Dionysian Apoliticism

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

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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.)

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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?

68aafd58f5e1fbf639c50bfc017336ce
(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

2007-05-10_epidauros_greece_5
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.”

The Cults of Dionysos: Ecstatic Practices and Shamanism in Classical Greece

This piece was intended for publication in the Walking the Worlds Winter 2016 : Ecstatic Practices volume. Unfortunately time constraints and limited resources prevented me from bringing this to the publication standards.
Good news is you get it for free here.

I wish to thank the editors of WtW for their hard work and dedication, please subscribe and read this awesome journal.


ancientgreekcostumes
(Image source)

The Cults of Dionysos: Ecstatic Practices and Shamanism in Classical Greece

 

There are a lot of misconceptions about ancient Greek Religion, mention of which often conjures images of bronze statues, pious priests in toga and grand, white-pillared temples. Yet Greek religion permeated all aspects of the Greek world and included elements of what we could regard as shamanism. While not exclusive to the Dionysian cults, expressions of shamanism could be seen in Dionysian functions, including: wine drinking, ecstatic states, dancing, music, mask donning / cross dressing and the theatre.

It’s important to first give the definition of shamanism used in this article. Shamanism especially refers to ecstatic holy people belonging to northern Asia, but since first usage it has become a catch-all term for local ethnic beliefs and practices around the world that has a common core of members communicating with spirits and deities through ecstatic rituals. How one reaches these states vary greatly, but in general shamans utilise dance, drumming, mask donning, identity transference / acting, substance use, etc. A secondary aspect of shamans is initiatory rituals which simulate or physically enact a near-death experience. This experience gives the shaman insight into the afterlife, a theme found as well in Greek Mystery religions.

Dionysos

Dionysos is a god whose nature encompasses much, a god of paradoxes, a god of extremes. A civic god and a rustic god. A god that encourages personal liberty and free expression but also is domineering and intoxicating. He breaks down barriers, lifts veils and transcends boarders. His very nature is ecstasy’s epiphany, the god that comes, as Ovid states: “there is no god more certainly present than he is.” (1) Dionysos is accessible when we reach ecstatic states through dancing, music, drinking, ritual madness or similar techniques, he is felt within us. He fills us up with his presence like a cup of wine. When someone dresses as Dionysos, to lead a triumph or to act in a play, the actor becomes a living, breathing manifestation of Dionysos. He exists, physically, in our reality.

The first recording of Dionysos dates back over three thousand years ago in Linear B tablets. This puts him in the Mycenaean culture five hundred years before Homer and Hesiod developed the Greek Pantheon as we know it today. The origins of his cult are unknown, some speculating that he arrived from Thrace (Ulrich von Wilamowitz), others, like Walter Otto, that he is from the Near East, possibly Turkey or Syria; it is interesting to note that in 2007 the oldest winery was discovered in Armenia dating back to 4,100 BCE (2). In Dionysos: Archetypal Images of Indestructible Life (3), Carl Kerenyi speculates that the first ecstatic cults in the Hellenic world began in Minoan, Crete in the form of sun caves. In these caves one could see the ancient subterranean gods in the form of somewhat anthropomorphic stalagmites, but also observe the movement of the sun. A miracle of light that happened once a year marked the passage of time. It may be difficult for modern man to grasp how simple natural motion of dark to light could be regarded as a miracle, but to these people the phenomena enacted the mysteries of the afterlife, descending into the earth to see the sun’s epiphany, thereafter returning to surface anew, reborn, initiated.

In these cave the Prehistoric Minoans came in contact with the caves’ inhabitants, bees. Throughout antiquity mead making maintained a connection to the sun (4). The process of producing it beginning in midsummer, the rising of Sirius, the classical new year, when the sun caves would light. It is only natural to see the link between the miracle of light, the subterranean domain of the divine and the epiphany-inducing golden liquid of mead originating from the cave’s bees. Drunkenness is mind altering, a state that cannot be brought about easily without a corresponding substance, in this state people undergo ecstatic experiences, new identities arise, barriers and inhibition are brought down.

