Do Magick Challenge: Meditative Acts Day 8: Dionysos 8

Last night I completed the first week of the December Do Magick Challenge.  In doing so, I completed a week of prayer to and meditation with the god Dionysos.  I have poured wine, drank wine, burned frankincense, and offered long-burning votive candles.  I have read Homeric hymns, Orphic hymns, modern hymns.  I have played music, and I have sat in silence.  I have felt both the presence and the absence of the god.  I have been numb, and I have been reamed out, and I have been brought to outbursts of both tears and laughter.

I have been so overwhelmed by the Christmas Holiday that I lost count of the days and doubled up on the fifth without realizing it.  So today was my eighth day of Dionysos.  But I think I needed it.

The intensity of the experience built quickly, with each of the first four days being much more intense than the last.  The next three days were less and less intense, but more and more lucid.  So much so (on both counts) that I found myself doubting the experiences, as they were, in many ways, too much what I hoped for an expected.  Tonight was the natural culmination of that arc, with the god saying clearly what it is that he wants and expects from me.

There are so many bits and pieces.  So many stories I could tell if only I had the words.

On a somewhat technical note, I have determined that, of the hymns I’ve found so far, the ones that move me best are the Orphic Hymns as translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis.  In particular, I adore hymns 30. To Dionysos, 42. To Mise, and 45. To Dionysos Bassareus and Triennial.  Together, these three hymns invite the god to show up in his/her two mixed-gender incarnations, attend the initiates, and bring the party.

Probably the most interesting to people who are not me is Dionysus’ claim to the patronage of all the arts I pursue, not just the “theatre” of my storytelling.  I have always looked to Hephaestos as the patron of my jewelry arts, so this gave me a bit of pause; the ever estimable Jack Faust pointed me toward the Kabeiroi, sons of Hephaestos who were both master craftsmen and Bacchic revelers, as an intercessory force in that regard.  The notion of Dionysiac photography is more interesting still — very much the exploration of myth, ritual, and identity that I aspire to pursue.

Less interesting, but more personally relevant, is the question of my relationship with the god.  As someone who has very little personal background in worship, but a great deal of background in sorcery, I have often been at a loss for what the god might want from me in return for his blessings.  The last two nights the answer to that has been a vague but (in theory) reassuring “what you’re doing is great.”  Anyone who’s ever had a boss knows that’s not a phrase you can trust.  Tonight, though, the image was made more clear.  My role in this relationship is simply to worship … to drink wine, and make art, and make wine, and laugh and love and dance in his name.  Dionysus does not want or need me to be a priest or a temple-keeper or an evangelist or even a satyr.  I am a Maenad.  I don the mantle.  I perform the rites.  I live and laugh and drink and dance and fuck for Dionysus.  And when he moves on, I go back to my life until he returns.  That is to say, he is content with our relationship as it stands, and to maybe dial it up a notch or two.

I also got an interesting sense of approval that I will be moving on from Dionysos to Baphomet.  They share currents, it seems.


Do Magick Challenge: Meditative Acts: Day 1: Dionysos 1

Do Magick Challenge: Meditative Acts: Day 1: Dionysos 1



Having lost a week to a hand injury, and a bit more time to playing catch up (plus some personal turmoil, just for spice), I actually considered backing out of this month’s challenge.  As you can see, I have perservered and finally begun

As you all may recall, one of the central tropes of my meditative acts is DIYing novena candles for each of the four gods I’ll be honoring.  Below are the four images I ultimately settled on.  An Attic black-figure, an Attic red-figure, a Roman tile, and a devotional image of my own.

From the moment I first set this course, I have been struggling to decide whether the ritual — the casting of the circle, the offerings, the prayers — counted as part of the 30 minutes of meditation.  Ultimately I decided that they did: the theme of the month’s challenge, after all, is “Meditative Acts“.  With that decision made at about 8.30 this evening, I finally began.

The Altar:

I finally began building the altar for my first week of prayer this past Friday, when I no longer needed the altar room for this past week’s photo shoot.  It’s fairly simple, at least to start.  Having met me, it’s likely to grow to overtake the main altar.  In the mean time, y’all should be proud of me that it’s not more over the top from the jump.

The Ritual: 

I washed my hands and face in preparation, then changed into the all-white costume I have been using intermittently for my esbat celebrations.  Cleansed and dressed, I cast a circle, conjuring each element by attunement.  At the last minute, I felt called to add my chiton and wear it so that it was draped over my head as well as around my body, as many pottery images indicate was done in some Classical rituals.  So prepared, I lit the charcoal and burned frankincense tears and poured the first libation, calling out “Io Dionysos!”  After that, I read the three Homeric Hymns to Dionysos aloud, pouring out and throwing back another libation after each hymn.  Once I was done with the  hymns, I poured and drank a second-to-last libations, and lit the first of four seven day candles that I prepared over the last week.

