We are being drowned

I awoke this morning to a post by Agathokles Martinios, On the Censorship of Art. His post is a response to a report that the Manchester Art Gallery has removed a painting by John William Waterhouse, “Hylas and the Nymphs”, to highlight the gender issues in our culture…

Where to start?

Okay, lets first look at the myth of the painting… Herakles and Hylas are of the crew of the Argonauts, they come to an island and look for food, Hylas gets entranced by a nymph and is drawn into the water… dying. Hylas is described as being Herakles companion, but in most circumstances with Herakles, he is not simply a companion… but a lover. Herakles is so distraught he abandons the crew of the Argonauts and desperately, and in vain, looks for his lost lover.

In modern telling, this myth can relate to LGBT+. Hylas typically falls in love with the Nymph, thus he abandons his same-sex love for a woman, whereas Herakles still seeks that love. It is Romanic and recognised in the Greek revival of the 1800’s by folk like Oscar Wilde.

In terms of the artist and the painting… I actually know this work very well, I’ve reproduced it with my partner a few times on the street. Waterhouse is a latter 1800’s artist, unfortunately for him he did not have as much success as his predecessors of the Romanic Pre-Raphaelites, however he is interesting as he is representative of a link between the highly polished and Academic works and that of radical contemporaries of his time like the Impressionists. Waterhouse’s art is often left unfinished, murky and with what we regard as impressionistic, comparable to the Pre-Raphaelites. Nevertheless, he remained unpopular in western culture until the late 1990’s where there was a resurgence of popularity of his art… still… his art is not valued as much as his predecessors or contemporaries.
As an artist, Waterhouse is not very interesting. He created quite a number of beautiful pieces, but there is no scandal or indication that he was not anything but a stereotypical Victorian bloke – unlike his predecessors like Millais, Rossetti and Hunt. Any misuse or objectification of the female is that of his time or applied by our contemporary cultural context. (Frankly, it is odd to choose this picture for debate.)

The painting is interesting for myself as when you look at the nymphs, each has the same face, each is the same model and those who have exposed breasts do not have nipples. To me this represents their divine nature, as being something other than human. Thus the fate of Hylas is natural and supernatural, it is not exclusively female.

Now onto my opinion. I have a grave fear for our current culture, what I call “secular puritanicalism” is raising its ugly head. This is a really dangerous road for us.

In a culture that is based upon consumer/disposable/consumer/disposable we hold no value on art. We’re saturated in art, yet we swipe it away on our phones or scroll past it on our computers. We disregarded art in a microsecond. However, before we reached this jaded zeitgeist of thought, art was valued as an object of posterity. All art, regardless of the cultural context placed upon it in the present, is represented of prosperity. What this means is that art does not belong to you, me, or the gallery hosting it. Art belongs to future generations. We *never* have the right to censor art, we *never* have the right to determine “what is art”. That is for the generations of humans to determine until the end of time.

If we are not careful, we will be heading into a new dark age. One not based upon religious ideals, but that of so-called secular ideals of gender inclusiveness. These concepts are of our time, flawed. They are not right in terms of prosperity, in terms of art. To use art created in the past as a point of political argument is immoral, it is appropriation at its lowest.


The Shiva Street Art Project

September 2017 I experienced a rather intense dream of me drawing a massive picture of Lord Shiva on the street. The dream was extensively detailed, for a dream, of what the image should look like, how it should be presented and what aspects I should focus upon.

Four months later I finally have resources to begin this project.

I’m not exactly sure why Shiva has instructed me to do this picture, but I have a very strong feeling it has to do with purification and elevation of myself and the street. A major focus is his poisoned neck (Shiva known as Neelakantha). This suspicion is related to my mental health, which has been out of control for the last year, triggered by The Bourke Street Mall attack on the 20th of January 2017, this event resulted in the murder of people where I work, people died on the same pavement I draw upon. Naturally this intensified my depression and anxiety.
By sheer coincidence, as in I had not planned it and noticed it later, my first day working on The Shiva Street Art Project on the street begun on the 20th of January this year…

Whatever the case, I’ve finally started the project, one I predict will take me a few months to complete.

As per instructions given, I must create a permanent boarder around the whole canvas in red and yellow, with some kind of pronouncement in Devanagari. I’m just calling my source divine inspiration, as I don’t presume, but I am informed that technically this *is* the icon, ie., it is technically finished as Om Namah Shivaya is all that is needed…

So here you can my canvas with the boarder and ॐ नमः शिवाय (Om Namah Shivaya) written at the base in a stylized Lingam. The canvas has been tinted blue with ultramarine blue pure pigment. The canvas size is 230×166 cm (roughly 7.5×5.5 feet).

As for the depiction of Shiva, I am using a pastiche of Hindu iconography. For the main body I have chosen a famous statue from Rishikesh, India. This statue is representative of his ascetic aspects. I’ve been instructed that he must not be totally blue, however his neck *must* be blue with green aspects. Eyes closed, bare chested, two-armed, meditative, sitting on the tiger skin. The cobra must have its head up with hood flared. Ganga is not personified in his hair, but is spouting out of the topknot onto a Lingam on the right, the Trident (Trishula) and drum on the left, with the pot (Kamandalu) at the base. The background is mountainous with the Kailash peak somewhere.

This is my second day progress, I still need to refine his face, but I’m so far happy with the progress.


Day 4 Progress:

These are my references:



So far the most challenging thing is learning more in-depth about Shiva, he is god I’ve known about for a very long time, but never had contact with – until now. I’m also put extra precautions about taboos and conscious about my feet, as I am doing this as a devotional street art project I lay down a protective mat to keep the icon directly off the pavement and I do not walk on or touch the canvas with my feet.

In terms of art, it has been challenging working out his flesh tones. I want him to be ashen, but not completely grey or devoid of colour, nor do I want him to be completely blue. I’m working off a black and white photo so I’m making this up on the spot… I have to be imaginative… I think I’m getting the colour I want though.

When finished, I am willing to donate the icon to a local Hindu temple, if they will accept him.

I hope to keep this blog posted as more progress continues!

Om Namah Shivaya!

The Dionysian Artists Q & A

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. markos.gage@gmail.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.
More here

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.))

Personal belief.

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.


(Additional note)
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.


Monsters and Heroes

(This was originally published on polytheist.com December 2014. As mentioned in previous posts I’m compiling all my writing here for posterity and for future reference.)

Typhon by Wayne McMillan.

When we think of Greek mythology images of fantastic monsters and heroes often comes to mind. The stories are filled with hybrid beasts that haunt the lands as challengers to would be champions. We see these monsters as just that: monsters. An opposition, a narrative piece to add some excitement to tales of heroes. But what if monsters hold a greater significance? What do we gain by understanding their role in the heroes journey? Why do I feel a sympathy and even a reverence to monsters?

There is always a degree of kitsch when discussing Greek mythology. Many of us were introduced to the myths as children. Growing up in the 90’s I would watch the ultimate of camp: Hercules and Xena TV shows. Then there was the Disney production of Hercules and always my favourite of the sword and sandal Claymation classics like the original Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of Titans and Adventures of Hercules.

It’s really no wonder why people look at me funny when I explain my personal beliefs. Pretty much every telling of the heroes exploits has been camp trite that deviates from the narrative of myth with a production value a level above a 1970’s stag film.
Yet when reading actual myths there is a seriousness in it. A heroes journey to enlightenment can be called equivalent of stories like Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha.

Herakles is one of the most renown heroes of Greek myth. Unlike his Theban, Attic, Argive counterparts he is a universal hero, a stock hero of the Hellenic world. For example when we look at Italian and even Spanish Hellenic myths Herakles takes on roles over other city state heroes like Theseus. So in nations that had no nationalistic identity with a hero in the myth, Herakles was used as a replacement.
This is testament to the Story itself. The hero of the tale is insignificant to the archetype of the protagonist verses the monster. It may be a different hero but always the same monster.

But to avoid confusion let’s just focus on the labours of Herakles. Most people understand the twelve labours as being a means for Herakles to right a wrong and also to get recognition as a great hero. We can, and do, view these stories as just fun epic tales. But as a person studying and attempting to understand myth they often have a layered significance. For example we could view the labours as a celestial event of the sun moving through the sky during the year, each labour is the ancient understanding of the constellations the sun passes through. Herakles ultimate, fiery and horrible death is akin to other solar deities that die at winter solstice.

The shamanic role of Herakles is his loss of identity and attribute transferences when fighting each monster. Example is: we can’t imagine Herakles without his lion skin, but the skin itself belonged to his first labour of the Nemean Lion, a invulnerable monster often born from Typhon and Echidna, sent to Nemea to terrorise the land. In order to defeat the beast Herakles must challenge his own perceptions by working out a different method of killing and skinning the beast with its own claws. When he achieves his goals he dons the skin and uses it’s protective fur as armour. In a twisted sense he becomes the beast. Ordering it’s chaos into his own accord.

Herakles again does this when he defeats his second labour and uses the Hydra’s blood as poison for his arrows. Ultimately it’s this poison that defeats Herakles, as it’s the same poison used on his shirt to kill him. It’s toxin and his own funeral pyre burns his mortality away and allows him to ascended as a deity. The beast, and his accomplishments allow for his transcendence.

