I awoke this morning to a post by Agathokles Martinios, On the Censorship of Art. His post is a response to a report that the Manchester Art Gallery has removed a painting by John William Waterhouse, “Hylas and the Nymphs”, to highlight the gender issues in our culture…
Where to start?
Okay, lets first look at the myth of the painting… Herakles and Hylas are of the crew of the Argonauts, they come to an island and look for food, Hylas gets entranced by a nymph and is drawn into the water… dying. Hylas is described as being Herakles companion, but in most circumstances with Herakles, he is not simply a companion… but a lover. Herakles is so distraught he abandons the crew of the Argonauts and desperately, and in vain, looks for his lost lover.
In modern telling, this myth can relate to LGBT+. Hylas typically falls in love with the Nymph, thus he abandons his same-sex love for a woman, whereas Herakles still seeks that love. It is Romanic and recognised in the Greek revival of the 1800’s by folk like Oscar Wilde.
In terms of the artist and the painting… I actually know this work very well, I’ve reproduced it with my partner a few times on the street. Waterhouse is a latter 1800’s artist, unfortunately for him he did not have as much success as his predecessors of the Romanic Pre-Raphaelites, however he is interesting as he is representative of a link between the highly polished and Academic works and that of radical contemporaries of his time like the Impressionists. Waterhouse’s art is often left unfinished, murky and with what we regard as impressionistic, comparable to the Pre-Raphaelites. Nevertheless, he remained unpopular in western culture until the late 1990’s where there was a resurgence of popularity of his art… still… his art is not valued as much as his predecessors or contemporaries.
As an artist, Waterhouse is not very interesting. He created quite a number of beautiful pieces, but there is no scandal or indication that he was not anything but a stereotypical Victorian bloke – unlike his predecessors like Millais, Rossetti and Hunt. Any misuse or objectification of the female is that of his time or applied by our contemporary cultural context. (Frankly, it is odd to choose this picture for debate.)
The painting is interesting for myself as when you look at the nymphs, each has the same face, each is the same model and those who have exposed breasts do not have nipples. To me this represents their divine nature, as being something other than human. Thus the fate of Hylas is natural and supernatural, it is not exclusively female.
Now onto my opinion. I have a grave fear for our current culture, what I call “secular puritanicalism” is raising its ugly head. This is a really dangerous road for us.
In a culture that is based upon consumer/disposable/consumer/disposable we hold no value on art. We’re saturated in art, yet we swipe it away on our phones or scroll past it on our computers. We disregarded art in a microsecond. However, before we reached this jaded zeitgeist of thought, art was valued as an object of posterity. All art, regardless of the cultural context placed upon it in the present, is represented of prosperity. What this means is that art does not belong to you, me, or the gallery hosting it. Art belongs to future generations. We *never* have the right to censor art, we *never* have the right to determine “what is art”. That is for the generations of humans to determine until the end of time.
If we are not careful, we will be heading into a new dark age. One not based upon religious ideals, but that of so-called secular ideals of gender inclusiveness. These concepts are of our time, flawed. They are not right in terms of prosperity, in terms of art. To use art created in the past as a point of political argument is immoral, it is appropriation at its lowest.
September 2017 I experienced a rather intense dream of me drawing a massive picture of Lord Shiva on the street. The dream was extensively detailed, for a dream, of what the image should look like, how it should be presented and what aspects I should focus upon.
Four months later I finally have resources to begin this project.
I’m not exactly sure why Shiva has instructed me to do this picture, but I have a very strong feeling it has to do with purification and elevation of myself and the street. A major focus is his poisoned neck (Shiva known as Neelakantha). This suspicion is related to my mental health, which has been out of control for the last year, triggered by The Bourke Street Mall attack on the 20th of January 2017, this event resulted in the murder of people where I work, people died on the same pavement I draw upon. Naturally this intensified my depression and anxiety.
By sheer coincidence, as in I had not planned it and noticed it later, my first day working on The Shiva Street Art Project on the street begun on the 20th of January this year…
Whatever the case, I’ve finally started the project, one I predict will take me a few months to complete.
As per instructions given, I must create a permanent boarder around the whole canvas in red and yellow, with some kind of pronouncement in Devanagari. I’m just calling my source divine inspiration, as I don’t presume, but I am informed that technically this *is* the icon, ie., it is technically finished as Om Namah Shivaya is all that is needed…
So here you can my canvas with the boarder and ॐ नमः शिवाय (Om Namah Shivaya) written at the base in a stylized Lingam. The canvas has been tinted blue with ultramarine blue pure pigment. The canvas size is 230×166 cm (roughly 7.5×5.5 feet).
