Who We Are is Revealed by Suffering

If you practice an Orphic-derived religion, or have done any study of the subject or ancient Hellenic religion generally, chances are you’ve encountered this fragment by Pindar preserved in Plato’s Meno 81b-c:

But for those from whom Persephone accepts requital for the ancient grief, in the ninth year she returns their souls to the upper sunlight; from them arise proud kings and men who are swift in strength and greatest in wisdom, and for the rest of time they are called sacred heroes by men. (fr. 133)

Most commentaries focus on the eschatology of the passage, the ποινή of Persephone, early concepts of the hero, and the like, but I just noticed something in the Greek, bolded for emphasis:

Φερσεφόνα ποινὰν παλαιοῦ πένθεος δέξεται, εἰς τὸν ὕπερθεν ἅλιον κείνων ἐνάτῳ ἔτεϊ ἀνδιδοῖ ψυχὰς πάλιν, ἐκ τᾶν βασιλῆες ἀγαυοὶ καὶ σθένει κραιπνοὶ σοφίᾳ τε μέγιστοι ἄνδρες αὔξοντ΄· ἐς δὲ τὸν λοιπὸν χρόνον ἥρωες ἁγνοὶ πρὸς ἀνθρώπων καλεῦνται.

That’s right, the “ancient grief” (παλαιοῦ πένθεος) of Persephone contains the name of Dionysos’ cousin! Which is significant, to my mind at least, since it’s far from the only word used for grief or suffering, especially in tragic and epic vocabulary. Euripides, for instance, uses πάσχειν and πάθος throughout the Bakchai, and some are even further afield. 

His Cup Runneth Over

I am recovering nicely after a follow-up surgery at an ungodly hour this morning. When the idiots performed the amputation they left a large knob of bone, despite the protestations of my podiatrist. And, as he predicted it’s been giving me trouble, so he went ahead and finished what they started. Thankfully it was a pretty standard in-n-out procedure and I’m home recovering — no hospice full of lunatics and demoniacs this time around, woo-hoo!

The hardest part of it all was keeping down a pretty serious panic attack brought on by stupid, repetitive questions during intake (like what kind of hot sauce I had with dinner the night before, which they asked four times) but thankfully I’ve got Dionysos, my early Buddhist training, and the support of my beautiful, strong and wise wife to draw upon so I managed to make it through without completely embarrassing myself. Let me tell you, folks, medically-induced PTSD fucking sucks. One moment you’re calm and perfectly in control and the next your body does all of this crazy shit without bothering to consult you. (I’d rather not scream at nurses while my heart’s beating like a tympanum and there’s so much adrenaline pumping through my system I can taste it, thank you very much. Even if they deserved it, Fucking White people and their inability to handle spice.) In addition to the capable hands of my podiatrist I have one of the most skilled and Gods blessed herbalists I’ve ever seen, so recovery should be a breeze.

My primary concern at this point is that the recovery process is going to impact my ability to complete the ἱερὸς νόμος by the noumenia of Prosopon. When I decided on that date for the relaunch the surgery was scheduled for July or late June if something opened up. I figured if I busted my ass I’d have everything put together by the noumenia, and a couple weeks of this new style of devotion under my belt before I had to make post-surgical accommodations. Then the opportunity presented itself, and I figured it made more sense to seize it than wait, especially with the trouble the foot’s been giving me. Well, I’m not going back on my pact with Dionysos — in the end all a man’s got is his word, especially when it comes to the Gods — so that just means I’ll have to bust ass even harder. Or work smarter and simply focus on the material I’ll need to start up this practice, finishing the rest as I’m able. And, despite the time crunch it is definitely better this way because I won’t be starting the practice, stopping, and picking it back up again. So there’s that. Ultimately I don’t really care — I just don’t want to disappoint Dionysos.

So I won’t. Tomorrow it’s back to the grindstone after spending the day relaxing and recuperating just like my doctor told me to. (Technically he prescribed bed rest for a week, but I think we all understood that was never going to happen.)

An important announcement regarding the Bakcheion

At this point I figure I can let y’all in on the secret I alluded to in the previous post. I have been running the Hudson Valley Bakcheion now for five years, which just doesn’t seem possible but my records confirm it. In that time my practice has seen ups and downs, depending on external circumstances and especially things like my health. Since I am generally feeling better I want to do more for Dionysos and the Gods and Spirits associated with him, and so I stripped it all back to the bone and codified a system of temple cultus for the Starry Bull tradition, which I then compiled in a document entitled The ἱερὸς νόμος of the Hudson Valley Bakcheion. The schedule of devotions prescribed therein will take effect on the next New Moon, and two of those are pertinent to y’all. On the Second of each Month I am going to make offerings to Dionysos Lusios and bring before him the prayers and petitions of the community. A couple days before the Noumenia I’ll put out an open call and anyone is welcome to send in whatever you’d like to say to or ask of the God, regardless of your affiliation with the temple and degree of dedication to Dionysos. And on the Thirteenth of each Month I will make offerings to Dionysos Eubouleos and do divination or oracular consultations for the community, depending on where we’re at in the Calendar. (Open call on the First.) Anyone who wishes to receive the sage counsel of the God may do so, regardless of your affiliation with the temple or ability to pay. (Though donations, which will go towards the upkeep and operation of the temple, will very much be appreciated.) Later on I will share the full schedule in case folks want to line their devotions up with those of the Hudson Valley Bakcheion. Although most of my community-building efforts are going to be directed at finding and cultivating folks locally going forward, I figure the more the merrier when it comes to βακχεία, right?! Io evohe! Io io Dionysos!