These themes are also found with Perseus. Perseus is given a task of killing Medusa, a sad and unfortunate monster. Perseus invades Medusa’s home, uses his mirrored shield to look at Medusa’s image and also use her own identity to kill her. When the task is done he steals her identity, by decapitating her, using her deathly stone gaze powers to defeat his foes. Again this theme as identity transference and ordering a beasts chaos to the will of the hero leads to the champions triumphs.

But not all Greek heroes do this. Let’s look at Bellerophon, the actual rider of Pegasus. Bellerophon performs a series of heroic tasks and defeats monsters like the Chimaera. However he does this with the aid of a monster, he does not kill Pegasus, he only tames it. That’s why when Bellerophon attempts to ascend to heaven he is rejected. He is not truly one with the beast, he only owns the beast but has not accepted the monsters identity into himself.

To return back to Theseus (or Herakles) we have a hero entering a space which is actually the antagonist. The path itself is the monster and teaches the hero to become something special, the creature or god at the end of the path are just an obstacle to finalise the heroes enlightenment. In this sense Theseus journeys into the deep unknown with his rewards being what experience he has in the travels. The identity transference takes on a completely different role as it’s not literally stealing the monster attributes that contributes to his transcendence, but becoming something internally through travelling. The initiation is entirely cerebral.

You can see these same themes in other heroes like Orpheus and Odysseus. They all venture into hades and undergo an experience of loss that will forever change their lives. Their knowledge and power may not be as carnal as skinning a lion or stealing a gorgon head, but it’s of the same value.

To end this piece I want to point out that the protagonist and antagonist are of equal measure. The heroes achievement are only made by their foes and by sacrificing part of themselves in order to steal their foes power the hero becomes greater, a god. Acknowledging this allows us to see the value in these monsters and that heroic worship should also include the rivals of these heroes.

Introducing Pogo the Satyr

This is Pogo the satyr. He enjoys romantic strolls along the beach and bouncing around on his huge pogo stick of a dick. His favourite foods are poptarts and popcorn, just about anything that pops. His favourite music is genre is hip-hop…get it?!? Hop! Lol! Omg.
His sexual preference is for shepherd boys (sheposexual) but he doesn’t discriminate. This isn’t to suggest he is bisexual/pansexual, he’s just an overall good sport!

His favourite book is A Pickle for the Knowings/Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress by Timothy Dexter.

Salt and Pepper him as you please.

Pogo is character Wayne and I hope to develop into a comic series. We’ll see 😉

Sacred Streets

(This was originally published on polytheist.com December 2014. This article was my first introduction to what will formulate as The Dionysian Artist and vitally important to me as a progression piece. As such it is not as refined as I’d like, but merits recording.)


This article is dedicated to the leaders of the troop, the singers and dancers, actors and pantomimes, writers and musicians, acrobats and magicians, painters, illustrators and sculptors – The Dionysian Artists.

Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam – A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome.

I ponder on this phrase a lot, typically it means: all paths lead to the same destination, but my feelings of it go back further. I like to believe that all roads lead to the founding of civilisation – in a literal sense – in that the streets and roads are the birthplace of our culture particularly through street performance.

In 2008 two hermit artists decided to do something pretty dramatic, well, at least for them. They decided to go out into the streets of a major metropolitan city and draw on the pavement for donations. My partner and I soon discovered the power of the street.

The knowledge and physical wealth that it grants. My perspective of the street changed overnight, no longer did I consider those busking or working on the street to be lowly, instead I quickly develop an admiration and love for the street. Street culture is a fascinating subject, in some ways it’s part of the overall culture but also separate of it. There are unspoken laws, unique slang, obscure subcultures and most importantly unrecognised traditions that can be traced to ancient times. Street performers are often outsiders who don’t follow the social norms that has been expected of them, many are freaks and weirdos, most are extremely talented and either completely mad or incredibly wise, or a bit of both.

In some respects I view busking or street performance as an actual magical rite, performers perform a ritual, they finish and hold out a hat and get money from nowhere. Away from earnings, they transform the commonplace environment of the street into a domain of miracles with feats of disbelief. I have never witnessed such direct and consistent magic like street performance. I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that terms used in reference to magic are similar or identical terms used in art: craft, spell, act, art. It is also interesting that Street Magic is still performed today and in fact many street magicians use tricks, symbols and colours that were used in ancient times.

Through my profession and my own spiritual practice I started witnessing uncanny connections between performance and my beliefs, exploring this subject has resulted in this article.

Ancient Greek religion was unique at the time because unlike some other cultures it was based around household worship, community and polis. In some cases priests were elected from the general population, religious titles and positions were granted to common people. Interacting and communing with the divine was not exclusive to just the elite or ordained priest, everyone was entitled to participate and later there were rites in which even slaves were allowed.

One of the most important and unique developments of this faith was the theatre. I suspect the theatre had humble origins beginning with bards that would travel from town to town reciting epic Homeric stories on the side of the road or in the local agora. As their reputation developed more people would gather on grassy hills to see these bards perform. Slowly these bards incorporated other performers who mimed, danced, played music etc. Over time actors were given lines and the hills were carved out into an amphitheatre. What started as a simple impromptu act by travelling performers turned into an organised community service.

The theatre was not just for entertainment, it held multiple functions as a gathering place. Plays themselves were considered sacred performances, Tragedy is usually consider the foremost important form. The origins of Tragedy was lost in ancient Greece, where scholars like Aristotle and Athenaeus of Naucratis debated the etymology of the word. In general, Tragedy is commonly believed to originate from τραγῳδία trag(o)-aoidiā “goat song” meaning that it may of involved some form of ritual sacrifice. It is agreed that it is related to the god Dionysos. Richard Seaford suggests Tragedy evolved from some form of Satyr play related to the Dionysian mysteries which possibly enacted the death, rebirth of Dionysos – these performances were intense and involved audience participation, the mystery rites later became free for public viewing:

At the Dionysiac festivals the citizens en masse watched the ritual impersonation of myth on the streets, but were excluded from the mystic ritual at the heart of the festival. And so not only was the traditional processional hymn transformed into a scripted stationary hymn under a hillside (so that all could see), but also the irresistibly secret sights of mystic ritual were opened out to the curious gaze of the entire polis. Greek ritual tends to enact its own aetiological myth, and the first tragedies were, I suspect, dramatisations of the aetiological myths enacted in mystery-cult – as was, a century later, the highly traditional Bacchae.” (1)

In some respects the theatre was place of religious observance similar to how one might view a church. The performers were taking on the role of religious spokesmen. By the time fifth century BC Athenian Golden Age of drama playwrights were writing plays with the same themes as the mystery performance but incorporating other tales. So the essence of being confronted with death was still present but transformed into another new narrative to maintain audience enthusiasm.

Also to maintain audience enthusiasm and to prevent them leaving the theatre depressed was the comedies which were performed as intermission plays between the tragedies. These light hearted plays sometimes involved actors dressed as satyrs (with a long red leather phallus around their waist) the plays would parody classical stories. For example the only surviving satyr play, Cyclops by Euripides features Odysseus saving Silenus and his troop of satyrs from the cruelty and sexual molestation of the Cyclops, Polyphemus. Other times they involved a serious debate or dire situation that results in some silly happy ending.

The origins of Comedy appear to be ancient even in classical times. The term comedy is usually considered derived from Kom-oid meaning “party song” and may have had its origins as some silly drunken mockery. Obviously related directly with Dionysian festivals. Compared with tragedy its origins are confusing. It appears that it was imported into Athens via the Dorians in what is called the Dorian farce. Athenian comedy originally seems to be focused on nonsense and impromptu with only a loose story. Dramatic comedy being introduced from Sicily and evolved into a proper narrative as mentioned by Aristotle in Poetics 5.1449b:

The making of tales (i.e. plots) originally came from Sicily, but of the Athenians Crates first began, by discarding the abusive scheme as a whole, to construct stories and tales.” (2)

This is further evident as Athenian Old Comedy writer, Aristophanes references the Dorian Colonies of Magna Graecia in Wasps, for their farces which he considered low-class for its obscene humour, slap stick and sexual themes.

Don’t expect anything profound,
Or any slapstick à la Megara.
And we got no slaves to dish out baskets
Of free nuts—or the old ham scene
Of Heracles cheated of his dinner;
… Our little story
Had meat in it and a meaning not
Too far above your heads, but more
Worth your attention than low comedy.

Still Aristophanes employed the themes in his comedies. His criticisms appear to be attempts to prop up his own plays over Magna Graecia, where it looks like native writers were the inventors of the first comedic plot.

Old comedy also featured something pretty radical, it was used as a platform to ridicule and lampoon people of importance, such as leaders, nobility and even gender statuses. I consider this the birth of free speech, especially after the theatre became a domain of politics with politicians holding debates or speeches before plays. Regardless, as the art form developed (and possible political problems) comedy became more focused on archetypical stock characters. These characters deviated from anyone in particular and are notable for a lack of mythic or religious figures, instead they are stock characters based on everyday life: courtesans, revellers, parasites, angry cooks and soldiers etc. This is considered Middle Comedy. From here comedy disappeared from history in Greece as none of the play survived, until it had a resurgence during the reign of Alexander as New Comedy.