The Meditation:

Reading the hymns and making the offerings took about fifteen minutes, leaving me half of the allotted 30 to sit and listen.  The moment I sat down, I felt endued with power, as though I were doing magical ritual of an entirely different sort.  The sensation grew, quickly accompanied by a growing ringing in my ears, but never quite crossed the line into the sensation that Dionysos, Himself, was present.  I had a very brief vision of a paridisal forest I took to be Nysa, though, which … given my background in Lack Of Prayer is actually a pretty strong start.

Because I am terrible at meditation, I only made it about 11 minutes before I began to grow restless and impatient for the alarm.

Preliminary Thoughts:

Given the week/month/year I’ve just had, I feel good that I was able to sit down at all.  Given my lifetime of Not Praying, I feel pretty good about how that portion went as well.  Beyond that … well, frankly, this is just the beginning.


Altar to Eros, Aphrodite, and Dionysus


Last night I finally unpacked my second Dionysus statue–the one that went with me to Indiana and back–and dedicated the altar he now shares with Eros and Aphrodite.  This is not their final home, but the vanity I wish to appropriate for this purpose is still full of heirlooms.

No, your eyes do not deceive you: that is a penis-shaped bottle opener front and center.  I got it in Athens.

Dionysiac Sketches


A pair of sketches from the last few days: a female satyr (unattested in the 5th and 4th centuries Greece, but appearingin the Roman era and rife in later neo-Classical periods) and a Dionysiac phallus.

From Eric Csapo:

The zoomorphic concept of the phallus is pervasive in Greek thought-one has only to think of the many representations of phallus birds in Greek art.  It is also essentially Dionysiac. The phallus icon of Dionysus and the phalli carried in Dionysiac processions are always regarded as independent living organisms, of which the glans is a head, equipped with eyes and sometimes with (phallic, horse-like) ears and other animal attributes (see Plates 1A, 1B, 1C, 3, 4, 8A, 8B).41 The eyes, ears, and the phallus are the essential organs of the Dionysiac creature, but especially the eyes and phallus, because, though one can be possessed by music through one’s ears and possess others through theirs, it is by one’s own eyes and phallus that one is both possessed and takes possession.
— p.260 “Riding the Phallus for Dionysus: Iconology, Ritual, and Gender-Role De/Construction.” Phoenix. 51. no.3/4 (Autumn – Winter, 1997): 253-295. Emphasis mine.

Violence In the Heart of Ecstacy

I am, and will probably be for some years to come, very immature in my worship of Dionysos.  Partly this is due to the fairly limited reading list available to me as a Classicist at my small, Indiana, liberal arts college.  There are exactly two professors in my department, and although they both share my general interest in ancient Graeco-Roman religion, neither emphasize it in their teaching.  So I am still stumbling about in the dark, encountering rites and sources as I fall upon them or they are foisted at me.

Sannion has recently written on the violence of Dionysus.  (And the conversation continues to grow, hence my decision to contribute this post now, rather than after my ritual write-ups.)  Although I, as many others, do not focus on that violence in my personal practice, it is, in fact, one of the many things that draws me to the god.  I take comfort in the fact that he, too, carries a wrath capable of crushing nations in his heart, housed within that beautiful body—as Sannion put it: “handsome … with a crown of ivy, come hither eyes and lips wet with wine. ” 

Unlike the god I may not, must not, unleash that violence.  Violence means something different in today’s world than it did in ancient Hellas—though the consequences for the victims, blamed post facto for their own destruction, are shamefully unchanged.  But I feel vindicated to know that even my beloved Bacchus feels wrath.  And, when he restrains it as he does before Pentheus—giving the twisted, flesh-fearing, petty tyrant chance after chance to see his divinity before finally setting his fate to die (ah, for pronouns as nuanced as those in Attic or Latin!)—I am inspired by the fact that even a god as great as Dionysus can endure such insults before unleashing his ire.  If the dignity of a god can so endure—particularly a god whose Olympian siblings would never have tolerated the first slight, let alone the second, third, and fourth—then perhaps I, too, can have the dignity to respond with my better judgment, lashing out not from rage alone, but only when the defeat of those who seek my own destruction can be assured.

