What you know
“Dionysos is more than just some handsome bearded dude with a crown of ivy, come hither eyes and lips wet with wine. He may show himself to you like that but he’s not limited to just that one mask, that one form. When you can see a dozen such masks, a hundred simultaneously then you’ll get at something of the truth of what Dionysos is.”
Which is very true, of course. But I want to take it a step further. We are naturally very visually-oriented creatures, living in an extremely visually-oriented culture. I think most if not all of us tend to picture our gods when we think of Them, when we pray to Them. We may have a favorite artistic image, we may remember Their face from a dream or visionary encounter, and we may even know Them well enough to hold many different images of Them in our mind’s eye at once. But I will say this: it was only when I stopped visualizing Dionysos at all – when I stopped picturing Him as a man or a beast or anything else, but instead began to feel Him, as a force – that I really began to know Him.
I could put a word on this force, and I do in my own mind, but that’s not the point, and is pretty personal to me and my experience of Him. However, it has become readily identifiable as Him, much more so than an image, a mask that could be worn by others or echoed in a million different places. It is unmistakably HIM, the power of His presence, and it is now the primary way I recognize His arrival, the thing I reach for when I reach for Him. I stopped having a statue as the focal point for His shrine precisely because it was causing me too often to conceptualize Him as that image, rather than knowing Him for what He really is. (I do still have images of Him – including a couple masks – because sometimes they serve an important purpose and because having so many, equally displayed, leaves me still able to look past them to the core. Still, sometimes I think of taking all such representations off of all my shrines; I wonder what changes that would provoke in the way I relate to my gods across the board.)
I mention this because, even though I went through this with Dionysos years ago and saw my relationship with Him significantly deepen as a result, I still managed to make the same mistake with one of my other spiritual relationships. I realized I was focusing overly much on that spirit’s various faces, the images I had in my head, rather than His essence, His actual being and presence. And it was creating an invisible barrier to connecting with Him more deeply.
Because all those faces, those masks, they are essentially the way my mind interprets and understands the complexity of a discarnate being – by clothing it in a tangible form. Those forms are certainly meaningful, they reflect real aspects of Him and were often shown to me by Him, but they are also very limiting, even taken all together. They will never be the full sum of who He is. I need to recognize Him by His touch on my heart, not by His preferred attire.
There’s a line in a Peter Murphy song (which is on my devotional playlist for this spirit, not coincidentally) which says “I am not what you think I am, but what you know.” This is the love song the gods sing to us. Are we willing to go beyond what we think They are, what we imagine Them to be, what we picture Them as, and face what we know Them to be? I think that is the endless quest of the mystic, and I look forward to a lifetime of it.