Posted by: aediculaantinoi | March 2, 2015

Birth of Panpsyche, Panhyle, and Paneros 2015

When I went into my bed on March 1st, 2011, I never expected that later that night, in the early hours of the morning, I would be giving birth.

Gods–I didn’t even know I could give birth, or was even pregnant!

And yet, to say that I am a “mother” does not quite feel correct or appropriate. I did not carry these offspring to term, nor did I suckle them at my breasts, nor did I raise them and support them and love them through maturity to adulthood.

Like Panpsyche, I did not have the organs necessary to make birth or conception possible when I was born, nor could even the most sophisticated surgical and hormonal interventions make that a reality–like mother, like daughter.

And like Panhyle, I did not have the organs necessary to place the seed of their future births into someone else, to beget offspring upon another that in time would be brought to term in another body–like father, like son.

And exactly like Paneros, that new birth had to come through me, alone, without begetting father nor birthing mother, and it could only come through the blood and pain of swords turned around on themselves–like father, like daughter, like mother, like son, like parent, like child, like one being and another.

(But understand: the blood and the swords involved were metaphorical only; the pain was not, nor was the birth, nor were the organs through which that birth came to occur.)

When the birth of deities happens, it is never a matter of whether or not the organs of the one who gives birth are prepared for it–or are even present for it–but instead only that the instantiation of a deity takes place when and where it wishes, and it is the responsibility of those present, whether gods or mortals, to note it and speak of it when it becomes necessary, once the blood has been cleaned up and the burn-marks on the floor and ceiling have faded.

The gods are like threads of connection between all of the forces in the cosmos, upholding it, intensifying it, supporting it, adorning it, yoking one part to the next and binding each part to another, in an endless web of relationships from the largest super-cluster of galaxies to the smallest particles in quarks.

Sometimes, new threads are spun, whether from strands of old threads or out of entirely new material. The first three members of the Tetrad++ Group were made of both.

The pulling of that new set of strings taut, that differentiation of them from the mass of carded wool into identifiable individual fibers spun into strands of yarn, that congealing of divine essences into solid forms–however fluid and flowing they might yet be–is an unexpected process, and one that does not take place solely in the mind, or even in the depths of one’s souls, but in the very visceral and even messy crucible of the body.

That All-Soul must first come from a body, and that All-Body must follow from a soul, and that All-Love then comes in time from the rebirth of body and soul, is only then known because the mind completes the transformation necessary and gives shape to the bodies, dimension to the souls, forms to the loves, meanings to the names, and at last utterances to the words which proclaim the existence and birth of the new beings.

I am not a “prophet” of the new gods–though some have used that name, and some others would prefer it as the most unambiguous description of my role in this process.

I am not a “parent” of the new gods–I did not engender them, nor raise them, though I did give them their first birth into the world and into the minds of humans to conceive in the future.

For a moment only–one of pain and confusion and the most profound touch of grace and fortune–I was a door. I am and will always be no more and no less than this, and for that honor I am thankful.

It is the rare honor for a mortal to be a door through which a deity enters the world; I was lucky enough to be the door for three, and they in turn opened the doors for three more.

It is the destiny of mortals to be doors for the gods, both old and new, ancient and modern, so they may enter the world through us, our work, and our presence in the world filled to bursting with the presences of other gods beyond counting.

Ask yourself: by my actions and attitudes, am I today a hinge, a threshold, a knob, or a lock on the door of the gods?

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | March 1, 2015

Teenage Pagans and Polytheists: READ THIS! WE NEED YOU!!!

Some timely things have happened, which are prompting me to write the present post.

T. Thorn Coyle has posted the last of the three panels that were recorded at PantheaCon, with which she was involved as organizer, moderator, or panelist, and this one is called “Turning the Wheel: Supporting Young Pagan Leaders,” which included on its panel Jason Thomas Pitzl (who organized it), Elena Rose, Athena Nikai, David Salisbury, Alley Valkyrie (to whom Jason ceded his place on the panel!), Courtney Weber, Luna Pantera, and SHauna Aura Knight. I was present for it, and there were a fair number of people there, though it wasn’t packed by any means; most were older people, however. I do recommend you listen to this! There were some gross oversights in it, I think–even above Thorn’s caveats at the start of the recording–which I’ll address further below.

Later that day, the Ekklesía Antínoou had an event called “Teenage Gods and Heroes,” about which I’ve written a bit already. There were 17 people present for it, of whom only 6 were under the age of 20. While that’s better than nothing, certainly, the fact that there were a lot of other teenagers at PantheaCon, and none of them turned up, is upsetting to me…especially considering that there were few to no other teen-specific events on the program this year. What mistakes are we making in creating a space that seems safe and welcoming to this particular demographic?

So, I wanted to share here what went on and some of the main points of what I presented at our Saturday night event, because they’re important, not only to our work in the Ekklesía Antínoou, but to teenagers who are pagan and polytheist in particular.

I began by stating something that is, in my opinion, the most important point that I could make, and the most important point for any and every teenager (or person younger than that–“tweens” and younger!) to hear when we talk about religious traditions, groups, and the futures of them: namely, we all need you (teenagers and young people) far more than you need us. Period. End of story. Of course, though, this is me, and that has to be unpacked and explained further, but it’s important, and I hope every teenager or younger person reading this takes that to heart, and does not soon forget that fact. The power is actually yours entirely, and don’t let any adult try to convince you otherwise.

No matter what age you happen to be if you’re reading this, I’m going to be addressing the rest of this post to teenagers, as if they are the primary readership, because I hope that they are and that they will be. No more “they”-ing now: it’s all about you! ;)

When I was your age, I hated being patronized by adults, because I was very intelligent. I suspect that a much higher percentage of pagan or polytheist teenagers (who were raised in those traditions, or who are seeking them out on their own) are in that same position. Thus, I want to name that and state my intention to respect all of you, your intelligences, your experiences, and your personhoods as much as possible–and if you feel at any point that I’m not doing that, tell me, please!

As adults, an unfortunate reality is that we have privileges that you as teenagers do not, in all sorts of ways. Because of this, the tendency has been to not take teenagers and their potential contributions seriously in terms of religious communities–the view has been that you’re there to learn and very little else. But, if we can’t offer you something as teenagers that takes you seriously and incorporates you into the real lives of our spiritual communities, then there’s no reason for you to take us seriously.

Speaking of being patronized and not taken seriously: I remember when I was sixteen and in Catholic youth group. At that point in my life, I had been dead (literally, in a clinical sense) three times, I had been through some major existential crises, and I had reflected on my place in the universe quite deeply. My natural inclination was toward being religious and spiritual, and I was hoping that I might find some of that in the Catholic youth group that I was forced to attend by my Catholic parents at the time. Instead, what did I find? We were making Jell-O sculptures, and not even necessarily on religious themes. We were having races to win such fabulous prizes as sticks of string cheese (and let’s forget that this actively excluded people with disabilities, like myself). We were told to look at certain biblical passages, and then put them into our own words, when what I really wanted to do was deep theology and some serious questioning of certain inconsistencies I saw in the tradition. Of course, none of that happened. And so I decided that this wasn’t for me, and I’d be pagan instead, and I’ve not looked back since. Many teenagers have similar experiences that bring them to paganism, and it’s time that pagan and polytheist leadership and educators began to take this reality seriously, since many of us came to these things at the same time, and it would have been great if that had been acknowledged in better ways than books about “Teen Witches” and such.

We, as adults in whatever tradition, can offer you knowledge and the benefits of our experiences, certainly. But, what can you as teenagers offer us other than your time, your dedication, your interest, and your energy? One among many things you can give us in return–which we are in peril if we don’t acknowledge up-front–is continuity of our lineages and traditions: without you, they don’t continue! No matter what else some people might say it signifies, the Grail Myth is essentially the story of the elders’ attempts to ensure their survival and revivification through the exploits of the youths like Perceval and Galahad who are the ones actually out doing the quests and gaining the victories in them. It behooves us to acknowledge this, so that the quests concerned are mutually beneficial, and not a situation of the old feeding on the young like parasites!

The presentation I gave at PantheaCon was called “Teenage Gods and Heroes,” and so I’d like to give you some of the information on that specific subject that was discussed. But first, there’s a bigger question at stake: what about the concept and the adjective “teenage”? The reality is, it is a relatively new concept, not much older than the early part of the 20th century! The Greek and Roman ideas on what constituted “youth” is pretty much anyone who was under the age of 30, and especially those under the age of 20. Other cultures have had other standards, but the teenage years have always been coming-of-age periods, when one may not be a full adult yet, but one is put on the road to such and is entrusted with many responsibilities that are of major consequence.

