Mardi Gras and Rio Carnival Owe Soul To Dionysus

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By Thomas Horn

Topless muses, nude dancers, and masked revelers stumbled home this week following dusk-to-dawn Carnival parades on both sides of the globe. The larger parades, Mardi Gras and Rio Carnival, witnessed above average arrests according to police.

In Rio, Church authorities decried a court order allowing the Unidos da Tijuca school to display floats bearing a 13-foot cross and a painting of the virgin Mary. During Carnival, dozens of topless dancers pranced around the images in mockery.

New Orleans officials had said that baring women's breasts or anyone's genitalia would not be acceptable in public, but police refused the label of "Morality Cops" and insisted that there be no "new nude crackdown."

It's the "greatest free show on earth," said promoters, "the whole place is partying, that's why people come.''

In Australia the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras drew 700,000 party goers, billing the parade as "the world's biggest queer gathering."

PUTTING THE MASK IN MASQUERADE

Errol Laborde investigated the masquerade tradition in his book, Mardi Gras! (Picayune Press). He wrote "Roman aristocracy of the time preferred debauchery and licentiousness to legality and morality. Men donned women's clothing, the better to abandon themselves to orgy; thus the masquerade tradition began."

Professor Fred Koening of Tulane University agrees, saying, "Masks are a way of being anonymous, and if you wear a mask, you take on a different persona. You can be a little drunker, a little wilder, a little more primitive. Furthermore, at Carnival people will be more tolerant of you. Normal rules are gone. Traditional routines are put on hold."

In ancient times, the Greek god Dionysus was depicted as the inventor of such revelry. Followers of Dionysus believed that he was the presence that is otherwise defined as the craving within man that longs to "let itself go" and to "give itself over" to the baser earthly desires. What Christians might resist as the lustful wants of the carnal man, the followers of Dionysus embraced as the incarnate power that would, in the next life, liberate the souls of mankind from the constraints of this present world and from the customs which sought to define respectability through a person’s obedience to moral law. Until then, worshippers of Dionysus attempted to bring themselves into union with the god through a ritual casting off of the bonds of sexual denial and primal constraint by seeking to attain to a higher state of ecstasy.

The uninhibited rituals of ecstasy (Greek for "outside the body") employed wine, abandon, and perversion to supposedly bring the followers of Dionysus into a supernatural condition which enabled them to escape the temporary limitations of the body and mind and to achieve a state of enthousiasmos, or, outside the body and "inside the god."

In this sense Dionysus represented a dichotomy within the Greek religion, as the primary maxim of the Greek culture was one of moderation, or, "nothing too extreme." But Dionysus embodied the absolute extreme in that he sought to inflame the forbidden passions of human desire.

Interestingly, as college students returning from Mardi Gras will understand, this gave Dionysus a stronger allure among the Greeks who otherwise tried in so many ways to suppress and control the wild and secret lusts of the human heart.

But Dionysus resisted every such effort, and, according to myth, visited a terrible madness upon those who tried to deny him his free expression. The Dionystic idea of mental disease resulting from the suppression of secret inner desires, especially aberrant sexual desires, was later reflected in the atheistic teachings of Sigmund Freud. Thus Freudianism might be called the grandchild of the cult of Dionysus.

But the person who gave himself over to the will of Dionysus was rewarded with unlimited psychological and physical delights.

THE POWER OF CARNIVAL!

Such mythical systems of mental punishments and physical rewards based on resistance and/or submission to Dionysus, were both symbolically and literally illustrated in the cult rituals of the Bacchae, as the Bacchae women (married and unmarried Greek women had the "right" to participate in the mysteries of Dionysus) migrated in frenzied hillside groups, dressed transvestite in fawn skins and accompanied by mask-wearing, screaming, music, dancing, and licentious behavior.

When, for instance, a baby animal was too young and lacking in instinct to sense the danger and run away from the revelers, it was picked up and suckled by bare-breasted women who participated in the hillside rituals. But when older animals sought to escape the marauding Bacchae, they were considered "resistant" to the will of Dionysus and were torn apart and eaten alive as a part of the fevered ritual.

Human participants were sometimes subjected to the same orgiastic cruelty, as the rule of the cult was "anything goes," including lesbianism, beastiality, etc. Later versions of the ritual (Bacchanalia) expanded to include pedophilia and male revelers, and perversions of sexual behavior were often worse between men than they were between men and women.

THE DEVIL AND CARNIVAL

The Hebrew people considered Hades (the Greek god of the underworld) to be equal with Hell and/or the Devil, and many ancient writers likewise saw no difference between Hades (in this sense the Devil) and Dionysus. Euripedes echoed this sentiment in the Hecuba, and refered to the followers of Dionysus as the "Bacchants of Hades."

In Syracuse, Dionysus was known as Dionysus Morychos ("the dark one") a fiendish creature; roughly equivalent to the biblical Satan, who wore goatskins and dwelt in the reqions of the underworld.

In the scholarly book, Dionysus Myth And Cult, Walter F. Otto connected Dionysus with the prince of the underworld. He wrote: "The similarity and relationship which Dionysus has with the prince of the underworld (and this is revealed by a large number of comparisons) is not only confirmed by an authority of the first rank, but he says the two deities are actually the same. Heraclitus says, 'Hades and Dionysus, for whom they go mad and rage, are one and the same.'"

But the Hebrews considered the magic (witchcraft) of the Bacchae (the female followers of Dionysus) to be the best evidence of Dionysus' Satanic connection, and, while most of the details are no longer available because of the fact that Dionysus was a mystery god and his rituals were thus revealed to the initiated only, the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel described the "magic bands" (kesatot) of the Bacchae, which, as in the omophagia, were used to capture (magically imprison) the souls of men.

We read, "Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold I am against your magic bands [kesatot] by which you hunt lives [souls] there as birds, and I will tear them off your arms; and I will let them go, even those lives [souls] whom you hunt as birds" (Ez. 13:20 NAS).

In Acts 17:34 we read of a soul liberated from the control of Dionysus: "Howbeit certain men clave unto [Paul], and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite..." To carry the name of Dionysus usually meant one of two things: 1) the parents were devotees of Dionysus and thus the child was "predestined" to be a follower of the god; or 2) the individual was under the spell of the kesatot.

The kesatot was a magic arm band used in connection with a container called the kiste. Wherever the kiste is inscribed on sarcophagi and on Bacchic scenes, it is depicted as a sacred vessel (a soul prison?) with a snake peering through an open lid. How the magic worked and in what way a soul was imprisoned is still a mystery. Pan, the half-man/half-goat god (later relegated to devildom) is sometimes pictured as kicking the lid open and letting the snake (soul?) out. Such loose snakes were then depicted as being enslaved around the limbs, and bound in the hair, of the Bacchae women.

The demon Pan, the serpents, the imprisoned souls, and the magic Kesatot and Kiste, were evidently perceived by the prophet Ezekiel as an effort of the Bacchae to mystically imprison the souls of men through magic and sensuality. Also, Pan was beloved of Dionysus for his pandemonium ("all the devils") which struck panic and/or pleasure in the hearts of men and beasts. Does the same spirit reside over New Orlean's Mardi Gras, Rio's Carnival, and Sydney's Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras? It appears to this writer that an equally tenacious effort on the part of modern Bacchae to embrace the will of evil supernaturalism exists.

By Thomas Horn

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