Dionysus and Pisces

Dionysus on the pirate ship

The Dionysus asteroid #3671 recently moved through Pisces in the last month, leading me to explore the connection between Dionysus and Pisces that has been previously established by numerous astrologers.  Writing about a connection between Dionysus and Pisces seems to be prevalent among astrologers influenced by Carl Jung and Depth Psychology, such as Liz Greene in her book The Astrology of Fate, and Kathleen Burt in Archetypes of the Zodiac.  Other astrologers have connected Dionysus to the archetype of Neptune, such as Ariel Guttman and Kenneth Johnson in their book Mythic Astrology.  As the Sun has now entered Pisces, with both Neptune and Chiron in Pisces as we experience a Mercury retrograde cycle initiated by a conjunction between Mercury and Neptune in Pisces, Dionysus is an interesting guide to the Mystery of life for us to consider.

Dionysus is the sub-terranean Zeus and to me he is an interesting lens to focus on how Jupiter ruling Pisces differs from Jupiter ruling Sagittarius.  I do not find fault with astrologers using Neptune as the ruler of Pisces, however, as I have seen skilled astrologers use Neptune with precision in this way.  My personal philosophy regarding astrology rulers is that thoroughly learning a specific school of astrology can reveal significant insight into the connection between the above and the below, but that the subject matter of astrology is so vast that any one frame of astrological reference is unlikely to reveal the complete, ultimate understanding.  Along these lines, I feel Dionysus is a marvelous window into Pisces because his archetype connects with the Pisces traditional ruler of Jupiter, the modern ruler of Neptune, the esoteric ruler of Pluto, and the consideration that Venus is exalted in the sign of Pisces.  In  The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Roberto Calasso described Dionysus with an air of similarity to Pisces, the last sign of the zodiac that contains all other signs and is the source of all twelve signs:

Dionysus’s line is more obscure . . . only rarely does it emerge from the shadow.  Since he is both snake and bull, all history before Zeus is recalled in him and begins again in him.

–Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, p. 208

In Dionysus we find the mystical and material participation of Pisces with nature, a full engagement and presence with the soul of the world.  In his destruction of form, we see the dissolving and death of Pisces necessary to prepare for the equinox birth of the cardinal sign Aries, the first of the zodiac.  As Joseph Campbell has said, “Dionysus represents sudden inspiration, the energy of life pouring through time and throwing off old forms to make new life . . . the thrust of time that destroys all things and brings forth all things . . . the generative power, thrust out of darkness” (Goddesses, p. 215-216).  Planets in Pisces in a chart can be similar receivers of impulsive and intuitive illumination, and people with ample Pisces energy in their chart can often seem hell-bent on their own self-destruction.  As a Pisces I am used to hearing a polarity of labels from astrologers analyzing my Sun sign, ranging from the profane to the sacred, from critical barbs to accolades.  We are told that Pisces is a sign of genius and madness, and when we aren’t being told we are divine visionaries we are told we are crazy, obsessive, narcissistic, possessed, irrational, deranged, and self-proclaimed martyrs who self-sabotage themselves.  Dionysus embodies all of this and more.

Liz Greene in The Astrology of Fate gave one of the most lucid analyses of the connection between Pisces and Dionysus.  She began by tracing the line of the Great Mother to her Divine Son that connects to the sign of Pisces  across cultures.  Most of us are familiar with the story of Aphrodite and her son Eros escaping from Typhon to become the fish that became the constellation of Pisces, but Greene goes farther back to Phoenicia and the fish cult of the Great Goddess Atargatis who had a fish son Ichtys, who later evolved into the Babylonian fish god Ea.  We can connect these stories of the great mother and her ritually sacrificed divine son to the sign of Pisces through the silvery cord of the Pisces symbol that forever bounds the personality and the soul, the material fish and the spiritual fish.  The soul born out of chaos and the great mother is bound to its source in Pisces, and through the image of the sacrificed divine son we can sense how Pisces is more of a fertilizer of the zodiac than the end of the zodiac, a fecund source embodying aspects of all twelve signs within.

As the son of Zeus it is clear that Dionysus is of divine origins, but his lineage through Zeus is the only constant in the multiple versions of his birth found in myth.  In the most popular version of his story he was the divine son of the mortal Semele by Zeus, others have him as Demeter’s offspring, while many accounts also reveal him as the son of Persephone with her father Zeus.  In The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Roberto Calasso reveals a spiral conception of Dionysus in which Zeus mates with Persephone and Semele at different times to birth Dionysus, both times in the form of a snake, the form of Goddess.  Calasso wrote that as Zeus, transformed into a snake, pressed his lips against Semele’s, intoxicating her with nectar, that “vine leaves were sprouting up on the bed and there was a sound of drums beating in the darkness” as the “earth laughed” at the moment of his conception (p. 47).  Semele, however, is not your ordinary mortal:  she is the daughter of Cadmus, the hero who brought the alphabet to Greece, and of Harmony, a goddess of concord who some say was the daughter of Aphrodite and Ares.

