Serapis, Flora, Antinous, and Me
The calendar year kicks off with the observance of the Kalends of Janus on January 1st. The Antinoan year, in my practice, begins with his death and deification just before Samhain, the start of the Neopagan calendar. The Chinese lunar new year always feels like a fresh start to me, perhaps because it occurs in the first house of my natal horoscope. It’s often accompanied by a rush of creativity and the starting of new stories.
But April, Eliot’s cruellest month, is also an Antinoan new year for me. It was in April two years ago that I made the definitive shift from a wayward Anglican to a happy polytheist and from looking at my religion as a system of beliefs, symbols, and ideas to looking at it as network of relationships.
Who do I worship? Who to I pray to? What god do I trust? It turned out that the primary answer to those questions was not Jesus, but Antinous. I made a small offering to Antinous and asked him to guide me to what I loved. He answered that prayer, and the answer to it was himself.
The Serapeia on April 25th and the Floralia, which is held from April 28th to May 3rd, were the first holy days I observed that weren’t strictly for Antinous. In my first year of devotional practice, I made it my rule to observe holy days as they came up, doing background reading, making offerings, reciting and if possible composing prayers and hymns to the gods, without trying to make the acquaintance of all the gods, everywhere, all at once. Antinous’ cult is syncretistic and involves Egyptian, Greek, and Roman elements; I found myself gravitating toward the Roman deities, and not just the Olympians who overlap with the Greek pantheon, but also the lesser-known gods, goddesses, and spirits who are peculiarly Roman.
This will be the third year I’ve celebrated Flora’s festival. I’ve been greeting her for weeks as I walk to work, watching crocus, hyacinth, daffodil, tulip, and rose emerge in turn, watching all the trees flower and then shed their petals like confetti. Ironically, as her jolly, Beltane-like holy days arrive, local temperatures have dropped into the low fifties, and except for the roses, many of the downtown flowers have died off. I still want to write some hymns and make some offerings for her. I am very fond of Dea Flora.
I owe Serapis, too, a belated offering. Of all the gods who have a fatherly, patriarchal, mature male authority figure aspect, Serapis, husband of Isis and father of Hermanubis and Harpocrates, is my favorite. I feel a sense of trust in him that neither Zeus nor Jupiter inspires. Perhaps it’s because he’s really an Underworld god, not a celestial one, a syncretism of Osiris with many other gods both Egyptian and not. Whenever I visit the Walters Art Museum, I pay my respects to Serapis at the fragmentary but still numinous image housed there.
I have a theory, or better, call it a hunch, an intuition, that it was once possible to communicate with Jesus as freely and easily as I do with Antinous and with other gods. (Not that they are always talking to me, but that when I talk to them, I feel some kind of response.) I have a theory that sometime, somewhere, a bunch of would-be authority figures, probably bishops, took the keys, changed the locks, changed the passwords, and made simple, direct communication with Jesus and his Father difficult to impossible. The few who could still get past their firewalls they called “mystics” and described as dangerous, unstable, hysterical, probably demon-possessed. I have never been a mystic, in those terms, and since mysticism became cool in Church circles, I’ve distrusted anyone who identifies as such. But I am an average devotee who does nothing special but write my own devotions to the gods, and I have no trouble connecting with them, even with deities for whom I have respect but little else in the way of feeling.
Last night I offered water and cream to the Muses and prayed to sing well as a substitute alto in my church choir, and that I might be offered a paid position in the choir for the fall. The first part of that prayer was granted. We’ll see if the nine sisters can swing the full-time gig. Polytheism: It works.