Devoted to Dionysos: An Interview with Sannion, Part Two

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Editor's Note: This article is the second half of a two-part interview with Sannion. Read Part One of this interview here.

Dionysos is often associated with intoxication and divine madness. Classical lore talks of His maenads, women claimed by and/or devoted to Him, going into ecstatic ritual frenzies so intense that they were wont to tear animals and occasionally men apart. Have you ever tasted this type of madness and if so, what role do you feel it plays in His devotion?

I haven't, and neither has any other male because only women can be mainades and only certain women at that. Of course, mainades aren't the only ecstatic votaries of Dionysos—in antiquity or today—and I've definitely experienced his mad blessings myself.

The first couple of times it came upon me spontaneously and I wasn't really prepared to deal with it. You can read all of the ancient accounts of Dionysiac ritual madness and survey similar phenomena from other traditions—Tarantism, Shamanism, Sufism, charismatic Christianity, and Vodoun—but none of that really prepares you for what it's like when it's actually happening to you!

Somehow with the grace of the god I not only managed to survive my first brushes with ekstasis and trance-possession but discovered that I actually have some aptitude for entering these altered states, and now I actively cultivate them every chance I get. They range from light inspiration where the world seems strange and cinematic, shapes dancing on the periphery of my vision and whispered voices filling my head, on up to full possession where I'm not there any longer and Dionysos has complete use of my body. It's rare for it to be at quite that level (I can think of only a handful of times over the last two decades) as it's usually more of a cooperative effort. He's taken over, manipulating my words and actions but I'm still conscious and can direct things if need be. It's kind of like putting on a mask and acting a part, only the mask is a living thing itself. I'm not sure who's the mask or the mask-wearer in this analogy however—maybe both of us at different times!

That is interesting. I had not considered that the practice of divine possession might be connected to that ecstasy. How might you encourage a devotee to engage with that aspect of this God? Would you?

Well, to be perfectly honest with you I wouldn't. Either someone is naturally drawn to this kind of thing, in which case it'll happen regardless, or else they're not and it could prove harmful to their psyche (at the very least) if they tried to force it, you know what I mean? Even for those with a certain predisposition toward ecstasy and trance states it can be difficult dealing with the demands this stuff make on us physically and spiritually—especially the coming down process and its aftermath.

Yes, particularly with oracular work and divine possession, I quite agree. There's a wonderful book on the market about Deity possession and contemporary Paganisms called Drawing Down the Spirits by Raven Kaldera and Kenaz Filan. One of the things addressed there, which I myself believe, is that the ability to do this is inborn, just like having blue eyes or brown hair. While in some cases a Deity can tease open that ability, in most cases you either have it or you don't. I certainly agree that forcing something like this can be dangerous.

Probably the thing that helps the most is being familiar with other methods of altering consciousness, whether those are physically, mentally, or chemically induced. Things like dance, yoga, exercise, fasting, austerities and ordeals, sex, meditation, creative expression, drugs and alcohol—all of these and numerous other things help broaden our horizons and make these spiritual states easier to accommodate. It's better to gradually stretch something out instead of forcing your way through it all at once, and in my experience all of these and their related techniques help the process along. They aren't a substitute for spiritual possession and trance, but they can teach you what it's like, how to ride it out, so that you're better prepared for the actual experience when it happens.

7/26/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Galina Krasskova
    About Galina Krasskova
    The author of several books on the Northern Tradition, Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, shaman, and devotee of Odin. She blogs at Gangleri's Grove.