Having been many times attacked unfairly for my last article on Hispala Faecenia and Paculla Annia, I find myself compelled to deliver the following statement, in ten points:
1-As a devotee of Zeus, among other Hellenic Deities and Divine figures, I wrote the last article in honor and vindication of Dionysos, who is a Son of Zeus. May I be blasted by the thunderbolts I adore and damned in the underworld I fear if my intentions were not meant for that purpose as well as the common good.
2- It is extremely important to avoid cultural appropriation: If one is not Greek, has no Greek ancestry or comes from a land not historically settled by Greeks, they may pay homage to Dionysos as guests (visiting a friend, visiting Greece, etc.), but to become devoted followers to Dionysos (or what is worse, priests) is unfair to the Greeks, and unfair to their own ancestral Gods. Perhaps the worship of the Roman God Liber (the counterpart of Dionysus) could extend beyond Italy, although I believe that would also acknowledge Roman imperialism. Polytheism is an ethnic mode of religion; tradition and ancestry and pantheon are all connected intimately and inseparably, a rule not made by any man but established by history itself. Don’t be tricked into thinking that a God entirely foreign to your ancestry and ethnic culture can really “call you” to his service. Only ancestral Gods call us, through the blood of our ancestors, and everything else is personal desire and cultural appropriation. If your ancestry in Celtic or Germanic, do not worship Dionysos as if you were Greek, because he had no connection to your ancestors; you should honor your ancestors by worshipping mainly their Gods. This rule applies to everyone.
3-If I believed everything the Romans did was right in the case of this persecution, I would have praised the consul with emphasis instead of Hispala Faecenia. The Roman punishment was obviously cruel, especially to those who were merely misled by the ringleaders. However, the cruelty of the Romans does not excuse the corruption of the ringleaders, particularly, Paculla Annia, and hence she must be a bad polytheist.
4-I don’t believe religious practices should be hindered or persecuted, unless they are impiously subversive or destructively expansive.
5-Although I have little good to say of Christians, it must be acknowledged that they sometimes (in their earliest days) suffered persecution unfairly because the Roman authorities suspected they engaged in “love feasts” underground like the orgies of Paculla Annia. The Christians were actually ascetics very much like Orphics and Pythagoreans; their sort of love was “agape” not “eros”. The Christian subversion was different; it undermined subtly and expanded cunningly and slowly like moles underground. Paculla Annia’s gang, on the other hand, was subverting everything directly and totally like a tiger or elephant gone mad.
6-One of the reasons that weakened polytheism in the eyes of Christians, or facilitated conversion to Christianity, was the manifest hedonism and moral corruption that was spread by the abuses of the cults of Dionysos and Pan. Divine figures of fertility should be celebrated properly rather than become commercial and expansive symbols of free expression, licentious activity and subservice anarchy. The philosophers are chiefly responsible for this corruption, whose ideologies and allegories (challenging the traditional priesthood) reduced Divine figures to a low position subservient to their own intellectual and cultural interests.
7-I am by no means an ascetic, nor do I by any means object to the ritual function of sex in some cults. But polytheism is a religion, and therefore ought to be regulated by tradition and authority, not abused and innovated by whim and ideology. Polytheism is a collective activity, not an individual one, and should be judged according to the collective benefits it provides for one community, without being at the expense of another. When I argue against the innovations of Paculla Annia, I do not provide my individual opinion, but rather I present the traditional view.
8-The subversive ideology of Paculla Annia in the name of Dionysos has had its benefits perhaps during the early days of neopaganism when people began to rebel against Christianity. It helped them steer and break from the Christian bondage and come to see the light. Some say Spartacus was inspired to rebel by a priestess of Dionysos, and that is very well. However, one bondage should not lead to another. We must make an important distinction: Subversion in the name of Dionysos should only be approved as a means to escape from monotheism or imperialism, but once one enters into polytheism, original tradition must be sought and followed, rather than subverted. If Dionysos is a liberator in times of enslavement, he is certainly not a subverter in times of freedom.
