How to know if your initiation worked

Seven months ago, I was in Seattle, Washington. I flew across the country to meet long-distance friends who were fellow devotees of Antinous. That by itself would have been a good and joyous thing, but I also was initiated into the Mysteries of Antinous the Liberator. My friends staged a powerful ritual for me, and I had a profound experience that felt life-changing. I came back home full of joy and faith, ready to change my life in all sorts of exciting ways.

Seven months later, my sister is dead at the age of 63, my building has been sold and I have to move, I have an unaddressed bedbug infestation in my apartment, and I’ve been suspended from my job until I deal with the bedbugs. I’m losing income because of my suspension and feeling desperate for a new job, a new apartment, a new everything.

As all this has been building, or should I say collapsing, around me, I kept looking for meaning. I began paying more attention to astrological transits as more and more of the outer planets moved in on my natal Sun in Capricorn. I did Tarot readings. And I did various magical workings recommended by friends, none of which seemed to do me much good.

On Tuesday I was thinking about things I needed to do, phone calls I needed to make (and wow, do I hate making phone calls). I had the idea, perhaps a kind inspiration, that I should make an offering to Mars and ask for his help, for the gift of courage. I don’t have many dealings with Mars, but I do observe some of his festivals and mention him in my daily prayers on Tuesday, so I felt okay about approaching him with this request. I kept thinking that I should do it on Tuesday, because it’s the day of Mars, etc., but it just didn’t happen. So I said fuck it, and did it Wednesday morning.

I composed a prayer asking for the god’s help. I compiled the prayer, the magic square of Mars, and an image of a Roman statue of him into a Google doc. I prepared offerings of water, olive oil, incense, and a red candle. Then I lit the candle and incense and made my petition, promising further offerings if the god helped me.

I got shit *done* yesterday. I kicked names and took ass, to quote Marvel heroine Mantis. *g* And not only that, I realized something which, in retrospect, should have been obvious: All of the real-life, mundane shit I’ve been going through has been the unfolding of my initiation.

How do you know when an initiation works? When you find yourself re-enacting the whole thing in “real life”. When it shatters your everyday existence and puts it back together. When the fear and the pain and the challenge become 100% concrete and interfere with your job, your health, your self-care. It sounds terrifying. But now I know I can, I will survive this, because I already did. I just have to remember what I learned in the ritual:
–keep moving forward
–be confident in myself and what I have already learned and accomplished
–the gods both challenge us and travel with us as helpers
–there is a time to surrender, but only to the gods, not to defeat
–my true motivation is love and service, for my gods and my community
–I have already died and come to life again as a god.

May these words help you through your initiations.

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A world full of gods

20180308_101622Vesta’s fire burns on my stove and in the candles on my shrine. She consumes the incense I kindle and crackles through wires as electricity to power lamps, laptops, and everything else.

Apollo gives music, healing, poetry, prophecy, all of which I need. He and Diana shed light by day and by night. Venus and her court bless me with birds and flowers as well as love and desire. Mercury blesses writers as well as merchants and thieves, protects me when I catch public transit or walk across the freight train tracks.

Who better than Minerva to help a single woman further her career, especially in an intellectual field? To whom shall I appeal for just government if not Jupiter, king of the gods? Mars is a protector of boundaries and of the fields we cultivate, not merely a god of war. Juno’s image burns within me, my sacred female sovereignty.

The blessings of Ceres put food on my table. Bacchus entertains me not merely in every glass of wine but in every movie and television show, transforming reality and slipping me meaning and wisdom along with pleasure and diversion. Neptune and Portunus are needed to bless our rivers and our harbor, a center of tourism and of trade. Without Vulcan, would I have a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone? I’m not an artificer, but I need the products of craft and manufacture. With Janus at the door, I sleep safely at night.

Antinous, my beloved boy, god of my heart, carries the gifts of Apollo, Dionysus, and Hermes, as well as of Osiris, and opens the door to all the gods. He is the center around which my sense of the numinous is organized, the heart of the mandala.

