The word for the dance around a giant phallus was komos --the root of the word comedy.MuseNaples
Dionysos is an
ally of oppressed femininity
Women of Amphissa
In Euripides' play, "The Bacchae":
Maenads or mad
women accomplish amazing things while possessed by Dionysos.
raise up fountains of wine, milk, and honey.
gird themselves with snakes, and give suck to fawns and
wolf cubs as if they were infants at the breast.
- Fire, swords, and rocks fail to harm them.
can tear live bulls apart with their bare hands.
- And they
can uproot sturdy, full-grown trees.
Maenads murder King Pentheus after he bans the
worship of Dionysus because the Maenads deny Pentheus' divinity. Dionysus,
Pentheus' cousin, lured Pentheus to the woods, where
the Maenads tore him apart. His corpse was mutilated by
his own mother, Agave, culminating when she tears off his
head, believing it to be that of a lion.
Thiasos is a
Greek coven, lodge, or
organized band of Maenads.
There were many other names for these groups of ecstatic
thinks of Presley, Brando and all those free, wild,
sexy mad loverboys who attract women. He can be full
of enthusiasm, sparkling with excitement; his energy
wakes people up, draws them into dancing and
celebrating, into the emotion of the moment...women
want to be part of the Bacchanalia and to protect
the childlike vitality of their wild lover."
In the candomble, when possession is long in coming,
the priestesses or priests ring a bell very close to
the dancer's ears. This is also done among the
African Thonga with rattles, in Tibet with horns,
and in Bali with singers. Perhaps it was done with
the flute or castinets among the Bakchoi.
maenads wore coronets woven with the seed heads of
the opium poppy.
women dancers wore only soft fawn skins, with
wreaths of ivy and carried long hollow stalks of
wild fennel tipped with pine cones and wreathed with
more ivy. The men jiggled about absurdly with
preposterous leather phalluses flapping in front and
long horse-tails sticking from the back of their
The story of wine
In the play Edonians, Aeschylus
describes music of Dionysian worshippers like this:
- One on the fair-turned pipe
- His song, with the warble of
- The soul to frenzy awakening.
- From another the brazen
- The shawm blares out, but
beneath is the moan
- Of the bull-voiced mimes,
- And in deep diapason the
- Of drums, like thunder,
beneath the ground.
Crowned with vine
leaves, clothed in fawnskins and carrying the
thyrsus and a roaring panther
pic above to enlarge]
to enter our
DANCE is Divinely
believed that movement was healing and
health-provoking, since movement has a connection
with the Divine part of us which in turn reflects
the revolutions of the Universe. In the Ion, Plato
describes how ecstatic dancers like the Mænads and
Korybantes find their dance: "they have a sharp ear
for one tune only, the one which belongs to the God
by Whom they are possessed, and to that tune they
respond freely in gesture and speech, while they
ignore all others."
reflect the magical qualities of womanliness:
beauty, motherliness, music, prophecy, and
association with death. Thus, according to
"It would be impossible to
think of them as possessed with the same
excessive erotic desire found in men."
Maenads [MEE-nads] were
female worshippers of Dionysus, the Greek god of mystery,
wine and intoxication. Bacchantes
is the equivalent Roman term. They are usually shown
entranced by music and dancing in a complete union with
For the mystically
inclined, maenadism gave women a chance to touch the divine.
"The bacchante pays no attention to the silenus who grabs at
her in his lust,"
Plutarch; "the image of
Dionysos, whom she loves, stands alive before her soul, and
she sees him even though he is far away from her; for the
glances of the bacchante sweep up high into the aether and
yet are filled with the spirit of love." Her state of frenzy
is blessed. She goes beyond the intoxication of wine, the
characteristic maenad dance with thrown-back head of vase
paintings, to the pure madness and ecstasy of a spirit
wedding the god.