Honey has also been long regarded as the blood and food of the gods, the hive sometimes regarded as the flesh of god.  The Greeks, conceiving wine as the blood of Dionysos and the meat of the bull the literal flesh of god, or the bread used as symbolic substitute, akin to the Christian Eucharist. The act of consuming Dionysos makes him part of us, we merge with his divinity, resulting in altered states of being – therefore we become Dionysos, or rather, part of us which is Dionysian becomes free.

The Cults of Dionysos and the Theatre of Madness

When the Hellenic nations arose from the Dark Age at the end of the Mycenaean era the pantheon of the Greeks became more cemented within their established urban culture. Many wild gods and goddesses turned tame, ugly monsters like the Gorgons became beautiful maidens, male gods lost their rustic characteristics for ideal aesthetics and focus on arts, while fertile goddesses became chaste and pious. However Dionysos remained the odd one out, the weird god, the foreign god – even though his place in the pantheon is of equal timeframe to other gods*. This, I believe, is because there is no Dionysos without his strangeness, he is always the god that confronts, a god who breaks through into reality. This is perhaps why Dionysos had few temples. His role within Athenian culture was quite large, with several major holidays and festivals dedicated to him each year, but there is a lack of major temples for him as compared to other gods. This is due to Dionysos existing at once inside and outside the urban environment. For example, in Athens his first major festival just after the winter solstice is Lenaia, usually regarded as a summoning of Dionysos from his winter retreat in the wilds**. Maenads would venture into the woodlands, calling the god back into the city, a process climaxing a few months later at Anthesteria, a major urban and public festival welcoming Dionysos back into the city. Both these festivals illustrate his inside and outside / public and private nature.

This theme continues with the festivals centring on the theatre, a place dedicated to Dionysos in much the same way as a temple, another reason for his lack of temples. The Greek theatre in many ways reflects Dionysos’ dual characteristics. It is a domain crafted into the earth, typically carved or cultivated from a hillside with artificial staging and seats, yet is also open to nature and to the sky. It is apart from nature and part of nature by it very structure. It is the theatre we find a peculiarly Greek form of shamanism.

Our own culture is so saturated in performance it may be difficult for us to see the mysticism of performance, but it function is dependent on core elements found within shamanism. These elements are what I call identity transference and reality suspension.

Identity transference: Is when an actor suppress their own personality and adopts another character, invoking the character into reality. A good actor even changes their way of thought, they become wholly the character they are acting in manner. A modern day example of this is when actors continue playing their character outside of the film studio, commonly associated with so-called ‘Method’ Acting. Such actors do not break character and live out their everyday life as the role they are playing. In some cases going to extremes like Daniel Day-Lewis starting street fights while playing Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York and refusing to walk and care for himself during the filming of My Left Foot.
It is here that the actor plays the most magical role, not just performing but becoming the living conduit of the essence of their character. They bring these fabrications into reality and make them real. In this process, they are also suppressing their own character, becoming for the time they are acting someone or something else, in a sense possessed.
In these scared roles the actor thus becomes host and expression of spirits and gods, much the same as a shaman opening themselves to their spirits while in the state of ecstasy. A polytheistic culture would observe the gods and heroes in the theatre: actors in ancient Greece were thus not just playing roles, they were living examples, manifestations of the divine in the flesh. The actor and the viewer were therefore engaged in a religious experience.

Reality suspension: The second aspect of performance is audience participation. When we watch a performance ideally all that is around us is placed on hold while we are brought into the fantasy before us. All art is lying, an illusion, but to admire it we must allow ourselves to be fooled. I believe that art can exist on its own, (especially in the form of devotional art), but having a human audience further reaffirms the magic of art. The entertainment of the mob gives human validity to art by its recognition. Each play performed is shown to the audience as a whole, but each member experiences the play from their own unique perspective. Acknowledging this presents the experience of art in infinite possibilities based on each emotional state of the audience members. The nature of the play being public, open and whole but admired from the inner workings of each individual mind, continues to thus maintain the ‘inside and outside’ extremes of Dionysos.

