Dionysos in the Northlands (rough draft)

Already in the works of Homer (among the earliest mentions of the God in the Greek language, not counting his appearance in a smattering of Linear B texts from Pylos and other Mycenaean poleis dating back nearly half a millenium before those initially oral compositions were first committed to ink and papyrus) Dionysos has shadowy origins and a reputation for being a world-traveler. Iliad 6.129 ff places him among the Edones of Thrake on the periphery of the Hellenic world; Homeric Hymn 1 goes even further afield, speculating that his birth took place somewhere between Phoinikḗia and Aígyptos, while in Homeric Hymn 7 he is abducted by Tyrsēnoi (either Anatolian, Lemnian or North Italian pirates, depending on the scholarly theory one ascribes to.)  

A century or so later we find the cult of Dionysos Bakcheios firmly established among the Hellenic colonies that sprang up along the shores of the Black Sea (including the oldest non-literary references to Mainades, initiates into his mysteries and even Orphikoi at Olbia, for which see Jane Hjarl Petersen’s Constructing identities in Multicultural Milieux) as well as the frozen steppes of what would one day become Russia (see George Hinge’s Dionysus and Heracles in Scythia.)   

Nor was this a singular or succinct sojourn among the lands of the Midnight Sun; through antiquity up to the present Dionysos has consistently been manifest among the Germanic, Slavic, Baltic and related populations of Northern, Eastern and Central Europe – and not just through the borrowed appearance and attributes of indigenous divinities such as Jarilo or Yngvi, or obscure Christian Saints like Ivan Kupala or the Blessed Martyr Tryphon Zarezan, but indeed under his very own name and likeness. (Not that that stopped him from wearing others’ faces from time to time, as circumstances required.)

A short survey will suffice.

Dionysos was venerated at a military outpost in Dalmatia:

To Isis and Serapis, Liber and Libera, P. Quinctius Paris having undertaken a vow for the well-being of his son Scapula gladly and deservedly fulfilled his vow. (SIRIS 676)

As well as throughout much of Moesia, whose territorial capital – Dionysopolis – was named after him (AMNG 369):

Bacchus was worshipped in various contexts in Upper Moesia. The surviving inscriptions and depictions suggest that he was worshipped primarily as patron god of agrarian fertility and vegetation, or of wine and vine-growing. This is most explicitly shown by Liber’s epithet laetus in an inscription from Pusto Šilovo near Leskovac and by Libera’s appellation Hilara in an inscription from Naissus. It has been suggested that Liber was the patron god of mines and ores and that he was also worshipped in iatrical contexts. Liber’s chthonic aspect has been attested both by funerary monuments and by many cult objects recovered from burials. (Sanja Pilipović, The Triad Zeus, Herakles and Dionysos. A Contribution to the Study of Ancient Cults in Upper Moesia)

He had an antron or sacred cave in Kallatis:

The priestess of Athena, … daughter of Apollonios, has dedicated the chamber within the cave to Dionysos Bakchos … and to the society-members. (IKallatis 80)

A temple at Istros:

Pautalos son of Cornutus, priest of the Bakcheion of Asians, set up this column from his own resources. (AGRW 78)

An assembly-hall at Tomis:

This pure statue is dedicated on behalf of the society to you, Blazing One, as a gift from the workshop of Parmis, crowned initiate among the Bakchoi, who reveals the ancient rite. May you, Bull-horned One, receive the handiwork of Hermagenes and save the sacred society of Parmis. (ITomis 120)

He had a strong presence in the domestic cults of the Roman Netherlands:

In this part of the Empire we find Bacchus mostly in the form of small busts and appliqués. Apart from the Hessenberg fragment, in Nijmegen two statuettes of Bacchus as a young man were found, one in the area of the military fortress on the Hunerberg, the other in the area where Oppidum Batavorum was situated. Two other statuettes of a thyrsus-bearing infant Bacchus have been found in the Netherlands. […] His presence in domestic contexts in other media is overwhelming. Strongly connected with otium and the symposium, statues, herms, mosaics and wall paintings representing Bacchus and his followers were very popular in villae and houses throughout the Empire. (Christel Veen, Bacchus and Jupiter-Ammon, two bronze sculptures from Roman Nijmegen, the Netherlands)

According to CIG 6788c there was a branch of the Worldwide Guild of Dionysian Artists located in Nemausus, Gaul and Poseidonios relates a curious rite carried out by their countrywomen:

In the ocean, Poseidonios says, there is a small island, not very far out to sea, situated off the outlet of the River Leigeros in Gaul; and the island is inhabited by the women of the Samnitai, and they are possessed by Dionysos and make this god propitious by appeasing him with mystic initiations as well as other sacred performances; and no man sets foot on the island, although the women themselves, sailing from it, have intercourse with the men and then return again. And, he says, it is a custom of theirs once a year to unroof the temple and roof it again on the same day before sunset, each woman bringing her load to add to the roof; but the woman whose load falls out of her arms is rent to pieces by the rest, and they carry the pieces round the temple with the cry of ‘Euah’, and do not cease until their frenzy ceases; and it is always the case, he says, that some one jostles the woman who is to suffer this fate. (Strabo, Geography 4.4.6)

Nor did the bloody and oppressive conquests by Christians (and later Moslems) put an end to Dionysos’ wanderings through this part of Europe; indeed he made his presence felt in the post-conversion landscape and consciousness of the people with even greater vigour, as we see in this account from Cornwall:

Now it came to pass, on a certain day, as he was on a journey through a certain district which they call Tricurius, he heard, on his left hand to be exact, men worshiping a certain idol after the custom of the Bacchantes, by means of a play in honour of an image. Thereupon he beckoned to his brothers that they should stand still and be silent while he himself, quietly descending from his chariot to the ground and standing upon his feet and observing those who worshiped the idol, saw in front of them, resting on the summit of a certain hill, an abominable image. On this hill I myself have been and have adored and with my hand traced the sign of the cross which St. Samson with his own hand carved by means of an iron instrument on a standing stone. When St. Samson saw the image, selecting two only of the brothers to be with him, he hastened quickly towards them, their chief, Guedianus standing at their head, and admonished them that they ought not to forsake the one god who created all things and worship an idol. They pleaded as excuse that it was not wrong to celebrate the mysteries of their progenitors in a play. Some others were quite furious, some mocked, but those of a saner mind strongly urged him to go away. (The Life of St. Samson of Dol 47)

And Gloucestershire:

Here is another thing, no less wonderful and quite widely known, which happened in Great Britain. There was a hunting-forest in Gloucestershire teeming with boars, stags, and every kind of game commonly found in England. In a leafy glade of this forest was a hillock, which rose to a man’s height at its highest point. Knights and other hunters used to climb up on top of the hillock whenever, worn out with heat and thirst, they sought some relief from their discomfort. Now given the right combination of place and circumstances, if anyone strayed a long way from his companions and climbed it alone and then, though alone, said ‘I’m thirsty’ as if he were speaking to someone else, at once, to his surprise, there would be a cupbearer standing at his side, in rich attire, with a merry face, and holding in his outstretched hand a large horn, adorned with gold and jewels, such as is used by the old English as a drinking-vessel. Some nectar of an unfamiliar but delicious taste would be offered him. When he had drunk it, all the heat and weariness of his sweating body would leave him, so that anyone would believe, not that he had just been engaged in action, but that he was eager to start. When he had consumed the nectar, the server would provide him with a napkin with which to wipe his lips; and then, his ministration completed, he would disappear without waiting for a reward for his services or for conversation to satisfy curiosity. (Gervase of Tilbury, Otia Imperialia 3.60)

