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.

Prayers to Antinous in a time of crisis

A Litany for Antinous the Liberator

In the name of Antinous, the Liberator, the Savior, the Human-God, Victorious One, Emperor of Peace.

From all that oppresses us, Antinous, liberate us.

From all that inhibits us, Antinous, liberate us.

From all that constrains us, whether without or within, Antinous, liberate us.

From racism and all racial prejudice, Antinous, liberate us.

From sexism and all misogyny, Antinous, liberate us.

From disrespect for our elders, Antinous, liberate us.

From disrespect for our youth, Antinous, liberate us.

From homophobia and all hatred of sexual minorities, Antinous, liberate us.

From transphobia and all hatred of gender minorities, Antinous, liberate us.

From all contempt for women and girls and for effeminate men, Antinous, liberate us.

From all injustice, Antinous, liberate us.

From sexual violence, Antinous, liberate us.

From bullying and harassment, Antinous, liberate us.

From depression and melancholy, Antinous, liberate us.

From loneliness and despair, Antinous, liberate us.

From doubt of our own gifts, Antinous, liberate us.

From doubt of our ability to act, Antinous, liberate us.

From the wounds of the past, Antinous, liberate us.

From fear of the future, Antinous, liberate us.

From all our addictions and from contempt for the addicted, Antinous, liberate us.

From poverty and the shaming of the poor, Antinous, liberate us.

From hunger and from greed and grasping, Antinous, liberate us.

From all illness of body, mind, or soul, Antinous, liberate us.

From ignorance, especially willful ignorance, Antinous, liberate us.

From the tyranny of the wealthy and their greed, Antinous, liberate us.

From the tyranny of the bigoted and their fear, Antinous, liberate us.

From the tyranny of the lustful and their self-loathing, Antinous, liberate us.

From every kind of hatred and violence, Antinous, liberate us.

[Additional petitions may be inserted here. ]

Guard and defend us, Antinous, as we struggle to free ourselves; guard and defend us, Antinous, as we strive to liberate others; guard and defend us, Antinous, as we await the rising of your star.

Ave, ave, Antinoe!

Haec est unde vita venit!

 

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Hymn II: To Antinous the Liberator

Many are the burdens we bear, and high are the walls

that are built around us; many are the voices we answer

to and the eyes of the judges; many are the wounds

that never healed and the old pains that catch at

the spine, and we lower our eyes to the pavement

and feel that nothing will ever change.

But you, Antinous,

have defeated all the archons, and nothing can withstand

your power. You offer your hand to all those who are bound

up in their own knots; you lift your spear in defense of all

who live under tyranny. Where there is a march for justice,

you march with them; where there is a fire for freedom,

you bear the torch. Where truth is spoken to power,

you stand beside; where the truth of a soul is opened,

you listen in witness. You are the Liberator from all

that oppresses or inhibits; you hunt down the tyrant,

strike open the locks, trample down the doors.

O liberate me, Liberator, from all that oppresses

or inhibits, that I may have the freedom of your friendship

now and forever.

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Hymn IX: To Antinous-Dionysus, Liberator

As long as there’s music to dance to, he will come.

As long as there’s a bottle of wine or something else to share, he will come.

As long as lovers slip off and couple even when there’s no place or time for it,

he will come, Antinous Dionysus, Dionysus Lusios, Liberator.

As long as there’s sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, he will come.

As long as people march in peace and break windows in fury, he will come.

As long as people sit home in the darkness, afraid to get up and step out

into the light, he will come, Antinous Dionysus, the breaker, the loosener.

He will come and break the bonds of tyranny and oppression.

He will come and loosen the knots we tie ourselves up in, inside.

He will throw open the windows and doors, turn stairs into ramps,

water into wine, sorrow into joy, depression into weeping,

tears into laughter, He will come, Antinous Dionysus, Lusios,

Liberator, deliverer, he will come, he will come, if we call:

Evohe! Evohe! Evohe!

