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.

1.Related reading
2.Related reading

Has worship of Dionysos changed in modern times?

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(Image source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Source)

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

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

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

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

Places associated with Dionysos

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Hansueli Krapf, Epidauros (source)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary on Savage Gods and *Niceness* of Dionysos

Artist: Hikaru H Miyakawa
Artist: Hikaru H Miyakawa

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


As the quote is great it merits repeating:

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

~Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult


The Render of Man

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

“Bios, Thanatos, Bios”

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

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

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

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

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


The VVitch

(Warning: Spoilers)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


ancientgreekcostumes
(Image source)

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

 

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

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

Dionysos

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

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

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

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

The Cults of Dionysos and the Theatre of Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Madness and Memory

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

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

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

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

Masks

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

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

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

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

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

Mysteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

Citation and Notes:

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

Special Thanks to:

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

The “C” word

 

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

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

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

The dictionary definition of cult is:

1:  formal religious veneration :  worship

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

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

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

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

b :  the object of such devotion

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

(Source)

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

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

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

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

So how does this actually work?

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

Personal:

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

The Starry Bull:

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

The Dionysian Artists:

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

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

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

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

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

Dionysian Festivals

As mentioned in the introduction Lenaia and Anthesteria* are two major Athenian festivals dedicated to Dionysos. There is also the Dionysia, divided between Rural (Later winter months) and City (after Anthesteria).  Usually the Dionysia would spread throughout Greece, during the spring and summer months. Surrounding towns would celebrate based on their local customs and time. Most often these festivals involved public performance, pomp / processions, plays, coming to age rituals, day of the dead, public drunkenness, vulgar language / insults, feasting, role exchanges between masters and slaves, prisoner pardoning, wine miracles, singing, sacrifice and religious observances and Mystery performance / initiation.

*Lenaia is celebrated between January to February. Anthesteria in February to March. Dates depends on the lunar cycle, likewise for other Hellenic festive dates.

In Italy these festivals are the Bacchanalia (The Dionysia) and the Liberalia (In part a indigenous holiday heavily influenced by Dionysian festivals from Greece).

Nowadays modern Polytheists still practice these rituals, although to a lesser extent to what is recorded in ancient times. Also some of these customs still exist in Greece, between March and May, with phallic processions or dressing in goat skins ringing bells, performed by locals who generally don’t identify as polytheist / pagan.

In my own practice I rarely celebrate festivals. This is in part my location being in the southern hemisphere and festivals never ‘jived’ with my personal practice.

Offerings to Dionysos

shrine

Offerings are interesting and I admit that I think quite philosophically in this department, going into realms that were not regarded by the ancients.

When one brings it down to the basics what constitutes an offering, what is it?

My point of view is that offerings, sacrifice and devotion is expression.

Sometimes this expression involves objects and physical sacrifice, other times it can be as simple as a  breath, spoken word or gesture. But when it comes down to the very foundations of it, it is always an act, an expression. I therefore see offerings as a form of art.

This is one of the core concepts of the Dionysian Artists, (devotional artists). Any act dedicated to the gods is a form of devotional art, thus the devotee giving an offering is an artist. This is a really nuanced philosophy that I go by, but it allows great freedoms of how we engage with the gods. It allows us to respectfully dedicate whatever we can to the gods. The act, by its very nature, is holy.

That aside, the question is about specifics.

Like many aspects of Hellenic polytheism offerings often depend on circumstance. There are everyday offerings typically represent Dionysos in some way like: wine, grains, bread, honey, fruits and flowers, spices, common incense (I prefer pine based oils and Indian style incense.)

Then offerings that may be used during festivals: eggs, meats – especially beef and chicken – resin incense, water, blood (Bloodletting), giving yourself to Dionysos through drunkenness and ecstasy. As mentioned already it depends on the circumstance and intent of the ritual.

Then there are music, art, performance, singing and hymn reading. (Me spending time writing these posts is a form of offering.)

I’m not aware of any general taboos against offerings given to Dionysos.

As a god of foreigners and strangeness I see no problems in offering non-traditional offerings like fruits and veg, spices, incense, modern produce like sweets lollies (candy) etc., not native to Europe or time period. This may be regarded as ‘UPG’, but makes perfect sense to me.

So the skies the limit!