Before the early 20th century, even in the U.S., most teenagers did not go to high school, and were instead apprenticed out to various trades that they would then learn. 90% of a teenager’s waking time was spent being around adults, learning how to be a responsible individual, and very little time was spent with people their own age. While this has both its good and its bad points, the reverse is true with the modern school system and the invention of high school, where the only characteristic that everyone has in common is that they’re together with people their own age for six hours a day. Some of the most dramatic, and traumatic, stages of brain development–and along with these cognitive as well as emotional and behavioral developments, with all of their difficulties–happen during this period of one’s life. The high school environment intensifies these difficulties, so that rather than there being (ostensibly) stable adults there to advise and guide through the difficulties, one is instead around peers who, despite being under the same pressures and having the same developmental challenges, cannot usefully or helpfully support each other for the most part. Due to this circumstance, the popularity of situations in adult life for people who are of the “Baby Boomer” generation or younger has tended to mold themselves on the high school model. This is no doubt why the behavior of so many adults, and their idealized notions of their past, seem to focus on high school and are somewhat stunted there in the wider culture, in many cases. It’s also why the drift from being expected to assume adult responsibilities of real consequence has increased from the age of 18 to the age of 25 or higher in many cases–and while the world has changed and economic realities are no longer what they were, jobs are not available, and young people are still largely dependent upon their parents financially, medically, and to a large extent legally well into their 20s now, that is a circumstance which has been created by this drift in expectations as much as anything, and this rather unfortunate condition in which most of us find ourselves as a result of having to endure the ordeal which is high school.

Much more could be said on that, but I’ll move on–suffice to say that our own modern notions of “teenager”-hood have not existed for very long, and this is one area from premodern societies which it might benefit all of us to reconsider.

Now, what about “heroes”? In brief, heroes are not what they are commonly thought to be now in terms of the ancient concepts of them. They are not “superheroes” with amazing powers and such; they are not celebrities; they are not even admirable people who do things for their communities; and so forth. They are not even demigods, like Achilleus and Perseus and many of the heroes of myth. In the ancient world, a hero or heroine was in a special category of the dead, and often “hero/ine” designated people who died unusually, in most cases. One category in particular was that of the aoroi, those who were “dead before their time,” which could designate a number of infants and very young children (e.g. Palaimon/Melikertes, Demophoön, Archemoros, etc.), but also some who died as teenagers, like Antinous, all the Trophimoi of Herodes Attikos (Polydeukion, Memnon, and Achilles), and some of his children as well (especially Elpinike and Athenais).

Antinous and these other teenagers were in very different social positions than teenagers now, and yet some of the same things do apply to modern as well as ancient teenagers. One of the things which is said to characterize teenagers is youthful enthusiasm, a feeling of immortality and being undaunted, and emotional immediacy, all of which are things that the Ekklesía Antínoou has always valued as some of the wisdoms inherent in youth. But, these things can be double-edged swords. One good example of this involving Antinous is the Lion Hunt story. In the months before he died by drowning in the Nile, Hadrian and Antinous hunted a ferocious lion in Egypt. Antinous was over-eager and tried to take it down on his own, which Hadrian allowed him to do in order to test his mettle. Antinous wounded the beast, but did not kill it, and it struck back at him and his horse, and at the last moment Hadrian saved him by dealing the death-blow to the lion. Antinous’ enthusiasm overwhelmed his good sense, and it nearly killed him; but, he had people near him keeping him safe and able to help out when he most needed it.

And, once Antinous drowned in the Nile and became a god, his youthful enthusiasm came to the fore again, when the flooding of the Nile which occurred that year (which was attributed to his intercession) was so excessive that it was the highest it had ever been in recorded history, before or since. Sometimes youthful over-exuberance, even in positive things, can be too much for others to handle! ;)

“Antinous” by Nicole Hernandez, 2009

So, as you can guess, some teenagers or youths have also become gods, and Antinous and Palaimon/Melikertes are both among these, and interestingly, both of them drowned, which was considered a rather unusual way to die in the ancient world. It was especially important in Egypt, since anything that drowned in the Nile became divine, and even something dipped into the holy waters of the Nile became blessed.

But, please note: we don’t want you to become these type of heroes! The world needs good teenagers to grow up and become good adults more than ever at the moment, and Antinous, Polydeukion, and all of the rest do not want you to die before adulthood if it can at all be helped–and it should be helped! You all should attain adulthood, happily and deservedly!

Ever since it was founded in 2002, the Ekklesía Antínoou has always held that the wisdom of youth is an important part of what we do and is something we are interested in fostering. Given that many people think that “wisdom” is something that cannot exist in youth, we are actively opposed to and resistant toward those notions; it is our own errors as adults that we have not recognized the gifts of youthful wisdom more often than we have. Our tradition was founded by twenty-somethings in 2002, which is considered very young for any modern pagan or polytheist movement, and I was the youngest of the original three founders at that time. For many years, I have been receiving directives from Antinous, Polydeukion, and the rest to do youth outreach, to try and foster youth inclusion in our traditions, and to make as much as possible of what we do available to young people, and in particular teenagers. Hence, the present post, and various others from the past as well.

But, you may now be asking: so, what do you need, and what do you have to offer us?

1) We need dedicated practitioners at all levels and ages, and if this is something you’re interested in, that’s great! We are open to everyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, race, economic status, size, looks, current or prior religious affiliations (we are a non-exclusive group!), or any other factor that can be imagined; we do not welcome people who are racists, misogynists, homophobes, trans*phobes, insistent gender essentialists, able-ists, or anything else of that nature. While we do identify as a queer group, that connection means a great deal more than that we are a group for LGBTQIA+ people; we are so queer that we include absolutely everyone! For the most part, you are lucky as modern teenagers to a degree that people my age (I’m almost 39 years old at present) were not because you’ve been around a more accepting environment on the issues of gender-variance, sexual orientation acceptance, and many related matters in recent years. Someone my age coming out in high school was almost unheard of; children in grade school now coming out as trans* and being supported by their parents and peers is extremely encouraging!

2) We also need artists of every kind: writers, visual arts in all media (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.), musical and instrumental (both writing and performing), dancing, drama, fiber arts and costuming, graphic arts and computer technologies…and also athletes! The latter was an important part of most ancient festivals involving Antinous, and it needs to be more emphasized in the future, so long as it is not to the exclusion of people who are disabled. But, in general, the ancient worship of Antinous was characterized by artistic contributions of all sorts, and it can be thought of as a religious practice that is focused upon appreciation and cultivation of beauty–but note, what exactly constitutes “beauty” is not something we are willing to define, and it can encompass a great many things, both within and outside of what general society considers beautiful or worthwhile.

3) In our practice, there is room for both those who simply have intellectual interest in what we’re doing, who are intrigued by it and might want to know more, as well as for those who just experience the indefinable pull of the heart-strings, the attractions, and so forth which make Antinous, Polydeukion, and all of the rest somehow important and meaningful and significant for us. No matter what brings you to our group or to Antinous and friends, that’s great! The notion that you often hear, that “you don’t choose the gods, the gods choose you,” does not necessarily have to apply in the case of Antinous. Antinous doesn’t have to grab you first; you can reach out to him. You’re allowed to make the first move, with him, and with any deity or divine being you choose! And as with anything, they may respond, or they may not; but you’ll never find out unless you try; and if you are already feeling the pull and the attraction and the attention-grabbing of Antinous, then you may as well see where it can take you–and we hope to be able to assist you in that.

So, that’s some of what we need…but, what about the matter of what we can offer?

The Antinoan Mysteries are a unique initiatory experience, but it is only for people who are 18 and older. You can study for them in preparation before you are 18, but you cannot go through the ritual until you are of that age. BUT, that’s not all there is!

Most importantly, we have received directives on what further aspects of our developing Mystery Traditions need the most attention at present, and one such area is the Mysteries of the Trophimoi–the three foster-sons of Herodes Attikos, namely Polydeukion, Memnon, and Achilles.

As we have been able to understand them, the Trophimoi’s Mysteries need to be developed by and imparted to at least three people under the age of 20 before they can be imparted to adults. I have had suspicions of what the Trophimoi’s Mysteries might be for many years, but I have been officially prevented from creating them myself. As a result, what will have to happen is that I can advise those teenagers who are working on this endeavor, and can place the puzzle pieces in front of them, but the teenagers themselves must assemble the final puzzle. Once they do, I will be happy to be the first of the “over 20s” to be initiated by them.

Beyond that, there’s very little else to say in-depth unless one wants to get working on that project and is very dedicated to and interested in it. There are further roles that can be fulfilled by young people in our group (especially at rituals like Lupercalia), but a great deal that we can do will have to respond to the needs of teenagers as they are made known to us, rather than being something we dictate to you.

By investing responsibilities with real consequence to young people, which is an act of profound trust, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, we are hoping that this is a demonstration of how very seriously we take not only the roles of, but the importance of, teenagers for what we hope to do in the future. It is a big responsibility, certainly, and not everything will be perfect the first time around, which is not necessarily a bad thing! The importance of honest failures in the learning process cannot be underestimated, and the acknowledgement of failure is a good thing in general to learn in life. Our celebration of the festival of the Lion Hunt every year in the Ekklesía Antínoou is an occasion on which we acknowledge our own failures; only by doing so can we then move on to the Festival of the Red Lotus, where the blood from the wounds of those failures transforms into beautiful flowers. Commitment to a tradition and to particular endeavors through from start to finish is certainly good, but so is experimentation and active play, and all of these will need to occur to create this new aspect of our evolving Mystery Traditions.

