Author: thehouseofvines

something worth getting torn apart to see

Today is the Feast of the Dionysian Kings, and we had a pretty good discussion on the underlying themes of the festival and some ways to celebrate it last night in the thiasos’ fancy new Skype chat. It also prompted this piece by Galina reappraising the figure of Pentheus, who is pretty universally reviled but considered one of the heroes of the Starry Bull pantheon. Even after reading her piece some people might have a difficult time understanding why he’s included. I sure as hell did when Dionysos started pushing for it.

And yet it makes perfect fucking sense – he’s the god of outsiders, including those outside his circle. His love is too large to be fit into rigid little boxes. A while back I said that you don’t really know Dionysos until you hate him – but you also don’t know him until you really know how big he is. He is big enough to take all of the hate and all of the rage we can muster, just keep taking it and taking it until we have nothing left to pour out of us – and yet he’s still there, still bigger than us, stronger than us and most terrible of all, still loving us.

Now, don’t get the impression that he’s weak or sentimental from that. There comes a point where we’ve made our choice and the consequences come crashing down on us and he won’t stop it, even if he could. If nothing else, Pentheus shows that. But it doesn’t mean he stops loving us, even when those horrible things we’ve brought upon ourselves play out – or after.

And I think that’s why Pentheus is one of our heroes – to remind us of how limitless Dionysos’ love is.

Or maybe it’s a challenge – everything about Dionysos challenges us in one way or another. But this is a challenge to look beyond the surface, to look beyond the commonly accepted truths, to look at things with other than human eyes and human values.

To see the world how Dionysos sees us.

Do you think there’s any part of you he doesn’t know, any thought or desire that remains hidden from him? When you drink that wine or give yourself over to a spontaneous ecstasy you’re inviting him into you and he sloshes about in all your crevices and crannies, slips through all those dusty, boarded up places inside your mind, rushes through your bloodstream, dances through your liver, wears you like meat pyjamas and gets pissed out of you the following morning.

Yeah, sit with that image for a while.

Now, depending on the nature of your relationship, he may never let on that you guys have shared that level of intimacy – but the knowledge still colors his perception of you.

Think about that for a moment too. There’s nowhere to hide and nothing you can hide from him.

All your fears, all your weaknesses, all those countless ways you don’t measure up, all your gross little human bits.

He’s seen them. He knows them. He’s felt them.

Through you and everyone else that’s let him in going back to the beginning of humanity, he’s felt them.

And he loves them. He loves you. As long as you are you – whatever that is, whatever it was, whatever it’s becoming – he loves you. That’s why he asks, “Who are you?”

It’s putting a mirror before your eyes and asking you to see yourself as he does.

As he did when he was a little child gazing into his reflection in a burnished surface in an empty hall, hearing the approach of the horrible chalk-faced monsters come to devour him, and not caring because what he saw was beautiful, too beautiful to look away from.

And what he saw was you – something worth getting torn apart to see.

cut up

In a recent discussion I mentioned bricolage:

Though it’s evolved organically the Starry Bull pantheon is tightly-knit with a lot of intersection among its members. Many of them have a habit of showing up when the others are called, especially within specifically thiasos-style rites. This is part of why there’s such a strong insistence that one get to know the entire pantheon during the early stages – we don’t want folks freaking out when headless saints or giant spiders show up during their devotions. Another part is because all of them are involved in the mysteries of our tradition. In fact how and to what degree they are involved determines which mystery a person goes through, bricolage-style.

Bricolage (and there’s a fairly decent entry on it at Wikipedia) was Radcliffe G. Edmonds III’s solution to the problem of varying types of Orphism:

I propose a re-examination of the ancient evidence that takes seriously the model, proposed by Burkert and others, of itinerant religious specialists competing for religious authority among a varying clientele. Rather than looking for a coherent set of sacred texts canonical to people who considered themselves Orphics, texts expressive of doctrines pertaining to sin, salvation, and afterlife, we should look for the products of bricolage, pieced together from widely available traditional material to meet the demand of clients looking for extra-ordinary solutions to their problems. If the texts and rituals are products of bricolage, however, and their creators bricoleurs competing for authority, we cannot expect to find either consistency of texts or doctrines, merely a loose family resemblance between composites of the same traditional elements. A redefinition of ancient Orphism requires a polythetic definition that accommodates the complexities of the ancient contexts rather than the sort of monothetic definition that identifies Orphism by its scriptures and doctrines. Nevertheless, the attempt to force the evidence into this preconceived modern construct has created unnecessary confusions in interpretation, as, e.g., the debate over the Orphic status of the author of the Derveni papyrus shows. (Redefining Ancient Orphism)

There’s a strong parallel between this and a practice pioneered by William S. Burroughs called the cut-up technique:

Also in the 1950s, painter and writer Brion Gysin more fully developed the cut-up method after accidentally re-discovering it. He had placed layers of newspapers as a mat to protect a tabletop from being scratched while he cut papers with a razor blade. Upon cutting through the newspapers, Gysin noticed that the sliced layers offered interesting juxtapositions of text and image. He began deliberately cutting newspaper articles into sections, which he randomly rearranged. The book Minutes to Go resulted from his initial cut-up experiment: unedited and unchanged cut-ups which emerged as coherent and meaningful prose. Gysin introduced Burroughs to the technique at the Beat Hotel. The pair later applied the technique to printed media and audio recordings in an effort to decode the material’s implicit content, hypothesizing that such a technique could be used to discover the true meaning of a given text. Burroughs also suggested cut-ups may be effective as a form of divination saying, “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.”

