Beginning with an overview of the conceptual system current among a significant proportion of 20th-century practitioners of ritual magic, and then proceeding along thematic lines, this paper attempts to historicize the semantics of one archetypal magical implement and symbol – the Cup, or chalice – that may, by sheer familiarity if not a priori, appear intuitively to simply belong to it. This paper demonstrates that the Cup’s fundamental signification, present in its prehistoric ritual origins, is that of a conduit for powers, in themselves immaterial but often with material consequences, received from a divine or spiritual source. These powers are ascribed different qualities depending upon the particular culture and context in which they are invoked – life, sovereignty, wisdom, and more have all been embodied in, or attributed to, the Cup or its contents – but their common source is an Otherworld.
The 19th-Century Magical Synthesis
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, despite its relatively short existence as a coherent organization under that name, has arguably been the greatest single influence upon the theory and practice of ritualized magic in the 20th century. This, in turn, could plausibly be credited to its ingenious synthesis of philosophical and operative mystical systems drawn from throughout Western history. Long after its acrimonious dissolution, the Golden Dawn’s ‘learned’ approach to magic lives on among similar fraternal bodies influenced by its former members, solitary practitioners, and certain forms of modern pagan religion. Hutton argues that the novelty of the Golden Dawn’s system lay in its application of ritual methods drawn from traditions of essentially utilitarian magical practice to spiritual ends of a more purely theurgic nature.1)Hutton, R., The Triumph of the Moon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 82. It is the historical expression of one particular conceptualization of this idea of union with divinity that this paper will address.
The method by which Golden Dawn-style magic seeks to effect its ends is one of manipulating symbols, the semantic values of which resonate with certain non-physical powers. Ceremonial magician William Gray characterizes the complex of symbols employed in magical ritual as ‘…a language and system of exchanging conscious energies between different levels of being’, wherein each particular symbol serves as ‘…a practical link between objective and subjective existence’.2)Gray, W. G., Magical Ritual Methods (York Beach: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1971), 35. In establishing this kind of correspondence between subject and object, below and above, microcosm and macrocosm, the existential plane which the practitioner addresses is often subdivided into intellectually manageable regions, interaction with which is mediated by iconic material analogues. A system of such correspondences commonly utilized in post-Platonic traditions is that whereby resonant symbols ‘…attached to the four quarters of a magical cosmos are the basis from which it is built…’.3)Ibid., 36. This fourfold framework can be extended to any number of analogous divisions of space, time, or substance. Schemes for dividing the metaphoric objects of thought into sets corresponding to more tangible representations are equally numerous. In the Golden Dawn, for instance, the four Empedoclean Elements of the cosmos are in turn manifested in the magician’s ritual work by a set of symbolic ‘weapons’ or tools.4)Regardie, I., The Golden Dawn (Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications, 2006), 47. These symbols, the Cup, Pentacle, Sword or Dagger, and Wand, correspond to the suits of the Tarot deck. Crowley, following Golden Dawn orthodoxy, ascribes the Elemental correspondences of the Tarot suits to a Qabalistic system of which, it is posited, the Tarot as a whole is an expression.5)Crowley, A., The Book of Thoth (York Beach: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2004), 18. cf. Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 540ff. We can turn now to the particular object of the present inquiry: the symbol of the Cup, and its Elemental analogue water.
Gray highlights the conductive symbolism of Elemental water, as ‘…a container and carrier of consciousness, linking up conscious energies between all life-forms. Hence the cup as a Communion-Symbol’. Demonstrating how easily one metaphoric system can be mapped onto another, Gray proceeds to explicate the magical association of the Archangel Gabriel with water: ‘As the ‘Messenger’ he is a consciousness-carrier between Divine and human intelligence…. He is also a principle Fertility-figure as his name “The Potent of God” signifies, when his trumpet becomes a phallic Horn, the inside of which is the Cup, or female symbol’.6)Gray, Magical Ritual Methods, 72. The communicative power of the Cup/water is implicit in some form throughout virtually all of the mythological, historical, and religious contexts in which it is symbolically relevant: bodies of water, or the gods imminent therein, are channels for powers from beyond the mortal world; a cup passed among the men of an Anglo-Saxon warband binds them to one another in common loyalty to their chief; the cup is passed by Sovereignty herself to a new king. Gray makes the interesting suggestion that raising a glass in a toast to someone is akin to the magical act of forming a sympathetic bond with the celebrated person; conversely, in pouring a libation, the liquid carries something of oneself as an offering to the object of veneration.7)Ibid., 76-77.
Cups have likely been employed in magical operations since humans first found they could carry water in something besides the palms of their hands. Just one example from the historical record is the practice of vessel divination, as found in the 3rd-century CE Demotic magical papyri.8)Betz, H. D., ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), lvii, 195-200, 225-226. Within the Elemental system underlying much Golden Dawn ritual, the Cup is used in, and as, the manifestation of water, with connotations of passive receptivity, as well as generative productivity – seemingly contrary, if typologically feminine, capacities.9)Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 322. For example, in Regardie’s outline of the Temple furnishings for the initiatory ritual of the Neophyte grade, the Cup of Wine, placed to the west of the Red Cross of Tiphareth upon the Altar, is ‘…allied by its fluid form to the Element of Water’.10)Ibid., 334. It is explained elsewhere that the compass attributions of the Elements are ‘…derived from the nature of the winds…. [and] West winds bring with them moisture and rain’.11)Ibid., 283. In the visualization of the Sphere of Sensation during the Preparation for Divination, the ‘…receptive and negative forces of the Cup…’, balanced against the active, positive force of the Fiery Wands, are invoked in order to ‘…develop the perception of the symbology of the various forces’ present therein.12)Ibid., 453. Finally, the Cup appears in its (re)generative capacity in the microcosmic Body of Osiris on-Nophris, who declares ‘”…the Cup of Wine is the pouring out of the Blood of my Heart: sacrificed unto Regeneration, unto the Newer Life…”‘.13)Ibid., 334.
The interpolation of Eucharistic symbolism here seems obvious, and indeed, Western ritual magic as popularized by the Golden Dawn developed in a cultural milieu in which ideas about practical spirituality were deeply indebted to Jewish and Christian liturgy. The Eucharist itself is explicitly based upon the tradition of the Last Supper of Jesus and his Apostles, which in turn was a radical repurposing of the Passover meal. The question arises, then: how do communal meals, and particularly the aspect of drinking, come to be sacralized, or incorporated into sacred ritual?
The Sacrality of Socializing
The answer likely lies in the powerful social bonds effected through communal intoxication. In Anglo-Saxon societies, the highly formalized sharing of food and, especially, drink was a means of articulating social hierarchies, as well as signifying one’s belonging to a community, with all of the material and psychological benefits that entailed.14)Pollington, S., “The Mead-Hall Community”, Journal of Medieval History 37 (2011): 21, 29. The cup itself acquired prominence as a literary semiotic device for Anglo-Saxon audiences in the context of such socializing practices.15)Bellis, J., “The Dregs of Trembling, the Draught of Salvation: the Dual Symbolism of the cup in Medieval Literature”, Journal of Medieval History 37 (2011): 49. Magennis, H., “The cup as Symbol and Metaphor in Old English Literature”, Speculum 60 (1985): 518. Likewise for the Greeks, the krater, the large bowl in which wine was mixed for serving, was a definitive element of both the aristocratic drinking party (the symposion) and the komos (a semi-ritualized procession of drunken revelry), and was used by artists as visual shorthand for the group-solidarity of the figures depicted with it.16)Lissarrague, F., “Around the Krater: an Aspect of Banquet Imagery”, in Sympotica, ed. Murray, O. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 198-201.
In Germanic mead-hall culture, ‘[d]rinking from the same cup could be a token of a pledge, or a sign of a communal contract’.17)Bellis, “The Dregs of Trembling”, 49. One literary reflection of this may be visible in Volsunga Saga, with the golden cup Brynhild gives to Sigurd in her chamber seeming to signify their mutual marriage vow.18)Finch, R. G., ed. and trans., Volsunga Saga (Camden: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1965), 43. Another is Beowulf, who ‘…recognizes that circulation of the cup is a performative metaphor which requires the articulation of the contract. As soon as he has drunk from it, he pledges his service to the death…’, and failure to honor such a contract is shown to presage the society’s collapse.19)Bellis, “The Dregs of Trembling”, 50-51.