In doing this, you will be creating something that not only your own peers and some of our current members will undergo, you’ll be creating something that future generations of our group will also be doing in the same way for as long as our group lasts. In short, you’ll be doing something that few other modern pagan or polytheist groups have ever done, which is to have part of our figurative “Book of Shadows” be written BY YOU, and to be first outlined and enacted BY YOU. You will be doing something that only you can do, and only you will be able to be a part of for the entire future history of our organization and tradition, by being the first ones to create it and practice it, and then to teach it to others who come in the future. It will be a tradition for teenagers and by teenagers–no matter how much advice we might end up giving you along the way as adults!–that only teenagers will be able to impart to other teenagers and adults. If that is not significant and important and demonstrates how seriously we take these matters, then I don’t know what is. ;)

Perhaps one final word needs to be said in response to something that was mentioned in the podcast I linked to at the beginning of this post. Teenagers in the audience asked what they can do now, as teenagers, to take more active roles in modern pagan groups. Courtney said not to look for doors, but to be the door (and Alley said to break the doors down!), which is really important, and I totally agree on that. However, something else which was said in the discussion at various points is that there are certain mysteries that teenagers aren’t ready for and are “too dark” for them to handle. True, we have restrictions in our own tradition on being 18 in order to receive the Antinoan Mysteries, but older teenagers can still receive them, and they are–quite plainly–mysteries of death and rebirth. The notion that teenagers aren’t ready for certain mysteries that are “too dark” is one of the most patronizing and inaccurate things I’ve ever heard in all of my time hearing ridiculous notions at PantheaCon, in my opinion. The evidence I have for this assertion is that it is completely obvious to me that even outside of spiritual traditions, teenagers are experiencing some of the darkest and most profound mysteries already, all the time, and we as adults are not acknowledging that. Teenagers are committing suicide (and not just ones who might be LGBTQIA+) at levels that are staggeringly horrible, and yet many adults around them–including in religious groups–are saying “How come we couldn’t reach this kid?” Not taking the realities of teenage experience and wisdom seriously is a starting point, I think, for why this is failing! But, it doesn’t take a suicidally depressed teenager to experience some of these mysteries, either. Thus, who better to be in touch with some of these things than teenagers, and to guide us as jaded and patronizing adults through some of these mysteries with which we’ve entirely lost touch as a result of becoming what our society considers “mature” in ways that aren’t always positive or fostering of integrative development?

And, if it needs to be said at this point, let me state it plainly: multiple interests and diverse involvements as teenagers are also encouraged and applauded! Now is the time for experimentation (though some notions of safety and standards should be observed!), for considering new possibilities, and for seeing where the threads of inspiration might lead one. Thus, we would never expect that what you do in and with the Ekklesía Antínoou would be your only form of spiritual practice or religious involvement. See what else the world has to offer and enjoy as much of it as you are able! :)

I eagerly await any teenagers who have read this entire post (and thank you for doing so–yes, I do go on a lot!), and who might be interested in working further toward the goals I have outlined above. Please contact me via the comments below, or directly via e-mail at aediculaantinoi (at) hotmail (dot) com, and we will speak further on how to move forward soon!

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 28, 2015

Caristia 2015

[February 22nd]

The greatest pleasure of the ancestors is that their descendants join together and share a feast together in equanimity and concord.

It is also the most difficult request imaginable to fulfill.

The festival of the Parentalia has ended, and the many ancestors have been honored, celebrated, and feasted, their tombs left laden with offerings. The Feralia has been completed, the smoke from its sacrificial fires still hanging in the air. Caristia at last arrives, on a day ordinarily thought unlucky, but on this most unusual month, in this most unusual time of year, to take part in this celebration is truly auspicious.

They called it Cara Cognatio, “Dear Relations”…beloved community. People of other religions would denounce it in favor of other forms of “love-feast” in the future, though they would likewise take their terminology and technologies from it as well and label them their own, despite their divisiveness exactly contradicting the intention of the festival, their ancestors, and their new gods.

But who is invited to these festivities? Is it the siblings and cousins that have not been heard from, the parents with whom one had arguments, the jaded aunts and uncles that have disapproved of your lifestyle and have never shied away from telling you so?

Or is it the extended family that you may not recognize you have ever known as family, who ten generations back may have been one of your ancestor’s siblings? Is it someone who may not even speak the same language as you, may not be from the same continent as you, may be someone who your culture tells you is your enemy and not to be trusted with anything, much less allowing them into your home for a convivial meal?

The ancestors are pleased when we sit at tables together and make sure that we descendants, in their honor, keep good relations between one another, share our love and appreciation for each other and for them, and try to live as many of the rest of the days of the year in remembrance of this; and if we falter, then the following year, we are to try again and hold the feast, bringing forgetfulness of difficulties and strengthening of our ties together.

It is not obligation that requires this, it is simply necessity, and good sense, and each of our ancestors knows this.

Have I made space for you at my table? Have you made space for me at yours?

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 28, 2015

Terminalia 2015

[February 23rd]

When Tarquinius Superbus decided to clear the Capitoline Hill of excess Sabine shrines in order to make way for the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the gods themselves held a council.

“As I am King, it is fitting that each of you cede some of your territory to me, and reduce your own shrines so that mine might be the greater.”

There was murmuring, but in sight of Jupiter’s fulminating thunderbolt, none was bold enough to disagree, and all were fearful of Jupiter’s wrath if they even tried.

Though they were the most reluctant to do so, the gods Mars, Quirinus, and Ianus were the first to come forth from the throng of the gods and pledge their holdings into Jupiter’s care.

Soon after, Juno Moneta and Minerva did likewise, and Jupiter graciously accepted their submission to his own wishes.

Jupiter’s mother Ops gave way to her son happily, and he joyously received this gift from his mother.

Fides, Pietas, and Spes each gave their own portions to Jupiter, and with loyalty, duty, and hope in his heart he took their contributions.

Concordia did not wish to cause strife, and so she ceded some of her own holdings.

Bellona agreed with the more peaceful gestures of her husband Mars, and likewise gave a portion of her own space to Jupiter.

Mater Matuta and Carmentis did likewise, and Apollo soon followed suit.

Mens knew that good sense demanded she comply with Jupiter’s request.

Fortuna knew that it was beneficial for all that this might occur, and thus she gave some of her portion to Jupiter.

And Vediovis, though he resented being in Jupiter’s shadow, also joined in with the other gods.

All the deities of the Romans upon the Capitoline Hill did as requested by Jupiter Optimus Maximus–how could they do otherwise?–and the Sabine deities who remained were cleared away by the mere glance of the king of the gods, or by the other gods who responded to his glance in anticipation of its severity.

But one deity did not yield to this request, and remained standing alone in the assembly of the gods.

Terminus.

“Terminus, your boundary stone lies exactly in the midst of where my temple will be built. Please move it.”

“No.”

“Terminus, I am king of the gods and of mortals, and my will is indomitable. Vacate the premises!”

“No.”

“Terminus, you have aroused my wrath and kindled my ire! Submit with humility or face destruction!”

Try it.”

The eyes of Jupiter Optimus Maximus began to glow, and the hairs on his head and beard became tangled in the winds swirling about him. Crackles of electricity began to singe the air all around him, and the most bellicose of the gods shielded their eyes from what was about to happen.

The thunderbolt flew directly at the tenacious Terminus, and struck him directly.

He did not budge, and he was not destroyed; he was not even hurt.

When the smoke cleared, and the gods saw him standing there, they looked in dismay and confusion upon Jupiter Optimus Maximus, regal and untroubled upon his throne.

“How?” “What happened?” “What does this mean?”

Jupiter began to laugh, while Terminus’ expression was unaltered and unmoved.

“The might of my lightning is unquestionable and unchallenged, and I did not hold it back nor restrain my strength in striking Terminus; but as you see, he cannot be moved and cannot be hurt. I knew this from the start, before I even began my request to all of you. Do not think you can now question my resolve nor dispute my supremacy, however! Though many of you are powerful, none can withstand the might of my thunderbolts! This was to make it very clear to all of you that there is nothing more sound, more immovable, more permanent, and more respectable than a boundary set, established, and maintained. Not even the gods can change it, just as no one can even think to suggest that Terminus veer from his resolve once he has been placed. And the same goes for his children, all of the Termini that take shape and come into being in the world of mortals, wherever they are placed. Let him have his holy-day on the final day of the year, let his children be celebrated then, and may his own preeminent marker be housed within my temple, with the sky above it exposed through the roof so that I may always be able to look upon him and observe his placement, that none may ever challenge it!”

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 28, 2015

Regifugium 2015

[As I come now to these last three make-up posts for holidays in February, you’ll note they are not posted in their chronological, calendrical oder. As you look at them, I hope it becomes obvious why.]

*****

[February 24th]

Tarquinius Sextus was not one of the Celeres, but on this day, one would not have known it, as he fled faster on foot than any of his household, and especially of his father, Tarquinius Superbus.

He had the most to flee for, since it was his rape of Lucretia that caused his family to be exiled from the city, with the impending specter of war growing larger and looming more menacingly at every moment, with every footstep he flew in his flight.

