Two Minds are Better than One

If I have any local followers there will be a screening of a documentary about Wayne and myself at the St Kilda Film Festival, 19th of May at 6:15pm. Click here for more details.

The doco was shot in August last year over two days, it was amazing seeing the passion and process of other artists in a field I’m unfamiliar with.

I’ve seen the documentary, it’s funny and really encapsulates the relationship between us, plus beautiful shots of our work. If it is made public online I’ll share it here.

TWO MINDS ARE BETTER THAN ONE

Director:
Felix Guerra
Producer:
Felix Guerra
Screenwriter:
Felix Guerra
Principal Cast:

Mark Gage, Wayne McMillan

Wayne Mcmillan and Mark Gage are two pavement artists based in Melbourne, Australia. They have a unique relationship that allows them to create fantastic masterpieces.

https://www.stkildafilmfestival.com.au/film/two-minds-are-better-than-one

Clowns: Creatures of Profound and Profane

This essay was made possible by my kind sponsors. If you would like to contribute to my writing and art become a patron!


Lasse Beischer in character (source)

Due to my unconventional lifestyle as a public performing artist a lot of my friends and associates are actually professional clowns. Since the international 2016 “Creepy Clown epidemic” some clowns (and friends) have reported a loss of income, public aggression and threats of physical assault. Further concern is being generated by part one of the “It” movie to be released later this year. There is a growing fear that the art form and profession is due to die out. (1, 2, 3, 4)

This subject interests me, in many respects it interconnects with my religious practice. Clown symbolism and tradition goes back to ancient history, quite possibly prehistory. The idea of the fading profession is worrisome to say the least. So here I thought I’d venture into the history of clowns, the symbolism and the likelihood of their function in the Mysteries. It may interest readers that clowns have always been a border between the profane and sacred, life and death.

It is more than possible that the clown itself was a feature of early western religion and folk traditions. What anthropologists generalise as the term Shamanism. Outside of Europe in America, clown medicine men play an important function as mediums between worlds of real and unreal, guides of spirits and apotropaic warders against evil and illness. This is exemplified by native American cultures such as the Pueblo peoples, within their culture was a separate society known as the Zuni Ne’ wekwe: funny people whom dressed in mud. Although defined as apart from society the Zuni played a crucial role in healing ailments through comedy. The Iroquois similarly used such means as healing including: “False Faces use clown-like theatrics to exorcise disease”. (5) Also the Heyoka of the Lakota, of whom spoke, walked and behaved opposite of nature.

In these instances the clown shamans are contrarians and exist in two realms of real and unreal. They mock and ridicule sacred ritual, committing taboos and breaking social conventions (transgressive), yet, at the same time empowering themselves and the community by completing a paradox of profound. The clowns are mirrors of society pointing out faults within their own culture and reinforcing the overall social commitments of the normal.

Satyr Plays and Classical Theatre

The origins of the Greek theatre is a historical mystery but it is possible it begun in the clownish antics of profane versus profound in Greek satyr plays. It is here that we find parallels between clown medicine men in America.

The earliest known Dionysian festival is Anthesteria, which among many things (including coming of age rites), centres around the marriage of Dionysos to Ariadne. The marriage itself was an enacted ceremony between the Queen of Athens to Dionysos. As a theme in Greek Mystery cults: marriage, coming to age and death are interlinked, thus Mystery deals primary with the subject of death and rebirth, ie., initiation.

How this was performed is mostly unknown, but earlier references suggest that the ritual ended with consummation of the marriage in a cow shed, making the king a cuckold to a god. This sacrifice was restorative of nature:

“Not all the magistrates lived together. The King kept what is now called the Boukoleion [cow-shed] near the Prytaneion. The evidence is that even now the mating and marriage of the wife of the King with Dionysos takes place there.” Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians 3.5

The function of the clown comes into this through the attendees of this ceremony. Men dressed as satyrs, donning masks and appearing as a cross between human and animal. These lewd creatures would accompany Dionysos with slapstick and farce. Although the ritual between the Queen and Dionysos was secret, it is thought to become open to public as satyr plays. In turn, these plays were later superseded by tragedy during Anthesteria, but the satyr plays still maintained a place in the festival as interludes between tragic plays. Maintaining the balance of the theatrical experience of the audience. This is argued by Richard Seaford:

“Moreover, Aristotle in Chapter 4 of his Poetics (by far our best source for the genesis of tragedy) states that tragedy began in improvisation and that it took time to acquire its elevated tone ‘because it developed from the satyr-play-like’. He also stated that tragedy developed ‘from the leaders of the dithyramb’. This evidence all coheres. The dithyramb was a hymn (originally processional) to Dionysos, that might be performed by satyrs, and indeed at the Athenian Anthesteria it seems that pipe-playing satyrs participated in a festal procession of the kind likely to have been accompanied by the dithyramb. The procession was, moreover, probably followed by the secret ritual in the old royal house.”

And

“At the Dionysiac festivals the citizens en masse watched the ritual impersonation of myth on the streets, but were excluded from the mystic ritual at the heart of the festival. And so not only was the traditional processional hymn transformed into a scripted stationary hymn under a hillside (so that all could see), but also the irresistibly secret sights of mystic ritual were opened out to the curious gaze of the entire polis. Greek ritual tends to enact its own aetiological myth, and the first tragedies were, I suspect, dramatisations of the aetiological myths enacted in mystery-cult – as was, a century later, the highly traditional Bacchae.” (6,7)

The only example we have of a satyr play is The Cyclops by Euripides, this farce making light of Homer’s Odyssey. But with other examples of Athenian comedy we get insight into Mystery, openly mocking what is consider profound such as: The Frogs and Thesmophoriazusae by Aristophanes. This can be used as an example of clownish characters making light of subjects as serious as religious rites and death. The refinement of Athenian writers however stripped away the farce, inventing tragedy. But elsewhere this was not the case.

In Poetics (5.1449b), Aristotle speculates comedy originated from the Dorian colonies in Italy and was refined by the Athenians.

“The making of tales (i.e. plots) originally came from Sicily, but of the Athenians Crates first began, by discarding the abusive scheme as a whole, to construct stories and tales.”

This connection from Aristotle is interesting, as unlike Athens, the Dorian colonies of Italy, Magna Graecia, comedy was held in high regard. Again it was also deeply rooted in Mystery cults, Bonnie MacLachlan discusses this in her essay on the Locrian Cave, in which comedic actors were given cultus in caves where maidens would perform rituals to indicate their coming of age (initiative death) as a woman. (8)

“Rhinthon, who was born in Syracuse but worked in Taras/Tarentum, has earned the reputation of expanding the genre of tragi-comedy, subverting some of the Attic conventions. It is very likely that his plays were performed in the theater at Locri, and the presence of a phlyax figure in the Grotta suggests that Locrian women enjoyed the sophistication and wit he represents.

[…] There may have been actual theatrical performances in the cave: among the votive objects were miniature models of the Grotta on which curtains were carved in relief. Terracotta figurines of comic actors and musicians, along with masks, indicate the importance of the theater to the votaries. The chiaroscuro mix of the serious and the comic, like the interplay between death and life, would be appropriate for the rituals in a nymphaeum.”

So while the concepts and history of Greek comedy is a little more nuanced than the Native American clown societies, we still witness themes that follow the same context of the profound and profane. The seriousness of death being turned into a farce, the religious ideals and natural cycle being challenged by beings (satyrs) that exist between worlds of real and fantasy.

Middle Comedy and New Comedy

Relief of a seated poet (Menander) with masks of New Comedy, 1st century B.C. – early 1st century A.D. (source)

The distinction between old, middle and new comedy in Greece is retrospective. The evolution of theatre being subtle. This is further complicated by the fact that no plays survive from the Middle era and only fragments from New Comedy era. (Probably because this was a return to the farce and impromptu.) Aristophanes is often credited with instituting the concept with his satirical plays that dealt with historical or contemporary people. This was a departure from the old as the prominence of mythological beings and satyrs was downplayed or humanised. It is during these two periods that archetypes/stock characters representing everyday life began appearing on stage like: parasites, revellers, philosophers, boastful soldiers, courtesans, bakers and cooks. It is safe to assume that the costumes and themes of Commeia dell’arte arose from these eras. New Comedy saw human masks with grotesque features, similar to satyr masks, that are easily identifying by the audience. A improvised mockery of the social caste and social conventions.