I am not unafraid of the flesh-eating Dionysus: I am not that kind of fool.  I fear to lose myself entirely in the weight of his mask.  Queer as fuck I may be, but my violence will only ever be read as just another white man lashing out.  For me to act on the violence in my heart can only serve to support the patriarchy, to reinforce the role I was assigned at birth, to undermine the trust I have so carefully cultivated in persons more vulnerable than I.  But neither do I flinch at the sight of him: I do not deny the god—or, for that matter, myself—his violent nature. 

To deny the one is, perhaps, an attempt to deny the latter: an attempt to see oneself as transcendent, the embodiment of a merciful, all-loving Divine; to reject the bestial nature which is the inheritance of all mortal (and, I think, most immortal) life.  But rejecting that savagery, trying to deny that it exists, is like any other form of prohibition or asceticism: it creates a space for the undesired thing to thrive, to fester, to swell … and, ultimately, to burst out unwanted and out of proportion. 

Dionysus is not just a god of wine, of happy sex-in-the-woods between the maenads and satyrs who are so inclined (after all, it is only the “virtuous” maidens who are “safe”*: I desire neither appellation).  He is the god of madness: cursed by Hera and cured by initiation into the rites of Rhea/Cybele.  The wine we offer to the gods is his blood.  He is the Render of Flesh and the Devourer of Men.  He is a god of madness, death, and dismemberment every bit as much as a god of ecstasy and Mystery, of queers and of misfits.  All these things go hand in hand: to be queer in this society, every bit as much as in ancient Hellas, is to BE dismembered, either figurative or literally, and often both.

* As described by Teiresias and Cadmus to Pentheus in Euripides’ Bacchae.  Proper citation when I have time to look it up.  Sorry: it’s midterms and I shouldn’t even be ON the Internet.  Likewise for all that follows… no, wait, on second though: do yer goddamn research. is a good place to start.

My Liberalia

English: Dionysus is equated with both Bacchus...
English: Dionysus is equated with both Bacchus and Liber (also Liber Pater). Liber (“the free one”) was a god of fertility, wine, and growth, married to Libera. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Calendars are a problem.  The more of them you have, the harder they are to match up.  At this stage in my life, I’m struggling to reconcile four: the Gregorian, the academic, the lunar, and the Wheel of the Year.  Sometimes, it can be a fucking mess, especially as I try to splice in ancient festivals AND keep everything relevant to the life I actually live.

So, it was very much to my delight last year when I learned of an interesting coincidence: namely that Saint Patrick’s Day (an “Irish” American drinking festival, for those who don’t live in the USA) and the Liberalia fall at about the same time.  Even more fortuitous, both coincide with the beginning of Spring Break (an academic American drinking festival) at my particular institution of higher education.  My celebrations last year were impromptu and (mostly) solitary.  But I did start a batch of mead with this year in mind.

Now the date approaches and  I watch with some curiosity as Sanion anticipates Anthesteria. I am trying to find time to do research into what “traditional” festivities would have included, and then decide / beg for divine inspiration as to which elements to maintain, which to adopt from other festivals, and what to make up whole cloth.

There will be wine, of course, and mead: both drinking the mead I started last year and will bottle in about a week, and the starting of a new batch for next year.  And feasting: I never open the Sunrise Temple without providing food.  Offerings aplenty to the God, and a special altar erected to him for the occasion.

But what else?  I don’t really have the resources to put on a play of any kind, and playing movies in the background seems … a weak

Statue of Dionysus of the "Madrid-Varese ...
Statue of Dionysus of the “Madrid-Varese type”. Roman artwork based on a late Hellenistic original (ca. 125–100 BC). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

substitute at best.  (Besides which, all the appropriate movies that I own will be played for the same people three weeks prior at my Midsem party.)  Perhaps I can encourage participants to declaim from the various hymns to Dionysus; a lot of them are thespians, they’ll probably get a kick out of it.  And should I bring in elements of the Urban Dionysia, which falls about the same time of year (depending on the vagaries of the lunar calendar) but much less fortuitously in terms of free time to devote to worship?

I’m thinking that there may be some ritual (and playful) flogging, both to purify and to excite (though, contrary to Pausanius’ Skiereia, it will be everyone getting lashed).  Possibly arts-and-crafts, especially the making and donning of masks and thyrsoi.  I may encourage cross-dressing, in honor of the god’s youth spent hiding from Hera, and in memory of Tieresias and Cadmus, who donned women’s clothing that they might participate in the rites when the other men of Thebes followed Pentheus’ lead in denying Dionysus.