The sounds of animals and nature are equally well suited to supplicate the divine

Reading Jacco Dieleman’s guide to studying the Greco-Egyptian Zauberpapyri and came across the following, which amused me, both “birdglyphic” and the attempt to replicate the enchanting language of falcons. I wonder what prayers the chattering jay offers to Dionysos. 

This discourse mode is not limited to human languages, though. The sounds of animals and nature are equally well suited to supplicate the divine:

I call upon you, lord, in birdglyphic: ARAI; in hieroglyphic: LAÏLAM; in Hebrew: ANOCH BIATHIARBATH BERBIR ECHILATOUR BOUPHROUMTROM; in Egyptian: ALDABAEIM; in baboonic: ABRASAX; in falconic: CHI CHI CHI CHI CHI CHI CHI TIPH TIPH TIPH; in hieratic: MENEP HŌÏP HŌTH CHA CHA CHA CHA CHA CHA CHA. (PGM 81–86, cf. 149–60, 454–70 and 593–98)

Open thy mouth, speak whatsoever occurs to thee, and thou shalt prophesy.

This morning I was reading about Markos the Magician, a Gnostic Christian and Neo-Pythagorean who was loathed so much by Irenaeus of Lyons that he spent a significant chunk of his Adversus Haereses besmirching the man’s personal life and lampooning his elaborate, syncretic cosmotheology. In it Yahweh (equated with a personified Tetraktys, the Platonic Demiurge and likely Zeus or Hermes) is alone in the vast emptiness, contemplating his own mind, when he opens his mouth and speaks the letters of the Greek alphabet into existence. Not only were these the στοιχεία or elemental building-blocks of material existence, but each letter — going beyond the canonical 24 to include the archaic digamma (ϝ), qopa (ϙ), and sampi (ϡ) among others — not only had its own δυνάμεις (powers) and φρένες (intelligence) they also were/were overseen by a pantheon of Gods and Angels. All of which was pretty interesting (especially since he was an itinerant wonder-worker who likely traveled in the same circles as the Orphikoi) until it started getting into a bunch of math stuff and I zoned out. When I came to I was staring at a fascinating passage that reminded me of Parmenides, Empedokles, the Olbian Bone Tablets and the katabasis and encounter with the Sentries recounted in the Gold Leaves.

θέλω δέ σοι καὶ αὐτὴν ἐπιδεῖξαι τὴν Ἀλήθειαν. Κατήγαγον γὰρ αὐτὴν ἐκ τῶν ὕπερθεν δωμάτων, ἵν’ ἐσίδῃς αὐτὴν γυμνὴν, καὶ καταμάθοις τὸ κάλλος αὐτῆς· ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀκούσῃς αὐτῆς λαλούσης, καὶ θαυμάσῃς τὸ φρόνημα αὐτῆς. Ὅρα οὖν κεφαλὴν ἄνω, τὸ ἄλφα καὶ τὸ ω, τράχηλον δὲ β καὶ ψ, ὤμους ἅμα χερσὶ γ καὶ phi; χ, στήθη δ καὶ φ, διάφραγμα ε καὶ υ, νῶτον ζ καὶ τ, κοιλίαν η καὶ σ, μηροὺς θ καὶ ρ, γόνατα ι καὶ π, κνήμας κ καὶ ο, σφυρὰ λ καὶ ξ, πόδας μ καὶ ν. 

I also wish to show you Truth herself. I have brought her down from the dwellings on high that you might look on her naked and examine closely her beauty, and indeed that you may also hear her speak and marvel at her wisdom. See, then, alpha and omega are her head on high;  beta and psi are her neck; gamma and chi are her shoulders and hands; her breast is delta and epsilon and upsilon are her diaphragm; zeta and tau are her stomach; eta and sigma are her private parts; theta and rho are her thighs; iota and pi are her knees; kappa and omicron are her legs; lambda and xi are her ankles; mu and nu are her feet.

.My first thought was, “Oh, very cool. Δ = Διόνυσος is on Aletheia’s breast, above her heart.”

My second thought was, “Niiiiice. Σ = Σαννίων is on her private parts.”

Once I stopped doing my best Beavis and Butt-Head impression about 20 minutes later my third thought was that this could be some valuable spiritual tech. And then dismissed that because I’ve already worked out a soul parts system for the Starry Bull tradition. So I closed the website and went downstairs to make coffee and tea for our household, and take my morning regimen of pills, vitamins, herbal tinctures and the like, which were especially necessary since I was in excruciating pain thanks to the lovely spring showers I’d been watching all morning. As I shambled about the kitchen it started to dawn on me that I am, indeed, a fucking idiot

Markos was a Neo-Pythagorean — that’s how this tech was meant to be used!

While his friends were in good health Pythagoras always conversed with them; if they were sick, he nursed them; if they were afflicted in mind, he solaced them, some by incantations and magic charms, others by music. He had prepared songs for the diseases of the body, by singing which he cured the sick. He had also some that caused forgetfulness of sorrow, mitigation of anger, and destruction of lust. (Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras 33)

I’m going to experiment with it, tinker around a bit and maybe incorporate the Pythagorean Table of Opposites or astrology (12 pairs of letters = 12 signs of the Zodiac, etc) and if it works I’ll be adding it to the growing body of Starry Bull praxis.

