Hellenic Articles

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To modern pagans, Asklepios is almost a forgotten god. Even among Hellenic pagans, his aid is not commonly sought and he receives few honors.To the ancient Greeks, however, the arrival of Asklepios was unreservedly welcome; his cult took hold immediately and grew quickly wherever it was introduced, making Asklepios a pan-Hellenic deity in a relatively short time. This was a god both wanted and needed--kindhearted, helpful, and with a great interest in the welfare of humanity.I have always found this lack of interest in him surprising, since in my experience Asklepios is very much an active, present deity who is more than willing to respond to our pleas and to work with us to find cures for our ailments, as much today as in ancient times.Asklepios In MythA son of Apollo by the nymph Koronis, Asklepios' birth was spectacularly mythological: when Apollo learned that Koronis had been unfaithful to him, he sent Artemis to destroy her, saving their child at the last possible minute by taking him from her on her funeral pyre. He learned the healing arts from the centaur Cheiron and became a healer of great skill. Eventually he attempted not only to heal the sick but to raise the dead, an act that prompted great objections from Hades and Asklepios' resulting death at the hands of Zeus.1Asklepios In CultHero CultAsklepios, like Herakles, was that rarity, a hero who was transformed into a god.The Greeks had a long-standing tradition of honoring heroes in cult. Typically a hero was a local entity with an interest in the city or region in which he had a mythological history or in which his body rested; the cult was centered around the hero's grave or heroine, where the hero received sacrifices and votive offerings. He might also be provided with an upgraded grave marker2, or with a festival or festivals. While hero-cult did not exist in all parts of Greece3, it was not uncommon. Unlike the gods, whose influence might be split--and the Iliad shows the problems this could cause--a hero could be counted on to protect the interests of the community4.A city's founder, whose interest in the well-being of the city would be natural and undoubted, often became a hero. However, a hero need not be originally a member of the community, as is shown by Athens' efforts to find the bones of Theseus on the island of Skyros and move them to Athens, where the Athenians would pay cult to the new addition and receive the subsequent benefits5.A hero was considered to be a chthonic being and received the honor--blood offerings, food, libations--appropriate to such a being6. While some hero cults were begun in hope of gain, others were founded to appease a hero who had somehow been insulted and responded by sending famine or disease to a community. A wellcared- for hero, however, could provide any number of advantages to the community--good harvests, health to the people, and victory at war7.Asklepios: Hero and GodIt seems likely that Asklepios was originally a local hero, a physician, although there is little agreement as to his origin; he is associated with Epidauros, the site of one of his greatest temples and the location of the earliest piece of evidence for his worship. Epidauros, like many other cities, had a history of honoring healer heroes, Asklepios being the latest and by far the most successful of these, and there are good reasons to favor this origin (including the words of Delphic Apollo)8. It is hard to say just when Asklepios made the leap from hero to god, but it seems likely that this would have occurred before the process of becoming pan-Hellenic, as a purely localized hero would have been less mobile and less interested in anything other than local concerns. He was known at the time of Homer--his sons appear in the Iliad--but Homer gives no indication of his status.Asklepios' great popularity can, at least in part, be credited to one Telemachos, who took upon himself the responsibility of establishing a private cult to the god in Athens. Very soon after, the Athenian state itself sponsored the cult, providing the god with temporary temple space in the Eleusinian9 and later with his own temple. The perceived sponsorship of the new arrival by Demeter and her daughter was surely a great boon to the growth of Asklepios' own cult10; similarly, several of Asklepios' other temples had originally been devoted to Apollo and were at some point likely to have been shared between father and son before they were turned over to Asklepios alone11. The Athenians were at that time recovering from a great and debilitating plague which had reduced their population by perhaps a third, and they had very likely exhausted all other spiritual options and were ready to welcome a kind god whose sole interest was the health and healing of humanity12.Medicine And MagicThe relationship between physicians and priests was not, as one might expect, one of enmity. Both the cult of Asklepios and the practice of medicine in the Hippoocratic tradition began to develop rapidly at approximately the same time (the latter part of the fifth century BCE)13. They may not have worked in concert, but neither were they hostile. This isn't to say that all of Asklepios' recommendations were essentially practical ones, simply that his methods were not limited to the supernatural. Although some sought healing from the god after physicians had failed them, the remedies they were recommended were not greatly different from those that a secular doctor might provide because Asklepios, while he might provide a boost to the work of mortals, did not necessarily suggest purely spiritual remedies--in that, he was an ally of the physician14, and in fact the public physicians of Athens offered to him regularly15. The relationship between spiritual and scientific medicine varied over time and regionally; according to Kerenyi, the cult of Asklepios in Kos was far more practical and focused on the physician than was the case in Epidauros or in most other regions, due to Kos' preexisting focus on medicine16.Healing And HealthAsklepios became, over time, the most important healing deity in Greece. Whether he was also a god one would commonly turn to for issues of maintaining one's existing health is debatable. Many of the other gods who shared this interest (his associate Hygieia, for example) were indeed focused on the preservation of health rather than the healing of illness17, although others such Apollo Paian, whose temples were eventually turned over to Asklepios, can be assumed to have had some interest in healing as well18. While there is evidence that Asklepios was also approached as a preventer of disease19, there is so much more information on his role as a healer of existing disease that it seems clear that the latter is by far