Hopefully everyone will have enough fun to get naked, because … Maenads and Satyrs, duh.  Should that happen, face and body paint are great games.

I have numerous Tarot decks, and it might be an interesting occasion on which to employ the oracular powers of Dionysus.  Also, the ouija board.  (Of course I have a ouija board.  Don’t look at me that way.  You have one, too.)

All this would be just a little easier, of course, if I had a more concrete relationship with the god.  When I do my thrice-weekly offering rites, I hail him as I pour the libations: “Dionysus, Liber Pater, Lord of the Vine, source and surcease of madness.”  But if those things were all that he is to me, then I would not need to have a festival: I would simply meditate on what passes for my sanity whilst drinking until I cry.  But Dionysus is more than that.  So much more.

I struggle in my search for how best to honor him.

HPF 2012: The Blessings of Dionysus Upon you All


"Bacchus" by Caravaggio.
“Bacchus” by Caravaggio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flannigan’s Right Hook was playing their cover of Paint it Black as Aradia and I stumbled back from one of the furthest-flung encampments at Gaea, still high from our first shamanic journey.  That was Friday night of HPF 2009, our first year together; they played again the following year on the Sunday night main-stage, to which they returned  this year.  I missed the first part of this show, too, eventually abandoning half of my encampment to their face-painting shenanigans.

After the quiet of rest of the festival, walking up to the stage was like running face-first into a cacophonic wall of neon light and raucous sound.  A beautiful, much-needed wall, the impact with which brought me back to 2k9 and ‘10, returning to those moments in cyclical time.  The guitars, the cello, the electric fiddle … it was catharsis, pure and powerful.

I needed it desperately.  The festival, to that point, had had its ups and downs.  The main ritual, the day before, had been an utter disaster from which we were all—despite the passage of twenty-four hours, multiple cleansing rituals, and the completion of the public closing ritual just hours before—still recovering.  Even the land was stained.

So I stood there, vibrating with the music, and trying to let go.  To let go of my frustration with the Sacred Experience Committee.  To let go of my frustration with my camp-mates, most of whom had not yet made it to the pavilion[1].  To let go of my desire for the festival—which I have been attending since I was eighteen years old, to which I have introduced probably a dozen people at this point, and to which I had brought three “virgins” this very year—to be perfect, and just enjoy it as it was in the then and the now.  Perfection doesn’t exist in this world.  I’m skeptical that it exists anywhere.  …. So why, then, do I get so upset when things turn out to be less than perfect?

The music was amazing, the light show was a blast, and I was drinking thoroughly-blessed wine.  And yet, I was still struggling to find the fun.  My ambivalence must have been clear.  When Aradia asked me if I was alright, I didn’t lie.

Aradia and Aurora had been to one of the workshops I’d missed on account of my work exchange obligations.  The workshop was on aura cleansing and chakra balancing.  Together, as I stood there listening to the music, they worked over my energetic bodies until I was almost in tears.  Finally, something inside me broke loose, the tears came, my aura opened up, and I was able to let go and find the fun.  Power filled me, and a few sudden insights.

The band was clearly having the time of their lives, too.  Somehow, bottles of mead kept finding their way on stage.  At one point, the band stopped to toast the audience.  I raised my glass and toasted them back: “The blessings of Dionysus upon you all.”

My wine, as I said, was well-blessed.  Recognizing that I was not the only one in my encampment stained by the miasma of the previous night’s ritual, I took the box of wine Aurora had offered for the purposes, and called upon Dionysus to bless it so that all who drank of it would be purged of the stain and incited to sacred revelry.  I wish I’d thought to wright down the specifics, but I kinda got lost in the moment.  I completed the blessing by pouring a libation in a circle around the box; suddenly, it was “hot” to the touch.

“Holy shit,” said Aradia.  “What did you just do?”

When I toasted the band, my blessing spread to their bottles.  But one of the things about working with gods and spirits, I guess, is that once you start talking to them, they’re listening more than you realize.   And I had said “upon you all.”  Little lights started going off in the audience as the blessing spread to those bottles.  And then little bells started ringing in my head as other bottles throughout camp were lighted with the same blessing, too.

It was about that time that the rest of our encampment showed up, beaming and with faces painted.  The wine flowed liberally and, when the concert was over, we found a secluded place to load a bowl while they lit the bonfire.

The tenor of the evening was changed, radically, and for the better.

1 – I love you guys, but you can’t spend five days camped with anyone and not end up a bit frustrated at some point.

