P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, the founder of the Ekklesía Antínoou spiritual group and author of The Phillupic Hymns and The Syncretisms of Antinous, has released a new book, Devotio Antinoo: The Doctor’s Notes, Volume One. It’ll be a month or so before I can afford to get my own copy, but I look forward to reading it. I sat down with the author for an interview regarding his worship of Antinous and his book. It was delightful and I look forward to his future work!
What drew you to Antinous? How did you come to worship Him? Were you already Pagan or did He bring you to Paganism?
I had already been pagan for many years (around 10) when I came to find out about Antinous’ deification in June of 2002 (and soon after started the first of the larger, organized groups dedicated to his devotion); I had known about him since early 1998, however, but didn’t know he had been deified–and even though I studied and read a great deal from 1998 to 2000 on queer spirituality and queer spiritual history, his name didn’t come up much…it was in some of the books that I owned at the time, but he was never really focused upon to any large extent.
In 2001/2002, I was in my second year living in Ireland while working on my Ph.D. I was very disillusioned with the “pagan” community (if you can call it that) I found there, which was just as ignorant of anything and everything legitimately Celtic as the wider population happened to be, and many Irish pagans I met often thought that Wicca was not only “a” Celtic religion, but “the” Celtic religion (!?!). I was also very disillusioned with the heteronormativity of so much wider mainstream paganism; I knew that the Radical Faeries and the like existed, but there were none in the area, and most of the online presence of the group that I had encountered wasn’t very productive for me. I deeply wanted a religion that was intellectually as well as spiritually satisfying, one that was based in legitimate ancient traditions but which was open to syncretism, and one that was not only queer-friendly but in some sense queer-based or queer-inspired; and, I also would have liked something that I could help to build, rather than just being a follower…and then, here comes Antinous, right on cue…
And the rest, as they say, is history, sort of…!?!
I’m sure you know that Antinous is often referred to simply as “the Gay God”. Can you tell me about some of his other aspects? How does His homosexuality (or bisexuality, as some stories do say He married Selene, I believe) interact with or effect those aspects or your experiences of him in general?
I would be the first to suggest the caveat that Antinous is not “the Gay God,” nor is he even “a” gay god in many respects…I’ve had major arguments on various e-mail lists in the last few years over this issue, which is one of historicism. Yes, Antinous was homoerotically involved with Hadrian, which I think is almost beyond doubt (though some would still even try and question that); but, there is no reason to think he was “gay” in the way modern people are in a kind of constitutional sense, or that he wouldn’t have gone on to get married, even if he continued to have relationships with other males. The concept of “homosexual” and the “gay” identity has only really been possible for the last 150 years or so; the ideas about sex, gender, and sexual orientation that the ancient world had were very much different than ours were, even though we see ourselves as descendants, to some extent, of the Greek and Roman cultures of antiquity. Antinous most certainly wouldn’t have identified in a primarily homoerotic manner in his own time; it is only the Christian detractors of him that suggest he is “pathic” and a “slave to Hadrian’s lusts” and so forth. In the context of his time and culture, this youthful homoerotic beloved role and later marriage-with-youthful-lovers-on-the-side style of sexuality was not “being gay” or even in any sense “queer” (though it was nowhere near as “common” or even as “required” as some modern gay advocates would like to make it seem)—in fact, it was closer to just “being a man,” and thus in some sense comparable to being straight in the modern world…how queer is that? In any case, it’s a huge issue, and one I’d rather not get too far into at present.
