Dancing for the God of Wine

Bacchus is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Dionysus.  Jupiter had a son by his priestess Semele, who he named Bacchus, and one day some of the Titans kidnapped him by luring him away with marvelous toys.  While baby Bacchus was gazing at his own image in a mirror, the Titans sliced his throat with a sacrificial knife, and then they cut him up into pieces and first boiled, then roasted him.  Jupiter was attracted by the smell of cooking, and when he realized what was being cooked, he killed the Titans with a thunderbolt and then he resurrected Bacchus.  Man was born from the ashes of these burned Titans.

Bacchus was celebrated at many Roman festivals and his statue was carried to these ceremonies.  Behind the god Bacchus were bands of men dressed as satyrs, the half-man, half-goat creatures of ancient legend, renowned for their love of wine, their sexual excesses, and their loyalty to Bacchus, the god of Mysteries and the Vine.  Their lewd dances were preformed to honor the god of excess, savagery, ecstasy, who was the embodiment of fear, symbolized by the exotic, the irrational and the savage.

Bacchus became the protector of those who did not belong to conventional society and thus he symbolized everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.  His followers freed themselves from their normal boring routines, embracing madness and ecstasy with lots of wine.  He was the ultimate party god who brought an end to care and worry.  His followers were mostly composed of women who became possessed by frenzy, they dressed in fawn skins, they raised the Bacchic cry, to the musical beat of tambourines.  The cry of the Bacchae (the women followers of Bacchus) reveals a pure and mystic joy in Bacchic worship.  These worshippers of Bacchus were the Maenads, women who reached a heightened level of ecstasy through excessive drinking.  The drinking allowed these women (and the few men who participated) to achieve a spiritual release which they were otherwise not allowed to do, because of the norms that society dictated.

Religious worship allowed this cult of revelers to be exempted from certain rules, so they could honor their god Bacchus by partaking in earthly delights in the mountains ignoring any consequences.  The Bacchanalia, a procession of satyrs and overly drunken women, were happy because they were blessed with the knowledge of the divine mysteries, as they attended drunken orgies.  Devotees of Bacchus whipped themselves into a frenzy of intoxication, and Bacchus loosened their tongues as they partook in his wine, which allowed them the freedom to say and do what they wished.

The Bacchantes are maddened by the inspiring power of the god of the vine, but eventually their senses are restored to them, so that they can celebrate life with Bacchus their god.  They are lying on the floor, just waking up from a deep sleep, as the flute and the drums start playing.  One girl is awake, she wiggled her body around on the floor and then begins singing a song, which causes the others to rise up off the floor, wiping the cozy sleep out of their eyes, shaking their arms and hands over their bodies in a sensual manner.  They moved their heads back and forth and from side to side, so their hair was moving all about unrestrained.  Then they started dancing in unison with each other, moving rhythmically about, as they joined in singing the song to praise their god.  Each girl wide awake dancing, letting their hair flow loose and becoming one with nature and now singing.

“Play your flute while I sing my song.
My god awakens as I wear my thong.
An amazing shout of ecstasy is all around.
We sprang from sleep and let our hair down.
My drums sound like thunder, beating the ground.
Bacchus rules the night, he hears my every sound.
Bacchus excites madness which is not odd.
Let my frenzied dancing, awaken my god.
We have loosened our garments and hitched them up.
We get our inspiration drinking wine from this cup.
I’m here because I have this wonderful amazing dream.
That you will take my loving body and make me scream.
May my gift of dancing bring you joy.
I drink your wine, I will not to annoy.
I will tame wild creatures, by nursing them.
My body belongs to you, come lift my hem.
Bacchus your generosity has me awed.
Let my frenzied dancing, awaken my god.”

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