I’ve been studying the Toys of Dionysos. For various reasons, I had to take several weeks off from the work, but I’ve taken it back up again. This has had more than a few strange effects in my life.
For those who don’t know, according to some accounts of Dionysos’ life, he was born not twice, but three times. The first time, he was born fully divine, of the union of Zeus and Persephone. Fearing that Hera would kill the child, Zeus hid him away in a mountain cave. Hera found out anyway, and sent titans to kill him. In order to lure the child from safety, the titans tempted him with an array of toys. The titans then killed him, cooked him, and ate him.
He got better.
In the literal reading, the toys are just that–shiny children’s playthings. A ball, dice, a top, and other things. Nothing at all unusual for an ancient kid to play with. There’s another reading, however. The Toys are not just, or not primarily, toys. They’re also ritual tools used in initiations, at least some of the time, according to some commentators.
They’re also living spirits. Spirits of initiation, wild, alien spirits who find humans amusing. After a couple of resurrections, Dionysos made them his. He didn’t tame them, exactly, but they work for him now. The Toys are spirits who work to make initiates know themselves (whether they like it or not), to break them down, and build them back up.
The other thing is, being toys, they like to play.
So the other night, we were playing Betrayal at House on the Hill, a board game about exploring a haunted house. This will be relevant to the Toys, I promise. Betrayal is one of those games that is somewhere between a board game and a role-playing game, where the players are controlling characters in a story, not nameless pawns on a board.
The character I chose was named Ox Bellows. This wasn’t an accident; I was thinking of “Bromios,” often translated as “the Roaring One.” What I wasn’t conscious of when I picked was that one of the Toys is a bullroarer. I’m not saying I wasn’t influenced by this, just that I wasn’t aware of it at the time.
All throughout the game, there were weird coincidences. Once, someone mentioned a garden, and the next room discovered (in the game, you build the board as you play, by drawing tiles at random) was the garden. I happened to be the one to draw that tile, and when I moved my character into the room, I encountered a creepy doll. Hey, it is a horror story.
Did I mention that one of the Toys is Paignia Kampesiguia, the Puppet? Whose name is also translated as “jointed doll?” Coincidences like this kept happening. Other Toys joined the game, their mundane forms mentioned on cards as the game progressed.
Now, I’m not claiming that this was a life-changing mystical experience. I’m not saying that this combination of symbols couldn’t have happened completely at random. But the difference between coincidence and synchronicity is meaning.
Working with the Toys has added a new layer of meaning into my world. Common things like dolls and dice mean more than they used to, and that meaning binds more of my world together. It changes the shape of my reality as I perceive it, as I live it, and opens doors I didn’t even see were there.