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:

Lead Priestess
Mourning Woman #1
Mourning Woman #2
Roaming ambience
1 to 3 Assistants

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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.

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About madgastronomer

Yes, I am that Mad Gastronomer. Whichever one you've met before and are wondering if I'm the same one. Yep, that's me. It's always me. I am the one and only Mad Gastronomer. I don't actually use this blog, I just comment on other people's with this account. Because WordPress is annoying.

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