Read something interesting this morning by Anthony Comegna:
In 1627, Thomas Morton and the residents, friends, and allies of Merrymount gathered together for a celebration of life and leisure. The settlement was a bustling little burgh, pleasantly situated on the fringes of Puritan Massachusetts Bay. Having prior felled one of New England’s many mighty pines, the revelers marked their New World holy day by building a grand Maypole. In a very conscious imitation of the ancient, pagan world, the crowd decked their construction in garlands and intertwined ribbons, topping the whole with a formidable set of antlers. Morton constructed what historian Peter Linebaugh claims were “the first lyric verses penned in America,” and he nailed the infamous (and excerpted) “Bacchanalian song” to the Maypole itself, in proud defiance of the Puritan norms prevailing elsewhere in Massachusetts. In Merrymount, Native Americans and English lived alongside one another peacefully, they traded, they enjoyed mutual and consensual romantic and sexual relationships, and they intermixed philosophies and perspectives in convivial atmospheres like the Mayday festival. The Puritans viewed all of the above with nothing short of horror and contempt. Where the Merrymounters saw Natives as brothers and sisters, the Puritans saw Satan’s minions inhabiting the darkest corners of their New Israel. They called the Maypole “an Idoll,” and the free settlement “Mount Dagon.” As Linebaugh notes, in its short life, Merrymount had become “a refuge for Indians, the discontented, gay people, runaway servants, and what [Governor Bradford] called ‘all the scume of the countrie.’” Convinced that the free settlers and Mayday revelers were devils in human skins, Miles Standish and a Puritan contingent destroyed the settlement with fire, and the Maypole got the axe.
Bolded for emphasis.
That’s right. What may have been the first lyric verses penned in America were in honor of Dionysos!
That makes my heart all warm and tingly.
You can find more, including excerpts from Morton’s New English Canaan, here.
Over the last month alone I have had:
- People fail to pay me for divination and other spiritual services I’ve provided. (One person even got into a bitchy, entitled huff when I refused to do any further work for them until they made good their debt.)
- People request counseling, research assistance and other help without any regard for my time or labor. (It doesn’t always have to be financial, but there should be some kind of exchange involved.)
- People complain because I didn’t respond to their e-mails in what they considered a timely fashion.
- People complain because I’m not posting to my blog as frequently as I once did.
- People request free PDFs of my books.
- People distribute my intellectual property with no acknowledgement. (One was a case of clear plagiarism, in the others they either removed my author byline or shared material from my classes, failing to mention where it came from.)
- People insult, gaslight and flat out lie about me. This didn’t bother me (I’ve actually come to expect such behavior in online fora, sadly enough) as much as the fact that no one stood up to defend me in the midst of it, including folks I once considered close friends and co-religionists.
As a consequence of this I have removed all of my work from the Bakcheion website, severed ties with members of the Starry Bull tradition and left the Bacchic Underground. I will be starting no new online groups, will be teaching no further classes or hosting religious retreats and gatherings, and will no longer provide any spiritual services except to paying clients, redirecting my efforts instead to cultivating local, real world community with people who don’t pull the kind of shit detailed above. I will continue posting here at the House of Vines, but with the comments turned off for the time being.
In other news things are going really great in my personal and spiritual life, with some incredible opportunities opening up for myself and my loved ones. The Gods are truly gracious and generous, in ways both profoundly shocking and humbling. I cannot wait to see what the future holds in store.
1100 to 1199
Golias the Bishop, The Apocalypse
When the Abbot and his brethren [of a heretical monastery in Southern France] sit to feast, they quickly pass the cups of wine along. The Abbot lifts the cup above his head and makes the rafters echo with this song:
How lovely is the vessel of the Lord!
Behold the chalice of inebriation!
O Bacchus, be the master of our board!
O Son of the Vine, be always our salvation!
Then lifting up his cup again, he asks:
This chalice I am now about to sup,
can you too drink it?
Quickly all reply:
We can! Just watch us! Bottoms up!
The one thing that can spoil a pious feast is a dispute about who’s had the most. The abbey therefore has a simple rule: the limit is a cup per monk per toast.
A second popular decree is this: a zealous monk never leaves a drop. A third: since God abhors a vacuum, make sure your belly’s stuffed before you stop.
The drunken monks are like demoniacs, and chatter like a flock of noisy birds. Their conversation seldom makes much sense since Bacchus, the stomach’s master, teaches them their words. They chew and chew until their jaws puff out; their huge, distended guts are even worse, and as a final touch, the wine they swill provokes a swelling in the “nether purse.”
1200 to 1299
The Chronicle of Lanercost for the year 1282
About this time, in Easter week, the parish priest of Inverkeithing, named John, revived the profane rites of Priapus, collecting young girls from the villages, and compelling them to dance in circles to the honour of Father Bacchus. When he had these females in a troop, out of sheer wantonness, he led the dance, carrying in front on a pole a representation of the human organs of reproduction, and singing and dancing himself like a mime, he viewed them all and stirred them to lust by filthy language. Those who held respectable matrimony in honour were scandalised by such a shameless performance, although they respected the parson because of the dignity of his rank. If anybody remonstrated kindly with him, the priest became worse than before, violently reviling him.
1300 to 1399
The Goliards were a group of Clerici Vagante or “wandering scholars” in 12th- through 14th-century Europe famed for their riotous behaviour, intemperance, and composition of satirical and ribald Latin verse. They were condemned by the University of Paris for the following:
Priests and clerks dance in the choir dressed as women, and they sing wanton songs. They eat black pudding at the altar itself, while the celebrant is saying Mass. They play dice on the altar. They cense with stinking smoke from the soles of old shoes. They run and leap throughout the church, without a blush of their own shame. Finally they drive about the town and its theatres in shabby carriages and carts, and rouse the laughter of their fellows and the bystanders in infamous performances, with indecent gestures and with scurrilous and unchaste words.
Here is the text of one of their infamous performances, the Missa de Potatoribus or “Drinkers’ Mass”:
Va. I will go in to the altar of Bacchus. R. To him who rejoices the heart of man.
I confess to the all-drinking culprit Bacchus, and the accursed red wine, and to all his dishes, and to you drinkers, that I have drunk most excessively gluttonously through great sickness of the culprit Bacchus my god with snorting, with greatest speed, through my vat, through my most grievous vat. Therefore I pray the most blessed Bacchus, and all his dishes, and you brother drinkers, that you will drink for me to the lord culprit Bacchus, so that he will pity me. May cup-powerful Bacchus have mercy on you, and permit you to lose all your clothes, and lead you to the great tavern, he who drinks and gulps through all the cups of cups, Strawmen. May cup-powerful Bacchus grant you intoxication and devouring, and the loss of all your clothes, through Decius our lord, Straw-men. Thy god will turn, and bring us rejoicing. And your people shall be drinking in you. Show us, O Lord, your joy. And grant us the loss of our clothes. Fraud be with you. And with your groaning. Let us drink. Oratio.
