Making Light: Dionysos

Making Light: Dionysos February 14, 2014
Awwww, yeeeaaaah.
You know what’s better than a god of wine?
A god of wine that rides a leopard.

We’re at the end of Hyperborea once more, punctuated in my own practice by the celebration of Tu B’Shvat–the birthday of the trees. This is the last of the winter celebrations and one that focuses in part on grapes, one of the most sacred fruits produced on the Earth. For the purposes of Tu B’Shvat, a “tree” is anything with a woody stem, even though the grape is considered a “vine” by botanists1. At any rate, a feast of fruits that includes several glasses of wine is an excellent way to give thanks to Dionysos for keeping the temple warm in Apollo’s absence. This Hyperborea season has been cold, but lovely insofar as good wine and good company go. I had the opportunity to feast with both sides of Husband’s family up in Chicago and I’ve shared many glasses of wine with friends over the past three months. With each winter feast and glass of wine, my heart and mind turn toward Dionysos. This kind of private, internal worship is the main way in which I observe the season of Hyperborea and it’s how I tend to honor all the gods on a daily basis. When I’m having a good time and feeling the most free to be myself around friends and family, my gratitude is to the wine-dark god.

But there is much more to his worship than this. The Theoi are complex and Dionysos is much more than the “party god” he has a reputation of being. He is certainly present during revelry, but his presence extends much farther than simple drunken enjoyment. He is a god of temperance and he is the whisper in your ear that tells you when to stop before pleasure turns into unpleasantness. He’s a god of emotional rollercoasters and the one who teaches you how to ride the Wheel of Samsara so that the lows feel temporary and the highs can be enjoyed more fully in their impermanence. He is a god of freedom, the one who tells you that it will be okay if you let go of whatever it is that’s holding you back. His worship is not only sensual and pleasurable, but brings a deep joy that can be carried throughout life and shared with others. He can help you find true happiness by showing you who you really are.

There is one other facet of his worship that I’ve avoided talking about for a while, but it was a big one in Ancient Greece and it’s a big one to me: the theater. During these dramatic festivals, they’d have a statue of him, a little pomp and circumstance, and a play. These plays were funded by both ticket sales and large sums of money from wealthy citizens and foreign residents. Performances included costumes, musical scores, and special effects. The term “Deus ex machina,” in fact, is derived from a Greek term that refers to an actual machine that would hold an actor aloft as he represented one of the gods. Because this is Ancient Greece and competition is good for the soul, dramatic competitions were integral parts of these festivals. Think Sundance, but with more… Greek stuff. Most of the plays were only performed once and only a very few survived to be known today. While there was a religious component to these plays, they were also one of few socially acceptable ways to criticize the government. And they were entertaining. Going to the theater once or twice a year was a jolly good time. The Ancient Greeks had fun watching the plays.

Take Lysistrata, for example. This is a play that can be summed up as follows: penis joke, penis joke, penis joke, penis joke, political commentary, penis joke. I can’t imagine that most of the people attending the original showings were stroking their beards and thinking very serious thoughts about the political implications of the play while they were watching it. Most likely, they were laughing their chitons off at the penis jokes for the majority of the performance. The deep involvement in the action of the play, whether it’s laughing at the comedies or crying at the tragedies, is the important part of the performance, not the intellectual understanding of what the play might mean. The push and pull of emotion and the catharsis that comes with it is the blessing of Dionysos and you don’t need a degree in Classical Studies to understand that.

I often say that if the Ancient Greeks had had duct tape, they would have used it. Along those same lines, if they’d had the means of producing movies as we now do, they would have used them. Granted, there are still plays, but movie theaters can still provide that same emotional rollercoaster. Anyone who has ever cried or laughed out loud or clutched their popcorn in fear has felt it and that’s where Dionysos is. I went to see Frozen this winter and when I cried my eyeballs out for the entire first half of the movie, Dionysos was there. Just before the Solstice, I saw The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, and had all the feels (to use the vernacular) about elves and dragons and dwarves. Every time my eyes got wide and every time I squealed with joy, Dionysos was there.

My fellow Free Hellenics have shared their experiences with me and I’m honored to be able to share them here:

Jess (of the West) says:

Ever thrown all-in on a performance, let the thing just plain sweep you up and away in euphoric characterization of the role to the point where you and the character are a joyous one?  Ladies and gents, I give you the influence of Dionysos.

Magda Oakewoman remarks:

Even when I attend the movies, I recognize that I may not be “going to church”, but I’m still headed to “chapel”. I wear my best casual attire, brush my hair, and give myself to the story flickering before me. “Story is the glue of the world,” said Jane Yolen. And story is how my god speaks to me.

Suz takes a different approach:

dionysos eleutheria is form in which He touches me most. i rarely feel him so deeply when i’m indoors (although i’ll be working on that, thanks to magda2), even when watching a movie is part of a festival i’m celebrating on His behalf. outside, especially at a particular area of woods where He has revealed himself most to me, is where i go to make offerings and worship him specifically.
i dedicate each full moon to the nymphs and spirits of place, and i often feel Him then too- that’s when i’m mostly likely to morph into a maenad.

Rose had some thoughts on Dionysos and his relationship to fandom:

In re: Dionysus (and fandom, and etc – because these are not distinguishable concepts for me) – the two biggest avatars/images I have for Dionysus are Tony Stark and Kara Thrace. They aren’t precisely direct faces of Dionysus, but they are both “like” him in fundamental ways and reinforce ideas of him.


On that note, I’m just going to leave this here:



1. To be honest, the designation “tree” is a bit fuzzy in botany, too.

2. Magda mentioned in another part of our conversation that she wears long gloves when going to a live performance as part of her “Sunday best.”

Making Light is an occasional column by Hellenic polytheist Sunweaver. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

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