And if you’d like to learn more about Markos the Magician, click here. The good stuff starts at chapter 13. Just keep in mind that Irenaeus is a total prick…

But there is another among these heretics, Marcus by name, who boasts himself as having improved upon his master. He is a perfect adept in magical impostures, and by this means drawing away a great number of men, and not a few women, he has induced them to join themselves to him, as to one who is possessed of the greatest knowledge and perfection, and who has received the highest power from the invisible and ineffable regions above. Thus it appears as if he really were the precursor of Antichrist. For, joining the buffooneries of Anaxilaus to the craftiness of the magi, as they are called, he is regarded by his senseless and cracked-brain followers as working miracles by these means.

2. Pretending to consecrate cups mixed with wine, and protracting to great length the word of invocation, he contrives to give them a purple and reddish colour, so that Charis, who is one of those that are superior to all things, should be thought to drop her own blood into that cup through means of his invocation, and that thus those who are present should be led to rejoice to taste of that cup, in order that, by so doing, the Charis, who is set forth by this magician, may also flow into them. Again, handing mixed cups to the women, he bids them consecrate these in his presence. When this has been done, he himself produces another cup of much larger size than that which the deluded woman has consecrated,) and pouting from the smaller one consecrated by the woman into that which has been brought forward by himself, he at the same time pronounces these words: “May that Chaffs who is before all things, and who transcends all knowledge and speech, fill thine inner man, and multiply in thee her own knowledge, by sowing the grain of mustard seed in thee as in good soil.” Repeating certain other like words, and thus goading on the wretched woman [to madness], he then appears a worker of wonders when the large cup is seen to have been filled out of the small one, so as even to overflow by what has been obtained from it. By accomplishing several other similar things, he has completely deceived many, and drawn them away after him.

3. It appears probable enough that this man possesses a demon as his familiar spirit, by means of whom he seems able to prophesy, and also enables as many as he counts worthy to be partakers of his Charis themselves to prophesy. He devotes himself especially to women, and those such as are well-bred, and elegantly attired, and of great wealth, whom he frequently seeks to draw after him, by addressing them in such seductive words as these: “I am eager to make thee a partaker of my Charis, since the Father of all doth continually behold thy angel before His face. Now the place of thy angel is among us: it behoves us to become one. Receive first from me and by me [the gift of] Chaffs. Adorn thyself as a bride who is expecting her bridegroom, that thou mayest be what I am, and I what thou art. Establish the germ of light in thy nuptial chamber. Receive from me a spouse, and become receptive of him, while thou art received by him. Behold Charis has descended upon thee; open thy mouth and prophesy.” On the woman replying,” I have never at any time prophesied, nor do I know how to prophesy;” then engaging, for the second time, in certain invocations, so as to astound his deluded victim, he says to her, “Open thy mouth, speak whatsoever occurs to thee, and thou shalt prophesy.”

Note the importance of the cup? Also, I suspect that Markos’ Χάρις is the Acquired Goddess

Drink up!

Happy νουμηνία everybody!

Unless things have significantly changed since my ostracism, most contemporary Hellenic polytheists observe some variation of the Attic calendar, meaning that for them Thargelion (Θαργηλιών) has just begun — but according to the system we use in the Bakcheion it’s the month of Kantharos (Κάνθαρος), the sacred cup of Dionysos. In fact the God is so strongly associated with this particular style of drinking vessel — famed for its elongated handles — that it’s often used to identify him on vases, frescoes, sculptures and the like when names or other distinguishing characteristics are absent.

In myth the cup was said to have been created by Hephaistos in gratitude for the role Dionysos played in his reconciliation with Hera and readmittance to Olympos (not to be confused with the urn Hephaistos also made Dionysos, which was then gifted to the Goddess Beneath the Sea Thetis for the kind assistance she gave during his fight with Lykourgos, which unfortunately was destined to hold the bones and ashes of her beloved son Achilles and not his care-banishing φάρμακον.) Bearing Dionysos’s blessing the cup was said to be impossible to drain, even by as thirsty a hero as Herakles. In a related myth Herakles borrowed the cup and used it to sail across the ocean.

Archaic poets such as Archilochos and Pindar, by metaphor and metonymy, referred to the kantharos as the “shield of Dionysos” and shields as the “kantharos of Ares,” while comic poets played up the fact that in Greek kantharos can also refer to a beetle, specifically the dung-beetle which was the form that the Egyptian God Khepri (“Becoming” or “Manifestation,” like the Orphic Phanês Protogonos) took when he rolled the aged solar deity Rē up the primordial mountain so that he could be reborn at dawn. (Which makes an interesting parallel with the Herakles myth, since I believe that he was ferrying Helios across the ocean in the borrowed kantharos.)

Orphic, Pythagorean and Platonic authors gave mystic, metaphysical and political significance to the cup and mixing-bowl (or krater) of Dionysos, which is too weird and tangential to get into here, though I was mulling over some of it this morning as I greeted Eos and watched the lovely ῥοδοδάκτυλος θεά drive the darkness back through the dense trees outside the window above my writing desk.