Semele_Gustave_Moreau_004

This lineage between Semele and Cadmus, the source of the Greek alphabet, is of great importance to the thesis behind The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain.  Shlain theorized that Dionysus arose in prominence in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in Greece in response to the impact of the alphabet on the collective psyche, as rational thought and intellectual theory became elevated in eminence along with the rise of patriarchal gods into positions formerly held by matriarchal goddesses.  A need arose for an irrational god of dance, drunkenness, sex, ecstasy, revelry, madness, tragedy, and dismemberment according to Shlain, who further revealed a connection between Dionysus and another divine son of a mortal woman, Jesus Christ:

For five thousand years following the advent of agriculture, people ardently believed that the Great Mother revitalized the earth, just as she resurrected her beloved son/ lover/ brother each spring.  It is the story of Inanna and Dumuzi, Isis and Osiris, Ishtar and Tammuz, and Aphrodite and Adonis.  In the most sacred ancient rite of the hiero gamos- the sacred marriage- the man was a mortal and the woman was a goddess.  But in Classical Greece, a god arose who had the power to resurrect himself and the earth without the agency of the all-important mother.  The son- a god- resurrected his mother who was merely mortal.  A thousand years after Dionysus, this elemental myth was once again revised.  Mary, the mortal mother of Christ, helplessly witnessed the death of her son in springtime.  Now, only the Father could resurrect His Son.  Dionysus is the crucial link between the myth of Osiris and the story of Christ.

— Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, p. 144

Although the message of Jesus and his portrayal in the Bible differs from some of the images of Dionysus found in myth, Shlain noted that “both Christ and Dionysus were outcast charismatic leaders accompanied by scruffy followers,” that they each “represented the mystic side of human nature,” and that both of them “triumphed over conventional rationality and pragmatism” (p. 147).  Astrologers have also connected both Dionysus and Jesus Christ to the sign of Pisces, some believing that Dionysus was a significant precursor to the Age of Pisces ushered in by Jesus Christ, who some also believe was a Pisces Sun sign with a lot of additional Pisces energy.  For example, there is all of the fish symbolism associated with Jesus and his disciples, and his last meal in which Jesus has his followers drink his blood as wine, and eat his body as bread, is ripe with Dionysian overtones.  In Archetypes of the Zodiac, Kathleen Burt found that both Dionysus and Jesus Christ traveled through the same geographic region and “preached many of the same lessons- humility, resignation, surrender to grace and God’s will, receptivity, honoring the Divine” and that the “issue of dualism which developed during the Age of Pisces with the Dionysius cult is even more strongly apparent in Christianity” (p. 498).   Liz Greene in The Astrology of Fate wrote that “Dionsysos is a sort of shadow-Christ, a Christ with a phallus, for he himself, like Christ, is both victim and redeemer.”   In addition, just as Jesus Christ’s birth became an event celebrated through widespread religious ritual, so was Dionysus the divine son revealed and honored in widespread ancient rituals, including the Eleusis Mystery ritual.  Indeed, in these sacred mysteries Dionysus was a genuine epiphany, a divine revelation initiating participants into “the grounds of existence, that source of consciousness and energy of which we are all manifestations” (Campbell, p. 191).

To me, the story of Dionysus being born from his father, Zeus, connects with the dominant theme of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” that arose in the Age of Pisces.  This strange birth occurred after a jealous Hera tricked a pregnant Semele into becoming burned to ashes by Zeus, resulting in the fetus of Dionysus becoming salvaged and sewn into the thigh of Zeus.  Since Dionysus was born from both his mother’s womb and his father’s thigh, he became known as the “twice-born” and a symbol of male spiritual initiation.  Joseph Campbell has described the male initiation associated with Zeus birthing Dionysus as “that you get your physical life from your mother, while you get your spiritual culture life, your life as it shall be lived in your society, from your father” (Goddesses, p. 214).  This description by Joseph Campbell of a societal role of spirit and culture aligns with the astrological meaning of the planet Jupiter, and when we focus on the meaning behind Jupiter ruling the sign of Pisces through the lens of Dionysus, we gain a sense of a heart rendering initiation as part of this process.  In ancient times, the Dionysian Mysteries such as at Eleusis were known as an initiation onto the philosophic path, as Plato recorded that Socrates took part in the rituals at Eleusis and found them to be “one of the most illuminating experiences of his career” (Campbell, p. 197; wikipedia).

Many writers have also theorized that there is an initiation lineage going from Jesus back to Dionysus and then to Osiris, as all three figures experience resurrection following dismemberment or crucifixion.  The mystical rebirth from death of Dionysus is central to his role in the mystery traditions that brought an immanent sense of epiphany to participants in the ritual.  This initiation through dismemberment, like the crucifixion of Christ, links Dionysus to the meaning in esoteric astrology behind Pluto as the ruler of Pisces.  In esoteric astrology, Pluto is a first ray planet of destruction like Shiva, bringing freedom to us through a death of form.  Pisces as a sign of duality, a sign in which the personality and soul are separated while bound together, can burn through the flames of Pluto into a soul-centered sense of unity.  Alan Oken through esoteric astrology has taught about the personality of Pisces trying to separate from its deep sense of connection to soul through hedonism, drugs, addictions, and fantasies to no avail, as no more can the Pisces personality escape its soul than can the soul of Pisces break free from its incarnation in human flesh.  There can be a premonition of fear in Pisces of an impending dismemberment or destruction of a cherished hope or ideal that can coincide with cycles of self-destruction and self-sabotage that baffle others.  And yet it can be through the burning ground of these experiences that Pisces experiences a heart opening through the Plutonic destruction of old forms that create a regenerated sense of self.

