An attendee at our recent Lenaia celebration had an interesting question for me, “If we are calling Dionysos up from the underworld then how has he been able to interact with us these last couple months?”
According to the Bakcheion calendar Dionysos spends the Black Season, roughly from October to December, under the Earth resting in the lap of the Chthonic Queen. During this period he feasts with his deceased initiates, wearing the mask of the Fool. Much of this time is also spent in slumber, recovering from Oschophoria – the autumn harvest-fest where our Bull God is chased down and dismembered by his adversary, the Wolf Apollo. While he sleeps he dreams of his raucous and absurd adventures among the Harlequinade.
This is the hieros logos (sacred account) and nomos (custom; law) of our temple; there are folks within our own Starry Bull tradition (let alone the wider Dionysian and Hellenic polytheist communities) who believe and worship very differently. And as long as it fosters authentic connection with him there’s nothing wrong with that.
As a God Dionysos may also choose to interact with individuals and groups however he pleases*; furthermore, because of his particular form of madness Dionysos experiences time, space and reality very differently than we (and even many of his fellow Gods) do. All of the myths, legends and historical events in which he has taken part (and their various permutations) are occurring for him simultaneously.
Our calendar is an attempt to take that infinite flux and express it in an orderly and linear manner, albeit one with cyclical recurrences. Each of our festivals flow into each other, forming an overarching narrative which is further reflected in our system of seasonal associations. It is elegant and effective and even more importantly was born out of our experiences with him.
While Dionysos possesses complete autonomy and agency nevertheless certain patterns can be observed in his behavior. For some reason Dionysos tends to feel distant and diffuse after fall and into early winter; some describe him as cold, aloof, regal, chthonic, and even distracted or altogether absent at this time. Others get a weird, wild, playful, somewhat sinister Dionysos come through in ritual, dreams, visions and personal encounters with him. Over the years I’ve had both, sometimes even merging together into a complex if contradictory figure. And so we represent this with the Black Season of our year, and the festivals that fall during it.
Ever since the first of January we have been in the White Season, where Dionysos acts out the role of the Magician come from a strange and distant land, bringing wonders and radical transformation in his wake. He knows the songs and ceremonies to awaken and release, and he is followed by a triumphant procession of Nymphs and Satyrs whose ecstatic revelry chases off barrenness, stagnation and malignant or at least mischievous Spirits from the land and his people.
And we greet him in this form for the first time at Lenaia.
* It is also possible that during the Black Season we are only encountering the dream-form or eidolon of Dionysos, projected out into the world above while he remains comatose below.
13 thoughts on “Shifting Seasons, Shifting Faces”
Good post. I had been wondering the same thing for years, but neglected to ask.
Somehow from this title, “Shifting Seasons, Shifting Faces”, I made the leap to “Smiling Phases” by Traffic. While the song was playing, I then proceeded to spill my coffee on myself while dancing. Crap.
Sounds like a good reminder not to take ourselves too seriously. Also reminds me of the festival described by Pliny the Elder:
It is accredited by the Mucianus who was three times consul that the water flowing from a spring in the temple of Liber Pater on the island of Andros always has the flavor of wine on January 5th: the day is called the God’s Gift Day … If the jars are carried out of sight of the temple the taste turns back to that of water. (Natural History 2.106; 31.16)
Let the God’s gifts and graces engulf us!
Indeed. I’m nothing if not a bit too serious at times.
It’s something I’ve pondered awhile myself; it wasn’t until I started working on this iteration of the Bakcheion calendar that things really “clicked” for me, and only now that I’ve actually been able to articulate it.
The idea of Him encountering us in HIS dreams is a totally wild concept for me.
Cool. I thought it was just me. I mean, I’ve smoked a lot of weed today … everything’s a little wild right now, ya know?
Actually I do! Strangely enough, since I quit drinking(long story), I feel more feral than usual.
Mythic time. The Gods are able to encounter us and we Them in ways that are ontologically impossible for human beings alone. I think of this with Odin. I believe from my insights with Him that part of Him is always hanging on yggdrasil and yet He is still able eto interact with us. The Gods are….Gods and the way things work with us is maybe not how it is with Them. Are They restricted by time and space? I do not necessarily believe so.
That sounds like the start of another brilliant post, my dear.
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in my copious spare time lol but maybe.
Makes perfect sense to me…and I don’t think it takes a Mad God to have such experiences, either. ;)
“If we are calling Dionysos up from the underworld then how has he been able to interact with us these last couple months?”
Looking at many cultures, questions like that only seem to arise with too much of an emphasis on what is literal and concrete. I have never seen a Hindu ask something like “how is Shiva interacting with worshipers if he is always meditating on his mountain?” Or maybe “how can Devi have all these different manifestations and interact through all of them at once?”
I blame much of this tendency in the West on the Greeks. Christianity and Judaism had a part, but the Greeks even before that seemed to have a trend where they took everything very literally, or worse, they tried to historicize myths and place them in terms of some “world chronology”. That has led to all kinds of distortion, and it helped the Christians immensely in their project of making a Christian narrative for this chronology.
I might be a bit harsh here. Maybe we need to ask these questions so we can get past them. We aren’t in the same place mentally or spiritually as people in other cultures or people in the past. It could even be a good sort of topic to talk about over drinks, as long as theological ire and hairsplitting like that found in the Abrahamic religions is avoided.
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