There is no god that is not part of my life. They are everywhere. I may not go into the wilderness, but I know that Diana and Faunus are there, just as Mercury and Apollo, Minerva and Venus are not far away in the city. Even a vacant lot overgrown with weeds can be a glimpse of Faunus; Diana’s deer are hiding in patches of woods just off the light rail’s route. Flora blesses the carefully tended yards and gardens no matter how run-down a neighborhood may be.

Other gods are no less real for my not worshipping them. They, too, are present even if I don’t notice them.  It doesn’t seem like mysticism, or magic, or anything but reality. The gods and my relationships with them are woven through my life, my ordinary life. I pay attention to them, and they pay attention to me. Their reality affirms my reality; their sacredness affirms my sacredness. After all, some gods become humans, and a good many humans have become gods….

Balancing on a tripod

primary_483I’m not a monastic. I’m not even a Christian, although I still honor Jesus. So when I look at my religious practice, I am not interested in vowing poverty, chastity, or obedience. As a self-supporting individual employed full-time, I’m uncomfortably close to poverty at times, anyway (but that’s another story). I obey my supervisors when I’m at work; when I’m at home, I wish I weren’t quite so celibate.

St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism, did not ask his monks to vow poverty, chastity, and obedience. He required, instead, that they promise stability, obedience, and “conversatio morum”. Stability meant that their vow was not to the Benedictine Order–I don’t think he had any conception of forming an Order–but rather to the community in which they lived, to that particular monastery or abbey. It meant staying put, committing to a particular group of people in a particular place.

Obedience meant obedience to the Abbot, or Abbess, to other superiors in the community, and to the Rule. “Conversatio morum”, often translated as “conversion of manners”, could also be rendered “changing one’s way of life”. Commentators on the Rule generally have a lot to say about conversatio; I feel reasonably confident in saying that it’s about being open to the change of heart, the change of values, the shaping of the self that is going to occur as a result of stability, obedience, and living by the Rule.

There’s a lot to be gained in Christian spirituality from studying and pondering what St. Benedict teaches about stability, obedience, and conversatio morum. But there’s another triad or tripod of values in his Rule that I think can apply to devotees of any religion or deity. It emerges from (frankly) some of the most tedious parts of the Rule, the details of the daily schedule and what should be done at the seven periods of prayer that punctuate the monks’ day.

Benedict schedules his monks for periods of prayer, study, and work. Prayer, for the monastic community, includes the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours, seven periods of prayer in common; the Eucharist, weekly and on holy days in his time; and private prayer and meditation. Study primarily means studying (and memorizing) the Scriptures and writers who were already recognized as authoritative, but by the Middle Ages Benedictines were scholars in a wide variety of disciplines; Hildegard of Bingen, for example, practiced and wrote about medicine. Work included everything that a self-supporting pre-industrial community had to do: farming, cooking, housekeeping, making shoes and clothing, selling the community’s surplus and buying what it couldn’t produce.

Benedict’s schedule of prayer, study, and work, rather than the monastic vows, can best form a useful model for a monastic or quasi-monastic approach to polytheism. Acts of devotion, whether rituals, offerings, prayers, meditations, contemplation, form the basis of the relationship between deity and devotee. Study encompasses anything one can do to better understand the gods, their historic worship, philosophy, magic, or whatever else is important; I don’t know a pagan or polytheist who doesn’t love to read, anyway. And work can include anything specifically done in honor of or dedication to a deity, such as this blog in my case, or any kind of work at all, offered to an appropriate deity; I sometimes offer my dish-washing to the house spirits and to my ancestors, in memory of all the foremothers who washed dishes in their day.

Devotion, study, and work is the tripod I seek to balance on as I frame my religious practice on a monastic model. I don’t have to quit my job, cover my head, wear a special outfit, or stick out in any way (unless I want to). I just have to be grounded, attentive, and anchored.