However the Italians had a different sense of humour to the Athenians and maintained and expanded the traditions of comedy. An especially fascinating aspect is found in Tarentum (Taranto) where comedy was incorporated into female initiation rites and was performed for girls entering maidenhood:

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

[…] There may have been actual theatrical performances in the cave: among the votive objects were miniature models of the Grotta on which curtains were carved in relief. Terracotta figurines of comic actors and musicians, along with masks, indicate the importance of the theater to the votaries. The chiaroscuro mix of the serious and the comic, like the interplay between death and life, would be appropriate for the rituals in a nymphaeum.” (4)

(Again returning back to what Seaford mentions about satyr plays and mystery rites.)

The comedy in Italy of utmost importance in this essay as it is the link between classical comedy and the Middle-Age Commedia dell’Arte. The stock characters found in Middle comedy in Greece are direct precursors to the future Harlequin and Pierrot (which will be discussed later).

Before and after Alexander, performing troops became highly respected in Greece. It appears that they were formalised into an official professional guild called, Dionysiakoi Technitai (Artists of Dionysos) where they were granted unprecedented privileges. The Debate, On the False Embassy, 348 BC, specifically states that the first two ambassadors from Athens to negotiate peace with Philip II were tragic actors and poets:

Aristodemos and Neoptolemos were Tragic actors. Because of their profession these men had safe-conduct to go wherever they wished, even into enemy territory.” (5)

Phillip’s high regard for these actors was seen as corruption by critics in Athens, even going as far as claiming the actors were serving their own interests over the city’s. Of a particular note Neoptolemos sung a tragic ode to Phillip the night before his daughter’s wedding, which was later seen as an ill omen. It was during the wedding that Phillip was assassinated in the theatre. (While no links are found in history, I love fantasying of a conspiracy by the actors.)

By 279 BC a Delphic decree by the Athenian state was written in marble granting these artists immunity within all Greece: any harm, taxation or conscription was forbidden against them. (6) These marbles were followed up with a number of congratulatory awards naming performers and those that worked for the Technitai including carpenters, prop makers and background artists. In The Context of Ancient Drama by Eric Csapo & William Slater they claim that this organisation was the first trade union. However I feel that because the guild appears to have its own internal autonomous government structure, which was completely apart from any other state government, it was more akin to the Papal State. This is evident in the Delphic decrees as they emphasis religious services performed by the Technitai moreover than their acting abilities. To return back to the Mysteries cults of Greece, there are strong ties within these rites and performance. The Technitai would had been the ones that performed the sacred plays and also the ones that knew all the mysteries. They were not mere actors, but diplomats, spies and the highest priests of the time. Their power became so prominent they were allowed to wear distinctive clothing and regal items to prove their association to the guild and also their authority, including purple robes, crowns and golden jewels bearing their insignia.

Perhaps it is completely unrelated, but in less than one hundred years after the Delphic decree Rome outlawed and committed a massive purge of the Dionysian cult in 186 BC with declaration of the senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus. Livy wrote a fantastical account for the reason why in History of Rome (7), claiming that members of the cult were performing evil nocturnal rites that involved either extorting or killing nobility to gain their inheritance with an intended conspiracy against the Republic. I wonder if the Technitai (who were the Dionysian cult) was the real threat behind this drastic action? Whatever the case, the Technitai continued to exist throughout Roman imperialism even into Christian times. What humbly begun on the streets in time became a powerful international organisation.

Apart from the organisation of the Dionysiakoi Technitai there were also independent street performers throughout Greece and Rome. With exception of the laws mentioned from the Twelve Tables and some minor laws preventing ranked Roman officers and members of the senate from viewing or participating, these performers appeared to be free to perform wherever.

They may of even been supported by the state to please the mob during festivals. A distinctive trait of these travelling performers was the Phylakes stage, a portable stage made of boards that allowed actors, poets and dancers to perform. This mobility allowed them to follow the rustic Dionysian processions that would spread out from the cities after religious festivals. While their performances may of copied classical plays these street actors are most often mentioned for their crass and lewd comedic performances.

Of interest, these independent performers also did other forms of street performance such as street magic, Alciphron of Athens (unknown date, possibly between 170 and 350 CE) is one of the few that records the classic cups and balls routine. He mentions being “rendered speechless and gaped with surprise” as he watched a street performer:

A man came forward and placed on a three-legged table three small dishes, under which he concealed some little white round pebbles. These he placed one by one under the dishes, and then, I do not know how, he made them all appear all together under one.

At other times he made them disappear from beneath the dishes and showed them in his mouth. Next, when he had swallowed them, he brought those who stood nearest him into the middle, and then pulled one stone from the nose, another from the ear, and another from the head of the man standing near him.

Finally he caused the stones to vanish from the sight of everyone. He is a most dexterous fellow and even beyond Eurybates of Oechalia, of whom we heard so much.” (8)

(Note: Eurybates of Oechalia is a famous thief mentioned in previous letters)

There are few classical sources of these performers with only vague references in law and mention of preference for performers to set up on crossroads or outside places of worship. Crossroads were a place of mystery for Ancient people and associated with the gods Hermes and Hekate. Two divinities of magic, chthonic gods as guide and guard of the dead. (Hermes is also inclusive of travel, begging, rustic performance, con-men, thieves, trade and money.)
Here is where I start to wonder if these people were not just performers for entertainment purposes but played a role as a poor man’s celebrant and priest? Was street magic enough proof by performers to act as a charlatan and quack doctor?
Plato is quite critical of what he describes as so called Orphic priests:

Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god–given power founded on sacrifices and incantations.” (9)

The Orphic cult itself is based around the legendary traveling musician and prophet of Dionysos, Orpheus, who ventured into hades to free his beloved from death. While in the realm he witnessed the mysteries of death and after failing in his original task went about teaching the mysteries in what would become Orphism. The traditions, myths and rituals differ from time, place and possibly priest, but there is a shared concept that those initiated into its mysteries are free from continual reincarnation of mortality and are able to enjoy an eternity feasting with gods and other initiated.

An interesting aspect of this cult are the gold leaf tablets or scrolls left with the dead that instruct the soul of the correct destination to be free of reincarnation. These tablets have been found all over the Hellenistic world from Thrace, to Sicily and Crete, all share similar characteristics, however some are poorly made while others are elaborate. The most amateur tablets feature spelling mistakes, incorrect instructions, some are simply blank. Is this proof of hacks jumping on the band wagon to fool a grieving family after the loss of a loved one? Were these hacks travelling performers who proved their power with parlour tricks? I can only guess.

An aspect of ancient funeral rites, especially in Italy was that funerals were not solemn, at least not how they are in the west now. Livy actually marks the year 328 BC for two significant events, the founding of the colony at Fregellae and the meat served at the funeral of the mother of M. Flavius. (10) Funerals were used by Romans to demonstrate the wealth and power of the family after the death, they would involve massive public feasts, games and performance.

Apart from politics funerals were a celebration of life and performers found themselves in the role of celebrates where they lead a triumphant procession of the body to the tomb – the tomb itself was often elaborately decorated with Dionysian scenes. Festivals, performances and tombs are reassurances for the living, to prove that life after death is a good thing. Plays aided in that distraction. When viewing or participating both audience and actors have to remove themselves from their current situation and identity. One must suspend their thoughts to comprehend the “fantasy” in front of them, performance in itself is a form of release. What better way to recover from grief then be submerged within a fantasy. To return back to the independent street performers, did they involve themselves in these funeral performances or offer their services to rural folk too?

An interesting point by Dionysian polytheist author, H. Jeremiah Lewis (11) is the colour schemes shared with street performance throughout history and also magical ritual in classical times, particularly in regards to Orphism. White, red and black are colours that make up a dusky dark cloak worn by Medea in the Orphic Argonautika in Greek it is called: ὄρφνῐνος orphninos. The colours are also mentioned in a Bulgarian healing ritual where each are related to the varying realms of heaven, earth and the underworld. Much later times the colours are worn by harlequins, clowns and street magicians in what was originally street shows, the Middle-Age Commedia dell’Arte. I suspect that the colour scheme goes as far as the Greek theatre mask.

Unfortunately the masks were made of organic plant stuffs, similar to papier-mâché thus none have survived history. But I believe they were painted with white for the flesh, black around the eyes and eyebrows and red for the lips. A good example of this is the modern ‘French’ mimes with face paint that is outlined around the jaw and chin with black, black around the eyebrows and eyes, white over the face and red on the lips and sometimes cheeks. Mimes also earn their name from Pantomimes which comes from the ancient theatre as “imitates all” meaning they spoke, danced, played music etc. The silent aspect of their performance was a later addition.

Harlequin is first attested to Orderic Vitalis in the 11th century, where he claims he was haunted by a troop of demons led by a black masked giant named familia harlequin, a description that reminds me a lot of satyrs, Pan and the retinue of Dionysos. By the time of the Renaissance the Harlequin evolved into a stock fool character for plays as either a servant of the devil or the devil himself. Noted for despite his large appearance he is nimble physically as his role often involved some form of foolery and acrobatics.
Clowns are the most ancient performers known with references of clown characters found in ancient Egypt royal courts, 4500 years ago. (12) A fascinating aspect of the clown is that they have a long history of being associated with priests and healers, in some cases the role was actually filled by a member of the priestly caste. Anthropologists relate clowns to the Heyoka, with many Native American tribes considering clown shamanic powers to be the most powerful. The shaman healing aspect is not unique to Native American’s, similar roles are found in shamanic traditions of Europe, Africa and Asia too.

Even now modern Clown doctors can be found mentioned in medical essay’s for their effectiveness recognised in western medicine, proven by performers like Patch Adams, Hunter Doherty:

Their activities include entertaining bored children and mothers in crowded outpatient clinic waiting rooms, distracting anxious families in inner-city emergency rooms, comforting parents of children in intensive care units, and distracting small AIDS or cancer patients during painful and frightening procedures. They spread joy and mayhem wherever children might be found in what is otherwise an environment not designed with children in mind.” (13)

Of course with associations with healing comes also the chthonic relationship too. Shamanic practices often cite clowns as either scaring off or being possessed by the dead. No doubt being linked with illness and healing would lead to this.

The modern appearance possibly originates from the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, as the Pierrot (foolish victim) or Pulcinella stock characters usually dressed in white, loose robes, sometimes with red frills around the neck. In a classical context Pierrot, akin to the mime, fits nicely into the description of the chorus in most Greek plays, typically they were white robed and wore plain masks. The chorus sometimes plays a shamanic role as an intermediary between actors and audience, thereby breaking through the Fourth wall.

As the circus developed in more modern times clowns adapted into what we know of today. An interesting result of pop culture and connections with figures like John Wayne Gacy (and attacking clowns in France this year) clowns have once again regained their associations with death and despite positive work in hospitals performances featuring clowns are being cancelled, some even feature warnings for people who suffer coulrophobia. (14)

Street Magicians appear to be an art form that has barely changed throughout history. (As already mentioned by Alciphron’s account.) The Conjurer by Hieronymus Bosch (1502), features a street magician performing a similar trick as the cups and balls, in the painting the magician wears black and red attire (akin to the Harlequin) and holds up a snail shell instead of a ball. The second central character is a man dressed in white and red (akin to the Pierrot?) who appears to be a gasping in shock at the trick. While difficult to see in most reproductions online, he actually has a frog coming out of his mouth, symbolising loss of reason and succumbing to animal instincts of disbelief, a foolish victim. Art commentators often mention how Bosch uses these two figures to deceive the viewer as their clothing draws the eye, a casual viewer can easily miss the thief stealing the victims coin purse to the far left.

The overall theme of the painting is attributed to Flemish proverbs:

“He who lets himself be fooled by conjuring tricks loses his money and becomes the laughing stock of children.”

“No one is so much a fool as a wilful fool.”

The criminal association is not just found with Bosch and these proverbs, other Middle-age commentators are critical of street performance and sort it being banned. Classical theatre was outlawed by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century and thereafter performance was viewed by Christian leaders as being a pagan act, equating it to other criminal activity such as thievery and prostitution. The English parliament of King Henry IV even partly blamed street performers for rebellion in Wales:

No westours and rimers, minstrels or vagabonds, be maintained in Wales… Who by their divination, lies and exhortation are partly cause for insurrection and rebellion now in Wales.” (15)

These fears of street performance continue into the modern age by the authorities, especially in Europe, where there is an increased of anti-social laws in public spaces – despite social studies reporting busking activity actually decreasing crime rates and establishing a sense of safety to the public. (15)

Modern street performers cannot be generalised easily. They are made up entirely by individuals that do things their own way, each with an unique act. They are not sponsored or funded by any other business than their own, yet a good number travel around the world each year living in perpetual summer. Some are professionally trained from world famous circus groups, others are self-taught or trained in a sort of apprenticeship. Their skills are acquired through practice, hard work and failure. Apart from learning their tricks they also learn to master the act of engaging with the public, a task that is quite difficult. I’m often amazed not just by their act but how they gather crowds. You can see their charisma at work when they start out as some funny looking person standing in the middle of the street yelling like a madman, to being the centre of attention of a hundred or more people in less than ten minutes. The most experienced performers make this look simple, however when you see the beginners you realise just how difficult it is to stop people for a moment to watch.

In regards to traditions, many street performers still follow the customs of the circus, even if they’re not conscious of it. Of note: those I’ve watched often wear red, black and white. I asked one performer why he chose to wear the colours and he informed me that apart from being attention grabbing, they are colours he is comfortable performing in.

While some may have forgotten their historical backgrounds street performers still maintain the Dionysian spirit, not just in their occupation and travelling lifestyle. Currently there are several organisations established by street performers with aims of fighting the constricting laws in cities around the world that prevent free speech and performance in public. In many cases they are succeeding against a system that affects everyone’s right to freely express themselves. Often these organisations are the only ones that are fighting these issues and bringing light to these invasive laws that are passed through government without media acknowledgement. To that extent they are like the technitai as ambassadors between the public and government.

We live in a world entrenched in so much information that is provided to us by corporate businesses, governments and politically bent media. Rarely do we get to see an individual’s perspective of the world, especially an individual that has resisted the set expectations of what culture presumes of them. Performers prove that we can be free, that anyone can make their own life on the street not only with dignity but also admiration. From my own perspective the service I provide is paid for not only with generous donations from the people, but also the incredible support and encouragement that is constantly shown to me while I work. In times where I’m feeling a bit dishearten by what is happening around me, it’s always beautiful to realise that the horrors in the world are mere minorities to the kindness of the majority.

To finally finish this piece I would like to quote Owen Lean , a street performer, from the Busker Hall of Fame:

We live in a society where we have repressed a lot of our animal instincts in striving for order – yet inside of us that animal is screaming and fighting to get out, and every now and again we need that release.

This is what street performance does. We, the busker, stand right in the centre of the urban environment, right in the middle of this 9-5 world of straight lines and literally pull our audience out of it for twenty minutes and we do our job right, turn them into children again, allowing you to experience a different world, a world where the rules are broken, and where you’re not only allowed but actively encouraged to play.” (17)


1 Richard Seaford, Dionysos; 90

2 Section 3: Ancient Greek Comedy, Chapter 8: Early Greek Comedy and Satyr Plays

3 Trans. P. Dickinson, Oxford U.P, Plays; 171

4 Bonnie MacLachlan , Kore as Nymph, not Daughter:Persephone in a Locrian Cave

5 / 6 Eric Csapo & William Slater, The Context of Ancient Drama; 233, 244

The 279 BC Delphi Degree:
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.

7 Livy, History of Rome, Book XXXIX

8 The Letters of Alciphron via Christopher Milbourne , Magic: A Picture History

9 Plato, Republic 363c; 364a–365b

10 Edited by Bettina Bergmann and Christine Kondoleon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Art of Ancient Spectacle; 259

11 http://thehouseofvines.com/2014/01/27/confirmation-of-a-taboo/

12 Michael Bala, Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche Volume 4Issue 1, 2010, The Clown An Archetypal Self-Journey

13 Linda Miller Van Blerkom, Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western Medicine

14 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clown#Fear_of_clowns

15 (Jusserand 1950, 113) via Kalli R. Fullerton, Street Performers and the sense of place.

16 Susie J. Tanenbaum, Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subway of New York

17 http://buskerhalloffame.com/the-story/contributors/owen-lean/why-were-necessary/

More info:

Image info:

1 Theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy.
Roman artwork
2nd century CE.
Public Domain
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TragicComicMasksHadriansVillamosaic.jpg

2 Ooooh I’m a Mime
Tyler Mestas
11 May 2013
CC copyright
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ooooh_I%27m_a_Mime.jpg

3 The Conjurer
Hieronymus Bosch
1496 – 1529
Public Domain Image
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hieronymus_Bosch_051.jpg

4 Shove tuesday (Pierot and Harlequin)
Paul Cézanne
Public Domain Image
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_C%C3%A9zanne_060.jpg


A special thanks to H. Jeremiah Lewis (Sannion) for introducing me to this subject and his continual free publication and research found on his blog: thehouseofvines.com

Mead and Metal

(This was originally published in March 2015 on polytheist.com saved here for posterity.)

In these times of decadence where the price of our labour is turned into an abstract digit on a computer screen, where we can walk into supermarkets that house every conceivable produce we would ever want, we tend to forget the significance of the objects around us. Imagine a fantasy world where if we wanted a computer we would have to make it ourselves down to every microchip, or at least, knew the person who made it. Now picture that for everything around you. Do you think we would be such a disposable society if we had such intimacy with objects?

What I love about studying ancient polytheist cultures is that everything around these people was part of a never ending cycle of narratives, layers upon layers of mysteries that explain the holy significance of things we wouldn’t even think for a second about now. For example how on earth does honey become associated with the sun and stars? What do swaddling clothes (a long forgotten tradition of binding infants to pacify them) have in common with fermenting? What does mead have to do with metal? I believe that through exploring these unusual mysteries we can get a glimpse into the thoughts of our ancestors and a greater understanding of the gods. Hopefully I’ll touch on some of those secrets in this article.

As I’ve mentioned before, alcohol was of major importance to developing civilisations for factors other than recreation. Its foremost practical purpose was it allowed impure water to be safely consumed and also prevented water from being spoiled while navigating the seas. Thereby, alcohol allowed larger cities to flourish and exploration and trade to spread. It also held a religious significance in its mind altering nature; its euphoria was seen as something divine. We associate Dionysos as being the god of wine but he is the god of honey too, with mead being a popular drink throughout Greek history. Dionysos is attributed by Ovid 1 as being the creator of honey and is often described with honeyed words from honey coated lips, wielding his Thyrsos pointed with a pinecone dripping with honey.

