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The Greek God Dionysus and 'The Dionysian'

Updated on May 23, 2015
The Greek god Dionysus (or Dionysos)
The Greek god Dionysus (or Dionysos) | Source

This article is connected with the article about the Apollonian, and together they present the dichotomy.
To read the article about Apollo and the Apollonian, scroll down and follow the link.

Dionysus

We are not able to precisely determine how and when the Dionysian revolution has made its presence in Hellas (ancient Greece), but literary sources suggest how comprehensive it really was. Dionysus is a mighty and powerful god; he is the uncontrollable force of nature and the human mind; like stormy weather he irresistibly sweeps through the world and makes powerful events happen. He is, among other things, a god who is associated with fertility, especially in regards to wine-making, and therefore he must participate in the rhythm of the year. He dies, but then comes back to life. Often this is imagined to be happening under quite violent and dramatic conditions. But like the spring of nature, Dionysus is brought back to life, and the ideas of this newly born Dionysus child are many. There are generally a lot of myths about the greek god, and they are often drastic.

The Cult of Dionysus and its worship and ecstasy

The important matter is that these exciting myths reflect the way Dionysus was worshipped. The cult of Dionysus was unrestrained and obsessive. At midnight the participants were united in the forests – at first only women – in the forests that fantasy had populated with all kinds of creatures of nature in advance. In the torchlight, with thyrsus staffs in hand, to loud music and wild dances they brought themselves into ecstasy; they felt elevated by the deity, all the inhibitions of daily life were ignored, they were filled with unknown powers, they wildly ate the flesh of animals, and they rushed through the dark forests like a force of nature itself. As a religious epidemic, these orgies have taken place in Hellas. Perhaps it is the original religion breaking through once again, and all resistance towards its ‘non-Greek’ nature has been swept aside. Dionysus was filled with victorious powers, and legends describes how princes and lords attempted to end the insanity, but who were crushed by the mighty god. The orgies had released bound forces in human, they had revealed aspects of the human nature that until then had been repressed, and when these forces had broken through, they were sought to be controlled and thereby became a significant and continuous aspect of ancient culture.

The Dionysian in opposition to the Apollonian

The Dionysian understanding of life is hereby completely in opposition to the Apollonian. It does not reject human into some subordination and it does not accept sophrosyne as a great virtue. The Dionysian is convinced of the endless possibilities of the human. According to this view, human is capable of breaking the shackles of limitation and elevating itself to the level of the god himself. In the orgiastic cult of Dionysus, this unity of god and human takes places under very basic conditions. The special feeling of intoxication which is obtained through various hypnotic means – later through direct consumption of wine – is called ecstasy and enthusiasm. Literally it means that the normal “self” in its powerlessness temporarily vanishes and allows the mighty god himself to take its place. In this condition one is completely united with Dionysus.
The story which is often highlighted – that the wild animals were torn into pieces and the raw flesh eaten – rests on a primitive understanding of the god’s nature. The wild animal is the god himself, and by eating its flesh, one becomes utterly part of the god himself. The powerful sacramental meal, where the god is absorbed into oneself by eating his representative, the totem, can be found in many cultures, and it has proved its magnitude by its presence in even highly refined cultures. The Christian Holy Communion is a final and profound variation thereof.

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    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 

      4 years ago

      Very interesting. I've always found Dionysus a fascinating deity. Worship of him was quite a potent celebration of life.

    • Martin VK profile imageAUTHOR

      Martin VK 

      4 years ago from Copenhagen, Denmark

      Thank you so much!

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 

      4 years ago from Tasmania

      A fascinating way to understand the Christian "Communion" phenomenon.

      Keep writing, Martin.

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