Images from the Karneia

Look at how the young boys run! Chests heaving, fists pumping, thighs tensing, naked feet slapping the pavement as they hurtle towards the prize. The grape-laden man runs, not naked like them, but draped with fillets of wool in the hot summer sun. He is sweating and his cheeks puffing – but he is fast – far faster than the boys expected! They thought it’d be easy to catch the old man. Slap his back and smile as he proclaimed the blessing for the city. Then there would be feasting and beautiful hymns, and the great circle dances with the pretty young girls and their loose brown hair and slender ankles.

But the grape-man is so far ahead – what if he reaches the altar before they can touch him? Will Apollo Karneios really turn his face from them? And what would that mean? The failure of the crops, certainly – and war. Perhaps even plague, like that which befell the Greeks when they unknowingly cut down Apollo’s sacred cherry-grove on Mount Ida to build the Trojan Horse. Raging, the God afflicted them with disease – and only the institution of the Karneia was able to appease his wrath. But what if they should fail in the race?

Unbidden, the images fly into Alexis’ brain. He sees the grapes rotting on the vine in his uncle’s vineyard, black and poisonous looking things. And he sees his cousin take a dagger in the side and collapse under the press of bodies as the black smoke rises from the charred hulls of his city’s buildings. And worse yet is the image of his sisters and mother puking black blood into their hands, their once red cheeks white like bone. All this, because he failed to obtain the grape-laden man’s blessing for his city.

Alexis digs deep. His legs burn, and his chest is tight so that even the shallow runner’s breaths are hard to draw. But he drives away these concerns like an old woman chasing away a stray dog with a stick. Even if his legs splintered, he would run. Even if his heart burst in his chest, he would run. The other boys, winded, start to fall off, but Alexis won’t let himself give in, won’t let the bad things happen. He has to touch the back of the old fat man – everyone depends on him.

He is five, now four strides behind. He might just make it! But no – he can see the altar of the God at the end of the track. If the grape-laden man reaches it, it’s all over. His arm burns as he reaches out, his muscles straining. His vision is blurred by sweat and tears, and his heart feels like it’s going to pound right out of his chest. Closer, closer they draw to the altar of Apollo, harder, harder he pushes himself, trying desperately to close the distance between them. His fingers shake, longing to touch something solid, to feel the sweaty wollen fellets, and the soft flesh of the man’s back. “Apollo,” the boy prays, “make me worthy to save my city.”

And then there are no more thoughts, no more fears and longing. He is just sinew and flesh, muscle and sweat. A body, working perfectly, pure instinct. He feels his steps grow lighter, the distance shrinking, and he reaches out again, and slaps the back of the grape-laden man!

The touch startles the old man, and he tumbles to the ground in a flury of limbs and wollen fillets, and Alexis trips over him and crashes to the ground himself, bloodying his knees. But he is elated! Joy washes over him, and his spirit leaps into the sky like a giant eagle. He did it, he saved his city! Even as his legs are gripped with cramps, and his chest pounds so hard that he’s sure his heart is going to burst any minute, and his vision goes black from the pounding in his ears that sounds like the Bacchic drums at night, he is happier than he has ever been in his short life. The other boys arrive and lift him up, and carry his limp body to the altar, cheering and patting his back to await the blessing of the grape-laden man. Alexis smiles, and continues to sweat and bleed for Apollo.

You sweet, naive bastard.


Something I wrote back on 8-25-01:

Something has been lost from the world. We dwell in our comfortable cities, in our comfortable homes, living our comfortable lives, dying each day as our soul is stifled by the comfort around us. We go to jobs we hate so we’ll have enough money to buy things we don’t really need, because we’re convinced that they’ll bring us some sense of happiness or the completion that we so desperately want. But they never do, and the more things we acquire, the more lonely we feel. We do what everyone expects us to do. We go to school, get a respectable job, get married, have kids, take part in community volunteer activities, go to the right Church, read the right books, buy all the right things – all that is expected of us, whether we want to do it or not. We never go outside of our bounds, challenge ourselves, follow our dreams – because that would be silly and impractical, and what would the neighbors think? And so, each day, the chasm grows wider, our lives have less meaning and less joy, until we are filled with emptiness and self-hatred, and we can barely get up in the morning, afraid of the hellish drudgery that our existence has become.

This is the plight of modern man. We have become monsters, alienated from everything that is good and true in life. We no longer live with the rhythms of nature, no longer feel the vital, fluid power that courses through all things. We’re disconnected from our bodies – they’re just flesh suits that house our minds. We don’t feel any real connection with the people around us, because we’re afraid of opening ourselves up and letting another person really, truly touch our lives. We suppress our dreams, finding a million reasons why it will never work out, even though this is the only thing that will bring us true happiness in life. This is what our world has become. A nightmare place of darkness and depression, far worse than the torments of any mythical Hell.

Why did it become like this? The reason is that man banished the Old Gods from his life. In his arrogance he said, “We can make it on our own. We know best what will make us happy. It is too much to pay you the proper respects, so we aren’t going to do that any more.” And the Gods said, “Very well, if that is what you want, it will be so. Your will is free, we do not command respect, though it is properly ours. Foolish man, if you can make it on your own, then do so.” And so the Gods no longer spoke with man, no longer gave him their wise council. In time, man forgot the ancient rites, which were a source of great happiness in his life, and he ceased to see the wonder and beauty of the world around him. With piety gone from his heart, greed and arrogance took over, upsetting the natural balance, so that there was no longer room for joy and peace. Man warred with nature, killing the other animals, building his ugly cities everywhere, poisoning the air and water and land around him. He was no kinder to his fellow man, making murder and war and suffering the common lot. Man thinks he knows best, but his life is filled with sadness and aching and fear and desperation. And the worst part is – it doesn’t have to be this way!

For you see, the Gods never went away. They have been here the whole time, working for our best, even though they did so in the shadows, the mass of men neither noticing nor honoring them for their help. A few men of great vision have seen the Gods at work in their lives, and have honored them properly, keeping the memory of the Gods alive through art and philosophy, and here and there through the keeping of the Gods’ festivals. And now, in our darkest hour, more and more people are stepping into the light, seeing the Gods and honoring them. The Old Ways are coming back, in all their wonderful diversity. People are saying, “This horrible thing that you say should be enough – this modern life – I will have no part of it. I claim more from life, I want fullness, and real joy. And I will honor the Gods for the wonderful things they do, and because it is proper to honor them!”

The God who has remained the closest to man, and who is now so busy in our world, is Dionysos, the wild God of fluid nature, of wine and drunkenness, of madness and blessed release. He appears to people and helps them to truly see what life is about, waking them up from the terrible nightmare, and bringing them out to dance wild in the hills, where they can discover their true selves, and drink deeply of all that life has to offer, the bitter and the sweet. Dionysos transforms everything that he touches. He takes our suffering, and turns it into joy; he cracks the coward’s shell to let the wild Satyr free. Dionysos dissolves all boundaries: between people, between the worlds, between our souls and our body. Everything becomes unified in the sacred dance of the God.

