Antinous for Everybody

Archive for the tag “flora”

Gods of the city

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Jove seems to have forgotten this neighborhood where I now work. Or have its residents forgotten him? Two condemned houses stood side by side, their weathered signs testifying they had been condemned years ago. They stood untouched until one simply fell, leaving the other standing. City workers came and cleared away the debris of the fallen house, but the other condemned building still awaits its accidental death.

When the mayor and the city council speak with pride of all that they have accomplished, they do not mention this neighborhood. They do not speak of how the smoke and dirt of the great trash incinerator lie over the whole region, tainting the air and the water. They do not mention the Superfund site next to my building, the gravel-strewn tainted ground. They do not address how polluted is the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River that flows so near us, that brought business and industry here.

I walk through this neighborhood and see no churches, no supermarkets, few local businesses. One Korean family runs a corner store and a laundromat. The old lady gives me a toothless smile as she accepts my card. The fried chicken looks delicious.

A few years ago, there was violence among high school students at the light rail stop where I disembark every weekday morning. If Jove is mentioned here, perhaps the residents curse his name. Mercury does not linger here, though I think he visits the laundromat and corner store. Mars is not the kindly though stern father who stores away his arms and armor when the harvest comes, but the enforcer who shoots first and claims to have asked questions later. Ceres’ blessings of grains, fruits, and vegetables are nowhere to be seen.

Yet right now, there are rosebushes in bloom all over this neighborhood, planted and tended by people who still care about the beauty of their homes. Red, white, peach and orange, they thrive despite the gritty stink in the air. Clover has sprung up uptended, both white and pink. The gods of the patricians may have turned their eyes away, the protectors of the plebes may have departed in despair, but there are still gods here. Flora and Rosa do not withhold their blessings, even if weeds must grow out of trash pits. Silvanus and Faunus hold sway in patches of woods where birds nest and sing and snakes prowl (finding their way into our warehouse in search of our mice). Cats roam the streets, watching me with calm centeredness, sometimes coming to ask for petting. The Middle Branch rolls on between our train tracks and the docks of the wealthy with their pleasure craft. Vertumnus turns the seasons. The mourning dove coos protectively as I pass, while the mockingbird defends its territory with arias worthy of grand opera. Despite everything, I feel at home in a place that reminds me of the neighborhood where I grew up, and where the gods, despite everything, are present.

Further experiments in devotion

Back in January I wrote about connecting deities with astrology and practicing devotion to deities whose influence might be in my natal chart. While I did write some interesting prayers as part of that experiment, I eventually lost interest in it, mainly because it didn’t seem to be doing anything for me. Writing the prayers was illuminating, insofar as it highlighted issues in my own life, my own psyche, but the use of the prayers did not, as far as I can tell, open up any new channels of communication with the deities I was addressing.

I continue to observe festivals, though, and sometime last month, it occurred to me that there is precedent for linking certain deities of the Roman pantheon to the months. Janus and Juno gave their names to January and June; May is named after Maia, the mother of Mercury/Hermes; Venus is associated with April. In the middle of the month, I began a project of cultivating a better relationship with one or two deities per month, starting with Venus.

Opinions differ, I know, on whether the Greek and Roman deities are the same under different names, or wholly different from each other, or some other option. Certainly there are many minor deities exclusive to Greek tradition and others to Roman, but the Romans themselves seemed to think they and the Greeks worshipped the same gods. In the case of Venus, however, I did not feel that I could simply equate her with Aphrodite and approach her on that basis. I get a different vibe from Venus than from Aphrodite, a feeling that is quieter and more contained.

I named Venus in my daily devotions and wrote a number of poems to her, few of which I felt were worth sharing. Much of my attention in April was taken up by a goddess with whom I already had a good relationship, Flora. Everything that blooms in my neighborhood was blooming last month and it was glorious; it wasn’t possible to walk through the park without hailing and praising the Lady of the Flowers. I came out of April with one solid clue to the goddess’ nature and the resolve to seek her favor more thoroughly the next time around.

The clue I received was to identify someone who reminded me of the goddess. It happens to be a fictional character: Sophie Devereaux of Leverage, played by Gina Bellman.

