I had an interesting conversation last night. For the first time in my experience, someone confronted me on my devotion to Antinous. The basis of the argument was this: “Why Antinous? There was nothing really special about Antinous in life. He’s only a god now because he was the Emperor’s boy toy. Why not just worship Ganymede or some other god that has homoerotic elements? Worshipping Antinous is like worshipping a pop idol.”
Never mind that I answered this question with a couple reasons why I personally resonate with devotion to Antinous and what it means to me. Also, never mind that the person posing this challenge had incorrect information on the history of Antinous and his historical cultic practice, and had no idea what my own spiritual practice looks like. He wasn’t really looking for answers anyway. He was asking me questions so that he could provide his own answers and let me know why he thinks devotion to Antinous is ridiculous.
Setting aside whether or not this person’s attitude and challenge to me was rude or not, what really struck me as odd about his questions was that he seemed to be very black or white in his thinking and made a couple assumptions about my personal spirituality. They’re assumptions based on the type of exclusive spirituality that many people in the United States might practice, but I don’t think are valid when talking about the spiritual experiences of those in the Ekklesia Antinoou, as well as other modern Pagan paths that I participate in. It’s those assumptions that I want to look at.
The first assumption is that my devotion to Antinous is coming from a “better than” paradigm. This person was working under the assumption that I am devoted to Antinous because I somehow think that being devoted to Antinous is superior to worshiping Ganymede, or Dionysos, or Pan, or whichever other god might be available for me to devote myself to. He kept asking me, “Well, why Antinous? Why not Ganymede? Why not this other god?” As if I should justify my devotion as being better than worshiping other deities. I think this assumption comes from the way that some of the monotheistic faiths push their belief system on others and insist that theirs is the best religion of all. Jesus is better than any other god! Christianity is the only true religion! This is the right way and that’s the wrong way! The person who was challenging me wasn’t happy with my answers because I wasn’t giving him reasons that Antinous is better than any other god. The reality is that I don’t think that Antinous is better. Devotion to Antinous is not more right than being devoted to some other god or following some other spiritual path. This isn’t a celestial wrestling match where “My god can beat your god!” There are many valid spiritual paths out there and many wonderful gods someone could potentially be devoted to. None of them are better. They’re just all different. I’m devoted to Antinous because I resonate with him, and through regular practice I have developed a personal relationship with him. So if you’re looking for me to justify my faith to you, that’s not going to happen. It doesn’t need to resonate with you. It resonates with me, and that’s just fine.
The other assumption that my friend was making is that it either has to be Antinous or nothing. “Why not Ganymede or Dionysos?” Well, yes, why not? Why not Antinous AND Ganymede AND Dionysos AND Osiris AND Thor AND Lugh AND a myriad of other gods and goddesses. While my core theology is not polytheistic (I’m a nondualist and panentheistic at heart), I would say that in practice, I’m a polytheist. One of the great things about polytheism is that it gets to be “yes/and” not “either/or”. It’s not like I have to choose Antinous over these other deities. On the contrary. It’s a god party! So asking me, “Why not Ganymede?” ends up seeming a little silly because he’s at the party too, as are many others.
I’ve often said that religion is like language. It gives us a vocabulary to speak about something which ultimately can’t be described. I like to say that I am fluent in few different languages. The language I learned growing up was Christianity and I still speak it well. I’m also fluent in Neopaganism and some of it’s sub-dialects. I can ask where the bathroom is in Buddhism. But to ask, “Why Antinous?” is kind of like asking, “Why Russian?” Well, why not Russian? Why not some other language? The reality is that Russian isn’t better or worse than other languages. You might choose to learn it for a variety of different reasons, some practical and some personal. You could also choose to learn several different languages. Why limit yourself in a diverse world? I am doing the same in my devotion to Antinous. Antinous is simply one “language” I speak to communicate with that which is Divine. But I know a few different languages, and they all resonate with me on one level or another.
So, indeed. Why not Ganymede? Invite him to the party too!