his more important function.Asklepios' Worship In The Ancient WorldAsklepios was often honored in his own temples, which became quite widespread over time. The sick would pray for healing there, and leave votive thank-offerings when they were again well--a typical process for asking for individual favors from any god. In Asklepios' temples, however, a sick person could seek health in a different and unusual manner as well: incubation, in which the supplicant would spend the night in the temple, hoping for either a miraculous cure or (presumably more commonly) a dream directing him or her as to the best say to find that cure20.Often a person who sought healing from Asklepios would approach him with a promise, telling the god what he or she would give him once he or she was healed21. When the healing had taken place, the person would give the god the gift in question, keeping the promise he or she had made. Again, this procedure was far from unique, and many or most of the offerings made to Asklepios were similar to those made to other gods in their own temples.Most common were votive offerings of various sorts. While we may think first of the ubiquitous small terracotta votive figures, and these were of course very common, the size and value of the offering would depend on the financial status of the person making offering, as well as the degree of gratitude he or she felt toward the god.Along with the terracotta figures, a supplicant on a budget could present the god with a terracotta or wooden plaque, to be hung on the temple walls or on nearby trees. These small plaques could also be made of more precious materials, gold or silver22.Larger offerings might be attached to a pedestal, either on top if a statue or on the side as a stone plaque or relief sculpture23. A relief was likely to include an image of either the god in the act of healing the patient, or of the grateful recipient of healing making his or her offering to the god, perhaps accompanied by his or her family24.Particularly interesting, and as far as I know unique to Asklepios, were the terracotta votive offerings, often lifesized, of parts of the body. These were not a universal phenomenon, and the type of offering varied somewhat with the region (for example, in Epidauros those who were healed would give an offering including a long, detailed description of the cure given), but in Corinth at least the life-size votive limbs and organs were very common25.Asklepios welcomed offerings of many sorts, including cakes and other foods, and animals (a cock was common):People in exchange for the fulfillment of their wishes could give and actually gave almost anything: money, frankincense, laurel, olive shoots, oak leaves, garlands, songs, branches, chaplets, pictures on which Asclepius was painted as well-doer...or brass rings..., candles..., offerings in in gold and silver... Some patients even dedicated their sandals to the god; they had made a long trip in order to visit him, and thus it seemed fitting that they should give him their shoes. Whatever it was, the god received it graciously.26Unsurprisingly, after a temple had been in use for a while, time during which votive offerings left for the god by grateful supplicants would have filled the temples to overflowing, something would have to be done to make room for new offerings. Rules set by the temples as to where offerings could be placed27 would have done little to help the situation, and certainly a restriction on type of offering would have been particularly inappropriate in a sanctuary of Asklepios. The offerings belonged to the god, so simply discarding them was not an option28. On occasion the more valuable offerings, those made of precious metals, were melted down to make something new for a temple, but the rules for this procedure were very strict29. It was also considered acceptable to bury, in a respectful and pious manner, offerings which were old or which had become damaged30.Unlike many Greek religious practices, the worship of Asklepios was primarily for the benefit of the individual. While individuals certainly made offerings of their own to all the gods, state-sponsored cults typically held festivals in hope of gaining favor for the city. By contrast, although the state recognized the need for a healing god and Asklepios' cult was state-sponsored, Asklepios was almost always approached by individuals31.However, even though he was most commonly approached by lone men and women seeking aid for their own needs, Asklepios' festivals were the work of the state. In Athens he had two. One, the Epidauria, was held during the month of Boedromion, in the midst of the Eleusinian Mysteries (not only had Demeter shared her temple space with the healing god at need, she shared a place in her most sacred festival as well):The advent of Asclepius was worked up into a myth which told that in his own lifetime on earth Asclepius had come to Athens to seek initiation, but had arrived too late for the preliminary ceremonies, so that they had all to be rushed through again for his benefit on this, the fourth day. His privilege provided a mythical justification for any other would-be initiates who had started belatedly on the ceremonies.32The Epidauria included a procession, offerings and a feast33 --in other words, nothing atypical for a festival.His other large festival was the Asclepieia, held during the month of Elaphebolion, within the City Dionysia. Little is known of this festival apart from the existence of a good-sized sacrifice, and presumably a feast to follow. Although Parke does not give evidence of a direct connection between Asklepios and Dionysos, as he does with regard to Asklepios and Demeter to justify the placement of the Epidauria, he does wonder whether in fact some link does exist and finds it suggestive that one of Asklepios' proponents was the playwright Sophokles34.Asklepios' Worship In Modern PaganismAsklepios has not received a lot of attention during the current resurgence of pagan religions, even among Hellenic reconstructionists. Possibly this has to do with his being a later addition to the Greek pantheon (and the notion that older deities or concepts of deity must necessarily be better), or of his having made the leap from hero to god (modern Hellenic polytheists have not at this point embraced the idea of hero-cult--nor those gods, such as Asklepios and Herakles--who started out as heroes).However, I think it is more likely a function of the difficulty of adapting to a polytheistic religion--there are so many gods, and some people may prefer to limit the number they have regular personal dealings with. It seems to be much more common for someone in need to seek help with issues of health or healing from Apollo, and certainly as a god of purifications he is qualified, although historically