Search Results for: eagle

To Dionysos Eleutherios

Hail to you Dionysos, freedom’s God
and beloved consort of richly-crowned Eirene
who brings sweet concord to the people
and whose grace is so desperately needed
at this time. Zeus’ pet eagle no longer sits
tamely at the side of the Heavenly Father,
symbol of justice and far-reaching equanimity,
but now is perched upon the shoulder of dread Enyo,
who has burst her brazen bonds and strides through many lands,
her dark shadow inciting men to madness, division and strife.
The eagle calls out for blood and vengeance, its shrill cry
echoed in that of weeping brides and fatherless sons,
speaking of dark days behind us, and darker days to come.
Wretchedness and woe may be upon numberless peoples,
foreign and domestic, but I cry with the Vínland Mainades
who cry, “Down from the Sacred Mountain have we come,
to the banks of the Potomac, and the shining marble
of the nation’s capital. Come out of your homes,
o sons and daughters of the patriots and revolutionaries
who through struggle and sacrifice kept the torch of hope
that serves as an inspiring beacon to the oppressed of the world burning,
dawn the star-spangled fawnskin and lift high the ivied wand,
and sing with us praises of Bromios, the beautiful and boisterous one
whose simple worship gladdens the heart.”
Sweet it is to lose yourself in the dance,
to feel the juice of the grape course through your body,
stirring your spirit until you toss back your head
and give the ecstatic cry Euoi! Euoi! Io Euoi!
Drunk on the God, we have no care
for burdensome possessions, and the foolish rantings
of angry kings and haughty potentates,
for with Dionysos we know ourselves to be free,
and have the Earth’s rich bounty as our inheritance.
Ie ie Bakcheios! Io io Bromios! Hail Eleutherios!

To Sabazios

I call to you Sabazios, crowned with oak leaves
and surrounded by the swirling smoke of the torches
that are borne during your mystery rites, O Lord of the
Titanic battle-shriek who delights in the frenzy brought
on by large quantities of beer and dancing with serpents
late into the night, fearless one who rides a charger dark
as a stormcloud through the heavens hunting the starry boar,
enigmatic one whose will is expressed through the flight
of ravens and eagles and vultures, mighty one who protects
the World Tree against assault by wicked Giants of the cold
and dark, you friend of Hermes God of Kings, companion
of horse-loving Bendis of the Silver Bow, champion of great
Artemis of Ephesos, feasted by Zalmoxis in his underground
chamber, you who have never forgotten the boon your nurse
Hipta did when she smuggled you safely to the holy mountain
on your night of terror and trials; O Sabazios, foremost of the
Gods of Thrace and Phrygia, as you often listened to the prayers
of Orpheus, singer of inspired verse, may my words reach you
now and turn your heart so that you rain blessings of health,
protection and good luck down upon your passionate votaries.

To Jupiter-Sarapis

Justly do men speak of you as the lord of the luminous
upper Heaven, where none but the noble eagle may fly,
proud father of Gods and men, whose all-seeing eye takes
inventory of the exceptional deeds of illustrious men like Alexander
the Great who sought your oracular blessing before founding the
eternal city that bears his name by the shores of the life-giving
river, or Vespasian who was raised from the rank of a common
soldier to rule the whole world and performed miraculous feats in
Alexandria through your power, healing the blind and even
raising the dead back to life. Such things seem beyond credible, but I know
all things are possible for a man who has the Gods on his side.
Prayer and worthy sacrifices move the hearts of the Gods to
increase the blessings of the pious, and none are more generous than Jupiter-
Sarapis who wears the double-crown of Egypt and wields the fiery
bolt of lightning to drive back the enemies of the
empire, keeping it strong and prosperous. From the Mediterranean
sea to the forests of Germany, the
towering peaks of Parnassos to the plains of the horse-riding Scythians –
all this has been forged into a single kingdom with you at the head.
Nowhere remains ignorant of you; innumerable are your temples and the
diverse populations call upon you, each in their own tongue,
glorifying your name for the good things you have done. You send the
rain that makes our crops grow so that mothers will have
enough food to fill the hungry bellies of their children.
And you taught men just laws so that we could get along with each other, and
through you we learned to reverence the ancestors and for
each man to care for his mother and father like the Gods.
Science, too, you instilled in our hearts, a
thirst to know all the secrets of Heaven and Earth, and what lies
beneath the surface, never satisfied with the simple answer.
Love of freedom you set within us as well, from your Greek name
eleutherios Zeus, that we may hate the tyrant and
shun his cruel ways, accepting only the yoke of justice
so easy to bear, for it has been fashioned by
the Gods who know the best way for man to live
his life, the middle course, avoiding
every extreme, both violent anarchy and slavish submission.
Most of all, however, you are honored for the concern you show the dead
and the mysteries you have wrought to guide us safely through the
nether realms. Through these rites our souls are purified of the sins
which each of us have committed, and we are shown
hallowed images that awaken within us a recollection of
our true nature and the divinity that
resides within our breast. We are filled with the
energy that makes possible our triumph over the underworld foes,
causing us to shine brightly as the stars in heaven. This is what your
initiates have to look forward to, and why we say
that Jupiter-Sarapis is great, three times great, and the most
excellent among the Gods!
Songs of praise for you never cause my tongue to
tire, nor my mind to grow weary of inventing new ways to
honor you, but
I must bring this particular hymn to a close.
Still, I shall remember you again with another one soon.

To Hebe

Hail to you Hebe, O maiden daughter
of Zeus who puts on the form of eagles,
Lord of the heights of snow-capped Mount Olympos
and his beloved wife, cow-eyed Hera,
the fierce, mighty and independent Goddess
of marriage and other womanly things.
You are cupbearer at the banquets
of the Blessed Immortals, O Hebe,
ensuring a tranquil and convivial atmosphere
throughout the festivities.
You also watch over the fine youth of our fine city,
and make sure that they are healthy, fit and happy
as they wind their way towards adulthood like the vines
that bring you so much pleasure,
free of the pain, pride and perversion
so prevalent in other cities
that do not know your sacred rites.
Though once you loved and were promised to another,
you make Herakles who rose from the pyre God of Ordeals
unspeakably happy by maintaining a well-ordered domicile,
and fulfilling his boundless appetites,
though you were not sure at first that this union
ordained against the wishes of your mother
by your loud-thundering father
would work – but it did.
Surprise of surprises, that brawny, hairy man
knew well how to treat his women,
so that each felt herself to be a Lady
whose worth was beyond calculation.
He helped out with the chores,
he brought home lots of meat from the hunt,
and thanks to Omphale he was an expert
at weaving and spinning, and really kinky in bed,
which Deïaneira was never down with.
So hail to you Hebe who wears the ivy crown
and carries the thyrsos in the nocturnal revels of Lyaios,
and may you continue to find joy and fulfillment
as the lawful mate of Herakles the lion-hearted,
brother and eternal friend of Bakcheios
who roughly took Dίa before setting off
to conquer India, a numerous and doughty nation
much-loved by Hera the Queen.
Somehow they made up during the war,
which made your heart jubilant
for nothing is more hateful to you, Hebe, than quarrels –
especially quarrels among family members,
who should love one another as those two now do
with understanding, forgiveness, mutual goals and charity.
(Or at least a Charity, who loves the milk of the poppy,
red-capped mushrooms and smoke of the star-flower.)

To the Gods of Hellas and Beyond

Also from the Polytheist Hymnal.

Sing to me, clear-voiced daughters of heavenly Zeus,
of the whole company of the Immortal Gods, and
do not let me forget any of the august divinities,
nor let my voice falter as I praise them, dear Muses.
I will begin with Zeus, King of Gods and men,
who thunders from the top of Olympos, and his dear wife and sister,
queenly Hera, mistress of wide-pastured Argos.
And of the Earth-shaker Poseidon I will sing, who loves horses,
and waves that break upon the shores,
and makes his home deep beneath the waters, where there is no wine.
Next there is Aegis-bearing Athene, protector of high-walled cities,
who is pleased by wise speech and gave man the olive-tree as a boon.
Golden-haired Demeter I sing, mistress of our fields and of blessed Mysteries,
and her slim-ankled daughter Persephone,
who spends two portions of the year above ground
with the Blessed Immortals, and one portion below
with the spirits of the dead, and her dark husband, Haides,
who accepts no sacrifices, for in time, all things come into his hands.
I sing of the light now, of Phoebos, the Lord of Delphi,
Far-shooting Apollon, the light of the sun, and of holy inspiration,
averter of plagues, and player on the kithara.
His sister I will sing, the lovely virgin Artemis,
who runs through the forest, delighting in the hunt,
and who watches over women in childbirth,
and our young daughters.
Ares I sing, very strong, who hates the tyrant,
and leads our sons in battle against the enemies of walled cities.
Love, they say, is also a conqueror – so I shall sing of Aphrodite now,
loveliest of all the Goddesses, fair Kytheria, born of the foam on the waves.
And her son, who stands by her side and sends out his darts
to pierce the hearts of mortals and Gods alike with love,
Eros who has wings and many shapes.
Hephaistos I sing, a stranger to Olympos,
who spends his time beneath the waves,
working metal and making wonders for the Gods and men.
Hermes frequently wanders the earth, on errands for Zeus,
or guiding the souls of the dead to Haides’ dark house.
A thief, and a protector of those who travel – Hermes is a very busy God!
I sing of Hekate, who stands amid the cross-roads,
clad in saffron, a great protector against witches and their evil charms.
Triple-formed, she has power over the sky, the earth, and waves.
I will sing of the virgin Hestia, sitting by the hearth,
tending her sacred fire now.
All the Gods and mortals honor her,
for she brings sweet concord into the home.
Dionysos I sing, wild God of the fields and mountains,
who gave as a boon to man wine, which banishes sorrows,
and sacred Mysteries, which purify the soul.
Arcadian Pan I sing, the shepherd’s God who plays haunting songs
upon his flute, and chases after the lovely-breasted Nymphs.
I sing of horned Selene, who comes out by night
and sheds her gentle light upon the sleeping world,
and Helios, whose fiery chariot is drawn by four swift steeds.
The Mountain Mother Rhea I sing, who delights in drums
and lions, she who is called the Mother of Gods and men,
an ancient and revered Goddess.
Ge I sing, the very earth upon which we live.
Broad-bosomed and sustaining life –
every blessing we have, we have through her.
Ouranus, the starry vault of heaven I sing,
who reaches down to touch Ge his love,
just as in mountains, she reaches up to embrace him.
I sing of all the Nymphs now –
those who call the mountains their home,
or haunt the shaded forests.
Those who live in rivers and springs
and all running waters,
and the Nymphs in trees and rocks and sacred precincts.
Herakles I sing, lion-hearted son of Zeus,
strongest of mortals, who ascended to heaven
by his own might and virtue,
perfect protector of those who kindly beseech him.
And the twin sons of Zeus I sing,
Kastor who tames horses, and blameless Polydeukes,
the Dioskouri, a great help to sailors.
I sing the Epidauran, Asklepios, who is son of Phoebos,
and like his father, a wise Physician to Gods and men.
Asklepios takes away the pains of mortal men,
and stands between us and every disease.
He even has power to call back mortals from Haides’ house,
though Zeus forbids him to use it.
The Phrygian shepherd boy, I sing,
Ganymede whom Zeus, in the form of an eagle,
snatched up and carried to Olympos to be cupbearer for the Gods.
The lovely Ariadne I sing, Queen of the Bacchantes
with her husband Dionysos, a mortal who became a Goddess,
and now has a share in the power of Aphrodite.
Semele I sing, who in pains of birth,
was struck by the lightning of Zeus,
and cast down into Haides,
where she awaited the coming of her child Dionysos,
who raised her up to the company of Immortals.
I sing of Leukothea, who protects sailors
from waves and jagged rocks,
and Orpheus, founder of Mysteries,
who made the trees and rocks
and animals dance by his playing.
I sing of Adonis, the sad youth
whom Aphrodite loved and lost.
Eris I sing, of the Golden Apple,
who brings discord among the Immortals, but also laughter,
and Tyche, who causes what we least expect to happen.
Necessity I sing, who no man can escape,
and Philosophy, gentle Goddess who teaches us
how to meet life’s afflictions heroically.
I sing of the drunken Satyrs in the forest, honoring Dionysos,
and the Korybantes, performing their dances with swords
for the Great Mother of Mount Ida.
I sing of the Kytherian’s attendants,
the Graces and Charities, those lovely maidens swathed in silks.
I sing of the Blessed Ones, on whose graves we leave flowers
and libations of milk and honey, our ancestors,
who have power yet to affect the living world.
And I sing of you, dear Goddesses,
who have helped me with this hymn,
the Nine Maidens of Mount Helicon.
You are the ones who pour out beautiful speech,
and make us proficient at singing and dancing.
Playing upon your harps, you fill the world with harmonious sounds,
and make things enchanted, beautiful, and wonderful.
You are very dear to my heart,
you daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne.
I sing also of the Gods known outside of Hellas –
of Isis, who has many names,
and Mithras who slays bulls.
Of Bellona who gnashes her teeth,
and Agdistis, both male and female.
Of double-headed Janus
and Priapus who must carry his penis in a cart.
Of the Thracian Hero who rides horses
and the snake-God Glykon.
Of the Celtic Brigid who likes wells and beautiful songs
and Hadad the Thunderer.
Of shining Melqart and Astarte of the night sky.
Of Nuit, and Hadit, and Ra Hoor Khuit
and even Iao who is worshipped with no image.
I sing of all the many Gods I have not mentioned by name –
but who are no less honored by me.
May the whole Divine Assembly remember me,
and bless me for this song I have sung for them.

The Mighty Bull of the Two Lands

There is a startling array of evidence which suggests some kind of link between the Egyptian Osiris and the Greek Dionysos. What I have done with this article is to collect as much of that evidence as I could, so that the reader can determine what sort of connection there may be between the two. I have no theological axe to grind, no hidden agenda in presenting this information, nor do I intend to persuade my audience one way or another. It may be, as certain ancient authors felt, that the two of them were in fact the same God, perceived through slightly different cultural lenses. Then again, it may also be that they are only Gods who share similar roles, myths, histories, and spheres of influence while remaining completely separate, autonomous individuals. And then again, it may be that their similarities are highly inflated, perceived only because the reader desires to see a connection between them, and conveniantly disregards those areas where they differ. Although I have my own personal theories, I have tried to keep these out as much as possible, for I do not feel that it is my place to dictate such an important matter for the reader. I have simply provided the information for you to draw your own conclusions – and would recommend that if this is a pressing issue for you, that you go directly to the Gods and ask them themselves. I think the answers you receive will be most interesting indeed.

A preliminary note: Although in personal usage, particularly devotions and prayers, I employ a more authentically Egyptian form of the God’s name, I have opted in this article to use Osiris instead of Wesir, Asr, Osr, etc. This is because this name will likely be more familiar to my general reading audiece, and because a signifigant portion of the material that I included already contained that name, and I felt that it would be aeshetically uneven to continually have to switch back and forth between the two.

The Testimony of Ancient Authors

There are numerous ancient authors who assert the essential unity of these two Gods.

“There is only the difference in names between the festivals of Bacchus and those of Osiris, between the Mysteries of Isis and those of Demeter.” – Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, 1.13

“Osiris, they say, was reared in Nysa, a city of Arabia Felix near Egypt, being a son of Zeus; and the name which he bears among the Greeks is derived both from his father and from the birthplace, since he is called Dionysos.” – Diodorus Siculus 1.15

“Osiris has been given the name Sarapis by some, Dionysos by others, Pluto by others, Ammon by others, Zeus by some, and many have considered Pan to be the same God; and some say that Sarapis is the God whom the Greeks call Pluto.” – Diodorus Siculus 1.25

“That Osiris is identical with Dionysos who could more fittingly know than yourself, Clea? For you are at the head of the Thyiades of Delphi, and have been consecrated by your father and mother in the holy rites of Osiris.” – Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, 35

“It is proper to identify Osiris with Dionysos.” – Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, 28

“Dionysos was the first to bring from India into Egypt two bulls, one named Apis and the other Osiris.” – Phylarchus

“Dionysos and Osiris are the same, who are called Epaphus” – Mnaseas

“For no Gods are worshipped by all Egyptians in common except Isis and Osiris, who they say is Dionysos; these are worshipped by all alike.” – Herodotus, The Histories, 2.42

“Osiris is he who is called Dionysos in the Greek tongue.” – Herodotus 2.144

Cicero included Osiris among the many Gods equated with Dionysos by the Greeks. (De Natura Deorum 3.21)

“He [Kadmos future king of Thebes in Greece and grandfather of Dionysos] showed forth the Euian secrets of Osiridos (Osiris) the wanderer, the Aigyptian Dionysos. He learned the nightly celebration of their mystic art, and declaimed the magic hymn in the wild secret language, intoning a shrill alleluia. While a boy in the temple full of stone images, he had come to know the inscriptions carved by artists deep into the wall.” – Nonnos, The Dionysiaca 4.268

Under the entry for ‘Osiris’ in Suidas’ Lexicon we read the following: “Some say he was Dionysos, others say another – who was dismembered by the daimon Typhon and became a great sorrow for the Egyptians, they kept the memory of his dismemberment for all time.”

In a dedicatory stela erected by a Ptolemaic-era prophet of Chnubis, Dionysos is called Petempamenti, “He who is in Amenti”, a title usually reserved for Osiris. (E. R. Bevan, The House of Ptolemy, 295)

Whether as a result of this equation, or on his own and through his own name, Dionysos has long been associated with Egypt and her neighbors. For instance, Hesychius located Nysa, the mythical birthplace of Dionysos, variously in Egypt, Ethiopia, or Arabia. (Lexicon 742) Hesiod locates the mysterious city of Nysa “near the streams of Aegyptus” (Frag. 287) as do the author of the first Homeric Hymn to Dionysos and Apollonius Rhodius (Argonautica 2.1214). Herodotus placed Nysa alternately in Egypt (3.97) or Arabia (3.111) with which Diodorus Siculus was in agreement (1.15).

According to Apollodorus (Library1.6.3), Ovid (Metamorphoses 5.319ff), and Hyginus (Fabulae 152) among others, during the battle of Zeus and Typhon, the Gods were forced to flee Mount Olympos and take up residence in Egypt, where they took on the shapes of animals in order to conceal themselves. Hermes became an ibis, Aphrodite a dove, Apollo a hawk, and Dionysos a goat. This myth was, in all likelihood, an attempt by the Greeks to explain the predominance of zoomorphic Gods in Egypt, as the ancient author Lucian shrewdly perceived (On Sacrifices, 14).

Later on, Dionysos was said to return to Egypt during his wanderings, where he was kindly received by King Proteus (Apollodorus 2.29), and founded the oracle of Zeus-Ammon. (Statius’ Thebaid 3.476) Hyginus tells the story in greater detail:

“When Liber was hunting for water in Egypt, and hadn’t succeeded, a ram is said to have sprung suddenly from the ground, and with this as guide he found water. So he asked Jupiter to put the ram among the stars, and to this day it is called the equinoctial ram. Moreover, in the place where he found water he established a temple which is called the temple of Jupiter-Ammon.” (Fabulae 133)

Herodotus insisted that Dionysos and his worship had been brought from Egypt into Greece:

“Melampos was the one who taught the Greeks the name of Dionysos and the way of sacrificing to him and the phallic procession; he did not exactly unveil the subject taking all its details into consideration, for the teachers who came after him made a fuller revelation; but it was from him that the Greeks learned to bear the phallus along in honor of Dionysos, and they got their present practice from his teaching. I say, then, that Melampos acquired the prophetic art, being a discerning man, and that, besides many other things which he learned from Egypt, he also taught the Greeks things concerning Dionysos, altering few of them; for I will not say that what is done in Egypt in connection with the God and what is done among the Greeks originated independently: for they would then be of an Hellenic character and not recently introduced.” (2.49)

Herodotus claimed that the people of Meroe, in Ethiopia, “worship no other Gods but Zeus and Dionysos,” (2.29) while the Arabians believed only in Dionysos and Aphrodite Ourania, whom, he informs us, they called “Dionysos, Orotalt; and Aphrodite, Alilat.” (3.8) In Libya they celebrated a festival called the Astydromia or “Town-running”, which was sacred to Dionysos and the Nymphs and was, Suidas informs us, “like the birthday celebration of the city, and a Theodaisia festival.” [An ancient Dionysos festival connected with wine] And Anacreon says that one of the titles of Dionysos was Aithiopais, meaning “The Ethiopian”.

After the Ptolemies came to power in Egypt, Dionysos was one of the most popular Gods. He was the tutelar deity of their Dynasty – Ptolemy IV even adopted the title “Neos Dionysos” (Oxyrhynchus, ii No. 236b) – and under their reign, numerous temples and theaters were erected to him, including a few that are still standing, despite the best efforts of Christians and Moslems over the centuries. It was the destruction of Dionysos’ temple in Alexandria by a mob of insane, violent Christians instigated by the Bishop Theophilus which inspired the remaining Pagans of the city to rise to the defense of the Serapeum. (Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, XXVIII) Under Ptolemy IV Philopator, Egypt became a center of Dionysian mysteries. This King sent out an edict decreeing that “those who perform initiations for Dionysos” should travel to Alexandria and register there, declaring “from whom they have received the sacred things, up to three generations, and to hand in the hieros logos in a sealed exemplar.” Additionally, he required that the Egyptian Jews in the nomos of Arsinoe be initiated into the mysteries of Dionysos in order to “receive the same civic rights as the Alexandrians.” (3 Maccabbees 2.30)

Dionysos and his myths were a favorite subject of Egyptian artists – especially scenes depicting his courtship of Ariadne and his sojourn under the sea with Thetis – and many lovely murals, frescoes, and tapestries have been preserved. The Egyptian Nonnos of Panopolis wrote his monumental collection of the God’s myths the Dionysiaca – preserving some in the only form that has come down to us – in the 4th century C.E.

Almost not born

According to Plutarch, “They say that the Sun, when he became aware of Rhea’s intercourse with Cronus, invoked a curse upon her that she should not give birth to a child in any month or year; but Hermes, being enamoured of the Goddess, consorted with her. Later, playing at draughts with the moon, he won from her the seventieth part of each of her periods of illumination, and from all the winnings he composed five days, and intercalated them as an addition to the three hundred and sixty days. The Egyptians even now call these five days intercalated and celebrate them as the birthdays of the Gods. They relate that on the first of these days Osiris was born, and at the hour of his birth a voice issued forth saying, ‘The Lord of All advances to the light.'” (On Isis and Osiris, 12)

While Apollodorus relates the following story about Hera’s attempts to thwart the birth of Dionysos:

“But Zeus loved Semele and bedded with her unknown to Hera. Now Zeus had agreed to do for her whatever she asked, and deceived by Hera she asked that he would come to her as he came when he was wooing Hera. Unable to refuse, Zeus came to her bridal chamber in a chariot, with lightnings and thunderings, and launched a thunderbolt. But Semele expired of fright, and Zeus, snatching the sixth-month abortive child from the fire, sewed it in his thigh. On the death of Semele the other daughters of Cadmus spread a report that Semele had bedded with a mortal man, and had falsely accused Zeus, and that therefore she had been blasted by thunder. But at the proper time Zeus undid the stitches and gave birth to Dionysos, and entrusted him to Hermes. And he conveyed him to Ino and Athamas, and persuaded them to rear him as a girl. But Hera indignantly drove them mad, and Athamas hunted his elder son Learchus as a deer and killed him, and Ino threw Melicertes into a boiling cauldron, then carrying it with the dead child she sprang into the deep. And she herself is called Leucothea, and the boy is called Palaemon, such being the names they get from sailors; for they succour storm-tossed mariners. And the Isthmian games were instituted by Sisyphus in honor of Melicertes. But Zeus eluded the wrath of Hera by turning Dionysos into a kid, and Hermes took him and brought him to the Nymphs who dwelt at Nysa in Asia, whom Zeus afterwards changed into stars and named them the Hyades.” (3.4.3)

Culture Bringer

Concerning Osisirs, Diodorus Siculus wrote, “Osiris was the first, they record, to make mankind give up cannibalism; for after Isis had discovered the fruit of both wheat and barley which grew wild over the land along with the other plants but was still unknown to man, and Osiris had also devised the cultivation of these fruits, all men were glad to change their food, both because of the pleasing nature of the newly-discovered grains and because it seemed to their advantage to refrain from their butchery of one another.” (1.14)

Similarly, he wrote the following concerning Dionysos: “Some writers of myth, however, relate that there was a second Dionysos who was much earlier in time than the one we have just mentioned. For according to them there was born of Zeus and Persephone a Dionysos who is called by some Sabazios and whose birth and sacrifices and honours are celebrated at night and in secret, because of the disgraceful conduct which is a consequence of the gatherings. They state also that he excelled in sagacity and was the first to attempt the yoking of oxen and by their aid to effect the sowing of the seed, this being the reason why they also represent him as wearing a horn.” (4.4.1)

Tieresias, in Euripides’ Bacchae says Dionysos “discovered and bestowed on humankind the service of drink, the juice that streams from the vine clusters; humans have but to take their fill of wine, and the sufferings of an unhappy race are banished.” (279-82)

Hyginus in his Fabulae writes, “When Father Liber [Dionysos] went out to visit men in order to demonstrate the sweetness and pleasantness of his fruit, he came to the generous hospitality of Icarius and Erigone. To them he gave a skin full of wine as a gift and bade them spread the use of it in all the other lands.” (130)

Philochorus wrote, “Amphictyon, King of Athens, learned from Dionysos the art of mixing wine and was the first to mix it. So it was that men came to stand upright, drinking wine mixed, whereas before they were bent double by use of unmixed wine.” (FGrH 328 F 173)

And there are numerous references – too many to recount here – to Dionysos instituting the cultivation of the vine in various localities within the Greek world. (Apollodorus and Pausanias recount most of these in a fairly coherent order.)

Peaceful Conquest of the World

“Of Osiris they say that, being of a beneficent turn of mind, and eager for glory, he gathered together a great army, with the intention of visiting all the inhabited earth and teaching the race of men how to cultivate the vine and sow wheat and barley; for he supposed that if he made men give up their savagery and adopt a gentle manner of life he would receive immortal honours because of the magnitude of his benefactions. And this did in fact take place, since not only the men of his time who received this gift, but all succeeding generations as well, because of the delight which they take in the foods which were discovered, have honoured those who introduced them as Gods most illustrious.” – Diodorus Siculus I.17

Dionysos also gathered together a great army, comprised of his Nurses, Satyrs, Panes, Seilenoi, Mainades, Nymphs, and mortals who came to join him. (Nonnos’ Dionysiaca) They set out to “visit men in order to demonstrate the sweetness and pleasantness of his fruit … he gave a skin full of wine as a gift and bade them spread the use of it in all the other lands.” -(Hyginus Fabulae 130) and also to spread the worship of the Meter Kybele which included mysteries, nocturnal orgies, ecstatic trances, and wild dances. Dionysos “travelled over the whole earth civilizing it without the slightest need of arms, but most of the peoples he won over to his way by the charm of his persuasive discourse combined with song and all manner of music.” (Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris, 13) When confronted by the Indian army, the Goat-God Pan who travelled in Dionysos’ train gave a great shout, filling them with panic, and the army dropped their weapons and fled, thus allowing Dionysos to conquer India without even having to shed a drop of blood. (Nonnos, however, tells a different story, and glories in the bloodthirstiness of Dionysos’ battle with the Indians.)


Diodorus Siculus wrote, “And the discovery of the vine, they say, was made by Osiris and that, having further devised the proper treatment of its fruit, he was the first to drink wine and taught mankind at large the culture of the vine and the use of wine, as well as the way to harvest the grape and to store the wine.” (1.15)

Osiris was called “Lord of Drunkeness at the Wag-festival”, which took place during the season of the grape harvest, shortly before the inundation. (Sigfrid Hoedel-Hoenes, Life and Death in Ancient Egypt, pg. 114) And wine was frequently offered to him, for instance, in the stela of Thutmose the doorkeeper, from the 18th Dynasty, we find that “water, a cool breeze and wine” are to be given to “the spirit of the inundation” and Horemheb offers Osiris wine in order to be granted the “gift of life, each day, like Ra”. Vines could be depicted in funerary monuments associated with Osiris, the most famous example belonging to the 18th Dynasty Mayor of Thebes Sennefer, whose tomb was known for its stunningly beautiful depiction of a grape arbor as the “tombeau des vignes”. The ceiling of his tomb is covered in vines and grapes painted with utmost care, reaching down into the shrine of Osiris within the burial chamber, as if originating from the realm of the God of life and vegetation.

Wine offers a clear connection between Crete, the earliest home of Dionysos, and Egypt, as Carl Kerenyi observes, “The Minoan hieroglyph for wine, an ideogram in Linear B, is similar to the Egyptian hieroglyph of the same meaning. It recalls that form of grape arbor which is represented on a picture of the wine harvest at the time of the Eighteenth Dynasty.” (Dionysos: Archetype of Indestructable Life, pg. 56)

Wine is so intimately linked with Dionysos that scarcely anyone speaks of the God without mentioning it. It shares his nature, for like the God it is “fiery” (Euripides Alkestis 757), “wild” (Aeschylus Persians 614), and “madness-inspiring” (Plato Laws 7.773 d), and yet it brings “great joy to mankind” (Homer Iliad 14.325). Perhaps the best description of the powers of wine are to be found in a hymn of the Roman poet Horace, “You move with soft compulsion the mind that is so often dull; you restore hope to hearts distressed, give strength and horns to the poor man. Filled with you he trembles not at the trunculence of kings or the soldiers’ weapons.” (3.21) Like the God, it is not complete without a second birth, and suffers immeasurably before it attains its final form. Achilles Tatius called wine “the blood of the God” (The Adventures of Leucippe and Clitophon 2.2) and Nonnos compared it to the tears of the God. (7.367) Wine was said to spring up miraculously whenever the God approached (Homeric Hymn 7) and the female followers of Dionysos caused “the earth to flow with milk, with wine, with the nectar of bees,” (Euripides’ Bacchae 708). Wine was poured out in libations to the Gods, drunk at symposia, and used by intiates to attain a mystical union with Dionysos. Euripides equated Dionysos with wine itself, saying, “As a God Dionysos himself is poured out to the Gods.” (Bacchae, 284)


Strabo believed that barley beer was a drink peculiar to the Egyptians, and the cultivation of beer was attributed to Osiris by Didorus Siculus. An inscription dating from 2200 BCE says, “The mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer.” And beer formed part of the traditional Egyptian offering formula, “O you who give bread and beer to beneficent souls in the house of Osiris, do you give bread and beer at the two periods to the soul of N who is with you.” We read that the bread and the beer of Osiris make the eater immortal, (Book of the Dead, 40) an idea which is frequently elaborated. In the Pyramid Text of Teta, Osiris Teta “receives thy bread which decayeth not, and thy beer which perisheth not.” In the Text of Pepi II, the aspirant prays for “thy bread of eternity, and thy beer of everlastingness. (390)

Although wine is the drink usually associated with Dionysos, we find beer connected with him as well through his allonymns Sabazius and Bromios. Sabazius was the Thracian-Phrygian form of Dionysos, a wild, bearded God of fertility, snakes, and ritual ecstacy, whose followers attained union with him by drinking seba, beer, much as Dionysos’ followers drank wine. Additionally, the Emperor Julian wrote a rather witty epigram upon discovering ‘wine made from barley’, that is beer, found in Gaul:

“Who are you, and whence, Dionysos? For by the true Bacchus, I do not recognize you: I know only the son of Zeus. He smells of nectar, you smell of the goat. Truly the Celts must have made you from grain only for lack of grapes. Therefore we should call you Demetrios, not Dionysos. rather born of grain [than of fire], and Bromos, not Bromios” (Epigram IX, 638 Greek Anthology )

Ivy, Vines, and Grapes

In the papyrus of Nebseni, written about 1550 B.C.E., Osiris is depicted sitting in a shrine, from the roof of which hang clusters of grapes; and in the papyrus of the royal scribe Nakht we see the God enthroned in front of a pool, from the banks of which a luxuriant vine, with many bunches of grapes, grows towards the green face of the seated deity. Hellanicus maintains that the vine was discovered first in Plithine, a city of Egypt and the physician Philomides says that the vine had been brought from the Red Sea into Greece (Athenaios 1.34a, 15.675)

According to Diodorus Siculus , “The discovery of ivy is also attributed to Osiris by the Egyptians and made sacred to this God, just as the Greeks also do in the case of Dionysos. And in the Egyptian language, they say, the ivy is called khenosiris, the ‘plant of Osiris’ and for purposes of dedication is preferred to the vine, since the latter sheds its leaves while the former ever remains green.” (1.17.4.)

These two plants are especially sacred to Dionysos.

Homer calls Dionysos Kissokomes or “ivy-crowned” (Hymn 26) and Pindar calls him Kissophoros or “Ivy-bearing” (Olympian Ode 2.50). The Acharnian deme, which was supposedly the first place where the plant grew up, was more explicit, and simply called him Kissos or “Ivy”. (Pausanias 1.31.6) The plant was wrapped around the thyrsoi of the God and his followers, and draped around the life-size mask of Dionysos in Icaria. According to the scholion on Euripides’ Phoenician Women 65, ivy appeared simultaneously with the birth of Dionysos in order to protect the infant from the flames of lightning which consumed his mother. Arrian in his Anabasis says that there was no ivy to be found in all of Asia, except for Mount Meros and Nysa in India as a token that the God had been there. (5.1.6) In the Hellenistic period, Initiates in his Mysteries had themselves tattooed with ivy-leaves (3 Maccabbees 2.29) and decorated their tombstones with it. According to Plutarch, ivy had the power to insight madness, “For women possessed by Bacchic frenzies rush straightway for ivy and tear it to pieces, clutching it in their hands and biting it with their teeth; so that not altogether without plausibility are they who assert that ivy, possessing as it does an exciting and distracting breath of madness, deranges persons and agitates them, and in general brings on a wineless drunkenness and joyousness in those that are precariously disposed towards spiritual exaltation.” (Roman Questions, 112)

Vines are a prominant feature in the iconography of Dionysos. His statues were frequently draped in it, and the maenads twined vines as well as ivy around their fennel stalks in order to create the sacred wand of Dionysos, the thyrsos. Homer describes how the plant creeped up the mast of the pirate ship as Dionysos’ wrath was made manifest. (Homeric Hymn 7) Alcaeus said that no plant should be planted in preference to vine, and both Horace (Carmine 1.18.1) and Ennius (Trag. 124.5) called the vine sacred. But the most famous association of the vine with Dionysos are the miraculous “one-day vines” which Walter Otto describes as follows: “These flowered and bore fruit in the course of a few hours during the festivals of the epiphany of the God. A choral song in Euripides’ Phoenissae … sings of the twin peaks lit up by the fire of the Bacchic festival and the vine which ‘daily bears its yield of juicy thick grape clusters.’ As Sophocles tells us in his Thyestes, on Euboea one could watch the holy vine grow green in the morning. By noon the grapes were already forming, they grew heavy and dark in colour, and by evening the ripe fruit could be cut down, and the drink could be mixed. We discover from the scholia of the Iliad that this occurred in Aigai at the anual rite in honor of Dionysos, as the women dedicated to the God performed the holy rites. And finally Euphorion knew of a festival of Dionysos in Achaean Aigai in which the sacred vines blossomed and ripened during the cult dances of the chorus so that already by evening considerable quantities of wine could be pressed.” (Dionysos: Myth and Cult, pg. 98-99)

The Ivied Rod

The thyrsos is the supreme symbol of Dionysos, carried by all of his devotees. It is a stalk of fennel or other wood, topped by a pine-cone, and wreathed with ivy. It is a powerful tool, through which the God’s coursing, vibrant, ecstatic sexuality manifests. “The maenads, followers of Dionysos, pound the ground with the thyrsos, which drips honey and causes milk and wine to gush up from the earth; a phenomenon into which it is not difficult to read sexual symbolism.” (Delia Morgan, Ivied Rod: Gender and the Phallus in Dionysian Religion)

The thyrsos, also, is found in possession of Osiris. Before Lucius is initiated into the mysteries of Osiris, the God visits him in a dream, prefaced by an encounter with one of the God’s devotees. He was “clad in linen and bearing an ivied thyrsos and other objects, which I may not name.” (Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, 27)

Plutarch also attests to thyrsoi connected with Osiris. “For they fasten skins of fawns about themselves, and carry thyrsoi, and indulge in shoutings and movements exactly as do those who are under the spell of the Dionysiac ecstacies.” (On Isis and Osiris, 35)

And Lewis Spence informs us that, “A pine cone often appears on monuments as an offering presented to Osiris.” (Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends p. 72)

Barley and Corn

John Ferguson describes a common practice associated with Osiris, “Effigies made of vegetable mould and stuffed with corn were buried in graves or placed between the legs of mummies. In a representation at Philae we see the dead body of Osiris with stalks of corn springing from it, watered by a priest. There is an inscription: ‘This is the form of him whom one may not name, Osiris of the mysteries, who springs from the returning waters.'” – An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Mysticism and the Mystery Religions

This is given a poignant meaning by Coffin Text 330, where it says, “For I live and grow in the corn … I cover the earth, whether I live or die I am Barley. “

Diodorus Siculus describes how Osiris was associated with the grain, and how its harvesting was attended by rites of mourning:

“As proof of the discovery of these fruits they offer the following ancient custom which they still observe: Even yet at harvest time the people make a dedication of the first heads of the grain to be cut, and standing beside the sheaf beat themselves and call upon Isis, by this act rendering honour to the Goddess for the fruits which she discovered, at the season when she first did this. Moreover in some cities, during the Festival of Isis as well, stalks of wheat and barley are carried among the other objects in the procession, as a memorial of what the Goddess so ingeniously discovered at the beginning.” (1.14)

And in the Contendings of Heru and Set, Osiris declares, “It is I who created the barley and wheat to make the Gods live, and after the Gods, the herd of man.” (1.14.12)

Grain and barley are not the usual plants associated with Dionysos, but they have their place within his realm as well. For instance, Apollodoros says that Dionysos granted the daughters of Anius, the King of Delos, the power to cause wine, olive oil, and corn to rise up from the earth. (E 3.10) Additionally, grain, barley, and corn were connected with him in cult. The liknon, the fan-shaped winnowing basket in which the God resided, was often shown filled with grain in addition to grapes, other first-fruits, and the phallus. Bacchus’ image was drawn round the fields in a chariot and crowned by the matrons (Augustine, De civitate Dei, VII. 21). Pausanias records that in honor of Dionysos Aisumnetes, a group of children would go down to the river Melikhos “wearing on their heads garlands of corn-ears.” (7.20.1) At the Haloa, a festival he shared with Demeter, phallic cakes were made out of the grain to honor him, and at Eleusis, when the single sheaf of wheat was harvested in silence (Hippolytus 5.8.39) there were those who saw in it a manifestation of Dionysos-Iakkhos, “Hail the green ear that is harvested .. Bacchos, the shepherd of the shining stars.” (9.8)

Trees and Vegetation in General

Robert Graves observed that the character of Osiris as a tree-spirit was represented very graphically in a ceremony described by Firmicus Maternus. A pine-tree having been cut down, the centre was hollowed out, and with the wood thus excavated an image of Osiris was made, which was then buried like a corpse in the hollow of the tree. Further connections with vegetation can be enumerated:

“O thou lord of food, thou prince of green herbs,” – The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys

“Through thee the world waxeth green in triumph.” – Papyrus of Ani, 2.

