Peeling the Onion



Tapping Dionysian Energy Reserves

In his book 'Ecstasy' Robert Johnson points out that we live in a world almost completely devoid of good-quality ritual and ceremony. An increasing number of people have lost contact with old ways and are denied the nourishment that comes with tradition and collective ritual. Contemporary Westerners have little concept of the mythic world and are actually afraid of it. Where as, prior to the twentieth century, myth and fairy tales were the repository of wisdom of a whole culture they are now relegated to the fantasy world of childhood. Television and information technology have removed a lot of the story telling which once took place and now many children miss hearing the old stories.

Psychologists like Carl Jung have observed that when we begin to understand myth on a deep level we open ourselves up to communication between our conscious and unconscious selves, gaining important insights and so enriching our lives.

James Hillman elucidated the potential of fantasy and personification when he wrote about the house the psyche actually inhabits. According to Hillman this house is "a compound of connecting corridors, multi leveled, with windows everywhere and with large ongoing extensions under construction, and sudden dead ends and holes in the floorboards; and this house is filled already with occupants, other voices, reflecting nature alive, echoing again the Great God Pan."

Modern man may not appreciate it but all of the gods of mythology continue to claim residency within the house of the psyche. Take Dionysus for example. He is still alive and well in the subterranean dungeon. In Ancient Greece Dionysus was the god of wine and ecstasy. His cult promised individual salvation and held particular appeal to women. The Dionysian cult was of particular concern to the ancient authorities and in 186 B.C. the Roman Senate passed severe laws against orgiastic rites of the newly arrived god. Several thousand maenads were subsequently executed. But Dionysus himself clearly escaped, for his spirit lives on in similar behavior which can be seen today. Unfortunately, the divine ecstasy of Dionysus often manifests itself in addictive behavior. Dionysus has come to embody some of the darker sides of human behavior.

While the Romans gave Dionysus a really bad name, Socrates knew that it was pure folly to upset the gods. When he lay, stretched out on the delicious slope of grass with Phaedrus he enjoyed the shade of plane trees that spread out their boughs and luxuriated, thoroughly enjoying the summer scents and sounds. He knew that Dionysian rituals were of benefit to him.

When Phaedrus read his treasured speech and Socrates responded with a provocative discourse on love Socrates was suddenly troubled. Sensing that he had offended Eros, the God of Love, the son of Aphrodite, Socrates was compelled to produce a second discourse proposing that love is a condition of the soul.

The gods of ancient mythology have a lot to offer us. Prior to the twentieth century Greek mythology provided a major source of inspiration for artists and poets. Indeed a cursory glance of the art collections of the world reveals that mythological themes were second only to the stories from the Bible.

Given the rich treasury that lies within mythology it is possible that if we take the time to honour Dionysus and other gods and goddesses in small, ritualistic ways, they will bless us and restore the muse.Within the safety of our journal and visual diaries it is possible to travel deep within and rekindle the spirit of Dionysus. We can make our own Dionysian rituals and discover the world of anticipatory pleasure without engaging in wild revels which were of such concern to authorities. If we are daring you can feel the flow of Dionysian energy and permit it to ripple throughout the bloodstream, right down the tip of the fingers and into the pen. Through writing it is possible to live out those parts of ourselves that can have no practical expression. Through writing it is possible to satisfy inner urges without doing any external damage. It is possible to express the seemingly inexpressible. Writing offers us a Dionysian ritual that saves us from nastier addictions.

For example: try the following exercise that is based on the premise that within the garden of Dinoysus, deep within our psyche, lies a sensuous world, filled with a profusion of nature's fruits. It is just a matter of finding your way into this walled garden.

Play some pan flute music like Medwyn Goodall's Medicine Woman and sit quietly in front of your journal, holding a simple seashell in your left hand and your pen in the right hand. (Assuming your right hand is the dominant hand. You can reverse this) Caress the shell with your fingers. Let your eyes travel over its surface. Let the music that Pan used to attract the nymphettes waft into the house within. Breathe deeply. Close your eyes and quietly wander into the corridors of your shell using your senses. Look around. What do you see, hear, smell, touch with your naked feet. Wander through the multi levels of the shell compound. Peer through unopened doorways and windows. Notice your surroundings. Feel the surfaces. Move to the compound where Dionysus and Pan have retreated. Find the doorway to their space. Note what the door is made of. Let the door come alive. Is the door prepared to open itself? Do voices call out? What do you hear? Allow the pen to write whatever is entering your mind. Consider writing the dialogue you have with Dionysus and Pan. Ask them how you can unify them with your everyday self. Ask them how to write.

Make it a ritual to do similar writing exercises. You will find a collection of exercises here at Soul Food.
Meanwhile, here are some other practical rituals that may just enhance your writing and your sense of well-being.

Write letters to a number of people telling them how much they mean to you and plan future things together
Since all sports are natural Dionysian activities try going for a 20 - 40 minute walk. Upon returning write for the same amount of time.
Create a visual collage to honour Dionysus. Remember that he was closely associated with Pan, nymphs, wine, swings, merriment.
Release pent up feelings
Write a Dionysian definition of psychological sunshine and anticipatory pleasure. List the things that you would love to do if you didn't think people would think you were silly.
Plan a Dionysian event for your home or workplace. Throw a children's party for your friends to celebrate your next birthday. Have a costume breakfast party and then let the day happen. Dress as Pan or a nymph or a medieval maiden. Stay in costume all day and write.
Write a Dionysian creed to live by.
Read the Princess and the Muse, the myth that I live by and write one of your own
Write a letter from Dionysus to yourself and have a friend post it. Receiving a letter like this will have an interesting effect.