The many layers of duality found in Pisces can also be found in Dionysus, as Liz Greene and others have noted how he embodies concepts such as redeemer/victim, savior/devourer, yin/yang, intuition/reason, sacred/profane, creative genius/madness, and passionate love/passionate anger.  Yet instead of trying to rationalize this duality, separate the concepts into a bi-polar analysis, we can remember that Dionysus is whole and embodies these concepts integrated together within his holistic self, not separated.  To Liz Greene, the idea that Dionysus embodies an “ecstatic unity with natural, undying life” and a “seeking of union with the divine” that paradoxically mixes “the holy with the vicious and sadistic,” can be explained through his connection to Pisces because in the sign of the fish “these two opposites live side by side” and “each generates the other,” much like the interplay between good and evil.   Joseph Campbell, in noting how the spiritual initiation of Dionysus links him with the divine feminine and leads the initiate into a dissolving of duality, said “this is the condition of the dreamer, and roundabout we see the way of initiation, the way to get past it, to realize your androgyny in the metaphysical sense, and your immortality along with your mortality” (Goddesses, p. 223).

This notion of a metaphysical androgyny connects with Pisces, whose natives often have an integrated sense of their “masculine” and “feminine” sides, and also with Dionysus, who was an androgynous god.  In order to protect the young Dionysus from another dismembering attack from Titans orchestrated by Hera, Dionysus was dressed in female attire and raised as a woman by nymphs.  He grew into a figure that brought women, groups of women, into rapturous states of spiritual ecstasy, and many of his sacred rituals were only open to participation from women.  In an age of gods in which patriarchal figures overtook roles previously given to goddesses, Dionysus emerged as a bearer of the divine feminine and so by connecting him into the sign of Pisces we can add an extra layer of meaning into the exaltation of Venus in Pisces.  The orgiastic sexual release and drunken debauchery that have been associated with some of these rites also connect to the lustful hedonism of Venus and delight in the carnal sense of the body that houses the soul, and the ability of Venus to harmonize euphoria from discord.  The more malificent image of frenzied women ripping apart flesh and limbs into dismemberment aligns with the more destructive side of Venus and the divine feminine, often called a “Dark Goddess” energy like Kali of cutting away, a death in preparation for a birth, a shattering of structure giving space to generate a new form.

However, the connection between Dionysus and Pisces, and the exaltation of Venus in Pisces, has significance beyond the link between the divine feminine and Dionysus:  art, in particular the dramatic arts.  Dionysus was a god of the theater at at time when the theater was a sacred space of religious significance.  Those who still feel this divine passion for the theater in our modern times can be said to be swept up in the spirit of Dionysus, for both the tragic and the comedic masks were sacred to him, and he was associated with a cathartic theater experience:

Drama, the art form combining poetry, music, gesture, and spectacle, arose from Dionysian ritual and is best appreciated by the right brain.  The art of tragedy expresses the irrational nature of Dionysus.  Plays like “Antigone” and “Hamlet” end with the stage littered with corpses, yet tragedy is a most exhilarating form of entertainment.  Why do audiences feel ennobled after witnessing the anguished destinies of “Medea,” “Oedipus,” or “King Lear?”  Why does the hero’s or heroine’s despair transmute into the audience’s exultation? This paradox is at the heart of the Dionysian enigma.

–Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet versus the Goddess, p. 138

Kathleen Burt in Archetypes of the Zodiac made an insightful allusion to Pisces through the shape-shifting nature of Dionysus that took on forms beyond human such as the bull, the lion, and the serpent in the way in which Pisces “is the sign of the actor or the chameleon who can play any role in any stage setting or environment of life” (p. 492).  Burt also noted that her Pisces clients often would appear to her as if they were wearing a tragic mask they would perform through during her sessions with them, with their soul energy present in an underworld beyond the time and space of the meeting place.  Pisces is more apt to reveal and express their soul energy in a safe and sacred space of artistic creation where they will face the darkest depth of their being, for as Liz Greene wrote in The Astrology of Fate “even in artistic creation the experience of death and dismemberment, for Pisces, is an integral part.”  Through art and music a Pisces, or planets in Pisces, can merge the personality with the soul into a channeled release that can imbibe the manifested form with tremendous life force that can inspire an audience into ecstatic depths of joy and agony, into a Dionysian experience.