Osiris is hailed as “the Lord of the Acacia Tree” – Papyrus of Ani, 19.

The body of Osiris becomes enclosed in the trunk of a tree and is associated with the Djed pillar in Utterance 574.

Similarly, Dionysos was connected with all vegetation and green growth, not just the vine and and its alcohol-producing fruit.

A fragment of Pindar’s preserved in Plutarch reads, “May gladsome Dionysos swell the fruit upon the trees, the hallowed splendor of harvest-time.” Plutarch also informs us that Dionysos is worshipped “almost everywhere in Greece” as Dendrites “Tree God”. (On Isis and Osiris, 34) Dionysos’ image was found inside of a plane tree which had been split asunder in Magnesia, and the Corinthians were given an oracle by Apollo at Delphi to worship the pine tree “as the God” whereupon they had a statue of Dionysos carved out of its wood. (Pausanias 2.27) Dionysos was called Sykites, “Fig-God”, the wood from which phalloi were carved. The scholiast to Aristophanes’ Frogs mentions that the myrtle was sacred to Dionysos, and Ovid says that “Bacchus loves flowers”, (Fasti 5.345) specifically roses and violets, according to Pindar (Frag. 75) This is not surprising considering his epithets Anthios “Blossoming” and Euanthes “He Who Makes Grow” or his festival the Anthesteria which celebrated the return of life to the earth.


Aristotle observed that everything nourishing is moist, that warmth arises out of moisture, and that the seeds of all living things have a moist nature. (Metaphysics 1.983 B) So it is not surprising to find Dionysos associated with this element. According to Plutarch Dionysos was “the lord and master not only of wine, but of the nature of every sort of moisture” (On Isis and Osiris, 35) And he calls him outright Hyes “Moisture”. (34) Philolaus said that Dionysos held sway over moist and warm creation, whose symbol was wine, it being a moist and warm element, and Varro declared that the soverignty of Dionysos was not only to be recognized in the juice of fruits whose crowning glory was wine, but also in the sperms of living creatures.

Tradition furnishes us with many connections to water. Dionysos was attended by the Halia or “sea women” who assisted him in his battle against Perseus at Argos. Nonnos relates how, “In the Erythraian Sea, the daughters of Nereus cherished Dionysos at their table, in their halls deep down under the waves. So he remained in the hall deep down in the waves under the waters, and he lay sprawled among the seaweed in Thetis’ bosom.” (Dionysiaca 21.170) At Brasia, it was said that Dionysos had washed ashore in a chest and at Methymna on Lesbos, fishermen found a prosopan “face” or “mask” of olive wood in their nets, which was afterwards worshipped in a procession to honor Dionysos Phallen. (Pasuanias 3.24.3-4, 10.19.3) Dionysos was said to come to Athens “from across the sea” on a dark ship on the second day of the Anthesteria, and Homer tells the story of Dionysos’ attempted kidnapping by the pirates, and his turning them into dolphins. (Homeric Hymn 7) In Pagasae he was worshipped as Pelagios “God of the sea”, in Chios, Sparta, and Sicyon as Aktaios “God of the Seacoast”. He also had his grottoes, as at Euboea (Pausanias 2.23.1) and his temple En Limnais “in the marshes” (Athenaios 11.465 A).

Osiris, too, was connected with water, as Plutarch observed in his On Isis and Osiris: “all kinds of moisture are called the ‘efflux of Osiris.’ Therefore a water-pitcher is always carried first in his processions, and the leaf of a fir-tree represents both Osiris and Egypt.” (36)

He was especially connected with the Nile, whose cyclic rise and fall found parallels in the God’s own life: “As to what they relate of the shutting up of Osiris in a box, this appears to mean the withdrawal of the Nile to its own bed. This is the more probable as this misfortune is said to have happened to Osiris in the month of Hathor, precisely at that season of the year when, upon the cessation of the Etesian or north winds the Nile returns to its own bed, and leaves the country everywhere bare and naked.” (Plutarch On Isis and Osiris, 39)

Herodotus called the Nile the “gift of Osiris” and Pausanias related that, “When the Nile begins to rise, the Egyptians have a tradition that it is the tears of Isis which make the river rise and irrigate the fields” (10.32)

The Pyramid Texts also speak of the Nile in connection with Osiris: “They come, the waters of life which are in the sky. They come, the waters of life which are in the earth. The sky is aflame for you, the earth trembles for you, before the divine birth of Osiris. The two mountains are split apart. The God comes into being, the God has power in his body. The month is born, the fields live.” (2063) And “O Osiris! The inundation is coming; abundance surges in. The flood-season is coming, arising from the torrent isssuing from Osiris, O King may Heaven give birth to thee as Orion!” (2113-2117) And in a hymn to Osiris, Rameses IV says “You are the Nile, Gods and men live from your outflow.”


In Egypt, there were a number of sacred bulls who were associated with Osiris. Perhaps the most famous of all of these was the bull God known to the Egyptians as Hapi and to the Greeks as Apis. According to Aelian, Hapi was held in the greatest of honour from the time of the first Pharaoh (De Natura 11.10) while in all probability his cult stretched back to Predynastic times.

According to Herodotus, the Apis bull was conceived by lightning and was recognized by the following signs: “it is black, and has a square spot of white on its forehead, and on the back the figure of an eagle, and in the tail double hairs, and on the tongue a beetle.” (3.28) Plutarch said that “on account of the great resemblance which the Egyptians imagine between Osiris and the moon, its more bright and shining parts being shadowed and obscured by those that are of darker hue, they call the Apis the living image of Osiris”. (On Isis and Osiris, 43) The bull, Herodotus says, was “a fair and beautiful image of the soul of Osiris”. Diodorus similarly states that Osiris manifested himself to men through successive ages as Apis. “The soul of Osiris migrated into this animal”, he explains.

The fusion of Osiris and Apis was known as Asar-Apis, which became in Greek Sarapis or Serapis. It is often claimed that the cult of Serapis was invented by Ptolemy I in order to provide a deity which both his Greek and Egyptian subjects could worship in common. However, the union of Asar-Api is found in an inscription from the 18th Dynasty where he is hailed as “the great God, Khent-Amentet, the lord of life forever,” – an equation which predates Alexander’s conquest of Egypt by almost a thousand years. However, it wasn’t until Ptolemaic times that the cult of this syncretic deity truly came to prominance. According to Plutarch (On Isis and Osiris, 28), Ptolemy Soter had a dream in which he beheld a huge statue. Afterwards he communicated his dream to certain close associates of his, who remembered seeing a statue exactly like it at Sinope. The King sent for the statue, and when it was shown to Timotheus, an Eleusinian priest, and Manetho an Egyptian, they said that it resembled the Greek Hades, because of the three-headed dog Kerberos which attended it, but also that it resembled Asar-Api. Ptolemy established the cult of Serapis at Alexandria, building a huge temple for him there which also possessed a library that was said to contain over 300,000 volumes. Serapis’ worship was successful, in that both Greeks and Egyptians felt that they were worshipping their own native deity, but his cult really took off once it spread West into Rome, where it became one of the ancient world’s most popular religions, patronized by Emperors such as Otho, Caligula (under whom the first Serapeum was built at Rome), and Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus, as well as people from all ranks of society. Serapis acquired the attributes and symbols of a number of Greek and Roman Gods – he was depicted in the traditional form of Zeus/Iuppiter, complete with long beard and lightning-bolts, from Asklepios he gained the power to heal and his serpent companions, from Helios he took the solar-crown and dominion of the heavens, from Hades he became Lord of the Underworld and gained Kerberos as a companion, and from Dionysos he was given a thyrsos, ivy, and the kantharos, as well as rule over nature. A number of authors came to equate Dionysos and Serapis, most notably Diodorus Siculus (1.25) and Plutarch (On Isis and Osiris, 28). However, Serapis and his origins in the Apis bull were not Osiris’s only connection with this most holy and powerful of creatures.

Plutarch informs us that the Mnevis Bull, which was kept at Heliopolis was “second only to the Apis” and that “like Osiris, it was black in colour,” (On Isis and Osiris, 34). In temple inscriptions the two are actually identified through the names “Mnevis-Osiris” and “Mnevis-Wennefer” (Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, 174). Ammianus Marcellinus claimed that the Mnevis was sacred to the Sun as Apis was sacred to the Moon, and in the Pyramid Texts he was regarded as the ba of Re and linked with Re-Atum, not unlike Osiris himself. In Utterance 307 we read, “I am the wild bull of the grassland, the bull with the great head who comes from Heliopolis. I come to you the wild bull of the grassland, for it is I who generates you, and continuously generates you.”

In the vignettes of Chapter 148 of the Book of the Dead, Osiris is connected with Kai Imentet, the Bull of the West, or Heavenly Bull, who was said to be the husband of seven cows, which accompanied him in his travels.

Another bull connected with Osiris (and which suggests a strong link with Dionysos as well) was the sacred bull of Hermonthis, whose name was variously given as Pacis, Bacchis, Bakha and Onuphis. (The last, found in Aelian 8.11, was in all likelihood a corruption of Osiris Un-nefer, according to Budge.) The Bacchis bull was said to change its colour every hour of the day (Macrobius Saturnalia 1.26), and was regarded as “an image of the sun shining on the other side of the world, i.e. the Underworld.” (E. A. Wallis Budge, Gods of the Egyptians vol II, pg 352.) He was further styled “Bull of the Mountain of the Sunrise, and the Lion of the Mountain of Sunset” providing an interesting link with Dionysos which runs deeper than the similarity of their names.

Dionysos was represented as having bull horns (Sophocles Fragment 959) and Ion of Chios refers to him as the “indominatble bull-faced boy” (Athenaios 2.35 d-e) like the author of Orphic Hymn 45 who invokes Dionysos as the “bull-faced God conceived in fire”. The women of Elis sought Dionysos to come “storming on your bull’s foot” and hailed him as the Axie Taure “Worthy Bull”. In Euripides’ Bacchae, the Theban maenads ask him to appear as a bull (1017) and Pentheus discovers that in place of the effiminant stranger he had thought he’d imprisoned in the palace, there is a mighty and ferocious bull in his place. At Pergamon and elsewhere, priests of Dionysos were called boukoloi and arkhiboukoloi (IPergamon nos. 485-88) and the sacred marriage of Dionysos and the Basillina was celebrated in the boukoleion or sacred cow-shed at Athens. (Aristotle Constitution of the Athenians 3.5)


The panther is perhaps Dionysos’ favorite animal. It is almost universally depicted in his train, pulling his chariot, ferociously tearing apart his enemies such as Lykourgos, laying docilely at his feet, or as Philostratus tells us, “leaping as gracefully as the Bacchantes”. (Imag. 1.19.4) The panther was even said to have a fondness for wine. (Oppian Cynegetica 3.80) Its intractable savagery was compared to that of Dionysos’ own. (Athenaios 2.38e)

However, Dionysos was also connected with the lion, in whose guise he appears to frighten the pirates in the 7th Homeric Hymn and the daughters of Minyas. In this form, he fought in the battle against the Giants (Horace Carmina 2.19.23) and it was as a lion that the Theban women sought him in Euripides’ Bacchae, “Appear as a bull, or as a many-headed dragon, or as a lion breathing fire!” (1017) In Roman times, both the lynx and tiger were added to his train.

There aren’t many references linking Osiris to wild cats, though the Egyptians knew lion-Goddesses such as Sekhmet and Menhit. However, Osiris is depicted as having a lion-shaped sarcophagus at Dendera, and Plutarch linked him with this animal, “The Sun is consecrated to Osiris, and the lion is worshipped, and temples are ornamented with figures of this animal, because the Nile rises when the sun is in the constellation of the Lion.” (On Isis and Osiris, 38) And in the Contendings of Heru and Set, Osiris is hailed as the “lion who hunts for himself,” (1.14. 7)

The Sun

Jan Bergman observed that, “The most decisive divine confrontation encountered in Egyptian religious thought is without doubt that between Ra and Osiris. As the princial representation of sky and earth, life and death, light and darkness, day and night, they constitute one another’s necessary compliment. Without some form of union between them, the Egyptian world view would have been hopelessly divided and the rhythm of life broken.”

In the Book of the Dead (clxxxi), we find the following lines, “Homage to thee, O Governor of Amentet, Un-Nefer, lord of Ta-tchesert, O thou who art diademed like Re, verily I come to see thee and rejoice at thy beauties. His disk is thy disk; his rays of light are thy rays of light; his Ureret crown is thy Ureret crown; his majesty is thy majesty, his risings are thy risings …” and continues in that vein for quite some time.

Osiris was considered to be the ba or soul of Ra, as we see from the inscription in the tomb of Nefertari, “Osiris who rests in Ra and Ra that rests in Osiris” and he was also connected with the Sun through its nightly journey in the Duat or Underworld. This was often depicted quite beautifully on coffins. For instance, we frequently find on the bottom of coffins and in the center of the lid pictures of Nut, Goddess of the sky and mother of Osiris. The images of Nut encircled the entire coffin, and the coffin probably represented the womb of the Goddess. Being buried in the womb of the Goddess implied being reborn in the underworld as Osiris. The sun myths also contain the idea that the Sun God’s journey through the underworld occurs through the body of Nut. Thus the deceased is identified with the Sun God because both are reborn through Nut. Osiris was also thought to be the mummy of the Sun God. In the same way that the soul of the dead had to return to the body every night to be revived for a new day, the Sun God had to be united with Osiris every night. Thus the deceased, Osiris, and the Sun God merged.

Didorus Siculus said that the sun was often identified with Osiris and the moon with Isis (1.11) and Plutarch observed, “Furthermore they everywhere show an anthropomorphic statue of Osiris with erect phallus because of his procreative and nourishing nature. They adorn his statues with flame-coloured clothes, regarding the sun as the body of the power of good and as the visible light of a substance which can only be spiritually felt.” (On Isis and Osiris, 201)

Dionysos has his solar associations as well. The most explicit statement of this comes from the Roman author Macrobius, who outright calls Dionysos-Liber the sun. (Saturnalia, I, 17-23) More subtly, you find Dionysos and his brother Apollon, who from the 5th century B.C.E. had been connected with the sun, linked, and even equated at times. Plutarch said that they had equal shares at Delphi, and Aischylos speaks of “Ivy-Apollo, Bakchios, the sooth-sayer” (Fragment 86) while Euripides in his Lykymnios speaks of “Lord, laurel-loving Bakhios, Paean Apollo, player on the lyre” (Fragment 480). Perhaps the earliest point of contact, however, comes from the Thracian prophet and musician, Orpheus.

The following, which I have always found terribly beautiful, was posted to the Thiasos Dionysos e-list by Lysiodorus, a Dionysian priest:

“The inspired scholar Peter Kingsley, who has traced the idea of the Chthonic Sun among the Greeks as far back as Parmenides, makes the profound suggestion (I scent the trace of a Dionysiac Muse in this inspiration) that when Orpheus, servant of Apollon and Dionysos and Helios– a triple dedication that has confused many from antiquity to the present day (but which doesn’t seem strange or conflicting if They can all be identified as Aspects of each other)– climbed to the peak of Mount Pangaion every morning to be the first to greet the Sun rising from the Eastern Gates of the Underworld, it was because the Solar shaman-priest wished to be illuminated by hearing His God whisper in the ecstatic beauty of dawn what mysteries He had learned on His nocturnal journey through the Underworld (Mysteries the Sun/ Dionysos/ Apollon could share with the Thracian mystic because it was a Chthonic initiatory journey, let us not forget, that Orpheus himself had made).”

Black is beautiful

For the ancient Egyptians, the colour black symbolized both death and the underworld on the one hand, and fertility, resurrection, and the fullness of life on the other. (April McDevitt Color in Ancient Egyptian Mythology) Likely, this association derived from the rich black, alluvial soil left after the flooding of the Nile. Herodotus (2.12) observed that the Egyptians drew a distinction between the habitable area of the Nile Valley, and the dry, barren wastes of the desert which surrounded them, calling the first Kemet “The Black Land”, and the latter Deshret or the “Red Land”, and Plutarch attests that this was the name that they used in referring to their land: “Egypt, moreover, which has the blackest of soils, they call by the same name as the black portion of the eye, Khemia.” (On Isis and Osiris33)

Because Osiris was connected with the flooding of the Nile and the rich black soil that it left behind, he was naturally depicted with a dark complexion (On Isis and Osiris 22) as we often see in funerary monuments, for instance that of Rameses IX or the basalt statue from the tomb of Psamtik. Further, he was called Kem “The Black One”, Kem Ho “He of the Black Face”, and Kem Wer “The Great Black One”. (E. A. Wallis Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary)

Dionysos could also be depicted in a similar manner. For instance, at Eleutherai, Dionysos was said to have appeared to the daughters of the King in the guise of a dark goat, after which he was called Melanaigis “He of the Black Goat Skin”. (Suida, Lexicon s.v. Melan). Additionally, Dionysos was known as Khthonios or “He Who is Beneath the Earth” as well as Nyktelios “The Nocturnal One”, and Nyktipolos “The Night-Stalker”. Additionally, Polemon speaks of a Dionysos Morychos or “Dark Dionysos” worshipped at Syracuse.

What Green skin you have

In the Book of the Dead, as translated by E. A. Wallis Budge, there are a number of references to Osiris’s green colour. He is described as “Golden of limbs, blue of head, emerald upon both of his sides…” (pg. 10) and said to be “encircled by an emerald light” (pg. 254) The earth is said to “Becometh green through thee … in triumph before the hand of Neberter,” (pg. 253) and “Thou hast come with thy splendours, and thou hast made heaven and earth bright with thy rays of pure emerald light.” (pg. 250)

Dionysos was called Anthios “The Blossoming One”, Kissokomes “Crowned with Ivy”, Perikionios “He Who is Entwined Around the Pillars”, and Korymbophoros “The Cluster-laden”. He made his appearance amid the ripening of fruit and the vibrant hues of spring, and was always depicted with a crown of ivy or laurel, and ivy dripping off of him.


Sex saturates the Dionysian world-view. The Samians worshipped Dionysos Enorkes “the Betesticled” or “In the Balls”. (Hesychius s.v. Enorkes) And at Sicyon the God’s lustiness was honored by the title Dionysos Khoiropsalas “Cunt-Plucker”. (Polemon Historicus, FHG 3.135.42) We see this side of the God manifest in the uncomplicated and unapologetic phallicism of his male companions, the satyrs. Hesiod calls the satyrs a “race of lazy, good-for-nothings,” (Catalogue of Women Fragment 123) and in Attic vase-paintings they are almost always depicted in a state sexual arousal, frollicking in phallic dances to the accompaniment of pipes and drums, chasing after nymphs, or attempting (unsuccessfully) to initiate romantic liasons with the female votaries of Dionysos. Their eroticism is exaggerated, comical, and rarely finds satisfaction. Nor does their sexuality necessarily need the presence of women for arousal – satyrs are depicted as resorting to masturbation, strange contrivances, bestiality, etc. for release – and sometimes they are simply there with their large, erect members (as opposed to traditional Greek aeshetics which seemed to prefer small, unerect penises) as if the act of sex was an afterthought. It is horniness for the sake of horniness, reveling in the presence and excitement of the phallus, in the thrill and chase and wild exuberance of sensuality, a celebration of the body, of pleasure, in and of itself, whether it ever reaches completion in the act of coitus.

The phallus is ubiquiotus in the worship of Dionysos. According to Plutarch, the things carried in the earliest rites of Dionysos were: “A wine jar, a vine, a basket of figs, and then the phallus,” (Moralia 527D) According to Aristophanes, Phales, the phallus personified, was the “friend and constant companion” of Dionysos, and accompanied him in processions and sacred dances. (Acharnians 263) Herodotus says that Melampos, who supposedly introduced Dionysos’ worship into Greece, instituted phallic processions in his honor. (2.49) At Methymna on Lesbos there was a cult of Dionysos Phallen in which a wooden trunk with a face on it was carried in procession. (Pasuanias 10.19.3) Each colony sent a phallus regularly to the Athenian Dionysia, and at Delos large wooden phalloi were carried in processions. And Herakleitos speaks of the phallic songs which would be shameful if they were not sung in honor of Dionysos. (Fragment 15) We even have a fragment of one of those songs from the Delian poet Semos, who sings of Dionysos, “Give way, make room for the God! For it is his will to stride exuberantly erect through the middle.”

Dionysos’s sexual rapaciousness is well attested in mythology. His most famous lover was the Cretan princess Ariadne, with whom he had numerous children – at one count, almost twelve of them. (Homer Iliad 18.590-92, Apollodorus 1.9.17) But she was by no means his only lover. By Aphrodite he was said to have sired Priapos (Pausanias 9.31.2), by Nikaia, Telete (Dionysiaca 16.392), by Aura, Iakkhos (Dionysiaca 48.887), by Koronis, the Younger Charities (Dionysiaca 15.87), by Althaia, Deianeira (Apollodorus 1.64), by Physkoa, Narkaios (Pausanias 5.16.6). Additionally, he was said to have wooed Beroe, after whom the city in Lebanon was named (Dionysiaca 42.1f) and Pallene, who had wrestled and slain all previous suitors. Nor were his amorous encounters limited only to women – Dionysos was also said to have loved the young satyr Ampelos (Ovid Fasti 3.407), the sentry to the underworld Prosymnos (Clement of Alexandria Protreceptic 2.34.5) and the poet Phanocles even wrote, “Bacchus on hills the fair Adonis saw, and ravished him, and reaped a wondrous joy.”

Orgiastic rites were frequently attributed to Dionysos. For instance, Livy recounts the allegations of the Roman Senate in their suppression of the Bacchanalia as follows, “When wine had inflamed their feelings, and night and the mingling of the sexes and of different ages had extinguished all power of moral judgement, all sorts of corruption began to be practiced, since each person had ready to hand the chance of gratifying the particular desire to which he was naturally inclined… [N]o sort of crime, no kind of immorality, was left unattempted. There were more obscenities practiced between men than between men and women.” (Roman History 39.8, 13) In the Akharnians, Aristophanes has Dikaiopolis jokingly refer to his daughter’s involvement in Dionysian revels, “Happy he who shall be your possessor and embrace you so firmly at dawn that you fart like a weasel.” The chorus of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King (1105-9) wonders if the King may have been conceived during a Dionysian orgy on mount Helicon, and Plutarch asserts that Alexander the Great was likely conceived during one of Queen Olympias’ Bacchic orgies, for which she had a great fondness, where the God appeared in the form of a giant snake. (Alexander 2-3) And Augustine speaks of a high degree of licentiousness carried on at Dionysos’ festivals. (The City of God 7.21) In Euripides’ Bacchae, Dionysos is said to “have the charm of Aphrodite in his eyes” (236), and Pentheus suspects that the maenads “prefer Aphrodite to Bacchus in their rites” (215), although the messenger who has come back from observing the rites of the maenads flatly denies any such allegation, saying that they worship “in all modesty. They weren’t as you described-all drunk on wine or on the music of their flutes, hunting for Aphrodite in the woods alone.” (685-87)

Sexuality is just as important in the realm of Osiris. He is called, “the Lord of the Phallus and the ravisher of women” (The Book of the Dead, CLXVIII, 15) and “the mummy with a long member,” in which form he is frequently depicted in funerary art. The phallus was even carried in processions to honor Osiris, according to Plutarch. “Moreover, when they celebrate the festival of the Pamylia which, as has been said, is of a phallic nature, they expose and carry about a statue of which the male member is triple; for the God is the Source, and every source, by its fecundity, multiplies what proceeds from it.” (On Isis and Osiris, 36) In the Pyramid Texts, it is said, “Your sister Isis comes to you rejoicing for love of you. You have placed her on your phallus and your seed issues into her.” (Utt. 366, sect 632) Nor was it just Isis with whom Osiris was said to have erotic encounters. Plutarch recounts a secret liason that Osiris had with his sister Nephthys, “Isis found that Osiris had loved and been intimate with her sister while mistaking her for herself, and saw a proof of this in the garland of melilot which he had left with Nephthys.” (On Isis and Osiris) This scene is hinted at in the Great Magical Papyrus of Paris, where we find the following line, “I have discovered a secret: Yes, Nephthys is having intercourse with Osiris.” (PGM 4.100-02) It is often suggested that this myth was a later invention, perhaps inspired by Greek stories of infidelities among the Gods – however, in the 183rd Chapter of the Book of the Dead a quarrel between Nephthys and Isis is recorded, which clearly predates the Greek presence in Egypt, and for which there is no other mythological explanation.

God of Joy

Firmicus Maternus records the symbolon of Osiris’ Roman initiates (mystai) as “Be of good cheer, O mystai, for the God is saved, and we shall have salvation from our woes.” (The Error of the Pagan Religions, 2.21). According to Plutarch, Osiris is “laughter-loving,” (On Isis and Osiris, 18) and in The Great Hymn to Osiris, the following is proclaimed: “There is joy everywhere, all hearts are glad, every face is happy, and everyone adoreth his beauty.”

According to Nonnos, the God Aion complained to Zeus about the laborious, care-ridden life of mortals. Zeus declared that he would beget a son who was to dispell the cares of the human race, and bring them a message of joy. (Dionysiaca 7:7) This was Dionysos, who according to Euripides in the Bacchae, “ends our worries” (450), “keeps the household safe and whole though the other Gods dwell far off in the air of heaven” (466-67) and is a “lover of peace” (500). For, as Horace said, “Who prates of war or want after taking wine?” (Carmina 1) Wine is the tangible symbol and fluid vehicle of the God. When people wish to speak of his blessings, they use wine to symbolize it. Hence we have, “Wine is mighty to inspire new hopes and wash away bitter tears of care.” (Horace, Carmina 4) “Wine frees the soul of subservience, fear, and insincerity; it teaches men how to be truthful and candid with one another.” (Plutarch’s Symposia 7.10.2) And Aristophanes adds, “When men drink wine they are rich, they are busy, they push lawsuits, they are happy, they help their friends.” (The Knights) Dionysos’ blessing is for everyone – male and female, young and old. (Euripides’ Bacchae 205) And it is very important – for “where Dionysos is not, love perishes, and everything else that is pleasant to man.” (Bacchae 769)


Osiris “was the subject of what was known as the Abydos passion play, a yearly ritual performed during the period of the Old Kingdom and until about AD 400. The Abydos passion play depicts the slaying of Osiris and his followers by his brother Seth, the enactment of which apparently resulted in many real deaths. The figure of Osiris, symbolically represented in the play, is then torn to pieces by Seth, after which his remains are gathered by his wife Isis and son Horus, who subsequently restore him to life. The play thus follows the pattern of birth, death, and resurrection, and it also echoes the cycle of the seasons.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

“The world’s earliest report of a dramatic production comes from the banks of the Nile. It is in the form of a stone tablet preserved in a German museum and contains the sketchy description of one, I-kher-nefert (or Ikhernofret), a representative of the Egyptian king, of the parts he played in a performance of the world’s first recorded “Passion” Play somewhere around the year 2000 B.C.E.” (Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates, Minute History of the Drama, p. 4).

Similarly, drama in Greece was thought to have developed out of early rituals commemorating the death and dismemberment of Dionysos. Long after the plays enacted ceased to be about Dionysos directly, the theater was still considered sacred to him, new productions were debuted at the Dionysias, and his priests were always given the choicest of seats.

John M. Allegro notes, “At the beginning of the fifth century BC tragedy formed part of the Great Dionysia, the Spring festival of Dionysos Eluethereus. Three poets competed, each contributing three tragedies and one satyric play. The latter was performed by choruses of fifty singers in a circle, dressed as satyrs, part human, part bestial, and bearing before them huge replicas of the erect penis, as they sang dithyrambs.” (The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross)

Mysteries and Initiation

Both Gods had Mysteries associated with them, and mystai who sought initiation into a special relationship with the God.

Marvin W. Meyer describes the Hellenistic mysteries as follows, “[They] were secret religious groups composed of individuals who decided, through personal choice, to be initiated into the profound realities of one deity or another. Unlike the official religions, in which a person was expected to show outward, public allegiance to the local gods of the polis or state, the mysteries emphasized an inwardness and privacy of worship within closed groups. The person who chose to be initiated joined an association of people united in their quest for personal salvation.” (The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook, pg. 4)

The term “initiation” comes from the Latin word initiare, which is a late Hellenistic translation of the Greek verb myein, whence our word mystery comes from. The main Greek term for initiation, myesis, is also derived from the verb myein, which means “to close.” It refers to the closing of the eyes which was possibly symbolic of entering into darkness prior to reemerging and receiving light and to the closing the lips which was possibly a reference to the vow of silence taken by all initiates. Another Greek term for initiation was telete. In his Immortality of the Soul Plutarch writes that “the soul at the moment of death, goes through the same experiences as those who are initiated into the great mysteries. The word and the act are similar: we say telentai “to die” and telestai “to be initiated”.”

Cicero wrote, “For by means of mysteries we have been transformed from a rough and savage way of life to a state of humanity, and have been civilized. Just as they are called initiations, so in actual fact we have learned from them the fundamentals of life, and have grasped the basis not only for living with joy but also for dying with a better hope.” (On the Laws 2.14.36)

Dionysos was the Mystery-God par excellence in Greece. Not only did he have mysteries of his own, but he was a central figure in the Eleusinian Mysteries, as well as said to have been the founder and prophet of those belonging to the Magna Mater Kybele or Rhea.

Although it was previously thought that Dionysian mysteries only developed in the later Hellenistic and Roman Age, Walter Burkert informs us that, “We find evidence for Bacchic mysteries from the sixth to the fourth century with centers at Miletus and the Black Sea, in Thessaly and in Macedonia, Magna Graecia, and Crete; we find special rituals (teletai) performed as private initiations by itinerant charismatics to serve as “cures” for various afflictions, good both for this life and for the Beyond, combined with gatherings of private clubs (thiasoi) presenting themselves to the public in procession (pompe). The experience of ecstacy, mania, is crucial.” (Bacchic Teletai in Masks of Dionysos, pg. 260)

John M. Allegro in The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, writes, “The female votaries of the phallus god Bacchus were known as the Bacchants…They were characterized by extreme forms of religious excitement interspersed with periods of intense depression. At one moment whirling in a frenzied dance, tossing their heads, driving one another on with screaming and the wild clamor of musical instruments, at another sunk into the deepest lethargy, and a silence so intense as to become proverbial. The Bacchants both possessed the god and were possessed by him; theirs was a religious enthusiasm in the proper sense of the term, that is, ‘god-filled’. Having eaten the Bacchus or Dionysos, they took on his power and character…”

John Ferguson adds, “In their ecstasy they would range through the mountains in dizzying dances, and tear some animal apart with their bare hands and ate it raw. There is no doubt that this was a communion in the god’s own body and blood; indeed at one center the god was worshipped under the cult-title Raw. The inspiration of the god was believed to confer miraculous power, and, as often, as belief in miracles leads to the performance of miracles. We hear of them caught in a snowstorm so that their clothes were frozen stiff, but rescued unharmed, or falling asleep from sheer exhaustion in an enemy village during wartime, and being protect for their holiness.” (An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Mysticism and the Mystery Religions)

Proclus wrote that, “The teletai cause sympathy of the souls with the ritual in a way that is unintelligible to us, and divine, so that some of the initiands are stricken with panic, being filled with divine awe; others assimilate themselves to the holy symbols, leave their own identity, become at home with the Gods, and experience divine possession.”

A Twelfth Dynasty inscription says, “Anubis sanctifies the hidden mystery of Osiris, in the sacred valley of the Lord of Life. The mysterious Initiation of the Lord of Abydos.” And the teachings of Merikare advise the priest to, “Visit the temple, observe the mysteries, enter the shrine, eat bread in God’s house.”

The great center for Osirian mysteries in Egypt was Abydos, which was said to hold the tomb of the God, and to which people made annual pilgrimages to take part in the great celebrations. Craig M. Lyons writes about the mysteries as they were celebrated at Abydos: “We know that at all the temples of Osiris his Passion was re-enacted at his annual festivals. On a stele at Abydos erected in the XIIth Dynasty by one I-KherNefert, a priest of Osiris during the reign of Usertsen III (Pharaoh Sesostris), about 1875 B.C.E., we find a description of the principal scenes in the Osiris mystery-drama. I-Kher-Nefert himself played the key role of Horus. In the first scene, Osiris is treacherously slain, and no one knows what has become of his body; thereupon all the onlookers weep, rend their hair, and beat their breasts. Isis and Nephthys recover the remnants, reconstitute the body, and return it to the temple. The next scene, in which Thoth, Horus, and Isis accomplish the revivification, undoubtedly occurs within the sacred precincts, and is therefore not witnessed by the populace. However, in due course the resurrected Osiris emerges at the head of his train; at this glorious consummation, the anguish and sorrow of the people are turned into uncontrollable rejoicing. Horus thereupon places his father in the solar boat so that he may, since he has already been born a second time, proceed as a living god into the eternal regions. This was the great “coming forth by day” of which we read so often in The Book of the Dead. The climax of the play was the great battle in which Horus defeated Set and which is described so vividly by Herodotus (History, II, 63).”

Although much of the Osirian mysteries was performed openly – in stark contrast to the Greek and Roman mysteries – secrecy attended the holiest portion of them. For instance, Herodotus wrote, “On this lake they enact by night the story of the god’s sufferings, a rite which the Egyptians call the Mysteries. I could say more about this, for I know the truth, but let me preserve a discreet silence.” (2.171.1) And Plutarch says that he must “leave undisturbed what may not be told” ( On Isis and Osiris, 35)

The mysteries of Isis and Osiris spread beyond the fertile Nile valley, and found great success in the Roman west. During the reign of Ptolomy Soter, Isis became so popular in Greece that a great temple was built for her at the foot of the Acropolis; and in the ensuing centuries, as we learn from Pausanias, almost every Greek city and village had its Isis-temple. Under the Emperor Caligula, Isis was admitted into Rome, and her worship became so popular that only Christianity and Mithraism rivaled her in number of adherants. Central to her worship was the celebration of the mysteries concerning the death and revivification of her husband, Osiris. The Christian author Firmicus Maternus, describes the Roman mysteries of Osiris as follows: “In the sanctuaries of Osiris, his murder and dismemberment are annually commemorated with great lamentations. His worshipers beat their breasts and gash their shoulders. When they pretend that the mutilated remains of the god have been found and rejoined they turn from mourning to rejoicing.” (Error of the Pagan Religions, 22.1)

The initiate found in the story of the God’s suffering, and his transformation by Isis, a hope that he, too, might be reborn and transformed.

