welcome to the Bacchic Grotto

It doesn’t feel like the right time to start something like the Magical Mystery Tour, so instead I’m opening the Bacchic Grotto, which will be a more dynamic and participatory version of the House of Vines.


Basically I want a place where I can hang out with folks online and explore our worship of Dionysos and his retinue together. I’ll share music and research and suggest novel devotional practices folks can experiment with, post excerpts from the books I’m working on, let people know when I’m offering classes, divination and other spiritual services, answer questions on theology and praxis, host regular thematic chats, come up with collaborative projects and that sort of thing. Most of all I want to encourage folks to do the same, and give them a place where they can.

I’m done with groups and community-building and the blogosphere. I want to engage with people who want to do cool shit for our gods and spirits. That’s it. No leaders, no followers, no lurkers and no drama. Just mad devotees of the mad god doing mad things for him madly.

If you’re interested, click here to join. If not, nice knowing you and see you on the other side.

This will be my final post here. It’s been a blast.

The House of Vines: where words grow like leaves 2009 – 2015.

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Play the game. Everybody’s doing it.


I’ve been working with the Toys, on and off, for about twelve years now. In that time I’ve done a ridiculous amount of research. Then today, after going antiquing with Galina to find representations of the Toys (saw about six of them, but only one I wanted for my new set) I’m chilling and reading about the relationship between Satyr-plays and Comedy when I come across this passage from Aischylos’ Isthmiastai or Theoroi.


To set it up, the Satyrs have abandoned Dionysos and run off to serve Poseidon as temple-slaves. Dionysos finally catches up with them and is less than pleased. He’s having a back-and-forth with one of the Satyrs very similar to his exchange with Pentheus in the Bakchai when our fragment picks up:

Satyr: Don’t confuse us with your verbal wiles and foreign proverbs!

Dionysos: Oh, you’d rather hide behind a shield and utter words against me that are out of order, that I am no good at fighting with iron, that I’m a cowardly, effeminate being who doesn’t belong among males. And now you make these further, fresh accusations, more vile than any of your previous insults, and you slander both me and the choral festival for which I am assembling a multitude. No one, young or old, willingly abandons the two rows of my chorus, yet you are Isthmiizing, garlanding yourselves with pine branches and not paying ivy its due honor at all. For this you’ll shed tears but it won’t be because you’ve got smoke in your eyes!

Satyr: No, I will never depart from the sanctuary! Why do you keep threatening me like this? In response I call on Poseidon of the Isthmus. He will protect me….

Dionysos: Since you are set on learning these new ways, I’ve brought you some new Toys, freshly fashioned on the adze and the anvil. This, here, is the first of the playthings for you.

Satyr: Not me! Give it to one of my friends.

Dionysos: Don’t refuse, my good fellow, just because of a bad vibration. Accept these gifts which I bestow upon you.

Dionysos hands the Toy to the Satyr.

Satyr: What pleasure is to be had of this? What am I even supposed to do with it?

Dionysos: It suits your new profession.

Satyr: But what do I do with it exactly? I don’t like this thing, it confounds me!

Dionysos: You play the game. Everybody’s doing it.


This is pretty fucking cool because it totally confirms that Dionysos has the sort of relationship with the Toys that I’ve postulated all along.

Remember, all the evidence that’s come down to us about them – roughly six or seven texts in all – concerns either their use by the Titans to ensnare Dionysos or else how initiates kept representations of the Toys in their homes as mementos of the mysteries they’d undergone. All the rest is the result of conjecture, random association, personal and shared experience and the like.


It’s nice to have one’s UPGs confirmed, isn’t it?

If you would like to learn more about these tricksy spirits of initiation I’ll be teaching a second round of the Introduction to the Toys of Dionysos class upon my return from Many Gods West. If you would like to reserve your spot in the class you may do so by donating $65 to the Bakcheion communal fundraiser. Tuition will go back to the normal rate of $10 a week after the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (June 24th) so you’d better act fast if you’re interested and want a good deal!

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consistency is the hobgoblin


Starry Bull design by Markos.

