The Primitive Mind and Modern Man

Indexed in: Scopus, EBSCO

This book is in the field of cultural anthropology and transcultural psychology, and is intended for college courses in anthropology and psychology, and general readership. The book focuses on ...
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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.