The My-Stery: Bacchanal!!!!


Destra Garcia – “Bacchanal”

While doing research to write one of my poems, I learned about the Greek god Dionysus/Roman god Bacchus and Bacchanalia festivals. When I heard the word Bacchanalia, I thought of how often Bacchanal is said in Caribbean Calypso and Soca music, and I wanted to know the connections between Caribbean carnival and Bacchanalia. Dionysus/Bacchus is the god of wine (a psychoactive or entheogenic drug), ecstasy, ritual dance, mystery and drama. He is the opposite force of the Apollonian principles of beauty and reason.

Bacchanalia (called in Greece, the Dionysian Mysteries) was a ritual and festival that involved drinking of wine, playing various instruments, mostly percussion, spirit possession and wild dancing. In Greece and Rome, these festivals (or carnivals) were especially important for those who were are the margins of society, like women, slaves and foreigners because the activities were liberating. The festival was also associated with the god Liber and Liberalia. It involved the releasing of inhibitions and the breaking out of the boundaries of social norms. Eventually, the ritual was banned in Rome in 186 BC because of its explicit sexuality, subversiveness to the government and claims of extreme violence, which most likely were untrue.

It is no surprise why the name Bacchanal was adopted into Caribbean, specifically Trinidadian, carnival. In fact, the rituals are similar to Afro-diasporic rituals in religions like Vodou, which relies on rhythms for spirit possession. Additionally Bacchanal exist not only in the Caribbean, but in New Orleans as Bayou Bacchanal. This was in early Greek and Roman culture, but just as marginalized groups today, the participants in these festivals were seen as a threat. When a group of people come together out of the control of the powers that be, it turns to one. I guess history repeats itself once again.

Speaking of celebration, I am graduating today from college!!!

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4 thoughts on “The My-Stery: Bacchanal!!!!”

  1. nice post. i grew up in a trini-american household hearing “bacchanal” (which can reference carnival, a fete or any set of craziness, disorderly confusion or commess!) but didn’t put it together w the greek god bacchus until i started studying carnival origins later in life. trini carnival has its origins in many traditions of the afro francophone caribbean and is tied heavily to celebrations of emancipation and freedom and lower class struggles/oppositional power dynamics. congrats on graduating!

    1. Yeah, growing up in a Caribbean household, I heard it all the time, too. It’s always interesting to find out the origins of the things we say! And thank you!

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