Things may be quiet around here for a while

Since I’ve only had one person contact me about the class on Bacchic Orphic offerings (and they’re already comped since they’re in the Toys class) I’m going to take that as a sign that this isn’t the right time to be teaching the material.

Instead I’ll be looking into some alternative ways of raising funds for the bebakcheumenia team – real traditional ways:

The troubles started with the arrival in Etruria of a low-born Greek possessed of none of those numerous accomplishments which the Greek people, the most highly educated and civilized of nations, has introduced among us for the cultivation of mind and body; he dealt in sacrifices and soothsaying. But his method of infecting people’s minds with error was not by the open practice of his rites and the public advertisement of his trade and his system; he was the hierophant of secret ceremonies performed at night. There were initiations which at first were only imparted to a few; but they soon began to be widespread among men and women. The pleasures of drinking and feasting were added to the religious rites, to attract a larger number of followers. When wine had inflamed their feelings, and night and the mingling of sexes and of different ages had extinguished all power of moral judgment, all sorts of corruption began to be practiced, since each person had ready to hand the chance of gratifying the particular desire to which he was naturally inclined. The corruption was not confined to one kind of evil, the promiscuous violation of free men and women; the cult was also a source of supply of false witnesses, forged documents and wills, and perjured evidence, dealing also in poisons and murders of families where the bodies could not even be found for burial. Many crimes were committed by treachery; most by violence, which was kept secret, because the cries of those who were being violated or murdered could not be heard owing to the noise of drums and cymbals. (Livy, History of Rome 39.8-12 )

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Do it for Dionysos.

snakethyrsos_men39s_tshirt

Our special commemorative t-shirts to help raise funds for the bebakcheumenia at Many Gods West are now available in a variety of sizes and styles. The image is quite special and was designed by master artisan Markos Gage, who’s one clever bastard. It includes the Greek letters delta, iota and omicron; an abbreviation for DIOnysos. Badass, huh?

If t-shirts aren’t your thing but you’d still like to help out, there are several other options, such as:

* A blessing / candle-lighting for $40
* Divination (up to 3 questions) for $35
* An essay on the subject of your choosing for $30
* A poem or prayer on the subject of your choosing for $25
* And for $100 you’ll get all of the above

As well as a class I’m teaching on Bacchic Orphic offerings and for a $50 or $100 donation you or your group can be honored in our promotional literature.

In addition to supplies and other expenditures we’re going to need to spring for two hotel rooms and a plane ticket so we can use all the help we can get. Do it for community. Do it for Dionysos.

snakethyrsos_women39s_scoop_neck_tshirt

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Hellenism on the go

I’m trying to raise funds so that we can get a ritual team together to put on a big celebration for Dionysos at Many Gods West. We need to cover transportation, food, lodging, ritual supplies as well as incidentals for several folks and there are a number of ways that you can help with this, which I have detailed here. For instance, you can consider taking my 4-week class on Bacchic Orphic offerings which is available on a sliding scale. To help keep this cause fresh in people’s minds I’m going to make a series of posts on how to start up a religious practice within the framework of contemporary Hellenic polytheism and the Starry Bull tradition consisting of excerpts from my books. If you find this information useful in any way please consider donating to our common fund. Every little bit helps. Now onto the good stuff!

We live in a hectic, fast-paced society where everything happens at the speed of light and no one ever seems to have enough time. Our lives are taken up with work, commute, family obligations, social functions, and countless other events which eat up our time like ravenous vermin devouring grain in a silo.

Finding time in our busy and demanding schedules for religious activity can be difficult, if next to impossible for some people. Additionally, our living arrangements may make keeping a shrine problematic: teen-agers living at home with disapproving Fundamentalist parents, college students who have to contend with cramped quarters and oblivious room-mates who spill bong water all over the altar, parents with overly curious toddlers who like to play “dress up” with mommy’s pretty Greek dolls, spouses that are allergic to incense smoke, and so forth.

Some people may not have the financial means to acquire statues, incense, altar stands, votive gifts, or any of the other necessary items for a shrine. And lastly, after a chaotic, stressful, and overly-laden day, one may lack the peace of mind or motivation to do anything more ambitious than collapse on the couch and watch reruns of old CSI episodes.

All of these, and countless other considerations, can make worshipping in the home difficult at times, however well-intentioned we might be. But should we allow these things to impede our religious practice? Absolutely not! Arrian writes that Alexander the Great, after receiving a terrible wound on the battlefield became so ill that he was forced to remain bed-ridden. However, “he was carried out on a couch to perform the sacrifices custom prescribed for each day; after making the offerings he lay down in the men’s apartments till dark.” (VII.25.2)

So if this man, mortally wounded, inconceivably far from home, and engaged in leading probably one of the greatest military campaigns known to history could find time in his day for the Gods, so should we.

The first thing that we have to get out of our heads is that there is only one type of acceptable worship, and that for it to be pleasing to the Gods, you have to have all of the right tools. Yes, it’s nice to have beautiful statues, special bowls and plates for libations and offerings, barley, khernips, a Hestia flame, pure incense, fresh flowers and fruit, music, hymns, pre-written prayers, and a good hour where you can be alone and undisturbed. Yes, all of this stuff makes for good ritual – but is any of it absolutely necessary? Not in the least. True worship is performed in the heart anyway. One of the Greek words for religion is eusebia, meaning a reverential awe before the divine. Without this key element – coupled with its kindred emotions love and devotion – all of the props in the world won’t amount to a hill of beans. However, our religion is not simply an internalized emotion, where it’s sufficient to have warm, happy, fuzzy feelings about the Gods, and never actually do anything with them. Eusebia has value only when it is embodied in an action – through the recitation of prayers, the offering of sacrifices and libations, the creation of beautiful things, and just living that testifies to our relationship with the Gods. So what follows are suggestions about ways that we can integrate this aspect of worship into our daily lives, regardless of how busy and hectic they may be.

An important thing to remember is that having a shrine or altar in the house is a fairly modern innovation. True, wealthy individuals had their own private chapels, as we see for instance in some of the estates at Pompeii, which was a resort town for upper-class Romans of the 1st century before Vesuvius blew its top, and there were also shrines to Zeus Herkeios in the courtyard, Zeus Ktesios in the pantry, Zeus Ephestios at the hearth, as well as those for household Gods, one’s ancestors, and of course to Hestia, who was both worshipped at, and manifest in the family hearth, which was the center of a household. But most of these things were beyond the means of poorer citizens, and at any rate, all of the large public festivals took place outside the temples, which were viewed as the homes of the Gods. When people had pressing spiritual needs they would travel to the temples, oracles, healing centers, or to mountains, springs, groves, or other important natural locales in order to worship there. So it is by no means necessary to honour the Gods exclusively in your own private shrine in your home.

Some people even find natural settings more conducive to a spirit of worship. As the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “If you have ever come on a dense wood of ancient trees that have risen to an exceptional height, shutting out all sight of the sky with one thick screen of branches upon another, the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, your sense of wonderment at finding so deep and unbroken a gloom out of doors, will persuade you of the presence of a deity. Any cave in which the rocks have been eroded deep into the mountain resting on it, its hollowing out into a cavern of impressive extent not produced by the labours of men but the result of the processes of nature, will strike into your soul some kind of inkling of the divine. We venerate the source of important streams; places where a mighty river bursts suddenly from hiding are provided with altars; hot springs are objects of worship; the darkness or unfathomable depth of pools has made their waters sacred.”

Parks, rest-stops, gardens, or woods can all be great places to worship at, and you will often – especially if you come early in the morning or late at night – find the privacy necessary to conduct your rituals in peace. However, even at the busiest times – say the park near your job on lunch-break – you can usually find enough space to pour out a libation and offer part of your meal with a brief prayer. It doesn’t have to be anything complex, nor is it necessary to have a cult image to make offerings to. You can simply recite your prayers, trusting that it will reach the ears of the Gods, or close your eyes and envision the deity to whom you are making sacrifice, before actually offering it. This, in itself, can be a very rewarding practice, helping you to perceive the divinity in a more concrete form, instead of as just some nebulous force floating around in the sky. Take a few moments to really envision them in your head: do they appear in human guise, or some other way? If human, how are they dressed, what colour skin, eyes, and hair do they have, what symbols accompany them, do you get any other impressions from them, and so on and so forth. You may also choose to envision yourself making the offering to them directly, the God consuming its spiritual substance even as you give its physical substance over to them.

