Devotional activities for Dionysians
For the purpose of this discussion I’m defining “devotional activities” as anything that a person does with the express intent of honoring the god or keeping the mind focused on him outside of formal ritual. Of course these activities can – and should! – be incorporated as part of one’s religious observances, especially on specific festival days that are given over entirely to honoring Dionysos, and for many participating in these activities can lead to intense encounters with him. But the point is that they don’t have to. They are things you can do any time and in any place, regardless of what else is going on or what sort of headspace you find yourself in. Although it is supremely important to keep Dionysos’ festivals and perform regular rituals for him, it is just as important to maintain a relationship in the time between those occasions, to cultivate an awareness of his presence in all parts of our lives, and gain a deeper understanding of his nature and personality through direct engagement with him and his world. These activities – and countless others I probably won’t get around to mentioning – are a fine way to do that. They are small things, but collectively they add up to a rich, dynamic and god-saturated life. Keep in mind as well that many of these things can be done simultaneously for greater effect.
Get yourself a nice bottle of wine, especially an expensive variety you may not have tried before, and drink it in the company of Dionysos. Pour him a glass as well and light a candle on his shrine, then sit before it with your own glass, basking in his presence and enjoying the pleasures of the vintage. Pay special attention to how the wine tastes and smells and feels going down. Let each sip take as long as it needs to so that you can get a full sensory experience. Focus on things you might not ordinarily, such as the quality of the light as it interacts with the wine or the glass, how it tastes on your finger or lip versus how it tastes when you drink it straight up. See if you can detect the subtle flavors beneath the surface and compare that to other wines you have had in the past. You can choose to just drink the wine alone or have it with other appropriate foods such as a fine cheese or dark chocolate, but if you do, remain mindful of the unique flavors that these foods bring to the experience and drink plenty of wine all on its own. Also, make sure that you will have enough uninterrupted time to enjoy your sensual feast and put special thought and care into your surroundings. For instance, you may want to light more candles than just the one on his shrine, completely filling the room with their diffuse illumination or you may want to sit in total darkness, blocking out everything except for his shrine. Will you have music playing in the background or total silence? And if so, what will you have playing? Something soft and Classical or something sensual and spiritual? Something that gets your blood going or that has strong Dionysian associations for you? Choose carefully, with the mood you’re trying to create foremost in your mind. Sometimes the stuff you normally listen to for him will not convey the precise mood you’re going for with this, in which case you should be open to other types of music. After all, enjoying wine is what this is primarily about, so you don’t want your music – or anything else – to get in the way. Be open to changing everything with your mood or scrapping it all if that’s what’s required. Also, you may want to have some nice incense going in the background as well, but make sure that it isn’t likely to overpower the bouquet of the wine.
Go to a wine-tasting event
These can be a great deal of fun and an opportunity to learn new ways of appreciating wine, as well as introducing you to varieties of wine you may never have encountered before. Don’t be intimidated if you’re a rank amateur – very often they’ll provide brief instruction at the start of the event or offer classes that you can take beforehand. There’s a whole art to wine-tasting based on the cultured appreciation of things that most of us have never even thought about previously. Even if this isn’t an activity you’re likely to engage in regularly it can be helpful to acquire a new vocabulary and way of looking at things, which can enhance your own private wine-drinking experiences. At the least you should consider reading some of the literature on the subject because there’s a great deal more to wine than just how it tastes or how quickly it’ll get you drunk. Plus it can be nice to be around other people who are so passionately into wine, even if they do not consciously honor the god who dwells within it. Do not let yourself feel intimidated and outclassed. As a devotee of Dionysos you have as much right to be there as the most wealthy and hoity-toity of the bunch – indeed I’d say you have much more of a right! But if you are a true Dionysian then you will not allow fear and insecurity to get in your way. Pushing through such things, exposing yourself to difficult and unfamiliar situations, transgressing boundaries and triumphing over obstacles is the sign of a true Dionysian, after all, so beyond whatever else you might learn or experience there, this can be a powerful devotional act for these reasons alone.
