I started to write the present post way back in January–and I can’t believe that was nearly two months ago at this stage, and we’re nearly half-done with the third month of the year, which means we’re nearly a quarter of the way through 2014 already…!?!–and due to various other things, delays, and so forth, have not come back to it much in terms of actual “putting of words on screens” until now, though I’ve thought about the issue quite a lot.
And, I think the clincher for me was a recent post by John Halstead at his Patheos.com blog. The post, on developing a world-centered devotional practice, is quite excellent, and you should read it for that reason alone; but, a somewhat throwaway line that sought to make some analogies between different varieties of modern pagan and polytheist and different types of Christian has attracted a bit of critique, to say the least, including from me. (Though, I think I kep it pretty civil.) In any case, have a look at the comments there, and some of the links given in them.
Ultimately, the comparison of devotional polytheists to evangelical Christians is an unflattering one, and one that was done by a different person in a different context, using lots of words that don’t really have any relevance in a pagan context (e.g. “biblicism,” which cannot be the same relationship that devotional polytheists have to their sacred texts; “crucicentrism,” which doesn’t make any sense because there is only one deity who has ever been crucified, and he’s not the center of any devotional polytheist’s spiritual life of which I’m currently aware, outside of some gnostics–but they tend to be suspicious of the crucifixion anyway, so again, not relevant!; etc.).
But, not only in that post, and in things related to it, there is an idea that I’ve seen floating about the place that I think demonstrates what a poor understanding of “devotion” many non-devotional polytheists and general pagans have, and it is the subject line I’ve given above.
It seems that some people don’t quite understand this distinction…
Again, I think too many modern pagans are taking their views of what it means to be a devotional polytheist not from actual devotional polytheists and we say or do or think, but from their ideas about words like “devotion,” and how the deity-centeredness of most devotional polytheists reminds them of the “Christ-centered” rhetoric present in many fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christians (the phenomena are related but not synonymous, I would note!), or the character of the proselytizing megachurches. But, notice in the photo of the megachurch congregation above: is there a Jesus at the center of it? No, there’s a person who is preaching in the name of Jesus (or so they say, and perhaps even think). While there is more to the differences between devotional polytheism and these forms of Christianity than there being actual deities rather than cultus of personality at the center of our rituals and practices, that might be a vivid enough framing of the matter to at least provoke some further thought and reflection on the part of those who think that devotional polytheists are some form of “mindless followers” of the deities who are the subjects of their devotions.
I can only speak for myself in what follows; I suspect every devotional polytheist may say something different on these matters in relation to their own deities, their own devotions, and their own opinions on these issues in terms of those respective areas of inquiry and engagement.
I am not a “follower” of Antinous.
There have been many people over the years I’ve been involved in Antinoan devotion who have tried to imagine some sort of “way of Antinous” that they can then follow; many people–not just in Antinoan devotion, but in spirituality generally speaking–have a notion of “the path” in relation to their spirituality, which means that someone has come along and built such a path, and all it remains to do noow is follow it. (And if it is a unique path but it still goes up the same mountain, we’re already in totally-wrong-o territory, if you ask me!)
If I were to say that there is a path of Antinous, I would be lying to you, and would be trying to sell you something. (Though if you want to buy certain books that might help you work out what your own path toward Antinous might be, please feel free to be my guest!) There are many different possible paths to Antinous, and to most of the deities that I know, and the best method I’ve found is not to try and follow someone else’s path, but to get whatever tools you need to make your metaphorical machete to cut through the underbrush and find your own path through the territories you most want to tread.
I am not a “follower” of Antinous.
Devotional polytheism, though it involves deep and real and sincere love, is not a 60s doo-wop song.
Now, let’s be honest: as heart-warming and fun and even potentially sacred as that musical setting of that song might be (and, let’s face it, folks–I’ve done much worse!–and in doing so, have used some of the same vocabulary unproblematically as I’m criticizing here), there’s a certain amount of impracticality involved in taking it in any literal fashion.
I can’t follow Antinous “wherever he may go,” because some of the places he goes are:
–other devotee’s hearts
–the hearts of the other deities
–lots of temples, known and forgotten
–diverse divine realms (likely including but not limited to: Hyperborea, Tartaros, Hades, the Amduat, Elysium, the Blessed Isles, etc.)
–into the past and the future
…and, currently, I’m in no position existentially to join him in most of those places, or any others where “he may go.”
The one-and-only place where I can follow that he has gone already is the Nile, and that would lead to one result only: death. (And deification?–only if someone knew how to do that properly, and the ritual technology for it hasn’t been preserved, nor re-discovered, to my knowledge at this stage.)
I am not a “follower” of Antinous.
It isn’t as if the gods are our “leaders,” and they tell us what to do and we then do it. Some divine relationships, true, have that variety of protocol involved in them, but I don’t happen to have one of those myself.
