The comments on Hozier’s Take Me To Church are fucking hilarious. In case you haven’t heard it, the song is about breaking up with his girlfriend, which he compares to a loss of faith and god. The video, however, is about this gay couple getting beaten up by a group of masked thugs because a break-up is apparently also like a hate crime or something. I don’t know, the whole thing is Very Earnest but with a couple decent lyrics scattered here and there. Now, the funny shit is that there’s all these people freaking out because they bought the song thinking he was a Christian recording artist (you know, because of the song title) only to discover that he’s promoting tolerance and paganism and other evil things with his music and now they feel cheated. The artist’s only obligation is to his craft. If he doesn’t mean what you think he does, that’s on you for not taking the time to listen properly. And saying that you’re offended is merely an observation like “the sky is blue” or “my toe is itchy” – no one is required to change who they are or what they’re doing to accommodate your precious fee fees. Man, people are ridiculous.
I realized a while back that there was an inherent tension between a religious community and a mystery tradition and it’s extremely difficult to meet the demands that each necessitates. By trying to force the community to adhere to the standards of the mysteries, I was causing confusion and harm, and damaging the work of others. This is a conclusion I had reached a couple months back, and which was strongly brought to the fore during my observance of Karneia. It’s kind of ironic that the issue that would force me to choose which pole to put my effort into should arise from the next community chat we had, but that’s life with the gods. Although it was this issue, it could have been any number of others and I was already intending to shift my focus with the new year. This just prompted it to happen sooner and with a cleaner break. As I said in a comment to the last post:
I really want to stay in touch with as many folks as possible and there’s no bad blood on my part. (Man, that was a terrible pun.) I genuinely hope that you remain in the thiasos. You guys have really managed to create a wonderful, supportive, nourishing community and you have every right to be there. The reason I’m leaving is because I don’t want to destroy that. I don’t want to go around policing people’s thoughts and kicking them out because they fail to pass some litmus test, because that would be violating the spirit of Dionysos – but on the other hand, with what I know, so would compromising on sacrifice. Just on a practical level, the whole spiritual technology of this tradition is wrapped up in it. I cannot do what I was called to do for my community without it. Therefore I am extricating myself from the thiasos and starting over. My problem was in trying to create both a religious community and a mystery tradition around this stuff – one cannot make something simultaneously broad and narrow. I want you guys to still be there, doing your thing because so much good has come out of that – I’ll just be over here, doing my thing parallel to y’all.
And that’s pretty much all I have to say on the matter. Starting tomorrow I’m going to be spending some time in seclusion to reflect, regroup and refocus as well as performing rites of cleansing and trying to manage the spiritual fall-out as best I can. I feel that this was the best choice for me, personally, to make but every choice sends out ripples. Again, be well and Bacchic blessings to you all.
I did not anticipate the intense resistance that Thursday’s announcement has been met with. I am unable to compromise when it comes to sacrifice as it is not just a traditional practice but central to the mysteries I have been given to impart. I am equally unwilling to see the religious community you guys have worked so hard to build up torn apart over this. Therefore the only sensible solution I am presented with is to disentangle these mysteries from your community and resign my position as archiboukolos of the thiasos of the Starry Bull. You are now free to make of it what you will. I will be adopting a very different model as I go forward in my work with these mysteries, but there’s time enough to discuss that later. For now I wish you well and hope that this transition will be as smooth and easy as possible. Be well and Bacchic blessings to you all.
And must my trembling spirit fly into a world unknown?
We’re all just following the light of long dead stars.
Is human sacrifice part of the Bacchic Orphic tradition?
Yup. That’s the one.
Well, if you’ve read your Euripides, Pausanias, Plutarch, Apollodoros, Livy and Dionysios of Panopolis then you already know the answer to it.
In fact you know that more than just one type of human sacrifice was performed.
For instance, it’s a central component in the identity of the Neos Dionysos, the mortal surrogate of the god who wields tremendous power and charisma and radically transforms the society into which he (and it is always a he) is born and who is stricken down just when he is about to reach the pinnacle of his achievement, usually as a consequence of some inner fatal flaw. He lives out the myth of the god in luxurious excess (the more spectacular and tragic, the better) and from the moment he puts on that mask he is marked for death. His power and the blessings that he freely dispenses are dependent upon it – indeed, only by embracing his impending death is he able to prolong it. The second that he values life or anything else more than being the living image of his god on earth and fulfilling that role with everything he has, he’s done for. Even if the man had another twenty years in him, it’s over – the power of the god withdraws from him and he suffers a terrible and humiliating demise. Death comes for him even if he embraces it, but then it is a good death, the kind that men are still talking about centuries later. It is his death that brings renewal to the land and the people, that starts the cycle over once more.
But that is not the only form of human sacrifice that we know. There is also the sorrowful maiden who atones for the negligence and sins of her people. She (and it is always a she) offers up her life when things have gotten so bad that there’s no way out. Because she has no share in the guilt she takes upon herself, her death is so shocking and horrific that it wakes her people up and forces them to abandon the path of destruction they were blindly rushing down. Sometimes her death is not enough. Sometimes it goes unnoticed by the people who need to witness it most – and so the gods draw their attention to it. Through disease. Through madness. Through monsters. And through death that will not end until they change their ways or are obliterated from the earth. This ceases only when the death of the maiden is recognized and rites of appeasement are instituted for her. And with each performance of those rites her story is told and the people recall what they did to provoke such a terrible fate, and in remembering ensure that they will never do such things again.
And some humans are made sacred not by being killed but driven out of the land, either to set up a new colony somewhere far away or to spend their days in heroic adventures. They can never look back, never return home.
And then there are the spoils of war, a demonstration of might and right. This is a risky gambit, however – as often as it has impressed the gods it has brought down their wrath.
Then there are circumstantial human sacrifices – not recurring patterns but isolated incidents. The crops fail. The wine goes bad. Dicks remain limp. The city is polluted. The children are insane. War is on the horizon. Each of these situations may call for the shedding of human blood to forestall greater calamity.
But only if the gods demand it.
If the signs are not confirmed and all the right procedures observed, this presumptuous act may bring down the wrath of the gods not just on the one who did it, their family and all who are close to them – no, sometimes even whole cities suffer for the deeds of one unrighteous and presumptuous man. Just ask Zoilus.
And there is a human sacrifice that is not desired by the gods, that brings nothing but ills to the land and yet sometimes must happen. That is the murder of an infant and the consumption of its flesh by its mother. This is punishment, and the worst sort of punishment for it wipes a whole line out of existence.
And so on.
This is not a tradition for the squeamish. Our myths, our history are written in blood – and from the beginning violence and tragedy have shaped our world.
But that’s in the past! We’re more evolved!
Open your fucking eyes, man.
Back in the day all you had to worry about was getting run through with a sword while you watched your wife get raped and the walls of your city burn down around you. And disease and famine and wild beasts. So many more wild beasts back then. But that was pretty much it.
These days there’s drones and meth and fracking and genocide and an island of plastic in the sea and the threat of total nuclear annihilation and a million other signs of progress all around us.
You think we’ve abolished slavery? Tell that to the single mother of three who’s working fifty hours a week, with no benefits, and never quite able to make ends meet. Tell that to the brown children, choking on toxic fumes, whose broken and tear-stained fingers make your cheap t-shirts and electronic devices.
Yeah, we’re so much better off than our ancestors. That’s why people numb themselves with prescription pills and television and binge eating and therapeutic shopping and loveless affairs and drug their kids the second they show an uncomfortable emotion. Everything’s alright. Everything’s normal. Everything’s happy and fun.
Remember that the next time they ship your children off to die in a land you’ve never heard of so the oil companies can grow even richer.
Remember that the next time a grandmother gets clubbed in the face by a riot cop.
Remember that the next time a species goes extinct because of a toxic spill or deforestation.
Remember that the next time they find e. coli in your McNuggets or worse yet the spinach at your supermarket.
Every one of us who lives in this society has got blood on our hands. This shit is carried out in our name and for our benefit and unless you are actively fighting against it (actually in the streets trying to dismantle the machine, not just filling out some bullshit online petition and then posting it to Facebook so your friends can “like” it) you are just as guilty as the perpetrators. More so, since they wouldn’t be doing what they are if you weren’t creating a demand for it.
At least the ancients were more upfront about their savagery, and more direct with it.
But back to the topic at hand.
Yes, human sacrifice is part of our tradition – but it’s an exceptional part which only takes place under the most dire of circumstances.
And if tomorrow the gods should demand such a victim I wouldn’t automatically give it to them. First I would verify 1) that this is actually our gods who are requesting this and not some random malign spirit and 2) that this was indeed something that they wanted and that they would not accept any other offering in substitute.
I would have this confirmed by other outside and uninvolved diviners with no prior knowledge of what’s going on and nothing explained to them. If they got back the same answer I would then try to persuade, bargain and outright plead with the gods to accept something different.
Should that approach fail I’d offer my own life to them.
After all it is customary to give to the gods the very best that you have and what’s better than a Sannion?
Nothing is better than a Sannion.
But if the gods want something different or more then I’d break out the knives and start sharpening them because at the end of the day I serve the gods and not humanity.