Apuleius, an initiate in these mysteries, describes his experience as follows:

“I approached the confines of death. I trod the threshold of Proserpine; and borne through the elements I returned. At midnight I saw the Sun shining in all his glory. I approached the Gods below and the Gods above, and I stood beside them, and I worshipped them.” (Metamorphoses, 11.23)


In Ionia, Katagogia festivals were celebrated to honor the return of Dionysos, whose image was ceremoniously escorted by priests and priestesses. In Athens the image of Dionysos was driven to his sanctuary in a ship on wheels, most probably during the Anthesteria festival on the day of Khoes. Pausanias describes the procession of Dionysos Eleuthereus’ image from a little temple in the Academy to his sanctuary before the eve of the City Dionysia (1.29.2).

Carl Kerenyi observes, “The core of this ritual procession has its analogies in the religious and cultural history of Egypt, where Gods in their chapels were borne by barks which the gods’ servants carried on their backs. What in Greece was an anomaly, limited to the cult of Dionysos, was held to be the most natural thing in the world in Egypt, where the Nile was the main avenue of communication.” (Dionysos: Archetype of Indestructable Life, pg 167)

Additionally, processions in which representations of the phallus were carried about were quite common for Dionysos. According to Aristophanes, Phales, the phallus personified, was the “friend and constant companion” of Dionysos, and accompanied him in processions and sacred dances. (Acharnians 263) Herodotus says that Melampos, who supposedly introduced Dionysos’ worship into Greece, instituted phallic processions in his honor. (2.49) At Methymna on Lesbos there was a cult of Dionysos Phallen in which a wooden trunk with a face on it was carried in procession. (Pasuanias 10.19.3)

Both sorts of processions played an important role in the worship of Osiris, as Emily Teeter observed in Egypt and the Egyptians: “During festivals the statue of the god was removed from his sanctuary and placed in a portable shrine which was, in turn, placed on a boat. These ritual craft could be quite large; indeed, the texts from Tutankhamun claim that it was carried by eleven pairs of priests. The sacred boat processions might circumambulate the temple or make a pilgrimage from one temple to another, accompanied by temple personnel and local residents who sang, danced, and acclaimed the god.” (Chapter 6)

From a Middle Kingdom stela belonging to the high official Ikhernofret, we learn that the second day of the Osirian mysteries at Abydos consisted of a great procession, where a shrine inlaid with gold, lapis lazuli, silver, and bronze was carried on a bark called ‘neshmet‘ through the funerary complex and to a number of different localities. At Philae, the statue of Osiris was carried in procession from his temple to the neighboring temple of Isis, where a hieros gamos or sacred marriage was likely celebrated. Plutarch reports that pitchers carrying water from the Nile were borne at the head of Osiris’ processions (On Isis and Osiris, 36) and he says that at the Pamylia festivals, “a statue of the god with a triple phallus is carried about” (37). Herodotus attests to phallic processions in honor of Osiris as well (2.49) where women used to go about the villages singing songs in his praise and carrying obscene images of him which they set in motion by means of strings.

Death and Dismemberment

E. A. Wallis Budge observed that “the story of Osiris is nowhere found in a connected form in Egyptian literature, but everywhere, and in texts of all periods, the life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Osiris are accepted as facts universally admitted.” (The Book of the Opening of the Mouth pg 9)

Despite the seeming prohibition on discussing the death of the God – although the Greek traveler Herodotus had observed the annual mysteries commemorating Osiris’ death he felt that he must keep a “discreet silence” regarding their content (2.171.1) – we find many suggestive hints in material such as the Pyramid and Coffin Texts, and in the Book of the Dead. For instance, Utterance 532 from the Pyramid Texts mentions that Osiris was struck down by Set. Pyramid Text 819a reads, “This Great One had fallen on his side; he had been thrown down.” PT 1005a-b says, “Osiris had been placed on his side by his brother Set, but the one who is in Nedit will move because his head has been put back in place by Re.” PT 1255-56a-b reads, “Isis came. Nephthys came. The one of the West, the other of the East, the one as a tern, the other as a kite. They found Osiris as his brother had flung him on the ground in Nedit.” PT 1007e reads, “Horus struck the one who struck you, bound the one who bound you.” PT 1544-1545a-b reads, “O Osiris who is here! I hit for you the one who had hit you as an ox. I killed the one who had killed you as a breeding bull. I broke the one who had submitted you to the Red Bull of Upper Egypt. The one who had shot you with an arrow is now shot. The one who stunned you is now stunned.” The Coffin Texts speak of the drowning of Osiris by Set: “permit me to have water as Set had water when he committed a flight against Osiris on the night of the great storm.” (353) Coffin Text 4.396a-b speaks of a great cataclysmic storm and the brutal waters of Set which drowned Osiris. And CT 184 speaks of Osiris being “put in a box, in a chest, in a bag.” And in the Pyramid Text of Unas we find perhaps the most explicit mention of Set’s attack on Osiris in Egyptian literature, “Unas hath weighted his words with the hidden god who hath no name, on the day of hacking in pieces the firstborn.”

However, it was not until the Greek author Plutarch that these various traditions were brought together and given a cohesive form. His narrative on the death and dismemberment of Osiris by Set runs as follows:

“It is said that Osiris, when he was king, at once freed the Egyptians from their primitive and brutish manner of life; he showed them how to grow crops, established laws for them, and taught them to worship Gods. Later he civilized the whole world as he traversed through it, having very little need of arms, but winning over most of the peoples by beguiling them with per­suasive speech together with all manner of song and poetry. That is why the Greeks thought he was the same as Dionysos.

“When he was away Typhon conspired in no way against him since Isis was well on guard and kept careful watch, but on his return he devised a plot against him, making seventy-two men his fellow-conspirators and having as helper a queen who had come from Ethiopia, whom they name Aso. Typhon secretly measured the body of Osiris and got made to the corresponding size a beautiful chest which was exquisitely decorated. This he brought to the banqueting-hall, and when the guests showed pleasure and admiration at the sight of it, Typhon promised playfully that whoever would lie down in it and show that he fitted it, should have the chest as a gift. They all tried one by one, and since no one fitted into it, Osiris went in and lay down. Then the conspirators ran and slammed the lid on, and after securing it with bolts from the outside and also with molten lead poured on, they took it out to the river and let it go to the sea by way of the Tanitic mouth, which the Egyptians still call, because of this, hateful and abominable. They say that all these events occurred on the seventeenth day of the month of Athyr, when the sun passes through the scorpion, in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Osiris. But some state that this was the period of his life rather than of his reign.

“The first to hear of the misfortune and to spread the news of its occurrence were the Pans and Satyrs who live near Khemmis, and because of this, the sudden disturbance and excitement of a crowd is still referred to as ‘panic’. When Isis heard of it she cut off there and then one of her locks and put on a mourning garment; accordingly the city is called Coptos to this day. Others think that the name indicates deprivation; for they use koptein to mean ‘to deprive’, and they suggest that Isis, when she was wandering everywhere in a state of distress, passed by no one without accosting him, and even when she met children, she asked them about the chest. Some of these had happened to see it and they named the river-mouth through which Typhon’s friends had pushed the box to the sea. For this reason the Egyptians believe that children have the power of divination, and they take omens especially from children’s shouts as they play near the temples and say whatever occurs to them.

“When Isis found that Osiris had loved and been intimate with her sister while mistaking her for herself, and saw a proof of this in the garland of melilot which he had left with Nephthys, she searched for the child (for Nephthys had exposed it instantly upon giving birth to it, in fear of Typhon); and when Isis found it with the help of dogs which had led her on with difficulty and pain, it was reared and became her guard and attendant, being called Anubis. He is said to keep watch over the gods as dogs do over men. They say that she learned as a result of this that the chest had been cast up by the sea in the land of Byblos and that the surf had brought it gently to rest in a heath-tree. Having shot up in a short time into a most lovely and tall young tree, the heath enfolded the chest and grew around it, hiding it within itself. Admiring the size of the tree, the king cut off the part of the trunk which encom­passed the coffin, which was not visible, and used it as a pillar to support the roof. They say that Isis heard of this through the divine breath of rumour and came to Byblos, where she sat down near a fountain, dejected and tearful. She spoke to no one except the queen’s maids, whom she greeted and welcomed, plaiting their hair and breathing upon their skin a wonderful fragrance which emanated from herself. when the queen saw her maids she was struck with longing for the stranger’s hair and for her skin, which breathed ambrosia; and so Isis was sent for and became friendly with the queen and was made nurse of her child. The king’s name, they say, was Malcathros; some say that the queen’s name was Astarte, others Saosis, and others Neinanous, whom the Greeks would call Athenais.

“They say that Isis nursed the child, putting her finger in its mouth instead of her breast, but that in the night she burned the mortal parts of its body, while she herself became a swallow, flying around the pillar and making lament until the queen, who had been watching her, gave a shriek when she saw her child on fire, and so deprived it of immortality. The goddess then revealed herself and demanded the pillar under the roof. She took it from beneath with the utmost ease and proceeded to cut away the heath-tree. This she then covered with linen and poured sweet oil on it, after which she gave it into the keeping of the king and queen; to this day the people of Byblos venerate the wood, which is in the temple of Isis. The goddess then fell upon the coffin and gave such a loud wail that the younger of the king’s sons died; the elder son she took with her, and placing the coffin in a boat, she set sail. When the river phaedrus produced a somewhat rough wind towards dawn, in a fit of anger she dried up the stream.

“As soon as she happened on a deserted spot, there in solitude she opened the chest and pressing her face to that of Osiris, she embraced him and began to cry. She then noticed that the boy had approached silently from behind and had observed her, whereupon she turned round and full of anger gave him a terrible look. The boy was unable to bear the fright, and dropped dead. Some say that it did not happen so, but, as we said before, that he fell into the sea and is honoured because of the goddess, being the same person as the Maneros of whom the Egyptians sing in their banquets. Some say the boy was called [Palaestinus or] Pelousius and that the city founded by the Goddess (Pelusium) was named after him; also that the Maneros of whom they sing was the discoverer of music and poetry. Others again say that it is not the name of a man at all, but an expression such as comes naturally to men as they drink and make merry: ‘The best of luck to this and that!’ For this sentiment, signified by the word Maneros, is expressed by the Egyptians on all festive occasions. For instance, there is the image of a dead man which is carried round in a chest and shown them: this is not, as some assume, a memorial of the suffering of Osiris, but they say that thus they exhort their inebriated companions to use the present and enjoy it, since everyone will very soon be like the image seen; this is why they bring it into the feast.

“Having journeyed to her son Horus who was being brought up in Buto, Isis put the box aside, and Typhon, when he was hunting by night in the moonlight, came upon it. He recog­nized the body, and having cut it into fourteen parts, he scattered them. When she heard of this, Isis searched for them in a papyrus boat, sailing through the marshes. That is why people who sail in papyrus skiffs are not harmed by crocodiles, which show either fear or veneration because of the goddess. From this circumstance arises the fact that many tombs of Osiris are said to exist in Egypt, for the goddess, as she came upon each part, held a burial cere­mony. Some deny this, saying that she fashioned images and distributed them to each city as though she was giving the whole body, so that he (Osiris) might be honoured by more people and that Typhon, if he overcame Horus, when he sought for the true tomb, might be baffled in his search because many tombs would be mentioned and shown. The only part of Osiris which Isis did not find was his male member; for no sooner was it thrown into the river than the lepidotus, phagrus and oxyrhynchus ate of it, fish which they most of all abhor. In its place Isis fashioned a likeness of it and consecrated the phallus, in honour of which the Egyptians even today hold festival.” (On Isis and Osiris, 13-18)

The commemoration of these events formed the basis for the mysteries of Osiris at Abydos, which Plutarch described as “gloomy, solemn, and mournful sacrifices” (On Isis and Osiris, 69) and those of Isis and Osiris in the Roman West. Julius Firmicus Maternus, a Latin Christian writer of the fourth century, declared: “In the sanctuaries of Osiris, his murder and dismemberment are annually commemorated with great lamentations. His worshipers beat their breasts and gash their shoulders. When they pretend that the mutilated remains of the god have been found and rejoined they turn from mourning to rejoicing.” (Error of the Pagan Religions, 22.1)

Similar stories were told about the death and dismemberment of Dionysos.

Plutarch informs us that the “Phrygians believe that the god sleeps in winter and is awake in summer, and with Bacchic frenzy they celebrate in the one season the festival of his being lulled to sleep Kateunasmous and in the other his being aroused or awakened Anegerseis. The Paphlagonians declare that he is fettered and imprisoned during the winter, but that in the spring he moves and is freed again.” (On Isis and Osiris 69) More explicitly, an oracle which preceded the founding of the Dionysian colony of Perinthos said, “After Bakhos, who cried ‘euhoi’ is struck, blood and fire and dust will mix.” Himeros speaks of the death of the God in the following manner, “Dionysos lay there struck down, still moaning under the blow. The vine hung down, the wine was disconsolate, the grape as though bathed in tears.” (Orationes XLV 4)

Pausanias informs us of who the instigators of the God’s murder were, “From Homer the name of the Titans was taken by Onomacritos, who in the orgies he composed for Dionysos made the Titans the authors of the God’s sufferings.” (8.37.5)

Diodorus Siculus adds more detail to the story: “The Titans, who are the Sons of Gaia, tore to pieces Dionysos-Zagreus, the child of Zeus and Persephone, and boiled him, but his members were brought together again by Demeter and he experienced a new birth as if for the first time. And with these stories, the teachings agree which are set forth in the Orphic poems and are introduced into their rites, but it is not lawful to recount them in detail to the uninitiated.” (3.62)

From Hyginus we get an even more full account: “Liber, son of Jove and Proserpina, was dismembered by the Titans, and Jove gave his heart, torn to bits, to Semele in a drink. When she was made pregnant by this, Juno, changing herself to look like Semele’s nurse, Beroe, said to her: ‘Daughter, ask Jove to come to you as he comes to Juno, so you may know what pleasure it is to sleep with a God.’ At her suggestion Semele made this request of Jove, and was smitten by a thunderbolt.” (Fabulae 167)

But the fullest account of the story was preserved in Nonnos’ monumental treatment of the God’s myths, the Dionysiaca, as follows:

“[Demeter hid Persephone in a cave in Sicily to try to prevent her mating with any of the Gods] Ah, maiden Persephoneia! You could not find how to escape your mating! No, a drakon was your mate, when Zeus changed his face and came, rolling in many a loving coil through the dark to the corner of the maiden’s chamber, and shaking his hairy chaps: he lulled to sleep as he crept the eyes of those creatures of his own shape who guarded the door. He licked the girl’s form gently with wooing lips. By this marriage with the heavenly drakon, the womb of Persephone swelled with living fruit, and she bore Zagreus the horned baby, who by himself climbed upon the heavenly throne of Zeus and brandished lightning in his little hand, and newly born, lifted and carried thunderbolts in his tender fingers.

“But he did not hold the throne of Zeus for long. By the fierce resentment of implacable Hera, the Titans cunningly smeared their round faces with disguising chalk, and while he contemplated his changeling countenance reflected in a mirror they destroyed him with an infernal knife. There where his limbs had been cut piecemeal by the Titan steel, the end of his life was the beginning of a new life as Dionysos. He appeared in another shape, and changed into many forms: now young like crafty Kronides shaking the aegis-cape, now as ancient Kronos heavy-kneed, pouring rain. Sometimes he was a curiously formed baby, sometimes like a mad youth with the flower of the first down marking his rounded chin with black. Again, a mimic lion he uttered a horrible roar in furious rage from a wild snarling throat, as he lifted a neck shadowed by a thick mane, marking his body on both sides with the self-striking whip of a tail which flickered about over his hairy back. Next, he left the shape of a lion’s looks and let out a ringing neigh, now like an unbroken horse that lifts his neck on high to shake out the imperious tooth of the bit, and rubbing, whitened his cheek with hoary foam. Sometimes he poured out a whistling hiss from his mouth, a curling horned serpent covered with scales, darting out his tongue from his gaping throat, and leaping upon the grim head of some Titan encircled his neck in snaky spiral coils. Then he left the shape of the restless crawler and became a tiger with gay stripes on his body; or again like a bull emitting a counterfeit roar from his mouth he butted the Titans with sharp horn. So he fought for his life, until Hera with jealous throat bellowed harshly through the air – that heavy-resentful step-mother! And the gates of Olympos rattled in echo to her jealous throat from high heaven. Then the bold bull collapsed: the murderers each eager for his turn with the knife chopt piecemeal the bull-shaped Dionysos.

“After the first Dionysos had been slaughtered, Father Zeus learnt the trick of the mirror with its reflected image. He attacked the mother of the Titans with avenging brand, and shut up the murderers of horned Dionysos within the gate of Tartaros: the trees blazed, the hair of suffering Gaia was scorched with heat. He kindled the East: the dawnlands of Baktria blazed under blazing bolts, the Assyrian waves est afirethe neighbouring Kaspion Sea and the Indian mountains, the Red Sea rolled billows of flame and warmed Arabian Nereus. The opposite West also fiery Zeus blasted with the thunderbolt in love for his child; and under the foot of Zephyros the western brine half-burn spat out a shining stream; the Northern ridges – even the surface of the frozen Northern Sea bubbled and burned: under the clime of snowy Aigokeros the Southern corner boiled with hotter sparks.

“Now Okeanos poured rivers of tears from his watery eyes, a libation of suppliant prayer. Then Zeus clamed his wrath at the sight of the scorched earth; he pitied her, and wished to wash with water the ashes of ruin and the fiery wounds of the land.

“Then Rainy Zeus covered the whole sky with clouds and flooded all the earth.” (6.155)

According to Philodemos, after Dionysos was torn apart by the Titans, Rhea the mother of the Gods, sought for the dismembered pieces, and then put them back together again. (De pietate 44) Diodorus Siculus wrote that Demeter (who was often equated with Rhea and Isis) gathered together the pieces, drawing a parallel to the vine which after it has been heavily pruned during the wine harvest, must be restored by the earth in order for it to bear fruit once again in due season. (3.62.7-8)

The dismemberment and reconstitution of Dionysos was given deep, eschatological signifigance in the Bacchic and Orphic mysteries.

The Neoplatonic philosopher Olympiodoros wrote that when Zeus burned up the Titans with his lightning-bolts a vapor arose, soot formed, and from the soot, a stuff. Of this stuff men were made. “Our body is Dionysian, we are a part of him, since we sprang from the soot of the Titans who ate his flesh.” (Olympiodors In Platonis Phaedonem comentarii 61C)

Plato wrote that during Dionysian initiation, the initiates “search eagerly within themselves to find the nature of their God, they are successful, because they have been compelled to keep their eyes fixed upon the God … they are inspired and receive from him character and habits, so far as it is possible for a man to have part in God.”

Macrobius in the Saturnalia observed that, “In their Mystery-tradition Dionysos is represented as being torn limb from limb by the fury of the Titans, and after the pieces have been buried, as coming together again and whole and one. By offering itself for division from its undivided state, and by returning to the undivided from the divided, this Dionysian process both fulfills the duties of the cosmos and also performs the mysteries of its own nature.”

Plutarch, in On the E at Delphi 23, wrote, “As for his passage and distribution into waves and water, and earth, and stars, and nascent plants and animals, they hint at the actual change undergone as a rending and dismemberment, but name the God himself Dionysos or Zagreus or Nyctelios or Isodaites. Deaths too and vanishings do they construct, passages out of life and new births, all riddles and tales to match the changes mentioned. So they sing to Dionysos dithyrambic strains, charged with sufferings and a change wherein are wanderings and dismemberment. For Aeschylus says, ‘In mingled cries the dithyramb should ring, With Dionysos revelling, its King.’ (Fr. 392) But Apollo has the Pæan, a set and sober music. Apollo is ever ageless and young; Dionysos has many forms and many shapes as represented in paintings and sculpture, which attribute to Apollo smoothness and order and a gravity with no admixture, to Dionysos a blend of sport and sauciness with seriousness and frenzy: ‘God that sett’st maiden’s blood. Dancing in frenzied mood, Blooming with pageantry! Evoe! we cry,’ So do they summon him, rightly catching the character of either change. But since the periods of change are not equal, that called “satiety” being longer, that of “stint” shorter, they here preserve a proportion, and use the Pæan with their sacrifice for the rest of the year, but at the beginning of winter revive the dithyramb, and stop the Pæan, and invoke this God instead of the other, supposing that this ratio of three to one is that of the ‘Arrangement’ to the ‘Conflagration’.”

Put into a chest to be drowned

According to the earliest traditions about the death of Osiris, he was placed in a chest and drowned. (The dismemberment into 14 pieces is quietly passed over.) Plutarch tells the story in the following manner:

“When he was away Typhon conspired in no way against him since Isis was well on guard and kept careful watch, but on his return he devised a plot against him, making seventy-two men his fellow-conspirators and having as helper a queen who had come from Ethiopia, whom they name Aso. Typhon secretly measured the body of Osiris and got made to the corresponding size a beautiful chest which was exquisitely decorated. This he brought to the banqueting-hall, and when the guests showed pleasure and admiration at the sight of it, Typhon promised playfully that whoever would lie down in it and show that he fitted it, should have the chest as a gift. They all tried one by one, and since no one fitted into it, Osiris went in and lay down. Then the conspirators ran and slammed the lid on, and after securing it with bolts from the outside and also with molten lead poured on, they took it out to the river and let it go to the sea by way of the Tanitic mouth, which the Egyptians still call, because of this, hateful and abominable.” (On Isis and Osiris, 13)

A similar story is recounted by the Greek traveler Pausanias of Dionysos:

“The inhabitants of Brasiae have a story, found nowhere else in Greece, that Semele, after giving birth to her son by Zeus, was discovered by Kadmos and put with Dionysos into a chest, which was washed up by the waves in their country. Semele, who was no longer alive when found, received a splendid funeral, but they brought up Dionysos. For this reason the name of their city, hitherto called Oreiatae, was changed to Brasiai after the washing up of the chest to land; so too in our time the common word used of the waves casting things ashore is ekbrazein. The people of Brasiae add that Ino in the course of her wanderings came to the country, and agreed to become the nurse of Dionysos. They show the cave where Ino nursed him, and call the plain the garden of Dionysos” (3.24.3-4)

Various Localities for their Tombs

“Regarding the shrines of Osiris, whose body is said to have been laid in many different places. For they say that Diochites is the name given to a small town, on the ground that it alone contains the true tomb; and that the prosperous and influential men among the Egyptians are mostly buried in Abydos, since it is the object of their ambition to be buried in the same ground with the body of Osiris. In Memphis, however, they say, the Apis is kept, being the image of the soul of Osiris, whose body also lies there. The name of this city some interpret as ‘the haven of the good’ and others as meaning properly the ‘tomb of Osiris.’ They also say that the sacred island by Philae at all other times is untrodden by man and quite unapproachable, and even birds do not alight on it nor fishes approach it; yet, at one special time, the priests cross over to it, and perform the sacrificial rites for the dead, and lay wreaths upon the tomb, which lies in the encompassing shade of a persea-tree, which surpasses in height any olive. Eudoxus says that, while many tombs of Osiris are spoken of in Egypt, his body lies in Busiris; for this was the place of his birth; moreover, Taphosiris requires no comment, for the name itself means ‘the tomb of Osiris.'” – Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 20-21

Likewise, Dionysos was said to have his tomb in various locations. Philochorus says that his grave was “in Delphi near Golden Apollo”. (Fragment 22) Plutarch informs us that at Delphi the remains of Dionysos rested near the place where the oracle was, and that the Hosioi made a secret sacrifice in the temple of Apollo at the very same time as the Thyiads were awakening Liknites, the infant Dionysos in the cradle. (On Isis and Osiris 35) Clement of Alexandria was informed that there was a grave of Dionysos at Thebes (Recognitions 10.24) while others believed that he had been buried along with Ariadne at Argos (Pausanias 2.23.8), and at Lerna, it was believed that Dionysos had been cast into the lake and drowned

Sought After

In the Roman mysteries of Isis and Osiris, the initiates (mystai) shared the grief and the joy of Isis, who sought for the body of Osiris and finally found and embalmed him. (Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 27) According to Firmicus Maternus, the cry of the devotees at the culimnation of these mysteries, the Inventio Osiridis or “Finding of Osiris”, which took place during November in Rome, was heureamen synchairomen, “We have found! We rejoice together!” (The Error of the Pagan Religions, 2.9)

Over a millenia before that, one finds evidence of this central feature of Osiris’s mysteries in the Pyramid texts. For instance, Utterances such as 478, 482, 532, and 535, for example tell of Isis searching for the body of Osiris, while utterance 364 describes the gathering together of the body parts by Nephthys leading to his resurrection. The exclamation of the Roman mystai is even echoed in one of these ancient verses:

“… says Isis. “I have found!” says Nephthys when they had found Osiris on his side on the river bank (Pyramid Texts Utterance 2144a-b)

According to Plutarch (Quaest. Rom. 102), during the Agrionia festival, the women searched for the lost Dionysos, and at last called out to one another that he had escaped to the Muses, and had concealed himself with them. Philodemos informs us that after Dionysos was torn apart by the Titans, Rhea the mother of the Gods, sought for the dismembered pieces, and then put them back together again. (De pietate 44) While Diodorus Siculus wrote that Demeter (who was often equated with Rhea and Isis) gathered together the pieces, drawing a parallel to the vine which after it has been heavily pruned during the wine harvest, must be restored by the earth in order for it to bear fruit once again in due season. (3.62.7-8)

Something Bad Happens to their Penis

“The Aigyptians in their myths say that in ancient times the Titans formed a conspiracy against Osiris and slew him, and then, taking his body and dividing it into equal parts among themselves, the slipped them secretly out of the house, but this organ alone they threw into the river, since no one of them was willing to take it with him. But Isis tracked down the murder of her husband, and after slaying the Titanes and fashioning the several pieces of his body into the shape of a human figure, she gave them to the priests with orders that they pay Osiris the honours of a god, but since the only member she was unable to recover was the organ of sex she commanded them to pay to it the honours of a god and set it up in their temples in an erect position.” -Diodorus Siculus 4.6.1

Carl Kerenyi suggests that Dionysos, like Osiris, was a castrated God. He begins his discussion by suggesting that Dionysos’ birth from the thigh of Zeus metaphorically referred to this. “The logic of the Greek version of the myth is marred only by the substitution of the thigh birth for the God’s self-emasculation, a terrible but not meaningless act. The invention of a birth from the thigh of Zeus had its function in Greece: to cover over the God’s lavish gift at the expense of his own body. The myth cruelly emphasized the eternally necessary self-sacrifice of male virility to the feminine sex, and hence to the human race as a whole. One account of the concrete mission of the Dionysian religion – in its more masculine form, the mysteries of the Kabeiroi – tells us that the murderers of the God brought his male organ in a basket ffrom northern Greece to Italy. ‘For this reason,’ Clement of Alexandria, our Christian source concludes, ‘certain persons, not inapropriately, equate Dionysos with Attis, because he too was separated from his reproductive organ.’ (Protrepticus 2.19.4) Eunuchism was as characterisitic of Dionysos as Attis. It was one of the secret components of the Dionysian religion, but to the conoisseurs of the Dionysos cult cited by Clement it was an open secret.” (Dionysos: Archetype of Indestructable Life, pg 276-77)

Lord of the Underworld

The The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys hail Osiris as “Thou Lord of the Underworld,” and Plutarch wrote, “There is a doctrine which modern priests hint at, but only in veiled terms and with caution: namely that this god (Osiris) rules and reigns over the dead, being none other than he whom the Greeks call Hades and Pluto.” (On Isis and Osiris, 78)

Vincent Bridges observed that “As early as 3,000 B.C.E, Osirian funeral artifacts appeared at Abydos. Within a few hundred years, the 1st Dynasty kings of a unified Egypt built tombs and cenotaphs at Abydos in order to be near the tomb of Osiris and the gateway to the Land of the Dead. From then on, Abydos was the center of the Osirian mysteries. (Abydos, the Osireion and Egyptian Sacred Science)

Jaromir Malek observed, “The dead king is…in the Pyramid Texts also identified with the God Osiris. Osiris was originally a chthonic deity. At first, he perhaps assimilated the God Anedjti, and became connected with the town of Djedu (Busiris) in the central Delta, and very early on also Iunu (Heliopolis). His importance grew rapidly, and he may have, as early as the Fourth Dynasty, influenced the changes in the royal pyramid-complexes. In private tombs Osiris began to be mentioned in the Fifth Dynasty, which is also the earliest date at which he was represented in human form. He quickly acquired the status of the universal God of the nether-world, with Djedu (Busiris) and Abdju (Abydos) as his main cult centers. In Abdju, he assimilated the original God Khentiamentiu.” (In the Shadow of the Pyramids)

Osiris as Lord of the Underworld is so well-known, that it hardly bears delving into here. (Especially when this is dealt with more extensively under the God’s demise and the individual’s identification with him in the afterlife.) However, what is not so commonly known is Dionysos’ associations with the Underworld, despite the extensive material on the subject.

An Apulian volute crater of the Darius Painter depicts Dionysos at the head of his thiasos, joining hands with Hades who is enthroned in his aedicula opposite a standing Persephone. This could be interpreted a number of different ways – a visual representation of the mystery that Herakleitos revealed in his oft-quoted but little understood line “Hades and Dionysos, for whom they go mad and rage, are one and the same,” (Fragment 115) or, as Fritz Graf writes in Dionysian and Orphic Eschatology, “Dionysos interceding with the powers beyond on behalf of his initiates.” (pg. 256 in Masks of Dionysos)

As Walter Otto observed, tradition has much to say about Dionysos the God who visits or even lives in the world of the dead. Horace described how the fearsome Kerberos, guardian of the Underworld quietly watched as Dionysos entered with his golden horn, and even licked his feet as he left. (Carmine 2.19) Numerous authors tell the story of how Dionysos descended into the underworld to bring his mother Semele back to the world of the living. In Aristophanes’ The Frogs, Dionysos goes down to the Underworld and joins the Eleusinian mystai in their sacred songs and dances. According to Orphic Hymn 46, he himself grew up in Persephone’s home, and Hymn 53 says that he sleeps in the house of Persephone during the long intervals before his reappearances. Clement of Alexandria (Protreptikos 2.16) cites the ancient myth whereby Persephone is the mother of the first Dionysos, the Horned Child Zagreus, and there are hints in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter that the God who ravishes Kore and steals her away to his underworld realm is actually Dionysos. (The abduction occurs at Nysa, and later when Demeter in her wandering is offered a drink of wine she angrily refuses.) Both Hades and Dionysos share a number of epithets. Dionysos is called Khthonios or “Underworld” as well as Nyktelios “The Nocturnal One”, Melanaigis “Of the Black Goat Skin”, and Polygethes “Giver of Riches” – all titles traditionally belonging to Hades. Euripides speaks of “Bacchantes of Hades” (Hecuba 1077) and Aeschylus calls the Erinyes “Maenads” (Eumenides, 500). Euripides compared the maenads to ghosts, calling them both nyktipoloi “night-stalkers”, since both became active only after sunset. (Ion 717, 10458-49) And when we turn to actual cult and funerary practices, we see that this connection remains just as strong.

The Neoplatonic Olympiodoros preserves a hexametrical fragment of Orpheus concerning Dionysos’ power over the dead, “Men send perfect hecatombs in all hours during the year, and they perform rites, striving after deliverence from unlawful ancestors. But thou having power over them, you will deliver whomever you wish from difficult suffering and limitless frenzy.” (OF 232)

Additionally, the Orphics sought Dionysos’ intercessary power over Persephone, the Queen and Judge of the Dead. They believed that by undergoing initiation and learning certain secret phrases, they could pass unscathed through the Underworld and find a better existence there. “And then, you will go a long way, a holy one, where also the others – the mytai and bakkhoi – walk in fame.” (Hipponium lamella, 15-16) Numerous texts such as this, inscribed on gold leaves, were buried with the dead to help them find their way through the Underworld. Others believed that in becoming a Bakkhos or Bakkhes, they would not have to face the pangs of death, but live on eternally in a Bacchic state. According to Plato, the Orphics believed that in death they would partake in an eternal symposia with ever-flowing wine. “Still grander are the gifts of heaven which Mousaios and his son vouchsafe to the just; they take them down into the world below, where they have the saints lying on couches at a feast, everlastingly drunk, crowned with garlands; their idea seems to be that an immortality of drunkeness is the highest meed of virtue.” (Republic 2.6) And others still found solace in the face of death through Dionysian imagery, whether they held to the eschatological beliefs of the Orphics and similar groups or not. At any rate, Dionysos played an important role in death and funerary practices for the Greeks and Romans.

Susan Guettel Cole informs us that his symbolism connected with death and life is found everywhere: “in vase paintings, wall and floor decoration, reliefs carved on sarcophagi, and ornamentation on tombs and graves.” (Dionysos and the Dead, pg. 278 in Masks of Dionysos) She goes on to inform us that “There are about seventy-five sepulchral inscriptions that refer to Dionysos, Dionysiac activities, Bacchic organizations, or Bacchic mysteries.” (pg. 278) And those are simply the ones that have come to light thus far! She also mentions that “Bacchic organizations took responsibility for the burial of members. They tended the graves of their leaders and officilas, but members without rank were also provided with tombstones and rites at the grave.” (pg. 285)

We have an inscription from one of these groups, the Iobacchoi of Athens, dating from the second century of our era. It states:

“And if any Iobacchus die, a wreath shall be provided in his honor not exceeding five denarii in value, and a single jar of wine shall be set before those who have attended the funeral; but anyone who has not attended may not partake of the wine.”

A group of devotees of Dionysos (bebakkheumenoi) at Cumae had their own seperate burial ground (LSS no. 120) and a Campnian bakkhe even had her sarcophagus made in the shape of a meanad. (Hern 1972, 82) An initiate from Southern Italy appears entwined with vines on her sarcophagus, presumably symbolising the intoxicating bliss of the hereafter

Some of the Dionysian funerary inscriptions are truly beautiful, for instance: At Hermopolis Magna in the second century a father found such comfort in the ripening of the grape and the change of seasons that he decided not to weep for his daughter taken by the nymphs in death. (Susan Guettel Cole, Dionysos and the Dead, pg. 282 in Masks of Dionysos) In Egypt, the vines of Bacchus were said to mourn for a barkeeper who had poured “honey-sweet wine for all mortals, the drops that stop pain.” (Susan Guettel Cole, Dionysos and the Dead, pg. 282 in Masks of Dionysos) And at Phillipi we find a Latin funerary inscription that suggests that the dead youth will be restored or refreshed (repartus) in the Elysian Fields, dancing as a satyr with the tattooed mystai of Bromios. (CIL 3, no. 686)


Although both Dionysos and Osiris were said to have been murdered, they both were able to regain their power and life.

An inscription from Thasos describes Dionysos as a God who renews himself and returns each year rejuvenated. (Susan Guettel Cole, Dionysos and the Dead, pg. 280 in Masks of Dionysos) The Christian author Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew grudgingly observed that, “Bacchus, son of Jupiter, being torn in pieces, and having died, rose again.” Plutarch informs us that the “Phrygians believe that the God sleeps in winter and is awake in summer, and with Bacchic frenzy they celebrate in the one season the festival of his being lulled to sleep Kateunasmous and in the other his being aroused or awakened Anegerseis. The Paphlagonians declare that he is fettered and imprisoned during the winter, but that in the spring he moves and is freed again.” (On Isis and Osiris 69) Diodorus Siculus says that after being torn apart by the Titans, Dionysos was pieced back together again by Demeter, and “he experienced a new birth as if for the first time.” (3.62) Macrobius in the Saturnalia observed that, “In their Mystery-tradition Dionysos is represented as being torn limb from limb by the fury of the Titans, and after the pieces have been buried, as coming together again and whole and one. By offering itself for division from its undivided state, and by returning to the undivided from the divided, this Dionysian process both fulfills the duties of the cosmos and also performs the mysteries of its own nature.”