Take away from us all of our clothes, we implore you, Bacchus, that with naked bodies we may be worthy to enter to the tavern of cups through all the cups of cups, Straw-men. Introitus.
Let us all lament in the die, bewailing the mournful day in honor of the square die, at whose throwing the wretched complain and slander the son of God. V’. Blessed are they who live in thy tavern, Bacchus, and he shall meditate there day and night.
O God, who made the multitude of rustics come to the service of clerics and knights, and between us and them sowed discord, grant us, we pray, to live from their labors, and use their wives, and rejoice in their mortification, through our lord culprit Bacchus, who drinks and quaffs through all the cups without end. Straw-men. tuum apurtatricum?
In spring time, drinkers said to one another, “Let us go over to the tavern, and let us see the word that is said concerning this jar.” And entering the tavern they found the hostess and three dice lying in the dish. And tasting from this pure wine, they understood that it was true what had been spoken to them concerning this cask. And all that were there were inebriated by those things that were told them by the drinkers. But the hostess considered their clothes, pondering them in her heart, if they might be valuable. And the drinkers were stripped, glorifying Bacchus, and cursing the die. Fraud be with you. And with thy groaning. Let us drink. Off. The dishes pour forth the abundance of Bacchus, and nauseate the mouth of the drinkers all the way to the bottom. The Sanctus is not sung, nor the Agnus Dei, but let the kiss of peace be given with swords and cudgels.
Our Father, who art in dishes, hallowed be that wine. May the cup of Bacchus come, may thy storm be done in wine as it is in the tavern, give us this day our bread for the devouring, and forgive us our great cups as we forgive our drinkers, and lead us not into temptation of wine, but deliver us from our clothing.
Co. May the souls of drinkers rejoice, who followed the footsteps of Bacchus, and because they destroyed their clothes for his love, indeed with Bacchus in a jar of wine. Fraud be with you, and with thy groaning. Let us drink. Oratio.
1400 to 1499
Record of the interrogation of the barbes Martino and Pietro, 1492
Asked why the said synagogue is held, he replies that it derives from the fact that they as a custom were in the habit of adoring a certain idol called Bacchus and Baron and also the Sibyl and the Fairies and that Baron and the Fairies were accustomed to holding congregations during which there was no respect between daughter and father, nor with the godmother, as there is, however, outside the said synagogue. And in the synagogue, by night, when the candle was out, they mixed and each took the woman he could have, without recognising her and without speaking while the synagogue lasted; and if a son was begotten, he was the most appropriate and apt to exercise the office of barbe; and he said other things, that his companion had previously said.
1500 to 1599
Edith Helen Sichel, Catherine De’ Medici and the French Reformation
After it had been performed at Court, the poets “honorant son esprit gaillard et bien appris” fêted him joyously at Arceuil. A banquet was spread on a green lawn; the company composed classic verses after the Greek “Bacchanalia”; a buck – le pére du troupeau … des Tragiques “le prix” was lead up to the victorious Jodelle, its head wreathed with flowers:
Le bouquet sur l’orielle, et bien fier se sentait
De quoy telle jeunesse ainsi le présentait.
The Huguenots made capital out of this festivity and proclaimed that the Pléiade had sacrificed the buck to Bacchus.
1600 to 1699
Wikipedia article on Thomas Morton
Morton’s religious beliefs were strongly condemned by the Puritans of the nearby Plymouth Colony as little more than a thinly disguised form of heathenism, and they suspected him of “going native”. Scandalous rumours spread of debauchery at Merrymount, which they claimed included immoral sexual liaisons with native women during what amounted to drunken orgies in honour of Bacchus and Aphrodite, or as the Puritan Governor William Bradford wrote in his History of Plymouth Plantation, “They … set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women for their consorts, dancing and frisking together (like so many fairies, or furies rather) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians.” Morton had transplanted traditional West Country May Day customs to the colony, and combined them with fashionable classical myth, couched according to his own libertine tastes and fueled by the enthusiasm of his newly freed fellow colonists. On a practical level the annual May Day festival was not only a reward for his hardworking colonists but also a joint celebration with the Native Tribes who also marked the day, and a chance for the mostly male colonists to find brides amongst the native population. Puritan ire was no doubt also fueled by the fact that Merrymount was the fastest-growing colony in New England and rapidly becoming the most prosperous, both as an agricultural producer and in the fur trade, in which the Plymouth Colony was trying to build a monopoly. The Puritan account of this was very different, regarding the colony as a decadent nest of good-for-nothings that annually attracted “all the scum of the country” to the area, or as Peter Lamborn Wilson more romantically puts it, “a Comus-crew of disaffected fur traders, antinomians, loose women, Indians and bon-vivants”. The second 1628 Mayday, “Revels of New Canaan”, inspired by “Cupid’s mother” — with its “pagan odes” to Neptune and Triton (as well as Venus and her lustful children, Cupid, Hymen and Priapus), its drinking song, and its erection of a huge 80-foot (24 m) Maypole, topped with deer antlers — that proved too much for the “Princes of Limbo”, as Morton referred to his Puritan neighbours. The Plymouth militia under Myles Standish took the town the following June with little resistance, chopped down the Maypole and arrested Morton for “supplying guns to the Indians”. He was put in stocks in Plymouth, given a trial and finally marooned on the deserted Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, until an “English ship could take him home”, as he was believed too well connected to be imprisoned or executed (as later became the penalty for blasphemy in the colony). He was essentially left to starve on the island, but was supplied with food by friendly natives from the mainland, who were said to be bemused by the events, and he eventually gained enough strength to escape to England under his own volition. The Merrymount community survived without Morton for another year, but was renamed Mount Dagon by the Puritans, after the Semitic sea god, and they pledged to make it a place of woe. During the severe winter famine of 1629 residents of New Salem under John Endecott raided Mount Dagon’s plentiful corn supplies and destroyed what was left of the Maypole, denouncing it as a pagan idol and calling it the “Calf of Horeb”. Morton returned to the colony soon after and, after finding that most of the inhabitants had been scattered, was rearrested, again put on trial and banished from the colonies. The following year the colony of Mount Dagon was burned to the ground and Morton shipped back to England.
1700 to 1799
Thomas Langley, The History of Antiquities of the Hundred of Desborough
The delightful gardens of West Wycombe were opened to the public and a novel exhibition took place in one of the rural walks. A fine portico at the west end of the house has been lately erected (in imitation of a Temple of Bacchus) for the dedication of which a Bacchanalian procession was formed of Bacchanals, Priests, Pans, Fauns, Satyrs, Silenus, etc., all in proper habits and skins wreathed with vine leaves, ivy, oak, etc. On the arrival of the procession in the portico the High Priest addressed the Statue in an Invocation which was succeeded by several hymns, and other pieces of music vocal and instrumental suitable to the occasion, and having finished the sacrifice proceeded through the grove to a Tent pitched among several others at the head of the lake where the Paeans and libations were repeated – then ferrying to a vessel adorned with colours and streamers, again performed various ceremonies with discharges of cannon and bursts of acclamations from the populace. The ceremony was finished by a congratulatory address or ode to the Deity of the place. Several of the company wore masques on this occasion.