We have one papyrus hymn fragment saying that Selene desired to have Antinous as her bridegroom, and thus had a hand in his deification or apotheosis, and placed him among the stars. As he is often given lunar associations, having the foremost lunar goddess therefore being responsible for his deification makes a great deal of mythological sense, and I don’t think it invalidates his homoeroticism and his connection to Hadrian so much as supplements it. But, I think that it is important to remember that any deity can have an appeal for a person, and a connection to them, independent of the match-up between any aspect of a person’s life and any aspect of the deity’s life or myths. Not all of the ancient worshipers of Antinous were youthful males who were homoerotically inclined—we know of married couples with children, men wanting to attract women, single women, and others who honored him, and that’s just from the few surviving records. There is no reason for anyone to think that Antinous wouldn’t be interested in them, or that they shouldn’t be interested in Antinous, for any reason of gender or sexual orientation. The Obelisk of Antinous says “He hears the pleas of he who calls upon him,” and while I think we can ignore the specificity of the male pronoun there, it does not further specify who it is who may call upon him, or that he’ll only hear some prayers favorably, so it is important to realize that.
Along with Serapis and probably Isis, as well as Sabazios and a few other deities, I’d suggest that for the Graeco-Roman-Egyptian context, Antinous is one of the gods of syncretism. Syncretism is his M.O. for much of his ancient cultus, and I think in that sense he can be an excellent “gateway god” for people to get to know various other Greek, Roman, and Egyptian deities—Hermes, Dionysos, Apollon, and Pan primarily for Greek; Silvanus and Vertumnus for Roman; Osiris and Apis for Egyptian…and others as well.
I experience him as a variety of things, including as a psychopomp (and not just for the afterlife, but for RIGHT NOW!), but also as an advocate and a defender, both in general and in relation to LGBTQI rights and freedoms. Though he does not have as pronounced a warrior aspect as some other deities do, that is a part of his overall makeup, both through his specific Hermetic syncretism as Argeiphontes (Argus-slayer), and through some modern developments I’ve observed in his aspect as Antinous the Liberator.
Also consonant with his Hermetic side–though not highlighted in his ancient cultus–I’ve found him to be a deity of words and of scholarship and learning, as well as poetry. I’ve written more poetry for him than for any other deity I’ve ever written for, I think, not to mention just words-in-general, whether it is fiction (not a lot, but some) or just expository prose, as well as theology and straight-up, hit-the-books scholarship as well.
Which ones stands out most to you?
If I had to say one thing that I think he is a “god of,” perhaps more than anything else, I would say it is a god of beauty, in whatever form that comes (certainly not just a “god of youthful male beauty,” as some people insist!)…but particularly beauty which one makes, whether through art or spirituality, or just in terms of making one’s life beautiful and turning what might be a difficult situation into something good. Indeed, his entire cultus, based as it is in his unfortunate death, is kind of an extended exercise in making something beautiful out of something unfortunate, difficult, and even horrific.
There was also an aspect of him that emerged somewhat under duress on one occasion, which I’ve found to be very important to my own work with him: Antinous is the “god of peaceful connections.” The phenomenon of his promiscuous syncretism is a function of his ability to peacefully connect different concepts, communities, cultures, and time periods, amongst other things. There is nothing in his ancient cultic remains to suggest he had enmity with any deity or deities he ever encountered, and I suspect this will go on for a long time. I don’t think he would shy away from becoming involved with potentially anyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, age, or even (as in some cases within the Ekklesía Antínoou) their religion—he seems to appeal to certain Christians and even a few Muslims as well! If there is one thing that Antinous does and does extremely well, perhaps to a greater extent than many other deities I’ve yet encountered, it is this manner of creating connections between people and things in a peaceful and productive manner. So, I think that is also very important and outstanding in looking at Antinous.
Why do you think I, a bisexual woman, would be drawn to Him? What does he teach? What should a person who is just beginning to worship Antinous know about him or his worship? Any advice?
As a bisexual and as a woman, I don’t think there’s really any reason why you wouldn’t be drawn to him–what’s not to like? He’s attractive for a billion different reasons beyond his physical beauty, at least as far as I can see, and I think this attraction is pretty catholic (as it were!) in terms of its appeal across gender and sexual orientation boundaries. However, I also know that there are some people who are attracted to his cultus for reasons beyond that, and for whom his physical beauty really isn’t a factor at all, even if they are homoerotically inclined themselves. (There are members of the Ekklesía Antínoou group, for example, who are more attracted, whether physically or metaphysically, to Hadrian than to Antinous—which is great!)
