The double face of the tragic hero known as Dionysus represents the dual nature of his persona of joy and suffering and life and death; a god known symbolically as “the spirit of fire and dew” who was “most terrible and most gentle to mortals” (Bacchae 861)
Philo hints to the god’s dual roles in his benefactions for humanity being that he “cultivated the vine and poured out from it the sweetest drink.” According to Opian, as a child of duality, Dionysus delighted in tearing kids into pieces and bringing them back to life again which had later given rise to the characterizations as “the raging one” and “the mad one.”
Since, ancient times, the duality of Dionysius was depicted in Greek mythology as the son of his immortal father Zeus and his mortal mother, Seminole.
From this union of opposites, Dionysus was the first son of God to be bestowed immortality in which he was referred to as “the twice-born one” and the epithet of the “suffering and dying god.” As the son of Zeus, in ancient Greek art, he was often depicted with bull’s horns, as a black goat and or a man in all black and black skin.
The image below is a Bronze mask depicting Dionysus bearded and horned, 200 BC – 100 AD.
The ancient mythos surrounding the origins of Dionysis is that he had a double birth of fire and water and strongly associated with cultivating vines (fertility) and the development from the juice of decaying grapes which we call wine. (human ingenuity).
As the sun dries the earth clay/mud and ripens the grapes of the green vine, in a like manner, water and the morning dew moistens the same soil and the microorganisms drink to give birth to the “black vine juice.”
A drink that brings both joy and sorrow to its drinkers. Laughter and cries.
Riches and financial ruins and both conscious and unconsciousness of his impending death.
As the black vine, Dionysus is the first representative/symbol of the individual vine or as I conjecture in modern terms, we can possibly say that what they may have meant in the esoteric sense is that he was the first idea of the species of fungi (black vine) to become alive and conscious molding into another thousand vines. (2)
Proclus tells us that “Dionysus was the last king of the gods appointed by Zeus. For his father set him on the kingly throne, and placed in his hand the scepter, and made him king of all the gods of the world.” Hesiod says, “And Semele, daughter of Cadmus was joined with him [the god Zeus] in love and bare him a splendid son, joyous Dionysus, — a mortal woman, an immortal son. And now they both are gods.” (Theogeny)
Plutarch, writing about the mysteries to console his wife after the death of their infant daughter had said. “Where the resurrection formed part of the myth, it also was acted at the rites,” in which he comforts her with the thought of the immortality of the soul as taught by the mysteries of Dionysus.” These mysteries appear to be a continuation of or an adaptation of the more ancient Orphic Mysteries of Orpheus and later became connected to the Eleusinian Mysteries in which both Dionysus or Bacchus play the central roles as “gods of this world (vegetation, wine, animals, humans etc.)”
We learn from Plutarch’s Nicias and Alcibiades that the Dionysiac festival was held in a fifth-century B. C. Temple surmounted by tripods in which each of the ten Attic tribes was represented with contests and prizes awarded by the state to the victorious. The tripods were said to be dedicated to the precinct of Dionysus by Nicias, son of Nicodemus, and his brothers (Plato, Gorgtas, 472 A).
The Palestinian city of Scythopolis was connected to the worship of Dionysus in which the name was derived from the Scythians. (Pliny – Historia Naturalis) who settled on that spot by Dionysus in order to protect the tomb of his nurse who was buried there.
This may be why Pausanias writes in his, Description of Greece, “Dionysos is lying down in a cave, a bearded figure holding a golden cup, and clad in a tunic reaching to the feet. Around him are vines, apple-trees and pomegranate-trees.”
At Athens and at Hermion, he was worshipped under the title of “the one of the Black Goatskin,” and a legend ran that on a certain occasion he had appeared clad in the dark skin sending madness to all who saw him from which he took the title.” According to Suidas (10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia), “Minyae,” Lycurgus,” and the daughters of Eleuther are numbered among the victims of Dionysus.
