Posted by: aediculaantinoi | November 16, 2013

Polytheist Mysticism and the Dangers of Union…

I’ve been thinking about the present blog post for a few weeks now, and I suspect that at this stage, I’m able to at least outline some of my thoughts on this subject fairly coherently. Or, at least, we’ll go with that as our working hypothesis meanwhile…

One of the difficulties of discussing mysticism in a polytheist context is that the term “mysticism” has generally been understood through certain non-polytheist religious lenses, and has been defined rather exclusively through them. Even though many monotheistic religions don’t like, tolerate, or even think mysticism (under their monotheist definition) is at all possible, nonetheless they are the ones who have defined it in ways that still prevail in religious studies, for example. Religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and others have often bought into the monotheist definitions of it, even though they have perfectly good terms for some of these phenomena in their own languages (e.g. in Buddhism, satori, etc.).

What is that definition, you might be asking? In essence, the notion is that mysticism is any spiritual practice that aims toward union of humans with their gods–or, since this is a definition propounded by monotheists generally, let’s be honest, and say it is “union with God.” Of course, already, from a polytheist perspective, there is a problem there…so, let’s go back to my first suggested definition provisionally for the moment, with its pluralized objects of union.

Interestingly enough, even for monotheism’s flaws in many regards, where mysticism is concerned, they don’t suggest that full and complete “union” is even possible; most mystics in monotheist contexts say that the most which can be achieved by a person while still alive is a “union of will” with their gods, and/or possibly a “union of love.” There is no union of substance, essence, or identity, however; if such a thing is possible, it only takes place after death. While we could go on for a while about whether such unions of love and/or will might look like from any perspective, or even from a polytheist perspective, I’d like to pass on to some related subjects instead.

Someone recently asked me, in an entirely different discussion, about experiences of mystical union as a polytheist, as well as generally speaking. One of the things that I’ve noticed about these, even when they are described by monotheists, is that two things usually follow in trying to discuss them: 1) they are apophatic experiences, and therefore can’t be spoken of at all and words will always fail them (which has its own problems…?!); 2) what is instead resorted to is poetry and metaphor, and it is often poetry and metaphor that relies heavily upon images of (on the less carnal level) marriage, love, longing, and the like, or (on the more carnal level) ravishment, physical ecstasy, and so forth. What I greatly suspect is that these sorts of mystical experiences–often espoused by ostensibly celibate priests, monks, or nuns–is in essence an experience of “god-sex.” Even in good human sexual encounters, there is a feeling of a blurring, breaking, or total loss of personal boundaries after a good orgasmic experience; but no matter how intense or enjoyable that feeling of post-coital bliss is, we know that the two individuals are still whole unto themselves after it, even though they may then have a persistent emotional or energetic relationship bond between them at that stage. There is no “true union” that has taken place between them. I think that this same sort of thing has probably occurred with the monotheist mystics in these cases: they’ve had “god-sex,” and just like in human sex, there is that feeling of blurred boundaries and broken defenses, in which the wonderful vulnerability and comfortability with one’s partner occurs and is able to create, solidify, and intensify any emotional connections that already existed or which are newly formed as a result of such experiences. Thus, these experiences of mystical union are probably just god-sex that is not recognized as such…and if the Song of Songs is anything to go by, the Hebrew god definitely enjoys his god-sex! This is exactly the kind of imagery we get in St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” (the poem, in any case; the treatise does have some of it as well), which has been taken as some of the most eloquent and accurate of mystical theology present in the Christian tradition, and earned him his beatific title of “Doctor of the Church” as well.

As polytheists, god-sex is something that goes on without much further thought or theorizing, at least for those who are inclined toward mysticism and spirit-work; it’s often hard to discuss it, because there are so many anti-mystical (and, to a certain extent, anti-erotic) negative and critical voices in polytheism, and thus no one wants to talk about these things publicly. I can certainly understand that…I don’t talk much about it myself, though I have written about it on at least one dedicated occasion.

