possible explanations

We’ve all encountered people in the community who get divination results or channeled oracles that perfectly line up with the views they normally express on social media via memes; here are some possible explanations for why that might happen.

The closer we get to a divinity the more our values and choices come to reflect theirs, often on an unconscious level. Thus, without even necessarily thinking about it we may find ourselves parroting our Gods and Spirits.

Like calls to like. Thus devotees are naturally drawn to divinities who possess similar character traits and values as their own.

The divinity may be communicating with their devotee outside divinatory or oracular channels and so the person already knows what the divinity wants before the question is formally posed.

Divinities may communicate different things to different devotees, either because their agendas are large and complicated enough to encompass both positions, because they have specific tasks for each party, because they feel that devotee A is not emotionally capable of handling what is communicated to devotee B, because the divinity is playing both sides against each other, and so forth.

People see only what they want to. Meaning, that message may be there but is just an isolated scene in a larger tapestry and they’re not able or willing to take in the whole or they may extrapolate beyond what was said. For instance a divinity might advise one simply to “care for the suffering” which is then interpreted as promoting a specific political ideology or movement.

Either the devotee is willfully twisting the message to suit their ideology and agenda or else the fault lies with the oracle or diviner, who may be confused, biased or deceitful. Not all who present themselves as mouthpieces of the Gods are as competent or ethical as they should be.

Sort of an extension of the above, but the person may be in contact with something that isn’t what it’s presenting itself as – either a mental sock puppet, or a deceitful and possibly malign Spirit or God that’s masquerading as someone else. Spiritual discernment is decidedly rare in our communities.

People lie. To themselves and to others. It happens all the time, and religious communities are certainly not immune to this, especially not those on the pagan/polytheist spectrum.

Mental illness is also prevalent in our communities. While madness has many blessings it can also make “reality” a little fuzzy.

The Oration of Aristides

A few years ago I was looking for λεγόμενα (“things said”) which I could incorporate into the ritual and meditation practices of the Starry Bull tradition, and this led to one of the most potent tools for cleansing in our arsenal — the Oration of Aristides.

The Aristides in question is Aelius Aristides, 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 shrines, 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’ve read him.

The Orations are less autobiographical; they’re rhetorical exercises praising cities and institutions, and salutary hymns in honor of various divinities. The passage we use in the Starry Bull tradition – II.331k – comes from an Oration to Dionysos written on the occasion of Aristides’ 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, wrath or fortune – that cannot be released by [the Lord] Dionysos.


Even more than Herakleitos or Empedokles I believe that the Olbian bone tablets:

SEG 28.659:
Life. Death. Life. Truth. Zagreus. Dionysos. Orphikoi.

SEG 28.660:
Peace. War. Truth. Lie. Dionysos

SEG 28.661:
Dionysos. Truth. Body. Soul

Can best be compared with the Pythagorean Table of Opposites, which circulated in a variety of forms though it was first recorded by Aristotle thusly:

Finite – Infinite
Odd – Even
One – Many
Right – Left
Male – Female
Rest – Motion
Straight – Curved
Light – Darkness
Good – Evil
Square – Oblong

Taken from here, with useful commentary and links. If you’re interested in taking a deep dive into the subject I recommend starting with Owen Goldin’s The Pythagorean Table of Opposites, Symbolic Classification, and Aristotle. This is where Pythagorean Orphism and Bacchic Orphism depart though they share common roots and practices. In Pythagoreanism these polarities take on a dualistic antipathy, while among the Bakchoi it’s more about alternating cycles and coincidentia oppositorum.

What do they mean? What do they mean?!?

The alphas that creep up throughout the famous bone tablets – often via very inventive ways such as hiding in the sail of a ship, which I’ve always taken to be a representation of the Black Ship of Dionysos, or as part of a sketch of a horse – make me curious.

I’ve considered the possibility that it’s an abbreviation for Apollon, who is featured on a bone tablet of his own excavated at nearby Berezan Island which is located at the intersection of the Black Sea and the river Borysthenes or the modern Dneiper (there’s also the thiasitai Boreikoi inscription from Olbia itself mentioning Apollon) – however the Olbian bone tablets are solidly within a Bacchic Orphic milieu, and this one obviously is not. (Though it’s possible its creator was an Orpheotelest, just working in a different strain of the tradition.) 

So I wondered if it was an allusion to a Dionysian allonym (other name) or epiklesis (descriptive title) such as Agrios (Wild), Antheus (Flowering), or Anthesterios (of the Festival of Flowers), which were all popular in the (mostly) Ionian apoikia (colonies) scattered throughout present-day Turkey, Ukraine and southern Muscovy.

I’ve pondered the possibility that the Α stood for Ἀριάδνη or even Αστεριος, which would have fascinating implications but isn’t terribly likely. Keeping with the bull-theme of the latter I also entertained the improbable but not impossible notion that it represented the Phoenician letter ʾālep (𐤀 meaning “ox”) which Dionysos’ grandfather Kadmos brought to Greece whilst searching for his sister Europa.

I also thought it might be something along the lines of the Ἄλφα καὶ Ωμέγα of Christian mysticism, particularly with the Pythagorean Orphic interest in isopsephy and other codes, riddles and puzzles, as well as the general orientation of Orphism towards the τέλος, which requires a beginning.

But I suspect that all of these speculations missed the mark. (Arrowheads, perhaps?) Clearly all the scholars are wrong too and they’re actually upside-down uppercase lambdes for Λυσιος, the Loosener or Releaser. 

