The Shout of the Bacchic Lord

Perhaps it is because of my Catholic upbringing that I decided to add Dionysian words to the tune of The Canticle of the Turning. Perhaps it is because of my Irish heritage that I decided to add them to The Star of the County Down. Either way, I have a Dionysian hymn that can be sung to the tune. Enjoy!

 

I begin to sing of the Bacchic King,

Dionysus, the god of wine;

The wandering god with his cult outlawed,

Brings the secrets of the vine.

The god of the stage shall break the cage,

That entraps the common mind;

The god of flowers with his bacchic powers

Is the Liberator of mankind.

 

The lord of the earth is the god of rebirth,

His blood is the wine outpoured;

And those lost in the dance and caught in a trance,

Hear the shout of the Bacchic Lord.

 

By the toys beguiled, the thrice born child,

Was ruptured and eaten raw;

And from a lightning flash, the titanic ash,

Came us mortals, divine and flawed.

Both Persephone and Semele

Gave birth to the ill fated child.

And from Zeus’ flesh, came the god afresh

He’s the good Lord of the wild.

 

The lord of the earth is the god of rebirth,

His blood is the wine outpoured;

And those lost in the dance and caught in a trance,

Hear the shout of the Bacchic Lord.

 

Jealous Hera’s pain drove the god insane

And he wandered the world deranged.

But Kybele’s might set the god aright,

And the world he began to change!

He taught us all to make alcohol,

To release us and set us free,

And we honor the lord, our god adored,

With his mask upon a tree.

 

The lord of the earth is the god of rebirth,

His blood is the wine outpoured;

And those lost in the dance and caught in a trance,

Hear the shout of the Bacchic Lord.

A Chthonic Dionysia

This ritual was originally written by the Bakcheion crew for the 2016 Many Gods West. Due to various difficulties, it was never performed. Here is a cleaned-up version of our rough draft script, available for the use of any other Dionysians who wish to try it.

Chthonic Dionysia Ritual

Dramatis Personae:

“Hermes”
Shrinedresser
Lead Priestess
Mourning Woman #1
Mourning Woman #2
Roaming ambience
1 to 3 Assistants

Needed:
1 papier-mache bull
1 beef heart (see note)
1 bier
lots of flowers
upholstery T-pins with ribbons or paper strips attached
extra-fine point Sharpies for writing on ribbons
several bowls and dishes with wine, grapes, honeycomb, etc
electric tea lights
basket with scissors
drums, rattles, and other percussion instruments
speaker and music output device
blindfolds, enough for all participants
sharp knife

Ritual space: Have a table set up along side of room with decorated cups pre-filled with wine. Cups can have pictures drawn on them, or epithets of Dionysos, or whatever you like. Shrine is set up in middle of the room. Bier is set high up, at shoulder level, with the papier-mache bull at top, surrounded by elaborate flowers, bowls of wine and grapes, dishes of honeycomb, electric tealights. Off to the side somewhere, place the tray, pins (with ribbons attached?) and basket with scissors. A dozen or so chairs should be along one side of the space too. Speaker set up somewhere central for music.

All ritual leaders dress in white khitons, with white facepaint, except Hermes in broad hat and khlamys.

Shrinedresser and assistants set up bier.

All silent when around participants, except Hermes (with assistant) who stands outside the door, herds the crowd, explains what they need to know, hands out blindfolds, and prepares them to enter the underworld. Mourning Woman #1 comes out and anoints them just before the ritual begins.

When all is ready, Hermes instructs participants to put on their blindfolds. Hermes and assistants lead them in groups of two or three into the room, and seat them on the floor in a semi-circular group around the shrine. (Anyone who has disability issues and cannot sit on floor should be identified early, and brought in last, seated in chairs on the outside of the circle.) As they come in, all ritual leaders and participants chant quietly, repeatedly:

Wine for the god who dwells below.
Honey for the god who dwells below.
Blood for the god who dwells below.
Life for the god who dwells below.

Once everyone is seated, Mourning Women call for silence and/or blow horn or ululate to break the chant.  Wait several beats.

Hermes: Remove your blindfolds! Behold the god!

All remove blindfolds.

