1100 to 1199
Golias the Bishop, The Apocalypse
When the Abbot and his brethren [of a heretical monastery in Southern France] sit to feast, they quickly pass the cups of wine along. The Abbot lifts the cup above his head and makes the rafters echo with this song:
How lovely is the vessel of the Lord!
Behold the chalice of inebriation!
O Bacchus, be the master of our board!
O Son of the Vine, be always our salvation!
Then lifting up his cup again, he asks:
This chalice I am now about to sup,
can you too drink it?
Quickly all reply:
We can! Just watch us! Bottoms up!
The one thing that can spoil a pious feast is a dispute about who’s had the most. The abbey therefore has a simple rule: the limit is a cup per monk per toast.
A second popular decree is this: a zealous monk never leaves a drop. A third: since God abhors a vacuum, make sure your belly’s stuffed before you stop.
The drunken monks are like demoniacs, and chatter like a flock of noisy birds. Their conversation seldom makes much sense since Bacchus, the stomach’s master, teaches them their words. They chew and chew until their jaws puff out; their huge, distended guts are even worse, and as a final touch, the wine they swill provokes a swelling in the “nether purse.”
1200 to 1299
The Chronicle of Lanercost for the year 1282
About this time, in Easter week, the parish priest of Inverkeithing, named John, revived the profane rites of Priapus, collecting young girls from the villages, and compelling them to dance in circles to the honour of Father Bacchus. When he had these females in a troop, out of sheer wantonness, he led the dance, carrying in front on a pole a representation of the human organs of reproduction, and singing and dancing himself like a mime, he viewed them all and stirred them to lust by filthy language. Those who held respectable matrimony in honour were scandalised by such a shameless performance, although they respected the parson because of the dignity of his rank. If anybody remonstrated kindly with him, the priest became worse than before, violently reviling him.
1300 to 1399
The Goliards were a group of Clerici Vagante or “wandering scholars” in 12th- through 14th-century Europe famed for their riotous behaviour, intemperance, and composition of satirical and ribald Latin verse. They were condemned by the University of Paris for the following:
Priests and clerks dance in the choir dressed as women, and they sing wanton songs. They eat black pudding at the altar itself, while the celebrant is saying Mass. They play dice on the altar. They cense with stinking smoke from the soles of old shoes. They run and leap throughout the church, without a blush of their own shame. Finally they drive about the town and its theatres in shabby carriages and carts, and rouse the laughter of their fellows and the bystanders in infamous performances, with indecent gestures and with scurrilous and unchaste words.
Here is the text of one of their infamous performances, the Missa de Potatoribus or “Drinkers’ Mass”:
Va. I will go in to the altar of Bacchus. R. To him who rejoices the heart of man.
I confess to the all-drinking culprit Bacchus, and the accursed red wine, and to all his dishes, and to you drinkers, that I have drunk most excessively gluttonously through great sickness of the culprit Bacchus my god with snorting, with greatest speed, through my vat, through my most grievous vat. Therefore I pray the most blessed Bacchus, and all his dishes, and you brother drinkers, that you will drink for me to the lord culprit Bacchus, so that he will pity me. May cup-powerful Bacchus have mercy on you, and permit you to lose all your clothes, and lead you to the great tavern, he who drinks and gulps through all the cups of cups, Strawmen. May cup-powerful Bacchus grant you intoxication and devouring, and the loss of all your clothes, through Decius our lord, Straw-men. Thy god will turn, and bring us rejoicing. And your people shall be drinking in you. Show us, O Lord, your joy. And grant us the loss of our clothes. Fraud be with you. And with your groaning. Let us drink. Oratio.
Take away from us all of our clothes, we implore you, Bacchus, that with naked bodies we may be worthy to enter to the tavern of cups through all the cups of cups, Straw-men. Introitus.
Let us all lament in the die, bewailing the mournful day in honor of the square die, at whose throwing the wretched complain and slander the son of God. V’. Blessed are they who live in thy tavern, Bacchus, and he shall meditate there day and night.