As for the depiction of Shiva, I am using a pastiche of Hindu iconography. For the main body I have chosen a famous statue from Rishikesh, India. This statue is representative of his ascetic aspects. I’ve been instructed that he must not be totally blue, however his neck *must* be blue with green aspects. Eyes closed, bare chested, two-armed, meditative, sitting on the tiger skin. The cobra must have its head up with hood flared. Ganga is not personified in his hair, but is spouting out of the topknot onto a Lingam on the right, the Trident (Trishula) and drum on the left, with the pot (Kamandalu) at the base. The background is mountainous with the Kailash peak somewhere.
This is my second day progress, I still need to refine his face, but I’m so far happy with the progress.
Day 4 Progress:
These are my references:
So far the most challenging thing is learning more in-depth about Shiva, he is god I’ve known about for a very long time, but never had contact with – until now. I’m also put extra precautions about taboos and conscious about my feet, as I am doing this as a devotional street art project I lay down a protective mat to keep the icon directly off the pavement and I do not walk on or touch the canvas with my feet.
In terms of art, it has been challenging working out his flesh tones. I want him to be ashen, but not completely grey or devoid of colour, nor do I want him to be completely blue. I’m working off a black and white photo so I’m making this up on the spot… I have to be imaginative… I think I’m getting the colour I want though.
When finished, I am willing to donate the icon to a local Hindu temple, if they will accept him.
I hope to keep this blog posted as more progress continues!
The last year felt like I was doing nothing, all the time. Being in a retrospective mood I decided to compile all images Wayne and I completed on the street in 2017. Though mostly reproductions, ’17 was probably our most prolific year.
Late last year I sent out requests for questions of The Dionysian Artists. A modern devotional artist guild and religious cultic tradition I’m attempting to formulate. These are the questions and answers so far. If you have more to add feel free to leave a comment or email me. email@example.com
I also wish to thank everyone who has already asked me questions!
How to develop a relationship?
Like any other relationship it requires respect and honour. Foremost is establishing some kind of cultus (worship), this may be in any kind of religious expression. It could be via art, devotion, sacrifice, offering yourself through drug use, dance, music, ecstatic practice – etc. Dionysos is a god that comes, he is literal epiphany, it just a matter of accepting him and letting him take over. More here
What is the Dionysian Artists?
The Dionysian Artists is a modern guild, mystery cult and polytheist tradition based upon the Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai (Dionysian Artists) of antiquity. The goal is to foster and create devotional art for the gods.
The modern expression of the Dionysian Artists may be abbreviated, shortened or referred to as: The DA, The Artists, The Guild.
To define the ancient guild from the modern, they are always referred to by their Greek to English title of Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai, abbreviated to The DT and referred to as Tekhnitai.
How does the DA foster and create devotional art for the Gods?
In a sense, the DA is a modern art movement that has clear goals of defining “what is devotional art”, that is the public aspect of the cult/guild. The private aspect is exploring the “language” of art, the “transversive” and “manifestive” function of divine art. I’ll explain what I mean by these terms in further posts.
What was the Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai?
It is unknown when the guild was formally established but it is quite possible it existed before the height of classical Athens 400BC with numerous grave stones and heroons commissioned by the guild. It was formally recognised with the Delphi decree of 279 BC. The decree acknowledged the guild and granted unprecedented rights to the artists, allowing them absolute freedoms including: unimpeded travel, freedom from taxation and freedom from imprisonment, freedom from conscription.
The purpose of the guild was to perform for the gods, they were the writers, actors, set designers, anyone involved in the production of plays. The Tekhnitai were the masters and keepers of the theatre, the leaders of the Dionysian festivities and sacred performers of Mystery.
They became an apolitical autonomous intuition unto themselves, a stateless organisation – as such they are often regarded as the first international religious organisation, the first trade union and first international diplomatic mission. To be a member of guild was the highest achievement of an artist and were recognised as being a caste apart from all other social classes, equal to royalty. Due to the liberities and apolticalism of the TA they became diplomats, spies and ambassadors.
