Ever since I was in high school I’ve had a bit of an obsession with Dionysus, Greek God of wine, madness, and theatre. It’s no surprise that I was a theatre student as well, and a hardcore partier (the two seem to go hand in hand). My favourite word was “Dionysian” and I insisted on praying to Him before each show while the rest of the cast and crew prayed to Jesus. (I have never understood that — what the hell does Jesus care if we do a good show or not? Theatre is not exactly His domain.)
Since I’ve stopped drinking, I’ve sort of stopped thinking about Dionysus (the time I’ve not been drinking has also been the time I’ve not done much theatre). It was hard for me to offer Him wine when I couldn’t let myself turn into a modern maenad.
However, He’s entered my thoughts again, namely because of some conversations going on at The Cauldron, the awesome interfaith pagan-focused forum I frequent.
In these conversations it has been mentioned that Dionysos is definitely the sort you’d find in a rough bar, and that whenever madness goes on He actually does not partake — He’s the centre of the maelstrom, sober, watching, and laughing.
Dionysos is not as cuddly as most think Him; He allows that image of Him to persist because it serves His purposes. But His purview is wild, untamed — maenads go mad in His service, and the purpose of theatre is to show the soul raw and bared, to bleed out yourself on stage so that someone else might catch a glimpse of what a different life is. Truth through pain. Breaking yourself down so others might build themselves up through the truth you let them see.
It’s no wonder theatre kids are such hardcore partiers; after a hard night on stage we need to drink ourselves into oblivion lest we lose ourselves in that madness that going so deeply into character requires.
Dionysos is King of all that, and it’s that wild, erotic tornado of energy around Him that I find so attractive. He breaks things down so you can rebuild them, and as Frou Frou says — let go, because there’s beauty in the breakdown.
(Many of my ideas in this post were helped along by reading Nykti’s Dionysos posts at The Night Wanderer’s Path; go and give them a gander if you’re so inclined.)