Doing street art is difficult, while I do enjoy it, sometimes it really gripes me. So I woke up today with questions that have been asked of me while I work on the street. Now, at the time I’m usually focused on art and in a mindstate that is unable to eloquently respond to these questions. Being in a mood today I wrote down a series of questions and my wishful responses (Originally posted on facebook.) I’ve put them here and also included an additional question, not asked on the street – yet asked a lot in the art world.
Art Wank Question No. 1: Are pastels drawing or painting?
Me: I don’t fucking care! If I was forced down and interrogated via torture though, I would have to say it depends on the application of pastels. When one looks at what makes a pastel. it’s actually no different from any other paint, it just lacks a medium to make it sloppy. So you can draw with it (just as you can draw with ink or acrylics) or you can paint with it (just as you can paint with ink or acrylics). My application of pastels is in layers, purposely designed to be built up. Sometimes between 2 to 10+ layers of pastel. Therefore I categorise *my* use of pastel as painting. But I use drawing/painting interchangeable because I DON’T CARE.
Art Wank Question No. 2: Is what I do on the street “Craft” or “Art”?
Me: I love Ancient Greece and look back to it a lot. They had no definition between a craftsman or an artist. The whole conception of an artist is very European and not really seen in other cultures, throw modern art theory into the mix… and boy… do you get a lot of pretentious philosophical bullshit. Like seriously… have you read the shit they say? I have, and I feel like doing a turd on their fucking faces after reading that blubbering diarrhoea.
A lot of folk say a reproduction of an artwork is “craft”, but the original is “art”. But I regard them as both. That said, in our case. as street artists and applying wank art theory, Wayne and I are being “artists” because of context of environment. Our street art is a performance, we are performance artists. That does not mean we’re faking it or anything, it means that the act of creating art (be it original or reproduction) is the art itself.
Art Wank Question No. 3: Do you consider your art kitsch?
Me: Okay, big fucking can of worms there, *cunt*. I get your subtle insult and it makes me angry, so I propose an art project: go lay on the tram tracks.
For one, kitsch art is an art movement, with a philosophical –art theory- backing. Do I agree with it? No. But if someone like Odd Nerdrum calls his art “kitsch”, it is (even though I would not regard it as kitsch). Second, I have two views on our art, our original art I do not regard as kitsch, because that is not the intention – in actuality the original art does not fall into modern art theory because it is devotional. But the reproduction art… maybe… it is designed and chosen to please people, however we do choose artworks that we like and will find entertaining for ourselves to reproduce… as art making can be *really* boring.
Anyways, in this Post-post-“Pomo” era, any art can be regarded as kitsch, modern art is old hat now and it got fucked over by Pop-Art and continues to do so ever since. I’ve never seen a contemporary piece which has truly made me feel awe or any emotion, (not even “shock” art) thus I’m pretty jaded towards art. Actually, if there is anything to say about this culture is that it is jaded as fuck. Everyone has the ability to see anything, read anything, do anything – people are over saturated to the point they can’t feel anything. The one fear I have is that Nietzsche will turn out to be a prophet with his “last-man” of nihilism, the cynic in me thinks that’s our next evolutionary step and maybe it should be.
*Bonus* Art Wank Question No. 4: What is an Artist?
Many of my gen are shying away from calling themselves artists, opting for stupid terms like a “creative”, like sit back for a moment and think on that: *in a dry, stiffy, jaded hipster voice*: “Oh, I am a creative”, how fucking stupid does that sound?! Whatever.
I can’t tell you want and artist is because an artist is someone who calls themselves that. That’s the answer, simple and flat out.
Art is a broad spectrum of topics and subjects. One of the very few things I agree with modern art theory is that anything can be art. On a personal level I think anyone that endeavours to make something is an artist and if they don’t want to call themselves that, or do – fine by me. With The Dionysian Artists of old, not only the actors, writer or the director were considered artists, (craftspeople in their sense, as mentioned above), but everyone was given credit towards the play and named a Dionysian Artist. This echoes in film today with the credit reel including everyone, even the caterers, the drivers, the first aid etc., all of these people are involved in creating the film, which is indisputably a piece of art, thus they are all artists in that sense. This is how art should be viewed and what I encourage with The Dionysian Artist guild today. It’s a matter of altering our way of looking at “what is art”, “what is an artist/craftsman” and fucking respect art.
I think about art a lot, a lot more than other artists. I’ve studied it, read about it and write about it. You know what? I just find it so fucking frustrating that these are serious questions! That books, entire books, are written on these subjects here. Art should be direct, confrontational, without consent. In these moments there should be no thought or questions only awe.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
Bk III:638-691 Acoetes’s ship and crew are transformed,
A. S. Kline’s Version
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
Madness into Memory: Mania and Mnēmē in Greek Culture
Yulia Ustinova, Scripta Classia Israelica, 2012
Dionysos: Archetypal Images of Indestructible Life , p. 38, Kerenyi
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.
* 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.
Most likely a response to the New Age Movement many call out the identifier of “Shaman” as cultural appropriation. I understand the contention, especially being aware of the origins of the word, it’s history and overuse in spiritual circles, academia and popular culture. However as it stands it is an apt word to describe certain spiritual practices found around the world that share a “common core” in their ecstatic actions and traditions, some of which are open to the West. This is my current definition of it:
“There is no definitive definition of shamanism used by anthropologists, rather, it used as 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.”
Many traditions perform these shamanic acts, often with their own cultural titles to describe the spirit workers. Without intentionally inciting insensitivity it is it’s overuse that allows the general populace to understand what a writer is discussing, without providing additional context.
An example of this is the common misunderstanding of The Dionysian Artists. Many, including friends and family assume that I identify with the guild because I am an artist. However, it is conceivable for a member *not* to identify as an artist in the sense we know now. The Western view of a shaman may be applicable in describing the acts and mysteries of The Dionysian Artists.
This is a subject I explore in an essay written for the next issue of Walking the Worlds (submissions close in Nov. ‘16.) In brief I explore the various themes found in the cults of Dionysos, especially the theatre. For the sake of ease I use shamanism as an adjective in describing the expression found in the theatre. Likewise I have a strong belief that ALL Western art originates from shamanic-like practices performed in pre-history.
I am fortunate because I have a lot of theory and research for the Dionysian Artists, I am privileged in using Shamanism as an adjective, others, however, may follow a different path and use it as a noun because there is no other descriptor for their practices.
In these instances I think it’s fine, “Neoshamanism” as it’s called, may draw upon closed ethnic traditions, but from what I have observed of it, it is totally different. They may utilise similar themes and actions that may be found in ethnic Shamanism, but adapt it to the point that these themes are general and common in open belief systems. They are themes, acts which can be traced in many world religions, including the Abrahamic and related fringe sects.
Last point, the critics I have seen mostly argue in favour of Native American tribes rights to the word… Given that the word originates from the East / Eurasia this is a wrong argument and is as insensitive as a Western person using the word to describe their practices.
So to critics of the used of the word I point my middle finger. This is an aspect of our overall culture. Being hung up on a word diminishes the spiritual acts and devotion one performs to their gods.