And one Lady in particular

According to the Bakcheion ritual calendar Dionysos is MIA from Lampteria (when the Thyiades go searching for him with torches) until Lenaia (when the Lenai rouse him from his slumber beneath the earth with their songs and dances.)

Of course, part of him isn’t gone but always remains here with us (even if another part of him dwells down below with his feasting Heroes and Heroines.) The reason that he goes unrecognized during these bitingly cold winter months is because that fragment believes itself to be Óðr rather than Dionysos.

During this period he is reunited with his Norse wife Freyja and their nuptials are celebrated on December 31st into January 1st, which is also the anniversary of the creation of the Bakcheion, hence this festival is known as Foundation Day.

Our foundations lay in love, and madness, and ecstasy, and poetic inspiration – and so on this night we let the world know it through riotous displays and masked revelry.

How do you plan on celebrating?

Ladies love the Bakcheion

Earlier in the week Galina and I were at the Post Office mailing out the latest batch of Year 4 calendars when I noticed something interesting (well, interesting to me at least.) Most of the calendars were purchased by women (and we’re talking by a five to one margin!)

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. The Bakcheion is a very female-friendly and affirming space. Many Goddesses are honored here along with Dionysos, and the temple recognizes nearly as many Heroines as it does Heroes. Our theological underpinning is Orphic which, despite what you might have read on Twitter or Tumblr, was far from misogynistic. Our traditions are influenced by the cultures of Magna Graecia and Ptolemaic Egypt, both of whom were known for their positive treatment of women. (The other influences – Minoan Crete, Makedonia and the Black Sea region – were as well but I haven’t written any posts on that subject, alas.) Although I am the ἱεροποιός, both of my assistants (who blog here and here) are women. In the past most of the initiates I’ve made have been women (or trans), and I’ve always ensured that there was a strong female presence on the leadership teams of groups I’ve run. The Bakcheion supports the radical propositions that women should be permitted to wear whatever they want (for which I was called a Nazi) and that they should not have their clitorises cut off (unless that’s something they want.)

So, what I’m saying is — dudes, you need to buy more calendars. Sheesh. You guys really gonna let these broads beat you? For shame. For shaaaaaaame.

The gift of choice

Back on the 10th of December I posted about the many gifts Dionysos has bestowed upon mankind, but I left out one of his most important. And so to remedy that I would like to share these ruminations.

We often talk about Dionysos as the God of freedom, the one who comes to liberate us from our chains whether they are personal inhibitions, psychological addictions, societal convention or even physical bondage.

There are many ways that he works his wonders in our lives, but one of the most important is also, in some respects, the simplest: he reminds us that we’ve got a choice. Think back on the bulk of his myths: what’s he usually doing? Trying to get people to seriously think about their lives and what they want out of them, to show them that they don’t have to settle for what’s been given to them or follow certain predetermined roles because that’s what everyone expects them to do. He urges people to take responsibility for their actions, to realize that they’ve got the power to change things, to look at things in a different light.

King Midas couldn’t conceive of anything more valuable than gold until Dionysos showed him otherwise. Akoites couldn’t imagine any way out of violence and thievery until Dionysos revealed to him the power of dreams. Hephaistos and Hera were trapped in a cycle of violence and recrimination until Dionysos intervened. Ariadne thought herself worthy of death for the crimes of her past until Dionysos woke her up on Naxos. Countless women believed that they could be nothing more than wives and mothers until Dionysos got ahold of them. And he even tried to reason with his bitterest enemies. How many times does Dionysos come before Pentheus, humbling himself and pleading with him to turn aside, to let go of his wrath and delusions and choose the path of peace instead? The same course of action was taken with Lykourgos and the daughters of Minyas, though it didn’t do them any more good than it did Pentheus.