I also contemplated the Year Divination I did during our Foundation Day celebration and specifically what Dionysos said the month of Kantharos would hold in store for us. If you recall, he compared it to Ρ (Rho) the letter overseen by the magnificent mother Goddess Rheia who was one of the τροφοί (“nurses”) of Dionysos, and according to Philodemos and Euphorion either put the pieces of bibulous baby Bakchos back together after the Titans tore him apart, or brought them to Delphi where they were stored beneath the sacred tripod of Apollon Pythios. Plato in the Kratylos (402b) derives her name from ῥέω (“flow, flux, stream”) and Orphic and Homeric speculation about the liquid, oceanic element being the origin and outflow of all things, from the Gods on down. He also connects it to Herakleitos’ famous maxim, though later in the dialogue (509a) instead of the normal πάντα ῥεῖ (“everything flows”) Plato gives it as πάντα χορεί (“everything dances”) which he clearly got from listening to Jim Morrison. (You know how he loved that New Music.)

According to the Starry Bull Alphabet Oracle, the letter Ρ signifies:

Rabasso (ῤᾰβάσσω) to make a noise by dancing or beating time with the feet.
Radis (ῤάδις) cyclical, whirling, rotation.
Riza (ῤίζα) root, element, outflow.
Rimma (ῤιμμα) throw, cast, swing.
Roomai (ῤώομαι) to move with speed or violence, to rush on, forceful.

That should sure make for an interesting month, especially when that month is inundated with the ever-flowing wine from Dionysos’ kantharos.

The early worm gets eaten by the bird

So … what project am I working on?

While I’m not ready to talk about it just yet, I can say that it will affect the future of the Bakcheion and the Starry Bull tradition more generally. Gods willing, I should be ready to announce and begin implementing these changes by the Noumenia of Prosopon (June 19th, by the common reckoning.) I would have preferred that it be the Noumenia of Kantharos, but since that’s just two days away I think that a rather unrealistic expectation — which is probably for the best, as this extra month will give me time to prepare, practice and pick up any remaining supplies I’ll require for this. Plus there is a certain appropriateness to doing this during the Month of Masks, I must say.

And I must also say, though it pains me to admit it … sometimes grey hair does bring wisdom; younger me would have said, “Fuck it,” and spent the next 48 hours cramming to get everything done just to meet that arbitrary deadline, without bothering to sleep, eat, or take care of other necessities; and then I’d probably crash and snore my way through the big day. Though I may be taking my time, that means I’m going to do this right and it’s just too important not to. Both Dionysos, and you guys deserve no less than my absolute best. Ἀρετή, bitches.

It’s hard not to spill though. This is gonna be so much fun!

Here an αἰδοῖον, there an αἰδοῖον

Since I discovered the most recent Sannion I’ve encountered the word αἰδοῖον somewhere between five and seven times. It literally means “the shameful part” but came to be the common term for genitalia, and the male member in particular — though interestingly it informed the development of Latin pudendum which today is mostly used for female genitalia. It also influenced Old English scamlim, which has to be one of my favorite names for the penis: “shame-limb.”

Now, in fairness two of those instances were the result of reading Marco Antonio Santamaría’s A Phallus Hard to Swallow (about dynastic succession in the Orphic Theogony discussed in the Derveni Papyrus) and The Power of the Phallus in Greek Divination by Salvatore Costanza (which definitely delivers on its evocative title) so it’s only to be expected – but that doesn’t really explain the other instances, especially a couple of them where I was researching subjects completely (or at least mostly) unrelated to the Dionysian and ithyphallicism. I can’t say it’s been an uninteresting intellectual detour, but I’m a μάντις so I tend to pay attention to patterns such as this. (I’d share links but I’m curious what comes up when y’all google “phallus,” “hard” and “swallow.” For science.)

Well, I now know a whole lot more about Greek and Italian penises (a subject I was already intimately familiar with) so that’s good, but I still haven’t found the appropriate term for a divination manual, which is what prompted this morning’s plunge into that particular rabbit’s hole. The closest I’ve come is βίβλους τὰς περὶ τῆς μαντικῆς from Isokrates’ Aiginetikos 5-6, which I can always shorten to περὶ τῆς μαντικῆς or περὶ μαντικόν, though I’m not sure this hits the right note for the project I’m working on. But have no fear, for I am on the hunt. In the meantime, here’s that passage:

Thrasyllos, the father of the testator, had inherited nothing from his parents; but having become the guest-friend of Polemaenetos, the soothsayer, he became so intimate with him that Polemaenetos at his death left to him his books on divination and gave him a portion of the property which is now in question. Thrasyllos, with these books as his capital, practiced the art of divination. He became an itinerant soothsayer, lived in many cities, and was intimate with several women.

nōmen est ōmen

I just came across another Sannion, which is usually a momentous occasion, foreshadowing some new peripeteia in my spiritual life. I don’t think that’s what this one is gonna be, but it was still cool.

F 83 Stele of Sannion
NM 2567.
Found at Liopesi, Attica.
Dimensions: H 0.70, W 0.295.
Date: 375-350 BC.
Inscription: Σαννίων (IG II2 12582).
Relief: The stele is crowned by a rounded finial. Sannion, a boy, wears a himation over his left shoulder and arm. He holds a bird in right hand and is also accompanied by a small dog.
Bibliography: Fragiadakis 1986: no.57; CAT 0.883.

