Hades-Dionysus, intoxication's high!
                                                                   Beware of his pitfalls or you, too, shall die.



Contrary to popular opinion Dionysus is not merely the god of revelry, indulgence, erotic compulsion and intoxication, but of ecstatic rapture.  We see this rapture, or rising up, depicted in the tarot trump Judgement or The Aeon.  Dionysus, rooted in the earth and ecstasy, is the prototype of shamanic descent and the dying and resurrecting godmen.

This vegetation god also presides over or underlies prophecy, tragedy, ecstasy, and the violation of limits.  He is the irrational power that allows us to explore our potential for emotional and behavioral extremes.  The Irrational forces us to suspend logic, washes out the firm footing from beneath us, floods us with emotion, rips away false surety, claims us utterly, shakes us to the core, and sweeps us into heavenly heights and underworld depths inexorably full of the sense of mystery, the Unknown.

The vine and ivy were sacred to this god; his sacrifices consisted of goats and pigs.  The title "Dithyrambos," means "twice born." Stories of his birth have Zeus either swallowing his embryo or heart or sewing his embryo into his thigh for gestation.  As Zeus' son he shares his will to power and creative drive.  His childhood was spent in innocence and happiness among the nymphs, satrys, herdsmen, and vine-tenders of Nysa. His Artemisian nurses are linked to the moon and lunar consciousness of the dark. Dionysus was born of fire and nursed by rain, transformed by the hard burning heat that ripens the grapes and the water that keeps the plant alive.  Dionysus is the god of all life-giving fluids.

Dionysus 'died' with the coming of the cold. He experienced a terrible death; he was driven mad, torn to pieces, in some stories by the Titans, in others by Hera's order. He is followed by his female devotees, the Maenads who are often seen in an ecstatic frenzy.  He invented the vine from which wine is made -- he rules wine, drama, and revelry. He had power over life, death, and resurrection. He also had the formidable power of creating madness. He was a God who could be found often in darkness, but sometimes in light as well.  Mardi Gras, Spring Break, and the Playboy lifestyle with its orgiastic rites, owes its soul and phallic spirit to Hades-Dionysus as any follower of Dionysus can hope to be seized by the god in an ecstatic frenzy.

Heraclitus says,'Hades and Dionysus, for whom they go mad and rage, are one and the same.' Dionysus was worshiped in Hellenistic times (after 332 BC) from Italy to Greece and into Egypt and the Middle East.   The Greek Dionysus is mentioned in Linear B tablets from roughly 1,200 BC. Herodotus describes initiation into the mysteries of Dionysus in the fifth century BC. [Herodotus Histories book 4, 78 80], Euripides' play about him, The Bacchae, was first performed about 400 BC.

The Maenads, (Bacchantes) were Dionysus' female votaries who accompanied him when he traveled. Frenzied with wine they rushed through woods and over mountains uttering sharp cries, waving pine-cone-tipped wands (thyrsi). They danced and sang exultant songs, wearing fawn-skins over their robes. Nothing could stop them. They would tear to pieces the wild creatures they met and devour the bloody shreds of flesh.

The worship of Dionysus was centered in divergent ideas; of freedom and joy and of savage brutality.  The reason that Dionysus was so different at one time from another was because of the double nature of wine, his symbol.  He was man's benefactor and he was man's destroyer, man's blessing sometimes his ruin.  The double-nature is also reflected in his sexual ambiguity.

Due to the diversity of influences from the other gods, he easily gets “taken out of context.” Which explains why he habitually gets torn to pieces—as Jesus is continually crucified—only to have him disappear, and reappear with a new advent (rebirth). Of all the gods, Dionysus is least understood.  He’s therefore best portrayed as god of wine, which gets perverted when he becomes the Roman's Bacchus, the god of  drunkenness, hence the god of excess. Dionysus abhorred getting drunk.

As humans we tend to go to extremes, and we obsessively lose sight of the “overall picture.” And in our endeavors, be it work, sports, religion, drugs—good or bad, etc.—we tend to get fixated or drunk on what we’re doing, with compulsive fanaticism. Anything which like wine can lead to pleasure but also disorientation, unrestrained action, and dire consequences can be seen in this way.  We call this neurosis or, addictive behavior, and it gives rise to the term “inflation,” being full of hot air. In its extremes physical or emotional intoxication is an escapist journey to oblivion.

Robert A. Johnson’s book, Ecstasy, Understanding the Psychology of Joy, is written specifically about Dionysus and the “ecstatic experience,” and its loss in our western culture.  Another excellent book is Craving for Ecstasy, (Milkman and Sunderwirth, 1987).  Stan and Christina Grof write on addiction as a spiritual emergency (Stormy Search for the Self, 1990) and divine madness, spiritual emergence and renewal (Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis, 1989).

Himself a mystery god, and god of vegetation, Dionysus was also initiated into the mysteries of Demeter, the goddess of the grain: the Eleusinian mysteries or mysteries of the dead, involving the afterlife. Though somewhat effeminate, Dionysus is essentially the masculine counterpart of Persephone.  In earlier accounts, Dionysus was the son of Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, or even the son of Demeter (as Iacchus).  As mother and daughter the two were inseparable, suggesting a closer affinity to Demeter, hence the god of bread and wine, as is Jesus in Matthew 26:26-30 Mark 14:22-26.  The mysteries of Demeter also involved the “secrets of the couch.”

Karl Kerenyi, in his book on Eleusis, clearly shows that many ancients revealed what the secret was, beginning with Euripedes in some of his plays. The secret was that Dionysus and Hades are the same. This meant that Dionysus is also the Lord of the Dead, the Lord of the Underworld.  In modern psychological terms, it is the difference between relating to this dynamic through its pathological aspect (addiction; drunkeness and their relation to a hellish underworld of criminality, violence, greed and death) or its transpersonal aspect (ecstasy, bliss, rapture, transcendence or elevation to 'Olympus,' realm of the gods).

The sufferings which the god was supposed to endure in winter led him to be associated with Demeter in the mysteries of Eleusis. His spring festival, the Great Dionysia, was open to all the world. The procession of followers carried a replica of the god and replicas of his phallus.  The ceremony became more elaborate each year.  Drama developed out of his worship.

Theater became the scene of splendid dramatic performances. The poets were the prophets and priests. Actors and singers took part in the sacred performances. All ordinary business was stopped, no one could be put into prison, and spectators along with the writers and the performers, were engaged in an act of worship whose purpose was to purify the emotions. The greatest poetry in Greece was written in tragic plays and was never equaled except by Shakespeare. Comedies were produced but tragedies far outnumbered them.

Like Persephone Dionysus died with the coming of the cold. Unlike her, his death was terrible: he was torn to pieces, in some stories by the Titans, in others by Hera's orders. He was always brought back to life. He presented death and resurrection which first centered in Persephone, but she held power in death as queen of the Underworld.  Dionysus was never thought of as a power in the kingdom of the dead.  He only rescued his mother from it.

Dionysus is intrinsic to the Eleusinian Mysteries of healing and transformation.  Dionysus is linked to the Maenads and other female companions, as Krishna is to the Gopis. Dionysus was Zeus's youngest immortal son. In a group of the tales concerning him, he was born of a mortal mother. In other stories Dionysus was held to be a son of Persephone, and received the surname of Chthonios, "the subterranean,"another link to the world of the dead.

In this form, Dionysus may have literally been a psychedelic which springs up from beneath the earth, either the magic mushroom or ergot (growing on grain stored underground), used in the secret mystical brew, the kykeon.  This potent magical brew produced visions and an experience of metaphorical death and rebirth, emulating the dying and resurrecting god of the grain.  Psychedelic experience often contains imagery of dismemberment in the early stages of ego-death, and often a passage through the underworld.  The afterglow of the experiential journey is perceived as a renewal or rebirth.

One of the names given to the child's father is that of Hades. When Persephone had eaten the pomegranate seed she left her husband only reluctantly or, according to another tale, she never left him at all. She was honored and sacrosanct queen of the Realm of the Dead.  This represents, however, only one aspect of what was, in fact, a great god. But we know that Persephone's husband was also called Zeus Katachthonios, "subterranean Zeus", and that it was Zeus who seduced his daughter. As Katachthonios, Zeus was the father of the subterranean Dionysus, and in the same quality he was also called Zagreus, "the great hunter". This was also one of the names of his son.  Dionysus had many & various forms. Even though he did not actually appear as a mask - carried by men or hung up to be worshipped - he had a peculiar, fascinating mask-face.

