Around midnight

louvre-buste-femme -ariane

Friedrich Nietzsche, Klage der Ariadne from Dionysos-Dithyramben

Wer wärmt mich, wer liebt mich noch?
   Gebt heisse Hände!
   gebt Herzens-Kohlenbecken!
Hingestreckt, schaudernd,
Halbtodtem gleich, dem man die Füsse wärmt,
geschüttelt ach! von unbekannten Fiebern,
zitternd vor spitzen eisigen Frostpfeilen,
   von dir gejagt, Gedanke!
Unnennbarer! Verhüllter! Entsetzlicher!
   Du Jäger hinter Wolken!
Darnieder geblitzt von dir,
du höhnisch Auge, das mich aus Dunklem anblickt!
   So liege ich,
biege mich, winde mich, gequält
von allen ewigen Martern,
von dir, grausamster Jäger,
du unbekannter—Gott …

Triff tiefer!
Triff Ein Mal noch!
Zerstich, zerbrich dies Herz!
Was soll dies Martern
mit zähnestumpfen Pfeilen?
Was blickst du wieder
der Menschen-Qual nicht müde,
mit schadenfrohen Götter-Blitz-Augen?
Nicht tödten willst du,
nur martern, martern?
Wozu—mich martern,
du schadenfroher unbekannter Gott?

Du schleichst heran
bei solcher Mitternacht? …
Was willst du?
Du drängst mich, drückst mich,
Ha! schon viel zu nahe!
Du hörst mich athmen,
du behorchst mein Herz,
du Eifersüchtiger!
   — worauf doch eifersüchtig?
Weg! Weg!
wozu die Leiter?
willst du hinein,
ins Herz, einsteigen,
in meine heimlichsten
Gedanken einsteigen?
Schamloser! Unbekannter! Dieb!
Was willst du dir erstehlen?
Was willst du dir erhorchen?
was willst du dir erfoltern,
du Folterer!
Oder soll ich, dem Hunde gleich,
vor dir mich wälzen?
Hingebend, begeistert ausser mir
dir Liebe—zuwedeln?
Stich weiter!
Grausamster Stachel!
Kein Hund—dein Wild nur bin ich,
grausamster Jäger!
deine stolzeste Gefangne,
du Räuber hinter Wolken …
Sprich endlich!
Du Blitz-Verhüllter! Unbekannter! sprich!
Was willst du, Wegelagerer, von—mir? …

Was willst du Lösegelds?
Verlange Viel—das räth mein Stolz!
und rede kurz—das räth mein andrer Stolz!

Mich—willst du? mich?
mich—ganz? …

Und marterst mich, Narr, der du bist,
zermarterst meinen Stolz?
Gieb Liebe mir—wer wärmt mich noch?
   wer liebt mich noch?
gieb heisse Hände,
gieb Herzens-Kohlenbecken,
gieb mir, der Einsamsten,
nach Feinden selber,
nach Feinden schmachten lehrt,
gieb, ja ergieb
grausamster Feind,
mir—dich! …

Da floh er selber,
mein einziger Genoss,
mein grosser Feind,
mein Unbekannter,
mein Henker-Gott! …

komm zurück!
Mit allen deinen Martern!
All meine Thränen laufen
zu dir den Lauf
und meine letzte Herzensflamme
dir glüht sie auf.
Oh komm zurück,
mein unbekannter Gott! mein Schmerz
   mein letztes Glück! …

Ein Blitz. Dionysos wird in smaragdener Schönheit sichtbar.


Sei klug, Ariadne! …
Du hast kleine Ohren, du hast meine Ohren:
steck ein kluges Wort hinein! —
Muss man sich nicht erst hassen, wenn man sich lieben soll? …
Ich bin dein Labyrinth …

Ariadne’s Lament from The Dionysos Dithyrambs

Who will warm me, who loves me still?
   Give warm hands!
   Give the heart’s brazier!
Prone, shuddering
Like one half dead, whose feet are warmed;
Shaken, alas! by unknown fevers,
Trembling at pointed arrows of glacial frost,
   Hunted by you, Thought!
Nameless! Cloaked! Horrid!
   You hunter behind clouds!
Struck down by your lightning,
Your scornful eye, glaring at me out of the dark!
   Thus I lie,
Writhing, twisted, tormented
By all the eternal afflictions,
By you, cruelest hunter,
You unknown—God

Strike deeper!
Strike one more time!
Stab, break this heart!
Why all this affliction
With blunt-toothed arrows?
How can you gaze evermore,
Unweary of human agony,
With the spiteful lightning eyes of Gods?
You do not wish to kill,
Only to torment, torment?
Why torment—me,
You spiteful unknown God?

You creep closer
Around midnight? …
What do you want?
You push me, press upon me,
Ah, already much too close!
You hear me breathing,
You eavesdrop on my heart,
Most jealous one! —
   What are you jealous of anyway?
Away! Away!
What’s the ladder for?
Do you want inside,
Would you get into my heart,
And enter
My most secret thoughts?
Shameless one! Unknown! Thief!
What do you wish to steal for yourself?
What do you wish to hear for yourself?
What will you gain by torture,
You torturer!
Or am I, like a dog,
To wallow before you?
Devoted, eager due to my
Love for you—fawning over you?
In vain!
It stabs again!
Cruelest sting!
I am not your dog, only your prey,
Cruelest hunter!
Your proudest prisoner,
You robber behind clouds …
Speak finally!
You, cloaked by lightning! Unknown! Speak!
What do you want, highwayman, from—me?…

A ransom?
What do you want for ransom?
Demand much—so advises my pride!
And talk little—my pride advises as well!

Me?—you want me?
Me—all of me? …

And tormenting me, fool that you are,
You wrack my pride?
Give me love—who warms me still?
   Who loves me still?
Give warm hands,
Give the heart’s brazier,
Give me, the loneliest one,
Ice, alas! whom ice sevenfold
Has taught to yearn for enemies,
Even for my enemies
Give, yes, surrender to me,
Cruelest enemy —

He has fled,
My only companion,
My splendid enemy,
My unknown,
My executioner-God! …

Come back!
With all your afflictions!
All my tears gush forth
To you they stream
And the last flames of my heart
Glow for you.
Oh, come back,
My unknown God! my pain!
   My ultimate happiness! ….

