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.
Horace, Carmina 2.12
I saw Bacchus on distant cliffs – believe me,
O posterity – he was teaching songs there,
and the Nymphs were learning them, and all
the goat-footed Satyrs with pointed ears.
Evoe ! My mind fills with fresh fear, my heart
filled with Bacchus, is troubled, and violently
rejoices. Evoe! Spare me, Liber,
dreaded for your mighty thyrsus, spare me.
It’s right to sing of the wilful Bacchantes,
the fountain of wine, and the rivers of milk,
to sing of the honey that’s welling,
and sliding down from the hollow tree-trunks:
It’s right to sing of your bride turned goddess, your
Ariadne, crowned among stars: the palace
of Pentheus, shattered in ruins,
and the ending of Thracian Lycurgus.
You direct the streams, and the barbarous sea,
and on distant summits, you drunkenly tie
the hair of the Bistonian women,
with harmless knots made of venomous snakes.
When the impious army of Giants tried
to climb through the sky to Jupiter’s kingdom,
you hurled back Rhoetus, with the claws
and teeth of the terrifying lion.
Though you’re said to be more suited to dancing,
laughter, and games, and not equipped to suffer
the fighting, nevertheless you shared
the thick of battle as well as the peace.
Cerberus saw you, unharmed, and adorned
with your golden horn, and, stroking you gently,
with his tail, as you departed, licked
your ankles and feet with his triple tongue.
Although Liberalia is not part of the official House of Vines festival calendar for the year 2018 e.v. it has always been one of my favorite Bacchic feasts. (I tend to think of it as Beenis Day, as bees and penises are the primary themes of the occasion.)
While preparing the post with the excerpt from Ovid’s Fasti something stood out for me that hadn’t upon previous readings:
He fell headlong, and received a kick from the ass, as he shouted to his friends and called for help. The Satyrs ran up, and laughed at their father’s face, while he limped about on his damaged knee. Bacchus himself laughed and showed him the use of mud: Silenus took his advice, and smeared his face with clay.
No, no. Not the alternative aition for titanos. This bit:
The Kite star turns downwards near the Lycaonian Bear: on this night it’s first visible. If you wish to know who raised that falcon to heaven, it was when Saturn had been dethroned by Jupiter: angered, he stirred the mighty Titans to battle, and sought whatever help the Fates could grant him. There was a bull, a marvellous monster, born of Mother Earth, the hind part of which was of serpent-form: warned by the three Fates, grim Styx had imprisoned him in dark woods, surrounded by triple walls. There was a prophecy that whoever burnt the entrails of the bull in the flames would defeat the Eternal Gods. Briareus sacrificed it with an adamantine axe, and was about to set the innards on the flames: but Jupiter ordered the birds to snatch them: and the Kite brought them, and his service set him among the stars.
And so it begins.
Augustine, De Civitate Dei 7.21
Now as to the rites of Liber, whom they have set over liquid seeds, and therefore not only over the liquors of fruits, among which wine holds, so to speak, the primacy, but also over the seeds of animals:— as to these rites, I am unwilling to undertake to show to what excess of turpitude they had reached, because that would entail a lengthened discourse, though I am not unwilling to do so as a demonstration of the proud stupidity of those who practice them. Varro says that certain rites of Liber were celebrated in Italy which were of such unrestrained wickedness that the shameful parts of the male were worshipped at crossroads in his honour. Nor was this abomination transacted in secret that some regard at least might be paid to modesty, but was openly and wantonly displayed. For during the festival of Liber this obscene member, placed on a little trolley, was first exhibited with great honour at the crossroads in the countryside, and then conveyed into the city itself. But in the town of Lavinium a whole month was devoted to Liber alone, during the days of which all the people gave themselves up to the must dissolute conversation, until that member had been carried through the forum and brought to rest in its own place; on which unseemly member it was necessary that the most honorable matron should place a wreath in the presence of all the people. Thus, forsooth, was the god Liber to be appeased in order for the growth of seeds. Thus was enchantment (fascinatio) to be driven away from fields, even by a matron’s being compelled to do in public what not even a harlot ought to be permitted to do in a theatre, if there were matrons among the spectators.
From the third book of Ovid’s Fasti
There’s a popular festival of Bacchus, on the third day after the Ides: Bacchus, favour the poet who sings your feast. I’ll not speak about Semele: you’d have been born defenceless, If it hadn’t been that Jupiter brought her his lightning too. Nor will I tell how the mother’s labour was fulfilled in a father’s body, so you might duly be born their son. It would take long to tell of the conquered Sithonians, and the Scythians, and the races of incense-bearing India. I’ll be silent about you too, Pentheus, sad prey to your own mother, and you Lycurgus, who killed your own son in madness. Lo, I’d like to speak of the monstrous Tyrrhenians, who suddenly became dolphins, but that’s not the task of this verse. The task of this verse is to set out the reasons why a vine-planter sells his cakes to the crowd.
