Could spirits be spiritual? Alcohol as a shamanic medicine


Dionysus, ancient Greek god of wine.

What if alcohol was reimagined as a mystical, magical and shamanic ceremonial medicine, like it once was considered in many traditional cultures around the globe… would we abuse it less? If we treated alcohol with reverence and respect rather than shame and contempt would we naturally develop a healthier relationship with it?

These days alcohol has a fairly bad reputation in spiritual circles. Ayahuasca and Kambo have become the popular shamanic medicines of choice for contemporary spiritual seekers but alcohol has been banished to the badlands. It’s seen as toxic, low vibrational, addictive, messy, violent and just plain idiotic! But if we’re going to take a leaf so to speak from traditional cultures why not reclaim a juicy grape from western history?

Consider Dionysus, the ancient Greek & Roman God of wine! There was an entire religion built around this deity and the spiritual practice of drinking wine. Followers used wine in sacred ceremonies to invoke spirits and commune with their more primordial nature. It was consumed as a way to be liberated from civilisation’s rules and constraints, to escape the socialised personality and to access an ecstatic, deified primal state.

Drinking wine was believed to have a divine purpose; that of reconnecting with sprit and the “beast-God” within, or what we might call the unconscious mind in modern psychology.

As Bertrand Russell so eloquently puts it in his book A History of Western Philosophy, 

“In intoxication, physical or spiritual, the [Dionysian] initiate recovers an intensity of feeling which prudence had destroyed; he finds the world full of delight and beauty, and his imagination is suddenly liberated from the prison of everyday preoccupations. The ritual produced what was called ‘enthusiasm’, which means etymologically having the god enter the worshipper, who believed that he became one with the god”.

You can find the same kind of reverent attitudes towards alcohol in Vodoo rum ceremonies, Shinto sake rituals, Mongolian shamanic vodka rituals, and even contemporary Catholic mass where wine is considered the blood of Christ.

Vodoo Rum Ritual

Vodoo ritual, invoking the rum spirits

But modern spiritual and health conscious people tend to dismiss alcohol and put it in the unspiritual trashbin alongside confectionary, preserved meat and carbs. But I’m wondering if it isn’t alcohol that’s bad but simply our unenlightened approach to it. It’s like we’re in some kind of alcohol dark age where we’ve forgotten the purpose and opportunity this beverage has offered us for thousands of years.

Humans are always looking for something new. We are thrill seekers and drawn to novel experiences. Alcohol is old hat! It’s legal, accessible, cheap, and common and thus there’s a tendency to see it as un-sacred. Of course there’s nothing sacred about alcohol abuse, mindless binge drinking or serious alcohol addiction. But I’m wondering if these very things come about because of our irreverent and flippant attitude towards it in the first place.

What if this common beverage could be seen in a new and novel light? What if we revived old Dionysian-style mysteries and attitudes! What if we made alcohol spiritually cool again?

We’re taught to “moderate” and that it’s okay to drink small amounts of alcohol as long as you keep “the beast” of over indulgence at bay. But there’s still this ugly attitudinal undercurrent within the moderation creed; the idea that we we should always control our base nature… that’s there nothing valuable to be gained in letting loose with a few too many wines once in a while… and that the effect of doing so is somehow fake, unreal or not actually “us.”

I saw an article recently titled  The spiritual consequences of alcohol which included an image of a dark ghoul-like entity spiritually syphoning the life force from a powerless alcohol drinking victim. This attitude is a akin to making something like food “evil” just because certain people have food addictions. Food is never the problem. It’s the relationship people have with it.

Obviously there’s a dark side to alcohol consumption, yes there are casualties and some people may feel better off never touching the stuff. That’s perfectly fine. Each to their own, but lets not demonise it any more than any other drug. Lets refrain from having a debate over whose drug of choice is more spiritual. Weed vs. alcohol. This is an old and boring debate. Lets just see them for what they are; different drugs with different effects, and different benefits.

I have to admit I’ve always loved alcohol and this blog post might seem like a sad attempt to justify or even glorify my use of it. But it’s simply my intention to find a healthy attitude towards it in my life. There have been periods over the years where I was a complete teetotaller; just to challenge myself, lose some pounds and save some pennies. But I felt like I was up on some sort of purity pedestal. It felt like a betrayal of my shadow and the part of me that’s unimpressed with black and white thinking.

I believe an attitude of reverence and respect for this powerful beverage is what actually works for me…  after all I can’t be bothered with a daily elaborate Vodoo ritual lol. There is no risk of getting addicted!  Making it sacred means special occasions only ;).

mongolian vodka ceremony

Mongolian vodka ceremony