Many Gods West – Saturnight

I’ve been posting two events per post, but these last two I think I should do separately.

Filled With Frenzy – Bakcheion

Mask of Dionysos

Old faces shatter and fall away, revealing what was before hidden.

I’m SO glad Lon and I attended the revel for Dionysos! Not that there was much danger of us missing it, of course, but still, yay!

While we waited in the hallway before the ritual, the warders came out and gave us all white cardboard masks with a Greek word written on the inside brow. Looking at it, I think it says Λυσιος which tells me is “Lysios” and means “Of release”. That would make sense, because they also gave us black river stones, and told us to focus on what we wanted Dionysos to take away and transform. I was excited, because I knew exactly what I have been needing to let go: Some personal damage around the way I was removed from a group that was very important to me for many years.

I’ve been struggling for a while to sort out what I do and don’t need from the practices I had with that group, and what I do and don’t need in my relationships with the powers I connected with through that group. I have made slow progress sorting it all out, but recently hit a wall in the realization that parts of my spirit are effectively irreparably damaged, and need to be cleansed away and replaced entirely rather than continuing to try to fix them. So my request to Dionysos was to help me do that cleansing, to make room for whatever was next.

Going into the ritual, I found the room well enough lit that I could easily see from one end to the other, but not so brightly lit that it hurt my eyes – perfect! That is a challenging balance to strike. They (the hotel I assume, but I’m not sure) had set up portable air conditioners in several places, which was helpful. There was a table full of wine with a gorgeous banner of Dionysos set up against the wall opposite the communal Many Gods shrine, and the back wall opposite the doors had a beautiful multi-tiered altar adorned with craft ivy and piles of offerings on plates.

The details are a bit blurry, because I couldn’t comfortably wear both my glasses and the mask, so I immediately set aside my glasses with my purse and shoes.

I can’t remember anymore the order of ritual operations going in. Did they teach us the chants first? Then pass out the wine? Or was that after they made all the offerings? Yes, I think the chants and then the offerings and then the wine.

The chants were both very similar but not the same as two of the chants Lon has, so I kept getting confused, and couldn’t ultimately get into the chants. At the end of the evening, we compared notes with humor, and traded chant sets for future inspirations. Yay, more Dionysos chants!

One thing I noticed with some dismay is that they took the stones away from us earlier than I was ready for. We hadn’t yet been given the opportunity to relax into the revel, how could I release this so soon? In retrospect, perhaps it would have been better for me to think of the stone not as the repository for the thing that needed release, but as the envelope in which I sent the request to Dionysos. The release came later, with His help.

When they invited us to take up cups of wine as the recorded music began, I chose a cup with very little in it for myself and a nearly full cup to hand Lon, knowing he has a much higher tolerance for wine than I do. Each cup had an epithet of Dionysos written in it in Greek. I know I caught Zagreus on the last cup I acquired. Zagreus is a name of Dionysos that keeps coming up for me, and I know I have work to do with Him under that name, but I don’t know what yet.

I took a few sips of the wine and handed the rest to Lon, and immediately a warder asked me if I needed anything! “Well, we’re all going to need water, I’m sure!” I said, a little worried that I hadn’t noticed a water table set up. But she directed me immediately to the water table in the corner, and I was able to relax into the recognition that these folks were on it. My habit of ambient warding in trance rituals was not needed here. I complimented the woman on this, but nevertheless offered my help if they ended up needing extra hands after all at some point. Reassured that everything was going according to their plans, I focused on willfully letting go.

At first I tried to dance on my feet, not beautiful, artful dancing, but the dizzying trance-dancing I have learned working with the Powers over the years. That felt good, but I overheated immediately, and my legs felt like they were going to collapse out from underneath me.

So I wandered over to the altar area and knelt on the floor to dance as an offering. After doing this for a bit, I moved to the side of the altar and knelt again to continue for some time. When my legs began to ache from even this, I gave up and pulled a chair down from the stack in the corner, setting it outside the central area defined by the columns in the room. I was very near but not in the direct path of one of the air conditioners, not wishing to block the cool air from anyone else in the room. And I sat in the chair and danced while seated, still in the dizzying way I have learned, but with elements of drumming to it. It’s probably not very pretty, but it’s definitely effective!