Visit your local winery and participate in a grape-stomp
If you happen to live in one of our country’s wine regions you should avail yourself of the opportunity to see where the magic happens and take part in the process. It’s one thing to read about this stuff in old books – quite another to watch it unfolding all around you. Imagine how great it would be to feel the grapes crushed beneath your feet and know that you’ve helped to create the wine that someone else will one day be drinking! As you are doing so you could even recite a quick prayer blessing the wine and making it entheos with the god’s spirit. Of course, most wine produced these days isn’t in the old style – they have factory lines and machines to do all the crushing and sifting – but it can still be a fun and educational experience to visit and see how it’s done. You may even get to tour the facilities and walk among the fields, which can be a powerful thing all on its own. If you aren’t able to visit a winery or directly participate in the process you can always take a lovely drive through wine country and wave at the rows of grapes as you pass by.
This is becoming an increasingly popular pastime and it’s something I believe that every Dionysian should do at least once in their life. Think about it: you could make your own alcohol! How awesome would it be to have gone through the whole process, transforming the raw stuff of nature into a sacred beverage that you can drink and offer to the god in ritual? It’s a fairly simple process, at that – men have been doing it since the dawn of time, after all – and relatively cheap, considering the yield of alcohol you get. Plus, after the initial expenditure for bottles, fermenting equipment, etc., all you’ll have to pay for is the ingredients. Wine-making can be a little tricky, especially if you live in an apartment, but it’s not impossible and it’s certainly not the only option. After all, important as wine is to Dionysos it’s not his only holy beverage. Before wine, honey-mead seems to have been his sacred drink, especially on Crete, and in Phrygia and Egypt beer was drunk by devotees of the god. Mead and beer are probably the easiest to home brew and you can have a lot of fun trying out different recipes, especially the herbal-infused ones. But be careful as this can be a highly addictive hobby. I know folks who started off with a single gallon of mead stored under their sink and before they realized it their whole basement had become transformed into a brewery, with a dozen different kinds going at any given time. These are good friends to have, because they’re always calling you over to sample something or to get rid of excess quantities. “Free alcohol” – can there be two more beautiful words for a Dionysian to hear?
One of the best things that a Dionysian can do is keep a garden for the god, especially if that garden includes grapevines and ivy. These are more than his sacred emblems – indeed, his spirit dwells within the plants – so all the time, energy, and careful attention you put into cultivating them is a very direct and personal way of honoring him. It will also teach you a great deal about the god and his cycles of growth, maturity, decay and rebirth – mysteries you can only truly discover through nature. No matter how many books you read it will never take the place of actually watching the process unfold and being an intimate part of it. Remember as well that Dionysos is not just the god of the grape and ivy – apples, figs, pomegranates and all flowers belong equally to him, so whatever you plant in your garden would be appropriate if cultivated with the god in mind. Furthermore, you could grow herbs and other fragrant items that you normally burn in offering for him. How much better will such things be coming from your own hands and loving labor?
Make your own ritual tools
Likewise, you can create all of the offerings, shrine items and ritual tools that you use in worshiping Dionysos. The act of creation makes them special and uniquely your own, instead of just some cheap crap mass-produced in Chinese sweatshops that you pick up at the mall. “But I have no artistic talent!” you may be objecting right now, to which I reply, “So fucking what?” It’s intent that matters, the love and care that goes into it that makes for a true offering, not technical aptitude. Besides, a lot of this stuff isn’t all that difficult to make. It requires very little skill to shape a piece of clay into a snake or a phallos or a bunch of grapes – even a child can do it. Sure, it’s a little harder to make something that actually resembles a goat or a bull or a human figure – let alone a chalice capable of being drunk from – but they’re certainly not impossible, especially if you practice. Maybe it’ll take you a while to get the hang of it – and a series of misshapen abominations – but you’ll have a great time trying, especially if you open yourself up to the experience, let the creativity flow through you, and don’t take anything you do too seriously.
Another fun thing to try your hand at is collage. Collect a bunch of images that remind you of Dionysos or certain things associated with him and paste these together in interesting ways. Make a papier-mâché or clay mask, either to wear in ritual or to hang above his shrine. Or you could put together a devotional scrapbook filled with Dionysian imagery and a collection of appropriate quotes, song lyrics and ancient hymns. You could make your own thyrsos or weave a garland out of ivy, grapes leaves and fresh flowers. You can decorate store-bought ritual items by repainting them or stenciling appropriate things on them. I highly recommend this practice as it adds character and a personal touch to otherwise fairly anonymous items. Most statues sold these days are blandly lacking in personality. Everyone’s got the same ones and their shrines all pretty much look alike. But in ancient times they tended to favor colorful and eccentric decoration, the sacred images painted in bold, gay hues. That white marble isn’t Classical – it’s what’s left after everything chipped off or faded away. So go wild! And when you’re done, add other personal touches like draping the statue with necklaces or putting pinecones, ivy and representations of Dionsyiac animals beside it. There are a thousand such projects you could take on – you are limited only by the extent of your imagination.
