteola); a sort of flower, not mentioned; a little sword (ensiculus aureolus); a little hand (manicula); then another half-moon; a dolphin (delphin), etc.
Followed up on the citations and discovered this in the footnote for Plaut. Rud. iv 4:
These “crepundia,” “trinkets” or “toys,” seem to have been not unlike the amulets, or charms, in metal, of the present day. As kidnapping was in ancient times much more prevalent than now, these little articles, if carefully preserved by the child, might be the means of leading to the discovery of its parents; at the same time it may be justly asked how it came to pass that the kidnapper should allow such damning evidence of his villainy to remain in existence?
Dude, that’s harsh. Logical, but harsh.
I’m going to be setting up the classroom for the Toys of Dionysos course and sending out invitations later tonight (through Yahoo Groups unless there’s a preferable alternative) so if you’re interested in joining contact me now, even if you need to set up a payment or barter arrangement. We’ll be starting on Sunday and I won’t accept stragglers, since we’ve got a lot of material to cover in a relatively short span of time.
I’m really excited to see this get underway – it’s been quite the experience systematizing this body of lore. Even though the Toys have been tremendously important to me for a while, I managed to learn a few new things in preparing for this. For instance:
To be able to copulate a lot grind up fifty tiny pinecones with 2 ozs. of sweet wine and two pepper grains and drink it. (PGM VII.184-5)
Just imagine all the fascinating knowledge you’ll take away from this class!
Reading the Wild Hunt this morning, I noticed two things of interest.
First, Many Gods West is gearing up to accept applications for its polytheist conference to be held over July 31st through August 2nd. Kudos to Rhyd, Nikki, and Lupus. May you meet with success beyond your wildest expectations!
And secondly, the launch of the Pagan History Project was announced. As the super talented and industrious Heather Greene writes:
On Jan. 21, the Pagan History Project announced its official launch on its public blog site. Organizers wrote, “It was a long time coming, with several false starts, usually hindered by finances and time.” Despite delays, they have pushed forward, and the project officially opened just in time for the 11th Conference for Current Pagan Studies. Director Murtagh anDoile explained further, “Last year, 2014, was a record year for deaths in the wide Community. And, while this site’s purpose is not solely to commemorate those who have passed, it just brings forth the need to record our history, now, before we get too far from our primary sources. All Pagans are storytellers …Small moments and ideas that, planted in the fertile soil of the Modern Pagan movement, have gone on to change what was once a set of small spiritual communities into a growing social force.” Over time, the organizers will share details on how to get involved and how to share personal stories.
I applaud their efforts to familiarize themselves with and preserve the history of contemporary pagan religions, since this is an area that neopagans haven’t always done so well at. For instance, I am reminded of something that Peg Aloi, who describes herself as a “media studies scholar”, wrote a while back:
The Jewish faith has thousands of years of history. Reconstructed polytheism of the type being discussed here, barely a decade. So there’s THAT.
I made the transition from a general Wiccanate paganism to a Dionysos-centric, historically based, source-reliant tradition on my own back in 1997. Around 1998 I found a community of folks online who were doing the same thing and identified as Hellenic reconstructionists and I became an active participant in this community in 1999. This online Hellenic community had had a strong active presence since at least 1994 or ’95.
For those of you who are as bad at math as Peg seems to be I’ll give you a hint – that’s more than a decade.
And mind you, that is just the online community.
On one of the lists I met a sweet and charming man by the name of John Carlson who also goes by Poppaeus. At Pantheacon in 2006 or ’07 (I don’t recall which) we had the pleasure of meeting in person and doing some ritual together. Afterwards he sent me a collection of newsletters he had published back in the mid-80s called the Scroll of Oplonotis which was dedicated to the revival of the worship of the Classical gods. Although he was the primary force behind this publication which contained articles about archaeology, ancient and modern prayers to the gods, recipes, rituals and sundry things having to do with Greece and Rome it also ran ads and contained an extensive letters section where people from all over the world could network and make connections prior to the digital age. It’s fascinating to watch the development of these groups, some of whom went on to become a leading force in the online Hellenic and Roman polytheist communities though most were never heard of again and likely folded shortly after placing their ads or writing in, groups being what they are. Though most of these did not identify as reconstructionist they employed the same methodology and much of the terminology that would define recons in the decades (note the plural) to come. (There was already an ambivalence regarding the word pagan, though this seems to have been less about distancing themselves from the wider Wiccan-dominated community and more about not accepting a term that was coined by Christians.) Some of these groups, especially those hailing from Greece itself, said that they had been active for decades at that point.
