Wine and Spirits

As alcoholic beverages, the manufacture and distribution of wine and spirits are controlled by the federal law enforcement organization, the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms (ATF) within the United States Department of Justice. While I understand why Firearms might require a federal hand, it is interesting the Wine and Spirits fall under the same jurisdiction. They seem diametrically opposed in all regards.

Wine and SpiritsIf we just take the words themselves, I find it instructive that distilled alcoholic beverages are called Spirits. The English word spirit (from Latin spiritusbreath“) has a multitude of meanings and connotations, most relating to the non-corporeal essence contrasted with the material and physical body. The spirit of a living thing usually refers to or describes its consciousness or life force.

Wine, specifically, is included in a host of “plant medicines” described as entheogens. An ENTHEOGEN is a psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context.  Broken down, en = “in, within,”; theo = “god, divine” ; gen = “creates, activates, generates“. Thus, an entheogen is a substance that activates the “God created within us”. This suggests that an entheogen connects us to our Divine nature, bringing us to union with God, or Spirit. Entheogens have had their place in the human experience for thousands of years.

The adjective entheos is the root of the English word “enthusiasm.” Said another way, an entheogen is a substance that causes one to become inspired, or full of spirit. This certainly suggests a connection between wine and spirit, but a far cry from the connection the ATF assumes when grouping them with Firearms.

The earliest known production of wine, made by fermenting grapes, took place as early as 8,000 years ago in Georgiaand 6,100 years ago in Armenia. Other notable areas of wine production have been discovered in Greece dating back to 4500 BC (6500 years ago). It is assumed that these early forays into wine production were administered by the Shaman, or healers of their time.

As recently as January of 2011 in Armenia, a wine press was found dating back over 6,000 years. The winery contained a wine press, fermentation vats, jars, and cups. Archaeologists also found grape seeds and vines. The fact that winemaking was already so well developed in 4000 BC suggests that the technology probably goes back much earlier and was most likely used as a component of spiritual practice.

In Ancient Egypt, six wine amphoras were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun dating 3300 years ago, also presumably included in the ritual practice of sending spirit on its journey. Again, wine and spirit were demonstrably intertwined.

Judaism traces its roots back 4000 years. Wine is an integral part of Jewish laws and traditions. The Kiddush is a blessing recited over wine to sanctify almost all Jewish holidays (holy days). The Jews are the first of our modern religions to acknowledge and celebrate the indelible link between wine and spirit.

Wine was elevated to an even higher level by Dionysus, the Greek god of revelry and wine. He was frequently referred to in the works of Homer and Aesop. His worship began around 3500 years ago. Dionysus was the god of epiphany. Epiphany means “vision of God”.

Dionysus was known as Bacchus by the Romans. He was the Liberator whose wine, music and ecstatic dance freed his followers from self-conscious fear and care. These experiences were considered romps with spirit. Those who partook in his mysteries were possessed and empowered by the spirit of god himself. Bacchus was revered as a divine communicant between the living and the dead.

In Greek mythology, Dionysus is presented as a son of Zeus and the mortal Semele, thus semi-divine or a demigod: both divine and connected to the earth. This describes a fitting place for wine, a plant of the earth connected to spirit. I certainly feel this as I walk the vineyard every day. The vines are a vivid reminder of their spiritual nature as they grow, sometimes inches a day. I am humbled by the power and mystery that drive them.

Academics have even discussed the mythological parallels between Dionysus and Christ since 1890, when Friedrich Hölderlin first wrote about this. Scholars mention that Dionysian religion and Christianity have notable parallels and connections:

  • The symbolism of wine and its importance in the mythology of both Dionysus and Jesus Christ
  • The celebration by a ritual meal of bread and wine by both
  • The specific use of wine in the Gospel of John in the story of the Marriage at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine; this is suggested to show Jesus as superior to Dionysus when great conversion to Christianity was being sought.

Even in Islam, which we think of as as strongly prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, there are many poems by the Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi (1207-1273), that draw metaphor from wine and drunkenness in describing the state of the spirit. Wine is referred to repeatedly throughout Rumi’s work for connecting with the Divine.

All this suggests, simply, that wine has been an integral part of bringing people together, creating community, and amplifying the spirit of life for as long as history.

I think it ironic that a beverage that is a product of, employed to align with and enhance spirit is controlled by a federal law enforcement organization that also manages firearms, devices designed, developed and employed implicitly to destroy spirit.

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