Nor is it absolutely necessary to go to a natural location in order to make your sacrifices. (Prayers, obviously, can be recited at any time and in any place.) For instance, when I lived in Las Vegas, I would frequently have a forty-five minute wait between buses, and since I took two buses to and from work each day, this meant that my commute time approached five hours. That was a considerable chunk of my day, especially since I worked around nine hours on top of that, five days a week – so it put plenty of time that wasn’t entirely my own in my hands. Near one of my bus-stops there was a 7-Eleven which sold little one-shot bottles of wine which I found perfect for making libations. I would buy the wine and often something else – lunch, candy, granola, cheap incense – and take these to an abandoned lot near the bus stop. There were all these boulders and rocks strewn about, and out of these and some dirt I had shaped a little mound upon which I poured my libations, lit my incense, and offered my sacrifices. I’m sure that my fellow commuters wondered at my strange behaviour – why is that odd man mumbling to himself and throwing out his food – but the little old Mexican ladies never said a word to me.

And this is the sort of thing that anyone can do, at any time. Yes you may be very busy, far from home, and lacking in proper ritual items – but I think that just about anyone could sneak away for a couple minutes, buy a few items – or bring them from home – and perform this sort of impromptu ritual. You could probably even do it at work, if need be, on lunch or at another break. Go behind the building, or to the smoking area, or even at your desk. Perhaps you could light a candle, set up flowers or votive gifts, sprinkle a few granules of incense, even if you can’t light them, set aside a portion of your lunch for the Gods until you can properly dispose of it for them – anything, as long as it’s something. Most of these activities would go entirely unnoticed by co-workers, or if they saw them, they’d probably assume that you were just decorating your work space. They don’t have to know – what matters is that you and the Gods know the true intention of your acts. But if they happened to comment on it, you could use this as an opportunity to share your religion with them. After all, that, too can be a profound way to honour the Gods.

Another way to worship on the fly is through creativity. You can do artistic things to honour the Gods, such as writing poetry, hymns, essays, or short stories to celebrate them. You could even compose meandering meditations on the Gods and your experiences with them, just random thoughts and associations that come to you – it doesn’t have to be anything great or something you would necessarily have to share with anyone else. But the act of focusing your thoughts upon the Gods and writing can be a profound form of worship. The same holds true for drawing, sketching, painting, sculpting, collaging, mask-making, sewing, etc – any act of creativity. In fact, this form of devotion has an added benefit, as you can use these creative expressions to decorate your shrine or in building ritual items for use later on. This is an especially powerful form of devotion if you are not terribly skilled in these art forms. The effort you put into learning them, the time you devote and progress you make in your studies, are all forms of sacrifice in a way. Just try not to get frustrated or disappointed with the finished product if it doesn’t quite turn out as you had intended. What matters is that you keep your mind focused on the Gods while you are performing the task and that you offer them your best efforts.

Another form of devotion can be simply listening to music. Put together dub tapes with songs that remind you of a particular God, and let your thoughts roam as you listen to the music, either while commuting, at work, going for a walk, while performing other rituals, or just while relaxing. If you are so skilled – and believe me, I am not – you could even play music in their honour, or compose new pieces for them. Anyone, regardless of talent, can sing and dance, both of which were important features of ancient Greek religion. A similar way that you can use your body to honour the Gods is through exercise – especially going on long walks – martial arts, Yoga, Tai Chi, making love, or other physical activities.

And a final method of non-traditional worship would be devoting your time, money, and other resources to charitable causes on behalf of the Gods. For instance, some people collect food and clothing and donate them to drives on behalf of Zeus Xenios or Demeter. Giving money to a wildlife protection organization, or going to a park and cleaning up litter would be a great way to honour Artemis. Volunteering at a community theater project or manning the phones at a crisis center are activities appropriate for Dionysos. And advocating for the rights of sex workers or donating money to local arts and music programs would certainly be pleasing to Aphrodite. Or best of all, you can write big fat checks to keep your favorite authors – such as myself – afloat. This would be pleasing to all of the Gods, and ensure you a blessed place in Elysium. Well, maybe not. But I’m sure you can think of many other options that are both within your power and consistent with your interests and personal ethics. What matters is that you find something that helps draw you closer to your Gods, and does good in your community.

So, as you can see there are plenty of ways to integrate religion and a stronger relationship with the Gods into your life, regardless of how busy, strapped for time and cash you are, or how chaotic your home-life may be.

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I wouldn’t know anything about that

“To my mind, what’s im­pressive about Lovecraft is his profound cosmic negativism: the idea that mankind is confronted by horrors that are completely beyond his comprehension, forces against which he is powerless, and when he begins to realize these horrors exist, they inevitably destroy him.” – Karl Edward Wagner, in an interview with Dr. Elliot, July 1981

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Always reblog John Constantine.

There’s a discussion on Tumblr about fanfic and Hellenismos, to wit:

I really don’t care what other people say or do in regards to their practice and religion but I’m honestly kind of worried about the future of Hellenism. I understand that there is a need and valid reason to be festive and playful but sometimes I don’t understand why it goes as far as it does. It’s like some people disrespect the gods – well that’s not really the right word at all it’s like some people talk about them as if the gods and the entire religion were a joke and it’s their right and they can do what they want but I have serious worries about a religion that writes fan fiction about their deities. I mean I just don’t know because this is serious to me and I can’t imagine why anyone would play games with that sort of thing in every aspect of it.

Which, frankly, reminds me a bit of Plato’s criticism of poetry in the Republic:

Therefore, Glaucon, whenever you meet with any of the eulogists of Homer declaring that he has been the educator of Hellas, and that he is profitable for education and for the ordering of human things, and that you should take him up again and again and get to know him and regulate your whole life according to him, we may love and honour those who say these things –they are excellent people, as far as their lights extend; and we are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State.

Ain’t nothing new about this; we’re just imitating the same arguments the ancients got into. (Ho ho, catch what I did there?)

Which is kind of the point Jack Faust was trying to get across with this post, quoting a section from Aristophanes’ Frogs. But not the best part, which is undoubtedly the refrain of the titular chorus: Βρεκεκεκέξ κοάξ κοάξ. Say it, it’s fun! Βρεκεκεκέξ κοάξ κοάξ! Βρεκεκεκέξ! Βρεκεκεκέξ!

So anyway, sure, Aristophanes includes scatological taunts at his audience, burlesques the traditionally received myths and even plays pretty loose with the characters of the gods – but if you look a little deeper what he’s doing is really fucking profound. Take this play. What’s it about? Wikipedia does a surprisingly good job summarizing it but even they miss what’s going on.

You see, on the surface the reason that Dionysos makes his descent is because tragedy has been suffering since the death of the great poets and he needs to bring up the soul of the one he judges the greatest. However it’s not just tragedy that’s suffering. The real reason Dionysos goes below is because he’s forgotten who he is, hence his odd and uncharacteristic behavior at the play’s opening which is starkly contrasted with how he comes across in the latter half, once the katabasis has been completed. This is really driven home when the god fails to recognize the chorus of initiates in the underworld, even though they’re hailing him by his secret mystery name. (You know, the initiates who earned their blessed status by being able to answer the question, “Who are you?”)

Stop and really let what Aristophanes is saying sink in. If it helps, read this where I talk about Dionysos’ relationship with the arts, or this one where I go into the magic of language as it pertains to Hermes and Orpheus.

And you’re going to compare what Aristophanes is doing to fanfic?

Thing is, it’s a very high caliber of fanfic. People are still talking about it and putting on productions of Aristophanes’ plays two and a half millennia later.

Somehow I doubt that’ll be the case with my Carebear meets the Cenobites slashfic.

But maybe I’m wrong, and there is no substantial difference between these two works. Ultimately I don’t see much point to debating aesthetics since it basically boils down to taste, something that is inherently personal.

However, I think it’s important to remind ourselves what the underlying cause of all such arguments are: authority. More specifically, what is it, who has it, and why? And those are always good questions to ask.

