Speaking of the Unspeakable

You know what? Toasted bananas and singed monkey hair are a rather unpleasant smell combination.

What role does mystery play in your tradition?

Well, usually a rogue of some kind.

No, wait. Religion, not gaming. That’s the other blog.

No, really, what role does mystery play in your tradition?

OK, enough stalling. It depends on what tradition you’re talking about.

In my Dionysian practice, I have been given a mystery to share, but I’m not at a place where I can. A year ago, at OhChristWhatTimeIsIt in the morning, I woke from a dream with Himself telling me, “I give you a mystery. Here are the words and the signs…” By the time I realize I’m not dreaming anymore, He’s already rolling along, and I’m saying in my most reverent tones, “Hang on, let me get a pen!”

Essentially, Dionysos dictated the climax of a mystery initiation to me. Now, it’s up to me to write the rest of the initiation, undergo it myself (tricky when I’m the only one who has it, but I have a friend who can help), and create some kind of context in which I might be able to share it with someone, some day.

So, for my Dionysian practice, mystery is one of the things that spurs me on and gives me some central symbols to work with.

However, I’m also an initiated Central Valley Wiccan, which (as a branch of the British Traditional Wicca family) is a mystery tradition. It’s also an oathbound tradition, so I have to tread lightly to keep my oaths. Fortunately, the nature of mysteries helps here.

You see, where a secret is something you must not tell, a mystery is something you can not tell. It’s a numenous experience, something that doesn’t fit well into words. Oh, I could formulate a sentence that says something more-or-less like the mystery, but it wouldn’t have the same impact, emotionally and spiritually, as experiencing the revelation of the mystery. The words might be accurate, but they’d be hollow.

Still, I try not to do that, either. As I’ve said in other contexts, “And this is why we do not speak of the Mysteries to the uninitiated. We’ll sound like idiots.”

Oh, Central Valley Wicca? No, I hadn’t forgotten. The mystery is the experience of the presence of the gods.

I told you it wouldn’t convey the important stuff. If I were a better poet, I could go on about the feeling of something vast and old poking a finger into my head and flooding me with images, the smell of October in Iowa, campfire smoke, blood, the feeling of fur (from the inside and the outside, at the same time). The light shining in the dark inside me, the space that is so much vaster when They are in here than it ever is when I’m alone, flickering film effect the only thing that keeps the images separate enough to register, the taste of cool wine and hot skin, frosted earth crunching underfoot as the flames of the corn king leap into the sky…

But, I’m not that much of a poet, so I’ll leave it there.

It occurs to me that this is also the heart of the Dionysian mysteries I’ve been chasing and helping others chase: The experience of the presence of the God. His breath on the skin, his fingers in the hair, his winedark blazing eyes…

So many things are too big to fit inside our waking human minds. So many things are too subtle and vast for waking language. So the gods put us in strange states of mind and sing to us in the language that is what dreams are before we wake up and try to remember them.

What role does mystery play? Not a big one, in terms of time and words spent on ritual. But it plays the most important role, without doubt.

My lover Ember and I have decided to go through Galina Krasskova’s Devotional Polytheist Meme questions together, over the next several months. We encourage our friends to follow along, and welcome links to other people’s answers in our comments, as well as your thoughts on our answers. Ember’s answer can be found at her blog, Embervoices.

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About Lon Sarver

Lon Sarver is a polytheist priest of Dionysos, living in the San Francisco Bay Area and contemplating (with a healthy amount of dread) making a second attempt at a career in Marriage and Family Therapy. View all posts by Lon Sarver

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