Interestingly I just came across a reference to this from antiquity, Irenaeus’ Against Heresies 1.9.4:

Then, again, collecting a set of expressions and names scattered here and there in Scripture, they twist them, as we have already said, from a natural to a non-natural sense. In so doing, they act like those who bring forward any kind of hypothesis they fancy, and then endeavour to support them out of the poems of Homer, so that the ignorant imagine that Homer actually composed the verses bearing upon that hypothesis, which has, in fact, been but newly constructed; and many others are led so far by the regularly-formed sequence of the verses, as to doubt whether Homer may not have composed them. Of this kind is the following passage, where one, describing Hercules as having been sent by Eurystheus to the dog in the infernal regions, does so by means of these Homeric verses—for there can be no objection to our citing these by way of illustration, since the same sort of attempt appears in both:—

Thus saying, there sent forth from his house deeply groaning.— Od., x. 76.
The hero Hercules conversant with mighty deeds.— Od., xxi. 26.
Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelus, descended from Perseus.— Il., xix. 123.
That he might bring from Erebus the dog of gloomy Pluto.— Il., viii. 368.
And he advanced like a mountain-bred lion confident of strength.— Od., vi. 130.
Rapidly through the city, while all his friends followed. — Il., xxiv. 327.
Both maidens, and youths, and much-enduring old men.— Od., xi. 38.
Mourning for him bitterly as one going forward to death. — Il., xxiv. 328.
But Mercury and the blue-eyed Minerva conducted him.— Od., xi. 626.
For she knew the mind of her brother, how it laboured with grief.— Il., ii. 409.

Now, what simple-minded man, I ask, would not be led away by such verses as these to think that Homer actually framed them so with reference to the subject indicated? But he who is acquainted with the Homeric writings will recognise the verses indeed, but not the subject to which they are applied, as knowing that some of them were spoken of Ulysses, others of Hercules himself, others still of Priam, and others again of Menelaus and Agamemnon. But if he takes them and restores each of them to its proper position, he at once destroys the narrative in question.

Why must we assume intent to deceive? Who is to say that the bricoleur did not feel himself inspired in the arrangement of these random scraps of text, especially when a new story seemed to emerge almost of its own bidding from the disparate fragments? As Burroughs said, “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.”

At any rate, these methods have deep resonance for me because of Dionysiac sparagmos:

Dionysos, when he saw his image reflected in the mirror, began to pursue it and so was torn to pieces. But Apollon put Dionysos back together and brought him back to life because he was a purifying god and the true savior. (Olympiodoros, Commentary on Plato’s Phaedo 67c)


On henotheism

Note: there have been some significant changes since I made this post, but the broader points it makes are important enough that it deserves to be revived. 

I saw some folks discussing my theological beliefs the other day which I found both flattering and confusing. Flattering because with all of the wonderful plentitude of topics to discuss in the world these people had chosen to focus on little old unimportant me, but confusing in that they hadn’t actually bothered to ask me what my views are which is kind of odd since I’m easy to get a hold of and far from shy about such things. Doing so could have saved them some confusion of their own since one of the gentlemen is under the impression that I’m a henotheist, of all things!

I can’t imagine where he came up with the notion that the only deity I venerate is Dionysos since I’ve filled this blog with posts about Hermes, Spider, Ariadne, Erigone, Harlequin, the Nymphai, Aphrodite, Jim Morrison, Mark Antony and the rest of the Dionysian Dead. More recently there’s been a ton of stuff about Persephone, Melinoë, Hekate, Herakles, Orpheus, Medeia and the gods, heroes and spirits of Magna Graecia. And while a lot of that is writings or research notes I do periodically post about the festivals and regular devotions I perform if I can find a way to make them interesting to my readership. (Most of the time I can’t so I don’t; I do this stuff to maintain the relationships I have with my divinities not to impress a bunch of strangers on the internet.) Hell, I have even branched out of the Mediterranean basin to do the occasional rite for Odin, Loki, Mani and some of the other Norse deities who are important to my partner and I have likewise hailed Thracian, Canaanite, Celtic, Egyptian and African divinities with friends though I have no interest or connection to them outside of such circumstances.

So I’m really not sure where the henotheist tag came from. Is Dionysos important to me? Supremely so. Are all of my core pantheon intimately connected to him? Absolutely. And that not only influences who I worship but who I respectfully leave out, since it would not be right for me to come before a lot of the Olympian gods while in the constant state of miasma I’m in as a result of the work I do with purification, healing, ecstasy and the chthonic powers. These rules are in place for a reason and disregarding that is like giving a finger to the one you’re ostensibly honoring. Thus I honor them best by keeping my distance and doing what I can to assist those who are venerating them in a right and reverent manner.

It’s kind of funny, actually. One of the folks discussing my beliefs was concerned that my unhealthy fixation on Dionysos was the cause of my abnormal psychology. I’d say if anything Dionysos has had a healing and stabilizing effect on me. More importantly he has pushed me to examine everything about myself and to completely own my shit. Everything I do or say is a conscious choice on my part, even when that involves things I know aren’t good for me like smoking or reading the Patheos pagan channel. This is the great challenge of Dionysos, the question he asks us continuously as we roam the earth and which will be asked again when we face the sentries below: Who are you? Those who haven’t done the hard, long, painful work of figuring that out are the ones who are prone to dysmania, which is something that his myths make abundantly and eloquently clear.