Beyond its obvious function in facilitating the social experience, alcohol could have a ritual role in the Greek symposion, including the pouring of libations which accompanied prayers to the gods.20)Henderson, W. J., “Aspects of the Ancient Greek Symposion“, Akroterion 45 (2000): 11. The krater, in addition to its fraternal connotations, also included sacrality among its symbolic values. The krater, and the wine it contained, could be regarded, in their own way, with the same degree of sober piety as the sacrificial altar, with occasional depictions of ritual featuring Dionysos juxtaposing the two objects.21)Lissarrague, “Around the Krater”, 204-205.
Burkert notes that the Biblical books of Jeremiah and I Samuel indicate that the Jerusalem Temple as well as the sanctuary at Shiloh incorporated banquet halls, and that halls of this type recorded archaeologically share formal characteristics with their Greek counterparts. Indeed, he argues that the symposion itself may have cultic roots, developing as a result of the establishment of communal temples and the segregation of a sacralized public space from the profane private household in the 8th century BCE.22)Burkert, W., “Oriental Symposia: Contrasts and Parallels”, in Dining in a Classical Context, ed. Slater, W. J. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 16-17. Not only wine, but beer, too, frequently had a sacral function in the ancient world. Records report that prophets of ancient Mari used beer to induce an ecstatic state, and it was also poured as a libation to the gods among Near Eastern cultures. Ancient Israelite cultic prescriptions were no exception, with ‘[š]ēkār, or beer,… libated to Yahweh twice daily (Num 28:7-10), and Israelites drank it at sacrificial meals (Deut 14:26)’.23)Homan, M. M., “Beer and Its Drinkers: an Ancient Near Eastern Love Story”, Near Eastern Archaeology 67 (2004): 84.
Looking yet further back in time, to 3rd-millennium BCE Mesopotamia, we find iconographic representations of a seated man and woman drinking from a common vessel; these have been interpreted as a royal couple, representing their divine counterparts, partaking of beer at a ceremonial harvest festival meal; this image type is eventually reproduced as far west as Cyprus by the 8th century BCE.24)Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 8-9. While this arrangement differs from both the symposion and mead-hall in that it expresses a monarchic rather than aristocratic milieu, this kind of public presentation of communal drinking is nonetheless a means of reinforcing elite identity within a social hierarchy. The Egyptian pantheon, also, was sometimes portrayed participating in celebratory communal drinking.25)Ibid., 10-11 Indeed, in one of the aforementioned vessel divination texts, once the gods have been summoned, the operator commands Anubis to ‘…[b]ring in a wine jar; open it for the gods! Bring in some bread! Let them eat, let them drink… let them make merry’.26)Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri, 198. More akin to the symposion, a men’s ceremonial feasting club, the marza’u, is known from Late-Bronze Ugarit.27)Ibid., 9.
Raising a Glass with the Gods
As we have seen, the cup is capable of numerous, sometimes contradictory significations – conviviality, debauchery, pious reverence – often simultaneously. This paradoxical quality is nowhere more powerfully utilized than in the Bible and the literary tradition that has drawn upon it for over two thousand years. A primary vector by which the cup’s Near Eastern and Hellenic complex of attributes were distilled and eventually reconnected with their Celtic and Germanic counterparts was the early Christian religion. Magennis notes the incorporation of explicitly Biblical conceptions of cups and drinking into extant cultural traditions in Anglo-Saxon literature.28)Magennis, “The cup as Symbol”, 518. In its cult practices and use of the Septuagint, both of which have their genesis in a Hellenized Palestinian Jewish context, as well as the composition of its own original sacred scriptures, the nascent Church would reproduce currents of symbolism surrounding the cup drawn from a spectrum of ideological contexts ranging from the Greek symposion, to the Jewish celebration of Purim, to the court rituals of Mesopotamian god-kings. Following its assimilation and eventual promulgation by the later Roman Empire, Christianity would carry its rich semiotic library to every corner of Europe and beyond. There, the syncretic processes which birthed the movement would continue, with sometimes familiar concepts reintroduced in alien guises.
Some scholars have emphasized the positive associations that wine, and hence the cup which represents it, held for Biblical authors, identifying in it a symbol of the earthly manifestations of divine providence.29)Ibid., 518. Indeed, in the original Hebrew of the Tanakh, ‘[t]he main word normally translated as “festival” or “banquet” means just “drinking”: mishtäh, from shatah: “to drink”…. The real essence of a festival is drinking’. Burkert further notes that ‘[a] “banquet” is “made” upon invitation by a lord, a king; sometimes all the people of the village or “city” are invited (Gen. 29.22)…’,30)Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 13. recalling the role of such gatherings in reinforcing a hierarchy in Germanic and Celtic societies.
In contrast to the essentially temporal boons and banes associated with the cup in Old Testament texts, or Greek and Germanic societies, for Augustine the Lord’s cup ‘…is the cup which brings forgetfulness of worldly things and allows men to live in Christ’.31)Magennis, “The cup as Symbol”, 522. It is illustrative of a stark contrast in world-views that, contrary to the values expressed by pre-Christian narratives, here the obviation of relations to the material world is regarded as prologue to the greatest good. Patristic commentators have also interpreted positive instances of the cup in Biblical passages as signifying redemption through Christ, most literally as the Eucharist itself, but also inter alia ‘…the life-giving death which Christ accepted’. This metaphor was further extended to Christian martyrdom generally, and eventually projected retrospectively upon Old Testament references to cups and wine.32)Ibid., 519-520.
Contrary to the view characterizing the cup as representative of worldly blessings, Bellis, citing for example the prophetic writings of Isaiah and Habakkuk, identifies the concept of the cup containing God’s wrath as the dominant theme.33)Bellis, “The Dregs of Trembling”, 48. Magennis notes that bitter wine, in particular, symbolizes the passions suffered by mortals. Contrasting with its primary signification of God’s favor, wine’s secondary, inverted, character is of God’s harsh justice, which sees its epitome in the ‘cup’ of Christ’s passion, suffered under the Father’s implicit will.34)Magennis, “The cup as Symbol”, 518-519. The Passion narrative actually features two distinct but interrelated cups: the one shared at the Last Supper, of salvation, and the one received on the cross, of judgment – with the former depending upon the latter.35)Bellis, “The Dregs of Trembling”, 48.
The Passion narrative expresses the indivisibility of the cup’s deadly and empowering possibilities, a contradictory nature by no means restricted to its liturgical hypostasis. As Bellis notes:
The problematic, painful symbolism attached to the Eucharistic cup became a pervasive metaphor for dichotomy in literary texts that depict the cup as a central metonym for communities…. representing the conviviality and treasure exchange that unite the mead-hall community, and the sacred grail quest that is the apotheosis of the Round Table fellowship. Sharing the cup is the symbol of the reciprocity between lord and thane, king and knight, God and man…. However… the cup that the lord gives his thanes obliges them to die for him; the highest honor that could come to the Round Table divides and destroys it.36)Ibid., 48.
Whereas the cup in the literature of the Germanic hall could undermine a community through human greed or ineluctable bonds of honor, ‘…the Grail pits loyalty against loyalty, constituting not just a higher imperative but an exclusive one, and undermining the fellowship from without’. The legendary Grail, guarded somewhere in Britain by a line of hidden kings, did not become explicitly identified with the cup of the Last Supper until Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathe.37)Ibid., 54. Once it had, the ambivalence of the cup, previously predicated upon relations within the community, becomes instead a consequence of the spiritual salvation it represents.