Dirk Obbink observes, “Dionysos is poured out, expended in ritual, yet returns, and is present to be poured again in each new year’s vintage. In Dionysos’ sanctuaries, fountains flow with wine, vine bloom and produce overnight. In this very domesticated view Dionysos represents the perpetualy full cup, from which, when mixed with water in a civilized fashion, humans can drink as much as they like.” (Dionysos Poured Out, pg. 86, in Masks of Dionysos) At Phillipi we find a Latin funerary inscription that suggests that the dead youth will be restored or refreshed (repartus) in the Elysian Fields, dancing as a satyr with the tattooed mystai of Bromios. (CIL 3, no. 686) Another indication of this are the Orphic bone tablets found at Olbia with the words bios – thanatos – bios inscribed on them – meaning that death (thanatos) is a passage between two phases of life bios.

And on the revivification of Dionysos, Walter Otto poetically wrote, “And when he opens his eyes, when he rouses himself, when he grows into glorious maturity, he will fill their hearts with a heavenly terror, their limbs with a maddening desire to dance.” (Dionysos: Myth and Cult, pg. 81)

While it is true that Osiris, unlike Dionysos, did not return bodily to the earth, but remained a powerful being in the Underworld, he regained his power, strength, and vitality through the ministrations of his sisters Isis and Nephthys, as we see in Coffin Text 74:

“Ah Helpless One! Ah Helpless One Asleep! Ah Helpless One in this place which you know not-yet I know it! Behold, I have found you [lying] on your side the great Listless One. ‘Ah, Sister!’ says Isis to Nephthys, ‘This is our brother, Come, let us lift up his head, Come, let us [rejoin] his bones, Come, let us reassemble his limbs, Come, let us put an end to all his woe, that, as far as we can help, he will weary no more. May the moisture begin to mount for this spirit! May the canals be filled through you! May the names of the rivers be created through you! Osiris, live! Osiris, let the great Listless One arise! I am Isis.’ ‘I am Nephthys. It shall be that Horus will avenge you, It shall be that Thoth will protect you -your two sons of the Great White Crown- It shall be that you will act against him who acted against you, It shall be that Geb will see, It shall be that the Company will hear. Then will your power be visible in the sky. And you will cause havoc among the [hostile] Gods, for Horus, your son, has seized the Great White Crown, seizing it from him who acted against you. Then will your father Atum call ‘Come!’ Osiris, live! Osiris, let the great Listless One arise!’

R. T. Rundle Clark writes, “Osiris, however, is immanent. He is the sufferer with all mortality but at the same time he is all the power of revival and fertility in the world. He is the power of growth in plants and of reproduction in animals and human beings. He is both dead and the source of all living. Hence to become Osiris is to become one with the cosmic cycles of death and rebirth” (Myth and Symbol of Ancient Egypt, pg. 97)

Of Osiris it was written, “O you four Gods who stand at the supports of the sky, my father Osiris the King has not died in death, for my father Osiris the King possesses a spirit in the Horizon!” (Pyramid Text 556) And in the Coffin Texts we find the deceased identified with Osiris proclaiming, “I enter in and reappear through you, I decay in you, I grow in you … I am not destroyed.” (330) and, “Homage to thee, O my divine father Osiris, thou hast thy being with thy members. Thou didst not decay, thou didst not become worms, thou didst not diminish, thou didst not become corruption, thou didst not putrefy, and thou didst not turn into worms…. I shall not decay, and I shall not rot, I shall not putrefy, I shall not turn into worms, and I shall not see corruption before the eye of the god Shu. I shall have my being, I shall have my being; I shall live, I shall live; I shall germinate, I shall germinate, I shad germinate; I shall wake up in peace; I shall not putrefy, my intestines shall not perish; I shall not suffer injury; mine eye shall not decay; the form of my visage shall not disappear. My body shall be established, and it shall neither Lad into ruin nor be destroyed on this earth.” The King, again identified with Osiris, is hailed, “O! King, come, you also, tell of this going of yours that you may become a spirit thereby, that you may be great thereby, that you may be strong thereby, that you may be a soul thereby, that you may have power thereby.” (Pyramid Text 666)

Worshippers become Identified with the God

As Dirk Obbink writes in Dionysos Poured Out, “In the worship of Dionysos by private groups the eschatological message of Dionysian ritual (including sacrifice) was the imaginative acquisition of a lasting Dionysiac identity, either as a member of the God’s eternal entourage or through identification with one of the God’s mythical roles.” (Masks of Dionysos, pg. 69)

According to Euripides, “He who leads the throng becomes Bacchus,” (Bacchae 115) and Plato wrote that during the Dionysian initiations, the initiates “search eagerly within themselves to find the nature of their God, they are successful, because they have been compelled to keep their eyes fixed upon the God … they are inspired and receive from him character and habits, so far as it is possible for a man to have part in God.” Uniting with God was also an idea shared by the Stoics of that era. Seneca wrote, “God is near you, he is with you, he is within you.” We know from the Inscriptions of the Iobacchoi that certain members held the title of Bakkhos, and we find a female devottee who was addressed as a Bakkhes. The Neoplatonic philosopher Olympiodoros wrote, “Our body is Dionysian, we are a part of him, since we sprang from the soot of the Titans who ate his flesh.” (In Platonis Phaedonem comentarii 61C)

Often, the deceased were depicted in the form of Dionysos. For instance, the statue of M. Marius Trophimus, hierophant at Melos, was shown wearing a panther skin, holding a thyrsos, and wreathed with a crown of grape leaves. Two statues of Archelaus in this form have come to light at Lerna – one dedicated by his friends and placed in the sanctuary of Deo, the other by his wife was placed in a temple of Luaios. In Dascylium the thiasoi of mystai dedicated a relief “with the figure of Bromius”, showing one of their members as Dionysos, carrying a thyrsos and standing by a tree. In Rome a mother and father showed the image of Dionysos on the sarcophagus of their child with the inscription, “I am called Saturninus; my mother and father set me up from a child to the representation of Dionysos.” (IGUR no. 1324) Apuleius describes a widow who had a picture of her dead husband represented in the costume of Dionysos. (Metamorphoses 8.7) And the Emperor Caligula was even said to have had his likeness made in the guise of Dionysos. (Athenaios 4.148b-c)

E. A. Wallis Budge in The Legend of Osiris writes, “Osiris was the God through whose sufferings and death the Egyptian hoped that his body might rise again in some transformed or glorified shape, and to him who had conquered death and had become the king of the other world the Egyptian appealed in prayer for eternal life through his victory and power. In every funeral inscription known to us, from the Pyramid Texts down to the roughly written prayers upon coffins of the Roman period, what is done for Osiris is done also for the deceased, the state and condition of Osiris are the state and condition of the deceased; in a word, the deceased is identified with Osiris. If Osiris lives forever, the deceased will live for ever; if Osiris dies, then will the deceased perish.”

Ancient Egyptian literature furnishes us with many examples of this identification:

“This King is Osiris, this Pyramid of the King is Osiris, this construction of his is Osiris…” – Pyramid Texts, Utterance 600.

“BECOMING THE COUNTERPART OF OSIRIS. I indeed am Osiris, I indeed am the Lord of All, I am the Radiant One, the brother of the Radiant Lady; I am Osiris, the brother of Isis.” – Coffin Texts, Spell 227

Being an Osiris, Ani expects a resurrection like that of the God, and therefore addresses himself as follows: “O thou . . . whose limbs cannot move, like unto those of Osiris! Let not thy limbs be without movement; let them not suffer corruption; let them not pass away; let them not decay; and let them be fashioned for me as if I were myself Osiris” (Ibid., XLV). The same aspirant continues: “The mighty Khu taketh possession of me . . . Behold, I am the God who is Lord of the Duat” (Ibid., X). And again: “I am the Great One, son of the Great One…. The head of Osiris was not taken from him, let not the head of Osiris Ani be taken from him. I have knit myself together; I have made myself whole and complete; I have renewed my youth; I am Osiris, the lord of eternity” (Ibid., XLIII).

But perhaps the most beautiful expression of this idea is to be found in Coffin Text 330, where we find:

“Whether I live or die I am Osiris, I enter in and reappear through you, I decay in you, I grow in you, I fall down in you, I fall upon my side. The Gods are living in me for I live and grow in the corn that sustains the Honoured Ones. I cover the earth, whether I live or die I am Barley.”

Beware of the Lake

In the Pyramid Texts, Unas is advised of a challenging situation he will encounter near a lake in the Underworld:

“O Unas, beware of the Lake ! To say four times : “The messengers of your ka have come to you, the messengers of your father have come to you, the messengers of Re have come to you. Go after your sun ! … Forget those who shall speak evil against the name of Unas, for when you go up, they are predestined by Geb to be a despised one of his city, he shall flee and falter. You are to purify yourself with the cool water of the stars, and you will climb down upon ropes of brass, on the arms of Horus, in his name He-of-the-Henu-barge.” (Utterance 214. 136-38)

A parallel to this is found in the Orphic lamella found at Petelia in Southern Italy:

“You will find a spring on the left of the halls of Hades, and beside it a white cypress growing. Do not even go near this spring. And you will find another, from the Lake of Memory, flowing forth with cold water. In front of it are guards. You must say, ‘I am the child of Ge and starry Ouranos; this you yourselves also know. I am dry with thirst and am perishing. Come, give me at once cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory.’ And they themselves will give you to drink from the divine spring, and then thereafter you will reign with the other heroes.”

Judgement in the Afterlife

Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead is entitled, “What is to be said when one reaches this Hall of Truth.” This spell was intended to prepare the deceased for his trial in the Hall of Judgement in the Underworld. In the vignette that accompanies the spell, the deceased stands at the far right facing Ma`at, the goddess embodying Truth and Order, as his heart is weighed against the feather of Ma`at by Horus and Anubis. Sitting above the scene are the 42 Gods who judge the dead. Thoth, the ibis-headed scribe of the Gods, records the verdict as Osiris, seated on the throne at left, watches on. The creature Amamet, facing the King of the Dead, would devour the deceased if he were found to be unworthy.

Pindar wrote, “From whom Persephone will accept atonement for ancient grief, their souls she will send forth again into the upper sun in the ninth year.” (Frag. 133) This “ancient grief” felt by Persephone likely refers to the death and dismemberment of her child, the first Dionysos who was called by the ancient Orphic poets Zagreus. An Orphic lamella from Thurii reads:

“Pure I come from the pure, Queen of those below the earth, and Eukles and Eubouleus and the other gods and daimons; For I boast that I am of your blessed race. I have paid the penalty on account of deeds not just; Either Fate mastered me or the Thunderer, striking with his lightning. Now I come, a suppliant, to holy Phersephoneia, that she, gracious, may send me to the seats of the blessed.”

Times of their festivals

Rural Dionysia : last half of Poseideon (around December):
Beginning December – 18th Tybi – Going forth of the Netjeru of Abydos

Lenaia : Gamelion 12-15 (around January):
Beginning January – 17th Mechir – Day of keeping the things of Osiris in the hands of Anpu
End January – 6th Pamenot – Festival of Jubilation for Osiris in Busiris

Anthesteria : Anthesterion 11-13 (around February):
Middle February – 28th Pamenot – Feast of Osiris in Abydos
Middle February – 30th Pamenot – Feast of Osiris in Busiris; The Doorways of the Horizon are opened

Greater (or City) Dionysia : Elaphebolion 9-13 (around March):
Middle March – 30th Parmutit – Offerings to Ra, Osiris, Heru, Ptah, Sokar and Atum

Oschophoria : Pyanepsion 7 (around October):
End October – 11th Koiak – Feast of Osiris in Abydos


One of the most disturbing rites associated with Dionysos was that of sporagmos “tearing apart” and omophagia “eating the raw flesh” of a sacrificial victim. Porphyry reproduced the following from Euripides’ Cretans, now lost: “Pure has my life been since that day when I became an initiate of Idaean Zeus and herdsman of night-wandering Zagreus; and having accomplished the raw feasts and held the torches aloft to the Mountain-Mother, yea torches of the Kuretes, I was raised to the holy estate and called a Bacchus.” Plutarch wrote of “the mysteries . . . in which the eating of raw flesh, and the tearing in pieces of victims . . . are in use . . . and the human sacrifices offered of old” (On The Cessation of the Oracles, 14). Clement of Alexanderia declares that “the Bacchanals hold their orgies in honor of the frenzied Dionysos . . . by the eating of raw flesh” (Exhortation, 2). And Arnobius describes the feasts of the “wild Bacchanalians, which are named in the Greek omophagia . . . in which with seeming frenzy and the loss of your senses, you twine snakes about you; and to show yourselves full of the divinity and majesty of the god, tear in pieces the flesh with gory mouths” (Against the Gentiles 5.19).

In Euripides’ Bacchae the maenads know “the joy of the red quick fountain, the blood of the hill-goat torn.” And they “Quaff the goat’s delicious blood, a strange, a rich, a savage food.” At other times the sacrificial animal was not a goat as Demosthenes tells us: “spotted fawns were torn in pieces for a certain mystic or mysterious reason.” (Fragment preserved in Photius’ Lexicon). The maenads wore a cloak made from the skin of the fawn, and Dionysos himself is depicted as tearing a fawn apart in several Attic vases. More commonly, however, the Dionysian victim was a bull. This was particularly the case in Crete where, to quote Firmicus Maternus, “the Cretans rend a living bull with their teeth, and they simulate madness of soul as they shriek through the secret places of the forest with discordant clamors.”

The devotees tore asunder the slain beast and devoured the dripping flesh in order to assimilate the life of the god resident in it. Raw flesh was living flesh, and haste had to be made lest the divine life within the animal should escape. So the feast became a wild, barbaric, frenzied affair. It could even find expression in cannibalism. Porphyry knew a tradition that in Chios a man was torn to pieces in the worship of Dionysos Omadios, the “Raw One.” At Potniae, according to Pausanias, a priest of Dionysos was once slain by the inhabitants and a plague was sent upon them in punishment. They sought relief, and the Delphian oracle told them that a beautiful boy must be sacrificed to the deity. Immediately afterward, Dionysos let it be known that he would accept a goat as a substitute. This story records the ancient transition in cult practice from the cannibal to the animal feast. Also in the fearful fate that met Pentheus at the hands of his own mother, as recorded by Euripides, there is a late literary echo of the primitive cannibalistic ritual.

As Harold Willoughby writes in Pagan Regeneration, “To focus attention on these savage features, however, is to miss entirely the significance of the crude ceremonial. The real meaning of the orgy was that it enabled the devotee to partake of a divine substance and so to enter into direct and realistic communion with his god. The warm blood of the slain goat was “sacred blood,” according to Lactantius Placidus. The god Dionysos was believed to be resident temporarily in the animal victim. One of the most remarkable illustrations of this ritual incarnation of the god was described by Aelian. Of the people of Tenedos, he said: “In ancient days they used to keep a cow with calf, the best they had, for Dionysos, and when she calved, they tended her like a woman in childbirth. But they sacrificed the newborn calf, having put cothurni on its feet.” The use of the tragic buskins symbolized the conviction that the god was temporarily incarnate in the calf–pious opinion did not doubt that. Primitive logic easily persuaded men that the easiest way to charge oneself with divine power was to eat the quivering flesh and drink the warm blood of the sacred animal. Some went farther and sought to assimilate themselves to deity by wearing the skin of the animal. The central meaning of the celebration was that it enabled the devotee to enter into direct and realistic communion with his God.” (Chapter 3)

We find a similar practice connected with Osiris in the afterlife. In one of the oldest of the Pyramid Texts, that belonging to Unas from the 5th Dynasty (cir. 2500 B.C.E.e.) we find the famous Cannibal Hymn:

“Unas hath weighted his words with the hidden God who hath no name, on the day of hacking in pieces the firstborn. Unas is the lord of offerings, the untier of the knot, and he himself maketh abundant the offerings of meat and drink. Unas devoureth men and liveth upon the Gods, he is the lord of envoys, whom he sendeth forth on his missions. He who cuteth off hairy scalp, who dwelleth in the fields, tieth the Gods with ropes… The Akeru Gods tremble, the Kenemu whirl, when they see Unas a risen Soul, in the form of a God who lives upon his fathers and feeds upon his mothers…. He eats men, he feeds on the Gods . . . he cooks them in his fiery cauldrons. He eats their words of power, he swallows their spirits. . . What he finds on his path, he eats eagerly.”

As E. A. Wallis Budge wrote in his translation of the Book of the Dead, “Here all creation is represented as being in terror when they see the deceased king rise up as a soul in the form of a God who devours ‘his fathers and mothers’; he feeds upon men and also upon Gods. He hunts the Gods in the fields and snares them; and when they are tied up for slaughter he cuts their throats and disembowels them. He roasts and eats the best of them, but the old Gods and Goddesses are used for fuel. By eating them he imbibes both their magical powers, and their Spirit-souls. He becomes the ‘Great Power, the Power of Powers, and the God of all the great Gods who exist in Spirit-bodies in heaven. He carries off the hearts of the Gods, and devours the wisdom of every God; therefore the duration of his life is everlasting and he lives to all eternity, for the Heart-souls of the Gods and their Spirit-souls are in him.”

Having partaken of this dynamic sacrament, Unas becomes an Osiris and is admitted to the company of the Gods. A parallel passage is found in the Pyramid Text of Pepi II, who, it is said, “seizeth those who are in the following of Set . . . he breaketh their heads, he cutteth off their haunches, he teareth out their intestines, he diggeth out their hearts, he drinketh copiously of their blood!’ (Line, 531 ff.).

Additionally, in the CLXXXI Chapter of the Book of the Dead we find the bloody sacrifice of captives and the sacramental rending and eating of the sacred bovine, which symbolized Osiris.

Linked with Isis

Ignoring the equation of Osiris and Dionysos for the moment, there is some interesting evidence linking Dionysos and Isis.

For instance, in Naples, Italy there is a Temple to Isis, which was reconstructed by Numerius Popidius Ampliatus, who also set up a statue of Dionysos there, and had frescoes of Bacchic revelry depicted alongside the more traditional Egyptian motifs. In the late period, when syncreticism and the multiplicity of faiths in the Roman Empire had reached a high point, we find a Mithraic Pater who was also an Initiate of Isis and an Archibukolos of Dionysos and at Rome a bilingual hexameter text praises a woman who was priestess of Dionysos and attendant of Isis. (ICUR no. 1150). More to the point, these two deities had been linked by ancients in numerous ways. For instance, Ariston in his The Foreign Settlements of the Athenians, tells us that Dionysos is said to be the son of Zeus and Isis and “to be called not Osiris but Arsaphes, the name denoting manliness.” Anticleides said that Isis was the daughter of Prometheus and cohabited with Dionysos. And in the Orphic Hymn XLI, Dionysos-Iacchos is said to be “exulting in the fertile plains with thy dark mother Isis, where she reigns, with nurses pure attended, near the flood of sacred Egypt, thy divine abode.” And of course, lest we forget, the two were brought together through the tumultuous affairs of Cleopatra VII and Antony – for as Cicero wrote: “Oh yes, he is no longer a worshipper of Dionysos, he is Dionysos! And in the East Dionysos is god, not merely of intoxication, but counterpart to their Aphrodite, the wellspring of life itself, in short, Antony is become Bacchus to Cleopatra’s Isis!”


Alan Gardiner suggests that the Djed pillar represents “a column imitating a bundle of stalks tied together,” (Egyptian Grammar, p. 502) but also suggests that the hieroglyph shows “vertebrae conventionally depicted”. It is used in the word pesed, meaning “back” or “spine”. (Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, p. 566, also Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian, p. 95.)

According to E. A. Wallis Budge, the Djed is the oldest symbol of Osiris, and symbolizes his backbone and his body in general. He states that originally Osiris was probably represented by the Djed alone, and that he had no other form. He regards the Djed hieroglyph as a conventional representation of a part of his spinal column and gives its meaning as “to be stable, to be permanent, abiding, established firmly, enduring.” (Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, vol. 2, p. 913)

Walter Otto describes a similar item connected with Dionysos and the wine-mixing festival that took part on Khoes during the Anthesteria. “The large mask of the God hung on a wooden column, and the wine was not just mixed and ladeled up in front of it, but it was also presented with the first draught. A long robe (or a double robe) extends down from beneath the bearded head, and this gives one the impression of a full-figured idol. Ivy sprigs are brushed up over the mask much like the crown of a tree; and ivy twines around the unobstructed parts of the wooden column or grows up from its base, at times even growing out, like tree branches, from the robe of the god himself.” (Dionysos: Myth and Cult, pg. 86)

Skin-head priests

Bob Brier observed that “While in temple service, priests purified themselves before they came in contact with the deity. To be pure, or clean in a religious sense, even the most common order of priest, the wab priest, had to shave off all the hair on his body. On temple reliefs and tomb paintings, priests are always depicted as shaven-headed.” (Ancient Egyptian Magic, pg. 37)

Plutarch explained the custom as follows, “Most people have failed to notice this very common and small point, why it is that the priests cut off their hair … some say that they shave their heads as a mark of sorrow, but the real reason is as Plato says, ‘It is not right for the impure to touch the pure’ (Phaedo, 67B); no surplus matter from food and no dung is holy or pure, and it is from surplus matter that wool, fur, hair and claws arise and grow.” (On Isis and Osiris 4)

According to Herodotus, some priests of Dionysos also practiced ritual shaving. “And they say that they wear their hair as Dionysos does his, cutting it round the head and shaving the temples.” (3.8)

Connection with Royalty

According to Diodorus Siculus, Osiris ruled Egypt as an earthly King and gave to them “the greater part of their laws.” (3.2) Egyptian tradition offers much in support of this view: a Middle Kingdom Coffin Text reads, “You are crowned Lord of the West after having governed Egypt and the inhabitants of the earth.” (CT I 189f-g) and an inscription at the temple of Dendera praises Osiris as the “Lord of Egypt, who governed the inhabitants of the desert, who governed the foreign regions as King, who stopped the massacre of the Two Lands.” (X. 240, 2-3) The Pharoah believed that he had received his crown from Osiris – “Ho! King Neferkere! How beautiful is this! How beautiful is this, which thy father Osiris has done for thee ! He has given thee his throne, thou rulest those of the hidden places (the dead), thou leadest their august ones, all the glorious ones follow thee (Pyr. 2022-3). Wherepon the King was depicted carrying the crook and flail of Osiris as symbols of his apropriateness to rule.

Nebet Mirjam has summarized the Ancient Egyptian views on Kingship as follows:

“The mediator between humans and gods was the king. At his crowning, a new king became transformed into a living god, a concept which of course went through changes in the more than 3000 year long history of ancient Egypt, but nevertheless was the basis for the prevailing religious, economic and social structure. The theory which this based itself on was that when the king, called the Living Heru, died, he passed over to the Kingdom of Osiris (Osiris) and left the kingship in the hands of his son, just as the myth of Osiris (Osiris), Isis (Isis) and Heru (Horus) describe. The newly ascended king becomes the Living Heru (Horus) at the moment of his coronation, and is thereby transformed into a divine status. So the Divine Kingship rests on mythical precedence and on two generations – a transmission of status from father to son as laid out by the gods in the beginning of time. One important distinction should be made; it is the office of the king which is sacred, the office is eternal but the person holding it is human and of course he changes through time.”

Dionysos plays a similar role with Kingship in Greece and Asia Minor. He was, himself, descended from Kadmos, the King of Thebes (Euripides Bacchae, 3) and his sons by Ariadne, a Cretan Princess (Homer Iliad 18.590-92, Apollodorus 1.9.17), were considered Kings and founders of cities in their own right. (Oenopion ruled Chios, Agrius ruled Calydon, Thoas and Staphylos founded cities after sailing with the Argonauts, etc.) In Sophocles’ Oedipus the King (1105-9), it is suggested that Oedipus may have been a child of Dionysos and one of the Nymphs of Mount Helicon (though clearly this was not the case). Dionysos took the place of the Calydonian King Oeneus, and bore Deaneira by Althaea (Apollodorus 1.7.10-1.8.2) much the same way that he was annually married to the wife of the Arkhon Basileus (“King Ruler”) during the Anthesteria festival (Aristotle Constitution of the Athenians 3.5). During his travels, Dionysos is said to have visited a number of Kings and their households – Amphiktyon in Athens (Pausanias 1.2.5), the daughters of King Minyas in Orchomenus (Pausanias 9.26.4-5), Lykourgos in Thrace (Homer’s Iliad 6.130-140), Proteus of Argos (Apollodorus 3.5.1), Pentheus (Euripides’ Bacchae) and Polydorus (Pausanias 9.5.3-4) of Thebes, and Perseus of Mycenae (Pausanias 2.23.7) to name only the most famous. (It is worth noting, however, that many of these encounters were hardly felicitous.) And according to Herodotus, the Scythian King Skyles sought to be initiated into the mysteries of Dionysos Bakkhios after which his countrymen saw him “playing the Bakkhos” (4.72).

According to Plutarch (Alexander 2-3) the Macedonian Queen Olympias was “addicted” to Orphic-Bacchic mysteries, and was seen handling winnowing baskets and snakes, hence the story that she was impregnated by a God in the form of a snake to give birth to Alexander the Great. Walter Burkert informs us that “the prominence of Bacchic cults in Macedonia and its surroundings at that time is made clear by archaeological evidence, by remarkable “Bacchic” monuments that have come to light in funerary contexts, such as the gilded krater of Derveni, used as an urn, or tombs painted with Dionysiac scenes, such as the one recently discovered at Potidaea.” (Bacchic Teletai in Masks of Dionysos, pg. 262) According to Herodotus, the Dionysian connection with the Macedonian royal line goes back much further, to the house of the Argeade, who set out in conquest from the Gardens of Midas, where Silenus dwells, to conquer Macedonia. (8.137-38) When Alexander the Great set out to conquer the world, he was, according to Plutarch, simply following in the footsteps of his mythical ancestor, Dionysos. In On the Fortune of Alexander Plutarch puts the following words in Alexander’s own mouth, “I imitate Herakles, and emulate Perseus, and follow in the footsteps of Dionysos, the divine author and progenitor of my family, and desire that victorious Greeks should dance again in India and revive the memory of the Bacchic revels among the savage mountain tribes beyond the Caucasus.” Alexander’s mother made sure that during his foreign travels and contact with their religious traditions he did not forget his family cults, “both the Argadistika and the Bakkhika” (Athenaeus 15.659-60) It would seem that he did not, for under Alexander’s successors, the Ptolemies, Seleukids, and Attalids, Dionysos’ worship rose ro great prominence in Egypt, Syria, and Pergamon and was intimately linked with their claims to Kingship.

The Ptolemaic Kings in Egypt claimed descent from Dionysos through Arsinoe, whose ancestry branched off from the Macedonian royal house (Satyrus F. H. G. iii p165). The Macedonians were descdents of Herakles and his wife Dianaira, who was a daughter of Dionysos (Diodorus Sicculus 7.15), thus Dionysos came to be their divine ancestor and the tutelar deity of their Dynasty. As early as Ptolemy II this theme was proclaimed in his great procession, where the glory of Dionysos is said to radiate upon the Kings of Egypt. (Kallixenus FGrH 627) Ptolemy IV made the most of this connection. I have already discussed how he gave royal patronage to the mysteries of Dionysos, attempting to codify and standardize them, but it was also said that he had himself branded with the ivy-leaf, and played the tympanon in Dionysos’ honor at the royal residence (Plutarch Kleomenes 33), and even had himself called “Neos Dionysos” and renamed several demes in Alexandria after the God – most notably Bacchias (modern-day Umm-el’ Atl) and Dionysias (Kasr Kurun). His work on behalf of the God did not go unnoticed outside of Egypt – Bakkhistai from Thera passed a decree, about 150 B.C.E.E, by which the envoy of the Egyptian King together with his wife and descendants were given divine honors by their thiasos. (OCG no.735)

The Attalid Kings of Pergamon claimed a similar descent. Pausanias (10.15.3) refers to an oracle of a prophetess called Phaennis, which referred to Attalos as “son of the bull fostered by Zeus” that is Dionysos, and the Delphic oracle made the link even more explicit, referring to the Pergamene King as Taurokeron, or “bull-horned”. The Attalids issued official coins minted at Pergamon with the kiste or mystic basket of the Dionysian mysteries, from which a snake can be seen to emerge. The worship of Dionysos Kathegemon or “The Leader” was installed by the Kings, with the priesthood drawn directly from the royal family. (IPergamon no. 248) At Teos, near Pergamon, there was a cult of Dionysos Setaneios (also meaning “Leader”) with its mystai and oregeones, and in 230-200 B.C.E.E the city tried to gain international recognition for its right to sanctuary on behalf of its ancient cult to Dionysos the Leader, claiming that “the city and its land were sacred to the God”. It was from Teos that the Dionysian tekhnitai or “actors” spread, those crafters of ritual processions which were so intimately linked with the rule of Hellenistic Kings in the East.

Prohibition on Wool

Bob Brier observed, “Priests were not permitted to wear wool, since wool came from animals, and animals obviously were unclean. They wore only fine linen, stored in special rooms of the temples and cared for by other priests whose function it was to assure their cleanliness.” (Ancient Egyptian Magic, pg. 38)

Plutarch explained the custom as follows, “Most people have failed to notice this very common and small point, why it is that the priests cut off their hair and wear linen clothes; some do not bother at all to understand these practices, while others say that the priests abstain from the use of wool, as from mutton, because they hold the sheep in reverence; that they shave their heads as a mark of sorrow and that they wear linen because of the colour produced by the flax in blossom, which is like the sky-blue of the upper air that surrounds the earth. There is only one true reason for all this. ‘It is not right’, as Plato says (Phaedo, 67B), ‘for the impure to touch the pure’; no surplus matter from food and no dung is holy or pure, and it is from surplus matter that wool, fur, hair and claws arise and grow. It would therefore be absurd for the priests, while removing their own hair by shaving and making the whole body evenly smooth, to put on and wear the hair of animals.” (On Isis and Osiris 4)

Herodotus points out a similar tradition connected with Dionysos: “But nothing woolen is brought into temples, or buried with them: that is impious. They agree in this with practices called Orphic and Bacchic, but in fact Egyptian and Pythagorean: for it is impious, too, for one partaking of these rites to be buried in woolen wrappings. There is a sacred legend about this” (2.81.1)

Abstention from Meat

The Orphics, a reactionary movement which attempted to modifiy the ‘primitive’ forms of Dionysian worship, abstained from all animal flesh, as we see in the following lines from Euripides’ play The Cretans, which form the ‘confession’ of one who had been initiated in the mysteries of Orpheus and became a Bacchos: “Robed in pure white, I have borne me clean from man’s vile birth and coffined clay, and exiled from my lips alway touch of all meat where life hath been.”

According to Porphyry, “The Egyptian priests abstained from eating fish, one-hoofed quadrupeds or such as had more than two divisions in their hoofs and no horns, and all carnivorous birds.” (De Abstinentia 4.7)

In many places, the prohibition against eating fish – which truly applied only to the priesthood, since fish has always been a staple in the diet of the poor – arose because the fish was said to have eaten the penis of Osiris. Plutarch, in On Isis and Osiris testifies to this, “And this is not the least of their reasons for the great dislike which they have for fish, and they even make the fish a symbol of ‘hatred,’.” (32)

Crook and Flail

Charles York Miller informs us, “The crook (heqa) was carried by Kings, Gods and high officials. It derived from a shepherd’s staff, and in this form, it was carried by Anedijti, the shepherd God. Later, it was depicted as a smaller sceptre, and it came to denote the carrier as a ‘ruler’. The crook is often depicted being held with the flail across the chest. Opinions differ regarding the origin of this symbol, it possibly representing a shepherd’s whip or a fly-whisk. It was associated with the Gods Osiris and Min, but when carried by kings it symbolised authority, hence the combination with the crook denoting the ‘authority and power of the ruler’.”

Both of these symbols are part of the repertory of Dionysian imagery. The cowherd’s crook (kalaurops) was carried by Dionysian priests or boukoloi during processions, and were probably used during initiation ceremonies as well. It was even depicted on a funerary plaque for a Dionysian initiate named Herophilus, alongside a switch or flail. (Susan Guettel Cole, Dionysos and the Dead) The flail is also depicted in the context of an initiation at the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, where the initiate is being flogged by a winged spirit in preparation for receiving the vision of the unveiled liknon.


Although Dionysos is not associated with any birds, the Amyklaians invoked him as Psilax, from the Doric word psila meaning “winged”. (Pausanias 3.19.6)

Similarly, Osiris usually appears as a mumiform being or a bull – but occassionally will be represented with wings, as a hawk, or as the winged solar disc through his syncreticism with Re. (E. A. Budge, Gods of the Egyptians)

Appears in Dreams

Dreaming was very important in ancient Egypt. Their word for dream rswt, is etymologically connected to the root meaning “to be awake”. It was written with a symbol representing an open eye, not unlike the hieroglyph for Osiris’s name. It was felt that the dreamer could travel beyond his body and communicate with the Gods and spirits in this state. During Hellenistic times, dream schools flourished in the temples of Serapis. And from the 2nd century BCE we have papyri recording the dream diaries of Ptolemaios, who lived for many years in katoche, or sacred retreat, in the temple of Serapis at Memphis. Osiris visited his initiate Lucian in a dream, commanding that he undergo further rites of initiation, and persue a career as a lawyer in Rome. (Apuleius, Metamorphoses27-30) Additionally, according to Robert Moss in Dreaming Like an Egyptian, “A rightful king must be able to travel between the worlds. In the heb sed festival, conducted in pharaoh’s thirtieth year, the king was required to journey beyond the body, and beyond death, to prove his worthiness to continue on the throne. Led by Anubis, pharaoah descended to the Underworld. He was directed to enter death, “touch the four sides of the land”, become Osiris, and return in new garments – the robe and the spiritual body of transformation.”

Additionally, Dionysos was said to appear in dreams.

“There is a legend that after the death of Sophocles the Lacedaemonians invaded Attica, and their commander saw in a vision Dionysos, who bade him honor, with all the customary honors of the dead, the new Siren. He interpreted the dream as referring to Sophocles and his poetry, and down to the present day men are wont to liken to a Siren whatever is charming in both poetry and prose.

“The likeness of Aeschylus is, I think, much later than his death and than the painting which depicts the action at Marathon Aeschylus himself said that when a youth he slept while watching grapes in a field, and that Dionysos appeared and bade him write tragedy. When day came, in obedience to the vision, he made an attempt and hereafter found composing quite easy.” (Pausanias 1.21.1-2)

And he was even able to heal people through dream incubation:

“They celebrate orgies, well worth seeing, in honor of Dionysos, but there is no entrance to the shrine, nor have they any image that can be seen. The people of Amphikleia say that this god is their prophet and their helper in disease. The diseases of the Amphikleans themselves and of their neighbors are cured by means of dreams. The oracles of the god are given by the priest, who utters them when under the divine inspiration.” -Pausanias 10.33.11

Worshipped from time immemorial

“Up to the present no evidence has been deduced from the hieroglyphic texts which enables us to say specifically when Osiris began to be worshipped, or in what town or city his cult was first established, but the general information which we possess on this subject indicates that this god was adored as the great god of the dead by dynastic Egyptians from first to last.” (E. A. Wallis Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians pg. 116.)

Dionysos was not a late-comer to Greece, as so many seem to believe. He was clearly known in all of his particulars to the Minoans and Mykeneans, as is attested by the appearance of his name on a clay tablet at Pylos: di-wo-nu-so-jo. Another tablet speaks of “Eleuther, son of Zeus” to whom two oxen were sacrificed jo-i-je-si me-za-na e-re-u-te-re di-wi-je-we qu-o and even of wo-no-wa-ti-si or oinoatisi “Women of Oinoa, Place of Wine” showing that already the wine-god had his female attendants in the thirteenth century BCE. Further, as Thucydides said, the “Old Dionysia” or Anthesteria was common to all the Ionians – hence it must have preceded the migration of the Ionian tribes. The oldest sanctuaries in Athens were to Dionysos of the Swamps. And Dionysos is found even in Homer, where it “speaks of him in the same manner in which it speaks of the deities who have been worshipped since time immemorial, however the poet himself and his audience may feel about him.” (Walter Otto, Dionysos pg 54)

Shared Epithets and Invocations

Referring to Osiris, Richard W. Wilkinson says, “Both the meaning of the God’s name and his exact origins are enigmatic.” (The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, 118)

Similarly, there is no agreement about the meaning and origin of the name of Dionysos. It seems not to be a personal name at all, but rather a title – and the ancients offered numerous speculative interpretations. Some suggested that it meant ‘The God from Nysa’, (Diodorus Siculus I.15) or ‘The Limp of Zeus’ (from an obscure Thracian word and on account of the fact that the child had been sewn into Zeus’ thigh) or even ‘The Divine Intelligence’ (from Dios nous Macrobius, Saturnalia 1:18) – and almost 2,000 years later, we are no closer to understanding the meaning of this most enigmatic of God’s names.