Ancient portrayals show him holding in his hand the kantharos, a wine-jar with large handles, and occupying the place where one would expect to see Hades. On a vase by the archaic master Xenokles we see, on one side, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, each with his emblems of power, the last has his head turned back to front and, on the other side, the subterranean Dionysus welcoming Persephone, who is obviously being sent to him by Hermes and her mother.  Dionysus is striding forward to meet his bride: a bearded, dark bridegroom, with the kantharos in his hand, against a background of grapes. Or is this the scene of parting? If so, one sees that the goddess will return to this spouse.

In most tales, however, Dionysos appears as a tender boy, the son of his mother. She, indeed, immediately disappears and is soon replaced by loving nurses. We can recognize the two aspects that Zeus also displayed: on the one hand, of the father and husband, and on the other, of the son of the divine child. Throughout mythology other beings besides Zeus and Dionysos had this double aspect. But no other god so much appeared to be a second Zeus as Dionysos did: a Zeus of women, admittedly, whereas the Olympian was much more a Zeus of men. The more characteristic animals of these  two gods were the serpent and the bull, both of which appeared in the Mediterranean earlier than the horse.

The tale that Zeus mated with Persephone's mother, and later with Persephone herself, his own daughter in the form of a serpent, has been preserved only in an Orphic story, and only in a few fragments. The place of these marriages, and the births that resulted from them, was a cave. The goddess by whom Zeus begat Persphone was originally his mother Rhea. Demeter appears as a third party interposed between the mother and daughter, both of whom appeared earlier in Greece than she did. She is described as Rhea's alter ego, yet she is also identified with Persephone. Zeus begat Dionysos, so it is expressly stated, by Demeter or by Persephone.

After his descent to Hades' underworld to retrieve his lost love Eurydice, Orpheus became a priest of Dionysus, suffering the same death as the god.  His journey to the underworld associated him with occult knowledge.  The Orphic cult was a mystery worship that offered spiritual guidance along a path of self-purification and preparation of the soul for life after death.  Orphic teachings sought to awaken the divine spark of potential.  Initiates consumed a meal of bread and wine (the body and blood of Dionysus), expecting to be eternally united with the god in the next world.  Orphism espoused reincarnation, and viewed Hades as the place of renewal and rebirth.

His singing and lyre-playing, rivet any form of wildness, even the forces of the Netherworld. Eurydice symbolizes the hero's soul and is a part of his completed existence. The passion and the hero's absolute attachment to her, keep her prisoner in the levels of desire without an escape at upper levels where she belongs. Finally through the snake bite in her leg, she manages to escape from earth and walks across to the Netherworld.

Orpheus, descends to Hades, inconsolable, in order to search for the part of his self that he considers to be essential for his integration inside his incarnate nature. He carries the lyre (his art), the Apollonian light of the soul in the darkness of his personal unconscious, enchanting even Persephone, giver of life and death. Nevertheless, his conscious is pointed upwards, to the world where he belongs. And although Persephone has forbidden it, Orpheus breaks his promise and because of his adulterated desire, looks at Eurydice and points his conscious to the Kingdoms of the unconscious. His first try was a failure. The Gates are closed now. The chance comes only once. If you don't take advantage of it, it disappears. Orpheus retires in a cave (7 months) and tries to reorientate his self in connection to the values of life.

His passion to retrieve Eurydice is replaced by his passion to work. He establishes the Orphical Sacraments and teaches people about the cause of the things (the cause of existence lies in the sound). He goes up to the high mountain of initiation (Paggeo) in order to praise Apollo. But by turning his consciousness exclusively towards Eurydice, he ignores the expelled tensions.  That which he should have brought in balance inside him, tears him totally apart by identifying him with Zagreas.

This supreme sacrifice gives him immortality.  The hero who takes the responsibility of serving the world, ought to shatter his consciousness and recompose it into a new universal realization of the world. Orpheus symbolizes the supreme balance of the soul between its Apollonian and Dionysian sight. He is a spiritual hero. He is the hard journey of the spirit and its descent into the material. His mistakes though, are balanced by his sacrifice and contribution. And spirit's shining lives in the Orphical Sacraments, in the magic of sound, in our need to sing and praise the divine existence within our self.

The Orphic story also named the toys of the new ruler of the world.  These toys became symbols of those rites of initiation which were first undergone by the divine boy, the first Dionysus.  Dice, ball, top, golden apples, bull-roarer and wool played a part in the ceremony of initiation or in the tale itself. This tale is now told only in the version adopted by the followers of Orpheus, who introduced the Titans into the story. There is, however, another version according to which it was not necessarily the Titans who behaved so cruelly to the son of Zeus and Persephone, but simply "earth-born beings".  It is known, however, that the Kouretes were included amongst such beings. It is also known that of the sons of the Great Mother the two older ones were always hostile to the third. The number of the Titans who murdered the first Dionysos is expressly stated as two.

In the Orphic continuation of the story, the Kouretes were replaced, by theTitans. It was told that they surprised the child-god as he was playing with the toys. Jealous Hera had instigated this: it was she who on a previous occasion had sent the Kouretes against Epaphos, the Dionysos-like son of Zeus and the cow-shaped Io. The Titans had  whitened their faces with chalk. They came like spirits of the dead from the Underworld, to which Zeus had banished them. They attacked the playing boy, tore him into seven pieces and threw these into a cauldron standing on a tripod. When the flesh was boiled, they began roasting it over the fire on seven spits.

In another tale it seems that when Zeus smote the Titans with his lightning they had already eaten the flesh of Dionysos. They must have been hurled back into the Underworld, since in the Orphic hymn they are invoked as the subterranean ancestors of mankind. But from the steam caused by the flash of lightning, which set them on fire, was formed a sort of ash. The ash turned into that substance from which the followers of Orpheus taught that men were made.  This teaching, however, is of much later date than the story of the sufferings of the horned child-god.

The story was also told: The boiled limbs of the first Dionysos, the son of Demeter, went into the earth. The earth-born beings had torn him to pieces and boiled him, but Demeter gathered the limbs together. This may, however, be a story concerning the creation of the vine. We learnt from the followers of Orpheus that Dionysos's last gift was wine, and indeed he himself by then assumed the name Oinos, "Wine". It was Zeus who brought fulfillment, but it was Dionysos who completed the fulfillment or, to  use a modern expression, "set the crown on the world's creation". But this notion, too, is of later date. In the original tale the boiled limbs of the god were burnt (with the exception of a single limb), and we may presume that the vine arose from the ashes.

All tales spoke of this exception of one limb, which was devoured neither by the Titans nor by the fire nor by the earth. A goddess was present at the meal in later tales, the goddess Pallas Athene, and she hid the limb in a covered basket. Zeus took charge of it. It was said to have been Dionysos's heart. This statement contains a pun.  It is also said that Zeus entrusted the kradiaios Dionysos to the goddess Hipta, so that she might carry her head. "Hipta" was a name in Asia Minor for the great mother Rhea.

The phallic nature of Dionysus is revealed in the double meaning of the word Kradiaios.  It can be derived from the kradia, "heart", and from the krade, "fig-tree", in which latter derivation it means an object made of fig-wood. The basket on Hipta's head was a liknon, a winnowing-fan, such as was carried on the head of festal processions and contained a phallus under a pile of fruit, Dionysos himself having made the phallus of fig-wood. It also reported that the Liknites, "he in the winnowing fan", was repeatedly "awakened" by the Thyiades, the women who served Dionysos on Mount Parnassus.

Like the later story of Jesus, Dionysus is linked to salvation as far back as the archaic myths. Dionysus went down into Hades, the place of the dead, and brought his mother back to life. In Italy, in the third or fourth century BC, texts written on gold plates and buried with the dead, describe the souls of Dionysus  followers in the afterlife, drinking from one particular cool pool that will give them divinity and eternal life.  Dionysus was celebrated in civic religion and in mysteries. The Mysteries of Dionysus included initiation by bathing -- baptism, a sacred meal, a myth about the death and resurrection of the god, and salvation.  Dionysus was identified with the lamb, and called "King of Kings," "Only Begotten Son," "Savior," "Redeemer," "Sin bearer," "Anointed One,"  the "Alpha and Omega."

As we have seen, gods do not always, if ever, appear singly.  Often many gods inhabit or characterize an experience.  They exist in a state of mutual interpenetration termed, in psychology, contamination.  Hades-Dionysus is a composite god, expressing characteristics of both these principles.  For convenience, we shall examine first one god, then the other, and finally the composite.

Hades or Pluto is in certain respects the most potent archetypal principle in the planetary pantheon.  It is the archetype of power itself, as it embodies the primordial forces of destruction and regeneration, the chthonic underworld in every sense, the secretive and subversive, the shadow, the id, the broiling cauldron of the instincts, the violent and the demonic, the fiery and volcanic, the elemental energies of nature.  This dynamic is Pluto-Hades-Dionysus in Greek mythic terms; in Indian terms, Kali and Shiva in both their destructive and regenerative aspects. Whatever Pluto comes into alignment with, it greatly intensifies and compels that second archetype, deepens and makes more profound, destroys and transforms. It brings a titanic, overwhelming elemental potency, on a mass scale.