Karl Kerényi dedicates a fascinating and complex chapter to honey and mead in Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, where he explores the religious significance of mead. In linguistics honey and intoxication have been connected since the birth of language:

“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 mesimetinen, and Hungarian mez. German Met and English “mead” signify, “honey beer,” and these words have exact parallels in the Norse languages.” 2

Kerenyi continues to explain that mead was developed early in the Aegean, before the introduction of wine, indicating that the production of mead coincided with a celestial calendar which followed the star Sirius (the Dog Star).

“It seems strange to us that the four cardinal points of the solar year-the two solstices and two equinoxes-the summer solstice should have been chosen as the beginning of the year. With it begins the hottest period of the year. The days begin to grow shorter, the nights, longer. Men yearn for the night.”

The Sirius calendar originates from Egypt with the rising and falling of the Nile which corresponds with the Dog Star, a system introduced to Greece via the Minoans and who used natural sun caves to measure the year. The caves around Crete were considered sacred spaces of the gods as often their birth place or place they were brought up and protected in. It was in these places people found mystery, miracles, initiation and epiphany. Of the few animals that inhabited these caves were bees with their honey considered the either the blood or food of the gods – ichor or ambrosia.

“Before they were domesticated, bees had often been found in caves. With their sweet food they were the most natural nurses for a Divine Child who was born and then kept hidden in a cave. The archetypal situation that nature offered was taken into the Greek myth of Zeus.” 3

Before the cultivation of bees, the primitive people of Crete would ‘steal’ the food of gods and place the honey in leather sacks. Men stealing the sacred food of the gods was maintained in myth:

“The cave is inhabited by sacred bees, the nurses of Zeus. It is further related that four foolhardy men wished to gather the honey of the bees. They put on bronze armour, scooped up some of the honey, and saw the “swaddling clothes of Zeus.” Thereupon their armour cracked and fell from their bodies. Zeus was angry and raised his thunderbolt against them, but the goddess of fate and Themis, goddess of the rule of nature, restrained Zeus. For it would had been contrary to the hosion if anyone had died in this cave. The four honey thieves were transformed into birds.” 4

These sacks were kept in the sun and in time became alcoholic. Consuming the sacred substance was then confirmed as a miracle by the mind altering euphoria that was guided by the light of the sun and stars. These sacks were named ‘korykos’ 5 and were associated with the swaddling clothes of the gods which were held in such holy regard that they were featured in caves where gods were said to be born throughout Greece. Just as the clothes transformed the babes into developed gods, it too turns water into an epiphany inducing liquid.

Bee hives were not exclusively for collecting honey either, as perhaps an equally important product of hives is the wax. The surrounding civilisations of Greece may have illuminated the night with candles so we could continue to draw the associations of bees, heat and light from there. However there is little indication that candles were popularly used by Greeks, who preferred instead oil lamps. There are a number of reasons for this; Greece was a major producer of olives and olive oil so as a natural resource it was practical to use oil instead. Beeswax has historically been an expensive luxury item and would have been uncommon in lower and middle class homes. The only alternative to bees wax is tallow, animal fat, which is unpleasant to burn because of the smell.

In regards to the ancient Greeks wax can literately be seen as the flesh of the gods, but the relationship of heat and light is different from candles. Greeks were the pioneers of complex figurative sculpture and perfected a method of bronze casting called the lost wax process.

At art school I minored in bronze sculpture and learnt that bronze techniques have not changed since ancient times. I quickly fell in love with wax as a medium as compared to water-based clays it is relatively stable and also malleable. Unless exposed to extreme heat, such as being left in the summer sun, wax will not melt or disfigure. It can be kept forever.

The lost wax process is simple and genius: one sculpts an object in wax, it is then moulded in a terracotta slip that is fired in a kiln, the wax drips out as the mould is simultaneously cooked. All that is left is a hollow mould ready for bronze to be poured into it. Afterwards the mould is smashed apart and the wax figure is reborn as a metal object that will last forever.

Wax and bronze continue to share an uncanny physical relationship: the heating and cooling of both is similar, for when bronze is poured into a mould its liquid form is a higher volume than the solid cool state. This means when poured into a mould it will expand and constrict, picking up all the detail. Wax goes through the same process and is able to pick up incredible detail, even finger prints. In this regard, copying bronze (counter casting, transference to wax and remoulding) produce identical statues without any size distortions or alterations.

After the bronze statue is complete it is then covered in wax as a finish, as is still practiced today. The green and brown patina that we associate with the look of bronze is the same as how we now envision Greek marble to be always white. Most Greek bronzes were melted down and destroyed and those we have in museums were usually discovered buried or in shipwrecks where they inherited the brown or green colouring from the exposure to the elements. In classical times bronzes would have been highly polished to the point they gleamed like gold with a thin layer of wax polish to protect the metal from oxidisation from the air. To maintain this polish, especially for statues exposed outside, they would have been constantly maintained by polishing and waxing.

The connection between Dionysos and Hephaistos is known in Greek mythology usually attributed to Dionysos being the liberator of the labourers’ burden. According to myth the two gods enter Olympus together, but I believe their relationship goes further with this connection between bees and bronze. As mentioned these substances used in bronze-making have an interconnected back-and-forth affinity. On top of that, the process of bronze making is similar to that of the production of mead: benign substance from bee hives, transference into container, heat, holy transformation (rebirth). Indeed it can be argued that the mould of the statue is as the swaddling clothes of gods, in both function and appearance.

In Delphi there is a legendary artefact called the Omphalos. It is a carved domed stone said to be the same stone that Rhea fooled Kronos with when he was eating his own children and made to appear like the swaddling clothes of Zeus. The Delphi oracle presided over this stone when giving her prophecies and it was kept as a holy symbol as the centre of the world. It appears just like a mould used for casting bronze statues. Also like a mould, the Omphalos is hollowed out. We don’t know for sure what religious purpose the stone served, but I speculate based on the idea of the korykos, that it was a vessel that held the blood of the gods in the form of alcohol. This is further evident in other cultures that still maintain Omphaloi, such as the one found in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which in appearance has evolved into a cup or grail. 6

Omphalos (left) Moulds after firing (right)

Further, the stone is often directly related to a hive, and the priestesses of Delphi who presided over the Omphalos, when giving prophecy, were called the Delphic Bee. 7 The Homeric Hymn IV to Hermes hints at bees, prophecy, since it states that Apollon learnt the art of bird prophecy from Bee Maidens: Melaina, Kleodora and Daphnis and grants their gifts to Hermes:
“But I will tell you another thing, Son of all-glorious Maia and Zeus who holds the aegis, luck-bringing genius of the gods. There are certain holy ones, sisters born — three virgins gifted with wings: their heads are besprinkled with white meal, and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassus. These are teachers of divination apart from me, the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honey-comb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak truth; but if they be deprived of the gods’ sweet food, then they speak falsely, as they swarm in and out together. These, then, I give you; enquire of them strictly and delight your heart: and if you should teach any mortal so to do, often will he hear your response — if he have good fortune. Take these, Son of Maia, and tend the wild roving, horned oxen and horses and patient mules.” 8

In Samothracian Mysteries we see the three gods Apollon, Dionysos and Hephaistos come together with their association of the Korybantes, a group of armoured warriors that protected Zeus as a child. There also seems to be a parallel with the birds myth mentioned above with the honey thieves.
The Korybantes are shown clad in armour and dancing, clanging and bashing their shield and sword to drown out the cries of the babe. Their dance is an integral part of the mysteries. Bees have a unique method of communication that involves dancing and buzzing their wings, often to communicate an alert to defend the hive… are the Korybantes the bees of Zeus?

Strabo 9 claims that the Korybantes are made up of separate groups of the sons of Hephaistos and Apollon. Details of the Samothracian Mysteries are sketchy, at best, but the sons of Hephaistos are the Kabeiroi (Cabiri), ecstatic dwarves often depicted as satyr-like daimons in the act of making and consuming wine. They are talented smiths that grant blessings to sailors, as well as the caretakers and guardians of the phallus of Dionysos-Zagreus after he is dismembered by the Titans.

It is at the Samothracian Mysteries that the founders of Thebes, Kadmos and Harmonia, met and later wed. Their most renowned daughter is Semele, the mother of the Olympian Dionysos, but Autonoë is also of interest as she was married to Aristaios (Aristaeus), the son of Apollon and the first cultivator of bees.

As with many agriculture heroes that invented and taught the mysteries of cultivation, there are differing myths of how Aristaios domesticated bees. In the theme of this article the most interesting story begins with his natural hives being destroyed by an irate Orpheus after the death of his wife. Aristaios, unhappy that he lost his hives approached the Delphic prophetess for guidance, and she said that he would find bees and honour on the island of Ceos. Aristaios followed her advice and arrived on the island to discover the natives suffering a terrible pestilence. The hero set aside his quest for bees and helped the people by honouring Zeus Ikmaios and the Dog Star, Sirius. He sacrificed bulls to both gods and from their flesh came tamed bees and honey that healed the people of Ceos and brought the cool winds and rain, thereby inventing the New Year festival dedicated to domesticated bees at the rising of Sirius. 10

This is just a minor sample of the nuances of the interwoven tapestry of honey in myth and serves a point to demonstrate that a substance many consider common and mundane was actually part of a rich and complex narrative that resonated with peoples’ identities and faith.
Although what we know of myth is just a fraction of what was told in the past, we are the first people in history to have a compiled database of stories from these people. We have access to hundreds (if not thousands) of unforgotten tales that hint at the nature of the human psyche which allows us to empathise with our ancestors and grasp at their knowledge of nature and the divine. It is through these myths that we can find hints at the mysteries and re-establish what has been forgotten.