A lightening bolt. Dionysus becomes visible in emerald beauty.


Be clever, Ariadne! …
You have little ears; you have my ears:
Put a clever word in them! —
Must one not first hate oneself, in order to love oneself? …
I am your labyrinth …

Let the Journey into the Unknown begin

Tomorrow is the Noumenia of Lusion, the month of loosening, liberty and deliverance. Dionysos’ oracle for Lusion is:

“If there is a way into the wood there is also a way out of it.”

Our next festival at the House of Vines is going to be on the 28th (12 June, by the vulgar reckoning) and will be the Kybernesia in honor of our great prophet and Bacchic missionary Akoites. 

Everything about him is a mystery

You are a child playing with your friends on a hot summer day. Bored with your usual games you decide to go explore in the woods, a dark and scary place well away from the prying eyes of parents. After wandering through the green maze of the Nymphs for hours you come upon a tree with a corpse hanging from it. Once you get passed the terror and the urge to flee back home you children become fascinated by him. You’ve never been this close to death before. You stand there, holding your breath, staring up at him, fearful that he might suddenly move, but also kind of hoping that he does.

Eventually one of you decides that it’s not right to just leave him hanging there. He climbs the tree, draws out his knife, grabs the rope with a trembling hand and begins sawing through it.

Without warning the last strand snaps and the body falls to the earth and bursts open, releasing putrid stenches into the air. You hardly notice; everybody is staring intently at the knife still held up by the boy. You revere it like a proper object of worship for it certainly has power after coming into contact with the body like that.

It’s getting late and you grudgingly decide to go back before the adults come looking for you. The whole group swears a vow to tell no one of what they’ve seen. The dead man will be your secret so that no one will take him away from you.

Days pass, but he remains all you can think about. Everything about him is a mystery. Who was he? What was his name? Where did he come from? Why was he here? How long had he hung before you found him? Was he murdered or did he die by his own hand? You can’t stand not knowing, so you start to tell stories between chores and late at night, when the children are by themselves, out of earshot of the others. The stories swell with each telling, becoming more elaborate and fanciful and thus more entertaining to contemplate afterwards. Rival traditions emerge among the children, become more solidified through conflict, until the different sides can’t even stand to be in the presence of each other.

You dream one night after a bitter screaming match with your sister that was broken up by your confused and angry mother who beat you and sent you to bed without any supper. (But what does it matter what either of them think? They don’t know anything about the dead man so their opinion is worthless.) You dreamed that you were back in the woods and the body was just like you left it that time only now it was covered in worms and centipedes and spiders and there is a buzzing of flies so loud you fear it’s going to make you deaf. You wake screaming. The dead man is mad at you for how you and your friends have behaved!

The following day you gather everybody together and lead them back into the woods to make amends. What you didn’t notice is that you were being followed. The adults had observed the strange transformation in their children’s behavior, how withdrawn, moody and contentious they’d become of late, and it concerned them. Their worst fears were confirmed and then some when they tracked you to that old ash tree and the fruit it bore.

Horrified, they destroyed the body and brought in mendicant religious experts to perform the ceremonies of purification and ghost-laying that Orpheus invented. They interrogated you, tortured you, tried to get you to deny and forget all that you had seen. They lock you away, forbidding you to have anything to do with your friends until you learn to mimic the behaviors they expect of you. Play nice. Eat all your dinner. Smile. Smile. Smile. And never, ever bring up the dead body again, even to your friends once they let you play together after all of you have been properly re-educated.

Inwardly things were different. You nurtured the memory of that day, secretly but reverently stroking the blade that the boy had been forced to discard and you were able to retrieve from the trash heap. Time passes, but you never forget. And when you are old enough you go to a different village to tell the people there about the dead man, somewhere far away since a prophet is never believed in his own home. You’ve got so many stories to tell about the dead man; you’ve worked out this whole mythic chronology for him and it’s even more real to you than your own history.

Behind the Mask

I suppose it’s appropriate that I’m writing this on the Agrionia, a festival of Dionysian wildness and barbarity (where madness is both plague and plague’s cure) which has the following aition or origin story, as recounted by Pseudo-Apollodoros:

Proitos had daughters, Lysippe, Iphinoe, and Iphianassa, by Stheneboea. When these damsels were grown up, they went mad, according to Hesiod because they would not accept the rites of Dionysos, but according to Akusilaos, because they disparaged the wooden image of Hera. In their madness they roamed over the whole Argive land, and afterwards, passing through Arcadia and the Peloponnese, they ran through the desert in the most disorderly fashion. But Melampos, son of Amythaon by Idomene, daughter of Abas, being a seer and the first to devise the cure by means of drugs and purifications, promised to cure the maidens if he should receive the third part of the sovereignty. When Proitos refused to pay so high a fee for the cure, the maidens raved more than ever, and besides that, the other women raved with them; for they also abandoned their houses, destroyed their own children, and flocked to the desert. Not until the evil had reached a very high pitch did Proitos consent to pay the stipulated fee, and Melampos promised to effect a cure whenever his brother Bias should receive just so much land as himself. Fearing that, if the cure were delayed, yet more would be demanded of him, Proitos agreed to let the physician proceed on these terms. So Melampos, taking with him the most stalwart of the young men, chased the women in a bevy from the mountains to Sicyon with shouts and a sort of frenzied dance. In the pursuit Iphinoe, the eldest of the daughters, expired; but the others were lucky enough to be purified and so to recover their wits. Proitos gave them in marriage to Melampos and Bias, and afterwards begat a son, Megapenthes. (Bibliotheka 2.2-3.1)

There is a lot of fruit for reflection in this passage about Dionysos’ savage Blackfoot surrogate winning a kingdom and wife for himself and his foolish brother through cunning and mastery of ecstatic rites, healing songs and drugs, particularly when compared to similar archaic ceremonies found among the Slavic tribes of Russia and the Ukraine, as related in the Chronicle of Pseudo-Nestor:

The Drevlians lived like beasts; they killed one another, they fed on things unclean; no marriage took place amongst them, but they captured young girls on the banks of rivers; the Radimich, the Viatich, and the Sever had the same customs. They lived in forests, like other wild animals, they ate everything unclean, and shameful things occurred amongst them between fathers and daughters-in-law. Marriages were unknown to them, but games were held in the outskirts of villages; they met at these games for dancing and every kind of diabolic amusement, and there they captured their wives, each man the one he had covenanted with. They had generally two or three wives.