Lead Priestess: Dionysos the Bull, he who came on hoof, he who came with horn, he who bellowed and he who lay down. Dionysos the Bull is dead! Let us mourn him as befits a god!

Mourning Women sing the threnos (Mourning Woman 1) and goös (Mourning Woman 2). Each freezes while the other sings.

Mourning Woman 1 (all verses sung mournfully to the tune of Amazing Grace):

The heart of the Bull is strong and dark
His hooves they bear the weight
He is consumed by his madness
That death alone will sate

Mourning Woman 2 (verses chanted with growing ecstasy):

I grieve for the Bull
Whose passing awakened me
And shook me deep to my core
I adore the Starry Bull

MW1:

The blood of the bull is red and wild
His horns are a crown of stars
His roaring fills all hearts and minds
And it both mends and mars

MW2:

I grieve for the Bull
At his coming, I made to run
Not to flee but to follow
I celebrate the Starry Bull

MW1:

The heart of the bull is rain and sun
And growth of vine and leaf
But in some seasons leaves do die
And bring us all to grief

MW2:

I grieve for the Bull
If below he goes, then I go, too
And follow that downward path
I exalt the Starry Bull

MW1:

The blood of the bull is vine’s nectar
Which runs when grapes are pressed
It flows and flows to give us joy
And by it we are blest

The Bull God sits there looking dead and awesome. Mourning Women ululate.

Shrinedresser steps forward:

Hail to our polymorphous God!
He who brings innumerable joys,
And who, for each of them, suffers
So we might share in them.

Honey taken from Bees
Flowers cut down in their prime
Vines sheared, Grapes stomped
The Sacred Beast torn with
Tooth and nail

The bull begets the dragon
And the dragon the bull
Pleasure onto pain
Life onto death
The wheel turns and he remains
Sees all, feels all

We mourn the flowers
We mourn the grapes
We mourn the Bull
Even as we delight in
The Wreath, the Wine, the Feast
We offer tearful praise and thanks
To Him for these bloody nectars

Hail to the Bull,
Who brings our prayers below!

Hail to the Bull!

All: Hail to the Bull!

Shrinedresser kneels and then bows before the effigy three times. Gets up and leaves.

Lead Priestess steps forward and says:

Dionysos dies for us each year, shedding His blood when the grapes are trampled out. Each year, He returns to us. He sacrifices Himself to Himself, that we may have life and joy in life. He is the Lord of Joy and the Lord of Sorrow, the Lord of Life and the Lord of Death, the Lord of Truth and the Lord of Lies. He is the Resolver of Dichotomies, the Transmuter of Opposites. He travels now the downward path, through the center of the Labyrinth, following the Blood of the Bull. With Him go our prayers tonight. May His journey be swift, may His sojourn below be joyful, may He bless us again with His holy presence soon.

Kneels in front of shrine for several moments. When she nods her head, Mourning Woman #1 brings her a basket with the scissors.

Lead Priestess takes the scissors out, holds them up almost like she’s going to plunge them into her chest, then proceeds to cut her hair, tossing it into the basket.

Mourning Women ululate.

Shrinedresser: Hail to the Bull!
All respond: Hail to the Bull!

Ritual crew begins to pass out the pins and pens.

Lead Priestess guides them to think on a special prayer to Dionysos and/or their dead, hold it in their hearts, write it on the ribbon, and put the energy into the pin. Visualize a connection from their hearts to the god’s. Then tells them when they are ready, to join our chant. Ritual leaders, then participants, chant: “From our hearts to Your heart, we send prayers below.”

When all are chanting together, Mourning Woman #2 approaches the shrine and shouts “Behold the heart of the bull!” She slashes a hole in the chest of the bull, plunges her hand into it, and pulls out the cow heart, which she holds up, then places it on the tray brought over and held by Mourning Woman #1, who then brings it to Lead Priestess.

Lead Priestess: Even in the underworld, the heart of Dionysos is pierced by the prayers of His devotees. As the heart of the bull is passed around, send your prayer to Him by piercing his heart with your pin. [sticks pin in heart]

Tray is passed around the circle, with each person adding their pin. The chant is resumed.
“From our hearts to Your heart, we send prayers below.” Once heart is full, the tray is returned to Mourning Woman #1, who holds it up for all to see.