In addition to the art you create with your own hands you can seek out the work of others. I spend a great deal of time on the internet hunting down devotional images for my gods and spirits. I have several large files on my computer full of such things and I set my screensaver to cycle through the appropriate folder on the days I honor them each month. It’s fun to just sit there and watch the different images come up while I’m drinking, listening to music or just letting my thoughts wander. I’ve printed off the best of these and have them prominently displayed around my apartment, especially hanging above my various shrines. When possible I’ve purchased prints of these works, both to get better quality images and also to support the talented artists who have enriched my life through their craft. It’s fascinating to see all the different ways that people have chosen to represent Dionysos over the years, especially noting the common themes that run through them. As I mentioned earlier, you can use these images in your own artistic projects either by making collages or scrapbooks or you can use them as a nice portable shrine if you want to carry the god with you to work or elsewhere.
Keeping the theme of creativity going, I highly recommend the practice of leaving Dionysian glamourbombs throughout your city. Basically it’s an attempt to inject some weirdness and magic into the lives of ordinary people through beauty, art and randomness, to remind them that the gods still exist and that they’re here with us. Such a practice began with the anarchists and street kids and gained popularity among Chaotes and those with a Faerie aesthetic, but there’s no reason why we Dionysians can’t do it too. You can write scraps of hymns or meaningful quotes on paper and tack them up on a public bulletin board, an electric pole or even tucked inside a book for someone to find. You can make small disposable shrines with a picture of Dionysos, a tea light and some flowers or ivy and leave it somewhere visible and well-trafficked. In the midst of a crowd waiting for a light to change you can start reciting one of the Orphic hymns or a Sufi poem or just shout his name at the top of your lungs. You could go out in full Greek costume to run your errands or better yet wear a crown of ivy with your ordinary clothing. You could spell out his name in flower petals or grain or tiny pebbles or erect a large phallos decorated with pretty ribbons. You could make a flyer with information about Dionysos and links to websites and other valuable resources and distribute them to random passersby or leave them where people will find them. You could make one of those “have you seen me” posters but in place of a lost child, cat or dog put an image of Dionysos and say that the nymphs and satyrs of Nysa are searching for their god. Truly, the possibilities are endless.
Although this can certainly be part of an elaborate glamourbomb, it’s also good to pay attention to how you dress on a humbler and more purely devotional level. What we wear and surround ourselves with shapes who we are and what we think. Intentionally choosing our clothing and other accoutrements to reflect our status as a Dionysian and to honor him keeps the god fresh in our minds and makes him an integral part of our life, regardless of what else we happen to be doing. Even if no one else recognizes that this is what we’re doing – and there’s no reason why it has to be flashy and attention-grabbing – we know, and that’s what truly matters. So on his holy days or any time that you want to feel close to him, put thought into what you’re wearing. It can be as simple as choosing an article of clothing in a color associated with him – purple, green, red or black say – or having a special dress or t-shirt you only wear for him. Accessories are nice as well: pins, brooches, earrings, necklaces or rings that are consecrated to him or have one of his symbols or animals on them. Likewise you can wear a special scent or perfume that will call to mind the god every time you catch a whiff of it. Or you can do your hair in a specific style that you wear only on his days. Though simple and subtle things, they can be immensely powerful over time, especially if you put a lot of thought into it while you’re getting ready in the morning. This will enable you to carry Dionysos with you wherever you go and whatever you happen to be doing.
