Dionysiac baroque

I finished listening to Dead Can Dance’s latest release Dionysus, and have been sitting with my thoughts for the better part of an hour now.

I liked it … I guess. I mean, really, how could I not? That thing could just be 32 minutes of Brendan Perry repeating his name and I’d be all, “Cool, man.”

In that regard it certainly didn’t disappoint. Some of it was very moving in fact. And I can even see myself using a couple songs in ritual. It’s just, well, the whole thing felt a little …  — Alexandrian, if you catch my drift. 


Imagine how this tapestry sounds:





Nine Songs for the Gallows God

“But some occasions for these names arose in his wanderings; and that matter is recorded in tales. Nor canst thou ever be called a wise man if thou shalt not be able to tell of those great events.” — Gylfaginning, XX

Black the forest,
black the evening sky overhead
and black the clouds that hung low,
promising a storm was near.
Once the traveler’s cloak had been black too,
finely spun and chased along the border
with marvelous designs in thread of gold
as befits a cloak worn by a high-born king.
But the road wearies and wears down;
filthy with dust, patched in many places,
frayed and color leeched to grey
– such was the cloak of the wanderer,
that strange, one-eyed man who came from the woods
amid the cries of a murder of crows
the night the city fell to the spears of the invaders
and its walls burned to smoky rubble.

The head in the well
whose water feeds the roots of the tree
from which the nine worlds grow
that bore the weight of a God making the ultimate sacrifice
for power and for wisdom
– oh the things that head has seen,
the mysteries it contains.
The head is a mask
that must be worn to speak words of true prophecy.

He rides out on a steed with eight legs
like a black spider weaving sinister plots,
like a coffin carried on four men’s backs,
like a hideous nightmare that has hold of you,
and will not let go.
Its hooves are claps of thunder,
rolling across the heavens.
Its panting the gusts of wind
that strike your cheek
and fills your bones with icy dread.
And if you hear the sound of the rider’s horn
calling the restless ghosts to the hunt
they say that you will never laugh again.

A voice in the darkness
swirling through the trees
like the smoke of a traveler’s fire
lit to keep the cold at bay.
Whispering weird words,
myths of a distant time and land
and birth amid fire and blood.
Eyes uplifted,
soul roaming abroad frenzied and drunken,
body trembling from the weight of revelation
– this is how real poetry is made,
the wine of the God and his raven’s bread.

Sharp as desire,
strong as a will tested in flame,
piercing hearts and rending flesh,
cruel and uncaring
– the only thing that brings peace
and keeps utter chaos from descending.
Would you expect the God of the spear to be any other way?

His face is harsh
from battles and scheming
and endless wandering of roads.
You don’t come back from death unmarked
and his body is a map of the ordeals that have made him mighty.
But when he smiles and lifts his cup in silent salute
she sees none of that.
He is handsome in the fading light,
and her bed is cold and oh so empty.
She wants the warmth this vagabond king offers
and he wants to give her everything she needs.
It is good to have allies in all the realms.

The runes are screams
born of blood and madness
and a need for knowledge at any price.
They are spirits hungry for use,
old and dark and wise.
They will show you what lies hidden to your sight
– but sacrifices must first be made
before the runes can be taken up.

The king of the forest,
hairy and savage,
feasts on golden honey,
the tribute of the lesser beasts,
and slumbers in the cave of death,
dreaming of the shining realms
during the cold, barren months of winter.
But he comes forth with the flowers of spring
to revel with the trooping hosts
amid songs of joy and gay feasting.