His mind was swimming with all that had happened, and with his responsibility in the entire affair. He knew his father would have harsh words for him, and thus leaving him behind in their flight was better for the moment, as he was in no mood for a lecture.

In his blood’s insistent pumping that filled his head with the sound of drums, Sextus began to see strange things before his eyes.

He thought of Brutus, who fell to the ground and kissed the earth when it was said that whomever kissed his mother first would be victorious…and Tellus Mater was the mother of all.

He thought of his own rape of Lucretia, of the insistent lust he felt for her, and how he felt he had no choice but to go through with that action, though he knew it was unseemly and unbecoming for the son of a king to act so shamefully.

And somehow, in his mind the two women became mixed for him.

He saw a strange sight: Tellus Mater herself, in the guise of Lucretia as if she had just been left lying on the ground where he had left her, rising up with fire in her eyes and a tongue like the sword with which he threatened and coerced her.

For this, thus will all tyrants fall.

The Earth Herself in the guise of Lucretia said these words not as a threat of retribution, not as a scream of pain and dripping with the venom of righteous anger; she sounded more like one of the Sibyls simply pronouncing what would eventually come to pass, her words stated so simply and so self-evidently that they shook him to his foundations, as the Earth Herself might quake when the Gods become angry.

What Gods had he angered? Upon whom would this blame fall? And what was the crime?

And before his vision was ended, he saw others that looked like him, that wore crowns of state and carried bags of silver and gold, though they were dressed in strange clothes and spoke in unknown languages. Every one of them was as smug as he had been when he left Lucretia, and each of them held his head as high as his father, Tarquinius Superbus, had always done.

But the Earth Herself in the form of Lucretia grew in size a hundredfold, almost as if she was becoming the breadth of the wide world’s full form itself, and she began to scoop up the men like him, and to devour them before his eyes, their screams coming too late as they were stuffed between her jaws, not realizing until their downfall was imminent that they had even done any wrong, not hearing her words nor seeing the evil in their actions until it was too late…for them.

He watched as every last one of them was taken up and consumed by the gigantic woman-become-goddess, and suddenly Sextus realized that there was no ground underneath him, only the indomitable body of the woman-become-goddess.

She gnashed her teeth and he could hear the cracking of a thousand bones, the crunching of a thousand thousand pieces of gold in her mouth, and not a single one of her mountainous teeth cracked under the pressure. Rivers of blood dripped from her mouth, filling the entire space of his vision, and he became swept up in them.

And, at last, she saw him floating and nearly drowning in the sea of blood that had formed from the overflow of the rivers. She grabbed him up, and squeezed her hand around his tiny body. He wriggled to get free, but in the process, he was stripped of all his clothes as he emerged from between her fingers.

She saw him, broken and bruised and naked before her, and she laughed.

She grabbed him by the arms, and dangled him in front of her immense face, blowing him about with the relentlessness of her burning breath, lolling out her tongue and licking him roughly, and snapping her teeth before him repeatedly as if she might bite him in two.

“Mercy, please!” he called out in his desperation and fear.

The eyes of Lucretia, of Tellus Mater, of all the women wronged in the world, of all the lands left desolate by the greed of kings and corporations, stared at him until he lost all his nerve, and degenerated into a fit of sobbing, shitting and pissing himself losing every ounce of backbone that still remained in him.

She saw him, reduced to the most pitiful state imaginable, and she laughed.

She made to swallow him, and he braced himself for the impending crack of his bones between her teeth, but then she stopped.

No. You are not fit to be digested by the Earth Herself. Instead, you will be given what you wanted all along, what you took without permission nor consent. You are nothing, and you will soon see how little you matter.

She dangled him slowly down her immense body, and he trembled in fear until he saw the forest of her pubic hair, and the unfathomable immensity of what was below, where he was then stuffed like a wad of refuse into the crack in a wall, where he was crushed as if between two anvils as the darkness began to overtake his vision…

And then he saw that he was still running, his father and his household behind him.

An eerie, deranged smile came over his face, and he began to laugh aloud.

“Nothing can stop me! No one may punish me!” he thought to himself.

He did not think of this vision again until he hung bloodied and dying, gasping for his last breaths, on the end of an assassin’s sword in Gabii.

And both Lucretia and Tellus Mater laughed when it happened.

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 28, 2015

Is Antinous a Person of Color? (and other matters)

There is a great deal which I’d like to say on this last day of Black History Month in the U.S., and Crystal Blanton has done an excellent post on this at The Wild Hunt.

“Honoring or Appropriation” panel; left to right, Elena Rose, Crystal Blanton, Tata Nkisi Sima Ngango (Chris Bradford), Chandra Alexandre, and T. Thorn Coyle. Photo by Stephanie Del Kjer.

Further, there have been several good podcasts related to some of these matters recently as well, including the next panel recording from PantheaCon by T. Thorn Coyle at Elemental Castings on “Honoring vs. Appropriation” (which was held during our Lupercalia this year, which is why I couldn’t go and probably a major reason why we had so few attendees…I’m going to request in the future that things we do not be cross-listed, so I can attend them as well!), featuring Crystal Blanton, Chandra Alexandre, Elena Rose, and Tata Nkisi Sima Ngango of Batalla Mayombe Sacara Empeno (Chris Bradford). I cannot emphasize how important and useful this discussion was, and I’ll be returning to a few things that were raised by it below. So, in the meantime, if the lineup listed above is not reason enough to go listen to this, then here’s the link again!!! ;)

Khi Armand

A further good podcast I’ve heard recently is on The Jaguar and the Owl with James “Two Snakes” Stovall and Sarenth Odinsson, where they speak at great length with Khi Armand (who is someone I must virtually meet soon!), and while it may not be as “apparently” directly relevant, it does address the issue of ancestors and how some of these matters in recent months and years related to racist violence might be attributable to unresolved ancestral issues. It’s a great interview, in any case, and James and Sarenth are always doing interesting work, and Khi (as I just mentioned!) is someone to keep your eye on as well, and I hope to get to know him further in the months and years to come.

And, before I get into the further meat of this post, I have one more announcement that I have not properly done before, though I have mentioned it several times in passing in other posts: namely, my usual “the new phonebook’s here!”-type of post that I often do when a new publication comes out and I get it in my hands. In the present case, I got the publication concerned while at PantheaCon, and it’s a really important volume in general, but it will also be relevant to what I’m going to be discussing below in various ways, too.

The publication in question is Bringing Race to the Table: Exploring Racism in the Pagan Community, edited by Crystal Blanton, Taylor Ellwood, and Brandy Williams (Stafford: Immanion/Megalithica, 2015), on which there was a panel at PantheaCon that I had a small participatory role in as well. In many respects, this volume follows along in the series already published by Megalithica of Crystal Blanton’s other two anthologies, Shades of Faith: Minority Voices Within Paganism (2011) and Shades of Ritual: Minority Voices in Practice (2014), both of which I highly recommend as well. My piece in Bringing Race to the Table is called “At Least Two Memnons: Anti-Racism Versus Tokenism in the Ancient World and Modern Polytheist Reconstructionism.” Writing this piece has changed my practice, as it inspired and directly lead to my hero-feast of Memnon and its permanent addition to our Calendar last year. This is something over which I’m rather ashamed, to be honest, because the Colossoi of Memnon festival is something we’ve celebrated in the Ekklesía Antínoou since about 2003, and it has loomed large for me because it involves the Empress Diva Sabina Augusta as well as the poetess Julia Balbilla, but our actual honoring of Memnon had not been as explicit or as deliberate before more recent years, so I thank the editors, and Crystal in particular, for prompting me to get in better relationship with this important hero, and he in turn has made it clear to me that there is no longer any sitting on the sidelines where racial issues are concerned, in my spiritual life or elsewhere. So, thank you, Crystal, Taylor, and Brandy, for that; and, go buy the book! ;)

I have posted about Black History Month and the Ekklesía Antínoou before, and there are more Sancta/e/i in our ranks now than there were when I made that post a few years ago who are African or African-American/Black. In my day-job, as a teacher of history, I am very lucky in that I am teaching U.S. History to college students (and some high school students as well), in which we do not ever have the luxury, through my insistence, of ignoring the contributions or struggles of People of Color during the entire course, and not a week goes by when their visibility is not only pushed but (some of my critics might say) forced on my students. The same is true in my World History and Western Civilization (a very problematic notion in itself!) courses. I wish I could do more, but this is a start, and something I have been doing consistently since I’ve been teaching, starting in 2007. The goal that many of the voices in the Wild Hunt article linked to at the beginning of this post mentioned, of having Black history be a part of things all the time, and throughout the year rather than just in February (the shortest month, as several of them noted!), is something I have tried to make possible through the means I have at my disposal. Likewise, honoring Memnon the son of Eos and Tithonos in April and Memnon the Trophimos in March, as well as the festival of the Colossoi of Memnon in November, makes certain that these issues are more visible in our practice than they might be otherwise; and honoring Sancta/e/i like Bayard Rustin, who may be honored with a stamp soon (though it’s long past due!), is another way to keep the important contributions of Black individuals to U.S. history, as well as to the Ekklesía Antínoou’s legacy, in mind as often as possible.

