*tap* *tap* *tap*
Is this thing on?
I haven’t been very good about keeping up with this blog. I could go into a long list of excuses about why that is, but really, it is what it is. But here we are in a new year with new opportunities! One of my intentions this year is to focus on my spiritual writing, and the primary place I am going to be doing that is here. My intention is to post here 2-3 times a week. And one of the ways I am going to be keeping on track with that is to participate in the Pagan Blog Project, which has participants blog on topics as we work our way through the alphabet throughout the year. As you might be able to guess, we’ll be starting with A. So get yourself strapped in. I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.
A is for Antinous
Of course I have to start with Antinous. Back in October of 2011 I wrote a blog post called Spiritualty Squared where I described 4 different aspects of my spirituality. One of those aspects was my devotion to the god Antinous. I’m a Mystes Antínoou, who has been initiated into the Antinoan Mysteries and a participating member of the Ekklesia Antinoou (“Citizenry of Antinous”), a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist form of mystical religion devoted to Antinous. of course, I realize that most of that just sounds like gobbledygook to those who have never heard of Antinous before and have no idea what kind of god he is.
Antinous was a young man born sometime between the years 110 CE to 112 CE in the Roman province of Bythinia, which is now modern day Turkey. During one of his tours of the Eastern Empire, the Roman Emperor Hadrian took the boy into his company. Antinous became Hadrian’s companion, lover, and imperial favorite. In October 130 CE Antinous drowned in the Nile. The circumstances around his drowning are not known. Many have speculated that it was an accident, or that it was suicide, possibly murder, or even a voluntary religious sacrifice. Personally, I think the most likely cause was that it was simply an accident. However it happened, the end result is the same: Antinous died. But the story doesn’t end there. The Nile was considered a sacred river by the Egyptians. By Egyptian custom, anyone who had drowned in the holy waters was considered deified, syncretized to Osiris, and given a minor cult. Due to his death in the Nile, Antinous was proclaimed a god. For the Romans the erastes-eremenos relationship ( a socially acknowledged erotic relationship between an adult male and a younger male) was not unusual, but the intensity with which Hadrian mourned the death of Antinous and promoted his cultus was without precedent. Hadrian founded a city in Egypt in honor of Antinous, Antinoöpolis, which became the seat of his cult. Temples were built for his worship in Bithynia, Mantineia in Arcadia, and Athens. Festivals were celebrated in his honor and oracles delivered in his name. In the year after Antinous‘ death, and after a drought that had lasted several years, the Nile flooded its banks. This was acknowledged as a miracle and attributed to Antinous. A new star in the constellation of Aquila was discovered. it was pointed out to Hadrian and stated to be the soul of Antinous in the heavens. The cult of Antinous thrived for several centuries, and he was syncretized to many gods in various locations, including Osiris, Dionysus, Apollo, Hermes, Pan, Adonis, Eros and others.
Great. That’s a history lesson. I think the more important question is, what does Antinous mean to me? What is it that drew me to Antinous? The thing that first drew me to Antinous was his homoerotic relationship with Hadrian. As a man who loves men, I saw in that relationship between Hadrian and Antinous something I could identify with. Ironically, I’m not among the camp of those who are devoted to Antinous who identify him as the “gay god” or the “god of gays.” I find that kind of designation to be shallow and historically inaccurate. Antinous is no more a gay god than Dionysos or Zues or other deities who have had homoerotic relationships or flings. We don’t refer to them as gay gods. Granted, Antinous, before he was deified, was a real person, and the only known erotic relationship that he had was a homoerotic one. I can understand why some tend to label him as gay. However, the relationship he was involved in was part of what was accepted as the cultural norm in that society. Many, many men were involved in the erastes-eremenos relationship and then went on have heterosexual relationships. We don’t label all of them as gay. I don’t see why we should shove that modern label onto Antinous. However, regardless of whether I like the label or not, the relationship Antinous had with Hadrian was a homoerotic one.