Even prior to the introduction of Christian influences, the powerful emotional and – seemingly supernatural – inspirational effects of alcohol caused it to be regarded as having something of a sacramental quality in Germanic cultures, ‘…both the pathway to the gods and the road to Hel’.38)Pollington, “The Mead Hall Community”, 20. Similarly, the Archaic Greeks regarded wine as ‘…a pharmakon which sends men mad if they do not control its consumption as regards strength and quantity. Only Dionysos can drink it neat without risk…’, and even centaurs and satyrs would be rendered mad, or at least unfit for civilized society.39)Lissarrague, “Around the Krater”, 202. Henderson, “Aspects of the Ancient Greek Symposion“, 20-22. Indeed, for the chorus in Euripides’s Bacchae, Dionysiac intoxication appears to have a virtually transfigurative effect, making it seem to them that ‘[t]he plain flows with milk, it flows with wine, it flows with the nectar of bees’, a power not unlike that ascribed to the Soma of the Ŗgveda.40)Buckley, T. A., trans., “Bacchae”, in The Tragedies of Euripides, ed. Buckley, T. A. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850), ll. 135-169, accessed February 15, 2013, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0092. Cf. Griffith, R. T. H., trans., The Hymns of the Ŗgveda (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd., 1999), book 8, hymn 48. The Ugaritic god El, too, is shown to be susceptible to alcohol, in one account becoming shamefully drunk at a banquet.41)Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 9. Despite poetic emphasis on the stimulating effects of wine, both poetic and prose sources advise moderation; the ideal symposion was an occasion for civilized, intellectual discourse.42)Henderson, “Aspects of the Ancient Greek Symposion“, 19 Only during the post-sympotic komos were men portrayed transgressing social norms, behavior signifying ‘…release, but also a proof and manifestation of their solidarity, virility, power and leisure as aristocrats….’.43)Ibid., 22.
The power that intoxication can hold over so many aspects of society and civilization is reified in a myth wherein Dionysos gets the smith-god Hephaistos drunk in order to return him to Olympus to release his mother Hera from the enchanted throne upon which he had trapped her.44)Cf. Kerenyi, K., The Gods of the Greeks (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2010), 157-158. Paintings of this narrative juxtapose the krater and vessels with Hephaistos’s tools, reminding the viewer that Dionysos may withdraw his safeguard if he wishes, in this case to subvert the technology for which Hephaistos is responsible to his own ends. In fact, the rare inclusion of the hydria (a jug holding water for mixing with wine) in Hellenic depictions of drinking scenes occurs only in association with Dionysos, a metonymical indicator of his power over the technology which ‘controls’ the wine.45)Lissarrague, “Around the Krater”, 203-204. Likewise, Hittite myth has the goddess Inaras making the dragon Illuyankas drunk in order to bind him, in which Burkert sees a distinction being made between civilization, with its control over alcohol, and brute nature.46)Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 11-12.
Valkyries and Loathly Ladies
Despite the centrality of wine to the androsocial symposion, Dionysos himself, in the myths of his upbringing as well as those of his frenzied worshipers, was a figure surrounded almost exclusively by women.47)Kerenyi, K., The Gods of the Greeks, 258-263. Moreover, a number of his epithets, such as arsenothelys, ‘man-womanly’, clearly allude to an androgynous or bisexual nature.48)Ibid., 273. Whether or not these attributes reflect an implicit gendering of the wine for which Dionysos was responsible, alcohol, and the cup which holds it, are closely associated with powerful female figures in the myths and legends of a number of cultures, often serving as a symbolic extension of womanly social, political, or supernatural agency.
For example, Porter sees a political role for Wealhtheow in Beowulf, where the order in which she serves the men of the hall their mead is ‘…directly tied into the rankings within the warband….’, and by always offering the cup to Hrothgar first, she is implicitly ‘…an extension of and support for his kingly power’.49)Porter, D. C., “The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf: a New Context”, The Heroic Age 5 (2001), accessed February 15, 2013, http://www.mun.ca/mst/heroicage/issues/5/porter1.html. The role of the lord’s lady in the social rituals of the mead-hall could also be that of mediator between hierarchical levels, including the drawing of outsiders into that hierarchy.50)Pollington, “The Mead Hall Community”, 28. Porter argues further that Wealhtheow has significant political influence independent of her husband, as her admonishments of Hrothgar and Beowulf are implicitly heeded, and ‘[h]er final words illustrate her self-confidence: “the troop, having drunk at my table, will do as I bid”(1231)’.51)Porter, “The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf“. Indeed, her words here implicitly claim a share for herself in possession of the mead hall. Even more strikingly, the ring she gives to Beowulf seems to place her on the same level as the ring-giving warlord himself. The ability of high-status women to administer grand dining rituals is exhibited in a very different context in the Biblical Book of Esther. Regardless of the accuracy with which this text depicts the 5th-century BCE court of Xerxes, it at least reveals a perception among Hellenized Jews that the Emperor’s wife could have held banquets of the same stature as those of her husband, and which could, like an inverted symposion, be open only to female guests.52)Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 14-15. Finally, Wagner notes textual evidence from 3rd-millennium BCE Sumer indicating that ‘…the economy of the Sumerian ensi or city-lord… lay largely in the hands of his wife whose house (é-mí “house of the woman”) may have been the secularized property of the goddess…’. Likewise, he suggests that queen Medb in the Tain Bó Cuailnge ‘…demanded an important share of responsibility in the administration of the household of the legendary capital of ancient Connaught’.53)Wagner, H., “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, Ériu 26 (1975): 13.
Arnold notes in passing that, despite a lack of material evidence regarding the norms surrounding alcohol production in the European Iron Age, documentary sources imply that it may have been a primarily female occupation.54)Arnold, “Drinking the Feast”, 87. Similar examples of gendered technologies are known even among present-day cultures, such as the iron-working industry of the east-African Toro.55)Childs, S. T., “‘After All, a Hoe Bought a Wife’: the Social Dimensions of Ironworking Among the Toro of East Africa”, in The Social Dynamics of Technology: Practice, Politics, and World Views, ed. Dobres, M.-A. and Hoffman, C. R. (London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999), 23-45. It has been argued that the organization and methods of material production act as loci of ideological signification, both reflecting and reinforcing value systems.56)Johnson, B. “Hammering Out an Agreement: Reconciling Processual and Post-Processual Theories of Technology”. Track Changes 1 (2011): 5-7. In this case, the implication may be a conceptualization of alcoholic drinks as reflecting some fundamentally feminine quality – a reasonable supposition, given that beer had been valued in the ancient world since at least the 4th millennium BCE for its life-giving nutritional qualities, in addition to its power to ‘…”[make] the liver happy, [fill] the heart with joy”…’ as one 2nd-millennium BCE hymn to Nikasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, relates.57)Homan, “Beer and Its Drinkers”, 84.
In Mesopotamian antiquity beer brewing was closely associated with its sale at inns, identified by circumlocutions like ‘house of the brewer’ or ‘house of the ale-wife’. These inns were also places where prostitutes quite publicly plied their trade.58)Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 12. Jacobsen, T., The Treasures of Darkness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 140. While a woman typically handled the vending side of the business, the brewer, if the word’s etymology is any indication, would usually have been a man. Nevertheless, at least mytho-historically, the ale-wife/female brewer (sabitu) could be ascribed special significance: Ku-Baba, founder of the fourth dynasty of Kish, was called an ‘ale-wife’, and Siduri, perhaps the most famous sabitu, aided Gilgamesh in his quest to find Utnapishtim.59)Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 12. The fact that the latter text goes on to state that ‘[t]hey made a jug for her, they made a mashing bowl of gold for her’ seems to imply that a sabitu did indeed do some brewing, as the named vessels have identifiable functions in the brewing process. Homan draws attention to archaeological and iconographic examples from Bronze-Age Egypt of bowls with perforated bases in which barley bread would be mixed with water, then strained through the hole into a receptacle jar to undergo fermentation.60)Homan, “Beer and Its Drinkers”, 88-89.
Simek notes several documentary sources referring to goddess idols among pre-Christian Slavic and Baltic peoples, which bore alcohol-filled drinking-horns as part of rituals to divine the outcome of the agricultural year.61)Simek, R., “Rich and Powerful: the Image of the Female Deity in Migration Age Scandinavia”, in Proceedings of the 11th International Saga Conference, ed. Barnes, G. and Clunies Ross, M. (Sydney: Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Sydney, 2000), 477. There are extant iconographic examples from Scandinavia, dating to the Migration Period and later, depicting female figures, sometimes identified as valkyries, holding drinking-horns, or offering one to an Odin-like figure on an eight-legged horse.62)Ibid., 475-476. The symbolic association of woman and drinking vessel was sufficiently well-established in Scandinavia by the 13th century so as to be a poetic convention when the Eddaic material was redacted into the textual forms we have today.63)Aguirre, M. “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”. Neohelicon 25 (1998): 292.