Dionysus Miscellanea

Statue of Dionysus of the "Madrid-Varese ...
Statue of Dionysus of the "Madrid-Varese type". Roman artwork based on a late Hellenistic original (ca. 125–100 BC). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hey, folks, it’s the end of the semester.  While I’m buy writing papers for the next few days, I may not get another chance to post.  In the meantime, check out some of the fun facts I that my research turned up but which I couldn’t work into my paper on the cult of Dionysus in Hellenistic Greece and the Roman Republic:

* Although most often described as the son of the mortal princess Semele, Dionysos is also said to be the son of Persephone, a relationship which explains his cthonic attributes (Burkert 1985.294)  Those familiar with Orphic mythology already know this.

* The thyrsos wand, associated with Bacchic worship, may—according to Burkert—draw its name from association “with a god attested in Ugarit, tirsu, intoxicating drink, or alternatively with the Late Hittite tuwarsa, vine…”, and that the very name Bacchus may be drawn from a Semitic word for wailing, drawing a parallel with the wailing over the death of the Mesopotamian god Tammuz. (Burkert 1985 p.163)

* Dionysus shares the thyrsos wand with Artemis—the only other deity to use the wand in their rites. (Burkert 1985 p.223)

* Dionysus may have been depicted on herms, either as himself or synchretised with Hermes (Burkert 1985 p.222)

* Prefiguring later synchretisms, the worship of Dionysus was influenced by the cult of Osiris as early as 660 BCE (Burkert 1985 p.163), an association later affirmed by both Herodotus and Plutarch, the latter of whom also equated Dionysus with Serapis. (Martin 1987.91)


Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Martin, Luther H. Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Dionysus Devotional Art I


I’ve been working on this off-and-on for a few months.  I finished coloring it Thursday as a part of my Dionysia.

His beauty is a major point of iconography in Euripides Bacchae, and his purple robe is similarly emphasized in the first of the Homeric Hymns.  The horns are in recognition of his title as Bull-god (and the attendant associations with unfettered lust, especially masculine).  The significance of the thyrsus and wine should be obvious.

Urban Dionysia

The Facebook group Prayers to the Gods of Hellas informs me that the Urban Dionysia began at sundown last night, and will continue for the next eight days .  The Attic title was Διονύσια τὰ ἐν Ἄστει (Dionusia ta en Astei: lit. “The In City Dionusia”) or Διονύσια τὰ Μεγάλα (Dionusia ta Megala: lit. “Dionusia the Big”).  The Wikipedia article can be found here.

It is both interesting and appropriate that Sannafrid and I (unknowingly) chose to spend last night smoking and drinking, while I read aloud from my copy of the Homeric Hymns.  First the Hymns to Aphrodite, as we had been discussing goddesses of fucking, and then the Hymns to Dionysus.  As the evening went on, I colored an iconographic image of the god I have been working on off-and-on for some time.  This afternoon, shortly before penning this post, I poured a libation of mead before the idol on my altar.

It is further interesting that, although we are shifting from Greek drama to Roman in my Greek and Roman Drama class, I have spent the afternoon reading* Euripides Hippolytus in anticipation of reading Phaedra, Seneca’s version of the story, next week.  Hippolytus was first performed in 428 BCE, and—like all the Attic dramas which have survived—was a winner of the theatre competitions which were a major part of the festival.

Unfortunately, I do not have the liberty to take eight days off in honor of Dionysos—or even to get ploughed for the next seven nights in his name (and “sacrifice my liver”, as Sannafrid put it).  Besides, the original was a state-sponsored festival which (to a casual but cynical reader, at least) looks like it was intended to duplicate, tame, and profit off of the older, Rural, Dionysia … and the Cults of the Olympians are not state-sponsored religion anymore.

What I can do is make a point of taking an hour or two out of each of the next seven days to meditating on the Bacchic One and upon my relationship with him, finishing the one devotional image I have so far, finishing reading Written in Wine (the devotional anthology Aradia gave me so long ago), and working on translating the Homeric hymn I never got to over Spring Break because the Hymn to Phanes took me so long.  Hopefully, between these various things, I may develop some sense of how I might celebrate this festival (and the Rural, in the winter) within my own cultural frame work and (still infantile) devotional practice.


* I have read Hippolytus before, of course, for last semester’s mythology class.  The roles of the goddesses Aphrodite and Artemis are too prominent to pass up.  I could write a whole post about that play alone.  Possibly several: one tackling the theme of hubris and failure to treat the altars of the gods; one dealing with Euripides treatment of women in general, and another on the misogyny of Hippolytus in particular.  But those are rants for another day.