P Sufenas Virius Lupus, author of The Phillupic Hymns, is one of the founders of the Ekklesía Antínoou, a queer Greco-Roman-Egyptian syncretic group dedicated to the God Antinous. A guest blogger on The Wild Hunt, Lupus is currently editing a number of anthologies (he’s seeking submissions!) and has just launched The Red Lotus Library. Lupus took time out of his extremely busy writing, editing and ritual schedule to answer a few questions for EHS about Antinous, Paganism/s and the true meaning/s of “queer” ….
Eternal Haunted Summer:
If you could correct one misconception about modern Paganism, what would it be?
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: There are many possible answers that I could give, or have given, at the moment and in the past to this particular question. For the moment, I think a major misconception that I’d like to try and correct is that there is such a thing as a singular “Paganism.” The various religions that could be described as “Pagan” are diverse and not united — which is both a positive thing as well as possibly a negative thing. What Paganism lacks in unity and in the ability to join in common causes and have a central organization, it makes up for in its variability and profoundly individualized nature. This is the case both with modern Paganism as commonly encountered around the world, and in most of the ancient religions that can be described as Pagan as well.
I’m currently trying to focus on this in my own usage in relation to certain terms. I used to refer, for example, to “the ancient cult of Antinous.” Then, I started saying “the ancient cultus of Antinous.” But now, I try to emphasize that when I use that term, “cultus,” it is a fourth declension masculine noun in Latin, which means that the nominative singular and nominative plural forms of the noun are the same, thus “cultus” can be either singular or plural. I try to emphasize that when I talk about the ancient cultus of Antinous, I’m talking about a series of phenomena that, while they may share a common focus, are very diverse and localized practices. In one location (Socanica in Dalmatia, now in Croatia), Antinous is called a “hero”; in Rome, he’s called a “god”; and in Antinoöpolis in Egypt, he’s called a “daimon.” All of these are anomalous in some way. The temple in Socanica was founded by Hadrian and Aelius Caesar, and since Hadrian is considered responsible for Antinous’ deification, this is very strange. The orthodoxy amongst classicists was that Antinous was a god everywhere but Rome, since he did not undergo “official” deification by the Senate, and yet we have several inscriptions from there suggesting he was considered as much a god as any other. And in Antinoöpolis, the place where he drowned and the city named after him as its founding hero, he is called a “daimon” in a love spell, as if he were any other spirit of a dead person who was entreated to assist in bringing about the effects of the spell. This sort of diversity at a local level is even more magnified at the international level when one examines the highly dissimilar and manifold practices observed in relation to this one deity across the span of the Roman Empire in the second, third, and fourth centuries.
How much more true is this with modern Paganism, of many sorts! So, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that there is a religious phenomenon called “Paganism,” but that in practice, there are multiple and nearly infinitely variant traditions that would better be termed “Paganisms.”
Would you say your path to Paganism has been fairly straight-forward, or have you wandered around a bit?
P.S.V.L.: Yes and no. In certain respects, I’ve done a gigantic spiral, you might say, having passed by some things in my infancy and youth, returning to them eventually. I was fascinated as a child (at about three and four years old) by a huge book on Egypt that my parents got at the King Tut exhibit, when it came to Seattle in the late 1970s. I loved the film Clash of the Titans
as well, when it came out not long after that, and I began to seriously enjoy reading about Greek mythology in the fifth grade. When I was fifteen, I immersed myself quite deeply into mythological study generally, particularly the Arthurian and Celtic mythological cycles, and this immersion also coincided with my formal investigation into Paganism as a lived and practiced religion and my breaking away from the Christian religions I had been raised in. (Though, like many Pagans of all types, I didn’t see this as a “conversion” so much as a “returning home”; I was never a Christian, so to speak — it was as if the Christianity I was taught “never took,” like an organ transplant that is rejected by the body.)
I was heavily into what I could find of Celtic Paganism initially, but soon I learned that most of this was not based on any authentically informed notion of what is Celtic at all, for the most part. I wanted something that was based in ancient practice, that I could sink my teeth into intellectually, but that was also new and different enough that I could attempt to make my own path in it; and, most importantly, I wanted something that was viable for the very different world we live in now, and didn’t require a tribal social structure, or an imperial government, or anything like that to sustain it and make it livable.
In 2002, I had my first introduction to Antinous, and the very context of his ancient cultus (plural!) was Greek, Roman, and Egyptian, and so this was returning to those early interests of mine from the late 1970s and early 1980s, only in an experiential and present relevance, rather than in a distanced form of intellectual pursuit or entertainment. I was no longer reading about mythology, I was living a myth, one might say.