One such relatively late Scandinavian source which drew upon much older poetic material in addressing this polysemic figure is the 13th-century Volsunga Saga.64)Finch, Volsunga Saga, ix, xxxvi. In the Volsunga Saga, upon being awoken from her enchanted slumber by Sigurd, Brynhild gives him a cup of ale ‘…mixed with great power, mingled with fame, filled with versed charms and friendship runes, with goodly spells, with gay talk brimming’.65)Ibid., 35-36. Here, the power in the cup is the power inherent in the use of spoken and written language, a capacity widely appreciated as magical since the dawn of history, and demonstrated in antiquity by the proliferation of inscriptions regarded as inherently magical. Brynhild herself is clearly shown to possess a wealth of arcane knowledge and almost omniscient wisdom. She recites to Sigurd a litany of magical runes he should know, their functions, and the methods of employing them, along with more mundane, but no less pragmatic, advice.66)Ibid., 36-40. Later, the predictions she makes regarding the future fates of Sigurd, Gudrun, and herself all come to pass just as she had said.67)Ibid., 43, 46.
The tale of Sigurd and Brynhild also seems, in its narrative arc of love, jealously, and death, to reflect the contradictory nature we have come to recognize in the symbol of the cup. Aguirre sees a fundamentally cyclic activity in this symbol, arguing that ‘[t]his passage – speaking of a choice made by woman; of a cup given by her as a token of acceptance; and of a time when the choice shall be unmade – encapsulates the theme of the Drink Bearer’.68)Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 293. The duality exhibited here is carried over in virtually the same terms into the complex of the cup’s modern ritual symbolism: as Gray suggests, ‘[t]he Cup and Love go together. Love holds, pours out, comforts, cheers. It may also intoxicate, poison, embitter, and even slay’.69)Gray, Magical Ritual Methods, 74.
Brynhild is quite evidently touched by the supernatural, and this is but one example of the cup’s axial role in a ‘…hero’s meeting with an Otherworld woman’.70)Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 294. In the Medieval Irish Voyage of Mael Duin, the hero and his men are given drink, food, and companionship by the ladies of an island fortress, and offered the same for eternity, along with everlasting life.71)Stokes, W., ed. and trans., “The Voyage of Mael Duin”, Revue Celtique 10 (1889): 63-71. In both the Scandinavian and the Irish example, the proffered cup is essentially a token of the Otherworld lady’s love for the hero.72)Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 295. Not unlike Homer’s Calypso, however, and perhaps a conscious borrowing from the Odyssey‘s narrative, the Otherworldly queen in this Irish tale is unconcerned with reciprocity of affection, and attempts to detain the hero against his (or at least his crew’s) will. The association of the cup-bearer with immortality here echoes the figure of the Olympian goddess Hebe, whose name Kerenyi understands to mean ‘flower of youth’, who serves the gods their ambrosia.73)Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, 98. Murray, A. T., trans., Homer. The Iliad (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1924), book 4, ll. 1-5, accessed February 15, 2013, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0134. She formed a romantic bond with a hero as well, becoming the wife of apotheosized Heracles.74)Evelyn-White, H. G., trans., “Theogony”, in Hesiod. The Homeric Hymns and Homerica (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914), ll. 950-955, accessed February 15, 2013, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0130.
Immortality is only one way in which the cup may constitute a magical augmentation for the protagonist, either in preparation for some trial, as when Medea’s ointment gave Jason superhuman strength, or as reward for successful completion of some task, as when Gunnlod required Odin to lie with her before allowing him access to the mead of poetry. The latter case highlights the role of woman as gatekeeper, with her power to refuse an unworthy suitor.75)Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 295-297. We quite literally see the cup denied to an unworthy suitor in Odysseus’s slaying of Antinous as he is on the point of drinking from a cup of wine, effectively enacting the will Penelope had implicitly expressed through her delaying tactics.76)Ibid., 305. In Beowulf, both Thryth and Grendel’s mother can be seen as examples of the ordeal-keeping woman. Both habitually killed the men they encountered, and ‘[b]oth women are finally tamed, Thryth by her marriage to Offa, and Grendel’s mother by the death inflicted upon her by Beowulf’. The fundamental difference between their characters which leads to this divergence in their fates is that, unlike the essentially alien and antisocial troll-dam, ‘Thryth functions within society….She is also capable of change through the influence of society’.77)Porter, “The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf“. Circe’s lethean drink, too, can be regarded as a test, which only Odysseus passes, remaining himself and winning Circe’s assistance.78)Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 302. In regard to the often evaluative nature of the hero’s confrontation with the Otherworld woman, Segal makes the observation that ‘…Homer’s magic is still subordinate to human character…. Divine help, as often in Homer, only validates human heroism’.79)Segal, C., “Circean Temptations: Homer, Vergil, Ovid”, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 99 (1968): 426.
The themes of ordeal-keeper and chosen suitor as they relate to a symbolic drink are combined and extended in Niall’s encounter with the hag in The Adventure of Eochaidh Muighmedóin’s Sons, giving expression to the drink-bearer’s third function: investiture of a rightful sovereign. Niall’s kiss earns him access to the spring she guards, and the kingdom of Ireland along with it, as she is immediately transfigured and reveals herself to be Sovereignty personified.80)Cross, T. P. and Slover, C. H., Ancient Irish Tales (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1969), 511. The guardian of the drink here metonymically takes on the symbolic power of consecration possessed by the substance itself. It has been argued that the Celtic inauguration ceremony was seen as an induction of the new chieftain into the Otherworld, his divinity mediated and legitimized by his access to and control over distribution of alcohol. The appearance of drinking equipment in Iron-Age elite burials can likely be interpreted in this light as ensuring their owners’ status was maintained into the next world. Unlike the symposion of the Greeks, the Celts (like the Romans and Etruscans) included women in their social drinking, and, recalling the above example of the Book of Esther, ‘[t]he élite early La Tène female burials from the Rhineland, which contain elaborate sets of drinking vessels… seem to suggest that women were not only participating in such feasting in the Celtic world; they may in some cases have been able to host them in their own right’.81)Arnold, “Drinking the Feast”, 82-83.
The consumption of alcohol was a key component of the inauguration ceremony of an Irish chieftain, and Arnold argues that ‘…alcohol was the vehicle by means of which divine sanction was transferred to the mortal individual being established in a position of power’, and ‘…it was sovereignty in her role as earth goddess, embodied in the epics by the king’s wife, who was the arbiter of this transfer of power to a new earthly vessel’. In the Tain, for example, Medb was the wife of nine successive kings of Ireland, and her name literally means ‘the intoxicating one’.82)Ibid., 81-82. The Sumerian Geštinanna (‘Vine of Heaven’) evinces a similar personification of the sacral drink, and stands in comparable relation to the king, as Gudea of Lagash records that ‘she has looked upon him favorably’ and ‘given him life’.83)Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 15. This regard for Geštinanna as bestower of life may derive from her role in the 4th-millennium BCE narrative known as the ‘Descent of Inanna’, wherein she takes the place of her brother Dumuzi (Tammuz) in the Underworld for half of each year; Jacobsen argues that this part of the myth is an agricultural etiology, Dumuzi representing the grain used to brew beer, he and his ‘sister’ the grape being harvested in the Spring and Fall respectively.84)Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, 61-62.
These notions of the goddess as both dispenser of alcohol and divine consort are brought together in a hymn from Ur’s 3rd dynasty, wherein king Schusin, identified with a regnal male deity, is addressed by a priestess, likely representing the earth-goddess Baba, who refers to herself as a cup-bearer and explicitly associates her liquor with her sexuality, all in the context of an exchange of gifts with the god-king. Similarly, in hymns referring to the resurrection of Tammuz by Ishtar and their subsequent marriage, the goddess is sometimes said to be ‘…richly endowed with intoxicating liquor…’, and, like the aforementioned example of Schusin, such hymns sometimes name a human king in the role of Tammuz.85)Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 14-15.
