I’ve gotten a few questions in private correspondence, asking for more information about the Vigil for the Bulls that I hold in July, and I realized that I haven’t spoken in any depth about these days of holy obligation for a while. I figured I’d take some time, then, to talk about the Vigil, how I observe it, and why. Be warned that this is not going to be any well-cited dissertation; a lot of my Work with Poseidon, as well as a lot of just o/Our being t/Together, is based on emotion rather than cold hard facts. (Not to poo-poo on facts, I love facts, I’m a fact fiend, please don’t misunderstand me here, yay facts!)
What is the Vigil for the Bulls? The Vigil for the Bulls started out a number of years ago as my counter-working against the famous Running of the Bulls that takes in Pamplona as my way of honoring Poseidon Taureos. In reality, there are a large number of bull runs that take place throughout the world throughout the year, of which Pamplona’s run is the most famous. Superficial feeling regarding this practice are easy: horror, disgust, dismay. As a polytheist who does not find the idea of animal sacrifice completely abhorrant (though admittedly I have a rather rigorous list of ideal criteria to be met before any theoretical sacrifice would take place), the knee-jerk disgust and horror I experienced when thinking upon this practice was something I wanted to dig into, to figure out. I am (more or less) a meat-eating human who does not always manage to purchase humanely raised and slaughter meat, so it sounded a bit hypocritical to condemn these people (at least in my mind) as wretched, evil, wasteful people because they’re killing a (large) number of creatures, even if I did (and do!) find the entire event – from the corralling and releasing of the bulls, to the daily bullfights, and the inevitable death of the bulls in said fights – horrible.*
To speak of more visceral reactions for a moment – the idea of a creature so sacred to so many Powers, connected to so many various cult practices across such a wide span of time, Poseidon included . . . it punched me in the gut, again and again. The Bull is not unique to Poseidon, and His association with the bull is not even the most stressed of His various associations. Be that as it may, the bull has been an important and dominate animal connection in my personal worship. For the longest, longest time, when I did manage to have “visual” interactions with Poseidon in meditation, He took the form of the bull. His connection both to the Minotaur and to the Minotaur’s sire further this connection in my mind. There are other things, smaller things, but what matters is that, whether because I have a deep fascination with ruminants, or because of His influence upon me, or because there is a large tradition of them being holy, the bulls matter. (We are ignoring the ‘hey, maybe Vishnu’ thread for the sake of my head. I know, okay. Just, not right now.) The bulls matter a lot. A lot a lot, and so this thing, this secular, wasteful thing just . . . gets under my skin.
Obviously, I can’t put a stop to this tradition. What I can do is walk my path with Poseidon, using the mantra that is my guideposts along the way: Awareness, Compassion, Healing. This is His command of me, this has been His command since the very beginning.
How do I observe this vigil? I do a few different things, all with the goal of keeping my mind with Him during this time, with holding suffering – that there are beings suffering – in the forefront of my mind, and offering some of my own discomfort and suffering to them/with them. July 7th through the 14th, I am up at 12am to offer Reiki and to hold the bulls in my mind while, halfway across the world they are being corralled through loud streets to the bull ring. I offer a libation to their spirits, I burn incense, I sit and I pray. The bull run is short, lasting about 10 minutes, but I stay up for a half an hour to an hour. Later in the day I burn more incense, offer more prayers, and send Reiki to the dead and dying, corresponding with around the time the last bull fights for the day should be over. (Obviously, I can’t know for sure when they will actually be over; such things defy scheduling).
I fast during the week, as well, though what that fasting looks like depends on a number of factors. I refrain from eating meat entirely, and depending on my health at the time, I refrain from most foods from 6am to 6pm, though I do allow for juice, smoothies, and flat bread while working. The goal is to be aware of suffering and discomfort.
I wear a red veil (and thus open myself up to stupid “arrrr” pirate comments locally) to keep in mind the blood that is being spilled. I have a bracelet that I wear only during this vigil, and now I have a necklace to add to it. Those of you who know me well know I’m not a ‘stuff’ person; having one thing that is set aside to be worn for a week out of the year is not typical of me, but I’ve found this to be a powerful tradition that really helps me stay focused. During the day, when I’m not praying or meditating, I’m studying – currently I’m picking my way through The Power of the Bull, slowly mostly because the book keeps ticking me off. (The author is writes well enough, but he’s certainly of the ‘men create gods’ camp which . . . yeah.)
On the last day of the vigil, I hold a small funerary ritual to honor the spirits of the creatures killed during the bull fights, offering more prayers, not just to Poseidon, but also to Indra, to Dionysos, to the Dioskouri, to Bull, and Zeus, and so on.
I wanted, when adopting this vigil, for there to be an ordeal-bit built into it. When this was in the planning stages I had grand designs of exhaustion-inducing activities and the like. In practice what ends up happening is that the ordeal presents itself and does not require my planning at all. In 2012, for example, I marked a large portion of the vigil with the death and burial of my grandfather, with a surprise flight across the country and then back again; death, grief, and suffering were front and center in my awareness!
Why this vigil, why like this? Originally, I simply wanted a festival to honor Poseidon Taureos. I wanted to have a year whose calendar was littered with Poseidon festivals. I have that now, to a degree, but I’ve found over the years that my Beloved does not want festivals simply praising how great He is. He wants something that accomplishes something. He wants to help, to heal, to spread compassion, and to ease suffering when He can – and to bear witness when He can’t. So much of the Work we do together is about us being together and bearing witness. In observing this vigil with Him, it has become as much about the Mystery of Poseidon’s Holy Grief as it is about anything else. My Lord can be joyous and brilliant, like waves rippling and glistening in sunlight, but He has deep, still, darkness and in those depths there is grief that the human mind cannot hope fathom.
* I’ve educated myself a bit about the history of bullfighting since beginning this vigil. It’s a complex, complicated topic that brings into it concerns about economy and so on and so forth. I’m not interested at this point in going in the pros and cons of bullfighting and bull running from a human standpoint.