27. A Dionysan Festival in the Valley of Tempe

We are in Thessaly, in the cool valley of Tempe.51 The holy night dedicated by Orpheus to the Mysteries of Dionysus has come. Led by one of the servants of the temple, the disciple of Delphi walks in a narrow, deep ravine, surrounded by sharp rocks. In the somber night only the murmur of the river between its green banks nearby, can be heard. At last the full moon appears from behind a mountain. Its yellow disk rises above the dark grass and the rocks. Its subtle and magnetic light flows into the depths; suddenly the enchanted valley is filled with an Elysian brightness. In a single instant its grassy depths, its groves of ash and poplar, its crystal streams, its grottos clad in falling ivy, and its winding river encircling islands of trees or rolling under entwined bowers, is revealed. A yellow mist and a delightful sleep envelop the plants. The sighs of nymphs seem to make the mirror of the streams tremble, and faint sounds of a flute are heard from the motionless reeds. The silent incantation of Diana reigns over all. . . .

The disciple of Delphi walks as though in a dream. He pauses to inhale the delightful aroma of honeysuckle and bitter laurel. But the magic brightness lasts only for an instant: The moon is covered with a cloud. Everything becomes dark; the rocks again assume their threatening forms and flickering lights shine from all sides beneath the dense trees, at the edge of the river, in the depths of the valley.

"Those are the mystics," the aged guide of the temple says. "They are setting out on their way. Each procession has its torch-bearing guide. We shall follow them."

The travellers meet choirs leaving the woods, starting on their journey. First they see the Mystics of Young Bacchus pass by: adolescents clothed in long tunics of fine linen, and wearing crowns of ivy. They bear cups of carved wood, symbols of the cup of life. Then follow proud, sturdy young men. These are called The Mystics of Fighting Hercules: they wear short tunics which reveal their bare legs; lion's skins are draped over their shoulders and loins, and they wear crowns of olive leaves upon their heads. Next the inspired ones appear, The Mystics of Dismembered Bacchus, skins of panthers around their bodies, bands of velvet about their heads, thyrsus in their hands.

Passing near a cavern, they see the Mystics of Adonis and of Subterranean Eros kneeling upon the ground. They are mourning dead relatives or friends. They sing in a low voice, "Adonis, Adonis! Give us back those you have taken from us, or let us go down into your kingdom!" The wind is swallowed up in the cavern, seeming to stretch itself into the underworld with laughs and mournful rattles of death. Suddenly a mystic turns to the disciple of Delphi and says, "You have crossed the threshold of Adonis; never again will you see the light of the living!" Another brushes past him, uttering these words in his ear: "Shade, you will be the prey of Shades! You who come from the night, return to Erebus!" The disciple of Delphi is frozen with fright. He whispers to his guide: "What does this mean?" The servant of the temple appears to have heard nothing. He only says, "You must pass over the bridge. No one avoids the end."

They cross a wooden bridge spanning the Peneus.

"Where," asks the neophyte, "do these plaintive voices and that mournful chant come from? What are those white shadows which walk in long lines beneath the poplars?"

"They are women who are about to become initiated into the Mysteries of Dionysus."

"Do you know their names?"

"Here no one knows the name of anyone, and each forgets his own. As at the entrance to the holy realm the mystics leave their soiled garments when they bathe themselves in the river, afterward clothing themselves in robes of clean linen, here each leaves his name in order to receive another. For seven nights and seven days, one becomes transformed, one passes into another life. Look at all those processions of women! They are not grouped according to family or country, but according to the god who inspires them."

Young girls file by, wearing crowns of narcissus and dressed in blue peplos. The guide named these The Companion Nymphs of Persephone. They carry chests, urns and votive vases. Pressed in red peplos next appear The Mystic Lovers, The Passionate Wives and The Seekers of Aphrodite. They move into the depths of the dark forest. From it come violent cries, mixed with languishing sobs. Little by little, these die away. Then a passionate chorus arises from the dark myrtle wood, mounting to the sky in slow measures. "Eros, you have wounded us! Aphrodite, you have broken our bones! We have covered our breasts with the skin of the fawn, but we bear on our breasts the bloody marks of our wounds! Our heart is a consuming furnace. Others die of poverty; it is love which consumes us. Devour us, Eros! Erosl -- Or deliver us, Dionysus! Dionysus!"