Dionysus with Maenad and Satyr

The Dionysus Asteroid #3671

  • The asteroid Dionysus #3671 was in Pisces from January 10 –  February 14, 2014.  Dionysus is in Aries from February 15 – April 1, 2014.
  • Dionysus was conjunct Neptune in Pisces from January 11 – 16, 2014
  • Dionysus was conjunct Chiron in Pisces from January 19-24, 2014
  • Dionysus is conjunct Uranus in Aries from February 23 – March 7, 2014.
    • Dionysus will be square both Jupiter in Cancer and Pluto in Capricorn from February 23 – March 12, 2014.
  • The Dionysus asteroid is an “Amor asteroid,” most of which orbit between the Earth and Mars.  Other well known Amor asteroids are Eros #433, Amor #1221, and Nyx #3908.
  • Dionysus asteroid #3671 was discovered on May 27, 1984 by Carolyn and Gene Shoemaker at Palomar observatory.  The Sun was tightly conjunct the North Node of the Moon in Gemini on this day of discovery, and also conjunct Venus at the beginning of Gemini.  Uranus was conjunct the South Node of the Moon in Sagittarius.  Dionysus was retrograde in Scorpio at 2°39′ on its day of discovery.

The meaning of the Dionysus asteroid carries the full archetypal meaning of the mythic Dionysus, so is not limited by an association with Pisces.  However, as Dionysus is a regenerating figure, the fertilizing sign of Pisces which transitions the end of the zodiac to the beginning is a fitting guide into the astrological meaning of the Dionysus asteroid.  Yet the astrological impact of the Dionysus asteroid will shape-shift just like the Dionysus of myth depending upon the astrological sign it transits (for example, Aries at the moment) and aspects it makes (for example, currently becoming conjunct with Uranus and in square to Jupiter and Pluto).  The fact that the Dionysus asteroid was discovered at a time of a Gemini Sun and Venus conjunct the North Node of the Moon in Gemini, with a Sagitarius Uranus conjunct the South Node of the Moon, is certainly another factor to prioritize in analysis, along with Dionysus being retrograde at the beginning of Scorpio when discovered.

There is also an archetypal association between Pluto and Dionysus found in the seminal work Cosmos and Psyche by Richard Tarnas, with a different implication than the connection of Dionysus with Pluto through its esoteric rulership of Pisces.  Tarnas in this work tracked outer planet cycles across centuries, and so interpreted mundane events and themes from history through a Dionysian influence during periods of Pluto being conjunct, square, or in opposition to Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, and/or Jupiter.  Tarnas discerned a clear “Plutonic-Dionysian archetype” that mixes with other archetypes such as the “Prometheus archetype of rebellion and freedom, creativity, innovation, and sudden radical change” he associated with the Uranus archetype during periods like today with our Pluto and Uranus square, or at other times of a conjunction between Pluto and Uranus like in the 1960s.  Tarnas through extensive historical research across time found that “the Plutonic-Dionysian principle appears to act by compelling, empowering, and intensifying what it touches, with profoundly transformative and sometimes overwhelming destructive consequences” (p. 166).  While I do not mean to suggest we should apply the entire meaning of large Pluto cycles to the Dionysus asteroid, I do think this description of a Dionysus archetype developed by Tarnas can be applied to the transit of the Dionysus asteroid-  since the Dionysus asteroid moves fairly quickly, only taking about a month or so to move through a sign, it will have much more frequent and brief movement and aspects through our natal chart than the plodding Pluto.

Since the interplay of Pluto and Uranus in esoteric astrology has to do with the destruction of old archetypes and the birth of new archetypes, it is interesting to me that the transit of Uranus in Pisces (remember, esoterically ruled by Pluto) that was followed by the current square between Uranus and Pluto has coincided with widespread attention given to trans-gender, gender questioning, and other identities beyond binary definitions of male and female.  While Dionysus is not the most fitting archetype to be the “face” so to speak for such a shift, he is an androgynous and effeminate god whose thrusting, generative impact on collective events does connect with an eruption of intense events unraveling around a shattering of antiquated definitions concerning gender identity.  Since the Dionysus asteroid is moving through Aries this month and will soon be conjunct Uranus and in square to Pluto as well as Jupiter, it will interesting to see what events develop.  One clearly developing story at this time around these issues is Pussy Riot, who have been attempting to stage protests near the Olympic Games in Russia in part to protest homophobic laws and have been on the receiving end of arrests and sadistic beatings by Cossacks while refusing to back down from their protests.  The name Pussy Riot certainly conjures Dionysian images, and their assertive, initiating activism goes well with the application of the Dionysus asteroid to the sign of Aries and a transit to Uranus.

Of course, when writing any article on Dionysus it seems a necessity to at least mention the enormously influential work The Birth of Tragedy in which Friedrich Nietzshce created a compelling contrast between Apollonian and Dionysian impulses and principles in part through an exploration of the dramatic art of tragedy that was sacred to ancient Greek culture.   In contrast to viewing Apollo as a representation of order, harmony, clarity, and reason, Nietzsche described Dionysus as representing chaos, passion, ecstasy, and intoxication.  Along these lines Dionysus is a liberator and a loosener of instinct who dissolves boundaries:  a necessary counterbalance to the Apollo impulse in order to create great art like the Greek tragedy.  Finding the middle way between Dionysus and Apollo is the path toward great art, according to Nietzsche-  in the great tragedies the hero attempts to create an Apollonian order out of the Dionysian chaos, gaining a Dionysian sense that it is impossible to make choices that will change the ultimate balance of the world.  In this way the character of Hamlet, who ultimately chooses non-action in response to his realization of the futility of changing the tragic nature of his scenario, is a Dionysus character to Nietzsche, and it is the great art of such tragedies that gives the audience greater realization into the Dionysian nature of the world (wikipedia).

