What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah law?

I am totally opposed to the institution of Sharia law because it is totally opposed to me in its condemnation of my Gods, their worship and many of the things associated with them such as sex, alcohol, dance and music. In fact Islam represents everything that is antithetical to the Dionysian way of life. If a Moslem wishes to adhere to that system of belief and law himself it is no concern of mine, but I’ll fight to the bloody end if he gets it in his head to try and coerce me into doing likewise.

Now the burka is a different matter entirely. As an advocate of absolute individual freedom – liberty, after all, comes from the Latin name of my God, Liber Pater – I believe that a Moslem woman has every right to dress in whatever way she finds most suitable. If she chooses to wear the burka as an expression of modesty, fidelity to her husband and respect for her God and her people’s traditions then she has my full blessing. I may find it ugly, repressive and extremely uncomfortable to wear but that’s why you’ll never find me wearing one! If she feels differently, why should I care? So, on those grounds I am totally opposed to the recent efforts in France and other European nations to ban the wearing of this garment, which I consider hypocritical, tyrannical and just plain idiotic since it plays into the Jihadis hands. However I’m well aware that in many parts of the world the wearing of the burka isn’t a choice the woman gets to make herself. Or rather she does get to choose – between covering herself from head to toe in heavy, hot fabric or face insults, ostracism, abuse, rape and sometimes even murder.

I find that extremely reprehensible, surpassed only by the infantile excuses the men use to justify their barbaric and disgusting treatment of women. “They must dress this way to ensure men are not inflamed with lust.” Well, where’s your decency and self-control, you weak hypocrites!?! The truly temperate and pious man ought to be able to pass a naked woman in the street without a single carnal thought entering his mind and distracting him from loving communion with his God. “It’s against Allah’s wishes!” If Allah is the creator of all that is then certainly he is responsible for feminine beauty and sexual longing. Why should he have given women clitorises if he didn’t want them to be used? Why create things like flowers and rainbows and pretty faces if beauty wasn’t meant to be appreciated for its own sake? “But the wife belongs to her husband!” No human is a commodity to be bought, sold and owned outright. She is a human, not a precious vase or a camel! And so on and so forth.

Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days?

Well, that depends. I won’t participate in an observance that I feel brings about ritual impurity or which requires the espousal of beliefs that are contrary to mine or which I find deeply offensive. I will not, as an example, deny the existence of my Gods, seek atonement for sins I don’t believe in, permit others to pray for me or attempt to spiritually “heal” or “deliver” me – nor do I feel the need to participate in any kind of vague, watered down, ecumenical service. But on the other hand I’ve proudly stood by others as they offered sacrifice to their Gods even though they weren’t my Gods, I’ve marched in a Catholic procession through the streets at night, and been witness to many beautiful and touching displays of religious sentiment. I think that we can learn a lot about what makes good ritual by exposing ourselves to the practices of others, since it is fundamentally an art form whose essential components cut across cultural and ideological divides. And as a polytheist I affirm the reality of all divinities and believe they are worthy of our respect and worship, even if I tend to limit my cultic activity to only a handful of them. My Gods are not jealous and have no problem with me honoring the rest of their compatriots.

In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?

The ancients were not psychotic bullies who believed that you had to bribe or threaten people into loving the Gods. The Gods simply were and those who acknowledged them reaped the benefits of communion with the divine while those who didn’t deprived themselves of such blessings.

While the soul is judged after death in both Greek and Egyptian thought, with our good and evil deeds weighed in a balance, “belief” doesn’t really enter into the equation. There is punishment for our wickedness, but it is commensurate with our actions – not an excruciating torment from which there is no hope of escape.

Once we have atoned for our wrongdoing we either go on to our posthumous abode – Haides for most, the Isles of the Blest for a few or Tartaros for an even smaller number – or else, according to the Orphics and Pythagoreans at least, we are born again on earth in order to improve our future lot. But you have to be exceptionally evil to end up in Tartaros – Sisyphos, Tantalos, or Lykourgos level evil. Or in terms most will understand: Hitler, Dahmer or Phelps.

How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?

Religion is the primary focus of my life, to the point where scarcely any part of who I am, what I do or how I think about things remains untouched by it. I can’t take a stroll through a park without feeling the presence of the Nymphai and other nature-spirits. I can’t watch a movie or listen to music without my mind being flooded by religious imagery and thoughts. When I hear about contemporary events I flash back to what I’ve read of history and how the ancients dealt with similar matters. I strive to have my every act reflect the greater glory of my Gods and conduct myself with piety, righteousness, gentleness and consciousness of the delicate balance that preserves all life on this planet.

