Unzip your mind

the-scribbler-02

Can I have a pen? I can’t talk without a pen. When you’re crazy, you sometimes have to let your hands do the talking. The way you deal with this is, you learn to be a passenger in your own body. They told me I have multiple personalities. They told me I don’t fit in. In the war between individuality and conformity, the individual is always outgunned. Conformists have the machines on their side. They think they’ve got all the angles covered. But they forgot two important things. Crazy people – we don’t play by the rules. And there are always side effects.

***

This is the real crazy – anxiety and vomit. It’s disappearing into a dark corner where no one can reach you. It’s being ugly, and stupid, and alone. It’s wishing you were back in the hospital.

***

You can watch the trailer for The Scribbler here.

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Ours is an emergent tradition and what that means

Rede Seeker had a great question:

I would appreciate an explanation of why this Tradition is so rich in material. Why was it so well preserved when material from the Northern Tradition is so scarce?

Part of this comes down to a simple accident of history: Northern Europeans were oral, tribal societies until shortly before Christianization, so they left few first hand accounts of their culture and religious beliefs. In fact most of the information that modern Heathens have to draw upon are from biased outsiders – Romans such as Caesar, Tacitus and Strabo on the one hand, and missionaries and converts on the other. Although writing did exist among these populations (some scholars maintain that the runic scripts were derived from Euboean Greek by way of Latin) they used it mostly for commerce and record-keeping as opposed to preserving their myths and rituals.

The ancient Greeks made this transition considerably earlier – contact with the civilizations of the Near East brought literacy to Crete and the mainland around fifteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, and by the tenth century they had gotten around to writing down their sacred narratives in the form of epic poems. Prose and other genres developed a couple hundred years later and by the Classical period literacy was fairly widespread, though still a topic of deep ambivalence even among the educated classes, as we see from some of the critical remarks Sokrates and his associates made about it. Indeed, one of the things that set the Orphics and similar itinerant religious specialists apart from the mainstream was their reliance on texts – hence Theseus’ insult about Hippolytos placing his trust in vaporous words in the play by Euripides and Plato’s mention of the hubbub of books these begging priests used to impress their rich clientele.

Despite his strong counterculture and wild associations, Dionysos was an early adopter of writing: he was hailed as Mousegetes or leader of the Muses; many credited him with poetic inspiration; tragedy, comedy and satyr-plays developed out of his agrarian, orgiastic ceremonies; sacred scripts were read from during his rites; initiates carried texts inscribed on golden sheets with them into the grave; cultic associations produced elaborate regulations that were often displayed at his temples or meeting-houses; obscure and paradoxical symbola proliferated; verse-oracles and related forms of linguistic divination were performed by his priests and he was a favorite subject of historians, mythographers, philosophers, poets and religious exegetes. Indeed this trend persisted well after the demise of classical polytheism – people were still writing about him during the medieval, renaissance and early modern periods and scholars today are downright obsessed with him. (There are more books on Dionysos than any other Hellenic deity by a fairly large margin.)

So even though the thiasos of the Starry Bull is very selective and focuses only on material produced in Magna Graecia and its related traditions, we still have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to written sources. (And that’s not even taking into consideration the visual and archaeological evidence such as statues, vases, jewelry and folkloric elements that were incorporated into Southern Italian Catholicism and culture.)

But I think there’s more to it than that – though it’s difficult to talk about without coming off as more than a little crazy. I’ve never let that stop me before, so here goes!

I often refer to the thiasos of the Starry Bull as an emergent tradition, and while it’s true that we’re just getting started and there’s a greater than average amount of peer-corroborated gnosis within the group which makes this a tradition we’re building up together, that’s not entirely what I mean. Quite frequently I and other members will stumble across something through practice or study that we’ve never seen anyone else talk about before, only to have it come up over and over and over again in a variety of different ways after that. This confirmation can come through ancient sources, contemporary scholarship, comic books, movies, music, random signs and the like. It’s creepy as fuck and makes you feel like you’re suffering from apophenia or paranoid schizo delusions – especially when you’re already familiar with the material and could have sworn that these things weren’t there until you had the experience that made them relevant to you. When that happens I’ve taken to saying “circles, man, fucking circles” or some variation thereof.

Because of the frequency with which this occurs – and the fact that it happens to more than just me – I’ve begun to think that the emergence of this tradition isn’t one of forward progression but rather that our gods and spirits have the ability to reach backwards through time and manipulate media. Then again it’s possible that they planted seeds long ago and those remained hidden until the experience opened our eyes or provided us with the keys of understanding.

Whatever the case, it’s weird and maddening and makes the world feel a whole lot less solid than most people take for granted. While I generally see it as a positive thing and confirmation that one is on the right track, it can go too far into the realm of non-functional fantasy and solipsism, at which point one generally needs to disengage and back off for a bit to allow consensual reality to reassert itself.

Not all visions and insights are inspired by the gods or spirits – sometimes it’s our brains going haywire, which is where discernment, divination, external corroboration and input from fellow-travelers can come in handy. Without these things nothing becomes part of the official Starry Bull tradition, however powerful one’s personal experiences may be.

All of which means that although we rely heavily on source material and the reconstructionist methodology our thiasos does not identify as a recon tradition. Equal value is placed on intuition, inspiration, oracles and divination as well as direct personal experience with our holy powers. We represent a third way of living, fluid tradition that is neither anarchic eclecticism or ossified lore-thumping.

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What are you doing tomorrow? Hopefully listening to Wyrd Ways

DivinationHarryRon

Tomorrow night at 10:00pm EST on Wyrd Ways Radio we’ll be discussing oracles and divination and the upcoming diviners’ conference which will be held in Fishkill on November 29th. Be sure to tune in – or better yet call with questions! The number is 347-308-8222.