 

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A prayer to Antinous in this time of crisis

O Antinous, Beautiful Boy, Osirantinous, Justified One,
I cry out to you in a time of many struggles.
My nation is an empire falling to its knees and falling apart.
There is no good emperor. There is no just rule.
I cry out to you as Liberator
on behalf of the immigrants imprisoned in camps:
Set them free.
I cry out to you as Liberator
on behalf of the protestors in our streets:
March with them. Protect them.
I cry out to you as Antinous Hermes:
May the images of resistance and brutality
be spread far and wide.
May wickedness be exposed.
May police and governments be held accountable.
I cry to you as Antinous Asklepios:
We still suffer from the plague of coronavirus.
Send us healing. Protect the healers.
I cry out to you as Lover:
May these armies of lovers not fail
who love one another more than their privilege,
who love justice more than order,
who love equality more than hierarchy.
And I cry out to you as Navigator:
Show us the way forward.
Turn the wheel of the ages.
Show us how to untie the knots
of hatred, hierarchy, bigotry, privilege,
how to pull on the threads that will
unravel the whole tapestry of
-isms that covers the world
so that we may unveil the true beauty
of the world, of one another, of ourselves.

The answer is not to be found in books

240px-awen_symbol_final.svg_A month ago when serious quarantine measures started to be required here in the U.S., Scribd announced they were giving a free 30-day trial of their service: e-books, audiobooks, and access to podcasts, documents, articles, and other such entertainment. I’ve never not been interested when someone waves a book at me–like a dog is never not interested in a strip of bacon in front of its nose–so I signed up.

After three weeks, I dropped my subscription to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, and today, I paid for my first month of Scribd, for $8.99. I’m still paying for Netflix, but I’ve made far more use of Scribd in the past month, let me tell you. You can legally read all sorts of books, even very recently published ones, even books from niche publishers like Llewellyn and Weiser and the like. I have a reading list of probably a hundred titles saved, at least, sorted into topic lists. I have marked thirty books on Druidry alone for my reading pleasure.

I haven’t read any of them.

I’ve read and listened to a book on Celtic (Christian) spirituality, The Soul’s Slow Ripening by Christine Valters Paintner (which I recommend). I’m reading and listening to my gwersi, the lessons of the OBOD course; I decided to get them in dual format, booklet and CD. I’ve rearranged my shrine with more druidic ideas in mind (though Antinous still has a corner and a lotus candle-holder). And I indulged in an Awen pendant from OBOD, a beautiful silver item I will be happy to show off when it arrives. (It just seems so… English to me that the OBOD office takes things to the post for shipping once a week, on Thursdays. Only on Thursdays.)

Today, after faffing around online with Tumblr and Facebook for far too long, I suddenly got up out of my chair, clapped my hands, and shouted, or at least declared, “The answer is not to be found in books!” And immediately thereafter muttered, “I can’t believe I just said that.” Because for 99% of my life, the answer has always been found in books. In school, the answer was in the textbook, and my mother once went to bat for me because my social studies teacher did not accept my answer to the test question, “Who was the founder of Buddhism?” I wrote “Siddhartha Gautama”, having at that point read half a dozen books on world religions. The textbook, however, said “Gautama Buddha”, so the teacher took off points. Except for that question, I would have had a perfect score. Yes, I am still mad about this.

At church, the answers were in the Bible, but also in the Prayerbook and the Hymnal. In college, the answers were in the textbooks. When I was curious about something, when I was bored, when I was anxious or frightened, the answer was pretty much always to be found in a book. You just had to find the right book–and holy gods, have I spent a lot of my time and money looking for that One Right Book. One time when I didn’t do that so much was when I started taking yoga classes. I found that I liked it; I had a wise, gentle teacher who taught modifications for those of us who couldn’t do the postures perfectly already, like the models in yoga calendars. And it felt right in my body, in a way that no other form of exercise ever had. I think I had a sense that books would only take away the great gift I had found in yoga, of getting out of my head and into my body. I didn’t want to think about yoga; I just wanted to go to class and sweat. A lot.

I do want to read about Druidry, to learn more than I already know, but to tell the truth, I’ve already read so much. I know a great deal about Druidry, about various forms of the Craft, about Christianity, Judaism, Tibetan Buddhism, and other traditions. I don’t really need more intellectual knowledge. What I need is practice, something embodied, something that brings knowledge down into the heart and the gut. And while my first thought is often to make a plan, compose a rule of life, write a liturgy, I know from experience that the best practice often results from wading in, splashing around, and eventually finding a rhythm.

