The Dionysian Artificers – Part 2

The Dionysian Artificers – Part 2

We discussed briefly, in Part 1, the text of the book, “The Sketch of the History of the Dionysian Artificers,” by Hippolyto Da Costa. The book, written in 1820, is the author’s take on where Freemasonry originated, and what the “guts” of Freemasonry’s teachings are about. However, no where in the text does Da Costa state this is about Freemasonry nor does he use the term Freemasons. What is this text attempting to say, and why should Freemasons care?

Let’s return to the myth of Dionysus. According to Mackey’s “The Symbolism of Freemasonry,” there were two myths of Dionysus and the one particularly noted to Freemasonry and the Dionysian Artificers is the one which involves the Titans. Dionysus had two births, according to some, including the Greek poet Nonnus, who has provided the account of his first birth and death. From Wikipedia…

“The Greek poet Nonnus gives a birth narrative for Dionysus in his late 4th or early 5th century AD epic Dionysiaca. In it, he described how Zeus “intended to make a new Dionysos grow up, a bullshaped copy of the older Dionysos” who was the Egyptian god Osiris. (Dionysiaca 4). 

Zeus took the shape of a serpent (“drakon“), and “ravished the maidenhood of unwedded Persephoneia.” According to Nonnus, though Persephone was “the consort of the blackrobed king of the underworld”, she remained a virgin, and had been hidden in a cave by her mother to avoid the many gods who were her suitors, because “all that dwelt in Olympos were bewitched by this one girl, rivals in love for the marriageable maid.” (Dionysiaca 5)[162] After her union with Zeus, Perseophone’s womb “swelled with living fruit”, and she gave birth to a horned baby, named Zagreus. Zagreus, despite his infancy, was able to climb onto the throne of Zeus and brandish his lightning bolts, marking him a Zeus’ heir. Hera saw this and alerted the Titans, who smeared their faces with chalk and ambushed the infant Zagreus “while he contemplated his changeling countenance reflected in a mirror…”

However, according to Nonnus, “where his limbs had been cut piecemeal by the Titan steel, the end of his life was the beginning of a new life as Dionysos.” He began to change into many different forms in which he returned the attack, including Zeus, Kronos, a baby, and “a mad youth with the flower of the first down marking his rounded chin with black.” He then transformed into several animals to attack the assembled Titans, including a lion, a wild horse, a horned serpent, a tiger, and, finally, a bull. Hera intervened, killing the bull with a shout, and the Titans finally slaughtered him and cut him into pieces. Zeus attacked the Titans and had them imprisoned in Tartaros. This caused the mother of the Titans, Gaia, to suffer, and her symptoms were seen across the whole world, resulting in fires and floods, and boiling seas. Zeus took pity on her, and in order to cool down the burning land, he caused great rains to flood the world (Dionysiaca 6).” 

Wikipedia: Dionysis

The first dating of Dionysus comes from approximately 13th Century BCE in Thrace, possibly migrated from Ionia. Mackey discusses in his chapter, “The Dionysiac (sic) Artificers,” how the rites of Dionysus, as it relates to the first death of Dionysus are nearly ubiquitous throughout the ancient world and how, over time, they have morphed into several rites which we are also familiar with – those of Osiris, Orpheus, and Mithras. After reading the passage above, it is hard not to see the connections in the death and symbolism connecting them together.

In one version of the myth, the events described above are directly attributed to Isis, Horus, and Osiris, with Horus taking the place of the Titans.  From some sources, it is speculated that Dionysus was the only foreign God to be accepted into the Greek pantheon, and that many believe this myth of Dionysus to be the source of all other mystery schools. What is fascinating is we have a 4th or 5th Century CE author, Nonnus, writing about a God that has been in human consciousness for nearly 2000 years, at the very least.

What does this have to do with Freemasonry? Much, if you take Da Costa’s take. From Pgs 5 and 6 of the “Dionysian Artificers,” we read:

Amongst those mysteries are peculiarly remarkable the Eleusinian. Dionysius, Bacchus, Orisis, Adonis, Thamuz, Apollo, etc., were names adopted in various languages, and in several countries, to designate the Divinity, who was the object of those ceremonies, and it is generally admitted that the sun was meant by these several denominations.

Let us begin with a fact, not disputed, that in these ceremonies, a death and resurrection was represented, and that the interval between death and resurrection was sometimes three days, sometimes fifteen days.

Now, by the concurrent testimony of all ancient authors the deities called Osiris, Adonis, Bacchus, etc. were names given to, or types, representing the sun, considered in different situations, and contemplated under various points of view.

Therefore, these symbolic representations, which described the sun as dead, that is to say, hidden for three days under the horizon, must have originated in a climate, where the sun, when in the lower hemisphere, is, at a certain season of the year, concealed for three days from the view of the inhabitants.

