engendered by lightning

De Martino and others tend to dismiss the Christian elements of Tarantism as thoughtless and artificial syncretism, a transparent attempt to avoid persecution from the authorities by slapping a random saint on the remnants of pagan customs. I’ve argued before that they knew exactly what they were doing in assigning patronage to Saint Paul (most notably here and here) but I didn’t quite realize how right they were until reading this piece called Lightning Scorpion Prophecy that argues Saul of Tarsos was duped and became an agent of Satan.

The author compares Jesus’ vision:

Then he said to them I saw the Adversary, Satan falling as lightning (astraphe) from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample upon serpents and scorpions and upon the whole of the hostile enemy’s power. And absolutely nothing will harm you. (Luke 10:18-19)

To Paul’s:

It happened. I was traveling and approaching Damascus, around noon, then suddenly nearby a burst of lightning (periastraphai) from heaven, an intense light all about me. (Acts 22:6)

And goes on to add:

Was this flash of lightning Paul experienced actually an encounter with Satan disguised as Jesus? It appears the similarities of their experiences are striking, and thus this is Jesus’ clue left behind to make us weigh whether Paul met Satan, not Jesus, on the road outside Damascus.

Which naturally reminds me of the prologue to Euripides’ Bakchai:

I’ve arrived here in the land of Thebes,
I, Dionysos, son of Zeus, born to him
from Semele, Kadmos’ daughter, delivered
by a fiery midwife—Zeus’ lightning flash.
Yes, I’ve changed my form from god to human,
appearing here at these streams of Dirke,
the waters of Ismaros. I see my mother’s tomb—
for she was wiped out by that lightning bolt.
It’s there, by the palace, with that rubble,
the remnants of her house, still smoldering
from Zeus’ living fire—Hera’s undying outrage
against my mother.

But it gets even more interesting than that:

Additionally, Jesus gave His disciples the express “authority to trample upon serpents and scorpions” in the context of confronting Satan’s power. While a serpent makes sense due to its spiritual associations, why did Jesus add “scorpions”? Would Jesus say this to help us later notice Paul was afflicted by a stinger-equivalent of a scorpion by Satan, by Paul’s own admission? Paul claimed that his pride was held in check by Satan because: “I was given a sharp pointed prod (skolops – such as a scorpion’s stinger) in the flesh, a messenger Satan in order that he would strike and torment me in order that I not become overly conceited.” (2 Corinthians 12:6-7) Paul asked the person He assumed was the Lord to take it away, but this Lord refused. “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:8-9.) Why is this an important passage to consider? How does it undermine Paul? Had Paul meant thorn, the precise word is “Skolos,” which means “thorn or prickle.” (Quattrocchi, id., at 2436.) Skolops, by contrast means “anything pointed.” Id., at 2436. Another word for “thorn” which Paul could have used, if thorn were truly intended, was the word akantha which is the term used by other New Testament writers when referring to thorns. And stauros meant a stake of wood, large or small. So we should not necessarily indulge that Paul meant a ‘thorn’ or anything woodlike. What also points at the view that Paul likely meant it was a ‘stinger,’ or ‘scorpion’s stinger’ was Paul says it was sent as a “Messenger of Satan” as a chastisement to keep Paul humble. For scorpion’s stingers were used for chastisement in Solomon’s time. In III Kings 3:11 (Septuagint chaptering), the advice given by young men to Solomon on how to deal with backsliders was to tell them “I will chastise you with scorpions” — in Greek, skorpios. And given Paul says this skolops is from Satan to chastise him, it appears Paul was alluding to that function of a scorpion’s sting. The book of Revelation also mentions scorpion’s stingers as a form of “tormenting” someone, which Paul said was Satan’s purpose in giving him the “SKOLOPS.” See Rev. 9:10 (locusts of the pit “had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months.”)

The taranta is the spiritual agent responsible for the symptoms of tarantismo, described by De Martino as:

… falling to the ground, a feeling of prostration, anguish, a state of psychomotor agitation with a beclouding of the sensory apparatus, difficulty in remaining standing, stomach ache, nausea and vomiting, various paraesthesia and muscular pains, a heightening of sexual desire.

I have tended to focus on the spider form of taranta (for obvious reasons) but as often as not they could appear as that other arachnid, the scorpion.

