Antinous for Everybody

Archive for the tag “isis”

Saturnalia: To the Mothers

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Mother is a place to rest, a warmth, a tuneless song.
Mother is a voice that cuts.
Mother is a lady in a blue veil, a blue robe.
Mother is a lady with a baby in her arms.
Mother is a grandmother fixing hot tea and cold cereal on a school morning
Mother is a grandmother putting my clothes near the radiator
Mother is a woman who sleeps late while I rise early
Mother is a woman who smokes and drinks coffee
Mother is a May Day procession dressed in white
Mother is an ivory statue of the Virgin and Child with a Gothic sway
Mother is a possibly heretical vierge ouvrante
Mother is the goddess Isis with baby Horus on her lap
Mother is an icon with stars on the Virgin’s brow and shoulders
Mother is a Middle Eastern woman wrapped in layers of veils and shawls
carrying her child away from danger, shielding it with her body
Mother is my mother’s mother’s mother, who died when I was one
Mother is my mother’s father’s mother, was her name Louisa?
Mother is my father’s mother Grace, his adoptive mother,
and his mother Clara, his birth mother, whose last name was Gunsales
Mother is the woman who bore my husband a child
who bore her second husband a child
Mother is my sister, who bore my niece
Mother is my niece, who has borne a son
Mother is a link in a chain, a cell in the umbilical cord
Mother is the land I walk on, the nourishing earth, the turning planet
Mother is the night sky, spangled with stars
the brightness of the stars
and the darkness between
the beginning
and the end

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Sacred Nights: The Panthea

POEM: Looking for the boy

All my life I’ve been looking for the boy
You know the one
That boy
The boy everybody’s looking for
He used to stand around on the streetcorner
when I walked to school
Not being a delinquent
He was just waiting for somebody
All my life I’ve been looking for this boy
It’s the story of my life
It’s the story of every woman’s life
Well, there are women who found each other
That’s different
Isis had Nephthys, Ruth found Naomi
Sometimes in the movies you see women like that
But I always felt it was a boy I was looking for, you know?
The special boy, the one who was different
The one who might be waiting for me
He might be cut into so many pieces
that I could never find them all
He might be cursed to the shape of a beast
and have claws that could never caress
He might be hung on a cross like a wet rag
left to drip out his life breath by breath
He might be transformed into a falcon
or locked in a maze or dressed like a girl
I had to keep looking
He might even be drowned in the Nile one day
one fine day when he thought everything was perfect
and then find himself a god
And then I found him
I found the boy I was looking for
With his head in the stars, his feet in the water,
his hands full of flowers, and he said
You
You are the woman I’ve been waiting for
You are the goddess I was looking for
You are the one that I hoped would find me
You

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Sacred Nights: Osiris and Antinous

If I could stand on the banks of the Nile,
I would be standing there ten thousand years ago,
standing there in the First Time when the gods
walked the earth, the First Time which is
every moment. Ten thousand years, five
thousand, two thousand… it doesn’t matter.
The Nile flows. The land remembers,
in spite of the dam. The people remember,
despite the change in religion. And
I remember: the gods of my childhood,
the figures and the paintings in the museum,
Osiris of the crossed hands, Isis with her spread wings.

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Christo-Pagan? Poly-Christian? or just polytheist?

After writing yesterday’s blog post, I found myself thinking further about my relationship with that statue, with Our Lady (to use her traditional Anglican title), and with the Sisters of Mercy. I grew up in an Episcopal church that had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin, as part of its high-church identity. We had a Lady Chapel decked in blue; a shrine where you could light candles and pray before a reproduction of one of Raphael’s Madonnas; an annual May Procession where we crowned one of the girls Queen of the May and she presented flowers to our Lady. (No, there was no May King to take her out to the field and deflower her. A lot of girls in my neighborhood got deflowered pretty early anyway.)

When I was seventeen or eighteen, my childhood parish got a new rector, who arrived with a pretty young man in tow and settled him into the rectory with the official explanation that he was a family friend who needed housing while he was in college. I developed a raging crush on the rector, not hindered by the knowledge that he was gay; I also had my first exposure to a sort of Marian devotion peculiar to gay men, especially gay men who are in the closet and believe fondly that other people think them celibate. Our Lady is the perfect mother for the kind of man who shudders in revulsion at the thought of sex with women; she didn’t even have sex in order to bear her son. (I’m sure not all homosexual men feel revulsion toward women, but I’m also quite sure some of them do.)