And even later at Cumbria:

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. (The Chronicle of Lanercost for the year 1282)

As well as Switzerland, where:

The wines of the neighbourhood of Vevey, especially on the sunny district extending hence to Lausanne, and called La Vaux, enjoy a considerable reputation. The Romans are believed to have first planted the vine on these hills and the discovery of a stone inscribed Libero Patri Colliensi proves that they had erected a temple to Father Bacchus at Collium, a little village now called Cully, on the margin of the lake between Vevey and Lausanne. A society or guild of very high antiquity called L’Abbaye des Vignerons having for its motto the words Ora et labora exists at Vevey. Its object is to promote the cultivation of the vine and for this purpose it despatches every spring and autumn “experts”, qualified persons, to survey all the vineyards of the district and upon their report and testimony it rewards the most skilful and industrious vinedressers with medals and pruning hooks (serpes d’ honneur) as prizes. In accordance with a custom handed down from very ancient times, which is possibly a relic of pagan superstition, this society periodically celebrates a festival called la Fête des Vignerons. It commences with the ceremony of crowning the most successful cultivator of the vine, which is followed and accompanied by dances and processions formed of the lads and lasses of the neighbourhood attired as Fauns bearing the thyrsus and nymphs. Father Bacchus in his car and Ceres throned on a waggon filled with wheat sheaves appear in the most classical costume in the midst of their followers. But the procession includes a singular mixture of scriptural characters along with these heathen Bacchanals. Thus Silenus riding on his ass is followed by Noah in his ark and Pomona is succeeded by the spies from Canaan bearing between them the bunch of grapes. A vine press and a forge at work are also exhibited drawn by fine horses. On other days of the fête (for it lasts for several) the spectators are entertained with the native dances and songs of Switzerland performed by the herdsmen and shepherdesses of the neighbouring Alps and the concluding and perhaps the most interesting part of the festivities consists in the bestowing upon a young maiden, the fairest in fame and form in the vicinity, a dower and in the celebration of her marriage with a partner of her choice. (John Murray The handbook for travellers in Switzerland and the Alps of Savoy and Piedmont 1865)

His image was quite popular among the Franks:

Though representations of Dionysos appear sporadically in the West in the fourth through the seventh centuries, no comparable examples in the East have survived. Between the seventh and eleventh centuries Dionysiac depictions seem to disappear in both East and West. In the West, earlier sculptures of Dionysos were occasionally reused or copied in religious sculpture and minor arts. In Aachen, Henry II (1002-1014) acquired sixth- to seventh-century Alexandrian ivories which he had inserted into the pulpit of the Cathedral. These spolia were signs of Henry’s imperial ambitions; he used both antique and contemporary prototypes to identify with the world of antiquity. Also preserved within the Ottonian realm is a 1023 copy of the encyclopedic De rerum naturis of Rabanus Magnentius Maurus, archbishop of Mainz (784?-856), the Carolingian original of which has disappeared. In this work, Rabanus adapts the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville. In the best illustrated copy (Cod. Casinensis), Bacchus is shown in the presence of nine other gods, including his companion Pan. Goldschmidt has shown that various elements of the illustration use classical prototypes. As late as 1430, the illuminator of Palatinus 291 copied the same work as Rabanus Maurus, injecting contemporary flavor into figures which are clearly of classical descent. About 1180, the abbot of St. Denis gave his monks a fountain whose upper basin was oddly decorated with thirty heads of pagan gods, heroes of fables and ancient allegories. Among these are Ceres, Bacchus, Pan, Jupiter, Juno, Thetis, Neptune, Paris and Helen, the elements, and the wolf and the lamb of fables. The inscription reads, “Labrum quod est in propilaeo fani diui Dionysii.” Adhemar rightly stresses the singularity of this composition of gods and heroes in the interior of an abbey cloister, a place destined for meditation and prayer. He explains the presence of mythology in a religious context as a product of the new classicizing preference of the Scholastics. The one spolium which might consciously invoke Dionysos as Christ can be found on the thirteenth-century bookcover of the gospel of St. Lebuinus. A Roman gem of Bacchus set in the center of the cover of the Utrecht gospel shows continued appreciation, if not for the god himself, for the potency of classical images in general. This chalcedony gem was probably carved between the first and third centuries of the Roman era, provenance unknown. The pudgy face of Bacchus is crowned with ivy leaves and schematic flowers bound by fillets and is quite similar to the depiction in a third- to fourth-century textile from Egypt. Placed at the center of the cross it recalls the identification of Christ with Dionysos one sees in the Kyranides lapidary, which was translated into Latin in the twelfth century and hence accessible to readers in the West. Despite ecclesiastical attempts to eradicate the pagan gods, Dionysos seems to have been revived, perhaps in his Christological aspect, in the thirteenth century, to which the Utrecht gospel may testify. Through the agency of the Carolingian authors and the Ottonian collectors and copyists, works were brought to the West to inform the court and strengthen the connection with antiquity inherent in imperial political ideologies. Moreover, the copying of the illustrated manuscripts kept mythological images available. In the educated circles of the Scholastics, rare depictions of the gods of Virgil and Ovid were produced, while spolia and mirabilia were incorporated into Christian settings. (Susan Heuck Allen, Dionysiac Imagery in Coptic Textiles and Later Medieval Art from The Classics in the Middle Ages edited by Aldo S. Bernardo and Saul Levin 1990)

And even more so in Germany:

Near Bacharach there is a huge stone in the Rhine which, known as ‘the Altar of Bacchus,’ is visible only on rare occasions, when the river chances to be particularly low; and in olden times, whenever this stone was seen, the event was hailed by the townsfolk as an omen that their next grape harvest would be an exceptionally successful one.” (Lewis Spence, Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine page 89)

What really characterized this kernel of traditions and myths is the fact that it had absolutely no connection with the educated world, if we except the attempt to portray such popular deities as Perchta or Holda in the guise of Diana or Venus, who were better known as such to the authors of the writings that we have discussed above. The volume of Geiler’s Strasbourg sermons is a striking example of this disassociation. We know only two editions of the work. In the first, the sermon dealing with the ‘Furious Horde’ (‘Am dürnstag nach Reminiscere von dem wütischen heer’) is accompanied by an engraving which, at first glance, may seem a surprising choice: in a charming wood the carriage of Bacchus approaches, preceded by a satyr playing a bagpipe and by an inebriated Silenus, with his head thrown back and wreathed with bunches of grapes, riding an ass. It is difficult to see how this scene from classical mythology could have been expected to suggest to readers the shadowy myth of the ‘Furious Horde’, so well known to them. The artist had taken the illustration from an edition of Virgil’s works published by Sebastian Brant in 1502, confining himself to removing the figure of the poet seated at his desk, on the left of the picture. In itself there was nothing exceptional about this. But in the present case the gulf between the text being commented on and the figure was so great, that the illustrator of the Emeis did not even bother, as he had done elsewhere, to delete the labels with the name ‘Bachus’, ‘Silenus’, ‘Satirus’. For the ‘Furious Horde’, to be sure, there was no iconographic tradition to fall back on, but Bacchus’s peaceful cavalcade could not have satisfied Geiler’s readers, just as it does not satisfy us today. In 1517, a year after the first edition, the Emeis was republished, again in Strasbourg, with some changes in the illustrations, including a substitution for the engraving accompanying the sermon on the ‘Furious Horde’. Bacchus’s cavalcade was replaced, not with an original engraving, but with an image based on an illustration in Brant’s Sultifera navis modified here and there. Obviously Brant’s wagon-load of fools seemed more suitable than a group of Bacchus’s followers to express the aura of mystery and terror surrounding the myth of the ‘Furious Horde’. (Carlo Ginzburg, The Night Battles Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries 1983 pages 45-46)