Commedia dell’arte

Roman Christians closed the theatres in 391 AD with it the history of performance became a vague memory. We can only assume that the traditions of New Comedy never died out in the medieval period. It is possible that troupes took their art to the streets as travellers, thus maintaining some lineage from the old. This is entirely an assumption, as akin to Middle and New Greek Comedy, the historical record of the rise of the Commedia dell’arte is few and far in the thousand year gap between the closure of the theatres and the emergence of it in the Renaissance. That said, some examples of the similarity between latter Greek comedy and Commedia dell’arte is the function of the stage, a special stage wagon, and the stock characters. The Commedia took on and developed its own traditions originating from Italy slowly evolving into its own art form, most noticeable is the interplay between the Zanni (rustic fools), Harlequin and the Pierrot.

The Harlequin (Arlecchino) is known as the trickster, sometimes appearing frail and weak, yet nimble and capable of great physical feats. He uses deception and tricks to fool those that around him. He is often known for his black mask and colourful diamond-shaped costume, he carries a club which later evolved into the Marotte. The Harlequin is often associate with the devil or a servant of Satan, but going back to the Greek theatre he is also a linked to Herakles. The Harlequin is interesting as although connected with what we would consider evil he is the anti-hero, through his feats the audience become charmed, enchanted by his prowess.

The evolution of the court Jester likely comes from The Harlequin, the Jester role in the court was to mock the rulership of the monarch, yet through his honesty an unusual adviser. The Marotte too played a very important role, it is a parody of a parody, a miniature puppet of the jester himself who likewise served as an advisor to the jester, sometimes the serious expression of the jester or alter ego, thus completing the paradox of the Jester/Harlequin.

The Pierrot is the counterpart and victim of the Harlequin. He is the trusting fool, the sad clown, sometimes considered a peasant or common man. His usual story is his naïve and fruitless love for The Courtesan who later betrays him for the Harlequin. (Remarkably akin to the Dionysian cuckolding the king of Athens.) The Pierrot is one of only stock characters of Commedia dell’arte that does not wear a mask, only white face paint, his costume is mostly white with a workers cap / dunce cap, he wears exaggerated loose clothing with large buttons.
His lack of a mask makes him something that the audience instantly identifies with and also able to convey real emotion. The audience can see themselves in the Pierrot, though, by the misdeeds of the Harlequin he becomes the butt of jokes, meaning that the audience ends up laughing at themselves, the catharsis of seeing others suffering.

Pierrot and Harlequin by Cézanne (source)

The Modern Clown and rise of Fear

With the Industrial revolution and development of technology and easier means of travel the modern circus developed. The modern clown drew heavily from the Zanni traditions of the Commedia dell’arte. The mask of the Harlequin becoming simplified face paint and clown noses (known as Auguste), the themes of the trickster and sad clown continued. There is usually a blend of different costumes from daggy, loose colourful clothes to parodies of everyday clothing with each clown having their own personality, jokes and act. The profession of clowning was such that they developed their own unique registry for costumes in the 1940’s that gives us some insight to the diversity of costumes. (9) The advent of film and television saw clowns becoming popular culture, Charlie Chaplin and Emmett Kelly playing upon the sad tramp clown. While in the US the TV show The Bozo Show. In Australia during the 90’s we had Crikey the Clown, a cynical and belligerent clown that performed questionable antics for children’s morning TV. (10) Yet the popularity and international invasion of clowns can never be trumped by that of McDonald’s (Ronald was originally played by Willard Scott who played Bozo). Clowns became a culturally accepted funny role throughout the twentieth century.

Also in this period three famous evil clowns evolved. The first and eldest is the Joker, the counterpart of Batman. The Joker was directly inspired by Gwynplaine. Jokers role fittingly fills that of the profound and profane as the silly villain that rises against the ultra-serious Batman. The evolution of the Joker is complex in itself, but he went from an outright ridiculous nemesis to deformed and frightening during the 80’s, climaxing with Heath Ledger’s performance.

The second being the real-life evil clown and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Gacy had two clown persona: Pogo and Patches that he would perform for charities and birthday parties. An interesting feature of Gacy’s costume is that he broke clown conventions in the style of his makeup, opting for more pointed-sharp features that appear sinister. It’s unknown if this was intentional.

Gacy as Pogo (source)

The third is known as the scariest clown in popular culture (11), Stephen King’s It or Pennywise. It is an eponymous being that appears as the phobia of its victims. Commonly appearing as a clown. King said of It that he found clowns to be the first and most frightening figure to introduce to children, his insight is particularly interesting as his book hits on themes of coming of age and developing as adults. (12)

Coulrophobia

(source)

Coulrophobia is a neologism and unofficial fear of clowns. The development noted with the appearance of the above evil clowns. Popular culture introduced an aspect of the clown that I believe has always been inherent. The function of initiators into adulthood (death of the child). The clown is deliberately confronting, transgressive and contrarian. Their function results in three fears:

The first is the “Uncanny Valley” a hypothesis that humans have a natural revulsion towards something that mimics / alters the human form. This revulsion formulates into fear. The source of this is our instinctive response to a dead body, a psychological self-defence mechanism. Death is the ultimate loss of identity. Clowns fall into the uncanny valley as they are both living and dead, they have no identity. Their appearance is often similar to a corpse, if not that the exaggerated and deformed features put us on nerve. Whether we know it or not, clowns by their function, are deathly.

The second fear is Confrontation. Clowns force us into a fantasy that likewise results in us questioning our reality, questioning ourselves. All art-forms do this, art is some kind of illusion, a magic that transcends the real and draws us away – thus art by nature is confrontational. It’s further enhanced with clowns because they are not just an inanimate sculpture or a painting but something that talks back. Clowns are interactive and this forms as comedy, making fun, making fun of you. They are honest and free creatures that serve to humiliate. This is embarrassing because they force us to question ourselves, to know yourself, picking out our faults and making it into a joke. For some this is damn right terrifying.

The third is linked above. The initiators of adulthood. Is it any wonder why clowns are most often featured at birthday parties? They are harbingers of coming of age, the bridge between child to adult. If one watches horror movies a common trope is a set of objects that we as adults find scary: children’s toys. Toys, like clowns, exist in two worlds: as a child they are a reminder to who we will become -a baby doll, or a tin soldier- but as adults they remind us of what we were. It’s something that we have lost, our innocence. Clowns are usually adults that behave like children, this transgressive behaviour is a reminder that formulates into envy and therefore disgust.

So why now? In 1988 PBD aired the documentary and last commentary of Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth. In the third episode Campbell expresses a worry for Western culture because of the lack of initiation rituals. In previous epochs, and still in cultures outside the west, youths undergo some kind of personal experience to become an adult and fit into society. This initiation was/is an ordeal of such greatness it served as a constant reminder of one’s self – an identity granted to us by our forebears (these forebears sometimes appearing as shaman-clowns). In the modern western culture there is no such ritual, our identity is granted to us by the impersonal government in the form of a driving license or I.D. card that allows us the ability to drink alcohol. To some extent we never become detached from our childhood and we lack any purpose and identity. We’re lost. When it comes to subjects that used to be innocuous and common -like clowns- we’re repulsed, our childhood, which should be beautiful, is turned into a manifestation of fear. This is why Stephen King’s It is so effective as a piece of literature he is tapping into a purpose of the clown, the initiator.

Conclusion

I find it worrisome that the clowning profession may be hurt by the developing popular culture image of clowns, yet as history demonstrates there has always been an evolution of clowns. In a society that is so lost in finding its own identity it is little wonder that something we once were able to laugh at has become an personification of horror. Our culture is increasingly becoming one of fear that shuns death, the inherent nature of clowns is a reflection of death. It is their duty to bring it to us and face it head on, with us ultimately laughing in its face. It is now that clowns are most needed and it is now that audiences need to find laughter. I hope this essay has been helpful to not just my readers, but the clowns themselves.

