Dionysos is in the details

One of the best parts of the production was how fucking polytheist it was. And I don’t just mean that they kept the hymns to assorted deities in, which not every production does. But the whole thing began with an invocation of the ancestors of the place, going back generation through generation to the Lenape people; Tiresias was dressed as an houngan and at one point Dionysos shouts “àṣẹ!” and instead of setting it beside the streams of Dirke and Ismenos they called on Hudson and the other local Harlem river. I think these flourishes helped bring the audience more fully into the sacred atmosphere of the play; they were also nice parallels to the ceremonies the Athenians conducted during the Dionysia. All it lacked was a parade of war orphans and giant phalloi, culminating in a bull sacrifice and it would have been perfect. 

Everything to do with Dionysos


Here I am in the park, waiting for the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of The Bakchai to start. Shortly after I slipped into a state of entheos that did not lift until well after we got home.

No matter how familiar you are with this play there is nothing quite like seeing it performed live. The leads were phenomenal, especially the aftermath of the interrogation scene where a tarted up Pentheus, with breaking voice, begs Dionysos to make him beautiful; they touch foreheads for a pregnant moment and the God responds, “You are.” Fuck, man. I’m tearing up just typing this, many hours later – that’s how good it was.

But don’t take my word for it – here’s my wife’s account, from a letter she wrote to the company. Our household made a sizable donation to these sacred artisans of Dionysos and will definitely be attending future productions, though I think it’ll be tough for them to top this one. 

Day VII. To Þórr Sönnungr

Hail Thor who truly shines in the heavens,
glint of Sunna reflecting off the golden wheels
of your goat-drawn carriage, billowy beard
blowing in the breeze, sparks shooting from
your glowing hot hammer gripped in invincible
iron gloves, strength enhanced by your mighty belt
and cheeks flushed from Óðr’s wine, gulped down
at the start of your journey as you set out to slay
the murky horde of wicked Wights and gnarly Ents
assembled against the impregnable walls
of gleaming Ásgarðr. Ride on, O Strider
ever in defense of all that is good, holy and true,
and know that this household stands with you
and shall never let your shrine be barren of offerings.

Day V. To Þórr Rymr

Thor who noisily protested when
Loki lie-smith said he needed to put on
Freyja’s cloak and underthings,
color his cheeks and walk and talk
in an affectedly dainty manner
to court a brutish Jötunn or three
– but did it anyway, big enough
to withstand a little humiliation
for the wellbeing of his people.
Hail O God who is worthy to wield Mjölnir
and on that day Þrúðvangr’s Lord proved
the Goddess of Courtesans’ equal too
in the arts of attraction and seduction,
so great are you, Thor, at all you set your mind to.

Day IV. To Þórr Hlórriði

I call upon the loud-riding Storm God,
the rumbler and stirrer and striker from afar,
Thor who sends the nourishing rain
and winds that shake loose stagnancy
and pollution. You are joyful when you come
home to your wife and many dear children,
quick to laugh and always ready with
a humorous story from your travels,
especially when ale trickles down
your thick red beard, and lovely-eyed
golden Sif is at your side
to wipe it away and kiss the lips
that so often have professed
undying love for her.
Nothing pleases Thor the yeoman’s God
more than plowing Sif’s fields
and scattering seed into the tight furrows,
and many months later reaping
a bounty of swollen fruit and wheat
the color of her lovely curls,
not even walloping ill-tempered þurs
or putting arrogant jarls in their place.

Day III. To Þórr Véþormr

Hail Thor, protector of the shrine,
preserver of the lore and sacred rites,
friend of the priest, and defender of the poet
– for you know how important these things
are to the health, longevity and well-being
of the people and without them how
vulnerable we are to the nothing
that seeks the annihilation of all existence,
a greater threat than ever Ragnarök could be.