The Hallows harvest is in and the grape juice is merrily fermenting in the kitchen. So I’d like to follow up on last week’s post with a bit more about Dionysos, His relationship with Isis, and with me.
Now, at first glance, the Greek God of Ecstatic Intoxication & Wine doesn’t seem to have much to do with our Egyptian Lady of Magic & Power, Isis. After all, He’s the Sex, Drugs & Rock-n-Roll God and She’s…well, She’s a bit more serious.
Ah, but wait. All is not as it seems. (All is almost never as it seems.) There are, in fact, quite solid connections between my two Divine Ones. In ancient times, you see, Dionysos was identified with Osiris, the Beloved of Isis. More on that in a moment.
First, I’d like to tell you how Dionysos came into my personal spiritual picture.
I had been vowed to Isis for many years, but long had felt the need to see the Divine with a masculine face as well as a feminine one. Naturally, the first place I looked was to Osiris. So I meditated with Him, I did ritual with Him, I thought and pondered on Him. I found Him wonderful and powerful and beautiful. But He didn’t grab my soul and shout, “Mine!” Or even whisper it. Or anything. The relationship just wasn’t…quite…right.
Fast forward a few years. A friend had been called to resurrect the Oracle of Delphi (or Oracle of Portland, if you want to be a stickler about it) and had enlisted a group of friends to help take the ritual roles. We worked the Oracle once a summer for six or seven years, I think. During that time, I played a variety of ritual roles, from Pythia to serving priestess. Sometime during the process, I decided I wanted to play Dionysos. No reason a woman couldn’t play this androgynous God!
And there wasn’t. And that is how Dionysos first got His panther claws into me. And I wasn’t the only one. My own beloved husband had also played Dionysos, with the same result. Others in that ritual cast soon found themselves called to Bacchic frenzy and we created a thiasos, a Greek name for a spiritual group or circle. The Meliophis thiasos still survives today, along with another group spawned from it.
So that’s how Dionysos claimed one Isis priestess. But again, I’m not the only one. You may recall that Plutarch wrote his essay “On Isis and Osiris” to a priestess friend of his, Clea or Klea. He writes to her about Isis and Osiris for Klea is a priestess of Isis. She is also the leader of the thyades at Delphi. Thyad is another name for maenad, the Divinely mad priestesses of Dionysos. So Plutarch’s friend, Klea, is both a devotee of Isis and of Dionysos. Plutarch writes to her:
“That Osiris is identical with Dionysus who could more fittingly know than yourself, Clea? For you are at the head of the inspired maidens of Delphi, and have been consecrated by your father and mother in the holy rites of Osiris.”
So at least by Plutarch’s time, the identification of Dionysos with Osiris is so complete that the priest can say They are “identical” and know that his confidant will find it readily apparent. Plutarch goes on to note that the procession for the Apis bull looks very much like a Dionysian procession, thus both Osiris and Dionysos are Gods connected with the bull. Both Gods are torn to pieces—Dionysos by the Titans and Osiris by Set. Both Gods are resurrected afterwards; Dionysos by being born again of Semele and Osiris by being magically born again after Isis reassembles Him. Both Gods are Lords of Moisture, both are associated with trees. One of the sacred plants of Dionysos, ivy, is called by the Egyptians, “the plant of Osiris.”
Read Plutarch for yourself and you’ll see that he goes on at some length about the Dionysos-Osiris connection. Including the wine connection, of course.
Osiris is known as Lord of Wine as early as the Pyramid Texts and His identity as such only grew as time passed. In a magical papyrus from the second century CE, the “blood of Osiris,” clearly wine, is poured into a wine cup, and is to be given to a woman as part of an erotic spell:
“Give it, the blood of Osiris, that he gave to Isis to make her feel love in her heart for him night and day at any time, there not being time of deficiency.”
No doubt, the association of Osiris with wine is the reason that one story tells us that Isis became pregnant with Horus by eating grapes. Isis Herself is also given the epithet Mistress of Wine and Beer.
In addition to Her marriage to the Lord of Wine, Isis has Her own associations with the vine and with Dionysos. The Greeks considered the sacred star of Isis, Sirius, to be the bringer of wine since its late-summer rising coincided with the beginning of the grape harvest season. Ancient writers also speculated on a variety of Isis-Dionysos connections. One said that Dionysos is the son of Zeus and Isis. Another called Isis the daughter of Prometheus and said that She lived with Dionysos. Herodotus recorded the tradition that Apollo and Artemis are the children of Dionysos and Isis. The Ptolemaic rulers Auletes and his daughter, Cleopatra VII, identified themselves with Dionysos and Isis respectively, calling themselves “the new Dionysos” and “the new Isis.” In the Temple of Isis in Pompeii, sacred images of both Isis and Dionysos stood before the worshippers. And, of course, both Isis and Dionysos are Mystery Deities for both have suffered and so can have sympathy for human beings in our individual sufferings.
So you see, the connection between Isis and Dionysos is not so far-fetched after all.