Antinous for Everybody

POEM: The shade of the red lotus

In the mud of our failures,
out of the blood of our risks taken,
watered by the tides of possibility,
the red lotus blossoms.
Gift of the gods to Antinous,
sweating, wounded, mortal;
gift of Antinous to us,
beautiful, just, benevolent.
So many times have I failed
to slay the lion; even so many times
has the lotus blossomed still.
So many times have I sought
the way and been found
by the gods where I stopped,
exhausted. Jonah the prophet
slept for a while under a gourd;
let me rest here in the shade
of the red lotus.

My polytheism

My polytheism was waiting for me for a very long time.

It peeked at me out of children’s books on Greek mythology and popular surveys of archaeology and heavy tomes on world religions past and present. It smiled at me from a two-page illustration of hundreds of gods of the Hindu pantheon, with their multiple arms, their glittering ornaments, their unlikely skin colors. It beckoned me from the bright hues and stylized poses of ancient Egyptian art, which I emulated in my own childhood drawings.

My polytheism tapped me on the shoulder when the librarian at my neighborhood branch, who had an uncanny intuition for what her patrons would enjoy reading, handed me a recently published book with a gold geometrical design on a red cover: The Spiral Dance. It wove in and out of bad teenaged poems about the seasons and hymns to Dionysus and Athena. It took a breather and waited quietly when my grandmother’s sudden death sent me back to church, looking for a replacement for the stability I lost with her death. It was ready to woo me again when I met a man who liked intellectual conversation as well as I did and fell in love.

The man I fell in love with and married was (and is) a church organist, and while he was far from unsympathetic to my pagan and polytheist leanings, it’s hard to reject the Christian church entirely when it’s paying your salary. I spent the next twenty years or so exploring assorted pagan and polytheist paths, along with magical training and Tibetan Buddhism (which certainly looks polytheist to me), yet always wandering back to the church. It wasn’t until I was divorced and living on my own that I somehow made the emotional connection to a deity that had always been missing from the equation for me. That deity was Antinous, and regular readers of this blog know the rest.

I didn’t know I was missing devotion from my religious life until I felt it, experienced it. I say “devotion”, but I’m talking about a wide range of emotional responses to different deities, from the intensity of my feeling for Antinous, what you might call a higher octave of infatuation, attraction, erotic feeling, to my respect for Mars to my fondness for Flora to my increased interest in Jesus as a deified mortal, as a teacher, and as someone who created a path through death for those who trust in him. I never experienced Jesus as someone I could talk to, confide in, ask questions of and get answers from, as I experience Antinous. For many years I participated in the sacrament of communion every week, yet I never felt I had the kind of contact with Jesus from eating his body, drinking his blood, that I can get from talking to Antinous in the shower.

My polytheism, however, is not limited to devotion, though it includes it. My working theory of things, which in some ways has changed very little no matter what religion I named myself, is that the gods are interested in humans because they are interested in making more gods. Perhaps when you are immortal and don’t reproduce very often, it is easier to increase your numbers by upgrading other beings. My polytheism doesn’t think the gods are interested in offerings for the sake of offerings, in slaves like a Roman household had or even servants like an Edwardian household. They don’t want mortals to run their baths, cook their food, launder their clothes, clean up their mess. My polytheism thinks that what the gods want are agents, mortals to work for and with them, to share their values and carry out their agendas, with the eventual reward being promotion, deification, theosis. Some of the things that being an agent of the gods might require include magic, mysticism, meditation, contemplation, social activism, art and creativity, and much more.

My polytheism rejects the idea that other people’s polytheism has to look like theirs. It rejects the idea that 21st-century polytheism has to look exactly like 1st-century polytheism. And it rejects the idea that people cannot be good, worthwhile individuals who are contributing to the world unless they are religious people. I don’t want a hegemony of one religion in my society, not even my own religion; neither do I want a campaign against religion like the Communist regimes saw. My polytheism is happy to live in a secular society where a citizen can have any religion or no religion and all religions are equally protected and not promoted.

My polytheism is at times a hot mess, at times a work in progress. It involves my relationships with gods but also with spirits, with places, with birds and trees, with myself, with my body, my neuroses, my history. It can look like writing a poem for Antinous or like dropping offerings from a bridge into a polluted river. It can mean talking to a god or talking to a pigeon. It can include dancing for the gods in my little apartment or singing in a church choir. It doesn’t go away when I’m watching tv or reading fanfiction; it informs those things, too. My polytheism is about me and my gods, the values we share and what they want for me as well as from me; it’s not about a group, a culture, a time period. My polytheism respects other polytheisms, other religions, and firmly but politely asks that you respect it in return.

POEM: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

It is always a curious incident when the dog does nothing,
when the dog that should waken sleeps,
when the hound that should bark lies silent,
when the watch-dog fails of its watch.
In the toilsome heat of August, the Romans punished the dogs
that failed to do anything in the night-time,
or the day-time, whichever it was,
when the Gauls came to scale the city walls
and carry away all that made Rome superior.
Piteous dog crucifixions baking in the heat alongside the road!
Juno’s geese strutting and honking nearby,
pleased with their own superiority: *They* gave the warning
when the dogs failed! Pathetic. Geese are large, loud,
aggressive, and not known to be trusting.

O Hermanubis, temper the ferocity of Sirius!
Hounds of the Dog Star, chase away the roaring Lion
burning up our skies! Gracious gods, protect the harvest,
send us rain and sun in due measure: The dog days
are over, the descent into autumn has begun.

(With thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

I post this every year, but every year it is still perfect

POEM: The middle branch

The river is a strong brown god, indeed–brown
with pollution, sullen with waste, forgotten by
those who worship the machine. The machine
does its duty and the transit bus passes by,
roaring with smoke; the driver does not notice
the Canada geese browsing by the side
of the road, but I do, who worship Antinous
and not the machine, who use the machine
but consider myself sister to the geese,
to the egret, the heron, the several species
of gull, the stubborn thistle thrusting up
in a patch of grass by the bus stop,
the mockingbirds nesting in a useless vine
trailing across a chain-link fence enclosing
waste, decay, poisoned earth sealed off,
the burying-ground of progress. This is
the middle branch of the Patapsco River,
the eddying mouth of its thirty-nine mile length,
the backwater of its harbor that welcomes
freighters and tourists both, the end
of its 680-square-mile watershed. This is
where I live; this is the god that gathered us
here, European settlers, where no doubt
Algonquin natives gathered first, who left
their impronounceable name on the river.


O Antinous, deified in the Nile, blessed
by Hapi of the swelling breasts, child
of the Rhebas, brother of Alpheios,
bless our Patapsco, bless its middle branch,
bless the birds who nest there, the ground-hogs
hiding in the brush, the snakes in the woody
patches where Silvanus and Faunus hold sway.
Bless the tourists and the ships who bring
prosperity to the people, bless the workers
riding on the buses past the incinerator,
bless the light rail as it glides over the water,
the river is within us, the sea is all about us,
and you, Antinous, may you be always with us.

POEM: The dog days

Lazy as a dog in the heat
I lie beneath my air conditioner,
panting, unable to address the gods
on my own two feet like a proper mortal.
The dog days are upon us; the old
name persists although few people
know why, but I hear the Dog Star
scrabbling at the horizon, flame in his
eyes, his jowls dribbling humidity.
O Hermanubis, son of Serapis,
friend of mortals, trustworthy guide,
your canine kindred seek the shade now
and so do their human masters.
Only a tolerant few can rise like
Antinous Kynegetikos and seek
their leisure out of doors, coursing
the hounds in the shady wood
after the elusive deer. Blood
may be spilled in the hunt, but still
the leaves wither like the gardens
of Adonis, while the bees hum
relentlessly over the fading flowers.
Antinous Kynegetikos, call off your
hounds and let them rest!
Antinous Aristaios, with honey
and cheese refresh us!

PRAYER: To Furrina on the Furrinalia

I have no grove, I have no springs: O Furrina,
how can I honor you, whose nature
even your ancient worshippers forgot?
To Jupiter belong the rains, to Neptune
the lakes and oceans, but to you
and your sister goddesses, the springs
within the earth. Purify our earth, Furrina,
purify our waters; hear the prayers of those
who remember you and bless us with
your waters in the time of drought.

Neptunalia (from 2014)

Earth under my feet,

Water under the earth,

Fire under the water:

Such is Neptune.


Neptune, Poseidon, Nephew of the Waters,

Keep the earth steady beneath my feet.

Neptune, Poseidon, Nephew of the Waters,

Keep the waters flowing in the dry times.

Neptune, Poseidon, Nephew of the Waters,

Keep the secret fire alight, share with me its divine power.


Ave, ave, Neptune, khaire Poseidon,

god of the oceans, god of the waters.


(Originally posted to Confessions of an Urban Druid in 2014).

PRAYER: To Concordia on her festival


O Concordia,
you who joined Roman to Roman
with the clasped hands of friendship,
I hail you on this your festival day
and beseech you to bring your blessings
to our divided nation and to all nations
where concord is absent. Bless us
to join our hands across the divisions
of gender, of sexuality, of race, of religion,
of class, of privilege, so that in our common
humanity we may begin to make justice
and peace together. Hail, Concordia!

FIC: The origin of make-up sex


“Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida” by James Barry, 1776

It is not well known, but it is a fact that Zeus and Hera invented make-up sex.

The first time he wooed another after their marriage (and who was that first? that, nobody knows), Hera was furious. She painted the skies with her rage in boiling red sunsets, lurid green cloud cover, humidity so thick that mortals struggled to breathe. When at last Zeus came home, smelling of a stranger and smiling to himself, she screamed at him in shrieking winds, threw knick-knacks in a hailstorm, and pounded her fists on his stubborn chest. How could he outrage her dignity like this? How could he flout their marriage vows? Had he no respect for her guardianship of marriage? How could he prefer, even for an instant, some mayfly mortal to a goddess, the daughter of Kronos and Rhea?

Zeus defended himself with piles of thunderclouds, with shaking the lightning bolt, with bellowing thunder that rolled for miles over the lands about Olympus. He was the king and father among the gods! Of course he respected her, but his attentions were a blessing to be bestowed widely! Of course he would always come back, no one would ever supplant her on the throne. How dare she question him, the wielder of the thunderbolt, the son who overthrew his father when the others wouldn’t even try? Mortals cowered as the lord of the heavens and his lady fought.

Then the proximity of anger turned into the proximity of passion. Shouting into one another’s faces turned into frantic kissing, each swallowing the other’s angry words. Clenched fists turned into gripping and tearing at each other’s clothing. The pins that Zeus pulled from Hera’s curls fell deep into the earth to become raw ore for the swords of heroes. The winds moaned in harmony with Hera’s pleasure; the thunder boomed with Zeus’s grunts of effort.

And in their mutual climax, the clouds burst and rain fell, soaking the earth, blessing the soil, filling dry creek beds, replenishing deep wells. As the divine spouses slept in each other’s arms, the clouds dispersed, and Iris the messenger of Hera danced on the ramparts of Olympus, filled with the joy of her mistress. Mortals pointed to the hem of her many-colored gown as it rippled in the sky and thanked the gods for their blessings.

Zeus and Hera awoke together, Hera’s hand resting on his bearded cheek, his fingers twined in her unbound her. He kissed her brow. “I shall have many lovers, but only one wife. Use your anger to temper the heroes I will father, and remember that I love you, first and last.”

She laid a finger on his lips. “I will scatter your paramours like seeds before the winds, even if mortals think I am merely a jealous shrew. And all your children will come at last to know me as their mother. But let all our quarrels always end thus, in make-up sex.”

And so it was, and so it is.

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