Madness and Memory

In addition to the suggestively shamanic viewpoints of actor and of audience there is also a shamanic resonance in the attitudes of memory as conceived by the Greeks. As argued in a fascinating essay by Yulia Ustinova (5), the Greek terms for madness and memory, µavía, and μνήμη, are cognate words with a multifarious meaning. Memory is related to inspiration, as in myth where the Muses are sired from Mnemosyne (Memory), likewise these words were related to madness or mania, a Homeric bard calling upon the muses to recite the Iliad, in activating the memory of the epic and the events in it, was also in a state of madness.

This is likewise related to the name of mead, as Kerenyi (6) notes: “The original Greek words for “to be drunk” and “to make drunk” are methyein and methyskein. Rarer and later is oinoun “to intoxicate with wine.” Echoes of methy signify “honey” not only in a number of Indo-European languages but also in a common Indo-European-Finn-Ugric stratum; for example, Finnish mesi, metinen, and Hungarian mez. German Met and English “mead” signify, “honey beer,” and these words have exact parallels in the Norse languages.”

Within Germantic mythology: “Mimir (Memory), a wisdom figure, had a well under the roots of the world tree; its spring water was in fact mead, and through drinking it Odin, the war god/magician- poet, was endowed with the poetic gift.” (Ustinova)

Assuming this linguistic connection between memory, mead and madness, we can proceed to relate this complex to the theatre, where actors are reciting lines in character and hence engaged in an act of madness / memory. This conceptualization that was inherent for the ancient Greek mind, is lost today, though we still experience its manifestation. Actors in their manic state are contagious, they spread their drunkenness through fantasy which the audience engages in by viewing bringing forth the divine through belief found within the theatre.

Masks

Perhaps an element of performance that is again not so obvious in our current culture is the use of masks. Nowadays masks exist in the concept of makeup, CGI and artificial lighting of the film studio; actors also undergo rigorous routines to physically alter their appearance through fasting or body building. However in classical plays, masks played a prominent role invoking the forces of drama in to presence. Traditionally plays only allowed two actors and the chorus, later three actors on stage became the norm. This limitation meant that an actor could and would occupy multiple roles, sometimes in the same scene. It is even theoretically possible to have one actor changing between protagonist and antagonist. So within the same scene, in reality, the actor could be talking to themselves, but in the drunken fantasy of the theatre they would be talking between two characters. The classical actors became a living idol, interchanging characters through masks alone. These changes of masks and roles could be as extreme as changing between mortal and god, male and female, thus the host, the actor is the ultimate expression of roles as such.

Knowing this, it is easy to understand that Dionysos as the god of theatre is also the god of masks, depicted in his most minimalist form as a pillar adorned with a mask. When the maenads would venture into the woodland to celebrate Lenaia, they would don a pillar, tree or herm with a mask as Dionysos, creating their god from ritual artefacts. The actor, hence, is such a pillar and Dionysos is the ultimate actor, whose face is never known, a veil that presents more veils when lifted, the greatest mystery. To reach the core of Dionysos, to know him, is to not know him.

The inside and outside nature of Dionysos is further illustrated by the function of the mask. As Otto states:

“[…] it acts as the strongest symbol of presence. Its eyes, which stare straight ahead, cannot be avoided; its face, with its inexorable immobility, is quite different from other images which seem ready to move, to turn around, to step aside. Here there is nothing but encounter, from which there is no withdrawal—an immovable, spell-binding antipode. […] The mask is pure confrontation— an antipode, and nothing else. It has no reverse side—”Spirits have no back,” the people say. It has nothing which might transcend this mighty moment of confrontation. It has, in other words, no complete existence either. It is the symbol and the manifestation of that which is simultaneously there and not there: that which is excruciatingly near, that which is completely absent—both in one reality.” (7)

The mask is an object in which we are compelled to believe, in the case of theatre an object we are forced to accept in order to appreciate the art, an object to know the truth of which is at once to acknowledge its falsity. It is an existing paradox of life and death, animated but also inanimate. The mask in its purest nature is between realms, a flat two dimensional surface made three dimensional by its host.

Mysteries

The final part of this essay concerns the Mysteries, a subject too vast to treat here in its wholeness, if words could actually sum up or express their beautiful and horrifying play of life and death in the first place. But limiting myself to the classical context, I think I can bring to light enough to make a point.

