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.

St. Patrick’s Day, Liberalia, and a Modern Neo-Pagan’s Ritual Calendar

In the ancient world—in the early modern world, as well, in fact, and to this very day in some places—the liturgical calendar was managed by the state.  That is, in fact, a large part of why we have the records we do.  Although this was not theocracy in any sense, this was not mere public piety, either: in addition to stimulating the economy—food stalls, sacrifices, costume, and the like—state-sponsored religious rituals helped form and maintain community bonds.

Today, in the United States, we don’t quite have state-sponsored religious rituals.  We have “bank holidays” which are not formal religious (or even nationalist) observances, though they “coincidentally” lean strongly in that direction, which are set aside by law so that employees of local, state, and federal governments have a paid day off, and bank employees do as well.  Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day.  We also have a number of “unofficial” holidays—that is, days when no one can count on a paid holiday, but which local authorities bend over backwards to facilitate.

The most recent of these is St. Patrick’s day.  I’ve heard so many different versions of the history, I’m not even entirely certain which ones to believe.  One thing I am certain of is that the snakes-as-pagans version plays into the historical oppression narrative that we’re a little too fond of—see the Burning Times—and on closer examination, doesn’t fit what I know of Christian myth without being viewed through that lens.  Another thing I’m certain of is that, regardless of its roots, its modern manifestation is harmful only in terms of liver damage and drunk driving.  Not being a fan of the whole “pinching (or punching) people for failing to wear green” thing, and being somewhat terrified of the amateur drunk drivers who come out of the woodwork on St.P’s and New Years.

My attitude about that sort of thing has changed over the last couple years.  For one, I’ve just flat-out loosened up a lot.  When I was younger, I found bars to be painfully over-stimulating on a regular Saturday; these days, I enjoy a little hyper-stimulation from time to time.

Then, late Friday night, I learned, about the festival of Liberalia through one of the above links.  Liber Pater, to the best of my knowledge, is not a god of wine and harvest “like Bacchus”, as the Wikipedia asserts, but one of Dionysus’ Roman cult titles.  Although the Roman reconstructionist source I find emphasize the part where of the festival at which a Roman youth was acknowledged as an adult man, Ovid memorializes it as a festival of fertility and protection under the auspices of Bacchus and formless Numina, of whom I previously had not heard and will need to do some research.

Now, as some of you may know, I count Dionysus among my patron divinities.  He and his representatives have helped me a few times, first at my initiation and during subsequent explorations of the Underworld.  But, other than offering him tastes of every batch of homebrew I make (every time I sample it myself during the racking process), and of most of my bottles of “recreational” wine and mead, we haven’t really worked out a devotional relationship yet.  I don’t know what he wants from me … if anything.

The coincidence of St. Patrick’s day—one of the great US drinking holidays—and a day sacred to Dionysus is too interesting to ignore.  And it seems like a good place to start.  So I made offerings at midnight when I discovered the fact, in the morning, and upon returning from the bar after my revelries.  He seemed to like them, but I (so far) haven’t gotten very … tactile responses for any of the offerings I make—from the gifts I give to Tsu, to the offerings I make to my Kouros and Cyclades figures, or to any of the other gods on my altar.

Besides, I need holidays more frequent than every six weeks.  Liberalia is now officially on my own personal calendar.