Which is probably going to piss off a bunch of people even though it’s strictly a theoretical mental exercise with a statistical probability of 99.5% of never happening. I mean, you might as well ask me what I’d do if I was stranded in the Andes with a team of soccer players and only a bag of mint chocolates to share among us. Or if I’d shoot a certain young, mustachioed art student were I transported back to a Vienna beer hall in 1912. Or if I’d push the button on a mysterious box for a million dollars knowing that it would somehow result in the death of someone somewhere in the world. (Answers: grab the bag of chocolates and run off so I can die after gorging on them and not suffer the indignity of being eaten by people who play a sport I detest; yes, bad art deserves to be punished; I’d probably be pushing that button before the person even finished their spiel and afterwards I would offer to trade in the money for extra tries.)
Yeah, I’m being flip but I’m kind of sick of this question coming up every time people discuss the topic of animal sacrifice. It’s either a rhetorical trick to shut down or derail the conversation or it proves exactly what I was saying in the last post – if you reject sacrifice you can’t help but think horrible and insulting things about the people who practice it. And frankly, I’m okay with that. It’s a cheap way to get thrills and excitement. Merely by saying I don’t object to human sacrifice (even though I’ve never done it and in all likelihood never will) I get to watch you freak out and say amusing things.
Let’s see if I can push other buttons.
I’m a Fascist!
I do drugs!
I watch clown pornography!
I think most of what Trent Reznor has done since Downward Spiral and Fragile is shit!
I disapprove of social media!
Oh fuck, I went too far with that one, didn’t I?
I feel as if I should explain a little more about why this is such a hardline issue for the thiasos.
The thiasos of the Starry Bull is a specific group that was created to express the Bacchic Orphic religious tradition, particularly as it developed in Southern Italy. Great freedom is granted at the lower levels, which is then traded for admittance into the higher levels. This is a process by which one comes into alignment with the tradition, learns how to do things in certain ways and accepts a path of service that is uniquely tailored to them. As a result one is granted increasingly greater privileges such as being able to seek initiation into one or more of our mysteries.
As such, it does not represent the sum total of Hellenismos, Dionysianism or Orphism. There are plenty of other groups and plenty of other traditions out there. Many things that can be found within the thiasos can be found among them – but there are also differences, and fairly profound ones at times.
Every group and every individual has the right of definition, the right to say this is who I am, this is what I am for and this is what I am opposed to. No one has the right to take that right away from another, to coerce them into changing who they are or what they believe. To attempt otherwise is a great offense and one that Dionysos has demonstrated he does not take lightly.
Animal sacrifice is part of the Starry Bull tradition. Short of Dionysos himself telling me that this is no longer wanted, that will not change. You do not have to participate directly, but you must be okay with the practice taking place and accept the blessings that result from it. By refusing to do so you are setting yourself apart from the group. You are saying that you reject our tradition and everything that it is founded upon. You do not wish to participate or receive the benefit of the worship of others, and you find that worship to be ignorant, unnecessary, displeasing to the gods and just plain wrong. With such views you cannot hold a very high opinion of those who engage in these acts or sit by and tacitly give their approval for others to do so. Therefore, by your own choosing, you have no place in the thiasos. You are no longer one of us.
You’re something else, and that’s okay! It’s not like we own the copyrights to the gods or monopolize the myriad ways of devotion that lead back to them. You don’t need anyone or anything but a solid connection to the gods – and that you provide for yourself through your continued acts of devotion. That’s true whether you’re in the thiasos or not. Hell, just because you’ve gone through initiation doesn’t mean you’ve got an infallibly clear line to the gods. You’ve still got to put effort into it and there’s still going to be times when you falter and struggle. That’s called being human.
Being a member of the thiasos of the Starry Bull – you get community, you get mutual support, you get a developing body of practices and liturgy, you get a body of myths and lore that you can weave the narrative patterns of your life into, you get gods and spirits who are eager for interaction and you also get a host of other tangible and intangible benefits. And you receive an identity.
But what is that identity based on? Adherence to a tradition. The Starry Bull tradition. A tradition that must remain intact.
And that tradition is a ball. When you start picking at the threads, trying to untangle them so you can have only what you want of it, the whole thing comes undone. Instead of a ball you have a mess of disparate and meaningless threads in your hand that you can’t do anything with.
For instance, if you reject sacrifice because you do not believe that it is possible to know whether the animal has actually consented then you are rejecting a whole lot more than that. You are saying that the signs which confirm the will of the gods to the priests and participants mean nothing. Colors, smells, breezes, sneezes, the motion of bodies, the pop and crackle of fire, the shape and consistency of smoke, the fall of dice, bones, cards, shells or sticks – all this is random and irrelevant. There are no omens, just happenstance. You say the gods are silent, they cannot communicate to us through the things of this world – or through the art and science of the diviner. You say such people are deluding themselves, just going through the motions, seeing what they want and doing something that the gods are indifferent or actively opposed to.
And if they are so wrong about this, how can they possibly be right about anything else? Do you trust them to interpret the lore properly? Do you believe that the experiences they describe and the meaning they assign to them are real? Do you believe that they are capable of receiving and transmitting authentic revelations and mysteries from the gods?
If you do, then why are they right about these things but wrong about everything having to do with animal sacrifice?
And if you don’t, why are you wasting time with these people? They’re liars and lunatics and imbeciles! You’re better off without them – and probably safer, too.
One way or another, you must make a choice. It always comes back to choice with Dionysos.
And in this case you must choose to accept the tradition or go elsewhere, either reveling with the gods by yourself or finding a group of people who share your viewpoint and convictions.
A while back I posted a guest piece by Adam at the Boukoleon on the parallel traditions of Bacchic Orphism and Tantra. Although not officially affiliated with the thiasos I find the guy fucking brilliant and value his insight, experience and vast stores of knowledge (especially regarding things like the mysteries – this dude knows shit about our tradition that no one who hasn’t gone through formal initiation should; spooks me hardcore, this man does) and so am always pushing and prodding him to write more guest pieces for the site. Well, he sent me this exploration of animal sacrifice from a Buddhist perspective and I knew it had to go up. I’m posting it here at the House of Vines as opposed to the Boukoleon, however, because that’s the official, public face of the thiasos and I don’t want it to come across like I’m favoring one side over the other. Yes, a line has been drawn because of our stance on animal sacrifice (though this is hardly new: in addition to talking about the sacrifices I’ve participated in, as well as mainadism and the differences between Chthonic and Ouranic rites I obsessively talk about the Furious Hord and the Wild Hunt in all of their permutations – and we recognize like six of them in the thiasos – what exactly do you think is done with the prey these spectral beings chase down? Pats on the head and kisses?) but I don’t want anyone to feel antagonized or coerced to change their minds. (The actions of an archiboukolos have tremendous weight – anything I do or do not do sends a message about what this group is about.) So I’m putting Adam’s post up here so folks can get another perspective to help nuance this discussion.
Compassion for Animals, and Sacrifice
A few years ago I had been following Tsem Tulku Rinpoche’s tweets on Twitter for a couple of weeks. He is a Tibetan Buddhist lama, very funny, engaging, and truly deeply compassionate. I found that he provoked a response in me, his tweets often pulling things to the surface. Some of his tweets were about being vegetarian, and about his deep concern for animals being slaughtered for food. He urged all his followers to make the choice to be vegetarian, to spare the animals.
What I offer here is a tantric meditation practice, as well as an explanation for why the issue of killing animals for meat is more complicated than it first appears. I will address the issue of killing animals for ritual sacrifice further down. As with my earlier writings, my perspective is rooted in a tantric Buddhist interpretation of Dionysian ritual and practice.
Dionysus’ followers were famous for what they call “sparagmos” and “omophagia.” Sparagmos was the tearing of small animals apart, living, limb from limb. This was followed by omophagia, the eating of raw flesh. This was regarded as a form of Communion with Dionysus, because the animals were regarded as manifestations of the god. To eat them was to eat Dionysus, and so become One with him. Ultimately, when Orpheus attained Enlightenment, this was recorded in a Greek myth saying that Maenads came from Dionysus to tear him limb from limb– a metaphor for the dissolution of the illusion of self. To understand this seemingly barbaric practice, you have to understand both that it is an Enlightened practice, why, and more importantly, how.
What I know of the Universe is that it’s ruler is Enlightened– and that the Bearer of the Thunderbolt would never allow a system to continue in which animals were slaughtered (and indeed killed each other to survive.) All animals, even the Lions, would be vegetarian if this was truly and always the best path.
All animals which are killed, by other animals or by humans, are incarnations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who willingly die for the benefit of others. No animal is born that is killed for its meat that is not so. It is not permitted. Put in Vajrayana Buddhist terms, the Herukas (the wrathful deities) kill only themselves. And the chicken sandwich that you had for lunch is the flesh of a bodhisattva given for you.
This is both compassionate activity on their part, for the benefit of the animals. It is also, more importantly, a *tantric path to Enlightenment* by which these yogis deliberately manifest emanations on a massive scale to incarnate as animals, and then embody the experience of being killed for food. It is a combination of Machig Labdronma’s Chod practice and the techniques for controlling reincarnation, at the stage in the bhumis when it is possible to emanate countless forms.
The bodhisattvas work to harness the deep emotion of love and selfless sacrifice for the benefit of others through this meditative practice. It both cultivates and is the result of Bodhicitta, and it is both skillful means (to achieve Enlightenment) as well as a literal truth. The Enlightened God could not allow the system to endure if such an evil as slaughtered other beings to survive was actually hard-wired into it as “Nature” unless that system were somehow karmically purified. This is how it was done, or at least how I believe it was done based on my own practice, study of Tibetan tantric systems, and UPG.