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Gina Bellman as Sophie Devereaux

Without going too deeply into the amazing and brilliant television show that is Leverage (and you should all watch it, it’s on Netflix), Sophie is a grifter whose specialty is art theft. Now, I’m not saying that the goddess is a grifter! Sophie is, like all the regular characters of Leverage, extremely good at what she does; she speaks multiple languages, can convincingly fake multiple accents of English, class markers, and ethnic origins, and is highly knowledgeable about art. But her superpower, so to speak, has to do with desire. She is able to become desirable to every man she meets, so desirable he’ll do anything to please her. She is also able to discern what it is that people truly desire; promising it to them is the art of her grift.

It seems to me that desire is of the essence of Venus, not just sexual desire, but all desire. Venus’s power is in the things we want rather than need, which include beauty, pleasure, art, and sex–although getting what one wants is itself a deep human need. It is also important to me that actress Gina Bellman, a beautiful but not pretty woman, was in her forties when she played Sophie Devereaux. I see Venus not as a pretty girl, or even an ageless goddess who looks like a pretty girl, but as a mature woman basking in her own desirability.

For May I turned to Maia and her quicksilver son, Hermes/Mercury. I’m not sure that I feel as much of a gap between the Greek and Latin gods as between Venus and Aphrodite. What I’ve learned so far this month, mentioning the god in my daily devotions, writing poetry for him, and reading Guardian of the Road, an anthology in his honor published by Bibliotheca Alexandrina, is that I already have a relationship with him. It would be impossible for me not to–as a writer, someone who creates with words, as a non-driver who relies on my feet and public transportation to get what I want to go, as someone whose natal Mercury lies close to my natal Sun. Mercury, I think, is one of those gods who is present everywhere, whether or not he is invited, honored, or even acknowledged. That’s what those winged feet are about.

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Statuettes of Venus and Mercury from the Walters Art Museum

Mercury’s month is not yet over, but I plan to honor Juno in June and then Apollo and perhaps the Muses also in July. Meanwhile, other deities have brought themselves to my attention. The blooming roses made me realize that if Flora is a goddess, surely Rosa is one of her spirits, a nymph or a lar or something, a flower so important in European religious symbolism. The greening of the vacant lots and wooded areas near my workplace, and the entrance of a snake into our warehouse, have alerted me to the presence of Silvanus, guarding the wilderness that underlies and intrudes on my urban environment. I’m also very much aware of working very near to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River and thus near a river deity.

(The snake that snuck into our warehouse got its head stuck on a glue trap for mice. We successfully removed the sticky trap and set the snake loose outside.)

I am finding that actually, to paraphrase Hugh Grant at the end of Love Actually, the gods are everywhere, all around us. We don’t so much have to invoke or invite them as be polite, say hello, and offer them a bite to eat.

POEM: In a cold spring

What god can I pray to, in this
wet and chilly spring? What goddess
will answer if I ask for sun, not rain?
Vertumnus turns the wheel and Flora
brings the flowers; Silvanus touches
the trees and they drop pollen, catkins,
odors. Yet still the skies are cloudy
and days pass beneath a grey veil.

O Jupiter Pluvius, we have had enough
of your gift. The grasses are lush, the
leaves are shimmering, the earth has
drunk her fill. Yield the sky to Phoebus
Apollo so that he may gladden our faces.
Hot beverages with caffeine are not
enough to replace his blessing, the feel
of light and warmth. Juno, restrain
your consort! Maia’s month has been
cold and wet. Mercury, will you not
intervene, in honor of your mother?
Gracious gods, give us sunshine tomorrow!

POEM: Rosa, Mystica

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Ave, Rosa, spirit of the rose, fragrant nymph,
companion of Flora, numinous flower!
Hail to thee, mistress of secrets, keeper of mysteries,
all that is passed on sub rosa, mouth to ear,
hand to hand; hail, lady whose wet unfolding petals
drenched in scent bespeak another flower
and another fragrance, river and oean, salt
and source. O lady of birth, life, and death,
who shared your mysteries with Miriam,
mother of Yeshua, joy and sorrow and glory,
five-petalled goddess who initiates and regenerates,
remind me of the secret every time I pass near
your blossoms: Love, life, sex, woman, eternity.

