Bloody human body parts scattered


Drunk, the Bacchae rushed to the victims, skinning them with their bare hands, ripping their limbs off, and searching their internal organs. Their hands sticky with blood, they behead the unfortunate one who fell under the blows of sacred madness.

The Bacchanalians indeed represent, in the ancient Dionysian religion, a wild, extreme phenomenon. It is about getting drunk, taking part in nature’s orgy, and fully engaging in delirium and all its consequences.

It is in delirium that the metamorphosis can take place. There are several kinds of them.

The one of Harmony and Cadmos is spectacular. Snake scales gradually cover the body. First the feet, then the legs, then the hips, then the sex metamorphoses into sizzling, hideous snakes. Finally, the whole rest of the body is affected by this monstrous mutation.

The Dionysian religion is not a quiet one. Its followers are not immune to some degree of terror, of psychological or physical shock. But it is this metamorphosis that is the essential moment, after the wine of intoxication and the sharing of the members of the sacrificed victim.

Philostratus the Elder describes it this way: « Here are the choirs of the Bacchae, the stones dripping with wine, the grapes distilling the nectar, the clods of earth all shining with the brilliance of milk, here is the ivy with its creeping stem, the snakes raising their heads, the thyrsuses and the trees from which honey escapes drop by drop.

Behold this fir tree lying on the ground, its fall is the work of women violently agitated by Dionysus; by shaking it, the Bacchae made it fall with Pentheus whom they take for a lion; behold, they tear their prey, the aunts detach their hands, the mother drags her son by the hair (…)

Harmony and Cadmos are present. Already the lower extremities, from the thighs, are transformed into snakes, everything disappears under the scales from the feet to the hips; the metamorphosis spreads to the upper parts. Harmony and Cadmos are struck with horror; they kiss each other, as if, by this embrace, they had to stop their bodies in its flight and save at least what they still have left of the human form. »

From the point of view of comparative anthropology, it is tempting to consider possible analogies with other religions.

There are undoubtedly in the depths of human memory some ancient and indelible memories of ancient sacrifices, that will not be easily wiped away.

We could see for instance in the Bacchanals a distant analogy or an obscure link with the sacrifice of Christ, and the consumption of his blood and flesh shared among the faithful.

Of course, the sacrifice of Christ as celebrated by the Church is not an evolved, intellectualized version of an eminently wilder, more barbaric sacrificial paradigm, once celebrated in the name of the God Dionysus, in memory of his bloody and burning birth.

But it is nevertheless possible to see in it elements of analogy, and anthropological similarities, if only in the consumption of Christ’s « flesh » and « blood » by his disciples, at the height of communion.

The human mind, from age to age, has shown itself capable of designing paradigms that open universes, that play on all values, not to abolish them, but to guarantee the possibility of their continuing metamorphosis.

The Dionysian religion once incarnated one of these paradigms, and secretly continues to do so, metaphorically speaking, in the unconscious depths of humankind.

It is tempting to reflect on how Dionysian ideas may be embodied today in the excesses of contemporary humanity, and how they continue their secret life in our blind and thoughtless »modernity ».

Bloody human body parts scattered all over political crime scenes (resulting from targeted assassinations or downed civilian airplanes) continue to be regularly presented – in prime time – to worldwide audiences…

What do we have to lose?


Gérard de Nerval was imbued with shamanism and orphism. With its calculated, ironic and visionary poetry, Voyage en Orient bears witness to these tropisms.

« They plunged me three times into the waters of the Cocyte » (Antéros).

The four rivers of Hell, who can cross their liquid walls? Can a pale poet cross these bitter barriers, these dark, convulsive masses?

« Et j’ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l’Achéron,

Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d’Orphée

Les soupirs de la sainte et les cris de la fée.”

(And I have twice a winner crossed the Acheron

Modulating in turn on the lyre of Orpheus

The sighs of the saint and the cries of the fairy.) (El Desdichado)

Nerval’s work is influenced by the tutelary figure of Orpheus, prince of poets, lovers and mystics – explorer of the depths.

