From Ganesha to Dionysus: dismemberment and (re) integration

From the myth of the beheading of Ganesha to that of Dionysus Zagreus quartered by the Titans, up to some brief mention of the Christian Savior: morphology of the initiatory path of the "Son of the Mother", from the "ritual dismemberment" to (re) integration in non-duality

di Beatrice Udai Nath
originally published on turiya
image: Dionysus Zagreo, fresco, Pompeii

The history of birth of Ganesha is reported by Shiva Purana. The Goddess Parvati was about to take a bath in the river, and she had modeled the figure of a boy from the dirt taken from her body: when the image of her came to life, she asked the young man to stand guard while she did the bath. Meanwhile Shiva was returning to Parvati, and found with her a young stranger, who prevented him from passing. Enraged, Shiva cut off the boy's head, and Parvati was deeply saddened. To remedy this, Shiva then sent his demons (Ghana) to take the head of anyone who was caught sleeping with their heads facing north. The Ganas found a sleeping elephant and brought back his head. Shiva placed the mammoth head of the elephant on the boy's body and thus revived him. Shiva named the boy Ganapati, commander of the army of demons, and granted him the prerogative that anyone should worship him before starting any business.

Among the figures that inhabit the archetypal world, the novice, the initiate, the beginner, entering the spiritual path, wears a mask and ventures into the labyrinth or the path of knowledge. The hood, the tonsure, an exclusion of the human face precede the moment of the encounter with the divine presence, at its inception. The candidate strips himself of his birth identity and offers himself unknown to the unknown, a stranger in unknown territory, in search of the Supreme. Thus begins the great enterprise of sacred knowledge.

Mask of Dionysus surrounded by his attributes, mosaic, Villa Adriana, Tivoli.

A mask represented Dionysus during the Mysteries. She was hung from a pole, decorated with a cloak and ivy branches. It therefore indicated presence and absence, the limit: that beyond the fictitious representation of the mask there is only the formless, the very axis of the cosmos, motionless and silent. The mask manifested the ambiguity of Dionysus, his omnipotent presence and his radical absence, revealing the specificity of Dionysus, the "god of otherness". The mask is a face and hides the true face, it is the figure of a person and renounces the person, hides and manifests. Paradox that, for the followers of the Dionysian cult, it was precisely the gaze of the mask, the gaze of Dionysus, capable of inducing trance, or enthusiasm, divine possession. Looking at the great, hollow, wide-open eyes of the god's mask was the key to getting lost in his enigma.

writes walter otto:

ยซ Dionysus is the coming god, enigmatic in the look that upsets. His symbol is the mask, which among all peoples means the immediate presence of a mysterious spirit. He himself is revered as a mask. His gaze takes your breath away, confuses, annihilates balance and measure. Man is struck by madness: it can be beatifying madness, which kidnaps in ineffable trance states, which frees from the weight of the earth, which dances and sings; and he can be the dark, lacerating, death-bringing madness. "

In the theophany of the mask Dionysus manifested the essence inherent in the very concept of divinity, that of being More from man. He, par excellence, was the "other-god", the "foreign god" who came from an imaginary, non-geographic elsewhere. He was present, at the same time, both outside and inside the cities. With the alterity of his gaze the adept established an asymmetrical relationship, changing his own state of consciousness: he came out of himself (ekstasis), temporarily nullifying one's individuality (aphanisis: "Disappearance", "invisibility"), and, through extension, he introjected the god into an enthusiastic state of possession.

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Another young god and Son, born of the Virgin, from the Middle East it will come to conquer the whole West. The story of him will assume the title of Person and Face perhaps more than any other, and he will find himself again hanging from Wood, axis of the world, during his sacred representation of death and rebirth. For the West, this son of the Virgin will become the only God.

Salvador Dali, "Christ of St. John of the Cross", 1951.

Ganesha is also born from the Mother alone, he is a child of Nature alone, and with his Mother he spends an early childhood on the bank of a river. He is a child like any other, a simple and beautiful child of mother nature's dust and sweat. This is exactly what the myth says, literally: Ganesha is born from the sweat and dust on Parvati's skin, therefore it is the product of waste matter, the primordial matter, the filth with which the initiate must produce the philosophical gold. Until for the fortuitous encounter with Shiva his human head falls, severed by a fit of anger from the god. The pleas of the Mother convince Shiva to restore his life, but his head is now lost, and must be quickly replaced with that of an elephant. Here appears the divine child with the elephantine head. Now that his life has been broken and restored by Shiva's grace, he is no longer a child of Nature, but of Mahadeva, and has become a god himself.

With the dismemberment of the head, Shiva performs an initiatory action, the heart of the rites of passage, of the motif of the "divine child", in which a prodigious child is transformed into a god: transforms the simple creature, conceived only from the waste matter of nature, into a divine personification.

To suffer the same fate in Greek mythology is Dionysus, still a newborn, still a hybrid creature between the divine father Zeus and the human mother Semele; or when even earlier, in the Cretan myth, Dionysus was the obscure figure of the snake Zagreus, who lived hidden in a cave. The goddess Hera, jealous of the son of Zeus, conceived in betrayal (filth / degradation), sent the Titans, with their faces bleached with ash, to kill him and tear him to pieces. A merciful goddess - Athena, Rhea or Demeter - saved her still beating heart in a casket, while her bones and skull were buried in Delphi. Zeus swallowed the heart of Dionysus, which had been preserved by the love of the compassionate Goddess, and regenerated Zagrรจus, who took the name of Iacchus (Iakchos) or Bacchus; or, according to another version, the intact heart was given to Semele for him to generate a second Dionysus.