Etymologically, Osiris’s name may be derived from the Egyptian word useru meaning “Mighty One” (Wilkinson, 118) which suggests a connection to Dionysos’ Eleusinian epithet Brimos also meaning “Strong or Mighty One”. As we shall see, this was not the only epithet or cult-title that the two seemed to share.

“Hail to you Osiris of many names,” – The Great Hymn to Osiris

“Come, blessed Dionysos, many-named master of all.” – Orphic Hymn 45

“… of holy forms, of secret rites in temples.” – The Great Hymn to Osiris

“… ineffable, secretive, and two-formed … Lord of triennial feasts.” – Orphic Hymn 30

“O thou great one of two-fold strength,” – The Great Hymn to Osiris

“Mighty and many-shaped God,” – Orphic Hymn 50

“The two lands with one consent cry out unto thee with cries of joy.” – The Great Hymn to Osiris

“You are honored by all the Gods and by all the men who dwell upon the earth. Come, blessed and leaping God, and bring much joy to all.” – Orphic Hymn 45

“First-born son” – The Book of the Dead Chap. Cxxviii

“O firstborn, thrice begotten,” – Orphic Hymn 30

“Lord of the two horns” – The Book of the Dead Chap. Clxxxi

“Bacchic lord, two-horned and two-shaped.” – Orphic Hymn 30

“Thou art gentler than the Gods.” – The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys

Euripides calls Dionysos the “most gentle” of Gods (Bacchae, 860) and at Naxos he was invoked as Meilichios, “the Gentle”.

“Thou who art of terrible majesty,” – The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys Additionially, in the Middle Kingdom, there exist in the Coffin Texts descriptions of Osiris that conjure up a picture of a threatening demon. He glories in slaughter, utters malignant spells against a dead person, and runs a ‘mafia’ consisting of executioners called ‘Osiris’s butcherers painful of fingers’ or ‘Osiris’s fishermen'” (George Hart, A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, pg. 155).

Euripides calls Dionysos “most terrible” (Bacchae, 860) and he had numerous horrific and frightening epithets, including Agrios “The Wild One”, Anthroporraistes “The Render of Humans”, Nyktipolos “The Night-Stalker”, Omadios “He of the Raw Feast”, and Omestes “Eater of Raw Flesh”.

“Thou Babe of beautiful appearance, come thou to us in peace.” – The Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys

Dionysos was the Divine Child of Eleusis, the beautiful child in the Liknon who was cared for, and later Awakened, by his Nurses.

“O lover of women,” – Lamentations of Isis and Nephthys

Dionysos is often described as a woman’s God. He is contantly surrounded by women – Goddesses, Nymphs, Muses, Mainades, Thyiades, etc. Two of his most important myths revolve around his love for women and their love for him – his marriage to Ariadne and the raising of his mother from the land of the dead to the realm of the Gods. He was a missionary in the cult of Meter Kybele, and even had many feminine epithets, including Gynis “The Womanly” and Arsenothelys “The Bisexual”. In Southern Italy, women saw death as an erotic adventure, in which they would be united forever in loving embrace with their God.

Osiris was called Neb Ankh, “Lord of Life”, while Dionysos was understood to be Zoe “Indestructable Life” itself.

Osiris was called Lord of Wholeness, while Dionysos is sought to “come in wholeness to noble Tmolus”. ( 48) Further, the rites of Dionysos have wholeness as their mission – to restore balance to the world, to bring out the hidden, repressed parts of ourselves, and purge unhealthy madness through katharsis that we might live lives of wholeness and happiness.

Osiris was the “Lord of All” while Dionysos’ worship was open to everyone, from all ranks of society (Euripides’ Bacchae 205) and he was called Aisumnetes “impartial power over all” (Pausanias 7.19.21).

Osiris was called “The Begetter”, while Dionysos was called Auxites, “Giver of Increase”.

Osiris was hailed as “Osiris in Battle” while Dionysos was called Areion “War-like” and said to “delight in bloody swords”. (Orphic Hymn 45)

Osiris was called Neb “Lord”, and Ser, Prince, while Dionysos was called Anax “Lord”, and was the earthly child of princess Semele, the daughter of the Theban King Kadmos.

Osiris was called “The One in the Tree” just as Dionysos was called Endendrites “He in the Tree”.

Osiris is called p3wty n t3wy tm df3 k3w “Primeval god of the two lands, perfect of nourishment and sustenance”, while Dionysos is called, “Primeval … wrapt in foliage, decked with grape-clusters.” – Orphic Hymn 30

Osiris is hailed as Neb Neheh djet “Lord of Eternity” while Dionysos is said to “stride the earth forever” (Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonnus)

Osiris is the Nisut Netjeru or King of the Gods, just as Dionysos, briefly, sat upon the throne of Zeus and ruled over all the Gods and men. (Nonnos’ Dionysiaca, 6.155)

Osiris is called Neb-er-tcher “Lord of the Outermost Limit”, just as Arrian speaks of Dionysos having traveled to the “furthest reaches of the earth,” (Anabasis 5.1.1)

Osiris was called Sa Nut “Child of Heaven” and Sa Geb “Child of Earth”, just as the Bacchic initiate was to instruct the Guardians in the underworld that after having become identified with Dionysos he was to be known as a “child of Earth and of starry Heaven”.

Osiris is called Hr st=f m t3 dsr “Who is upon his throne in the sacred land” just as the Orphics celebrated Thronismoi Bakchika, the “Rite of the Enthronement of Bacchus”.

Many of Osiris’s epithets link him to various cities. For instance, he is called Khenti Abdju “Foremost of Abydos”, Khenti Djedu “Foremost of Busiris”, “He Who Dwells in Iunu”, and so forth. Similarly, many of Dionysos’ epithets were linked to various cult centers belonging to him: Eleuthereus “Of Eleutherai”, Kalydonion, “Of Calydon”, Kresios “The Cretan”, and so forth. And of course, both Osiris and Dionysos were connected with Thebes – the one in Boiotia, the other in Egypt.

Utterance 419 speaks of, “the Imperishable Stars, the followers of Osiris,” while Sophocles hails Dionysos as, “thou leader of the choral dance of the fire-breathing stars.” (Antigone 1146)

There is an interesting parallel in the following paradoxical lines. Clement of Alexandria gives the symbolon of Dionysos thusly: tauros drakontos kai pater taurou drakon, “The bull is father of the serpent, and the serpent father of the bull.” In the Pyramid texts we find, “To say the words : “The bull falls because of the sDH-snake, the sDH-snake falls because of the bull. Fall, roll together” (Utt. 289 430)

And that concludes the evidence I’ve gathered linking these two Gods. It is certainly a considerable amount of material, and suggests more than a casual similarity between them. However, as you will see in a forthcoming article, there are also a number of areas where these two Gods diverge – and at times quite profoundly.

Mr. Dionysos Goes to Washington

Here’s a play I wrote for the Dionysia in 2003. I actually had the pleasure of seeing it performed by a Wiccan coven I briefly worked with in Las Vegas; what’s more, I got to play the part of Dionysos.

The Bacchae 2005 or The Burning Bush

Dramatis Personae
George W. Bush

Dick Cheney
White House Page
Secret Service Agents (3)

Interior of the Oval Office: indicated by a chair, a table, and a flag. George W. Bush is sitting in the chair, Dick Cheney is at his side, and behind them stand the Chorus.

George W. Bush: So how is the invasion going?

Dick Cheney: Very well, Mr. President. Our troops have already taken Paris, and two-thirds of France has been liberated. Things are still a little shaky in Bordeaux where we met with some unexpected resistance, but that should be mopped up by night’s end.

Bush: Have we found any Weapons of Mass Destruction yet?

Cheney: Uh … unfortunately not, Mr. President. And there was some minor protest of our unilateral strike by the international community. But not much. It was France, after all.

Bush: It’s truly a shame that France became a rogue nation. Nice people, the French – though that whole Jerry Lewis thing is a little odd. But I like their bread. And their fries!

Cheney: Yes, well now they’ll be able to enjoy their baguettes with a side of Freedom and Liberty. Once Haliburton has finished rebuilding France’s infrastructure that is.

Chorus: Zeus’ pet eagle no longer sits tamely at the side of the Heavenly Father,
Symbol of justice and far-reaching equanimity.
But now is perched upon the shoulder of dread Ares,
who has burst his brazen bonds and strides through the land,
his dark shadow insighting men to madness and war.
The eagle calls out for blood and vengeance,
Its shrill cry echoed in that of weeping brides and fatherless sons.
Dark days behind us, and darker days to come.

Bush: So how are the other points on our agenda coming along? I’ve got a State of the Union address to prepare.

Cheney: Well, there’s been a slight bump in the road to progress up in Alaska.

Bush: A bump, you say?

Cheney: Yes. It seems that there was a little spill in the Natural Preserve where we’ve been drilling. Nothing major, mind you. Won’t even be a drop in oil prices. But there are a few dead animals and some black beaches now.

Bush: Just great! This is going to look horrible when it hits the news. My ratings are going to plummet.

Cheney: It won’t reach the news, Mr. President. Our trained puppies in the Media say what we tell them to. And as far as they’re concerned, nothing’s happened up there – and nothing will. We’ve already got our men picking up the seal and bird carcasses, and who’s going to notice a few oily rocks?

Bush: I don’t like this. What if all those hippies were right?

Cheney: Mr. President, don’t get all emotional on me. Besides, you can’t make an omelet without a few cracked eggs: progress and financial stability require sacrifice.

Bush: I suppose. Give me some good news, please!

Cheney: Our ‘Defense of Marriage’ Act has passed both Houses – without so much as a peep – and is just waiting for your signature to be made Law, Sir.

Bush: That’s great news! Such a holy and universally esteemed institution must be protected. Why, if we granted equal recognition to those homos, who knows what would be next. I once saw a man on Jerry Springer who made love to his dog. Should they be allowed to get married too?

Cheney: No Sir, they should not. And nothing, not even the Constitution, will stand in our way of upholding decency and God’s own morality.

Bush: Amen! Speaking of which, how are things going on the religious front? What was the response to my declaration to recognize Christianity as our State religion?

Cheney: Well, Sir, it looks promising – I mean, during the elections we did pretty much fill both Houses with loyal men who’ll grant you whatever you ask – but there has been some pretty strong opposition to your proposal. In fact, for the first time in centuries, Jews and Moslems are getting along, peacefully united in their hatred for you.

Bush: What do you mean? Aren’t they Christian too?

Cheney: Uh … no Sir.

Bush: But Jesus was a Jew. It doesn’t matter if they wear those silly little beanies when they do it, we all pray to the same God.

Cheney: They don’t seem to see it that way, Mr. President.

Bush: Well, they had better. We’re in a time of war, fighting for the future of our country. We need all the support we can get – especially from Almighty God himself. Anybody who disagrees with me is clearly un-American, un-Christian, and siding with the terrorists. If they’re not careful, they’ll end up being tried as enemy combatants.

Chorus: O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

White House Page enters, breathless.

White House Page: Excuse me, Mr. President. I hope I’m not disturbing you, but I’ve got urgent news.

Bush: No, ma’am. We were just finishing up here, right Mr. Cheney?

Cheney: Well, there were a few more things I wanted to address – like my proposal to transfer funds from Medicare to Homeland Security so that we can better spy on those pinkos in Hollywood – but it can wait.

Bush: Very well. So what’s this urgent news you’ve brought me?

Page: Well, Sir … it seems like your daughters are up to it again.

Bush(holds his head, as if he’s got a headache) What is it this time?

Page: Well, Sir …. (The page looks at the desk, the wall, down at her feet, anywhere but the President.)

Cheney: Out with it now!

Page: Well, Sir … it seems that your daughters are drunk.

Bush: So what’s new?

Page: They’re drunk, and running around the streets of Washington … uh … topless, Sir.

Bush and Cheney: What?!?

Page: Yes. It’s like something out of one of those Girls Gone Wild videos. They’re wearing these odd animal-skin capes and headbands made of ivy and grape-leaves, and other than that, there’s not a stitch of clothing on their bodies.

Bush: But it’s February, for God’s sake! They must be freezing.

Page: They don’t appear to be Sir. But maybe the frenzied dancing and singing are keeping them warm.

Bush: Where are they doing this? Please tell me it’s somewhere out of sight. Some secluded club, where we can go in and make sure that this story never reaches the light of day.

Page: I wish that were the case, Sir. Your daughters are dancing in the streets down below, right in front of the White House gates for all to see.

Bush and Cheney: What?!?

Page: I’m afraid so, Sir. Mixed in with all the protestors and rabble that usually gather out front.

Bush: Oh Jesus Christ, I can’t believe this! How could they do this to me? My enemies are just going to love this. It’s going to be all over the papers. Can you imagine what the headlines will be?

Cheney: This is bad.

Page: It gets worse.

Bush: (bangs his fist on the table) How? How can it get worse than this?

Page: It seems your daughters have joined some kind of free love hippie cult. They’re dancing down there naked at the instigation of a long-haired, bearded cult leader, dressed in strange flowing Arab robes.

Bush: This is too much! I can’t believe this. It has to be some kind of joke. It really isn’t very funny to say things like that, you know. I’ll have your job for this.

Page: Mr. President, I’m telling you the truth. I wish it weren’t true. I wish I wasn’t the one who had to carry this news to you. But it’s my job, and it’s not fair to punish the bearer of bad news.

Cheney: You’ve said enough, now get out of here before we decide to do exactly that.

White House Page exits.

Bush: What are we going to do? I simply can’t believe this. My daughters, daughters sprung from my very own flesh … hippies. This is an outrage!

Cheney: I’ll take care of this for you, Mr. President. We’ll send the Secret Service down there and bust heads until we get your daughters back. They aren’t in their right minds: they’ve been brainwashed by this strange cult leader. We’ll paint the streets red with their spilled blood and brains if we have to, to get your daughters back – and to take this man into custody.

Dick Cheney exits.

Chorus: Down from the Mountain have we come,
To the banks of the Potomac,
And the shining marble of the Nation’s Capitol,
Come out of your homes, o people,
Dawn the fawnskin and lift high the ivied wand,
and sing with us praises to Bromios, the beautiful and boisterous One,
whose simple worship gladdens the heart.
Sweet it is to lose yourself in the dance,
To feel the juice of the grape course through your body,
Stirring your spirit until you toss back your head
And give the ecstatic cry Euoi! Euoi! Io Euoi!
Drunk on the God, we have no care for empty possessions,
And the foolish rantings of angry Kings,
For with Dionysos, we know ourselves free,
And have the Earth’s rich bounty as our inheritance.
Ie ie Bacchos! Io io Bromios!

Bush: Oh, shut up.

Dick Cheney enters, followed by several Secret Service Agents who are holding, between them, the Stranger, his hands bound.

Cheney: We caught the rogue, and he didn’t even put up a fight. He was standing down there, amid a throng of his followers decked out like it was Mardis Gras. They were singing and dancing, some of them playing tambourines, others pipes, and others still plaiting garlands of flowers for the spectators to wear. It was like a party was going on down there – not a protest. But when they saw the Secret Service Agents come near, a change came over the crowd. They began screaming for blood, and hurled the foulest of insults at us. They rushed the gates, and would have broken through, but this one just lifted his hands, and said, “Let them pass unharmed. I have business with the President.” And the wild, raging crowd quieted, lions become lambs as the gates parted and our men walked up to him. He simply held out his hands, and let us cuff him, then let us escort him away, stopping only to say, “Remain still, my Bacchae, and keep your faith. I will soon return.”

Secret Service Agent 1: That’s the power of the gun. It turns even the bravest man into a craven coward.

The Stranger: I am no coward: had I wished, your throat would have been torn out, and you’d be choking on your own black blood, and not your stupid words.

SS Agent 1: (lifts his hand to strike him) Why I ought to!

Stranger: But you won’t.

Bush: Stop! There’ll be plenty of time for that later. First I want to find out what this man’s done to my daughters.

Stranger: I freed them. I helped them discover who they truly were, and brought that out for the world to see.

Bush: You brainwashed them. You corrupted them. You made them do dirty things.

Stranger: I made them do nothing: that was already in their hearts. I simply removed the restrictions. Had your daughters been truly chaste and modest, then that’s what would have come out. But then, you know better than I how your daughters resent the yoke, how wild and sensual their spirits are.

Bush: I don’t need you to tell me about my daughters!

Stranger: (wryly) No, I imagine you don’t.

Bush: Leave us. I want to interrogate this man alone.

SS Agents: Are you sure, Mr. President? What if he …?

Bush: You heard me!

The Secret Service Agents reluctantly leave.

Dick Cheney prepares to leave as well.

Bush: No, not you. You’re my right-hand man.

Cheney: I’m considerably more than that.

Bush: That’s why I need you to stay.

George W. Bush gets up from his chair, and stands in front of the Stranger trying to look intimidating.

Bush: Who are you?

Stranger: I am a Mystery.

Cheney: Don’t get smart with us, what’s your name?

Stranger: I have many names in many lands.

Bush: Then how shall we call you?

Stranger: You may call me Dionysos.

Bush: Do you lead that cult down there?

Dionysos: I lead them from their homes and dreary lives, lead them to the distant mountain, lead them in their sacred songs, lead them as they dance their holy dances, lead them as they celebrate the ineffable mysteries by moonlight. Yes, I am their leader.

Bush: What sort of mysteries are these?

Dionysos: Something only the initiate may know.

Cheney: This is some strange New Age cult, right?

Dionysos: No. My worship is as old as time.

Bush: It’s a scheme. Something you thought up to make yourself rich, and to ruin people’s lives.

Dionysos: Only one as venal as you would think such thoughts. No, my worship is what enriches people’s lives, not your endless chasing after money.

Cheney: Commie!

Bush: (touching Dionysos’ robes) Look at how’s he’s dressed. These soft, flowing robes. Why, these are the clothes of a Moslem terrorist. And look at this beard! (grabs the ends of his beard) What’s he hiding under this beard? An evil heart? A sinister nature? A mind plotting against America? No decent man wears a beard. Rasputin, Osama, Saddam: all the villains have got beards.

Dionysos: But you’re clean-shaven.

Bush: What’s that supposed to mean?

Dionysos: You heard me.

Cheney: How dare you say that to the President of the United States of America?

Dionysos: (stands fully upright) How dare he? How dare he claim what is not rightfully his? How dare he parade as a just and upright man, while his nature is base and his heart full of sin? How dare he use deception to enflame the lust for unrighteous war in his people? How dare he trample on the rights of the free individual man, censuring his words, policing his thoughts? How dare he show such contempt for his people, letting the poor languish in destitution and sickness, while bestowing even greater wealth upon his friends? How dare he despoil and exploit the resources of the Earth, generous mother of us all? How dare he flout the laws of his land, bending them to his own corrupt uses? How dare he, indeed!

Cheney: Enough! Stifle yourself, or I’ll do it for you!

Dionysos: Raise a finger against me, and you’ll regret it.

Cheney: What can you do? You’re locked in chains.

Dionysos: I remain in chains only because I consent to.

Bush: Oh yeah?

Dionysos: Yeah.

Dionysos raises his hands and the manacles fall off.

Cheney: (stepping between Dionysos and George W. Bush) Don’t you dare harm the President. You’ll regret it!

Dionysos: I’m not going to harm him. Yet. First he must be given a chance to see the error of his ways and repent. I am a just God, after all.

Bush: There is only one God!

Dionysos: I have met considerably more than that walking through the gilded halls of my Father’s palace on Mount Olympos.

Bush: The only true God is Jesus Christ. In his name, I rebuke this insanity of yours.

Dionysos: (laughs) You would rebuke me by myself?

Bush: You truly are insane! You think you’re Jesus?

Dionysos: I don’t think: I know. For I, Dionysos, am the True Vine. It was I who turned the water to wine; I who healed the sick in spirit; I who bade the women leave their homes to follow me no matter the strictures of family and society; I who purified the temple and made the triumphant procession amid ivy and palms into Jerusalem; I who gave the Apostles the gift of prophecy; I who was hung upon the tree for the remission of sins; and I who rose again; I, whose blood is the wine. I, Dionysos, did all this!

Bush: Blasphemy! I won’t stand here listening to that. Guards! Guards!

The Secret Service Agents come running in. They circle around Dionysos menacingly.

Bush: Get this man out of here! Take him down to the basement for interrogation. Summon John Ashcroft. He’ll know what to do with a man like this.

Cheney: Not so brave now, are you?

Dionysos: Nothing can happen to me at your hands that I do not allow. I go now, humbly, to make my return all the more conspicuous. Soon it shall be you trembling before my might. Fighting against the Gods is as futile as kicking against a stone: you shall see.

Dionysos puts up his hands, and lets the Secret Service Agents lead him away.

Cheney: Did you hear that man? How foolish and audacious he was. The very nerve, speaking to you like that, Mr. President!

Bush: Ashcroft will bring about a change of attitude in him, I’m sure: he has his ways.

Cheney: Even I’m a little squeamish around that man. He raises torture to an art form. He has tools that can remove a man’s tongue without even leaving a mark. I wouldn’t want to be that foolish Dionysos right now.

Chorus: Rise up, O Lord!

No longer suffer the inequities of this unrighteous King with mildness and restraint,
But like boiling lava flowing down the side of a mountain, come, come!
Mad and raving, to inflict terrible destruction upon this fool and lay him low!

Rise up, O Lord!

As you rose up against Pentheus, who vainly sought to oppose your worship in the city of your birth. You drove him into a frenzy of madness, and beneath a pine-tree, his own mother tore him to pieces.

Rise up, O Lord!

As you rose up against Lykourgos, who put your women to flight. You blinded him, and made him think that his son was made of vines, then opened his eyes that he might witness the bloody spectacle he had wrought.

Rise up, O Lord!

As you rose up against the daughters of Minyas, who shunned your sacred rites. You inflicted such hunger upon them that they cast lots to see which of their children they would boil in a pot.

Come, come night-roving Bacchos, terrible to look upon, roaring like thunder, like a bull in frenzy, shake the earth to its core, and topple this arrogant bastard!

The lights suddenly flicker and go out.

Cheney: Ah! The floor is shaking! We’re under attack!

The lights come back on. George W. Bush is cowering under the table.

Cheney: Mr. President! Mr. President! Are you okay?

George W. Bush climbs out from under the table, brushing off his jacket.

Bush: I … I think so. What happened?

Cheney: I don’t know, Mr. President. The whole room shook and then the lights went out. An earthquake, perhaps? Or a bomb going off? Your guess is as good as mine. But at least we’ve got power back.

The Secret Service Agents bust through the door.

SS Agent 1: Oh, thank Heavens, the President is alright!

SS Agent 2: Yes, we got here before he did. Quick! Take up your positions!

The Secret Service Agents spread out around the room, taking up defensive postures.

Cheney: What in the hell is going on here?

SS Agent 3: The prisoner got loose!

Cheney: He’s just one man. Why all the commotion?

SS Agent 2: He’s not a man. Had you seen what we saw, you’d be convinced of that.

Bush: What was the loud boom, and why’d the power go out?

SS Agent 2: The whole earth trembled when he broke his bonds: in death and madness his divinity was made manifest.

SS Agent 3: Shut up, you superstitious fool. It was just a coincidence. There was an earthquake, and in the confusion the prisoner got free. That’s all.

SS Agent 2: How can you deny what you saw with your own eyes? You saw the ivy suddenly appear, covering the walls and twining itself around the table on which the stranger sat. You heard the ghostly sound of drums and cymbals and shrill pipes that came from nowhere and everywhere at once. Saw the floor washed with red wine. Smelled the sweet, cloying incense. Heard things walking about the room that were not there. And finally, you saw the fierce beasts fall upon Ashcroft, tearing him to shreds as we fled in fear. How can you deny what we all saw and heard?

SS Agent 3: Hallucinations; nothing more than hallucinations. When the earthquake happened it must have broken open some of Ashcroft’s nerve gas, and we all started to hallucinate.

Bush: What’s going on? I don’t understand. Where’s the prisoner?

SS Agent 2: He’s on his way here. He’s coming for you, Mr. President.

Cheney: Enough of that! Now tell us what happened. How’d you let him escape: he was just one prisoner!

Secret Service Agent 1: We had no trouble bringing him down to Ashcroft’s interrogation chamber. Like a lamb being led to the slaughter, he meekly let us take him without complaint. In fact, he didn’t say a thing the whole time: he just stood there in eerie silence, his face like an unseeing mask. Even when Ashcroft strapped him to the table and brought out his tools, he uttered not a word. Now Ashcroft’s needles and knives have reduced the hardest men to tears: Saddam he had blubbering like a baby in minutes. But this one, he could not reach, no matter what atrocities he performed on his flesh. We would have thought him dead – there was enough blood on the floor to prove it – but his chest still rose, and his eyes continued to stare, and all the while, that hateful, mocking smile remained on his lips. It drove Ashcroft insane! He began stabbing the prisoner, screaming, ‘Do something, do something!’ And then, the prisoner did something.

Bush: What? What did he do?

SS Agent 1: The earth shook. He sat bolt upright, the straps on the table splitting apart. Ivy, and wine, and music filled the room. And suddenly, we were not alone. Swirling around him as if he were the calm center of a devastating tornado were … things. I can’t say what exactly they were. Now they had one shape, and now another. But they were fierce, and bestial, and I, I who have served my country my whole life, who have faced death in the deserts of Iraq, turned and fled, fear clutching at my heart with it’s black claws.

Cheney: Your story is preposterous! It’s too much to be believed.

SS Agents 1 & 2: Soon, you shall see – and you will believe.

Dionysos enters. The Chorus screams.

Dionysos: I have come! I am Dionysos, the son of Zeus, Lord of the fruitful Earth, who has given man sweet wine for the enjoyment of life, and blessed mysteries to purify his care-worn soul. Down from the Mountain have I come, snowy Nysa where dance the lovely-ankled nymphs and the shaggy-haired satyrs, my dear companions. I have come to Washington because you are an arrogant King, who hates my ways, and would rather send young men to kill and die in gold-hungry conquest than see them lay in loving embrace, their hair soaked in sweat after long hours of honoring me with their bodies. Many times have I come to you, and you did not recognize me. Even when the voice of your people rose up and pleaded for you to put off this crazy bloodthirstiness of yours, and welcome the Goddess Peace once more into your land – you would not listen. And so now I have come, I who am most gentle and most fierce, and now you will listen to me!

Cheney: Don’t just stand there! Get him.

Secret Service Agent 3 steps forward, as if to charge the intruder – but then notices that the other Agents are holding back. He loses courage, and falls back.

SS Agents 1 & 2: No, we won’t fight against a God. Listen to him: what he says makes a lot of sense. You are ruining our country: put on the ivy-crown and dance with us in joyful celebration. Great is the God Dionysos! And great his worship! Io euoi!

Chorus: Io euoi! Io io euoi!

Cheney: Cowards and fools! No, I will never honor this liar, falsely claiming to be a God. I fear no one! Aaaarrrgghh!

Dick Cheney lunges for Dionysos but manages only two steps. Dionysos holds up his hand.

Dionysos: I know how to make a dick go soft.

Dick Cheney clutches his heart, convulses.

Cheney: No! Not again! Aaaaaggghh!

And collapses to the floor, dead.

Dionysos turns toGeorge W. Bush.

Dionysos: O puppet, what will you do, now that your strings have been cut, and your puppet master lies broken?

Bush: I’m not a puppet! I made all the decisions around here.

Dionysos: Then you have a lot to answer for, little man.

Dionysos advances on George W. Bush, who backs up until he bumps into the table.

Bush: I have nothing to answer for. I made all the right decisions. America was attacked! We had to defend ourselves!

Dionysos: Then you should have gone after those who harmed you. When you spill innocent blood, it calls out to heaven. And how do you answer to the crime of stealing from the coffers, while the poor die in the streets from want?

Bush: Being President is hard work: I deserve some reward. The poor will always be with us.

Dionysos: And the law: you claim it is your sacred duty to uphold it, yet you have corrupted its spirit, and used it as a bludgeon against your enemies. You have overstepped your bounds: you have tried to impose your will in places it has no right to go.

Bush: The State is the father of the people: and I am the State. Like any father, it is my duty to protect and guide my children, to correct them when they do wrong.

Dionysos: And so you answer, and stand condemned by your words. You are hateful to me, and I will not allow your arrogance to go unpunished.

Dionysos raises his hands, as if to strike him, and George W. Bush falls to his knees, clutching his head, and weeping.

Dionysos: In times past, I would have brought you down like a stag felled by hounds. I would have torn you to pieces, and took pleasure in your flesh parting beneath my fingers, your warm, red blood gushing out to stain the black earth. I would have delighted in your piteous yelps of pain, would have smiled as you shrieked out your last breath. But these are different times, crueler times, and there are bitches more fierce than my maenads now. I will give you over to them!

The stage clears, replaced by a News Anchorwoman, seated at the desk.

Anchorwoman: And in a stunning turn of events today, President George W. Bush called a halt to all foreign involvement by American troops. He called the invasions of France and other countries, ‘Grossly unjust and uncalled for’ and said that ‘he sincerely apologized for any inconvenience the Imperialistic Military Industrial Complex had caused’. He also disbanded the ‘Patriot Act’, the ‘Defense of Marriage Act’, and the ‘Affirmation of the Christian Religion’ Act – saying that this legislature was ‘insane’ and ‘everything that decent Americans should stand against.’ He has also promised that he will bring about universal healthcare and give tax breaks to the working poor. And, perhaps most shocking of all, President Bush announced today that he will be seeking a divorce from his wife, and replacing her with his new lover, Raoul Hernandez, a Cuban refugee and exotic dancer, who some sources claim, has also worked as a male prostitute. These sudden, sweeping, and drastic changes have met with almost universal condemnation. For special commentary, we now turn to conservative columnist ….

The End

Dionysos is a badass God

A portion of this piece was recycled into the last post. As it is pertinent to the discussion I’m going to share it in its entirety.

During the Classical period there was a pretty broad repertoire of Dionysiac depictions, many of which cast the God in a hardly favorable light. The comic poet Aristophanes, for instance, made him a bumbling fool in The Frogs who has to ask directions to the underworld and pisses all over himself when confronted by Empousa (288 ff).

Certainly this is the sort of thing that one expects from Aristophanes (who regularly included jabs at the audience in his plays, calling them cock-suckers, parricides, and greedy cowards) but Dionysos isn’t treated much better by the respectable authors.

Euripides called him “effeminate” (Bakkhai 350), Aiskhylos a “womanly man” and a “weakling” (Edonoi frag. 30-31). Stories were told of Dionysos being dressed in the clothing of little girls or changed into a goat to escape the wrath of Hera, and eventually he was said to have been driven insane when she inevitably caught up with him. (Apollodoros 3.28)

But perhaps the most embarrassing tale of all was the one that Homer told:

“I will not fight against any God of the heaven, since even the son of Dryas, Lykourgos the powerful, did not live long; he who tried to fight with the Gods of the bright sky, who once drove the fosterers of Mainomenos Dionysos headlong down the sacred Nyseian hill, and all of them shed and scattered their wands on the ground, stricken with an ox-goad by murderous Lykourgos, while Dionysos in terror dived into the salt surf, and Thetis took him to her bosom, frightened, with the strong shivers upon him at the man’s blustering. But the Gods who live at their ease were angered with Lykourgos and the son of Kronos struck him to blindness, nor did he live long afterwards, since he was hated by all the immortals.” (Iliad 6.129)

Nor, unfortunately, was this the only such fable that circulated in the Greek mainland.

Pausanias relates (2.20.4) that in Argos there was a tomb “which they claim belongs to the maenad Khorea, saying that she was one of the women who joined Dionysos in his expedition against Argos, and that Perseus, being victorious in the battle, put most of the women to the sword. To the rest they gave a common grave, but to Khorea they gave burial apart because of her high rank.” Both Pausanias (2.23.7-8) and Nonnos (25.104) maintain that during this battle Perseus slew the beloved bride of Dionysos who was powerless to save her.

What a different situation we find in Egypt! This Dionysos is a mighty God who more than knows how to handle his enemies.

Consider the following passage from a 3rd century epic poem about the conflict between Dionysos and Lykourgos. Our fragment picks up in the middle, after Lykourgos and Dionysos have been going at it for some time. The God has just wrought a terrible miracle, transforming the lush countryside into a barren desert wasteland:

No longer flowed the spring beside the elm, nor were there ways of watering, nor paths nor fences nor trees, but all had vanished. Only the empty plain was visible. Where a meadow was before, close came Lykourgos, heart-stricken with mighty fear and speechlessness. For irresistibly, beyond mortal defense, all their works were upset and turned about before their eyes. But when Lykourgos knew him for the glorious son of Zeus, pale terror fell upon his spirit; the ox-goad, wherewith he had been at labor smiting, fell from his hand before his feet. He had no will to utter or to ask a word. Now might that poor wretch have escaped his gloomy fate: but he besought not then the divinity to abate his wrath. In his heart he foresaw that doom was nigh to him, when he saw Dionysos come to assail him amid lightnings that flashed manifold with repeated thunderclaps, while Zeus did great honor to his son’s destructive deeds.

So Dionysos urged his ministers, and they together sped against Lykourgos and scourged him with rods of foliage. Unflinching he stood, like a rock that juts into the marble sea and groans when a wind arises and blows, and abides the smiting of the seas: even so abode Lykourgos steadfast, and recked not of their smiting. But ever more unceasing wrath went deep into the heart of Thyone’s son: he was minded not at all to take his victim with a sudden death, that still alive he might repay a grievous penalty. He sent madness upon him, and spread about the phantom shapes of serpents, that he might spend the time fending away, til baneful Rumor of his madness should arrive at Thebes on wings and summon Ardys and Astakios, his two sons, and Kytis who married him and was subdued to his embrace.

Then, when led by Rumor’s many tongues they came, found Lykourgos just now released from suffering, worn out by madness. They cast their arms around him as he lay in the dust – fools! They were destined to perish at their father’s hand before their mother’s eyes! For not long after, madness, at the command of Dionysos, aroused Lykourgos yet again, but this time with real frenzy. He thought that he was smiting serpents; but they were his children from whom he stole the spirit. And now would Kytis have fallen about them, but in compassion Dionysos snatched her forth and set her beyond the reach of doom, because she had warned her lord constantly in his storms of evil passion. Yet she could not persuade her master, too stubborn; he, when his sudden madness was undone, recognized the God through experience of suffering. Still Dionysos abated not his wrath: as Lykourgos stood unflinching, yet frenzied by distress, the God spread vines about him and fettered all his limbs. His neck and both ankles imprisoned, he suffered the most pitiable doom of all men on earth: and now in the land of Sinners his phantom endures that endless labor – drawing water into a broken pitcher: the stream is poured forth into Haides.

Such is the penalty which the loud-thundering son of Kronos ordained for men that fight against the Gods; that retribution may pursue them both while living and again in death.

We aren’t dealing with the weak and impotent Dionysos of Homer here, who flees to the bosom of Thetis and can’t protect those near and dear to him. The Greco-Egyptian Dionysos is a potent force of nature and master of all vegetative life. He is also harsh and cruel when provoked, and the punishment he metes out to Lykourgos is nothing compared to what he has in store for an Indian spy in the Bassarika of the Greco-Egyptian poet Dionysios. There is some speculation that Dionysios may have lived in Panopolis: he certainly influenced the epic school that flourished there a couple centuries later. Not only does Nonnos continue the theme of the Indian War, but he even borrowed the names Deriades and Modaios for his Dionysiaka.

In the Bassarika fragment that has come down to us a spy sent into the camp of Dionysos by the Indian king Deriades has just been discovered. The God orders several of his soldiers to go out and hunt a stag. That’s when the fun starts.

They slew it and flayed it, and stripping off the skin, arrayed the wretched man from head and shoulders down. The new-flayed hide clave to his body, moulded to the flesh; above, the horns gleamed to be seen afar; to one that beheld him, he wanted nothing of the wild beast’s form. Thus had they transformed a man into a counterfeit animal … The Bacchanal God leapt into the midst of the enemy army, where most of all the Kethaians were rushing to the flame of battle. Standing there he cried aloud to Dereiades and the rest: ‘Slaves of women, Indians, consider now this way: to Deriades above all I speak this from knowledge. You shall not, in your present straits, withstand the onslaught of the gleaming wine and escape your evil fate, before in the swift night you tear apart the raw flesh of a living animal and eat it. Behold this tall stag straight of horn, the finest that followed us from holy Hellas, a marvel to behold! Come, hasten to rend it in good conflict for its flesh.’ So he spoke, and they of their own accord were fain to fall upon human flesh, and to appease their boundless desire, smitten by eager madness. And Deriades answered the son of Zeus, saying: ‘Would that I might cut your body limb from limb and swallow the flesh raw ….’

