How do you reason with a drunken, toga-wearing party guy?
You can ignore him, but he’ll only make more noise to get your attention.
You can yell at him, but it will only get him excited.
The only thing you can do, it seems, is to take a deep breath & invite him in. See where it takes you.
So it is with Dionysus.
Logically it would’ve been more appropriate to explore another god now. Grapes abound in autumn. It would make sense to honour the fruit of the vine & its associated deities at, say, Mabon instead. Dionysus announced his presence not with a bang but with a rather nice bottle of merlot I was given by my partner. I was enjoying a glass when it occurred to me I should take a look at Dionysus. Not now, my rational mind snapped. The more I tried to fight against it, the more I’d encounter him. In chance encounters browsing the shelves at my local bookshop. In random snippets of conversation. I could go on, but you get the idea. When I gave in & agreed to embrace him, all this stopped.
So what is it about him, anyway? Isn’t it all just sex, drugs, & rock & roll?
Well, yes. Sort of.
You think your family is dysfunctional? Spare a thought for Dionysus. A jealous Hera struck him down with madness & caused him to become a wanderer. The goddess Rhea rescued him from his affliction & taught him her craft. Here he found his true calling, to spread the culture of the vine. He’s often called the Liberator. His blessing frees us from ourselves. Think about what happens when you drink. Your inhibitions drop. You become honest to a fault. Temporarily at least, you’re freed from worry & the restraint of normal behaviour.
His retinue was comprised of mostly satyrs & maenads, half-goat men known for their lewd habits & raving madwomen just as likely to rip you to shreds as give you a good time. The cults that sprang up around him destroyed social norms & blasted boundaries, the better to bring on a state of spiritual ecstasy & bring followers closer to their god.
There is more to Dionysus than meets the eye, though. If you don’t bother to look past his scarier habits, it sells him short.
1st & foremost, remember that he chose to give man the gift of the vine. The intoxicating powers of wine are obvious, as are the inherent dangers that come along with it. There are benefits as well. It’s the great social lubricator. Even today a glass of red might take the edge off a nervous party guest or ease a business deal into being.
Perhaps you wouldn’t expect it out of a dedicated raver, but Dionysus is actually a devout family guy. Twice he gave of himself & descended to the Underworld to restore those he loved. In one story he went below to rescue his mum Semele. Beneath the rough exterior lies a sense of honour. The shepherd Prosymnus asked to become the god’s lover as a price for guiding him down but died before he could receive his reward. It would’ve been easy to simply dismiss the whole thing, but Dionysus kept his word. The god left a phallus made from an olive branch on his tomb in payment. The 2nd time he descended was to restore his wife Ariadne & fashion a constellation of stars from her crown.
Consider the truth gift of the god. Dionysus is an in-your-face type of deity. He comes at us roaring, challenging us to get out of our comfort zones. Fears, doubts, & rigid behaviour patterns have no place in his worship. His message is to let go of these & embrace wild joy. His nature is one of extremes, though. Both ends of the spectrum are equally unhealthy. The key to embracing Dionysus lies in learning to balance divine madness with the day-to-day. You can take a sip from his wine cup without draining the whole thing dry.