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To Touch the GODS...Dionysius

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Author Topic: To Touch the GODS...Dionysius  (Read 145 times)
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« on: March 25, 2007, 01:36:45 am »


Dionysus (Bacchus) 
God of wine and ecstasy. Dionysus was a son of Zeus and Semele, daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia. He was also known as Bacchus and identified by the Romans as Liber.

Semele was still pregnant with Dionysus, when she was killed. Zeus rescued the unborn Dionysus, from the dead mother, and sewed the premature baby into his Zeus' thigh, until he was ready to be born. The name Dionysus means "born twice".

See Semele in the Wrath of Heaven, for the full story of Semele's death and Dionysus' birth.

Some say that Dionysus' aunt Ino brought him up in Orchomenus, with her husband, Athamas. Ino disguised Dionysus as a girl, but Hera recognised the infant, and drove Athamas and Ino mad. They ended up killing their own sons. To hide Dionysus, Zeus changed him into a kid (goat) and Hermes left him in the care of Nysa, a nymph. Silenus taught him the secrets of nature and together they discovered how to make wine.

When Dionysus grew into a young man, Hera recognised him. She immediately afflicted him with madness. Dionysus wandered the world, going as far as India. When he came upon the river Tigris, Zeus sent a tiger, upon whose back he crossed the river. As he travelled he taught people how to cultivate vine as well as how to make wine. Satyrs and nymphs accompanied him. His followers were known as Bacchants. His female followers were frequently known as Maenads.


When pirates captured Dionysus, they wanted to sell him into slavery. Only the helmsman recognised Dionysus as a god, when the pirates could not bind him with ropes. They ridiculed the helmsman, when he tried to warn them that they were offending the god.

Soon they would witness the power of the god. Vines began to appear out of nowhere and grow all over the ship, while the deck was awash with a stream of wine. Dionysus inflicted madness upon the pirates and they began to hallucinate. The pirates thought they saw wild beasts surrounding them on board the ship. They jumped overboard to escape from the phantom creatures. The pirates were changed into dolphins once they were in the water. Only the helmsman was spared.

Dionysus got off the ship at the island of Naxos. There, he found and fell in love with Ariadne, daughter of Minos and Pasiphae. Theseus had abandoned her on the deserted island.

Dionysus married Ariadne. According to Hesiod, Zeus made Ariadne immortal for the sake of his son.

Dionysus often punished those who resisted his worship. His aunts, Agave, AutonoŽ (Autonoe) and Ino had spread a rumour that his mother's lover was mortal. He punished them by causing them to go mad and join the Bacchants in their rites, some sort of drunken revelry and ****. When his cousin Pentheus, king of Thebes, refused to allow him to establish worship in the city, Dionysus caused the king's mother and aunts to tear the limbs and head from Pentheus, thinking he was a lion or a boar. See Wrath of Heaven about the death of Pentheus.


In Thrace, he also punished Orpheus, a mythical musician and one of the Argonauts. Orpheus was torn to pieces by Dionysus' worshippers. However, in the Orphic myths, Orpheus was actually the chief priest of Dionysus.

Lycurgus, king of Thrace, chased Dionysus with an ox goad and had his followers imprisoned. His father, Zeus, punished the Thracian king by causing him to go mad and kill his own son, Dryas. Lycurgus himself was torn to pieces by his own wild horses, which the king kept for his chariot racing.

In this episode, King Midas had rescued Silenus, a companion of Dionysus, from Lycurgus. It was Dionysus who gave Midas the ability to turn everything he touched, into gold, as a reward. But this gift turned out to be a curse, because he not touch food or drink without turning them into gold. Midas would have died from starvation, but Dionysus told the king how to remove his gift. (See Midas.)

Dionysus had an affair with Aphrodite, who gave him a son named Priapus, god of fertility. Priapus was always depicted as an ugly and deformed satyr-like god with an oversized ****.

Dionysus was listed as one of the gods, who fought alongside with Heracles against the Giants or Gigantes. He had wielded his thyrsus, killing Eurytus.

