Antinous for Everybody

I worship a dead gay teenager and you can too

Archive for the tag “PSVL”

Turnabout is fair play

Since I posted an update on my fundraiser this morning, I have received some donations! Thank you! So I’m going to boost my friend and mentor PSVL’s fundraiser:

Send the Antinoan Doctor to the World Parliament of Religions!

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Can you hear me now?

I used to be very, very fond of the Daily Office as an Episcopalian. The Daily Office is Morning and Evening Prayer, seven days a week, with psalms, canticles, biblical readings, sometimes extrabiblical readings from Christian tradition, and set prayers. The Protestant Reformers in England distilled the old monastic Divine Office that had eight offices a day into a mere two, short enough to be said at home on weekdays in that age of longer attention spans, combined with the Litany and Communion on Sundays. (Longer attention spans and no professional sports matches on the weekends.) The 1979 Book of Common Prayer distilled the 17th-century English-language Office into a service that could be decently read aloud in fifteen to twenty minutes, or elaborated with music and ritual into a glorious demonstration of the beauties of plainsong and English cathedral music.

I was very devoted to the Office and very nourished by it for a long time. And I was typically a very regular churchgoer, too. I showed up for the Sunday Eucharist and held out my hands for the magic cookie. In my last parish, I was a lay minister and gave people the wine at Communion. Being a High Church Episcopalian is good ritual training.

But one thing I was always lacking was private prayer, prayer that was in my own words and not the words of the Church. I read a lot of books on that kind of prayer, from the lectio divina of the Benedictines to the various methods proposed by St. Teresa of Avila to popular 20th-century writers like Evelyn Underhill and Anthony De Mello. Yet no matter how many books I read, somehow the heart-to-heart talks with Jesus or the deep meditative encounters with Scripture never happened.

I have said before that the turning point in my transition from Christian to polytheist happened when I realized I wanted to pray to Antinous. I wanted specifically to ask him something. I had spent years praying in formal ways for peace, for the health of friends and family, for an end to war, to poverty, to injustice, but I am not sure if I ever asked for something for me. Like, a sum of money, or a new job, or inspiration for a story, or whatever.

I don’t remember now what I asked of Antinous, but I felt the prayer was answered. And once I began to make regular offerings to him and other deities, prayers began to flow freely. I used words PSVL had written, but I also improvised my own. I began to write prayers to the gods that I could share with others and they could use in their own devotions. And eventually, I began to do what I had not been able to do with Jesus or God the Father: To tell Antinous, informally, colloquially, privately, what was going on with me, and what would be helpful.

PSVL, in eir book Devotio Antinoi, gave me a pro tip that I’m going to pass on to you, because I’m pretty sure it’s useful to anyone who’s a polytheist or maybe would like to be: Pray out loud. The gods are not, and do not claim to be, omniscient. A few of them are said to be all-seeing, but they don’t know what you’re thinking. They may be able to possess human bodies if they wish to, but they’re not usually poking around in your head on a daily basis. Pray out loud. Address them by name. I sometimes pray aloud while walking down the street now, figuring that passers-by will just assume I’m using a *really* tiny bluetooth device, if they notice at all.

In Christianity there have been many debates on why an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God does not just give worshippers what they want. Certainly people have asked for and received blessings; on the other hand, prayers for peace go up from churches every week, and wars do not seem to be getting fewer in number or gentler in execution. With polytheism there is less of a theological tangle to work through. The gods are *not* all-powerful, though much more powerful than mortals. They’re not all-knowing, though they know more than we do. And they are not, as a rule, all-benevolent, all-loving. Some deities are not known for being loving, beneficent, or kind at all. Most if not all are capable of favoring some people over others, even in ways that look unfair to us. (Why on earth is Athena so fond of Achilles, who has no manners and no self-restraint? I thought she had more class than that. But the Iliad is, after all, poetry about gods and mortals, not holy writ. Myth is also just fiction.)

Paradoxically, I feel more confident of being loved by the gods now than I ever did as a Christian. It’s the difference, for me, between someone who is agreeable to everyone yet aloof, never accessible in an intimate way. Julian of Norwich charmingly described Jesus as a royal lord who mingles with his guests at the banquet instead of keeping to his exalted place, but as often as I read her book, I never felt that intimacy. I feel confident of Antinous’ love partly because I’m sure there are people he doesn’t love–people who bullied transgender kids into committing suicide, politicians who are ignorant both of U.S. law and of compassion as they rail against same-sex marriage and other civil rights for the non-heterosexual, murderers of his people. He is on the side of certain people and therefore he is opposed to others who would do his people harm.