Of course, even earlier there had been attempts at reviving the worship of the Hellenic gods with varying degrees of fidelity to the past. Frederick Adams’ creation of Feraferia in the 1950s, the girls at Barnard College who put on reenactments of ancient Greek festivals and wrote passionate hymns to the gods in the 1930s, Ernest Westlake’s Order of Woodcraft Chivalry which taught young children to venerate Dionysos and Artemis in the ’20s, Sir Francis Dashwood who built temples to the Hellenic gods and carried out rituals in their honor in the 18th century and Thomas Morton and the Merry-mount colonists who were celebrating rites in honor of Flora and Dionysos back in the 1600s all come to mind, though they were hardly alone in their endeavors. Even further back you’ve got Georgius Gemistus Plethon who tried to institute a Hellenic polytheist state on the ancient model in Greece and was responsible for the founding of the Platonic Academy in Italy.
So no. We haven’t been doing this for “barely a decade.” Perhaps eventually polytheists and reconstructionists will feel their recent history is worthy enough to be preserved too.
And in the myth of Zeus’ birth they introduced Kronos as accustomed to swallow his children immediately after their birth, and Rhea as trying to keep her travail secret and, when the child was born, to get it out of the way and save its life by every means in her power; and to accomplish this it is said that she took as helpers the Kouretes, who, by surrounding the goddess with tambourines and similar noisy instruments and with war-dance and uproar, were supposed to strike terror into Kronos and without his knowledge to steal his child away. (Strabo, Geography 10.3.11)
What if this is how syncretism works? When one god devours another, they absorb all of their powers, attributes, myths and cultus.
Zeus swallowed the phallos of the first-born king, onto which all
the immortals grew (or: clung fast), blessed gods and goddesses
and rivers and lovely springs and everything else
that had been born then; and he himself became solitary
(Orphic theogony quoted in Derveni papyrus)
And since the gods are athanatos it need not be the end of their activity – they just have to do it from a distance. Perhaps they continue exerting an influence on their host, slightly altering their personality, which is why Isis Thesmophoros is so markedly different from Aset.
This also explains why Dionysos is nuttier than a Turkish bathhouse. I’m aware of more than 120 distinct syncretic forms of him, and I’m sure that’s just scratching the surface. You ever been entheos? It can be a lot like Vergil describes in the sixth book of the Aeneid:
But the prophetess, not yet able to endure Apollo, raves in the cavern,
swollen in stature, striving to throw off the god from her breast;
he all the more exercises her frenzied mouth, quelling her wild heart,
and fashions her by pressure.
Now imagine having a legion of gods and daimones crawling around inside you.
Which is one of the reasons I found this lovely song so apt:
Zagreus sits inside your head
Zagreus lives among the dead
Zagreus sees you in your bed
And eats you when you’re sleeping
Zagreus at the end of days
Zagreus lies all other ways
Zagreus comes when time’s a maze
And all of history’s weeping
Zagreus taking time apart
Zagreus fears the hero heart
Zagreus seeks the final part
The reward he is reaping
Zagreus sings when all is lost
Zagreus takes all those he’s crossed
Zagreus wins and all is cost
The hero’s hearts he’s keeping
Zagreus seeks the hero’s ship
Zagreus needs the web to rip
Zagreus sups time at a drip
And life aside, he’s sweeping
Zagreus waits at the end of the world
For Zagreus is the end of the world
His time is the end of time
His moment is Time’s undoing
The Titans didn’t trick Dionysos with their childish crepundia – he let himself get eaten, so that he could transform them from within their bellies. Sort of like what happens when you imbibe.
The beginning of their drinking dates from the reign of Psammetichus; before that they did not drink wine nor use it in libation as something dear to the gods, thinking it to be the blood of those who had once battled against the gods, and from whom, when they had fallen and had become commingled with the earth, they believed vines to have sprung. This is the reason why drunkenness drives men out of their senses and crazes them, inasmuch as they are then filled with the blood of their forbears. These tales Eudoxus says in the second book of his World Travels are thus related by the priests. (Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 353e)
As you may have seen, Dver is running a fundraiser:
This year, I plan to write my next book, about the wonderful Amanita muscaria mushroom and its many manifestations in human culture. Amanita is one of my primary entheogenic spirit allies, and I’ve been feeling it pulling me towards this work for awhile now. However, I really need a new laptop to properly work on this, due to my back/neck pain issues, not to mention the fact that my current (desktop) computer is on its way out. Last week, I decided to start a little fundraising campaign to help me accomplish this, because living paycheck to paycheck is not exactly conducive to major purchases like this. Then this weekend, an unexpected dental expense came up, and so now I’m going to need this help more than ever.