(sacred-texts.com: Dionysian Artificers)

The conjecture that the worship of the sun came from a climate (Persia, for example, Mithraic Rites) is, in Da Costa’s view, erroneous. The worship of the sun came from the northern-most climates, and thus came from Atlantis, as documented by Plato and, according to him, Socrates. While the origin of the Sun Worshiping rites is still open to debate in Da Costa’s work, he emphasizes that the numbers, in accordance with the Order of Nature, are important and that the mysteries themselves are teaching their initiates about the cycle of life and death. If we are to believe that these mysteries came from Atlantis, then the one common language that could have been passed through the ages is numbers and symbols, as expressed through the laws of nature which all Earth inhabitants share.

Da Costa continues to trace the lineage of the mystery schools through the modern day, including how the worship of the Sun and Dionysian Rites in particular became associated with the art of building and architecture. From the book, again, pages 30-32:

About fifty years before the building of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, a colony of Grecians, chiefly Ionians, complaining of the narrow limits of their country, in an increased population, emigrated; and having been settled in Asia Minor, gave to that country the name of Ionia. 

No doubt that people carried with them their manners, sciences, and religion; and the mysteries of Eleusis among the rest. Accordingly we find that one of their cities, Byblos, was famed for the worship of Apollo, as Apollonia had been with their ancestors. 

These Ionians, participating in the improved state of civilization in which their mother country, Greece, then was, cultivated the sciences, and useful arts; but made themselves most conspicuous in architecture, and invented or improved the order called by their own name Ionian.

These Ionians formed a society, whose purpose was to employ themselves in erecting buildings. The general assembly of the society, was first held at Theos; but afterwards, in consequence of some civil commotions, passed to Lebedos. 

This sect or society was now called the Dionysian Artificers, as Bacchus was supposed to be the inventor of building theatres; and they performed the Dionysian festivities. They afterwards extended themselves to Syria, Persia, and India. 

From this period, the Science of Astronomy which had given rise to the symbols of the Dionysian rites, became connected with types taken from the art of building.

(sacred-texts.com: Dionysian Artificers)

As the migration of the Artificers coincided with the building of the Temple of Jerusalem, Da Costa speculates that the building afforded a new way to communicate the mysteries, and thus tied together the mysteries of ancients with a legend of Hiram Abiff. Additionally, Da Costa alludes to the idea that the Artificers might have had a hand in building or advising on the Temple’s completion. He states that the Temple represents the “Universal System of Nature.” In other words, the study of the Temple’s actual layout may symbolize the whole of the cosmos in the Hermetic principle of correspondence: “As Above, So Below.”

Da Costa concludes his paper very quickly and simply: With the advent of religions, and science, the ideas of the ancients faded into obscurity.

In the tenth century, during the wars of the crusades, some societies were instituted in Palestine, and Europe, which adopted some regulations resembling those of the ancient fraternities. But is was in England, and chiefly in Scotland, where the remains of the old system, identified with that of the Dionysian Artificers, were discovered in modern times.

sacred-texts.com: Dionysian Artificers

Again, without discussing Freemasonry, Da Costa specifically calls out Freemasonry as a repository of the Dionysian Artificers and any student of modern Freemasonry would recognize many of the hallmarks of the mystery schools. In many places, and some even to modernity, regard these ancient mystery schools as heresy, atheism, or paganistic idolatry. A fascinating read, to accompany reading the Dionysian Artificers, is a section from the Theosophical Society’s website, entitled “Part 1 – The Mystery Schools” from the book “The Mystery Schools,” by Grace F. Knoche (Second Edition: 1999). While this is, of course, a decidedly Theosophical take on the origin and meaning of Mystery Schools, it can give the reader a very different view from the propaganda that has been surfaced through the ages and has influenced our modern thinking about Mystery Schools.

My take is, that in short, the Dionysian Artificers were and are those who are working to keep the venerable Mysteries alive; this is ancient knowledge passed down to us to use to live and to prepare for our own deaths. It’s knowledge of the world we are a part of, and if we listen closely can affect us in profound ways. Nature teaches us to live but more importantly, She teaches us to move through life to our inevitable destiny, and beyond. The stories repeated by the Artificers are not necessarily meant to provide profound enlightenment and help us all transcend to a perfect heaven or afterlife. The Artificers are those who work to continue the refinement of the human species and, over time, help us to move in concert with Nature & Science, and be the best version of Humanity. If that is the goal of the Artificers, perfecting humanity, then it seems that Freemasons are the modern Artificers, just as Da Costa, 100+ years ago, theorized.

The Dionysian Artificers – Part 1

The Dionysian Artificers – Part 1

A wise and elder Freemason presented a talk long ago on creation, and the term “Dionysian Artificers” was noted in the essay. Ears perked up. I had never heard of this, them, whatever they were. As an occultist, writer and researcher, there is always something delectable in the unknown. Mystery schools and Greek Mythology. What gets better than that?

The first stop in exploration is the god of wine’s name, Dionysus. He is most famously known for being the god of wine, but he is also associated with fertility, the theater, madness, cultivation, and religious ecstasy. It is the latter part which is fairly intriguing. Dionysus, or Bacchus for the Romans, was the instigator of drunken festivals and debauchery. Or so Hollywood and sensationalists would have us all think. While is is generally accepted that Dionysian festivals were revelries of drink, they were, for true adherents, a special ritual in finding personal boundaries, learning the joys of freedom and free nature,  and knowing the limits of the psyche. There is a reason he is known as the “god of the epiphany.” In addition, being the inventor of theatre, there is a certain drama that is associated with Dionysus; this is important as we explore the part that Greek Tragedy and Comedy played in the morality teachings of generations of Greeks.