I am not simply here to do whatever it is Antinous tells me; although, I do what he tells me, certainly, when he tells me…but the thing is, he doesn’t actually tell me I “have to” do very much. All of the devotional activity, poetry, and so forth I write for him is my own choice and my own idea about 99% of the time, actually. Those offerings I give on a regular basis, and present for other people to use and to contemplate as well (only if they are useful for building other people’s devotion to him), are things that I give freely and happily and thankfully out of my own love and appreciation and devotion for the god, and it is my love that inspires them. Certainly, if my love is genuine, then there is something of Antinous’ grace and majesty and glory and beauty and divinity that comes through on occasion, but it isn’t as if I have to be possessed by him or to be trancing him or anything of the sort to do what I do. I have skills that are gods-given, and I have the time and the presence of mind and the discipline (in no small part due to Disciplina herself!) to be able to deploy those gifts on a regular basis, but Antinous isn’t the type of deity who possesses people to then spout praises of him, which would be spouting praises of him to himself…and, sorry, Antinous isn’t that solipsistic of a deity.
I am not a “follower” of Antinous.
The deities are divine, and are worthy of our praise; but, what determines which deity will be the deity closest to one’s own heart? There are many deities who are older, who are more powerful, who are more present, who are even more beautiful, than Antinous might happen to be; there are a variety of deities who are “more like” me in a variety of ways, or who have more interests in common with me. But, he’s the one that I have grown to love more than any of the others, not because he’s like me, but because he’s so different from me; not because he’s the biggest or the best or the most beautiful, but because he’s himself in a way that is unmistakable even when he’s not in his own form; and, he’s the one who has come through for me in ways that no other deities ever have. Certainly, other deities have given me their blessings in a multitude of ways over the years, have been present in my life on occasions when I needed or wanted them, have had very positive impacts on my life, and continue to do so and to earn my gratitude and my praise because of it. But, Antinous keeps me alive in a way that no other deity has, in very literal ways as well as spiritually and in other more metaphorical fashions. There is a reason that Haec Est Unde Vita Venit is a regular thing we say in Ekklesía Antínoou practice! ;)
But, the ways we find to be devoted to the deities, and to “follow” them, are entirely human, and are entirely dependent upon our own abilities, our own likes and dislikes, our own innate attractions, our own emotional attachments and repulsions, and so forth. And, I’m not only clear on that, I’m cool with it. To mistake these things–which at their best are good, and at their worst are horrible–for what the god himself is and does is hubris of the highest order, and I am rather committed to avoid that as much as possible.
Yes, we who are devotional polytheists certainly have obligations as devotees; but, we’re not utterly mindless, like some people seem to be suggesting…
And, if you think that me sharing the above is “evangelical Christian-like” in terms of my sharing of my devotional path (such as it is, with all of the caveats mentinoed above) and thoughts and experiences and reflections upon them is in order to convince other people to “follow my good example” or something of that nature: think again, because you can’t–and, that’s not a bad thing. NO ONE ELSE can have the relationship I have with Antinous, because the style and the content and the particularities of it involved are mine and mine alone, with all of their potential triumphs and all of their many failures and fuck-ups and downfalls. Even if someone read and memorized Devotio Antinoo cover-to-cover, read everything on my blog, and then was two feet behind me at every step of the way throughout twelve years of my devotions to him thus far, their experience would be necessarily different for a variety of reasons.
I share these things not to get you to do what I’m doing, or even to develop a relationship to Antinous (though my initial and intended audience is often that demographic), it’s so that you’ll figure out whatever it is that you’re devoted to–whichever deity or community or piece of the world or inner call you might find is the center of your devotional life–and you’ll learn from my mistakes and from my successes, get ideas you might find useful, and just in general may experience what I experience when I meet people of a variety of different interests or pursuits: the infectious enthusiasm that flows from those who are devoted, diligent, and delighted to be doing whatever it is they’re doing, which gives energy and inspiration and excitement to whatever they might touch and whoever might be touched by them.
Your relationship with Antinous–or with any other deity or object/subject of your devotions–is going to be necessarily different than mine is. The fire with which you burn will be a different fire, fed by different fuel, taking a different shape, flaring up at different times, burning at a different temperature, than the fire with which I currently am burning for Antinous.
I love Antinous, and am devoted to him, and to the many other gods to whom he was devoted and who are also devoted to him.
I serve Antinous, and the people who also serve and love him.
I try to live for and with Antinous as much as it is possible for me to do so.
But I can no more “follow” Antinous than I can replicate the patterns of tongues of flames that were kindled over 1800 years ago…and you can “follow” me no easier even though my flames were only kindled twelve years ago.
Does that make sense? I would be interested in your own thoughts on these matters!