What was ancient Bacchic Orphic ritual like?

Apuleius, Apologia 55-56
I have been initiated into various of the Greek mysteries, and preserve with the utmost care certain emblems and mementoes of my initiation with which the priests presented me. There is nothing abnormal or unheard of in this. Those of you here present who have been initiated into the mysteries of Father Liber alone, know what you keep hidden at home, safe from all profane touch and the object of your silent veneration. But I, as I have said, moved by my religious fervour and my desire to know the truth, have learned mysteries of many a kind, rites in great number, and diverse ceremonies […] Could anyone who has any idea of religion still find it strange that a man initiated in so many divine mysteries should keep at home some tokens of recognition of the cults and should wrap them in linen cloth, the purest veil for sacred objects? For wool, the excrescence of an inert body extracted from a sheep, is already a profane garment in the prescriptions of Orpheus and Pythagoras.

Plutarch, Life of Alexander 2.5-6
All the women of Makedonia were addicted to the Orphic rites and the orgies of Dionysos from very ancient times (being called Klodones and Mimallones), and imitated in many ways the practices of the Edonian women and the Thracian women about Mount Haemus, from whom, as it would seem, the word ‘threskeuein‘ came to be applied to the celebration of extravagant and superstitious ceremonies. Now Olympias, who affected these divine possessions more zealously than other women, and carried out these divine inspirations in wilder fashion, used to provide the revelling companies with great tame serpents, which would often lift their heads from out the ivy and the mystic winnowing baskets, or coil themselves about the wands and garlands of the women, thus terrifying the men.

Tacitus, Annals 11.31.2
Messalina meanwhile, more wildly profligate than ever, was celebrating in mid-autumn a representation of the vintage in her new home. The presses were being trodden; the vats were overflowing; women girt with skins were dancing, as Bacchanals dance in their worship or their frenzy. Messalina with flowing hair shook the thyrsus, and Silius at her side, crowned with ivy and wearing the buskin, moved his head to some lascivious chorus.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 8.1160a

Some kinds of associations seem to be formed for the purpose of enjoyment, such as thiasoi devoted to religious revels and eranoi devoted to feasting; these exist for the sake of sacrifices and fellowship: they hold their sacrifices and meetings, portioning out honors to the gods and providing themselves with pleasurable refreshment. In ancient times, for instance, sacrifices and meetings were held as a kind of firstfruits following the gathering of the crops, since they had the most leisure at those seasons.

Scholium on Aristophanes’ Acharnians 1002
For at the Choes there was a contest about drinking a chous first, and the winner was crowned with a leafy crown and got a sack of wine. They drink at the sound of a trumpet. An inflated sack was set as a prize in the festival of Choes, on which those drinking for the contest stood, and the one drinking first as victor got the winesack. They drank a quantity like a chous.

Derveni Papyrus col. 6.1-11
… prayers and sacrifices appease the souls, and the enchanting song of the magician is able to remove the daimones when they impede. Impeding daimones are revenging souls. This is why the magicians perform the sacrifice as if they were paying a penalty. On the offerings they pour water and milk, from which they make the libations, too. They sacrifice innumerable and many-knobbed cakes, because the souls, too, are innumerable.

Herodotos, The Histories 2.81
The Egyptians wear linen tunics with fringes hanging about the legs, called ‘calasiris’ and loose white woolen mantles over these. But nothing of wool is brought into the temples, or buried with them; that is forbidden. In this they follow the same rules as the ritual called Orphic and Bacchic, but which is in truth Egyptian and Pythagorean; for neither may those initiated into these rites be buried in woolen wrappings. There is a sacred legend about this.

Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 4.29
Antony himself, when he was staying at Athens, a short time after this, prepared a very superb scaffold to spread over the theatre, covered with green wood such as is seen in the caves sacred to Dionysos; and from this scaffold he suspended drums and fawn-skins, and all the other toys which one names in connection with Dionysos, and then sat there with his friends, getting drunk from daybreak, a band of musicians, whom he had sent for from Italy, playing to him all the time, and all the Greeks around being collected to see the sight.