Or something.

Truthfully, I haven’t a clue. But I find them enchanting nonetheless. (Aha! Definitely charaktêres then!)

According to the Starry Bull Alphabet Oracle alpha signifies:

Aeiro (άείρω) to lift, raise up, rise above.
Aigle (αἵγλη) radiance, glory, splendor.
Aparchê (άπαρχή) dues, first-fruits, preliminary offerings.
Aphiemi (άφίημι) discharge, loose, set free.
Aoton (ἅωτον) the flower of its kind, prime, fairest.

And comes with the following prescription:

Get up (άνεγείρω) at dawn, go to the highest place (άνίημι) you can and hang (άρταω) a star. Then count the number (άριθμός) of times you see stars throughout the day; if it is odd, your luck will shine (αἵγλη) through the [next] Kalends. If even, then make a batch of goat-shaped (αἴξ) cookies and offer them to the Winds (Ἄνεμοι) that they may snatch away (άρπάζω) your misfortune.

interesting to think about

One point on which I disagree with Nicola Mureddu is his comparison of the paradoxical pairings on the Olbian bone tablets with some of the more enigmatic phrases found in the fragments of the Ephesian philosopher Herakleitos, whom he feels has little to do with Dionysos. I feel that this is mistaken for two reasons; first, Herakleitos’ logoi are incredibly Dionysian and not just when he’s commenting on Bacchic cult practice, using mystery terminology, a couple of his fragments circulated under the name of Orpheus, etc. and secondly I think a more fruitful comparison can be made with Empedokles of Akragas who (like the probable author of the bone tablets, Pharnabazos) was an itinerant religious specialist (an agyrtes or Orpheotelest in the words of Plato) who practiced divination and the healing arts. His central conception was that there were four “roots” (ῥιζώματα) or generative substances (i.e. Air, Earth, Fire and Water) out of which all things arise and have their being through an admixture and subtraction of these primal elemental powers (identified with Hera, Haides, Zeus and Nestis, a local form of the Goddess Persephone) which are acted upon by Love (φιλότης, the force of attraction) and Strife (νεῖκος, the cause of separation.) Empedokles goes on to elaborate a complex cosmology seemingly full of drug-fueled hallucinations including cyclical births and deaths of the world, creatures that are half-human and half-beast as well as others that are hermaphrodites, and daimones from an alien realm trapped in mortal flesh like some kind of Philip K. Dick novel. It’s cool shit, and I sense a similar mind at work behind the bone tablets; though I also detect the coincidentia oppositorum of Herakleitos and the Sol Niger, so who knows? It’s certainly interesting to think about. 

The sacred zigzag

Speaking of the Bacchic Orphic bone tablets from Olbia, Nicola Mureddu sums up the different scholarly interpretations of the zigzag and other symbols found interspersed among the enigmatic phrases inscribed on them in his Truth carved on Bones – Studying the mythological and cultic meaning of the Orphic Bone Plaques of the Black Sea

The zigzag has however been interpreted in many different ways: Rusyaeva had initially thought to see a letter sigma in it, standing for Zagreus, another incarnation of the Orphic Dionysus. But she soon realized that at the time of its carving that letter was identical with the Phoenician zayin shaped as an I. West interprets it as both a snake, a well known symbol of rebirth, and a lightning bolt, the divine power which both generated Dionysus and killed Orpheus. Bilde offers a more imaginative solution: according to her the zigzag may be the symbol of a key, a divine key that only a god possesses, as indicated by Pausanias’ description: “What is called Hades has been locked up by Plouton.” So if the zigzag is Plouton’s key, it symbolizes the mastering of life and death. The A can be the initial of another name, but West’s vision of a stylized boukranion symbolizing then a horned figure is remarkable. The second plaque shows a symbol similar to a ship, a ship of which the sail resembles, as noticed by Rusyaeva, a disguised A. The third has again a drawing, this time of a horse; again Rusyaeva sees hidden in its mane a letter A, this time no names are written beside the figure. The fourth plaque carries again Greek words, once more expressed by opposites: Eirene, Polemos and Aletheia, Pseudos, again signed Dion accompanied by the usual A. This plaque has an inscribed verso; it shows the zigzag figure in a more detailed manner, another similar figure and a rectangular field divided into seven compartments in which oval figures are placed at different heights. The zigzag here is read as a combination of I, A and X, an abbreviation for Iakchos. In the seven compartments Rusyaeva recognizes the seven parts into which Dionysus was dismembered according to one of the myths. West on the other hand comments that such a schematic design had way too many possible interpretations among which he envisages a cultic offer of eggs or a musical instrument.

Some notes I’ve collected on abortion and Dionysos

I know that I’ve come across a couple more sources in the course of my studies not mentioned here, but that was before the shift in my views took place and I didn’t bother keeping records. I’m presenting this information to explain, not to persuade. I’m not trying to change anyone’s minds.

