I’ve mentioned T. Thorn Coyle in passing on this blog on a number of occasions. For a variety of reasons, I wanted to do a little post about her today, not only because of some current events in the wider world of paganism, but also because of a very specific connection to this date that I’d like to share with you…nothing of major or universal significance, mind you, but an interesting enough synchronicity in my own view to warrant spending some time on the subject.
The major reason I was considering mentioning her, and the reason I’ve titled this post in the manner I have, is because of what is going on in the general climate of U.S. paganism at the moment amongst a significant community, namely the Feri tradition of witchcraft. (This is the “Anderson Feri” tradition, not to be confused with the “Radical Faeries”!) I am not a Feri initiate, nor am I in any way connected with the tradition, other than in knowing, loving, and respecting many people who are either parts of it, have been influenced heavily by it, or who are T. Thorn Coyle’s current or former students. Thorn no longer teaches under the Feri tradition aegis (but readily acknowledges the influence of the tradition on her work), but she did have occasion to speak out recently on the sundering of the Feri tradition, not only at the Patheos.com link given, but also in her own blog. This was further publicized by The Wild Hunt blog, in which her article was the lead story in another installment of the “Pagan Community News” entries which Jason Pitzl-Waters does on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, Thorn has already taken some heat for having written such…but, I suspect there is a lot more heat behind-the-scenes, or that I have not seen personally, than the following two examples. One is a post on Patheos.com’s Pantheon blog, which I personally found a little bit derisive and dismissive toward Thorn, and which seemed to have an agenda of its own (not necessarily a bad thing), whereas I thought what Thorn was attempting in her piece was to simply acknowledge something had happened that has caused a schism or a rift in the tradition. Oh well, take it or leave it. The other, however, I think was rather more actively derisive in its response. That response was by Chas Clifton in his blog. There’s a little bit of academic smuggery in his response, I feel, but a few of the issues he raises are worth discussing further.
The first is the issue of syncretism, and the ways in which some people’s syncretism eventually leads them to be outsiders even in groups that are syncretistic in their focus to begin with. Clifton does make the point that the monotheist model of religious organization is not appropriate for pagans, and while I certainly agree, that doesn’t necessarily mean that some aspects of organizational structure are not somewhat desirable or useful. All of that having been said, modern Antinoan devotion certainly underwent a schism, which is quite prominent in my mind, because I am the one who fomented it. The group that I co-founded in 2002 was pretty good, and was getting quite large by 2007, but the actual number of participating-and-practicing people within it was much harder to gauge. The cult-of-personality tactics of some of the people in the group, their lack of actual practice and experience, their views on ecclesiastical hierarchy and institutional powers and titles as opposed to real work, their desire to proselytize (rather than simply advertising) due to insecurity and the flawed notion that the only appropriate religion for queer men is devotion to Antinous, an insistent pagan monotheism rather than polytheism, some active deception on important matters of ritual and initiation, a marked bias against women and bisexuals, an utter lack of interest in or understanding for historical studies of sexuality or for academic discussion and new (and often challenging) discoveries, and a variety of other issues made me realize that trying to work with particular people who were so far from my own ideals would be useless, and thus I broke away from the group and formed the Ekklesía Antínoou. I don’t know if the other group has changed its ways (though I have seen some evidence to indicate they have shifted toward what I would consider more positive stances in some regards), and I honestly try (and sometimes fail) to not be bothered about them too much; but nonetheless, I have some scars from the entire process, and I wouldn’t want to ever have to undergo such a thing again. But, I’ve accomplished a great deal with the Ekklesía Antínoou that I had not been able to in the other group, and for that I am very thankful indeed. Not all occasions of growing apart are necessarily bad, and I think Thorn is making that same point, even though the individual factions of Feri/Faery are still in the thick of the arguments that lead to the final split.