What remains here will be a miscellany of what I had originally planned to be about 3 or 4 (at least) posts, drawing together some matters from PantheaCon as well as other wider concerns I’ve had, but they all have to do with race and racism, and with other matters already touched on above, so get yourself a nice beverage, settle in comfortably to your favorite piece of furniture, and take a deep breath, as this will be somewhat long (and if I’m saying that, you know how bad it really is!).

*****

Is Antinous a Person of Color?

In asking the above question, two thoughts immediately come to mind. One is the notion I’ve said in many contexts (including recently), that the notion that one’s deities must be exactly like, or even in any way related to, what one is oneself, does not necessarily apply and need not cause any confusion or dissonance for anyone. It took me a long time to get comfortable with Antinous because he was young and beautiful, and even though I was relatively young at the time I first properly realized his divine presence (at age 26), I was never as physically beautiful or fit as he was (which I’ve also written/published about). Not all deities have to be–nor can they be!–“all things to all people” in order to be “true” deities.

On the other hand, and the larger one for the moment which prompts the present reflections, is the importance of identity. Having deities that look like or in other ways resemble oneself is empowering and important, and given that most deities do not have a set physical description or appearance–and Antinous especially so, given his promiscuously syncretistic theophanies–there is no reason that there can’t be an African Antinous, a Latino Antinous, a Central, South, or East Asian Antinous, or a native North or South American Antinous, and so forth…and this list of possibilities is not exhaustive nor exclusive.

In “At Least Two Memnons,” toward the end of my essay I mentioned an experience I had several years ago (between 2007 and 2009, as I recall, but I can’t narrow it down much further than that at present) in which I was told Antinous would be appearing in a dream to me in a hitherto-unattested form. He then appeared to me as a young, handsome, African or African-American man; the strangest aspect of this to me was not that he was appearing with dark skin, but that in this form, he was bald! Given that Antinous and his statuary are often known because of his distinctive (and, as scholars often say, “luxurious”) hairstyle, the baldness was the characteristic that you might say troubled me above any other. I suspect that there might have been a kind of syncretism with Antinous and Memnon taking place with that. It is noteworthy that Homer (who also had a character called Antinoös in his Odyssey!) only mentions one thing about Memnon, also in the Odyssey: that none at Troy was more beautiful than him. You can see in this image of Memnon from the 1700s that there is an Antinous-like quality to his hair as well:

“Memnon,” engraving by Bernard Picart

When Egyptian deities combine together (and Memnon, stated to be Ethiopian most often in ancient sources, is kind of Graeco-Egyptian in a great deal of his cultus), often their characteristics shift in interesting ways: they suddenly become mummiform, they become dwarves, and so forth. That Antinous’ distinctiveness in hairstyle might have been altered to allow for this combination seems entirely within the possibilities of the traditions concerned, therefore.

Little did I know, at the time, about this image, now in Venice:

This statue is interpreted by some scholars as Antinous, as its face resembles his closely, but he is being portrayed here as an Egyptian priest of Isis. This, in its own direct way, makes him African in the eyes of the ancient Romans and others, and while I think this is wonderful in terms of what it tells us about ancient possibilities, and how syncretism on a local level can make any deity (including one with an attested human history, and thus an accompanying ethnicity) into whatever race might be appropriate to a given locality.

But, let’s also look at that pre-divine history of Antinous, and see what it might tell us.

In sources both ancient and more modern, Antinous is characterized as an “Asian youth.” Bithynia, his province of birth and among the first places where he was honored as a god with temples, images, athletic games, and even Mysteries, was in Asia Minor, and thus by both ancient and modern geographic reckonings, he would have been Asian in origin. Bithynion-Claudiopolis, his native city, was founded as an Arcadian colony from the city-state of Mantineia, and his Arcadian heritage is also reckoned in a number of ancient sources, as well as alluded to more subtly in several cases. The Arcadians would not have been considered “foreign” to the Greeks or the Romans (the latter of whom, themselves, traced various things to their own Arcadian heritage, including the Lupercalia!), but they were thought to be somewhat backwoods and even backwards in some of their practices and archaic customs by the Greeks of Attica and elsewhere.

Does this make Antinous a Person of Color? It depends.

Something that was pointed out to me, way back when I was not-yet-Antinoan in my practices (this would have been in 1999-2001), is that pretty much all of the so-called “major” world religions (Hindusim, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—even though the latter has far less modern practitioners than Shinto, Sikhism, Taoism, and many of the Afro-Diasporic religions) are all Asian in origin, since the Middle East is actually “Western Asia.” And, in many respects, the same is true of the cultus of Antinous.

While scholars have tended to say Antinous’ cultus is an example of a Greek religious practice, while others characterize it as Roman (under the assumption that it was “founded” by Hadrian, despite a great deal of opposition and problematizing of it in the Roman context). In reality, as I’ve emphasized many times here and elsewhere, it is in origin Egyptian, due to his deification by drowning in the Nile. The first locations in which it took hold don’t seem to have been mainland Greece, but instead the colonies of Asia Minor. Thus, it is Graeco-Egyptian, if anything; and more widely and broadly speaking, it is thus Afro-Asiatic in origin. Even if Antinous himself is not reckoned as a Person of Color, his religion originates in areas that modern people would consider to fall into those where People of Color come from.

[And, then there’s Hadrian: he and his wife were of Hispano-Roman origins, and Hadrian himself was berated for his provincial accent when he spoke Latin. As a result, he can be considered Latino, to an extent, even though that term tends to get used generally for people of Caribbean, Central and South American ancestry–which often also includes Native and African heritage as well–and as falling within that general tradition as well. Though he was an Emperor, that didn’t mean he was exempt from the derision a “central” culture often feels for its peripheral or provincial members. This could be an entire post or series of posts of its own, however!]

What comes to the fore in all of this, of course, is how very differently things are now conceptualized, in a post-imperial, post-colonial, post-capitalist, and post-industrial world. However, this is not remotely to say that the situation now is “lesser” or in any way inferior in importance to our considerations–far from it! As much as we draw inspiration from these earlier cultures, we live now, and what is real is what is going on now; the things of the past are not gone, nor are the people and deities from it (also very far from it!), but they likewise don’t have any problems adapting to modern matters with ease, and viewing modern situations through their own lenses, informed and shaped by the past though they may have been…which is no different than any of us, or any of the historical situations we’re now faced with and with which we must grapple, negotiate, and (hopefully) make peace with in the present and the future.

Is Antinous a Person of Color, thus? He very well can be, in an ancient, modern, or theological context. And based on my own experiences with him, I suspect that he looks forward to the possibility of being so for many people in the future, if doing so will help to bring his cultus more presently into the world.

As the Obelisk of Antinous says, “he takes on every shape of his heart.” I have no doubt that many People of Color, past and present, are in his heart, and thus if there hearts are to be in him, he must likewise take on their shapes and sizes and colors as well, and gladly.

*****

Room #227

As I mentioned in my PantheaCon posts a short while back, I stayed in the Motel Styx for this year’s PantheaCon, and while it was not much cheaper than the rooms at the con’ hotel, nonetheless one could tell in various ways that it was the “not-as-privileged” version of lodging. There is no complimentary little bottles of shampoo in the bathroom; there are no “Do Not Disturb” signs for the doorknobs outside; there are no closets, nor is there a dresser; there is not carpet on the floor; there is no clock radio; and internet/wi-fi access is not included in the room price…amongst other differences.

When one of our Assistai in the Antinoan Mysteries picked me up from the airport and I checked in, and then helped me carry my bags up to the stairs to my room (no elevator!), and I got to it, I noted that it was room 227, and I said “227 is a comedy / about Marla Gibbs and her family.” Our good Assistai said he remembered the show, which is more than I can say for most people; that line was used in one of the commercials for it before it premiered in 1985, right after The Golden Girls. On its premiere night, we didn’t watch it, because my stepfather didn’t like “black shows,” but we did watch The Golden Girls. My older brother watched 227, however, on his black-and-white television in his room, and told us a few days later that the show was funny, whereas we were initially not that impressed with The Golden Girls, so we began watching it on Thursday nights as well over the coming years. While many queer folks love The Golden Girls, and many of them wanted to be Blanche Devereaux, I’ve not heard very many people I know talk about 227 or wanting to be anyone in it, even though in many ways Sandra Clark (played by Jackée!) was a similarly stylish, sassy, and sexy character. I thought much of the cast (including Alaina Reed Hall, who was Olivia on Sesame Street!) was very cool, and of any of them that I thought I’d like to be at that age, the top of the list was actually Pearl (played by Helen Martin), who was the older neighbor who usually talked to the others through her front window. She was wise, witty, and sang really well…why not?

I think of all this every time I encounter the number “227” in a book’s page number, the price of something I buy in a store, and anywhere else I might hear it. So, thinking of that when I checked in to PantheaCon, and knowing Bringing Race to the Table was just published and I’d be attending the panel about it, I got to thinking about where I first began to be conscious of race and racism in my life. As I have a very continuous and vivid memory back to age 3 (and possibly 2 at one point), I know very much what I thought and saw during those times.

