Absence instead of presence

We are in the Sacred Nights of Antinous, remembering the Beautiful Boy’s death and deification and honoring the powers that made it possible–Osiris, the goddesses Isis and Nephthys and Persephone, and the serpent power of transformation. Today, the 29th of October, we honor Antinous in the underworld. He passes through the gates of the realm of the dead, defeats the arkhons who would deny liberation to mortals, and becomes the ruler of his own underworld realm, Antinoos Bakkheios.

I think today of my initiation into this mystery, the anniversary of which is about three weeks ago. I have followed in his footsteps and passed the gates to confront the god of the dead on his throne, to die and be reborn as the god.

Today his shrine is stripped, the triptych of his aspects reversed so that I see only its blank white back. But it is not the only thing empty today. There is also an empty bird cage covered with a cloth. On Monday I lost my best friend, my bird companion of 21 years, my cockatiel Rembrandt. He was old, and he had been failing slowly this year, and he died in my hands. To say I was devastated is the bare minimum. He was not merely a pet; he was a pillar of my cosmos, particularly after my separation and divorce. We had two birds then, Rembrandt and Sandro (after Sandro Botticelli); Sandro went to live with my ex and the woman he left me for, but there was never any question that Rembrandt would remain with me.

Blank shrine. Empty cage. On the 27th, the fourth of the Sacred Nights, we reflect on the Ananke Antinoou. “Ananke” can mean necessity, fate, or destiny. Death is the fate of every mortal creature, human, animal, plant, or whatever else. Rembrandt had his ananke just as Antinous had his and I have mine. Even if a mortal becomes a god, they must undergo death to do so.

Tomorrow we will observe Foundation Day, when the body of Antinous is found, his deity proclaimed by the Egyptian priests, and Hadrian vows to build a city in his memory. Antinous is divine, immortal, able to die and revive again and again. Rembrandt will not come back. He will never again perch on my hand and lower his head, asking me to pet him. He will never lift his wings in the shape of a heart and make soft clucks and whistles with his face pressed to mine. He will never sit on my shoulder and fall asleep as I watch a video on my laptop.

I lift my grief, my loss, and toss it into the Nile, into the underworld, in the hands of my god. Rembrandt flies free in the otherworldly realm of the Forest Lord. And it is raining.

Springing onto the Wheel

Today is the spring equinox here in the northern hemisphere, and my local weather is cooperating with clear skies, warm sun, pleasant temperatures, and the blooming of daffodil and crocus.

It’s a holy day in a number of ways and traditions. Astrologers count this day as their new year and welcome the Sun’s entry in Aries, the fiery Ram. Wiccans call it Ostara and honor the Goddess as Flower Maiden, accompanied by rabbits or hares, birds, and dyed eggs. Druids call it Alban Eilir, said to mean “the Light of the Earth”, and have much the same symbolism as Wiccans do. Some devotees of Antinous observe the apotheosis of the empress Sabina, Hadrian’s wife, on the 21st, when she becomes Diva Sabina, a goddess. And in the Church it’s Lent right now, but Easter must fall near the equinox, and March 25th is the feast of the Annunciation, of the wedding of God and humanity in Mary’s consent to be the Mother of God’s Son.

But what if you’re not Wiccan or Druid or any of those things? Should you still celebrate the Wheel of the Year? If so, why? And how?

I say yes, you should, if you want to. I still do although I also observe holy days for Antinous and many Roman gods. I think it’s worthwhile because the Wheel, while it was first cobbled together out of multiple folkloric traditions by Gerald Gardner, the father of Wicca, and Ross Nichols, the father of modern Druidry, corresponds usefully to real changes in the natural world, and observing it can help us with various sorts of mindfulness.

That said, I have to acknowledge that in a lot of latitudes, there’s not enough seasonal variation to make a cycle of eight seasons relevant. If the Wheel is not really observable in your climate and region, don’t worry about it. Find your own way of relating to your place in time and space.

Because that’s what the Wheel is, for me. It’s not so much a re-enactment of a mythical cycle, though it can be connected with Antinous and with Jesus; it’s a way of anchoring in your land, being open to the skies, relating to what’s around you.

So I’d like to suggest some steps for working with the Wheel of the Year.

Step one, uncouple it from mythology, for now. Don’t worry about what any god or goddess might be doing. Just stop and look around you.

