Dionysus is not an Indo-European deity. Probably Phrygian in origin, the god and his cult traveled to Macedonia, then to Thessaly and Boeotia. The myth of his birth relates that his mother is Semele and that he was fathered by Zeus. When Hera, Zeus's wife, learns of Zeus's infidelity and the approaching birth, she disguises herself as Semele's nurse and convinces her to demand that Zeus reveal himself in the totality of his godliness to her. Zeus appears to Semele in the fullness of his thunder and lightning. The appearance strikes Semele dead, but just before her death Zeus snatches Dionysus from her womb, cuts open his thigh, and places the child therein; after nine months Dionysus is born from the thigh of Zeus. Dionysus is called the twice-born--from the womb of Semele and the thigh of Zeus.
Dionysus's appearance always seems to be accompanied by some violent activity that presents a threat to conventional order. As the center of an orgiastic mystical cult, he tends to break the bonds of social life. Euripides, in his drama The Bacchae, describes the Dionysian cult. (Dionysus is also called Bromios, the Boisterous, or BACCHUS.) The aim of the cult was to produce ecstasy--the experience of standing outside of oneself--or enthusiasm--the experience of being filled with the god. The heart of the Dionysian mystery was that the devotee and the god become identical. The majority of the cult followers were women, the MAENADS, those who had gone mad in their ecstasy. When the priest of Dionysus played on his flute, the devotees went into a frenzy, in which they were said to dismember animals. (Dionysos is often compared to the south American god Quetzalcoatl and his music is very much alive with Brazilian rhythm drumming performed in the south of France).
Apollo has another side, however. Like Dionysus, he was related to the oracle of DELPHI, and his devotees there were enthusiastic and ecstatically possessed. W. K. C. Guthrie, in The Greeks and Their Gods, suggests that Apollo originated in Siberia and that the ecstatic powers attached to his cult were derived from the tribal shamanism of that area rather than from the Dionysian cult at Delphi. Because of the common ecstatic elements, Apollo 's cult exerted a moderating influence upon the distinctly non-Olympian religious experience of Dionysus.
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