The nature of worship is something that gets challenged on a regular basis. Seeing as most of us grew up in a culture where worship is defined as submission to the will of an all-powerful being, who has an eternal concentration camp for folks who don’t love him sufficiently, this is somewhat understandable.
That this isn’t the point of such religions doesn’t seem to occur to people. “Worship” has taken on a connotation of fear and groveling, of constant apology and “Oh, I am not worthy!” From this, people who take up modern Pagan spirituality often reject the word, insisting that using “worship” to describe one’s relationship with a Pagan deity is to say that relationship is one of cringing and fear and servitude to something higher than us. Proud modern Pagans, it is said, do not cringe, but stand in partnership with the gods, who are after all people, too.
I disagree with this misinterpretation of worship.
Are the gods higher than us? Bigger, older, wiser, certainly. More powerful, yes, but their power is subtle and wide. I have never seen (and do not expect to ever see) obvious divine interventions, flashes of lightning striking down unbelievers and that sort of thing. Their motions are the turning seasons and the rolling sea and the bustle of downtown traffic.
Are they people, like us? I think that, in a sense, their human-like faces and human-speech names are only the smallest part of what they are. They’re the entry points we have for connecting with the vastness of whatever they are when we aren’t looking at them.
Dionysos, is the feeling of being drunk, he’s the dizziness and sweat of hours of dancing, he’s the transcendent experience of having one’s mind completely blown by orgasm. He’s the grape growing on the vine and the yeast turning fructose into alcohol and the flavor of the wine. He’s the terror that hounds the detoxing addict, the bugs under the skin, and it’s his wrath that throws a person to rock bottom. He’s the swell of power a performer feels on stage and the awe of witnessing a great performance and the electric thrill between the two that fills the hall.
He’s all these things. The somehow masculine yet effeminate yet gender ambiguous young man with the panther robes and the mad, passionate, purple eyes I see in my imagination, the gentle voice that rings in my head are just the smallest fraction of what he is.
It hasn’t been my experience that they desire fearful obedience, but I don’t quite see how we could stand as near-equals with such beings.
I worship Dionysos-the-person not because he’s some super-human to whom I owe something. I worship Dionysos-the-person because it’s the way I make myself part of all the larger things that Dionysos-the-divine-spirit is.
It’s not how I make myself worthy. It’s how I make myself big enough for him to fit into.