The role of wine in religion
Throughout time, wine has played a role in pretty much everything, and religions are not an exception. On the contrary, some religions such as Islam forbid drinking wine or any other type of alcohol to that matter. In some, wine plays a significant role.
There are historical data and evidence that point to the fact that wine was used for religious ceremonies 6,000 years ago in ancient Egypt. High priests, Pharaohs, Egyptian Royalties, everyone drank wine and brought wines to their gods to expresses their devotion.
One of those gods was Hathor, to which they would regularly bring offerings of wine. During their “Day of Intoxication,” that happened once a month. They drank large quantities of wine, sang songs, and danced in ecstasy. Then there was Reneunetet, the goddess of the harvest, which also commanded the growth of grapes. Local winemakers in Egypt regularly went to the shrines to bring their offerings of wine.
In ancient Greece, Dionysus was the god of theater and wine. Ancient Greeks even had a dedicated festival of winemaking; they called “Oschophoria.” During that festival, young men dressed in women’s robes traveled from the Dionysus temple to the Temple of Athena.
In Ancient Rome, their god of wine and theater, which was equivalent to Dionysus, was called Bacchus. In his honor, it was normal to get fully hammered drinking wine. Sometimes they even reached a point of intoxication.
The use of wine in religious purposes didn’t stop with the ancient Greeks or Romans; it continued with Christianity. Wine even found its way into the bible. Very often, wine is referenced to festivals, Noah’s vineyard after the flood, the liberation of Lot, and so on. Then there is the moment when Jesus turned water into wine – that’s described in the New Testament.
Furthermore, wine in Christianity has a massive role even today. Sometimes that role is symbolical, other times literally. For example, during the Communion, wine represents the blood of Jesus, which is based on the events that happened during the Last Supper. But at the same time, it needs to be mentioned that both St. Paul and Jesus disapproved and condemned drunkenness.
After the fall of ancient civilizations, it was Christianity that continued with the production of wine. Even in the Dark Ages, monks kept on working their vineyards and produced wine in their monasteries.
Judaism also included drinking wine in their rituals and was given a blessing. During their festivals, as well as for Sabbath, wine is blessed and regularly used. Since the early days of Judaism, wine is used for all their religious celebrations and weddings. For example, during the Passover Seder, four cups of wine need to be drunk. At the same time, the same as in Christianity, excessive drinking is condemned.
In Hinduism, there isn’t a total ban on wine, but their monks never drink wine or any alcohol. However, in tantra, which is part of Hinduism, wine is recognized as one of the five elements of the earth. As a result, wine is offered during some religious rituals.
Ayurveda, which is the medical branch of Hinduism, says that drinking wine for medical purposes is acceptable, especially herbal wines. But of course, as long as it is moderation. Excessive drinking of wine or other types of alcohol is discouraged and condemned in Hinduism.
In the United States, wine and alcohol have a turbulent relationship with the local religious communities. The protestant churches were the most vocal advocates against using alcohol and claimed that drinking any alcohol is nothing less of evil.
When the protestant churches joined forces with anti-slavery organizations and women’s right organizations, they started the temperance movement. They were so influential that they managed to ban alcohol use across the country. With the introduction of the 18th amendment in 1919, it was illegal to produce and drink alcohol in the United States. That marked the start of Prohibition in which the only alcohol allowed to drink was wine, and that was for religious purposes only.
Only some wineries were allowed to produce wine that was later to be used for religious purposes. To that end, wineries needed to have special permits and were under a constant state of supervision. That went on until 1933 when the Prohibition was abolished, and alcohol became legal once again. However, it is a popular belief that religion helped many wineries stay in business during the Prohibition.
It is fair to say that not all religions look kindly on wine or alcohol in general. But at the same time, many have included wine in their rituals and approve its use. However, their approval of drinking wine is limited only to moderate use. Anything beyond moderation is disapproved and often even condemned.