I’m Not a Dionysian Rock Star–and That’s Becoming OK

Once upon a time, I had dreams of being a rock star. Not a touring musician (no one deserves to suffer that), but a rock star in the sense of someone locally famous for Doing Things in the community. More, I wanted to be a Dionysian rock star. I wanted to hear

Elektra Records promotional photo, circa 1969

Not like this guy.

folks say things like,”hey, isn’t that the guy who does the really cool Dionysian rituals?” as I walked by, to have people email me out of the blue asking about polytheism or Dionysos, to have the kind of blog that gets re-posted and hosts long, interesting discussions. And, dare I dream, maybe I’d found a tradition of reverence that would outlive me.

But, as it happens, I’m not a rock star. As much as I might dream of it, I just don’t have the kind of extroverted drive that it takes, or the kind of life where I can take my traveling Mad God Show on what passes for the Pagan event circuit.

I know folks who are rock stars, in both senses, and they work their asses off for it. Talent, discipline, dedication, and personal support systems that give them the time and help they need to make themselves known, if not downright omnipresent-seeming. My hat’s off to them.

But that’s not me. It’s not that I don’t have talent, or will, or support. It’s just that all those things are invested in other ways. That, and I’m not always the best at moving toward my dreams in a deliberate, intentional way.

For example, Thiasos Bakkheios was born of bureaucratic necessity.

I wanted to run a Dionysian devotional at Pantheacon in 2015, but I’d never done anything on that scale before. Fortunately, Ember had, and we had contacts with a Hellenic Reconstructionist group, Thiasos Olympikos. They’d done open Hellenic rituals before, and liked the idea of helping promote and run a Dionysia. A few of them were part of the ritual, and a few more helped me with some scholarly bits.

The ritual went off spectacularly, ending up being double the size I’d planned for. Fortunately, my team was good at what they do, and we were able to scale up without trouble. Well, mostly. I hope the hotel didn’t have much trouble getting wine stains out of the carpet.

I wanted to do it again the next year, but Thiasos Olympikos wasn’t able to get involved. So, when Ember and I were filling out the application to present at Pantheacon 2016, we found ourselves staring at a box on the form asking what group we were with. While having an organization wasn’t required, we thought it would look better on the application if we had one. So, after some quick thinking and a bit of online research to shore up my non-existent knowledge of ancient Greek, I came up with Thiasos Bakkheios. It went in the box, and we got accepted, and things again went spectacularly.

I’d been playing with the idea of starting a devotional group dedicated to Dionysos for some time. I’m a small-group kind of person; it’s hard for me to keep up momentum solo, and much easier to do it when I feel others are expecting me to. The invention of Thiasos Bakkheios for the application gave that desire another poke, and I decided to see if folks who went to the Pantheacon devotional wanted to do more.

As it happened, they did, and things took off from there. But not quite as I expected.

Fast forward to the last quarter of 2017, and I’ve learned a few things.

I was not at all prepared for how slowly something like this grows. When the Pantheacon devotional was larger than expected two years running, I imagined eight or ten people chanting and dancing and generally losing themselves in Dionysos’ daemon, every month, with a good number of them wanting to spin off into study groups and initiatory work and all. I dreamed up a schedule of different kinds of ritual, made a calendar, and prepared to be blown away.

The reality is that after about a year and a half, there are five core members, all of whom would likely be hanging out at my place on a Saturday evening anyway. Often, one or two of them can’t make it, or half of us have flare-ups of various chronic conditions, or life has just made it impossible to prepare anything special. We don’t do the fancy calendar–mostly, we plan to drum and chant and make room for folks to be swept up in the spirit, or (as a back-up plan), have a sit-down feast with discussion and toasts and playing games with the gods.

Polytheistic Dionysian devotion is a niche of a niche; even in a Pagan-friendly place like the San Francisco Bay Area, there are few enough of us that I’m learning to be happy when we get even one person to join the core group for a monthly observance. It’s not that there aren’t other Dionysian folks nearby, it’s just that they all have lives, and scheduling anything here is a very fluid proposition without more energetic people than I working hard to recruit and promote. I’m told that this is not unusual, that other groups of similar focus have taken years to reach whatever ambitions their founders had.

The larger part of coming to be OK with not being a rock star is discerning which of my dreams were nascent plans, and which were phantasms. The distinction I’m making here is between dreams about how I can take what I like about life and make it better, and dreams about fantasy lives in which I escape what I don’t like about life.

If I look at it honestly, I started Thiasos Bakkheios because I wanted to share my devotion to Dionysos with others, and that’s what I have. Other dreams were security blankets against my fear of being ignored or forgotten, neither of which are realistic fears.

But the thing that’s really important here is that I can build on a positive, but not on a negative. I have a solid group who share my love of Dionysos to one degree or another, who support me in expressing that devotion. I can build on that, use it as a strong place to stand while reaching out.

If I were to try and build on the fear-dreams, it would make those fears the center of my devotions. There would be no real place to stand, and after a while, folks would get tired of being used as buffers against my anxiety. At least, I hope they would; my inner critic does not need enablers, thanks.

Where does it go from here, building on what I’ve got without getting bogged down in what I’m afraid of? Well, doing more public events, someplace more centrally located than my dining room would be good. Maybe working together with other polytheist groups in the Bay Area. Maybe an afternoon of storytelling, ritual practice, or what have you, leading into the evening’s ritual.

Rock star dreams may or may not manifest in time, but right here, right now, I’ve got a good thing going. I need to focus on how to make that better.

About Ashley Sarver

Ashley Sarver is a queer, nonbinary trans femme, polytheist, gamer, and disability caregiver living in the San Francisco Bay Area. View all posts by Ashley Sarver

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