I’ve addressed the issue indicated above on this blog before in relation to a variety of matters. Now, less than a week from the beginning of PantheaCon, and a few hours more than a week before the first ritual I’ll be running there this year, I want to introduce this issue once again and get some ideas.
When we see the term “accessibility,” we often associate it immediately with the disabled, and access to certain events or services, and the accommodation concerns that make it possible to have such events be considered “accessible” by the members of that diverse and varied community. While we’re not 100% where I’d like to be with this (but, in fairness, I don’t think anyone is, on which more in a moment), this is one area that I think the Ekklesía Antínoou has done pretty well in, especially in the events that I’ve been directly affiliated with (which is to say, almost all of the events the Ekklesía Antínoou has ever done). Being chronically ill myself, and having been discriminated against for various reasons based on my health issues in both pagan and non-pagan religious circumstances, this is an issue that I take very personally, and which I therefore try to be as open and adaptable on as it is possible to be given my own circumstances. No, we don’t have sign language interpreters for the deaf at all times; no, we don’t have ritual rubric scripts and ordo texts available in braille. Part of this is we don’t have regular membership in the group who is trained in those specialized skills, nor do we have the money to hire the professionals needed to do them. But, it does loom, at least, as a concern for how we might improve in the future, especially if there is a direct demand and need for such skills that occurs by the presence of people with those particular needs in our regular membership rather than simply existing in theory or as a contingency.
All of that having been said, and with those important concerns in mind, though, I’m also very purposefully using the term “accessibility” as one that indicates that our events, rituals, and membership is as open as possible to people of all types and is therefore aware of all needs. Part of the Ekklesía Antínoou’s very existence has to do with addressing the needs of a commonly discriminated against group in modern society (i.e. queer people), and thus that concern is always at the forefront of what we do, and is an essential part of the identity of the group, even though we’re more than open to and welcoming of people of any sexual orientation–all of the various shades of queer, as well as straight, and also asexuals. (If there are others that are legal, those ones, too!) Likewise, we’re open to people of any and all gender identities–by no means is this a group just for (queer) males–indeed, if it was, I wouldn’t be able to be a member of it! And, given that the Tetrad has become very important to my own work (especially over the last two years), that will continue to be the case. So, in these two areas, I think we’re doing fairly well, too, and will continue to do so without much effort having to go into the emphasis on our accessibility in these regards.
The Ekklesía Antínoou is a polytheist group, and its dedication is primarily (though not exclusively) to Antinous, but the number of deities, heroes, and Sancti, deified humans, and other divine beings associated with him is huge, to put it mildly. However, from the first ritual at Foundation Day I had to more recent ones, I’ve never discriminated against anyone from attending who wasn’t respectful, and have had Christians, atheists, and many shades of pagan at rituals over the years, and there have been members of the group who have been affiliated closely with other religions as well, including Muslims. (Is there any further need for me to demonstrate that I’m not a Nazi fundamentalist? If so, please let me know, and perhaps I’ll devote a whole post to it in the near future!) I would love for people of other religions to attend our rituals at some point and identify themselves in doing so, and I will continue to advocate for use of the Communalia ritual as both an intrafaith and interfaith ritual in the Ekklesía Antínoou’s tradition in the future.
The issue of race and ethnicity is one that I am concerned with, and which I think every modern pagan and polytheist should be concerned with as well. While it is not the “reason” that I am concerned with this issue, I have been especially aware of the precedent on this matter provided by Herodes Attikos and his Trophimoi: as important as Polydeukion is in that picture, it is not at all complete without Memnon. (And, as it is Black History Month in the U.S. at present, and Memnon was almost literally “there from the beginning” in terms of Antinous’ cultus, it’s especially important to remember him in that context as well…and, I may say more on this in the next few days.) We live in a world in which there is a very large amount of ethnic diversity, and that’s a world that I love and approve of and am excited about; this is particularly the case in the U.S., and as the recent presidential election’s aftermath has demonstrated, there is a decided lack of enthusiasm on one side of the political spectrum about accepting this “new demographic reality” about the U.S. (which has been that way since before the U.S. was founded, and thus is hardly new…but I digress!). While I have reservations about my own personal efforts to get people in general to be interested in our group, I have a very strong desire to make sure that I’m not alienating or driving away potential members who are not of ethnic European descent. So, that lingers as a concern in the forefront of my mind as far as accessibility issues go.
And, one that I’ve been made especially aware of over the last two years, particularly in relation to certain circumstances at PantheaCon but more widely as well, is the issue of age accessibility. The majority of the members of modern Antinoan spirituality groups have been older–in fact, the demographic has not tended to be young males, but in fact older ones (and while I don’t conisder 40 to be “old” even remotely, the “over 40″ age group has tended to predominate). There have been some very active people under the age of 30 in the ranks of the Mystai of Antinous and the Luperci (and the latter group requires them, in fact!), but we have yet to become a group with many active members under the age of 20. This is a major concern in my opinion, for a variety of reasons: chief among them is that many of our gods, including Antinous himself, the other members of the Treískouroi, and the two other Trophimoi, were all teenagers when they died. There are young people out there who could certainly benefit from what we do, I think, and thus making our events open to all ages has been a new necessity that has been made apparent to me over the last year; thus, for the first time ever, all of our rituals at PantheaCon are explicitly for all ages. If the “cost” of all-ages accessibility is foregoing nudity in the Lupercalia ritual (for those who choose to be Luperci in that fashion, or lack thereof as the case may be…!?!), then I’m happy to make that concession simply on behalf of the possibility that younger people might be present and benefit from what we’re doing. I vehemently disagree that young people (and especially teenagers) should be in any fashioned patronized, talked down to, or treated like they are not intelligent and developing in their understanding of personal responsibility; and, the best way to model such things and to inculcate such behavior is not to sequester them and send them off for tea parties or sessions on how D&D can introduce them to paganism or any other such thing, but instead to have them seeing how adults act in ritual, and being around adults in ritual. As long as they can be attentive, respectful, non-disruptive, and can learn something, they should be given the opportunity to do so, in my opinion. The prolonged infantilization of young people is a major issue in our society that has not been adequately addressed, and I for one would like to make my own religious community not only aware of this issue, but proactive in trying to do something about it.
But, even with all of the above matters mentioned, I’m still worried that there are areas I’m overlooking. What might they be? Certainly, having our materials available in other languages might be useful, but given that English is so widespread in usage, and there have not been individuals willing to attempt translating my books (for example) into other languages, that hasn’t been in the cards yet, apart from one rather minor occasion where we gave a small ritual rubric involved with the Obelisk of Antinous in about five modern languages. Apart from the language barrier, I’m sure there are other matters as well that could use some attention, though.
What I’d really be interested in, and thankful for, then, from YOU, the readers of this blog, is some input on “how we’re doing” in regard to the above issues, as well as what other ones we might need to make ourselves aware of in the future. I am genuinely interested in, open to, and will be as responsive about your comments on this issue as it is possible for me to be at present, so I look forward to hearing from you on this!