I still have a great amount of affection for Celtic mythologies, and do participate in Celtic Reconstructionist practices. This is another thing that is wonderful about most forms of modern Paganism (though it was also not unheard of in the past): the fact that exclusivity is not a necessity in one’s religious practices or affiliations.
You co-founded Ekklesía Antínoou, which is a queer, reconstructionist, syncretic Greco-Roman-Egyptian group that honors Antinous. First, how did you go about creating Ekklesía Antínoou? And any advice for others who are considering creating a Pagan organization?
P.S.V.L.: While my own practice within the Ekklesía Antínoou does go back to the middle of 2002, the organization itself has only existed since mid-2007. Myself and several other people formed another group in 2002, in which I had the position of Doctor (which is to say, primary teacher/researcher — the original meaning of the Latin noun doctor being “teacher”). But, after five years of working in that group, I found that others in the group were taking it in directions both theologically and practically that I could not agree with any longer. It is certainly possible to remain affiliated with a certain group, but not agree with everything which goes on in it. However, on this occasion, I felt at the end of my rope. I no longer identified with the centralizing wishes of certain members of the group, or their deficient theological understandings and often incorrect assertions about Antinous, the culture of the second century, and a variety of other matters that seemed rather central to my own engagement with the deity and with the wider historical cultus. So, I voluntarily gave up being the moderator of the group, and founded the Ekklesía Antínoou, and many members of the other group followed, including almost everyone else in the previous group’s leadership and acknowledged clergy. I have felt that from the start, and still within the Ekklesía Antínoou, that it is a group effort, that the meaning and relevance of it being a communal project increases because it is communal rather than strictly individual, and that preserving this communal dimension is extremely important in all future work.
Something which we subsequently emphasized in the new group was practice. There was far too much ineffectual discussion and pontificating on the part of certain people in the previous group, and I wanted to change that. Lived experience of the religion, both in terms of ritual and in terms of actual interaction with the deities involved, was in my mind essential, and yet many people in the other group lacked both of these things and yet set themselves up as authorities over others. Since founding the new group, I’ve lead the largest rituals yet known (to my current knowledge!) in honor of Antinous, I’ve initiated a number of people into the Antinoan Mysteries, and myself and a few others have started publishing devotional work on the god. I’d say this is a very good improvement over what was going on previously!
In terms of giving advice to people who want to start their own groups — hmm. It is certainly not for the faint of heart or the thin of skin to do so. Depending on what sort of group it is, there are different levels of involvement possible. The Ekklesía Antínoou is a “real” group, in that we’ve had events in real life that take place on a regular basis, and there are a variety of individuals who have some sort of investment in being and identifying as members of the group. However, there is no “official” membership process, no dues, no outlined constitution or by-laws, and as a religious group, we currently have no official or legal recognition in the U.S. At the moment, that’s fine for us, as our activities have been primarily things we’ve done on our own, or they’ve been a part of a larger Pagan community event (like PantheaCon). We have an e-mail list where a lot of discussion and sharing takes place, and certain central organizational matters are hashed out. I’ve also got a new blog that is the more public face of the group at present, but readership isn’t very high — but, that’s all right, as it has only been going for a little less than two months at this stage. As with all such things, sometimes we have a lot of messages in a week, and sometimes we have hardly any; blog readership on a daily basis has been as high as 40 views, and as low as 0 since it started. So, the time investment is variable depending on the level of participation and activity of the members, including myself — I don’t post things every day on the blog or the e-mail group, but I try to get in a few every week, at least.
I’d suggest to those who are thinking of starting their own groups: firstly, identify what the purpose of the group you’re starting happens to be. Does it need official legal recognition, or can it be informal? Is there a need for officers who would be in charge of certain matters, or can things function fairly democratically and responsibilities be shared generally amongst members? Too often, people want to start with by-laws and elected officials, when they have not even established what the purpose of the group is; and when it comes to religious groups, at very least what the group does religiously should be of primary concern, and must be at least provisionally established before leadership positions are even entertained as a possibility. Too many people want to jump to the level of having a public temple, when there is no clear idea of what would go on in the temple, much less how to pay for it, who would clean the floors, and who would make sure the doors are locked so nothing gets stolen. (The latter is true both metaphorically and literally, in many cases.) And, one must also ask oneself if there is an already existing group that might serve one’s needs equally well. If there is, then consider joining it in a dedicated capacity and doing the work necessary to become recognized within it, rather than just starting from scratch; though “re-inventing the wheel” is in some cases totally justified and in fact healthy for the overall diversity of modern paganisms, which should proliferate and increase as much as necessary.
One should also ask oneself if one is doing this for reasons of ego — does one want a default leadership position in a group one starts oneself, rather than putting in the long hours and hard work demonstrating to others in a more established setting that one is worthy of such titles? It is an important question, and one that should be seriously tackled before one engages in this sort of activity.