Lampridius, Vita Alexandri Severi 29
This was his manner of life: as soon as there was opportunity—that is, if he had not spent the night with his wife—he performed his devotions in the early morning hours in his lararium, in which he had statues of the divine princes and also a select number of the best men and the more holy spirits, among whom he had Apollonius of Tyana, and as a writer of his times says, Christ, Abraham, and Orpheus, and others similar, as well as statues of his ancestors.

Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 10.445a-b
Antheas of Lindos, claiming to be a relative of the sage Kleoboulos was, according to Philomnestos in the On the Sminthia on Rhodes, an older and wealthy person and being naturally clever regarding poetry, he lived his whole live extravagantly both wearing a Dionysiac costume and maintaining many Dionysiac associates, and led on the revel continually, day and night. He invented as first the poem consisting of compound phrases, which Asopodoros of Phlios later used in his iambic prose. Antheas also wrote comedies and many other things in this fashion of works, which he used to teach to his fellow phallus-bearers in the procession.

Isokrates, Aiginetikos 5-6
Thrasyllos, the father of the testator, had inherited nothing from his parents; but having become the guest-friend of Polemaenetos, the soothsayer, he became so intimate with him that Polemaenetos at his death left to him his books on divination and gave him a portion of the property which is now in question. Thrasyllos, with these books as his capital, practiced the art of divination. He became an itinerant soothsayer, lived in many cities, and was intimate with several women.

Plato, Republic 2.364a–365b
But the most astounding of all these arguments concerns what they have to say about the gods and virtue. They say that the gods, too, assign misfortune and a bad life to many good people, and the opposite fate to their opposites. Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a god-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the gods to serve them. And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, according to which they arrange their rites, convincing not only individuals but also cities that liberation and purification from injustice is possible, both during life and after death, by means of sacrifices and enjoyable games to the deceased which free us from the evils of the beyond, whereas something horrible awaits those who have not celebrated sacrifices.

Marinus of Samaria, The Life of Proclus 18-19
Proclus made use of the noble purificatory practices which woo us from evil, that is lustrations and all of the other processes of purification whether Orphic or Chaldean, such as dipping himself into the sea without hesitation every month, and sometimes even twice or thrice a month. He practiced this discipline, rude as it was, not only in his prime, but even also when he approached his life’s decline; and so he observed, without ever failing, these austere habits of which he had, so to speak, made himself a law … As to the necessary pleasures of food and drink, he made use of them with sobriety, for to him they were no more than a solace from his fatigues. He especially preached abstinence from animal food, but if a special ceremony compelled him to make use of it, he only tasted it, out of consideration and respect. Every month he sanctified himself according to the rites devoted to the Mother of the Gods by the Romans, and before them by the Phrygians; he observed the holy days observed among the Egyptians even more strictly than did they themselves; and especially he fasted on certain days, quite openly. During the first day of the lunar month he remained without food, without even having eaten the night before; and he likewise celebrated the New Moon in great solemnity, and with much sanctity. He regularly observed the great festivals of all peoples, so to speak, and the religious ceremonies peculiar to each people or country. Nor did he, like so many others, make this the pretext of a distraction, or of a debauch of food, but on the contrary they were occasions of prayer meetings that lasted all night, without sleep, with songs, hymns and similar devotions. Of this we see the proof in the composition of his hymns, which contain homage and praises not only of the gods adored among the Greeks, but where you also see worship of the god Marnas of Gaza, Asklepios Leontukhos of Askalon, Thyandrites who is much worshipped among the Arabs, the Isis who has a temple at Philae, and indeed all other divinities. It was a phrase he much used, and that was very familiar to him, that a philosopher should watch over the salvation of not only a city, nor over the national customs of a few people, but that he should be the hierophant of the whole world in common. Such were the holy and purificatory exercises he practiced, in his austere manner of life.

Suidas s.v. Hêraïskos
Hence his life also reached such a point that his soul always resided in hidden sanctuaries as he practiced not only his native rites in Egypt but also those of other nations, wherever there was something left of these. Heraiskos became a Bakchos, as a dream designated him and he traveled widely, receiving many initiations. Heraiskos actually had a natural talent for distinguishing between religious statues that were animated and those that were not. For as soon as he looked at one his heart was struck by a sensation of the divine and he gave a start in his body and his soul, as though seized by the god. If he was not moved in such a fashion then the statue was soulless and had no share of divine inspiration. In this way he distinguished the secret statue of Aion which the Alexandrians worshiped as being possessed by the god, who was both Osiris and Adonis at the same time according to some mystical union. There was also something in Heraiskos’ nature that rejected defilements of nature. For instance, if he heard any unclean woman speaking, no matter where or how, he immediately got a headache, and this was taken as a sign that she was menstruating.

