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aromantic people, too–anyone who doesn’t fit into the binary boxes of heteronormative sex, two genders only, biology (out of date and badly understood) is destiny.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 worshipping a quarterback, or a radio personality, or an actor. Some people with an excess of power and money are quite obviously worshipping 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.

 

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.

POEM: The Erotic Metaphor (for Antinous the Lover)

If my love is like a red red rose, then a red red rose is also like my love, and perhaps Burns was thinking of the folded petals nestled between the twin stems of her legs, holding honey inside.

If my love is like a melody that’s sweetly played in tune, then a sweet melody is like my love, perhaps like her cries of pleasure as he opened the rose and sought inside.

If the love of Solomon and Sheba is like the love of Israel and Hashem, or the love of God and the Church, or the love of Christ and the soul, then the love of the body is like the love of the soul, the body with its breasts like twin gazelles, its ruddy tower, its belly-heap-of-wheat, its dripping myrrh.

If eros is a metaphor for agape, then agape is a metaphor for eros, because the metaphor is a seesaw, a bridge, a two-way street, and the love of an emperor for a youth is divine love, and the love of a youth become god is an erotic love, is a sexual love, is a romantic love, is a passionate, quivering, dripping, fragrant, noisy love,

and this, Antinous, my beloved, is the only love I have ever truly desired.

POEM: To Antinous the Lover 2

You are the Boy crowned with the flowers

that Flora calls out of the moist earth.

You are the Beautiful Beloved who catches

the eye of Venus as she wafts ashore.

You are the wine of Dionysus, the music

of Apollo, the green grass of Osiris,

the laughter of Hermes over the dice.

You are the best friend, the dearest lover,

the guest welcome everywhere, bringer

of gifts. Beloved of Hadrian, twin of Eros,

bridegroom of Melinoe, Lover of those who

love you, come, Antinous, our Lover,

with flower and fruit, with cup and lyre,

with joy and sunshine, with tears and rain,

come down to earth, which both hallows

and is hallowed by your footsteps, and

be our emperor of peace, of joy, of love.

POEM: To Antinous the Lover 1

I dreamt of your coming long before you came–

dreams of boat rides watching the sun set

while you stood in the prow, wild curls streaming

in the wind. The water under us was dark green

and strewn with flowers, white, red, deep blue,

golden yellow. Then we docked and there was

a party under striped canvas, grilled meat, heaps

of rice, vegetables in every color, and wine, wine,

wine. You filled my cup again and again

before I could empty it, smiling, your mouth

full of silent promises. Later, when the moon

had risen, we sat alone by the river and you fed

me chocolate cake, not too sweet, perfect.

In a few days, this dream will come true.

Sacred Nights: Foundation Day

Some years I write and post a lot during the Sacred Nights, when we celebrate Mystery of Antinous’ life, death, and deification. This was not one of those years. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t observing the holy days; I made some small solitary ritual at home, and I start every day with a brief journal entry that includes the phase and sign of the Moon and the holy day on the calendar.

But I was observing other things, too, this year, in the wider sense. I was observing racism and antisemitism at work. I was observing violence against elderly members of a minority religion, carried out in their place of worship on their weekly sacred day. I was observing threats to prominent members of the more liberal political party in my country, pipe bombs delivered by mail. I was observing a President who neither condemned these actions nor took responsibility for his incitement of them through his rhetoric.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so anxious, frightened, and depressed during the Sacred Nights. I took refuge in the most positive, optimistic pop culture I could find–Supergirl and Doctor Who–and when watching those shows didn’t help, I took refuge under the covers of my bed with my stuffed animals.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, a nation which is the home of many devotees of Antinous, a national leader has been elected who is overtly a Christian fascist, eager to force his brand of Catholicism on the country. Brazil’s queer, trans, and pagan citizens are even more scared than those in the U.S., and we’re pretty scared up here.

Today is Foundation Day, when Antinous’ body was found on the banks of the Nile and the local priesthood of Osiris took charge of him, recognizing that he had become a god. It is so called because Hadrian’s response to Antinous’ death, after the first wave of terrible grief, was to declare that he would build a city on the place where his beloved’s body was discovered; the discovery of Antinous’ body was the founding of Antinoopolis. Hadrian, a great builder throughout his reign, carried out his resolution and built a thriving city in memory of the Beautiful Boy; he also promoted his beloved’s cultus throughout the Empire.

History happens. The cult of Antinous was suppressed and all but forgotten like the much older cults of so many gods. The city of Antinoopolis survives only as picturesque ruins. Yet his sacred images survive; his cultus has been revived, and his city forms the shape of our sacred space in his rituals. Every year we devotees of Antinous re-found his sacred city and make it more real in the manifest world, a place where equality and friendship are paramount values and love, beauty, good health, and the arts can flourish. That, to me, is what his cultus is about.

On many holy days, Jewish people around the world make the devout wish, “Next year in Jerusalem!”, hoping to come together one day in their own city in their own land. If I may, I will borrow that sentiment and say, “This year, this place, this is Antinoopolis. This is the city of the Beautiful Boy and we are its citizens, right here, right now.” May all of us dwell in our own holy city and worship our own god in peace and joy. May it be so.

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