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.

l_pl1_23120_fnt_tr_t05iiiI 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.

 

POEM: Resurrection part two

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
and his name is Jesus, sprouting up as wheat
to be baked into bread and grapes to be crushed
into wine under the feet of the Magdalene harlot.
Now the green blade riseth, and it is Adonis,
a salad shared equally between Proserpina
and Venus, seasoned with olive oil and
the vinegar of women’s tears. It is a tall
strange hatchet-faced man named Lincoln
whose death bred lilacs out of the dead land,
an uncrowned sacred king, his mad wife
trailing petals in his wake. How can I be happy
when all these gay flowers are dead men
rising up, testimony to those dead too soon?
But they are so beautiful, Flora whispers,
and hands me a bouquet of roses thick with thorns.

“Poly” means “many”

When I try to explain to people what my religion is, I usually say that Antinous is my primary deity. He is the god to whom I am most devoted; he is the god with whom I have the closest relationship, so far. If I need help, he’s the first god I think of; if I am grateful, he’s the first god I’ll thank.

But he’s not the only god I worship. Polytheism, after all, means “many gods”, and the calendar of the Ekklesia Antinoou includes days in honor of a very large number of Roman gods, many Greek ones, and some Egyptian ones as well.

In my experience, it’s perfectly all right to feel attracted to a deity and approach them with prayers and offerings. I got Antinous’ attention that way (I think–perhaps he was trying to get mine?)

It’s also perfectly all right to make prayers and offerings to a deity just because it’s their feast day. You might not know anything more about them than what’s in a Wikipedia entry, but making a respectful offering can put you into contact with a deity and initiate a relationship with them.

Since observing the Vestalia last year, I have included Vesta in all my formal prayers. I have much affection and respect for her, not only as the power in my stove and the flames of my candles, but as the giver of the electricity that powers my air conditioner, microwave, fridge, and electronic devices. I discovered the beauty and joy of the goddess Flora in her festival; every flower I saw became a sacrament of her presence. In honoring Serapis, the Greco-Egyptian god who was worshipped as husband of Isis in the Hellenistic era, I found a devotion to a father god that I had never had to God the Father.

I kindled a devotion to the goddess Juno when Galina held an agon for the goddess and I decided to submit a poem. I found her to be far more than a caricature of a jealous wife, as Hera often is in classical narratives. Juno is a powerful goddess of the sky, the weather, female power, and feminine sovereignty. As a man has his inner genius, so a woman has her inner juno to inspire, vitalize, and protect.

Lately I am feeling drawn to some deities of Egypt: Thoth and Ma’at. Thoth, like Mercury and Hermes, is associated with language and communication, but also with the moon, mathematics, and magic. Syncretized with Hermes, he appeared as Hermes Trismegistus, founder of the Hermetic tradition. Ma’at is the goddess of truth, right action, ethics, and cosmic order. She is also associated with a magical current in some Thelemic circles.

As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, there is a saying in Faery/Feri tradition that all gods are Feri gods. All gods are Antinoan gods in that devotion to Antinous excludes no other deity–not even Jesus, with whom I seem to be building a working relationship outside of Christian structures that is more personal and intimate than any relationship we’ve had before. In polytheism worship of and even devotion to one particular deity need never exclude respect for or intimacy with another–unless you know from the get-go that the deities in question just can’t stand one another. But that’s another post, someday.

A couple more tunes in honor of Flora

A ballad of spring flowers

Flora wears a pretty gown
but her feet are in the mud.
Her hair is twined with flowers
but there’s shit between her toes.
Without manure and mud
her flowers will not grow.
She waters them with blood
if nothing else will flow.

You may dance with Flora
but she’ll outlast your art.
Her feet can never tire
unlike your mortal heart.
But she will not forget you;
she’ll bring flowers from your grave
and wear them when she dances
in her next immortal rave.

Do not curse the goddess
for she is not the cause
of deaths that have no answers
and anger without pause.
The Fates ordained that flowers
should come from shit and mud;
but Flora will weep over them
when they have sprung from blood.

Because it fits the mood of the season

And because Hozier is a very Antinoan person, to me. *g*

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