George Cecil Ives had a wonderful saying, in relation to his own spiritual group in the late nineteenth century: “All are equal as regards authority; not all are equal in regards to effort.” Effort, and not some assumed title or authority, is what should always be at the forefront of one’s concerns if one wishes to achieve any sort of distinction in a group of any kind.
Why a “queer, reconstructionist, syncretic Greco-Roman-Egyptian” group? And does one have to be GLBT to join?
P.S.V.L.: I’ve always identified the Ekklesía Antínoou as a “queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group” for a variety of reasons. The original cultus of Antinous was Greek, Roman, and Egyptian in its various manifestations, and the modern group draws on all of these streams of tradition for its source materials. This makes it inherently syncretistic, but the original cultus itself was highly syncretistic, since it could have only emerged in a cultural context that had equal input from both Greek and Egyptian religious streams, at minimum. We are reconstructionists because we do look back to what remains of the original cultus, and draw upon the best and most useful and productive strains in that — not to mention the wonderful hymnody and imagery that has survived from it — to build what we can in the modern world that is relevant and can be utilized in the twenty-first century.
The “queer” part may throw some people, however, and might need a bit of explaining. Being a strongly queer-identified person myself, I was specifically looking in the early part of this century for a Pagan practice that would not only honor my own queerness as something that was “allowable,” but would take it as something essential and even radical (in the sense of “at the root”). There are many groups out there that have been doing queer Paganism of various sorts, including the Radical Faeries, the Minoan Brotherhood, the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, the Unnamed Path, and a variety of others; and there are other forms of modern paganism that are affirming in their acceptance of non-heterosexual members — I’ve heard that’s particularly true of the Feri tradition, for example. However, I found some of these groups, both queer-specific and not, to be lacking in certain respects. The basic cosmology, ritual structure, and expected gender roles and gender essentialism inherent in many forms of Wicca, for example, would make anyone who is queer a kind of acceptable adjunct, somewhat outside of the norm and therefore marginalized more often that not, even if accepted socially to whatever degree. This often allows queer people to play an important and critical role regarding what goes on in such groups, which can be useful. Unfortunately, many queer-specific groups then take this as the norm, when in fact that is no longer desirable, since the group itself should be normatively queer. Deep religious structures have often not been examined or revised as a result of these constitutional differences, and simply substituting one gender essentialism or one sex-role expectation for another didn’t seem like a positive thing to me. With the cultus of Antinous, we have a phenomenon which — perhaps more so than any other religion the world has ever known — began because of an erotic relationship between two men. As a result, I think that queerness is a foundational issue in the group, and should remain so: we should never lose track that there would not have been a cult of Antinous had Hadrian not loved him, and had their relationship not been of the utmost significance to Hadrian.
At the same time, this does not mean that the cultus of Antinous, either historically or even now necessarily, is a “gay cult” or only has relevance to gay men. (This has been a further major difficulty in the group in the past.) Far too many people, even when they are shown specifically that the cultus is open to everyone, have continued to think “Yeah, Antinous is a gay god, and I’m straight, so what does he have to offer me?” Well, does that same straight person meet an interesting gay person and conclude, “Yeah, I’m straight and this person is gay —what do they have to offer me as a friend?” (If they do, then I certainly don’t want to know such a homophobe!) One of the ancient texts on Antinous — the Obelisk of Antinous — has a section which reads “he [Antinous] hears the pleas of [they] who call upon him.” There is nothing here which says “only gay men need apply!” We have record of many different people in the ancient world, who were married and had children, who were heterosexual and who wanted Antinous’ help in attracting a female lover, and who seem to have been homoerotically inclined, who were under his patronage or who entreated him or demonstrated their devotion to him. There is no reason to think that the ancient cultus was exclusive in its membership, and thus there is no reason to think that the modern cultus would have to be either.
While I do respect the idea that certain queer movements in modern Paganism are separatist and are supposed to only have participation by “men who love men” and so forth, and I think that such spaces and activities are useful, I also think we can do better than that in our wider aims. If these groups are as much about demonstrating that queer people are holy and wonderful and gifted, wouldn’t it be useful to everyone to share those gifts more widely? Many of these groups are quick to point out the important social dimension and distinction that queer spiritual functionaries held in the past, and yet they seem to ignore that those special gifts were employed in the service of the wider community, to include non-queer people. Thus, why have a group that is only queer? If a group is only queer, then people in it are no longer queer, they’re “normal” (for that group), and then it ends up, at worst, as a “who’s more special/queer/extreme” or whatever situation. I’m not very interested in that. I am a polytheist in radical ways, and part of that polytheism is openness to and acceptance of diversity and multiplicity on all levels, to include the levels of gender (and there are many more genders than just two!), sexual orientation (and there are more than three of those as well!), and every other possible dimension of human (and non-human) identity and existence.