In Euripides’ Bakchai there are two groups of mainades: the Asian Bacchants who have given up everything to follow the stranger god in his wanderings through the Greek and Near Eastern world and the Theban Bacchants who run about witless and violently raging with the impudent daughters of Kadmos. The one dance and sing and joyously revel on the mountainside with the wild things; the other are tormented with delusion, driven to atrocities by unresolved internal pressures and in the end are shown to be strangers both to themselves and their community – with disastrous results, as the play’s anagnorisis scene so horrifyingly reveals. And note that nowhere does Dionysos actively punish anyone in the Bakchai, even when Pentheus is calling him every dirty name in the book; he merely sets them up, teasing out things they don’t want to face and when they refuse to he steps back, letting them destroy themselves and those dearest to them in the process. How many times before then did he try to intervene, try to talk sense into them but they were too blind and self-deluded to recognize his outstretched helping hand, and so instead reaped the whirlwind of their own devising. That is the terrible message of the play: in the end you have no one to blame for your actions and their consequences but yourself.

It really surprises me that a Jungian of all people fails to perceive this since Carl himself was quite insistent about the need to embrace and integrate rather than suppress or reject the Shadow. But I suppose we are often most resistant to those things we most need to hear and do in our work.


Dionysos: Once you see, once you confront something you don’t expect, then you’ll consider me your dearest friend. (Euripides, Bakchai 938-941)

I found it!

Five or six years ago I came across this quote. It interested me for very different reasons back then. I posted it to the blog, but didn’t put it in any of my quote files and consequently lost track of it after one of my scrubs. A fact I repeatedly regretted as I got deeper and deeper into Starry Bear stuff. All I could recall was that this messianic Bacchic figure started out somewhere in Russia or Germany; I couldn’t even have told you whether the anecdote was in Livy or Ammianus, hence my difficulty in tracking it down. But here it is:

Shortly before this a man that many said was a daimon — though he himself claimed to be the famous Alexander of Macedon and resembled him in looks and general attire — set out from the regions along the Ister, after somehow or other making his appearance there. He made his way through Moesia and Thrace performing Bacchic rites. He was accompanied by as many as four hundred men equipped with Bacchic wands and fawn-skins, but they harmed no one. In fact all in Thrace at the time agreed that bed and board would be provided for the man and his company at public expense. And no one — no governor, soldier, procurator or local magistrate — dared to confront or contradict him. He traveled the whole time as if in a solemn procession as far as Byzantium and then, taking ship, he made his way to the region of Chalcedon where he performed some sacred rites by night, buried a wooden horse, and then vanished completely, never to be heard from again. (Cassius Dio, Roman History 80.18.1-3)

That’s hella significant, actually. The horse burial alone stands out in ways it most certainly did not the first time around. 

This is the stuff of mysteries

Interesting fact: many of the cities of Magna Graecia had a double foundation. First by a god or hero and later by a mortal, who was like their living shadow. As an example, Tarentum was originally settled by Taras, the son of Poseidon and Satyra the swamp-nymph and then later, after the Messenian war Phalanthos led the Spartan Virgins’ sons there. Phalanthos was eighth in descent from Herakles, which I found significant since eight is a number with obvious arachnid associations. Speaking of which, did you know that Tarentum was famed for it’s wool and murex in antiquity?

The most esteemed wool of all is that of Apulia, and that which in Italy is called Grecian wool, in other countries Italian. The fleeces of Miletus hold the third rank. The Apulian wool is shorter in the hair, and only owes its high character to the cloaks that are made of it. That which comes from the vicinity of Tarentum and Canusium is the most celebrated. (Pliny, Natural History 8.73)

I find it interesting that Tarentum was colonized by the Partheniae since the constellation Virgo is the asterized Erigone. Though that story is set in Athens, the Spartans had their version of it too:

Opposite is what is called the Knoll, with a temple of Dionysos of the Knoll, by which is a precinct of the hero who they say guided Dionysos on the way to Sparta. To this hero sacrifices are offered before they are offered to the god by the daughters of Dionysos and the daughters of Leucippus. For the other eleven ladies who are named daughters of Dionysos there is held a footrace; this custom came to Sparta from Delphi. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.13.7)

But in this version Ikarios is a king:

The image of Modesty, some thirty stades distant from the city, they say was dedicated by Ikarios, the following being the reason for making it. When Ikarios gave Penelope in marriage to Odysseus, he tried to make Odysseus himself settle in Lacedaemon, but failing in the attempt, he next besought his daughter to remain behind, and when she was setting forth to Ithaca he followed the chariot, begging her to stay. Odysseus endured it for a time, but at last he bade Penelope either to accompany him willingly, or else, if she preferred her father, to go back to Lacedaemon. They say that she made no reply, but covered her face with a veil in reply to the question, so that Ikarios, realizing that she wished to depart with Odysseus, let her go, and dedicated an image of Modesty; for Penelope, they say, had reached this point of the road when she veiled herself. (ibid 3.20.10-11)

Gee, what was it Penelope was famed for again?

