I want to thank everyone who has been reading my blog for the past week for all of the great comments and discussions you’ve contributed here–it’s extremely useful and productive for me! It is in relation to one of the matters I’ve posted about recently that I’d like to start a particular discussion here, and see what your thoughts are on the matter.
I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of the above image lately, and I hope to continue to do so. One of the things I love about it is that it is a genuine ancient Greek image from a vase painting showing various instructors in different disciplines teaching youths. Many people have asked me whether I altered the photo or not to make it look like the instructor here is holding a laptop, and the answer is an emphatic “no!” (though I’m flattered people think my PhotoShop skills are that advanced…especially considering I don’t even own PhotoShop or have ready access to it!). What is depicted is a set of wax tablets for writing, which were mounted on hinged boards. One would practice writing on such tablets, and then they could be flattened out or re-melted to be easily re-used for writing that was not essential to have preserved; they could also be used for “rough drafts” of things one was composing before a work was copied onto more expensive and lasting materials (papyrus, parchment, etc.). These types of wax tablets were used well into the medieval period; it just so happens that the form of them looks like a modern laptop, somewhat–but, you can see the instructor here has a stylus that he’d be using on it.
As I’ve launched Academia Antinoi, educational matters are of course very prominent in my mind at present…though, being the Doctor of the Ekklesía Antínoou, and also being a college instructor in daily life (when, that is, various colleges do employ me, which is currently not the case), educational concerns are never far from my thoughts. Education, I think, is a vocation, and it is one that I’ve been doing since I was about seven years old for my younger siblings. It took me a long time to realize that this was, in fact, something that I not only was pretty decent at doing, but that I truly loved, and that it was my “calling” in life–then, once I did figure it out, it was simply a matter of choosing what subjects I’d specialize in. It is a role that I’ve been very honored and privileged to serve in during my devotional life with Antinous, and I hope to continue in it for a long time.
Educo, educere in Latin, from which we get the word “education,” literally means “to lead out, to draw out, to raise up,” and other similar terms. We often hear today that education is the way to “raise people up” to greater and greater potentials in society, and while that used to be true, higher education today generally only raises one’s personal debt from student loans, with no guarantees of a better job or position in society at the other end of things. But, that’s another matter…What the term emphasizes, I think, is the notion that a good educational system or process draws a person out and makes apparent what a person’s potentials and talents happen to be. A good educator should not impart knowledge to a person, so much as draw out the person’s abilities to find knowledge for themselves, and to create knowledge through their own efforts. And, very unfortunately, so much education has come down to simple information dispensing…
So, one of my questions in my own role as Doctor in the Ekklesía Antínoou is: what is my role as an educator within this context? Is it a role of spiritual direction? While I am (formally!) trained in that particular vocation, and it is something that I can do and have done for a few people on a limited basis, it’s not generally what people seem to be looking to me to do. (And, that’s fine!) Is it a role of spiritual technologist–in other words, someone who teaches particular techniques for use in devotion? That is something that I have done, and can do, but it’s not something that I get asked about very often–people don’t come to me and say “How do I pray?” or “What should I do to make a shrine for Antinous?” or other such technological (i.e. technique- or procedure-based) questions.
Most of the time, people come to me–or to the Ekklesía Antínoou group–asking things like “Does Antinous ever get compared to _____ in ancient texts?” Or “Has anyone ever written of Antinous as _____?” There’s a lot of questions like this that simply come down to either confirming or negating an inquiry about a particular factual point. The information on Antinous that is currently available in printed, English popular and scholarly literature is pretty diffuse, and I’m very fortunate to have had the time and occasion to be able to survey, assimilate, and synthesize a great deal of it, such that I can generally answer those sorts of questions off the top of my head. To facilitate others answering those questions for themselves, I’ve produced two books, The Syncretisms of Antinous and Devotio Antinoo: The Doctor’s Notes, Volume One. The Syncretisms of Antinous is not as comprehensive as it could possibly be, and does not contain a huge number of notes and references, nor does it account for “newer” syncretisms (i.e. ones that have come about in 20th and 21st century literatures, many of which I’m personally responsible for!), but instead sticks to syncretisms that are either firmly established in ancient literary records and statuary, or that are long-standing in classical and art historical scholarship of the past few centuries. However, most of the questions of people relating to “Has Antinous ever been compared to ____?” can be answered by what is found in that book–or, for those who don’t own the book, with what can be found on the web page/blog entries that preceded the book. And, for questions on what materials exist out there that tell us something about Antinous from the ancient world, and some newer practices as well, and how to use all of them in a practical and devotional context, is what prompted the writing of Devotio Antinoo: The Doctor’s Notes, Volume One.
