A religious celebration in honor of the Roman god of wine, Bacchus, the rites, real or supposed, of the Bacchanalia became an important basis for the idea of the witches’sabbath in later medieval Europe. In ancient Greece, worshipers of the god of wine and fertility, Dionysos (who later became the Roman Bacchus), gathered at night, often in secluded wilderness areas. Their celebrations usually involved a number of women led by male priests, and entailed rites involving the consumption of wine, ecstatic dancing, and animal sacrifice.
The god, Dionysos, was represented by a horned goat, a traditional symbol of fertility. The celebrations were often associated with sexual frenzies. In Roman times, the Bacchanalia became so associated with uncontrolled revelry, sexual activity, and immorality, that it was outlawed by the Roman Senate in 186 B.C.E. The description of a Bacchanalia by the Roman historian Livy became an important literary model for the later idea of the sabbath.
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