The Lost Ecstasy: Reconnecting with Our Inner Dionysus

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“…Well-fed, fruitful, increasing joyful bounty,

Bursting from the earth, god of the wine-press, mighty,

With changing form, a cure for men’s pain, holy bloom,

A pain-hating joy for mortals, one who takes hold, with

Beautiful hair, a looser from care, raging with the thyrsos,

Thunderer who shouts Euhoe! Kindly to all, to those mortals

Or gods to whom you wish to reveal yourself…”

Orphic Hymn 50, translation by Barry Powell


Modern societies consume more alcohol than before, probably due to rising income, urbanisation, and increased availability. Yet paradoxically, the spirit of Dionysus – the Greek god of wine, pleasure and ecstasy – seems strangely subdued. Have we become too Apollonian, lost touch with our inner Dionysian spirit, our wilder, primal side? Perhaps it’s time to explore our relationship with boundaries.

The Problem: Our Apollonian Hangover

Our modern lives are consumed by order, logic, and restraint. The structures of work, technology, and bureaucracy dominate our days. We have become a society of Apollonian ideals, our wild spirits tamed into submission.

Yet our souls still crave ecstasy. So at times we overindulge in shallow excess, binge-drinking to numbness rather than rapture. We seek progress and pleasure but often find only joyless addiction and consumerism.

Without occasionally losing ourselves we risk living in a gilded cage. Our lives look perfect on the outside, yet inside we are stagnant and imprisoned. By exiling Dionysus, we stunt our humanity. It is time to break free of a hollow existence and reclaim the life force that has been lost.

The Dionysian and Apollonian Archetypes

The concepts of Dionysian and Apollonian stem from ancient Greek philosophy, primarily revitalized by the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. These two concepts serve as contrasting lenses for understanding human nature and artistic expression, each representing different aspects of our psyche and creativity.

The Dionysian Element

In the forefront of these concepts is Dionysus. Dionysus symbolizes the primal, instinctual, and chaotic forces within us. This aspect is tied to emotions, spontaneity, ecstasy, and the pursuit of pleasure. It’s a wild and irrational force, blurring boundaries and embracing the more elemental aspects of existence. The Dionysian impulse calls for liberation, uninhibited self-expression, and a connection to our primal nature. Art forms that evoke strong emotional responses, such as music, dance, and theatre, often encapsulate this Dionysian element.

The Apollonian Element

Apollo represents order, rationality, harmony, and measured control. It’s associated with reason, intellect, clarity, and a sense of structure. The Apollonian impulse seeks to impose form, discipline, and restraint on the chaotic and instinctual Dionysian forces. This balance is seen in art forms that emphasize symmetry, proportion, balance, and logical coherence, such as classical architecture, literature, and certain types of visual arts.

Dionysus in the Orphic Tradition

To better understand Dionysus, it’s helpful to explore his role in Orphic myths and beliefs.Dionysus holds a central role in the Orphic tradition, a mystical branch of ancient Greek religion centred on the teachings and songs of the mythical poet Orpheus. In their theogonic account, the world begins with Chronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity), who create the cosmic egg. Within this egg, Phanes, a primordial deity of procreation and the generator of life, is born, often identified with Dionysus and Eros.

Zeus, after several generations of gods, eventually swallows Phanes, incorporating the full power of creation within himself. He then fathers Dionysus-Zagreus with Persephone, intending him to be his successor. However, the Titans, tricked by Hera, kill Zagreus. In the aftermath, humanity is created from the ashes of the Titans, and Zeus fathers a second Dionysus, sometimes identified with Apollo. This second Dionysus is seen as a saviour figure, leading humans on the path to purification and immortality. And thus humans are said to contain within them both the divine element of Dionysus and the earthly element of the Titans. 

Dionysus as a Solar God

Dionysus also has significant ties with the sun. In the Orphic tradition, Dionysus (or Zagreus) is often identified with the sun (“Helios Dionysos”), signifying divine or spiritual light. This connection is made due to his inherent aspects of death and rebirth, mirroring the sun’s daily cycle. The association of Dionysus with the vine, which needs the sun to grow, further connects him with solar symbolism.

In the Orphic tradition, Dionysus and Apollo are sometimes seen as two sides of the same coin, representing the spiritual (Dionysian) and rational (Apollonian) parts of the soul. 

The question of whether we have become more Dionysian or Apollonian may not matter in itself. What’s important is recognizing that these two archetypes exist within us, and both deserve due respect. Recognizing this duality is a step towards understanding ourselves better.

Misguided Connection through Overindulgence

In a previous blog post on Darkness vs Illusion, I discussed the idea that there is no true darkness. Even the seemingly profane aspects of life are infused with a certain sacrality that warrants honour and attention. Overconsumption of alcohol, for instance, can be seen as a misguided attempt by people to connect with a space they feel deeply detached from. This act often produces a peculiar sense of shame, a need to forget, and an urge to compartmentalize the experience.

From an esoteric viewpoint, the effects of modern spirits seem to have intensified, likely because they are more distanced from the energies they are meant to evoke. These spirits, sometimes heavily processed or refined, contrast with those of earlier times, which were derived more directly from the grains and fruits of the land.