The drink and its bearer possess an implicit potential for menace even while rendering assistance. Medea rejuvenated Aeson and murdered Pelias, each by the contents of her cauldron.86)Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 302. Grimhild’s cup made Sigurd forget his vow to Brynhild, and Circe’s made Odysseus’s men forget their very humanity.87)Finch, Volsunga Saga, 47. Murray, A. T., trans., Homer. The Odyssey (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1919), book 10, ll. 235-240. Accessed February 15, 2013. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0136. Even the Queen who loved Mael Duin sought to detain him. Gudrun’s vengeance for her brothers’ death is manifest in serving her husband, Atli, the blood of his sons by her in their own skulls.88)Finch, Volsunga Saga, 72. Segal notes a striking cognizance of this ambivalence demonstrated in the Odyssey, where it is embodied especially in Circe and Penelope. While ‘Homer’s Circe is… a “dread goddess”… learned in… destructive wiles…’, she also ‘…has a compassionate warmth…’. Segal contrasts Circe with Calypso, who, ‘…affectionate though she may be, is far less attentive to Odysseus’ real needs’.89)Segal, “Circean Temptations”, 419-421. Circe seems to recognize and abide by the transiencies of the natural world: rather than cling to her desired object, she sends Odysseus on his way after their year together has run its course. Burkert notes that Siduri, mentioned above, has been compared to Circe in this regard, receiving the hero into her home and giving advice on his journey into the terra incognita.90)Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 12. And, like Circe, she recognizes the transitory nature of material things, including human life, advising Gilgamesh that his quest for immortality is hopeless.91)Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, 205. Segal sees more in common between Circe and Penelope, who share a capacity for ‘mystery’ (that is to say, manipulation), and an ambivalence toward courters, noting Penelope’s ‘…touch of regret at the loss of her suitors in a dream…’.92)Segal, “Circean Temptations”, 422.
In Volsunga Saga, both Brynhild and Gudrun traverse a cycle of attachment and revenge in relation to their lovers.93)Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 301. This is but one example of a more general theme which ties together the contradictory nature of the drink-bearer with her responsibility for administering sovereignty. Aguirre argues that ‘[t]he cyclic process whereby queens sometimes grant, sometimes withhold their favor… would be… unintelligible were they not associated with the great cycle of nature’. In such a system, the drink-bearer is the essential goddess and symbol of the earth – source of all life and wealth, but only periodically; she will inevitably take it away, by necessity, that it may be passed on to a successor in the next generation.94)Ibid., 307-309. The drink-bearer never fully relinquishes the power she bestows; she remains present in the background, her generosity seemingly having become inverted, awaiting the time when she will repossess what was always in fact hers. As Gray says of the cup as ritual symbol, ‘[i]t is impossible to empty a cup in actuality…. all we can do with a cup is exchange one type of content for another’.95)Gray Magical Ritual Methods, 74. Circe aptly demonstrates the utilitarian priorities of such an earth-goddess; she is ‘…sensual, but not sentimental…. She invites [Odysseus] to bed as soon as he demonstrates his power to withstand her magic’.96)Segal, “Circean Temptations”, 424. The association of sovereignty and earth-goddess manifests also in the semi-sacralized responsibility for resource-distribution borne by the king’s wife in ancient Mesopotamia, which ‘…derives directly from the goddess’s function as a bestower of all goods which the earth produces’.97)Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 13. A strong, if implicit, expression of alcohol’s relation to both fertility and royal sacred matrimony is made in the juxtaposition of images upon a number of vessels for serving alcohol found in both Iron-Age Etruscan and West Hallstatt contexts.98)Arnold, “Drinking the Feast”, 81.
The persistence over millennia of a simple serving-vessel as one of the most commonly utilized symbols of sovereignty, femininity, and fecundity suggests new interpretive possibilities for Christian narratives ranging from the inaugural Eucharist at the Last Supper itself, to the Eucharistic paten’s apotheosis as the Arthurian Grail. In Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval, where the holy graal as such is first introduced to literature, the sacramental host which it contains is said to sustain the life of an unseen king, but it does so by the power of the grail itself, and during the phantastic procession which Perceval witnesses, it is a maiden who carries it.99)Bryant, N., trans., Chrétien de Troyes. Perceval (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006), 75, 38. Later, Perceval is informed by a physically repugnant girl (reminiscent of the hag met by Niall) that the mystery of the grail and bleeding lance he saw is somehow related to the physical health of the wounded king who entertained him, as well as the weal of his kingdom.100)Ibid., 54-55. Notwithstanding the spiritually salvific connotations which the grail no doubt held for Chrétien, could this 12th-century chivalric romance be evincing a dim memory of the cup of sovereignty and its female keeper, perhaps conflated with the regenerative cauldron that appears throughout Indo-European myth?
Wine, or Water?
In many instances of the ordeal-keeping woman, such as Grendel’s mother or the hag of The Adventure of Eochaidh Muighmedóin’s Sons, she is clearly connected with a body or source of water. Also, like Circe’s island home, Siduri’s inn is located on ‘…the shore of the sea that encircles the earth…’.101)Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, 204. Simek’s comparison of the vessels held by eastern-European agricultural oracles to the ‘horn of plenty’ is fortuitous in this regard, for one of the proposed etiologies of that symbol in the Greco-Roman world also gives this fertility icon a strong association with fresh water: book 9 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses recounts how Hercules ripped the horn from the head of the river god Achelous, and how it was subsequently appropriated by the naiads, who filled it with the fruits of nature and made of it a votive offering to the goddess Plenty.102)Simek, “Rich and Powerful”, 477. More, B., ed., Ovid. Metamorphoses (Boston: Cornhill Publishing Co., 1922). Accessed February 15, 2013. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0028, book 9, ll. 1-97.
Votive offerings at bodies of water and wells in both early and late, continental and insular Celtic contexts likely indicate an understanding of terrestrial water sources as channels to an Otherworld.103)Arnold, “Drinking the Feast”, 84. Wagner notes that Old Irish sources regularly characterize water-boundaries as loci of poetic inspiration, citing, for instance, Imacallam in dá Thuarad: ‘For the poets deemed that on the brink of water it was always a place of revelation of (poetic) science’. He argues for a broadly shared understanding along these lines among various Indo-European cultures, as manifested in ‘[t]he well of Segais… out of which the Irish poets (filid) drink their science, the Indian khā rtasya “the well of Truth”… and the Norse Mimisbrunnr “where wisdom and knowledge is hidden”‘.104)Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 2. It is interesting to note in this regard that the Orphic Hymns credit the Nereids, sea nymphs, with revealing the rites of Dionysos/Bacchus.105)Taylor, T., trans., The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus (Chiswick: C. Whittingham, 1824), 60.
Furthermore, Wagner argues that references in the Ŗgveda to the ‘ocean’ as source of creative potential actually indicate ‘…not the sea but the bottom of the fresh water under the earth from which creation and fertility derives in India’. He notes that in the Vedas,’…Prajā-pati- “the lord of creation…” is called “the golden rod which stands in the water”…’, an image identified elsewhere in the Ŗgveda as ‘…the Soma-plant as the fertilizer of a seer’s or poet’s thought’.106)Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 2-3. Wagner’s identification of the referent of Ŗgveda IV.lviii as Prajapati, however, is questionable, and, for reasons outlined below, Agni may in fact be the intended deity. In any case, in his role as source of creation and possessor of omniscience, Prajapati bears similarities to the Sumerian Enki, and Wagner suggests that ‘…Prajā-pati- could well be an interpretation of the Sumerian name…’. Further in regard to this posited connection, Wagner notes Enki’s epithet en abzu ‘lord of the abyssal water’, as well as the fact that the sources of fresh water were identified with the source of wisdom in 3rd-millennium BCE Mesopotamia.107)Ibid., 3-4.
