Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Maenads

"The most notorious feminine form of Dionysian worship, the oreibaia, or winter dance, looks to modern eyes like a crude pantomime of feminist revolt. In mythical accounts, women "called by the god to participate drop their spinning and abandon their children to run outdoors and into the mountains, where they dress in fawn skins and engage in a 'frenzied dance.' These maenads, as Dionysus's female cult members were called, run through the woods calling out the name of the god, or uttering the characteristic bacchic cry 'euoi' they toss their hair and brandish their thyrsos - sticks to which pinecones have been attached. Finally, they achieve a state of mind the Greeks called enthousiasmos - literally, having the god within oneself - or what many cultures in our own time would call a "possession trance." These were not solely mythical events; in some times and places, the oreibasia was officially condoned and scheduled for every other year, in the dead of winter. Pausanias, who wrote in the second century CE, tells of a party of maenads who reached the eight-thousand foot summit of Mt Parnassus - an impressive athletic achievement, especially if performed in the winter - and Plutarch wrote of an occasion when a group of female worshippers were cut off by a snowstorm and had to be rescued."

- Dancing the streets, p34-5

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