Sannion has written a lovely sequence of daily prayers to Dionysos, one for each day of the week. Check them out here: via Daily Hymns
(again, rambling…you’ve been warned)
So, the subject of ‘kenosis’ came up in the first paper I heard today. When I looked it up (because I’m toggling in this conference between Catholic and Orthodox perspectives and also, I’d heard of it solely in the context of a goal of devotional practice), initially I saw it defined as Christ’s rejection of his divine nature during the Incarnation. It’s more complex than that, but that initial definition did get me thinking. Why would this ‘putting aside’ of divine nature have to be ‘rejection?’ So, thinking of our theologies, I’m immediately reminded of Euripides’ play “The Bacchae,” in which the poet has Dionysos declare that (to educate Thebes) He will “put aside His divinity” taking human form. While this is a play, Dionysos is the God of theatre and it does reflect the practices and language and ideas and mysteries related to this particular God. Could one say that what is happening when Dionysos does this is a type of kenosis? (which the theologian just described as ‘self-emptying, taking the form of the servant’).
I wouldn’t describe any of this as a rejection of divine nature. Rejection would imply a permanent disavowal, wouldn’t it? ‘Putting aside’ implies that one can then put it back on (the root of the word ‘rejection’ implies a throwing back of something). Even within the Incarnation, was it a rejection? Was not God the father ever with the son even through the intense humanity and human suffering of the Incarnation? For our purposes did not Dionysos remain divine even when He was wearing human flesh?
Kenosis is more readily Christ’s emptying out of Himself to be open to God’s will. It’s…complicated. I do think ideally, we as devout people should seek to empty ourselves out (the meaning of κενοω) so that we can be filled with our Gods, so that we can be completely receptive to Them and Their will. The lecturer now speaking keeps talking about “self-emptying obedience” and I take issue with the way in which she’s using the latter term…devotion is more active, an active annihilation of all those things that would keep us from being fully open to the Gods. There’s nothing passive in it, save for the receptivity that allows us to eventually experience our Gods. And even within that level of receptivity, whatever obedience there is becomes full alignment, a partnership not an abrogation of personal will but a uniting of that will with our Gods…do Christians mean the same when they use this term?
Back to my initial point, I can totally see kenosis as a means and goal of devotional living (regardless of one’s tradition. I think ultimately we should empty ourselves of ourselves, of all our bullshit so that we can be the most useful tools and servants possible of our Gods. THAT is exactly what devotion entails), but I struggle to see it applied to the incarnated Christ. Returning to Dionysos, which is far more relevant to our praxis than Christ (with all respect to my Christian friends), when He put aside His divinity, was He emptying Himself out so that He could better align with HIS true will?
I want to parse that out…what does it mean that a polytheist could accurately say Dionysos is putting aside His divinity…here’s the Greek:
ὧν οὕνεκ᾽ εἶδος θνητὸν ἀλλάξας ἔχω
μορφήν τ᾽ ἐμὴν μετέβαλον εἰς ἀνδρὸς φύσιν.(Bacchae, line 54)
for which purpose, having set aside my form (lit: that which is seen)
I bear a mortal shape and I have changed mine into the nature (φύσιν) of a man. (my translation)
If we look at ‘nature’ in the Aristotelian sense, it is the motivating essence, the material cause for a thing. It is the essential substance of a thing. In the Heraclitan sense, it is a thing’s natural development. Is Dionysos here lowering Himself down to the human level and allowing things to thus play out according to human rules and decisions? Its opposite is νομός, or law and custom so is this a means of giving more freedom and loopholes for events to play out? Is there a freedom in incarnation not found in the immortal sphere (a horrifying thought)? I was discussing this with Edward Butler (wanted to be sure that I was correct, that this was as intriguing a passage as it always had seemed to me, because surprisingly little’s been made of it in classics) and he noted that, “eidos often means just the visual appearance of something; but what does a mortal look like, qua mortal? Then in the next line we have andros physin, which has the same ambiguity. Physis can mean just the outward appearance of something, but it can also mean something deeper, the “nature” of something. Euripides seems to be playing a bit with the idea that Dionysos is taking on more than just the look of a human.” So, I think something is going on here and I can’t help but wonder if it’s something more than just a poet taking theological and poetic liberties.
Perhaps it makes no sense to make this comparison – Christians do what they do with their theology and kenosis is a particularly Christian theological term—but the entire conversion reminded me so strongly of that passage about Dionysos I could not help but doing playing with it here.
