The stone on my heart

I think my mother was a witch.

This is not a story about facts. This is not a report of family history or sociological study of the Craft. This is a story. It is not about facts at all.

First of all, there were the books. Not the bodice-rippers and horror novels stashed in the headboard bookcase of her bed, nor even the wildly explicit novel about the Roman emperor Elagabalus, one of Rome’s more… flamboyant emperors, that I peeked at when no one was home. But the newspaper insert with excerpts from Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. The illustrated book about witches with pictures of women holding chalices, clad only in long hair and cuff bracelets. The little book about talismans, and my mother’s conversation with the rather odd lady who worked the circulation desk at our neighborhood library and kept a pet tarantula. I never knew where these books came from; they were just there, in our house, to be stumbled over and perused cautiously. I was never warned off from reading them.

Then there were my mother’s amateur theater friends. I did amateur theater, too, though not as many plays as my mother, which is why I’m not particularly shy about taking my clothes off in front of people. I spent a lot of my childhood in crowded dressing rooms, and a lot of it in church wearing vestments, too. Dad had stories about one woman, call her Tara, who claimed to be a witch. She had seen ghosts in the theater, a basement black-box theater with some decidedly spooky storage areas. (Spooky and probably fire-hazardous.) She wore black all the time. One time, he said, she had summoned something and been unable to dismiss it, and it still followed her around. My father, a self-described atheist, related these stories with rational seriousness.

My father, while a good nurturer, was also chronically unfaithful, always in search of more sex. Was my mother making talismans to keep him from straying? Was she looking for love spells to keep his libido fixed on her? Did she charm herself to conceive at the age of 39, with a tumor lurking in her uterus, to keep him from leaving her? That tumor was my secret twin.

A couple of years ago, before the corona times, I had a soul retrieval done. The healer did not so much bring back parts that were missing as clear out extraneous gunk. One of those extraneous pieces was something lodged on my heart. My healer said it was a piece of my mother.

My mother was raised Methodist and sang for years in an Episcopal church choir. She liked the Episcopal church but did not convert. She was neither religious nor superstitious; she sent her daughters to church but never went to a service herself, though she supported all the bazaars and church suppers and bingos. She had none of those little ways that people talk about in witchcraft books, inexplicable things that their mama or nana or that strange aunty did. And yet. She read horror novels as lightly and voraciously as many women read romances or mysteries. She had a way of looking at you, a way of talking to you. She could be both hilariously funny and mercilessly cruel with her words.

Am I the daughter of witches? Does the power run in my blood? I don’t know, and yet. This is a story with an ambiguous ending. What do you think, reader?

When you really can’t go home again

“Home” is such a small word to mean so much. You can hardly say it without longing in your voice. Literature is full of statements about home that fall from people’s lips even if they haven’t read the source: “You can’t go home again,” “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in”. Maybe Spielberg’s E.T. was so successful because everyone, anyone could recognize the little extraterrestrial’s longing for his home and feel something of the same thing.

What happens, though, when you find out you really can’t go home? When you go there, and they’re ready to take you in, and yet you realize it’s not really yours any more and you don’t want to stay?

The last year and a half has been hard for everyone, except perhaps the culpably rich. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has hit burnout or some kind of blockage in their spiritual life, along with other areas. I’m sure it’s not limited to pagans and polytheists and magical practitioners, either. We’re having a pandemic, for gods’ sake, and a lot of people are not getting the help they need to get through, and a terrifying number of people are just outright denying it.

I’ve been tired. My spiritual practice has dwindled to what might be an all-time low. The gods are mostly silent right now, and I think maybe they’re tired, too. I think the gods care that over four million people have died, globally, and that many of those deaths could have been prevented, and the pandemic isn’t over. So here we all are.

A few weeks ago, I hit what felt like the bottom. Or the opposite of hitting the bottom; not having any ground to stand on. And after reflection, after prayer, with the blessing of my gods, I decided to start practicing Christianity again.

It was a matter of practice, of things to do. I grew up an Episcopalian, with an emphasis on praying together in the liturgy rather than on believing certain things. I never had to swear to any particular interpretation of a dogma, like exactly Jesus is present in bread and wine or the sequence of events at the Second Coming. Just sit, stand, or kneel with everyone else, sing the hymns, say the prayers. And if you want to be hardcore–which of course I did, and do–say some kind of Daily Office, morning and evening, and have private prayer as suits your temperament.

I told myself that it didn’t matter what I believed, that my gods weren’t upset about the decision, that it didn’t mean I would turn into a raging anti-queer anti-vaxxer; that I just needed a stable practice, and a community that was local and in-person and supportive. I went back to the church where I grew up, a small congregation in a small building (and even smaller now, in late summer, during a pandemic). I started saying Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. I got in touch with some old friends of the churchy persuasion. I felt enormous relief to be doing something simple, stable, familiar, even dull.

Two weeks later, I’m done. Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again. Even, sometimes, when you are welcome there. When they willingly take you in.

