The Sacred Fire, by B.Z. Goldberg, , at sacred-texts.com
In the valley of death,
DIONYSOS was the god of wine, women, and song. He revealed to mankind the art of wine-making. He desired people to drink and to make merry. He urged them to love. It was that people might love that Dionysos died and came back to life. For the sadness of his going was only to make fuller the joy of his return. Then, all worry and strain were to be wiped away and life was to be one great goblet of wine in which men were to revel, merrily singing away.
To witness a Dionysian mystery we must set out late in the afternoon, so that we may be first in line when the procession begins at sunset. As it starts, we see a chariot in which the hierophant, the human representative of the great god Dionysos, is seated. He is followed by the Lamparadi or torch bearers, who light the way for the procession. Directly behind them come the wine bearers, men and women carrying upon sticks vessels filled with the rich red liquid and crowned with grape leaves. Wine was the first great gift of Dionysos, and of service it would be when the crowd entered the destined place. Following the wine carriers came girls bearing large baskets of fruits:
grapes, dates, and pomegranates, for Dionysos was the god of generation, the harbinger of spring, and the bearer of fruit for all mankind. Next were the musicians, playing tunes upon flute and cymbal.
Now there was a motley crowd. Old and young they were, men, women, and children. Almost all wore masks representing satyrs, fauns, nymphs and Bacchæ, all sorts of real or phantastic creatures. Everyone was scantily
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Dionysos on his phallic throne
dressed; parts commonly covered were left bare and parts uncovered by custom were hidden in clothes. Their hair was dishevelled, their eyes dilated with drink. They were pushing and jostling and falling upon each other. Here they sang the phallicæ, love songs of unusual frankness. There they swore and cursed in a fashion incredible to even themselves on any other occasion.
Behind them came the symbols of their songs, the phalos, carried by the phaloptares. Here were objects imitative
of the human organs of generation, in this procession treated derisively rather than reverently. A man might appear with an artificial lingam attached to a belt about his waist. A woman might carry in her hand high over head the effigy of her sex in various attitudes, together with articles suggestive of the union of the sexes in nature.
Here the procession formally closed, but a rabble, collecting from the side streets along the march, followed in an ever more hilarious attitude. This mob continued after the procession until it reached the selected place in the woods. There they mixed with the revelers in confusion and promiscuity. There all were equal; no one knew friend or foe, mother or daughter. Man returned to nature as he was ere society took him in hand.
When the procession reached its destination—a lonely spot in the woods along the bay,—a large chest was opened from which the image of Dionysos, powerfully virile and sexual, was produced. The statue of the god was placed upon a base representing the breasts of women. A hog was sacrificed as a burnt offering and all took to eating and drinking. Wine flowed freely. Men and women cast off their clothes. Nude women ran about provoking men by suggestive gestures and exciting actions. Men caught them in their arms with no thought as to who they might be and forgot that they were not alone. Frenzied women threw themselves into the water with their phosphorescent torches in their hands and considered it a miracle that these were not extinguished. Men ran after them in the water like animals in the rut. And all the time children were caught by males or females and forcibly introduced
into this orgy of drunkenness and love. As day broke, the god was returned to the ark from which he had been produced and the men, intoxicated with wine and dissipation,
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returned home, half-swooning, with the women and children exhausted and dishonored.
In the Dionysian mystery, man sought to reach the state of ecstasy. It was the only way one could attain communion with his god. For some, the mere state of ecstasy
was sufficient. Having been freed from the chains of man, they no longer needed the god. For others, these mysteries were only the beginning of an even greater experience. Separating themselves from the crowd, they gathered in a room and partook of the sacramental meal. Food in mystic forms was eaten out of the sacred drum and more wine was drunk, but this time out of the cymbal, which was making sacred music to the god. Then an animal was driven into the room and all fell upon it in savage attack. Whether it was lamb, calf, or steer, it was torn to pieces and eaten while its hot, streaming blood was drunk in great passion.
The animal was supposed to incarnate the, god. By tearing it, one was tearing his way into the very being of his divinity, and by eating the mean of the animal and drinking its blood, he was assimilating. the body of the deity with his own flesh and blood.
In the frenzy of religious and sexual passion, even a human might be taken for the god and be torn to pieces, especially when there were captives or slaves about. Hysterical parents might throw their own infants into the affray, they themselves fighting in the general skirmish for a piece of their child's flesh.
When a novice was introduced into this mystery of mysteries of Dionysos, there was a special initiation ceremony. The initiate was crowned with a wreath of golden leaves and led into a pit which was covered with a wooden grating. While he was standing there, a bull, profusely decorated with flowers and gilded leaves, was driven upon it and gashed in. a number of places so that its hot, reeking blood poured forth as from a fountain, besmirching the worshipper below. After the dead animal
was removed, the novice came forth drenched and dripping, covered with the scarlet blood. He was received by his fellows in the greatest reverence as one who had been born again to life eternal and purified in the blood of the bull. For some time thereafter, he was dieted on milk like a new-born baby.
Thus, the worshipper of Dionysos realized, if only symbolically, the greatest dream of mankind, the dream of wiping away the life that was and beginning it anew without the burden of the past. Centuries later, one Ponce de Leon was searching for the fountain of youth. The worshipper of Dionysos had found it long before in the life-blood of the bull.
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The Marriage of Psyche and Eros