For all that, I never had much devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary myself, though not for lack of trying. I was certainly interested in her as a substitute for all the goddesses Christianity didn’t have; I didn’t have to read Isis in the Graeco-Roman World more than once to realize how much the Hellenistic Isis had influenced the Theotokos. But I didn’t particularly want a divine mother, or aspire to be a mother. The Virgin Mother hovered just out of reach, two-dimensional, a symbol of what men wanted women to be (and I probably wasn’t going to measure up).

But when I was thirteen, and again when I was fourteen, my father had a heart attack, after which he quit smoking and retired. When I was sixteen, my grandmother died abruptly, on my sixteenth birthday, and in March, my mother had the first of a string of heart attacks that progressively weakened her. A bypass and the replacement of a cardiac valve kept her around for a few more years.

All of these events, along with my sister’s delivery of a daughter, took place at Mercy Hospital, and always, I saw the same statue of Our Lady. I have failed to find a picture of it on the hospital website, alas. Our Lady cradles her swaddled son in one arm and extends her free hand to the world. Her child’s head droops against her bosom as he sleeps; her eyes are lowered to look at him and at you as you look up to her. That statue stood in for the grandmother and mother who were sick in the hospital and not taking care of me. It stood for the smart, kind, progressive, and exceedingly well-educated Sisters of Mercy I met at the Catholic college where I went. It stood for Sr. Thecla, who is memorialized on the hospital website. Sr. Thecla, small, grey-haired, clad in a white nursing habit, seemed to be present and available, miraculously, whenever someone needed her. My mother once joked that she didn’t think Sr. Thecla actually slept, that she just leaned against the nearest wall and closed her eyes for a minute until somebody called her name.

In thirty years, I don’t think I’ve ever walked past that statue without speaking to it, to her, at least to say, “Hi, Mom.” I realize yesterday I’ve been a good pagan with a local cultus; I don’t have a devotion to Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, I have a devotion to Our Lady of Mercy, and to that representation of her. That statue is as central to my relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus and the adoptive mom of his followers, as images of Antinous are to my worship of him. I prayed to Our Lady through that statue as confidently as I pray to Antinous in front of the triptych I made in his honor.

There’s an occasional kerfuffle in online pagandom about whether a person can be a Christian Wiccan, a Christian witch, a Christopagan, or the like. Vehement yeses and vehement noes get hurled back and forth. While I can’t speak to issues of Wicca or the Craft generally, it seems to me that if you step outside the Church, outside the lines drawn by Christian theology (lines like monotheism, the Trinity, the Incarnation), Jesus easily takes his place among other gods, bodhisattvas, divinized mortals as an itinerant wisdom teacher and healer who was deified by a sacrificial death and passed on a set of mysteries to his students to guide them through the afterlife. And his mother and notable followers take their places as worthy, powerful ancestors. Jesus snuck back onto my shrines during the elevation work I did for my Aunt Margaret, a lifelong if not very religious Methodist. His mother turns out to have been hiding in my heart all along, under the mantle of a particular local title.
Does worshipping Jesus and his Mother alongside Antinous make me a Christopagan? I don’t think so. It might make me a polytheist Christian, or maybe just a polytheist.

Sacred Nights: Ananke Antinoou 2015

Almost, not quite everything but almost everything that I tried to do today went wrong.

And that is all I have to say on this night when we contemplate the fate of Antinous, the goddess Ananke, and the possibility that shit just happens.

Here, listen to some Hozier.