Suidas s.v. Sarapio
For Isidore said that never in fact could he persuade him to meet another man, especially because when he grew old he no longer came out frequently from his own house; he lived alone in a truly small dwelling, having embraced the solitary life, employing some of the neighbors only for the most necessary things. He said that Sarapio was exceptionally prayerful, and visited the holy places in the dress of an ordinary man, where the rule of the feast led him. For the most part he lived all day in his house, not the life of a man, but to speak simply, the life of a god, continually uttering prayers and miracle-stories to himself or to the divinity, or rather meditating on them in silence. Being a seeker of truth and by nature contemplative, he did not deign to spend time on the more technical aspects of philosophy, but absorbed himself in the more profound and inspired thoughts. For this reason Orpheus was almost the only book he possessed and read, in each of the questions which came to him always asking Isidore, who had achieved the summit of understanding in theology. He recognized Isidore alone as an intimate friend and received him in his house. And Isidore seemed to observe in him the Kronian life of mythology. For that man continued doing and saying nothing else but recollecting himself and raising himself, as far as he could, towards the inward and indivisible life. He despised money so much that he possessed nothing whatever but only two or three books (among these was the poetry of Orpheus); and he despised the pleasures of the body so much that straightway from the beginning he offered to the body only what is necessary and alone brings benefit, but of sexual activity he was pure throughout his life. And he was so little concerned about honor from men that not even his name was known in the city. He would not have been known subsequently, if some one of the gods had not wished to make him an example for mankind of the Kronian life. He used Isidore as an heir, having no heir from his family, nor supposing that anyone else was worthy of his property, I mean the two or three books.

Theophrastos, On The Superstitious Man
It is apparent that superstition would seem to be cowardice with regard to the spiritual realm. The superstitious man is one who will wash his hands and sprinkle himself at the Sacred Fountain, and put a bit of laurel leaf in his mouth, to prepare himself for each day. If a marten should cross his path, he will not continue until someone else has gone by, or he has thrown three stones across the road. And if he should see a snake in his house, he will call up a prayer to Sabazios if it is one of the red ones; if it is one of the sacred variety, he will immediately construct a shrine on the spot. Nor will he go by the smooth stones at a crossroads without anointing them with oil from his flask, and he will not leave without falling on his knees in reverence to them. If a mouse should chew through his bag of grain, he will seek advice on what should be done from the official diviner of omens; but if the answer is, ‘Give it to the shoemaker to have it sewn up,’ he will pay no attention, but rather go away and free himself of the omen through sacrifice. He is also likely to be purifying his house continually, claiming that terrible Hecate has been mysteriously brought into it. And if an owl should hoot while he is outside, he becomes terribly agitated, and will not continue before crying out, ‘O! Mighty Athena!’ Never will he step on a tomb, nor get near a dead body, nor a woman in childbirth: he says he must keep on his guard against being polluted. On the unlucky days of the month– the fourth and seventh– he will order his servants to heat wine. Then he will go out and buy myrtle-wreaths, frankincense, and holy pictures; upon returning home, he spends the entire day arranging the wreaths on statues of the Hermaphrodites. Also, when he has a dream, he will go to the dream interpreters, the fortune-tellers, and the readers of bird-omens, to ask what god or goddess he should pray to. When he is to be initiated into the Orphic mysteries, he visits the priests every month, taking his wife with him; or, if she can’t make it, the nursemaid and children will suffice. It is also apparent that he is one of those people who go to great lengths to sprinkle themselves with sea-water. And if he sees someone eating Hecate’s garlic at the crossroads, he must go home and wash his head; and then he calls upon the priestesses to carry a squill or a puppy around him for purification. If he sees a madman or epileptic, he shudders and spits into his lap.

