Hymn to Dionysus VI: Mirror

I am afraid of you, Dionysus, for I am afraid of myself.
I am afraid of your anger, for I myself am deeply angry.
I am afraid of your lust, for my own lust seems boundless.
I am afraid of your masks, for I hide my own truth constantly.
I am afraid of your wine, for it blurs my anxious mind.
I am afraid of your chains, for when you break them, you destroy,
and I have wanted to destroy and clutched my chains instead.
I am afraid of your freedom, for what will I do if I am free?
I am afraid of your love, for you loved both Pentheus and Ariadne.
Yet if I love a god, how can I empty that vessel?
Can my thirst be too great for you, Dionysus?
You only smile and offer me the cup.


Hymn to Dionysus V: Not a tame lion

Ben Whishaw as Dionysus in the Almeida production of The Bakkhai, 2015

He comes from somewhere else, at a time when he is unlooked-for.
He doesn’t wear the right clothes; his hair is too long or too short,
his walk is too butch or too femme. Women love him, but men
know better than to trust him; women crowd around him, but
right-thinking men back away. He smells of women’s perfume
and new leather and animal fur. He takes drugs and sings
lewd songs and women are always at his feet. He has no
permanent address, no stable job, no steady girlfriend.
He carries a club, or is that a parasol, or is it a stage prop,
or is it a weapon? He smiles too much; he doesn’t smile enough;
he doesn’t make sense, isn’t predictable, why won’t he follow
the rules? Rules keep us safe, and you are whatever makes us
feel unsafe, God of Nysa, stranger from far away. You are
sex to the prude, violence to the upright, drugs to the sober,
dance to the rigid, theatre to the boss man, religion to the atheist.
Yet you are also chastity, gentleness, mindfulness, stillness,
silence, and the closed mouth that has tasted the Mysteries.
Bull-horned, bull-footed, complicated god, no one is safe from you.

Hymn to Dionysus IV: Thyrsos


Take a stalk of fennel, tall enough to bear with pride.
Wind it about in one direction with ivy, ever green.
Wind it about in the other direction with grapevines,
which stiffen as they dry.
Crown it with a pine cone, bristling with hidden seeds.
Adorn it with ribbons, splash it with wine,
honor it with kisses, water it with tears or blood or come.
Carry it, wave it, shake it for attention,
lean on it when weary, pray to it when alone.
Sleep with it beside the bed, near to hand.
Watch it grow in your dreams; see it cast its shadow
over your life, spread its roots into every place.
Find the god waiting there, by his sacred tree,
the thyrsos: Dionysus, Bakkhos, Liber, euoi, euoi!

Hymn to Dionysus III: Forthspringing

IMG_20150319_071615The shoot thrusts up from the earth as the days lengthen,
and your dead creep forth, wandering the roads in search of new wine.
The mushroom springs up in the shit, in the shade, where the rain fell,
bearing its gift of flavor, or intoxication, or illumination, or death.
The phallus springs up, hidden, kept secret, wrapped up,
behind closed doors, under covers, searching blindly
for a place to root itself. In your rites, Bakkheios,
we raise the phallus proudly, for everyone to see;
we dare the intoxication for the illumination; we pour
the wine for the wandering dead, drink deep, sleep late.
May it be so, lord, may your rites be welcomed in the city,
may your gifts be treasured as they turn us topsy-turvy,
may the way be clear for the secrets to come forth,
and show themselves, and be known, and then,
like seeds beneath the snow, to hide themselves again.

Hymn to Dionysus II: God of Masks

From a mural in Hadrian’s Villa at Tibur


Dionysus, you are the giver of many gifts to mortals,
but not least of them the mask. There is a mask
that grins and lies, and there is a mask
that tells the truth. There is the mask
of the revel-song, and there is the mask
of the goat’s lament. There is the mask
the actor puts on to play the appointed role,
and there is the mask that is the actor
whom you wear to walk among us.

The mask is hollow, but the god within it
is real. O Dionysus, grant me to wear the mask
when I must; grant me to honor those who wear it,
for they are your servants and prophets; grant me
to see through the false mask, the lying mask,
over the hollow soul, and call upon you to free us,
O god of tragedy, comedy, travesty, life, death, truth.

Hymn to Dionysus I

k12-1dionysosHail, Dionysus! To you, the son of many mothers and the child of no father,
I turn my attention now. Even Zeus was your mother, cradling you in his thigh,
Zeus the lover and destroyer of your mother, earthly Semele, who became
heavenly Thyone, the raving queen. You freed her from the underworld
and exalted her to the stars, and you exalted your bride, too, Ariadne
of the labyrinth. So you always treat those who worship and honor you,
exalting the senses, exalting the spirit, making humans greater than mortal,
while you cast down those who reject you, who refuse your joyous dance.

You bear many names and bring many stories when you come dancing,
Dionysus, Bacchus, Liber, Bromios, Lyaios, Kissios, Anthion, Zagreus.
You deck your hair with grape vines or ivy or spring flowers; you carry
the thyrsos tipped with a pine cone and trailing vegetation. Sometimes
you come as Father Liber, bearded, bull-strong, and crowned with horns;
sometimes you are the pretty boy, the effeminate stranger, hair in ringlets,
eyes outlined with kohl. You are never more dangerous than when
you seem vulnerable, never more kind than when you are fierce,
O rule-breaking god, noise-maker, breath-taker. I welcome you
and your jug of wine, your prowling beasts, your star-crowned wife,
all your mothers and lovers, your labyrinthine stories, your masks and dances,
your songs and trances, I welcome you, god who has danced around my life
ever since I was a child, hail, Dionysus, hail, Dionysus, hail, Dionysus!

Stella Antinoi 2016

Hymn III: To Antinous the Navigator

Adrift in the darkness on a sea of confusion,

I look up to you, Antinous.

Lost in the woods in the darkness of a ravine,

I look up to you, Antinous.

Struggling up the mountain toward some better place,

I look up to you, Antinous.

O celestial Navigator,

you are the star that shows the way,

shining amidst the lights of the Water Bearer,

yet you are also the helmsman

of the Boat of Millions of Years,

steering by the brightness of your star.

You are the one who guides souls in life and after life,

bearer of the herald’s staff, yet you are also the one

who guides gods to meet humanity,

for gods desire what is human no less

than humans desire what is divine.

Guide me, celestial Navigator,

through this life on earth, through its darkness,

through its light, in the valleys, on the peaks,

across the waters, through the forests,

then welcome me, I pray you,

into your Boat of Millions of Years.