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IPVBM 2: "The God of Peaceful Connection" [Jun. 24th, 2010|09:07 pm]
Ekklesia Antinoou


Getting back to Ekklesía Antínoou-specific matters of value for what will probably be my penultimate post in this series, I would like to talk about an aspect of Antinous that emerged in my own experience and practice last year, and how this reflects views of values within the tradition, and the overall paradigm of Ekklesía Antínoou practice as the "way of kalokagathia."

I just read Stephen Rauch's Neil Gaiman's The Sandman and Joseph Campbell: In Search of the Modern Myth (2003). It's a quick read, and if one is interested in either Gaiman or Campbell, it's certainly worth picking up--it does have its flaws (it could use some proofreading, not only for typographical errors, but also for not including certain things in the bibliography, or calling someone named "David" "Daniel," etc.), and on certain points, it could be more in-depth or profound than it is. Nonetheless, it was worthwhile to have done so. He draws upon David Miller's The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses, a short but good book that I enjoyed very much when I read it a few years ago, and which Joseph Campbell himself praised highly. Rauch uses Miller's arguments particularly in his chapter on how The Sandman can be considered a "modern myth" in light of the fact that modern myths (in Campbell's opinion) cannot be culturally exclusive or limited in their worldview, but must instead embrace viewpoints which emphasize the planet or the human family.

I do think this is a good project overall; but, there is certainly some of the perennialist and monist tendency (if not paradigm) implied in this sine qua non of modern mythology that Campbell identified, which is what Stephen Prothero was most effective in questioning in God Is Not One. But let's assume that it is the case, and that such an all-embracing viewpoint that transcends culture is something that is not only useful, but appealing and preferable.

In such a situation, then syncretism doesn't just become a possibility, it would be a necessity. Imagine a world like that, and you'd perhaps have something like Rachel Pollack's Unquenchable Fire, rather than something like Gaiman's American Gods, or even The Sandman--although, in fairness, both of those titles do syncretism pretty well (but for different purposes--perhaps to illustrate the struggle as we are amidst it for the emergence of the new mythology, rather than taking an after-the-fact look at it, as Pollack did in her book). Let's continue assuming this is a good viewpoint to adopt.

Ever since I became involved with Antinous and his devotion in 2002, one of the most appealing aspects of the historical cultus has been its rampant syncretism; and I have written a piece in Waters of Life: A Devotional for Isis and Serapis on how Antinous may have been for the middle period of Imperial Rome what Serapis was for the Hellenistic/Ptolemaic period, and that both might be considered "gods of syncretism" (if not in overall essence then as one possible aspect of them which would be useful to highlight for modern people). As someone of a syncretistic bent myself (though nowhere near as "rampant" as I have been since 2002!), this was something that simply beckoned to me and made engaging with Antinous in both modern devotion and in further research a thrill-ride of unexpected depth and proportion at every turn.

In late May of 2009, I went to the darshan of Ammachi when she was in the Seattle area, and had a rather awful experience. I had been once before, in late May or early June of 2002, right before Antinous "landed" in my spiritual life in a definitive manner, and I felt that my experience with Ammachi on that occasion was one of several preparations for this epiphany of Antinous. My experience seven years later was nowhere near as positive. Part of it was the blatant lying I was seeing going on around me in terms of what printed flyers and information said about Ammachi, and what her devotees and the volunteer staff were saying, and what she actually did. (I would say it's a good approach in general, whether you're a Hindu satguru or not, to not claim to be polylingual or omniscient if you cannot demonstrate definitively that you are, for starters!) Two of the things stated in her literature that I found appealing and potentially useful to me were that she understood all languages (even if she couldn't speak them), and that she was able to give mantras to people from whatever spiritual tradition or religion they came from. Thus, I thought I'd use this opportunity to partake of this divine channel to assist my devotion to Antinous. I met severe opposition on this matter from the get-go when I was engaged in the process of attempting to get a mantra. Whether or not she was able to do these things or be these things became irrelevant because the way that her devotees, volunteers, staff, and swamis handled the matter was far below those standards. (And, rather than saying "I don't think this is the place for you to get that type of spiritual assistance," instead they tried to keep me in the loop, kept passing me from hand to hand, tried to get me to change my mind, and in the end forced me to pick something within Hinduism rather than actually respecting my integrity as a spiritual person and individual...which itself speaks volumes about what their intentions were, i.e. trying to "convert" me to what they saw as the "right way.")

The first person who was a barrier to my progress (the initial intake interview person), at one point, asked me to "quiet my mind" and descend into my heart and find what it is that Antinous "is really all about," in one word or phrase. I did this, and what emerged is that Antinous is (and I insert the caveat now, as well as in my mind at the time, of "amongst other things"--no deity is only one thing...) "the god of peaceful connection." This initial interviewer tried to make me narrow it to be just "peace," but I said that wasn't right, there's any number of deities that are all about "peace," and the connection aspect was what really seemed to be to the fore in terms of Antinous' specificity. He tried to convince me that making things too specific isn't really very "spiritual," because one should want one's god to be as large and expansive and all-encompassing as possible. Uh, really? No! Why ask for possession of a whole kingdom when all I might need is a seat on a bus?

