Posted by: aediculaantinoi | July 27, 2016

The Fourth Perfection

I’m nearly done reading the entirety of Walking the Worlds 2.2, which I posted about almost two weeks ago, and there are some pieces in it (like Edward Butler’s!) that I enjoyed a great deal; others simply weren’t suited to my tastes for one reason or another. But, I do think it’s a good practice in general to read things that one doesn’t expect to necessarily like or “need to read” (for research purposes, etc.), even if one still doesn’t feel it useful to have done so afterwards or still doesn’t “like” the experience of having done so, in order to simply be better informed about the world, and to not get so stuck in one’s own preferred viewpoints that one does not ever entertain the possibility of others.

In any case, one piece that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did was that of Julie McCord, who was writing on Swinburne, contra Hume, regarding polytheism. As I am not an avid reader of philosophy from more recent centuries (and only occasionally read texts that are more strictly philosophical from the ancient world), I didn’t think this one would hold much interest for me, but in fact I enjoyed it, found it easy to read (which is not to say that what was being discussed isn’t highly intellectual or worthwhile!), and came away with some ideas of my own. It is one such idea that I’d like to entertain here.

On pp. 137-138 of her article, McCord discusses the “three perfections” of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence–characteristics we often associate with monotheistic theological conceptions–as having some degree of relevance in a polytheist context. McCord suggested applying these characteristics, respectively, to the three generations of Deities in Greek mythology–thus with the Protogenoi (Chaos, Gaia, Ouranos, Erebus, Nyx, Phanes, Tartaros, etc.) exhibiting various degrees of omnipotence, the Titans (Kronos, Rhea, Hekate, Prometheus, etc.) exhibiting various degrees of omniscience, and the Olympians (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, etc.) exhibiting varying degrees of omnibenevolence. Now, many might scoff at this formulation for various reasons, chief amongst them being that there are noteworthy exceptions to each of these–Kronos doesn’t seem to be particular omniscient if He can’t tell the difference between a rock and a newborn, for example (which is discussed in the article itself). The “omnipotence” of the Protogenoi is largely due to their cosmically creative natures, and thus they are often less personalized and more aloof from human affairs, perhaps even being entirely inaccessible or even impersonal as a result of their all-powerful nature. We also have to understand that “omnibenevolence” doesn’t necessarily mean entirely morally good, perfect and pure, but instead an inclination toward lawfulness and often being recognized as a civilizing force amongst humanity–both Zeus and Demeter were attributed lawgiving roles, and Hera presides over marriage, which is an entirely human (in the sense of “not found otherwise in nature,” even though some animals are monogamous!) institution and concern, etc.

While I think this is a very interesting model, I am interested if the generation of Deities following the Olympians might depart from that formulation in further manners, even though they are often considered to be “also Olympians,” e.g. the more famous divine children of Zeus, whether from Goddesses (Persephone), Titanesses (Apollon and Artemis), nymphs (Hermes), or mortals (non-Orphic Dionysos). Of course, given my own devotional commitments, I also have to ask (as I almost always do when people make generalizations about Deities): what about the younger Deities than these second-generation Olympians, including Antinous?

While the Deities I listed in the latter paragraph, as well as others, are all quite powerful (especially in comparison to mortals), I don’t think anyone would suggest that any of them are individually or collectively all-powerful outside of certain limited spheres. Many of these Deities are also pretty damn smart and know a lot, particularly if they have an oracular function–indeed, some have even said that Apollon is the only Deity besides Zeus who is omniscient in the latter-day pantheon–but again, their great knowledge may seem infinite in comparison to human knowledge but may not itself be entirely unlimited. And, at least two of these Deities mentioned previously–Hermes and Dionysos–are especially favorable toward humans, and their arts have created important aspects of culture, even if they are not “laws” specifically and don’t necessarily imply any kind of moral perfection that some might imagine in omnibenevolence (let’s be honest: language use, thievery, and drunkenness are not exactly the hotbeds of creating morally upstanding citizens!).

So, I wonder if a further category, a “fourth perfection,” could be posited for these Deities of the more recent generation. Could the “fourth perfection” be omnipresence, and could it be something that is true of that latter generation of Deities, if not in historically-attested sources then in the lives of modern devotees and their own experiences of Them? By “omnipresence,” I don’t mean it in the transcendentally superlative sense of monotheism, and the same caveats apply to this one as to the others, as mentioned above, including some Deities being exceptions to the general trend. However, I wonder if it might not still apply fairly well to many of the Deities I mentioned. It might even describe the characteristics attributed to Dionysos and Hermes via omnibenevolence more accurately than omnibenevolence, i.e. their favorability toward mortals is actually a presence and presentness to their concerns that is superlative. I would add that the main caveat here is that most Deities–apart from certain ongoing devotional relationships–are not present with and listening to/watching Their devotees at all times, and still have to be called in during prayer and rituals and so forth (not in the sense of “summoned” or even “invoked,” except in the most literal sense of “called in” in the latter case), and must be addressed as the recipients of a given offering, prayer, and so forth (and, the corollary to that being that prayers and such without those individual Deity-specific invocations are not effective, are probably not heard, and may not be as effective…which is why generalized “pray however you want” invocations at interfaith events, political gatherings, and so forth are entirely ineffectual), but this need to be called doesn’t then mean that They aren’t quick-to-respond, etc. (Even with some validity accorded to the “omni-” characteristics, they are still somewhat limited in polytheism…and that is no diminishment, I think!)

I would posit that because this latter generation of Deities–whether due to Their often partially mortal ancestry (whether from nymphs or humans), Their affiliations with spheres of influence that are mostly human in emphasis, or something else entirely–are the most accessible of the others, even though They may perhaps be inferior in power, knowledge, or moral perfection and/or lawgiving in comparison to the more elder members of Their pantheon. We might pray to some of Them for something, but They may not be able to grant that prayer because They’re not omnipotent; we might ask one of Them something, and They may not be able to answer it because They are not omniscient; and, They may ask us to do something, or do something Themselves, which seems a bit unfair or in some way “against the rules” or ideas of morality (at very least in a conventional sense–and we all know how problematic conventional morality is!), and thus They may not be omnibenevolent. However, for the same reason that friends and family–who are not omnipotent and can’t fix all our problems, aren’t omniscient and don’t know all the answers, and can’t always conform to the rules or be perfect moral exemplars and thus aren’t omnibenevolent–are important because they are there for us (no matter how problematic and quite thoroughly modern that phrase might be, and whatever it might mean for some people), so too does this fourth perfection of omnipresence actually play an essential role in devotion to these Deities, particularly for modern people.

From about 2003, one of the most important phrases in Antinoan devotional practice for me has been “Vel in limine mundi, Ecce, Ego semper sum coram te” (Even at the edge of the world, behold! I am in your presence!). In the hymn “Ave Ave Antinoe,” it is the last two verses of the hymn, which I often explain as being either the human devotee expressing a prayer to Antinous and being answered in kind by Him, or Antinous stating a kind of fact about devotion to Him and then the devotee responding through the statement to indicate the desire to cultivate knowledge of that constant presence. Whichever one it might be, it is something that the Deities of that generation (though not exclusively that generation) seem to be able to do pretty damn well, even if They may not have all the answers, can’t fix all our problems, and aren’t infallible moral guides or exemplars along the way.

I’d be interested in your own thoughts on this matter, certainly! 😉

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | July 26, 2016

A Crazy Idea…

There are a good many holy days in August that I might end up making posts about, or doing devotional writing of some sort for that I’ll post here.

I’ve also got several thought-pieces in the works–none of them (I don’t think, and I definitely hope!) as long as the recent ones I’ve done in the last week or so!–which I hope to knock out by the end of August as well.

And, I’ll be taking a trip later in the month, which will eat up a few days as well…in fact, I’ll be awake for most of the Festival of the Lion Hunt and the Red Lotus on the 22nd/23rd, due to travel…

So, that means that I’ll have plenty to do, in addition to the writings I’m doing privately to prepare for publication (both academic and non-academic pieces of various kinds, and so much else!), ongoing teaching for Academia Antinoi, and also trying to make some money where and when possible, plus the usual stuff, too…

What, thus, am I doing thinking that I should *ADD* to this workload?

(And remember, “add” doesn’t just mean “increase the sum,” it can also mean “a.d.d.,” which is probably something I’ve been accused of for a very long time!)

Well, I had the notion yesterday when I read something originally, but I’ve thought about it again after taking a walk and taking care of a few errands, and I think I’m going to have to do it…or at least try. But, I’ll need your input in order to do so.

Let me lay it out for you here, folks.

Yesterday, Galina Krasskova suggested a series of devotional posts for the month of August. I think this is a good idea…but, I’m a polytheist, and not unlike Liberace, I’m a living example of too much of a good thing! 😉

So, here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to do a post about a Deity that answers all of those questions/addresses all of those topics in no more than six sentences each–all 31 of them–but I’m going to do it for more than one Deity…and can/will do it for up to 31 Deities, one a day for each day in August!

Now, obviously, Antinous will be #1, but who might the other 30 be?

Well, that, dear folks, is where YOU come in!

I have a lot of Deities that are honored in my Shrine–I’d ballpark it at around 200 at this point, but possibly less (though not a lot less!), and I have around 20-30 that I interact with pretty regularly…I also have Deities who are not yet enshrined therein, but I hope to do something or have something for them eventually. (And, in “Deities” I’m also including Divae/i, Hero/ines, and Land Spirits…I’m not including Ancestors or Sancta/e/i, because that would multiply things considerably, and not really be as appropriate to the present set of parameters.)

Thus, I want to invite you all to do the following:

1) Suggest a Deity, Hero/ine, Diva/us, or Land Spirit.
2) If said divine being is enshrined in my Shrine, or is a major part of my practice but isn’t enshrined therein (and to make a guess on that if you don’t know me or my practices very well, I’d suggest looking at either my Calendar or the most frequently used tags on the sidebar to the right), I’ll do the 31 questions in no more than six sentences for them on a particular day in August.
3) Once I have 30 more divine beings, that’ll be it, and I’ll do them in an order I decide by July 31st.
4) Make your suggestions here in the comments, and I’ll confirm them (or not!) soon after.
5) And, EACH PERSON CAN ONLY SUGGEST ONE DIVINE BEING EACH! (If it is a collective, like the Tetrad++, that might be different!) I’d recommend that if you are in doubt, choose one that you also give cultus to…and keep in mind that some people are well-known for their devotion to particular Deities, so if it is likely that they read this blog, you might not want to name a Deity dear to them…use your discretion, but ultimately, it will be first-posted, first-confirmed.

So, that’s how I’ll run it!

Like I said, pretty crazy, huh? 😉

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | July 25, 2016

Stars Rise

thedogdays

Stars Rise

Stars rise, and appear to fall, every day and night,
and humans can stop this no more
than they might wish to stop the sun’s journey;
and yet, some think they are able to stop it–
their hubris knows no limits, not even the heavens.

Roma, Arco di Costantino Rome, Arch of Constantine

A man of no accomplishments easily takes for himself
the fine things of others, as he did,
made a triumph of the monuments of Hadrian
and his many successful hunts, and the Gods
to whom the Divus sacrificed with his own God.

Herakles would not cede his lion-skin to him,
nor Apollon give victory against His Erymanthian Boar;
Artemis would not make him one of Her bears,
Pan would not bring his hounds to a successful hunt
nor Silvanus ensure his horses were sure-footed on the verges.

AdonisCentocelle

Some stars rise and flicker for only a moment before falling,
like the shoots of Adonis’ garden in high summer–
the adoration of all women and men for their time in bloom
and the desolation of all men and women when they wither–
but some will not pass away so easily, sadly.

hermanubis humanoid coin

They are deluded who think the currency of the ages
is the human face they set upon the world;
the Gods come in human forms, it is true,
but also in others–rough beasts, even hound-headed,
to herald the rising of Sirius in the sky with the sun.

The tides rise and fall, and rivers surge
with the climbing of the Dog Star into the heavens
in the retinue of the sun during summer;
Hermanubis, divine son of Serapis and Isis,
comes in forms both beautiful and bestial.

AristaioswithBees

And though the fall of he who forbade
all sacrifices–even the ones on these days
to avert the heat and the anger of Zeus and Dionysos–
has not been complete yet, let once again the offerings
to Aristaios and the other Gods and heroes reconvene.

He taught mortals how to keep bees,
and even now the bees are not being kept well;
if they should fall, it is not only one man
and his legacy of impiety and oppression,
but all humans who will lose wing and die.

A man of such hubris could not keep down
the stars, nor stop them from rising,
nor the Gods from rising again–
not even the newest among them, Antinous,
whose legacy he preserved even as he tried to drown it.

Now, humans must return to the days
when piety meant anathema to those who followed,
for the days of the year when the sun is relentless
because a fierce hunting hound is at Helios’ heels,
Orion’s fearless and loyal hound in pursuit.

For an aversion of wrath, to the many Deities and Heroes,
I offer words and water and the finest foods
that the errors of Constantine might not triumph
and we might walk through a new arch in time
where the many Gods are remembered, ageless as stone.

