Author: thehouseofvines

This again?

I address myself to the malingerers of Tumblr;

I’m not sure why you fixate upon me (especially since I haven’t been active in the community or even in maintaining this blog for a while) and feel the need to spread distortions and lies to boot, but you do, so here I am to address them. (Admit it, you miss me and this is some sick attempt to get my attention. Well, it worked. Hope you’re happy.)

To begin with, have the decency to respect my labels. I am far-right, with no political affiliation – not Fascist, let alone Nazi. Clearly you follow my blog closely enough to have seen the multiple times I’ve carefully explained the differences. Your persistence in using such scare terms is not only dishonest and libelous but as rude as continuing to address a trans person by the gender they were born into after they’ve told you their preference. It’s bad form, and you should stop it.   

I have never tried to hide the fact that Rhyd Wildermuth was once a friend. 

If you don’t believe the world is ending please notify that poor Greta Thunberg child, because she seems really upset about the prospect.

Incidentally, I don’t either. It is possible to experience παλιγγενεσία or rebirth without a literal death. Metaphorical is a whole other story. 

Also, you should probably wait until all 13 books in my poetic cycle are complete before critiquing their apocalypticism. Potential spoiler, but I have a great fondness for M. Night Shyamalan style twists. 

You may mock my belief that Dionysos will one day be the Successor of Zeus, but it’s straight out of the Rhapsodic Theogony, according to Otto Kern’s Orphicorum Fragmenta:

Proklos. Zeus the Father ruled all things, but Bakchos ruled after him.

Dionysos will lead the New Pantheon from Nysa or the reclaimed Tower of Kronos, not our cult compound. I am unsure where you got that from, as I’ve never suggested anything like it. 

And yes, our community will defend itself. Would you belong to one that didn’t?

I have never been forced out of any group. 

Hellenion – stepped down from elected position in protest over restrictive bylaws (which I felt stifled the formation of dêmoi) and how a situation involving the sitting president was handled. (The guy had converted to Episcopalianism and thought it was still okay for him to run a Hellenic polytheist organization. Unfortunately, so did several other prominent board members.)

Neokoroi – left to explore Kemeticism and eventually Greco-Egyptian polytheism. 

Neos Alexandria – left to focus on local-focus polytheism and eventually Bacchic Orphism; also disappointed that the group seemed to care more about publishing books than worshiping the Gods, and I had disagreements with the editorial staff and one of our authors to boot. (Note I have nothing but respect for Rebecca and what her team have subsequently accomplished, and she was not part of the dispute.)

Thiasos of the Starry Bull – unwilling to budge on the position of animal sacrifice within the tradition I stepped down as Archiboukolos when this became hotly debated. I remained in an advisory role to the council I appointed to govern the group in my stead until they decided to shut things down a year or two later. 

Bacchic Underground – left over personal disputes and a dislike for the culture that was developing there. 

I have warned of the deleterious effects of prolonged exposure to social media; indeed, I have probably not been critical enough of it. But you go ahead and defend the shenanigans of Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of their technocrat ilk as well as continue to use their services. (Pro tip: if you aren’t paying, you and your private information are the product.) 

However, I have not and would never demean someone for their occupation. “There is no shame in labor, only in idleness,” as Hesiod once quipped. That said, I have argued that our values and ethics should shape all parts of our lives as polytheists, including employment. You will note that I do not state how that should play out, as it’s up to the individual to make such determinations for themselves. I probably wouldn’t think much of a polytheist who ran a corporation that polluted our waterways, or produced child pornography, or published an Antifa ‘zine but then I suspect they wouldn’t be terribly fond of me either. 

I do not “make a living” off of selling books and classes, and I wager most of the folks in Neopaganism, Polytheism, Heathenry and Occultism don’t either. What little I earn through these ventures is usually funneled back into the community, as I have helped multiple people attend conferences and retreats over the years by paying for their transportation, food and related expenses (and also helping out during emergency situations) or used it to host public rituals or fund other devotional projects. When I’m not engaged in such activities I use it for offerings and shrine supplies, purchasing from polytheist artisans when I can.

But, even if I was … – and? Since when is using one’s intelligence and creativity to support oneself a bad thing? Do you believe that writers, artists, teachers, etc. should be compelled to give their services away without just compensation? That’s called slavery, something I thought your kind were supposed to be against.    

This is my blog. I will promote whatever groups or projects I please here, especially my own. If you don’t like it, don’t read me. I don’t venture forth into any other part of the internet to “spam them” – and if you believe otherwise you are delusional or being deceived, and quite possibly both.  

The Year One calendar for the Bakcheion never got off the ground; it would have taken conventional American holidays and grounded them in Bacchic ritual, myth and milieu as a way to probe their deeper meaning. The aition for “Valentine’s Day” was chosen precisely because it was such a problematic story. It raises questions about sacrifice, love, obsession, loyalty, ethics and the place of the Gods in all of this. Wrestling with such matters – and avoiding easy, pat answers – seems a more worthwhile way to spend the day than accumulating cards, flowers, chocolates and other commercialized tokens of affection or worse, wallowing in despair and self-loathing because you don’t.  I apologize if you did not understand that. Clearly the American Canadian educational system has failed you. 

Now, is there anything else you wanted to know? 

Sorrows of the Maiden

A serious study of myth can be a maddening thing, especially when it comes to making sense of the variant threads in the ancient tales that have been passed down to us concerning the Goddess Kore-Persephone. I have seen a fair number of people express bewildered frustration over their inability to reconcile the standard Homeric sequence of events with what we find alluded to in the poetry of Orpheus. They assert that in the famous Hymn to Demeter that provides the mythological basis for the Eleusinian Mysteries, Persephone is an innocent young maiden out picking flowers with her girlhood companions when Haides, the lord of the dead, carries her off to his shadowy realm. She is such an innocent that she seems to have no independent personality of her own. Her whole life up to that point has been as the satellite of her mother and she lacks any kind of distinctive name, being called simply Kore or The Girl. It is only once she makes the willful decision to accept the seeds that Haides offers her – pomegranate seeds, mind you, the fruit of marriage sacred to Hera – that she begins to develop something like a personality of her own, reflected in the change of her name to Persephone. Therefore, reductionists argue, there is no room for the Orphic “prehistory” of this Goddess and thus it is best viewed as a late and artificial intrusion, interesting perhaps for its implications but not to be regarded with the same weight of authority that the Homeric-Eleusinian myth possesses.

I am not so certain of that. While it is true that we must wait until the Neoplatonic philosophers and Christian apologists to get a full and cohesive narration of the myth of Zagreus – and even then there is a great deal of contradiction in our sources – authors as far back as Herodotos, Plato, Pindar and even a few Presocratic philosophers betray a general awareness of the myth and reference many of its most important details. Furthermore, there is no inherent contradiction in the sequence of events if we read it with a certain sensitivity.

The Orphic account can be summarized in the following way: long before Kore was out gathering flowers with the Nymphs her mother kept her secluded from the world in a cave where she spent all of her time weaving a grand tapestry containing all of the wonderful things she longed to see. One day her father Zeus came to her disguised as a great serpent and he seduced her. From their unspeakable union sprang the bull-horned child Zagreus who was later torn apart by the Titans at the instigation of the jealous Goddess Hera. Kore was greatly angered on account of the sorrowful things she suffered and was appeased only through mystic rites called orgies after her orge or wrath.

One of the reasons why I find it plausible to place this myth chronologically before the other is because it tallies with the experiences of many who have suffered rape and incest. Often they retreat in upon themselves, creating a simplified and artificial personality which they present to the world. They lose interest in many of the activities that excited them previously, disassociate themselves from anything sexual or adult and surround themselves only with innocent, unchallenging and playful companions. This is precisely the situation we find Kore in prior to her encounter with Haides – indeed her picking flowers could even be read as a desire to regain the lost beauty of her innocence.