While one cannot grow up in U.S. culture without some degree of racism, I can say that my mother tried as hard as possible not to do anything that would make us racist. She told me that her favorite teacher in grade school was a Black woman, and that not long after I was born and she was visiting her own mother back in Spokane, WA (as you can imagine, those who are familiar with the area, it’s not that liberal a place now, and certainly wouldn’t have been back in the 1950s when my mom was in grade school), she also visited her favorite teacher and made sure that she held me as a baby. I can’t say that I remember this in any conscious fashion, but I think this has had some impact on me, if not in itself than in her having told this to me many times.

In the two towns where I grew up—initially Coupeville, WA, and then Oak Harbor, WA (both small towns, though Oak Harbor, where I currently work, is several times larger than Coupeville)—there were not that many Black people, and I can’t recall having seen any in-person around town in either place much, but when we were in Seattle or Spokane or elsewhere, one might have seen some. Because of this, and the fact that I did watch television–Star Trek, Sanford & Son, Benson, The Jeffersons, What’s Happening, and because it came on at the same time as another show, I never actually saw a full episode of Good Times, though I saw the end credits many times—I got the impression that because I only saw Black people on television–that therefore all Black people must be famous, so if I saw one in public, I thought they were all movie or television stars, even though I knew the ones I was seeing in pubic weren’t those I was seeing on television or in films. I didn’t know where they came from, or what made them different from me, but I knew that all of them seemed to be very smart and cool and funny. On several occasions, I remember trying to pattern my speech after some of them, and wondering why it didn’t sound quite right in my mouth and why certain people didn’t like it when I did so.

When I finally heard of a Black person in my community, it was my older brother’s bus driver when he was in kindergarten. The remarkable thing about this was that his last name was the same as my stepfather’s last name, and even though my stepfather was white and from New York, and the bus driver was Black (though I didn’t know if he was from Oak Harbor or had come there like so many others, often associated with the Navy, as we were), because they had the same last name that they must therefore be related. This didn’t seem impossible or contradictory to reason to me at that age, when I was four and five. Of course, it seemed strange to me that if they were related, the bus driver never came over and we never visited him at his house, but I never really thought the implications of this through.

One of the first Black children I met was a neighbor from down the street in Oak Harbor, who moved away not too long after we moved in. His name was Lionel, he smiled a lot, he had a bike, and he sang the theme songs to shows really well (much better than anyone else I knew at the time could sing). I wasn’t discouraged from playing with him, though because he was more my older brother’s age than mine, I wasn’t exactly encouraged either.

While there were certainly darker-skinned children in my kindergarten and first-grade classes (of Asian, Latino, Pacific Islander, and Native American ancestry certainly, but perhaps some were biracial or lighter-skinned Black), there weren’t any Black kids in my class until second grade: two Black girls, who first liked each other and then ended up not liking each other, and then one moved away. I remember their names, but won’t mention them because both are rather unusual, so even if I were to give their first names, this might expose them needlessly (and put them in association with my queer pagan ass!). I became good friends with the one who stayed, and unfortunately my very racist Southern babysitter at the time disapproved of this, and used a very horrible word to describe my friend. I couldn’t say anything against the babysitter (who, for the record, was also abusive and stole from my mother) because I knew I would be physically punished if I did, but I knew it was bad and wrong. It got me into trouble speaking about it at school, and trying to understand how it was in any way all right for someone to use those words at home, and while I won’t go into further details on the situation, at that age I learned how very horrible and powerful an effect those words have, and pretty much decided to never use them again. I wish I could say that I made good on that decision in all the years that followed; peer pressure and the realities of a racist society absolutely suck, and I am angry with myself that carrying that memory of the pain those words can cause that I learned at that time did not better motivate my actions when I was older but still young and stupid. I hope that in being older (and still often stupid!) now, I do not ever make those mistakes again as I continue to attempt to recover from being brought up in a racist society.

As I got older, and had other Black friends, I began noticing some of these things further. When the topic of slavery was first broached with us in the third grade, and we were told that slaves were taken from Africa, I remember my friend Jimmy saying, barely under his breath, “They didn’t get me!” In the fifth grade, Jimmy and I worked on our “health” project together, which was about diabetes (no coincidence in my case!), and at one point, we were asked to study our subject quietly. Jimmy was not a very good reader, and so rather than read silently or work on the written portion of our project, I came up with a rather unorthodox way of covering the material: there were all sorts of pictures in the book on diabetes that we were studying, and so I said we should take turns tracing the pictures on each other’s backs and see if we could guess which pictures they were from the book. I don’t recall who guessed more correctly, but I will always remember that I decided to really throw him for a loop, and tried to draw “kidney dialysis” on his back, which was a picture of a person lying on a hospital bed with big machines next to him and tubes sticking out of his arm…and Jimmy guessed it correctly! I still laugh about this now, actually. ;)

I was first accused of being a “faggot” in the fifth grade, when I was good friends with another Black student (whose name was rather unique, so I won’t mention it here in case these things get back to him), and an older student took me aside to tell me that I shouldn’t play with him by myself on the playground like I did. I am still not sure if I was a “faggot” for being rather thin, sickly, and smart, and not liking to do what boys did (since I wasn’t one!), or if I was a “faggot” for playing with my Black friend when few other people would or did.

There was a trumpet player named Mike who was in my band class several times over the years in junior high (eighth and ninth grade), who I only usually saw in band class and was always friendly with, and who had the best sweaters and wore them very well, much to my admiration. In the ninth grade, I remember Mike left the office of my band teacher rather angrily one day, and pointed at him very forcefully and said he was a racist, and was then sent out of the room. My immediate sympathies were with Mike—I had my own reasons for not liking the band teacher—and I was also angry that someone in authority would do or say racist things to a student who had no recourse and could not in any way object or fight back; but, I never got to speak with Mike about it, because soon after that, he was no longer at our school. His pointing and his voice on that occasion strike me even now; he was not yelling or screaming, but he used his voice very effectively and powerfully, and I immediately envied and admired his ability to do so. This might have been one of the first times in my life that the reality of the powerful, magical use of gesture and voice ever struck me as I saw it employed before me. The next time I saw him was at a band competition that happened to be at our school later in the ninth grade, and I just happened to see him by himself in the gym where we would all be performing later. When we spotted each other, he yelled out my name, and I yelled out his, and we did this over and over again in turn until we got close enough to give each other hugs. We spoke for a few minutes, and he said he was at school in Coupeville now, and to my present knowledge and recollection, that was the last time I saw him or spoke with him, as we each had to go our separate ways and get ready to play our songs in the competition later in the day. We wished each other luck, and that was that.

I went to a high school with about 1,600 kids; there were just over 300 in my graduating class. That I was in any way more-than-passing friends or acquaintances with a total of four Black students during that time strikes me and makes me rather upset with myself; but that I was friends with any given the circumstances, and that there were only about ten to fifteen in my graduating class at all, still makes me think that even those few interactions I did have were important and significant for me, and I have never forgotten them. I have more stories about the rest of high school, and college, and graduate school, but I think you get the picture; in college, my diversity and social justice activism amped up considerably.

So…all of these memories come flooding back to me when I think of the number “227,” starting with the theme song of it, sung by Marla Gibbs herself:

There’s no place like home
With your family around you you’re never alone
When ya know that your loved
You don’t need to roam
Cause there’s no place like home

Time’s are changing everyday
We won’t get by with those same old ways
(No-oooo)
Pulling together, we’ll make it right
With help from our friends, I know we’ll get by

Cause there’s no place like home
With your family around you you’re never alone
When you know that your loved
You don’t need to roam
Cause there ain’t no place like
(Better believe it)
There ain’t no place like
(Better believe it)
Cause there ain’t no place like
There’s no place like home
“I mean no place child”

No matter how trite, silly, and inaccurate television sitcom (and ALL other media, especially in the older days of 20+ years ago) portrayals of People of Color, and Black people in particular might happen to be, at the same time, we shouldn’t underestimate the positive messages these can also potentially send, especially to kids in rural communities that are all-white or are almost-all-white, as mine was. It is a reason to be that much more vigilant about what gets put on television, but likewise in absence of anything else, it’s at least something.

*****

Divine Images and People of Color

While this particular matter links back to the earlier discussion of Antinous as a Person of Color, likewise I wanted to write about this soon anyway (even though it’s kind of spoiling a surprise that I was going to save for a few more days!), and hearing about this specific issue in the “Honoring or Appropriation” panel from one of the audience members made it that much more important to mention now, I thought.

The day before PantheaCon, due to some interesting coincidences, I found out someone I’ve known casually and in passing for several months now is an artist, and I suggested that if this individual is interested in commissions, I might have some projects that need art. They agreed, and I’ll say more about them when the time comes, but I was especially afraid that in the process, I might encounter yet another example of the “curse of the Tetrad++ Group.” You probably don’t know what that is, but it’s my little joke term for what has happened several times over the last two years, i.e. that I’ve asked someone to do art for the further Tetrad++ books (which are only being stalled by the lack of art for them!), they’ve agreed to do so, and have often done a few drafts, but then they disappear entirely and I never hear from them again. This has happened twice; a third person I still see and hear from, but she is not going to be doing the art. So now, on this fourth try, I was hopeful but knew what very well might happen if past patterns are at all anything to go by. The day after I returned, I was to meet the latest artist with some drafts, but they were not available that day. Oh no! The curse, the curse! However, as of this last week, I did meet them, and saw the not-quite-drafts (some had been prepared, but a few rougher ones were brought to me because the others were forgotten at home)…and those were amazing and achingly beautiful, and I can’t wait to see them in both color and black-and-white for various things associated with the books in the future!

