The Greater Dionysia

A Thespian Festival of Dionysos


The Gathering


The People should gather with the Sacra necessary for the ritual. The Barley, the Knife, the Fire, the Cup, the Water, the Wine, the Incense, the Thyrsis, and the Food. Also a Book or Scroll, if necessary. For this ritual the people may wear masks if they wish, but dress with decorum; wreathes of ivy are appropriate, or wreathes of flowers. Both comedy and tragedy may be represented, but tragedy is the primary focus. 

The Sacral Feast may, for this ritual, include goat or beef. Raisons are also appropriate, dried figs, and barley bread, and anything spiced with saffron.


The Pompe


The Incense is lit, then, in the order dictated by the order of the Sacra, as listed above, the People are lead by the Priest to the Temenos, or Sacred Precinct, containing the altar of sacrifice. At the entrance to the Temenos, each person performs the khernips, or hand-washing, then moves in a counterclockwise direction to form a circle around the bomos, or altar. 

After the chernips, everyone remains silent until the Priest cries out:


"Hekas, o hekas, este bebeloi!"


The People Reply:


"Let All That Is Profane Be Far From Here!"


The Lighting


The Priest cries out:


 "Paresmen time, sonta tas theas kai tous theous."


The People Reply:


"We Are Here To Honor the Gods and Goddesses."


The Priest then lights the fire on the altar, which should have been laid out beforehand. Most properly this would be done with a pure flame brought from the altar of Hestia, but this may not always be practical; and there are specific rituals in which the fire should be lit otherwise.


The Scattering


The Barley is passed counterclockwise and each person takes some and tosses it upon the altar. The remaining barley is placed nearbye.


The Mixing


The Libation bearers move to either side of the Priest and the Wine and Water is mixed.

The Priest says:


"Theasthe ta hudata biou."


The People Reply:


"Behold the Waters of Life!"


The First Libation


The Priest says:


"Hestia, Thine is always the first and the last."


Some of the mixture in the cup is poured out on the altar, then the cup is passed around counterclockwise, each person taking a sip in offering to Hestia, or touching a drop to his or her forhead in offering, and repeating the above formula of offering to Hestia. The Priest takes a last sip, and the remaining part is poured out on the altar.





The Priest cries out:

"Koimeson stoma!" 

The People Reply:

"We will stop up our mouthes!" 

(The People then maintain silence through the Hymnodia)


Here should be recited or sung the Second Homeric Hymn to Dionysos, in the order set by Athanassakis, Homeric Hymn #7.


The Second Libation


The Libation Bearers again mix water and wine. The Priest offers up the cup and says:


"Dionysos, this Libation is for You, in the hope that You will join us here today."


The Priest pours some of the mixture on the altar, then passes the cup counterclockwise. When the libation returns to the Priest he takes a last sip, and the remaining part is poured out on the altar.


The Sacrifice


The Sacred Victims (To Hierion) are brought forward. The Priest touches each thing to be offered with the sacrificial knife.

Each one who is making an offering may say, as it is offered:


"Lambane kai heydou anathema mou,"


or simply:


"Accept and Delight in my Offering."


Each one may also add any particulars he or she feels necessary, such as requests or thanksgivings.

When all offerings have been made, the Priest says:


"Lambane kai heydou anathemata heymown."


Response: "Accept and Delight in Our Offerings."


In Ancient Times we are told that at "The Blow," that is, when the sacrificial knife stuck the victim, the women ululated. It is appropriate in our own times for the women to do so after this last response, this having the effect of a kind of cheer.


The Ritual Reply


For this ritual it is appropriate to have an appointed Torchbearer, but if a torch is not possible, then the Priest may take this role and substitute the Thyrsis for the Torch. Whichever Official, he then cries out to the people:


"Call on the God!"


Response: "Son of Semele, Iacchos, Giver of Wealth!"


The Agon 

This is the part of the ritual where the most variables occur. In Ancient Times this would be the place for the Sacrificial Dances, such dances filling the time while the priests cut up the sacrificial bull and put the appropriate choice parts upon the sacrificial fire; the Blow itself was the sacral moment. 

In our Greater Dionysia, the Agon is the Dramatic Presentation; which is understood to feature Tragedy, but which may include a comic presentation at the end, in the manner of a Satyr Play.  

People should observe the manners of a good audience and pay attention to the presentations. The point of the drama is to become submerged in the action to the degree that one's feelings are thoroughly engaged, resulting in a katharsis. This is the time of year for the purgation of grief, rage, terror, and all other of the dark emotions. What one learns from the Tragedy is gnossis, not intellect. This is not the time for critical evaluation of the performance. This is the time for the Little Madness, the participation of the heart in the awful destinies of the characters. Let yourself feel.


The Sacral Feast 

There was a time when Men and Gods supped together. In making Sacrifice and in the exercises of the Agon we have called upon the Deity to join us. When the Agon is done, the Sacral Feast is set and everyone eats. This can be something as simple as bread and wine, or as elaborate as a many course banquet. The important thing to remember is that this is a communion not only between mortal and Deity but between the mortals who share the feast as well. We are all joined in koinonia, in the community formed by the ritual, by the sharing of the Sacral Feast. 

Everybody eats. 

Note: If there is to be a comedy after the tragedy, it may be reasonable to break, enjoy the feast, and continue to eat during the performance. On the other hand, after a good tragedy, people may not feel like eating until the comedy has restored them.


The Libation of Thanks


The Libation Bearers mix wine and water again. The Priest leads the people in giving thanks to the God, letting individuals speak at will. Then the Priest offers up the cup, saying:


"Dionysos Kharin echomen soi."


Some of the mixture in the cup is poured out on the altar, then the cup is passed around counterclockwise, each person taking a sip in offering to Dionysos, or touching a drop to his or her forhead in offering, and saying:


"Dionysos, Hilathi!"

(Dionysos Be Propitious!)


"Dionysos, Sponde!"

(Dionysos, a Libation to You)

or simply

"Dionysos, we thank You."


The Priest takes a last sip, and the remaining part is poured out on the altar.


The Final Libation


The Libation Bearers mix wine and water one final time. 

The Final Libation is offered to Hestia, with the words:


"Hestia, Thine is always the first and the last."


It is offered in the same manner as the first, but when the Priest pours out the last of it upon the altar, he cries out:


"Houtos heksoi!"


The Response is:


"Houtos heksoi,"


or simply: "So Be It!"


This is the End of the Ritual.



--Pyrocanthus, 4 March 1999

Th.O.C. 9

Revised Very Slightly 14 March 2001

Thiasos Olympikos 12




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