I’m too busy to fight a war on Christmas


Despite what some people would have you believe, this can be a fairly heavy festival period for Dionysians – at least Dionysians like me.

The Nativity of Jim Morrison the Prophet kicked off the season of winter madness in proper form, with lots of intoxication and communion with strange spirits. Earlier in the day Dver and I made a trip up to Portland to watch Christmas Revels. Each year Revels has a different cultural theme and this time around it was Slavic and Eastern European, with a strong emphasis on prechristian traditions, folk music and dances. They also incorporated some cool pan-Slavic mumming stuff with amazing costumes.

Although Brumalia technically started back on November 24 I usually do stuff for it in the days leading up to Saturnalia:

And the farming people would slaughter pigs for the worship of Cronus and Demeter—and hence even now the “Pig-Slaughter” is observed in December. And the vine-dressers would sacrifice goats in honor of Dionysus—for the goat is an enemy of the vine; and they would skin them, fill the skin-bags with air and jump on them. And the civic officials would also offer as the firstfruits of the collected harvest wine and olive oil, grain and honey and as many products of trees as endure and are preserved—they would make loaves without water and they would bring these things to the priests of the Great Mother. And this sort of custom is still observed even now; and in November and December, until the “Waxing of the Light,” they bring these things to the priests. For the custom of greeting people by name at the Brumalia is rather recent; and, the truth is, they call them “Cronian festivals”—and because of this the Church turns away from them. And they take place at night, because Cronus is in darkness, having been sent to Tartarus by Zeus—and they mysteriously signify the grain, from its being sown in the ground and thereafter not being seen. And this is quite true, as has been said: The attention to these things goes on at night, such that finally, in truth, the Brumalia are festivals of the subterranean daemones. (John the Lydian, De Mensibus Book 4 on December)

This was such an important festival that in the eighth century the Byzantine Christian Emperor Konstantinos V (maliciously called Kopronymos by the iconodules) was still celebrating it in honor of Dionysos βρουμος, inventor of corn and wine.

In conformity with custom, I have been jumping on some skin-bags swollen with air. Looks like P. Sufenas has been as well. A boisterous Brumalia to you, one and all! And remember, there’s still several days to go!

On Friday I have the monthly Dionysian oracular session.

Tuesday begins the Roman Saturnalia, a time for getting drunk and treating one’s slaves properly:

Meanwhile the head of the slave household, whose responsibility it was to offer sacrifice to the Penates, to manage the provisions and to direct the activities of the domestic servants, came to tell his master that the household had feasted according to the annual ritual custom. For at this festival, in houses that keep to proper religious usage, they first of all honor the slaves with a dinner prepared as if for the master; and only afterwards is the table set again for the head of the household. So, then, the chief slave came in to announce the time of dinner and to summon the masters to the table. (Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.24.22–23)

I do not, as yet, have any slaves so I shall instead make a feast for my stuffed animals.

For Yule Galina and I will be visiting old French cemeteries in New Orleans:

The continuity of the topos can be seen in the thirteenth century, which provides further folkloric and literary references to Hellekin and his cohorts in the works of several church and secular authorities. For one, Wilhelm of Auvergne, bishop of Paris at his death in 1248, verifies the wide range of the belief in the daemonic figures when he refers to the tradition in Spain in his Tractatus de universo: “De equitibus vero nocturnis qui vulgari gallicano ‘Hellequin’ et vulgari hispanico ‘exercitus antiquus’ vocantur, nondum tibi satisfeci, quia nondum declarare intend qui sint; nectamen certum est eos malignos spiritus esse” (par. 2. Chap. 12). That the folkloric figure crossed over into literature proper is also evident in the same century. The Norman poet Bourdet narrates in the verse Lay de Luque la Maudite the tale of a lascivious old witch of Rouen who on her deathbed calls on “Hellequin” to marry her. In response, the daemon leads three thousand of his hellish kin to the wedding feast and, ultimately, takes her soul into his realm, hell. In this text, as elsewhere, Hellequin has an obvious appeal as a sexual being to a dying woman; in being tied to the lure of death, he also represents the daemon-lover, which is what Hades is in the Persephone myth. (Robert Lima, Stages of Evil: Occultism in Western Theater and Drama)

We’ll also be meeting with Monte and Gypsy, organizers of the Hellenic Revival Gathering to hash out the specifics of our involvement in this event.

Then it’s back to Eugene to observe pridie kalendas Ianuarius with Dver:

What wickedness takes place during this feast; fortune-tellings, divinations, deceptions and feigned madnesses. On this day, having been seized up by the furies of their bacchant-like ravings and having been inflamed by the fires of diabolical instigation, they flock together to the church and profane the house of god with vain and foolish rhythmic poetry in which sin is not wanting but by all means present, and with evil sayings, laughing and cacophony they disrupt the priest and the whole congregation applauds for the people love these things. (Richard of St.-Victor, Sermones centum 177.1036)

None of our madnesses will be feigned, I assure you!

On the kalends itself Galina and I will be doing a show on Wyrd Ways Radio themed around this festival – so be sure to read up on it so you’ll be able to call in and participate!

