Commentary on Hymn XV: To Antinous-Apollon, Liberator

Brightest of gods and fairest, purest of gods
and noblest, Antinous Apollon, far-shooter,
lyre-player, Muse-leader, health-giver,
you are the liberator because you are
the purifier, your rays shining through us
like lasers, searching and burning out
ill health, impurity, falsehood–temper
your light with warmth, your power with
compassion, python-killer, sybil-speaker,
lest you wound those who worship you
lest the cure exceed the disease.

The next trio of hymns is dedicated to Antinous Apollon. I have, to be honest, a lot of mixed feelings about Apollon. If you only read his myths, he can sometimes seem like the sort of male who insists he is perfectly rational at all times, especially when he is demanding you do his emotional labor or throwing a tantrum over your desire to act like an independent being. At best, he embodies the kind of high standards that torment perfectionists like myself–we want to live up to those standards or die trying.

But myth is not cult, and Apollon was worshipped as a healer, oracle, and inspirer, all roles which Antinous has played in my life. I know of many polytheists who are deeply, passionately devoted to the Lord of Light, so I don’t think my feelings about him are anything but my feelings. Many pagans and witches talk a lot about the shadow and the underworld and exploring the darkness and their devotion to all the spooky deities. I’ll tell you what scares me far more than the darkness: exposure to the light. Being seen, being known can be a terrifying prospect. Confronting a deity who is prepared to burn all the dross out of one’s soul makes me want to scuttle down to the Underworld and hide under Hades’ desk.

That’s why I pray in this hymn for Antinous Apollon to moderate his light, to make it more bearable for fragile mortal creatures. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is said that buddhas and bodhisattvas assume wrathful forms because these seemingly terrifying appearances are easier for humans to relate to in our unenlightened state. The pure and ruthless wisdom and compassion of the liberated ones, if we could experience it directly, would be more terrifying than any wrath they might show. That is the nature of Antinous Apollon as liberator.

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