1800 to 1899
Peter Muise, New England Folklore
In the year 1820, Ephraim Lyon of Eastford, Connecticut came up with a surprising idea: he decided to found a church dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine.
The temperance movement was starting to gain influence at this time, so perhaps Ephraim’s religious revelation was in reaction to the movement’s anti-alcohol messages. Whatever the reason, Ephraim took his calling seriously. As the History of Windham County, Connecticut notes, “He named himself as the high priest, saying he must become badly intoxicated several times each year in order that he might hold the office.”
The rest of the church’s membership was composed of those who “used intoxicating liquids to excess.” Members didn’t need to apply, and Ephraim didn’t ask permission before adding someone to the church’s membership list. Instead, he added a new member’s name whenever he learned of someone who had been drinking heavily. Eventually, the Church of Bacchus had more than 1,000 members, both male and female, in its congregation. The only way to be removed from Ephraim’s list was to go on the wagon.
Unfortunately because of the growing temperance movement many of the church’s members didn’t want their names on the list, and asked Ephraim to be removed. He refused. The requests became threats, but still Ephraim refused. Fearing for life and property, Ephraim’s wife finally burned her husband’s list, but he recreated it from memory and hid it someplace secure. It was rumored that he shared the list only with an inner circle of church deacons derived from Windham County’s most zealous drinkers.
Despite threats and being socially ostracized, Ephraim maintained his devotion to the god of wine until his death in 1840. The deacons and other devout Bacchants memorialized his life with plenty of strong liquor and merrymaking. Ephraim claimed that “members who died in full membership were said to go the Bacchanalian revels of their patron god,” so I hope he’s happy somewhere with a big glass of wine in his hand.
Was Ephraim Lyon serious about his church? Did he really believe in Bacchus as the god of wine? I suppose it’s impossible to say. Maybe he was just protesting against the temperance movement, or perhaps it was just all an elaborate joke.
I do wonder, though, if a joker would risk his life and his home the way Ephraim did. And Ephraim’s statements about the afterlife match what the ancient followers of Bacchus believed. Perhaps he did receive a genuine divine revelation, even if it was a drunken one.
1900 to 1999
Ronald Hutton, Triumph of the Moon pages 165-169
A year after founding the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry Ernest Westlake wrote that, ‘from the religious side it is an application of Miss [Jane Ellen] Harrison’s work … her work might have been written for us.’ It was her celebration of the ecstatic and life-affirming in Greek religion which had most seized his imagination, so that he could declare that ‘our movement is a Dionysos movement,’ saving people from ‘the cul de sac of intellectualized religion.’ By 1921 he added that the vital text for woodcraft was Euripides’ ancient drama about the return of Dionysos to rejuvenate Greece, The Bacchae: ‘As the Dionysos worship revived old Hellas, so may the same thing, introduced by the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, revive the greater Hellas of modern civilization.’ He decided that the English equivalent to Dionysos was the leaf-clad figure in May Day processions, the Jack-in-the-Green, and thought of taking this as his personal title in the order.
The deity of wine and ecstasy was not, however, the only one favored by Westlake. In 1921 he decided that the ‘Trinity of Woodcraft’ consisted of Pan, Artemis and Dionysos, and also suggested that Aphrodite be revered at times, with the reflection that unless alcohol and sexuality were honoured responsibly and treated as sacred, they would manifest themselves in drunkenness and prostitution. The Westlakes had bought an estate at Sandy Balls on the northern edge of the New Forest, and there the order held its first folkmoot ceremony at the beginning of August 1921, the old feast of Lammas. The sacred fire was lit in the centre of a ritual circle, by four people dressed in colours appropriate to the elemental associations of each quarter, bearing greetings from its powers and proceeding in a succession from east round to north. When it was burning, Westlake delivered the invocation (taken from Socrates): ‘Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul and may the outward and inward be at one.’ At some point in these years he composed (but apparently did not place) a newspaper advertisement reading: ‘An ex-Quaker wishes to unite with some heathen church in England worshipping the gods, especially Venus and Bacchus.’ In 1919 he and his family drew up a plan for a forest park stocked with the surviving fauna of the Old Stone Age, including bison (which would be hunted) and deer. Young women, ‘attired like Artemis of old, would follow the deer on foot through the forests, tending and milking them’; this fantastic idea was taken from one of Maurice Hewlett’s novels, The Forest Lovers.
His place as British Chief of the Order was taken by Aubrey, but the role of principal representative of paganism in it fell to a much more flamboyant and uncompromising character, a slim, dark-haired and tanned young south Londoner with a strong chin and stubborn mouth called Harry Byngham. Byngham had absorbed to the full Ernest Westlake’s belief that the joyous and nature-related aspects of ancient Greek religion could bring benefit to the modern world, but whereas Westlake had been inspired by them, Byngham could be described as intoxicated; he subsequently changed his own first name to Dion, short for Dionysos. Unlike Westlake, he saw nothing in Christianity that deserved saving. Unlike him, also, he espoused another radical cause, that of naturism, being a keen member of the New Gymnosophy Society. Dionysos especially appealed to him as representing the animal part of manhood, and he wrote in the magazine The Healthy Life (which promoted naturism and other libertarian ideas) to extol phallic worship as a veneration of the life-force. In 1923 he acquired a parallel platform in the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, by launching a periodical for it, Pine Cone, edited by himself.
It began in July 1923, when the first issue of Pine Cone included a call from Byngham for ‘the realization of Life … Life is adventure, audacity, revolt … Life springs out of the star-tissue womb of Nature as the virile son of the All-Mother.’ Life was, in fact, Dionysos, and Byngham printed an illustration of the thyrsos, the ivy-bound staff of the god, beside the pine cone which was the symbol of the magazine. At the folkmoot in the New Forest that summer, he challenged the singing of Christian hymns and asked instead for readings from Carpenter, Symonds or William Blake. Complaints poured in from members, but the second edition of Pine Cone brazenly carried a cover picture of a nude Dionysos dancing with a pine cone on his thyrsos. The contents were, however, more balanced – the report on the folkmoot was written by a member who spoke of the presence of God in the event – and the third issue contained nothing provocative. The fourth, on the other hand, more than made up for this restraint, containing a photograph of a nude Byngham reclining and playing panpipes while his girlfriend performed ‘The Dawn Dance of Spring’ above him in a short Grecian tunic which left her legs and one breast bare.
