August 6, 2018 Eric Blauer

Prince Caspian, Bacchus and Christ: Why Turning Water to Wine Matters

“I wouldn’t have felt very safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan.”
“I should think not,” said Lucy.
-Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis
 
In the end of C.S. Lewis’s book ‘Prince Caspian’, there is a war between the usurper King Miraz and the Telmarines for control and kingship of Narnia. The Telmarines presence in Narnia has led to the talking beasts to retreat to the woods and lose their ability to communicate with man. Narnia is forgetting Alsan. To win the war against the Telmarines, Aslan, Lucy and Susan travel to awaken the ancient god Bacchus his old mentor Silenus, come to the aid of Asla’s plan to defeat the Telmarines.
 
In the book there’s a particularly insightful look at believing and following God when others can’t or won’t believe. This connection with Euripide’s The Bacchae is particularly fascinating to me. Here’s a great article that explores that connection:
 
This kind of retelling, allusion or inclusion of old Greek/Roman tales, gods or images is what often got C.S. Lewis in hot water with some religious types. But it’s just the type of thinking, believing and writing that resonates with me. There are those who see the dark side of the moon in the crescent and those who see the reverse. I am one of the later moon gazers.
 
Christ is still turning water to wine.
 
Such an act, captures the dangerous freedom of life under the rule and reign of Christ. Freedom is dangerous, self-control is not a guarantee, cultivating moderation can appear less religious to the advocate and demands of abstinence. But Christ did not come to destroy the pleasures, no, He came to defeat their place of primacy. He came to save and reorder life, for the glory of God, the joy of man and the celebration of all that is good, true and beautiful.
 
The abundant life, the ‘rich and satisfying’ life…is a life lived with Aslan, apart from Him, it falls to disorder, chaos and calamity.
 
Myth speaks to the human experience in ways that stories only can. In my opinion the telling and retelling of stories is going to be a more effective way of engaging truth as our culture moves farther and farther away from modernism. We must have the ability to find the shared roots of human experience and to speak to those realities in a manner that comes around from behind and allows those we are communicating with to think and ponder without the defenses of familiarity and prejudice firmly in place. Kierkegaard called this “wounding from behind”. Lewis discussed this approach in his biographical reflections:
 
C.S. Lewis:
Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself … I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant’. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened. (letter to Arthur Greeves, Oct 18th, 1931; Collected Letters, 976-977).
 
I am sure if most Christians wrote the gospel of John, they wouldn’t of picked turning water to almost a 100 bottles of wine, to be Jesus’s first miracle. I am sure to the first century Jew, Greek or Roman, it may have been scandalous too, in light of the worship of Bacchus and his troupe of female Maenads with all their drunken raving.
 
But the Jewish prophets had foretold that a Messiah was coming and his signs would include rivers of wine:
 
Amos 9:13-15
“The days are coming days the Lord, when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, and I will bring my people Israel back from exile. “They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God.”
 
Joel 3:18
“And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Shittim.”
 
For Christians, the new wine of God has been poured out.
 
“Whoever is in God’s grace is continually intoxicated with the sweetness of His love, for this intoxication, is so strong and potent that it drives away the thirst for worldly things.” -Divine Grace, Ripa’s ‘Iconologia’
 
This sacred revelation, intoxication and ecstasy is the fullness of all that the myths and the gods were but shadows of, the reality of experience is found in Christ. C.S. Lewis captures this conclusion in his baptism of Bacchus.
 
The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe,
Mr Tumnus tells Lucy:
“…about summer when the woods were green and old Silenus on his fat donkey would come to visit them, and sometimes Bacchus himself, and then the streams would run with wine instead of water and the whole forest would give itself up to jollification for weeks on end.”
 
Prince Caspian, The Lion Roars
“The girls watched them out of sight, standing close beside Aslan. The light was changing. Low down in the east, Aravir, the morning star of Narnia, gleamed like a little moon. Aslan, who seemed larger than before, lifted his head, shook his mane and roared. The sound, deep and throbbing at first like an organ beginning on a low note, rose and became louder, and then far louder again, till the earth and air were shaking with it.
 
The crowd and the dance round Aslan (for it had become a dance once more) grew so thick and rapid that Lucy was confused. She never saw where certain other people came from who were soon capering about among the trees. One was a youth, dressed only in a fawn-skin, with vine-leaves wreathed in his curly hair. His face would have been almost too pretty for a boy’s, if it had not looked so extremely wild. You felt, as Edmund said when he saw him a few days later, “There’s a chap who might do anything—absolutely anything.” He seemed to have a great many names—Bromios, Bassareus, and the Ram were three of them. There were a lot of girls with him, as wild as he. There was even, unexpectedly, someone on a donkey. And everybody was laughing: and everybody was shouting out, “Euan, euan, eu-oi-oi-oi.”
 
“Is it a Romp, Aslan?” cried the youth. And apparently it was. But nearly everyone seemed to have a different idea as to what they were playing. It may have been Tig, but Lucy never discovered who was It. It was rather like Blind Man’s Buff, only everyone behaved as if they were blindfolded. It was not unlike Hunt the Slipper, but the slipper was never found. What made it more complicated was that the man on the donkey, who was old and enormously fat, began calling out at once, “Refreshments! Time for refreshments,” and falling off his donkey and being bundled on to it again by the others, while the donkey was under the impression that the whole thing was a circus, and tried to give a display of walking on its hind legs. And all the time there were more and more vine leaves everywhere. And soon not only leaves but vines. They were climbing up everything. They were running up the legs of the tree people and circling round their necks. Lucy put up her hands to push back her hair and found she was pushing back vine branches. The donkey was a mass of them. His tail was completely entangled and something dark was nodding between his ears. Lucy looked again and saw it was a bunch of grapes. After that it was mostly grapes—overhead and underfoot and all around.
 
“Refreshments! Refreshments,” roared the old man. Everyone began eating, and whatever hothouses your people may have, you have never tasted such grapes. Really good grapes, firm and tight on the outside, but bursting into cool sweetness when you put them into your mouth, were one of the things the girls had never had quite enough of before. Here, there were more than anyone could possibly want, and no table-manners at all. One saw sticky and stained fingers everywhere, and, though mouths were full, the laughter never ceased nor the yodelling cries of Euan, euan, eu-oi-oi-oi-oi, till all of a sudden everyone felt at the same moment that the game (whatever it was), and the feast, ought to be over, and everyone flopped down breathless on the ground and turned their faces to Aslan to hear what he would say next…”
 
“…At that moment the sun was just rising and Lucy remembered something and whispered to Susan,
“I say, Su, I know who they are.”
“Who?”
“The boy with the wild face is Bacchus and the old one on the donkey is Silenus. Don’t you remember Mr Tumnus telling us about them long ago?”
“Yes, of course. But I say, Lu——”
“What?”
“I wouldn’t have felt very safe with Bacchus and all his wild girls if we’d met them without Aslan.”
“I should think not,” said Lucy.
 
So, in closing, I ask you, what I am sure Lewis would of asked as well, “Have you come to the table and partaken of the Divine Feast? It’s a dangerous call, but still Aslan calls you to drink your fill.
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About the Author

Eric Blauer I am barbarian, sage, saint, bard, husband and father. Bow my knee to only One, serve all, ruled by none.

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