The other bit that Clifton raised is one that I am not entirely connected with, but nonetheless bears on some of my own interests. One of Thorn’s major influences is G. I. Gurdjieff, and she has incorporated a lot of his work (and “Work”) into her own writings and teachings for a while. Gurdjieff is certainly a controversial figure (as Clifton glibly indicates with his hyperlink text, “shudder”), but independent of his own personal flaws (about which I am not qualified to speak), some of his teachings are useful. The one that I find very useful–though I did not learn it in Gurdjieff/Fourth Way contexts, but instead through some other streams that ultimately also derive from him–is the enneagram system of personality styles, which I learned through the Jesuits during my religious studies M.A.–it was actually in mysticism and spiritual direction classes, as well as a specific workshop on the enneagram, and my “masters” in this regard were three different Jesuits and a nun…it sounds like the beginning of a joke, and many have suggested that the enneagram is exactly that. Whatever some may think of it, I have found it very useful indeed in terms of coming to understand many aspects of myself, how I can relate effectively to others, and how I can have compassion not only for my own faults and mistakes, but also for those of others when they are acting out of neurotic or unproductive places in their spirit. I hope to write a book on a pagan version of the enneagram, which departs from the basic system in a variety of ways, but I will perhaps discuss that further on future occasions…
I mentioned Thorn’s book Kissing the Limitless in a post a while back, and I would like to again heartily recommend it here. Further information on it, and how it can be ordered, is found here. One of the reasons that I think this book is good–not to mention the clearly conveyed basic outlines of Feri cosmology and theology, the excellent observations, and the very useful exercises for modern pagan mystics generally that it contains–is that it is one of very few modern pagan books that is fairly popular that mentions Antinous at all. Though this mention is buried in an endnote on p. 259 in relation to the androgynous, god-soul, Holy Guardian Angel-related Feri concept of the Peacock Angel. Antinous also appears in a particular prayer that Thorn does yearly on Transgender Day of Remembrance, the part that includes Antinous of which was created by P. Valerius Tristissima, a friend, co-religionist and Mystes Antínoou, which can be found here.
But, now to the reason–such that it is–that I thought today would be the best day to do this post. Exactly one year ago, I was sitting in a tiny apartment in Michigan, having been in that state and at a new job for less than a month, with few friends or even work acquaintances. One most appreciated friend joined me that evening for a short observance of the Stella Antinoi festival, in which I read out the expected texts, and then chanted the hymn “Ave Ave Antinoe.” The friend in that instance was a student of Thorn’s, and he suggested a particular song of hers, from the album she co-recorded with Sharon Knight called Songs for the Waning Year; the particular song is “Osiris Lives,” and my friend sang the song in his beautiful tenor voice, and I was immediately hooked. I purchased the CD at PantheaCon a few weeks later, and met Thorn (and Sharon!) for the first time in person on that occasion. Earlier today, and yesterday, I was finishing up writing the sacred drama that we will be performing at PantheaCon in a few weeks, and part of it calls for some characters to be singing “Osiris Lives.” However, after the event of Antinous’ death, a new set of lyrics to the same tune is used, which goes like this:
Red lotus and starlight divine,
Black soils on the banks of the Nile. (x2)
Antinous lives, Antinous returns,
This is where life comes from! (x2)
I also draw your attention to the wonderful series of podcasts, Elemental Castings, that Thorn does on a regular basis. I’ve enjoyed all of them, but I would particularly recommend the ones with Sharon Knight (fantastic music, needless to say!), Ivo Dominguez, Jr., Chandra Alexandre (foundress of Sharanya and Ekklesía Antínoou sworn ally through our Communalia ritual), the most recent one with Brendan Meyers, and an excellent panel discussion from PantheaCon 2010 for which I was present. There are excellent things in each of the discussions, however, and thus I enthusiastically suggest listening to them intently when you have the ability to do so! (And not while driving or cleaning house!)
So, there we are! I think gratitude to the gods, heroes, Sancti, ancestors, land spirits, and other divine powers is really very important, but also gratitude for the inspiration, fellowship, friendship, and other good influences and gifts of people who are still living and incarnate today is also extremely important. This is particularly the case where people have included Antinous in their work, especially in their published work, as there are so few modern pagans who have done so, and thus I think they deserve to be recognized for that, in addition to the other wonderful things that they do and the brilliant and beautiful people they are. I have already honored my friend Sannion in this manner recently, and now I have also honored Thorn; and perhaps I shall also honor a number of others in future posts as well! In fact, I’m certain I will at this stage! Stay tuned for those in the future, then!