A significant number of individuals partake in heavy, yet joyless, drinking. This overindulgence often represents a misguided attempt to reconnect with our primal nature. Yet the true path forward requires intention and wisdom. Those who begin their journey from a place of restraint or inhibition often remain stuck in that state. They fail to seize the opportunity to immerse themselves in the experience, resulting in a sort of morose drunkenness. Conversely, those who start from a place of joy and exuberance are simply nourishing energies already within them. They are nurturing something that already thrives within them. This brings to mind the image of Dionysus leading those who are already revelling in life, taking their hands and guiding them forward in the dance of existence. The antidote to joylessness isn’t more alcohol, but rather the release of the energy we already possess. To truly engage with Dionysian energy, we must begin from a place of exuberance.

Alcohol-induced unconsciousness is the antithesis of consciousness. Yet even that can serve a purpose. Apollo, often seen as the lord of consciousness, represents a somewhat narrow sphere of life. Consciousness, while a rare and valuable trait among living beings, requires support and occasional renewal. This renewal process involves allowing the murky, shadowy, and uncontrollable aspects of our psyche to surface into the realm of consciousness. If we only retain the conscious layer, it becomes sterile, much like the austere, almost virginal energies of the twins of Leto, Artemis and Apollo.

These energies alone do not allow for the rawness and fullness of existence to move in and disrupt what needs to be disrupted in our consciousness. They also maintain the walls that nurture our ever-discerning, ever-evaluating, and ever-judging energy. Dionysus, on the other hand, offers a sense of absorption and unity, a promise of restoration after a descent into unconsciousness, much like the renewal that comes with spring after a few months of winter, or waking from a deep sleep. This represents an opportunity for renewal and rejuvenation, a chance to emerge refreshed after a period of deep, profound rest.

Dionysus: The Embodiment of Fluidity

Dionysus was also associated with fluidity and boundary dissolution. Dionysus frequently shape-shifts in myths, embodying his fluid identity. He appears as both animal and human, male and female, god and mortal. This fluidity lets Dionysus transcend all boundaries. It is integral to his identity as a deity who exists between, and transcends, regular categories and states of being.

We must accept the inevitability of change. Forces exist that prevent consciousness from remaining static, unaltered, and focused. When we voluntarily shift, morphing our shape into different forms, we pre-empt the inevitable end of our current form. Shape-shifting and rebirth are the only constants in our existence as immortal beings—we must perpetually change forms. This is the solution the soul offers. It rejects the concept of itself as an eternal being, choosing to experience its eternity through the myriad forms it assumes, rejoicing in this constant renewal. This renewal is achieved through surrendering to the destructive chaos that recreates by tearing down.

Dionysus’s influence extends beyond alcohol as we understand it today. The ancient world’s “wine” was often a sacred mixture of various herbs and plant spirits unified within the dissolving power of the alcoholic substance.

This energy stirs human consciousness, creating a sense of rush—an altered state induced by the plants that guide the human soul, shifting it and leading it through upheavals and excitement. It takes us through a state of voluntary possession to restore and revitalize us. Dionysus’s energy is still relevant and sought after by humanity. Our attempts to reconnect with this energy are evident in re-emerging celebrations like full moon rituals, where people seek to be enraptured and possessed by intoxicating energies, music, human presence, sexual ecstasy, and the moonlight. Dionysus sublimates these energies into the renewal of the human condition. Despite his often violent or dramatic effects, he compassionately strives to extend human life and joy as far as possible.

Where We Must Tear Down Walls, and Where Not

Dionysian influences are largely impersonal, often tied to transgressive experiences that challenge the confines of our personal identities. Our existence as individuals relies on continually outlining our presence within the tangible reality. This boundary dissolution is a significant element of Dionysian influence.

And so, we could say that the practical wisdom from Dionysus is to evaluate where are the boundaries that we need to tear down and where are the boundaries that are serving us. So, this is also understanding how the Apollonian energy and Dionysian  energy supplement each other, because, what is concealed behind walls will eventually starve itself it will not be able to connect to life at wide, but what is immersed in constant drunkenness will destroy itself, it will simply deteriorate in an orgy of gluttony. The critical question, then, is determining where we can beneficially tear down walls, and where boundaries need to remain to empower our individuality.

Harnessing Dionysian Energy: Practical Approaches

So what are some practical ways to embrace Dionysian influence? The answer lies in moderation and intention. Indulge more in certain instances, and to drink less continually. Instead of taming and condensing this energy, incorporate ecstatic Dionysian experiences periodically and ritualistically. Find safe spaces to let loose. Open yourself to possession by music, dance, nature, sexuality – whatever channels primal aliveness. By honouring Dionysus wisely, we renew ourselves. As Rumi captured the Dionysian spirit beautifully: 

I used to be shy.

You made me sing.

I used to refuse things at table.

Now I shout for more wine.

In somber dignity, I used to sit

On my mat and pray.

Now children run through 

And make faces at me.

On Children Running Through, translation by Coleman Banks