The most famous of the mystery cults was the Eleusinian Mysteries. Based in their namesake village they were open to everyone once a year. What happened during these rites is unconfirmed as a whole but we get hints of what they included, such as fasting, forced marching, states of mania, consuming a drink called kykeon, viewing sacred objects and theatrical performance***. The concept behind these Mysteries is that the initiates would witness god, specifically the descent and ascension of Kore/Persephone, which would be regarded as a miracle. Afterward the newly initiate would be aware of the afterlife, the mysteries behind death, and become totally new from their experience. Therefore this is a life and death process for the audience, a near-death experience akin to other rites practiced in what is regarded as shamanism.

But how does this work? With previous explanations of the religious roles actors played we can understand more about the significance of these Mysteries. The sacred play that people were observing was a revelation, even though the logical person would be aware that they were observing actors. The audience is placed in a trance, brought into the fantasy to such a point that they witnessed an epiphany.

The curse of our culture is trying to understand rationally the authentic no-rational nature of devotion. This is why people (8) treat the Mysteries as having been nothing but ritualised drug consumption. The idea that ancient people saw the divine without substance is illogical. The idea that people could observe a play and see it as anything other than a play is illogical. The idea of god appearing in reality, in the flesh, is illogical.
Experiencing the divine is not logical; manic states, dancing, music, art are not logical, but illusions we accept. To appreciate art we do not need drugs.

Ascribing the Mysteries merely to drug use dismisses the powerful found in them. It is rationalist, simplistic and ultimately atheistic. It dismisses the truth and beauty of the Mysteries and simplifies it to ones and zeroes. “It was nothing but a high”. The irony is that people we describe as being primitive, compared to us, had more sophisticated understanding of the divine.

The Mysteries are therefore an experience. One that many people would observe once ever in their life, also one that they had been anticipating all their life. We can experience this now with a good film, often people anticipate a film and when they finally see it they love it. But all that is left is the memory of it, of the experience. Even upon seeing the film again they will never regain the exact experience they first had. The ecstasy, the madness, the memory. Memory being key to understanding the nature of the Mysteries: memory based upon experience. In no circumstance can it be experienced again, nor can it embody the same revelation as the first experience, which was one of a kind.

Conclusion

Romanticism has its own beauty, it is an agreeable fantasy we accept, even though we see falsehoods. Yet, it is the problem here. When we approach classical subjects we come with preconceptions that can be a hindrance. Suggesting that there was a shamanic aspect to Greek culture often causes protest because of the assumptions of “refinement” found in the romantic image of Greek culture. Yet in the brief examples here I have illustrated that these concepts lay at the core of Greek culture and religion. It is a fallacy of ours that does not recognise it.

These same aspects exist within our own culture, it’s just that we have forgotten the meaning of our acts, roles and traditions. I find this very sad for when we are exposed to art we don’t recognise it as art. We see it as an image, or a thing. Art is the ultimate expression, the purest sense of real, in the flesh, connection to the divine. It not only allows the artist to commune with the divine, it likewise allows the audience to experience it too. An anchor to realm that cannot be seen or found elsewhere. The artist is therefore the medium between these two realms, but the audience too is taking on a shamanic role in order to comprehend the divine. What are they left with? The memory of madness.

 

Citation and Notes:

  1. Ovid Metamorphoses
    Bk III:638-691 Acoetes’s ship and crew are transformed,
    A. S. Kline’s Version
  2. Areni-1 winery, Republic of Armenia, believed to be over 6,100 years old. One of the oldest industrial sites in human history discovered thus far. First discovered in 2007 with excavations completed in 2010.

3 / 4 Dionysos: Archetypal Images of Indestructible Life  pp. 29, 35 Light and Honey
Kerenyi

  1. Madness into Memory: Mania and Mnēmē in Greek Culture
    Yulia Ustinova, Scripta Classia Israelica, 2012
  2. Dionysos: Archetypal Images of Indestructible Life , p. 38, Kerenyi
  3. Dionysos: myth and cult, pp. 90, 91.
    Water F. Otto,

8 The Road to Eleusis: Unveiling the Secret of the Mysteries.
R. Gordon Wasson, Albert Hofmann, Carl A. P. Ruck
Note: A three part set of essays speculating that the Mysteries utilised drugs during ritual.