In Marriage among the Early Slavs, Maksim Kovalevsky observes:

They speak of the existence of certain yearly festivals at which great licence prevailed. According to the last-named author, such meetings were regularly held on the borders of the State of Novgorod on the banks of rivers, resembling, in that particular, the annual festivals mentioned by Nestor. Not later than the beginning of the sixteenth century, they were complained of by the clergy of the State of Pscov. It was at that time monk Pamphil drew up his letter to the Governor of the State, admonishing him to put an end to these annual gatherings, since their only result was the corruption of the young women and girls. According to the author just cited, the meetings took place, as a rule, the day before the festival of St. John the Baptist, which, in pagan times, was that of a divinity known by the name of Jarilo, corresponding to the Priapus of the Greeks. Half a century later the new ecclesiastical code, compiled by an assembly of divines convened in Moscow by the Czar Ivan the Terrible, took effectual measures for abolishing every vestige of paganism; amongst them, the yearly festivals held on Christmas Day, on the day of the baptism of Our Lord, and on St. John the Baptist, commonly called Midsummer Day. A general feature of all these festivals, according to the code, was the prevalence of the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes. How far the clergy succeeded in suppressing these yearly meetings, which had been regularly held for centuries before on the banks of rivers, we cannot precisely say, although the fact of their occasional occurrence, even in modern times, does not tend to prove their complete abolition. More than once have I had an opportunity of being present at these nightly meetings, held at the end of June, in commemoration of a heathen divinity. They usually take place close to a river or pond; large fires are lighted, and over them young couples, bachelors and unmarried girls, jump barefoot. I have never found any trace of licentiousness; but there is no doubt that cases of licence used to occur, though seldom in our time. That a few centuries ago they were very frequent has been lately proved by some curious documents preserved in the archives of some of the provincial ecclesiastical councils, particularly in those existing in the government of Kharkov. According to these documents, the local clergy were engaged in constant warfare with the shameful licentiousness which prevailed at the evening assemblies of the peasants, and more than once the clergy succeeded in inducing the authorities of the village to dissolve the assemblies by force. The priests were often wounded, and obliged to seek refuge in the houses of the village elders from the stones with which they were pelted. These evening assemblies are known to the people of Great Russia under the name of Posidelki, and to the Little Russians by that of Vechernitzi.

That such bacchanals were carried out in the name of Ivan Kupala is hardly surprising considering the account of him in Matthew 3:1-12:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
   make straight paths for him.”

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the spirit of holiness and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The oracular severed head of the Baptizer John was not just worn by Jarilo and Dionysos’ son Priapos, but by the Maskengott himself:

If we add to this horror the ecstatic rapture, which rises up out of the same collapse of the principium individuationis from the innermost depths of human beings, yes, from the innermost depths of nature, then we have a glimpse into the essence of the Dionysian, which is presented to us most closely through the analogy to intoxication.

Either through the influence of narcotic drink, of which all primitive men and peoples speak, or through the powerful coming on of spring, which drives joyfully through all of nature, that Dionysian excitement arises. As its power increases, the subjective fades into complete forgetfulness of self. In the German Middle Ages under the same power of Dionysus constantly growing hordes waltzed from place to place, singing and dancing. In that St. John’s and St. Vitus’s dancing we recognize the Bacchic chorus of the Greeks once again, and its precursors in Asia Minor, right back to Babylon and the orgiastic Sacaea.

There are men who, from a lack of experience or out of apathy, turn mockingly away from such phenomena as from a “sickness of the people,” with a sense of their own health and filled with pity. These poor people naturally do not have any sense of how deathly and ghost–like this very “Health” of theirs sounds, when the glowing life of the Dionysian throng roars past them.  Under the magic of the Dionysian, not only does the bond between man and man lock itself in place once more, but also nature itself, no matter how alienated, hostile, or subjugated, rejoices again in her festival of reconciliation with her prodigal son, man. The earth freely offers up her gifts, and the beasts of prey from the rocks and the desert approach in peace. The wagon of Dionysus is covered with flowers and wreaths. Under his yoke stride panthers and tigers.

If someone were to transform Beethoven’s Ode to Joy into a painting and not restrain his imagination when millions of people sink dramatically into the dust, then we could come close to the Dionysian. Now is the slave a free man, now all the stiff, hostile barriers break apart, those things which necessity and arbitrary power or “saucy fashion” have established between men. Now, with the gospel of world harmony, every man feels himself not only united with his neighbor, reconciled and fused together, but also as if the veil of Maya has been ripped apart, with only scraps fluttering around before the mysterious. Singing and dancing, man expresses himself as a member of a higher unity. He has forgotten how to walk and talk and is on the verge of flying up into the air as he dances. The enchantment speaks out in his gestures. Just as the animals speak and the earth gives milk and honey, so now something supernatural echoes out of him. He feels himself a god. He now moves in a lofty ecstasy, as he saw the gods move in his dream. The man is no longer an artist. He has become a work of art. The artistic power of all of nature, the rhapsodic satisfaction of the primordial unity, reveals itself here in the intoxicated performance. The finest clay, the most expensive marble — man — is here worked and chiseled, and the cry of the Eleusinian mysteries rings out to the chisel blows of the Dionysian world artist: “Do you fall down, you millions? World, do you have a sense of your creator?” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Prose Hymn to Dionysus from The Birth of Tragedy)

Something which Nietzsche knew from personal experience, as Carl Gustav Jung relates in Wotan from Essays on Contemporary Events:

In the dithyramb known as Ariadne’s Lament, Nietzsche is completely the victim of the hunter-god:

Stretched out, shuddering,
Like a half-dead thing whose feet are warmed,
Shaken by unknown fevers,
Shivering with piercing icy frost arrows,
Hunted by thee, O thought,
Unutterable! Veiled! horrible one!
Thou huntsman behind the cloud.
Struck down by thy lightning bolt,
Thou mocking eye that stares at me from the dark!
Thus I lie.
Writhing, twisting, tormented
With all eternal tortures,
By thee, cruel huntsman,
Thou unknown — God!

