I am a big fan of everything Dionysian. I love wine, dancing, parties, theater, ritual, initiation, you name it. Curiously, however, as much as I want to like Dionysos, we don’t actually get along all that well. It isn’t any fundamental disagreement. Rather, whenever we speak, we misunderstand one another.
Imagine, if you will, two people dancing. One thinks that the dance is a waltz. The other is trying to break dance. Many black eyes and squished kidneys ensue.
Those of us who work with deities in a mystical way all have a deity with whom we have difficulty communicating, or even a time when the deities we usually get on pretty well with are hard to understand.
Triaging confusing gnosis doesn’t make the experience any easier, but it does, at least, give you the satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best to help the deity in question accomplish their initial objective.
A Picture of Confusing Gnosis: Not What Dionysos Said, But What I Heard
Some months back, Dionysos flounced into my house with the general flailing of limbs, fainting onto furniture, wailing, rending of garments and general histrionics that comprise the unique dialect of the theater god in grand tragic mode.
“What is the matter, Dionysos?” I asked, “What are you trying to say?”
“Oh, it is terribly unfair!” he replied. “Ah, why has every god a better lot than Dionysos?”
“I’m fairly certain,” I said, “That you are doing alright for yourself. You have an active throng of followers not ten miles from here. In what respect do other gods have a better lot than you?”
He stared at me with a concerned expression, studying my body language as though my words meant nothing to him, so I rephrased, “What do you want?”
He pointed at me, unhappily.
I frowned at him.
He looked upset that I looked upset. Actually, I wasn’t upset, just confused, but apparently, the distinction was lost on him.
“This is what I mean,” he continued, “My Ariadne is distant from me. Why do you love every god better than me? What wrong have I done that you hate me so? Is Hermes so much more comely than I? Are his charms so much greater? His tongue may be silver, but his heart is like ice. He will never love as I do.”
Now, it was my turn to study him thoughtfully, searching for clues. Obviously, I didn’t hate him. He was speaking of Ariadne hating him, maybe? That didn’t make sense. I couldn’t figure out if he was just listing off things he was upset about, or whether there was some symbolic meaning — or maybe he was addressing Ariadne rather than me, which would make some sense, but then I couldn’t understand why he was speaking to me. Perhaps he wanted me to know that his brother was sleeping with his wife? That certainly didn’t happen in any mythology I’d ever read. Perhaps I was supposed to talk to Hermes about Ariadne? Perhaps he meant that Ariadne was in every bed but his, and I, separately, should prefer Dionysos to Hermes as a patron? That made less than no sense.
The mood was certainly imploring. He wanted something, I thought. Did he want action? Sympathy? Sympathy. That must be it, I decided. But what was the deeper meaning to this conversation?
“I’m very sorry that you’re sad.” I said. This was, apparently, the wrong response.
He tore at his hair in absolute dismay. “I was torn to pieces, and my heart survived. I was burned in the womb of my mother, and my heart survived. All that I am, and ever will be, is my heart. Now, my heart is broken. You will be the death of me.”
I’m sure that one of his priests or priestesses would have known what to do, you know, the Satyr or Maenad types. Sympathy still seemed the right response, but that only seemed to make things worse. My next impulse was a slow clap at his well executed soliloquy, but I felt fairly certain that this was a really bad choice.
“What do you need from me?” I asked.
As happens on the astral, he was suddenly right next to me. He said, “We could make love.”
“So,” I said, “You came here for a reason. If it was to seduce me, you wouldn’t have started with how much your life sucks. You must have had another reason for coming. Did you need something evoked? A ritual written? I’m afraid my only other useful skill is baking bread.”
My questions and suppositions were met with displeasure. “I am a god,” he said. The way he said it, you would have thought that it resolved the whole matter for him, and that he rather expected that it should have clarified the thing for me as well.
“Do you want a libation offering?” I asked.
“Yeah, fine,” he said unenthusiastically.
I gave him some wine, and we sat for a short time, not really saying anything, and then he left, radiating some emotion that was foreign to me, but that I might have, if he had been a human being, termed it despair.
It’s not in his nature to get his loin-cloth in a wad about a woman not wanting to sleep with him. There was obviously something else he wanted, but I had no idea what it might be. So frustrating!