Many people are feeling the call of Dionysos, though, perhaps, they do not always realize that it is Dionysos who is calling them. These people want to honor the God, but they are often alone, with no one else who has ever felt anything like they have, or they do not know the proper ways to worship Dionysos. Sure, they make do with their solitary devotions, but there is always the sense that there is something missing, that they need to gather with other worshippers, and perform the rituals as they once were for it to have meaning. This is why I believe the time is right to bring back the formal worship of Dionysos. I think that we need to create groups that will gather to learn about the God, and to observe his festivals. Groups to fellowship, to celebrate our shared experiences with Dionysos, to create a place where those experiences can happen. To bring back the revels, bring back the triennial feasts, bring back the wine festivals and sacred theater. To create new rituals in his honor. To go through the Mysteries once more.

I want to find a group of people to work with, to practice these rituals and undergo initiation with. There is so much I, myself, have to learn and experience. I want to learn trance techniques and experience states of ecstasy. I want to become transformed, to discover who I truly am, to feel the God rise up and take possession of me. I want to live the Mysteries, and I want to be there for others, and teach them how to do this, guide them along the path.

That is my goal, my dream, the thing I have dedicated my life to accomplishing. And while it is difficult – the pressure to do it right, the difficulty of breaking free of the inertia of a bad life, the fears and insecurity about whether it will ever actually happen – the rewards are well worth it. I cannot think of anything I would rather do. This is my True Will, the meaning of my life. Io euoi! Io Bacchus!


Here are the central panels of the dual Dionysos shrines, waiting to be installed.





For perspective these panels are about 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall – which is gonna make for some big shrines. 

And here is Θηρώ (“beastly”) the taxidermy temple fox. (And my thyrsos, barely visible in the corner.) She is bringing a trophy of the hunt to her master Bassareos.



Lusios and Bakcheios

Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.2.5-7
The things worthy of mention in Corinth include the extant remains of antiquity, but the greater number of them belong to the period of its second ascendancy. On the market-place, where most of the sanctuaries are, stand Artemis surnamed Ephesian and wooden images of Dionysos, which are covered with gold with the exception of their faces; these are ornamented with red paint. They are called Lusios and Bakcheios, and I will now give the story told about them.

They say that Pentheus treated Dionysos spitefully, his crowning outrage being that he went to Cithaeron to spy upon the women, and climbing up a tree beheld what was done. When the women detected Pentheus, they immediately dragged him down, and joined in tearing him, living as he was, limb from limb. Afterwards, as the Corinthians say, the Pythian priestess commanded them by an oracle to discover that tree and to worship it equally with the God. For this reason they have made these images from the tree.

Damascius, Commentary on the Phaedo 1.11
Dionysos is the cause of release, whence the God is also called Lusios. And Orpheus says: “Men performing rituals will send hekatombs in every season throughout the year and celebrate festivals, seeking release from lawless ancestors. You, having power over them, whomever you wish you will release from harsh toil and the unending goad.”

Gold tablet from Pelinna
Now you have died and now you have been born, thrice blessed one, on this very day. Say to Persephone that Bakchios himself set you free. A bull you rushed to milk. Quickly, you rushed to milk. A ram you fell into milk. You have wine as your fortunate honor. And rites await you beneath the earth, just as the other blessed ones.

Herodotos, The Histories 4.79
Skyles conceived a desire to be initiated into the rites of Dionysos Bakcheios; and when he was about to begin the sacred mysteries, he saw the greatest vision. He had in the city of the Borysthenites a spacious house, grand and costly (the same house I just mentioned), all surrounded by sphinxes and griffins worked in white marble; this house was struck by a thunderbolt. And though the house burnt to the ground, Skyles none the less performed the rite to the end. Now the Skythians reproach the Greeks for this Bacchic revelling, saying that it is not reasonable to set up a God who leads men to madness. So when Skyles had been initiated into the Bacchic rite, some one of the Borysthenites scoffed at the Skythians, `You laugh at us, Skythians, because we play the Bacchant and the God possesses us; but now this deity has possessed your own king, so that he plays the Bacchant and is maddened by the God. If you will not believe me, follow me now and I will show him to you.’ The leading men among the Skythians followed him, and the Borysthenite brought them up secretly onto a tower; from which, when Skyles passed by with his company of worshipers, they saw him raving like a Bacchant; thinking it a great misfortune, they left the city and told the whole army what they had seen. After this Skyles rode off to his own place; but the Skythians rebelled against him. […] Sitalkes sent this message to Octamasadas, by a herald, and Octamasadas, with whom a brother of Sitalkes had formerly taken refuge, accepted the terms. He surrendered his own uncle to Sitalkes, and obtained in exchange his brother Skyles. Sitalkes took his brother with him and withdrew; but Octamasadas beheaded Skyles upon the spot. Thus rigidly do the Skythians maintain their own customs, and thus severely do they punish such as adopt foreign usages.

Io Dionysos!

I am putting the finishing touches on my substantially redesigned temple space in preparation for Foundation Day, which will inaugurate Year Two of the Bakcheion. It will consist of a divination station, a shrine to the Retinue of Dionysos (including several allied divinities) and separate shrines to Dionysos Lusios and Dionysos Bakcheios.  Because I’m me I compiled playlists for each of them. Here are the Lusios and Bakcheios playlists, for your delectation.

So what do you think will happen when you die?

I am often asked what the position of the Starry Bull tradition is with regard to metempsychosis or reincarnation.

We don’t have one.

This may strike some as peculiar since we place such a strong emphasis on eschatology but there is nothing within our system of belief which depends on or is refuted by reincarnation, therefore it remains a matter which each member must make their own decisions about. (An approach which, incidentally, reflects the custom of our ancient Bacchic Orphic predecessors who were in universal agreement on almost nothing.) For every quote you dig up that’s pro you can find another that’s con. Most, in fact, are so ambiguous that they can be read in any number of ways depending on the preferences of the interpreter.

I tend, for instance, to interpret many of these quotes as referring to metempsychosis but not reincarnation.

Originally this word meant the transfer of a soul from one body to another. Obviously reincarnation (wherein a person dies and their soul gets reborn in a different body) is a type of metempsychosis but it is not the only type. For instance it could also refer to things like sending one’s soul out to take possession of another person’s body, the transformation of an individual (whether here or in another realm) into an animal or bird, the generation of some kind of spiritual body or it could be a metaphor for the start of a new life and identity post initiation. None of these require the catalyst of a physical death.

Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to reject the notion of reincarnation, particularly as it is understood in the West so often with a radically reductionist view of the soul. The majority of ancient Greeks, whether they held to a more traditional Homeric view or aligned with marginal folks like Empedokles, Aristeas, Parmenides and Pythagoras, did not conceive of man as just a ghost in a fleshy machine. Man is made up of many parts, including various spiritual bodies and non-localized organs of intelligence, perception and emotion. Some of these are bound to the body until death and after; some may separate and roam free even in life; some only come into being once the person has crossed over to the other side. Which, of course, begs the question – if all of these different parts have different destinations how much of “you” gets recycled into a new body? And if everyone automatically gets reincarnated why do we make offerings to ancestors, heroes, daimones and restless spirits? For that matter, how can the dead walk the earth once more on Anthesteria, Lemuria, Samain, Día de Muertos or Yule? (Depending on your tradition and locale.)