Although she’s offering some pretty sweet perks – incense, books, divination sessions, gift certificates, etc. – I’d like to add a little honey to the pot. Any of my readers who donate as little as $5 can claim a free toss of the Toys. That’s right, I’ll divine for folks using the newly developed system of mantike I came up with based on the ancient Orphic Toys of Dionysos. Mind you, I don’t have an altruistic bone in my body. While it’s nice to help out a friend (and I really want to read that planned book on Amanita muscaria!) and I like giving things to my readership I’ll benefit from this exchange since I need to test the Toys out (I’ve tweaked things a bit since I initially came up with the system) before the course starts on February 1st and I’m woefully short on Andean rodents at the moment.
So give until it hurts, and then give some more.
Running into a bit of a dilemma with the Toys of Dionysos course. Specifically what to call the week when we’ll be getting to know his Puppet.
Most people translate it “jointed doll” or “puppet with bendable legs” but what the Orphic verse Clement cites actually says is παίγνια (play, game, sport) καμπεσίγυια (limb-moving).
I’m sure the translators are correct and this was just a poetic way of describing a puppet, similar to the word for marionette which was νευρόσπαστος “the thing that’s drawn around by strings” – but it puts an interesting emphasis not on the object, as you’d expect in a list of items the savage ancestral spirits have set out as bait for the curious young god – but rather on the process of bringing that object to life.
At times, the puppet shares with the mask a power to give form to gods and demons, to the spirits of the dead. In such cases the manipulator, even the puppet itself, can take on the guise of a priest or shaman … Puppet theatre is a highly refined art, but depends on something like a child’s, a clown’s, or a mad person’s relation to objects. They are dead things that belong to a different kind of life. (Kenneth Gross, Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life)
Yeah, something like that.
Unless the limb-bending game is something like this passage from Oppian’s Cynegetica:
And, when Dionysos was now come to boyhood, he played with the other children; he would cut a fennel stalk and smite the hard rocks, and from their wounds they poured for the god sweet liquor. Otherwhiles he rent rams, skins and all, and clove them piecemeal and cast the dead bodies on the ground; and again with his hands he neatly put their limbs together, and immediately they were alive and browsed on the green pasture. And now he was attended by holy companies, and over all the earth were spread the gifts of Dionysos, son of Thyone, and everywhere he went about showing forth his excellence to men.
You know your god is awesome when puppets are the less creepy option.
Eh, dilemma solved. I’ll stick with the Orphic tag, even if it is a little ambiguous. All the best stuff happens in between.
I’m going to have so much fun teaching this class. Just wait til we get to πόκος. Muahahahahaha!
The title of this post, if you’re curious, comes from this album which I’m rather enjoying at the moment:
Towards the end of 2013 several of us felt that there needed to be a conversation about leadership within our overlapping polytheist communities. Although blogs and social media would be one venue for this conversation to take place, we felt it would be more meaningful and effective if we got a bunch of us together to discuss the issue in person and share what we do and believe as contemporary polytheists from many different traditions.
And so the Polytheist Leadership Conference was born.
The event itself ended up being a success that far exceeded everyone’s expectations, including those of the organizers. Instead of losing momentum in the weeks and months that followed we saw an upsurge in interest in regional gatherings, important discussions on responsibility and authority, and sweeping changes in the policies of a number of large organizations. Leadership and all that goes with it seemed to be on everyone’s mind in 2014.