If we accept this interpretation of the story then it casts Haides’ actions in an interesting new light. Because while he unquestionably abducts her forcefully she does not respond to him as a rapist. She accepts his proposal of marriage and takes her rightful place at his side as queen of those beneath the earth. Indeed when Theseus and his companion later come to liberate the Goddess and return her to the  sunlit world above, she makes it abundantly clear that she’s happy where she is and punishes them for their impudence. Though we are given precious few details of what transpired between the abduction and the offer of pomegranate seeds we can guess at his treatment of her by the fact that she willingly accepted those seeds and all that they represented. Indeed Haides seems to show nothing but gentle affection and respect for his bride in that he first went to ask her father for her hand in marriage and unlike his Olympian counterpart he engaged in no extramarital dalliances. Aside from Persephone Haides is romantically linked only with the Nymph Minthe and that was well before he was wed. Such fidelity is truly extraordinary among our Gods and speaks highly of Haides’ feelings for his wife. Likewise Persephone took no lovers, though she was briefly enamored of the child Adonis – perhaps because he reminded her of all she had lost, her innocence as well as her own son who is so often compared to the Syrian Godling.

Therefore in a strange way Haides’ rape of Kore may have been liberating and healing by taking her out of surroundings that were a constant reminder of her past trauma and into a strange new realm where she could find her own bearings and craft an identity for herself on her own terms. Her controlling, worrisome mother may have served to keep her trapped in the limited and powerless role of victim despite her best intentions to care for and safeguard her daughter. Only when all of the bonds were broken, everything dear and familiar to her had been stripped away could she begin the journey into transformative wholeness. And that could happen only in a place of fertile darkness where the souls of the deceased come to be nourished after the anguish of life on earth. Haides their lord is a quiet, aloof and solemn divinity, a far cry from the intensely emotional and smothering embrace of Kore’s mother. Perhaps in the solitary and still darkness the Goddess was finally able to sit with her grief, to let it out and no longer have to pretend that she was the happy, playful, flower-loving child any longer. Once her tears and rage had passed she was able to see what was left – and what was left was Persephone.

Thus I accept the Orphic chronology because it enhances one’s interpretation of the rest of the myth and brings out nuances in the characters of the Gods involved. It is also the only place that makes any sense, since it couldn’t have transpired after Haides’ abduction of her as that would have surely introduced an enmity between the brothers which we can find no trace of in our sources. So either it happened then, in some pocket alternate reality or timeline or else we must discard it altogether. And I am unwilling to accept this final option since Dionysos and Persephone so clearly have close ties. Not only can we bring in all of the evidence of their joint cults and the strong chthonic traits that Dionysos possesses – but there is even a familial resemblance when you examine their personalities and functions. If Persephone isn’t Dionysos’ other mother then I can think of no way to account for all of this. Therefore I feel it best to accept the testimony of Orpheus whose divinely given wisdom and musical skill are without rival.


A Goddess whose day has come

A proper woman should have no interests outside the home. Her whole life is defined by her relationships to others. As a child she is to be chaste and obedient to her parents, dutifully performing her chores and learning the skills she’ll need to be a good wife and mother. After marriage she is to be an efficient caretaker of the home, keeping it neat and orderly, having the food ready when her man returns after a tough day at work, being supportive and attentive to all his needs. One of the most important of the man’s needs, of course, is offspring and should she happen to prove infertile she will be seen by all as a failure and only half a woman. When the children come it will largely be the woman’s responsibility to raise them, teach them, nurture and care for them. And she is to be content with all this and only this. Women who want more, who crave a different sort of fulfillment, who think that they have something other than their wombs to offer society are treated with scorn and distrust since they are encroaching on the territory of men and threatening to unravel the very fabric of society. Grudgingly they may be accepted if they forsake their own femininity. It’s possible, after all, for a woman to compete in the world of men if she is willing to make herself into a counterfeit man but a woman who wants to be both worker and mother – that is an extreme aberration of nature. Who will care for the children while she’s away, even if those children are in school during the hours of her absence? How can she give her full attention to the job when her thoughts so frequently drift back to the home she’s left empty, the chores she’s left neglected? Won’t there be conflict between her and her husband whom she’s rendered impotent by emphasizing in inability to properly provide for his family?

These notions may strike some as absurdly comical and antiquated today since we’ve made so much social progress and most households cannot function on a single income anyway, yet working women are still under great pressure and constantly bombarded with harmful messages like these. Often their most vocal critics claim a religious basis for their condemnation. Christianity in particular has long had an antagonistic relationship with women. The Bible is full of disgustingly misogynistic passages and admonishes women to remain in the home and keep silent in the church, relying on their husbands for proper instruction. Though women were among the first converts to the new faith they were limited to supportive roles, caring for the apostles and making financial contributions to the cause. They couldn’t preach, they couldn’t hold positions of authority and they couldn’t dispense the sacraments. When some movements within the early church like the Montanists attempted to deviate from this pattern they were condemned and persecuted. The only exception to this were Virgins, Nuns and Martyrs – but to gain any sort of acceptance they had to renounce everything that made them women. Once the Christians gained sufficient power in Rome they waged war on uppity Pagan women like Hypatia of Alexandria:

“And in those days there appeared in Alexandria a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through Satanic wiles…A multitude of believers in God arose under the guidance of Peter the magistrate…and they proceeded to seek for the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments. And when they learnt the place where she was, they proceeded to her and found her…they dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesareum. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and dragged her…through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire.” (John of Nikiu, Chronicle 84.87-103)

Sadly this was just the beginning of Christianity’s war against women. I hardly need detail the atrocious legislation, pogroms, inquisitions and witch-trials that have taken placed over the last thousand years and more, nor do I have to chronicle how this campaign is still going on in the church and many Western societies today. All you need do is turn on the nightly news to see renewed attempts to repeal women’s hard-won rights and curtail their basic human freedoms.

In stark contrast to this stands the Pagan religions which honor the divine feminine, value women’s contributions and even grant them positions of power and authority. There are whole Pagan sects open only to women or which grant leadership roles to women alone – though I tend to think such groups are just as unhealthy and unbalanced as Christianity. Hellenic Polytheism has always struck me as far more sensible in this regard. The position of women in Classical Greek society may not have been ideal – though things did improve significantly during the Hellenistic era – in the realm of religion they had an equal footing with men, as Euripides (Melanippe Captive Fr. 13) attests:

“Men’s criticism of women is worthless twanging of a bowstring and evil talk. Women are better than men, as I will show …. Women run households and protect within their homes what has been carried across the sea, and without a woman no home is clean or prosperous. Consider their role in religion, for that, in my opinion, comes first. We women play the most important part, because women prophesy the will of Loxias in the oracles of Phoibos. And at the holy site of Dodona near the Sacred Oak, females convey the will of Zeus to inquirers from Greece. As for the sacred rites of the Fates and the Nameless Goddesses, all these would not be holy if performed by men, but prosper in women’s hands. In this way women have a rightful share in the service of the Gods. Why is it then, that women must have a bad reputation? Won’t men’s worthless criticism stop, and men who insist on blaming all women alike, if one woman turns out to be evil? Let me make the following distinctions: there is nothing worse than a bad woman, and nothing better in any way than a good one.” 

Indeed, a significant portion of the divine realm that the Greeks honored was female and served by female priests. One of the most important of those female divinities was the Goddess Artemis, who I think has a valuable message for the working women of today. She affirms that it is possible to be independent, powerful, driven to succeed – and yet also nurturing, protective and concerned with raising the young.

Artemis is one of the three Parthenoi or Virgin Goddesses of the Greek pantheon, belonging to no man and undefined by their relationships with others. As a child Artemis asks her father the king of the Gods to grant her this independent status for all time:

“One Artemis was sitting upon her father’s lap while still a maid and she spoke these words to Zeus, ‘Grant me to keep my maidenhood, Father, forever and [many other requests]’ … And her father smiled and bowed assent. And as he caressed her, he said: ‘When Goddesses bear me children like this, little need I heed the wrath of jealous Hera. Take, child, all that thou askest, heartily.’” (Kallimakhos, Hymn 3 to Artemis)

She did this so that she could pursue her own interests – hunting, athletics, spending time in the wild with the animals. The lovely 27th Homeric Hymn invokes her in this form:

“Over the shadowy hills and windy peaks she draws her golden bow, rejoicing in the chase, and sends out grievous shafts. The tops of the high mountains tremble and the tangled wood echoes awesomely with the outcry of beasts: earth quakes and the sea also where fishes shoal. But the Goddess with a bold heart turns every way destroying the race of wild beasts: and when she is satisfied and has cheered her heart, then the huntress who delights in arrows slackens her supple bow.”