On the other hand I believe that intelligence is a divinely given faculty and that we honor the Gods most when we use our brains to the best of our ability. So while I consider the traditional teachings of Classical antiquity to be a sound guide through the confusing and dangerous labyrinth of life, I have no problem parting ways with them when I feel that our ancestors were in error or a situation requires a more nuanced approach.

As an example, slavery was widely practiced in the ancient world, and though some intellectuals (especially among the Stoics) abhorred it they never got around to abolishing the institution entirely and probably couldn’t have with their level of technological advancement. (We moderns only succeeded in doing so after the industrial revolution was well underway.) I have no problem condemning slavery and saying that we’re much better off now without it. Ditto the misogyny and xenophobia that one all-too-frequently encounters in ancient writings.

So, if you want my take on these issues as a contemporary Dionysian, here they are: it is my adamant conviction that there ought to be plenty of abortion and gay marriage for those who want it and none for those who don’t.

I have occasionally heard other Hellenics refer to Dionysos as a “Gateway God,” i.e. the God that first attracted them and drew them into Hellenic polytheism. Why do you think that He is so popular/attractive/intoxicating . . . maybe approachable is the right word?

Oh, he definitely has that function and I think one of the reasons may be that he is partly human himself and so may understand us a little better than his fellow Gods—what makes us tick, what gets our attention—allowing him to slip through our defenses and awaken us to the wider world around us. Or maybe not. What do I know?

I know he is a very generous God who loves his family; his myths are filled with accounts of him coming to the aid of other Olympians, raising mortals up to divine status, building temples, introducing cults and serving other Gods in a priestly capacity. That’s a pretty extraordinary thing when you think about it; most Greek Gods are eager to elevate their own dignity and thus are not inclined to humble themselves in the service of others.

So really what a lot of people recount today—Dionysos coming into their lives merely to turn them over to another deity—is sort of an extension of that ancient tradition.

Plus, well, Dionysos is sexy, exciting, mysterious, dangerous, etc. so it’s not a huge surprise that he’s great at getting our attention.

Are there any warnings you’d give someone before getting involved with Dionysos?

Dionysos is a dangerous God, there’s just no getting around that. He’s not only the bringer of madness, but a God who is himself mad. And if that doesn’t fill you with terror on some level then you’re not paying close enough attention!

Most people don’t really experience this side of him however, especially when they’re just starting off. They get only the fun-loving, joyful party God come to liberate them from their cares. And that’s great! We all need to let down our hair and blow off a little steam now and again. But when you start to get closer to him you’ll likely discover what true liberation entails: stripping away the false layers, everything that holds you back and keeps you enslaved, all your fears and doubts and inhibitions, all the social conditioning meant to turn you into a mindless, emotionally repressed robot.

Before you can truly be one of his he’s going to have to reach deep inside of you and scoop out all the dirt and shit, all the trauma and delusion and unhealthy stuff that’s polluting your soul. And let me tell you from personal experience, it hurts like a mother when that happens! When all that stuff starts bubbling up to the surface and you’ve got to confront things you’ve spent a lifetime avoiding, well, it isn’t fun. It isn’t fun for you and it isn’t going to be very fun for any of the people around you, either.

Before the process is complete a lot of Dionysians end up hurting the ones they love in horrible ways and their lives often fall apart around them. Especially the ones who don’t follow it through to the end. That’s where the real danger lies—stopping midway. You can get caught in madness (the bad kind) and addiction, without any way of coping since those mechanisms are often the first to go. But if you stick with it and let Dionysos guide you through the purifying flames, some really awesome things can happen. But you’ve got to have faith and trust and love for him, an iron-willed commitment to live fully and freely, no matter the cost.

Does your religion give you peace of mind?