9-The cult of Dionysos today is in need of an honest and learned priesthood that promotes and restores tradition at the expense of individual desire and harmful innovations. Far too many people are paying homage to Dionysos because of the wild sex and drinking they falsely think his cult offers. They are falsely fitting their modernism with polytheism. We need proper priests who can serve communities seriously, not fanatic magicians, philosophers and artists who are in love with pleasure and “human experience”.
10-The Homeric Hymns, the earliest texts on Dionysus, give us a view of Dionysos that is very different to that we see with Paculla Annia; they are pious, serious and majestic. I will publish them below in honor of Dionysos and for the sake of purification against Paculla Annia and all those who have defended her. There are three versions, as you will see below. I have added a few notes pertinent to my last article. An ellipsis (…) means there is missing text. For the original scholarly notes, visit this site.
… οἳ μὲν γὰρ Δρακάνῳ σ᾽, οἳ δ᾽ Ἰκάρῳ ἠνεμοέσσῃ
φάσ᾽, οἳ δ᾽ ἐν Νάξῳ, δῖον γένος, εἰραφιῶτα,
οἳ δέ σ᾽ ἐπ᾽ Ἀλφειῷ ποταμῷ βαθυδινήεντι
κυσαμένην Σεμέλην τεκέειν Διὶ τερπικεραύνῳ:
ἄλλοι δ᾽ ἐν Θήβῃσιν, ἄναξ, σε λέγουσι γενέσθαι,
ψευδόμενοι: σὲ δ᾽ ἔτικτε πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε
πολλὸν ἀπ᾽ ἀνθρώπων, κρύπτων λευκώλενον Ἥρην.
ἔστι δέ τις Νύση, ὕπατον ὄρος, ἀνθέον ὕλῃ,
τηλοῦ Φοινίκης, σχεδὸν Αἰγύπτοιο ῥοάων,
… καί οἱ ἀναστήσουσιν ἀγάλματα πόλλ᾽ ἐνὶ νηοῖς.
ὣς δὲ τὰ μὲν τρία, σοὶ πάντως τριετηρίσιν αἰεὶ
ἄνθρωποι ῥέξουσι τεληέσσας ἑκατόμβας.
ἦ καὶ κυανέῃσιν ἐπ᾽ ὀφρύσι νεῦσε Κρονίων:
ἀμβρόσιαι δ᾽ ἄρα χαῖται ἐπερρώσαντο ἄνακτος
κρατὸς ἀπ᾽ ἀθανάτοιο: μέγαν δ᾽ ἐλέλιξεν Ὄλυμπον.
ὣς εἰπὼν ἐπένευσε καρήατι μητίετα Ζεύς.
ἵληθ᾽, εἰραφιῶτα, γυναιμανές: οἱ δέ σ᾽ ἀοιδοὶ
ᾁδομεν ἀρχόμενοι λήγοντές τ᾽: οὐδέ πῃ ἔστι
σεῖ᾽ ἐπιληθομένῳ ἱερῆς μεμνῆσθαι ἀοιδῆς.
καὶ σὺ μὲν οὕτω χαῖρε, Διώνυσ᾽ εἰραφιῶτα,
σὺν μητρὶ Σεμέλῃ, ἥν περ καλέουσι Θυώνην.
… For some say, at Dracanum; and some, on windy Icarus; and some, in Naxos, O Heaven-born, Insewn; and others by the deep-eddying river Alpheus that pregnant Semele bare you to Zeus the thunder-lover. And others yet, lord, say you were born in Thebes; but all these lie. The Father of men and Gods gave you birth remote from men and secretly from white-armed Hera. There is a certain Nysa, a mountain most high and richly grown with woods, far off in Phoenice, near the streams of Aegyptus …
“and men will lay up for her many offerings in her shrines. And as these things are three, so shall mortals ever sacrifice perfect hecatombs to you at your feasts each three years.”
The Son of Cronos spoke and nodded with his dark brows. And the divine locks of the king flowed forward from his immortal head, and he made great Olympus reel. So spake wise Zeus and ordained it with a nod.
Be favorable, O Insewn, Inspirer of frenzied women*! we singers sing of you as we begin and as we end a strain, and none forgetting you may call holy song to mind. And so, farewell, Dionysus, Insewn, with your mother Semele whom men call Thyone.
