Column: California Wildfires

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire
— Robert Frost
At the time of writing, 22 different wildfires in Northern California have burned 217,566 acres, killed at least 40 people, and destroyed over 5,700 buildings, including entire neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa; an alarming departure from past wildfires, which have mostly affected rural areas. Over 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate and the smoke caused “the worst air quality ever recorded for smoke in many parts of the Bay Area.” It is common sense that California’s prolonged drought exacerbated many wildfires, but last winter’s pouring rains were no relief, for they too abetted the intensity of the current fires by encouraging the proliferation of annual grasses, which have already died and turned into a fuel source. The fires have also burned the primary wine and marijuana-producing region of California, a region indisputably ruled by the god Dionysos, blackening the skies and bloodying the sun with the ashes of grapevine and cannabis. But Frost’s poem and the current fires bring a different set of powers to mind as well.

Column: Spartacus and the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement

In nomine Spartaci, Sibyllae, et Furoris Bacchici

The name of Spartacus has withstood over two millennia of slavery and empire, and become immortalized within the insurrectionary tradition. The personal name of his wife, “a prophetess (μαντική) subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy,” has been not been passed down by the written record, but her title—the prophetess—endures, as does her source of inspiration: the Dionysiac frenzy. The revolt which began with the prophetess, Spartacus, and a handful of his fellow gladiators lasted two years (73-71 BCE) spread across Italy to include thousands of liberated slaves, as well freeborn “herdsmen and shepherds” who joined the uprising. The rebellion terrified the Roman elite, threatening the very center of the empire both geopolitically and socially. In the United States, slavery was never abolished: it was codified as “punishment for crime.”

Column: Loki and Dionysos

“Have I been understood? Dionysus against the Crucified!” —Nietzsche, final line of Ecce Homo

On Jan. 3, 1889, Nietzsche witnessed a horse being whipped in the streets of Turin, Italy. He embraced the horse and collapsed to the ground, and was subsequently accosted by two policemen.

Column: Animism and the Eternal Recurrence of Myth

The fourth century C.E. Neoplatonist Sallustius, a friend of the Roman Emperor Julian (who revoked Christianity’s status as state religion and attempted to revive polytheist worship), wrote in On the Gods and the Cosmos that the myths told in religious initiations “never happened, but always are,” and that “as the myth is in accord with the cosmos, we for that reason keep a festival imitating the cosmos, for how could we attain higher order?” (section 4) Sallustius wrote that myths which mix both psychic and material interpretations particularly “suit religious initiations, since every initiation aims at uniting us with the world and the gods.” As an example of a “mixed” psychic and material myth, he cites the story of Kybele and Attis, putting forth the interpretation that Kybele “is the principle that generates life,” that Attis “is the creator of all things which are born and die,” and that “the creator who makes these things casts away his generative powers into the creation and is joined to the gods again.” Kybele’s priests, the Galli or Gallai (the latter term, of feminine linguistic gender, found in a fragment of Callimachus), were known for re-enacting Attis’ self-castration in their own ecstatic rituals. There is also a cave in at Hierapolis in Phrygia, of which Daniel Ogden writes in Greek and Roman Necromancy: “The …