Savage Gods – Part II

There is nothing better than mornings spent with the Gods, whether in devotion to Them or fruitful discussion of Them. Today was one such morning. My friend Markos posted this awesome quote by Walter Otto on his facebook this morning:

“No single Greek god even approaches Dionysus in the horror of his epithets, which near witness to a savagery that is absolutely without mercy… He is called the “render of men”, “the eater of raw flesh”, “who delights in the sword and bloodshed”. We hear not only of human sacrifice in his cult, but also of the ghastly ritual in which a man is torn to pieces. Where does this put us? Surely there can be no further doubt that this puts us into death’s sphere. The terrors of destruction, which make all if life tremble, belong also, as horrible desire, to the kingdom of Dionysus. The monster whose supernatural duality speaks to us from the mask has one side of his nature turned toward eternal night.”

~Walter F. Otto, Dionysus: Myth and Cult

We both love Dionysos dearly (and if I’m not mistaken, Markos actually belongs to Dionysos whereas while I love this God, I pay cultus from the fringes). This quote encapsulates some core elements of His nature. He is a terrible God, in the old sense of the word, as One Who brings terror.

Another friend Paul C. mentioned that He is also “nice,” and I have to agree: He can be immensely nice and gentle (and we agreed that sometimes that is more shattering than any cruelty He could bring to bear on the transformation of our souls). Paul said:

“I’ll say that when I first started with Dionysus I didn’t expect him to be nice.

It was the niceness of him that was almost hard for me to handle at first. Due to my background of abuse and other unfortunate things I have a lot of self-confidence and self-esteem issues. His acceptance and love was unexpected and clearly not coming from myself. It was hard because of the whole host of new ideas and perspectives that I had to confront As your husband (Sannion) explained it and I think he’s right that was the God’s own way of molding and helping me.

So niceness isn’t always painless like you think it would be. Sometimes it’s more painful than cruelty when it runs counterbalance to what is in one’s head.” — Paul C. (quoted with permission)

Still, as I pointed out, it’s never the “nice” that people try to elide from their Gods. It’s the Power. I was asked to explain and the conversation that followed was meaty enough that I wanted to share highlights of it here.

People will go to any lengths to make their Gods sweet, nice, and unthreatening, to insist that their Gods aren’t savage or vicious, violent or bold. We want our Gods civilized and ‘modern.’ We want Gods we can control, or at least Gods that don’t challenge us, that don’t drag us down into the morass of our own shit and force us to look at it, and deal with it. We as a culture want Gods Who won’t interfere with our lives and the priorities we set for ourselves. We want Gods of peace so that we never have to stand naked, afraid, trembling, and possibly bleeding and snot faced before Them. We want characters in a storybook. Just look at any of our communities.

Of course positioning a Deity as any one thing alone is always problematic. A God, any God is never just savage or nice. They *are*. They are in a fullness and complexity of Being that I don’t really think we as human beings quite have the capacity to comprehend at all. We may catch glimpses, but the totality is too immense for us to do more than gnaw upon. Think about the story of Dionysos’ Mother Semele. When She was tricked into forcing Zeus to reveal Himself in the fullness of His power it burned Her to ash. A human being, as we are now, simply does not have the capacity to behold the Gods in Their fullness. The masks They wear are necessary but every so often, oh every so often we get a glimpse of some of the roaring Power that lies beneath.

So yes, Dionysos is nice. I can also attest He’s been incredibly nice and gentle with me. but …that’s not the part the average person is going to erase in their minds, I think. We know He’s nice. That’s not the part most people want to forget.

I saw this over the years with Odin. Any mention of Odin’s darker sides — and oh, He is a terribly savage God. Anyone who thinks His veneer of civilization and culture is anything more than a carefully calculated mask is deluding themselves.—His penchant for ordeal, His violence, His savagery inevitably led to claims that I was making this God into a sadist. “That’s not my Odin.” (#notallOdins) No, buttercup, but it is Odin. Maybe it’s not what He’s showing you, but it is absolutely His nature. The best of us learn to revel in it. Those who can’t? Well, there’s always British TV, fanfiction, and pop culture.

There’s a movie that several people in the conversation brought up, one that has strong Dionysian overtones: “The Witch.” In this movie, the Devil in the shape of a black goat drives a rather neurotic Puritan family to ruin. Well, they drive themselves to ruin, and the goat just does what demonic goats do. (#goatlivesmatter). In the end, the goat transforms into a man and asks the surviving daughter: “Do you wish to live deliciously?”

We agreed that this is Dionysos.

This is the Liberator. I have my suspicions that many of the medieval images of Witches’ sabbats were cultural memories of Bacchanalian frenzies with all the potential savagery that might entail. (#livedeliciously).

We should be careful what we do to our Gods. One thing I’ve learned venerating the Norse Gods is this: if we insist on allowing Them only one avenue of manifestation, only one mask, They’ll take it but it won’t be the best outcome for us. We will get the Gods we deserve. When we deny Them the fullness of Their being, we start denying ourselves too and as that movie so beautifully showed, repression never leads anywhere good. (#lokiwivesoftumblr).

So maybe let us live deliciously.

Especially where our Gods are concerned.