Sacred Nights: Panthea 2015

Today I sing and celebrate
the vision which the Taliban fear;
today I invoke and praise
the assembly that makes Daesh
boil with rage;
today I proclaim the truth
that makes woman-hating politicians
tremble and clutch at their genitals
and take money away from Planned Parenthood.
Today is Panthea, and today I hymn
the goddesses: All the goddesses, united
in fierce feminine friendship,
in divine power and might,
in divine knowledge and wisdom,
in divine anger, laughter, and love.
Isis, Hathor, Nephthys, Mut,
Qadesh, Erekshkigal, Inanna, Ishtar,
Juno, Minerva, Venus, Flora,
Pomona, Diana, Ceres, Libera,
Demeter and Persephone,
Hera and Hebe,
Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, Ananke,
Tara, Sarasvati, Parvati, Shakti,
Rosmerta, Rhiannon, Epona, Brigantia,
Morrigan, Aine, Dana, Coventina,
Freya and Frigga and Iduna and Hel,
Sif, Sigyn, Skadi, and Scathach,
the Norns, the Fates, the Parcae, the Furies,
all the goddesses, everywhere, known
and unknown, remembered and forgotten,
kind or unkind, lovely or vile: I sing your praise,
and my god Antinous sings with me:
Dua! Khairete! Avete! Laudo!
The goddesses are alive,
and they are everywhere.

For the Dormition of the Theotokos

Miryam in Ephesus

I am dying in Ephesus. The city is gold and white
and pink, like the flesh of fresh-caught fish
in the marketplace. The city smells of fish, of
female flesh, but the light is golden. There is
a bubble of golden light inside my withered
body that is about to break free.

John is here, and the others. Mary is here,
I think. Or I see them, in the golden light,
and think that they are, even if they are
far away. He is here, closest of all, who
has been distant so many years: My god,
my son. Here in Ephesus I learned
that I was not the only girl who gave birth
to a god. No, not alone. Dionysus came
from Semele, Herakles from Alkmene.
I wonder if their families, their neighbors
disbelieved them, too? Joseph could have
had me stoned; he was judged
for his forbearance.

John, and Mary Magdalene, and Thomas,
and Philip. Peter, and the others.
They are waiting for me to die. Waiting
for a miracle. Will I float up to heaven
like a feather on a breeze? Will I
disappear into a dazzle of golden
light? What wise last words will I
give to those who are waiting?
I see my Son, my Yeshua, shining
like the rising sun, O lux, O oriens.
And yet I also see that many-breasted
goddess by whom the city swears,
darling of the silversmiths, mistress
of the bees, virgin and mother, coming
toward me, and with her the winged one,
bearer of the sistrum, she who suckles
Horus, wife of the bearded lord. “Come,”
my Son says, “I will make of you a goddess.”
“Come,” say Isis and Artemis, “we will
teach you how to be a goddess.”

In the gold and the white and the heat and
the light, the bubble within me rises at last
and bursts. O higher than the Seraphim,
more glorious than the Cherubim, rejoice,
healing of my flesh, rejoice, salvation
of my soul, hail, Bride unbrided!

All the goddesses are one goddess-no, wait, hear me out!

The twelfth of this month was observed in Rome as the Lychnapsia, a feast of lights or lanterns for Isis. I added it to my sacred calendar, dug out my little statue of Isis, in the Egyptian style, seated on a throne and holding her breast, and draped over it a small bracelet I bought in a museum gift shop, wooden beads and a blue scarab, sized for a child’s wrist. I had every intention of celebrating the feast… then I worked eight hours, came home in the afternoon heat, and turned off my brain for the rest of the night.

So this entry is something of an offering to Isis for her feast as well as a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a while. You see, one of the top items on my “Why I am a bad pagan” list is that I don’t have much of a devotion to Isis.

At least, I don’t have the devotion to Isis that I’d like to. As a child I was mad about ancient Egypt. I read books about archaeology along with books about world religions, and I could rattle off the names of gods, goddesses, and pharaohs like some kids can rattle off the names of the characters in their favorite cartoon. (My favorite cartoons as a child were always Bugs Bunny and company.) The drawings I made as a girl looked a lot like Egyptian wall paintings, even when I drew people who might have appeared in Norse myth or Arthurian legend or even The Lord of the Rings, not northern Africa along the Nile. I was as fascinated by Isis and Osiris, Set, Nephthys, and Thoth as I was by Athena, Apollo, and Dionysus, or Thor’s adventures with Loki and Freyja’s golden necklace.