In lectures Joseph Campbell has analyzed this dichotomy of Nietzsche’s in the sense that while the “Apollonian represents the fascination with that which is in the poignant, passing moment . . . the Dionysian represents identification with the energy that is shattering and bringing forth new forms” (p. 127).  In this way Campbell explained art can take us to a Dionysian state beyond duality, “filled with awe and terror and fascination,” with both “the fear of god” and “the love of god,” because you will not catch “the sense of the mystery, how shattering it is to your whole system and your ideas and everything else, unless you get both senses” (p. 128).

Ever up for a good argument, James Hillman in Mythic Figures asserted that this influential work by Nietschze actually led many astray to a degree, because Hillman believed that Nietzsche was too much under the influence of the Germanic Wotan in his analysis and evocation of Dionysus.  Hillman believed that in both psychiatry and scholarship the Apollonian concepts of “light, order and distance” had been favored over the “emotional involvement” of Dionysus.  Hillman thought that as a result there had been a repression of the Dionysian, and a distorted sense of regarding Dionysus as “inferior, hysterical, effeminate, unbridled, and dangerous,” instead of viewing Dionysus as the “lord of souls,” a status Hillman saw as more fitting for this mythic figure.  Hillman significantly cited Heraclitus as back-up:

Heraclitus pointed out in regard to the obscene Lenean rites of the Dionysian cult that they must be understood in the light of the unity of Hades and Dionysus.  They may not be taken on the literal level of concrete enactment, but have an invisible meaning for the soul in terms of its underworld psychic life. –James Hillman, Mythic Figures

Hillman linked Jung’s exploration of alchemy to the dismemberment of Dionysus, that through a process of “beheading or dissolving the central control of the old king” we enter a state of “activating the pneuma that is distributed throughout the materializations of our complexes,” meaning  that this “dismemberment of central control is at the same time the resurrection of the natural light of archetypal consciousness distributed in each of the organs.”  Thus along these lines it can be possible to add an alchemical dimension to the Dionysus archetype, that according to Hillman is “an initiation into the archetypal consciousness of the body” that makes dismemberment “necessary for awakening the consciousness of the body.”  Hillman saw this alchemical dismemberment as an awareness that can cut through the “habitual ways we have ‘grown up’ and ‘grown together,'” by making us aware of the light found within each distinct part of our body- so it is not really a process, and “not a movement from integreation to dis-integration to re-integration.”  It is more of a loosening that “results in the activation of the psychic life of the organs.”

Centuries before Nietzsche analyzed the dichotomy of Apollo and Dionysus, the 15th Century Renaissance astrologer and philosopher Marsilio Ficino saw Bacchus (Dionysus) and Apollo as the two elements of soul, with Bacchus associated with “Wine” and the “Aroma of Wine,” and Apollo associated with “Music” and “Light” (Moore, p. 77).  In The Planets Within Thomas Moore analyzed Ficino’s elements of psyche through Dionysus:

Dionysos is the god of being-torn-apart; or, put in another way, to be torn apart is to experience the god Dionysos.  Dionysos is the grape crushed and fermented to resurrect as wine, and wine is the god taken into the body, affecting the soul.  Profound paradox can be found in the nature of most deities, but in Dionysos paradox is of the essence . . . Touched by a Dionysian spirit, ego feels the stupor of drunkenness and the pain of dismemberment, but these are only phases in the process of the reestablishment of life . . . Wine, therefore, as an image, is the answer to the hard defensiveness of the narcissistic ego . . . in the psychic realm, one’s base has to be fluid like wine, and it has to support, not stability and security, but multiplicity and movement . . . Ficino makes it clear that Bacchic insanity and illogic are fundamental to the psyche. — Thomas Moore, The Planets Within, p. 80

Drawing from the Platonic tradition, Ficino believed that there is a necessary madness involved in awakening the soul, a certain level of insanity and instability in comparison to what is considered to be normal and sane.  According to Thomas Moore, Ficino saw that “in order to transcend ego concerns and materialistic unconsciousness,” we require “inner figures” that represent specific types of irrational consciousness:  “poet, priest, prophet, and lover” (p.  97).  For example with regards to poetic madness in the Platonic tradition, Moore quoted Ficino as writing that, “many poets compose in madness and afterwards do not know what they have said, as if God had used them as musical instruments” (p. 98).  Dionysus is specifically associated with priestly madness to Ficino, representing the necessity of departing from “logical, literal, normal, reasonable, and linear patterns of thought” in order “to gain  entry to the mysteries of the soul” (p. 103).  Since the soul and psyche does not work through a logic aligned with our “rational” and “reasoning mind,” in order to come to an understanding of the true mysteries of the soul, according to Ficino “it is necessary to move away from ordinary activities and patterns of thought” (p. 104).

