Did Dionysus Have Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Arkane Curiosities

Mortals aren’t the only ones who can manifest dissociative identity disorder — many deities from ancient times had multiple personas. People with dissociative identity disorder (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder or incorrectly as “split personality”) have a system of individuals all working within a single host (or body).

The core is the original child and the first identity born to the host. Some view the core as the owner of the system and is often the part with the most power. There are multiple alters (or other personalities) that fulfill specific roles, such as Protector, Persecutor, and Memory Holder. A Gatekeeper often allows the different alters to front (or take control of the host).

Different deities from across the world’s pantheons have different aspects that front for various purposes. In Celtic mythology, there is the Morrígan, who has three aspects all related to war and death. In Hindu belief, the trimurti has three gods in one body each in charge of one aspect of creation.

Perhaps the most intriguing of these personality swapping gods is Dionysus — the Ancient Greek diety of wine, drunkenness, frenzy, suffering and madness. 

Dionysus (also known as Bacchus) is known for having a dual persona. He is a bringer of joy and merriment, but sometimes goes into a blinding rage to terrorize hapless victims. 

Twice Born

Dionysus was born twice. Zeus, always the player, seduced Semele, a princess of Thebes. His wife, Hera, was naturally not pleased and planned revenge. A mortal could not view a god in their true form. Thus Hera, in disguise, convinced Semele to make Zeus prove his godliness by revealing his true form. You can guess what happened… Semele made Zeus promise to do as she wished and then asked to see him in all his glory. Zeus was honorbound to comply and revealed his true form, blasting the pour mortal woman to ashes. However, the unborn Dionysus, being part god, survived. Zeus sewed the baby inside his thigh, allowing him to gestate until birth. Since Dionysus was born from a god (in this case, Zeus) he was granted immortality. This could qualify as the traumatic event that often ushers in dissociative identity disorder. 

God of Fun

Dionysus was portrayed as beautiful and joyful. He discovered the cultivation of vines and taught others how to ferment grapes into wine. His worship is often connected with the idea of partying and having a good time (under the influence of wine, of course). He was connected to such mythological creatures as satyrs and centaurs. Dionysus was depicted riding a panther or in a chariot pulled by pumas (way to make a grand entrance). 

Terror Frenzy

Some Greek cities attempted to ban the wild rites of the maenads (followers of Dionysus). The most notorious case came with King Pentheus of Thebes (written about by Euripides). The king attempted to imprison Dionysus, but the prison doors would not close and the shackles simply slipped off. 

Despite fearing this new worship, the king was also fascinated by it and wanted to learn more. His own mother, Agave, had been lured in by the rites of Dionysus. The wine god allowed Pentheus to observe the secret rituals firsthand, but only if the king disguised himself as a woman. Pentheus did as instructed and spied on the maenads from behind a tree. 

Dionysus had driven the women into a frenzy and they seized upon any small animal they could find, ripping it apart. Soon they discovered the king and, thinking he was a lion, the maenads tore him limb from limb. Even his mother, Agave, carried off his head thinking she had slain a lion. Thus the Thebans were punished for having resisted the rites of Dionysus. 

The terror-frenzy that Dionysus creates in his followers feels very much like the protector alter of the dissociative identity disorder. A Protector might lash out to defend the host from physical or other kinds of abuse. 

Dionysus remains a complex deity with many facets. He was beloved by the Greeks and went on many more adventures. Whether the Greek myths utilized him as a way to explain individuals with different personas remains to be seen. One thing is certain, if you upset Dionysus, you would suffer the consequences.

Consider the last lines of the Homeric Hymns to Dionysus

“And the Nymphs followed in his train with
him for their leader; and the boundless forest was filled with their outcry…”

Tim Kane

Dissociative Identity Disorder in the Gods (The Morrígan)

Arkane Curiosities

The character of Jane exploded into public awareness with airing of DC’s Doom Patrol. Dubbed “Crazy Jane” (and played by the excellent Diane Guerrero), she is one of the alters of Kay Challis, a girl who developed dissociative identity disorder following physical and sexual abuse by her father.

Doom Patrol (both the comic and streaming series) does an excellent job of explaining and normalizing the mental disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder). Jane herself has no powers to add to the team of misfit heroes. But some of her alters do. When not fronting (or controlling the host body) Jane descends to the Underground with 63 other alters. 

Just as there are ancient gods to symbolized various elements of the natural world, so too do we see dissociative identity disorder crop up in a few prominent deities. To start, let’s look at The Morrígan.

The Morrígan

As a Celtic goddess, the Morrígan translates from old Irish as “Great Queen” or “Phantom Queen.” She is often dubbed a trinity goddess, but this is a modern pagan view of what, in reality, is quite a bit more complex. True, the Morrígan does have three aspects, but they don’t align to the Maiden, Mother and Crone. 

