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.

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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.
(3)

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)

Sources:

1 Richard Seaford, Dionysos; 90

2 Section 3: Ancient Greek Comedy, Chapter 8: Early Greek Comedy and Satyr Plays
http://www.usu.edu/markdamen/ClasDram/chapters/081earlygkcom.htm

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

4 Bonnie MacLachlan , Kore as Nymph, not Daughter:Persephone in a Locrian Cave
http://www.stoa.org/diotima/essays/fc04/MacLachlan.html

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
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/livy39.asp

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/
http://thehouseofvines.com/2014/01/27/puppies/

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:
http://buskerhalloffame.com/
http://blog.buskr.com/

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
1888
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.

Sources:

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.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre#Catholicon_and_Ambulatory
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
http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Aristaios.html

 

Images:

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_(Bissen)
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_goatass-d3jqetd
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
(Source)

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.

6555170
(source)

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
(source)

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.

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.

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.

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.

My Miasma Book is Out

Galina’s book on Miasma is out and may be purchased here and here. I’ve contributed towards the book 😉

“Miasma, or spiritual pollution, is a frequently misunderstood concept within contemporary polytheism. While recognized as vitally important to guard against and treat in most traditions, it is nonetheless often ignored or even dismissed as a concern today.

And yet, everything good and solid in our practices begins with purification. It is what prepares us for devotional engagement, for encountering the Holy, for developing discernment, for being a practicing and devout polytheist. We can never hope to properly approach our Gods without taking into account the need for cleanliness in our work.

This book examines the nature and causes of miasma, sets forth the arguments for taking it seriously, and discusses simple and effective methods of cleansing the body, mind and spirit for both ritual and daily life.”

 

Source: My Miasma Book is Out

Concerning The Spirits of Art : A Response

 

Concerning the Spirits of Art by Lo Keen

I’m very excited and pleased to own this cute little booklet by Lo Keen. It addresses something that is rarely mentioned by polytheist and animist artists and also has some strong words of encouragement in the process of creation and honouring our Divine.

Concerning The Spirits of Art is a reply to the artist and art theorist, Wassily Kandinsky, an important figure in modern art that eventually led to art movements like the Dadaist and proclamation of: Art is Dead. The booklet encouraging artists to return back to the roots of our ancestors in which they viewed art, in that art was viewed differently from the secular, ego based understanding of art now. This mirrors my own writing as The Dionysian Artist though I usually go back to Théophile Gautier’s statement of Art for Art’s Sake.

This is a response to Lo Keen’s work, it is not a criticism or review, I just thought I’d contribute to their beautifully written text and offer a slightly nuanced opinion.

First and foremost Keen addresses art from an animist point of view and encourages that we be conscious of how we make art, the origins of our materials and nature of our art. I highly encourage fellow artists to be aware of this also. I do not identify with the Animist title, but do believe it to be inherent in my practice.

It is not lost on me that binders of my paint come from sacred plants, some pigments literally come from sacrificed animal bone, that titanium white is named after spirits that killed and consumed my beloved god. Our brushes are made from hog, badger and horse hair. The glues from skins of animals, and the surface we paint on trees and plants. We make art from The Dead and this must be something we respect in order to not only honour, but control as artists.

It saddens me that nowadays with the mass production of art supplies that artists have lost this link to their materials. It is plainly obvious that the secularism of art came about with the invention of the paint tube. The artist became disconnected from the nature of their materials and instead of inventing their own paints and brushes, simply buy it from the art store. This is one of the reasons why I passionately study the materials I use, make my own tools and mediums. We are dealing with holy objects imbued with their own spirits. This likewise is why I encourage folk to avoid synthetic paints and materials, though, that all said, there is also a magic in synthetic paint with its origins coming from alchemical experiments.

