A recent response by Aine Llewellyn on this recent “Dalliances with Deities” post on one of the Four Gods–the Dierne–seemed very interesting to me. Let me first give the quote, and then I’ll relate it to matters more specific to this blog.
the sexy rockstar side is what he shows most. But I do think people that see only that and refuse to see anything else – that he has a religion attached, that he has other gods and spirits attached, that he’s part of a larger thing – are also completely missing him. Maybe he only appears as the hot sexy star to someone, but that doesn’t mean they get to ignore that he’s attached. You can still understand the other sides of him and who he is, which should be part of the goal in a devotional relationship with him!
(I think also a lot of people see him and think, “A god that’s likely to sleep around with humans!” which, yes, he does, but dear lord, the chance of having ~sexy god sex~ should not be the motivation and totally ignores that he’s not about ~sexy god sex times~ but helping us understand our desires. Rawr. Frustration.)
As some of you might be able to guess, I thought after reading this how that set of thoughts also parallels some matters in relation to Antinous….
Over the years, I’ve met more than one person who has practiced, advocated for, and thought “only right and proper” some form of Antinoan monism–in essence, that any and every god to whom Antinous was syncretized is Antinous, and therefore Antinous replaces them…but, even further, that therefore thus Antinous is the “only” god one should deal with…or even, possibly, that Antinous is the only god and all others are, at best, worthless. (It was excesses in this direction that caused me to break away from the other group, needless to say…)
But, this flows from a variety of misunderstandings–including mistaking sexual obsession or (less drastically) attraction for spiritual devotion–including syncretism itself and what it is and does. Syncretism does not replace deities, it creates a relationship between them. Think of it this way: if Antinous can borrow the attributes of Silvanus, Dionysos, Hermes, Osiris, Apollon, and Adonis (for starters!), then that doesn’t mean he’s “absorbed” them or “replaced” them or “is interchangeable with” them; it means that he has met them, has a good relationship with them, and is now allowed to go into their closets and borrow whatever clothes or other toys he might want from them because they’re that good of friends. (Do you have any friends, partners, or family members who are allowed that much free access to your stuff? I have exactly none…so, that should tell you how close and trusting such relationships are!)
Even further, though, there are all sorts of other deities that Antinous interacts with and upon whom he is dependent that he does not syncretize with: Hathor, Diana/Artemis, Demeter and Persephone, Thoth, Re-Harakhte, Hermanubis, and that’s just a few off the top of my head…So, one cannot likewise pluck Antinous out of these complex systems of polytheistic personal relationship and worship him in isolation, either. Antinous cannot be the “God of Peaceful Connections” if there is no one else with whom to connect!
And, still even further, there are all of the people with whom he was connected during his life as well, and sometimes in his afterlife, who were deified humans that have important roles to play which are also unique and irreplacable. Of course, the most important of these is Hadrian himself, but there is also the Empress Sabina, the adopted but never acceeded Aelius Caesar, the priest and poet Pancrates/Pachrates of Heliopolis, his young friend Lucius Marius Vitalis, and in the years after his death and deification, the cultist (amongst other things!) Herodes Attikos and his eventual cultic descendant, Vibullius Polydeukion. All of these are worthy of remembrance, at very least, and several of them are either responsible (directly or indirectly) for Antinous’ deification and cultic proliferation, or were dependent upon him for their deification/heroization.
In a polytheist system, one cannot have any deity in total isolation, no matter how devoted one might end up being to them. Deities have personal contexts just as much as we do, and thus we should always be aware of those contexts when dealing with them.
There is also a tendency, not directly addressed by Aine in the quote above, but I think implied in it to an extent, that many people want to see Antinous as being “all things to all people,” or at very least “all things to all gay people,” when he simply isn’t, and no one–deity or otherwise–can realistically be that. But further, Antinous isn’t a mirror or a projection screen onto which one can read anything, assume everything, or have him be whatever one wants. Like every one of us (!?!), he is an individual, and has his own personality, will, likes and dislikes, quirks and oddities, passions and hatreds, concerns and desires. One can do the hard work of interacting with him and finding out what those are, or one can engage in the (useless) business of projecting such matters onto him and either having the reality drift farther and farther from the presumed expectation, or having one’s image of Antinous no longer be Antinous, but instead a self-created delusion that may respond to the name of Antinous but have no more divine power or merit than anything else that is merely the passing fancy of human whim. And, the discernment to know when one is veering into the latter category is an important skill to develop, and one that is far too often not possessed or employed by those who have such lofty and unrealistic expectations of Antinous. It isn’t that he is not ABSOLUTELY AWESOME and GREAT BEYOND MEASURE and FAN-FECKIN’-TASTIC in himself, it’s just that he is not everything you could ever imagine and more: he is what he is, no more and no less, and you either learn to love him as he is, or you go the way of the crazy obsessed person whose ideas are just ideas and have no reality to them whatsoever. Antinous: Love It or Shove It.