Now, of course, none of these preclude at least some type of reincarnation from taking place (part of what we are going to simplistically refer to as the soul may go on to abide with the ancestors while a different part gets implanted into a gestating fetus) but that is largely irrelevant for the Bacchic Orphic who intends to spend at least some portion of eternity in drunken carousel with Dionysos and his Retinue. The whole point of initiation is to prepare us for that underworld journey and the dangers and obstacles we shall encounter upon the way. (It also keeps us whole so we can remember who we are.) There’s no lock on the door, however. You can wander off any time. Explore other parts of the underworld, or the endless corridors of the Labyrinth and all the places they lead; if you wanted, you could even put on another meatsuit and see again what exquisite pleasures and suffering the world of the living contains. Sometimes birth is a punishment for wicked deeds; sometimes an accident. And sometimes you enter at different points in the stream of time. (Like, what if past lives are actually future lives, man? *bong hit*)

Maybe. Maybe not.

I’d never pretend I have it all figured out. Hell, I wouldn’t want to know all the secret mechanics of life and shit even if I could.

That’d be boring.

So what do you think will happen when you die?


Authors of the God’s sufferings

The creatures who hunt the young God down, tear him apart and devour his flesh raw aren’t Titans. It was Onomakritos who first called them that:

Those about the sanctuary say that the Mistress was brought up by Anytos, who was one of the Titans, as they are called. The first to introduce Titans into poetry was Homer, representing them as Gods down in what is called Tartaros; the lines are in the passage about Hera’s oath. From Homer the name of the Titans was taken by Onomakritos, who in the orgies he composed for Dionysos made the Titans the authors of the God’s sufferings. (Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.37.5)

The Titans were terrifying ancestral spirits who dwelt in the abyss of the underworld; thus a natural choice to play the part of villain in the myth he was stitching together from random Orphic fragments. Part of what may have inspired Onomakritos to take this artistic license is that the perpetrators of the deed smeared themselves with titanos, as Nonnos lets slip:

Zagreus the horned baby, who by himself climbed upon the heavenly throne of Zeus and brandished lightning in his little hand, and newly born, lifted and carried thunderbolts in his tender fingers for Zeus meant him to be king of the universe. But he did not hold the throne of Zeus for long. By the fierce resentment of implacable Hera, the Titanes cunningly smeared their round faces with disguising chalk (titanos), and while he contemplated his changeling countenance reflected in a mirror they destroyed him with an infernal knife. There where his limbs had been cut piecemeal by the Titan steel, the end of his life was the beginning of a new life as Dionysos. He appeared in another shape, and changed into many forms: now young like crafty Kronides shaking the aegis-cape, now as ancient Kronos heavy-kneed, pouring rain. Sometimes he was a curiously formed baby, sometimes like a mad youth with the flower of the first down marking his rounded chin with black. Again, a mimic lion he uttered a horrible roar in furious rage from a wild snarling throat, as he lifted a neck shadowed by a thick mane, marking his body on both sides with the self-striking whip of a tail which flickered about over his hairy back. Next, he left the shape of a lion’s looks and let out a ringing neigh, now like an unbroken horse that lifts his neck on high to shake out the imperious tooth of the bit, and rubbing, whitened his cheek with hoary foam. Sometimes he poured out a whistling hiss from his mouth, a curling horned serpent covered with scales, darting out his tongue from his gaping throat, and leaping upon the grim head of some Titan encircled his neck in snaky spiral coils. Then he left the shape of the restless crawler and became a tiger with gay stripes on his body; or again like a bull emitting a counterfeit roar from his mouth he butted the Titanes with sharp horn. So he fought for his life, until Hera with jealous throat bellowed harshly through the air–that heavy-resentful step-mother! And the gates of Olympos rattled in echo to her jealous throat from high heaven. Then the bold bull collapsed: the murderers each eager for his turn with the knife chopt piecemeal the bull-shaped Dionysos. (Dionysiaka 6.155 ff)

Eustathius lets us in on the secret when he remarks:

We apply the word titanos in general to dust, in particular to what is called asbestos, which is the white fluffy substance in burnt stones. It is so called from the Titans in mythology, whom Zeus in the story smote with his thunderbolts and consumed to dust. For from them, the fine dust of stones which has crumbled from excessive heat, so to speak Titanic heat, is called titanic, as though a Titanic penalty had been accomplished upon it. And the ancients call dust and gypsum titanos.

But it’s Clement of Alexandria who reveals the truth without fully understanding what he exhorts:

The mysteries of Dionysos are wholly inhuman; for while still a child, and the Curetes danced around his cradle clashing their weapons, and the Titans having come upon them by stealth, and having beguiled him with childish toys, these very Titans tore him limb from limb when but a child, as the bard of this mystery, the Thracian Orpheus, says:–

“Cone, and spinning-top, and limb-moving rattles, and fair golden apples from the clear-toned Hesperides.”

And the useless symbols of this mystic rite it will not be useless to exhibit for condemnation. These are dice, ball, hoop, apples, top, looking-glass, tuft of wool.

Athene, to resume our account, having abstracted the heart of Dionysos received the name Pallas from its palpitating (pallein). And the Titans who had torn him limb from limb, setting a caldron on a tripod, and throwing into it the members of Dionysos, first boiled them down, and then fixing them on spits, “held them over the fire.” But Zeus having appeared, since he was a God, having speedily perceived the savour of the pieces of flesh that were being cooked,–that savour which your Gods agree to have assigned to them as their perquisite, assails the Titans with his thunderbolt, and consigns the members of Dionysos to his son Apollo to be interred. And he–for he did not disobey Zeus–bore the dismembered corpse to Parnassus, and there deposited it.

If you wish to inspect the orgies of the Corybantes, then know that, having killed their third brother, they covered the head of the dead body with a purple cloth, crowned it, and carrying it on the point of a spear, buried it under the roots of Olympus. These mysteries are, in short, murders and funerals. And the priests of these rites, who are called kings of the sacred rites by those whose business it is to name them, give additional strangeness to the tragic occurrence, by forbidding parsley with the roots from being placed on the table, for they think that parsley grew from the Corybantic blood that flowed forth; just as the women, in celebrating the Thesmophoria, abstain from eating the seeds of the pomegranate which have fallen on the ground, from the idea that pomegranates sprang from the drops of the blood of Dionysos. Those Corybantes also they call Cabiric; and the ceremony itself they announce as the Cabiric mystery.

For those two identical fratricides, having abstracted the box in which the phallos of Bacchus was deposited, took it to Etruria–dealers in honourable wares truly. They lived there as exiles, employing themselves in communicating the precious teaching of their superstition, and presenting phallic symbols and the box for the Tyrrhenians to worship. And some will have it, not improbably, that for this reason Dionysos was called Attis, because he was mutilated. And what is surprising at the Tyrrhenians, who were barbarians, being thus initiated into these foul indignities, when among the Athenians, and in the whole of Greece–I blush to say it–the shameful legend about Demeter holds its ground?

Did you catch it?

Here’s a hint: it’s actually the same story.

The murderers of Dionysos were his protectors, the Korybantes. They were charged with guarding his body and instead they tore and devoured it.

Mind you, this may not have happened when he was a child. His name is Zagreus, after all – the Great Hunter.

