Lewis (2019 Congress)

H. Jeremiah Lewis
(Independent Scholar)

“Dionysos in the Northlands:
The Cult of Dionysos in Early Medieval Europe”

Abstract of Paper
To be presented at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2019)

Session on
“Classical Deities in Medieval Northern European Contexts”

Co-sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
and Polytheism-Oriented Medievalists of North America (P.–O.M.o.N.A.)

Organized by Phillip A. Bernhardt–House
2019 Congress Program

[Published on 15 March 2019]



Already in the works of Homer, among the earliest references to this God, Dionysos has shadowy origins and a reputation for being a world-traveler.  Iliad 6.129 places him on the periphery of the Hellenic world; Homeric Hymn 1 goes even further afield, speculating that his birth took place somewhere between Phoenicia and Egypt, while in Homeric Hymn 7 he is abducted by Anatolian, Lemnian, or North Italian pirates, depending on the scholarly theory to whom one ascribes.  The pirates believe him to be a prince “bound for Kypros, the Hyperboreans, or lands even further still.”  A century or so later we find the cult of Dionysos Bakcheios firmly established among the Hellenic colonies that sprang up along the shores of the Black Sea, as well as the frozen steppes of what would one day become Russia.  There is evidence that Dionysos was worshipped as far afield as the Netherlands, and even the bloody and oppressive monotheist conquests failed to put an end to Dionysos’ wanderings through this part of Europe; indeed, he made his presence felt in the post-conversion medieval landscape of Cornwall, Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Switzerland. Germany, and among the Franks.

This paper explores the cult of Dionysos and its influence within the religious currents of medieval northern Europe — particularly s possible connection to the Germanic figure of Oðr, mysterious husband of the Goddess Freya, whose name means ecstasy.