Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson asserts in his book, Ecstasy, that many of us have lost touch with the psychological archetype of ecstasy—known to the ancient Greeks as Dionysus. The result is increased levels of depression and sickness in modern societies. It is a thought provoking assertion that I’d like to unravel and reconnect in a way that makes sense in my journey for deeper meaning and understanding…and hopefully yours too.

What is a psychological archetype? When we think about psychological archetypes, we are describing innate human dreams. In the ancient world, these dreams were often projected onto the outer world as gods. When different cultures made contact for the first time, they often found gods imbued with characteristics similar to their own gods…only the names were different. In modern times, these archetypal dreams of humanity still appear as recurring themes and characters in movies, literature, and songs.

With the concept of archetype in hand, let’s turn our attention to Dionysus. According to Dr. Johnson, the Dionysian archetype of ecstasy has been lost to the ages. Where did he go, what happened? As an amateur historian, I can roughly track the disappearance of Dionysus – a god that existed and worshipped some 8,000 years before and several centuries after Christ. Basically, Greece was slowly absorbed by Rome over centuries during the rise of the Roman Empire, but Greek culture conquered Rome. The Roman’s had their own gods that were basically Greek gods with different names. I often read references to Greek gods and “their Roman equivalent”. One example is Aphrodite (Greek) and Venus (Roman).

In the case of Dionysus, the Roman version was Bacchus. However, the Romans only adopted the orgiastic, drunken aspects of Dionysus and ignored the more spiritual elements of his archetype. To the Greeks, Dionysus represented duality and what we might think of today as both Jesus and the Devil in one archetype. The Romans divided the dream of Dionysus and their interpretation, Bacchus, would later become a version of the devil when the Romans transitioned from pagan worship to Christianity. In a sense, the dream of Dionysus remaines culturally present in the modern world but is fractured into the Devil and Jesus. This fracturing of Dionysus, I believe, may have given rise to the ultimate state of cognitive dissonance and associated mental/emotional woes facing the modern Western world.

If the fracturing of the Dionysian dream has left us less feeling challenged, what is it that we are actually missing? What did a unified Dionysian dream represent? This is a question I have been working on for many years now and still struggle to answer succinctly. Part of the challenge is that Dionysus (an Olympian god) embodied many facets of ancient Greek life and represented the duality of human experience. The “duality of human experience” is a rather vague and sweeping concept. From what I can determine, Dionysus represented continuums of thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Dionysus represented birth, life, death, and rebirth. He was pain and pleasure, heaven and hell. He represented transcendent ecstasy on hand and madness on the other.

A lasting symbol of Dionysian duality are the masks of theater.

As the patron god of the theater, the masks of the theater are an important symbol of Dionysus. Look closer in the image above and note the contrasting emotions captured on the masks. As mentioned earlier, this duality is an important part of the Dionysian archetype. Dionysus is light and darkness and represents both sides of any emotional release. Other traits associate with Dionysus are liberation, madness, inversion, wild abandonment, irrationality (driven by emotion), and transcendent ecstasy.

My research into the origin and meaning of Dionysus has been further confounded by the fact that he existed in cultures prior to what we think of as Ancient Greece. Examples include the Bronze Age civilization of Mycenaean Greece (1700 BC) which was the first mainland Greek civilization. While Dionysus is often mentioned as the last god to be added to Olympic pantheon, he may have once been worshipped as the first god on mainland Greece before the Dark Ages. There are also traces of Dionysus in Crete, Egypt, and India going back millenniums.

There are, however, a few Dionysian traits (beyond duality) and associations I can share today to move my inquiry along. First, Dionysus was the god of wine and the spiritual energy once surrounding viticulture (change of seasons, life, death, resurrection, and fertility) and the transcendent “high” one would experience when drinking wine.

As a nature god, Dionysus represented the perennial profusion of color, life, and the ceaseless flow of energy that connects us to the universe. His energy flowed and still flows in the sensuous world of poets, artists, and dreamers who show us the life of the spirit as seen through the senses. As a 3D artist, I have often (but unknowingly) visually expressed Dionysian energy in my images.

So far, I’ve taken a shot at defining archetypes and framing the archetypal dream of Dionysus. However, the key question remains. What does it mean to have lost connection with Dionysus as an archetype of ecstasy? Mr. Johnson makes a compelling case for the modern world being ruled by the archetype of Apollo (also an Olympian god). Apollonian characteristics favor rationality and science, order, discipline, tranquility, societal boundaries, and conformity.

I will not attempt to make the case that the archetypal dream of Apollo is a negative force. We need Apollonian energy in varying degrees to make advancements and prevent our societies from falling into complete chaos. I value the dream of Apollo and have, figuratively speaking, worshipped at his altar for most of my life. While I have been rewarded and take pride in my academic, physical, and professional accomplishments, it came at a cost – I too lost touch with Dionysus. 

I can recall holding the sensuous, transcendent dream of Dionysus as a teenager, but life events led me in a different direction. By the time I became a young adult, I had rejected the sensuous realm of Dionysus. It was Leanna, an incredibly special lover, who may have captured the quintessential picture, through her words, of me in my Apollo state of mind while she longed for Dionysian energy in her life. 