And…I went back to the Greek to the word εἶδος. It is the word from which we get our word ‘icon’ and I believe also ‘idol.’ It is something that can be seen, a form which can be seen. So, Dionysos is transforming His appearance. The presence of the word φύσιν complicates things for me. It has certain specific meanings philosophically, Is it all simply a change in appearance not reality here (unlike the licit view of the incarnation in which the humanity assumed by Christ is reality … unless one is a Docetist lol). I could go round and round with this for hours but I need to stop myself. Argh.
EDIT: So, thus am I served for writing this, while taking notes during a lecture, and discussing it all withe a friend via email. I had my etymology wrong above. “icon” comes from “eikon” and ‘idol’ from εἴδωλον. We get our word “idea” from εἶδος. What i wrote above still stands though: Dionysos is transforming into the idea of a mortal man…close enough to appearance to still ask: what does that mean? what is a God’s idea of mortal man and how would that translate to other mortals?
Sannion is working on a new book but he’s not been posting any previews. This morning, however, I talked him into letting me share this one, based on what happened in our hof last weekend. I cannot wait for the whole book to be out!
Something to Sing About
by H. Jeremiah Lewis
I’m perched on the edge of my seat,
my whole body rocking to the rhythm
of the drum as the apprentice of the Vitki
cleanses pollution and bad vibrations
from the room, while another sings
an Anglo-Saxon fire song,
circumambulating with a beeswax
pillar candle on a red and black plate.
I can see the face of world-breaking Loki
dancing in the flame,
and behind the apprentice,
as he winds serpentwise round the shrines
burning away the dross in the air,
a legion of those who fell in defense
of their blood and soil and ancestral traditions
against the encroachments of the giant
tyrant Charlemagne, stand at his back
lending their potency to his words and deeds.
Another passes by, sprinkling everything with
ivy-leaf chernips – everything including
the husband of the Vitki, who growls
wolfishly and shakes his head
when the holy drops splash him.
The girl smiles and rushes to finish the room,
as he goes back to chanting, “Nothing can be
so firmly bound – by illness, by wrath or by fortune –
that cannot be released by the Lord Dionysos,”
and shakes a femur rattle.
The Vitki is not home.
Oh, her body is standing right there
before all of them, savagely beautiful
with shaved head, white
ash upon her face and Runes inscribed
in red ochre, blue and silver
Evil Eye charms dangling from her ears,
white shirt, black pants and a red belt
strung with bells and charms,
amulets and chaplets,
and a hand-forged blót knife
sheathed at her side.
She is pacing about like a brooding,
impatient bear who has a hell of a lot to say
and there’s a set of knucklebones,
a pad of paper, and a pen
just sitting right there on the table
waiting for him, so let’s get to it.
Oh fuck. Odin’s not just making a direct call
– he’s here, in the flesh so to speak.
The Vitki’s husband is already shooing
the apprentices out of the room, drilling
them on what will need to be done
by way of aftercare. This is a spontaneous
possession, with no time for prep.
And Odin enters rough.
I sit on the floor facing him,
give a respectful nod,
and prepare to act as sacred scribe,
as I have so many times,
and for so many mediums before.
His voice, when it comes, is crabby
and cold like the gnarled branch
of a cemetery tree after an overlong winter,
like an old man who deals in philtres,
herblore, abortions, bindings and unbindings,
does strange things with animal bits
and has suffered much to come
by his dark knowledge.
Most of all he is like something
that has gone mad on the battlefield,
and stopped being entirely human.
It was an effort to maintain eye-contact
with him as he didn’t quite sing
and didn’t quite speak
and didn’t quite caw
or furiously roar
or rant or rage
with the voice that remade
the raw viscera of his father’s corpse
into the ordered world we inhabit
– but it wasn’t not like all of that either.
No matter how experienced you are
it is always fucking nuts sitting
face to face with your Gods.
Especially when they have as much to say
as Odin did that night.
And also, he was pissed
– like p-i-s-s-e-d pissed –
especially when a little black ant
scuttled into view.
He leaned down and galdered at it.
Odin’s voice was terrible,
violent, mad, like
the shriek of a sword
or a beast’s claws
scratching at the door
– and the creature withered up on the spot.