Particularly at Jena:

Hundreds of years ago, the streets of Jena and of other German towns used to echo to the songs of black-robed monks who went from door to door singing and begging alms. .Their example was followed by bands of poor students, known as Bacchantes. These Bacchantes wandered from one university to another in search of better instruction or better means of support. Such a wandering life was favored by the customs of times when people thought it a virtue to give freely to all persons seeking help, but especially to monks and students. The Bacchantes had with them younger traveling scholars, known as Skirmishers, who were to receive instruction in return for certain services. The young Skirmisher had to wait upon his Bacchante, beg, and even steal for him, and for the most part he was very tyrannically used. But as he was a waif without other protection, he had to make the best of matters. After the Reformation, in many places these orphan boys, or waifs, were banded into organized choirs who received pay from churches, but also were assisted by private subscriptions. It was their duty to sing not only in the churches, but before the houses of their patrons as well. Thus they ceased to be beggars. (Arthur Upson, The Singing-boys of Jena)

The German youths who celebrated the solstice with sheep-sacrifices were not the first to hear the rustling in the primeval forest of the unconsciousness. They were anticipated by Nietzsche, Schuler, Stefan George, and Ludwig Klages. The literary tradition of the Rhineland and the country south of the Main has a classical stamp that cannot easily be got rid of; every interpretation of intoxication and exuberance is apt to be taken back to classical models, to Dionysus, to the puer aeternus and the cosmogonic Eros. (Carl Gustav Jung, Wotan from Essays on Contemporary Events)

Dionysos personally inspired some of Germany’s most creative intellectuals, showing up in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wandrers Sturmlied:

Ye are pure, like the heart of the water,
Ye are pure like the marrow of earth,
Hov’ring round me, while I hover
Over water, o’er the earth
Like the gods.
Shall he, then, return,
The small, the dark, the fiery peasant?
Shall he, then, return, waiting
Only thy gifts, oh Father Bromius,
And brightly gleaming, warmth-spreading fire?
Return with joy?
And I, whom ye attended,
Ye Muses and ye Graces,
Whom all awaits that ye,
Ye Muses and ye Graces,
Of circling bliss in life
Have glorified–shall I
Return dejected?
Father Bromius!
Thourt the Genius,
Genius of ages,
Thou’rt what inward glow
To Pindar was,
What to the world
Phoebus Apollo is.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail:

Oh, how the drink of the gods warms me up!
Vivat Bacchus!
Long life to Bacchus!
Bacchus, who invented wine!
Bacchus was a good man,
so let us drink to his memory!

Heinrich Heine’s Die Götter im Exil:

Silenus, whom the merry maids had raised upon an ass, rode along, holding a golden goblet, which was constantly filled for him. Slowly he advanced, while behind whirled in mad eddies the reckless troop of vine-clad revelers. You, reader, who are well educated and familiar with descriptions of Bacchanalian orgies or festivals of Dionysos, would not have been astonished by this. At the utmost, you would only feel a slightly licentious thrill at seeing this assembly of delightful phantoms rise from their sarcophagi to again renew their ancient and festive rites, all rioting, reveling, hurrahing Evöe Bacche!

Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice:

It began with fear, fear and joy and a horrified curiosity about what was to come. It was night, and his senses were alert; for from far off a hubbub was approaching, an uproar, a compendium of noise, a clangor and blare and dull thundering, yells of exultation and a particular howl with a long-drawn-out u at the end — all of it permeated and dominated by a terrible sweet sound of flute music: by deep-warbling, infamously persistent, shamelessly clinging tones that bewitched the innermost heart. Yet he was aware of a word, an obscure word, but one that gave a name to what was coming: “the stranger-god!” There was a glow of smoky fire: in it he could see a mountain landscape, like the mountains round his summer home. And in fragmented light, from wooded heights, between tree trunks and mossy boulders, it came tumbling and whirling down: a human and animal swarm, a raging rout, flooding the slope with bodies, with flames, with tumult and frenzied dancing. Women, stumbling on the hide garments that fell too far about them from the waist, held up tambourines and moaned as they shook them above their thrown-back heads; they swung blazing torches, scattering the sparks, and brandishing naked daggers; they carried snakes with flickering tongues which they had seized in the middle of the body, or they bore up their own breasts in both hands, shrieking as they did so. Men with horns over their brows, hairy-skinned and girdled with pelts, bowed their necks and threw up their arms and thighs, clanging brazen cymbals and beating a furious tattoo on drums, while smooth-skinned boys prodded goats with leafy staves, clinging to their horns and yelling with delight as the leaping beasts dragged them along. And the god’s enthusiasts howled out the cry with the soft consonants and the long-drawn-out final u, sweet and wild both at once, like no cry that was ever heard: here it was raised, belled out into the air as by rutting stags, and there they threw it back with many voices, in ribald triumph, urging each other on with it to dancing and tossing of limbs, and never did it cease. But the deep, enticing flute music mingled irresistibly with everything. Was it not also enticing him, the dreamer who experienced all this while struggling not to, enticing him with shameless insistence to the feast and frenzy of the uttermost surrender? Great was his loathing, great his fear, honorable his effort of will to defend to the last what was his and protect it from the Stranger, against the enemy of the composed and dignified intellect. But the noise, the howling grew louder, with the echoing cliffs reiterating it: it increased beyond measure, swelled up to enrapturing madness. Odors besieged the mind, the pungent reek of the goats, the scent of panting bodies and an exhalation as of staling waters, with another smell, too, that was familiar: that of wounds and wandering disease. His heart throbbed to the drumbeats, his brain whirled, a fury seized him, a blindness, a dizzying lust, and his soul craved to join the round-dance of the god. The obscene symbol, wooden and gigantic, was uncovered and raised on high: and still more unbridled grew the howling of the rallying cry. With foaming mouths they raged, they roused each other with rude gestures and licentious hands, laughing and moaning they thrust the prods into each other’s flesh and licked the blood from each other’s limbs. But the dreamer now was with them and in them, he belonged to the Stranger-God. Yes, they were himself as they flung themselves, tearing and slaying, on the animals and devoured steaming gobbets of flesh, they were himself as an orgy of limitless coupling, in homage to the god, began on the trampled, mossy ground. And his very soul savored the lascivious delirium of annihilation. Out of this dream the stricken man woke unnerved, shattered and powerlessly enslaved to the daemon-god …

Likewise Dionysos was a favorite among Russian poets, such as Alexander Pushkin’s Bacchanal Song:

Why, revelry’s voice, are you still?
Ring out, songs of Bacchus, our patron!
Long life to you, maiden and matron,
Ye fair ones who gave of your love with a will!
Drink, friend, drink with gusto and relish!
As I do in mine,
In your glass of wine
Fling lightly the ring that you cherish!
Come, let’s clink our glasses and high let us raise them!
Hail, muses! Hail, reason! In song let us praise them!
Thou, bright sun of genius, shine on!
Like this ancient lamp that grows dimmer
And fades with the coming of dawn,
So false wisdom pales at the first flash and glimmer
Of true wisdom’s ne’er-fading light…
Live, radiant day! Perish, darkness and night!

Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov’s The Vineyard Of Dionysus:

Dionysus walks his vineyard, his beloved;
Two women in dark clothing – two vintagers – follow him.
Dionysus tells the two mournful guards – The vintagers:
“Take your sharp knife, my vintners, Grief and Torment;
Harvest, Grief and Torment, my beloved grapes!
Gather the blood of scarlet bunches, the tears of my golden clusters –
Take the victim of bliss to the whetstone of grief,
The purple of suffering to the whetstone of bliss;
Pour the fervent liquid of scarlet delights into my ardent Grail!”

Vasilii Ivanovich Maikov’s Elisei:

The Elisei is a long poem in which Bacchus uses the coachman Elisei in his
battle against limiting the access to alcohol. There are many scenes in the
Olympus mocking the council of the gods, scenes of scuffles, and quite a few
bedroom scenes. To a large extent it is a raunchy poem and in a rather poor taste,
and maybe because of it Maikov is primarily remembered as the author of this
particular work. As to religious matters, what is clear from this poem is Maikov’s
intense dislike of the clergy and hypocrisy in general. When Bacchus makes his
case before Zeus for the greatness of wine, he says that the clergy would confirm
it (SP 326/3. 120). (Adam Drozdek, Spiritual Journey in Maikov’s Poetry)

Nikolai Yazykov:

And love, well, what of love? ‘Tis aye
too cold if Bacchus be not nigh.
But with him — something too unruly!
She plays the role of double-dealer . . .
Just fill my glass up to the brim;
but not to pledge thy health, O Lila!
But as for Bacchus, O my friends,
how sweet our life when he attends.
No here-today-but-gone-tomorrow;
today – the next day – he is ours!

Thaddeus Venediktovich Bulgarin:

We got a jocular order… to torture the German girls with dances. With fervor, we fulfilled this order – we danced until we began to drop. The pretty German gals were delighted! After the lavish dinner, at three in the morning, after a mighty libation in the names of ancient gods Bacchus and Aphrodite, the mazurka started, which ended only at 7 in the morning…

And Osip Mandelstam:

The stream of golden honey poured, so viscous,
slow from the bottle, our hostess had time to murmur:

‘Here, in sad Tauris, where fate has brought us,
we shan’t be too bored’ – glancing over her shoulder.

Everywhere the Bacchic rite, as if all were merely
dogs and watchmen – go, and you’ll see nothing –
the days like heavy barrels rolling by quietly:
far off, hut-bound voices – no response or meaning.

I said: ‘The vines live on here in ancient wars,
and curly-haired horsemen fight in leafy rows,
the science of Hellas in stony Tauris – these are
the noble golden acres, the rusty furrows.’

In progress

I’ve been working on an article for the last week or so that I’d like to share with you guys. This is the preface of a much larger piece, and since the second part is rather speculative I am taking pains to thoroughly establish my premise. It is by no means complete (I want to flesh out both the Roman-era and post-conversion sections – plus it just abruptly ends, but it’ll give you a sense of where I’m going with it.) Here’s something to listen to while you read:

to the Hyperboreans or further still


Art credit: William Fahey, Dionysos and the Pirates

Homeric Hymn 7 to Dionysos
“Madman, mark the wind and help hoist sail on the ship: catch all the sheets. As for this fellow we men will see to him: I reckon he is bound for Egypt or for Cyprus or to the Hyperboreans or further still. But in the end he will speak out and tell us his friends and all his wealth and his brothers, now that providence has thrown him in our way.”

When he had said this, he had mast and sail hoisted on the ship, and the wind filled the sail and the crew hauled taut the sheets on either side. But soon strange things were seen among them. First of all sweet, fragrant wine ran streaming throughout all the black ship and a heavenly smell arose, so that all the seamen were seized with amazement when they saw it. And all at once a vine spread out both ways along the top of the sail with many clusters hanging down from it, and a dark ivy-plant twined about the mast, blossoming with flowers, and with rich berries growing on it; and all the thole-pins were covered with garlands. When the pirates saw all this, then at last they bade the helmsman to put the ship to land. But the God changed into a dreadful lion there on the ship, in the bows, and roared loudly: amidships also he showed his wonders and created a shaggy bear which stood up ravening, while on the forepeak was the lion glaring fiercely with scowling brows. And so the sailors fled into the stern and crowded bemused about the right-minded helmsman, until suddenly the lion sprang upon the master and seized him; and when the sailors saw it they leapt out overboard one and all into the bright sea, escaping from a miserable fate, and were changed into dolphins. But on the helmsman Dionysos had mercy and held him back and made him altogether happy, saying to him:

“Take courage, good…; you have found favour with my heart. I am loud-crying Dionysos whom Cadmus’ daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus.”

a wind-age, a wolf-age

As the month of Chthonieion draws to a close and we prepare to celebrate the noumenia of Auxiteion I have had much to reflect upon.

There is, for instance, the mystery represented in this sequence of our calendar, with life, wealth, and growth arising from below, out of the shadowy realm of death.

Then, of course, there is the source of our next month’s name:

The founder of Heraia was Heraieus the son of Lykaon, and the city lies on the right of the Alpheios, mostly upon a gentle slope, though a part descends right to the Alpheios. Walks have been made along the river, separated by myrtles and other cultivated trees; the baths are there, as are also two temples to Dionysos. One is to the God named Polites (Citizen), the other to Auxites (the Giver of Increase), and they have a building there where they celebrate orgiastic rites in honor of Dionysos.  (Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.26.1)

Here we find Dionysos with a double aspect, civic and agrarian – and possibly a third, unless the οἴκημά was consecrated under one of these. This is an interesting term, by the way – it can mean anything from a chamber in a temple to a brothel, a storeroom, a prison cell, or even a cage for animals. Makes you wonder what kind of mystic orgies were conducted there, huh?

Especially when we consider that the eponymous founder of Heraia was one of the 50 sons Lykaon, famed baby-killer and werewolf: 

Lykaon brought a human baby to the altar of Zeus Lykaios and sacrificed it, pouring out its blood upon the altar, and according to the legend immediately after the sacrifice he was changed from a man to a wolf […] ever since the time of Lykaon a man has changed into a wolf at the sacrifice to Zeus Lykaios, but the change is not for life; if, when he is a wolf, he abstains from human flesh, after nine years he becomes a man again, but if he tastes human flesh he remains a beast for ever. (Pausanias 8.2.1-6) 

The baby he killed was Arkas, the Starry Bear:

He is said to be the son of Jove and Callisto, whom Lycaon served at a banquet, cut up with other meat, when Jupiter came to him as a guest. For Lycaon wanted to know whether the one who had asked for his hospitality was a God or not. For this deed he was punished by no slight punishment, for Jupiter, quickly overturning the table, burned the house with a thunderbolt, and turned Lycaon himself into a wolf. But the scattered limbs of the boy he put together, and gave Arcas to a certain Aetolian to care for. (Hyginus, Astronomica 2.4)

Arkas the Bear King afterwards became a great hunter, founded many cities, and was remembered for his just rule as much as for teaching his people how to weave and bake bread. 

Why this stands out in particular for me – aside from the Starry Bear reference, natch – is that it brings to mind the Oracle for the month of Auxiteion:

“It is only when a man feels himself face to face with such horrors that he can understand their true import.”

Wanna guess what horrors Dionysos is referring to?

