image: Wikimedia commons (link).
The mysterious god Dionysus, whose name means Zeus (or Dios) of Nysa, is a god of tremendous importance.
He is celebrated and praised in numerous Orphic Hymns, where he is described as "blessed, many-named, frenzied Bacchos" (52), "joyous and all-abounding" (52), "loud-roaring, reveling Dionysos" (30), "blessed and fruit-giving Bacchos" (53), "mighty and many-shaped" (50), described not only as "wrathful in the extreme" (45) but also as coming to his suppliants "kindheartedly" (48) and "with joyful heart" (47) [all quotations above are from the outstanding translation by Apostolos N. Athanassakis and Benjamin M. Wolkow].
Dionysus is also described as being born of two mothers (stated explicitly in Orphic Hymn 52, for example), a mythological pattern of deep spiritual significance which is found in other myths around the world as well and which is discussed in this previous post.
The characteristics of Dionysus, the story of his two births (actually three births), and some of the celestial aspects of the Dionysus-cycle are discussed in Star Myths of the World and how to interpret them, Volume Two.
One fascinating aspect of the Dionysus-cycle of myths is the connection of the god to the land of India. In some accounts, Dionysus is described as going to India to establish his worship there, and in others he is described as coming from India. In a play by the philosopher and playwright Seneca (born 4 BC), Phaedra, Dionysus is described in line 753 as "thou, Bacchus, from thyrsus-bearing India, of unshorn locks."
The thyrsus-rod is a scepter or long wand made from the stem or stalk of the giant fennel, often surmounted by a pine cone and also often adorned with long trailing vines of ivy. Thyrsi can be seen in the image above of Dionysus, in which the god is also holding another of object closely associated with Dionysus, a drinking-vessel.
Additionally, Dionysus and his followers are often frequently depicted wearing the skin of a leopard or cheetah or panther, as the god is seen to be wearing in the ancient artwork above.
The connection of the god Dionysus to the land of India is especially fascinating in that the mystic and ascetic sadhus of India also frequently carry a staff, a drinking-vessel, and a leopard-skin. Below are some images of sadhus showing one or more of these Dionysian symbols:
Wikimedia: image links, from top to bottom -- first, second, third, and fourth.
Very notable also, and evident in the images above, are the long locks of hair worn by many sadhus -- also a distinguishing characteristic of Dionysus.
Note again in the passage from the play by Seneca cited above that Dionysus is described as the god "of unshorn locks." Ovid also calls Dionysus the god "whose locks are never shorn" (in Metamorphoses, Book 4), and Seneca elsewhere describes the unshorn hair of the god as "thy lawless -streaming locks" (in Oedipus, in the section beginning at line 405).
Others have noted that the sadhu tradition probably also influenced the dreadlocks of the Rastafari (as did the ayurvedic diet practiced by the sadhus) -- see for instance this film, Dreadlocks Story.
The practice of leaving the locks unshorn is also notable in the Nazarite vow described in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the myth-cycle of Samson, discussed in this previous post and this previous video.
I believe that all of these myths point us towards the existence of the Higher Self (as described in texts from India) -- or, as Rastafari tradition expresses it, the Higher I -- and of the importance of recognizing and awakening to and integrating the spiritual side of our nature into every aspect of our being and our daily life, in addition to our temporary material or physical nature.
The locks of Samson, described as seven in number, specifically connect to the rays of the sun (as discussed in the essay and video linked above), and thus to the fire -- or spirit -- aspect of our being (beyond the earth and water, or clay, of our physical body).
Dionysus is a god who is specifically described as born of fire, and note that the symbol of the thyrsus (made from the stalk of the giant fennel) is closely associated in another myth with the bringing down of the divine fire to mankind by the Titan Prometheus (who conceals the stolen spark in the stalk of the same giant fennel). This important myth, and the celestial and spiritual aspects of the story, are also discussed in Star Myths, Volume Two.
Clearly, Dionysus has profound ongoing significance for our lives, and important spiritual messages to convey to us -- as do all the other sacred traditions given to humanity and preserved in the myths and scriptures the world over.
Armed with the thyrsos, wrathful in the extreme,
you are honored
by all gods and all men
who dwell upon the earth.
Come, blessed and leaping god,
bring abundant joy to all. 45.