HADES is a symbol of the incredible, fathomless depths of the psyche.  The true nature of all things is hidden in these depths of the unconscious.  We must penetrate this depth dimension and discover what is hidden there.  The Roman correspondent for Hades is Pluto, whose name means "wealth." This indicates the buried treasures existing in the depths of the psyche and experience of this realm of the underworld.  We have an invisible connection to the underworld, which is Hades himself.

When Hades appears in the upperworld, he is frequently experienced as a vile violence, as in the case of Persephone's rape (see Chapter VIII).  Hades hides invisibly in things.  Death is always immanent.  He required no cult worship from mortals, because he already possesses the riches of the depths of experience.  The final act is always his, in any event.

The final purpose of every soul involves "devotion" to Hades, in a psychic sense.  Most experiences are attributed only a relative significance when they are related to the personal experience of death.  Even in life, most people are obsessed with death.  Hades is the unknowable goal underlying all human experience.  To put events into the perspective we will have on our deathbeds shows the meaning for soul inherent in these events.

DIONYSUS is the god of intoxication and madness, which can be a sort of "death in life."  Addicts, like vampires, are virtually the living dead.  His is the cult of the magical child, which is so influential in substance abuse recovery programs -- the inner child.  James Hillman has attributed to him "the mystery of nursing and psychological rebirth through the underworld depths."  Dionysus has been corresponded with a bi-sexual consciousness.  This is a god who is primordially united with his own femininity.  This "royal marriage" of the inner self is an already present possbility available to anyone.

Through Dionysus, we experience soul in matter; the imaginal aspect of reality, and the reality aspect of imaginal life.  There is no mind-body split, here.  There is no clear distinction between sanity and insanity.  Dionysus' madness is characterized as ritualistic enthusiasm.  This energized enthusiasm is abandonment of ego-consciousness.  Bisexuality here implies the internal mingling of male and female, active and passive, life and death.  This does not come about through "will" but through acceptance.

Dionysus maintains his undivided state by not being too analytical (Apollonic).  His style is to synthesize.  He intimates a polytheistic approach to psychology which recognizes and embraces many archetypal perspectives.  When one invokes Dionysus, there is personal experience of psychological polytheism.

The archetype of the divine or miraculous child appears in advance of a transformation in the psyche.  It is a symbol of promise of the joyous renewal of life, the vision of new beginnings, new possibilities, new attempts, the possibility of regeneration.  In its negative form, it appears as the youth, male or female, who never grows up because emotional development is stunted in adolescence.  This retarded psychological development of the vegetative youth is called puer psychology.

High-living Puer is identified with the child-god Iacchus -- here, god of fragmentation, or psychic dissociation, intoxication and renewal.  Aimlessly travelling in and out of various groups, puer lives for amusement and sheer excitement, picking up friends when he wants and dropping them when they become in any sense a responsibility.  For one person this puer psychology is something that needs to be outgrown; for another it is the very means of development.  Conceivably it may be both.


To begin to comprehend Dionysus, his ascent to Olympus and his descent into Hades, we must understand that he is the embodiment of 50,000 years of human shamanic spirituality and techniques of inducing ecstasy.  The shaman is a specialist in the sacred who succeeds in healing his own mental crisis bordering on madness, having mystical experiences, expressed in ecstatic trance.  This primitive religious ecstasy signifies the soul's flight to heaven, or its wanderings on the earth, and its descent to the subterranean world, among the dead.  Psychoactive plants and potions were among the technologies shamans employed.

The shaman is medicine man, priest and soul-guide.  He is generally with the spirits, retrieving lost souls, or guiding the dead.  In fact, the body's abandonment by the soul during ecstasy is equivalent to a temporary death.  So, the shaman is one who can die, and then return to life, many times.  He learns this technique through initiation -- how to orient himself in unknown regions, and explore new planes of existence.  He knows how to find the gates to transcendence and hell.  He knows what obstacles he will meet on the journey and how to overcome them.

Dan Russell is an independent scholar whose recent book Shamanism and Drug Propaganda, traces the roots of the modern Drug War back to their ancient unconscious origins. Beginning with the evolution of Paleolithic proto-hominids, Russell presents one example after another in support of his thesis that the Drug War is a psychological inheritance from ancient times, one which is now deeply embedded in and, in some cases, the driving force of our culture of technology, power and profits.

Russell draws extensively from archeological evidence, presenting object after object engraved with archetypal symbols of shamanic travels, and he deconstructs countless ancient stories and myths to show that many of them alluded to visionary states elicited by the ingestion of psychoactive plants and potions. Russell, building on the work  of John Allegro, even presents evidence that the Bible is riddled  with cryptic stories and word-play bestowing the importance of shamanic inebriation, such as the cannibis used in Hebrew anointing oil and temple incense.  Over time, the stories told by ancient people (culminating in the New Testament), have been co-opted, corrupted, and manipulated by forces bent on producing a conformist culture.

Modern industrial culture, argues Russell, is dependent upon the active eradication of the conscious knowledge of entheogens. As explained by Russell: The archetypal frame of reference has been carefully manipulated, through succeeding historical stages, to destroy conscious, cultural, knowledge of the ancient shamanism. When conscious memory (mnemosyne) is destroyed, what is left is emotion, irrational attitudes dictated by ‘parentally’  inculcated compulsions: God-the-Father as Pavlov.  It’s not for nothing that the great shaman Plato said that all learning is remembering. The great crime of  the nonconforming shaman is that he or she struggles to bring to consciousness that which the authorities, and their compulsive sheep, want forgotten.

If a "descent" does not come in initiatory form, it often comes as a dis-ease or ordeal  -- as what the Greeks called katabasis.  The mark of descent, undertaken consciously or not, is a newly arrived-at lowliness, associated with water and soul, as height is associated with spirit.  "Water prefers low places."

The lowliness happens particularly to men who are initially high, lucky, elevated (Bly, 1990).  One is no longer special, but fallen, degenerate.  Depression comes with tragedy and a mean life of ordinariness, heaviness, silences, weightiness and soberness begins.  Katabasis can appear without either addiction or ill health, and can be the root of suicide.  The way down and out doesn't require poverty, homelessness, physical deprivation, but it requires a fall from status with emphasis on consciousness of the fall.  Katabasis carries the whole concept of disaster, of tragedy; one sees one's own darkside, the dark side of those close to him, and they see yours.  Long difficult repentance can be a way of descent, of admitting powerlessness.  The descent is a response to the something that wants us there -- the Dark Queen.

The medical model of addiction is a scientific theory with roots in particular social and political prejudices.  Dionysus is seen in modern patterns of substance abuse and recovery programs.  As Dionysus is the god of madness, he brings denial, anxiety, rationalization, toxicity, and prejudice in his wake.  It is easy for Dionysus to "go with the flow."  But it is difficult for individuals of this type to be commited, which includes accepting discipline, recognizing limits, and being a responsible individual.

The drug issue usually attracts our attention through media presentations which seek to reduce the issue to a single, instantly comprehensible message but in the process an inaccurate and largely false impression is created. Even among many drug workers and researchers, there is an avoidance of anything that smacks of theory, and a preference for action, even if that action is based on nothing more than personal prejudice and guesswork.

Furthermore, stereotyped and inaccurate views of addiction are not uncommon even within the ranks of those who work  intimately with drug problems, where there is all too frequently a  lack of coherence in terms of the work carried out, and an unwillingness to consider alternative interpretations. Perhaps most  of all, there is the belief that the ‘truth’ about the nature and causes of addiction can be revealed by methods which rely principally on asking people to answer questions or express opinions about their own or other people’s drug use.

However, answering questions and stating opinions are behaviours in their own right, which have dynamics all of their own. For these reasons, it is important to consider existing knowledge on the way people answer questions and explain their actions, since understanding these processes may yield fresh perspectives on the issue under investigation. The Myth of  Addiction attempts to provide such an alternative perspective in the area of drug use and misuse. Whilst the ideas contained are not new, they represent a species of argument which is neglected, primarily because it is slightly more complicated than the more popular theories of drug use.

The argument presented in The Myth of Addiction (Davies, Harwood, 1997) is basically that people take drugs because they want to, and because it makes sense for them to do so given the choices available, rather than because they are compelled to by the pharmacology of the drugs they take. Nonetheless, we generally prefer to conceptualise our drug abusers in terms which imply that their behaviour is not their own to control.