That’s because we humans are stubborn and stupid and blind and cling to our misery even as it destroys us. We do this because although misery isn’t exactly comfortable, it is familiar and unchallenging. Freedom is scary because it opens the doors of possibility into realms full of strangeness and uncertainty. Maybe something worse lies in store for us if we walk through those doors. Maybe we’ll be confronted with trials greater than we can handle. Maybe it’ll take us far from home and everything we’ve ever known. Maybe it’ll end up transforming us into people we’d hardly recognize any more – or like. Maybe we’ll see that there’s nothing to all the excuses and empty stories we’ve told ourselves to justify our stagnation and unhappiness and then we’ll actually have to start taking responsibility for our actions and the contents of our lives. Maybe … but is all of that necessarily such a bad thing? Don’t you want to be in charge of your life? Don’t you want to know that if you fail or succeed it’s because of what’s in you and not a result of what others have done to you in the past or because of all those nebulous, intangible forces stacked against you?

When it comes down to it most people don’t have any idea how truly free they are. Unless someone’s keeping you locked away in a basement somewhere there’s not a damned thing stopping you from picking up and starting your life over from scratch somewhere else. Seriously. Tomorrow you could decide to move all the way across the country to California, change your name, change your hair, get a bunch of tattoos and become an exotic dancer, leaving your job, your life up to this point, your family and everyone who’s ever known you behind for good. There’s nothing stopping you from doing that or anything else you could dream of – except yourself. I know because I’ve already done it several times in my life and for all I know I may end up doing it again.

Granted, that sort of radical transformation may not be for everyone and even my own recreations weren’t quite on that level. And I’m not saying it’d be easy, by any means. In fact, for most of us it’d be damn hard, full of unimaginable sacrifices and pain, with only a slim chance of actually succeeding. (Besides, no sensible person actually wants to live in California.) But the fact remains, it can be done. And if there’s nothing stopping a person from making a change of that magnitude then there’s nothing stopping you from making the changes in your own life that you feel are necessary. You don’t like the career you’ve got? Start over. So what if you’re fifty? Aischylos wrote his best plays when he was eighty. Sure, the economy’s tough and there may not be a whole lot of money or security in making artisan furniture or illustrating children’s books or whatever your calling happens to be, but do you really want to spend the rest of your life chained to a desk performing tedious, mind-numbing work that eats away at your soul? The sooner you get started the more time you’ll have to grow yourself a new career and even if it’s not exactly what you dreamed of certainly you can find something more in keeping with your goals and personal values. In the end, it’s your life – what are you going to do with it?

Or take another situation. There are a lot of folks who feel bound to the people in their past, even though those people are cruel, indifferent or toxic to them. There’s nothing in the world that forces you to keep talking with them if you don’t really want to. But they’re co-workers! Then talk to them as much as the conditions of your employment require and ignore and avoid them the rest of the time. But they’re friends of friends! A true friend will understand and not force you to socialize with someone whom you don’t get along with. If it’s unavoidable, then find new friends and social environments to hang out in. But they’re the only friends I’ve got and I don’t want to be alone! What’s so scary about being alone? We’re born that way, we leave the world that way, each night when we sleep we enter the world of dreams alone. If you aren’t comfortable with your own company, can’t find ways to entertain yourself and meaningfully fill your time on your own, then you aren’t going to be happy anyway, even if you’re constantly surrounded by a crowd. But they’re family! So what? We all share blood if you go far enough back, and otherwise “family” is just a concept. It’s an important one, to be sure, but if they’re actively harming you in some way you’re not obligated to remain in touch with them. Your own health and happiness have to come first. And you can always create a new family of people you like, people who nourish you, support your interests, and enrich your life. They may not have your DNA but they’re family in every way that matters.

