Note: there have been some significant changes since I made this post, but the broader points it makes are important enough that it deserves to be revived.
I saw some folks discussing my theological beliefs the other day which I found both flattering and confusing. Flattering because with all of the wonderful plentitude of topics to discuss in the world these people had chosen to focus on little old unimportant me, but confusing in that they hadn’t actually bothered to ask me what my views are which is kind of odd since I’m easy to get a hold of and far from shy about such things. Doing so could have saved them some confusion of their own since one of the gentlemen is under the impression that I’m a henotheist, of all things!
I can’t imagine where he came up with the notion that the only deity I venerate is Dionysos since I’ve filled this blog with posts about Hermes, Spider, Ariadne, Erigone, Harlequin, the Nymphai, Aphrodite, Jim Morrison, Mark Antony and the rest of the Dionysian Dead. More recently there’s been a ton of stuff about Persephone, Melinoë, Hekate, Herakles, Orpheus, Medeia and the gods, heroes and spirits of Magna Graecia. And while a lot of that is writings or research notes I do periodically post about the festivals and regular devotions I perform if I can find a way to make them interesting to my readership. (Most of the time I can’t so I don’t; I do this stuff to maintain the relationships I have with my divinities not to impress a bunch of strangers on the internet.) Hell, I have even branched out of the Mediterranean basin to do the occasional rite for Odin, Loki, Mani and some of the other Norse deities who are important to my partner and I have likewise hailed Thracian, Canaanite, Celtic, Egyptian and African divinities with friends though I have no interest or connection to them outside of such circumstances.
So I’m really not sure where the henotheist tag came from. Is Dionysos important to me? Supremely so. Are all of my core pantheon intimately connected to him? Absolutely. And that not only influences who I worship but who I respectfully leave out, since it would not be right for me to come before a lot of the Olympian gods while in the constant state of miasma I’m in as a result of the work I do with purification, healing, ecstasy and the chthonic powers. These rules are in place for a reason and disregarding that is like giving a finger to the one you’re ostensibly honoring. Thus I honor them best by keeping my distance and doing what I can to assist those who are venerating them in a right and reverent manner.
It’s kind of funny, actually. One of the folks discussing my beliefs was concerned that my unhealthy fixation on Dionysos was the cause of my abnormal psychology. I’d say if anything Dionysos has had a healing and stabilizing effect on me. More importantly he has pushed me to examine everything about myself and to completely own my shit. Everything I do or say is a conscious choice on my part, even when that involves things I know aren’t good for me like smoking or reading the Patheos pagan channel. This is the great challenge of Dionysos, the question he asks us continuously as we roam the earth and which will be asked again when we face the sentries below: Who are you? Those who haven’t done the hard, long, painful work of figuring that out are the ones who are prone to dysmania, which is something that his myths make abundantly and eloquently clear.
In Euripides’ Bakchai there are two groups of mainades: the Asian Bacchants who have given up everything to follow the stranger god in his wanderings through the Greek and Near Eastern world and the Theban Bacchants who run about witless and violently raging with the impudent daughters of Kadmos. The one dance and sing and joyously revel on the mountainside with the wild things; the other are tormented with delusion, driven to atrocities by unresolved internal pressures and in the end are shown to be strangers both to themselves and their community – with disastrous results, as the play’s anagnorisis scene so horrifyingly reveals. And note that nowhere does Dionysos actively punish anyone in the Bakchai, even when Pentheus is calling him every dirty name in the book; he merely sets them up, teasing out things they don’t want to face and when they refuse to he steps back, letting them destroy themselves and those dearest to them in the process. How many times before then did he try to intervene, try to talk sense into them but they were too blind and self-deluded to recognize his outstretched helping hand, and so instead reaped the whirlwind of their own devising. That is the terrible message of the play: in the end you have no one to blame for your actions and their consequences but yourself.
It really surprises me that a Jungian of all people fails to perceive this since Carl himself was quite insistent about the need to embrace and integrate rather than suppress or reject the Shadow. But I suppose we are often most resistant to those things we most need to hear and do in our work.
Dionysos: Once you see, once you confront something you don’t expect, then you’ll consider me your dearest friend. (Euripides, Bakchai 938-941)