“I see trends in his behavior when he is pressured with work and studies. He focuses his energy on these challenges and inward on himself, to push himself and excel. He seems trained, like an athlete trains for a meet, to separate his love and emotions from the game, the game of success. He works even harder at work and takes on more projects. He studies more, exercises harder and longer, fueling his ego, ensuring that he’s better than everyone else at everything. I see him doing this and it drives me crazy because when he turns that same focus on me, he is the most amazing man I have ever known! But, he has the ability to turn off those emotions and it hurts.” ~ Leanna 

Leanna’s assessment was fair, and I let her down. I was in survival mode starting out as a young adult – 100% on my own. My mother had committed suicide and my father wasn’t in a financial situation to help me. I was doing everything I could to secure my future and there was no time for what I viewed as the unproductive and wasteful pursuit of pleasure seeking.

Looking back, I gravitated towards Apollo because I couldn’t handle my own cognitive dissonance. This occurs when we hold two competing beliefs that are very different from one another. Apollo and Dionysus, in their divine forms, are opposite states of mind, and I couldn’t possess both simultaneously. I viewed any transitions into a Dionysian state of mind as unproductive and a sign of weakness. Even though Dionysus was calling to me, I resisted and repressed Dionysian energy.

So many of us repress our feelings, intuition, caring, and spiritual openness in favor of more tangible rewards and logic. What I have learned and believe about archetypes is that they can’t be infinitely denied and repressed. Ultimately, they will morph and breakthrough in more dangerous forms.

As you read this, there may be different conclusions forming. One might be that sex and a sensuous existence isn’t something you concern yourself with. If you truly feel this way, then you are infused with Apollonian energy and that’s okay. I would only encourage you to recognize that other archetypal energy flows in this world and to not look down upon it (as I once did). It is part of the human experience that many of us have turned away, but it doesn’t mean it is wrong or has less value. Indeed, it may actually be necessary for our mental, emotional, and spiritual well being. I would also encourage you in moments of reflection to assess whether you are repressing your sensual desires. If Dionysian energy is there but being repressed, it will emerge. As I mentioned earlier, archetypes won’t be denied, they only morph and return in more destructive forms.

Another reaction some may be formulating is that my sex life is pretty good. Therefore, I must have Dionysian energy all around me. This is camp that I once fell into while trying to connect with my Dionysian energy, but I was wrong. My drive for transcendent ecstasy had morphed into something that was disconnected and void of genuine sensuality and soulfulness. It was Bacchus – the soulless Roman version of the spiritual Dionysus. I wanted to live life and fuck like a rock star. Sex was about superficial physical pleasure. It was far easier to share my cock with a girl than it was to open my soul and dreams to her. If we think about the Dionysian experience as consuming a glass (or two) of fine wine, my experience was more like chugging Mad Dog 20/20.

I was running on a hamster wheel of low-grade sexual experiences when I finally realized that I needed more…a deeper more fulfilling experience. Getting to the next level would require a new level of intimacy that demanded more than sliding my cock inside a woman. I needed to feel her soul and share mine. While making progress on emotionally connecting, I continued to repress my true sexual desires and fantasies. There was a threshold that I couldn’t seem to pass through. Doing so would require that I leave the realm of Apollo and the rational world of carefully defined boundaries, roles, and move beyond my persona. In my revelation, my lover would see behind my mask and see all of me. I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment about my primary sexual fantasy (nothing illegal) and didn’t want to judged or experience added shame. I feared losing control…and her.

What I eventually realized, is that I had to cross that threshold and fully reveal myself to my lover. Equally important, I needed her to take my hand and reveal herself to me. Only then would we be able to cross the threshold and step inside the soulful and sensuous realm of Dionysus. We would enter into the garden of the god where everything was possible and transcendent ecstasy awaits the fully engaged mind, body, and soul.

In the realm of Dionysus, we move beyond and above purely physical sensations. Rather than experiencing sex with enough intensity and pleasure to make her squirt and/or have multiple orgasms, we were able to form the kind of deeply connected experience that brought her to uncontrollable tears of joy as she orgasmed and lay trembling in my arms. I may (did) have teared up as well from these overwhelming and engulfing highs. No words needed to be spoken. Our minds, hearts, bodies, and souls ascended as one – we had attained transcendent ecstasy and touched Dionysus.

3 thoughts on “Dionysus: Touching the Archetype of Ecstasy

  1. Fascinating post, Michael! The duality of Greek/Roman culture is so interesting.

    1. Thanks so much, Emma! Writings like this serve as psychological pillars for my blog…like a column on my personal Parthenon ☺️

  2. hi micahel, beautiful story as always, I’m Tom, Nina’s husband, I hope you remember it as I remember it! How to forget how hard you fucked her and how much sperm you pumped into her pussy!!! Now we are off on a road trip for the next few years with a new camper, it has a beautiful twin bed positioned at the height of your cock so all you have to do is open her legs and you and your black friend can fuck her fantastically if you decide to come over find us, the only condition is that he also has a nice long cock like yours!!! moreover, I have already positioned several cameras to watch the show, wanking my cock while you or he fucks her, pumping your sperm into her pussy, maybe even one after the other while I patiently wait for my turn, jerking my cock, sitting comfortably on the seat of the driver it would be really nice to see your story with Nina once again here on your blog bye and good continuation

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