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Apollo’s son is scary

ion

From The Visions of Zosimos

And saying these things, I slept, and I saw a certain sacrificing priest standing before me and over an altar which had the form of a bowl. And that altar had fifteen steps going up to it.

Then the priest stood up and I heard from above a voice say to me, “I have completed the descent of the fifteen steps and the ascent of the steps of light. And it is the sacrificing priest who renews me, casting off the body’s coarseness, and, consecrated by necessity, I have become a spirit.”

And when I had heard the voice of him who stood in the altar formed like a bowl, I questioned him, desiring to understand who he was.

He answered me in a weak voice saying, “I am Ion, Priest of the Adytum, and I have borne an intolerable force. For someone came at me headlong in the morning and dismembered me with a sword and tore me apart, according to the rigor of harmony. And, having cut my head off with the sword, he mashed my flesh with my bones and burned them in the fire of the treatment, until, my body transformed, I should learn to become a spirit. And I sustained the same intolerable force.”

And even as he said these things to me and I forced him to speak, it was as if his eyes turned to blood and he vomited up all his flesh. And I saw him as a mutilated image of a little man and he was tearing at his flesh and falling away.

***

And again I knew the theophany and again the sacred altar and I saw a certain priest clothed in white celebrating those same terrible mysteries and I said, “Who is this?”

And answering he said to me, “This is the priest of the Adytum. He wishes to put blood into the bodies, to make the eyes clear, and to raise up the dead.”

And again I fell asleep for a while and while I was mounting the fourth step I saw one with a sword in his hand coming out of the east. And I saw another behind him, holding a disk, white and shining and beautiful to behold. And it was called the meridian of the Sun and I approached the place of the mortifications and the one who held the sword said to me, “Cut off his head and sacrifice his meat and muscles part by part so that first the flesh may be boiled according to the method and that he might then suffer the mortifications.”

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What do you want to know?

Since several people mentioned that they were feeling overwhelmed by the density of information our tradition contains and would like to know how to get started I wanted to write some more material on that but I’m at a loss as to what to write. So give me some topics!

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These are also the subjects of Orpheus’ poems

Terracotta_Baubo_figurine

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks II
Baubo, having received Demeter as a guest, offers her a draught of wine and meal. She declines to take it, being unwilling to drink on account of her mourning. Baubo is deeply hurt, thinking she has been slighted, and thereupon uncovers her secret parts and exhibits them to the goddess. Demeter is pleased at the sight, and now at least receives the draught, — delighted by the spectacle! These are the secret mysteries of the Athenians! These are also the subjects of Orpheus’ poems. I will quote you the very lines of Orpheus, in order that you may have the originator of the mysteries as witness of their shamelessness:

This said, she drew aside her robes, and showed a sight of shame; child Iakchos was there and with his hand he, laughing, tossed and jerked it under Baubo’s womb. Then smiled the goddess, in her heart she smiled, and drank the draught from out the glancing cup.

BauboD

Arnobius of Sicca, Adversus Gentes 5.25-26
In her wanderings on that quest, she reaches the confines of Eleusis as well as other countries — that is the name of a canton in Attica. At that time these parts were inhabited by aborigines named Baubo, Triptolemus, Eubuleus, Eumolpus, Dysaules: Triptolemus, who yoked oxen; Dysaules, a keeper of goats; Eubuleus, of swine; Eumolpus, of sheep, from whom also flows the race of Eumolpidæ, and from whom is derived that name famous among the Athenians, and those who afterwards flourished as caduceatores, hierophants, and criers. So, then, that Baubo who, we have said, dwelt in the canton of Eleusis, receives hospitably Ceres, worn out with ills of many kinds, hangs about her with pleasing attentions, beseeches her not to neglect to refresh her body, brings to quench her thirst wine thickened with spelt, which the Greeks term cyceon. The goddess in her sorrow turns away from the kindly offered services, and rejects them; nor does her misfortune suffer her to remember what the body always requires. Baubo, on the other hand, begs and exhorts her—as is usual in such calamities—not to despise her humanity; Ceres remains utterly immoveable, and tenaciously maintains an invincible austerity. But when this was done several times, and her fixed purpose could not be worn out by any attentions, Baubo changes her plans, and determines to make merry by strange jests her whom she could not win by earnestness. That part of the body by which women both bear children and obtain the name of mothers, this she frees from longer neglect: she makes it assume a purer appearance, and become smooth like a child, not yet hard and rough with hair. In this wise she returns to the sorrowing goddess; and while trying the common expedients by which it is usual to break the force of grief, and moderate it, she uncovers herself, and baring her groins, displays all the parts which decency hides; and then the goddess fixes her eyes upon these, and is pleased with the strange form of consolation. Then becoming more cheerful after laughing, she takes and drinks off the drought spurned before, and the indecency of a shameless action forced that which Baubo’s modest conduct was long unable to win. If any one perchance thinks that we are speaking wicked calumnies, let him take the hooks of the Thracian soothsayer, which you speak of as of divine antiquity; and he will find that we are neither cunningly inventing anything, nor seeking means to bring the holiness of the gods into ridicule, and doing so: for we shall bring forward the very verses which the son of Calliope uttered in Greek, and published abroad in his songs to the human race throughout all ages:—

With these words she at the same time drew up her garments from the lowest hem,
And exposed to view formatas inguinibus res,
Which Baubo grasping with hollow hand, for
Their appearance was infantile, strikes, touches gently.
Then the goddess, fixing her orbs of august light,
Being softened, lays aside for a little the sadness of her mind;
Thereafter she takes the cup in her hand, and laughing,
Drinks off the whole draught of cyceon with gladness.