This remarkable image of the hunter-god is not a mere dithyrambic figure of speech but is based on an experience which Nietzsche had when he was fifteen years old, at Pforta. It is described in a book by Nietzsche’s sister, Elizabeth Foerster-Nietzsche. As he was wandering about in a gloomy wood at night, he was terrified by a “blood-curdling shriek from a neighbouring lunatic asylum,” and soon afterwards he came face to face with a huntsman whose “features were wild and uncanny.” Setting his whistle to his lips “in a valley surrounded by wild scrub,” the huntsman “blew such a shrill blast” that Nietzsche lost consciousness — but woke up again in Pforta. It was a nightmare.

Later in his life the Leader of la Caccia Selvaggia caught up with the philosopher in Turin, with cataclysmic results:

In Turin on 3rd January, 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche steps out of the doorway of number six, Via Carlo Alberto. Not far from him, the driver of a hansom cab is having trouble with a stubborn horse. Despite all his urging, the horse refuses to move, whereupon the driver loses his patience and takes his whip to it. Nietzsche comes up to the throng and puts an end to the brutal scene, throwing his arms around the horse’s neck, sobbing. His landlord takes him home, he lies motionless and silent for two days on a divan until he mutters the obligatory last words, and lives for another ten years, silent and demented, cared for by his mother and sisters. We do not know what happened to the horse. (Béla Tarr, introduction to A torinói ló)

While convalescing in an Italian madhouse Nietzsche wrote numerous letters such as this one to Cosima Wagner, wife of his former friend Richard:

To Princess Ariadne, My Beloved.

It is a mere prejudice that I am a human being. Yet I have often enough dwelled among human beings and I know the things human beings experience, from the lowest to the highest. Among the Hindus I was Buddha, in Greece Dionysus – Alexander and Caesar were incarnations of me, as well as the poet of Shakespeare, Lord Bacon. Most recently I was Voltaire and Napoleon, perhaps also Richard Wagner … However I now come as Dionysus victorious, who will prepare a great festival on Earth … Not as though I had much time … the Heavens rejoice to see me here … I also hung on the cross …

Ariadne, I love you!

– Dionysus

Or this one to Franz and Ida Overbeck:

Although you have so far demonstrated little faith in my ability to pay, I yet hope to demonstrate that I am somebody who pays his debts – for example, to you. I am just having all the anti-Semites shot.

– Dionysus

Dionysonietzsche also generously offered to give the Classics scholar (and author of Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks) Erwin Rhode apotheosis and a gaggle of goddess-concubines:

To my growly bear Erwin …

At the risk of enraging you once again by my blindness as regards Monsieur Taine, who formerly composed the Vedas, I hereby deign to transpose you to the gods, with the most beloved goddesses at your side.

– Dionysus

To my knowledge no one has reported seeing Erwin “growly bear” Rhodes on Olympos so he likely turned him down.

Nietzsche’s letter is strangely reminiscent of the coke and schizophrenia fueled ramblings found in science fiction author and Neoplatonic scholar Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis:

The Immortal One was known to the Greeks as Dionysos; to the Jews as Elijah; to the Christians as Jesus. He moves on when each human host dies, and thus is never killed or caught. Hence Jesus on the cross said, ‘Eli, Eli, lama Sabachthani,’ to which some of those present correctly said, ‘The man is calling on Elijah.’ Elijah had left him and he died alone.

Dionysus inspired the counterculture’s overthrow of Nixon. And inspired VALIS in 2-3-74. The joy God-King Felix. The injury done Felix Buckman (the death of Alys) symbolizes the mortal blow to soon be struck at the tyranny by Dionysus.

Then when I was slipped the hit of STP in ’74 it was Dionysus I saw: the grapevines growing up around the figure of the Catholic priest, my little icon of the saint. And all the pranks, games and riddles (e.g., re Erasmus). Hence I heard the word dithyramb-the dance of Dionysus.

I do discuss Dionysus in VALIS, but he has occluded me with Christian material-a diversion that I fell for-until I reread Tears tonight; Dionysus caused me to see all that I saw in 3-74; it was his magic-it wasn’t really Christ and God; Dionysus can take any form-he fooled me. Of course, now that VALIS is in print, Dionysus lets me see the truth; since it doesn’t matter.

That final quote by Dick reminds me of the dawning horror with which Jane Ellen Harrison came to realize that Dionysos had co-opted her book Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion:

It’s rather dreadful, the whole centre of gravity of the book has shifted. It began as a treatise on Keres with a supplementary notice on Dionysus. It is ending as a screed on Dionysus with an introductory talk about Keres. Whose fault is that? (Letter to Gilbert Murray circa 1900)


It shouldn’t have been too surprising. Dionysos is both the God of Ghosts:

… they roam together – the night-walkers, the magicians, the Bakchai, the Lenai, the participants in mysteries full of unholy rites. Their processions and phallic hymns would be disgraceful exhibitions if it wasn’t for the fact that they are done in honor of Dionysos – that Dionysos who is the same as Haides; it is in his honor that they rave madly and hold their revels. (Herakleitos, Fragments 76-77 )

Surrounded by the light of torches,
he stands high on the twin summits of Parnassos,
while the Corycian nymphs dance around as Bacchantes,
and the waters of Castalia sound from the depths below.
Up there in the snow and winter darkness Dionysos rules in the long night,
while troops of maenads swarm around him,
himself the choir leader for the dance of the fire-breathing stars
and quick of hearing for every sound of the night.