At the centre of it all, at the centre of it all … Your eyes, your eyes

Anthi Chrysanthou, Defining Orphism: the Beliefs, the Teletae and the Writings
In a pottery fragment from an Attic red-figure Kalpis in Malibu (c.480 B.C.) a sun-struck satyr is represented looking at the sky and hiding his face from the sunlight, while next to him there is the inscription ΔΥΕΛΙΟ (δυ΄ἥλιο), which means two suns. This also brings to mind the double vision of Pentheus in Euripides’ Bacchae when under frenzy he says: ‘I see two suns’ to which Dionysos replies ‘Now, you see what you should’. Typically, it would be Apollo who would be identified with the sun but we often see Dionysos and Apollo to be perceived as one, as was also discussed earlier in this chapter in relation to the Delphic rites. Aeschylus refers to Apollo as: ὁ κισσεὺς Ἀπόλλων, ὁ βακχεύς, ὁ μάντις (‘Apollo, the ivy-crowned, the reveller, the seer’) and Euripides says: δέσποτα φιλόδαφνε Βάκχε, παιὰν Ἄπολλον εὔλυρε (‘Lord Bacchus who loves the laurel, Paean Apollo skilled with the lyre…’) It might be, thus, that the two suns that were related to Dionysiac beliefs and mysteries were a nocturnal ‘sun’ and the actual sun. A deity such as Apollo represented through an Orphic heliadic deity such as Protogonos/Phanes could personify the actual sun (creative light/present life) and Dionysos/Zagreus could represent the eschatological nocturnal ‘sun’ (death/afterlife). […] If we were right earlier in our astronomical interpretation, this nocturnal sun represented by the mystic light could in reality be the Auriga star, the point of contact between the Charioteer constellation and the Taurus constellation. This would explain why the ‘good ones’ according to Pindar enjoy the sun during the night, too, in the afterlife. A katabatic mystery, then, where the initiates would follow the mystic light to ascend into the light and the meadows from the darkness might have represented the journey of the soul from the underworld on a ‘chariot’ – much like the one mentioned by Plato – to become a star in the sky and dwell with the gods at the blessed meadows, where the Taurus constellation is situated in the Milky Way.

Leads you here, despite your destination

Anthi Chrysanthou, Defining Orphism: the Beliefs, the Teletae and the Writings

If we accept that gala refers to the Milky Way, I suggest that the bull, the ram and the kid could refer to constellations. The ἔριφος, ταῦρος and κριὸς according to ancient sources would correspond to the constellations of Auriga (referred to as Ἔριφοι in ancient sources), Taurus (bull) and Aries (ram) respectively. These three constellations are next to each other and located on the Milky Way.

The constellation Taurus is related to Zeus but also to Dionysos since as already said the bull was Dionysos’ persona. Diodorus Siculus quotes some relevant verses: ‘One of them, Eumolpus, in his Bacchic Hymn speaks of ‘Our Dionysus, shining like a star, with fiery eye in every ray’ (ἀστροφαῆ Διόνυσον ἐν ἀκτίνεσσι πυρωπόν), while Orpheus says: ‘And this is why men call him Shining One and Dionysus’ (τούνεκά μιν καλέουσι Φάνητά τε καὶ Διόνυσον)’. We can see, thus, an association of the Orphic Dionysos-Phanes with the stars. In Sophocles’ Antigone the chorus of Theban elders addresses Dionysos, who is identified with the Eleusinian Iacchos:

O leader of the chorus of the stars with the fiery breath, overseer of the nocturnal chants, child begotten of Zeus, come to light, my king, with your attendants the Thyiades, who in night-long frenzy dance for Iacchus the giver!

Also, in Aristophanes’ Frogs the chorus says: Ἴακχ᾽ ὦ Ἴακχε, νυκτέρου τελετῆς φωσφόρος ἀστήρ φλογὶ φέγγεται δὲ λειμών (‘Iacchos, Oh Iacchos, the light-bringing star of our nocturnal rite. Now the meadow brightly burns’).

These passages give a clear identification of Dionysos-Iackhos as a star leading a chorus of stars. The chorus refers to the Thyiades who were the ones performing rites at Delphi to bring to life Dionysos. Their rite must have been important since the west pediment of the classical temple of Apollo at Delphi depicted Dionysos and the Thyiades, while the east pediment depicted Apollo’s arrival with Leto, Artemis and the Muses. The rites of the Thyiades took place in November and February and the Taurus constellation is most visible in November. Perhaps the resurrection of Dionysos was associated with the specific location of the constellation Taurus in the sky, which also marked the beginning of the new cycle of the grape season which ended in October with the harvest of the grapes. Taurus was formed from the Pleiades and the Hyades. Aratus (3rd B.C.) refers to the constellations and other celestial bodies in his Phenomena. He notes that the Pleiades were used for marking agricultural and seasonal cycles:

Small and dim are they all alike, but widely famed they wheel in heaven at morn and eventide, by the will of Zeus, who bade them tell of the beginning of summer and winter and of the coming of the ploughingtime.

We can see, thus, that the constellation of Taurus was associated with motifs of death and rebirth. It would not be surprising, then, if the owners of the gold tablets connected Taurus with eschatological beliefs of immortality and its location in the Milky Way with the Isles of the Blessed where they could dwell with the gods for all eternity. By uttering the makarismos of falling into milk as a bull, the initiates proclaimed their ultimate union with Dionysos and their new immortal state in the stars where Dionysos was also forever fixed as the constellation of Taurus and the leader of a chorus of stars (souls?), as the Theban elders in Antigone proclaim.