A special thank you to Emily Kamp for her constructive criticism and Linda Spencer for the use of her photos.


1 Ovid, Fasti III 736

2 Kerényi, Dionysos, 38

3 Kerényi, Dionysos, 31

4 Kerényi, Dionysos, 30-31

5 Kerényi, Dionysos, 45:

“The cave was called Korykion antron, “cave of the leather sack” – the most famous of all those places in and outside the Greek world that were named after the korykos, the container for liquids used in fermenting honey and, as we have seen, associated with a Cretan cave of Zeus.”

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%9F%D1%83%D0%BF_%D0%B7%D0%B5%D0%BC%D0%BB%D0%B8.jpg

7 Kerényi, Dionysos, 49 via Pindar, Pythia IV 60

8 Homeric Hymns, Trans. By H. G. Evelyn-White, IV. To Hermes.

9 Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 20 – 22 Trans. Jones

10 Kerényi, Dionysos, 39



Fig1: Bronze being poured in moulds at my art school, credit: Linda Spencer, used with permission.
Fig2: Left:  “Omphalos in Delphi archeologic museum” credit: Юкатан, 2009 CC licence.

Right: Fired moulds being removed from kiln, credit: Linda Spencer, used with permission.


The Gifts of Hephaestus

(This is a republished article originally written August 2014)

Vulcan by Herman Wilhelm Bissen, 1838

Hephaestus is often an overlooked god of amongst contemporary Polytheists. Maybe it’s because his attributes are given to metal smithy, which is no longer a popular profession, or maybe because he is simply an unattractive god compared to the others of the Olympian pantheon, or could it be he is just too busy to communicate with new followers? I’m not sure.  However I find him as a major mover in the Greek mythos, often the cause of problems that mortals struggle with.

As a professional metal worker, mould maker, sculptor – I find myself naturally attracted to the god. Metal working is a type of mystery magic and has always been associated with alchemy and shamanism – even today there are some shamanistic cultures that see it as direct magic and why not? Metal working in itself is turning solid basic elements into liquids and transforming them into objects. Craftsmen in general literally shape the gods and create their features. They also create things like pots to cook food in, jewels for marriage and proof of worth, tools to sow the earth, swords and armour to conquer etc. Industry is magic, it fosters civilisation and brings us closer to the divine. Mystical metals like gold and mercury, power our computers, our heating, cooking and lighting today. In no other time have we been so completely surrounded by the Gifts of Hephaestus.

The Gifts of Hephaestus. Interesting idea, I suppose one of the best things to do is explain myth in summary. Greek mythology has no canon text, it is an oral story that was shared by different people at different times that was later embellished by authors. So there are many variants of the same story. Here is my summery of the Gifts.

Hephaestus by Wayne McMillan and Markos Gage, 2006

Commonly Hephaestus was born from Hera alone, after Zeus gave birth to Athena.  When Hera saw her child she was disgusted at his ungodly features and threw him from Olympus. He fell on the island of Lemnos and became crippled but was cared for and raised by the Cyclops who taught him the art of metalworking and fostered his natural talents.

As he grew he conceived  a means to take revenge on his mother. Crafting a beautiful golden throne and sent it to Olympus. Hera was so impressed by the craftsmanship of the throne she upon it without thinking, only to discover herself stuck. The gift was a curse. Distressed Zeus called for help from the gods to free his wife with reward of Aphrodite’s hand in marriage. But none of the gods could free Hera. The only god that could free her was Hephaestus, but he refused to help.
Dionysus arrived at his forge and got the smith drunk – placed him on a donkey and took him to Olympus. In the presence of the gods the smith complied to their wishes and released Hera. Dionysus gave his reward (Aphrodite) to the smith and both he and Dionysus became Olympians gods.

Aphrodite was not too keen on being married to a lame and ugly god and soon had an affair with the war god Ares. Hephaestus found out about their union and ensnared them in a trap, he brought them naked before the gods for judgement but they just laughed at his plight. He was not redeemed for their crimes and so instead sort vengeance on the offspring of their union…

Harmona was consummated in the illegitimate union. In the spinning thread of fate she met Cadmus at the mysteries of Samothrace – a mystery cult often attributed to Hephaestus as father of the Cabeiri- they fell in love and were wedded with the blessing of the gods. Hephaestus gave a gift to Harmona, a magical necklace that maintained the beauty of youth, but like many of Hephaestus’ gifts  it was cursed.
Cadmus was exiled from his homeland and after a prophecy followed a cow into the plains of Boeotia and established the city of Thebes. This land was sacred to Ares and guarded by a dragon, which Cadmus killed. The dragons blood forever marked his family with miasma and even penance to Ares for eight years never cleansed the taint he had brought on his family and city. Cadmus and Harmona had five children one being Semele, she was given the necklace and was unintentionally killed by Zeus, but also gave birth to Dionysus (note the chronological paradox.)

After this event Cadmus abdicates from ruling and gave his throne to his grandson Pentheus – while Harmona passed her necklace to her daughter and mother of Pentheus – Agave. Pentheus refused to recognise his cousin Dionysus as a god and was torn apart by his mother and sisters in bacchic madness. Those involved depart the city in exile – Cadmus and Harmona became snakes to be free of their miasma and live a final life on earth before ascending.

In later generations of the Cadmus family line the necklace is worn by Jocasta, Queen of Thebes – wife to Laius. After an ill-fated prophecy of their son – killing his father and marrying his mother – his parents abandoned him on the mountain and pinned his feet. Like Hephaestus, Oedipus was abandoned and crippled (Oedipus means “swollen foot.”)  Oedipus was saved by a shepherd and raised to adulthood by the king and queen of Corinth until he came to adulthood and heard the same prophecy as his original parents did. He thought it related to his Corinthian parents and went into self-exile, becoming an adventurer. In his travels he killed an ingrate noble and defeated the sphinx that had been terrorising Thebes. He was hailed as a hero and rewarded with the queens hand in marriage after the strange murder of king Laius. . .

Do you see where this going? The mounting miasma from necklace continues on and on until the city of Thebes is totally destroyed. The vengeance of Hephaestus is perhaps the most complex and everlasting of all the gods curses and directly influences human lives. Its effects ripple throughout civilisation and history. It is a pure analogy of technology. We are saturated with his gifts, his genius magic improves our lifestyle but at what cost?

Kaveirian skyfos with a procession towards the temple of Cabeiri from Thebes, late 5th, early 4rth century B.C http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com/post/82021731674/athens-archaeological-museum-a-collection-of
Kaveirian skyfos with a procession towards the temple of Cabeiri from Thebes, late 5th, early 4rth century B.C

I hinted at mystery side of Hephaestus. The Samothracian mysteries focused around deities called the Cabeiri. It unknown who these gods were, or even if they had names, depending on time their associations are mixed with other deities of Greece, sometimes they are eastern in origin. Some say they are twins who presided over orgiastic dances that honoured Demeter, Persephone and Hecate. They are the metalworking sons of Hephaestus that aided sailors, blessed because they helped in the recovery of the phallus of Zagreus.
Their mysteries were orgasmic with connection to the Kuretes – ecstatic soldiers that dance with clashing shields and armour, their identities hidden by their helmets. These same deities are said to have protected both Zeus and Zagreus-Dionysus in birth.
This mystery cults appears to have changed over time but it seemed have particular empathise on Hephaestus and Dionysus. In some Samothracian illustrations the Cabeiri appear almost dwarf or satyr like with grape vines – crashing and making wine. The mysteries migrated and were honoured in Thebes and elsewhere. In Sicily there was a similar cult, the Palici – dedicated to twin volcanic geysers. This cult was an early abolitionist cult. The Palici, like the Cabeiri are either the sons or grandsons of Hephaestus that offer liberty to slaves.

Lets move on: Fire!

As I write I just lit my cigarette with a lighter. A simple gesture and I have a lit smoke. We forget that fire is sacred. In primitive cultures it was either taken from trees lit by Zeus or after some hard work. Ever made fire from sticks? It’s tough and a skill that takes a long time to master.
It is a mystery and still is today, with Boy Scouts often using it as a simple initiation with rewards of badges and rank.
Some myth claim that Prometheus stole fire from the forge of Hephaestus and gave it to man. From there man moved from living in caves to building cities. Fire is the impetus of industry. In metal working it is a key component of transforming metals. Without fire we cannot refine metal from stone nor make it malleable to make into the shapes we want.


In metalworking you learn quite a bit about fire, it burns. Also you learn it’s limitations and develop a relationship that allows you to control it. Seeing molten metal is mesmerizing. It is actually difficult to explain the sensation of being it’s presence – let alone handling it. The heat is overwhelming, you feel it through the protective gear as it clings to your body with your hairs standing on end as if being prepared to be cooked. Handling it is intense, any mistake can bring doom and most of the time it is done in a group. It is a social experience with everyone relying on each other’s expertise to fulfil the task. I cannot speak for everyone but I personally find it to be a mystical experience.