This verse, from the Starry Bear bibliomancy system, was taken from the first chapter of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

But just then the moon, sailing through the black clouds, appeared behind the jagged crest of a beetling, pine-clad rock, and by its light I saw around us a ring of wolves, with white teeth and lolling red tongues, with long, sinewy limbs and shaggy hair. They were a hundred times more terrible in the grim silence which held them than even when they howled. For myself, I felt a sort of paralysis of fear. It is only when a man feels himself face to face with such horrors that he can understand their true import.

Oh yeah. Gonna be an interesting month, I wager. 

From the heart

I just found this old piece I wrote back in the early aughts. Obviously my views have continued to evolve over the intervening decade plus (especially with the emergence of the Starry Bull and Starry Bear traditions) and I’ve got some technical and terminological quibbles with my older self – such as the fact that my knowledge of Orphism at the time was deeply flawed – but in general find much to agree with here, and so am sharing it with you, my readers. The Kradion was closed while I was in Eugene. 

Musings on reconstructionism

I was recently asked where I stood on the reconstructionist spectrum; whether I thought one should adhere as strictly as possible to the traditional approach or if there is some value in modern divergent practices and beliefs.To answer that question I will invoke the words of the sixth century Greek poet Theognis of Megara: “Kyrnos, ever remember that the middle course is best.” Several centuries later, the philosopher Aristotle wrote in the Ethics that every virtue is the mean or middle ground between two extremes: thus courage is where cowardice (too little confidence) and rashness (too much) meet; justice the balance between harsh judgment and indulgent mercy; and true friendship lies is neither being too surly nor given too much to flattery. Plutarch later took this approach and applied it to religion in his treatise On Superstition, saying that proper piety was the middle ground between an excessive fear of the supernatural on the one hand, and atheistic indifference on the other.

In that light, I believe that one should hold to the middle course when it comes to religious practice. I believe that there is value in the ancient way, and that we should understand what a given practice meant to the people who performed it. Most of us come from a culture that has been cut off from its roots. We are wandering in a confusing world without direction, and anchoring ourselves to the past can lend depth and meaning to our lives and our religious practice. Often even the simplest ritual action was embedded with a volume of complex meaning, at once poetic and practical, and the key to understanding what that says and can mean to us today lies in studying the ancient cultures and beliefs which produced these profound revelations. It is often difficult work, and requires lots of study and reflection and sometimes cannot be done without first divesting ourselves of our modern prejudices – but if we approach this humbly and with an earnest desire to unravel its deeper meaning, we will often be surprised at the profundity that we discover beneath the surface. Once that has been found, and its value is felt to speak to our lives across the centuries, we should hold to it as strongly as we can. After all, the ancients knew what they were doing, and there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel if something worked and worked well for centuries. When an act is repeated for so long, a certain power accrues to it and if you can tap into that power your rituals will be all the more effective for that. Additionally, it is a way of showing respect – to all the generations who came before us, as well as to the gods themselves, who found such forms of devotion pleasing in the centuries past. For those reasons, I believe that it is important to hold onto tradition.

But there is a danger in being too conservative in this respect. One of my fundamental beliefs (admittedly indebted to Protestant theology) is that religion begins and ends with the individual and their experience of the divine. Everything that helps deepen and cement that experience is good: whatever impedes it (even if in other contexts it’s a positive) is bad. Ritual that becomes formulaic, recited by rote with no emotional investment, is a poor substitute for actual experience of the divine. Rejecting your own experiences in order to bring yourself into conformity with the experiences and beliefs of others sets up a barrier between yourself and the divine which can become spiritually destructive over time, especially when this conformity is imposed upon you from the outside. Christianity began on Pentecost, when the holy spirit descended on the disheartened followers of the recently deceased Jesus. This was an ecstatic and liberating epiphany of the divine presence and its love for mankind, and had this element of the religion persisted, history would have been very different. But instead, people began to revere institutions, began to argue about what the disciples had felt on that day instead of seeking to feel it themselves, began to suppress all the views that didn’t agree with their own, often resorting to terrorism and murder to enforce their views on their fellow Christians, and today, most people place their worship in an infallible book instead of the fountain of divinity from which it found expression.

I would like to think that we can learn from the past and avoid this error today. That we in the various polytheistic religions can continue to open ourselves to divine revelation, continue to feel the presence of the gods however it chooses to manifest itself, that we won’t try to straight-jacket the gods and limit the ways that they reveal themselves to us or to other people, and that we can remain open to the unfolding nature of tradition, which did not cease at some arbitrary point in history, but continues to renew itself in the lives of all of us who hold to the blessed immortal ones.

Additionally, just because the ancients knew a great deal, and developed forms of worship that were beautiful and profound and lasted for centuries, does not mean that they knew everything. Human progress has made astounding developments over the centuries and I feel that it would be foolish to turn our backs on that. While there was much that is noble and commendable about ancient civilization, there is also a great deal such as slavery, misogyny, and racial intolerance which I feel deserves to be left to the dustbin of history. Nor do I have any intention of giving up my internet or refrigeration just because the ancients lacked these things. I am not interested in some sort of SCA reenactment of antiquity – nor, for the record is any other reconstructionist that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, despite the bullshit apologetics of some of our detractors – but rather of taking the best from antiquity and implementing that in our lives today.

Ancient religion was rooted in the lives and environment of the people who practiced it. When they were primarily nomadic hunter-gatherers, their religion centered on protection and increasing the herds. When the people moved into settled agrarian communities, they adopted gods who could promote the growth of vegetation and fertility in general. As they developed more complex social organization, and began sending out traders, colonists, and war parties, there were gods to look after these concerns too. Now that we live in fast-paced, industrialized, urban settings, the gods have not abandoned us. They are still here, sharing their blessings with us, looking after us, revealing ever new aspects of themselves to us. So there is no need to hold to some romanticized vision of the past – there are spirits of parks and empty streets, of concrete and electricity, of bondage clubs and day-traders. These and all the old gods are here with us today – we have merely to recognize them and find the best ways to worship them. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways, but sometimes whole new models need to be devised. And thus I believe that we should be open to innovation.

Sometimes this can be in the form of adapting ancient forms of worship. Most reconstructionists do not have the benefit of large local communities with which to worship. Thus it’s rather difficult to hold huge processions, make lavish sacrifices of a hundred oxen, or visit the temple of your city’s god. So most of us often have to scale things back to the private, household level. It’s made even more difficult when there are gaps in our knowledge of how a given festival was celebrated in antiquity. In the case of ancient Greece we possess a stunning wealth of material – especially compared to our compatriots in the Norse or Celtic traditions – but even here you will often find gaping holes in our knowledge, either because we possess only a couple off-hand comments about a given festival, the information highly contradicts itself, or the sources are tucked away in obscure academic journals that most of us can’t get our hands on. Faced with such a situation, perfect reconstruction is impossible, and we must make adaptations, sometimes considerable ones. I believe that it’s okay to do so – provided the spirit of the festival is preserved. If one makes so many changes that the essential message becomes corrupted and all the important details are left out, it’s intellectually dishonest to represent what you’re doing as being consistent with ancient practice. On the other hand, finding a novel way to communicate the same thing, even if the details differ in some small regard, is perfectly acceptable.

At that point, I think it’s important to remember that at least in the case of ancient Greece, there were wide divergences of practice from city-state to city-state, with each one possessing its own unique festival cycle. I think more people should work on coming up with festival cycles of their own, which commemorate important events in their city’s history, the local agricultural cycle, or which honor seminal passages in their own spiritual life. Amazing things can be done in this direction by following the ancient calendars as a rough template and using the information we have on the festival rituals to inspire the creation of new ones.