The guilds history is often in the background and scattered, but there are references of their existence during the Roman civil war, in the court of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Later Hadrian is recorded making references to their existence. It is safe to assume that the guild continued to exist through the Roman era until the closing of the theatres between 300 to 400 AD.
Are they looked on as Ancestors, guides, teachers, etc.?
Yes, The Tekhnitai and known members are part of the DA pantheon and are given cultus as a whole and as individuals.
What do we know of the Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai and how do the modern DA relate to them?
Although little has been published on them by modern academics, we know a lot of them via graves/ heroons and marble “credit reels” of play productions. They encouraged hero/ancestor cultus and were exceptionally powerful. The modern DA seeks to replicate the original but with the inclusion of modern art philosophy. (More info here and here )
Is the DA reconstructionist?
I have two schools of thought, one is looking back to the ancients, but the other is advancing and adapting to our time. I’m not a reconstructionist, nor do I look at any one time or place. The Dionysian Cult was international, it went as far as England and Germany all the way to China. Then there is the history, his cults or some expression of it has never really ceased throughout history. To focus one just one thing limits a boundless god.
Is the DA Initiatory?
There are two sides, public and private. The public side is open to all. The private side is initiatory and requires in person tuition and standards. It is my full intention to make this a lineage initiatory tradition.
What defines a Dionysian Artist?
Within this tradition of Dionysian Artists, it is up to the artist what defines devotional art and what is art. Theoretically a person who is an artist (whatever that may be) and dedicates their work to the gods can be a Dionysian Artist. It is a matter of thought, purpose, belief and philosophy. There is no exclusion of what is art, no limits on the artists – other than the art is devotional.
Do I need to be a devotee of Dionysos to be a Dionysian Artist?
No. Actually if we look at the gravestones of the first Dionysiakoi Tekhnitai, it is rare to find one who is a devotee to the god. Often they are devotees of Apollon and the Muses. The Dionysian Artists is the cultic guild, dedicated to Dionysos, but members are free to honour and devote themselves to whatever god.
Does the DA involve magic or witchcraft?
I’d ask what is magic? My understanding of magic is intended purpose of “change” that manifests from “nothing”. Thus magic is art, art is magic. To enchant an audience with words, or to mix pigment in such a way it turns coloured particles in abstract forms into images of divine… that is magic. So the DA is enriched with magic. But it is not a deliberate magical path or school. It is up to members if they consider their art witchcraft, in the DA there is no prohibition or/neither official inclusion of any magical paths. That is totally up to individual beliefs of members.
((I will say as a note, however, that in the private side of the DA there is expected study of the Orphic schools, the PGM (Greek magical papyri) and antique/classical Goetia.))
I separate this section as some aspects are personal and not a required belief to be involved in the DA.
What are your thoughts of the Afterlife?
I believe that the Afterlife is what we make of it in life.
There are differing ideas even amongst Dionysians, for myself I believe we have two souls. Human and Dionysian, the human soul has some value, but only through what we gain in life (bios). The Dionysian is eternal and exists in the infinite (zoe). My conception is that the Dionysian’s goal is to combine with him in death, uniting our souls and joining with him. Apotheosis. When you undergo Mystery, you learn that this has already happened and will happen again and again, so it is a kind of “enlightenment”. But also it is an acknowledgement that the trials, agog, of life is a requirement to attain this elevation. Souls that do not attain this state continue to live on in a sort of cycle of reincarnation named the Grievous Cycle. I relate the cycle to the Labyrinth.
Is your idea akin to other religious concepts such as the Buddhists?
No, it’s not exactly like Buddhist ideas of Nirvana, nor a rejection of our humanity/human quality… actually it’s more of an embracing of human. The “transcendental”, “enlightenment” of the Dionysian does not come about from an outright rejection of our humanity. The Dionysian quality of our ego (soul), may actually require things like sexual pleasures, drunkenness, excess etc., to be awakened. The functions and limits of which must be discovered through experience, by this, I mean we explore the ‘hedonism’ in order to know our limits. This can be found in many ways, including that which may be considered self-destructive, but also it can be safely explored through art, e.g., the theatre. The purpose though, is to learn our limits and limit from there on.