Which is why, once I post this offering to my blog, I’m going to pour clean water, light an candle and incense, and sit to meditate in front of my shrine. And see who or what comes to me, and where I go.

Wrestling in prayer

Jesus and the Money Changers by Douglas Blanchard

Last week I took up again a spiritual practice that used to be a staple of mine, but has been out of the rotation for several years: Saying the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer. The Daily Office is Morning and Evening Prayer (and sometimes Midday and Night Prayer, or Compline), composed of Psalms, reading from Scripture, biblical canticles (such as the Magnificat), and prayers, with or without various kinds of elaboration. The reformers of the Church in England wanted daily prayers that could be said or heard and understood by everyone, not just educated clergy, without repeated absences from the working life of laypersons, so they reduced the eight-fold liturgy of Western monasticism to two times per day. The composers of the 1979 Prayer Book reintroduced midday and bedtime prayer, but stripped the services down so that they can be said in about fifteen minutes, if that’s all the time you have.

I tend to linger a bit more than that, but the point of the Office is not how long you take to pray it. The point of the Office is, it is daily; it is hourly, tied to certain times of the day; it is said in common with others, it’s a group prayer, even if you’re saying it alone; and it is fixed. The content of the service is set down in the book, not picked by any individual, and it gives you something to come back to year after year.

I have found a lot of comfort in the past week or so in returning to the familiar words and rhythms of the Daily Office. It was for a long time deeply important to me, the center of my practice as a Christian (when my practice was exclusively that). There are many psalms, canticles, and prayers I can recite mostly from memory, barely looking at the page. But I’ve also run up against a deep discomfort. For the first time, it is glaringly obvious to me that the Church attributes the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. to the rejection and execution of Jesus.

Any Jewish person reading this is probably saying, “Well, duh!” right now. It’s not that I hadn’t come across the idea before. It figures prominently, after all, in the Paradiso of Dante, where the Roman destruction of Jerusalem is called “la giusta vendetta”, the just vengeance, for the Crucifixion. It lurks in the texts of some of the hymns I grew up with. But this time I’m face to face with it in the actual liturgy of my very own Episcopal Church. The Psalms of Holy Week, and the Old Testament reading from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, revolve around the Babylonian conquest and exile and thus foreshadow the Roman conquest and subsequent diaspora. In the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Jesus’ teachings before the events of Holy Week are prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem and of Israel as a nation, even a subjugated nation. I don’t think it took much foreseeing or divine knowledge for him to look at the situation in his occupied homeland and know that it was unsustainable, that it was bound to lead to an open conflict and that the Jews were not going to win. He was not going to be a secular ruler and military commander. No Messiah was going to show up who could beat the Roman legions.

Scholars have been saying for years that the Gospels, especially John, come out of an era when the early Christians already identified less as a group of Jews than as a new religion within the Roman Empire. They were already feeling the pressure to make nice, to play it safe, to assure the Roman world around them that they weren’t a threat (which they absolutely were). So the Gospels we have go a long way to take the moral responsibility for Jesus’ death off of Pontius Pilate, the Roman in charge, and lay it not just on the religious authorities of Judea, who justifiably felt threatened by Jesus, but on the Jewish people as a whole, to the point where Matthew has a whole crowd of Jews shouting, “His blood be upon us, and upon our children!”

As history, this is horseshit, to put it bluntly. Pontius Pilate was to the Emperor Tiberius as Mitch McConnell is to Donald Trump: He would never have dreamed of crossing him or failing to eliminate a potential threat, whether he personally found that threat credible or not. The religious authorities of Jesus’ own culture rejected him and found a way to set him up for the Romans as a terrorist, yes, but the Romans were as much responsible for executing Jesus as they were for razing Jerusalem some forty years later.

As theology, it’s just plain antisemitism. And I reject that, even as I uneasily recite the psalms and mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and find myself thinking how many of those bible verses could be describing my own city, my own nation, right now, besieged by a pandemic disease, running out of resources, deprived of effective leadership.

