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The Fool Dionysus/Bacchus  Greco-Roman Mythology

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

The Fool Personified in the Story of Dionysus.

Dionysus the Greek god of wine, who was also known as Bacchus by the Romans was an impulsive god who had a childlike spirit and did not live by anyone's rules save himself.     Dionysus was the son of  Zeus and Semele.   Semele was the daughter of Cadmus, the founder of the city of Thebes. Her mother Harmonia was the daughter of Aphrodite or Venus the goddess of love and Ares or Mars the god of war. Dionysus eventually found his mother in Hades the Greek underworld and took her to Olympus the abode of the gods, where she took up residence and was accepted by the gods.      Zeus the father of the gods was the god of the Thunderbolt and the king of the Greek Pantheon of gods. He was the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. In Rome, he was known as Jupiter. He overthrew his father Cronus, who in turn had overthrown his father Uranus. He then became the ruler of the children of the Titans who were called the Olympians.  Zeus was also known for his love of women, and he pursued them  wholeheartedly behind the watchful eye of his wife.  Zeus’s wife was  Hera the goddess of wedded love, women and the sky. Given that Zeus had many transgressions, Hera was an overly jealous goddess and she spent most of her time persecuting and tormenting Zeus’s unlawful children whose only fault was being a product of illicit unions. She was known as Juno in Rome. Disguised as a maid, in a fit of jealousy, Hera managed to persuade Semele to ask Zeus to appear to her in his glorious immortal form. Semele extracted a promise from Zeus as per Hera's instructions and when Zeus appeared to the mortal Semele as the King of Heaven and the Thunderbolt God; she could not endure his brilliance and was instantly charred to death.  It was Hermes, who came to Dionysus’s rescue. Hermes was the messenger of the gods. He was the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia who was the daughter of the Titan Atlas. His winged crown and winged sandals and his wand known as the caduceus identify him. The Romans knew him as Mercury. Hermes the messenger of the gods, managed to remove the unborn Dionysus from Semele's womb and sew him into the thigh of Zeus, and later when the foetus reached maturity, he cut open Zeus's thigh to deliver Dionysus. Hera still blind in her rage, had the infant Dionysus torn to bits, but Rhea the mother of Zeus and his grandmother, managed to find the pieces of flesh and breathe life into him once again. Dionysus thus has been brought to life the third time, and possibly he is a good-natured god as he is optimistic that he will survive and endure.      Dionysus is also known as Bacchus was the god of wine and his followers were known as Maenads or Bacchantes. They did not worship him in temples, instead, they would go up on the mountains and live as one with nature and go about in a drunken manner listening only to the dictates of their own hearts. To them, Dionysus was the personification of freedom. Dionysus was the god of merrymaking. He chanced upon and married princess Ariadne and through his gatherings were known for their revelry, he was a faithful husband.   Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete, who fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus and helped him kill the Minotaur who was a terrible monster who was half man and half bull. After the hero vanquished the terrible monster, she eloped with him, but he deserted her for no apparent reason at the island where Dionysus met, comforted and subsequently married her.    Dionysus was the god of wine. Alcohol helps create an altered state of consciousness in which one drops all inhibitions and acts according to his innermost nature. The rational mind is no longer in control, and the subconscious soars. Hence there is nothing to hold one back from what they desire and no worries about the rules of society. Dionysus is best known for his indulgent lust for life and thus is the flawlessly primaeval energy whose life path is not dictated by society or ritual or propriety.      Bacchus usually appeared with minimal clothing. The nakedness of Bacchus is very telling, as it reflected the purity of his being. He has the courage to wear nothing and be totally unfettered, just as he has the courage to be what he envisions himself to be. It also reinforces the fact that he is not carrying any baggage or past experiences that weigh him down, thereby making him free to learn and create on the way. He is self-sufficient and artless, with an innocence that sustains him. He is committed to his own nature and the fertility of his endeavours which keeps him eternally youthful.      The frozen peaks of  Mount Olympus where the god stays also represent the potential of Dionysus that is yet untested but shall be manifest, as soon as he takes his journey. The mountains are representative of the laws that govern nature, since they are as old as the earth itself, and in this case housing the gods of the pantheon. They may look cold but when the glaciers melt, they bring life to the valley below. Thus if we free our consciousness and let our imaginative side take flight then we too shall be blessed by what we perceive to be a rich and fertile life.      Dionysus was kind and faithful, but he too had a cruel streak in him, which is seen in his handling of Pentheus, the King of Thebes and the son of Semele's sister. Pentheus in his extreme arrogance ignored the status of Dionysus as a god and thus Dionysus punished him by creating the illusion among his followers whom Pentheus was a mountain lion. Pentheus was with his mother and sister at that time, but they too were under the spell of Dionysus, being the first to pounce on Pentheus along with the Maenads and tear him to shreds. Thus sometimes Dionysus may actually be leading you down the path of the proverbial fool who rushed in "where angels fear to tread". Weakly Aspected one must keep in mind that the urge may be from the darker side of the mind contrary to the optimistic half.        

Meaning Of The Fool In the Tarot

The Fool is a card of beginnings, of your journey on an innovative path of self-discovery, to seek out answers or develop diverse skills. It is a time to take risks to nurture the inner child who wants to come out and play. There is a change coming your way. Take risks and let the moment be the only thing that you are preoccupied with. Have faith in the goodness of life and know that it will hold you up.  Just as Dionysus was unconventional and wild, this is the time for you to be bold, unconventional and march to your own beat. Once you release your fears and trudge forward the universe will hold you up and keep you safe, just as Dionysius was given new leases on life.     Like Bacchus, who travelled with no baggage and hardly any clothes on, the Fool reminds you to travel light. Do leave all your baggage behind, so you can truly be free.  

If however, The Fool is drawn reversed or weakly aspected, you may be making a foolish choice, thus weigh your pros and cons and do not rush headlong into things, making sure you look before you leap.   Alternatively, this could also mean that there is a change coming your way and you are too scared to make the leap of faith!   The opinions of others are holding you back from trusting your own instincts. Do not allow an opportunity to pass you by being too cautious.   Just as the right way up, the card represents airing your inner child, reversed the card asks you to address issues from your childhood. Maybe you need to have more fun. Alternatively, it can also mean that you are very childlike and dependant on others to the point of being needy.  While these meanings are all opposing, a look at the cards in a spread may help you decide where you figure in. other cards in a spread may help you decide where you figure in.

Works Cited: Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York, USA: Warner Books, Inc., April, 1999.     Hard, Robin and Herbert Jennings Rose. The Routledge handbook of Greek mythology: based on H.J. Rose's "Handbook of Greek mythology". Routledge, 2004.  Brunel, Pierre editor Companion to Literary Myths, Heroes and Archetypes Routledge, 2015. Grimal, Pierre. The dictionary of Classical Mythology. Wiley-Blackwell, 1996.

Images Used on The Site. Illustrations from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, known also as the Rider Tarot and the Waite Tarot, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. 1971 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved. The Rider-Waite Tarot deck is a registered trademark of U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

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