About a month ago, I was looking over my festival calendar for the year and wondering what to do about Dionysos. I wasn’t really feeling right about continuing some of the festivals I’d been doing in recent years, and felt it was time for yet another change in my practice to reflect changing relationships, but didn’t know what to do instead. Then it suddenly came to me that I could go back to basics, to the original Athenian festivals I started with: Lenaia, Anthesteria (both of which I’d already done this year, as I do every year), City Dionysia, Oskhophoria and Rural Dionysia. I could supplement these with some of my personal additions as well – like the ones I do for Yarilo-Dionysos, or the anniversary of my first ecstatic state – but mostly I’d focus on these five ancient festivals.
So I began trying to figure out what to do for City Dionysia, since it was coming up quickly. I figured it ought to be based on seeing a play, since the theatrical competitions were the main event in ancient times. Plus, that would locate me nicely right downtown, where all of the theatres are, which seemed appropriate for the City Dionysia. I looked through all the plays that would be showing during the weekend it was scheduled, and nothing was looking good, until I found it:
It couldn’t be more perfect: a festival of ten-minute plays. Multiple plays, comedies and tragedies both, selected from a competition. I felt like Dionysos had given me the stamp of approval on my idea.
To flesh out the festival, I decided it needed two other main components from the ancient tradition: alcohol and phalloi. I made three clay phalloi and painted them in His colors. I bought nine tiny bottles of liquor, and made tags for them with a variety of Dionysian messages. And I bought some easy-to-carry red wine to drink.
On Saturday night, my partner and I headed out on the town. I was wearing what I think of as an “urban bassarid” outfit – my wine-colored satin khiton, vintage fox-fur stole, and beaded crown of metal-dipped leaves. Before we even got to the theatre, I found an amazing hat just left on a pole – angora rabbit fur, dyed the color of a red fox. I considered it a gift in honor of the festival, and will always think of that night when I wear it.
We went to see the plays, and they were great – especially the one about a clinic that helps people who are trying to stop drinking to START drinking again… I mean, it was too perfect. Then we went around downtown leaving gifts of alcohol for the other revellers out and about.
And I placed the phalloi in flower-filled planters here and there. Finally, we found a quiet spot, drank our wine and smoked mugwort-and-tobacco cigarettes, poured libations to Dionysos, and walked home in the beautiful night.
Perhaps this would have been unrecognizable as the City Dionysia to an ancient Athenian, but I think I hit all the notes and it felt very right. This is something I will be talking about in my upcoming book on Hellenic festivals – how you can take the main thematic elements of something ancient and put it into an entirely modern context. Io Dionysos!