The God of the Vine

Once upon a time…

www.shutterstock.com 488037633A dreamer lay in the field, sleeping in the morning sun, shaded by the vines whose clusters of berries brought a delightful dizziness, if they hung on the vine too long and began to smell just so.she’d gorged herself on these berries the night before, walking along the winding path of vine. Eventually,she’d come to a place where the ground looked particularly inviting. She lay down and went about her business, which was dreaming.

In her dreams,she continued following the path of the vine, in the evening sun. The dream-vine wound into places it didn’t in the waking world, places greener and wilder than any the dreamer had seen before. After a time, the dreamer knew she was not alone.

The sound of soft footsteps came from the other side of the bramble on which the winding vine climbed. If she listened, the dreamer could hear the breath of some huge beast as well. The dreamer began to fear, for while she knew she dreamed,she’d also learned that dreaming was not always safe.

Looking back the way she’d come,she could no longer see her trail. The land had grown even wilder, berry-vines and ivy-vines covering over the path. The vines grew even as the dreamer watched them. They grew toward her, and she had the oddest feeling that having them grow over her would not be a pleasant experience. Dreaming was not alway safe.

So she faced along the path of the vine and ran. Night did not so much fall as simply appear between blinks of the dreamer’s eyes. The bramble thinned, but the vines did not. The vines grew, lush, climbing the bones of creatures the dreamer did not care to identify.

Through the wall of bone and vine, the dreamer saw the silhouette of a man running alongside her. It seemed at once to be no larger than herself, and also immeasurably vast. It looked like a shadow, but seemed also to be more solid than the vines and bones and the dreamer herself.

The dark man turned her head to stared at the dreamer with the shining gold-green eyes of a great cat. It said something as they ran, but if the dreamer heard it,she did not remember.

The dreamer woke then, a name upon her lips. That name is long lost, but it would have translated to The God of the Vine.

Later, the dreamer told the rest of the people about her dream. They listened, seriously, and discussed what it could mean. After all, the dreamer sometimes dreamed the solutions to problems the people faced, which was why they tolerated her sleeping late into the day and waking with such bizarre stories.

The people decided to leave offerings for this vine-god out at the wild edges of their fields, where the berry-vines grew. They did enjoy the berries, and if there was a god to whom they belonged, it was only fair to give the god something for the berries they took.

Some time after that, when the people had made a habit of such offerings, the dreamer saw the God of the Vine again. The god cut a branch from the vine and gave it to the dreamer, again saying something the dreamer could not later recall. When the dreamer told this to the people, a few of them decided to cut branches from the vine, and replant them someplace where the sun was good and the soil was wet.

These cuttings grew into healthy vines, and the berries grew heavier under the people’s care. And they continued to leave offerings at the edge of the wild, so that the God of the Vine might continue to give.


The priest stood high upon the palace walls and looked toward the sunset.she was watching the flight of birds against the red sky, the shapes of clouds pushed by the wind. The omens were unclear, and the king was waiting for an answer.

The king’s ancestor had come to these lands, and built the palace to protect his family and command the surrounding country. In time, the kings people had grown and spread to command all the land.

The priest’s ancestor had come with the king’s, making sacrifices to the gods they brought with them to insure that their people would be strong and secure. Over the generations, the priest’s forebears had learned the stories of the gods to whom the peasants sacrificed. Some of them seemed to be the priest’s own gods, going under local names. Others were strange, but previous priests had decided they would make good wives or husbands for their gods, and the palace priests made sacrifices to them and adapted their old stories into new songs.

Not all of the local gods had been so favored. A few had been driven out, most ignored. But some of the peasants, the wine-makers, had begun singing stories of their god within the palace walls while bringing their tax-offerings before the king.

When the king heard strange songs of a strange god, he asked the priest who this god was, and whether he was a god fit to be sung of in the palace of the people. And so the priest had been reading the omens of birds and clouds, but was no wiser.

The priest climbed down from the wall to seek his bed. The king waited for an answer, but the omens were unclear. Without guidance from the gods, the priest was inclined to forbid the songs of the wine-makers. Their god was just a peasant god, after all, a spirit of the far fields. Who would miss him?

Upon reaching his bedchamber, the priest found a servant waiting for him. She was a girl with tangled hair and wild eyes, holding out for him a cup of the new wine. It was strong, and rough, and so was the serving girl. He was, after she’d left his bed singing softly to herself, not sure which one of them had taken the other. Pleasantly drunk and exhausted, he slept, and dreamed.

In his dream, he met a strange priest with long, tangled hair and wild eyes. He was not a man of the king’s people. He was a stranger, come from the edges of civilization. The stranger warned the priest that it would be unwise to refuse to honor the god of the wine-makers, that the king might not sit the throne for long if such an insult were given. The strange priest’s eyes flashed green and gold, and the dreaming priest woke in cold sweat.

The omens were suddenly very clear.


The festival of the new wine was coming soon, and the playwright was not finished with his latest work. It was a story about the arrogance of kings and the pride of gods, but it just didn’t work. He knew the story he wanted to tell, in the broad strokes, but the lines did not feel real. They did not sing out to the heart, as if the characters to which they were given refused to speak them.

The playwright had prayed to the Muses for inspiration, as was customary. He’d poured out wine to the God of the Theater, as was also customary. Still, the lines did not sing. At times, he felt an odd urge to write a line differently, to take a character in a different direction than he’d intended. It all seemed to get away from him.