Another procession moves forward. These women are clothed entirely in black wool, with long veils trailing behind them; all are overcome with deep mourning. The guide calls them Persephone's Mourners. At this place is a great marble mausoleum, covered with ivy. They kneel around it, unbinding their hair, as they utter great cries. To the strophe of desire they respond with the antistrophe of grief. "Persephone," they cry, "you are dead, carried away by Adonis! You have descended into the kingdom of the dead. But we who mourn the beloved are the living dead! Let day not dawn for us again! Let the earth which covers you, O great goddess, give us everlasting sleep, and our shade wander, bound to the beloved shade! Hear us, Persephone! Persephone!"

At these strange scenes, under the contagious delirium of these great sufferings, the disciple of Delphi is overcome by a thousand contradictory and tormenting sensations. He is no longer himself; the desires, thoughts and death agonies of all these beings have become his own desires and agonies. His soul is divided into pieces in order to enter a thousand bodies. A mortal anguish has invaded his being. He no longer knows whether he is man or shade.

Then an initiate of great stature who is passing by, pauses and says, "Peace be to the afflicted phantoms! Suffering women, strive for the light of Dionysus! Orpheus is awaiting you!" All surround him in silence, waving their crowns of asphodels; with his thyrsus he points the way. The women go to drink from wooden cups at a stream. The line forms again, and the procession moves on. The young girls have taken the lead. They sing a threnody with the refrain, "Shake the poppies! Drink the water of Lethe! Give us the flower of desire, and may the narcissus bloom again for our sisters! Persephone! Persephone!"

The disciple walks beside his guide for a long time. He passes over fields where the asphodel grows. He walks beneath the shadow of sadly murmuring poplars. He hears lugubrious songs which glide into the air and come from he knows not where. He sees horrible masks and wax figurines hanging from trees like swaddled children. Here and there boats cross the river, filled with people, silent like dead men. Finally the valley broadens, the sky becomes clear above the high mountains. The dawn appears. In the distance can be seen the dark gorges of Ossa, furrowed with ravines, choked with fallen rocks. Nearer, encircled by mountains, the temple of Dionysus shines upon a wooded hill.

Already the sun has gilded the lofty mountain tops. As they approach the temple, coming from all directions, they see processions of mystics, long lines of women, groups of initiates. Outwardly grave but inwardly excited by a tumultuous hope, all meet at the foot of the hill and ascend the approach to the sanctuary. All greet one another like friends, waving the branches and thyrsi. The guide has disappeared, and the disciple of Delphi finds himself, he knows not how, in a group of initiates, their shining hair encircled with crowns and bands of various colors. He has never seen them before, yet he thinks he knows them. They also seem to be waiting for him, for they greet him as a brother, congratulating him on his safe arrival. Carried along by the crowd as though borne on wings, he climbs to the highest steps of the temple. Suddenly, a blinding flash of light strikes his eyes. It is the rising sun, casting its first arrow into the valley, its gleaming rays flooding this assembly of mystics and initiates grouped on the steps of the temple.

Immediately a choir strikes up a paean of praise. The bronze doors of the temple open and, followed by Hermes and the torch bearer, the prophet, the hierophant, Orpheus appears. The disciple of Delphi recognizes him with a tremor of joy. Clothed in velvet, his lyre of ivory and gold in his hand, Orpheus glows with everlasting youth. He says,

"Hail to all of you who have come to be reborn after the sorrows of earth, and who are being reborn at this moment! Come, drink of the light of the temple. You who appear out of the night, -- mystics, women, initiates! Come, rejoice, You who have suffered; come, rest, You who have fought! The sun which I invoke above your heads and which will shine in your souls is not the sun of mortals; it is the pure light of Dionysus, the great Sun of the initiates. Through your past sufferings, through the trial which brings you here, you will conquer, and if you believe in the divine words, you already have conquered. For after the long circuit of dark existences you will finally leave the painful circle of births, and all of you will find yourselves as a single body, a single soul, in the light of Dionysus!

