Two decades with Dionysos
About this time, twenty years ago, I first met Dionysos. Oh sure, I had read His myths and such during childhood, along with all the other gods, but I don’t recall being particularly drawn to Him back then (although I was very much interested in related myths about the minotaur and the labyrinth).
But many things changed for me in 1991, and one of those things was my first boyfriend. He was obsessively into The Doors, and so I eagerly listened to all their records (yes, actual records; luckily my dad had them on-hand) when I was first trying to impress him. In fact, our very first date was to go see the Doors movie by Oliver Stone. Fortunately, I actually liked The Doors, and particularly Jim Morrison, and quickly became obsessed myself. I started to read biographies of Jim – and if you’ve ever done so, you’ll know that most of them will at some point mention Dionysos.
So after seeing Dionysos mentioned over and over again, I became intrigued. One day (I think I was about 14 years old) I stumbled upon Walter Otto’s Dionysos: Myth and Cult in a bookstore, and bought it, and devoured it (little did I know what a perfect book that was to start with; it remains my favorite to this day). Frankly, I don’t think I understood very much of it, at least not the historical information, but I felt it in my gut. There’s this one chapter called “The Pandemonium and the Silence” – which refers to the frenzy of the Dionysian worshipper, followed by the sudden, mad hollow stare – and I remember being struck so deeply by this image, and knowing right there that I was a maenad… although of course I had no idea what that really meant, and I’m not sure if I even believed in Him intellectually at that point, but I knew.
Dionysos started creeping in to my life in bits and pieces. I wrote poetry that touched on Dionysian concepts, I started drinking red wine well before any other alcohol, I listened to The Doors as if it were ecstatic ritual (which it can be). Meanwhile, I started having serious dealings with spirits for the first time – not a coincidence, I understand now. But my friends (who were along for the ride to some degree) and I eventually got in over our heads, and I spent a couple years without much spiritual contact.
By 18, I was living on my own, getting ready to go to college after a year off, and feeling very empty. My life didn’t have much meaning for me. I started getting interested in spiritual things again – my natural inclination it seems. A friend (who became my boyfriend, then my husband for a few years) offered to teach me about paganism, and it seemed a good fit. Immediately, I picked up where I’d left off with Dionysos. I don’t remember, now, if this was a conscious choice or not, it just seemed obvious. From there, I expanded my interest to the whole Greek pantheon and religion, and quickly became a Hellenic polytheist.
But Dionysos was always my core, my reason for being. I immediately re-identified as a maenad, only this time I started actually being one. About a year into working with my ritual group, we had a spontaneous group ecstatic experience, and after that there was no turning back for me. Every ritual became a chance to connect with Him on this level. I went deeper and deeper into it. I led others into it too. I was drunk on Dionysos. Years went by and I fleshed out a solid festival calendar for Him, wrote essays and ran websites and groups, wrote poetry and songs for Him, and even managed to score myself an awesome Dionysian partner.
And then everything changed again. I was called to a vocation I could not deny, and my life became much more entangled with spirits than any kind of mainstream polytheistic practice. I’ve written a bit already about the struggles I faced in my changing relationship with Dionysos as a result. But I can happily say now that it was well worth all the effort and angst and work of sticking things out with Him, because I found so many new levels to Him and to my roles in relation to Him. Things will never be what they once were, but I now have something so precious and sacred with Him. He has become deeply intertwined with my spiritwork, and with my heart, and there is no undoing that. He continues to challenge me, and comfort me (often when it’s hardest to accept), and excite and awe me. I continue to worship Him above all other gods.
Hail Dionysos, and thank you for twenty amazing, never-dull years. I am yours.