The second of the harvest festivals on the Wheel of the Year, Mabon is a time for celebration. There are a great many gods and goddesses of grain and other harvest staples who should be acknowledged during this time. But there is also a key ingredient to many celebrations and ceremonies that should be honored during harvest. The grapes that make our wine.
There are many gods and goddesses of the vine, some more well known than others. Whether you are just beginning your practice or are a seasoned witch looking to expand your practice, here are some deities of wine you can honor this Mabon.
Though the most famous wine deities are male and from the European pantheons, many historians believe wine was discovered by a woman in Sumeria or Georgia, and there are goddesses from ancient pantheons who were the patrons of grapes and wine making. Because goddesses are more closely tied to agriculture and earth than gods, the earliest deities of wine were likely all women. Unfortunately, not much is known about the early goddesses of wine.
Perhaps the oldest known deity of wine, Gestin is a Sumerian goddess. Worship of her can be found as far back as 3000 B.C.E. Her name is translated as wine, vine and grape in different translations. She was referred to as the Mother of Vines. She is one of the goddesses whose stories have been lost to time. You can rediscover her in your practice, honoring her at harvest time.
Paget is a wine goddess who is also from the Sumerian region. The few clay tablets that have been found that speak of her show her in the vineyards herself, cultivating the grapes. After harvest, she is shown to be making wine. Even more lost to time than Gestin, Paget is another goddess who could be rekindled through modern worship. If you grow your own grapes, Paget is a wonderful patron goddess to honor for a healthy, flavorful harvest.
The most well documented of the Sumerian wine goddesses is perhaps Siduri. As wine became a more important and frequent part of Sumerian life around 400 – 300 B.C.E., their worship of wine goddesses expanded. She is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, welcoming the hero into a garden with a tree of life. This tree is hung with ruby red fruit surrounded by curling vines – these are believed to be grapes. She was referred to as the Maker of Wine. If you make your own wine, Siduri is a great patron goddess for your winemaking.
Appearing as early as 1300 B.C.E in hieroglyphics, Renen-utet is an Egyptian wine goddess. Small shrines to her were kept near wine presses to make sure freshly pressed grapes had her blessing. Her image would be carved into the spout that brought the juice from the press to the fermenting tank as a further blessing. If you have other deities from the Egyptian pantheon as your patrons, Renen-utet is a logical choice for a wine patron.
Moving into the European deities, who are the most recognized of the wine patrons, we see a shift from the feminine to the masculine. These depictions don’t start to appear until roughly 500 B.C.E. – 2,500 years after the first depiction of wine goddesses.
Perhaps the most famous of the wine gods and goddesses, Dionysus is from the Greek pantheon. The son of Zeus and the mortal woman Semele, Dionysus was an outsider even though he was one of the Olympian Twelve. While pregnant with Dionysus, Semele was tricked by a jealous Hera into insisting Zeus reveal his true form to her. He does, but because a mortal cannot look upon the true form of a god, Semele dies. Zeus sewed the unborn Dionysus into his thigh, becoming his second mother. Because of this, Dionysus is known as being of two mothers. He was raised by the rain nymphs, hidden from Hera’s wrath.
Because of the importance of wine in Greek culture, Dionysus was an important god in the Greek pantheon. Dionysus was the god of wine making, as well as a god of music and dance. He was commonly referred to as Eleutherios, “the liberator,” likely because he was associated with things that lower inhibitions.
His original depictions had him as a mature man with a beard. Later depictions had him more andogynous, clean shaven, mostly naked, and very beautiful. He was often referred to as womanly. Though the reason for the change in depiction is unknown, perhaps it is a return to the feminine roots where wine deities began.
The Roman counterpart to Dionysus, Bacchus is just as well known. Bacchanalia were festivals held in Bacchus’ honor where participants drank and focused on pleasures of all kinds. Though Bacchus was derived from Dionysus, his more debaucherous elements were the focus in Roman culture. He was the god of wine, freedom, intoxication and ecstasy.
As with the early goddesses of wine, Bacchus is also the god of agriculture. In his youth, he was trained by Silenus, a great lover of wine. Luckily for mortals, Bacchus chose to share his knowledge with them. He spent his time traveling the world to teach mortals how to cultivate grapes and make wine.
Though the myths of Bacchus and Dionysus are almost identical, their depictions do differ. While most Dionysus imagery shows him as a beautiful youth, most Bacchus imagery depicts him as a middle-aged man. He is shown with an intricate crown of vines and grapes atop his full head of hair and is often, of course, holding a glass of wine.
Wine is still an important part of modern celebrations and ceremonies, so honoring the goddesses and gods of the vine brings additional power and blessings. This Mabon, while celebrating the bounty of the season, be sure to also honor and toast the deities that bless and care for grapes and wine. It is called the elixir of the gods for a reason!