How many of you plan to follow the Bakcheion 2019 e.v. festival calendar in some form or another?
Well, to be perfectly honest with you I wouldn’t. Either someone is naturally drawn to this kind of thing, in which case it’ll happen regardless, or else they’re not and it could prove harmful to their psyche (at the very least) if they tried to force it, you know what I mean? Even for those with a certain predisposition toward ecstasy and trance states it can be difficult dealing with the demands this stuff make on us physically, mentally and spiritually—especially the coming down process and its aftermath.
Probably the thing that helps the most is being familiar with other methods of altering consciousness, whether those are physically, mentally, or chemically induced. Things like dance, yoga, exercise, fasting, austerities and ordeals, sex, meditation, creative expression, drugs and alcohol—all of these and numerous other things help broaden our horizons and make these spiritual states easier to accommodate. It’s better to gradually stretch something out instead of forcing your way through it all at once, and in my experience all of these and their related techniques help the process along. They aren’t a substitute for spiritual possession and trance, but they can teach you what it’s like, how to ride it out, so that you’re better prepared for the actual experience when it happens.
I haven’t, and neither has any other male because only women can be mainades and only certain women at that. Of course, mainades aren’t the only ecstatic votaries of Dionysos—in antiquity or today—and I’ve definitely experienced his mad blessings myself.
The first couple of times it came upon me spontaneously and I wasn’t really prepared to deal with it. You can read all of the ancient accounts of Dionysiac ritual madness and survey similar phenomena from other traditions—Tarantism, Shamanism, Sufism, charismatic Christianity, and Vodoun—but none of that really prepares you for what it’s like when it’s actually happening to you!
Somehow with the grace of the God I not only managed to survive my first brushes with ekstasis and trance-possession but discovered that I actually have some aptitude for entering these altered states, and now I actively cultivate them every chance I get. They range from light inspiration where the world seems strange and cinematic, shapes dancing on the periphery of my vision and whispered voices filling my head, on up to full possession where I’m not there any longer and Dionysos has complete use of my body. It’s rare for it to be at quite that level (I can think of only a handful of times over the last two decades) as it’s usually more of a cooperative effort. He’s taken over, manipulating my words and actions but I’m still conscious and can direct things if need be. It’s kind of like putting on a mask and acting a part, only the mask is a living thing itself. I’m not sure who’s the mask or the mask-wearer in this analogy however—maybe both of us at different times!
Dionysos is a God of many masks. So while he is unquestionably the wine-God—meaning not only the giver of wine, but one whose spirit is in every glass we drink—that doesn’t even begin to exhaust the totality of his being. He is the God of the dramatic arts, lord of healing, prophecy, and poetry, the bringer of fertility and abundant life for all plants and animals; he presides over kingship, rules a portion of the dead, guides youths into adulthood, and blurs all gender and social distinctions.
There are a great many other things that fall under his dominion, none of which need involve alcohol and other intoxicating substances. In fact, one of his supreme roles is as the Liberator who helps us break the bonds that hold us back from living a free and authentic existence. Addiction is the complete antithesis of freedom so I think that Dionysos has a lot to offer those in recovery and his methods could prove a lot more successful than conventional treatments, which mostly deal with the symptoms but leave the root cause of the ailment untouched.
Discipline, moderation, and respect for these substances as inherently holy things are as much a part of Dionysos’ gifts to humanity as license and glorious excess. After all it was Dionysos who first taught us to water our wine and drink in a civilized, symposiatic fashion, eschewing the dangerous consequences of overindulgence. And some Orphics were complete teetotalers except on special ritual occasions so no, one does not have to be a hard drinker to be a Dionysian.
They must have respect for his gifts and I would recommend offering a token amount of wine even if the person never tastes it since wine is sacred to him and sacrifice is about offering what is pleasing to the Gods, irrespective of our own preferences. But if a person felt that that was too much and might endanger their hard-won sobriety they could always substitute grape juice or make offerings of other appropriate fruits, foods, smelly things, art, music, and the like.
I suspect I need to explain something.
This cycle of daily hymns for Freyja (like the one I did for Dionysos, and will be doing for Hermes, Loki and other of the Starry Bear Gods) is based on the planetary system which passed from the Ancient Near East to Greece, Rome and thence throughout much of Northern Europe and the New World, ascribing each day of the week to a different God or Goddess.
Each hymn, then, represents the focal deity in the guise of, manifesting as or reflected through the image of the deity who owns that day. So, for instance, this hymn is Freyja as we see her on the day of Zeus, Overseer of the Home and Protector of the Pantry, thus emphasizing the Golden Goddess’ woefully underrepresented domestic aspects, especially in light of the archaeological record; likewise, many of the allusions will make sense if you recall that this is the hymn for Saturday, which belongs to Kronos, particularly as his cult was found in North and Central Italy. (There is added resonance if you factor in who “Kronos” tends to be in the interpretatio Norrœna and the persona this divinity has so often adopted.)
This is functional or associative syncretism, where the attributes, powers and iconography of one God are borrowed from another without fundamentally affecting their distinct and autonomous identities – as we find, for instance, in the Isis aretalogies, Aphrodite lending Hera her magical girdle to seduce Zeus in the Iliad or when Freyja temporarily gifts Loki her falcon cloak so he can retrieve Iðunn from Jötunheimr in the Þrymskviða. By doing so more of the deity’s unique complexity may be unfolded. It’s basically applied henadology.
A little less opaque? Good. Now on to Tuesday – hail Ares and hail Týr, and hail Freyja through them!