O God, who made the multitude of rustics come to the service of clerics and knights, and between us and them sowed discord, grant us, we pray, to live from their labors, and use their wives, and rejoice in their mortification, through our lord culprit Bacchus, who drinks and quaffs through all the cups without end. Straw-men. tuum apurtatricum?
In spring time, drinkers said to one another, “Let us go over to the tavern, and let us see the word that is said concerning this jar.” And entering the tavern they found the hostess and three dice lying in the dish. And tasting from this pure wine, they understood that it was true what had been spoken to them concerning this cask. And all that were there were inebriated by those things that were told them by the drinkers. But the hostess considered their clothes, pondering them in her heart, if they might be valuable. And the drinkers were stripped, glorifying Bacchus, and cursing the die. Fraud be with you. And with thy groaning. Let us drink. Off. The dishes pour forth the abundance of Bacchus, and nauseate the mouth of the drinkers all the way to the bottom. The Sanctus is not sung, nor the Agnus Dei, but let the kiss of peace be given with swords and cudgels.
Our Father, who art in dishes, hallowed be that wine. May the cup of Bacchus come, may thy storm be done in wine as it is in the tavern, give us this day our bread for the devouring, and forgive us our great cups as we forgive our drinkers, and lead us not into temptation of wine, but deliver us from our clothing.
Co. May the souls of drinkers rejoice, who followed the footsteps of Bacchus, and because they destroyed their clothes for his love, indeed with Bacchus in a jar of wine. Fraud be with you, and with thy groaning. Let us drink. Oratio.
1400 to 1499
Record of the interrogation of the barbes Martino and Pietro, 1492
Asked why the said synagogue is held, he replies that it derives from the fact that they as a custom were in the habit of adoring a certain idol called Bacchus and Baron and also the Sibyl and the Fairies and that Baron and the Fairies were accustomed to holding congregations during which there was no respect between daughter and father, nor with the godmother, as there is, however, outside the said synagogue. And in the synagogue, by night, when the candle was out, they mixed and each took the woman he could have, without recognising her and without speaking while the synagogue lasted; and if a son was begotten, he was the most appropriate and apt to exercise the office of barbe; and he said other things, that his companion had previously said.
1500 to 1599
Edith Helen Sichel, Catherine De’ Medici and the French Reformation
After it had been performed at Court, the poets “honorant son esprit gaillard et bien appris” fêted him joyously at Arceuil. A banquet was spread on a green lawn; the company composed classic verses after the Greek “Bacchanalia”; a buck – le pére du troupeau … des Tragiques “le prix” was lead up to the victorious Jodelle, its head wreathed with flowers:
Le bouquet sur l’orielle, et bien fier se sentait
De quoy telle jeunesse ainsi le présentait.
The Huguenots made capital out of this festivity and proclaimed that the Pléiade had sacrificed the buck to Bacchus.