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Posted on January 29, 2017, in Bacchic Things, Lived Polytheism, Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I had a friend who received a message from Odin, that he was there for the women against the Patriarchy and Donald Trump. I had to laugh at that. But then again, I wondered about the messages that they receive and from Whom.

    Liked by 2 people

    • *snorts* ah, the mythical patriarchy. I’d have said, “honey, Odin IS the patriarchy, and thank Gods.” but that’s just me being sarcastic. I do think that Odin is a God who is likely to encourage courage and going out to march and protest takes tremendous courage

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      • That part makes sense. But they went on to say they received messages from the Spirits that this was the final battle – for the Enlightenment and etc to be saved. Someone else added that Odin was coming as a part of Ragnok to finish the job on the patriarchy, Trump, Islam, etc.

        My reaction was that gee Odin certainly gets around. Gee, I didn’t know He cared so much for the Enlightenment.

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    • It’s kind of sweet that these people believe in their causes so much that they think the Gods notice, let alone care enough to pick sides in our petty human squabbles. I’m sure Odin is sitting in Valhalla right now trembling at the existential threat posed by the pussy hat crowd. (Trembling with laughter, perhaps.)

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Above all, let us live deliciously. I really enjoyed this read.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love the quote Markos used.
    “Dionysians Live Deliciously” t-shirts or artwork?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Indeed to all of this…

    I’ve had some of the “not-nice” side of Dionysos (particularly Zagreus) lately, and it’s not at all nice, and I’m still reeling with that. And over the last year and a half, I’ve had more of the “not-nice” side of Antinous, which entire factions of people supposedly devoted to Him refuse to acknowledge even exists while they simultaneously praise the most vivid expression of His “not-nice” aspects.

    On the other hand, Kali is a pretty awesome (in the original sense) and terrible Goddess, but She has been nothing-but-nice to me over the years, and extremely maternal…and that, too, is well-attested in Her devotees.

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  5. Dionysos can be nice, and so can Odin. Both can also be so terrifying that it melts your brain. And that’s great. That’s how Gods are. Even when a God is being nice and gentle, They are still a little bit scary (to put things mildly) because of the very fact that they are Gods. If you aren’t trembling at least a little bit just from being in Their presence then something is deeply, deeply wrong.

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    • Reminds me of a line. from “The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe” when the Beavers were talking about Aslan.

      Mrs Beaver: “If there’s anyone who can appear before him without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most, or else just silly.”

      I have to wonder sometimes if that’s the reason some people turn to Atheism….they cannot phantom the possibility of a very real and very terrifying God(s) exists.

      As for me…I love the idea that the Gods exist…and yet the whole thing terrifies me to the core. And I think that’s why I’ve been lazy in my devotion. The inkling of at the very least one God(dess) willing to bother themselves to care about me, let alone love me…it’s a difficult thing to grasp.

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      • It is a difficult thing to grasp but it is part of Their Mystery. We are part of Their creation as imagined and brought into being by Them, part of Their plan, part of their artistic expression if you will. In some traditions (the two I follow) we are Their children…it makes sense that They would keep an interest to some degree. It’s not as though we are created and cut loose. There is connection, interconnection there, and the potential for conversation.

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  6. Elisabeta Korcia

    YESYESYES A MILLION TIMES THIS

    I have been attempting to convey this very idea to people for damn near seven years now. The gods are not all sunshine and empathy and kindness; they are also bloody and vicious and will leave you naked and bleeding and raw.

    In my lowest moments Dionysus and Hekate have held me by the throat and forced me to face death. They have held me by my hair and forced me to face what I am meant to be. People try to erase these sides of the gods and fail to understand that by doing so they deny an integral part of what the gods are. This side of the gods is what makes Their kindness understandable.

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  7. Great post, Galina.

    I’ve all too often seen people who turn the gods into extreme Leftists, who agree with everything they say and never disagree with them.

    I’ve also wondered who those people are actually communicating with, in such cases.

    I’m on the left side of the spectrum myself but not even close to being one of the illiberal variety. And in my experiences, gods do not share human morals and can be downright terrifying. To try and turn them into something more politically correct is not just dumb, it’s a major insult to the deity in question.

    Thankyou for posting such things which are often seen as controversial, so many people seem to be afraid to voice such opinions for fear of being jumped on by the regressives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Gods do not share human morals.” THIS. and we should be grateful for it. It is absolutely bone chillingly terrifying though in what it implies, in the reality of that experience.

      and thank you, Ly.

      the fear that so many people have of being jumped on by regressives is exactly why I will not be silent. ever.

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  8. I admit that I too watch my tone around some of the more militant regressives, not that I make a habit of talking to such people.

    I was thinking the other day that when gods talk to/interact with us on a personal level, it’s like when you have a large, beautiful bitmap image that you convert to a very basic JPEG and make it much smaller to use as, for instance, a profile avatar. When you do that, much of the original is lost in translation. The version that interacts with us of a god is, I’m guessing, a very similar vastly scaled down version that we can more relate to.

    But scaled down or no, yeah, They can be terrifying in some of Their aspects. Those who can’t handle the harsher aspects of the gods they choose to honor, well, they might be in for a surprise later if that god decided to show them!

    Your ‘no bullshit’ approach is one of the reasons I enjoy your blog. 🙂

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