A practitioner who is past generation stage yoga will have achieved a degree of universality in their being (e.g., they will have achieved illusory body stage, or have otherwise unified with entire subtle body with their heart chakra). To do this fully, to realize this practice as an actual truth, they must also have experientially transcended time, and be able to see the whole timeline of this world within themselves (Kalachakra practice is connected to what I am saying here, although that is another discussion).
They can then, if they achieve samadhi with this in mind, direct their soul to take birth as many animals throughout the timeline, with the intention of ensuring that the yogi will die in the place of any innocent animals, giving their flesh to be eaten. The effect on the Yogi is immediate– their whole being changes to reflect this new reality, and they are able to embody within themselves this sacrifice. It has a profound effect on them. And it literally changes the world . . . It is necessary to unify the experience of pain and death, in meditation, with the experience of love and compassion. This makes it endurable, and allows for the experiences being brought into the souls’ continuum to be assimilated as beneficial to the cause of Buddhahood rather than detrimental. To do this kind of meditation regularly purifies attachment to your physical body, to the “self,” and cultivates in a very profound way the virtue of Bodhicitta.
One can even do this meditation without having achieved these things– because if you swear an oath (samaya) to do this when you are able, then your meditations on this will be effective. This is especially true if you ritually call on Dionysus to witness and empower your oaths– devotion practice can also ensure that you eventually succeed in becoming capable of really doing this, and that you do it for real. If you have taken such an oath, you can do the meditation now, and it will be very transformative- it will change your entire continuum through time, not just the “future.” It will speed your progress considerably.
You will your meditations on this working, and then years or lifetimes later, when you really are capable of doing it “for real,” you’ll have an experience where you see yourself empowering all those mediations and really doing that. But the practice all along is powerful, and deeply transformative. That is why the original teaching Lord Buddha gave was that Buddhists should only eat meat that was not specifically killed for them, and that they should never kill an animal themselves. This is the samaya (the oath/commitment) regarding animals which I live by, and the one resulting from this teaching. It’s why the Buddha did not feel it was necessary to completely forbid the eating of meat–his interest was only in keeping his disciples from cultivating negative karmas by being the agents of death for another sentient being.
But I also am comfortable with this because I have had the profound experience of this sacrifice of self. I found myself, in meditation, spontaneously doing this before I even fully understood what I was doing. My own soul has the memory of being many animals beyond counting, and dying at the hands of hunters and farmers for the benefit of others. In the Dionysus Mandala, this practice exists at an intersection of the Chod practice that is represented by the Leopards and predators, and with the Avalokiteshvara practice embodied in the Donkey symbolism– it is death in the service of others.
Meditating on Bacchus as my Yidam I discovered those predatory energies within it which are frightening, and which made me very uncomfortable for a long time. This energy feels like cold, calculating, swift death. It is dispassionate– there is no love of killing here. It is simply the natural fact of it– swift, silent, and unapologetic. It is terrifying– like staring cold death in the face. It cares for nothing and no one.
But there is a secret to it that I discovered when I got brave enough to try to embody it myself. When you truly open your heart to this merciless killer, you do not simply embody the predator. You also embody the prey. You are not only the killer, you are what is killed. That is the secret of the energy. That you are the animal that kills, and you are also the animal which is killed. And because of this, there is no karmic stain. The predator has only killed itself. And without being both, you cannot embody the energy. Once you have done so, this energy can become the basis of a successful Chöd practice– offering up yourself to the leopards and lions to be consumed by them as a way to release your attachment to yourself (but since they are also you, and they are sustained by consuming you, you learn to embody the mystery of arising out of your own death- as the Hevajra tantra teaches, you must learn to arise by that which makes you fall).
The next layer within the Dionysus/Bacchus energies that is connected to this animal practice is deeply disturbing– when I first saw it I ran from it as fast and far as I could. It was only years later, when I had developed the trust that it was positive and good, that I dared to try to cope with it. It was a charnal ground of dead bodies, rotting corpses, with stench and death and decay all around. It was terrifying, and utterly disgusting. How could this be inside Dionysus? I didn’t understand.
A clue came when, sometime later, I was meditating on Bacchus as the “Raging Bull,” on taking the essence of the Bull inside of me. As I did so, something else happened .. .
I discovered that my soul suddenly felt as if it had uncovered thousands of past lifetimes in which I was a cow– a bull, an ox, buffalo in the plains of America, cows giving milk, steers slaughtered for meat. These literally WERE lifetimes, I could feel them, and I was them. And there was this pervading sense of love and compassion through the whole experience– by taking this energy within my own soul I had discovered that the result was that I manifested countless lifetimes in which I had incarnated in order to give my flesh to be eaten, to give milk to be drunk, to be harnessed to a plow so a farmer could plant a crop. That this was part of my path, part of how I learned selflessness, part of how the world came to be in its current form. This service aspect is embodied in the donkey symbolism of Dionysian mythology. But it is also a Heruka practice that combines Chakrasamvara and Yamantaka into a single, powerful, energy.
The ground covered in dead flesh was covered in MY FLESH, given for the benefit of others. It was my ability to internalize my own death, to accept it, and to give it freely for the benefit of others. All of this also happened before I encountered Machig’s Chod teachings, which once I found them made this practice even clearer.
There is a story in the Jatakas where Lord Buddha in a previous incarnation happens upon a starving tigress with her cubs. He throws himself on the ground in front of her and lets her eat him, because he didn’t want the cubs to starve to death. This is part of Dionysaic Heruka practice.
Many bodhisattvas have done this practice. Maybe some of the “sacred animals” of the other greek deities were also forms they took as incarnations for the benefit of others? The world is absolutely perfect as it is. Nothing which is “Nature” is evil. Lions kill other animals, and there is no karmic stain. To say that one animal killing another animal is evil is to imply that the Lord of the World is not a pure Buddha. God made all of the natural world karmically neutral– there is no evil anywhere in it. Death is not evil. It is part of Life, and embracing it is an essential key to Enlightenment.
So one can look at this in a couple of ways: We can continue to promote vegetarianism in order to cultivate a sense of compassion for others, even animals, in others. But it is a skillful means, and it implies that an evil still exists in the world which Zeus, and certainly Dionysus, eradicated. For those who meditate, I think it is better to encourage them to meditate as I have described above, because the result both for the world and for the practitioner is far more profound.
For everyone else though, this highlights the importance of being compassionate to the animals we kill, and being aware of their sacrifice.
The Native American Indians prayed to the animals they killed. Even in Japan there was this tradition, of recognizing that the animals gave themselves to be killed for the benefit of the people. They gave offerings to the spirit of the animal in thanks for its sacrifice, and to help it achieve a kind rebirth in its own pure land. All these old tribal peoples were practicing an Enlightened relationship with the animals, and they understood how God had created the natural system, and that these animals were Guides and teachers. This is why Native Americans took animal spirits as their guides and teachers. These were really Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in animal form teaching and guiding them .. .
So even with all this being true, people who do eat meat should not do so in a selfish way, by ignoring the sacrifice of the animals, or degrading them to the status of a mere thing whose feelings and experience doesn’t matter. So it is better, if you cannot convince people to be vegetarian (which is better), to teach them to eat meat with a sense of profound gratitude, and to give offerings to the spirit of the animals, recognizing them as forms of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas sacrificing themselves for them. . .
This has a further benefit. When done ritually, and consciously knowing all this, it is a form of “communion.” The ancient Greeks would lay garlands of ivy around a Bull, parade it around town worshipping it as Bacchus, and the ceremonially kill it and eat it. They believed they were consuming the flesh of the god, and that by doing so, they would take on his wisdom and his divinity and gain eternal salvation.
They were right. And that is also why I believe that the ritual sacrifice of animals, done properly, is not a sin, nor a karmic stain. It is a means of engaging in tantric union with the God. When the offering is holocaust, and there is no communion, it is you and your brethren who are embodied in the animal, or at least part of you which needs to be purified or reborn. The God takes it in, and frees you from the burden you have embodied and killed in the animal. When the offering is shared, partly to the Gods, and partly to you, then you are taking in the God, a guest at his Ganachakra feast. Either way, the animal being sacrificed is always, and only, one of two things: you sacrificing yourself, or the God offering himself up to you to be sacrificed. But this point of view requires that you be able to understand how the animal is a manifestation of you, or the God, (and note that the line between you and the God is purposefully blurred here, because it is both), and if you cannot see its truth, to at least have faith in its truth.
I do believe that being vegetarian is better, overall. But in this more complicated view of things, its degree of being better is no longer about moral absolutes, but about shades of grey, about the capacity of the practitioner for such a lifestyle, and compassion from the Gods for both us and the animals. I believe that in the Bacchus religions of Ancient Greece there were both points of view: Bacchus was the “taurophagos” or the eater of bull flesh. And his followers clearly ate meat, ritually as part of his worship. But some Orphics forbade the eating of meat, and demanded that all followers of the Orphic Mysteries be vegetarian and abstain from sexuality. As the Archiboukolos says, any scholars insisting that this kind of purity was agreed upon is being misleading- I think the majority both ate meat and practiced sacrifice. But I am also sure that the “purer” form did exist for a minority (just as it does in the world today). This whole thing is an act of compassion. If the majority of human beings were capable of walking the path of a vegetarian, celibate monk or nun, then everyone would join a monastery and obtain Enlightenment. That is not the case. The whole point of the Bacchic religion, from my point of view, was to make Enlightenment accessible to ordinary people. The entire tantric principle, beyond embodying an Enlightened deity, was to take the spiritual poisons of Earthly existence and turn them in the very tools of Liberation. That is what has happened here, in this Mystery. And that’s what it is: a Mystery, in the deepest sense of the word.
