Devotional Musings: Dionysus I

This post has already taken me too long to compose.  I started it almost as soon as I first posted about the Urban Dionysia.  The fact is, I find it difficult to write about my personal experiences with the gods.  Some of those experiences have been very, very strange—to the point where, even after a decade and a half of living a magical life and talking or reading about other people’s magical lives, I don’t have an adequate cultural framework through which to process them.  Other experiences, which may seem downright pedestrian when I reduce them to words or which I may know full well parallel the experiences of many, many others, have simply affected me so deeply that I cannot bear to subject them to public scrutiny.  (The events which comprise my previous post include some of both) And, inevitably, part of it is that I spent so much of my life being angry at the very idea of gods that I still feel like something of a chump, sometimes, for honoring them.  I’ve alluded to this last point before, and it is from there that I will begin.

Unfortunately, those last months St. Louis, during which I made my sudden and complete shift from anti-god to appealing to gods, are a dead spot in my journal: I have an entry from Thu.26.July.2k7 where I talked about my altar, followed by Umberto Eco quotes Wed.3.Oct.2k7, and then jump to school drama on Sat.26.April.2k8.  What I remember feeling at the time, though, was how sudden the paradigmatic shift was.  I remember “choosing” the Greek pantheon because, as I understood things at the time, those gods were more concerned with badassery than with offerings, and because their portfolios were most relevant to my life. 

I sought the patronage of Dionysus, Hephaestus, and Apollo.  Dionysus and Apollo as gods of writing and artistic inspiration; as the patron of wine on the one hand, and as the patron of prophesy on the other.  Hephaestus because I was a jeweler, and at that time had no concept that I might ever give that career up.

Looking back, though, I think the appeal of Dionysus was not wholly rational or internally motivated.  His appeal lay in so much more than his role as a patron of theater and drama.  There was also the reputation as a party god, yes, but because I understood somehow (though I cannot recall where I first encountered the idea) that he was a god friendly to queer men.

My relationship with Bromios was largely theoretical, at first.  I drank in his name.  I bought a maenad statue at the 2007 Pagan Picnic in St.Louis, and a larger idol to keep on my altar upon my move to Kansas City.  I even wrote a pair of invocations* for my 2009 Beltane celebrations:

O Dionysus, Lord of the Vine!  Be Welcome in our circles and revels as we dance the world back from winter!  Incense and libations we offer you!

Bless this wine, fermented blood of grape, that we drink in celebration of Beltane, the coming of Spring!

O Dionyus!  Son of Zeus, Initiate of Kybele, Lord of Vine and Harvest!  Incense and libations we offer you!

O god of wine, revel, and vision, we ask you to bless this wine and join our celebration.

… which, in retrospect, may have influenced the events of that evening, which I have written about recently.  As I mentioned in that post, at the time I processed all of those events a separate.  In retrospect, however, that may be an oversight on my part.  I also wonder about my assumption at the time and since that, because the call seemed to come from above me, that it was a sky-god that demanded my dedication: although I should have known better at that point, I still tended to conceptualize all the gods as being somewhere up there.

Dithyrambos appeared to me in the shamanic journey preceding my initiation.  He led me into the depths and presented me to Rhea/Kybele, and he “gave” me his leopard as a spirit guide.  That leopard has since appeared to aid me on several visionary journeys.

I still don’t know what he wants from me.  For that matter, I don’t really know for certain that the conceptual framework of “what god wants from me” isn’t a meme left over from my Christian-by-default** upbringing.  I’ll find out sooner or later.

The more research I do, the more drawn to him I become.  I identify with his madness, and the cure he found in the Mysteries.  I identify with his gender ambiguity: make no mistake, the beautiful youth which Pentheus mocks in Euripides’ Bacchae is very much a matter of gender deviance, and the fact that Zagreus was not the only god or hero to hide from his enemies in women’s clothing did not make it any less deviant in the eyes of the Classical Hellenes.   I understand that addiction and the abuse of drugs or alcohol have no place in sacred ecstasies, and he helps me walk the line between the two.  Classical Bacchanals may or may not have actually been orgies in the modern sense—accusing fringe cults and your political enemies of sexual and moral deviance of which they are not actually guilty is a tradition that dates back to the first written records—but people associated themselves with his cults despite (and perhaps because of) that reputation.  Sex, drugs, and rock&roll are absolutely a part of his worship today.  I have only begun to understand his incarnation as Liber Pater, and his syncretistic connection to Phanes via their shared identification with Priapos is fascinating.

I honor Dionyos every time I rack or bottle a batch of mead, giving him the first taste.  In Kansas City, where my temple and kitchen were not the same room, I did my mead-making directly in front of the altar.  This may be part of why, despite the failings of my system, my mead turns out better than that of a lot of people who put a lot more effort and care into theirs: it is not just a labor of love, but one of worshsip.

When I open a nice bottle of wine, and often when I open a lesser one, he gets the first taste of that too.  The maenad figurine is part of my travelling altar: she comes with me to festivals and on camping trips where I plan on Working or worshiping. She will definitely come with me when I return to Kansas City for the summer.  I honor Dionysos every time I host a party, dedicating the revelry in his name.

Although he has spoken to me less than a number of other powers I have worked with, I still feel strangely close to him, and always list him first among my patrons.

I started a new batch of mead last night.  I think that I will dedicate it to Dionysos and set aside the lion’s share of it for the next Dionysia.


* Don’t judge me.  I’m not much of a poet.

** I wasn’t raised Christian, per se.  We went to church on Christmas sometimes, or occasionally on Easter, but it was never really a part of my life except that there were a few Bibles laying around the house.  But there were never any alternatives presented, either … and oh, by the way, television and the Boy Scouts and mainstream culture at large.

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