She called to herself bands of young women who were similarly fierce in their independence:

“Atalante slept on the skins of animals caught in the hunt, she lived on their meat and drank water. She wore simple clothes, in a style that did not fall short of Artemis’ example; she claimed the Goddess as her model since wished to remain a virgin. She was very fleet of foot, and no wild animal or man with designs on her could have escaped her.” (Aelian, Historical Miscellany 13. 1)

That does not mean, however, that Artemis felt contempt for men and the more traditional roles of women. Indeed she is very much involved in the human lifecycle. First she is protector of pregnant women:

“We pray that other guardians be always renewed, and that Artemis watch over the woman with child.” (Aiskhylos, Suppliant Women 674)

She was also the Goddess whom women called upon to aid in their delivery:

“Labour pains are thy peculiar care. In thee, when stretched upon the bed of grief, the sex, as in a mirror, view relief. Guard of the race, endued with gentle mind, to helpless youth benevolent and kind; benignant nourisher; great nature’s key belongs to no divinity but thee. Thou dwellest with all immanifest to sight, and solemn festivals are thy delight. Thine is the task to loose the virgin’s zone and thou in every work art seen and known. With births you sympathise, though pleased to see the numerous offspring of fertility. When racked with labour pangs, and sore distressed the sex invoke thee, as the soul’s sure rest; for thou Eileithyia alone canst give relief to pain, which art attempts to ease, but tries in vain. Artemis Eileithyia, venerable power, who bringest relief in labour’s dreadful hour; hear, Prothyraia and make the infant race thy constant care.” (Orphic Hymn 2 to Artemis Prothyraia)

“Sokrates : Take into consideration the whole business of the midwives . . . For you know, I suppose, that no one of them attends other women while she is still capable of conceiving and bearing but only those do so who have become too old to bear . . . They say the cause of this is Artemis, because she, a childless Goddess, has had childbirth allotted to her as her special province. Now it would seem she did not allow barren women to be midwives, because human nature is too weak to acquire an art which deals with matters of which it has no experience, but she gave the office to those who on account of age were not bearing children, honoring them for their likeness to herself . . . Is it not, then, also likely and even necessary, that midwives should know better than anyone else who are pregnant and who are not? . . . And furthermore, the midwives, by means of drugs and incantations, are able to arouse the pangs of labor and, if they wish, to make them milder, and to cause those to bear who have difficulty in bearing; and they cause miscarriages if they think them desirable.” (Plato, Theaetetus 149b-d)

In fact, one of her first actions was to assist at the birth of her twin:

“I, Artemis, will visit the cities of men only when women vexed by the sharp pang of childbirth call me to their aid – even in the hour when I was born the Moirai (Fates) ordained that I should be their helper, forasmuch as my mother suffered no pain either when she gave me birth or when she carried me win her womb, but without travail put me from her body.” (Kallimakhos, Hymn 3 to Artemis)

Nor did her concern end at birth. Artemis was honored with the title Kourotrophos which means “Nurturer of young” and she was asked to watch over children, granting them strength and health. She is especially involved in the maturation of young girls who served her as “little bears” at Athens:

“Girls playing the bear used to celebrate a festival for Artemis dressed in saffron robes; not older than 10 years nor less than 5 … the Athenians decreed that no virgin might be given in marriage to a man if she hadn’t previously played the bear for the Goddess.” (Suidas s.v. Arktos e Brauroniois)

And Artemis was one of the Goddesses invoked during marriage:

“Virgins about to have sex dedicated their virginal lingerie to Artemis.” (Suidas s.v. Lysizonos gune)

Artemis, then, is a very good Goddess for the working women of today to honor. She shows that you can, indeed, have it all – the bonds of family and independence, a fulfilling job and interests outside the home as well as being a loving partner and a nurturing mother. It may not be easy and often requires sacrifice, but that’s true of anything of value in life. And Artemis will help those who honor her for she a powerful and gracious Goddess.


Hera the Catalyst

Hera is so much more than just the Goddess of marriage, though that is perhaps the most profound expression of her powers and nature. The true key to understanding who she is is change, growth and transformation. Hera is a catalyst, an outside force which sets things in motion, which nurtures growth and the transition from one state to another.

Her very name itself is said to be connected etymologically with the Horai or Seasons, in whose company she is frequently depicted. She is the embodiment of this seasonal change: the Argives said that each spring, Hera would bathe in the river Kanathos to regain her virginity, and at Stamphylos she was gifted with the names Pais, Teleia, and Chera, representing the lifecycle of the human female. Yet it is significant that one step is left out – mother.

And that is because she is not a manifestation of the nurturing, fruitful earth out of which all material substance arises and to which it must inevitably return. No, Hera is the force that acts upon that substance, which causes the lilies to bloom, young girls to grow into women, cows to give birth in the proper season. But none of these happen within her, from her, but rather she is the force that acts upon them from outside, like a potter shaping clay at his wheel, or a maiden plaiting a garland of flowers she intends to offer on Hera’s altar at her marriage.

And in the lives of most women in antiquity, this was the single biggest transition that they would make, for without it, they could not become women. In ancient Greek, the word for bride and woman is the same. So, in that sense, Hera watches over them as they transition into fullness, as they pass from girlhood into womanhood, like Artemis, with whom she shared the epithet Kourotrophos.

Similarly, marriage itself is transition, bringing two separate lives, two separate families and households together into one – thus Hera was also called Zygia, the “Uniter”. This requires constant change as one alters everything about their lives: how they act, how they eat, how they sleep, new responsibilities, when and where they may come and go, who they may associate with, and how they may associate with them. Marriage is never a static thing, and two people can spend a lifetime getting to know each other and becoming comfortable with the person who emerges.

Also, this role applies to the role of heroes, whose name also has been linked with that of Hera. Consider the greatest hero known to the Greek world, Herakles, whose name means either “glory of Hera” or “one made famous through Hera”. And indeed that was the case, because at every step of the road Hera was there, driving him on, throwing obstacles in his path, challenging him, forcing him to become stronger, wiser, and more courageous – or else to become destroyed by the Goddess, like an impure piece of metal bursting under the pressure and fire of the forge.

But Herakles was worthy of the challenge, and at the end of his trials, ascended to Olympos and was met by Hera who gave him her daughter Hebe as his immortal bride. We see this too in her interactions with Dionysos – who is the force of life upon which Hera acts.

And that action, when experienced personally, and especially by those who are resistant to the process, may seem like persecution, madness, suffering – but it is really transformation and growth into fullness, a testing of the will. And those who come out the other end, pure and full, are truly worthy of being called Teleia and Hero.


The importance of properly evaluating literature

To do polytheism right requires well-honed critical faculties and an appreciation for differentiation. Reading isn’t enough; you need to know how to properly evaluate what you’re reading or you’ll wind up meandering through mad and fruitless passages.

This is a significant problem within mainstream contemporary Hellenic polytheism and I think it stems primarily from an inability to distinguish between types of religious literature as a result of the priority given to the Christian scriptures in our society. That is to say, Christians have one Bible and how they treat this book has influenced our understanding of what it means for something to be a piece of religious writing, whereas the ancient view was far more nuanced and complex. Plus, they’re a people of the Book; we’re the people of the Library!

Take Orpheus, Homer and Diodoros Sikeliotes as an example. (Note that I am simplifying things greatly by positing a single “Homer” and “Orpheus” as authors of the works attributed to them, but I don’t want to get too side-tracked in this discussion.) All of these men wrote about Gods, mythological events and cultus and as such their work could be classed as “religious” but there’s a wide gulf between the type of writing they did and their intent in doing so. Consequently we should evaluate them differently and give their words varying degrees of authority.

Diodoros, for instance, was writing primarily as an historian – his discussion of Gods and their rites comes in a work intended to chronicle the totality of human culture and accomplishment from its start up to his own times. There’s a great deal of mythological material and accounts of variant local traditions, but it’s because this serves his narrative needs or he’s relaying the beliefs and words of others, not because he’s laying out his own understanding of things. Indeed he frequently expresses skepticism about his subject matter or offers his own rationalistic (often euhemerizing) interpretation as a counterpoint.