Plato, unsurprisingly, had some astute observations on the subject. I’m particularly fond of this passage:

For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed. And as the Corybantic revellers when they dance are not in their right mind, so the lyric poets are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains: but when falling under the power of music and metre they are inspired and possessed; like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when they are under the influence of Dionysos but not when they are in their right mind. And the soul of the lyric poet does the same, as they themselves say; for they tell us that they bring songs from honeyed fountains, culling them out of the gardens and dells of the Muses; they, like the bees, winging their way from flower to flower. And this is true. For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles. (Plato, Ion 533e-534b)

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360

In his Historical Commentaries, Euphorion says that Dionysius the younger, tyrant of Sicily, dedicated a lamp-stand in the town-hall of the Tarentines that was capable of holding as many burning lamps as there are days in the year. (Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 15.700d)

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just like any real philosophical sect

It is as if that motley band of vegetarians and wizards which thought itself from time to time to be the Pythagorean school felt the need to possess a set of handbooks, just like any real philosophical sect. (Oswyn Murray, on Diotogenes)

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because of the witness of Dionysos

Ariadne, that daughter of subtle Minos whom Theseus bore off from Crete towards the hill of sacred Athens; yet he had no joy of her, since, before that could be, she was slain by Artemis in the isle of Dia because of the witness of Dionysos. (Homer, Odyssey 11.320)

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like dolphins, dolphins can swim

One of the devotional activities I do for the dead who belong to Dionysos is read accounts of their lives, whether they come down to us second-hand through the likes of Plutarch and Livy, or more intimately through votive dedications, temple inscriptions, funerary monuments and the like. After all, as Elie Wiesel observed in Night, “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

Sometimes these readings bring tears to my eyes, such as this epigram for a divinely named deceased boy from Bithynia:

Dionysos, you cared about me, Dion, when I was alive; both when I danced with the boys and carried the nectar of Bromios at the symposia. But now I set you up beside my tomb, so that even when I am dead and in my future existence, even then I might see you. (SEG:Ecit. 34.1266)

Doesn’t that just hit you right there in the feels?

Sometimes they’re very educational. For instance, there was this honorary decree for a Lesbian from Methymna:

Since Anaxion, son of Anaxion, who was chosen as president of the chellestus, took all precautions that the sacrifices for the ancestral gods be performed and that the chellestus be run with all diligence, and in addition to all this he paid for the choral liturgy from his own funds, the organization voted: 1) to crown Anaxion, son of Anaxion, at the Dionysia before the image of Dionysos is carried around the theater; and 2) to announce that the chellestus of the Phoikeai crowns Anaxion, son of Anaxion, on account of his excellence and goodwill toward them, with a golden crown and inscribed statue; and giving to him and his descendants … (IG XII 2.503)

Temples, festivals, spectacles and public works were all maintained through the support of individuals from the community, and what we’re doing at Many Gods West is no different. It simply is not possible without you.

And so I’ve come up with a way to honor you for you benefaction.

We’re going to be putting together a little handout with some of the devotional poetry that will be used in the ritual as well as some literature providing mythic context and some promotional material on the thiasos of the Starry Bull – now on Tumblr as well as Facebook! – keeping the tradition of Bacchic evangelism alive. And, well, it occurred to me reading about Anaxion that we should have something celebrating our generous donors in this. So for a $50 contribution we’ll include your name or the name of your group and for $100 we’ll print a line of text for you. (Within limits, of course. Your money isn’t worth offense to Dionysos and his retinue.)

Additionally during the ritual while everyone’s off doing their free-form ecstatic worship I will approach the shrine and petition him to bless each of our contributors regardless of the level they were able to contribute.

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Baptism

The purple-clad prince rose
like a goat capering gaily down the slopes
of the golgothean mount,
dripping and trembling, he was brought up from the river
by the hand of the baptizer clad in animal pelts,
face smeared with pale clay and Kronian trinkets hanging off him,
jangling in the wind.
The man howled like one swollen with wine and rushed raging into the desert wilderness,
chased by the ghostly hooves of the circuit-riding judge who tests the heart in flames.
He offered him the world – all he had to do in return was bend the knee.
Instead the man chose to swing from the lunatic tree
in order to give the souls below crowns of flowers
and wine as their fortunate reward.
He staggered out of the frigid maze,
aflame for the bull-horned lord of the double door
and the dove-maiden held out a bunch of plump grapes
in her bone-white hands and beckoned him to eat, to rejoice.

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The Cave of the Nymphs

The video for Negură Bunget’s Curgerea Muntelui:

Warning: under the right circumstances this video can result in nympholepsy.

Reminds me of the time when Orpheus placated the nymphs whose homes had been destroyed by pollution:

The women instantly turned to dust and earth there on the spot. Orpheus recognized the divine portent and for his comrades’ sake sought to comfort the nymphs with prayers. “O goddesses beautiful and kind, be gracious, O queens whether you are counted among the heavenly goddesses or those under the earth, or are called solitary nymphs, come, O nymphs, holy offspring of Ocean, and appear before our longing eyes and show us either some flow of water from a rock or some sacred stream gushing from the ground, goddesses, with which we may relieve our endlessly burning thirst.” (Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 4.1408–1418)

It’s one of my favorite stories and it’s because of such stories that he is considered one of the most venerable figures within our tradition, as I’ve discussed here. However, because of the context in which I was citing it and considerations of space I was only able to present the dénouement, even though the rest of the story is quite fascinating.

You see the spirits that Orpheus and his Argonaut companions encountered were the Nymphs of the West, the land of the Sun’s nocturnal descent. And the pollution came from the slaying of the great serpent that guarded their tree of golden fruit.

Picking up right where I left off, Apollonios Rhodios writes:

Orpheus sobbed as he prayed and the Nymphai who had gathered near forgot their grief and took pity on the suffering men. They wrought a miracle. First, grass sprung up from the ground, then long shoots appeared above the grass, and in a moment three saplings, tall, straight and in full leaf, were growing there. Hespere became a poplar; Erytheis an elm; Aigle a sacred willow. Yet they were still themselves; the trees could not conceal their former shapes–that was the greatest wonder of all. And now the Argonauts heard Aigle in her gentle voice tell them what they wished to know, “You have indeed been fortunate for there was a man here yesterday, an evil man, who killed the watching snake, stole our golden apples, and is gone. To us he brought unspeakable sorrow; to you release from suffering. He was a savage brute, hideous to look at; a cruel man, with glaring eyes and scowling face. He wore the skin of an enormous lion and carried a great club of olive-wood and the bow and arrows with which he shot our monster here. It appeared that he, like you, had come on foot and was parched with thirst. For he rushed about the place in search of water; but with no success, till he found the rock that you see over there near to the Tritonian lagoon. Then it occurred to him, or he was prompted by a god, to tap the base of the rock. He struck it with his foot, water gushed out, and he fell on his hands and chest and drank greedily from the cleft till, with his head down like a beast in the fields, he had filled his mighty paunch. Do thou likewise.” (Argonautika 4. 1390 ff)

Part of what I love about Apollonios’ treatment of this myth (and one of the reasons why I generally prefer Hellenistic to Classical Greek poetry) is that it places the focus peripheral to what would conventionally be considered the action, as his contemporary Kallimachos also does in the Hekale. The great heroic deed is done and Herakles lumbers off to his next adventure and that’d be it as far as most people are concerned. But that wasn’t it for the Hesperides: no, it’s just the start of the story of their life without Ladon, who had been both their protector and companion. How differently they must have seen this “monster,” daily interacting with and depending on him. To them it is Herakles who is the villain! For with Ladon’s death their land has been deprived of its source of supernatural vitality. As you may recall when the Argonauts first met them the Nymphs were in the process of dissolving into dust and dry earth and it was only Orpheus’ song that brought them back to some semblance of their selves. What will they do once the sails of the Argo have vanished beyond the horizon?

That is the fundamental question of local-focus polytheism and why I think you’re only doing recon right if you’re doing it regionally specific. People who only have a Bullfinch-level knowledge of Greek myth and religion tend to view it all as trapped in amber or happening simultaneously. Or they have a rough sense of chronology (Age of Titans, Age of Gods, Age of Heroes, Classical Greece) but no sense of the interrelatedness of events. Consider the Tantalids or the Royal House of Thebes – action begets reaction begets a whole tidal wave of violence and misery. Twelve generations later they’re still working out the ancestral guilt of one man’s impetuous crime. But often the part people play in these bloody dramas is just a portion of their story, the prologue that sets the supporting character up for their personal spotlight. Or so it seems to those who have a brush with them later on, elsewhere.