“I had a friend who was a clown. When he died, all his friends went to the funeral in one car.”
-Steven Wright


1 2 3 4

http://screencrush.com/professional-clowns-worried-about-it-movie/

http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/movies/movie-trailers/the-hugely-popular-it-trailer-has-further-damaged-the-clown-industry/news-story/01ba788626b828c3f9e40cf81d566470

http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/04/05/real-life-clowns-arent-laughing-at-the-it-movie-remake_a_22027963/

http://bloody-disgusting.com/news/3431255/actual-clowns-not-happy-trailer/

5

Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western Medicine
Linda Miller Van Blerkom
(Towson 1976:13)

6,7
Seaford, Dionysos, pp. 89, 90

8
http://www.stoa.org/diotima/essays/fc04/MacLachlan.html

9 http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/why-smart-clowns-immortalize-their-makeup-designs-on-ceramic-eggs

10 http://www.sbs.com.au/comedy/article/2014/10/16/how-agros-cartoon-connection-made-real-connection

11 https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/oct/29/the-10-most-terrifying-clowns-movies-film-tv

12 http://www.tor.com/2013/09/25/the-great-stephen-king-reread-it/


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Graffiti is the Living Voice of our Ancestors

The Sisters Rocks, Stawell, Victoria, Australia.

Art is one of the few means for us humans to express Zoë, living eternal life. Sometimes this is done by constructing grand monuments like the pyramids of Gaza, beautiful sculptures found in Greece and Rome, sometimes it achieved at the base level of the street in the form of graffiti. In this manner common people of no class can go down in history just as pharaohs of Egypt and artisans of Greece. Graffiti is an equaliser that transcends boundaries of class and prestige.

A relative shared a local news story of monument rocks known as the Sisters Rocks that have been defaced with graffiti, some of which goes back to the 1800’s (in terms of Australian history that is old).  There is local debate wether the rocks should be cleaned. My relative and her friends are in consensus that they should be. I had to respond:

“Sorry, but I disagree. Graffiti is an ancient art form and goes back to the time where written language was invented, it plays a huge role in our understanding of history.
For example: Greece has important landmarks carved in stone that in essence is ‘tagging’ some say: “so and so was here” or “so and so had sex on this stone” (the latter case were both male names, an important note for the history of homosexuality) dating going back to 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.
Later with the Romans we get an idea of life by its graffiti especially in Pompeii, including wonderful insults and indications of the dangers of toilets. The Colosseum in Rome also has graffiti written by Gladiators.
The first image known of Jesus Christ is graffiti.
Later still Vikings invading the Mediterranean wrote graffiti on monuments in Venice and Constantinople (Istanbul), giving us a date to their raids and one of the few primary sources of their attacks.
In Australia’s case graffiti has been extremely important for tracking early pioneers, explorers, outlaws. This is the voice of our ancestors and has a valid place in history. The news report is a prime example of that. The rocks should not be cleaned.”

I also added:

“It’s also ironic that comments above are saying “Vandals”, the word itself comes from the Germanic tribe of Vandals, of whom ransacked, pillaged and *vandalised* monuments in Italy. Again putting their mark down in history via graffiti.”

The point of which graffiti is a valid art form, possibly the most ancient. It is one of the very few primary sources of life, the voice of our forbears. Just because we have the privilege to judge and clean something contemporary does not give us the right to erase future history. As one of the commentators on my relatives post said “We have technology where people can do this in their own home without defacing property.” That is very true, so did the people of Greece and Rome. However these civilisations fell, just as our will in time. The private art on our computers will be gone and all that will remain are names upon rocks. Erasing landmarks like the Sisters Rocks is erasing *our* history in the now. It is silencing our voices to our future and detrimental to our Zoë.

My Gods Scare Me

(source and also a fantastic article)

(Note: I’m going through my old blog and republishing choice articles here. This piece was first published in October 2014 and became my first “viral” post. It was shared throughout social media with positive and negative reactions. While I have advanced quite far from when I wrote this it still rings true to me. *I’ve slightly edited this version for spelling and context.)

After a discussion with an associate and friend about how pagans view gods, I said something that stuck out:

‘I recognize that Dionysos is not my “natural god” he’s not my “Mary Sue god” I don’t worship him for pure comfort and unquestioning admiration.’

Yeah, that sums up a lot for me. Many newcomers or inexperienced people to paganism or Hellenic polytheism (whatever the fuck you want to call it) tend to choose or pick a deity that they think is appropriate for their personality or what they think their personality is. Most often they are polluted with Jungian archetype concepts: “I think I’ll worship so and so god because I’m so much like them.” Well I’m sorry. In my experience gods are far more complex than some stupid archetype you want to attribute to them or how you relate to them.

In the past two years I have had encounters with two particular gods that have made me feel really, really uncomfortable:

Dionysos and Pan.

I’ll start with Pan. Pan is perhaps the most popular god within Wicca and Neopagan groups as an aspect of the ‘Horned God’ who is mixed with a combination of classical, medieval and modern symbolism, attributions to Satan etc. this has seen as him being greatly respected in these said circles.

This is all fine and dandy but in my experience Pan is not a free loving, frolicking, happy, pipe playing shepherd. No. He is a natural carnal force that dominates over *you*. It’s all fun playing at bdsm sex parties and all, but typically there is a safe word, something that would end it if those involve have gone too far. From what I’ve experienced there is no safe word around Pan.

To friends I have described Pan as being the last thoughts in your head as a tiger crushes your skull with its’ jaws. The goat mounting you unexpectedly or this poor fellow and the donkey, the feeling of realising your death as hypothermia is setting in after an avalanche of snow has covered you.

Succumbing to nature, being defeated by it, the terror of it. Death is not always a result, but that feeling of panic, that terror you feel when you’re in an uncontrollable situation is how I experienced Pan.

 

Dionysos. In thirteen years of being a Hellenic Polytheist I never regarded Dionysos as much. I have always respected him along with other deities of the pantheon of Greece, but other than simply reciting prayers and reading myths I did not pay Dionysos much attention.

I cannot pin point the exact time when he burst into my life, but it was around two years ago when my partner and I started “The Awakening of Pan” picture.

Since, I’ve been falling down the rabbit hole and I don’t think I’ve hit the bottom yet.

Dionysos is a far more complex deity than the carnal driven Pan. But still maintains some attributes. In a simple metaphor, Pan is like camping in the forest surrounded by lions, tigers and bears. Dionysos is like sleeping in a city park, surrounded by cultivated plants, humans and tamed critters. While not exclusively true – one could be considered rustic and the other urban. Still there are risks of camping in an urban park, ever heard of the recent news story of the homeless guy getting his brains smashed in? No? That’s because the media does not publish that stuff. But it happens a lot more often than what we’re told. Humans are as dangerous as any tiger, lion or bear.

Dionysos is part human, part god. He empowers us and also dominates us. He is god of liberty, individual expression but also the god that can strip every personal trait from you. He transcends the carnal nature of… nature, but also maintains it.

A god of paradoxes.

Much of this is way too simplistic for Dionysos. He is a complex god. However I find him far more terrifying than Pan. Pan is humiliating, he dominates over your physical humility. Dionysos however… Dionysos can strip your soul, remove your identity, steal your ego. What you think you are is questioned by Dionysos because he knows who you are. He knows because he *is* you, you are him, I am him, we are him. The ideals we construct ourselves around, the scaffolds we delude ourselves as being “me”, “I” are part of Dionysos. He tears them down to their foundations and makes us aware of that.

This is a frighting aspect. It’s actually fucking terrifying. While Pan is crushing our heads by tiger jaws or raping via donkey dick. Dionysos is taking over us, changing us, enlightening us.

Why? Why worship a god that scares me?

There is a trend in the last couple of hundred years to view god or gods as being loving, kind and blessing regardless of who we are or what we do. There is a reason for the term: “god fearing”. Gods are not some cute fuzzy critters to cater to our egos, but forces that direct us, herd us towards a form of enlightenment – whatever that enlightenment is. Confronting that now is a step for preparation in the future, like in the next life future. Dionysos and Pan are far from my ‘Mary Sue’ gods, neither fit my personality at all. But I don’t worship them because of me, I worship them because of Them.

(source and also a fantastic article)

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They can destroy the temples, but not the Holy Mountains

(Note: I’m going through my old blog and republishing choice articles here. Eventually the old blog will be deactivated. What follows is my response to the destruction of holy sites by the hands of scum.)

 

I am devastated by the destruction of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra.

I don’t think I’ve yet grasped how much this stuff affects me. After being constantly bombarded through links and shares. I’ve decided I will no longer share or “Like” said articles on facebook. Also I will limit my commenting on it too. My justifications are personal, but on another level it spreads the Daesh agenda and empowers them to know that the world is suffering from their evil.

Something that is easy for me to forgot is that I am a foreigner. I know these ancient cities, have researched for years of the beautiful landscape in relation to Dionysos and other gods. I know these gods through photos and descriptions of artefacts, but not the land.