Even though our individual boundaries are still maintained in polytheistic god-sex, as well as all mystical experiences, nonetheless due to the wider understandings (and misunderstandings) religiously about mysticism, and natural pressures and dangers within these practices, and often a simple lack of understanding or discernment on the part of some polytheists, this drive toward union as a kind of legitimizing notion, as a desired outcome, and as a method of self-justification, can lead in some difficult and dangerous directions.

I think this is one of the reasons why spirit work and other such mystical practice with myself and Antinous doesn’t, for example, involve oracular activities for me, for starters. (And, note: I’m not knocking anyone who is a polytheist who does oracular work…it’s just that there is a danger there…or there can be for those of poor understanding…!) Speaking with the voice of a deity on certain deliberate and circumscribed ritual occasions does not then mean that a person’s voice is authoritative in all things at all times after that, and it very most certainly doesn’t mean that the person’s opinion on any given matter is the opinion of the deities concerned either.

Most oracles know that and realize it, and yet I see many who seem to think that they are full-time prophets and that every pronouncement they make is congruent with the will of the gods they might serve in an oracular capacity (which, again, points toward that problem of the notion of “union of will” when it may not actually be present in a given situation); or, that any sudden thought they might have is a message of one of the gods through them, and must therefore be taken seriously by all those who hear it, i.e. by those they choose to say it to, often in order to have something go in a direction that they would prefer it to. For all of the reliable and true oracular mediums I’ve met, spoken with, and have had oracular work from, who tell me that Antinous doesn’t want me to be doing direct oracular or “horsing” work with him (and I think they’re 100% accurate on that), I’ve met several who are often teachers of oracular techniques, who tell me that “the spirits want you to know that you can be an oracle.” I’ve known that it is something I could do for many years now; but “could” does not mean “should”–I could do any number of things that wouldn’t be useful or productive at any given time, but I realize that many of them would do more harm than good.

As a person who is very heavily involved in the restoration of a major polytheistic cultus to Antinous, my “word” on many matters has been taken rather seriously–and, I hope, people have taken it seriously in ways that are good and productive rather than detrimental to their own practices, and to the general atmosphere of devotion and honoring of Antinous that I have sought to create by doing so. To have oracular authority in relation to Antinous on top of that would be a potential recipe for disaster, I think. When we had a fully-functioning oracle of Antinous several years back, the ways in which some people expressed complete and utter faith in that oracle as an almost infallible resource (without knowing anything about it other than it existed) was rather astonishing, and sometimes a bit scary; others expressed trust in it, but then complete and total skepticism when the answers coming from it contradicted their own desires or thoughts. When the modern devotion to Antinous began in an organized fashion in 2002, we agreed that an oracle was not something we were seeking to find, or were planning to revive; it wasn’t until we had someone come forth and suggest that they wanted to do so that we agreed to it (after a probationary period, of course), and while it was going, it did work pretty well, I thought.

These days, what I am more in need of is not something that I can rely on myself, and that might simply lead down the road of giving any number of potential sock-puppets in my own head divine sanctioning and status; I know I’m far too scattered and in certain respects compromised to be a reliable oracle, for myself or for others. It’s simply too easy, tempting, and therefore dangerous for me to have any notion that what I say or do or think IS the direct will of a god–any god–to go down that road too far.

And, honestly, I think my rather hard polytheism has been the greatest asset to me in this situation, and in making sure that I maintain the distinctions between myself and my deities, their will and my own will, the love I have for them and the love and blessings that they’ve shared with me (when I’ve been able to perceive and receive them). If I grow in my own divine nature, it is in my own divine nature; though they may be giving some of themselves to increase that in me, it is not that I am becoming them, it’s that I’m becoming more divine myself (if, indeed, that is taking place at all).

I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of anyone who has experience with these matters in the comments on this post. If you practice oracular possession, mediumship, trancing, and so forth, how do you understand the differences, the boundaries, the mechanisms of differentiation, between yourself and your gods?


  1. Hello,

    I would ask that you not make this public please, and am posting anonymous for that reason.

    It is my experience that with time you are able to learn the difference. For example, as a child some of what occurred with me was assumed to be night terrors because of my reaction to what I was seeing. I didn’t have the experience to understand and yet I had absolutely no doubt these experiences were real and different than other dreams. If it is via a dream, there is a sense of hmmm, urgency isn’t exactly correct. A push to acknowledge within myself that I understand.