Notes:

* The Mycenaean pantheon includes many gods we’re familiar with today. But some key deities, including Zeus, have lesser prominence than what would be regarded as the classical norm,  e.g. Poseidon apparently being the chief of the pantheon. The name Dionysos on the Pylos tablets makes him one of oldest known Greek gods.

* The Mycenaean pantheon includes many gods we’re familiar with today. But some key deities, including Zeus, have lesser prominence than what would be regarded as the classical norm, e.g. Poseidon apparently being the chief of the pantheon. The name Dionysos on the Pylos tablets makes him one of oldest known Greek gods.

** Lenaia is a festival shrouded in mystery, with the private aspect unconfirmed by classical sources. It is therefore speculation as to what was performed in the woods and how. Some note that this time of the year may be still too cold for women camping in the wilds. What we do know is the public aspect of this festival involved comedic plays. (Tragic plays were later added.)

***It should be noted that current excavation of Eleusis show no sign of a dedicated theatron. I would argue that this does not mean that there was not a theatrical component, but instead suspect it was more unconventional, possibly directly engaging with the crowd. This is speculative, but other mystery rites include an element of performance.

Special Thanks to:

H. Jeremiah Lewis, Edward Butler and WtW staff for their support and feedback.

The “C” word

 

The Vintage Festival, 1870 - Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
The Vintage Festival, 1870 – Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

I’m guilty of forgetting that the word cult has negative connotations in society. I use it on a daily basis and sometimes it drops into discussion with laymen and outsiders of my beliefs. It’s only when I earn wide-eyed suspicious looks that I realise what I said. So I thought I’d attempt to clear some things up.

Yes I belong to a cult, actually that’s not true, I belong to several.

The dictionary definition of cult is:

1:  formal religious veneration :  worship

2:  a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also :  its body of adherents <the cult of Apollo>

3:  a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious (see spurious 2); also :  its body of adherents <the voodoo cult> <a satanic cult>

4:  a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>

5
a :  great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book) <criticizing how the media promotes the cult of celebrity>; especially :  such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad

b :  the object of such devotion

c :  a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion <the singer’s cult of fans> <The film has a cult following.>

(Source)

The definitions of my use are the first two. These are the original definition of the word cult. It’s only in the last century that the word cult has earned a negative connotation.  It’s also the only word to actually describe the function of my religion. My religion is not a religion in the sense that we know the word, it’s a belief based upon differing cult specific beliefs (more of this below).

Therefore when I use cult I use it in its correct context.

Sometimes these beliefs run alongside each other, other times they can veer away from one another. Thus I keep different cultus for each cult. Now, cultus is another confusing word commonly thrown around by my ilk. My preferred definition is from Joachim Wach: “All actions which flow from and are determined by religious experiences are to be regarded as practical expressions or cultus. In a narrower sense, however, we call cultus the act or acts of the homo religious: worship.”

Quite literally it is my practice, expressions of devotion and worship that are my cultus. Sometimes each cult requires different cultus. (*note: sometimes polytheists use cultus as I use cult, this is an evil conspiracy to confuse the fuck out of outsiders.)

So how does this actually work?

If I narrow things down to a loose structure I follow three cults: Personal, Starry Bull and Dionysian Artists. All of these cults are linked and sometimes interchange, sometimes they diverge from one another and must be kept apart. I’ll explain each.

Personal:

This is a pantheon of personal gods, often called patron gods. The persistent pantheon of my personal cult is: Dionysos, Hephaestus and Hermes. Of late Athena has been popping her head up demanding her inclusions which is due soon. My personal cult and it’s cultus is very loose. Gods, spirits, heroes, monsters and The Dead move in and out and I pay them cultus sometimes formally, sometimes casually. It’s a free and flexible form of worship, even non-Hellenic deities are sometimes given cultus in my personal cult.

The Starry Bull:

A modern cult established by Sannion, it’s a bricolage of differing concepts and practice that range through epochs and cultures related to Dionysos, particularly dealing with aspects of Mystery, death – life, horrors, masks, Toys and circles. The scope of The Starry Bull is impressive. It has its own pantheon, differing rituals and Mysteries. Because this deals with specific aspects of Dionysos sometimes its cultus conflicts with my personal cult. Therefore I keep the two apart.