*The term “frenzied women” alludes to the Maenads that accompanied Dionysus, who became frenzied through a mixture of dance and drinking. The Maenad later alluded to a priestess of Dionysus, who probably went through the same state of mind and body. Since the frenzy applies only to the priestess rather than the followers, and has only to do with drinking and dancing, there is no connotation of any social rebellion, sexual perversion, ritual orgy, or the bloody sparagmos.
ἀμφὶ Διώνυσον, Σεμέλης ἐρικυδέος υἱόν,
μνήσομαι, ὡς ἐφάνη παρὰ θῖν᾽ ἁλὸς ἀτρυγέτοιο
ἀκτῇ ἔπι προβλῆτι νεηνίῃ ἀνδρὶ ἐοικώς,
πρωθήβῃ: καλαὶ δὲ περισσείοντο ἔθειραι,
κυάνεαι, φᾶρος δὲ περὶ στιβαροῖς ἔχεν ὤμοις
πορφύρεον: τάχα δ᾽ ἄνδρες ἐυσσέλμου ἀπὸ νηὸς
ληισταὶ προγένοντο θοῶς ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον,
Τυρσηνοί: τοὺς δ᾽ ἦγε κακὸς μόρος: οἳ δὲ ἰδόντες
νεῦσαν ἐς ἀλλήλους, τάχα δ᾽ ἔκθορον. αἶψα δ᾽ ἑλόντες
εἷσαν ἐπὶ σφετέρης νηὸς κεχαρημένοι ἦτορ.
υἱὸν γάρ μιν ἔφαντο διοτρεφέων βασιλήων
εἶναι καὶ δεσμοῖς ἔθελον δεῖν ἀργαλέοισι.
τὸν δ᾽ οὐκ ἴσχανε δεσμά, λύγοι δ᾽ ἀπὸ τηλόσε πῖπτον
χειρῶν ἠδὲ ποδῶν: ὃ δὲ μειδιάων ἐκάθητο
ὄμμασι κυανέοισι: κυβερνήτης δὲ νοήσας
αὐτίκα οἷς ἑτάροισιν ἐκέκλετο φώνησέν τε:
δαιμόνιοι, τίνα τόνδε θεὸν δεσμεύεθ᾽ ἑλόντες,
καρτερόν; οὐδὲ φέρειν δύναταί μιν νηῦς εὐεργής.
ἢ γὰρ Ζεὺς ὅδε γ᾽ ἐστὶν ἢ ἀργυρότοξος Ἀπόλλων
ἠὲ Ποσειδάων: ἐπεὶ οὐ θνητοῖσι βροτοῖσιν
εἴκελος, ἀλλὰ θεοῖς, οἳ Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχουσιν.
ἀλλ᾽ ἄγετ᾽, αὐτὸν ἀφῶμεν ἐπ᾽ ἠπείροιο μελαίνης
αὐτίκα: μηδ᾽ ἐπὶ χεῖρας ἰάλλετε, μή τι χολωθεὶς
ὄρσῃ ἔπ᾽ ἀργαλέους τ᾽ ἀνέμους καὶ λαίλαπα πολλήν.
Ὣς φάτο: τὸν δ᾽ ἀρχὸς στυγερῷ ἠνίπαπε μύθῳ:
δαιμόνι᾽, οὖρον ὅρα, ἅμα δ᾽ ἱστίον ἕλκεο νηὸς
σύμπανθ᾽ ὅπλα λαβών: ὅδε δ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἄνδρεσσι μελήσει.
ἔλπομαι, ἢ Αἴγυπτον ἀφίξεται ἢ ὅ γε Κύπρον
ἢ ἐς Ὑπερβορέους ἢ ἑκαστέρω: ἐς δὲ τελευτὴν
ἔκ ποτ᾽ ἐρεῖ αὐτοῦ τε φίλους καὶ κτήματα πάντα
οὕς τε κασιγνήτους, ἐπεὶ ἡμῖν ἔμβαλε δαίμων.
ὣς εἰπὼν ἱστόν τε καὶ ἱστίον ἕλκετο νηός.
ἔμπνευσεν δ᾽ ἄνεμος μέσον ἱστίον: ἀμφὶ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ὅπλα
καττάνυσαν: τάχα δέ σφιν ἐφαίνετο θαυματὰ ἔργα.
