the blood of a tree

Over at reddit /pagan a bunch of people are arguing about maple syrup.

I can’t tell if that is some fucking brilliant dadaesque satire of the community or if that’s legitimately how bad things have gotten.

Either way it’s rather entertaining to watch.

Hail to you Sirens, on this your day!

siren

Euripides, Helen 167
Helen of Troy: Winged maidens, virgin daughters of Gaia, the Sirens, may you come to my mourning with Libyan flute or pipe or lyre, tears to match my plaintive woes; grief for grief and mournful chant for chant, may Persephone send choirs of death in harmony with my lamentation, so that she may receive as thanks from me, in addition to my tears, a paean for the departed dead beneath her gloomy roof.

To learn more about the Sirens and their role within the Starry Bull tradition, click here.

community requires personal investment

In case you’re curious this is one of the devotional projects I alluded to here and here. In order to keep the price manageable for folks since I know far too many are struggling financially I want to cover the cost of design and printing for these festival calendars and booklets and if folks wanted to pitch in, that’d be most appreciated. In addition to the above options – which won’t be starting until October – you may take advantage of the services I offer or make a donation through Paypal. Every little bit helps, and will be going towards this project.

The Year of the Black Sun

177980

The secret cabal of mystai who determine matters pertaining to the public expression of the Starry Bull tradition have come up with a festival calendar for 2017 e.v. and over the next couple months we’re going to put together resources (background info, ritual outlines, offerings, songs, recipes, games, devotional activities, etc) to make it easier for folks to celebrate from home, especially solitaries. Once this is complete – hopefully around December – we’ll release it as a booklet and wall calendar, with any proceeds going towards a future Starry Bull gathering. If you would like to contribute to this project contact me at sannion@gmail.com and I’ll begin assigning tasks. You do not have to be formally affiliated with the Starry Bull tradition to contribute to this venture.

Where the tradition part of the Starry Bull tradition comes in

We in the Starry Bull tradition are especially blessed when it comes to historical and literary documentation. For instance, you can choose between the Spartan, Italian, post-Classical and Northern European Dionysos – to say nothing of his Cretan and Egyptian forms which have profoundly shaped our conception of him – a fact that is astounding when you consider what little contemporary Heathens, Slavs and Celts have to base their reconstructions on.

How did this come about?

Part of this is the result of 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 Etruscan and 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 to eighth centuries 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 and philosophical 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 the Starry Bull tradition is very selective and focuses primarily 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 the cult produced and were later 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 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 – something others have picked up.

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 we do 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.

“It is overfull. No more will go in!”

This is why if you would come into the presence of the holy you must divest yourself of the modern.

Or as Paul Reps relates in Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings:

A Cup of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Amusingly, in some versions of the anecdote I’ve read the monk’s name was San-in.

Resist!

John Beckett, writing on the mainstreaming of neopaganism, observes that:

… like the Methodists, we draw our members from the mainstream culture. And so like the Methodists (and pretty much every mainstream religion), Pagans and polytheists have “a worldview and self-understanding shaped far more by their social context than by their religious community.”

And to my mind, that’s a big part of what’s wrong with communities such as his.

Just because an idea is given popular expression in a society does not make it right or true. There was a time when everyone knew the world was flat, that black people were worth 3/5ths of white people, that a woman’s uterus was a little creature that traveled through her body and made her crazy when it tried to gnaw it’s way out. Hell, some people even believed Marxism was a viable political option.

History tested these hypotheses and found them wanting. As with so much, the old ways proved superior to the modern.

Religions must be founded on principles simultaneously higher and lower than the mere whims of a populace. Higher so that it may see beyond the ignorances and biases of an age; lower so that it will connect a people with the vital forces of life and endure the fickle winds of fashion and fancy that periodically stir people up then flit off to terra incognito, leaving no lasting change behind.

We are so infatuated with our progress – like an infant clutching and cooing over its shiny new toy – that we never stop to consider what we’re progressing towards, or using that toy for. It’s like Adolf Hitler says in Er Ist Wieder Da:

The television in my hotel … is this thin. A marvel of human ingenuity. But what is shown on that television? Just trash. When times are bad, people need light entertainment. That’s why, in 1944, we broadcast light comedies. But how bad can times get for the people to be bombarded with such idiotic nonsense! We are racing toward the abyss. But we don’t see it, because on TV … you cannot see the abyss. You see … a cooking show.

Or as Plato said in the Republic:

The introduction of novel fashions in music is a thing to beware of as endangering the whole fabric of society, whose most important conventions are unsettled by any revolutions in that quarter.

And also did not say:

Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.

Religion, like music and all proper art, should challenge you, not just reinforce your trendy notions and social conditioning, especially since those are so clearly being manipulated by the media.

Within the Starry Bull tradition the fundamental question is, “Who are you?”

Three deceptively simple words that cut deeper than you can imagine.

Once you’ve left behind all of your worldly possessions – including your corpse – and meet the sentries on the other side, how will you answer? What kind of person will your actions reveal you to have been? Do you think they’ll care what fandoms you belonged to, how many earnest memes you retweeted, what party you voted for in the last election, if you had the latest iPhone and properly separated your bottles and cardboard in the recycle bin? That you were a “good” person?