Digital Art

Keen discusses the nature of digital art and its rise. Though not completely discounting of the possibly of its power they caution it from an animist perspective. Here is where I differ, my approach to devotional art making is through deliberate expression, with the nature of this expression being limitless. As long as the process is devotional in nature and conscious of that the value of sacredness cannot be discounted regardless of the medium or even skill proficiency of the divine artist. Apart from that however, I find digital art to be liberating and holy in its nature, this is the first time in history where artists are not inventing an illusion of light in art, but actually manipulating light itself to create art. Light being the most sacred substance to us and often called as the forerunner of creation, the inventor of creation itself. I think Keen’s points on this subject are totally valid, as in digital art relies on fossil fuels to be powered, it is not as intimate as physical mediums, you cannot touch it, grab it and smudge it. But still the process is expression of light, I find this exceptionally powerful.

Miasma in art making, is art making clean?

The booklet briefly explores the notion of ritual purity when making art, this is a topic that has been interesting me for a few months now and I plan to formulate my ideas into a properly structured essay. I believe artists are naturally miasmic creatures by their function, they channel spirits and demons, create divine images and invent illusion. They are magi that make art from The Dead. This is why there are tropes of the mad artists as they must suffer the repercussions of their hubris in making art. Yes, I specially use hubris, because like clowns, artists boarder between the realms of profound and profane. They are forced to deal with this ick, but I encourage embracing it (probably why I’m so damn self-destructive.) This however is the nature of my tradition, other sacred artists DO have strict protocol for cleanliness.

Art as augury.

I was very excited the Keen mentions this subject, as it is something I have dealt with myself. I view divination to be its own art form and one that I’m barred from performing due to my focus upon other arts. This is a personal taboo, I’m unaware if other artists have suffered these same issues?

Ego and Art?

Artists by my definition are naturally egoistical. They have to be in order to have the Will to create, but yes, in the process of art making the artist gets drawn into their own or another’s reality. They are forced to constantly question themselves, “is this the right colour?”, “is this the right brush?”, “is this the right application of paint?”. But artists are also decision makers and they do this by answering all those little questions that go through their head. In time and in practice they enter a ‘zone’ where these questions are eradicated and art making becomes naturalistic. The ego is stripped away and the piece is created – sometimes by another force. This is why I identify as the role Δ when making art and signing it (if I ever do sign my work). But the start of creating art also has to do with ego, so in this I believe it is a balance.

To end this little response I want to thank Lo Keen for this beautiful booklet, it makes a welcome addition to my collection of references to this subject and will be something I will refer to in future writing. I highly recommend that this should be read by others!

One Iconographer to Another

Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa

Over on Facebook I’ve been having a very enlightening discussion with one of the most skilled and extremely sacred living Kemetic iconographers, Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa. This discussion arose from a question:

“Do you have a distinction between an idol and an icon? If so how does this related to your craftsmanship/spiritual practice?”

I followed up my views with:

For me I define an idol to be an object or piece of art that a deity can literally occupy, therefore a devotee who worships the idol is performing ‘idolatry’, as the object is literally the gods body manifest as an object.
An icon is a symbolic representation of the deity, but not literally the deity. It functions more so as foci of the devotees attention towards the god, but not exactly a ‘container’ to which a deity inhabits. In this sense it is not ‘idolatry’ (as defined by monotheists).
I categories my art as *icons* and while it is especially dedicated to the god I’m depicting and a sacred object as devotional art, the interaction of the art is merely human.
This is not to say that god can’t inhabit the artwork – just that is not the intended purpose for creating the work.


Ptahmassu replied via Facebook video:

In brief, Ptahmassu defines his work as icons and cult-images and views his creations as not Art in a modern sense. Instead he regards icons to be what I define as “idols” (a term that is not understood in a Kemetic sense, as this understanding is directly a result of our monotheistic overculture.) The icons/cult-images are therefore sacred vessels for the god the work is dedicated towards. These works are not made for human use or pleasure, it is completely devotional, with strict rules of respect when creating icons.