This was her latest masterpiece of guile: she set up a great loom in the royal halls and she began to weave, and the weaving finespun, the yarns endless … So by day she’d weave at her great and growing web –. by night, by the light of torches set beside her, she would unravel all she’d done. (Homer, Odyssey 2.93-95)

Nearby the spot where Ikarios’ maiden daughter was abducted rites of Kore were celebrated:

The sanctuary of Demeter surnamed Eleusinian is where, according to the Lacedaemonian story, Herakles was hidden by Asklepios while he was being healed of a wound. In the sanctuary is a wooden image of Orpheus, a work, they say, of Pelasgians. From Helos they bring up to the sanctuary of the Eleusinian a wooden image of the Maid, daughter of Demeter. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 3.20.5-7)

This is not the only time we find an overlap of Erigone and Persephone. As you know, Erigone was honored during the Aiora on the 12th or 13th of Anthesterion. During that same month the Lesser Mysteries of Eleusis were carried out:

Great and Lesser Mysteries used to be celebrated at Eleusis in Attica. Previously the Lesser did not exist, but when Herakles came and wanted to be initiated. It was not lawful for the Athenians to initiate any foreigner, but as they respected his outstanding qualities and because he was a friend of the city and a son of Zeus, they created the Lesser Mysteries into which they initiated him. The Great Mysteries belong to Demeter, the Lesser to Persephone her daughter. (Scholiast on Aristophanes, Ploutos 845)

The inventor of these mysteries was Mousaios, according to Diodoros Sikeliotes:

Herakles, having completed the tenth Labour, received an order from Eurystheus to bring Cerberus from Hades up to the light. For this Labour, supposing this would benefit him, he went along to Athens and took part in the Mysteries at Eleusis. Mousaios, son of Orpheus, was at that stage in charge of the rite. (4.25.1)

Mysteries which had a Dionysiac tenor:

Agra and Agrai: place, singular and plural, in Attica in front of the city; there the Lesser Mysteries are celebrated, which are an imitation of matters concerning Dionysos. (Stephanos of Byzantium, Lexikon s.v. Agrai)

You find this same constellation during the Haloa:

Haloa is a festival at Athens including secret rites of Demeter and Kore and Dionysos, celebrated by the Athenians at the pruning of the vine and the tasting of the stored-up wine. In these rites images of male organs are displayed, concerning which they say that they are performed as a symbol of the procreation of men, since Dionysos, who gave the wine, made it a potion which stimulates one to intercourse. He gave it to Ikarios, whom the shepherds killed, in ignorance that drinking wine had such consequence. Then they were driven mad, because of their outrageous actions against Dionysos, and they had remained in the state of shame. The oracle, to stop their madness, ordered them to make and dedicate clay sexual organs. When the evil had passed, they established this festival as a memorial of the incident. In this festival, an initiation is given in Eleusis by women, and many games and jokes are told. Since only women are present, they have freedom to say what they want. And they say the most shameful things to each other then; the priestesses stealthily draw near to the women and discuss illicit love, whispering, as it is something unspeakable. All the women shout shameful and irreverent things to each other, holding up indecent representations of male and female organs. Here much wine is set out, and tables full of all the foods of earth and sea, except the things forbidden in the mystery, namely: pomegranates, apples, domestic fowl, eggs, seal-mullet, erythinos, black-fish, crayfish, dogfish. The archons furnish the tables, and leaving the inside to the women they go outside and remain there, expounding to all the inhabitants that cultivated foods were discovered among them and made common to all men by them. Sexual organs of both sexes, made from pastry, are set out on the tables. The Haloa are named on account of the fruit of Dionysos. The aloai are the vineyards. (Scholia to Lucian 279)

A maiden is abducted by death; the land is cursed with madness so that the girls swing from trees and the boys rage with lust. Deliverance comes through dance, music and feasting at the marriage of the bull-leading hero and the divine daughter. This is the stuff of mysteries.

Oh, and incidentally – Satyra the swamp-nymph? She wasn’t always a nymph.

Originally Satyra was the sister of the hero Iapyx, famed for his healing powers and knowledge of drugs, after whom the Iapygians were named, a population that had settled in Italy at an early period and were displaced by the Spartan colonists who arrived with Phalanthos. But here’s where things get really interesting. The Iapygians were Cretans who had either arrived in Italy when Theseus was blown ashore there on his return voyage to Athens or else they came with Minos in pursuit of Daidalos, who had taken up residence with the Sicilian king Kokalos. Iapyx and Satyra were children of Minos. Which, of course, makes Taras the nephew of Ariadne.


Orphism is not misogynistic

People say some really stupid shit.

For instance, this scholar I’m reading actually asserted that Orphism was misogynistic!

Now, Plato in the Republic (10.620a) does have Er relate that Orpheus so loathed women that he chose to come back as a swan in order to not have to crawl through a vagina a second time. Er recounts this as part of a near-death experience during which his brain was no doubt deprived of oxygen for a span of time, so we shouldn’t necessarily put a lot of weight behind these words.