Orpheus was dismembered alive by the Bacchae in madness, but continued to sing from the mouth of his beheaded head. His singing had already persuaded Hades to let him leave Hell with Eurydice. The condition was that he did not look at her, until he came out of the world of the dead. Worried about the silence of the beloved, he turned his head when they had arrived at the edge of the world of the living. He lost again, and forever, Eurydice.

Instead of looking at her, he could have talked to her, held her by the hand, or inhaled her scent, to make sure she was there? No, he had to see her, to look at her. As a result, she died.

Why do heroes want to face Hell?

What haunts them is whether death is real, or imaginary. What drives them is the desire to see the loved ones again, though lost forever. In these difficult circumstances, they must acquire special powers, magical abilities. Orpheus’ strengths were music, song and poetry.

Music produces, even in Hell, a form, a meaning, and calls for the poem. Orpheus might have sung:

« Always, under the branches of Virgil’s laurel

The pale hydrangea unites with the green myrtle.  » (Myrto)

Gérard de Nerval was inspired. By what?

From the scattered crumbs, let us deduce the bread that feeds him.

« Man, free thinker! Do you think you’re the only one thinking

In this world where life is bursting into everything?

(…)

Each flower is a soul to nature blooms.

A mystery of love in metal rests.

(…)

Often in the dark being dwells a hidden God

And like a nascent eye covered by his eyelids,

A pure spirit grows under the bark of the stones.  » (Golden Worms)

The poets lose, lost, in the theological assaults. Nerval admits defeat, false hopes and real regret:

« They will return these Gods that you always cry for!

Time will bring back the order of the old days,

The earth shuddered with a prophetic breath…

However, the sibyl with its Latin face

Is asleep under the arch of Constantine

And nothing disturbed the severe gantry.  » (Delfica)

Did Nerval believe in the breath of the sibyl, in the order of the day?

Orpheus, Nerval, prophetic poets.

During the Renaissance, Marsile Ficin presented Orpheus as an explorer of Chaos and a theologian of love.

« Orpheus in Argonautics imitating the Theology of Mercury Trismegist, when he sings the principles of things in the presence of Chiron and the heroes, that is, angelic men, he puts Chaos before the world, & before Saturn, Iupiter and the other gods, and within Chaos, he welcomes Love, saying Love is very ancient, by itself perfect, of great counsel. Plato in Timaeus similarly describes Chaos, and here puts Love. »i

Chaos is before the gods, – before the very sovereign God, Jupiter. And in Chaos, there is Love!

« Finally, in all of us, Love accompanies Chaos, and precedes the world, excites the things that sleep, illuminates the dark ones: gives life to the dead things: forms the unformed, and gives perfection to the imperfect. » ii

This « good news » was first announced by Orpheus.

« But the unique invisible perpetual light of the divine Sun, by its presence, always gives comfort, life and perfection to all things. Of what divinely sang Orpheus, saying:

God the Eternal Love all things comforts

And on all of them is spread, animated and supported. »

Orpheus bequeathed to humanity these simple pearls: « Love is more ancient and younger than other Gods ». « Love is the beginning and the end. He is the first and last of the gods. »

Finally, Ficin specifies the figure of the last of all the gods: « There are therefore four kinds of divine fury. The first is the Poetic Fury. The second is the Mystical, that is, the Sacred. The third is Divination. The fourth is the Affection of Love. Poetry depends on the Muses: The Mystery of Bacchus: The Deviation of Apollo: & The Love of Venus. Certainly Soul cannot return to unity unless it becomes unique. » iii

The One. The Love. The Union. This is the message of Orpheus.

To learn it first, Orpheus had to have lost Eurydice.

To hear it, what do we have to lose?

iMarsile Ficin. Discours de l’honneste amour sur le banquet de Platon, Oraison 1ère, Ch. 2, (1578)

ii Marsile Ficin. Discours de l’honneste amour sur le banquet de Platon, Oraison 1ère, Ch. 2, (1578)

iii Ibid., Oraison 7, Ch. 14