Little Gidding, again. Or still.

Isn’t there a poem by T.S. Eliot that says, at the end of all our running around in circles, we will stop and look around where we started and realize that’s where we’ve always been?  No? Well, there should be.

We shall not cease from exploration, but sometimes we would very much like to. Because we have found a place to dwell and would like to stay there. Where the fire and the rose do seem to be, at least occasionally, one. Definitely a place where prayer has been valid, and where the communication of the dead may be tongued with fire.

I have known for decades that I have a strong monastic inclination in my nature, an attraction to an orderly lifestyle, to prayer and contemplation, to liturgy and liturgical music, to intellectual and creative work as an act of devotion. I’ve known since I was a teenager that if I didn’t marry, I might well become a nun. I did marry; we were together for over twenty years, and then we divorced. My religion has changed since then, but my nature hasn’t. On the other side of wifehood, in a kind of widowhood–my ex-husband died last year–there is still the child who read a book about cloistered nuns and loved it, the teenaged girl who read Julian of Norwich and loved Julian and her words and her life.

I’m sitting in a small studio apartment in the middle of a city, looking out my window at a blossoming tree, in the aftermath of a spring storm that brought me a poem. Unlike Julian in her anchorhold, I can go in and out as I please; it’s possible, though, that Julian had a small space in which to go outside while still remaining cloistered. In the world but not of it; living a life dedicated to her god in the middle of the second-largest city in England, a major port, a center for the vital wool trade.

I’ve been a devotee of Antinous now for five years. Five years of fairly consistent devotional practice, making physical offerings (candles, incense, food and drink) and nonphysical (everything on this blog, and more), observing holy days, reading about related topics. When the Beautiful Boy came into my life and opened the door to polytheism, most of the Roman pantheon came in with him, along with some Hellenic and Kemetic deities. (And occasional visitors from the North. It’s hard to Loki-proof one’s cultus.) I found words and ways and means of ritual that weren’t strictly Roman, Hellenic, or Kemetic, but that worked for me and seemed to satisfy the gods and spirits.

In that same five years, I’ve also been madly interested in witchcraft, Wicca, Feri, Neoplatonic theurgy, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Western hermeticism, shamanism, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting, madly interested and briefly convinced that my religious practice needed that thing, that discipline, that magical practice, that extra requirement, that one more thing to do every single day on top of a full-time job and writing and bird care and feeding myself and oh yes, the devotional rites I mentioned….

I told my therapist recently that I was afraid that even if I could do everything I thought I should be doing, and do it perfectly, the critical voice in my head might not think it was Enough. We’re working on that.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and realize we were right all along. In spite of all my running around in circles, I’m right where I’ve always been. I’m not a witch, druid, priestess, priest, magician, yogini, fill it in if I’ve forgot something. I’m, well, an anchorite.

The word anchorite actually came from the Greek verb anachoreo, “I withdraw”, because the anchorite retreated from normal secular life to focus on devotion. The medieval Christian anchorite, like Julian of Norwich, lived as a solitary religious in one small cell, mostly praying and studying, occasionally counseling people who came to visit. But it’s hard as an English speaker not to make the pun that presents itself: An anchorite is someone who is anchored, anchored in one place, anchored to devotion and cultus, anchored to religious practice. An anchor for a community, the people who come and go around them, who go in and out of the church, or temple, or Naos, whether they worship the gods or not.

So as of today, I’m changing the name of my blog–although not the URL–to The Antinoan Anchorite. And to finish this entry as I began, let me quote old Tom Eliot properly:

A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

 

Chop wood, carry water, take your meds

What do you do after you have a major initiation, a life-changing mystical magical religious experience, a direct encounter with the gods?What do you do after you have a major initiation, a life-changing mystical magical religious experience, a direct encounter with the gods? If you’ve read this post’s title, well, you already know. That’s the received wisdom, isn’t it? You experience enlightenment and then go back to everyday life, and then everyday life is wonderful, looked at through the lens of enlightenment.

