Category Archives: st4r.org

Thiasos Bakkheios

I’ve started, together with half a dozen friends, a Dionysian devotional group I’m calling Thiasos Bakkheios. It means, roughly, “Folks who come together to perform rituals to Bakkhos.” I am no expert in any form of Greek, so if someone reading this can confirm that I’m using the words correctly, that would be great. Better, if I’m wrong, correct me.

The name was originally invented to fill in the “group name” blank when submitting a Dionysia for Pantheacon. As I’ve been missing regular, intense, small-group devotions in my life, I decided to open up my personal practice to friends and like-minded polytheists.

So far we’ve had two meetings, and are planning a field trip for later this month. We’ve gathered and opened by pouring libations and offering food to Hestia, to the spirits of the local land, to the ancestors, to the gods and spirits important in the life of Dionysos, and finally to Dionysos himself. Drumming and chanting and passing a cup of wine follows, and after that…

Well, it’s been interesting. The first meeting, we followed the ritual with a feast, where we drank and ate and drank and talked about what we wanted from the group and drank and got to know one another and drank… You get the picture. The session was most productive. Four bottles died in the enactment of our rites, and we made the best of their sacrifice.

The second meeting was an experiment in letting the energy go where it would. The opening invocations were much the same, but after we started talking about what kinds of ecstatic methods we’d like to explore. The group quickly lost any central focus, separating into a talking corner and a drumming/chanting corner and corner of enthusiastic cuddling. People had mixed experiences with this, and felt varying levels of comfort and inclusion.

There’s room in Dionysian worship for both intensely focused ritual and ritualized partying. But, being mortals with limits, I think that in future we need to be more mindful about which we’re engaging in. Given that the particular face of Dionysos to whom I most relate is Himself as the Host of the Revelry, there’s a strong emphasis on hospitality and taking care of my guests. As priest, I need to provide some sort of common focus, or make sure that everyone knows and understands ahead of time that lack of focus is the point of that evening.

I must admit to a certain reluctance here, though. Part of me wants to be The Guru, and I’m very wary of that bit of ego. So much so that I have, perhaps, erred too far in the other direction. I don’t like telling everyone what to do. Hell, I hope to help folks become skilled and comfortable leading these rites so that I can be one of the ones letting go. Still, someone has to point in a direction and poke everyone to go that way, and I suppose it should be me, at least at first.

That in mind, I do have a few goals for this group: First and foremost, I want to create a space wherein folks can deepen their relationships with Dionysos, where they can come together with like-minded folk and worship together. Beyond that, I’d like to have a solid team of devotees who are interested in putting on public rituals dedicated to Dionysos. Some years back, I was given in a dream a mystery initiation to share with others, and I hope that some of those who join us at the Thiasos will want to experience that.

If you’re interested in joining us, you can contact me through the comments or at lonsarver@gmail.com


Live, My Strange Children

live to spite them


Bedtime Prayers

I’ve done a number of things as part of a regular (or, more often, irregular) spiritual practice. One thing the powers keep telling me, though, is not to try to do everything all at once. Start simple, and build on that.

This has been especially reinforced by my recent (six months or so) onset of serious arthritis in my knees and pain in my hands. There are new limits on how much activity and energy I can spend on everything, and I’m having to learn to re-balance things.

So, here’s what I do, every (mostly) night: I pray. Standing before my altars, if I can; sitting or lying comfortably, if not. It’s simple, and I stay true to the form rather than the script. The prayer is no replacement for libations and offerings and other devotions. It’s more like the divine relations equivalent of a quick coffee with friends, just to keep in touch in between parties.

Hey, don’t knock the little things, yeah? Small pushes keep the wheel spinning, once you’ve cranked it up.

Oh my powers, great gods, ancestors, spirits of the land
I thank you for sharing this life with me

You, first and foremost, Dionysos
My lord, my love, my Bakkhos
I thank you for the joy and the rage and the ecstasy you bring out in me
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You, Lady of the Moon and Lord of Death and Resurrection,
The springs from which the Kingstone Wicca flow
I thank you for accepting me into your family
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You, Freya and Freyr, and all the Vanir kin
I thank you for the love you have brought me
I thank you for the lessons you share with me
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You, Baron Brav LaCroix
I thank you for standing with me in the dark
I thank you for showing me the joy in fear
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You, Melek Ta’us, Peacock Angel
Who showed me what it was like to open and let a god inside
I thank you for the hard lessons you have taught me
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

Ron, Teri, Merrill, Sanford, Virginia, Thelma, Alvis, Ruth
And all my ancestors of blood, and my ancestors of spirit
You who walked this Earth before me, and made my way easier thereby
You heroes and Mighty Dead
All you who left this world to me
I owe you a debt, and pay it to our mutual posterity
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

You spirits of Earth, Sea, and Sky
Spirits of the mountains and valleys, the fill and the wetlands
Spirits of creek and river and delta and the bay and the ocean
Spirits of sky and wind and fog and rain and the myriad lights of the heavens
All you who make and maintain the world
Thank you for allowing me to live within you.
I thank you, and offer you the hospitality of my heart and my home

Thank you, gods and powers
Thank you, and goodnight


My Polytheism Must Be Political

My polytheism is political, not because I believe the Gods have firm opinions on who my state senators ought to be, but because my polytheism is based on a large web of interdependent relationships. My relationships with the gods and ancestors and spirits are connected intimately with my relationships with other beings–humans, and all the other embodied beings of the world.

