I feel justified in referring to the Starry Bull as a tradition. We have multiple Orpheotelestai who have initiated folks in the double digits. We have a respectable body of literature, produced by myself and several others. We have schismed into multiple lineages (which mostly don’t speak to each other anymore.) There are several online groups run for and by members (even if I’m no longer involved so I can’t speak to how active or accurate they are.) Even folks who no longer consider themselves members are continuing the work they began while with us. I’ve started teaching classes again and the Hudson Valley Bakcheion will be holding regular meetings and public rituals in 2020 e.v., beginning with Lenaia for which 6 or 7 people have already RSVPed.
Starry Bear, on the other hand, I consider to have the status of proto-tradition. Although there are a couple folks I regularly discuss it with and have helped me tinker with some experimental ritual and mystical tech, it is still very much my own brain child and in need of a great deal of research and development. In fact I don’t think I’ve even attempted to explain what it is, with most of my writing focusing on the history of Greek and Northern contacts, the identification of Dionysos with Óðr and Freyja with Kírkē, and more briefly arcolatry and star-lore. Although these are fascinating subjects with each requiring further exploration, I’ve really just scratched the surface as far as the Starry Bear is concerned. My hope is that in a year or three we’ll be in a position to start bringing others into it, so I suppose I should begin articulating my vision for the Starry Bear proto-tradition.
In the past I’ve jokingly referred to it as Bacchic Orphic Heathenry, but that’s not too far off. One thread of it will concern the presence of Dionysos in Northern Italy, central Europe, Asia Minor, along the coast of the Black Sea, as well as Skythia and Hyperborea up through the Russian, German, Scandinavian, French, and English Romantic movements, and a little after. Orphic cults proliferated in this area – particularly in the present-day Ukraine – as well as groups such as the Kapnobatai, the Galactophagai, Pythagoreans and allied figures like Aristeas, Abaris, Hermotimos, Zalmoxis and Pseudo-Alexander, all of whom betray strong shamanic traits and practices. And a ton of stuff involving Medeia. I’m going to stitch all of this together into a form of bakcheia similar to but distinct from what we do in the Starry Bull.
There are also three strains of Dionysiac myth I need to tease out. The first of these concerns a series of archaic myths and later folktales concerning a Bear King which I believe refer to him (especially when death and rebirth are involved or he’s attempting to woo a maiden, who in some versions turns out to be his sister.) Next there is his lost history as Óðr, some of which I’ve pieced together from allusions, puns and riddles in the Eddas and Sagas, folktales, fairy stories, superstitions and ballads as well as things I’ve gleaned from dreams, visions, divination, ritual encounters, inspired writing and UPG. And the third is continuations of the lore found in Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic, and more contemporary literature concerning both Dionysos and Óðr. (Not to mention other Greco-Roman and Heathen divinities.)
Next I want to flesh out my understanding of Dionysos’ relationships with the Germanic, Slavic, Baltic, and Celtic divinities. His friends and allies will then constitute the loose Starry Bear pantheon. As above this process will consist of research, dreams, visions, divination, ritual encounters, inspired writing and UPG.
The next stage will involve a synthesis of core devotional practices largely drawn from the level of superstitions, fairytales, folklore and folkways, and even syncretic, quasi-Christian customs from these countries. The various branches of Heathenry have the higher stratum covered, so we’ll draw on lower level religiosity. Likewise I want to develop our own ecstatic and sorcerous techniques since there are serious problems with how a lot of folks do seiðr, runework and the like.
Plus all the Black Sun stuff.
There’s a whole lot more to it, but that should suffice to give you a rough sense of what I mean when I refer to the Starry Bear proto-tradition – and how much effort it’ll take to bring this thing to the surface.
In case the last five posts (bracketed by Violent Femmes’ videos) weren’t clear, I’ve come to believe that the sicknesses I’m suffering from represent the early stages of the Black Sun process and that I’ll only find a true cure in its associated madness, which force I must learn to master and utilize or it will destroy me. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on conventional treatment and medication – there’s real disease here whether it has a spiritual component or not – but this does recontextualize things. Of course I had my suspicions early on but resisted the diagnosis because it made too neat and, well, obvious a story, especially after all of the hullabaloo. C’est la vie. Guess I’m getting an early start on my Year 2 Goals.
Plato, Phaedrus 244de
Next, madness can provide relief from the greatest plagues of trouble that beset certain families because of their guilt for ancient crimes: it turns up among those who need a way out; it gives prophecies and takes refuge in prayers to the gods and in worship, discovering mystic rites and purifications that bring the man it touches through to safety for this and all time to come. So it is that the right sort of madness finds relief from present hardships for a man it has possessed.
From The Invocation of the Black Sun: Alchemy and Sexuality in the Work of Coil by Hayes Hampton:
Crowley envisioned the highest level of initiation as the point where man, having dissolved his individual humanity, resolves into god, or what Crowley called “Unity…above all division.” Thus, Crowley’s magical system aims at psychic alchemy, using the aspirant’s habits, proclivities, and even resistance to change as transformative material. In his most complete statement, Magick: Liber ABA, in a chapter entitled “Of the Eucharist; and of the Art of Alchemy,” he describes the later, more painful stage of the process: “just as the Aspirant, on the Threshold of Initiation, finds himself assailed by the ‘complexes’ which have corrupted him … so does the ‘First Matter’ blacken and putrefy as the Alchemist breaks up its coagulations of impurity.”