Definitely not! My religion provides me with many things but peace of mind certainly isn’t one of them. It’s probably the biggest cause of stress and anxiety in my life – and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

You see, one of the core values of Classical Polytheism is αρετή, a Greek word meaning virtue, excellence, exceptionalness. Areté represents the ideal, the peak of perfection, our highest aspirations which as humans we are ultimately unable to attain. But that’s beside the point – we must strive with all we have, offer and become our best – and in so doing come as close to divinity as we are ever going to. For the ancients this was not just a deeply cherished social value but rather a fundamentally religious concept. Hence most festivals contained an agon or competition in the fields of athletics, music, dance, poetry or beauty. It was felt that the Gods desired and deserved to see humanity at its finest and that the struggle to attain that purified not only the individuals but the whole community. Further because of their perfection it was necessary to give to the Gods the very best that we have: the most beautiful temples and statues, the choicest sacrificial animals, the costliest perfumes and incenses, the first-fruits of our labor, the sweat of our brow and mastery of our craft gained from long hours of discipline and practice. Anything less than our best is an affront to their greatness.

Therefore no matter how good I get I am always trying to improve on that and challenge myself in new and different ways. I refuse to sit on my laurels and congratulate myself on past accomplishments. Whether in my writing, my studies, my oracular and other spiritual work, the rituals I perform and any other part of my life that comes under their purview I am constantly looking for ways to improve, things I neglected or got wrong, new directions I could take it in or techniques to try out. I do not compare myself to my contemporaries but rather to the giants and geniuses who came before. And I won’t be satisfied even once I’ve surpassed them, because there is always room for improvement. Always. So no, my religion does not offer peace of mind – but it holds out something infinitely preferable: greatness.

Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?

This question confused me because I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would remain part of a religion that they felt under- or devalued them. And then I realized that you probably had to ask this because it’s the experience of a lot of people and that deeply saddened me. So, my message to your readers would be this: Listen up, folks! No religion holds a monopoly on truth or the sole means of connecting with the divine. Either find one better suited to your needs or hell, go off and create your own! The only thing you’ve got to lose is your shackles.

What is it like to have a relationship with Dionysos?

To keep things fresh here at The House of Vines while I’m fleshing out our festivals I’ve decided to post some excerpts from a couple interviews I’ve done over the years. Enjoy.

What is it like to have a relationship with Dionysos?

Well, to begin with, he is a very intense God, whose presence intensifies everything, often to a fever pitch. He comes into our lives like a whirlwind, frenzied, ecstatic and beautiful, melting, changing, heightening everything he touches. Those walls we built up, those masks we carefully constructed to shield us from the painful and frightening things in our past and in the world dissolve before him like brittle clay submerged in water. He coaxes us out of the shadows into the light of day, unfolding us gently like a flower to behold the beauty and warmth of a world enchanted and infused with his radiance and life-nourishing essence. He drives off our sorrows and fears, leaving us free and alive, a whole vista of unexplored sensations and emotions now open to us. He holds out a cup full of the wine of life and bids us drink deeply from it, then courses through our bodies: a dizzying, maddening, blessed fire which drives us to dance and shout and laugh in a state of unparalleled bliss. This is what it means to touch God and be touched by him in return – and having felt the ecstasy of an encounter with Dionysos you will never forget it.

But sometimes that’s the problem. We are mortals. It’s not possible for us to maintain that peak of pure experience, of divine joy, indefinitely. Some try and manage an intimacy with him which most can only dream of – but even the greatest mystic must eventually come down from the mountain and walk amid the mortal world. And for some this can be a sad and disheartening experience. But it needn’t be – in fact, it shouldn’t be. Because Dionysos is no world-denying, body-hating ascetic contemptuous of the commonplace, dreaming of a fantasy land that doesn’t exist. His world is here, now, and he recognizes no dichotomy – and in fact tears down all barriers which might impede the flow of life and spirit.

The goal of the Dionysian is not to have great mind-blowing trips, to cultivate strange powers and unique experiences like notches on a belt, with all the time between as this dull, dismal interlude to real existence. Rather, the purpose of the true Dionysian is to resist such spiritual dilettantism and to work a much more subtle and powerful form of magic than the maenads of old did when they drew fountains of wine from the earth or tore apart wild bulls with their bare hands. Our task is to gradually transform consciousness, to awaken ourselves to an awareness of the world as it truly is, to its beauty and complexity and contradictory nature, the inherent rhythm of creation and destruction which beats through the hearts of all living things. This pulse is so omnipresent that we often cannot hear it, since it has been with us from the moment we drew our first breath and before that even. It sounds in even the humblest of circumstances, in the cadence of our footfalls as we walk through the hallway at work, in the splash of water as we do the dishes after dinner. It is with us always, and so we never hear it; but Dionysos urges us to open our ears and listen, for that song is his song, the song of life which he performs for all creation. Such a simple thing, really, this mindfulness, this being present in the world around you – and yet for many in our fast-paced, hectic society it’s next to impossible to accomplish. And so they feel disconnected, alien, cut-off from the source of life. But how much of that is just in their heads?