The Martyrdom of Saint Theodotus 14
It was the custom among them yearly to bathe the images of the gods in the nearby lake, and on that day was the chance for them to be cleansed along with their idols. Each of the idols was set up on a wagon, and they were led through the city and into the countryside where the lake was. The whole populace of the city went out with them to see the sight, for the sound of the pipes and cymbals attracted attention, as did the dancing women with hair let loose like maenads, and there was a great pounding of their feet striking the ground and lots of musical instruments accompanying them.

Diodoros Sikeliotis, Library of History 4.3.2-5
And the Boiotians and other Greeks and the Thracians, in memory of the campaign in India, have established sacrifices every other year to Dionysos, and believe that at that time the god reveals himself to human beings. Consequently in many Greek cities every other year Bacchic bands of women gather, and it is lawful for the maidens to carry the thyrsos and to join in the frenzied revelry, crying out ‘Euai!’ and honouring the god; while the matrons, forming in groups, offer sacrifices to the god and celebrate his mysteries and, in general, extol with hymns the presence of Dionysos, in this manner acting the parts of maenads who, as history records, were of old the companions of the god. He also punished here and there throughout all the inhabited world many men who were thought impious, the most renowned among the number being Pentheus and Lykourgos. And since the discovery of wine and the gift of it and because of the greater vigour which comes to the bodies of those who partake of it, it is the custom, they say, when unmixed wine is served during a meal to greet it with the words, ‘To the Good Deity!’ but when the cup is passed around after the meal diluted with water, to cry out ‘To Zeus Saviour!’ For the drinking of unmixed wine results in a state of madness, but when it is mixed with the rain from Zeus the delight and pleasure continue, but the ill effect of madness and stupor is avoided.

Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 364e-365e
That Osiris is identical with Dionysos who could more fittingly know than yourself, Klea? For you are at the head of the inspired maidens of Delphi, and have been consecrated by your father and mother in the holy rites of Osiris. If, however, for the benefit of others it is needful to adduce proofs of this identity, let us leave undisturbed what may not be told, but the public ceremonies which the priests perform in the burial of the Apis, when they convey his body on an improvised bier, do not in any way come short of a Bacchic procession; for they fasten skins of fawns about themselves, and carry Bacchic wands and indulge in shoutings and movements exactly as do those who are under the spell of the Dionysiac ecstasies. For the same reason many of the Greeks make statues of Dionysos in the form of a bull; and the women of Elis invoke him, praying that the god may come with the hoof of a bull; and the epithet applied to Dionysos among the Argives is ‘Son of the Bull.’ They call him up out of the water by the sound of trumpets, at the same time casting into the depths a lamb as an offering to the Keeper of the Gate. The trumpets they conceal in Bacchic wands, as Socrates has stated in his treatise On The Holy Ones. Furthermore, the tales regarding the Titans and the rites celebrated by night agree with the accounts of the dismemberment of Osiris and his revivification and regenesis. Similar agreement is found too in the tales about their sepulchres. The Egyptians, as has already been stated, point out tombs of Osiris in many places, and the people of Delphi believe that the remains of Dionysos rest with them close beside the oracle; and the Holy Ones offer a secret sacrifice in the shrine of Apollo whenever the devotees of Dionysos wake the God of the Mystic Basket. To show that the Greeks regard Dionysos as the lord and master not only of wine, but of the nature of every sort of moisture, it is enough that Pindar be our witness, when he says ‘May gladsome Dionysos swell the fruit upon the trees, the hallowed splendour of harvest time.’ For this reason all who reverence Osiris are prohibited from destroying a cultivated tree or blocking up a spring of water.

The Gurôb Papyrus
… in order that he may find
… on account of the rite they paid the penalty of their fathers. Save me, Brimô, Demeter, Rhea and armed Curêtês!
So that we may perform beautiful sacrifices …
Goat and bull, limitless gifts …
And by the law of the river …
… of the goat, and let him eat the rest of the flesh. Let no uninitiated look on!
… dedicating to the …
… prayer …
I call on … Eubouleus, and I call the Maenads who cry Euoi …
You having parched with thirst … the friends of the feast …
… of Demeter and Pallas for us …
King Irekepaigos, save me, Phanes!
… top, rattle, dice-bones, mirror …

LSAM 48
Whenever the priestess performs the holy rites on behalf of the city … it is not permitted for anyone to throw pieces of raw meat [anywhere], before the priestess has thrown them on behalf of the city, nor is it permitted for anyone to assemble a thiasos of maenads before the public thiasos [has been assembled] … to provide [for the women] the implements of initiation in all the orgies …. And whether a woman wishes to perform an initiation for Dionysos Bakchios in the city, in the countryside, or on the islands, she must pay a piece of gold to the priestess at each biennial celebration.