Pretend to be somebody else
Dionysos is the god of fluid nature, of madness, of masks, of the sacred art of drama and transformation in all of its myriad forms. Within his worship we often experience ekstasis which means literally to be outside of one’s self, and enthousiasmos which is to be inspired or filled with a divine spirit. But ritual is not the only context in which we can explore the Protean nature of identity. Such states can come about spontaneously or while drinking or dancing. But we can also bring them about intentionally. Exploring the boundaries of our personality can be a powerfully transformative and liberating act that brings great insight into who and what we are. Is our identity merely the societally conditioned roles we perform? The thoughts in our head? The impulses that drive us – or the ones we choose not to act upon? The name we’ve been given or assigned to ourselves? The clothes we wear, the contents of our wallet? What happens when you change one of these things? Or all of them? When you give yourself license to act in a manner you’d never normally consider acceptable, go places you’d never ordinarily set foot in? Most people don’t even realize the degree to which their personality is an artificial construct, shaped by these seemingly inconsequential factors, until something happens to interrupt the status quo. But what if you don’t wait for that catalyst? What if you seek the change out yourself, play around with things? Try on a different persona. Affect an unfamiliar accent. Wear strange clothing. Or clothing of the opposite gender. Do your hair in a novel way. Go out without your wallet. Introduce yourself to strangers with an assumed name and completely fabricated back story. Pretend to be someone else with the people you know – with or without informing them ahead of time that you’re going to do so. Note how differently people treat you while you’re in this role. Note as well how differently you feel to yourself, and how that awareness can alter the way you act and mentally process things. This can be a fun diversion – or it can be an effective magical operation. Is there something you’re afraid of doing, something that feels too big and impossible for you? What happens when you create a “you” that is capable of accomplishing the things you normally can only dream of?
Go to a theater
As fun as it is to experiment with personality, it’s even more fun to watch the professionals do it. The dramatic arts arose out of the early agrarian worship of Dionysos and actors have remained sacred to him ever since, even when the roles they performed were no longer a reenactment of his joys and sufferings or even about the mythological figures associated with him. But the stories are still important and the actor’s ability to transform himself into something else is a wonder to behold. Though you can watch plays on video in the comfort of your home, absolutely nothing compares to seeing them live and in person, surrounded by a crowd. Indeed the communal aspect is perhaps the most important part, for Dionysian worship has always had a strong collective aspect to it. As part of the crowd you can be swept up in the moment, feel the contagious emotion, the diverse reactions of those around you. Sometimes the audience is far more entertaining than the show put on for its amusement. There is also something primitive and magical about being part of a crowd huddled in the dark, watching a grand spectacle. You lose your sense of self as an individual and take on a corporate identity – or no sense of self at all, save as a spectator of what is transpiring on stage before you. In the same vein you should also attend operas, concerts, movies, protests, sporting events and similar large gatherings with an eye towards perceiving the world through an orgiastic lens.
Watching a movie in your own home, alone or with a small group of family and friends can be a wonderful devotional activity all on its own or as part of a festival observance. I consider this entirely distinct from going to a movie theater or taking in a play, which is why I’ve given it its own section here. It’s much more intimate and inwardly-focused, since you don’t have the crowd and their barrage of stimuli. The performance is also forever the same, no matter how many times you watch the movie, whereas an actor on the stage is always going to play his part slightly differently. Even so, multiple viewings of a film can reveal a depth of things one might initially have missed. Because all you’ve got to focus on is the screen it’s easier for your mind to wander, leading to interesting new insights that may or may not have anything to do with what transpires in the movie. I’ve watched some of my favorite Dionysian films a dozen times or more and I always come away with new things I hadn’t noticed before or inspired with new thoughts and understandings. What makes a movie “Dionysian”? That can be difficult to pin down at times. Sometimes it’s the atmosphere, a particular scene or piece of dialogue, the themes it explores or even the expressions on an actor’s face or the memory of what was going on in one’s life when the movie was first viewed. Although I encourage my readers to come up with their own list of Dionysian movies, I figured I’d share some of my own in the hopes that it might get the ball rolling for you.
American Beauty dir. Sam Mendes
The Ballad of Jack and Rose dir. Rebecca Miller
Cleopatra dir. Franc Roddam
Dangerous Beauty dir. Marshall Herskovitz
Dead Poets Society dir. Peter Weir
The Doors dir. Oliver Stone
Fellini’s Satyricon dir. Federico Fellini
Fight Club dir. David Fincher
Gothic dir. Ken Russell
The Lair of the White Worm dir. Ken Russell
The Libertine dir. Laurence Dunmore
Labyrinth dir. Jim Henson
Manoushe: A Gypsy Love Story dir. Luis Begazo
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer dir. Tom Tykwer
Stage Beauty dir. Richard Eyre
V for Vendetta dir. James McTeigue
Wicker Man dir. Robin Hardy
The Witches of Eastwick dir. George Miller
And of course the numerous movies about ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt.