These deities are intrinsically connected to the landscape and well before temples and architecture was their Holy Mountains. There was wind and rain, sand and life. Even if the Daesh apocalyptic vision is fulfilled these forces will continue without us.

This is a revelation that been told to me before…


A vast hall, with stone walls colouring in an array of reds and blues and yellows and great floral pillars that rose up into the shadowy vaulted roof, all of which seemed intangible, as though it faded away into the dusk of dream when my sight left its presence. A stark contrast to my illuminated guide, She need not utter Her name. There is no subtlety or shyness from my rainbow dressed herald.
She lead me to a great dais that hosted two enthroned beings of inconceivable height, stone faced, statuesque, both adorned with gold horned crowns that held back waving black hair. Their eyes were large, looking upon me with a sort of regality I was unfamiliar with, a feeling that they were much more distant of humanity compared to the Others I knew. Yet, a kindness, like one would expect from their parents. Mother and father, husband and wife.
My guide spoke winged words I could not comprehend and these beings replied likewise with their Names.

Then I knew why I had been brought before Them. The hatred and anger directed to Their own children for the destruction of their sacred spaces drew Their attention.

Those four great eyes just stared at me and without a utterance, I was assured. Those things lost were human things, lovely human things, but still no more meaningful then the desert sands. Visions of water and earth, moon and sun, the wind blowing up storms. Their presence is Cosmos, not human shaped stones.

I was assured and comforted when I awoke. The rage that had kept me awake subsided.

Sleep returned.


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More Icon Commissions

Just updating and sharing recent commissions completed by my partner, Wayne McMillan. All but Antinous maybe be purchased as prayer cards from WyrdCuriosities.

The Antinous commission was really interesting to do. Previous icons Wayne chooses how and what he depicts of the god in the icon. The Antinous, however, was a very specific cultic expression of the god. This required detailed back and forth client / artist communication, sketching, divination and heavy research. A fascinating and complex challenge.

If you are interested in taking a commission details are here. I’m also updating my Aγοράζω including other pieces for sale.

Patreon

 

I’m actually smiling here… 😛

 

I started a Patreon account. Simply put, this is a means for polytheist/pagan fans and supporters of my writing and art to contribute towards it.

I am a self-employed artist who relies on the generosity of the public to survive. I also dedicate a lot of my time to various polytheist/pagan communities including writing and giving my art out for free. While I’m honoured to do this, it does actually cost my time and money.

I’m not just asking for donations though, my Patreon has exclusive content including previews, sketches, art tutorials, in the future it will have devotional related publications.

I’ve also added a new page on this blog for patrons over $20: patrons may request links to blogs or whatnot, if desired.

https://www.patreon.com/DionysianArtist

Shock of the Old and the Mysteries of Decorum

(Note: I’m going through my old blog and republishing choice articles here. Eventually the old blog will be deactivated.)

Cock and Bull – Damien Hirst

I think art theory is a wank, I despise reading and writing about it. Last night however I found myself on a conversation level discussing art theory, I said something like: I suppose we’re now the Post-Shock* generation. It won’t be long until we become so jaded we’ll be Nietzsche’s last man, epitomising nihilism.

I came to this conclusion as I find the shock movement well and truly banal. Although I never gave it much credence in the first place. Apart from that, the population has been exposed to the internet for at least two generations, where in a matter of keystrokes one can witness videos and images of abuse of humans and animals, of any sexual fantasy one can imagine, of seeing sacred mountains and holy places.

Apparently we’ve been exposed to all the mysteries the world has to offer and if we do observe something sacred we respond to it in jaded manner.

The problem with this behaviour is we fail to see the beauty of it. It’s like owning a painting you really like in your living room, you love that painting, but after years and years of seeing it, it simply becomes part of your environment and no amount of contemplation can return you to the of point feeling you had when you first saw it.

Over exposure in general does this to you. For myself I’ve been experiencing a fear that I’ve seen too much art. I no longer experience the flutters of amazement, of awe, when I look at new art.

Then there are greater implications to this problem. We forget that others have not experienced what we’ve experience. We fail to recognise mystery for what it is and freely talk about things without consideration to the effects it may have on others.

You see this is what I hate about art critics and art writers. When I go to a gallery I never read or listen to the guides, because they are stripping the magic away from the art by dictating what it means to you. The value of art should be found by the admirer alone. Two people can look at one painting and see it in a completely different light.

There are so many voices out there talking about stuff, about movies, TV shows, art – giving away spoilers – that when we’re struck with something that should be just between initiated we fail apply proper decorum.

This is an issue we should all be actively conscious of.

*The Shock Art movement was an art movement in the late 1980 throughout to the 2000’s where artists would deliberately create ‘shocking’ art to arouse the public’s emotions and cause controversy.


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Dionysian Apoliticism

(Note: I’m going through my old blog and republishing choice articles here. Eventually the old blog will be deactivated.)

(source)

When I tell people that I am a Dionysian there is often a presupposition that I’m a drunk.

A few years ago I was sitting with a very good friend talking about Dionysos. It was when I was first getting a grasp of this overly complex deity. My friend said something like, “why worship Dionysos? He is a selfish god, there is nothing he offers but drunkenness.”

Granted, my friend has a limited understanding of Dionysos, also he has a strong catholic background which was influencing his criticism. Yet at the time I was wordless. I was incapable of defending Dionysos. I did not have the knowledge or presence to tell my friend otherwise.If my friend asked me that question now the conversation would had gone a lot differently. The reason is I’ve been going on my own journey. If my friend asked me that question in the future, I would have another set of responses.

The only thing I believe in is flux, motion, cause and effect.

What I can say now is that Dionysians have roles, each role is different and even sometimes polar opposite to the other. There is a Dionysian in the Storming of the Bastille, there is a Dionysian of the opulence of Versailles. How can a person acknowledge and respect both all at once? A Dionysian must be of two or more states, they are the radicals chopping off the aristocrats heads and also the decadent nobles living in naivety. If you want to categorise Dionysians as something they are the emulsion of water and wine.

To assigned a Dionysian to a political position is wrong because of this movement of liquids like when the river meets the sea. To be a Dionysian is to be Pentheus and Dionysos at once. For those innocent of myth, imagine the archetypes of a fascist and the anarchist being one. Dionysos may be the ultimate anarchist, but to comprehend him requires the other side.

If I was to argue with my friend today I’d say that Dionysos is not a selfish god, but the host. He is like a barman distributing the drinks. He is also the drinks. But in the form of a barkeeper he is a host. The barman is someone we usually attribute to being sober, to be outside of the drunks perspective, an observer yet still directly related to drinking.
In this fantasy bar all people are served, all people get drunk. They all have their beliefs and ideologies. By speaking in this place does not mean that the patron owns this space, they are simply guests in the establishment. For lack of a better word the host is “leasing” this space for discourse, it does not mean that the host believes, follows or even understand the argument.

I could draw on more classical analogies like the theatre. We imagine that the theatre is a place solely for performance, which it is, but our concept of performance is limited by the TV screen. In the past performance included political discourse, politicians would give speeches before and after a play they produced and funded that was relevant to their political campaign. But the theatre itself remained the same.

The physical characteristics of the theatre maintains this bi-polar relationship also. Traditional Greek theatres were situated on a hillside and carved into it. It was a part of nature, open to the sky. Earth was literally cultivated for performance. The seating of the theatre are focused forwards, with masses all enjoying an individual experience on mass and in their own heads.

The role of performance continues with this outside/inside relationship. Three actors played all the characters in one performance. An interchange between characters would just be a replacing of the mask. You could theoretically have a play where Pentheus and Dionysos are played by the same actor. The actor is host to these characters but only in role does the actor believe in what the character believes. Outside of the theatre the actors personality is their own, but by empathising and playing the various roles does the actor become a Dionysian.