Liber, before your birth the altars were without offerings, and grass appeared on the stone-cold hearths. They tell how you set aside the first fruits for Jupiter, after subduing the Ganges region, and the whole of the East. You were the first to offer up cinnamon and incense from conquered lands, and the roast entrails of triumphal oxen. Libations derive their name from their originator, And cake (liba) since a part is offered on the sacred hearth. Honey-cakes are baked for the God, because he delights in sweet substances, and they say that Bacchus discovered honey.
He was travelling from sandy Hebrus, accompanied by Satyrs, (my tale contains a not-unpleasant jest) and he’d come to Mount Rhodope, and flowering Pangaeus: with the cymbals clashing in his companions’ hands. Behold unknown winged things gather to the jangling, bees, that follow after the echoing bronze. Liber gathered the swarm and shut it in a hollow tree, And was rewarded with the prize of discovering honey. Once the Satyrs, and old bald-headed Silenus, had tasted it, they searched for the yellow combs in every tree. The old fellow heard a swarm humming in a hollow elm, saw the honeycombs, but pretended otherwise: and sitting lazily on his hollow-backed ass, he rode it up to the elm where the trunk was hollow. He stood and leant on the stump of a branch, And greedily reached for the honey hidden inside. But thousands of hornets gathered, thrusting their stings into his bald head, leaving their mark on his snub-nosed face. He fell headlong, and received a kick from the ass, as he shouted to his friends and called for help. The Satyrs ran up, and laughed at their father’s face, while he limped about on his damaged knee. Bacchus himself laughed and showed him the use of mud: Silenus took his advice, and smeared his face with clay.
Father Liber loves honey: its right to offer its discoverer Glittering honey diffused through oven-warm cakes. The reason why a woman presides isn’t obscure: Bacchus stirs crowds of women with his thyrsus. Why an old woman, you ask? That age drinks more, and loves the gifts of the teeming vine. Why is she wreathed with ivy? Ivy’s dearest to Bacchus: and why that’s so doesn’t take long to tell. They say that when Juno his stepmother was searching for the boy, the nymphs of Nysa hid the cradle in ivy leaves.
It remains for me to reveal why the toga virilis, the gown Of manhood, is given to boys on your day, Bacchus: whether it’s because you seem to be ever boy or youth, and your age is somewhere between the two: or because you’re a father, fathers commend their sons, their pledges of love, to your care and divinity: or because you’re Liber, the gown of liberty and a more liberated life are adopted, for you: or is it because, in the days when the ancients tilled the fields more vigorously, and Senators worked their fathers’ land, and ‘rods and axes’ took Consuls from the curving plough, and it wasn’t a crime to have work-worn hands, the farmers came to the City for the games, (though that was an honour paid to the Gods, and not their inclination: and the grape’s discoverer held his games this day, while now he shares that of torch-bearing Ceres.) And the day seemed not unfitting for granting the toga, so that a crowd could celebrate the fresh novice? Father turn your mild head here, and gentle horns, and spread the sails of my art to a favourable breeze.
If I remember rightly, on this, and the preceding day, crowds go to the Argei (their own page will tell who they are). The Kite star turns downwards near the Lycaonian Bear: on this night it’s first visible. If you wish to know who raised that falcon to heaven, it was when Saturn had been dethroned by Jupiter: angered, he stirred the mighty Titans to battle, And sought whatever help the Fates could grant him. There was a bull, a marvellous monster, born of Mother Earth, the hind part of which was of serpent-form: warned by the three Fates, grim Styx had imprisoned him in dark woods, surrounded by triple walls. There was a prophecy that whoever burnt the entrails of the bull, in the flames, would defeat the Eternal Gods. Briareus sacrificed it with an adamantine axe, and was about to set the innards on the flames: but Jupiter ordered the birds to snatch them: and the Kite brought them, and his service set him among the stars.
Plutarch, De Anima fragment preserved in Stobaios Florigelium 120
When the soul comes to the point of death, it suffers something like those who participate in the great initiations (teletai). Therefore the word teleutan closely resembles the word teleisthai just as the act of dying resembles the act of being initiated. At first there are wanderings and toilsome running about in circles and journeys through the dark over uncertain roads and culs de sacs; then, just before the end, there are all kinds of terrors, with shivering, trembling, sweating, and utter amazement. After this, a strange and wonderful light meets the wanderer; he is admitted into clean and verdant meadows, where he discerns gentle voices, and choric dances, and the majesty of holy sounds and sacred visions. Here the now fully initiated is free, and walks at liberty like a crowned and dedicated victim, joining in the revelry.