But what about the eriphos falling into milk? According to Aratus, the Auriga (Ἔριφοι) constellation is associated with the Charioteer and one of the kids he holds are identified with Amaltheia who suckled young Zeus. He notes:

At the feet of the Charioteer seek for the crouching horned Bull [Taurus]. […] Often spoken is their name and famous are the Hyades. Broadcast are they on the forehead of the Bull. One star occupies the tip of his left horn and the right foot of the Charioteer, who is close by. Together they are carried in their course…

An epigram from Miletus which includes ideas found in the gold tables and is dated to the 1st century A.D. locates the Isles of the Blessed at the exact same place that I have suggested:

You have not drunk the water from Lethe, Hermaios, and neither
Tartarus nor the abode of hateful Persephone is hidden to you. But
Hermes, of the beautiful ankles, led you up to Olympus and he saved
you from the painful life of human beings. At the age of eight, you have
seen the aether and now you sparkle among the stars, beside the horn,
in the constellation of the Goat, and next to the elbow of the
Charioteer. You shine now to protect the strong boys in the wrestling
school and thus the blessed show you their favour.

Hermaios’ blissful afterlife is dependent on the fact that he did not drink from the water of Lethe, just as in the gold tablets. Another similar idea is that human life is perceived as painful. The divine celestial substance is aether and Hermaios now sparkles among the stars located between the constellation of the Goat and the Charioteer. Even though this epigram comes from an area where no gold tablets have been found, it still lends support to my suggestion of locating the Isles of the Blessed in the Milky Way near the constellations of Eriphos and the Bull. 

Law & Order!

Dariusz Karłowicz, On the necessity of Dionysus: the return of Hephaestus as a tale of the God that alone can solve unresolvable conflicts and restore an inconsistent whole
Cosmic order, political order and the order of the home cannot be in anyway divided up.

Protect your home and community!

Richard Seaford, The politics of Euripides’ Bacchae and the preconception of irresolvable contradiction
The ethics of the initiated Dionysiac chorus are of community, lawfulness, peace, order and moderation, whereas the ethics of the turannos Pentheus are of lawless excess and violent individualism.

Form well-armed militias!

Fritz Fraf, Bacchic mysteries for the Oxford Classical Dictionary
During the Imperial epoch, several associations called themselves speîra. This term originated as the name of a tactical unit of the Ptolemaic army and later came to be the Greek term for the cohors of the Roman army; in a Dionysiac context, it occurs especially in Macedonia and the Black Sea region, but also in Rome. The occasional complex title of a “cohors of the Asians” (speîra Asianôn, 2nd century CE) or the “cohors of the Trajaniens” (Traianēsiôn, 2nd century CE) resonates with the way cohorts of the contemporary army were named and was chosen either because these associations brought together veterans or because the structure of the army offered itself as an easy template for such associations. The strict hierarchy of the larger associations of the Imperial age is visible in their quasi-military organization with archimústai and archibákchoi as their leaders (the same military template is manifest in the self-designation of some groups as speirai, spirae, the tactical unit of the Ptolemaic army). Boukólos can mark another, higher degree than the simple bákchos, exploiting the image of oversight and leadership implied in the term.

Fight Giants!

Cornelia Isler-Kerényi, Dionysos, the polis, and power

Until the age of Pericles, Dionysos is normally portrayed as a bearded man, dressed in a long chiton and himation. His movements are measured and dignified.This is his countenance in the numerous images in which he is accompanied by a thiasos of Satyrs and dancing women, but also in the mythological representations in which he always appears as an intermediary and defender of the cosmic order, that is to say, of the authority of Zeus.

Another image of Dionysos emerged in 560 BCE and continued to be current until the Hellenistic period: that of the Gigantomachos, the God who combats the Giants. The Giants had revolted against the Olympians with the aim of ousting them from power. For the Greeks, the Gigantomachy was a prefiguration and model of any conflict against barbarian enemies, while the victory of the Olympians foreshadowed the victory of civilisation over those who would try to undermine it. The Gigantomachy was therefore a frequent subject of official art, as seen for example in the sculptural decoration of Greek temples.

A revealing example is the decoration of the Siphnian Treasury at the Sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi erected just before 525 BCE. It had two decorative pediments and a frieze running around the outer walls. The frieze at the top of the north face, the first to come into a visitor’s view, is the best preserved. It shows the Gigantomachy with a host of figures. Dionysos, whose name is written on the plinth at the bottom of the figuration, is attacking an enemy. He is wearing a short chiton, leaving his legs free, while a panther skin on his shoulders indicates that he is a hunter. It is important to note here that his team of lions is led by Themis (who is also labelled), the deity personifying cosmic order.

Rise Up!

