Here is a text I wrote in 2008 which I delivered as a monologue before our production of “The Bacchae” by Euripides. I was originally supposed to play Dionysus but the greek was too dense for me. The director had me play “Old Dionysus” like a retired rock star. I came out alone before the play and delivered this speech. Then I played a Phrygian tune (the mode associated with Dionysus) on a melodica and buggered off.
By Blaine L. Reininger
How can modern people understand “the gods”? We tend to think about them in one of two ways. They are either familiar fictional heroes like Superman, or Spiderman, or even Bugs Bunny, or they represent some Jungian archetype or psychological metaphor. Almost no one today (with the exception of certain interesting and strange groups who like to wear hoods at night) believes that the ancient immortal gods are real beings who can and do enter human history to effect change.
A god, or deity can be defined as “an immortal being believed to have more than natural attributes and powers requiring human worship” By definition, a god would have to be so superior to a mortal human as to be almost impossible for him to conceive. Phillip K. Dick illustrated this point by saying that humanity was like a group of crabs living in a cloudy aquarium tended by an often neglectful human owner, almost completely unaware of the being or beings who tended their habitat, seeing that they were fed, regulating the temperature, etc. These crabs would find it utterly impossible to understand the motivations or desires of such advanced beings. Similarly, if the human owner wished to somehow manifest amongst these crabs, he would constantly be frustrated in his attempts to communicate, coming up against the wall of crab understanding. He would find himself required to translate complex information into terms of hunger, fear, threats of violence, and desire to reproduce.
Imagine then, the distaste and frustration which must have been felt by a being like Dionysus, compelled to manifest among the ancient Mediterranean peoples.
In my own research into world religion, I have increasingly come to harbor the notion that the gods and goddesses of mythology were and continue to be real beings. If only for reasons of entertainment, I believe that they were either
- Highly advanced human or extraterrestrial beings, elevated to divine status by technology or profound spiritual achievement, whose activities were only dimly remembered by the less advanced peoples of their times and set down as stories passed on by word of mouth. Or
- Transcendental beings who entered the world of phenomena only by means of a human medium, in the manner proposed by Aleister Crowley and practitioners of Voodoo.
In assuming the first case to be true, we find interesting parallels to the story of Dionysus in other religions, notably the story of Krishna in Hinduism. If, as Dionysus himself asserts, he came “from the East” then it would stand to reason that he would first visit India. In India, known as Krishna, he also enjoyed the company of many women (known as “Gopis”) in natural surroundings where he would play music for them and they would dance for days. Other “solar” gods whose stories are similar to that of Dionysus include, Attis of Phrygia, Osiris, Mithras, Balder and many others.
In the second case, the gods’ manifestation into the world of events through their “possession” of human worshippers, we can find one explanation for the longevity of the cult of Dionysus. The Bacchic cult lasted for at least 2000 years, a longevity not easily explained if it consisted only of wine-powered orgies out in the woods, like an endless series of Woodstocks. The direct experience of the divine through possession of a worshipper’s mind and body would provide a tangible and powerful foundation through which to understand and survive the many shocks and exhilarations of living, one not easily provided by religions whose only understanding is cerebral, not visceral. Such a religion would be difficult to suppress, and, indeed, the similar cults of Santoria and Voodoo continue to prosper in spite of the historic efforts of the Catholic church to erase them.
In conclusion, I must admit that in attempting to understand the gods, I have embarked upon a futile quest. I will never know the gods by containing them within my understanding. I, like my other crab colleagues must content myself with what is possible for me to know, until such time as one of the gods sees fit to reveal himself in our midst again. I thank you for your kind attention.