A Rite of Cleidomancy


Maenads were priestesses of Dionysus - part of the retinue who followed Dionysus around on his travels and partook in his orgiastic revels.

Maenads were perhaps best known for their rather violent habit of descending on the poor unfortunates who crossed their path - whether they be animal, child, or man - and tearing them limb from limb and devouring their flesh. Clothed in crowns made of leaves (ivy, oak, fir, or grape) and the skins of animals (most usually fawns), Maenads were portrayed as both carefree and vengeful.

Although the fact that they were devoted to Dionysus implies that their abandonment and violence were a result of drunkenness, Robert Graves in his book The White Goddess maintains that Maenads (along with the other followers of Dionysus - the satyrs and sileni) were particularly fond of ritually eating psychedelic mushrooms (amanita muscaria) and that this substance was the cause of their muscular strength (to rip individuals from limb to limb), their erotic power, delirious visions, and their gift of prophecy.

In the spirit of their nymph heritage of tutelage as well as their endowment of delirious visions and prophecy, I've hatched the following "divinatory" rite. Instead of focusing on their better-known drunken aspects, this rite makes use of the "drink" as a device to extract the lesser known legacies of these creatures.

(Note: The Introduction and the Rite are a truncated revised version of the "God of the Month" column on Maenads that appeared in the Kallisti Catalyst.)

The Rite:

1. Simulating the travels of Dionysus, prepare to go on a "pub crawl" visiting several establishments, whether they be bars, cafes, parties, or whatever suits your fancy. Do use some common sense, given the modern world, and don't become so intoxicated that you put yourself in danger - i.e., do not drive nor would I advocate even becoming so drunk that walking itself becomes a danger. The purpose of this rite is not out-and-out drunkenness but knowledge.

2. Procure some sort of container you can take with you and also a notebook for recording. As you visit your chosen venues and drink (what you drink is up to your own discretion and taste), commit a small sample of each drink you imbibe in to the container as a "sacrifice." With every drink, pay attention to your surroundings and write down something you have learned in the time span it takes to finish that drink - whether it be a sudden flash of thought or a particularly notable (and preferably out of context) phrase you overhear.

3. In order to best emulate the Maenad archetype, this rite would be better done in a group rather than alone, and the atmosphere should be one of conviviality. It would be best if others in the group were participating in the rite as well, although it is not necessary. But if others are participating, do not share your notebook insights with them until after the rite is fully completed. At the end of the pub crawl, you should have a reasonably full container (the Container of Catharsis) and a notebook of random samples of thought. At a later date, while not besotten, contemplate on both of them to see what insight you have gained from this vino-gnosis.

4. The Container of Catharsis can be kept and used later as a sort of "smelling salt" when in need of drunken catharsis in lieu of actually having to go out and get drunk. Undoubtedly, the aroma of a mixture of various souring alcoholic drinks will supply a rather noxious catharsis all on its own.


The Maenads are destructive beings, and in doing this rite, I have had some really surprising and disturbing results. But the catharsis and insight produced, although destructive in nature, was akin to the Tower card in the tarot: the destruction was made to form a new foundation. Basically, though, I add this warning to indicate that this should not be undertaken lightly as the results, like the Maenads themselves, are unpredictable. Vive la Chaos!

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