Department or Program



The ancient Greek worship of Dionysos, the god of wine, theater, and madness, consisted of public festivals and private (orgiastic) rites. The private rites were practiced by orgiastic groups that kept the details of their worship secret from those who were not initiated. A major feature of these rites was spirit possession in which certain initiated participants believed that Dionysos joined with their body or soul, causing an ecstatic state. Possession by Dionysos was believed to create an intimate relationship with the god, a state of catharsis, and, ultimately, a heightened status in the afterlife. Dionysian possession dissolved the boundaries between animal, human, and divine, male and female, life and death, and self and other. Dionysos was an animalistic god, feminized male, resurrected deity, and Greek Barbarian. In turn, his participants explored these identities during possession rites ultimately as a means to better understand themselves. Possession was a method of self-articulation and self-reflection. Ancient Greeks grappled with cultural categories by constructing the worship of a god who challenged those categories. As a figure, Dionysos was the idiom used to explore and question boundaries in a ritualized setting. In this thesis, I interpret Dionysian possession as a method of self-articulation and self-reflection through the process of dissolving boundaries and mediating between categories.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Danforth, Loring

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Open Access

Available to all.