And, wouldn’t it be better to demonstrate love and acceptance as unconditionally as possible to whomever might wish to receive these things, rather than being exclusive and exclusionary, as so many mainstream religions have been? How queer is it, in fact, to simply throw the doors open on what we’re doing and make it available to everyone, just as the god himself was in the ancient cultus? So, everyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or previous (and current!) religious involvements, is more than welcome to participate in the activities we offer.
Antinous is not well-known, even in Pagan circles. How would you describe Antinous and His appeal to someone who had never heard of Him?
P.S.V.L.: Antinous was a young man who lived during the early second century, and became the youthful lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. He died in late October of 130 C.E. while the Emperor and his imperial entourage were touring Egypt. His manner of death was that he drowned in the Nile. By Egyptian custom of the time, this meant instant deification and syncretization to Osiris, which duly occurred at the site of Antinoöpolis, the location where his death occurred, and where Hadrian subsequently founded that city. However, the Emperor’s mourning and desolation over Antinous was excessive, and even unseemly by the standards of the time. Within months of his death, his cultus had spread to several other locations throughout the Empire, and it continued to grow in the years that followed until the death of Hadrian in July of 138. It had been commonly assumed that the growth period for the cultus had ceased then, but more recent evidence indicates that it continued well into the late third century, and that it was not until the final suppression of the pagan cults by Christianity that all activity ceased. Even then, Antinous’ many surviving images continued to inspire people who were Christian, and his story was known and preserved for a long time through the critiques of his cultus that were written by the Christian church fathers, through the historical accounts of him that were preserved, and through his imagery on statues and coins that continued to be collected across the ages. (A bishop incorporated a bust of Antinous into his own coat-of-arms, for crying out loud!)
Antinous’ appeal may seem rather obvious for gay men, therefore, and his beauty (as reflected in his many surviving statues) is certainly something that draws more admiration than many other deities and figures from wider religious traditions. Christian authors critiqued this aspect of him severely, saying that the only reason he was deified by Hadrian was because of his beauty, and even going to the opposite extreme and saying that Jesus was the only-begotten Son of God and yet was ugly, but of superlative virtue, whereas Antinous was beautiful but a son of perdition and debauchery. One of the things which Paganism as-a-whole has invested itself in is the idea that the physical is worthwhile, that material existence is important (and not just as a sign of or vehicle for spiritual presence), and that beauty is a wonderful and important thing to appreciate and recognize. Coming into a relationship with Antinous on the mere level of physical admiration is, therefore, not necessarily a bad thing, and if it can allow one to appreciate beauty wherever it can be found (and not just in the conventional places or in what society considers acceptably beautiful), then that is a major goal that would be very productive for Pagans of many types to pursue.
Further, Antinous did not just “live” the “dying-and-rising” god myth in a metaphorical sense. Some ancient historians suggested that Antinous sacrificed his life willingly for the sake of Hadrian and the Empire, while others said that Hadrian engineered it such that Antinous would be a sacrifice for his own imperial health and well-being. Hadrian himself seems to have written (in his lost autobiography) that Antinous’ death was accidental; and, given his excessive mourning and true devastation at the event, I would give the greatest credence to this particular possibility. It does not take an overarching narrative of death and resurrection, or of willing heroic sacrifice, to have a life that is meaningful, or to have a life which is reflective of divinity, or to undergo apotheosis and engendering the divine spark in one’s own life. There are a variety of modern occult, magical, and Pagan practices that emphasize that each of us is divine, and as an exemplar of that achievement of divine status, Antinous is a very useful model indeed. He was as human as any of us ever were, and he was also divine, and not in an exclusive or limited and sectarian sense. So, as an exemplary being who can help us to attain our own divinity, he also has great appeal and utility.
However, I would like to emphasize that what an individual god’s appeal for a particular person might end up being is exactly that: individual. People will be attracted to Antinous for all sorts of reasons; and, Antinous may end up being attracted to a particular person for any number of reasons as well. I’m not one who is generally in favor of viewing a particular deity as being “good for” only one thing, or even one area of human life. Antinous doesn’t seem to be a “queer love god,” or even just a general “love god,” in the majority of his attested ancient cultus; nor is he exclusively a fertility god. He certainly inspires creativity, but he’s not simply that either. The god Antinous will be whatever it is appropriate for him to be in a given instance, I think, and so leaving it open for him to inspire others in whatever way he decides, or in whatever way the individual person decides he might be able to assist them — whether along the lines mentioned earlier, or something else altogether — is probably the best way to approach the matter.