ISmyrna 728 (LSAM 84; SEG XIV.752)

… son of Menandros, the revealer of the god (theophantēs), set this up…  All you (?) … who enter the sanctuary and shrines of Bromios (“Thunderer”) should refrain from the exposure of new–born infants for forty days, so that blood guilt does not ensue.  Likewise refrain from contact with a woman’s miscarriage (or: abortion) for the same number of days.  Now if death and fate descends on someone in the household, perform the rites outside the gateway of the household after one–third of the month (i.e. ten days), and if some defilement comes from other households, stay away three days after encountering a decaying corpse.  (10) Nor should those wearing black clothing approach the altars of the Lord, nor should anyone lay hands on sacred offerings not yet sacrificed, nor … bring (?) … an egg into the Bacchic festivities, especially during the banquets, nor offer a heart on the sacred altars … also abstain from mint, which Demeter scattered (?) … most hateful root of beans from … make a proclamation about the Titans to the initiates (mystai) … and it is not lawful to rattle the reeds … thrown, by whom the initiates … sacrifices … nor carry …

[. . . .]της Μενάνδρου ὁ θεοφάντης ἀνέθηκεν. | [πάν]τ̣ες ὅσοι τέμενος Βρομίου ναούς τε περᾶτε, | τ̣εσσαράκοντα μὲν ἤματα ἀπ’ ἐχθέσεως (ἐκθέσεως) πεφύλαχθε | νηπιάχοιο βρέφους, μὴ δὴ μήνειμα γένηται, || ἔκτρωσίν τε γυναικὸς ὁμοίως ἤματα τόσσα· | ἢν δέ τιν’ οἰκείων θάνατος καὶ μοῖρα καλύψῃ, | εἴργεσθαι μηνὸς τρίτατον μέρος ἐκ προπύλοιο· | ἢν δ’ ἂρ’ ἀπ’ ἀλλοτρίων οἴκων τι μίασμα γένηται, | ἠελίους τρισσοὺς μεῖναι νέκυος φθιμένοιο, || μηδὲ μελανφάρους προσίναι βωμοῖσι ἄνακ̣τ̣[ος, —] | μηδ’ ἀθύτοις θυσίαις ἱερῶν ἐπὶ χῖρας ἰάλ[λειν, —] | μηδ’ ἐν Βακχείοις ᾠὸν ποτὶ δαῖτα τ[ίθεσθαι (?) —] | καὶ κραδίην καρποῦν ἱεροῖς βωμοῖς̣ [— — — —] | ἡδεόσμου τ’ ἀπέχεσθαι, ὃν Δη̣μ̣[ήτηρ ἀμάθυνεν (?)·] || ἐχθροτάτην ῥίζαν κυάμων ἐκ σπέ̣[— — — —] | Τειτάνων προλέγειν μύσταις̣ [— — — — — ] | καὶ καλάμοισι κροτεῖν οὐ θέσ̣[μιον εἶναι — —] | ἤμασιν, οἷς μύσται θυσί̣[ας — — — — —] | [μηδ]ὲ̣ φορ̣ε̣ῖν Σ̣Υ̣ (?) [— — — — — — — —]

Translation by Philip P. Harland

ISmyrna 728 (LSAM 84; SEG XIV.752)

_____tes, the son of Menander, the theophant, has dedicated (this): All those who set foot in the temenos and temples of Bromios, be careful to wait 40 days after the exposure of a newborn baby, so that divine wrath may not be aroused; likewise so many days after a woman’s abortion (or miscarriage). But if fateful death cover any relative, be excluded from the propylon a third part of a month; but if a pollution comes from other people’s families, wait three suns after the corpse perishes. Do not go near the altars of the lord if you are wearing black clothing; nor lay hands on sacrifices of sacrificial victims not to be offered (or: unoffered sacrifices of sacrificial victims), nor even set (?) an egg as a meal in the Bakcheia, and it is not lawful to burn heart on the sacred altars, and stay away from mint, which (?) …………. which is the most hateful root from the seed of beans …….. proclaim to the mystai (about) the Titans …….. and it is not lawful for them to make rattling noises with reeds, on the days, on which the mystai ……. sacrifices …….. and do not wear (?) ……….

Translation by Susan Guettel Cole


For exposure of a child, forty days. A lex sacra from Ptolemais requires 14 days in some cases and may have required 40 days in others; LSCG Suppl. 119, first century B.C. (the text is corrupt). Nilsson attributes the requirement at Smyrna to the concern for children in Bacchic cults. Cameron, CR 46 (1932) 109-10, argues that in spite of the widespread practice of exposure of unwanted children in antiquity, a special concern for children who died shortly after birth appears as early as Plato, and suggests that this was an Orphic concern. A child who died too soon [1a)/wroS1]1 was assigned a special place of suffering in the underworld (Verg. Aen. 6.426; Plut. De Gen.Soc. 590f; Luc. Kat. 5; Tert. De Anima 55). Exposure of children was also a concern of one branch of the Stoics (Mus. Ruf. 15). The divinity for whom the text from Ptolemais was inscribed is not known, and it is therefore impossible to conclude that a concern for an exposed child was a feature of Bacchic cult. Children seem to have played an important role in Dionysiac cult in the Imperial period. They appear often in representations of Dionysaic cult activity; see F. Matz, DIONUSIAKH TELETH [1Wiesbaden 1963]1 pl. 8.1, the initiation of a young boy. Dionysiac motifs decorate the sarcophagoi of children who died young; see F. Matz, Die dionysischen Sarkophage (Berlin 1968-75) nos. 16, 78, 156, 199-202, 214, 230, 236. Dionysiac themes, howver, appear infrequently in the epitaphs for children who died young; see A-M. Vé.rilhac, PAIDES AWROI (ATHENS 1978) I nos. 47, 79, 80, 190, 196.

