Empire State of Mind

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Dionysus was called ‘Dithyrambos’, either because it draws attention to the double door of the mouth and makes people blurt out secrets; or because it makes the young go up to doors, or barge into them, i.e. fall against them and dislodge the bolts. (People thought he was destructive of absolutely everything; also that he was a warrior, and first established the practice of the triumph for military victories. The ‘triumph’ got its name from the shouting and lampooning, which is why in military triumphs the crowds use anapaests when they jeer.) The jay is sacred to him as a chattering bird. (Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, Compendium of Greek Theology)

Countdown to the Noumenia: how to pray.

When you pray
be overcome by the power of the words
so that everything else disappears
and it’s just you at your shrine
with the God looking on.

Speak your words like a lover
seducing the divine
and know that they are not empty sounds
but every one of them is full of myths.

When you say hail Bromios,
mean that night when you screamed as loud as you could
and didn’t care what your neighbors thought.
Staphylos,
the skin of the grape between your teeth.
Soter,
the pain and your tears
falling down.

Hold the aromas of his invocation in your mouth
like wafts of wine poured from the bottle,
like a damp forest late at night,
like the smoke of a fine cigarette after sex.

And then let it out.

Give it to him.

Offer everything inside you up to the God
– the good and the bad, the pain and the joy –
in a single blast of euphoric love,
for you are his and all you have belongs to him.

Cry “Io evohe!” like the maenads of old
and mean it with all your heart.

That is how you pray.

Countdown to the Noumenia: ivy chernips.

If you need to make cleansing water (Greek chernips), but aren’t able to light a laurel leaf on fire and dip it into the basin of water (for instance because you’re at an event that doesn’t allow open flame or your roommate is sensitive to smoke and other strong smells or you’re a teenager practicing Hellenismos on the down low or you just want to do things a little differently) you may use the following simple recipe.

For this you will need:

  • Water
  • A bowl
  • An ivy leaf

This form of chernips uses ivy because it was the sacred plant of Dionysos; indeed the god was even called Kissos, “the ivy” for in many respects it was his double. Ivy is a plant that, like Dionysos, has two births. The first birth is when it sends out its shade-seeking shoots with their distinctive leaves. But after the dormant months of winter, when the god himself is rejuvenated it sends out another shoot, one that grows upright and towards the light, thus honoring the return of the vibrant god. When the fire of Zeus’ lightning consumed Semele – with Dionysos still in her womb – it was the cool ivy that surrounded and protected him. When the satyrs were first given wine they were driven mad by its effects. Dionysos placed ivy around them and the plant extinguished the heat of the wine, allowing them to regain their senses – though ivy itself produces a strong poison which has intoxicating properties. The ivy leaf was tattooed on the hand of Dionysian initiates. And Dionysos and his mainades are always pictured wearing crowns of ivy.

Hold the leaf in your palm high above your head, like a tendril seeking the sun, and then slowly bring it down, plunging it into the bowl of water, as when young Dionysos plunged into the sea and the waiting arms of Thetis.

As you are bringing the leaf down feel the power and vitality of the god flow into the receptive basin.

Then lift the bowl to the level of your heart and recite Orphic Hymn 47 to Perikionios (who is twined around the pillar) as follows:

I call upon Bakchos Perikionios, giver of wine,
who enveloped all of Kadmos’ house
and with his might checked and calmed the heaving earth
when the blazing thunderbolt and the raging gale stirred all the land.
Then everyone’s bonds sprang loose.
Blessed reveler, come with joyous heart!

And then carry the bowl around your ritual space, using the leaf of ivy to sprinkle the soothing and protective water as you repeat these lines from the Orations of Aelius Aristides:

Nothing can be so firmly bound
by illness, by wrath or by fortune
that cannot be released by the Lord Dionysos.

Envision the drops of water cleansing whatever they touch and neutralizing any harmful effects through the power of Dionysos and feel it spread out until the whole space is covered in green, throbbing vegetation.

Countdown to the Noumenia: my favorite cleansing chant.

Aelius Aristides was a second century Roman lawyer, hypochondriac and initiate of Asklepios, Serapis and Dionysos. He kept exhaustive records of his illnesses, dreams, spiritual encounters and visits to various healing and oracular sites, and the unconventional cures he was prescribed – by doctors, priests and his various Gods and Spirits. This work – the Hieroi Logoi or “Sacred Tales” – give a fascinating glimpse into the interior life of what we’d consider today a slightly neurotic spirit-worker. (Some of his dream encounters come off really shamanic. Like at one point he gets cut into pieces by a flaming sword and in another Asklepios reaches into his chest and scoops out the pollution/illness. There were a bunch more but it’s been ages since I read him.)

The Orations are less autobiographical; they’re rhetorical exercises praising cities and institutions and salutary hymns in honor of various deities. The passage we use in the Starry Bull tradition – II.331k – comes from an Oration to Dionysos written on the occasion of his initiation, if memory serves.

οὐδὲν ἄρα οὕτως βεβαίως δεδήσεται, οὐ νόσῳ, οὐκ ὀργῇ, οὐ τύχῃ οὐδεμιᾷ, ὃ μὴ οἷόν τ᾽ ἔσται λῦσαι τῷ Διονύσῳ.

Oudèn árâ hoútos bebaíos dedésetai ou nóso ouk orgê ou týkhe oudemía, ho mé hoîon t’estai lýsai tô Dionýso.

Nothing can be so firmly bound – by illness, by wrath or by fortune – that cannot be released by [the Lord] Dionysos.