Something fun that you can do, especially for old documentaries, trippy experimental films or things you’ve already seen plenty of times before, is to mute the volume on the movie and play your own music over it. This lends a hallucinatory quality to the whole thing and sometimes it can sync up in eerily appropriate ways.
Go out to a club
Although this can have a very similar effect to some of the things previously mentioned, clubs also have an energy all their own. They are dark and cave-like, with a crowd of dancing, often intoxicated people. Music isn’t so much heard as felt, the vibrations pulsing through your whole body. The atmosphere is sensual and wild, the perfect place to feel the spirit of Dionysos moving among and through people. And even if they are not consciously aware of him, they feel the things connected to him, the things he unleashes within them, and they acknowledge that in their own modern, secular fashion. Ask your average club-goer why they attend and they’ll likely tell you that it’s so they can let go, run free, be wild and uninhibited and burn off all that repressed and anxious pressure that societal conditioning builds up in them. Many want a chance to be someone other than they are in their normal 9 to 5 lives – someone that’s sexy and bold and carefree and glamorous. It’s a way to show off, to express their individuality, to revel in the sheer carnality of existence. That joyous, exuberant and life-affirming energy is wonderful to be around for a Dionysian, even if you never make it out onto the floor to dance yourself. Unfortunately the music that makes me most want to dance isn’t the sort of thing that most clubs play, but I still enjoy going if only to people- watch and soak up the Dionysian ambience.
Whether you do it in a club, with a group of people in ritual or only in the privacy of your home, dancing is something every Dionysian ought to do as a devotional act. Not only was dancing a prominent part of the god’s ancient worship but it’s something that he, himself, did even in his mother’s womb. Dancing is a way to express one’s self, including those things that cannot be communicated through words alone. It’s a way to connect with the god, the world around you and the sacred rhythms of life. It makes us conscious of our bodies, bringing awareness down from the intellectual level to the flesh, the muscle, the bones and blood, which are the things that make us who we are. It is a way to own our bodies, to affirm their beauty and worth, regardless of what fucked up messages society is constantly sending us about them. And dancing is a great way to work through anxiety and negative emotions, purging them by sweat and physical exhaustion. So what if you can’t dance well, if there’s no grace or elegance to your movement? Stamp and clap and spin about – but move your body, damn it. The god does not command that we dance well, just that we dance! And often, when you get really into it, stop being hyper-conscious and allow your body to find its own rhythm and move as it will, you’ll be surprised at how well you actually can dance. It’s in you, you’ve just got to be willing to let it out. And even if the grace never comes, it’s still an important thing to do because it’s a way to challenge yourself, to push past barriers and go outside of your comfort zone. If you’re not willing to look like a fool for him occasionally then what kind of Dionysian are you?
Listen to music
Music should be a huge part of any Dionysian’s worship of the god. It certainly was in antiquity. There is scarcely a single mention of his devotees without music somewhere in the background, whether it be the clamorous drums, pipes, cymbals and bull-roarers of the Bacchic ones or the strange, ethereal sounds that accompany the god’s epiphany. Music is powerfully evocative stuff. It sets the mood and is capable of changing our whole mental state. I’ve got the stuff going almost all the time, regardless of whether I’m doing ritual, writing, reading a book, going for a walk or just sitting there meditating. Memory is also deeply enmeshed with music. Things you haven’t thought about in years can come flooding back when a song starts to play, which can be extremely useful in a ritual context. When I play certain songs I get all of these powerful associations, images, thoughts and recollections of past experiences with Dionysos, which intermix with what’s going on currently, enhancing the moment. Because of that I’ve created a bunch of different playlists for my various gods and spirits, including several for various aspects of Dionysos. Depending on what I’ve got playing at the time my whole experience of him can be radically different. Furthermore, these songs can be a wonderful way to get an oracular response from the god. All you’ve got to do is put your iPod on shuffle, ask a question and wait to see what song comes up next. It’s downright spooky at times how accurate a response you can get this way. So spend some time going through your music collection and put together your own devotional playlists. You can include songs that are obviously about him, that have relevant lyrics, that were playing at some pivotal moment or just give you some sort of Dionysian vibe. Then listen to the music either as part of a formal ritual or while hanging out, sipping some good wine. This latter is really important. I don’t think people spend nearly enough time just listening to music. They feel like they need to be busy doing something all the time. And while it can certainly be good to have music going in the background while you’re being productive, sometimes it’s important to just be for a couple moments, totally absorbed in the music and letting your thoughts flow freely. Some of the most intense encounters I’ve had with Dionysos started off in this way. I could include some of the music that I strongly associate with the god but I feel that it’s better for you to seek out your own selections and to spend time really thinking about what “Dionysian music” means to you.