Some myths of this era indicate that Enki was in fact born from the clay bed of this primordial river, and one such narrative has him suggesting to his mother, Nammu (perhaps a personification of that riverbed), that she craft servants for the gods (i.e. humans) from that same substance.108)Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, 113. By the 2nd millennium BCE and the composition of the Enuma Elish cosmogonic narrative, the Abzu has become personified as the fertilizing male counterpart to the female matrix of Tiamat, the salt sea, from the union of whom the second generation of gods are begotten. Abzu conspires against his offspring with the other primordial gods, but is ultimately killed by Ea (Enki), who proceeds to build his temple/home overlooking his now-quiescent progenitor.109)Ibid., 168, 170-172. Enki’s power over the waters is symbolized in his typical mode of depiction, wherein two streams of water, the Tigris and Euphrates, flow from him. Enki’s association with irrigative water is indicative of his powers over fertility generally: semen is lexically identical with water in Sumerian, and the flow of amniotic fluid preceding birth is poetically identified with Enki as well.110)Ibid., 111. Wagner argues that the Vedic and Mesopotamian regard for ‘…wells, springs, lakes, and marshes as the ultimate source of life and creation derives directly from the physical conditions of the countries involved’.111)Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 4. It would not require a great leap of inductive thinking to identify the source of biological fecundity with that of the creative spark more generally. Could the complex of associations which we have seen borne by the concept of the cup ultimately derive from this cthonic water?
It is interesting in this regard that traditions locating the source of creative wisdom in the terrestrial waters appear to have developed independently of those in which it is instead closely associated with fermented beverages. Although only touched upon by Wagner, the Vedic association of the waters of creation with the Soma plant raises the possibility that the etiology of this tradition might be found in a poetic circumlocution for the Soma plant itself, generally believed by modern scholars to have been in some way psychoactive, though its precise botanical identity remains the subject of much debate.112)McDonald, A., “A Botanical Perspective on the Identity of Soma (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.) Based on Scriptural and Iconographic Records”, Economic Botany 58 (2004): 149. For example, the (typically personified) Waters are identified as possessing not only physically and spiritually medicinal properties, but Amŗt itself, the substance of immortality.113)Griffith, The Hymns of the Ŗgveda, book 1, hymn 23. Indeed, the Waters are besought by mortal supplicants for ‘…that wave of pure refreshment, which the pious made erst the special beverage of Indra…’.114)Ibid., book 7, hymn 47, v. 1. This is almost certainly a reference to Soma.
Later traditions attributing the waters themselves with properties of mystical insight may have developed by way of a metonymic generalization from the poetically-ascribed attributes of this now-lost entheogenic drink. Such a metaphoric expansion is not hard to imagine when ‘…hundreds of refrains refer to soma’s habit of dwelling alongside river-banks, or indeed, within the waters of the Punjab’s rivers, streams, and lakes…’.115)McDonald, “A Botanical Perspective on the Identity of Soma”, 152. McDonald, drawing upon the evidence of morphological correspondence, geographic distribution, and iconographic religious significance, posits a candidate for the original Soma plant that may explain the rationale for an aquatic correlation, namely the eastern lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), which grows in ponds and streams.116)Ibid. The reason for the Vedas’ obscurity, then, would lie in the desire of the priestly class who composed them to protect its prerogatives: ‘Vedic bards composed and chanted their ancient hymns with the expressed intention of concealing the identity and secrets of their holy sacrament. They accomplished this objective by holding their sacramental rites in closed quarters and by developing codified forms of speech to describe the material character of their divine plant in cryptic and symbolic terms’.117)Ibid., 149.
Based upon the evidence of numerous Vedic hymns, it seems that one of the primary figures by whom Soma was allegorically indicated, and who was thus often juxtaposed with the Waters, was the god Agni. For example, Ŗgveda II.xxxv, which names its referent as Agni in verse 15, calls him ‘The friendly son of waters…’ whom ‘…[o]n every side the bright Floods have encompassed…’, and contra Wagner’s interpretation above, here it is Agni who is ‘[g]olden in form… like gold to look on…’.118)Griffith, The Hymns of the Ŗgveda, book 2, hymn 35, v. 15, 2, 3, 10. Agni’s association with Soma is strongly implied in Ŗgveda I.xxiii.20, where the officiant reveals that ‘…Agni, who blesseth all’ dwells ‘[w]ithin the Waters – Soma thus hath told me…’, and X.xxx.4, where it is ‘[h]e who shines bright in floods, unfed with fuel, whom sages worship at their sacrifices…’ who is asked to ‘[g]ive waters rich in sweets… even those which gave heroic might to Indra…’.119)Ibid., book 1, hymn 23, v. 20; book 10, hymn 30, v. 4.
Agni is the god by whom the sacrifices of mortals reach the gods, and is thus integral to communion with the divine. The significance of this role is expressed in language not unlike that used for both the Waters and Soma itself: ‘Agni is Sovran Lord of wealth, Agni of great prosperity…’, ‘…[t]he germ of many… wise and great, of Godlike nature’, who ‘…preserve[s] us…’.120)Ibid., book 4, hymn 55, v. 8; book 1, hymn 95, v. 4; book 1, hymn 115, v. 9. In Ŗgveda X.xci.3 he is exalted to a seemingly absolute degree: ‘As Vasu, thou alone art Lord of all good things, of all the treasures that the heavens and earth produce’.121)Ibid., book 10, hymn 91, v. 3. Agni’s identification with Soma and the Waters draws them into the significatory ambit of his own ritual role as the communicative link between humankind and the gods.
Following the posited trail of cultural diffusion from an Indo-Iranian heartland to its terminus in Celtic Ireland, Wagner argues that the populous and uncannily terrestrial oceanic realm of Manannán, a characteristically ‘crafty’ god, was in fact a reimagining of the terrestrial freshwater of ancient south-Asian mythology by the insular Celts. In this connection, he further notes that according to some sources the legendary Well of Segais was located in Manannán’s sea realm, effectively superimposing this source of freshwater upon the sea, the source of wisdom upon Manannán’s Otherworld kingdom. Likewise, ‘[a]lthough [Enki] is lord of the abzu (or engur), the water under the earth, he is also linked with Dilmun, an island or coastal district of the Persian Gulf (Bahrein?) where the early Sumerians placed their paradise of bliss and sinless life…’.122)Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 5-6, 9 (footnote 18). However, despite Wagner’s general characterizations, neither the Abzu nor the Waters of the Ŗgveda can accurately be described as strictly subterranean. Rather, they are sources of freshwater more generally, especially rivers, such as those the Mesopotamians saw bearing silt toward the ocean and forming marshes teeming with life at the interface, or those along the banks of which Punjabi poets saw lotuses growing. The Well of Segais, with its wisdom-infused waters, was also regarded as the source of several of Ireland’s rivers.
Wagner suggests that Manannán and Bran (and hence their Welsh counterparts Manawydan and Bendigeidvran respectively) derive from a common original identity. Bendigeidvran/Bran, like Manannán, bears attributes marking him as a ‘wise’ god, for example the continued sapience of his head after he is decapitated, the head being regarded as seat of the soul as well as locus of knowledge. His very name, Bran, means ‘raven’, a bird frequently associated with gods of wisdom, Odin not the least among them. In this latter connection, Wagner finds parallels in the Vedic material, where birds are also sometimes metaphorically associated with wisdom and its sources.123)Ibid., 7-9. It also seems notable in this regard that it is the birds who warn Sigurd of Regin’s treachery, and suggest he seek out Brynhild in the first place.124)Finch, Volsunga Saga, 34. Interestingly, Sigurd’s ability to understand the birds’ speech is endowed by his tasting the blood of the dragon Fafnir’s heart, and unlike the Celts, for the ancient Egyptians the heart was the seat of cognition.125)Finch, Volsunga Saga, 33. Bell, L., “The New Kingdom ‘Divine’ Temple: the Example of Luxor”, in Temples of Ancient Egypt, ed. Shafer, B. E. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 130.
The transcription of the Ŗgveda dates to the early 8th century BCE, but its hymns were likely composed and transmitted orally since before the 2nd millennium BCE, and the Soma sacrifice in which many of those hymns featured is recorded as late as the 16th century CE.126)McDonald, “A Botanical Perspective on the Identity of Soma”, 147-149. It seems at least plausible that such early and resilient traditions, speaking of a transcendent creative force that lay within the waters, could have followed in the wake of the Indo-European languages that preserved them, ultimately arriving in the British Isles. Also, the possibility of Greek survivals of Indo-Iranian mythic figures is raised in Wagner’s hypothesis that Poseidon, in both name and character, is a translation of Enki, each regarded as holding dominion over the waters as well as the earth.127)Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 4 (footnote 9a). The pre-literate context in which such a transmission would have necessarily taken place may well have helped the conceptual system to cohere over centuries, even as it adapted to widely differing cultural and geographic contexts. It has been demonstrated that oral societies tend strongly toward cultural homeostasis, subjecting any innovations to a form of natural selection wherein those not assimilated within a generation are effectively abandoned, while at the same time accreting modifications in the details of the original system so as to conform to contemporary circumstances.128)Goody, J., The Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 14. Sherratt, E. S., “‘Reading the Texts’: Archaeology and the Homeric Question”, Antiquity 64 (1990).