Our objective met, the organizers have decided that it’s time to retire the PLC brand. We won’t be hosting another leadership-themed conference in the spring of 2016, as previously announced, and we’re taking down the blog. Hopefully the conversation about leadership will continue – but there are things our community needs even more than that, and that is where we will be putting our attention in 2015.
the organizers of the Polytheist Leadership Conference
Galina Krasskova and Sannion
Back when the pan-polytheist movement first started getting some traction (around 2013 or so) some of our most vocal detractors were members of the Covenant of the Goddess. One lady in particular, who was especially vocal, was fond of trotting out a litany of charges any time someone brought up the issue of separation from the neopagan umbrella. You’re a bunch of johnny-come-latelies with no appreciation for the trail-blazing we did for you; this is just an argument over semantics and deep down we’re all one people; and my favorite – instead of arguing with people on the internet why don’t you get out there and make a difference in the streets or don’t you care about activism and social justice?
To be fair, some of our strongest allies have also come out of CoG so I don’t want to paint the whole organization with that filthy brush. However, I do confess to having felt a tiny bit of schadenfreude this morning upon reading Peter Dybing’s latest. Here’s a choice excerpt:
A number of weeks ago the Pagan community was shocked by the official statement of the Covenant of the Goddess concerning current events and the Black Lives Matter Movement. This epic fail of the public information function of the covenant revealed how out of touch the national leadership is with social justice issues. By morphing the issue into “All Lives Matter” the covenant managed of offend Pagans of Color across the nation. As a result of the statement a number of long time CoG members and social justice advocates chose to resign from the organization. These individuals deserve a great measure of respect for their actions that intensified the debate within CoG. The result of the above action was an intensive debate on the CoG discussion list. As this debate continued it became obvious that an individual who myself and other CoG members know to have a pattern of using the “N” word, became a leading voice in the debate. […] As expected the discourse on the “discussion and debate” list became heated. It was at this point that GoG made an announcement that all discussion of race, social justice, Black Lives Matter and police violence would be banned from the main discussion list and swept under the carpet to a new so called “social justice” discussion list where only those interested in the topic will witness the discourse. The attempts of CoG to engage in censorship of the discussion were decried by many members; all to no avail. It was further announced that anyone who discussed these issues on the main list are to be moderated. In discussion with the list moderator, I was asked, “why do you want to keep talking about something that happened two weeks ago”. It was a staggering statement, racism framed as just another trending Internet debate. The lack of insight was unbelievable!)
It gets worse from there. Much worse.
In fact, since Dybing posted that on the 19th I’ve seen a couple folks actually trying to defend what’s going on in CoG – many of them using the same playbook they did during the Kenny Klein and Frost scandals, and again when Christian Day used threats of sexual violence. It’s like my partner Galina said:
Wow. The fact that COG would trash Peter Dybing, a man of exemplary reputation and untiring service to social justice and his community, over this, just says it all. You know what the greatest threat to our communities — be they Polytheist or Pagan– is? It’s those seeking peace at all costs. This is why we fundamentally reject efforts of homogenization, like Pantheon Foundation. Organizations at some point always become about self-preservation, sacrificing their integrity and their principles in order to preserve the group. The group inevitably becomes more important than individuals, beliefs, and above all, service to the Gods. This is why i’m glad to be a radical polytheist: many Gods, no human master.
I, too, am glad to be a radical polytheist and we’re going to keep calling out racism, misogyny, transphobia, social and economic injustice and so forth no matter how much this offends the assimilationists in mainstream neopaganism. Because these are not isolated incidents. As important to polytheism as the veneration of a multitude of autonomous divine beings is a rejection of the fundamentally broken system we’re currently living in – at least in my opinion.
Edited to add: And for a rebuttal of Mr. Dybing’s remarks, click here.
Something I should have mentioned – after reading the Detienne passages I quoted in the last post, I was inspired to do the readings from Thunderstruck with Wine for the period from Christ’s Circumcision to his Epiphany – which is also the time of Dionysos’ parousia at Andros:
It is accredited by the Mucianus who was three times consul that the water flowing from a spring in the temple of Liber Pater on the island of Andros always has the flavor of wine on January 5th: the day is called the God’s Gift Day … If the jars are carried out of sight of the temple the taste turns back to that of water. (Pliny, Natural History 2.106; 31.16)
Which sounds an awful lot like the Thyia of Elis:
Between the market-place and the Menios in the city of Elis is an old theater and a shrine of Dionysos. The image is the work of Praxiteles. Of the gods the Eleans worship Dionysos with the greatest reverence, and they assert that the god attends their festival, the Thyia. The place where they hold the festival they name the Thyia is about eight stades from the city. Three pots are brought into the building by the priests and set down empty in the presence of the citizens and of any strangers who may chance to be in the country. The doors of the building are sealed by the priests themselves and by any others who may be so inclined. On the morrow they are allowed to examine the seals, and on going into the building they find the pots filled with wine. I did not myself arrive at the time of the festival, but the most respected Elean citizens, and with them strangers also, swore that what I have said is the truth. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 6.26.1-2)
Where Dionysos was summoned as a bull-footed hero, causing Plutarch to ponder in his 36th Greek Question:
Why is it that the women of the Eleans, when they sing hymns to Dionysos, call upon him to come to them ‘with the foot of a bull’? The hymn runs as follows:
Come, O hero Dionysos,
to thy holy temple in Elis.