All of this archaeology and mythology was getting poured into my head alongside the Bible and the Prayerbook and the Hymnal 1940. I read my way through a large book with a dull grey cover called Religions of the World that I think was actually a college textbook, designed as an introductory survey. It included not Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, two chapters apiece, but Hinduism and Buddhism (also two chapters apiece), Shinto, Sikhism, Jainism, and the polytheisms of the ancient world. Mind you I was not more than twelve when I found that book; I read early and light-years beyond grade level.

Then as a teenager I was an early admittant to a Catholic college which, as you might imagine, had a sizable collection of books on religion. It was there I came across a book that I think many of my readers might recognize: It was called Isis in the Graeco-Roman World, but it remains in print under the title Isis in the Ancient World, by R.E. Witt.

As I had done with some of the books in my neighborhood library, I borrowed that book and read it repeatedly. Even as a teenager, I spotted the author’s thesis that much of Catholic Christianity, including devotion to the Virgin Mary, had been borrowed from the Hellenistic worship of Isis. Christianity grew from a movement within the diverse Judaism of its day to a world religion (for Roman values of “world”) only by adopting and adapting from the surrounding polytheisms as much as from the Jewish matrix in which it was born.

There was Isis, and there was the Virgin Mary, and before I read Witt, I read Starhawk, and perhaps more importantly, I read The Mists of Avalon. If you are a pagan woman of a certain age, you have almost certainly read The Mists of Avalon, and perhaps some or all of its sequels as well. (I’m trying not to glance guiltily at my bookshelves.) Many, many pagans of various persuasions have quoted Viviane’s famous words, “All the goddesses are one goddess, and all the gods are one god, and there is one initiator….” It was more than twenty years before I realized that Viviane, High Priestess of Avalon, was quoting another Vivian when she said that–Vivien Le Fay Morgan, the female main character of Dion Fortune’s The Sea Priestess. It is safe to say that without Fortune’s novels, and her esoteric work, The Mists of Avalon would not exist; while the author’s reputation as a human being and/or her soul is now in the lowest depths of your chosen hell, her book encapsulated for a generation both the legend of King Arthur and the work of Fortune and her fellow occultists.

It was longer still after my teen years that I discovered that when Vivien Le Fay Morgan said all the goddesses were one goddess, she identified that goddess with Isis, and the god with Osiris. Which means that, to some extent, Fortune was right: Isis had been worshipped all over the Roman Empire and syncretized with just about every deity that had breasts, and her Hellenistic consort Serapis was likewise syncretized with a multiplicity of gods. Isis and Serapis, by the age of Hadrian, had as good a claim as any deities will ever have to be the goddess and god in whom all others are subsumed.

So it strikes me as strange, and I feel kind of guilty, that I don’t have much devotion to Isis. I have somewhat more feeling for the Hellenistic Isis, the mega-goddess so feelingly hymned by Apuleius, but it seems easier for me to have feels, as we say on Tumblr, for gods than for goddesses. Yet I want to get to know Isis better. If I had the room, I would love to have a shrine for the Greco-Roman-Egyptian Holy Family–Isis, Serapis, Harpocrates, and Hermanubis. (Sometime I may write about the shrines I would *like* to create, if I only had the room.) Perhaps I have trouble relating to Isis because she is so very womanly. She is defined by her relationships to her spouse, her son, and her sister. Nearly everything that she does in myth is motivated by her love for her family. She is not, if memory serves, able to retaliate directly against Set’s attacks on Osiris; she can only rear a son to avenge his father.

Yet Isis is also the mistress of magic, the one who tricked the great sun-god Ra into giving her his secret name. She is the goddess who gathers under her wings goddesses of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, who travels with soldiers and merchants all the way to Britain and leaves her name on a river, her shrines and temples around the islands. Who else could be the goddess worshipped by the priestesses of Avalon but Isis, moon and sea, star and fertile earth, mother, lover, and layer-out?

Let these words, then, be my tribute to her, and a testament to my desire to honor her and get to know her, the greatest goddess of the ancient world, Aset, Isis.

Sacred Nights: The Panthea

Hail, Artemis, Diana, Athena, Bendis, Bona Dea, Cybele, Demeter, Ceres, Hathor, Hera, Juno, Hekate, Hestia, Vesta, Isis, Maia, Nemesis, Persephone, Selene, Thetis, Tyche, Fortuna, Venus, Aphrodite, hail!

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