he seems usually (although not universally) to have been more concerned with larger health issues--plagues and the like--than with individual needs. Additionally, there may be a question of whether Asklepios does in fact exist as a separate entity, or whether he is an aspect of Apollo. Finally there is Asklepios' narrow focus--unlike many of the gods, possessors of rich mythologies and multiple functions, he seems to be fairly single-minded, and some may equate that apparently narrow range of interest with the tendency in the later part of the era to deify concepts such as victory (Nike).The polytheistic view of deity is one that perceives the gods as specialists. This does not mean that the power or ability of the gods is limited--if asked, and if amenable, any god can do any of those things we ask of them--merely that they are individuals with individual preferences and interests. For example, you could ask Athena for help with your love life, and if you have a good existing relationship with her she may well lend a hand, but her approach will certainly be different from that of Aphrodite, for whom those matters are far more of a priority. Asklepios is a healing god. That is what he does; that is what he likes to do.He is also a responsive god, with an interest in the good of humanity. In my experience, Asklepios listens to sincere prayers and is more than willing to lend his abilities to those in need. He doesn't generally deal in miracles (although I certainly would not discount the possibility) but will support any efforts the person asking his aid makes on their own behalf.Modern Worship and OfferingsWith the obvious lack of modern temples to Asklepios, we moderns are at a slight disadvantage; however, even in ancient times a trip to the Asklepeion was not a requirement, and the god was thought to hear prayers made from home as well as those made within a temple.The custom most strongly associated with Asklepios was incubation, sleeping in the temple in hope of finding a cure through dreams. Someone who is seeking Asklepios' aid might be advised to take particular note of any dreams he or she may have.An offering to the god would also be a possibility. It was customary to promise a thank-offering during the initial prayer, and to present it after the cure had been completed; however, the timing of the offering could also depend on the type of offering being given, the nature of the help asked for, or of the ailment itself. In addition, the post-cure offering presupposes an ailment that can be quickly cured, and if you are asking for help with something chronic, or less cut-and-dried, you may want to give your offering after some improvement has been shown even if the ailment is still present to some degree.Asklepios welcomed all sorts of offerings, so there's no need to be anxious about your choice. Traditional votives are appropriate, as are more seemingly-modern offerings such as candles and incense, perishable items such as food and flowers, and immaterial ones such as prayers and songs. In fact, this article you are reading right now is a thank-offering to Asklepios.If you do choose to make a traditional votive offering, there is a wide range of possibilities; however, one type particular to the worship of Asklepios is the terracotta model of the part of the body you are asking to be healed. While making a life-sized model may be beyond our resources, a smaller one is far simpler and may be made of either oven-dried or air-dried clay without much difficulty.Another consideration, and one to take into account while choosing the type of offering to make, is what to do with the offering once it is made. Songs and prayers, of course, will not be a problem for most people. Perishable offerings can be left on one's home altar for an appropriate length of time, which will vary with one's circumstances (for example, if you have house pets, you may not want to leave food offerings out for very long at all); if this is not possible, they can be left outdoors. More permanent offerings can also be left on the altar, indefinitely if an altar item or if you have room, for a shorter period of time if not. You can also bury these items in a respectful manner. if and when you are no longer able to keep them there.Finally, you will want to consult your doctor or other health care provider in addition to any prayers or offerings you give to Asklepios. Asklepios, father of physicians, is most likely to help those also who take steps to ensure their own health.End Notes1 Timothy Gantz, Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, vol 1 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press, 1993), p. 91. 2 Walter Burkert, Greek Religion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), p. 203. 3 Robert Garland, Introducing New Gods: The Politics of Athenian Religion (London: Gerald Duckworth and Co., Ltd., 1992), p 32.. 4 Garland, p. 97. 5 Garland, p. 82-98. 6 Burkert, p. 205. 7 Burkert, p. 206-7. 8 Garland, p. 117. 9 Garland, p. 123. 10 Garland, p. 124. 11 Garland, p. 118. 12 Garland, p. 131. 13 Garland, p. 116. 14 Robert Parker, Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), p. 249. 15 Robert Parker, Athenian Religion: A History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 184. 16 C. Kerenyi, Asklepios: Archetypal Image of the Physician's Existence (London: Thames and Hudson, 1959), p. 51. 17 Parker, Athenian Religion, p. 175. 18 Parker, Athenian Religion, p. 175. 19 Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, volume 2 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), p. 182-3. 20 Burkert, p. 215. 21 Jon D. Mikalson, Athenian Popular Religion (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1983), p. 23. 22 Folkert van Straten, "Votives and Votaries in Greek Sanctuaries," in Richard Buxton (ed.), Oxford Readings in Greek Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 195-6. 23 Van Straten, p. 192.. 24 Van Straten, p. 198. 25 Garland, p. 123. 26 Edelstein and Edelstein, p. 190. 27 Van Straten, p. 213. 28 Van Straten, p. 214. 29 Van Straten,p. 215. 30 Simon Price, Religions of the Ancient Greeks (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 59. 31 Garland, p. 134. 32 H. W. Parke, Festivals of the Athenians (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), p. 64. 33 Parke, p. 65. 34 Parke, p. 135.ReferencesBurkert, Walter, trans John Raffan. Greek Religion. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985. (originally 1977)Edelstein, Emma J. and Ludwig Edelstein. Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, Volume II. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1945. (1998)Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources, Volume 1. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.Garland, Robert. Introducing New Gods: The Politics of Athenian Religion. London: Gerald Duckworth and Co., Ltd, 1992.Kerenyi, C. Asklepios: Archetypal Image of the Physician's Existence. London: Thames and Hudson, 1959.Mikalson, Jon D. Athenian Popular Religion. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1983.Parke, H. W. Festivals of the Athenians. London: Thames and Hudson, 1977.Parker, Robert. Athenian Religion: A History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.Parker, Robert. Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983.Price, Simon. Religions of the Ancient Greeks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.van Straten, Folkert. "Votives and Votaries in Greek Sanctuaries," in Richard Buxton (ed), Oxford Readings in Greek Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