This is very different from Homer who is consciously working within an established, albeit localized and divergent, mythological tradition which he is using to provide a contextual background for the stories he wants to tell about the heroes of Troy. His intent is to praise these men (and flatter his audience by emphasizing their own connection to great events and figures from the past) and add to the tradition he has inherited from his oral predecessors. Homer’s words become invested with authority over time, recited at festivals and scrupulously studied, so that they come to shape a Pan-Hellenic consciousness of myth, tradition and the Gods and heroes. There wasn’t universal agreement with him, but all discussion was carried out with reference to his epic poems.

Different again are the works of Orpheus – they represent a unique revelation and a specific tradition with Orpheus as its head and final arbiter. They are not concerned with the products of human culture and the Gods as important peripherals to that – their intent is to bring about an understanding of these powerful personages and set forth the science of ritual engagement with them. (At least that’s what those who ascribed religious weight to writings and ceremonies attached to name-famous Orpheus – as Ibycus put it – held, no matter how much the different threads of Orphic tradition diverged, which is to be expected considering the heterogeneous populations which promulgated it – itinerant religious specialists, discount magicians, oracle-peddlers, poets, philosophers, aristocrats, athletes, soldiers and similar marginal figures.)

As such, we need to evaluate each of these forms of religious literature differently, regardless of whether we accept the claims made within them and in particular we must avoid assigning greater authority to them than was intended by the writer – or at least be conscious that we are doing so.

For instance, I find a lot of valuable information in the works of early Christian apologists such as Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytos of Rome and Origen – but these are very problematic sources, since they are often intentionally distorting what they discuss for aggressive rhetorical purposes, all the way down to outright fabrication. This hostility, in addition to the biases all authors possess, need to be factored into any conclusions one makes about ancient polytheist religion based on them.

Think about this the next time someone flings a quote at you – especially when it’s so easy to manufacture false ones. The truth will set you free, as Charles Manson said.

We are a people of the library

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.

Some More Remarks on Spiritual Discernment

Serving as a mantis or other kind of religious specialist, you’re going to encounter a lot of folks at their worst. That’s why it’s important to understand how to practice διακρίσεις or discernment when one is suffering an episode of mental or emotional instability, both for yourself and your clients.

Step One: Self-evaluate. What’s going on, how bad is the episode, does it respond to the treatments I’ve advised elsewhere, how is it impairing your mental and other faculties, can you talk it through with a friend, colleague or trusted elder or do you need the kind of assistance that only a competent professional can provide, etc. Along with self-evaluation should come self-care. It’s okay to put things aside until you’re able to deal with them again later. That doesn’t always work – sometimes shit just keeps happening, whether we want it to or are capable of handling it – but know it’s at least something you can try, and that doesn’t make you less of a devotee, spirit-worker, etc. It takes more time and more effort to come back from a break, so don’t be irresponsible and bootstrap it when you know you shouldn’t.

Step Two: If this situation is not at a crisis level but is still affecting your perception and ability to function, begin by writing everything down. Just because you’re having an episode does not mean that everything you’re experiencing is automatically the product of delusion. On the other hand, you can’t be certain that it isn’t, either. So don’t make any rash decisions or take immediate action based on what you’ve received. Instead, come back and analyze the material once you feel more stable. Does it still make sense or does it read like the ravings of a lunatic? More importantly, of what use is this information? If it has the potential to alter your understanding of the Gods and Spirits and how you relate to and worship them or is deeply personal, then keep pursuing your line of inquiry; if not then either discard it or file it away for future reference, as it may end up making more sense down the line.

Step Three: At this point, you have several options open to you. You may choose as many as are helpful and execute them in whatever order suits you, or not.

  • Pray for guidance, instruction, discernment and any other spiritual gifts that will help you navigate this uncertain terrain. While you may get a direct response from them it is best merely to ask for assistance and confirmation going forward, as your signal clarity could have become compromised.
  • Hit the books. See if you can find corroboration in the lore, academic literature or the writings of contemporary practitioners. Some of the bizarrest stuff I’ve encountered while working with altered states or while suffering from a manic episode has turned out to be a strain of tradition I simply had not been aware of previously. A lot of information can be found online, but tread carefully as most of it is utter crap. Now, just because something appears in a book or on a website does not make it true; likewise, plenty of true things have never been written down. All that this material can do is provide you a glimpse into other people’s experiences and insights. Sometimes there’s convergence; plenty of times there is not. Also keep in mind that experiences with Gods and Spirits are always idiosyncratic; two people may go through the same thing but describe it very differently.
  • Talk with friends, other people who are doing similar work, or a religious specialist whose opinion you trust. See if they have had similar experiences, if they have suggestions for further research, if they can recommend other people you can talk to and if they have any thoughts on what’s happening or how you should proceed. Now, depending on your relationship with and level of trust and respect for this person you will know how much weight to give their suggestions. That’s all this should be – it still falls to you to decide whether you accept what happened or not, and to act upon it. If everyone is telling you it sounds like bullshit, that’s definitely something to pay attention to – but on the other hand they may not have the first clue what they’re talking about. All this and the previous line of inquiry can do is suggest; you still must decide for yourself.
  • Divine divine divine. Because of your closeness to the situation, you may want to have a trusted diviner read for you in addition to whatever divination you perform. Different traditions have different protocols on this, but I tend to hire three diviners and then compare the results from each reading. No matter how bizarre your experience, if all three come back positive it’s a pretty good indication that this is a legit thing. Keep in mind that this is very different from shopping around your questions until you get an answer you want and I strongly advise you to only provide the absolutely necessary information and keep back some significant piece as a means of verification. Of course, just because that piece doesn’t come up in the reading does not necessarily render it invalid: often the Gods and Spirits will only provide answers about what you asked (and how you asked it) which is why you must choose your words carefully.
  • Ask for a sign. Something specific enough that you can be relatively certain when you see it, but also open enough that you do not strain their ability to act. For instance, you may ask for a clear message or kledone or that a certain symbol appear three times. Set a reasonable timeframe, and then pay attention because signs often come to us in unexpected ways and unconventional forms. If you receive your sign make a generous offering to the God or Spirit since they’ve gone out of their way to assuage your doubt. If no sign appears then that means no sign appeared. It probably also means that you were wrong but that cannot be inferred just from this. Sometimes a sign doesn’t appear because you need to do this without knowing, trusting in their guidance.

Next let’s consider what to do when one is reasonably certain about a divinity’s identity but what you’re receiving doesn’t really line up with what others get.

Well, I add that to the list of evidence that I am compiling and continue with my inquiry.

All by itself the fact that your experience does not line up with the experiences of others is of limited significance. There are plenty of perfectly valid explanations for why this might be:

  • You are encountering a distinct, localized expression of the divinity.
  • Either your encounter with the divinity was not as deep as theirs or it was much deeper.
  • The divinity may be showing you a different side of itself because each person will have different needs, degrees of intimacy or roles to perform.
  • Either you or they may be encountering an entity which is masquerading as the divinity. This can either be because that entity is part of the divinity’s train or retinue and thus partakes of their nature, because it is malign and trying to deceive you or because the divinity and the entity have made a prior arrangement and there’s some reason why it must engage with you in this form. Or your brain is just reading them as X because of their closeness to the divinity and no deception was intended on their part.
  • Others may be wrong, delusional or lying. Conversely, this may be true of you whether you realize it or not.

But it is something to pay attention to, especially if your experience not only doesn’t conform to the experiences of the majority of the divinity’s devotees, but also does not reflect what is commonly known of this divinity’s personality, attributes, powers and domains, as well as what may be found in the lore and academic literature on them. All of these, individually, may not hold much weight but taken together they provide a pretty solid argument that what you’re encountering may not be what it seems. Now, again, you may just be dealing with a different form of them, but it should give you cause for reflection, to say nothing of divination and other external methods of corroboration.

If everything points to them really being them, and they seem okay with it, then just start dealing with them in this particular form. Figure out what their preferences are, if there are specific rites that need to be performed or taboos observed and go about building up a devotional relationship with them as you would any new divinity you happened to meet. You may or may not maintain separate cultus for this divinity under their more conventional form.

One of the things you’ll need to decide is how much you share with others, particularly when they deal with a radically different form of the divinity. Specifically, what do you get out of sharing; how does the other party benefit from the sharing and is it something they can actually do something with or will it be purely theoretical for them; how likely are they to respond negatively to this information; what can you lose by sharing it; is it the proper time and space to share such information; how does the divinity feel about you sharing what is likely very personal and intimate; and are there specific protocols associated with its sharing?

