All my online feeds right now are full of the proclamation of fall: Pumpkins, skeletons, scarves and sweaters, hot flavored beverages, Tim Burton films. Here at the Naos, however, our thoughts turn to the Bithynian Boy (not that we despise seasonal beverages). October is the last month of the sacred calendar for us, and as it ends, a new year begins with the Sacred Nights, the festival of Antinous’ death and deification.
In celebration of this holy time, and in the interests of providing more content, we’ve decided to undertake a meme: 31 Days of Devotion. Each day of this month, at least one of the bloggers here will post a devotional writing prompt and their response to it. I invite our readers to post their own reflections in comments.
I’m going to start off the month with the first prompt: Write a basic introduction to the deity.
The bare facts about Antinous are easily summarized and no doubt familiar to regular readers of this blog. He was a Greek youth from Bithynia in what is now Turkey, companion and lover to the Emperor Hadrian, who drowned in the Nile at the age of about nineteen. In accordance with ancient Egyptian custom, he was deified; those who drowned in the Nile, like Osiris, became Osiris. Because he was the beloved of an emperor, a city was built on the site where his body was discovered and his worship was promoted around the Empire. He was worshipped for about 200 years before Christianity was promoted to official status; he was never completely forgotten, especially by queer people, because Greek and Latin literature were not forgotten, and perhaps because there are many statues of him that have survived in good condition. He had a face, a body, a gaze that is not easily forgotten.
Now you know who Antinous was, and is. The more interesting question, I think, is why Antinous. Why has his worship been revived? What does he have to offer us today? I can only answer that question for myself, really. I can tell you why I worship him and what he offers me.
For me, Antinous is the God of Welcome. When I first approached him, I had heard many people say that we don’t choose the gods, they choose us. People talked about being tapped, or called, or swept away. They wrote about knowing since childhood that a particular god or goddess owned them and claimed their service. I had none of those experiences. I only knew I had been reading about this beautiful boy who was a god and wanted to get closer to him. When I began to say daily prayers, to offer incense and lights and plain water, he welcomed me. I was aware of his presence and his good will and his willingness to respond.
Many people have called Antinous a gateway god, and yes, that’s meant to sound like “gateway drug”. He is syncretized with Hermes, after all, the messenger and mediator of the gods. As I began to celebrate festivals on his calendar, I made connections with other gods, principally the gods of Rome, but also Glykon, the serpent god who might also be a sock puppet, and the Tetrad++, a group of new deities who can be called Antinous’ grandchildren. Antinous was my gateway to polytheist practice, to my panthon, and to deities who didn’t just welcome me, but actually picked me, recognized me as Theirs.
Antinous is a god who cares about many of the things I care about. He offers healing and inspires poetry and prophecy, like Apollon. He liberates people from both inhibitions and oppression, like Dionysus. He cares about same-sex relationships, about queer people (I am one), about erotic relationships of all kinds. He cares about justice and equality, about the sexuality of adolescents, about creative work and joyful living. He inspires me to do well, work well, act rightly, according to the values and ethics I already espoused, which he shares with me. To worship Antinous, for me, is in some ways like having a supervisor I work with extremely well in a job that I love to do. We want the same things. I feel good and right putting my talents at his disposal.
And he is beautiful. Some might think it is shallow to speak of a god’s beauty and feast the eyes on his naked image, but beauty has power. We call him the Liberator because he liberates; we call him the Navigator because he guides, in life and in death. We call him the Lover because he is beautiful, he is lovable, and he loves those whom he draws to his side.