For a miscarriage or abortion, 40 days. Greek vocabulary does not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary abortion; see J. and L. Robert, BE 1955.189. A waiting period of forty days after miscarriage or abortion is customary in other cults; see E. Nardi, Eranion in honorem G. S. Maridakis I (Athens 1963) 432-85 and Studi in onore di Edoardo Volterra I (Milan 1971) 141-48; R. Parker, Miasma (Oxford 1983) 354-56. In addition to the inscription from Ptolemais (which gives 40 days for miscarrage or abortion), cf. LSCG Suppl. 54 (Delos), 91 (Lindos); LSCG 55 (Laurion), 139 (Lindos). LSCG 171 (Isthmos) gives a ten day waiting period; BCH 102 (1978) 325 (Megalopolis) gives 44 days. LSCG 124 (Eresos) requires a waiting period of 40 days in the case of a stillbirth. Forty days at Smyrna, therefore, is not excessive.

The wearing of white was a requirement in some Orphic or Pythagorean groups; see Hdt. 2.81; Eur. Cret. 79 (Austin); Diog. Laert. 8.19; Iamb. VP 100, 149, 155.

Pythagoreans did not eat the heart of any animal. According to Aulus Gellius (4.11), Plutarch (fr. 122 Sandbach) attributed this fact to Aristotle (frag. 194 Rose; see also Plut. Quaes. Conv. 635c; cf. Porph. VP 42 (=DK 58 C 6: mh\ kardi/an e)sqi/ein). The Pythagoreans did not eat heart because they believed that the heart was the source of life and strength (Clem. Al. Str. 2.17.2, 2.22.5; see M. Tierney, Mé.langes E. Boisacq [Brussels 1935] 317-21; W. Burkert, Weisheit und Wissenschaft [Nüaut.rnberg 1962] 166-67=Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism [Cambridge MA 1972] 180-85). Such a restriction could be operative here. It is almost certain that the restriction here is explained by the myth of the dismemberment of Dionysos by the Titans, where Athena preserves the heart of Dionysos (Firm. Mat. De Err. Prof. Relig. 6 p.15,2 Ziegler=Kern, OF 214). The myth, in its essentials, may be as old as the fifth century B.C. (Pind. frag. 133; cf. W. Burkert, Homo Necans, 225 n.43.). The Titans themselves are .cm this is the american ed mentioned in this inscription (see line 16); for reservations about this connection, however, see Henrichs, Lollianos, 70 n.6. M. Tierney, CQ 16 (1922) 77-88, argues that the Gurob papyrus (=Kern, OF 31) describes a sacrifice of a ram and goat to Dionysos Zagreus, where the heart was not eaten, but taken away, reading in line 3 [kar]dioforeiaS1 teleth/n and arguing on the basis of Clem. Al. Protr. 2.22, that kardi/ai were part of the secret objects in the Dionysiac cista mystica.

Cf. OP. Hal. 3.488-97: kli/nato d) ei)S1 eu)nh\n *)Ai+dwne/oS1: a)ll) o(\te kou/rhn &bar; Persefo/nhn h(/rpacen a)p) Ai)tnai/oio pa/goio, &bar; dh\ to/te min kla/zousan u(perfia/loiS1 e)pe/essi,&bar; zh/lw| margai/nousan a)ta/sqala, mhni/sasa &bar; Dhmh/thr a)ma/qunen e)pembai/nousa pedi/loiS1:&bar;…poi/h d) ou)tidanh\ kai) e)pw/numoS1 e)/kqore gai/hS1. Ovid knew the story of Minthe, daughter of Peitho, changed by Persephone into a plant (Met 10.728-30; cf. schol. Nic. Alex. 374; Lobeck, Aglaophamus (1829) II 833-34). .cm this is Nicander, Alexipharmaca- Demeter and Persephone find Minthe an abominable rival, but Demeter herself once accepted a drink made with mint, barley and water. This mint was pennyroyal [1blh/xwn or glh/xwn: glh/xwni terei/nh|, Hymn. Hom. 2.209). For the medicinal uses of blh/xwn/glh/xwn, see A. Delatte, Le cycé.on (Paris 1955) 726 (BAB:Ecit. 40 [1954]).

There were various forms of mint, some beneficial, others harmful. An Orphic poem explains why kala/minqoS1, a wild form of h(du/osmon, once “a great and fruitful (fere/karpon]1 plant upon the earth” became a plant sterile and without fruit (a)/karpon]1: Demeter, in her grief changed its nature (Etym. Gud. s.v. mi/nqh; Kern, OF 44). The mythical character Minthe and the plant she represents seem to be associated with the cult of Demeter. Strabo gives the myth of Persephone and Minthe as aetiology for the mountain named for Minthe, located in the area of Pylos, near a temenos of Hades and a grove of Demeter; Strab. 8.3.14, 344c.