And even more importantly we must take full responsibility for our actions. How often have you seen a person caught in a vicious cycle of escalating violence and blame? Person A did something shitty to Person B so B retaliates by doing something even worse and so on and so forth until they’ve dragged everyone else into it and no one is entirely sure why they’re fighting any longer, just that their side is in the right and it won’t be stopping any time soon. It’s easy to laugh at this sort of madness – and weep when we see it played out on the geopolitical stage every night on the news – but the truth is many of us are ensnared in this sort of thing without even realizing it. It’s imperative that we do, however, and that we take personal responsibility in this and all such situations. Hate and violence are choices. So are love and peace. You choose to keep the old wounds fresh and create new ones – or you choose not to. Any time you find yourself thinking “I have to feel or act this way,” or “this is what I was taught, it’s all I’ve ever known” or “if I don’t do ___, someone else will do ___ to me” it should give you a profound pause. You’re not thinking at that point, you’re just following the programming in your brain, reacting instead of acting. And if you’re okay with being a robot, that’s fine. But Dionysos expects something bigger and better of us. Maybe you can’t stop the cycle. You definitely can’t control how another thinks or acts. But you do have control over yourself and the choices you make and that’s all that you’ll be held accountable for in the end. You have the choice to end your part of it here and now – or to keep it going. And no one else can take that away from you.

Related to this, of course, are the choices we make about what we do with our bodies and what we put into them. Every time that you take a swig of alcohol, every time you take another drag of that cigarette, every time you eat something you know is bad for you, every time you put off exercising, or get into bed with someone you don’t really care for … you are making a choice. Maybe you’ve got a bad past or shitty genetics that predispose you to these behaviors and cloud your judgment, but each and every time you do it you’re consciously making a decision. Your past isn’t some tangible person holding a gun to your head saying, “Do this or I’ll splatter your brains all over the wall!” The people who fucked you over before aren’t pouring the glass down your throat. It’s just you, alone with your choices and the consequences of those choices.

I could go on and on but I’m sure you get the point. Nothing ever has more power over us than we’re willing to give it. There will always be consequences for our choices, and sometimes those consequences can be greater than we’re prepared to deal with. But the flip side of the coin is that when we realize that we are making a choice and taking responsibility for our decisions, we know what we’re getting into and that it’s our choice, something we can endure if we feel it’s worth it – or not, if we don’t feel it adds up. I may not follow every dream I’ve got. Living as a mad-poet on the streets is romantic but I’m not interested in the realities of poverty, hunger, danger and disease that come with it. So instead I’ve chosen to pursue other dreams, dreams that are more realistic and attainable and won’t inevitably lead to my destruction. Dreams that are a balance between freedom and security. I also do other things I know I probably shouldn’t – but I do them because I choose to, not because I have to. I own my choices and take full responsibility for what happens as a result of them. It never comes as a surprise when the consequences catch up with me. I may not like it, but I knew going in it was at least a possible outcome. I don’t blame other people or my history for the decisions I make. I know that I’m not just sleep-walking through life, doing only what’s programmed into me. I’m living the way I’ve decided to and accepting everything that naturally follows from those choices. And if I don’t like the consequences, I change my actions or I live with them, intentionally.

And that, to me, is the heart of having a Dionysian lifestyle. The only victim he tolerates is a sacrificial one – the bloodier the better!

Happy Omicron-Day!

For those following along, we are 15 days into our countdown to Foundation Day, the prescribed activities for which include:

Day 15: Ο ο – omicron, όμικρον

Epithet
Οινοψ (Oinops) = Winefaced

Orphic Hymn Τριετηρικοῦ (52. to the God of the Triennial Feast)

Prescription
With things found around the home (οἷκος) make yourself into a creature of great bulk (ὃγκος), with egg-shaped bulges (όειδής) and a face made of sheep-skin (ὃες). Also make yourself a tyrant-destroying (όλεσσῐτύραννος) staff – basically a stick strung with testicles (ὅρχεα). Sing bawdy songs, and yell random things at people. Once you’re overfull of wine (οΐνος) find a secret culvert, expose your rump (ὅρρος) to the chilly winter air and let loose a city-destroying (ολεσίπολις) piss (ούρέω) while cursing those in power. (Yes, women can urinate in public too!)

The Nature of the Day
Ozos (ὅζος) offspring, offshoot, branch.
Olbos (ὅλβος) happiness, prosperity, fulfilment. 
Opora (όπώρα) fruitful, ripe, summer-swollen.
Ormos (ὅρμος) harbor-giver, chain, connection. 
Opheltreuo (όφελτρεύω) sweep, change, turn

Happy Lambda-Day!