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | July 23, 2016

To Poseidon

To Poseidon

Though many call you the son of Kronos and Rhea,
the grandson of Ouranos and Gaia,
today I call upon you, Poseidon,
as the nephew of Okeanos, Tethys, and Pontos.

The heat of the atmosphere is what is feared,
but it is not that which will destroy
the cities of humans on the face of Gaia:
it is the fire in the water, the surging sea.

Little is known the revolt you tried
with Athena and Hera against Zeus–
how would these, and you the elder brother
overthrow the king of the cosmos?

In Arcadia, you lied in rapture
with Demeter, begetting Despoina
and Areion–best of horses–
with the foster-mother of Demophoön.

She brought fire into the battle,
the heir of the Earth–Rhea’s daughter,
the granddaughter of Gaia–
and you alone are the Earth-Shaker.

Just as She, the Mother of Eleusis gathers
Her own troops to march, by drownings
so too you have placed at your army’s head
Palaimon, son of Leukothea, His horse a dolphin.

A thousand waves upon the sea
can crush even the mightiest of isles
into silt and sand covering the roof
of Hades’ realm, the eldest of brothers.

So hail to you, Poseidon,
He who makes the ways between
the heavens and the earth and below it
clear for Gods and mortals to tread.

And hail again, nephew of Okeanos
and Tethys and Pontos, ancient titans–
as Their scion, now you rule the world
and have it in your balance more than ever.

The following post has been in development since about February…but, a few recent conversations prioritized it to today, and I suspect you’ll be able to guess where that’s the case. Strap in, this is going to be a long (and possibly bumpy) ride…!?!

It’s the birthdate of Alexander the Great on this day, as we recognize it, and so perhaps part of the discussion which follows here below reflects that (coincidentally!). We think of Alexander the Great primarily as an historical, military, and political figure (which is not unlike how many scholars approach Antinous, incidentally–excepting the “military” distinction, and reducing the “political” to his affiliation with Hadrian!), but he also ushered in one of the most fertile periods of intellectual, philosophical, and scientific innovation and development, along with an unprecedented level of cultural and–yes, indeed–RELIGIOUS interaction and transformation the world (yes, the world as-a-whole at the time) had yet seen. That period continued through and beyond the time of Hadrian, and it would be incorrect to suggest otherwise than that Antinous’ deification and then successful spread of His cultus would likely not have taken place at all if Alexander the Great had not laid the groundwork for it in certain important ways.

But, notice something: in describing Alexander the Great above, I did not just say “Alexander the Great ushered in a period of religious development.” It might have been fine for me to say that, because it’s true, and religious matters are the primary concern of this blog. However, philosophy, science (which would have been considered a branch of philosophy at the time), culture, and religion are not all the same thing; that was as much true then as it is now, even though all of these things are connected with one another and influence one another.

(And, while these things were more and more interconnected and even inextricable in the past, something that polytheists, pagans, certain monotheists, and most secularists and atheists agree on now is that this is no longer the case, for the better…but, it also allows people to attempt to excuse the violent actions of Islamic terrorist groups as “just politics,” or required female genital mutilation in some Islamic countries as “just culture,” and both of these things having nothing to do with the religion of Islam, when in fact those things are deeply connected…but, let’s not get off track here! The brief for the present blog post is monstrous enough as it is–and I mean “in size,” not in character, despite what some people might think on the latter as well…!?!)

There is a pernicious set of memes going about, both within the wider modern 21st century cultures we inhabit (which are largely secularist), the dominant monotheistic religious paradigms we interact with, and the extended religious communities to which many of us are connected and with which we interact and affiliate (e.g. paganism and some sectors of polytheism)–and here I mean “we” to encompass the majority of readers and subscribers to this blog, most of whom have done so because they are polytheists of some stripe or other, and that group is primarily the intended audience of what I write (though others are certainly welcome to read, comment, and so forth!). These memes are essentially mistaking the separate fields of science, ethics (a branch of philosophy), and politics for religion, when in fact none of these are synonymous, and while any or all of them can have connections to religion–and to each other–and I would never deny that they DO have these connections, mistaking one for another is as dangerous and counterproductive as mistaking a sporting event for a political rally, a scientific conference, a school of proper behavior, or religious festival (even though in the ancient world, some athletic competitions–i.e. “sporting events”–were done for religious reasons and had religious motivations; but one can’t assert the same of a Mets game these days…no offense to the Mets or to any other athlete or sports team or organizing sporting activity generally speaking!).

It might be best for me to leave it at that…but, when have you who are regular readers of this blog ever known me to do something like that? So…

Let’s take these three topics in turn and look at what they do, what their purposes are, and how these are different from religion and the central concerns of religion, even though they can (and do!) influence each other (and have done so for a long time as well!).

Science

Something which is far too commonly thought is, essentially, that “religion is simply outdated science.” Anthropologists like Sir James George Frazer asserted ideas of this nature–namely, that the “evolution” of human thought about the world goes as follows: MAGIC –> RELIGION –> SCIENCE, with the “primitive,” “barbaric,” “unsophisticated,” “backward,” “uninformed,” “ignorant,” “superstitious,” and “foolish” (and any number of other unsavory classifications) being the end and middle of the spectrum there, with SCIENCE as the pinnacle of human achievement. Substitute “animism” for “magic,” and “polytheism” for “religion,” and “monotheism” for “science,” and you’ve got the view of this evolutionary development that still prevails in many sectors of academia, including religious studies. This has been the heart of the critique of religion by several people–among them professional scientists (coincidence? Nope!)–who are among the “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris of religion as a redundant, regressive, and now unnecessary aspect of human civilization which has been more-than-adequtely replaced by science, and leaves religion as the bastion of fear, prejudice, and ignorance (which it most certainly is in some sectors, but not all). One piece among many (though these are not known as widely as they should be) which critiques this viewpoint is that by James W. Jones, entitled “Religion is Not Primitive Science.”

I have said on previous occasions that I think religion and science need not be opposed, because they are entirely different pursuits with different goals, different methods, and differing bases for what constitutes legitimate or illegitimate phenomena. If anything, religion is a “science of meaning,” whereas “meaning” is entirely discounted from science, and in fact “meaning” is often denigrated as being childish and stupid by some of these same atheists. Of course, I disagree on the latter entirely, and I said so recently within a piece that discusses the difference between a religious epistemology based on propositional knowledge and those based on experiential/acquaintance or procedural forms of knowledge. Propositional knowledge is the basis of creedal religions, and science generally is based on propositional knowledge as well; it is no coincidence that atheism has developed from a creedal religious background, and still has some of the deep structures (like this particular epistemological focus) underlying it. Since most world religions have generally not had this epistemological focus, and instead are based on participatory practice (procedural knowledge) and relational encounters (experiential/acquaintance knowledge), there is then no need to make these different forms of knowing opposed to one another.

Knowing the benefits of exercise and the nutritional contents of the food I’m eating–both forms of propositional knowledge–do not make me toned and keep my weight under control; this is one example among many. However, I’ll return to one that I think I’ve mentioned before as well: Sogyal Rinpoche is the first person I read who made a distinction between an intellectual understanding of enlightenment in Buddhism and the experience of enlightenment itself–anyone can have the former (it is propositional knowledge!), but only some people are able to have the latter (because it is experiential/acquaintance knowledge). While many other people have made this distinction since, and long before, and perhaps have done so better or in more vivid manners, I always think back to him because that is the first time I heard this idea articulated properly. This is a message that needs to be heard and understood more widely in the context of our practical and experiential religions, because it seems a fundamental misapprehension of this fact is why too many people seem to think that reading blogs, writing comments on them, and even writing blog posts is “the same as” doing devotional work (i.e. practice) and having experiences of their Deities (i.e. experience). Sure, it can be, and it is also possible for Deities to use the means of electronic media to have encounters with humans, but They can also use apple trees, sunsets, the ocean, taking a shit, orgasms, and amputations without anesthetic to do that. But that’s another matter…

This is probably a point which needs no further explication, as the above encompasses the majority of what needs to be said on the matter. However, I’m seeing a disturbing trend in some circles that I think needs to be tackled head-on and examined further, and this seems a worthwhile context in which to do so. While anthropology and one of its daughter disciplines, religious studies, is becoming better at looking at religions phenomenologically and with fewer biases as to what is “valid” or “not valid” in constituting religion, religious practices, religious thought, and so forth, other academic disciplines are beginning to look at religion in ways that might not be as bias-free as their supposedly scientific approaches might suggest. Psychology has long delved into religion–Freud, Jung, and a whole host of others pioneered their efforts using religion as both subject and paradigm in some cases (the “Oedipus complex” is as much a myth as the story of Oedipus itself!)–but this has lead to the mistaking of psychology as the basis of religion, or the synonymizing of the two, which is a viewpoint especially prevalent amongst many modern pagans. Neurobiologists have also looked at religion, and some (like Sam Harris) write it off entirely as something only in one’s mind and a neural anomaly, while others have tried to look at it more fairly. One field that has attempted to do this both in a scientifically rigorous and responsible fashion, but also with sensitivity toward the importance of meaning within it, is parapsychology–and while that field does get a lot of flack from other “real” scientists as being a “pseudoscience,” it is often more rigorous in its application of the scientific method and good experimental models than other types of science and the “facts” they generate (and which have been taken at face value without question) often is.

And yet…

One para/psychologist (he is both!) I admire a great deal, and whose work has been influential on me, is Charles Tart, who has recently called for an “evidence-based” examination of different forms of religious practice, particularly those that are said to be able to bring about healing or other beneficial effects for people. This is an interesting idea, and from what I’ve heard and read of his work on this matter, I’m fairly confident that it will produce interesting results; but the biggest hurdle here is that it is looking for tangible physical effects in certain parts of religious practice that are not the primary purpose of religion itself, and those results might get used by some people to suggest that if one style of prayer or practice over another proves to be more effective in helping people recover from cancer, for example, then it might be assumed that the religion involved is “more true” than other religions. Attempts to link various forms of scientific (and/or archaeological and/or historical) proof to the “truth” of certain religions is something that we must always watch out for, I think, since this distracts from what the central purposes of most religions actually happen to be and what they are able to accomplish for many of the people who practice them: namely, a life that has the possibility of being placed in a context of wider meaning (and in the case of polytheism, through relationship to Deities and other divine beings in ways that are appropriately reciprocal to the circumstances concerned).

One way in which this scientific pursuit can go seriously off-track can be seen in the following interview, by Jeffrey Mishlove (about whom we’ll be hearing more on this blog in the coming months), with Dr. Jeffery Martin.

_____

If you don’t have the time to watch that whole interview, let me attempt to summarize it: what Dr. Martin is studying is how “non-symbolic consciousness” has positive benefits that can be scientifically demonstrated for those who have that experience. Ultimately, what is going on here is that the “non-symbolic consciousness” he’s referring to is a Zen-like “no mind” state, which is also favored in other forms of Buddhism, in Taoism, and in certain types of more apophatic prayer in a variety of monotheistic religions. Okay, fine…but, do you see what’s also going on here, and which is potentially a problem? This particular phenomenon is being taken as the “essence of religion” to one extent or another, and the “central core” that many religions (and thus by assumption “all the important ones”) share, and then the personal and psychological benefits of religion and religious practice are being gauged by one’s ability to successfully attain that state…and a vast number of other assumptions about religion and religious practice are also being generated by such an evaluation. What religions does this exclude? Is this the only religious practice and resulting state that the religions in question have, and would they argue that is the core of their practice, or its main and most important goals? (Zen would say no, for starters!)

This variety of emphasis on, in essence, monism and monistic conceptions as being “true” religion, thus, demonstrates a number of other things in the process: why certain religions are given the benefit of interfaith inclusion while others are not, and why certain religions are said to be “in accordance with what physics says” and so forth (which, I’d argue, they don’t!). The lack of semantic or symbolic content in these types of experience being then reified as the only valid and beneficial religious phenomenon, essentially, says that the core of these religions is NOTHINGNESS! While this is certainly one human experience, which might be valid and useful in some circumstances, to privilege it over all others is, itself, a theological choice that is far from unbiased or without sectarian influence, and it further ignores all sorts of other potential human experiences and the neurobiological states which accompany them that might be more useful, interesting, and constitutive of meaning than this particular one, which in fact has no meaning at all since it lacks any symbolic content or semantic heft, and essentially does nothing other than have people immobilized and vegged out doing nothing. As a polytheist, of course, I reject this notion entirely–there’s a huge number of valid and useful and important human, divine, religious, and neurobiological responses and experiences that aren’t better or worse than any other in any inherent fashion. But, also, look at what religions that focus on these experiences ultimately do: if this is the “essence of reality” and the core and goal of these religious practices, i.e. an experience of nothingness, non-relationality, and a complete lack of meaning, then that means that anything and everything in life is unimportant, empty, meaningless…

It’s no wonder that the interfaith movement, and wider forces in modern cultures, prefer this sort of religious conception. It then eliminates all of the possibilities of inter-religious conflict, which might be seen as a “good” thing, in many respects; but, it likewise also makes of any and all political abuses, personal issues, social problems, and even the fate of the world and the physical environment we live in ultimately unimportant and “nothing to worry about.” How very insidious and manipulative is that? How very rife for abuse and deception–both of which “don’t matter,” either!–is this preferred religious conception? Examine this possibility very carefully, dear readers…

…And, perhaps in doing so, see how unconscious bias, and even the tools of science–even when it does not verge into scientism (i.e. the belief–on a religious level–that science has all the answers, and the only valid ones to be had at that)–can be used to erase certain religions, or to argue “for religion” in a manner that favors one over others because of the demonstrable evidence that it has certain psychological and stress-relieving benefits. Even Sam Harris, in a debate with Reza Aslan and moderated by Jonathan Kirsch (and I admit all of these individuals–with the exception of Kirsch, to my current knowledge–are problematic in various ways), said that the neurological states of most humans, who under direction can achieve these states that are what Dr. Martin describes as “non-symbolic consciousness,” can be verified scientifically, and therefore we should talk about that (in other words, the “most important thing” that religion can do for anyone) rather than getting bogged down in the history, politics, cultures, and particularities–all of which are inherently divisive, in his view, and thus should be eliminated–involved in religion.