Also, I’d like to add that he’s not a god that will appeal to everyone, or that may be interested in absolutely everyone (though I cannot speak on his behalf in any definitive sense). There are plenty of men who love men that are pagan who may have no interest in Antinous whatsoever, and that is perfectly all right; and there might be some people who are entirely asexual, but who end up becoming very interested in him, or Antinous may become interested in them. Who knows? He is here for whoever is interested, is the bottom line.
The Ekklesía Antínoou just launched its own line of books,The Red Lotus Library. Why did you decide to create your own imprint, and why that name?
P.S.V.L.: Paganism is a niche concern in terms of the overall publishing industry. Reconstructionist Paganisms are a niche within that niche. Devotional poetry is a niche within that niche niche. And queer (and Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist!)? — even more so. As a result, it seemed like a good idea to start our own publishing imprint, so that we could get the things we wanted to see published done, up to our own standards, by our own rules, and to primarily benefit our own particular audience. While I’d hope that what we do is not just of interest to people within the Ekklesía Antínoou, we can’t say that will be the case for certain, but we can know that there is interest within our own group for such resources to be available in printed form. No matter how much easier the internet and online information seems to be for people to access, books never break down, and once one owns a book, very little (apart from deliberate attempts to destroy them) can harm them, so the semi-permanence of printed materials has been an appealing thing for many of us. (Not to mention, I’ve done the hard groundwork of looking up lots of resources, both from ancient texts and modern scholarship, that discuss Antinous, and very little of this is actually available online at present.) It is not a “business venture” as such, because the time that goes into each book will probably by no means be repaid by what is generated in sales; and yet, that’s not why most of us are doing any of this in the first place.
We have called the publishing imprint The Red Lotus Librarybecause one of Antinous’ persistent associations is with a particular flower, the Red Nile Lotus, which was commonly named Antinoeion based on him after his death, and of which a garland was made, that was awarded to victors in the athletic and artistic competitions held in his honor on a regular basis in many places in Egypt and the Eastern Roman Empire. A word commonly used for collections of writing is “anthology,” which is literally a bouquet of words, and we’ll be publishing several such volumes in The Red Lotus Library. And, as a flower is a growing and flourishing thing that is beautiful, it is our intention to have this publishing line be something that is beautiful and that grows and leads to fruitful proliferation of devotion and increased awareness of this god in people’s lives. So, The Red Lotus Library seemed to be a nice way to encompass all of that.
What kinds of titles will by published by The Red Lotus Library? Are you open to submissions?
P.S.V.L.: We have a number of volumes in the planning stages at this point. The first book, in two volumes, is called The Doctor’s Notes. The first volume, Devotio Antinoo, has a number of essays in it on practical devotional matters, as well as a number of rituals and ritual texts that I’ve written or that we’ve used at various points in the Ekklesía Antínoou for the past number of years (some from the earliest days eight years ago), as well as a small collection of important document translations from the original ancient cultus of Antinous. This should be available by the end of September, if all goes well. The second volume, Studium Antinoi, is a collection of essays (mostly older, but some more recent) that I’ve written over the last eight years, many of which used to appear on my old website, having to do with different theological and ethical matters in relation to Antinous and his devotion. There is also a third book, Something To Do: A Pagan Experiential Praxis Theology, which is a bit more wide-ranging, though largely based in my Ekklesía Antínoou experience and practices. The majority of that book came about from the 2009 and 2010 International Pagan Values Blogging Month event in June of each of those years, and what I originally thought might be one or two posts ended up being an entire theological excursus, which might be useful for some people who are interested in such things.
In the near future, we’ll have a book on the calendar of holy days observed in the Ekklesía, which will give background to each day and some ideas for how to celebrate it, as well as information on our Sancti. There will also be a poetry anthology, composed primarily of material generated by our members, particularly in the Megala Antinoeia competition we’ve been holding on a yearly basis for a number of years now. And, a future single-authored volume of poetry, which will be a follow-up to The Phillupic Hymns, will be produced by me within the next year, if all goes well. There will also be future volumes by various members of the group that have to do with practical devotional matters, collections of poetry, and any number of other subjects. However, nearly anything that is relevant to our group’s overall aims could be considered.
As appropriate, submissions and solicitations for inclusion in anthologies will go out in the future at the discretion of individual editors. However, if you have an idea for a book that you’d like to consider having published with The Red Lotus Library, feel free to get in contact and we can explore the possibilities!
Where can curious readers find The Red Lotus Library titles?
P.S.V.L.: There will be a page connected to my blog that will list all of them, with convenient links posted to all titles. They will be published in a print-on-demand format by CreateSpace, and will be able to be searched by title and author via that site, as well as on Amazon.com.
How will the proceeds from the sales be distributed?