This apoliticism was recognised in classical times with a intuition called the Dionysiakoi Technitai (Artists of Dionysos). The technitai was a guild of artists without borders. They were granted incredibly powerful privileges based on their talent and devotion to the gods. These privileges included: unlimited travel, free of national taxes, free of conscription and seizure of person and possessions. This intuition was recognised by all the city states in a very rare agreement in the form the 279 BC Delphi Decree:

It was decided by the Amphictyons and the hieromnemones and the agoratroi: In order for all time the technitai in Athens may have freedom from seizure (asylia) and from taxation, and that no one may be apprehended from anywhere in war or in peace or their goods seized, but that they may have freedom from taxation and immunity accorded to them surely by all of Greece, the technitai are to be free of taxes for military service on land or sea and all special levies, so that honours and sacrifices for which the technitai are appointed may be performed for the gods at appropriate times, seeing that they are apolitical (apolypragmoneton) and consecrated to the services of the gods: let it be permitted to no one to make off with the technitai either in war or in peace or to take reprisals against them, provided that they have contracted no debt with the city as debtors, or are under no obligation for a private contract. If anyone acts contrary to this, let him be liable before the Amphictyons, both he himself and the city in which the offence was committed against the technitai. The freedom from taxation and security that has been granted by the Amphictyons is to belong for all time to the technitai at Athens, who are apolitical. The secretaries are to inscribe this decree on a stone slab and set it up in Delphi, and to send to the Athenians a sealed copy of this decree, so that the technitai may know that the Amphictyons have the greatest respect for their piety towards the gods and adhering to the requests of the technitai and shall try also for the future to safeguard this for all time and in addition to increase any other privilege they have on behalf of the Artists of Dionysus. Ambassadors: Artydamas, poet of tragedies, Neoptolemos, tragic actor.
Eric Csapo & William Slater, The Context of Ancient Drama; 233, 244

So you see in my role as Dionysian I must be apolitical. I worship the gods, I give all I can to them. But my gods demand that I leave politics outside of my devotion. My path may intersect with politics, personally I am politically minded – but that is in a different role. If anyone automatically assigns my polytheism into a political definition I will revolt against it. Not only are they offending my own agency, but my religious beliefs.

Banned from using the name HERMES

(Note: I’m going through my old blog and republishing choice articles here. Eventually the old blog will be deactivated.) Addition: This is being saved for future ref. Originally published on 2nd October 2015. The issue is still unresolved.  

If you need a history lesson I’ve been making artwork dedicated to the Greek Gods for over 10 years. In 2006 I started a business called Hephaestian Studios selling idol statues on eBay, now I sell basic designs for print apparel, t-shirts and prints etc. This artwork is always related to mythology or associated subjects.

It’s my *thing*.

A particular god whom I’ve be devoted towards is Hermes, naturally I like making art for him, but his name is a big issue when selling online because it is trademarked. Meaning, I am not allowed to use the gods name in both his cultural context and religious context.

This first started with eBay. I owned a professional store on eBay with hundreds of listings paid in advance. One morning in 2007 I woke up to find my store closed and listings removed because I infringed on a trademark.
I was shocked, all my listings were original content written by me and the artwork made, by hand, by me. After two weeks of having my business closed down, effectively losing an income. back and forth exchanges between robotic eBay customer service via email and phone I had my store restored. All but the Hermes listing.

The statue that was banned by eBay because of the name Hermes was used.

That is how I found out that the name Hermes is trademarked.

Nowadays I’ve cut back on my business and just sell prints as a devotional hobby. Today I decided to try out Society6 which has a okay reputation between my artist friends. As a traditional and ritual thing I always upload my Hermes design first on these sites.

and lo and behold I get this message:

You can see in the description that this listing is related to the Greek god Hermes. The item title is Hermes B&W. The planned image to be uploaded is this:

Reminiscing my eBay days I thought I’d politely email Society6 and explain why I should be able to use the name in correct context:

Mark Gage, October 1, 6:16pm

New member attempting to upload an original design of the Greek God Hermes. Society6 won’t let me use the name “Hermes” because it’s association with trademarked brands.
I’m using the name in its correct context related to classical Greek mythology for a deity that has been part of western culture for over 3000 years.
Their response was prompt (condensed for ease of reading):

Michela, October 1, 7:26pm

Hi Mark,
Thank you for contacting Society6 Support.
We truly do appreciate your comments and questions.
Unfortunately, in an effort to respect the rights of intellectual property owners, we are not able to support the inclusion of certain words, names, phrases, or combination thereof in artist submissions. In this particular case the word “Hermes” was used and we are not able to support the inclusion. Please replace this word to your description accordingly. All words in your listing must be accurate and refer only to the item for sale.
We understand that this particular exclusion may be overbroad as applied to your submission, and we appreciate your patience as we continue to improve our policy and process for the benefit of the overall marketplace.
We apologize for any inconvenience.
Sincerely,
Michela
So now you see my dilemma, I am effectively banned from using the name Hermes in reference and correct context for devotional items designed for the polytheist / pagan community because the name is trademarked. I am having external corporate services recommending that I use alternative names in replacement of the deity that I have dedicated my work towards.

My art, my original work, my item listings are all in correct mythological, religious and cultural context. I’m not selling other people’s trademarked work, nor taking advantage of someone else’s copyright.

I am making my own art, giving devotion and hopefully making a couple of extra bucks on the side.

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The Theatre and the Divine

(Note: I’m going through my old blog and republishing choice articles here. Eventually the old blog will be deactivated.)

(source)

Classical Greek theatre was radical. It most likely begun as a private ritual performance between the elite, even leading with direct interaction between actors and observers in the form of mystery plays, maybe as satyr plays. As it progressed the theatre became more open to the public. This is how it was radical, at the time in antiquity, public performance was limited in surrounding nations. In Egypt we have references of street performers, the equivalent of buskers, they also performed rituals in public, but nothing on such scale and public domain as the Greek theatre.
It was an equaliser of class, a place which the common people could actively observe the gods.  What’s more, we have common people as writers and performers freely criticising and mocking kings, nobility and public figures, which gave birth to our concepts of free speech.  The theatre was a place for religion, politics, expression and entertainment.
A sacred domain dedicated to Dionysos.

So how does the theatre prove that the gods exist? This is summed up in two ways, one the actor, two the observer.

  1. The actor playing a role relinquishes themselves to their character. In simplest terms they are invoking a character, allowing it to possess them and reflecting that possession. If you’re familiar with how Greek plays were performed then you’ll know that there was only three actors on the stage at one time. These actors would play various roles throughout the play which was illustrated by what mask they wore. The masks themselves were the characters and the actor was a living moving prop or host for the mask. In this function when they assumed the role of a god they were host to the god. To the Greeks, they were witnessing, in every sense, their gods on stage.
  2. The audience brought the gods to life. The base function of performance is suspension of reality. In order to appreciate the performance the audience must allow themselves to be fooled. They have to accept the fantasy in front of them and believe in its existence. By believing in the play they are demonstrating their faith in the gods.

So how is this any different from now? This is a good point and one that has been discussed with the pop culture pagans.  I will not dismiss their beliefs, but my personal opinion is that the difference between modern people watching a film and ancient Greeks watching the theatre is audience attitude.  An average person does not enter the movie theatre with the expectation of watching something divine and religious. For the Greeks, not only were they entering a sacred domain, but also observing a devotional, religious performance.

To understand this concept is realising how disenchanted modern people are. Over exposure of media has led us to become jaded, whereas ancient people would only observe these performances once or twice a year. It’s not lost on me that we call celebrity actors “Stars”, “Idols” which further serves as a point at how wrong modern people are when enjoying a production. This is why it’s difficult for some to come to grasps with the idea that watching or participating in a performance is a sacred act.

 


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Dona’ria Technitai to Madonnari to Modern Pavement Artists

(Note: I’m going through my old blog and republishing choice articles here. Eventually the old blog will be deactivated.)

Anathema is a word I’ve heard of but never knew what it meant. In Catholic and Orthodox faith it’s a word of condemnation with varying levels of complexity and negative connotations. For the Ancient Hellenics it was different, votive sacrifices dedicated to the gods often in the form of artwork.

What really caught me is this from A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities by William Smith (as quoted on the Art is Anathema website )

“DONA′RIA (ἀναθήματα or ἀνακείμενα), are names by which the ancients designated presents made to the gods, either by individuals or communities. Sometimes they are also called dona or δῶρα. The belief that the gods were pleased with costly presents was as natural to the ancients as the belief that they could be influenced in their conduct towards men by the offering of sacrifices; and, indeed, both sprang from the same feeling. Presents were mostly given as tokens of gratitude for some favour which a god had bestowed on man; but in many cases they were intended to induce the deity to grant some special favour.

