Today marks a year since my initiation by formal ritual (22nd of October 2015). As such I thought I’d celebrate this with the 30 days of devotion challenge. This will be dedicated to Dionysos. Most of this writing will be deliberately written as a brief, only exploring basic concepts. I hope turns out as a basic and helpful resource for new comers.
A basic introduction to Dionysos
Dionysos was and still is a popular god, most famously known as the god of wine, but he has many other important attributes. Our first archaeological proof of his name comes from linear-B clay tablets found in Pylos, dating his existence (in terms of proof) to 1200BCE. Dionysian cultic expressions, such as ambiguous artefacts that share similar themes, go far back further into history, meaning it is more than possible that his cult existence is much older, potentially running far into pre-history.
In terms of linguistics his name is very unusual, “Dios” is usually regarded as Zeus/God, the “nysos” part being linguistically mysterious in origin. Both ancient and modern scholars have attempted to find its meaning, the most accepted being God of Mount Nysa – the mountain where Dionysos was raised and protected as an infant. The others meanings being: Dios Nous – Mind of Zeus. Diemai nũsa – he who runs amongst tree. Nonnos claims that it means Zeus-Limp, the Nysos meaning limping in Syracusan language. (Source: Ecstatic by H. Jeremiah Lewis)
By the classical period of Athens, Dionysos was well established as the god we know today, the god of wine, theatre, mystery, nature and ecstasy. There were two major festivals dedicated to him one being: Lenaia (celebrated between January to February) and Anthesteria (February to March; dates depends on the lunar cycle). Lenaia being a private civic festival celebrated by woman and comedic plays, Anthesteria being a public festival lasting three days, including massive theatrical performances, games, pomp / parades, public mockery, drunkenness and fun, coming of age ceremonies and finally a day of the dead. After Anthesteria in Athens the Dionysia spread throughout Greece with traveling performers dedicating plays and inviting celebrations to the far reaches of the Hellenic world.
There is always a misunderstanding of Dionysos, he is often considered the god of excess, sexual promiscuously, god of hedonism… but Dionysos is a god of duality. The God that confronts. As equal to his celebratory nature is his death (chthonic) connection. This expression of Dionysos is found in his mysteries and funerals. Many Dionysian artefacts, such as pottery, sarcophagus, votive icons etc., originate from funeral sites. In fact, a large sum of what we know of Dionysos and his cult originates from tombs and grave monuments. A god of life and a god of death.
The Dionysos of the afterlife became popular especially with the unusual Orphic cult that sometimes see Dionysos as a saviour of souls. Being initiated into this cult granted passage to blissful death, the end of the grievous cycle of reincarnation.
Dionysos is also a god of nature and agriculture. He has strong connections to earth including seasons. He is a god of trees, plants and fruits.
As I’m attempting to keep this brief I will discuss one final major aspect of Dionysos as being the god of Ecstasy. This is perhaps the eldest expression of Dionysos, (I suspect it having to do with what we now call Shamanism.) Dionysos is the god of Epiphany, The God that Comes, he does this through ecstatic performance of man. If it be through intoxication via substances, dance, music or performance. He manifests and blurs the lines of reality inviting us into the divine through his ecstatic presence. He breaks down the inhibitions and logic that hinder our potential and opens the world to us. This gift he grants to all humanity, regardless of who you are.
So you see Dionysos is a god of many things.