The biggest barrier to a rewarding spiritual life is usually one’s own self. Not the true self, the primal core of our being whose fiery essence is composed of the same essential stuff as the stars in heaven and Dionysos himself – no, not their true self, but the illusionary self that we create for ourselves, composed of fears and self-doubt and the internalized criticism of our family, friends, and society. Our wants and petty aspirations, our material desires, that part of us which is defined by the work we do during the day, the clubs we belong to, our political, racial and even familial identity – all the things that we take to us and wrap around our true selves, weaving a cocoon of illusionary identity in order to fit in with other people who have a similar identity. But none of this is who we truly are, as we find when those strands are cut and fall away. It may be painful to lose them, since we can grow attached to our carefully constructed ego, but we will not cease to be if they are lost. And that is an important distinction to keep in mind. Because if we should begin to lose part of our true selves, a process of death begins. And sometimes the weight of all these masks, all these layers of ego can begin to smother our true selves, snuff out the flame of our immortal being.

And when Dionysos senses that happening he intervenes. He comes to us and challenges us to remember who we truly are, to loosen the threads that bind us, to lift the masks and stare out at the world with our own true eyes once more. And when gently coaxing and subtle reminders are not enough, Dionysos will put on a frightening visage and he will begin to tear all of that stuff away from us, devouring it with his sharp and vicious teeth, and that can be the most painful experience imaginable if you are deeply attached to the false layers. It can feel like you are being torn apart alive, the flesh peeled from your body to reveal muscle and blood and raw nerve endings. And if you resist, if your fear gets the better of you and you fight to stay trapped in ego-snares, you can even die. But if you trust him, if you let him dissolved the falseness, you will find him to be gentle and kind and full of greater love than you could ever have imagined. Not a soft, sentimental, indulgent love – for Dionysos’ love is a challenge which we must always strive to meet. His love is freedom and truth, an erotic attraction to our primal being and the transcendent unity of all creation. With that love blazing in our hearts we flee from our homes, our settled, conventional existence, to run free through the forested mountain heights, proclaiming our adoration of him through ecstatic song and dance. Io euoi! Io Dionysos the liberator!

wherever you are

And here are the Daily Hymns all gathered together, running from Monday to Sunday. Reciting these will be part of my regular service as ἱεροποιός of the Hudson Valley Bakcheion; feel free to add your voice to the choir wherever you are located.

Day VII. To Dionysos Lampter

I call upon the Dionysos who shines
out of the vast gloom of the underworld,
torch-bearing, flame-haired wild redeemer
who wears the fawnskin spangled with stars,
dancing through the long Night
until greeted by Dawn’s rosy light,
he who spends the Day rushing through fields
of golden wheat and leaping over the highest cliffs
like a falcon with wide-stretched wings
or a long-maned lion who loves the hunt.
Uniter of opposites, dissolver of boundaries,
swirling polarity and equal measure Helios and Haides;
show yourself to us, you who were born again in the fire
Dionysos the Black Sun, God who creates through destruction.

Day V. To Dionysos Charidotes

Join us in this pious dwelling,
O Dionysos who brings the gift of grace,
boundless joy and effortless abundance,
juice-swollen fruit from the branch
carried by prancing, pirouetting, pratfalling lads,
and unfading flowers
good for braiding into crowns
for white-gowned girls to wear
when they dance the nuptials
of the strange, handsome youth who comes
from far across the wine-dark sea
with the charm of foam-born Aphrodite
in his laughter-loving and limb-loosening eyes
to mate with the pure and perfect wife of the King
in the ancient ox-shed
so the pulse might quicken,
and animal heat spread
like a rutting pandemic,
the tight bud unfurl,
the fertile drops fall
in well-furrowed fields,
heads tossed carelessly back in all-consuming ecstasy
as fire and ice unite
making the world new again.
Potent Lord of Life we cry to you
and to your fair-girdled, lovely-tressed paramour,
bless this place and those who worship you here
in the time-honored and local fashion.