Aitia. That’s what heroes leave behind as they pass through people’s lives and into distant lands. Foundation myths. Every action, no matter how small, becomes imbued with meaning and mythic grandeur. And from that seed, that brush with the divine grow the traditions of a land. The citizens of Agyrium pointed out to visitors the footprints and hoof tracks in their rocky soil left by Herakles as he lead the cattle of Geryon through Sicily. Parthenope on the coast of Italy was so named from the Siren that washed ashore there after the three sisters were defeated by Odysseus. The Daunians wore only black clothing because they were descended from the Trojan captives who torched the ships of Diomedes and his companions so that they would have to build a settlement there and accept the women as their brides. History and myth blurred together and infused every part of our ancestors’ lives – and it should be the same with us.

Do you know the flowers that grow in your bioregion and why? Would you recognize a Nymph if you met one – or know the song to sing to heal her wrath? What will you be passing on to the generation that comes after ours?

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Learn to make offerings the Bacchic Orphic way

49AmasisDionysus

Alright folks, I’ve put together a rough curriculum for the class on Bacchic Orphic offerings and am now opening it up for registration. We’ll begin on May 1st and cover the following:

Week One: why we make offerings within the Bacchic Orphic tradition
Week Two: miasma and taboo
Week Three: the symbolism inherent in the offerings
Week Four: procedures and protocols around offerings

There’ll be reading assignments, exercises, discussion through the e-mail list and a weekly chat.

There’s no set cost for this class. Pay what you’re able, with the knowledge that all of the proceeds will be going to fund the bebakcheumenia at Many Gods West. Paypal your payment to me at sannion@gmail.com along with a note including the address you want to use for the Yahoo group and we’ll get the ball rolling. We’ll spend the time from now until May 1st getting to know one another and determining the best time for the weekly chat, so you’d better act fast!

Please help spread the word about this. We’ve got a lot of money to raise to cover transportation, food, lodging, ritual supplies as well as incidentals for several folks and not a lot of time to do it in. People talk a lot about the importance of religious community: here’s a way for you to get involved in that, even if you cannot attend.

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Oh hey, the last post reminded me ….

Happy 4/20 everyone!

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The power of whiteness

The reason I titled the last post Aphrodite Eschatos is that the video basically captures what I think death is like for the blessed initiate. I mean, it even starts with a butterfly flitting about in lush vegetation – the word for butterfly in Greek being psuche, also the word for soul.

Aphrodite (as I’ve discussed most pertinently here and here) has a lot to do with the Bacchic Orphic mysteries, primarily in her eschatogamic role.

For instance, Artemidoros says that “marriage resembles death and is signified by death. For a virgin to dream of marriage indicates her death since all that happens to one who marries happens also to the dead.” (Oneirokritika ii. 65)

The greenery is reminiscent of the fertile furrows of Elysium which await the pious, and in the end she is greeted by revelers in white arrayed like Dionysos’ own Furious Host.

The quote has some intriguing threads worth teasing out for you.

I love how it makes blessedness dependent on having heard the right music. And the bit about leaky pithoi – that’s the standard punishment in Orphic hell, which Plato sought the meaning of in Gorgias 492e-493a:

The part of the soul in which we have desires is liable to be overpersuaded and to vacillate to and fro, and so some smart fellow, a Sicilian, I daresay, or Italian, made a fable in which—by a play of words—he named this part, as being so impressionable and persuadable (πιθανόν), a jar (πίθος), and the thoughtless (ἀνόητοι) he called uninitiates (ἀμύητοι); in these uninitiates that part of the soul where the desires are, the licentious and fissured part, he named a leaky jar (πίθος) in his allegory because it is so insatiate. So you see this person, Callicles, takes the opposite view to yours, showing how of all who are in Hades—meaning of course the invisible (ἀιδές)—these uninitiates will be most wretched, and will carry water into their leaky jar with a sieve, as my story-teller said, he means the soul: and the soul of the thoughtless he likened to a sieve, as being perforated, since it is unable to hold anything by reason of his unbelief and forgetfulness. Well, well, as you say, life is strange. For I tell you I should not wonder if Euripides’ words were true when he says: ‘Who knows if life is death and death life?’ Perhaps then we are already dead and do not realize it. Indeed, I once heard a clever fellow, an Italian from Sicily, say that the body is our tomb.

And in Orphism the elect wear white. Why? Is it about purity or in imitation of the mythic initiators of Dionysos? Or because of doves and foamy waves?

Perhaps.

But I think it’s also about what Michael Turner discusses in The Woman in White: Dionysos and the dance of death:

The ‘woman in white’ is in the process of reversing the ecstatic process. She is, as it were, stepping out of her marble dead body and back into the one of flesh and blood she had prior to death; note the colour of her black hair. Her powers of motion, sight, and speech are returning. She has stepped off her base and is dancing ecstatically, beating a drum, as she returns to life – albeit a life eternally confined to the afterlife. Once the process is complete her flesh, as on the other two women on the krater, will have returned to its natural pre-death colour. It is the Sydney krater that gives us the clue to understanding this and similar imagery.

Similar imagery appears on an unprovenanced bell-krater now in Oxford, where a woman playing the aulos steps off a two-tiered platform. Although red-coloured, she is white-skinned. The platform too is red. Four youths surround her, all wreathed, and with one arm raised as if in greeting. Like the satyr on the Nicholson krater, the figure to her immediate right is bending down as if to help her off the platform. To his right, a youth advances holding out a tray or basket. To the left, both figures carry lit torches suggesting a setting away from the daylight.

[..]

The petrification of Niobe is unknown in Attic art. It first appears at the beginning of the 4th century BC, with the earliest extant example a fragmentary South Italian amphora from grave 24 at Roccagloriosa in Campania. Niobe is shown slowly turning to stone, standing on a high base. The effect is achieved by portraying her bottom half as a white block. The imagery is subsequently developed on both Campanian and Apulian pottery with the dying woman shown standing inside a naiskos.
[…]

The woman is youthful. Her imagery and that of similar Dionysiac figures, both male and female, is always youthful. As such, it parallels contemporary funerary statuary where deceased old age and the ravages of time and disease are never shown. This is the representation of idealized eternal youth – the dead both as they would like to have been remembered, and as those who remained wanted to remember them, panta kala, when everything was beautiful. It is the perception of (after)life as it will be, not of mortal life as it was.

Despite the every youthful imagery of Dionysiac initiates on pottery, the reality would appear to have been very different. The god made no distinction amongst his worshippers as to age or sex (Euripides, Bacchae 206-10). Both Euripides and Aristophanes describe the participation of older people, both male and female. In the Frogs (341-9), the chorus of initiates, young and old, male and female, describes the liberating effects of ecstatic Dionysiac dance for elderly initiates. In the Bacchae, despite their age the elderly Cadmus and Teiresias put on fawn skins and ivy wreaths and holding thyrsi prepare to join the thiasos (176-7). Both men say that dancing ecstatically makes them forget their age and feel young again, and physically enables them to dance tirelessly, despite their lameness (187-90).

Beneath the figured scenes is a meander pattern. Some bell-kraters, the Paestan kraters for example, have wave patterns. It should perhaps now be asked why these are the only two designs seen as apotropaic decoration on kraters of this type, whether Attic or South Italian.

The meander is the figure of a labyrinth in linear form. Kerényi suggests that we should set aside our concept of a labyrinth as a place in which one can lose one’s way, arguing instead that ‘it is a confusing path, hard to follow without a thread, but provided one is not devoured at the mid-point, it leads surely, despite twists and turns, back to the beginning. Safely negotiated, it will lead to salvation, or within the iconological context of this pottery, to an afterlife.’

The wave pattern recalls the alternative journey across the sea to the afterlife. J.-P. Descoeudres, in relation to similar imagery in Etruscan funerary wall-painting, suggests that it represents the boundary that must be crossed to get from the world of the living (i.e. the viewer) to the world of the dead, represented by imagery above the waves.

Which ties into what I was saying about Etruscan dolphins and the white way.

Nothing is random here, even my choice of music.

Speaking of which, I’ve been obsessively listening to this song:

Though I’ll wait to unpack the reasons why for another post. Do give it a listen, though. It’s mesmerizing.