I grew bored with the Office. The words tripped off my tongue, but they didn’t engage my mind or my heart. I liked the same Psalms I have liked for years and disliked the same ones, too. Jumping into the first book of Kings was a bit like starting to watch an HBO drama two seasons in and not being sure why all these elaborately costumed people hate each other so much, and it wasn’t the least bit relatable. Over the last few years I’ve come to feel pretty strongly that the “Old Testament”, or more properly the Tanakh–the Torah and the other Hebrew scriptures–belongs to the Jewish people, and while there is wisdom and poetry in it that anyone can appreciate, it’s not my story. It’s just not about me.

I did some private prayer and deliberately took an approach of getting to know Jesus better, of trying to make contact with him. “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden,” he says in the Gospel of Matthew, and I sincerely wanted to go to him and put down my burdens–my confusion, my perfectionism, my burnout, my sheer weariness. But it was like calling for someone because you think they’re in the next room, only the room is actually empty. I have never, in over fifty years of life, much of it spent in the Church, had any real sense of Jesus, specifically and in particular, as a person or as a deity. He is the lead actor of a magnificent theatrical production who goes home immediately after every performance, never greets fans at the stage door, never reads or answers fan mail, simply plays his part and then disappears. And no one, not even the Christian writers most helpful to me, has been able to tell me how to contact him.

As I write this, part of me is decrying my pride and hubris and impatience at giving up on a practice after only a few weeks. I’d like to remind that part of me that I practiced Christianity for decades before really and truly committing to polytheism. And the results have always been the same: silence on the godphone, feeling that I don’t really even know Jesus and reluctant to ask him for what I need, feeling “sinful” but never sure what I’ve done wrong (confessing personal lapses that I now see were rooted in my then-undiagnosed depression and ADHD), confusion, frustration, and ultimately seeking elsewhere for a practice that makes sense to me and genuinely supports a thriving life.

I don’t know what happens next. But I have some core practices to fall back on, and Antinous and the Forest God are still there, still listening. I could start by cleaning their shrines.

The McCoy Disclaimer

In one of the classic episodes of the original Star Trek series, “Devil in the Dark”, Dr McCoy is faced with a wounded Horta, an alien that is basically a sentient rock. Captain Kirk has only just learned that the monster that’s been killing miners is, in fact, a sentient person and a mother trying to protect her eggs, which have been crushed by the mining operation. Faced with trying to patch a phaser wound on a rock, McCoy balks and utters the famous line, “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!”

Being a doctor, McCoy improvises and successfully helps the Horta, and Kirk mediates a peace between the alien mom and the miners. McCoy got to make his disclaimer several more times over the course of the series, and while I’m a little behind on some canon, I’m pretty sure every other doctor in a Trek series has gotten to echo McCoy’s line at least once. 

I’ve been looking at witches, pagans, and occultists on various social media platforms lately, and my reaction to what I’m seeing can basically be summed up in a McCoy Disclaimer: I’m a polytheist, not a witch.

I’m a polytheist, not an occultist. I’m a polytheist, not a magician. I’m a polytheist, not a priest, or priestess, or priestx, even. I’m a polytheist, not a spiritworker.

What I am, what I do, as a polytheist, seems to me to be closest to what Christian tradition calls an oblate or a tertiary. An oblate or tertiary is someone associated with a religious order, usually with a specific local community, who is a lay person with a day job and a mundane home life, who also carries out certain religious practices in unity with the monastics. Benedictines and their relatives call them oblates; Franciscans and similar orders call them tertiaries (the “third order”, after monks and nuns). 

Oblates, like their monastic kindred, make promises of dedication, keep a rule, and keep in contact with the monastic community. But they continue to live “in the world”, in secular society, a kind of outreach of the monastic life of prayer.

The oblate analogy is not a useful one for everyone, to be sure. But even if it’s not, I have a little secret to whisper to the internet, in case you haven’t heard it.

Are you ready? Here it is:

You don’t have to be a witch to be a pagan.

No, really. You don’t. You don’t have to be a witch or any kind of magical practitioner. If you are a polytheist and believe there are many gods and want to worship some of them, you can just do that. You don’t have to learn Tarot, follow astrology, or cast spells. (Although Tarot is neat and astrology is useful.) You don’t have to cast a circle and call the quarters, You don’t have to have the witch’s tools (if you’re not a witch). You don’t have to work with crystals. (Unless you like them, which I do. Rocks are friends.) 

If your inclination, like mine, is to be a devotee, a religious person, rather than a magical practitioner, you can simply make, purchase, or even print a picture of a deity, put a tea light and a glass of water in front of it, burn some incense, and say a prayer. Start with “hi how are you I think you’re neat” prayers, perhaps something from historical sources like the Orphic or Homeric hymns (if you’re approaching Greek or Roman gods, for example), rather than “oh hi there please gimme X asap” prayers. Be respectful and a little formal. Asking for help can come later, once you’ve established a relationship.

Because that’s really all we’re talking about: establishing a relationship between a human person and a divine person. You don’t need magical skills to do that. There are magical skills that can help you in refining that relationship, but they aren’t absolutely necessary. You can proceed on the assumption that the Gods are available, that they have good will toward us, and that an offering and prayer respectfully presented will be noticed. 