Like many people, my first introduction to modern paganism was through Wicca. I had been a minister in a conservative Christian church for several years, before I fled Christianity because I had a crisis over who I was as a sexual being. That crisis led me to throw Christianity completely out the window (at least temporarily). It was only a few months later that I was introduced to Wicca. One of the things that I immediately found appealing was this idea of balance. It wasn’t just the male identified, masculine God, but it was balanced with the feminine side of the Divine in the Goddess. Here was a view of the Holy that wasn’t one or the other, but a balance of both, both God and Goddess together. One without the other was imbalanced. I still appreciate that about the Wiccan tradition that I am a part of. At the time that I first discovered Antinous, I had been participating in Wicca for a few years. I had also been an out gay man and living in a relationship for a few years. While I appreciated the balance of God and Goddess that Wicca presented compared to the unbalanced presentation of a sole masculine God that I had experienced in Christianity, I had also began to wonder if this heterosexual male/female expression of the Divine was all there was. In walked Antinous. Here was a god that I related to. Like me, he had been in love with a man and experienced an erotic relationship with a man. In the relationship of Antinous and Hadrian I found a view of the Divine that wasn’t based on a model of heterosexual union and procreation. It was a new concept of Deity that I felt could have a place in my devotional life.
I still practice Wicca and I still actively work with the God and Goddess in my spiritual life. That view of balance and polarity is still a view that I find worthwhile. But one of the cool things about being a practicing polytheist is that we don’t have to limit ourselves to one concept of God.. or even two concepts. There are a multiplicity of gods and goddesses out there that reveal to us a fuller expression of the Divine. So in addition to my view of God as a God/Goddess pair, I added a god that I could relate to who had experience same-sex love and a homoerotic relationship just like I had.
Another aspect of devotion to Antinous that I immediately found appealing was the way that he has been syncretized with other gods. For some, these syncretisms make Antinous less appealing. Why not just worship Ganymede? Why not just worship Dionysos? Why not just worship Hermes? And to that, I say, why not? If that’s what appeals to you and you want to do that, then do it! For me, however, I’ve always found the idea of the syncretisms of Antinous to be appealing. While I wouldn’t describe Antinous as a gateway god, for me, his syncretisms with other gods have certainly acted as a portal or way to access that other god. Antinous has introduced me to a plethora of other gods that have since become important to me in their own right. Hermes, Dionysos, Osiris, Eros, and Pan are all gods I initially met through Antinous. Even my interactions with Aphrodite are heavily colored by my devotion to Antinous/Eros. In some ways, it’s like I’m at a big cocktail party and Antinous is my host. he has graciously taken me around the room and said, “Lazarus, I’d like to introduce you to Silvanus. I think you two might have a few things in common. Cheers!”
Lastly, I’ve always felt there was something profound about the fact that Antinous was an actual human being who became a god. Again, this is another point where some have issues with Antinous. It’s perhaps a little too “Jesus-like” to have been a human being who died and then raised to godhood. For those in pagandom who have issues with Christianity, this surface level similarity to Jesus puts some people off. In theology, this idea that a human can achieve divine status is called apotheosis. I plan to post a more detailed blog post about this soon, but for now, I feel that Antinous’ very real death and deification points to our own Divine nature and ability to become gods ourselves. That’s a deep mystery, and I will leave it at that for now.
For those interested in devotion to Antinous, there are a few resources I suggest you check out:
Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous: The personal blog of P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, founder of the Ekklesia Antinoou and author of several books on devotion to Antinous. If you’re at all interested in Antinous, Lupus blogs about Antinous and Antinoan practice several times a week.
Ekklesia Antinoi Yahoo Group : The Ekklesia Antinoou is a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist form of mystical religion. The group is the forum for discussion of issues, whether of worship or theology, myth or meditation, surrounding the worship of Antinous, the Divinized Boy of Bithynia, his historical cult and continuing scholarship about it, and his relevance to queer people in particular.
Via Antinoi – The Way of Antinous on Facebook : The Facebook page of which I am one of the administrators. It’s not updated as often as I would like to, but if you’re on facebook, give us a like for occasional Antinous related content on your newsfeed.
The Via Antinoi Liturgical Calndars: A page connected to this blog. It contains two calendars. The first is a calendar of festivals and observances, and the second is of many saints in the Ekklesia. I plan to eventually host these on their own site, but for now, they are here. If you’re at all interested in following the Antinoan devotional year, this is an easy way to start.
While you’re at it, head over to the Pagan Blog Project and check out what other topics others have been blogging about!