Dionysus

Dionysus

Intermediate god
Pantheon: Olympian Pantheon
Titles: Women-Maddener, Ivy-Wreathed Dionysus, Loud-Roaring Dionysus
Home Plane: Olympus
Portfolio: Mirth, madness, wine, fertility, theater
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
Worshippers: Satyrs, fauns, revelers, rogues
Cleric Alignments: CE, CG, CN
Domains: Chaos, Destruction, Madness
Holy Symbols: Thyrsus, a staff tipped with a pine cone and twisted with a vine
Favoured Weapons: Quarterstaff

Deity of wine, mirth, and madness, Dionysus appears as a young man carrying an amphora of wine, a lyre, and a thyrsus. Like Demeter, he is an agricultural god with power over fertility of both land and creatures, but his portfolio is limited to vines, wine, and wine’s influence on mortals. Dionysus is called Women-Maddener because of his ability to inspire frenzy in his worshipers (particularly women). He is the son of Zeus by a mortal woman, Semele.

Dogma

Dionysus’s “dogma” is more of a way of life - a life of whimsy and abandon, free from any fetters of custom, law, inhibition, or morality. Freedom is a cardinal virtue of Dionysus’s faith and a higher principle than good or evil. All too often, drunken revelry turns into drunken savagery, but Dionysus condemns neither. Mortals worship Dionysus whenever they drink wine, pouring out a little of their drink in his honor. Dionysus, like Demeter, is also the center of a mystery cult, the Orphic Mysteries.

Clergy

Clerics devoted to Dionysus are always members of the Orphic Mysteries. Wearing burgundy or purple garments, they lead the ecstatic rites celebrating Dionysus, which usually involve heavy drinking and feasting. Rites in the Orphic Mysteries often include tearing a bull’s flesh apart and eating it raw, in imitation of Zagreus’s demise at the hands of the Titans.

Temples

Dionysus’s temples are often built in caves, because the infant Zagreus was born in a cave.

Aspects

Avatars: Dionysus uses his avatars extensively to interact with the members of the Orphic Mysteries. They appear exactly like his divine form.

The Orphic Mysteries

Dionysus’s mystery cult teaches a secret myth about the deity’s origin, supposedly passed on to mortals by the epic bard Orpheus. Zeus and Demeter’s daughter Persephone had a dalliance that resulted in the birth of a deity named Zagreus. Hera, in a jealous rage, sent some Titans from Tartarus to kill the child god. Zagreus tried to escape by shapechanging into various forms - Zeus, Cronus, a young man, a lion, a horse, a serpent and finally a bull.

Catching him in his bull form, the Titans tore his body apart and ate it. Before they could finish their grisly meal, Zeus appeared and incinerated them with bolts of lightning, rescuing Zagreus’s heart and forming humanity from the ashes of the Titans. Because the Titans had consumed Zagreus, some of his divine nature remained in their ashes, forming a “divine spark” deep inside human nature.

Zeus then gave Zagreus’s heart to Semele. Some legends say that she ate the heart, while others say Zeus used it to make a potion that impregnated her. In any event, Dionysus was born as a result. Thus, Dionysus’s origin remains true to the common mythology that calls him a son of Zeus and Semele, but it also makes him a reincarnation of Zagreus.

Semele also died as a result of Hera’s jealousy. Hera tricked Semele into persuading Zeus to reveal his divine splendor to her, but her mortal frame could not withstand his glory and she disintegrated into ash. The child in her womb, being half divine, survived, and a vine grew from her ashes to shield the infant Dionysus. Zeus took the child and sewed him into his own thigh where he finished his gestation. As a result of this remarkable birth, Dionysus is known as the twice-born.

As an adult, Dionysus discovered wine and shared that mixed blessing with mortals. He also descended into the underworld to find his mother, Semele, and brought her up to dwell with him in Olympus as an immortal. (Orpheus, too, descended into the underworld to find a loved one, his wife, but was unable to bring her back to the mortal world.)

The Orphic Mysteries of Dionysus, like Demeter’s mystery cult, allow initiates to reenact this complicated mythic history, becoming participants in Dionysus-Zagreus’s life, death, and rebirth. As in the cult of Demeter, initiates in the mysteries believe they meet Dionysus or his avatar firsthand, in a ritual in which they symbolically die to their old lives and rise again to new lives. After their initiation, they enjoy a life of carefree celebration and orgiastic frenzy, and they look forward to life with Dionysus-Zagreus in Olympus after their death.

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