God of Wine and Intoxication. The embodiment of sacred polarity, life’s mysteries, and ecstatic experience. Dionysus is a Greek god most well known for his wine-loving ways, but there’s SO much more to him than what’s on the surface. If you’re being called by this wild god, heed my warning: don’t ignore him. If you resist, he’s known to inspire madness. While he is kind, he is also vengeful. But if you’re in his good graces, he will protect and bless you immensely. Learn of Dionysus’ origins, myths, how he manifests, and how to work with him in your spiritual practice here.
Dionysus, if you couldn’t already tell, is a Greek god famously associated with wine. But if that’s all we talked about, we’d be doing him (and his devotees) a huge disservice. We will start at the beginning and introduce you to this wild, powerful deity. He is considered an Olympian, but was the last of the deities to be included. He may originally be a deity from Thrace, or what is modern Bulgaria and Romania, later adopted by the ancient Greeks in the 5th century BCE.
The myths say Dionysus was twice-born. The first time to Zeus and his daughter Persephone. But in this life, his name was Zagreus. Apparently the Titans kidnapped him and killed him – tore him apart from limb to limb. But Athena saved his heart and gave it back to his father Zeus. To bring back his son, Zeus impregnated a mortal princess of Thebes named Simele. But before Dionysus was born, Simele died and so Zeus saved the baby from her womb and put the babe inside his own thigh. There he nurtured the baby until Dionysus was born…the second time. To protect him from jealous gods, Zeus took Dionysus into the wilderness to be raised by nymphs and goats.
One day, Dionysus was walking along the shore, his favorite place to be, when a ship of pirates saw him. They noticed his rich garments and haughty air about him and believed him to be a prince or some sort of royalty. So they kidnapped him and held him for ransom. Dionysus tried to convince them he was a god, not a mortal, but only one helmsman believed him. The crew just laughed and brushed his claims off. They wanted riches in exchange for his life. They weren’t just going to let him go.
Dionysus grew enraged and had wine pour over the deck of the ship to prove his power. The crew was convinced he was indeed an Olympian god, but it was too late. Dionysus was filled with vengeance and shifted forms into a great lion. He roared and sent the pirates overboard, where they turned into dolphins and were bound to the ocean for eternity. The key takeaway here – when Dionysus says he’s a god. Listen to him.
The God of Intoxication was a traveler. He enjoyed traveling the Mediterranean down into Egypt and over into parts of Asia and India. Accompanied by his female followers, the maenads, satyrs and panthers, Dionysus taught the people how to grow grapes and make wine. He also inspired people, specifically women, to give up their lives and follow him. Women were most affected by his wiles and known to be driven into a mad frenzy when near him.
One day, he came to Thebes and found himself and his ecstatic-inducing ways not wanted. The King of Thebes didn’t believe Dionysus was a god and threw him in jail. Not only did the god break out, but he sent the women of Thebes into a mad frenzy. They killed everyone who stood in their way including the King. It was only when they awoke from their trance did they realize what they’d done.
Interestingly, the Dionysus’ cult consisted of both men and women, but women were mainly chosen to be his priestesses, called maenads. They were the leaders and initiators of the Dionysian rites. His priestesses presided over the orgeia, meaning “rites in the forest”. And yes that word is indeed the root to the modern word orgy. No doubt the Dionysian rites included sexual acts and ecstatic trance of his followers, often in conjunction, therefore inspiring the connection. But it wasn’t always just about getting drunk and having sexual relations. Dionysus had other jobs too.
Let’s get one thing straight – Dionysus manifests how he sees fit in any given moment. But mostly he appears as a man, goat, bull, as a huge phallus or as a man with horns. Or as a man, goat, or bull WITH a huge phallus. He is also a divine embodiment of the Green Man, crowned with grapes, vines, and snakes. Sometimes he is depicted as being androgynous or gender fluid. And, remember, he is the personification of wine. When he rides in his chariot, it’s pulled by either panthers or griffins, and he’s frequently accompanied by maenads and satyrs. You can also bet that he shows up with a chalice of wine, barrels of wine nearby, or grapes in hand. And, he’s ALWAYS ready to partay!
Obviously Dionysus has domain over wine and intoxication. But what are his other spiritual domains? Dionysus embodies sacred polarity: he is kind and vengeful in the same breath, blissful and wrathful, clean and dirty, charming and disturbing. What have we always said here at Otherworldly Oracle? That deities who express sacred polarity almost always hold the keys to the life cycle and preside over life, death and rebirth. Dionysus is no exception. We see this demonstrated in his origin mythos.