We relate things to the theatre, because these subjects can be explored and played out in an artificial environment. But… this is where we get to the philosophy of the Dionysian Artist, something that is actually dangerous if misunderstood. A Dionysian Artist is a master of profane and profound. They commit acts of hubris, to cause universal catharsis. When we watch The Bacchae, not only is the actors committing hubris, but the audience is being exposed to it. If we take into account the ideas of how one receives Miasma, the audience is being exposed to something that is totally toxic. They are observing a play that deals with the wrongs against our great god, also they are witnessing actors play our this horror in real life. For the actor, the mask shields them, after the performance they leave the mask to rot, or burn it.
For the audience, they must take it in collectively. This is done by acknowledging, subconsciously, that the theatre is a realm of fantasy, but more importantly they experience joint empathy. Witnessing horrors en masse eradicates the individual, it takes away the persons fears and ego, the worries of the day, enchants and distracts them and fills them with new Memory. The end result is profound catharsis.
These concepts come from the function of both tragedy and comedy. With tragedy, to witness something horrible, ideally more horrible than our own situation, is cathartic. It puts us in our place. Ironically comedy is more cruel than tragedy, because we laugh at the suffering of others… but that is good too because we are really laughing at ourselves – so there is still an emphatic connection. Plus it has been proven that laughter is physically therapeutic to our bodies.
Antonin Artaud believes that freedom, liberation of the human condition comes through the breakdown of social order. His prime example is the plague and relates the theatre to a disease. During the plague, when bodies are filling the streets, the social order is broken down. Man become drunk on panic and all inhibitions are torn down. He believes this to be the most spiritual period of man, the most Dionysian. Thus in his philosophy he created the Theatre of Cruelty, An production so horrible it liberates people from their daily concerns. Artaud’s work is of his time and a requirement for people to find Mystery. I’m more of an opinion that there should be a balance of performance now. This is due to the over exposure of our cultural ethos to Theatre of Cruelty being played out each day, whenever someone watches the news…
An overview of what I’m saying, Dionysians ‘awaken’ the Dionysian soul through acts in life. These acts relate to sacrifice, which may be seen as profane, but the intention is divine. These acts typically relate directly with death, which is ultimately a loss of identity (ego) in all literal sense (i.e., our bodies rot). When we don a mask, when we go into ecstatic trance, when we have sex, when we drink, when we observe the theatre. Our identity is taken from us. Dionysos fills us and we become him. This is the goal of the Dionysian Artists.
This is Pogo the satyr. He enjoys romantic strolls along the beach and bouncing around on his huge pogo stick of a dick. His favourite foods are poptarts and popcorn, just about anything that pops. His favourite music is genre is hip-hop…get it?!? Hop! Lol! Omg.
His sexual preference is for shepherd boys (sheposexual) but he doesn’t discriminate. This isn’t to suggest he is bisexual/pansexual, he’s just an overall good sport!
His favourite book is A Pickle for the Knowings/Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress by Timothy Dexter.
Salt and Pepper him as you please.
Pogo is character Wayne and I hope to develop into a comic series. We’ll see 😉
Winter this year my city played host to an awesome collection of Van Gogh’s “seasonal paintings”. It should be noted that the collection was curated, i.e. arranged, to fit theme of seasons. This is kinda duh, but “people” often come from these shows thinking that it was a conscious choice of the artist… Anyway, suffice to say it was a beautiful collection and one of the rare times I did appreciate the curatorship.
Van Gogh is one of those artists that does not really fit within art movements or categories. We may class him as an “Post-Impressionist”, but he was actually and Outsider Artist. I make this statement as when one reads his letters, and views his art it is apparent that he was not motivated by a philosophical concept to produce art, (although there were influences), but more so for personal endeavours. Van Gogh, in thought and actions was animist and nature loving, he sort a place in nature whereas the human construction of the world, i.e. society, he rejected – more precisely it rejected him.
Plus that with the fact that Van Gogh is one of the very few artists that imbued his art with his spirit, or Ka, in a pagan sense. When I view his art, in person, I’m sensorial overwhelmed by his presence, to the point that I find myself sick, emotional, inspired all at once – he has brought me to tears many times. It can take me sometime to process his art, especially with a mass exhibit like The Seasons Show.