2000 to the present
Deo Mercurio, Report-back on two speeches from Olympia 14 August, 2015
This is the second part of my report-back from the Many Gods West conference in Olympia, Washington. In it I’d like to give my reactions to two rituals I attended at the conference: the first of these was the rite for Διόνυσος Βακχεῖος (a name I shall hereafter transcribe in Latin letters as Dionysus Baccheus, with apologies to the Bakcheion—I’m an old fuddy-duddy about such things!). As far as I can recall (there was some drinking involved), the ritual’s structure could hardly have been simpler: a purification of the attendees was followed by some chants, gifts, and prayers, following which we shared in the god’s vinific bounty and danced. And yet I’ve rarely experienced a more satisfying ritual. The music, the dress of the participants, the décor and lighting—all were calculated to evoke a deep sympathy with the god himself, as well as with Ariadne and with Semele, the numinous presence of whom was palpable.
You may mock me, if you will, as a softy and a romantic, but I really love the story of Ariadne and, as warm as my feelings are towards Bacchus, I find Ariadne somehow more inviting or compatible to my sentiments. I felt the same at this ritual. Dionysus Baccheus was the god principally honoured, and yet it was Ariadne whom I felt most keenly there. Euhoe to the both of them! It was wonderful to spend time with them.
I’d also like to thank the Bakcheion for providing really delicious wine for the occasion. They must have been at some expense to keep the attendees well-plied with the divine nectar, but their outlay was deeply appreciated. I noticed one vintage of the name of Phebus—Bacchus and Phœbus, together at last?
By the way, these Western conceptions of Dionysus and Bacchus are of interest from the Gaulish perspective for a variety of reasons. While votive inscriptions to Bacchus or Dionysus are comparatively rare in Gaul, Bacchic imagery is all over the place—particularly on funerary monuments. This implies an expectation among many people (at least in the social class wealthy enough to commission funerary sculpture) of a joyous afterlife presided over by Bacchus. Can people have had this expectation without having already established a devotional relationship with the god in life? Possibly. But my suspicion is that Bacchus was on people’s minds, and in their prayers, more often than we have documentary evidence of—he might, of course, have been honoured by libations of wine (and mead and ale?) even where there was no altar inscribed with his name. Bacchic imagery also influences the depictions of wine-related deities in Burgundy whose names are not definitely known, but who in some respects resemble Sucellus and Nantosuelta. And of course there is a small scattering of votive inscriptions to Liber Pater, as well as some Greek-language inscriptions in southern Gaul dedicated to Διόνυσος.
After a circuitous journey through the underworld (and overcoming numerous adversaries, obstacles and tests) the thirsty soul of a Thuriian initiate finally reaches the Lake of Memory and its Sentries. They ask the soul, “Where have you come from?” and “Who are you?” to which the soul replies, “I am a child of Earth and starry Heaven. My name is Starry.”
Ονομα Αστεριος, in Greek.
In other words, the soul is reminding the Sentries – and itself – that it has completed the ordeals of initiation during which it became identified with the Bull of Minos, the suffering but joyous Lord of the Labyrinth:
But angry at Minos for not sacrificing the bull, Poseidon made the animal savage, and contrived that Pasiphaë should conceive a passion for it. In her love for the bull she found an accomplice in Daidalos, an architect, who had been banished from Athens for murder. He constructed a wooden cow on wheels, took it, hollowed it out in the inside, sewed it up in the hide of a cow which he had skinned, and set it in the meadow in which the bull used to graze. Then he introduced Pasiphaë into it; and the bull came and coupled with it, as if it were a real cow. And she gave birth to Asterios, who was called the Minotaur. He had the face of a bull, but the rest of him was human; and Minos, in compliance with certain oracles, shut him up and guarded him in the Labyrinth. Now the Labyrinth which Daidalos constructed was a chamber “that with its tangled windings perplexed the outward way.” (Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 3.1.4)
And for us Asterios is a form of the God Dionysos, which is why ours is the Starry Bull tradition of Bacchic Orphism. But before we get into all that, let us reflect upon Theseus the Unifier, Defender and King of Athens. (To some the protagonist, to others the villain of Oschophoria.)
Like most heroic souls, he entered the world in an unconventional manner:
While Pandion was at Megara, he had sons born to him, to wit, Aegeus, Pallas, Nisos, and Lykos. But some say that Aegeus was a son of Skyrios, but was passed off by Pandion as his own. After the death of Pandion his sons marched against Athens, expelled the Metionids, and divided the government in four; but Aegeus had the whole power. As no child was born to him, he feared his brothers, and went to the oracle and consulted the Pythia concerning the begetting of children. The God answered him:
The bulging mouth of the wineskin, O best of men, loose not until thou hast reached the height of Athens.
Not knowing what to make of the oracle, he set out on his return to Athens. And journeying by way of Troezen, he lodged with Pittheus, son of Pelops, who, understanding the oracle, made him drunk and caused him to lie with his daughter Aethra. But in the same night Poseidon also had connexion with her. Now Aegeus charged Aethra that, if she gave birth to a male child, she should rear it, without telling whose it was; and he left a sword and sandals under a certain rock, saying that when the boy could roll away the rock and take them up, she was then to send him away with them. […] Aethra bore to Aegeus a son Theseus, and when he was grown up, he pushed away the rock and took up the sandals and the sword, and hastened on foot to Athens. And he cleared the road, which had been beset by evildoers. For first in Epidauros he slew Periphetes, son of Hephaistos and Antiklia, who was surnamed the Clubman from the club which he carried. For being crazy on his legs he carried an iron club, with which he despatched the passers-by. That club Theseus wrested from him and continued to carry about. And he slew many others along the way. (Apollodoros, Bibliotheka 3.15.5-7)
Already we glimpse the shadow of Dionysos at Theseus’ conception in the oracle’s winesack metaphor and drunken sex with the king’s daughter. There are other interesting points in this myth – such as Theseus’ uncle being named Lykos or “the Wolf” as well as the fact that Dionysos first arrives in Athens during the reign of Theseus’ grandfather Pandion – but the really interesting bit comes next:
And the son of Minos himself visited Athens and celebrated the games of the Panathenaia, in which Androgeus vanquished all comers. Him Aegeus sent against the Marathonian bull, by which he was destroyed. But some say that as he journeyed to Thebes to take part in the games in honor of Laius, Androgeus was waylaid and murdered by the jealous competitors. But when the tidings of his death were brought to Minos, as he was sacrificing to the Graces in Paros, he threw away the garland from his head and stopped the music of the flute, but nevertheless completed the sacrifice; hence down to this day they sacrifice to the Graces in Paros without flutes and garlands. (ibid 3.15.7)