It’s also possible to pray to and worship deities you don’t have a really intimate relationship with. I celebrated a holy day for the god Mars and made the mistake of offering him beer. Imagine Tommy Lee Jones playing a general who’s also a dad and his wife and kids live on a farm. Now imagine him disapproving of you. That was the impression I got of Mars. I made a generous offering of wine the following day and nothing more was said about the matter. I will never be close to Mars, but I respect him, and hopefully next time I won’t give him a stupid offering. I think he’s actually pretty tolerant and realizes not everyone is up to his standards. (It would be better, of course, if everyone could be.)

Prayer and offerings go together… I am tempted to say like chocolate and peanut butter, but actually, more like coffee and pastries with conversation. Don’t be afraid to light a candle and some incense, say a prayer, and invite the gods over for a chat.

A world full of gods

I first read John Michael Greer’s A World Full of Gods ten years ago, when it was new. I took away two things from Greer’s defense of polytheism, one an abstract idea and the other a metaphor. The idea was that there need not be a single afterlife to which all human beings are bound. Perhaps some people reincarnate and some don’t. Perhaps those who worship Jesus have an afterlife with Jesus, and those who worship the gods of Greece get an afterlife with Persephone. Hell, Hel, Valhalla, the Elysian Fields, Tartaros, Amida’s Pure Land, and any other post-mortem destination you can name may all be equally real.

The metaphor was a deliberate counter to the familiar metaphor of spiritual reality as a mountain. There are many paths to the top, yet we all find the same reality in the end. You thought you were climbing El Capitan, but it turned out to be Everest. No matter what mountain you climb, you get Everest. Greer suggests that we think of reality as a valley instead, ringed by hills and mountains that represent the different religious paths we can take. Each ascent will give us a different but equally valid perspective on the valley below.

I think I have said before that I’m not sure I was ever really a monotheist. The Church and the Bible were present and important in my life from very early on, but so were Grimm’s fairy tales, Anderson’s stories, the legends of King Arthur, and the gods and stories of Egypt, Greece, and the North. Being a precocious reader, I graduated pretty quickly from children’s retellings of myths to Bulfinch, then to books on archaeology and world religions. I grew up with the knowledge that not only were there different kinds of Christians than the Lutherans and Episcopalians I knew, there were non-Christian religions out there, some of which worshipped many gods instead of just one. I can still visualize fairly clearly the two-page painting in that Time-Life book of the Hindu pantheon in all its complexity, blue skin and gold skin, red skin and white, four or six or eight arms, serpents and bulls and monkeys and rats and a god with an elephant’s head. It was hard to forget.

I started veering toward paganism and polytheism pretty much as soon as it looked like a viable option. I didn’t live in India or China or Japan, but The Spiral Dance showed me there were people who took the old gods seriously who lived in my country, my culture. I’ve spent a good deal of my life since the age of thirteen zig-zagging between the Episcopal Church and various kinds of paganism, with a fruitful side trip into studying hermetic magic that led to my becoming interested in Buddhism and taking refuge and bodhisattva vows with a Tibetan lineage. Tibetan Buddhism is still my model for a complete religion, one that has all its technologies in place. I think most religions in the West have lost pieces of the toolkit, not excluding Christianity.

I’ve considered or tried out various kinds of witchcraft and druidry, but while they remain of interest to me, they just didn’t stick as spiritual practices. Studying Tibetan Buddhism has been incredibly enriching, but I still suck at plain sitting meditation. I’m very interested in magic, too, but I confess I don’t regularly practice the system I learned.

If it weren’t for P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and eir blog, the Aedicula Antinoi, I wouldn’t have discovered Antinous. That, of course, is why PSVL keeps the Aedicula–to inform people about Antinous and model a way of worshipping him. That’s why e founded the Ekklesia Antinoou, “a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and related deities and divine figures”, to quote the official description. If you want a name for my current path or practice, I say my religion is polytheism, or I’m a devotee of Antinous, or I’m a member of the Ekklesia Antinoou. Sometimes I just say I’m a Mediterranean polytheist and I worship Antinous as my primary deity.

I first began to experiment with devotion to Antinous back in 2012. I had been reading the Aedicula pretty much since its inception, I think; I believe it was in October of that year, right around the major holy days of the Sacred Nights, that I began to offer a candle and incense to Antinous daily, with prayers, and to try to observe his festivals. Then, just at the start of 2013, I simultaneously lost my marriage and found an Episcopal church that suited me better than any church I’d been to for a long time. I became an active member of that parish, but I didn’t get rid of PSVL’s big book on Antinous or the handmade triptych I had created in the god’s honor.

A year and a half later, I had a huge role in one of the most important liturgies of the year: I was the narrator for the Gospel of the Passion on Palm Sunday. With another reader as Jesus and a third as all the other characters, both men, I dramatised the events of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution for the congregation. I’d been an active churchgoer and a member of the choir for so much of my life, but I’d never done anything so important before. And that might have been the last time I went to my church.

