Ceres Bacchus and Venus by Jan Miel
Starting out, I’d like to talk about one of the lesser known aspects of Dionysus, his role as god of the fields and vineyards. Many of his followers have relations with an intense aspect of him, whether Orphic or Satyric. This can make it easy to forget that he also has a gentler side, that of agriculture.
Wine, to us, is primarily used for its intoxicating qualities. However, in ancient times it would have been one of the few drinks available, especially with the Greek disdain for drinking milk. While I don’t know of any explicit references to Dionysus as god of water, we must remember that there would have been water mixed into the wine that the Greeks drank. While he is certainly much more associated with alcoholic beverages, there is also a nourishing aspect to any caloric intake.
When viewed with his other relations to fertility, one might say that Dionysus is a god of the drink, not just the alcoholic ones, but the complement to food when one says “Food and Drink”. As much is said in my favorite quote from the Bacchae;
Young man, two are the forces most precious to mankind.
The first is Demeter, the Goddess. She is the Earth
Or any name you wish to call her
And she sustains humanity with solid food.
Next came Dionysus, the son of the virgin,
Bringing the counterpart to bread:
Wine and the blessings of life’s flowing juices.
His blood, the blood of the grape,
Lightens the burden of our mortal misery.
Though himself a God,
It is his blood we pour out to offer thanks to the Gods.
And through him, we are blessed.
Though Euripides mainly highlights the freeing aspects of wine, he does makes note of wine as the counterpart to bread. This quote also notes Dionysus’ relationship to Demeter, another large aspect of his fertility aspects. It is perhaps best seen in the Aventine Triad of Ceres, Liber, and Libera, equated by many of the time (But not all) to Demeter, Dionysus, and Persephone. This isn’t the only linking of the deities. According to Pausanias, in his Description of Greece, there was a temple between Sikyon and Phlios with the faces of Dionysus, Demeter, and Kore. He also mentions another temple with the three gods that could be found in Arcadia.
The ancient prayers that I am aware of to both Dionysus and Demeter highlight both deities relations to the earth. As said by Tibullus;
Come to us, Bacchus,
With clusters of grapes dangling from your horns,
And you, too, Ceres,
A wreath of newly ripened wheat for your temples,
Gods of our fathers,
We purify our farmers and our fruitful fields;
We ask that you drive away harm from our borders.
Let not the now sprouting plants succumb before harvest,
Let not the timid lambs be outrun by swift wolves.
Liber and gentle Ceres, if by your gifts the earth once changed,
Exchanging Chaonian acorns for rich heads of grain,
And receiving your invention of wine from Acheloian cups,
And you Fauns, your divine presence an aid for rustics,
Bring dancing feet, as when Dryad girls frolic with Fauns,
Of your gifts I sing.
In addition to wine, he was associated with fruit as well. Obviously the grape, which, lest we forget, can also be eaten, but all forms of fruit, especially figs and apples. Here is a passage from Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae on Dionysus’ connection to figs:
“Sosibos the Lakedaimonian, by way of proving that the fig-tree is a discovery of Dionysos, says that for that reason the Lakedaimonians even worship Dionysos Sykites (of the Fig). And the Naxians, according to Andriskos and again Aglaosthenes, record that Dionysos is called Meilikhios (Gentle) because he bestowed the fruit of the fig. For this reason, also, among the Naxians the face of the god called Dionysos Bakkheos is made of the vine, whereas that of Dionysos Meilikhios is of fig-wood. For, they say, figs are called meilikha (mild fruit).”
For some of us it may seem paradoxical to think of Dionysus as gentle, but we must remember that he has many paradoxes. Not just between ecstasy and rage, but between the strong experiences he induces (both happy and sad) and the more gentle nature of growth. Simply enjoying biting into a piece of fruit far too big for your mouth and letting its juices spill onto your face. Sipping wine or sangria while on a picnic far away from society. Tasting wild strawberries you find growing on a hike.
This being Dionysus, there are of course some darker undertones involved. Euripides state that Dionysus is the wine we pour out to the gods, while Nonnus described how wine is the blood of Dionysus’ dead lover Ampelos. Anthesteria, the festival of Dionysus dedicated to the blossoming life around us, was also a festival of the dead. Just like what goes up must come down, what becomes alive must someday die. I’m certain that much more could be said if one expanded on Dionysus’ connections to animals, killing them, and eating them.
Some epithets one could use when calling out to this aspect of Dionysus could be those listed by Athenaeus, Sykites (Of the Fig) and Meilikhios (Gentle), as well as Phleon (Luxuriant, refers to plants), Staphylites (Of the Grape), Omphacites (Of the unripe grape), Theoenus (God of Wine), Erebinthinus (Of the Chickpea), Agrios (The Wild One, can also be translated as ‘Of the Fields’), Dendrites (He in the Trees), and Kallikarpos (Dionysus of Lovely Fruit).
If you use music in your worship, my recommendation is music that is gentle and simple, namely folk. Folk is also probably the most likely music to have themes of harvest and farming. Planxty and Fairport Convention both come to mind. The Wickerman (1973), both soundtrack and movie, is also relevant.
And how can one connect with this aspect of Dionysus? Here are some ideas:
This is my highest recommendation. Being thankful. Recognizing how lucky we are to eat and drink. While there are no meal-specific prayers to Dionysus that I am aware of, any of the above three verses from classic authors could work. I also think it would be very beneficial to make your own prayers on the spot, drawing from the specific circumstances of your meal.
This is a great time to involve other deities of the pantheon as well. Thank Dionysus for the meat. Thank Demeter for the bread. Thank Poseidon for the fish. If you are eating some form of ethnic food, thank Hermes for the spread of cultures. If you are eating with your family, thank Hestia for that (If they wouldn’t appreciate it out loud, do it silently or before sitting down at the table). If eating outside, be thankful to Zeus for the weather.
In addition to prayers before normal three-a-day meals, if you have a relationship with the satyric aspect of Dionysus, thank him for your drunken 3:00 am meals and your shortly after 4:20 munchie snacks. Though it is a joke among some who follow him that Denny, a name derived from his, is the name of a 24 hour restaurant, remember how good it feels to eat food when alcohol/drugs are making you hungry. Be thankful for that.
Get Involved With the Alcohol-Making Process:
I shy away from terms like ‘brewing’ or ‘viticulture’ to cast a wide net here. Though I have zero experience with this (Being under 21 and in a dorm might have some correlation), there are plenty of resources online for this. A quick google search for ‘home-brewing’ yields 6 million results. If you are in wine country, you can visit a vineyard for a grape stomping festival.
We can’t all live on farms or in forests, but growing your own plants is something most of us can do (At least, most of us can attempt). Dionysus is the god of flowers, vines and fruits, so all could be done devotionally. I’ll recommend strawberries, which aren’t vines (they just play ones on tv) but have a life of their own. I once planted them in a beautiful china pot, specifically designed for strawberries, and in true Dionysian fashion, they escaped their cage and began to grow wild in the garden. They also are sturdier for those of us without prior gardening experience.
Thank you for reading, and hope to see you next week!