As the muse of poetry itself, wine lies at the heart of some of humanity’s most sophisticated and elaborate mythological tales. Since the dawn of civilization, it could be said that wine’s mind-altering properties have fueled humanity’s creative abilities to cultivate the development of language, culture, artistic expression, religion and ritual.
Wine has long been considered “Drink of the Gods.” In The Book of the Heavenly Cow, an ancient Egyptian myth Destruction of Mankind tells a tale of Ra, an aging god was made a laughing stock by mankind. Out of vengeance, he summoned his daughter Hathor to descend into the desert where she madly slaughtered men on a spiteful rampage. Taking form of the lioness Sekhmet, she massacred men and drank their blood. Becoming blood-thirsty, she nearly destroyed all of mankind. When Ra sought to cease her from abolishing humanity completely, he realized neither reason nor order could stop her frenzy. Not even the gods could call her back. Using trickery as the only means to halt her madness, the gods spilled wine over the lands while she was asleep. Upon her awakening, she drank the red liquid thinking it was blood. Dizzied by inebriation, she could not remember why she came to earth and returned to her father’s palace.
Hathor, goddess of beauty, love, and mistress of inebriation has been honored and celebrated with an annual “Day of Intoxication.” Taking place in temples, devotees attended this sacred event as an act of worship in hopes she would bestow epiphanies upon them. This ritual is celebrated on the 20th day of Thoth which is typically in mid August—a period in which the Nile river rises. During these rituals, it was common to engage in sexual activity to invite flood waters to rise to call forth fertility of the land.
Similarly, the ancient Greek god of wine, destructive madness and sensual ecstasy, Dionysos was worshiped as a god “twice born” by his mother and father. His presence in Greek mythology is much more complex, but he plays an important role in fertility rites of Greek culture symbolic to seasonal changes of the year. Festivals honoring Dionysos were known as Bacchanalia— an event in which women would gather in secrecy to drink wine (forbidden to women in Greek society), praise Dionysos and scheme to overthrow the government. When men were later permitted to join, these festivals became sexual rituals worshiped under Dionysos’s name.
Bacchus, the Romanized version of Dionysos follows similar mythological themes. Robert Fuller, professor of philosophy and religion at Bradley University discusses, “The Romans believed that wine was bestowed upon the human race by Jupiter, the great god of air, light, and heat. Nearly all Roman religious festivals coincided with important phases of the grape-growing and wine-producing agricultural cycle.” Romans also believed wine to have healing properties, often using it for medicinal purposes. He furthers that, "Asian cultures, too, associate wine with the spiritual, as seen in the large casks of sake located at Japanese Shinto shrines and the placement of wine on the ceremonial altars honoring the Chinese god of prosperity.”
Wine became a vital ingredient to Christianity and Judaism. The story of Jesus’s miracle of turning water into wine evolved into wine as a symbol of Divinity. Hebrew scriptures also interpret wine as a blessing of God. Fuller continues that, “The Christian sacrament of communion illustrates how fully the subtle pleasures of wine drinking became associated with the spiritual urge to find both union with God and fellowship in a community of love.” Author Joel Butler of Divine Vintage discusses the origins of wine in that “domesticating the wild vitis species and making wine from cultivated vines was a key event that spurred a distinctive path in the cultural evolution of humanity. That the ancient writers who wrote down the stories of the Bible were keenly aware of where wine came from, and the ‘magical’ importance it had for various reasons, is reflected in the way wine was interwoven into the texts.”
For nearly all of its existence, the ancient spirit of wine has been an allegory to our human identity. Symbolic of fertility, godliness, sexuality, and vitality, wine tells a story of mankind far beyond its mythological and religious presence. Intertwined into and through each other, wine and mythology unite the roots of our human ancestry. The human race, connected by the blood of wine, still gathers in community to enjoy the nectar of gods.
Fabricius, Karl. “Dionysus and the Origin of Wine.” Scribol.com, 24 Feb. 2014, scribol.com/lifestyle/food-and-drink/dionysus-and-the-origin-of-wine/.
Fuller, Robert. “'Let Us Adore and Drink!' A Brief History of Wine and Religion.” The Conversation, 6 Apr. 2018, theconversation.com/let-us-adore-and-drink-a-brief-history-of-wine-and-religion-35308.
Mingren, Wu. “Provocative Yet Sacred: The Ancient Egyptian Festival of Drunkenness.” Ancient Origins, Ancient Origins, www.ancient-origins.net/history-ancient-traditions/provocative-yet-sacred-ancient-egyptian-festival-drunkenness-005289.
Treat, Jason, and Ryan T. Williams. “Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze.” National
Geographic, 17 Jan. 2017, www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/02/alcohol-discovery-addiction-booze-human-culture/.
Wiener, James. “Drink of the Gods: Wine in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean – Ancient History Et Cetera.” Ancient History Et Cetera, Ancient History Et Cetera, 25 June 2014, etc.ancient.eu/interviews/drink-of-the-gods-wine-in-the-ancient-near-east-and-mediterranean/.