For those following along, we are 11 days into our countdown to Foundation Day, the prescribed activities for which include:

Day 11: Λ λ – lambda, λάμδα

Epithet
Λυαιος (Lyaios) = He who frees

Orphic Hymn Λυσίου Ληναίου (50. to Lysios-Lenaios)

Prescription
Before you leave (λείπω) in the morning make this charm of dissolution (λύη) against the impudence (λαιδρος) and evil you shall encounter during your day. Take garden herbs (λάχᾰνον) and tear them up (λᾰκίζω) with your hands, say, “Just so will it be for you, every wicked thing.” Then put them in a mortar and using a pestle (λάκτις) grind them, singing, “Io, a great Bull trampled the ravening Wolf under its hooves and gored the beast with his lethal horns. Io evohe!” Put the powder in a satchel and carry it on you for the rest of the next seven days.  

The Nature of the Day
Lekithos (λέκῐθος) the yoke of an egg.
Lethargeo (ληθαργέω) drowsiness, forgetting, sinking down.
Lousis (λοῦσις) washing, bathing, cleansing.
Lumeo (λῦμέω) to grieve, distress, or cause pain.
Luo (λύω) unbind, dissolve, release.

Coming together

Last night’s reading (and I hope y’all don’t mind me sharing these little nuggets; come the new year I’ll return to long-form essays, etc.) turned up a passage relevant to the topic of soul-parts in Bacchic Orphism:

Their [στοιχεῖα i.e. “elements”] presence in the human body is likewise divine, expressed in an Orphic fragment mentioned by Lindsay. (45) The human head is equated with heaven, the eyes are the Sun and Moon, the intellect is fire, the shoulders and back are air, the stomach is earth, the legs are the sea, and the feet are Tartarus, the roots of the earth.

(45) Jack Lindsay, Origins of Astrology p. 117, quoting Kern, OF 168

This reminds me of Empedokles, whom I’ve previously discussed here and here.

Also, in another article – this time on the theurgic background of Viacheslav Ivanov’s poetry – I came across these relevant passages from Proclus’ On the Hieratic Art According to the Greeks:

But really on the earth there are to be seen suns and moons in a terrestrial manner, in the heavens (there are to be seen) all the plants, stones and animals in a celestial manner alive in a spiritual way. Having perceived these things, and bringing some heavenly things toward some (terrestrial) things and others toward others, the wise men of long ago summoned divine powers into the mortal place, having attracted them through likeness. (p. 148.19-23)

Hence, from what they saw, the authorities of the sacred art, mixing some things together and appropriately removing others, invented the service to the higher powers…They often made commingled images and incenses, mixing divided tokens into one and making by art the sort of thing that the divine contains according to its essence, insofar as it unites the plural powers, each of which division obscured, while mixture returned it to the form of its model. (150.24-26; 150.30-151.1-5)

ainigmata

I was checking to see if the Inventory of Ancient Associations had added any new material on Bacchic groups when I came across an inscription left by λιθοκόποι (stone-cutters) at the theater of Dionysos in Athens. Which, of course, made me think of this:

antonomasia

The name Σαννιον has been around since the Minoan-Mycenaean period, and it’s always significant when I uncover a namesake. Recently I came across two of them in my readings – and there’s an interesting thread linking them.

The first lived in the same region as Nonnos, author of The Dionysiaka:

To Besas, son of Hieracapollon also called Demetrius and Triphiodorus son of Isidorus son of Callimachus, ex-magistrates. The most excellent senate, as it has informed me through Plutogenes the President in office, has selected you as collectors of meat for the Middle Toparchy, for the auspiciously impending visit of our ruler the Emperor Diocletian the Senior Augustus. In order, therefore, that you may know and at once take over the collection I send this communication to you by the hand of Leon my servant. And whoever first receives this communication, let him transmit it to the other. Year 15/14/7, Thoth 21st. […] Distributors and receivers of wine for the Upper Toparchy. Aelius son of Sannion son of Nilus and Petetriphis son of Paniscus son of Protus. Same form and date. Signed. (Panopolis Papyrus 1 Col. xi Line 310)