I don’t know if the diligent attention the warders paid me was exceptional or if everyone in the room was so well attended, but they certainly took good care of me! They brought me water regularly as I needed it, and encouraged me to place my chair as directly in front of the fans as I needed. On the one hand, I was a little embarrassed that I might seem to need so much care, and felt a bit guilty as I am inclined to do that I might indeed need so much care. On the other hand, their frequent checks reassured me that the space was safe and I could afford to let go of my unnecessary vigilance, so I am grateful whatever their reasons.

With water being handed to me about as often as I needed it, I felt free to pour some on my skin, my hair, and ultimately to soak my mask through with it.

After a time off to the corner, I began to feel as though I was too far from the center, as though, strangely, I ought to be in the center. I’d avoided it because I am accustomed to dance floors needing to stay clear of obstacles, and a person sitting in a chair is quite an obstacle. But Xochiquetzal and another fellow had been sitting on chairs in the middle there, and had a frame drum to beat on, and nobody minded them. Adding my chair seemed acceptable.

So I moved my chair over and joined them, to continue my dizzy sitting dance. People cheered! I don’t know if the timing was a coincidence or if they cheered because of something I did, but when I opened my eyes again a fourth person had drawn up a chair to join us as well! So I took it as encouragement, and continued on that way until the music stopped.

The music stopped far sooner than I would have liked, of course – that’s just the way these things work, really, and in a way, that’s as it should be.

After the ritual was over, I ended up trying to hold my hair back with the elastic of my mask, only to have the mask split in half down the side of the nose, but leaving the name on the inside brow intact. This was a little bit disappointing, until it struck me as perfectly appropriate. When I was able to acquire a spare mask no one had used after the ritual, I took them both home and combined them into the mask in the picture above. It’s now on the wall behind my computer, and the light from above reflects strangely off the inside of the mask to create a brighter glow inside. Lovely and a little creepy at the same time.

After the ritual, as people wound down, a fellow with fuzzy black hair tried to gain everyone’s attention to tell us a few things and ask that we help clean up, but he couldn’t be heard above the revelers who were still talking and laughing excitedly amongst each other.

This is a familiar problem.

So I did what I generally do when I am confronted with this problem: I got loud:

“Everyone who can hear the sound of my voice, clap once!” *Clap*
“Everyone who can hear the sound of my voice, clap twice!” *Clap* *Clap*
“Everyone who can hear the sound of my voice, clap three times!” *Clap* *Clap* *Clap*

Sure enough, by then I had the room’s attention. So I gestured to the fellow who had been trying to speak, who thanked me and complimented me for it.

After a time, as we were cleaning up the room, it suddenly occurred to me… The blurry fellow was probably Sannion…! I should go introduce myself properly, as we’d yet to meet in person!

I was just about to do exactly that, when Lon caught up with me to introduce Finnchuill. We chatted amiably for a bit, comparing notes on SF Bay Area polytheism, and contemplating the need for some specific Polytheist connections at home. I am wary of creating groups that police beliefs, but would really love to have at least an email group for SF Bay Area Polytheists and/or Pagans whose spiritual practices are built around relating to the gods individually and personally. It would make it easier for us to organize inter-traditional events that focus on our needs, and share resources. I don’t feel particularly alienated from the larger scope of the local Pagan community. As has recently been observed, “Pagan” and “Polytheist”  are not synonymous labels, but I do still identify as “Pagan” as well as “Heathen”, and “Vanatru”, and “Devotional/Relational Polytheist”.

By the time we were done chatting, Sannion had escaped, off to take care of someone who needed help with something. Ahh well.

So Lon and I hung around a while chatting with Dver and a red-headed warder who makes woven belts whose name is escaping me (Edit: Rebecca!) and another, taller, fair-haired maenad whose name I’m not sure I ever learned (Edit: Aridela!). As is often the case, my contribution to the cleanup included volunteering to take a bunch of no-longer-needed craft supplies home. I’ve been having trouble gathering a sufficiency of ivy for making wreaths for Dionysos. Now I’m all set for sure! (Come to think of it, He managed to line up a rather large pile of craft grapes for me a while back. Mental note, Dionysos is better than average at manifesting STUFF when He wants me to make things for Him.)

