* All digital art by Michael @ The Dionysian Experience
Ecstatic dance is a spiritual movement gaining increasing popularity in the world today. However, ecstatic dance as a spiritual experience is far from new. It is an ancient ritual dating as far back as 8,000 BC…if not even longer. The experience is said to produce an altered state of mind leading to a transcendent spiritual experience. Really? Dancing can do this?
I think so. Regrettably, my interest in dancing has always been fueled by wanting to get hot and sweaty with women. The motive is different I suspect for many women. Women seem to have a genuine love of dancing, right? There is a curious behavior that women share with one another that men don’t do as commonly (exception possibly being gay men). Women dance alone and women dance with other women. There is something about dancing for the love of movement, release, and self expression that women are drawn to. Perhaps there is a state transcendent spiritual ecstasy women sometimes achieve through dancing?
This happened to me…once. I felt it. I remember being in a club in my early 20’s. I can even recall where I was on the dance floor. I had a nice buzz, the clubs lights were mesmerizing, the perfect song was on, and I danced…alone. I didn’t care what other people thought and became completely lost in the moment. Any sense of self dissipated and I was transported to a place where I felt connected and intertwined with the universe. I felt high on life. In more recent years, I experience a similar “high” during long runs. The runner’s high is something that is well known in the runner community. Like the runner’s high, I suspect there is dancer’s high as well and it is an experience women are very familiar with.
Where am I going with this? My overarching journey as a writer and digital artist is a quest for deeper meaning. While I am active man and engage fully in life, I also enjoy observing others, reading, and thinking about the human experience. Over the years I have come to appreciate Dionysus (Greek god) as an archetype that provides a psychological backdrop for my personal journey. Further, I believe Dionysus (as an archetype) is a psychological force that swirls within many of us. We know it is there but we don’t have a name/label for it. I think of it as the Dionysian experience.
In ancient Greece, Dionysus was worshipped as a divinity. He was known to have a disproportionate number of female followers and women have been historically portrayed as his most trustful and faithful companions. Indeed, the origin story of Dionysus describes him as being raised in the forest by women – the Maenads or Thyiads.
In Greek mythology, maenads was the term used for female followers of Dionysus. Their name literally translates as “raving ones”. Often the maenads were portrayed as inspired by Dionysus into a state of ecstatic frenzy through a combination of dancing and intoxication.
The worship of Dionysus in ancient Greece by women wasn’t a fringe following. Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, was a devout follower as was the Queen of Macedonia. These powerful and notable women, along with women throughout the social strata, took the forest and mountains to participate in secretive Dionysian mysteries and rituals to invoke the presence of Dionysus – transcendent ecstasy. Dionysus was one of the strongest and most important psychological and spiritual forces of the ancient world until a conquering Rome morphed Dionysus into Bacchus, degraded his spiritual essence, and ultimately suppressed his followers – see Dionysus: The Rise and Fall (and Rise).
Archetypes don’t die and can’t be suppressed forever. They are psychological forces and dreams imprinted on the collective unconsciousness of humanity and demand release. Spiritual transcendence through dance is once again entering our consciousness in the western world.
Whether you are partaking in an ecstatic dance workout at your local fitness center or getting your ecstatic dance on in a club, you are reviving an ancient ritual. You are performing the dance of the Maenads and connecting to the spirit of women across the millenniums. And, if you are fortunate enough to reach a state of transcendent spiritual ecstasy, you are filled with a presence the ancient Greeks knew as Dionysus.
My currently available posts, digital art, and videos exploring Dionysus are here – Dionysus & Psychology.