Several months ago my wife and I were asked to take part in a Dionysus Ritual planned for PantheaCon (that big festival you read way too much about) in San Jose California. We replied with “of course,” but then inquired about just what the ritual would be focusing on, and if it was written yet. The person who was doing the asking didn’t have a very good answer, just replying that she was told to lead a Dionysus ritual by the big-god himself and that she was confident it would all work out in the end.
One week before the ritual was to take place we asked again about the ritual and what she wanted us to do in it. This time I was told I’d be calling Dionysus, Ari (my wife) would be calling the maenads, and that the rest would sort its self out. As a card-carrying member of the Episco-Pagan brigade (I like written shit) I was a little worried-OK, a lot worried.
(Author’s Note: The Priestess and organizer of this ritual was Phoenix LeFae and as this article eventually makes clear, everything about it was awesome! While it felt to me like there wasn’t a plan-I’m a Pagan of the scripts-there was!, and you can read about it in the link above. I want to make clear that Phoenix is awesome, and the ritual was amazing, and in the end, me getting out of my usual comfort zone was much needed and appreciated!)
Now I can do rituals without a script, and have several times over the years. But generally those rituals tend to be things I’ve done before, and they tend to be done with people I’ve shared ritual space with over the years. For this particular Dionysus Ritual, I’d be working with six or so people I’ve never shared a circle with. But I had trust in our Priestess that everything would work out, even if we didn’t really know what exactly was going on.
Twenty minutes before the start of the ritual all the people involved in the rite met together for the first time. This is the kind of ritual planning that most often terrifies me, but not so much this time. I know everything is going to be fine, because Dionysus is already in the room. I can feel his presence, and when I duck out to visit the bathroom five minutes before starting time I can feel his energy simmering in the anticipation of the attendees who will be celebrating with us.
The ritual starts, rules are gone over, stories are told, and I step up to call “D” as Dionysus is known at my house. I decide not to use my written remarks and instead just vamp a bit, and I stumble out of the gate-my words not connecting with the audience or the god. I change tactics and this has the desired result. In the center of our circle are the vessels that will contain Dionysus and their attendants.
Originally I was to call Dionysus, Ari was to call the maenads, and then I was to lead a drawing down of Dionysus. Instead I see the drawing down occurring during my summoning. HE WANTS TO BE HERE NOW(!) and I watch the attendants kiss the bodies of our Dionysian Priestesses, the energy of the god of ecstasy rising up unable to be contained . . . .
About twenty minutes later after all the calling had been done, Ari finds me in the throngs of people gathered and asked if I had looked into His eyes. “He’s here” she said, and I replied in the affirmative. When a deity truly shows up in a ritual YOU KNOW, and its power transforms the energy in the circle and those within it. His power was so intense that our drumming and chanting lasted far longer than I would have anticipated, our cries buoyed upwards by the will of Dionysus.
The ritual was glorious, with libations to Dionysus, along with energy received and given. I still have chills about it. One need not believe in goddesses and gods to be a Pagan or a Witch or a Druid, but I can’t imagine living without the ecstasy of the divine in my life, and whole-heartedly believing in its reality.
But Dionysian Ritual at PantheaCon wasn’t my only interaction with the gods last week, because Cernunnos made an appearance too. I’ve spent the better part of fifteen years now speaking (and sometimes writing) about horned and antlered deities, and during that time Cernunnos has become a mainstay in my life. He’s a difficult god to talk about though because he lacks a mythology and is something of an enigma in the archeological record.
I spent twenty minutes talking about him in his historical context Friday afternoon at PantheaCon, but it was Sunday afternoon when He most got to me. There with my friends John Beckett and Gwion Raven we talked about our actual experiences with Cernunnos to a small gathering in an ADF Suite.
People often talk of the gods having agency* all while ignoring our personal experiences with them. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve read or heard people complaining about “the personal experience not matching the myth” or historical record. I get that, deity is not a blank canvas for us to paint our wants and desires on. But also, if deity is real, then much like us, it changes, progresses, and builds upon the past.
We can poo-poo personal gnosis all we want, but every myth and image arose from it. I don’t understand ignoring the myths we are creating today, and only retreating into the myths of 2000 years ago. Cernunnos is a Gallic-Celtic deity, but he’s also a Modern Pagan one now too, very much with one foot in today’s world.
Listening to Gwion and John share their stories about C (I’m on a first letter basis with a variety of deities) I was struck by how similar and yet how different they were from my own. But behind their words I could feel HIS power coming through, and despite our differences in perception and tradition (John is a much less mushy polytheist than I am and a Druid, while Gwion is a Reclaiming Witch) I had no doubts we were all talking about the same god.
While talking about C was much less ecstatic than worshipping D, it was no less joyful and insightful. It’s something we don’t do nearly often enough, instead of creating new myths we ignore what’s happening right in front of our noses and focus way too much on the past.
YEAH, I WAS AT PANTHEACON LAST WEEKEND, HERE ARE A FEW OTHER THOUGHTS
-I’ve been going to PantheaCon since 2005, and this was absolutely one of my favorite ones yet. I taught two official workshops, in addition to the panel discussion and participating in the Dionysus Ritual. Great attendance for my “Cone of Power” and “Horned God” workshops, and the crowds for both were enthusiastic and attentive. It’s always more fun for me when that happens.
-Took “my” Patheos Pagan writers out to dinner on Saturday night. I’m so proud of what we’ve built here over the last few years, and I still have to pinch myself now and again because I remain incredibly thankful and grateful that my scribblings are next to so many other great writers.
-Favorite quote of the weekend: “When you embraced that term Jason, you really took away a lot of his power.” I’m not going to give you any context, but I loved the quote.
-So I did a Cone of Power workshop, with most of the information in it stripped from my next book that comes out in January of 2019 (the title of which is currently under construction at Llewellyn). That part of it was fine, but what made it really great was having my wife Ari involved. She is truly one of the best and greatest Witches ever. I need to find a way to take her to every festival I visit.
-I don’t know if leading workshops is truly a “service” but that’s why “service” is the title of this article.
-John (Beckett) and I have been throwing around the idea of writing “The Great Book of Cernunnos” for several years now (we’ll get to it eventually). After our talk with Gwion he looked at me and said “We’ll have to add a third voice to that book now.”
-One of the best things about festivals and conventions are the people I see there, and I absolutely love how supportive my writing peers are these days. In no particular order I absolutely love and adore: Chas Bogan, Devin Hunter, Storm Faerywolf, Tempst Zakroff, Angus McMahan, Gwion Raven, Phoenix LaFae, Sean Harbaugh, Jenya Beachy, John Beckett, Christopher Penczak, Misha Magdalene, Thorn Mooney, and about 100 other people I’m probably forgetting. We are not competitive with each other, instead we do our best to lift each other up. We need more of that in Paganism.
-Festivals are exhausting, so I’m here at ConVocation in an attempt to wring all the energy out of my 170 pound frame.
*”Agency” is not a word I particularly like, I just think of my gods as alive, evolving, and a reality in my life.