Nor is it necessary to accept the story Phanokles tells about Orpheus’ death:

Orpheus, the son of Oeagrus, loved Calaïs, the son of Boreas, with all his heart and often he would sit in the shady groves singing his heart’s desire; nor was his spirit at peace, but always his soul was consumed with sleepless cares as he gazed on fresh Calaïs. But the Bistonian women of evil devices killed Orpheus, having poured about him, their keen-edged swords sharpened, because he was the first to reveal male loves among the Thracians and did not recommend love of women. The women cut off his head with their bronze and straightaway they threw it in the sea with his Thracian lyre of tortoiseshell, fastening them together with a nail, so that both would be borne on the sea, drenched by the grey waves. The hoary sea brought them to land on holy Lesbos […] and thus the lyre’s clear ring held sway over the sea and the islands and the sea-soaked shores, where the men gave the clear-sounding head of Orpheus its funeral rites, and in the tomb they put the clear lyre, which used to persuade even dumb rocks and the hateful water of Phorcys. From that day on, songs and lovely lyre-playing have held sway over the island and it is the most songful of all islands. As for the warlike Thracian men, when they had learned the women’s savage deeds and dire grief had sunk into them all, they began the custom of tattooing their wives, so that having on their flesh signs of dark blue, they would not forget their hateful murder. And even now, the women pay reparations to the dead Orpheus because of that sin. (fragment preserved in Stobaeus, Eclogae 20.2.47, IV 461-2)

When Orpheus had almost as many deaths as Dionysos. After all, he was immolated by heavenly fire:

Some say that Orpheus came to his end by being struck by a thunderbolt, hurled at him by the god because he revealed sayings in the mysteries to men who had not heard them before. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.30.6)

Murdered by an angry mob for being a charlatan:

At the base of Olympus is the city of Dium, near which lies the village of Pimpleia. Here lived Orpheus, the Ciconian, it is said — a wizard who at first collected money from his music, together with his soothsaying and his celebration of the orgies connected with the mystic initiatory rites, but soon afterwards thought himself worthy of still greater things and procured for himself a throng of followers and power. Some, of course, received him willingly, but others, since they suspected a plot and violence, combined against him and killed him. And near here, also, is Leibethra. (Strabo, Geography 7.7)

And committed suicide over the loss of his wife:

But by others it is said that when his wife died before him, he went to Aornum in Thesprotia on her account. For there was an ancient oracle of the dead there. And thinking that the soul of Eurydice was following him, and being deprived of her when he turned around, he committed suicide because of his grief. The Thracians say that the nightingales who have their nests on the tomb of Orpheus sing more sweetly and loudly. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.30.6)

To name just a few.

In fact there was so much confusion around his death that Hyginus wasn’t sure if Orpheus was killed in punishment by Dionysos:

The Lyre was put among the constellations for the following reason, as Eratosthenes says. Made at first by Mercury from a tortoise shell, it was given to Orpheus, son of Calliope and Oeagrus, who was passionately devoted to music. It is thought that by his skill he could charm even wild beasts to listen. When, grieving for his wife Eurydice, he descended to the Lower World, he praised the children of the gods in his song, all except Father Liber; him he overlooked and forgot, as Oeneus did Diana in sacrifice. Afterwards, then, when Orpheus was taking delight in song, seated, as many say, on Mt. Olympus, which separates Macedonia from Thrace, or on Pangaeum, as Eratosthenes says, Liber is said to have roused the Bacchanals against him. They slew him and dismembered his body. But others say that this happened because he had looked on the rites of Liber. The Muses gathered the scattered limbs and gave them burial, and as the greatest favour they could confer, they put as a memorial his lyre, pictured with stars, among the constellations. Apollo and Jove consented, for Orpheus had praised Apollo highly, and Jupiter granted this favour to his daughter. (Astronomica 1.2)

Or Aphrodite:

Some also have said that Venus and Proserpina came to Jove for his decision, asking him to which of them he would grant Adonis. Calliope, the judge appointed by Jove, decided that each should posses him half of the year. But Venus, angry because she had not been granted what she thought was her right, stirred the women in Thrace by love, each to seek Orpheus for herself, so that they tore him limb from limb. His head, carried down from the mountain into the sea, was cast by the waves upon the island of Lesbos. It was taken up and buried by the people of Lesbos, and in return for this kindness, they have the reputation of being exceedingly skilled in the art of music. The lyre, as we have said, was put by the Muses among the stars. (Astronomica 2.7)

Therefore I see no point in privileging this one legend above the others, especially when it is so violently in opposition to Orpheus’ well-established preference for the feminine. After all it was for love of his wife that he (successfully, in some accounts) harrowed hell:

Such was she whom the dear son of Oeagros, armed only with the lyre, brought back from Haides, even the Thracian Agriope. Aye, he sailed to that evil and inexorable place where Charon drags into the common barque the souls of the departed; and over the lake he shouts afar, as it pours its flood from out the tall reeds. Yet Orpheus, though girded for the journey all alone, dared to sound his lyre beside the wave, and he won over gods of every shape; even the lawless Kokytos he saw, raging beneath his banks; and he flinched not before the gaze of the hound most dread, his voice baying forth angry fire, with fire his cruel eye gleaming, an eye that on triple heads bore terror. Whence, by his song, Orpheus persuaded the mighty lords that Agriope should recover the gentle breath of life. Nor did the son of the Moon, Mousaios, master of the Graces, cause Antiope to go without her due of honour. And she, beside Eleusis’ strand, expounded to the initiates the loud, sacred voice of mystic oracles, as she duly escorted the priest through the Rarian plain to honour Demeter. And she is known even in Hades. (Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 597a)