The one who greatly hunts, as the writer of the Alcmeonis said Mistress Earth, and Zagreus highest of all the Gods. That is, Dionysos. (Etymologicum Gudianum s.v. Zagreus)

He’s the savage one who roams the night with his mailed priests:

Son of the Phoenician princess, child of Tyrian Europa and great Zeus, ruler over hundred-fortressed Crete—here am I, come from the sanctity of temples roofed with cut beam of our native wood, its true joints of cypress welded together with Chalybean axe and cement from the bull. Pure has my life been since the day when I became an initiate of Idaean Zeus. Where midnight Zagreus roves, I rove; I have endured his thunder-cry; fulfilled his red and bleeding feasts; held the Great Mother’s mountain flame; I am set free and named by name a Bakchos of the Mailed Priests. Having all-white garments, I flee the birth of mortals and, not nearing the place of corpses, I guard myself against the eating of ensouled flesh. (Euripides, Cretans fragment 472)

They are warriors performing a frenzied dance amid thunderous drums and clanging metal. Nonnos describes them thus:

Already the bird of morning was cutting the air with loud cries; already the helmeted bands of desert-haunting Korybantes were beating on their shields in the Knossian dance, and leaping with rhythmic steps, and the oxhides thudded under the blows of the iron as they whirled them about in rivalry, while the double pipe made music, and quickened the dancers with its rollicking tune in time to the bounding steps. Aye, and the trees whispered, the rocks boomed, the forests held jubilee with their intelligent movings and shakings, and the Dryades did sing. Packs of bears joined the dance, skipping and wheeling face to face; lions with a roar from emulous throats mimicked the triumphant cry of the priests of the Kabeiroi, sane in their madness; the revelling pipes rang out a tune to honour of Hekate, divine friend of dogs, those single pipes, which the horn-polisher’s art invented in Kronos’s days. The noisy Korybantes with their ringing din awoke Kadmos early in the morning; the Sidonian seamen also with one accord, hearing the never-silent oxhide at dawn, rose from their rattling pebbly pallets and left the brine-beaten back of the shore. (Dionysiaka 3. 61 ff)

A less poetic but no loss evocative account of them is provided by Strabo:

Pherekydes says that nine Kyrbantes were sprung from Apollon and Rhetia, and that they took up their abode in Samothrake; and that three Kabeiroi and three Nymphai called Kabeirides were the children of Kabeiro, the daughter of Proteus, and Hephaistos, and that sacred rites were instituted in honor of each triad. Demetrius of Scepsis says that it is probable that the Kouretes and the Korybantes were the same, being those who had been accepted as young men, or ‘youths,’ for the war-dance in connection with the holy rites of the Mother of the Gods, and also as korybantes from the fact that they ‘walked with a butting of their heads’ in a dancing way. These are called by the poet betarmones: ‘Come now, all ye that are the best betarmones of the Phaiakes.’ And because the Korybantes are inclined to dancing and to religious frenzy, we say of those who are stirred with frenzy that they are ‘korybantising.’

Clement has these frenzied daimones dancing protectively around Zagreus and then suddenly the Titans show up – really there was just one group. Vengeful Hera goaded them and in a fit of madness they turned upon the leader of their war-band, murdered him and ate his flesh. Dionysos comes back to life:

Furthermore, so that we might seem to go more deeply, the story says that the Giants found Bacchus inebriated. After they tore him to pieces limb by limb, they buried the bits, and a little while later he arose alive and whole. We read that the disciples of Orpheus interpreted this fiction philosophically and that they represent this story in his sacred rites. (The Third Vatican Mythographer 12.5)

He then freed them from madness:

The titanic mode of life is the irrational mode, by which rational life is torn asunder: It is better to acknowledge its existence everywhere, since in any case at its source there are Gods, the Titans; then also on the plane of rational life, this apparent self-determination, which seems to aim at belonging to itself alone and neither to the superior nor to the inferior, is wrought in us by the Titans; through it we tear asunder the Dionysos in ourselves, breaking up the natural continuity of our being and our partnership, so to speak, with the superior and inferior. While in this condition, we are Titans; but when we recover that lost unity, we become Dionysoi and we attain what can truly be called completeness. (Damascius, Commentary on the Phaedo 1.9)

 And they rejoined his army – which we get in a variant tradition related by Diodoros Sikeliotes:

The struggle having proved sharp and many having fallen on both sides, Kronos finally was wounded and victory lay with Dionysos, who had distinguished himself in the battle. Thereupon the Titans fled to the regions which had once been possessed by Ammon, and Dionysos gathered up a multitude of captives and returned to Nysa. Here, drawing up his force in arms about the prisoners, he brought a formal accusation against the Titans and gave them every reason to suspect that he was going to execute the captives. But when he got them free from the charges and allowed them to make their choice either to join him in his campaign or to go scot free, they all chose to join him, and because their lives had been spared contrary to their expectation they venerated him like a God. Dionysos, then, taking the captives singly and giving them a libation of wine, required of all of them an oath that they would join in the campaign without treachery and fight manfully until death. (Library of History 3.71.4-6)

I believe that they represent the core of the Furious Host,

That is no wonder; for ’tis Bacchus himself, the God of wine, and the captain and emperor of drunkards. He is crown’d with ivy and vine leaves. He has a thyrsus instead of a scepter; that is, a javelin with an iron head, encircled by ivy or vine leaves in his hand. He is carried in a chariot, sometimes drawn by tigers and lions and sometimes by lynxes and panthers. And like a king he has his guards, who are a drunken band of satyrs, demons, nymphs that preside over the wine presses, fairies of the fountains and priestesses. Silenus sometimes comes after him sitting on an ass that bends under his burden. (Andrew Tooke, The Pantheon representing the Fabulous Histories of the Heathen Gods and Most Illustrious Heroes)

And what’s more, I believe that the healing ritual he performed to bring them back to sanity is the one reenacted through enthronismos:

They are doing just the same thing as those in the rite of the Korybantes do, when they perform the enthronement ceremony with the one who is about to be initiated. In that situation too there is some dancing and playing around, as you know if you have been initiated. (Plato, Euthydemos 277d)

Because the first Bacchus is Dionysos, possessed by the dance and the shout, by all movements of which he is the cause according to the Laws (II.672a5–d4): but one who has consecrated himself to Dionysos, being similar to the God, takes part in his name as well. (Damascius, Commentary on the Phaedrus 1.171)

On attaining manhood, you abetted your mother in her initiations and the other rituals, and read aloud from the cultic writings. At night, you mixed the libations, purified the initiates, and dressed them in fawnskins. You cleansed them off with clay and cornhusks, and raising them up from the purification, you led the chant, ‘The evil I flee, the better I find.’ And it was your pride that no one ever emitted that holy ululation so powerfully as yourself. I can well believe it! When you hear the stentorian tones of the orator, can you doubt that the ejaculations of the acolyte were simply magnificent? In the daylight, you led the fine thiasos through the streets, wearing their garlands of fennel and white poplar. You rubbed the fat-cheeked snakes and swung them above your head crying ‘Euoi Saboi’ and dancing to the tune of hues attes, attes hues. Old women hailed you ‘Leader’, ‘mysteries instructor’, ‘ivy-bearer’, ‘liknon carrier’, and the like. (Demosthenes, On the Crown 259-60)

So it is just as if someone were to initiate a man, Greek or barbarian, leading him into some mystic shrine overwhelming in its size and beauty. He would see many mystic spectacles and hear many such voices; light and darkness would appear to him in alternation, and a myriad other things would happen. Still more, just as they are accustomed to do in the ritual called enthronement, the initiators, having enthroned the initiands, dance in circles around them. Is it at all likely that this man would experience nothing in his soul and that he would not suspect that what was taking place was done with a wiser understanding and preparation? … Still more, if, not humans like the initiands, but immortal Gods were initiating mortals, and night and day, both in the light and under the stars were, if it is right to speak so, literally dancing around them eternally. (Dio Chrysostom, Oration 12.33-34)

What you should take away from this isn’t that Dionysos was destroyed by monsters – it’s that he then turned around and made those monsters his friends. Also, that the Korybantes are sons of Apollon.