This picture of learned helplessness arises because it is the picture we want to have, and the view is supported by a body of data consisting largely of people’s self reports, opinions and statements of belief.  This body of data, while potentially of great value in certain respects, is frequently put to uses for which it is ill suited; it does not always mean what we think it means. It is functional for drug users to report that they are addicted, forced into theft, harassed by stressful life events, and driven into drug use by forces beyond their capacity to control.

The central argument of this book is that such self reports have their own internal functional logic which is independent of reality, and that other research methods and forms of analysis would consequently produce a different picture. Furthermore, the fact that the explanations people provide for their behaviour make some reference to their own motives and intentions is hardly new; it is a central feature of social interaction, and not specific to drug users.

The standard line taken by a majority of people in the media, in treatment agencies, in government and elsewhere, hinges around notions of the helpless addict who has no power over his/her behaviour; and the evil Underground pusher lurking on street corners, trying to ensnare the nation’s youth. They are joined together in a deadly game by a variety of pharmacologically active substances whose addictive powers are so great that to try them is to become addicted almost at once.

Thereafter, life becomes a nightmare of withdrawal symptoms, involuntary theft, and a compulsive need for drugs which cannot be controlled. In fact, not one of these things is, or rather needs to be true. Availability is probably a major determinant of the extent of drug use.  The precise form taken by drug problems within any given society is determined in large part by that society’s response to the problem.

The final message is that dealing with drug problems effectively depends on giving back to people the sense of personal power and volition which they require if they are to control their drug use for themselves, a power which existing concepts of ‘addiction’ frequently seek to limit or deny at the outset as a  precondition to further treatment.

To take this apparently simple step, however, involves a major rethinking of contemporary moral attitudes to drugs and addiction, since these shape the nature of the help that we are prepared to offer. In the meantime, the existing system does not work; "retreads" in rehab programs are a truism. There is little indication that any program at the moment does better than spontaneous recovery (that is, giving up all by yourself); and some evidence that punitive legislative interventions make things worse by institutionalising the type of harmful drug use that we most wish to avoid.

Hades-Dionysus was described by Heraclitus in Fragment 15:

If it were not in honor of Dionysus
that they conducted the procession and sang
the hymn to the male organ, their activity would be
completely shameless.

Hades and Dionysus are the same, no matter
how much they go mad and rave celebrating
bacchic rites in honour of the latter.

This reveals how sexual fantasies connect the perspective of vitality with the perspective of the psychic depths.  Events have meaning for both life and soul.  Hades-Dionysus is easily seen in the irrationality in and about patterns of addiction.  The earliest explanations for addictions and the madness of alcoholism included the assertion that the individual was possessed by the devil, or satanic forces.  Mentioned repeatedly in the psychological profile of potential and active abusers are the following characteristic traits:

1).  High level of anxiety in interpersonal relationships.
2).  Emotional immaturity (Dionysian puer or eternal adolescent).
3).  Ambivalence or hostility toward authority.  Passive Agressive.
4).  Low frustration tolerance.
5).  Grandiosity.
6).  Low self-esteem.
7).  Feelings of isolation, alienation.
8).  Perfectionism (a form of self-punishment).
9).  Shame and Guilt (feeling either sub- or superhuman, rather than human).
10). Compulsiveness.

These traits can range in degree from the impulsive personality to the sociopath or psychopath, who is unable to experience guilt or responsibility for his/her behavior.  The Dionysian personality is apprehensive because he can never determine when he will become possessed by the archetypal compulsion and be carried away into revelry and excess.

The tragic consequences of alcoholism and heroin addiction are well-known.  The making of wine, and the imbibing of poppy juices or sap was known to the Cretans of the Late Minoan period, and survives as a "drug cult" in our modern world, with its own hallowed grounds and shrines.  Most drug use is highly ritualized and repetitive.  It is linked to environmental and psychobiological cues -- set and setting.

Stages of substance abuse can be classified as follows:

0).  abstinence
1).  initiation of use
2).  continuation (susceptibility increases with each new exposure)
3).  transition (the change from use to abuse produces shame and disgust, increasing anxiety)
4).  cessation means either satiety or abstinence.  This requires fundamental resharing of the personality and self image; not substitution of one addictive relationship for another
5).  relapse, or reversal

The substance of addiction can include those not commonly thought of in such a way, such as interpersonal relationships (codependence) and even pets.  Other common abuses include: alcohol, nicotine, ecstasy, THC, amphetamines, cocaine, narcotics, barbiturates, caffeine, masturbation, gambling, food and psychedelics.  Mushrooms, while relatively harmless, are traditionally associated with the underworld, and have been called the souls of the dead, and "sons of the Gods."

There is a plethora of theories describing the origins of addiction patterns, including a life-theme theory of chronic drug abuse, which provides the primary narrative thread of a life.  Runaway drug use is generally acknowledged as a spiritual emergency.  Among the most plausible other theories are the following:

1).  personality deficiency
2).  social influence
3).  addiction-to-pleasure
4).  disruptive environment
5).  metabolic deficiency
6).  bad-habit theory
7). drug subculture theory
8). ego-self theory
9). coping theory
10). achievement anxiety
11). neurobiological (the medical illness model)

It is likely that many of the above influences play an important part in any particular case.  The "Life Theme Theory" takes into account the spiritual dimension of the experience.  The characteristic lifetheme lies deeper in the psyche than the ego and lifestyle of an individual and conditions them.  It is the core conflict of the person, that the poison is the cure, and in fact, the individual seems preprogrammed or predisposed to this compulsive behavior.  The myth manifests in life as an uncontrollable repetition compulsion, altering the limbic system.  It may seem like a strange way for the psyche to insure the wholeness of a person, but it is a survival reality for some.

Drug induced states vary widely, but in general are means of artificially inducing contraction or expansion of the ego.  Amphetamines appeal to unreflective action-oriented types; narcotics abusers typically try to withdraw from the problems of life rather than conquer them.  Barbiturate users seek a ticket to oblivion where they can release their tension in aggresive behavior or accidents with no ensuing sense of guilt.

The 70s and 80s epidemic use of cocaine created exceptions to the older personality profiles. Many were normally considered high achievers, but subject to crises of alienation and feelings of despair and emptiness, combined with a pursuit of pleasure and escapism.  The powerful stimulus of cocaine provided a potent, if temporary release from the pressures and problems of modern, copetetive.  It provides the illusion of sparkling brilliance, and provides many with a surrogate love-affair or romance with the white demon lady.

Spotts and Shontz (1981) described this personality in their Life-Theme Theory:  "The cocaine users we studied seemed to have progressed further along the developmental path than men in the other groups.  Most described early lives characterized by a rather high level of positive family feeling.  Most described their mothers as warm and their fathers as strong and encouraging.  As adults, cocaine users are ambitious, intensely competetive men who work hard to become successful.  They like to take risks and live by their wits.  They have stronger and more resilient egos than men in the other drug-user groups.  They display a more intense commitment and willingness to struggle to overcome their environment but are highly prone to symptoms of alienation from the psyche.  They think of themselves as self-directed and self-sufficient, competent people--proud, energetic men who live life to the full and are capable of carrying pleasure to its extreme.  The key to understanding the cocaine users we studied is their intense counter-dependency, their need to be completely self-sufficient...They take cocaine to expand their egos and their self-confidence.  In addition, they report that the drug produces temporary psychological states that are so ecstatic that life and fulfillment seem complete, if only for a moment.

Clearly this is merely a segment of today's drug-consuming public.  All seek to alter the limbic system to produce euphorias of different types and duration.  The intermingling of Hades-Dionysus shows in cocaine addiction by also stimulating the user's sexual fantasies.  This is, in fact, many user's primary interest in the drug; it acts as an aphrodisiac.  Fantasies of bisexuality occur in those who might never experience them otherwise; fetishes may emerge such as transvestite cross-dressing.  In confusions of masculine and feminine aspects there is no psychological fusion of the magical and religious powers of both sexes.  Instead there is an inclination toward, if not overt "acting out" of sexual relations with members of both sexes -- taking the symbolic and metaphorical literally, and using it to moodalter and transgress boundaries.

Positively, Dionysus is creativity in the inspired, almost intoxicated sense, in which unconsciousness wells up.  Identifying brings divine punishment as one suffers the fate of the God.  When our ego takes credit for the creative flow, it brings dismemberment.  Creativity is safe if one is uncomfortable and great effort is necessary.  The rebirth aspect of the Dionysian cycle is revealed in the process of recovery from chemical addiction.  John Bradshaw wrote the classics on this topic, including Bradshaw on the Family, Healing the Shame that Binds You, Homecoming, and Creating Love.  There are also many excellent books for spouses of addicts and alcoholics which deal with issues surrounding codependency, such as those by Melody Beattie.