But, I think one should ultimately find one’s own reasons for why it is one likes him—though, as with love of any kind, it may not be productive to do so in certain respects. Very few people who ask their lover “Why do you love me?” and then get answers that their lovers think are true or accurate are happy with them. Love and attraction, like so many things that are primarily of an emotional nature, cannot often be put into words very aptly or usefully. As Yeats said about being attracted to women, “If any man says he likes a woman because of such-and-such, he lies—it is because she has a way of turning her head” (or words to that effect)—which is to say, it may be the smallest thing, like, for example, Antinous’ eyebrows. But, it is perfectly possible to go from eyebrows to something much more…! 😉
As for what does he teach—well, one will come to find out eventually, I think. One should probably ask him. What one gets out of one’s relationship with him will be just as different, and possibly even unexpected, as it is for anyone who enters into a relationship with any deity (or human, for that matter).
In terms of advice—find your own level with him, and pursue whatever avenues you feel would be most appropriate. Jump into devotional activity if you feel you’re ready, but also don’t over-prepare, as feeling unready or fearful can be an excuse for procrastination, and in almost every case, doing something now is much better than preparing for months, researching, and then still feeling like one isn’t adequate. The doing is the thing, always. Write and create poetry and art and such, even if you don’t feel you know enough about him yet; look at as many statues and images of him as you can, and figure out which ones appeal to you most (even if you don’t know why they do); and, if you’re so inclined, read as much as you can about him and about his historical cultus—one place to start might be my series of posts on his syncretisms over on my blog. There’s bound to be a few things there that will catch your eye and stimulate your imagination (hopefully!), so looking further into those would be very useful. But, don’t just research or think—always bring it back to doing.
Also, the piece on the Antinoan Feast of the Senses and Antinoan Feast of the Mind I did on the Neos Alexandria temple pages might also be good…Just to give a few quick suggestions in that regard: his colors tend to be red, black, and white; incenses and fragrances associated with him include lotus and storax; some of his symbols are the moon, stars, the Red Nile Lotus, a particular spider, and a variety of other animals (but mostly lion, bear, boar, bull, and serpent). As you go along, you’ll find certain songs and things that will remind you of him or evoke his associations and feelings for you—even if it happens to be what was playing just before you made a certain realization, go ahead and hold onto it as something personal and potentially useful. (It’s how Shania Twain got onto my Antinous playlist!) Develop your own prayers and poems and use them on a regular basis, or find those from others that you like.
And beyond that, have fun—it may not all be fun, and one should never be afraid to risk getting bored in this pursuit; but at the same time, if he brings you nothing but boredom and misery and frustration, then he’s probably not for you. However, if you’re in the Ekklesía Antínoou (as you are, Amanda!), you’ve probably gone past the point of just intellectual curiosity or any sense of “duty” in terms of exploring him as part of Neos Alexandria. So, take this as far as he might carry you, and as far as you would like to carry yourself!
Can you tell us about the group you founded, the Ekklesía Antínoou?
Certainly! The Ekklesía Antínoou is a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous and related divine figures. Many people have heard me rattle that off on numerous occasions over the years, and while it is sort of a joke to do it in this almost mechanical fashion when asked, it’s also the most accurate description of a group I’ve probably ever encountered.
We are “queer” in the widest possible sense, and that term comes first for a variety of reasons. We do many spiritual activities and have a wide variety of spiritual interests that are geared toward the LGBTQI populations and communities, but we are inclusive of anyone and everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability status, ethnicity, other religious affiliations, or really anything else; the only thing that isn’t really allowed is homophobia and heterosexism, and given that a lot of non-queer people are getting to be quite good at avoiding homophobia and heterosexism, it is perfectly wonderful and right, in my opinion, to have them amongst our membership. (How queer is that?!?)