Which brings us to our next topic…sort of…

Ethics

At one of the college where I teach, we have to undergo regular training on a yearly basis for workplace harassment, which takes place online; at my other college, we had to do this for the first time since I’ve worked there. While the online environment is not the best one for such a training course, I understand that it is the cheapest one for the colleges to do, and the most time-efficient manner to do so…but it’s still not ideal, and in fact might involve a whole host of other problems as well. Nonetheless, in one of the training courses, “religion”–which is a category protected from discrimination by both U.S. law and by the policies of the colleges where I teach (at least ostensibly)–was defined as:

Religion is broadly defined as an individual’s moral or ethical system of belief. Nontraditional beliefs are also protected if they are held with the strength of traditional religious convictions.

Can you see how this is problematic on multiple levels? The constitution of religion as “belief” almost entirely, and primarily as “moral or ethical,” is a creedal monotheist, and actually a very specifically Protestant, construction which eliminates and/or mischaracterizes many other religious systems, including everything indigenous. And, “traditional” is here being used not to mean “tradition-based,” but in fact as a stand-in for “majority,” meaning Christianity (or maybe Judaism or Islam). While more could be said about how pernicious these memes are as well, the one I want to focus upon here is the idea that religion is essentially all about morals, ethics, or values (and I’d argue that those are all different and separate things, but since they are being used interchangeably on a popular level, let’s grudging agree to understand them all under the heading of “ethics” for the moment and for the present discussion).

Polytheist John Beckett recently stated:

Good religion has both an internal focus (becoming better people) and an external focus (building a better world).

There is an ambiguity here in how “good” is being used–does he mean “morally preferable,” or “effective”? Whatever the case may be, what is being asserted here is that there is an ethical focus–whether exerted internally or externally–that is an essential part of religion. This is such a common assumption that it almost goes without saying, such that ethics (or morals, or values) gets understood as being synonymous with religion. Arguments along these lines often suggest that without religion, people would just kill, rape, and steal from each other, and thus religion–contra the atheists and secularists–is necessary, and perhaps should even be required. (And, of course, our religion is the best and only one which should be required in this way, since it is the only one that teaches *proper* ethics and *correct* morals and *good* values, etc.!)

My religious studies and philosophical teeth, at least on the academic level in college, were broken on questions of ethics, so these issues are never far from my mind. HOWEVER, what I ended up learning in my master’s degree program challenged some of those assumptions, in a way that I think is very useful in the current context. In one of my first courses, which was a required one in my program, I was introduced to several theologians and theological concepts I had not known about previously, all under the umbrella of “praxis theologies” (which really means “non-genitive theologies,” and not so much what it might seem to indicate, i.e. theologies based on practice or practices of various sorts), which included things like feminist theology, queer theology, liberation theology, and what is called in Christian contexts (perhaps unfortunately) “political theology” (and we’ll get into politics later below!). When we were being introduced to this latter topic in particular, my professor commented that “political theology is pretty much liberation theology for first-world white people.” The two main theologians whose work we read in this regard were the Catholic Johann Baptist Metz, and the inventor of the term, Dorothy Soelle. (It looks to me like many of the people who discuss religion and politics in the same breath within pagan and polytheist circles are borrowing from Soelle without knowing it!) However, what Metz said, and what I agree with strongly, is the following (in summary form): religion (though he said “the Church”) is not a school of ethics, it is a place for the inculcation and cultivation of eschatological hope. Whatever ethics flow from that, however, are fine and sensible and inevitable, and indeed the entirety of the world can be encompassed thereby, but it is the eschatological hope and not the ethics that are the province of that space of activity known as “religion.” While we can–and indeed must, to various extents–adapt such a formulation, we can see how it is appropriate to a polytheist framework: polytheist religious engagement is not about ethical concerns, it’s about cultivating a relationship to our Deities.

In Cicero’s De Natura Deorum III, especially III.36, he argues (against Stoicism, possibly in favor of some form of Academic/Platonic discourse–but, please feel free to correct and enlighten me and other readers on this better, Edward Butler, if you’re reading!) that virtues come from humans, not from Deities, and that it is rare for people to thank the Gods for their virtues, but instead to thank them for their good fortunes. Outside of the deified abstracts which embody the various different classical virtues–including Virtus (“virtue”)!–it is a fair point that a balance of virtues and lack thereof, from a human perspective, are found in many of our Deities. If one is looking to Deities for guides on virtuous or exemplary behavior, that isn’t always going to be something one can find, especially if one mistakes mythological narrative for always (or even primarily) being exemplary myth. To get to know the virtues of the Deities, one must encounter Them more directly, and see what They are like. Few are all-good, nor do They claim to be; but very few are all-evil either. Virtue ethics may be a very useful and important thing to study for polytheists, but at the same time, we shouldn’t expect Deities to always conform to our own notions of virtue, as these matters seem to have (at least traditionally) been acknowledged to emerge from human activity and necessity rather than from divine beings, including Deities.

It does appear, on the balance of the evidence, though, that “political theologians” like Metz and Soelle leaned heavily into outlining how the atrocities of the world and the many injustices found therein are places in which religion should be realized and examined and brought…or, indeed, they are places where religion already exists and simply needs to be perceived correctly by humans. While I do agree that religions are totalizing structures that are meant to be able to encompass everything and to be connected to any possible aspect of one’s life, that doesn’t mean that ethics is the essence of religion, nor is synonymous with it. If it were, the emphasis that Metz placed on eschatological hope’s cultivation in preference to schooling in ethics to be the province of religion would not need to have been stated.

Politics

A certain person that I’m sure many of you are aware of, Ioannes Humanismus, said the following about politics and religion recently:

It’s easy to say there should be non-political spaces when your existence is not perpetually under threat by virtue of your difference, by virtue of your conformity to white, male, hetero-, cis-normativity. But if you are female, if you are a person of color, if you are queer, or gay, or lesbian, or if you are trans, or if you are disabled, then there is no such thing as a non-political space for you. Because almost everywhere you go, you are being told implicitly, if not explicitly, that you do not belong, that you do not have the same rights as others, that the exercise of power over you by privileged others is right and justified and deity-sanctioned.

I’ll ignore for the moment that he has attended one of the rituals I held at PantheaCon, which most certainly IS a space where white male cis het able-bodied normativity is not accepted as the norm, or as what is better or right, nor what everyone should either aspire to be or feel bad about not-being, and that anyone and everyone who has any differences with these characteristics DOES have the exact same rights as anyone else. This might just be his overstatement of using “almost everywhere,” and in that he is largely correct; so, a space where those things aren’t an issue is, by [his] implied definition, a non-political space? Or an acceptably political space?

One thing I’ve noticed, both religiously or socially, is that when I’m in a space that I share with other minorities who do not have privileges and we’re doing something related to whatever our minority identities happen to be–whether that is polytheistic religious engagement and discussion, or being around queer people of various identities, or any number of other things–one thing which certainly happens is that we are suddenly freed from having to potentially face adversarial consequences for any of our identities. It is a safe space, and one in which we do not have to live in fear that our every action will be either critiqued or taken as somehow representative of everyone in whatever identity group we are in. It is what I’ve sometimes called “the freedom to talk about the weather,” i.e. having interactions with people that aren’t predicated upon me explaining (and thus likely having to justify) my existence, and having to argue for how equally human I am to the people who are looking weirdly at me (or worse). Because I’m an adherent of the Silver Rule generally as a default (and the Platinum Rule whenever possible, when I have sufficient information to be able to do so), I find it is best to not treat other people in ways that would alienate them either, and that extends to everyone, including cis het white able-bodied males. But, having those spaces where we are free and are safe is important, because in not having to constantly acknowledge the “political” nature of all the parts of my personhood which are viewed as problematic and difficult by the majority culture, and thus having that “non-political” space in which to operate, I am able to recharge my batteries and refocus my efforts so that I can face the constant difficulties I will run into outside of those spaces. Something I notice about almost everyone who is a polytheist that is advocating for these non-political religious spaces is that nearly all of them are people who are denied privilege in one area or another (and I’ll leave aside the very real fact that by the mere fact of being polytheist, many of us are denied privilege), and we’d like that to continue to be the case, so that when we aren’t in our religious spaces and doing our religious activities, and will be forced (not by our own choices) to be considered “inherently political” that we’ll be better able to do so in ways that are in accord with what we see as our proper relationships to the Deities-and-divine-beings-filled world.

While I cannot say for certain, I wonder if the cis het white able-bodied males who want to have non-political religious spaces as well might want a respite from being constantly considered evil or oppressive or privileged–even though many of them are not evil and don’t deliberately oppress and may lack privilege in certain areas (e.g. economically, etc.)–and to just exist without having to apologize and wallow in guilt for their being for a few moments. Compassionate regard requires me to consider that this might be the case, even if I don’t like the religions they’re practicing, or don’t approve of their behaviors otherwise. No, I don’t think religion should simply function as a “safe space,” either, no matter what one’s identity might be, nor should it coddle and cater to one’s vices or limitations and never challenge one to grow and develop as a person (in my own case, doing so in order to be in better relationship to my Deities is the reason for such growth and development, and is a side-effect of the engagement, not the purpose of it!). Further, I would hope that those who are of these majority identities at least begin to realize that they can’t expect to have everything handed to them by virtue of their majority and privileged status. But, just as I don’t think they should denigrate me for who and what I am, likewise I’m not going to denigrate them for who and what they are; if their behaviors are despicable, I will critique those quite freely, but that’s something else.

Whatever the case may be, I’ll say the following: no, I’ll be the first and loudest one to admit that I’m not perfect (in fact, that phrase is part of a prayer I use regularly, and thus I affirm it before my Deities on an everyday basis), and that I have, and do, and will continue to make mistakes in regards to a number of issues falling under the category of “social justice” (and I’ll have more to say on that in a moment), but I think I’m doing a pretty good job of trying to make sure that I make my spaces hospitable and welcoming and affirming of all sorts of people, because I am doing exactly that for all sorts of Deities.

The above article then also quotes Kiya Nicoll, from the comments on another post, as follows:

“When I observe someone saying ‘This is not a political space’ what I hear is ‘I have never had to think about whether or not my sort of person is welcome to show up.’”

To be honest, there is no such thing as “my sort of person” in my own case, because I know exactly no one who has the same intersection of identity markers that I do, most of which are minority, non-privileged, and to some extent or another are oppressed. So, in setting out to create spaces and events that are welcoming and accepting of “my sort of person,” I think I’ve done relatively well in terms of not only accomplishing that, but as a result making those spaces open and welcome and accepting of everyone, including (in certain contexts) atheists and people who do not have the same theological, spiritual, or religious viewpoints that I do. The first ritual I held for Antinous in October of 2002 involving other people had (including myself) four attendees: a cradle Irish Catholic (also cis het white male), an Irish atheist (also cis het white male), and a Swedish Goddess worshipper (cis bisexual white female). I’m pretty far from all of those things, but they were all welcome, and all of them enjoyed themselves, and all of them attended at least one other ritual I did during my time in Ireland.

More from the blog post already mentioned:

But if you think you’re not being political when you[‘]r[e] praying to your gods, then you’re deluding yourself. Think about it … What are you praying for? Are you asking for help to make the world a more just and peaceful place? Or are you only praying for more divine favors for yourself, to keep what you have, and get more for yourself? If it’s the former, then you’re being political. If it’s the latter, you’re being political, too — just in a bad way.

And what about our gods? Do yours gods bear an uncanny resemblance to you? If your gods are Black or queer, then your choice of gods is political, because it is a challenge to the status quo. And if you’re white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and able-bodied, and your gods are too, well then, your choice of gods is also political. If it’s because you’re avoiding cultural appropriation, that’s political. But if it’s because it’s what you were drawn to, then that’s political too, implicitly. And if you tell me your gods chose you, not the other way around, and that their resemblance to you is purely coincidental … well, I would invite you to look more closely at that.