You don’t have to wait for a sign or a calling. If you are inspired to worship Anubis, you don’t have to sit around hoping you see x number of black dogs as a sign that Anubis! wants! you! Do a little research, make a little offering, make a few more offerings, and–here’s another little secret for polytheists–give it time and see if devotion to Anubis enriches your life. I don’t mean expecting Anubis, or any deity, to hand you a new car, that big promotion, the really expensive Mac computer, or anything strictly material. I mean asking yourself if devotion to Anubis makes your life more meaningful, more coherent. If it gets easier to go with the flow and deal with your average daily level of stress. (Allowing for the fact that right now, especially in the U.S., we are all at above-average levels of stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) If maybe you are inspired to make fancier offerings or to create something for the god, like an image, a painting, your own hymns and prayers. 

I have a lot more to say on these topics, I think. But I’m going to say them another night.

Veils of darkness and of light

The veil is thin this time of year, they say.

What veil? I wonder.

Between this world and the otherworld. Between the living and the dead.

The wall between this world and the other has been hard and thick for a long time, like the wall some people want between two countries, one “white”, one “brown”. But it is crumbling now, thin in places, broken in others, wholly absent where there is water, just as it has always been. Whether immigrants or Gentry, welcome or unwelcome, strangers are coming over the border more than ever now. That’s what I hear.

Is there a veil between the living and the dead? Have we not just been ignoring them, as we ignore the Other Kind?

People talk of the dead, the ancestors, the thinning veil, at the same time that they decorate with skeletons, bats, and spiders, frighten themselves with horror movies, make lanterns with terrifying faces that slowly rot and crumple just like human flesh. Is that what is on the other side of the veil? Horror and decay? Are people afraid of the dead, or only pretending to be? Do we fear the dark?

When I fear the darkness, I fear the things of this world: the mugger, the rapist, the distracted driver, the bomb dropped by night. The serial killer who looks just like every other harmless, trustworthy man by day. Men are harmless, right? I fear the boys who march by night with torches and chant their right to dominate the rest of us. I don’t fear dreams of my grandmother, my great-aunt, or even my unwelcome ex-husband.

In my mind I nudge aside the curtain, and what I see on the other side is light, tremendous light. A light so powerful I am blinded; a light not affected by the shortening of the days. Whether it is the light at the heart of the earth or a light beyond the stars, or both, or neither, the mystery of this season for me is a transcendent light. It is the light of Christ’s saints in the heavenly Jerusalem; it is the light of love found in the terror of the underworld and the realization that one loves and is loved by the god at his most terrifying; it is the light of the jack o’ lantern and the Christmas decorations that go up too early and the new candles of Candlemas, the light that shines in the darkness and loves the darkness and is loved by it.

A belated Commentary, by request

Readers who followed me all the way through my series of Commentaries on my 31 Hymns to Antinous last month may recall that I said I was omitting one of the original hymns from the sequence and introducing a new hymn written last year. At the time I was quite sure that this was the right course of action and that the deities named in the omitted hymn were Okay with my decision.

Early this month, I felt that someone unfamiliar with nudging me for my attention. So I sat down with a Tarot deck, proposed some rules for yes/no answers, and worked my way through several rounds of three-card throws until I knew who was tapping me. Did you guess it was the deities of the omitted hymn? If so, you get the virtual prize of your choice, because it was, in fact, the Tetrad++.

I was happy to hear that They were willing to work with me once again. I was not surprised to hear that, to make amends for having more or less let our relationship lapse, I owed Them the publication of Their hymn with a commentary.

Hymn XXII: To Antinous and the Tetrad++

Sing, O Muses, of the splendid youth, beautiful and masculine,

the perfection of his gender, who became the first father

of a new generation of gods, gods who are numina, gods who

are deities, gods too great to be contained in the boxes of gender.

Sing of Antinous, beloved of Hadrian, one with Osiris, the Bithynian boy,

who fathered the first two of the Tetrad on Pan, great god of the wild,

worshipped in Arcadia, and led blessed gods and mortals divinized

to contribute to the new births. Sing of Panpsyche, sing of Panhyle,

twins, siblings, rivals, lovers, all-soul and all-body, the offspring

of seventy-eight generous parents. Sing of Paneros, offspring

of Panpsyche together with Panhyle, progenitor with eir parents

of mighty Pancrates. Sing of Paneris, partner of Paneros, and last

but not least of Panprosdexia, engendered by Pancrates.

Praise to Antinous, who led the great gods to birth a new generation

of blessed deities with new experiences of gender! Praise to Paneros,

who unchained Eros that all might equally love and be loved! Praise

to Panpsyche, the soul that contains the body, and to Panhyle, the body

within the soul. Praise, praise to Pancrates, who begins a new cycle

of time, and to Panprosdexia, who gathers all souls home. Praise not

least to Paneris, who preserves all beings from boredom!

O blessed Antinous, may you be loved and blessed by all people

of whatsoever genders for the generosity of your eros, the courage

of your divine youth! O blessed Tetrad++, may you be known and loved,

praised and worshipped, even more widely than all your parents,

All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power, All-Strife, and All-Acceptance!

The Tetrad++ are a group of six deities who are non-cisgendered. Originally They manifested as a quartet: Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, and Pancrates. Later, They added two to Their number: Paneris and Pancrates. They are new deities, recently birthed, engendered by Antinous and a host of deities from Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and other pantheons, along with many of the divi and divae associated with Antinous (i.e., Hadrian, Sabina, and other deified imperials). And They are particular patrons of trans, genderqueer, metagender, agender, and non-gender-conforming persons.