Androgeus, the son of Minos, is sent to slay the paramour of Pasiphaë who was ravaging Attica, especially the area around Marathon; he is instead gored by the bull or along the way is slain by brigands (the same brigands Theseus will later massacre in his attempt to settle and pacify his father’s kingdom) which provokes the following response from Minos:
But not long afterwards, being master of the sea, Minos attacked Athens with a fleet and captured Megara, then ruled by king Nisos, son of Pandion, and he slew Megareus, son of Hippomenes, who had come from Onchestos to the help of Nisos. […] When the war lingered on and he could not take Athens, Minos prayed to Zeus that he might be avenged on the Athenians. And the city being visited with a famine and a pestilence, the Athenians at first, in obedience to an ancient oracle, slaughtered the daughters of Hyacinth, to wit, Antheis, Aegleis, Lytaia, and Orthaia, on the grave of Geraistos, the Cyclops; now Hyacinth, the father of the damsels, had come from Lakedaimon and dwelt in Athens. But when this was of no avail, they inquired of the oracle how they could be delivered; and the God answered them that they should give Minos whatever satisfaction he might choose. So they sent to Minos and left it to him to claim satisfaction. And Minos ordered them to send seven youths and the same number of damsels without weapons to be fodder for the Minotaur. (ibid 3.15.8)
These daughters of Hyakinthos bear a strong mythic resemblance to the Aletides, and also point to similar maiden-choruses and festivals in Sparta:
The wife of Dion, king of Laconia, was Iphitea, daughter of Prognaus, who had kindly received Apollo. In return Apollo rewarded her by conferring upon her three daughters (Orphe, Lyco, and Carya) the gift of prophecy on condition, however, that they should not betray the gods nor search after forbidden things. Afterwards Bacchus also came to the house of Dion; he was not only well received, like Apollo, but won the love of Carya, and therefore soon paid Dion a second visit, under the pretext of consecrating a temple, which the king had erected to him. Orphe and Lyco, however, guarded their sister, and when Bacchus had reminded them, in vain, of the command of Apollo, they were seized with raging madness, and having gone to the heights of Taygetus, they were metamorphosed into rocks. Carya, the beloved of Bacchus, was changed into a walnut tree, and the Lacedaemonians, on being informed of it by Artemis, dedicated a temple to Artemis Caryatis. (Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentary on the Eclogues of Vergil 8.29)
Unfortunately their untimely deaths do not placate the divine wrath of Zeus’ son Minos and a different sacrifice is imposed, which Theseus ultimately puts an end to. However, before the tauromachy Theseus engages the king in a contest:
It is said that when Theseus came to Crete along with the seven maidens and six youths, Minos, inflamed by the beauty of one of the maidens, Eriboea by name, wished to lie with her. Theseus, as was fitting for a son of Neptune, and one able to strive against a tyrant for a girl’s safety, refused to allow this. Soon the dispute became not about the girl but rather the parentage of Theseus, and whether he was the son of Neptune or not. Minos is said to have drawn a gold ring from his finger and cast it into the sea. He bade Theseus bring it back, if he wanted him to believe he was a son of Neptune; as for himself, he could easily show he was a son of Jove. So, invoking his father, he asked for some sign to prove he was his son, and straightway thunder and lightning gave token of assent. For a similar reason, Theseus, without any invoking of his father or obligation of an oath, cast himself into the sea. And at once a great swarm of dolphins, tumbling forward over the sea, led him through gently swelling waves to the Nereids. From them he brought back the ring of Minos and a crown, bright with many gems, from Thetis, which she had received at her wedding as a gift from Venus. (Hyginus, Astronomica 2.5)
The dolphins and descent into the sea should remind one of the Etruscan eschatology that serves as the backdrop of Kybernesia, as well as Dionysos being chased into the waves and the bosom of Thetis by the wolfish king Lykourgos:
When he was pursued by Lykourgos and took refuge in the sea, Thetis gave him a kindly welcome and Dionysos in turn gifted her with a golden urn, Hephaistos’ handiwork. She gave it to her son Achilles, so that when he died his bones might be put in it. (Stesichoros, fragment 234)
It is also reminiscent of the aitia of another Athenian festival:
The Athenians had a war on against the Boiotians over Kelainai, which was a place in their borderlands. Xanthios, a Boiotian, challenged the Athenian king, Thymoites to a fight. When he did not accept, Melanthos, an expatriate Messenian from the stock of Periklymenos the son of Neleus, stood up to fight for the kingdom. While they were engaged in single combat, someone wearing a black goat-skin cape appeared to Melanthos from behind Xanthios. So Melanthos said that it was not right to come two against one. Xanthios turned round and Melanthos smote and killed him. And from this was generated both the festival Apatouria and ‘of the Black Aigis’ as an epithet of Dionysos. (Suidas s.v. Apatouria )
This initial contest with Minos is significant, for it represents a kind of ritual combat between the Bull-King (Minos) and the Wolf-King (Theseus) which foreshadows what will transpire later in the Labyrinth. That Theseus indeed performs such a role is eloquently expressed by Bakchylides in his 18th Dithyramb, when he has Aegeus give an account of the newly-arrived stranger:
About his gleaming shoulders
hangs a sword . . . ,
and in his hands two polished spears,
a well-made dog-skin cap from
Sparta on his head and tawny mane,
a shirt of purple around his chest,
and a sheep-skin Thessalian jacket.
His eyes reflect volcanic Etna,
blood-red flame. He’s said to be a boy
of tender years; the toys of Ares
own his thoughts, and war and
crashing brass and battle.
He’s said to seek the love of splendor, Athens!
This description portrays Theseus as a double of Apollo Soranus, Lord of fire and wolves and the underworld (note the explicit reference to Etna) who has a complicated (and at times adversarial) relationship with Dionysos in the Starry Bull tradition.
Having defeated Minos and demonstrated that he is indeed a true son of Poseidon, Theseus then goes on to slay the embodiment of Poseidon’s wrath (ποινη), Asterios the Bull of Minos, with the monster’s sister as his accomplice, as Ovid has Ariadne lament in his 10th Heroides:
O, that Androgeus were still alive, and that thou, O Cecropian land, hadst not been made to atone for thy impious deeds with the doom of thy children! And would that thy upraised right hand, O Theseus, had not slain with knotty club him that was man in part, and in part bull; and I had not given thee the thread to show the way of thy return–thread oft caught up again and passed through the hands led on by it. I marvel not–ah, no!–if victory was thine, and the monster smote with his length the Cretan earth. His horn could not have pierced that iron heart of thine.
After slaying the Minotaur and leading the captives out of the maze that would have been their tomb, Ariadne and Theseus torch the docks and Minos’ prized naval fleet to delay pursuit and then set sail for Athens.
