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Ekklesia Antinoou

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IPVBM 2: Haec Est Unde Vita Venit! [Jun. 30th, 2010|04:53 pm]
Ekklesia Antinoou


This will be the final post in this series, on this, the final day of the month of June.

I wouldn't call the often-heard phrase Haec Est Unde Vita Venit! the Ekklesía Antínoou "mantra" as such, because it is more of a slogan than a mantra. But nonetheless, what exactly it means, and why it functions as a slogan (or a mantra), would be a good thing to examine here, because such short statements--particularly when they are in words or phrases that do "mean something"--can often be found to enshrine a short statement about values.

I would translate Haec Est Unde Vita Venit! as "This is where life comes from!" (though technically it translates as "this is from whence life comes"). This was not part of the ancient cultus, and is found in no currently known hymns, texts, inscriptions, or accounts of the ancient cultus of Antinous. (Again, I remind anyone who may not know, that the fourth declension masculine noun cultus in Latin has the same morphology in the singular as in the plural, so cultus could mean "one cult" or it could mean "many/several cults," and the ancient cultus of Antinous was multiple and localized, not singular or universal; the modern cultus should be ikewise, in my opinion.) The phrase emerged in my own spiritual experience from a dream I had in about 2003, during the summer if I'm not mistaken. It was a song that was being sung by a group, and the line "This is where, this is where, this is where life comes from!" was being sung over and over again. I then put it into Latin, and found that Haec est unde, Haec est unde, Haec est unde vita venit! had a really nice flow and feeling to it, and have kept it thus ever since.

In one of the prayers that is done regularly at public Ekklesía Antínoou rituals that I've run (and private ones as well, and also daily/regular devotions for some people, myself included), this refrain ends the prayer, and it is said three times; but on the third time, it is Haec est unde, Haec est unde, Haec EST VITA VENIT!, which is "This is where, this is where, THIS IS LIFE COMING!" The idea is that for the third time, instead of proclaiming a statement of fact and of origins, one is instead found caught in the very process of life coming into being as one says the prayer and does the ritual or the devotional activity. It is a prayer and a phrase which, if all goes well, not only describes experience, but also is experience, or provokes experience.

But, what the hell does that mean, "This is where life comes from"? It's pretty vague, in the way that many religious and spiritual maxims can often sound quite vague outside of their own context. The phrase is intentionally vague. So, what does "this" mean, first? Well, "this" can be almost anything--grammatically, it's a demonstrative pronoun, and note the terminology there: demonstrative, i.e. to show something forth specifically. Demonstratives are never vague, they're specific and particular and they elucidate. In the case of haec, it's a nominate singular feminine form of the demonstrative, agreeing with vita, "life," in the clause in which the demonstrative pronoun is also functioning as a relative pronoun. The emphasis is therefore on the subject, vita, "life," and on the verb which it is enacting, venit, "comes/coming."

But, still, what is "this"? And what does "this" have to do with "life" and its origins? Some might be inclined to interpret this in a way that emphasizes literal fertility and generativity, and if they were to do so, they might end up coming up with something like this, a paean (as it were) to the physical and sexual nature of some deities and their festivals. That is certainly one way to think of it. However, an awful lot of queer pagans (and what does the experience of the Ekklesía Antínoou emerge from if not the experience of being both queer and pagan, particularly as the former often doesn't line up with the cosmology and aims of the generalized forms of the latter?) don't see sex, genitals, and so forth as being important because of their generative possibilities, but instead because of their simple pleasurable and aesthetic aspects. This, also, can be a source of "life" for those who are of a queer experience.

Still, there is the devotional and spiritual experience itself. Spirituality is supposed to lead to a richer and more productive life generally, and so in the midst of doing such activities, a proclamation that "This is where life comes from" is a recognition of the zest which ritual and devotion adds to one's overall existence, the fun and frolic that makes life worth living, and indeed the utility of spiritual activity within one's own life, with others in community, and with the gods and spirits and other divine realities and beings. It's more or less taking a moment in the middle of all this to say "This is where it's at!" And, needless to say, because these activities in the Ekklesía Antínoou context are in specific relation to Antinous (and often a variety of other deities and divine figures), it's a recognition that even though Antinous might not be a "big god" and one who is the divine parent of those of us who are honoring him, he's still a god, and through the interactions we have with the gods, our lives are enhanced. Whoever the god is that is the source of one's life, in these senses, is just as much a part of the "this" as anything on a more literal or direct level.