The difficulty in this hymn for me is that when I composed it, I believed myself to be, to have always been, a cisgender woman. I believed that since I had a female body, female genitals, female breasts, that is, since I had been assigned female at birth (AFAB), I was a woman. It didn’t matter that I had never felt comfortable in that category, or that there seemed to be many experiences common to women that I did not share, or aspects of femininity that I could not identify with. It wasn’t significant that I rejected typically female roles like wife (I almost never referred to myself as “So-and-so’s wife) and mother (I was a stepparent but did not want children), or that self-help books written specifically for women (I often picked up titles on writing or creativity) tended to seem infuriatingly unhelpful. I had a certain set of physical characteristics, so I was… as gender-essentialist as many people were and still are.

However, a couple of years before I wrote this set of hymns, I was motivated to participate in a novena of spiritual elevation for the trans dead: nine days of prayer concluding on November 20th, the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Every year, hundreds of trans people die by violence, often isolated from friends and estranged from their birth families. The novena is intended to help them progress spiritually in the afterlife so that they don’t remain trapped in a state like their moment of death.

I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of my cramped apartment, praying over the offerings of candle and cool water that I had laid out, and suddenly sensing the Tetrad++ around me, a hexagram of tall, bright, vibrant, armed beings who said, “This is one of ours.”

At the time I was unable to grasp the plain sense of these words: that I, like Them, was not cisgender and did not fit into the box to which I had been assigned at birth. It took me five or six years to start to understand that, and I’m still working on it. But I was happy to worship and work with the Tetrad++, until events within the Antinoan community disrupted our relationship.

I am happy now to renew my connection with Them, and to deepen my understanding of Their genders and my own. (I capitalize Their pronouns not simply as an honorific, but because They tend to communicate with me as a unified group.) Panpsyche, whose name means “all soul”, is of the first generation of the group, a trans feminine goddess who appears winged and armed with a spear. Panhyle, whose name means “all matter” or “all body”, is her trans masculine twin brother, who bears bull’s horns and a bow and arrow. They are the parents of Paneros, whose name means “All love”, who carries the sword and is metagender, sometimes manifesting a serpent where their genitals would be.

Panpsyche, Panhyle, and Paneros together became the parents of Pancrates,”all power”, the fiery deity who contains all genders. Paneris, “all strife”, manifested as the polar partner and lover of Paneros, a genderfluid being who shifts without stability between male and female presentation (and might appear as a fox as well). And Panprosdexia, “all acceptance,” the offspring of Pancrates, is agender and asexual, usually appearing hooded and cloaked, the one who walks in dark places and leads those who are lost there back to the light.

In my experience of these deities, They are deeply concerned with the survival and well-being of people who don’t fit into the usual boxes of gender or sexuality, to the point in my case of nagging me about self-care. I will not resist if They decide to resume that role in my life, because I could use some divine nagging (even more than I already get, thanks, everyone). They also affirm that gender is a choice and your choice is valid, even if that choice is cis masculine or cis feminine, because those genders, too, are part of the diversity of life. I hope that, if you are moved to use this hymn and find out more about the Tetrad++, They will manifest to you as They did to me and bless your life.

Commentary on Hymn XXXI: To Antinous, My God

I will wear a garland of red lotus in your honor, Antinous.
I will put my hands to work and write hymns in your honor, O Bithynian.
I will dance because your body is beautiful, most beautiful god,
that my body also may become beautiful.
All my pleasures will be yours, offered on your altar, O most lovable god,
like flowers, like incense, like chocolates, like wine, like kisses.
When I look up at the stars, I will look for your star, Navigator.
When I see the moon, Antinous, I will remember you are beloved of Selene, like Endymion.
The light of the sun is your light to me, Antinous Apollon.
The fragrance of the greening earth after rain is your fragrance, Antinous Dionysus.
The life that wells up again and again in me in spite of all defeats is your life, Antinous Osiris.
I will wear a garland of red lotus in your honor, Deus Frugiferus, Deus Amabilis,
Homo Deus, Hero, Daimon, sweet thing, I will wear a garland of red lotus
in your honor, and I will sing, I will dance, I will sing.

In 2015 when I first wrote these hymns, I had about two years of devotion behind me. I had also been listening to Irish singer-songwriter Hozier for about that long, finding performances on YouTube as well as listening to his debut album and two EPs. (There was a long gap between his first and second albums. Very long.) I think I must have discovered his cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” shortly before I came to write this hymn. It was, frankly, the inspiration for it, metrically and in spirit. I wanted the rhythm, the candor, the intimacy of Hozier’s cover in a hymn that would reiterate the titles of the god and the themes of the preceding hymns as much as possible and make them personal.

I came to Antinous, attracted by his beauty and his goodness, and he accepted me. I didn’t have to be called or chosen or special; I could just show up. In a relationship with the god begun hopefully and tentatively, I found help, support, inspiration, and meaning. I found a door into relationships with other deities through Antinous and a mystery initiation that changed my life. In writing these hymns and now in writing their commentary, I hoped to do honor to the god of my choice and to help those who wish to know him better or who already love him and wish to praise him. May this offering fulfill my intentions, O Antinous, Beautiful, Just, Benevolent!