This will also be the date when I officially begin the basics of Dionysian devotion course (only three two spots left – better hurry if you’re interested in being part of the inaugural class!) though the first lesson won’t be out for the better part of a week, giving folks a chance to talk about where they’re at in their relationship with Dionysos and introduce themselves to the other students before things get serious. This is going to be a very immersive and participatory course and I’m really looking forward to it. However, the reason that we’ll be waiting until the 5th/6th to start start is because this is the feast of Epiphany in both Dionysian:

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 the fifth of January: the day is called the god’s gift day and 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)

And Christian traditions:

 The earliest reference to the feast in the Eastern Church is a remark by Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis, I, xxi, 45) “And the followers of Basilides hold the day of Jesus’ baptism as a festival, spending the night before in readings.” Origen’s list of festivals (in Contra Celsum, VIII, xxii) omits any reference to Epiphany. The first reference to an ecclesiastical feast of the Epiphany, in Ammianus Marcellinus (XXI:ii), is in 361. Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis at this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked one of only two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor). Thus the holy day is considered to be a Trinitarian feast. The Orthodox consider Jesus’ Baptism to be the first step towards the Crucifixion, and there are some parallels in the hymnography used on this day and the hymns chanted on Good Friday.

Not as cool as the Christian Feast of the Circumcision, but still pretty cool.

The last group ritual I’ll participate in before heading East is the Eugene Perchtenlauf that Dver is leading:

The Perchtenlauf is an Alpine tradition involving a procession of people in masks and costumes who make a wild noise throughout the city or countryside, to frighten off the spirits of winter and make a fresh start for the coming year. As with many folk customs, there is great variety amongst the various Perchten from one region to the next, from bird-like peasant women to horned and fur-covered men to devil-like creatures. These “mummers” may wear giant bells, beat drums, or howl and growl at observers. A Perchtenlauf is a powerful, primal experience for both the people behind the masks and those they encounter along their way!

On January 13th I’ll be celebrating my first Lenaia in New York:

Ivy belongs to Him because it blooms in the autumn, when the grapes are harvested and the Child was snatched from Semele’s womb, and it bears fruit in the spring, when the fermentation is complete and the God is married. Its time of glory is the winter months, when Dionysos rules at Delphi, His epiphany. When Zeus blasted Semele, the ivy entwining her waist protected the Child by its cool nature. The duality of Dionysos is expressed by the ivy and the vine, for ivy belongs to the cool element of moisture as vine belongs to the hot element of fire. (So we wear ivy, as Lord Dionysos instructed us, to temper the fiery effects of wine.) The vine shows the God in the world of the living as the ivy shows Him in the world of the dead (which is why it is used to decorate graves). He is alternately lord of moist warm creation and lord of the moist cold creation. (Apollonius Sophistes, Dionysian Meditations)

I’m interested to see what that will be like. So far I’ve only done Lenaia in Washington, Nevada and Oregon. (There weren’t many formal festivals during my year in the Bronx.) Now, Nevada was it’s own crazy thing, but Washington and Oregon have similar climates, with Oregon’s being particularly close to that of the temperate Mediterranean. But on the East coast there’s often snow well past Anthesteria so that is going to require some adjustment – but it fucking well should!

Faith needs to be rooted in the soil to bear fine fruit:

Within modern Paganism, it is common to hear praise for trees, mountains or Nature, without any specific reference to a real place or specific living being. This is a stark contrast to many indigenous cultures that usually have specific sacred trees, rocks, streams or mountains that are essential to their faith. Indeed we hear the same sentiment in Judaism in the reverence accorded specific sites in the Holy Land. My ancestors in Scotland and Germany certainly had sacred places, streams and trees. I know the Monacan nation, who still live in my corner of the world, had sacred places, some of which we’ve now buried under concrete. Like many of us, being separated from the lands of my ancestors I have lost that direct connection to the spirits of place my ancestors certainly knew. (Lonnie Murray, Spirits of place)

I will have a lot of new spirits to meet.

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5 thoughts on “I’m too busy to fight a war on Christmas

  1. You saw the revels on Sunday? We were there Saturday night!

    It was a great show, much much better than last year. We had front row center seats and our whole family got blessed by the mummers (particularly the tall hairy one with horns) which I very much appreciated. We actually donated to the revels organization in order to get pre-sale tickets for the seats. This is a very important part of our family’s winter celebrations. And I love how the the cradle dance was a spiral dance! Welcome Yule!!!

    • We missed last year’s … the theme just didn’t seem that interesting, especially after the year before which was AMAZING. (King of a riff on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but way awesomer.)

      • It was really sanctimonious and syrupy. My least favorite of the four I’ve seen:

        1. King and fool (2 years ago) — had me agape, literally trembling with religious awe.
        2. Slavic (this year) — wonderfully Pagan and moving. The Rachmaninoff choral piece had me in tears and the mummers! OMG.
        3. Andalusian (3 years ago) — loved the multifaith theme. Loved the Spanish dragon (“Hello My Name Is Inigo Montoya…”) It was a really great show and a really great intro to the revels, and the only reason it isn’t tied for second is that it’s been a few years and the wow has worn off.
        4. Appalachian (last year) — eh.

  2. Pingback: Thank You for Not Spamming My Feed with Zeitgeist | Under Two Trees

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