Looking for religion in all the wrong places

Lately I’ve found myself looking at my Christian background a lot. I’ve been re-reading the Rule of St. Benedict, the foundation document of Western Christian monasticism; I’ve been thinking about Hildegard of Bingen, whose feast day was in mid-September, and about Therese of Liseux, who is commemorated today, and her big sister Teresa of Avila, whose feast comes up in mid-October. And I’ve never really stopped missing the Daily Office, which probably explains my penchant for writing prayers to be said every day, on a schedule.

In the past, being interested in Christian texts and Christian saints again would have got me thinking that I was in the wrong religion; that Christianity is obviously my True Path and I should go back to it. But I’m not thinking that right now. I’m not neglecting my daily offerings to Antinous, the Tetrad++, and the gods, ancestors, and spirits generally. I’m still slowly reading anthologies about Demeter and Persephone; these two books are great collections of material, but an anthology doesn’t sweep you away the way that a good novel or even a tightly-structured work of nonfiction will.

So I ask myself, why am I not panicking and thinking I should change religions, the way I would have five years ago? I think the answer to that question is: Polytheism.

There are many things about Anglican Christianity that I love and miss: the Daily Office, Anglican choral music, the many poets and writers whom it shaped. I miss having a regular time of worship with a local community. But taken all together, it was the system I loved, not Jesus or his Father. To be honest, there are quite a few saints I love far more than I ever loved Jesus; Julian of Norwich would head that list.

Being an Episcopalian was about inhabiting a comfortable and beautiful system that provided me with a lot of resources of wisdom. But being a polytheist, it turns out, is about having direct, enlivening relationships with deities. And my deities, at least, seem not to mind where I seek for wisdom, as long as I maintain relationships with them.

*holds breath and waits ten seconds in case of divine smiting*

I am worshipping Antinous and a lot of associated gods in a particular modern tradition that draws from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian sources. I am technically a member of the Ekklesia Antinoou, “a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and related deities and divine figures”–to quote the official description. But the Ekklesia doesn’t feel to me like a system. A system, perhaps I should say an institution, requires you to sign on the dotted line, stay within the grounds, make your bed a certain way. The Ekklesia is more like a bunch of houses and workshops built around the remains of a temple that is slowly being rebuilt; the goal is to make the temple look like its ancient self but also contain indoor plumbing, accessible entrances, and internet access.

I don’t feel like any source of wisdom is off-limits as long as I maintain my primary relationships with the holy powers. And those relationships have been so satisfying that I don’t want to abandon them to return to a system. All this time I thought I was looking for the right religion, the right system, when actually, I was waiting to meet the right god.

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5 thoughts on “Looking for religion in all the wrong places

  1. It’s certainly a lot easier to include elements of Christianity within polytheism than the reverse- I see nothing wrong with honoring saints as ancestors/heroes of sorts, enjoying music, texts etc. I was raised Methodist, so all the High Church liturgical stuff is to me, rather exotic. I also don’t see cultural disrespect problems with taking things from religions that ran around conquering the planet.

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    1. Sometimes I think Christianity makes more sense when you look at it from outside than it does within its own theology–at least, the kind of Christianity that’s shared by Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches, and to a lesser extent by mainstream Protestantism. There are gods, ancestors, and spirits; Jesus, like Antinous, is a divinized mortal; there are sacred stories, spiritual techniques, local traditions, etc. Everyone I know, pagan or not, is excited for Halloween right now, but I’m not gonna apologize when I go to church somewhere at Christmas. *g*

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      1. Yes- Catholicism in particular, made a lot more sense to me after becoming a Pagan. Hmm, how can I phrase that a little differently around actual Catholics?

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  2. I’m glad to read your description of the EA above, because that is ideally how it should work. Someone doing EA stuff should have recognizable practices, i.e. at least some of our prayers, holy days, and so forth should be shared and understood to originate with our group; but the rest is up to you, and anyone/everyone else involved.

    So, hurrah for that! 😉

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    1. You know, when I started to practice Antinoan devotion seriously, I decided I would just follow the calendar, and at the very least observe the big holy days that were specific to Antinous and the E.A. So I did that, using your prayers for the most part, and you know what? It worked. *g* I built relationships with deities and started to write my own prayers and tailor things to my own needs. A method that works! it’s a miracle!

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