And that, unfortunately, is where the fragment cuts off. You just know that Dionysos had some witty retort, perhaps even revealing the horrendous sparagmos and cannibalistic omophagia that he had compelled the Indians to unwittingly commit upon their kinsman. Perhaps it even ended with him saying something along the lines of, “Bitch, this is what happens when you send spies into my camp. Don’t try it again or you will know that I am the Lord Dionysos!”

We find this sort of reveling in the raw power and ferocity of the God in other Greco-Egyptian poets as well. One thinks especially of the great Alexandrian Theokritos who composed a cult-hymn that recounted the conflict between Dionysos and the insolent king Pentheus. I won’t bother to cite The Bacchanals in full – though it is a lovely poem, subject-matter notwithstanding – and instead cut to the climax, which is very relevant to our discussion:

“His mother took her son’s head and roared like a lioness with cubs; and Ino, setting her foot upon his stomach, tore off the great shoulder with the shoulder-blade, and in like fashion wrought Autonoa, while the other women parted among them piecemeal what was left of him: and to Thebes they came all blood-bedrabbled, bringing from the hill not Pentheus but tribulation. I care not. And let not another care for an enemy of Dionysos – not though he suffer a fate more grievous than this and be in his ninth year or entering on his tenth. But for myself may I be pure and pleasing in the eyes of the pure, like the eagle which is honored by aegis-bearing Zeus. To the children of the righteous, not of the unrighteous, comes the better fate. Farewell to Dionysos, whom Lord Zeus set down on snowy Drakanos when he had opened his mighty thigh. Farewell to comely Semele and her sisters, Kadmean dames honored as heroines, who, at Dionysos’ instigation, did this deed, wherein is no blame. At the acts of the Gods let no man cavil.”


through the long night

Golden eagle eating hare
She anointed Mark Antony on the head and the hands and mouth—the head that thinks of great deeds, the hands that accomplish them and the mouth that utters words that are just, wise and true. 

Hail Semachus and his Daughters!


I was cleaning out my drafts in Gmail where I keep random links, quotations, snippets of peculiar phrases and title ideas for unwritten blog posts when I came across these passages on the obscure Bacchic hero Semachos:

Jerome, The Chronicle B1497
During the 10 years Moses was in charge of the Jewish nation in the desert Deucalion’s son Dionysus traveled abroad. When he arrived in Attica he was received as a guest by Semachus and gave his daughter the pelt of a goat.

Philochorus, fragment 206 (preserved in Stephanus Byzantinus)
Semachidae: a deme of Attica, named after Semachus, who with his daughters received Dionysus as a guest; the priestesses of Dionysus are descended from them. It belongs to the Antiochis tribe, and Philochorus says that the deme is in the district of Epacria.

Wanting to learn more about him and his daughters I hit the Google, turning up this:

Dionysus was welcomed by the women of Semachos’ oikos. His daughter received the gift of a deer skin (nebris), which Karl Kerenyi identified as the bestowal of the rite of maenads in rending limb from limb the animals they sacrificed to Dionysus: “nebrizein also means the rending of an animal.”

They go on to derive his name from a Northwest Semitic loanword represented by the Hebrew šimah, “made to rejoice.” Semachos, as a plural of simchah, “joyous occasion”, appears in the euphemistically titled Talmudic Tractate Semachos, which deals with customs of death and mourning.

Carl Kerenyi adds this fascinating detail:

On a sixth-century vase from Orvieto a man is leading Dionysos toward the host-hero, whose distinction is stressed by an eagle bearing a snake in its beak. Two women making dance movements and two ithyphallic sileni are also present. In all likelihood the scene represents the god’s arrival at the house of Semachos. (pg. 147)

Hmm. An eagle bearing a snake – where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, the coinage of Olbia and Shield of Dionysos.

Anyway, interesting timing that I should (re)discover this man and his daughters during the month of Νεβρίς, with Ἀγριώνια and Ἀλέτιδεια upon the horizon.  

auspicious omens

From the 38th Book of Nonnos of Panopolis’ Dionysiaka:

The Satyrs dived into a bear’s cave, and hollowed their little bed in the rock with sharp finger-nails in place of cutting steel; until the lightbringing morning shone, and the brightness of Dawn newly risen showed itself peacefully to both Indians and Satyrs. There was no carnage among them then, no conflict, and the shield which Bacchos had borne for six years lay far from the battle covered with spiders’ webs.


A foreboding sign was shown to winefaced Bacchos in the sky, an incredible wonder. For at midday, a sudden darkness was spread abroad, and a midday obscurity covered Phaethon with its black pall, and the hills were overshadowed as his beams were stolen away.


Then a happy omen was seen by impatient Bacchos, an eagle flying high through the air, holding a horned snake in his sharp talons. The snake twisted his bold neck, and slipt away of itself diving into the river Hydaspes. Trembling silence held all that innumerable host. Idmon alone stood untrembling, Idmon the treasury of learned lore, for he had been taught the secrets of Urania, the Muse who knows the round circuit of the stars: he had been taught by his learned art the shades on the Moon’s orb when in union with the Sun, and the ruddy flame of Phaethon stolen out of sight from his course behind the cone of darkness, and the clap of thunder, the heavenly bellow of the bursting clouds, and the shining comet, and the flame of meteors, and the fiery leap of the thunderbolt.

Uhm … really? I shouldn’t be surprised, but really? Bears, Spiders, the Shield of Dionysos, a Black Sun, an Eagle carrying off a Serpent, and Thunderstrike. Literally everything I’ve been posting about for the last week or so, all in one passage.

The Phrygian prophet then goes on to interpret these as auspicious omens indicating that he will triumph over his adversaries.

The Quest for the Flower


I think the magical restorative flower depicted on the Shield of Dionysos is the one that Óðr (either alone or with his comrades) went searching for when the Gods of Ásgarðr were suffering from the theft of Iðunn’s golden apples, as well as the μῶλυ flower which Hermes gives to Odysseus. What we’re seeing are different stages of an underlying myth, scattered through diverse and seemingly unrelated sources.

And I think another stage of this myth involves a confrontation with a Giant, before the long sought for flower can be recovered. This Giant is either one-eyed or three-headed, and can change its shape into that of various animals – most commonly an eagle or a snake. 

Note that Nonnos recounts Ganymedes’ abduction by the giant golden eagle as a prelude to the story of Moria, Damasen and Tylos; Ganymedes represents youthful vitality, just like Hebe did before he replaced her as cup-bearer of the Gods. While in the Norse it is her fruit rather than Iðunn herself that is stolen, that theft is performed by Þjazi, a Giant who turns himself into an eagle. And Odysseus has to face off against the Laistrygones and Polyphemos (both terrible, uncivilized, maneating offspring of Poseidon of immense size) before he can make it to Aiaíā and receive Hermes’ benefaction. (Kírkē’s fabled abode is called “Eagle Island” by the way, from the Greek aietos, eagle.)

This is what I had in mind when I mentioned the possibility of a lost myth in connection with the dolphin coins of Olbia. It’s also possible I’m making this myth up as I go, or that there is a myth but I’m forging connections that don’t exist or are tenuous at best. Remember what I said about biases? Don’t think I’m immune to that, just because I’m clever!

However, if I’m right I believe that a great deal of this myth has been depicted on the Golden Horns of Gallehus. I’m not going to bombard you with a ton of links (though man have I researched the hell out of these things) but I will suggest you start with these four  here, here, here and especially here. Obviously I don’t agree with all of the ideas expressed therein but a rough picture should start to emerge by the time you’re finished with them.


… and thank you for all the fish.

It’s important to read lots of different scholars on a subject and to keep in mind 1) they are only as good as the sources they’re working from and 2) everyone has biases, which shape how they interpret information. 

Case in point: G. M. Hirst’s The Cults of Olbia was published in 1903. She brings together a wealth of material (some of which more contemporary scholars fail to cite) but that material is limited to what was available at the time, primarily literary citations and numismatics. Serious excavation didn’t even begin at the archaeological site until 1902, with its heyday being the 1920s when they were able to return to the field post-WWI. Some of the most significant discoveries weren’t made, however, until the 1980s and as late as the 2010s when efforts were intensified due to concerns over erosion from the Black Sea and damage from pollution and climate change. None of this is reflected in Hirst’s study, obviously, so if you relied solely on that you’d have a pretty skewed perception of, say, Dionysos’ place in the Olbian pantheon (since many of those discoveries have had to do with him.) 

And for point two I simply want to remind folks that biases shape how we perceive things both large and small, significant and not. It’s easy to recognize bias when the scholar is postulating out-dated or faulty theories, especially if they’ve been thoroughly debunked or it’s something we’re familiar with and happen to care about – but other errors can slip right by without us realizing.

For instance, there is much debate about whether the Olbian dolphin coins are actually dolphins – or rather sturgeons. Sturgeons don’t mean anything to me, so I’m inclined to agree with the dolphin camp. That doesn’t make them right, however. After all, while it’s unlikely that an eagle could carry off a dolphin in its claws (not impossible, just extremely unlikely) there is nothing extraordinary about it doing that to a sturgeon.

While I applaud the scholar who was first able to look past the communis opinio and see a sturgeon one reason I side with the dolphiners is that no one I’ve read has satisfactorily explained why the Olbiapolitians would mint coinage with sturgeons on them, whereas it’s self-evident why they’d do so with dolphins, considering the animals’ associations with Dionysos and Apollon. In fact, one of Olbia’s major trading partners was the polis of Taras (or Tarentum) in Magna Graecia which minted its own dolphin coins, associated originally with their eponymous hero and Poseidon, though later on Dionysiac attributes were added via Taras’ blending with Iakchos (or Kloster.)

In other words, question everything – especially the things you are certain of.

Dolphin money

The Olbians really liked dolphins, and minted many types of coins with them on it. 

There are the famous “dolphin coins” themselves:


A more detailed example of which you can see here:


As well as more normal coins, such as this one which has a Gorgoneion on the obverse:


You’ll note that the dolphin is being carried off by an eagle. This is a common motif, and I’m not sure if it refers to some myth I’m not familiar with or an everyday occurrence. In which case, fuck, they must have big eagles in the Ukraine. 


On this coin (with a kneeling Herakles on the obverse) we find a wheel with dolphins in the cardinal directions, for reasons.

Dolphins also appear in conjunction with some kind of flower and an eight-rayed star, as well as by themselves.

I wonder if these are the dolphins of Dionysos or of Apollon. I’ve seen good arguments either way, as well as scholars put forth that they have some association with Poseidon. While certainly possible, the other two are much more prominent members of the Olbian pantheon so I think it unlikely. 

The Shield of Dionysos

Here is a Boiotian shield depicting Dionysos with protective vines:


However that is not the shield I mean. Dionysos’ shield is described by Nonnos of Panopolis in the 25th book of his Dionysiaka. Although there’s a lot going on, all of it significant on one level or another, I’m going to bold the portion I think you’ll find particularly relevant in light of our present conversation. 


But now that Dionysos had heard the Mother’s inspired message, he mingled thyrsus-mad with the Bacchant women upon the hills. He threw to the winds his burden of anxious pain, as he shook the shield curiously wrought, the shield of Olympos, the clever work of Hephaistos.

Multitudes gathered to look at the varied wonders of Olympian art, shining wonders which a heavenly hand had made. The shield was emblazoned in many colours. In the middle was the circle of the earth, sea joined to land, and round about it the heaven dotted with a troop of stars; in the sky was Helios in the basket of his blazing chariot, made of gold, and the white round circle of the full moon in silver.

All the constellations were there which adorn the upper air, surrounding it as with a crown of many shining jewels throughout the seven zones. Beside the socket of the axle were the poles of the two heavenly Waggons, never touched by the water; for these both move head to loin together round a point higher than Oceanos, and the head of the sinking Bear always bends down exactly as much as the neck of the rising Bear stretches up. Between the two Waggons he made the Serpent, which is close by and joins the two separated bodies, bending his heavenly belly in spiral shape and turning to and fro his speckled body, like the spirals of Maiandros and its curving murmuring waters, as it runs to and fro in twists and turns over the ground: the Serpent keeps his eye ever fixt on the head of Helice, while his body is girdled with starry scales. The constellations of the Bears encompass him round: on the point of his tongue is held out a sparkling star, which close to his lips shoots light, and spits forth flame from the midst of his many teeth.

Such were the designs which the master-smith worked on the back of the well wrought shield, in the middle; and to please Lyaios he wrought also the harp-built walls of cowfounded Thebes, when one after another the seven gateways were a-building in a row. There was Zethos carrying a load of stones on his chafing shoulder, and working hard for his country; while Amphion played and twanged the harp, and at the tune a whole hill rolled along of itself as if bewitched and seemed to dance even on the shield. It was only a work of art, but you might have said, the immovable rock went lightly skipping and tripping along! When you saw the man busy with his silent harp, striking up a quick tune on his make-believe strings, you would quickly come closer to stretch your ear and delight your own heart with that harp which could build a wall, to hear the music of seven strings which could make the stones to move.

The wellrounded shield had another beautiful scene amid the sparkling company of the stars, where the Trojan winepourer was cunningly depicted with art divine being carried into the court of Zeus. There well wrought was the Eagle, just as we see in pictures, on the wing, holding him fast in his predatory talons. Zeus appeared to be anxious as he flew through the air, holding the terrified boy with claws that tore not, gently moving the wings and sparing his strength, for he feared that Ganymede might slip and fall headlong from the sky, and the deadly surf of the sea might drown him. Even more he feared the Fates, and hoped that the lovely youth might not first give his name to the sea below and rob Helle of the honour which was reserved for her in future.” Next the boy was depicted at the feast of the heavenly table, as one ladling the wine. There was a mixing-bowl beside him full of self-flowing nectarean dew, and he offered a cup to Zeus at the table. There Hera sat, looking furious even upon the shield, and showing in her mien how jealousy filled her soul; for she was pointing a finger at the boy, to show goddess Pallas who sat next her how a cowboy Ganymedes walked among the stars to pour out their wine, the sweet nectar of Olympos, and there he was handing the cups which were the lot of virgin Hebe.

Maeonia he also portrayed, for she was the nurse of Bacchos; and Moria, and the dappled serpent, and the divine plant, and Damasen Serpentkiller the terrible son of Earth; Tylos, also, who lived in Maeonia so short a time, was there mangled in his quick poisonous death.

Tylos was walking once on the overhanging bank of neighbouring Hermos the Mygdonian River, when his hand touched a serpent. The creature lifted his head and stretched his hood, opened wide his ruthless gaping mouth and leapt on the man, whipt round the man’s loins his trailing tail and hissed like a whistling wind, curled round the man’s body in clinging rings, then darting at his face tore the cheeks and downy chin with sharp rows of teeth, and spat the juice of Fate out of his poisonous jaws. The man struggled with all that weight on his shoulders, while his neck was encircled by the coiling tail, a snaky necklace of death bringing Fate very near. Then he fell dead to the ground, like an uprooted tree.

A Naiad unveiled pitied one so young, fallen dead before her eyes; she wailed over the body beside her, and pulled off the monstrous beast, to bring him down. For this was not the first wayfarer that he had laid low, not the first shepherd, Tylos not the only one he had killed untimely; lurking in his thicket he battened on the wild beasts, and often pulled up a tree by the roots and dragged it in, then under the joints of his jaws swallowed it into his dank darksome throat, blowing out again a great blast from his mouth. Often he pulled in the wayfarer terrified by his lurking breath, and dragged him rolling over and over into his mouth — he could be seen from afar swallowing the man whole in his gaping maw.

So Moria watching afar saw her brother’s murderer; the nymph trembled with fear when she beheld the serried ranks of poisonous teeth, and the garland of death wrapt round his neck. Wailing loudly beside the dragonvittling den, she met Damasen, a gigantic son of Earth, whom his mother once conceived of herself and brought forth by herself. From his birth, a thick hairy beard covered his chin. At his birth. Quarrel was his nurse, spears his mother’s pap, carnage his bath, the corselet his swaddlings. Under the heavy weight of those long broad limbs, a warlike babe, he cast lances as a boy; touching the sky, from birth he shook a spear born with him; no sooner did he appear than Eileithyia armed the nursling with a shield.

This was he whom the nymph beheld on the fertile slope of the woodland. She bowed weeping before him in prayer, and pointed to the horrible reptile, her brother’s murderer, and Tylos newly mangled and still breathing in the dust. The Giant did not reject her prayer, that monstrous champion; but he seized a tree and tore it up from its roots in mother earth, then stood and came sidelong upon the ravening dragon. The coiling champion fought him in serpent fashion, hissing battle from the wartrumpet of his throat, a fiftyfurlong serpent coil upon coil. With two circles he bound first Damasen’s feet, madly whipping his writhing coils about his body, and opened the gates of his raging teeth to show a mad chasm: rolling his wild eyes, breathing death, he shot watery spurts from his lips, and spat into the giant’s face fountains of poison in showers from his jaws, and sent a long spout of yellow foam out of his teeth. He darted up straight and danced over the giant’s highcrested head, while the movement of his body made the earth quake.

But the terrible giant shook his great limbs like mountains, and threw off the weight of the serpent’s long spine. His hand whirled aloft his weapon, shooting straight like a missile the great tree with all its leaves, and brought down the plant roots and all upon the serpent’s head, where the backbone joins it at the narrow part of the rounded neck. Then the tree took root again, and the serpent lay on the ground immovable, a coiling corpse. Suddenly the female serpent his mate came coiling up, scraping the ground with her undulating train, and crept about seeking for her misshapen husband, like a woman who missed her husband dead. She wound her long trailing spine with all speed among the tall rocks, hurrying towards the herbdecked hillside; in the coppice she plucked the flower of Zeus with her snaky jaws, and brought back the painkilling herb in her lips, dropt the antidote of death into the dry nostril of the horrible dead, and gave life with the flower to the stark poisonous corpse. The body moved of itself and shuddered; part of it still had no life, another part stirred, half-restored the body shook another part and the tail moved of itself; breath came again through the cold jaws, slowly the throat opened and the familiar sound came out, pouring the same long hiss again. At last the serpent moved, and disappeared into his furtive hole.

Moria also caught up the flower of Zeus, and laid the lifegiving herb in the lifebegetting nostril. The wholesome plant with its painhealing clusters brought back the breathing soul into the dead body and made it rise again. Soul came into body the second time; the cold frame grew warm with the help of the inward fire. The body, busy again with the beginning of life, moved the sole of the right foot, rose upon the left and stood firmly based on both feet, like a man lying in bed who shakes the sleep from his eyes in the morning. His blood boiled again; the hands of the newly breathing corpse were lifted, the body recovered its rhythm, the feet their movement, the eyes their sight, and the lips their voice.

Cybele also was depicted, newly delivered; she seemed to hold in her arms pressed to her bosom a mock-child she had not borne, all worked by the artist’s hands; aye, cunning Rheia offered to her callous consort a babe of stone, a spiky heavy dinner. There was the father swallowing the stony son, the thing shaped like humanity, in his voracious maw, and making his meal of another pretended Zeus. There he was again in heavy labour, with the stone inside him, bringing up all those children squeezed together and disgorging the burden from his pregnant throat.

Such were the varied scenes depicted by the artist’s clever hand upon the warshield, brought for Lyaios from Olympos with its becks and brooks. All thronged about to see the bearer of the round shield, admiring each in turn, and praising the fiery Olympian forge.

While they still enjoyed the sight, the daylight crossed the west and veiled the light of her fire-eyed face; quiet Night covered all the earth in her dark shades, and after their evening meal all the people lay down in their mountain bed, scattered on pallets here and there over the ground.


Some relevant quotes

Hermes, Herakles and Theseus, who are honored in the gymnasium and wrestling-ground according to a practice universal among Greeks, and now common among barbarians. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 4.32.1)

Above all other Gods they worship Mercury, and count it no sin on certain feast-days to include human victims in the sacrifices offered to him. Herakles and Mars they appease by offerings of animals, in accordance with ordinary civilized custom. Some of the Suebi sacrifice also to Isis. I do not know the origin or explanation of this foreign cult; but the Goddess’s emblem, being made in the form of a light warship, itself proves that her worship came in from abroad. The Germans do not think it in keeping with the divine majesty to confine Gods within walls or to portray them in the likeness of any human countenance. Their holy places are woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence. (Tacitus, Germania 9)

When morning was come they set up an eagle at the eastern gate, and erecting an altar of victory they celebrated appropriate rites with all due solemnity, according to their ancestral superstition: to the one whom they venerate as their God of Victory they give the name of Mars, and the bodily characteristics of Hercules, imitating his physical proportion by means of wooden columns, and in the hierarchy of their Gods he is the Sun, or as the Greeks call him, Apollo. From this fact the opinion of those men appears somewhat probable who hold that the Saxons were descended from the Greeks, because the Greeks call Mars Hirmin or Hermes, a word which we use even to this day, either for blame or praise, without knowing its meaning. (Widukind of Corvey, Deeds of the Saxons)

Among the rest of the Thracians it is the custom to sell their children for export and to take no care of their maidens, allowing them to have intercourse with any man they wish. Their wives, however, they strictly guard, and buy them for a price from the parents. To be tattooed is a sign of noble birth, while to bear no such marks is for the baser sort. The idler is most honored, the tiller of the soil most scorned; he is held in highest honor who lives by war and robbery. They worship no Gods but Ares, Dionysos, and Artemis. Their princes, however, unlike the rest of their countrymen, worship Hermes above all Gods and swear only by him, claiming him for their ancestor. The wealthy have the following funeral practices. First they lay out the dead for three days, and after killing all kinds of victims and making lamentation, they feast. After that they do away with the body either by fire or else by burial in the earth, and when they have built a barrow, they initiate all kinds of contests, in which the greatest prizes are offered for the hardest type of single combat. (Herodotos, Histories 5.6-8)

And again Hera would have destroyed the son of Zeus but Hermes caught him up, and carried him to the wooded ridge where Kybele dwelt. Moving fast, Hera ran swift-shoe on quick feet from high heaven; but he was before her, and assumed the eternal shape of first-born Phanes. Hera in respect for the most ancient of the Gods, gave him place and bowed before the radiance of the deceiving face, not knowing the borrowed shape for a fraud. So Hermes passed over the mountain tract with quicker step than hers, carrying the horned child folded in his arms, and gave it to Rheia, nurse of lions, mother of Father Zeus, and said these few words to the Goddess mother of the greatest: ‘Receive, Goddess, a new son of your Zeus! He is to fight with the Indians, and when he has done with earth he will come into the starry sky, to the great joy of resentful Hera! Indeed it is not proper that Ino should be nurse to one whom Zeus brought forth. Let the mother of Zeus be nanny to Dionysos – mother of Zeus and nurse of her grandson!’ This said he put off the higher shape of selfborn Phanes and put on his own form again, leaving Bakchos to grow a second time in Meter’s nurture. (Nonnos, Dionysiaka 9.136 ff)

Kallisto was loved by Zeus and mated with him. When Hera detected the intrigue she turned Kallisto into a bear, and Artemis to please Hera shot the bear. Zeus sent Hermes with orders to save the child Arkas that Kallisto bore in her womb. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.3.6)

Images from the Karneia

Look at how the young boys run! Chests heaving, fists pumping, thighs tensing, naked feet slapping the pavement as they hurtle towards the prize. The grape-laden man runs, not naked like them, but draped with fillets of wool in the hot summer sun. He is sweating and his cheeks puffing – but he is fast – far faster than the boys expected! They thought it’d be easy to catch the old man. Slap his back and smile as he proclaimed the blessing for the city. Then there would be feasting and beautiful hymns, and the great circle dances with the pretty young girls and their loose brown hair and slender ankles.

But the grape-man is so far ahead – what if he reaches the altar before they can touch him? Will Apollo Karneios really turn his face from them? And what would that mean? The failure of the crops, certainly – and war. Perhaps even plague, like that which befell the Greeks when they unknowingly cut down Apollo’s sacred cherry-grove on Mount Ida to build the Trojan Horse. Raging, the God afflicted them with disease – and only the institution of the Karneia was able to appease his wrath. But what if they should fail in the race?

Unbidden, the images fly into Alexis’ brain. He sees the grapes rotting on the vine in his uncle’s vineyard, black and poisonous looking things. And he sees his cousin take a dagger in the side and collapse under the press of bodies as the black smoke rises from the charred hulls of his city’s buildings. And worse yet is the image of his sisters and mother puking black blood into their hands, their once red cheeks white like bone. All this, because he failed to obtain the grape-laden man’s blessing for his city.

Alexis digs deep. His legs burn, and his chest is tight so that even the shallow runner’s breaths are hard to draw. But he drives away these concerns like an old woman chasing away a stray dog with a stick. Even if his legs splintered, he would run. Even if his heart burst in his chest, he would run. The other boys, winded, start to fall off, but Alexis won’t let himself give in, won’t let the bad things happen. He has to touch the back of the old fat man – everyone depends on him.

He is five, now four strides behind. He might just make it! But no – he can see the altar of the God at the end of the track. If the grape-laden man reaches it, it’s all over. His arm burns as he reaches out, his muscles straining. His vision is blurred by sweat and tears, and his heart feels like it’s going to pound right out of his chest. Closer, closer they draw to the altar of Apollo, harder, harder he pushes himself, trying desperately to close the distance between them. His fingers shake, longing to touch something solid, to feel the sweaty wollen fellets, and the soft flesh of the man’s back. “Apollo,” the boy prays, “make me worthy to save my city.”

And then there are no more thoughts, no more fears and longing. He is just sinew and flesh, muscle and sweat. A body, working perfectly, pure instinct. He feels his steps grow lighter, the distance shrinking, and he reaches out again, and slaps the back of the grape-laden man!

The touch startles the old man, and he tumbles to the ground in a flury of limbs and wollen fillets, and Alexis trips over him and crashes to the ground himself, bloodying his knees. But he is elated! Joy washes over him, and his spirit leaps into the sky like a giant eagle. He did it, he saved his city! Even as his legs are gripped with cramps, and his chest pounds so hard that he’s sure his heart is going to burst any minute, and his vision goes black from the pounding in his ears that sounds like the Bacchic drums at night, he is happier than he has ever been in his short life. The other boys arrive and lift him up, and carry his limp body to the altar, cheering and patting his back to await the blessing of the grape-laden man. Alexis smiles, and continues to sweat and bleed for Apollo.

Sorry Trent, but it’s true.

I find it very strange that Scarlet Magdalene and people like her insist on calling me a Nazi. When asked for evidence she posted links to 4 or 5 older pieces of mine – every one of which consisted of me not only denouncing Nazi ideology (beyond just “they killed a bunch of people” – like, even if that hadn’t happened I’d still oppose Nazis) but condemning all forms of racism, sexism, etc. When this was pointed out she doubled down with I hate Jews (curious, since three of my romantic partners have been of Jewish extraction; I’d say that rather proves the opposite, especially since I’m still on good terms with two of them) and then started ranting about the pics. Oh, the pics!

One of which was taken at a largely Black production of Euripides’ Bakchai by the historical Classical Theatre of Harlem and the other taken here in my office. In both I’m wearing a Sonnenrad necklace; in the second I’ve got on my SPQR t-shirt with the Roman eagle, and I’m flashing an “OK” hand sign. Plus my cool glow-in-the-dark vine bong is visible, though no one ever remarks on that even though it’s clearly proof that I’m a Nazi – Hitler was born on 4/20 after all!

Except, you know, it isn’t proof. None of it is.

Sure, the Nazis culturally appropriated the Roman eagle – but so did the United States of America before them, and the Russian Empire before them, and the Holy Roman Empire (which was neither holy, Roman nor an empire) before them, and the Byzantines before them, and probably a dozen other polities over the centuries I’m forgetting, all of whom wanted to foster some connection with my people, even if only on a symbolic level. Hell, truth be told, we weren’t even the first nation in antiquity to adopt the eagle but like Johnny Cash once we took something over ours became the definitive version everyone wants to emulate. (Sorry Trent, but it’s true.)

So yes, I wear my SPQR shirt as an expression of Italian pride and support for the values that made Rome such an exceptional world power. Our Imperium lasted more than a thousand years, and has cast a long shadow over subsequent European history. How long was the German Reich around for – a little more than a decade?

And you know what helped bring the fuckers down? My people.

Specifically, my grandfather and about five or six of his cousins – all of whom enlisted in the American Armed Forces even though they were first and second generation immigrants and treated like shit for it because America was pretty damn racist at the time. That didn’t matter, however, when their newly adopted country was attacked; all those boys went out to fight against their former homeland and its fascist allies, and several never returned. That’s one reason I wear the SPQR – to honor my ancestors and the hard sacrifices they made for the freedoms we all so casually enjoy – including your freedom to call me a Nazi.

And I’m sorry, I don’t care if the ADL and SPLC claim that the “OK” hand gesture is a White Supremacist symbol – it’s been around for decades in contexts as diverse as scuba-diving to baseball to rock’n’roll to American sign language. Just because some trolls at 4chan started a meme and the conspiratorial lefties went nuts over it does not change its fundamental meaning and history. When I flash it I am not signifying that I’m a racist – I’m mocking your gullibility, libtards. And that should be obvious from context, since it usually appears in posts where I am denouncing racism. Why the fuck would I do that if I’m a Nazi?

Now, the Black Sun.

This symbol and variations on it go back not only to migration-era Germany, but to pictographs and related imagery from the Neolithic found throughout continental Europe. True, for a few short years it was also employed by a select group of Nazis interested in the Occult; also true, the form I favor was designed by Himmler for the Wewelsburg castle – but do you know why they used it?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

But I do, and that’s why I continue to even though I’ve gotten all kinds of shit for it. I’m not going to go into the historical, mythical, Occult and Runic significance of the Sonnenrad, nor what it means to us within the Starry Bull tradition. That’s a topic for another day. Instead I’m going to say one thing, and one thing only – my personal reason for wearing it.

This image was given to me in a dream by Dionysos. Initially I was uncomfortable with that since I was aware of its Nazi associations. But it kept showing up in visions and meditations over the course of a couple months. And then the God showed me what it means, how it’s one of the symbols of his mysteries and more importantly what can be done with it. And that’s all I needed. I will never stop wearing it, talking about it, or using it.

And you’re welcome to disagree all you want. You can run around calling me Nazi til you’re blue in the face. You can maintain that belief no matter how often folks point to my anti-racist writings, the fact that every ritual group I’ve been involved in since my Wiccan days has had members of color, that no one can point to any racist groups I’ve been a member of, no racist events I’ve attended, no racist activities I’ve engaged in, and so on and so forth until the cows come home.

Eventually people are going to see through your bullshit, that you’ve got nothing more than empty “Nazi!” and “Racist!” insults to lob.

And then what?

Will you reflect on all that time you’ve wasted hating on me instead of getting out there and fighting actual Nazis like my grandfather and his cousins did? Okay, technically most of them were deployed to the Pacific theater rather than Europe but Imperial Japan was no less evil than the Nazis, and in some respects much worse. Just ask the Chinese, Filipinos, POWs, etc. But my point stands – your keyboard crusades will accomplish nothing. They will consume everything decent, vital and meaningful about you until you die worthless and forgotten.

And I’ll still be over here, worshiping my Gods and making lasting friendships with interesting and diverse people who care more about my words and deeds than the necklaces and t-shirts I wear. (And if they have questions about my accessories we’ll have an honest conversation like human beings, not neurotic online twits.)

Incidentally, you may want to take another look at your Xenia Declaration, Scarlet Magdalene. While you’ve been trying to besmirch my reputation (something I do far better than you ever could) you let another sexual predator sign up. Wow, you have no knowledge of your so-called community and don’t do any sort of vetting, do you? Unless you do know and are actually ok with that sort of thing. Once is an accident, twice a coincidence – but any more and it will start to seem to like a pattern …

Damn, I am so glad you removed me because of my t-shirt and necklace, since I have zero desire to be associated with you people.

Anyway, it’s 11/11 now. Take a few moments to reflect on and honor those who were truly Anti-Fascist, and gave their lives up in the great fight against tyranny.

Auch ich in Arkadien

It is my belief that the Goddess Freyja appears in Greek mythology under the guise of Kírkē, daughter of Helios and sister of Pasiphaë.

I first began to form this belief after reading in Simon Halink’s Asgard Revisited: Old Norse Mythology and Icelandic National Culture 1820-1918 of Óðr’s quest for a magical flower capable of transforming the harsh heart of the Witch of the North:

In the South, Óður meets Apollo, god of light and poetry, who leads the way to a magical flower which symbolises the warm virtues of the South. Óður takes the flower to Ásgarðr where he presents it to his wife, who is not only the goddess of love but also of war and therefore arguably too belligerent to personify Benedikt’s more Romantic concept of love. The hard, martial element in Freyja’s character is here symbolised by Brísingamen; a piece of mythical jewelry generally considered to be a necklace but here presented as a brooch. Upon Óður’s return, this cold metal object is dramatically shattered and replaced by the flower of the South.

The literary theme of a quest for a hidden flower with supernatural (transformative) powers did not arise from the Eddic sources themselves, but forms a quintessentially Romantic trope which started with Novalis’s ‘blue flower’: an allegory for the Romantic ideals of nature, inspiration, and the Sublime. This theme already inspired Bjarni Thorarensen’s application of ‘white lilies’ in his Sigrúnarljóð (‘Sigrún’s Song’; 1820), but in Brísingamen the flower is for the first time applied as a symbol not of personal, but rather national transformation and regeneration. This innovative resignification serves as a good example of how the personal (or subjective), the natural, and the national (Volksgeist) are intertwined in the Romantic imagination.

The poem ends with the rather non-descriptive remark that the reunited lovers ‘returned home’, but this does not diminish the monumental message Benedikt tries to convey in these verses. The love goddess Freyja, stripped of her Nordic harshness (Brísingamen) and adorned with the flower of Southern love and warmth, personifies Benedikt’s ideal of a balanced symbiosis of Nordic and Southern/classical characteristics.

Which immediately made me think of the magical μῶλυ flower given by Hermes, rich in wiles, to the πολυτρόπως (‘much-traveled’ or ‘of many forms, personalities’) hero Odysseus, so that he might counteract Kírkē’s seductive sorceries and win over her savage Southern heart:

And with that I left the ship and shore and took the path upward; but as I traversed those haunted glades and was approaching the palace of Kirke the enchantress I was met by golden-wanded Hermes; he seemed a youth in the lovely spring of life, with the first down upon his lip. He seized my hand and spoke thus to me : “Luckless man, why are you walking thus alone over these hills, in country you do not know? Your comrades are yonder in Kirke’s grounds; they are turned to swine, lodged and safely penned in. Is your errand here to rescue them? I warn you, you will never return yourself, you will only be left with the others there. Yet no–I am ready to save you from all hazards, ready to keep you unscathed. Look. Here is a flower of magic virtue; take it and enter Kirke’s house with it; then the day of evil never will touch your head. I will tell you of all her witch’s arts. She will brew a potion for you, but with good things she will mingle drugs as well. Yet even so, she will not be able to enchant you; my gift of the magic flower will thwart her. (Homer, Odyssey 10.274-90)

And that’s when my head began whirling like a falcon’s gyre.

Κίρκη, you see, means either “falcon” (from κίρκος) or “ring” (from κρίκος) – both of which ultimately derive from the Proto-Indo-European *(s)ker- “to bend, turn, or move in a circular fashion.”

Judith Yarnall in Transformations of Circe: The History of an Enchantress argues that:

… the more the association of hawks with Circe’s character is investigated, the more convincing it becomes. The ornithological aspect of her name has a familial significance, since her brother Aietes’ name derives from aietos, meaning eagle. The name of her island Aiaia, may be based upon a West Semitic word for hawk, ayya, though we have no way of knowing for sure. But there are better, more encompassing reasons for seeing the hawk in Circe. Long before Homer imagined Circe, birds had been associated with the divine. According to Marija Gimbutas, birds appear in the prehistoric art of Europe and Asia Minor as “the main epiphany of the Goddess as Giver-of-all, including life and death, happiness and wealth.” Flesh-eating birds such as hawks and vultures possess a distinct but related tradition of iconography that was particularly strong in Anatolia, along whose Aegean coast Homer probably spent most of his professional life. This tradition is particularly relevant to Circe. According to Gimbutas birds of prey, when they appear in prehistoric art, “are omens of death and epiphanies of the Death-Wielder.” The tradition of a Vulture/Hawk Goddess who was indigenous to Asia Minor appears to stretch from neolithic Çatal Hüyük to Hellenistic times. At one of the oldest levels of settlement James Mellaart unearthed what he calls “Vulture Shrines,” mudbrick rooms painted with murals depicting the great birds swooping down with their ominous, outspread wings upon headless human bodies. These murals pictured part of this people’s death rites, for they exposed corpses to be picked clean before burying the bones beneath the floors of their houses. The human legs of one of the vultures suggest that it is more than just a bird, actually the Goddess herself in the form of a vulture. Gimbutas, following Mellaart’s interpretation, calls her, “She Who Takes Away Life, maleficent twin of She Who Gives Life.” The huge birds are not black but red, a color strongly associated with the blood of animal life and suggestive, therefore, of regeneration. In a shrine at a higher level Mellaart’s workers found a pair of heavy plaster breasts, with beaks in the place of nipples, protruding from a wall; they were found to be modelled over griffon vulture skulls. What image could express more directly or intensely the two sides of the Goddess? More than eight thousand years after its creation, this symbolism still arrests and appalls. In the millenia following Çatal Hüyük, raptors rather than vultures became the birds most often associated in Anatolia with the Goddess.           

