Mythology and Cult of Dionysus

The cult of Dionysus refers to the god Dionysus. Dionysus is the only god born of a mortal mother: from Homer and Hesiod, he is presented as the son of Zeus and Semele (Ζεμελώ / Zemelố "Earth" an ancient earth goddess), daughter of the king of Thebes Cadmos and Harmony. More precisely, the account of his conception shows that Dionysus was born from the Earth struck by lightning, "Mother Earth fertilized by the celestial lightning of the sky god", characteristic birth of a divine Fire.

Pushed by Hera, jealous, disguised as her nurse, Semele asks to contemplate Zeus, with whom she is pregnant, in all her majesty. Unable to bear this sight, Sémélé is killed. Zeus then pulls his son from his mother's womb and, slashing his thigh, sews the child there to complete his gestation.. This account of the gestation of Dionysus in the thigh of Zeus covers a very ancient mythical core: the fire ignited by lightning is essentially "son of Heaven". Heaven is both its father and mother while Earth has only a passive role in the operation.

Distributed between autumn and spring, its festivities are linked to the annual cycle and in particular to the return of spring. God of fury and subversion, his worship is also marked by orgiastic feminine festivals celebrated by his companions, the maenads. Its festivities were the driving force behind the development of theater and tragedy.

The public cult of Dionysus gave rise to the feasts of the "Dionysias" consisting mainly of the procession of a phallus, but there was also an important secret cult, represented by mysteries, comprising initiation ceremonies. He is often accompanied by a group of satyrs, Maenads, panthers, goats, donkeys and old Silenus, forming the “Dionysian procession”.

The private cult of Dionysus took place between initiates, it is a mystery cult. The grouping of these initiates is called thiasis. The thiases practiced a hidden and initiatory cult, often in caves and at night, during which the new members of the thiasis were initiated, and who officiated in the esoteric dimension of the resurrection of the twice-born god. We lack sources to know what exactly happened there, but these secret and nocturnal ceremonies lasted until under the Roman Empire. They included sacrifices, but also delusions due to drunkenness or the consumption of herbal drugs, and excesses of all kinds, especially sexual.

cult of Dionysus

Mythology and Cult of Dionysus (texts)