The Wicked, The Divine and The Mythology: Part 4 — Sakhmet and Dionysus

The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jaime McKelvie and Matthew Wilson , issue #8. Image, 2015.

This series intends to briefly point towards the original mythological material, compare it to the comic adaptation of it (The Wicked + The Divine), and speculate about possible meanings and foreshadowing by using a bit of background knowledge. It contains light spoilers about character development, but not about the plot.

Part 1: Amaterasu and Lucifer

Part 2: The Morrigan and Baphomet

Part 3: Baal and Inanna

The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jaime McKelvie and Matthew Wilson , issue #6. Image, 2015.This comic is taking me by surprise issue after issue.

First of all, a correction regarding Part 3: Baal and Inanna:

In, as I like to call this series WicDivMyth Part 3, I referred to Inanna as “she.” After reading issue #6, it’s clear I got this wrong. I wrote Part 3: Baal and Inanna before the issue dropped, with only the cover image for reference. As Inanna, originally, was female and her mythos is tied closely to the idea of “femininity,” I did not think twice and skipped to conclusions. I also missed the obvious Prince reference. Shame on me!

WicDiv’s Inanna, in the current time (issue #7), goes by he/him pronouns. But it may be possible this will change soon, and it will be explored in the comics—it was hinted by Kieron Gillen that Inanna’s pronouns will be discussed in issue #8 or #9. Looking at facial features and wardrobe choices, it’s apparent this character is heavily inspired by Prince, and when I asked Gillen on Tumblr about gender-fluidity and Inanna, he said:

“Prince has whole periods of music where he leans into the idea of gender-fluidity. ‘I’m not a woman/I’m not a man,’ etc. So [gender-fluidity is] certainly on my mind.”

At this point, using they/them pronouns for Inanna appears to be popular in WicDiv’s active fandom.

In the last post I theorized on what Inanna’s pop version would be, and I ended up betting on a Beyoncé-style feminist. I am so glad I was wrong! This is a hundred times better.

The whole Inanna concept swirls around femininity, as it was understood in its context. But then, WHAT is femininity? I suppose WicDiv’s Innana could be a (cis or trans) woman, and that would be okay. But this book does not like “okay,” and it is not taking the easy path. It is complex, and inside this complexity there is sense in Inanna’s not being a woman.

Well, if I got Inanna incredibly wrong, at least I got Baphomet right:The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jaime McKelvie and Matthew Wilson , issue #9. Image, 2015.

That’s what I said back in Part 2: The Morrigan and Baphomet. Thank you, Cassandra. You are amazing.

On to the usual pair-of-gods analysis: this time I chose a pair who like to party hard. Sakhmet and Dionysus are both fan favourites. The first has been in the comic since the first issue, with a bit of info about her showing up here and there. The latter, on the other hand, has only appeared in issue #8, but that issue basically revolved around him.

The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jaime McKelvie and Matthew Wilson , issue #5 alternative cover. Image, 2015.SAKHMET:

In Egyptian mythology, Sakhmet (Sekhmet, Sachmis, Sakhet) is the goddess of war, blood lust, anger, healing and—my personal favorite—menstruation. She is depicted as a lioness-headed woman. She is one of the oldest known Egyptian deities. Her name, derived from the Egyptian word for power, “sekhem,” means “the powerful one.”

According to myth, Re—the almighty solar god—created the world and humanity and ruled Egypt as the first Pharaoh. With time, his human body aged, and men thought he was weak and no longer feared him. His people would laugh at him and disobey his orders, living in anarchy. So Re created Sakhmet as a personification of the glance of his Eye, and he bid her to slay those who had scorned and disobeyed him.

And slay she did. For years, she killed each man she saw, guilty or naive, and the Nile ran red.

Re regretted it and asked her to stop, but in her bloodlust she would not even hear it. He realized she would only cease the bloodshed out of her own accord. So he commanded all women in his capital Heliopolis to brew strong beer and sent his fastest messengers to the isle of Elephantine to bring red ochre (sometimes pomegranate juice, depending on the source). He combined the two ingredients and made a blood-red beer that he poured over Sakhmet’s battlefield.

When Sakhmet saw it, she thought it was blood, and drank it all as fast as she could. The strength of the beer went to her brain, and she slept for the rest of the day. When she woke and went back to Re, her bloodlust had passed, and she was calm.

In ancient times, priestesses celebrated the cunning of Re and the anger of Sakhmet each New Year by drinking red colored beer.

