31 Days of Devotion, day 31

Any suggestions for others just starting to learn about this deity?

antinousportraitThere are two good ways of getting to know Antinous better–or getting to know any god better, for that matter. One is to do some research. Antinous is a historical figure as well as a divine person; books and articles on Hadrian and the Antonine emperors are going to include some information about him. The Aedicula Antinoi has an excellent bibliography on the site, as well as a list of PSVL’s own books and articles on Antinous, from the point of view of someone who is both a scholar and a devotee.

The other way of getting to know him is simply to light a candle, pour out a cup of cool clean water or some wine, perhaps burn some incense, and address the god directly. It helps to have an image of Antinous; if you have money to spend, you can find reproduction statuary, but it’s not necessary to do that right away. There are an abundance of images online which can be printed out and framed or used as wallpaper on your devices. (The god graces my smartphone and my laptop, and sometimes my tablet, too.) Place the image where you can gaze on it, place your offerings before him, and recite a prayer, even if all you say is, “Ave, Antinoe!” Approach him, and see what happens.

31 Days of Devotion, day 30

Do you have any interesting or unusual UPG to share?

“UPG”, in case you were wondering, is not a defunct television network, but rather a shorthand in polytheist circles for “unverified personal gnosis”. “Gnosis” means, in this context, knowledge gained by direct contact with spiritual reality rather than by rational means; “personal” means peculiar to one individual; and “unverified” means that it has not been corroborated by textual or artifactual evidence. There is always the possibility, however, that such evidence may come to light and verify the individual’s experience, and/or that other individuals may come to share this gnosis based on their own experience and thus confirm it.

I myself came by a particular piece of UPG in a curious way. I write not only poetry and essays but fiction, and since 1998 I have been an active reader and writer of fanfiction. I’ve written stories based in The X-Files, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Leverage, among others. So it was no great leap for me to begin one day to write a fanfic about the gods. I began with a simple idea: What if, while Persephone was with her mother, lonely husband Hades was visited by another deity of the dead–specifically, Hel, goddess of the northern dead. A simple scenario of an unexpected visit leading to friendship between two underworld deities became a story about the conception of Melinoe, who according to Orphic traditions was fathered on Persephone by Zeus in disguise as Hades. At the end of my story, little Melinoe was sent by her parents to live as a foster daughter with Hel.

I wrote this story over the course of several weeks and posted it to my blog scene by scene as it was constructed. I had no plan; I simply followed what I knew of Greek mythology and what the emotional logic of the story dictated. Soon after finishing it, I wanted to write more about Melinoe, so that I could know more about her. I soon conceived the idea that when Melinoe was to return home to her parents, she would be escorted by Antinous in his Boat of Millions of Years.

This story has proven to be far more difficult to write; what I have produced so far probably amounts to no more than a prologue and first chapter. But it didn’t take me long to realize that the endgame of the story, the pairing, as we say in fandom, was that Melinoe would wed Antinous.

I spent a little while blinking about this. Because my sense was that this was a true thing which I had been vouchsafed, which no one else knew as yet. I talked it over extensively with PSVL, who also divined for me concerning it, and my UPG became a Shared Personal Gnosis or Peer-Corroborated Personal Gnosis, confirmed by eir divination.

I am a poor diviner, especially since I find that systems of divination, such as Tarot, seem actually to interfere with my own intuition; they get in the way rather than opening things up. What I have concluded, tentatively, is that for me, writing itself can be a form of divination or oracular work. The imagination is a door that swings in both directions; it can create things to go out into the world, but it can also receive things coming in from a different world.

31 Days of Devotion, day 28

What is the worst misconception about this deity that you have encountered?

As today is the observance of Antinous’ death, I will keep my remarks brief, especially since my answer involves topics that have already been covered in other posts. The worst misconception about Antinous is that he was deified by the will of Hadrian, and thus, by extension, is not really a god. Today we commemorate the encounter with the Nile waters that meant the end of his mortal life and the beginning of his godhood.

Tied with this notion, which appears in supposedly authoritative sources about the ancient world, is the misperception that he is a god of gayness, as if most of the male gods of Greece (and many other cultures) were not queer or bisexual in 21st-century terms. Antinous is a god, truly; he was and is the lover of Hadrian, but Hadrian is not his only beloved, nor are they all male.