He recognized Medeia as a colleague and partnered with her in certain necromantic operations:

After I came to the enclosures and the sacred place, I dug a three-sided pit in some flat ground. I quickly brought some trunks of juniper, dry cedar, prickly boxthorn and weeping black poplars, and in the pit I made a pyre of them. Skilled Medea brought to me many drugs, taking them from the innermost part of a chest smelling of incense. At once, I fashioned certain images from barley-meal [the text is corrupt here]. I threw them onto the pyre, and as a sacrifice to honor the dead, I killed three black puppies. I mixed with their blood copper sulfate, soapwort, a sprig of safflower, and in addition odorless fleawort, red alkanet, and bronze-plant. After this, I filled the bellies of the puppies with this mixture and placed them on the wood. Then I mixed the bowels with water and poured the mixture around the pit. Dressed in a black mantle, I sounded bronze cymbals and made my prayer to the Furies. They heard me quickly, and breaking forth from the caverns of the gloomy abyss, Tisiphone, Allecto, and divine Megaira arrived, brandishing the light of death in their dry pine torches. Suddenly the pit blazed up, and the deadly fire crackled, and the unclean flame sent high its smoke. At once, on the far side of the fire, the terrible, fearful, savage goddesses arose. One had a body of iron. The dead call her Pandora. With her came one who takes on various shapes, having three heads, a deadly monster you do not wish to know: Hecate of Tartarus. From her left shoulder leapt a horse with a long mane. On her right should there could be seen a dog with a maddened face. The middle head had the shape of a lion [or snake] of wild form. In her hand she held a well-hilted sword. Pandora and Hecate circled the pit, moving this way and that, and the Furies leapt with them. Suddenly the wooden guardian statue of Artemis dropped its torches from its hands and raised its eyes to heaven. Her canine companions fawned. The bolts of the silver bars were loosened, and the beautiful gates of the thick walls opened; and the sacred grove within came into view. I crossed the threshold. (Orphic Argonautika 122ff)

He founded mysteries for the Great Mother Rheia:

Jason supplicated the goddess with many prayers to turn away the tempest, as he poured libations on the blazing sacrifices. At the same time, upon Orpheus’ command, the young men leapt as they danced the dance-in-armor and beat their shields with their swords, so that any ill-omened cry of grief, which the people were still sending up in lament for their king, would be lost in the air. Since then, the Phrygians have always propitiated Rhea with rhombus and tambourine. The amenable goddess evidently paid heed to their holy sacrifices, for fitting signs appeared. (Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 1.1132–1141)

And placated the nymphs whose homes had been destroyed by pollution:

The women instantly turned to dust and earth there on the spot. Orpheus recognized the divine portent and for his comrades’ sake sought to comfort the nymphs with prayers. “O goddesses beautiful and kind, be gracious, O queens whether you are counted among the heavenly goddesses or those under the earth, or are called solitary nymphs, come, O nymphs, holy offspring of Ocean, and appear before our longing eyes and show us either some flow of water from a rock or some sacred stream gushing from the ground, goddesses, with which we may relieve our endlessly burning thirst.” (Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 4.1408–1418)

He even helped cure a group of women who were suffering from a violent affliction of madness:

In Pieria frenzied female worshipers of Dionysos were tearing apart the bodies of sheep and goats and performing many other violent acts; they turned to the mountains to spend their days there. When they failed to return to their homes, the townspeople, fearing for the safety of their wives and daughters, summoned Orpheus and asked him to devise a plan to get the women down from the mountain. Orpheus performed appropriate sacrificial rites to the god Dionysos and then by playing his lyre led the frenzied Bacchants down from the mountain. (Palaiphatos, Peri Apiston 33)

In fact women were among those who composed inspired verse under his name, such as Arignote:

A Samian woman; student of Pythagoras and Theano and a great philosopher in her own right. She composed the following: Bakchica, which is about the mysteries of Demeter; and also a Hieros Logos and the Teletai of Dionysos, among other philosophical works. (Suidas s.v. Arignote)

And there were female Orpheotelestai as both Plato:

There were certain priests and priestesses who have studied so as to be able to give a reasoned account of their ministry; and Pindar also and many another poet of heavenly gifts. As to their words, they are these: mark now, if you judge them to be true. They say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes. Consequently one ought to live all one’s life in the utmost holiness. ‘For from whomsoever Persephone shall accept requital for ancient wrong, the souls of these she restores in the ninth year to the upper sun again; from them arise glorious kings and men of splendid might and surpassing wisdom, and for all remaining time men call them sainted heroes.’ (Meno 81a)

And Athanasius of Alexandria attest:

Well, an old woman, for twenty mites or a pint of wine will spin you an Orphic spell. (cod. Reg. 1993 fr. 317)

Orpheus’ name was even associated with female-centric mystic rites in Makedonia:

All the women of these parts were addicted to the Orphic rites and the orgies of Dionysus from very ancient times (being called Klodones and Mimallones), and imitated in many ways the practices of the Edonian women and the Thracian women about Mount Haemus, from whom, as it would seem, the word threskeuein came to be applied to the celebration of extravagant and superstitious ceremonies. Now Olympias, who affected these divine possessions more zealously than other women, and carried out these divine inspirations in wilder fashion, used to provide the revelling companies with great tame serpents, which would often lift their heads from out the ivy and the mystic winnowing baskets, or coil themselves about the wands and garlands of the women, thus terrifying the men. (Plutarch, Life of Alexander 2.1.6)