Sekhmet depiction at the Temple of Kom Ombo
Sekhmet depicted with the solar disk above her head at the Temple of Kom Ombo

In WicDiv, Sakhmet is portrayed as a Rihanna look-a-like with caricatural cat habits, as seen in issue one when she got obsessed with lasers. She has fire powers, which is in agreement with the canon—Sakhmet is the daughter of the Sun and wears the Sun crown, she is sometimes called the Fiery Eye of Re. The biggest addition to the mythos, however, is that this Sakhmet has an insatiable sexual desire—displaying many lovers, keeping her eyes on Woden’s Valkyries, and flirting with Luci in inappropriate moments.

Even though we haven’t seen her in a deeper emotional level, Sakhmet’s fierceness shows, especially through her violent desires and clothing. Her inclination for violence is clear as she is one of the two gods to attack Luci when she escapes prison and brags she has done worse than murdering a judge.

Her fighting outfit in issue #5 is comically glamorous and sensual, but I can totally buy that. Unlike so many female superheroes, she is just the kind of person who would choose this impractical outfit.

The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jaime McKelvie and Matthew Wilson , issue #8. Image, 2015.DIONYSUS:

More than a wine deity, Dionysus is the protector of those who don’t belong to conventional society. His ancient cult was at first only practiced by women, and later by slaves, non-citizens, and outlaws. Even later, when the more privileged joined the rites, they were encouraged to exchange places with the lower classes during worship.

Dionysus himself is an outcast. He is the youngest of the Olympian gods, both in the mythological and in the historical sense. He is, in the mythos, a foreigner—some texts claim he arrived from the east (Asia Minor) while others say south (Ethiopia).

Today, it is broadly accepted that Dionysus’s cult is actually indigenous to the ancient Greeks. It’s speculated that he may have been honoured as a deity from as early as 6,000 BCE, when viticulture flourished in Greece. But for a long time, some scholars were confused about the lack of historical evidence concerning Dionysus in early ages. They were trying to explain why Dionysus was so lately added to the Greek Pantheon (around 1,500 BCE)—in the Homer epics (1,100 BCE to 850 BCE) he is hardly ever mentioned, and when he is it is with disdain. Various theories were created, but turns out this silence was caused by the marginality of the god’s followers, who were socially excluded.

Dionysus is the Greek god of viticulture, fertility, wine-drinking, mad frenzy, hallucination, theater, reincarnation, homosexuality, and effeminacy. His worship was a Sacred Mystery—that is, his worshipers were initiates who could not share their rites with non-initiated. But a part of the religion was public, mainly during the Dionysian festivals. It was characterized by wine-drinking, rhythmic beats, and dancing—a rave, basically.

The cults happened in the woods, in caves, or in the mountains (later, with the urbanization of the cult, buildings were accepted as temples, but it was preferable if they were underground). The pious, in their frenzy, would kill a bull or a goat with their bare hands (sparagmos) and then eat it raw (omophagia). The meat was said to become the meat of Dionysus himself, and by consuming it they believed the god would become part of their bodies (communion).

Maenad carrying various Dionysus's symbols. Tondo of an Ancient Greek Attic, 490–480 BC.
Maenad carrying various Dionysus’s symbols.

The initiation rites, although shrouded in secrecy, are speculated to have involved a goat’s penis. Later, it was happily replaced by a penis made of wood. The phallus was very important in Dionysian symbology—actually, there was a whole procession dedicated to it in Ancient Greece. The Phallika, or Penis Parade, involved a lot of penis showcasing, giant wooden penises, general obscenity, and lots of distasteful jokes.

The wine they drank was, probably, fortified with hallucinogenics, due to the low alcoholic level present in ancient wine. In WicDiv too, the effect of Dionysus’s touch seems more hallucinogenic than alcohol-induced. In that way, it was believed Dionysus liberated people from civilization’s rules, returning the human being to its primordial nature.

His darker side is often seen when his adoration is denied. Once, his mortal cousin Pentheus, ruler of Thebes, and his aunts Agave, Ino, and Autonoe denied his divinity. Dionysus drove the women crazy and turned them into Maenads, his female radical worshipers. The Maenads, including his own mother Agave, then tore Pentheus’s body apart with their bare hands. This story parallels history: Dionysus’s religion was rejected in many places—because of the marginalized position its early followers occupied, or it was considered a danger to civilized society, or because of its scandalous sexual practices—but with time it became very popular. Similar stories are told of other cities, always ending with Dionysus driving women unbelievers mad and thus forcing them to kill their beloved ones. One of those stories involve Orpheus, so that’s what Cassandra means in issue #8 when she says the rave is “going to go all Orpheus and the Maenads.