The real karma problem with modern meat-eaters is thoughtless-ness. They create a pattern of thoughtlessly killing animals, of regarding other living things as less than a human being (or of regarding human beings as superior). And that is a karma that ripens into the ability to disregard the life of any living thing- even another human being. That thoughtlessness is something that any Dionysian should seek to avoid, and to discourage in others.
The Native Americans regarded the animals they killed with reverence and respect, and they built that reverence and respect into their daily life, and into the rituals they did to honor those animals. I would venture that the Greeks did too.
This is the Spirit of Gratitude and Love which we must all strive to cultivate.
There must be a core of pure practice, somewhere in the continuum of the Mystery, that is vegetarian, abstains from killing and sexuality, and keeps the karmically pure practice. It is causally necessary. But that same practice is like a neutered bull if it doesn’t manifest in its compassionate form as the grey path- the path in which eating meat and engaging in ritual sacrifice is part of the process. Without it the Mystery isn’t complete, and ordinary people can’t be saved. The “special” people who can meditate their way to Enlightenment on their own ought to walk a White path of purity- but those are few in the world, as evidenced by how few of the people who actually do live in monasteries manage to really become Enlightened. The Mystery isn’t for the “special” people. It’s for everyone. And without that, the “pure” or white path has failed. That means that there should be people in the lineage who practice in a pure way- vegetarian, without killing, maybe even doing the selfless meditation of bodily offering themselves. They still partake of the body of the God- he is the Vine, and what is wine but his blood given in offering? But those practitioners have to accept that their own spiritual being isn’t complete unless others in the lineage are practicing in the other way, with meat, and ritual sacrifice, for the benefit of all.
When you consider the practice from the point of view of Bacchus himself as a yogic practitioner, with the thiasos as the very sentient beings his practice is meant to benefit, I think this perspective becomes easier to embrace. But it does boil down to a point of faith if you have not had the gnostic experience of it. Either you can believe that the animal killed is only you offered up to the God, or the God offered up to you, or both- or you don’t. But if you don’t believe that, is it because you are selfless and compassionate like a good Buddhist? Or is it because your ego refuses to accept that the animal could be you, or worse, that if it is you, that you cling to your life so fiercely that you are unwilling to give it up. Either way, you have not entered into the transcendence of self, but have instead reified clinging to the self. The animal is our proxy, the means by which we learn to sacrifice ourselves and so awaken to eternal life (and wisdom, and compassion, and all that transcendence entails).
It also requires having faith that the animal is truly given in such offering. And I suppose I can understand people lacking faith on both counts.
I’m really not interested in convincing anyone to change their stance on this or other issues. As I mentioned to a thiasos member who’s still kind of on the fence:
That’s exactly the right approach to be taking with this. How one handles a challenge to their beliefs and worldview really says everything worth knowing about them. Do they lash out in anger or take it as an opportunity to explore their unexamined assumptions so they have a better understanding of where they actually stand on the issue? I don’t really care where a person comes down on things, I just want them to know for themselves – and more importantly to know why. And I’m so fucking impressed with the thiasos folk. Everyone is handling this in such a mature fashion. No name-calling or death threats or angry flouncing, which has happened pretty much every other time this has come up in the Hellenic community. People have very strong views, and they’re not compromising or tip-toeing around it, but they’re also not being jerks. I’ve been contacted privately by a couple folks who cannot remain as members because of this, which saddens me deeply – but on the other hand I respect the hell out of them for having firm convictions and being willing to follow through on them even when it costs them something important. Everyone gets the seriousness of this, that our beliefs and actions have consequence – and that’s huge, miles apart from what I’ve seen with other groups. Still, I wish that this didn’t have to be such a difficult and challenging process, and that everyone could feel welcome and like they had a place, regardless of their beliefs – but that can only come about by rendering belief irrelevant and it never is. In some ways it’s the most important thing about us, what truly defines who we are as a person.
This has caused a lot of people to think hard about what they actually believe, and I think we’ll all be the better for it. I mentioned that I used to be a pretty strict vegetarian (something I discussed in my piece on why ancient Orphism most likely wasn’t vegetarian, which should be read in conjunction with this incomplete collection of sources on Orphic sacrifice) and while a desire to strip away empty and outmoded structures in my life and experience Dionysos through potent carnality were indeed strong incentives for leaving behind this custom (except, ironically, when I do death-work) the real cause of it was a confrontation that shattered my convictions, radically altering how I see and interact with the world around me.
So there I was, huddled in a corner, covered in fear sweat and laughing manically while tripping balls from eating an heroically large dose of amanitas. That’s what someone outside my head would have seen; inside, I was running through the shadowy, winding passages of a labyrinth while terrifying inky creatures with faces bright white from the ash they’d smeared themselves with chased after me. What had me laughing so insanely was that I felt like Dionysos. I could feel the weight of his spirit within me and I had this weird overlay of his thoughts coupled with my own in my head. And yet Dionysos was the one leading the monsters, who were getting closer and closer with every panting breath. Eventually they caught me, tore me apart and consumed my flesh beginning with my steal-beating heart. Then, once they were finished, Dionysos restored me, very much like the process Orpheus described:
Let the stony bowls, then, and the amphorae be symbols of the aquatic nymphs. For these are, indeed, the symbols of Dionysos, but their composition is fictile, i.e., consists of baked earth, and these are friendly to the vine, the gift of god; since the fruit of the vine is brought to a proper maturity by the celestial fire of the sun. But the stony bowls and amphorae are in the most eminent degree adapted to the nymphs who preside over the water that flows from rocks. And to souls that descend into generation and are occupied in corporeal energies, what symbol can be more appropriate than those instruments pertaining to weaving? Hence, also, the poet ventures to say, “that on these, the nymphs weave purple webs, admirable to the view.” For the formation of the flesh is on and about the bones, which in the bodies of animals resemble stones. Hence these instruments of weaving consist of stone, and not of any other matter. But the purple webs will evidently be the flesh which is woven from the blood. For purple woollen garments are tinged from blood and wool is dyed from animal juice. The generation of flesh, also, is through and from blood. Add, too, that the body is a garment with which the soul is invested, a thing wonderful to the sight, whether this refers to the composition of the soul, or contributes to the colligation of the soul (to the whole of a visible essence). Thus, also, Persephone, who is the inspective guardian of everything produced from seed, is represented by Orpheus as weaving a web and the heavens are called by the ancients a veil, in consequence of being, as it were, the vestment of the celestial gods. (Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs 6)
Except for one thing. He had stitched a body back together for me, like Frankenstein’s monster, but the heart was missing – my chest was an empty cavern, a dry kater. Into this he stuffed his own heart – a clump of ivy with black-green leaves like you find on Apulian vases. Except they were alive, throbbing with vitality and consciousness. Different from our own – older, slower, collective – but real nonetheless. I knew with rock-solid certainty that (among the many other things that act entailed) my god had shown me what life for the ivy, and by extension all plants, was like – a life that he partook of as equally as he did human and animal life. Dionysos is the god of life in all its myriad forms – and he was simultaneously the god of death as well. It was all this elaborate interplay, this sacred dance that blurred the boundaries and in which we both lose and discover ourselves.
Shortly afterwards I stopped being a vegetarian. It was hard; I’d been one since my early teens and it was a huge part of my identity. I always felt a smug superiority to meat-eaters even if I wasn’t one of those obnoxious vegetarians who went around giving unsolicited lectures on ethics and the cruelty and wastefulness of feasting on flesh. I quietly ate with people, hoping they would take notice of my pure food and be shamed into adopting a more evolved diet. What I realized is that I was a hypocrite trying to escape a necessary part of embodied existence, trying to avoid any debt or consequences for my actions. And I did this by willfully ignoring the simple and escapable fact that I was alive because I was consuming other forms of life. It’s animal life that matters; they are the only ones who are developed enough to have a nervous system and intelligence enough to suffer and be aware of their suffering. An animal will try to flee in order to escape that suffering and preserve itself – but a plant just sits there, hell some actually want to be eaten so that they can disperse their seed through our poo. Why, we’re doing them a favor by eating them!
What arrogance! What presumption!
Even if that was true on a species level, how was I to know what an individual plant may have felt about their role in the process? Just because it didn’t have the means for fleeing doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t want to. And besides, as a poster on reddit said:
In general, all animals eat living entities. Plants are the only true innocents to do no harm by requiring only soil, air, and sunlight. This means vegans consciously choose to prey on the only living entities to have never harmed another.
If I truly wanted to avoid harming conscious and living entities I wouldn’t differentiate between types of consciousness, favoring only those closest to my own – I simply wouldn’t eat. Except that would end up harming me and I wasn’t yet prepared to die. I had work still to do for my god and for my community. I wanted to serve them, to help ease their suffering and bring joy to them in whatever capacity I could. To do that, I had to put myself first – decide that the preservation of my own life, which enabled me to do good in the world was important enough that it justified taking in other life in order to make that happen.