While the other had a son who was a resident alien in Athens, though originally from Naukratis:

Clearly, Naukratis was significant enough to engender demand for proxenies, and much of this significance was probably economic: flourishing trade with Egypt is evident not only from the mention of Egyptian traders and Egyptian imports in Athenian comedies, but also from the presence of Egyptian traders among the resident foreigners, metics, in the Athenian port of Piraeus, who established a shrine of Isis here. Among the several grave markers of Naukratites who died in Athens is that of Phaidimos, who was buried just before or soon after 400 BC, as well as that of Pais (‘boy’ – a generic slave name?), whose mid-4th-century BC tomb stone in the Piraeus bears both a Greek and a demotic inscription, suggesting he was of Egyptian parentage. Other individuals from Naukratis attested on 5th–4th-century BC grave markers from Athens include Parmenon, Dionysios son of Parmenon, and Olympos son of Sannion. (Alexandra Villing, Naukratis: religion in a cross-cultural context, BMSAES 24

anosognosia

“Knowledge that lies outside the range of understanding can only be gained in a state that also lies outside this range.” (Philipp Vandenberg, The Mystery of the Oracles)

Down in the underground you’ll find someone true

Sitting on the couch, in a wine-stained robe,
her hair a mess, with leaves and twigs sticking to it,
missing one of her shoes, and blood beneath her nails
that had not washed off in the sink,
she was quite the sight to behold.
To think what her professional colleagues
would think if they knew the kind of maenadic activities
she got up to on the weekends
made Bedelia giggle.
And to think, she had once been a model
of sanity and civility
before her Clown Prince and Black Hunter
caught her in his nightmare web.
The funny thing was, she’d never felt so healthy,
so fully alive, so completely herself
until he devoured her and remade her in his image.
And there was no way she’d ever look back now.
She saw firsthand what happened to poor Orpheus;
she still had his blood under her fingernails.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

She stood in a gazebo in the park
wearing a modified wedding dress
over her bluejeans
since there was still a chill in the air
this early in the year, a crown of daisies
and ribbons whipped about
by the gaily dancing breezes,
as she read from a red leather-bound
book of Orphic Hymns
and then sang a song of Bowie’s
to rouse the Fruitful God on Lenaia morn,
and free him from his long winter’s dreaming
deep beneath the earth.
And when she was done
she poured out a bottle of sweet Gewürztraminer
onto the pile of penis-shaped honey cakes
she’d set at the base of the linden tree,
and then walked home in the rain,
singing and laughing
in the presence of Ariadne’s sweet man,
bull-horned leader of the chorus of fiery stars,
and eager for a long day of drinking and games.

Please trip them gently, they don’t like to fall

Dorothea, the daughter of Kleombotos,
carried the bowl of water to the main family shrine
and set it down before the figwood idol
of Dionysos Meilichios, whom her mother
had an especially fervent devotion to.
She got the incense brazier going,
made all the customary sacrifices and prayers
which it was her responsibility as eldest child to perform,
and then moved on to the next shrine,
still full of offerings from Noumenia.
Her thoughts, however, remained with Dionysos,
and specifically when she’d get to meet
the less gentle sides of him.
She was fourteen, well passed when
other girls in the thiasos had received their initiations.
She wondered what it was like on the other side,
to taste the mainadic ecstasy
and be carried away by Bakcheios,
to lose herself in the exhaustion of the dance,
and not stop, never stop dancing for him
or until the sun comes up.
Their domestic cultus,
and even the festive celebrations
her parents took her to in the Bakcheion
were considerably tamer,
and she wanted the real thing.
The kind of thing she saw on vases,
or the stage, or she had heard
from the lap of her Thracian wetnurse.
Dorothea sighed heavily,
and consoled herself with the thought
that one day her day would come.