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Aphrodite Eschatos

O Zeus, a fine thing it is to die having known the sound of the aulos, for only to those that have are the joys of Aphrodite permitted in the afterlife. For those who are uneducated in its ways on the other hand, who do not know that music, they shall be made to carry leaking pithoi. (Philetairos, fragment of Philaulos as preserved in Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 633e-f)

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Why do we celebrate festivals?

I’m trying to raise funds so that we can get a ritual team together to put on a big celebration for Dionysos at Many Gods West. We need to cover transportation, food, lodging, ritual supplies as well as incidentals for several folks and there are a number of ways that you can help with this, which I have detailed here. For instance, you can consider taking my 4-week class on Bacchic Orphic offerings which is available on a sliding scale. To help keep this cause fresh in people’s minds I’m going to make a series of posts on how to start up a religious practice within the framework of contemporary Hellenic polytheism and the Starry Bull tradition consisting of excerpts from my books. If you find this information useful in any way please consider donating to our common fund. Every little bit helps. Now onto the good stuff!

Note: This one was written five years ago and so does not provide an accurate impression of my current practice.

I have a fairly active religious life. In addition to my regular daily and monthly devotions I celebrate a large number of important festivals throughout the year. On average, there are at least two or three of these a month, and some months that number swells to around half a dozen. Recently I’ve actually had to scale things back a bit, since I was finding it difficult to put the proper time, thought, and resources into their celebration when it seemed that almost every other day was a festival of one sort or another. This, I suppose, is a consequence of having such a rich and complex multicultural pantheon, as we do in Greco-Egyptian polytheism.

Naturally, one may ask why do we do this? Why do we mark certain days as holy to the gods, as if the others were somehow less important? Why do we make lavish offerings to them, dress up in special clothing, dance, sing, play games, make music, tell stories, recite hymns, decorate the shrine and home, feast with friends and family members, and all the rest that properly celebrating a festival entails? After all, this is a lot of planning and expenditure to go through, with few if any tangible results for our trouble. And from a purely materialistic perspective it seems awfully wasteful.

These are interesting questions to pose, though it seems that few contemporary polytheist authors have bothered to address them. There is quite a bit of information out there on how to celebrate festivals, including some great material on how ancient observances can be adapted for modern times, but most of this glosses over the reasons why we celebrate these festivals in the first place.

I do not presume to know why others celebrate, but I would like to take this opportunity to share some of my own personal reasons for doing so.

To begin with, I believe that it is pleasing to the gods to be honored in this way. After all, do you not enjoy it when your friends and family gather to celebrate in your honor, perhaps on your birthday, a special anniversary, or to acknowledge some important accomplishment of which you are justifiably proud? Although the gods are indeed different from us mortals in a number of significant ways, many of the ancients – from Homer down to Aristotle – felt it appropriate to attribute to them emotional responses analogous to our own. In fact, the myths are consistent in portraying the gods as desirous of the honors due their divine status, and further, willing to punish those who treat them negligently.

Which brings up my next point, namely that such celebrations are a proper way to demonstrate our gratitude for the countless blessings that the gods have seen fit to bestow upon us. Every aspect of our lives is overseen by one or another of the divinities, as numerous sages over the centuries have recognized. Giving back a portion of what they have given to us shows both that we are aware of their benefaction and that we are thankful for such boons. Furthermore, by entering into this reciprocal relationship with the divine and doing what is pleasing in their eyes, we gain their kharis or good favor which inclines them to continued generosity in the future. Imagine that you gave gifts to two separate individuals. The first person accepted their gift without acknowledgment, seeing it as nothing more than they were entitled to. But the second person offered profuse thanks and even gave back their own humble gift as a token of appreciation. Which of these are you more likely to show generosity to the next time around?

Although it is certainly an important element, gratitude is not the only reason why I celebrate the festivals of my gods. There is also the fact that worship of this sort allows me to draw closer to them. By taking time out of my ordinary routine and focusing exclusively on them during its duration, I am reminded of who they are and why they are so important to me. Everything that I do during a festival is intended to bring me directly within their sphere of influence. In fact, sometimes these festal occasions provide an opportunity for intense and intimate communion with my gods in the form of epiphanies, visions and trance-possession. Although I may have such encounters at other times as well, I have found them to be both easier and more heightened during the god’s festival. There could be two reasons for this. First, there is the fact that I am strongly focused on them during this time, and engaged in those activities specifically intended to cultivate that sort of deeper awareness.

However, there is also the fact that the dates of my festivals have not been randomly chosen. At different times of the year a god may be more active and more strongly felt in the world around us than at others. This is especially true of those deities who are intimately connected with the cycles of nature, as many of mine happen to be. So it is, for instance, that we often find the ancient festivals of Dionysos occurring in Winter and Spring, but rarely during Summer which is the fallow season in Greece. Now obviously Dionysos can be felt at any time, but we often experience a very different side of him depending on where we are in the agricultural cycle. When the vines lie dormant we often behold the chthonic face of the god, whilst it is the triumphant and rapturous lord of intoxication that arises with the first flowers and budding fruit on the branch. In celebrating these festivals at their proper times, attuned to the lifecycle of our planet, we gain a deeper understanding of the gods, and an awareness of our environment and how such things influence our very existence.

And for me, at least, that is another important element in my celebration of festivals. Like the ancients, I believe that man is intertwined with his environment, and further that what we do can influence it to varying degrees. Many of our ancestral rites were thought to help promote the fertility of fields and flocks. When these rites were not properly performed it could be disastrous for the community as a whole. Many of the festivals that I celebrate today are a continuation of these ancient traditions. Skeptics may scoff – after all, these rites were not performed for hundreds of years during the time of Christian domination and yet the crops still came up in due season. Others, living in cities and getting their food entirely from the supermarket may feel no connection to nature and see fertility merely as an abstract quality. But for me, this stuff is real, important, and clearly makes a difference. I have noticed an increase of vegetation in places where I regularly perform such rites, and the spirits of the land seem to grow stronger and happier when such things are done for them. Further, and in some ways more importantly, I have witnessed members of my religious community reap unexpected blessings when the group collectively participated in these rites and a consequent decline when they were no longer done. Perhaps all of this can be written off as mere coincidence, but I still consider this an essential part of my religious practice, and something that is only increasing as I delve deeper into my path.

The final reason why I celebrate the festivals that I do is because I find them deeply enjoyable. This may seem like a trivial reason, especially in comparison with the others already cited, but I think that we would be mistaken to write it off so easily. The gods intend for us to enjoy life, to take great pleasure in its manifold blessings. And what could be more appropriate than doing so in the company of the gods who are responsible for these good things in the first place? Tryphe – luxury, indulgence, wealth and pleasure – was one of the cardinal virtues of the ancient Alexandrians and the Ptolemies in particular, whose whole sacred kingship was based on cultivating it and distributing it to the general populace. Festivals give us the opportunity to experience tryphe like nothing else. They are a break from our regular routine. The rest of the time we are supposed to work hard and lead temperate and disciplined lives. But during festivals we are permitted – nay, encouraged! – to have a good time and blow off some steam. Without such a pressure-valve, our anxieties and frustrations could build up until we explode in a rage, or worse yet, our spirits will be forever subject to banality and monotony. Festivals inject some much-needed color and excitement into our lives, and present us with all manner of sensual delights to indulge in. There is the good food and fine wine, the relaxed and joyous atmosphere, fun music and games, convivial conversations with friends and family, the pageantry and spectacle of the ritual itself, and beautiful decorations and lovely sights for our eyes to feast upon. Additionally, festivals help foster a sense of communal solidarity among those who worship together. And it gives us something to plan for, to look forward to in the months and weeks leading up to the festival. All of these are hardly inconsequential, as the ancients themselves well knew.

So there you go. These are some of the reasons why I celebrate the festivals of my gods. I’m sure, granted more time and space, I could come up with a host of additional reasons, but I think that I’ve sufficiently made my point, which is that festivals constitute the heart of Greco-Egyptian religious practice. In fact, I can’t imagine what my religion – and my life itself – would be like without them!

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We offer beauty

I’m trying to raise funds so that we can get a ritual team together to put on a big celebration for Dionysos at Many Gods West. We need to cover transportation, food, lodging, ritual supplies as well as incidentals for several folks and there are a number of ways that you can help with this, which I have detailed here. For instance, you can consider taking my 4-week class on Bacchic Orphic offerings which is available on a sliding scale. To help keep this cause fresh in people’s minds I’m going to make a series of posts on how to start up a religious practice within the framework of contemporary Hellenic polytheism and the Starry Bull tradition consisting of excerpts from my books. If you find this information useful in any way please consider donating to our common fund. Every little bit helps. Now onto the good stuff!

