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.