Come, with the Graces,
to thy temple by the sea,
with thy bull’s foot rushing.
Then they chant twice the refrain : ‘O worthy bull.’
Is it because some address the god as ‘kine-born’ or as ‘bull’? Or by ‘ox-foot’ do they mean ‘with thy mighty foot’ even as the Poet used ‘ox-eyed’ to signify ‘large-eyed,’ and ‘bully’ for ‘loudmouthed’?
Or is it rather because the foot of the bull is harmless, but the part that bears horns is harmful, and thus they call upon the god to come in a gentle and painless manner?
So if you wondered why I only read the first six and not the full collection – well, that’s why.
In a couple hours, once I’m in a properly altered state, I’ll be setting up a shrine in the annex to the living room.
Funny that I finally feel well enough to do this tonight, the final night of the intercalary month – 30 days that exist outside of time, stitched into the year to keep things running smoothly.
Which puts the last couple weeks in perspective, I suppose.
Anyone recall what I was doing when I had the accident?
Read something interesting, a week or so into my convalescence. But first, I’ve got a joke for you. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.”
So anyway, to fend off the lethargy-born depression I figured I’d go back and re-read a bunch of books on Dionysos. I get a couple chapters into Marcel Detienne’s Dionysos à ciel ouvert and my jaw fucking hits the floor.
Dionysos generally prefers modest dwellings to sumptuous temples. The one god in the pantheon who is clearly an architect is Dionysos’ brother Apollo, a veritable beaver, who at the tender age of four was already building altars, erecting walls, constructing his own temples. […] At the beginning of the Iliad his priest Chryses, offended by the Greeks, reminds him that among other generosities of his priesthood he built a roof over the abode of Smintheus, the rat god of the Troad. Compared to Apollo, Dionysos seems a rather humble suburban god, not to say a cave-dweller. He travels from furnished room to furnished room, from simple house to modest sanctuary. He is particularly delighted to find makeshift shelter provided for him in the sanctuary of Apollo during the Pythian Games. To be sure, in the fourth century B.C. Dionysos was also honored with great temples, but his preferred dwelling place was of the sort he was offered somewhat later by a physician from Thasos: “A temple in the open air, an open-air naos with an altar and a cradle of vine branches; a fine lair, always green; and for the initiates a room in which to sing the evoe.” It is hard to take this deliberately nomadic god seriously as an architect.
What about the second detail of the island ceremony, when one of the women carrying her burden trips and falls and the tenor of the scene changes so dramatically? In the world of bipeds nothing could be more banal than a fall, except perhaps when it occurs in the vicinity of Dionysos. In fact there is much evidence to suggest that the foot or leg is a key part of the dionysiac body. Consider first Euripides’ Bacchante, canonical in her happiness: regaling with evoes the god of the evoe, she leaps like a young mare, “she springs forward with a quick thrust of the leg.” Symmetrically, the tragic maenad Agave returns from Kithairon with “a bacchic step”, drunk with a murderous fury inspired in her by Dionysos and carrying Pentheus’ bloody mask. The bacchic step, the quick forward thrust of the foot, was taught to choruses of satyrs in Athens around 500 B.C. by the dancing master Pratinas, when he paid homage to Dionysos for an art threatened by boisterous imitators: “Prince crowned with ivy, note the movement of the right foot, its kick.” And when the god, wearing the mask of the foreigner, presides over the dressing of Pentheus in front of the palace of Kadmos, he shows him how a bacchant must raise his right leg at the same time as he raises the thyrsus in his right hand. This is the first of the Dionysiac gestures. More than once the god himself is invoked by his foot, as in Antigone, when his purifying assistance is requested so urgently to deal with the magnitude of the defilement. And then, too, Dionysos is quite simply the god who jumps, who leaps (pedan) among the torches on the rocks of Delphi. He capers like a goat among the Bacchae of the night.