Though people practice in all sorts of different religious cultures within the Ekklesía Antínoou, our primary inspiration comes from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures—all three of these had important contributions to the ancient cultus of Antinous, and he wouldn’t really be “Antinous” without the distinctive elements from each of those, so those get primary emphasis in our group, even though there are Celtic, Afro-Diasporic, Norse/Germanic, Hindu, Buddhist, Gnostic, and other elements to what many of us do as well, both independent of Antinous and including him. We are syncretists, not only because of the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian origins of Antinous’ cultus, but also because the process of syncretism never stops, and especially in the modern world, a syncretistic viewpoint and methodology is extremely useful.
We are also reconstructionists—and this, perhaps, is the most commonly misunderstood term in our list of identifiers. We are very interested in understanding the ancient cultus of Antinous, and in looking into what has actually survived from it, as well as keeping abreast of further discoveries and developments into it (which have been somewhat plentiful over the last decade!), and in interpreting these according to the understandings of their own historical contexts; but, we are also thoroughly and inescapably modern, and we realize this and even revel in it. What is past is gone, but it can live again in a different and adapted form in the modern world and in modern people’s lives—indeed, putting “queer” before “reconstructionist” not only emphasizes the first term, but it also demonstrates that the reconstructionism we practice isn’t empty antiquarianism, archaism, or anachronism, it’s something that can only take place now, when we have a panoramic (though fragmentary) view of Antinoan devotion from late antiquity over several centuries and a span across three continents.
We are also polytheists, and realize that Antinous’ devotion in the ancient world—and, in best practice, in the modern world as well—implies that he was one among many deities, and cannot be abstracted nor removed from a divine context in which he interacts with and depends upon many other deities. He cannot in any fashion be a singular deity the way that some groups and individuals are treating him. One of the most important ancient texts on Antinous and his cultus is the Obelisk of Antinous, and on it Antinous actually supplicates before Ammon and Thoth, and both Hapi and Re-Harakthe are asked to do certain things for Hadrian or Antinous, or are reported to have done so. So, Antinous’ worship cannot be imagined outside of a polytheist context, and his syncretism to various deities does not replace those deities so much as open up connections between them. This is why the final phrase in our identifier is “devoted to Antinous and related divine figures”—this includes all of the gods to whom he is either syncretized or related, but also the Divine Hadrian, the Divine Sabina, all of our Sancti, and various other classes of divine being as well. Antinous has been a channel for opening up to all of these beings in my own experience, and in that of many others in our group as well.
If anyone is interested in being a part of our group, all they have to do is join our Yahoo!Groups list. There are no dues, there are no required activities, there is no authoritarian structure; one gets out of it what one puts into it, and because we have a membership located all over the world (with small concentrations in places like the greater Seattle area and the Bay Area), one must be very self-motivated in one’s practices, and have a great deal of personal initiative. We do have organized activities on a small scale, particularly at PantheaCon in San Jose over President’s Day Weekend each year, but building further outlets of activity in different locations is highly encouraged!
Can you tell us about the new book? It’s called “Volume One” in the subtitle—I assume that means there will be more forthcoming?
Yes indeed! Devotio Antinoo is, in essence, the book that I wish would have existed when I first got into being devoted to Antinous. Nearly ten years on from getting into his devotion, I’ve been able to assemble it, not only from all of the research that I’ve done, but also with all of the practice I’ve thus far accomplished. I’ve written a lot of poems, hymns, and other pieces having to do with Antinous, that can either be used in one’s devotions, or that can inspire one toward creating their own devotions. So, all of the best and most useful materials that I’ve either found or created are included in this book, and there are footnotes that tell where all of the ancient sources mentioned can be found, if anyone wants to investigate them more closely and directly. There are also a few essays that do general things, including the Feast of the Senses and Feast of the Mind that I mentioned previously, as well as suggestions and explanations of subjects like the practice of honoring the Divi and the Sancti in the Ekklesía Antínoou. And, there’s a very thorough index as well, which would be very useful to most users of this book, since the whole book is about 500 pages!