In substance abuse recovery programs, healing often comes through giving positive attention to the wounded and disenfranchised Inner Child, and giving up also the addiction to "acting-out," dramatics and hystrionics, the emotional roller-coaster. Recovery means reclaiming and championing the lost or disowned Inner Child and healing the toxic shame and low self-esteem that binds one to the addictive pattern, keeping one essentially a prisoner in a dark cave, metaphorically speaking.  We must learn to give up control and enmeshment, love ourselves, reframe mistakes and self-criticism, and find support and validation in positive ways that don't lead to self-destructive or self-defeating patterns.  This develops awareness and changes our self-image.

To do this we must grieve our original pain, reown our disowned parts, move through our fears and allow ourselves to feel again, rather than bury the problems.  We have to get in touch with how depressed and angry we really are, and feel that unresolved grief.  It also means connecting in a way that is positive for the whole person with Higher Power, a transformative vision, one's own form of spiritual awakening or rebirth, and finding bliss in non-attachment.  Finding the Inner Child is part of everyone's journey toward wholeness.  The inner child journey is the hero's journey.  Becoming a fully functioning person is a heroic task.  Discipline helps us release tremendous spiritual power, serenity and empowerment.

Occupations associated with the qualities of Dionysus-Hades include:

alcohol counselor
mardi gras celebrant
nuclear plant worker
peer counselor
rehab nurse
oil baron
orgy participant
trance dancer


Emotion also has an intoxicating quality.  This was reflected in the Dionysian cult through the counterparts of tragedy and comedy.  This is a positive outlet for the dramatic nature which possesses us in the throes of addictive patterns.  The compulsion is channeled into a katharsis which is is expressed in the healing power of arts.  Today, we have in the therapeutic arts the practice of psychodrama to resolve emotional problems through role-playing.

These artforms grew out of Greek culture as the natural result of their belief that excessive action in a given direction results in spontaneous transformation into its opposite.  Drama embodied tension, while comedy was free and unrestrained.  Tragedy emerged from the improvisations of poets, while comedy was born in phallic dances and songs.  When comedy flows spontaneously from the comedian, he is moved to push into an exploration of the Unknown.  You can pretend to be serious, but not funny.

The Greeks certainly didn't appproach their theatre as entertainment, as we do today.  Plays were state-wide religious festivals, open to the entire population.   Drama was a concerted effort designed to elevate the consciousness of the whole community.  It was an imaginative enactment fusing theatre, religion, politics, and psychodrama.  Actors were regarded as interpreters of the gods.  In their emotion-intoxicated scenes, they could move the entire audience into an enraptured empathy.

Theatre amplified the interactions of gods and men, and the hero with the tragic flaw or comedic underbelly.  They were embodied in a multisensory mode, illustrating familiar stories and mythic themes.  The plays provided a safe ritualistic learning environment where particpants could cathart their emotions.  One primary purpose of play is as a learning experience.  Tragic drama provides an 'early warning system' extending personal experience.  It is way of facing finiteness without neurotic repression, of losing one's life in imagination to retain it in reallity, a way of studying the consequences of moral choices in dramatic simulation.  Then when the real crisis comes we are somewhat innured, and can reach down for the emotional resilience and moral courage demanded by life.

The structure of Greek tragedy is inherent in the dual aspects of Dionysus.  He is god of wine, joy and plenitude and symbolizes the lush harvest of the vines.  But he is also the god of compassion as well as emotional excess, torn to pieces by the Titans, and symbolized by the pruned and twisted stumps of the wintering vine.  Repeatedly tragic dramas show this cycle of the seasons.  The necessary cycling interaction of joy and sorrow.

According to Ralph Metzger (Maps of the Mind, "Grapes Grown from the Twisted Stump: Dionysus, Drama and Democracy"), even if the Greeks believed in a rhythmic universe of contrasting joys and pains, they also deplored excess, as the failure to realize that every pride must ebb and anger subside.  Hence disaster results from breaking the principle of sophrosyne, 'nothing to excess'.  The finest human ideals, honed to god-like perfection, swing to and fro, in dynamic opposition.  It was a frightening existential vision, which the Greeks used drama to exaggerate.

It is easier to teach by negative example that every situation requires the rock of Apollo, the whirlpool of the Furies, and the justice of Athena to mediate between them.  Error can be universally dramatized.  Virtue requires each person to steer between intellect and impulse.  Human folly is thus less a consequence of badness in people or values than of misjudgement in combining values.  The tragic hero triumphs, over-learns the winning value combination, and employs it in new circumstances with disasterous results.  Such insights give Greek tragedy its compassion and emotional range.  In each case a single element in the value system grows 'cancerously' to kill the whole.  We hate the crime but not the perpetrators.

Another function of Greek tragedy was the presentation of anomalies that called forth a creative response.  Disintegration must precede reintegration and only the greatest resilience in the face of anxiety can achieve this.  If we accept that higher levels of moral awareness are born out of a frustrating dialectical clash between opposed moral positions, each inadequate to the dilemma presented, then the presentation of tragedy makes brilliant sense.  Essentially tragedy imposes a Dionysian/Christ-like 'crucifixion' between polar ideals upon an entire audience.

But tragedy doesn't necessarily spell unmitigated misery.  The principle of peripeteia works here too, as the trough of tragedy yields to a wave of elation -- and the story covers the entire emotional spectrum.  If the Greeks depicted disintegration on the stage, this had the effect of fostering reintegration around the stage as thousands wept as one.  These great waves of intoxicating emotion, accompanied by clasping and weeping in one another's arms affirmed the vitality of the moment, the infinite preciousness of human lives, poised on the edge of an abyss.  For the joys of life are found in its constrast and closeness with death, as embodied in Hades Dionysus, patron of this theatrical art.  Attachments are strengthened in beholding abandonement.  It takes genius, surely, to encounter imaginary death in a way that celebrates real life.

A psychological experiment by Leonard Berkowitz suggests the effects of tragic drama.  Two groups were shown an identical exerpt from a violent film.  The first group were provided with a story context that justified the punishment  passed on the protagonist.  The second group witnessed grave injustice to a tragic hero.  When members of both groups were subsequently invited to punish an incompetent assistant, the witnesses to tragedy were three times less punitive than the rejoicers in righteous wrath.  Tragedy gentles, then.  Few wish to add one iota to human pain.  Rather, they feel drawn, participatively and democratically, into an unjust scene to set it right.

Greek drama and democracy, viewed as wholes, were celebrations of harmonia (harmony) and symphronasis (reconciliation and symphony), terms employed by the mathematician and democratic theorist Pythagoras.  Harmony was not some persistent harping on a single mean, but the play of the instrument around the mean.  Similarly Greek tragedy shows scant respect for the equable temperaments.  The ideal is both the attainment of heroic extremes and the realization that harmony requires one extreme to yield to its opposite (in the rhythm of verse, plot and music).  What is heroic about Oedipus is his anagnorisis, his painful change from ignorance to knowledge based on Orphic rites of initiation and purification.  He had accepted and learned from the extremities of human experience, freedom-determinism, vigilance-blindness, sovereignty-exile.

It remained for Anagoras, teacher of Pericles and Socrates, to propose that mind pervaded a patterned universe, wherein every value contained the seeds of its opposite, where democratic debate, like threatre, staged conflict in order to contain it.  The man who can most truly be accounted brave is he who best knows the meaning of what is sweet in life and what is terrible, and then goes out undeterred to meet what is to come.  Therein lay the moral strength of Socrates.

acting out


Our concepts about ecstasy and intoxication and their place in our life guide our behavior.  Its difficult to find ecstasy in life without running into the risks of addictive patterns.  When it comes to compulsive behavior, we know how we should behave, but we do what we want usually based on how we feel.  Imaginal psychology holds a radically different view of Dionysus than the medically-based model of recovery, and sees purpose and value in addiction's inner dynamics, including depression and feminization.  It sees the symptom as poison and cure are the same, in the alchemical sense -- the nursing and deepening are contained within the problem, rather than coming from outside it.  The god IS the symptom; pathologizing is a form of soul-making.

There are several forms of psychophysical and psychosexual intoxication, depending on what level of experience we consider.  There is intoxication with physical beauty and strength, intellectual achievement, position in life, learning, virtue, goodness, power and authority, and even intoxication with detachment from the world.  On the mental level, Dionysus can be associated with the tendency to psychological fragmentation, psychological femininity, bisexuality and hysteria, according to Imaginal Psychologist, James Hillman (The Myth of Analysis).

Hillman suggests that "Dionysus is mainly a god of women.  Though he is male and phallic, there is no misogyny in this structure of consciousness because it is not divided from its own femininity.  The change that is indicated by Dionysus is one where female is not added to or integrated by male; rather, the image shows an androgynous consciousness, where male and female are primordially united."