It’s as Celsus in the Alethes Logos says:
If in obedience to the traditions of their fathers they abstain from such victims, they must also abstain from all animal food, in accordance with the opinions of Pythagoras, who thus showed his respect for the soul and its bodily organs. But if, as they say, they abstain that they may not eat along with daimones, I admire their wisdom, in having at length discovered, that whenever they eat they eat with daimones, although they only refuse to do so when they are looking upon a slain victim; for when they eat bread, or drink wine, or taste fruits, do they not receive these things, as well as the water they drink and the air they breathe, from certain daimones, to whom have been assigned these different provinces of nature? We must either not live, and indeed not come into this life at all, or we must do so on condition that we give thanks and first-fruits and prayers to daimones, who have been set over the things of this world: and that we must do as long as we live, that they may prove good and kind. They must make their choice between two alternatives. If they refuse to render due service to the gods, and to respect those who are set over this service, let them not come to manhood, or marry wives, or have children, or indeed take any share in the affairs of life; but let them depart hence with all speed, and leave no posterity behind them, that such a race may become extinct from the face of the earth. Or, on the other hand, if they will take wives, and bring up children, and taste of the fruits of the earth, and partake of all the blessings of life, and bear its appointed sorrows (for nature herself hath allotted sorrows to all men; for sorrows must exist, and earth is the only place for them), then must they discharge the duties of life until they are released from its bonds, and render due honour to those beings who control the affairs of this life, if they would not show themselves ungrateful to them. For it would be unjust in them, after receiving the good things which they dispense, to pay them no tribute in return.
Of course, that carried with it a profound obligation: I had to be worthy of my food. If it was paying the price to keep me alive, then damn it, I needed to make sure that that meant something, that I wasn’t just sitting on my ass passing the time, merely existing as opposed to truly living. Every day I would take more and use that to do more. I’m not sure it mattered all that much to my food – their life and experiences on this mortal plane were over and would be just as over whether they ended up on my plate or stuck to the tire of a car. But it mattered to me and in the end that’s all I’m responsible for. Myself. My feelings. My thoughts. My actions. In all the world that’s the only thing I could truly control – and that is made possible only through the food I eat.
It’s a choice we all must make, and I don’t fault anyone for how they choose. But we need to do it with our eyes open, knowing what it is we’re doing and why. If nothing else, sacrifice forces us to do so, to confront all of our unexamined assumptions.
Euripides, The Bakchai 172-210
He’s welcome in the mountains,
when he sinks down to the ground,
after the running dance,
wrapped in holy deerskin,
hunting the goat’s blood,
blood of the slain beast,
devouring its raw flesh with joy,
rushing off into the mountains,
in Phrygia, in Lydia,
leading the dance—
He holds the torch high,
our leader, the Bacchic One,
blazing flame of pine,
sweet smoke like Syrian incense,
trailing from his thyrsos.
As he dances, he runs,
here and there,
rousing the stragglers,
stirring them with his cries,
thick hair rippling in the breeze.
among the Maenads’ shouts
his voice reverberates:
“On Bacchants, on!
Chant songs to Dionysos,
to the loud beat of our drums.
Celebrate the god of joy
with your own joy,
with Phrygian cries and shouts!
When sweet sacred pipes
play out their rhythmic holy song,
in time to the dancing wanderers,
then to the mountains,
on, on to the mountains.”
Lana Del Rey – Ride
The Neighbourhood – Let It Go
Amanda Palmer – The Killing Type
Florence + The Machine – Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)
Antony and the Johnsons – Epilepsy Is Dancing
Faun Fables – A Table Forgotten
Björk – Pagan Poetry
Björk – Hunter
Nico – I Will Be Seven
Otep – Not To Touch The Earth
Juno Reactor – God Is God
Euripides, The Bakchai 822-827; 905-943
I saw those women in their Bacchic revels,
those sacred screamers, all driven crazy,
the ones who run barefoot from their homes.
I came, my lord, to tell you and the city
the dreadful things they’re doing, their actions
are beyond all wonder.
But then those Bacchic women, all unarmed,
went at the heifers browsing on the turf,
using their bare hands. You should have seen one
ripping a fat, young, lowing calf apart—
others tearing cows in pieces with their hands.
You could’ve seen ribs and cloven hooves
tossed everywhere—some hung up in branches
dripping blood and gore. And bulls, proud beasts till then,
with angry horns, collapsed there on the ground,
dragged down by the hands of a thousand girls.
Hides covering their bodies were stripped off
faster than you could wink your royal eye.
Then, like birds carried up by their own speed,
they rushed along the lower level ground,
beside Asopos’ streams, that fertile land
which yields its crops to Thebes. Like fighting troops,
they raided Hysiae and Erythrae,
below rocky Cithaeron, smashing
everything, snatching children from their homes.
Whatever they carried their shoulders,
even bronze or iron, never tumbled off
onto the dark earth, though nothing was tied down.
They carried fire in their hair, but those flames
never singed them. Some of the villagers,
enraged at being plundered by the Bacchae,
seized weapons. The sight of what happened next,
my lord, was dreadful. For their pointed spears
did not draw blood. But when those women
threw the thrysoi in their hands, they wounded them
and drove them back in flight. The women did this
to men, but not without some god’s assistance.
Then they went back to where they’d started from,
those fountains which the god had made for them.
They washed off the blood. Snakes licked their cheeks,
cleansing their skin of every drop. My lord,
you must welcome this god into our city,
whoever he is. He’s a mighty god
in many other ways.
Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 1.1132–1141
Jason supplicated Kybele with many prayers to turn away the tempest, as he poured libations on the blazing sacrifices. At the same time, upon Orpheus’ command, the young men leapt as they danced the dance-in-armor and beat their shields with their swords, so that any ill-omened cry of grief, which the people were still sending up in lament for their king, would be lost in the air. Since then, the Phrygians have always propitiated Rhea with rhombus and tambourine. The amenable goddess evidently paid heed to their holy sacrifices, for fitting signs appeared.
Derveni Papyrus col. 3 & 6
…Erinyes…of the Erinyes…they honour…are so[uls]…funeral libations in droplets…brings honour…for each receives a bird and…fitted to the music…
… prayers and sacrifices appease the souls, and the enchanting song of the magi is able to remove the daimones when they impede. Impeding daimones are avenging souls. This is why the magi perform the sacrifice, as if they were paying a penalty. On the offerings they pour water and milk, from which they make the libations, too. They sacrifice innumerable and many-knobbed cakes, because the souls, too, are innumerable. Initiates make the preliminary sacrifice to the Eumenides, in the same way as the magi. On account of these, he who is going to sacrifice to the gods, first offers a bird… and the… (they) are… as many as…
Diogenes Laertios, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 8.19-21
Above all, he forbade as food red mullet and blacktail, and he enjoined abstinence from the hearts of animals and from beans, and sometimes, according to Aristotle, even from paunch and gurnard. Some say that he contented himself with just some honey or a honeycomb or bread, never touching wine in the daytime, and with greens boiled or raw for dainties, and fish but rarely. His robe was white and spotless, his quilts of white wool, for linen had not yet reached those parts. He was never known to over-eat, to behave loosely, or to be drunk. He would avoid laughter and all pandering to tastes such as insulting jests and vulgar tales. He would punish neither slave nor free man in anger. Admonition he used to call “setting right.” He used to practise divination by sounds or voices and by auguries, never by burnt-offerings, beyond frankincense. The offerings he made were always inanimate; though some say that he would offer cocks, sucking goats and porkers, as they are called, but lambs never. [Note: Pythagoras was credited with writing several pseudonymous Orphic texts.]
Euripides, Cretans fragment 472
Son of the Phoenician princess, child of Tyrian Europa and great Zeus, ruler over hundred-fortressed Crete—here am I, come from the sanctity of temples roofed with cut beam of our native wood, its true joints of cypress welded together with Chalybean axe and cement from the bull. Pure has my life been since the day when I became an initiate of Idaean Zeus. Where midnight Zagreus roves, I rove; I have endured his thunder-cry; fulfilled his red and bleeding feasts; held the Great Mother’s mountain flame; I am set free and named by name a Bakchos of the Mailed Priests. Having all-white garments, I flee the birth of mortals and, not nearing the place of corpses, I guard myself against the eating of ensouled flesh.
The Gurôb Papyrus
Accept ye my great offering as the payment for my lawless fathers.
Save me, great Brimo …
and Demeter and Rhea …
and the armed Kouretes: let us … and we will make fine sacrifices.
A ram and a he-goat … boundless gifts.
… and by the law of the river …
Taking of the goat … let him eat the rest of the meat …
Let no uninitiated look on!
Hyginus, Astronomica 1.2
While sacrificing to the gods, Orpheus overlooked Liber just as Oeneus had Diana.