And when Theseus 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. (Scholiast on Homer’s Odyssey 11.322)
Some, however, said that Ariadne provoked retribution from Artemis through the violation of her marriage vows, for:
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)
Stopping off at Delos, Theseus makes a propitiatory offering to Aphrodite that all memory of the strange, wicked girl from the Labyrinth may vanish from his mind like the wisps of a dream:
At Delos, too, there is a small wooden image of Aphrodite, its right hand defaced by time, and with a square base instead of feet. I am of opinion that Ariadne got this image from Daidalos, and when she followed Theseus, took it with her from home. Bereft of Ariadne, say the Delians, Theseus dedicated the wooden image of the Goddess to the Delian Apollo, lest by taking it home he should be dragged into remembering Ariadne, and so find the grief for his love ever renewed. I know of no other works of Daidalos still in existence. For the images dedicated by the Argives in the Heraeum and those brought from Omphake to Gela in Sicily have disappeared in course of time. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.40.3-4)
Though he is also said to establish sacred dances:
On his voyage from Crete Theseus put in at Delos, and having sacrificed to the God and dedicated in his temple the image of Aphrodite which he had received from Ariadne, he danced with his youths a dance which they say is still performed by the Delians, being an imitation of the circling passages in the labyrinth, and consisting of certain rhythmic involutions and evolutions. This kind of dance, as Dikaiarchos tells us, is called by the Delians The Crane, and Theseus danced it round the altar called Keraton, which is constructed of horns taken entirely from the left side of the head. (Plutarch, Life of Theseus 21.1-2)
And numerous festivals honoring her at other locales:
There are many other stories about these matters, and also about Ariadne, but they do not agree at all. Some say that she hung herself because she was abandoned by Theseus; others that she was conveyed to Naxos by sailors and there lived with Oinaros the priest of Dionysos, and that she was abandoned by Theseus because he loved another woman. […] A very peculiar account of these matters is published by Paion the Amathusian. He says that Theseus, driven out of his course by a storm to Kypros, and having with him Ariadne, who was big with child and in sore sickness and distress from the tossing of the sea, set her on shore alone, but that he himself, while trying to succour the ship, was borne out to sea again. The women of the island, accordingly, took Ariadne into their care, and tried to comfort her in the discouragement caused by her loneliness, brought her forged letters purporting to have been written to her by Theseus, ministered to her aid during the pangs of travail, and gave her burial when she died before her child was born. Paion says further that Theseus came back, and was greatly afflicted, and left a sum of money with the people of the island, enjoining them to sacrifice to Ariadne, and caused two little statuettes to be set up in her honor, one of silver, and one of bronze. He says also that at the sacrifice in her honor on the second day of the month Gorpiaeus, one of their young men lies down and imitates the cries and gestures of women in travail; and that they call the grove in which they show her tomb, the grove of Ariadne Aphrodite. Some of the Naxians also have a story of their own, that there were two Minoses and two Ariadnes, one of whom, they say, was married to Dionysos in Naxos and bore him Staphylos and his brother, and the other, of a later time, having been carried off by Theseus and then abandoned by him, came to Naxos, accompanied by a nurse named Korkyne, whose tomb they show; and that this Ariadne also died there, and has honors paid her unlike those of the former, for the festival of the first Ariadne is celebrated with mirth and revels, but the sacrifices performed in honor of the second are attended with sorrow and mourning. (ibid 20.1-5)
In his own precious Athens he institutes the Oschophoria:
It was Theseus who instituted also the Athenian festival of the Oschophoria. For it is said that he did not take away with him all the maidens on whom the lot fell at that time, but picked out two young men of his acquaintance who had fresh and girlish faces, but eager and manly spirits, and changed their outward appearance almost entirely by giving them warn baths and keeping them out of the sun, by arranging their hair, and by smoothing their skin and beautifying their complexions with unguents; he also taught them to imitate maidens as closely as possible in their speech, their dress, and their gait, and to leave no difference that could be observed, and then enrolled them among the maidens who were going to Crete, and was undiscovered by any. And when he was come back, he himself and these two young men headed a procession, arrayed as those are now arrayed who carry the vine-branches. They carry these in honor of Dionysos and Ariadne, and because of their part in the story; or rather, because they came back home at the time of the vintage. And the women called deipnophoroi or supper-carriers take part in the procession and share in the sacrifice, in imitation of the mothers of the young men and maidens on whom the lot fell, for these kept coming with bread and meat for their children. And tales are told at this festival, because these mothers, for the sake of comforting and encouraging their children, spun out tales for them. At any rate, these details are to be found in the history of Damon. (23.2)
Regarding this festival, William Smith in his Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities writes:
Its name is derived from ὦσχος, ὄσχος, or ὄσχη, a branch of vines with grapes, for it was a vintage festival, and on the day of its celebration two youths, called ὀσχοφόροι, whose parents were alive, and who were elected from among the noblest and wealthiest citizens (Schol. ad Nicand. Alexiph. 109), carried, in the disguise of women, branches of vines with fresh grapes from the temple of Dionysus in Athens, to the ancient temple of Athena Sciras in Phalerus. These youths were followed by a procession of persons who likewise carried vine-branches, and a chorus sang hymns called ὠσχοφορικὰ μέλη, which were accompanied by dances (Athen. XIV p681). In the sacrifice which was offered on this occasion, women also took part; they were called δειπνοφόροι, for they represented the mothers of the youths, carried the provisions (ὄψα καὶ σιτία) for them, and related stories to them. During the sacrifice the staff of the herald was adorned with garlands, and when the libation was performed the spectators cried out ἐλελεῦ, ἰοὺ, ἰού (Plut. Thes. 22). The ephebi taken from all the tribes had on this day a contest in racing from the city to the temple of Athena Sciras, during which they also carried the ὄσχη, and the victor received a cup filled with five different things (πεντάπλοος, πενταπλόα, πενταπλῆ), viz. wine, honey, cheese, flour, and a little oil (Athen. XI 495). According to other accounts the victor only drank from this cup. The story which was symbolically represented in the rites and ceremonies of this festival, and which was said to have given rise to it, is related by Plutarch.