Interestingly, though, as we were talking about this later on, the issue of race came up. Both I and the artist are white, but both of us are sensitive to the matter of race. Given that the initial members of the Tetrad++ Group have so many and such diversity of ancestors, it made sense to the artist that they might appear racially-diverse as well.

I think this is a very good idea.

Several members of the Tetrad++ Group, due to various things, tend to appear in my own perceptions as having physical characteristics of certain ethnicities anyway. However, I’m somewhat wary of saying that “So-and-so looks Latino” or “Such-and-such looks Asian” or “This member of the Tetrad++ is African.” It’s not that they aren’t or can’t be, it’s that I don’t want that to then limit what each individual member then looks like for everyone forever, because they can appear as any imaginable race or ethnicity or physical type possible.

So, how to convey all of this?

I suggested to the artist that several images of each member of the Tetrad++ Group be produced, and that there will be a “general” one which isn’t that concerned with portraying them as a specific race; these will have a more fantastic and Anime-like quality to them, and their skin colors will be unusual–actual pink, blue, and so forth–and then there will be an additional series that portrays each of them with specific characteristics and attributes of various identifiable (though generalized) ethnicities we now recognize.

The audience member at the “Honoring or Appropriation” panel had an excellent point about not seeing divine images that resembled her or other People of Color all too often in pagan contexts. The Tetrad++ Group do not want to be a part of that continued whitewashing, and thus the art produced for them will be along these lines that are more inclusive and purposefully diversifying. Not only in honor of Leonard Nimoy (who was largely responsible for creating this particular aspect of Vulcan culture) do I think it is appropriate to say, as the Vulcans do, “Infinite Diversity, Infinite Combinations.”

*****

Appropriating Amesemi

At PantheaCon, one of the most important events I took part in this year was the Roving Hero/ine Cultus Ritual I organized on Friday night amongst several of the hospitality suites, including the Pagans of Color suite. Memnon was honored within the portion of the ritual that took place in that suite, and likewise the Nubian goddess Amesemi. I found this especially moving, especially given her status as a goddess of protection, and the fact that so many young Black people in the U.S. today have been the victims of militarized police violence and the prison-industrial complex, amongst many other injustices due to racism.

This stele, showing Amesemi and Queen Amanishaketo, is one of the only images of Amesemi that is currently known. Though her husband Apedemak was adopted into the Egyptian pantheon, she was not. There are likely all sorts of reasons for this–she was a lunar goddess, whereas the Egyptian deities of the moon were male; there was also a protective goddess associated with vultures, Nekhbet, which they already had–but it seems like a major oversight to me. I don’t say this because I think the ancient Egyptians should be nor need to be “corrected” for such practices, but instead because with polytheism comes an entire series of relationships, and the relationships that deities have in one pantheon that do not then transfer over when they are adopted into a different pantheon don’t necessarily go away simply because of that transfer of geographic or cultural citizenship.

One of the things that has also emerged in my practice with her over the last year is that, as a protective goddess, if non-Black and non-African (or at least not-directly-or-recently-African, since Homo sapiens is ultimately an African species) people want to educate themselves about racism, and (wisely!) don’t want to bother People of Color to educate them–which is something that everyone should avoid and instead should educate themselves!–then various deities and ancestors can help with that, and Amesemi is one that has emerged in my own practice as being capable of assisting with that. However, as I spoke on this with Heathen Chinese recently as well, the importance of relationships is something that cannot be neglected in this understanding, either. Do you have a relationship with Amesemi? If so, then perhaps you can ask for this assistance in your life. If you don’t, though, then don’t just think you can pray to her and ask her for these things on your initial meeting, so to speak (I’m sure we’ve all had experiences of people asking, or even demanding, things of us on our first meetings with them that we’ve felt are inappropriate…the same things hold true for deities!), or that because she is a goddess who has been rather neglected for the past number of millennia, that she’ll be happy to help just because she wants attention. These things take time to develop, so be aware of that.

As Tata Nkisi Sima Ngango said in the “Honoring or Appropriaton” panel, however, it is always important, if a deity or other divine being shows up for someone that is from another culture, to get information and if necessary permission from people of the culture concerned before pursuing the relationship or claiming anything about it. I think this is really good and important advice to follow assiduously.

Unfortunately, not all deities have been honored continuously, and not all modern cultures still have practices that trace back to ancient cultures where some of these divine beings are honored. The Sudan, where the various Nubian cultures once existed, is now a country that is 97% Islamic, and the remaining 3% is mostly different denominations of Christianity; it has been such since the 6th century, when the area was Christianized, and further then in the 7th when it was Islamized. Are there any indigenous people still there who might honor the older deities? I don’t know, and I don’t know how I would go about finding out either…but, I suspect not. Are there any such individuals now in the U.S. that can be interacted with, even in the largest cities and most diverse areas? It’s also not very likely.

While anything is possible (there may be a devotee of Amesemi still out there somewhere!), I find myself at this dead end as far as trying to engage the modern cultures from whose ancestors the worshippers of Amesemi come. I’m white and I know it, and this makes me very uncomfortable, which is one of the reasons that I have not spoken at particularly great length about Amesemi before. I have tried on a few occasions to discuss these things with African or African-American practitioners, but they have not had much to say in response; most Black Americans are from West African cultures ancestrally, where Amesemi would not have been heard of either. And if I were to travel to Sudan and ask about all of this, given that Sharia law is the law of the land there, things would not go well for me.

So, my biggest and most uncomfortable question is: what the hell am I supposed to do with Amesemi?

Different modern polytheists have often suggested that it’s possible not only to say “no” to a deity that shows up, but also to just say “not now.” Doing so in this case, though, would seem an awful lot like racism to me. I am not going to tell a goddess that I won’t look into her and do what I am able for her simply because she’s not Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic, or from any other culture that I more regularly deal with.

Likewise, I know that she isn’t at all *mine* to “give” to other people, and if she hasn’t appeared to them before, then she can’t be “forced” on anyone (nor should one ever attempt to!).

And further, it is a HUGE mistake for me to think that just because someone might be of more directly African ancestry than I am, that they might have all of the answers for me. “Africa” is a huge continent with more countries than any other on the earth at the moment, and even within each country, there is a diversity of tribes, languages, and cultures: any African culture is not a substitute for nor equivalent to any other, and I realize that deeply. I also don’t want to succumb to the temptations of the stereotype of the “magical Negro,” assuming that any and every Black person I might meet will automatically know more about these things and have better insights on them than I will, even though that is a “positive” stereotype to some extent or other, while it is simultaneously exorcizing and can easily shade into far less savory attitudes…

But, who but magically-engaged Black people might otherwise have some insights on these matters, and be more appropriate to speak with on them? I don’t know…

As you can see by this, I have a conundrum: is this a gross and horrific act of appropriation on my part, which should be stopped? (And if it is, I would be especially interested in hearing so from any People of Color who might read this post.) I know that Amesemi will not be the “late$t $hiny!” deity in my practices that I’ll eventually tire of and forget–Memnon will not allow that to happen, for starters!–and yet, I am painfully aware that this is an odd situation and one that I don’t quite know how to pursue. I also know that Sudan is an area now plagued by attempts at ethnic cleansing, slavery, and other human rights abuses (you know Darfur, right? Guess where that is?), and these cannot be forgotten either in my modern cultus to a deity from that region. It is supremely awkward to be even talking about it at all presently. But, the difficult conversations are often the most important ones to have.

I really would like to speak more about this with some people that I know and trust, but I would especially be interested in hearing ideas and feedback from any Pagans of Color, and especially those from the Black/African-American communities, on what might be a way forward that is responsible and respectful on these issues. I will be contacting some of these directly soon, but I am also very interested in hearing from all that I may not yet know via this post in the comments.

*****

And finally, if you have not seen this short documentary film before, GO WATCH IT RIGHT NOW! It is wonderful, and I show it in my history classes because it is so important and touching.

The Language You Cry In

*****

So, LOTS to think about here. I look forward to an engaged and interesting conversation in the comments, as well as via e-mail for those of you who have my contact details already.

Don’t ever forget that Black History is for more times of the year than just February, and that Black Lives Matter.

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 27, 2015

Feralia 2015

[February 21st]

plastered-skull

Ariel ben Yitzach, known to his Greek and Roman friends as Abaris–named after the Hyperborean sage of ancient fame–was also not known to be Jewish by any of them. When some of them asked about his odd provincial accent, he’d always say he was Syrian, and he occasionally felt like a hypocrite for saying so; now, mostly, he felt scared. Five years ago, the province of Judea had been destroyed by the Bar Kochba uprising, and Hadrian’s suppression of the rebellion had been severe, and now people did not even recognize there was such a thing as “Judea.” It was now called Syria Palaestina, and while thus his lie for more than a decade had been made true, in a sense, calling himself Syrian almost felt to him even more guilt-inducing, as if he had wished so hard for his Judean roots to be forgotten that it had come to be. Perhaps, like his pseudonymous namesake, Abaris was a bit of a magician himself.

