Without a hint of diminishment

I suspect I need to explain something.

This cycle of daily hymns for Freyja (like the one I did for Dionysos, and will be doing for Hermes, Loki and other of the Starry Bear Gods) is based on the planetary system which passed from the Ancient Near East to Greece, Rome and thence throughout much of Northern Europe and the New World, ascribing each day of the week to a different God or Goddess.

Each hymn, then, represents the focal deity in the guise of, manifesting as or reflected through the image of the deity who owns that day. So, for instance, this hymn is Freyja as we see her on the day of Zeus, Overseer of the Home and Protector of the Pantry, thus emphasizing the Golden Goddess’ woefully underrepresented domestic aspects, especially in light of the archaeological record; likewise, many of the allusions will make sense if you recall that this is the hymn for Saturday, which belongs to Kronos, particularly as his cult was found in North and Central Italy. (There is added resonance if you factor in who “Kronos” tends to be in the interpretatio Norrœna and the persona this divinity has so often adopted.)

This is functional or associative syncretism, where the attributes, powers and iconography of one God are borrowed from another without fundamentally affecting their distinct and autonomous identities – as we find, for instance, in the Isis aretalogies, Aphrodite lending Hera her magical girdle to seduce Zeus in the Iliad or when Freyja temporarily gifts Loki her falcon cloak so he can retrieve Iðunn from Jötunheimr in the Þrymskviða. By doing so more of the deity’s unique complexity may be unfolded. It’s basically applied henadology

A little less opaque? Good. Now on to Tuesday – hail Ares and hail Týr, and hail Freyja through them!

What advice would you give someone seeking to develop a devotional relationship with Dionysos?

Just do it! I know that may sound a little trite but it’s really the only thing that works with him. Don’t let your fear and insecurities get the better of you. Don’t wait around until the time feels right, until you’ve figured everything out, until you’ve memorized all of the prayers and hymns, mastered the ceremonial procedures, accumulated all of the pretty tools and built up the perfect shrine for him. Because you know what? That’s never going to happen! Perfection is an ideal we should aim for knowing full well that we can never truly attain it. And if you wait around until then to start you’re going to miss out on a lot of wonderful things and precious opportunities along the way. Besides which you’ll deprive yourself of the valuable lessons that can only be learned by monumentally screwing things up.

So my advice to people is this: make mistakes—and lots of them! Pay attention while you’re doing it, figure out why certain things don’t work in certain situations, and try to determine why that is and what you can do to improve on that next time around. And make sure there is a next time, even if you totally screwed the pooch or you’re not feeling it or getting anything out of it. Fake it till you make it. Experiment with different spiritual techniques and worship styles to see what works best for you and gets the strongest response from Dionysos. He’s not going to smite you for flubbing a line or missing a step, but he will be disappointed if you never get around to trying. There are definitely some things that don’t work—and he’ll be sure to let you know!—but unless you persist in doing these even after he’s made his preferences clear, you’re not likely to incur his wrath for doing some bad ritual.

Some additional pointers I’d offer those starting out in Dionysos worship: don’t limit what you do to only what can be done in front of your home shrine. Dionysos is best worshiped outdoors in the wild places of nature, even if that means just pouring out a libation on a mountaintop or whispering a prayer to him as you stroll through a wooded park. Also leave plenty of room for spontaneous, free-flowing, emotional encounters with him. Don’t spend all of your time reading off a script. Sincere, heartfelt words of praise are a thousand times better than even the most beautiful verses of Homer or Orpheus. If you can’t think of anything then just string together a bunch of his standard epithets or create some of your own, commemorating past experiences with him or utilizing imagery that is meaningful for you.

And above all else, you must worship the God with your whole body. Gesture, dance, sacred movement, even running around and yelling his name at the top of your lungs—this kind of physical “prayer” is what he likes best. Don’t worry about being skilled and graceful or avoiding looking foolish—just throw yourself into it completely and let his spirit carry you away. Also, there should always be music in his worship. Prerecorded stuff played during ritual is fine but it’s much better to have music that you make yourself. Drums, rattles, pipes, a bull-roarer or even clapping your hands and stomping your feet will suffice. Where music is he is, so make a joyful noise unto the Lord!

What’s your take on Dionysos and Bacchus?

I know that some people find it problematic to equate the Greek and Roman deities but there’s absolutely no basis for distinguishing between Bacchus and Dionysos. First off there isn’t even a difference in names since Bacchus is just the Latinized form of the Greek Bakchos, which itself is thought to derive from the Lydian Baki, which we find designating both the God and his ecstatic worshipers. This means that the name goes back to the 7th century B.C.E. and is found in all sorts of words for intoxication and ritual madness well before the Classical period.