Teasing out some of these threads, Oliver Pilz in The Performative Aspect of Greek Ritual: The Case of the Athenian Oschophoria writes:
The earliest trace of the Oschophoria is that Pindar composed an “oschophoric song” for an unknown Athenian. As Robert Parker rightly noted, Pindar’s oschophorikon was probably not a victory ode in the strict sense, because a song performed during a festival, unless improvised, could hardly refer to a victory in the footrace at the very same occasion. Moreover, Proclus treats the oschophoric songs in connection with other processional songs such as daphnephorika and tripodephorika. It is therefore more likely that the oschophorika were performed during the procession. […] Both Proclus and Plutarch agree that the procession was led by two youths who were dressed as girls and held vine branches with bunches of grapes (ὄσχοι). The two oschophoroi were chosen by the already known herald, a priestess (of Athena Skiras?), and an archon, who was appointed by lot alternately from both factions of the Salaminioi. Independently, we learn that the two boys came from wealthy and noble families. According to Plutarch, the oschophoroi carried vine branches in honour of Dionysos and Ariadne or because Theseus returned from Crete during the vintage season. Immediately afterwards, however, Plutarch refers to a second tradition which apparently linked the procession to Theseus’ departure from Athens. As Waldner has convincingly shown, here Plutarch unsuccessfully tried to reconcile different versions of the atthidographic tradition. According to Proclus, the oschophoroi were followed by a chorus chanting oschophoric songs. What remains unclear is whether this chorus was male, female or mixed. There is no obvious reason to postulate, as is generally done, that it was a male chorus. Given the close aetiological connection with Theseus’ Cretan adventure, it might in fact be more reasonable to assume that it was a mixed chorus made up of both boys and girls. An exclusively male or female chorus would not have fit the myth, which clearly speaks of seven youths and seven maidens accompanying the hero to Crete. Supposedly, already in the course of the procession, women called δειπνοφόροι (“dinner-carriers”) acted as the mothers of the twice seven chosen to accompany Theseus to Crete. Interestingly, the verb ἀπομιμέομαι is again used to emphasize the staged aspect of the performance. To comfort and encourage their “children”, the deipnophoroi not only offered them food, but also told them stories (μῦθοι). Unfortunately, it is not entirely clear exactly where and when in the course o the various estivalevents that this ritual meal and storytelling took place. According to the aetiological tradition, the seven youths and seven maidens were held in seclusion during the days before their departure for Crete, but their mothers continued to bring them food. In connection with the fact that Hesychios mentions a place called the oschophorion situated near the temple of Athena Skiras at Phaleron, scholars generally believe that the meal was consumed there.
This naturally makes one think of the Doric Karneia festival:
Karneios, whom they surname Oiketes, had honors in Sparta even before the return of the Herakleidai, his seat being in the house of a seer, Krios the son of Theokles. The daughter of this Krios was met as she was filling her pitcher by spies of the Dorians, who entered into conversation with her, visited Krios and learned from him how to capture Sparta. The cult of Apollo Karneios has been established among all the Dorians ever since Karnos, an Akarnanian by birth, who was a seer of Apollon. When he was killed by Hippotes the son of Phylas, the wrath of Apollon fell upon the camp of the Dorians. Hippotes went into banishment because of the bloodguilt, and from this time the custom was established among the Dorians of propitiating the Akarnanian seer. But this Karnos is not the Lakedaimonian Karneios Oiketes, who was worshipped in the house of Krios the seer while the Achaians were still in possession of Sparta. The poetess Praxilla represents Karneios as the son of Europa, Apollon and Leto being his nurses. There is also another account of the name; in Trojan Ida there grew in a grove of Apollon cornel-trees, which the Greeks cut down to make the Wooden Horse. Learning that the God was wroth with them they propitiated him with sacrifices and named Apollon Karneios from the cornel-tree (kraneia), a custom prevalent in the olden time making them transpose the r and the a. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.13.4-5)
Pilz goes on to draw a comparison between Oschophoria and Karneia:
Pierre Vidal-Naquet has recognized close parallels between the race at the Oschophoria and the race of the staphylodromoi (“grape cluster runners”) during the Spartan Karneia held in honour of Apollo Karneios. The Karneia, an annual festival of the phratriai, was celebrated in the summer month of Karneios. The ancient tradition emphasizes the military aspect of the festival, describing it as an imitation of soldier life. In each of the nine temporarily erected tent-like constructions (σκιάδες), nine men ate together. There is strong evidence that musical competitions took place at the Karneia, and choral dances by youths and maidens may have been performed during the festival. What seems to be the most important ritual during the festival was the race of the staphylodromoi. In this race, a man wrapped up in woollen fillets (στέμματα) was chased by youths (νέοι) called staphylodromoi. The staphylodromoi were chosen by lot among the karneatai, unmarried (ἄγαμοι) men who were in charge of the organization of the festival. To catch the fillet-draped runner meant good luck or the city. Interestingly, the sources do not explicitly mention that the staphylodromoi carried bunches of grapes as in the case of the oschophoroi, and perhaps the staphylodromoi were merely wreathed with grapevine.
Which should give one a lot to think about, especially if they are familiar with how Apollo Soranus came to be included in the Starry Bull pantheon. (If not, the story is related in Masks of Dionysos.)
Related to the Karneia was the other major Spartan Apollo-festival, the Hyakinthia:
The festival was called after the youthful hero Hyacinthus, who evidently derived his name from the flower hyacinth (the emblem of death among the ancient Greeks), and whom Apollo accidentally struck dead with a quoit. The Hyacinthia lasted for three days, and began on the longest day of the Spartan month Hecatombeus, at the time when the tender flowers oppressed by the heat of the sun, drooped their languid heads. On the first and last day of the Hyacinthia sacrifices were offered to the dead, and the death of Hyacinthus was lamented. During these two days nobody wore any garlands at the repasts, nor took bread, and no paeans were sung in praise of Apollo. When the solemn repasts were over, every body went home in the greatest quiet and order. This serious and melancholy character was foreign to all the other festivals of Apollo. (William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities)
Also during this festival mystery-rites took place before the Amyklaian throne which contained the following scene, according to Pausanias:
I cannot say why Bathykles has represented the so-called Minotaur bound, and being led along alive by Theseus. There is also on the throne a band of Phaiakian dancers, and Demodokos singing. Perseus, too, is represented killing Medousa. Passing over the fight of Herakles with the giant Thourios and that of Tyndareus with Eurytos, we have next the rape of the daughters of Leukippos. Here are Dionysos, too, and Herakles; Hermes is bearing the infant Dionysos to heaven, and Athena is taking Herakles to dwell henceforth with the Gods. There is Peleus handing over Achilles to be reared by Cheiron, who is also said to have been his teacher. There is Kephalos, too, carried off by Hemera because of his beauty. The Gods are bringing gifts to the marriage of Harmonia. There is wrought also the single combat of Achilles and Memnon. Adrastos and Tydeus are staying the fight between Amphiaraos and Lykourgos the son of Pronax. Hera is gazing at Io, the daughter of Inachos, who is already a cow, and Athena is running away from Hephaistos, who chases her. Next to these have been wrought two of the exploits of Herakles – his slaying the Hydra, and his bringing up the Hound of Hell. There are sphinxes under the horses, and beasts running upwards, on the one side a leopard, by Polydeukes a lioness. On the very top of the throne has been wrought a band of dancers, the Magnesians who helped Bathykles to make the throne. Underneath the throne, the inner part away from the Tritones contains the hunting of the Kalydonian boar and Herakles killing the children of Aktor. Kalais and Zetes are driving the Harpies away from Phineus. Peirithous and Theseus have seized Helen, and Herakles is strangling the lion. Apollon and Artemis are shooting Tityos. There is represented the fight between Herakles and Oreios the Centaur, and also that between Theseus and the Bull of Minos. There are also represented the wrestling of Herakles with Achelous, the fabled binding of Hera by Hephaistos, the games Akastos held in honor of his father, and the story of Menelaus and the Egyptian Proteus from the Odyssey. (Description of Greece 3.18.9-19.6)
Which ties together all the threads we’ve been tracing thus far.