Be careful what you want,
choose your words carefully;
for the old man hears all
and even grants wishes from time to time.
Like King Harald who longed more than anything
for the glory of the battlefield,
for his name to echo down through the ages
like the clash of arms, the shriek of a broadsword
splintering a wooden shield.
Pleased with his offerings the fruit of the gallows came with his bear-shirt on
and tutored Harald in the ways of war,
made him a mighty fighter and leader of men.
He trampled many a foe into the ground,
sacked and plundered all his neighbors’ lands.
His name inspired fear in all who heard it
for he seemed invincible,
like one of the Gods of old and hardly a man any longer.
But no matter how strong we mortals become,
there are those stronger still
and they scheme in ways we will never fully comprehend.
Óski lifted Harald high
so that his fall would seem all the more splendid.
He had no clue when his time came
– he did not notice that the man who drove his chariot that fateful day
had but one eye.
Still, Harald received everything he had been promised,
and then some.
Men still remember his name to this day
on account of what the grey God did for him.


A frenzied storm is coming


Here is the table of contents for Frenzy, so that you may keep track of its progress. Note that the links go to very rough drafts of articles which may undergo substantial revision before seeing publication. I’ve included parenthetical synopses for the rest.

Is that you Dionysos?
[How I came to know Dionysos, and what that’s done to my life.]

Dionysos in the Northlands

Behind the Mask

Carried Away
[Anticipated criticism.]

The Rose of Mysterious Union

The Union of Mysterious Roses
[Freyja as Kirke.]

“Here We Are Again”
History of the Harlequinade: Part One
From the birth of tragedy to Orpheus’ feud with the Fairy King

“Gli Innamorati”
History of the Harlequinade: Part Two
From the burial mound to the circus ring

Lord of Flies, Vipers and Spiders
[Loki in the Mediterranean.]

Mask and man
[Hamlet and the missing pieces of Óðr.]

Wearing the faces of the Blessed Martyrs
[Constantine, Genesius, Denys, January, Martin, Tryphon Zarezan, Ivan Kupela, Rasputin and Charles Manson.]

Spinning Wheel
[Reflections of Freyja in fairy tales.]

Honey Thief’s Waggon
[A constellation of Starry Bear myths and mysteries.]

Limping through the wheat fields
[The Vanir and cults of Asiatic ecstasy.]

Walking in Smoke
[Black Sea Bacchic shamanism.]

On Black Sun Day
[Why it belongs to Óðr, not Saturn.]

By Kronos’ sickle and the cock of François
[How lovely the vineyards of Southern France are.]

Ring Composition
[Bacchic Utopianism.]

You’ll find his grace in the ritual.

Most of us today in the West operate under a fairly simplified conception of what constitutes Ho Anthropos, The Man. Man is a body and a mind with the mind subdivided into its conscious and unconscious halves. Many further postulate the existence of a spirit or soul that survives beyond the grave and is regarded as the true essence of a man. This nebulous organ of consciousness may be conceived of as independent of both mind and body or arising from the unconscious depths of mind.

The reductiveness of this model is strikingly apparent when you compare it to the ones that proliferate among most traditional polytheist cultures and indeed throughout much of Christian Europe until quite recently. Although I suspect it would prove fruitful to compare the various spiritual bodies and local and non-localized organs of intellect and power among the Greeks, Celts, Norse, Egyptians and other philosophical and religiomagical systems such as Qaballah and Buddhism, that is not my intent here.

What I intend to do instead is discuss why I believe that dance and music play a cathartic role in Dionysiac religion.

Ancient Dionysians held to the majority view that man consists of more than a mind, body and soul or spirit. In fact the impetus for this conception may have come from the Dionysian currents that swept through Greek religion with the God’s arrival from abroad — up to that point there is little said on the subject. But with the enraptured rupture of the personality brought about by the God’s unique form of worship characterized as it is by the experience of ekstasis (literally “stepping out of one’s self”) and enthousiasmos (“being filled with a divinity”) the Greeks began to think hard about what they were made up of and what was going on within them. This sort of speculation became so widespread that it ended up as a significant plot point in the epics of Homer and was the constant obsession of philosophers, particularly those who claimed descent from Pythagoras. Much attention was spent on sorting out where these parts were located and how they operated together and whether there was any material component to them.

