Some things you can do when it gets intense
Establish your personal limits. One of the things that Dionysos is really big on is consent and respecting boundaries. But he takes you at your word, meaning the God and his Spirits are going to push and push and push until you say stop – and then they will. No explanation required, no judgment, just respect for you recognizing and asserting your personal limits. But it won’t let up one second before you do that and he’ll also let you take it far past what’s safe or healthy, if only to teach you the necessity of knowing yourself. I’ve seen folks get hurt real bad as a result of that, and I don’t want to see it happen to any of you. This is about self-discovery not dick measuring. The only one you’re in competition with is yourself. (Besides, I have the biggest dick of all!) Meaning that if things start getting really, really bad stop the course work and seek whatever kind of treatment you need. You might be cracking under the pressure or this may have exacerbated (or even revealed a previously undiagnosed) mental condition. I’m here and you’re wherever you are, so I can’t give you the proper care or supervision that should normally accompany work of this nature. That means you’ve got to look after yourself, okay? Don’t make any rash decisions, especially if you’re having suicidal ideation, and if you’re confused or considering something that’s really out of character for you, talk to somebody whose opinion you trust and see what their take on the situation is. They may be right, they may be wrong – but at least you’ll have another outside perspective to consider. And remember, if you’re ever in doubt about whether something is coming from the Gods and Spirits or your own craziness, there’s always divination. If you’re under major stress or don’t feel you can trust your signal clarity consult a competent diviner rather than doing the reading yourself – especially one who is completely outside the situation and has little to no knowledge of what’s going on with you. However, none of this abdicates your personal responsibility to make proper choices for yourself. Just because a friend, a diviner, or even a God or Spirit is telling you to do something that doesn’t mean you actually have to. You can argue with them, arrive at a compromise, or even flat out tell them no. You don’t just have the right, you have an obligation to decide things for yourself – and of course part of that involves accepting the consequences that come of such a decision. Every choice we make opens up certain options for us and closes off certain others. If a person (or Person) is asking you to do something and you refuse, yeah, that could remove opportunities for you or even end your relationship with them, and man that would suck – but it would suck more doing something you knew was wrong for you simply as a way of seeking external validation. (And compromising your personal integrity can have far worse, long lasting consequences so really, don’t do that shit.)
Take care of yourself. There’s a reason we refer to this kind of intense engagement with Spirits as “work” – and that’s because it can be tremendously taxing. Physically, spiritually, psychologically and interpersonally. Even if you have supportive friends and family, this is something you’re going to need to take personal responsibility for because if your needs aren’t getting met you’re the one who’s going to suffer. That involves obvious things like making sure that you are properly hydrated and fed, that you get sufficient rest, regularly performing a personal inventory of your emotional state and so forth – but also make sure that you’re giving yourself enough time to transition and recover. If you’re having to go from an intense and transformative spiritual encounter right into stressful and noisy social situations, that can be really jarring, disorienting and damaging to the psyche, as well as compromising to the work you’re doing. A lot of my practice involves altered states of consciousness so this is something that’s particularly important to me and thus I take a lot of time preparing for ritual. Often more than the actual ritual itself. For instance, about an hour before I intend to do something I’ll light candles and make offerings at my shrine, play appropriate music, put on ritual jewelry and clothing as a mental cue that I’m going into work-mode, do any purifications (of the space or myself) I feel are required, read material that helps put me in the right mindset, still and focus my thoughts on the Gods and Spirits through meditation, smoke weed and drink some alcohol as well as dance, chant, pray and adopt sacred postures and movement. This can be more or less formal as the situation requires, but I try to create this bubble of the sacred around myself meaning that if I’m talking with someone I avoid chit chat, mundane or upsetting topics, I make sure the television or radio aren’t blaring in the background, I don’t check my e-mail or fart around on the internet, I try not to think about bills, or upcoming appointments or the dumb and annoying shit someone on Tumblr may have said earlier that day. Among the offerings I give to my Gods and Spirits is space in my mind and I want that space to be worthy of and able to receive them, so all of this prep is nearly as important as the eventual worship itself. Likewise, you should put thought and care into what you do to bring yourself back after you’ve finished the work. Spend time collecting and reorienting yourself. Listen to music that’ll put you in the proper mood or watch a movie with relevant themes. Eat, even if it’s something simple, as the act of taking in nourishment can really help ground you in your body, and drink something that’s non-alcoholic, especially water or tea. Do some light reading, write in your journal, or make a piece of art. When you finally stumble forth and rejoin humanity explain that you’re in a vulnerable state and ask them to take that into consideration when talking with you. (I.e. save the heavy and emotionally wrought conversations for later, don’t get upset if it takes me a while to respond or I find it difficult to follow thought trains or otherwise act a little oddly, etc.) If possible, take a nap even if it’s just a 10 or 20 minute quicky. (Sleep can be rejuvenating, act as a buffer between different mental states and gives the Gods and Spirits a further opportunity to continue the conversation through dream.) Another thing that can help is taking a shower or bath, especially if you put herbs and other smelly stuff with cleansing and grounding properties in the water.