My response is thus, elaborating on my views of sacred art in my Hellenic understanding and practice:

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I find it very enlightening coming from a similar, but also different religious stance. I’m conscious that my definitions of ‘idol’ versus ‘icon’ is monotheist in origin and found your explanation to be perfect in setting these terms apart / removing it from our language as polytheists. I prefer ‘cult image’ also and likewise use the word ‘cult’ in its proper context. (Often to the suspicious eyes of those I’m talking too 😛 )

I’m especially intrigued (and envious of) your artwork being the embodiment of god/s, and also at the amount of ritual care/purpose that goes into the creation of each piece. I think this is fucking *powerful*, inspirational and beautiful stuff and really can’t equate it to what I believe when creating my religious icons.

From a Hellenic stance I’ve come across mixed ideas, some that touch upon what you discuss: the idea that icon is the embodiment/vessel of a god, others view it as a representation.
For myself I consider my art to be representations. This does not discount that it is spiritual in nature, (the creation is expressional devotion in its act alone), nor do I deny the possibility of a god inhabiting the icon, but the primary function of the image is just that, an image.
At various times, in various cults, in various cultures the Greeks had different ideas. Especially latter during Roman occupation there are examples of cultic images being “recycled” and even defaced to fit into a new cult. Also examples of the pantheistic aesthetic of the gods with the Greeks, i.e, icons having similar features, expect for key symbols. This concept leads me to believe that overall, in a Greek sense, icons were regarded as representation and thus can be appropriated by the devotee, therefore this opens different doorways to understanding the ‘art’.

Nevertheless, I do regard my work as holy in its own terms. What defines it as “devotional art” is the intention of the artist, not the viewers expected or non-expected reaction to the piece. I also regard the artwork to be created and owned by the god I dedicate it towards. I *strongly* encourage that those that buy/commission the our art to recognise that they are mere custodians of the icons, not owners. However I acknowledge that this is totally out of my hands once the artwork is sold.

Anyway, thank you again for illuminating me on your views. I really admire your devotion and craft!


To which Ptahmassu continued:

you’re very welcome, and actually, I’m the grateful one because it really never happens that I get the opportunity to connect iconographer to iconographer, or share my ideas with other sacred artisans.

I think the rekindling or revival of Polytheistic iconography is a vital part of the overall restoration of our ancient Polytheisms. Cult, offering, sacrifice, prayer, the Holy Crafts / Arts; these ALL need revival in our communities and movements. God-images / cult images are central to Polytheism. They are the method we have inherited from our ancient Ancestors for directly communing with our Gods. The tradition of God-images goes right back to the beginning of spiritual life on our planet; but unfortunately, the Abrahamic faiths have done their level best to strip away our living connection with the living Gods by destroying and prohibiting Their images. What we can do now to counter this is create and sanctify as many holy images as possible, and retrain craftspeople in the ancient arts of God-making and the cult of images. These activities are the greatest weapon we have against the oppressive ideologies inherent to monotheism. They are also our path to engaging our Gods in the most immediate and visceral way possible.

If I may brave an opinion here. I do think what you and Wayne McMillan are doing is very similar, if not the same, as what I am doing. You may be operating within the Hellenic tradition, which certainly has many differences from Kemeticism, but the sacred spirit of your endeavors shines forth as being a direct gift from the Gods, and in my view, the Gods are living through your work. Your intentions are holy, and your heart is enthused with the living mythos of living Gods. This makes what you accomplish a vehicle for the Gods to manifest in the tangible world, and never let anyone tell you differently. From a cultic standpoint, any image of a deity that receives veneration and offerings can become a living cult image. That’s why we must be careful when we show devotion to an image; because the deity in question can and will walk in to that image in order to receive what is being offered. From that moment on, the image ceases to be an image, and is a living sacred reality, a reservoir of the Holy Powers.

