There have been rolls of thunder all day today, and occasional downpours that have been striking and beautiful–and I can’t help but wonder if Zeus Akreinenos is responsible…It’s also Friday the 13th, exactly three months since this occasion last occurred, and looking back on the last time we had a Friday the 13th, it’s interesting to see what has occurred since then–the first Academia Antinoi term was announced then, and we’re just three days away from that first term’s successful finish. (And, if you still want to get a really good rate on classes that begin next month, sign up soon!)
But, in my efforts to honor Disciplina by tying up as many of my loose ends as possible this month before the second anniversary of the blog, I now come back to a topic that I wrote about in early February, and which I had intended a follow-up post on not long after, but have never been able to get around to meanwhile. I talked about idolatry in that earlier post in February, and now I’d like to talk about two theological concepts that are connected to it: dulia and latria.
These are two terms that serve important functions in the theological discourse of particular dominant forms of creedal monotheism (you know the one I mean!), but I think it’s important and useful to look into them a bit more in the present context. Dulia is the Latin transliteration of the Greek term douleía, which is also translated in Latin as veneratio, “veneration.” Latria, likewise, is the Latin transliteration of the Greek latreía, which is also translated in Latin as adoratio, “adoration.” In that particular creedal monotheistic set of religions, dulia/veneratio is proper to give to certain venerable individuals like saints; and to particular such figures like the Blessed Virgin Mary, hyperdulia is not only permissible but required! However, latria/adoratio is only proper to give to the one subject/object that is truly worthy of adoration, namely, their particular gods. The mis-application of latria to things not deserving of adoration–i.e. anything apart from their gods–in the theological conceptions of those creedal monotheistic religions is what constitutes idolatry. In fact, in many medieval instances where the possibility of heresy or witchcraft was concerned, the worry wasn’t always over idolatry so much as misplaced dulia in the practices of certain individuals.
So, what you might well be asking: what does this have to do with Antinous or with modern polytheism, being that we have many gods who are deserving of latria (witness the phenomenon of the adoration posts that have abounded to many deities!), as well as figures who are worthy of dulia? Gus diZerega’s most recent post in his column at Patheos.com deals with the matter of fundamentalism, where it arises, and why it probably doesn’t apply to most pagans. (Of course, several years before, Raven Kaldera disputes that notion!–but mainly defines it as a very hard, insistent, non-monistic polytheist who is also insistent on diversity and acceptance, which is quite different than what diZerega is defining as “fundamental” to fundamentalism…!)
One manner in which I’d depart from diZerega’s interpretation is the notion that, despite the overall trend toward immanence in pagan religiosity, there is still an element of transcendence involved in all spiritual experience, because these experiences are universally described as being “beyond words” and so forth. I’ve always felt that’s more of a cop-out than a diagnostic tool, personally, for many types of spiritual experience. Certainly, we may not personally (nor as an overall linguistic and epistemological culture) have the words to describe certain experiences, but we have been able to experience them in some manner, we are able to know them when they occur, and we can say “Yes, that’s what it was like” or “No, that’s not what it was like,” and thus I don’t think that the unsayability of spiritual experiences is what makes them spiritual experiences; and, an awful lot of the time, I suspect that those who fall back on “it can’t be described” and other mainstays of negative theology and apophatic thinking are more monistic than not, and are suggesting that there is some sort of “ultimate” reality that is so all-encompassing that they cannot put it into words. I think it’s a failing of poetry, of myth, of metaphor, and of language generally speaking to say that someone experienced something but can’t put it into words. If that is one’s game, it’s as useless as saying “I want to tell you about this wonderful book I read, but I can’t really describe it, so there we are,” or “I went to the store to get some milk today, but I really can’t say any more of the experience because that would do it an injustice, so I won’t.” While there is certainly an element of the paradoxical which can be associated with certain spiritual experiences–such is the nature of interacting with beings who are not subject to linearity, one might say, when one is immersed in linearity–even then, if it is possible to have had the experience, there is no “unknowing” involved in it…because it is known to the person who had it!
So, as a person who has had many of these types of experience with deities, I can say that even though many of them were on a level that is difficult to describe directly, they still can be described; and though there is always an element of mystery, and one always has the sense that one is shown only a small part of things and there’s always more to be revealed or realized in the future, nonetheless what has been revealed to me on each occasion is something that is possible to be communicated to others. But, like all mysteries, many of those communications will not have any relevance or impact for a person hearing it, because they have not had the proper context or the necessary preconditions for those pieces of information communicated to have the meaning they would for someone who is deeply involved with them. Even amongst fellow practitioners of polytheism, I expect someone’s experiences of Loki or of Brigid, for example, may not be at all communicable to me as someone who has had extensive experience with Antinous, and it isn’t just because they’re from other cultures or pantheons, it’s because all of the valences associated with each deity are different, and so what is just a bit of milk for one is the entire universe for another, or what would be just a wolf for one would be profoundly important and symbolically charged for another, or what is just the tip of the head for one would be a deeply significant thing for the other, and so forth.
As a result, I’m a lot more trusting of what can be said, of what can be understood, of what can be communicated, than of what is ascribed to (often very sloppy and always ill-defined) transcendence. If it truly does transcend human knowing and experience, we could not experience it at all; if it is not wholly transcendent, then it is by nature knowable and understandable, and thus communicable and immanent. I think the language of negative theology and apophaticism has had such a long reign of supremacy in certain creedal monotheistic religions in relation to the least defensible and logical theological assertions about their deity that those who are outside of those systems have adopted that language not because it accurately describes their experiences, but because it “sounds cooler” and makes them seem more palatable to the mystics and theologians of other traditions.
And thus, I find myself reveling all the more in what my tradition and what my deities do reveal to me and can impart as experiences, which includes the full range of enspirited and ensouled aspects of materiality that I find myself surrounded with and ever-more fascinated by in my daily practices. I am much more likely to venerate and give dulia to these things like Mt. Erie and to Disciplina and to our many Sancti and to the items on my home shrine, and all the more prone therefore to pouring out every ounce of latria I can muster toward the gods who have made these things possible–including and especially Antinous. No, he was not a god from the start; no, he is not a “god of everything” or in any way synonymous with any notion of “The Ultimate” in terms of divinity–and, he’s not any less deserving of adoratio for those facts…and, I’d argue, he’s even more deserving of it and appreciative of it because he’s that much closer to us and to the phenomenal world of the senses and of the tangible and material and the knowable.
There will be all eternity to know about discarnate, transcendent realities when I’m dead, and I’m happy to leave doing so for that time, therefore.