Commentary on Hymn XXX

This hymn is new to the sequence and is published here for the first time. It was composed in early 2019; the events of 2020 have made my intention in its words even more fervent. First the hymn, and then the commentary:

Hymn XXX: To Antinous and Melinoe at the Apocalypse
Join together, beloved of Hadrian, daughter of Persephone,
join together in holy union, the bride upon the lap
of her groom, upon the rod of his beauty, face to face.
Join together, fairest of gods, brightest and darkest
of goddesses, copulate in love and desire, lip to lip,
breast to breast, phallos in kteis. Let the pleasure
build and swell, let the power rise within.
Let the juices gather and fall, the red and the white,
the semen of a god, the honey of Aphrodite,
let them fall on this age of the world, O purify us.
Let your love and joy and ecstasy dissolve
all hatred, greed, and fear. Let your orgasms
break the towers of the mighty and the chains
of the oppressed. Let your cries of pleasure
drown the speech and deafen the ears of liars.
Let a rain of sexual juices wash away the lust
for power, the thirst for domination, the safety
of those who dominate and punish. Let all
who will not rejoice in your union be dissolved
by your joy as by fire and acid. Fuck now
and bring about the end of this age of the world.

Vajrasattva with Consort

The background of this hymn is complex. Its imagery derives from Tibetan Buddhism and the practice of Vajrasattva, the cosmic buddha who presides over purification. In the most basic form of the practice, one visualizes Vajrasattva above one’s head, beaming down purifying rays of light as one chants his mantra of one hundred syllables. In advanced forms, however, one may visualize him as depicted in the image above, sexually united with his consort (a female buddha of equal wisdom and attributes), and the purifying light that descends is imagined as the fluids of their copulation pouring down into one’s energy body. The light from above, however envisioned, floods through the meditator and pushes all negativities out of the lower orifices of the body. Paradoxically, the impurities that humans purge serve as the purifying light and nectar for lower beings.

In this hymn I thus envision Antinous and his consort coupling, and their sexual fluids purifying not just one individual but the world. The concept of Antinous having a female consort, however, is my personal gnosis, at least partly shared with and verified by a few other people in the Naos.

Several years I wrote and blogged a short story that started with a simple premise: What if Hel, goddess of the dead to the Germanic peoples, came to visit Hades, god of the dead in Greece, while Persephone was away from the underworld visiting her mother? I am not a planner when it comes to writing, so I had no idea where the story would go when I began with that idea, a meeting of two underworld deities. It led to the birth of Melinoe, a goddess known to us only from the Orphic Hymns.

According to the Hymn addressed to her, Melinoe was begotten on Persephone by her father Zeus, only he deceived her by disguising himself as her husband Hades. Melinoe is described in obscure language which describes her as two-natured or two-bodied or half light, half dark and seems to say that she brings nightmares or hallucinations to mortals. At the conclusion of my story, little Melinoe is sent away to foster with Hel in her domain of the underworld, to protect her from any action that Zeus might take against her.

A couple of months later, I found myself thinking about an adult Melinoe being brought home from the North by Antinous in his Boat of Millions of Years. Once again, I started a story with no real plan other than to introduce these deities to one another as fictional characters. I soon realized, as I started to write their interactions, that, to be blunt, they wanted to bone. And that, on some level, if I wrote them a sex scene or a romance with sex, it would happen.

I consulted another Antinoan friend to divine for me. What did the gods in question have to say? Was I allowed to write them a sexual relationship? The answer my friend gave me was, “Yes, you can do that. But if they have sex, it means the end of the world.”

Somewhere in the past four years, I reached a point where the End of the World began to seem like a very desirable thing. Because I don’t mean the end of the cosmos, or the universe, or nature, however you want to call it. I mean the end of the saeculum (in Latin), or the aion (in Greek), or the wer-old, in Old English, the age of man–the end of our culture, our civilization, our paradigm. To quote the song that was used in the opening scenes of Independence Day, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

I am sharing this hymn publicly for the first time after nearly 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States. After a string of natural disasters in Puerto Rico, the Midwest, and Louisiana (remember Hurricane Katrina? Laura is forecast to be worse). While fires rage in California and the incarcerated men who had been the principal (barely paid and unhonored) defense against wildfires are dying of the coronavirus. While the virus continues to spread, the federal government continues to withhold guidance or resources, right-voting citizens are protesting the virus (as if that resists it?) and black citizens are still protesting being shot by police, who continue to meet protests with armed force and to shoot unarmed black citizens–

Yes, I’m quite ready for this Age of Man to end. I’ve spent much of my life imagining and writing about alternatives, ways to build a better future, saner and more loving ways to live. The sexual union of a god identified with gayness and an obscure goddess who is the child of an incestuous rape seems like the perfect catalyst.

I have come to know and love Melinoe since her first appearance to me in my own fiction. She accompanied me through my initiation into Antinous’ Mysteries and has helped me through the difficult times that followed. She has not so much given me strength as called forth the strength I didn’t know I had. The agenda she has shown me is, basically, smashing the patriarchy, creating a new world in which no child shall be born under the same conditions as she was–the product of rape and incest, threatened almost from birth by her own family. And she is quite happy to bring nightmares, a bad death, and an afterlife of punishment to sexual predators, while at the same time helping and empowering their victims.