[I must admit, though, that I have sometimes encountered this same sort of thinking, that "smaller gods are not as good" and that "bigger is better," even on the divine level, amongst pagans. The second question on my Sequential Tart interview a few years ago demonstrates this, particularly in the first paragraph of my response to it, so I refer you to that here.]

With the Ammachi darshan, I thought I was in a religious context that was truly a global one, one that was all-embracing in its perspective, one that could be relevant to anyone without any difficulties or potential obstacles caused by race or language or religious affiliation. This was a realm in which Antinous as a god of peaceful connection would ideally be suited. I was wrong. The event was certainly billed as that, but in the end, it was a typical advaita vedanta Hindu religious context, which fostered focusing on the guru to the exclusion of all else rather than anything wider, no matter how it was billed otherwise, or how the guru herself intended it to be. (This is one of the dangers of the perennialist and universalist philosophy as it occurs in particular religious contexts: other traditions are valid and useful only insofar as they agree with mine. Christians like to point out how every other major religious tradition has a "Golden Rule"-like statement, while ignoring the differences between the actual statements, and the vast differences in the wider traditions or textual contexts of those statements. And examples could be multiplied nearly infinitely.)

Equally, it could be said that perhaps I was bringing my religious ideas into a context in which they were not appropriate and should not have been mentioned. It certainly didn't seem right to me to do that, given that the understanding propagated at the event suggested otherwise. I make no claims for any sort of universality, nor a more "true" or "authentic" or "far-reaching" universality, in terms of Antinous as a god, the Ekklesía Antínoou as an organization, nor to my own outlook as an individual spiritual practitioner. But, while that is true, that doesn't mean that some systems aren't more adaptable, and cannot be potentially more universally applicable and adaptable.

Though it may seem silly, I'm getting caught up in a few metaphors at present. Is it better to be Heathrow Airport--the largest airport in the world, with incoming flights from everywhere imaginable; or it is better to be Starbucks, which is now found (nearly) everywhere, and where the menu is almost exactly the same but the languages and the staff and the decor may differ? And, who is which? I think ancient Rome, Ptolemaic and Roman Alexandria, and perhaps Shinto in Japan would be examples of the Heathrow Airport universalism--lots could come in, lots could get integrated into the overall organization of the airport and how it runs without causing any crashes, even though it may require building five whole separate terminals in order to make things run smoothly. I think both Mahayana Buddhism and Roman Catholicism both tried to be (and were successful at being) the Starbucks approach--infinitely exportable, perhaps somewhat adaptable to local circumstances and people, but basically the same everywhere. Which of these is Antinous?

Well, neither.

Though I hate to use a financial metaphor, I think that's what will work the best in the present circumstance. (And, given his huge connection with Hermes, perhaps it's useful that this arena be engaged as well--wealth and commerce can be both beautiful and connective, even though the abuse of them is at the heart of so many difficulties in today's world, and can be ugly and divisive.) Antinous is like a gram of gold. Perhaps small, perhaps not worth very much in the overall scheme of things, but no matter where you take him, he's worth something, and can be traded or cashed in for something of real value wherever people do business with currencies. He's not exactly "universal currency," but he can be very close to it, if used and valued (huh!--there's that word again!) in a proper and sensible manner. Nothing says "I appreciate being a guest in your culture" like a gift to one's host, and if we think of Antinous in those terms with regard to interaction with other religions, spiritual systems, mythologies, and gods, I think we're in pretty good shape, and reflect something quite close to what my own experience of Antinous has been thus far.

We carry this devotion and offer it at the shrine--quite literally, in some circumstances!--of other gods, and whether that investment "pays off" or not varies greatly. In some circumstances, the representatives of a religion might make it clear that this type of offering is not appropriate, and that a more literal offer of money will be happily and eagerly accepted and preferred...and, that's usually a clue (at least to me) that something isn't quite right with such organizations...

Yes, there are issues of cultural specificity in Antinous' origins that cannot be ignored (or, rather, are best not ignored nor minimized). But, in the original cultus, we had three different spellings, three different languages, and three different pronunciations of the god's name, for starters; and the differences tend to far outweigh the commonalities after that: from which deities and heroes Antinous is syncretized to, to whether he is considered a hero or a god or a daimon (in the positive sense), to what of his "story" was known, to the character and composure of his worshippers and the organizations they formed for devotional purposes, to whether or not he was in close contact with other deities, and so on and so on. There never was a "universal" cultus of Antinous in the ancient world--and, thus, perhaps I should modify my usage in the future, and make sure it is understood that I mean cultus (4th declension masculine noun in Latin) in the plural (as both the nominative singular and plural have the same morphology in fourth declension masculine nouns). I've had to remind people constantly that ekklesía does not mean "church"; so, I suppose I can add that "ancient cultus" does not mean something singular when I explain this in the future!

(And, some of you may note, I try not to speak of divine things as singular any longer--I'm a hard polytheist, and so I say "divine things" rather than "the divine," etc. Noting how others use definite articles, indefinite articles, or neither of these, in their spiritual vocabulary can be very telling!)

