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A Mask for Dionysus

Todd Powelson
"Mask of Dionysus" by Todd Powelson

To purchase this artwork, please visit my Etsy store. Thank you for your support!

I finished this artwork sometime around January 3rd or 4th, 2021. I started writing this post on January 5th, and intended to finish and share this new piece the next day on the 6th.. but then those US Capital riots happened and I just didn't feel like sharing much at all. I've tried to finish this post a few times since but just wasn't feeling it. A gross day after a gross year... I've also been realizing how disappointed in the internet I am, tired of what too much of the internet has become. Facebutt, Tweaker, Instagrammaton and the rest (my little kid heart enjoys writing the names out that way). All that stuff has been pretty gross for years, really, and I haven't been up for sharing or posting much lately. But its been months, and the world is green again! And I know there are still many many cool and helpful places to visit and ways to use the internet. Anyway...

I spent a lot of time outside during the 2020 spring and summer. Walking the hills. Watching the green bloom and grow. I started to think of the green growth frenzy going on all around me. The green that could tear down and swallow walls, and cities, and civilizations. It all just happens so slowly, from our perspective, but what a wild and chaotic green. And sometimes, as I roamed, it seemed like the green was watching and aware of me too.

My my interest in the mythology of Dionysus has been growing these last few years. Plus, I started to come across and later search out ancient masks of Dionysus. I think they're interesting as hell, and beautiful too! I wanted to draw one. In addition, I got this idea a very long time ago of an imaginary portrait of some bearded guy with bees flying around his head, so I added those bees too! This image was fun to make! Also...

I've been working on a story, I've been writing and illustrating a story. I expect it'll take me a long time to finish, but I do keep on a-workin'. Although I don't clearly name the characters in the story itself, I begin my story with the death of Osiris. Probably way too nerdy to go into (I will anyway) but, I've determined that Dionysus and Osiris describe and define the same thing/being. This isn't my idea at all, but goes way back to Herodotus. When I first read about this comparison, I didn't get it. Wasn't Dionysus that drunk Roman god named Bacchus too? At least that is what I learned in elementary school... Well, yeah. Sort of. The Romans took Dionysus' shadow, gave it a goblet of wine, named it Bacchus and outlawed pretty much everything else associated with the Dionysian mysteries but the drinking (things could get crazy with Dionysus and his followers, consider what happened to Orpheus. But I'm sure crazy town is not all there was to these Dionysian beliefs, any more than the Inquisition defines Christian philosophy... and so sad to loose any knowledge, to burn any book. We don really understand these days exactly what all was lost, let alone what it meant. Not really.). Anyway, not to get even more convoluted, but I had also read where Heraclitus said Dionysus and Hades were also the same being/force. Then, letting my mind and imagination wander the hills last summer, it clicked for me... Osiris is the Egyptian god of the Nile harvest and the Green, the god of the Underworld and Death, and the god of Rebirth/Resurrection too. The Green returning after a long winter. From that point of view, considering all that, Osiris = Dionysus.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from Ioannis Konstantakos article, ′′ Teaching Notes for Euripide s' Bacchae " with some insight on Dionysus I wanted to save and have pasted below:

Dionysus and Dionysian mysteries.

God Dionysus is recognized as the main god of wine and intoxication. And to some extent this is correct: the vine is the sacred plant of Dionysus, and the wine is the sacred drink that God has given to men.

But the nature and importance of Dionysus are neither exhausted nor limited to vine and wine. Hellenistic and especially Roman literature contributed to the standardization of Dionysus as a wine god, and she bequeathed such an image of Dionysos in the later European tradition: this is how the cheerful god emerged, with red cheeks, that we see in the Renaissance paintings, the god of drunkards everywhere.

In fact, however, in archaic and classical Greece, Dionysos was something much wider. Dionysus is a god of nature and natural growth. Miscellaneous adjectives attributed to antiquity connect him to vegetation, to the growth of trees, flowers and fruits: it is called Dendritis or tree, tree god • Anthios, god who brings flowers, Carpius, god who brings forth the fruits, and even Mercy or Fleos, the god of abundance (from the verb I am full).

Dionysus is the god of vital energy and momentum that exists in nature and within man, the god of primitive, elemental forces that regulate the evolution of life. But above all, Dionysus is the god that causes a certain kind of religious experience:

The Dionysian or Bacchian rapture, the mania, as is the ancient Greek term. Dionysian mania is not the madness or paranoia derived from illness or erosion of the mind. Other: the word mania is etymologically linked to the word ′′ menos ′′ (i.e. strength) and therefore declares an experience of increased mental and mental strength, an outbreak and intensity of the individual's mental functions to the point of frenzy and ecstasy.

The believer of Dionysus, occupied by mania, loses sense of ego, loses personal identity, and tries a communion experience with uncle, joins with god. This union of the Dionysian secret with God is declared very characteristic by the fact that the same word is used for both god and believer:

Bacchus is the worship name of the god Dionysus, but the bacchus is also called the believer who falls into ecstasy.

This experience of ecstasy is the central element of Dionysian worship, which is a worship of ′′ ecstatic ′′ or ′′ orgy ′′ type. Argia, in Dionysian worship, is not what the word today means, but the hierarchies in honor of Dionysus, who culminate with the trance of believers.