Lead Priestess: Later tonight this heart will be sent below, to the bottom of the lake, with all of our prayers. For now, let us drink the holy blood of the god, the fruit of the vine, and dance out all our sorrow and pain.

Shrinedresser: Hail to the Bull!
All respond: Hail to the Bull!’

Mourning Woman #2: Rise to your feet! [All rise.] What do we bring for Dionysos?

All chant loudly and ardently:
Wine for the god who dwells below!
Honey for the god who dwells below!
Blood for the god who dwells below!
Life for the god who dwells below!

Shouts, cheers, ululations, and the music begins.

While that’s going on, ritual leaders weave in and out of the crowd with rattles, castanets, hand-drums, etc. to stir them to ecstasy. Some check in with people, make sure everyone’s okay.

Just before the official end of the ritual, Mourning Women draw attention to the bull again, cry out, and tear the bull to pieces.

Participants are told they can take home bits of the bull, and a single flower each from the shrine as a blessing (“in the name of the bull who is torn apart for the sake of life”). As cleanup begins, softer music continues playing and participants can slowly come down.

POST-RITUAL

Some of the ritual leaders will need to stay and clean up the ritual space as people come down. If anyone needs help with spiritual matters, the appropriate team members can handle it.

The portion of the heart that has been cooked and saved should be shared and eaten by the ritual team at this time. Any that remains should be disposed of, along with the raw heart and remaining flowers, with a procession to leave them in some natural place, like a forest or lake.

***A note on beef heart***

Beef heart can be purchased at most good butchers, including some butcher counters in larger grocery stores, but you may have to call around some to find one. There are also sources you can order it from online to be delivered frozen. You may need to place your order a couple of weeks in advance, so plan ahead. It’s relatively inexpensive per pound, but a whole heart is 3-5 pounds, so it can add up. When you order it, ask for it to be split and cleaned of major blood vessels.

Because it’s so heavy, you will NOT want to put the whole heart into the piñata. Instead, take a third or a half of the heart, and do your best to cut it into the shape of an anatomical heart (not a Valentine’s heart) to make it more recognizable.

The rest of the heart can be lightly coated in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, and roasted like any beef roast to a medium doneness, or cubed and sauteed. It is appropriate for the ritual leaders to eat of the heart together. The part that is placed in the piñata, however, should be raw and not eaten.

Beef heart is very dark and meaty tasting, not at all like liver or other organ meat, and most people who enjoy red meat will enjoy it as well.

A Hymn to Silenos

I pray to Silenos
Noble drunkard, wise fool,
Wild man of the woods,
Foster-father to the Bacchic One.
Horse-eared and horse-tailed,
You ride your ass through the revels,
Dispensing inebriated philosophy,
As wise as it is slurred,
As caring as it is jumbled.
Bless us with your wisdom
And don’t fall off.I pray to Silenos
Noble drunkard, wise fool,
Wild man of the woods,
Foster-father to the Bacchic One.
Horse-eared and horse-tailed,
You ride your ass through the revels,
Dispensing inebriated philosophy,
As wise as it is slurred,
As caring as it is jumbled.
Bless us with your wisdom
And don’t fall off.

Dionysus of the Fields and Vineyards

ceres-bacchus-and-venus-jan-miel

Ceres Bacchus and Venus by Jan Miel

 

Starting out, I’d like to talk about one of the lesser known aspects of Dionysus, his role as god of the fields and vineyards. Many of his followers have relations with an intense aspect of him, whether Orphic or Satyric. This can make it easy to forget that he also has a gentler side, that of agriculture.

Wine, to us, is primarily used for its intoxicating qualities. However, in ancient times it would have been one of the few drinks available, especially with the Greek disdain for drinking milk. While I don’t know of any explicit references to Dionysus as god of water, we must remember that there would have been water mixed into the wine that the Greeks drank. While he is certainly much more associated with alcoholic beverages, there is also a nourishing aspect to any caloric intake.

When viewed with his other relations to fertility, one might say that Dionysus is a god of the drink, not just the alcoholic ones, but the complement to food when one says “Food and Drink”. As much is said in my favorite quote from the Bacchae;

Young man, two are the forces most precious to mankind.