It produced sounds of wailing, crying

She was wearing a vermillion dress down to her knees,
belted at the waist with a black sash,
and over her face a black veil,
which did weird, trippy things to her vision.
She had started the night with sandals,
but then the need to feel grass between her toes
became overwhelming and she ditched them.
Nancy stood off by herself,
in the shade of Fred’s old pine tree,
a deeper dark in the backyard gloom.
When she felt the God’s madness claim her
it always made her mute, and saturnine.
The face he showed her was rarely human,
never kind, and near impossible to put into words.
He was like starless night, or a volcanic cave,
the mouth of a bear;
slow, and old and hungry.
Primal. Terrifying. Everything unknown,
and before knowing.
And he took her back there, with him,
especially when she did drugs or dreamed,
with him through the long corridors of madness,
to the dawn days of the world,
or after the fall,
and they spoke in symbols,
for words were not yet,
and he showed her bone,
and rot, and writhing soil full of bugs,
and flowers, and mushrooms,
and fruit being torn with sharp teeth,
and a bull being hacked apart,
and the sun melting the flesh down
down
down
down to the hollow bone.
And somehow Nancy managed
to put all of that, or enough of it,
into her dance
though she was not as pretty
or as graceful as the other Mainades,
she made up for it through the fury of her movements.
And what’s more, this dance was hers,
and for him, and for the duration of it
they were all that existed.

Look at that sky, life’s begun

At one end of the room there was a bull’s skull
on a red blanket, with ivy wound round his horns
and plates of cakes and meat
and pomegranates and grapes
and bowls of wine and candles
and spread out like warspoils were his Toys
– mirrors and dolls and rattles and wheels and all the rest,
brought by the guests. And on the other side
was a tent of twigs and leaves,
and under it stood a statue of Ariadne,
and before her was a Labyrinth of white rose petals
and offerings equal to her Husband’s,
possibly even a little more,
and woven through it all,
and climbing the wall behind,
were white, blinking Christmas lights,
otherworldly in the dark and incense-cloudy room.
On the right, midway between, they’d set up
a table full of cups inscribed with epithets
and little pictures of Dionysos and his Bride,
some with red wine, some with pomegranate juice
and the rest with pure, cold water
because the remainder of the space
was filled with hot, dancing bodies.
Ophelia tried to get a count at the start,
when she was spritzing them all down with chernips
and chanting the purificatory oration of Aristides at them,
but the repetition put her in a trance
and she forgot around fifty or so.
So maybe a hundred, hundred and twenty?
Nice turn-out, considering
they hadn’t done much to advertise.
It was always a little strange
in a good way, but still strange –
doing ritual like this, with a crowd
rather than the more intimate
six to thirteen person thiasos she was used to.
Harder to find the rhythm
and keep herself from getting swallowed up
into the group energy.
She felt like she was being tugged
in a dozen different directions at once
and didn’t know which way to go,
or which version of herself to be.
And yet, when she stopped resisting,
stopped trying to make the experience
like what was familiar to her,
and instead just let it be what it would be
and go with the flow,
she found she was able to fly higher
and access parts of her God she could not on her own.
She wasn’t quite there yet in this rite,
which left her overly conscious of the white facepaint
and lacy dress she was wearing,
all the jewelry around her neck and wrists,
and even the ivy crown in her golden hair irritated her.
Normally these aesthetic tools helped her slip easier
into her role as his Mainad, but tonight they felt stifling
and she wanted to strip them all off, and smash them,
and then roll around on the ground,
getting her dress and hair all messy,
crawl like an animal over to the table of wine
and knock all those carefully inscribed
and prettily illustrated cups off, then drag that dude
dressed like a Satyr over, straddle him,
and fuck him silly in the wine,
spreading it all over his hairy body
and licking it off, and then,
just when he’s about to come inside her,
lean down and take a bite out of his shoulder.
“Oh my,” Ophelia said, fanning herself,
and suddenly she felt okay in her skin again,
and so joined the crowd, spinning and dancing
her way across the room until she reached the
shrine of the Bull God, where she prostrated herself,
poured an overflowing libation into one of the bowls,
and offered her mind, her heart and her soul to him,
knowing already that he possessed her body.