We live in a pluralistic and capitalistic society where the guiding philosophical principle seems to be the open market system. No one holds a monopoly on truth, and old ideologies which had taken for granted their close and long-standing relationship with the authorities are finding that they must now compete with a multitude of newer and older faiths in order to win the hearts and minds of the people of today.

Television evangelists recognized this fact in the early 1980’s and began tailoring their message to the sensibilities of a broader audience, employing slick production values and charismatic talking heads who seemed less like manic prophets come from the Judaean wilderness and more like smooth Southern gentlemen hawking used cars as they espoused the Word of God. No longer was it sufficient to merely assert the truth-claims of the Gospel Message – now they had to sell the benefits of their religion and how it would positively impact the lives of the average man. Other religions followed suit – the extreme commercialism of McWicca as evidenced by the glossy-covered books with little substance to be found in most major bookstore chains, and the Kaballah centre’s attempt to market its red string bracelets and bottles of Kaballistically blessed water to celebrities hungry for the next major fad are but two examples of this. (I could also mention Scientology in this context but don’t want to risk getting sued.)

Along this line of thought, one may naturally wonder how Hellenismos may compete in America’s open market on religion and what benefits may be had from accepting our faith.

In a word, what we offer is beauty. Ask the average person on the street what their first impression of ancient Greece is, and if they don’t answer ‘toga-wearing homosexuals’ chances are they’ll mention the beautiful marble statues or the ruined temples with their impressive columns still standing two thousand years later. If the person that you’re interrogating happens to be of the better educated sort, they will probably mention the epics of Homer, the great dramatic works of Sophokles and Euripides, the philosophic dialogues of Plato, or the body of myths which has informed and inspired the great minds of Western art down through the centuries. The artistic is intricately woven into our conception of the ancient Greeks because it was a fundamental part of their world-view. Art is man’s response to the beauty and harmony which surrounds him, a way to make sense of his experiences and share them with his fellows. It is interesting to note that the Greek word for the universe – kosmos – not only implies order and stability, but also beauty and ornamentation. They felt, deep in their bones, the fundamental beauty of the world which surrounded them – the fiery hues of the sky as the sun began its decline into the west, a natural spring bubbling along through a forest clearing, the human body in repose – and they sensed something divine in all of this: a world, as Thales of Miletos said, full of gods.

The gods could seem remote, dwelling far off on the distant heights of Mount Olympos, but more often the Greek experienced his gods as immediate presences manifest in the natural forces which surrounded him – Zeus thundering through the dark storm clouds, Poseidon riding the ocean waves on his mighty chariot, Dionysos present in the ripe fruit of the vine, Aphrodite and Ares stirring up emotions within the heart, leading either to love or destruction. No Hebrew ever spoke of his god in this manner – his voice may come from the burning bush, but the author of Exodus is clear to point out that Yahweh is not in the burning bush. Yahweh is so far removed from his creation that Newton could speak of the world as a machine so efficient that it made god redundant – and it is but a short step from there to Nietzsche’s terrible and prophetic proclamation that god is dead.

And what has the world become, completely divorced from the divine? It is a bleak place, full of hardship and ugliness. Everywhere there is a profound sense of emptiness and loneliness. Look at the cities which surround us and define our existence so much of the time: they are dirty, monotonous, ugly things, oppressive and stifling in their greyness and uniformity. The spirit rebels at such surroundings, and so street youth take spray-paint cans in hand and desperately scrawl their names and cryptic symbols across the bleak facades in a futile attempt to break up the monotony, to proclaim that they were here, that their life mattered in some small way. But without any deeper connection to the wellspring of creation, to the world of imagination, all that they can manage is their petty territorial tagging. It only serves to accentuate the bleakness of their surroundings, the bareness of their spirits.

Look at the popular culture which develops from such an environment. Interchangeable rap lyrics which extol the virtues of getting drunk and wasted, of acquiring extravagant amounts of wealth and surrounding oneself with shiny jewelry, tricked out cars, and booming sound systems. Women are reduced to bitches and hoes whose existence serve only to gratify the infantile and unimaginative lusts of gangstas. The broader popular culture is no better, dominated as it is by reality television whose contestants will demean themselves in order to win large sums of money, where celebrities are paraded about for no other reason than because they are wealthy and have celebrity.

Our culture lacks any deeper, defining morals, has no greater world vision, and allows itself to be manipulated and controlled by those who perpetuate the greatest atrocities in our name, with never a word of criticism, so long as our basic human needs are met, and the scoundrels can convince us that they are protecting our national security and traditional way of life. That seems to be what passes for the American Dream these days – a secure, if unfulfilling job, so that I can surround myself with things I don’t need, and watch amusing things on television until I finally keel over dead. No tough questions, no quest for deeper fulfillment or a richer relationship with one’s surroundings, no desire to accomplish great things and leave one’s mark on the pages of history.

You-are-beautiful-everyone-is-beautiful-17909726-640-480

Hellenismos stands in opposition to this by asserting the central value of beauty. Beauty is truth, a reflection of things as they authentically stand and also their relationship to higher powers and an exalted, visionary order. When one encounters beauty it changes the person, because beauty is attended by desire and we come to desire the beautiful, wanting more of it, no longer satisfied with that which is not beautiful. It compels us to follow it, to sacrifice the mundane and superficial in order to possess it, causes us to look within and make changes within ourselves in order to both be worthy of the beautiful and to better represent it, and we start to infuse our vision with it, causing us to behold the beauty that surrounds us, where before all seemed dark and depressing.

When we look at the things that the ancient Greeks considered beautiful, we see how important their religious world-view is today. As I said earlier, the Greeks were keenly aware of the beauty of their natural surroundings. When you value beauty you desire to preserve and ensure its continuity for future generations. You don’t pour your filth into rivers, pave over sacred groves in order to build parking lots, turn the air black and un-breathable out of carelessness and avarice. Instead you live in harmony with your surroundings, honoring its beauty as sacred, divine, as worthy of being cared for as one’s own beloved parents.

Regarding the human body as beautiful, the Greeks went to great lengths to ensure its health and robust vigor. At the center of every city, even in colonies as far away as Turkey and India, was the gymnasium where men would come to work out. Even older people such as Sokrates made a point of visiting the gymnasium every day in order to stay in shape. Most festivals had their agon or competition in which races, wrestling, boxing, discuss-throwing, dancing, etc. played an important role. Every four years men would travel from all parts of the known world, even calling temporary halts to wars, so that athletes could compete at the Sacred Games at Olympia – a tradition that has carried over, albeit modified somewhat, into the modern world. Science and medicine were highly valued in ancient Greece, the birthplace of rationality. Physicians, who considered themselves descendants of Asklepios, traveled from village to village or tended temples such as that at Epidauros, curing ailments, mending broken bones, and prescribing regimens of diet and exercise in order to ensure optimal health and the beauty of the body.

These regimens were taken to an extreme at Sparta where the whole populace lived a disciplined, barracks-like existence, eating a thick black gruel, and spending their time training for war and perfecting the body – even the women, a thing unthinkable to the Athenians. While an extreme example, the Spartans were hardly alone in their veneration of the body and striving for its perfection. We see just how pervasive this ideal was in numerous statues of handsome young boys at the peak of fitness, the panegyrics praising successful athletes, and even in the lives of Greece’s greatest creative spirits: Plato, who was famous first as a boxer, and then as a philosopher, Aiskhylos who wished to be remembered primarily as a soldier and in fact made no mention of his career as a man of letters in his epitaph, and Sophokles, who composed his greatest tragedies at the age of 90. No wilting hot-house flowers, no sickly ascetics torturing their flesh in the deserts were the ancient Greeks! In fact, they had such veneration for the beauty of the human body that they could think of no better way to express the transcendent beauty of the gods than to depict them in human form. For what in the world is more beautiful than man, the measure of all things?

