I wanted to take some time to explain this holy week of observance, partially to articulate for myself what has mostly been a matter of impressions, emotions, wordless things, and partially, of course, to share as I go. I invite feedback, thoughts, and questions to this, for part of the articulation process is answering questions.
Years ago I realized, if I wanted my calendar to be replete with Poseidon festivals like those of you who are able to have a religious calendar replete with Dionysos, Demeter, or Apollon festivals, I was going to have to create them. If Poseidon had places where a slew of festivals were held in His honor, they have not come down to us. Snippets of some, yes. Names, places, but it’s nothing like what we can find for others. And, I want my calendar to be saturated, if you will, with festivals for Poseidon.
A festival for Poseidon Taureos only seems a natural inclusion. While in His cultus the bull does not take on the same importance as the horse, the bull is present. It is tied up twice in the story of Minos, both with the bull that Minos neglected to sacrifice to Poseidon and, as a result, the birth of the Minotaur. Coming at the myth of Theseus from a Poseidon-perspective is always interesting to me; there’s a component of brother versus brother, between Theseus, who, in some of the tales, is the son of Poseidon, and the Minotaur, who is also, after a fashion, a descendant of Poseidon’s. When I originally conceived of this festival, I thought I might honor the Hellenic New Year and find a way to tie in a symbolic sacrifice of a hekatomb to Poseidon, somehow. Through researching possible ways of doing that, as well as historic bull sacrifices, I was reminded of modern day bull sacrifices-that-are-not, and bull running, and, of course Pamplona’s bull run. And I realized, with sinking dismay, that this was not ever going to be a happy, joyous, ecstatic festival, but rather one of sobriety, mourning, and loss.
Now, there is a wealth of traditions of bull fighting, rodeos, and bull running throughout the world. The bull running in Pamplona during their San Fermin Festival — which is nominally religious in nature (Saint Fermin was the first bishop of Pamplona, and part of their myth cycle for him is that he was trampled to death in Pamplona by a bull; the original bull runs are said to have been held to commemorate that event. According to others, Saint Fermin’s death remains a mystery) but these days sounds more like a huge, week long party — is simply one of the most famous, if not the most famous, at least here in America. I picked this week largely because of that. This particular bull running attracts huge crowds and brings hordes of tourists to the area — and, protests, as well. And, I suppose, at the end of the day, this observance in honor of Poseidon Taureos can be seen as a protest, as well. But the protest is not just about this particular bull run — and honestly? If some things were done differently, I would have less to protest about. I do have to protest what amounts to ritualized torture and slaughter all in the name of entertainment. It may be a useless protest — we humans have loved our ritual torture and slaughter in the name of entertainment of millennia, after all. Every time I’m tempted to think, “we need better, more constructive outlets for our seeming need to fight, to establish territory, to pit ourselves against death and win,” I remind myself of the timelessness of this. But I still can’t not protest. More importantly for me, for this, I will hold these days, these events, in my awareness, and I will give what I can, as I can.
In theory — and in practice, under specific circumstances — I am not at all opposed to animal sacrifice, as it was practiced in history. So, it’s not the death of these animals that I protest. But it is the manner in which they die. There is a weight of reverence that is lacking, and a horrible, horrible waste that accompanies the entire affair.
I’m cautioned during all of this, in spite of its ugliness, in spite of our ugliness, to continue to cultivate compassion. We are such complex beasties. I remind myself of economies and sustainability, of cycles that seem impossible to break, of traditions and how icon-clad they can seem, of ancestors and sharing in the past by bringing it into the future, and so on. I want to despair of our species, and He reminds me, no. So, what am I doing?
The festival for San Fermin begins at noon on the 6th of July, although the first bull run doesn’t take place until 8am (although later this year, thanks to political protests) on the 7th. The bull running takes place every morning, at 8am (ish) until the 14th. The bull fights are daily, in the evening. The bulls running in the morning are the bulls that will fight, and die, that evening.
I thought, when I realized how this observance would shape up, that it would be one of pain and endurance, to suffer along with the bulls, to mark their death with my own discomfort. I thought of burning, of scourging, of cutting, of sleep deprivation. And last year I certainly experienced sleep deprivation and I certainly held death and suffering in my mind, but my outward observance did not take place, beyond token offerings, as we were in the midst of burying my grandfather. This year, I’d settled on some structure and ideas.
So, for the duration of the week, I am marking the time of the bull run with a half-hour long vigil, during which I pray, give offerings, and carry as much of the weight as I can bear, of this burden. (I started a day early on purpose, partially to get into the swing of the schedule and partially because it may not start until the morning of the 7th, but the bulls are still being moved about and such things can add to the stress they exprience.) My experiences with Poseidon tells me that these bulls are not alone during this time, and that Poseidon is not the only one looking after them, and it is my honor to be a part of that. I am up shortly before midnight, which corresponds with just before 8am in Pamplona, lighting my vigil candle and pouring libations, and then I crawl back into bed. I want to mark the bull fight in some way, as well, but as that hits when I’m at work for most of the days — and I have a habit of getting too caught up in the form to the detriment of the substance, so for this year at least, I’m trying out letting the following vigil also be about marking the deaths of the previous day.
For the duration of the week, I am not eating meat of any kind, and I am fasting between 6am and 6pm. There will be some food, but of the plainest fare, of the most minimal amounts. Water and tea is allowed. Already, I am seeing the benefits of this fasting, first and foremost the awareness of discomfort, and the struggle to remain compassionate when I’m ticking off all the food I want to eat!
On the 14th I will be holding a funerary rite. I’m not sure yet what that will consist of beyond offerings and libations. Will figure it out during the course of the week. I’m considering a procession with the offerings, the following day, to the river, just to connect it all back to Poseidon again, for me.
This is not, at this point, a holy observance that comes with visual focal points and stimulation. I sit in the dark, at night, and offer prayers and whatever from me Poseidon will take. My thoughts go to Zeus, to Dionysos, to the Dioskouroi, to Audhmula, to the Aurochs, to spirit of Uruz, and so on. But, even Poseidon becomes a bit peripheral, or, He becomes a Partner in the working, and the bulls and Bull becomes the focus. Things are not very ceremonial, though I suspect that will change for the funeral ceremony. We’ll see. For now, I sit and I pray and I witness.