The first is Demeter, the Goddess. She is the Earth

Or any name you wish to call her

And she sustains humanity with solid food.

Next came Dionysus, the son of the virgin,

Bringing the counterpart to bread:

Wine and the blessings of life’s flowing juices.

His blood, the blood of the grape,

Lightens the burden of our mortal misery.

Though himself a God,

It is his blood we pour out to offer thanks to the Gods.

And through him, we are blessed.

Though Euripides mainly highlights the freeing aspects of wine, he does makes note of wine as the counterpart to bread. This quote also notes Dionysus’ relationship to Demeter, another large aspect of his fertility aspects. It is perhaps best seen in the Aventine Triad of Ceres, Liber, and Libera, equated by many of the time (But not all) to Demeter, Dionysus, and Persephone. This isn’t the only linking of the deities. According to Pausanias, in his Description of Greece, there was a temple between Sikyon and Phlios with the faces of Dionysus, Demeter, and Kore. He also mentions another temple with the three gods that could be found in Arcadia.

The ancient prayers that I am aware of to both Dionysus and Demeter highlight both deities relations to the earth. As said by Tibullus;

Come to us, Bacchus,

With clusters of grapes dangling from your horns,

And you, too, Ceres,

A wreath of newly ripened wheat for your temples,

Come!

Gods of our fathers,

We purify our farmers and our fruitful fields;

We ask that you drive away harm from our borders.

Let not the now sprouting plants succumb before harvest,

Let not the timid lambs be outrun by swift wolves.

And Virgil:

Liber and gentle Ceres, if by your gifts the earth once changed,

Exchanging Chaonian acorns for rich heads of grain,

And receiving your invention of wine from Acheloian cups,

And you Fauns, your divine presence an aid for rustics,

Bring dancing feet, as when Dryad girls frolic with Fauns,

Of your gifts I sing.

In addition to wine, he was associated with fruit as well. Obviously the grape, which, lest we forget, can also be eaten, but all forms of fruit, especially figs and apples. Here is a passage from Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae on Dionysus’ connection to figs:

“Sosibos the Lakedaimonian, by way of proving that the fig-tree is a discovery of Dionysos, says that for that reason the Lakedaimonians even worship Dionysos Sykites (of the Fig). And the Naxians, according to Andriskos and again Aglaosthenes, record that Dionysos is called Meilikhios (Gentle) because he bestowed the fruit of the fig. For this reason, also, among the Naxians the face of the god called Dionysos Bakkheos is made of the vine, whereas that of Dionysos Meilikhios is of fig-wood. For, they say, figs are called meilikha (mild fruit).”

For some of us it may seem paradoxical to think of Dionysus as gentle, but we must remember that he has many paradoxes. Not just between ecstasy and rage, but between the strong experiences he induces (both happy and sad) and the more gentle nature of growth. Simply enjoying biting into a piece of fruit far too big for your mouth and letting its juices spill onto your face. Sipping wine or sangria while on a picnic far away from society. Tasting wild strawberries you find growing on a hike.

This being Dionysus, there are of course some darker undertones involved. Euripides state that Dionysus is the wine we pour out to the gods, while Nonnus described how wine is the blood of Dionysus’ dead lover Ampelos. Anthesteria, the festival of Dionysus dedicated to the blossoming life around us, was also a festival of the dead. Just like what goes up must come down, what becomes alive must someday die. I’m certain that much more could be said if one expanded on Dionysus’ connections to animals, killing them, and eating them.

Some epithets one could use when calling out to this aspect of Dionysus could be those listed by Athenaeus, Sykites (Of the Fig) and Meilikhios (Gentle), as well as Phleon (Luxuriant, refers to plants), Staphylites (Of the Grape), Omphacites (Of the unripe grape), Theoenus (God of Wine), Erebinthinus (Of the Chickpea), Agrios (The Wild One, can also be translated as ‘Of the Fields’), Dendrites (He in the Trees), and Kallikarpos (Dionysus of Lovely Fruit).

