On Orpheotelestai and other matters

This was originally a response to a post that appeared on Patheos, Wild Hunt or some similar site claiming that Paganism in both its ancient and modern forms lacked hierarchy, a set of sacred texts, was focused on life here rather than some posthumous existence, and so forth. None of which applies to my tradition, which is one of many (many, many) reasons why I long ago stopped using the Pagan identifier. If you’d like to learn more about Orphism I recommend checking out some of the links here.

The power of Orpheotelestai came from their knowledge, experience and discernment in matters of religion and was further predicated on a natural hierarchy – if the average person could solve their own physical or psychological maladies they naturally wouldn’t have any need for such specialists. The Orpheotelest, on the other hand, was able to diagnose their client’s problems and assign the proper prayers, taboos, ritual procedures, etc. that would bring about purification and release, often by pacifying furious spirits through music, dance and feasting. The more that they could impress their clients with their mastery of arcane lore, ability to discern the will of the divinities and get results with their theatrics the higher the price they could command for their services. Failures didn’t remain in the profession long and rarely escaped with their lives.

So, in other words, my whole tradition is predicated on there being a right and a wrong way to do religion. Circumstances call for specific powers to be engaged with in a specific way in order to get specific results and if any of those details are wrong or left out there can be pretty serious consequences – and not just for the one overseeing the rites. For instance a common feature in the Bacchic and Orphic cults was a form of exorcism where the patient was put in a trance state and then exposed to music, colors and objects that would induce frenzied motion in the body resulting in cathartic ecstasy. The principle of sympathia governed these rites so that each of its elements were carefully chosen in order to bring the person into alignment with the proper power. Dissonance could cause the power in them to become agitated, angry and violent resulting in harm being done to the patient. That said, I fully support a person’s right to be wrong, particularly in this age of massive overpopulation.

One of the things that distinguished Orphikoi from the general population of ancient Greece was that theirs was a text-based religion with a strong emphasis on memorizing and internalizing hieroi logoi or holy words. Indeed, this association was so strong that anyone inordinately fond of books was immediately suspected of having Orphic sympathies. Of course since this was a tradition of ecstatic possession and there was no universal Orphic church to exercise control over doctrinal matters a lot of different groups and individuals developed the Orphic tradition in novel ways, sometimes to the point where the only commonality between a pair of texts is that they claim some connection to the figure of Orpheus. While Orphics may not all have agreed on the contents of their master’s teachings, all felt that they were deeply important, to the point that many inscribed their texts on sheets of gold which they carried on their persons like protective amulets and had them buried with them when they went beneath the earth. These texts were meant to help the Orphic call to mind the initiations they had received, giving them foreknowledge of what awaited them in the underworld and how to overcome the adversaries and lords of judgment they would encounter there. It further reminded them of who they were, what their relationship to Dionysos was and the song to sing to release the poinê of Persephone.

Without faith in your Guide it’s very easy to get lost in the Labyrinth.

For the Bacchic Orphic the telos is everything. We look forward to an eternity of fucking and feasting and frenzy with our God and his Furious Host and everything we do here is to prepare us for that. So while there is no negation of this world and carnal existence – indeed we’re to soak up as much of it as we can in order to bring its vitality over there with us – at the same time priority is definitely given to the otherworldly in our tradition.  Our pantheon pretty much consists of chthonic Gods, Nymphai, Daimones, Heroes and the ancestors so if you are afraid of death this is definitely not the religion for you.

Of course, the ancient Orphics believed that anyone who wasn’t initiated into the mysteries would spend their posthumous existence buried in shit, endlessly remembering the worst and most shameful moments of their life.

Everyone is confronted with a choice below – do you drink from the spring of Memory or Forgetfulness? The mysteries teach you to live life well, so you regret nothing, so that you’re not afraid to remember who you are. It’s those who are seeking escape that are forced to relive their lives. You’re only free when you stop running from yourself.  That’s why you say to the guardians, “My name is Asterios.”

14 thoughts on “On Orpheotelestai and other matters

    1. Yeah. It excludes all of the jackasses that basically just want this to be an excuse to geek out about history or mythology (and sometimes they don’t even have an interest in those…)

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  1. Without faith in your Guide it’s very easy to get lost in the Labyrinth. — I will have to ponder that more.

    As for the ignorance of modern Neo-Pagans, let us just say that they are infected with the religion of modernity, of deconstructionism, of chronobias (i.e. viewing everything from your particular time in history.). Also, some seem to be in rebellion against authority (i.e. teenagers).

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    1. Thanks. That’s one of the things I really want to focus on in the new year – the nuts and bolts of being an Orpheotelest, rather than the more abstract and theoretical, or arguing with stupid people online.

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  2. Always grateful for more information on Orpheotelestai & to the Otherworldly realm that awaits the true devotee.


    1. Feel free to ask any questions you might have; I’m always looking for writing prompts and ways to keep things interesting here at the House of Vines.


  3. I more and more strongly suspect some of the early Christian writers were secretly Orpheotelests. So many of the narrative beats feel Greek, too- though that could just be from cosmopolitanism.


    1. Oh definitely. A number of early Gnostic and heretical Christian groups outright claimed Orphic lineage; others were clearly inspired by them, or traveled in the same social circles. Hell, even Jews wrote Orphic Pseudoepigraphica. Boundaries weren’t as firm back then, as they would later become.

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    1. Yeah, I wish I’d kept track of the OP, but I just had my response in my files. Oh well, it’s probably for the best as they don’t deserve the attention.


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