Tuesday, October 25, 2011

For TeslaQuoyle: Orphica

“Here, Bacchus is situated midway between the world of the living and that of the dead, because initiation in the mysteries carried out during life obtains its recompense after death, with liberation from the painful cycle of reincarnations.”
- Bernabe, Instructions for the Netherworld (p. 75).

This is the work of Mnemosyne. When he is on the point of dying
Toward the well-build abode of Hades, on the Right there is a Fountain,
And near it, erect, a white cypress tree.
There the souls, when they go down, refresh themselves.
Don't come near this fountain!
But further on you will find, from the lake of Mnemosyne,
Water freshly flowing. On its banks there are guardians.
The will ask you, with sagacious discernment,
Why you are investigating the darkness of gloomy Hades.
Say: “I am a son of Earth and Starry Heaven;
I am dry with thirst and dying. Give me, then, right away,
Fresh water to drink from the lake of Mnemosyne.”
And to be sure, the will consult the Subterranean Queen,
And they will give you water to drink from the lake of Mnemosyne,
So that once you have drunk, you too will go along the Sacred Way,
By which the other mystai and bacchoi advance, glorious.
- Orphica Tablet from Hipponion (c. 400 BCE). Museo Archeologico Statale di Vibo. First edition, Pugliese Carratelli (1974) 108 f. (Taken from Bernabe, p.8)

In the discussions on the first part of My Name is a Heart Encircled by a Serpent, TeslaQuoyle wrote:
“Re the Orphic Hymns. I've used these quite a lot. IMHO I think the fumigations and the hymns themselves get hold of a particular aspect of the deity in question, the Orphic aspect, call it...

Also, in my use of them, the Orphic Hymns give access to these deities' powers that I might not be able to attain otherwise due to troubles such as illness or, yes, toxic spells that have messed me up. Finally, just maybe, the combination of the hymn and prayer get around undesirable astrological configurations, good for working at any time with those deities with an associated planet.”

At the time, I was still trying to sort through information I was attempting to make sense of in Bernabe's Instructions for the Netherworld: The Orphic Gold Tablets (Brill, 2008). The book is a collection of Gold leaf tablets, along with other similarly identified Orphica remains, and a discussion on what, exactly, they appear to mean. Along with some other reading material, the book has gone a long way toward furthering my understanding of the Orphic movement (in a previous entry I referred to it as a “religion,” which it turns out is the wrong point of reference to take with all the evidence of bricollage involved in the Orphic remains). While this blog is my promised response, I'm going to cover more general ground that I typically do in an attempt to be systematic.

One of the things that has occurred to me is that one of the associated triggers for dealing with the “Orphic aspect” of the deity that Tesla is referring to, appears to be sympathy with what be might called the Orphic mindset. In fact, I'm more and more leaning toward the idea that this sympathy defines a type of relationship with the spirits, or pantheons of spirits, and the Gods that the individual is coming into contact with.

In this respect, the Orphic Gold Leaf Tablets (which have a range of differences, depending on the time and place that they were found) propose a few potential solutions. To a certain extent, Bernabe's research sits on an opposite pole to that of Gary Zabel's, but between the two is plenty of ground forth both of their views to be more or less correct (rather than one simply right, and the other wrong). One of the points of contention that Zabel appears to have is that Bernabe draws on 19th century views of Orphism, which was treated initially as a type of “Protestant Paganism” (with Orpheus replacing Martin Luther as the prophet of the sect, and the Orphic materials constituting a type of Pagan Bible). Bernabe does not necessarily adopt this stance to the extant material that we have in Instructions for the Netherworld, but rather makes use of some of the 19th scholarly research when going over what the instructions may have meant with regards to those that left them behind. One has to be careful to avoid adopting the “Protestant Paganism” stance for several reasons:
  1. Orpheus was not always directly referenced by the sects referred to today as “Orphic,” which was an ancient category and one that was often publicly disparaged, such when Plato referred to the Orphics dismissively having a “babble of books,” which were “purported” to having been written by Orpheus and Musaeus. One of the things that such disparaging remarks may indicate is that there were many Orphic texts, and that the Orphics may have treated their texts with poetic license in much the same way that mythographers and poets of the ancient world did.
  2. The totenpässe, that is to say the various Netherworld Instructions, differ based on region and timeline. This may indicate syncretization with various local underworld mythos, or be the effect of the aforementioned poetic license.
  3. The general category for those were deemed as Orphic was unfortunately wide-ranging, involving those who were obsessed with purity to an extreme degree (which was seen as a type of deviant behavior), as well as including positive self-definitions that also reach us (which also involve purity to one extent or another). Some individuals who were called “Orphic” may thus not have actually have been members of one of the various sects such as those that left behind coded instructions for initiates.
  4. There may be some connection between the Goetes – whose name descends from their method of action (Goetia), which was the mournful cries that they sang at funerals – and some Orphic initiates, who were occasionally held to be “excellent mourners” such as by Pindar in his Dirges. How far these connections go is well beyond me to even speculate on at the present time.
Nonetheless, the Orphica we have at our disposal does make clear at least some of the relationship of the initiate with specific spirits. The first to cover is Mnemosyne, who is dealt with initially in the above Totenpass. It should be remembered that there are five major tributaries in the Greek underworld:
Mnemosyne by Rossetti