Lon had wisely alternated wine with water, but had still had plenty enough wine to take the edge entirely off his social anxieties, and so was cheerfully chatting and flirting with folks he’d been wanting to introduce himself to all weekend. I couldn’t help but grin, watching him happily socialize.

For my part, I felt like Dionysos had done as much of what I’d asked for as was possible in that setting. He’d shown me what I was and wasn’t missing, where else I could get what I needed at least among the gods, and that I did not have to associate the ritual needs with specific relationships or powers. It’s fine to re-arrange how my various needs and obligations are met, and Dionysos is VERY interested in my shifting some of those needs to Him. I’m downright excited, and now that much more motivated to help Lon build whatever Dionysian group and mystery practices we can muster here at home.

I managed to catch up with Sannion several hours later, and babble cheerfully to him and another fellow as many of us were standing outside the hotel in the cool night air for some tipsy socializing. I’m very glad I got to meet him in person after all these years! I gather we’ve actually been in the same building at the same time for PantheaCon several times, and I just never managed to catch him. He seems to be a very sweet fellow in person, I do hope to have the chance to actually sit and get to know him someday.

But it was getting late, and my social anxiety was catching up with me. I didn’t want to intrude on Sannion’s post-ritual decompression too much more, so I wandered back to where The Anomalous Thracian was holding court, and dragged my beautiful, cheerfully-drunk lover off to have something more substantial to eat than a few bites of bread and a handful of grapes.

Speaking of The Thracian (is he a Time Lord now, that we only use his title anymore?), he tells some seriously awesome “No shit, there I was” stories. If you have a chance to just hang out at a party with him for a while, and especially if you have a chance to ply him with likely spirits (pun intended), do ask him about his crazy adventures. They’re well worth it!


About EmberVoices

Ember Cooke has been a member of Hrafnar and Seidhjallr for more than a decade, where she trained to be a Seidhkona, Galdrakona, and Gythia. She founded the Vanic Conspiracy and made ordination vows to the Vanir and her congregation in the summer of 2013. She has contributed to several publications on Heathen and Northern Pagan subjects and regularly presents rituals and workshops at festivals. Her personal practice is more diverse, as the Vanir have lead her into cross-training and service for the wider Pagan community. This has including medium and servitor training in American Umbanda, clergy training with the Fellowship of the Spiral Path, and jail ministry for local counties. She holds a BA with honors in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University. Ember has lived all her life in the south San Francisco Bay Area, and is intimately bound to the valley of her birth.
This entry was posted in Crafts, Interfaith, Personal, Praxis, Ritual, ST4R, Trance Work and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Many Gods West – Saturnight

  1. Lovely write up of your experiences, thank you! I was the fair-haired maenad in white who anointed people in the beginning and stayed after. It was good to meet you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: List of Many Gods West Write-ups | Heathen Chinese

  3. Wow, thank you for sharing this. I feel that I should make time and other resources to go to this next year. The masks are wonderful.


  4. Rebecca says:

    Oh, and I love what you did with the masks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the kind review! We’re so glad it worked well for you.

    We usually translate Lysios (or Lusios) as “Liberator”.

    I was the redheaded attendant who ended up on the floor at the end, talking to you. It was not just you, we tried to check in with everyone regularly, you were not getting particularly more attention than anyone else.

    I was so happy with the mini-drum-and-dance circle! There were originally meant to be drummers instead of recorded music, only it didn’t work out. I’d brought my drum, just in case, but it turned out to be the only one in the room, and I didn’t have time to play it, so I kept handing it to people, hoping it would be played. And eventually it was! Thank you for joining that!


  6. Lon Sarver says:

    I think I may have had more wine that *just* enough to take the edge off my anxieties. Other than that, this is a beautiful write-up of the evening’s ritual.

    As I recall it, the order of the ritual was:
    Maenads teach the chants to the folks lined up in the hall, hand out masks
    Celebrants enter the hall, being ritually cleansed as they do
    Invocations and Offerings
    Chanting and circle dance
    Freestyle Dionysian Rave and (later) food fight
    Wind down and clean up


    • EmberVoices says:

      Well I didn’t watch you very closely, trusting you to take care of your own boundaries in that respect, and you weren’t stumbling or slurring much, nor making an ass of yourself, so *shrug* 😉

      I am biased, though. Historically I haven’t gotten along that well with most drunk people. You’re the most *enjoyable* drunk I have *ever* met!



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