But, in truth, he can draw images from the great stores of his devotees’ personal preferences, and then become that thing…but, it’s not often “the exact young guy you’d fall on the ground and worship because he’s exactly your type,” it tends to be more “the thing you’re most afraid of”–and, I’m not talking gigantic spiders or snakes or other such things (though those are possibilities that have been realized on various occasions!). I will not say what form he has assumed on a few occasions to convey that, but I can say that I’m still reeling with the implications of some of those appearances that he’s made, and it’s not something that is comfortable or easy…rarely do such things occur and they are easy, comfortable, and convenient, though.
I suppose one piece of advice that I could give on this matter is: don’t try to know him without first getting to know him. Don’t assume that you know what he is like when you haven’t done anything other than read about him or heard about him from other people. That’s another thing that I’ve noticed on several occasions over the past few years: people telling me that “Antinous is _____,” which is usually some adjective that indicates they have a very shallow and incomplete understanding of him, which then leads them to particular conclusions that are erroneous or not applicable to the actuality one encounters with him in devotional relationships. Just as many people over-estimate his desirability and assume that he will pander to their every sexual fantasy’s whim, so too do many people assume that he’s light, fluffy, airy, and a bit shallow himself (he must be, because all attractive people like him are, they might be thinking…), when he is often just as grave, deep, and serious as Hades or Nergal or Osiris, or any other deity you’d think twice about making fart jokes in front of or saying “Look! Shiney!” to as an opening line.
Change the pronouns in the above subject line, and much the same can be said about Paneros of the Tetrad++ Group. E is beautiful, and loving, and desirable, and an incarnation of the force of eros itself (beyond any form it might take as a divine being); but, e isn’t anything and everything you want em to be. Being metagender doesn’t mean “as much boy or girl as you’d prefer in the given moment,” it means “a whole other gender,” and coming with those expectations of gender malleability or suggestibility to fit your own preferences is the surest way to get Paneros to say “Fuck you!” to you and your desires forever after. (If you want a deity to be a boy or a girl as you’d prefer, then you want Paneris…and, she/he is a lot more difficult to deal with, because he/she might change right in the middle of something and really throw you for a loop!) Paneros is what e is, and no more or less; and, if you accept that, you’ll learn a great thing about love, and about dealing with almost any deity you might ever encounter.
Imagine going up to a deity and saying “You’re beautiful!” And then imagine the deity responding in one of the following ways:
–”It would be nice if you were as well!”
–”One day, you will be, too!”
–”Thank you! You’re beautiful, too!”
–”No, you’re beautiful!”
Each of those ways might be the ways that a traditionally beautiful deity in some form of polytheism or other religious system might respond to such a compliment; and, each one is slightly different in its effects and its implications. It would be well to consider what answer of those any particular deity would give. If you know which answer of the four above Antinous says (and, there is only one answer, folks!), then you actually know him well…
Whether we’re talking about advertising and products, or religion, something holds true across the board: sex sells, and sexy sells more. (Now, if that were really true, then Antinous would be the most popular god in modern Graeco-Roman polytheism, so, take that with a large grain of salt…!?!) It is, therefore, not surprising that a lot of aspiring spiritual gay men come along and find Antinous to be attractive, and thus want to abstract him from any religious system or other spiritual obligations, and assume that because he has elements of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian religion in his historical cultus, that therefore means he belongs to “no one” and one can do with him whatever one wishes. Sorry, but it’s not true, unless all you’re looking for is a wank-target that you can deem as spiritual practice to make yourself feel more profound than you are in actuality. I suspect that Aine is getting the same sorts of things with the Dierne, as he indicates in his comments above that I quoted–and, that’s quite unfortunate, because both deities and healthy sexuality are both diminished by these approaches to both that assume they’re nothing but shallow, sensual, entertaining pleasures (and usually for a limited number of parts of the body and mental/emotional faculties). Though you can’t take the beauty or the sex or the self-regard out of these deities–nor should you attempt to or wish to!–at the same time, if you think that’s all they are, then they become no more than cardboard cutouts and not real persons, and certainly not real deities, nor do they become any being that would be worth revering at all.