De Martino even quoted a bawdy song associated with Tarantism which invoked the good saint in his scorpion form:

Santu Paulu meu de le tarante
che pizzichi le caruse ‘nmezz’all’anche
Santu Paulu meu de li scorzoni
che pizzichi li carusi int’i balloni
Deu ti muzzicau la tarantella?
Sotto la pudìa de la vannella

[My Saint Paul of the tarante, who stings the girls between their hips
My Saint Paul of the scorzoni who stings the boys in their pants.
Where did the little taranta bite you?
Under the hem of my skirt.]

Which naturally makes one think of the great hunter Orion:

Orion–Hesiod says that he was the son of Euryale, the daughter of Minos, and of Poseidon, and that there was given him as a gift the power of walking upon the waves as though upon land. When he was come to Chios, he outraged Merope, the daughter of Oinopion, being drunken; but Oinopion when he learned of it was greatly vexed at the outrage and blinded him and cast him out of the country. Then he came to Lemnos as a beggar and there met Hephaistos who took pity on him and gave him Kedalion, his own servant, to guide him. So Orion took Kedalion upon his shoulders and used to carry him about while he pointed out the roads. Then he came to the east and appears to have met Helios (the Sun) and to have been healed, and so returned back again to Oinopion to punish him; but Oinopion was hidden away by his people underground. Being disappointed, then, in his search for the king, Orion went away to Crete and spent his time hunting in company with Artemis and Leto. It seems that he threatened to kill every beast there was on earth; whereupon, in her anger, Gaea sent up against him a Scorpion of very great size by which he was stung and so perished. After this Zeus, at the prayer of Artemis and Leto, put him among the stars, because of his manliness, and the Scorpion also as a memorial of him and of what had occurred. (Pseudo-Eratosthenes, Catasterismi Frag 32)

According to Parthenius Dionysos’ grand-daughter was Aëro rather than Merope:

Aëro, so the story runs, was the daughter of Oenopion and the nymph Helice. Orion, the son of Hyrieus, fell in love with her, and asked her father for her hand; for her sake he rendered the island where they lived habitable (it was formerly full of wild beasts), and he also gathered together much booty from the folk who lived there and brought it as a bridal-gift for her. Oenopion however constantly kept putting off the time of the wedding, for he hated the idea of having such a man as his daughter’s husband. Then Orion, maddened by strong drink, broke in the doors of the chamber where the girl was lying asleep, and as he was offering violence to her Oenopion attacked him and put out his eyes with a burning brand. (Erotica Pathemata 22)

It is also interesting to note that Orion’s trusted hound was placed among the stars too:

That star Seirios which comes on in the autumn and whose conspicuous brightness far outshines the stars that are numbered in the night’s darkening, the star they give the name of Orion’s Dog, which is brightest among the stars, and yet is wrought as a sign of evil and brings on the great fever for unfortunate mortals. (Homer, Iliad 22.26)

9 thoughts on “engendered by lightning

  1. Okay, sorry I didn’t see this article before the other, where I posted my question.
    I asked it because I had UPG with a big scorpion, wherein Dionysos appeared as one. (my story with Dionysos is VERY strange and your books where the first one who really could give me some good and helpful answers).
    I could not find this animal in the list of his sacred animals and thought it was just mindfuck or something personal from my psyche. In the last weeks I also had some dreams of a big black spider… I guess it was a bird spider but it also could be a tarantula. I didn’t know anything about this connections and never heared of it before I found your blog. But for me it really makes sense, because it verifies so much of my experiences.


    1. The scorpion is one of the rarer animals in the Bacchic menagerie and almost never makes it onto such lists. Aside from its connections with Strobilos (one of the Toys), and its prominence in Tarantism (particularly its Sardinian and Spanish iterations) there are a handful of allusions to scorpions in the Dionysian corpus. One of the most striking (sorry for the pun) is his syncretism with the Cilician God Sandas/Sandon who carried a double-axe like the labrys and had the scorpion as his heraldic animal. (He was also the legendary founder of Tarsos, which makes the Pauline conversion account even more interesting.) Of course this is a unique instance, as the Greek Gods Sandas/Sandon is most often equated with are Zeus or Herakles.

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      1. Does Dionysos have in any case a connection to a weapon that looks like a stiletto or something similar?


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