That’s one of the things that really bothers me with these shows. They are so big, not just in the manner they are curated, but the sheer mass of attendance. We had to line up for two and half hours to get in, they closed entrance to the show at 3PM two and half hours before gallery closing time. There would had been between one to two hundred shuffling around these sacred paintings. On top of that is the murmuring whispers and sometimes loud opinions of the dickheads looking at these paintings with absolutely no knowledge or impact to their souls. An example would be this painting I was enjoying:
While I was having a legitimate emotional experience I had to suffer the echoing words of some white middleclass woman saying “Oh how beautiful! I love the colours!” I seriously bit my tongue at her words, but I did turn around and looked her in the eyes with my characteristic death stare. The above painting is not beautiful, well not in the sense she was saying. This is an image of death. It should be disturbing, it should evoke emotions of emptiness, sadness, humility.
“You need to get over your bullshit expectations of mankind!” A quote from my partner, Wayne.
All of this brings me to the whole point of this post. Art is always in the eye of the beholder, we experience it in different ways. While I do consider myself a better, in being able to actually understand the painting, I don’t have a right to expect that from the woman. If she can only see it on a superficial and basic level of her misguided conception of beauty, i.e., prettiness, and colour, then that is all she is going to take from the image. I find that sad, but that’s that.
This brings me to the afterlife. Often times I’m questioned about my views on the afterlife, what do I believe, what happens to our souls?
As I have actually witnessed it, I personally know what will happen to me in the afterlife, but I cannot guarantee that for others. Why? Because I strongly suspect that the afterlife is what we make it in life. Like my ability to view art, I have a lifetimes experience with art. I’m entrenched in it, surrounded by it, my knowledge of art is immeasurable because it is my life. Likewise I’ve been surrounded by death, not the death that is socially understood, but a unique path of death that I have learnt for a good portion of my life and that has been shown to me.
If all one can see of death is pretty colours though, the experience will be totally different, therefore I leave the afterlife, what it is, to you and only you to decide for yourself. Ultimately I do not answer such questions about the afterlife because of this belief, that is all I have to say on that matter.
On the 7th of October I celebrated the Feast of the Bacchic Martyrs, this festival is celebrating the devotees of Dionysos that have been killed for their religious beliefs. (Dionysians were persecuted well before Christians.) I cannot describe the day in detail because, frankly, I can’t remember. I was so heavily entranced that my actions were not my own and guided by someone else. With limited resources (as in money) I managed to craft my first thyrsos, admittedly a lot of it is made of artificial plants, but I see a ritual meaning of plastic as it is the ultimate dead thing. The thyrsos being a symbol of life and death, seems pretty fitting. Ironic even.
I also dressed formally as Δ the festival falling roughly in the same month of confirmations of initiation as The Dionysian Artist back in 2015.
I finished the Feast with a basic but delicious vegetarian pasta dish, a plate of which was given at a crossroads by a funeral home I live next too. (Yeah, a funeral home is my neighbour, little wonder why I come in contact with the dead so often.)
Here are some photos that were *permitted* to be shared of the days activities.
The title pretty much says it all! Thank you to my sponsors!!! Donations are my main means of income with most of our earning going straight back into making art. Here are some updates of street art and private work.
If you’d like to become a sponsor here is my Patreon.
In the last week fellow devotional artists have been complaining about criticism directed towards them because of their depictions of gods or for not following ‘proper’ methods of tradition. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa has even stated (publicly on facebook) that there has been threats and personal attacks against him for depicting Set…
This is really disturbing, especially in that these criticism and threats are sourced from supposed ‘pagan’ / polytheists. So I thought I’ll put forth some recommendations when dealing with divine art.
1. Foremost anyone who threatens an artist or encourages destruction of divine icons should be ostracised from the community. Iconoclastic behaviour should never be tolerated.
2. Regardless of skill, technique, manner, style, medium – so on, if a devotional artist calls there art that and is intended as a holy icon, it should be treated as such. It does not matter if they do not follow ‘traditional protocol’ or style, these works are sacred and free of criticism or personal opinion.
3. (Artistic) Constructive criticism is different from criticism and personal opinion. This is criticising the material side of art, how it is created, it is not criticising the content/context of the art. This form of criticism is to *better* the art and artists. To help in the future. In no way is this to be used as means to hurt the artist or diminish the sacredness of the work.
