Beginning with the Starry Bull
by Rebecca Lynn Scott
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely.
Beginning anything new is hard. There’s inertia to overcome. There’s a learning curve. Everything is so uncertain. And it’s hard to even find the beginning with something like a religious practice, especially one as complex as ours.
So how to begin when it comes to following the path of the Starry Bull, or Bacchic Orphism in general?
- Begin now. Don’t wait for things to be perfect, because they will never be perfect. If you wait to begin praying until you have all these fancy tools and altars and statues and ritual garb, you won’t begin, because there will never be enough of it. There’s always something else to have, forever. If you wait for it to be perfectly silent before you meditate, you will never meditate, because unless you have an anechoic chamber handy, there is no perfect silence. Pick something, anything, to do, and do it. Do it again, and again, and again. Keep doing it until it’s habitual to do it. That’s a regular practice. Ready for more? Pick something else to do, and do that, too.
- Begin where you are. There is literally no place else you can begin. Very few people can meditate for more than a minute or two at a time to start. Many can manage even less. Very few people can get every visualization on the first try. It’s ok if you’re not one of the very few. You are where you are, you can do only as much as you can do. So today, do what you can do today. Do that again tomorrow, and the next day. After a while, the amount that you can do today will feel easy. That’s when you stretch it. Meditate for two minutes instead of one. Keep beating your drum for an extra four-count. Whatever it is, try for a little more. But don’t get mad at yourself for not being able to do it every time. That’s useless. It will stop you from doing anything.
- Begin simply. Whatever you pick to begin with, let it be simple. One kind of meditation, one prayer, one offering, one festival. Don’t needlessly multiply things. There are so many cool things out there that it’s tempting to jump into as much as possible as fast as possible. But this way lies burnout. There is time and time and time, and you can do any of it that you want, because there is time. But for now, begin with just one thing.
- Begin with what makes sense. This is brand new to you. A lot of it won’t make sense. You have plenty of time to learn, to come to understand. For now, start with the things that already make some sense to you. There’s depth beneath them, more than you realize, and you’ll learn about that in time, too. But the best way to learn it is by doing it. So don’t put off doing while you read more and more books, trying to understand everything before you begin. Begin now, where you are, with something simple, that makes sense at a basic level. And then go from there.
That’s how to begin, but not where. So let’s examine what worship is to find a few points you might start at.
Worship breaks down into four basic components: prayer, offering, contemplation, and celebration.
- Prayer is simply addressing a god or spirit directly with some message. There are different kinds of prayer — supplication, or asking for something; intercession, or asking a lesser spirit or god to intercede with a greater one; thanksgiving, simply giving thanks for what one has received; praise, extolling the good qualities of the god or spirit; and various kinds of statements of belief or intent — but all of it addresses the god or spirit directly in an attempt to reach them. Prayer can be very formal, like a hymn, or very informal, like the one-sided conversations in Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. They can be centuries old or extemporaneous. It doesn’t matter how you pray, but if you wish to worship, it does matter that you pray. For our tradition, I recommend that prayers of praise outnumber all other types of praise roughly 2:1. Be sweet to your gods and spirits. Tell them you love them, or that they’re awesome, or whatever else, regularly. Ask for things less infrequently, and only when you’re doing your best as well.
- Offerings should, I think, be fairly obvious. Things given as gifts to the gods. Many things can be good and appropriate offerings. Food, drink, art, writing, incense, whatever you choose to give to the gods or spirits, that’s an offering. The simplest, most basic offering you can give in our tradition is clean, clear water. Yes, water. If you can give nothing else, you can still give that. Don’t worry, yet, about the right way to make offerings. Just make them. Offerings can be a wonderful form of communion with gods and spirits, can bring you closer to them, just as giving gifts to your loved ones brings you closer to them.
- Contemplation is simply intentionally stopping to concentrate on thinking about the gods or spirits. This can be meditation, creating art about them, reading about them, anything that simply considers them, their nature, their actions.
- Celebration is what it sounds like, and is very important in any Bacchic tradition. It can be taking part in a festival, it can be ecstatic reveling, it can be anything in between. Anything that honors, takes joy in, or shows appreciation for our gods and spirits can be celebration. We have so many festivals on the calendar that it’s easy to get lost, but that wide variety also means you can simply pick one that’s coming up, and do something to celebrate it. We have lots of suggestions, and are working on more. It’s Arachneia, and you want to do something? Draw spiders! Cut them out and hang them from trees! Do some sort of fiber craft! Go to the zoo or natural history museum and look at an exhibit on spiders. Tell her story to people you know, or to strangers. Anything that celebrates her.
You can start with any of these elements, and with any of the gods or spirits of our pantheon. The simplest to start with is probably a prayer to Dionysos, because there are a lot of prayers already written to him, but you can pick any element and any god or spirit you like. How to begin remains the same: Begin now. Begin where you are. Begin simply. Begin with what makes sense. So, today, right now, stop and do something simple that makes sense to you. Stop and pray, stop and make an offering, stop and think about your gods or spirits, stop and celebrate that they’re there. Just do it. You can elaborate on it later, come up with a prayer to say every day, think of a better offering to give, come up with some more specific way to contemplate them or something you want to celebrate next week.
No, really. Go do something. Stop right now, and say a prayer, or make an offering, or contemplate a god, or celebrate something. Right now.
Unlike the White Rabbit’s poem, there is no place to stop. There is no end. There is only further along the Labyrinth. But only if you begin. Only if you take the first step.