Jean-Marie Pailler, Dionysos against Rome? The Bacchanalian affair: a matter of power(s) 
The common religious aspects of three slave revolts
At intervals of approximately 30 years, between the Gracchi and Pompey, three slave revolts erupted in Sicily and Southern Italy. In spite of their differences, they present a striking common feature: the religious inspiration followed and exhibited by their leaders. In 132,the slaves chose Eunus as their chief. After his first successes as their king, under the Hellenistic royal name of Antiochus, because of his qualities of magos and teratourgos (‘a magician and a maker of miracles’) ‘he pretended to foretell future events, revealed to him (as he said) by the gods in his dreams,’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 35.2.5)

The slaves passed a mutual pact with an exchange of oaths, at night, on the corpses of sacrificed victims. In another version, the end of the revolt came from sacrilegious acts committed by the slaves: the Roman senate ordered that their shrines be closed, accessible only to members of a city whose traditional duty involved a sacrifice to be accomplished inside. On this basis, the similarities with important aspects of the Bacchanalian story are obvious.The revolt of 102 in Campania and Sicily is also known through the account by Diodorus (36.11.7), who is probably still following Posidonius at this point. The main protagonist of the episode is Salvius, who demonstrates a characteristically polyvalent capacity as a political leader enthroned as a king by his troops under the Oriental name of Tryphon: he was an empeiros (‘expert’) in both fields of divination, hieroskopeia (‘deducing the future from the entrails of victims’) and astromantikes, finally a devotee sacrificing publicly to the twin Sicilian heroes, the Palikoi, themselves a guarantee for the oaths. Salvius is also said to have played flute in feminine orgiastic feasts.
Spartacus, the Thracian instigator and head of the slave revolt which began at Capua in 73 and had a wife ‘of the same tribe’. In his Life of Crassus (8.4), Plutarch writes:
It is said that when [Spartacus] was first brought to Rome to be sold, serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue.

We have no other indications about Spartacus’ behaviour in this field, but what we learn here is sufficient to put the slave leader in the same category as Eunus and Salvius, with an important Dionysiac and feminine accentuation: Spartacus’ wife reminds us more specifically of the Bacchanals, due to her double empeiria in prophecy and in frenzy. To sum up, the slave wars bear witness to the importance of the religious element in the launching of such revolts. Some of their features are reminiscent of those of the Bacchanals: an experience of frenzy, the role of women, the taking of collective oaths and so on.

Happy Asian Heritage month

The Hudson Valley Bakcheion wishes y’all a happy Asian Heritage month!

Dionysos loves Asians.

In the Bakchai by Euripides the titular chorus have followed the vagabond God from the Asian steppe into Hellas, and they are held up as models of piety, wisdom and healthy expressions of ekstasis and enthousiasmos in contrast to the Theban Women who are turned into Mainades — or more accurately Dysmaniai (those who suffer harmful madness) as punishment for their impiety and the disrespect they showed not only towards Dionysos but to his mother.

Asians also played important roles in the cult of Dionysos, as these two inscriptions should suffice to show.

At Nikopolis on the Istros we find a Bakcheion of the Asians, AGRW 78:

Pautalos son of Cornutus, priest of the Bakcheion of the Asians, set up this column from his own resources.

Παυταλος Κορνούτου, ἱερεὺς Βακχίου Ἀσιανῶν, τὸν κίοναν ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων ἀνέστησεν.

And here is a dedication from a company (speira) of Asians from Montana in the former Roman province of Moesia, IGBulg II 480:

The sweet offspring of Zeus and Semele, Lenaios, bestower of lavish gifts. The priest Saturninus with his dear wife Magne set up this most excellent gift of his own production for the company of Asians during the time of his priesthood.

τὸν Ζηνὸς Σεμέλης τε γλυκὺν γ̣[ό]νον ἀγλαόδωρον Λήναιον τέχνης ἰδίης ἱερεὺς Σατορνεῖνος σὺν φιλίῃ ἀλόχῳ Μά̣γνῃ δῶρον πανάριστον Ἀσιανῶν σπείρῃ ἱερατεύοντες ἔθηκαν.

Oops. So that’s not the kind of Asian included in this celebration of cultural heritage? Well, have no fear — Dionysos loves those Asians too! 

And they loved him in return. 

Although Euripides places Dionysos on the eastern periphery of the Hellenic world:

I have left the rich lands of the Lydians and Phrygians, the sunny plains of the Persians, and the walls of Bactria, passing over the harsh land of the Medes, and fertile Arabia, and all of Asia which lies along the coast of the sea, its beautifully-towered cities replete with a mixture of Hellenes and Barbarians. (14-19)

After the conquests of Alexander the Great the God was carried to lands the playwright could scarcely have dreamed of — such as Ταπροβανᾶ (Sri Lanka) and Σηρικά (China), where Greeks even established a kingdom called Dàyuān (from 大宛 meaning “great Ionians”) which was famed for two things: its horses, which were said to be swift as the wind, and its excellent wines and grapevines by which viticulture was introduced into China. And here are a couple links if you would like to read a little something on Dàyuān and ancient Sino-Hellenic relations more broadly. 

And if you’d like to learn a lot more about the subject, I cannot recommend highly enough P. L. W. Arts’ Violets Between Cherry Blossoms: The Diffusion of Classical Motifs to the East which in discussing how Greco-Roman art and religion influenced and was absorbed and transformed by the Japanese, also touches on similar processes within Indian, Chinese, Korean and other Asian populations. Best of all, it has an entire chapter devoted to Dionysian motifs!

I particularly found this bit about Buddhism being one of the vectors of transmission interesting since I got my start in Chan or Zen Buddhism, and many of the teachings and techniques I picked up there have been directly applicable to later Bacchic stuff I’ve done.