In addition to these is another, hidden tributary, which is Mnemosyne. In addition to being the Titan Muse of Memory (and hence memories of past lives), Mnemosyne was also held to be (variously) an underworld river or lake which acted on the deceased differently than the rest. (There were also other potential resting places for the dead: the Asphodel Meadows, and the Isle(s) of the Blest being two. And then there was the possibility of getting stuck for one reason or another, which was generally held to suck hardcore by all accounts.) At the beginning of the Totenpass, the author declares that the Orphic work at death is “the work of Mnemosyne.” This is one of the reasons, presumably, that the instructions were bequeathed to the dead: so that they had something to help them act on memory, which they had spent their life preparing for. In particular, a cultivated relationship with Mnemosyne seems quite likely. Barnabe explains:
“The goddess takes care that the initiate recalls what he must do, and the instructions that have been revealed to him while alive (probably in the course of initiation), thus becoming the protectress of souls and the guide of his journey.

Mnemosyne presides over the poetic functions, insofar as he daughters, the Muses, are responsible for poets' “recalling” the contents of their poetry. The σοφία (wisdom) that Mnemosyne dispenses to one is an “omniscience” of a divinatory kind. However, just the fact that the poet sings through the inspiration by the Muses does not exclude him from a difficult preparation and learning of the art of a see, so a similar preparation is demanded of the initiate who invokes the divinity at the entrance of Hades.

Yet there is something more. The coincidences between Mnemosyne and Orphism are clear. In the domain of myth, Mnemosyne is related to Orpheus concretely, she is his grandmother – since her daughter, the muse Calliope, was Orpheus' mother. Like the mythic bard, she is a native of Pieria, and like him she is related to poetry and music, since she is the mother of the Muses.

It would not be outlandish to think that for Mnemosyne, the daughter of Earth and Heaven, it is almost a sacred duty to help her sister/brother, the fellow initiate, achieve the happiness of the Elysian field. Yet in addition to this mythic relation, which we might consider superficial, there is a deeper one, of a religious character, which affects a system of beliefs. In an Orphic hymn, dedicated precisely to this goddess, the function we are supposing for Mnemosyne in the tablets is made explicit: Awaken in the initiates the memory of the pious ritual, and send forgetfulness [Lethe] far from them.” (Bernabe, 2008. P. 16)

He continues:
A further meaning may also be found for the reference to Mnemosyne. Given that the concept of truth in Greek means etymologically the “absence of forgetting,” to remember also therefore means “to know.” Memory breaks down the barrier between present and past, thus extending a bridge between the world of the living and the Beyond, to which all who have abandoned the light of the sun return. Whereas Forgetfulness is the water of death, because no one can approach the realm of shadows without having lost memory and consciousness, Memory, by contrast, is the fount of immortality since he who conserves the memory of things in Hades transcends the mortal condition.
To remember in the other world also means to overcome the divisions of time that mark this brief mortal life. In its mnemonic faculty, the intellect recognizes its ability to overcome what is limited, sensible and mortal, in such a way that the soul becomes aware of the identity by means of memory, that is, by means of the knowledge of its own experience, its responsibility for its actions, and their consequences after death. With memory of the entire series of his previous lives and the faults he may have committed therein, man can pay the price for his injustices in full, and bring the cycle of his individual destiny to a close. The exercise of memory is thus transformed into a means of salvation and liberation with regard to the world of becoming and death.”
While I have thus far not mentioned Dionysus it bears mentioning that his subjects, the Maenads, used ecstatic dance at celebrations specifically to get themselves out of body, and catch a glimpse of their God in the Other World. This successive stage of spiritual evolution would presumably also allow them to maintain their memory after parting from this world, and thus showing a bit of a link between the two. Later totenpässe instructions also include the instruction to tell the Three Infernal Judges (also encountered in Jake Stratton-Kent's Geosophia) that “Bacchus himself has released you,” showing that Liber's role in “liberation” remains intact for some Orphic initiates. One final point, which I may expand on at a later point, is that the individual who “remembers in the Other World,” is considered a Hero. The act of maintaining memory alone after death is seen, at least by Bernabe, as something which only a Hero is capable of.
Hades and Persephone