    When I was a child I would have some horrifying trances. In recent years that has started to occur again. To be perfectly honest, I kind of questioned my sanity. How do you explain that you are literally seeing something around you that a person next to you doesn’t see? I am just beginning not to have my heart beat a million miles an hour when it happens. Though if it happens in the middle of the night and catches me off guard, I’ve been known to scream bloody murderer.

    I don’t know what other people do, and I’m not trying to communicate with anyone. I see through another’s eyes, not my own. On occasion there is a woman within the visions that helps me come out of it. Each time that has occurred I have felt like something is..How to explain. Pulling me into a void or darkness where there is no escape. I’m aware, but completely helpless. The worst time it occurred, I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. It was as if my soul was being snipped away from my body. And I knew if I didn’t come to at that moment, I never would. She appeared, so effervescent, told me I had to go back now, or “they” would kill me. It was a horrifying experience.

    I’ve never met someone like me before in that manner. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m highly sceptical of people who make such claims. How’s that for hypocritical? I did meet someone years ago who knew. My precense frightened her, but when she spoke to me about it, I didn’t understand. She warned me though. It’s funny. There are so many things I wish I could unseen and unfeel. But it is all I’ve ever known, so I think I would feel unwhole were it to stop. The thing is, who are you going to tell? I have a few close friends who know and accept me, but I’m not certain they could handle if I really shared with them.

    It boils down to you just know. There’s a tugging in your gut that won’t allow you to dismiss it. I don’t know about mediums. I am empathic to places and humans, life forces. The times I’ve had what I call energy, but some might call a spirit or entity, try to talk to me the visual has sent me into a panic. Scared the living daylights out of me. And there’s so much emotion. I’m working on controlling myself better. Strangely enough, I’ve discovered incense seems to help create a barrier of sorts. Accidental happy find.

    I am not sure if any of this is helpful. You seem serious about wanting to understand though, and I belief paths sometimes cross for a reason. I hope you’re feeling better.🙂


  2. When I was doing the oracles, I did everything I could to separate my own response from the gods’. I requested that people not give me any background information, just a straight question (that way I couldn’t really form much of an opinion myself). I didn’t really look at the questions until I had to copy them down for the session, so they didn’t spend too much time in my brain. And then of course, I did a lot of work on becoming a clear conduit for the gods and spirits – purifications, devotions, ritual actions, prayer, ecstatic techniques, etc. I also requested feedback so that I could get a sense of how successful a session had been, and use that to analyze my evolving techniques and see what worked best. When I did give my own interpretation of the oracle or thoughts on the matter as an addendum, I made sure to emphasize which part was from the gods and which part was just me.

    I’m sure sometimes some of “me” crept in there anyway, it’s probably unavoidable, but I did my solid best to avoid it. It is rather daunting that the oracles were shaping people’s religious practice (not to mention often their worldly decisions as well), and I wanted to ensure as much as possible that the messages were indeed from the gods themselves, since I certainly am not in any position to be anyone’s adviser, religious or otherwise.

    It is difficult and requires a lot of experience, however, and unfortunately relies on the person doing the oracular work to self-police. Though it’s possible to get a feel for if a person is legitimate by how they handle themselves throughout the process.

    • Indeed…I know you’re one of the best and most conscientious practitioners in this regard…and perhaps all the more so since you’ve had to create a lot of your practice yourself (under spiritual and research-based guidance, certainly, but anyway!). It upsets and disappoints me that much more, thus, when people are either part of a tradition that practices these things, or that actually teaches some of these techniques on a semi-professional level, and they don’t observe those same standards.

  3. Very relevant, especially considering a book I’m reading. Though it is supposed to be from a polytheistic perspective, a lot of monotheistic influences show through (both in referring to Divinity rather that, say, Divinities, and other monotheistic speech, as well as focusing on unity to an almost painful degree).

    I don’t have much time, but I enjoyed this post, and hope to reflect on it further later on.

    • Thank you!

      When you do have more time, I’d love to know what book you’ve been reading…

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