The Dionysian Artists:

This is another personal cult – instead it’s not private. If need be, new members may be admitted to it. The Dionysian Artists function as a guild and a cult with its own Mysteries, its devotional practice (making art for the gods) and Pantheon – including honouring the Dionysian Artists themselves. This is a work in progress and slowly forming into a proper cult. Due to being apart from both the Starry Bull and my personal cult it is again separated.

Now to return to a point above, my religion is not actually a religion in the sense that we know the word. We’re are nowadays familiar with religion based upon the Abrahamic concepts and monotheism. That is, there is a only one correct belief system for each Abrahamic religion. This is commonly known as orthodoxy. In order to change your beliefs you need to convert to another religion. This is typically institutionalised and requires formal recognition from the governing religious body and also ritual performance.

This was not always the case for Hellenic Polytheists, instead their religion was a culture. A group of cults that have a loose association and belief system. Whether they knew it or not, ancient polytheists belonged to multiple cults: personal / family, city state, local, and specific to a god or gods. This allowed for commonly connected, yet, varying beliefs and loose associations and practice known as orthopraxis. Thus granting a lot of freedom of what one can believe and how one performs cultus in religious context. Thus there is no one right way to worship the gods, nor is there a standard for belief.

A final note, I believe that orthodoxy is possible within the Hellenic religion, but only through a cult. This is especially the case for a full time priest of a particular cult.

Now that this is all explained, I wonder if my readers are giving me wide-eyed confused looks instead of suspicious ones…

A Polytheist review of Battlestar Galactica

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Spoiler Free

Back in 2004 Game of Thrones was known only in book format and quality standards of television series were not on par with Hollywood blockbusters. When Battlestar Galactica first featured in its pilot miniseries it was astoundingly top quality with actors, Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner, Stand and Deliver) and Mary McDonnell (Independence Day and Donie Darko) playing leads. This quality was maintained throughout the four (five) seasons of this sci-fi series and despite its age, it is still up there with contemporary TV productions. Battlestar Galactica is on my must see list for sci-fi fans and also polytheists, it offers a refreshing and stark change from the norms in the genre of sci-fi.

Somewhat reminiscent of its 1970’s original, the premise is humanity lives in a decadent space-faring society that spans across twelve planets known as The Colonies. It is set forty years after a devastating war with robot creations called Cylons, who have maintained mysterious truce since the war. As the war becomes forgotten memory old style Battlestars (military spaceships), which intentionally lack automated computers, are being decommissioned. The Battlestar Glactica is the last of its kind. On the day of its ceremonial retirement the Cylons orchestrate a near perfect attack to wipe out humanity, disabling newer Battlestars with a computer virus and dropping nukes on each of the Twelve colonies, reducing humanity from many billions to only 40,000 survivors. Battlestar Galactica being one of the last military vessels remaining eventually discovers a civilian fleet and flee the old homeworlds in search of a mythical thirteenth colony, known as Earth. All the while being hotly pursued by the Cylons.

From the premise one would assume that this series follows sci-fi conventions. I.e. The Terminator meets Star Trek, however it dispels this with its realism and emphasise on religion. First off it deals with a society that is reeling from the shock of devastation, it’s impossible to not notice that this is a post 9/11 production. The society vainly attempts to maintain old idealist institutions like democracy, individual rights and crimes against humanity. But in the face of survival and war these ideals fall through, with each character being flawed and ultimately corrupt. This is a nice change from Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek utopian society of peaceful space explorers where even in the most devastating situations result in a strict inhuman rational and lack of emotion. It’s the realism of Battlestar which has drawn some criticism. It is reflective of the time of its production, when waterboarding was a mainstream term and images of Abu Ghraib were being published in newspapers. The lack of morals and struggle for survival likewise include torture, rape being used as torture, human-like creations being subjected to non-identities -labelled as objects, machines. A different form of racism with Cylons and racial abuse. It’s these themes that some viewers may be put off, but I find this bleakness to be very fitting for a show that is primarily focused on what is it to be a human.