The chthonic side of Hephaestus is fascinating too. Where does metal and gems come from? In early times it may have been possible to discover pure gold ore on the surface, but that time has mostly gone. To find ore – especially those of high erosion- we must dig. Mining is still one of the most dangerous occupations today, collapse, gas leaks, suffocation… But imagine primitive man entering caves with fire and mining at vein only for it to burst into flame for no apparent reason. In Hades domain his jewels are difficult to acquire without forever becoming a member.
Caves have often been a place for initiation or mysteries and for obvious reasons, darkness is mystery. Before Prometheus stole the flame from Hephaestus humans lived in caves, but accordingly if they were without fire they had no means to ventured far into the cave. Fire solved the mystery of our natural abodes, it showed us the gems and gold further into the caves. It melted the soft elements for us to use as tools or decorate ourselves with. So Hephaestus brings these secrets to life, he forms our intellect as we form his metal.

To create alloys one must combined base elements together. Bronze was an alchemical achievement as it was difficult to produce in ancient times, once mastered however it was far superior to any other metals like iron or copper, bronze swords could break copper ones, even primitive iron would break against bronze, not only that, when polished it has a semblance to gold, making it a sort after metal by sculptors.
Greeks had an abundance of copper, but to create bronze they required tin, which is relatively rare element in the Mediterranean.  However there are alternatives to harden copper, such as arsenic. Long term low level exposure to arsenic creates crippling tumours and deformities to the feet, hands and face.  So the followers of Hephaestus would had actually appeared like the god.
Mercury is considered a magical metal ( apart from being a liquid at room temperature) it has the unique ability to transform metals like gold and aluminium from solid to liquid back to solid (amalgamation). It also has the ability to turn the human brain into a liquid too. ‘Mad as a hatter’ was a condition illustrated by Lewis Carroll but a serious issue in the development of industry. Hatters were exposed to mercury when creating felt. Today some gold mining companies use mercury to extract gold from rock. This is an extremely dangerous processes  that creates high levels of toxic gases and acids and was most likely used by ancient metal smiths for the same reasons. Apart from causing madness mercury also deforms the skin.
Then lead is another common element used by metalworkers. Like mercury it has similar effects on the body including deformities, mental and behaviour issues and blindness.  There is a couple of theories why Cyclops are the smiths of Zeus before Hephaestus, one being that blacksmiths were tattooed with cycle on their forehead and another is that blindness was a common occupational hazard. Either from metals being used or from the flame itself. So we see that the class of labourers in ancient times would have been visually apparent, their behaviour too would had been erratic and easy to anger, they would had been deformed outcasts but still essential to the development of civilisation.

Hephaestus today

Thanks for health and safety protocols, advancements in industry and medicine, these ailments are no longer as much as an issue as ancient Greece. But as I mentioned in the intro we are surrounded by the god. Respecting Hephaestus is realising our environment and the devices of his domain. There is a tendency for polytheists to be more nature loving and concerned about environmental issues. This is admirable and valid, however few see the importance of industry within these circles. Since the advent of the internet and raise of the digital age there has been massive boom towards alternative faiths and pagan nature religions. Communication, industry, technology has brought us all together but it’s easy to forget to marvel at the technology behind the screen that you are reading right now. This is the gift of Hephaestus and like all his gifts they are dual formed. Even if we as not a metalworkers nor have an intimate relationship with the deity, we should never forget his dominance over our lives.

To Hephaistos
Incense: Powdered Frankincense

Powerful and strong-spirited Hephaistos,
Unwearying fire that shines in the gleam of flames,
God, bringing light to mortals, mighty-handed, eternal artisan.
Worker, cosmic part and blameless element,
Highest of all, all-eating, all-taming, all-haunting, ether, sun, stars, moon and pure light.
For it is a part of Hephaistos all these things reveal to mortals.
All homes, all cities and all nations are yours,
And, O mighty giver of many blessings, you dwell in human bodies.
Hear me, lord, as I summon you to this holy libations,
That you may always come, gentle, to make work a joy.
End the savage rage of untiring fire,
Since, through you, nature itself burns in our bodies.

Translation by Apostolos N. Athanassakis

Van Gogh, Art and the Afterlife

Winter this year my city played host to an awesome collection of Van Gogh’s “seasonal paintings”. It should be noted that the collection was curated, i.e. arranged, to fit theme of seasons. This is kinda duh, but “people” often come from these shows thinking that it was a conscious choice of the artist… Anyway, suffice to say it was a beautiful collection and one of the rare times I did appreciate the curatorship.

Van Gogh is one of those artists that does not really fit within art movements or categories. We may class him as an “Post-Impressionist”, but he was actually and Outsider Artist. I make this statement as when one reads his letters, and views his art it is apparent that he was not motivated by a philosophical concept to produce art, (although there were influences), but more so for personal endeavours. Van Gogh, in thought and actions was animist and nature loving, he sort a place in nature whereas the human construction of the world, i.e. society, he rejected – more precisely it rejected him.

Plus that with the fact that Van Gogh is one of the very few artists that imbued his art with his spirit, or Ka, in a pagan sense. When I view his art, in person, I’m sensorial overwhelmed by his presence, to the point that I find myself sick, emotional, inspired all at once – he has brought me to tears many times. It can take me sometime to process his art, especially with a mass exhibit like The Seasons Show.

That’s one of the things that really bothers me with these shows. They are so big, not just in the manner they are curated, but the sheer mass of attendance. We had to line up for two and half hours to get in, they closed entrance to the show at 3PM two and half hours before gallery closing time. There would had been between one to two hundred shuffling around these sacred paintings. On top of that is the murmuring whispers and sometimes loud opinions of the dickheads looking at these paintings with absolutely no knowledge or impact to their souls. An example would be this painting I was enjoying:

While I was having a legitimate emotional experience I had to suffer the echoing words of some white middleclass woman saying “Oh how beautiful! I love the colours!” I seriously bit my tongue at her words, but I did turn around and looked her in the eyes with my characteristic death stare. The above painting is not beautiful, well not in the sense she was saying. This is an image of death. It should be disturbing, it should evoke emotions of emptiness, sadness, humility.

“You need to get over your bullshit expectations of mankind!” A quote from my partner, Wayne.

All of this brings me to the whole point of this post. Art is always in the eye of the beholder, we experience it in different ways. While I do consider myself a better, in being able to actually understand the painting, I don’t have a right to expect that from the woman. If she can only see it on a superficial and basic level of her misguided conception of beauty, i.e., prettiness, and colour, then that is all she is going to take from the image. I find that sad, but that’s that.

This brings me to the afterlife. Often times I’m questioned about my views on the afterlife, what do I believe, what happens to our souls?

As I have actually witnessed it, I personally know what will happen to me in the afterlife, but I cannot guarantee that for others. Why? Because I strongly suspect that the afterlife is what we make it in life. Like my ability to view art, I have a lifetimes experience with art. I’m entrenched in it, surrounded by it, my knowledge of art is immeasurable because it is my life. Likewise I’ve been surrounded by death, not the death that is socially understood, but a unique path of death that I have learnt for a good portion of my life and that has been shown to me.

If all one can see of death is pretty colours though, the experience will be totally different, therefore I leave the afterlife, what it is, to you and only you to decide for yourself. Ultimately I do not answer such questions about the afterlife because of this belief, that is all I have to say on that matter.

Queer Pagan Men Australia

The Wild Hunt recently published a column on Queer Pagan Men Australia (QPMA). I’m happy to say I attended their last meet up in September. I just came off the arse end of another mental breakdown (yeah, it’s a continued problem) and was heavily doped up on sedatives, but it was nice to chat and get some insight into the goals of the group. Especially with goals of moving offline and in person, also setting up groups interstate too.

It was a pleasure to meet Buck Agrios (of whom is one of the few in Australia who calls themselves a Dionysian). Also Ryan McLeod – I really appreciate the passion he has for paganism.

Overall I’m really excited by the plans and I hope to be more involved in future projects.

I stole photo from Instagram, (source)

The Bacchic Martyrs and Initiation Anniversary

On the 7th of October I celebrated the Feast of the Bacchic Martyrs, this festival is celebrating the devotees of Dionysos that have been killed for their religious beliefs. (Dionysians were persecuted well before Christians.) I cannot describe the day in detail because, frankly, I can’t remember.  I was so heavily entranced that my actions were not my own and guided by someone else. With limited resources (as in money) I managed to craft my first thyrsos, admittedly a lot of it is made of artificial plants, but I see a ritual meaning of plastic as it is the ultimate dead thing. The thyrsos being a symbol of life and death, seems pretty fitting. Ironic even.

I also dressed formally as Δ the festival falling roughly in the same month of confirmations of initiation as The Dionysian Artist back in 2015.

I finished the Feast with a basic but delicious vegetarian pasta dish, a plate of  which was given at a crossroads by a funeral home I live next too. (Yeah, a funeral home is my neighbour, little wonder why I come in contact with the dead so often.)

Here are some photos that were *permitted* to be shared of the days activities.

The Wild Hunt Fundraiser

I’m very supportive of The Wild Hunt (TWH) and have been for many years. It is the only online, free, ad-free, non-profit Pagan News organisation, run by pagans for pagans. For better or worst it is a place within this vast internet where pagans have a voice that is officially recognised. Right now they running their annual fundraiser.

In support, my partner Wayne and I made a promotional video for the fundraiser. We tried to keep it lighthearted and slapstick… 😛 Please support the community that supports you.

