FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT BACCHANALIA?
Question: Is this a SPIRITUAL event, a SEXUAL event, a COMBINATION OF THE TWO or WHAT?
I, in no way, want to diminish the sexual opportunities inherent in BACCHANALIA, because a. sex is a divine gift to be enjoyed for its own sake and also b. sex is an avenue to the divine, i.e., a means by which to achieve oneness with the gods, but it should be fully realized by all that it is, first, foremost, and always, a spiritual event.
Question: What then is the primary goal of BACCHANALIA?
Sophrosyne. Balance. Achieving self-actualization through self-awareness
Question: Bacchanalia is frequently characterized as a drunken orgy. Is this correct?
Yes and no. Yes it is correct that participants seek to achieve altered states of consciousness and awareness. In the ancient world, the most efficient means to do so was uncut, strong wine. Dionysus or Bacchus is God of Wine.
There are many means by which one may achieve an altered state of consciousness including meditation, dance and even lovemaking. Hence the orgy aspect of this question. Orgy derives from a Greek work, orgeia that simply means “religious ritual.”
So to say that Bacchanalia is a drunken orgy is, on one level, to affirm that it involves the reaching of altered states of consciousness through which certain knowledge can be derived and wisdom obtained but also that it is a religious ritual.
Question: Isn’t Bacchanalia primary cathartic? A chance to let off steam?
It can be a way of letting off steam, but, no, it is not primarily that. The purpose of Bacchanalia is to create an environment in which the person can learn who she is without daily pressures from authority figures and to fully realize the person within – removing all life’s obligations and masks.
Because ours is a repressive authoritarian society, most people will enjoy Bacchanalia as a pleasant vacation from the rigors of judgment and social obligation. However, it is only in that relaxed state that wisdom comes, because then the mind is open and free.
Question: Will there be nudity and sex and am I obligated to participate in any of that?
Generally, in Bacchanalia, there is nudity and sex – in the open. In fact, it is encouraged. There are few things to rival in beauty the human form in all its glory and no greater divinely ordained pleasure or sacrament than consensual lovemaking.
But you are not obligated to follow suit or participate in any way that is uncomfortable to you. You may be invited to participate in someone else’s pleasure,and if you are sensitive to such invitations Bacchanalia may not be right for you, but you are never obligated to participate.
Question: What is the religious goal? It seems a rather haphazard affair.
Far from it. The Bacchanalia isn’t limited to or by liturgy although there are some blessings, invitations to the gods, and the omnipresence of the energies of Dionysus. It is mainly spiritual in an experiential sense.
This isn’t like church. So even to many Pagans and other Magickians, it may seem haphazard, because it doesn’t entirely follow a rote formula, but it purposes to re-link human with divine and centrally to reacquaint the person with herself.
Question: How then does the priest negotiate his responsibilities?
This requires deftness and skill on the facilitator’s part well beyond the activities and responsibilities of the average priest, and that priest may at times seem emotionally distant and other worldly.
This is because the Dionysian priest when in Bacchanalia straddles more than one world. He is shaping the energy swirling in the midst of the proceedings or merely riding it to provide context and guidance to others.
Question: Are the priest’s responsibilities, then, pastoral by nature? Constantly aware and responsive to the needs of the persons around him?
He is not responsive in the ways most people consider pastoral. There will, in fact, be times when he seems unconcerned by the goings on around him, because, in common parlance, he will be in an altered state of consciousness throughout the event. In some ways, he lives there, because Dionysian consciousness for him is as much a state of being as of the moment.
Question: After such a transforming event, does everyone simply go home?
This is why Dionysians tend to form bands of hangers on of satyrs and maenads, Bacchantes who stay together – for a while at least – and more fully immerse themselves in that state because it feels so warm, inviting and safe.
But this can become a double edged sword, because an emotionally unprepared person will simply become dependent on the atmosphere The more fully-prepared Bacchante will feel inspired to learn more and strike out in time on her own and host her own Bacchic experiences, but it is always good to stay in touch and continue to learn from the gods and the facilitator.
Question: Can Bacchanalia be dangerous or destructive to relationships because it encourages sexual intimacy with a number of people?
Ancients applied a wisdom to Bacchanalia that in essence can be characterized akin to “Whatever happens at Bacchanalia stays at Bacchanalia,” but, of course, the truth is that some people, including married people, stayed there or at least came to realize that their relationships were too oppressive to continue.
It can be shocking and revealing to know your life has been so controlled by circumstance and the influence of others that now realizing more fully who you are, you simply want to continue being you. This is not really a change so much as a reawakening of who you really are, but back home or in the office, the difference may not be welcome or accepted. It is very common for Bacchantes to part company with bad experiences or to return to the next year’s event confused and in transition – halfway in their old world and halfway in the golden light of opportunity and happiness revealed to them.