But, of course, for the Greeks it wasn’t enough to simply make the outside beautiful and neglect what lay within. That would have been like offering a man an ornately sculpted golden chalice – filled with brackish water and mud. So, even as the young men trained their bodies in the gymnasia, their fathers were sure to place their minds and spirits under the careful guidance of tutors who would instruct them in poetry, music, philosophy and rhetoric. For the true man is one who is well-rounded, who could be just as comfortable at a dramatic competition as he was hanging out with his friends in the agora or carrying arms against the Persians. The Greeks excelled in the arts. Even today, Homer’s poems are unmatched in their beauty, complexity, and ability to stir the passions that lie deep in the breast and give wings to the imagination, allowing it to soar to the very heights of Olympos. The plays of the dramatists are still being performed, the vase-paintings and architecture of the period are still marveled at.

This was the world that the Greeks surrounded themselves with, in which they lived and thrived. Aristophanes’ comedies were not simply mindless entertainment. They grappled with the same profound questions as Plato’s dialogues. They are peppered with all kinds of contemporary political and religious controversies. They are fond of sly word-plays, clever puns, and outright sophistry. And the ancient Athenians had no problem following along, and in fact thought those plays best which challenged their basic assumptions and really made them think hard about current issues. Imagine a modern playwright getting away with lampooning a popular political figure the way that Aristophanes does! And yet, for the ancient Greeks who saw the beauty in thought, who didn’t want to sit passively by, but be actively engaged with their art – it was the norm, not the exception.

Just as beautiful as a young boy athlete or a choral ode on stage were the ethical philosophies and law-codes of the ancient Greeks. Fundamental to both was the concept of harmony, of submission to a natural and transcendent world-order. The criminal is one who puts himself outside of this order, who is intemperate, unable to control his desires, thinks only of himself and never of how his actions will impact his neighbors or the larger community. Lust, avarice, wrath – these are all emotions which disturb the tranquil calm of the spirit and disfigure the body. One sees how truly aberrant these are when depicted by art – grotesque and tormented figures in stark contrast to the normal conventions of Greek art which are serene and elegant, the quintessence of beauty.

So, when a stranger asks, what benefit is there in adopting Hellenismos, what is the essence of your religion? answer him Beauty, and know that it is the sublimest of faiths, worthy of the greatest respect, infusing and ennobling all aspects of life, and that without this sense of the beautiful, existence becomes a travesty worthy of the greatest contempt.

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Communicating with the gods

I’m trying to raise funds so that we can get a ritual team together to put on a big celebration for Dionysos at Many Gods West. We need to cover transportation, food, lodging, ritual supplies as well as incidentals for several folks and there are a number of ways that you can help with this, which I have detailed here. For instance, you can consider taking my 4-week class on Bacchic Orphic offerings which is available on a sliding scale. To help keep this cause fresh in people’s minds I’m going to make a series of posts on how to start up a religious practice within the framework of contemporary Hellenic polytheism and the Starry Bull tradition consisting of excerpts from my books. If you find this information useful in any way please consider donating to our common fund. Every little bit helps. Now onto the good stuff!

Note: I wrote this back around 2000, when I was still largely developing my practice. As such, there are a few points I wouldn’t necessarily include today and some of the terminology is problematically imprecise, such as my overuse of kledones, a technical term that is normally reserved for auditory signs. But a lot of it still holds up, so I don’t mind sharing it.

We live in a society that has lost its sense of the holy, and even when people reject the radical materialism and atheism that are the dominant philosophical premises of our culture, they often do not know how to go about establishing a strong and lasting relationship with the divinities. In antiquity there would have been people trained in these arts, who could act as intermediaries between the world of the divine and our own: priests and shamans and oracular agents who could teach the individual the ways of holy communication and show them how to recognize the mysterious presence of the gods in their lives. Today people are left to their own devices and have to figure all of this sort of thing out for themselves. While there are some positives to this – it ensures total freedom for the individual, since no dogma or priestly authority can stand in the way of their relationship with the divine; it makes the spiritual life one of exploration and growth – it can prove exceedingly difficult to get anywhere when one doesn’t even know where to begin.

The most important step as far as I’m concerned is to begin cultivating a state of open awareness. Divinity surrounds us in a multitude of forms, and it is constantly speaking to us, though we don’t always have the ability to hear what the gods are saying at the time. Remember the words of Thales of Miletos – there are gods in all things. In the sky above us and the earth below; in trees and rivers and rocks and flowers and all the animals that inhabit the world. Nor are these numinous presences limited to the things we traditionally associate with nature: there are spirits of concrete and glass, of fiberoptics and electricity, of shining skyscrapers and darkened alleyways. Each of them possesses a distinct personality and can act in the world, though some are harder to reach than others, and some may possess only a limited ability to influence the things around them.

As you go about your daily life, try to be aware of your surroundings. Too often we go through life with tunnel-vision. Our minds are occupied with other things. Our bodies are carried along as if by its own volition. We see our fellow commuters as a mass of indeterminate shapes on our periphery, and most of the time we can’t even tell if the sun is shining or if its grey and drizzily out.

Stop. Be aware. Notice all the things that are going on around you: the blades of grass breaking through the concrete, the warmth of the sun on your bare arm, the smell of pine in the air, the fleeting conversations carried to you on a breeze. Remember that all of this is alive and that the material world is the playground of the gods, wherein their forms and revelations are made manifest. Keep an eye out for things that are abnormal: leaves rustling when there’s no wind; shadowy shapes in the corner of your eye; dancing light on the surface of a pool. Seek out places where you feel this numinous presence strongly: parks and abandoned buildings, rivers and crowded markets. Spend time there, just soaking up your surroundings, taking in all of the sensations that come to you, and looking out for the spirits of the place. Do little acts to cultivate a relationship with these beings. Care for their land by picking up trash or removing graffiti. Leave small offerings such as flowers, food, drink libations, pretty stones and feathers, or shiny trinkets. Do something creative while you’re there, such as sketching or painting, writing poetry or journaling, or even just read, especially if you do so out loud for their enjoyment.

When you have developed this state of open awareness, you should begin looking for oracular signs, kledones as the Greeks called them. This is one of the strongest and most constant ways that the gods communicate with us. We see these things all the time, but either we’re not fully aware of them, or we dismiss them as chance and coincidence. But that’s precisely why they are so powerful. A coincidence is something outside of our control. Since we know that it cannot possibly originate with us, it becomes increasingly likely that the source for it is the gods themselves. Now of course, not every random thing that happens need have a god behind it. And we should also be careful lest we put too much into it. Sometimes our desire to see something clouds our perception, or can inflate our egos and lead us to a disastrous outcome. (Just because you see the face of Christ appear in your breakfast burrito does not mean that you are the Chosen One.) So use your discretion when it comes to this sort of thing.

But what type of kledones are there? Well, sometimes you’ll be mulling over a problem in your head, cross a street, and find the solution spelled out in a storefront poster. Or you’ll overhear a snatch of conversation that, taken out of context, sounds as if the person is speaking directly to you. Or maybe you’ll have been feeling distant from a god only to have the various images associated with him pop up throughout the day, or you open the book you’ve been reading and see his name, even though he has nothing to do with the plot, or you’ll turn on the radio and all of a sudden a song you’ve always associated with him starts playing. These, and countless things like them, are what I consider to be kledones, little messages from the gods imbedded in the fabric of our lives, sometimes profound ones, sometimes nothing more than a casual “Hey there!”

One thing that has proven very helpful in establishing communication with the gods is meditation and visualization. To get started with this you should first find yourself a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed for a while. Preferably this should be a darkened area lit only by a candle, but if that’s not possible, any area will do. To help set the mood you may choose to light incense and play music, but this music should be of a sort that is conducive to meditative states. Try to avoid music that has singing, as this can interrupt your mindfulness, although singing in a foreign language you don’t understand, especially if it is long, droning and sonorous in form, can actually help you enter an altered state. Sit comfortably on the ground, in a relaxed but upright posture. If you are familiar with Yoga asanas you may adopt these, but it’s certainly not necessary, especially if you are just starting out. Close your eyes and relax your breathing. Let your mind empty gradually. Don’t try to force it, as the purpose isn’t to enter a Zen “no-mind” kind of state, but one of open receptivity. Slowly feel yourself entering the presence of the god. You may choose to visualize yourself coming into a moonlit forest clearing or the adyton of an ancient temple or wherever you envision the god most clearly. Begin to fill your mind with images associated with him, whatever it may be that brings to mind the god for you. If you are trying to commune with a particular aspect of the god, choose the associations most appropriate to that epiphany. As a way to help with the mindfulness you can chant his names and epithets. This practice is especially helpful in the early stages with driving out errant thoughts and centering you. You may choose to envision yourself performing some act associated with the god. In the case of Dionysos, that might be dancing with the throng of Maenads and Satyrs, participating in a hunt, offering sacrifices to the god at his temple, approaching and communicating with the god, acting out certain of his myths, or anything else that would be appropriate for the setting. Try not to force anything too much, but go with the flow.

