Syncretism and the Starry Bear

I was asked where the Starry Bear proto-tradition fits in the polytheist continuum. (I.e. are we syncretic, eclectic, dual hearth, etc.) 

To begin with, syncretism can take a number of different forms. 

First, and perhaps best known, is the one-for-one identification or interpretatio model, which usually means that a deity is thought to have direct cognates in other cultures. Thus, for instance, Hermes is Mercury among the Romans, Thoth among the Egyptians, Wotan among the Germans, Nabu among the Babylonians and so forth. This may apply to individual Gods or entire pantheons; it may also be limited (only relevant to cultures that had contact in antiquity) or universal (all pantheons are fair game.)

A separate form of syncretism is sometimes called theocrasia, or the blending of Gods. What this means is that the two (or more) deities are regarded as distinct entities who for whatever reason have temporarily combined. This may be through the sharing of powers, attributes, functions, iconography, etc. or their actual fusion (which can sometimes result in the production of a third entity.) We see the first in Hera’s  borrowing the girdle of Aphrodite to seduce her husband and the second in the equations Hermes + Anubis = Hermanubis and Osiris + Apis = Serapis. 

On the level of praxis there are also several options for the devotee. They can take a dual hearth approach, which basically means practicing two (or more) religions simultaneously. Clear boundaries are maintained, not only with the identities of the Gods but with the beliefs, ritual styles, and other traditional and cultural elements associated with them. 

Then there is what I call Next Gen or Reconstructionism 2.0. Rather than incorporate elements from the totality of a religious culture (Hellenismos from Hesiod to Olympiodoros or Ásatrú that borrows liberally from all parts of the Germanic world, from the Neolithic through Post-Conversion) these people tend to focus on a specific region and time period – for instance Iberian Heathenry or the cosmopolitan polytheism of Alexandria under the Ptolemies. Since the ancients traveled around a great deal due to war, trade, migration, environmental and ecological changes, etc. (bringing their divinities and traditions with them) this kind of specificity can result in honoring deities from a number of different pantheons. What generally (though not always) separates them from the others is that this is done under a single devotional framework or system, rather than distinct rites for this, that and the other deities. 

Finally there are the eclectics. Some people would be terribly offended at their inclusion in a discussion of syncretic taxonomy, but this is the internet so there’s always something someone will take offense at. In my experience eclectics tend to fall into two rough categories: the corvids, and the pragmatists.

The motto of the corvids is “Oooh, shiny! Must have.” And there is usually very little thought put into it beyond that, certainly not in the realms of theology, systematics, the rigours of practice, harmonious blending of traditions, cultural appropriation, etc. (The less said about them the better.) 

The pragmatists on the other hand are usually polytheists of one stripe or another who during the course of their devotional life have had encounters with divinities outside their normal sphere and continue to maintain cultus for them or who were told by their deities to take up foreign practices either because cognates within their tradition once existed but have been lost or because there aren’t any but it’s still useful spiritual tech. If one does this long enough their shrine space can end up looking like a model U. N. – but you can’t really infer anything about their theology or praxis from this, as they may adopt any of the methodologies described above, or something else entirely. Likewise, you shouldn’t assume you know how sincere, respectful, dedicated, etc. they are simply because they fall into the eclectic category. 

Now, the Starry Bear proto-tradition doesn’t fully fall into any of these categories, though it incorporates elements from several of them. The reasons for this are many. 

To begin with “Starry Bear” is the scaffolding around and connecting several distinct cults. We recognize an immense plurality of Gods and Spirits, as well as a cosmology that encompasses multiple worlds, timelines and realities. Myth we consider an imperfect record of the activities and relationships of these divinities (which can form families, tribes, kingdoms, etc.) and are useful for conveying information about them, especially as regards their personalities, powers, attributes, functions, iconography, etc. Some, like Dionysos or Óðinn, are widely traveled and have interacted with members of diverse pantheons (including those of other worlds) whether these stories have come down to us directly through the surviving literature, in distorted versions and folklore, or not at all. However, since all of this is ultimately the product of human minds and hands (regardless of the level of divine inspiration involved) these myths must be taken with a grain of salt. (And sometimes a whole shaker.) They are not truth, but rather point the way to it. Nevertheless this shared mythology distinguishes us from, say, Hellenismos and the various Heathenries. 