The triple aspect of the Morrígan are depicted as sisters and also referred to as “The Daughters of Ernmas” (an Irish mother goddess famous for having triplet children). The first two aspects of the Morrígan consistently remain Macha (a death goddess) and Badb (a war goddess). The third aspect varies with different tales, shifting between Némain, Féa, or Anu. The organization The Order of the Crows recognizes Némain as the third aspect and the Morrígan as the constituent whole.

Badb

Némain is also recognized as a war goddess, but separate from Badb. Whereas Badb stirs up panic and fear on the battlefield, Némain embodies with frenzied havoc of war. This alone shows the subtle nature of different alters within a host. Both Némain and Badb represent war, but bring different attributes to the battle. 

The Irish noted how black birds and crows shrieked and cawed around the bodies left in the aftermath of war. As scavengers, they fed upon human carnage. Badb was known as the “Battle Crow”, representing the death and carnage of battle. In Ireland, if one were to see a crow before the battle had begun, it foretold death and disaster. This was Badb preparing to feast. 

Badb is the most well known of the three aspects of the Morrígan and may very well be the core personality. 

Némain

Her sister, Némain, can unleash a cry of terror and brings panic like an infection. The site Living Liminally, quotes Windisch, “Nemain brought intoxication upon the army there, falling in their armor and on the points of their spears and sword-edges, so a hundred warriors of them die in the midst of the encampment and at the side of that place a time of terror the cry carried from on high.”

Macha

Macha, symbolized by fiery red hair, represents death. However, she is not feared in the way other harbingers of the afterlife tended to be. The Celts saw death as a natural element of life. Macha was a welcome goddess and an omen for what is to come.

One story involved Macha marrying a mortal, Cruinnic. She warns her husband not to tell a soul of her true identity, but Cruinnic is weak-willed and runs his mouth at a chariot race, bragging that his divine wife can outrun the king’s horses. 

The King of Ulster got wind of this and summoned Macha, demanding that she race the royal horses. At the time, she was pregnant and pleaded to postpone the competition until after she’d given birth. The king was adamant and the bizarre race, a pregnant woman versus the royal horses, commenced. 

Macha outpaced the horses, but as she crossed the finish line, she wailed in pain, giving  birth to a boy (True) and a girl (Modest). In her pain and anger, she cursed the men of Ulster nine times nine generations so in times of the worst peril, they should suffer the pain of childbirth. This shows that Macha can be vengeful when disrespected. 

Ancient stories rarely talk of these personalities trading off with each other. Rather, they simply list them together, calling them sisters, and listing their names together when describing the heat of battle. 

In us mortals, dissociative identity disorder is associated with trauma. No such explanation has been recorded for the Morrígan (Macha’s birth at the race not withstanding). However, it was natural for deities like the Morrígan to bee seen as multiple aspects of the same goddess, each one emerging when needed.

In the next installment, we’ll look at Dionysus and his massive swings in emotion.

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: Sand Pit Lady

There is something about this myth that unnerves me. I think it’s the sound of the woman digging in the sand. I can imagine the quiet of the park. Realizing that you’re all alone. And then the crunch of the sand. First the footsteps and then her fingers, clawing through it. Creepy.

This legend traces back to the north of Kyushu, Japan, during the early 1980s. Accounts began to spread across the internet in the early 2010s.

Some Japanese accounts mention maru and eksu (two symbols used to grade a yes/no test). The symbol O shows a correct answer (maru) and the symbol X shows an incorrect answer (eksu). Early posts say that if you go to the maru side of the woman, you will survive, while if you go to the eksu side, you may perish.

In another account, the Sandpit Woman stands and starts walking. You instinctively follow her, but here you have a choice. If you pass the woman, she will chase you in a lap around the park. Don’t look back at her, whatever you do. If you finish the lap, you are free.

If not, then you are buried alive.

Something to ponder the next time you sit for a spell at a park. If you find yourself alone, get up and leave.

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: The Tree the Owns Itself

The very idea of a tree legally owning itself captured my attention. The tree gained it independence sometime between 1820 and 1832, courtesy of one William Henry Jackson. He owned the land and was so fond of the tree that he enacted a deed to ensure it would remain standing.

I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke, of the one part, and the oak tree … of the county of Clarke, of the other part: Witnesseth, That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides.

Some of this is shrouded in legend. The tree (and the dubious deed) didn’t gain prominence until a front-page article ran in the Athens Weekly Banner on August 12th, 1890.

According to law, this deed would have no legal standing. However the city of Athens has honored the tree and preserved its legal standing.

The Face That Launched One Ship

I’ve always been a fan of Greek legends. So if Helen had a face gorgeous enough to cause thousands to go to war, would that sort of fantastic visage diminish over time? My idea here was to also comment on the loss of realism in art. For the record, I’m a huge fan of modern art. I just don’t see Cubist woman inspiring ardor.

Olga is a reference to Picasso’s first wife and the image I used was a portrait of her. Picasso divorced her because the two did not get along, perhaps inputting the rather unflattering portraiture of her.

Tim Kane