In Boozo Veritas #4 by Teege Braune
Bacchanalia, Family Style
for my own semi-feral maenad Jenn Benner
“Those who look for filth can find it at the height of noon.”
-Euripides, The Bacchae
Our contemporary, popular notion of Dionysus as symbol of drunkenness and revelry is a sadly castrated version of the ancient Greek deity. While it is true that Dionysus is the god of wine, he is also the god of ecstasy and madness, not blitzed out inebriation, but utter mindless frenzy. Drinking too much and throwing up, this is not Dionysian. Rolling around in your own vomit while singing hymns to God at the top of your lungs is perhaps closer. Ancient Dionysian ceremonies had as much death in them as they did sex and were far more terrifying and dangerous than goofy, sloshy fun. Maenads, Dionysus’ female followers, did not simply imbibe and throw orgies; they are reported to have suckled wolf cubs at their breasts and torn apart herds of cattle with their bare hands. Before the dualism of the Christian Church split Dionysus into the two opposing figures Christ and the devil, his worship embodied the sacred and profane in one persona. Unlike eternal, lofty Apollo, Dionysus was the god who would die and be reborn, just as the grapes are reaped and harvested only to grow once again on their vines. True Dionysian worship is a joyful communion with God and ecstatic embrace of the abject at the same time, wallowing in filth but voluntarily, even reverently, lest something much worse befall us. I don’t think real Dionysian worship can actually take place at all in a culture where weekend benders followed by casual sex are seen as diametrically opposed to a Sunday morning service followed by potluck luncheon. Yet we crave ritual, so we try by binge drinking, taking the Eucharist, or maybe even both.
I was looking for a Dionysian experience as I drove with my fiancé Jenn to Lakeridge Winery’s 19th annual grape stomping, but must admit I had lost sight of my own ideas on the subject. Instead, I was looking for little more than wine-soaked, slightly hedonistic fun. I entertained visions of satyrs playing pan flutes and nubile nereids dancing around vats of grapes as Jenn and I, our legs stained purple, stumbled amorously through the sludge. I should have expected families, long lines, and lots of children. Rather than allow myself to be cowled by disappointment, I decided to embrace the picturesque day, relax, and enjoy the afternoon, which happened to be my birthday. In so doing, I unexpectedly had a far more Dionysian experience than I would have if I had simply gotten drunk.
Lakeridge Winery sits nestled within its own vineyard of muscadine grapes and overlooks the only hills in the state of Florida. Underneath a canopy of perfect, fluffy white clouds, the panorama was as idyllic and pastoral a scene as one would find in the Grecian countryside. Instead of the airy trills of Pan flutes, the event featured the adept soul of Beautiful Bobby Blackmon & the B3 Blues Band. Though funk is arguably the best soundtrack for any contemporary Bacchanal and the dancers included a woman grinding against her much younger partner, the party was not particularly wild. I was, nevertheless, glad to be a part of it. The music was good, the view fantastic, and though it had received a mediocre review from friends, Jenn and I found Lakeridge’s libations highly quaffable.
Plastic cups of wine in hand, Jenn and I got in line for the grape stomping. The fruit’s sticky remains covered every surface, and green and blue bottle flies buzzed erratically around us as a fecund, musty smell arose from the vats we were waiting to enter. The muscadine grapes grown at Lakeridge bear little resemblance to the green and red grapes one finds at the supermarket. Muscadines have a thicker, tougher skin and the juice and fruit within is particularly slick and syrupy. As I began to squish them underfoot, I found they didn’t simply turn to mush and liquid upon contact. Instead, they resisted the pressure and then popped, leaving their viscous texture clinging to my feet and ankles. There was no mistaking that I had actually crushed a solid entity beneath my bare feet. Thick bits of grape skin stuck between my toes and a sheen that bore a closer similarity to mucous than juice clung to my calves as I walked through the dirt to the hose where we washed up. I was keenly aware that the grasshoppers bounding this way and that likely found their way into the vats on more than one occasion. There was something gross about the whole experience, almost repulsive and at the same time so delightful I wanted to do it again as soon as possible.
The children in attendance stomped with even more glee and ferocity as the slightly tipsy adults, and their presence at a Dionysian festival suddenly seemed obvious to me. Children, devoid of shame, always dirty, perpetually sticky, never afraid to tear apart a beetle to see what’s on the inside, are much closer to the wine god than any drunk. Squashing grapes beside a group of oblivious kids, I remembered what an odd joy it was to make a mess of myself. Though I was far from an enraptured state of ecstasy and madness, the violent, visceral act of stomping and crushing the poor grapes, decimated but clinging to our heels and toes, reminded me that my favorite deity has darker secrets to offer than pure pleasure, which is not to say that I’ve outgrown revelry either. May maenads tear me limb from limb if I ever do.
Teege Braune (figured right) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.