So, that being the case, the original cultus' methodology was one of syncretism, of localization, of adaptability. In other words, of "peaceful connection." While Antinous is syncretized to Dionysos, and Dionysos' myths reflect that his own devotion was sometimes opposed when it came into a particular location, we have no evidence of this being the case with the historical cultus of Antinous. There were no Antinoan missionaries, but likewise there doesn't seem to have been many Antinoan detractors (apart from a few people like Lukian, Celsus, and Julian the Apostate, and a number of Christians...but they didn't actively attempt to suppress the cultus either--or, rather, most of the early Christian writers didn't and couldn't, even though they eventually succeeded in doing exactly that). I have often said that there is not a single deity that I know of at present that has come into contact with Antinous that has not been able to get along with him just fine, and I can only assume it will continue to be that way. I've also said that Antinous is like a wonderful and vivacious host of a big god-party (which is what we try to do every year at Foundation Day), in which anyone/everyone is invited, and when you go, you always end up meeting other people, and other gods. He doesn't just take all the attention himself, he says "Let me introduce you to..." He can be a gateway god in the same way that Dionysos and Hekate seem to be for many people who get into Greek polytheism. He is a psychopomp, of course, but he also seems to be not only a gate-keeper (as the Hermetic epithet Propylaios seems to indicate) that tries to keep people out, but instead a friendly and accommodating door-man who holds the door open for you with a beautiful smile and a warm greeting.

Yes, peace is important as a value on its own--and (though I've said this many times before, it bears repeating) by "peace," I don't mean mere absence of conflict or lack of warfare, though both of those things are good and useful, desirable and preferable; I mean "peace" in terms of that deep and inner peace, serenity, calmness, and resilience that can be cultivated and felt and experienced even despite things going to utter shit in the world, in one's life, and in general. Being a fan of apophatic prayer, keeping things simple is a very good thing, and asking for peace (pax, accusative pacem) and strength (virtus, accusative virtutem) is the foundation of all the intercessory prayer we do in the Ekklesía Antínoou. No matter what we ask for, and how we'd like to see things in the world change, what we can always get without fail from Antinous--if we consciously ask for it, and are willing as well as aware enough to accept it when it is given--is strength to face our difficulties, and peace amidst them. Having the peace doesn't mean ignoring the difficulties, though, but instead dealing with them from a place of genuine love, concern, compassion, devotion, and cultivation rather than out of hate and resentment, anger and fear, utility or annoyance or disrespect. Thus, Dona nobis pacem, "Give us peace!" is the main prayer we do in Antinoan ritual.

And, peace is beautiful (kalos) and good (agathos), and therefore desirable and preferable, and therefore also eminently within the aim of the Ekklesía Antínoou's spirituality as "the way of kalokagathia."

This is where I like to bring in Old Irish, because in Old Irish, the word for "peace" is the same as the word for "the Otherworld," síd. This implies that peace comes from the Otherworld, and that peace and lack of conflict in the human world (under good kingship and so forth) mirrors the default situation of the Otherworld. So, when we ask for peace in the Ekklesía, we're asking not just for that peace and that strength, but for both of those things insofar as they would therefore reflect our own connection to the gods, be a part of that connection to the gods, and in fact that having these is an experience of connection to the gods. Or, at least I think so.

But, "peaceful connection" is even more necessary these days than peace on its own, no matter how good, beautiful, and desirable peace on its own happens to be. I think the aim of spirituality and religion that in any way is not wholly personal and internal is to connect people in a community together, around shared experiences as well as shared ideals. I don't think this internal peace should shut out the world, I think it should build a bridge to it, and to other people and to other gods. Likewise, it shouldn't all be about just improving oneself, or even just improving oneself in relation to others, but in explicitly helping and reaching out to others. There's nothing more brutal and dangerous and horrible, I think, than a group of people who are actively in conflict with one another, whether of simple disagreement leading to resentment and anger, or fear and suspicion of one's neighbors, to lack of civility and a dearth of communication, to breaking of respect for human dignity and agency in actions of non-consent and harm, all the way to explicit and intentional violence, hatred, warfare, demonization, and worse. But, there's also nothing more beautiful than two people working in harmonious relation with one another, or with mutual respect and compassion despite disagreement, or equitable social dealings, or outright love and friendship and cooperation, and everything above, beyond, and better than these, especially with more than two people (the more, the merrier, quite literally!). That doesn't happen by navel-gazing, or being concerned for oneself in preference to others, or in the subtle forms of solipsism that tend to make a disinterested compassion look like a worthy goal for spirituality when it often just hides a selfishness and a disregard for others. People is where this all starts and ends, and the gods and ancestors and other divine beings are not outside those possible webs of relationship.

So, as you can see, I think Antinous as a god who can make this possible, and can inspire this, is a very good thing. The value of peaceful connection, to me, is an instinctive and foundational one, and I hope that others might find framing it in those terms useful--or, if not, that perhaps this will help to develop something that is better and more suited to their own situation...A small nugget of gold that can be made into something of worth, or invested in ways that are appealing, effective, and beautiful, in whatever spiritual currency one happens to prefer dealing.