Ceremony of Passage, from Vas's album In the Garden of Souls, performed by Greg Ellis
|How I imagine Sabazios|
Sabazios, the horse god of Thrace, was also a god of the grain. Like Attis-Adonis-Tammuz, he dies and is resurrected with the plants. But he was also a god of beer and mead, and it is this connection which united him most strongly with Dionysus. In addition to his sacred honey-drink, he is associated with snakes, crowns, and, most strongly with strange cult objects we call Hands of Sabazios. These hands are found throughout the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and the Balkans, as far north as Belgium.
|liberty cap mushrooms|
|Attis (Phrygian Tammuz)|
|Bendis (Phyrgian |
And so I believe that the magical honey mead of the cult of Sabazios was laden with psilocybin. But what else can we determine about the cult itself? All of the ancient sources we have on the cult (which are few and far between) compare it very directly to the Dionysian Mysteries. The Dionysian Mystery cult, although open to everyone, was primarily a cult of social outsiders: women, slaves, and foreigners. At it's root, it promised liberation. Its key magical practice was spirit possession, in
which the cultist becomes the horse of the spirits. Several methods of trance induction were undoubtedly used. In addition to chemognosis, whether from wine, mean, herb, or mushroom (or, in my opinion, a combination of all of them), drums & bullroarers player a key role, as did ecstatic dance. Euripides (who, remember, is an enemy of the cult) describes it thus "Following the torches as they dipped and swayed in the darkness, they climbed mountain paths with head thrown back and eyes glazed, dancing to the beat of the drum which stirred their blood' ... 'In this state of ekstasis or enthusiasmos, they abandoned themselves, dancing wildly and shouting 'Euoi!' and at that moment of intense rapture became identified with the god himself. They became filled with his spirit and acquired divine powers."
The promise of the Dionysian Mysteries is freedom from domestication, the liberation of the self; reaffirming the Wild nature of man as in and of the world. This is not the killing of the dragon by St Michael, nor even the mastery of it by St George. In the Dionysian mysteries, the Dragon becomes the Self. The cult of Dionysus was considered by "proper" Athenians to be dangerously liberative, uncivilized, and a hotbed of insurrection.
So, how did one become an initiate of the Dionysian Mysteries? Obviously, there is very little first-hand reporting, partly because it was forbidden to discuss the mysteries with the uninitated, but also because, one imagines, a large portion of the initaites were illiterate. Not just that, but the cult was considered, at least to some extent, an enemy of the state, and permitted only so long as the gods were still feared. In ancient days, the process was different for men and for women. We know more about the women's rites than the men's, because portions of the initiatory temple of the mysteries, the so-called Villa of Mysteries, were preserved in Pompeii, and contain murals which depict (scholars believe) a female initiate's journey. However, remember that what is depicted is a very late, Roman version of the cult. Here is what we know:
For men, the initiation involved a descent into the underworld (katabasis), and took place in catacombs. In the dark, the initiate become possessed of Dionysus, and was thereafter referred to as "a bacchus". In the underworld, there is some kind of ordeal, and something or someone is sought out, and brought back above the world, with varying degrees of success.
For women, the process was different. Before entering into the underworld, they became inspired by Ariadne, the ancient Minoan Mistress of the Labyrinth. After an ordeal, most likely flagellation, but perhaps ritualized hanging, she too descended into the Underworld. (or, perhaps, the ordeal took place in the underworld; it is unclear). After some kind of sexual initiation, the woman is led up back into the world, where she received a staff and cap.
Of the mysteries, Arthur Edward Waite (who, lets' recall was something of a Victorian twat, in addition to being a bang-up magician) writes this of the mysteries: "Whatsoever may have remained to represent the original intent of the rites, regarded as Rites of Initiation, the externalities and practice of the Festivals were orgies of wine and sex: there was every kind of drunkenness and every aberration of sex, the one leading up to the other. Over all reigned the Phallus, which—in its symbolism à rebours—represented post ejaculationem the death-state of Bacchus, the god of pleasure, and his resurrection when it was in forma arrecta. Of such was the sorrow and of such the joy of these Mysteries."
What might the original version of this cult look like? What did it look like before it was "softened" and brought into accord with the patriarchal values of Greece? Before it was reshaped to do homage to Rome?