If you use music in your worship, my recommendation is music that is gentle and simple, namely folk. Folk is also probably the most likely music to have themes of harvest and farming. Planxty and Fairport Convention both come to mind. The Wickerman (1973), both soundtrack and movie, is also relevant.

And how can one connect with this aspect of Dionysus? Here are some ideas:

Meal Prayers:

This is my highest recommendation. Being thankful. Recognizing how lucky we are to eat and drink. While there are no meal-specific prayers to Dionysus that I am aware of, any of the above three verses from classic authors could work. I also think it would be very beneficial to make your own prayers on the spot, drawing from the specific circumstances of your meal.

This is a great time to involve other deities of the pantheon as well. Thank Dionysus for the meat. Thank Demeter for the bread. Thank Poseidon for the fish. If you are eating some form of ethnic food, thank Hermes for the spread of cultures. If you are eating with your family, thank Hestia for that (If they wouldn’t appreciate it out loud, do it silently or before sitting down at the table). If eating outside, be thankful to Zeus for the weather.

In addition to prayers before normal three-a-day meals, if you have a relationship with the satyric aspect of Dionysus, thank him for your drunken 3:00 am meals and your shortly after 4:20 munchie snacks. Though it is a joke among some who follow him that Denny, a name derived from his, is the name of a 24 hour restaurant, remember how good it feels to eat food when alcohol/drugs are making you hungry. Be thankful for that.

Get Involved With the Alcohol-Making Process:

I shy away from terms like ‘brewing’ or ‘viticulture’ to cast a wide net here. Though I have zero experience with this (Being under 21 and in a dorm might have some correlation), there are plenty of resources online for this. A quick google search for ‘home-brewing’ yields 6 million results. If you are in wine country, you can visit a vineyard for a grape stomping festival.

Garden:

We can’t all live on farms or in forests, but growing your own plants is something most of us can do (At least, most of us can attempt). Dionysus is the god of flowers, vines and fruits, so all could be done devotionally. I’ll recommend strawberries, which aren’t vines (they just play ones on tv) but have a life of their own. I once planted them in a beautiful china pot, specifically designed for strawberries, and in true Dionysian fashion, they escaped their cage and began to grow wild in the garden. They also are sturdier for those of us without prior gardening experience.

Thank you for reading, and hope to see you next week!

Defying Expectations, a hymn by Alexeigynaix

the God of many children’s toys
dolls and hoops and dice and balls

the God of all the thespians
and dancers and the masked
drama! such excitement!
tragicomic task

the God of gender noncompliance
to thine own self be true
not gay as in happy
but queer as in fuck you

the God of moderating moderation
breaking mental blocks
coloring outside the lines
thinking like no box

the God of contradictions
containing multitudes
life and death and life again
conflicting attitudes

the God of the unknown
(and silence falls)

The Faces of Dionysus

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Dionysus has many faces, and that is what makes it possible for different worshipers of the god to have completely different experiences with him. In The Paths to Dionysus, a section in Sannion’s excellent book Ecstatic, he writes on the contrast between the path of the Satyr and the path of Orpheus. The Satyric Path deals with the Dionysus of unrestrained pleasure, while the Orphic Path deals with the Dionysus of the mysteries, the god of life and death.

But with the many faces, there are many, countless even, paths to worshipping the god, most not exclusive to the others. Certainly many of them run into each other. Perhaps someone on the Satyric Path, wanting to get over an addiction, may begin down the Orphic path, asking Dionysus to help them free themselves through him. Someone dedicated to the spiritual freedom offered by Dionysus may find themselves more and more drawn to political freedoms, something especially attributed to Dionysus as Liber.

I cannot claim to have a relationship with each and every aspect of Dionysus (I’d be surprised if anyone could, or if there is even a finite, countable number of aspects). I cannot claim to have a relationship with most of these aspects. I won’t even go so far as to say ‘many’. Rather, I hope to provide a brief overview and introduction to various aspects on a weekly basis. Some things I will include may be epithets, art work, hymns, poems, and other information related to the aspect of the god.

Later on today I will make my first post of this nature on Dionysus of the Fields. I am hoping to do a post every Friday, exploring the god’s diverse nature and helping those to connect with him whom might otherwise haven’t.