At this event on Saturday, I talked about two things which I often talk about when I discuss both the history of the ancient cultus of Antinous and what can be known of Antinous’ life in relation to Hadrian, and also my own history with the Ekklesía Antínoou and modern Antinoan devotion. And the thread which connects them is the thread of Antinous being an answer to someone’s prayers.
Let’s go in chronological order.
The first entry of Antinous into history, I think, is evidenced by the poetic inscription which Hadrian left at the temple of Aphrodite Ourania in Thespiae, wishing for her charis in granting him a youthful lover. It was right about that time that he likely met Antinous, in c. 123-124 CE. Hadrian prayed for the love of a youth, and he got it in the form of Antinous. Antinous, literally, was an answer to his prayer.
Back in 2002, when I was in Ireland, I was rapidly becoming disillusioned (again!) with modern paganism, and wanted something that was more genuinely polytheistic in my practice. I wanted something that hearkened back to antiquity and had a definite lineage which could be recovered and reconstructed, but which was also in touch with the modern world and its very real and significant concerns and culture. I wanted something that was open to syncretism, but which was also firmly established within its own cultural tradition or traditions. And I also wanted something that wasn’t simply queer-friendly, but was as much as possible queer-based to counter the blatant heterosexism of so much modern pagan practice. Within a few months of forumlating this as a wish and a prayer to the wider universe, I was re-introduced to Antinous, not merely as an historical footnote, but as a deity and as a divine cultic tradition from the ancient world that was waiting to be refashioned for the modern world. My own introduction to Antinoan spirituality and to Antinous was an answer to my prayers…Antinous himself, literally, was an answer to my prayers, and was pretty much (and remains) exactly what I wanted in terms of a spiritual practice and a spiritual being with whom to be in devoted service.
[And yet, he's also so much MORE than what I wanted, and is never predictable nor controllable...and this is the element that I think too many people who question or critique polytheism don't ever take into account: our experiences with deities as polytheists are not just wish-fulfillment, or "if you believe in it hard enough, it will happen," because they rarely go as we hope or assume they might, and on a variety of occasions the gods do not show up nor grant every wish or prayer we might have, even if all we want is their divine presence, because they do have minds of their own, and just as a friend of mine can say "No" and not show up when I want to hang out with them for any number of legitimate reasons, so too with the gods...but in any case...!?!]
While I suppose it isn’t unheard-of for such things to occur, nonetheless, it’s good to remind myself from time to time that Antinous has been the answer to my prayers quite directly on at least one occasion, and indeed he seems to have a track-record of being such with others in history as well! ;)
What is, perhaps, even more difficult to accept, and which may be edging toward hubris in the mind of some people, is that I, too, might have been an answer to someone’s prayers for certain purposes or occasions…perhaps even the prayers of a god, for they too pray (especially when we remember that “pray” simply means “humbly ask for something,” ultimately).
It might be a good question to ask oneself in both direction: what gods have been the answers to your own prayers; and, how have we each individually been the answers to the prayers of others?
Sit with that one for a while, and I’ll be interested in knowing what your own answers on this are–please feel free to share them in the comments below!