Triaging A Perplexing Encounter
It may seem obvious that when there’s a fire, you should leave the burning building. Yet, we still have fire drills. This is because, when things go wrong, people panic. In just the same way, when a deity and a mortal leave an interaction and both beings leave upset and confused, you need a pre-packaged routine or plan to deal with it.
I know this may seem like a very left brained approach, and it is. However, I fully believe that if you want to communicate well with deities, you actually need to involve both the rational and the irrational faculties of the mind. You need your imagination as the primary stage on which gnosis plays out, and you need reason to help you make sense of it.
Here are the steps which I have found, through trial and error, can help turn a gnosis-related scrap heap into food for thought, at the very least.
1. Write Everything down. Absolutely Everything.
“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.” — Edgar Allen Poe
Don’t trust your brain to hold onto astral conversations. You know how sane people can make a distinction between stuff that happens on the astral and stuff that happens on the physical plane? Your brain just tagged that Gnosis as “something that doesn’t really need careful storage,” and your unconscious mind just tagged it as, “great place to shove my unacknowledged emotional issues so that my conscious mind will pay attention to them.”
Moments after you experience something, you begin having opportunities to introduce memory errors. The more time passes, the more opportunities you will have to introduce errors.
Write everything down right away. Get through the basic outline of who said what, any images that were presented, small details such as gestures, images that occurred to you, intruding thoughts (for example, if you space out and think of cupcakes while a deity is talking), and any external distractions that occurred during the experience.
2. What Are Your First Impressions?
How did this encounter make you feel, and what were your first thoughts? That stupid, nagging idea at the back of your head that you are SURE isn’t true? It probably isn’t, but write it down anyway. These thoughts, if not attended to, will just be clutter on the floor of your mind that you’ll trip over. Once you’ve recorded the thought, you can officially reject it, and move on.
Questions are a great thing to write down. What confused you? What didn’t make sense about it?
3. Ask Yourself: How Urgent Is This?
Here, you might need to use your intuition. For example, do you sense personal danger? Whatever you think the deity was saying, do you have a sense of foreboding? Does what they said make you feel nervous about an upcoming event or perhaps a person? If not, shelf it for a little while, and give yourself some emotional distance. Little known fact: running over and over again what happened in your head is the BEST way to completely misinterpret it. Studies show that each and every time we call up a memory, this is an opportunity to introduce errors, and also to reinforce any previously introduced errors. Putting it out of your head for a little while will give you some distance, and let you evaluate the matter more objectively. Don’t worry, you have notes to work from.
Don’t trust anything you “remembered” after your initial recording.
4. What Are The Assumptions?
My mother always like to say, “If you assume, you make and ass out of you and me.” This was actually a pneumonic for remembering how to spell the word, but it is also great advice for living. We have assumptions that we are in conscious control of, and ones that we are not.
Why might a deity want to talk to you to begin with? Does everything you hear a deity say necessarily have to do with you? Do you assume that they are external beings with wants, needs and desires?
By understanding our own beliefs about deities, and about how or why they communicate with us, we can begin to de-tangle how we understand and interpret what they say.
Assumptions are not always wrong, but they need to be stored separately from what you are sure you heard and saw. Re-read your original account and underline the parts where you might have filled something in, or where what the deity is saying strangely corroborates your pre-concieved notions.
As for me, even with other human beings, I tend to assume that they are upset, when sometimes, they actually aren’t.
Also, in reading my account of my experience, you will note my assumption that a god of theater is not always feeling what he says he’s feeling, or even what he projects empathically. My tendency is to view a communication from Dionysos as play-acting, rather than being a seriously and literally intended event. This assumption needs, ultimately, to be deleted from my final interpretation.
5. Read What You Wrote, Make a List of the Symbols
Re-write the account, omitting the context, the assumptions, and the feelings. Omit what you said, and look exclusively at the material that comes from your speaker. What, in the Bible, they call “the red letters.”
Looking back at the themes in what Dionysos was saying, omitting the context, and scrapping what I *might* have filled in, I derive the following.
Every god a better lot than Dionysos… Ariadne is distant from Dionysos.
Other deities and love
Other deities and Thenea.
Hermes and Thenea… ?
Hermes: his heart is cold…
Dionysos: his heart is immortal…
“I am a god.”
6. Interpret the Symbols
Just as you would a dream, read the symbols.
In my excerpt, I have love, hearts, consorts, relationships, intimacy, mortals and gods. Comparing relationships, comparing honors, making (creating) love and lastly, Ariadne. Also, Hermes.
