Who was Dionysus?
Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, vegetation, festivity, theatre, pleasure, resurrection, ritual madness and religious ecstasy. Wine was very important to Ancient Greek culture, and the cult of Dionysus was the main religious focus around the consumption of it, with both wine itself and the grapes and vines from which it was made believe to be a gift from God and a symbol of his earthly incarnation. Dionysus represented the correct consumption of the drink for the bringing of happiness and joy as well as the easing of physical and spiritual pain, rather than the association with drunkenness which was later attributed to him. Also central to Dionysus was his role as God of performance art and drama, as well as role as a divine communicant between the living and the dead.
The Greeks believed that Dionysus was born from the union of Zeus and Persephone, daughter of Zeus’s sister Goddess Demeter. Other traditions place Demeter herself as Dionysus’ mother rather than her daughter. Many believed that Dionysus had in fact been born twice, having been subsequently killed and then later reborn as the son of Zeus and the mortal Semele. Whomever his mother was, having Zeus as a father meant that Dionysus had numerous siblings, including Aeacus, Angelos, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Eileithyia, Enyo, Eris, Ersa, the Graces, Hebe, Helen of Troy, Hephaestus, Heracles, Hermes, the Horae, the Litae, Minos, the Muses, the Moirai, Pandia, Persephone, Perseus and Rhadamanthus. He had a number of lovers, including Aphrodite, although his main consort was the Cretian Princess Ariadne. Some of his numerous children included Priapus, Hymen, Thoas, Staphylus, Oenopion, Comus, Phthonus, the Graces and Deianira.
Dionysus who was depicted in art both as an androgynous, long-haired naked or half-naked young man or an older, mature man with a beard and wearing a robe. He is often depicted in triumphal procession, followed by wild female followers known as maenads and bearded satyrs, drawn in a chariot by animals such as lions or tigers. As the God of resurrection Dionysus was also often shown with the sacred bull. Other common symbols included snakes, the phallus, a stick known as a Thyrsus, panther or leopard skin, trees (specifically the fig tree) and the transition from summer to autumn.
Occupations or lifestyles associated with Dionysus include acting, addiction, addiction counselling, alcohol counselling, alcoholism, bartending, bookie, brewing, croupier, dancing, drug dealing, gambling, gangster, modelling, musician, rehab, theatre and oil baron.
Similar deities to Dionysus which are found in other cultures include the Roman Gods Bacchus and Liber, Egyptian Gods Osiris and Horus, Estruscan God Fufluns, Baltic/Slavic God Lado and a variety of Hindu Gods such as Shiva, Soma, Yama, Krishna and Kuvera.
The Dionysus Archetype
As a of result of Dionysus’ association with transformation, for example of grape juice into wine and the transformational power of alcohol on the human mind, the Dionysus archetype has in turn become associated with the transformational powers of magic and the manipulative power over the mind and body which magicians can hold. The archetype is also associated with excess, additive personality and madness.
The archetypal Dionysus can be tremendously powerful should they put their mind to it, possessing as the typical magician does power over objects and people around them. Where they apply themselves for positive ends them they are capable of creating great good in the world, but should they have more negative goals then they can be destructive, their power proving a temptation to manipulate and harm others in order to achieve their ends.
Aware of their power, the archetypal Dionysus fears the implications of what may happen should they lose control. This can lead them to become over-controlling towards others around them, resulting in the instillation of fear amongst family, friends and colleagues. Where the archetypal Dionysus exists in the public eye they can seek to actively manipulate and control their own public image or media stories about them in order to appear to others as they seek to and retain control over their own story.
Where the archetypal Dionysus gives in to the temptation to manipulate and control those around them the connections between reality and their mind can start to blur, leading on a spiral into mental illness. Where they have sought out substances such as alcohol and drugs or turned to habits such as gambling they can equally spiral towards addiction, using these crutches as a form of control when their minds begin to struggle. The archetypal Dionysus is notable for their changeability and can metamorphose relatively quickly from a controlled, gregarious, capable and meaningful member of society into one more dissolute and acting out against those who try to support them.
A contemporary example of the Dionysus archetype is actor Charlie Sheen. In the past a respected and capable actor, born into an equally renowned and loved acting family, Charlie Sheen starred in Hollywood hits such as Platoon and Wall Street before becoming the highest paid actor in television during his lead role in sitcom Two and a Half Men. However, Sheen descended into alcohol and drug addition, cheating on a series of wives and girlfriends and enduring a number of domestic violence allegations. His problems culminated in his being sacked from his starring role in Two and a Half Men for his behaviour and subsequently having to confirm publicly his status as HIV positive before the media did it for him. A source indicates that Sheen had over 200 sexual partners after he learned he had HIV and that he had paid over $10 million dollars between diagnosis and publicly revealing is status in order to suppress stories about his condition. He has caused controversy by vocally supporting conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 terror attacks and is an anti-vaccination theorist. He has been publicly accused of rape by actor Corey Feldman, though he strongly denies the allegations.
Characteristics of the Dionysus archetype
- Acting out
Next came Dionysus, the son of the virgin,
bringing the counterpart to bread: wine
and the blessings of life’s flowing juices.
His blood, the blood of the grape,
lightens the burden of our mortal misery.
Though himself a God, it is his blood we pour out
to offer thanks to the Gods. And through him, we are blessed.”
― Euripides, The Bacchae
“He is the god of epiphanies—sudden spiritual manifestations—and of transformation, and there is more shape-shifting associated with Dionysus than with any other Greek god except for his father, Zeus, whose metamorphoses were usually prompted by his pursuit of women.”
― Robin Robertson, The Bacchae
“The faithful of Shiva or Dionysus seek contact with those forces which…lead to a refusal of the politics, ambitions and limitations of ordinary social life. This does not involve simply a recognition of world harmony, but also an active participation in an experience which surpasses and upsets the order of material life.”
― Alain Daniélou, Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus