The Sacred Games at Orpheus Descending

The heron stands
Like a bent old man
With his hands in his pockets
And his feet in the sand

This past weekend, a few of us local to the Pacific Northwest had an incredible opportunity:  to host an artistic agon for the Sacred Games of Antinous, in real life with our fellow coreligionists, and have enough participants to have it be a real competition too. While we’ve certainly held agons in the past for the Megala Antinoeia, they’ve typically been online and have been lightly attended. Not this time. This time they were held in the context of a religious festival, and it was simply marvelous.


The festival in question was Orpheus Descending, an interactive ritual drama presented over the course of a weekend retreat in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. It’s a nascent festival, only in its fourth year, but it holds a lot of promise. It presents the tragic story of Orpheus and Eurydike and invites attendees to become purified and initiated into the Orphic Mysteries. This year was the culmination of a four year cycle introducing people to the Orphics, a mystery school that has a cosmology and body of symbolism quite distinctive from its sister school in Eleusis, which was and is more popular and widely known. This year was also special because the way the schedule played out, the festival happened to coincide with a major festival on our calendar, the Megala Antinoeia. Having known the organizers for the past several years, and knowing that a number of our local Naos chapter would already be in attendance, I propositioned them with the notion of including the Sacred Games in their event (me being Jay). As it turns out, a number of them were also contemplating holding a space for artistic and musical expression (this is the festival of Orpheus, after all, the world’s most famed and talented musician!), but weren’t sure how to fit it in amongst all their other responsibilities. So, when I made my proposal, it came as something of a relief. There would be a place to showcase artistic talent, and they wouldn’t even have to organize it!

So, we did a thing! And it was lovely, and beautiful. I estimate there was something like twenty to thirty people in attendance, and over a dozen competitors. And because this festival invokes the Muses, the leaders of the Muses (i.e. Dionysos and Apollo), and our Beautiful Boy has a passing familiarity with all of the above, it should come as no surprise that there was a bit of a…theme that developed. Inspiration and synchronicities were flying everywhere! And nowhere was that more apparent than in the poem which inaugurated the Games. It spoke of rivers, the life of a river, the essence of what it means to be a river. We were all simply floored, and then our poet had to scurry off to start his shift in the dining hall to help prepare dinner (he asked to perform first for this reason, but who knew that it would prove so auspicious?).


“River Walker” by Katharine Squires

And these themes relating to Antinous carried on throughout. Rivers came up again in song, poem, and art. Songs about children and caring for and guiding our youth were sung. As were pieces devoted to empowering the marginalized in society. A DJ who hadn’t performed publicly in thirty years was inspired to spin techno music live for us, and we had a mini Antinous Dance Party. And then there was the guitarist who was moved by spirit to perform Spanish flamenco music, particularly the kind men would perform to show off (you may recall that a certain imperial lover of Antinous was born in the Roman province of Hispania…). The funny thing is, most of the people who came and competed were pretty new to Antinous, if not brand new to him. And still he managed to bring us all together. There was hardly a time during the ritual that I wasn’t moved, or teary-eyed, or laughing with joy. It was so simple, and so beautiful.

Now, you might be curious as to who won our little competition, who got to be adorned with the coveted garland of bay laurel and red blossoms of the Sacred Games of Antinous. It was a difficult decision, as there were so many outstanding performances (as I’ve described). But Ceinan (my Antinous co-conspirator in Kitsap) and I both agreed that the poet who inaugurated the  Games was the best choice. It was simple, profound, and created with real devotion. He related to me later that the first four lines of the poem had been written eight years prior, the rest of the poem stumping him. And then, prior to the Games, earlier that day in fact, the words just flowed out in about 15 minutes. Truly, he was touched by the Muses! Our decision made, the entire: body of ritualists present agreed to keep mum until we could surprise him at dinner and crown him before the entire festival, with much gusto and fanfare. And so it was!

Without further ado, may I present the winner of the Sacred Games of Antinous, at the 2018 Orpheus Descending festival, James Hopkins! May the blessings of Antinous, the Beautiful Boy of Bithynia, rain down upon you!
Ave Ave Antinoe! Haec est unde vita venit!


James Hopkins, poet, Crowned Victor of the Sacred Games, 2018

The heron stands
Like a bent old man
With his hands in his pockets
And his feet in the sand
Share with us your wisdom
What is a river?
A river is not a noun
A river is a verb, a process
A state, not an address
A river is theory
That cannot be replicated, duplicated, repeated
A river is liquid moments rolling forward
Impossible to experience twice
To the newly hatched fry
Glass clear, red heart, black bones
A river is the cradle
Rock-a-bye tumbling down to the sea
To the struggling salmon
Cloudy eyed, rotting flesh under blood red skin
A river is the grave
Where the future, eternal life, is cast upon the waters
A river is home, state, flow, verb
A river is a verb