The daughters of Eleuther saw as “apparition of Dionysus wearing a black goatskin and they reviled him,” whereupon they were punished by the god. Eleuther, in obedience to an oracle, then instituted the cult of Dionysus of the Black Goatskin, in order that through this act of propitiation his daughters might be freed from their madness.” (3)
In the legends of the foundation of the city of Hermione, it was said that she was the daughter of Mars and Venus, and the wife of the Phoenician Prince, Cadmus. At their wedding nuptials, they were changed into serpents and became residents of the Elysian fields which gave rise to the Eleusinian Mysteries instituted by a state-sponsored network of Elesusinian Schools in which Dionysus played a central figure of importance.
The Eleusinian rites of passage were said to honor the Goddess Eileithyia and her daughter, Persephone who are often shown carrying torches to bring children out of the darkness and into the light. (3)
The purpose of the Lower Mysteries was to provide the initiates with elaborate rules for not only avoiding the dangers of the world and underworld but also the necessary magical formulas in order to deal with the dual aspects of human nature. A magical battle that is first fought within the self of the initiate and the dual aspects of the world in which we live.
As it is related in Greek mythology, the maenads (/ˈmiːnædz/; Ancient Greek: μαϊνάδες [maiˈnades]) maenads, the females who follow Dionysius, “who affected by him, storm away, twirl around in a raging whirl or stand still has turned to stone.” The Maenads, possessed by the spirit of Dionysus, were the most devoted women disciples/warriors of Dionysus that were mythologized as “madwomen” and were his nurses.
were portrayed as inspired by Dionysus into a state of ecstatic frenzy through a combination of dancing and intoxication. During these rites, the maenads would dress in fawn skins and carry a thyrsus, a long stick wrapped in ivy or vine leaves and tipped with a pine cone. They would weave ivy-wreaths around their heads or wear a bull helmet in honor of their god, and often handle or wear snakes.
In other stories of the rites of immortality, the worshippers of Dionysus were said to have imagined themselves to be murdering the black god, drinking his blood and eating his flesh as the women would sing;
“Come hither, Dionysus, to thy holy temple by the sea; come with the Graces to thy temple, rushing with thy bull’s foot, O goodly bull, O goodly bull !”
As a representative of the God Dionysus, the enraged bull with tunnel vision charged at the Cretans who quickly moved out of the way while taking turns tearing the live bull to pieces with their teeth as they shouted frantically. At the biennial festival, the re-enactment of Dionysos’ dismemberment at the hands of the Titans has people excitedly gathered in the town square of Knossos while the court musicians wildly played their flutes and cymbals to celebrate the lower mysteries of life.
All the while, it was said that the heart of Dionysus was kept in a box nearby as the musicians wildly played their flutes and cymbals that were said to mimic the rattling sounds by which the infant god had been lured to his doom. (4)
As if consuming his DNA, it would become grafted upon their own so they could not only commune with the dark god, they could merge as one mind, and one body.
the Dionysiac only needs to be understood as the frenzied dances of the god which are direct manifestations of euphoric possession and that these worshipers, sometimes by eating the flesh of a man or animal who has temporarily incarnated the god, come to partake of his divinity.
In ceramic art, the frolicking of Maenads and Dionysus is often a theme depicted on kraters, used to mix water and wine. These scenes show the maenads in their frenzy running in the forests, often tearing to pieces any animal they happen to come across.
German philologist Walter Friedrich Otto writes:
“The Bacchae of Euripides gives us the most vital picture of the wonderful circumstance in which, as Plato says in the Ion, the god-intoxicated celebrants draw milk and honey from the streams. They strike rocks with the thyrsus, and water gushes forth. They lower the thyrsus to the earth, and a spring of wine bubbles up. If they want milk, they scratch up the ground with their fingers and draw up the milky fluid.
Honey trickles down from the thyrsus made of the wood of the ivy, they gird themselves with snakes and give suck to fawns and wolf cubs as if they were infants at the breast. Fire does not burn them. No weapon of iron can wound them, and the snakes harmlessly lick up the sweat from their heated cheeks. Fierce bulls fall to the ground, victims to numberless, tearing female hands, and sturdy trees are torn up by the roots with their combined efforts.”
