Jesus, Dionysus Revealed.

When I was younger my father read a book called something like ‘Sacred Flesh, the Holy Mushroom’. Actually it was called nothing like that, but that encapsulates what my father wished to share of it with me. (Not that he ever tasted magic mushrooms.) That, and the fact that the esteemed author claimed to explain every miracle recorded against the man and his followers, and in particular I recall that his excuse for Peter choosing to be crucified head down was that it lead to a quicker death.

Sadly there are many who, failing to understand symbols, and the use of symbolism, attempt to explain them with the rational mind. I call it rational but this is in the modern sense of that word, not the ancient more revered term. For the modern the rational mind is the thinking mind that attempts to wrangle a logical argument. So often it fails because it ignores crucial aspects of the image it is looking at.

The artist does not explain his work, or her music, nor its source and inspiration. Yet certainly among actors the notion of the Muses , daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, is well alive. However, young and ambitious academics of limited experience, and anyone under the age of 40 must consider themselves young these days, are anxious to make names for themselves to ensure a successful career. They debunk those who came before, while having nothing of their own to add.

For myself the image of the crucifixion itself is an evolving one. Before the Renaissance the figure of Jesus was shown with his head above the branch of the cross. It is only later that his figure changed to be the desperate clinging on to life we see today, head forlorn and eyes downcast. Death triumphant.

Yet the earlier figure with the head above the horizontal branch is reminiscent of the Egyptian Ankh, symbol of resurrection and Eternal Life. Far more fitting an image for Jesus, than the sorry figure paraded today in so many churches.

The orb, above the Tau cross of the Ankh, is often egg shaped, which aligns it with the Orphic tradition of the egg. The Egg of Immortality we might call it. The embryonic bird lies within the secure shield of the egg until moving up the vertical branch, it is ready to hatch and spread its wings.

When the soul awakens it stands, according to Jewish tradition, with feet on both of the pillars, that guard the entrance to the Temple. It was this image that Peter wanted to leave with his followers, I suggest, not that he was seeking a quick release. The Sufis say ‘we are upside down in this world’.

Similarly earlier scholars in the 20th century argued that Christianity is a Greek, not a Hebrew, religion. The new Testament is recorded in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic. In answering the question ‘why was it so readily accepted by the Greeks?’ Bligh-Bond states that it fitted so closely with the Greek’s own Cabbalistic symbolism. He explores thoroughly, in the two volumes of the Apostolic Gnosis, the alignment of the myths and miracles, the parables and images used by Jesus, in terms of their Greek values, set against root understandings of certain names and words from within the Greek tradition. Zeus, Hermes and so on

What Bligh-Bond does not mention is the fact that the bread and the wine are also symbols carried within the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries, and so quite familiar to the Greek audience that first received these teachings. Among the symbols revealed to the initiate were an ear of corn, and the grape is well known as a symbol relating to Dionysus. The song John Barleycorn must die, is an English folk song of great antiquity which celebrates the arrival of ‘three men from out the west’ who declare that John Barleycorn must die. The song conceals the tale of reincarnation of the Soul, or reveals it, to those who, as Jesus might say, ‘have ears to hear’.

I suggest that while Bligh-Bond is not incorrect, it is only a partial explanation and that what Jesus brought was a further and fuller revelation of Dionysian traditions. It will be recalled, by those who explore such things, that the Dionysiacal feasts covered two years, during one of which the God was absent, beneath the ground in the Kingdom of Persephone, and was represented in his absence by a mask and pillar (origin of the theatrical masks) – this is where it ties in with the Eleusinian mysteries of Demeter and Kore – before resurrecting triumphantly over the course of the second year.

In the words of Bob Marley ‘Old Pirates yes they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships, minutes after they pull I, from the bottomless pit’. He goes on ‘But my hand was made strong by the hand of the Almighty, we forward in this generation, Triumphantly’.

I realised this unfoldment of the story at the mention of the bread and wine (Luke 22:19-20) during the coronation ceremony yesterday. (He said, as if seeking to validate his journey by hitching it to the rail of an event of National significance.)

Author: Keith Armstrong

Dance teacher, writer, film-maker, educationalist, enthusiast.