Additionally, I believe that it’s important to find ways to honor the gods’ presence in our lives, and I don’t think that we should limit ourselves to ancient practice in order to do so. People have come up with a whole range of devotional activities that are entirely modern, such as the weekly Kyklos Apollon devotion, or community service efforts dedicated to a particular divinity, such as this one for Athene Ergane, or even my own Herm of Gratitude project, none of which have a solid historical precedent for them, but which are nevertheless quite effective ways to honor the gods and help us focus on their presence. Others still seek to honor the ancient Greek gods within a totally modern context, such as Wicca, Ceremonial Magick, or Neopagan Druidry. While such things aren’t my own preferred method of worship, I see no problem with them whatsoever, since they are clearly effective means of worship, and the people are always upfront about the modern nature of their groups. I object only when something is passed off for what it so clearly is not.

In keeping with the theme of this piece, however, it might be worth pointing out what I consider to be the dangers of taking a modern, improvisational approach too far. And please note the too far. I don’t believe that everyone who steps down that path is going to fall into the snares, or necessarily take it to its illogical conclusion. But it never hurts to point out these things and consider their implications.

The first danger lies in emphasizing personal experience and revelation too much. When you completely throw out tradition and communal standards, and make yourself the sole arbiter of all things, it’s very easy to fall into a pit of self-delusion, stagnation, and solipstic spiritual masturbation. Such people mistake their desires and fantasies for reality; their every whim becomes a divine commandment, and the gods get reduced to nothing more than abstract concepts within their own imagination. It is important to look outside of yourself, to engage with objective reality, to have an Other – be it an intellectual construct or actual people – to offer checks and balances, to contrast yourself with, to inspire you to improve and grow. I know that this is especially the case with me. Left to my own devices, I would never do anything. I’m horribly lazy and prone to every vice under the sun. But conceiving of the gods as something external, as beings with their own unique desires and demands, encourages me to action, since it is through outward-focused action that I can best serve and please them. Having that external focus as something to strive for, when I do step out of my comfort zone and apply myself it is far more rewarding than when I give in to lethargy. By being involved with others, I can curb my own excesses, which if indulged, would bring me great suffering. I need people to tell me when I’m stepping over a line, when I’m acting like a dick, when I’m not seeing something that’s abundantly clear to everyone else. And embracing tradition also gives me impetus for my own creative efforts. It encourages me to think about things in a different light, it gives me solid ground to push myself off of so that I can soar to the heavens, it provides a whole stock of metaphors and terminology and transcendent images to imbue my work with, so that it can speak to more people than just myself. And by following in the footsteps of others, I can go places that I never thought imaginable, since I don’t have to constantly cut a new swath for myself, but can tread the well-worn path and use my creative talents to improve upon it.

And one area in particular where I benefit from an engagement with the past is in ritual. When I first started off in Wicca, lo those many years ago, I was firmly indoctrinated with the whole do your own thing and constantly invent things from scratch approach. I would change everything about the rituals every time I did them. I would incorporate whatever element caught my fancy, even though I possessed only the most superficial understanding of how it worked, and often not even that. And for several years I languished spiritually. I felt cast adrift, disconnected from the gods. I had a marvelously novel practice, but it meant nothing to me. It got me nowhere. Even though I practiced Wicca for several years, I always felt like a newbie, like I was just starting out. And in so many ways, I was. But then I began to study Hellenismos. I kept the same basic steps in all of my rituals – even though there was plenty of room for innovation – and I built up a routine, one that became so familiar it was like second nature to me. Without even thinking about it I could go through all the steps, I could recite the ritual phrases off the top of my head, I could use it as the basis for spontaneous rituals that I do on the spot whenever the feeling takes hold of me. Since my mind was no longer engaged with such minute details, I could let it flow during ritual, noticing certain nuances to the actions and words that I had always missed out on beforehand. I could focus on the sensations – the smell of incense, the feeling of the heat from the candle against my skin, the sound of the music or my words echoing in my ears, the sight of the shadows playing against the contours of the statue – and I began to feel the presence of the gods more strongly in all these things and other areas besides. None of that was possible when I was changing things around all the time. And as I said, there is still plenty of room for innovation. I can use different incenses or music or change the types of offerings I give, I can recite different poetry or hymns, I can follow through all the steps or skip some, I can add more ornate steps to the procedure or develop something completely new based on the rough skeletal outline. But at its heart, the worship is the same, and the heart is what matters.

When it comes down to it, I don’t feel that either description – traditionalist or modernist – truly represents my practice. On the one hand, I’m not slavishly devoted to the old ways, and plenty of what I do has a totally modern origin or is rooted in my present experiences. But on the other hand, there is a solid basis for my practice, I’m not chasing after every fleeting fancy or having to start from scratch each time, and I am deeply engaged with the ancient spirit of my religion. So, instead I tend to describe my practice as trisodosor a “third way”, one that exists at the intersection of two extremes and leads off in a totally different direction. The heart is old, the expression it takes is new. And in fact, that’s an important aspect to how I understand my religious path.

I tend a shrine to the gods in my home. I have taken to calling this shrine the Kradion, and in its name lies a mystery. On one level the name honors my second patron, Hermes, who has the epithet Kratios “the Strong One”, though this can be seen only through recognizing a linguistically improbable homophonic pun. On a much more solid level, the name derives from the Kradiaios Dionusou. What, you might ask, is the Kradiaios Dionusou? Well, according to some it is the male member, images of which were carved out of fig-wood, which in Greek is called krades. Others, however, believe that the Kradiaios Dionusou was actually a kradia or heart. The basis for this image lies in the famous Orphic story.

According to the late Neoplatonic authors who have passed down the fullest account of it (though there are hints going back to the sixth century), Zagreus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, a wild horned child whom Zeus loved so much that he placed him on his throne and gave him his scepter, making him the ruler of the world. Hera, enraged by this act, raised the dreaded Titans up from Tartarous and they lured the child away from the throne, deceived him with toys and finally trapped him while he was gazing upon his reflection in a mirror. They set upon the child and tore him to pieces, consuming most of his flesh in a horrible feast. Before they could finish it, however, Zeus emerged and destroyed them with his lightning-bolts. The remains of the boy-god were preserved: Athene saved his kradiaios (whether heart or phallos, it doesn’t really matter) and the rest were carried by either Hermes or Apollon to Delphi, where they were stored under the tripod upon which the Pythia would, in time, give forth her oracles. Now, from the ash given off by Zeus’ lightning (which consisted of both elements from the Titans and Zagreus) mankind was made, so that man must strive to liberate the divine element that exists within his own Titanic nature. Additionally, by preserving the kradiaios Athene ensured that Zeus could impregnate Semele with it, and thereby give birth to a new manifestation of the ancient god in his form of Dionysos.