Dionysus descended down to the Underworld, freeing his mother, Semele (Thyone). Either Dionysus or Zeus made her into an immortal goddess, and her name was changed to Thyone. Thyone or Semele became a mother goddess. Dionysus ascended up to Olympus where he was given a place among the gods, taking his mother with him. Some believed that Dionysus was one of the twelve great Olympians.

Hera had reluctantly become resigned to Dionysus being one of them, but was more accepting of her stepson later, when she was in trouble. When Hephaestus had confined his mother to a golden throne, it was Dionysus who came to her aid. The other gods failed to persuade Hephaestus to free his own mother, so Dionysus got Hephaestus drunk, and was able to persuade the smith god to release Dionysus' archenemy.

Vines and ivy were sacred to Dionysus. His sacred animals were fish, dolphin and goat, because he had been transformed into a kid, to hide the young god from Hera. In art, he sometimes appeared with a beard and sometimes beardless. Dionysus was sometimes portrayed as effeminate youth, because he wore women's clothes, to hide from Hera, but was struck mad, because she had recognised him; this happened at the time he reached manhood, and he began his epic journey to the east. He was recognised, wearing an ivy wreath on his head and wearing animal-hide clothes. Normally he is shown holding a drinking vessel, but he sometimes also carried a thyrsus.

His epithets include Bacchus, Bromius (thunderer), Dendriltes (he of the trees), Iacchus (in Eleusis, perhaps identical to Bacchus), Lenaeus (he of the wine press), and Lyaeus (he who frees).


There were many Dionysian cults and festivals established throughout the Greek world, as well as in Rome. These festivals were called Bacchanalia or Dionysia, held on various dates. There are several different types of Dionysian festivals, such as the Great Dionysia, Little Dionysia, Anthesteria and Oschophoria. Many of his festivals and cults involved drinking wines, drunken revelries and sexual orgies.

See Dionysia in the Mysteries page.

In Rome, where he was honoured by his names as Liber or Bacchus, his festival was held on March 17.

We should distinguish Dionysus or Bacchus with another Dionysus. So far, in my account about Dionysus, there was only one Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele, but there are some writers who say that there is not a single Dionysus, but several. The Sicilian historian Diodorus (1st century BC) reported as many as three. The oldest Dionysus, Diodorus said, had come from India. The second Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone; clearly Diodorus had got this Dionysus from the Orphic myth, where the god was also known by another name, Zagreus. The third Dionysus is the commonly known wine god with the name Bacchus, who was the son of Zeus and Semele, a Theban princess and daughter of Cadmus.

Bacchus Dionysus should be distinguished from Dionysus son of Zeus and Persephone. According to the Orphic myth, Dionysus, son of Persephone, otherwise known as Zagreus, the Titans murdered and devoured the infant Dionysus-Zagreus, but his heart was saved. Zeus swallowed his son's heart and Dionysus was reborn as the son of Semele, where he was known as Bacchus Dionysus. Bacchus was the reincarnation of Dionysus-Zagreus.

See the Orphic Creation.

The Orphic mystery religion was austere in comparison to the other Dionysian cults, where sexual orgies and drunken revelries were part of the customs. With the Orphic cult, the emphasis was placed upon abstinence. The mythical musician and poet Orpheus, was said to have founded this Orphic movement. Orpheus was said to have written a number of poems and songs that formed the basis of Orphic religion. However, most of these early works had not survived, they were mostly in fragments. And the Orphic Creation was written quite late, during the time of the Neoplatonic writers.

The central belief in the Orphic movement is that of reaching Elysium, the Isle of the Blessed. When the soul departed, only those who had lived a righteous life could enjoy their final resting place in Elysium as their reward. It might take several lifetimes to come to dwell in Elysium. The Orphic religion had adopted a belief in reincarnation. The Orphic myth clearly showed that Dionysus was reincarnated, before he reached godhood. For everyone else, Elysium can only be achieved through initiation to the Orphic mysteries and by living in an austere life: abstaining from eating meat or drinking wine, and avoidance of sexual intercourse. Those who lived a wicked life would be punished in Hell or in Tartarus, or would continue to through the cycle of reincarnation.