If you’re just plain tired of all this fucking shit–and believe me, I can find no words less vulgar that are adequate–join me in praying to this unlikely pairing of divinities to purify us by their erotic raptures and help us to create the world we want, a world not under the knee of white cis-male predators and exploiters. It’s possible. Love and desire burn hotter and cleaner than hatred.

Commentary on Hymn XXIX: To Antinous Deus Frugiferus

May your presence in my life be fruitful, O Antinous,
Deus Frugiferous. May grapes grow amongst your curls
to make sweet refreshment on my plate. May vines spring
out and wind their way down your arms and legs. May sheaves
of wheat stand up between your thighs and heavy round fruits
hang down for my delight. May flax and cotton pour from
your palms to be woven into my garments. May nuts and
beans appear in your footprints to be gathered and soaked.
May I always have food to cook nourishing meals and offer
my gods due portion. May I always have clothing that I may
appear with decency before your shrine. May money pile up
that I may buy wine and incense, candles and ice cream,
for you and all the gods and spirits. May good food and
sweet sleep, wise books and wise dreams fill my life that
poems and stories may germinate in me like seeds.
May I have an abundance of your blessings that I may
pass them on to all who need them, to feed the hungry,
to console the lonely, to calm the angry (or to arm them
for the fight), to bless always as I have been blessed,
O Deus Frugiferus, Antinous, most fruitful and generous of gods.

“Deus Frugiferus” is another title of Antinous which I love very much. It is usually translated “the fruitful god”, but if I am not mistaken, -iferus in Latin means “one who bears”, e.g., Lucifer, Luciferus, the light-bearer. “Deus Frugiferus” is “the fruit-bearing god”, with grapes in his hair like Dionysus.

Antinous has been a most generous giver of blessings in my life, and I have done my best to give back. There is a cycle of reciprocity between us and the gods; they give us good things, and we use their gifts to create things which we give back to them. Offerings of first fruits, of the best lamb in the flock or the best bull in the herd, of water, oil, and wine are present in all ancient religions and in many living ones. Even the Christian Eucharist conforms to this pattern, if you have a Catholic theology: God gives wheat and grapes, which we transform into bread and wine so that we can offer them back and receive them again transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

My material offerings to the gods over the past six or seven years have been pretty simple: water, wine, incense, candles, sometimes a bit of food if I cook a proper meal or order Chinese. My devotional writings, however, are also offerings to the gods, especially to Antinous. I may not be able to afford expensive wine or mount elaborate rituals on holy days, but I have created a considerable body of devotional and liturgical writing, a significant offering of my time and effort.

These writings are an offering of my heart; they are also the fruit of my relationship with the Beautiful Boy. One of my favorite sayings of our friend Rabbi Jesus is, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” I know I am on the right path spiritually because I see the fruits in my life, in my writing, in emotional healing, in concrete material help. And I have something to share with others, to reciprocate the gift not just by lighting some incense and saying a prayer (though I do those things) but by creating works that will help others to connect with the god, who is fruitful and generous, beautiful and good.

Commentary on Hymn XXVIII: To Antinous Deus Amabilis

O Antinous, Deus Amabilis,
you are the lovely god, fairest of mortal boys,
beautiful even amongst the gods.
O Antinous, Deus Amabilis,
you are the lovable god, most attractive
in your beauty, in your kindness, in your
open-handed welcome to those who seek you.
O Antinous, Deus Amabilis,
you are the loving god, the passions of your mortal heart
now kindled from red-hot to blue-white, your love
and loyalty a divine ecstasy.
O Antinous, Deus Amabilis,
accept the offering of my love,
and return it to me, if you will;
love me and in that love,
may all my loves be purified;
may I love like you, be as lovable
as you, become as lovely as you,
O Antinous, Deus Amabilis.

Amabilis…

“Amabilis” is one of my favorite titles for Antinous and perhaps the one that sums up my experience of him. He is Deus Amabilis, the Lovable God. He is not intimidating, scary, spooky, “dark”, or whatever (although he is not without a wrathful side). He is open, approachable, attractive, even likable. While many have looked at his surviving representations and seen a lazy, sulky, or melancholy adolescent boy, in my devotion I have found him to be a good listener, a patient friend, a god of good cheer. His surface beauty is matched by a deep goodness; he wants his devotees to be happy and does what he can to help them.

On the other hand, I don’t want to imply that Antinous is a doormat. Just as he did when mortal, he has definite preferences; he likes some people, loves some people, and rejects some people. He does not welcome homophobes, TERFs, racists, or other bigots into his court. He is on the side of liberation, inclusion, and equality, which means he opposes those who want to oppress, exploit, exclude, or dominate others. While I have been at pains throughout this series to convey that he does not reject straight people just for being straight, neither will he reinforce heteronormativity. He can be wrathful in the protection of his own, and he can be demanding of those who have pledged their service to him. Yet I myself find his demands empowering: If my god expects me to do a thing in his service, he must have good reason to think that I actually can do it, and do it well. (Such as writing this series of blog posts.)