My current obsession is Lord Buffalo, which is giving me the Dionysian feels as strongly as Sorne, The Doors and Jeff Buckley. Check ’em out.
William P. Reaves, The Cult of Freyr and Freyja
The other gift to Freyr, probably also shared by Freyja, was the ship Skidbladnir. Called the “best of ships” in Grimnismál, Snorri informs us that Skidbladnir was large enough to hold all the gods and their battle-gear, yet could be folded up like a napkin and stored in one’s pocket when not in use. It always “had a fair wind as soon as its sail was hoisted, wherever it was intended to go,” (Skáldskaparmál 35). It was given to him by the Sons of Ivaldi, a group of artisans that Skaldskaparmál characterizes as dwarves or dark-elves. In Hrafnagaldur Óðins 6, Ivaldi himself is designated as an elf, again directly linking the elves to Freyr. Ships played a central role in the prehistoric Germanic religion, figuring prominently in Scandinavian Bronze Age petroglyphs and other pictorial representations of this era such as the Kivik grave. About one hundred tiny bronze and gold leaf ships of uncertain date, some decorated with concentric circles interpreted as solar symbols, were discovered in a clay jar at Nors in North Jutland. Ritual use of these objects seems likely. Besides the ship-burials of Gokstad and Oseberg, hundreds of ship-graves have been found in Norway and Sweden. The ship can be seen as a symbol of both death and fertility. Jacob Grimm first drew attention to an ancient Germanic rite which appears to be connected with this. About the year 1133, in a forest near Inden (in Ripuaria), a ship, set upon wheels,was built and drawn through the country by pauper rusticus („country folk‟) who were yoked to it. We find a detailed report of this procession in Rodulf’s Chronicon Abbatiae S. Trudonis, Book XI. Led by a guild of weavers, it traveled first to Aachen (Aix), then to Maestricht, where a mast and sail were added, then up the river to Tongres, Looz and so on, accompanied by crowds of people assembling and escorting it everywhere. In this it resembles the procession of a fertility deity paraded in a wagon throughout the countryside, so common in ancient Germanic sources. That it was lead by weavers suggests a women’s cult. Wherever it stopped, there were joyful shouts, songs of triumph and dancing round the ship far into the night. The approach of the ship procession was announced to towns, which opened their gates through which gathered throngs went out to greet it. Throughout the account everything is put in an odious light; but the narrative derives its full significance from the fact that it was so utterly exasperated the clergy, who tried to suppress it. The ship is described as a malignorum spirituum simulacrum („vehicle of malignant spirits‟) and a diaboli ludibrium („evil mockery‟). It is said to be associated with infausto omine („inauspicious omens‟) and that maligni spiritus („malignant spirits‟) travel inside it. The author speculates that it may well be called a ship of “Neptune or Mars, of Bacchus or Venus,” clearly connecting it with heathen gods, and therefore it must be burnt or destroyed somehow. It is generally accepted that such cult ships were built on land for the duration of the festival. It is important to note that secular powers, not the clergy, authorized the procession and protected it. It rested within the power of several townships to grant the approaching ship admission.Traces of similar ship processions at the beginning of spring are found in other parts of Germany, especially in Swabia, which became the seat of the Suebi mentioned by Tacitus. Minutes of the town-council of Ulm, dated St. Nicholas’ Eve 1530 contain the prohibition: “There shall be none, by day nor night, trick or disguise him, nor put on any carnival raiment, moreover shall keep him from the going about of the plough and with ships on pain of 1 gulden.” No doubt, among the common people of that region, there survived some recollections of ancient heathen worship which had not yet been entirely uprooted. A continuation of the ships on the rock carvings and the ship Skidbladnir is not unlikely. Rodulf does not say what became at last of the terrea navis („earthly ship‟) but relates how, upon a reception being demanded for it and refused, fights and quarrels broke out, which could only be settled by open warfare.
Eric Csapo, The Dionysian Parade and the Poetics of Plenitude
Hermippus in a play called Stevedores launches into a mock-Homeric hymn to Dionysus in which the god is praised as a merchant-shipper (PCG F 63): ‘Tell me now you Muses who dwell in Olympus how many good things Dionysus brings here to men in his black ship since the time he began to carry merchandise over the wine-faced sea. From Cyrene, silphium stalk and ox hide. From the Hellespont, mackerel and every sort of salted ﬁsh. From Thessaly, barley and sides of beef and the mange for the Spartans from Sitalkes, and from Perdikkas a great many ships-full of lies. The Syracusans provide pigs and cheese …’ After a lacuna the list goes on to include products that originate from cities throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, from Carthage to Phoenicia. Most modern readers fail to see the humour that such lists of food are supposed to generate. There is none really. It is mainly about sustaining the buoyancy of the audience with eﬀervescent reminders of the festival’s blessings. […] Four Attic vases, produced at the end of the sixth century show Dionysus and satyrs riding wagons, ﬁtted out like ships. Later antiquity’s larger and more international festival economies seem to have required the magniﬁcence of actual wheeled ships. By contrast the images on the Attic skyphoi are very much ‘wagons’ in the shape of ships—and unlikely to be called anything other than ‘wagons’ in ancient texts. Even the Panathenaic ship was referred to as a ‘wagon’ (in Latin currus) as late as the ﬁrst century AD. In the case of the Tarquinian amphora, the vehicle is mythicised as an actual ship, but incorporates features of the ritual wagon including the piper and the mysterious wicker-like object at the keel. […] Some object that Dionysus Eleuthereus did not come to Athens by ship but overland. We have to respond that the ship is a symbol, not historical reconstruction. In part it suits the Athenian Dionysus because, as we saw, he brings for his festival food and wealth from overseas. But there is something deeper. The utopic vision inspired by the Athenian carnival is one of things spontaneously appearing and spontaneously moving under the inﬂuence of Dionysus. In the ﬁrst messenger speech of Euripides’ Bacchae the presence of Dionysus is revealed by the sudden appearance of springs of water, wine, milk and honey (705-11), and by the eﬀortless coordination, energy and equilibrium of the bacchants’ movements (esp. 693, 755-8). The spontaneous springs of water, wine, milk and honey recall the αὐτόματος βίος of the Cronian Golden Age when the earth freely produced an abundance of food and drink for all men at no cost or eﬀort. This was of course also an ideal embodied by the Dionysian festival where food and wine really were abundant and free. But eﬀortless coordination and equilibrium are also an expression of the processional god. Dionysus sets people and things in motion, particularly in a graceful and rhythmic motion: the power of music to animate the body (even at times against one’s will) is perhaps the supreme expression of this particular aspect of the god.