I knew more was going on behind the curtain,
so I closed my eyes and there in the dark
stood Odin the Slaughterer, Gallows Meat,
the King upon his Mound, Storm-Bringer,
He held his spear up in greeting
and dangling from it was the corpse
of a thing that looked like an ant
but was the size of a large dog.
It did not always look that way
– we had seen its various forms
over the last couple weeks,
in our restless sleep,
as shadowy movement
out of the corner our eyes,
as the smell of shit and random spikes
in anxiety, depression and surliness
for no discernible reason,
and once as a nag with no head
standing in the mist beyond our yard.
Before I could express my gratitude
I was snapped back to myself by the Vitki
who was seething and singing
how the Runes were revealed
on the wind-swept Tree,
and I oathed to the Old Man
right there on the spot
that I would make poetry of the story
to thank him for protecting
the members of our household,
who are dearer to me than my birth family.
And so I have. I pray, Lord, may I, my Vitki
and our apprentices be always
safe, secure, prepared and immune
to the snares and attacks of our foes
in this and the other worlds,
so that our household may be
a welcoming place for you
and the Gods and Spirits
who stand with you always,
with plentiful offerings,
and acts of worship beyond counting
to please your hearts.
The Dionysos Agon closes tonight at 9pm EST.
by J. Starman
Dionysos how now You come;
from silence You come at the hour
when a banquet has been set for my king.
You come on quick feet, dancing a satyr’s beat.
Around You turn me and I rejoice, inflamed
and I lay tokens at Your thrice blessed feet,
honoring You as so my Lord honors You,
embracing You as my Lord embraces You.
My kiss is but His kiss upon Your hem
It is my Bacchic Lord, who through me exclaims
to rejoice in You and Your great company,
to sing praise of the thrice born King.
Running From Dionysos
Let me tell you a story,
Many years ago, when I was a boy, my parents abandoned me.
At night, I used to sit by my bedroom window and wait for my mother to come home. Sometimes she did.
Sometimes, it was better when she didn’t.
My banished father was broken and blinded by his own sadness. He is almost a stranger to me.
Every night I would sit, wait, and even pray for someone to come rescue me. No one ever did.
Not God, not Jesus, not even the Devil. So I prayed to Others.
Every night a piece of me would die
until there was nothing left but my pain and rage.
A night of rage
Stabbing wounds into a wall
Holding the knife just under my sternum, preparing for the upward thrust.
A voice saying “No.”
It wasn’t the Beautiful General.
It was the Warrior.
“You will Endure.”
“Put down the blade and pick up the iron.”
“We will harden you and We will forge you into something new.”
“Serve Me and Endure!”
So I did.
But there is a price.
The Warrior is a loyal but hard taskmaster.
Decades have passed and still the pain and rage roils within my iron-forged body.
My body breaks with its containment. My armor no longer serves as it did in the past.
Yet I Endure.
But for how long?
Life has approached me with twinkling eyes and an outstretched hand.
“Let me help.”
“Let me return to you that which died so long ago.”
I drink of His gift and for brief moments I glimpse and experience those parts of me I’ve forgotten,
Those parts He says He can return to me.
Yet I run from Him, called The Joy of Man.
“Let me help”, says the Emancipator.
I recoil in my pain and rage.
“Let me help”, says the Gentle One.
My body aches in pain as I limp away and say to myself through clenched jaw,
May I someday turn to Him and say,
“Please help me.”
by Wynn Dark
Darkness flows with tidal churning.
Blood and wine in the waters of life.
Minds roil and drown in the rhythm of crest and trough.
Some remember Your passing, the wake of it still rippling in their veins.
Others cry out Your name in praise, whether the waters fill their lungs or no.
Most only feel You without knowing what has passed and shudder in their skins for reasons they cannot fathom.
I remember, tossed on a different sea yet the same, I remember.
Alcohol loosens inhibitions
smooths social interactions
helps the shy be bold
The best way to look absurd
on the theater stage
is to hold back
Asserting our own gender
—not that which we were given
when we were born—
inhabiting our own
The twists and turns and tangles
of a mind that wars itself
sometimes are the soil and seed
One cannot be swept away
by the Gods or spirits
if one clings white-knuckled
to the physical
O Dionysos Liberator
You Who Shatter Chains
Releaser of Control
I pray to you
Remember, folks, there are still a few days left in the agon. if you’ve been thinking about submitting something, now’s the time.