Once you have set the stage let your visionary faculties take over and see where they lead you. That part of our soul which psychoanalysts call the Unconscious and which the ancient Neoplatonists termed the daimonion is in direct communication with the divine, but our conscious minds act as a barrier between that world and this. Visualization and meditation – as well as all forms of ritual – help soften the barrier and allow us more direct forms of communication with the divine, be they through visions (images pregnant with meaning), journeys (to other worlds or parts of this world normally inaccessible to us), messages (verbal and other forms of communication) and even prognostications of future events.

Don’t be worried if this sort of thing doesn’t work well for you at first. Some people simply lack the ability to sit quietly for a prolonged period, or find themselves extremely blocked so that it takes years of practice before they can get even the simplest form of communication. And some others never get any kind of results from this practice, which is perfectly fine. Not everything is meant to work for everyone. However, I think that there are certain benefits to this practice for everyone, even if it’s just a way of centering their minds and focusing themselves for something else. This is a practice which can be performed anywhere (I often do it on the bus on my way into work in the mornings) and either on its own, or as part of another practice, such as a regular worship ritual or in preparation for divination. Afterwards, you should record any significant experiences you had during the session, especially if you receive any kind of important communication. However, while you’re meditating be fully there, and don’t constantly be focused on remembering or recording what’s going on: this is a sure way to cheat yourself of important experiences.

Another way that the gods can communicate with us is through dreams. Many gods in antiquity had dream oracles where people would come to sleep in the temple in order to receive a visitation from the divinity in their dreams. Dreaming is a time when our conscious minds are entirely subsumed within the unconscious, and leads us into a world ripe with symbols and populated by imaginary structures. You can study techniques such as lucid dreaming or deep meditation to help you navigate this realm better, or you can perform rituals before going to bed to acquire dream oracles. There is extensive literature on this topic relating to the incubation practices connected with the cults of Asklepios, Trophonios, and Serapis in antiquity, as well as whole procedures in the Greek Magical Papyri.

But some of the most intense dream-communications I’ve ever received occurred spontaneously – and in fact it was this latter sort which originally led me to explore Dionysos, since he had been appearing to me in a series of dreams and visions before I even properly knew who he was. You should keep a notebook by your bed to record any significant dreams you have, especially because dreams are fleeting things that are often difficult to remember in their entirety once we are fully awake and under the grip of our conscious mind.

A word of caution, however, is in order regarding both dreams and visualization. Yes, they can be powerful things, and the gods can communicate directly to us through them – but not every dream or vision we have is necessarily true or meaningful. Sometimes we don’t remember them perfectly, or the kernel of truth is enshrouded in falsehood which we must strip off, or far more commonly, it’s just our brain’s way of processing information, working through the random images in our subconscious so that we don’t go insane. There are people who treat every dream they have as if it possessed monumental importance and was always the result of a divinity communicating with them. Not only is this highly unlikely – while the gods are concerned with us, it’s arrogant to presume that we are their only concern and that they have nothing better to do with their time than to sit there and whisper things into our sleeping ears – it’s also absurd when you consider the nature of our dreams, and how random, pointless, and mundane most of them are. One should also be on the lookout for arrogance and egotism: just because you have a dream and it’s personally meaningful for you, it doesn’t necessarily follow that that dream is a communication intended for the whole rest of the world. One need only stroll through an insane asylum to see how common these messianic delusions are, and how little comes from them in the end.

A good check on the validity of dreams, and also another way to communicate with the gods (though this is also prone to the above pitfalls) is divination. A standard element in almost all ancient Greek rituals was divination, usually by interpreting the entrails of the sacrificial victim, and so this should play a part in any properly reconstructed ritual. In addition to that it’s the best way to open up communication with the god, going to him directly when we have any question that we cannot answer on our own.

But of course the best and in my mind one of the most essential aspects to a strong relationship with a god is actual, formal worship.

This is the routine I follow for my rituals:

– Purification: First I make sure that the altar is arranged properly, and clean off any incense ash, previous offerings, or dust that may have accumulated since last time. Then I wash my hands in a bowl of lustral water, or khernips (You create this holy water by consecrating it with fire i.e. dipping a burning branch into it or by mixing it with sea salt and reciting a blessing over it.)

– Pompe: Once everything is set up, I take a few steps away, and then approach the altar with slow, steady steps, mindful of entering the presence of the deity.

– Fumigation: When I light incense, it’s either a specific mixture for a god, like I’ve detailed in the Compendium of the gods, or something general such as frankincense, myrrh, patchouli, or nag champa.

– Hymnodia: When I recite a hymn to the gods, I generally use those of Homer or Orpheus – though Archiloukos, Pindar and Sappho have some good material too – or else I use something I’ve composed myself. While I read, I think about the god I’m honoring and will often spend a couple moments meditating on them afterwards. Alternately, you may choose to read a story about one of the god’s myths at this time.

– Offering: For the sacrifice itself, I place my offering in a bowl in front of the god’s image, or on the altar, usually after holding it aloft for a couple moments. The sacrifice may consist of a small portion of food, grain, flowers, a picture, oil, more incense, candles, stones, feathers or other natural objects, and so forth.

– Prayer: I take a few moments here to address the god or goddess. This is usually in the formal Hellenic prayer structure (a list the deity’s epithets and cult centers, mention of past assistance, etc.) – but if I’m addressing Dionysos or Hermes or a god with whom I have a more familiar relationship, I may speak to them in a companionable tone, even at times as I would a close friend. If I have need of anything, now is when I make my request. Otherwise I just speak to them or meditate on their nature. A new practice that I’ve developed is writing out prayers, verses, thoughts, whatever’s on my mind, etc., on scraps of paper which I keep near my altar, and then I place them in a bowl. This act helps focus me, gives me a tangible sign of the encounter, and allows me to keep track of what I’ve been talking to the gods about. I usually keep the bowl for about a month, and then I burn all of the scraps of paper in a cleansing ritual.

– Libation: I either sprinkle a few drops of wine on the altar, or pour the gods a glass. In addition to wine, I may use water, oil, milk, honey, or another alcoholic beverage.

When that’s done, I either remain in front of the altar after meditating or I process away, comforted after having spent a few moments of my busy day with the bestowers and sustainers of life’s blessings.

All of these methods, taken in conjunction, cannot help but establish a strong level of communication between yourself and the gods. The important thing to remember is: be aware of the world around you and make time for the gods in your busy life.

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Kind of hard to argue with the logic of that

More fairy lore from Kitty the Dreamer, this time from her piece The Life of a Fairy: Their Diet, Habitat, Reproduction and More!

If we go by classic literature, in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, fairies were said to be made by children’s laughs. This is a sweet thought and concept, but perhaps not everyone would agree that this is exactly logical. It is more likely that pixies and small flower fairies are made in this way, but what about the larger and more capricious fairies? What about the malevolent-type fairies who not only dislike human beings but are out to wreak havoc upon them? I doubt a baby’s laugh would create such monstrosities. So for the next theory of fairy procreation…

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You’ll be surprised by something, alright.

Kitty offers this helpful advice on How to Find Real Fairies:

Dozens of various Native American tribes have their own stories of little people from the hills and mountains. So it is almost inevitable that if you go to a rural mountain range or lonely, naturally-preserved hill that you will most likely be able to find real fairies. You can go to a fairy burgh (hill) and leave an offering at the foot of the hill for the fairies. Knock three times on the side of the hill and then sit down a distance away from the hill. Visualize a protective circle around yourself and then watch the hill. You may be surprised to see dancing spirits emerge from the hill. You may be surprised to see that you have learned how to find real fairies. Particularly hills and burghs with old trees or trails of toadstools are likely spots to find real fairies. The fairies may in fact be living within those hills…waiting for an open-minded individual such as yourself in order to emerge and strike up a conversation.

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