Public ritual outline for Orgia

The following ritual script was put together by the Bakcheion team (myself, Dver, Aridela, Emily, Rebecca, Erin and Paul) for the inaugural Many Gods West conference in 2015. Although a few members of the Starry Bull tradition had gotten together the previous year at the Polytheist Leadership Conference this was the first time we’d gathered in any kind of significant numbers. Although we didn’t plan it to be an Orgia observance a lot of the festival’s themes found their way into the ritual. Since a big part of this festival is about lineage and handing down traditions it seemed appropriate to include this, considering the historical importance of what the Bakcheion did that weekend. This ritual was written with a conference room and 80-150 participants in mind. (We had no idea how many people to expect until the line went out the hallway and into the lobby; since we were scheduled opposite a concert and lecture from a Big Name Pagan at one point we feared it would just be us and a couple random folks wandering in midway through. Our group was pleasantly surprised.) Feel free to scale it back to your group’s needs.

Dramatis personae

Bakche A “first maenad”
Bakche B “second maenad”  
Bakche G “third maenad”  
Phylax “guardian”
Aleipte “anointer”
Kathartes “purifier”
Therapon “assistant”
Faun “forest speaker”
Kanephore “basket-bearer”
Pharmakos “scapegoat”
Tympanista/os “lead drummer”

Preparation

40-30 minutes before start time the Phylax takes up position out front to greet guests, answer any questions they might have, distribute masks and begin going over the chant and dance steps with them, while the remainder of the team sets up the Bacchic Grotto within.

The Phylax will need a table to display masks (which have been inscribed with Λυσιος) and a print out of the relevant information.

Prepared explanation of the ritual:

This is going to be a cathartic Dionysian ritual to help work through blocks, release stress and cleanse miasma by way of dance, chanting and ecstatic worship of the God and his bride, Ariadne. There’ll be wine and an opportunity to privately approach the shrine if you’d like to spend some personal time with the divinities. We have masks for everyone to help get in the mood. If, at any point things get a little too intense for you, please contact one of the ritual leaders and we’ll help bring you down. Note: Make no mention of the Pharmakos!

Description of dance steps:

We will be doing a simple ring-dance as part of the ritual. It goes like so. You take a step to the right with your right foot and place your left foot behind the right. Take a step to the right with your right foot and place your left foot in front of the right. Keep doing that until we’re done.

Processional chant:

Agrios, Lusios!
Bromios, Iakchos!
Zagreus, Manikos!
Io Dionysos!

The Bacchic Grotto will be set up as follows.

Against the far wall will be a table with a bowl of wine on it and cups inscribed with various epithets of Dionysos, filled with wine and waiting for the revelers.

The shrine will consist of two empty thrones, appropriately decorated. (Though the decoration on Dionysos’ is the regalia the Pharmakos will later don.) In front of the thrones will be offering bowls, some already full of offerings and four waiting to be filled.

Behind the thrones will be three baskets and a staging area wide enough for the climax of the ritual. One basket will contain the offerings of the Bakchai (wine, honey, milk, mead). The second basket will be empty to receive the stones of the participants. The third basket, identical to the second, will contain dried figs and be swapped out during the free-form ecstatic portion of the ritual by the Kanephore.

Lights and vegetation will be strewn about the room artistically.

While the Bacchic Grotto is being set up the Kathartes will go around cleansing and consecrating the space.

Consecration:

Nothing can be so firmly bound – by illness, by wrath or by fortune – that cannot be released by Dionysos.

Before the start

Twenty minutes before the start of the ritual the Kanephore will go out with a bowl of stones and encourage the participants to take one and offer it as a representation of something from their lives they wish to give over to the spirits below the earth. After the ritual these will be buried or left at a crossroads.

Ten minutes before the start the Kathartes, Aleipte and Faun will come out and get everyone in single-file. The Faun will play a healing song on his Pan’s flute as the Kathartes goes down the line chanting the consecration and sprinkling them with chernips while the Aleipte anoints them with holy oil.

When they are finished the Kathartes and Aleipte go back inside and take their place with the other ritual leaders before the shrine, frozen in ecstatic postures, and the Pharmakos stands by the door.

The Ritual

The Faun goes out and begins working the crowd up, leading them through the processional chant three times. Then the Faun shouts, “Hail Dionysos Thurepanoiktes! Throw wide the doors, for his people are here!”

The Pharmakos then opens the doors from the other side and the participants are led in, gathering around the shrine and the frozen ritual leaders in a rough crescent, continuously chanting, Pharmakos, Kanephore and Phylax herding them into place. At the end of this the Kanephore should be positioned so that they can retrieve the basket of offerings when needed.  

When the participants are settled the Faun will shout, “Hail Dionysos!”

At which point the ritual leaders come alive and roar back “Hail Dionysos!”

The Faun then shouts, “Hail Ariadne!”

This call and response is repeated three times.

While this is going on the Kanephore retrieves the basket of offerings.

The Kanephore and Bakche A approach the shrine. Bakche A kneels, recites the choral ode from Sophokles’ Antigone in Greek or English.

The Kanephore then hands her the bottle of wine so that it may be poured in libation.

Bakche A stands and moves aside so that Bakche B can take her place.

