The Dionysos (or Dionysus)archetype probably originated in Libya and travelled with the first wine exports to Minoan Crete. From there it was exported to other cultures in the region as part of a Mystery Religion associated with wine (and perhaps other drugs), most significantly the Dionysos cult was entusiastically taken up in Ancient Greece.

His name means 'the god of Mount Nysa' (a mysterious place variously located in Greece, Thrace, Phrygia, India and Libya) and is first found as such in Mycenaean tablets of around the 15th cent BC (as di-wo-nu-so-jo the wine god, in Linear B). Earlier in Crete he appears to have been an imported deity associated with the chthonic 'lord of the hunt', known locally as Zagreus.

Originaly Dionysos was 'the lord of life and death', a dying god of fertility, the hunt and wild beasts (later closely associated by both the Greeks and Egyptians with Osiris, and his son Horus), but while always retaining these traits he became specifically associated with the grapevine by Libyan(?)wine producers, in particular its intoxixating effects (there is also some evidence of his earlier association with other psycho-active substances). As such he primarily became a god of intoxication and euphoria. So 'Mount Nysa' may also have been a metaphor for ecstatic states of consciousness. The primitive cult of Dionysos became infamous for it alleged drunken orgies, ritual sacrifices (sometimes human) and savage initiations.

A Mystery Religion centred around Dionysos which rooted in primitive initiation and craft skills became a repository of shamanic traditions. Eventually these Dionysian Mysteries acquired a mystical speculative trend.

The Cult of Dionysos was for many centuries a 'religion' of the rural population (along with primitive cults of Pan or Baal etc) as opposed to the aristocratic Olympian Religion of Greek cities, and their equivalents elsewhere. It was only absorbed into 'civilised society' after 600BC and only then in a relatively moderate form. It is from here that the Classical Dionysos emerged.

However Dionysos always remained a god of the common people and particularly the social outsider (women, slaves, foreigners, outlaws and outcastes of all kinds). In Greek society Dionysos came to represent everything that had been repressed (and threatened to erupt at any moment). A state of affairs only partially released in the pleasures of its drunken debauchery. It was because of this that the cult was considered dangerous, and at various times associated not only with socially destabilising atavism but also political uprisings (such as the Slave revolts of Roman times). This trend was to some extent countered by the adoption of Dionysos (as god of the people, the land and primal nature) as a 'world spirit' incarnate in monarchs. Thus Dionysos is again a god of extremes, high and low. Among historical figures claiming this role of Bacchic avatar were Alexander the Great and Mark Antony (at the other end of the political spectrum Spartacus was also claimed as an avatar of Dionysos Liber).

This dualism is in fact the key to the Dionysos archetype. Like his shamanic prototypes Dionysos represents a supposed underlying 'chaotic' reality beneath all ordered dualities. In various myths he represents both life-death, bestiality-divinity, creatitivity-destructivity, male-female, tragic-comic, spiritual-profane, good-evil and the like. As with Heraclitus (who may have been influenced by Dionysian ideas) these may have been seen as different perspectives on a single dynamic process, a continuum or natural rhythm only fixed and ordered by human activity.

Originally linked to shamanism and its psycho-dramas, in Greek culture Dionysos became patron of the theatre, performing arts and carnival (which absorbed the ancient Dionysian traditions of buffoonary, ecstatic dance and wild music).

The Greeks spread Dionysos as far east as India, where he became associated with his oriental counterpart Shiva. In the west Dionysos (or Bacchus) was carried by Rome as far as the westernmost parts of the British Isles (according to some scholars the origin of the Romano-British Green Man mythos).

Other cultures encountering Dionysos more directly without Greek influence included Etruria (where he was associated with Liber), Thrace and Scythia (where he was associated with Sabazius), Phrygia (where he became closely linked with the cult of Cybele) and Syria, Lebanon and Palestine (where his vinicultural mythos had an influence on the development of Judaism). Greek contact with these places often saw a revival of Dionysianism at home (which perhaps explains the many speculative placements of his origin). While in North Africa (and throughout the continent in general) the prototypes of Dionysos continued to develop (eventually finding their way into Afro-American religions).

Over the course of its evolution the Dionysos archetype changed from an earthy shamanic force to a spiritual being of Orphic complexity (eventually even shaping the development of the Christ myth). Several local manifestations existed along this spectrum, but it is in his Classical Greek form that he is best known.

Symbols and totems associated with Dionysos are fruit trees (particularly the vine), evergreens like the pine, ivy, bunches of leaves, the thrysus staff, the phallus, the mask (originally lees face paint), leopard or fawnskin, fire, and, as a shapeshifter, his four main totem animals: variously the panther (or lion), the goat (or wild boar), the bull (or stag) and the snake (or serpent/dragon).

His consort was the ancient Minoan goddess Ariadne.