It has been shown above how Indic, Scandinavian and Irish mythologies all regard rivers and wells as loci for receipt of supernal wisdom or for crossing over into the Otherworld, and the necromantic practices of the Greco-Roman world reflect similar beliefs.129)Cf. Ogden, D., Greek and Roman Necromancy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). Likewise, Irish and Mesopotamian myths of divine kingship entail the transfer of legitimacy to a new ruler by the keeper of the waters or the intoxicating drink. Across diverse mythologies, and recapitulated in the symbolism of modern ritual magic, then, is the concept of a special drink, its source, or its vessel, as a kind of conduit between the mundane world and something transcending it.
A Mythical Polyamorous Religion for a New Aeon
Biblical metaphor, antique polytheism, and occult Qabalah are synthesized and repurposed in the writings of early 20th-century maverick magician Aleister Crowley. To a great extent, Crowley’s interpretations of occult symbols follow the general attributions of the Golden Dawn, of which he was a product. In his exposition on magical theory in Book Four, he associates the four magical weapons with faculties of consciousness, with the Cup embodying Understanding.130)Crowley, A., Book Four (San Francisco: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1980), 82. Understanding, in this context, entails structure given to knowledge, the coordination and relation of facts.131)Ibid., 84. Gray makes similar assertions regarding the cup as a form-giving container of consciousness.132)Gray, Magical Ritual Methods, 73. This Understanding is not, however, a product of discursive thought: rather, Crowley says, it must encompass infinity, harmonizing apparent contradictions through the realization that all distinctions are illusory.133)Crowley, Book Four, 86. As Crowley puts it, ‘…as the current of thought is the blood of the mind, it is said that the Magick cup is filled with the blood of the Saints. All thought must be offered up as a sacrifice’.134)Ibid., 82. The metaphor of sacrifice reflects Crowley’s association of the harmonizing activity within the magician’s consciousness with the transcendent charity of Divine Love.135)Ibid., 87. The dissolution of distinctions is further expressed by the identity-obliterating power of wine or poison which the cup symbolizes.136)Ibid., 88.
Some of the metaphoric formulations Crowley associates with the cup first see expression in the record of his Enochian visions. It is during his astral sojourn in the 12th Aethyr that the meaning of the Great Whore of the Biblical book of Revelation, and the cup she carries, is radically reinterpreted in mystical, pantheistic terms. Whereas Revelation’s woman ‘…was drunk with the blood of the saints…’, in Crowley’s account he is told ‘[b]lessed are the saints, that their blood is mingled in the cup, and can never be separate any more’. Moreover, it is implied that it is the mystic himself ‘…whose blood is mingled therein…’, which ‘…hath become the wine of the Sacrament…’. This sacrament is ‘…”Compassion,” the sacrament of suffering…’, a passivity in which the self is given up.137)Meeks, W. A., ed., The Harper Collins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993), Revelation 17, v. 6. Crowley, A., “The Cry of the 12th Aethyr, Which is Called LOE”, in The Vision and the Voice. 1909. Accessed February 16, 2013. http://hermetic.com/crowley/the-vision-and-the-voice/aethyr12.html. And whereas the whore of Revelation’s fornication consists in her corruption of the kingdoms of the earth, Crowley’s vision instead interprets that ‘…she hath yielded herself to everything that liveth…. And because she hath made herself the servant of each, therefore is she become the mistress of all’, once again evoking a connection between the passive feminine symbol and the mythic figure of Sovereignty. Moreover, this giving up of the individual self is equated with mystical comprehension: ‘For in that union thou didst understand’.138)Meeks, The Harper Collins Study Bible, Rev. 17, v. 1. Crowley, “The Cry of the 12th Aethyr”.
Crowley’s Gnostic Mass, while drawing superficial elements from the Mass of the Catholic Church, albeit reattributed with significations according to Thelemic cosmology, incorporates subtle allusions to concepts established in Crowley’s earlier writings, as well as interesting parallels with mythic narratives discussed above. For example, in the Ceremony of the Introit, the Priestess says ‘[l]et the salt of Earth admonish the Water to bear the virtue of the Great Sea’, and previously in Book Four Crowley had stated that ‘[i]t is the sea that purifies the world. And the ‘Great Sea’ is in the Qabalah a name of Binah, “Understanding”‘.139)Crowley, A., Magick in Theory and Practice (Secaucus: Castle Books, 1991)348. Crowley, Book Four, 83. Turning to mythic correspondences, a striking parallel with Mesopotamian rituals of divine marriage can be seen in the aptly titled Mystic Marriage and Consummation of the Elements.140)Ibid., 359 ff. Where the Sumerian ritual to ensure a good harvest was typically enacted by a priest-king and priestess-queen in the respective roles of Dumuzi and Inanna, and iconographically shown to involve a communal drink, in this Mass is the Priest identified with the Sun,141)Ibid., 348. being administered the cup of communion wine by a Priestess embodying the goddess Nuit,142)Ibid., 350. to the spiritual edification of the congregation.
The Cup, in its myriad correspondences and connotations, is fundamentally a symbol of spiritual communication. Whether receiving divine grace or establishing bonds of community among individuals, it remains a key element in religious, magical, and social ritual to the present day. It is little wonder that this should be the case, for as we have seen, the inertial force of millennia of practice has served to ingrain the cup’s significations and functions within these contexts.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Hutton, R., The Triumph of the Moon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 82.|
|2.||↑||Gray, W. G., Magical Ritual Methods (York Beach: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1971), 35.|
|4.||↑||Regardie, I., The Golden Dawn (Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications, 2006), 47.|
|5.||↑||Crowley, A., The Book of Thoth (York Beach: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2004), 18. cf. Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 540ff.|
|6.||↑||Gray, Magical Ritual Methods, 72.|
|8.||↑||Betz, H. D., ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), lvii, 195-200, 225-226.|
|9.||↑||Regardie, The Golden Dawn, 322.|
|10, 13.||↑||Ibid., 334.|
|14.||↑||Pollington, S., “The Mead-Hall Community”, Journal of Medieval History 37 (2011): 21, 29.|
|15.||↑||Bellis, J., “The Dregs of Trembling, the Draught of Salvation: the Dual Symbolism of the cup in Medieval Literature”, Journal of Medieval History 37 (2011): 49. Magennis, H., “The cup as Symbol and Metaphor in Old English Literature”, Speculum 60 (1985): 518.|
|16.||↑||Lissarrague, F., “Around the Krater: an Aspect of Banquet Imagery”, in Sympotica, ed. Murray, O. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 198-201.|
|17.||↑||Bellis, “The Dregs of Trembling”, 49.|
|18.||↑||Finch, R. G., ed. and trans., Volsunga Saga (Camden: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1965), 43.|
|19.||↑||Bellis, “The Dregs of Trembling”, 50-51.|
|20.||↑||Henderson, W. J., “Aspects of the Ancient Greek Symposion“, Akroterion 45 (2000): 11.|
|21.||↑||Lissarrague, “Around the Krater”, 204-205.|
|22.||↑||Burkert, W., “Oriental Symposia: Contrasts and Parallels”, in Dining in a Classical Context, ed. Slater, W. J. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 16-17.|
|23.||↑||Homan, M. M., “Beer and Its Drinkers: an Ancient Near Eastern Love Story”, Near Eastern Archaeology 67 (2004): 84.|
|24.||↑||Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 8-9.|
|26.||↑||Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri, 198.|
|28.||↑||Magennis, “The cup as Symbol”, 518.|
|30.||↑||Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 13.|