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Dionysus is one of several deities whose popular worship was practiced throughout Greece. Commonly known as God of wine and vegetation, he is spatially associated with both Athens and Thebes, while mythology also links him to Crete and other islands. His worship is among the longest lived, beginning in the Minoan-Mycenaean period and enduring well into the Roman era. It is worth exploring the history of this successful God, from his origin in pre-Greek culture, to include some of his popular worship throughout the Greek periods, and finally examining the mystery cult that would allow his worship to continue into Hellenistic Greek and Roman eras.OriginsHerodotus credits Melampus, son of Amythaon, with introducing Dionysus into Greece in name, worship, and rite. His opinion is that Melampus learned of an Egyptian procession for the vegetation God Osiris and imported much of it, including the phallic procession, into Greece as a Dionysian rite.However, much evidence proves Dionysus was worshipped in the earlier Bronze Age Mycenaean era of Greece. Mycenaean Linear B script, used from about 1500-1100 BCE, shows worship of Dionysus at Pylos. There is even a hint of Dionysus worship continuing from the late Minoan period. A temple within a building dating to the fifteenth century BCE at Ayia Irini on Keos was in continuous use into the Greek period, at which time an inscription marks the sanctuary as belonging to Dionysus.An origin before the Ionian migrations to Asia Minor in the tenth century BCE is also indicated by Thucydides. He notes the Anthesteria is practiced in both Athens and Ionia. All Ionian migrants had similar practices of this Dionysian festival to the Athenians, so this festival originated before migration.Despite a long and popular history in Greece, the origin of Dionysus' name is not known. Most of the word has not been deciphered, although it is believed to contain the name Zeus within it, as an indication of Dionysus as Zeus' son. It appears to be non-Greek, as are Bacchus, his mother's name Semele, and cult terms for the sacred wand and hymns. This argues for origin among the indigenous people of Greece or among early migrants.Dionysus is clearly one of the most ancient of the Greek deities and is not originally an import of Osirus. Herodotus' view may stem from the fact that during the 7th century BCE, Dionysus worship was influenced by the worship of Osiris, especially seen in the addition of the ship procession to his cult. Herodotus and all of Greece appear to be unaware of the long continuity of Dionysus worship, which may have implications about the extent to which the Greeks were aware of their Mycenaean cultural inheritance.In his Theogony, Hesiod says the mortal Semele gave birth to Dionysus "in shared intimacy" with Zeus, his father. Dionysus is born fully immortal and Semele is transformed into a Goddess. This conflicts with later mythology, which claims that the mortal Semele could not withstand Zeus' affection and dies as a result. Zeus rescues the fetus and carries it to term in his thigh, which is also the location of birth. These events occurred in Thebes.A later myth of his birth, common in the Bacchic mysteries, claims Dionysus was born of the Goddess Persephone. Zeus, his father, places him on a throne while he is still a child. He is enticed by Titans, who murder him and tear him to pieces. Then he is born again.Cult FestivalThe Anthesteria celebrates the annual arrival of spring, notably flower blossoms, and takes place over three days. Offerings to the God were made at the sanctuary of Dionysus in the Marsh, which was only open during this festival. The entire population of free women, men, and children, as well as slaves, participated in the festival. For children, who began to participate at age three, the festival was one of four major lifetime events.The festival begins at sunset when the first day, called Pithoigia, begins with the opening of the first wine of the year and a first offering is left in the sanctuary for Dionysus.The second day, called Choes, includes a drinking contest for all participants in which everyone receives a jug of wine while sitting at their own table in silence. Even children are included, but have a smaller jug.All other sanctuaries are closed, removing access to other deities, and no oaths may be sworn at this time. Spirits were allowed out of Hades and given free roam of Athens, whereas normally they were confined to areas near their graves. In early times they appear to be spirits of ancient Carians whom legend says anciently lived in the area, but later they were apparently the souls of all the dead. People smeared pitch on their doors and chewed buckthorn leaves for protection. Artwork on vases indicate masked mummers as an activity, although it was not part of the official cult. Revellers end this day by wearing ritual garlands as they return to the sanctuary to make sacrifices.Chytroi, the third and final day, begins at sunset as Choes ends. The wife of the Archon Basileus, ruler of Athens, becomes Ariadne, wife of Dionysus, and has marital union with the God in the Agora. This union may have been literally with a herm or a masked person, but most of the sacred duties of the queen were secret and are not expressly discussed. During the day children's contests take place. The main activity revolves around pottage, a cooked mixture of grain and honey. Pottage offerings were made to Hermes Chthonios for the dead and some was eaten by participants. Hermes was a guide of souls and the offering secured his aid in returning the souls to their proper place in Hades.Burkert assesses the festival as a new beginning and a method of reinforcing one's identification as an Athenian. None of the usual daily activities, including business and worship of city deities, is permitted. Instead, threatening spirits and drunken revelry abound and end all semblance of normal life. Activities reach out to include both the highest and lowest levels of