The relationship with Mnemosyne is not the only thing that Orphic salvation, as an eschatology, is also concerned with. In addition to working with the Titan Muse of Memory (and possibly her two sisters, Aiode and Melete) the initiate also has a particular relationship with the Subterranean Queen, Persephone. To discuss this end of the relationship, Bernabe slips into discussions on the Zagreus myth:
In reality, the goddess had already been alluded to in the first group we studied, since she is the 'subterranean queen' before whose presence the deceased had to present himself, after correctly answering the guardians' question, but here she is called by her name...

Although her name does not appear in one tablet from Pherai (L 13), the presence of the Brimo (one of her invocations) and the allusions to the 'sacred meadow' evoke 'the sacred meadows and groves of Persephone' cited in the tablet from Thurii (L 8, 6). She is also, no doubt, the 'queen of the underworld beings' mentioned in the tablets from Thurii and Rome, and she appears as such in the Orphic Hymns (29, 6): Mother of the Eumenides, queen of the underworld beings...

According to the Orphic tradition, Persephone is born the result of the rape of Demeter by Zeus. Zeus in turn violates her as well, and she gives birth to Dionysus Bacchus. As the mother of Dionysus, Persephone can be considered the mother of mortals, who, according to the Orphic myth, descend from the Titans who had devoured her son. Indeed, according to our intrepretation of the “great” tablet of Thurii, it is she that the deceased addresses, calling her “mother” (L 12, 6-7): mother, hear by prayer.

The goddess fulfills salvific function, and the initiate confides in her.” (p. 67-69)

Persephone is the judge in the ultimate decision over the soul's destiny, as seems to be deducible from the expression we find in two Thurian Tablets: “Now I come as a suppliant before chaste Persephone, to see if, benevolent, she may seend me to the dwelling of the limpid ones.” (L 10a-b, 6.f)

And it is to her that the initiate declarations of purification and liberation are addressed: “I come from among the pure, pure, queen of subterranean beings.” (L 9-10, 1.)

That is why, in the tablet to which we are referring, she is the one who must be informed that Dionysus has liberated the soul of the deceased. In the tablets from Hipponion and Entella (L 1-2), the soul must confront the questions of the guardians, but their function does not go eyond the mere transmitters of the correct answer to the goddess, who must make the ultimate decision. In the tablet from Pella (L 16b), her name appears in the dative, which is to be understood in the same sense as the texts from Pelinna: the goddess attention is attractioned, and Posidippus' condition as an initiate in the mysteries is communicated to her, so that she may guarantee him a favorable position in the Beyond...

Since human beings issue forth from the ashes of the Titans, united with the earth, we have within us
residues of the Titanic nature, but also of the Dionysiac nature, since the Titans had eaten the flesh of the god. Consequently, Bacchus, the very victim of the Titanic crime, is the only one who can liberate the human race from the guilt of their ancestors. This is why the tablets from Pelinna say explicitly: Bacchus himself has liberated me.

That is, the principle figure affected by the crime of mankind's ancestors, the god, considers that the initiate has now expiated the crime inherited from his Titanic lineage, for which reason Persephone, the victim's mother, will be able to accept the soul that arrives before her. This is the same situation alluded to in a Pindaric fragment (133 Maehl), in which we are told of: the souls from whom Persephone accepts compensation for their ancient sorrow...” (p. 72-75)

To a certain degree, it seems to me that gaining access to the “Orphic response” from spirits called in the Hymns has more to do with establishing relations with the spirits and deities that are principle to the Orphic work, as well as acting in a specifically “Orphic” manner (which seems contingent on forcing the Titanic factors in man which make him “afflicted, miserable, race of man.” (Orphic Hymn #36, To the Titans). Generally speaking, it would be good for me to pause on a matter I brought up previously, but was unable to explain well: not all of the Titans, and their relations with the individual, are seen as toxic or dangerous forces. As Mnemosyne and the relation between the initiate and the Daemon would show, some of the Titanic forces are specifically called upon so that the initiate is prepared for the realm Beyond. In this respect, my personal experiences thus far have shown that most of the pantheons and spirits (even the negative ones!) begin responding to the call of the Hymns differently than might be anticipated as long as I maintain the Orphic stance. (One of the few things that was forced on me was a heightened attention to purity – e.g. purifying baths and meditative sequences – before using the hymns or calling on the spirits. This hasn't been particularly hard, and some of that demand has relaxed from at least one spirit since I initially encountered it. This is not to say that I'm not crazy or being deceived.)

