Thursday, October 13, 2016

Euoi Saboi!!

Ceremony of Passage, from Vas's album In the Garden of Souls, performed by Greg Ellis

How I imagine Sabazios
I've written before about my first experience with Sabazios, but I wanted to talk about him a little more today. Sabazios was a Thracian horse god, though his cult spread through Lydia and Greece as well, and eventually through the Roman Empire, where he was primarily syncretized with Jupiter, but also with Dionysus (in his mystery cult) and occasionally Helios. Because most of the sources of information we have on his cult are actively hostile to it, it's difficult to know much about it. In later days of the Roman empire, there were those (including Plutarch) was also syncretized him with צבאות, (Adonai Tzavaoth, the God of Hosts).

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)
We have very little scholarship about Sabazios; his cult was mysterious (open only to the initiated) and run by women.  We know that the ancients considered it very similar to the Dionysian Mystery cult of Greece (and, in fact, there are many good reasons to believe that, when they came in contact with each other, the two cults merged to form the Mystery.  The Mystery of Dionysus doubtless involved intoxication, most scholars agree it included a special mead brewed with sacred herbs.  I am not sure what those herbs were, but my personal gnosis tells me that it included liberty cap mushrooms, Psilocybe semilanceata.   Liberty caps grow wild all over the northern hemisphere, but are especially prevalent in Europe and Asia Minor.  We call them "liberty caps" because they look like the hats worn by French Revolutionaries, who adopted them based on the Roman tradition of them being worn by freed
Bendis (Phyrgian
slaves.  However, the Romans themselves mostly called that sort of hat a "Phrygian cap", because it was the national costume of the people of Phrygia (in what we now call Anatolia).  We don't have a lot of Greek mythology concerning mushrooms (probably because it was a closely guarded secret of the Mystery Cults), but we know that in Egypt they were called "the sons of the gods" and "the plants of immortality" and that they were propagated by Set, throwing spore-covered lightning bolts to earth.  Given the obvious similarity in shape, it seems clear to me that the Phyrgian cap, so beloved by the Phyrgian gods, is in fact an allusion to the mushroom itself.

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?