"You make the point in your book that human consciousness -- its experience of itself -- may have been extremely different long ago, that people saw themselves in terms of the group or tribe, and that they were all, like Californians, looking for some fun, spontaneous experiences. Which is why, when the spirit took them, they danced and frolicked. Including the early Christians in their worship."
"I was really surprised by that, yes. But it's undeniable. I had thought of the early Christians as fairly staid. Yet this is apparently not the case."
"They sound to be much more like the so-called charismatic Christians of today in their worship. Or black Pentecostals. It was essentially a 'danced religion,' influenced perhaps by Greek Dionysiac worship. In fact, you make the startling observation that Jesus and Dionysus had a lot in common ."
"Surprisingly, yes. They are itinerant charismatics. Both scorned ordinary existence -- just working and living and producing. They advocated leaving that behind, Dionysus calling people to ecstatic forms of worship. And Jesus saying, 'Don't worry about plowing and harvesting or where your next meal is coming from, just follow me.' There is even peculiar archaeological evidence that suggests there were overlaps in who actually worshipped them. The symbols get mixed up in the archaeological record, as if there was some confusion. Remember, in the Hellenistic world, they were much more open to others' deities."
"How else were Jesus and Dionysus similar?"
"They were both opposed to war and violence. They were very democratic. Dionysus's primary appeal was to women, who were considered lower class within ancient Greek society. Jesus, too, had a very strong appeal to women. Both were remarkably asexual beings and don't have regular consorts or lasting involvements. They are each associated with wine. Jesus can make it out of water, and Dionysus is the god of wine. Each also holds out the possibility of a direct and personal relationship through participation in his rites. And each is the son of a great father-god: Zeus and the Hebrew god Yahweh. Each has a mortal mother, both are healers and work miracles. Each was persecuted by secular authorities: Dionysus by Pentheus, Jesus by Pontius Pilate. They upheld the poor and challenged the prevailing social hierachries. Both were victims themselves, both held out the promise of life beyond death."
"And Christians danced."
"To lose themselves in ecstasy, to let go of their physical boundaries. Yes. As did nuns newly inducted and monks upon taking their vows...Deacons on St. Stephen's Day, priests on St. John's Day, choirboys on Innocents' Day. Parishioners danced in churches. It was a long-standing Christian custom."
"But Church authorities eventually turned against these practices."
"They did. They condemned and forbade dancing as unseemly, disruptive, lewd, and gradually forced it out of the churches into the churchyards or squares, even cemeteries. Plays, too, and comedies that satirized and mocked authority. By the time of the Protestant Reformation, it's all banned, and the goal becomes to have a fun-free life."
"And Satan is depicted with the tail and hoof and horns of Dionysus."