P.S.V.L.: If the book is an anthology, the funds generated from it will go to various charitable causes. As the group is dedicated to queer advocacy, and we have a particular interest in queer youth (since Antinous was very young when he died), particular queer youth advocacy organizations like Lambert House in Seattle, Washington are important for us to support, we feel.
If the book is a single-author publication, then the author will receive the proceeds and do what that author sees fit with them. It is our opinion that individual writers, authors, and artists are generally undervalued in terms of the worth of their work, and that no matter how devotionally performed a particular piece of writing might be, getting it out there honors the deities involved, and the author gaining materially by doing so is not a bad thing at all.
That having been said, I’ve already vowed that the first month’s sales of The Doctor’s Notes, Volume Two: Studium Antinoi will be given to the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, a Shinto shrine in Granite Falls, Washington. I’m interested in building alliances with other polytheist groups, both within the broader modern Pagan movement and outside of it, and the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America has been very welcoming of Pagans and of myself and several of my co-religionists. This is one small way to support their activities, as a fellow minority religion and polytheist/animist religion, and to cement our ties to them for cooperation in the future, if all goes well.
You are currently working on a book about the Ekklesía Antínoou calendar and the Sancti. How was the calendar devised and who are the Sancti?
P.S.V.L.: The calendar is something that is a work-in-progress, one might say. There were a limited number of holy days that were celebrated in the ancient cultus that we know about. One of these was the Natalis Antinoi (birthday of Antinous), which was reckoned on an Egyptian cult calendar from Oxyrynchus, as well as in the constitution of a collegium dedicated to Antinous and Diana at Lanuvium (outside of Rome). The date of this was November 27. We also know that the date of foundation of the city of Antinoöpolis was on October 30, and we celebrate these two days as the most important festivals of the year.
However, there are all sorts of other possibilities that turned up within our research, and some dates have come about as the result of deliberate planning and experimentation. We celebrate many other Dies Natalis occasions, including those of Divus Hadrianus, Diva Matidia (Hadrian’s mother-in-law), and other important Imperial figures connected to Hadrian for which we have definite dates in ancient imperial cult calendars, for example. We have records of various occasions on which Hadrian or the members of his circle did certain activities, as when they visited the Colossoi of Memnon in Egypt in the month after Antinous’ death on November 19-21, which we celebrate as particularly important for Diva Sabina — Hadrian’s wife — and her friend Julia Balbilla, a poet whose only surviving poems are inscriptions on the Colossus. We don’t have known dates for Diva Sabina’s death, or her birth, so we have found other dates during the year on which to celebrate her.
One of the events that was most emphasized in the surviving hymnody of Antinous was the origin of the Red Nile Lotus, which was said to have emerged from the blood of a lion that Hadrian and Antinous hunted in Egypt in the year before Antinous’ death. Thus, we’ve placed our observance of the Lion Hunt and Red Lotus festivals on August 21-22, which is the end of the zodiac period of Leo, and therefore the “death of the lion.”
A variety of other dates have emerged, based either on our modern observances and occurrences of significance, or based on research into the historical and mythological traces of particular cults of deities and their festival dates, or of events of importance in the lives of the once-living figures who loom so large in our religious outlook in the Ekklesía Antínoou. On some occasions, we’ve even consulted various oracles to find out on what date a particular festival should be observed — these sorts of questions are ideal ones to put to oracles, in my opinion. Many of these will be discussed briefly in The Doctor’s Notes: Devotio Antinoo, but a fuller treatment of them will follow in the future book.
The Sancti are a group of people whom we revere as “divine ancestors,” of a sort, in the Ekklesía Antínoou. They are people who are important in terms of their contributions to the lives of Hadrian and Antinous, or to our heritage as Graeco-Roman-Egyptian polytheists, or to the existence of Antinoan devotion, or to the general field of queer spirituality and queer people’s contributions to culture and society more widely. We honor them as ancestors, and enshrine them in blessed memory, and by having them on an official list of Sancti, we commit to remembering them and to keeping their memory alive whenever and however possible. Alexander the Great and his lover Hephaestion are among these on the divine and heroic scale. Veturius, an Arcadian who commissioned a coin issue depicting Antinous, is someone we know nothing about, but because he issued these coins and was thus responsible for propagating Antinous as a god, he is remembered. We also have such figures as Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the founder of the discipline of art history, who was fascinated by Antinous and made many studies based on his surviving statuary. Oscar Wilde was fabulous in general, but he also wrote about Antinous in several of his poems and in sections of his prose, including The Picture of Dorian Gray. But among the list are many people of importance in the latter twentieth and early twenty-first century as well, including figures like Harry Hay, Alan Turing, and Bea Arthur (who gave very generously to LGBTQ causes in her will, and was a great ally of queer people during her life … and, even Graeco-Roman-Egyptian reconstructionists love “The Golden Girls”!).
