If you were at the Starwood Festival two weeks ago — or if you’ve been there the past few years — you may have seen me going around Saturday night’s Bonfire pushing red wine on people, and occasionally yelling “Hail Dionysus”.
I am a drinking man. Many posts on this blog and other writings of mine were composed over a drink or two or three, and I’m at the Phoenix Upper Main in Old Ellicott City as I write this — a relatively new brewpub combining the legacy of two classic OEC watering holes. (And I’m finishing off with a shot of Tullamore Dew, so, cheers, dear reader, and tip your bartender or server.) If you see me out dancing at a club, it’s usually with a drink in my hand; and my musical repertoire includes its share of songs about drinking.
I am, we might say, an ambassador for the Dionysian brand. The best way to worship a god, in my opinion, is to help with their work here on Earth, regardless of our metaphysical stance on if or how the gods exist.
(That’s definitely more on the Pagan side of my mandate as the Zen Pagan, since Buddhists are supposed to renounce alcohol. On the other hand, I can cite a few great teachers in the Zen tradition who were less than totally observant of that precept, perhaps due to Taoism’s influence on Zen. Certainly when Buddhism came to Japan, that teaching lost out to Shinto’s attitude that sake is a sacred thing.)
But I have always been a somewhat cautious drinker, binding myself to rules, aware of the power of Dionysus to completely destroy a life — as he is currently destroying the life of my younger brother, who is in the ICU after a stroke that’s a consequence of his decades of alcoholism and a sequel to his heart attack of last summer. It turns out that two and a half decades of heavy consumption of mass quantities of low-grade hard liquor is not healthful for the cardiovascular system…
Dionysus can take you places and give you power and freedom if you respect him and work carefully with him and are fortunate. But he will fuck you up without a second thought if you are not careful. Or sometimes even just at random, if you happen to rub him the wrong way.
Let me be clear that we are in the realm of Unverified Personal Gnosis here, and I am not making claims about the various ancient cults of Dionysus here. But it seems to me there is good reason those ancient Greeks portrayed him in the company of the Maenads, women who would tear both humans and animals to shreds with their bare hands.
This god is powerful and dangerous.
And so choosing to not engage with him at all is an honorable choice. Not my choice, but an honorable choice.
It’s an irony that over the past few years, the guy at Starwood most likely to yell “Hail Dionysus” while pushing wine on people, has befriended the people running the “sober space” and the “recovery” meetings and less formal support efforts. But a toast to Tracey and Deanna and Bors and anyone else over the years who helped keep those who shouldn’t step on the Dionysian path, off of it.
Something I wrote about nine years ago — before we knew about my brother’s alcoholism — after a long night at the legendary Leadbetter’s Tavern still feels true today:
Dionysian thoughts after closing time
I am — thank the Deities — not an alcoholic, or even a problem drinker. But there are nights like tonight, when my heart is heavy for one reason or another and I can just hear, at the edge of audibility, the whisper of the bottle. “Come and take refuge in me,” it says, “and I will be the solvent of your suffering.”
I am wise to that whisper. While I walk the Path of Excess from time to time, I will not let it tempt me over the edge; it remains the case, as Winston Churchill said, that I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me. Dionysus and I have an understanding, a compact of sorts, and he will work through me but not break me. But I can understand how someone could fall for that voice, could neglect to read the contract.
So I’m sitting here in a park in Fells Point after perhaps One Too Many (a subjective judgment) to give my liver a chance to process things before I drive home.
And why is my heart heavy? Ah, that’s a long tale, and let us just say that it involves where things stood between a certain woman and I about one year ago and where they stand today…and need I say more? I think not.
Anyway. Sometimes I think that the only thing that keeps me from going over that edge at times like this is music. Maybe I’m making drama, but I wonder, if I had not been able to sing along with Johnny Smooth tonight, if the bar had been silent, might I instead have had another drink, and another? Is that why instinct takes me to a place of both drink and music, that the later may cushion the hazard of the former?
Whatever the truth of that may be, I thank the Deities for beer and music and the healing, soothing properties they possess.
So Hail Dionysus, and Beware Of The God, and for the gods’ sake if your drinking is getting you in trouble or ruining your health, please get help to get off of his path — it is the honorable and courageous thing to do, and I salute you for it, even as I dance drunkenly yelling his praises.