Jacob the son of Isaac got the name “Israel”, says the book of Genesis, because he wrestled with an angel of the LORD and would not let go. Tne angel pulled an illegal move and kicked him in the crotch, throwing his hip out of joint so that he limped ever after. In the Christian tradition I learned, as well as in Judaism, it’s necessary to keep wrestling with the angel, even though you’re liable to get kicked in the crotch and come away limping. I am limping my way towards Easter.

POEM: The Iron Tree

I am the Iron Tree.
I stand upon the Mountain
at the center of the World.
My trunk is straight and strong.
My roots go down deep into the earth.
They spread out and drink the waters
of the four rivers of the underworld,
blue-green and glacier-cold.
My taproot sinks to the center of the earth
and brings up the heartfire.
I am nourished and empowered.
My branches reach up high into the heavens.
They drink the light of sun, moon, and stars like rain.
A single ray from the single star that belongs to me alone
descends into my crown, illuminating and guiding me.
The winds of the four quarters blow upon me,
bringing news and carrying messages.
My spirit allies gather around me,
knowing they can meet me here.
I am the iron tree, grounded and centered,
illuminated and balanced.
I bend only when I will,
and I do not break.

A world full of gods

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Vesta’s fire burns on my stove and in the candles on my shrine. She consumes the incense I kindle and crackles through wires as electricity to power lamps, laptops, and everything else.

Apollo gives music, healing, poetry, prophecy, all of which I need. He and Diana shed light by day and by night. Venus and her court bless me with birds and flowers as well as love and desire. Mercury, who blesses writers as well as merchants and thieves, sends the bus to get me to work on time, protects me when I cross a busy intersection, notices when I help a homeless person.

Who better than Minerva to help a single woman further her career, especially in an intellectual field? To whom shall I appeal for just government if not Jupiter, king of the gods? Mars is a protector of boundaries and of the fields we cultivate, not merely a god of war. Juno’s image burns within me, my sacred personal sovereignty.

The blessings of Ceres put food on my table. Bacchus entertains me not merely in every glass of wine but in every movie and television show, transforming reality and slipping me meaning and wisdom along with pleasure and diversion. Neptune and Portunus are needed to bless our rivers and our harbor, a center of tourism and of trade. Without Vulcan, would I have a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone? I’m not an artificer, but I need the products of craft and manufacture. With Janus at the door, I sleep safely at night.

Antinous, my beloved boy, god of my heart, carries the gifts of Apollo, Dionysus, and Hermes, as well as of Osiris, and opens the door to all the gods. He is the center around which my sense of the numinous is organized, the heart of the mandala.

There is no god that is not part of my life. They are everywhere. I may not go into the wilderness, but I know that Diana and Faunus are there, just as Mercury and Apollo, Minerva and Venus are not far away in the city. Even a vacant lot overgrown with weeds can be a glimpse of Faunus; Diana’s deer are hiding in patches of woods just off the light rail’s route. Flora blesses the carefully tended yards and gardens no matter how run-down a neighborhood may be.

Other gods are no less real for my not worshipping them. They, too, are present even if I don’t notice them.  It doesn’t seem like mysticism, or magic, or anything but reality. The gods and my relationships with them are woven through my life, my ordinary life. I pay attention to them, and they pay attention to me. Their reality affirms my reality; their sacredness affirms my sacredness. After all, some gods become humans, and a good many humans have become gods….

(Image from Wikimedia)

Devotion is for losers

candle-3663352_640That’s what the little voice in my head tells me.

Devotion is for losers.

When I light my candle and incense, look at the divine images I printed off the Internet and pasted together, read poems I have written and then fumble my words when I try to ask for help–the little voice says, “Devotion is for losers”.

It sounds a bit like Chris Evans in an early, jerkass role–masculine, slightly nasal, tenor register, and very American. (No offense to Evans, who remains one of my favorite actors and beautiful people.)

I’m a strong independent person who don’t need no gods, right? I live by myself (well, self and bird). I work full-time and support myself. I’m an introvert who needs plenty of alone time. I should be pursuing the empowering path of Magic/k or however you want to spell it, right? Grinding out spells to make the changes in my life that I want.