I’ve been doing that thing I do again. I kill a persona in order to create a new one; get the specifics of how to act it out from Dionysos and then proceed to ignore that in favor of practices I’d been given for previous personae. You’d think that after twenty plus years I wouldn’t keep falling into that trap.

It’s especially frustrating when I catch myself doing it because, on the one hand, it shows I’m not being as open or receptive to Dionysos as I should be, and also because it’s a monumental waste of time, something I’m acutely conscious of not having a lot of.

I suppose it’s understandable on the human level. It’s tough having to constantly reinvent yourself and start from scratch. Things are really ephemeral and shifty when they first present themselves to you. Old, familiar patterns and structures can be tough to shake even for someone like me. It’s not like any of this comes with a detailed guidebook; you figure it out through trial and error and fumbling around in the dark. It’s a lot easier to tell when something is wrong than when it’s almost right. A lot of times we’re talking a matter of degrees, slight variations of focus and ritual tech; but even that minimal amount of being off means you’re not right, and that simply isn’t acceptable for me.

A while back I figured out that my next role was to be a story-teller. So what do I do? Go into teacher mode and start proposing all these cool ideas for classes.

Partly that was due to the success of the Toys of Dionysos course, which deluded me into thinking I had some didactic skill.

(Which I don’t.)

Rather, I was successful in that because I was bringing the participants through a story, a story that blurred the boundaries between fantasy and reality.

That’s what I’m good at, so fuck the classes I was going to offer after Many Gods West; I want to lead people on a magical mystery tour! I’m looking for some daring and devotionally experimental souls who want to have a novel Dionysian experience orchestrated by yours truly. You’ll basically be placing a significant portion of your devotional life under my instruction and guidance for a period of twelve months. You will only be told what I feel is necessary for you to know, when I feel it is necessary for you to know it.

I will merely be making suggestions. You must choose to act upon those suggestions or not of your own free will – but failure to comply will result in your departure from the project, unless divination corroborates that this is something the gods are not permitting you to do.

At no time will you be prohibited from engaging in other practices or honoring divinities outside the group that we’ll be working with during this, though it’s up to you to navigate any conflicting purity or religious obligations that may arise. (Something to consider before getting yourself too deeply involved with this is that some stages of the project may involve transgressive and chthonic practices.)

There are no costs associated with this, though you’ll be responsible for picking up all of the ritual supplies and other incidentals that participation requires.

If you’re interested in applying to be part of this contact me at sannion@gmail.com. Not only will applicants have to fill out a questionnaire but I’ll be performing divination before approving anyone.

I’ll also be offering a second round of the Introduction to the Toys of Dionysos course. If you pay up front before July by donating to the Bakcheion fundraiser I’ll slash the price to $65.

Also, if you intend to be at the Many Gods West conference and would like to learn more about these tricksy spirits of initiation I’ll be offering an off-the-schedule workshop and séance related to them. Drop me a line if you’re interested.


The Snake Charmers by 3feathers

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And so he subdued them when they grew divided.


I was doing some research on Isidoros the Dionysian priest who led the Βουκόλοι in a bloody revolt against the Roman occupiers of Egypt:

And those called the Boukoloi created a revolt in Egypt and joined with the other Egyptians led by the priest Isidoros. First, in the cloaks of women, they tricked the centurion since they appeared to be the women of the Boukoloi approaching to give him money for their men, and they struck him down. His companion they sacrificed swearing an oath on his entrails and then eating them. Of these men Isidoros was the bravest. Then, when they defeated the Romans in battle, they advanced towards Alexandria and would have reached there had not Cassius been sent against them from Syria and contrived to upset their unity and divide them from each other, for they were too many and too desperate for him to dare to come against them all together. And so he subdued them when they grew divided. (Cassius Dio, Roman History LXXII 4)

When I came across this tantalizing title:


Afro-Greeks examines the reception of Classics in the English-speaking Caribbean, from about 1920 to the beginning of the 21st century. Emily Greenwood focuses on the ways in which Greco-Roman antiquity has been put to creative use in Anglophone Caribbean literature, and relates this regional classical tradition to the educational context, specifically the way in which Classics was taught in the colonial school curriculum. Discussions of Caribbean literature tend to assume an antagonistic relationship between Classics, which is treated as a legacy of empire, and Caribbean literature. While acknowledging this imperial and colonial backstory, Greenwood argues that Caribbean writers such as Kamau Brathwaite, C. L. R. James, V. S. Naipaul, and Derek Walcott have successfully appropriated Classics and adapted it to the cultural context of the Caribbean, creating a distinctive, regional tradition.