Be present and mindful. Stop. Breathe. Focus. Whatever’s happening is probably not going to kill you. It may hurt, it may really, really suck – but you’re going to get through this. Chances are, you’ve probably been through much worse before. Everything changes; it’s the only constant in this world. So the situation you’re facing, it’s just temporary. It could get better, it could get worse but it’s definitely not going to be like this forever. So let it pass, let it wash over you and continue on its way, just as you will. This is especially important to keep in mind when the work triggers past traumas or dredges up shit long forgotten. That was then, this is now. Everything is different. No matter how scary and painful it is, how vividly it’s presenting itself to you – you’re safe, in another place and time, and you’re not the person you were then. Go through a personal physical inventory, “these are my fingers, this is my arms, this is my shoulder, this is my head, this is my nose, etc.” which will help override the fear response as well as ground you in your body. If you can’t stop the badness, try to ride it out. For instance, tell yourself no matter how horrible this is I can endure it for a minute. It’s just sixty seconds of sensation. When you’ve gotten through that, do it for another minute, and another until it’s done. Once you have removed yourself from the situation and gotten your mind and emotions stabilized, you may want to try analyzing what happened and your responses to it. Pain, fear and the like are messengers and teachers. If we fight or run from them we just make things worse and deprive ourselves of the understanding they offer. What’s causing this, why am I responding in this way, how does this new information change the way I think about things, does it have to only change them in that way or can it mean this other thing altogether? One way to process this is to write stream-of-consciousness style in your journal. Give yourself permission to put it all out there on the page, without editing or censoring or worrying about what others will think. Once you’re done let it sit for a while and then read through it and do the same thing with whatever that stirs up in you, until you’ve reached a point where you’re okay with things, or at least okay enough to share what’s going on with someone you trust – and even then you can just share with them what you want or need to, without ever letting anyone glimpse your messy process. If it’s really sensitive and you don’t want to keep it around – either because someone might discover it or because you don’t want to be reminded of it – feel free to destroy that material. Hell, consigning the pages to the flames could be a powerful cathartic act in and of itself.
Recite a mantra. Especially if your thoughts are agitated or stuck on an endless loop, having a special phrase to repeat over and over again can really help break that. There is power in words, but even on a psychological level it distracts your conscious brain and gives it something else to focus on. Find something that’s personally meaningful to you, even if it’s just a string of Dionysian epithets or a line from one of my poems. Within the Starry Bull tradition we have a mantra that’s effective not only for this kind of mental jamming, but also works really well for cleansing, consecration and healing. Hell, it’s pretty much my go to any time I need to say something meaningful in ritual. It’s taken from the Orations of Aelius Aristides and runs:
Nothing can be so firmly bound – by illness, by wrath or by fortune – that cannot be released by the Lord Dionysos.
Although merely repeating the words can bring about the desired release, it really helps if you think deeply about what you’re saying and how Dionysos has acted in this capacity – in your previous experience of him, in the lives of those you know, as well as in myth. What does it mean to unbind and release? What are some of the ways that he could do that with regard to the ordeal you are presently going through?
Cool your head. Take a white linen cloth and soak it in chernips, then lay down and place the cloth over your eyes and forehead or entire face. This bit of Starry Bull ritual tech is useful in a number of situations: when your thoughts are racing or your emotions are out of whack, when you’re having a bad trip of spiritual encounter, particularly if it just keeps repeating, when you’re coming down from altered states stuff or are physically exhausted from dancing, when you’re reeling from the effects of contact with miasma, etc. The color white has a wealth of associations within our tradition (which I won’t go into here) but chief among them are purity, healing and things pertaining to the ancestors, as does linen which tended to be favored by Bacchic Orphic initiates over woolen objects because of the strong taboos attached to the latter. Chernips is made within the Starry Bull tradition by extinguishing a flaming branch or leaf in a basin of water, with or without some talky bits to give it extra oomph. (I usually use the mantra discussed above.) There’s a lot of complicated woo stuff I could get into with regard to this practice but instead I’ll point out its obvious positive practical application: doing this forces you to just lay there focusing on the damp cloth that’s sending droplets down your neck instead of the roiling mess that is the inside of your head. Breathe. Relax. Do some of the mindfulness exercises described above or recite the mantra. Visualize the badness being absorbed by the cloth and leaving you. Keep it on for as long as you feel it’s necessary, though I’d give it a good 5 to 10 minutes to do its thing. Once you’re finished submerge the cloth in the bowl of chernips to neutralize any miasma it may have picked up and let it sit overnight. Then wash and dry it (I prefer air-drying it but that’s a personal thing) then cover the cloth with some sea salt or natron and let it sit like that another night. That should clear it of any lingering gunk, at which point you can stash it with the rest of your ritual gear until your next freak out. (Although I currently just use a repurposed napkin, I want to get a cloth with magical symbols and phrases stitched on it in red and black thread. Hmm. If only I knew someone who knows how to sew …)
Egg cleanse. Most cultures have some form of healing, cleansing or divination involving eggs and unsurprisingly considering their cosmology and the frequency with which eggs were offered to Dionysos Chthonios this was a thing among the ancient Bacchic Orphics too. Within the Starry Bull tradition we have a number of different but related practices involving eggs, so I’m just going to give you a very basic, watered down version. When you’re feeling sick, emotionally frazzled or blocked by psychic gunk take an uncooked egg (or better yet have someone else do it) and, holding it about an inch above you, run it over the length of your body starting and ending at the top of your head. As this is done, open yourself up and allow all of the badness to be sucked from you up into the egg. You can do this in silence, while chanting appropriate Dionysian epithets or vibrating the Greek vowels or even while reciting the mantra mentioned above. This practice is more effective if you have some background in energy work, but that’s by no means a prerequisite. Just try to visualize or feel the grossness leaving your body and going into the egg. When you’re done either crush the egg in your hand (especially if you need to feel as if you vanquished whatever you’re trying to get rid of) or throw it as far as you can, releasing that shit into the world. Not only is this magically and psychologically effective but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Word of warning, though: don’t do this in a hotel room, because egg is a bitch to get off the walls.