A similar origin is sometimes proposed for Freyja, for instance in Valgerður H. Bjarnadóttir’s Prolegomena to a cosmology of healing in Vanir Norse mythology:

Falcon in Old Norse and Icelandic is valr, the same name as for those who die in battle, the slain. The valr were likely originally the bird messengers of the great goddess of death and regeneration, having a function very similar to the vultures shown on the 8,000 year old walls of Catal Hüyük, where we also find a statue of a goddess with two lions or panthers (cats) by her side. This reference to the vultures of Catal Hüyük is not meant to indicate a direct correlation between the goddess culture in Anatolia in prehistoric times and the culture of the Vanir, although such a relationship could be argued for. It is meant to give an indication of the role of the fateful birdgoddess wherever she is found in the world. Death for her is a part of a spiraling process, of nurturing and being nurtured; she is as active in the slaying part as in the reviving and healing part, but those parts cannot be separated. The valkyrjur, those who weave the web of fate for men in battle are, like the nornir and dís, female beings who play an important role in the fate of individuals of human and divine ancestry, as well as the fate of the worlds. A part of their role is nurturing, healing, and regenerating. They serve, tend to, nurture and heal the dead in Valhöll and Fólkvangur every night after the day’s battle, so that in the morning they can rise again. Some valkyrjur take it upon themselves to protect certain people from death, they were their hamingjur or fylgjur. Although in so many of the myths that have come down to us they are connected to the battlefield, we can assume that they had a function around life, death and rebirth even in times when war was an unknown phenomenon. The many poems about valkyrjur, of whom the Völsunga poems are the best known, show well the enormous power to do good and ill those beings were thought to have. We also see from the poems and stories that they were thought to be woman, bird, gyðja and vættur all at once.

Remnants of which can be found in Eddic tales such as Þrymskviða:

The poem Þrymskviða features Loki borrowing Freyja’s cloak of feathers and Thor dressing up as Freyja to fool the lusty jötunn Þrymr. In the poem, Thor wakes up to find that his powerful hammer, Mjöllnir, is missing. Thor tells Loki of his missing hammer, and the two go to the beautiful court of Freyja. Thor asks Freyja if she will lend him her cloak of feathers, so that he may try to find his hammer. Freyja agrees, “That I would give thee, although of gold it were, and trust it to thee, though it were of silver.” Loki flies away in the whirring feather cloak, arriving in the land of Jötunheimr. He spies Þrymr sitting on top of a mound. Þrymr reveals that he has hidden Thor’s hammer deep within the earth and that no one will ever know where the hammer is unless Freyja is brought to him as his wife. Loki flies back, the cloak whistling, and returns to the courts of the gods. Loki tells Thor of Þrymr’s conditions. The two go to see the beautiful Freyja. The first thing that Thor says to Freyja is that she should dress herself and put on a bride’s headdress, for they shall drive to Jötunheimr. At that, Freyja is furious—the halls of the gods shake, she snorts in anger, and from the goddess the necklace Brísingamen falls. Indignant, Freyja responds, “Most lustful indeed should I look to all if I journeyed with thee to the giants’ home.” The gods and goddesses assemble at a thing and debate how to solve the problem. The god Heimdallr proposes to dress Thor up as a bride, complete with bridal dress, headdress, jingling keys, jewelry, and the famous Brísingamen. Thor objects but is hushed by Loki, reminding him that the new owners of the hammer will soon be settling in the land of the gods if the hammer isn’t returned. Thor is dressed as planned and Loki is dressed as his maid. Thor and Loki go to Jötunheimr. In the meantime, Thrym tells his servants to prepare for the arrival of the daughter of Njörðr. When “Freyja” arrives in the morning, Thrym is taken aback by her behavior; her immense appetite for food and mead is far more than what he expected, and when Thrym goes in for a kiss beneath “Freyja’s” veil he finds “her” eyes to be terrifying, and he jumps down the hall. The disguised Loki makes excuses for the bride’s odd behavior, claiming that she simply has not eaten or slept for eight days. In the end, the disguises successfully fool the jötnar and, upon sight of it, Thor regains his hammer by force. (Wikipedia, s.v. Freyja)

And Skáldskaparmál:

At the beginning of the book Skáldskaparmál, Freyja is mentioned among eight goddesses attending a banquet held for Ægir. Chapter 56 details the abduction of the goddess Iðunn by the jötunn Þjazi in the form of an eagle. Terrified at the prospect of death and torture due to his involvement in the abduction of Iðunn, Loki asks if he may use Freyja’s “falcon shape” to fly north to Jötunheimr and retrieve the missing goddess. Freyja allows it, and using her “falcon shape” Loki successfully returns Iðunn after a furious chase by eagle-Þjazi. (ibid)

Freyja’s falcon cloak speaks to the shamanic currents within seiðr, an ecstatic practice which Wikipedia describes as follows:

Seiðr is believed to come from Proto-Germanic *saiðaz, cognate with Lithuanian saitas, “sign, soothsaying” and Proto-Celtic *soito– “sorcery”, all derived from Proto-Indo-European *soi-to- “string, rope”, ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root *seH2i- “to bind”.

Related words in Old High German and Old English refer to “cord, string,” or “snare, cord, halter” and there is a line in verse 15 of the skaldic poem Ragnarsdrápa that uses seiðr in that sense.  However, it is not clear how this derivation relates to the practice of seiðr. It has been suggested that the use of a cord in attraction may be related to seiðr, where attraction is one element of the practice of seiðr magic described in Norse literature and with witchcraft in Scandinavian folklore.  However, if seiðr involved “spinning charms”, that would explain the distaff, a tool used in spinning flax or sometimes wool, that appears to be associated with seiðr practice.

Old English terms cognate with seiðr are siden and sidsa, both of which are attested only in contexts that suggest that they were used by elves (ælfe); these seem likely to have meant something similar to seiðr. Among the Old English words for practitioners of magic are wicca (m.) or wicce (f.), the etymons of Modern English “witch”.

Seiðr involved the incantation of spells (galðrar, sing. galðr) and possibly a circular dance. Practitioners of seiðr were predominantly women (vǫlva or seiðkonaseiðr woman”), although there were male practitioners (seiðmaðrseiðr-man”) as well.

These female practitioners were religious leaders of the Viking community and usually required the help of other practitioners to invoke their deities, gods or spirits. The seiðr ritual required not just the powers of a female spiritual medium but of the spiritual participation of other women within the Norse community: it was a communal effort. As they are described in a number of other Scandinavian sagas, Saga of Erik the Red in particular, the female practitioners connected with the spiritual realm through chanting and prayer. Viking texts suggest that the seiðr ritual was used in times of inherent crisis, as a tool used in the process of seeing into the future, and for cursing and hexing one’s enemies. With that said, it could have been used for great good or destructive evil, as well as for daily guidance.

In the 13th century Saga of Eric the Red, there was a seiðkona or vǫlva in Greenland named Thorbjǫrg (“Protected by Thor”). She wore a blue cloak and a headpiece of black lamb trimmed with white ermine, carried the symbolic distaff (seiðstafr), which was buried with her, and would sit on a high platform. As related in the Saga:

Now, when she came in the evening, accompanied by the man who had been sent to meet her, she was dressed in such wise that she had a blue mantle over her, with strings for the neck, and it was inlaid with gems quite down to the skirt. On her neck she had glass beads. On her head she had a black hood of lambskin, lined with ermine. A staff she had in her hand, with a knob thereon; it was ornamented with brass, and inlaid with gems round about the knob. Around her she wore a girdle of soft hair (or belt of touch wood), and therein was a large skin-bag, in which she kept the talismans needful to her in her wisdom. She wore hairy calf-skin shoes on her feet, with long and strong-looking thongs to them, and great knobs of latten at the ends. On her hands she had gloves of ermine-skin, and they were white and hairy within.

Practices Freyja was responsible for spreading among the Gods:

Like Oðinn, the Norse goddess Freyja is also associated with seiðr in the surviving literature. In the Ynglinga saga (c.1225), written by Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson, it is stated that seiðr had originally been a practice among the Vanir, but that Freyja, who was herself a member of the Vanir, had introduced it to the Æsir when she joined them. Freyja is identified in Ynglinga saga as an adept of the mysteries of seiðr, and it is said that it was she who taught it to Oðinn: “Njǫrðr’s daughter was Freyja. She presided over the sacrifice. It was she who first acquainted the Æsir with seiðr, which was customary among the Vanir.” (ibid)

And among mankind:

Because of her knowledge of seiðr, Freyja was the prophetess for the gods in Ásgarðr. But on earth or Miðgarðr, it was the vǫlva (pl. vǫlur), her priestesses, who could simulate Freyja’s prophetic function, although the distinction between the divinity and her priestesses could become quite blurred, if not fully identical. This is well illustrated in the Sörla þáttr where Freyja disguises herself as a vǫlva by the name of Göndul and is then solicited for numinous knowledge by an earthly king. Based on the written evidence as well as the archaeological discoveries of graves belonging to vǫlur – in all cases associated with very wealthy and distinguished women – the cult was widespread and much revered in Viking-age Scandinavia. Written and archaeological sources connect the cult of the vǫlur and the vǫlur themselves with birds and their sacrifice. For one, excavations of vǫlur graves have revealed that they were often buried with birds. Thus, in one tenth-century grave (the richest) at the Fyrkat cemetery in Denmark, identified as belonging to a vǫlva, a wooden chest filled with the remains of bones of birds and small animals was placed at the feet of the deceased female. Also, aside from the female figures with bird heads represented on the Oseberg tapestry, the boat grave of the two women (a least one of whom is identified as a vǫlva/priestess) also contained a pile of down and feathers, inside of which were placed cannabis seeds (most likely used in shamanic ritual). But, the most compelling evidence comes from the written records. Erik the Red Saga relates that during her prophetic vision ceremony in Greenland in ca. 1000, a vǫlva sat on a special high-seat on which a pillow was placed and that this pillow had to be stuffed with hen’s feathers. In his famous eyewitness account of 921/22, Ibn Fadlān observed how a rooster and hens were sacrificed during the funeral of a Rus’ chief in the middle Volga area, administered by an old woman/priestess whom he called the “Angel of Death.” Erik the Red Saga provides invaluable details on the function of the vǫlva and the nature of Freyja herself. Aside from noting the vǫlva’s use of a pillow stuffed with hen feathers when she sat on her special high-seat, it describes her attire, various ritual objects she bore such as her staff (representing a distaff used in weaving), and the ceremony she performed. Other sagas that speak of vǫlur corroborate many of these details, leading historians of Nordic religion to conclude that the vǫlva had much in common with a shaman priestess performing classic shamanic rites. To attain the visions and insight into the future, it was required that the vǫlva, like her chief priestess Freyja, traveled in spirit into the “other world.” To do so, as H.R.E. Davidson put it so well in regard to Freyja, she took “on a bird-form, which meant that she could journey far in some shape other than human. As goddess of the Vanir, the prosperity of the community and marriage of young people were within her province, and these were precisely the subjects on which the vǫlva used to be consulted.” This then further elucidates the connection of the goddess and her vǫlur with birds as well as sheds much light on the origins of their prophetic visions and wisdom or numinous knowledge that it brings. All that can be added is the obvious other feature of the falcon’s natural attributes – extraordinary eyesight, which may well have added to its connection with the “seeress” divinity and her priestesses. (Roman K. Kovalev, Grand Princess Olga of Rus’ Shows the Bird: Her ‘Christian Falcon’ Emblem)

Shamanic shapeshifting also comes up in Freyja’s relationship with her favored hero Ottar, renowned for his piety and cleverness. Indeed, as Freyja tells Hyndla in the Hyndluljóð, the young hero won the Goddess’ heart by:

“Making for me a shrine of stones,
which has turned to glass
from all the blood of oxen
he has spilt on it;
always in the Asynjor
has Ottar placed his trust.”

And now, in danger of losing his paternal inheritance because details of his genealogy are vague, Freyja intercedes on behalf of Ottar, summoning Hyndla the Giantess and völva from her oracular cave to accompany her on a mission to Valhalla to convince Óðinn to grant him a boon. Hyndla’s mount is a wolf, and Freyja rides Ottar, whom she has transformed into her battle-swine Hildisvíni. But Hyndla, whom Freyja had earlier called her sister and girlfriend, sees through the magical ruse:

“Falsely you asked me, Freyja, to go,
for I see in the glance of your eyes
that your lover goes with us
on the way to the slain,
Ottar the young, the son of Instein.”

At first Freyja attempts to keep the gambit going:

“I think you’re having a wild dream
when you say my lover is with me
on the way of the slain;
there shines the boar with bristles of gold,
he who was made by Dain and Nabbi,
the cunning dwarfs.”

But then relents, and confesses the true reason for asking her along – to use Hyndla’s keen sight to look back and recount the ancestors of Ottar, that he may claim what is owed him.

After Hyndla accuses Freyja of being an unfaithful whore:

“Eagerly to Óðr did you run,
whose love was constant,
though many under your apron have crawled;
my noble one, you leap out in the night
like Heiðrún in search of goats.”

Freyja threatens to set her on fire, which Hyndla warns will have dire repercussions:

“Flames I see burning,
the earth is on fire,
and all will pay the price
losing their precious lives;
yes, even your Ottar, too,
will drink a venomous brew
and suffer an evil fate.”

The two eventually reach an agreement, and Hyndla recites Ottar’s genealogy going all the way back to the Gods and further to primordial creation. Freyja then asks that Ottar be given memory-beer so that he may have perfect recall of everything the Giantess has just told him for up to three days.

It is interesting that Freyja asks the Giantess to procure the memory-beer for Ottar, since Njörðr’s daughter herself is often the dispenser of magical potions and sacred beverages:

The “drink of precious mead” (drykk hins dyra miadar), “the ale of memory” (minnis aul), the “Poetry Stir” (Óðrerir), thus is the drink called that the Maiden offers to the hero after trials of initiation. This drink is connected to the three wells and is somehow drawn from them through the leaves of the World Tree by an entity who has the shape of a goat but who could equally well be the Great Goddess. The mead has a transformative effect and keeps the drinkers eternally alive. It is associated with “hidden knowledge”. Through the Maiden-mythology, we learn that it is strongly associated with memory of what is taught in the Other Worlds, that it conveys secrets of the cosmos, the knowledge of runes, fate, healing and poetry. As Sigrdrífa said, it is filled with good charms and runes of pleasure, manliness and power. It is offered by a goddess to a man who is her lover. (Maria Kvilhaug, The Maiden with the Mead – a Goddess of Initiation in Norse Myths)

Passages in the Poetic and Younger Eddas often depict her acting as a cupbearer (i.e., in the Skaldskapurmål, where Freyja is the only one who dares pour for the bellicose giant Hrungnir). According to Snorre Sturlason’s Heimskringla, the title húsfreyja (literally “lady of the house,”) which derived directly from the name of the love goddess, was an honorific given to a woman who owned her own estate. Freyja clearly embodied a number of what were considered to be highly desirable feminine characteristics of elite women in Old Norse culture. (M. Mattsson McGinnis, Depending on Sex? Tongue, sieve, and ladle shaped pendants from late Iron Age Gotland)

A role with profound religious, political and socioeconomic significance in the lands of the North, as McGinnis goes on to show:

Drinking rituals and the “great halls” in which such rituals would have taken place are probably some of the most emblematic elements of Viking culture in terms of both the amount of scholarship dedicated to the topic and how the lives of late-ancient and medieval Scandinavians are conceived of in the popular imagination. Central to these conceptions is the figure of the “lady of the hall” acting in the role of “lady with the mead cup” (as she is named in Michael J. Enright’s eponymous work on this topic), who is by now a very familiar archetype within Viking studies. The prominent role women played in ceremonial imbibing, and thus in the sociopolitical and religious processes to which these ceremonies were so integral, in Iron Age and early medieval Scandinavia is supported by a variety of literary, documentary, and archaeological sources. Goddesses and heroines are depicted in the role of sacralized hostess and peacemaker in the Eddas and the Old Icelandic sagas and the oldest extant Scandinavian law code, the Grágás laws of Iceland, even cites the ritualized drinking of ale served by the new bride as an essential requirement for a marriage to be considered valid. This strong association between women and the ritual service of alcohol is particularly manifest in the archaeological record of the Baltic island of Gotland, located southeast of the Swedish mainland. Here the motif of a female figure bearing a drinking horn and presenting it to a male warrior riding on a horse or sitting in a high seat is frequently repeated on the island’s famed Viking Age picture stones, and costly Roman-style drinking utensils have been found in both male and female graves from the Roman Iron Age onwards.

A function Freyja shares with the daughter of the Sun:

As soon as we arrived and reached the portal, lions, bears and wolves, hundreds of them together, rushed at us and filled our hearts with fear; but fear we found was false; they meant no single scratch of harm. No, they were gentle and they wagged their tails and fawned on us and followed us along, until the maids-in-waiting welcomed us and led us through the marble vestibule into their mistress’ presence. There she sat, in a fine chamber, on a stately throne, in purple robe and cloak of woven gold; and in attendance Nymphae and Nereides, whose nimble fingers never comb a fleece nor spin a skein, but sort and set in baskets grasses and flowers, heaped in disarray, and herbs of many hues; and as they work she guides and watches, knowing well the lore of every leaf, what blend is best, and checks them closely as the plants are weighed. She saw us then and, salutations made, her welcome seemed an answer to our prayers. At once she bade the servants mix a brew of roasted barley, honey and strong wine and creamy curds, and then, to be disguised in the sweet taste, she poured her essences. We took the bowls she handed. Our throats were dry and thirsty; we drank deep. (Ovid, Metamorphoses 14.245-73)

Which was represented in temples at Circaeum:

Kirkaion in Italy is a mountain which has the form of an island, because it is surrounded by sea and marshes. They further say that Kirkaion is a place that abounds in medicinal roots – perhaps because they associate it with the myth about Kirke. It has a little city and a temple of Kirke and an altar of Athene, and people there show you a sort of bowl which, they say, belonged to Odysseus. (Strabo, Geography 5.3.6)

And Olympia:

There is represented a grotto and in it a woman reclining with a man on a couch, as at a feast. I was of the opinion that they were Odysseus and Kirke, basing my view upon the number of the handmaidens in front of the grotto and upon what they are doing. For the women are four, and they are engaged in the tasks which Homer mentions in his poetry. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 5.19.7)

We frequently find Kírkē protecting the sanctity of the home through cleansing rites, as when her niece Mēdeia and her companion Iásōn show up at Kírkē’s door polluted from the various crimes they’d committed during their wanderings, as Apollonios Rhodios relates in the fourth book of his Argonautika:

Kirke, at a loss to know why they had come, invited them to sit in polished chairs; but without a word they made for the hearth and sat down there after the manner of suppliants in distress. Medeia hid her face in her hands, Jason fixed in the ground his great hilted sword with which he had killed Apsyrtos, and neither of them looked her in the face. So she knew at once that these were fugitives with murder on their hands and took the course laid down by Zeus, the God of Suppliants, who heartily abhors the killing of a man, and yet as heartily befriends the killer. First, to atone for the unexpiated murder, she took a suckling pig from a sow with dugs still swollen after littering. Holding it over them she cut its throat and let the blood fall on their hands. Next she propitiated Zeus with other libations, calling on him as the Cleanser, who listens to a murderer’s prayers with friendly ears. Then the attendant Naiades who did her housework carried all the refuse out of doors. But she herself stayed by the hearth, burning cakes and other wineless offerings with prayers to Zeus, in the hope that she might cause the loathsome Erinyes to relent, and that he himself might once more smile upon this pair, whether the hands they lifted up to him were stained with a kinsman’s or a stranger’s blood. When all was done she raised them up, seated them in polished chairs and taking a seat near by, where she could watch their faces, she began by asking them to tell her what had brought them overseas and why they had sought asylum at her hearth.

And later, after Odysseus has bested her with his iron will and the aid of Hermes:

So I spoke, and she swore at once the thing I asked for. When Kirke had uttered the due appointed words, I lay down at last in her sumptuous bed. All this while four handmaids of hers were busying themselves about the palace. She has them for her household tasks, and they come from springs, they come from groves, they come from the sacred rivers flowing seawards. One spread the chairs with fine crimson covers above and with linen cloths beneath; in front of the chairs, a second drew up silver tables on which she laid gold baskets for bread; a third mixed honey-sweet lovely wine in a silver bowl and set the golden goblets out; the fourth brought water and lit a great fire under a massive cauldron. The water warmed; and when it boiled in the bright bronze vessel, the Goddess made me sit in a bath and bathed me with water from the cauldron, tampering hot and cold to my mind and pouring it over my head and shoulders until she had banished from my limbs the weariness that had sapped my spirit. And having washed me and richly appointed me with oil, she dressed me in a fine cloak and tunic, led me forward and gave me a tall silver-studded chair to sit on–handsome and cunningly made–with a stool beneath it for the feet. She bade me eat, but my heart was not on eating. (Homer, Odyssey 10.345-74)

We also find Kírkē offering hospitality to Odysseus and his companions and performing a different sort of cleansing rite after their return from the Underworld:

Our coming back did not escape the watchfulness of Kirke. She attired herself and hastened towards us, while the handmaidens with her brought bread and meat in plenty, and glowing red wine. Then, coming forward to stand among us, the Queenly Goddess began to speak, ‘Undaunted men who went down alive to Haides’ dwelling, men fated to taste death twice over, while other men taste of it but once,–come now, eat food and drink wine here all day. At break of morning you must set sail, and I myself will tell you the way and make each thing clear, so that no ill scheming on sea or land may bring you to misery and mischief.’ Such were her words, and our own hearts accepted them. So all that day, till the sun set, we sat and feasted on plenteous meat and delicious wine. When the sun went and darkness came, my men lay down to sleep by the vessel’s hawsers, but as for myself, the Goddess took me by the hand and made me sit down apart; she lay down near me and questioned me about everything, and I told her all from first to last. (Homer, Odyssey 12.20-35)

That cathartic ceremony was undoubtedly a hieros gamos, for Kírkē was the high priestess of archaic sexual mysteries:

In the Ancient world, the Master of the Animals maintained order by controlling the beasts that lived in the desert and the mountains. These wild animals signified disorder. Just as the Master of the Animals provided order, so did the Mistress of the Animals, who also controlled them. The Mistress was naked, bringing female sexuality into play and female sexual dominion over the animal world. Depictions of naked goddesses probably originated in Egypt, Palestine and Syria. In Egypt, the female demon Beset, which was portrayed nude and holding snakes in both hands, protected houses against evil. Naked women were engraved on shields, swords and other weapons. These representations were aimed at protecting soldiers from the enemy. Some of these items arrived in Greece during the Orientalising period and were found in sanctuaries such as the Heraion of Samos and the Idaean cave on Crete. Circe’s naked body and men-pig portraits are found on archaic vase paintings. Circe is portrayed as a beautiful goddess who is sexually attractive, Mistress of wild animals who seduces men and transforms them into domesticated animals. She is fair-tressed. Her voice is sweet. She dresses in lovely clothes. She is at the same time a cruel, irrational goddess capable of awful acts of badness. She confronts Odysseus, trying to seduce him, to control him sexually. She then becomes a protection and an adviser for Odysseus and his men against the Sirens and in the Underworld. Her cruel behaviour contrasts with her love towards the hero. Coulter writes of her as a combination of fairy Mistress and cruel witch. Circe represented a relationship of seduction and concubinage, which went against patriarchal societal rules. Women that deviated from their social role were seen as acting against their rational soul and moving into the irrational which lead to disaster. Women that were without a kurios, or male authority, were seen as an anomaly in the patriarchal system. They were presented as incapable of controlling their sexual desires and keen to evoke the irrational. Men had to control women’s instincts. Circe is the anti-social goddess who influenced representations of posterior sorceresses and magicians. Magicians are marginal figures of society and women were marginal in Greece. Those that did not follow the established rules were at risk to be targeted. Circe is acting against these rules. She is an independent woman, unmarried, living without a patron and a foreigner inhabiting their land. This depiction also presented characteristics of the Greek ideal wife such as her weaving, which was divine. She is both the dangerous sexual goddess that makes men lose their minds and the ideal oikos wife. (Javier Girona Martinez, The goddess Circe in Homer’s Odyssey)

Indeed, she was so sexually alluring that the Goddess Aphrodite once borrowed her appearance:

Of a sudden Venus was sitting on Medea’s bed, having changed her heavenly form to that of a counterfeit Circe, Titan’s daughter, with broidered robe and magic wand. But the girl, as though mocked by the lingering image of a dream, gazes perplexed and only little by little deems her to be the sister of her mighty sire; then in tearful joy she sprang forward and of her own accord kissed the cruel Goddess. (Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 7.210)

This is why Hermes counseled the wise and faithful hero Odysseus that the sensual sorcery of Kírkē was an ambiguous blessing, capable of bringing about alternately ecstasy and joy or inversion and unmanning:

“She will shrink back, and then ask you to lie with her. At this you must let her have her way; she is a Goddess; accept her bed, so that she may release your comrades and make you her cherished guest. But first, make her swear the great oath of the Blessed Ones by the river Styx to plot no mischief to you thenceforward–if not, while you lie naked there, she may rob you of courage and of manhood.” (Homer, Odyssey 10:291-300)

One is reminded of the year that the Mediterranean’s greatest hero spent as a submissive transvestite serving an Oriental Goddess-Queen in order to learn the feminine mysteries of weaving from her:

Texts of the first and second centuries describe Omphale in two quite different ways. The Greek mythographers and those who preserve their stories, especially Diodorus Siculus and Apollodorus, follow one textual path. They indicate that Hercules, ill after committing murder, allowed himself to be sold into slavery as expiation. He was bought by Omphale the queen of the Lydians, whom Apollodorus refers to as having inherited the throne from her husband and whom Diodorus calls virgin queen. Hercules’ heroic deeds in the queen’s service and the passage of the necessary period of time result in his cure and freedom. The mythographers’ story retains the dignity of the protagonists and has no indication of exchange of clothing. The work of the poets and playwrights of the first and early second centuries take another path and emphasize the romantic or mocking elements of the story. The writers of the period insist on Hercules’ ludicrousness and Omphale’s domination of him through sex, and they find diverse ways to insult her for it. They call Omphale puella, girl; Ovid and Propertius comment on her body and the luxurious clothing she wears, and they say she made Hercules spin with her maids – the ultimate abasement. Ovid, like Lucian writing a century later, remarks on Omphale’s domination of Hercules, and the latter depicts Omphale slapping the hero with her slipper in a mixture of seduction and sadism visible in the comparable late Hellenistic statue of Aphrodite threatening Pan with a sandal. When Ovid has Deianeira describe Omphale in the Heroides, she is speaking in anger and jealousy, but she calls Omphale whore and concubine, describes how the mistress threatens and beats the hero, and asserts that the conqueror is conquered. Augustan artists and writers made specifically political use of the motif to compliment the emperor by disparaging his enemy Mark Antony. They used Antony’s self-identification with Hercules to pillory him by connecting Cleopatra with Omphale. Propertius in 3.11 marches out Medea, Penthesilea, and Semiramis along with Omphale in order to make clear the connection between the East and the dominating woman Cleopatra, while earlier Cicero’s invective against Antony or Verres and Plutarch’s later use of Omphale as the dominating woman in the Pericles and the Antony make such women the mirror that reveals the moral flaws and weaknesses of male political enemies. (Natalie Kampen, Omphale and the Instability of Gender)

Notably, this was an art Kírkē taught Odysseus:

Odysseus hastened to tie the cunning knot which Lady Kirke had brought to his knowledge in other days. (Homer, Odyssey 8.447)

Such emasculating fears were woven into seiðr as well, as we see in the acid remarks Loki directs at Óðinn in the Lokasenna:

“They say that with spells in Samsey once
Like witches with charms didst thou work;
And in witch’s guise among men didst thou go;
Unmanly thy soul must seem.”

This is also the poem where Loki and Freyja have a heated argument about sexual morality and gender roles:

In the poem Lokasenna, where Loki accuses nearly every female in attendance of promiscuity or unfaithfulness, an aggressive exchange occurs between Loki and Freyja. The introduction to the poem notes that among other gods and goddesses, Freyja attends a celebration held by Ægir. In verse, after Loki has flyted with the goddess Frigg, Freyja interjects, telling Loki that he is insane for dredging up his terrible deeds, and that Frigg knows the fate of everyone, though she does not tell it. Loki tells her to be silent, and says that he knows all about her—that Freyja is not lacking in blame, for each of the gods and elves in the hall have been her lover. Freyja objects. She says that Loki is lying, that he is just looking to blather about misdeeds, and since the gods and goddesses are furious at him, he can expect to go home defeated. Loki tells Freyja to be silent, calls her a malicious witch, and conjures a scenario where Freyja was once astride her brother when all of the gods, laughing, surprised the two. Njörðr interjects—he says that a woman having a lover other than her husband is harmless, and he points out that Loki has borne children, and calls Loki a pervert. The poem continues in turn. (Wikipedia, s.v. Freyja)

Not the first or the last time they sparred over such matters, as we read in Sörla Þáttur 1 & 2:

To the East of Vanakvisl in Asia was a country called Asialand or Asiaheim. Its inhabitants were called Æsir and the chief city they called Asgarth. Othin was the name of their King, and it was a great place for heathen sacrifices. Othin appointed Njörth and Frey as priests. Njörth had a daughter called Freyja who accompanied Othin and was his mistress. There were four men in Asia called Alfregg, Dvalin, Berling and Grer, who dwelt not far from the King’s hall, and who were so clever that they could turn their hands to anything. Men of this kind were called dwarfs. They dwelt in a rock, but at that time they mixed more with men than they do now. Othin loved Freyja very much, and she was the fairest of all women in her day. She had a bower of her own which was beautiful and strong, and it was said that if the door was closed and bolted, no-one could enter the bower against her will. It chanced one day that Freyja went to the rock and found it open, and the dwarfs were forging a gold necklace, which was almost finished. Freyja was charmed with the necklace, and the dwarfs with Freyja. She asked them to sell it, offering gold and silver and other costly treasures in exchange for it. The dwarfs replied that they were not in need of money, but each one said that he would give up his share in the necklace for nothing else except  for her to lie one night with each of them. And at the end of four nights they handed it to Freyja. She went home to her bower and kept silence about it as if nothing had happened.

There was a man called Farbauti who was a peasant and had a wife called Laufey. She was thin and meagre, and so she was called ‘Needle.’ They had no children except a son who was called Loki. He was not a big man, but he early developed a caustic tongue and was alert in trickery and unequalled in that kind of cleverness which is called cunning. He was very full of guile even in his youth, and for this reason he was called Loki the Sly. He set off to Othin’s home in Asgarth and became his man. Othin always had a good word for him whatever he did, and often laid heavy tasks upon him, all of which he performed better than could have been expected. He also knew almost everything that happened, and he told Othin whatever he knew. Now it is said that Loki got to know that Freyja had received the necklace … and this he told to Othin. And when Othin heard of it he told Loki to fetch him the necklace. Loki said that there was not much hope of that, because no-one could get into Freyja’s bower against her will. Othin told him to go, and not come back without the necklace. So Loki went off howling, and everyone was glad that he had got into trouble. He went to Freyja’s bower, but it was locked. He tried to get in but could not. The weather outside was very cold and he became thoroughly chilled. Then he turned himself into a fly, and flew around all the bolts and along the whole of the woodwork, but nowhere could he find a hole big enough to enter by, right up to the gable. He found only a hole no bigger than would allow of the insertion of a needle. Through this hole he crept. And when he got inside he stared around, wondering if anyone was awake. But he found that the room was all wrapped in slumber. Then he went in and up to Freyja’s bed and found that she was wearing the necklace and that the clasp was underneath her. Loki thereupon turned himself into a flea and settled on Freyja’s cheek and stung her, till she awoke and turned over and went to sleep again. Then he laid aside his flea-form, drew the necklace from her gently, opened the door and departed, carrying the necklace to Othin. When Freyja awoke in the morning she found that the door was open, though it had not been forced, and that her lovely necklace was gone. She had a shrewd idea of the trick that had been played on her, and when she was dressed she went into the hall to King Othin, and told him that he had done ill to rob her of her trinket, and begged him to return it. Othin replied that considering how she had come by it she should never get it back, “unless you bring about a quarrel between two kings, each of whom has twenty kings subject to him; so that they shall fight under the influence of such spells and charms that as fast as they fall they shall start up again and fight on.” Freyja agreed to this and recovered the necklace.

Lokasenna is not the only place where Óðinn is accused of being a little argr; the Heimskringla says:

Óðinn knew and practiced that skill that was followed by the greatest strength, called seiðr, and from it he knew the fortunes of men and things that had not yet come to be, and also caused the deaths of men or bad luck or ill health, and also took from men wit or strength and gave it to others. And this magic, when it is practiced, comes with such great queerness that it was shameful for a man to practice it, and the skill was taught to the Goddesses.

Among the Norse ergi was a pretty serious charge, as Heathen poet, scholar, theologian and vitki Galina Krasskova explains in Transgressing Faith: Race, Gender, and the Problem of Ergi in Modern American Heathenry:

The concept of ergi is drawn from Norse legal codes which remained in force through the early medieval period. It encompassed a broad spectrum of behavior considered by social mores of the time and place to be “unmanly”. To be ergi  had clear moral implications and overtones of sexual deviance or gender transgression. As such, it fell under the category of nið, or accusations that might impact a man’s honor. Historian Preben Sorensen notes that accusations of nið almost always had a sexual component. Such accusations abound in Icelandic literature, and legal penalties are clearly recorded in law, most notably in the early Icelandic law collection Grágás, and the Law of Gulathing, Norway’s oldest legislation. To accuse a man of nið was a verbal offense of slander that could, in some circumstances, evoke a legally sanctioned honor killing. Within modern Heathenry, the concept of ergi evokes great feeling on both sides of the debate. Gender issues surface in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, most especially in the area of liminal practices and, most especially, the development of a Northern Tradition-based practice of shamanism. It is significant that a majority of practitioners of Northern Tradition shamanism are gender transgressive in some way. This can range from gender performance that transgresses accepted norms to being transsexual to having sworn celibacy for spiritual reasons. Many, like intersex shaman Raven Kaldera, specifically connect their own gender transgression to being ergi and define this as a necessary and often integral part of Northern Tradition shamanic practice. He is not alone. The growing number of Northern Tradition shamans – the majority of whom are also female-bodied – are regularly castigated by nearly every denomination within Heathenry. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly) they are rarely attacked outright for their beliefs, though this can and does occasionally occur. Rather, their morality, sanity, and sexual practices are consistently questioned. One well known practitioner was deemed “a misfit, degenerate, and an unworthy person” for no other reason than that she sacrificed to a powerful and controversial female Deity. Another was accused of engaging in Lokian-focused “sex orgies” solely on account of her association with Kaldera.