I.Magn. 215a:24-40
(A) For good fortune! When Akrodemos son of Dioteimos was civic president, the Magnesian people consulted the god concerning the sign which occurred: An image of Dionysos was discovered in a plane tree, located opposite the city, which made a loud piercing sound caused by the wind. What does this mean? Why does it continue? For this reason, the oracular messengers Hermonax son of Epikrates and Aristarchos son of Diodoros were sent to the Delphians.

The god answered: Magnesians, who obtained the holy city on the Maeander, defenders of our possessions: You came to hear from my mouth what the appearance of Bacchus in the bush means for you. He appeared as a youth, when the clear-aired city was founded but well-cut temples were not yet built for Dionysos.

Do the following, oh exceedlingly strong people: Dedicate temples which delight in the thyrsos and appoint a perfect and sacred priest. And come onto Thebes’ holy ground, so that you may receive maenads from the race of Ino daughter of Kadmos. They will also give to you good rites and customs and will consecrate Bacchic thiasoi in the city.

According to the oracle, by way of the oracular messengers, the three maenads, Kosko, Baubo, and Thettale, were brought from Thebes: Kosko gathered together the thiasos of the plane tree, Baubo the thiasos before the city, and Thettale the thiasos of Kataibatai. They died and were buried by the Magnesians: Kosko lies buried in the area called Hillock of Kosko, Baubo in the area called Tabarnis, and Thettale near the theater.

(B) This is dedicated to the god Dionysos. Apollonios Mokolles, ancient initiate, had this ancient oracle inscribed upon a slab together with the altar

SEG IV.598
With good fortune. When Perigenes was prytanis, in the month of Anthesterion; the synodos … resolved: Since Hediste, priestess of Dionysos … pursuing honor and benevolence, and having performed continuously the customary services for the god … for ten years … as far as in her power failing the symposion of the thiasos in nothing for many years, and … money for the thiasos … drachmas of silver, to call the sacred day of oinoposia (drinking of wine) eponymously for Hediste as long as she lives; and it should be decided to praise the priestess Hediste, and in addition to the honors formerly bestowed, to honor her with sacrifices, noble, honorable, and worthy of Dionysos and of the thiasos and of Hediste; and also to decree other honors so that the thiasos does not omit anything in return for her favor; … therefore, has been contributed for … and to decree to observe the sacred day named for Hediste every year during the month of Anthesterion, on the thirteenth day, and to decorate as beautifully as possible from the incoming revenues; and that those who have already made their own contribution be, on each occasion, exempt from tribute and free from tax, and that the orgia of every hieron of Dionysos, in the month … when the year is past … because she is in charge of sacrifices for the koinon of the thiasos … the priestess Hediste, the money contributed by Hediste, all of it of all … and to none of the thiasotai … and this money is not to be committed to transfer to any other purpose or to be used for anything else neither in any manner nor for any pretext; and the prostatai (officials) and the treasurers are to be in charge of Hediste and of her heirs … and Apollo-And let him announce:

The thiasos praises and crowns the priestess Hediste, daughter of Kleitos, on account of her excellence and her reverence towards the gods and her benevolence towards the thiasos. And so that the benevolence of Hediste and the gratitude of the thiasos might be clear to all who come after, and that the things decreed also remain permanent and forever firm and be observed by the thiasos of the Dionysiastai, let … in the sanctuary of the Dionysiastai and let another copy be inscribed in the sanctuary of the Eleusinian Gods. And of the Dionysiastai the ones who were appointed to have this inscribed on the stele were [___], [___], Euthigenes, son of Dionysios, Melidoros, son of [___], Gorgias, son of Iatrokles; [___], son of [___]