The Tragic Worldview of the Great Health
The great German philosopher, Nietzsche who called himself an “Initiate and Disciple of Dionysus” had presented his tragic world view under the symbol of Dionysus in which he related to and stresses the dual nature of Dionysus and Apollo when merged into the human psyche one creates the ‘Great Health.’
As the author, Adrian De Carlo said, “The Dionysian is Nietzsche’s “turf” in an organic sense, it is “his soil” because his willing and his ability grow out of it, which is to say, there is nothing “objective” or detached about his occupation with the Dynosian. (5)
Nietzsche’s “tragic worldview” was based on the two central aspects of a person’s character – one of light and the other dark which played a central role in ancient Greek myths of tragedy, and that the true tragedy could only be produced through pain and pleasure which causes a constant tension between them.
In Nietzsche’s philosophical world, he says we need both. This results in what Nietzsche calls the “Great Health.” (6)
As a result of this tragic worldview, “the tragic man affirms even the hardest lot on earth”, realizing that as long as he possesses the “great health”, pain, suffering, and tragedy are to be not only welcomed but worshiped as “the great stimulants of his life”, and that he will only “grow stronger through the accidents that threaten to destroy him.” (The Will to Power)
The teachings of the god Dionysis dealt with his birth, life, death, immortality and the secrets of human duality or what the German Philosopher who called himself the last disciple of the philosopher Dionysus, Friedrich Nietzsche had dubbed “Apollonian and Dionysian.”
In Nietzsche’s concept, the Apollonian part of humans corresponds to the light in which everything that is part of the unique individuality of man such as his ability to critically think, have rational thought, true will, the ability to create, so he represents order, logic, and reason in the human being.
Whereas Dionysus, as the Black god representing the tragic disposition and dark nature of man ie: wine, drunkenness, music, and chaotic emotions representing chaos, madness, and ecstasy (extasis).
For example, music would be considered a Dionysian artform because it does not appeal to our rational mind, ie: Apollonian but rather to our emotions. Almost anyone reading these words can imagine their inner Dionysus being moved by a favorite or memorable song that contrary to your inner reason ie: Apollo, it brought forth a flood of emotions that made you cry, happy, or just dance with giddiness making you feel alive and free.
He had written, “Transform Beethoven’s ‘Hymn to Joy’ into a painting; let your imagination conceive the multitudes bowing to the dust, awestruck- then you will approach the Dionysian.”
On the contrary, Plutarch associates Dionysus with chaotic music and Apollo to melodic and orderly tunes. He writes, “To Dionysus or Bacchus they sing dithyrambic verses, full of passions and change, joined with a certain wandering and agitation backwards and forwards; for, as Aeschylus says, The dithyramb, whose sounds are dissonant, “Tis fit should wait on Bacchus.
“But to Apollo, they sing the well-ordered paean and a discreet song.” (2)
Author Walter Otto says he symbolizes “the eternal enigmas of duality and paradox.” (Dionysus: Myth and Cult).
What some people and psychologists diagnose as differences in personality or in modern terms as bi-polar and even schizophrenic, Friedrich Nietzsche believed he identified with the ancient Greek Tragedies showing the old world science of duality that is inside all of us which emerges in the different aspects of our personality.
Dionysus could be considered in Gnostic terms to be a God of Duality who had a double nature and was often depicted in literature as the Black Goatskin or in artwork or in Jungian terms as a shadow. An ancient type of Eggregore that we all have that was to be both revered and feared.
To Nietzsche and the Ancient Greeks, Dionysus was a system of what is called today organicism ie: agricultural and cultural magic – a description of sympathetic sorcery with nature and all beings are all connected.
To reach primordial unity and to expand our consciousness, we must release our inner Dionysian madness in order to go beyond our preconceived social and cultural barriers that are often constructed by those Apollo’s with narrow and overly rational ways of thinking.