One thing comes through loud and clear: Ariadne, his wife. Given that so many other symbols in the encounter focused on honor and love, something related to that must be the primary purpose of his visit.
He says that he is a god. In many mythological accounts, Ariadne is a mortal. However, in Cretan as well as Etruscan mythology, Ariadne and Dionysos are seen in a different light. In Etruscan mythology, Ariadne was more an equal than a lesser being. In Cretan mythology, Ariadne is a vegetation deity more like Demeter.
This brings us back to unfairness.
7. Use the Schrödinger test…. then revise.
Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean that it’s true. Schrödinger’s thought experiment reduced what someone else derived by equations to a logical absurdity, proving the idea false.
If you interpretation proves true, what are the implications? If the implications simply add up to a pile of rubbish, then your interpretation is, correspondingly, rubbish.
If the hidden implication of your interpretation is that you are loved much more, or much less, than the deity’s other followers, scrap it, or try re-focusing the question. Rather than asking “Who is the fairest of them all?” or asking who the deity most wants to kick in the pants, ask yourself why the deity is there. Does he or she want you to do something? Are they trying to help you work through some issue?
One tempting interpretation of my experience above is that Dionysos showed up to get into my pants. He made a big show to get my attention, and then was angry with me when I simply changed the subject.
What is the theological implication, there? Do deities really just show up for booty-call? Surely, he knows that I’m not interested. Communication is a huge pre-requisite to me, even for a casual hook-up. He is either aware that our conversations tend to progress like the endeavor of chewing cobblestone, or he is simply oblivious. Can a deity of theater really not GET dialogue? Can he fail to miss when two characters aren’t connecting well? I don’t think so. He must have known, then, at the outset, that such an offer was a waste of time. Aside from that, he has no shortage of people whose clothing would mysteriously vanish at the implication that he might want to commune with them in that way.
He’s not socially inept. Deities don’t go through the trouble of manifesting just to have a frustrating and pointless interaction. Clearly, I misunderstood his request.
Also, is despair an emotion congruent with being turned down for a booty call? Who would I have to be for that to be the case? Someone pretty damned important to him. Am I? Not in particular. This interpretation is clearly rubbish.
Could it be, instead, that he wanted me to do something in particular, couldn’t get me to understand what, tried to harmonize our energies, was rebuffed, and left frustrated because he hadn’t accomplished anything? Sounds more reasonable. This interpretation implies that I didn’t, on first pass, understand what he wanted from me. What did he want? Again, as we see above, something about Ariadne and unfairness.
Despite the strength of the Loud-Shouter’s projection, I need to resist the temptation to mark this communication as uniquely for me. If the thing is important, then he will have contacted many people in addition. If he wants me to help, then he wants me to connect to others undertaking the same endeavor.
So, if anyone else is trying to reconstruct the Cretan/Minoan/Mycenaean Ariadne? Please give me a ring.
8. Ask for an omen to confirm your interpretation.
Once you have an interpretation that makes sense, ask for an omen. A DREAM DOES NOT COUNT. Dreams are a product of your unconscious mind, and in them, there is no real way to know if what you see is from the god, or using the god as a symbol, or serving as wish fulfillment (a hope that your interpretation is true, or false). Dreams are more gnosis, and need to be detangled before they are useful.
In Mesopotamian magic, what I’m speaking of is called a sign of acceptance. The appearance of a bird omen, uncanny words from the mouth of a stranger, the sudden arrival of money or an unexpected visit from a friend can all serve as signs of acceptance. It is best to let the deity know, in advance, what you are looking for. You can even set up two signs: one for acceptance, and one to let you know that you have more work to do in understanding the deity’s message.
If you get no sign at all, then the deity is obviously ambivalent, and you are free to interpret the entire experience in whatever way best helps you grow as a person.
In my case, I got a bird omen: two hummingbirds visited my porch, a male and a female. One hummingbird is a symbol for accomplishing the impossible, and finding joy. In other cultures it represents the sun in a courtship with a woman, who is the moon. Two hummingbirds? Just harping on the husband and wife symbolism, I suppose. You know, in case I missed it the first time.
New World bird, but classic bird omen. Thanks, Hermes!
Epilogue: A Translation. What Dionysos Heard, Not What I Said.
Dionysos came into the home of the cat, and called out. “Thenea?”