In leaping Dionysos the foot (pous) encounters the verb to leap (pedan) and its form “to jump away from” (ekpedan) which is a technical term of the Dionysiac trance, referring to the moment when the leaping force invades the body and takes control of it, carrying it irresistibly along. Aristoxenus, the musicologist from Tarento, has left a clinical description from southern Italy, between Locri and Reggio. The women were taken out of themselves: ekstaseis. Seated and busy eating, they thought they heard a voice, a call from afar, whereupon they jumped up (ekpedan), and no one was able to restrain them. They then began running away from the city. To cure this epidemic evil Apollo recommended paeans, purifying chants, and spring songs, administered in a sixty-day course of treatment. Musically the result was a swelling of the ranks of composers.
There is no room for doubt. The Dionysiac trance began with the foot, with leaping – and in the Dionysiac world the ability to leap was the foot’s most important characteristic. All who took part in the Dionysiac feasts, or, more precisely, in rural Dionysia, were familiar with a game that involved “walking” on one leg, that is, hopping. The game was known as askoliasmos.
He continues in a similarly interesting vein for a while, discussing Dionysos’ epithets Sphaleotas (who causes to stumble) and Huposkelizein (he who trips) as well as his causing Achilles’ foe Telephos to take a bad spill when the two were fighting at Troy.
You get what happened, right?
Before I could build and tend his underground temple I had to suffer injury, forcing me to learn the pedantic mysteries of askoliasmos, the hopping game/dance.
Wanna know something really fucked up? This was presaged, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Almost a month before the accident I toyed with the idea of Bacchic Orphic Hopscotch. I should probably get on that.
But first I’m going to set up the shrine so that I can resume my religious practice on the noumenia.
Funny story about that, too, especially in light of all the Troy references.
Back in October I divined the names of the months for 2015. According to that system, we are entering Brisaion (Βρισαιών) which is derived from the epiklesis Briseus (Βρῑσεὐς = “he who presses heavily”), which form of the god was honored in Smyrna (CIG 3160f.; 3190)
Briseus is a name that should be familiar to you from Homer (Smyrna’s most famous son) as Briseus was the father of Briseis, the war-bride of Achilles whom he was forced to give up to Agamemnon when Apollon demanded the return of Chryseis, daughter of his priest Chryses. Briseus hanged himself in grief when his daughter was carried off, making him a rare instance of a male aletid.
But wait – it gets even more interesting! You see, as I’ve been mulling over the shrine – how I’m going to put it together, who will be on it as opposed to included in the basement of hell, what work I’ll be doing there, etc. – I’ve also been wondering what lex sacra I should observe.
Digging into the religious life of Smyrna I discovered these regulations for a Bacchic Orphic thiasos that conducted services in the temple of Dionysos Briseus:
The theophantes … son of Menandros dedicated this stele. All who enter the temenos and temples of Bromios: avoid for forty days after the exposure of a newborn child, so that divine wrath does not occur; after the miscarriage of a woman for the same amount of days. If he conceals the death and fate of a relative, keep away from the propylon for the third of a month. If impurity occurs from other houses, remain for three days after the departure of the dead. No one wearing black clothes may approach the altar of the king, nor lay hands on things not sacrificed from sacrificial animals, nor place an egg as food at the Bacchic feast, nor sacrifice a heart on the holy altars … keep away from the smell, which … the most hateful root of beans from seed … proclaim to the mystai of the Titans … and it is improper to rattle with reeds … on the days when the mystai sacrifice……, nor bring … (ISmyrna 2.1.728)
Looks like I was given the basis for the taboos governing this shrine – the rest I can suss out with divination.
Oh, one more thing. The hopping, one-legged Bacchic dance Detienne describes right before the bit from Aristoxenus of Tarentum that’s basically tarantism about a thousand years before it’s supposed to have swept through Italy – remind you of anything?
Start this video about 9:20 into it:
I’ve come to a decision about the Toys of Dionysos course: I’m going to split it in two. The first thirteen weeks will be an introduction to the concepts and practices. Once we’re done with that I’ll offer a separate four-week intensive for those who wish to delve a little deeper into the system.