You become what you eat

The Orphic prohibition on eating certain animals isn’t vegetarianism (though it was sometimes mistaken for such in antiquity) nor is it driven by sentimentality – it is straight up a taboo in the Frazerian sense. The concern wasn’t for the preservation of life (which is why they had no problem participating in animal sacrifice) but rather the effect that consuming the animal’s soul would have on the individual – since that was actually part of the telete.

This is made clear in the original Greek – in the rare instances when you find Orphics mentioned in conjunction with abstention from meat (and that rarity should tell us something, since vegetarians wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to enshroud their beliefs in the authority of a figure like Orpheus if they could) what they are avoiding is flesh that is empsuchos “ensouled” not “alive” zōntes or something similar. Notably, in Homer, psuchai are something we possess only in death, a sort of spiritual double that’s produced when the body ceases to respirate and is sent down to the house of Haides. This concept changed drastically under the Presocratics until it came to have its contemporary psychological associations – but Orphism was self-consciously Homeric and pre-Homeric in its orientation. (Most Orphic literature, even in the late period, was produced in strict dactylic hexameters and there are strong, and rather ironic, borrowings from Homer in the gold lamellae.) So I think Orphics were drawing on primitive (one might even say shamanic considering the region where the tradition originated) notions of the soul as a repository of qualities and consciousness that could migrate from one body to another. Thus by eating an animal one would take on the soul of that animal, including its powers, personality and behaviors. So, for instance, when we find prohibitions such as these:

Those who are mages (magoi) and purifiers (kathartai) and beggar-priests (agurtai) and vagrant-charlatans (alazones) purport to be extremely reverent of the gods and to know something more than the rest of us. They use the divine to hide behind and to cloak the fact that they have nothing to apply to disease that will bring relief. So that their ignorance should not become manifest, they promoted the belief that disease was sacred. They added further appropriate arguments to render their method of healing safe for themselves. They applied purifications (katharmoi) and incantations (epaoidai) and told people to refrain from bathing and many foods unsuitable for the sick to eat: among fish they banned red mullet, black-tail, grey mullet, and eel (for these are the most hazardous); among meats goat, venison, pork and dog (for these are the meats that upset the stomach most); among poultry cock, pigeon, the otis-bird and all those birds considered to be least indigestible; among vegetables mint, garlic, and onions (their sharpness is deleterious for a sick man). They also forbade the wearing of a black cloak (for black is deathly), the lying on or wearing of goatskin, the placing of foot upon foot or hand upon hand (for this is shackling). (Hippocrates, On the Sacred Disease 1.11–18)

We can see the laws of sympatheia and contagion at work here. These specific animals are singled out for what they represent which was situationally undesirable, particularly since the recommendations are being made for a client who is suffering from illness. In other contexts one might actually want to become a goat or a bull and thus would consume their flesh in order to draw the animals’ souls into them. Seen in this light several Orphic texts suddenly take on a whole new meaning:

Where midnight Zagreus roves, I rove; I have endured his thunder-cry; fulfilled his red and bleeding feasts; held the Great Mother’s mountain flame; I am set free and named by name a Bakchos of the Mailed Priests. Having all-white garments, I flee the birth of mortals and, not nearing the place of corpses, I guard myself against the eating of ensouled flesh. (Euripides, Cretans fragment 472)

Now you have died and now you have been born, thrice blessed one, on this very day. Say to Persephone that Bakchios himself freed you. A bull you rushed to milk. Quickly, you rushed to milk. A ram you fell into milk. You have wine as your fortunate honor. And rites await you beneath the earth, just as the other blessed ones. (Gold tablet from Pelinna)

Accept ye my great offering as the payment for my lawless fathers.
Save me, great Brimo …
and Demeter and Rhea …
and the armed Kouretes: let us … and we will make fine sacrifices.
A ram and a he-goat … boundless gifts.
… and by the law of the river …
Taking of the goat … let him eat the rest of the meat …
Let no uninitiated look on!
(The Gurôb Papyrus)

So there may have been a taboo not just on eating certain animals – but on eating them outside of ritual or before rituals where a different sort of energy was required. 

And a mythic prototype of this would naturally have been the metamorphoses described by Nonnos in the sixth book of his Dionysiaka:

He appeared in another shape, and changed into many forms: now young like crafty Kronides shaking the aegis-cape, now as ancient Kronos heavy-kneed, pouring rain. Sometimes he was a curiously formed baby, sometimes like a mad youth with the flower of the first down marking his rounded chin with black. Again, a mimic lion he uttered a horrible roar in furious rage from a wild snarling throat, as he lifted a neck shadowed by a thick mane, marking his body on both sides with the self-striking whip of a tail which flickered about over his hairy back. Next, he left the shape of a lion’s looks and let out a ringing neigh, now like an unbroken horse that lifts his neck on high to shake out the imperious tooth of the bit, and rubbing, whitened his cheek with hoary foam. Sometimes he poured out a whistling hiss from his mouth, a curling horned serpent covered with scales, darting out his tongue from his gaping throat, and leaping upon the grim head of some Titan encircled his neck in snaky spiral coils. Then he left the shape of the restless crawler and became a tiger with gay stripes on his body; or again like a bull emitting a counterfeit roar from his mouth he butted the Titanes with sharp horn. So he fought for his life, until Hera with jealous throat bellowed harshly through the air–that heavy-resentful step-mother! And the gates of Olympos rattled in echo to her jealous throat from high heaven. Then the bold bull collapsed: the murderers each eager for his turn with the knife chopt piecemeal the bull-shaped Dionysos.

As well as the vision of Platonic revenant Er who described a musical orgy during which Orpheus was transformed into a swan and Thamyras a nightingale and a bird became a man in a “strange, pitiful ridiculous spectacle.” (Republic 10.620a)

The profound identification of eater with eaten which lies at the heart of omophagia was too much for certain sensitive individuals such as Empedokles:

Will ye not cease from this ill-sounding slaughter? See ye not that ye are devouring one another in the thoughtlessness of your hearts? […] And the father lifts up his own son in a changed form and slays him with a prayer. Infatuated fool! And they run up to the sacrificers, begging mercy, while he, deaf to their cries, slaughters them in his halls and gets ready the evil feast. In like manner does the son seize his father, and children their mother, tear out their life and eat the kindred flesh. […] Draining their life with bronze. […] Ah, woe is me that the pitiless day of death did not destroy me ere ever I wrought evil deeds of devouring with my lips! (fragments 136-39)

And like someone reeling from a bad acid trip who swears off all drugs, he rejected the core sacrament of Orphism after going through it. This sarcophobic strain enters Pythagoreanism in the second or third generation and gives rise to the soma-sema tag “the body is a tomb” which dominates Neo-Pythagoreanism, Neoplatonism and certain branches of Orphism (such as the ones that emphasize Apollon or Zeus above Dionysos and Persephone) to the end of antiquity. But death as a transition from one state of life to another and sacramental theriomorphism remained hallmarks of Bacchic Orphism and related Dionysiac traditions.