The word artificer comes from the Latin artificium, or one who “makes art. A craftsman.” This is more than what modern ears would typically associate with one who makes art. The artificer was a master craftsman; skill in making shoes and bread was as much an art as one who paints or writes. When the goods of everyday life were crafted, they were built by hands to last lifetimes. This takes a great deal of skill, or art. Anyone who crafts goods with care, detail, and skill is an artificer.

Then, what is a Dionysian Artificer? Well, one would think it could be a craftsman of mystery, a builder of ecstasy or theatre, ritual madness or wine-soaked festivals. However, for our purposes here, we are speaking of a real society of people, Greeks, who perpetuated the ancient mysteries as found in Eleusis and Egypt at least according to one 19th century author.

Hippolyto da Costa was a Brazilian journalist, author, and Freemason who, in 1820, published an essay entitled “The Sketch for the History of the Dionysian Artificers.” This essay was an attempt to prove that modern Freemasonry derived from ancient Greek philosophical and religious ideas. Da Costa (1774-1823) was imprisoned for being a Freemason by the Inquisition in Portugal in 1802; he escaped in 1805. “The Sketch” is a relatively short book, 104 pages, and no where in it does he specifically talk about Freemasonry. In fact, he never really discusses who the Dionysian Artificers really are. What I deduce is that they aren’t a single, unified “group.” The book starts off thus:

“When men were deprived of the light of revelation, those who formed systems of morality to guide their fellow creatures, according to the dictates of approved reason, deserved the thanks of mankind, however deficient those systems might be, or time may have altered them; respect, not derision, out to attend the efforts of those good men; though their labors might have proved unavailing. In this point of view must be considered an association, traced to the most remote antiquity, and preserved through numberless vicissitudes, yet retaining the original marks of its foundation, scope, and tenants.

It appears, that, at the very early period, some contemplative men were desirous of deducting from the observation of nature, moral rules for the conduct of mankind. Astronomy was the science selected for this purpose; architecture was afterwards called in aid of this system; and its followers formed a society or sect, which will be the object of this enquiry.”

In general, Da Costa states that the community that formed these rules created, via the vehicles of the local mythology, morality plays, symbolism, and a code of ethics that was transmitted to wider humanity via the mystery schools which worshiped the sun, most notably Eleusinian, Dionysus, Bacchus, Osiris, Adonis, Thamuz, and Apollo – again, in their forms as representing the sun. He goes on to explain his theory and where he derives his sources, which are numerous and intriguing. It’s almost difficult to track the speed at which he ties it all together, neatly discussing the death and resurrection experienced by the sun is to teach us all about the death and resurrection of all living things, and humans in particular. He talks in detail about philosophical ties to the mysteries and how, over time, these teachings have morphed. Of interest is his discussion of the procession of the equinoxes and the ties all these mysteries seem to have with Persia and its teachings.

“The emerging of the sun into the lower hemisphere, and its returning, was contemplated either as proof of or as a symbol of the immortality of the soul; one of the most important, as well as the most sublime tenets of the Platonic Philosophy.

The doctrines of the spirituality and immortality of the soul, explained by those symbols, were very little understood, even by the initiated; thus, we find some of them took those types to signify merely the present body, by their descriptions of the infernal abodes; whereas, the true meaning of these mysteries inculcated the doctrine of a future state of the soul, and future rewards and punishments; and that such were the doctrines of those philosophers show by many and indisputable authorities.

The union of the soul with the body was considered as the death of the soul; its separate as the resurrection of the soul; and such ceremonies and types were intended to impress the doctrine of the immersion of the soul into matter, as is well attested. “

Remember, this was written 1820. The Inquisition was still in full force in the Catholic Church and Da Costa was a Catholic, and knew full well the touch of the Inquisition’s force for the presumed crime of being a “Free-Mason” in Lisbon. Other than writing about his time in the Inquisition’s grip, and “The Sketch,” Da Costa is known mostly for his influence on Brazilian journalism. The worldcat.org website does have some references on him for anyone wanting to know more about him. Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, briefly mentions him. He published several books in Portuguese about Freemasonry.

“The Sketch of the Dionysian Artificers” is a fascinating book for anyone interested in knowing about Freemasonry’s origins and it lays out, for Freemasons, a clear indication of the origins of many of the symbols and symbolic activities contained in its rituals. A copy of the essay can be had from http://sacred-texts.comhere. There is also an edition wherein Manly Palmer Hall wrote an essay about the Myth of Dionysis, which has some continued insights from a modern perspective. Even more fascinating is following the links to the primary texts and sources whence Da Costa draws his conclusions. In the next part, we’ll explore the text itself and encapsulate what Da Costa was proposing regarding the origins of Freemasonry.