31 Days of Devotion, day 26

Share a time when this deity has refused to help you.

My first reaction is to say that Antinous has never refused to help me. My second reaction is that my first reaction is too simplistic.

I have never asked the god for anything and been outright refused. I have never gotten a response to prayer that felt like or could be interpreted as, “No, you may not,” or, “I won’t.” That doesn’t mean Antinous just hands me goodies, however. There are nuances.

I’m not sure that even an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-benevolent god could or would adjust the city’s public transportation system so that the bus I take home from work is regular and reliable. (I regularly ask Hermes, Mercury, and lately also Hermanubis for help with that, however.) I have sometimes asked in prayer or through divination what was the situation with another person and been told, politely, that it was not my business, rather like Aslan in the Narnia books, “I tell no one any story but their own.” I have asked for counsel, gotten it, and then ignored it, sometimes repeatedly; I think Antinous has come to understand that sometimes I have to learn things the hard way, by beating my head against the wall of poor outcomes to poor choices for a while. I have asked for big changes in a general way, like, “I could really use a new job,” but not followed up on my request with real action, and I still have the same job.

I’ve never asked for anything from Antinous and felt that it was denied me on a whim, nor have I felt that the god just did not care, as if he were above the petty concerns of mortals. Not that gods who were born gods are not compassionate and caring, but Antinous does have the experience of being mortal; he understands our petty and our not so petty concerns. “Ask and ye shall receive,” a certain rabbi recommended; I think Antinous would mostly agree.

31 Days of Devotion, day 18

How does this deity stand in terms of gender and sexuality?

I can answer this question succinctly and well by reiterating what Sr. Christodelphia Mythistórima wrote back in August: “We strongly affirm that any person, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, ethnic origin, age, culture, disabilities, nationality, race, or socioeconomic status, may approach Antinous directly and worship him as they see fit, without recourse…” to any group or individual. Antinous himself is male, or masculine (deities do have gender), but he is cool with everybody, and so are we.

31 Days of Devotion, day 17

How does this deity relate to other gods and other pantheons?

Hail, Antinous, God of Peaceful Connections!
In your Boat of Millions of Years you traverse
the otherworlds, welcome in every port.
At your table every god is welcome, every soul,
all who come with good will to the party you host.
Osiris and Isis, Horus and Set, alike sit down
to feast with you; Hera and Zeus arrive together
and mind their manners. Odin and Loki share
a cup, and there is food enough for the Dagda
and all the Danaan hosts. Yeshua sits down
with Shiva and Siddhartha for a long conversation
and everyone goes home happy from your presence,
Antinous, blessed host, when the party is done.

31 Days of Devotion, day 16

How do you think this deity represents the values of their pantheon and cultural origins?

The cult of Antinous is unusual in that it crosses the streams of three different religious cultures: Egyptian, Hellenic, and Roman. Antinous looks a little different through each of these three lenses.

In Egypt, Antinous embodies what I think of as the egalitarian strain in ancient Kemetic religion. It is likely that all the rites of mummification, the ritual Opening of the Mouth, the “Book of the Dead” that guided the deceased safely into the afterlife were originally applied only to Pharaoh and perhaps other members of the royal family. Gradually, however, over the course of centuries, they became normative for everyone, although the extent of one’s funerary rites no doubt depended, as it does today, on how much one’s family could afford to spend on it.

Yet at the same time, those who drowned in the Nile were, for centuries, perhaps millenia, accepted as gods no matter what their status in mortal life. Even a foreigner like Antinous could become one with Osiris. It is likely that his body was embalmed in the traditional way and buried according to Egyptian custom.

In Greece, Antinous’ life and death resonate with a tradition we might call “Flower Heroes”. These Flower Heroes are beautiful mortal youths, often loved by gods, who die untimely and are transfigured into flowers, such as Hyakinthos (the hyacinth), Narcissus (the daffodil), and Krokos (the crocus). The erotic love of a god for a mortal youth recalled the erotic partnership of erastes and eromenos, older man and younger man, which came to an end when the youth became a man himself.

Antinous inverts this tradition, however. His sacred flower, the red Nile lotus, blooms not from his body but from the blood of the lion which he failed to kill. His erastes Hadrian is a powerful older man, but only mortal, while Antinous in death becomes not only a hero but a god, able to bless and even divinize Hadrian by his power.