At the time when the fine arts flourished in Greece the anathemata were generally works of art of exquisite workmanship, such as high tripods bearing vases, craters, cups, candelabras, pictures, statues, and various other things. The materials of which they were made differed according to circumstances; some were of bronze, others of silver or gold (Athen. VI p231, &c.), and their number is to us almost inconceivable (Demosth.Olynth. III. p35). The treasures of the temples of Delphi and Olympia, in particular, surpass all conception. Even Pausanias, at a period when numberless works of art must have perished in the various ravages and plunders to which Greece had been exposed, saw and described an astonishing number of anathemata.

Individuals who had escaped from some danger were no less anxious to show their gratitude to the gods by anathemata than communities. In all cases in which a cure was effected presents were made to the temple, and little tablets (tabulae votivae) were suspended on its walls, containing an account of the danger from which the patient had escaped, and of the manner in which he had been restored to health. Some tablets of this kind, with their inscriptions, are still extant (Wolf, l.c., p242, &c.). From some relics of ancient art we must infer, that in some cases, when a particular part of the body was attacked by disease, the person, after his recovery, dedicated an imitation of that part in gold or silver to the god to whom he owed his recovery. Persons who had escaped from shipwreck usually dedicated to Neptune the dress which they wore at the time of their danger (Hor. Carm. I.5.13;Virg. Aen. XII.768); but if they had escaped naked, they dedicated some locks of their hair (Lucian, de Merc. Cond. c1 vol. I p652, ed. Reiz.). Shipwrecked persons also suspended votive tablets in the temple of Neptune, on which their accident was described or painted. Individuals who gave up the profession or occupation by which they had gained their livelihood, frequently dedicated in a temple the instruments which they had used, as a grateful acknowledgment of the favour of the gods. The soldier thus dedicated his arms, the fishermen his net, the shepherd his flute, the poet his lyre, cithara, or harp, &c.

It would be impossible to attempt to enumerate all the occasions on which individuals, as well as communities, showed their gratefulness towards the gods by anathemata. Descriptions of the most remarkable presents in the various temples of Greece may be read in the works of Herodotus, Strabo, Pausanias, Athenaeus, and others.”

As Smith states there are many ancient examples of votive offerings dedicated to temples, including simple things like basic terracotta or bronze animals to complex protomes, sculptures of deities, tripods, tables etc. But what I wasn’t aware of is the commissioned illustration of traumatic scenes, illness, accidents.  This is a particularly fascinating to me because it’s a tradition that continues today in Sicily in the form of Ex-Voto.

“Ex-votos can take a wide variety of forms. They are not only intended for the helping figure, but also as a testimony to later visitors of the received help. As such they may include texts explaining a miracle attributed to the helper, or symbols such as a painted or modeled reproduction of a miraculously healed body part, or a directly related item such as a crutch given by a person formerly lame.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex-voto

Example of Ex-Voto, man being hit by a flower pot and surviving.

 

This then brings me back to my own work as a pavement artist. As this is my profession I have a keen interested in regards to the history of pavement art. It is an history obscured by a lack of interest from art historians because it deals with a subject that is usually considered lowly.

However pavement art history is extremely rich and powerful, there are even examples of it being a political movement in the late 1800’s as a preferred form of expression for the suffragettes.  http://screever.org/

Asphalt Renaissance  by Kurt Wenner* discusses the history of the pavement art, looking at examples found in other cultures in India and Buddhist mandalas, but Wenner’s main focus is on the Madonnari  The traditional pavement artists of Italy. The Madonnari are known for drawing votive images of Madonna.  In this regard, the Madonnari are considered the first pavement artists with references of their existence in the late Renaissance as maimed veterans of the Crusades.**

They were in every sense ex-voto painters, that would work outside churches, churchgoers would purchase the crude images and donate them to the church. Just like what the Greeks did. Some artists were so poor they could not afford boards to draw / paint upon so they began drawing on the street itself – giving birth to pavement art.

This discovery therefore draws a direct line from the Madonnari to the dona artists of ancient Greece and illustrates that the tradition of devotional artists goes back to ancient Hellenistic times.

*Unfortunately my book was stolen so I cannot provide quotes, however it’s highly recommended to buy this well researched, beautiful and awe inspiring book.

** This is why the crutch is a symbol of pavement artists.

Modern pavement Artist, Francois Pelletier in Paris.

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“The Beloved”

At the beginning of the year I started a large reproduction of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “The Beloved”, also known as The Bride. It has taken me roughly two months to complete at a size of 1.5 by 1.8 metres, on canvas in pastel.

I’m a fan of Rossetti and intend to do a series of his works over the next year or so. (Already started a new one!)

I technically finished my version earlier this week, but will need to make some corrections and repairs in the studio, especially if sold – yes, this work is for sale – email me if interested: markos.gage “@” gmail.com

The Beloved is a fascinating painting as it is very odd in terms of composition, style and colour. Rossetti’s work is usually very strange and unique, but with obvious influences from European masters, in this painting there international uses of clothing and jewellery including the green Japanese silk dress of the bride and Peruvian jewels.

Being one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Rossetti sought to change the Victorian standards of art and challenged the artistic establishment in Britain with his pieces.

The Beloved is in part inspired by The Song of Solomon, (one of the most beautiful and erotic pieces in the Bible), on the frame of the original painting are two passages from the song:

My beloved is mine and I am his (2:16)

And

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine (1:2)

Therefore this scene captures the bride revealing herself to the groom (the viewer).

I’m happy with my rendering of it, especially considering I was sick for a majority of drawing it, but there are a few things I wish to fix. Foremost is the left eye of the bride – it needs to be reshaped and adjusted. The African flower boy’s face needs some shaping and his hands corrected. Also some basic repairs from the damage caused by the elements.

Below are some selected progress pictures. (Also to prove to my hecklers that *NO* I don’t buy my paintings from overseas and “pretend” to draw them.)

Cont. The DA Philosophy 1

Dver left a comment on my previous post here.

I believe my reply merits a blog post:

Thinking back through my artistic ‘career’ it’s hard to find a time where my work was not devotional in some sense. But it’s only when I experienced my initiation experience in late 2015 that I really ‘clicked’ to what I was doing and turned it into my primary form of devotional expression/engagement. Taking on the mantel of Dionysian Artist and name Δ.
Thus my devotion looks a lot different from others that consider themselves “Hellenic Polytheists” or even Dionysians.

The ultimate idea of ‘Art for god’s sake’ is that it is more liberating to the artist than ‘Art for art’s sake’, even if the work is unpleasing to the human audience, it does not matter. The opinions of human’s is only consequential and unnecessary. Devotional art is therefore free of any criticism from mankind and the artist need not worry of others opinions. From your comment Dver, you certainly understand my intention here.

Others… it can be difficult to explain. I recently had a conversation with a fellow artist, who is also an art historian / theorist / critic and teacher. He was dismayed at the fact that we do not do shows and rarely sell our work. I explained to him I’d rather see the art burned than sell it to some hipster who just likes the work because “it’s cool”. Our art, especially the street art, is not designed to be decorative. It’s designed as dedication to the gods. It is not owned by me, I am only a mere creator and custodian of the work. That is not to say I am forbidden to sell the work, just that if sold it has to go to someone who understands and respects the sacredness of the work. And boy… have I turned down mega offers that would make most impoverished artists wet their pants, as the destination for the work was an office space, or a cafe…

This behaviour has caused dismay in not only my admirers, but family and friends (including the one I mentioned). They cannot understand the purpose of this art, it is not an object, it is not a thing to be brought and sold in the stock exchanged (aka, art market), it is a piece of work dedicated to the gods and any human appreciation should be reverence over any other methods of our culture views art now.

The DA Philosophy 1: What is Devotional Art?

“Dionysos” by Δ

What is Devotional Art?

Art for art’s sake is a relatively modern idea credited  by the art critic, Théophile Gautier in the 1800’s. The concept became popular through artists like James Whistler (made famous by the “Whistler-Ruskin Trial, 1878″) and was continually echoed through the modernist period until now. The basic idea is that art should exist for itself. It should be free of any political, personal, religious, reactionary meaning. If these ideas were involved in the conception of the art, the viewer should be able to appreciate it as art without knowing the ideas behind it.

This concept was radical at the time as it gave artists liberties in attempting to define art. With the advent of art movements such as the Dadaists and then the Modernists the definition of what is art became blurred, in some cases it became totally atheistic with a reductionist mentality applied to art to the point artists ambitions was to destroy art itself.