Bakche B kneels, and recites:

Hail to thee, Dionysos,
Beloved of all the nymphs!
From sun-kissed Mount Nysa where we nursed you,
to damp and haunted grotto,
from wintry forest to healing spring.
We have been your companions,
rejoicing in every season.
Ivy is your crown, for you are lord of all that is free.
O, protector and awakener,
You bring all life to frenzy with a touch.
You who share your gifts with all,
we share our gifts with you!
Everwild Bakchos, your joy is our joy on this day!

The Kanephore then hands her the bottle of warmed honey so that it may be poured in libation.

Bakche B then recites:

Hail to thee, Ariadne,
whose secret history we have heard,
whispered by the bees and echoed in the caves.
Witnesses we have been, visible and invisible:
The wind bearing your sigh, flowers unfolding with your joy.
Your sorrow–a shudder of the trees,
the stars whirling more brightly at your triumph.
Let it be proclaimed by every river and mountain,
That there is none more worthy to stand at the side of our Lord!

The Kanephore then hands her the bottle of milk so that it may be poured in libation.

Bakche B stands and moves aside so that Bakche G can take her place

Bakche G kneels, and recites the Cretan offertory formula for Ariadne:

Pansi theoii meli amphiphoreus
Daburinthoio potniai meli amphiphoreus

The Kanephore then hands her the bottle of milk so that it may be poured in libation.

Bakche G stands and rejoins the other Bakchai; the Kanephore trades the basket of offerings for the empty basket.

At a signal from the Faun the Tympanista/os gets the drummers started. The Faun will then address the crowd, with words to this effect:

We’ve gathered together tonight to worship Dionysos the Loosener of Cares and his beloved bride, Ariadne the Weaver of Joys. The stone you hold in your hand represents whatever burdens your soul or ails you or blocks you from receiving what you desire – give it over to them, for they are stronger! Against the back wall we’ve set up a table flowing with wine, that great medicine against suffering; take your fill and join us as we dance and sing in celebration. At any point if you’re so moved you may approach the shrine and spend personal time with the two Gods. We’ve got properly trained ritual facilitators so if things get too intense for you, seek one of them out. Otherwise, have a good time and let yourself go completely wild. Io evohe! Io Ariadne! Io io Dionysos!  

While the Faun is talking the Kanephore, Pharmakos and Phylax go around the crowd collecting the stones in the basket.

The Kanephore hands the basket of stones to the Faun, who holds them up asking Dionysos and his retinue to take them away. Basket is placed to the side of the shrine so that it can discreetly be swapped later by the Kanephore.

The Kanephore says:

Blessed Dead!
Who walked, parched, past the river!
Who found the spring of Memory!
Who knew to say that you were
Children of Earth and Starry Heaven!
We are children of the same parents!
We cannot yet come drink with you.
We invite you now to come and dance with us!

The ritual leaders then merge into the audience and get them organized to perform the ring-dance, going round three times in all to the accompaniment of the drummers.

The drumming will then pick up tempo and the Bakchai will start ululating and scatter to do their own thing, crowd following suit.

When she feels moved to Bakche A will begin the celebratory chant:

Come on your bull’s foot
Come on your panther’s paw
Come on your snake’s belly
Dionysos, come!
Come Dithyrambos
Come to us Bakcheios
Come to us Lusios
Dionysos, come!

After she’s gone through it a couple times and is joined by the participants, Bakche B will begin inserting the processional chant so that the two are woven together as follows:

Come on your bull’s foot
Agrios! Lusios!
Come on your panther’s paw
Bromios, Iakchos!
Come on your snake’s belly
Zagreus, Manikos!
Dionysos come!
Io Dionysos!

The ritual leaders and participants will join in as they feel moved.

During this freeform ecstatic portion of the ritual the Therapontes will go around and discreetly check on the participants to see if anyone needs assistance.

This continues until ten minutes before ritual’s end.

Then the Pharmakos covertly sneaks behind the shrine and begins putting on Dionysos’ regalia, which has been placed on the throne seemingly as decoration. Ivy crown, fawnskin cape, scepter, etc. Mask is off, and face smeared with white ash instead.

While the Pharmakos is getting ready the Therapontes will make sure the Bakchai are properly staged for what comes next.

The Pharmakos will pull out Dionysos’ throne and climb onto it.

All music abruptly stops.

The Pharmakos then shouts as loud as they can, “I am the Lizard King! I can do anything!” And whatever other appropriate/inappropriate ejaculations occur to them. Then they let out a manic laugh-scream and hop down.

The Bakchai, as one, rush toward the Pharmakos, picking up the basket of figs and the birch rods or fennel stalks. They then pelt, smite and heap abuse on the Pharmakos, driving them out of the room.  In reality the Bakchai are going to pick up the loaf-substitute and the Pharmakos secrets himself away out of sight.

A suitable amount of time later the Bakchai triumphantly return shouting about how they caught the impious interloper and have brought a glorious trophy of the hunt back for their fellows. They then hold the loaf-substitute up for all to see and proceed to rip it apart, tossing pieces of the sacrifice to the participants.

They then start screaming the processional chant while the drummers play feverishly until Bakche A declares the ritual over.


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