How to get started in the Starry Bull tradition
The first thing that you need to know is that you don’t need to know everything in order to get started. Forget the mythology. Forget the history. Forget the tradition. These things are valuable, but all they do is provide context and point the way.
So what are the basics?
Well, you should begin by accepting that there is more to the world than you can perceive with your ordinary senses. We share this world with an innumerable host of Gods and Spirits and the dead – nor is this the only world that we have access to. The dark and winding passages of the Labyrinth lead to other worlds, which is why we must be careful when treading it. It is all too easy to end up lost in the realm of dream, of madness, of death or places far worse than these. There are entrances to the labyrinth everywhere, including inside us.
Next you should accept that you are going to die. Everything begins with that certainty, and once you have accepted it you are confronted with two obligations: to live well and to prepare for death.
To live well is to understand that you are not alone. You exist as part of a community which consists of more than just your fellow human beings. Everything in this world has either an indwelling intelligence or is overseen by a higher power, and often both. Everything also exists within a web of causation. At the most basic level you would not be here without the countless generations that preceded you and contributed the genetic material of which you were formed. And your life is also sustained by consuming other forms of life regardless of your dietary habits. As we make our way through life we must learn to navigate these complex and intertwined relationships as harmoniously as possible, because every action has consequences and those consequences ripple outward and do not end with the individual. Indeed our lives are often impacted by beings whom we will never actually meet, some of whom have long since departed from life.
This is fact. Complain about the injustice of it all you want, it won’t change a thing. Better by far to spend your time learning to discern those threads of relation and how to work with them in the most advantageous manner so that they don’t trip you up and cause you unnecessary grief.
And one of the ways that we do that is through worship. Worship is an expression of gratitude for all that the Gods, Spirits and ancestors have given to us, gratitude to the world and the things in the world that sustain and enhance our life. And we express that gratitude through ritual acts both large and small – acts that bring us into connection with these beings, strengthen our relationship to them and return a portion of what they have shared with us so that their bounty and power may continually be renewed. It is not right to take without giving back, even if what we return is very different from what was given to us.
Ingratitude creates a void and imbalance; it is like tying a knot in a thread which interrupts connection. Nature abhors a vacuum and so other things like physical and psychic illness or pollution rush in to fill that space. Often this brings with it its own nasty consequences; however if it is grievous enough it can provoke the Gods and Spirits to wrath which can spill out affecting whole families and communities. Thus we are often called to make atonement not just for our own actions but those of our relations.
Again, arguing the unfairness of this makes no difference. If you come from a family with a history of alcoholism and abuse or you live in an area where a factory dumped toxic sludge into a river there’s a mess to clean up, regardless of whose fault it was. You can live with it, you can wait for someone else to fix it or you can do it yourself – and if you want to live well your best bet is to just suck it up and get to work.
One of the incentives for resolving this personal and collective debt in life is that if you don’t you’ll end up dealing with it in death. Once we reach the other shore a long and arduous journey through a nightmarish realm awaits us. This journey is one of self-discovery where we will be confronted with all that we’ve done, all that is hidden within us, all that we fear and loathe about ourselves. The more baggage we carry over, the harder it is. There’s no guarantee of success. Many succumb to the snares and delusion of that place; it’s too much for them, and so they drink from the waters of Forgetfulness and become witless, impotent shades thinking they will thereby escape – instead they become trapped, forced to relive it all over and over again. Only those who drink of Memory, who know and fully accept who they are, find release.
We don’t have to undertake this journey alone. There are allies and guides and saviors in that other world – and we can meet them, and build a strong relationship with them here, while we are alive. Those beings are the Gods, Spirits and dead who comprise the Starry Bull pantheon – and the greatest of them all is Dionysos, for he has gone ahead of us into that dark land and prepared a place for his people. He has power to intercede on our behalf and to persuade the judges and rulers of the underworld. His love is ferocious and he will come for us, no matter how lost we get, how undeserving of that love we may feel ourselves. Ariadne is proof of that.
And that is why we do what we do as members of his thiasos. If you know that, you know all that you need to. Learn the rest – our myths, our history, our traditions, our ways of doing ritual – to enhance this, but know that it is not essential in the way that what I have just described is.
Now go forth and worship Dionysos and his Retinue so that you may live well and die better.