Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Friday, 11 November 2011

Dionysus, Osiris, and Dionysian Mysteries

                                                                     Edited May 01, 2012

Let's look at Ningishzida again.

Ningishzida is a Mesopotamian deity of the underworld. His name in Sumerian is translated as "lord of the good tree" by Thorkild Jacobsen.
In Sumerian mythology, he appears in Adapa's myth as one of the two guardians of Anu's celestial palace, alongside Dumuzi. He was sometimes depicted as a serpent with a human head.

The "libation vase of Gudea", dedicated to Ningishzida (21st century BC short chronology). The caduceus is interpreted as depicting the god himself.

Ningishzida with serpent dragon heads on his shoulder presenting King Gudaea of Samaria. Note dragon later known as the god Marduk on the left.

Let's go back to Dionysus.

Dionysus was identified with Egyptian god Osiris.

Herodotus, Histories 2. 42 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"No gods are worshipped by all Egyptians in common except Isis and Osiris, who they say is Dionysus; these are worshipped by all alike."

Herodotus, Histories 2. 144 :
"Before men, they said, the rulers of Egypt were gods . . . the last of them to rule the country was Osiris' son Horus, whom the Greeks call Apollo; he deposed Typhon [Set], and was the last divine king of Egypt. Osiris is, in the Greek language, Dionysus."

Herodotus, Histories 2. 156 :
"Apollo [Horus] and Artemis [Bastet] were (they say) children of Dionysus [Osiris] and Isis, and Leto [Buto]was made their nurse and preserver; in Egyptian, Apollo is Horus, Demeter Isis, Artemis Bubastis."

Herodotus, Histories 2. 123 :
"The Egyptians say that Demeter [Isis] and Dionysus [Osiris] are the rulers of the lower world. The Egyptians were the first who maintained the following doctrine, too, that the human soul is immortal, and at the death of the body enters into some other living thing . . . There are Greeks who have used this doctrine [the Orphics]."

Herodotus, Histories 2. 145 :
"In Egypt . . . Dionysus [Osiris] belongs to the third generation of gods, which came after the twelve. How many years there were between . . . Dionysus [Osiris] and Amasis [the last true Egyptian pharaoh] are the fewest, and they are reckoned by the Egyptians at fifteen thousand. The Egyptians claim to be sure of all this, since they have reckoned the years and chronicled them in writing."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 29. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Both the Greeks and the Egyptians have many legends about Dionysus [i.e. Osiris for the Egyptians]."

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3. 21- 23 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :
"The second [god identified with Dionysus] of the Nile - he [the Egyptian Osiris] is the fabled slayer of Nysa."

Osiris - ( Egyptian. Isir or Iszir ) in Egyptian mythology, the god of death and reborn life , the Great Judge of the dead. Son of the goddess Nut and the god Geb , brother Seth , Isis and Nephthys . He was married to Isis , was the ruler of the earth, the underworld and the dead ( Fields Jar ). He had two sons: Anubis of Nephthys and Horus with Isis.

Facsimile of a vignette from the Book of the Dead of Ani. The deceased Ani kneels before Osiris, judge of the dead. Behind Osiris stand his sisters Isis and Nephthys, and in front of him is a lotus on which stand the four sons of Horus.
Original artwork created c. 1300 BC

Lady Meresimen, Singer of God Amon, giving presents to Osiris and the "Four Sons of Horus", Louvre Museum

The god Osiris receiving offerings.

Book of the Dead papyrus of Pinedjem II, 21st dynasty, circa 990-969 BC. Originally from the Deir el-Bahri royal cache. This scene depicts Pinedjem II in his role of High Priest making an offering to the god Osiris.

A triumphant Hunefer, having passed the weighing of the heart, is presented by falcon-headed Horus to the shrine of the green-skinned Osiris, god of the underworld and the dead, accompanied by Isis and Nephthys.

Weighing of the heart scene, with en:Ammit sitting, from the book of the dead of Hunefer. From the source: "The judgement, from the papyrus of the scribe Hunefer. 19th Dynasty. Hunefer is conducted to the balance by jackal-headed Anubis. The monster Ammut crouches beneath the balance so as to swallow the heart should a life of wickedness be indicated. EA9901." Anubis conducts the weighing on the scale of Maat, against the feather of truth. The ibis-headed Thoth, scribe of the gods, records the result. If his heart is lighter than the feather, Hunefer is allowed to pass into the afterlife. If not, he is eaten by the waiting chimeric devouring creature Ammit, which is composed of the deadly crocodile, lion, and hippopotamus. In the next panel, showing the scene after the weighing, a triumphant Hunefer, having passed the test, is presented by falcon-headed Horus to the shrine of the green-skinned Osiris, god of the underworld and the dead, accompanied by Isis and Nephthys. The 14 gods of Egypt are shown seated above, in the order of judges.

