Monday, November 7, 2011

Dionysus and Ariadne

This past weekend, I participated with the Fellowship of Isis New Orleans in the "Mystery of the Labyrinth" from Dea by attunement. The rite is based on the story of the Athenian hero, Theseus, and his encounter with the Minotaur in the Cretan Labyrinth created by Daedelus. His mentor for the journey is the daughter of King Minos, Ariadne, who gives him an eiresone—a branch wound with thread to use to track his path through the maze.

In the Greek myths, Theseus married Ariadne, and took her and her younger sister on the ship back to Athens. However, he abandoned Ariadne on the island of Naxos for her younger sister, something I've always found rather despicable. Fortunately, the god Dionysus landed on Naxos shortly afterward and was so taken by Ariadne that he married her, made her immortal, and placed her shining crown in the northern sky as the constellation Corona Borealis. It lies between the constellation of Bootes, the Herdsman and Hercules, just above the head of Serpens, the Serpent. These constellations are described in the mystery drama, as is Ophiucus, who holds the constellation Serpens.

When I wrote Mythic Voices, I told the story of Dionysus and Ariadne as part of "Dionysus' Vintage." I'm picking up the poem at the point where Dionysus is captured by a ship of pirates, and ends up on the island of Naxos:

At last I came to rest, one night upon the strand.
I slept in the moonlight, alone, and deeply saddened.
A ship full of pirates saw me sleeping and bore me away,
seeking a ransom for the “prince.”
When I awoke, we were far out to sea. 
I laughed at the captain when he asked me for ransom.
He wouldn’t believe me that my father was Zeus,
and threatened my life,
though his helmsman warned him against it.
I rose from my slumber, and stood on the deck.
The ship ceased its motion,
and vines sprouted from the planks.
Ivy and grapevines entwined up the masts,
and rich red wine poured down the ship’s sails.
The men began leaping overboard in their fear,
though I told them and told them
they were safe there with me.
I was giving them the only ransom that I had to give,
but they couldn’t listen.
It wasn’t rational, you see.
I prayed to Poseidon to save the poor wretches,
for I would never have sought their deaths or destruction.
My uncle heard my plea, and turned them into dolphins,
that now follow all ships and seek to help them find safety.
The helmsman alone held his ground, though he feared me.
“I do not know who you are,” he mumbled at me,
“but I will not desert you, and I believe you won’t hurt me.”
I smiled at his bravery, and congratulated his wisdom.
“Take me to the nearest island and leave me,”
I said to the former pirate, who now began to calm.
“You alone were able to stand before my mystery,
“and for that gift I will give you good fortune and life.”
We sailed the strange ship to the island of Naxos,
and parted in good spirits, the pirate to sell his wine.
I smiled as he sailed away from these shores,
for the hope that he’d tell many the wondrous tale.
Then as I wandered upon my new island home,
I came upon a ravishing young woman who was weeping.
“Dear one,” I asked, “why do you weep?” 
And thus I met my beloved Ariadne of Crete[1].
She had helped the Athenian Theseus
destroy her own brother,
the violent Minotaur that had terrorized her home.
Theseus had promised her to wed her in Athens,
and sailed with herself and her sister, Phaedra, from Crete.
“We stopped here at Naxos to refill our stores of water,”
she said through her tears,
“but I don’t know where they’ve gone.
“Did you see any ships?  Where is my Theseus?”
But I knew that he’d chosen her sister, instead.
“Gentle Ariadne,” I said as I wiped her tears,
“Theseus left you because you had a greater fate
“than to be the wife of a traitorous husband. 
“If you will have me, I shall be your companion.”
She looked at me as though
she finally saw me for the first time,
saw the radiance in my face, and knew me for who I am.
Slowly she ceased her tears, and then began to smile.
I took her in my arms, and kissed her full lips.
“Hera,” I cried, “come be my witness! 
“I will marry this woman, to be my faithful bride.
“You who are the guardian of all faithful spouses must give us your blessing.  “Come to my side!”
Hera was not used to being called anymore,
since the custom was to take any woman a man wanted
after buying her from her father, to be his housekeeper.
Hera came quickly to see who I was.
“I am Dionysus,” I said to her, gently. 
“The son of your husband and his daughter, Persephone. 
“Gaia saved me for her own reasons
“from all of the plots and the plans and the schemes.”
Hera began crying, and I took her in my arms.
“Sweet Goddess, please forgive me the sins of my father.”
She wept out her pain upon my shoulder, her agony,
and then the sun came out after the rain.
“How can you forgive me?” she asked me in wonder.
“I tried everything I could do to prevent your existence.”
“You are a wise woman,” I replied gently, to her wonder,
“but there are mysteries deeper than those you have known.”
Hera blessed my marriage to the brave Ariadne,
who had watched me in wonder
as I consoled the great Goddess.
Hera remained with us, talking through the night,
until at last she understood the gift that I bring.
She threw her great head back, pealing with laughter,
at Gaia’s long plot and the final twist at the end.
She laughed ‘til she cried, then laughed some more, gently,
and told me she loved me, as if I were her own son.
She left us to return to Zeus’ side, for the nonce.
I spent many years in Ariadne’s gracious company.
We traveled the world, teaching our message of peace,
loving one another, and bearing life to all men.
Yet my beloved was mortal, and at last she must leave me.
“Hades,” I cried, “is there nothing you can do?”
He came to me; shocked that someone would call him,
for usually no one wanted to see him at all.
“But for your brother’s cruel and foolish action,” I said,
“I would have been your own son, dear father of my brother.
“Do not blame me for Zeus’ loss of mind, my dear father.”
Hades wept in my arms, knowing I’d forgiven his sins.
He and my mother, Persephone the wise,
restored my wife to me, immortal now too.
We went forth to Olympus to stand before the Gods,
who were frightened to silence when we came to their council.
“I shall resign my seat on the Council,” said Hades,
smiling at Zeus’ confusion,
“in favor of my son, Dionysus the wise.”
Pandemonium broke out, to say the least.
Zeus raged in fury; Poseidon stroked his beard in amusement.
Athena smiled in greeting; Apollo glowered in rage.
Artemis welcomed me as a brother;
Hermes laughed at my jest.
Hera nodded to me sagely, and Demeter smiled as well.
Ares and Hephaistos wondered who I might be,
but Aphrodite smiled warmly,
for she knew Love when she saw it.
I waved my hand and their goblets
were filled with my blessing,
and the gods learned of wine, and began to warm to me.
And thus I joined the council of the Olympian Twelve,
and sought to bring wisdom to balance all the parts.

[1] Kerényi, pp. 268-272.

1 comment:

  1. Nice retelling. I am a big Dionysus and Ariadne fan although I am not happy with Ariadne the abandoned mortal - generally, although it is the Hellenic and famous story. I think the older, truer tale is that she is the Great Goddess and he is her shamanic priest.