Well, not so much. “Chop wood, carry water” is a simplification, maybe even a bowdlerization of Zen, which is a form of Buddhism, which is… actually not my religion. Although I did take refuge and bodhicitta vows in a Tibetan Buddhist tradition and do not regret it. But one of the things I believe as a polytheist is that there’s more than one spiritual goal, as well as more than one deity and more than one afterlife. Not everybody is pursuing enlightenment, nirvana, buddhahood.

What I wanted to do after my initiation into the Mysteries of Antinous the Liberator was leave my job, move to Seattle, and devote a considerable amount of time to doing ritual and magical work with my fellow mystai Jay and Otter in the service of Antinous. What I actually did was get threatened with the loss of my apartment, celebrate Saturnalia and Christmas, become even more bored with my job than previously, and spend the first two weeks of the new year nursing a sinus infection during some of the coldest weather of the winter.

In the middle of January I turned fifty-two and took a good hard look around my life. I thought about famous people we had lost in the early months of past years–David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Leonard Nimoy. Seeing the new Star Wars movie, Carrie Fisher’s last, made me miss her all over again. Now we’ve lost Ursula Le Guin, and I have no fitting words with which to mourn her. I saw a post on Tumblr where someone said it was like we were all mourning our grandmother, and that resonated with me. For Ursula Le Guin to be gone is like losing your grandmother, like waking up one morning and seeing that a tree or a mountain that dominated the landscape all your life is now gone, extracted, with no explanation, no replacement. Her fiction and essays are part of the landscape of my mind and will remain so; for me and for many, she is a spiritual ancestor now.

I still want to move to Seattle, find a sustainable day job, and do ritual and magical work with my friends in the service of Antinous and Melinoe. I’m still pretty sure my gods want me to do this. But the conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m not ready to make that jump. My physical and mental health are not up to the task; I need more therapy and better pills, more exercise and better diet. It might be necessary for me to make some smaller jumps first, into a better job, a better apartment or other living situation, before I can relocate all the way across the country.

It’s not going to be an easy year, I think–for any of us. As Billie Holliday famously sang, “Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose.” But I’m not without hope–The Last Jedi reminded me of that–and I haven’t given up on my goals. I’ve seen the Mysteries and I know that my gods are on my side. In the meantime, chop wood, carry water, take my meds, do my devotions, and make ruthless self-care my keynote for 2018. May we all carry on and carry through.

Our oracular queer death cult of sex and beauty

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.

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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.

Requiem for the trans dead, movement eight

VIII. In paradisum

Imagine there is a city.

Imagine there is a city which is also a garden.

Imagine that trees grow in this city

which flower and fruit at the same time.

Imagine that a river runs

through this city

and four rivers spring out of it

and the waters run out

to the four directions.

Imagine the streets of this city

are broad and clear,

paved with white

or inlaid with mosaic.

Imagine the windows

of the houses are open

to the light and the air,

and the doors

of the houses are open

to visitors and guests.

Imagine that fountains flow

in the parks, and the pigeons

eat from your hand, and the dogs

play without aggression

as the cats look on

from the window sills.

Imagine the people

walking there, walking in

the street, singing

in their doorways,

cooking at their hearths.

Imagine them in all colors,

imagine them in all genders,

imagine them in all races,

imagine them in all sexualities,

imagine them in shining robes,

in glorious hats, in golden shoes,

in jewelled sandals, in shimmering veils.

Imagine that you are welcome there.

Imagine being led into the city

through the gates that are never shut

while trumpets blare on the towers

and flash mobs dance in the streets.

Imagine there is a house for you

and in this house is every thing

you ever wanted and every person

you ever loved knows the address.

Imagine what you would call this city.

Jerusalem? Antinopolis? Alexandria?

New York? Shambala? London?

Imagine that you are going there, now.

Imagine that you are home.