Except that doesn’t work for me. Positive change happens when I’m not looking. Things I want tend to come to me if I genuinely, steadily desire them. Trying to have some sort of regular magical practice turns out to interfere with the one thing in my life that is genuinely, invariably, reliably empowering–that is, writing.

I’ve seen over and over again that if I have to choose between using my limited time and energy for magic/k/e or for writing, writing will win, every time. Writing wins over laundry, dishes, bingewatching, and sometimes even eating or sleeping, let alone magic.

Yet devotional practice flows in around the edges of work and dinner and writing and video and supports all that. Replenishes energy instead of taking it. Makes dealing with everyday stressors easier. Inspires my writing. Tends toward greater kindness to myself and others.

“Devotion is for losers.” I’m not sure where that snotty voice in my head came from, but I’m pretty sure it’s wrong.

(Image by s-ms_1989 from Pixabay)

Considering devotion

9e847b085dc8494226401cc0a20b9226In fannish circles we have a saying: “I didn’t know I wanted that until I saw it.” It refers to something, usually a fan work, that satisfies a need or desire you weren’t aware of having. It might describe an unusual pairing, or a fan video using a particular song, or a what-if scenario in a fanfic that goes far afield of what “really” happened onscreen. A large part of the pleasure of fannish activities, I think, is simply discovering and connecting with your actual pleasures, desires, even kinks. In fandom it’s okay if you want to read a dozen different stories about a character overcoming past trauma by taking care of an abandoned child, however badly that sort of thing would work out in real life. (Not that I would ever read that sort of thing myself, of course….)

There was a moment sometime back in 2014, I think, when I realized that I wanted to make an offering to Antinous and ask him for help with something specific. At the time I had been going to church regularly for over a year and identifying as an Episcopalian. But despite going to Sunday Eucharist and saying the Daily Office (daily), I had no desire to take this particular problem, whatever it was, to Jesus or his Father. That was when it hit me that I had a relationship with Antinous, a Greek teenager who drowned in the Nile and was deified by Egyptian custom in the year 130 C.E., that I had never had with the god of my childhood religion, a religion I kept coming back to in spite of exploring a lot of alternatives. I had feelings for Antinous that I had never had for Jesus, and it wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to cultivate those feelings for Jesus–I had. I had relationships with some of the saints that had this emotional resonance–Julian of Norwich, in particular–but never with Jesus or his Father. That relationship, those feelings, are devotion.

That was what caused me to give up Christianity and adopt a polytheism focused on Antinous, finally, decisively. Devotion, this deep emotional connection with a deity, was the thing I didn’t know I wanted, the thing I didn’t quite know was missing, until I had it. I couldn’t manufacture it, any more than I could make myself fall in love with someone. Devotion is a sort of falling in love, being in love, falling in love some more.

What will you do?

I spent a lot of my time and energy this weekend worrying about this year’s Presidential election, here in the United States. Suffice to say I would like to see the incumbent out of office and replaced by a Democrat; I will support whoever the party nominates with a clear conscience. (And that’s all I’m going to say about politics.)

After fretting and feeling hopeless for most of Sunday, a question occurred to me as I was settling down to sleep for the night. What will you do, I asked myself, if the worst comes to pass? What will you do if the incumbent gets a second term? What will you do if the country is pushed further to the Right? What will you do, even, if your country becomes a dictatorship?

The answer was easy and immediate. I will keep on doing exactly what I’m doing now. I will work at my job until I can retire, which I hope will be next year. I will write fiction, poetry, and essays that portray positive, hopeful alternatives to the shortcomings of our culture, especially around issues of sexuality. I will do theurgic magical work. I will take care of my bird, listen to Hozier, watch an occasional movie or television show. And whoever may be in power, I will continue to do those things until my body gives out, or I get hit and killed by a careless driver, or the jackbooted thugs come and drag me away.

I have often heard it said that anyone who says they don’t care about politics must be speaking from a place of privilege. In general, I would agree with this; any human being living in community with other humans is involved in and affected by politics in some way. On the other hand, I think I need to stop caring so much about politics in the sense of current events, of “keeping up with the news”. Because whatever political party is in power, while it may affect me in various ways, it is not going to affect what I choose to do and how I choose to live. As I have also heard it said, survival is a form of resistance, if you are a person who doesn’t fit into the system, who isn’t privileged, whom the system seeks to exploit and discard. My survival is my resistance, and my work is here to be done regardless of who’s sitting in the White House.