For years I struggled, as a Christian, to have the sort of feelings about Jesus that I read about in the medieval mystics I loved so much. I was baffled by the fact that I had much more devotion to Julian of Norwich than to the god of her devotion. I loved liturgy and theology and saints and the Holy Spirit, and often felt more or less indifferent to Jesus. I didn’t know what I was missing until I encountered Antinous and fell in love with him. You can’t generate devotion to a deity in yourself any more than you can generate romance or sexual desire; I think there has to be a spark of something, perhaps the initiative of the deity and not the mortal. In any case, I am fonder of Jesus as a deified rabbi than I was of him as The Incarnate WORD, and I am deeply devoted to Antinous as the god who, to me, is the most lovable and also the most intelligible.

Commentary on Hymn XXVII: To Antinous Imperator Pacis

Emperor of Peace we hail you, Antinous,
victorious in the heavens and in the depths,
lord of the living and the dead. Not, like
Hadrian, commander in chief of armies,
not the hero in war, though hero you are,
and fighter in need, wielder of the spear
in defense of your people. You are the ruler
of a city whose center is everywhere, whose
four walls form an obelisk, and whose crown
is friendship. Where you rule, Mars never
rides forth to conquer; Bacchus is always
welcome within the city gates, and galloi
and megabyzoi walk freely in the streets,
their ways and their gods respected. There,
where love freely chooses its object, children
are cherished, and women respected, as friend
and sister no less than consort and mother.
Jews and Greeks, Romans and Egyptians,
Germans and Celts, and all of us their children,
scattered around the globe, can gather
in your city to live and to work, to buy and to sell,
to teach and to learn, to worship and to feast.
O Antinous, Imperator Pacis, soon may your reign
spread abroad on earth, soon may your peace
grow bonds of friendship between strangers,
soon may your people find a place where
they can gather, led by your star, defended
by your spear, and governed only by your love.

The title “Imperator Pacis” is something of an oxymoron. It translates as “Emperor of Peace”; what makes that a contradiction in terms is that the Latin word imperator, meaning “one who gives orders”, was originally the title of the commander in chief of Rome’s armies. It was only fairly late in Roman history that it was applied to the ruler and protector of the Roman state as a whole.

Hadrian, one might say, is the Emperor of War, the battle-proven commander respected by the troops. Antinous is the Emperor of Peace, the ruler of a society which is at peace not only with its neighbors but with itself. In writing this hymn, I was inspired by the image of Antinoopolis, the city which Hadrian founded and named after his eromenos, and by a line from the biblical Psalms: “Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity within itself” (Ps. 122). Antinous is the Emperor of his city, a place of unity within great diversity. The historical Antinoopolis was, like Alexandria, a cosmopolitan hub of multiple nationalities, languages, ethnicities, and religious practices, where Antinous was especially honored. So is the spiritual Antinoopolis that we construct in ritual, invoked by the image of the god’s obelisk and its sacred texts in the Egyptian language.

No culture, no religion, no sexuality, no race, no gender is excluded in the imagined empire of the Beautiful Boy. I included the galloi and megabyzoi because they were among the most alien and gender-variant people in the Empire, the former being castrated priests of Cybele and the Magna Mater and the later priests of the Artemis of Ephesus. In Roman society they were objects of fascination and fear; Roman citizens were not permitted to join these cults where castration was required. I envision them as free and equal citizens under Antinous’ rule, as are trans and gender-variant and gender-nonconforming people.

As we draw near to the conclusion of this cycle of hymns, it should be noted that the one attribute with which Antinous is never associated is war. He is a hunter and a liberator, able to wield bow and arrow and spear, but he is not a soldier; he is never depicted with sword or shield. In many of the surviving images we have, he is nude, completely exposed, completely vulnerable. He places no armor between himself and the world and invites his devotees to approach him with the same openness he displays. The spiritual city of Antinoopolis is a safe place for all of us queers, and for all lovers, ruled by the divine youth who guards diversity in peace.

Commentary on Hymn XXVI: To Antinous Homo Deus

Blessed are you, Antinous Homo Deus,
deified by the waters of the Nile:
blessed are you, man become god,
one with Osiris, mortal raised to
immortality. Blessed is the mystery
by which human becomes divine,
blessed the holy gods who welcome us
into their company; with Herakles, Semele,
Ariadne you take your place among
the glorious ones. Bid us remember,
O Bithynian boy, the lesson behind
this mystery: That no human becomes
a god without first dying.

I am not a fluent user of Latin; nevertheless, I dare to say that “Homo Deus” is a phrase that does not translate well into English. You could render it as “Man God”, but you could equally render it as “God Man”. It is possible in Latin to say that X is Y or Y is X without having to use any form of the verb esse, to be, so one might extend the translation into “the man who is a god” or “the god who is a man” or even “the human god” or “the divine human”.

This to me is the central mystery of Antinous’ deity and of his mortal life: that he was an ordinary youth who, as it were by accident, became a god. That he was a historical person deified by fate. The other names I mentioned, Herakles, Semele, and Ariadne, are mythic rather than historical, and there are good reasons to think that Semele and Ariadne were originally seen as divine in their own right rather than elevated through relationship to Dionysus. Antinous is simply right there, in history, standing perhaps beside and slightly behind Hadrian, and then changed by the waters of the Nile.

