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Agony and Ecstasy

Warning: This is a long one, and it’s potentially really offensive. Console yourself with the fact that I write a sex blog full of porn, and therefore, I’m already condemned to hell.

I’ve been following a series of posts about the violent nature of various deities, and how modern sensibilities sand down the edges on old stories our culture carries around, until we’ve worn them down into something we’re comfortable with.  Nicole Danielle, in particular, wrote something that has stuck with me:

No body wants to be Job, nobody wants to rip their lovers to pieces, no one wants to be torn to pieces themselves, or cut out their own tongues, or sew their eyes shut, or walk in an abyss. No one wants initiation or trial by fire because one has no control over it. None.

And, well, it can’t be too hard to see why some part of me went, “No one?

Maybe it’s no one, or maybe it’s just socially unacceptable.

Just don’t discount madness and masochism as an essential part of the human spirit.

So, Western culture takes Dionysus and turns him into this guy:


When, really, the myths involve a genderqueer, shape-shifting, foreigner from out there somewhere who went to war in India, had the greatest warrior/poet/lover that ever lived beheaded, and regularly drove women to do things like fuck monsters in the woods and rip off their own children’s heads.

The Bacchae of Euripides gives us the most vital picture of the wonderful circumstance in which, as Plato says in the Ion, the god-intoxicated celebrants draw milk and honey from the streams. They strike rocks with the thyrsus, and water gushes forth. They lower the thyrsus to the earth, and a spring of wine bubbles up. If they want milk, they scratch up the ground with their fingers and draw up the milky fluid. Honey trickles down from the thyrsus made of the wood of the ivy, they gird themselves with snakes and give suck to fawns and wolf cubs as if they were infants at the breast. Fire does not burn them. No weapon of iron can wound them, and the snakes harmlessly lick up the sweat from their heated cheeks. Fierce bulls fall to the ground, victims to numberless, tearing female hands, and sturdy trees are torn up by the roots with their combined efforts.

Yeah. That’s some scary stuff, even by modern standards. That’s some “Oh, noes, the ladies with their uncontrolled emotions are going to use their primordial black hole vaginas of terror to take us all back, back, back, to infancy, to the dark, to humans as animals, where surely The Great Mother will devour us all” type of scary stuff.

I suppose there’s an argument that the West belittles dead Gods and foreign Gods, because we’re asserting that the “our” guy is omnipotent.

Only, the same thing happens to Jehova, particularly in the modern Christian version. He is under attack, poor thing. He is taking the wheel.  He’s a lovely, attractive, non-threatening white man hanging out under a rainbow, laughing with little children.  He/his son is the perfect, chaste boyfriend for someone who’s completely terrified of sex. He’s your best friend, with whom you have a loving relationship. Or, increasingly… he doesn’t exist at all–you ditch the God altogether, and just stick with the little happy light in your heart.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

God is love.

Love is life.

Attaining transcendence, getting at the point of life, is basically boiled down to floating high on a big old wave of unconditional love.

Love as highest purpose. Love as an object of worship. Love as the defining aspect of life.

Romantic and familial love probably tops the list–these are our milestones: falling in love, the birth of children. Those are supposed to be your biggest moments.  Followed by love of country or an in-group of some sort–going into soldiering, athletics, healing professions and teaching; lives of “service.”  We also collectively admire love of life, particularly if accompanied by, say, the discipline of physical exceptionalism or the poignancy of terminal illness. Or, both at the same time. These are what we define as beautiful and noble love. We tolerate love of money and self, as those at least give the outward appearance of productivity. You can be a masochist, but you better be a figurative one for love–self sacrifice for your partner, for your children, for the impoverished masses. You can be temporarily insane, but it better be falling in love. You can commit a crime of passion, with some measure of sympathy.

We’re not so keen on those that really define their lives with hate or fear or wrath, even if that’s a common enough occurrence.

And we are absolutely intolerant and very skeptical of “transcendence,” of tapping into bigger than bodily feeling, that happens in unacceptable ways. There’s a very, very narrow path to getting outside yourself, at least so far as society is concerned. Even within religion–tongue-speaking, self-flagellation, stigmata, and even fasting are controversial. We’ve literally made a lot of routes to transcendence illegal–the drug war being a prime example, and with it, the hoops and hurdles and corporate attachment involved in any sort of festive gathering. We still frown on and/or mock genres of music, for crying out loud–most recently dubstep, that I’ve noticed, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it came out of the rave scene.

We’ve made some methods of bodily tribulation very taboo.

Second, S&M, by its nature, hurts people. Mild bondage is no big deal. But for sadomasochists, pain is the whole idea. Some stick to spatulas and wooden spoons, but others move on to electric shocks, skewers, knives, and butterfly boards.

What the hell is a butterfly board?

We don’t really own our bodies. Society has decided we can’t be trusted with them.

If you come close to losing control over yours, letting it run amok, society will issue the smackdown.

What it comes down to is that there’s very little room in our collective Ideal for personal experience where you’re not fully in control of your facilities, whether you want to lose control and stare down that scary id place or not.

There’s no room for maenads.

The assumption seems to be that any road that might lead to pain needs to be avoided at all costs. You might hurt yourself. You might hurt others.

Love is the avoidance of pain.

Don’t discount madness and masochism as an essential part of the human spirit, though.

It’s there. It’s always there.

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  1. Lily
    Twitter: MsLilyLloyd
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    Joan! You didn’t offend me! Try harder! :)

    I think it doesn’t matter whether we choose to alter our consciousness, or an altered consciousness chooses us: our society has become much narrower in the kinds of minds that it will accept.

    When I say “an altered consciousness chooses us” I mean everyone from non-neurotypical folk, people with ADD, the 1 in 4 people that will suffer a garden variety depression.

    These are human variations, but we don’t allow any room for them. The only consciousness that is wanted is the one that can get up and pound a register at Target for eight hours. And anyone who chooses a different consciousness (or has a different consciousness choose them) — temporarily or permanently — is at a much higher risk of being driven to the margins of our society.

    But there’s always the Seychelles. And I still have a passport. Dammit.

    • Joan
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 4:34 am | Permalink

      I’m a Southern girl. I know better than to call Jesus someone’s imaginary boyfriend. I always wait for someone to call me a lesbian Satanist after I do it, because that’s pretty much how my first 18 years went.

      You’re right about neurotypicality. I always think, Gosh, my boy would make THE BEST hardy little Viking kid. He’s quiet, ginormous, enjoys bundling up, and he’s good at repetitive tasks.

      I also think that the modern age rewards certain variations on atypical. Narcissism comes to mind. And, you have to have seen those stories about Wall Street CEOs being sociopathic, right?

    • Joan
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      OOH. And, have you run across that Ehrenreich book where she basically blames the modern era for the uptick in “melancholic” personalities?

  2. Rich
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    I notice that even in the cartoon Dionysus has a horn sticking out of his crotch. Subliminal? Sublimated? Subtle?

    Children’s fables are perhaps the worst porn.

    Mary, Mary, quite contrary
    How does your garden grow?
    With silver bells and cockle shells
    All lined up in a row.

    I’m betting, her legs were well stretched to get those bells and shells lined up, and her secret garden must have grown swollen with the rains. Perhaps a mountain was coming out of the sky to make ripples in and around the lake.

    • Joan
      Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      My favorite version of that is the Princess and the Frog.


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  • By Divine savagery | The House of Vines on March 14, 2013 at 3:19 am

    [...] Agony and Ecstasy by Joan Defers * Dionysos with a soldier’s haircut and helmet by Dionysian~Light * His Thorns are [...]

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