I’d be awfully interested in reading that if the price tag wasn’t so high, alas and alack, as it interestingly parallels Wole Soyinka’s adaptation of the Bakchai, which seems pertinent considering what’s going on:

Donyell Shank lives in the Park Heights neighborhood of Baltimore. Her daughter was a friend of Freddie Gray. In an interview at her house this week, she talked about rioting and what it means to be a “thug” in a neighborhood where the police are mistrusted: “It started with people writing reports. That didn’t do anything. People started getting on camera, pointing the police out. That didn’t do no good. Now, we riot, and we got attention. What’s the difference between this riot and what Martin Luther King did?…The only thing is we did not have a leader here. That’s the only difference…What is the difference? Just young children leading younger children. I don’t care what kind of name you put on them: thugs, whatever. They opened the door for us. If I’m walking down the street getting robbed, and the police come, I get questioned: ‘Ma’am, what did you do?’ All I have to do is tell a thug, and they’re going after that person. They’re going to get that person off of me immediately.”


Now that’s political action I can get behind!

I also learned about the Black Greeks of Thrace:

There are not many Greek historians that have dealt with the enigma of the black Greeks of Thrace, since not many people know of them. The exception is Nicholas Xirotiris, Professor of History and Ethnology, Democritus University of Thrace, who throws some light on this historical mystery:

“It is known that in Thrace African tribes arrived in the late 18th and early 19th century. Transferred there from Egyptian sultans who wanted laborers and serfs on their land. Like Muhammad Ali [Pasha of Egypt and a native of Kavala], who owned places like Xanthi and Kavala, these Africans were brought mainly from Sudan which was then a colony of Egypt. ”

When Thrace was unified with Greece, these black people were (not being able to return home) living on the mountainous part of Thrace and naturalized as Greeks. “In the ’40s,” explains Mr. Xirotiris, “during the German Occupation, and because of persecution from Bulgarians in the mountains of Xanthi, they descended to the plains. Then, for the first time there were mixed marriages between Africans and Pomaks. ”

So much history we’re never taught in school. Gee, I wonder why that is.

Meanwhile another man, who was naked, walked by, wearing a crimson loincloth, and throwing the body of the pais (child or servant) on its back; he cut it up, and tore out its heart and placed it upon the fire. Then, he took up the cooked heart and sliced it up to the middle. And on the surface of the slices he sprinkled barley groats and wet it with oil; and when he had sufficiently prepared them, he gave them to the initiates, and those who held (a slice?) he ordered to swear in the blood of the heart that they would neither give up nor betray [——–], not even if they are led off to prison, nor yet if they be tortured. (PColon 3328, B 1 Recto, lines 9-16. Fragment of Lollianos’ Phoenikika.)

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for the god makes no distinctions

One of the reasons that I am staunchly apolitical – aside from the fact that the system is so corrupt and broken at this point that the only way true change will occur is through violent insurrection, making all of these protests nothing more than masturbatory self-congratulating theater – is that I am a Dionysian.

You see, Dionysos is a radically inclusive god. One of the first and most powerful expressions of this in the literary record comes from Euripides’ Bakchai, in the famous speech of Tieresias the prophet:

Those old traditions from our ancestors,
the ones we’ve had as long as time itself,
no argument will ever overthrow,
in spite of subtleties sharp minds invent.
Will someone say I disrespect old age,
if I intend to dance with ivy on my head?
Not so, for the god makes no distinctions—
whether the dancing is for young or old.
He wants to gather honours from us all,
to be praised communally, without division.