The core ritual associated
with the worship of Dionysus among the Greeks was orgiastic,
meaning that it involved states of trance-like ecstasy,
“outside-of-one selfness,” merging with and possession by the
god. It was celebrated every two years, at mid-winter near
the time of the solstice, on barren mountain tops,
especially Mt. Parnassus overlooking Delphi. The summit of
Parnassus is more than 2,438 meters (8,000 feet) high and
was quite cold during these winter revels. The pilgrimage to
the holy shrine of the oracle of the Delphi at the top was
via Eleusis and the sacred city of Thebes. Dionysus ruled
from December till February and Apollo ruled the other nine
In the play Antigone, playwright Sophocles describes
the light of torches, he stands high on the twin
summits of Parnassus, while the Corycian nymphs
dance around as Bacchantes, and the waters of
Castalia sound from the depths below. Up there
in the snow and winter darkness Dionysus rules
in the long night, while troops of maenads swarm
around him, himself the choir leader for the
dance of the stars and quick of hearing for
every sound in the waster of the night."
three parts to this ritual:
(“mountain dancing”): To the accompaniment of flutes,
drums, and cymbals, the worshippers, particularly women,
danced themselves into ecstatic trances.
(“tearing to pieces”): In these trances they caught
snakes and small animals and dismembered them with their
(“eating raw flesh”): By eating the bloody flesh of
these animals, the worshippers became one with the god
and with the wild natural forces that he represented.
The Maenads were also
known as Bacchantes (or Bacchae or Bassarids ) in Roman
mythology, after the penchant of the equivalent Roman god,
Bacchus, to wear a fox-skin (bassaris).
The behavior of Maenads in stories is intended to explain
and display the intoxicating effects of alcohol. In some
cases, the alcohol causes bizarre behavior in people and
cannot be justified or explained by any other reason except
that of the intoxication.
TRANCE DANCE: Dr. Gilbert Rouget,
the expert in Ethnomusicology at University of
Paris says nothing has yet been identified which
will reliably invoke a trance. While the
disorientation of the inner ear or the 'driving'
effects of the drums or bells or noise on the
nervous system are important contributing
factors, none explain it fully. Dancers themselves
have a ready explanation; they say it is the
"Without the Divine participation, there is no
Divine trance, only a kind of hypnosis. That's
not what we're after. The Mænadic Dance is
ritual and the effect comes from a combination
of all the ritual factors --- from the music and
movement to the spiritual state of the dancer
and the grace of the God."
The extreme behavior of the
mad women in
Euripides' The Bacchae is likely the source for
the often mentioned claim that women possessed by
Dionysus' ecstatic frenzy indulged in copious
of violence, bloodletting, sex and self-intoxication
and mutilation. The claim is made dubious by the abundance of
surviving art that rarely depicts these acts, and shows more of a sacrifice ritual occurring. Still, the word
maenad literally translates as "raving ones" and abandoning
the reasoning mind was the goal of the ritual. The English
word "maniac" has roots similar to "Maenad" in Latin and
During their ecstatic
rituals, the maenads let their hair flow loose and uncovered,
which is likely why the first Christian apostle Paul did not
want the Christian female prophets wearing unrestrained
Attempts to restore woman
to positions of authority in organized religion continue to
grow, but still remain marginal and controversial for
most cultures. Maenads reflect the original role of
women as priestesses in mystery religions in the prior age
before the birth of Christ. History has
not been kind to this story, tainting the gender to a mythological devolution where we
find her role in history shifted from inspirer to temptress,
from shamanic ecstacy to sexual excitement, and spontaneous
ecstatic singing replaced with masturbation as the cathartic
moment of apotheosis.
"So long as we are
unconscious of the divinity inherent in matter,
sexuality can be manipulated to fulfill ego
desire; the sacred prostitute is not present,
nor is the Goddess being invoked. Instead of
manifesting as a transformative power that can
mediate between wounded instinct and the
radiance of the divine, the Goddess is called
upon to justify lust and sexual license. Light does not come through incessant wallowing
in the dark. All our rage, all our bitterness,
all our fears, are stepping stones. Only from a
clear vision of oneness, an experience of
genuine love, can we live our own truth. Whether
this experience is given through another human
being or through a solitary connection with the
divine, this is the experience that illuminates
Marion Woodman intro to
The Sacred Prostitute by Nancy
In every heart,
both male and female, there is an eternal and
immutable touchstone of joy. All too often that
joy is lost in contemporary society, through
harsh experience, or in the rush towards
simplistic ideologies like "men bad, women good"
(or the opposite). Nancy Qualls-Corbett attempts
to show both men and women how to transcend the
narrowly-defined sex roles and oppressions that
have been imposed on them from childhood and to
rediscover that touchstone of joy.
Review at amazon by PJ Thompson