"The divine spark which guides us upon earth is in us; it becomes a flame in the temple, a star in the sky. Thus the light of truth grows brighter. Listen to the Lyre of seven strings vibrate, the Lyre of God . . . It causes worlds to move! Listen well! May the sound penetrate you, and may the depths of the heavens open!

"Help for the weak, consolation for the suffering, hope for all! But woe to the wicked, to the uninitiated! They will be confounded! For in the ecstasy of the Mysteries each one sees to the very bottom of the soul of the other! The wicked shall be struck with terror, and the profaners with death.

"And now that Dionysus has shone upon you, I shall invoke celestial and all-powerful Eros. May he be in your loves, in your cries, in your joys! Love, for everything loves -- the demons of the abyss and the gods of the ether! Love, for everything loves! But love with light, and not with darkness. Remember your goal during your journey. When souls return to the light they bear all the mistakes of their lives like ugly spots upon their sidereal body ... And in order to erase them, they must expiate them and return to earth . . . But the pure, the strong enter into the Sun of Dionysus.

"And now, sing the Evohe!"

"Evohe!" shout the heralds from the four corners of the temple. "Evohe," and the cymbals sound. "Evohe!" replies the joyful assembly, gathered on the steps of the temple. And the call of Dionysus, the holy call to rebirth, to life, rolls into the valley, repeated by a thousand hearts, sent back by all the echoes of the mountains. And the shepherds in the wild gorges of Ossa and those feeding their herds in the highland forests near the clouds, answer, "Evohe."52


Notes for this chapter:

51. Pausanias tells us that every year a procession made its way from Delphi to the Valley of Tempe to pick the sacred laurel. This symbolic custom reminded Apollo's disciples that they were attached to the Orphic initiation, and that the original sign of Orpheus was the ancient, sturdy tree whose young living branches the priests of Delphi always picked.

This blending of Apollonian and Orphic tradition is to be observed in yet another manner in the history of the temples. In fact, the famous dispute between Apollo and Bacchus over the tripod of the temple has no other meaning. Bacchus, says the legend, gave the tripod to his brother and withdrew to Parnassus. This means that Dionysus and the Orphic initiation remained the privilege of the initiates, while Apollo gave his oracles to the people in general.

52. The cry Evohe, which in reality was pronounced, He Vau He, was the sacred cry of all the initiates of Egypt, Judea, Phoenicia, Asia Minor and Greece. The four sacred letters, pronounced in the following manner: lod (EE) He, Vo, He, represented God in His eternal fusion with nature; they embraced the totality of Being, the Living Universe. lod (Osiris) meant Divinity, strictly speaking, creative intellect, the Eternal Masculine, which is in all things, in all places and above all. He-Vau-He represented the Eternal Feminine, Eve, Isis, Nature, in all the visible and invisible forms engendered by it. The highest initiation, that of the theogonic sciences and the theurgic arts, corresponded to the letter Jod (EE). Another order of sciences corresponded to each of the letters of Eve. Like Moses, Orpheus reserved the sciences which corresponded to the letter Jod (Jove, Zeus, Jupiter) and the idea of the unity of God, to the initiates of the first class, seeking nevertheless to interest the people in it through poetry, the arts and their living symbols. It is for this reason that the cry Evohe was openly proclaimed in the Festivals of Dionysus, where, besides the initiates, the simple aspirants to the Mysteries were admitted.

In this appears all the difference between the work of Moses and the work of Orpheus. Both departed from Egyptian initiation and possessed the same truth, but they applied it in different ways. Moses severely, jealously glorifies the Father, the male God. He entrusts its care to a sacred priesthood and subjects the people to an implacable discipline without revelation. Orpheus, divinely in love with the External Feminine, with Nature, glorifies her in the name of God, who penetrates her and whom he wishes to make burst forth in a divine humanity. And this is why the cry Evohe became the sacred cry par excellence, in all the Mysteries of Greece. (On Evohe see Rudolf Steiner: Eurythmy as Visible Speech and Visible Song. -- Ed.)


28. Evocation

The Great Initiates