Day VI. To Dionysos Morychos

O grandson of Kronos, darksome Dionysos
who rules below, somber Prince surrounded
by masked revelers and gay feasting
in a grove of white cypress and ivy
nourished by the cool streams of Mnemosyne.
To this fair isle the blessed come
after successfully completing
a cycle of tests and toil
in the lands of death and dreaming,
thereby earning their place in the barony
of peace, plenty, and pleasure.
You permit your faithful subjects to indulge
every fantasy and desire a heart could hunger after,
and over all you watch, Dionysos,
O you who sit upon the ivory peacock throne.
Once you sat upon another throne,
clutching thunder in your little palm
until the creatures with cracked clay faces
and beguiling toys crept up on you.
Later you made war upon the Titans
and after utterly conquering them
you did not enact your righteous vengeance
but instead freed them with a libation,
giving them back their lives
so they might fight with you
as your loyal War-band when the day comes
that brings the world-ending conflagration.
But until that day let us rejoice, relax and rejuvenate
in the presence of our sweet Lord,
and always try to bring a laughing smile
to his saturnine face.

Day II. To Dionysos Choroplekes

Hear me, Dionysos who weaves the war-dance
like a net for the capture of ensouled creatures,
savage and pure, roaring bull-horned Zagreus
who leads his hosts in battle, frenzied,
beastial and thirsting for bloody carnage,
my beautiful, mad God.
Turn tail and run you brave-hearted phalanxes
when you hear the ash-spears of the Bacchants
begin to pound the earth in time to the tympanum
and trumpet, ivy-twined feet stomping, stamping,
thundering, beating out a staccato rhythm of martial menace
as every throat shrieks, “Io Bakchos!”
Run now, O sons of pitying fathers when you hear that,
for once the dance is done they will descend upon you.
Above the din and tumult, hear me, O Dionysos
with the red face, double of Thracian Ares, for this I pray;
strengthen my body, make my will resolute,
drive from me all uncertainty, fear and weakness
and remind me what things are worth passionately fighting for.
Ever shall I stand with you, my Lord,
in defense of the things you cherish
and those who adore you.

Day IV. To Dionysos Kataibates

Descend, Dionysos in the fury of the storm,
reveal yourself in the thunder that shakes the earth
and sends the heavens spiraling in a fiery wheel;
lash the branches with your rain, and manifest yourself
in the carcass of a lightning-struck calf.
The measured stamp of your danceweaving feet
turns the foundations liquid and looses chaos
and confusion upon the land. There is no snare
that can keep you from fulfilling your will,
no wall you cannot simply leap over.
Behold the man who would oppose you,
the former king who mocked, reviled and mistreated you
– now unmanned and out of his mind,
wandering in the rubble of his ancestors,
an object of shame and reproach, a deep-suffering scapegoat.
All this, my glorious Dionysos, you wrought
and so I shout to the high heavens,
there is nothing the wonder-working son
of black-haired Zeus and dusky Semele
cannot accomplish!

Day I. To Dionysos Nyktelios

Join this prayerful circle, O Dionysos who loves nights
when the mad-women, the monsters, the magicians,
priestesses of the winepress and initiates in infernal mystery-rites
all roam the streets howling ithyphallic hymns
beneath a sleepless Moon.
You are old,
your countenance is cold,
and you cast a pale radiance
like the cheek of an untouched maiden,
an idol of unpainted marble,
shell of an uncracked egg,
or the horn of an unblemished bull.
You stand in the myrtled prow of your ghostly ship
sailing down the milky river of remembrance,
with bones in your braids and ash covering your face,
O fearless Hunter and Slayer of the rampaging boar,
triumphant Dionysos, long may you be hailed!
Accept our offering of smoke and words,
and in return breathe on us in a spirit of perfect kindness.

Day III. To Dionysos Eubouleus

May my honeyed speech prove pleasing to you
Dionysos whose counsel is good, wise, and true;
whose winged words are capable of getting through
any defense the heart or mind may contrive.
You know what we would prefer remain secret,
and how to draw it out of us
so it can no longer rend, poison or control us.
You do this so gently
we do not even realize
what it is you’re doing
until you have us fully,
completely under your spell.
The stories you tell
soothe wrath,
heal generational trauma,
mend what is broken,
free from care,
loosen the load,
stir the waters of memory,
make us dream a better world
and believe once more
in impossible things.
Your Hermetic song is a red thread
leading us out
of the Labyrinth’s twists and turns,
and our feet instinctively know your tune;
with every joyful dancing leap we draw closer
to freedom,
to wholeness,
to life,
to you, our great and gracious God Dionysos.