These things matter within the social sphere – well, some of them at least – but that is just the smallest part of what makes us who we are, let alone makes up our world or the other worlds which exist beyond common perception.

And that is why we must resist incursion, as both Ian Corrigan:

Our Druidry (ADF) has mainly been politically quiet about our predominantly left-of-center ethos. No political litmus test is applied for membership, and we do have members who probably vote Republican, or whatever. We would feel like unAmerican scum if we policed such a thing, I suppose. Groves are encouraged to do ‘community service’ which may be anything from food-banks to stream-cleans to donating to causes. The volunteer top-end board has generally been busy running as fast as they can to keep up with an org with 70+ local chapters, etc. Recently there has been a call for the organization at large to begin responding to current-events causes. Our core documents make our progressive positions on environment, race and gender inclusion explicit. The call for immediate responses to this week’s news caused a bit of a dust-up.

Modern social-justice advocates took stands in favor of the org becoming a public supporter at least through statements and teaching. Those who found reason to dispute the positions of this specific effort or that organization took issue. Most notably, a seeming majority of respondents (whatever their wing) simply wanted their spiritual organization to focus on the work of spirituality, and did not see social-justice advocacy as part of that focus. It’s interesting to me that this week’s discussions have produced anger in both progressive *and* conservative members. We are, in fact, a politically diverse group.

I take some comfort, even pride, in knowing that the org values tolerance of diverse ideas more than any specific cause or socio-political position. To me there is a primary ethic of the sacrifice-ground – that tribal and personal enmities be set aside for the sake of the Blessing. Despite my own concern for social issues such as racism, sexism and environmental protection I am willing to share the sacred fire with those who feel differently than I about the nature of and solution to those problems.

And John Michael Greer point out:

Regular readers will recall a post in April about the emergence of a witch hunt in the Neopagan scene. I’m pleased to say that the post came to the attention of the wannabe witch hunter, Rhyd Wildermuth, who posted an entertaining screed insisting that it was absurd to talk about witch hunts when he hadn’t yet managed to get anyone burned at the stake.

He needs to work on his sense of timing, though. His screed appeared while one of his allies had a rant on the Neopagan web calling for a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence—that is to say, a witch hunt—against people in the Pagan community whose politics she didn’t like. (It’s been taken down and put back up at least once already, but you can find a screen capture here.) Connoisseurs of historical ignorance will find much to ponder in Wildermuth’s risible claim that violence is only ever committed by leadership figures against the masses, never the other way around. Admittedly, if you’re a demagogue trying to whip up mob violence against people you hate, it’s probably a good plan to go around insisting that mob violence doesn’t exist; given the abysmal state of education these days, you might even be able to get away with it.

In the meantime, as this sorry business lurches toward its destiny and we wait to see whether it will drag the entire mainstream Neopagan scene down with it, there are more interesting things to talk about. One of them, as noted above, is the role of meditation in magical training.

These people want to strip the sacred of any meaning and authority, so that their concerns are paramount and all else forgot or actively opposed. It’s not enough that they monopolize the agora and the streets; they won’t be content until they control the temples as well, until all are one and live, think, pray exactly like them.

But they will never succeed.

Better than them have tried:

Ultimately, the Bacchanalian affair is a collision of two types of religiosity, the political religiosity of the public cult and the orgiastic and apolitical religiosity of the Bacchic underground. Both types are based on particular religious experiences, the experience of gods preserving and fostering the political community and the experience of a god promoting the fulfillment of bodily desires. As the essay shows at the example of Euripides’ Bacchae, the worship of Bacchus-Dionysus had always represented the apolitical dimension of human existence; already in the ancient myths the “alien god” figures as the opponent of rulers and politicians.

Our traditions have resisted two thousand years of aggressive proselytizing, forced conversions and cultural assimilation, and continue to as this report by Samuel Awyinfa attests:

A pastor, identified as Wale Fagbere, became motionless while trying to destroy a shrine in Ketu, a community in Ayetoro, Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State. Our correspondent gathered that the pastor whose church could not be ascertained as of the time of filing this report reportedly became motionless and speechless after he had allegedly destroyed some shrines in the town. It was gathered that the cleric was reported to have told his congregation that he had a revelation to destroy all the shrines in Ketu community. After being found transfixed in the shrine, residents of the area raised the alarm, following which custodians of the shrines came to the place. The priests insisted that they had to perform some rites before the cleric could regain his sense. The rites were performed following the intervention of Alaye of Ayetoro, Oba Abdulaziz Adelakun, who appealed to the priests to ‘release’ him. The state acting Police Public Relations Officer, Abimbola Oyeyemi, confirmed the incident, adding that the cleric might be charged for “sacrilege and malicious damage.”

Our strength lies in our diversity. There can be no true diversity without a recognition of the inherent right of all peoples to exist, to be different and to live according to the ways and values they choose, perhaps especially when we do not agree with them, and to defend themselves as needed.