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.
Oh Gods no, I hate the spotlight and having attention focused on me! I think anyone doing public ritual should have at least some familiarity with theater to learn how to navigate space, carry themselves, project and emote, etc but I do much better behind the curtain.
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.
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.
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.