οἶνος μὲν πρώτιστα θοὴν ἀνὰ νῆα μέλαιναν
ἡδύποτος κελάρυζ᾽ εὐώδης, ὤρνυτο δ᾽ ὀδμὴ
ἀμβροσίη: ναύτας δὲ τάφος λάβε πάντας ἰδόντας.
αὐτίκα δ᾽ ἀκρότατον παρὰ ἱστίον ἐξετανύσθη
ἄμπελος ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα, κατεκρημνῶντο δὲ πολλοὶ
βότρυες: ἀμφ᾽ ἱστὸν δὲ μέλας εἱλίσσετο κισσός,
ἄνθεσι τηλεθάων, χαρίεις δ᾽ ἐπὶ καρπὸς ὀρώρει:
πάντες δὲ σκαλμοὶ στεφάνους ἔχον: οἳ δὲ ἰδόντες,
νῆ᾽ ἤδη τότ᾽ ἔπειτα κυβερνήτην ἐκέλευον
γῇ πελάαν: ὃ δ᾽ ἄρα σφι λέων γένετ᾽ ἔνδοθι νηὸς
δεινὸς ἐπ᾽ ἀκροτάτης, μέγα δ᾽ ἔβραχεν, ἐν δ᾽ ἄρα μέσσῃ
ἄρκτον ἐποίησεν λασιαύχενα, σήματα φαίνων:
ἂν δ᾽ ἔστη μεμαυῖα: λέων δ᾽ ἐπὶ σέλματος ἄκρου
δεινὸν ὑπόδρα ἰδών: οἳ δ᾽ ἐς πρύμνην ἐφόβηθεν,
ἀμφὶ κυβερνήτην δὲ σαόφρονα θυμὸν ἔχοντα
ἔσταν ἄρ᾽ ἐκπληγέντες: ὃ δ᾽ ἐξαπίνης ἐπορούσας
ἀρχὸν ἕλ᾽, οἳ δὲ θύραζε κακὸν μόρον ἐξαλύοντες
πάντες ὁμῶς πήδησαν, ἐπεὶ ἴδον, εἰς ἅλα δῖαν,
δελφῖνες δ᾽ ἐγένοντο: κυβερνήτην δ᾽ ἐλεήσας
ἔσχεθε καί μιν ἔθηκε πανόλβιον εἶπέ τε μῦθον:
θάρσει, δῖε κάτωρ, τῷ ἐμῷ κεχαρισμένε θυμῷ:
εἰμὶ δ᾽ ἐγὼ Διόνυσος ἐρίβρομος, ὃν τέκε μήτηρ
Καδμηὶς Σεμέλη Διὸς ἐν φιλότητι μιγεῖσα.
χαῖρε, τέκος Σεμέλης εὐώπιδος: οὐδέ πη ἔστι
σεῖό γε ληθόμενον γλυκερὴν κοσμῆσαι ἀοιδήν.
I will tell of Dionysus, the son of glorious Semele, how he appeared on a jutting headland by the shore of the fruitless sea, seeming like a stripling in the first flush of manhood: his rich, dark hair was waving about him, and on his strong shoulders he wore a purple robe. Presently there came swiftly over the sparkling sea Tyrsenian pirates on a well-decked ship —a miserable doom led them on. When they saw him they made signs to one another and sprang out quickly, and seizing him straightway put him on board their ship exultingly; for they thought him the son of heaven-nurtured kings. They sought to bind him with rude bonds, but the bonds would not hold him, and the withes fell far away from his hands and feet: and he sat with a smile in his dark eyes. Then the helmsman understood all and cried out at once to his fellows and said:
“Madmen! what God is this whom you have taken and bind, strong that he is? Not even the well-built ship can carry him. Surely this is either Zeus or Apollo who has the silver bow, or Poseidon, for he looks not like mortal men but like the Gods who dwell on Olympus. Come, then, let us set him free upon the dark shore at once: do not lay hands on him, lest he grow angry and stir up dangerous winds and heavy squalls.”
