We present a further excerpt from our RUDRAGANIKA work – this time, looking at a most intriguing co-expression in the Vedic, Hellenic, and Nordic spheres. That of figures drawn from this female retinue of the Sky Father ‘playing with Their food’, and tearing apart wrongdoers. Whilst also weaving webs of fate using the entrails.
This is the famed Sparagmos & Omophagia so terrifically prominent in the Greek tragedians’ presentation of the Bacchae and Maenads, the Valkyries’ webcasting in the Darraðarljóð section of the Saga of Burnt Njal, and what we suspect very strongly to underpin the Sambhunjati [‘Those Who Eat [Their Prey] Together’] epithet of the Vedic Rudraganika attested in the AtharvaVeda. We also believe it to resonate most strongly with the still-well-known Tantrika concept whereby a violator of the bounds and oaths of secrecy of the Tantrika Kaula and its cultic initiation … is said to become “Food for the Yoginis”.
This notion of the Rudraganika as Avenger – and as Desolator – we consider through the course of AV-S XII 5, a hymnal in which the dread potency of Rudra’s Female Retinue is deployed ‘gainst the scoundrel who should DARE to attempt to steal the Brahmin’s Cow.
But on with the show ! Art, as ever, by HC !
ॐ नमः शिवाय
A final element I shall raise – for now – pertaining to the specifically Dionysian iteration of these female Ganas amidst the Greeks, concerns the situation of the Sparagmos and Omophagia. There are many things which could – and most definitely should – be said about these particular (reputed) cultic practices, but for now we shall simply focus in upon some potential Hindu correlated understandings – as handily illuminated via our typology.
The first of these concerns that AtharvaVedic hailing for these female Ganas of Rudra – Sambhunjati. This effectively means ‘They Who Eat (or Enjoy) Together’, translated by Manasataramgini as “[who] devour their targets”. It is not hard to see how the Dionysiac cultic practice of the women in question … eating together (in fittingly gruesome fashion in the legendary presentations of such) might concord with this. Although at the same time, we must emphasize that various of these tellings are likely not quite literal in their impetus – for example, there is some (well-founded) suspicion that the presentation of Bacchic women tearing apart their own infant children was meant as a symbolic register for them deserting their domestic station in order to go and take up station within the retinue of the God. Once strict-literalism is safely placed to one side, we are able to examine in perhaps better depth various of these elements in order to divine something more keeping of their likely true nature. In a similar regard, the Omophagia has been suggested to perhaps instead pertain to the handling of raw meat in order to provide this as sacral offering to the God Himself. This is … unusual in Indo-European terms, where ‘burnt offerings’ are quite often the order of the day – but we see no overt reason for it to be impossible.
A most fascinating potential further correlate may be observed in the Darraðarljóð – the Song (Ljóð) of the Darraðr (Battle-Standard; although also interpreted perhaps non-exclusively, as ‘Web of Arrows / Darts’) found within Burnt Njal’s Saga. There we find twelve Valkyries in blood-spattered assembly, come together in conclave to ‘weave the web of fate’ .. from entrails that, one must presume, they had sourced reasonably ‘freshly’. This concords with perhaps (un)surprising directness with what is stated in Porphyry for the Cave of the Nymphs, in which a congregation of Naiads pointedly stated to be found in the company of the ‘symbols of Bacchus’, engage in “weaving purple webs” comprised of flesh and blood. Something which, again unsurprisingly, they are acting in emulation of Persephone / Proserpine, Who is likewise stated in the same passage to be a weaver of a web (drawing, it would seem, from an Orphic source upon the matter), and this correlated to the night’s sky in an implicit case of ‘above’ and ‘below’. Or, we might suggest : a multi-layered mythic-resonance / recurrence that human woman – engaged in the process of divination or worship – might then also fittingly emulate. But more upon this, perhaps, some other time – and my thanks to O.R. to alerting me to the Porphyrian conceptry.
