A Brief Meditation on Dionysos in Orphic Hymn 30

“The Wild, Ineffable, Secret One of the Two Horns, of the Two Forms, The Ivy-lush, Bull-faced Warrior, He of the Euhoi, the Pure One” – Orphic Hymn 30

What an image these words conjure! Have you ever seen a bull enraged? They are huge creatures to begin with, powerful, immense. There is a primal virility about them. Looking at them, one cannot help but think of the earth. Looking at their horns, one cannot help but think of being gored on them. And how the bull moves! Lithe, graceful, dancing on its feet, even as it lunges its massive frame.

Now imagine a great warrior. Strong, masculine. Girt in armor, his sword glinting in the early morning light. This is a man who leads other men; a man who is skilled in making war; a man whose hands are red with the blood of his enemies.

Now put the two images together. A warrior, with the face of a bull. All that power, aggression, masculinity, that wild destructive force, barely contained. This is a face of our God!

There is a part of Dionysos which is terrifying, destructive. An inhuman intelligence, which looks on with unblinking eyes at the most ghastly of atrocities, mute witness to life’s unimaginable cruelties. This Dionysos who tears things apart, who revels in an orgy of destruction, the beautiful bloody consummation of life. The pulse of life is staccato: with one beat, it breathes things into being; with the next, they pass out of it. Our Lord presides over both. He is equally in the heat of passion, the first cry of an infant and the pounding of adrenaline and fear through our ears, the moment when we cry out our life’s last breath. He is everything pure, primal, undiluted. That which flows, which spills past its bounds, that which expresses its individuality, regardless of the limits of others. Dionysos is the instinct, the moment, pure experience before mind interferes.