Maenads are the immortal female followers of Dionysus; the god of ritual madness and ecstasy. Their name literally translates as "Raving ones".
Often, the Maenads were portrayed as inspired by Dionysus into a state of ecstatic frenzy through a combination of dancing and drunken intoxication. In this state, they would lose all self-control, begin shouting excitedly, engage in uncontrolled sexual behavior, and ritualistically hunt down and tear animals (and sometimes men and children) to pieces, devouring the raw flesh.
During these rites, the Maenads would dress in fawn skins and weave ivy-wreaths around their heads, and often handle or wear snakes. Maenads were also known as a type of nymph, immortal goddesses of natural manifestations; Maenads being the extremes of pleasurable emotions and actions: sex, rage, inebriation, frenzy, etc.
In Roman Mythology, Maenads were also known as Bassarids (or Bacchae or Bacchantes) after the Roman equivalent of Dionysus, known as, Bacchus. Cultic rites associated with worship of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus (or Bacchus in Roman mythology), were allegedly characterized by maniacal dancing to the sound of loud music and crashing cymbals, in which the revelers, called Maenad, whirled, screamed, became drunk and incited one another to greater and greater ecstasy. The goal was to achieve a state of enthusiasm in which the celebrants’ souls were temporarily freed from their earthly bodies and were able to commune with Bacchus/Dionysus and gain a glimpse of what they would someday experience in eternity. The rite climaxed in a performance of frenzied feats of strength and madness, such as uprooting trees and tearing a bull (the symbol of Dionysus) apart with their bare hands, an act called Sparagmos, and eating its flesh raw. This latter rite was a sacrament akin to communion in which the participants assumed the strength and character of the god by symbolically eating the raw flesh and drinking the blood of his symbolic incarnation. Having symbolically eaten his body and drunk his blood, the celebrants became possessed by Dionysus.