Finally, how we can avoid letting preconceptions about a divinity limit our interactions with them.

The simple answer is seek them in their fullness, without distinction or judgment. But simple is not always easy, especially when you don’t know how to do the thing.

So begin by asking yourself:

  • What preconceptions do I have?
  • How did I arrive at them?
  • Is there any basis in reality or are they shaped entirely of supposition, fear and uncertainty?
  • Why do I hold onto them?
  • In what ways do they influence me, even if on an unconscious level?
  • What would it mean to lay them aside?
  • Specifically, how would laying them aside change how I understand and interact with this entity?
  • What would laying them aside even look like?
  • What would I replace them with?

Sit with these questions for as long as you need to. Spend time actively reflecting on them as well as letting your brain mull them over while you go about your day. If it helps, try writing out your answers stream-of-consciousness style in addition to taking notes. 

Once you have answers, go back through and feel out what it would be like if your answers were completely different. 

Then actually try doing it. 

It’s going to feel weird, artificial, awkward at first. 

How can you consciously change your thoughts or alter your emotions? If you are determined enough you can do anything. 

In the early stages you may want to tie a string around your finger or wrist as a mnemonic aid, and when you notice it reinforce your change of mind and behavior. (Remember – the brain doesn’t hear “no” so frame it as a positive.) 

You may find yourself falling back into old patterns of thought or encountering mental blocks you had dissolved already. 

Keep going. 

With time and practice, it’ll feel more natural to you and you may only need to do it long enough to facilitate some kind of personal breakthrough in your relationship with the divinity. 

Alternately you may want to ritualize the process by tearing up, cleansing or burning cards representing your preconceptions so that they will no longer have any power over you.

Some Remarks on Spiritual Discernment

In one of the more curious anecdotes from Eunapius’ Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists, a group of gullible students were attending a theurgic seance wherein an Egyptian priest conjured a visible apparition of what purported to be the God Apollon, but when the Neoplatonic holyman Iamblichos inspected it he laughed and (I’m paraphrasing here) proclaimed, “Why are you falling to your knees filled with reverent terror – this is just the ghost of a humble gladiator!” 

Iamblichos was hardly a hidebound skeptic; in fact he engaged in a protracted dispute with his elder colleague (and former teacher) Porphyry over the efficacy and appropriateness of magic, divination, demonolatry and related topics, most famously – and adroitly – defending these noble practices in his treatise De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum. It was primarily because he took such matters so seriously that he advocated the application of reasoned inquiry or what the Christian mystics came to call “spiritual discernment” when encountering paranormal phenomena. The consequences are simply too high not to. 

Man may well be the measure of all things, as Protagoras averred, but we’re not very high up on the food chain when one considers the profuse array of divine and spiritual entities who inhabit this world alongside us. Not only do they vastly outstrip us in knowledge, power and access to other planes of existence but they are not constrained by any kind of universal moral code. There are dangerous and deceptive forces out there who want nothing more than to see the human race wiped from this planet – and they aren’t even necessarily what one would consider “evil” beings. Those exist too, in their plenitude, as well as things that are hurt, confused, scared, lonely or trapped.

Indeed, much of the work that the ancient Bacchic Orphics did involved seeking deliverance for these beings, as we see in both Plato:

But the most astounding of all these arguments concerns what they have to say about the Gods and virtue. They say that the Gods, too, assign misfortune and a bad life to many good people, and the opposite fate to their opposites. Begging priests and prophets frequent the doors of the rich and persuade them that they possess a God-given power founded on sacrifices and incantations. If the rich person or any of his ancestors has committed an injustice, they can fix it with pleasant things and feasts. Moreover, if he wishes to injure some enemy, then, at little expense, he’ll be able to harm just and unjust alike, for by means of spells and enchantments they can persuade the Gods to serve them. And they present a hubbub of books by Musaeus and Orpheus, offspring as they say of Selene and the Muses, according to which they arrange their rites, convincing not only individuals but also cities that liberation and purification from injustice is possible, both during life and after death, by means of sacrifices and enjoyable games to the deceased which free us from the evils of the beyond, whereas something horrible awaits those who have not celebrated sacrifices. (Republic 2.364a–365b)

And the Derveni Papyrus:

… prayers and sacrifices appease the souls, and the enchanting song of the magician is able to remove the daimones when they impede. Impeding daimones are revenging souls. This is why the magicians perform the sacrifice as if they were paying a penalty. On the offerings they pour water and milk, from which they make the libations, too. They sacrifice innumerable and many-knobbed cakes, because the souls, too, are innumerable. (col. 6.1-11)

In these quotes we also see what sets our religious specialist apart from the masses, permitting them to command respectable fees for their service: they possess superior knowledge. This ἐπιστήμη allowed them to better navigate strange terrain and be on a more elevated footing with the parahuman entities whom they engaged with on behalf of their clients. 

What did this knowledge consist of?

  • The ability to recognize who they were encountering through certain signs or other means of communication. 
  • Diagnoses of psychospiritual ailments. 
  • The knowledge of appropriate songs, stories, ceremonies, offerings, cures, taboos and other magicoreligious prescriptions. 
  • How to bind, loosen and trace the threads. 
  • Methods of adapting all of the above to the particular situation of the client. 

This was a massively competitive and high stakes profession – slip-ups could result in damage to a client’s physical or mental health which in turn would bring shame and ill-repute upon the Orpheotelest, mantis or goes. When one’s livelihood depends entirely on word of mouth having a tarnished reputation can be disastrous, so they made damn sure they knew what they were talking about before recommending a particular course of action. 

How do we know any of the things that we think we know?

  • Inference. 
  • Other people’s testimony. 
  • The direct experience of our senses. 

It’s been a couple decades since I took an intro to epistemology class in college so I could be missing a couple, but that trio is pretty much it. 

Not a one of them is 100% reliable – hell philosophers are still trying to convince one another that they really do exist – and without much success. I’m a pragmatist, so I don’t concern myself with trifles of that sort but I’m also aware that I am making such an existential assumption and that is key. 

In life – and especially the life of a religious specialist – you want to make as few assumptions as possible, and when you do you need to factor that into the decisions you make. Assuming isn’t just sloppy, it creates vulnerability and confusion and can set off a whole chain of unintended and undesirable consequences. 

To guard against assumptive thinking memorize the following questions and apply them promiscuously:

  • What is it you know?
  • How do you know it? 
  • Why is that a reliable source of information?
  • Are there other ways to arrive at the same conclusion?
  • Is everyone operating with the same understanding of the relevant terms? If not why, and how is that affecting their decision-making process?
  • What difference does it make if one or another piece of information, despite appearances to the contrary, is wrong? What if everything is wrong?

Obviously, there are situations where we cannot know the answers to these questions, or we don’t have the luxury of being able to conduct such an extensive audit because a snap decision must be made and sometimes this information just isn’t terribly helpful. 

In which case you either perform divination or trust your gut. 

As an intellectual and an artist and an avid explorer of the further reaches of the human experience I tend to be of the opinion that individual, rational consciousness is a pretty nifty thing. But as an evolutionary strategy it’s not very popular among the myriad lifeforms that inhabit this planet along with (and inside) us, particularly the more successful ones. Even among hominids it’s a relatively recent experiment and the jury’s still out on its respective merits. (If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend Julian Jayne’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind; that shit’ll have you doing your best Keanu Reeves impression.) Which means that we have all kinds of ways of navigating through this world of ours that we never or rarely access because we’ve been conditioned to favor that individual, rational consciousness complete with all of its biases and limitations. We’ve actually touched on some of these in previous sections, but here I want to emphasize that mix of intuition, instinct and hypersensitivity we call “the gut.” (Or the heart, the spleen, the nose, etc. Different cultures have different idiomatic organs of perception, most of which are biologically indeterminate.) 

Whatever it is, or how it works – use it to help bring clarity to uncertain situations. No method should be relied on exclusively, not even divination – we need all of them working in concert to be at our best. And as with most abilities, disuse degrades them. It’s something you need to develop and maintain through rigorous application and experimentation. 

And a handy system of divination if you need a quick and straightforward response to help arrive at a decision is the Coins of Hermes. It’s a little more complex than just flipping a coin and if you know how to ask the right questions you can actually get some profoundly insightful results. 