1600 to 1699
Wikipedia article on Thomas Morton
Morton’s religious beliefs were strongly condemned by the Puritans of the nearby Plymouth Colony as little more than a thinly disguised form of heathenism, and they suspected him of “going native”. Scandalous rumours spread of debauchery at Merrymount, which they claimed included immoral sexual liaisons with native women during what amounted to drunken orgies in honour of Bacchus and Aphrodite, or as the Puritan Governor William Bradford wrote in his History of Plymouth Plantation, “They … set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women for their consorts, dancing and frisking together (like so many fairies, or furies rather) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the feasts of ye Roman Goddess Flora, or ye beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians.” Morton had transplanted traditional West Country May Day customs to the colony, and combined them with fashionable classical myth, couched according to his own libertine tastes and fueled by the enthusiasm of his newly freed fellow colonists. On a practical level the annual May Day festival was not only a reward for his hardworking colonists but also a joint celebration with the Native Tribes who also marked the day, and a chance for the mostly male colonists to find brides amongst the native population. Puritan ire was no doubt also fueled by the fact that Merrymount was the fastest-growing colony in New England and rapidly becoming the most prosperous, both as an agricultural producer and in the fur trade, in which the Plymouth Colony was trying to build a monopoly. The Puritan account of this was very different, regarding the colony as a decadent nest of good-for-nothings that annually attracted “all the scum of the country” to the area, or as Peter Lamborn Wilson more romantically puts it, “a Comus-crew of disaffected fur traders, antinomians, loose women, Indians and bon-vivants”. The second 1628 Mayday, “Revels of New Canaan”, inspired by “Cupid’s mother” — with its “pagan odes” to Neptune and Triton (as well as Venus and her lustful children, Cupid, Hymen and Priapus), its drinking song, and its erection of a huge 80-foot (24 m) Maypole, topped with deer antlers — that proved too much for the “Princes of Limbo”, as Morton referred to his Puritan neighbours. The Plymouth militia under Myles Standish took the town the following June with little resistance, chopped down the Maypole and arrested Morton for “supplying guns to the Indians”. He was put in stocks in Plymouth, given a trial and finally marooned on the deserted Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, until an “English ship could take him home”, as he was believed too well connected to be imprisoned or executed (as later became the penalty for blasphemy in the colony). He was essentially left to starve on the island, but was supplied with food by friendly natives from the mainland, who were said to be bemused by the events, and he eventually gained enough strength to escape to England under his own volition. The Merrymount community survived without Morton for another year, but was renamed Mount Dagon by the Puritans, after the Semitic sea god, and they pledged to make it a place of woe. During the severe winter famine of 1629 residents of New Salem under John Endecott raided Mount Dagon’s plentiful corn supplies and destroyed what was left of the Maypole, denouncing it as a pagan idol and calling it the “Calf of Horeb”. Morton returned to the colony soon after and, after finding that most of the inhabitants had been scattered, was rearrested, again put on trial and banished from the colonies. The following year the colony of Mount Dagon was burned to the ground and Morton shipped back to England.
1700 to 1799
Thomas Langley, The History of Antiquities of the Hundred of Desborough
The delightful gardens of West Wycombe were opened to the public and a novel exhibition took place in one of the rural walks. A fine portico at the west end of the house has been lately erected (in imitation of a Temple of Bacchus) for the dedication of which a Bacchanalian procession was formed of Bacchanals, Priests, Pans, Fauns, Satyrs, Silenus, etc., all in proper habits and skins wreathed with vine leaves, ivy, oak, etc. On the arrival of the procession in the portico the High Priest addressed the Statue in an Invocation which was succeeded by several hymns, and other pieces of music vocal and instrumental suitable to the occasion, and having finished the sacrifice proceeded through the grove to a Tent pitched among several others at the head of the lake where the Paeans and libations were repeated – then ferrying to a vessel adorned with colours and streamers, again performed various ceremonies with discharges of cannon and bursts of acclamations from the populace. The ceremony was finished by a congratulatory address or ode to the Deity of the place. Several of the company wore masques on this occasion.
1800 to 1899
Peter Muise, New England Folklore
In the year 1820, Ephraim Lyon of Eastford, Connecticut came up with a surprising idea: he decided to found a church dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine.
The temperance movement was starting to gain influence at this time, so perhaps Ephraim’s religious revelation was in reaction to the movement’s anti-alcohol messages. Whatever the reason, Ephraim took his calling seriously. As the History of Windham County, Connecticut notes, “He named himself as the high priest, saying he must become badly intoxicated several times each year in order that he might hold the office.”
The rest of the church’s membership was composed of those who “used intoxicating liquids to excess.” Members didn’t need to apply, and Ephraim didn’t ask permission before adding someone to the church’s membership list. Instead, he added a new member’s name whenever he learned of someone who had been drinking heavily. Eventually, the Church of Bacchus had more than 1,000 members, both male and female, in its congregation. The only way to be removed from Ephraim’s list was to go on the wagon.
