Happy Noumenia folks!

According to the Bakcheion calendar today is the Noumenia of the month Νεβρίς (Nebris) which is named after the sacred cape or sash of fur worn by Dionysos and his frenzied devotees. Most often this came from young deer who were hunted during savage nocturnal rites:

He’s welcome in the mountains,
when he sinks down to the ground,
after the running dance,
wrapped in holy deerskin,
hunting the blood of the slain beast,
devouring its raw flesh with joy,
rushing off into the mountains,
in Phrygia, in Lydia,
leading the dance—
(Euripides, The Bakchai 172-180)

But we also find them wearing the pelts of goats, leopards, foxes and other animals belonging to the God’s menagerie. The last of these is called a bassaris rather than nebris and it tended to include the head as well as just the skin; those who wore it were called Bassarai, a particular expression of Mainadism originating in Makedonia and Thrake though during the Hellenistic period it spread to Egypt and Asia Minor too.

To put on the nebris is to enter the domain of Dionysos, marking one off as belonging to his Retinue at least for the duration of the revels. Thus we find even divinities like Pan, Kybele, Herakles, Artemis and various Nymphs and River-Gods depicted wearing it when their more Bacchic aspects are being emphasized.

Perhaps the most dramatic representation of how this simple change of clothing can affect an alteration of consciousness is to be found in Euripides’ The Bakchai, where the adversarial Pentheus finally succumbs to the seductive force of Dionysos and allows the God to dress him up in his regalia.

This regalia was given added significance by the Orphics, as Macrobius notes in  Saturnalia 1.18:

In the line, “The sun, which men also call by name Dionysos,” Orpheus manifestly declares that Liber is the Sun. And in riddling verse he also says, “One Zeus, one Hades, one Helios, one Dionysos.” And concerning the ornaments and vestments worn by Liber at the ceremonies performed in his honor, Orpheus says:

Let the worshiper first throw around him a crimson robe,
like flowing rays resembling fire.
Moreover from above the broad all-variegated skin of a wild fawn
thickly spotted should hang down from the right shoulder,
a representation of the wondrously-wrought stars
and of the vault of heaven.
And then over the fawn-skin a golden belt should be thrown,
all-gleaming to wear around the breast a mighty sign
that immediately from the end of the earth
the Beaming-one springing up
darts his golden rays on the flowing of ocean.

Which is appropriate as we shall be entering the Gold Season on April 1st.