You are also currently editing a Queer Magic anthology forImmanion/Megalithica. Why that topic? How is “queer magic” different from “hetero magic” (to coin a term)?
P.S.V.L.: There have been several abortive attempts to produce a queer magic anthology over the past five years; there are still a very limited number of books on queer paganism generally. I was asked by Taylor Ellwood, the nonfiction editor of Megalithica, if I’d like to head up this project, and I very happily accepted. Megalithica is producing a lot of excellent books, and one of the things they’re trying to do is have more representation from voices within magic and paganism that are not as prevalent in the current discourse. The first offering by them in this regard was Women’s Voices in Magic, edited by Brandy Williams, which is an excellent book containing many great pieces by Amy Hale, Lupa, Leni Hester, Caroline Tully, and others, including Erynn Rowan Laurie, who wrote on her experiences (and some excellent theological reflections) on being in the Ekklesía Antínoou as a woman. There will be upcoming volumes on race and magic as well, so I’m happy to be a part of this effort.
One of the big questions that I’d like to address through some of the pieces in this volume is exactly that: what is the difference between queer magic and any other form of magic? Is all magic, in a sense, “queer” (in terms of being non-mainstream, unusual, potentially transgressive, etc.)? Does sexual orientation or gender identity have a major effect in how one does magic, or is it simply something that might influence one’s “object choices” or the pronouns one uses and nothing more? As there has been an excessive amount of emphasis placed upon the importance of polarity — particularly in gender terms — in a lot of modern magical working groups within paganism, and a variety of other ideas that are gender-dualist, and often heterosexist, I think we can legitimately answer that these things need to be questioned if queer people are going to be involved with and fully included in various magical practices.
I’m not certain that I’d say there is a dichotomy, necessarily, between “queer magic” and “hetero magic,” so much as perhaps between “queer magic” and “heterosexist magic.” Any system of magic can potentially be accepting and inclusive in its aims and assumptions, and likewise any system can be offensive and exclusive and actively demeaning toward innumerable “others” of various types, including others in terms of sexual orientation. I don’t think it’s so much the issue of the sexuality of the individual magical practitioner that is the main focus, so much as the theological assumptions within the system in which the magical acts take place.
Are submissions open? If so, what are you looking for?
P.S.V.L.: Indeed, submissions are open, and probably will be until the end of November 2010. I’m looking for anything that is interesting and innovative, and that does not involve what I call “coming out theology,” or an emphasis on gender polarity.
The gender polarity question is one that far too many supposedly queer viewpoints take a bit for granted — that because gay men (for example) are “more balanced” in their gender characteristics, they are therefore better and more naturally gifted magicians. Nonsense! There are a ton of perfectly good gay male magicians and occultists who don’t have an ounce of femininity, or lesbian magicians who are not in the least bit masculine. These same assumptions also often paint transgendered people as, first of all, gay or lesbian (when they may not be); second, that any of the gender-variant sacred functionaries of the ancient world (the Galli of Cybele/Magna Mater, various two-spirit identities amongst the Native Americans, or the Scythian Enarees, for example) are queer — usually meaning “gay” — in their identities, which is a kind of sexual or gender-based cultural appropriation; and third, that trans people are more gender-balanced because they have been one gender and are now another, and therefore somehow combine them, when in reality the underlying aspect of trans identity is not usually a perceived yearning for androgyny, but instead that one is in the body of and has had the gender expectations of one sex imposed upon them when their internal and spiritual reality is that they are the other. So, if this type of “gender-balanced = better-at-magic” assumption is the basis for one’s idea for an essay, it probably won’t be appropriate for this anthology.
The issue of “coming out theology” is another one that, I think, plagues queer spiritual movements more generally. A great deal of time is spent saying that the gods do not hate or reject someone because they’re queer (whether in sexual orientation or gender variance or gender identity), and often the arguments of “in fact, we’re better than straight people” (along the lines of the gender polarity arguments just mentioned) are made … but then, what else? This is an important stage to pass through in terms of coming to an acceptance and public affirmation of one’s own sexuality and gender identity for most queer people; but there’s a lot more to queer life than just this — and I’m not just talking about “what would a same-sex handfasting look like?” If queerness is truly a radical identity which has an influence on how one lives one’s entire life and how one moves about in the world more generally, then it will have an influence on any and every aspect of life, including one’s magic and religion and spirituality (and I don’t necessarily see those various areas as opposed or even distinct in many cases). It will have an influence on how one drives a car as much as it does on how one does one’s magic. So … how does it all end up working? What areas does it particularly illuminate or obscure? Are there discoveries which one has made as a result of one’s queer identity that may not have occurred otherwise? Are there blind-spots which one has as a queer person doing magic? — and, to me, that’s a much more interesting question to ask, because it can’t all be good! Every position of existence necessarily has its advantages and disadvantages, and so exploring some of the latter would be very interesting and useful, and an important aspect of spiritual work generally.