In addition, Dionysus reigns over ecstatic trance, dance and theatrical performance, sacred hallucinogens, and masked processions and festivals. In fact, costumed parades with unbridled revelry invoke Dionysus’ spirit whether intentionally or unintentionally. He is the primal, untamed spirit of the wilderness, the instinctual masculine procreative energy, and of shamanism. Also rules over joy, madness and sexual healing. He protects vineyards, wine sommelier, actors, dancers, shamans, healers, and those who protect the forest.
|Wine & Intoxication||Grapevine||Wine||Simele||Panther|
|Sexuality||Walnut||Dance & Theater||Kybele||Leopard|
The amazing thing about being a pagan in modern times is that you can choose what to believe and how to practice your spirituality. Working with the Greek god Dionysus is no different. While he will show similar characteristics and teach certain lessons to most of his devotees, you may have a different experience with him than the next individual. That being said, here are our suggestions of 13 ways to work with Dionysus:
The first way to get to know a deity is to learn everything you can about them. Read their myths, legends, and lore online and in books. I highly recommend a library trip to get your hands on books you might not find elsewhere. For Dionysus, there is no shortage of classic Greek myths in which he is featured. But also look for sources on ancient Greek history and religion, as well as evidence of Dionysus’ worship via archaeological sites and artifacts.
Dedicate altar space to Dionysus God of Intoxication and Revelry. This could be as simple as a small bookshelf, a corner of your kitchen counter, a nightstand, or as big as the top of a buffet. Work with what you have. Cleanse the space and all items you plan to put on your altar. We recommend including the colors of wine and the forest: dark red, purple, and green. And including candles with candle holders, incense and burner, oils, bowls and cups for offerings, and anything that represents the forest, vineyard, and the god himself. Dedicate it to him and ask him to visit and bless this sacred space.
We know that Dionysus enjoys incense, candlelight, copious amounts of WINE, and music. We know the ancient Greeks sacrificed goats and bulls to the god, but you might find it hard to locate goat or bull meat these days. Instead, if you don’t mind working with meat, offer steaks or some sort of beef dish to Dionysus. Fresh fruit, particularly grapes and figs, are appropriate. As are mushrooms (edible and otherwise). All of these serve as perfect regular offerings to Dionysus. Give to him when you can.
Dionysus’ priestesses, the maenads, were known to go into ecstatic trance while dancing during their sacred rites. Consider writing an entire dance performance, if you’re into that sort of thing, OR simply letting the music take you into another state of being. Dedicate your dance to Dionysus before and after. You may even encounter him in a vision while dancing.
Dionysus is the patron god of actors and protector of the theater. So drama nerds, rejoice! Now’s your chance to write a play or small skit dedicated to the god of drama. Or act out your favorite scene from a movie. Bonus points if it’s based on Greek mythology and features Dionysus or a character who evokes his energy.
As the unfettered, primal spirit of the forest, Dionysus calls us to preserve the wilderness. In whatever way we possibly can. Donate to your local wildlife funds, to your local animal rescue, either your time or money works. Reduce, reuse and recycle. Don’t use pesticides in your yard. Support the pollinators by growing host plants for butterflies, hanging bat houses on your backyard trees, protecting birds’ nests, etc. All of these acts please Dionysus immensely.
What does it mean to rewild yourself? It means to get back outside, back to nature. We spend too much time indoors as modern humans. Go camping, hiking, and biking. Take a walk in nature, even if that means through the neighborhood. Go barefoot if at all possible. Learn more about rewilding here.
We see sexuality in mainstream media as being a certain way. Sometimes we’re introduced to sexuality at a young age and in the wrong way. Through inappropriate videos and photos online, etc. We have forgotten as a society that sex is a sacred act, particularly to the gods. When working with Dionysus, he calls us to explore our sacred sexuality – letting go of preconceived notions and allowing ourselves to be healed through our root and sacral chakras.
It should go without saying that drinking wine is inherent to connection with Dionysus. Don’t forget that there are alcohol-free versions of wine: red, white, and even rose. Most liquor stores carry it. So if you don’t want to drink alcohol, opt for the alcohol-free version. If you have no problem with alcohol, consider making your own wine. There are wine making kits online and many options for equipment. You can dedicate your wine to Dionysus. And every time you drink it, feel his presence.
A friend of mine worked with Dionysus and started growing her own grapes. After she dedicated the grapevines to the god of wine, the greenery flourished and she had grapes for days. Then you could take it one step further and use your homegrown grapes to make wine!
As ecstatic trance is Dionysus’ domain, learning how to go into trance is part of working with him. It is within these states that he will teach you lessons, give you sacred messages, and help you heal from the inside out. Attaining an ecstatic state can be done in multiple ways – through dance, herbs, chanting, meditation and much more. Experiment with what you feel comfortable with. And ask Dionysus to bless and protect you.
Many of the forest gods are also closely linked to shamanic practices. Dionysus is no exception. Learn how to perform shamanic journeys and see where he takes you. You may be taken on a journey inward and find yourself. Or you may be taken on a journey to other realms, meet other beings like maenads and satyrs, or perform a forest ritual in an ancient grove of trees. Whatever the destination, enjoy the journey.
Dionysus was a popular god in ancient Greece. And therefore there were quite a few festivals and feast days in his honor in ancient times. Consider observing a few or all of his sacred days including: Dionysia (end of November-early December), Lenea (end of December), Anthesteria (end of January), and the Great Dionysia (end of February).
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