Make your own music for the god
It’s great to listen to the music that other people have made, especially when you’re as untalented as I am, but nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to making your own music for him. All of the instruments traditionally associated with Dionysian worship are thankfully pretty easy to play. As long as you can count to four you can play the drum, shake a rattle or castanet, ring a bell, clash cymbals or all the rest. The bull-roarer is even simpler – you’ve just got to swing it around over your head until it starts to whir – though it can be tricky to get it going well and you may whack yourself a few times, which really, really hurts. Pipes are also fairly easy, though reed instruments, descendants of the ancient aulos, are a little more difficult to master, especially if you want to make something that even remotely sounds like music. But it’s well worth it to keep going, even if you’re horrible at first. The act of learning the instrument and continually practicing until you gain proficiency can, itself, be a devotional activity, and the music you make can serve as a lovely offering to the god. Plus, at least with the simpler instruments it’s even possible to create your own. Just think how awesome that would be! And, again, don’t let insecurity or embarrassment get in your way. You’re a Dionysian and as such these emotions ought to have no hold on you.
Memorize a hymn
I am a firm believer that ritual scripts are, for the most part, unnecessary. Our prayers should come from the heart, spontaneous expressions of joy, love, reverence and kindred emotions. Your mind should be on the god and what you’re experiencing, not checking off items on a list. You need to be free to move and dance and be filled with the spirit of the god – not stuck there holding a bunch of papers in your hands. The steps that constitute your average ritual are fairly simple and flow organically from each other, so there’s no need to rigidly adhere to a script unless you are performing an especially complex rite – and even then such things are best kept to a minimum.
Sometimes, however, we want a little something extra or we feel moved to include pieces beyond our own spontaneous creations. In such instances I feel that it’s best to memorize the words one intends to use beforehand, especially if we’re talking about one of the ancient Greek hymns that have come down to us. Most of these are fairly short and simple pieces, often comprised of strings of epithets one is probably already familiar with. There’s something special, even magical, about addressing the god in the same words – especially if you can manage the Greek – that were used by his devotees two thousand years ago. It can be difficult to memorize these lines at first, but it’s certainly not impossible. After all people used to memorize whole books of Homeric epics and there are Moslems today walking around with the entire Qur’an in their heads. Compared to that, what’s a half dozen lines of Greek? And the great thing about this exercise is that you can do it anywhere and at any time. Print off the passage and carry it around with you wherever you go for a couple weeks. You can work on it while you’re waiting for a bus, at your desk at work, standing in line at the bank, preparing dinner, doing the dishes, before you go to bed, etc. Perhaps you could do this instead of watching that episode of Jersey Shore or updating your Facebook or spending countless hours playing World of Warcraft or all the other mind-numbing activities that suck up so much of our time these days. All the time and effort you put into memorization is a devotional act as well as the actual recitation itself. Plus it’s a nifty trick with which to impress folks at parties!
Another great way to spend your time is by reading things relevant to the world of Dionysos, both on devotional days and at other times. Obviously this includes things like ancient sources on him, plays and poetry, collections of his myths, books on his history and cult, scholarly articles, fiction, stuff written by his contemporary worshipers, etc. But you can also broaden your reading to include things like the history of wine-making and theater, ecstatic cults from around the world, dance, the ritual use of masks and entheogens, gender and queer theory and so on and so forth. The more you know about the things associated with Dionysos the greater will be your understanding of the god and how he manifests in the world.