So…I have Deities and other divine beings to Whom I am devoted who have characteristics or cultural associations along the following lines: some are Nubian (i.e. very definitely Black!–like Apedemak and Amesemi), some are queer (Antinous), some are gender-variant (the Tetrad++), some are disabled (Hephaistos, Suibhne), and so forth…and I also have Deities Who come from European cultures, Who don’t have attested homoerotic relationships, always appear in one of the recognized two binary-gendered forms (thus, in a sense, “cis”), and Who are superlatively able-bodied. I am not interested in Deities that “look exactly like me” (though I’m mostly interested in Deities Who are also interested in me–thus, have They “chosen me” or have I chosen Them? In most cases, I can’t really say for certain!), which would mean…what? That I should therefore only be interested in the “usual” Deities that most mainstream pagans are, i.e. cis het able-bodied male-or-female Deities, as long as they’re not white, because those ones don’t look like me and thus challenge the supremacy of my self-interested non-religious identities? Well, I am interested in some Deities who fit that description. By some accounts, Iao and Asherah, being Middle Eastern, and Hebraic (whether that is the same as “Jewish” I leave up for debate on another occasion!), are “not white,” and thus perhaps it would be “perfect” for me to worship Them, since they “look the least like me” of any Deities…but, wait, I have Jewish ancestry as well, so I guess not. Maybe I should worship Allah and His Three Daughters, Allat, Manat, and Al-Uzza, then? Well, I already do and have, though more the three latter than the former. But is the latter “cultural appropriation,” or is it simply doing what most modern polytheists have been doing for as long as we’ve been polytheists, i.e. responding to Deities from a variety of cultures who have in some ways impacted our lives and with Whom we wish to have further interactions?

Or, to take it out of the religious sphere and into another hypothetical for a moment: yes, I’d love to date a Black or Latina transwoman or transman, and I probably wouldn’t care if they were disabled, and I might even like them despite the fact that they might have another religion from me, or no religion at all, if such an individual were interested in me. The problem is, I don’t know of any who are, and while I remain open to these possibilities, I’m also not going to spend every waking moment searching for such a person, nor am I going to be anything-but-realistic in realizing that they probably won’t traipse past my apartment given the community that I live in (which is the only one I can live in because of limitations on mobility, economics, and where I currently work–and if for one second you think I can just easily get any sort of job elsewhere, think again, because a superlatively-educated white person like myself is not any more likely to get a job in academia these days than anyone else, and I’m even less likely to get one because I’m also queer, gender-variant, vocally religious in a minority religion, and disabled). But, say that the straight white cis able-bodied Catholic dude down the street happens to meet me at the neighborhood drug store, and we get to be friends, and he decides that he might like to have a relationship with me, because he understands that I’m not the same gender as him, and thus he can still be “heterosexual” since he is in a relationship with someone of a “different” gender when he’s with me, and–most importantly–he knows me and actually likes me, and the feeling is mutual. Or, let’s say that it’s just a matter of being friends with this individual, and no romantic relationship is involved. Now, should I forego a relationship with him, because he’s not as diverse and different as I am, even if he makes me happy and we like each other and he has no problem with all the things I am and do? Should I prefer “not having a friend” to having one in this situation? This is a ridiculous and hyperbolic set of hypothetical situations, I grant you, but I think it might illustrate the point. What is better: the ideal–motivated by whatever criteria one decides are the most important–or the reality, the person one wishes one had or the person who has shown up? Something similar can be said about Deities, I think, and I think it has much less to do with politics than it does with a lot of other things, including circumstances and chance and even fate, and any number of other things that may have little if anything to do with “politics” as (not) defined by the writers above.

The concept of “social justice” isn’t necessarily bad, and the loss of this sense in the discussions thus far in some quarters by polytheists who are demeaning the concept rather than critiquing those who are pushing it, their methods, and their flawed assumptions is a very unfortunate matter. Yes, I think that some of the actions of those who say they are interested in social justice are ill-advised, ill-informed, and can often verge into the needlessly prohibitive; but, I think it is better to critique particular instances of such overreaching than to entirely discount the concept based on the bad behavior of some people associated with it. (One of the most vocally and vile critics of the concept of social justice, whose name I will not mention and who lamentably happens to be gay but is so self-hating it’s shocking, also claims to be a Catholic, and I find it ironic that social justice is at the heart of Catholic social teaching, and has been a focus of the current pope, amongst other things…but, that’s another matter altogether, too!) What I am wondering is if there is more to “politics” than this, i.e. is there a better understanding of the term “politics” than what it seems to mean in Ioannes Humanismus’ blog post, i.e. that it is synonymous with social justice?

While I could attempt to define “politics” in some fashion or other (perhaps invoking Aristotle in doing so, or mentioning how various different Deities like Zeus and Athena are Deities of the poleis, from which “politics” originates), I think there is a different issue at heart here, even apart from the potential collapse of the category of “politics” into “concern for social justice.” I wonder if the writer we’re discussing here, and the examples that he gives, is mistaking “politics” as a meta-category for things like “perception” or “priorities.” If one decides to march in the streets rather than to pray, he says that both of those things are “political”; but, are they really a question of priorities and what one decides to invest time and energy in? Some of us are good at some things and not good at others, or are interested in some things but are not interested in others, and I don’t think anyone’s prioritization based on their own interests and abilities should be denigrated or questioned. One might be sensitive to the inclusion of various groups of people who have been deprived of privilege in one’s rituals and such, or pray for justice and peace and assistance on certain matters, or one may not; but is that a matter of “politics” or is it merely a matter of perception, and either seeing or not seeing (and thus understanding or not understanding) how these matters may or may not impact others or oneself? The problem of ignorance–not only in relation to matters of social justice, but in relation to vast amounts of human knowledge and experience–is a pervasive one, and oftentimes it can be cured simply by being introduced to certain forms of that knowledge or experiences of it, but that often doesn’t do a thing to change people’s minds or hearts. (As an educator in a public institution, I know this is a fact!) While one could argue that perception and priorities are also “political,” then the whole thing comes close to being an example of infinite regression via politics. But, I think it might also be useful to ask if making everything political is, itself, political, and what the political agenda in doing so happens to be. While looking at the political angles in different areas of human endeavor is often enlightening, seeing it as the meta-category under which all other things fall is also a mistake, I think.

Or, let’s consider taking a different angle on meta-categories of this nature: what if all of these things that are mentioned by the post are not “political actions,” but instead are understood as “relational” matters? My friend, colleague and co-religionist Anomalous Thracian has written about polytheism and animism as religions of relation, and I think in this he is correct. If the primary paradigm of relationality which one employs is religious rather than political, then imputing politics and political concerns to a religious paradigm is not a self-determined aspect of one’s identity, and if it is being used to discriminate against someone or to expose them to critique or ridicule, then how is it any “better” than all of the ways in which majority mainstream privileged cultures tell queer people what they can be, tell women to keep in their place, tell the disabled that they’re too inconvenient to accommodate, and tell people of other religions that they’re deluded? If we talk about “social justice” with terminology that isn’t that phrase, which has become used and abused and over-used, and instead speak of what these issues really are–i.e. human rights issues, then saying that this or that religious activity is overly-political or insufficiently political is just as much an offense against those as it is to be a misogynist, a racist, a homophobe, a transphobe, an ableist, or anything else.

Is this concern over everything being political simply a matter of just re-defining “in-groups” and “out-groups”? Whether we like it or not, religion has always done exactly that, for good or ill (and often for both at once). This then prompts the question of whether or not one is deciding to send everyone to the sorting hat based on their particular political organization, perceptions, and priorities is all the more reason for some of us in modern polytheism to say “Nope, we’re really not like you, and we want nothing to do with you, so please leave us alone.”

There is also the issue of hierarchy within religious spaces that has been an undercurrent in many of these discussions, often favoring the denigration of clergy, spiritual functionaries, and all religious specialists, while simultaneously replacing that structure of authority with one that determines who is and isn’t “doing good religion” and so forth based on–yep, you guessed it–whether or not said individuals agree on prioritization and perception of politics in religious activities. I’m not sure this is remotely a good thing, for all sorts of reasons…but this gets into yet another area of concerns which should probably be left for another time at present!

Just to be clear: I practice several religious systems which emphasize concepts of “justice”–whether as Iustitia, or as Ma’at, or as the Irish concept of fír, which do prioritize what we would recognize as human notions of justice, law, fairness, equality, hospitality, and many other virtues in one’s dealings with Deities as well as with humans. Also for the record, I am for #BlackLivesMatter (and include it in my prayers), I pray for ends to the discrimination against queer and gender-variant people of all sorts, and for the destruction of systems of oppression that marginalize and terrorize women, the disabled, and many other groups, not only because I am in many of those categories myself, but because I think it is a good thing and is what I understand would make for the best possible world that everyone could live in with what the Deities would suggest is harmonious and peaceful. However, I also recognize that these things are not “the same” as the core of my religious engagement, nor are they the purpose of me doing it–I have been saying for several years now that I got into polytheism not because of what the Gods can do for me, or even for what They can do for the world, but for the Gods. The instrumentalization of all persons–whether they be the Deities, other humans, or the natural world–is one of the fundamental problems of the world, and I am not about to say that my religion, the area of my life around which I have attempted to organize all else, and which I prioritize the highest, and which I perceive to be the most important set of relations I have, is going to be something merely instrumental to either myself or the benefit of the larger world would betray justice, fír, and Ma’at on a fundamental level.

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“So, if not these, what is the ‘point’ of Religion?”

This has already been much longer and more extensive than I had intended, so let’s see if I can summarize a few things in closing, getting to the point of this section, and of the larger post, i.e. what “the point” of religion is, as I see it.

Fundamental to my sense of what religion does is to cultivate the idea and practice of “respect,” which is part of the concept and practice of relationality as well. The word itself comes from Latin roots meaning “to look at, to regard,” and as many of you might thus be aware, the use of both “respect” and phrases like “I see you” in a number of marginalized communities is the heart of what is at stake in many of them. As I see it, respect is the basis of religion, i.e. respect for persons that are divine, human, and otherwise (e.g. the entire world of nonhuman materiality, both of biological organisms and all of what non-animists would call “inanimate matter”). Is “respect” an ethic, a virtue, a value, or a moral? Not really; it’s more of a practice, a verb, and a noun which comes from the verb. One cannot show respect without being respectful, and the giving of religious regard–i.e. respect–to persons who are very commonly not seen–i.e. the plurality of divine beings–is the very essence of polytheism, as defined (again) by Anomalous Thracian in many different instances. It is to see the Gods for themselves, and also at work in my own life and amongst the things I see in the world…uh-oh, which begins to look like what Metz said of “eschatological hope” and what Soelle said of seeing such things in the world. If you want to call that “political theology,” I guess you can; for me, it’s called “polytheism.” Thus, ethics and politics aren’t apart from the concerns of religion, but they’re not the main point, nor do I think they should be taken as the barometer of what does and does not quality as good or useful religion, as full religious engagement, or anything else of that nature.

To get back to the matters of science, and the idea that religions should in some sense “provide answers” (rather than being the primary organized human endeavor for “providing meaning,” as I would argue), is a mistaken notion. That religions can provide meaning, which is an affective and emotional quality, should not be misunderstood that all religions have an essential explanatory function, which (again) confuses the types of epistemology involved, and assumes that what was normative for some religions (the creedal monotheistic ones) is true of all religions. An answers-focused approach, like creedal monotheism and scientism, which proceeds from an epistemological focus on propositional knowledge, then tends to focus upon “the map” provided by a given religion, or a given branch of science, which as an unfortunate result often then not only replaces the actual territory, but also replaces the need to visit the places in that territory, and both gradually become increasingly non-experiential. The notion of religion as “bad science” results from the notion of religion-as-explanatory, and this explanatory project as being the essential one for the core purpose of religion.

On the other hand, religions that have non-propositional epistemologies and which emphasize practice and experience have as characteristics that they are religions of interpretive and connective or relational endeavors. These types of religions are questions-focused rather than answers-focused, and if the other sorts of religion provide “the map,” these ones instead might be thought to provide “a compass” whose shifting needle suggests directions in which one might travel, thus requiring one to actually engage and explore rather than simply deciding that all has been determined already by a pre-drawn map which one only needs to follow. From this viewpoint, morals and ethics in religion are intentionally relational, and are thus connective in their intention rather than directives or requirements, and are a by-product of attempting to have guidelines on good relations with one’s Deities, and thus are a secondary formation to a great extent. Furthermore, these are reduced in their importance greatly if the Deities concerned are not thought to be all-powerful “Creators” which are the only option out there, which must therefore be accepted and assented to without question. In a polytheist context, this simply cannot be the case.