Step two, don’t think of the Wheel as eight isolated festival days. Think of it instead as a way of breaking the year into eight seasons instead of four. In the U.S. today, we identify the solstices and equinoxes as the start of a season, e.g., spring begins today. But old European traditions identify the cross-quarter days as the starting dates, and the quarter days as the seasons’ peaks. Hence the old terms Midwinter and Midsummer; the winter solstice is the middle of winter because winter began on Samhain, at the start of November. I find this more sensible, but your mileage may vary.

Step three, now you have eight seasons. So, look around. Pay attention. What is happening during each season of the year? What’s happening on the earth is going to depend, of course, on where you live. For me Imbolc means longer days but also colder, a greater likelihood of snow than in November or December, the possibility of early flowers, and the first signs of mating season for local birds. The season of the spring equinox means more flowers, especially daffodils, budding trees, increased bird activity, rain instead of snow, and of course, longer days and warmer temperatures.

Look at your local weather patterns, what things are budding, blooming, or dying, what the birds are doing, how the air smells. Tune into the energy behind the activity. For me Imbolc feels like a beginning because I always feel a strong surge of energy in the world and in myself. Spring equinox is stabilizing, but then brings in more energy as the days get longer.

Step four, look up. Look at the sky. Whatever hemisphere you live in, you are sharing that sky with everyone else who lives there. The eight seasons correspond to the turning of the Zodiac and to other solar and stellar events, such as the movement of Orion and the Pleiades, which have been important in myth for farther back than we have written records. It had not occurred to until a friend mentioned it that people in the Southern Hemisphere are not only celebrating the stations of the Wheel in opposite seasons to the North, but under different signs of the Zodiac. For me the Spring Equinox belongs to Aries and the Fall to Libra, but down under, Aries hangs over the Fall Equinox and Libra over the Spring. What effect does that have? Look at your sky and watch the movements of the moon, the sun, and the stars. They’re an important part of the seasonal pattern.

Step five, do something with your observations. Construct a ritual, or don’t. Plant or tend or harvest or eat something. Read or watch or listen to works of art that express the seasonal energy. And write, sing, play, dance something for that expression, too. Add a mythology back in, if you wish. Just go for a walk and breathe.

Or don’t, because your seasonal patterns are totally unlike this. But your land and your sky are still important for you, spiritually, physically, psychologically and I recommend getting in touch with them.

There are of course many books on this topic, Wiccan, Druid, and generically pagan. I’ve just started to read Yoga through the Year by Jilly Shipway, which suggests yoga practices and meditations for each of the seasons. So go forth and spring onto the Wheel, and happy springtime!

Saturnalia: Solstice Carol

Wreathe his brow with ivy now
Warm the wine with spices fine
Though the sun set low and early
Antinous shall make us merry

Light the night with candles bright
Raise a song and sing it strong
Though the dark come soon and swift
Antinous shall bring us gifts

Fragrant bough and holly now
Red and green and gold are seen
Though the days grow hard and chill
Antinous is with us still

Snow or rain may come again
Parties end, come freezing wind
Tomorrow is a longer day
Antinous has come to stay

Antinous as Dionysus, now in the Hermitage Museum

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.

I am your Beltane buzzkill

Today is Beltane, and I know what you are thinking.

You are thinking about Maypole dances and frolicking in the woods, about sex as a sacrament of the sacred. You are thinking about rising with the dawn to bathe your face in the dew and carollers on Magdalene tower singing “Sumer is icumen in”. You are thinking about Julie Andrews as Guinevere singing “The Lusty Month of May” and group rituals you can’t attend because of lockdown. You are sighing heavily and googling “solitary Beltane ritual”.

I’m not thinking about those things. I’m looking out my ninth-floor window, watching the birds wheel by, watching the clouds gather and move on, gather and move on, and thinking about an older Beltane. I’m thinking about the Beltane of old Ireland, when two great bonfires were built and the cattle were driven between them, for protection, for purification, before they were led out to pasture for the summer. I’m thinking about Beltane as the mirror of Samhain, a spooky time when the Fair Folk are trooping and if you wander into the wrong part of the woods, you might not come back.