Secondly, and most significantly, the identification of the two isn’t a case of casual interpretatio graeca whereby an indigenous and originally distinct deity is recognized as possessing similar traits and therefore is claimed to be the same God just with a locally appropriate form. That process may have happened with Liber Pater, Fufluns, and related Italian deities but there was never an indigenous Bacchus. All of the sources from Livy on down—including inscriptions and the archaeological record—make it perfectly clear that he was a foreign import brought from the Hellenic mainland to Rome by way of Magna Graecia and Etruria.

Even once he had gained wide popular acceptance, Bacchus continued to be worshiped according to the ritus Graecus or with Hellenic ceremonial elements intact. In fact this was a big part of what contributed to the Senate’s antipathy for the Bacchanalia—fear of corruption and invasion, that the devotees of the God were setting up their own miniature religious “nation” in the heart of Rome itself. (And of course all that homosexuality and cross-dressing it encouraged.) They outlawed his worship and the keeping of his festivals except in the case of certain hereditary priesthoods and persecuted the Bacchic devotees, which resulted in the deaths of thousands.

This was the first and most widespread form of religious persecution in the ancient world until the Christians came on the scene, and it wasn’t until Julius Caesar repealed the tyrannical legislation that they were free to worship their God openly once more. Of course even during that time Bacchic and Dionysiac cults were plentiful in Italy and Rome, as we can see from things like the records of cult associations, the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii, the preponderance of funerary and symposiatic art reflecting his motifs, and the abundance of literary and poetic references to him. They just had to get permission from the Senate and maintain a polite and civilized façade. Caesar’s repeal of the legislation merely ended the appearance and pretense of illicitness surrounding these cults, which nevertheless earns him a special place in my affections.

But really if one has any doubt concerning the identity of Bacchus and Dionysos they need only consult the Latin poets and historians of that period, all of whom were quite certain that they were dealing with the same God—and who are we to argue with them? Or go a little further back and you’ll find Sophokles praising Dionysos as the “Lord of all Italy” and Plato talking about the famous Dionysian festivals celebrated in Magna Graecia. His cult flourished especially in the Apulian countryside, and Southern Italy and Sicily more generally, which is interesting because those regions are exactly where you find Tarantism and related ecstatic cults nearly a thousand years after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, with only a thin and transparently artificial Christian veneer on them. Clearly once he was established there the roots of this God have run deep in the Italian soil and consciousness.

What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah law?

I am totally opposed to the institution of Sharia law because it is totally opposed to me in its condemnation of my Gods, their worship and many of the things associated with them such as sex, alcohol, dance and music. In fact Islam represents everything that is antithetical to the Dionysian way of life. If a Moslem wishes to adhere to that system of belief and law himself it is no concern of mine, but I’ll fight to the bloody end if he gets it in his head to try and coerce me into doing likewise.

Now the burka is a different matter entirely. As an advocate of absolute individual freedom – liberty, after all, comes from the Latin name of my God, Liber Pater – I believe that a Moslem woman has every right to dress in whatever way she finds most suitable. If she chooses to wear the burka as an expression of modesty, fidelity to her husband and respect for her God and her people’s traditions then she has my full blessing. I may find it ugly, repressive and extremely uncomfortable to wear but that’s why you’ll never find me wearing one! If she feels differently, why should I care? So, on those grounds I am totally opposed to the recent efforts in France and other European nations to ban the wearing of this garment, which I consider hypocritical, tyrannical and just plain idiotic since it plays into the Jihadis hands. However I’m well aware that in many parts of the world the wearing of the burka isn’t a choice the woman gets to make herself. Or rather she does get to choose – between covering herself from head to toe in heavy, hot fabric or face insults, ostracism, abuse, rape and sometimes even murder.

I find that extremely reprehensible, surpassed only by the infantile excuses the men use to justify their barbaric and disgusting treatment of women. “They must dress this way to ensure men are not inflamed with lust.” Well, where’s your decency and self-control, you weak hypocrites!?! The truly temperate and pious man ought to be able to pass a naked woman in the street without a single carnal thought entering his mind and distracting him from loving communion with his God. “It’s against Allah’s wishes!” If Allah is the creator of all that is then certainly he is responsible for feminine beauty and sexual longing. Why should he have given women clitorises if he didn’t want them to be used? Why create things like flowers and rainbows and pretty faces if beauty wasn’t meant to be appreciated for its own sake? “But the wife belongs to her husband!” No human is a commodity to be bought, sold and owned outright. She is a human, not a precious vase or a camel! And so on and so forth.