With regard to the last question I tend to think that there is, with the understanding that “material” encompasses a far wider degree of density than we are capable of perceiving with our ordinary senses. Meaning that even things that we think of as purely insubstantial such as emotion and thought possess a physicality that enables them to act and be acted upon by other objects. Those familiar with the theory of optics and harmonics developed by the school of Demokritos will understand.

For the most part thoughts are fluid and constantly in motion, bouncing off of each other and merging with other thoughts into something new. But what happens when too many thoughts collect in the chamber of our mind and congeal into a viscous blob that clogs the pipes and impedes the passage of other thoughts? Or when the flow of thoughts become agitated and erratic, chaotic and impossible to calm? This is madness, and in both cases the cure lies in Dionysiac ritual, especially with its strong emphasis on music and dance and striking imagery.

The point of these things is to get us flowing properly again, harmoniously. The vibrations from the music effect particular agitations on our thoughts, rather like the influence the moon holds over the tides or the force of magnetism, so that one could conjure quite specific moods out of thin air through the simple arrangement of a handful of notes. Likewise specific configurations of movement can radically alter our mental state — imagine if I grabbed the child from your arms and started shaking it violently; undoubtedly you would feel an elevation of annoyance as a result — especially when that movement is aligned with rhythm and melody, as in the dance. Seriously, next time you’re feeling blue do the Twist. Five hours of that will have you grinning like Gwynplaine.

Our thoughts are influenced by what we see, often at a level far below rational awareness and beyond our cultural and personal associations. Dionysian religion with its penchant for theatricality manipulated this to great effect through its choice of color and objects laden with symbolism such as the egg and cup but also objects capable of triggering powerful unconscious responses such as the snake or mask or bloody victim handled in an unconventional manner. Thought was even put into the order of presentation so that one’s responses would build upon themselves and the individual could be lead through a series of experiences and understandings that resulted in epiphany and catharsis. This is what makes art such a powerful force in our lives and why true art and ritual are indistinguishable from each other.

And that’s why whenever I’m feeling angry or depressed or like nothing is quite synching up right I resort to acts of creativity and ritual. Doing so helps focus my mind on my Gods and spirits and that connection alone can help me get over the hump — but more than that I believe that there is efficacy in the rites themselves since I can feel their benefit even when I am unable to establish contact with my divinities. Even if I don’t feel immediately better after doing it, I often find that in the aftermath my mind becomes more fluid and I am able to let go of unpleasant emotions I had been obsessively clinging to.

Now obviously the primary reason for doing these rituals is not therapeutic but devotional, however if this stuff is left unattended it can get in the way of pure devotion so I consider putting my mental house in order to be part of the work. But I also strongly believe that Dionysos is Lusios, the Loosener of Cares who has come to soothe men’s suffering hearts and that it was he himself who taught us these sacred techniques, so it is only proper to use them in the way that he intended.

The great thing about all of this is that you don’t have to understand how or why it works in order to receive the benefits of this type of ritual. Everything you need to know to do this can be found on the side of an amphora or a description of Maenads and Satyrs from Greek literature.

What do you do?

Surround yourself with his imagery.
Speak from the heart.
Let the music move you.
Repetition is key.
Repetition is key.
Repetition is key.
Shake that shit loose!
Don’t hold back.
Go where it takes you.
Do what feels right, even if it doesn’t make sense. Especially then.
Praise him with all you have. If all you have is broken, filthy and empty — give that to him. If you are his, it belongs to him anyway. He will restore it and make it better.
Open yourself up to him.
And dance.
Discover him in the dance.

If you do this enough you’ll find the right way, what works and what does not.

You’ll find the harmony that your component parts naturally seek.

You’ll find his grace in the ritual.


and I know who you are.

The Lord has shown me what my soul must say on its ascent to heaven, and how it must answer each of the powers on high. I have recognized myself, it says, and gathered myself from every quarter, and have sown no children for the archon. But I have pulled up his roots, and gathered my scattered members, and I know who you are. For I, it saith, am of those on high. And so, they say, it is set free. (Fragment from the Gospel of Philip)