Dionysus, this winter god

Having been a hellenic polytheist for several years has completely changed my way of considering the year. Because the Attic calendar’s New Year typically falls somewhere in July/August, I naturally consider the first Dionysian event of the year to be the Oschophoria, which I celebrated last month.

I’ve often seen people be surprised by the statement that Dionysus is a winter god. In turn, their surprise surprises me because I honestly can’t imagine it otherwise at this point. Since the season has just started, I thought it would be an ideal moment to explain this a bit further.

Wine season
The first logical overlap with the ritual calendar is with the wine cycle. The earliest festival of the year, the Oschophoria, tends to fall around the end of October, thus fitting nicely with the end of the grape harvest and the beginning of the wine making process. And at the end of the cycle, we find the Anthesteria in late February/early March where the new wine is officially opened, mixed and offered. I agree with the that the City Dionysia placed in spring, and which marks the last festival of the Dionysian year, is meant to be the final act before and coincides with the preparation of the new harvest and the emergence of the vine’s first blossoms. Similarly, the other festivals in between those two steps line up with different steps of the wine-making process.

I do not think it is a coincidence that all the Dionysian festivals fall at a time where the wine is actively being made and/or undergoing the fermentation process. It would make sense to concentrate devotion at this time to guarantee the quality of the new wine.

Dionysus of Delphi
When Apollo departs from Delphi for his yearly travel to the Hyperboreans, it is Dionysus who replaces him at the temple.

A small parenthesis, as I feel like this is one of the things that confuse people a lot, so I just want to give some insight about the whole thing before moving on to Dionysus: Delphi was also an astronomical center. There is recent research linking the departure of Apollo and the arrival of Dionysus in Delphi with the yearly movement of the stars as seen from Delphi. If this theory is right, this would explain how the divinatory timing was organized in Delphi. All in all, Apollo being gone is supposed to impact divination and oracle activity, not personal worship.

End of parenthesis, back to Dionysus. In Delphi more than anywhere else, Dionysus not Apollo’s contrary. They complement eachother nicely. In Delphi, singing the dithyramb would mark the beginning of winter. On a cultic level, Dionysus’ winter presence relates to his birth and reawakening through the biennial rite of the Thyiades. Quite little is known of this celebrations (and the other delphic festivals to Dionysus in general) but we know that once every two years, female worshippers would climb up to the Corycian cave on Mount Parnassus to celebrate the awakening of the Dionysus Liknetes, that is, the child Dionysus asleep in his the liknon (winnowing basket).

All this to say that Dionysus is the winter god par excellence. He thrives during this season and keeps us warm with his many holidays.

Further reading:
Anghelina C., The Drunken World of Dionysos, in: Trends in Classics, 2017
Dietrich C. B. , Divine Madness and Conflict at Delphi,in: Kernos, 1992


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