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.

Ancient Egyptian Religion – Part II

Ancient Egyptian Religion – Part II

This is the second post of a three part series the religion of the ancient Egyptians. Part one can be read here


There has been a long debate among Egyptologists regarding the degree to which ancient Egyptians considered the Pharaoh a god. The consensus at the moment seems to be that the ancient Egyptians viewed royal authority itself as divine. Thus, while recognizing that the Pharaoh was human and subject to human weakness, the ancient Egyptians simultaneously considered him a god, because he was the incarnation of the divine power of kingship. In this role, he acted as intermediary between the people of Egypt and the gods. He was essential to upholding Ma’at, both by maintaining justice and harmony in human society, and by sustaining the gods with temples and offerings. For these Pharaoh-Thutmose-III-Luxor-Museum.jpgreasons, one of the Pharaoh’s jobs was to oversee all state religious activity.

The Pharaoh was also associated with many specific deities. He was directly identified with Horus, who represented kingship itself, and was seen as the son of Ra, ruler and regulator of nature as the Pharaoh was the ruler and regulator of society. By the New Kingdom (1550–1069 BCE) the Pharaoh was also associated with Amun, the supreme force in the cosmos. Upon his death, the Pharaoh attained full godhood. In this state, he was directly identified with Ra, and was also associated with Osiris, god of death and rebirth who was the father of Horus. Many mortuary temples were dedicated to the worship of deceased pharaohs as gods.

The Journey of the Soul

The ancient Egyptians had intricate doctrines about death and the afterlife. They believed that humans possessed a ka, or life force, which left the body at the moment of death. In life, the ka received its sustenance from food and drink, so they believed that, to live on after death, the ka must continue to receive offerings of food, whose spiritual essence it could still absorb. Each person also had a ba, which consisted of those spiritual and personality characteristics that were unique to each individual. Unlike the ka, the ba BaKaAkhstayed attached to the body after death.

Egyptian funeral rituals were designed to release the ba from the body so that it could move freely, and to rejoin it with the ka so that, together, they could become the akh (meaning “magically effective one”), which they conceived of as mind as a living entity. Nevertheless, it was also important that the body of the deceased be preserved, as the ancient Egyptians believed that the ba returned to its body each night to renew itself, before emerging in the morning as part of the akh.

In early times, ancient Egyptians believed the deceased pharaoh ascended to the sky and dwelled among the stars. However, over the course of the Old Kingdom (c. 2686–2181 BC), he came to be more closely linked with the daily rebirth of the sun god Ra and with the underworld ruler Osiris, as those deities grew more important.

By the time the New Kingdom rolled around, ancient Egyptians believed that the ka and the ba had to escape an assortment of supernatural perils in the Duat (the realm of the dead), before submitting to a final judgment, known as the “Weighing of the Heart,” WeighingoftheHeartcarried out by Osiris and the Assessors of Ma’at.

This judgment consisted of, the gods comparing the actions of the deceased while alive (symbolized by the heart) to Ma’at, to determine whether he or she had behaved in accordance with the principles of Ma’at. If the deceased was judged worthy, his or her ka and ba were united into an akh. There were several coexisting beliefs about the destination of the akh. Frequently, the worthy dead were said to dwell in the realm of Osiris, a lush and pleasing land in the underworld. The solar vision of the afterlife, in which the deceased akh traveled with Ra on his daily journey, was still associated with royalty, for the most part, but could be extended to others as well. Over the course of the Middle and New Kingdoms, the notion that the akh could also visit the world of the living, and magically affect events there to a certain degree, became increasingly widespread.

Myth of Osiris, Isis, and Horus

The most important of all ancient Egyptian myths was the story of Osiris and Isis. It is the tale of the divine ruler Osiris, who was murdered by his jealous brother, Set, a god often identified with the forces of chaos. Osiris’ sister and wife, Isis, resurrected him so thatEyeofHorusPillars they could conceive an heir: Horus. Osiris then entered the underworld and became the ruler of the dead.

After he grew up, Horus fought and defeated Set to become king himself. The association of Set with chaos, and the identification of Osiris and Horus as the rightful divine rulers, provided a rationale for the succession of Pharaohs and set up the Pharaohs as the upholders of order. At the same time, the death and subsequent rebirth of Osiris was connected to the Egyptian agricultural cycle, in which crops grew in the wake of the flooding of the Nile, and also provided a template for the resurrection of the human ka and ba after death.

Another important motif in ancient Egyptian myth was the journey of Ra through the Duat each night. During the course of this journey, Ra would meet with Osiris, who served as an agent of regeneration, so that his life was renewed. Ra would also battle each night with Apep – a serpentine god that represented chaos. The defeat of Apep and the meeting with Osiris would ensure the rising of the sun the next morning, a daily event that symbolized rebirth and the victory of order over chaos.

Importance of Funerary Texts

Among the most notable and thoroughly preserved Egyptian writings are funerary texts designed to ensure that the deceased made it to a pleasant afterlife. The earliest of these are the Pyramid Texts. They are a loose collection of hundreds of spells, inscribed on the walls of royal pyramids during the Old Kingdom, which were intended to magically provide pharaohs with the methods by which they could take their place in the company of the gods in the afterlife. The spells appear in differing arrangements and combinations, and a handful of them appear in all of the pyramids.

EgyptainBookoftheDead

At the end of the Old Kingdom a new group of funerary spells, which included material from the Pyramid Texts, began to appear in tombs, but these were primarily inscribed on coffins. This collection of writings, known as the Coffin Texts, was not reserved for royalty, but turned up in the tombs of non-royal officials. In the New Kingdom, various new funerary texts emerged, of which the most well known is the Book of the Dead. Unlike the earlier texts, it frequently features extensive illustrations, or little scenes. The Book of the Dead was copied on papyrus and sold to the common people to be placed in their tombs.

The Coffin Texts included sections with detailed descriptions of the underworld, along with instructions on how to overcome its dangers. In the New Kingdom, this material inspired a number of “books of the underworld,” including the Book of Gates, the Book of Caverns, and the Amduat. Unlike the previous loose collections of spells, these underworld books are organized portrayals of Ra’s passage through the Duat, and through metaphor, the journey of the deceased’s ka and ba through the realm of the dead. These texts were originally restricted to the tombs of pharaohs, but in the Third Intermediate Period (1069–744 BCE) their use was widespread.

To be continued…