Unfortunately because of the growing temperance movement many of the church’s members didn’t want their names on the list, and asked Ephraim to be removed. He refused. The requests became threats, but still Ephraim refused. Fearing for life and property, Ephraim’s wife finally burned her husband’s list, but he recreated it from memory and hid it someplace secure. It was rumored that he shared the list only with an inner circle of church deacons derived from Windham County’s most zealous drinkers.
Despite threats and being socially ostracized, Ephraim maintained his devotion to the god of wine until his death in 1840. The deacons and other devout Bacchants memorialized his life with plenty of strong liquor and merrymaking. Ephraim claimed that “members who died in full membership were said to go the Bacchanalian revels of their patron god,” so I hope he’s happy somewhere with a big glass of wine in his hand.
Was Ephraim Lyon serious about his church? Did he really believe in Bacchus as the god of wine? I suppose it’s impossible to say. Maybe he was just protesting against the temperance movement, or perhaps it was just all an elaborate joke.
I do wonder, though, if a joker would risk his life and his home the way Ephraim did. And Ephraim’s statements about the afterlife match what the ancient followers of Bacchus believed. Perhaps he did receive a genuine divine revelation, even if it was a drunken one.
1900 to 1999
Ronald Hutton, Triumph of the Moon pages 165-169
A year after founding the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry Ernest Westlake wrote that, ‘from the religious side it is an application of Miss [Jane Ellen] Harrison’s work … her work might have been written for us.’ It was her celebration of the ecstatic and life-affirming in Greek religion which had most seized his imagination, so that he could declare that ‘our movement is a Dionysos movement,’ saving people from ‘the cul de sac of intellectualized religion.’ By 1921 he added that the vital text for woodcraft was Euripides’ ancient drama about the return of Dionysos to rejuvenate Greece, The Bacchae: ‘As the Dionysos worship revived old Hellas, so may the same thing, introduced by the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, revive the greater Hellas of modern civilization.’ He decided that the English equivalent to Dionysos was the leaf-clad figure in May Day processions, the Jack-in-the-Green, and thought of taking this as his personal title in the order.
The deity of wine and ecstasy was not, however, the only one favored by Westlake. In 1921 he decided that the ‘Trinity of Woodcraft’ consisted of Pan, Artemis and Dionysos, and also suggested that Aphrodite be revered at times, with the reflection that unless alcohol and sexuality were honoured responsibly and treated as sacred, they would manifest themselves in drunkenness and prostitution. The Westlakes had bought an estate at Sandy Balls on the northern edge of the New Forest, and there the order held its first folkmoot ceremony at the beginning of August 1921, the old feast of Lammas. The sacred fire was lit in the centre of a ritual circle, by four people dressed in colours appropriate to the elemental associations of each quarter, bearing greetings from its powers and proceeding in a succession from east round to north. When it was burning, Westlake delivered the invocation (taken from Socrates): ‘Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul and may the outward and inward be at one.’ At some point in these years he composed (but apparently did not place) a newspaper advertisement reading: ‘An ex-Quaker wishes to unite with some heathen church in England worshipping the gods, especially Venus and Bacchus.’ In 1919 he and his family drew up a plan for a forest park stocked with the surviving fauna of the Old Stone Age, including bison (which would be hunted) and deer. Young women, ‘attired like Artemis of old, would follow the deer on foot through the forests, tending and milking them’; this fantastic idea was taken from one of Maurice Hewlett’s novels, The Forest Lovers.
His place as British Chief of the Order was taken by Aubrey, but the role of principal representative of paganism in it fell to a much more flamboyant and uncompromising character, a slim, dark-haired and tanned young south Londoner with a strong chin and stubborn mouth called Harry Byngham. Byngham had absorbed to the full Ernest Westlake’s belief that the joyous and nature-related aspects of ancient Greek religion could bring benefit to the modern world, but whereas Westlake had been inspired by them, Byngham could be described as intoxicated; he subsequently changed his own first name to Dion, short for Dionysos. Unlike Westlake, he saw nothing in Christianity that deserved saving. Unlike him, also, he espoused another radical cause, that of naturism, being a keen member of the New Gymnosophy Society. Dionysos especially appealed to him as representing the animal part of manhood, and he wrote in the magazine The Healthy Life (which promoted naturism and other libertarian ideas) to extol phallic worship as a veneration of the life-force. In 1923 he acquired a parallel platform in the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, by launching a periodical for it, Pine Cone, edited by himself.
