Our Thiasos chat this past week met on the feast day of the Dionysian prophets, which was also the day of Jim Morrison’s death. Since he is numbered by contemporary Dionysians amongst those prophets, the discussion centered around the role of art in being a Dionysian prophet and what that meant and continues to mean for us today. So it is in light of that discussion yesterday, that I begin my article here today.
Art is a powerful thing. I believe it opens us up to the holy. I also believe that artists – be they painters, musicians, dancers, et al–can be opened up to direct inspiration of the Gods via their craft. I think it is absolutely essential that they do so and that we be brought into their orbit. Exposure to sacred things changes a person in ways that facilitate further reception of that divine inspiration. In many ways, it’s the sister to devotion (and one of the reasons I simply do not trust people who dismiss the arts as profane and unholy). Devotion is an art in and of itself and often becomes the counterpoint from which all the others flow. It was certainly like that for me when I danced. My ballet barre and practice was my prayer. it was the apex of my spiritual devotion, and I strove to serve that muse, that daemon as fervently as I could. Everything else that I was or sought to be flowed from that passion. I learned the basics of devotion in that crucible.
Prophets are itinerant wanderers who move from place to place spewing forth the inspiration and wisdom of the Gods to all who hear. I do not think it is inappropriate to include in their number musicians and artists, who can themselves -knowingly or not–be possessed by those greater forces, driven by that daemon of art who is merciless in the face of the beauty being created. It wrings forth the best of who we are as human beings and in doing so liberates us from the dull, blind, doggedly mundane mediocrity that we are ever and always hounded to accept, embody, and become. Liberation, the artist cries though painting, sculpture, music, dance, and a thousand other crafts and creations. Liberation and that is Dionysos’ cry too.
In thinking about music I must admit that I am not so familiar with modern music, but I can’t help thinking that some of the greatest castrati may fit the bill as prophetic singers. They sacrificed the temporal for the eternal. They tore themselves apart and rendered themselves freaks by the standards of their day, to create something beautiful and true and sacred and while it is true that many were castrated as a matter of course when the pristine beauty of their voices began to show, it is equally true that there are records of those young people who requested the operation so that they could give themselves to their art. For those who think that children can’t make that decision, think again. I began dancing as a child and knew exactly what I was facing in terms of career, injury, long term damage, and pain. Had someone told me at eight or nine or ten that genital mutilation would enable me to have a *chance* of reaching the pinnacle of my art i’d have done it in a heart beat and never looked back. Sacrifice is a sacred thing. It’s also often necessary for excellence.
I have a section of my ancestor shrine where I venerate those who inspired me when I danced — they are part of my lineage as a dancer. I also honor the castrati, men like Farinelli, Senesino, Caffarelli, Siface, Velluti and more because i see in them the breath of a brutal muse. As Sannion commented recently when this came up, it’s that terrifying absolute devotion that bridges the chasm between genius and insanity. Not only as an artist, but as a woman devoted to her Gods, that is where I want to live. That is the depth to which I wish to root my devotion. I learned that first from Odin, but it’s been honed in me by Dionysos. That is where I want to live and burn and breathe and spew forth the words of my Gods regardless of the cost. It is that place, as another member of the Thiasos noted, “where you have to create or it will eat you alive.” It is that place where you create and maybe it still eats you alive because you’re creating from your own marrow, your blood, and bone, and viscera.
I don’t see this too often even in ballet dancers anymore. To many seem to think that the ability to serve such a daemon, to extend the lineage, to create such beauty comes without cost. There is care and concern for the health of dancers (which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself but that has led to laziness and less of a desire to throw oneself into the fire). Only in that burning does true genius rise: complete, absolute, fanatic devotion that does not worry about the cost to oneself bartered in the act of creation, in the act of service. The work, the artistic process of creation itself prepares its practitioner for the gifts of divine prophecy. It’s just a matter of getting the self out of the way, of opening up, eating the fire, letting oneself be taken over by it, not worrying about what will be left when it goes. Not ever, ever, not even a little, holding back.
I think that in our devotion we cannot afford to hold back. We damn ourselves to mediocrity with our Gods by clinging too much and too hard to the minutiae of our own humanity. We would be better served by letting it all go and throwing ourselves headlong into the conflagration of our adoration. It raises our humanity up. It challenges the morass of soul-diminishing mediocrity that has become our norm as a society, a culture, a world. Art has the power to cut through those chains, break down those walls, destroy the prisons into which we are all too early encouraged to lock our minds.
And don’t let anyone tell you what to like. think instead on what moves you. What evokes joy, longing, sadness, grief, wistfulness…what makes you feel, what cracks and shatters and worms its way past the borders of your heart? That’s art and it is a thing to be sought. Then we fight the filter. Then we drive back entropy. Then we break free and craft again a clean thread in the work of our restoration. Then we truly find liberation. and may it grow to encompass the world. Io. Evohe.
Galina Krasskova is a polytheist, Heathen, and devotee of Odin. She also venerates Dionysos. When not writing, or working toward her PhD in Classics, she may be found lurking and causing trouble here.