Athenians: the ruler and his wife as well as children and slaves. Burkert further suggests that if reference to the Basileus derives from the Mycenaean period, when basileus was the title for a guild master, the festival was possibly geared more to the common person than to the aristocrat.Many myths are related to the variety of sacred activities which take place as part of the Anthesteria. One has direct involvement with the Minoan-Mycenaean periods: Dionysus and his wife Araidne.Ariadne is the daughter of the mythical King Minos of Crete. She is known as the wife of both Dionysus and Theseus, the first ruler of Attica. The most common explanation for this claims Theseus abandoned her on Naxos, where Dionysus later found and married her. Other accounts claim Theseus had to give Ariadne to Dionysus either completely, as the God's wife, or conditionally, during each night. This generally follows suit with the Archon's surrender of his wife to the God during the Anthesteria.All of this is rather different from the earliest version of their marriage myth, which is in the Odyssey. In this text, Araidne is in Hades after her murder by the hand Artemis, apparently because Dionysus testified against Araidne for eloping with Theseus.It has been suggested that Araidne was originally a Cretan Goddess but by the eighth century BCE she was considered to be a human princess who became immortal through the efforts of Zeus when Hesiod wrote Theogony. One analysis of the marriage, which considers the possibility of Araidne as a Minoan vegetation Goddess, explains that her relationship with Dionysus begins before the arrival of the Mycenaean hero Theseus. She breaks her vow to Dioysus with Theseus. The opposition between the God and Theseus is reconciled through two Athenian festivals founded by Theseus for that purpose, the Oschophoria and Anthesteria. This would explain the sacred marriage in the Anthesteria between the Archon's wife and Dionysus as a ritual which appeases the God's anger and creates blessing.Bacchic MysteriesMystery cults existed at the same time as regular religious practice, such as festivals. Individuals made a personal decision to enter a mystery cult through initiation, using them as a supplement to the common religion. The mysteries brought one into close contact with the divine.The Bacchic mysteries began by the late archaic period, if not earlier. Corinth is closely associated with its origin, at about 600 BCE. Corinthian vase painting depicts scenes of Bacchic revelry, the dithyrambos (cult hymn) was invented in Corinth, and a ruling family clan called Bacchiadai claimed descent from Dionysus. But the Bacchic Mysteries did not belong to one place. Wandering clergy spread the mystery cult throughout all parts of Greece.Bacchic clergy were of both genders and claimed knowledge of the mysteries from previous teachers or directly from Dionysus. Eventually there seems to have been concern over the legitimacy of the wandering clergy. In the third century BCE, priestesses of the Bacchic mysteries at Miletus and in the surrounding country had to register themselves with the city's regular priestesses of Dionysus, and also had to pay fees. In Hellenistic Egypt, at about 210 BCE, Ptolemy IV Philopater declared clergy performing Bacchic initiations must register in Alexandria and list three generations of teachers from whom they had learned the mysteries.Bacchic initiation has four stages. First one must conceive the desire to join and then apply, this is followed by a preparation period, then the sacred rites were performed, and finally one is integrated with other initiates.Artwork and texts indicate that both women and men were initiated into the Bacchic mysteries. Initiation was not confined to the Greek population. As seen in Herodotus' account of Scythian king Scylas, foreigners could become initiates. Scylas was initiated into the mysteries of Dionysus at Borysthenites. However Bacchic release was a disgrace to the Scythians. When they saw their king in Bacchic frenzy, they rebelled and murdered him.The Bacchic mysteries held two attractions for initiates: renewal after a release from madness and the promise of an afterlife. Dionysus is generally associated with madness, both the frenzy that descends upon his worshippers and as a God able to cure madness. The Bacchic rites cure suffering and afflictions of the mind with the divine madness, allowing initiates to express their emotions in the frenzy. The frenzy is considered a divine revelation, a direct experience of Dionysus, perhaps even possession. The other offer of the rites is the hope for a blissful afterlife, as opposed to reincarnation or an unconscious existence in Hades. To that effect, texts with instruction on how to proceed after death have been found in tombs from areas as far apart as Italy, Thessaly and Crete. Bacchic images appear on funerary items, and in southern Italy fourth century vases show Bacchic and funerary symbolism.Although much of the Eleusinian mysteries has been kept secret, they also promised an afterlife, revealed through Goddesses Demeter and Persephone. After the sixth century BCE, crossover began between Dionysus and the Bacchic mysteries with the Eleusinian mysteries. Iacchos, who leads the Eleusinian procession, seems to be Dionysus. This conclusion is made on the basis of the similarity of his name to Bacchus, the Dionysian nature of the procession, and from artwork which shows Iacchos dressed as Dionysus. It was anciently noted that during the Lenaia celebration Iacchos was called the son of Semele, the mother of Dionysus.Initiates of both mysteries are seen enjoying an afterlife in Aristophanes' Frogs. Dionysus journeys into Hades and encounters a procession singing of Iacchos, just as the Eleusinian initiates did when alive. This group is called the Saved and the Blessed Ones. They ask Demeter to bring forth the holy child Iacchos to join them, as they are votaries of Bacchus.The relation of these two mystery cults is also seen in the Bacchic myth in which Persephone gives birth to Dionysus, who is soon murdered and reborn. This is a Chthonian Dionysus of the Underworld, the location of the throne Zeus places him on. Ritually this chthonic association was acknowledged in Bacchic rites by wearing a garland of poplar, which was associated with the Underworld.Throughout the centuries of his worship, Dionysus appears strongest in uniting the population. From the Mycenaean influence and possible origin of the Anthesteria festival to its well-known Athenian practice, Dionysus worship serves to unite the whole population and reinforces social identification with the polis. Dionysus worship also offers salvation through direct contact with the divine. It is indirectly offered to the polis and population through the sacred marriage of the God