Part of the Book of the Dead of the scribe Nebqed, under the reign of Amenophis III (1391-1353 BC), 18th dynasty. Followed by his mother Amenemheb and his wife Meryt, Nebqed meets the Egyptian god of the dead, Osiris.

A view of the well preserved and beautifully painted Tomb TT3 from Deir el-Medina on the West Bank of Luxor. This scene depicts the god Osiris with the Mountains of the West behind him. It belonged to Pashedu who served as an Ancient Egyptian artist and foreman at Deir el-Medina under pharaoh Seti I.

Osiris, Anubis, Horus, Osiris Pharaoh XVIII dynasties and Isis.

Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt

Osiris, Isis, and Horus

Osiris, Louvre Museum

Dionysus identified with UNKNOWN (INDIAN GOD)

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 2. 2 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :

"Dionysus is called Nysios (Nysian) by the Indians and by all the Oriental races from Nysa in India."

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 2. 6 - 10 :
"They [The legendary prophet Apollonios of Tyana C1st A.D. and his companions] were now in land subject to the king [of India], in which the mountain of Nysa rises covered to its very top with plantations, like the mountain of Tmolos in Lydia; and you can ascend it, because paths have been made by the cultivators. They say then that when they had ascended it, they found the shrine of Dionysus, which it is said Dionysus founded in honor of himself, planting round it a circle of laurel trees which encloses just as much ground as suffices to contain a moderate sized temple.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 4. 605 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"[Dionysus], conqueror of India, worshipped in the new-built shrines of Greece . . . was placed among the gods of heaven."

I will have to do more study to find connection of Dionysus with Hindu gods.

Alain Danielou draws attention to the close similarities between the two deities and concludes that the 'Indian Bacchus' of the Greeks was none other than Skanda. Cultural anthropologist Agehananda Bharati earlier made the specific observation that Kataragama Skanda is a "Dionysian god"

Let’s look at Dionysian Mysteries

The Dionysian Mysteries largely remain just that, a mystery. The secrecy surrounding them has been even more successful than that around the Rites of Eleusis.

The place of origin of the Hellenic Dionysian Mysteries is unknown. The first large scale cult worship of Dionysus in Greece seems to have begun in Thebes in around 1500 BC, around a thousand years before the development of the Athenian Mysteries.

The Dionysian Mysteries are believed to have consisted of two sets of rites, the outer public rites, or Dionysia, and the secret rites of initiation, presumably into the Inner Mysteries, that occurred during these Dionysia.

The basic principle beneath the original initiations, other than the seasonal death-rebirth theme supposedly common to all vegetation cults (such as the Osirian, which closely parallels the Dionysian), was one of spirit possession and atavism. This in turn was closely associated with the effects of the wine. The spirit possession involved the invocation of spirits by means of the bull roarer, followed by communal dancing to drum and pipe, with characteristic movements (such as the backward head flick) found in all trance inducing cults (represented most famously today by African Voodoo and its relatives). As in Vodoun rites, certain drum rhythms were associated with the trance state, and these rhythms are allegedly found preserved in Greek prose, particularly the Bacchae of Euripides One classical source describes what had become of these ancient rites in the Greek countryside, where they were held high in the mountains to which ritual processions were made on certain feast days:

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 the state of ekstasis or enqousiasmos, they abandoned themselves, dancing wildly…. and calling 'Euoi!' At that moment of intense rapture they became identified with the god himself…. They became filled with his spirit and acquired divine powers". Peter Hoyle, Delphi (London: 1967), p. 76.

Unlike many trance cults however, the Dionysian rites were primarily atavistic, that is the participant was possessed by animal spirits and bestial entities, rather than intelligible divinities, and may even "transform into animals". A practise preserved by the rite of the "goat and panther men" of the "heretical" Aissaoua Sufi cult of North Africa, and remembered in the satyrs and sileni of the Dionysian procession, and perhaps even the "bull man", or Minotaur, of the chthonic Minoan labyrinth. But the most desired possession was that by Dionysos himself, or his consort Ariadne.

