(Admin note: Sannion has since disconnected from the thiasos, but we still base our traditions on his writing. Some information here is now out of date, however most is still relevant. This FAQ will be kept for record. If you have further questions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
Some frequently asked questions answered by Sannion the archiboukolos
Q. What is the thiasos of the Starry Bull?
A. The thiasos of the Starry Bull is an emergent Magna Graecian Bacchic Orphic religious association and mystery tradition. We draw on a highly individualized and localized expression of Dionysian religion that is rooted in the historical and geographic region of Magna Graecia or Southern Italy from initial colonization on up to its distorted reflection in Tarantism and as such our tradition is a fusion of Greek, Cretan, Thracian, Egyptian and indigenous Italian and Sicilian elements. It therefore differs from expressions of Dionysian and Orphic religion found in other places and time periods, contrasting perhaps most sharply with the forms these took in Classical Athens which tends to be the unconscious default within the contemporary Hellenic polytheist community.
It is predominantly a cult of ecstasy that seeks to bring about release, purification and revitalization through music, dance, ritual drama, feasting, sacrifice and direct communion with gods and spirits. By means of these cures it helps the individual dissolve social pressures, psychological imbalances, ancestral wounds and physical infirmities which are often tangled up together.
When the lifeforce becomes sublimated and sluggish and burdened by excessive cares it tends to create illness (spiritual and physical) within the individual which can go on to infect whole communities. Through the above mentioned actions the lifeforce is stirred and strengthened, often by inducing a crisis state that results in a frenzied climax enabling it to cleanse and recalibrate itself. This recalibration can produce the formation of a new identity, particularly if it is brought about by rites of initiation.
Described another way we are inducing altered states of consciousness or mild forms of madness to inoculate ourselves against more severe expressions of madness. Beyond healing there are many fruits of this madness including creative inspiration, access to other planes of knowledge, communion with gods and spirits, increased strength and potency and temporary imperviousness to pain and other physical limitations.
Aside from the this-world benefits of these practices our tradition also has a strong chthonic and eschatological focus with a pronounced concern for proper tendance of the dead. Instead of the impotent and witless shades of the Homeric tradition it is believed within Bacchic Orphism that the dead have power to influence events in our world and are often responsible for illness and calamity when neglected by their descendants. As such we strive to honor and placate these spirits so that they will assist us in our endeavors – especially the Dionysian Dead which differ significantly from the ordinary dead since Dionysos has interceded on their behalf with the underworld powers and imbued them with some of his own abundant vitality. Even beyond this grace they are different because the experience of Dionysian ecstasy radically transforms the individual – the more we encounter it the more we are changed. In short mystai of this tradition may look forward to becoming feasting heroes and furious hunters in the afterlife because of the rites they have gone through here.
Q. Can you be a little more succinct?
A. Sure! The five points that make up the Starry Bull tradition can briefly be summarized as:
* We are Dionysocentric, meaning that Dionysos is not just the most important member of our pantheon but all of the other gods and spirits who comprise that pantheon and everything in the tradition must have some connection to him.
* We are Orphic, meaning that we grant special authority to Orpheus and the body of literature that circulated under his name in antiquity. This is one of the things that gives our tradition its pronounced chthonic and eschatological focus and distinguishes us from other forms of Dionysian religion.
* The thiasos is rooted in Southern Italy, which means that we draw upon the traditions and cult practices that flourished there and give precedence to its localized, variant forms of myth when faced with competing alternatives. This is also what distinguishes us from other forms of Orphism. However not everything Magna Graecian is part of our tradition.
* Though rooted in a specific place and time period our thiasos is also emergent, meaning that we place a strong emphasis on contemporary expressions of this tradition and are open to innovations when required.
* And finally, our thiasos contains a lineaged mystery-tradition which I, at this point in time, am the sole guardian of and the only person with authority to bring others into it. One is not required to seek admittance into the mysteries in order to be a member, however this exerts a strong influence on the thiasos and the tradition it was founded to express.
Each of these points (and it may help to visualize this as an inverted Pythagorean star) shapes the tradition though there is often a lively back-and-forth going on, with some of the strongest tensions being between the rooted and emergent points.
Q. How is the thiasos organized?
A. Sannion has left as archiboukolos but recommended five non-initiated members to take over his role. This council administrates the websites and relate material. For more information contact us.
Old Answer: I hold the title of archiboukolos (“chief cow-herder”) of the thiasos of the Starry Bull, which means that I am responsible for guiding the progression of this cult.
The thiasos basically has an inner and outer expression. At this point there is the open, public face consisting of akousmatikoi and then there are a handful of people who have contacted me expressing interest in becoming boukoloi. Both draw on the Bacchic Orphic tradition as it found expression in Magna Graecia – but the one group does so voluntarily and the other under special guidance and instruction from me.