We find a similar affliction among the Enarees of Aphrodite Ourania on the shores of the Black Sea:

There are many eunuchs among the Skythians who perform female work, and speak like women. Such persons are called effeminates. The inhabitants of the country attribute the cause of their impotence to a God, and venerate and worship such persons, every one dreading that the like might befall himself. (Hippocrates, Airs, Waters, Places 22)

Herodotos goes on to relate the cause of the disease and some of the Enaree practices:

But the Skythians who pillaged the temple, and all their descendants after them, were afflicted by the Goddess with the “female” sickness: and so it is that visitors to the Skythian territory see among them many who are in the condition of what the Skythians call “Hermaphrodites.” (Histories 1.105.4)

There are many diviners among the Skythians who divine by means of willow wands. They bring great bundles of wands, which they lay on the ground and unfasten, and utter their divinations as they lay the rods down one by one; and while still speaking, they gather up the rods once more and place them together again; this manner of divination is hereditary among them. The Enarees, who are hermaphrodites, say that Aphrodite gave them another art of divination, which they practise by means of lime-tree bark. They cut this bark into three portions, and prophesy while they braid and unbraid these in their fingers. (ibid 4.67.1)

Which sounds an awful lot like the method of Germanic divination recounted by Tacitus:

For divination and the casting of lots they have the highest regard. Their procedure in casting lots is always the same. They cut off a branch of a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips; these they mark with different signs and throw them completely at random onto a white cloth. Then the priest of the state, if the consultation is a public one, or the father of the family if it is private, offers a prayer to the Gods, and looking up at the sky picks up three strips, one at a time, and reads their meaning from the signs previously scored on them. If the lots forbid an enterprise, there is no deliberation that day on the matter in question; if they allow it, confirmation by the taking of auspices is required. (Germania 10)

This also just so happens to be the region Kírkē came from, before immigrating to Italy:

Although Kirke also, it is said, devoted herself to the devising of all kinds of drugs and discovered roots of all manner of natures and potencies such as are difficult to credit. She was given in marriage to the king of the Sarmatians, whom some call Skythians, and first she poisoned her husband and after that, succeeding to the throne, she committed many cruel and violent acts against her subjects. For this reason she was deposed from her throne and, according to some writers of myths, fled to the ocean, where she seized a desert island, and there established herself with the women who had fled with her. Though according to some historians she left the Pontos and settled in Italy on a promontory which to this day bears after her the name Kirkaion. (Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.45.1)

Leaving behind the land Freyja had once called home:

On the south side of the mountains which lie outside of all inhabited lands runs a river through Sviþjóð, which is properly called by the name of Tanais, but was formerly called Tanakvisl, or Vanakvisl, and which falls into the Black Sea. The country of the people on the Vanakvisl was called Vanaland, or Vanaheim; and the river separates the three parts of the world, of which the easternmost part is called Asia, and the westernmost Europe. (Ynglinga Saga 1, Heimskringla)

Regarding this passage Brent Landon Johnson writes:

An etymological chain connects the present-day Russian Дон back to the Old East Iranian Dānu, and to the Greek Τάναϊς, which Snorri links to Old Norse Tanakvísl, or Vanakvísl. The Indo-European root “danu-” pertains to “river” and is similar to “dhanu-” (grain). The present-day Don River is notably surrounded by lands fertile, green, and warm, given to a prosperous harvest. […] The Germanic migrations during the height of the Roman Empire placed the Goths – the central human players in the legendary sagas and eddas often referenced as the Sviþjóð – at various times in present-day Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, northern Turkey, and southwestern Russia. Along the north side of the Black Sea where the Goths have settled are four fertile river watersheds – the Danube, the Dniester, the Dnieper, and the Don. Snorri ties the “Dana” word root with “Vana” by interchanging them, which could imply that Vanaheimr may have been a very large region of eastern Europe spanning these four rivers. (In Search of Vanaheimr)

Kírkē’s home in Italy was a truly special place:

Previous cultures believed that the Sun journeyed through the universe every day. It passed through the Underworld at night and regenerated itself in the morning. It did this on a circular cycle. This was believed in Egyptian, Near Eastern and also in Ancient Greek society. These cultures shared the duality of up and down, east and west, which related to the contradictory behaviours of female deities. Circe’s island is the “House of the Rising Sun”. The Goddess is the daughter of the Sun. This circular universe, with the two cosmic junctions, presents the West as a descent to darkness which is connected with Hades. Circe’s island is the gate between the day and the night and once that gate has been trespassed, the hero travels through day, which according to the Ancient Egyptians is a much easier path to go through. Circe’s island constitutes a gate to and from the island of the Sun. Circe’s character reflects these two poles, the beautiful and terrible, the day and night sides, the polarity of her island. When the hero journeys to Hades, he doesn’t see the Sun. He then sees it when they return to Circe’s island. This is as if they followed the Sun’s journey through darkness and then came to light, enjoying it until reaching the island of the Sun. This cosmic journey has a meaning for the hero as it poses challenges and intents to mark on him, to shape him before returning to civilisation. (Javier Girona Martinez, The goddess Circe in Homer’s Odyssey)

Almost the double of Freyja’s felicitous abode:

According to both Grímnismál and Gylfaginning, Freyja owns the hall Sessrumnir (Many-seats) which stands on Folkvangr (the People’s plain). There she welcomes half of the war-fallen. Odin receives the other half into Valhalla. Thus, Freyja was associated not only with procreation and childbirth, but also with death and the afterlife, completing the full circle of the life-cycle. In Egil’s Saga, ch. 79, Egil’s daughter Thorgerd expresses her belief that upon dying, she will go to join Freyja, (engan hefi eg náttverð haft, og engan mun eg fyrr en að Freyju). As a destination for the dead, Freyja’s Folkvangr directly competes with the early Catholic concepts of heaven and hell as the exclusive destination of departed souls, providing yet another reason for Snorri not to detail her cult. Of course, we cannot now know Snorri’s intentions, but suffice it to say, Christians found the cult of Freyja in particular offensive. The morality exhibited in her mythology, and more broadly by the Vanir cult which she represents, is often in direct conflict with Christian tenets which promote the pretence of celibacy among its priests. (William P. Reaves, The Cult of Freyr and Freyja)

Which makes the ordeal Odysseus undertakes to reach the palace of Kírkē all the more significant:

But when Dawn of the lovely tresses gave birth to the third day I took my sharp sword and spear and climbed swiftly from the ship to a high lookout point, hoping to see signs of men, and hear their voices. I reached a rocky height with a wide view, and standing there I saw smoke rising through thick scrub and woodland, from the wide clearing where Circe’s halls lay. Seeing that smoke from a fire, I pondered whether to go and explore, but it seemed better to return to the ship and the shore, and allow my men a meal, then send them to investigate. Then as I neared the swift ship some God took pity on me in that solitude, and sent a huge stag with great antlers right across my trail. The power of the sun had troubled him and sent him down from his woodland pasture to drink at the river’s edge. As he came from the water I struck him on the spine with my bronze-spear, in the centre of his back, and it pierced right through, so he fell in the dust with a groan, and his spirit passed. Then I planted my foot on his carcass, drew the bronze spear from the wound, and laid it on the ground while I gathered willow shoots then wove a rope, six foot long, by splicing them together end to end. Next I tied the great creature’s feet together, and carried him down to the black ship on my back, using my spear to lean on, since he was too large to sling over my shoulder and steady with my hand. I threw him down in front of the ship and cheered my crew with comforting words, tackling each man in turn, “We’re not bound for the Halls of Hades ahead of time, my Friends, despite our troubles. Come, while there’s still food and drink in our swift ship, let’s think about eating, not waste away with hunger.” They soon responded to my words. They drew their cloaks from their faces to marvel at the stag’s huge size, as he lay on the barren shore. When they had sated their sight with gazing, they washed their hands and readied a fine feast. All day long till the sun went down we sat and feasted on meat in plenty, and drank sweet wine. But once the sun had set and darkness fell, we lay down on the sand to sleep. (Homer, Odyssey 10)

In the Classical world deerskins were an ubiquitous part of the Bacchic regalia:

He’s welcome in the mountains,
when he sinks down to the ground,
after the running dance,
wrapped in holy deerskin,
hunting the goat’s blood,
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)

Which is given cosmic significance in Macrobius 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.

Having harnessed the terrific power of the Lord of Animals the Hunter killed, butchered, brought back and apportioned meat to his community (placing their needs above his own in the process) and by so doing Odysseus has demonstrated his worthiness to come before the Mistress of the Isle and challenge her in a contest of sexual dominance. If he loses, he becomes a Magician. If he wins, a King.

As Homer relates in the 10th book of the Odyssey:

‘Noble Odysseus, we went, as you bade us, through the thickets, and in the glades we found before us a stately palace. Someone inside it, a Goddess or a woman, was singing in high pure notes as she moved to and fro at her wide web. The men called out and made themselves heard; she came out at once, she opened the shining doors and she called them to her. They in their heedlessness all entered; only I myself foreboded mischief and stayed outside. They vanished utterly, all of them; not one among them appeared again, though I sat a long while there, keeping watch.’

So he spoke. I slung across my shoulders my great silver-studded sword of bronze; I slung on my bow as well, then told him to guide me back by the same path. But he clutched my knees with both his hand and made supplication : ‘Heaven-favoured king, do not force me back that way again; leave me here. I know you will neither return yourself nor yet bring back any of your comrades. Instead, let us flee from this place at once, taking these others with us; we may still escape the day of evil.’

Such were his words.


So spoke the Radiant One; then he gave the magic herb, pulling it from the ground and showing me in what form it grew; its root was black, its flower milk-white. Its name among the Gods is moly. For mortal men it is perilous to pluck it up, but for the Gods all things are possible. Then Hermes departed; over the wooded island he went his way to the mountain of Olympos. I myself passed on to Kirke’s palace, with my thoughts in turmoil as I walked.

I paused at the doorway of the Goddess, and standing there I gave a great cry; she heard my voice and came out quickly, opening the shining doors and calling me in. I went up to her though my heart sank. She ushered me in and gave me a tall silver-studded chair to sit in–handsome and cunningly made it was–with a stool beneath it for the feet. In a golden goblet she brewed a potion for me to drink, and treacherously mingled her drug with it. When I had taken and drunk it up and was unenchanted still, she struck at me with her wand, and ‘Now’ she said ‘be off to the sty, to wallow with your companions there.’

So she spoke, but I drew the keen sword from beside my thigh, rushed at her and made as if to kill her. She shrieked, she slipped underneath my weapon, she clasped my knees and spoke in rapid appealing words: ‘Who are you, and from where? Where are your city and your parents? It bewilders me that you drank this drug and were not bewitched. Never has any other man resisted this drug, once he had drunk it and let it pass his lips. But you have an inner will that is proof against sorcery. You must surely be that man of wide-ranging spirit, Odysseus himself; the Radiant One of the golden wand has told me of you; he always said that Odysseus would come to me on his way from Troy in his dark and rapid vessel. But enough of this; sheathe your sword; then let us go to bed together, and embracing there, let us learn to trust in one another.’

It is good to be the King.

But notice a couple things?

The high seat that Kírkē keeps offering to her guests – it doesn’t just play a role in seiðr, but was also used in the Bacchic Orphic initiatory rite of thronismos:

So it is just as if someone were to initiate a man, Greek or barbarian, leading him into some mystic shrine overwhelming in its size and beauty. He would see many mystic spectacles and hear many such voices; light and darkness would appear to him in alternation, and a myriad other things would happen. Still more, just as they are accustomed to do in the ritual called enthronement, the initiators, having enthroned the initiands, dance in circles around them. Is it at all likely that this man would experience nothing in his soul and that he would not suspect that what was taking place was done with a wiser understanding and preparation? … Still more, if, not humans like the initiands, but immortal Gods were initiating mortals, and night and day, both in the light and under the stars were, if it is right to speak so, literally dancing around them eternally. (Dio Chrysostom, Oration 12.33-34)

Which is reflected in the Gold Leaves, even down to Kírkē’s probing questions, “τίς πόθεν εἰς ἀνδρῶν; πόθι τοι πόλις ἠδὲ τοκῆες?” (Who are you and where from? where are your city and your parents?)

Gold tablet from Rome:
A: I come pure from the pure, Queen of the Underworld, Eukles and Eubouleus, noble child of Zeus! I have this gift of Memory, prized by men!
B: Caecilia Secundina, come, made divine by the Law!

Gold tablet from Pelinna:
Now you have died and now you have been born, thrice blessed one, on this very day. Say to Persephone that Bakchios himself freed you. A bull you rushed to milk. Quickly, you rushed to milk. A ram you fell into milk. You have wine as your fortunate honor. And rites await you beneath the earth, just as the other blessed ones.

Gold tablet from Eleutherae in Crete:
A: I am dry with thirst and am perishing.
B: Come, drink please, from the ever-flowing spring on the right, where the cypress is. Who are you, and where do you come from?
A: I am the son of Earth and Starry Heaven.

Gold tablet from Thurii:
A: I come from the pure, o Pure Queen of the earthly ones, Eukles, Eubouleus, and You other Immortal Gods! I too claim to be of your blessed race, but Fate and other Immortal Gods conquered me, the star-smiting thunder. And I flew out from the hard and deeply-grievous circle, and stepped onto the crown with my swift feet, and slipped into the bosom of the Mistress, the Queen of the Underworld. And I stepped out from the crown with my swift feet.
B: Happy and blessed one! You shall be a god instead of a mortal.
A: I have fallen as a kid into milk.

Gold tablet from Thurii:
But whenever a soul leaves the light of the sun–enter on the right, where one must, if one has kept all well and truly. Rejoice at the experience! This you have never before experienced. You have become a god instead of a man. You have fallen as a kid into milk. Hail, hail, as you travel on the right, through the Holy Meadow and Groves of Persephone.

Note the animal transformations?

Note the crowns, wheels, circles and sexual union with an Underworld Goddess?

Note the Dancing Stars?

Which should remind you of the Corona Borealis:

This is thought to be Ariadne’s crown, placed by Father Liber among the constellations. For they say that when Ariadne wed Liber on the island of Dia, and all the Gods gave her wedding gifts, she first received this crown as a gift from Venus and the Hours. But, as the author of the Cretica says, at the time when Liber came to Minos with the hope of lying with Ariadne, he gave her this crown as a present. Delighted with it, she did not refuse the terms. It is said, too, to have been made of gold and Indian gems, and by its aid Theseus is thought to have come from the gloom of the labyrinth to the day, for the gold and gems made a glow of light in the darkness. (Hyginus, Astronomica 2.5)

Given an alternative aition in the scholia on Homer’s Odyssey 11.321

Theseus son of Aigeus, assigned by lot with the youths, sailed to Crete to be supplied to the Minotaur for destruction. But when he arrived, Minos’s daughter Ariadne fell in love with him and gave him a ball of thread that she took from Daidalos the builder. She instructed him, when he entered, to bind the beginning of the ball around the crossbar above the door and to go along unrolling it until he entered the innermost place, and if he overtook him while he was sleeping (text missing) that having vanquished (him) to sacrifice to Poseidon from the hairs on his head, and to return back by rolling up the ball of thread. And Theseus took Ariadne and embarked on his ship with both the youths and maidens not yet served up to be killed by the Minotaur. And when he had done these things, he sailed out in the middle of the night. And when he anchored at the island of Dia, he disembarked to sleep on the shore. And Athena stood beside him and ordered that he abandon Ariadne and come to Athens. He did this and departed immediately. But when Ariadne bewailed her lot, Aphrodite appeared and advised her to be strong, for she would be Dionysos’ wife and become famous. Whence the God appeared and mated with her, and gave her a golden crown that moreover the Gods placed among the stars by the grace of Dionysos. And they say that she suffered death at the hands of Artemis for throwing away her virginity. The story is in Pherekydes.

This is commenting on the passage when Odysseus follows Kírkē’s necromantic instructions and  beholds a vision of Ariadne in the Underworld:

“And Phaidra and Prokris I saw, and fair Ariadne, the daughter of Minos of baneful mind, whom once Theseus was fain to bear from Crete to the hill of sacred Athens; but he had no joy of her, for ere that Artemis slew her in sea-girt Dia because of the witness of Dionysos.” (Homer, Odyssey 11.321)

Those instructions:

The lovely Goddess replied swiftly: “Odysseus, man of many resources, scion of Zeus, son of Laertes, don’t think of finding a pilot to guide your vessel, but raise your mast and spread your white sail, and take your seat aboard, and the North Wind’s breath will send her on her way. When you have crossed the Ocean stream, beach your ship by the deep swirling waters on a level shore, where tall poplars, and willows that shed seed, fill the Groves of Persephone. Then go to the moist House of Hades. There is a rock where two roaring rivers join the Acheron, Kokytos, which is a tributary of the Styx, and Pyriphlegethon. Draw near then, as I bid you, hero, and dig a trench two feet square, then pour a libation all around to the dead, first of milk and honey, then of sweet wine, thirdly of water, sprinkled with white barley meal. Then pray devoutly to the powerless ghosts of the departed, swearing that when you reach Ithaca you will sacrifice a barren heifer in your palace, the best of the herd, and will heap the altar with rich spoils, and offer a ram, apart, to Teiresias, the finest jet-black ram in the flock. And when you have petitioned the glorious Host of the Dead with prayers, sacrifice a ram and a black ewe, holding their heads towards Erebos, while you look behind towards the running streams. Then the hosts of the dead will appear. Call then to your comrades, and tell them to flay and burn the sheep killed by the pitiless bronze, with prayers to the divinities, to mighty Hades and dread Persephone. You yourself must draw your sharp sword and sit there, preventing the powerless ghosts from drawing near to the blood, till you have questioned Teiresias. Soon the seer will come, you leader of men, and give you your course, and the distances, so you can return home over the teeming waters.” Kirke finished speaking, and with that came golden-throned Dawn. Then the Nymph dressed me in a tunic and cloak, and clothed herself in a beautiful long white closely-woven robe, and clasped a fine belt of gold around her waist, and set a veil on her head. Then I walked through the halls, rousing my men with cheerful words, speaking to each in turn: “My Lady Kirke has explained what I need to know: don’t lie there culling the flower of sweet sleep: let us be on our way.”

Which Kírkē took extraordinary steps to ensure could be fulfilled:

My crew were already on their way, as I addressed them: “No doubt you think you are heading home, but Kirke has set us on a different course, to the House of Hades and dread Persephone where I must consult the ghost of Theban Teiresias.” At this their spirits fell, and they sat right down where they were and wept, and tore at their hair. But their lamentations served no purpose. While we made our way to our swift vessel and the shore, grieving and shedding tears, Kirke went on ahead of us, and tethered a ram and a black ewe by the black ship. She had easily slipped by us: who can observe a Goddess passing to and fro, if she wishes otherwise?

All this suggests a knowledge and expertise in ritual matters which is comparable to Freyja’s own, for she was appointed blótgyðja (sacrificial priestess) of the Gods as Terry Gunnell remarks in Blótgyðjur, Goðar, Mimi, Incest, and Wagons: Oral Memories of the Religion(s) of the Vanir:

It would seem questionable whether these stanzas were composed by Christians—or even by Icelanders, since no specially-constructed hof (temple), hǫrgar (altar), or so-called kulthus (cult-houses) of the kind described in the sagas and eddic poems and later found in archaeological excavations in mainland Scandinavia have ever been found in Iceland. The stanzas would thus appear to have roots in earlier Nordic tradition, and a Nordic tradition that had some reason for connecting Njǫrðr and Freyja to sacred spaces: once again, no mention is ever made of a hǫrgr being dedicated to any other god. The same ideas of Vanir connections with religious practice, ritual, and hof are reflected in Snorri’s comments in chapters 4 and 10 of Ynglinga saga, in which Njǫrðr and Freyr are called “blótgoðar”, and Freyja a “blótgyðja”. In terms of absence, it should be borne in mind that Snorri makes no similar statements about either Óðinn or Þórr (or even Frigg). Furthermore, while hof and hofgoðar are mentioned elsewhere in Ynglinga saga in connection with the Æsir (ch. 2 and 5; cf. Vǫluspá st. 7), Snorri stresses that “Freyr reisti at Uppsǫlum hof mikit” (Freyr raised a large hof at Uppsala), underlining once again the direct connections he saw as existing between the Vanir (and especially Freyr), Uppland, and the religious activities he describes elsewhere as taking place at Gamla Uppsala (Ynglinga saga ch. 15, 34 and 38; and Ólafs saga helga ch. 67). No similar statements are made about Þórr (who is strangely near absent from Ynglinga saga). Finally, it is worth considering Snorri’s words about Freyja, which underline that she, a woman, not only ruled after Freyr’s death, but also personally “hélt þá upp blótum, því at hon ein lifði þá eptir goðanna” (kept up the sacrifices because she was the only surviving member of the gods) (Ynglinga saga ch. 10). Freyja is also said to have been the one who introduced the Æsir to seiðr  which “Vǫnum var títt” (was common amongst the Vanir) in Ynglinga saga (ch. 4), an idea which suggests yet further close associations between the Vanir and ritualistic activities. In both cases, as in Hyndluljóð, Freyja is said to play a particularly active role in these rituals, even though the nature of this role is never described in detail. One must assume that it was similar to that of the hofgyðjur noted above. The Vanir, however, are not only shown to be more closely associated with religious buildings than other gods in the extant accounts. They are also depicted as being more directly bound up with particular holy sites in the landscape, and not least sites where they are supposed to “live on” after their deaths: in contrast to Óðinn and Njǫrðr, who are cremated (Ynglinga saga ch. 8 and 9).

Odysseus is not the only one Kírkē has shared her knowledge of ritual (or her bed) with. Note what follows her inquiry into Odysseus’ identity and genealogy:

“Who are you, and from where? Where are your city and your parents? It bewilders me that you drank this drug and were not bewitched. Never has any other man resisted this drug, once he had drunk it and let it pass his lips. But you have an inner will that is proof against sorcery. You must surely be that man of wide-ranging spirit, Odysseus himself; the Radiant One of the golden wand has told me of you; he always said that Odysseus would come to me on his way from Troy in his dark and rapid vessel.”

That sure sounds as if she was on intimate terms with Hermes.

Which has some interesting implications when one considers that Tacitus, Paulus Diaconus and Columbanus all identified Mercury with Óðinn.

Speaking of Tacitus, he relates in the Germania that it was believed Odysseus had traveled through the Northlands:

Ulysses also, in all those fabled wanderings of his, is supposed by some to have reached the northern sea and visited German lands, and to have founded and named Asciburgium, a town on the Rhine inhabited to this day. They even add that an altar consecrated by Ulysses and inscribed also with the name of his father Laertes was discovered long ago at this same place, and that certain barrows with monuments upon them bearing Greek inscriptions still exist on the borders of Germany and Raetia.

Which is, perhaps, why traces of his story can be found in the literature of Norway and Iceland, as Ben Waggoner relates:

The younger version of Trójumanna saga adds material from another Latin retelling of the fall of Troy, the so-called Ilias Latina attributed to Baebius Italicus—plus some more material from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Heroïdes, and scraps from elsewhere. The younger version is rather a patchwork—but none of the texts of Trójumanna saga draw directly on Homer’s Iliad, and the plot of Trójumanna saga diverges from the Iliad quite a bit. Snorri Sturluson was keen to try to tie in Norse history to the “Matter of Troy”, and his Prose Edda includes a long explanation of how the Norse gods and goddesses were really Trojan heroes who had come north. Most of this is based on chance resemblances in names—Öku-Thórr, “Chariot-Thor”, is supposedly Hec-tor, for example, while Frigg’s name supposedly comes from Phrygia. This isn’t considered sound by any serious scholars today. Still, it does show that Snorri and others knew something about the Trojan War, knew it was a hugely famous story, and tried in various ways to link their own heritage with it. And you can argue that the style of foreing works like Trójumanna saga influenced Icelandic literature quite a bit; styles and phrases and occasionally whole scenes in the sagas can sometimes be traced to foreign models. (There’s a funny bit in the “legendary saga” Egils saga ok Ásmundar in which the hero is being held captive by a giant—he tricks the giant into letting himself be stabbed in the eyes with a red-hot poker, and then gets out of the giant’s cave by hiding underneath one of the giants’ sheep when they have to be let out to pasture. Yep, somehow Odysseus and Polyphemus made it into a saga of Nordic heroes.)

But I digress.

We were discussing Kírkē’s other lovers, such as Picus, king of Latium:

And on the doors of the palace there, holding the augur’s staff, arrayed in a short toga purple-striped, the holy shield on his left arm, sat Picus, tamer of horses: vainly lusting to bed with him, golden Circe had used her wand and her magic potions, and turned him into a bird, into a pied woodpecker. (Virgil, Aeneid 7.187)

And Kalchos, king of the Daunians:

The story goes that Kalchos the Daunian was greatly in love with Kirke, the same to whom Odysseus came. He handed over to her his kingship over the Daunians, and employed all possible blandishments to gain her love; but she felt a passion for Odysseus, who was then with her, and loathed Kalchos and forbade him to land on her island. However, he would not stop coming, and could talk of nothing but Kirke, and she, being extremely angry with him, laid a snare for him and had no sooner invited him into her palace but she set before him a table covered with all manner of dainties. But the meats were full of magical drugs, and as soon as Kalchos had eaten of them, he was stricken mad, and she drove him into the pig-styles. After a certain time, however, the Daunians’ army landed on the island to look for Kalchos; and she then released him from the enchantment, first binding him by oath that he would never set foot on the island again, either to woo her or for any other purpose. (Parthenius, Love Stories 12)

And Dionysos, king of Nysa, with whom she had a child by the name of Komos:

The splendid entrance, with its golden doors, reveals a very wealthy pair just married who are lying on a couch. And Komos has come, a youth to join the youths, delicate yet full grown, and always flush with wine. Do you not hear the castanets and the flute’s shrill note and the disorderly singing that accompany him? The torches give a faint light, enough for the revellers to see what is close in front of them, but not enough for us to see them. Peals of laughter rise, and women rush along with men, wearing men’s sandals and garments girt in strange fashion; for the revel permits women to masquerade as men, and men to put on women’s garb and to ape the walk of women. Their crowns are no longer fresh but, crushed down on the head on account of the wild running of the dancers, they have lost their joyous look. (Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1.2)

Komos is the κῶμος personified:

The Greek komoidia means “the song of the komos.” A komos is a communal ritual
carouse: on a small scale it is the ancient equivalent of party-crashing and bar-hopping rolled into one, but as part of a communal festival of Dionysus it recalls modern carnivals such as that of Mardi Gras (although the ancient rites were usually more carefully scripted and ordered) — a time when normal social rules and inhibitions are cast aside and people party in the streets, singing, dancing, and drinking. The ancient komos often involved masks and costumes, as does Mardi Gras, but was marked by another practice foreign to most festivals in modern North America: aischrologia or the ritual abuse of individuals. Another distinctive feature, found in many Dionysiac rites and no doubt in some komoi, was the phallos: an imitation penis, often too large for one person to lift with ease, carried on a pole or cart. As with Mardi Gras, these rites tended to occur in spring (or mid- to late-winter) and although they may have served a number of psychological, social, or political ends, their main function was to promote fertility by honoring or encouraging the god (and driving away any spirits of blight) through a boisterous display of health, prosperity, and virility. The chorus of comedy often appears dressed as animals, insects, or in some other nonhuman guise (as the titles of many plays indicate: e.g., Wasps, Birds, Frogs); Old Comedy teems with vitality: it abounds in references to food, drink, and sex, and frequently concludes with a triumphant revel — often celebrating a marriage — reminiscent of the komos. (John Porter, Aristophanes and Greek Old Comedy)

English poet and prophet John Milton invokes him thusly:

Bacchus, that first from out the purple grape
Crushed the sweet poison of misused wine,
After the Tuscan mariners transformed,
Coasting the Tyrrhene shore, as the winds listed,
On Circe’s island fell. (Who knows not Circe,
The daughter of the Sun, whose charmed cup
Whoever tasted lost his upright shape,
And downward fell into a grovelling swine?)
This Nymph, that gazed upon his clustering locks,
With ivy berries wreathed, and his blithe youth,
Had by him, ere he parted thence, a son
Much like his father, but his mother more,
Whom therefore she brought up, and Comus named:
Who, ripe and frolic of his full-grown age,
Roving the Celtic and Iberian fields,
At last betakes him to this ominous wood,
And, in thick shelter of black shades imbowered,
Excels his mother at her mighty art;
Offering to every weary traveller
His orient liquor in a crystal glass,
To quench the drouth of Phoebus; which as they taste
(For most do taste through fond intemperate thirst),
Soon as the potion works, their human count’nance,
The express resemblance of the gods, is changed
Into some brutish form of wolf or bear,
Or ounce or tiger, hog, or bearded goat,
All other parts remaining as they were.
And they, so perfect is their misery,
Not once perceive their foul disfigurement,
But boast themselves more comely then before
And all their friends, and native home forget
To rule with pleasure in a sensual sty.

Milton’s masque Comus unfolds as follows:

The plot concerns two brothers and their sister, simply called “the Lady”, lost in a journey through the woods. The Lady becomes fatigued, and the brothers wander off in search of sustenance. While alone, she encounters the debauched Comus, who is disguised as a villager and claims he will lead her to her brothers. Deceived by his amiable countenance, the Lady follows him, only to be captured, brought to his pleasure palace and victimised by his necromancy. Seated on an enchanted chair, with “gums of glutinous heat”, she is immobilised, and Comus accosts her while with one hand he holds a necromancer’s wand and with the other he offers a vessel with a drink that would overpower her. Comus urges the Lady to “be not coy” and drink from his magical cup (representing sexual pleasure and intemperance), but she repeatedly refuses, arguing for the virtuousness of temperance and chastity. Within view at his palace is an array of cuisine intended to arouse the Lady’s appetites and desires. Despite being restrained against her will, she continues to exercise right reason (recta ratio) in her disputation with Comus, thereby manifesting her freedom of mind. Whereas the would-be seducer argues appetites and desires issuing from one’s nature are “natural” and therefore licit, the Lady contends that only rational self-control is enlightened and virtuous. To be self-indulgent and intemperate, she adds, is to forfeit one’s higher nature and to yield to baser impulses. In this debate the Lady and Comus signify, respectively, soul and body, ratio and libido, sublimation and sensuality, virtue and vice, moral rectitude and immoral depravity. In line with the theme of the journey that distinguishes Comus, the Lady has been deceived by the guile of a treacherous character, temporarily waylaid, and besieged by sophistry that is disguised as wisdom. Meanwhile, her brothers, searching for her, come across the Attendant Spirit, an angelic figure sent to aid them, who takes the form of a shepherd and tells them how to defeat Comus. As the Lady continues to assert her freedom of mind and to exercise her free will by resistance and even defiance, she is rescued by the Attendant Spirit along with her brothers, who chase off Comus. The Lady remains magically bound to her chair. With a song, the Spirit conjures the water nymph Sabrina who frees the Lady on account of her steadfast virtue. She and her brothers are reunited with their parents in a triumphal celebration, which signifies the heavenly bliss awaiting the wayfaring soul that prevails over trials and travails, whether these are the threats posed by overt evil or the blandishments of temptation.

Milton isn’t the only one to preserve the tradition of an affair between Kírkē and Dionysos; the God is coming from Kírkē’s mythic isle when he discovers the grieving Cretan princess Ariadne on Naxos, in the famous opera by German composer Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal:

Ariadne is alone in front of her cave. Three nymphs look on and lament her fate. Watching from the wings, the comedians are doubtful whether they will be able to cheer her up. Ariadne recalls her love for Theseus (“Ein Schönes war”), then imagines herself as a chaste girl, awaiting death. Harlekin tries to divert her with a song (“Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen”) but Ariadne ignores him. As if in a trance, she resolves to await Hermes, messenger of death. He will take her to another world where everything is pure (“Es gibt ein Reich”). When the comedians’ efforts continue to fail, Zerbinetta finally addresses Ariadne directly (“Grossmächtige Prinzessin!”), woman to woman, explaining to her the human need to change an old love for a new. Insulted, Ariadne leaves. After Zerbinetta has finished her speech, her colleagues leap back onto the scene, competing for her attention. Zerbinetta gives in to Harlekin’s comic protestations of love and the comedians exit.

The nymphs announce the approach of a ship: it carries the young god Bacchus, who has escaped the enchantress Circe. Bacchus’s voice is heard in the distance (“Circe, kannst du mich hören?”) and Ariadne prepares to greet her visitor, whom she thinks must be death at last. When he appears, she at first mistakes him for Theseus come back to her, but he majestically proclaims his godhood. Entranced by her beauty, Bacchus tells her he would sooner see the stars vanish than give her up. Reconciled to a new existence, Ariadne joins Bacchus as they ascend to the heavens. Zerbinetta sneaks in to have the last word: “When a new god comes along, we’re dumbstruck.” (Synopsis of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos from the Metropolitan Opera)

Becca Goldknopf elucidates on the seemingly inexplicable presence of the Harlequinade on Naxos:

There are a few additions to the cast of the myth of Ariadne in Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s opera, Ariadne auf Naxos. While the three beautiful nymphs naturally fit into the ancient mythological setting of the story, the five-member comedy troupe with all their merriment would seem to have no connection to the desolate island of Naxos or its mournful inhabitant. These apparently contrasting groups produce the same effect of emphasizing the inconsolable grief which consumes Ariadne. By introducing new characters into the mythical world of Ariadne, Strauss and von Hofmannsthal present a deeper interpretation of the princess’ emotions and of her resulting behavior. They give insight into Ariadne’s pain and isolation, allowing the audience to empathize with her more intimately. They illustrate the interconnectedness between Ariadne’s relationships with Theseus and Bacchus and her desire for death.

Ariadne’s lament in the opera expresses overwhelming sorrow. The nymphs watching over her say she is “weeping in her sleep.” So heavily does her grief lie upon her that even in sleep her sobs continue. In “Ariadne to Theseus,” Ariadne’s cries are said to be answered only by the echoing of the rocks on the beach around her. Thus Strauss and Hofmannsthal place three nymphs, including Echo, with Ariadne, who sympathize with her and join in her lamenting, but since the Minoan princess does not recognize their cries, she feels isolated. The composers also integrate a five-member comedy troupe into the plot, who, led by the charming Zerbinetta, make a number of valiant and enthusiastic attempts to console Ariadne and cheer her up. Ariadne simply cannot be consoled and remains, in fact, oblivious to the song and dance going on around her. The jovial nature of the bunch of buffoons presents a sharp contrast to Ariadne’s state of grief. She is “. . . the epitome of human loneliness,” according to the Composer character in the opera’s prologue. She feels the weight of the world on her shoulders, and she simply wants to die.

In both Ovid’s Epistles and the opera, Ariadne desires death. She wants to forget her pain and suffering and the man who caused it. In “Ariadne to Theseus,” Ovid describes her angrily cursing Theseus for not having killed her before he left and actively praying for death to end her misery. In the opera she behaves more passively as she allows her emotions to wash over her, simply waiting for death rather than calling out for it. Her view of the Underworld is strangely positive. She sings of “. . . a realm where all is pure. . . .” and where her soul can be free from the misery of living alone. The way Strauss and von Hofmannsthal interpret the myth, Ariadne does, in a sense, die. Since she is in love with the idea of death, she instantly and unrestrainedly falls in love with Bacchus thinking he is the messenger god, Hermes, come to take her to the Underworld. In falling in love with Bacchus, the pain inside her is replaced with joy, and she leaves behind the Ariadne who wept and mourned the betrayal of a lover. The woman who leaves is a different person entirely, free from the chains of despair and sorrow.

The ship Bacchus arrives on, while beautifully majestic, appears to be a less godlike, more earthly mode of transportation compared with swooping down from the sky as he does in Catullus’ account. This element of humanity in the god allows the audience to more closely empathize with Bacchus by making him more real and believable. Yet still the nymphs make abundantly clear with their cries of “A young god!” and “A charming boy!” that Bacchus is no mere human.

Ariadne’s meeting with Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos shows her vulnerability and its connection to her relationship with the god of wine. The composers insert a new part of the story in which Bacchus spent the day before his arrival on Naxos in the company of Circe on her island. This experience causes him to be slightly wary of the vision of beauty he finds himself in love with the next day, questioning her as to whether she is a sorceress like Circe. Ariadne, rather than questioning who Bacchus is, believes that he must be Hermes, for whom she has waited. It is not clear whether she is ever really convinced that he is not the messenger god, but if so she is so in love with him that it does not matter who he is. All that matters is that he has lifted the weight off her shoulders and set her free from her pain and suffering.

In the prologue to Ariadne auf Naxos, the Composer insists Ariadne is “… one of those women who belong to one man only in their life and after that to no one else – to no one else, save Death,” yet Zerbinetta sings at the end of the opera, “When the new god approaches, we surrender without a word.” These two ideas, though they seem to be in complete contradiction, somehow coexist in the heart of Ariadne. The interpretation by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, rather than showing Ariadne as moving on so quickly as to almost herself betray her love of Theseus, illustrates that she was only able to love Bacchus because she loved Theseus. She loved him so deeply she wanted to die without him, and she desired death so strongly she mistook Bacchus for the god of death. In Ariadne auf Naxos, Ariadne is more than just a woman who is left by one lover and forgets her tears as soon as another man comes along. Her emotions run deeper than most people could imagine, and her love is pure and eternal. The composers use the prologue, the nymphs, and the comedians to help illustrate their interpretation of Ariadne without significantly altering the plot as it applies to Ariadne and while remaining true to the mythical nature and size of the story.

Hashtag Bacchic American


Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.31.4
Polykleitos of Argos made the image; it is like Dionysos in having buskins as footwear and in holding a beaker in one hand and a thyrsos in the other, but an eagle sitting on the thyrsos does not fit in with the received accounts of Dionysos.

A fitting symbol for an American God