Apollonian and Dionysian Cultures
Pp. 29-36 (8)
John Alan Cohan
Ruth Benedict (1934) opened up a whole line of thinking regarding two types of culture: Apollinian
and Dionysian. Dionysian cultures exhibit certain extremes in behavior, and there is importance ascribed to
dreams and visions, also to self-fulfillment, self-expression, rights, liberties and individual accomplishment.
Moreover, the idea of escape from the five senses through altered states of consciousness, intoxication, torture,
self-mutilation, deprivation, etc. Dionysian cultures are imbued with magical thinking, i.e., the belief that
thoughts, words or actions have causal power. Dreams and visions are very important because they are thought to
contain messages from the spirit realm or direct visitations from ancestors. The contradiction in Dionysian
cultures is that they tend to be tenaciously tradition-bound-yet at the same time they seek to escape from
limitations through supernatural experiences, ecstatic trances, orgiastic ceremonies, and other excessive behavior
that, at least under everyday circumstances, would be frowned upon. Paradoxically Dionysian cultures celebrate
harmony and cooperation, and yet individuality, which at times can be a threat to unity.
Apollinian cultures, in contrast, embrace moderation, steadfastness, conservatism, conformity, measured
attitudes, precedent and tradition. There is distrust of individualism and emotionalism. Power comes from cult
membership, verbatim ritual, conformity, sobriety, suffering, self-denial, introvertism, and moderation.
Western State Law School USA.