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The line starts here

Since the PLC wrapped, a lot of folks have been talking about leadership in their communities, particularly in the wake of recent controversies involving Z. Budapest, Christian Day and Cathryn Platine. Yesterday Sam Webster posted an interesting piece on accountability at the Wild Hunt:

Pagan leaders are unusual in that they are often ‘self-called’ to their role. They decide to form a group and do so by collecting people around them. They are generally not paid, and often the group meets at the leader’s home. Generally, they are the principal teacher, and likewise, the sole initiator. This makes censuring or dismissing the leader very difficult. It usually disbands the group and, only sometimes, will a fraction of the group continue without the leader. The usual penalty of loss of pay simply does not apply. Besides being the founders of the group or the event, the leaders are the bottom line, and the one who maintains the commitment to making it all happen. Flakey and unreliable as many Pagans are, without firm leadership events fail and groups fade away. Basic funding for them also tends to come out of the pockets of the leaders as well, bringing back the economic aspect, but without checks and balances. On the other end of the political spectrum, in consensus-based groups there can be a problem assigning accountability (not to say blame).

Showing that polytheists are, once again, ahead of the curve and considering these issues before our neopagan brethren, I would like to discuss the exit model I came up with before launching the thiasos.

At present I am the (not entirely) benevolent dictator of the thiasos of the Starry Bull. The group is prospering and getting a tremendous amount done under my direction and so far the only criticism I’ve received is that I’m not a member of the Facebook page. (Aside from my dislike for social media, a large part of why I made that decision is so that folks would be able to develop a culture and structures independent of me at the akousmatikos level.)

Hopefully this felicitous situation will continue for many a year, but I also know myself. There’s a pretty strong statistical probability that I’m going to end up pissing everyone off or running afoul of the law – quite possibly both.

So I came up with a pretty simple solution. Saving everyone from moribund councils and teary testimonials and byzantine procedures I have decided that any member who is dissatisfied with how I’m running the thiasos may challenge my authority as archiboukolos at any time and we will decide the matter through a ritual trial.

Physical combat is out of the question – when I played football in high school I ended up carrying three guys equally my size who had tried to tackle me across the field and I’ve only gotten stronger since then. A magical duel would be just as unfair – I routinely laugh off the curses that the best and brightest of Tumblr throw my way, even when dragons are involved. Considering my extreme nerdiness and mastery of sources, I don’t think anyone but Jack Faust would have a chance of competing in an intellectual contest and I’m fairly certain he doesn’t want the responsibility.

So we’ll decide things by consuming mind altering substances and seeing who can hold their shit the best. And no, I’m not pulling a brer rabbit here. Since adopting the Orphikos bios I’ve developed one of those invisible chronic illnesses that are all the rage in spirit-worker circles which means that my tolerance ain’t what it used to be. Four or five bottles of wine, and I’m completely done for. So there’s your chance, my friends. If you’ve got a problem with me, sidle up to the bar and we’ll settle this in a civilized manner like Herakles and Dionysos.

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What you should know about the Starry Bull pantheon

The Starry Bull cosmology presupposes a polytheistic worldview – and a fairly radical one at that, since our tradition is woven from Cretan, Thracian, Greek, Italian, Egyptian and other strands. We not only affirm the existence of all of the gods, spirits, heroes, ancestors and other divine beings known to these cultures, but accept that gods and spirits can syncretically fuse to produce new forms and even new beings (separate and autonomous from their progenitors) meaning that their number is potentially, if not actually, limitless.

Of course the vast majority of these beings are not involved (or only peripherally so) in our system, so their existence and nature does not concern us overly much. Additionally the thiasos is non-exclusive, meaning that it is permissible to engage in cultic relations with any being one chooses to outside of or alongside one’s veneration of the members of our pantheon.

To a casual observer this pantheon may seem somewhat eclectic (after all it contains a couple Christian saints, several entities who began their existence as fictional constructs, a German philologist notorious for his atheism and an American rock star) but that could not be further from the truth. Each member has an integral role to play in our mysteries; further, each member has such plentiful connections to all other members of the pantheon that it would be impossible to map them entirely without descending into madness, or at least seeming to.

As well as possessing a multitude of forms (some of which blur into the forms of other beings, making it challenging at times to distinguish between them) a body of complex and contradictory mythology has collected around them. It is best to view our gods and spirits as actors and myth the stories that they perform. These stories are often dark, strange, and unsettling – like nightmares or hallucinations. It is the recurring themes of these stories that matter most, not the incidental and difficult to reconcile details, because these stories contain clues about the mysteries our thiasos was formed to enshrine and give expression to.

And finally, while acknowledging that there is much more to them we tend to focus on the forms of our gods and spirits that are chthonic, liminal, fertile, ecstatic, healing, redemptive and revelatory – forms that are often downplayed or ignored outright in contemporary Hellenismos and other polytheist traditions.

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What you need to know to get started in the thiasos of the Starry Bull

The first thing that you need to know is that you don’t need to know everything in order to get started. Forget the mythology. Forget the history. Forget the tradition. These things are valuable, but all they do is provide context and point the way.

So what are the basics?

Well, you should begin by accepting that there is more to the world than you can perceive with your ordinary senses. We share this world with an innumerable host of gods and spirits and the dead – nor is this the only world that we have access to. The dark and winding passages of the labyrinth lead to other worlds, which is why we must be careful when treading it. It is all too easy to end up lost in the realm of dream, of madness, of death or places far worse than these. There are entrances to the labyrinth everywhere, including inside us.

Next you should accept that you are going to die. Everything begins with that certainty, and once you have accepted it you are confronted with two obligations: to live well and to prepare for death.