However, one of the more intriguing Vedic sources we might draw from for our comparanda is AV-S XII 5 48. This is one of two hymnals in quick succession basically setting out what happens to somebody who violates one of the most important suites of ordinances – those governing the treatment of the Mother Cow. Fittingly, what we find in various of the lines involved are Roudran terms – indeed, the preceding hymnal, AV-S XII 4, makes this quite explicit; the second to last line invoking Him rather directly (and His Arrow or Spear) to smite down the evildoer and interloper who would dare to try and make off with the Brahmin’s Cow. Meanwhile, in AV-S XII, we again encounter a suite of Roudran conceptry for these Avengers against the maleficarum … although here, it is ‘inferential’ rather than so directly stated.
So, in AV-S XII 5 47, we find the Vulture (stated in the Bhava & Sarva hymnal to Rudra in the preceding AV Mandala to be one of Rudra’s Birds), and in AV-S XII 49, we find the Wolf (again, one of Rudra’s iconic animals – or, even, one of Rudra’s iconic Forms and companions). What do we find in the middle? Why, it is the Keshini – that ‘wild-haired’ Women of Rudra clade. And what action do these Keshini undertake? They dance around the pyre into which the reprobate has been placed, beating their chests in such a fashion and making a most terrifying howling wail. I think we have met this before … this notion of wild-haired women who howl, acting in the service of the Great God and dancing as they do so. It is certainly telling that the immediate next line has those other Howlers of Rudra, the wolves, directly invoked; and in like fashion, quite a number of lines imminently following depict these Avengers as being engaged in tearing the offender rather directly ‘limb from limb’ (and then some) in a manner that would do the Greek ‘Sparagmos’ conceptry proud !
Most intriguingly, we then have a further suite of references to ‘Avenger’ figures here. I shall not go through all of these at this time, yet there is one in particular who is most directly relevant to our purposes herein. That being the ‘Angirasi’ invoked in line 52. In fact, I shall quote the verse in context (at least, in translation):
“51 Rend, rend to pieces, rend away, destroy, destroy him utterly.
52 Destroy Angirasi! the wretch who robs and wrongs the Brahmans, born.”
And, for ‘variety’:
“51 Cut thou, cut on, cut forth, scorch, burn (kṣā).
52 O daughter of An̄giras, exhaust thou the Brahman-scather, that takes to himself [the cow].”
As I say, we could go into quite some further depth with various of the ensuing lines in this hymnal – and it is intriguing to note that the Cow Herself, implicitly the Devi, is also invoked to go and carry out Her most implacable contribution to this ‘extraordinary rendition’ of the maleficant. We might be tempted to infer from this that, once again, it is a case of the Goddess leading and acting as apex for the female retinue in question [the ‘Daughter of Angiras’ perhaps being meant figuratively – a vengeful Devi invoked into our plane by the priest] – or, perhaps, that the Goddess is present and invoked in the female retinue-members in question. Either way, there is a clear coterminity at play.
But our purpose here is to draw attention to the ‘Angirasi’ duly mentioned in the Griffith, and directly explicated in the Whitney. ‘Daughter of Angiras’. Why is this significant? Because the earlier (in this text) presented and later (in terms of its actual attestation) understanding for the RudraGanikas in their mythic genesis is that they are supposed to be the daughters of the wives of the prominent Vedic Rsis. It is not at all a stretch to presume that this is where the threads of the RudraGanika in the archaic attestations as these mythic wild-haired women who dance and destroy even with their teeth, talons, and torches … and in the later attestations as the light-bearing, dancing, daughters of Rsika lineage in Temples … may so happen to somewhat converge.
Certainly, we might also detect what may have developed in later (and specifically Tantrika) spheres into the concept that one who violates propriety and breaks the ‘seal’ of the cultic initiation … “becomes food for the Yoginis”.
I would therefore suggest that, in this light, the situations of Sparagmos & Omophagia which we find attested in the mythological (or literary) side of things for the Greeks – wherein somebody seeking to (or having already carried out) grave actions to the displeasure of the God is thusly torn to shreds and devoured by His female furor-infused cohorts … is implicitly referencing the same effective concept. Although, of course, it must be noted that the other side to Sparagmos & Omophagia, wherein these may have constituted sacral or initiatory practices inside the Dionysian cult, may have quite different potential ambits to them. We shall not delve into those here.
Either way – that succinct Vedic expression, ‘Sambhunjati’, should seem eloquent to encapsulate same.