I cannot honor Dionysos if I do not stand up for the rights and lives of those whose passions and transformations are oppressed by the mainstream/conservative movements in our culture. I cannot honor my ancestors without acting to fix the damage caused by their misdeeds while living, and thereby make a better world for their descendants. I cannot honor the spirits of the land if I don’t act to protect the land from those humans who would treat it as a thing rather than a being.

To my mind, doing right by the victims of injustice is doing right by the gods, ancestors, and spirits. I live among humans, I worship with humans, I act to maintain the connections between the powers and humanity. This necessitates political involvement, because politics is, at base, how one organizes a body of people who don’t always agree to get things done.

Black and brown people are being gunned down by what passes for the law in this nation. The genocide of native cultures is ongoing. A good chunk of the country wants to elect an orange bully to oversee our collective collapse.

I cannot pray loudly enough to stop myself from hearing this.

I cannot stand before my powers with heart and life divided for the sake of some ideological purity.

I am small, limited, mortal. My influence and understanding only reach so far. So I need the assistance and guidance of my gods. I need to stand firmly on the shoulders of my ancestors. I need to be in some semblance of harmony with the land I live on. And, critically, I need my community to stand with, unified in work for justice for all beings.

So my polytheism is political. Because it will take all of us, the embodied and the invisible, together, to make our collective world what if should be instead of what it is.


A Prayer for the End of Equinox

Over on Kina’ani Tess Dawson has written A Prayer for the End of Equinox, calling for the renewal of the worship of the gods, laying foundations for the future.

John Beckett, over on Patheos, has a similar (if somewhat more pessimistic) sentiment in his essay, Something Bad Isn’t Coming, It’s Here. He speaks of the decline of American empire and the transformation of the “industrialized west” into something very different than what it was in the last century, and the need to lay foundations and traditions for the future.

I can get behind both of these thoughts. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that what I do now helps shape it. We we owe a debt to the ancestors, and we repay it to posterity.


David Bowie is Dead

One more leaves the sunlit lands
One more feasts in the hall of the ancestors
David Bowie is dead

I remember riding the bus with Ziggy
I remember dancing with the Diamond Dogs
And sometimes, I’m afraid of Americans, too

I remember his voice, his song
I remember hearing the stories he told
And seeing a queer man celebrated

I heard Dionysos in his music
I saw Melek Ta’us in his eyes
And found joy in his songs of darkness and disgrace

His music felt like home
His words spoke to my dreams

Awake, Mighty Dead, open the doors of your halls
Tonight you will have song and love
For David Bowie has left the sunlit lands


Rain and Glory

I stood in the rain last night.

I’m in California, and we’ve had a very dry year. It’s rained in the previous weeks, but late in the night, and I slept through it. But last night, it rained while I was still awake, and I had to go out and stand in it.

It was a light rain, and warm, each drop a quick touch from the sky. It was glorious. On my chest, in my hair, on my face… The rain wasn’t heavy enough to wet my hair, really, but it was glorious.

I stood in the rain last night, and I prayed.

“Thanks be unto all the gods.” That was it–six words, said twice, with my arms stretched out, and rain falling on my face. With the words and the rain came a feeling of peace, and of joy.

Just a few moments. Less than a minute. And it was glorious.


Remember Upon Whose Bones Your House is Built

I am mildly torn on the subject of Columbus Day. On the one hand, Columbus was an evil bastard who deserves to be burned in effigy every year, preferably as part of a charity drive collecting donations for Native American causes.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t be here if he’d never done his entirely objectionable thing and kicked off the rush to colonize the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries. Oh, Europeans would have gotten around to it eventually, but the historical context would have been different and therefore the social and historical conditions that made my life what it has been would have also been different, and I would not be here.

Perhaps the one who would have been, would have been a better human being than I. I don’t know, and my depression and anxiety like that thought way too much to pursue it further. But I digress…

Columbus was awful. But he was also pivotal. He was evil, but also helped shape the world which shaped me, and I rather like me, most of the time.

I like to say that we owe a debt to our ancestors, and pay it to our descendants. But we all have ancestors we don’t like, perhaps even hate, and would like to forget about. In more recent (than Columbus) history, I had ancestors who were southern slave holders and Confederate officers, for instance.

How do we remember them, without glorifying them? How do we give honor to those without honor, or at least who deserved no honor in life?

We remember them honestly, without glossing over the evil they did. We admit that their bad is in our history as much as any good they did. We admit, in humility, that our houses are built on a foundation of native bodies, and in turn we honor those who were killed so unjustly.