Dionysus was most probably regarded as the patron of all consciousness altering substances in Roman times, and potion making paraphenalia have been found in the ruins of Bacchic temples. "magic potion" associated with the Dionysus rites, said to include poison ivy, and by the known use of datura, henbane and belladona by shamans in this region, as well as the alleged use of "kykeon" (probably ergot ale), and possibly fly agaric mushrooms, within the Greek Eleusinian Mysteries.

Fortunately, we do have more insight into mystery rites through the preserved murals on the Bacchic ‘Villa of the Mysteries’ in Pompeii.

Here a series of murals painted on the walls of an initiation chamber have been almost perfectly preserved, though there remains controversy as to whether the entire process is shown.

As noted earlier, the identification of these paintings is debated.

The first three scenes.

Scene 1

The action of the rite begins with the initiate or bride crossing the threshold as the preparations for the rites to begin. Is she listening to the naked boy read from the scroll? Is she pregnant?
Is he reading rules of the rite? The officiating priestess (behind the boy) holds another scroll in her left hand and a stylus in her right hand. Is she prepared to add the initiate's name to a list of successful initiates?

Scene 2

A priestess (center), wearing a head covering and a wreath of myrtle removes a covering from a ceremonial basket held by a female attendant. Speculations about the contents of the basket include: more laurel, a snake, or flower petals. A second female attendant wearing a wreath, pours purifying water into a basin in which the priestess is about to dip a sprig of laurel.
Mythological characters and music are introduced into the narrative. An aging Silenus plays a ten-string lyre resting on a column.

The second mural depicts another ‘priestess’ and her assistants preparing the Liknon basket, at her feet are mysterious mushroom shaped objects, which some find suggestive.

Scene 3

A young male satyr plays pan pipes, while a nymph suckles a goat. The initiate is being made aware of her close connection with nature. This move from human to nature represents a shift away from the conscious human world to our preconscious animal state. In many rituals, this regression, assisted by music, is requisite to achieving a psychological state necessary for rebirth and regeneration.
The startled initiate has a glimpse of what awaits her in the inner sanctuary where the katabasis will take place. This is her last chance to save herself by running away. Perhaps some initiates did just that. The next scene provides hints about what both frightens and awaits the initiate.

Some scholars think a katabasis occurs now, others disagree.

The consecutive scenes.

Scene 4

The Silenus looks disapprovingly at the startled initiate as he holds up an empty silver bowl. A young satyr gazes into the bowl, as if mesmerized. Another young satyr holds a theatrical mask (resembling the Silenus) aloft and looks off to his left. Some speculate that the mask rather than the satyr's face is reflected in the silver bowl. So, looking into the vessel is an act of divination: the young satyr sees himself in the future, a dead satyr. The young satyr and the young initiate are coming to terms with their own deaths. In this case the death of childhood and innocence. The bowl may have held Kykeon, the intoxicating drink of participants in Orphic-Dionysian mysteries, intended for the frightened initiate.

Scene 5

This scene is at the center of both the room and the ritual. Dionysus sprawls in the arms of his mother Semele. Dionysus wears a wreath of ivy, his thyrsus tied with a yellow ribbon lies across his body, and one sandal is off his foot. Even though the fresco is badly damaged, we can see that Semele sits on a throne with Dionysus leaning on her. Semele, the queen, the great mother is supreme.

Scene 6

The next mural sees the initiate returning, perhaps from a successful ordeal, she now carries a staff and wears a cap. She kneels before the priestess and then appears to be whipped by a winged female figure. Flagellation being one of the many trance inducing techniques used in the Bacchic rites. Next to her is a dancing figure, a Maenad or Thyiade.

The initiate, carrying a staff and wearing a cap, returns from the night journey. What has happened is a mystery to us. . She reaches for a covered object sitting in a winnowing basket, the liknon. The covered object is taken by many to be a phallus, or a herm.

 In this we find that the girl is leaning before the phallus or the herm , a priestess (?) stands with a staff in hand and a winged creature raises a whip to lash the girl (?)

The last scenes.

Scene 7 

The two themes of this scene are torture and transfiguration, the evocative climax of the rite. Notice the complete abandonment to agony on the face of the initiate and the lash across her back. She is consoled by a woman identified as a nurse. To the right a nude women clashes celebratory cymbals and another woman is about to give to the initiate a thyrsus, symbolizing the successful completion of the rite.

Scene 8

This scene represents an event after the completion of the ritual drama. A young Eros figure holds a mirror.

Scene 9

The figure above has been identified as: the mother of the bride, the mistress of the villa, or the bride herself. Notice that she does wear a ring on her finger.

Scene 10

Eros, god of Love, is the final figure in the narrative.