The times I’ve been banned on facebook have all been unjust (FUCK FACEBOOK)

If there is one thing I despise on a personal and spiritual level it is censorship. Dionysians have an ancient track record of being banned and censored. Pythagorean/Orphic texts were banned very early, the persecution of Dionysians by Romans in 186BCE and the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus. Hell, one of our most important text/plays is The Bacchae by Euripides about an impious king attempting to suppress and censor Dionysos himself.

With facebook, banning increase in length the more often they occur. I’m now on 7 day bans, which will increase to 30 days until my account will be permanently deactivated. I mostly use facebook to mentor and chat with fellow polytheists and for sharing our artwork, my posts are mostly tame, inane or educational.

Anyway, here is a list of times I’ve had my account blocked on facebook, each time was for no reason, and all fits within FB TOS.


October 23 2016
I was banned for sharing a photo of a “Modern Maenad“.  I originally shared the photo in 2012. I shared it as a response of politicising ancient symbols in the now, as it is an image protesting Greek austerity. It was taken by Dimitris the Athens and published throughout the internet, including facebook, and in magazines and newspapers.

Photo by Dimitris the Athens


In 13th of May 2017 I was interviewed by the largest pagan news organisations The Wild Hunt. (By the way they have their yearly fundraiser going now!) For reasons which were never explained I was banned from facebook for sharing the article on my wall… I strongly suspect this was direct assault upon my religious beliefs.


The latest banning begun on the 10th of October 2017. With my partner being banned for three days, I protested to facebook staff about the removal of the image and they apologised and restored it on my wall, I reposted the image, after they approved it, and I was banned for 7 days. (I wrote about the symbolism of the Manticore and my interpretation of the images here.)

The Manticore eating a Woman, By Wayne McMillan

I find the excuse of algorithms and bot moderation by Facebook to be bullshit for these bans. This is a direct assault on my freedoms of speech, expression and religion as implied in the Australian Constitution and the universal rights granted by the UN Charter, which my country agrees to and applies. Facebook is breaching universal laws that are directly affecting my business, my reputation, my religious practice – including mentoring. These blocks are causing personal harm in the form of depression and harming my mental health.

After my ban is over, I’m going to limit my use of the platform and reserve it to mostly use it just to private chat to my students. (Why people refuse to use email or read my blog nowadays is puzzling to me!?) Anyway, I might be more present on other platforms that do not have such outrageous, ethically and legally unjust rules and regulations.

My email: markos.gage@gmail.com

My twitter handle: @DionysianArtist

My tumblr: https://dionysianartist.tumblr.com

I have Instagram but don’t like it much, plus it is owned by facebook. My handle is markos.gage

Update of the Update of Facebook Censorship.

Okay… WTF?!?

As with previous posts an artwork done by my partner was removed and he was blocked for three days. I contested the removal of the image and facebook approved the image as it fits into community standards.

So I reposted the image along side the screen shoot and within minutes I got this:

So I’m now blocked for 7 days. To my knowledge they will not remove blocks even if it is in the wrong.

I’m about ready to fuck off facebook altogether. It’s a fucking useless platform.

On the Manticore

Sleeping Manticore, By Wayne McMillan

A Manticore literally means “Man-Eater” from early Persian and found a place in Greece/Roman mythos from various authors such as Aristotle, Pausanias, Pliny the Elder. Pausanias logically relates the Manticore to the Tiger, and really, given the reputation as hunting men and other predators and the intelligence of the tiger, it makes complete sense.

The Manticore makes a perfect monster, why? It embodies every fear of man, the lion, the scorpion and any other mix of terrible creatures, but nothing is more fearful than our fellow man, the face of the Manticore. The monster is humbling and a reminder that nature is a greater force than the human condition and the human is part of nature.

The images Wayne has created are to me, humbling. Both the male and female versions are frightening and disturbing, but that is what we need to see. Too often we put up these fantasies that we are above nature, that we rest within safe zones. This only serves to increase our fears of pain and death, to be confused when we actually experience what it is to be an animal. We shy from natural forces, when, at any time, the Manticore can strike us.

Censored from FB: Wayne’s Manticores

My partner Wayne is doing a series of Manticores, some are freaky and graphic, but still fall within realms of art. He describes them as satire, akin to something seen by Goya. Anyway something I want to make clear:

  1. Facebook posting policy, TOS, allows artistic representation of graphic subjects and nudity.
  2. These images are obviously artistic.
  3. The pictures are fantastic and related to mythology.
  4. The images are deliberately drawn in a non-realistic, cartoon-like fashion.
  5. The picture in question (The Female version) was banned for “sexual violence”, sexual intercourse usually requires two humans. A Manticore is not human, it is a monster. Their names literally mean “Man Eater”.

For your viewing pleasure, I proudly post them here.

Art Wank Questions (extended)

“Shit Rock” by Odd Nerdrum 2001

Doing street art is difficult, while I do enjoy it, sometimes it really gripes me. So I woke up today with questions that have been asked of me while I work on the street. Now, at the time I’m usually focused on art and in a mindstate that is unable to eloquently respond to these questions. Being in a mood today I wrote down a series of questions and my wishful responses (Originally posted on facebook.) I’ve put them here and also included an additional question, not asked on the street – yet asked a lot in the art world.

Art Wank Question No. 1: Are pastels drawing or painting?

Me: I don’t fucking care! If I was forced down and interrogated via torture though, I would have to say it depends on the application of pastels. When one looks at what makes a pastel. it’s actually no different from any other paint, it just lacks a medium to make it sloppy. So you can draw with it (just as you can draw with ink or acrylics) or you can paint with it (just as you can paint with ink or acrylics). My application of pastels is in layers, purposely designed to be built up. Sometimes between 2 to 10+ layers of pastel. Therefore I categorise *my* use of pastel as painting. But I use drawing/painting interchangeable because I DON’T CARE.

Art Wank Question No. 2: Is what I do on the street “Craft” or “Art”?

Me: I love Ancient Greece and look back to it a lot. They had no definition between a craftsman or an artist. The whole conception of an artist is very European and not really seen in other cultures, throw modern art theory into the mix… and boy… do you get a lot of pretentious philosophical bullshit. Like seriously… have you read the shit they say? I have, and I feel like doing a turd on their fucking faces after reading that blubbering diarrhoea.
A lot of folk say a reproduction of an artwork is “craft”, but the original is “art”. But I regard them as both. That said, in our case. as street artists and applying wank art theory, Wayne and I are being “artists” because of context of environment. Our street art is a performance, we are performance artists. That does not mean we’re faking it or anything, it means that the act of creating art (be it original or reproduction) is the art itself.

Art Wank Question No. 3: Do you consider your art kitsch?

Me: Okay, big fucking can of worms there, *cunt*. I get your subtle insult and it makes me angry, so I propose an art project: go lay on the tram tracks.
For one, kitsch art is an art movement, with a philosophical –art theory- backing. Do I agree with it? No. But if someone like Odd Nerdrum calls his art “kitsch”, it is (even though I would not regard it as kitsch). Second, I have two views on our art, our original art I do not regard as kitsch, because that is not the intention – in actuality the original art does not fall into modern art theory because it is devotional. But the reproduction art… maybe… it is designed and chosen to please people, however we do choose artworks that we like and will find entertaining for ourselves to reproduce… as art making can be *really* boring.
Anyways, in this Post-post-“Pomo” era, any art can be regarded as kitsch, modern art is old hat now and it got fucked over by Pop-Art and continues to do so ever since. I’ve never seen a contemporary piece which has truly made me feel awe or any emotion, (not even “shock” art) thus I’m pretty jaded towards art. Actually, if there is anything to say about this culture is that it is jaded as fuck. Everyone has the ability to see anything, read anything, do anything – people are over saturated to the point they can’t feel anything. The one fear I have is that Nietzsche will turn out to be a prophet with his “last-man” of nihilism, the cynic in me thinks that’s our next evolutionary step and maybe it should be.

*Bonus* Art Wank Question No. 4: What is an Artist?

Many of my gen are shying away from calling themselves artists, opting for stupid terms like a “creative”, like sit back for a moment and think on that:  *in a dry, stiffy, jaded hipster voice*: “Oh, I am a creative”, how fucking stupid does that sound?! Whatever.

I can’t tell you want and artist is because an artist is someone who calls themselves that. That’s the answer, simple and flat out.

Art is a broad spectrum of topics and subjects. One of the very few things I agree with modern art theory is that anything can be art. On a personal level I think anyone that endeavours to make something is an artist and if they don’t want to call themselves that, or do – fine by me. With The Dionysian Artists of old, not only the actors, writer or the director were considered artists, (craftspeople in their sense, as mentioned above), but everyone was given credit towards the play and named a Dionysian Artist. This echoes in film today with the credit reel including everyone, even the caterers, the drivers, the first aid etc., all of these people are involved in creating the film, which is indisputably a piece of art, thus they are all artists in that sense. This is how art should be viewed and what I encourage with The Dionysian Artist guild today. It’s a matter of altering our way of looking at “what is art”, “what is an artist/craftsman” and fucking respect art.

I think about art a lot, a lot more than other artists. I’ve studied it, read about it and write about it. You know what? I just find it so fucking frustrating that these are serious questions! That books, entire books, are written on these subjects here. Art should be direct, confrontational, without consent. In these moments there should be no thought or questions only awe.