To live well is to understand that you are not alone. You exist as part of a community which consists of more than just your fellow human beings. Everything in this world has either an indwelling intelligence or is overseen by a higher power, and often both. Everything also exists within a web of causation. At the most basic level you would not be here without the countless generations that preceded you and contributed the genetic material of which you were formed and your life is also sustained by consuming other forms of life regardless of your dietary habits. As we make our way through life we must learn to navigate these complex and intertwined relationships as harmoniously as possible, because every action has consequences and those consequences ripple outward and do not end with the individual. Indeed our lives are often impacted by beings whom we will never actually meet, some of whom have long since departed from life.

This is fact. Complain about the injustice of it all you want, it won’t change a thing. Better by far to spend your time learning to discern those threads of relation and how to work with them in the most advantageous manner so that they don’t trip you up and cause you unnecessary grief.

And one of the ways that we do that is through worship. Worship is an expression of gratitude for all that the gods, spirits and ancestors have given to us, gratitude to the world and the things in the world that sustain and enhance our life. And we express that gratitude through ritual acts both large and small – acts that bring us into connection with these beings, strengthen our relationship to them and return a portion of what they have shared with us so that their bounty and power may continually be renewed. It is not right to take without giving back, even if what we return is very different from what was given to us.

Ingratitude creates a void and imbalance; it is like tying a knot in a thread which interrupts connection. Nature abhors a vacuum and so other things like physical and psychic illness or pollution rush in to fill that space. Often this brings with it its own nasty consequences; however if it is grievous enough it can provoke the gods and spirits to wrath which can spill out affecting whole families and communities. Thus we are often called to make atonement not just for our own actions but those of our relations.

Again, arguing the unfairness of this makes no difference. If you come from a family with a history of alcoholism and abuse or you live in an area where a factory dumped toxic sludge into a river there’s a mess to clean up, regardless of whose fault it was. You can live with it, you can wait for someone else to fix it or you can do it yourself – and if you want to live well your best bet is to just suck it up and get to work.

One of the incentives for resolving this personal and collective debt in life is that if you don’t you’ll end up dealing with it in death. Once we reach the other shore a long and arduous journey through a nightmarish realm awaits us. This journey is one of self-discovery where we will be confronted with all that we’ve done, all that is hidden within us, all that we fear and loathe about ourselves. The more baggage we carry over, the harder it is. There’s no guarantee of success. Many succumb to the snares and delusion of that place; it’s too much for them, and so they drink from the waters of forgetfulness and become witless, impotent shades thinking they will thereby escape – instead they become trapped, forced to relive it all over and over again. Only those who drink of memory, who know and fully accept who they are, find release.

We don’t have to undertake this journey alone. There are allies and guides and saviors in that other world – and we can meet them, and build a strong relationship with them here, while we are alive. Those beings are the gods, spirits and dead who comprise the Starry Bull pantheon – and the greatest of them all is Dionysos, for he has gone ahead of us into that dark land and prepared a place for his people. He has power to intercede on our behalf and to persuade the judges and rulers of the underworld. His love is ferocious and he will come for us, no matter how lost we get, how undeserving of that love we may feel ourselves. Ariadne is proof of that.

And that is why we do what we do as members of his thiasos. If you know that, you know all that you need to. Learn the rest – our myths, our history, our traditions, our ways of doing ritual – to enhance this, but know that it is not essential in the way that what I have just described is.

Now go forth and worship Dionysos and his retinue so that you may live well and die better.

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Yeah, I can see how Starry Bull cosmology might be a little intimidating for folks

I suppose, for accuracy, I should have said roots not elements, since Empedokles referred to these generative forces as rhizai (“roots”) or rhizômata (“root-clumps”) which is significant when you consider that according to Timaios after getting expelled from the Pythagorean brotherhood Empedokles began associating with rhizotomoi (“root-cutters”) or magicians who specialized in plants, a knowledge he boasted of in his treatise The Purifications.

What got me thinking of this wizard of philosophy this morning was reading a passage from Athenaios:

The word anestis is identical with nestis (“fasting”), by redundant use of a, like stachys and astachys (“ear of grain”). It is found in Kratinos: ‘Surely you are not the first uninvited guest to come to dinner hungry.’ (Deipnosophistai 47b)

I either forgot or never bothered to look up the derivation of Nestis. I’d always just accepted it as a euphemistic gloss for Persephone in her role as a nymph of waters à la Photios:

A Sicilian goddess mentioned by Alexis. (s.v. Nestis)

And Simplicius:

Empedocles mixes four parts of fire to make bones (perhaps saying they have more fire than any of the other elements because of their dryness and white color, and two of earth and one of air, one of water, which he calls both ‘Nestis’ and ‘gleaming’ – Nestis because of their fluidity, from naein ‘swimming’ and ‘flowing’; and ‘gleaming’ since they are transparent. (Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima 68.2-14)

So I checked a lexicon and discovered that, indeed, νῆστις means fasting:

From the inseparable negative particle ne- (not) and esthio (to consume); not eating, i.e. to abstain from food for religious reasons.

Which makes sense in light of the punishment that Demeter inflicted upon Sicily in her daughter’s absence:

Where the girl was she knew not, but reproached the whole wide world as ungrateful, not deserving her gift of grain – and Trinacria in chief, for this was where she had found the traces of her loss. So there with angry hands she broke the ploughs that turned the soil and sent to death alike the farmer and his labouring ox, and bade the fields betray their trust, and spoilt the seeds. False lay the island’s fertility, famous through all the world. The young crops died in the first blade, destroyed now by the rain too violent, now by the sun too strong. The stars and the winds assailed them; hungry birds gobbled the scattered seeds; thistles and twitch, unconquerable twitch, wore down the wheat. (Ovid, Metamorphoses 5. 475 ff )

This was also an element of one of Persephone’s most important festivals:

And whenever they are famished, they invoke the witticism that they are celebrating the middle day of the Thesmophoria. This day, the eleventh of Pyanepsion, was the Nesteia on which the women abstained from eating and remained at rest. (Scholion on Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazousae 80)

And as you see, the name is right there; since the Thesmophoria was a popular festival in Sicily (albeit celebrated with some slight variations from the Attic form we tend to be more familiar with) this is likely where Empedokles got it from.

Further corroboration is found in one of the few extant references to Nestis, an Orphic gold tablet from Thurii in Southern Italy, which I’ve found in two separate and very different translations.

Translation One:

To the First-Born, to Mother Earth, to Cybela, daughter of Demeter.
Zeus, Air, Sun. Fire conquers all.
Avatars of fortune and Phanes. Moirai that remember all. You, O illustrious daimon.
Father who subdues all. Compensation.
Air, Fire, Mother, Nestis, Night, Day.
Fasting for seven days. Zeus who sees all. Always. Mother, hear my prayer.
Fine sacrifices. Sacrifices. Demeter. Fire. Zeus. The Underground Girl.
Hero. Light to the intelligence. The Adviser seized the Girl.
Earth. Air. To the intelligence.

Translation Two:

To Earth, first-born Mother, Cybelean Kore said: … [lacuna] … of Demeter … all-seeing Zeus.
O Sun, Fire, you went through all towns, when you appeared with the Victories and Fortunes and All-wise Fate, where you increase the brightness of the festival with your lordship, O glorious deity! By you all things are subdued, all things overpowered, all things smitten! The Decrees of Fate must everywhere be endured. O Fire, lead me to the Mother, if the fast can endure, to fast for seven nights and days! For there was a seven-day fast, O Olympian Zeus and all-seeing Sun …

Based on this one might surmise that Empedokles would have associated Persephone with the rhiza of earth, but instead he makes her preside over water. Indeed this is the only association explicitly stated, leaving commenters both ancient and modern to puzzle out the rest.

I tend to agree with the solution that John Burnet proposed:

Now αἰθήρ certainly means Fire in Anaxagoras, as we shall see, but there is no doubt that in Empedokles it meant Air. It seems likely, then, that Knatz is right (“Empedoclea” in Schedae Philologicae Hermanno Usenero oblatae, 1891, pp. 1 sqq.) in holding that the bright Air of Empedokles was Zeus. This leaves Aidoneus to stand for Fire; and nothing could have been more natural for a Sicilian poet, with the volcanoes and hot springs of his native island in mind, than this identification. He refers to the fires that burn beneath the Earth himself (fr. 52). If that is so, we shall have to agree with the Homeric Allegorists that Hera is Earth; and surely φερέσβιος Ἥρα can be none other than “Mother Earth.” The epithet seems only to be used of earth and corn. (Early Greek philosophy, chapter 5)

As opposed to that of Hippolytus in the Refutation of All Heresies (1.33), though I like how Hippolytus links fasting and fluidity:

Jupiter is fire, and life-giving Juno earth, which produces fruits for the support of existence; and Aidoneus air, because although through him we behold all things, yet himself alone we do not see. But Nestis is water, for this is a sole vehicle of food, and thus becomes a cause of sustenance to all those that are being nourished; but this of itself is not able to afford nutriment to those that are being nourished. For if it did possess the power of affording nutriment, animal life, he says, could never be destroyed by famine, inasmuch as water is always superabundant in the world. For this reason he denominates Nestis water, because, though indirectly being a cause of nutriment, it is not of itself competent to afford nutriment to those things that are being nourished.

Persephone is associated with water and other fluids by more than just Empedokles, as John Opsopaus ably demonstrates:

Springs, wells and other sources of water from the earth were central to the Mysteries of Persephone, and the Eleusinian Mysteries grew up around a spring. This is because springs represent entrances to the Underworld, especially in Greece, where it is common for them to reenter the earth after flowing above ground for some distance. When Persephone was abducted, She was taken down the spring called Kuanê, which was said to have been created from the Maiden’s tears, and She is virtually identical with Kuanê, the nymph of that spring. Indeed, Persephone is Queen of the Nymphs, the daughters of Ocean who are the spirits of springs and streams. Similarly, Demeter, mourning Her lost daughter, created a spring from Her tears. (The equation of Water and divine tears is a distinctly Pythagorean idea, which will be considered later in connection with the Salt Sea.) Kuanos (blue) is the color of divine mourning and grief and is associated with the Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone, which are closely connected with Pythagoreanism and Empedoclean magic; Pythagoreans (especially women) were often the Priests and Priestesses in the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone. Therefore Kuanos is associated with Water and the Underworld.; it is also the color of Cocytus, the river of mourning and tears, which is opposite Pyriphlegethon, the river of fire in the Underworld, as Water is opposite Fire on the Elemental Square. (According to Damscius, each of the Four Rivers of the Underworld has an associated Element.) Water is also connected with the Milk of Immortality from Persephone’s Breasts, for in the Mysteries She is a Goddess of joyous rebirth as well as grievous dissolution. For example, on the Bacchic/Orphic gold tablets (Zuntz A1-3) from Thessaly (a region known for Witchcraft), which date back to the fifth century BCE, we read:

I have flown out of the Circle of Heavy Grief
and stepped swift-footed on the Circle of Joy.
I have made straight for the Breast of the Mistress, the Queen of the Underworld.
And now I come a suppliant to Holy Persephoneia,
that of Her Grace She send me to the Seats of the Hallowed.
Happy and Blessed One, thou shalt be God instead of mortal.
A Kid I have fallen into Milk.

An abundance of milk is a standard symbol in the Bacchic Mysteries, and milk is often involved in immortalization rites. Further, many enlightened individuals are described as consuming only milk.
The Water of Life is found near Persephone’s Tree. Pherecydes (6th. cent. BCE), a mentor of Pythagoras, told how Khthoniê (She Beneath the Earth – one of Persephone’s names) stretches upward as a self-supporting Winged Oak (Hupopteros Drus), with Her Roots in the Underworld, Her trunk climbing through the middle elements, Her crown in Heaven. At the base of the Tree, between Her Roots, is the Outflow (Ekroê), the Springs of Ambrosia (Krênai Ambrosiai), for the Waters of the Underworld flow out from Her Roots. The Winged Oak, round which the Robe of Earth is wrapped, draws into Her Roots the sap of life, the Waters of the Abyss, conveys it upward to Her crown, from which the golden Ambrosial Dew drips down like honey to feed immortal souls. (Indeed “Ambrosia” means “immortal.”) Before a soul can return to incarnation, it must approach one of these rivers and drink the Water of Life from it, for the Outflow of the Rivers is called the Semen of Life. Thus a fourth century BCE Orphic Gold Tablet (Zuntz B1) is inscribed:

Thou shalt find to the left of the House of Hades a Spring,
and by the side thereof standing a White Cypress.
To this Spring approach not near.
But thou shalt find another, from the Lake of Memory,
Cold Water flowing forth, and there are Guardians before it.
Say: “I am a child of Earth and Starry Heaven,
but my race is of Heaven alone. This Ye know Yourselves.
But I am parched with thirst and I perish. Give me quickly
the Cold Water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory.”
And of Themselves They will give thee to drink of the Holy Spring.
And thereafter among the other Heroes thou shalt have lordship.

The spring on the left is associated with Forgetfulness (Lêthê) and dissolution, the spring on the right with Memory and immortality. The revitalizing Tree of Life belongs to the Goddess and is guarded by the serpent Ophioneus (or Ophiôn) who dwells in the waters around Her roots. (We find this same theme in the serpent guarding the Apples of the Tree of the nymphs Hesperides, which is in the west, the region of death, near the World Axis where Atlas supports Heaven.)

Total aside, but this fragment from Pherekydes has always reminded me of that section from The Doors’ Celebration of the Lizard:

Some outlaws lived by the side of a lake
The minister’s daughter’s in love with the snake
Who lives in a well by the side of the road
Wake up, Girl, we’re almost home.

Is the Girl that wakes up the weaver Persephone or the spinner Ariadne? Depends on how much she drank.

Want to have your mind totally blown? There’s another place you can find mortal tears and αἰθήρ mixed. Tarentum.

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Unstable elements

τέσσαρα γὰρ πάντων ῥιζώματα πρῶτον ἄκουε· Ζεὺς ἀργὴς Ἥρη τε φερέσβιος ἠδ’ Ἀιδωνεύς Νῆστίς θ’, ἣ δακρύοις τέγγει κρούνωμα βρότειον.

Hear first the four roots of all things: shining Zeus, lifebringing Hera, Aidoneus and Nestis whose tear-drops are a well-spring to mortals.

Hear first the four roots of all things: bright Zeus and life-bringing Hera and Aidoneus and Nestis, whose tears are the source of mortal streams.

Hear first the four roots of all things: Shining Zeus and life-bringing Hera and Aidoneus and Nestis who with her tears moistens mortal Springs.

Now hear the fourfold Roots of everything: Enlivening Hera, Hades, shining Zeus, and Nestis, moistening mortal springs with tears.

Hear the first four roots of all things – shining Zeus and life-bringing Hera, Aidoneus and Nestis, who waters with her tears the mortal fountains.

And first the fourfold root of all things hear!— White gleaming Zeus, life-bringing Here, Dis, and Nestis whose tears bedew mortality.

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Touch the cow. Do it now.

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threads

Wanted to highlight a couple posts at the Boukoleon that may be of interest not just to Starry Bull members.

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Jack Faust discusses the Goes, a figure who parallels in many respects the Orpheotelest:

At the same time that the Greek city states were rising, and belief in the power of the dead was strengthened – possibly by contact with the Middle East and relevant beliefs in the dead in Mesopotamia and Egypt – local laws were enacted in a variety of regions which limited the performance of Goös and Threnos lamentations for the dead. While one could still travel to one of the major necromantic oracles (Acheron in Thesprotia, Avernus in Campania, Heracleia Pontica on the Black Sea, and Tainaron at the Mani peninsula), this capability was not possessed by all members of the city states, and this situation helped pave the way for a type of itinerant magical tradesman – the Goes – to travel the ancient world, offering both ecstatic rites to deal with potential problems resulting from the wrathful dead (bringing them into the Underworld, where they could find rest), and even to offer a variety of other magical services, such as cursing enemies, that often involved the very same spirits and the spirits and deities that ruled them.

And in a guest post by Adam, Dionysos is viewed through a tantric lens:

The personal Dionysus is connected to this practice. The Titans who tore Zagreus limb from limb are, as I see it, a representation of the Chod practitioner giving himself in offering to the demons in order to tame them. The practice serves two purposes: First, to embody compassion and generosity to such an extreme that all attachment to ego, to self, and to one’s own body, are transcended. Second, in so doing, to achieve total Enlightenment for one’s self. That means that for someone in Dionysus’ lineage, practicing tantric meditation using the energies the God has given them, that when the moment comes to obtain Liberation, it comes through a version of this practice. They are torn limb from limb, only to find that everything they thought they were was Emptiness. In other words, to the eyes of a tantric Buddhist practitioner, Dionysus brought Orpheus into Buddhahood.

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I am proud to be a member of the thiasos of the Starry Bull

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You guys consistently humble and inspire me with your awesomeness. Just today two members stepped forward with the following proposals.

Aridela Pantherina suggested a community divination exchange:

This would be different than those who feel proficient enough to offer their services on the Boukoleon or their own website in a more professional sense. Instead, this is more like a practice and feedback sort of thing for perhaps less urgent questions and concerns that we would like divination for. It would be really good for those of us who are trying to familiarize ourselves with new divination systems that resonate with the pantheon of the Starry Bull. (I brought up not too long ago that I discovered tarot no longer working for me, and there were a few others who said the same.) Reading for others is pretty invaluable to attuning to a system as well as trusting yourself. So depending on how you guys want to do it, we can just shout out on the Facebook group, “Hey I’m going to practice with such and such an oracle, does anyone have any questions?” Or the opposite, “I have a question, would anyone like to read for me?” Let me know what you think or if you all have any other suggestions to make this idea better.

And Narkaios Alepou brought up the idea of a prayer circle:

Hello my dear brothers and sisters! Sannion recently updated the Boukoleon with a special site for ongoing charities to which you can donate. It doesn’t matter how much as anything helps! I would like to propose something for those who can not chime in with a financial donation as of now, for whatever reasons: Pray! Pray to the gods and spirits of our pantheon! Let us pray together for the wellbeing of our beloved members and their kin. And to give it some oomph, let each of us (those who commit to this prayer-thread) light up a tea-light for every prayer posted in the comments-section of this thread. So if we have ten prayers, written by ten different members, we have the light of a hundred tealights (if my math is correct *lol*) to shed some warmth and blessings on our members in need. Feel free to add your prayers to the comments section.

This, folks, is how community is created.

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I want you

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To help make the thiasos even stronger we’re putting together three teams with the following objectives:

Black Team: Festival-keepers
Compile a festival calendar for 2015; write-ups and tips on how to celebrate each festival for the website; responsible for promoting/reminding people about upcoming festivals, including on the Facebook page and organizing themed chats.

White Team: Educators
Come up with introductory material for the thiasos; a lexicon; a recommended reading list; a guide to important concepts within the thiasos; blurbs for each of the gods and spirits; information on ritual and other practices; bring in guest lecturers; answer questions on Facebook.

Red team: Companions
Greet new members; help them get settled and find the information they need; check in with others, particularly if they seem to be going through a rough time; put together resources people can consult when in need; come up with fund-raisers, scholarships and other programs to assist members, particularly as we head into the Gathering; lead prayer-circles and weekly rituals to ask for blessings on members of the thiasos and success for the different teams.

At present we have four members of White Team, four members of Red Team and no members of Black Team. If you would like to volunteer for one of the teams please contact me at sannion@gmail.com. We’ll begin introductions and brainstorming tomorrow.

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Selections from the questionnaire

9. a) Where is there room for improvement?

I don’t consider all my needs to need to be mediated by a single community, honestly. A lot of my extraneous work with the dead would not need to be addressed by the Thiasos.

***

the rapid growth, changes, and revision are intimating. I’m at a point where I can’t personally keep up. It seems like there is an exclusive in-crowd which I’m totally not part of, but that’s okay. and at this point I’m not sure where improvement can be done without slowing it down too much or watering it down. so… I don’t know? I think I’d have to change my life in order for the thiasos to fit organically, rather than the thiasos to change for me, if that makes sense

***

As much as I dislike the idea of “organized religion,” I’d like to see a liiiiittle bit more structure. Maybe a suggested reading list and basic ritual structure, or something like that. Especially the reading list–noobs like me keep hearing about “the tablets from Sicily” and “Well, such-and-such person says that…” and I have no idea where anyone is getting this information. I have mostly learned from books like Vikki Bramshaw’s Dionysos: Exciter to Frenzy, Kerenyi’s Gods of the Greeks, and your won Ecstatic, and scattered blog posts–secondhand knowledge.

***

I think its too early to tell. We are gaining momentum and things are slowly getting organized. We could use some means of engaging those that join the facebook-group. Not all of them are active, no matter how much we try to tickle some interaction out of them.

***

Having like proto-thiasoi inside it, groups of people by region or by affinity of pantheon, instead of focusing in only one leader with hundreds of followers, I think some of them may be shy to get close to him. Or we could have the archiboulous in the facebook so we could get closer to him (are you there? I didn’t find your profile).

***

There is always room for improvement. I think our weakness is the overwhelming source material. For someone who is new to Polytheism, what we have is intimidating and confusing. Even for some who are experienced with Hellenic polytheism or other – the concepts might be new. I have been studying Orphism and related subjects in-depth for at least a year before joining, I’ve been practicing Hellenic polytheism for almost fifteen years. I feel I have a basic grasp of what we’re on about. Yet I still find it overwhelming. A suggestion I might be interested in pursuing, (which will be a lot of work) is putting our information of an wiki style website, with a simple layout and easy to edit articles and such.

***

The improvements I’ve seen in the last couple weeks are going the right direction. The only major thing I see is what’s already been said, about the tradition being a bit intimidating. I don’t think that’s all bad for it to seem a little intimidating. But at the same time, we wouldn’t want the fact that someone hasn’t read all the required reading to keep them from celebrating a festival, for example.

***

The chat rooms are very academic, I get lost, I phase in and out, seems like there is no 101, its assumed everyone knows everything

9. b) What are we getting right?

Festivals. Chats. Intergroup dialogue.

***

The facebook group, the weekly chats, and the Boukoleon website have all been very helpful.

***

The communal aspect is fairly strong, even with so few people. Especially communal revelation and shared gnosis. That’s what convinced me to give the Thiasos a strong look in the first place.

***

the people who are involved are an inspiration. they are doing super cool things. the information and the education is spectacular. seeing the enthusiasm of the community is wonderful =) I’d love to be part of this more

***

what I see is an organized way of practices; second, people is always discussing ways of doing it and sharing experiences, which I believe is essential; third because it takes on account more of our needs of contact with the underworld, that traditional/classical religion left aside.

***

Apart from you, someone I have read and respected for a very long time, I like the knowledge that other members have. The spiritual direction of the Thiasos is essentially something I’ve been leaning towards for a year or so before joining. Since being a member and participating in festivals and such I have experienced quite a few dreams that seem approving of what I’m doing. What I think we’re doing right is: 1. Honouring the gods. 2. Being awesome. 3. Having a very strong background, with source material, knowledge and experience. 4. So far, giving other members a voice and respect others suggestions and such. Just filling out this questionnaire is a good indicator to me.

***

Easy access (I think?), transparency, being non-exclusive at the akousmatikos stage. (I don’t see a need for non-exclusivity at higher stages; I just like that the akousmatikos stage exists.) Delegation of responsibility. Collective ownership.

***

The Boukoleon is awesome, and all the new changes there I’m really liking. Even the Facebook group I love, because as silly as social media usually is, it’s probably the closest thing we can get to a casual gathering place where people can get to know each other and easily discuss. I admire your form of leadership as well, I think it’s been very effective. It’s been a good balance of allowing members to contribute/seeing what unfolds and guiding/making decisions as needed.

***

We are enabling common experiences, which means, we all are on a common path down a shared road… which hopefully leads to our common goal… The fact we are able to say “we” is an achievment in itself!

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More bull from the archiboukolos

“We should enlist them into bands of perceivers to tour the labyrinth during their mysterious nocturnal appearances.” – Jim Morrison, prophet

There are now three requirements to be an akousmatikos of the thiasos of the Starry Bull.

1) You must honor the gods and spirits of the Starry Bull pantheon.
2) You must call yourself an akousmatikos.
3) You must have a labyrinth on your shrine.

The labyrinth is central to our mythology, our cosmology and our mysteries: as it brings those disparate threads together into a single, coherent tradition I would like it to do the same for our thiasos.

You need never be alone again.

Every time that your gaze falls upon that potent symbol reflect on the fact that there are dozens and dozens of others across the globe whose shrines bear the same mark. Perhaps, at that very moment, they, too, are making offerings and reciting prayers to the same gods and spirits that you are. Let your voice join with the chorus and echo through the halls of the double axe.

If you can’t find a proper labyrinth to adorn your shrine (Etsy has a bunch, or perhaps one of the talented artists in the thiasos would be interested in making some and selling them to members) you can print off a picture and frame it or make one yourself, either by drawing it on (in your own blood, if you want to make it a biohazard really potent) or out of string. Here’s a neat site with a variety of easy-to-replicate labyrinth designs.

Although it is only a requirement to have a labyrinth on your shrine I think it would be cool if a bunch of folks got labyrinth tattoos as well. I have one, because I’m cool.

This is the labyrinth I’ll be using on my communal thiasos shrine.

What? Ulterior motives? Sinister magical plot? That’s crazy talk! It’s not like I once orchestrated a flamewar about superheroes to tear open a hole in reality or anything.

This is totally about building community and not creating doors where there were none before.  Totally.

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You can make a difference

I’ve started a page on the Boukoleon to benefit thiasos members and their families. As the page states:

Community begins in relationship and specifically relationships of mutual support. Many thiasoi in antiquity collected dues so that they would have funds available to assist members in times of illness, need and crisis as well as providing for their burial rites. The thiasos of the Starry Bull, at present, does not collect member dues but folks are strongly encouraged to donate to the fund-raising campaigns listed here which benefit members and their families. All charitable work must begin at home and this is a way for us to support our own. Together we can make a huge difference in the lives of individuals. So please give and give often. Every little bit helps.

If you’re a member, please give. If you like what we’re doing, please give. If you’re getting divination or spiritual work done from me, please give.

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ευανγελιον

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A Greek of mean condition came, first, into Etruria, not with one of the many trades which his nation, of all others the most skillful in the cultivation of the mind and body, has introduced among us, but a low operator in sacrifices, and a soothsayer; nor was he one who, by open religious rites, and by publicly professing his calling and teaching, imbued the minds of his followers with terror, but a priest of secret and nocturnal rites. These mysterious rites were, at first, imparted to a few, but afterwards communicated to great numbers, both men and women. (Livy, History of Rome 34.8ff)

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Meet me in Tonopoh?

I’ve found the perfect location for our thiasos gathering! Greg Newkirk writes:

Once a booming, goldmining hotspot with a population of over 50,000, Tonopah now houses just around 2,500 people, most of whom work for the local military test range. As the town numbers dwindled, Tonopah became less of a must-stop and more of a pit-stop, a place travelers would find themselves in the middle of the night, not wanting to drive another 70 miles to the nearest town. Imagine, if you will, being that weary traveler, rolling into town at midnight to discover that the only vacancy in town is within the confines of the Clown Motel. Dear God.

Not only is the lobby filled with hundreds of menacing clowns, but each and every room is clown themed as well. On each of the walls are hung portraits of famous clowns, from Bozo to Pagliacci, their soulless eyes intent on watching your every move from their faux-gold frames.

As if it couldn’t be any more horrifying, The Clown Motel shares a lot with a cemetery full of gold miners who died from a plague. I’m talking right next door. It’s like From Dusk ‘Til Dawn conspired with Steven King’s IT to create a real-life horror film.

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