If anyone is in doubt, or isn’t sure about an idea they have, they are free to get in touch with me and discuss it, and I’d be happy to do so!
You are also co-editing a devotional anthology in honor of cynocephalic Deities. Which Deities do you have in mind, and why a devotional for Them?
P.S.V.L.: I am co-editing this devotional volume — to be published through Bibliotheca Alexandrina — with my good friend and colleague Solo, who is a major devotee of the cynocephalic deities. “Cynocephalic” means “dog-headed” in Greek. There are a variety of deities who could fall under this rubric, most notably the Egyptian deities Wepwawet and Anubis (though there are other Egyptian ones), the Graeco-Egyptian syncretistic deity Hermanubis (a combination of Hermes Psychopompos and Anubis), the Christian St. Christopher (who is portrayed as dog-headed in his earliest hagiographies, and was based directly and demonstrably on Hermanubis, even inheriting his festival dates as his saint’s day!), and a variety of others. The star Sirius is often connected to cynocephalic or at least canid mythology and narrative in some way (e.g. the story of Maira, the dog of Erigone, who is involved in Dionysian myth), so anything connected with this would also be appropriate. The tengu in Japan, and related Chinese figures, are also sometimes portrayed as dog-headed (particularly in their earliest literary attestations); and there’s also Xolotl, the Aztec deity. And, really, any number of others. While the Greek and Egyptian examples are the foremost of these, we did not feel that restricting it exclusively to these would be entirely prudent. Cynocephalic deities often serve similar functions in whatever culture they are found in — similarities that are often shocking in terms of their detail — and so drawing an arbitrary line around only a few of them and excluding all others didn’t seem like a very good idea to us.
However, the canid aspects of other deities could be included as well. I’ve found with work on canid mythological subjects over the past decade and more that just when you thought you’d accounted for all of them, an entirely new world opens up and they multiply before your eyes. So, anything that is canid-related could potentially be included in the final version of devotional volume.
Why did we choose them? It seemed like a pretty obvious thing in both the case of Solo and myself to choose them, since we have done so much work that has involved them. (Even Antinous has some interesting canid connections!) Of the many wonderful and beautiful Egyptian deities that are out there, Anubis is probably one of the most readily recognizable and widely honored, amongst both specific reconstructionist pagans and those outside that context. Therefore, this seemed like an idea whose time has come, and we wanted to see it done honorably and thoroughly, which we both hope to do in our roles as editors and as contributors. It should be very fun and interesting to see what people come up with for this!
Which conventions, festivals, book fairs, and so forth will you be attending in the foreseeable future?
P.S.V.L.: I’m attending the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle in late September (which may have occurred by the time this interview is published). I had hoped to present at it, but my proposal was not accepted this year — oh well, maybe next year. But the event itself is a lot of fun, and I hope many more people attend it this year.
I’ll definitely be at PantheaCon in San Jose in February of 2011; I don’t know what sessions I’ll be involved with at this stage, but I have several proposals in, and with any luck, I’ll be doing at least one Ekklesía Antínoou ritual and one workshop or panel discussion in relation to it — with any luck, we’ll have four of our Mystai on a panel moderated by myself, in which they’ll discuss their own experiences in the Ekklesía Antínoou as people who might not seem to be the “typical” members one might expect in such a group. I’ve also been in the “Yes They Are!” ritual for the past few years, and hope to do so again. And, there may also be other events that take place at that, so keep an eye out for the schedule on that in the coming months!
As for other things, we’ll have to see. Time and money are both at a premium more so than I’d like them to be these days, so much will depend on finances in particular as far as what I’ll be able to attend in the near future. I’m always willing to go where I’m invited, if that invitation involves transportation and accommodation, and if it can be fit into my schedule. The greater the sales of the books happen to be, the higher the likelihood that I might be able to get to certain events!
What other projects are you working on?
P.S.V.L.: As if all the above weren’t enough? ;) I should have a few pieces coming out in the forthcoming Bibliotheca Alexandrina devotionals on the Dioskouroi, Zeus, and Pan, which will be out soon (if they’re not out when this interview is published). It is very likely that any future Bibliotheca Alexandrina devotionals will have at least one piece by me in them, as I tend to submit several things to them, and have usually had them accepted (with one exception thus far). There are a variety of other academic publications that I’ll be working on, but occasional articles and guest blog posts should be appearing elsewhere in the meantime as well. And, check out my blog, Aedicula Antinoi, which will be my personal, official web presence for Ekklesía Antínoou purposes for the foreseeable future as well.