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IPVBM 2: Memoria, and Marguerite Porete Day [Jun. 1st, 2010|08:02 pm]
Ekklesia Antinoou



For my first International Pagan Values Blogging Month post of 2010 (and, incidentally, I'm hoping to get my entries from last year whipped into shape over the next few months to be publishable, with some subsequent reflections and such added in!), I'd like to focus on the topic of Memoria, and what it means in relation to a particular matter that is one of the most controversial and misunderstood in the modern Ekklesía Antínoou (but which has relevance for other forms of paganism, particularly reconstructionist forms, as well).

Today, June 1, 2010, is the 700th anniversary of the death-date of Marguerite Porete, the first Sancta of the modern Ekklesía (canonized in 2002 at the first Foundation Day), who was executed by the Paris Inquisition in 1310 as a relapsed heretic--but really, it was being a woman (or, as they said, a pseudo-mulier, "false woman") who did not meekly bow before ecclesiastical authority which landed her in the flames. I had hoped to do something truly extravagant for this occasion, as I've been holding annual ceremonies for her on June 1 since 2000 (and I held the original ceremony additionally that year on May 10), but unfortunately, due to my location and circumstances at present, I won't be able to do much.

There is a conference being held in Paris at present for this occasion. And, at the Kalamazoo International Congress on Medieval Studies in mid-May, I organized and chaired a session, sponsored by the Society for the Study of Homosexuality in the Middle Ages (SSHMA), of which I'm a member, called "Queering Marguerite Porete." The session had two papers on it: one by Robyn Neville on a Kristevan poetics reading of Marguerite's text, The Mirror of Simple Souls, in light of its multivocality, and then a paper by Zan Kocher on the queer possibilities in the different textual recensions (Old French, Middle French, Latin, Middle English, Italian) of the text and how relations between characters in the dialogue can be construed as queer, particularly amongst the figures that stand for the godhead. Zan (under the name Suzanne Kocher, before his transition) published a book a year or so ago called Allegories of Love in Marguerite Porete, which I suggest anyone who is interested in this subject should consult. In attendance at the session were the president of SSHMA, Graham Drake; Ellen Babinsky, the translator of Marguerite's work in the Classics of Western Spirituality series, published by Paulist Press (which is the version of the text I'm most familiar with); and several of the other notable Porete scholars who frequent the Congress each year.

There were two further sessions in her honor after ours on Saturday May 15, which I was not able to attend due to other commitments. However, the session I chaired/organized went extremely well, and was not only informative and interesting intellectually, but there was a genuine grasp of something spiritual in her work, and there were some obvious "Aha!" moments for many in attendance. My good friend (and friend of Antinoan spirituality), Tomás O'Sullivan, also attended, and said it was hands down the best (in every way) session he's ever attended at Kalamazoo, and he's been going (and giving papers and organizing sessions) for as long as I have, so that's very high praise indeed, in my opinion. We had a very queer panel, with myself chairing and talking about Marguerite's own history, a trans man presenting on the queerness in the text, and a straight (Episcopal priest!) woman reading the text through one of the cornerstone queer theorists.

Also at this Congress, I attended a memorial session for Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, another Ekklesía Sancta, which was also sponsored by SSHMA. She was added to the roll of the Sancti in 2009 for her outstanding contributions as a queer theorist, and the session itself was pretty interesting.

And, in further Congress-related Sancti news, I bought a book on Caravaggio while I was there, which was just sent to me and it arrived in the mail today, and guess what is mentioned [and pictured!] in it? A statue of Antinous as Bacchus that might have inspired one of Caravaggio's paintings! So, Carravaggio had a connection to Antinous that none of us even knew when we canonized him! Hurrah! ;)

But, what does all this have to do with Memoria, or Pagan Values Blogging Month?

In general, Memoria and memory is an important thing for me, and indeed a great spiritual concern. Mnemosyne was considered, at least in some versions, the mother of the Nine Muses with Zeus as their father, which implies that all art and skill is dependent on memory, and indeed is a child of memory; but this is true in a (truly!) literal sense as well as mythologically. It is far easier to remember something if it is in verse or song than it is to remember rote facts. Encounters with art, now and in the ancient world, have been encounters with the numinous, and they are inherently memorable. In the Celtic Reconstructionist involvements which I have, memory is indeed at the forefront of concern for anyone who is a senchaid of any sort. From the rhetorical schools of ancient Greece and Rome to the Renaissance mages, hermeticists, and grimoire writers, the "art of memory" has been an essential part of training in the arts concerned.

I've often characterized the Ekklesía Antínoou Sancti as inhabiting "sainted memory," which is to say, they are people that we commit to remembering as frequently as possible for their contributions to our own spiritual outlook, whatever it is they may have done in their lives to merit this recognition. We make no assumptions about any of them--and their current list includes Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, polytheists, and people from many other religious viewpoints--in regards to their "agreement" with our own spiritual experiences or ideas, nor do we state that they are in some sense in a privileged afterlife as a result of being amongst our Sancti. While we do not actively encourage or suggest that one do intercessory prayer with them, it is entirely possible to consider them individually as Heroes, in the ancient Greek sense, deserving of some amount of cultus on designated feasts during the year (I suggest their birth-dates, death-dates, or other significant dates in their lives--e.g. the date that their most famous publication occurred, etc.). What we are, in essence, doing when we adopt them as a Sanctus/a/um is to add them to our group's own recognized "genealogy," our reckoning of who our own spiritual ancestors happen to be. In other words, we remember them, not only in the sense of calling them to our memory on a regular basis for their exemplary lives and contributions, but also to do all that we can to rehabilitate and build up their image in the world, no matter what imperfections they might be perceived to have had or what errors they may be known to have made. Like Isis looking for the parts of Osiris, we re-member them, and hopefully heal them from whatever scorn they may have been subjected to due to the disapproval of the world--this is particularly the case with Marguerite Porete, whose work survived anonymously until the mid-20th century, when the work of enterprising and meticulous scholarship finally made the connection between the woman known only from trial records and that most difficult but enlightening spiritual tract, The Mirror of Simple Souls.

