Gods I love my religion

Here are a pair of quotes I encountered today:

We hear of the Agrionia in Argos, however, that they were a festival of the dead. E. Rhode was right when he thought the same was true of the Boeotian Agrionia. Consequently we are again confronted by the fact of a festival which combines elements of both Dionysus and the dead. To be sure, it is supposed here, too, that Dionysus came later and forced himself on a festival which had previously existed as a festival of the dead. But there is nothing to recommend this supposition. Quite the contrary. The sources show quite clearly that the two cults – that of Dionysus and that of the dead – were inherently related and amounted basically to one cult. The Argive festival, which is characterized as a festival of the dead by the above-mentioned gloss of Hesychius, was held in honor of a daughter of Proteus, accoprding to a second gloss of Hesychius. Thus women are given a dominant position here, too, just as in the festivals of Boeotia, and in both festivals it was the women belonging to Dionysus’ circle who were in the foreground. When it is said that the Argive Agrionia were celebrated in honor of a daughter of Protesus, we must associate with this myth in which the daughters of Proteus, who were driven mad by Dionysos for the same reasons as the daughters of Minyas, were hunted down, and the oldest of them, Iphinoe, died as a result of this persecution. Women were hunted down in this was in the ritual of the Boeotian Agrionia, as we know, and this was not without its element of tragedy either, for the women were threatened with the sword, and when one of them could not save herself, she was killed.

– Walter Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult 118-119


The spider hides in the crack, in the tobacco leaves, in the faggots, in the cracks of the parched ground, in the dry stonewalls of the rural houses, but predominantly in the labyrinth of the mind. It bites at midday, like a meridian demon, arousing senses and unleashing unavowed desires. However, while the South American counterparts and the Latrodectus are large and lethal, the Italian Lycosa tarantula is a small, harmless spider. Therefore, what is interesting is that in most cases, no actual spider bit occurred. The phenomenon of possession of tarantism originated in the Middle Ages as a pagan ritual where music and dance acquired the therapeutic function to heal from the tarantuala bite and exorcize the inhibited Eros and forbidden expression of sexual desire. The origins, however, of the complex mythical ritual of tarantism trace back to the mysterious and ancient cults of possession, as well as the mythological pagan rites and orgiastic ceremonies of Magna Graecia. In this realm, it was believed that a greater force or spirit, divinity or mythical ancestor, entered a person’s soul and forced him to dance. The most immediate reference can be found in the Dionysian rituals during which the Bacchants, in the elation of the dance and euphoria of the wine received in their souls, temporariluy emptied of folly. The connection with tarantism is tenuous, but consistent and persistent – as in the eighteenth century the tarantati danced in the woods near springs or fountain, with wine leaves wound around their bodies, like country Maenads.

– Flavia Brizio-Skov, Popular Italian Cinema: Culture and Politics in a Postwar Society

Nothing new, in either case, but beautifully expressed nonetheless.

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8 thoughts on “Gods I love my religion

  1. Wonderful!

    I’m having something of a spider-related festival two days from now, incidentally, on March 19th, which is the Roman festival of Minerva Capta. While it apparently has an entirely different focus, because of your work on Arachne, and spiders’ tendency to “capture” things in their webs, I’ve decided to make that festival of Minerva Capta one that is spider-connected. It makes sense to me, anyway…And, given its proximity to Liberalia, hey! Even better! :)


  2. I just purchased a used copy of Otto’s text, and it arrived today… Huh. In really looking forward to sit down time with the book. That second quote, however, is awesome. I’m tucking that one away for reference.


    • Wow, you haven’t read Otto? You really should. It’s like the Dionysian bible. I try to go back through it fully at least once a year.


  3. I find myself particularly appreciating the first passage because it profoundly reveals to me some more about the logic under which Dionysos was syncretised with Wesir by the Greeks.


    • There are so many points of contact between those two (far more than I was aware of when I put together my “Mighty Bull of the Two Lands” piece) and yet my experience of each leaves me with the strong sense that they are totally separate beings.


  4. John Drury

    Color me not surprised at all. :)


  5. Pingback: You Can Dance If You Wannoo… « Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

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