Dionysus is the Greek god of wine, sacred or ritual insanity, theater, intoxicants, excess, epiphanous revelation and ecstatic trance. The last to join the Olympian Pantheon, Dionysus is also the only one to have a mortal mother. Semele was a daughter of the King of Thebes, who caught Zeus’ roving eye, and he shortly impregnated her. Suspicious that the child was his, Zeus’ wife Hera disguised herself as a nurse and befriended Semele, who confided to her that the child’s father was in fact king of the gods. Hera pretended to disbelieve her, and sowed seeds of doubt in Semele, who insisted that Zeus prove himself, and be revealed to her in all his divine glory. The sight of an undisguised god being too much for mortal eyes, Semele died, burned in the blaze of his brilliance.
Zeus took the unborn fetus from Semele’s womb and sewed it into his own thigh, later “giving birth” to the infant Dionysus, but Hera’s malice was constant, and she caused the Titans to rip the baby to pieces. Zeus reassembled the parts in a cauldron and brought the child back to life, thus Dionysus is known as “twice-born.”
Dionysus was raised by the satyr Silenus, and from this sexually rapacious tutor he acquired his considerable sexual appetites. As a youth, Dionysus was driven insane by the ever-vengeful Hera, and thus acquired the power of conveying insanity to others, which he utilized in several mythic encounters. He eventually collected a cadre of insane, wild women, known as the Maenads, who roamed the forests and enacted orgiastic rituals of bloodletting and drunkenness. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Dionysus became as renowned for his romantic conquests as his father was; among his many offspring were those he fathered on Aphrodite: the immortal Charites (the Graces) and Priapus, a minor fertility god who sported a permanent erection.
The cult of the Dionysian Mysteries was a powerful creative force in ancient Greece, whose initiates used a variety of tools to alter and elevate consciousness, including intoxicants, dance and music. The goal was to throw off societal constraints and limitations and revert to a more natural state, one transcending normal human experience. Most notables of the classic and Hellenistic period were inducted into this society, but little of its rituals or precepts survived into the modern era.
Astrologically, Dionysus is noted for altered states of mind; intoxicants of all types, but particularly alcohol and hallucinogens; theater; gender-bending, hermaphrodism, transgender, cross-dressing and homosexual relationships; wild sexual abandon and prophetic inspiration.