The Cult of Dionysus was a very popular one in the ancient world. Dionysus was a god who knew how to gather followers, and he reveled in partying with his followers. He was not a god to stay high on Mount Olympus. Instead he would go out and actively find followers to celebrate his divinity with!
This is one prime reason why he is often compared to rock stars! Much like a rock star, he liked to actually party with his followers, just as rockers party with fans and groupies!
The Cult of Dionysus involved many events of ecstatic pleasure. Attendants of these events included satyrs, nymphs, and of course the female followers of Dionysus, the maenads! The revelries that this cult participated in would include the act of dismembering animals and eating the raw flesh of these animals. There is evidence that possession often took place during these ancient rites.
Other than dismemberment, the cult participated in other taboo acts. There was, of course, use of drugs, and drinking of incredible amounts of wine! Acts of sexual ecstasy were common amongst his followers during their sacred rites! Open acts of sexuality were part of sacred rituals, and were practiced at festivals devoted to this god of wine and ecstasy. In fact orgies were commonplace at festivals honoring Dionysus!
Not all maenads were happy to become followers of Dionysus. Some were forced into their role in these revelries, and one story was that a group of women who resisted was driven mad. Dionysus went so far as to make these women kill one of their own sons! It is said that most of the most devoted followers of Dionysus, in later generations, were the maenads descended from this group who had been driven mad, and made to commit that atrocity.
Dionysus was a god who knew how to gain followers, and he actively pursued his followers. He wandered far and wide, and spread his cult widely around the ancient world! This deity would also be present at the festivals held in his honor, and he was not one to sit by the wayside watching people worship him. He always wanted to be in on the party!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is The Youth of Bacchus by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. I found the image on commons.wikimedia.org.
- Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch
- Mythology by Edith Hamilton