You are precisely right in stating that those who commission or purchase God-images are not owners, but rather custodians only, and have been entrusted with the care of that deity from a cultic and devotional perspective. The Gods are not archetypes. They are not merely energy, nor are They simply different names of a faceless universal power or god. The Gods are each individual personalities and powers, seperate from the Creator God (s), and They each have specific tastes and qualities to Their manifestations. Cult images serve to display those colors and qualities within the material world; They make the material spiritual. They make the inanimate animate. They make the mundane holy. When a cult image is assumed by a patron, that patron has the sacred responsibility of caring for that deity as if it were their own child. A cult image is part of a contract between the human and divine worlds. You never, never create and activate / awaken a God-image and neglect its cultic care. Daily prayers must be offered, the image must be fed through the sustenance of the cult. People who fail to satisfy these are punished, and often severely, and those who claim ownership of divine images while also neglecting them are guilty of hubris in the most profound sense, and are likewise deserving of divine displeasure and punishment. The Ancients knew this, and acted accordingly. Those who commission cult images or icons can never own them. You cannot own a God! You can only invite a God to the table of fellowship and reciprocal offering via the sincere actions of the cult, through personal devotional acts, and through sacrifice. The image is a conduit, but it is also much more than that. It is not a mere peg or symbol of the deity, but IS the deity in the flesh, in the material aspect of its presence, thus cannot be owned or had claims made upon it. True God-images or icons can never be owned. They can only be loved and adored, and that relationship cherished for the divine gift that it is 


My partner Wayne also added to the discussion, he comes from a completely different stance altogether:

Yeah we have a large drawing of the Toys of Dionysus hung in our hallway and there is this very scary feeling I get whenever I pass it and I’ve had nightmares and stuff since it’s been hanging there. I don’t know the right language to use, except that it’s a very real and eerie presence. The cat likes it, too, as I mentioned elsewhere and watches it and I’m always suspicious with animals on how knowing they are. When I draw or paint I am aware of a presence, and I get a lot of like… ‘spiritual backlash’ which I attempt to like… suck up and put back into the work. This is different than simply suffering for your art, and can quite easily make you go mad, which isn’t a bad thing all the time but more like a transition of understanding and focus, as in like initiation. I don’t come from any traditions, so this is how I personally go about figuring out stuff.


And now I’m going to toot my high-horse. This is what HEALTHY polytheistic discussion looks like. Two artisans, different traditions, different views, mutual respect. Undoubtedly we have the same goals and intention in mind when creating our art, just our beliefs and philosophies are slightly nuanced.

Anyway, this has been a fascinating discussion and one that I feel is much needed. My thanks to Ptahmassu.

Clowns: Creatures of Profound and Profane

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Lasse Beischer in character (source)

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

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

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

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

Satyr Plays and Classical Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

And

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle Comedy and New Comedy

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

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

Commedia dell’arte

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

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

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

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

Pierrot and Harlequin by Cézanne (source)

The Modern Clown and rise of Fear

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

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

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

Gacy as Pogo (source)

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

Coulrophobia

(source)

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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


1 2 3 4

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

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

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

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

5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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My Gods Scare Me

(source and also a fantastic article)

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

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

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

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

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

Dionysos and Pan.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

A god of paradoxes.

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

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

Why? Why worship a god that scares me?

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

(source and also a fantastic article)

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They can destroy the temples, but not the Holy Mountains

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

 

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

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

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

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

This is a revelation that been told to me before…


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

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

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

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

Sleep returned.


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Shock of the Old and the Mysteries of Decorum

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

Cock and Bull – Damien Hirst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Dionysian Apoliticism

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

(source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Theatre and the Divine

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

(source)

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Dona’ria Technitai to Madonnari to Modern Pavement Artists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern pavement Artist, Francois Pelletier in Paris.

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Cont. The DA Philosophy 1

Dver left a comment on my previous post here.

I believe my reply merits a blog post:

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

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

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

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

The DA Philosophy 1: What is Devotional Art?

“Dionysos” by Δ

What is Devotional Art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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