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Ceramic replica of ancient Greek redware pottery depicting Dionysus with a leopard cub and a Thyrsus; hand-painted by Giuseppina Battaglia of the MITOliberty shop, Brescia, Italy, 2016

Dionysus, also known as Eleutherios ("Liberator") is most famous as the Greek god of wine and drunkenness. Wine depends on agriculture and leads to altered states of mind that include religious ecstasy, so these are in his domain also. Extending these domains to related areas of human experience, he is also the god of orchards and fruit, festivity and theatre, since festivals dedicated to him included re-enactments of his story. He later became conflated with both Liber Pater (meaning "the Free Father"; an ancient Roman god of agricultural fertility, especially seeds) and Bacchus, his counterpart in the Roman pantheon). Although it is not known where his cult originated, most accounts tell of him arriving in Greece from Thrace, a region comprising southeastern Bulgaria, northeastern Greece, and the European part of Turkey. His foreignness also makes him a god of epiphany, the tangible experience of deity or even sudden insight that seems to come from without. Nevertheless, he is known to be one of the earliest gods worshiped by the Greeks.

Dionysus is the son of Zeus, king of the Greek gods, and Semele, a human princess of Thebes, an important city-state in ancient Greece. Of course their affair infuriated Hera, his wife; she coaxed Semele to beg Zeus to appear to her in all the splendor he would show Hera -- and the experience was fatal for Semele. Zeus saved the unborn child by sewing him up into his thigh, there to grow in safety until time for his birth. As an infant, he was given into the care of Hermes, the messenger of the Greek gods, who handed him over to the women of Nysa to be nurses for him. These women formed the first group of his followers, and were known as Maenads, "raving ones," because of the ecstatic frenzy of their worship. Hera was determined to track Dionysus down to destroy him, so among other attempts to safeguard him, he was raised as a girl, by way of camouflage. When Dionysus was fully grown, he discovered how to culture grapes and make wine. Then Hera found him and drove him mad, forcing him to wander the earth. He was cured by his grandmother, the goddess Rhea, mother of both Zeus and Hera. After this, he toured Asia, teaching viticulture and winemaking. Some accounts say that this tour was actually a war campaign, referred to as the "Triumph of Dionysus." Later, he descended into Hades to bring his mother back to earth. The Orphic Mysteries, though, maintain that his mother was Demeter, the of agriculture and the harvest. When he returned to Thebes to introduce his religion there, the rulers opposed him because they did not believe that Dionysus was the son of a god, and because were scandalized by the frenzied rites of the Maenads. Dionysus drove the king, Pentheus, insane. Hiding in a tree, he spied upon the Maenads at their worship. The Maenads mistook him for a mountain lion, pulled him down and tore him apart with their bare hands. Pentheus' mother and aunt were among their number. There are many other stories of Dionysus defending his godhood against skeptics, generally with equally violent results.

Originally portrayed as a full-grown, bearded man, Dionysus was later depicted as young and effeminate, and frequently nude. His identifying symbol is the thyrsus, a stalk of giant fennel topped with an artichoke or pine cone, tied with ribbons and sometimes wound with ivy or grapevines. Other emblems associated with him include theatrical masks, snakes, and large cats such as leopards, panthers, tigers and lions. Hoodoo psychic readers, spirit workers, and root doctors who petition the Roman or Greek deities within the Pagan and Neo-Pagan traditions on behalf of clients may work with Dionysus when there are pending spiritual and magical issues regarding Agriculture, Viticulture, Wine-Making, Intoxication, and spiritual ecstasy


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