By the time I got to work this morning, I realized I was humming a tune which was not something I heard on the radio, but something I know well because I’ve heard it many times. I started thinking about what it might be from and eventually come up with the album New Britain: The Roots of American Folksong by the Boston Camerata. I then poked around on YouTube until I found a playlist for the album. The tune that was haunting me is “Lady Cassilles Lilt”, but I’m going to give you the track that has a song for today.
POEM: Rise Up
You can put your heel on the serpent’s head,
But the serpent will rise up.
You can put your chain on the slave’s neck,
But the serpent in the slave will rise up.
You can put your child in a woman’s womb,
But the serpent in her spine will rise up.
You can lay your asphalt on the grass’s roots,
But the serpent in the grass will rise up.
You can go on forever trying to level out the world,
To make your own head the only thing in the world
That stands up, but the serpent at the heart of the world
Will always resist you. The serpent will always rise up.
The king will die, the warrior will die,
The rich man will die, the priest will die,
Their wives and their slaves, their children and their cattle,
The tree and its fruit, the green grass springing,
But the serpent will always rise up.
The slave will break his chains, the wife will seek a lover,
The oracle will prophesy, the hurricane will strike,
And out of the roots and vines that break down
Your mighty buildings, the serpent will rise up.
Rise up, rise up, serpent of fire!
Rise up, rise up, snake of the deep!
Rise up, rise up, whirling serpent!
Rise up, rise up, rise up in us!
The time to rise up is now!
The Sacred Nights have a soundtrack for me, just as much as Christmas did and does, or Holy Week in the Church. In past years I’ve shared songs from the movie Hedwig & the Angry Inch, music written to accompany the traveling exhibition of Tutankhamen’s grave treasures, and songs by Irish musician (and possible youthful god) Hozier. This year Dead Can Dance’s first album has been digitally remastered, and it’s available on Amazon Prime. So tonight I offer you The Serpent’s Egg.
In past years I’ve shared performances of madrigals, songs by Loreena McKennitt, covers by Hozier at this time of year, springtime, May-time, the Floralia, the incoming of Antinous the Lover. I’ve had this tab open in my web browser for several days, so I don’t remember who pointed it out to me, but this year’s May music is “The man who sings with nightingales”. Read the article and then help yourself to the embedded tracks on Soundcloud, especially “Singing with nightingales”.
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.