Finding Dionysos

Every so often I’ll get an e-mail from someone who says that they’re really attracted to Dionysos but no matter what they do they can’t seem to feel his presence. Doesn’t matter how much they drink, what type of music they listen to, whether they perform elaborate rituals or something spontaneous and on the fly. My question at that point is “So, where do you normally try to connect with Dionysos?” to which they usually respond, “Well, in my home. In front of his shrine.” It doesn’t even occur to them to call upon him anywhere else, which is why it’s hardly surprising that they’re running into this sort of difficulty.

Dionysos isn’t like other gods. Many of the things that work perfectly fine for them just aren’t going to cut it when he’s involved. Now I do think that it’s important to maintain a shrine in his honor. It’s a way to give over a part of your home and thus a part of your life to him and it can be a powerful thing to surround yourself with tangible reminders of Dionysos. Each of the components that make up my shrine for him have been chosen with the utmost care. Many of them found their way onto his shrine because they played an important role in previous ritual experiences. So, for instance, I’ve got a medallion on his offering tray that I wore during the first major public ritual I helped lead for him. There’s the cup I use to pour all of my libations. A bull figurine that reminds me of one of the initiations I underwent. A snake and phallos that were crafted by my partner and once graced her own shrine. A little plastic gecko I found while listening to The Doors and pondering the similarities between Jim as Lizard King and Mark Antony as Neos Dionysos. And so on and so forth. Each item has its own story and all I’ve got to do is glance at them to have a wealth of memories and associations come flooding back into my mind. Plus I’ve got a crazy amount of statues, posters, paintings and other representations of Dionysos hanging around the shrine and he’s a pretty god to look at. I love my shrine. I’ve had some pretty powerful experiences in front of it. But not all of them and by no means the most important of the bunch.

In fact, as much as I enjoy tending that shrine I’d say that the majority of the work I do with him takes place far away from it. And appropriately so. Dionysos isn’t just the wild god – he’s the god of wild places. This is something that the ancient Greeks were keenly aware of. Pause for a moment and reflect on the places where they sought him. Up on the mountain top or deep in some primordial forest. In the swamp or the desert, along the coastal shore or far beneath the earth in a cave. Even when they built temporary, artificial structures to worship him in they fashioned them in the likeness of nature, whether it was a tent made of leaves and branches or a grotto with running water and vegetation. The pillars of his temples were twined with ivy or carved with representations of trees and flowers. Wherever Dionysos was present nature was close at hand. Hell, even his name suggests the mystical mountain of his youth.

So anyone who wishes to honor the god would do well to remember this. Just as the mad-women fled their homes to be close to him, so must all those seeking a deeper connection with the god. Of course that doesn’t mean that the only way you’re going to connect with Dionysos is by going out on an extended camping trip in the heart of a forest far away from civilization. That sort of thing is wonderful if you can manage it, but Dionysos’ spirit can be found closer to home as well. Most cities have parks or tree-lined paths and these are excellent places to go hunting for Dionysos, especially if you go for a walk at night. The world is a different place once the sun goes down. Everything becomes strange and magical and wild things lurk in the shadows. Open yourself up to those unfamiliar energies and you’ll be a lot closer to discovering the god. Being out when others seek the safety of their homes, doing things that are peculiar and unexpected and perhaps even socially frowned upon, putting yourself in situations that feel a little dangerous – whether it’s justified or all in your head – helps the transition into altered states of conscious which are essential for an authentic Dionysian experience. And when you’re out there be as open as you can to random possibility. When you’re in your home there’s only so much that you can see or do. But when you’re out in the wild a whole world of communication becomes possible. You can see messages on billboards or bumper-stickers, catch meaningful scraps of song from a passing car or someone’s home, strangers can approach you and say exactly what you needed to hear at precisely that moment, you can stumble upon a bed of ivy or some wild creature or any of a host of other things. One of the reasons why it seems as if the gods are speaking to mystic types so regularly is because they often spend a great deal of time out in the world listening for them. If they only stayed in front of their shrines the gods and spirits would only have the things in the mystics’ apartments and minds with which to communicate to them. And sure, that may be more than enough to work with – but why make it harder than it has to be on them?

But more than that I feel that certain aspects of Dionysos manifest themselves only in the wild and surrounded by nature. All the intellectual understanding in the world can’t replace actually touching the ivy that clings to a tree, the moist soil or soft moss against your bare feet, the smell of flowers in bloom or the breeze off of a river. These are not just the things we associate with the god, symbolic tokens that convey certain facts about him – they are him. I can tell you that Dionysos lives in trees but until you’ve wrapped your arms around a massive trunk, felt the bark scratch your flesh, smelled the fragrance and heard the slow, ancient pulse within you’re never truly going to understand what that means.

So the next time you want to get to know Dionysos better pack up some incense, wine and candles and head out into nature, wherever you can find it. You don’t need anything more complex than that. Pray to him with the words you find in your heart. Look for his image manifest in nature. Listen for what he’s got to tell you. Open yourself up to the wildness that surrounds you – and is within you. That is where you’ll find the god.