Like tarantism, which seems to be the process in reverse. Instead of becoming what you bite, you become what bites you.

Gilbert Rouget writes in Music and Trance: A theory of the relations between music and possession:

One of the dance figures of the tarantulees – the best known – consists, as we know, in imitating the spider’s movements: back to the ground, body arched to a great or lesser degree, the tarantulee moves about like a spider on all fours. One can see this very clearly in D. Carpitella’s film, and the sight is striking […] Despite appearances, the divinity responsible for the possession is not the one that is excorcised. On the contrary, it is the divinity concerned who, by allowing the possessing person to identify with him or her, provides the means of ecxorcising the illness – real or imagined – from which the person is suffering.

Elaborating on this, blogger quotidian banality writes:

The spider which was held responsible for tarantism was a mythical creature which did not correspond to any arachnid of modern zoology. Instead, the taranta assembled the characteristics of several different species of spider into a mythical whole. Different colours were attributed to the spiders – principally red, green and black – and the ‘bite’ of each respective spider caused different behaviour in the victim. Those bit by red spiders displayed martial, heroic behaviour; those bit by green spiders displayed eroticised behaviour; and those bitten by black spiders were fascinated by funerary paraphernalia. Furthermore, each colour spider had its own repertoire of musical figures and dances: for example, those bitten by a green spider would only dance to a tarantella tune associated with the green spider. Finally, the victims of the spider’s bite were fascinated by pieces of cloth with the appropriate colour. Thus, during the course of an exorcism different Tarantella tunes were played and different colours of clothes were given to the victim in order to determine which spider possesses her. Only the appropriate tarantella tune, the appropriate colour and the appropriate dance would cure the victim – at least for the time being, until the affliction reoccured a year later. Music serves at once as diagnosis and therapy.

Which hearkens back to what I was saying about sympatheia and contagion earlier. 

And circles make me think of labyrinths which makes me wonder – if eating animals makes us bestial, by eating human flesh did Asterion become more man-like?


For Mysterium magnum is nothing else than the hiddenness of the Deity, together with the Being of all beings, from which one mysterium proceeds after another, and each mysterium is the mirror and model of the other. And it is the great wonder of eternity, wherein all is included, and from eternity has been seen in the mirror of wisdom. And nothing comes to pass that has not from eternity been known in the mirror of wisdom. But you must understand this according to the properties of the mirror, according to all the forms of Nature, viz. according to light and darkness, according to comprehensibility and incomprehensibility, according to love and wrath, or according to fire and light, as has been set forth elsewhere. The Magician has power in this Mystery to act according to his will, and can do what he pleases. But he must be armed in that element wherein he would create; else he will be cast out as a stranger, and given into the power of the spirits thereof, to deal with him according to their desire. Of which in this place no more is to be said, because of the turba.

OK Böhmer.

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The Christian heresiarch Carpocrates (whom I posted about here and here) was born in 2nd century Egypt and ended his days in Asia Minor, which had a pronounced Bacchic presence. Around this time there were even small circles of Orphikoi in the area, such as the community that produced the collection of hymns that has come down to us under their master’s name. I strongly suspect that these groups intersected and that there was substantial mutual inspiration between them.

Consider what Livy relates about the Bacchanalia and the Bacchic Martyrs of Southern Italy, as well as stories that circulated elsewhere. Hell, even back in the days of Plato we Bacchic Orphics had a pretty sketchy reputation.

But it isn’t just their marginal status and antinomian beliefs that causes me to intuit a connection between these groups, as Clement of Alexandria makes clear in book 3, chapter 2 of the Miscellanies:

6. This is what he says, then, in the book Concerning Righteousness: “The righteousness of God is a kind of universal fairness and equality. There is equality in the heaven which is stretched out in all directions and contains the entire earth in its circle. The night reveals equally all the stars. The light of the sun, which is the cause of the daytime and the father of light, God pours out from above upon the earth in equal measure on all who have power to see. For all see alike. There is no distinction between rich and poor, people and governor, stupid and clever, female and male, free men and slaves. Even the irrational animals are not accorded any different treatment; but in just the same way God pours out from above sunlight equally upon all the animals. He establishes his righteousness to both good and bad by seeing that none is able to get more than his share and to deprive his neighbour, so that he has twice the light his neighbour has. The sun causes food to grow for all living beings alike; the universal righteousness is given to all equally. In this respect there is no difference between the entire species of oxen and any individual oxen, between the species of pigs and particular pigs, between the species of sheep and particular sheep, and so on with all the rest. In them the universality of God’s fairness is manifest. Furthermore all plants of whatever sort are sown equally in the earth. Common nourishment grows for all beasts which feed on the earth’s produce; to all it is alike. It is regulated by no law, but rather is harmoniously available to all through the gift of him who gives it and makes it to grow.

7. “And for birth there is no written law (for otherwise it would have been transcribed). All beings beget and give birth alike, having received by God’s righteousness an innate equality. The Creator and Father of all with his own righteousness appointed this, just as he gave equally the eye to all to enable them to see. He did not make a distinction between female and male, rational and irrational, nor between anything and anything else at all; rather he shared out sight equally and universally. It was given to all alike by a single command. As the laws (he says) could not punish men who were ignorant of them, they taught men that they were transgressors. But the laws, by pre-supposing the existence of private property, cut up and destroyed the universal equality decreed by the divine law.” As he does not understand the words of the apostle where he says “Through the law I knew sin,” he says that the idea of Mine and Thine came into existence through the laws so that the earth and money were no longer put to common use. And so also with marriage. “For God has made vines for all to use in common, since they are not protected against sparrows and a thief; and similarly corn and the other fruits. But the abolition, contrary to divine law, of community of use and equality begat the thief of domestic animals and fruits.

8. He brought female to be with male and in the same way united all animals. He thus showed righteousness to be a universal fairness and equality .But those who have been born in this way have denied the universality which is the corollary of their birth and say, ‘Let him who has taken one woman keep her,’ whereas all alike can have her, just as the other animals do.” After this, which is quoted word for word, he again continues in the same spirit as follows: “With a view to the permanence of the race, he has implanted in males a strong and ardent desire which neither law nor custom nor any other restraint is able to destroy. For it is God’s decree.”

And how can this man still be reckoned among our number when he openly abolishes both law and gospel by these words. The one says: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The other says: “Everyone who looks lustfully has already committed adultery.” The saying in the law, “Thou shalt not covet,” lt shows that one God is proclaimed by law, prophets, and gospel; for it says: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.” But for a Jew the “neighbour” is not a Jew, for he is a brother and has the same spirit. Therefore it remains that “neighbour” means one of another race. But how can he not be a neighbour who is able to share in the same spirit? For Abraham is father not only of the Hebrews, but also of the Gentiles.