You can probably expect me to talk about these matters again soon. Except that next time, I may invalidate 90% of anything contained herein. Since, I'm still working out how the relationships all work together.



Frater A.I.T. said...

Man. You're scholarship on this Orphic business is getting pretty damn good, sir. That old dead fellow you spoke with seems to have set you alight....haha. Excellent post. I need to go back and read it slow, make sure I've grasped all these connection correctly.

Between you and JSK, this has been a very Greek period for me.

Mr VI said...


Ritual bathing and purification sloughs off the 'world of man', the encrusted thoughts - relaxes 'spiritual muscles' like warm bath does. Also recalls the fluidity required for working with the soul:

O.E. sæ "sheet of water, sea, lake," from P.Gmc. *saiwaz (cf. O.S. seo, O.Fris. se, M.Du. see), of unknown origin, outside connections "wholly doubtful" (Buck). Germanic languages also use the general IE word (represented by English mere (n.)), but have no firm distinction between "sea" and "lake," either by size or by salt vs. fresh. This may reflect the Baltic geography where the languages are thought to have originated.

The two words are used more or less interchangeably, and exist in opposite senses (e.g. Goth. saiws "lake," marei "sea;" but Du. zee "sea," meer "lake"). Cf. also O.N. sær "sea," but Dan. sø, usually "lake" but "sea" in phrases. Ger. See is "sea" (fem.) or "lake" (masc.).

mere (n.)
O.E. mere "sea, lake, pool, pond," from P.Gmc. *mari (cf. O.N. marr, O.S. meri "sea," Du. meer "lake," O.H.G. mari, Ger. Meer "sea," Goth. marei "sea," mari-saiws "lake"), from PIE *mori-/*mari "sea" (cf. L. mare, O.C.S. morje, Rus. more, Lith. mares, O.Ir. muir, Welsh mor "sea," Gaulish Are-morici "people living near the sea")

soul (1)
O.E. sawol "spiritual and emotional part of a person, animate existence," from P.Gmc. *saiwalo (cf. O.S. seola, O.N. sala, O.Fris. sele, M.Du. siele, Du. ziel, O.H.G. seula, Ger. Seele, Goth. saiwala), of uncertain origin. Sometimes said to mean originally "coming from or belonging to the sea," because that was supposed to be the stopping place of the soul before birth or after death. Hence, from P.Gmc. *saiwaz (see sea). Meaning "spirit of a deceased person" is attested in O.E. from 971.

Mr VI said...

As such, with the Orphic Hymns - and indeed with much Cthonic/Underworld/Immortal/'Restless' Dead work across the IE spectrum - you're dealing with a purity of essence, a primal (in the sense of First) atavism which operates Outside the kosmos, in the sense of the kosmos being the implicit arrangement of perception/reality perceivable by your bog-standard human.

Thus tags like 'malefic' or 'hostile' do not apply - indeed they never did. They are simply interpretations and attempts at contextualizing/giving form to something.

To put it another way, the reason so many were regarded as 'excellent mourners' is the fact that they were able to evoke the essence of death & beyond death in such a way as to bypass all perceptual and conscious biases and connect with the fundamental 'souls' of the listeners.

Equally, the Hero/Titan context requires that in some context, that individual is in some way inhuman - that the apparent 'natural' kosmic way for the human soul is to drink from Lethe, to get on the merry-go round again or hang out as a shade, an echo of what you once were.

Conversely, drinking from Mnemosyne requires further exploration - to go beyond - and in doing so, recover the memory of not just who you were in life, nor simply your past lives. In fact, it recovers who you are beyond Life & Death, and by deliberately, wilfully, drinking of the Mnemosyne you are actively partaking of the going-beyond/becoming as.

In effect, your soul does not return to the sea/lake, but the sea/lake returns to your soul.

In Northern European context, you have the Ansuz/Oss rune:

Norwegian Rune Poem:
"Estuary is the way of most journeys;
but a scabbard is of swords"

Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem:
"The mouth is the source of all language,
a pillar of wisdom and a comfort to wise men,
a blessing and a joy to every knight."