At the akousmatikos (listener) level everything is up to the individual – I’ll suggest ideas and practices and they can decide to do them or not. I encourage them to get to know all of the members of our pantheon but it’s up to them how frequently or in what manner that’s done – everyone’s equal, there’s no obligation or competition. It’s just about honoring our holy powers, hanging out with some cool folks, doing intense ritual, discussing neat stuff and having a good time. People pick up the rudiments of the tradition through immersion – and it’s a tradition that we’re shaping together through our shared experiences. People have had stuff come up for them or asked a question which resulted in that becoming a canonical part of the tradition, and we’ve had several gods added to the pantheon since the group was formed.
Now for those who are called to go further there are two additional stages – boukolos (which means one who tends the bull) and mystes (initiate). It is required of most people that they spend at least six months as akousmatikoi before contacting me about progressing to the next stage, however there are protocols to fast track things, particularly if Dionysos indicates that he would like it so.
Boukoloi are on special paths of service, which are tailor-made for them through counseling and divination. Once we have determined a) if the person has Dionysos’ blessing to proceed b) the nature of the work they will be doing, and who they will be doing it for since “tending the bull” doesn’t automatically mean direct engagement with Dionysos; some tend him best by caring for those he cares deeply about c) and any prescriptions or prohibitions that will be involved we begin an extensive training process which is carried out under my supervision and Dionysos’ direction. Once this is completed to the satisfaction of Dionysos the person is consecrated as a boukolos within the thiasos of the Starry Bull, and after fulfilling this role for three years is considered a tradition-bearer with all of the rights and responsibilities that that entails. One of those rights is that they are then eligible to seek initiation into the mysteries of our tradition. There is no requirement to become mystai (and divination is performed to determine whether that is even an option) and I suspect most will remain boukoloi, as it involves the form of service most suited to them. If Dionysos requires it, however, even the rule of three-year service may be superseded.
Q. Tell me more about these mysteries?
Q. I’m interested in some elements of your system but am not sure that I want to go all the way or that conflicts might arise between your and other systems I work in?
A. Akousmatikos is a self-chosen designation; it comes with no obligations or restrictions and you can participate as much or as little as you like. For that matter you don’t even have to consider yourself part of the akousmatikoi in order to learn, celebrate or share with us. We’re kind of an open-source tradition (except when it comes to our mysteries) so what you do with any information or ritual techniques you happen to pick up from us is totally up to you – in fact folks are encouraged to take elements from our tradition and adapt them for personal use, particularly if such adaptation is done to bring them more into line with one’s local climate, geography and agricultural cycles which we feel to be an essential component of honoring Dionysos and the nymphai properly. Hell if you want to be that kind of a dick you could even pass this stuff off as your own without mentioning where you got it from – though you may want to respect the copyrights of our member contributors as there are means of enforcing them which do not resort to the American legal system. Just sayin’.
Furthermore, this is a non-exclusive tradition – as long as you honor the core pantheon you are free to include any other deities or spirits you want. (And at the akousmatikos stage you are free to employ whatever methods of worship you feel called to. Nor am I the only one qualified to come up with rites and poetry for this tradition – indeed, everyone is most heartily encouraged to create, experiment, adapt and share what works for them. This is a very new and open tradition and everyone involved has a hand in shaping it.) The reason that these beings are given a privileged position in the tradition is because they are the ones who were most directly involved in its foundation and they fulfill important roles within the initiatory process of our mysteries. That should never be taken to infer that these are the only deities worthy of veneration or that if you’re an akousmatikos you can only pray to the gods and spirits listed on our website. Aside from your individual cultic obligations, there are plenty of other gods and spirits who fulfill important functions in our rites and mythology – off the top of my head I would add Zeus, Kronos, Gaia, Ouranos, Eros, Priapos, Helios, Athene, Artemis, Hera, Rheia, Cybele, Demeter, Baubo-Iambe, the Korybantes, Kouretes and Dactyloi, Nyx and assorted other Greek, Thracian, Italian, Cretan and Egyptian divinities.
Q. How do I get started?
A. I lot of people start by following the schedule of daily observances and festivals found on our calendar page. This can be as simple as remaining mindful of their presence on that day, formal offerings and a recitation of their communal prayers (which the thiasos came up with together), or you can incorporate a wide array of other devotional activities and ritual practices into this routine. If you’re not sure what to do for them devotional pithomanteia can also be an effective technique. This schedule is merely a suggestion that enables one to get to know the gods and spirits of our tradition through immersive practice – it is by no means mandatory.
Additionally you should check out some of the other resources available on our site. Not only do we have a selection of poetry contributed by members for all of our gods and spirits, but we have shrine pics, people offering crafts and spiritual services, as well as a regularly updated multi-author blog with folks sharing their thoughts, experiences and information that they have gathered.
If you would like to immerse yourself more fully in the sources that our tradition is based on check out Greater Greece, which explores the Southern Italian contribution and Smoky Words which covers the Bacchic Orphic side of things. Greater Greece contains extensive links to some of the best contemporary scholarship on these topics available for free on the internet, which is constantly being added to.
Each Thursday members of the thiasos meet for a formal chat via Skype at 9:30pm EDT. Upcoming topics and archives of all past chats can be found here.
Most discussion, however, occurs at our Facebook page which can be found here.