Tag: christianity

FLASHBACK: An Antinoan in Lent

(Originally published at Antinous for Everybody in February 2015)

Last Saturday I was barely aware that Lent was about to start on Wednesday the 18th. I was quite prepared to ignore the whole season as simply irrelevant to a pagan polytheist devoted to Antinous. Then I was nudged gently into awareness of the observance and into looking again at Jesus.

First of all, Lent makes more sense when I look at it from a pagan perspective. Many cultures, European and other, observed and still observe rites of cleansing and purification around this time of year. The beginning days of Lent frequently overlap with the lunar New Year celebrated in Asian cultures and with the ancient Roman Lupercalia and honoring of Juno Februa the purifier. Years ago, when I worked at a Catholic-owned bookstore in my twenties, I read an essay in an annual sourcebook for Roman Catholic liturgy that explained both Catholic folk customs and liturgies *and* the neopagan Wheel of the Year. In November you bring home your cattle and slaughter all the livestock you cannot afford to feed through the winter. In November and December and into early January, you eat well on the harvest of the preceding summer and fall. By February, however, those food supplies are running out, but you have milk, butter, and cheese because the ewes have given birth. Pancake Day, Mardi Gras, Carnevale are a last hurrah that uses up the old food stores, and then you fast in Lent because you are waiting for new food supplies: Lamb, salads from early greens, seafood from thawing waters, eggs now that the increased light has caused the chickens to lay again. All of those foods are ready to consume by Easter, which is linked to the spring equinox.

Industrial agriculture has rendered that cycle unnecessary, but Catholic and Orthodox Christian customs still hew close to the old agrarian patterns, unlike Protestantism. The old customs make sense if you look at them from a pagan point of view.

I’m not planning on fasting, though….

Not only does Lent make more sense to me as a pagan and polytheist, but so does Jesus. Once I stepped outside the boxes of the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian definitions, and all those other official fourth-century pronouncements, I found I could look directly at Jesus as an itinerant wisdom teacher, charismatic healer, prophet-as-social-critic, and inspired holy man who could be as disruptive yet auspicious as Dionysus. Once I dropped the official, institutional teachings about Jesus, I was free to look afresh at what Jesus actually taught, and to look at unofficial sources like Gnostic literature (the Gospels of Thomas and of Philip, for example). The unofficial Jesus, the Dionysian sage who becomes a god through his willingly accepted execution as an enemy of the state, is far more interesting than the official Jesus, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made–sorry, I learned the Nicene Creed in the Tudor English version.

Christ of the Desert by Robert Lentz, OFM
Perpetua & Felicity by Robert Lentz, OFM

So in an observance (sort of) of Lent, I have added the icons of Christ of the Desert and early Christian martyrs Perpetua and Felicity to the ancestor side of my altar. Perpetua and Felicity are honored as Sanctae in the Ekklesia Antinoou, anyway, and I have honored them during Lent for a good many years; their feast day is March 7th. Christ of the Desert is an icon that depicts Jesus as a Semitic-looking man, dressed in the white wool robes often worn by holy men in Middle Eastern cultures; for me it focuses attention on Jesus’ life rather than his death or apotheosis, on his teachings, and on his cultural and historical context.

I’ve also begun re-reading some of the key Jesus texts, starting with the Gospel of Thomas, the most famous of the so-called “Gnostic Gospels”. (I am going to leave out all the scholarly arguments over what “Gnostic” really means, whether Thomas is really Gnostic, how old the text is, etc., etc., etc.) At the same time, however, I was nudged to pick up The Lunar Tao by Deng Ming-Dao, a book of daily readings that comes out of traditional Chinese culture. In concert with that, I’m reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s rendition of the Tao Te Ching. It’s worth remembering that LeGuin, who has made such a huge contribution to science fiction, fantasy, women’s writing, and American literature generally, has been a Taoist for most or all of her adult life. I know from her own writings that she has a regular practice of t’ai chi, that she regards the Tao Te Ching as her primary spiritual wisdom text, and that her values have been shaped by her study of Chinese and Taoist traditions.

May this time of cleansing and purification be easy and fruitful for all who observe it, and may all my readers in the frozen parts of the United States stay safe and warm!

Looking for religion in all the wrong places

Lately I’ve found myself looking at my Christian background a lot. I’ve been re-reading the Rule of St. Benedict, the foundation document of Western Christian monasticism; I’ve been thinking about Hildegard of Bingen, whose feast day was in mid-September, and about Therese of Liseux, who is commemorated today, and her big sister Teresa of Avila, whose feast comes up in mid-October. And I’ve never really stopped missing the Daily Office, which probably explains my penchant for writing prayers to be said every day, on a schedule.

In the past, being interested in Christian texts and Christian saints again would have got me thinking that I was in the wrong religion; that Christianity is obviously my True Path and I should go back to it. But I’m not thinking that right now. I’m not neglecting my daily offerings to Antinous, the Tetrad++, and the gods, ancestors, and spirits generally. I’m still slowly reading anthologies about Demeter and Persephone; these two books are great collections of material, but an anthology doesn’t sweep you away the way that a good novel or even a tightly-structured work of nonfiction will.

So I ask myself, why am I not panicking and thinking I should change religions, the way I would have five years ago? I think the answer to that question is: Polytheism.

There are many things about Anglican Christianity that I love and miss: the Daily Office, Anglican choral music, the many poets and writers whom it shaped. I miss having a regular time of worship with a local community. But taken all together, it was the system I loved, not Jesus or his Father. To be honest, there are quite a few saints I love far more than I ever loved Jesus; Julian of Norwich would head that list.

Being an Episcopalian was about inhabiting a comfortable and beautiful system that provided me with a lot of resources of wisdom. But being a polytheist, it turns out, is about having direct, enlivening relationships with deities. And my deities, at least, seem not to mind where I seek for wisdom, as long as I maintain relationships with them.

*holds breath and waits ten seconds in case of divine smiting*

I am worshipping Antinous and a lot of associated gods in a particular modern tradition that draws from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian sources. I am technically a member of the Ekklesia Antinoou, “a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and related deities and divine figures”–to quote the official description. But the Ekklesia doesn’t feel to me like a system. A system, perhaps I should say an institution, requires you to sign on the dotted line, stay within the grounds, make your bed a certain way. The Ekklesia is more like a bunch of houses and workshops built around the remains of a temple that is slowly being rebuilt; the goal is to make the temple look like its ancient self but also contain indoor plumbing, accessible entrances, and internet access.

I don’t feel like any source of wisdom is off-limits as long as I maintain my primary relationships with the holy powers. And those relationships have been so satisfying that I don’t want to abandon them to return to a system. All this time I thought I was looking for the right religion, the right system, when actually, I was waiting to meet the right god.