To the Orphics, Dionysus was not only the god of wine and ecstasy but also a chthonic god of fertility and, in addition, a god of reincarnation and the last supreme ruler of the world, after Zeus.


Dionysos in cult:  Athenian festivals

In contrast to his role in myth, the cultic Dionysos is largely a benevolent god of fertility, wine, and good cheer.  His festivals took place in the autumn, winter, and early spring, the period from the harvesting of grapes to the opening of the new wine.
Here is an outline of what we know about the major celebrations for Dionysos, with illustrations from vases of the rituals which took place.

The name of the festival means "carrying of the vine-branches."
Two noble young men of the clan Salaminioi, dressed in women's clothes, carried grape-vines with the grapes still on them, in a formal procession, accompanied by singing, to a special area called the Oschophorion at the shrine of Athena Skiras.  There were songs and dances, which we are told were both cheerful and sad.

The celebration took place on the seventh of the month Pyanopsion (~October, the "month of bean porridge", a dish prepared for Apollo), at the time the grapes were harvested and pressed to make wine.  The seventh day was Apollo's day and apparently also the day when Dionysos took over the sanctuary at Delphi from Apollo for the winter months.

Rural Dionysia
This festival took place during the month Poseideon (~December, Poseidon's month), at various times in the various demes (villages) of Attica, the countryside around Athens.
A feature of the celebration was a procession in which a large model of a phallos (a male organ) was carried along, accompanied by a noble lady serving as Basket-Bearer with a basket of raisins or other fruit.  A billy-goat was led along to be sacrificed to Dionysos.


Aristophanes' comedy the Acharnians, presented in 425 BCE at the Lenaia, features a chorus from the deme of Acharnai, who have been displaced from their village by Spartan invasions of Attica and forced inside the walls of Athens.

The hero, Dikaiopolis ("just city"), makes a private peace with the Spartans.  (The treaty is a skin full of wine, since the word for "libations" also meant "treaty.")  He then conducts his own private celebration of two Dionysiac festivals, the Rural Dionysia and the Choes.

Here is how Aristophanes presents, in comic form, the procession of the Rural Dionysia.

Dikaiopolis: Keep sacred silence!  Keep sacred silence!  Will the basket-bearer walk forward a little?  Xanthias, hold that phallos up straight. Put down the basket, my girl, so we can make the opening sacrifice.
Daughter: Mother, hand me up the ladle here, so I can pour soup over this flatcake.

Dikaiopolis: There, thatís fine.  O Lord Dionysos, may this procession which I hold and this sacrifice be pleasing to thee, and may I and my household celebrate with all good fortune the Country Dionysia, now that I am released from soldiering, and may the thirty yearsí peace prove a blessing to me.

Come now, my pretty girl, make sure you carry the basket prettily, with a savory-munching look.  What a happy man heíll be that marries you and begets a set of ferrets as good as you at farting in the grey dawn!

Go on forward, and take great care in the crowd that no one snaffles your gold ornaments on the sly.  And Xanthias, you two must hold the phallos upright behind the basket-bearer; and Iíll follow and sing the phallic hymn.  And you, missus, watch me from the roof.  Forward.

    Phales, companion of Bacchus,
    fellow-reveller, night-rover,
    adulterer and pederast,
    after five years I greet you again,
    returning gladly to my deme,
    with a treaty of peace all my own,
    and no more botherations, battles, and Lamachoses.

    Itís a lot more fun, O Phales, Phales,
    to catch a Thracian slave-girl
    stealing wood in the hills
    and grab her by the waist, lift her, throw her,
    and put her through the wine-press!

    Phales, Phales, if you drink with us,
    on the morning after the carousing
    youíll quaff the cup of peace
    and hang your shield in the sparks of the fire.

(Aristophanes, Acharnians 241-279

« Last Edit: March 25, 2007, 02:30:37 pm by rockessence » Report Spam   Logged


Thus ye may find in thy mental and spiritual self, ye can make thyself just as happy or just as miserable as ye like. How miserable do ye want to be?......For you GROW to heaven, you don't GO to heaven. It is within thine own conscience that ye grow there.

Edgar Cayce

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