Antinous seems not to fit very neatly into Roman religious traditions. The deification of the imperial family after death was not an old tradition, as Roman traditions went, and it applied only to them; Hadrian could not simply proclaim Antinous divus on the strength of their relationship. His relationship with the younger man was, itself, one of the ways in which his temperament was more Greek than Roman, like his preference for wearing a beard.

There was, however, a class of deities called Semones, among whom were very old, very Roman gods such as Vertumnus, Faunus, Picus, and the eponymous Semo Sancus, who were held to have been mortal once and become gods. It would not be out of bounds to consider Antinous one of the Semones, a reminder that the boundaries between gods and humans were not impermeable in Roman thought. That gods and humans are not eternally distinct, that humans can become divine and gods become human, is, in my opinion, one of the chief mysteries of the worship of Antinous, as of another late-coming god in the Roman empire, a Galilean fellow named Yeshua.

31 Days of Devotion, day 15

Are there any mundane practices that are associated with this deity?

Unlike, for example, Hephaistos and Athena, Antinous was not associated with any particular profession or activity, nor with a stage of life like Hera with marriage, Artemis with women in childbirth. We do know that Hadrian enjoyed hunting and Antinous hunted with him. Three major hunting expeditions are attested by Hadrian’s sections on the Arch of Constantine and appear in the calendar of Antinous’ festivals: The Venatio Ursae or Bear Hunt on April 21st, the Venatio Apri or Boar Hunt on May 1st, and the Venatio Leonis or Lion Hunt on August 21st. Hadrian dedicated the skin of a bear he had hunted to Aphrodite and Eros in Thespia, with a prayer for a lover; soon after, the young Antinous came to court and captured Hadrian’s affections. The Boar Hunt is associated with the sensual and sexual pleasures of May Day, and the Lion Hunt, where Antinous nearly died in confrontation with the beast, is an occasion of examining one’s failures and then making a fresh start, inspired by the red lotus that bloomed from the lion’s blood.

31 Days of Devotion, day 14

Has worship of this deity changed in modern times?

The short answer to this question has to be, “Yes.” There is no god who is worshipped the same way now as eighteen hundred years ago, including Jesus and his Father. Religious traditions change, even when they are unbroken and have living worshippers conserving them, as in India or Japan.

Antinous nowadays has no temples or other trappings of public, institutionalized religion, only shrines in homes, at festivals, and virtually, online. Devotees celebrate the Megala Antinoeia with artistic contests rather than large-scale athletic competitions. No doubt animal sacrifices were made to him, serving as communal meals for the god and his people to enjoy together; nowadays smaller food offerings, works of art, songs, dances, and creative writing are more usual, along with candles and incense, gemstones and jewelry, flowers, wine, and even plain water.

Many devotees of the god worship him in solitary rites, being geographically distant from other devotees, which was probably not the norm in ancient times. Not only are we lacking public temples, we don’t live in households that all worship together. We do have the virtual fellowship of the Internet to console us; without it, I personally would not know my fellow Antinoans at all, nor even know that Antinous had a living cultus.

It’s not our goal simply to revive or reconstruct the worship of the god in the same form that it was once carried on. It is our goal to be as authentic as we can in our forms and spirit while building something that will go forward into the future.

31 Days of Devotion, day 13

What modern cultural issues, if any, are closest to this deity’s heart?

After repeated assertions in my postings here that Antinous is not simply a gay god, or a god of being gay, or a god for gay men, I must now seemingly reverse myself and say that the welfare of gay men is a cultural issue with which he is very much concerned. Antinous’ relationship in mortal life with Hadrian is not something that simply vanished or became insignificant upon his deification. He was involved in a sexual relationship with another, older man which we believe to have been a loving one, sanctioned by classical Greek customs; he was eromenos to Hadrian’s erastes. He continues to be concerned and involved with men who love other men.

However, it is not only men who love men who concern the god, but women who love women, and people who love people. Antinous is a champion of sexual freedom, of equality in loving relationships, of justice for all genders, all sexualities, all expressions of eros. He is as much a defender of the battered wife who leaves her abusive husband as of the queer teenager banished from their home by abusive parents. Queer people, whether gay or lesbian, asexual, transgender, nonbinary, bisexual, or whatever, are Antinous’ people, whom he loves and protects.