What Kind of Game Is This?

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.


About Ashley Sarver

Ashley Sarver is a queer, nonbinary trans femme, polytheist, gamer, and disability caregiver living in the San Francisco Bay Area. View all posts by Ashley Sarver

One response to “What Kind of Game Is This?

  • EmberVoices

    I don’t think we were keeping track of how many of the weird coincidences were specifically tied to *you*, did we…

    My favorite is still:

    R: *Places tile on upper floor*
    You: Is that the Balcony you’ve just put there?
    R: No, it’s the Tower.
    *R’s immediate Event card moves Tower to different spot.*

    Next tile placed where Tower had been?
    The Balcony, of course.

    I guess it heard you, eh?


    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Overthinking Roleplaying Games

Talking to Myself About Games as Fiction

Intellect & Romance

Musings on the Stories We Tell

The Dionysian Artist

Δ, Τέχνη, Λόγος, Λέξις


Spiritual ramblings of a polytheist nature

Tales of the Fox

Musings and Magic From a Silicon Valley Witch

Dany's Blog

In which the blogger rambles about art, Supernatural, and other random junk.

The Green Wolf

Artist & Author Lupa

Pagan Church Lady

How Conveeeeenient!

Walking the Worlds

a biannual journal of polytheism and spiritwork

The Boukoleon

Where the Starry Bull thiasos gathers

Magick From Scratch

Breaking down mystical practice and crafting new ritual tech.

Blog - Banshee Arts

Words for the God of Ecstasy

The Green Wolf

Words for the God of Ecstasy

%d bloggers like this: