I received an e-mail from a member of the thiasos of the Starry Bull asking a lot of great questions, beginning with whether it’s permissible to adapt the schedule of holy days (since the week begins on Monday where she lives) or if people are required to adhere to the system I set down.
A lot of countries start their week on Monday, so that wasn’t the only factor when I came up with the associations I did but in the end it isn’t the symbolism that’s most important but rather honoring all of these beings as a collective and having constant engagement with them. So as long as you don’t mind being slightly out of step with the rest of the group it’s fine to come up with your own variations on this. Indeed, everything at the akousmatikos level is voluntary and folks are encouraged to find what works best for them. There are no restrictions or requirements except that you consider yourself someone who is listening to holy stories and wants to worship the gods and spirits that appear in them.
There was no universal Orphic church in antiquity – this is a tradition that was propagated by charismatic itinerant religious specialists and the small groups that sometimes formed around them. So you not only find the usual regional variations of thiasoi and oregeones but the teachings and practices tended to be individually tailored resulting in a confusing jumble when examined in toto. That’s one of the reasons that this tradition is called Bacchic Orphism – it places special emphasis on Dionysos, as he is the principal deity of our pantheon, and it distinguishes us from other forms of Orphism such as the branches that are more strongly influenced by Apollonian and Pythagorean currents. There’s some cross-pollination going on (especially where Empedokles is concerned) but it’s modified by our pronounced chthonic focus and the indigenous Italian and Sicilian traditions we draw upon.
That said, I am not opposed to people taking elements of this tradition and adapting them for their own use, especially if such adaptation is done to bring it more into line with one’s local climate, geography and agricultural cycles. That is an essential component in honoring Dionysos and the nymphai properly in my estimation.
Likewise, this is a non-exclusive tradition – as long as you honor the core pantheon you are free to include any other deities or spirits you want. The reason that these beings are given a privileged position in the tradition are because they are the ones who were most directly involved in my initiatory process and therefore what lineage I possess comes through them making them the foundation of this tradition. But there are plenty of others who fulfill important functions in our rites and mythology – just off the top of my head I’d add Zeus, Kronos, Eros, Priapos, Apollon, Helios, Athene, Artemis, Hera, Rheia, Cybele, Demeter, Baubo, the Korybantes, Kouretes and Dactyloi, Nyx and assorted other Greek, Thracian, Italian, Cretan and Egyptian divinities.
Further, at the akousmatikos stage you are free to employ whatever methods of worship you feel called to. Nor am I the only one qualified to come up with rites and poetry for this tradition – indeed, everyone is most heartily encouraged to create, experiment, adapt and share what works for them. This is a very new and open tradition and everyone involved has a hand in shaping it.
At the akousmatikos stage.
If one wishes to become a boukolos (and there’s no reason why one has to; there is great honor in being a devoted layperson) then they must contact me after six months of working within this tradition and express a desire to receive personal instruction. Once I have a sense of whether they are ready for this through conversation and divination I will begin training and imparting practices to them. Once they have demonstrated their proficiency in these to my satisfaction I will ordain them to act as a boukolos of the thiasos. As I am the lineage-bearer of this tradition, all progression is through me but if one isn’t interested in that or in receiving initiation into our tradition’s mysteries (for which the boukolos stage is preparation) then one doesn’t have to do this.
I have stated previously that meeting with me is a requirement to become a boukolos so that I can get a sense of you in person and inspect your performance of ritual but if there are extenuating circumstances (such as inability to travel because of poverty or disability or your residence in another country) I will consider alternatives. Some things, however, simply cannot be imparted except face to face – in particular our mysteries.