Respect rather than politics; relationality rather than ethics; interpretation rather than scientific facts. I would argue that while some religions or understandings of them may blur many of these things together, religious systems like those which are polytheistic not only have many moving parts, but are also connected to a variety of different things (and, this is one of the distinctions that has often been lost in the monist debates: “it’s all connected” is not the same thing as “it’s all the same”!), but that the distinctions between them remain. One can be respectful without being religious or being a polytheist; one can have a sense of relationality without being religious or being a polytheist; one can have an interpretive schema without being religious or being a polytheist. Sure, being a polytheist does suggest a preference for respectful relational engagement and interpretive understandings, but the phenomenon of polytheistic religion is not reducible to any of these constituent elements or interests…and the same is also true of science, politics, and ethics in any given religious system as well, including polytheism.

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | July 18, 2016

Lorica Hadriani

At long last…

Even though I’ve done a VERY LONG post already today, I couldn’t wait a moment after making the following rediscovery.

I have mentioned the Lorica Hadriani to a few people over the years. I wrote it on February 27-28, 2012, during a period in which I was writing a great deal of devotional poetry, prayers, and so forth. I used it from that date through the summer of 2012 as a part of my daily practices, until I was very-nearly in a car wreck with my mother in the lead-up to my sister’s wedding. Once that happened, in essence I saw the Lorica as “dented,” so to speak, and thus its power to protect me was compromised to one extent or another…and then I discovered the Ephesia Grammata and began using that instead as my daily practice of protection.

Reader, I am still alive. 😉 And, not a car accident in sight–in fact, every time I’ve been in a car and have feared something might go wrong, it hasn’t, the car that spun out-of-control righted itself despite hydroplaning, and so forth. But, we are not here at the moment to debate the effectiveness of one prayer over another.

I had considered, before that time, sharing the Lorica Hadriani, but decided not to…and then once I made the changeover, I had planned to share it and see if it was of interest or utility to anyone else. And then, for no apparent reason, the entire notebook in which it was located disappeared, and no matter how often I looked for it, I wasn’t able to find it, and couldn’t even remember what the notebook containing it looked like any longer. I feared it had been a page in another notebook (one of the ones, perhaps, where the Tetrad++ poems were originally written), and that I had mistakenly pulled it out as a piece of scratch paper and written some note on it for someone else, and then it disappeared…in fact, I did bring the notebook to a few different conferences and such (e.g. the Esoteric Book Conference), and so that seemed like it was possible. I would look for it from time to time, with no luck, and divination suggested that it simply wasn’t going to be easy to find for various reasons, and might be gone for good…

Not so! (Thank the Gods!)

I was just looking for the Tetrad++ notebooks just now, and can’t seem to find them, as there’s a page of notes on some other matters that I need to consult (or, at least, feel it would be prudent to consult lest I miss anything detailed therein) before doing some other work that needs to be done soon/today. I have a few theories on where they might still be, but in the meantime, out of curiosity I looked in a small box full of papers, catalogues, and other things. One of the things I found therein was a missing Kalamazoo catalogue–I have ten-plus years of them, and one was not amongst the others, so I had wondered where it went, so I immediately took it to the shelf with all the others. And, there was also a thin notebook, which I opened and saw had a lot of poetry in it (nearly all of which I think I’ve shared previously), as well as notes from the EBC.

I paged through it carefully, and sure enough, I found the Lorica Hadriani at last!

So, now, before this notebook decides to take a stroll again (!?!), I’m going to write it here and share it with all of you, to solve this mystery at last and make sure this will be easily accessible to all and sundry for the future. (And I hope that with many years of rumor and expectation, as well as the build-up given above, that it proves to be worth it for all of you!)

Hadrian

Lorica Hadriani

When I rise each day,
may I fasten this breastplate upon myself,
and when I lay down to sleep,
may this breastplate be secure against me
to protect me from every harm.

By the power of Romulus’ marking
of the poemerium of the eternal city;
by the might of Mars’ sharp sword
and Minerva’s impenetrable shield;
by the fire of Vesta’s hearth
and the burning in the heart of Venus;
by the severity of Disciplina
and the strength of Roma herself–

May no invader violate my boundaries,
may no aggressor breach my walls,
may no hostile force besiege me
nor may the attacking host hurt me.

By Jupiter Capitolinus, may it be so;
by Juno Caelestis, may it be so;
by Silvanus Falx-bearer, may it be so;
by Serapis mighty-bearded, may it be so;
by Ianus Clusivius, may it be so;
by Juturna clear-watered, may it be so;
by Quirinus the closer, may it be so;
by Castor the Savior
and by Pollus the Protector, may it be so.

A mighty rampart am I, by the Gods;
A strong shield-wall am I, by the Gods;
A stout fortress on the hill am I, by the Gods;
An imperishable city on seven hills am I, by the Gods;
Crowned jewel of the Divine Emperors may I be.

By Antinous who loved Hadrian,
and by Hadrian who loved Antinous,
may my defenses never falter.

When I rise each day,
may I fasten this breastplate upon myself,
and when I lay down to sleep,
may this breastplate be secure against me
to protect me from every harm.

*****

{I might consider adding another verse in the future, to bring in some others who are important to the Antinoan Pantheon, e.g Sabina and others; and, for thoroughness and historical accuracy’s sake, a reference to Medusa would probably be good as well…we shall see. But in the meantime, try it out and let me know if you like it and find it useful!]

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | July 18, 2016

Devotion is Simple–It Need Not Be Otherwise

There are a few rather important holy days (and tides) approaching in the next week and following, and now that I have some time (though, at the same time, not!), I might be able to post more frequently during that time and in August as well. However, I want to guard against the possibility that I use blog posting as a way to procrastinate from the VERY LARGE amount of work I also need to be doing both writing-wise and organization-wise on some publications that are *very close* to being done…nonetheless, I’ve got a number of blog posts that have been sitting in drafts for a while (some since near the beginning of 2016, in fact!), mostly consisting of brief notes, which need to be expanded and then posted. The following is one such post.

As I began to consider doing this post, I thought that doing it in a few different fleshed-out parts of 1,000+ words each might not be a bad idea…to the point that the end product, collected, could form a short book (or almost more of a pamphlet, in a way). But, that’s one of my major difficulties, i.e. adding more projects rather than finishing the ones I’ve already got going. Plus, if I had to talk about something being “simple” in 5,000+ words, then it probably wasn’t simple after all. So, I’ve decided to do this in one post, even if it ends up being over a thousand words (though hopefully not more than 3,000…and if I talk about such projections less, the better!).

Since the “polytheist revolution” began in 2012 (as I see it, anyway), there have been some calls to provide a raison d’être for the entire movement, and questions about why it should exist at all. Particularly, questions of this nature have focused on the matter of devotion (which some modern polytheists take as implied in fully-realized polytheism, while others are more explicit about it; and some outside of polytheism have demanded that “devotional polytheism” be used to distinguish our movement from others which have polytheism as one component of something else, etc., which is patent bullshit), and on how it started as a concept and who started it, and so forth, which would both give it more respectability (perhaps?!?) since it would then have a demonstrable history, but also providing such a history would then open it to being conceived as “synthetic,” hopelessly “modern” and “personal” and “idiosyncratic” and so on. I am not setting out to do that here, and if such an endeavor is useful at all, I leave it to others to contemplate it.

Instead, I want to point out what I think is something that has become quite lost in these discussions, and which has ended up probably frustrating many people–polytheists and those who wish to become polytheists included–in the process.

To put it briefly: in a polytheist context, devotion is simple, and it need not be otherwise.

But, as ever, there is a HUGE difference between “simple” and “easy”–there is a simplicity underlying the impulse toward and practice of devotion in a polytheist context, however the world and the things in it (including our own minds) do not make doing these simple things easy, convenient, or in any way achievable without a great deal of deliberate effort, attention, and intentionality (hopefully realized in action).

Thus, devotion (as I see it) as a process and a practice isn’t difficult, and it need not be complicated…and the simplicity of it in this regard is (or can be) deceptive. What makes it difficult (in the sense of “hard to do” rather than “intricate” and “complex,” i.e. complicated) is often the barriers we put in place to actually doing it, and I’ve seen this over and over again, with people setting their expectations too high (“I will do 2 hours of ritual daily with 74 different prayers that I still have to write, starting TOMORROW!”) or having self-determined requirements (“I can’t do these things unless I have access to a temple with an artificial river in it and a chorus of 20 chanters trained from the age of four in these traditions”) rather than starting smaller, more humbly, with what one already has at one’s immediate ability to access. We can choose to make devotion more complex, and sometimes the demands of a given situation might make it more complex, but the basics are pretty simple.

I think that the essential elements of devotion reduce down to any set of behaviors done for spiritual purposes (and I’d add that these must be as equally externally-focused as they are internally-focused, and there has to be a balance of extroversion and introversion involved, even if one is doing these things alone in a room or house with no one else physically present…the Deities and other divine beings upon whom devotion is focused are not mental constructs or mere interior realities, after all) which can include any and all of the following (and note, there is some crossover in these categories, particularly the first):

I. Doing While, technically, this category encompasses all of the others to follow, since all of them involve actions of some sort, at the same time, some of the most subtle but effective aspects of devotional practice fall into this category as well which are not encompassed by the others. So, for example, one might pray, contemplate or meditate, make offerings, and so forth; but, the more subtle parts of this category also include things like gestures, posture, and other things which might be involved as preliminaries or precursors to other activities. Do you stand, sit, or kneel to pray or when addressing particular Deities? How do you hold your hands or position your arms? Are there signs you make with the positions of your fingers, or gestures you do with your hands and arms involving movement, as you say or do particular things? How often do you bow (if at all), and do you simply nod your head, bend your upper back, bend at the waist, genuflect (i.e. “bend the knee”), or just cast your eyes downward to show respect in this way? Do you adopt a serious look on your face, or do you look joyful (smiling, eyes slightly squinted), or do you have other facial expressions that you find to be best to employ as you pray or offer? Putting on a different set of clothing, or even specific items of clothing or jewelry (e.g. special hats/headgear, headbands, armlets, stoles, bracelets, rings, pendants, etc.) can be an action that places one into a devotional mindset, but generally only if doing so is something exclusively reserved for ritual or devotional occasions.

Doing purification practices before beginning one’s devotions is also in this category, I think; while it is good to bathe/shower, or perhaps at least wash one’s hands or maybe brush one’s teeth (to “clean one’s mouth,” especially if one’s practices involve a lot of prayer and offering of words) before doing certain ritual or devotional activities, something specifically and only spiritual is also a good idea to do in purification–water applied to oneself for spiritual cleansing or purification purposes as opposed to hygienic or cleaning purposes that is only applied from a certain bowl or fountain, or is done in a specific fashion accompanied by gestures or words, and so forth. Also, I would include anything done which extends outside of specific ritual/devotional time to be in this category: do you carry certain things with you or wear certain things on a daily basis to remind yourself of your particular Deities? Do you have ongoing prohibitions on what foods you can eat which you observe? Do you have certain requirements of what clothes you can wear, or what colors of them, or what materials they are made of, or who makes them and how they are made? What about particular places you can’t go, or certain things you must do (whether regularly or when convenient, e.g. never just passing by a graveyard without stopping to honor the dead, never going in a Mal-Wart because they’re a horrible corporation, not using public restrooms at all, etc.). ANd, though it should be needless to say, nonetheless: yes, Deities can be interested in these things, and choose to involve Themselves in these ways in one’s life if They deem to do so, and there are abundant individual as well as culture-wide and tradition-spanning examples of this. (And, don’t let Their doing so end up being a cause for bragging about how “hardcore” your devotions are in comparison to others–that one particular Deity might ask one person to do a weekly ritual but has asked you to do two daily rituals, and always doesn’t want you ever eating legumes and you can now only wear blue underwear and never go in a public hot tub, etc., doesn’t mean you are superior in your devotion to someone else! This isn’t a contest!) It is not only micro-managing monotheist deities who do this, and don’t for a moment think that lack of such expectations or requirements makes one Deity more preferable, more just, or in any way “better” than any other. If there is a specific agreement you have with your divine powers which extends to the entirety of your life, then it falls into this category; and if you have something you already prefer to do or not do that you’d like to “spiritualize” in this way, make sure you ask your divine powers whether or not it is something They agree with or care about, and then proceed accordingly. (They may not agree with your preference, but you might still be able to do or not do it; they may not care about your preference and the matters concerned, but you still might be able to do or not do it.) Doing all such things will give you constant, or at least regular, reminders of your devotional obligations and relationships. Ultimately, anything performative falls into this category.

II. Setting The details of this category involves all things having to do with place, location, and all aspects classed as “sacred space,” but also taking into account all concerns with and conceptions of time and “sacred time.” Some people prefer to do many of their rituals only after dark, or only during the daylight; one person’s devotions might take place just after getting up in the morning and just before going to bed at night; some sorts of activities might only take place once a year on a certain calendar date, or only take place during a certain lunar phase, or during a particular moment determined astrologically–the possibilities are endless here. Creating, cultivating, and setting aside for exclusively sacred usage (that is what “sacred” ultimately means, after all!) any space–whether it is a 3″ x 2″ pocket shrine one can carry anywhere, or a shelf or set of shelves in one’s bedroom (particularly useful if one does devotions on rising and before going to bed each day and night), or an entire room of one’s house–is to do the work of setting up sacred space.

