coromandal


mystical mad ecstatic
March 14, 2015, 3:30 pm
Filed under: departure lounge, the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: , , ,


What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?

What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

– Ode on a Grecian Urn

Keats asked all the right questions, while we – some of anyway, most of us?-  focus on the deathless symmetry of the vase. Keats saw wild ecstasy, Nietzsche the same – release by ecstasy from ourselves to mystical life.

Far more so than most of his fellow deities, Dionysus was an accessible and democratic god, whose thiasos, or sacred band, stood open to the humble as well as the mighty.22 As Nietzsche envisioned his rites: “Now the slave emerges as a freeman; all the rigid, hostile walls which either necessity or despotism has erected between men are shattered.”23 It was Nietzsche, of all the European classical scholars, who emphasized the Dionysian roots of ancient Greek drama, who saw the mad, ecstatic inspiration behind the Greeks’ stately art — who, metaphorically speaking, dared consider not just the deathless symmetry of the vase but the wild dancing figures painted on its surface. What the god demanded, according to Nietzsche, was nothing less than the human soul, released by ecstatic ritual from the “horror of individual existence” into the “mystical Oneness” of rhythmic unity in the dance.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets, p34

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when God’s not looking

Here is a description of bait and switch on the macro scale.  The worshipers of Dionysus experienced ecstasy – a feeling of communion and immortality – through rites of wine and dancing.  One can argue – as this author does – that this joyful rite was replaced in the Middle Ages with the relatively sober Christian rite of the eucharist.  The church tamed – neutered? – the rite of communion with God and drove drinking and celebration out into the secular world.

Through secularization, the potential for ecstasy was dialed back drastically and the sacred act of ecstasy became mere drunkenness and fights.

What would it take to reinduct a sense of the sacred into the art of drinking heavily?  In our current mindset, a drunk drinks to forget.  To drink alone is taboo.  Drink is measured out, like pills at a pharmacy table:  more than one or two and we have a word for people like you. In the pre Medieval view, on the other hand, a woman drank to commune with god and to feel her immortality.

Here is Ehrenreich:

Inevitably, something was lost in the transition from ecstatic ritual to secularized festivities — something we might call meaning or transcendent insight.  In ancient Dionysian forms of worship the moment of maximum “madness” and revelry was also the sacred climax of the rite at which the individual achieved communion with the divinity and a glimpse of personal immortality.  Medieval Christianity, in contrast, offered “communion” in the form of a morsel of bread and sip of wine soberly consumed at the altar — and usually saw only devilry in the festivities that followed.  True, the entire late medieval calendar of festivities was to some degree sanctioned by the Church, but the uplifting religious experience, if any was supposed to be found within the Church-controlled rites of mass and procession not within the drinking and dancing.  While ancient worshippers of Dionysus expected the god to manifest himself when the music reached an irresistible tempo and the wine was flowing freely, medieval Christians could only hope that God, or at least his earthly representatives, was looking the other way when the flutes and drums came out and the tankards were passed around.

The result of the Church’s distancing itself from the festivities that marked its own holidays was a certain “secularization” of communal pleasure.

[…]

Without a built-in religious climax to the celebrations — the achievement, for example, of a trancelike state of unity with the divinity — they readily spilled over into brawling and insensate drunkenness.

Dancing in the Streets: A History of Public Joy, Barbara Ehrenreich, p 93.



rites performed in the forest at night
August 25, 2009, 1:21 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , ,

Here is a list of the many incarnations of the god Dionysus who presided over “rites performed in the forest at night,” as described by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy.  She describes the particular allure of this god for women who leave their children and duties and husbands to take up the ritualized dance.

In the description below, Shiva, the Indian Dionysus, is an outsider in extremis:  he steals our women, tramples our codes, engages the outcast, communes with the dead, he is obscene.

From Dancing in the Streets —

Dionysus was no respecter of ethnic boundaries.  According to the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, the worship of gods resembling Dionysus ranged over five thousand miles, from Portugal through North Africa to India, with the god appearing under various names, including “Bakkhos, Pan, Eleuthereus, Minotaur, Sabazios, Inuus, Faunus, Priapus, Liber, Ammon, Osiris, Shiva, Cerenunnus,” and, we might add, the delightfully named Etruscan analog of Dionysus:  Fufluns.  In his brilliant rendition of the Indian epics, for example, Roberto Calasso describes the Hindu god Shiva as “this stranger, this woman-stealer, this enemy of our rules and ties, this wanderer who loves the ashes of the dead, who speaks of things divine to the lowest of the low, this man who sometimes seems crazy, who has something obscene about him, who grows his hair long as a girl’s.”  Like Dionysus, Shiva bore an association with wine, his cult being “particularly widespread in the mountains where the vine is cultivated,” according to a Greek who lived in India in the fourth century BCE.