In case you’re wondering what the Toys of Dionysos are, according to certain Orphics there was an oracle of Nyx that predicted Dionysos would one day succeed his father Zeus as King of the Gods. To ensure that this did not happen Zeus’ wife Hera conjured some white-faced ancestral spirits from Tartaros, where they had been banished in ages past, and set them loose on the young god. Swift and clever and changeable of shape, he managed to elude capture for some time but then the savage hunters set a trap for him – they laid out a series of beguiling toys, the last of which was a mirror. While lost in reflection they crept quietly upon Dionysos and tore him into seven pieces, devouring all but the heart from which he would be reborn in mortal flesh.
This is a synthesis of the myth as it has come down to us through numerous sources. A number of those sources take special care to provide a detailed list of these toys which, on the surface, seem to be nothing more than the playthings of a child. The reason that they were so precisely delineated is because each of them had a role to play in the mystic rites of Dionysos and initiates would often keep replicas of them in the home. They are more than just densely encoded symbols – they are tools and doors to other worlds.
And I will teach you how to use them.
The course begins February 1st. Material will be sent out each Monday, with homework due on Saturday. Discussion will be carried out through an e-mail list and we’ll have weekly chats. I’ll also be available for questions and personal instruction off-list. Expect to devote an hour or two a night to reflection, study and exercises. You will need to make or acquire a set of the Toys if you intend to use them for divinatory and other purposes.
If you pay as you go tuition is $10 a week or $130 total. ($170 if you also intend to take the separate four-week intensive.) If you pay before February 1st that price drops to $100. ($140 with intensive.) If you’ve already provided a down payment to reserve your spot $30 will be applied to that meaning you get an additional $5 off. (In other words, reservees only owe another $70/$110.) Refunds will only be given through February 1st.
There are currently
six five slots remaining.
Where is the heart of the polytheist community?
It’s not a blog, a website or a social media platform.
It’s the home and more specifically an individual or family’s domestic shrines.
The worship of these holy powers is what binds us together, even if we honor different gods and spirits or carry out different rites for them than do our fellows. Indeed we may have nothing more in common with other polytheists than this but we all, together and singly, share our lives with and venerate the many. We are not alone, no matter how isolated geography and culture may make us feel – somewhere out there someone is doing this too.
There is a fundamentally social component to religion and nothing wrong with you for desiring it. But how do you get that fulfilled in this disconnected age, especially when you may be the only polytheist for miles around? I have an idea.
What if we did a polytheist pen pal prayer swap?
How this would work is that you’d find someone else who’s participating and exchange contact information with them. (For safety’s sake I’d keep it to e-mail until you’ve gotten to know each other well enough to warrant sharing addresses, phone numbers and other personal stuff.) Along with that you’d tell them about the gods and spirits that you worship and they would do the same for you. Then they’ll pick one of yours and you one of theirs and each of you will write a prayer, poem or hymn in honor of that divine being, to be recited at the shrine on the other’s behalf. Perhaps you could even swap offerings and other votive gifts down the line.
So what do you say? If this sounds like something you want in on, comment here and post about it on your blog or through other social media.
I was actually able to spend a couple hours tonight working at my computer desk and got a detailed syllabus put together for the Toys of Dionysos course. (Man, am I hurting as a result of that – the way I had to sit because of my bum leg completely threw my back out, even with frequent breaks to stand and stretch, but I really needed to get on this as February 1st is fast approaching.) Drawing from the handful of primary sources we have I compiled a synoptic list of the Toys and will be putting together exhaustive commentaries on each of them over the next couple days. I need to make an executive decision as a couple of these may be redundancies (each list we have contains and omits items that the others do not) but at the moment I currently have eleven Toys. This, unfortunately, creates a bit of a problem for me.
You see, there’s so much material I want to cover in this course that my intention was to devote two weeks to each toy:
In the first week we’ll go over their history and symbolism and attested ritual use. There will be a three question exam and an art assignment to demonstrate an intuitive as well as rational understanding of the Toy. The second week will cover its divinatory meaning. The student will be given a meditation exercise to perform and will be asked to summarize its meaning as if they were explaining it to a client.
With an additional two weeks spent on related things like the proper care and use of the Toys and some basics and ethics of divination that would bring the course up to twenty-four weeks, which means we’ll finish around mid-July. That is a considerable time commitment and it’s also going to end up being pretty expensive. At $10 a week we’re looking at $240 or a discounted $200 if people pay up front. (And the $25 down payment to reserve one’s spot will be deducted from that.) Realistically I don’t know how many folks can afford this. I considered dropping the price down to $5 a week, but I think that’s underselling myself too much considering how much time and energy I’ll be putting into this. (Plus, with my mounting medical bills I can really use the money.)
