Enlightenment and alcohol used to go hand in hand. Not only alcohol but other mind-altering substances were used to communicate with higher powers through trance-like states or simply as offerings to the gods.
Dionysus god of ecstasy
The essence of Dionysian spirituality is the celebration of the self and the removal of ego through ecstatic rituals.
This religious experience was induced by fast-paced rhythms and mind-bending substances, all natural of course, most likely watered-down wine with a sprinkling of psilocybin mushrooms, today proven to help fight depression. This god was most popular with the outcasts of society – women, slaves, the ‘other’.
The Dionysian religions were thought to be a way to contain and worship the human need for ecstasy, but when you subtract the divine from Dionysus you are left with the devil. Addiction.
By the time of the Roman Empire these celebrations took a turn for the worse with the invention of the symposium, the drinking party – more men chatting politics as they ‘admired’ enslaved women than any form of spiritual practice.
Our most ancient ancestors, historians often agree, were animists, which meant they believed that objects, places and creatures all possessed a distinct spiritual essence. They were animated and alive. Some cultures still hold these beliefs, the latest popular revival being shamanism.
In shamanic cultures plants are believed to have a spirit which is here to work with us in some way, either physically, emotionally or spiritually. Those that alter our minds are psychological teachers with the grape vine being no exception. To respect the spirits an intention is always set before drinking. Western cultures still have remnants of this, even if on the most basic of levels. Cheers!
But let’s be straight. Today we get drunk! As a Londoner, it’s such a key part of my culture it’s become a serious obstacle on the spiritual path and a deadly problem for many, so much so there’s now a drug in development to stop the throws of alcohol taking hold.
Just as we offer medication to our spiritual ‘dis-ease’ in a desperate attempt to ignore ourselves, we should soon be able to fight the effects of natural drugs with man-made drugs, to revert our states of mind from a spiritless natural high to a chemically-induced sobriety. May the gods help us! Quite literally.
Our world today is based around logic and reason, our societies so highly connected they’re disconnected. The rising levels of existential angst and addiction are a clear indicator of this.
Some believe that addicts are on a search for wholeness through this ancient tradition of sacred ecstasy. The tragedy is that without spiritual discipline they spin on a wheel of sorrow until either forced to heal themselves or they die, leaving a wake of other people’s pain in their path. But those that do arise from the flames become the archetype of the wounded healer, the shaman.
Perhaps we’re still searching. Anything to feel more than mundane. Scrambling towards our true potential we do so blindly, with little to no guidance. But altered states of consciousness were a part of spiritual practice since records began. Through ancient tools we search for a greater state of consciousness but we do so without spiritual discipline.
Today there are DJs in place of Dionysus and the raving, sexy maenads are found on the dance floor. But there’s no meaning to any of it. The following week, on a horrific comedown, the worshipers crash back to reality, even more lost than when they first started their quest.
We’re unlikely to believe in spirits unless they’re bottled, and through our lack of faith we fill the void that religions used to ease with drugs and alcohol which only serve to bury the pain deeper. We pump our wine full of additives and engorge natural drugs through hydroponics.
I suppose in today’s culture you’re safer remaining sober, but it’s a shame really, because dancing with Dionysus is not only a spiritual release but enlightening. A way to integrate the darkness into the whole.