Speaking of fire

One of the most important documents we have within Bacchic Orphism are a series of bone tablets inscribed with enigmatic phrases and symbols.

SEG 28.659:
Life. Death. Life. Truth. Zagreus. Dionysos. Orphikoi.

SEG 28.660:
Peace. War. Truth. Lie. Dionysos

SEG 28.661:
Dionysos. Truth. Body. Soul.

These were likely produced by an Olbian Orpheotelest and mantis who worked out of the temple of Hermes and Aphrodite by the name of Pharnabazos, known primarily because of a magical duel he had with Aristotles, a rival diviner of Hermes (and formerly of Athene) whose territory was probably near the temple of Demeter. Uniquely the defixiones both men employed against their opponent have come to light

Well, there’s another text that was made by thiasitai Boreikoi (or members of the Society of Apollo Boreas) which I mentioned here. Rather than being written on bone it’s a circular inscription engraved on the outer and inner edges of a black lacquer vase stand.

Scholars have proposed two different readings of the text, SEG 58:772:

Bios Bios, Apollon Apollon, Helios Helios, Kosmos Kosmos, Phos Phos.


Apollon Helios, Helios Kosmos, Kosmos Phos, Phos Bios, Bios Apollon.

For those not familiar the terms mean:

Apollon = “God of wolves, prophecy, fire, disease and healing”
Bios = “Life”
Helios = “Sun”
Kosmos = “Universe” or “Order”
Phos = “Light”

Both readings have deep significance. The first seems to be describing a progressive sequence of concepts or experiences, while in the second they weave in and out of each other as in a dance. I like the second better for reflection, and the first for chanting. I’m undecided whether the Greek or English is more effective.

So far I’ve just been using it as a cleansing mantra, but I suspect it may end up becoming as potent a tool as the Oration of Aristides – if I can unlock its true meaning, that is.

Oh, and one of the symbols found on a couple of the bone tablets is a Z-like shape. Various suggestions for what the symbol signifies have been put forth: snake, lightning bolt, a representation of the flow of energy or a meandering journey through the Labyrinth. I tend to accept all of these and also associate it with a pruning-knife or wolfsangel

2 thoughts on “Speaking of fire

  1. There’s much here, which sets my mind to spinning…

    With the various Dionysian formulate you’ve given above (which I’ve seen many times in your writings and elsewhere), I’m almost tempted to combine them all together into some kind of, as it were, “synoptic” formula, along the lines of “Life. Death. Life. Truth. Lie. Truth. Peace. War. Peace. Soul. Body. Soul. Dionysos. Zagreus. Dionysos. Orphikoi.” Not sure if I stuck the landing there, but I think you get the idea. ;)

    And, the Apollonian formula…hmm…even more questions!


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