9. If the adulteress and he who committed fornication with her are punished with death, clearly the command which says “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” speaks of the Gentiles, in order that anyone who, as the law directs, abstains from his neighbour’s wife and from his sister may hear clearly from the Lord, “But I say unto you, Thou shalt not lust.” The addition of the word “I,” however, shows the stricter force of the commandment, and that Carpocrates fights against God, and Epiphanes likewise. The latter in the same notorious book, I mean Concerning Righteousness, writes in one passage as follows: “Consequently one must understand the saying ‘Thou shalt not covet’ as if the lawgiver was making a jest, to which he added the even more comic words ‘thy neighbour’s goods’. For he himself who gave the desire to sustain the race orders that it is to be suppressed, though he removes it from no other animals. And by the words ‘thy neighbour’s wife’ he says something even more ludicrous, since he forces what should be common property to be treated as a private possession.”

These then are the doctrines of the excellent Carpocratians. These, so they say, and certain other enthusiasts for the same wickednesses, gather together for feasts (I would not call their meeting an Agape), men and women together. After they have sated their appetites (“on repletion Cypris, the Goddess of love, enters,” as it is said), then they overturn the lamps and so extinguish the light that the shame of their adulterous “righteousness” is hidden, and they have intercourse where they will and with whom they will. After they have practiced community of use in this love-feast, they demand by daylight of whatever women they wish that they will be obedient to the law of Carpocrates-it would not be right to say the law of God. Such, I think, is the law that Carpocrates must have given for the copulations of dogs and pigs and goats. He seems to me to have misunderstood the saying of Plato in the Republic that the women of all are to be common. Plato means that the unmarried are common for those who wish to ask them, as also the theatre is open to the public for all who wish to see, but that when each one has chosen his wife, then the married woman is no longer common to all.

II. In his book entitled Magica Xanthus says: “The Magi think it permissible to have sexual intercourse with mothers and daughters and sisters, and that wives are to be held in common, not by force and in secret, but both parties may agree when one man wishes to marry another’s wife. “Of these and other similar sects Jude, I think, spoke prophetically in his letter- “In the same way also these dreamers” (for they do not seek to find the truth in the light of day) as far as the words “and their mouth speaks arrogant things.”

A lot of this cosmology is downright Empedoclean and Herakleitian.

And this strain of utopian Bacchic communitarianism interests me a great deal, as it’s something that we see resurface (again and again) with the Germanic, Scandinavian and Russian Romantic poets and even much earlier with François Rabelais and his Abbey of Thélème. (Not to mention here in America too.)

But even more relevant is the hero-cultus that developed around Epiphanes, the son of Carpocrates:

6. But the followers of Carpocrates and Epiphanes think that wives should be common property. Through them the worst calumny has become current against the Christian name. This fellow Epiphanes, whose writings I have at hand, was a son of Carpocrates and his mother was named Alexandria. On his father’s side he was an Alexandrine, on his mother’s a Cephallenian. He lived in all only seventeen years, and at Same in Cephallenia was honoured as a God. There a temple of vast blocks of stone was erected and dedicated to him, with altars, sacred precincts, and a “museum.” The Cephallenians gather at the temple every new moon and celebrate with sacrifices the day when Epiphanes became a God as his birthday; they pour libations to him, feast in his honour, and sing his praises. He was educated by his father in the general education and in Platonism, and he was instructed in the knowledge of the Monad, which is the root-origin of the Carpocratians’ heresy.

So much to be unpacked here, that I hesitate to introduce the following – but it does show that Gnostics and Orphics rubbed shoulders, even if these selections from the fifth book of Hippolytus Romanus’ Philosophoumena are concerning a different denomination:

Worshipping, however, Kyllenios with special distinction, they style him Logios. For Hermes is the Word who being interpreter and fabricator of the things that have been made simultaneously and that are being produced and that will exist, stands honoured among them, fashioned into the form of the phallos of a man, having an impulsive power from the parts below towards those above. And that this deity is a conjurer of the dead and a guide of departed spirits and an originator of souls has not escaped the notice of the poets.

This is the Christ who, he says, in all that have been generated, is the portrayed Son of Man from the unportrayable Logos. This, he says, is the great and unspeakable mystery of the Eleusinian rites, Hye, Kye! (“Rain, conceive!”) And he affirms that all things have been subjected unto him, and this is that which has been spoken, Their sound is gone forth unto all the earth just as it agrees with the expression, Hermes waving his wand, guides the souls, but they twittering follow. The poet means the disembodied spirits follow continuously in such a way as by his imagery he delineates:

And as when in the magic cave’s recess
Bats humming fly, and when one drops from ridge of rock,
and each to other closely clings.

These are, he says, what are by all called the secret mysteries which also we speak, not in words taught of human wisdom, but in those taught of the spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receives not the things of God’s spirt for they are foolishness unto him.

And again, he says, the savior has declared the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you.

Jeremiah himself remarked He is a man, and who shall know him?

These, he says, are the inferior mysteries, those appertaining to carnal generation. Now, those men who are initiated into these inferior mysteries ought to pause, and then be admitted into the great and heavenly ones. For they, he says, who obtain their shares in this mystery, receive greater portions. For this, he says, is the gate of heaven; and this a house of God, where the Good Deity dwells alone. And into this gate, he says, no unclean person shall enter, nor one that is natural or carnal; but it is reserved for the spiritual only. And those who come hither ought to cast off their garments, and become all of them bridegrooms.

Concerning these, it is said, the Savior has expressly declared that straight and narrow is the way that leads unto life, and few there are that enter upon it; whereas broad and spacious is the way that leads unto destruction, and many there are that pass through it.

The entire system of their doctrine, however, is derived from the ancient theologians Mousaios, Linos and Orpheus, who elucidates especially the ceremonies of initiation, as well as the mysteries themselves. For their doctrine concerning the womb is also the tenet of Orpheus; and the idea of the navel, which is harmony, is to be found with the same symbolism attached to it in the Bacchanalian orgies of Orpheus. But prior to the observance of the mystic rites of Keleos and Triptolemos and Demeter and Bakchos in Eleusis, these orgies have been celebrated and handed down to men in Phliom of Attica.

And in the greater number of these books is also drawn the representation of a certain aged man, grey-haired, winged, having his penis erect, pursuing a retreating woman of azure color. And over the aged man is the inscription phaos ruentes, and over the woman peree. But phaos ruentes appears to be the light which exists, according to the doctrine of the Sethians, and phicola the darkish water; while the space in the midst of these seems to be a harmony constituted from the spirit that is placed between. The name, however, of phaos ruentes manifests, as they allege, the flow from above of the light downwards. Wherefore one may reasonably assert that the Sethians celebrate rites among themselves, very closely bordering upon those orgies of the Great Mother which are observed among the Phliasians. And the poet likewise seems to bear his testimony to this triple division, when he remarks:

And all things have been triply divided, and everything obtains its proper distinction

 That is, each member of the threefold division has obtained a particular capacity. But now, as regards the tenet that the subjacent water below, which is dark, ought, because the light has set over it, to convey upwards and receive the spark borne down from the light itself is the assertion of this tenet. I say the all-wise Sethians appear to derive their opinion from Homer

By earth I swore, and yon broad Heaven above,
And Stygian stream beneath, the weightiest oath
Of solemn power, to bind the blessed Gods.

