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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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.

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.

You keep using those words…

Before I wrangle with today’s topic, let me join with others in expressing my joy that the Supreme Court of theĀ United States has struck down the last ban against same-sex marriage and ruled that it is legal throughout the land. Let me join also with PSVL and others in saying that the struggle for marriage equality is by no means over: Celebrate today (and this weekend, if there’s a Pride festival in your area), and then let’s work on extending the right to legal marriage to people who don’t identify as either male or female, and then to people who wish to make marriage bonds involving more than two partners.

That said, today is another occasion when I am brought up short by the assigned topic of the meme. I am not really sure what is meant, so let me quote the meme and try to unpack my sense of the words:
Mysticism and Philosophy – Beliefs in truths that are believed to be intuitive or above normal understanding, as well as beliefs that are rooted in rational investigation and knowledge and how they work together. (transcendental/intuitive vs scientific/historic/practical).

The first thing that occurs to me is that there are some assumptions there about religion in general that relate specifically to the status of monotheistic religion in Western societies since the so-called Enlightenment, that is, since the scientific method began effectively to challenge the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. The idea that there is a conflict or a dichotomy between science and religion would probably have baffled medieval theologians and ancient pagan philosophers alike.

The second thing that occurs to me is that “mysticism” and “philosophy” are both words and concepts that had their origin in pagan, polytheist cultures, specifically that of Greece, and that the meanings of those words have diverged greatly from their original import in the dialects of ancient Greek. Like light passing through a prism and being bent into colors, a good many religious and philosophical ideas have passed through the prism of Christian re-interpretation and cannot easily be seen except as colored by centuries of Christian usage.

I know just enough about philosophy to know that, as Lord Peter Wimsey said of himself, I have not the philosophic mind. But I can speak a little of mysticism, perhaps, and so I shall.

To most people nowadays, the word “mystic” means someone who has had a sort of experience of the Divine which is not easily talked about, if at all, and which seems or sounds a bit like a warm, bright, fuzzy feeling about the goodness and oneness of the All. In various schools and eras of Christian theology, mysticism might mean a dangerous tendency to over-emotionalism, found especially in pious women, or a level of experiencing reality, a participating in heavenly reality during earthly life, or a specific stage in a carefully laid out program of spiritual progress that was presumed to be universal. But in the ancient Mediterranean world, a mystic was simply a person who had undergone a Mystery. You could be initiated into the Mysteries of Demeter at Eleusis, or into the Mysteries of Mithras if you were a man, or into other mysteries, lesser known. The Easter liturgies of the Church in Jerusalem in the fourth century C.E. are recognizably a mystery initiation in their structure: The newbie Christians are exposed to lights, songs, symbols, tableaux that are only explained later, in the light of day, over the course of Eastertide, and they partake for the first time of the holy meal that gives communion with the Lord. Mysteries were everywhere, and like Muslims on hajj, people gained initiation and generally just went back to their ordinary lives, but changed.

In pagan and polytheist traditions, there need be no conflict between religion and science, nor between mysticism and philosophy. There were mystics among the philosophers, philosophers among the mystics. We don’t have to give up our day jobs, stop watching all our favorite tv shows, and retire to a cave in order to be devout worshippers of the gods, nor do we have to turn off our critical minds, refuse to vote or vote a certain ticket, or try to resurrect a long-dead culture. We can enter the Mysteries of the Gods and see what is shown us and then go back to our ordinary lives, just as Hadrian and Antinous were initiates at Eleusis and then went back to being Emperor and favorite, friends and lovers.