The mytheme of Dionysus not only concerns this archetypal bisexuality, but also reflects the magickal image of Tiphareth (from the Qabalistic Tree of Life), the Divine Child.  "Dionysus as child refers to a view of reality which is not divided.  This perspective would not exclude the child for the sake of maturity, since the child is the synthesis itself."  Tiphareth is the sphere of the Heart Center, and its archetypal images include the sacrificed god and the magical child.  They are a key to heart-level initiation.

In the Dionysian worldview "affliction would not be divided from its own potential of nursing, which is constellated by the suffering and childishness."  This nursing often appears in real life as the codependent caregiver of the addicted individual -- the rescuer, who gives 'the milk of human kindness' till it hurts.  "The torn and rendered suffering is not healed by the medicine of Apollo, but becomes an initiation into the cosmos of Dionysus."

Dionysus reflects the plurality of the self in his fragmentation and is thus the archetype of a polytheistic approach to life, which sees the dynamics of many god/goddesses in constant interaction.  This polytheistic magical child seems reminiscent of Freud's "polymorphously perverse child," with its strong desires for power and wish-fulfillment.  He joins disparate elements.  Hillman points out that, "Dionysus is Zeus-son, the renewal of the High God through his most physical and yet psychological son, at the center of whose cult from the earliest times is the child, the mystery of nursing, and of psychological rebirth through underworld depths."

His paradoxical qualities show that "compulsion and inhibition belong together.  In Dionysus, borders join that which we usually believe to be separated by borders.  We cannot tell whether he is mad or sane, wild or somber, sexual or psychic, male or female, conscious or unconscious; the 'border' is manifested. ...ZOE is another way of speaking of this ambivalence.  The force of life, like the child, needs nursing.  The Dionysian experience transforms women not into raving hysterics and rebels but into nurses."

"The central meaning of Dionysus is his relationship to the underworld of soul:  Dionysus, Lord of Souls.  'Horror' is for the sake of soul, whose subconscious dominants (underworld lords) are Hades, Dionysus, and Persephone."

Hillman stresses that "a Dionysian ego must express bisexuality. ...His dismemberment is the fragments of consciousness strewn through all of life, through every erogenous zone and plexus of our physical bodies.  In him the bisexual pair are united...Bisexuality combines not only male and female; it also brings together life and death.  One aspect of life is riven so that another aspect -- the psychic and called "death" -- can reach awareness.  Life can only be understood in terms of the soul's one certainty: death.  Approximation to the hermaphrodite is a death experience; the movement into death proceeds through bisexuality.  Death and bisexual consciousness are what Dionysus involves.  Dionysus represents a radical shift of consciousnesss where...another consciousness would enter into us as we approaximate our own bisexuality."

Dionysian consciousness may be characterized as follows:  "We would have the experience of passivity and an inability to proceed very far against nature.  We would be aware of a fundamental defect and lacuna in our consciousness and of a dependency upon something else, out of which it comes.  This lacuna of the feminine void is not to be overcome, fulfilled, completed.  Rather the emptiness is the completion, so that this lacuna becomes the place of reflection, the place of psychic awareness, and offers the space of carrying and containing; it is psyche itself.  Our consciousness would provide the blood of nourishment; and be able to feed itself from what processes it generates within its own imaginal matrix.  Consciousness would no longer be only a male aura seminalis, instigator and propagator."

"The reddening spoken of in alchemy, and the self-feeding by means of the pelican, would thus be indicated.  Gives the experience of infoldedness and interiority, things not coming to final fruition in exteriorized forms.  Its movement is slower, sadder, cooler, incorporating left-handedness in its symbolic senses.  We would be aware that something driving is missing, a basic inoperancy of phallic compulsion."

"With the return of passivity to consciousness, the inertia of depressions and the helplessness of suffering would take on another quality...belonging to consciousness, being part of its composition, not afflictions coming to it unconciously, making it unconscious, dragging it down and away.  Depression is then no longer a sign of inferiority to be felt as defeat.  Movement of the Dionysian libido comes and goes.  The ego cannot control these movements.  Heroic consciousness has an upward path and places a negative sign upon digressions and descents.  The libido descends for refuge when driven by excessive demands of the ruling will."

"Dionysus is a god of moisture and the descent is for moistening.  Depression into these depths is not experienced as a defeat (since Dionysus is not a hero), but as downwardness, darkening, and becoming water (i.e. the alchemical solutio). The movements of libido are mythical events in which we participate, and as such they are objective.  When the ego forgets this and takes the vanishing personally, it makes depression by identifying with the God.  When Dionysus appears there is revel and celebration; his disappearance is a winter of discontent.  Connecting the flux of libido to an archetypal dominant gives depression a religious aspect; a crisis of mood, energy and also belief...the movements are respected as natural and necessary to the libido itself."

"This is a body-consciousness, giving a somatized awareness of self in concrete, actual behavior.  Transforms that old frustration of reflection divided from action, where consciousness is conceived mainly in terms of speech and mind, giving over the unconscious to the body and its "acting out."  Body is no longer the realm only of abyss and passion; it might now fill up with slowness and interiority.  Hysteria somatizes consciousness.  Psychic events become body events; meanings enter behavior.  Hysterical reactions are attempts to refind nature, a prodromal bisexuality showing the feminine need for initiation into body, life, and love in Dionysian terms."

Psychotherapy reaches its ultimate goal in the wholeness of the conjunction of masculine and feminine, in the bisexuality of consciousness.  Bisexuality, that incarnation of durable weakness and unheroic strength is found in the archetypal image of Dionysus.  "Bisexual consciousness here means also the experience of psyche in all matter, the fantasy in everything literal, and the literal too, as fantasy; it means a world undivided into spirit and matter, imaginal and real, body and consciousness, mad and insane.  In terms of the ego and its life, analysis may be Dionysian in experience: a prolonged moistening, a life in the child, hysterical attempts at incarnation through symptoms, an erotic compulsion toward soul-making."

"The therapeutic goal of the coniunctio (the royal  marriage of solar and lunar consciousness) would now be experienced as a weakening of consciousness, in the former sense of that notion, rather than an increase of consciousness through "integrating" the anima.  The coniunctio would now be weird and frightening, a horror and a death, inclusive of psychopathology...sacrifice of the mind's bright eye...It means an effeminization in the sense of a loosening and a forgetting, a permanent regression to the childlike half-creature, a permanent "softening of the brain", a true loss of what we have long considered to be our most precious human holding: Apollonic consciousness."

We are "obliged to stay within the mess of ambivalence, the comings and goings of the libido, letting interior movement replace clarity, interior closeness replace objectivity, the child of psychic spontaneity replaces literal right action.  Dionysus means the undivided, an early meaning of that word being 'knowing with.'  'Consciousness' once meant 'knowing together,' a shared secret.  We cannot go it alone, or know it alone.  Our consciousness cannot be divided from the other...It is his nature to leak and flow into communion, comingling of souls, thiasos, community, a communal flow with the complexes, a comingling of consciousnes with the 'other' souls and their Gods, a consciousness that is alway infiltrated with its complexes, flowing together with them."

Further reading on Hades-Dionysus may be found in the following:

The Dream and the Underworld, James Hillman, Harper & Row.
The Myth of Analysis, James Hillman, Harper & Row.
Psychotherapy and Alchemy, Edward Edinger
Androgyny, June Singer
Theories on Drug Abuse, NIDA Research Monograph 30, Mar 1980, US Govt. Printing Office
Dionysus: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, K. Kerenyi, Princeton Univ. Press, 1976
The Bacchae, Euripides
Dionysus, Myth and Cult, Walter F. Otto
"Hysteria: the Mythical Syndrome", Neil Micklem
"Dionysus in Jung's Writings", James Hillman
"Dis-Membering Dionysus; Image and Theatre:, Enrique Pardo, Spring 1984
Psychodrama: Resolving Emotional Problems throgh Role-Playing, Lewis Yablonsky, Gardner Pub, 
Psychodrama, Adaline Starr, Nelson-Hall, 1977


Although we have spoken of Dionysus as the god of moisture, paradoxically he is also associated with fire.  This links him with Trump XX, THE AEON, which corresponds with the element fire in Qabala.  As Zeus'-son, he is linked with the light of Zeus and the phenomenon of 'lighting up', and he was a torchbearer in the Eleusinian Mysteries.  Lucian stated that "Fire is a Dionysian weapon."  The torch-bearing ceremony opened that movement of the Mysteries where the Divine Child was born in the underworld.