And Attica:

When he is to be initiated into the Orphic mysteries, he visits the priests every month, taking his wife with him; or, if she can’t make it, the nursemaid and children will suffice. (Theophrastos, On The Superstitious Man)

On attaining manhood, you abetted your mother in her initiations and the other rituals, and read aloud from the cultic writings. At night, you mixed the libations, purified the initiates, and dressed them in fawnskins. You cleansed them off with clay and cornhusks, and raising them up from the purification, you led the chant, ‘The evil I flee, the better I find.’ And it was your pride that no one ever emitted that holy ululation so powerfully as yourself. I can well believe it! When you hear the stentorian tones of the orator, can you doubt that the ejaculations of the acolyte were simply magnificent? In the daylight, you led the fine thiasos through the streets, wearing their garlands of fennel and white poplar. You rubbed the fat-cheeked snakes and swung them above your head crying ‘Euoi Saboi’ and dancing to the tune of hues attes, attes hues. Old women hailed you ‘Leader’, ‘mysteries instructor’, ‘ivy-bearer’, ‘liknon carrier’, and the like. (Demosthenes, On the Crown 259-60)

And Rome:

The Romans have a goddess whom they call Good, whom the Greeks call the Women’s Goddess. The Phrygians say that this goddess originated with them, and that she was the mother of their king Midas. The Romans say that she was a Dryad nymph who married Faunus, and the Greeks say that she was the Unnameable One among the mothers of Dionysos. For this reason the women who celebrate her rites cover their tents with vine-branches, and a sacred serpent sits beside the goddess on her throne, as in the myth. It is unlawful for a man to approach or to be in the house when the rites are celebrated. The women, alone by themselves, are said to perform rites that conform to Orphic ritual during the sacred ceremony. (Plutarch, Life of Caesar 93)

In fact, a significant number of the Bacchic Orphic gold lamellae were found in graves belonging to women or inscribed with a woman’s name, such as this one 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!

If Orpheus had a “contempt for women and their realm” he sure did a good job of hiding it. 

the power of choice

We often talk about Dionysos as the God of freedom, the one who comes to liberate us from our chains whether they are personal inhibitions, psychological addictions, societal convention or even physical bondage.

There are many ways that he works his wonders in our lives, but one of the most important is also, in some respects, the simplest: he reminds us that we’ve got a choice. Think back on the bulk of his myths: what’s he usually doing? Trying to get people to seriously think about their lives and what they want out of them, to show them that they don’t have to settle for what’s been given to them or follow certain predetermined roles because that’s what everyone expects them to do. He urges people to take responsibility for their actions, to realize that they’ve got the power to change things, to look at things in a different light.

King Midas couldn’t conceive of anything more valuable than gold until Dionysos showed him otherwise. Akoites couldn’t imagine any way out of violence and thievery until Dionysos revealed to him the power of dreams. Hephaistos and Hera were trapped in a cycle of violence and recrimination until Dionysos intervened. Ariadne thought herself worthy of death for the crimes of her past until Dionysos woke her up on Naxos. Countless women believed that they could be nothing more than wives and mothers until Dionysos got ahold of them. And he even tried to reason with his bitterest enemies. How many times does Dionysos come before Pentheus, humbling himself and pleading with him to turn aside, to let go of his wrath and delusions and choose the path of peace instead? The same course of action was taken with Lykourgos and the daughters of Minyas, though it didn’t do them any more good than it did Pentheus.

That’s because we humans are stubborn and stupid and blind and cling to our misery even as it destroys us. We do this because although misery isn’t exactly comfortable, it is familiar and unchallenging. Freedom is scary because it opens the doors of possibility into realms full of strangeness and uncertainty. Maybe something worse lies in store for us if we walk through those doors. Maybe we’ll be confronted with trials greater than we can handle. Maybe it’ll take us far from home and everything we’ve ever known. Maybe it’ll end up transforming us into people we’d hardly recognize any more – or like. Maybe we’ll see that there’s nothing to all the excuses and empty stories we’ve told ourselves to justify our stagnation and unhappiness and then we’ll actually have to start taking responsibility for our actions and the contents of our lives. Maybe … but is all of that necessarily such a bad thing? Don’t you want to be in charge of your life? Don’t you want to know that if you fail or succeed it’s because of what’s in you and not a result of what others have done to you in the past or because of all those nebulous, intangible forces stacked against you?

When it comes down to it most people don’t have any idea how truly free they are. Unless someone’s keeping you locked away in a basement somewhere there’s not a damned thing stopping you from picking up and starting your life over from scratch somewhere else. Seriously. Tomorrow you could decide to move all the way across the country to Florida, change your name, change your hair, get a bunch of tattoos and become an exotic dancer, leaving your job, your life up to this point, your family and everyone who’s ever known you behind for good. There’s nothing stopping you from doing that or anything else you could dream of – except yourself. I know because I’ve already done it twice in my life and for all I know I may end up doing it again.