(Sophokles, Choral Ode from Antigone)

During this night, it is said, about the middle of it, while the city was quiet and depressed through fear and expectation of what was coming, suddenly certain harmonious sounds from all sorts of instruments were heard, and the shouting of a throng which none could see, accompanied by cries of Bacchic revelry and satyric leapings, as if a troop of revelers, making a great tumult, were going forth from the city; and their course seemed to lie about through the middle of it toward the outer gate which faced the enemy, at which point the tumult became loudest and then dashed out. (Plutarch, Life of Antony 75)

Silenus, whom the merry maids had raised upon an ass, rode along, holding a golden goblet, which was constantly filled for him. Slowly he advanced, while behind whirled in mad eddies the reckless troop of vine-clad revelers. You, reader, who are well educated and familiar with descriptions of Bacchanalian orgies or festivals of Dionysos, would not have been astonished by this. At the utmost, you would only feel a slightly licentious thrill at seeing this assembly of delightful phantoms rise from their sarcophagi to again renew their ancient and festive rites, all rioting, reveling, hurrahing Evöe Bacche! (Heinrich Heine, Die Götter im Exil)

The waves rock me in a cradle,
the Dionysian festival of flowers
is being celebrated in the heavens,
and the stars are falling.
The mind no longer inquires, it dances
enwreathed with night as with ivy.
I am free at last, and I am alone
like a saint bound naked to the wheel
who in his nostrils feels
the myrrh of Paradise.
The planks of my boat creak
and by its side the constellations sparkle.
If you are not worthy, you will die.
Keep vigil! The celestial system is crumbling,
its harmony was unbearable.
Keep vigil! The land has let loose
her dogs upon me.

(Pandeís Prevelákis, Barcarole)

And the God of Poets:

Being a poet, I love Bacchus more than all other Gods. The grape harvest has pleased me above everything. (Pierre de Ronsard, Épitre)

Indeed the two are quite intertwined:

To be cleansed of the body is the beginning of life for divine and thus blessed souls. For the Gods, whose attendants they are, they then know, not by worshipping statues and conjectures, but by gaining visible association with them. And free from the body and its diseases, souls observe the affairs of mortals, both when souls are filled with prophetic skill and when the oracular power sends Bacchic frenzy upon them. (Philostratus, On Heroes)

For there is something inherently creative about Bacchic frenzy:

For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed. And as the Corybantic revellers when they dance are not in their right mind, so the lyric poets are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains: but when falling under the power of music and metre they are inspired and possessed; like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when they are under the influence of Dionysos but not when they are in their right mind. And the soul of the lyric poet does the same, as they themselves say; for they tell us that they bring songs from honeyed fountains, culling them out of the gardens and dells of the Muses; they, like the bees, winging their way from flower to flower. And this is true. For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles. (Plato, Ion 533e-534b)

But their procedure is like Bacchic frenzy – like the leap of a man mad, or possessed – the attainment of a goal without running the race, a passing beyond reason without the previous exercise of reasoning. For the sacred matter (contemplation) is not like attention belonging to knowledge, or an outlet of mind, nor is it like one thing in one place and another in another. On the contrary – to compare small and greater – it is like Aristotle’s view that men being initiated have not a lesson to learn, but an experience to undergo and a condition into which they must be brought, while they are becoming fit for revelation. (Synesios, Dio 1133)

For there was a feeling as if taking hold of the God and of clearly perceiving that he himself had come, of being midway between sleeping and waking, of wanting to look, of struggling against his departure too soon; of having applied one’s ears and hearing some things as in a dream, some waking; hair stood straight, tears flowed in joy; the burden of understanding seemed light. What man is able to put these things into words? Yet if he is one of those who have undergone initiation, he knows and is familiar with them. (Aelius Aristides, Oration 48.32)

Dionysian frenzy blurs all boundaries including the civilized and wild, familiar and strange, male and female, individual and collective, the living and the dead – and even that between fiction and reality, as Erynn Kim writes rapturously in Dionysus as Metaphor: Defining the Dionysus of the Homeric Hymns

In Hymn 7, however, the poet does not introduce the epithet first. Instead, the narrator describes how the transformed Dionysus roars loudly (μέγα δ᾿ ἔβραχεν, “he roared loudly,” l.45), and then reveals himself with the epithet ἐρίβρομος (“loud-roarer,” l.56). Unlike the other two Hymns in which the poet explains the epithets associated with Dionysus, Hymn 7 presents Dionysus the character showing how his story provides the folk etymology for his epithet. In this way, the folk etymology in Hymn 7 works on a metapoetic level. The poet is no longer alone in recognizing the function of the hymn as a way to folk etymologize a formulaic phrase. Dionysus transcends the barrier between poet and character to explain the epithet. Thus, Dionysus not only conquers the sailors but also controls the text itself by subsuming the voice of the poet. Dionysus’ dominance over the text can be seen in the illusion of the sea turning into wine, a phenomenon that would certainly lead the audience to think back to the epithet οἴνοπα πόντον “wine-dark” in line 7. The “wine-dark sea” is an utterly commonplace formula in epic poetry and is not associated with the god Dionysus in particular. The epithet “wine-dark” refers to the color of the sea and has parallels in other Near Eastern traditions. In Hymn 7, however, Dionysus takes the epithet and makes it his own. Dionysus is metaphor in two senses: he is metaphor in that he uses illusion to make sense of the literal facts about his person, but he is also metaphor in that the literal experience of the poem brings to life figurative textual formulae. The narrative persona acts as a bridge between the poet and Dionysus the character, muting the poet’s power to provide explicit explanations of formulae and instead allowing Dionysus to transcend the text and take over the poet’s voice. His power is all-consuming; he is metaphor personified, and the text, structured as metaphor, mirrors this. The shape of the poem is the shape of Dionysus; Dionysus is in the poem but is also the poem itself. On a macro level, Dionysus’ power as metaphor overtakes the structure of the text. On a micro level, it overtakes the formulae of the text. Thus, Hymn 7 is a poem about Dionysus’ power, a “mental possession” that begins with the very first action of the poem, the poet’s remembrance. Introducing the poem with the word μνήσομαι in line 2, the poet begins the hymn with a root derived from Proto-Indo-European *men–  “think,” a poetic and religious root associated with singing and mental activity. Thus, from the very beginning, the poet not only yields to the narrator but also surrenders himself to Dionysus, who comes to life in the text and as the text.