Another option would be to cram everything into one week per Toy, dropping the course down to thirteen weeks and $130 / $100 which in some respects is much more manageable – but I think the workload will then be too daunting for students. You’d pretty much have to commit a minimum of two hours a night to study, reflection, practice and the homework assignments – and probably closer to three or four. (Plus the weekly chat.)
So I guess this is where I turn to you guys and ask what your preferences are. Feel free to leave comments here or e-mail them to me privately. I’ll take all of the feedback into consideration and announce the decision we’ve reached some time next week.
There is still room for six more people to take this course. Seven have expressed interest and four of those have given me the down payment to lock in their slot. If any of you would like to back out, you may do so before February 1st and receive a full refund; after that date you are S.O.L. As I mentioned above you may pay by the week or receive a reduced rate if you pay up front. Alternately I will consider other forms of compensation if finances are tight but it’s up to you to find something of commensurate value to barter – I won’t offer suggestions.
You know what would be badass? A zombie version of the Aeneid. Troy is overrun by the walking dead and the survivors (a mix of Greeks and Trojans) flee to Italy, founding Rome as the last bastion of humanity. You could even more or less keep to the plot of the original – Aeneas carrying his father and household gods on his back as he flees the burning ruins would be even more dramatic with revenants chasing them.
Cypria Fragment #3
Scholiast on Homer, Il. i. 5:
There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide- dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and the plan of Zeus came to pass.
It seems I was overly optimistic about my rate of recovery. Though the knee itself mended swiftly, I’ve been having a serious problem with lingering inflammation in the leg which has me immobile and in excruciating pain a lot of the time. Comfrey salve and a Chinese herbal blend have made some headway the last couple days, but I’m probably not going to be fully back in action until the end of the week – at the absolute earliest. (Turns out the knee wasn’t actually dislocated and the inflammation is likely caused by the emergency room techs repeatedly trying to jam things back into place – the orthopedist was less than impressed with their work and recommended I contact hospital administration over it.)
In addition to this forcing me to keep a low online profile, I haven’t had the mental clarity or concentration to do much in the way of research or writing and still need to turn my notes into the curriculum for the Toys of Dionysos course before it starts on February 1st. (Six spots have already been claimed so if you’re interested you better act fast – I don’t know when or if I’ll be teaching this again!)
But in other ways this time has been extremely fruitful. I’ve been using the pain as a trigger for altered states and feel nourished from the contact with my gods and spirits. A ton of gnosis was dropped in my lap, which I haven’t even begun to process – a lot of it involving Herakles, the Sirens and Karyas. Some pretty major internal adjustments were made and I’m intrigued to discover what version of me will emerge from this. Even got some bitchin’ tattoo ideas, though they may have to wait a while as I managed to wrack up some pretty severe medical bills.
Which is one of the things that prompted me to begin putting together a working shrine here on the ground floor. (The antron, I fear, will have to wait until next fall for a number of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with the accident.) Once it’s properly constructed and consecrated I’ll be able to offer more magical and spiritual services. That’s something that really hit me over my convalescence – Orpheotelestai are more than just poets, manteis, exegetai and ritual-leaders as important as those components are to the role. They are also technitai, performers of the sacred.
Which is something I discuss in my contribution to the “Ancestors and Hero Veneration” issue of the polytheist journal Walking the Worlds, which is now available through Createspace and Amazon, though I highly suggest getting a subscription as it’s way cheaper that way.
It’s kind of funny – the shrine I’m putting together? Only a couple of the beings honored on it are gods in the proper sense. The vast majority are heroes, hemitheoi and dead things I’ve collected over the years. And yet to give them the look of a coherent pantheon I’m painting all of the idols in a red, black and white color scheme. I am debating whether to take pictures or leave the shrine shrouded in mystery, something you must visit in person to see. I’m also debating how communal I want to make it. I could envision it being strictly for work, or forming the basis of a local speira or orgeone. Divination will most assuredly be done.
But that’s my project for next week. Now I’m crawling back into bed with Emma Stafford’s Herakles and the last season of Walking Dead.
Be well in my absence!