Late last year I sent out requests for questions of The Dionysian Artists. A modern devotional artist guild and religious cultic tradition I’m attempting to formulate. These are the questions and answers so far. If you have more to add feel free to leave a comment or email me. email@example.com
I also wish to thank everyone who has already asked me questions!
Who is Dionysos?
Why is Dionysos relevant in the modern era?
What symbolism is associated with Dionysos and what do those symbols represent?
How to develop a relationship?
Like any other relationship it requires respect and honour. Foremost is establishing some kind of cultus (worship), this may be in any kind of religious expression. It could be via art, devotion, sacrifice, offering yourself through drug use, dance, music, ecstatic practice – etc. Dionysos is a god that comes, he is literal epiphany, it just a matter of accepting him and letting him take over.
What is the Dionysian Artists?
The Dionysian Artists is a modern guild, mystery cult and polytheist tradition based upon the Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai (Dionysian Artists) of antiquity. The goal is to foster and create devotional art for the gods.
The modern expression of the Dionysian Artists may be abbreviated, shortened or referred to as: The DA, The Artists, The Guild.
To define the ancient guild from the modern, they are always referred to by their Greek to English title of Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai, abbreviated to The DT and referred to as Tekhnitai.
How does the DA foster and create devotional art for the Gods?
In a sense, the DA is a modern art movement that has clear goals of defining “what is devotional art”, that is the public aspect of the cult/guild. The private aspect is exploring the “language” of art, the “transversive” and “manifestive” function of divine art. I’ll explain what I mean by these terms in further posts.
What was the Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai?
It is unknown when the guild was formally established but it is quite possible it existed before the height of classical Athens 400BC with numerous grave stones and heroons commissioned by the guild. It was formally recognised with the Delphi decree of 279 BC. The decree acknowledged the guild and granted unprecedented rights to the artists, allowing them absolute freedoms including: unimpeded travel, freedom from taxation and freedom from imprisonment, freedom from conscription.
The purpose of the guild was to perform for the gods, they were the writers, actors, set designers, anyone involved in the production of plays. The Tekhnitai were the masters and keepers of the theatre, the leaders of the Dionysian festivities and sacred performers of Mystery.
They became an apolitical autonomous intuition unto themselves, a stateless organisation – as such they are often regarded as the first international religious organisation, the first trade union and first international diplomatic mission. To be a member of guild was the highest achievement of an artist and were recognised as being a caste apart from all other social classes, equal to royalty. Due to the liberities and apolticalism of the TA they became diplomats, spies and ambassadors.
The guilds history is often in the background and scattered, but there are references of their existence during the Roman civil war, in the court of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Later Hadrian is recorded making references to their existence. It is safe to assume that the guild continued to exist through the Roman era until the closing of the theatres between 300 to 400 AD.
Are they looked on as Ancestors, guides, teachers, etc.?
Yes, The Tekhnitai and known members are part of the DA pantheon and are given cultus as a whole and as individuals.
What do we know of the Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai and how do the modern DA relate to them?
Although little has been published on them by modern academics, we know a lot of them via graves/ heroons and marble “credit reels” of play productions. They encouraged hero/ancestor cultus and were exceptionally powerful. The modern DA seeks to replicate the original but with the inclusion of modern art philosophy. (More info here and here )
Is the DA reconstructionist?
I have two schools of thought, one is looking back to the ancients, but the other is advancing and adapting to our time. I’m not a reconstructionist, nor do I look at any one time or place. The Dionysian Cult was international, it went as far as England and Germany all the way to China. Then there is the history, his cults or some expression of it has never really ceased throughout history. To focus one just one thing limits a boundless god.
Is the DA Initiatory?
There are two sides, public and private. The public side is open to all. The private side is initiatory and requires in person tuition and standards. It is my full intention to make this a lineage initiatory tradition.
What defines a Dionysian Artist?
Within this tradition of Dionysian Artists, it is up to the artist what defines devotional art and what is art. Theoretically a person who is an artist (whatever that may be) and dedicates their work to the gods can be a Dionysian Artist. It is a matter of thought, purpose, belief and philosophy. There is no exclusion of what is art, no limits on the artists – other than the art is devotional.
Do I need to be a devotee of Dionysos to be a Dionysian Artist?
No. Actually if we look at the gravestones of the first Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai, it is rare to find one who is a devotee to the god. Often they are devotees of Apollon and the Muses. The Dionysian Artists is the cultic guild, dedicated to Dionysos, but members are free to honour and devote themselves to whatever god.
Does the DA involve magic or witchcraft?