Question: Can a second such experience resolve such matters?
It can. It can also deepen the confusion or at least place greater internal pressure on the person to either fully commit to being herself or admit defeat and surrender to the necessity of maintaining the status quo in order to survive.
It is as though the priest says, “It is through the god that you are freed but through my ministry that these gifts have descended upon you.” However, the question is never one of loyalty to home or to the Bacchic band, but rather loyalty to others or oneself. The healthy person will not ignore self and come to realize that no one can truly love you unless they accept you for fully who you are. So Bacchanalia creates an existential crisis. Must I conform to someone else’s image of me or may I live truly and fully as myself?
Question: So getting back to basics, catharsis is commonplace, but it’s not the goal?
That’s right. It creates a state of receptivity through which wisdom might be gained.
Question: How will this wisdom appear? Will it be something you hear or see or is it something you’re told?
It’s something that occurs to you. You may not hear it with your physical ears or see it with your physical eyes, and you may not even hear it or see it in your imagination so much as feel a subtle change, a calmness and satisfaction that requires consideration, contemplation.
Bacchanalia is not ideal for contemplation in that it is rather raucous or tends to be, but the seed of contemplation and change will be planted there. How you tend it is in your hands, but know this. It is dangerous to ignore such a divine gift, because its destructive aspect lies in denial.
Question: Are you saying that the god will curse you if you don’t become a Bacchic reveler permanently?
No. I’m saying that once you’ve been freed from the chains that have bound you, it is madness to return to your previous state of bondage as a matter of choice. Bacchanalia unleashes an inner struggle between who you are and what other people expect you to be and simply playing along to get along is disingenuous and destructive of self. The real you will have been unleashed and you can never again be fully satisfied with the status quo.
Question: Will the Bacchic priest be there for you as you experience this personal evolution or just dump you off and say you’re on your own?
Personal development and evolution is an inherently individual process; and, therefore, even if a Bacchic priest were capable of shaping and guiding your experience, you still have to take control and responsibility for it.
Were you to return to Bacchanalia or a Bacchic temple or grove, you would find the Bacchic priest doing what he did previously. The god himself may help enlighten you along the way and additional Bacchic experiences may strengthen your resolve or provide additional insight, but the essential activity of change rests in your hands – not alone, because it’s not that the priest doesn’t care, but because those decisions cannot be made by anyone but you. In fact, it would be counter to the Bacchic notion, because the idea is to liberate you from the authority and influence of others. Merely replacing one set of obligations with ideas from the priest would be switching from one set of authority figures to another. You would still be imprisoned not free.
Question: So this is an antidote to co-dependence?
We’re social animals. We’re interdependent in many ways. We’re also descended spiritually from a unitary being and source of being. But we haven’t reached that state of hyper-individuation in which we are free to choose our path back to communion with the divine. This is why modern religion is so destructive. It creates co-dependence rather than interdependence and blocks a person from the freedom needed to choose the path to spiritual and personal soundness.
The re-linking or tying back advertised in the word, religion, is often a sham, because people tell you what to think and how to think. In that state, its impossible to achieve spiritual wholeness. The Bacchic priest, in essence, says it’s your solemn responsibility to think for yourself and when you’re ready, you’ll find your way home to completion or self-actualization. In that state, the needs of the self and the needs of communion are entirely aligned without injury done to free will.
Question: OK, it’s free form, but somehow takes on significance that is not immediately apparent?
Most important moments in life do. There are elements of extemporaneity but also parts with very particular purposes and those purposes are defined by what we know of Bacchus. In the play, Bacchae, Euripides presents Dionysus as a complex figure. One will immediately recognize in the story elements later co-opted into Christian mythology including Dionysos’ imprisonment but it is he rather than a secondary character like Peter who liberates himself from the authority figure’s jail.
Moreover, Pentheus, the leader, is no Pontius Pilate who survives to continue governance, but rather dies the most horrible death, torn apart by his own mother who under the influence of the god thought her son a lion.
Question: This hardly provides a moral lesson to follow, does it?
Quite the contrary. It provides a valuable lesson. The power of a god cannot be denied. On one level, a very superficial one, it could be said that the god is petty and destructive, but what was actually being taught here was that in order to achieve balance or what Greeks called sophrosyne and modern people self-actualization, you have to acknowledge all the gods and incorporate all their gifts into your life.
Prudes deny the energy and gifts of Dionysus. They deny his godhood. The error is not in aggravating a petty god, but in denying a fundamental part of oneself. THIS IS THE ERROR OF MODERN PAGANISM when it tries to walk back from the centrality of fertility and the brink of sensual pleasure, focusing instead on the inconsequential mouthing of liturgy and adhering to warmed over Judaeo-Christian ethics.