This is a profound story, one that has many layers and can be read in many different ways. As already mentioned, it allowed the Orphics to formulate their own dualistic spiritual vision; it speaks also of the nature of the gods, their multitude of manifestations, how they work in concert with each other, and how they are truly immortal. But there is another way that we can read it, as a sort of historical allegory. For we can see in Zagreus-Dionysos an image of Hellenismos itself. There was a time when it flourished on the earth, and was even the dominate religion of the civilized world. But it grew distracted, turned inward, and Titanic forces conspired against it, seemingly destroying it and tearing it apart. The rites were forbidden; the temples closed; the faithful killed or converted, consumed and integrated into the body of Christianity. But the best parts of it were preserved, and by none other than Athene, goddess of wisdom and crafts. Thus, it was in the works of scholars and artists that the spirit of Hellenismos was kept alive, and in the early stages of reconstructionism, there was a heavy emphasis on the intellectual and the academic. But now we are entering a new phase, one in which Hellenismos will be reborn through us, in our lives and experiences, just as Dionysos needed a mortal vessel through which he could come into being. But the Dionysos born of Semele is not the same as Zagreus born of Persephone. He has much of the old within him, but he is a new god, a different god, one that is changed by the circumstances of his conception and his contact with the mortal realm. The Hellenismos that we give birth to will not be the Hellenismos of old. It will have much of the old within it, but the interruption by Christianity, the profound changes that society has undergone over the last fifteen hundred years, and the experiences and perceptions of us, its nurses, will ensure that it is a totally different creature, one that is new and fresh and relevant to our lives today. It can only do so by being both old and new – by possessing the heart and spirit of the ancients expressed in new forms and given new flesh.

That is why I call my temple the Kradion – for it is by the heart that the gods are reborn. And we all have a part to play in bringing that about, and making sure that it is a strong heart that gives them birth.  


Ἀποφθέγματα Σαννίωνως


As part of the Liberalia Roman boys would participate in a rite of passage during which they removed their bulla (a leather pouch containing charms to ward off evil spirits that afflicted children), clipped off a lock of hair and donned the toga virilis (vestment of manhood) for the first time.

In keeping with that tradition I’d like to share these bromides with my readers – young and old and users of whatever bathrooms they please – and further encourage all of you to reflect on the values, norms, behaviors, world-views, etc you consider necessary for one to be a properly functional polytheist adult.


Everything you do and everything you are is a choice. You are free. Choose wisely.

Make mistakes, as many as you can. How else are you going to learn?

This, too, shall pass.

Show respect to all things. Yes, even if they don’t deserve it. Manners aren’t for other people, they are for us.

Question everything. Especially if it comes from an authority.

Educate yourself, or others will.

You will never have it all figured out.

We all go a little crazy sometimes.

Often what is most feared is most needed.

Listen to The Doors. Jim Morrison was a prophet.

Love unguardedly. Hearts are made to be crushed.

You will die a thousand deaths before your time if you do not master your fear.

Find what you are great at and pursue it with a single-minded devotion.

It doesn’t matter if it’s hard and difficult and unpleasant. Do it anyway.

Live simply in order to enjoy greater leisure and pleasure.

No matter how great you are there are ones who are greater still – the Gods, the Spirits, and the Mighty Dead. There are beings greater than you beyond number. The whole world is alive with their presence. Honor them, from highest to lowest and all in between.

Some Gods and Spirits aren’t nice.

Always do what the Fairies tell you.

If your every act is one of reverence and right relationship with the powers you cannot help but live rightly, justly, wisely and prosperously.

Whenever you’re uncertain, divine.

You have a body. What sustains you is physical. Therefore make material offerings to those who have blessed you.

Give beyond what is expected of you. The excess is the choicest portion of the sacrifice.

Worship with joy. You are in the presence of the divine! Be overcome by awe.

At least once a day just stop everything you’re doing and be completely still, present and mindful.






Never let another make you feel bad for what you do or do not feel.

Be open. Don’t hold back. It’s okay to look mad and foolish. All the best people do.

Wear masks.

Be pure in mind and body when you carry out sacred service.

Bow your head to no man, but to the divine only.

Always approach the holy crowned.

Adorn your shrines with flowers.

Immerse yourself in prayer and thoughts of your Gods and Spirits. Carry them with you wherever you go.

A gift requires a gift in return.

Remember and honor those who came before you. You would not be who you are without them.

Nothing is perfect – or needs to be.

Test yourself in the flame.

Let spiders live.

You always have time for worship. If you don’t, rearrange your schedule. Do you really want to tell them that they are not a priority in your life, that they aren’t worthy of your time and attention?

First master the rites and traditions that have been handed down to you; then only may you improvise.

All that is beautiful is dear to the Gods, so make your worship as beautiful as you can.

Begin every endeavor with a sacrifice.

Worship outdoors as often as you can.

Cities are outdoors too.

Learn everything about the place where you live.

Don’t come to the Gods only in times of need.

Make amends swiftly.

Never let your shrines gather dust through neglect.

Treat strangers as you would treat Hermes.

Do not revile another’s God. There are strange alliances among the powers.

Pray from the heart with honest words. Your Gods know you — there is nothing you can hide from them even if you wanted to.

Read Plutarch and Seneca if you would be wise, pious and happy.

Should is an abyss.

What you do is more important than what you call yourself.

Your past shaped you — it does not define you.

Demonstrate your beliefs through your actions.

Make purchases that reflect a right relationship with the world.

Don’t buy stuff for your stuff.

Create instead of just being a consumer.

Remember that every time you’re looking at a screen you’re missing what’s going on around you.

Pay attention to animals. They know things you don’t.

Plants know things even animals do not.

Mark the passage of the seasons.

It’s more fun on the margins.

You aren’t your labels, your fandoms, or the things you own.

Be selective in the media you consume, for it lives on in you afterwards.

Question everything. Seriously, it cannot be said enough: question everything. Even why you should question everything.

Try new things, even things you don’t think you’re going to like, because experiences are precious.

Never be ashamed.

Don’t bleed before you’re wounded.

Regret is a wasteful emotion.

If you don’t prioritize your happiness, don’t expect others to.

Don’t let others drag you down.

All you can do is suggest. In the end others will live the way they want to.

Accept others as they are. You can’t change them.

Don’t let others change you in ways you don’t want them to.

Know who you have to prove your worth to – and who you don’t.

It’s your mind — expand it however you want.

Push your own boundaries, but accept those of others.

Know when to stop.

Know the risks before you play.

Don’t do anything you aren’t willing to accept the consequences for.

Don’t ever be bored or boring.

Always hunger for more.

Balance the scales.

Feelings are not actions.

You can always walk away.

Be suspicious of those who express themselves through maxims.

Everything dances.

No matter what other Gods and Spirits you worship, honor Dionysos.

Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg

One of my favorite pieces of Old English literature is the eponymous poem by the scop Deor:

The poem Deor is a lament by its namesake about his exile from his life of luxury, respect, and popularity. He compares his current predicament to the predicaments of figures from Anglo-Saxon folklore. Among the miseries and dismal fates that Deor runs through are those of Theodoric the Great, Ermanaric of the Goths, the mythological smith Wayland, and Wayland’s victim Beadohilde (the daughter of Wayland’s captor; he raped her and she finds herself with child). Geat and Maethild are more obscure figures, but it has been proposed that their story is the same as that told in the relatively recent medieval Scandinavian ballad known as the Power of the Harp; variants of this folk ballad from all the Scandinavian nations are known, and in some of these variants the names of the protagonists are Gauti and Magnhild.

Each suffered an undeserved fate, and in each case “that passed away with respect to it, and so may this.” But this refrain can point at two very different statements: first, that remedy came about, one way or another, in each situation, or, alternatively, that the continuous flow of time (a favourite Anglo-Saxon topic) erases all pain (though not necessarily healing all wounds).

Only in the last stanza do we learn what “this” references: the poet’s own sorrow at having lost his position of privilege. At the poem’s conclusion, Deor reveals that he was once a great poet among the Heodenings, until he was displaced and sent wandering by Heorrenda, a more skillful poet. According to Norse mythology, the Heodenings (Hjaðningar) were involved in the never-ending “battle of the Heodenings”, the Hjaðningavíg. Heorrenda (Hjarrandi) was one of the names of the god Odin.