There is a certain irony in this as when Art for art’s sake was coined it was actually a socialist concept to bring art to the people, bring it down to base level and indeed many of the Modernist artists and thinkers were socialist / communists in their intentions of making art. The irony is the reduction of art disconnected artists from their general audience. Art became elitist, with its only admires being the educated bourgeoisie.

Criticism of the art world aside, these artists and thinkers did achieve a new definition of what is art, which has granted artists liberties. The basic modernist definition of art is: anything can be art as long as there is an artist to define it as art. This is why we have pieces like Duchamp’s ready-made urinal, “Fountain” being considered a major landmark in 20th-century art and why artists like Damien Hirst have pickled animals in some of the world’s major art galleries.

Now that we have a crash course on the very bare basics of how art is viewed today, let’s explore my concept of devotional art. The Dionysian Artists (Devotional artists) definition of devotional art is an amalgamation of Modernist ideology but also a rejection of Art for art’s sake, instead the phrase of a devotional artist should be Art for god’s sake.

The Dionysian Artists should accept the Modernist definition of art, that anything can be art, but also with an added bonus: devotional art should be dedicated to the gods. Artwork created by the artists should not be made for humankind – it’s intended audience is the gods themselves – any human appreciation for this divine art is consequential. How an artist applies their devotion is totally up to the artist themselves. Like how an artist can define anything as art, a devotional artist can define anything as devotional art.

What this definition allows is anyone can call themselves a Devotional Artist (or a Dionysian Artist), its more so a matter of mind state being aware of ones actions when committing art to the gods. Art does not need to be something permanent, devotional art can be an expression, gesture, a dance, acting, singing etc. Or it can be a ready-made object, appropriation of existing art, a painting, stick figure drawing, crude votive statue, or a master piece.

As long as one is doing this for the gods, they may consider the art devotional and themselves Dionysian Artists.

1.Related reading
2.Related reading

Devotional art and popular culture

Unfortunately, I cannot find the artists name and apologise for not given them credit (I did a search of the image but still cannot find it.)
Unfortunately, I cannot find the artists name and apologise in advance for not given them credit (I did a search of the image but still cannot find it.)

Anomalous Thracian posted an interesting discussion on art regarding a ‘comic’ depiction of the Celtic Pantheon on facebook. (His post is private and cannot be shared here, but includes screenshots with another commentator opposing his arguments and justifying the art in a popular context. )

This depiction of the gods has a lot of issues with living western polytheists, including what is classed as the seriousness of art. If it be ‘popular’ imagery or serious devotional icons…

Art is a really complex subject and admittedly it comes with a lot of pretention. Part of this pretention is the question “What is art” and less said, and nuanced, “What is devotional art”.

I strongly believe that all art before 1800’s was devotional in some form.  This is the result of a famous quote often attributed to James Whistler (and court case), but is actually from the French philosopher: Théophile Gautier, “Art for Art’s Sake”.  (Camille Paglia has a lot more on this topic, but I don’t want to divert my discussion).

In a sense creating art for its own sake was liberating, it was intended to free art to the public and turn it into an secular entity, unfortunately, it just made it more detached from society and wholly bourgeois. The seriousness of all art, including comedy, was devalued to just simple existence, we became incapable of appreciating something that was entertaining to the masses but also a profound religious experience.

In other words the existence of art became just for entertainment purposes, whereas in previous times, it meant much, much more to people. Even that we would regard as trivial.

This is a change in context, the view, with art. I’m both critical and understanding of it.

We’re saturated in art, over exposed, be it: billboards, TV, photography, the theatre itself. We appreciate art differently from our ancestors.  This has an impediment upon us now, especially with folk, including myself, who champion the old ways.

Now, I understand that few will realise (or comprehend) this, but I find myself in a perplexed predicament. On one hand I support popular art regarding the gods, on the other hand I protest its existence. Thus only justify arts place within a religious context as the intention of the artist.

What follows is my review of the work and additional commentary:

So after reviewing the art I agree with the OP and Thracians comments. The work is an illustration of the Celtic Pantheon in a ‘fantasy’ LOTR style. (Elf ears, exaggerated features, The Morrigan in ‘goth’ makeup, Cernunnos looking like a pretty Groot, etc.) The style is not bad, it reminds me classic fantasy artists like Larry Elmore (Dragonlance/Dungeons and Dragons) it’s maintained through each portrait and appropriate for a fantasy comic / novel context.
As the Dionysian Artist, Δ, I’m liberal in what classifies as devotional art, to summarise my requirement of “What is devotional art”, ANYTHING can be devotional art as long as the artists intention is dedication to the gods. Admittedly I don’t know the artists intention, but given the context of style I’d say this was made for some fan fiction and would not claim it to be appropriate representation of the gods in a religious context.
Now the issues being brought up is the lack of ‘seriousness’ of gods in media. Trust me I know what it’s like, with nearly everyone nowadays interested in Hellenic Polytheism coming off the arse end of Percy Jackson. I’m at odds with popular culture depictions of the gods. But I acknowledge that it can be extremely adverse to the polytheist movement in general. This includes how the public view us and grants additional material for outsider ridicule. Thus it merits some kind of discussion and even protest.

(After a commentator rejected the idea of religious work being “fanfic”)

Ironically, I somewhat agree with the fanfic statement. I’m approaching this in a classical context of art: the art we know of Greeks is purposefully designed to be popular culture. When one enjoyed the theatre it was a recreation and also a religious experience. It was ‘pop culture’ and at times, like in the Iliad it could be classified as a “fanfic” (especially the nationalism and name dropping in the Catalogue of Ships). Outside Athens, comedy, which included taboo subjects that can be regarded as hubris, were considered holy works. Satyr plays, comedic theatre was regarded as Mystery and the highest calibre of devotional art.
Now, however, we have secularised art, turned it into a ‘thing’ existing on itself. The whole concept of “Art for Art’s sake” has screwed up how we view art. This is really the issue here. A misunderstanding of the context of art that is appreciated in our current culture.
I.e. in the proper context of religion (which is in this case is free and beautiful) this artwork may be appropriate devotional work and also classified as a “fanfic”.

To conclude this I would say that my views are worthless. Popular art is popular because it is democratic. Being self-entitled enough to deem something that is otherwise innocuous to the popular audience is wrong. Yes, I agree that contextual style of this work may be considered inappropriate –but– in correct context it may also be okay.

When we defer to explore the ideas of “what is right in art” we risk diverging into arenas of fanaticism and shouting out “Shame, Shame, Shame!”. We need to judge art on a intention, contextual and technical basis to relate it to our traditions, if it doesn’t fit it should be simply discarded without further comment.

Has worship of Dionysos changed in modern times?

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(Image source)

This is a really interesting question as compared to other Greek gods the worship of Dionysos has been difficult to stamp out. I hope that my readers have a basic grasp of history, in that in Europe for a 2,000 year period Monotheism rose up and sort to quell (putting it lightly) any form of worship other than that dedicated to Christ.

Even upon the threat of death Dionysos continued to receive honour well into Christen times. The performance of transvestism during wine making rituals was not formally banned until 691AD by the Council of the Church in Constantinople. Although the theatres were formally closed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, performance continued to be an aspect of medieval life, entertaining nobles and common people alike. If we look past the Dark Ages we given an insight into the no-so-long dead cult of Dionysos including a revive in the Renaissance by Lorenzo the Great and later activities like The Hellfire Club in Britain and Ireland in the 18th century. During the 1960’s Dionysos saw a revival through stage performance and music, and also the Rave movement of the late 1980’s and early 90’s, including the use of the aptly named drug Ecstasy.

Point being, comparable to other Greek / Roman deities Dionysos in some form or another has lasted through multiple epochs of time. His cult has changed depending on circumstances but the essence of it has always remained the same.

Dionysians, who call themselves that as an actually as devotees, now face differing dilemmas, including the taboo topics of animal sacrifice, prohibitions against drugs and alcohol, social issues regarding supposed excess etc. These sigmas exist within the ‘pagan community’ itself with some so-called pagan writers (Sam Webster) advocating the abandon of the god.

It is now, as custodians of Dionysos, that we strive to educate and produce art demonstrating the marvellous power and inspiration of the great god Dionysos.

What modern cultural issues are closest to this deity’s heart?