This is why I relied so heavily on the works of German and Russian poets in my Dionysos in the Northlands article; it is also the explanation for why he keeps returning to that part of the world so often.

As the inspired Swedish noble and poet Carl Michael Bellman intuited, Dionysos is seeking his wife Fröja.

Or Freyja, as she appears in Snorri Sturluson:

Freyja is most gently born: she is wedded to the man named Óðr. Their daughter is Hnoss: she is so fair, that those things which are fair and precious are called hnossir. Óðr went away on long journeys, and Freyja weeps for him, and her tears are red gold. Freyja has many names, and this is the cause thereof: that she gave herself sundry names when she went out among unknown peoples seeking Óðr: she is called Mardöll and Hörn, Gefn, Sýr. Freyja had the necklace Brísinga-men. She is also called Lady of the Vanir. (Gylfaginning 29)

There are only a few scattered references to Óðr in Eddic literature, and almost none outside it. Like Óðinn his name is thought to be derived from Proto-Germanic *wōð- or *wōþ- and is related to Gothic wôds (“raging”, “possessed”), Old High German wuot (“fury” “rage, to be insane”) the Anglo-Saxon words wód (“fury”, “rabies”) and wóð (“song”, “cry”, “voice”, “poetry”, “eloquence”) and Old Norse œði “strong excitation, possession.”

Regarding the concept of óðr Daniel McCoy writes:

Óðr is a power that overwhelms and infuses one’s being to its core, which ousts one’s mundane consciousness and turns one into a frenzied, ecstatic vessel for some mysterious, divine agency that is palpably present in the act. This could certainly happen in the realms of life with which we associate the relatively neutered modern English world “inspiration,” such as the arts and acts of clairvoyance, but it could also happen in cases where we wouldn’t typically use “inspiration,” such as scholarly writing, the fury of the warrior in the heat of battle, or insanity (and here we must bear in mind that “’madness,’ to earlier peoples, did not mean loss of control; it meant control by Someone Else: inspiration or possession”).

Of course, if we were to use the word “inspiration” in its original sense – “to be under the immediate influence of God or a god” – then “inspiration” and óðr would effectively be synonymous. For the ancient Germanic peoples, inspiration, ecstasy, and states of heightened awareness and/or passion were divine gifts that always entailed the presence of the numinous. And isn’t this truer to our immediate experience of inspiration than the comparatively banal and trivialized view of inspiration that we tend to hold today? Virtually all great artists and thinkers have often, during their moments of greatest inspiration, felt themselves to be vessels for some mysterious power working through them, and over which they have little, if any, conscious control. In addition to recognizing this common felt experience in a very wide array of phenomena, the concept of óðr was a way of making this connection explicit rather than something one has to grope for words to express.

Furthermore, this meant that all inspired activities had an inherent sacredness, an inherent spiritual nature and importance. For someone who has ample experience of both inspiration and the presence of the divine, and has paid close attention to the character of these experiences, it should be evident that there is an immense degree of overlap between the two. Both involve a sense of being “seized” by something grand, fascinating, and often troubling, from the outside; they both partake of some degree of what the German philosopher of religion Rudolf Otto called the mysterium fascinans and mysterium tremendum in his classic 1917 work The Idea of the Holy.

The scarcity of information on Óðr (the divinity, as opposed to the concept) has led to an abundance of scholarly theories, often at odds with one another, as the editors of Wikipedia have ably summarized:

The name Óðr for Freyja’s husband appears prominently in Völuspá 25, where it is said that “Óðs mey” was given to the giants. Nothing else is stated of him by this name in the Eddic poems. In Gylfaginning, Snorri briefly states that Óðr traveled to many nations and that Freyja searched for him in earnest, weeping as she went.

Scholar Viktor Rydberg proposed that Freyja’s husband Oðr is identical with the hero Svipdag from the Eddic poems Grougaldr and Fjölsvinsmál. Jacob Grimm and others have long identified Menglad (“the neck-lace lover”) Svipdag’s love interest in that poem, with Freyja the owner of Brísingamen.

Scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson proposes that a cult of the Vanir may have influenced a cult of the Æsir in the waning days of Norse paganism during the Christianization of Scandinavia, potentially resulting in the figure of Óðr in Norse mythology, which she refers to as a “strange double of Odin”.

Scholar Rudolf Simek says that since Óðr appears in a kenning employed by the 11th century skald Einarr Skúlason (in Skáldskaparmál) and in the Poetic Edda poems Völuspá and Hyndluljóð, Óðr is not a late invention. Simek says that “the most obvious explanation is to identify Óðr with Odin,” noting the similarity between their names (and agreeing with the Ullr/Ullin parallel), the long absences (comparing them to Odin’s exile in Gesta Danorum), and Óðr’s marriage with Freyja. Simek adds that although these similarities exist, there are things that speak against it, such as that “Freyja’s tears for Odin and her search are unmotivated,” and that “the reference to Hnoss as their only child is surprising – why, for example, should Baldr not be mentioned?” Simek notes that these issues have resulted in sometimes very different explanations; Sophus Bugge and Hjalmar Falk saw a reflection of the Greek god Adonis in Óðr, Rudolf Much saw a reflection in the god Attis, and Lee Hollander theorizes a reflection of the folktale of Amor and Psyche in Snorri’s Prose Edda account of Óðr and Freyja.

Scholar Stephan Grundy comments that while it is conceivable that Óðr may have been invented as a separate figure from Odin after Christianization, the notion is implausible because a separate, independent figure by the name of Wod survives in folklore involving the Wild Hunt in areas as far south from Scandinavia as Switzerland.