The matter of setting sacred time apart, though, is often more fraught for modern people, and especially so with e-mail, smart phones, and so forth. If one wishes to truly consecrate a time as sacred, then turning off one’s phone (or not even having it within reach!), not checking e-mail or taking a pause to consult online social media, and so forth, is not only recommended, it is necessary! After all, to have such attention in devotion to setting is to have both time and space that is dedicated for nothing else…that is what devotion entails! Would you have a special date night with your significant other and then keep checking your phone endlessly, every five minutes, during that time? (If you do, you need to re-evaluate your life!) If you gave your child a playhouse in your back yard, but then immediately told them “Oh, and I’m also going to keep the lawnmower and all the garden tools in there, so you can only use it once a week when I’m mowing the lawn, and you’ll have to be careful not to knock over any of the tools, so you should just not touch them while you’re in there or do anything that might disturb them,” would that be a good, or a nice, thing to do? (If you did, you’d be an asshole!) The same applies to all devotional activities, and to the attention paid to times and spaces within them–these times and spaces belong to the Deities and other divine beings now, not to you or your convenience nor the concerns of others…and if that notion makes you uncomfortable, then perhaps this path is not for you.

III. Saying In the overall effort of emphasizing that in our conversations, our political actions, and (especially!) in our religions, WORDS MATTER, this is one area in which a great deal more than is necessary is needlessly fraught. Given the dominant religious cultures of today’s world, those who become involved in investigating mysticism (for what else is mysticism other than becoming more closely involved with divine beings?) inevitably end up encountering what is known as “apophatic prayer,” which is something found in texts like The Cloud of Unknowing and other such medieval mystical works, and stretching all the way back to Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s Mystical Theology. In essence, this suggests that because the monotheistic deities are said to be ineffable and utterly transcendent, then no words (nor thoughts!) can reach them, describe them, or usefully convey anything about them, and thus a language of “negative theology” and of unsaying, unknowing, and so forth emerges in the pursuit of developing such relationships. (This is why these religions, in their mystical forms, then come up with monistic ideas and notions of interfaith unity, because in Taoism, Hinduism, and Zen–amongst other world religions–there are equivalent statements, even though in many of those cases there is no being or individual personality to which one is attempting to relate…a serious logical flaw in the asserted similarities, thus, to be certain, but since “logic” does not apply to such apophatic conceptions, that is conveniently ignored.) Even though our Deities as polytheists might have immensities about them which cannot be easily contemplated as mortals with our limitations of cognition (if, indeed they can be contemplated at all by us as mortal humans), one quite easily finds that this is true of essentially everything, from the greatest cosmic mysteries of physics to the beauty of a ladybug on a leaf during the summer to the look of one’s lover’s eyes during a glance on a bus trip. To use language for anything at all is to engage in a complex game of symbolic reasoning which can never convey something else 100% of the time…and yet, it’s all we have to work with, and no worse off for that in a huge number of cases. (This is why Hermes, Thoth, and others are Deities of language–it’s something which is a gift from the Gods, not unlike fire or any number of other things, and potentially just as dangerous and certainly as volatile!)

One of the reasons that words are so important for polytheist devotions, though, is that most of our Deities–outside of specific devotional contexts or relationships, or in certain times or spaces or other conditions–are not omniscient, and thus cannot read your thoughts (and, thus, don’t know nor likely care about your intentions, especially if you have not backed them up with words or actions!), and as a result the only way one can communicate with them is through demonstrated, performed, and enacted rituals, and also speech or writing, but preferably speech (and song!) rather than writing. (If you only write something, then burning it in a fire, or showing it to the image of a Deity, is needed; however, it is probably best to write it, and then read the written text aloud, and then keep what is written in or near your shrine and whatever else belongs to your Deities.) While it is great to have whole tomes of hymns at hand for them, or to have lengthy prayers memorized for them, it isn’t necessary; a few spontaneous words are always better than none at all. This is what is referred to as “kataphatic” prayer and engagement, which is taken to be the “opposite of” apophatic, and it is thus often denigrated to various extents in the dominant monotheisms and some other world religions. Why should that matter? Beauty of words and expression is just as much a beauty as anything else, and is often taken as a joy to our Deities as “more enduring” offerings, and this has been the case since antiquity–the preface to an aretalogical text from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri states that food and other offerings pass away, but that written offerings persist and refresh themselves in memory through time as a result of their recording. But, one aspect of this which is essential is that, since there are a multiplicity of Deities and other divine beings, one must state specifically to Whom one is addressing one’s words of praise or prayers, otherwise you’re literally talking to the air and no one in particular needs to pay attention to you doing so, divine or otherwise. A simple “Hail, Antinous” (or whomever your Deities happen to be) at the beginning of any statement you make is probably sufficient in this regard. Another way in which names are important is that one needs to make sure one pronounces them correctly, whether in one’s own language or in another language–or else you might be directing your prayers to some other being, or an opportunistic non-corporeal being who then is empowered by your words! So, some study of these things is useful for all kinds of reasons…if one wants to make extra-special sure that one’s prayers are going to the right being, then adding a few epithets, especially of lineage or geographic origin (e.g. “Loki son of Laufey,” “Artemis of Ephesus,” etc.), in case you don’t quite get the name right for some reason is a very good practice to adopt.

IV. Thinking This, I suspect, is one part that too many people do too much of, to the exclusion of these other activities, and yet it is also something which is important to do both amidst the other activities as well as apart from them…though I’d suggest doing it outside of other specific “doings” here and outside of the specific devotional “settings” is preferable to engaging in such activities as ends unto themselves in place of these other important actions. Since thought is an internal activity, and not all Deities have access to one’s internal world (though, with certain devotional agreements and relationships, these can be developed–but don’t assume they can or they already are automatically just because you’d like them to be!), this category is mainly one which benefits oneself rather than one’s Deities and divine powers, and while it should not be denigrated or downplayed as a result, nonetheless it cannot be done in isolation and should never be done to the exclusion of the other categories nor as a replacement for them. Activities in this category can include image contemplation, which is something else that has not fared well in the monotheistic religions, for the reasons discussed in the previous section–what to monotheists is “idolatry” is, for polytheists, a holy activity, and one that cannot be dismissed. Delighting all the senses for devotional purposes is a great thing, and through the specific activity of image contemplation, one can get a deeper sense of all sorts of things about Deities and other divine beings–not only what They are like and how They have shown Themselves to others and then been reflected in how others have presented Them, but also dimensions of Their personality, how Their attributes and symbols bring Their presence more into the world and one’s understanding–why is Dionysos so associated with the bull, and Hekate with dogs, and what do these particular associations tell us about each, for example. Also in this category is meditation, which is a huge and complex topic, but it need not only be of the “no-mind” type so valued by the religions mentioned above that favors the apophatic and the non-linguistic and imageless over the more tangible and perceptual. If what one’s meditations accomplishes is a greater ability to be present and receptive to communications from Deities, or to do some aspect of one’s work for Them more effectively, then it is useful; if it is simply something that makes one feel good, or is for general “self-improvement” that does not have any direct benefit to one’s Deities (and, if in doubt, ask Them!), then one might still find it useful to do, but one shouldn’t then mistake it for being a devotional activity for a specific Deity or divine beings generally. (Calling things what they are accurately is just as important as using words correctly!) Periods of deliberate and dedicated reflection on divine matters can also be good, whether after certain ritual activities, or as a result of reading certain things, watching or hearing certain things, visiting particular locations, and so forth, can also fall into this category, and will often lead to further insights into them–and Them!–which can be confirmed through divination.

And, as it has been mentioned several times previously, I would likewise place in this category an activity which is one of the most useful and even essential dimensions of being a modern (or any!) polytheist or animist, namely divination. Because the wills of our individual and distinct divine beings can be known, They are accessible to us via various means; and, likely as not (especially as one develops and progresses further in one’s relationship to Them), Deities and other divine beings are not simply going to speak directly to one, nor show Themselves in brilliant blinding visions, every time information needs to be conveyed between you, and thus you’ll have to get into the habit of asking about things. In fact, once you have a reliable and recognized and agreed-upon divinatory practice, you can probably expect that such visions, auditions, dreams, and other such forms of direct contact are likely to reduce considerably, or even drop off entirely. Why? It’s not because the Deities are less interested in one, it’s because of something we know about humans as well. If you ride a particular bus route or walk on a certain street at a particular time of day, and see a person there that you eventually begin speaking with, and then decide you want to speak with that person again, it might be possible that if you ride that bus route again or walk on that street at that time again you’ll be able to speak with them again. But, what if they are not there when you are? What if it was sheer chance that they were on that bus or that street that day, just when you wanted to or decided to speak with them? While your meeting and your conversation on that occasion might have been enjoyable, and perhaps even providential–you have so much in common with this person!–it’s going to be a lot easier to get back in touch with them if you find out their name and how to contact them. Once you have their phone number, then if you happen to run into them around town, that’s great luck and can be enjoyed, but otherwise you’re going to have to get over your shyness and your laziness (or whatever else limits you) and give them a buzz to ask them things, see if they want to hang out, or whatever else. If you have a Deity’s number, so to speak, with a particular divination system, oracular practice or dedicated oracle (i.e. a human fulfilling that role), then use it regularly, and always/especially in relation to further devotional and ritual matters.

V. Giving While we have been taught that we should not value people for the things they give us, nonetheless “presents” as well as “presence” are often important, in various different ways, in the relationships we have. (However, don’t ever underestimate the importance of the gift-nature of all that has been discussed above–“I do this for you,” “I give you this space/time,” and so forth can all be offerings in their own right–and rite!) Offerings of all sorts certainly fall into this category, including all food, water, and drink offerings, as well as incense, flowers, candles (or light of any sort–from butter lamps to battery-operated tea lights), and anything else that is perishable or that will diminish over time. More permanent offerings in the form of space have been covered above, but also making images or obtaining them (usually by purchasing them), or adorning them can also fall into this category–if you have a statue of a Deity and then place a necklace (that you buy, or were given, or make yourself) around it that only the Deity-image wears, that’s one such example, but these could be multiplied endlessly. Do not neglect, also, that sometimes prayers themselves can be offerings rather than “just prayers,” and by this what is meant is that writing the prayer can be a semi-permanent offering, and sharing it with others (and then them using it) can be as well, but saying it on a particular occasion can be an offering as well, because it involves using your breath, your words (as in “I am choosing in this moment to say these things rather than something else or nothing at all”), your voice, your time, your energy, and all of the things you associate with it and all of the emotions you place behind it. Not unlike the Afro-Diasporic practice of “spraying” certain liquid offerings so that not only the substance but also a bit of oneself is offered to the Orisha/Lwa/etc. concerned, the same applies to prayers and hymns. It isn’t always just the semantic content of the words stated which are important (thus some ritual texts are prayers, i.e. “asking for things,” as opposed to hymns, which tend to focus upon praise, description, narration, etc.), in other words, it’s that one is saying and thus giving that text in a particular context. It may always be possible (within some reasonable limits!) to give more offerings, pour out more alcohol, say more words, spend more money on any of these things (or images or other things), but one thing which is definitely finite for all of us is time, and what time we use to do certain things we cannot ever get back, and thus giving time to our Deities to say and do what is mentioned throughout these categories is a gift in itself.

As a result, we see that there is a great deal of crossover in many of these five categories: the “Setting” of time is also a “Giving”; the “Saying” of prayer is also a “Doing” and a “Giving”; and so on and so forth.

A brief examination of the “why” of all of this might be in order at the moment, but only a brief one, beginning with the following question: why do you need to ask? If you are asking this, it might be more useful for you to ask why you’re asking it; if it isn’t immediately obvious, then perhaps polytheist devotion is not something that is right for you, or that is meant for you…and that’s fine! There’s plenty of other religions, and other paths within different religions (including polytheism!) out there for you to explore and enjoy. If you’re asking this question to find flaws in others, why are you doing that? Which is to say: what do you care what others do? Why are you trying to dictate to others or change their minds on these things by questioning them? What better alternative do you have to offer, and if you have such a preferable alternative, why not speak of its merits instead of trying to point out the possible flaws you perceive in what others are doing? Just from a rhetorical strategy viewpoint, stating your case positively is more effective than putting others on the defensive! If you’re asking it, however, to understand more deeply what your own reasons might be for doing this, I’d advise two things: 1) Your own answers are going to be your own, and don’t expect anyone else to be able to tell you anything useful in this regard; and 2) Don’t mistake asking yourself questions like this, and agonizing over them, or writing about them at length, as a devotional activity, even in the category of IV–Thinking–above, because this is something that gets to your own motivations rather than something you can give to the Deities.

