The following is something that came up again for me during the aforementioned Bacchic retreat, and I decided I should probably talk about it here (even though it’s difficult, being a very personal matter) in case it resonates with anyone else who is struggling with something similar.
When we think of communion with a deity, many of us tend to think of it in the same terms as we would intimacy with a person. We want to feel that connection with another individual. We want to know Them on a deeper level, and have Them know us, our true hearts. We want to experience, for even a moment, that sense of being together in the same place, face to face.
And this is where we can let our expectations prevent us from an actual closeness with the gods. Because what if the god doesn’t come with a human face, or any face at all? What if the god comes as a rhythm, or a holy name, or the scent of the woods at night, or the pure force of desire, or any number of things we might not recognize if we’re looking for something familiar? And what if, when the god comes, you don’t feel Them near you at all, the way you would a person, but only experience the effects of Their divine presence?
Because here is the thing about me and Dionysos: He is the great Loosener, the Liberator, and as attested by ancient epithet (θυρεπανοίκτης), the Opener of the Door. And I am, above all other things, a door for the spirits (well, my spirits in particular). So what happens when I am taken up by Dionysos, when He gets inside my very heart and soul and opens me up, in a way more intimate than any other contact I could imagine? Well, others make good use of that opening up. I find myself suddenly much closer to my Husband, to my other spirits. I can see and hear Them more clearly, I may even have rapturous communion with Them. But, almost never with Dionysos Himself.
For many years, this frustrated and even devastated me. Where was Dionysos? Where was the wine-soaked, ivy-wrapped, bull-headed man-like Person I was invoking and inviting with my prayers and dancing and offerings? Why didn’t He ever appear when I called out to Him with my usual refrains of “Hail, Opener of the Door!” and “Lusios, release me!” Clearly something was happening, because each time, either immediately or soon thereafter, I would have a direct experience with my spirits or receive inspiration related to Them. But Dionysos, it seemed, never came.
And then I realized I was an idiot. (Not the first time.) That I had, in fact, been failing to recognize the very real communion with the god that had been happening all along. Because what could create more closeness than the full Force of this awesome god of liberation entering into me and pushing aside all my blocks, everything that prevents me from being a clear conduit and clutters up the doorway? How could I ask for a greater intimacy than to have Him lay bare all my vulnerability and make it into something beautiful and meaningful? What greater union than to have Him see me for what I truly am, to recognize that door for the spirits and help strengthen it, and in return… well, it took much too long, but finally I recognized, in return, His true self as well. And it wasn’t bull-headed or dark-eyed or drunken or any of the masks that reveal only those parts we can easily conceive of and put shape and name to. The opening – even though it was an opening meant to let in others, and not Him – the act of opening was the communion. It was the revelation of the god. It was what I had been looking for all along.
And it had been happening for pretty much my whole life. Dionysos first came to me just before my spirits did, back when I was 13 years old. And looking back over the years of devotional practice and spirit-work since, a clear pattern emerged – every time I did a major ritual for or had a significant experience with Dionysos, a breakthrough with my spirits would immediately follow.
That’s not to say I never have the kinds of more familiar or recognizable experiences of divine union with my god. But those seem to come unexpectedly, often outside of a formal ritual context, and entirely on His schedule, not mine.
So when, after the intense and beautiful and ecstatic Dionysian ritual at the retreat, I found myself surrounded not by a sense of Dionysos but by my spirits (so strongly They could be felt tangibly at times, and bearing difficult but powerful messages that I needed to hear), I didn’t waste time being disappointed. His presence had undeniably saturated everything, for all of us, the entire weekend, which was truly lovely – but when I called to the god that night, at the edge of the thundering waves, He came the way I really wanted. The way that gets into the deepest part of me. The way that challenges me and breaks me, and makes me what I am. And that makes me His.
“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” (C.S. Lewis)