In 1626 C.E., an Englishman named Nicholas Farrar left London and public life for a remote village called Little Gidding. There he and his mother, brother, sister, and in-laws repaired the chapel and formed a household that lived a quasi-monastic life; without a formal rule of life or vows, they observed regular prayer times, did acts of charity, and occupied the chapel with the continuous recitation of the Psalter. When Farrar’s good friend George Herbert was on his deathbed, he sent Farrar his manuscript of poetry, asking him to publish it if he thought it worthwhile. We owe to Farrar Herbert’s contribution to English poetry.
The Anglican church in England, South Africa, and the United States honors Nicholas Farrar as a minor saint. His life and the community at Little Gidding also, of course, inspired one of the greatest poems (I think) in the English language, T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”, the climax of Four Quartets. I didn’t come to love Eliot or to know anything about Farrar until I discovered them on my own as a teenager, but once I discovered them, they became mine forever: “You are here to kneel/Where prayer has been valid.”
I was still a teenager, I think, when I wrote this poem, which certainly owes a lot to Eliot, but I still like it.
The Road from Little Gidding
The ruin of this idea straddles
the feast-days of despair:
The Psalter is a seven-spoked wheel
revolving between light and dark.
Aleph, beth, gimel, Beowulf:
Water is precentor of this
midwinter summer; the stones
are wet of this small, human dwelling
built by human hands, cemented
with antiphony’s acoustical
relations; one stone
clings hard upon another
in our memory.
That was our City,
foundationed in God–
a little, ruined village,
a little home of little men.
Walls lean together
like deacons in a sanctuary;
a hole through a stained-glass
window obscures the light.
And after this our pilgrimage
a memory: measured music
under vaults. The Psalms revolve
from Coverdale to me.
Here is a thread. I will hand it to you.
Do not get lost. Do not lose hold of it.
Here is a thread. You must hang by it.
Follow me through. You will hang from it.
Here is a thread, drawn from my belly.
Here is a trail, left by my blood.
Follow me through. Do not get lost.
There is one way in. There is no way out.
I danced in the moonlight. I danced in the dark.
I danced with my brother. I danced with the god.
I danced with my father. I danced for my mother.
I danced for the goddess. I will dance for you.
Watch me dance over the end of the world,
the breaking of the bridges, the falling of the towers.
Hear me laugh when all the lights go out
and poor lost Theseus hears breathing in the dark.
I am Melinoe. I am Ariadne.
Daughter of Death. Giver of Life.
Ariadne Melinoe, Melinoe Ariadne,
holy and terrible, stars and bones.
I can tear the world down
and help you rebuild it,
if you heed my commandment:
Build no more walls.
Walls make a labyrinth,
walls hide the monster,
walls divide loved ones.
Let me be your monster,
Melinoe Ariadne, slayer and savior,
goddess and demon of the new age.
I am Melinoe, daughter of Persephone,
daughter of the ravished goddess,
borne away without consent but
lawfully wedded, raped by her own father
in the guise of her husband.
I am Melinoe, render of the veil.
The man behind the curtain
has always and only been a man.
I will show you this. His power is a sham.
I am showing you this. I am Melinoe,
child of a rapist and his victim.
I am Melinoe, and the lord of the dead
was my true father, a kind and tender parent
unlike the triumphant lord of the sky.
I am Melinoe, and my sisters are these:
The victims of Harvey Weinstein,
the victims of Bill Cosby,
the daughters raped by their fathers,
their brothers, uncles, boyfriends,
the victims of Roman Polanski,
the victims of Woody Allen.
I am Melinoe, and I have brothers, too:
The boys who were told
that men can’t be raped, the men
who were told they were queer,
they must have wanted it.
I am Melinoe, and to all of you I say:
If Zeus the rapist denies you justice
in your mortal life, in death the rapists
will answer to Hades my father, to Hel
my foster-mother, to Loki my friend,
to Persephone my mother, to Antinous
my husband, and to me, motherfuckers,
you will answer at last to me.
Almost two years ago, I was voted one of three Magistrates of the Ekklesia Antinoou, a queer polytheist Graeco-Roman-Egyptian group. A year ago, the three Magistrates and the two acting Mystagogues of that group resolved to disband the Ekklesia and re-form as the Naos Antinoou, which one might describe by the phrase I heard a friend use this past weekend: “Our oracular queer death cult of sex and beauty”.
This past weekend, I was in Seattle, Washington, having crossed the North American continent for the first time, to meet our two Mystagogues (i.e., mystery cult initiators), aka my Facebook friends Jay and Otter, in the flesh, also for the first time, and to be initiated into the Mysteries of Antinous the Liberator–or fail in the attempt.
I did not fail in making the journey. I did not fail to meet my friends, and Sister Krissy Fiction of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, another of our three Magistrates, and that alone would have been worth the longest trip I’ve ever made: The joy of hugging someone who heretofore has been only a picture on a website, a portrait made by words on your computer screen, and finding them warm and solid, and having them show you their favorite shops and restaurants and bars. Jay and Otter and their friends made me a very warm welcome despite the trademark clouds, chill, and rain of the Pacific Northwest.
And I did not fail in achieving the Mysteries. I could have, I was informed afterwards. It is possible to fail an initiation, in our tradition. And I don’t want to contemplate what might be the consequences of such a failure, in this life and hereafter.
I achieved the Mysteries, and I can say without reservation that it was a profoundly life-changing, transformative event. I am grateful to everyone who made my travel and my initiation possible, from my friends and initiators to the friends who took in my beloved bird Rembrandt and took care of him for the better part of five days. (He has forgiven me for my absence, I am happy to say.) I am grateful especially to the God himself, the Beautiful Boy, Antinous.
I was not sworn to any oath of secrecy. Yet the root meaning of the word “mystery” is “mu-“, which means to close the lips. The mystai, the initiated, are those who keep mum and do not speak of what they have experienced, in part because it would not help and might harm those who are initiated later, in part because words cannot convey such experiences accurately. And so I will not say anything further here on this public platform: I only affirm that I have Seen, and now I know.
O Antinous Triumphant,
Beautiful, Just, Benevolent,
You who have triumphed over death,
Man become God:
May you triumph also over every evil
that binds and hinders human souls,
over fear, over hatred, over bigotry, over greed,
over lust for control and control through lust,
over violence and injustice, over cruelty and malice,
over each and every archon that opposes freedom,
whether chthonic or empyrean,
whether hidden in the dark or veiled by the light,
that we may triumph with you
and traverse the otherworlds as your companions
in your Boat of Millions of Years.
May it be so!
Today the body of Antinous is found on the banks of the Nile, yielded up by the sacred river near the town which is called Hir-Wer and Besa.
Today Hadrian weeps openly like a woman and vows to found a city in honor of Antinous on that spot.
Today Antinous is revealed as a hero who has walked with knowledge into the underworld.
… As a daimon who quickens the earth to life and causes the river to rise and fructify the land.
… As a god, one with Osiris, enthroned with the gods of Egypt.
Today the gods of Kemet, Hellas, and Roma welcome him into their company, as Hadrian, Pharaoh and Emperor, bewails his death aloud and his mortal remains are preserved with the honors once bestowed only on kings.
Today the Naos Antinoou celebrates its first anniversary as a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian polytheist community dedicated to Antinous, the Beautiful Boy of Bithynia, the son of Mantinoe, the beloved of Hadrian.
Dua Antnus! Khaire Antinoos! Ave Antinous! Hail, most beloved god! Once again, with gratitude for all your blessings, with praise for all your worthiness, I dedicate myself to your worship and service.