Here Crowley writes of the nigredo phase of alchemy, which he often symbolized with a black dragon, though traditional alchemical literature more typically symbolizes it with the symbol of the black sun. Coil adopted the black sun as their logo and as a frequent lyrical image, using a drawing from Crowley’s Liber Arcanorum which can be viewed as a visual pun: both sun and anus. As a glyph joining the nigredo with elimination of bodily waste, the black sun combines two of Coil’s major tropes: the fragile, contingent nature of the individual self and the exploration (and alchemical use) of forbidden or rejected materials and sexualities. Stanton Marlan, in The Black Sun: The Alchemy and Art of Darkness, looks in depth at the black sun’s relationship to the alchemical nigredo and its metaphoric eclipse of consciousness. The black sun, in Marlan’s summary, brings together “blackness, putrefactio, mortificatio, the nigredo, poisoning, torture, killing, decomposition, rotting, and death … a web of interrelationships that describe a terrifying, if most often provisional, eclipse of consciousness” –that is, the dissolution of the mundane self both desired and feared by the magician, and the confrontation with the “dark forces” he or she must master in order to evolve spiritually. These “forces” were understood by twentieth-century magicians like Crowley not so much as external, demonic forces but as psychological negativity: shame, guilt, fear, and disgust.
For Balance and Christopherson, the “dark forces” included psychological negativity in the form of gay self-hatred and puritanical body-phobia and also what is culturally constructed as physiological negativity: blood, urine, shit, and (gay) semen — the ultimate forbidden substance of the 1980s, worse than crack cocaine. All of these substances, Coil’s work insists, travel along the subterranean rivers of our cities and our psyches, poisoning us unless we transmute their subtle energies. Coil’s debut album, Scatology (1984), which John Balance called “alchemy in sound,” explores the psychic and bodily terrain of waste matter. “Literally,” Balance told an interviewer, “some of the sounds — shitting and toilets –were … raw noises. Wewere making good things from what is perceived as being basically, bad things; dealing with subjects other people wouldn’t touch such as rotting and death.”
The black sun logo, prominent on the album’s cover, serves as a visual reference to other lacunae, holes, and forbidden spaces mentioned in the songs or in the album’s extensive liner notes: “The Devil’s Hole” that Charles Manson told his followers awaited them in the California desert, Salvador Dali’s “Humanism of the Arsehole,” the psychic and corporeal depletions of vampirism, gluteal injections of antibiotics to cure STDs, and, most memorably,the shit- and piss-spattered setting of “The Sewage Worker’s Birthday Party.”
Inauspicious as each of these may be, each also contains the possibility of transmutation; as Scatology’s liner notes summarize, “It is about performing surgery on yourself – psychic surgery— in order to restore the whole being, complete with the aspects that sanitised society attempts to wrench from your existence.”
From Dead Kings and Saviour Gods – Euhemerizing Shamanism in Thracian Religion by Dan Attrell:
As the undisputed masters of healing herbs (according to the Greeks), the Thracians were no strangers to the shamanic techniques of ecstasy well known among other cultures of the steppe. Working from the texts of Posidonius, Strabo reported that the Mysians, a Thracian group from north-western Anatolia, possessed members of their society called both θεοσεβεις (“those who fear god”) and καπνοβαται (“those who walk in smoke”) who practiced strict vegetarianism and consumed nothing but honey and dairy products. This reference to the “walkers in smoke” may allude to the ecstasy achieved by mass cannabis consumption as reported by Herodotus among the Scythians. […] One Orphic bone inscription from Olbia dated to the 5th century BC reads “for Dion(ysos) and Psyche,” revealing the importance of a transcendent soul in connection with the Greek god of intoxication in Thracian territory. Another of these bone inscriptions containing the words “Βιος Θανατος Βιος” and marked with little “Z” pictograms (which might represent little orphic serpents) reveals the widespread and consistent nature of Dionysian symbolism reaching as far north as modern Ukraine. In the shamanic mystery initiations as practiced by the Orphic cults, near-death experiences and the use of dangerous doses of hallucinogenic plants went hand in hand. Whereas the Divine Bridegroom Sabazios (Dionysus) was primarily the god who presided over ecstasy and entheogenic intoxication, the Thracians held him in equally high regard as a dying-and-rising saviour god and a master over the souls of the deceased. Long before the introduction of alcohol, shaman exploited the ecstatic and oracular properties of hallucinogenic mushrooms (Amanita muscaria and various types of coprophilic Psilocybin-containing mushrooms); opium (Papaver somniferum); “jimsonweed,” “horsemad,” or “thornapple” (Datura stramonium); mandrake root (Mandragora officinarum); cannabis; deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna); and henbane (Hyoscyamus niger). The experience of death and the ecstatic evacuation of the soul from the body appears commonly in the Thracian funeral iconography on which is depicted the Tree of Life. To be in a state of ekstasis – that is, to stand outside the body – was to experience death itself.
From The Sacred Conspiracy by Georges Bataille
Beyond what I am, I meet a being who makes me laugh because he is headless, who fills me with anguish because he is made of innocence and crime. He holds a weapon of steel in his left hand, flames like a sacred heart in his right hand. He unites in one eruption birth and death. He is not a man. But he isn’t a god, either. He is not I, but he is more I than I: his belly is the labyrinth in which he himself goes astray, led me astray, and in which I find myself being he, that is, a monster.