We give our problematic ancestors honor by working to clean up the messes they left behind. I can’t undo the horrors that Columbus and his successors wrought in the Americas, but I can work to make the conditions in our present, which are the legacy of colonialism, racism, and empire, less vile.

We can honor even the ancestors we hate by making the present better than the past, and the future better than the present.


Fate, Free Will, and the Gods

In a conversation with Thenea about the Gods, free will, and consent, she suggested I (possibly, challenged me to) write a post about free will in ancient Greek thought. She may have a somewhat inflated idea of my scholarship, but I’m willing to give it a try. As you read, keep in mind that this isn’t a polished article by a classics scholar, so much as a gathering of a simple polytheist’s recollections and speculations in an attempt to arrive at a thesis. So, having made my excuses, on to the topic.

My general impression is that the attitude towards freedom, fate, and the gods expressed in the myths and folklore is one of a people beset by forces beyond their control. The world is one in which, for no apparent reason, one may fail despite one’s best efforts, or even be assailed by implacable foes for crimes committed by others generations before ones own birth. The most diligent farmer’s crops may fail because of unexpected drought, the greatest warrior may lose his final battle because of a broken sandal-strap.

In this world, the gods are described as capricious beings of fantastic power, their relationships with mortals turning on whims and passions that are seemingly beyond their control. They are sometimes even powerless to save their favorites, even trapped into the position of killing their beloved mortals despite their love for them. As when Semele, mortal mother of Dionysos, convinced Zeus to grant her a request. He agreed, and then she told him what she wanted. Bound by his word, Zeus revealed himself to her in all his divine power, and the sight burned her to a crisp. Zeus did not want her to die; if he could have spared her, he would have, but he was not able to go back on his word.

I seem to recall reading somewhere–I wish I’d written it down, rather than trusting myself to remember–that the Greeks spoke of passions not as something that originated within a person, but as outside forces acting on a person. When one falls suddenly, rapturously in love/lust (for example), that’s not something within, that’s Eros striking you with his arrow. Herakles murdered his family in a rage, but that rage came from Hera, not his own inner frustrations and fears.

Oedipus did not know he was killing his father and marrying his mother, but his ignorance did not prevent his doom. Odysseus did not plan to spend years stranded on various islands, all he could do was make the best of the situation.

And, of course, the Fates decide the time of one’s birth, the length of one’s life, and the moment of one’s death, and not even the Olympian Gods can change this decree. If one is going to die, one dies. While one can attain apotheosis, or be granted a happy afterlife by divine favor, death itself is unavoidable.

In short, a human in the world is at the mercy of forces beyond their control, sometimes even beyond their knowledge. These forces are also constrained by other forces, and by the necessities of their own function. Frequently, there’s nothing one can do about it. And no one here gets out alive.

One result of this is a heroic ideal of facing death bravely, and going out fighting. If one can’t avoid dying, then one should leave behind a life to be sung of. I can get behind this one; my greatest fear about death is not that I might die horribly, but that I might die and be forgotten.

Another result, one I am less supportive of, is the thought that this rule of greater forces do what they will and mortals do what they can is applied to human behavior. To quote Thucydides, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” While Thucydides lived long after the initial tellings of the myths, and was not always regarded as a good moral example, those words do seem to sum up a good deal of the behavior we see in the stories.

Personally, I feel that while this may be true in the absolute sense, the world is better when the strong act justly and fairly, with mercy and an eye toward the common good. I also understand that one strong person cannot long stand against a many weaker people incensed by what an asshole the strong person has been. And, of course, strength comes in many forms beyond that of brute force and base cunning. Satire comes to mind, as does organized labor. But I digress…

The basic understandings I take from all this into my own practice–aside from that I need to spend more time reading and taking better notes–are:

First, though very powerful, the Gods are not all powerful. They may love us, but they can’t always help us. Sometimes, they can’t help but harm us. Which leads to…

Second, the Gods are constrained to do what they must do in order to fulfill their own functions. The God in charge of your local weather may not want to get you wet, but they can’t make a hole in the rain just for you. This also means that courting a God of madness and drunken ecstasy is probably not good for your sanity and sobriety, even if it is a net gain for your life as a whole.

Third, both of these things are just as true for mortals as they are for Gods. I suspect, but don’t have a strong argument to support, that what we lack in phenomenal cosmic power, we make up for in greater (but not absolute) freedom of thought and action.

Fourth, in addition to limited power and freedom, we also get death! While we may choose to live as if it weren’t so, our lives are limited by the fact that they will end some day–barring the Singularity making us all immortal machine intelligences, of course. Whatever it is one decides one wants to do in life, one only has so much time in which to do it, so try not to waste time Hamleting on about it.

Finally, if we want to live in a good world, and not a vast wasteland of worldsuck, we all–mortals and Gods alike–have to work together to make it good, and to keep it that way. The Gods can’t make the world good without us, or at least, they can’t do it if we’re so wrapped up in shortsightedness and fear that we fight their efforts. And we can’t do it without them, however we understand them.


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