If you are asking this, you might also ask yourself some of the following questions: Why do you have friends? Why do you have art on your walls? Why do you read things? What’s the point of any of those things? It may simply come down to “I want to” and “I like to” and “I’m interested in this,” and it need not be any more complex than that. Again, devotion is simple and it need not be otherwise. Thinking it through and deciding that polytheism, and devotional relationship and activities within it, is “more logical” or “preferable” or what-have-you to anything else begins to sound like arguments to either convince others (and see the caveats on that above), which tend more often than not to be arguments to convince yourself that what you are doing is “right,” “true,” and (sadly, too often) “better” than all other alternatives. This tends to be a distraction to actually doing the work, and leads to a huge amount of needless worry and frustration, and creates a huge number of problems of its own. Now, by saying that I don’t mean to indicate that you won’t waver occasionally, that you won’t have doubts, that you won’t be frustrated in this path ever, nor that you shouldn’t exercise your discernment to see if what you’re doing is the right and best thing for you and for your Deities (and never forget the latter!) in a given situation; likewise, it doesn’t mean that these apparent reasons or motivations might not change over time or become more nuanced or less fraught (or less nuanced and more fraught!).

This also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask yourself if you’re doing these things to impress others (but who?), or because you’ve felt forced to do so (again, by whom?), or any other such reason that might fall into the category of “I’m doing this for any reason other than for the sake of being in a relationship with my Deities.” The “reasons” for doing the latter are going to be slippery, strange, and possibly even unutterable, and based on deep emotional needs, wants, and motivations rather than anything which can be expressed clearly or simply in language (and likely as not may even be beyond the reach of psychological analysis)…just like why you might like Star Trek so much or why you fell in love with your significant other or what your pet cat means to you. This is one area in which I think the Dzögchen Buddhism teacher, Ngakpa Chögyam Rinpöche, has been the most useful to me (I heard him say this in early 1995, during my first year at college, in the best class I ever took, which has had a profound impact on me ever since): when someone asked how he got involved in this form of Tibetan Buddhism–as he is European in geographic and ethnic origin–he answered, “I don’t know!” Everyone, including himself, laughed at this after a momentary pause. He went on to say “You’re going through life, and suddenly a fishing pole jumps out at you and says ‘I’m interesting’ and you say ‘Yes!’ And that’s the trouble with life: when it comes time to make a decision, we think about it, over-analyze our options, weigh the pros and cons, and then make the decision based on an unknown and non-rational emotional basis, and then spend the rest of our time afterwards justifying to others and ourselves why it was a good idea to make that decision.” His statements were to indicate how arbitrary, conditional, and essentially inaccurate all such evaluations are, since they are attempts to verbalize what is essentially a non-verbal experience…in other words, to turn experiential, acquaintance, and procedural knowledges into propositional knowledge. This is an epistemological problem that applies as much to polytheism generally as an experiential praxis theology as it is a problem that obscures what the various ancient Mystery religions were, i.e. experiences which deepened devotion with particular Deities that might be easily stated or described but cannot be understood by those who have not also experienced them, rather than “whodunit” revelations of some hidden knowledge in a dramatic context after a built-up amount of suspense. The latter is the sense of the literary genre “mystery,” and that sense pervades the understanding of too many modern people, unfortunately, when looking at ancient religions, and likewise results from monotheistic formulations in which “the mystery of our faith” can be stated in a short (ultimately creedal) statement, which is thus propositional knowledge rather than experiential knowledge. I think the Rinpöche wass entirely correct in this statement of his, and his observation bears much further reflection and application in one’s own experience (whether or not Dzogchen Buddhism is relevant to one’s life or interests one or not!).

I have no idea why it is that Cú Chulainn appealed to me so much when I first read about him, nor why he then seemed to pursue me afterwards until I devoted more and more time and energy, thought and work, and ultimately devotional activity, to him. (It wasn’t until I was in Ireland, working on a Ph.D., that I was able to get deeper into that…but, it still didn’t answer the “why” of his interest, nor my reciprocation of it.) When I put the prayer out there to the wider universe to send me a religious practice and a path and a Deity (if possible) that was all of the following things: historical in basis and something I could dig my intellectual and research-based interests into; modern and adaptable and appropriate for our lives now; not so established or codified already that there would not be room for innovation nor an active process of creation and contribution on my own part; not only queer-positive and affirmative but queer-based; and open to syncretism…I ended up (re)discovering Antinous. Too often, when we get exactly what we are looking for or asked for, a disappointment can end up following; in this case, it didn’t and hasn’t, and I suspect it never will. But, why? As much as Antinous and his historical legacy and the creation of his devotional pursuit was all I had asked for and all I could hope for, there was so much about him that seemed odd and even perhaps inappropriate for the time and place and character I thought I had at the time–why do I discover a Graeco-Roman-Egyptian Deity while living in Ireland and ostensibly pursuing Celtic polytheism? Why a young and beautiful Deity who isn’t obviously connected to things I seem to favor (like poetry) and who doesn’t seem very much like me?

These are questions that are probably very similar to those many people ask when they first come into contact with particular Deities and other divine powers…why me, why now, why this Deity? There is often a lack of confidence at the base of such questions that amounts to “why do I deserve this?” We have probably all felt, at some point or another, that we are not deserving of the blessings in our lives, of the love others have for us, of the attention that someone has given us in some situation, and so forth. While we need not have any sense of overweening pride, likewise we need not have a sense that we are miserable, undeserving, and useless scum (which is often the understanding of “humility” that we have been given from the dominant religious cultures). If we think that Deities have any will of Their own, any knowledge and understanding greater than our own, and any power greater than what we have as mortals, then why question Their attentions and Their choices in coming into relationships with us? Just as verbally and insistently attempting to question or undermine someone else’s motivations for doing something might impact one’s relationship with that person, so too might such a questioning harm one’s relationship with a Deity, even if it arises from serious issues of self-esteem and lack of self-worth. (It is possible to understand why a neurotic dog might bark at one, and even nip one’s hand, but that won’t make the blood go away; saying “I get why you’re saying this” to someone who has just responded to one out of their own fear and insecurity may very well be true, but if what they said was biting or hurtful, that also might not make the hurt go away.) If li’l ol’ me is good enough for any Deity to give the time of day to, so to speak, then I had better get used to the idea that my self-doubts and feelings of lacking in self-worth are also self-delusions (or, at very least, major distractions, even if there is a ring of truth to them and they are true rather than delusive), and the sooner I get over that crap, the better it will be for me, and for the Deities who have now decided I am useful to Them in whatever capacities I might be…which may also be beyond anyone’s ability to put into words or clearly conceptualize, including the Deities’! A Deity might like you “just because,” in the same way that you may like that Deity (or Star Trek, or your cat, or your lover) “just because,” and that’s good enough.

[I’m certain, you can find resources out there on “living without a why” and so forth, which often play into the apophatic-favoring forms of mysticism discussed above, and in this regard, I can certainly agree with them…but that should not be taken as either “exterior confirmation of the validity of this viewpoint” nor as “a majority agrees, therefore it’s more likely to be right.” Those are both unnecessary “whys” as well, and thus should be avoided!]

As one more matter of question in this regard, which I will try to express as succinctly as possible, we might spend a few moments on the effects of devotion, and a short formula that one might use in one’s discernment in terms of how effective any particular devotional effort might be. There are two metrics in this regard: how much meaning is generated by a devotional activity; and how useful and effective a devotional activity is in terms of accomplishing both that generation of meaning and in generally facilitating one’s deepened relationships with Deities and other divine beings. What exactly “meaning” entails is a question I leave open for you to consider–whether it involves actual statements and demonstrable benefits of various sorts, or is simply a feeling largely within one’s emotions…but it cannot be discounted nor removed from these equations, nor from life generally, as one of the most important motivating factors in human activities of all sorts. Ask yourself, if you doubt this, why it is that modern people have such difficulty existing with meaningless jobs, having meaningless relationships, and living in conditions where they feel their actions and efforts are meaningless generally, as well as being told that the wider universe is indifferent to them and ultimately all activities they do are meaningless on a cosmic scale…why, every fool would wonder, is the world so difficult and full of the problems it is if this is the case? Loss of meaning is one of the fundamental problems of the modern world, which science is in no position to provide, no political system can fix, no economic system can create, and which few cultures are prepared to remedy; and, truthfully, many religions have played their own role in destroying and undermining meaning by misplacing it and determining it without regard for peoples’ lived experiences. However, good and healthy religions and the spiritualities which flow from them should be able to restore that meaning. (But this is a HUGE subject!)

Taken together, these two metrics can result in the following when applied to any devotional activity:

1. Means something, is effective–if that is the result, then hurrah! You’re on the right track!

2. Means something, isn’t effective–this happens to everyone at some point, so in this situation, try something else! It doesn’t signify anything about you, or about what the Deities think of you, that sometimes you try things that don’t work; it does mean a great deal, however, if you let this defeat you, and worry too much about it and what it might signify for your Deities, what They think of you, or what Their relationships with you become. To return to the phone number analogy above in relation to divination: if you decide you want to contact your friend, but rather than calling them with the number they gave you, you instead use numerology to figure out their likely e-mail address, or decide to guess their Twitter handle based on what they were wearing the last time you met them, you’re probably not going to have much luck…but your failure in that regard is no reflection on how you feel about them nor how they might feel about you, nor either of your desires to be in contact with one another, it simply means that the manner via which you’re trying to contact them isn’t effective, so try something else! The more time spent on asking why this happened (beyond the obvious) is more time taken away from communicating effectively, so either return to what has been working for you recently (and do so soon so that you don’t reinforce an experience of failure as being more detrimental than it needs to be), or move from an approach in your experimenting to being less innovative or boundary-pushing to something perhaps more conventional. And, even if what is established or more conventional seems boring, don’t be afraid to get bored…which can be an issue in the “lack of meaning” options to be discussed below.

3. Doesn’t mean something, isn’t effective–if this is the evaluation you come to on a given activity, then you must first establish in this situation the following: who cares? This is not a statement of pointlessness or lack of significance, but specifically, who–you or your Deities–is the specific one who has any investment in why and how you’re doing a particular activity. Why are you doing something that isn’t meaningful to you is only important if the accompanying condition is that it isn’t likely to mean something to your Deities as well. And, while it should perhaps be obvious, it has not been stated strongly enough previously, and thus deserves a bit more attention here: the significance and importance of any devotional activity to a Deity or other divine being is a concern which should always be taken into account. Sometimes, what something means for a Deity or other divine power is more important than what it might mean for you, just as watching movies or going to places your significant other likes but you might not is important to romantic relationships. If it is boring to you, then the fact that you sat through it for the sake of your partner will have merit in their eyes, so long as you don’t complain or ridicule them for liking these things (especially in the midst of them!), and something similar applies to Deities. If this evaluation is the result for you in a given case, then there are (at least obviously) two possibilities for why that might be. The first is that you simply haven’t found the meaning in it yet, which might be why it doesn’t seem to be effective for you at this point…don’t discount the possibility that this might be effective for the Deity, and may be profoundly meaningful for Them, even if you aren’t feeling it yourself at this stage. (This is where divination comes in very handy!) The other possibility, to be considered only after divination and much further reflection (and possibly consultation with others, including elders in your tradition if you are lucky enough to have them), is that this particular activity simply isn’t for you, and isn’t going to work for you, and thus probably isn’t meant for you. If that isn’t likely to change, then obviously you should discontinue it, but not dismiss the possibility that at some later date, it might not become both meaningful and effective (or only meaningful, or only effective) in the future depending on where your relationship with the given divine beings goes and what happens therein.

4. Doesn’t mean something, is effective–as should be apparent from the previous possibility, if this is one’s result, then one should immediately ask why it doesn’t seem meaningful despite its effectiveness, which probably has something to do with the meaning attached to this matter by one’s Deities. Thus, it is simply a matter of adjusting one’s own understandings and perceptions where the importance and value of this is concerned to match that of one’s Deities, and to re-prioritize as necessary and appropriate under the circumstances. Despite doing this, if it still doesn’t seem to have any meaning now, then can it mean something more in the future? Again, divination and consultation with one’s elders and associates might be very useful in these circumstances. It will probably go this way for you at some stage, though, if it is an effective practice, which is part of the inscrutability of our Deities and other divine powers…if everything were obvious and apparent from the start, then having to engage in regular practice and to develop ongoing relationships with these beings would not be necessary, and it clearly is! The ultimate result for the meaning on the part of the Deities and not oneself might also be a “just because” situation, which you should be prepared to deal with.

Ultimately, possibilities #3 and #4 will come up for everyone at some point, and that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong necessarily, it just means that how all of this fits in and works together isn’t currently apparent (and, occasionally, currently important). And, unless you’re an atheist, not having all of the answers right now, nor ascribing value (and thus, ultimately, *meaning*) to a given devotional practice based not on one’s own evaluations but upon the preferences and desires of a Deity–based not only on attested tradition, but also on divination and one’s ongoing engagements with Them–should not be a problem. Do not mistake this, however, for “accepting things on blind faith.” If one has an experience of a Deity or other divine being, whether through a vision or audition or other personal communication, a feeling of presence, a dream, possession or other trance-type encounter, divination, omens or revelations through nature or other tangible things, coincidences and synchronicities, or however else, even if no specific reasons or explanations are given by the Deities involved for why something should be the way it is–then this is not “blind faith” as it is understood in the dominant monotheisms. If atheists suggest that this is an “appeal to authority” and is thus a logical fallacy, then unless it is something which is being used to leverage others into particular behaviors, and is something that only impacts you and how you spend your time and resources and how you act, then what concern is it of theirs if your “subjective experience” doesn’t meet their unreachable criteria for what is valid religious practice or experience (or, what they probably really mean by this, i.e. “proof of the existence of the supernatural”)? Do not let anyone tell you otherwise, and if anyone questions that, tell them P.S.V.L. said so! (See what I did there? Ha, ha, ha…!?!)