The same can be said about many themes in the Buddhist art of Gandhāra of that period. One of the earliest examples, perhaps, is the stair riser with a Dionysian scene of musicians and dancers of about the 1st century A.D. Drinking wine, dancing and music making were apparently popular subjects for the embellishment of early Buddhist religious centres. There seems to be a correlation between altered states of consciousness associated with the loss of control brought on by wine and dance and the concept of heaven in which one could be reborn. It is therefore not impossible that the later Buddhist concept of rebirth in a paradise or in a heaven has its roots in pre-Buddhist Dionysian traditions. […] Buddhism, therefore, has most probably been a carrier of these Dionysian motifs to China in this period. A large silver plate has been found in the Gansu province, China that shows Dionysos in a central medallion surrounded by a grapevine pattern. It is ascribed to the 3rd or 4th century A.D. 

As I said, Dionysos loves Asians.

Bacchic asceticism is a thing

Marinus of Samaria, The Life of Proclus 18-19
Proclus made use of the noble purificatory practices which woo us from evil, that is lustrations and all of the other processes of purification whether Orphic or Chaldean, such as dipping himself into the sea without hesitation every month, and sometimes even twice or thrice a month. He practiced this discipline, rude as it was, not only in his prime, but even also when he approached his life’s decline; and so he observed, without ever failing, these austere habits of which he had, so to speak, made himself a law … As to the necessary pleasures of food and drink, he made use of them with sobriety, for to him they were no more than a solace from his fatigues. He especially preached abstinence from animal food, but if a special ceremony compelled him to make use of it, he only tasted it, out of consideration and respect. Every month he sanctified himself according to the rites devoted to the Mother of the Gods by the Romans, and before them by the Phrygians; he observed the holy days observed among the Egyptians even more strictly than did they themselves; and especially he fasted on certain days, quite openly. During the first day of the lunar month he remained without food, without even having eaten the night before; and he likewise celebrated the New Moon in great solemnity, and with much sanctity. He regularly observed the great festivals of all peoples, so to speak, and the religious ceremonies peculiar to each people or country. Nor did he, like so many others, make this the pretext of a distraction, or of a debauch of food, but on the contrary they were occasions of prayer meetings that lasted all night, without sleep, with songs, hymns and similar devotions. Of this we see the proof in the composition of his hymns, which contain homage and praises not only of the Gods adored among the Greeks, but where you also see worship of the God Marnas of Gaza, Asklepios Leontukhos of Askalon, Thyandrites who is much worshipped among the Arabs, the Isis who has a temple at Philae, and indeed all other divinities. It was a phrase he much used, and that was very familiar to him, that a philosopher should watch over the salvation of not only a city, nor over the national customs of a few people, but that he should be the hierophant of the whole world in common. Such were the holy and purificatory exercises he practiced, in his austere manner of life.

Suidas s.v. Hêraïskos
Hence his life also reached such a point that his soul always resided in hidden sanctuaries as he practiced not only his native rites in Egypt but also those of other nations, wherever there was something left of these. Heraiskos became a Bakchos, as a dream designated him and he traveled widely, receiving many initiations. Heraiskos actually had a natural talent for distinguishing between religious statues that were animated and those that were not. For as soon as he looked at one his heart was struck by a sensation of the divine and he gave a start in his body and his soul, as though seized by the God. If he was not moved in such a fashion then the statue was soulless and had no share of divine inspiration. In this way he distinguished the secret statue of Aion which the Alexandrians worshiped as being possessed by the God, who was both Osiris and Adonis at the same time according to some mystical union. There was also something in Heraiskos’ nature that rejected defilements of nature. For instance, if he heard any unclean woman speaking, no matter where or how, he immediately got a headache, and this was taken as a sign that she was menstruating.

Suidas s.v. Sarapio
For Isidore said that never in fact could he persuade him to meet another man, especially because when he grew old he no longer came out frequently from his own house; he lived alone in a truly small dwelling, having embraced the solitary life, employing some of the neighbors only for the most necessary things. He said that Sarapio was exceptionally prayerful, and visited the holy places in the dress of an ordinary man, where the rule of the feast led him. For the most part he lived all day in his house, not the life of a man, but to speak simply, the life of a God, continually uttering prayers and miracle-stories to himself or to the divinity, or rather meditating on them in silence. Being a seeker of truth and by nature contemplative, he did not deign to spend time on the more technical aspects of philosophy, but absorbed himself in the more profound and inspired thoughts. For this reason Orpheus was almost the only book he possessed and read, in each of the questions which came to him always asking Isidore, who had achieved the summit of understanding in theology. He recognized Isidore alone as an intimate friend and received him in his house. And Isidore seemed to observe in him the Kronian life of mythology. For that man continued doing and saying nothing else but recollecting himself and raising himself, as far as he could, towards the inward and indivisible life. He despised money so much that he possessed nothing whatever but only two or three books (among these was the poetry of Orpheus); and he despised the pleasures of the body so much that straightway from the beginning he offered to the body only what is necessary and alone brings benefit, but of sexual activity he was pure throughout his life. And he was so little concerned about honor from men that not even his name was known in the city. He would not have been known subsequently, if some one of the Gods had not wished to make him an example for mankind of the Kronian life. He used Isidore as an heir, having no heir from his family, nor supposing that anyone else was worthy of his property, I mean the two or three books.