In other words, we need to embrace our Dionysus to stare into the eternal abyss and not only have the abyss stare back at us but commune and interact with our makers and destroyers of the material realm. Instead of a para-‘normal’ parasitic attack for our transgressions into their dark dimension, we find that we can learn the immortal laws of all life on earth and form the symbiotic relationships and structures which we as humans have been empowered with as shepherds for unseen forces
In the abyss is where we find Dionysus – Plato’s primordial receptacle and Nietzsche’s “tragic world view” that is filled and moved by terrifying but beautifully organic creatures who make up not only the universe but also filling the receptacles of ourselves or cells.
Invoking our inner Apollo ie: our light, knowledge, and reason to understand these ancient concepts, we not only understand and the universe, more importantly, we comprehend fully the light and darkness in others.
Hence, when Apollonian and Dionysian are fully integrated into the self, the reasonable Apollo side of our psyches counteracts and balances our inner Dionysus or what Carl Jung would call our shadow.
In other words, live in truth and harmony while abiding by the eternal laws of reason, ethics, and morality of being human.
We could equate this process of individuation with Nietzsche’s Great Health and what we call in Christianity, being born again or alive with the Holy Spirit.
This is what I believe was the purpose of the rituals of the Dionysus state religion. A religion that I believe was invented as an effort to train initiates to employ their own inner Dionysus so that they could fully integrate into their psyche in order to bring out their true personas/masks for the Grand Stage of Life.
As Julius Evolva had said;
“To dare to tear away the veils with which Apollo hid primordial reality, to dare to transcend form in order to put oneself in contact with the primordial “atrocity” of a world in which good and evil, divine and human, rational and irrational, just and unjust no longer have any sense, being only power, naked, free, fiery power; to dare that, and not to be swept away from this bottomless precipice, but to be able to do it, to control in oneself and, not surpassed but surpassing, to realize the wild pleasure of existing tragically — such is the test of Dionysus, from which every will that truly wants to escape from the “God of the Earth” must have his consecration.”
In the traditional sense, we can say to consecrate by Dionysus into the higher mysteries of the Elysian fields one must be initiated in the ancient ways by the act of consecration ie: to bless, dedicate, sanctify, devote and exalt the initiate.
Hence, taking what can be considered trivial in modernity to truly a formal and universally sacred system of initiation.
In An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences, 33rd Degree Mason, Albert Gallatin Mackey had said that “The members of the Fraternity of Dionysian Architects were linked together by the secret ties of the Dionysian mysteries, into which they had all been initiated. (3)
Mackey had written, “Thus constituted, the Fraternity was distinguished by many peculiarities that strikingly assimilate it to our Order. In the exercise of charity, the “more opulent were sacredly bound to provide for the exigencies of the poorer brethren.”
“For the facilities of labor and government, they were divided into communities called aw’uKlai, each of which was governed by a Master and Wardens. They held a general assembly or grand festival once a year, which was solemnized with great pomp and splendor.”
He continues, “They employed in their ceremonial observances many of the implements which are still to be found among Freemasons, and used, like them, a universal language, by which one brother could distinguish another in the dark as well as in the light, and which served to unite the members scattered over India, Persia, and Syria, into one common brotherhood.”
Out of the new initiate pool of our modern era of Masonic CHAO will come one common brotherhood of Dionysian Artificers who are now ready to help build the post-modern Western World of ORDO by carrying the traditional torches of Apollo to help bring our divine children out depths of darkness and into the light of their own souls.
1. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume 4 edited by James Hastings, John Alexander Selbie, Louis Herbert Gray
2. Madness in Greek Thought and Custom By Agnes Carr Vaughan – 1919
3. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Volume 8 edited by James Hastings, John Alexander Selbie, Louis Herbert Gray
4. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Volume 7 By Sir James George Frazer
5. Grounding the Nietzsche Rhetoric of Earth By Adrian Del Caro
6. To Nietzsche: Dionysus, I Love You! Ariadne By Claudia Crawford – 1995
7. Plutarch’s Lives and Writings, Volume 9
8. The Individual and the Becoming of the World By Julius Evola
9. Other sources you can easily find yourself if you want to search further using Google
Moe is the founder of GnosticWarrior.com. He is a father, husband, author, martial arts black belt, and an expert in Gnosticism, the occult, and esotericism.