More Binds than Separates

we are not so different
when they break you apart
I will be here to collect each piece
not to soothe your naked heart
but to give closure to now-ashen limbs
recollecting the time I sang for you
and your tears fell like overripe grapes
from their twisting, tangled vines


I wrote these verses while thinking about Apollon and Dionysos a few days ago. When I was in my 20s, and before I started reading the Platonists, I accepted the opposition between them without thinking so much of it, a rift that comes from Nietzsche, arguments written in texts that neither I nor many polytheists have read. Because I am a devotee of Apollon, I felt very awkward for years praying to Dionysos, and it was unclear to me why I loved the Anthesteria. Maybe one of the reasons I was so reluctant to admit I was into mysticism is that it wasn’t supposed to be Apollonian.

As mentioned before here somewhere (likely in a post gushing about Plato being brilliant?), one of the pivotal moments of change towards better mental health for me, and just a more grounded mental framework in general, was when I prayed to Dionysos using prayer beads for 30 days. My cat and I were having some friction, I wanted divine assistance, and I’ve always associated him with cats due to the images of him riding big cats. It ended up prompting a path forward to fixing more than that. Reading the Phaedo, praying, and encountering concepts from Platonic commentators helped me realize that the oppositional pair is just an artifact that is much less relevant than the pervasive cultural diffusion of that idea would have us think, a convenient filter that has been explored in creative work like Rush’s Cygnus X-1, and certainly in other types of (usually fictional or secular cultural commentary) work about these Gods. How, if true, does Apollon have an epithet Dionysiodotes?

What impacted me the most was the section in Hermias’ commentary on the Phaedrus about the divine madnesses, how every God has a mode of mania, and how the four that were picked out there (in stages) build on one another and complement one another — the madness of the Muses, of initiations (including the Dionysian ones), of Apollon’s telestic bliss, and the crowning light of Eros who connects all together. It makes sense that this is the section of that commentary where we are thrust out of the lecture notes, remembering that Hermias took down notes on Syrianus and that Proclus has questions, and Hermias noted that interruption down as noteworthy for deepening the discussion. Perhaps one difference between the two is that Apollon is often experienced through interior light, and Dionysos has such strong connections to substances that alter our embodied substrate and that stimulate the soul through that change of physical state, much like how the driver of a chariot will alter ler technique depending on the characteristics of the ground beneath the horses’ hooves and the wheels. Then again, the Pythia is associated with Earth and interior places, so that difference isn’t even very strong when submitted to scrutiny.

Proclus’ Platonic Theology, which describes what are often abstract and difficult Platonic concepts about everything within and without becoming in terms of the Gods, does place Apollon and Dionysos at different “stages” of the unfolding of all things, but not in an oppositional sense. Dionysos is the encosmic ruler; Apollon is at the center of a truth-bearing triad, and as the central term (remaining-proceeding-reverting), the fact that he’s related to proceeding means that Dionysos and Apollon are more akin to each other than one might think. This is why the image of Apollon taking the limbs of Dionysos for burial strikes me so hard — the compassionate act of closure, the act of going out. (It’s especially striking given what we know about Delos and all of the laws against death touching that island, as the God is willfully touching remains in this myth, albeit godly ones.) And if our souls are all like Dionysos, this means that on some level, the same compassion is offered to us when we are ripped apart, and he enacts the same effortful separation of Titanic and Bacchic that were mixed in the refuse of lighting-fire, his hands caked with soot as he renders what he finds pure.

Maybe putting a rift between the two of them is just another symptom of our detached modern crises insofar as we attach specific types of potential to each of the Gods, a compartmentalization we do to keep what is actually very messy tidy and fragmented into neat data analysis bins without even realizing that we’re doing it.

❤️‍🔥

10 thoughts on “More Binds than Separates

  1. Let’s be honest here. Most people aren’t being guided by the Gods when they “practice” this religion. They’re being guided by Rick Riordan and Red from Overly Sarcastic Productions. It sickens me to the core

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    1. I actually went on an Otherkin chat space once (about 10 years ago, when chat spaces still existed) for young people who believed they were Riordan-like demigods just to assess how bad the problem was. It was an experience. I’m a bit more optimistic about polytheists in general, and I think people grow out of weird takes if they’re given the opportunity to do so. Every teen has a cringe period. It’s just that they used to be private cringe periods, and everything people do is now broadcast online from a very young age, so it’s harder to move on from all of that and establish a better reputation

      Now that there are English translations of many ancient myth commentaries, I think someone should put together a popular reader so people understand that it’s possible to critique myths piously. That way, both uni students and the interested public could buy the book and learn. Of course that doesn’t help those who don’t think they have anything to learn, though … -__-

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  2. These same people also tend to have weird ideas about the Gods. I met a guy that insisted that Dionysos is the God of Abortions which is pretty contrary to what we know historically as some of Dionysos’ temples were among the only places in Ancient Greece that considered abortion to be miasmic (that’s not to say there’s a moral stigma implied but if we couple this with the fact that infanticide really only shows up in His lore as a punishment then I think we can more logically draw the conclusion that this isn’t something He necessarily promotes)

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      1. Yeah, that is very weird. I met someone who thought that Dionysos was about evil and addiction and who came up to me after a brief presentation (at one of the local Unitarian places) to thank me because he had no idea that a God could be that complex. I’m not even sure where he’d picked up his initial opinions?

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      2. I have heard some downright offensive takes on Dionysos that made me just not even want to talk to those people anymore. It’s just not even worth trying to correct them. Education regarding the Gods is beyond lackluster and what’s worse is that a lot of people who ought to know better perpetuate it (mainly because they’d rather have our religions just be fandoms of quirky characters to fantasize being like while they sit in their rooms worrying about if they have enough spoons to order chicken nuggets at McDonald’s when they finally go out later with their obnoxious friends)

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    1. Yeah, exactly. And it’s not even people who worship either of them who can seem the most insistent! I thought up those verses when I was frustrated after a Twitter interaction with a stranger and decided that the best thing to do would be to channel that frustration into something constructive.

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