Screw Saint Patrick, Hail Dionysus!
If there’s one thing Christians have always been good at, it’s taking other people’s shit — holidays, traditions, gods — and warping them to fit the Christian agenda. For example, bringing a tree inside during the winter and covering it with candles seems like a weird way to honor the birth of Christ, but it makes total sense as a pagan rite.
One such borrowed tradition is that of March 17th, the Feast Day of Saint Patrick. Since Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, we use this day as an excuse to wear green, drink heavily, and sing the Pogues at the top of our lungs. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that — I myself am a flaky-skinned box-headed Guinness-swilling slightly sad Irish dude. But we should never forget that originally, the 17th of March as the Liberalia, a festival of the cult of Liber, one aspect of the great god Dionysus.
Dionysus (also known as Liber and Bacchus) was the god of wine, grapes, intoxication, revelry, theater, and religious ecstasy. A dying god much like Christ (in that he died and was resurrected), he was often used as the fun-loving theatrical protagonist of many ancient Greek stories, his carefree attitude, lack of traditional honor, and constant desire to get wasted making him a sympathetic character to the average Quietus. He was constantly surrounded by satyrs, nymphs, and all sorts of hard-partying mythical creatures, and his rites were massive orgies of drinking, sex, music, and total indulgence. That said, he also had a habit of turning into a leopard and killing everyone around him when he was pissed. At the end of Euripides’ The Bacchae, he’s so furious with lawmaker Pentheus for not worshipping him that he possesses the dude’s mother and makes her rip off his head.
Oh yeah, the Bacchae, Dionysus’ girl gang. In ancient Greek legends, women love Dionysus, so much so that when they drink his wine, they become bacchante, or maenads. Maenads are violent, sexual, and totally insane, and regularly take part in the rite of sparagmos, where they tear a living animal apart with their bare hands and eat it. Spring break!
That St. Patrick’s Day is the same day as the Liberalia cannot be a coincidence, though I can’t cite a specific source. But here’s the thing — a lot of Irish people (and serious drinkers) aren’t huge fans of St. Patty’s Day, which portrays being Irish as synonymous with puking green beer into a plastic hat. So why not take the day back to its pagan roots? Hell, you don’t even have to change the decorations — green, the color of vines and nature, was always associated with Dionysus. All you need now is a toga!
So this March 17th, give yourself over to the frenzy. Below is a playlist of Dionysian party music. Drink hard booze from an animal horn, get naked with someone special (or just hot), tear into a hunk of steaming meat, and rest easy knowing you won’t have to confess any of that shit at church on Sunday. Dionysus knows your sins, and he approves. Hail!