Paradoxically, Dionysus is the god of all natural fluids, including wine, milk, sap, honey and blood.  He is also the indestructible life principle.  These combine in rain which nurtures plant life and blood (which combines fire and water) which nurtures animal life, and humor which nourishes psychic life.  Imagine life without jokes, irony and humor!  Humor, or comedy, keeps us from becoming 'too dry.'  In ancient times, comedies were performed only once to preserve the element of surprise in the festivities.  Dionysus is son of Zeus -- recall how rain frequently follows an impressive display of lightning and thunder in a cloudburst.  Dionysus combines superabundant life energy with death-dealing power.  He is insane with enthusiasm, and communicates this to his devotees in his epiphany.

Dionysus is not only a god of literal intoxication by mead, wine, or opium (which the Minoans resorted to when their "vision" failed).  Mystics and visionaries speak of a spiritual intoxication experienced by the saints of various cultures.  Their sufferings and ecstasies are related through the theme of the "dying and resurrecting god."  There is a spiritual identity between Osiris, Dionysus and Christ -- for all suffered, were torn apart, and resurrected.

Hillman tells us that "Dismemberment becomes a way of discovering the puer spirit, for 'Dionysus, youngest of the gods' belongs to the theme of the renewal of the aging god. ...dismemberment refers to a psychological process that requires a body metaphor.  The process of division is presented as a body experience, even as a horrifying torture.  If, however, dismemberment is ruled by the archetypal dominant of Dionysus, then the process, while beheading or dissolving the central control of the old king, may be at the same time activating the pneuma that is distributed throughout the materializations of our complexes.  The background of Dionysus offers insight into the rending pain of self-division, especially as a body-experience."

"Dionysus was called Lysios, the loosener.  The word is cognate with lysis, the last syllable of analysis.  Lysis means loosening, setting free, deliverance, dissolution, collapse, breaking bonds and laws, the final unravelling as of a plot."

Thus, the mystical Dionysus is corresponded with the alchemical operation of solutio, which implies liquefication and dissolution.  When a one-sided attitude encounters a more comprehensive viewpont, the old attitude dissolves.  Solutio is the dissolution of the old attitude and may be experienced as a threat to the worldview of the ego.  The ego is interested in maintaining control.  It tends to assume that it knows how to build personality from its perception of order.  To this end, the ego embraces a paradigm or overview.  Exposure to someone with a convincting and more comprehensive worldview can wash away the solid ground from under the ego's feet.  This is not always welcome news, even though it may be an improvement over previous attitudes.  The solid bottom washes away and one feels adrift, before the new contents are assimilated into the conscious attitude.

The unified state or Self is the agent of solutio in alchemy -- it introduces the mystery or irrational factor.  Its long-range goal is the unification of the opposites.  Both the archetypal masculine and feminine elements are being dissolved and united at the same time.  Solutio is experienced by each as annihilation of itself.  Later, it leadss to rejuvination in a new form.  A large ego will be dissolved by its own excess.  This dissolution leads the way to rejuvination with a sounder basis.  Uniting the wild life-force with devotion in love can dissolve many problems or blockages to further transformation.

Internally, the unconscious or higher Self can dissolve the ego.  Externally an individual with a larger conscious understanding and wisdom than one's own can bring about solutio.  The best qualities of the individual ego survive.  Aspects of the ego which consciously relate to the Self withstand solutio.  Its major characteristics are:

1. return to the primal state
2. dissolution, dispersal, and dismemberment
3. containment of a lesser thing by a greater
4.  rebirth, rejuvination, immersion in the creative energy flow
5. purification ordeal
6. solution of problems
7. melting or softening process (dissolving).

The alchemist, cooperating intentionally with this transpersonal process, then experiences the diminishment by solutio as a precursor to union with the Self.

The worship of Dionysus in antiquity was intensely mystical, and caused people to suddenly abandon the social routine for participation in an emotionally ecstatic religious practice.  To harmonize this dichotomy, the Greeks instituted the practice of worshipping both Dionysus and Apollo at Delphi.  "Thus to combine the realms of the careful god of law and order and of the mystical god of license and abandon was one of the most startling examples of Greek genius for adjustment."  The temple of Dionysus at Delphi was a theatre.

Like Christ, Dionysus had a mortal mother who became deified, Semele, and was characterized by incessant 'persecution,' which dramatized the resistance against the god's mode of being and his religious message, because it threatened an entire lifestyle and universe of values, symbolized by Olympian religion.  As humans, we experience resistance to every absolute religious experience, because these are realized only by denying eveything else, including equilibrium, perosnality, reason, consciousness, etc.  Dionysus, like Christ, descends into Hades or death and brings a religious revelation.

The Dionysian ecstasy means, above all, surpassing the human condition, the discovery of total deliverance, obtaining a freedom and spontaneity inaccessible to human beings.  That among these freedoms there also figured deliverance from prohibitions, rules and conventions of an ethical and social order appears to be certain.  This explains, in part, the mass adherence of women.  But the Dionysiac experiences touched the deepest levels.  What distinguished this cult is not these psychopathic crises but the fact that they were valorized as religious experience, whether as a punishment or as a favor from the god.

What separates a shaman from a psychopath is that he succeeds in curing himself of his transformational madness and ends by possessing a stronger and more creative personality than the rest of the community.  At the center of the Dionysiac ritual, we always find, in one form or another, an ecstatic experience of more or less violent frenzy: mania.  This "madness" or manic state was in a way the proof that the initiate was entheos, 'filled with the god.'

The experience was certainly unforgetable, for there was a sharing in the creative spontaneity and intoxicating freedom, in the super-human force and invulnerability of Dionysus.  Communion with the god shattered the human condition for a time, but it did not succeed in transmuting it.  We can see the god run rampant in Bipolar Disorder.  This potent energy can be channeled and the number of famous bipolar creative musicans, writers and artists is staggering.

The occultation and epiphany of Dionysus, his descents to Hades (comparable to a death followed by a resurrection), and, above all, the cult of the infant Dionysus, with rites celebrating his "awakening" -- indicate the will, and the hope for a spiritual renewal.  Everywhere in the world the infant is charged with an initiatory symbolism revealing the mystical rebirth.  More than any other Greek gods, Dionysus astonishes by the multiplicity and novelty of his epiphanies, by the variety of his transformations.

He is always in motion; he makes his way everywhere ready to associate himself with various divinities.  Intoxication, eroticism, universal fertility and also unforgetable experiences are inspired by the periodic arrival of mania, the presence of death, immersion in animal unconsciousness, or by the ecstasy of enthousiasmos.  All these terrors and revelations spring from a single source: the presence of the god.  His mode of being expresses the paradoxical unity of life and death.  This is why Dionysus constitutes a type of divinity radically different from the Olympians, (Eliade, History of Religious Ideas).

In the Hellenistic and Roman period the most popular Greek god was Dionysus.  His public cult was "purified" and spiritualized by the elimination of ecstasy (which, however, continued to play a part in the Dionysiac Mysteries).  It is the most lively, vivid mythology.  Dionysus is a godman, mortal yet divine, persecuted yet victorious, murdered yet resuscitated.  In some versions of story, Dionysus brough Ariadne back from Hades and married her.  She symbolized the human soul and Dionysus therefore delivered the soul from death, uniting with it in a mystical marriage, elevating her.

The central act of the initiation was the divine presence made perceptible by music and dance, and experience that engendered belief in an intimate bond established with the god.  The showing of the phallus was a religious act, for the generative organ of Dionysus symbolized how the godman had conquered death.  The Indian version of the theme is the sacrality of Shiva's lingam.  The infant, as sign of rebirth and renewal, continues the religious symbolism of the phallus.

To reiterate the relationship of Hades-Dionysus to the Trump XX, The Aeon, recall that Hestia (fire) gave up her throne on Olympus when this new god arrived on the scene.  The Orphics considered Dionysus as the king of the new age.  This myth seems still alive in our eclectic culture with its New Age concerns and the visibility of the holistic movement.  Hopes attached to the triumph of Dionysus and the periodical regeneration of the world, imply belief in an imminent return to the Golden Age.

Judgement/Aeon is also linked with the planetary power of Pluto.  It too symbolizes an awakening to something you had not seen before.  A paradigm shift calling for new perceptions.  Rebirth.  Hearing the "call" of the spirit.  All these are the hallmarks of Hades-Dionysus.

