Bakcheia for the Barbarians

I was asked how someone who is primarily devoted to the divinities of another pantheon should go about incorporating Dionysos into their worship routine. Rather than go into all of the theological quandaries and the history of intercultural exchange, I’m going to keep things fairly simple and focused on the practicalities of doing so.

The first step is to confirm with both Dionysos and your own Gods and Spirits that this is permissible and will not violate any individual or traditional obligations you may have. If there are boundaries and restrictions in play, determine how best to navigate them in a manner that is respectful and pleasing to both parties. You may want to consult diviners and religious specialists to assist with this process, especially if negotiations are required.

Although Dionysos is widely traveled and has important ties to members of diverse pantheons there are some beings he just doesn’t share space with well, either because of personality clashes or conflicting energies. (True both within the Hellenic pantheon and outside it.) This could necessitate maintaining a shrine for him in a totally different part of your home from theirs, or outside it, or even honoring him without one.

You should also determine what sorts of devotional activities you can engage in for Dionysos, if these will put you in a state of ritual impurity with regard to the others, what you’ll need to do to restore that equilibrium, and how far apart this needs to be spaced. For instance, Dionysian worship can involve alcohol, drugs, sex, dancing, flogging, the consumption of meat, spending time in wild places, exploring the dark, painful, dangerous, and repressed parts of ourselves, and conversing with strange Spirits and the dead. Surprisingly, not all divinities are down with that.

He often brings about catharsis by tearing things apart and then putting them back together again; while radical transformation doesn’t occur every time you invite Dionysos into your life, it is something you should at least consider within the realm of possibility if you do so, and your Gods and Spirits may have opinions on that. Dionysos is big on consent and generally will not overstep your bounds if they are clearly and firmly articulated (especially if other divinities are involved) but anything up to that point could be considered fair game.

That said, he’s incredibly accommodating and flexible, so if you are not permitted to engage in certain activities he can usually find a workaround. For instance, there are plenty of Dionysians I know who for whatever reason (taboo, sobriety, stomach problems, etc) drink infrequently or not at all, and yet they still have incredibly rich and intimate relationships with the God.

Once you have established all of the above (or even while the process is ongoing) begin learning about Dionysos and the sorts of things he likes. I’ve written extensively about this at the Bakcheion, but don’t limit yourself to just that. In addition to scholarly resources there are a lot of really passionate, devoted and creative Dionysians in our overlapping communities who have written books, and blogs and websites, participate in online groups and forums, or are just out there doing their own thing that you can draw on. Each has a unique understanding of who Dionysos is and what has worked for them as far as honoring him goes. Test out different ritual styles and methodologies, noting what gets you the results you desire and what doesn’t. Once you have the basics down, branch out to things like monthly or weekly observances, festivals, city rambles and visits to forests, mountains and other wild places. Experiment with dance, sacred movement, austerities, trance and meditation, dreamwork, entheogens, and similar methods of inducing ecstatic and visionary states. Make art for him. Hell, you can even study mime and theater, which at the very least will make you a better ritualist.

The final consideration should probably wait until you have solidified Dionysos’ presence in your life – though it certainly doesn’t have to if there is some pressing reason – and that’s figuring out how he fits into the ecology of your private religious life. It may be fine to keep him an outsider you just honor on special occasions or as circumstances require. You may also integrate him into your household cultus either by keeping separate shrines and rites for him in the Hellenic manner while honoring your other Gods according to the customs they prefer, or if everyone is copacetic and divination confirms you can extend those forms of worship to include him, or create a new blended style. I don’t know if this would work with every type of polytheism but in my experience Dionysos has been quite receptive to elements of Kemetic, Heathen, Hindu and even folk Catholic forms of worship over the years. However, don’t assume anything and verify before proceeding! Also the appropriateness of this may change with time. (And then change back, and change again. Dionysos is … weird.)

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