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.

31 Days of Devotion, day 12

What are some places associated with this deity and their worship?

POEM: An Antinoan Geography

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Born in Bithynia by the river Rhebas,
in Rome by the Tiber you won the favor of Hadrian;
with him you saw the Mystery in Eleusis
and won a place amongst the happy dead.
In the Nile in Egypt you met death and destiny
and became Osiris, a god in truth. There
Hadrian raised a city in your honor, between
the town of Thoth and the village of Bes,
where the water yielded your body,
holy Antinoopolis, and in his villa at Tibur
he enshrined your memory, youth that he loved.
Where were you buried? We do not know.
But you live as god, Antinous of Bithynia,
and wherever rivers flow, the Nile is remembered,
your presence is felt, your name is praised.

31 Days of Devotion, day 11

Talk about the deity’s festivals, days, and sacred times.

One of the reasons your humble bloggers here at the Naos decided to do the devotional meme this month is that October is both the end and the beginning of the sacred year for devotees of Antinous. On the 24th of October, the Sacred Nights commence, the nine days that mourn Antinous’ death and celebrate his deification. On the 24th, we remember the death of Osiris, whose deification became the pattern for Antinous’s. On the 25th, we celebrate all the goddesses, especially Isis and Nephthys and others who lose those dearest to them, on the Panthea. The 26th brings the Ophidia, a day which honors the serpent deities, among them Glykon, the Serpent Path of Antinoan mysticism, and the mystery of deification or apotheosis in general. The 27th faces the mystery of the Ananke Antinoou, that is, his fate or destiny, the necessity and yet seeming randomness of his death. The theme of this day is that there was likely no warning, nothing unusual about this day at all–but it was his last in mortal life.

On the 28th of October, we cover the images and mourn his death. We don’t know exactly how he died, what brought him to the river, what circumstances took the young man’s life; we only know that it did happen. On the 29th, we ponder Antinous in the Underworld and remember that while he was missing from the people who loved him, he was an initiate of the Mysteries at Eleusis, welcomed by Persephone. October 30th is Foundation Day, arguably the most important date of the sacred year; it is the day on which the body of Antinous was recovered. Hadrian grieved him publicly and declared his intention to found a city in his beloved’s honor; worshippers today observe it as a liturgical new year’s day and as the founding date of the renewed cultus.

October 31st and November 1st celebrate Antinous Triumphant and Antinous the Liberator respectively. Antinous is not merely one of the justified dead, initiated into the Mysteries; he has become a god. As the darkness of winter deepens, he will confront the constrictive powers of the underworld and defeat them, to emerge as the Navigator in the spring.

On November 27th, we celebrate Antinous’ birthday as a mortal (and yes, a lot of us sing “Happy Birthday” to the god). In December, we observe the feasts of the Roman Saturnalia, from the 17th to the 23rd, culminating in the feast of Antinous Dionysus on the 21st, close to the Winter Solstice. On January 21st, when the Sun enters Aquarius, we recall the syncretization of Antinous with Ganymede, whose myth parallels Antinous’ so closely, and then on the 29th, we hail the Stella Antinoi, the Star of Antinous, which appears in the constellation of Aquila. At this time Antinous ascends to the heavens as the Navigator, piloting his Boat of Millions of Years through the night skies.

The next major feast for Antinous occurs in April, the Megala Antinoeia on the 21st. At this time sacred games, including poetry contests, were celebrated in his city of Antinopolis, and we begin to celebrate the god’s aspect as Lover. Modern devotees frequently observe this feast with an agon, an artistic contest to which one can submit poetry, prose, artwork, or music in the god’s honor. In ancient times, the winner of the games was honored with a crown of the sacred red lotuses.

On June 21st, near to the Summer Solstice, we commemorate Antinous Apollon. July 16th brings the Antinoan Arbor Day, a celebration of his syncretism with Silvanus, the god of trees and woods. We also remember the visit of Hadrian to Britain during which he inaugurated construction of the great wall that bears his name. July 31st is a day for honoring Antinous’ syncretism with river deities such as the Nile, the Alpheios, one’s local rivers.

On August 21st and 22d, we celebrate the paradoxical festivals of the Lion Hunt and the Red Lotus. Hadrian and Antinous did a good deal of hunting for sport; on this occasion, they chased down a lion which had been attacking people. Antinous faced the beast without sufficient preparation and might have been killed had not Hadrian intervened. He was ashamed of his failure, yet the rare red lotus of the Nile bloomed out of the lion’s blood on the river bank. On the first day we examine ourselves and admit to our failures; on the second, we welcome and grasp the possibility of a new beginning, change, and growth.