Grundy theorizes that the goddesses Frigg and Freyja did not stem from a single goddess. If they did not, Grundy says, the question of explaining the relationship between Freyja and Óðr becomes central, which has been one of the strongest points made in favor of the descent of Frigg and Freyja from a common goddess. Grundy notes that it is rarely mentioned that the Germanic peoples sometimes practiced polygamy, and cites chapter 18 of Tacitus’ 1st century AD work Germania, where Tacitus records that while monogamy has very few exceptions in Germanic society, there are those who actively seek a polygamous marriage “for the sake of high birth.” Grundy contrasts this with accounts of polygynous marriages among the Merovingians and Carolingians, points out that the only Germanic law-code that expressly forbids such relationships is that of the Visigoths, and notes that while polygynous marriages are rarely attested in Scandinavian sources, Harald I of Norway was married to seven wives simultaneously. Grundy concludes that, as “gods tend to reflect the social norms of their worshippers,” it is very possible that Odin or Óðr originally “could have rejoiced in Frigg and Freyja simultaneously”. Grundy posits that, over time polygynous marriages dwindled during the Viking Age and into the Christianization of the North Germanic territories and, as a result, such a relationship was less easily reflected in the deities of the people.

If I am correct that Óðr is in fact Dionysos – and I am; the God told me so during a man(t)ic episode – this would resolve a lot of these thorny questions (and plenty of others, to boot) as I shall endeavor to demonstrate in another article.

But for now I am going to watch Кавказская пленница and run with the wild things in the night.

Death and what comes after

You don’t just close your eyes and then open them on the other side a fully transfigured and elevated spirit. In ancient Greek religion, and Bacchic Orphism in particular, death was seen as a journey through another land with numerous obstacles and trials to overcome – paralleling in many respects what we find within Tibetan Buddhism. As the soul undertook this quest, the family it had left behind went through their own transitional phase, mirroring the process through the funerary and later mortuary rites they performed.

These rites not only helped the family work out their grief, but assisted the soul in their underworld journey – indeed, without these rites there was a chance the soul could get trapped between the worlds and become a restless, vengeful spirit. These rites began with the washing and preparation of the body, either for burial or cremation. Offerings and libations were made, the family accompanied the body in procession to its tomb, more offerings were made – including the cutting of hair and shedding of blood – and then a period of seclusion and mourning began.

During this time the family, especially those who had tended the body, were in a state of miasma or pollution, which precluded them from conducting any public business or visiting shrines and temples. The loss of their loved one had created a gap through which the underworld powers could reach and claim more members of the family, by madness, disease and other calamities. It also forced them to focus on their loss and dredge up all of the pain and grief it caused.

When this liminal period – ranging anywhere from weeks to months – was complete the family would perform purificatory rites and make more offerings to the deceased. For the next year or so, members of the family would be in a state of mourning, often wearing special clothing or amulets to reflect this, and performing a series of periodic rites, including feasting at the graveside and monthly libations.

Hero-cultus followed a similar model – and may in fact have grown out of these domestic rites, except that the dead belonged not just to a particular family but the entire community. There was also a difference in status and power. While the dead could, in special circumstances (especially if proper rites had not been carried out) make their continued presence known through dreams, healing or sending illness, an increase or decrease of luck, fertility, wealth, etc. as well as violent physical manifestations this was a prerequisite for Heroes, and very often what caused cultus to be established for them.

Heroes were not, as we often think of them today, paragons of virtue to be emulated but powerful forces requiring placation and appeasement through offerings, rites, dances, athletic and artistic competitions, etc. Once they had been recognized and fully integrated into the community through these activities they would act on behalf of the populace, bringing protection and numerous other blessings to those who honored them. Often the Hero’s sphere of influence extended only to the area surrounding the shrine where their mortal remains were kept and a number of ancient Greek poleis or city-states fought wars over possession of these relics. Some Heroes, however, most notably Herakles, the Dioskouroi and Achilles transcended this limitation and worked wonders on behalf of numerous farflung Greek communities.

Indeed these figures often straddled the blurry but resolute boundary between the Gods and the dead. Some attained full apotheosis or divinization while others received dual honors, as both a God and a Hero. Later, during the Hellenistic and Roman period, many rulers received divine honors and cultus, sometimes while alive but most often posthumously.

Additionally there were people who acted as mortal incarnations of the Gods. They were either born half-man and half-God (often claiming descent from a divine progenitor) or else they became possessed by a deity who simply never left until their demise, at which point the person was either completely absorbed by the God, became the recipient of hero-cultus or underwent apotheosis and was regarded as a divinity in their own right. Dionysos and Aphrodite are the ones we find most often involved in this, though there were also New Hermeses, Herakleses and Zeuses.

Another option was for the individual to become a daimon, a type of Spirit that inhabited the space between mortals and the Gods and included everything from ghosts to Nymphs to abstract and often undifferentiated powers to foreign and unknown divinities. These beings were often more powerful than humans but less powerful than the major Greek Gods themselves, and though long-lived lacked their distinguishing characteristic of immortality.
Daimones could either be beneficent or malevolent, but there was always something uncanny and dangerous about them.

Their shrines, when they had them, were places of oracular consultation, dream incubation and healing and they were particularly drawn to ecstatic, orgiastic rites and bloody sacrifices in which they received the entire victim as opposed to the Olympians who got the smoke of burnt bones and entrails while their worshipers consumed the meat in a communal feast.

A True Account

Or how I became a reluctant Bacchic Orphic Doomsday Prophet

A month or so after the mushroom trip in which I met the Toys of Dionysos I was visiting the Sekhmet Temple in Indian Springs Nevada with some Hellenic polytheist colleagues. After a lovely devotional rite to the Mothers of Hermes, Dionysos and Apollon I wandered off from the group, at first exploring the various shrines set up on the property, and then the high desert beyond the rickety fence. As I stood in the dwindling heat and watched a bloody sun descend I felt the presence of Dionysos stir within me, and everything got hazy and weird. I soon felt myself surrounded by a host of indistinct figures – wild and fierce and girt for battle. They were subordinate to and infused with the energy of my God; they seemed strangely familiar to me, though to my knowledge this was the first time that we were meeting. They were tense and scanning the horizon; I heard some of them whispering, “The storm is coming,” “You must dance through the fire or it will consume all,” “Prepare,” and similarly vague but ominous phrases I would later discover circulating through online polytheist communities, attributed to a variety of other Gods and Spirits. Before I could inquire further of either Dionysos or the Spirits around him one of my colleagues came up to me and the spell was broken, the presences departed.