The issue here, however, is why such a plant should have meaning for Dionysiac cult. The Orphic poet, who explains the transformation of wild mint from fruitful to barren is perhaps the clue. Dionysos, like Demeter is a god of plant and human fertility. Like Demeter he is known by the epithet Karpofo/roS1; see SEG 19.481-83, 24.1122, 1124; For Kallika/rpoS1, see below nos. &oma (Mopsuestia), &qma, &rma (Aigeai). For Poluka/rpoS1, see IGBR I&S’&sub2;. 195.1-2, apparatus (Odessos). For Eu)ka/rpoS1, see IGBR:Ecit. I&S’&sub2;. 351 (Messambria). Dionysos is associated with forces that make the earth and humans fruitful. For his epithet Fleu/S1, “one who makes to swell or teem with abundance,” see IEphesos 902, 1257, 1270, 1595 (=nos. &nga., &sga., &qga., &rga.); IErythrai 207 (=no. ifa.); IPriene 174 (=no.pha.). For a discussion of the meaning of the epithet, see no. nga. (Ephesos), on lines 6-7. For these characteristics as especially characteristic of Dionysos in Ionia and Ionian colonies on the Black Sea, see N. Ehrhardt, Milet und seine Kolonien (Frankfurt 1983) 169-70. Dionysos himself is described by Fere/karpoS1 (Hymn. Orph. 50.10), the same epithet used by the Orphic poet to describe mint before Demeter’s attack made it sterile. It is Dionysos’ power as a god of fertility that would be directly threatened by a plant associated with sterility. It is important to note that Dionysos was thought to have influence not only on the fertility of the earth, but on the potency and fertility of humans, males in particular. This aspect of Dionysiac frenzy is best represented in cult by the Phallephoria, the processions at the Dionysia where reprentations of the phallos were carried around the theater. This aspect of Dionysos is not restricted to fertility rituals, but seems to have been part of the worship of Dionysos as god of the theater. For evidence from Delos for the celebration of the phallephoria as part of the Dionysia, see P. Bruneau, Recherches sur les cultes de Dé.los (Paris 1970) 312-321, texts dating from 304 to 169 B.C.; see no.tta, Delos). For Dionysos as the god of the fallhfo/ria, see Herter, RE XXXVIII (1938) 1673-81. When Dioscorides describes the negative effects of a surfeit of mint on the sexual capacity of the male, he describes a reaction that would threaten the role of Dionysos as a god of male potency and sexual activity. It is this aspect of Dionysiac fertility that the prohibition against mint at Smyrna must have been designed to protect.

CGRN 144 (SB I 3451; AGRW 16232)

Those entering into the … temple (?) … are to be pure in accordance with the following: from death of one’s own family member or … of another (?) … on the 7th day; from death at child–birth, having taken part in a miscarriage (or: abortion), on the 40th day; from having given birth and nursed, on the … xth day; and if it is exposed, on the 14th day; from having sex with a woman on the 2nd day, and the same holds for women having sex with men; responsibility for a miscarriage (or: abortion) on the 40th day, … on account of encountering death (?) … ; and giving birth and nursing on the … xth day; and if the infant is exposed on the 14th day; from a woman’s monthly period on the 7th day; … the woman from (?) having sex with a man on the 2nd day; and from contact with (?) myrtle on the 2nd day.

τοὺς εἰσιόντας εἰς τὸ̣ [ἱερὸν] ǀ ἁγνεύειν κατὰ ὑποκε̣[ίμενα]· ǀ ἀπὸ πάθους ἰδίου καὶ [ἀλλοτρίου] ǀ ἡμέρας ζʹ, ἀπ̣’ ἀπαλλ[αγῇ ἡ γο]ǀǀ[ν]ή, ἐκτρωσμοῦ συν[ελθόντος, μʹ]. ǀ τετοκυαίας καὶ τρεφούσης ․ʹ· ǀ καὶ ἐὰν ἐχθῇ ιδʹ· τοὺς δὲ ἄ[νδρας] ǀ [ἀ]πὸ γυναικὸς βʹ, τὰς δὲ γ[υναῖκας] ǀ ἀκολούθως τοῖς ἀνδρά[σιν· τὴν μὲν αἰτί]ǀǀαν ἐκτρωσμοῦ μʹ, [ἀπαλλαγῆς ἔνεκα]· ǀ τὴν δὲ τεκοῦσαν καὶ τρέ̣[φουσαν ․ʹ]· ǀ [ἐ]ὰν δὲ ἐχθῇ τὸ βρέφος [ιδʹ]· ǀ ἀπὸ καταμηνίων ζʹ· [τὰς δὲ γυναῖκας ἀπ’] ǀ ἀνδρὸς βʹ, μυρσίνην δὲ [βʹ].

Translation by Philip P. Harland


Regulations for Entry into a Temple (I BCE)

Ptolemais Hermiou (Upper Egypt)

Although no association is mentioned here, this regulation for entrance sheds light on similar temple-regulations connected to associations, such as the Dionysiac initiates at Smyrna (see GRA 140 = ISmyrna 728).

NGSL 7 (CGRN 155)

Monument (stelē) of Isis and Sarapis.  May the god bring good fortune.  This is a holy temple of Isis, Sarapis, and Anubis.  Anyone who wants to sacrifice may enter into the temple, being purified from childbirth on the 9th day, from miscarriage (or: abortion) on the 44th day, from menstruation on the 7th day, from contact with death on the 7th day, (10) from goat or lamb meat on the 3rd day, from other meats (or: foods) on the same day after washing from head to foot, from sexual intercourse on the same day after washing… (remaining four lines largely lost).