In your worst-case scenario, what will you do?

The honor of service

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Your humble blogger as a teenager, hard at work

The first time I wrote a story, I was in kindergarten. With red and purple crayons, on that landscape-oriented coarse off-white paper with the blue guide lines, I wrote a story about a fight, a physical fight, between my best friend and me. It was extremely fictional; my bestie and I, who shared a birthday, never so much as quarreled. But from that moment on, I was A Writer.

I was already a churchgoer by that age, too. My mother always sent to me to church, although no one else in my family went after my sister got married and moved out. So it was probably a foregone conclusion that, with being both a writer and a believer, a religious person, I was going to see my writing as a vocation, as something I would do for God.

The god I worship has changed, but my sense of writing as a vocation never has. It’s just that happily, I found a god whose prime concerns include the very things I wanted to write about–sex, gender, creativity, religion, different kinds of erotic love and romance. Offering stories about m/m romance to Jesus felt a little odd, to be honest; offering stories about m/m romance, or about m/f/m, or alien genders, or whatever, just seems like the sort of thing Antinous would want to read.

My writing is my service to my god and to his people. And by the people of Antinous, I mean gays, lesbians, trans folk, bisexuals, queers, intersex people, and yes, asexual and aromantic people, too–anyone who doesn’t fit into the binary boxes of heteronormative sex, two genders only, biology (out of date and badly understood) is destiny. My goal in writing is to offer alternatives to those binary boxes, to stimulate the imagination (and sometimes the genitals), to get the reader hot but also to make them think. Frankly, I find writing a sex scene an excellent way to get to know a character and encourage them to tell me more about their lives, so I can write all the non-sex scenes. That goes for my own so-called original characters and for already fictional ones like Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. It goes for m/f, “heterosexual” pairings as well as same-sex or multiple ones.

Worshipping Antinous and the other gods of my devotion means making offerings of material things, like wine and water and incense and candles, and of my writing, such as poetry and hymns and prayers. Serving Antinous means getting back to work and writing my fiction, poems, blog posts, so I have something to offer in that way. Neither service nor worship mean giving up my autonomy, my dignity, my freedom to choose what movies to watch or clothes to wear. Maybe some people’s paths require that much dedication, to wear a certain habit or forgo popular culture in certain ways, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, I bow to my gods; then I straighten up and get back to work.

Worship, service, and agency

I’ve been, at various times in my life, an Episcopalian, a Druid, a Tibetan Buddhist, and now a pagan polytheist. My regular spiritual practices have changed a lot in accordance with various paths. Yet there’s always been a thread of continuity in my spirituality, no matter what I called myself or what I did. That thread was worship.

I have always been a worshipper. As a child, I went to a little Episcopal church that was firmly set in the High Church tradition: Eucharist every week, before that was the norm; colored vestments; lots of sung liturgy and incense; even the reserved Sacrament on the altar, to which we genuflected every time we crossed in front of it. (This may be why my knees are so bad today.) We had Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, borrowed from Roman Catholic tradition, and bowed before the consecrated Bread, exposed in a monstrance, a cross-shaped shrine of gold and jewels.

I started to drift away from the Church as a teenager. I looked in other traditions, witchcraft, neopaganism, but always drifted back to the Church. The Church had structure–liturgy, scripture, prayer book, hymns; the Church had worship, even if I often felt I was not really connecting with Jesus, God, whatever.

I didn’t know for a long time that worship was what I missed. As a druid I flailed about trying to find my patron deity or deities, which was what all the cool kids were doing at the time. As a Tibetan Buddhist I was more attracted to practicing deities like Green Tara and Medicine Buddha than to meditation. It wasn’t until I found or was found by Antinous and introduced to concepts like making simple offerings that I realized worship, devotion, maybe even surrender were the things that had always been missing from my spiritual practice.

I see a lot of witches and occultists say things like, “I don’t worship deities, I work with them. I’m not religious or devotion-oriented, I make pacts with spirits as an equal. A witch bows to no one.” Well, okay. But my theory is that everybody worships something. The U.S.A. is full of nominal Christians who actually worship Donald Trump. I’ve seen plenty of people who look to me like they’re worshiping a quarterback, or a radio personality, or an actor. Some people with an excess of power and money are quite obviously worshiping themselves.