The theophantes … son of Menandros dedicated this stele. All who enter the temenos and temples of Bromios: avoid for forty days after the exposure of a newborn child, so that divine wrath does not occur; after the miscarriage of a woman for the same amount of days. If he conceals the death and fate of a relative, keep away from the propylon for the third of a month. If impurity occurs from other houses, remain for three days after the departure of the dead. No one wearing black clothes may approach the altar of the king, nor lay hands on things not sacrificed from sacrificial animals, nor place an egg as food at the Bacchic feast, nor sacrifice a heart on the holy altars … keep away from the smell, which … the most hateful root of beans from seed … proclaim to the mystai of the Titans … and it is improper to rattle with reeds … on the days when the mystai sacrifice……, nor bring …
After I came to the enclosures and the sacred place, I dug a three-sided pit in some flat ground. I quickly brought some trunks of juniper, dry cedar, prickly boxthorn and weeping black poplars, and in the pit I made a pyre of them. Skilled Medea brought to me many drugs, taking them from the innermost part of a chest smelling of incense. At once, I fashioned certain images from barley-meal [the text is corrupt here]. I threw them onto the pyre, and as a sacrifice to honor the dead, I killed three black puppies. I mixed with their blood copper sulfate, soapwort, a sprig of safflower, and in addition odorless fleawort, red alkanet, and bronze-plant. After this, I filled the bellies of the puppies with this mixture and placed them on the wood. Then I mixed the bowels with water and poured the mixture around the pit. Dressed in a black mantle, I sounded bronze cymbals and made my prayer to the Furies.
When the Sun had severed the sky with his swift horses and the dark Night stretched out, indecision stirred the breast of Aeson’s son about whether he should impose an oath of loyalty upon the heroes to seal their faith in him. And I say to you, beloved Musaeus, son of Antiophemus, he ordered me to prepare quickly for an appropriate sacrifice. And so I built an altar of excellent oak on the shore, and putting on a robe, I offered service to the gods on behalf of the men. And then I slit the throat of an enormous bull, bending back the head to the gods, cutting up the fresh meat and pouring the blood around the fire. After I laid the heart on broken cakes, I made a libation of oil and sheep’s milk. I then ordered the heroes to spread round the victim, thrusting their spears and their swords furnished with handles into the victim, and into the hide and the viscera shining in my hands. And I set up in the middle a vessel containing kykeon, the sacred drink of water and barley, which I carefully mixed, the first nourishing offering to Demeter. Then came the blood of the bull, and salty sea-water. I ordered the crew wreathed with crowns of olive leaves. Then filling up a golden vessel with kykeon by my hands, I divided it by rank so that every man could have a sip of the powerful drink. I asked Jason to order a dry pine torch to be placed beneath, and with swift motion the divine flame ascended.
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.30.6
Others have said that his wife died before him, and that for her sake he came to Aornum in Thesprotis, where of old was an oracle of the dead. He thought, they say, that the soul of Eurydike followed him, but turning round he lost her, and committed suicide for grief.
Pindar, fragment 128c 11-12
…and the son of Oeagrus, Orpheus of the golden sword.
Plutarch, Life of Caesar 93
Greeks say that she was the Unnameable One among the mothers of Dionysos. For this reason the women who celebrate her rites cover their tents with vine-branches, and a sacred serpent sits beside the goddess on her throne, as in the myth. It is unlawful for a man to approach or to be in the house when the rites are celebrated. The women, alone by themselves, are said to perform rites that conform to Orphic ritual during the sacred ceremony.
Porphyry, On Abstinence From Animal Food 4.16
The initiated are ordered to abstain from domestic birds, from fishes and beans, pomegranates and apples, which fruits are as equally defiling to the touch as a woman recently delivered, and a dead body. But whoever is acquainted with the nature of divinely-luminous appearances knows also on what account it is requisite to abstain from all birds, and especially for him who hastens to be liberated from terrestrial concerns, and to be established with the celestial gods. [Note: only certain animals are prohibited.]
Vergil’s 4th Georgic
Pick out four choice bulls, of surpassing form, that now graze among your herds on the heights of green Lycaeus, and as many heifers of unyoked neck. For these set up four altars by the stately shrines of the nymph-goddesses, and drain the sacrificial blood from their throats, but leave the bodies of the steers within the leafy grove. Later, when the ninth Dawn displays her rising beams, you must offer to Orpheus funeral dues of Lethe’s poppies, slay a black ewe, and revisit the grove.
My partner Galina has weighed in on the issue of sacrifice here:
Sacrifice is one of the holiest of offerings. It is the most solemn and sacred of all rituals. It renews, restores, nourishes in a way that no other offering can. Not every Deity requires this granted, but many, many do. The role of the sacrificial priest, one that I have fulfilled since 1995, is an awesome responsibility. One must learn the mechanics of slaughter adeptly, so that the animal in no ways suffers. One must develop (or have an assistant with this skill) the ability to communicate with and soothe the animal. It is important that the animal suffer neither pain nor terror. They are fulfilling a tremendously sacred role, the apex of what their own wyrd may be, and participating in this communicatory cycle in a way denied us as people. It is an act worthy of recognition, respect, and care. This type of priest must learn all the necessary prayers and purificatory rites required before, during, and after both for oneself and for the animal. It is necessary to develop a very strong connection with one’s ancestors and one’s lineage because the power released during a sacrifice is enormous and the broken threads of our traditions, imperfectly restored (if at all) may not be able to sustain the force of that which once would have nourished a living community. Not everyone is meant to be a sacrificial priest. It’s a specialist position. Our ancestors had the option in many cases of going to a temple, purchasing an animal, and having the sacrifice done for them. One should not attempt a sacrifice without proper training and, for the first few rituals, oversight. There’s no room for error here. There’s no room either from a religious perspective or a compassionate one for getting it wrong.
In anticipation of last night’s chat log being posted, I wanted to share these excerpts from Telemakhos Night and myself regarding animal sacrifice and the appropriate methods of conducting it. A lot of other insightful comments were shared by members in the chat but I wanted to keep this as tightly focused as possible. When the full log is up I highly recommend you read it. I couldn’t be prouder of how the thiasos has been handling this.
A brief word of introduction regarding Telemakhos Night. He is competent and knowledgeable priest of sacrifice with extensive training and experience. He primarily serves the Thracian gods (no, folks, *the* Thracian isn’t the only Thracian!) however since there is a lot of overlap between Bacchic Orphic stuff and Thracian religion he was brought in as an advocate for the Thracian gods in our pantheon as well as a fire-tender and priest of sacrifice. In fact, he is our first, though yet to be confirmed, boukolos in the thiasos of the Starry Bull and the only reason he hasn’t been confirmed is due to scheduling conflicts.
Here are our views on the matter of animal sacrifice.
[10:54:18 PM] Archi Boukolos: This is definitely something to consider. Because sacrifice, done rightly and respectfully, is part of the Bacchic Orphic tradition and an element that at least some of us are restoring. I don’t want to make those who don’t uncomfortable, no one will ever be forced to participate who doesn’t want to … but collectively it is part of weft and warp of the thiasos and what sustains and strengthens and distinguished it from other groups.
[10:56:51 PM] Archi Boukolos: And everyone, please feel free to share what you’re feeling in regards to this. You can do it here, you can do it in a private e-mail to me or Telemakhos, or discuss it on Facebook or your blog. It’s important to have serious, thoughtful conversations about these things.
[10:56:56 PM] Tēlemakhos Night: Absolutely welcome, any emails with questions about the practice. The techniques and approaches that I use are medically and scientifically supported as the most humane and ritually sound methods of ending warm-blooded life on the planet. By “humane” I refer to modern scientific understandings of suffering, at physiological, emotional, and neurologically measured levels. By “ritually sound”, I refer to considerations of purification, consent, and confirmed “rightness” with the timing, selection, and recipients.
[10:58:41 PM] Archi Boukolos: Animal cruelty is a sin in my book. One of the most despicable. And animal sacrifice, done properly, is way more humane and healthy than factory farming. I mean, the animal has to be ritually pure and healthy, has to give consent, and has to be killed in a swift and as painless as possible a manner for it to be religiously right
[11:02:23 PM] Tēlemakhos Night: If it is helpful at all, in addition to working in this ritual capacity, I also have over a decade of intensive experience in animal rescue, rehabilitation, and abuse intervention of (domestic and wild) critters large and small; the animals that I work with for ritual are regarded with even more love, respect, compassion and care than those whose lives, rather than deaths, were the focus of work.
[11:05:43 PM] Archi Boukolos: Something to keep in mind is that our gods are, first and foremost, chthonic. Blood is a lot more important to them than the Olympians. (And yes, some of them are both Chthonic and Olympian – but in the forms we tend to deal with them in, the chthonic predominates.)
[11:13:02 PM] Archi Boukolos: One of the things sacrifice does, for me, is show the seriousness of life. It’s sanctity. It’s a way of forcing me to look the cycle of death and life straight in the face, without flinching, without trying to distance myself from it, hide behind the sanitized illusion of the supermarket. Plus, that animal is carrying our prayers to the gods, and making the way for blessings to flow into this world from them. that’s huge. that is a profoundly holy vocation. and it’s because of that that the animal must be treated so well, and also that it must consent before the sacrifice can be done.
[11:21:41 PM] Markos Gage: Don’t know if this is insensative to ask or to soon. But out of curiousity is there any idea what kind of animal we are talking about?
[11:22:49 PM] Archi Boukolos: It needs to be a four-legged not a bird. That much has already been divined. But we haven’t gotten info on the species yet and that may be dependent on how much the thiasos raises for this. Then again, the gods may straight up request a specific animal, at which point I’ll scramble to raise the rest because the gods wishes are paramount in such matters.