So said he: but the master chid him with taunting words: “Madman, mark the wind and help hoist sail on the ship: catch all the sheets. As for this fellow we men will see to him: I reckon he is bound for Egypt or for Cyprus or to the Hyperboreans or further still. But in the end he will speak out and tell us his friends and all his wealth and his brothers, now that providence has thrown him in our way.”
When he had said this, he had mast and sail hoisted on the ship, and the wind filled the sail and the crew hauled taut the sheets on either side. But soon strange things were seen among them. First of all sweet, fragrant wine ran streaming throughout all the black ship and a heavenly smell arose, so that all the seamen were seized with amazement when they saw it. And all at once a vine spread out both ways along the top of the sail with many clusters hanging down from it, and a dark ivy-plant twined about the mast, blossoming with flowers, and with rich berries growing on it; and all the thole-pins were covered with garlands. When the pirates saw all this, then at last they bade the helmsman to put the ship to land. But the God changed into a dreadful lion there on the ship, in the bows, and roared loudly: amidships also he showed his wonders and created a shaggy bear which stood up ravening, while on the forepeak was the lion glaring fiercely with scowling brows. And so the sailors fled into the stern and crowded bemused about the right-minded helmsman, until suddenly the lion sprang upon the master and seized him; and when the sailors saw it they leapt out overboard one and all into the bright sea, escaping from a miserable fate, and were changed into dolphins. But on the helmsman Dionysus had mercy and held him back and made him altogether happy, saying to him:
“Take courage, good…; you have found favour with my heart. I am loud-crying* Dionysus whom Cadmus’ daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus.”
Hail, child of fair-faced Semele! He who forgets you can in no wise order sweet song.
*A plain reference to his metamorphosis into a lion earlier and his roaring to frighten the sailors. Hence, no connotation or mention of subversion or perversion here.
κισσοκόμην Διόνυσον ἐρίβρομον ἄρχομ᾽ ἀείδειν,
Ζηνὸς καὶ Σεμέλης ἐρικυδέος ἀγλαὸν υἱόν,
ὃν τρέφον ἠύκομοι Νύμφαι παρὰ πατρὸς ἄνακτος
δεξάμεναι κόλποισι καὶ ἐνδυκέως ἀτίταλλον
Νύσης ἐν γυάλοις: ὃ δ᾽ ἀέξετο πατρὸς ἕκητι
ἄντρῳ ἐν εὐώδει μεταρίθμιος ἀθανάτοισιν.
αὐτὰρ ἐπειδὴ τόνδε θεαὶ πολύυμνον ἔθρεψαν,
δὴ τότε φοιτίζεσκε καθ᾽ ὑλήεντας ἐναύλους,
κισσῷ καὶ δάφνῃ πεπυκασμένος: αἳ δ᾽ ἅμ᾽ ἕποντο
Νύμφαι, ὃ δ᾽ ἐξηγεῖτο: βρόμος δ᾽ ἔχεν ἄσπετον ὕλην.
καὶ σὺ μὲν οὕτω χαῖρε, πολυστάφυλ᾽ ὦ Διόνυσε:
δὸς δ᾽ ἡμᾶς χαίροντας ἐς ὥρας αὖτις ἱκέσθαι,
ἐκ δ᾽ αὖθ᾽ ὡράων εἰς τοὺς πολλοὺς ἐνιαυτούς.
I begin to sing of ivy-crowned Dionysus, the loud-crying God, splendid son of Zeus and glorious Semele. The rich-haired Nymphs received him in their bosoms from the lord his father and fostered and nurtured him carefully in the dells of Nysa, where by the will of his father he grew up in a sweet-smelling cave, being reckoned among the immortals*. But when the Goddesses had brought him up, a God oft hymned, then began he to wander continually through the woody coombes, thickly wreathed with ivy and laurel. And the Nymphs followed in his train with him for their leader; and the boundless forest was filled with their outcry.
And so hail to you, Dionysus, God of abundant clusters! Grant that we may come again rejoicing to this season, and from that season onwards for many a year.
*This reference to the divine stature of Dionysus contradicts the purpose and validity of the Pentheus story first attested in Euripides’ play The Bacchae. Euripides, who was not traditional or religious at all (unlike his predecessor Aeschylus), may have altered or invented the story, or even perhaps borrowed it from the Orphics.