A Word on Bacchus, Fauns, Dryads, Naiads, Maenads

I had some ado to prevent Joy and myself from relapsing into Paganism in Attica! At Daphni it was hard not to pray to Appolo the Healer. But somehow one didn’t feel it would have been very wrong — would have only been addressing Christ sub specie Apollinius. (Roger Lancelyn Green quoting C.S. Lewis in the biography C.S. Lewis: A Biography)

C.S. Lewis’s love affair with Greek paganism is clearly seen in the selection of characters for his masterfully written and much-beloved series, The Chronicles of Narnia. The mysterious and wonderful world of Narnia is home not only to the Christ-like Aslan, but is teeming with the icons of ancient pantheistic and idolatrous religions. Pagan gods, demi-gods, and Aslan all dwell together in harmony.

These characters include:

The Roman God Bacchus: Worshipped by millions of pagans from the ancient world as the god of wine, Bacchus is associated with drunkenness, revelry, and immorality. In The Chronicles of Narnia, Bacchus makes occasional visits to Narnia. He is mentioned in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and makes an appearance in Prince Caspian, as does Silenus, a figure from Greek mythology who was the teacher of Bacchus. In Greek mythology, Bacchus goes by the name Dionysus.

Maenads: The ancient Greeks and Romans knew the maenads as the special attendants to Bacchus (which is why they also went by the names Bacchae and Bacchantes). The word maenad literally means “raving ones.” They were believed to have occult powers. In Narnia, they are “madcap” girls that still attend to Bacchus. Of Maenads, Wikipedia has this interesting explanation: “They were known as wild, insane women who could not be reasoned with. The mysteries of Dionysus inspired the women to ecstatic frenzy; they indulged in copious amounts of violence, bloodletting, sex, and self-intoxication and mutilation. They were usually pictured as crowned with leaves, clothed in fawnskins and carrying the Thyrsus and dancing with the wild abandonment of complete union with primeval nature.”

Fauns: Half humans and half goats, fauns find their origin in Roman mythology as followers of the gods Pan (god of the field) and Bacchus (god of wine). They are generally portrayed in myth as troublemakers. Fauns play a central role in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and can be found throughout The Chronicles of Narnia, but unlike their Roman counterparts, Lewis’s fauns are kind, beloved creatures.

Centaurs: In religious worship and mythology, centaurs are half human, half horse — wicked demi-gods given to violence and sexual excess. (Exception: The centaur Chiron (trainer of Achilles) was depicted as just.) Centaurs are important figures in the Narnian landscape. Lewis portrays them as generally loyal to Aslan, and as star-gazers that tell the future by the stars.

Dryad and Naiads: Pantheism (the worship of God in nature) is a critical element of ancient paganism. Dryads are yet another mythological manifestation of this anti-Christian idolatry. A dryad is a tree spirit linked to an individual tree. In Lewis’s Narnia, Dryads are mysterious, tree/spirit beings who are faithful to Aslan and Narnia itself. In ancient mythology, naiads were water nymphs. (They appear less frequently than Dryads in the Chronicles.)


Another Word on Bacchus and the Maenads

The Temple to Bacchus at Baalbek, Lebanon

Bacchus is a rather insignificant figure in The Chronicles of Narnia, but he is unequivocally there. Lewis presents him as a cute, rollicking Narnian. Lewis draws from the specifics of Greek myth when describing the entourage of Bacchus (maenads, Silenus, etc.). The point I would make seems painfully obvious — Bacchus is a pagan deity who (like Baal) represents all that Christianity despises and seeks to overthrow. There is nothing even remotely Christian about favorably including such a figure in a book or series of books which hopes to present an analogy for Christianity.

The following scholarly overview of the worship ritual of the god of wine
can be found here:

The core ritual associated with the worship of Dionysus [Bacchus] was orgiastic, meaning that it involved states of trance-like ecstasy, “outside-of-oneselfness,” merging with and possession by the god. It was celebrated every two years, at mid-winter near the time of the solstice, on barren mountain tops, especially Mt. Parnassus overlooking Delphi. There were three parts to this ritual:

Oreibasia (mountain dancing): To the accompaniment of flutes, drums, and cymbals, the worshippers, particularly women, danced themselves into ecstatic trances.

Sparagmos (tearing to pieces): In these trances they caught snakes and small animals and dismembered them with their bare hands.

Omophagia (eating raw flesh): By eating the bloody flesh of these animals, the worshippers became one with the god and with the wild natural forces that he represented.

These facets of Dionysian ritual are woven into many myths. For example, the poet Orpheus angered some maenads by rejecting all women, so these women dismembered him.