Something came up in my life, I don’t remember what exactly, and I had the desire to pray to Antinous for help. Not Jesus, not God the Father, not the Blessed Mother or Julian of Norwich, but Antinous, a teenaged Greco-diasporic boy who was the lover of a Roman emperor and became a god because he drowned in the Nile, under unknown circumstances. At that point I realized I definitely wasn’t a monotheist and wasn’t a Christian, either. I became a devotee of Antinous and really haven’t looked back.

A public tribute

Having posted the hymn of the day, I would like to wish natal felicitations upon my dear friend and mentor P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Doctor, Sacerdos, and Magistratum of the Ekklesia Antinoou, who by eir writing, eir kindness, eir humor, and eir own exemplary devotion led me to approach Antinous and thereby gave me a very great blessing. Happy birthday, dear Doctor! And many more!

Hymn I: In Praise of Antinous

This first of my hymns to Antinous is a pastiche/free translation/paraphrase/remix of the Antinoan Hymn by P. Sufenas Virias Lupus, which may be found here or read in the Devotio Antinoi V. 1 or The Phillupic Hymns.

 

Ave, ave, Antinoe!
Ave, vive, Antinoe!
Hail to Antinous, beloved of Hadrian,
born in Bithynia, deified in Egypt,
numbered among the gods, one with Osiris:
This is where life comes from!

Eternally beautiful, eternally beloved,
mourned by Hadrian, hymned by your worshippers,
in your eternal Barque you voyage the Otherworlds,
brilliant among the stars, pilot and beacon both:
This is where life comes from!

Mantinoe your mother and Hermes your father,
Serapis your grandfather and Sabazios your kinsman,
Diana your comrade and Selene your bride,
beloved of all the gods, beloved on earth:
This is where life comes from!

The red lotus your crown, the boar and lion
your creatures, all of history’s queers and lovers
your joyous retinue, your temples in Egypt,
throughout the Empire, in Rome:
This is where life comes from!

Thoth gave you his city and Bes danced for you,
the gods of Egypt gave you a throne,
you wear the lotus, the ivy, or the laurel,
Liberator, Navigator, and fairest Lover:
This is where life comes from!

Man become God, Emperor of Peace,
victor over the archons, lovely and fruitful,
flower and star, spider and hunter,
even at the world’s end, I am always with you.

Vel in limine mundi, Ecce!
Ego semper sum coram te!
Ave, ave, Antinoe! Ave, vive, Antinoe!
Haec est unde vita venit!
This is where life comes from!

A war on the imagination

I’m forty-eight, and my joints frequently hurt. I hate crowds, and I am pretty much useless if I get fewer than eight hours of sleep. And I feel vaguely guilty, in a useless sort of way, that for those and other reasons I will not be on the streets by night, protesting the police brutality, the routine and indeed almost systematic destruction of black lives by white cops.

It disturbs me that no one around me is talking about Ferguson. My co-workers, whether black or white, are not talking about it. Baltimore’s population is a little over sixty percent black, thirty percent white, with ten percent Asian and others. I’ve never not lived, worked, gone to school, taken the bus with black people. And Baltimore’s cops, forty-percent of them black, are as trigger-happy as any police force nowadays, even though you don’t have the Ferguson situation of a mostly white, highly militarized police department vs. a mostly black populace.

My co-workers aren’t talking about it. I sensed that my family wasn’t talking about it, on Thanksgiving Day, mostly because it’s unpleasant, and we were all very pleasant and having a good time. People on Facebook aren’t talking about it, except for my pagan and polytheist friends. My folks on Tumblr *are* talking about it, linking to Twitter and news articles and blog essays in between posts on magic and the occult, or Chris Evans and Benedict Cumberbatch, or birds, butterflies, mushrooms.

A lot of pagans aren’t talking about it. There may be a perfunctory mention, like the old public service announcements on broadcast tv (I hope at least some of my readers remember those), and then it’s back to our regularly scheduled self-promotion. A lot of pagan blogging right now seems to me like just advertising a blogger’s product, no more no less. It’s reminiscent of the really early days of live television where one program had a single sponsor and every commercial break, performed live, featured General Electric or Proctor and Gamble.

I am a writer, and my words are my product. My words are what I have to offer. Specifically, I am a poet and a storyteller; I have always seen my writing as a form of service to the Divine, whatever my current understanding of divinity, and my job as imagining how things could be different. I write poetry, blog essays, and erotica with a science fiction or fantasy bent, sometimes fanfic, sometimes original (insofar as any fiction is “original”). I look at people like Ursula K. LeGuin, who recently won the National Book Award, to remind myself why the kind of writing I do is important. I look at Cecilia Tan, who also writes and publishes erotic speculative fiction, as an example of the writing I want to do; I look at Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, as examples of the influence that science fiction stories can have. Every time I write a story in which two men, perhaps characters who are presumed to be heterosexual, have loving and emotionally meaningful sex, I am striking a blow against sexism, against homophobia, against narratives that privilege violence. Every time I write a story that helps someone feel sexual pleasure, I am striking a blow against capitalism, the Protestant work ethic, the condemnation of the body and its pleasures.