From this event, Dionysus was given the title of "Born twice". This attribute is, and always has been, what distinguishes the initiate, the "twice born", reborn a second time in / by divine grace. Bacchus was not only the personal name of the god, which is better called Dionysus, but also indicated the one who was born twice, who was initiated according to the mysteries of Dionysus. He famous the phrase of "many stir the thyrsus, but few are the BacchusThat is, the true initiates. According to Alain Danielou, the same etymological root links the terms Bacchus and Bhakta, the mystical form of devotion that ultimately cancels any duality between man and the divine.

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The Tibetan monks also undergo the ritual dismemberment in the ritual of the Chod (literally: "cut"), whose origins are probably pre-Buddhist and shamanic. The candidate is taken by the master to an isolated place, in the mountains, and abandoned, sometimes tied to a sacrificial pole or a rock. Alexandra David Neel defines the Chod as "a kind of macabre mystery represented by a single actor: the officiant." Preceded by various degrees of purification, the ritual achieves its purpose when the novice, prostrate and isolated from everything, must face the demons, which he himself invokes through appropriate songs and sounds, and invite them to devour his own body.

During the practice, the practitioner's soul is visualized in the heart center, guarded by a deity, usually female, while the physical body is observed as dead. In this meditative state, the initiate separates self-awareness from the body, while the consciousness is guarded by the female divinity. The divinity cuts the skull and then reduces the body to pieces, putting the flesh, the blood, and the bones inside the skull, in which the immaterial beings, called to participate in the ritual, will feed.

The ritual has the declared purpose of leading the initiate to experience a radical detachment from identification with the body and with psychic instances, and allow him to achieve a profound state of non-duality and universal compassion.

The mental image of the Black Dakini, guardian of the conscience / heart of the officiant, which overlooks the corpse of the physical body, recalls the image of Time, the head cutter, who towers over the body of Shiva, apparently dead. The goddess who cuts, who instructs the rite (like Hera in the Dionysian myth) and the Goddess who protects, are finally two moments of the same function: mother-stepmother and guardian-teacher, tabernacle of the sacred heart of the initiate - or Mary the tabernacle of God, Catholics will say, is responsible for the preservation of the body and blood of the Son, that devotees are called to divide (dismember) and eat.

Representation of Ganesha, circa 1810. Via Wikipedia.

If therefore in common practice, the figure of Ganesha presides over the beginning of everything, if it is found at the door of houses and businesses, if it is invoked at the beginning of every devotional ritual, as the first image to pay homage to, the place of Ganesha is right on the threshold, because he IS the threshold.

Like the syllable Aum, it is the beginning of everything, the beginning of the sacred path, indicating the mental and spiritual posture with which the undertaking we wish to accomplish will be successful: self-sacrifice, the abandonment of all attachment and all selfishness, and a firm and crucial entrusting of one's salvation and conscious continuity to the divine Mother, who will guard the heart of her child / devotee, until the transformation is complete. Every work and every enterprise are therefore blessed by Ganesha as so many initiatory trials and occasions for evolution and spiritual transformation, to which obstacles will be as many means of elevation, and will be effectively overcome. Blessed with this symbol, the works will bring knowledge and richness, represented by the particular care that Ganesha reserves for learning, an activity of each novice, and for the many gifts he receives, the sweets that always accompany the jovial elephantine figure.

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Ganesha thus becomes lord and commander of the demons, of the desires that move the common man and that subject him to the tests of life. At the end of the celebrations for Ganesha, the autumn period of celebration of the dead begins, according to the Hindu calendar, called Pritu Paksha. During the fourteen days of the waning moon, the ancestors are remembered invoking for them the elevation to the celestial worlds and offering alms and food to the poor or to the temples that will redistribute them, because it is believed to offer them in this way to the souls of the departed.

It therefore seems to take back in the facts what the sacred image had summarized: the devotee is called to dismember a part of his material goods - the nourishment of the body - in favor of the demons who, in a broad sense, inhabit the ancestral world. The souls and instances from which we inherit a karmic debt that moves, for better or for worse, our life projects, successes and failures, ask to share food with us, so that their hunger may be appeased. In the course of life, thanks to our work and the care of family ties, present and past, the nourishment we share with them, we become aware of the hereditary components, and of the long karmic chains that bind us to this world, and thanks to compassion, finally, free yourself.

At the end of Pritu Paksha, which ends with the New Moon (Amavasya), the period of Navaratri begins, the nine nights dedicated to the worship of the divine Mother. How about it The Golden Ass of Apuleius, at the end of his labors the initiate can see the great Goddess directly and sing Her praises, healed and in full consciousness. In the tale of Apuleius, Lucius finally loses the donkey's head, which had been imposed on him by a spell at the beginning of the initiatory event, in order to find his human form: the ritual dismemberment is concluded, the unity of the initiate is rediscovered. Here ends the story of the Hero, in the unity of being, freed from demons and ignorance, in adoration by the universal Mother.

If the spring Navaratri ends with the birth of Rama (Ram Navami), symmetrically inverse, the autumn one is preceded by the birth of the son / initiate Ganesha, ending with the celebration of Durga, the victorious, the inaccessible, the one who puts an end to suffering. After dismemberment, integration, after separation and discrimination, compassion and integration into non-dual unity.

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