|31.||↑||Magennis, “The cup as Symbol”, 522.|
|33, 35.||↑||Bellis, “The Dregs of Trembling”, 48.|
|34.||↑||Magennis, “The cup as Symbol”, 518-519.|
|38.||↑||Pollington, “The Mead Hall Community”, 20.|
|39.||↑||Lissarrague, “Around the Krater”, 202. Henderson, “Aspects of the Ancient Greek Symposion“, 20-22.|
|40.||↑||Buckley, T. A., trans., “Bacchae”, in The Tragedies of Euripides, ed. Buckley, T. A. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850), ll. 135-169, accessed February 15, 2013, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0092. Cf. Griffith, R. T. H., trans., The Hymns of the Ŗgveda (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd., 1999), book 8, hymn 48.|
|41.||↑||Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 9.|
|42.||↑||Henderson, “Aspects of the Ancient Greek Symposion“, 19|
|44.||↑||Cf. Kerenyi, K., The Gods of the Greeks (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2010), 157-158.|
|45.||↑||Lissarrague, “Around the Krater”, 203-204.|
|46.||↑||Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 11-12.|
|47.||↑||Kerenyi, K., The Gods of the Greeks, 258-263.|
|49.||↑||Porter, D. C., “The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf: a New Context”, The Heroic Age 5 (2001), accessed February 15, 2013, http://www.mun.ca/mst/heroicage/issues/5/porter1.html.|
|50.||↑||Pollington, “The Mead Hall Community”, 28.|
|51, 77.||↑||Porter, “The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf“.|
|52.||↑||Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 14-15.|
|53.||↑||Wagner, H., “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, Ériu 26 (1975): 13.|
|54.||↑||Arnold, “Drinking the Feast”, 87.|
|55.||↑||Childs, S. T., “‘After All, a Hoe Bought a Wife’: the Social Dimensions of Ironworking Among the Toro of East Africa”, in The Social Dynamics of Technology: Practice, Politics, and World Views, ed. Dobres, M.-A. and Hoffman, C. R. (London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999), 23-45.|
|56.||↑||Johnson, B. “Hammering Out an Agreement: Reconciling Processual and Post-Processual Theories of Technology”. Track Changes 1 (2011): 5-7.|
|57.||↑||Homan, “Beer and Its Drinkers”, 84.|
|58.||↑||Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 12. Jacobsen, T., The Treasures of Darkness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), 140.|
|59, 90.||↑||Burkert, “Oriental Symposia”, 12.|
|60.||↑||Homan, “Beer and Its Drinkers”, 88-89.|
|61.||↑||Simek, R., “Rich and Powerful: the Image of the Female Deity in Migration Age Scandinavia”, in Proceedings of the 11th International Saga Conference, ed. Barnes, G. and Clunies Ross, M. (Sydney: Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Sydney, 2000), 477.|
|63.||↑||Aguirre, M. “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”. Neohelicon 25 (1998): 292.|
|64.||↑||Finch, Volsunga Saga, ix, xxxvi.|
|67.||↑||Ibid., 43, 46.|
|68.||↑||Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 293.|
|69.||↑||Gray, Magical Ritual Methods, 74.|
|70.||↑||Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 294.|
|71.||↑||Stokes, W., ed. and trans., “The Voyage of Mael Duin”, Revue Celtique 10 (1889): 63-71.|
|72.||↑||Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 295.|
|73.||↑||Kerenyi, The Gods of the Greeks, 98. Murray, A. T., trans., Homer. The Iliad (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1924), book 4, ll. 1-5, accessed February 15, 2013, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0134.|
|74.||↑||Evelyn-White, H. G., trans., “Theogony”, in Hesiod. The Homeric Hymns and Homerica (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914), ll. 950-955, accessed February 15, 2013, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0130.|
|75.||↑||Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 295-297.|
|78, 86.||↑||Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 302.|
|79.||↑||Segal, C., “Circean Temptations: Homer, Vergil, Ovid”, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 99 (1968): 426.|
|80.||↑||Cross, T. P. and Slover, C. H., Ancient Irish Tales (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1969), 511.|
|81.||↑||Arnold, “Drinking the Feast”, 82-83.|
|83.||↑||Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 15.|
|84.||↑||Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, 61-62.|
|85.||↑||Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 14-15.|
|87.||↑||Finch, Volsunga Saga, 47. Murray, A. T., trans., Homer. The Odyssey (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1919), book 10, ll. 235-240. Accessed February 15, 2013. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0136.|
|88.||↑||Finch, Volsunga Saga, 72.|
|89.||↑||Segal, “Circean Temptations”, 419-421.|
|91.||↑||Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, 205.|
|92.||↑||Segal, “Circean Temptations”, 422.|
|93.||↑||Aguirre, “The Theme of the Drink-Bearer”, 301.|
|95.||↑||Gray Magical Ritual Methods, 74.|
|96.||↑||Segal, “Circean Temptations”, 424.|
|97.||↑||Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 13.|
|98.||↑||Arnold, “Drinking the Feast”, 81.|
|99.||↑||Bryant, N., trans., Chrétien de Troyes. Perceval (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006), 75, 38.|
|101.||↑||Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, 204.|
|102.||↑||Simek, “Rich and Powerful”, 477. More, B., ed., Ovid. Metamorphoses (Boston: Cornhill Publishing Co., 1922). Accessed February 15, 2013. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0028, book 9, ll. 1-97.|
|103.||↑||Arnold, “Drinking the Feast”, 84.|
|104.||↑||Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 2.|
|105.||↑||Taylor, T., trans., The Mystical Hymns of Orpheus (Chiswick: C. Whittingham, 1824), 60.|
|106.||↑||Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 2-3.|
|108.||↑||Jacobsen, The Treasures of Darkness, 113.|
|109.||↑||Ibid., 168, 170-172.|
|111.||↑||Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 4.|
|112.||↑||McDonald, A., “A Botanical Perspective on the Identity of Soma (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.) Based on Scriptural and Iconographic Records”, Economic Botany 58 (2004): 149.|
|113.||↑||Griffith, The Hymns of the Ŗgveda, book 1, hymn 23.|
|114.||↑||Ibid., book 7, hymn 47, v. 1.|
|115.||↑||McDonald, “A Botanical Perspective on the Identity of Soma”, 152.|
|118.||↑||Griffith, The Hymns of the Ŗgveda, book 2, hymn 35, v. 15, 2, 3, 10.|
|119.||↑||Ibid., book 1, hymn 23, v. 20; book 10, hymn 30, v. 4.|
|120.||↑||Ibid., book 4, hymn 55, v. 8; book 1, hymn 95, v. 4; book 1, hymn 115, v. 9.|
|121.||↑||Ibid., book 10, hymn 91, v. 3.|
|122.||↑||Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 5-6, 9 (footnote 18).|
|124.||↑||Finch, Volsunga Saga, 34.|
|125.||↑||Finch, Volsunga Saga, 33. Bell, L., “The New Kingdom ‘Divine’ Temple: the Example of Luxor”, in Temples of Ancient Egypt, ed. Shafer, B. E. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 130.|
|126.||↑||McDonald, “A Botanical Perspective on the Identity of Soma”, 147-149.|
|127.||↑||Wagner, “Studies in the Origins of Early Celtic Traditions”, 4 (footnote 9a).|
|128.||↑||Goody, J., The Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 14. Sherratt, E. S., “‘Reading the Texts’: Archaeology and the Homeric Question”, Antiquity 64 (1990).|
|129.||↑||Cf. Ogden, D., Greek and Roman Necromancy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).|
|130.||↑||Crowley, A., Book Four (San Francisco: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1980), 82.|
|132.||↑||Gray, Magical Ritual Methods, 73.|
|133.||↑||Crowley, Book Four, 86.|
|137.||↑||Meeks, W. A., ed., The Harper Collins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993), Revelation 17, v. 6. Crowley, A., “The Cry of the 12th Aethyr, Which is Called LOE”, in The Vision and the Voice. 1909. Accessed February 16, 2013. http://hermetic.com/crowley/the-vision-and-the-voice/aethyr12.html.|
|138.||↑||Meeks, The Harper Collins Study Bible, Rev. 17, v. 1. Crowley, “The Cry of the 12th Aethyr”.|
|139.||↑||Crowley, A., Magick in Theory and Practice (Secaucus: Castle Books, 1991)348. Crowley, Book Four, 83.|
|140.||↑||Ibid., 359 ff.|