What’s with all this stuff about Jim and Dionysus?
More than he knew, or maybe even hoped…
There are two books Jim left at my apartment which I’ve never seen included by anyone else in the various litanies of Important Books in Jim Morrison’s Life–everybody’s too busy moronically rabbiting on about Arthur fucking Rimbaud, as if he were the only poet Jim or anybody else ever read, or maybe he’s just the only one these dopes have ever heard of–but any Doors fan who so much as reads the titles of these particular books will see why they deserve not only to be included but to stand atop the list of Prime Morrison Influences.
The first one is a two-part text called Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, by Jane Ellen Harrison. Epilegomena was only ever published once, in England in 1921, and Themis in a first edition 1912, a revised second edition 1927. The copy Jim left with me was a reprint of both books in one volume, with a May 1962 first printing and a second printing in January 1966. (I only detail the publishing history so you can see how the reprint dates coincide with crucial periods in Jim’s life: 1962, his freshman/sophomore year of college, at St. Petersburg Junior College and Florida State University; 1966, post-UCLA graduation, the early Doors days.)
The volume I have is the 1966 edition, with Jim’s signature inside, and various notes and pencilings he made throughout the text. I don’t know if he had another copy of this or one of the earlier printing–perhaps he first read it in some library, in Florida or California. But he had this one in New York in January 1970–in fact, he was pleased to leave it with me, on loan, when I expressed an interest in reading it.
As well I might. (I only borrowed it! I’ll give it back! …) It is absolutely fascinating to see, as Tolkien puts it, the bones that were boiled to make the soup: chapters on hero-worship; on Apollo and Dionysos (Harrison’s Greek spelling) coming to Delphi; the medicine-man and king-god; the sacrifice of the Year-king; the sacred snake-king, the holy daimon, that lives in a well beside a tree (“Now a snake…is not a monster to be slain, he is a genius to be cherished”); Dionysos as the daimon of death and resurrection, the nature of Orphic religion…it goes on and on.
Not to mention Themis… Harrison tells us that “The Greek word Themis and the English word Doom are one and the same.” Knowing this, did Jim suggest that Pam should name her clothing store Themis? I kind of don’t think she came up with it all by herself…since she never even managed to finish high school, her education in Greek classical philology and literature was probably not all that it should have been, or even that Jim’s and mine was.
And just why, class, do we think Jim might have suggested `Themis’? Out of what motive or perception? Hmmm? I doubt he just liked the name–Jim had too much going on for so simple or indeed simplistic a motive.
But it’s in Sir James Frazer’s classic The Golden Bough that even more connections are made. Dionysus (Roman spelling, preferred by Jim) is nowadays scornfully thought of as a mere debaucher, god of wine and drunken revelry, but he is a lot more primeval than that, and just plain a lot more than that.
He wasn’t an Olympian to begin with, not right off the bat. He wandered in from Syria, and kind of hung around, slightly disreputable but wildly appealing to the people. So appealing, in fact, did people find him, and so powerful was the hold his worship had on them, that he became an Olympic deity by popular consensus. He’s one of those Sacrificed Sacred King gods–well disposed to humanity, dying for the good of the people, the whole trip that Jim so identified with, consciously and unconsciously.
If Jim is Dionysus, then I am Ariadne, bride of Dionysus–and that’s not just my hubris talking, either: Jim himself actually equates us so, in a wrenchingly lovely and almost unbearably painful poem/letter left for me in the event of his death.
Ariadne was in actuality a Moon-Goddess. But according to the dissing (how strangely familiar the theme…) Greek myth, she was a mortal priestess–a princess, the daughter of King Minos of Crete–who helped Theseus out of the Labyrinth; she became his lover, ran away with him and then he dumped her. But Dionysus, seeing that Ariadne was way too good for stupid ungrateful mortals who didn’t appreciate her, married her and made her a goddess, thus proving that she was the rightful bride of gods to begin with. (You can see where we might identify… )
In that same poem, Jim also likens us to Hades and Persephone, suggesting that Persephone colluded with Hades–god of the Underworld–in her own abduction, because she was madly in love with him and knew her mom, the goddess Demeter, would never approve, him being a bad-boy rockstar type…
And the mythicity of it all just goes on and on: the King marries the Goddess at Midsummer (Jim and I were married on Midsummer Day 1970; not planned–well, not planned by us, anyway–he just `happened’ to be in New York on his way to Paris), and their sacred paradisiacal season lasts from Beltane to Midsummer (I saw the Doors in Philadelphia on Beltane, their last big East Coast concert appearance, and Jim proposed four days later); kings of fire and water (two of Jim’s favorite motifs; one or the other pops up in almost every song) are not allowed to die a natural death–stuff like that.
The second book is Pagan and Christian Creeds: Their Origin and Meaning, by Edward Carpenter, published in 1920. This book Jim and I found in New York, shopping at the famous Strand bookstore; he left it and a bunch of other books with me when he went to Europe after our wedding, though custody was still being hotly disputed at the time. We finally agreed to consider it and about twenty others we had purchased together as the founding volumes of our joint marital library: I even designed bookplates for us, which he just loved; and which I had had made up for me to use–and still do…
Anyway, this also has a bunch of interesting similar parallels, but I don’t want to get into it just now. Mostly because I’ll be writing about all this at much greater length, some time very soon now, and I don’t want to leave it all on the site…watch this space!