According to Moore, Ficino and his friends were fascinated by the secretive nature of the Mystery initiations and the knowledge known only to initiates, and so a necessary priestly madness to Ficino aligned with the concept that the “mysteries revealed through Dionysian, priestly consciousness are the eternal patterns of the psyche, the side of the soul that is godlike rather than human, though through ritual a connection  is established between personal consciousness and a cyclic pattern” (p. 105). In all, to wrap up this summary of various approaches to the Dionysus archetype, all of these concepts can potentially be applied to the meaning of the Dionysus asteroid in transit or the application of Dionysus to the Pisces archetype.  If we notice a time of intensity is aligning with these themes, either through a transit of the Dionysus asteroid or a significant Pisces transit, such as the current transit of the Sun across the placements of both Neptune and Chiron in Pisces, we can  gain a realization that the experience is necessary if we wish to increase awareness of our soul.

Dionysos with Ariadne

From out of the Underworld

An earthy, fertilizing, regenerative sort of god, Dionysus has the ability to descend and ascend from the underworld like only a few other mythic figures (Persephone, Hermes/Mercury, Psyche, Orpheus, Venus as Ishtar/Inanna), in both the role of guiding his mother Semele out of the underworld as well as in a constant role of a god united with the presence of Hades.  This is interesting at this time because on February 15, 2014 the Dionysus asteroid crossed the cardinal axis and Aries point on a significant day of Hermes being in the underworld, as the inferior conjunction of Mercury retrograde and the Sun occurred.  In addition, during the time that Venus went into the underworld at the time of her inferior conjunction with the Sun on January 11, 2014, the Dionysus asteroid was significantly conjunct Neptune in Pisces.  After Venus arose from the underworld as the Morning Star around January 17, the Dionysus asteroid entered a conjunction with Chiron in Pisces.  I believe we can also gain insight into the transit of Neptune and Chiron in Pisces through considering how the Dionysus archetype could be involved in our experiences, especially since Chiron in Pisces will be coming into another grand water trine with Jupiter in Cancer and Saturn in Scorpio.  With each of the personal planets taking turns going into an underworld retrograde journey, first Venus and now Mercury, and very soon Mars will take its turn- this plays up the theme of Dionysus being a guide to our soul and an archetypal figure who can take us into the underworld and guide us back out regenerated.

In order to give some natal chart examples using the Dionysus asteroid, I am going to begin by focusing on the link between Pisces and Dionysus through two Pisces Sun sign musical figures who I have thought for a long time embody the link between Dionysus and Pisces:   Lou Reed (who I previously wrote about  here) and Kurt Cobain (who I previously wrote about  here). There is an androgynous side to each in how they projected themselves into our culture, and each had a shattering impact on popular culture in a Dionysian manner.  Although Lou did not have an immediate impact as far as huge amounts of financial success goes, he influenced countless individuals who eventually created the Punk Rock movement of the 1970s that correspondingly influenced the musical development of Kurt Cobain.  Kurt Cobain, however, had a true Dionysian impact on popular culture in an immediate, immanent manner, completely dismantling the structure and form of commercial, popular music at the beginning of the 1990s during a conjunction between, of course, Uranus and Neptune.  Does the Dionysus asteroid show up as significant in their birth charts?  Yes:

  • Kurt Cobain had Dionysus retrograde in Cancer at 24 degrees conjunct Jupiter retrograde in Cancer at 26 degrees, in trine to his Venus, Saturn, and Chiron in Pisces and also in trine to his Neptune in Scorpio, creating a Grand Water Trine.
  • Lou Reed had Dionysus in Pisces at 27 degrees opposite his Neptune retrograde in Virgo at 29 degrees.  His Dionysus was sextile his Taurus stellium of Saturn, Uranus, Mars, and the true node of Black Moon Lilith.

Kurt Cobain had a meteoric rise to fame after experiencing many challenging experiences in the first twenty or so years of his life, at times surrounded by madness and required to survive on his own just like Dionysus.  His Dionysian love of art and excesses with intoxication at times has been well-documented, as well as his tragic ending in dismemberment.  The Dionysus asteroid was active in Kurt’s chart at the time of his passing, as on the day of his death it was transiting the end of Aquarius conjunct his Sun- this means that in the aftermath of his death with the extraordinary public outcry that followed, the Dionysus asteroid would have been conjunct his Pisces Sun.  There is a thrusting, generative power to Kurt’s voice and guitar playing, an immanent presence of power that magnetized youth not only across the United States of Amercia, but around the world.  He was difficult for some to understand, a seeming paradox of personality traits that make perfect sense through the lens of Dionysus.  He was also deeply understood by many, including many youth still to this day, not unlike a Dionysian cult he could incite to heights of ecstasy through his music.  There was also a Dionysian element in his tradition of destroying the material elements of his performances:

