Pagan Blog Project – week 52 – Z – Zagreus
My husband has his degree in Classics, and his department’s Classics Society had this poster up on campus. It was this life-sized, goofy painting of Dionysus - some generic dude with a toga and some purple and some grapes and a big cup of wine. The caption at the bottom said “Born Again Pagan” and while my Pagan friends thought it was super clever, I guess it caused quite a stir among some of the other students and faculty.
At first I didn’t get the joke. I didn’t think it was terribly clever. In my experience growing up Baptist, and later spending time in an evangelical fundamentalist church, the phrase “born again” takes on a pretty specific meaning. To be born again means that you are born physically and then you change your life around and give it to Jesus and start listening to Christian rock and watching the 700 Club and your old life is dead and you’re reborn living a new very boring life.
(Sorry, Christians… I know that this isn’t 100% accurate to the “born again” experience, and I don’t want to discredit how powerful the experience can be. This is just what it was for me which is probably why I’m Pagan now and not Christian.)
So in my experience, born again meant that you were born by your momma and then your old life dies and you live a new life. Or it kind of meant that maybe you tried the Christian thing and then it failed and then suddenly it makes a lot of sense and you are born again and given a do-over for Christianity. Maybe you’ll get it right this time. Maybe it will stick.
So the phrase “Born Again Pagan” just seemed kind of silly to me. When I became a Pagan, no part of me died. It just changed, it morphed. I was the same old me I always had been, but I didn’t have to give anything up, and really, I didn’t have to do anything new (like watch the 700 Club). I could just be Pagan now, and that was that. There was no death or rebirth, but rather, a transformation.
This actually reminds me a lot of the Death card in tarot. It (usually) doesn’t mean a literal death, but more of a metaphorical ending of something in order for something new to grow. The old stuff acts as fertilizer for the new stuff, and the new stuff is often stronger and better than the old stuff, but it needs to be fertilized by the old stuff.
So my coming to Paganism was pretty similar to the Death card. I didn’t die. I wasn’t reborn. I wasn’t born again. I was just transformed.
I’m a huge fan of myth and storytelling and metaphor, so it wasn’t until I began to study mythology that I finally began to understand the phrase “born again Pagan.” There are lots of dying/resurrecting god/man/godman myths from all over the world. In particular, the Classicists of my husband’s degree program were drawing upon the myth of Zagreus/Dionysus when they thought they were being clever with their little poster.
Ancient Crete is a bit different than mainland Greece in many ways, and the Cretians tell the story of Zagreus, who is the infant child of Zeus, or maybe Hades, after they impregnate Persephone while disguised as a snake. Hera gets jealous, as she often does, and she convinces the Titans to murder little baby Zagreus. While in the form of a bull he is torn to pieces and eaten. Someone finds the child’s heart, and Zeus gives this to Semele so she becomes pregnant. Zagreus is reborn as Dionysus.
So finally I was finally able to begin to understand why Dionysus is a Born Again Pagan. (Though I guess one could debate on the term “Pagan” as it applies to Dionysus, but I’m not going to get into that right now.) But what does the term “Born Again Pagan” mean for me? What does it mean for you?
Zagreus has been born again as Dionysus, and that means anything you damn well want it to mean.
And that's part of the fun of being a Born Again Pagan.