Should we be lighting the bonfires and driving our cattle between them? Should we run between them to be purified of the virus? Are the Fair Folk roaming the empty streets and smelling the flowers while we stay indoors? I don’t know. All I know is that I, myself, have never felt less like Beltane.

POEM: The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

molossian_hound2c_british_museumIt is always a curious incident when the dog does nothing,
when the dog that should waken sleeps,
when the hound that should bark lies silent,
when the watch-dog fails of its watch.
In the toilsome heat of August, the Romans punished the dogs
that failed to do anything in the night-time,
or the day-time, whichever it was,
when the Gauls came to scale the city walls
and carry away all that made Rome superior.
Piteous dog crucifixions baking in the heat alongside the road!
Juno’s geese strutting and honking nearby,
pleased with their own superiority: *They* gave the warning
when the dogs failed! Pathetic. Geese are large, loud,
aggressive, and not known to be trusting.

O Hermanubis, temper the ferocity of Sirius!
Hounds of the Dog Star, chase away the roaring Lion
burning up our skies! Gracious gods, protect the harvest,
send us rain and sun in due measure: The dog days
are over, the descent into autumn has begun.

(With thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

(Originally posted to Antinous for Everybody, 8/3/2016)

POEM: Beer and Bread

August. The fields outside of town
(where I haven’t driven, for I don’t drive)
are ready for harvest, wheat and corn
(and I eat barley, rice, and oats).
Lugus with his long arm, his clever hand
is ready to sweep the fields,
bring in the harvest. Time
to make beer and bread.

I feel my skin prickle.
I see a red leaf on a green tree,
a brown feather from a sparrow’s wing
on the grey sidewalk. Autumn.
The days are hotter, one by one,
but the sun rises later, lower,
day by day; one by one
the trees slow down, the birds,
the bugs, the flowers, slow down
toward their rest. A stop. I stop.
August. Lughnasad. Autumn.
Across the months, across the equator,
Lugus holds out to Brigantia his hand.
She hands him the knife that she forged
throughout the long summer,
quenched in the sun’s blood.
It’s time to bring it all home.

 

POEM: On giving roses as offerings

small_red_roseO Dea Rosa, you are the sacrificial daughter,
your bodies cut down and offered up
on the altars of Venus, of Jesus,
of Mother Mary. Your petals were torn
and scattered like the spread limbs
of the crucified Jesus by the dying
Little Flower, roses in her arms
and blood on her hands where
your thorns had pricked her, blood
on her handkerchief where she coughed
out her suffering. You beautify the coffins
of our dead and atone for the sins
of rich husbands, together with
the brilliant tears of Tellus Mater,
diamonds hard as an adulterer’s heart,
and the sparkling blood of grapes
gathered in champlains of Gaul.
I place on my shrine, lascivious virgin,
your body of red petals green leaves
and pricked stem and think of defiled
daughters and broken women
and holy mysteries.

(Originally posted to Antinous for Everybody, 5/14/2016)

POEM: Rosa, Mystica

small_red_rose

 

Ave, Rosa, spirit of the rose, fragrant nymph,
companion of Flora, numinous flower!
Hail to thee, mistress of secrets, keeper of mysteries,
all that is passed on sub rosa, mouth to ear,
hand to hand; hail, lady whose wet unfolding petals
drenched in scent bespeak another flower
and another fragrance, river and ocean, salt
and source. O lady of birth, life, and death,
who shared your mysteries with Miriam,
mother of Yeshua, joy and sorrow and glory,
five-petalled goddess who initiates and regenerates,
remind me of the secret every time I pass near
your blossoms: Love, life, sex, woman, eternity.

(Originally posted to Antinous for everybody, 5/11/2016)

POEM: A prayer to Antinous Belenos

O Antinous Belenos,
lord of this day, friend of Flora,
lady of the white track,
hunter who with your lover
Hadrian the wise and prudent
brought down the terrible boar:
hear our prayer and hunt the boar
that still rages among us;
the boar that feasts on women,
the boar that charges same-sex love,
the boar that tramples trans folk,
the boar that fears and hates Eros.
Hunt down the terrifying boar
that always threatens lovers,
that gores and gashes any kind of love
that is not restriction and repression,
hierarchy and domination,
the master and his property.
Hunt down the boar of hatred,
O mighty Antinous Belenos,
so that all lovers may love
free of fear and free of chains.