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(Source)

I can’t answer this question because I do not proclaim to speak for my god, I can only presume according to history and myth. Foremost, the theatre is of importance to Dionysos. Naturally, this is related to free speech and expression. I believe that hindrance of these concepts (censorship) is something that is close to Dionysos. Speech is hurtful, it is harmful, it is painful, it is powerful. Yes. But to silence this speech to cater to others bios feelings is wrong. Painful words are liberating.

“And its apparent capacity for human speech transcends the boundary between human and animal, and so makes it one of the creatures attracted by the singing of Orpheus.” (Seaford, 2006, P. 65)

With speech we transcend boundaries and relate directly with Dionysos. We can create worlds, we can offend crowds, we cause emotion and feeling with a single word. This is power and something that is not just granted to kings, fools, or priests but to the mob. This is equalising and liberating. When we’re faced with such hardships it’s the theatre that liberates our tongues and speaks out to our perceived injustice.  Speech allows us to empathise, understand and when it doesn’t, it give us platform of protest and rebuke.

Thus, if I presume a cultural issue at heart of Dionysos it would be free speech.

Places associated with Dionysos

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Hansueli Krapf, Epidauros (source)

Note: Between my previous post in this series and now I entered into my ‘season’ which is the busiest time of the year, thus I’ve had to put this series on hold. A lot has happened in my personal life, including and worst off, my workplace becoming a site of mass murder. This has resulted in a period of profound trouble and instances of crippling depression. Slowly I’m recovering from this illness and grief and would like to continue from here.


The original question is: “Places associated with this deity and their worship”.  Already I have discussed some of this question, to save myself from repeating I’ve decided to look into the nature of Dionysos’ sacred places.

Compared to other gods of the Greek pantheon Dionysos has few temples. Yes there are epicentres of worship, like that in Naxos, but nothing comparable to the Acropolis, The temple to Artemis in Ephesus, Delphi, the temple to Hephaestus in Athens or the temple of Zeus is Olympia.

As Richard Seaford states:
“[…] He does accordingly have relatively few elaborate temples. He seems more inclined to destroy buildings than to construct them. He does not, as Demeter does in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, give instructions for the building of a temple. At the City Dionysia his image was brought to the (open air) theatre. In Bacchae the Theban maenads are driven from their homes to sit on ‘roofless’ rocks. An inscription from Thasos (1st century AD) dedicates to Dionysos a ‘temple under the open sky . . . an evergreen cave’ (31 Jaccottet).” (Seaford, 2006, P. 43)

Dionysos exists in all space, there is no space that is not sacred to him. As a god of uninhibited freedom it seems nonsensical to have one space reserved for him. Thus it is easy to surmise that Dionysos had few temples as all is his. (This is evident in modern worship whereas devotes find Dionysos in landscapes foreign to his homeland. E.g. America and Australia, find Dionysian aspects in their land.)

Dionysos has quite a lot of sacred spaces dedicated to him, in fact entire continents are his, but his domain encroaches into areas which we may not inherently consider his.

The relationship of place can easily surmised by the form of the theatre. Greek theatres are of two places at the same time. They are structures, build into a natural formation, like a hill, but also open to the sky and elements. They are not built in a sense of a temple, but cultivated, tamed – as such they still conform to the natural features of the landscape. This is the epitome of Dionysos’ sacred space.

Commentary on Savage Gods and *Niceness* of Dionysos

Artist: Hikaru H Miyakawa
Artist: Hikaru H Miyakawa

While I slept a discussion erupted on my facebook account after sharing a quote from Walter F. Otto. This has spawned a beautifully written blog post from Galina. This is my commentary on this topic. I recommend to first read Galina’s post.


As the quote is great it merits repeating:

“No single Greek god even approaches Dionysus in the horror of his epithets, which near witness to a savagery that is absolutely without mercy… He is called the “render of men”, “the eater of raw flesh”, “who delights in the sword and bloodshed”. We hear not only of human sacrifice in his cult, but also of the ghastly ritual in which a man is torn to pieces. Where does this put us? Surely there can be no further doubt that this puts us into death’s sphere. The terrors of destruction, which make all if life tremble, belong also, as horrible desire, to the kingdom of Dionysus. The monster whose supernatural duality speaks to us from the mask has one side of his nature turned toward eternal night.”

~Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult


The Render of Man

Among many things Dionysos is the god of death, the god of life – *Bios* (decaying life) and the god of *Zoë* (eternal life, memory) <– I’m not going to touch the Zoë aspect in this commentary but it’s important to note.
These aspects of Dionysos are summed up in an Orphic saying:

“Bios, Thanatos, Bios”

In these various states he is terrifying, he *is* the Render of man, a title that can be related to our lives. We are in *bios* we are living-death, decaying, ageing. Dionysos epitomises that beautiful horror and he knows what it’s like. He has endured the same and has some kind of compassion in stopping it. This is a human quality of his, which many consider a salvation aspect. It is here that we can find niceness. The thing is this salvation requires that we experience death and face it.

A secondary idea and related to the epithet of Render of man, (what Paul mentioned). Confrontation. Dionysos is one of the few gods that confronts, he is Apotropaic, he stares right at you and sees you for what you are. His sight is so piecing he sees through your flesh, to your very soul. He can do this because he knows the human condition, he is the human condition. With his stare he can strip down all those barriers we establish and find the spark that makes us who we are. This stare can be cathartic and terrible, knowing yourself is a horrible process and the most important aspect of the Dionysian Mysteries.

In both myth and ritual this rendering is literal, the most precious example we have is the play, The Bacchae by Euripides. The hero of the play Pentheus is torn apart by his family for his hubris and unacceptance of Dionysos. Most see this a punishment by Dionysos, when in fact it is a blessing. Pentheus becomes a Dionysian Hero, I believe him to be one of the most beloved by the god. Now when I mention this it often causes confusion, given that it is so horrible. But Dionysos initiates Pentheus to his mysteries, he learns what it’s like to be Dionysos and therefore becomes him. This is a blessing.

Mystery initiation follows the same concept, the initiate dies. This is viewed as symbolic but it is literal, the person who undergoes the Mysteries is not the same person afterwards. This initiation is in part related to knowing yourself, knowing what you are and confronting it.

I would protest calling this intense, horrible, but ultimately healing and cathartic process nice.


The VVitch

(Warning: Spoilers)

After posting that quote on facebook I watched the film The VVitch with my partner. This film always results in a serious argument between us both because I don’t think that the goat Black Philip is inherently evil. Actually he could very well be Dionysos. Part of my argument is that I don’t believe in evil. My partner argues that he is evil, because that is what the film is about. The actions of the witches is evil (AKA not nice).

I agree that the film makers would have us think the goat is Satan, but the role Philip plays is Dionysian. He is a catalyst to the family, who sins are their own. Apart from Phillip being the final judge and executioner the family themselves are the ones that bring about their doom, if I believed in evil I could say that the family is themselves as evil as the witches.

We may consider the only real innocent in the film is the baby at the start, but here again is an issue. The father is exiled because he refuses to follow puritan orthodoxy, he does not baptise his children. He lives in pride and his sins reflect back on his children. Keeping in mind this screwed up Christian morality, the baby is a sinner and thus not innocent. The problems the family faces are their own. Philip and the witches are only a force of nature taking advantage of the weak.

In other words: if I go and camp in the wilderness without proper protection and am eaten by a tiger, is that tiger evil? No, it’s natural and me being so stupid to camp where tigers roam is my fault.

The family go out, live in what they consider their own sin and devour themselves. They do not know themselves, they hide away, suppress and demonise the beauty of the wilderness before them. Through their self-righteous pride they open the door to the witches and Phillip.


My opinion is completely amoral, because there is no morality in nature. This is how I view Dionysos. He is terrible, frightening, confronting, scary. It’s all there. In his myths, in his names, in his actions. If we want to apply Christian concepts to Dionysos he could be considered evil, but it’s impossible to grasp Dionysos if we do this. Thus good and evil has no place here. Likewise for the word nice. These ideas are limiting, taming, demonising, simplifying a  complex and beautiful god.

To sum up my feelings on this, I present my comment on facebook:

“I have a long and intense relationship with Dionysos and seen him in many forms. I would not say he is ‘nice’, but awe inspiring. Like when one climbs a mountain and overlooks the vastness of the wilderness. That view is not nice, in fact it’s damn intimidating. It’s the confrontation of nature. And that is only a small snippet of nature, limited to that mountaintop, to that perspective, to your eyes. The gods are very much like that, they are vast and intense and no matter how much you perceive them there is always a limitation in knowing them.”