Translation by: Philip P. Harland

στάλα Ἴσιος Σαράπιος. ǀ Θεός, τύχα ἀγαθά. ἱερὸν ἅγιον Ἴσιος ǀ Σαράπιος Ἀνούβιος. vac. εἰσπορεύεσǀθαι εἰς τὸ ἱερὸν τὸν βουλόμενον ǀǀ θύειν καθαρίζοντα ἀπὸ μὲν ǀ λέχ[ο]υς ἐναταίαν, ἀπὸ δὲ διǀαφθέρματος vac. τεσσαράκοντα ǀ καὶ τέσσαρας ἁμέρας, ἀπὸ δὲ τῶ[ν] ǀ φυσικῶν ἑβδομαίαν, ἀπὸ φό[ν]ου ǀǀ ἑπτὰ ἁμέρας, ἀπὸ δὲ αἰγέου καὶ ǀ προβατέου τριταῖον, ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν ǀ λοιπῶν βρωμάτων ἐκ κεφαλᾶς ǀ λουσάμενον αὐθημερί. ἀπὸ δὲ ǀ ἀφροδισίων αὐθημερί vac. λουσάǀǀμενον, ἀπὸ ΠΑΘΙΝ[—]ΙΑΜΕΙΙΓΑΝ ǀ ΜΟΑΝ αὐθημερὶ λουσἀμε[ν]ον Υǀ[— — —]νεσθαι ΜΗΔΕΜ[— — —] ǀ [— — —] εἰσπορεύεσθα[ι — — —] ǀ [— — —]ΜΕΩΝΠΟ[— — —] ǀǀ [— — —]ΣΘΕ[— — —].

Translation by Philip P. Harland


Regulations of the Temple of Isis, Sarapis, and Anubis (200 BCE)

Megalopolis (Peloponnesos)

Slab of limestone found in 1975 700 metres northeast of the theatre at Megalopolis (64 x 54.5-57.2 x 14.0-15.4 cm). Now in Megalopolis archaeological museum (inv. 133; see Lupu in NGSL 7). There is no mention of an association in the inscription but we do know (from the Delos evidence) that sanctuaries for Egyptian deities could be frequented by such groups. Other regulations for entry into sanctuaries for other deities do mention groups of initiates, including the sanctuary for Bromios at Smyrna (see ISmyrna 728 on this site).

Well, this is going to piss a bunch of people off…

Neptunesdolphins wrote the following:

You know that is one definition for impiety – the presumption that the Gods are always on your side, because you said so.

Beckett tries to couch his writing in terms of well this is the Gods, and this is me, which is fine. But getting into the weeds and writing about Pagans in general, he links the two such as the Gods are for a woman’s right to choose (i.e., abortion). Well, I can think of several Gods who might baulk at that such as the Gods of Childbirth and Fertility. I can be pro-choice, but I cannot assume any of the Gods I follow are.

A God may tell me to do something political since that may be what They do, which is fine. But as you state there is a difference between me and Them.

What I find interesting is when Beckett rails about Christian Nationalists (and others) who do the same thing – assume that God and they think exactly the same.

BTW, nice tea cozy.

To which I replied:

Much appreciated. I think the cozy is rather stylish myself.

And precisely. Although Dionysos is very much about choice and bodily autonomy I’ve found a number of instances where abortion is discouraged or carefully regulated within his cults. I can think of a number of reasons for this – uniquely among the Gods Dionysos is represented as a fetus or premature child; he also has a strong concern for life in general, and young life in particular; as a God of luxuriant vitality, and growth and fertility more generally, abortion is the antithesis of that. I also strongly suspect that the purification rites imposed weren’t punitive but designed to help the woman process what happened and deal with grief and other unresolved emotions which might not otherwise have been addressed within their society before undergoing a process of reintegration and resuming their religious obligations.

So it’s complicated, especially since we’re left with the prescription in isolation. And interestingly the word used can either refer to the intentional termination of a pregnancy or an accidental miscarriage – not only is no context provided to help determine which is meant (assuming they saw a distinction between them) – but most sacred laws don’t even touch on this, so you can’t look to other sources for clarification either. (I will note that in the instances where this regulation shows up we’re either dealing with a Dionysiac cult interested in promoting fertility or else there’s a strong Orphic and Pythagorean influence which means we’re dealing with a non-normative form of the God; in other Dionysiac cults, as with Greco-Roman religion generally, abortion/miscarriage tends to be overlooked.)

Unsurprisingly this is something that’s gone unnoticed and uncommented on by the majority of contemporary Dionysians, most of whom are left-leaning and take it for granted that Dionysos shares their liberal viewpoint. I generally don’t bring it up because I don’t want contemporary politics to get in the way of them having a rich and satisfying relationship with Dionysos. However reflecting on this has definitely shifted my views on the subject – to the point that I’m no longer in favor of abortion, though I don’t want to see restrictive laws imposed since I have an inherent mistrust of the government and history has shown that such legislation just makes a bad situation many, many times worse. I’d rather see effort put into education, moral and societal reform, access to contraception and the morning after pill as well as sterilization procedures, eliminating some of the bureaucracy and hoops around adoption and surrogacy, providing support and resources both during and after pregnancy, and whatever else it takes to make sure that every child born is wanted, loved, healthy and properly cared for as well as ensuring the health and wellbeing of the mother – not to mention a bunch of needs and services I’m not aware of because I’m a dude, and early on made the decision to remain child-free.

And I think everyone needs to step up to make this happen – the nuclear family is unnatural and ineffective. In any properly functioning society you’ve got the grandparents, and older children, a pack of aunties and uncles, friends and neighbors, etc. etc. etc. all willing to pitch in and help the young couple out. It truly does take a village to raise a child. But today everything is so atomized and disconnected it’s no wonder we’re producing Millennials and Gen Zers, with all of their defects, dysfunction, and degeneracy. It’s not their fault they are so entirely lacking in virtue and functionality – that’s a failure of society at large. No wonder millions of mothers would rather murder their babies than raise them in the world we have collectively created. We can do better.