In terms of the “Volume One” subtitle—yes, there will be more of “The Doctor’s Notes” in the future. When I was first putting this book together in the summer of 2010, I soon realized that there were two similar but separate aims that I was trying to accomplish in doing so: I wanted to give a basic primer on devotion to Antinous, but I also wanted to give a number of the essays and other things I’d written on my old website, which are no longer available. I originally envisioned it as a single book, called The Doctor’s Notes, sort of jokingly because of the phrase “I have a note from my doctor,” but also because I hold the position of Doctor, “teacher,” within the Ekklesía Antínoou, and what would a Doctor’s notes be other than things intended to teach people about a particular subject? I soon realized that, despite there being some crossover in the materials concerned, that there were really two things going on there, and that my old website materials could be divided into things that are directly useful for devotion, and things that are more like “studies” or “though-pieces.” And, as polytheism is a practical religion, devotional matters must always come first and be ranked as the most important, so I decided to focus on getting that volume out first. Once I started delving into that specific topic, it expanded and expanded, and I was adding things to it almost up until the last minute before it went off to the publishers. I had originally intended it to be about 150 to 200 pages, and it was more than twice that size in the end, so…But, I think the second volume, which will be called Studium Antinoi: The Doctor’s Notes, Volume Two, will be much more reasonably sized—probably 300 pages or less. I think most people would balk at a book of essays that was 500 pages, so we’ll see how this next one goes! So, “Devotion to Antinous” comes first, and “Studies of Antinous” will follow.
Will there eventually be a third volume of The Doctor’s Notes? I won’t say “no” with any certainty at this point, but I have no definite plans for one at this stage. However, it’s almost impossible to say…far stranger things have happened, after all!
What else are you working on right now?
I’m finishing up a short book called All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A TransMythology, which is a book and project that came out of almost nowhere, and which I never would have expected to have been working on at this time last year. Partially due to the difficulties at the last PantheaCon in terms of exclusion of trans people from certain activities, and the discussions (and often arguments) that followed that situation, and partially due to my own gender-atypical status, and then very much due to a call put out for trans-specific deities that emerged in the aftermath of PantheaCon, I ended up having a set of experiences in early March of last year that culminated in the “discovery” of several new deities that are trans- or gender-variant-specific in their manifestations, and that are such based on the very unique and modern understandings of transgender and transsexual realities: Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, and Pancrates. These deities needed mythic expression, and so I’ve been working on that myth in quasi-poetic form ever since, and am nearing completion with it. The myth will be published, along with some explanatory essays, in January (or, failing that, no later than mid-February) by The Red Lotus Library. The second volume of The Doctor’s Notes will come sometime in 2012, if all goes well, and I have a few other books planned that I hope will come about over the course of the year also. And, I’ll be contributing to several more devotional anthologies in Neos Alexandria and other venues; I’ll also be co-editing the devotional anthology on cynocephalic deities for NA, which will probably be called Sirius Ascendant: A Devotional Anthology for Cynocephalic Deities, and I’m editing an anthology on queer magic for Immanion/Megalithica that will probably be called Something Rich and Strange: An Anthology of Queer Magical Writings. So, it should be a pretty busy and fruitful year for publishing on my end!
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Any parting words?
I suppose the best bit of advice I can give in parting is to always be prepared to be surprised by the gods—both one’s own and others. My own life in polytheism has been a continuous unfolding of surprise after surprise, and while that can sometimes be frustrating, it is also profoundly interesting and enjoyable as well. You never know what might end up happening when you become involved with any deity or group of deities (and I suspect they don’t know a good deal of the time either!), so the best one can do is to expect the unexpected, and never tire of being amazed and awestruck when a thousand new possibilities emerge at every turn!
I hope that this was somewhat helpful, and that others will continue to share their own ideas and stories with you, and that you’ll share your own as they develop as well!