The sci-fi genre is often an outlet for atheism, if religion is featured it’s typically an exotic trait or not shared with the main heroes. For example: Star Trek where religion is considered a primitive quality of by-gone era of humanity, Star Gate which plays on the ancient astronaut theory that all gods are evil space alien parasites, Farscape and Firefly both feature religious type characters that are at odds with everyone else and/or weirdos compared to the atheist crew.
Battlestar instead presents religion as an active and important part of characters’ lives, thus a theme for the show itself. (This, naturally, has drawn criticism from sci-fi fans who typically abhor anything religious). In Battlestar humanity is a polytheist culture that worship the Twelve Lords of Cobol, in every sense –including names– the Twelve Olympian gods. Priests, sacred text, placenames like Delphi, prophecy and artefacts play prominent roles in the story that point towards finding earth.
The Cylons are monotheist and worship a One True God, later the Cylon religion becomes an aspect of some character arches, which are somewhat similar to Christ (though you could say, a parodied of Christ).
It’s with these themes I find interesting and why I recommend to polytheists.  There are events that occur which cannot be explained other than divine intervention, certain characters that feature throughout the entire series that cannot be anything other than some divine manifestation or holy guide. While watching the series I predicted that these themes would result in an atheist resolution, i.e. the gods are not real, they are some alien or archetype from forgotten history. At times the show even hints at this. However I was pleasantly surprised with the conclusion where questions of the divine were left opened and unanswered. Compared to sci-fi series this is totally refreshing to observe and welcomed.

So if you’re unfamiliar with this series, need something to binge watch, interested is positive depictions of polytheist cultures in media, check out Battlestar Galactica.

 

Additional Bonus: The unfortunately short-lived spinoff Caprica likewise deals with some of these themes. That series has a different attitude to the bleakness of BSG and at times a little silly. I liked the series too, but understand why it was not more popular.

More Repros

As previously mentioned I’m working on reproductions. They are for sale relatively cheap – so if interested shoot me an email: markos.gage@gmail.com


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“The Delphic Sibyl” by The Divine Michelangelo (my sexy hairy legs… not for sale)

Size: 30 x 40 cm, Price: $180


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[WIP] “The Two Satyrs (minus one)” by Peter Paul Rubens

Size 40 x 50 cm, Price: $200


Preview 

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[WIP] Preview of “The Beloved” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This piece will be my main project few the next few months. It’s quite large, roughly 150 cm x 200 cm. Unsure of price yet, if I put it up for sale.

I will do the entire thing… hopefully it will look a little like this when done.

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The Studio

I really enjoy seeing fellow artists studios, they are sacred spaces where the profound dwells and creativity never rests. So naturally I was excited to see Galina’s studio space and thought I’d show ours.(Not sure how to do links on the mobile, which I’m using.) https://krasskova.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/a-sneak-peek-into-my-art-studio/

I share my studio with my partner, its a very messy, but serious space. It’s the most warded room in my entire ‘household’* this is to ensure that the space remains disconnected from other areas, to be free of distraction and keep unproductive spirits at bay. It’s home to my Hephaestus shrine and several gorgons (not seen in the photos).

Wayne’s side is on the left overwatched by the “Epiphany of Phanes” painting. You can see some of his oils along the wall. Including commissions from Galina! img_20170109_145851

Also, when these pictures were taken I was preparing a canvas for Galina’s husband. (Circles!)

My side is on the right, the “Funeral of Medusa” watches over me. I rarely use the table and prefer to draw on the ground… I’m used to it. The rolls floating about on the ground are artwork I need to roll up for work tomorrow.

Also between waiting for paint to dry I was getting ready to pack Galina’s commissions for postage to the US. Always a sad event for me as I become very attached to the paintings.

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So that’s a glimpse in my ever changing art studio. It’d be awesome to see other artists studios!

*Wayne and I don’t live in a household, believe it or not, it was once a bank and then a lawyers office and before we moved in it was a music studio (Hermes much?). Although it is where we live its foremost purpose is an art space so we have never aimed to make it ‘homely’.

Where does Δ stand?

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“The Prophet” by Emil Nolde. Lost “degenerate art” at the hands of the Nazi.