with the Archon's wife in the Anthesteria of Athens. At the same time, his mystery cult offers the individual personal salvation through direct experience of his divine being and additionally offers life after death. In essence, this unites the worshippers with the God, which reinforces their bonds. This must have strongly contributed to his long duration as a popular God for nearly two millennia.ReferencesAristophanes, "Frogs," Trans. Robert H. Webb, in Hadas, Moses, ed. The complete plays of Aristophanes, (New York: Bantam Books, 1962) 367-415Burkert, Walter, Ancient Mystery Cults, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985)Herodotus, The Histories, Trans. Aubrey De Selincourt (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1996)Hesiod, Theogony/Works and Days, Trans. M.L. West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)Johnston, Sarah, Restless Dead: Encounters Between the Living and the Dead in Ancient Greece, (Berkeley: University of Ca l ifornia Press, 1999)Nilsson, Martin, Greek Folk Religion, (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1971)Pollard, John, Seers, Shrines and Sirens: the Greek Religious Revolution in the Sixth Century B.C. (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1965)
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MichaelJDangler's picture
From the recent film Sinbad to the Principia Discordia to the Theogany of Hesiod, the Greco-Roman Goddess of Chaos, Discord, and Strife has been showing up a lot recently. Often, she steals glimpses at us from the corner of her eye, watching what we're doing and waiting to pounce. Some might say that she's even affected ADF recently, but this is a rumor started by her detractors.Eris is the Greek goddess of chaos and discord, her Roman equivalent being Discordia. She is listed as both the daughter of Night (Hesiod) and the twin sister of Ares (Homer). Her children are listed in the Theogany as follows: The Children of ["Stubborn"] Eris:"Hateful Eris gave birth to painful Distress and Distraction and Famine and tearful Sorrow; also Wars and Battles and Murders and Slaughters; also Feuds and Lying Words and Angry Words; also Lawlessness and Madness - two sisters that go together - and the Oath, which, sworn with willful falsehood, brings utter destruction on men."2From this we can tell much. She is the mother of things that are an undesirable part of the human experience, but sometimes these things are good (as in the case of Oath), unless used wrongly by mankind.Eris is represented in ancient depictions with wild, unbound hair streaming from her head, her garments ripped and torn, and often hiding a dagger. In the Renaissance, she was represented with her golden apple, or hiding in the background during the judgment of Paris (more on that later). Most recently, we can find that she is usually represented with her apple, often in various states of undress, and often seductive and occasionally the "eye of the storm," chaos swirling about her, but constantly smiling and enjoying herself.As a Discordian myself (a devotee of Eris), I once asked her why her image had changed so often. She claims that the Greeks and Romans were a "constipated folk" and "victims of indigestion." Asking her about modern Pagan reconstructionists who see her as a nasty, evil force, she said that they are obviously "re-constipated, the poor things."Modern Discordians and Erisians worship a very different goddess than that of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Here, Eris is a deity of creative chaos, always putting her devotees in situations where they are forced to find their own ways out, and she quite often makes sure that someone is having fun in the process (even if it is only Herself who laughs). Discordians are not afraid of their Goddess (except at certain times of the month), and often poke fun at her, draw her in suggestive poses, and create strange prayers3 to her that they refuse to use (because those prayers might just come true).She is a deity of troubadours and clowns, scientists and children, cats and artists, and other groups that are no farther apart than their own definition. When you hear the word, "Oops," you know that she's active. When you have lost your keys and find them in the bag you rifled through six times, she's working hard. When everything goes wrong just before it goes right, you know she's blessed you.She has a bartender's ear and a beachcomber's style. Her smile is that of the Cheshire cat, and the sparkle in her eye is amazingly seductive. Sometimes she takes you, your life, and everything you know, adds ice, and shakes you until everything seems wrong, but when you're dumped out, you generally land on your feet.Academically speaking, though, Eris is not all skittles and beer. It is she who caused the first war among men, the Trojan War, because she was not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (let this little allegory be a story to those who don't invite the Outdwellers to rites). When Eris found out that she had not been invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, she created a golden apple. Upon it was written the word "Kallisti", a Greek word meaning, "For the prettiest (one)." She took this apple to the wedding and rolled it in among the guests. All the goddesses assumed it was theirs (obviously), but three in particular out-fought the others. These were Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. This fight was eventually broken up by Zeus, who declared that they would find someone else to make the decision of who was "the prettiest," as Zeus is no dummy. He picks out a Trojan prince who just happens to be herding sheep, and he's offered bribes to pick each one (Hera offers wealth, Athena offers victory, and Aphrodite offers the most beautiful woman in the world). Being a wonderfully intelligent (and strapping young) lad, he gives the apple to Aphrodite and gets the hottie.You know the story from here, because we've all seen the major motion picture that came out of it (i.e. Orlando Bloom goes all invincible elf on everybody, and lots of hot men get oiled up, and Brad Pitt's rear-end gets its own salary and mention in the credits). The point of this whole story is that bad things do happen when you try to force chaos out of your life and/or your rites. Quite often, we forget that chaos and disorder are a part of nature, and while we may not be comfortable with them, we are still forced to think about them and respond to them in ways that may be vastly different than anything else we might encounter.Often, as Druids and as an organization, we're seen as "stilted" or "stiff " by people outside. Most other Pagans look at ADF and call us "high ritual" or "stuck in supplication and never in experience." One of the lessons that Eris can teach us is that sometimes experience is more important than book-learning. Sometimes, we can remember that while sincerity is no substitute for competence, neither is competence any substitute for sincerity. