Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Ode to Joy Game: Move 9

It's been long enough since my last post in this series that I should probably give a quick recap.  This is an extended Glass Bead Game in which an initially blank set of interconnected spaces is gradually "filled in," each with an idea that can be expressed graphically...

...but also can be talked about in words (here's discussion on moves 1-3; here's move 4, then move 5, then 6 and 7, then the 8th one).  The fun of this exercise is in making sure that the spaces connected by lines correspond to ideas that can be "linked" to one another, too.  This particular game is being played using Charles Cameron's Hipbone board, which has 10 spaces in a pattern the occultishly-minded among you may recognize.  As you can see, we're getting close to the end now.

My 9th, penultimate move is to place Ergot Fungus into the most upper-right space.

I hear you all saying "Ergot what now?"  Bear with me.

Ergot is a fungus that grows mainly on rye, barley, and wheat plants.  Thus, it's been a problem for farmers ever since Neolithic people started settling down in agricultural communities.  (My image for it above is really just an icon for wheat... it's hard to find a picture of ergot itself that doesn't make you want to go take a shower.)

But here's the thing: if you ingest some grain products that were infested with ergot, you can experience a huge range of symptoms.  In large doses, it's disgustingly poisonous.  In medium doses, there's nausea, seizures, and manic delirium.  In smaller doses, it acts as a psychedelic hallucinogen.  Ergot poisoning was called "St. Anthony's Fire" in the Middle Ages, and it's been blamed for the "bewitched" behavior that set off the Salem witch trials.

It's also rumored that some kind of ergot drug was given to the initiates of the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries. 

I could go on for several posts about the Greek mystery cults... I just think they were the coolest thing ever.  (I once got an article published about one of them in a "real" book, but that's a story for another time.)  In Eleusis, people were initiated into secret rites over a continuous period of almost 2000 years.  They kept their secrets so well that we still don't know a lot of what went on there.  We do have some snippets:  There was a mystery play involving Hades' abduction of Persephone, and the goddess Demeter's long search for her daughter.  The initiates fasted, listened to songs and speeches, and finally were shown sacred objects that conveyed the deepest mystical truths.  We know what one of them was:  "an ear of corn, in silence reaped."

These snippets have been speculated upon for centuries.  One reasonable idea is that Persephone's annual travels -- going down to Hades for part of the year, returning to the upper world in spring -- symbolizes the annual cycle of agriculture. (John Barleycorn, anyone?)  It was certainly a big deal for mankind to harness this particular aspect of the natural world, and seeing the spring come around again can certainly engender a feeling of awe.  You know what tomorrow is.

The suggestion that initiates had their mystical experience served up with some psychoactive ergot kind of suggests the Eleusinian hierophants were the original Merry Pranksters.  Those going in search of a direct experience of the divine have often made use of dangerous substances... and dangerous practices.  Putting the substances aside, it's always seemed to me that the rituals of mysticism and magic are, to an extent, a deliberate means of driving oneself crazy.  Mysticism: through the depriving of the brain of its usual worldly inputs.  Magic: through the overloading of the brain with too many inputs.

Anyway, there's a lot more I could talk about, but I'll leave it there.  I haven't had any of these direct experiences, but it is kind of comforting to know they're "out there" firming up a wider world than our usual everyday consciousness sees.  Here's a fascinating scholarly blog that discusses all this stuff in more depth.

Lastly, here are the links to the other connected ideas on the game board:  To the Olympic Spirit below, there's the fact that both the mystery cults and the original ancient Games were both religious festivals that tell us a lot about the Hellenic pagan world.  To the Queen of the Night to the left, we know that this character from Mozart's Magic Flute was the chief priestess of a kind of pagan cult of sorts, and the hero Tamino is put through some psychedelic initiations of his own.  To Beethoven's Ode to Joy in the central spot... well, let me just copy and paste a bit of the etymology of the word ecstasy:
ecstasy (n.) 
late 14c., "in a frenzy or stupor, fearful, excited," from Old French estaise "ecstasy, rapture," from Late Latin extasis, from Greek ekstasis "entrancement, astonishment; any displacement," in New Testament "a trance," from existanai "displace, put out of place," also "drive out of one's mind"
I'm out of my mind with excitement for the final move in the game.  I'm not sure I'll get to it prior to Friday's planned post as a part of Squid's Cephalopod Coffeehouse, but we'll see.


  1. '(I once got an article published about one of them in a "real" book, but that's a story for another time.)'

    Interest piqued.

    So, you have the final move already lined up, eh? I can see why, with everything else you have going on, you might not be able to get to it before Friday. This post had a lot of 'meat.' I imagine the culmination will be even more ambitious!

    1. I don't know if there's much of a story about that book. I'm still keeping up my pseudonymity here, too, so I'll leave the deets for other venues. :-)

      We'll see about future posts. I finished reading my Coffeehouse book last night, and have the post about half done. The GBG finale will harken back to my initial idea for crowdsourcing to be a part of this game...

  2. Ugh, I've been so behind on things. Moving is awful and I'll never be done unpacking. I'm glad I at least didn't miss the last move! I can't wait to see it...I don't even have an idea anymore of what you might put there, LOL...

    1. Moving stinks. (I'm still waiting on a job prospect that would require moving 2000 miles, so it's on my mind a lot, too...)

      About the final move in the game, I'll resist the urge to rub my hands together and go "muhahaha..."