Despite the fact that I dont count Dionysos as one of the 12 Olympians, each of which has a cosmic and wordly application under whom all others fall into line, I wanted to take a minute today, inpsired by a recent online conversation ongoing in a community, to speak of Dionysos because inspite of this I didn’t want anyone to go away with the impression that Dionysos isn’t held to great importance. That said I think his importance is relative to worshipers more on a personal level because I think he, in a sense, embodies the personal interaction between the gods (particularly Zeus) and the mortal race. If Apollon loves humanity and according to myth persuaded his father via song from starting over gain with the human race, and if Hermes is the helper of man, then we can understand the strong association in this brotherhood in including Dionysos who is the god the closest and most intimate to us, all in equal measure without discrimination…a freer, a lover, a leader of revelry and bringer of joy and peace. He represents the divine bestowing of the most gracious gifts of the gods.
It is no wonder he is honored in Aristophanes’ Peace play in celebration of..well..peace 🙂 He is also representative of the state of divine possession, of madness, as he was struck with madness by Hera and so too his maenads display madness in their possessions. It is this same madness which is associated with the wine, divine substance personified, which we take into ourselves in his honor. That liquid force, the inseminiation of divine vitality (quite appropriate for a god enclosed in Zeus’s thigh, so near the point of reproduction to also be associated with a divine masculine reproductive principle which is further carried out also via the phallic image of the thyrsos. Dionysos is the fertile and inseminating god, making of course Pan one is his perfect companions who likewise carries this association.
But he acts on a different level than Pan, who is largely concerned with reproductivity and influences, like Apollon, generation (as Apollon made the flocks and herds of Admetus numerous, dropping twins each, therefore being more specific to individual cases than the general fertility of flocks regulated by Pan and, to a degree, Hermes). Dionysos, on the other hand, does seem to be especially connected to any of this, but rather associated with fullness, ripeness and more fruiting associations. Therefore in my mind this seems to be more in line with the ideas of ecstasy, being full via spiritual union and love for the gods, and the immortal nature of the soul, as argued by Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo, and as associated with agricultural ties, which drinks, becomes enlightened and aware, is filled with bliss, happiness and goodness. Something especially considered of great power, as a poet of some fame, I forget his name specifically, but I believe it was Alcaeus (I quoted this poem in my book I think) who calls for wine as a friend to old age. And why not? When a lifetime has passed, and one becomes weary, the warmth and cheer of wine in the winter, as in the winter of one’s life, is uplifting. Dionysos represents this influx of divine grace toward the immortal soul as far as I believe it to be, this different brand of insemination and fertility.
In this manner Dionysos brings us closer to the divine state, and in his own wanderings that he was led to do by the oracle of Apollon (not unlike Herakles) in order to join the gods, Dionysos represents a certain passage and way. He is our most immediate divine companion in life, and it is no wonder why those scenes from the Orphic house in Pompeii showed the initiates likened to a bride. He represents a marriage of the mortal to the divine with a promise of happiness. It is not necessarily a marriage to him…after all he and Ariadne are portrayed overseeing the matter, but rather in a general sense. I would say that he oversees the general movement of the soul, regardless of life or death, and is therefore, by rights, of the most honored and most beloved for the constant care and compassion he brings, and even a bit of unruly disorder every now and then 🙂
I may be very slow at building his shrine, and took quite some time to select the perfect statue of him for my home, but I don’t see him as a god that really needs a temple or shrine of any kind to pay direct worship at. Instead Dionysos is celebrated with every act of joy, and every act of communion with the gods, with every act of kindness and expression of humanity towards others, and certainly with laughter and revelry! Next time you are laughing among comrads sharing drinks and food together know that you are honoring Dionysos. The next time you get on the floor and play with your children rough and tumble, with them squeeling in delight, you are honoring Dionysos. And when you dance, pray, or sing in heartfelt wonder to the gods, remember that Dionysos is also so honored. He is honored in the goodness that is cultivated within and that we share. The fermentation of our life experiences which we can hope in the end will become, like the juice of the ripened grape, a great elixir.
So I may not have much of an official place to honor Dionysos, and I may not consider him among the Olympians, but I love him all the same. Hail Dionysos!