There seems every now and then I come across this idea that some form of intoxication is a tool of worship. People speak of drugs in connection to the kykeon drink of the Eleusinian mysteries, that this drink contained mind altering substances..usually addressed to a specified cultivation of ergot to provide a hallucinary experience. Then there are folks who attribute hallugenic mushrooms and over-indulgence in alcohol (wine specifically) as being substances that are consumed in his worship. Of course evidence that is used in such cases is often the frenzy of the maenads in which they seem to act in a drunken or high manner with not only their frenzy but also with their feats of strength. Therefore we find ourselves in a revival of the Hellenic religion in which it is not uncommon for people to expect the be tripping out or enjoying a drunken oblivion in honor of Dionysos. But this to me like perhaps a modern exageration.
Whereas I can not deny that wine, a substance which causes drunkeness and horrible consequences as we know from the myth of the vine’s first cultivation, and the fact that this myth exists does show that the ancient Hellenes had a certain understand and respect for the powerful substance which humans partake. But it is also shows that this first disaster was mitigated by the observance of certain social regulations in which one could safely partake of the sacred substance. The goal of which was not to intoxicate (for intoxication was considered unseemly) but elevation of pleasure….or in more common terms.. a slight but nice buzz.
But the wine in itself is clearly a symbol of something else in which it is pertinent to its use in worship, a reuniting with the divine essence of the gods via Dionysos, from whom (in his first manifestation) our souls became imbued with a spark of divinity. In such a sense this heightened pleasure can be seen as a reflection of the great happiness and carefree existance of the gods themselves, and therefore a simulation of being filled with divine essence. Therefore wine (an alchohol in general) is the friend of mankind because it reminds of this when we choose to partake of it. But I don’t see that as evidence that a maenad or worshiper in honor of Dionysos needs to be falling down drunk. And in a related sense many drugs work the same way as natural relaxents and stimulants which ina limited quantity likely reflects the same purpose. But nor does this mean that the worshiper should be a higher than a kite anymore than he/she needs to be drunk. The display of mushrooms, typically psychodelic in nature, illustrate what these nature provided mimics do is change how we see and relate to the world (the symbolism is quite apt since psychodelic substances from what I understand drastically change the experience of the person with the world). And these are a reflection of spiritual principles, symbols of being filled with the divine essence and resulting in a change of world view. Wine however was not taken in such quanitties (especially as it was cut with water and was considered deadly if consumed directly from the raw state), so this suggests that such allusions to a divine spirit were just that. Not provocations to become drunken or trip out, but rather to open oneself up and celebrate and welcome to the divine spirit of the gods and become enlightened and “drunk” upon on the spirit of the god.
I always feel a little dismayed whenever I see more modern depictions of Dionysos clearly drunken because even in the company of his maenads, as we see from the Bacchanalia, there is never a suggestion of him that the god is drunk. He is doubtlessly fierce, and maddening, but these qualities never come poetically directly after consumption. And the maenads are acting wildly in his presence. It is not the wine or any drug, but being filled with the divine presence of the god whom they essentially are taking as a “lover.” And Dionysos has plenty of love to give around to humanity. Therefore as it is not about drugs and intoxication, the representation of this pleasure inducers represent the person who, without the benefit of these stimulants, has embraced Dionysos, has walked beside the god and become enlightened via his mysteries. The wine is a symbol of the sacred substance of Dionysos. Therefore where I won’t condemn a person who uses this stimulants in their worship, nor do I agree that is necessary or historically *right*.
Khaire Dionysos! There is a reason why all humanity loves you, for you are on the bridge between men and gods.