The God of Wine and Ecstasy

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bacchusSince bread and wine are traditionally bound together as symbols of life-giving nourishment from the gods, it is not surprising that Demeter, the goddess of the grain, was often worshipped together with Bacchus, the god of wine.

Like other gods of vegetation Bacchus was believed to have died a violent death, but to have been brought back to life again. Zeus’ wife, the goddess Hera, hated this child born of a human mother and plotted his destruction. Knowing how she felt, Zeus entrusted young Bacchus to the care of guards that he thought he could trust. Hera, however, bribed the guards, and by amusing the boy with a mirror – which he stared into, becoming fascinated with his own image – she lured him underground into a trap. The Titans, his grandparents’ generation whom Zeus had defeated in a great war and imprisoned in the earth, were now co-conspirators with Hera. They ambushed the boy, tore him to pieces, boiled his flesh, and ate it. But Athena, the goddess of Wisdom, who had shared in Hera’s treachery, now repented and saved the boy’s Heart. She brought it to Zeus, and confessed the whole sordid story. Enraged, Zeus blasted the Titans with a mighty thunderbolt, reducing them to ashes. He was then able to nurture the heart of Bacchus, and from the heart the boy was reborn.

Out of the ashes of the Titans, Zeus had Prometheus craft the Human Race. A composite creature, our lower nature is made of the remains of the Titans themselves (stardust), who had become wicked and distorted because of their long and bitter involvement in the depths of the material world to which Zeus had banished them. Our higher nature, however, comes from the burned remains of the god Bacchus, pieces of whom the Titans had devoured. It is for this reason that the Mysteries taught that suicide is a horrific crime, since every human being contains a portion of the god, and thus our body is his property and his temple and must always be treated reverentially.

Zeus, a god at the level of Heaven, had mated with a woman of Earth. and from this union came the god of ecstasy, Bacchus, who represents the higher nature of humankind, i.e., the Soul. Our Soul is of both worlds, existing between Heaven and Earth.

But Bacchus became spellbound by his image in the mirror, hypnotized by the illusory reflection of reality, and thus he was ensnared by the Titans who cut him up into fragments and scattered the pieces amongst themselves (which means, symbolically, that they scattered them everywhere). In just this way the human soul is hypnotized and ensnared by the fascinating world of matter, and is fragmented and devoured by life, toward which it disperses its scattered attention. But all is not lost! When Zeus saw that the Titans, in a degraded caricature of their original generative purpose, were now scattering pieces of the divine idea throughout the lower world, he immediately destroyed them so that the divine idea would not be completely lost. From the ashes (dust) he created human beings, whose purpose is to preserve and nurture the Soul, their little piece of Bacchus, and eventually release it from the lower world of Matter back into the Heavens.