First take three coins and formally consecrate them to Hermes. They should be, if not the same denomination of a similar size and value so as not to skew their statistical probability or your interpretation. As part of the consecration you can decorate them (for instance by inscribing a sigil or blackening out the reverse) or anoint them with chernips or his holy oil.  

Pray to Hermes for guidance, state your question as carefully and simply as possible, and then throw the coins, interpreting their fall as follows: 

3 heads: Emphatic yes.
2 heads: Yes, but it will require effort and thought.
1 head: You should probably reconsider your plans.
No head: You don’t have a chance in hell.

This system can be used to get answers from Gods and Spirits other than Hermes – indeed, because of its simplicity it can be employed by beings who might have difficulty with systems of greater or more specific symbolism – though you should confirm that they are willing and able to communicate through it first. When doing so I either throw coins that have not been consecrated to Hermes or ask him to act as intermediary and interpreter for the other party. In addition to answering questions this system can be used to corroborate the results you get through other forms of divination or direct oracular messages. 

Thus far we haven’t so much been discussing spiritual discernment as cognition, critical thinking skills and tools for decision making but before we move on to our intended topic I would like to share another valuable technique, particularly when one encounters a logistical error, paradox, obstacle or dead end and that’s the Thread of Ariadne. 

It was a commonplace in Plato’s time to compare the quest for truth to the beguilingly circuitous paths of the Labyrinth, as we see in the Euthydemos:

Then it seemed like falling into a Labyrinth: we thought we were at the finish, but our way bent round and we found ourselves as it were back at the beginning, and just as far from that which we were seeking at first. 

As Carl Kerényi archly observed in his commentary on this passage:

Thus the present-day notion of a labyrinth as a place where one can lose his way must be set aside. It is a confusing path, hard to follow without a thread, but, provided the traverser is not devoured at the midpoint, it leads surely, despite twists and turns, back to the beginning. (Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life pg 92)

Wikipedia explains the application of this infallible guide as follows:

The key element to applying Ariadne’s thread to a problem is the creation and maintenance of a record – physical or otherwise – of the problem’s available and exhausted options at all times. This record is referred to as the “thread”, regardless of its actual medium. The purpose the record serves is to permit backtracking – that is, reversing earlier decisions and trying alternatives. Given the record, applying the algorithm is straightforward: at any moment that there is a choice to be made, make one arbitrarily from those not already marked as failures, and follow it logically as far as possible. If a contradiction results, back up to the last decision made, mark it as a failure, and try another decision at the same point. If no other options exist there, back up to the last place in the record that does, mark the failure at that level, and proceed onward. This algorithm will terminate upon either finding a solution or marking all initial choices as failures; in the latter case, there is no solution. If a thorough examination is desired even though a solution has been found, one can revert to the previous decision, mark the success, and continue on as if a solution were never found; the algorithm will exhaust all decisions and find all solutions.

The terms “Ariadne’s thread” and “trial-and-error” are often used interchangeably, which is not necessarily correct. They have two distinctive differences. Trial-and-error implies that each trial yields some particular value to be studied and improved upon, removing errors from each iteration to enhance the quality of future trials. Ariadne’s thread has no such mechanic, making all decisions arbitrarily. For example, the scientific method is trial and error; puzzle-solving is Ariadne’s thread. Trial-and-error approaches are rarely concerned with how many solutions may exist to a problem, and indeed often assume only one correct solution exists. Ariadne’s thread makes no such assumption, and is capable of locating all possible solutions to a purely logical problem. In short, trial and error approaches a desired solution; Ariadne’s thread blindly exhausts the search space completely, finding any and all solutions. Each has its appropriate distinct uses, and they can be employed in tandem. 

This is a particularly effective method for when you’re stumbling around in metaphorical darkness and divination has proven inconclusive. It can also be useful when you are trying to diagnose an ailment by tracing it back to its root cause, which may be a past trauma or guilt either directly experienced or inherited from one’s ancestors – a topic we shall loop back upon later in the course.

Now we’re ready to get to some discernin’ with Spirits! 

So, you’re confronted with a perplexing situation or an entity which seeks to communicate something to you. Where do you go from there?

The first thing we need to establish is whether this is something happening directly to you or if it’s coming through an intermediary such as a diviner, a medium or oracle or some random homeless person that’s approached you on the street, because the process of evaluation differs accordingly. In fact spiritual encounters in a group setting bring in a whole gaggle of issues best reserved for a separate discussion, so I’m going to limit myself here to just private ones. 

If it is just you and the entity then you need to perform an exhaustive self-inventory to minimize the potential for human error. 

What has been communicated to you? At this stage, keep it just to the facts. Don’t fill in the gaps, make inferences, analyze what the message personally means to you or any of the other interpretive methods we regularly employ. You want the message as clear and concise as possible. 

How has this been communicated to you? Did the encounter happen face to face or through indirect means such as divination? Was it the result of a dream, vision, or out of body experience? Was it something you observed, something you heard, something you intuited or arrived at through other means? Did it involve external perception or was the communication internalized? 

How reliable is your perception at the moment? What is your current mental, emotional and physical status and how might this be influencing what you receive? Is there a lot of internal chatter or stress that could be compromising your signal clarity? Are you suffering a depressive, hypermanic or delusional episode? How is your sleep routine and nutrition? Are you on any medications or drugs? Note that none of these are sufficient to rule out a message received, but all of them can and will influence your perception. 

How do you feel about the message being communicated? Is it challenging or upsetting, completely novel or exactly what you expect, what sorts of emotional responses does it stir in you and so forth. None of these speak to the accuracy of the message, but it’s definitely something you’ll want to be aware of lest you fall into a series of errors one need only survey the majority of polytheist and neopagan communities to find amply on display. 

Now let us move on to the communicator. 

If you have prior experience with the entity use that, along with the known lore concerning them and the accounts of contemporaneous devotees as your basis for evaluation. 

Is the entity behaving in a manner that is consistent with the above? Do they “feel” like they normally do? Are they employing recognizable speech patterns? Are the appropriate signs and symptoms present? 

By signs and symptoms I mean the type of phenomena described in Proklos, On the Signs of Divine Possession as quoted in Psellus’ Accusation against Michael Cerularius before the Synod:

He speaks first about the differences which separate the so-called Divine Powers, how some are more material and others more immaterial, some joyous (hilarai) and others solemn (embritheis), some arrive along with daemons and others arrive pure. Straight afterwards he goes on to the proper conditions for invocation: the places in which it occurs, about those men and women who see the Divine Light, and about the divine gestures (schêmatôn) and signs (sunthêmatôn) they display. In this way he gets around to the Theagogies of divine inspiration (tas entheastikas theagôgias)[a theagôgia is a drawing in or drawing down of the divine]. “Of which, ” he says “some act on inanimate objects and others on animate beings: some on those which are rational, others on the irrational ones. Inanimate objects, ” he continues “are often filled with Divine Light, like the statues which give oracles under the inspiration (epipnoias) of one of the Gods or Good Daemons. So too, there are men who are possessed and who receive a Divine Spirit (pneuma theion). Some receive it spontaneously, like those who are said to be ‘seized by God’ (theolêptoi), either at particular times, or intermittently and on occasion. There are others who work themselves up into a state of inspiration (entheasmôn) by deliberate actions, like the prophetess at Delphi when she sits over the chasm, and others who drink from divinatory water”. Next, after having said what they have to do [i. e. to gain divine inspiration], he continues “When these things occur, then in order for a Theagogy and an inspiration (epipnoian) to take effect, they must be accompanied by a change in consciousness (parallaxia tês dianoias). When divine inspiration (entheasmôn) comes there are some cases where the possessed (tôn katochôn) become completely besides themselves and unconscious of themselves (existamenôn…kai oudamôs heautois parakolouthountôn). But there are others where, in some remarkable manner, they maintain consciousness. In these cases it is possible for the subject to work the Theagogy on himself, and when he receives the inspiration (epipnoian), is aware of what it [i.e. the Divine Power] does and what it says, and what he has to do release the mechanism [of possession](pothen dei apoluein to kinoun). However, when the loss of consciousness (ekstaseôs) is total, it is essential that someone in full command of his faculties assists the possessed”. Then, after many details about the different kinds of Theagogy, he finally concludes: “It is necessary to begin by removing all the obstacles blocking the arrival of the Gods and to impose an absolute calm around ourselves in order that the manifestation of the Spirits (pneumata) we invoke takes place without tumult and in peace (atarachos kai meta galênês)”. He adds further “The manifestations of the Gods are often accompanied by material Spirits which arrive and move with a certain degree of violence, and which the weaker mediums cannot withstand.”