4. Regarding Graeco-gods and art. Greeks were unusual in terms of culture in that they broke from traditional protocol of icon making. One can see this in examining Greek art history, in the Archaic period they had symbolic styles akin to the Egyptians (who maintained their traditional expression for over 3,000 years!) Greeks, however, broke away from this and started “progressing” in terms of humanism and realism. This is usually divided into three epochs of Hellenic art: Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic – the latter usually merges and continues with Roman art. It is interesting to note that throughout history they went back in forth in terms of style, e.g. there are examples of Archaic style cult statues made in 1CE. This is to address the fact that art was not for viewing pleasure or entertainment, but holy expression. This expression was limitless, thus tradition gave way to expression – gods were/are depicted according to cult and artistic inspiration. Although we have plenty to look back too, I encourage free expression of the divine, even that which breaks artistic aesthetic of the Greeks, e.g., nude goddesses. The only authority of what is “proper form” is gods and the artist, if one does not like the depiction do not buy it or subscribe to it. It is that simple.
5. In many (most) polytheistic cultures there is no concept of *evil* like that found in monotheistic traditions. There is no black and white divide, good versus evil etc. Though there instances in religion when gods suffer some terrible event, even death at the hands of some adversary, this event becomes an important aspect of the god’s cultus, thus in such instances it may be acceptable to depict, and even give cultus to this adversary. A good example of this is The Toys of Dionysos that lead to the terrible death and cannibalism of my beloved Dionysos. In some variations of the myth Dionysos later learns to control and command the Toys and also the Titans that consumed him. Therefore the Toys and Titans become part of Dionysos’ retinue… to ignore this is to ignore an important aspect of the Mysteries and limits the gods’ teachings. The same can be said of other deities such as Set and Loki.
In the end only the artist and gods they are dealing with have authority on their art. Not the viewer, nor other artists, nor their mothers or fathers, nor the public or political authorities, nor fellow religious folk or rival religious folk. It is one of the very few forms that mortals are able to communicate with divine and to bring them forth into ‘reality’. No opinion or human insight can discount this holy act, in other words: Shut the fuck up!
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.
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!
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.
I want to say thanks to whoever reported the link to my interview by The Wild Hunt on facebook. In the first 24 hours the interview has gone viral and my blog hits have skyrocketed.
Censoring artists is always a terrible thing for the artist themselves: on an emotional and personal level. That said, it’s great publicity for them too. Some of the most well-known living artists are controversial, actually there was an art movement called the “Shock” that went out its way to cause controversy. Guess what? It worked.
I’m not going out of my way to do this, our art is devotional in nature, intended for the gods, but attempts at iconoclast in this era is only spreading the gods more.
I’ve been working a lot and have not had an opportunity to announce here that an interview about me was published on The Wild Hunt over the weekend. I wish to express my thanks to Heather for her editing prowess, I’m overall happy with the interview, but I wish there were some more specific questions about my beliefs of devotion and it’s function. Maybe that will be addressed in the future. Something I’m grateful that Heather edited out was some of the too much information about my childhood. It wasn’t exactly fitting for such a public article. Yet, part of the process of healing is being more open about things. As my spiritual mentor said to me, (paraphrasing), “I’d be worried if a Dionysian was not fucked up”.
On 20th of February I experienced a complete and potentially deadly mental breakdown. I had been fasting for four days and consuming nothing but wine, I required outside help to come save me. Since then, I’ve been sober and seeing doctors to help with my broken brain. I’m diagnosed with PTSD, agoraphobia, anxiety-depression (of which I had been self-medicating with alcohol). Spiritually, I’ve been suffering from Acedia.
The PTSD is pretty basic: related to childhood abuse by my step father, an alcoholic, disabled and all rounded fucked up individual. As a result of this abuse large chunks of my childhood are wiped from my memory, however it has left emotional scars that haunt me to this day.
The agoraphobia is related, but more nuanced… it’s an irony that I’m a public performer and put myself in the most vulnerable position in the agora – on the street. To me this phobia is not a result of personal fears, but rather the overwhelming illness of our society. The function of it: the spiritual and apathetic decay of humanity. I have a fear for the future of humanity, this fear is that prophesied as the Last man by Nietzsche. An apathy that leads us to nihilism. This shit is fucking serious and I’m exposed to it every day when I work, when I go to the shops and when I watch people. The Mysteries of the world and the spirit are lost on people. This is something I did not address in the interview: it’s my hopes of not only opening doorways to what has been forgotten but also jerk people out of this dangerous nihilism. So why does this manifest as a fear? Well I find myself failing in my goals. I find myself falling for the Last man and becoming completely apathetic, jaded, generating as a hatred towards humanity… which sets off Acedia.