Indeed, he does look very scary in this panel:The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen, Jaime McKelvie and Matthew Wilson , issue #8. Image, 2015.

“He had a dual nature; on one hand, he brought joy and divine ecstasy; or he would bring brutal and blinding rage, thus reflecting the dual nature of wine.” (GreekMythology.com)

References and further reading:

http://www.egyptianmyths.net/sekhmet.htm
http://www.egyptianmyths.net/mythre.htm
http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/Sekhmet.html
http://www.theoi.com/Olympios/Dionysos.html
http://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/Dionysus/dionysus.html

Series Navigation<< The Wicked, The Divine, and The Mythology—Part 3: Baal and Inanna

6 thoughts on “The Wicked, The Divine and The Mythology: Part 4 — Sakhmet and Dionysus

  1. I’ve always been a casual mythology buff, but reading the comics made me realize how much there is that I don’t know about. I’ve really enjoyed the analysis in these articles and getting some background on the gods and goddesses involved in the story. I really want to read your take on the rest of the Pantheon, which I’m guessing is coming sometime after volume 3 wraps up. Particularly since that arc gives a lot of characterization to the Pantheon that hasn’t really appeared on screen yet.

  2. I love this series of articles! It’s really great and I’d love to see one of Woden and Urdr maybe? Or Minerva and Tara? It would be interesting to see how you would explore the difference between Woden and Odin in mythology or even which Tara Tara is.

  3. Carolina, I finally got to read this since I read Volume 2 and didn’t want any spoilers! Love the background info this gives me about the characters and what Gillen and McKelvie are doing with them.

  4. Thank you so much for this series!

    Little theory here, but when it was revealed that Inanna is sometimes identified with male pronouns I thought back to when Lucifer said that Baal was angry with her for fooling around with his ‘boyfriend’ and remembered the link you made in another article that said that Baal’s possible mythological partner was Anat who is equivalent (although not the same) to Ishtar (or in Sumerian, Inanna). So not an incredibly interesting or original point but I think comic Inanna and Baal are or were possibly romantically involved with each other, and that at some point Luci got between them.

    Also it’s possible that Sakhmet’s overly sexual nature in the comics is borrowed from her mythological association with Hathor, a goddess of feminine sexuality, who in some versions of the myth featured in this article actually becomes Sakhmet to deliver the wrath of Ra.

  5. How comfortable do you feel about drawing the connections even further and tying them into pop culture. I only say this because I found your dissection of Dionysus from a deity stand point absolutely essential (and the rest of your breakdowns, for that matter) and opened a lot about the character for me. My knowledge of gods is rusty at best (i.e. I now the basics with Dionysus but probably couldn’t get into anything above a surface level discussion — at least without help). For one Dionysus pop culture/music aspect is EDM and the club scene. One of the core things that your piece enlightened was the fact that Dionysus wasn’t always worshiped and his divinity was also questioned constantly, which is exactly the space in which EDM employs within a lot of music criticism (an endless stream of words have been devoted to either declaring it the wave of the future or that it’s not even music — especially given its context and setting). It’s easy to go into that further but it ebbs and flows nicely with what you wrote. I also loved pointing out how Dionysus had a tendency to punish those who didn’t worship him because that makes the “I don’t sleep” line creepy and threatening as I thought when I first read it.

    Also, I haven’t seen this mentioned in regards to Baphomet but Gillen breaking him down as the indie/punk/metal “kid” of the pantheon is especially important within him being a “fake god.” Consider how important credibility and “not selling out” is with that crowd and being called “fake” is the worst insult you can hurl at them/him and they’re always searching for that credibility in anyway they can, often leading to interesting bedfellows. And when taken with opposite number in regards to the Morrigan is even more interesting because the pop culture aspects she embodies are almost always more comfortable in their own skin (at least publicly) and are able to transition in a way their male counterparts always struggle with whether it’s ideological or something more concrete.

    Finally, I might be off on this (probably, whatever) but I think the Beyonce analogy is clearly Tara. We haven’t met her obviously but there’s a sense of a strong sense of self and also being above her contemporaries (whether it’s intentional or just a product of her confidence) to the point where it comes off as a touch condescending to those closest to her.

  6. I just found this series of articles today, and all I can say is thank you. I’ve been following Wic+Div since issue 1 but I haven’t done much more research into the gods than skimming their wiki pages. Keep up the good work and I’ll be patiently waiting for part 5.

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