[11:24:42 PM] Tēlemakhos Night: The most common four-legged offerings are goats or rams, heirloom breeds maintained for homestead meat, with gender or sex varied based on ritual needs and regional availability. Divination trumps all. The highest challenge with bovine, outside of cost, is logistics: to do that ritual right, much more open space is needed, which raises concerns around the kind of privacy required to not be compelled into rush or haste. I will not proceed if there are circumstances that compel compromise of ritual (and animal welfare) integrity. Goats and rams can be ethically and humanely worked with in good, solid ritual context under virtually any domestic or regional circumstances. Bovines create all kinds of complications, because the welfare of the animal must be maintained at highest caliber the entire time. Larger animals require larger space of lands, larger numbers of hands, and more. It is a scheduling and planning challenge, but not un-doable.
[11:33:21 PM] Tēlemakhos Night: For what it is worth, my methods of slaughter (poultry and four-legged) are medically and scientifically beyond that of any commercial (even organic commercial) operation. The work adhered to is supported with the latest studies, medical advances, and more. It is a marriage of a 6,000 year old ritual technique with 21st century understandings neuroscience. The point is that “industrial slaughter” will never be clean, ethical, or ideal. The use of stunning blows and/or bolt-guns in industrial maneuvers is to reduce the panic-related suffering of the animal. In trained small-scale ritual context, no such blow is required, and in fact would be a ritual violation in most instances, as well as a staggeringly unnecessary thing to do to a sacred animal. (It turns out hitting anything in the skull is uncalled for, unless that is the lesser of two evils, with industrial slaughter conditions being the undeniable greater.) When I do my work, the animal does not suffer, panic, or hesitate at any point. If this happens, the ritual is stalled or canceled. The universal response to my work has been, in one phrasing or another, “That was beautiful and dignified”.
[11:50:42 PM] Tēlemakhos Night: Brief mechanical summary: my ritual technique uses a dedicated size-appropriate blade, which is forged carbon steel reserved for this undertaking, cleaned and oiled and sharpened beforehand. No restraints (for anything smaller than a bovine) are used, aside from a basic rope lead for guiding the animal to the space (just like a dog-collar, nothing choking or restraining). The size of the blade is determined by the size of the animal. The shape of the blade is determined by the coat of the animal. No stunning blow is used. A single cut is made at the neck, severing all vitals instantly, without compromising the central-nervous-system (the spine and neck bones). By leaving the CNS intact, the animal’s natural and biologically programmed response kicks in, which settles the animal into a state of euphoria and death, rather than agitation or panic. (Severing the CNS prevents necessary full-body signals, including hormonal release signals, from being delivered.) Brief animal handling summary: each individual animal is engaged with prior to selection, divined around, and consent is determined as is required by the individual rituals or gods involved. The animal’s comfort is provided for in the times of transport and leading up to the ritual; it is handled with respect and care, with no undue restraint. Size-appropriate carriers and crating are used for transport, which allow for the satisfaction of each animal’s needs in terms of achieving balance between “space and safety-in-den” response. Covers are provided, partially or in full, during transport for visual-sensitive animals (as many respond to visual stimulation with fear) and they are given space to move about and become comfortable on arrival at the ritual site. Each animal is given not less than one hour of individual care and attention leading up to the ritual itself, except in cases where the animal is made insecure by such attention, in which case divination is often done to confirm that the animal is indeed ready and correctly selected. Sometimes divinations indicate certain actions are needed for the animal’s benefit, prior to the ritual. These are performed. The animal is never brought to the place or space of ritual unless it is ready, emotionally and physically, as well as obviously with regard to religious protocols of purification.
[11:58:37 PM] Archi Boukolos: Thank you for sharing your methods and philosophy. I’m always impressed by your comptenecy and professionalism.
[11:58:41 PM] Tēlemakhos Night: Each animal’s physiology and behavior is taken into consideration individually in order to accommodate any needs, such as horns. (Horns of either ram or goat often become entangled on clothing, etc, during untrained ritual in certain traditions. That does not happen, here.) Each animal is provided with a luxurious final (ritually prepare) meal, and water, before (but not immediately before) the ritual. If at any time any distress is displayed or measured, physically or otherwise, proceedings halt to engage the animal. Sometimes this is due to movement around the space, and for this reason there is little or no “audience” (I prefer none, it is not a sport to watch); visual movement at the perimeter triggers prey-flight-or-fight response in most animals. Stillness, calmness, and safety are the priorities for all in attendance, including the animal.
[12:01:07 AM] Tēlemakhos Night: At no time has an animal of any kind ever distressed in my care, without full cessation and intervention taking place to either correct according to the animal’s needs, or consult the spirits. The animal in this ritual becomes a conduit between the technicians and the gods and spirits; its behaviors, needs, and communicated states are of vital import for attentive, ethical procession. Absent attention, messages are missed, animals are wronged, and gods are offended. The intent is to offend none. Harm none. Bring into proper alignment and right regard, all involved.
The topic of animal sacrifice came up in last night’s thiasos chat and when the archive gets posted I highly recommend that you read through it as it’s a good example of how to discuss complex and difficult issues like this in a mature, civil and respectful manner. I’m very proud of everyone who participated, especially the member who shared her concerns surrounding the practice. She demonstrated tremendous bravery in speaking up since so many others were clearly in favor of it. I hope that we were able to answer her questions and alleviate some of that concern, regardless of where she ultimately ends up with regard to membership.
And since I am sure that there are others in or on the periphery of the thiasos who hold similar views they need to be aware that thusia or animal sacrifice is an implicit part of the Starry Bull tradition. Not only was this an integral component of ancient Magna Graecian, Dionysian and Orphic religion but it is something that Dionysos has confirmed on numerous occasions and to multiple people that he wants as part of this thiasos. Over the coming days I intend to write some pieces on the historical basis of this part of our tradition, which is especially necessary with regard to Orphism since there is an entirely false but widespread notion that they were radical vegetarians who rejected the culture, beliefs and traditional religious practices of their fellows. No matter how many times it is stated by bad academics, the Orphics were not an early Protestant sect.
Now, let me be perfectly clear – this is most emphatically not something expected of every member. If you lack proper training, competency and knowledge of the ritual structures associated with this practice then you’ve got no business doing it. In fact, if I hear that you are killing animals in a careless and religiously offensive manner you are going to end up on my shit list big time. Most people, including those in a priestly office, should stick to spondai (libations), aparchai (“first fruit” offerings), agalmata (votive gifts) and assorted other devotional acts. Being a sacrificial priest is a specialized form of divine service and is best left to the professionals.
Now the reason that this is an issue is that we have several members in the thiasos who have such training and competency and animal sacrifice will be performed on certain occasions for the strength, luck, healing, prosperity and spiritual well-being of the thiasos and its members. Because of the ritual tech that we employ the collective benefits of this act are imparted to all who affiliate themselves with the thiasos, regardless of how direct their involvement in the ceremony may have been. Although no animal sacrifice has yet been performed for the thiasos, this is already going on through other means of prayer and offerings and you may have noticed your circumstances changing since joining. This is why I am so insistent that you declare yourself an akousmatikos – by doing so you are buying into the grace and good will imparted by our collective rites.
And that’s why I want to make our use of animal sacrifice explicit. If you have ethical or religious objections to the practice and don’t want any involvement in the slaying of a creature or the blessings generated through doing so you need to think long and hard about your involvement in the thiasos. You also need to know that there will be no change regarding this policy even if that results in everyone leaving. That is not to say that I am unfamiliar with the concerns people may have (I was a strict vegetarian for a significant portion of my young adulthood) or unsympathetic to the difficult position they may be placed in by this. Ultimately you have to follow the dictates of your conscious and for me I feel that it would be better by far to just close down the group than compromise on something the gods themselves have made clear they want.
I am sure that this will generate a lot of discussion over the coming days and weeks. Let us strive to maintain a spirit of respect, civility and maturity in our discourse and always remember that there are real human beings on the other end of the screen and that those human beings are our siblings and co-worshipers in the thiasos. Regardless of where you come down on this issue I will tolerate no insults or attacks on a fellow member. We are better than everyone else. Let us ever strive to demonstrate that.
Irfan – Star of the Winds
Dead Can Dance – Song of the Stars
Mychael Danna – Snake Dance
V.A.S.T – Touched
Beats Antique feat. Sorne – You the Starry Eyed
Portishead – The RIP, Magic Doors, Wandering Star
Camper Van Beethoven – Tusk
Jay Munly and Lupercalians – Three Wise Hunters
The Music Of The Lords
Nine Inch Nails – At The Heart Of It All
Zebra Katz – LST CTRL
This is how I feel the god tonight.
Cinema has evolved in two paths. One is spectacle. Like the phantasmagoria, its goal is the creation of a total substitute sensory world. The other is peep show, which claims for its realm both the erotic and the untampered observance of real life, and imitates the keyhole or voyeur’s window without need of color, noise, grandeur.
The subject says “I see first lots of things which dance — then everything becomes gradually connected”.
Few would defend a small view of Alchemy as “Mother of Chemistry”, and confuse its true goal with those external metal arts. Alchemy is an erotic science, involved in buried aspects of reality, aimed at purifying and transforming all being and matter. Not to suggest that material operations are ever abandoned. The adept holds to both the mystical and physical work.