Likewise the fact that we do not limit ourselves to a single culture or time period. There are Greek elements, and North Italian elements, and Skythian elements, and Germanic elements, and Slavic elements, and Baltic elements and even some folk Christian and pop culture elements. We do not cast our nets wide in the hope of catching just anything; rather each of these elements have something about them that is recognizably “Starry Bear” and once identified we try to piece it all together like a puzzle whose finished picture has been lost. Unless they have some necessary connection to the piece we are not terribly concerned about the rest of the elements and would never attempt to lay claim to the cultures and their heritage. 

We don’t need to because in addition to the various Starry Bear cults we are in the process of laying the foundations for our own tribal society with distinctive beliefs, customs and laws by which we will live once we have established our own intentional communes. While rooted in the wisdom of the ancients, this will be something tailored to our needs and lived experiences in the here and now rather than a pale and imperfect replica of what once existed. 

It is my belief that cults need to come before communities, and since Dionysos is my primary deity I am focusing on uncovering everything I can about his time as Óðr and the traditions and practices associated with veneration of him in this form, which I’ve talked about here. That vision does not represent the totality of the Starry Bear, nor what others who are involved in this process (such as my wife Galina Krasskova) are doing – let alone myself. The cult of Dionysos-Óðr is just one project I’m working on. For instance there is also the Bakcheion, which is Starry Bull rather than Starry Bear and thus incorporates Cretan, Egyptian, Southern Italian and elements from Asia Minor; plus there is a third cult that is devoted to the Black Sun mysteries within Bacchic Orphism. And that’s just the Dionysian stuff!

So, as you can see we don’t really fit into the standard boxes and definitions. We’re kind of out here in the Hudson Valley, doing our own thing. Once we’ve developed it to the point that it’s a tradition rather than proto-tradition we’ll welcome others into it, provided they meet the strict requirements to be part of our lineaged initiatory systems and tribal society – something else that tends to separate us from other groups. 

3 thoughts on “Syncretism and the Starry Bear

  1. “…Likewise, you shouldn’t assume you know how sincere, respectful, dedicated, etc. they are simply because they fall into the eclectic category. ..”

    Well said, thank you.


  2. Interesting taxonomy. I would be interested in learning more about how you go about the process of a new cultus.

    Other worlds – do you mean other planets or other dimensions or both? I have often pondered the other planets and their Gods. Have you ever read the “Gods Are Dead” comic book series. It ends up with a being from another dimension who comes into this one. Her dimension has no Gods.


    1. Well, in Homer you have Olympos, Elysium, Haides, Tartaros, the Kingdom of Dream, Earth, Okeanos, etc.

      In The EI at Delphoi Plutarch proposes that there are at least five universes, and possibly more, each of which is dominated by one of the primordial elements.

      Likewise in Norse cosmology there are Nine Worlds, each of which is home to a different race:

      Midgard, the world of humanity
      Asgard, the world of the Aesir tribe of gods and goddesses
      Vanaheim, the world of the Vanir tribe of gods and goddesses
      Jotunheim, the world of the giants
      Niflheim, the primordial world of ice
      Muspelheim, the primordial world of fire
      Alfheim, the world of the elves
      Nidavellir/Svartalfheim, the world of the dwarves
      Hel, the world of the eponymous goddess Hel and the dead

      Further I believe that there are worlds similar to ours, but with slight divergences (like the Allies won WWII instead of the Axis Powers or Michael Jackson never joined the Beatles) and worlds vastly different from anything we can perceive or comprehend.

      I believe that we can visit many of these other worlds, dimensions, realities, etc. through structures like the World Tree or the Labyrinth.

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