Herodotos, The Histories 2.49
Melampos was the one who taught the Greeks the name of Dionysos and the way of sacrificing to him and the phallic procession; he did not exactly unveil the subject taking all its details into consideration, for the teachers who came after him made a fuller revelation; but it was from him that the Greeks learned to bear the phallus along in honor of Dionysos, and they got their present practice from his teaching. I say, then, that Melampos acquired the prophetic art, being a discerning man, and that, besides many other things which he learned from Egypt, he also taught the Greeks things concerning Dionysos, altering few of them; for I will not say that what is done in Egypt in connection with the god and what is done among the Greeks originated independently: for they would then be of an Hellenic character and not recently introduced. Nor again will I say that the Egyptians took either this or any other custom from the Greeks. But I believe that Melampos learned the worship of Dionysos chiefly from Kadmos of Tyre and those who came with Kadmos from Phoenicia to the land now called Boiotia.

Plutarch, Greek Questions 38
They relate that the daughters of Minyas, Leukippe and Arsinoe and Alkathoe, becoming insane, conceived a craving for human flesh, and drew lots for their children. The lot fell upon Leukippe to contribute her son Hippasos to be torn to pieces, and their husbands, who put on ill-favoured garments for very grief and sorrow, were called ‘Grimy’ (Psoloeis); but the Minyads themselves were called ‘Oleiae,’ that is to say, ‘Murderesses.’ And even today the people of Orchomenos give this name to the women descended from this family; and every year, at the festival of Agrionia, there takes place a flight and pursuit of them by the priest of Dionysos with sword in hand. Any one of them that he catches he may kill, and in my time the priest Zoïlos killed one of them. But this resulted in no benefit for the people of Orchomenos; but Zoïlos fell sick from some slight sore and, when the wound had festered for a long time, he died. The people of Orchomenos also found themselves involved in some suits for damages and adverse judgements; wherefore they transferred the priesthood from Zoïlos’s family and chose the best man from all the citizens to fill the office.

Plutarch, Roman Questions 112
Did they regard the ivy as an unfruitful plant, useless to man, and feeble, and because of its weakness needing other plants to support it, but by its shade and the sight of its greenness fascinating to most people? And did they therefore think that it should not be uselessly grown in their homes nor be allowed to twine about in a futile way, contributing nothing, since it is injurious to the plants forming its support? Or is it because it cleaves to the ground? Wherefore it is excluded from the ritual of the Olympian gods, nor can any ivy be seen in the temple of Hera at Athens, or in the temple of Aphrodite at Thebes; but it has its place in the Agrionia and the Nyktelia, the rites of which are for the most part performed at night. Or was this also a symbolic prohibition of Bacchic revels and orgies? For women possessed by Bacchic frenzies rush straightway for ivy and tear it to pieces, clutching it in their hands and biting it with their teeth; so that not altogether without plausibility are they who assert that ivy, possessing as it does an exciting and distracting breath of madness, deranges persons and agitates them, and in general brings on a wineless drunkenness and joyousness in those that are precariously disposed towards spiritual exaltation.

Demosthenes, Against Meidias 52
You surely realize that all your choruses and hymns to the god are sanctioned, not only by the regulations of the Dionysia, but also by the oracles, in all of which, whether given at Delphi or at Dodona, you will find a solemn injunction to the State to set up dances after the ancestral custom, to fill the streets with the savour of sacrifice, and to wear garlands.

Please take and read the actual oracles:


You I address, Pandion’s townsmen and sons of Erechtheus,
who appoint your feasts by the ancient rites of your fathers.
See you forget not Bakchos, and joining all in the dances
Down your broad-spaced streets, in thanks for the gifts of the season,
Crown each head with a wreath, while incense reeks on the altars.
For health sacrifice and pray to Zeus Most High, to Herakles, and to Apollo the Protector; for good fortune to Apollon, god of the streets, to Leto, and to Artemis; and along the streets set wine-bowls and dances, and wear garlands after the manner of your fathers in honor of all gods and all goddesses of Olympos, raising right hands and left in supplication, and remember your gifts.