Even if you don’t really think of yourself as an author it can be a great devotional activity to write for Dionysos. You can compose your own hymns for use in ritual, poems to communicate experiences you’ve had with him or insights you’ve gained about his personality, fictional stories and modern retellings of myth, things you’d like to experience and do in the future or straight up stream-of-consciousness stuff. It doesn’t have to be great, and you certainly don’t have to share it with anyone other than the god, but Dionysos is a creative deity so any form of creativity brings us closer to him. Who knows, he may even bless you with divine inspiration! Also, it seems that he deeply appreciates things of this nature, especially when we share our efforts with him, in and out of a ritual setting.
Seek Dionysos in unexpected places
I’ve talked at length elsewhere about the necessity of worshiping Dionysos outdoors, especially in wild places like forests, mountains, caves or even unfamiliar parts of one’s own city, so I’m not going to repeat myself here. But I would like to mention some places that one can visit as a devotional excursion which might not be immediately apparent.
The first of these is a museum or art gallery. You may naturally be wondering what a stuffy, high-class establishment like that has got to do with our god, but pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that Dionysos has been one of the most popular of all the Greek gods with artists from the very beginning. Indeed, Keremaikos, the hero of the potter’s quarter in Athens, was descended from the god and most of the vases, plates and drinking cups that have come down to us were manufactured for use in a Dionysian context and thus feature a significant number of representations of him, his retinue and the various mythological scenes associated with them. These works of art – to say nothing of ancient Dionysian statues, frescoes, murals, tapestries, etc. – are so plentiful that there’s a very good chance that your local museum has got at least a couple pieces worth seeing. And that only takes into consideration the Dionysian artifacts produced during the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras. As I’ve discussed elsewhere Dionysian iconography maintained an incredible vitality up through modern times. Initially copied by the Christians and used in representations of Jesus, beginning in the Late Middle Ages artists once again began depicting the god and his myths and haven’t stopped since. It’d be a Herculean labor to attempt to catalogue all of the Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic and more contemporary depictions of Dionysos and his retinue. I’m willing to wager that even if your museum or gallery somehow lacks ancient Dionysian artifacts it will probably have at least something more recent. It is truly amazing to visit these works of art up close and in person, to see how powerful and enduring a figure our god has remained, inspiring all of these great artists down through the centuries. By worshiping the god today we are making ourselves a part of this grand tradition and ensuring that it survives into the future. So why not see what has come before? Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to soak up the history and really examine and appreciate each unique piece of art. Meditate on the context of the artifact: when was it made, why and for whom? What novel elements does it possess as well as what themes are faithfully repeated? What resonance does it have with you and is this how you, personally, view the god? If not, what’s different about it and why do you think the artist chose to represent him in this fashion?
Another great place to visit on a Dionysian pilgrimage is a zoo. Although it can be difficult to see the wild creatures in captivity, we must remember that this is the only chance many of them have for continued survival since human habitation and our mad, greedy consumption has destroyed a large percentage of their natural territory. Furthermore a zoo is probably the only place you’re likely to see most of the animals associated with Dionysos since they are, for the most part, not indigenous to North America. As you visit the lions, lynxes, panthers, tigers, elephants, gazelles, peacocks, goats, donkeys, deer, dolphins and similar beasts, remain mindful that these are his dear creatures and constant companions in the revel. Call to mind all of the stories and artistic representations that explain why these animals belong to the god. Meditate deeply on their individual characteristics and see if you can discern why the ancients may have associated them with him beyond what the myths tell us.
Participate in communal activities
Although it is certainly possible to be a solitary devotee of the god – and indeed our most important encounters with Dionysos always take place when we’re alone with him, even if that happens in the midst of a huge crowd – his worship has a strong communal aspect to it, whether you’re talking about the host of nymphs, satyrs and mainades who constantly surround him or the epidemics of collective frenzy and dancing-madness that can suddenly take hold of a city or nation. Few of us today are lucky enough to be able to worship the god as part of a group larger than a dozen people – and most of us make do with considerably less or just ourselves. But with the advent of new technologies, especially the internet, it is now possible to reach out to Dionysians across the globe. There are a great many lists, forums, websites and blogs devoted to discussing the god, his myths, history and contemporary worship. Participating in these discussions can be both a great way to find fellowship with other Dionysians and a powerful devotional activity in its own right. Answer the questions of those new to the god. Share your own insights and experiences with him. Talk about your upcoming festival plans and other devotional activities you intend to do for him. Comment on the blogs of fellow Dionysians, especially if they’ve shared something that deeply touched or inspired you. You may even want to start up your own blog or website to detail the things you discover in the course of your studies, poems, prayers and other things you have written for him, or just beautiful and inspiring quotes and pieces of Dionysian art you come across. At the end of this book I’ve included a list of some of the best online Dionysian resources. It would please me immensely to have to substantially revise that list at a future date to reflect a whole new wave of passionate and creative Dionysians out there.