No gods appeared in his dreams. There was no fit of manic creativity to speed the work to completion. Only himself, characters who refused to do as they were told, and impatient actors reminding him that the day of performances grew ever closer.

As the festival grew closer, he began giving into these urges. Characters began saying things he did not intend. Some characters vanished entirely, to be replaced by others he’d not thought interesting. And that ending—he could only hope that no one currently in power thought he was writing about them.

At no point did the playwright have strange dreams, though he did consume much wine.

On the day, the play went on, with all its crossdressing and murder. The playwright’s intellectual themes about hubris and piety, his reasoned discourse on the roles of civilized society, were washed away in wine and blood.

Everyone loved the play. Some called it inspired.


When the frenzied preachers of the crucified Christ sacked the temples of the old gods, when the scrolls of old stories and songs burned, the old gods lost touch with most of the mortal world. Some slept, some remained barely aware through a dwindling number of worshipers who still sang to them from the countryside.

The frenzy of the Christ-worshipers was still madness, and the god took refuge there, too. In the countryside, the God of the Vine danced, half-dreaming, in the wild places. He slept with the vines in winter, he woke for the crush and the ferment and the pouring of new wine. His songs were sung, sometimes by people who did not know to whom they sang.

Then there came a time when mortals began to miss what they’d cast aside generations before. The old gods became the subject of art and song again, they became metaphors for poets and masks for players who feared too much for their lives to declaim lines the Christ-worshipers might find offensive. It was not the worship of old, but their names were spoken, and poems sung, and the old gods drew closer to the mortal world again.


The God of the Vine set out for a new land, part of his spirit sleeping in grapevines kept wet in the hold of a ship bound for the New World. These vines were wakened in the soil of a conquered land, bred alongside native vines to produce a strain that would thrive thousands of miles from where they were first grown.

These vines were grown to make wine, and the God of the Vine woke to songs strange to him, songs sung by conquered people. In their struggle to remember their own gods, the God of the Vine found a whole family of local gods he could recognize. The plant sacred to them was not anything like his own vines, but the drink made from it brought mortals to the same ecstacy.

He could not be at home with them; he was brought here by colonizers, and favored (however unknowingly) above the native gods of intoxication. The God of the Vine didn’t blame them for this. He was no stranger to coming to a land as a foreigner and establishing himself. He had a plan.

His vines spread to the north and west, up the coast of a peaceful ocean, with the spread of the temples to the Christ. The priests needed the god’s blood to celebrate the Christ, and the God of the Vine was willing to trade for passage to someplace where he could spread his vines without usurping any native gods.

For a while, the god was fenced in by the walls of the temples and the ceremonies of the Christ. The God of the Vine had come to find that the Christ was not bad, as ascetic gods go, and tried not to hold the actions of his priests against him. Besides, the Christ had some vine-like qualities of his own, and who could not like a god who made wine?

In time, the power of these temples was diminished, and the God of the Vine moved beyond the walls of the Christ’s houses. People went to great lengths to water dry hills and valleys to nurture the god’s vines, and to make and consume his wine. It did not take long for the god’s face to be painted on barrels and carved into winery walls, for his ancient names to be praised by those who practiced his art.

It was not the same as the old worship, but he was more awake than he had been in many mortal generations.

The new world God of the Vine soon walked greener, wetter hills in the north. His wine spread across the world, back to the lands where his name was first spoken by mortals. There were rough times, as when some of the mortals in his part of the new world tried to uproot him, but this passed quickly, as gods see things.


The mortals who benefited from the colonization of the world by the peoples of a few, cold lands of Christ-worshipers found themselves sitting on a hoard of wealth and wisdom stolen from all over the Earth. Among these were some who sought for more truth than the Christ-priests taught, and among those were a few who sought among the stories and idols brought home by their conquering armies.

These few began to call on ancient names, sometimes in earnest, usually mispronouncing them. They began to sing ancient songs, often in languages and meters for which they were not written. The old gods heard, half-wakening from their long sleep to wonder at these children of conquerors calling upon gods they’d never known. But the old gods did wake.

The God of the Vine was one of those so called upon. He found his name sung alongside a host of others, some of which were unknown to him, by mortals who had often as not never tended a vine nor stomped a grape. But they did offer him wine, as was propper. To his amusement, sometimes it was wine grown from his new world self.

This young worship stumbled, toddler-like, across all the colonized lands. In all these places, it found mortals who hungered for something they did not know the name of, something their ancestors had given away. Some of these young worshipers quickly established themselves alongside the peaceful ocean, where the new world God of the Vine was strong. For those who came when he called, he made a place in his retinue.

And they came, in bewildering variety, strange and wild and declaring their souls for loves and tribes unimagined in the ancient days. In the God of the Vine they found solace and inspiration, they found dance and wild music born from three continents. Riots of color and six flavors of madness each day they made in the train of the god. Their songs and words spread to places where the God of the Vine was not yet strong, and spread his call to all who would listen.

And they came, and they came, and they came. We came. I came.

And now I tell the story of the God of the Vine, and spread his call to all who will listen.

About Lon Sarver

Lon Sarver is a polytheist priest of Dionysos, living in the San Francisco Bay Area and contemplating (with a healthy amount of dread) making a second attempt at a career in Marriage and Family Therapy. View all posts by Lon Sarver

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