But, what about otherwise? And, what about modern paganism and polytheism in more general terms?
Because the Ekklesía Antínoou doesn’t have a “traditional” coven-style structure, that means that the way we work is quite different than the modes of a great deal of modern paganism. In-person meetings between members of the Ekklesía Antínoou are rare, and when they do occur, the level of commitment to the group and to Antinous varies a great deal amongst those present. In those situations, I’ve generally been expected to be the one who “knows how” to do things, and as a result, my role has been “priestly” in those contexts–which is, again, something I’m perfectly happy and willing to do. Just like most ancient polytheist society’s temples, I have tried to make what we do with Antinous something that anyone can come and potentially get something out of, and in which anyone can participate–perhaps not to the degree that they may be used to in certain other forms of paganism, but wherever there is a specific and trained priesthood (however slight or non-specific the training might be) devoted to a particular religious practice or specific deity, it will necessarily be the case that not everyone will know what to do or how to do it. (The same is true of, for example, Shinto–it is most definitely a priestly religion, in which one priest or a small number of trained individuals handle most everything, but there are parts of the ceremony that anyone/everyone can take part in.) Public cultus in the Ekklesía Antínoou, therefore, has very much a “there” characteristic, in terms of Jonathan Z. Smith’s “Here, There, Anywhere” characterizations of various ancient religions. Each person, however, in their own devotions and in the context of their own practices and before their own shrines and altars in their homes, should be able to run things however they prefer and according to their own preferences, as those are “here” contexts (according to Smith’s reckoning). And, that is as it should be.
I am finding, more and more, that I have a great deal in common with the sophist Herodes Attikos, who was–amongst the various other political and priestly roles that he had–an exegetes, a person with specialized religious knowledge who could comment on particular aspects of practice, myth, and other religious matters due to that knowledge. And, I think that is a role that suits me quite well.
[And, if I may interject this here briefly--though this may deserve a post of its own at some stage in the future--when I am acting in a priestly or educational role, it is part of my job to try and represent my deities as well as I possibly can, and to reflect well on them in what I do; but, I don't think it's my job to be the epiphany or the manifestation of those deities in the lives of the students, the devotees, or the attendees at my sessions or rituals, etc. The deities will get involved with them somehow or other if they choose to do so, whether that is through me or through someone or something else, or very directly with them; too often, I've seen some people confuse a particular deity's representative for the deity, and I think that's where all sorts of difficulties, errors, and potential pitfalls enter into religious matters very generally. How many people who are devotees of XYZ deity then give XYZ deity a bad reputation due to their poor conduct, and often their tacit or direct abdications of responsibility, e.g. "I'm bitchy because I'm a devotee of the Morrígan, so I don't really have a say in the matter." But anyway...!?!]
So, in offering the programs of Academia Antinoi, I’m hoping to do a little bit of several things I’ve mentioned above: I’m hoping to give students not only a certain baseline amount of knowledge from which to work from, but also the ability to further that knowledge at their own pace and by their own initiative as they may please; I’m hoping to teach certain techniques that can possibly be used in devotional contexts, with the aim that individual students will be able to adapt them to their own needs and for their greatest personal efficacy as they see fit; and I’m hoping that, if and where desired, I might be able to impart a degree of personal spiritual direction through the individual commenting and discussion that will occur when I evaluate and give feedback on each student’s work and progress through the various stages of the courses offered. As a general curriculum for what I’m attempting to do with the Academia Antinoi program, I think that’s a good set of aims.
I’m interested, however, in hearing what any and all of you who are reading this would like to see in such a program. Does the above sound like it is adequate to you? Does it sound inadequate in particular areas, and if so, what are they and how is what is mentioned above inadequate? If your own desires or wishes for such a program are quite different than what is above, I’d be interested in knowing both what your own desires would happen to be, but also whether you think those desires are just more particular to your own interests and aims and may not be at all relevant to the specifics of Antinoan devotion or the particular forms of polytheism with which the Academia Antinoi curricula would deal. If you have been involved in pagan or polytheist education, of whatever kind, what of the above have you done yourself? Is anything above something that you’d consider adding to your own aims or methods if you do not do so already?
And, perhaps a more wide question: what elements of a good and solid (though not necessarily thorough–and there is a difference…I’d prefer everyone have a solid education rather than everyone having a thorough one, because thoroughness, while always desirable and beneficial, can be left to specialists rather than to generalists) pagan or polytheist education would you like to see as much across the board as possible?
I look forward to your thoughts and discussion on this!