Dionysus was a god of the life in ivy, trees and the vine, rather than the god of corn and crops from the earth. Ivy, trees and the vine all had electrical significance, ivy because it suggested an aura or glow round an object, especially round a throne. The near identity of the Latin hedera, ivy, and Greek hedra, throne, suggests that ivy symbolised the glow, Greek charis, beauty, that flowed over a person, or over such an object as a king's throne, or an ark when the electrical god had been caught by the priest. Trees were important, especially the pine or fir, partly because of the fiery qualities of resin, partly because of the world tree. The vine could be made into a drink which would produce sensations which Greeks associated with electricity. The Greek poet Archilochus tells us that he could write a dithyramb when lightning-struck with wine.
He was a god of noisy revelry, of earthquake and of lightning. It is possible that the musical accompaniment at his rites, dominated by low-pitched [barubromon] drums, was meant to suggest earthquake, thunder and electrical stimulation. For a modern equivalent one might turn to the Royal Hunt and Storm, from Berlioz's opera The Trojans, where divine activity drives Dido and Aeneas to take refuge from the storm in a cave.
Dionysus is said to have been born and raised in the island of Naxos. According to a mosaic from Delos, his nurse was Ambrosia.
At the Lenaea, a festival held in Athens, ecstatic women worshipped a draped pillar with a mask on top representing Dionysus. The fact that he was a son of Zeus may account for the letters dio- in his name. Dio-frequently implies heaven or sky. The name of his mother Semele is the Slavonic zemlya, earth. The other letters forming his name may perhaps be explained by the Syracusan word nusos or nussos, lame. This is not very helpful, though Hephaestus, god of divine fire, was lame. On the other hand, the Greek nussein is to prick, to touch with a sharp point. This raises the possibility of an electrical explanation.
It was believed that he was born in the city of Nysa, in marshy land such as encouraged lightning.
Followers of Dionysus carried a thyrsus. This was the stalk of a plant, the narthex. It was the stalk in which Prometheus brought fire down to earth from Olympus. The Greek thu-is fire or sacrifice, air-is to raise. The thyrsus could be furnished with a sharp point, which could be used to give what would be thought to be an electric, i. e. divine, shock.
Nussa was the word for the turning post in a circus. All these facts, together with the account given of him and his actions in the Bacchae of Euripides, show that Dionysus was a god of electricity.
The name Bacchus suggests fa, light, or ba, Egyptian for soul, and cha. The Greek letter chi may be onomatopoeia for sparks and lightning, and may be related to the Egyptian ka. Dionysus exemplifies the effect of electrical stimuli and disturbances on the brain and nervous system.
Dionysus is the divine bull. A typical rhyton, or drinking horn, would be carved to represent the head of an animal, often that of a bull.
In the Bacchae, there is a confrontation between the stranger [Dionysus in disguise] with his revellers, and the young Pentheus of the Theban royal family. When arrested for causing disturbances and promoting immoral behaviour, Dionysus frees himself from prison by creating an earthquake and electrical fire [" against which every effort is in vain", l. 625].
Pentheus has an urge to spy on the women and watch their revels. Dionysus causes him to have hallucinations and, with the help of a pine tree and lightning, causes him to be torn to pieces [sparagmos] by frenzied bacchants led by Agave, the mother of Pentheus. The chorus declare that a bull leads to disaster.
Pentheus, being descended from Kadmos of Thebes, has snake ancestry [Kadmos and Harmonia were turned into snakes]. At one level, the contest is between snake and bull.
Such a contest may be seen as both electrical and astronomical. The bull with its horns symbolises the head of a comet, the snake represents the tail. The stories of a monster in the sky, such as Zeus defeated, and of lightning exchanges on a huge scale, probably with almond-shaped plasmoids, as shown in the hand of Zeus, were accounts of what looked like a battle between the head of a comet and its tail. Vide the Bacchae l. 1153ff.
According to Plutarch, the Greek seer Melampus learnt the name of Dionysus from the Egyptians. Plutarch equates Dionysus with the Egyptian god Osiris. In each case there was a sparagmos, a tearing to pieces, and a resurrection.
The link with Egypt is strengthened by the worship of the Apis bull. Egyptian monarchs imitated bulls by wearing tails, worshipped them and cherished them, feasted on bulls, preserved them, and drowned them to release the divine element. The ambivalence is explained by the ambivalent nature of the divine force in the sky, symbolised by the bull's horns, a power that could cause life or death. Diodorus refers to the civilising mission of Osiris, a mission like that of Dionysus, who brought wine, music and dancing on his travels through Asia to Greece.
In the period after Alexander the Great, the Egyptian deities Isis and Anubis were worshipped on the island of Delos, a great centre of worship of Dionysus.
Ivy, vines, and trees were in the custody of Dionysus, and a
survey of the language imparted to these in Greece and
elsewhere would indicate their common electrical associations,
quite aside from their other connections.