A Dionysian travels a narrow path between blissful enlightenment and mind-shattering madness. At times I veer from the path and head deep long for the madness. This is not a bad thing, but to lose sight of the path can result in being lost forever. When I had my breakdown I felt was lost, to the point of no return, but I’ve been crawling back since and every day I feel the catharsis of madness, a lesson I must accept in order to know who I am and know my place.
That is the point of The Dionysian Artists, to make art for the divine: still the theatre requires an audience for the performance to work its magic. It’s active work, direct and open to nature and human minds.
Now, I’ve been reading Antonin Artaud of late and find myself agreeing with his concepts of The Theatre of Cruelty. I’ll have to finish reading his Theatre and its Double, but so far I believe there should be a balance between the terror of Cruelty and divine good. Our culture is too saturated in the cruelty; nearly every household in the “West” is exposed to it every day, if not through television, the internet. It’s tearing communities apart, (even the microscopic “community” of Pagans). This is when the Dionysian Artists are most needed, it’s time we direct our attention to healing through art, it does not matter which art – nor how good one is at it, just make art to the gods. Let’s kill this Last man and escape to fantasies that make reality. We need to redirect our attention from ourselves and towards our audience or else we’re going to just find ourselves in a nihilistic and fruitless omophagy.
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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.”
“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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
Art is one of the few means for us humans to express Zoë, living eternal life. Sometimes this is done by constructing grand monuments like the pyramids of Gaza, beautiful sculptures found in Greece and Rome, sometimes it achieved at the base level of the street in the form of graffiti. In this manner common people of no class can go down in history just as pharaohs of Egypt and artisans of Greece. Graffiti is an equaliser that transcends boundaries of class and prestige.
A relative shared a local news story of monument rocks known as the Sisters Rocks that have been defaced with graffiti, some of which goes back to the 1800’s (in terms of Australian history that is old). There is local debate wether the rocks should be cleaned. My relative and her friends are in consensus that they should be. I had to respond:
“Sorry, but I disagree. Graffiti is an ancient art form and goes back to the time where written language was invented, it plays a huge role in our understanding of history.
For example: Greece has important landmarks carved in stone that in essence is ‘tagging’ some say: “so and so was here” or “so and so had sex on this stone” (the latter case were both male names, an important note for the history of homosexuality) dating going back to 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.
Later with the Romans we get an idea of life by its graffiti especially in Pompeii, including wonderful insults and indications of the dangers of toilets. The Colosseum in Rome also has graffiti written by Gladiators.
The first image known of Jesus Christ is graffiti.
Later still Vikings invading the Mediterranean wrote graffiti on monuments in Venice and Constantinople (Istanbul), giving us a date to their raids and one of the few primary sources of their attacks.
In Australia’s case graffiti has been extremely important for tracking early pioneers, explorers, outlaws. This is the voice of our ancestors and has a valid place in history. The news report is a prime example of that. The rocks should not be cleaned.”
I also added:
“It’s also ironic that comments above are saying “Vandals”, the word itself comes from the Germanic tribe of Vandals, of whom ransacked, pillaged and *vandalised* monuments in Italy. Again putting their mark down in history via graffiti.”
The point of which graffiti is a valid art form, possibly the most ancient. It is one of the very few primary sources of life, the voice of our forbears. Just because we have the privilege to judge and clean something contemporary does not give us the right to erase future history. As one of the commentators on my relatives post said “We have technology where people can do this in their own home without defacing property.” That is very true, so did the people of Greece and Rome. However these civilisations fell, just as our will in time. The private art on our computers will be gone and all that will remain are names upon rocks. Erasing landmarks like the Sisters Rocks is erasing *our* history in the now. It is silencing our voices to our future and detrimental to our Zoë.
(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.
Like my writing, like my art? You can now support it on Patreon. I’m offering exclusive content, from articles, art previews, tutorials and more!
Just updating and sharing recent commissions completed by my partner, Wayne McMillan. All but Antinous maybe be purchased as prayer cards from WyrdCuriosities.
The Antinous commission was really interesting to do. Previous icons Wayne chooses how and what he depicts of the god in the icon. The Antinous, however, was a very specific cultic expression of the god. This required detailed back and forth client / artist communication, sketching, divination and heavy research. A fascinating and complex challenge.
If you are interested in taking a commission details are here. I’m also updating my Aγοράζω including other pieces for sale.