My life got extremely complicated after that, and a couple years passed before I had another encounter with the Retinue of Dionysos. By this point I was immersed in Greco-Egyptian syncretism and it was the Ptolemies and other Neoi Dionysoi who stepped forward for me, teaching me about sacred kingship and how important it is to maintain the ancient contracts between the Gods, the Spirits, the Dead, the Land and humanity; how this was Ma’at and it kept Isfet at bay. Isfet is the force of uncreation, disharmony, dissolution and is the enemy of all the Gods and Goddesses – even the enmity of Horus and Seth are laid aside to combat this thing that seeks the negation of all that is, good and evil alike. Unfortunately this thing had many malign Spirits allied to it, causing all manner of afflictions in the divine and mortal realms. Although there were many ways to fight back against Isfet my Gods and Spirits had me focus on performing ceremonies to feed and purify the land and encourage community centered on devotion to the Gods and Spirits.

Eventually all of this land-working led to local-focus polytheism, and the Alexandrian trappings fell away, especially after I made the transition from Sacred King to Holy Fool. During this time Spider and Dionysos had me focus on Southern Italian folk Catholicism, the even earlier traditions of Magna Graecia, the Harlequinade, the Bacchic Martyrs, Orphism and other ingredients that would eventually lead to the creation of the Starry Bull tradition. The deeper my involvement with the various factions of Dionysos’ Retinue became the more I started to get inklings that Something Big was going on beneath the surface but it was piecemeal, scrambled, indistinct and contradictory. Like hearing random murmurs of a story, told by a roomful of drunken lunatics all out of order. So I did the sensible thing and started writing poetic treatments of my dreams, visions, intuitions and ritual experiences. It was only several volumes in and through hindsight that certain things became apparent – and by then I’d started getting external corroboration.

Around 2011-2012 I began corresponding with a number of polytheist colleagues who were getting pushed to network with others across the lines of tradition and denomination, working together to promote the veneration of our respective pantheons, or the pan-polytheist movement as it was dubbed. This consisted most visibly – though not exclusively – of prominent polytheist bloggers, each with his, her or eir own agendas, understandings, etc. Very little of note came of it, besides a bunch of keyboard crusades and big fish small pond syndromes – but behind the scenes some interesting conversations were being had, both directly and second or third-hand through a warped game of telephone.

Each of them will tell their own version of the story. Here is mine.

There are two key events to look for. One is the simultaneous eruption of Aetna and Vesuvius which sets off a chain of eruptions and earthquakes that pretty much levels Italy and wreaks havoc through large swaths of Europe. A couple weeks later there’s a massive coordinated terrorist attack – multiple suicide bombers taking out the subway lines in a major European city such as Paris or London. Not only does this claim many thousands of lives, and have all kinds of devastating effects on the country which is already reeling from the eruptions – but they and their allies retaliate with nuclear strikes on the terrorists’ country of origin. Iran uses the chaos and confusion to go after Israel and in the process Mecca gets wiped off the map, and then all hell breaks loose, with a major battle being fought in the Ukraine.

This is what happens in the mundane world; it’s nothing compared to what happens in the divine realm. The eruptions are caused by Typhon and Enchelados breaking free and then loosing all of their monstrous allies. The Olympian Gods under Zeus stand against the horde in a valiant final battle; they fail and Olympos is turned into flaming rubble with most of the major Gods left dead, and killed in such a way that they won’t be coming back.

At some point in the past Dionysos gains foreknowledge of this through the Matronae and attempts to warn Zeus, but he won’t listen believing Typhon and Enchelados and their forces will easily be put down a second time. Thing is, it’s not just them – they’re merely pawns used by an even greater and older enemy, the nameless, the void which seeks to unmake all creation. As with Isfet this isn’t just good vs evil, order vs chaos, the elder vs younger races, etc. – this is orders of magnitude beyond that, with existence itself on the line.

When Dionysos is rebuffed he sets out to gather his own army. Not only does he get Hermes and Herakles to sit out the Olympic battle and fight instead at his side, but he’s secretly been going around making deals with members of other pantheons, such as Loki and his monstrous kin. When Olympos falls their combined forces ride in and shit gets real crazy. With the aid of a poet whose words are able to bind and temporarily restrain Typhon (something foretold in the pages of Nonnos) Loki and Dionysos are able to take him (and the nameless who is residing within him) out, and with their leader vanquished the forces of Dionysos easily dispatch the rest of Typhon’s allies.

A new world order is established with Dionysos replacing Zeus on the throne. With most of the Olympians dead, he establishes a new divine court at Nysa comprised of the remnants of various pantheons who were similarly decimated in the conflagration. And he is reunited with Freyja, whom he has been separated from since the Aesir-Vanir war, back when Dionysos had a different name.

Dionysos is also traveling through time and neutralizing a number of Typhon’s major allies before they can grow into the terrible threats that they would have become. This may have unforeseen and unintended consequences that play out in weird ways in our reality. In which case, again, none of the above may actually transpire.

And that is what I have managed to piece together.

Per my multi-volume oeuvre it is also possible that this is taking place entirely within the head of Miriam Webb and to stop it all from leaking out and warping reality Dionysos kills her even though she was his beloved son (and later daughter.) In which case we will see none of this happen. I would very much like my poetic cycle to end up being a fanciful exploration of “What if …?” or the ravings of a lunatic rather than a prophetic account of the rising of the Black Sun. But only time will tell.

For now I encourage you to buy many, many copies to read and hand out to curious friends, so that everyone may judge for themselves.

Be sure you pay attention to the acrostics, codes and ciphers I wove into the text; that’s where all the really important shit is said.