Dionysus: God of many brews

x wine drinker

Dionysus is a popular god, for obvious reasons. At first glance, his rites look an awful lot like wild parties. And it’s true, one of the things he’s really good at is breaking down barriers and societal conventions. But the purpose behind all that mayhem isn’t simply to have a good time. There’s meant to be spiritual growth involved, believe it or not.

Most people know Dionysus as the god of wine. He’s associated specifically with this beverage, which people have brewed for millennia, and his death is celebrated at the time of the grape harvest. Yes, he’s one of those so-called dying-and-reborn gods, though I think it’s more accurate to say he descends to the Underworld and then returns later on.

So why wine? The Minoans also brewed beer (the goddess Rhea is associated with grain) and mead (honey is the purview of the Melissae, the ancestral bee-goddesses). But Rhea and the Melissae link to grain and honey, not necessarily to the brewed beverages. And that’s a clue to Dionysus’ secrets: All the brewed drinks are ultimately his.

So yes, he’s a god of wine, but ultimately, he’s a god of fermentation. And that’s a kind of magic.

I’ve been brewing wine for more than 20 years, and the process never ceases to amaze me. Can you imagine what it must have felt like, tens of thousands of years ago, to be that first person whose bowl of juicy grapes or cup of barley gruel sat out a little too long and, instead of going bad, turned into a tasty fizzy drink that made you feel lightheaded? A drink that made it that much easier to reach a state of ecstasy in ritual. At a Pagan gathering, I once had a jug of apple cider turn into “apple champagne” all by itself, with no intervention from me. That was some awesome natural magic.

Fermentation changes one substance into another. It’s a kind of transformation, from an ordinary material (grapes, grain, honey) into a unique and special one. In a sense, it’s the earliest type of alchemy.

It’s transformation that Dionysus is all about: changing us from our ordinary selves into something greater, more expanded, more luminous. Pushing us outside our preconceived notions, outside society’s set of rules for how we should think, feel, and experience the universe. Fermenting us from grapes into wine.

May you become the very finest wine of all.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

A Review of Merlin: Once and Future Wizard by Elen Sentier

Reviewed by Frank Malone

Elen Sentier’s latest book continues the fabulous Pagan Portals series from Moon Books. These brief volumes constellate an author’s accumulated wisdom on a specific subject. From my perspective as a psychoanalyst, I had heretofore approached Merlin as an archetypal image of the Wise Old Man. Amongst other things, Sentier is trained in transpersonal psychotherapy. She has opened my eyes so that I can begin to see the depth and complexity of Merlin. Furthermore, Sentier teaches us that Merlin is available to us now for relationship.

To my surprise, Sentier shows us that Merlin is the spirit of the land of Britain – and Brittany to boot! She thus explains the many (apparently) contradictory places in Britain and the Continent associated with Merlin in the legends. As spirit, he is far older than the figures in the stories. Sentier takes us through the divers guises of Merlin in literature. This includes, inter alia, the Green Man. The author discusses the light that these incarnations shed on Merlin as spirit.

Sentier is also one of the awenyddion (Celtic shamans). I was fascinated to learn about the Celtic way of journeying to the Otherworld. The trance-induction is different from the auditory-driven induction used in core shamanism, which is my training and practice. The author draws contrast between these two shamanic approaches. Additionally, the Celtic journey process described is, as she observes, “far closer to what Jung calls ‘active imagination’. It was also interesting to read how she integrates shamanic knowledge with her practice of psychotherapy.

I was delighted and grateful for her chapter on Nimue/Vivian. This was the most satisfying treatment of the topic I have seen. I enjoyed as well the integrated biographical material woven throughout the book. I appreciate authors who can be genuine and not hide behind an intellectual defense. The book is also infused with her gentle good humour. Sentier’s book is fun and informative, and I shall keep it around to refer to for years to come.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-merlin