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves as loudly as we pray, and we need to remember that our worship and Our Fellowship are both made up of individuals who need to experience our gods, not just study them.Eris is the heart of playfulness and joy in ritual, and it is through her that we are finally able to experience these things as if we were children. She is a deity that should be taken only in moderation, though (two before bed, and call your doctor if symptoms persist in the morning), for if you dive too deeply into her world, you will have problems ever seeing things seriously again.I've already mentioned her as an Outdweller. Chaos is not something that one should generally invite into a rite, where (if you happen to believe Eliade) you are recreating a sacred past that is ordered and structured. There are times, however, when chaos is a perfectly acceptable (and perhaps even highly useful) attribute to call upon. As mentioned above, ADF rites have a reputation of being stogy and boring. If the rite can use some spice, you might change the Outdweller offering to invite Eris to the party (I suggest having a bowl of punch and a hotdog sans bun available for offering), but if you do you should make it perfectly clear that her "help" is not what you're asking for, just that you're letting her know that she has not been forgotten.Using Eris as a Patron for a rite becomes a bit tricky. It should go without saying, but invoking her to certain rites (such as the ADF Unity Rite) might not be a good idea unless you craft your words very, very carefully, and even then only a Discordian Pope should undertake such a serious thing. If you're running something like a Fools' Rite or a Rite of Inversion, Eris might just be the kick in the pants your ritual needs. The emphasis she can place on creative forms of chaos can be amazing, and she is excellent for starting new projects that you don't know where to start with (and even better for starting projects you aren't at all sure you do want to start).One final (though by no means the last) way to incor- porate Eris into an ADF rite is as the unformed chaos potential that the rite uses to form itself. Remember that she is a daughter of Night, and as such has control over the formless things of the void, as she is one herself.As you can see, Eris isn't the boogy-woman some have made her out to be. She has legitimate uses here and there for any person. Those of us who have a relationship with her urge you to run the other direction. If you are a glutton for punishment, though, and embrace her as she does you, you'll be in for the ride of your life. The carnival doesn't stop once it's begun.Remember, next time you do a ritual and something goes wrong, the laughter in the background is simply a reminder from your resident crazy-woman-god that everything is going according to plan.End Notes1 Full title: Pope Cockroach the Green, POEE, Devotee to St. Gulik, Emperor and Lord Protector of the Lands Between State Lines, Chairman of the Committee to Move Independence Day back to July 2, Keeper of Souls stolen by photographs, Chief Librarian of all libraries on the Moon, Second Assistant to the ResNet Goddess, Fifth Poet of the State of Chaos, Excommunicator of YOU, De-excommunicator of YOU, Preceptor of the Emperor's New Clothes Coven, Chief Hunter and Skinner of Fluffy Bunnies, Lounge Singer at the Hotel Nirvana, Game Warden for the Happy Hunting Grounds, and National Swashbuckler for the Nation of Djibouti.2 Hesiod. Theogany. Trans. Norman O. Brown. Prentice Hall; June 1953 (ISBN: 0672602024)3 Discordian Meal blessing:Eris Good and Strong and Bright, Make this food safe tonight. Anthrax, chicken pox and hugs, Please keep at bay such thugs. Kitty claws and dragon teeth Do not contaminate my beef.* My veggies and salads green Are not replaced with dolphin spleen. Eris, O Mother Discordia and Poof Take this as prayer, not spoof. Through your guidance and strife May we see our lessons in life! *Vegetarians may change this to: Kitty claws and dragon sneeze Do not contaminate my cheese.
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none's picture
The following pages are about Hellenic (aka "Greek") gods and spirits:Pan Visits New JerseyExplorations of Dionysus: Cult, Myth, MysteryAsklepios, Finest of HealersEris
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EdwinChapman's picture
(Originally published in Druid's Progress 13)I really enjoy hearing stories about what we actually get when invoke the goddesses and gods, nature spirits, spirits of place, ancestors, or particular deities. To me, it shows that what we are doing is actually working; that we are actually connecting. In order to encourage people to share their experiences, I'm relating a true tale of what happened when Norma Hoffman and I inadvertently invoked the great god Pan.There is a park that lies along the Delaware-Raritan Canal that is a half-hours' drive from our apartment in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It's usually not very crowded, and the ride is enjoyable, past farms and woodlands. It was a hot July day in 1990, a Saturday. We packed some crackers and cheese, an old Indian blanket, pillows, juice, and some books we were reading, dropped the top on the VW Rabbit and drove off to the park.I had been reading a book by Philippe Borgeaud called The Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece (1). I'd seen it in the Rutgers University Bookstore, opened it up, stood there for about ten minutes reading it, and subsequently bought it. The book is full of stories about Pan, customs, rituals, and invocations translated from ancient Greek.We drove into a parking lot, gathered our stuff, and walked to a spot where the park curved along the woods, close to the canal. There were a few people about a hundred yards away up a small rise, but we were pretty much alone- the woods on our right, the rise behind us, the canal in front of us.Our tired bodies stretched out in the warm sun. It felt good to he on a blanket, close to the earth, the sky high above. We were very relaxed, our brains clear of the mundane nonsense of working life.I was really enjoying The Cult of Pan, and when I got to a good story I read it aloud to Norma. She was taking a tarot course and absorbed in the cards. We were just your typical Pagan couple in the park. The sun was hot, and I took off my shirt. There were sounds from the woods of birds, squirrels, and other small creatures. It was quiet and peaceful. I was really moved when I read this one particular invocation, so I read it aloud to Norma:To Pan, leader of the naiad nymphs, I raise my song, Pride of the Golden Choruses, Lord of the Frivolous Music; from his far-sounding flute he pours an inspirited seductive melody; he steps lightly to the song, leaping through the shadowy grottoes, displaying his multiform body, beautiful dancer, beautiful face, resplendent with blond beard. As far as starry Olympus comes the panic echo, pervading the company of the Olympian Gods with an immortal muse. The whole earth and sea are stirred by your grace; you are the prop of all, O Pan, Ah Pan.