If all that does not jive, what is different and how might this be accounted for? 

After all, Gods and Spirits often have a plurality of forms and the situation might require them to be more or less formal than they ordinarily would be. 

But sometimes you can tell that something is off and what you’re encountering is just a bad drag routine. 

At which point, ask for confirmation. I have set up codewords with all of the core Gods and Spirits that I work with, and if the being cannot provide them it’s a dead giveaway that they are not who they seem to be. (This is also an excellent means of verification when a third party comes forward claiming to have messages for you. If the God or Spirit doesn’t provide authentication it either means the message is not of utmost urgency or the person is not as perceptive as they are presenting themselves to be.)  

Another method is to make reference to past encounters with the entity but include false information; if you are not corrected, that can be a red flag. 

Thirdly, you may intone their epithets and project a sigil or charged mental representation of the God or  Spirit which will either empower or pass straight through them if they are that being (or very closely aligned to them) but will cause distortion and disruption if it is something merely pretending. 

There’s a lot more procedures (and even pretty elaborate rituals) one can perform to deduce the veracity of an encounter, but you know what? I never bother with them. 

First, like I said, I’m a pragmatist; I find the simplest thing that works and stick with it. Secondly, a lot of that shit just seems really silly to me. I mean, would you do that with your co-workers?

“Hold that thought, Bob. I need to dance around in a circle while chanting aetheric vowels and clenching my perineum to verify you really are who you say you are. Also would you mind if I bring in my archangelic higher self to interrogate you? Wait, why are you leaving with that look of horrified contempt on your face?”

Well, I’m not going to do that to Gods and Spirits either. It’s an etiquette thing. 

If something sets off enough red flags for me, I’ll be guarded and suspicious and scrutinize any information I receive afterwards very, very closely – with plenty of divination, from myself as well as turning to other trusted diviners – but I won’t be rude. 

Besides, even false information can be useful if you don’t make unwarranted assumptions and secondly, my spiritual encounters tend to be pretty fucking intense and immersive. So much crazy shit’s going on  I’m not going to stop and rattle off a bunch of flowery Victorian verse or whatever. Just play it safe and smart, don’t cut corners with protections or psychic hygiene and you should be fine.  

Only the best for those who keep his feasts


What forum would you recommend for something like this? I’ve been out of the loop as far as online shit goes for a while, so I’m not really sure what’s currently available. In addition to discussions about Dionysos and his Retinue, what we’re all doing for the festivals, organizing retreats, etc. I might want to teach a couple classes out of it, and host topical chats. Any suggestions welcome.

Some Nymph Lore

Floyd G. Ballentine, Some Phases of the Cult of the Nymphs

R. Connor, Seized by the Nymphs: Nympholepsy and Symbolic Expression in Classical Greece

Fátima Díez-Platas, Sex and the city: Silens and Nymphs in Ancient Greek pottery

Rudolf Habelt, Kupara, a Sikel Nymph?

Theodora Suk Fong Jim, Seized by the Nymph

Jennifer Larson, The Corycian Nymphs and the Bee Maidens of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes

Bonnie MacLachlan, Kore as Nymph, not Daughter: Persephone in a Locrian Cave

Hugh Mason, Dancing Nymphs on Lesbos

Hugh Mason, A Nymphaion in Mytilene

Verity Platt, Sight and the Gods: On the Desire to See Naked Nymphs

Yulia Ustinova, Caves and the Ancient Greek Oracles


In Search of Nymphs

Not only do many Hellenic and other polytheists today not honor their Nymphs or local land-spirits on a regular basis but I’ve heard from plenty of folks that they don’t feel them or see them and wouldn’t even begin to know how to. Although I find this a little sad (because Nymphs are so awesome!) and frankly incomprehensible (because they’re such a big part of my spiritual path it’s like trying to imagine a world without music) it’s not really all that surprising to me. Leaving aside the whole issue of how modern man tends to be disconnected from his environment and oblivious to its life-cycles – including far too many pagans and polytheists, if you ask me – the biggest stumbling-block to having an awareness of Nymphs, let alone cultivating a relationship with them, has got to be our preconceived notions about what Nymphs are like.

I’ll be honest – this is something I had to get over as well. Like a lot of people I originally assumed that Nymphs were these lovely, slim-ankled maidens being chased by lusty Satyrs through the woods or darkly seductive ingénues who waited at the bottom of lakes for dim-witted but handsome shepherds to come by so that they could lure them down to a premature watery death. After all, that’s how poets and painters have presented them for centuries. And yes, sometimes that’s even how they’ll reveal themselves to a person – though it isn’t the only or even the most common way that they appear.

Usually it’s much more subtle than that. A rustling of leaves or sudden motion caught out of the corner of your eye; the faint echo of footfalls, whispered voices or sounds that could be distant music; light playing on the surface of the water or a pile of leaves; a strong scent filling your nostrils. Sometimes you’ll have a kinesthetic response: the hair rises on your body, you feel a phantom touch on your arm or cheek or you get a tingling sensation at your scalp or the back of your neck. Sometimes there is nothing more definite than an overwhelming and undeniable sense of presence. You are suddenly aware that you are not alone, that something somewhere nearby is watching you, that it has a personality and that personality is very different from your own.

Of course this is not the only way that they reveal themselves to us. I’ve gotten to the point where I can recognize particular spirits distinct from all the rest; I have communicated with some directly and had visionary experiences of them as well; and they have even shown me forms that resemble our own. But they aren’t human and we should always keep that in mind when dealing with them. They are strange and wild creatures who have their own peculiar morality. In fact, they can be very dangerous at times, even for those whom they like. Their mood changes swiftly and unpredictably – after I have done what I came for I am always quick to leave their dwelling. You cannot domesticate a Nymph: wildness is a fundamental part of their being.

That’s why if you want to know them you’ve got to go to the wild places. You must approach them on their terms. You cannot learn about them in safety, skimming through old books or listening to what other people tell you about them. Such tools can be a fine way to start the journey but they’ll only take you so far. Eventually you have to put all that aside and plunge headlong into the wild – for that is where they are found. Before you can meet them you have to meet the places where they live.

Unfortunately we city-dwellers are often uncomfortable in such wild places. The stillness of the forest is uncanny. We are used to the roar of cars, the cacophony of voices, music and advertizing, the monotonous blur of concrete, glass, and billboards rushing by us. But in the wild everything seems so much quieter, slower. The stillness can be strange at first – and uncomfortable as there is now no background noise to blot out the thoughts racing through your head except for the occasional birdcall or rustling of the leaves. But look a little closer. There is a whole other world beneath the surface.

Look at the trees all around you. No, really look. Don’t just see them as an undifferentiated mass of green and brown – but seek out the particulars. The thousand separate shades of green, the infinite variation of individual leaves and stunning moss patterns, the grass and flowers and mulch that gives sustenance to the forest. Look at the spiders hanging in the branches, the insects crawling over a leaf, the birds singing in the distance: a whole world of which you are not normally aware and yet are still an integral part of. Kneel down. Feel the mud and damp soil beneath your fingers. Really feel it. Yes, it is dirty and gross – but this is the source of life. Pick up a rock and notice its heft in your fingers. Is it rough and jagged or has it been worn smooth? What color is it? Not brown or grey – that’s what your eye sees when it’s not really looking – but what sort of veins and shading does it have, what patterns have the dirt-smudges formed, can you make out the flecks of red and blue that are only visible when you tilt it towards the sun? Now stand up and take a deep breath. What do you smell and taste on the air? The soil, the decomposing leaves, the moss, the dampness. What else? What else?

Spend as long as you can in the wild place, really experiencing everything about it that you are able to. Let the sensation of it wash over you, fill you, awaken the spirit within you. Let the awareness of its numinous power and beauty come to you as it will: in its own time, in its own way. Don’t try to force it. Don’t let your expectations distract you. Be present, be aware, and if you’re not getting it, just give it more time. It’ll happen. Maybe not the way you were thinking it would. Maybe something else, something small and inconsequential stands out for you and not some majestic vision of Mother Nature’s awesomeness … that’s okay. Go with it. See where it leads. See what this wild place has to show you in particular.