You see, whatever you most deeply value, that’s what you worship. It may or may not be embodied in a deity or spirit, but that value is your god. The very root of the word “worship” is about value: “worth-ship”. Not about subservience, groveling, fear, or dependence, but value. Do you offer time, money, effort to a spirit, deity, or cause? Do you ask them for help? Do you give thanks for receiving it? That’s worship.

It doesn’t matter what your motivation is–whether it’s fear, or not fear, whether it’s devotion and love for a deity, or just a need of a spirit’s power and expertise. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big cosmic or celestial deity or a humble ancestor or a wee nature spirit. The exchange of offering and blessing, petition and response and thanksgiving, that is worship. The act of acknowledging worth in a being is worship.

antinous_pio-clementino_inv256_n2On the other hand, worship is not necessarily service. I worship Antinous and a mixed pantheon of mostly but not exclusively Roman deities associated with him. The major Roman deities, those called the Dii Consentes, get regular offerings from me, though I don’t practice in a strictly Roman way. But I don’t serve all of them.  I worship many gods–which is, after all, the definition of being a polytheist; however, I don’t serve them all. I am not at every passing spirit’s disposal. I serve only Antinous and the goddess Melinoe, daughter of Hades and Persephone, and most of that service looks like doing what I ought to do, or want to do, anyway (such as writing, or practicing good self-care), but with them in mind. I think of myself not as a servant or a slave, but more as an agent, carrying out their agenda under their authority, but with a good deal of freedom, like an agent of SHIELD. *g*

Everyone worships something. Perhaps not everyone has the urge toward service, toward devotion, toward a deeply passionate, committed relationship with a deity. Some of us do, and it can be a joyful and fulfilling relationship that in no way violates human dignity. My love for gods only enhances my life, because it’s reciprocated by their love for me.

 

A prayer for people I care about

In the Name of Antinous, the Beautiful Boy, the beloved of Hadrian and lover of all queers, Star of the Eagle and heavenly Navigator, victor over the archons:
I call on Antinous, the Liberator, the protector, to bless, guide, and protect transgender people, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people.
I call on Dionysus, cross-dresser, sexual transgressor, gender outlaw, to bless, guide, and protect these beloved people.
I call on Hermes, lover of males and females, guide of the dead, father of Hermaphroditus, to bless, guide, and protect my friends.
I call on Melinoe, the bright dark lady, half black and half white, daughter of Hades and Persephone, foster daughter of Hel and Loki, to bless, guide, and protect the people betwixt and between.
I call on Loki, the shapeshifter, mother of monsters, father of giants, who lies to the mighty and befriends the powerless, to bless, guide, and protect the shapeshifting people.
I call on Cybele, Attis, Agdistis, and the honored spirits of the galloi to bless, guide, and protect transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people.
I call on the spirits of the trans, intersex, two spirit people of North America; humbly I call on them although my ancestors wronged them, to bless, guide, and protect the trans and intersex and two spirit people who live on their land today.
I call on Jesus, who defended women, foreigners, and eunuchs, and on his disciple Philip the deacon, who baptized and taught the Ethiopian eunuch, to bless, guide and protect those whom they would have called eunuchs.
May the blessings and protection of all the gods, along with my own love and good will, stand between transgender people, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people and all malice, hatred, bigotry, violence, and tyranny, until all such evils wither away. In Antinous’ name, may it be so.

A daily prayer to Antinous

antinous_pio-clementino_inv256_n2With Antinous the Liberator may I stand firm
against every kind of inhibition, oppression, and exploitation.

 

 

 

 

 

image005With Antinous the Navigator may I be guided
by my true desires and highest values.

 

 

 

 

 

9e847b085dc8494226401cc0a20b9226With Antinous the Lover may I seek love, find love,
accept love, give love, and walk in love,
for love is the path to happiness and beatitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ave, ave, Antinoe!
Ave, vive, Antinoe!
Ave, ave, Antinoe!
Haec est unde vita venit!