In about three weeks, we’ll be doing our devotional at Pantheacon! If you want to help get it going, there are a few things we could use help with:
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I wrote this for a friend of mine who was working with Dionysos in the Underworld. With their permission, I’m sharing it here, in case anyone else has a need for it.
The ritual year for Thiasos Bakkheios starts with the Winter Solstice. The calendar of Attica (which many Hellenic reconstructionists use to set their ritual year) begins with the first new moon after the Summer Solstice, but I’ve found that scheduling with modern folks works better if the calendar starts closer to the secular new year.
Update from Thiasos Bakkheios:
We recently had another chanting and drumming and (some) dancing devotional. I’m going to report on it as best I can. Only some of these are my personal recollections; certain gaps in my memory had to be filled in with information supplied by “dude, you were so wasted” stories people told about me the day after.
The plan was to sacrifice food and drink to Dionysos and His friends and relations, to build up the energy and the ecstasy with chanting and drumming, and to ask the god if He’d be so kind as to send us some sign in our dreams as to how we can best make our individual relationships with him stronger. Continue reading
The stories of the gods are not the gods. The descriptions of the gods given in those stories are not the nature of the gods. They are fingers pointing at the moon.
There are days, and then there are days, but each day is one.
A day can begin with a phone call that frightens you and makes you feel helpless. That day can continue with doing what little one can to comfort a loved one being assaulted by fear, and then go on to comforting another loved one who has just run out of cope.
That same day can include the smile on a homeless man’s face when I can spare a couple of bucks instead of a handful of coins. It can include a beautiful drive with the sun setting on the right and the moon rising on the left, holding the broad earth and the blue sky between them, and moving me to praise the earth, sea, and sky, the lights of the heavens, and the dead who sleep in the earth. Continue reading
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley–and also those of polytheists. For our August devotional, I’d planned for Thiasos Bakkheios to have a high-woo trance journey, so that each member could meet the god in person, and discover which aspect of Dionysos they most resonated with.
Well, no. Scheduling problems, on-the-job injuries, and just plain bad luck conspired to make it seriously uncertain who (if anyone) was going to be able to make it, and guaranteed that at least a few folks would not be in the right space for trance work. So, thought I, let’s just have a dinner party in his honor.
Dedicating the time and effort and resources to cooking up a fantastic spread for the god is one of my favorite forms of devotional work. Moving (dancing) about the kitchen, hands-on raw meat, fire on the stove… It gets me high, when mixed with thoughts of Himself.
So we had a feast. Beef, rare and not so rare, rubbed in a Greek spice mix. Mushrooms and bacon, sauteed in wine. Dates wrapped in bacon and roasted. Blackberries and raspberries, olives, bread with dipping plates of olive oil, vinegar, and parmesan. Joey, who changed his mind at the last minute and joined us despite his injury, brought chicken legs baked in bean and cheese sauce. And, of course, mead and wine.
The chair at the head of the table was draped in leopard-print, and the that place at the table held his idol, and his plate and wineglass. Nearby were dishes for offerings to other beings, and the usual altar items were arranged as a centerpiece, around a vase of flowers.
When the Thiasos gathered, we opened with thanks and offerings to the spirits of the ancestors and mighty dead, and then to the spirits of earth, sea, and sky. Without them, we would not be here. Without them, we would have nothing to offer.
Then came the prayers to the gods, first to Hestia (without whose flame, the gods would not receive their portion), and then to those beings who were and are Dionysos’ kin and companions, and then to Dionysos himself.
For Himself, we laid a full plate and a full glass, and invited him to join us at our table. No one doubted his presence.
And then to feast! There was much juggling of laden dish, attempting to pass things around without spilling or knocking over the candles and icons. Some business of the Thiasos was discussed, and also many matters mundane and spiritual. And, there was laughter and fellowship.
After we were all stuffed and had run out of more specifically Dionysian things to speak of, it was suggested that we play Cards Against Humanity. Not wishing to exclude the guest of honor, we dealt a hand for Dionysos, and evolved a way for him to play.
For those not familiar, Cards Against Humanity is essentially a trick-taking game, where one player gives the table a phrase with missing words, and the others “bid” cards with words to fill in the blanks. The first player to take ten tricks wins the game
We took turns speaking for Dionysos when it was his turn to give the phrase (the prhases were drawn from a deck), and the table voted on the bid we thought he would most likely pick as the winner. When it was someone else’s turn to give the phrase, that person drew the requisite cards from the god’s hand, at random.
For example, the god gave the phrase, “The Academy Award for _____ goes to _____.” The winning bid was, “The Academy Award for the miracle of childbirth goes to dying.” Someone was obviously playing to the judge, there.
In a more playful example, the god drew, “For my next trick, I will pull ____ out of ___.” The winning bid was, “For my next trick, I will pull the female orgasm out of a tribe of warrior women.” Well, if anyone’s going to do it…
The god played passing well, taking five tricks. It seems, however, that he was not playing to win, but using the opportunity to shape the phrase into a message for someone at the table.
For Ember, the cards the god bid on her turn had a consistent theme, summed up in this bid:
“When I was tripping on acid, overcompensation turned into being fabulous.” She took this string of messages to be advice to get out there and do her thing, even if she was afraid it would fall flat.
Dany didn’t get quite so coherent a message, but the god bid the card “Hope” to her several times. Given the dire economic and health problems she’s been facing, she took that as a good sign.
We closed with further prayer and thanks, and then cooperative clean-up. The clean up went well, though it’s easier when it’s one of those gatherings that did not involve tearing animals apart in ecstatic frenzy.
There was a lesson here for us, I think. The god manifests in our lives, sometimes in surprisingly mundane acts, when we make room for him. Life won’t always go as I hope, and this will impact the work of our devotional group. He’s saying that he’ll be there with us, even if we don’t end up doing what we had initially planned.
We had hope that he’d play cards with us, but we didn’t expect him to speak to us through them. I would not have expected Cards Against Humanity to be an oracular tool, but I’ll take what he gives me.
Last week, Sannion wrote this piece about America as a Dionysian country. Essentially, he looks to an ideal of (or an idealized imagining of) certain aspects of the land and culture of the United States, and sees a clear pattern of Dionysian spirit in our art, politics, and history.
The essay is not unproblematic, and the bits folks might find distasteful start with the word “recolonize” in the title. The piece does not look critically at American culture, does not address how the Native people might have seen the patterns the author highlights, and does not acknowledge the history of appropriation or oppression that went into some of the things Sannion praises as Dionysian aspects of America.
Still, I think Sannion would be disappointed if readers were to assume that he is ignorant (or insensitive) to these problems just because he doesn’t call them out in this essay. The man can be downright misanthropic at times, and does not disguise a sarcastic disdain for mixing religion and politics, but he’s not a fool. Well, not a secular fool, at least.
At any rate, my take-away is this: Dionysos is an American god; not in his birth, but in that this land was ready to welcome him as an immigrant, and easily takes a place in the long story of the God who comes out of the east with a train of outcasts dancing behind him. Now, whether or not American Dionysos is the same entity as Greek Dionysos will require more pondering of syncretism on my behalf, but I suspect the answer is “Yes, but/and.”