Much further back, a thousand years and more, the archaeological record confirms this. In the handful of references to the god in Linear B we already find him associated with women, with tenant-farmers, and with kings. Every class, every category, every permutation of humanity is welcome in his rites.

While it’s true that his worship could give expression to revolutionary tendencies:

Dionysus was left to the powerless of Italy and they embraced him. In 185 – 184, the slave shephards of Apulia – the heel of the Italian “boot” – revolted and sources hint they claimed Dionysus as their patron. Between 135 and 101 B.C., two slave revolts in Sicily and one slave revolt in western Anatolia all invoked Dionysus. The god appeared again in the rebellion of Rome’s Italian allies known as the Social War (91 – 88 B.C.): rebel coins showed Bacchus as a symbol of liberation. (Barry Strauss, The Spartacus War pgs 34-35)

It held equal appeal for the wealthy and powerful:

Antony himself, when he was staying at Athens, a short time after this, prepared a very superb scaffold to spread over the theatre, covered with green wood such as is seen in the caves sacred to Bacchus; and from this scaffold he suspended drums and fawn-skins, and all the other toys which one names in connection with Bacchus, and then sat there with his friends, getting drunk from daybreak, a band of musicians, whom he had sent for from Italy, playing to him all the time, and all the Greeks around being collected to see the sight. And presently, he crossed over to the Acropolis, the whole city of Athens being illuminated with lamps suspended from the roof; and after that lie ordered himself to be proclaimed as Bacchus throughout all the cities in that district. (History of the Civil War Book 3 quoted in Athenaios 4.29)

Indeed, one of the most interesting things about reading epigraphic testimonies of the god’s cults is how frequently we find the different classes mingling in his worship, as you can see for yourself in Philip Harland’s exhaustive, though by no means complete, collection of them.

This was such a strong component of Dionysiac worship that it completely scandalized Philo the Jew:

In the city there are thiasoi with a large membership, whose fellowship is founded on no sound principle but on strong liquor, drunkenness, intoxicated violence, and their offspring, wantonness. (In Flaccum 136)

Which is what ultimately led to the suppression of the Bacchanalia in Rome. Had this just been a cult of slaves, women and foreigners the senate wouldn’t have freaked out as they did:

Then Hispala gave an account of the origin of these rites. At first they were confined to women; no male was admitted, and they had three stated days in the year on which persons were initiated during the daytime, and matrons were chosen to act as priestesses. Paculla Annia, a Campanian, when she was priestess, made a complete change, as though by divine monition, for she was the first to admit men, and she initiated her own sons, Minius Cerinnius and Herennius Cerinnius. At the same time she made the rite a nocturnal one, and instead of three days in the year celebrated it five times a month. When once the mysteries had assumed this promiscuous character, and men were mingled with women with all the licence of nocturnal orgies, there was no crime, no deed of shame, wanting. More uncleanness was wrought by men with men than with women. […] They formed an immense multitude, almost equal to the population of Rome; amongst them were members of noble families both men and women. (Livy, History of Rome 39.13-16)

Once upperclass folk started getting involved that’s when the hammer fell, with disastrous consequences:

But so great were the numbers that fled from the city, that because the lawsuits and property of many persons were going to ruin, the praetors, Titus Maenius and Marcus Licinius, were obliged, under the direction of the senate, to adjourn their courts for thirty days, until the inquiries should be finished by the consuls. The same deserted state of the law-courts, since the persons, against whom charges were brought, did not appear to answer, nor could be found in Rome, necessitated the consuls to make a circuit of the country towns, and there to make their inquisitions and hold the trials. […] A greater number were executed than thrown into prison; indeed, the multitude of men and women who suffered in both ways, was very considerable. A charge was then given to demolish all the places where the Bacchanalians had held their meetings; first in Rome, and then throughout all Italy. (Livy, History of Rome 34.18)

Which is why I am so concerned about the growing politicization of the polytheist movement, as I recently discussed here and here. By insisting that paganism is not religious but revolutionary, dictating what positions a person must take on contemporary socioeconomic issues and furthermore insisting that they have the backing of the gods in what they are doing I cannot in good conscience stand with them. It’s not right when the Christian dominionists push for the blurring of the separation of the sacred and secular, and it’s not right when “we” do it either.

For one, it diminishes our intellectual and moral capacities to believe that a god must tell us right from wrong. I can get upset all on my own when I see police systematically murdering people of color or corporations blowing up mountains and dumping toxic sludge into our waterways for profit. And for another, outside of those and a handful of other serious issues, a lot of this stuff doesn’t have a simple answer. Decent, sincere, caring people can come to diametrically opposed conclusions on these matters and I’m not going to shun someone because they happen to think differently than I do. In point of fact I am not permitted to exclude another Dionysian from fellowship unless their actions violate the xenia of the god, for instance by bashing a trans person or taking advantage of someone who is too inebriated to give proper consent. Tolerance is one of the cardinal virtues of Dionysos and sometimes that means putting up with people I don’t particularly like.

And yet repeatedly these “radical polytheists” have made it abundantly clear that there is no room for people who think like I do in their little clique. Back when we were considering putting on a second polytheist leadership conference a popular and influential name in the community threatened to boycott when they caught wind of my political leanings. (Even though I very carefully kept that out of the equation and a sizable contingent of our speakers at the first conference were left of Marx.) Since then the situation has only gotten worse. Over and over again I’ve seen these people viciously turn on each other over miniscule differences in ideology. Friendship counts for nothing with these people, nor does a prior history in social justice activism. If you don’t toe the line and express all the right talking points all the time, even when those talking points shift without warning, you’re done for.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I mean, fuck. We’re a small enough group of people as it is without unnecessarily dividing ourselves further. You can say something is great and important enough that you’re dedicating your life to it without demanding everyone else get behind it as well and they’re wrong, wrong, WRONG if they don’t. Let’s come together to honor the gods and spirits, and when we do let’s put all of that human stuff aside for the hour or so that we’re worshiping. Because you know, there are more important things than us in this world.

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the celebration of the nocturnal dramatic festival


For those in the Starry Bull tradition Maiuma is approaching.

One of the ways that this festival was celebrated in antiquity was with shows:

Likewise Commodus set aside a specific quantity of gold for torches, lights, and other expenses for the celebration of the nocturnal dramatic festival, held every three years and known as Orgies or the Mysteries of Dionysos and Aphrodite, which some call Maioumas because it is celebrated in the month of May-Artemisios. (Malalas, Chronicle 284-5)

Interestingly, I just came across reference to Aphroditean technitai from Sicily which were paired with the more familiar guilds of Dionysian artists. Which is particularly interesting in light of the stage trappings found in the Cave of the Nymphs, where mysteries of Aphrodite-Persephone were conducted:

Pan is not the only god whose presence was felt by the women at the Grotta Caruso. On the side of the terracotta plaque with the nymphs and Pan are depicted thyrsoi, implements belonging to the maenadic cult of Dionysus. Models of maenads were also found in the Grotta, together with Sileni, masks and figurines of comic actors, and the theatrical as well as the ecstatic dimension of Dionysus clearly figured in the experience at the Cave. For women to leave behind theatrical votives suggests strongly that their activities were connected with performances that took place in the theater built in the center of the city.

The chthonic aspects of Dionysus were intertwined with the ecstatic and theatrical in Magna Graecia, making it not surprising that this Locrian ritual combined theatrical elements with a katabasis. In Sicilian Lipari, a terracotta portrait of Menander was found in a tomb. On Campanian craters of the fourth century, theatrical and nuptial iconography was combined with iconography drawn from the thiasos of Dionysus, and these were used as funeral urns. The otherworldly potency of Dionysus is of course at the center of the god’s occurrence in funerary contexts. The god’s association with mystery Orphic cults in the Locrian region was made dramatically apparent with the discovery in 1969, in a woman’s grave at Hipponion (a colony of Locri), of an Orphic gold leaf tablet. It dates from about 400, and it reminds the deceased that, of the two paths available in the underworld, one is reserved for mystai and bakkhoi. Could the rituals at the Grotta Caruso have belonged to a mystery cult, and the women emerged from the water as mystai? (Bonnie MacLachlan, Women and Nymphs at the Grotta Caruso)

So, in honor of the impending festivities, I would like to share a selection of films which give modern expression to the myths of the Starry Bull tradition.