Granted, that sort of radical transformation may not be for everyone and even my own recreations weren’t quite on that level. And I’m not saying it’d be easy, by any means. In fact, for most of us it’d be damn hard, full of unimaginable sacrifices and pain, with only a slim chance of actually succeeding. (Besides, no sensible person actually wants to live in Florida.) But the fact remains, it can be done. And if there’s nothing stopping a person from making a change of that magnitude then there’s nothing stopping you from making the changes in your own life that you feel are necessary. You don’t like the career you’ve got? Start over. So what if you’re fifty? Aischylos wrote his best plays when he was eighty. Sure, the economy’s tough and there may not be a whole lot of money or security in making artisan furniture or illustrating children’s books or whatever your calling happens to be, but do you really want to spend the rest of your life chained to a desk performing tedious, mind-numbing work that eats away at your soul? The sooner you get started the more time you’ll have to grow yourself a new career and even if it’s not exactly what you dreamed of certainly you can find something more in keeping with your goals and personal values. In the end, it’s your life – what are you going to do with it?

Or take another situation. There are a lot of folks who feel bound to the people in their past, even though those people are cruel, indifferent or toxic to them. There’s nothing in the world that forces you to keep talking with them if you don’t really want to. But they’re co-workers! Then talk to them as much as the conditions of your employment require and ignore and avoid them the rest of the time. But they’re friends of friends! A true friend will understand and not force you to socialize with someone whom you don’t get along with. If it’s unavoidable, then find new friends and social environments to hang out in. But they’re the only friends I’ve got and I don’t want to be alone! What’s so scary about being alone? We’re born that way, we leave the world that way, each night when we sleep we enter the world of dreams alone. If you aren’t comfortable with your own company, can’t find ways to entertain yourself and meaningfully fill your time on your own, then you aren’t going to be happy anyway, even if you’re constantly surrounded by a crowd. But they’re family! So what? We all share blood if you go far enough back, and otherwise “family” is just a concept. It’s an important one, to be sure, but if they’re actively harming you in some way you’re not obligated to remain in touch with them. Your own health and happiness have to come first. And you can always create a new family of people you like, people who nourish you, support your interests, and enrich your life. They may not have your DNA but they’re family in every way that matters.

And even more importantly we must take full responsibility for our actions. How often have you seen a person caught in a vicious cycle of escalating violence and blame? Person A did something shitty to Person B so B retaliates by doing something even worse and so on and so forth until they’ve dragged everyone else into it and no one is entirely sure why they’re fighting any longer, just that their side is in the right and it won’t be stopping any time soon. It’s easy to laugh at this sort of madness – and weep when we see it played out on the geopolitical stage every night on the news – but the truth is many of us are ensnared in this sort of thing without even realizing it. It’s imperative that we do, however, and that we take personal responsibility in this and all such situations. Hate and violence are choices. So are love and peace. You choose to keep the old wounds fresh and create new ones – or you choose not to. Any time you find yourself thinking “I have to feel or act this way,” or “this is what I was taught, it’s all I’ve ever known” or “if I don’t do ___, someone else will do ___ to me” it should give you a profound pause. You’re not thinking at that point, you’re just following the programming in your brain, reacting instead of acting. And if you’re okay with being a robot, that’s fine. But Dionysos expects something bigger and better of us. Maybe you can’t stop the cycle. You definitely can’t control how another thinks or acts. But you do have control over yourself and the choices you make and that’s all that you’ll be held accountable for in the end. You have the choice to end your part of it here and now – or to keep it going. And no one else can take that away from you.

Related to this, of course, are the choices we make about what we do with our bodies and what we put into them. Every time that you take a swig of alcohol, every time you take another drag of that cigarette, every time you eat something you know is bad for you, every time you put off exercising, or get into bed with someone you don’t really care for … you are making a choice. Maybe you’ve got a bad past or shitty genetics that predispose you to these behaviors and cloud your judgment, but each and every time you do it you’re consciously making a decision. Your past isn’t some tangible person holding a gun to your head saying, “Do this or I’ll splatter your brains all over the wall!” The people who fucked you over before aren’t pouring the glass down your throat. It’s just you, alone with your choices and the consequences of those choices.

I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the point. Nothing ever has more power over us than we’re willing to give it. There will always be consequences for our choices, and sometimes those consequences can be greater than we’re prepared to deal with. But the flip side of the coin is that when we realize that we are making a choice and taking responsibility for our decisions, we know what we’re getting into and that it’s our choice, something we can endure if we feel it’s worth it – or not, if we don’t feel it adds up. I may not follow every dream I’ve got. Living as a mad-poet on the streets is romantic but I’m not interested in the realities of poverty, hunger, danger and disease that come with it. So instead I’ve chosen to pursue other dreams, dreams that are more realistic and attainable and won’t inevitably lead to my destruction. Dreams that are a balance between freedom and security. I also do other things I know I probably shouldn’t – but I do them because I choose to, not because I have to. I own my choices and take full responsibility for what happens as a result of them. It never comes as a surprise when the consequences catch up with me. I may not like it, but I knew going in it was at least a possible outcome. I don’t blame other people or my history for the decisions I make. I know that I’m not just sleep-walking through life, doing only what’s programmed into me. I’m living the way I’ve decided to and accepting everything that naturally follows from those choices. And if I don’t like the consequences, I change my actions or I live with them, intentionally.

And that, to me, is the heart of having a Dionysian lifestyle. The only victim he tolerates is a sacrificial one – the bloodier the better!