A few years ago, someone found out that Caravaggio was one of our Sancti, and the immediate reaction was "He can't be--he killed someone!" We do not consider our Sancti to be morally perfect or utterly "lacking in sin," as the Christian idea of "saints" seems to suggest to many people. ("Sin," as such, is entirely outside of our own spiritual perception, and we have no opinion on it, nor recognition of the concept, at all!) Indeed, one of our foremost gods, Divus Hadrianus Augustus, was a renowned general and warrior, and was responsible for the strictly political death of several people, yet we reckon him as second in our devotions only to Antinous himself.

The purpose of the recognized dies sancti we have in our calendar is to increase the knowledge of the Sanctus/a/um involved, while also paying them direct cultus and giving them devotional recognition. While I do feel as though I've done something worthwhile and interesting and useful for Marguerite this year, I'd like to have done more considering the momentousness of this anniversary. However, circumstances have made it impossible to do so, and thus I'm not going to be too bogged down in lamenting possibilities. Instead, I wish to focus on the future, and suggest that people begin planning NOW for the 1900th anniversary of the birth of Antinous this coming November 27. (And, thinking WAY down the road, hopefully there will be enough of us and we'll be organized enough in the future to do something truly wonderful for the 1900th anniversary of the beginning of the cult in 2030. I'll be the same age as Hadrian then as he was when Antinous died, as he's about 1900 years and four months older than me!) But, let's not put carts before horses...Let us instead begin to discuss what can be done about Natalis Antinoi in November. Regional gatherings/rituals? Things that all of us can do together? Telecast/Skyped rituals? Who knows?

I think that the entire edifice of holy-days/holidays, of whatever sort, in whatever religion, is indeed an activity entirely taken up with Memoria as its underlying value, whether implied or boldly stated. We recognize (which is another way of saying "remember," in certain respects) an anniversary, or an occasion in which something is known to have occurred, or when the seasons change, or what have you. We do so on a regular basis for some things, so as to constantly renew our memory of important events and the people who made them possible, or in the lives and myths of our gods, or in the ever-renewing cycles of the earth, the stars, and the cosmos. Memory, indeed, is at the basis of a great deal of human religious activity, and it should be recognized as an underly value of the utmost importance.

And in this respect, it should be particularly so for those in reconstructionist religions. We cannot re-create the past, and in many cases, it would be counter-productive or actively harmful to do so. But, we can actively seek to know what occurred in the past, interpret it as best as we possibly can, and then see how we can continue in that recognition, that remembrance, and the best spirit and intentions of those ideals, and implement that remembrance in diverse forms in today's world, for today's people, with today's other values in mind. We are tied to the past, and inspired by it, certainly; however, anyone who says that recons are burdened by their remembrance and are overly concerned with it probably doesn't really know what actual recons actually do, and is only making assumptions about us based on what little information they have. And that's another area where things can improve: we should be more visible as recons because the wider community of pagans needs to remember us and treat us like an important commodity, and as respected people. Other types of pagans may not be interested in researching the roots of many cultural traditions that give us inspiration, or participating in what we come up with, but our work as people actively in the "memory-trade" is a service which can potentially benefit the wider pagan community a great deal, if only we are recognized within it ourselves.

No matter what can be said about the wider culture in general in the U.S., it is a culture that is often quite hostile to memory, whether in the form of underfunded libraries and archives, disposable consumer items (as well as an approach to people like veterans, the disabled, and the underprivileged as "disposable"), or a disdain for anything in the past and a very free and loose interpretation of events in history (e.g. the idea that the Founding Fathers of the United States of America were "Christians," for starters!). All the scrapbooking stores in the world cannot stem the tide of active forgetfulness that the wider culture of the U.S. tries to force on everyone in terms of politics, economic activities, and diversity of culture itself. We need to do what we can, more and more, to remember individuals in the wider historical processes, to remember events of note, and also to simply remember our own lives and our own development. Blogging of all types does a great deal to build this shrine of memory, little by little, but we need to be aware of how the tsunami of Lethe has been forced down our throats as our daily water supply, and how the spring of Mnemosyne itself, as something that is the fountain of life, art, and all spiritual activity, has been relegated to oblivion all too often.

But, meanwhile, think back to Marguerite Porete and her example of a serious and deep, antinomian mysticism, her quiet serenity as a cruel world and an unjust organization treated her superlatively poorly, and what a triumph it is that we even still know her, her name, and her work 700 years later. And likewise with Antinous--by the graces of the gods, he is still known, he still thrives now, his cultus lives again, and he is continually called into being and presence with us, as I hope he will be for a long time to come!

Ignis corporis infirmat, ignis sed animae perstat: The fire of the body diminishes, but the fire of the soul endures! Those who remember it and recognize it are enflamed by it and enlightened by it. May it be true for Marguerite, may it be true for Antinous and Hadrian and all of our Sancti, and may it be true for us as well!