Spider Labyrinth

The Forbidden Girl

Manôushe: A Gypsy Love Story

The Lickerish Quartet

V for Vendetta

The Last Circus

Pan’s Labyrinth

The Cell


Hellraiser II: Hellbound

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

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Unveiling gesture

louvre-buste-femme -ariane

Female bust (Ariadne) from the Louvre:

This life-size statue of a woman, veiled and wearing a crown of vine branches and leaves (an attribute of Dionysos), probably represents Ariadne. She held the border of her cloak with her right hand, suggesting the unveiling gesture (known in Greek as ‘anakalypsis‘) that is characteristic of divine marriage scenes. The figure of the woman was probably part of a cult group along with her husband, the god Dionysos – iconography found on many red-figure vases made in the Falerii region. In the fourth and third centuries BC, the cult of Dionysos was extremely popular in Greece, but also in Campania and Etruria, particularly Falerii. According to certain Latin texts, the city was supposed to have contributed to the spread of Dionysiac rites to Rome and was partially responsible for the Senate decree of 186 BC, suppressing Bacchanalia and the worship of Dionysos.

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Ariadne will shank a bitch if she don’t get her honey


KN Gg702 (Documents, no. 205)
pa-si-te-o-I me-ri AMPHORA
da-pu2-ri-to-jo po-ti-ni-ja me-ri AMPHORA
pansi theoii meli amphiphoreus
daburinthoio potniai meli amphiphoreus
To all the gods, one jar of honey.
To the Mistress of the Labyrinth, one jar of honey.

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True Detective -yellow king

An excerpt from the Dissimilar Doubles which appears in the Heart of the Labyrinth.

Her life had grown too small, too familiar, too confining. She ached to experience something new, something different. And as if in answer to her prayers along came Theseus, a pretty stranger from a distant land full of dark and dangerous promises, and the second she set eyes on him she knew he was her way out of there.

So she helped him murder her brother and torch her father’s kingdom and all she asked in return was that he take her with him when he left. She loved what he represented, how thoroughly he had destroyed her life — but Ariadne never loved the man himself. That much became apparent on the ship back to Athens when all he’d talk of was love and home and starting a family with her as his cherished wife, the fine mother of his fine sons, his pampered queen who would want for nothing. Nothing except the freedom and adventure she so desperately craved. Slowly she came to realize that she had made a horrible mistake, swapping one prison for another. Only this prison was far more restrictive than the labyrinth had ever been. There, at least, she had been free to be a monster with her misshapen brother, but Theseus saw only the woman in her.

And so she went to sleep to destroy her life once again, went to sleep so that he would leave her behind and choose a wife more suited to him such as her brainless sister Phaidra. Theseus never looked back; he knew what he was abandoning on Dia and was glad to be rid of her — a woman whose restless soul meant that she would never be truly happy, one who would gladly choose death over comfort and boredom.

It wasn’t Haides that came to rapture her. Though there is a certain resemblance between them, her demon lover was younger, crazier and filled with a lust for life and adventure equal to Ariadne’s own. Dionysos offered to make her dreams a reality. Together they would hunt and revel and exhaust themselves in the pursuit of ephemeral desire. He promised she would never be bored, never be satisfied, never be comfortable. He would destroy her over and over again and abandon her only if she stopped being a monster. He has never abandoned her.

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show your support

In addition to the DIO shirts and jackets, we now offer items with this slick Starry Bull image designed by the talented Markos.


Five dollars from the sale of each item will go to help put on the bebakcheumenia at MGW. (The rest goes to Cafepress.)

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Do it for Dionysos.


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.


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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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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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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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