SHIVA AND DIONYSUS
The similarities between the two Gods lie in their essence as of the traditional national religions, spiritual practices aimed at celebrating the divine aspect of human’s natural instincts and the deep communion shared by the “human animal” with savage life and the entire cosmos. Dionysus and Shiva are gods of vegetation, protectors of animals and trees, dressed with the skins of wild animals, living in forests and mountains. They are both “archetypal images of indestructible life”, personifications of that vital energy, known by the Greeks as Zoe: nature’s constant and endless drive to re-generate and maintain life. This vital energy is conventionally represented by symbols associated to both cults, like the Bull, the Phallus (or Lingam in case of Shiva) and the Snake, which identify both deities as fertility gods, personifications of the fertilising male principle. But both Shiva and Dionysus are also androgynous young gods, eternal adolescents with both male and female characteristics, spirits of playful energy, tricksters with creative, destructive and transformative powers, which reveal them as ambivalent gods, shape-shifters, expressing paradox, ambiguity and coincidence of opposites as the ultimate essence of the divine.
This ambivalence is mirrored also in their identity as liminal gods, masters of the altered state of consciousness, as both cultic practices (consisting mainly in initiation rituals) revolve around the ecstatic experience reached through collective trance dancing, ingestion of psychoactive substances and sacred erotic practices. “One must practice collective dancing. Rhythm gives rise to a state of trance which brings humans nearer to Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer”, recites a Shivaite text quoted by Danielou. Shiva is often portrayed holding a percussive instrument (a repetitive beats device!) and he is commonly associated with bhang, a drink made with Indian hemp, and the practice of Tantrism, a tradition of erotico-magic sexuality. On the other side Dionysus is known as the “god of dancing”, “the loud one” and “god of wine” (which was commonly mixed with different herbs to “bring forth the gods and ancestral spirits”). He is celebrated with “rapturous group experiences, featuring dancing, costumes, music, wine and ecstatic release out in nature”, often including a very open approach to sexuality, as evidenced by many “explicit” vase paintings and literary references. This has led to the ancient concept of “orgies”, orgazein originally meant “celebrations of Zoe”, that vital energy manifesting as Eros, or as the enthusiasmos of the dance, whose appearance during the rituals was invoked (and provoked) as a sign of the presence of the god himself among his followers.
The practice of these “techniques of ecstasy” often lead Shiva and Dionysus to be accused of teaching the secrets of wisdom to the poor and humble, for they can be practised regardless of the level of knowledge or the social position. Therefore the profound wisdom, which is possible to acquire through the ecstatic experience and consisting of the realisation of the deep interconnectedness of All, is theoretically available to all sorts of people. This is why both Shiva and Dionysus are known as “liberating gods” and “healers”, granting salvation from ignorance and deliverance from angst and fear. A good example of this liberating power is the image of the Dance of Shiva, where the god is portrayed dancing on a dwarf-demon whose name translate as “forgetful and ignorant demon”, symbolising the triumph over unawareness through the dance.
The followers of Shiva and Dionysus are known in the Indian and Greek cultures as sharing the same characteristics of the two gods: playfulness, joy of living, harmony with nature, but also a certain ambiguous “dark” aspect, as they are referred to as “demonic children” or “heavenly delinquents”. As Danielou informs us, in Shivaite tradition the god’s companions are described as “freakish, adventurous, vagabond, delinquent and wild young people, with unkept hair, shouting in the storm, dancing, singing”. In Greece, the poet Hesiod describes the followers of Dionysus as “joyous vagabonds of heaven, dancers, musicians, acrobats, practical jokers and lazy. They press the grape and get drunk, they are perpetually overexcited, jolly fellows in search of good fortune”.
From a social point of view, Shiva and Dionysus, are considered protectors of those who do not belong to conventional society, those who do not live a “normal” life and outlaws. Their essence as symbols of the divinity of the laws of nature, in fact, tend to create a strong contrast with the “city religions”, the institutional religious practice aimed at the divinisation of man-made laws, based on civic conformity and the repression of natural instincts. This is the case in both Olympian religion (in the case of Dionysus) and the Aryan-vedic religion (in the case of Shiva), which tend to place these “rebellious gods” outside their official pantheon of gods. Historically, the periods of cultural evolution are those in which these two opposing yet complementary tendencies find a way to co-exist peacefully and respectfully, as in the case of Dionysian worship during the Hellenistic period. But when this balance is not achieved the result is persecution, repression and demonization of the national traditional religions.
Therefore the reappearance of Shiva and Dionysus like cults seems to be a characteristic of those periods in which, after a phase of repression, humans realise that they have lost the awareness of their profound interconnection with nature and spontaneously return to those beliefs and practices able to renew this awareness. For the historical moment in which we are living, often identified with the last phase of what the Hindus call Kali Yuga, or the Age of Conflicts, this tendency seems to be confirmed even by the ancient text Linga Purana: “At the end of the Kali Yuga, the god Shiva will appear to re-establish the right path in secret and hidden form” (1.40.12). From this point of view worshiping Dionysus & Shiva could be one of these “secret and hidden archetypes forms” under which the cult of nature of the national traditional religions reappears, as a way for modern people to re-establish the link with a very ancient stream of knowledge, a sort of “The Universal Knowledge Of The True Reality” whose teachings potentially constitute “the seed of the Golden Age of the future of humankind”.
The Aryan myth says that Dionysus had gone to India 6,5 thousand years earlier before Alexander the Great and popularized the culture and arts to the residents of that area.
In the first image of the Museum: at the holy Delos island, House of the Masks. Detail of the mosaic floor. Represented God Dionysus seated on the back of the panther. 2nd century. B.C.
Στην πρώτη Εικόνα του Μουσείου: ιεράν Δήλος, Οικία με τα Προσωπεία. Λεπτομέρεια του ψηφιδωτού δαπέδου. Παριστάνεται ο Διόνυσος καθισμένος στη ράχη πάνθηρα. 2ος αι. π.Χ.