The Tragic Story

Or Every time you create sacred space you make baby Zagreus cry.

Remember how I was discussing Orpheus’ ritual reenactment of the titanic sparagmos? I think every time we make sacred space that’s what we’re doing.

Mind you, I was sleep deprived, stoned out of my head and obsessively listening to this song by Coil when I had the epiphany, but hey, that’s usually where all my best ideas come from.

First off, check out the lyrics for the song:

Does death come alone or with eager reinforcements?
Does death come alone or with eager reinforcements?
Death is centrifugal
Solar and logical
Decadent and symmetrical
Angels are mathematical
Angels are bestial
Man is the animal
Man is the animal

The blacker the sun
The darker the dawn
Flashes from the axis
Flashes from the axis
On the humming way to the stars

Holy holy, holy holy, holy oh holy
Holy holy, holy holy, holy
Holy holy, holy holy, holy

Tell me that shit isn’t relevant to the Apollonian thread I’ve been tracing here of late.

Now consider this, from Sarah Veale’s The Linguistic Origins of Sacred Space:

There were however, some spaces which were more sacred than others. These spaces were known as templum, a word that looks an awful lot like our modern “temple” but actually refers to a segment of space deemed sacred, rather than a building or something like that (to which the term aedes would apply). In On the Latin Language, Varro attempts to explain where this term came from. He says the following:

The word templum is derived from the word ‘to gaze’ [tueri], and so likewise is the word ‘to contemplate’ [contemplare]…the notion that a temple [templum] is a consecrated building [aedes sacra] seems to have stemmed from the fact that in the city of Rome most consecrated buildings are temples… (Varro, On the Latin Language, VII.8-10)

Varro’s explanation connects the word “templum” to the actions of augurs, who ultimately determine the boundaries of sacred space. They can do this in many ways, but here Varro details the establishing of sacred boundaries by trees, and how one sees the physical space between them. Basically, the auger eyeballs a specific space, chooses a few boundary points (in this case, trees), and designates that area as holy. Easy peasy. [...] In Greek, the word for sacred space is τέμενος, a word whose root is τμ and is related to the idea of cutting or separating (verbal form: τέμνω). According to the most-holy-and-venerable LSJ, this word means “a piece of land cut off II. A piece of land dedicated to a god, the sacred precincts.” We can see, in this use that a physical space is cut away from regular space, and given a special status. The idea is the same as the Latin one, this is an area set apart for things related to the gods.

Phrased one way, the rational eye of the priest looks out upon the chaotic and undifferentiated world and imposes order by cutting the sacred off from the impure. Phrased another way the solar wolf rends and devours the bull of night.

Which may well be why the remains of Dionysos are stashed at Delphi, the navel of the world from which all distances are measured:

The people of Delphi believe that the remains of Dionysos rest with them close beside the oracle; and the Holy Ones offer a secret sacrifice in the shrine of Apollon whenever the devotees of Dionysos wake the god of the Mystic Basket. (Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 201-202)

Holy, holy, holy.

Something to keep in mind though: the bull-wolf combat is only part of the cycle. According to the Orphics of Southern Italy, the bull-god regenerates himself as a serpent so that he can beget himself once more as a bull:

If any one asks who narrates this, then we shall quote the well-known senarian verse of a Tarentine poet which the ancients used to sing, “Taurus draconem genuit, et taurum draco.” ["The bull begot the dragon, and the dragon a bull.”] (Arnobius of Sicca, Adversus Nationes 5.20)

Which adds an interesting twist on that other Delphic myth:

Orpheus told them in song how Apollon long ago, when he was still a beardless youth rejoicing in his locks, slew the monster Delphyne with his bow beneath the rocky brow of Parnassos. (Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautica 2.703)

You see, as much as it sucks for Dionysos when Apollo gets all stabby and choppy, by doing so he fulfills a vitally necessary role as this is what enables Dionysos to cycle through his bull and serpent forms. The god is born to die, you see. Over and over and over and over again. As are all the ones destined to carry him. Alexander, Antony, Morrison, etc. are all struck down just as that final moment of glorious triumph approaches. And the fucked up thing is they know it’s coming because you get the power only on condition that you’re willing to relinquish it when your time is up.

Because if you don’t, if you actually beat Apollon then very, very bad things happen. Why, the whole natural order unravels and things revert to their primordial state of undifferentiated chaos.

Kind of like what’s going on in the news today, but worse. Way worse.

Mainades are Dionysos’ cosmic insurance policy. Should he or his king get too carried away and refuse to throw the contest (or to be fair, too drunk or crazy to remember the rules of the game: one need not assume hubris and malice aforethought) they’re there to take him down and complete the ceremony of sparagmos.

This is the tragic core of our story – keep it in mind while observing Karneia!

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5 thoughts on “The Tragic Story

  1. When I was first learning about Apollo Soranus, I got this mental image of a rolling green field divided down the middle by a fence. The land, which is eternal and not -really- divided up even if a fence is there, is Dionysos. Apollo is the fence: not a real separation or division between the facets of Dionysos, but the -idea- of division that brings order to the uniform chaos of Dionysos. (Hermes is the thief who doesn’t care that fences are there; He works equally well on either side.)

    What you’re writing seems to match up nicely with my thoughts.

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  2. henadology

    “Phaedrus: And what is the other principle, Socrates? Socrates: That of cutting up [diatemnein] things in turn by forms, where the natural joints are, and not trying to break any part, after the manner of a bad carver.” (Plato, Phaedrus 265d-e)

    “For there exists a certain intelligible which you must perceive by the flower of mind. For if you should incline your mind toward it and perceive it as perceiving a specific thing, you would not perceive it. For it is the potentiality of strength, visible all around, flashing with intellective cuts [tomaisin] […].” (Chaldean Oracles, frag. 1)

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  3. I have some thoughts pertaining especially between the dine family of Apollon, his mythic lineage and dragons and serpents that pertains to the serpent in his cult and the slaying of Delphyne (I maintain that there are two Pythons male and female.. the latter being linked to Apollon directly)

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  4. Given the bull/serpent matter, I wonder: does Acheloös come into this at all, then? I’d be curious to know your thoughts on that…

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