Recently I was made aware of Chicago Antifascists shutting down “Neo-folk” performers they have deemed as fascist. As such I think this merits a quick statement:

The Dionysian Artist known as Δ is apolitical unless art, especially forms of devotional art, is under attack by any party. The art presented may be something that Δ does not support, nor appreciate, but any form of censorship is unacceptable. This is as political as Δ gets.

This is simple to understand. Art transcends time, it represents cultural epochs and history, without it we cannot learn and educate ourselves for betterment.

One of the worst WW2 cultural atrocities was the Nazi destruction of “degenerate art”, and likewise, one of the worst post WW2 cultural atrocities, performed by US soldiers, was the destruction of many Nazi artworks, especially the work by Arno Breker.

Both instances of destruction are as bad as each other.

Therefore I condemn the actions of the Chicago Antifa and instead recommend that they commit their energy, passion and time to counter these so-called “Neo-folk fascists” with their own art.

EDIT: I’m part of an on going conversation on facebook, with most agreeing with Antifa and their actions. I did some digging around – because I don’t just go with antifa hyperbole statements – this is my conclusion:

“Late last night I attempted to do some research on this, as it’s topics of personal focus – art censorship and paganism. First off the bat, I don’t know their music. However Blood and Sun fans claim it is NOT neo-nazi, but pagan music. I’m curious if any commentators here have actually listened to the band’s music?

-Other than some comments and two photos (being described as “a lot” by antifa, when no it’s actually just two photos being cited) the lead singer appears to have no links to neo-nazi, nor claims to be one. He even released a statement saying such.

-I am as a profession a public performer and have countless people pose with me, they request I put my arms around them and look like buddies, I don’t know these people. Maybe they are neo-nazi? But being photographed with them does not mean anything. A performer has no control of the ideologies of their fans and in the Heathen demographic there is always some bad eggs.

-The valknut tattoo being pointed out in the article as a nazi symbol is a religious symbol of heathens, it is not a nazi symbol. It is commonly used by many heathens today. Including those who identify as antifa heathens.

-From what I can see, (it’s really hard to read through the hyperbole of the antifa,) it appears the tour was cancelled because antifa groups were threatening violence against concert goers and the band. One audience member claims that antifa assaulted the band on stage earlier in December. Performance venues here in Australian, and I’m supposing definitely in the US, are very cautious of any threats of violence due to the extreme terrorism culture we live in now, so it’s their responsibility to cancel shows they deem dangerous to participants.

If commentators here want to just read the statements from the antifa groups and run with it, fine. But what I’m seeing here is bullying, harassment, loss of income, doxing and encouraging violence against a pagan artist. This has been a concerning feature of the pagan community for the last few years, I’ve seen the same form of harassment happen to friends I’ve known for many years and know for a FACT that they are not neo-nazi, but are being labelled fascist because they have some opinion contrary to antifa pagan groups.”

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Example of Arno Breker artwork. much was destroyed Post WW2. Often featuring classical scenes and images of Greek gods – deemed Fascist.

Crickets

It’s been a little quiet here, this is mostly because I’m in the peak of our busiest time of the year and/or that my computer is being used for work. So I’ve been doing more drawing than writing, as seen below.

These are reproduction studies and are for sale cheap. If interested send me an email at: markos.gage@gmail.com


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[WIP] “Bust of a Satyr” by Jacob Jordaens Media: Charcoal and Pastel on treated canvas. When finished Price: $200AUD


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Detail of: “A Vision of Fiammetta” by Rossetti Media: Charcoal and Pastel on treated canvas. Size: 40x45cm Price: $200AUD


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Detail of Caravaggio’s “Boy Bitten by a Lizard” Media: Charcoal and Pastel on treated canvas. Size: 40x50cm Price: $200AUD


More to come!

Hunting Wisdom

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Of late I have had a lot of people, online an offline, request more info on divination. Guess what? now I have a go to for recommendations.

I’m thankful to know Sannion, and to be involved in a number of his divination classes. So I will happily recommend folk to buy his newest book dealing with this beautiful art form, a perfect gift for this festive time of the year!

Available here and here more info here: https://thehouseofvines.com/2016/11/23/available-now/