Donate time and money to worthy causes in his name
I have saved this one for last because it is one of the most important devotional activities that we Dionysians can do. There are so many problems in the world that it can leave us feeling impotent and hopeless. We look around us and think that we’ll never be able to fix the world or make any kind of meaningful difference. And it’s true. Alone, we can’t. Thankfully we don’t have to do it alone. There are a lot of generous and motivated folks out there doing their part and if you pool your resources with theirs, together you can make even more of a difference. Maybe not on a global level, but locally or in regard to a specific issue, it’s more than possible. If you value Dionysos then you should value the things associated with him, and that ought to be manifest through your actions and not just your words. Offerings are a gift to the gods, a return of a portion of the wealth and other blessings they have so generously bestowed upon us, and a tangible sign of our gratitude for such blessings. Donating time and money can be another form of offering. Of course even doing so in the name of the gods does not take the place of actual sacrifices to them, but it can be a thing done in addition to what we rightfully owe them. So think deeply about where you could donate your time and money. First, this should be a cause connected with the god: a group dedicated to protecting the environment or caring for wild animals; a group that preserves indigenous tribal and polytheistic cultures; a group fighting HIV or domestic violence; a group that defends the rights of homosexuals and gender variants; a group that promotes the arts, especially the dramatic arts; a group that helps recovering alcoholics or those suffering from mental illness. One could extend the list considerably for ours is an immense god with a great many concerns and there are also a lot of people out there doing wonderful, important things. But before you start writing that check or setting up an appointment to stop by and help out, be sure to do plenty of research first. How much of the money actually gets spent on the cause in question versus how much of it goes to bureaucratic hierarchies and funding further donation requests? Unfortunately I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Shortly after I made one donation news broke that the organizers of the charity had been found guilty of lining their pockets with donations. More innocuously, but no less annoyingly, I made a one-time donation to a conservation group – and made it clear that that was the only time I planned to write them a check. Well, for the next year and a half I received a huge packet of promotional materials, newsletters, flyers, postcards, etc., every couple weeks or so requesting further donations from me. I contacted their offices several times requesting that they stop sending me this stuff but it didn’t make any difference. In fact, I’m still getting that crap. My donation hadn’t been very large to begin with, so clearly instead of saving trees all of it went towards advertisement. I shudder to think how many trees died needlessly all because I was trying to help out. Thankfully, though, these egregious examples are the exception and most charities are fiscally responsible and concerned solely with doing good works. But that’s why it’s important to do some research first.
And if possible look for charities that are locally based and doing things to benefit your own immediate community. Beyond the axiom that it’s best to help those closest to you first there are very solid reasons for this approach. Such charities tend to be smaller, with less administrative overhead, less of an environmental impact by not being spread out across the country, your dollar will go further and being local it’ll be easier to determine what sort of impact they’re having, where the money is going, and what their reputation is truly like. Additionally there will be a greater opportunity for you to directly help out by volunteering your services, which is infinitely preferable to just writing a check. After all, if you’re just giving your time you know it’s actually doing some good instead of your money going to advertising or less desirable ends. Plus this gives you the chance to get out and meet people, as well as having interesting experiences.
And with that I bring to a close this discussion of Dionysian devotional activities. Of course this doesn’t even begin to exhaust the possibilities, but hopefully it’s given you some fresh ideas and pointed you in a direction so that you come up with some of your own. The relationship each of has with Dionysos must, of necessity, be unique to us and shaped by our interests, understandings and aspirations. (Not to mention what Dionysos, himself, expects out of it.) As with all things in life what we receive is commensurate to what we put into it. Having a meaningful relationship with a god like Dionysos requires a great deal of dedication and hard work – but the rewards are immense and well worth whatever effort is required to do so.