The divinatory meanings of the Trump include: "Resurection.  A sense of new life.   Development of a new philsophy or sense of purpose.  Coming to a crossroads concerning a higher purpose beyond yourself.  Researching of examining something in depth.  Looking deeply into a matter and determining its worth or value to you.  Doing a personal inventory or self-evaluation.  A review of past actions; confronting your motives.  Accepting personal responsibility for how you have used your opportunities, racted to initiations and testing.  Criticism.  Criticizing and judging others, or being criticized by them.  Judgements made.  Needing to see beyond prejudice and criticism.  The voice of conscience.  Guilt and fogiveness.  Atonement.  Repentance.  Apology.  Synthesizing the different parts of your personality such as the Parent, Adult and Child in transactional analysis.  Body, mind, and spirit working for one purpose.  Regeneration.  Transformation.  A change from one state or identity to another.  A desire to merge with another, sexually or otherwise; or to merge with your own creative works.  Realization of parenthood and family; responsbility for others as opposed to selfish self-preservation.  Cooperation with other people as a social unit.  A Rite of Passage."

Osiris, who was also killed, dismembered and resuscitated, prefigured Dionysus.  In Orphic theology, the cosmology is conceived as a self-sacrifice of the divinity, the dispersal of the One in the Many, followed by "resurrection" or a return of multiplicity into primordial Unity.  The mutual identification of all gods ends in a "monotheism" of the syncretistic type dear to the theosophers of late antiquity.  It is significant that these universalists glorify especially the typically suffering gods, such as Dionysus and Orpheus.

Cultural Correspondences:

Bacchus (Roman)
Horus (Egyptian)
Soma (Hindu, intoxication)
Yama (Hindu, god of death)
Krishna (Hindu, heart center)
Kuvera (Hindu, god of wealth)
Agni (Hindu, god of fire)

Contemporary Examples: Hugh Hefner, head of the Playboy empire of Dionysian excess, father of the Playboy lifestyle.  Picassso's art dismembered the classical body of perspective into cubism, prophesizing the fragmentation of the 20th century personality.  The number of infamous actors with drug problems or high living styles is innumerable, among them (formerly) Charlie Sheen and Robert Downey, Jr.

Dialogue with Hades-Dionysus

Visualization:  We enter a fiery atmospphere which flashes like opal.  The scent of cinammon does little to alay the sense of terror and mystery.  We tremble in fear and anticipation of dismemberment, or human human sacrifice, at least on the ego-level.  Both masters of death and intoxication's grip are here -- their imagees merged in one terrifying figure.  One is inaccessable in mortal form, but the other is all to easily botainable in many forms of substance abuse.  Hades is likened to a black ram, and associated with the cypress and narcissus.  Dionysus came from the east in the train of the Great Mother, Cybele, who taught him most of his rites of ecstatic abandon.  He is either seen as mature, bearded, and ivy-crowned or as a beardless effeminate youth with curly hair which hangs long and loose.  This form wears a panther or fawn skin.  He hold the thyrsus (a long staff tipped with a pinecone-like final and wrapped with ivy, as sign of his divinity.  Approach this dual form through fear and trembling or intoxication -- with wine and strange drugs.

Do you eve feel like you're "falling apart," or "coming apart at the seams," or "can't get it together"?  At those time we live the myth of Dionysus, the god who continually falls apart in dissolution, then gets it all back together again, until the next time.  Dissolution means the breaking into parts, disintegration, death, being dissolved from a stable ego perspective.  To be dissolute implies debauched, immortal behavior when life energies are dissipated wastefully, also from the perspective of an ego trying to cope with the daily demands of outer life.

What was the worst tragedy you've experienced in your life?  Have your resolved this issue in your present or does it still haunt you?  Are you still limited by its subsequent effect?  Do you have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome?  Perhaps Dionysus can shed some light on the archetypal meaning of the event, its meaning for soul.  We might also seek the meaning in every event that it holds in terms of our immenent death, as well as its meaning to soul.  Through the power of Dionysus we can connect with the meaning of our suffering, and even come to see the comic irony in our most unpleasant circumstances.

Have you ever been a victim of substance abuse or a codependent?  Dionysus is certainly at work here, and this is why addictions and alcoholism may be rightly considered diseases, or psychobiological complexes, not character disorders.  Of course, we have some human will power and should exert it against destabilizing influences.  yet, when we are possessed by the god, we are essentially helpless before this poweful figure who wrenches us into the underworld, who seizes us and drags us down into the seemy side of life.  Sober or intoxicated, a dialogue with Dionysus may inform us that behind the urge to intoxication lies another drive -- a spiritual need -- a desire for rebirth and new potential.

Jung counseled "William" the co-founder of A.A. a year before he instituted the widely used 12-step recovery program.  Jung wrote that "alcoholism was the result of a hungering for wholeness on a low level.  This means that underneath the craving for alcohol is the urge to individuation, but it is all so unconscious that the urge to wholeness takes the form of compulsive drinking.

That being the case, one can see why the alcoholic refuses to give up his drinking -- for it amounts to a "religion".  It has as much grip on him/her as the individuation process itself.  The person is as bound to the drug of choice as to the cross of his own self-development.  For the abuser to give up the demon substances that has possessed him, he must find the greater spirit manifested in the urge to wholeness.  As Jung put it in his letter, only one spirit can ddrive out another.  The program of A.A. has been so successful with so many precisely because it does offer a spiritual orientation, and puts its member on the path to individuation.  The same may be said for Al-Anon and co-dependents, who must give up the false need for controlling others.

Maybe you are involved in some form of dramatic expression, as a writer or performer.  Seek contact with Dionysus to deepend the emotionality of your work, to broaden your dramatic feel.  Another mode of contacting Dionysus is through the psychological tool of psychodrama, role-playing and role-reversal to kathart emotional issues.  It is best practiced under the guidance of a professional therapist.  Also, Transactional Analysis helps us distinguish between our Child, Adult and Parent selves.  Gesttalt dreamwork, using essentially shamanic journeys into the dream realm, is however, probably more Dionysian in spirit.

Hades-Dionysus in Your Life:

1.  Describe a time when you went through a psychological crisis and felt like you were "falling apart."

2.  Everyday we say and do many things, some seemingly important, some trivial or even negative.  If we were to die that night would "getting the last word" or "seeing the latest movie" seem so important?  For one day, try to relate everything you do to its ultimate meaning for your death.  In other words, "Would I be doing this if my death was near?"  Record the results in your journal.

3.  Have you ever been involved in substance?  How did you (or have you) overcome this dependency?

4.  Have you ever participated in a drama, either on-stage or off (i.e. a particularly dramatic life/death situation such as war or a natural disaster, or scene of an accident)?

5.  Greek tragedy dramatized human foibles or errors.  Can you remember an error in judgement for which you suffered for a long time?

6.  If you have tasted the grip of Dionysus, have you also experienced his ecstasy, vitality or lust for life.  Describe its attraction.

7.  Do you periodically "let off steam" in gregarious revelry?  Are you considered to have a good sense of humor?

8. Have you had any dreams of bisexuality?  Did these disturb you?  Were you afraid of compulsively acting them out?  Is your conscious attitude strictly heterosexual?  If so, these dreams and fantasies show the opposite unconscious position.  Both are contained in the whole psyche.  Some dreams of homoeroticism symbolize self-fertilization or getting in touch with deeper aspects of the Self.

9.  Have you ever experienced a spiritual renewal or rebirth of a mystical nature?  Describe this experience and how it may have changed your lifestyle.

10.  Have you ever experienced compulsivity in regard to relationships, trying to rescue, control, or heal people?  Or even in regard to uncontrolled compulsive thinking, and fantasizing about the Beloved?

11.  What "call" have you heard?

12.  Who or what is being criticized?  What judgement is being made?

13.  What new realization or epiphany is transsforming you?  Who or what are you merging with?

14.  What or whom are you responsible for?


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The Journal of
                       Cognitive Liberties
                       This article is from Vol. 2, Issue No. 2 pages 39-44
                       © 2001 CENTER FOR COGNITIVE LIBERTY AND ETHICS
                       All rights reserved worldwide.  ISSN: 1527-3946
The Myth of Addiction

                                           John Booth Davies

                                                   In fact, as our beliefs about drugs and drug users are largely
                            inaccurate. We choose to believe in helpless junkies and evil
                            pushers primarily because we want to believe in them, and
                            because such beliefs serve functions for us. The helpless junkie
                            only exists because we all want h/er to exist, and because drug
                            research continues to make naïve use of what people say about
                            their addictions. It is now imperative that we start to view
                            research based on what drug-users say about themselves in its
                            true light, and in consequence, to expect something more
                            dynamic and positive from those of us who encounter drug
                            problems. The interrelationship of IV drug use with HIV/AIDS
                            makes such a new dynamic and purposive perspective essential.

                                                                                 Learn more about
                                                                                 subscribing to the print
                       John Booth Davies is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre for Applied Social
                       Psychology at the University of Strathclyde, U.K. He is editor of the journal, Addiction
                       Research and Theory. This essay is adapted from the preface to his book, The Myth of
                       Addiction, published by Harwood Academic Publishers, 1997.


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