 Therefore, he says, when, on the people assembling in the theatres, any one enters clad in a remarkable robe, carrying a harp and playing a tune upon it, accompanying it with a song of the great mysteries, he speaks as follows, not knowing what he says:

 Whether you are the race of Kronos or blessed Zeus, or mighty Rheia, Hail, Attis, gloomy mutilation of Rheia. Assyrians style you thrice-longed-for Adonis, and the whole of Egypt calls you Osiris, celestial horn of the moon; Greeks denominate you Wisdom; Samothracians, venerable Adam; Haemonians, Korybas; and the Phrygians name you at one time Papa, at another time Corpse, or God, or Fruitless, or Aipolos, or Green Ear of Corn that has been reaped, or whom the very fertile Amygdalos produced— a man, a musician.

 This, he says, is multiform Attis, whom while they celebrate in a hymn, they utter these words:

I will hymn Attis, son of Rheia, not with the buzzing sounds of trumpets, or of Idaean pipers, which accord with the voices of Kouretes; but I will mingle my song with Apollon’s music of harps, “evohe, euan,” inasmuch as you are Pan, as you are Bakchos, as you are shepherd of brilliant stars.


‘Tis the Season: More like ewwwcharist

Thomas said: “We have heard that there are some on the earth who take the male seed and the female monthly blood, and make it into a lentil porridge and eat it, saying: ‘We have faith in Esau and Jacob.’ Is this then seemly or not?”

Jesus was wroth with the world in that hour and said unto Thomas: “Amēn, I say: This sin is more heinous than all sins and iniquities. Such men will straightway be taken into the outer darkness and not be cast back anew into the sphere, but they shall perish, be destroyed in the outer darkness in a region where there is neither pity nor light, but howling and grinding of teeth. And all the souls which shall be brought into the outer darkness, will not be cast back anew, but will be destroyed and dissolved.”

– The Pistis Sophia, translated by G. R. S. Mead

‘Tis the Season; A Carpocratian carol

Irenaeus: Against Heresies Book I, Chapter XXV
1. Carpocrates, again, and his followers maintain that the world and the things which are therein were created by angels greatly inferior to the unbegotten Father. They also hold that Jesus was the son of Joseph, and was just like other men, with the exception that he differed from them in this respect, that inasmuch as his soul was stedfast and pure, he perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God. On this account, a power descended upon him from the Father, that by means of it he might escape from the creators of the world; and they say that it, after passing through them all, and remaining in all points free, ascended again to him, and to the powers, which in the same way embraced like things to itself. They further declare, that the soul of Jesus, although educated in the practices of the Jews, regarded these with contempt, and that for this reason he was endowed with faculties, by means of which he destroyed those passions which dwelt in men as a punishment [for their sins].

2. The soul, therefore, which is like that of Christ can despise those rulers who were the creators of the world, and, in like manner, receives power for accomplishing the same results. This idea has raised them to such a pitch of pride, that some of them declare themselves similar to Jesus; while others, still more mighty, maintain that they are superior to his disciples, such as Peter and Paul, and the rest of the apostles, whom they consider to be in no respect inferior to Jesus. For their souls, descending from the same sphere as his, and therefore despising in like manner the creators of the world, are deemed worthy of the same power, and again depart to the same place. But if any one shall have despised the things in this world more than he did, he thus proves himself superior to him.

3. They practise also magical arts and incantations; philters, also, and love-potions; and have recourse to familiar spirits, dream-sending demons, and other abominations, declaring that they possess power to rule over, even now, the princes and formers of this world; and not only them, but also all things that are in it. These men, even as the Gentiles, have been sent forth by Satan to bring dishonour upon the Church, so that, in one way or another, men hearing the things which they speak, and imagining that we all are such as they, may turn away their ears from the preaching of the truth; or, again, seeing the things they practise, may speak evil of us all, who have in fact no fellowship with them, either in doctrine or in morals, or in our daily conduct. But they lead a licentious life, and, to conceal their impious doctrines, they abuse the name [of Christ], as a means of hiding their wickedness; so that “their condemnation is just,” when they receive from God a recompense suited to their works.

4. So unbridled is their madness, that they declare they have in their power all things which are irreligious and impious, and are at liberty to practise them; for they maintain that things are evil or good, simply in virtue of human opinion. They deem it necessary, therefore, that by means of transmigration from body to body, souls should have experience of every kind of life as well as every kind of action (unless, indeed, by a single incarnation, one may be able to prevent any need for others, by once for all, and with equal completeness, doing all those things which we dare not either speak or hear of, nay, which we must not even conceive in our thoughts, nor think credible, if any such thing is mooted among those persons who are our fellow-citizens), in order that, as their writings express it, their souls, having made trial of every kind of life, may, at their departure, not be wanting in any particular. It is necessary to insist upon this, lest, on account of some one thing being still wanting to their deliverance, they should be compelled once more to become incarnate. They affirm that for this reason Jesus spoke the following parable:–”Whilst thou art with thine adversary in the way, give all diligence, that thou mayest be delivered from him, lest he give thee up to the judge, and the judge surrender thee to the officer, and he cast thee into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt not go out thence until thou pay the very last farthing.” They also declare the “adversary” is one of those angels who are in the world, whom they call the Devil, maintaining that he was formed for this purpose, that he might lead those souls which have perished from the world to the Supreme Ruler. They describe him also as being chief among the makers of the world, and maintain that he delivers such souls [as have been mentioned] to another angel, who ministers to him, that he may shut them up in other bodies; for they declare that the body is “the prison.” Again, they interpret these expressions, “Thou shalt not go out thence until thou pay the very last farthing,” as meaning that no one can escape from the power of those angels who made the world, but that he must pass from body to body, until he has experience of every kind of action which can be practised in this world, and when nothing is longer wanting to him, then his liberated soul should soar upwards to that God who is above the angels, the makers of the world. In this way also all souls are saved, whether their own which, guarding against all delay, participate in all sorts of actions during one incarnation, or those, again, who, by passing from body to body, are set free, on fulfilling and accomplishing what is requisite in every form of life into which they are sent, so that at length they shall no longer be [shut in the body].

5. And thus, if ungodly, unlawful, and forbidden actions are committed among them, I can no longer find ground for believing them to be such. And in their writings we read as follows, the interpretation which they give [of their views], declaring that Jesus spoke in a mystery to His disciples and apostles privately, and that they requested and obtained permission to hand down the things thus taught them, to others who should be worthy and believing. We are saved, indeed, by means of faith and love; but all other things, while in their nature indifferent, are reckoned by the opinion of men–some good and some evil, there being nothing really evil by nature.

6. Others of them employ outward marks, branding their disciples inside the lobe of the right ear. From among these also arose Marcellina, who came to Rome under [the episcopate of] Anicetus, and, holding these doctrines, she led multitudes astray. They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honouring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.