On September 21st, close to the Autumnal Equinox, we commemorate the Eleusinian Mysteries, of which both Hadrian and Antinous were initiates. This commemoration is balanced at the Vernal Equinox by the Apotheosis of Sabina, wife of Hadrian. And so we approach the Sacred Nights again as the days grow shorter and the nights lengthen.
I have attempted to keep this post shorter than a book by mentioning only those festivals that concern Antinous first and foremost. There are also festivals honoring Hadrian and other members of the Imperial family, feasts for the gods of Rome such as the Lupercalia and the Megalesia, and days to honor the Sancti or spiritual ancestors of the tradition. In observing the feasts of Antinous, we participate in his death and deification, confront and conquer the forces that oppress and inhibit us, ascend into our potential, and celebrate the joys of a life of love, creative activity, and the blessings of pleasure.

31 Days of Devotion, day 10

What sort of offerings does this deity like?

Bring him red flowers for the red lotus that bloomed
where the lion fell. Bring him blood oranges, shocking
and sweet. Amber and storax, balsam fir and pine
smell like his curling hair. Wine tastes of his mouth,
but pure water refreshes all thirsts. Heap amethysts
and rose quartz, flourites and lapis around his shrine.
Play the music you will sing with and dance to, open
your mouth, your arms, your heart. Light a single candle
and call on his name, Antinous, Antinous, beautiful,
benevolent, just, and he will smile and turn toward you
and listen.

31 Days of Devotion, day 9

What are some common misconceptions about this deity?

There are two answers that come to mind immediately on considering this question. The first, which one sees even in some academic sources, is that Antinous was divinized by Hadrian out of grief and devotion for him. This is simply not the case. Antinous was divinized because he drowned in the Nile. Osiris had become lord of the underworld by dying in the same way, so anyone who shared his death shared his divinity. Many humble ordinary people over the millennia had been deified in that way; Antinous would have been just another of them, served by a local priesthood until his memory died out, if he had not happened to be the beloved of an extremely powerful and wealthy person.

What Hadrian did do was build a city where his beloved’s body was found, endow his priesthood, and promote his worship. It seems to have spread rapidly, even allowing for Hadrian’s influence. It’s because of Hadrian that we have so many surviving images of Antinous, all of them recognizably the same person. It’s because of Hadrian and those who chronicled him that we have Antinous’ name and birthplace, know about their relationship, and know how intensely Hadrian mourned his death. But he did not simply declare his beloved divine, or compel the Senate to do so, in the same way that deceased emperors and their spouses and other relatives were declared divine. Antinous was sometimes called a hero, sometimes a daimon (that is, a spirit), and most often a god, deus or theos, but not divus, like Julius, Augustus, or Hadrian himself.

The second very common misconception about Antinous is that he was and is “a gay god”, or “the gay god”, or “the god of gayness”. I think this is largely a misunderstanding of how sexuality was perceived in the ancient world. Heterosexual and homosexual are concepts not more than 150 years old. Gay as a sexual identity and a subculture is newer than that. From our 21st century perspective, a great many men in ancient Greece and Rome were not gay, but bisexual; they married and fathered children, but also carried on intense emotional and sexual relationships with other, normally younger men. Hadrian entered into a political marriage as part of his rise to Emperor; he remained married to Vibia Sabina, but he was known to have affairs with both women and young men. Whether a great many women followed in the footsteps of Sappho and had passionate affairs with other women while also being dutiful wives and mothers is not recorded (but I like to think they did). The important thing, from the dominant male standpoint, is that the wife was not presenting her husband with children he had not fathered to inherit his name, status, and property.

Certainly Antinous blesses erotic and romantic relationships between men and supports the legal and social acceptance of those relationships. But he seems to have a broader interest in honest erotic and romantic relationships generally, no matter what the combination of genders, and in issues of social justice and equality, whether confined to gay men or queer people or not. Like Dionysus, he is interested in personal and social freedoms, joy and ecstasy, theatre and performance. Like Hermes, he is interested in language, communication, and connection; he also, like Hermes, can be a psychopomp and guide of the dead. Like Apollo, he is interested in healing, in music and poetry, and in oracles and prophecy.

You do not have to be a gay man to worship Antinous. He will not turn you away if you are not. He has much to offer devotees who are interested in any or all of the things that concern him, to anyone who is moved by his beauty. Come to him with a prayer and a simple offering, and he will show you that he is not only beautiful, but benevolent and just.