Of course there is another historical figure who became divine, a not-quite-contemporary of Antinous: namely, Jesus. While I myself am persuaded that Jesus was, indeed, a historical person, it ought to be said that the evidence for Antinous is much greater than that for Jesus. Antinous was mentioned in historical record by people who had met Hadrian (and perhaps Antinous, too) and by people who were hostile to his relationship with the Emperor and skeptical of his divinity. Jesus himself is not mentioned outside of writings within his movement.

Christian theology looked at the divinity of Jesus from two perspectives, traditionally called high or low, descending or ascending Christology. From the high perspective, Jesus was the human incarnation of the divine Logos, a manifestation of the only true deity, a unique instance of God becoming human. From the low perspective, Jesus was an ordinary man chosen or adopted by his heavenly Father who attained godhood through his death, which he accepted as an offering of himself to his Father’s will. The high perspective can be seen in the prologue to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word…”; the low perspective in the speeches of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.

You could say that, to coin a phrase, we have an ascending Antinology by default. We know Antinous was mortal, died, and became divine. In the religions of his time and place, he was not unique in that. And as I say in today’s hymn, death is the only way that mortals become immortal. We are not allowed to not die; even if we experience apotheosis, deification, death is part of the process.

Yet I wonder if we cannot imagine a descending Antinology as well; if Antinous the mortal youth cannot be seen as the embodiment or instantiation of a universal principle, a Platonic Idea (if I understand the Idea correctly, and I make no guarantee that I do). Likewise, if each of us is potentially divine, then perhaps each human being is the embodiment of a universal principle as well. Every deity, every human, every Idea is in a process of both ascending and descending, as Heraclitus said: “The way up and the way down are the same.”

Commentary on Hymn XXV:

A hero among heroes we hail you, Antinous,
noble youth, exemplar of virtues.
Surpassing in beauty, noted for strength,
loyal to your loves, beloved above all,
your death Hadrian mourned,
your eternal life we celebrate.
Wise with the innocence of youth,
joyous and vital in life, in death
you are wiser still and
a vital, protecting presence.
Fairest of boys, a flower plucked
just at the moment before its full blossom,
look kindly on us who hail you
as one of our own, young, gifted,
queer, passed on too soon,
offspring and ancestor.

Leelah Alcorn

In most places Antinous was regarded as a god, on a level with Osiris, Dionysus, Apollo. However, in addition to being addressed as Agathos Daimon, the Good Spirit, he was also regarded as a hero in some places.

Looking at Antinous as hero, I see the many, many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans youth who died too soon. Even though I see Antinous’ death as accidental, in his death before he was truly adult, I see all the children and adolescents who have been murdered out of fear and hatred, or bullied by peers, rejected by parents until they committed suicide. Many devotees of Antinous consider such young people martyrs for Antinous, witnesses to the reality of queer life and death in our culture.

One who stands out in my memory is Leelah Alcorn, who walked out into interstate traffic just after Christmas in 2014. She was seventeen years old, assigned male at birth, and a Tumblr user who had queued a suicide note to post on her blog after her death. She was also denied any support in transitioning, sent to conversion therapy to force her into accepting her assigned gender, and deadnamed by her conservative Christian parents even after her suicide. Leelah Alcorn, too, is a hero, a departed soul that still reaches out and troubles the living, a queer person whose early death denied the world any gifts she might have given. In her, in Matthew Shepard, and in many other victims, we see the face of Antinous the Hero.

Commentary on Hymn XXIV: To Antinous Agathos Daimon

You are the protector of our cities, the protector
of our prosperity, guardian of the grain, Antinous
Agathos Daimon, yet you are also the guardian
of our spirits, the genius and juno, the spark
of divinity within. Grant prosperity to us who need it,
first of the body, then of the soul; grant health and
well-being to us who need it, first of the body,
then of the mind and spirit; grant self-knowledge
to us who need it, Antinous Agathos Daimon,
that the Antinous in us may bless the Antinous in you.

Antinous as Agathos Daimon

The next group of hymns are based on a series of titles for Antinous found in inscriptions and other sources. The first of these is Antinous as the Agathos Daimon, the good spirit.

The Agathos Daimon was originally conceived of as a protective spirit of the household or the granary, imaged in the form of a serpent. Snakes prey on rodents who would otherwise help themselves to the family’s grain. Gradually, the agathos daimon came to be seen as a deity in his own right, the spouse of Tyche Agathe (good fortune), then as the protective spirit not only of a household but of its individuals. Every person possessed a good spirit, their guiding presence of divinity, which Romans called the genius in men and the juno in women.

Antinous, as a deified mortal, uniquely embodies and represents the divine potential in human beings. In none of the ancient mythologies of Rome, Greece, or Egypt is there a hard and fast line between deity and humanity. While pride or hubris is certainly a vice and reverence for the gods a virtue, nevertheless immortals mingle with mortals, father or bear their children, and raise humans to godhead. To worship Antinous as Agathos Daimon is to recognize and celebrate our own divine potential and to acknowledge and honor it in others as well. The Antinous in us sees the Antinous in everything.