They can picture love affairs of chemicals and stars, a romance of stones, or the fertility of fire. Strange, fertile correspondences the alchemists sensed in unlikely orders of being. Between men and planets, plants and gestures, words and weather.
Cinema returns us to anima, religion of matter, which gives each thing its special divinity and sees gods in all things and beings. Cinema, heir of alchemy, last of an erotic science.
More or less, we’re all afflicted with the psychology of the voyeur. Not in a strictly clinical or criminal sense, but in our whole physical and emotional stance before the world. Whenever we seek to break this spell of passivity, our actions are cruel and awkward and generally obscene, like an invalid who has forgotten to walk.
People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.
- Jim Morrison, prophet
So here’s a challenge for everyone in the thiasos (or folks who just want to play along from home.) Make a work of art (hymn, song, poem, essay, story, play, myth, drawing, painting, jewelry, collage, sculpture, shrine, etc.) which incorporates a significant (9 or more) number of these elements. I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with.
My birthday is coming up on Friday, October 17th. If you wanted to do something nice you could pour a libation to Dionysos and make a donation to Rachel or the folks mentioned on our philanthropia page. Every little bit helps.
Rachel Loretta has already raised half of the amount she’s aiming for to benefit Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in Los Angeles:
Dear Friends and Family,
I am participating in extra life because I have CP (Cerebral Palsy) and because of it I know how it sucks to be a kid and be stuck in the hospital. I can’t run or walk for a cause (Darn you wheelchair) however I can play video games for it so please help me with my goal of $200.00. Please know that every dollar helps. Update as of 10/14/14= I have $105.00 donated.(If 95 people each give $1.00 that equals $200.00 and I reach my goal and we help kids). If you want to give $1.00 click down to any amount. My local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital treats thousands of children each year, regardless of their family’s ability to pay. These kids are facing scary stuff like cancer, cystic fibrosis, and injuries from accidents to name just a few.
Please contribute what you can. I’d like to see her goal not only met but far exceeded.
Man, I’m on a real Hippolytos kick today.
Jack Faust posted this interesting quote earlier:
The name ‘Venus Mount’ is once directly associated with paradise in the line:
‘On Venus’ Mount and into Paradise.’
The mountain of Venus is really the evil other-world. The most frequent methods by which it is reached are shown in Sachsenheim 1453, Sachs 1517, 1545, 1559, Zimmerische Chronik 1565, Rotenburg 1608, Hessische Hexenprocessacten 1628. By means of a potion, by flying through the air upon some sort of steed – nightmare, goat, or calf – by lying down to sleep, by falling into a trance, and usually at night, these are the ways by which the Venusberg has been reached and all point to the fact the place is not of this earth. (Philip Stephen Barto, Tannhäuser and the Venusberg P. 44-45)
Which got me thinking of this passage from the Refutation of All Heresies:
About these Mysteries, and the road that leads there, which is ‘level and capacious’ and takes the damned to Persephone, the Poet says:
But below it there is a rugged path,
enclosed and slippery like mud,
which is the best way to reach
the delightful grove of much-esteemed Aphrodite.
On these matters, the Saviour has stated explicitly that ‘narrow and tight is the road that leads to life, and few are they that enter upon it, but level and capacious is the road that leads to perdition, and many are they that pass along it.’ (8.41-5)
Esteemed scholar M. L. West believes this Orphic fragment to be an allusion to the vagina. Goat imagery and even knucklebones have been found in the Grotta Caruso where bridal teletai honoring Persephone and Aphrodite were carried out. In Sir Orfeo Orpheus is married to Heurodis who, of course, is related to Herodias, leader of a furious host comparable to that of Arclecchino.
Through conversation with members of the Red Team it has become apparent that we need to substantially revise the structure of the thiasos of the Starry Bull.
Basically what we are going to do is insert a new level between akousmatikos and boukolos. This new level is Αἴπολος the Goatherd.
Goats are awesome creatures and the title of Goatherd is found in a number of ancient Dionysian thiasoi. The Goatherd is also frequently the performer or heroic subject matter of bucolic poetry, which got it’s start in Sicily:
At one time there were troubles at Syracuse which it was deemed were caused by Artemis. So the farmers brought gifts and sang a joyful hymn to the goddess and later on this became a customary event. As the rustics sang they would carry loaves of bread with figures of wild beasts on them, purses full of every type of seed, and a goat-skin with wine; they poured out libations for all those they met, wore a garland and deer antlers, and carried a shepherd’s rabbit-prod in their hands. The winner of the competition receives the bread of the defeated. They also sing other songs of a playful, funny nature, first saying in reverent tones, Receive good fortune, receive good health, which we bring from the goddess, by which she gave her command. (Prolegomena to Theokritos, Bucolicorum Graecorum 2.5)
Which gives it strong Orphic and Magna Graecian associations. The Naassenes, according to Hippolytos, found great significance in this term as well:
The Phrygians also call him Goatherd (aipolos), not because he feeds goats, as the psychical people call them, but because he is ever turning (aeipolos) and circulating and impressing the whole universe with turning motion. For to turn (polein) is to circulate and alter matters. That is why the two centers of the heaven are called poles. And the poet also said,
An old man, wave dwelling, frequently comes around here, deathless Proteus, the Egyptian. (Homer, Odyssey 4.384-85.)
Poleitai does not mean that he is sold but that he turns about and goes around. Furthermore, cities (poleis) in which we live are so called because we turn and circulate (poloumen) in them. So the Phrygians call aipolos the one who always turns things in every direction and transfers them to his own domain.
Which relates back to the round-dance of the labyrinth:
On his voyage from Crete Theseus put in at Delos, and having sacrificed to the god and dedicated in his temple the image of Aphrodite which he had received from Ariadne, he danced with his youths a dance which they say is still performed by the Delians, being an imitation of the circling passages in the labyrinth, and consisting of certain rhythmic involutions and evolutions. This kind of dance, as Dikaiarchos tells us, is called by the Delians The Crane, and Theseus danced it round the altar called Keraton, which is constructed of horns taken entirely from the left side of the head. (Plutarch, Life of Theseus 21.1-2)
Also keep in mind that the Naassenes, while a snake-handling branch of heretical gnostic Christianity, claimed to be under the spiritual authority of Orpheus:
The entire system of their doctrine, however, is derived from the ancient theologians Mousaios, Linos and Orpheus, who elucidates especially the ceremonies of initiation, as well as the mysteries themselves. For their doctrine concerning the womb is also the tenet of Orpheus; and the idea of the navel, which is harmony, is to be found with the same symbolism attached to it in the Bacchanalian orgies of Orpheus.
So henceforth the thiasos will be organized in the following manner.
Akousmatikoi: “hearers” – anyone who wants to come listen to the tradition and participate with us. Carries with it no expectations, obligations or privileges.
Aipoloi: “goatherds” (also a pun on oi poloi, “the many”) – someone who is committing themselves to the tradition and receiving active instruction in it. There are two grades of this: aipolos-in-training and aipolos-confirmed. I’ll come up with a difficult and comprehensive exam which will demonstrate knowledge of our gods, myths and how to carry out proper worship. In addition to passing this I’ll grill them on things either during an in person interview or a phone conversation so I can ensure that they’re not just parroting back the answers they expect I want to hear and really have a firm grasp of this shit. Ideally this interview should be conducted in person, but I will make allowances for distance especially where our overseas members are concerned. And finally I will check in with Dionysos through divination that there is nothing further they need to learn or do before being confirmed in this role.
Aipoloi are granted a voice and involved in the daily operations of the thiasos. They also have the privilege of seeking admission into the mysteries, which no longer requires boukolos status. (Especially since that has kind of developed into its own thing as I’ve begun mentoring folks through the process.)
Boukoloi: “tenders of the bull” – is now reserved for someone who is called to a specific path of service within the thiasos. Again, there is both the training and confirmed phase of this. To be confirmed they must demonstrate to my satisfaction that they can carry out the duties inherent in that role.
Though I am announcing the change here I am going to wait to actually implement it until I’ve come up with the exam. Our current crop of boukoloi-in-training will have to pass that exam before proceeding. Failure will not affect the validity of their vocation, it just means that they’ll need to brush up and take some of the classes and workshops offered at aipolos level before implementing it.
The instruction available to folks at the aipolos level will be conveyed through a mixture of formal courses, chats, direct mentorship from me as well as one-off classes and workshops. This will be entirely self-driven and you can take whatever classes you feel you need – or not! – until you’re ready to attempt the exam. One may request to take the exam at any time.
Now what makes this especially cool is that we will not be employing a top-down educational model where I or a special team of instructors will be passing on the lore of our tradition to glassy-eyed n00bs. Rather, anyone can offer instruction to anyone else and we’ll bring in folks with experience and expertise in certain areas to offer one-off classes and workshops. This breaks down the notion that competency in one area means there aren’t other places where one can work on and broaden their understanding or that because you’re still learning you’ve got nothing of value to contribute, both of which can be very damaging to individuals as well groups. I really want to emphasize that everyone in the thiasos is equal – and subordinate to me.
So what do you guys think?
Once I have the exam completed Red Team can begin overseeing the transition of our structure and executing this educational objective.
Go Red Team!
And go future Goatherders!