One final note. The Roman notion of do ut des, “I give so that you may give,” the Greek notion of kharis, the contractual nature of divine relationships exhibited in many Irish texts, and the precedents of many other polytheistic cultures all suggest an ethic and expectation of reciprocity which is implicit in a lot of the values of many of these cultures (e.g. hospitality; the Silver, Golden, and Platinum Rules; etc.). This is the essence of what devotion is…but that isn’t it by any stretch of the imagination. Just as was stated earlier, having relationships with people just based on what gifts they might give one, and likewise only valuing people or relationships for their practical and utilitarian aspects, is a very poor way to operate in the world. The Deities are not divine vending machines, into whom we pour offerings and out of whom pour blessings, even if this is how the matter has been phrased on certain occasions. It is perhaps better in the context of modern polytheist devotional relationships to take one of the more significant meanings of the Hindu idea of bhakti into account in our understandings: while it does get translated “devotion,” the roots of it point more toward “participation” as being the essential thing. Thus, it is <i<presence more than presents which determine the effectiveness of a devotional relationship. It is not only how present one makes one’s Deities in one’s own life, but also how present one is in one’s Deities’ lives, too–and do not undermine nor discount that fact. If our Deities have taken notice of us, then we have a significance to Them. They are not the distant and unreachable, transcendent gods of the monotheists; and likewise, they are not the superior cosmic entities like Cthulhu that are entirely indifferent to and even ignorant of humans since we are so comparatively insignificant on the multiversal level. If you do not have an approach to devotion that suggests that your world ends unless you perform your rituals (even if you fail to do so on some occasions–worlds ending in polytheism have never been final!), then it is not worth it; but, the more difficult thing to imagine is that if one does not participate in one’s Deities’ lives, then for Them, too, a small world also ends–the one in which you exist with Them, which only you can do, which can only happen now, in this life, where you are at currently, with what you have to offer Them, and what you are–the greater and more deliberate giving of which is the most important devotional offering you can ever make, and is entirely unique in the entirety of time and space, even on the cosmic levels which the Deities inhabit. If that is the approach one has, then devotion becomes superlatively important, and superlatively simple as well.

This is the situation with the initial simplicity of devotion. Complex symbolism, more involved meanings, more explicit motivations and values and explanations, and so forth may develop in time, and certainly are great if and when and where they occur, but *are not necessary.* Devotion is, and always will be, simple.

(And it took me over 8,600 words to state that…fuck!)

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | July 16, 2016

Quite a day, 13 years ago…

antenocittemple5

I sing to you on this day, Antinous,
thirteen years from the day it occurred–
when I stood along the invisible lines
of a wall raised by Hadrian, and his ditch,
and the temple between ditch and wall.
I said prayers to You and to many Gods,
held sacred objects and consecrated them
on the foci of altars reproduced in situ
(though I had seen the originals before
in the museum back at Hadrian’s Bridge)
and, though I could not see it with my eyes
an eye in the heavens flickered three times,
a forgotten star exploded to life
on the wings of eagles, a standard
no longer fallen or consigned to oblivion
in the black void of Nyx’s ineffable body,
the end of a hard journey which began
with misdirections, with walking blind,
with mistaken information and strange looks,
but at last I was there, to clean the grounds
and wait for two boys to finish their chat
before I said my prayers and sent fire
from earth to the heavens and back down again…
and, only then did it rain that summer
in the place I was told was more wet than Cork.
Antenociticus’ unblinking eyes did not flinch
when I kissed his cheek, but Your eyes fluttered,
and the tears from them watered parched lands.
For this, for that moment of standing in meaning
like the dream of months before, of the song
of Glykon and his Dona Nobis Pacem
during the night-time gauntlet of mysteries
when the serpent’s head was put on and taken off,
for the merest space of time to feel touched
by Gods and mortals long dead, no-more-unknown…
For this, I will always praise You, Antinous.

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | July 15, 2016

Walking the Worlds 2.2 (the fourth issue!) is out!

The latest issue of Walking the Worlds is out–which is volume 2.2, and which is the fourth issue overall–is now available!

The theme of this issue is “Philosophy and Polytheism,” and the full Table of Contents can be viewed here.

My own contribution to this issue is called “‘Would the Real Philosopher-King Please Stand Up?’: Hadrian and the Philosophers,” which is on pp. 106-120. While, I admit, it is not the most original nor ground-breaking article I’ve ever done, it is a very brief summer of Hadrian’s philosophical interests, particularly focusing on the evidence for his involvement in Epicureanism (also involving the Empress Plotina), and a short examination of the Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti Philosophi and Secundus the Silent Philosopher texts, including my translation of the former as well. There is a brief introductory discussion of the ostensible philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius, but I suggest that Hadrian is a better contender for such a title, since he was associated with philosophy in his own time and afterwards (long afterwards–into the medieval period and later, in fact!), and was also an effective Emperor (Aurelius, not so much, alas). As I said, not the most groundbreaking work, but given the last two quarters I had at college (plus a lot of other things happening involving travel and writing papers), I wasn’t able to devote as much time or serious thought to this piece. Nonetheless, there it is.

Elsewhere in the issue, Edward Butler penned the introduction as well as an essay, Neve Antheus has a piece on queer theory and Dionysos, Galina Krasskova contributes on Seneca, and so much more!

You can get Walking the Worlds 2.2. now, and it is available here!

Posted by: aediculaantinoi | July 14, 2016

Birth of Vitalis 2016

library

The library on the Boat of Millions of Years was an enviable one by the standards of any earthly academic institution, and would be more than one could hope for any mortal scholar; but for the Gods, it was only average–Thoth, Seshat, and even Saraswati had far better facilities, and what could not be found in any of Their collections could always be obtained through inter-library loan, which was Hermes’ favorite service, and His favorite way to permanently obtain volumes for his own collection.

Antinous entered the library, seeking a secluded carrel in the back where He knew He’d find His friend, no doubt bent over some interesting tome and perhaps taking a few notes on it as he pored over the words.

He found Lucius Marius Vitalis where He expected, but instead of reading, he was watching television.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, sorry–I know this is a library, but no one else was here, and so I figured it would be all right to catch up on a few shows.”

“What do you mean?”

“Not all the great works of humans are in written form, Antinous. There’s recorded music, there’s film, and there’s television, for starters…”

“And what are you watching at the moment?”

“I believe it is called Michaelitis Magicus Maximissimus.”

“Latin is not my own tongue, but I know you’re murdering it, Vitalis.”

“You’re quite right, but such a title redeems the material greatly. The protagonist does not seem particularly Judean to me, despite his name, nor does he have any of the abilities of the Persian priests…and I am not certain if this is a tragedy, a comedy, or a satyr-play…it seems even more frivolous than the worst of the Greek novels, to be honest.”

“And this is what you’ve been doing for the past few hours?”

“Not only this–earlier, I was watching Ludus Sedes. It is no wonder to me that so many come to us broken, fraught with difficulties of soul, entertaining demons of mind of all sorts which restrain and constrict them, if the only examples of honor they see end up being killed horribly, and the only celebrations of sex and the body available to them yet fear and demean certain parts of it.”

“This is a depressing subject to entertain on such a day, Vitalis.”

“What sort of a day do you mean?”

“It’s your natal day!”

“Is it? I had not remembered. One day is like another so much here, and all of them festive and full of wonder…how is one much different than another, ultimately?”

“Do you not remember your mortal life? Have you completely forgotten it?”

“By no means, Antinous! But, not being a God or a Hero means that even though I am in a blessed state now, the significance of time and place is far lesser for me than it is for you and those like you who are of the fully divine races.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way, Vitalis.” Antinous looked at the finely tiled floor, and ran his foot back and forth over one of the patterns in the silence.

“Nonetheless, perhaps I should cease from my attempts at catching up on the last eighteen centuries of literature, culture, and history and instead spend time amongst others on this day.”

“One holiday would not kill you, Vitalis.”

“Thanks entirely to you, nothing can kill me now, Antinous! What did you have in mind?”

“What would you like to do? Anything for you on this day, my friend!”

“Honestly?”

“Of course–why would I suggest otherwise?”

“I suspect you won’t like what I have to say.”

“In none of the otherworld is that even possible, my friend. Speak your wishes to me, and if I can bring them about, I will.”

“I…I’d just like a day exactly like the ones we used to have.”

“How so?”

“Awaking at sunrise, refreshing ourselves from our time in the realm of dreams, a morning spent at the gymnasium and the palaestra, a bath and then a meal, an afternoon spent walking amongst the groves and gardens discussing philosophy and fine things, a feast with good wine and interesting conversations, perhaps a few learned nymphs and well-spoken satyrs joining us afterwards for a symposium, and then seeing where it all leads as we retire to bed with one or more of our interlocutors.”

“We never had actual nymphs and satyrs on such days so long ago, Vitalis.”

“But if we could have, wouldn’t we?”

Antinous laughed. “I suppose you’re right. We could do even better than simply stopping with nymphs and satyrs, though.”

“How so?”

“We can have as our symposium attendees Wilde, Pater, Shelley, and Huxley.”

“Invite Gertrude Stein, Frida Kahlo, and Sappho as well, then, please.”

“All of these and more, my friend.”

“The people from Pulse in Orlando, too. I wish that you would give them a taste of what is possible for them now.”

“Of course.”

“And, I would impose one condition on you, Antinous.”

“What is that?”

“Not a word on your responsibilities as a God shall be spoken tonight–let it be like it was in the past.”

“Why?”

“Because you have said I can have anything; and, it might make some of our other guests uncomfortable. Your ongoing duties as a God are strenuous, certainly, and yet for taking them on, you are something none of us can ever be. Subject to laws and necessities though you might be in that role, the joys you are privy to are beyond understanding, even for we who dwell with you on your Barque.”

Antinous’ gaze became distant for a moment, as if He were looking through Vitalis to the entirety of the cosmos beyond him, through him, within him–which He was.

“Very well. I have said all shall be as you wish, and I will keep my promise to you.”

“And…perhaps one other favor?”

“Name it.”

“The Emperor’s wife and her companion, might they join us as well, and the Emperor, too?”

“If they wish, they will be there.”

“And perhaps after the symposium, might we all take to our beds…together?”

“I cannot speak for them on this, but if they are amenable, I have no objections.”

Vitalis exhaled slowly. “Thank you.”

“My friend…I had no idea.”

“It’s something I have never been certain that I might say without difficulty.”

“For whom?”

“For me, truthfully, but also I feared what you or the others might say.”

“Why such fear? Have you been with me for so long and yet you have not known me in this way?”

“I…I sometimes wish that it had been me, and not you, that Hadrian fell for, and that when I died, it would not just be a mother’s mourning that I received, but the rites of a Hero or better.”

Antinous was quiet for a moment, and cast his eyes down, as He could see Vitalis was feeling more exposed than he had ever been in his life or his afterlife–and considering he had every part of his soul stripped from him in his death until Antinous restored them to him, that was very bare indeed.

“I had your friendship, and that meant the world to me, and it always will be my brightest treasure, Antinous. But, I never had your gift for lack of jealousy, no matter how hard I tried or told myself otherwise. No, I never let it poison me, nor turn my envy into spite, but I could never let it go anyway. I know that it would not have been easy for the Emperor to suggest divine or even heroic honors for me, since I did not have the advantage of dying in the way you did and surpassing his will entirely; but, part of me wishes that if his love for me had been as great as the love he had for you, it might have been my name under which cities were founded, games and competitions were held, and by whose name lovers would have sworn themselves to each other and prayed for release in their sufferings.”

Antinous moved toward Vitalis quickly, taking him slightly by surprise, and took him in His arms, holding him close and warmly for a moment, kissing his forehead.

“I am honored that you have told me and have shared your innermost heart with me, my friend. I have never once suspected anything of the sort, and even knowing it now, I do not bear you any ill will for it.”

“Set had a few choice words on this over the years, and Paneris has threatened to expose me on it several times.”

“They never did–at least, in my hearing.”

“Thank all the Gods you are not omniscient!”

“That is a burden I would never wish to bear, and far be it for me to strive for a station higher than what is best for me.”

“Could you be as forgiving and loving as you are if you were all-knowing?”

“I wouldn’t like to speculate, or to be immodest…but, I have never been one to resent the words of the heart from anyone.”

“And this, no doubt, is why you are a God and I am not–”

“Do not berate yourself so, Vitalis!”

“You didn’t let me finish, Antinous: you are a God and I am not, and I am eternally glad for that!”

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