What it means to be a maenad
[This piece can also be found in Written in Wine: A Devotional Anthology for Dionysos.]
You’ve got to be ready for anything He wants to lay on you. You have to be open to pain, yes, but also open to pleasure. Surrender to sadness but also to joy. Accept loss, but also abundance. Face your fears, but also your hopes. You cannot hold pieces of yourself back, because He knows when you do that. And while He won’t punish you for it (usually), He might try to coax it out of you, and that’s rarely a gentle process with Him. By “coax” He usually means “tear you open and dig around until you can’t stand it anymore.”
Dionysos can be terrifying, but a maenad sees that face, knows its power, and wants more. A maenad is often terrifying herself. Like Dionysos, she doesn’t do things by halves. She jumps into a challenge, or an opportunity, or a danger headfirst, not because she is naive or masochistic or foolish, but because she knows that the greatest things in life can only be had by risking everything. Dionysos taught her that. When Dionysos taught the first man how to make wine, that man was killed by his friends who thought they’d been poisoned (yes, Dionysos’ gifts can sometimes seem like curses, especially if you resist what He gives you). But then wine-making spread throughout the world, and people everywhere were given the means to a brief reprieve from suffering.
A maenad loves hard, but is not bound by what or who she loves – for she must always be unfettered, she must always have the choice to walk away, to run into the mountains, to change her mind. That doesn’t mean she can’t have a home and a solid life – even a domestic one – but that she must choose these things consciously and deliberately, and be able to make other choices if necessary, or if circumstances or her heart’s desire change. Her only promises should be to Dionysos, and He would rather her be who she truly is than be tied down to anything, even Him, if it’s no longer her path. No, you don’t have to be a maenad for life. But regardless of whether it’s for a lifetime, or a few years, or a season, or one incredible night, you have to fully commit to it when you’re in it.
It’s not easy – to be vulnerable and open, to be passionate and courageous, to be filled with Dionysos or emptied of yourself, to be free, and to love a god. These are not things that happen overnight (except, perhaps, for the last one, for falling in love with Dionysos can happen in an instant – and then over and over again endlessly). Being a maenad is knowing that you will always be peeling off layers of your own detritus, caught up in a dance of resistance and surrender with Him for all of your days. Being a maenad is enjoying that dance, even the nasty prickly parts, the “feel like you’re dying” parts, and of course the rapturous pleasure parts.
A maenad is a vessel that can be filled with whatever He wishes – with emotion, with ecstasy, with wine, with Himself. He tempers that vessel through alternating fierceness and tenderness, like fire and water, and because of this the vessel is much, much stronger. Perhaps rough-edged at times, but there is always a cost for such things. Passion is worth it. A life of electric beauty is worth it. Facing terror and coming out the other side is worth it. Knowing, loving, experiencing Dionysos is worth it. And that moment, in the middle of the dance, or the frenzy, or the revel, when you realize that it is just you and Him in the still center of the storm, together – that is worth everything.