(2)About five minutes later, as we looked over to the rise, (both of us at the same time, I think), we saw a rather shabby looking person walking, or, really, kind of gracefully staggering, toward us. He was five foot four or five, kind of swarthy, muscular, and wore dark blue trunks and a loose flannel shirt. He looked like a homeless drunk, and I remember thinking that that was unusual this far from the city. He looked like he was heading straight for our blanket.The first thing he said as he reached us was: "Nobody wants to talk to me anymore."Well, of course, I thought, you look like a bum and you smell like you haven't had a bath in weeks. On top of that, you're fly's undone. But Norma and I talk to the homeless in New Brunswick, so we asked him where he was coming from. He pointed to the rise. "Over then." "They're mostly yuppies," I said.He agreed "Yeah, fucking yuppies. You see they're taking all the dead trees out of the woods? Don't they know that the forest needs dead wood? They just don't care. They just take whatever they want."I thought this was a strange thing to say, but as he continued the conversation got even stranger."There's no deer in these woods anymore. You know how I can tell? By the smell of the dirt". He picked up a clod of dirt and shoved it at me. "Smell it. The deer have all gone."As he talked, he kept glancing at the woods. He said that people didn't understand that they had to take care of the earth, that they would be dead without the earth. Yet, he didn't sound like your typical environmentalist.Then he told us about his life, about his ex-wife and his kid. He said he couldn't find anyone he could live with. He saw my book lying on the blanket, and asked what I'd been reading."Mythology," I answered."Schoolwork," he said, and he made this gross snorting sound. Then he told us how he was visiting a friend and how they'd climbed a hill the night before to "howl at the full moon," and how they'd finished off five cases of beer, he and his friend.That got me thinking. Five cases of beer; twenty-four cans in a case. That's sixty cans of beer each. That's not human. And then I started thinking about Pan.He is the Lord of the Woods, God of goatsherds and huntsmen; Ecstatic Dancer; God of laughter and good humor; God of excessive sexual desire (hence his opposition to marriage)(3), He is called 'the lonely God'(4), and 'the last arrived of the Gods'(5). Half-man, half-goat, He is the original party animal. He is the mediator between nature and the Gods. He is a God of strength - the marathon torch race in the original Olympics was dedicated to Pan (6) - and He saved the Greeks at Marathon. He was not an Athenian God, but an Arcadian, from the rugged mountainsides. He fought the Titans with Zeus, yet His panic (7) makes battle impossible, breaking the artificial bond of an army and causing everyone to run away. He has connections to Artemis, Goddess of the hunt: He shares Her nymphs and must obey Her. Pan is the one who led Persephone's wedding dance, happily piping His pipes as She was led into the underworld, yet it was Pan who found Demeter in mourning when no one else could find Her. And it was Pan's daughter, Iambe, who got Demeter to laugh and forget Her grief for just a moment. When you clap your hands, you are doing homage to Pan (9), when you laugh, and when you dance.By the time the homeless guy finished talking, I was convinced that if he wasn't Pan in person, we had met a very Pan-like person - an unwitting (?) emissary of Pan, an ambassador from his court of homeless wandering shepherds, drunkards, foresters, and bums. Someone who smelled like a beer-soaked goat. Someone on the borders of civilized life, which is just where Pan would be. The cave that the Athenians set aside for Pan was neither in the city proper, nor within the sacred closure on the top of the acropolis. It is beneath Propylaea, on the northwest slope of the acropolis; a wild place.We shook hands with him, after a while, and he said he'd look for us if he was in this park again. By that time it had dawned on me that I had invoked Pan, and that the invocation had actually worked. I don't remember if I was frightened, or just amused. I think I was a bit of both. Norma said that I just kept looking up at him with this big grin on my face.He asked for our names, and then he introduced himself. He said his name was 'Dick'. Norma smiled and told him his zipper was undone. He said, "Shit. It always falls open like that."And off he went, walking up toward the rise. Norma and I looked at each other, and when we looked back, he was gone - over the rise, I assume, although he must have reached it pretty damned quick.I'm writing this down, nearly four years later, because I'd like to encourage others to write down and publish what actually happens when we invoke something. A religion that had been a fairly abstract exercise for me ("schoolwork", indeed!) turned miraculously real after this experience. We can think of invocation as a kind of test of our religion, the proof that we're connecting. Like the story of the appearance of Athena at last year's Panathenaia, it means that what we are doing is real and working. Please send your own true invocation stories to Druids' Progress editor Bryan Perrin. I know there are lots of them out there, because I've heard people tell them. At some point in the future, perhaps we can even collect these stories into book form.-- FootnotesThe Cult of Pan in Ancient Greece, by Philippe Borgeaud (translated by: Kathleen Atlass & James Redfield) The University of Chicago Press, 1988, Chicago, IL 60637.Ibid, page 149. An inscription from the fourth or fifth century B.C.E., found on a stone with another hymn addressed to Demeter describing her anger and the condition upon which she will return to Olympus.In fact, Pan was the original 'Onanist', given that gift by Hermes after he fell in love with Echo and was unable to reach her. The Greek Myths, Robert Craves.Duseros - unlucky in love.Theos Neonatos.Pan mid the runner who was racing through Arcadia to warn the Greeks of the approach of the Persian army that he, Pan, would help the Greeks if they would build a shrine to him in Athens.Panic - loss of order, discipline, structure,Op. Cit. Borgeaud.
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