Lou Reed had his own shocking experiences associated with gender and sexual identity, as he was given electroshock treatment to “cure” his homosexual longings as a teenager, and he later had a relationship with a trans-sexual woman that was shocking to mainstream American culture.  Everything about the way in which Lou thrust himself into the national music scene of the 1960s was shattering, from the abrasive sound of his guitar and feedback, to his lyrics detailing the lives of inner city inhabitants defined as “sordid” by the mainstream perspective.  Moreover, through his initially strong association with Andy Warhol, he found himself writing beautiful lyrics for the Germanic chanteuse Nico and performing on stage in a Dionysian production of throbbing lights, projected cinema, and dancers jumping and prancing around in revelry, some cracking whips.  There was also a paradoxical duality to Lou’s music that he transcended into the unity of his own personal style, that could veer between screeching blasts of guitar with a soul dance beat, to melodious harmonies of tender and intimate lyricism.  During the time of the Dionysus-themed events documented by Richard Tarnas in Cosmos and Psyche in the late 1960s when Pluto was conjunct Uranus in Virgo and Lou Reed’s music and presence was gaining greater notoriety on the national stage, Pluto and Uranus would have been opposite his Dionysus asteroid in Pisces and conjunct his Neptune in Virgo.  A true Dionysian activation, indeed.

Two other figures that came to my mind in connection with making a Dionysian impact on popular culture during the 1960s who are not Pisces Sun signs, are Bob Dylan and John Lennon.  In the time leading up to the conjunction between Pluto and Uranus in the 1960s, Bob Dylan and John Lennon developed a rivalry of sorts as to who was the voice of their generation, as each had a shattering impact on the collective psyche in a different way, but in a manner in each case that was Dionysian.  Neither was the most skilled musician or in possession of the most melodious voice- instead there was a primal power that each channeled through their voice and guitar, along with a lyrical sense that struck audiences around the world on a soul level.  Is the Dionysus asteroid significant in the charts of Bob Dylan and John Lennon?  Of course.  They also have a connection of both having Dionysus conjunct Pluto, the esoteric ruler of Pisces:

  • Bob Dylan, or Robert Zimmerman as he was born, has his Dionysus asteroid closely conjunct his Chiron at 28 degrees of Cancer, also conjunct his Pluto at 3 degrees of Leo.
  • John Lennon  had a 3-4 degree Leo Dionysus that is conjunct his Pluto at 4-5 degrees in Leo, and exactly opposite his Aquarius Moon at 3-4 degrees (all square to his Scorpio Mercury at 8-9 degrees).

Again, the idea that Dylan was not the most talented musician in the world but was able to channel extraordinary energy and power into his performances, combined with lyrics that connected with a generation on a deep soul level, aligns him with the Dionysus archetype, doubly so since he had a conjunction between his Dionysus asteroid and his Pluto.  After his rise to stardom as a folk star, Dylan shape-shifted in a Dionysian manner into a new electric persona that brought him even greater fame and an intense touring schedule that led him into excessive drug use and an exhausted mind-frame that seemed to be focused at times on his own self-destruction.  In the video below, I’ve included footage from the movie I’m Not There, because the director Todd Oldham made the brilliant choice to cast actress Cate Blanchett as the Dylan of this electric, drug-infused time period, giving an air of androgyny to the character that re-inforces the Dionysian quality.  After an excerpt from the movie, the video below then shifts into actual footage of the real Dylan being interviewed in December of 1965 at the heart of the conjunction between Uranus and Pluto in Virgo, a time of Dionysus.  A number of Dionysian themes reveal themselves in these exchanges:

This “incarnation” of Dylan ended in a motorcycle accident in which he ultimately re-birthed himself again into pop culture with a different identity and presence.  On the day of the crash, July 29, 1966, the transiting Dionysus asteroid was closely conjunct transiting Jupiter in Cancer (Dionysus at 17º31′ and Jupiter at 18º20′ Cancer), both widely conjunct his natal Dionysus and Chiron conjunct in Cancer at 28 degrees.   Interestingly, this also happened to be the time of an inferior conjunction of Mercury retrograde and the Sun that was also conjunct Dylan’s Pluto- this transit of course sticks out more so to astrologers, but it is still nonetheless fascinating that the Dionysus asteroid was also part of this.  It also means that Hermes, the more “rational” guide of souls in the underworld was working with Dionysus, the more “irrational” guide of souls in the underworld at this time, archetypally.   In the aftermath of this accident, Dylan would have had his Dionysus return through asteroid transit.  Ultimately, in pop culture he also had a Dionysus return into a new form, first appearing with the more Biblical inspired John Wesley Harding and then a few years later as practically a country music star doing duets with Johnny Cash.  The song “All Along the Watchtower” was recorded on the first album he released following his motorcycle crash- it contains the lyrics, “Businessman, he drinks my wine / ploughman digs my earth” that evokes a sense of Dionysus.