And once you are able to recognize that you will have begun developing the faculties that allow you to perceive the Nymphs who are the spirits that animate the place. And once you’re able to see them, well, that’s when things start to get really interesting! But I’ll leave that for another time, and instead close with one of my favorite passages from antiquity, a letter written by the great Stoic philosopher Seneca:

If you have ever come on a dense wood of ancient trees that have risen to an exceptional height, shutting out all sight of the sky with one thick screen of branches upon another, the loftiness of the forest, the seclusion of the spot, your sense of wonderment at finding so deep and unbroken a gloom out of doors will persuade you of the presence of a deity. Any cave in which the rocks have been eroded deep into the mountain resting on it, its hollowing out into a cavern of impressive extent not produced by the labours of men but the result of the processes of nature, will strike into your soul some kind of inkling of the divine. We venerate the source of important streams; places where a mighty river bursts suddenly from hiding are provided with altars; hot springs are objects of worship; the darkness or unfathomable depth of pools has made their waters sacred.

Sayings of Sannion


Ἀποφθέγματα Σαννίωνως

Everything you do and everything you are is a choice. You are free. Choose wisely.

Make mistakes, as many as you can. How else are you going to learn?

This, too, shall pass.

Show respect to all things. Yes, even if they don’t deserve it. Manners aren’t for other people, they are for us.

Question everything. Especially if it comes from an authority.

Educate yourself, or others will.

You will never have it all figured out.

We all go a little crazy sometimes.

Often what is most feared is most needed.

Listen to The Doors. Jim Morrison was a prophet.

Love unguardedly. Hearts are made to be crushed.

You will die a thousand deaths before your time if you do not master your fear.

Find what you are great at and pursue it with a single-minded devotion.

It doesn’t matter if it’s hard and difficult and unpleasant. Do it anyway.

Live simply in order to enjoy greater leisure and pleasure.

No matter how great you are there are ones who are greater still – the Gods, the Spirits, and the Mighty Dead. There are beings greater than you beyond number. The whole world is alive with their presence. Honor them, from highest to lowest and all in between.

Some Gods and Spirits aren’t nice.

Always do what the Fairies tell you.

If your every act is one of reverence and right relationship with the powers you cannot help but live rightly, justly, wisely and prosperously.

Whenever you’re uncertain, divine.

You have a body. What sustains you is physical. Therefore make material offerings to those who have blessed you.

Give beyond what is expected of you. The excess is the choicest portion of the sacrifice.

Worship with joy. You are in the presence of the divine! Be overcome by awe.

At least once a day just stop everything you’re doing and be completely still, present and mindful.






Never let another make you feel bad for what you do or do not feel.

Be open. Don’t hold back. It’s okay to look mad and foolish. All the best people do.

Wear masks.

Be pure in mind and body when you carry out sacred service.

Bow your head to no man, but to the divine only.

Always approach the holy crowned.

Adorn your shrines with flowers.

Immerse yourself in prayer and thoughts of your Gods and Spirits. Carry them with you wherever you go.

A gift requires a gift in return.

Remember and honor those who came before you. You would not be who you are without them.

Nothing is perfect – or needs to be.

Test yourself in the flame.

Let spiders live.

You always have time for worship. If you don’t, rearrange your schedule. Do you really want to tell the powers that they are not a priority in your life, that they aren’t worthy of your time and attention?

First master the rites and traditions that have been handed down to you; then only may you improvise.

All that is beautiful is dear to the Gods, so make your worship as beautiful as you can.

Begin every endeavor with a sacrifice.

Worship outdoors as often as you can.

Cities are outdoors too.

Learn everything about the place where you live.

Don’t come to the Gods only in times of need.

Make amends swiftly.

Never let your shrines gather dust through neglect.

Treat strangers as you would treat Hermes.

Do not revile another’s God. There are strange alliances among the powers.

Pray from the heart with honest words. Your Gods know you — there is nothing you can hide from them even if you wanted to.

Read Plutarch and Seneca if you would be wise, pious and happy.

Should is an abyss.

What you do is more important than what you call yourself.

Your past shaped you — it does not define you.

Demonstrate your beliefs through your actions.

Make purchases that reflect a right relationship with the world.

Don’t buy stuff for your stuff.

Create instead of just being a consumer.

Remember that every time you’re looking at a screen you’re missing what’s going on around you.

Pay attention to animals. They know things you don’t.

Plants know things even animals do not.

Mark the passage of the seasons.

It’s more fun on the margins.

You aren’t your labels, your fandoms, or the things you own.

Be selective in the media you consume, for it lives on in you afterwards.

Question everything. Seriously, it cannot be said enough: question everything. Even why you should question everything.

Try new things, even things you don’t think you’re going to like, because experiences are precious.

Never be ashamed.

Don’t bleed before you’re wounded.

Regret is a wasteful emotion.

If you don’t prioritize your happiness, don’t expect others to.

Don’t let others drag you down.

All you can do is suggest. In the end others will live the way they want to.

Accept others as they are. You can’t change them.

Don’t let others change you in ways you don’t want them to.

Know who you have to prove your worth to – and who you don’t.

It’s your mind — expand it however you want.

Push your own boundaries, but accept those of others.

Know when to stop.

Know the risks before you play.

Don’t do anything you aren’t willing to accept the consequences for.

Don’t ever be bored or boring.

Always hunger for more.

Balance the scales.

Feelings are not actions.

You can always walk away.

Be suspicious of those who express themselves through maxims.

Everything dances.

No matter what other Gods and Spirits you worship, honor Dionysos.

Dionysos is in the details

One of the best parts of the production was how fucking polytheist it was. And I don’t just mean that they kept the hymns to assorted deities in, which not every production does. But the whole thing began with an invocation of the ancestors of the place, going back generation through generation to the Lenape people; Tiresias was dressed as an houngan and at one point Dionysos shouts “àṣẹ!” and instead of setting it beside the streams of Dirke and Ismenos they called on Hudson and the other local Harlem river. I think these flourishes helped bring the audience more fully into the sacred atmosphere of the play; they were also nice parallels to the ceremonies the Athenians conducted during the Dionysia. All it lacked was a parade of war orphans and giant phalloi, culminating in a bull sacrifice and it would have been perfect. 

Everything to do with Dionysos


Here I am in the park, waiting for the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of The Bakchai to start. Shortly after I slipped into a state of entheos that did not lift until well after we got home.

No matter how familiar you are with this play there is nothing quite like seeing it performed live. The leads were phenomenal, especially the aftermath of the interrogation scene where a tarted up Pentheus, with breaking voice, begs Dionysos to make him beautiful; they touch foreheads for a pregnant moment and the God responds, “You are.” Fuck, man. I’m tearing up just typing this, many hours later – that’s how good it was.

But don’t take my word for it – here’s my wife’s account, from a letter she wrote to the company. Our household made a sizable donation to these sacred artisans of Dionysos and will definitely be attending future productions, though I think it’ll be tough for them to top this one. 

Day VII. To Þórr Sönnungr

Hail Thor who truly shines in the heavens,
glint of Sunna reflecting off the golden wheels
of your goat-drawn carriage, billowy beard
blowing in the breeze, sparks shooting from
your glowing hot hammer gripped in invincible
iron gloves, strength enhanced by your mighty belt
and cheeks flushed from Óðr’s wine, gulped down
at the start of your journey as you set out to slay
the murky horde of wicked Wights and gnarly Ents
assembled against the impregnable walls
of gleaming Ásgarðr. Ride on, O Strider
ever in defense of all that is good, holy and true,
and know that this household stands with you
and shall never let your shrine be barren of offerings.

Day V. To Þórr Rymr

Thor who noisily protested when
Loki lie-smith said he needed to put on
Freyja’s cloak and underthings,
color his cheeks and walk and talk
in an affectedly dainty manner
to court a brutish Jötunn or three
– but did it anyway, big enough
to withstand a little humiliation
for the wellbeing of his people.
Hail O God who is worthy to wield Mjölnir
and on that day Þrúðvangr’s Lord proved
the Goddess of Courtesans’ equal too
in the arts of attraction and seduction,
so great are you, Thor, at all you set your mind to.