Augustine, De Civitate Dei 7.21
Now as to the rites of Liber, whom they have set over liquid seeds, and therefore not only over the liquors of fruits, among which wine holds, so to speak, the primacy, but also over the seeds of animals:— as to these rites, I am unwilling to undertake to show to what excess of turpitude they had reached, because that would entail a lengthened discourse, though I am not unwilling to do so as a demonstration of the proud stupidity of those who practice them. Varro says that certain rites of Liber were celebrated in Italy which were of such unrestrained wickedness that the shameful parts of the male were worshipped at crossroads in his honour. Nor was this abomination transacted in secret that some regard at least might be paid to modesty, but was openly and wantonly displayed. For during the festival of Liber this obscene member, placed on a little trolley, was first exhibited with great honour at the crossroads in the countryside, and then conveyed into the city itself. But in the town of Lavinium a whole month was devoted to Liber alone, during the days of which all the people gave themselves up to the must dissolute conversation, until that member had been carried through the forum and brought to rest in its own place; on which unseemly member it was necessary that the most honorable matron should place a wreath in the presence of all the people. Thus, forsooth, was the god Liber to be appeased in order for the growth of seeds. Thus was enchantment (fascinatio) to be driven away from fields, even by a matron’s being compelled to do in public what not even a harlot ought to be permitted to do in a theatre, if there were matrons among the spectators.

Diodoros Sikeliotis, Library of History 17.72.1-6
Alexander held games in honour of his victories. He performed costly sacrifices to the gods and entertained his friends bountifully. While they were feasting and the drinking was far advanced, as they began to be drunken a madness took possession of the minds of the intoxicated guests. At this point one of the women present, Thais by name and Attic by origin, said that for Alexander it would be the finest of all his feats in Asia if he joined them in a triumphal procession, set fire to the palaces, and permitted women’s hands in a minute to extinguish the famed accomplishments of the Persians. This was said to men who were still young and giddy with wine, and so, as would be expected, someone shouted out to form the comus and to light torches, and urged all to take vengeance for the destruction of the Greek temples. Others took up the cry and said that this was a deed worthy of Alexander alone. When the king had caught fire at their words, all leaped up from their couches and passed the word along to form a victory procession in honour of Dionysos. Promptly many torches were gathered. Female musicians were present at the banquet, so the king led them all out for the comus to the sound of voices and flutes and pipes, Thais the courtesan leading the whole performance. She was the first, after the king, to hurl her blazing torch into the palace. As the others all did the same, immediately the entire palace area was consumed, so great was the conflagration. It was most remarkable that the impious act of Xerxes, king of the Persians, against the acropolis at Athens should have been repaid in kind after many years by one woman, a citizen of the land which had suffered it, and in sport.

Plutarch, Life of Themistocles 13.2-5
But Themistocles was sacrificing alongside the admiral’s trireme. There three prisoners of war were brought to him, of visage most beautiful to behold, conspicuously adorned with raiment and with gold. They were said to be the sons of Sandaucé, the King’s sister, and Artaÿctos. When Euphrantides the seer caught sight of them, since at one and the same moment a great and glaring flame shot up from the sacrificial victims and a sneeze gave forth its good omen on the right, he clasped Themistocles by the hand and bade him consecrate the youths, and sacrifice them all to Dionysos Ômestes, with prayers of supplication; for on this wise would the Hellenes have a saving victory. Themistocles was terrified, feeling that the word of the seer was monstrous and shocking; but the multitude, who, as is wont to be the case in great struggles and severe crises, looked for safety rather from unreasonable than from reasonable measures, invoked the god with one voice, dragged the prisoners to the altar, and compelled the fulfilment of the sacrifice, as the seer commanded. At any rate, this is what Phanias the Lesbian says, and he was a philosopher, and well acquainted with historical literature.

The Chronicle of Lanercost for the year 1282
About this time, in Easter week, the parish priest of Inverkeithing, named John, revived the profane rites of Priapus, collecting young girls from the villages, and compelling them to dance in circles to the honour of Father Bacchus. When he had these females in a troop, out of sheer wantonness, he led the dance, carrying in front on a pole a representation of the human organs of reproduction, and singing and dancing himself like a mime, he viewed them all and stirred them to lust by filthy language. Those who held respectable matrimony in honour were scandalised by such a shameless performance, although they respected the parson because of the dignity of his rank. If anybody remonstrated kindly with him, the priest became worse than before, violently reviling him.