It began in July 1923, when the first issue of Pine Cone included a call from Byngham for ‘the realization of Life … Life is adventure, audacity, revolt … Life springs out of the star-tissue womb of Nature as the virile son of the All-Mother.’ Life was, in fact, Dionysos, and Byngham printed an illustration of the thyrsos, the ivy-bound staff of the god, beside the pine cone which was the symbol of the magazine. At the folkmoot in the New Forest that summer, he challenged the singing of Christian hymns and asked instead for readings from Carpenter, Symonds or William Blake. Complaints poured in from members, but the second edition of Pine Cone brazenly carried a cover picture of a nude Dionysos dancing with a pine cone on his thyrsos. The contents were, however, more balanced – the report on the folkmoot was written by a member who spoke of the presence of God in the event – and the third issue contained nothing provocative. The fourth, on the other hand, more than made up for this restraint, containing a photograph of a nude Byngham reclining and playing panpipes while his girlfriend performed ‘The Dawn Dance of Spring’ above him in a short Grecian tunic which left her legs and one breast bare.
2000 to the present
Deo Mercurio, Report-back on two speeches from Olympia 14 August, 2015
This is the second part of my report-back from the Many Gods West conference in Olympia, Washington. In it I’d like to give my reactions to two rituals I attended at the conference: the first of these was the rite for Διόνυσος Βακχεῖος (a name I shall hereafter transcribe in Latin letters as Dionysus Baccheus, with apologies to the Bakcheion—I’m an old fuddy-duddy about such things!). As far as I can recall (there was some drinking involved), the ritual’s structure could hardly have been simpler: a purification of the attendees was followed by some chants, gifts, and prayers, following which we shared in the god’s vinific bounty and danced. And yet I’ve rarely experienced a more satisfying ritual. The music, the dress of the participants, the décor and lighting—all were calculated to evoke a deep sympathy with the god himself, as well as with Ariadne and with Semele, the numinous presence of whom was palpable.
You may mock me, if you will, as a softy and a romantic, but I really love the story of Ariadne and, as warm as my feelings are towards Bacchus, I find Ariadne somehow more inviting or compatible to my sentiments. I felt the same at this ritual. Dionysus Baccheus was the god principally honoured, and yet it was Ariadne whom I felt most keenly there. Euhoe to the both of them! It was wonderful to spend time with them.
I’d also like to thank the Bakcheion for providing really delicious wine for the occasion. They must have been at some expense to keep the attendees well-plied with the divine nectar, but their outlay was deeply appreciated. I noticed one vintage of the name of Phebus—Bacchus and Phœbus, together at last?
By the way, these Western conceptions of Dionysus and Bacchus are of interest from the Gaulish perspective for a variety of reasons. While votive inscriptions to Bacchus or Dionysus are comparatively rare in Gaul, Bacchic imagery is all over the place—particularly on funerary monuments. This implies an expectation among many people (at least in the social class wealthy enough to commission funerary sculpture) of a joyous afterlife presided over by Bacchus. Can people have had this expectation without having already established a devotional relationship with the god in life? Possibly. But my suspicion is that Bacchus was on people’s minds, and in their prayers, more often than we have documentary evidence of—he might, of course, have been honoured by libations of wine (and mead and ale?) even where there was no altar inscribed with his name. Bacchic imagery also influences the depictions of wine-related deities in Burgundy whose names are not definitely known, but who in some respects resemble Sucellus and Nantosuelta. And of course there is a small scattering of votive inscriptions to Liber Pater, as well as some Greek-language inscriptions in southern Gaul dedicated to Διόνυσος.