I don’t know much of the work of poet Diane Di Prima, but I do know this poem, which I first came across many years ago:

 

THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST

THE IMAGINATION

 

THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST

THE IMAGINATION

THE ONLY WAR THAT MATTERS IS THE WAR AGAINST

THE IMAGINATION

ALL OTHER WARS ARE SUBSUMED IN IT

 

There is no way out of a spiritual battle

There is no way you can avoid taking sides

There is no way you can not have a poetics

no matter what you do: plumber, baker, teacher

 

you do it in the consciousness of making

or not making yr world

you have a poetics: you step into the world

like a suit of readymade clothes

 

or you etch in light

your firmament spills into the shape of your room

the shape of the poem, of yr body, of yr loves

In the war against the imagination, I am on the side of life, peace, equality, eros, friendship, creativity. I am on the side of the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and their fellow protesters in other cities. I am on the side of socialists and anarchists like Rhyd Wildermuth, people who smash gender binaries like P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, people who embrace all of life’s buried chaos like Sannion. And before I give you my hand, much less buy what you’re trying to sell me, I want to know which side of the war you’re on.

“It seems the stranger’s always you….”

I came out of the Sacred Nights of Antinous deeply moved and, I think, deeply affected, though I cannot say how exactly, not yet. Then my depression came back for a visit, so between that and the absence of big holy days to prompt blogging, my gentle readers haven’t heard much from me.

Last night, however, I began a new observance, another first time–not just for me, but for many people. The International Trans*Gender Day of Remembrance on November 20th has been observed since 1999, but this year a group of pagans has proposed something that many have welcomed: A rite for Elevating the Trans* Dead, beginning on November 12th and continuing for nine days.

Many traditions make a distinction between the dead and the ancestors and teach that if the dead are not properly honored and guided into the afterlife, they may become restless spirits who bother the living rather than ancestors who help and bless. The rite of elevation sends prayers and offerings to the dead to heal disrupted relationships with the living, to improve their condition in the afterlife, and to empower them to become true ancestors in good relationship with us. All of those remembered on the Trans*Gender Day of Remembrance died by violence at the hands of those who hated their gender condition, their queerness; many of them may have been estranged from their families for the same reason. They need help from the living no less than those who died in battle or in some other traumatic way.

I didn’t want to post about it ahead of time lest I commit to performing this rite and then not follow through, but now that I have observed the first night, I feel safe in writing about it. The requirements of the rite are simple: A white cloth spread out for an altar, a white candle, and an offering of water. The cloth is laid on the floor, and on each successive day, it is raised higher by putting something under it–boxes, books, whatever works. Each day a fresh candle and fresh water are offered along with prayers to and for the dead.

PSVL posted two long prayers for the rite, one to Antinous, and one to the Tetrad++, an ensemble of new deities peculiar to the Ekklesia Antinoou. I printed out copies of these for convenience, along with the sigil of the Tetrad++:

First I had to clear the space, which involved sweeping up a truly frightening population of dust bunnies. (Ancestors, I dusted for you! Take note!) I mounted my printout of the sigil on a piece of pink construction paper and placed it on my altar of a white kata along with an unlit candle and a glass. I had a small pitcher of water nearby so I could fill the glass. I began by lighting a candle for Vesta (I always start with Vesta) and another for Antinous, kindling some lotus incense, and making a brief spontaneous prayer that my prayers for the dead would be heard. Then I sat down by the shrine and lit the candle with a prayer that it would light the way for the dead. I spoke to my own dead, first, to act as intermediaries, and then to the trans* dead. I welcomed them to be my ancestors and to claim me as their descendant. I told them that I stood with them, on the margins, that they were my people and I was theirs. I then read the prayers that PSVL composed.

I had some sense already that presences were listening. As I read the prayers to the Tetrad++, I had a quite strong sense that they were taking notice. “Oh, look–here’s someone new praying to us. Let’s go check them out.” Sitting on the floor, I felt as though very tall presences were standing round me, looking down with interest as you might look at a child building something with blocks. As I went on, I felt a slight chill on the back of my neck that might have been just a draft around my air conditioner or might not.

It didn’t take long to read the prayers. I poured the water into the glass in offering and then just sat for a while longer, being present. This is not something I do easily, so it seemed significant that it was what I wanted to do. I left the candles to burn out and then settled into bed, where I proceeded to sleep straight through the night. I thank the ancestors and my acupuncturist for that sleep, and I thank my acupuncturist for making me able to put the rite together and do it.

Hail to our trans* ancestors! May there be honor and justice for our trans* kindred in life!

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