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw her, curled up. The huge black cat lifted her head, flattened her ears against her skull and leered warily. She was listening, in the way she always did, patiently waiting until she had gathered enough information to decide whether his plight was worthy of her attention.
The god continued, hoping to speed the decision along, “As you know, many deities in my pantheon have well known companions. They are well rendered and accorded honor, such as deities should be.”
“You have followers,” said the cat. “Why are bothering me? They are only ten miles from here, in roughly a Northerly direction, are they not…? What brings you here, in particular?”
“That’s true,” he said, “but my followers aren’t generally intellectuals, or scholars, or philosophers. The ones you are speaking of certainly aren’t. I’m trying to spread the word. I’d really appreciate your help.”
The cat turned her ears deliberately forward, in a grotesque parody of attentiveness. Her limbs did not twitch, nor did her tail swish, but her eyes betrayed the tension of an animal ready to swipe at the slightest provocation. She said archly, “I have much work to do for your brother. If it isn’t important, kindly let me get back to my work.”
He didn’t want to be rude, nor would rudeness serve him, but the ‘work’ he had interrupted looked suspiciously like napping.
“It is important.” Dionysos continued, “My Ariadne, my partner, my other half, is not worshipped alongside me, goddess though she is. I am made to bear the weight of my fame, while she lies forgotten. You have much to do for other gods? What suffering do they endure that needs so much of your attention?? Have I so frequently failed to come to your aid that you deny me now? Are the favors bestowed upon you by Hermes so much sweeter to you than the gifts I have to give? And besides, he doesn’t need you as I need you. His silver tongue opens every door in heaven, in the underworld, and every other world besides. Think, too, when you consider his gifts to you, of the fact that his guilt weighs upon him. It will be none other than Argeiphontes who will come to snatch your soul when your time comes. You will cry out to him for mercy, but his heart will be icy toward you. Think kindly on me because of Semele, my mortal mother, for whom I overturned the law of death, and whom I granted a seat among the immortals.”
“I’m sorry,” said the cat coldly. Her tone was hesitant, as though she was still deciding whether to actually commit to being sympathetic. It was a distant matter that she was still considering.
“All I’m asking you for is what you always do anyway, just for Ariadne! Write about her, channel her, conjure her up, make a hymn, a ritual, a godform, whatever you like! Thenea, pay attention! Oh, where has your mind wandered to now?” Dionysos wailed. “Ariadne is my everything! My soul! My home! My Goddess! Let the world, or the assembly of the gods, do whatever they like to me– I have endured many deaths. I cannot endure how they treat her! Fickle mortals and callous immortals! You will destroy what dismemberment and void and fire and storm could not– you will destroy my heart!”
The cat nodded silently, looking more impressed than moved. “Very well, I’ll help. What would you like me to do?”
The god sighed with exhaustion and moved closer to the cat. “Communication between us is taxing and ineffectual. Let us share energies and minds, so that you hear me.”
He moved only a hand toward her. The cat hissed. Her uncanny yellow eyes widened, and her lips curled back to show gleaming white rows of razor sharp teeth.
“Or not,” the god said, backing off.
As quickly as it had come, the cat’s aggression subsided. “So what is it you want me to do, then, hmmm? Do research? Write a ritual? Summon something up from the bowels of hell? … bake a cake maybe?”
He smiled just a little. “She’s a goddess. I’m a god. What would you do for me?”
A queer expression settled over her face that he couldn’t quite read. “Where are my manners?” She said, “Can I offer you something to drink? I seem to recall that you like sweet reds.”
He sighed. “Sure.”
They sat for a while in near silence, each with a kylix. He still wasn’t sure that she understood what he wanted. Yet, perhaps there was reason to be hopeful. The unconscious mind did have a way of hearing, even when the conscious mind seemed not to. Perhaps in a few days, she’d suddenly have an idea pop into her head, and she’d simply think she’d come up with it herself.
Oh, for the power to walk with his feet on the ground again!
He nodded to her, and left, his head full of times past, and his heart full of longing for things now utterly forgotten by humankind. One stubborn mortal down, several billion to go.
This was a wonderful post! Thank you.
…it has truly never occurred to me until this post to offer sacrifice to Ariadne. I am horribly ashamed.
I’ve written a great deal about her since then, and much of it is much more on point. If you look in my hymns section, there is one for her that paints a very good picture of her role in the modern revel.