In contrast to the solitary figure of Bob Dylan,  John Lennon was seen as the leader of  The Beatles when they first came to America.  Recently American pop culture was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the night The Beatles played live on The Ed Sullivan Show, an event that to everyone who was alive at the time seems indescribable in the excitement and impact created by John Lennon and his mates.  In these early days of their impact upon American culture, The Beatles embodied Dionysian themes in part through driving women into a frenzy, practically needing security protection at points to keep mobs of women from devouring them.   In American public performances they were usually not even able to hear one another on stage because of the loud female screaming.  In his natal chart, the opposition between John’s natal Pluto in Leo and Moon in Aquarius usually generates attention from astrologers, but adding in the fact that the Dionysus asteroid is so tightly opposite his Moon and conjunct his Pluto adds an interesting dimension to this aspect.  Like Bob Dylan, the fact Lennon came into prominence during a Dionysian time of a Pluto and Uranus conjunction reinforces the Dionysian theme of him having the Dionysus asteroid conjunct his Pluto.  Being opposite his Aquarius Moon, I feel the Dionysus asteroid also adds in some meaning to how Lennon’s physical appearance shape-shifted over time, beginning with him becoming a star whose hair was judged as “too long” and “effeminate” to a star who truly grew his hair long in the end, by the end of the 1960s appearing with a look evoking traditional images of Jesus Christ, another Dionysian figure.  In addition, John  Lennon’s relationship with Yoko Ono at this time was also categorized by some as a sort of Great Mother/Divine Son dynamic.

In conclusion, whether you have the Dionysus asteroid in a prominent place in your natal chart or not, exploring the Dionysus archetype can still shed illuminating light on current experiences, particularly from the perspective of Richard Tarnas that aligns Dionysus with Pluto-  we are in a square between Pluto and Uranus, an opposition between Pluto and Jupiter, and in another month we will have a cardinal grand cross involving Pluto, Uranus, Jupiter, and Mars.  In addition, through the link between Dionysus and Pisces we can consider how his themes could be informing the current transits of Neptune and Chiron through Pisces.  On an even grander scale, although there is a lot of talk of the Age of Aquarius, we are still in the Age of Pisces, and the archetype of Dionysus is deeply connected to this age, in fact in many ways it could be called an Age of Dionysus.  Exploring Dionysus to a deeper level, as he is a deeply complex archetype I have barely begun to address through this post, will help all of us gain greater insight into the Age of Pisces we are living through in these intense times.

Dionysus statue

References:

Burt, Kathleen. (1996). Archetypes of the Zodiac. Llewellyn.

Calasso, Roberto. (1993). The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony.  Knopf.

Campbell, Joseph. (2013).  Goddesses: Mysteries of  the Feminine Divine. Edited by Safron Rossi, PhD. New World Library.

Greene, Liz. (1984).  The Astrology of Fate. Weiser Books.

Guttman, A. & Johnson, K. (1993). Mythic Astrology:  Archetypal Powers in the Horoscope.

Hillman, James. (2007). Mythic Figures. Spring Publications, Inc.

Shlain, Leonard.  (1998).  The Alphabet versus the Goddess:  the conflict between Word and Image.  Viking.

Tarnas, Richard. (2007). Cosmos and Psyche. Plume.

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10 thoughts on “Dionysus and Pisces

  1. Gray, I look forward to reading this and am constantly struck by the synchronistic parallels in our foci. This last month, I have been immersed in reflections on Rafael Lopez-Pedraza’s Dionysus in Exile, published by Chiron. Thanks always for your contemplative posts and for the art you include. I wanted to let you know how often we seem to be riding the same wavelengths. Many blessings. 🙂

    • Dear Julie,

      How interesting that you mention being on a similar wavelength of thought to me. I have intended to post on Dionysus for a long time now, but it took me a long time to feel comfortable writing about him and even now I know there is much more depth to him than I have touched upon here. I am very intrigued by the book on Dionysus you have referenced, as I have never read nor heard about that book before. Thank you for taking the time to read my writing and comment.

  2. I was fascinated by his multiple mothers. Could it mean that his position in society is clear (paternal) but that his “nature” is not? It links up with his dismemberment, too, insofar as any dismembered god must necessarily throw the demarcations of the body, and thereby the self, into question. Great article, Gray.

    • Kelsey, in my opinion you are right on about the dismembered Dionysus necessarily throwing the self into question. I just re-posted this on my other social media sites cause I feel like with Pluto shifting and Mercury about to go retrograde in Scorpio, with Venus in the underworld compost the Sun, with the Dionysus asteroid in early Cancer in trine to Neptune and the stationing Mercury, we are in another time Dionysus could be more prominent than normal. Thank you for your thoughts here.

  3. Hi Gray,
    This popped up on my FB timeline this morning, after I had a dream last night where Dionysus had a starring role. Are you careful about orbs here? I checked out my natal placement and it is conjunct my Sun/ Moon midpoint, trine my Jupiter and conjunct my Pluto ( 4 degree orb) Great article as always!

    • Linda, all I can say is that I felt compelled to re-post this article on Facebook, though in part it had to do with being the time following Pluto stationing direct. When I looked up that the Dionysus asteroid is in Cancer now in trine to Neptune in Pisces and stationing Mercury in Scorpio, I became more sure. Now you dream is giving me further validation, so thank you for sharing this with me. If I remember correctly, I believe Lou Reed may have also shown up in a dream of yours back when I wrote an article on Lou Reed? Thank you for your compliments on my writing- this one on Dionysus is one of my favorite posts I’ve written.

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