His birth story varies depending upon whom you ask...
In one version of the tale, Bacchus was the son of Zeus and Semele. Hera, Zeus's wife, wasn't thrilled when Semele confided that she was pregnant with Zeus's child, so she tricked Semele into demanding Zeus reveal his true form. When he did so, Semele died, leaving Zeus to carry Bacchus in a womb-pocket until his birth.
In another, he was the son of Zeus and Persephone. In this version, Hera sent the Titans to murder Bacchus. Zeus drove the Titans away, but not before they consumed all but Bacchus's heart, which was saved by one Goddess or another. Zeus used the heart to recreate Bacchus, whom he then implanted in Semele's womb, allowing him to be twice born or reborn.
Bacchus is the quintessential "heathen god" in many respects.
First and foremost, a debate still wages in some circles as to whether Jesus was modeled after Bacchus. The similarities are striking. Both were born to a God and a human mother. They were both reborn. They both turned water into wine. And so on and so forth. Given that Bacchus wasn't exactly a proper and pious God (as it were) and the theory turns a central tenent of Christianity (belief in the life and times of Jesus) on its head, this debate is particularly troubling to some.
Bacchus was so intertwined with parties that he's said to have induced a frenzy in his followers... one they used to do very ungodly things. Massive orgies were thrown in his honor in the streets of ancient Greece and Rome. The Bacchanalia were so steeped in sex and crime, they were eventually outlawed in Rome. But not even a little thing like outlawing an orgy stopped the randy masses. The Bacchanalia continued to be held in secret.
The Dionysian Mysteries (also referred to as the Cult of Dionysus) has also been attributed to Bacchus in Rome and Dionysus in Greece, though it's likely the cult predated Bacchus/Dionysus. Regardless, the Dionysian Mysteries was an influential religion unto itself at the time. Followers used intoxicants to lower inhibitions and return one to a "natural" state. They, for all intents and purposes, sought that frenzied, liberated state associated with Bacchus. Particularly troubling was the cults' encouragement of participation by women, slaves, and others marginalized by society, and the sacrifices they undertook in an effort to "assimilate the body of the god with his own flesh and blood" (see At a Dionysian Mystery). During these frenzied rituals, it's said that it wasn't uncommon for humans to be torn to shreds and consumed.
Now, whether that's true or not... I can't begin to tell you. My psychometric power never developed (dang it all!) so I wasn't there and I didn't see it. But the story is pretty heathen, even for the followers of a "heathen" god. Of course, that could also be one of the many tales spread by the Church in an attempt to demonize Pagan practices of the time and further distance Bacchus from Jesus. Either way, the scandalous Dionysian Mysteries is pretty fascinating, don't you think?
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