And that’s my Ted Talk, folks.

And just to be clear: I think abortion is wrong, not the women who get them. I don’t consider it my place to pass judgment on an individual’s decisions about their body, especially when they find themselves in such a personal and desperate situation. My place is to help create a society where abortion isn’t considered necessary except in the case of medical emergencies. And that, I think, can only be done on the tribal level.

And I have no idea what Dionysos thinks on the subject, as it’s never come up. And if I did I wouldn’t mention it, because I believe that my arguments are morally correct, logically consistent, humane, and capable of standing on their own.

Everything is number

According to isopsephy (basically Greek gematria, a favorite practice of the Pythagorean Orphics) Dionysos’ allonym Βάκχος has the numerical value of 893 (which is the solution to my Riddle, in case you missed the acrostic.)

893 is a number with some interesting properties, especially when applied to the text of the Bible. For instance “wilderness” (Num 14:2; Exo 7:16), “transgressor” (Pro 21:18), αναγγέλω (“to call; announce” = Joh 16:25) as well as μεθυσκεσθε (“to make drunk” = Eph 5:18) all add up to 893. Also, I chose the verses carefully as these words crop up in a number of places. 

And the sum of the following verses (taken from here since I don’t do math) is also 893:

  • Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. (Gen 7:3)
  • And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. (Rut 3:8)
  • And thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning. (Job 11:17)
  • And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. (Mar 14:22)
  • How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery (as I wrote afore in few words) (Eph 3:3)

All very interesting and Dionysian, but I’m curious how 893 turns up in inspired texts such as Homer’s Iliás or Odússeia, the fragments of Empedokles and Herakleitos, the Orphika, and Nonnos’ Dionysiaká say. I chose “inspired” rather than “sacred” since only Empedokles and the Orphika would technically count, despite the depth and meaning to be found in the rest since it’s important to recognize the distinctions in this type of literature and evaluate them properly.

Of course, now that I’ve brought it to your attention you’re going to start seeing 893 (or 8/93) everywhere, in meaningful and meaningless ways. You’re welcome. Io evohe! Io io Bakchos! 

To Dionysos Eleutherios

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

Sannion’s Guide for the Apocalypse

Druids aren’t the only people with cool hats. As Archiboukolos of the Starry Bull tradition I have one too.

According to John Beckett and co. there’s a great war, sorry — Great War in the Otherworlds and the “good guys” are 100% in support of his progressive politics and values while the forces of evil and uncreation are backing his ideological opponents, the Republicans and cultural conservatives more generally. 

How surprising.

A friend asked my thoughts on the subject and, well, I strongly suspect that if I shared them here I would be in violation of WordPress’ Terms of Service. 

Instead I’m going to take a point on which Beckett and I are in full agreement – we’re headed into some very uncertain times – and suggest some practical steps people can take to mitigate stress and suffering during them. 

Read Seneca and Plutarch. Build a network of family and friends you can rely on as things get tougher and start breaking down. Know and have good relations with your neighbors. Learn how to do things the old way; in other words, develop practical skills that are not dependent on modern technology. Learn the essentials of emergency medicine and keep a well-stocked kit. Garden, buy local, barter and trade, etc. as you’re able, as well as learn basic survival and prepper skills (i.e. foraging, hunting, how to cook and preserve food, how to fight and use various weapons, etc.) but without going completely overboard and letting fear and paranoia govern your life. Maintain your religious practices, especially those involving local land-spirits and the dead who can be potent allies, especially against malignant spirits. Perform regular cleansings, protections and psychic hygiene, whether you think you need such things or not. Listen to what your Gods and Spirits are telling you, even if it doesn’t make complete sense at the time. Trust that more than what the experts, influencers and other authority figures are trying to convince you of, especially if there’s a conflict between them. Keep an eye on the news, without obsessing over it so you have a sense of what’s going on locally and in the wider world. But minimize your exposure to social media and pop culture and be intentional, selective and critical when you do consume such content. And the rest – don’t worry about it unless it starts impacting your life. Then pray, make offerings, amp up your psychic defenses, divine frequently, and consult religious specialists and other respected authorities within your community to figure out how to proceed. Did I mention prayer and making offerings? You should do that, a lot. 

Anything you guys would add? 

Of course I think all of these are things that a mature, responsible adult should be doing whether the eschaton is imminent or not, but that’s just me. However if you do follow these simple prescriptions I guarantee that you’ll be ahead of the pack should the shit hit the fan.

And here’s the screed of the prophet Beckett, should you be so inclined to read it for yourself.  

To Dionysos Who Rises

Rise up, O Lord!

No longer suffer the inequities of this unrighteous tyrant
with mildness and restraint, but like boiling lava flowing down
the side of a mountain, come, come! Come mad and raving Dionysos,
to inflict terrible destruction upon this fool who would wage war
on a peaceful people, and lay the wretch low!

Rise up, O Lord!

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

Rise up, O Lord!

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

Rise up, O Lord!

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

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

Venus in the ninth house

Firmicus Maternus, Mathesis 3.6.17
Constant attacks (assidua … interpellatione pulsari) by daemons are indicated by Venus in the ninth house by day. It creates natives who are squalid and stay in temples or roam about, and such as never cut their hair, and such as claim to announce to humanity pronouncements from the Gods, the sort that are often in temples and are accustomed to prophesy (vaticinari); often they are interpreters of dreams.