Of course, wine, holy drink of god, plays a role in causing Dionysian ecstasy: due to its very nature, alcohol helps to outbreak mental forces and mitigate mental barriers, conditions necessary for ecstasy, and for̓ this was used as an accompaniment to Dionysus rites.

But it's not about the essence of Dionysian ecstasy, which is not just drunkenness but, as we said, a special type of mental and religious experience. We need to highlight some traits of Dionysian ecstatic worship that differentiate it from other ecstatic type religious events.

Firstly, Dionysian rapture is not individual, it is not something a believer achieves when alone, as is the case with the Christian monk's rapture in his cell, the rapture of shaman or clan in various primitive communities, or the Socrates's rapture, when his ′′ demon ′′ occupied him and remained still and without contact with the outside world for hours. Instead, it is purely a group, even a ′′ mass ′′ phenomenon.

The believers of Dionysus always gather together, becoming a worshiping troupe, to worship God, and only so, as a team, can taste the rapture. One key way to get believers into ecstasy is a group dance in honor of Dionysus, dancing with intense moves and accompanied by drum beats.

This group character of Dionysian worship is expressed at the level of legend by Dionysus always being surrounded by the troupe, his group of believers, female maenad and male satyrs. Dionysian mania is also a contagious phenomenon, it can be transmitted and spread from a group to the people surrounding it.

A reflection of this phenomenon we find in the Bacches: Dionysos informs us that he sent bacchian mania first to the daughters of Cadmus, and then to all the women of Thebes: from this we can imagine the bacchian fury starting from the royal house, from the daughters of the king, and then slowly expand throughout the city.

Another feature of Dionysian worship is that this is not a worship connected to a certain place, to a temple or sacred in a certain place, and to local families from which a hereditary priesthood emerges:

This was happening in other mysteries ecstatic worships of the Greek area, e.g. in Elefsina Mysteries, which were unbreakable connected to Elefsina and whose priests came from local families • or with the mysteries of Kaviras, found in Samothrace.

Instead, Dionysian worship is not connected to a certain place. It's a kind of ′′ universal ", panhellenic or ′′ universal ′′ worship, which roots and develops anywhere there are believers to embrace it. Worship is spreading gave away wandering priests who travel like missionaries from one area to another to spread the rites of god.

In historical times, of course, formal worships of Dionysos have been established in all Greek cities: but we meet similar phenomena of wandering priests in the service of other gods with ecstatic-orgy type worships, such as Kyveli, the Great Mother, or, from Hellenistic times and then, Syrian Goddess.

The image of Dionysus we see in both the myth of the Bacchae and other myths seems to reflect this way of spreading worship: Dionysus travels from place to place to establish his worship (in Bacchae comes to Thebes after spreading his rites first in Lydia, Frygia and Persia) - just like his wandering priests did.

Dionysian Mysteries.

Dionysian worship included mysteries, i.e. secret ceremonies, where only those who had been through an initiation process could take part, and were based on hidden teachings about God. To participate in the mysteries, one had to go through an initiation ceremony, in which one learned secret teaching, to finally be accepted among the initiators, to the secrets of God.

Exactly how the initiation process was done and what the secret teaching of Dionysian Mysteries we do not know: ancient sources do not give clear information about these things, and this is reasonable, as the essence of Mysteries was exactly that they should remain secretly , and those who were initiated were bound by vows not to reveal them.

Various ancient writers, however, like Herodotus and Aristophanes, testify to the existence of Dionysian mysteries.

One thing that seems certain is that Dionysian mysteries promised initiators a happy and blessed existence in the other world, after their death - this is common to all mysterious worships of antiquity.

Graves from different parts of the Greek world and various times have been found with inscriptions, which speak of happy existence waiting for secrets and bacques after death • or even instructing the believer's soul for the topography of the epicena and the guide how to find her way into the other world.

Maybe even in some villages in the Bacchae there are abuses from the eschatological teaching of Dionysian mysterious worship. Descriptions that show the moinades to be in an idyllic state of absolute harmony with nature, breastfeeding deer and cubs, while from the earth sprinkling in a wondrous way of wine, milk and honey, may be eschatological visions of Dionysian secrets for happy existence in the another world.

Such elements are common in descriptions of the happy posthumous existence of mysterious initiators: in various writers (Aristophanes, Plato, Plutarchos) we read that in the other world the souls of the secret sing and dance in flowery fields.

Symbolism is the language of the Mysteries; in fact it is the language not only of mysticism and philosophy but of all Nature, for every law and power active in universal procedure is manifested to the limited sense perceptions of man through the medium of symbol. Every form existing in the diversified sphere of being is symbolic of the divine activity by which it is produced. By symbols men have ever sought to communicate to each other those thoughts which transcend the limitations of language. Rejecting man-conceived dialects as inadequate and unworthy to perpetuate divine ideas, the Mysteries thus chose symbolism as a far more ingenious and ideal method of preserving their transcendental knowledge. In a single figure a symbol may both reveal and conceal, for to the wise the subject of the symbol is obvious, while to the ignorant the figure remains inscrutable. Hence, he who seeks to unveil the secret doctrine of antiquity must search for that doctrine not upon the open pages of books which might fall into the hands of the unworthy but in the place where it was originally concealed.
"The Secret Teachings of All Ages" by Manly P. Hall
Todd Powelson
Todd Powelson works as a Graphic Designer, Illustrator, and Visual Artist.

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