Abaris was crossing the Campus Martius, and passed by the Iseum Campense, a location he visited on many occasions. He knew his mother and father and most of his siblings would have objected if they knew he not only entered the precincts of that temple, but had in fact made many offerings inside of it for all sorts of reasons. Of all the cults practiced in Rome, that of Isis and Serapis felt the most appropriate to him, as fellow outsiders who had been taken in from the exotic east and made almost more Roman than the Romans themselves in some cases. He noticed the exterior altar and small bust of Antinous alongside the Iseum, and thought that a similar situation applied to him. Not unlike Antinous, Abaris came willingly to Rome, and became as Roman as he could be; he could do nothing about his appearance or his accent (though he worked nightly on trying to lose the latter as much as possible), and luckily, he was not given too much difficulty over his appearance by most people.

As he came closer to his own neighborhood, he saw the many small shrines outside of people’s homes with burnt offerings on them. It was Feralia for the Romans, the last day of Parentalia when one’s won dead ancestors were honored privately, but it was a public festival for doing so, and some did it as ostentatiously as they possibly could. He also knew that for his Judean ancestors and family, it was the Sabbath. He wasn’t sure if any of them were still alive after the troubles in the former province, and he felt immediately guilty that he was somehow perversely pleased that likewise Hadrian had been dead for over nine months as well. The new emperor, called “Pius” by so many, would no doubt be honoring his own ancestors as well as his adopted father, and the mausoleum that Hadrian had been building for himself and his own family had been recently completed. No doubt, fires from burnt offerings rather than cremations would soon be rising from it as well. He could almost see the immensity of the monument in the distance, though he could not tell if the columns of smoke were coming from it or from places nearby also engaging in the offerings.

When he reached his own home, he thought for a few moments. Should he do as everyone else was doing, and burn an offering outside of his home, saying a few loud prayers Dis Manibus? If he did, everyone around would surely know that he was as good a citizen as any other, if they weren’t too busy making sure everyone else knew the same thing about themselves. He was hesitant…

Inside the insula where he was living, in his own room, he took something out of a strongbox which he had carried with him from Judea all of those years ago, which he rarely saw or thought about. His family called it a teraphim, and some of the rabbis would have said it should have been burned or buried or otherwise destroyed, while others would have had advice on how to maintain it properly or to renew it if the wood rotted away entirely and it needed replacing.

The Romans made small fires on their altars for offerings of all sorts. This was the object upon which his own offerings to his ancestors should have been made, and fire would have destroyed it. How strange that such similar actions, Abaris thought, in honoring one’s dead would lead to such drastically opposed results–sacrifice and sacrilege are often only separated by the smallest of margins, he mused. The advice of his rabbi, interpreting the passage from the Devarim about the fence built around the roof, came back to him at this point.

If a burned offering would run the risk of destroying the teraphim, then an offering of fine wine as a libation would be appropriate instead. He thought of all the times in his childhood and early maturity when his family celebrated the Pesach and how enjoyable the wine was for everyone to drink and share together. Pesach was a few weeks off yet, but tonight, he would have his own version of it in the presence of his own ancestors, and the so-called “idol” that he knew truly represented them, even though many amongst his native people would have denied having such practices.

Mazel tov–indeed, the constellations which lead him to this point, though strange, were indeed good, he thought. None of it could have happened without his ancestors, and he remembered and honored them on that night, in his own strange way, in a foreign land amongst people who were doing the same thing by their own people’s customs.

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 27, 2015

To Boldly Go…

I won’t have been the first, nor far from the last, to post the following today.

His narration at the end really got me this time…

Thank you, Mr. Nimoy, for a thousand inspiring hours of watching and reading, and not just of Star Trek.

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 26, 2015

So, Apparently…

…I was in high school with King Arthur.

Perhaps if you are nice, and also beg nicely implore politely and beseech kindly, I shall unpack, contextualize, and even feckin’ explain, dammit! that statement in the near future…

And possibly also why I’m posting these ancient photos of myself as well:

philjesus

Yes, folks: earlier in my life I was Jesus. (Yeah, I know–it surprised me, too.) Didn’t pay well, and the health plan sucked, so I became an academic instead. If anything, the pay and health plan of that suck even harder, and not in a fun or enjoyable way.

philgrant

And can you believe, even looking like that at one stage, I still got mistaken for a woman occasionally? I’ve been doing the metagender thing very wrong, apparently. Too bad I hate having facial hair…though I very much miss and lament not having other sorts now.

And did I mention lately how much I loved living in Ireland (sometimes), where things like this happened all the time, if you were lucky and smart enough to look for them?

That’s all for tonight. I shall be playing catsup tomorrow and Saturday, kids. Enjoy until then!

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | February 25, 2015

Adoption of Antoninus Pius 2015

[While I still have several other holy days to catch up on, and post-PantheaCon reflections, and poems I owe people, and new devotional texts to share, and all sorts of other stuff I’d like to do, this particular fic-let needed to get priority today, for whatever reason…So, here it is, and with any luck, before the end of the month, the rest of the ones for February will follow, possibly including some of the PantheaCon ones, too. Off we go!]

antoninuspius

Since the last festival of Ianus, when Aelius Caesar had died, he had feared a moment like this might come.

Sometimes, he would chide himself that such fears were vanity itself–why would the Emperor ever think that of all people, he should become his successor and adopted son? What pride and hubris to even spend a moment entertaining such a notion.

But as the messenger stood before him, and the secret fears of his heart were personified in him, and the fulfillment of his most vain fantasies and imaginings likewise stood arm-in-arm with those fears, he almost had no words, and no expression suitable for the occasion.

Not two months from the day he first feared it, here it was coming to pass.

He thought of that young hot-headed Sophist from Athens, and how he absolutely abhorred the notion of apatheia…he knew it would land Herodes Attikos in more trouble than it would be worth to espouse otherwise, but he also knew that his own adherence to the philosophy of the Stoics demanded he respond in a measured and appropriate manner to this news.

“It is an honor, and one I will endeavor to be worthy of accepting,” Antoninus said before Faustina and the young Aurelius, as well as the even-younger Lucius Verus, son of the late Aelius Caesar. The condition of his principate was to adopt these youths–nearly infants, in fact–as his own sons and successors, since he was not expected to live and be in the Tribunician Power for as long as Hadrian was…a fair assumption, Antoninus allowed and acknowledged.

But then a thought, unexpected and disturbing, but not remotely malicious or with ill-will, arose in him: Antoninus wished in that moment that Hadrian would be more like his predecessor Trajan, not as the “Greatest Emperor” and the conqueror of the world handing him the reigns of the largest territorial extent the world had ever seen, but in his own succession and passing. Hadrian had not outlived his first adopted son, and it was not known whether he would die on the morrow, or in a month, or in a year, or even many years. When Trajan’s succession had passed to Hadrian–however it had come about and by whomever it had happened–Trajan was gathered to his ancestors barely a day later. Antoninus knew he would not be so lucky, but how unlucky he was not sure. He hated himself for thinking so selfishly in that moment…

And yet, Hadrian’s last months had been turbulent, and the Senate was no longer in favor of him or his policies. At a moment’s notice, when he died, they could have challenged everything he had enacted in his declining years, including his nomination of his successor. He was humble enough to realize that he was not the first likely candidate on a list of likely successors, nor was he a part of Hadrian’s innermost circles either, but he also trusted there was a wisdom in his decision.

Vanity again arose quickly: only one relief sculpture had yet shown his face to anyone but those who knew him personally, on that hunting monument that so prominently celebrated the life and alluded to the death of Antinous. Hunting bears, boars, or even lions was simple compared to the feats now expected of him, and the statues commemorating what he would do and who he would become would be even more prominent. He had to be prepared.

“Husband, how would you like to mark this occasion?”

Antoninus turned to his dear wife Faustina. A sudden flash of terror struck him–no Emperor before had to divinize as many relatives (adoptive, married, or familial) as Hadrian had–and suddenly he feared that his own principate, no matter how long it lasted, might not see itself through with his dear Faustina still by his side at his own death. How fortunate for Trajan that his wife did not die before him, and could dutifully carry out her obligations to her husband in his death and divinization. He prayed to the gods silently that he would be as fortunate.

He took a breath. Duty first, piety always.

“Modestly. It is just another day for someone who values the will of the Senate and the People, and the wishes of the Immortal Gods. The pomp and spectacle of an Emperor does not befit me when the one invested with the Numen Augusti still breathes, however tentatively. What was the dish to be served this evening before we knew of this news?”

“Stuffed lamprey, Dominus,” one of his slaves reported.

“Then stuffed lamprey it is. See to it that the slaves have more bread and wine to enjoy this evening. We shall be moderate in our own appetites on this night and every night that the gods favor us.”

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