Which lead to this collection of legends about Þiðreks or Dietrich von Bern, containing gems such as:

Theoderic the Great was an Arian and despised by the Church for a persecution resulting in the deaths of Boethius, Symmachus, and Pope John I. Theoderic’s death shortly after these killings was seen as divine retribution and in a church tradition dating at least from Gregory the Great’s Dialogues, Pope John and Symmachus’s souls were said to have dropped Theoderic’s soul into Mount Etna, to suffer there until the end of days. Heroic traditions make no mention of these events, and generally present Dietrich as an upstanding Christian, though hints of influence from church tradition can be found in allusions to Dietrich’s father possibly being the devil, his fiery breath, and allusions to Dietrich’s ride to hell at the end of his life.


At this point the three texts diverge – in all, Fasold treacherously leads Dietrich to members of his family in hopes that they will kill him, taking him to the giant Eckenot (whose name Gillespie suggests may be a corruption of Ebenrot or vice versa) and then to two or three giantesses, variously Ecke’s mother, aunt, or sisters. Dietrich finally kills Fasold. In the Dresdner version, he then rides into Jochgrimm and throws the head of Ecke at the feet of Seburg, saying that she is the cause of Ecke’s pointless death.

Based on folkloric evidence, 19th-century scholarship believed that the three queens on Jochgrimm represented three witches who caused storms from that mountain in Tyrolian folklore, as evidenced by a 17th-century prayer to the witches to cause “ffasolt” to send storms far away. Fasold would thus be a wind-demon. This interpretation is complicated by apparent similarities between the poem and the French late Arthurian romance Le Chevalier du Papagau, where Arthur fights a giant whose lack of horse is similarly emphasized to that of Ecke.


The jüngerer Sigenot adds a beginning in which Hildebrand tells Dietrich about Sigenot and warns him not to go into the forest to fight the giant. Then, before encountering the giant, Dietrich fights a wild man who is keeping the dwarf Baldung captive. As a reward, the dwarf gives Dietrich a protective jewel and directs him to Sigenot. Dietrich fights Sigenot and is taken prisoner. Sigenot throws Dietrich into a snake pit, but the jewel protects him. Hildebrand, now worried by Dietrich’s long absence, sets out to find him: on the way he encounters Sigenot and is taken prisoner. Left alone, Hildebrand frees himself and dresses in Dietrich’s armor. He then slays Sigenot and frees Dietrich with Eggerich’s help.


At a feast being held by Etzel, who is described as a greater king than Arthur, a beautiful maiden appears asking for help from the Wunderer, who has been hunting her for three days and wants to eat her. This is because she has sworn chastity, and has thus spurned the Wunderer’s love. The lady has special gifts however: at first glance she can see the true character of a person, her blessing makes one invincible in battle, and she can transport herself to any place automatically. She sees that Etzel is a coward, and he points her to his heroes. First she asks Rüdiger, but he refuses as well, so Etzel shows her to another room where Dietrich is sitting. Dietrich is ready to fight for the girl if Etzel agrees, but Etzel is worried that Dietrich’s relatives would seek revenge should anything happen to Dietrich. At this point, however, the Wunderer appears in the feast hall. Dietrich then agrees to fight without Etzel’s blessing, and the maiden blesses him. First he kills the Wunderer’s hounds, then knocks the Wunderer down after he strikes the lady. The two fight, and Dietrich wins. The lady reveals herself to be Frau Saelde, good-luck personified, and the feast ends.

The text is interesting in its relation to Dietrich’s death: according to some traditions, Dietrich become the leader of the Wild Hunt and chased nymphs through the forests. Church tradition, coming from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, also made the claim that Theoderic’s soul had been seen dropped into Mount Etna for his sins. Instead of Dietrich as the Wild Huntsman, the Wunderer is placed in this role, and Dietrich defends the lady he is attacking. Additionally, the narrator mentions that Dietrich is still alive today: because of fault he is carried off by the devil in the form of a horse to Rumeney (Romagna?) to fight dragons until the end of days. The poem could thus be understood as a refutation of the idea of Dietrich as either damned or a hunter of women.

19th century scholarship attempted to connect Frau Saelde of the poem with “Saligen”, female figures of Tyrolean folk stories who are chased by the Wild Huntsman. Modern scholarship views this as unprovable, and would rather see Frau Saelde as a reflex of the personification Fortuna, i.e. a literary rather than a folk element of the poem. This does not make it any less likely that the hunting of women was connected to Dietrich at an early date, given the attested folk stories of him as the Wild Huntsman and the appearance of Wild-Huntsman like figures in two other poems, however.


[…] begins with a conversation between Witige and Hildebrand. Witige says that Dietrich is the greatest hero of all time; Hildebrand objects that Dietrich has never experienced a twergenâventiure (dwarf-adventure). At that point Dietrich walks in and is very angered by Hildebrand’s private criticism. Hildebrand tells Dietrich where he can find such an adventure: the dwarf king Laurin has a rose-garden in the Tyrolian forest. He will fight any challenger who breaks the thread surrounding his rose garden. Dietrich and Witige immediately set off to challenge Laurin; Hildebrand and Dietleib follow secretly behind. Upon seeing the beautiful rose-garden, Dietrich relents and decides that he does not want to harm anything so lovely. Witige, however, says that Laurin’s pride must be punished, and not only breaks the thread, but tramples the entire rose garden. Almost immediately the dwarf Laurin, armed so wonderfully that Witige mistakes him for Michael the Archangel, appears, and demands the left foot and right hand of Witige as punishment for the destruction of the garden. He fights and defeats Witige, but Dietrich then decides that he cannot allow his vassal to lose his limbs, and fights Laurin himself. Initially, Dietrich is losing, but Hildebrand arrives and tells Dietrich to steal the dwarf’s cloak of invisibility and strength-granting belt, then fight him on foot (the dwarf had been riding a deer-sized horse) wrestling him to the ground. Laurin, now defeated, pleads for mercy, but Dietrich has become enraged and vows to kill the dwarf. Finally, Laurin turns to Dietleib, informing him he had kidnapped and married the hero’s sister, so that he was now Dietleib’s brother-in-law. Dietleib hides the dwarf and prepares to fight Dietrich, but Hildebrand makes peace between them.

Dietrich and Laurin are reconciled, and Laurin invites the heroes to his kingdom under the mountain. All are enthusiastic except Witige, who senses treachery. In the mountain they are well received, and Dietleib meets his sister. She tells him she is being well treated and that Laurin has only one fault: he is not Christian. She wants to leave. Meanwhile, Laurin, after a feast, confides to Dietleib’s sister that he wishes to avenge himself on the heroes. She advises him to do so. He drugs Witige, Hildebrand, and Dietrich and throws them into a dungeon. He tries to commit Dietleib to join his side, but locks him in a chamber when the hero refuses. Dietleib’s sister steals the stones that light the mountain and releases Dietleib. They then deliver weapons to the other heroes, and they begin a slaughter of all the dwarves in the mountain. In the end Laurin is taken as a jester back to Verona.

A connection exists between this story and a Tyrolian folk-story in which the rose garden is the source of the morning-glow on the Alps. Heinzle, however, believes that, since this story is only attested from the 17th century onward, it is more likely to have been influenced by the text than the other way around. Others have attempted to connect the rose garden to a cult of the dead. Similarities with Celtic inspired Arthurian romance (the rose garden as otherworld) have also been proposed.

Lots of interesting parallels with the Herlaþing, wouldn’t you say?