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28 thoughts on “Finding Dionysos

  1. Jer

    Oh, I liked this essay. I think something like this needs to be said as loud as possible for people (like me) who get a little tired of sterile intellectualization, and want something a little more tangible! Hail Dionysus.

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  2. I’m in Alabama right now (unfortunately, a dry county) but looking out and touring yesterday, there is certainly Dionysos here as I lookout over the foothills of the Appalachians. It’s beautiful here, and I can only imagine that his retinue loves it here too.

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    • Oh yeah. The Appalachians are such a powerful, beautiful and mysterious spot – I’m sure the retinue loves it there.

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  3. Alex

    Heh. Sometimes He pops up when you aren’t looking and in the oddest of places.

    I work for a major local grocery chain. And a couple of times I have found Him briefly in the Produce section of the store I work at. I guess at this because of two events….

    One, I came to work one day and a shelf they had that was full of different fruit wines (blueberry and pomagranite), just collapsed, the bottles hit the floor and shattered sending the wine all over the floor. Needless to say it smelled pleasent for a while until well after it was cleaned up.

    2nd, I was making my way to my department which was right next to Produce, and I glanced up at the area towards the back where Produce does their prep. There is where they have a helium tank for balloons. And when I glanced, there was a large balloon of a Dolphin. I had to grin thinking maybe He was just saying “Hello”.

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    • Ha! That is awesome, especially the collapse of the wine. Reminds me of when I was working graveyard at 7-Eleven … lots of odd Dionysian happenings like that. I once had an intense ecstatic moment in the cooler.

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  4. =)
    During years, I just was unable to even think in Dionysus in front an altar. The thing don’t worked. So I started to wander across the city, and that mix of wilderness and industry, the changing scenarios and all turned that wanderings in strong experiences of him. Not just the wild, but the boundaries between wild and civilized.

    Now I’m able to keep shrines and altars to him, and connect with ritual and prayer. But when this year I spended a week in a rain forest, was like if I could sense him breathing in my neck all the time.

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  5. Senneferet

    I was visiting the museum of wizardology in Stratford-Upon-Avon (UK) today. Whilst wandering around in the semi-darkness, trying to avoid the mannequins I came across two display cases. One was dedicated to Mithras and the other to Dionysos! It turns out the quaint little museum was a front for a genuine pagan shop. They had a back room selling all sorts of ritual herbs and paraphernalia.

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  6. Like I said in this article, I think pagans need to get out more in general, do ritual *outside*. Sad that this is even an issue, really, but we’ve really gotten stuck at our home altars. I do love my own home shrines quite a lot, but much of my practice still takes place outdoors.

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    • As important as it is for Pagans generally, I think it’s even more so for Dionysians.

      (I realized, after I’d written the piece, that I’d touched on some of the same things that you had in your piece, but figured it was important enough of a concept to warrant posting it here anyway.)

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  7. Another interesting post. Anyone here read Danielou’s book “Gods Of Love And Ecstasy”, contrasting the followings of Dionysus and Shiva? I don’t buy all of his points but the comparison makes more sense than it seems at first glance.

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    • It is a good and fun book, even if it’s not 100% workable on all points. The idea that perhaps Shiva/Skanda, Zeus/Dionysos and a few other father/son deities might have a very old background is enticing, but very hard to prove, and is not proven by Danielou’s efforts–however noble and valiant they may be otherwise. But still, the comparisons can’t exactly be ignored, particularly since we know that from Alexander onwards, Greece and India most certainly knew about each other, and the Greeks probably would have made some conclusions about their similarity through interpretatio Graeca.

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      • And doesn’t he exaggerate the antiquity of Siva? Obviously Prajapati is much older, but if I’m remembering correctly Siva himself is only attested after Dionysos’ arrival in the land, and thus may be the result of Greco-Indian influence.

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        • Well, he allows for that by acknowledging the fact that although Shiva doesn’t appear by name in the Rig Veda, the god Rudra, who is acknowledged as an aspect of Shiva IS in the Rig Veda and that’s how he justifies tracing Shiva back as far as he does.

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    • Oh yes, that was one of the first books I read about Dionysian syncretism and it was beautiful, passionate and fascinating. I didn’t necessarily agree with all the points back then – and would probably agree with even less today – but I do think there is something fundamentally correct about it. There is much similarity between Dionysos and Siva, in ways that one wouldn’t necessarily expect.

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      • I agree. It was one of those “Well, now that you mention it…” type of books, just not entirely convincing in its arguments.

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  8. And speaking of “finding Dionysos,” I can only assume you’ve probably seen this, on Nabataean cave-paintings (particularly of Dionysos) near the site of Petra:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/aug/22/hellenistic-wall-paintings-petra

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  9. Droops

    Yea, being outdoors is the best place to experience Dionysos and some of the other gods. I much prefer it that way. Besides, I love hugging the trees. :)

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  10. Excellent note. It reminds me that I ALWAYS have better response of my Gods in Nature (even if not “wild” proper).

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  11. “So the next time you want to get to know Dionysos better pack up some incense, wine and candles and head out into nature, wherever you can find it.”

    It’s also probably a good idea to leave a note. If you know what I mean.

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