When it is deposited in a house, it protects it from all sorcery and the shades of daemons and empty dreams and blasts of lightning.

Damigeron, De lapidibus 7.1-14
The coral stone has the greatest powers in magical usage and in the achievement of serious undertakings. For it is hardy and repels all delusions of dreams by its remedy. It provides the greatest protection (tutamentum) against the wrath of masters when the name of Noctiluca (‘night-shiner’), that is the sign of Hecate, or the face of Gorgo is engraved in it.

The person carrying it is never harmed by any drug (medicamento) nor by lightning nor by a shade sent against them.

In war and in a fight, it is of the greatest assitance. And it will be invincible and efficacious and insuperable, without fear and without sadness, and makes the one holding it safe, easily able to accomplish what they will and gives easy access (to the powerful? into houses?). Furthermore, when it is first consecrated, then ground up, and sown together with corn or barley or any other crop, it keeps hail and all pernicious weather away from the earth. And strewn over vines or olives, it repels all destructive force of winds.

When it is deposited in a house, it protects it from all sorcery (maleficio) and the shades of daemons (umbris daemoniorum) and empty dreams and blasts of lightning.

If you have it with you on a ship, you will accomplish much more, because it resists winds and tempests and whirlwinds. So great is the power allotted to this stone as a remedy against adverse forces (partes).

This protective object (tutamentum) ought to be consecrated by a God and at holy places (sanctis locis), so that it has the greatest effect, day and night, at a dirnual or nocturnal hour. And the stone coral offers good protection (praesidium).

Her name means “sunlight, dawn”

A detail in both of these passages from Vegetius (1, 2) stood out for me:

argyritis (silver dross/litharge) stone, 1 ounce each

Which sounds an awful lot like Αυγέτρις, the companion of Dionysos Χοιροψάλας. Or maybe just to my ear. 

And therefore weakness which is induced by a pestilent wind is more easily cured by the salutory airflow of suffumigants.

Vegetius, Digesta artis mulomedicinae 3.12.1-4
This composition of suffumigants repels bewitchment/the evil eye (fascinum), purifies (lustrat) an animal, chases daemons away, and removes/keeps away diseases; for the fume and breath (spiritus) of the odor, when it enters through the mouth and nostrils, penetrates to all the recesses of the organs very often cures places which potions cannot cure. Likewise, a cough in humans is healed with the vapor of suffumigants above all. Furthermore, the authorities of veterinary medicine (mulomedicinae) assert that the most desperate and dangerous diseases derive, not from faults in the fodder or the water, but from the corruption of the air. And therefore weakness which is induced by a pestilent wind is more easily cured by the salutory airflow of suffumigants.
Their composition is as follows:

essentially the same recipe as above

These ingredients are all dried and mixed together; when the need arises, you take one spoonful of this mixture and strew it over ‘live’ coals, and you suffumigate the animal with its head uncovered, so that it receives the fume through the mouth and nostrils. This suffumigant not only heals the troubles of beasts of burden, it also repels oncoming human diseases and hail, it scares off daemons and puts shades to flight.

oppose with their odor the diseases of humans as much as of animals, and chases daemons away

Vegetius, Digesta artis mulomedicinae 1.20.1-3
There is also another composition of suffumigants (suffimentorum) for warding off diseases, but more expensive and, it is thought, more effective:
living sulphur, 1 pound (libra = 12 ounces)
Judaean bitumen, 1 pound
opopanax, 6 ounces
bearsfoot, 6 ounces
galbanum, 1 pound
Castoreum, half a pound
“crude air” (?), 6 ounces
(H)ammoniac salt, 2 ounces
Cappocian salt, 3 ounces
stag horn,—
“male” jet stone, —
“female” jet stone, 3 ounces each
haematite stone, 2 ounces,
magnet (sideritis) stone,—
argyritis (silver dross/litharge) stone, 1 ounce each
“sea-tails” (caudas marinas),—
sea snakes (ungues marinos), to the number of 7 each
“sea grapes” (uvae marinae), 3 ounces
deer marrow,—
cedar pitch,—
liquid pitch, 3 pounds (pondera) each
bones of ink-fish, to the number of 7
gold, half an ounce
a “pod”(?) of gold-dust
And these all when mixed together and burned oppose with their odor the diseases of humans as much as of animals, and chases daemons away; it is said that they keep away hail and purify the air. But if you cannot find the stones mentioned, or decide not to buy them because of the high cost, the rest of the ingredients will work well enough.

this far north

Oh, and afterwards we had to run some last minute errands, including stopping off at the gas station. While I was filling up the tank and Galina was inside paying, a truck hauling a large trailer pulled in, the kind of trailers that are commonplace in Wyoming and Montana where I grew up, but not so much out here in the scenic Hudson Valley (even this far north.) At first I thought the guy was hauling horses, but then I noticed the horns. Looking closer it became clear that the trailer was carrying a bull and his harem of cows. I take that as a powerful omen, and confirmation that tonight’s divination session was on point.

the taste of honey

This has been a truly trying weekend, but it was capped off with an incredibly intense divination session during which Dionysos-Óðr came through so strongly that hours later Galina had a contact high from the residual energy and could taste honey in the air. Hail Dionysos! Hail Óðr! Even now I’ve still got a buzz going and can feel his strength, joy and creative frenzy coursing through me. I needed this. Thank you for the grace of your presence, my Lord, and may you always be hailed.