I’d ask what is magic? My understanding of magic is intended purpose of “change” that manifests from “nothing”. Thus magic is art, art is magic. To enchant an audience with words, or to mix pigment in such a way it turns coloured particles in abstract forms into images of divine… that is magic. So the DA is enriched with magic. But it is not a deliberate magical path or school. It is up to members if they consider their art witchcraft, in the DA there is no prohibition or/neither official inclusion of any magical paths. That is totally up to individual beliefs of members.
((I will say as a note, however, that in the private side of the DA there is expected study of the Orphic schools, the PGM (Greek magical papyri) and antique/classical Goetia.))
I separate this section as some aspects are personal and not a required belief to be involved in the DA.
What are your thoughts of the Afterlife?
I believe that the Afterlife is what we make of it in life.
There are differing ideas even amongst Dionysians, for myself I believe we have two souls. Human and Dionysian, the human soul has some value, but only through what we gain in life (bios). The Dionysian is eternal and exists in the infinite (zoe). My conception is that the Dionysian’s goal is to combine with him in death, uniting our souls and joining with him. Apotheosis. When you undergo Mystery, you learn that this has already happened and will happen again and again, so it is a kind of “enlightenment”. But also it is an acknowledgement that the trials, agog, of life is a requirement to attain this elevation. Souls that do not attain this state continue to live on in a sort of cycle of reincarnation named the Grievous Cycle. I relate the cycle to the Labyrinth.
Is your idea akin to other religious concepts such as the Buddhists?
No, it’s not exactly like Buddhist ideas of Nirvana, nor a rejection of our humanity/human quality… actually it’s more of an embracing of human. The “transcendental”, “enlightenment” of the Dionysian does not come about from an outright rejection of our humanity. The Dionysian quality of our ego (soul), may actually require things like sexual pleasures, drunkenness, excess etc., to be awakened. The functions and limits of which must be discovered through experience, by this, I mean we explore the ‘hedonism’ in order to know our limits. This can be found in many ways, including that which may be considered self-destructive, but also it can be safely explored through art, e.g., the theatre. The purpose though, is to learn our limits and limit from there on.
We relate things to the theatre, because these subjects can be explored and played out in an artificial environment. But… this is where we get to the philosophy of the Dionysian Artist, something that is actually dangerous if misunderstood. A Dionysian Artist is a master of profane and profound. They commit acts of hubris, to cause universal catharsis. When we watch The Bacchae, not only is the actors committing hubris, but the audience is being exposed to it. If we take into account the ideas of how one receives Miasma, the audience is being exposed to something that is totally toxic. They are observing a play that deals with the wrongs against our great god, also they are witnessing actors play our this horror in real life. For the actor, the mask shields them, after the performance they leave the mask to rot, or burn it.
For the audience, they must take it in collectively. This is done by acknowledging, subconsciously, that the theatre is a realm of fantasy, but more importantly they experience joint empathy. Witnessing horrors en masse eradicates the individual, it takes away the persons fears and ego, the worries of the day, enchants and distracts them and fills them with new Memory. The end result is profound catharsis.
These concepts come from the function of both tragedy and comedy. With tragedy, to witness something horrible, ideally more horrible than our own situation, is cathartic. It puts us in our place. Ironically comedy is more cruel than tragedy, because we laugh at the suffering of others… but that is good too because we are really laughing at ourselves – so there is still an emphatic connection. Plus it has been proven that laughter is physically therapeutic to our bodies.
Antonin Artaud believes that freedom, liberation of the human condition comes through the breakdown of social order. His prime example is the plague and relates the theatre to a disease. During the plague, when bodies are filling the streets, the social order is broken down. Man become drunk on panic and all inhibitions are torn down. He believes this to be the most spiritual period of man, the most Dionysian. Thus in his philosophy he created the Theatre of Cruelty, An production so horrible it liberates people from their daily concerns. Artaud’s work is of his time and a requirement for people to find Mystery. I’m more of an opinion that there should be a balance of performance now. This is due to the over exposure of our cultural ethos to Theatre of Cruelty being played out each day, whenever someone watches the news…
An overview of what I’m saying, Dionysians ‘awaken’ the Dionysian soul through acts in life. These acts relate to sacrifice, which may be seen as profane, but the intention is divine. These acts typically relate directly with death, which is ultimately a loss of identity (ego) in all literal sense (i.e., our bodies rot). When we don a mask, when we go into ecstatic trance, when we have sex, when we drink, when we observe the theatre. Our identity is taken from us. Dionysos fills us and we become him. This is the goal of the Dionysian Artists.