Icelandic Rune Poem:

"Óss is aged Gautr
and prince of Ásgardr
and lord of Vallhalla.
chief Jupiter"

I could go on, but you get my drift...

Rose Weaver said...

Oh, this is good stuff! Thanks for posting! I've been searching for more research material regarding some of the info you posted. This will take some time to digest, but digest I will! Loving it.

Susanne Iles said...

Great stuff here! I'm saving this post to savor tomorrow. It's meshing with some of the work I've done recently with Eros. Exciting!

teslaquoyle said...

You're cool, Jack, thanks. This is great stuff. And have you ever given me food for thought...

What precisely lies below the superficialities (and it seems obvious now that a lot is hiding down there) of these praxes I've basically stumbled and felt my way into?

Even deeper, what are the implications for action, thought, world view? How can I do what I'm doing, mentate what I'm mentating, better? I see many books and much thinking and meditation in my future. And more Orphic prayer, magic, and improved hygiene too. :-)

I'll be working on it.

With gratitude --- Tesla

the Valentines said...

Man .. really reminds me of the Mayombe and Voodoun concepts of the journey of the soul after death. The trial of the soul passing through the waters of forgetfulness and all that. The lady that makes or breaks your ass.

What happened if you failed this test in some sense?

Jack Faust said...

@AIT: Many thanks for the compliments. :)

But, while I'll accept them, I feel like these people deserve more compliments:
1. http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com/about/
2. http://thehouseofvines.wordpress.com/

@VI: ... Yes. The context in which the "hostile" or malific" tags apply, is more in terms of what the individual might "catch" (via contagion) from the specific spirit that they're coming into contact with. How often that concern applies is something I'm not really sure about. Sometimes, it doesn't seem to matter. Sometimes, it really does seem to. But the problem of "catching" traits, via contagion, of specific spirits even applies to Astrological magick - one can "catch" the negative tendencies of the planets and reinforce them, rather than "catching" the positive tendencies of the planets. To a certain degree, this seems unavoidable.

Nonetheless, I agree with everything you've written. The Orphic disciple is acting in the manner that he acts, and pursuing the specific course that he is pursuing, because he is aware of his "divine origins" and the potential of restoration which lies in immersion and activity with the Primordial Other. Each time he "tunes in" to the frequency of a specific Orphic daemon or God, the two seem to act on one another.

As he's assumed the role of recapturing the divine spark (for lack of a better term) within himself, he's also accepted that his place in the universe is "different" than that of other individuals around him. I think the use of wordplay or sound to "evoke" (both feelings and spirits) is also something intrinsic to the work. In a sense, he is always "going to the Sea" when he invokes Mnemosyne and then writes. It seems, to me at the present moment, like the "craft" (bricolage) is as intrinsic to the work of becoming Other (because he's dipping his toes into the pools of myth and ritual whenever he does so) as the invocations and daemons themselves.

@Rose: Thank you! Let me know if there's something else you found intriguing and would like me to try and focus on, and I will.

@Susanne: I am *very* interested in hearing about your work with Eros!

@Tesla: I don't know if this will help, but: certain spirits become over-joyed when you make them offerings of libations of sweet wines, sweet fruits, and honey.

@Valentine: That depends. Typically, they end up drinking from the Lethe and have to continue the cycle of rebirth until they re-remember their purpose. Sometimes, they get stuck at the Acheron (as they might not have payment for the boatman, Kharon, or they might end up unburied for some reason), and can't even get to the Judges and Persephone to drink from the Well/Lake/Underground River of Mnemosyne. In that event, they're just like any of the restless dead: dangerous, extremely pissed off, and looking for someone to correct the issue.

Scylla said...

In one of my old Families - which I still work with when the occasion calls - the Great Goddess is identified with water. And in drinking of that water (if she is water, and you're drinking her...) one attains endurance through death. This endurance is either conceived of as reincarnation without loss of self - or occasionally - a pseudo immortality.

It had never dawned on me before that there were such strong parallels, and the significance of that is ... knocking loose some things.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Her purpose to ensure one remembers, specifically the teachings.. How does this compare with the Egyptian and Tibetan books of the dead, which are also concerned with remembering the sequence to safety?

In North American Indian ways, the Medicine Lodge (Midewiwin) was also concerned with the deities' teachings that would ensure the initiate would pass the trials and guardians safely and be reborn.