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.