One of the ways I like to expand my practice is by reading material that have absolutely nothing to do with my practice. I tend to think gods and spirits can speak to us through a variety of mediums; music, literature, movies, and the completely random. In some ways, these aspects of my religious life mean more to me than all of the devotional texts in the world.
I just finished one such book titled “Nuns Behaving Badly” by Craig A Monson.
One of the chapters that most struck me were the stories detailing the scandalous behavior of a group of nuns during the festival of Carnival. Despite the rules they lived under, the allure of the Dionysian presented itself to these ladies much to the chagrin of the male clergy tasked with keeping them in line,
[…] the Council of Trent , righteous reformers repeatedly complained that whole convents would forget about God for the two months of Carnival. The women danced, sang songs, presented plays and pageants, even played cards and threw dice.
Oh the horror! Not singing songs and throwing dice! What could possibly be worse?
Some nuns went so far as to trade in their habits for lay clothing-and not just female clothing, either!
To the church,this gender bending, rule breaking, borderline ecstatic behavior was not only an affront to God but to the very social order and well-being of humanity. In 1704 the Pope attempted to ban the celebration of Carnival out of a desire to procure deliverance from a series of earthquakes that had struck Rome during the previous year.
But these women were touched by a god; just not the god the church fathers considered worthy of worship. If anything, the Dionysian influence of maskers, singers, debauchery, and levity represented the Devil’s influence made manifest. A presence sent to wreak havoc on a pious Catholic populace. But as King Pentheus of Thebes discovered, some things are unstoppable even with golden chains made of rules and tradition. The two months of Carnival provided an outlet for the creative and rebellious spirits of women locked into roles that ignored their desire for passion, artistic license, and expression.
Perhaps the chasing of the bull, a regular practice during the Carnival season, impacted them more than they knew.
In the end, women will go into the mountains whether polite society offers consent or not. And while I won’t say that the War against Carnival™ led to devastating consequences, one has to wonder just how caged a group of women have to feel to attempt burning down their convent so they can go home.
Through these kinds of stories I am reminded of my own ventures into civilized society to spin and weave. An imbalance occurred where I felt chained to duty with no outlet and when it finally became time for me to go out to the mountains again; the breath of freedom, the rapture of song, and the return to the balance I needed through divine madness and contemplation far outstripped whatever consequences came through my actions.
It was these actions that led me to a new chapter of life that fulfills some of my dreams while keeping me rooted in the traditions of ancestor veneration, worship, and sorcery that have come to represent the pillars of my faith and practice.
Women behaving badly are women who are unpredictable and embrace the inner chaos of the human experience. There is a little Dionysos in all of us. Some things are unstoppable.