And this (!?!) brings us to theology more generally in relation to Antinous. If he is a "small god" and a very particular one, then what use is it to call upon him anyway? He is nowhere thought of as all-powerful in any of the extant hymns, poems, writings, or inscriptions known from the ancient cultus. He is said to have been called soter ("savior") in some cases (though I have yet to confirm these with my own eyes--and I think this assertion comes mostly from Christian detractors of this rival cult of a deified human), but "savior" and "salvation" in the Greek context does not mean what it does in the Christian context. It means, specifically, someone who has made one's life in the present world of flesh and bodies and desires and physical needs better, easier, and richer. Hadrian and other benefactors of cities were called "saviors" in this sense, as much as any deity like Isis or Dionysos was called soter/soteira. And, does Antinous do that? For me, I would say yes; and for many others, both within the Ekklesía Antínoou and outside or beyond it, I would also say certainly.

Antinous is not only NOT omnipotent, but he's also not omniscient. This means that he can't hear your thoughts or know what you're feeling, any more than someone who isn't extremely gifted as a psychic can't read your thoughts or know your feelings even if they're standing right next to you. In order to for him to know these things, one has to speak them. Silent prayer does not do any good with him--nor, I would suggest, with any other deity who is not said to either be omniscient or who can "hear the thoughts of the heart." If one meditates and visualizes Antinous and aspects of him, then that can be a valid interaction with and an epiphany of the god, utilizing other forms of communication beyond the verbal; however, in my own experience, these types of divine encounter are not the same as a conversation. What is visual must be interpreted; and if there is a verbal component, still, only what is communicated between oneself and the divine entity in question does not mean that the deity knows and sees all, including one's own other thoughts. Deities do have greater access to information than humans do, but this does not always include in-depth knowledge of thoughts, emotions, or motivations on the part of individuals. If a deity somehow "exists" or dwells within a person as a part of their relationship with them (whether it is a divine marriage or something else), then that is also a general exception to this caveat. (More will follow from this in the next paragraph.) But, if that is not the case, and one's divine interactions are entirely on an "internal" plane, then one must ask oneself if what is really going on is an actual divine interaction, or simply the different parts of one's soul and other internal realities having a dialogue with themselves. While I don't think there is an overarching "truth" to the idea put forth by Joseph Campbell and many others that deities are only metaphors and archetypes and so forth, they certainly do function this way for many people. When silent prayers to non-omniscient deities are being "answered," then there are only a few possibilities for explaining this: either the deity is able to hear one's thoughts (and that must be explained somehow), the experience of the prayer being answered is a coincidence (whether a happy one, a synchronicity, a likely possible outcome given the options at hand, or something totally random...these options will all depend on the individual's interpretation), or the dialogue which took place over the prayer and getting it answered was truly internal and didn't involve the deity at all, except in the sense that the deity lent its image and its voice to the psyche of the individual, as much as President Obama and Lady GaGa might do so in a person's dream.

If Antinous is not omnipotent and omniscient, then is he omnipresent either? No, of course, not, and neither are any deities that have to be invoked. To call out to a deity is just the same as calling out to anyone, whether by raising one's voice over a crowd to attract someone's attention, or ringing them up on one's phone, or sending them a letter or an e-mail. The communication takes place between someone who is localized and another person who is at some distance. However, just because that initial distance exists, does not mean it cannot be crossed or closed after the call goes out. We have another phrase in the Ekklesía, which at the end of one of our hymns is repeated twice--the first time, to signify calling out to the deity, and the second time to signify (hopefully) that the deity himself answers and affirms that call: Vel in limine mundi, Ecce! Ego semper sum coram te! ("Even at the edge of the world, behold! I am in your presence!") The vocative particle in many languages doubles as something which is of use in invoking the gods--in Sanskrit and Hindi, He (pronounced "hay") work exactly the same as "Hey!" does in English, so anytime one hears "He Bhagwan!" or anything like it, it's pretty much exactly as it would be in English. "Hey!" is a greeting, but also a sound to draw attention to oneself and to get the attention of another. This type of communication in prayer is very important, and in invoking deities, spirits, and particular energies and supernatural constructs into ritual, one is literally calling them in to the ritual space. If one has to call them in, then it implies that they were not "in" previously, and are therefore not omnipresent. However, because divine beings are not limited by having physical bodies, they can bend the rules of time and space in ways that we are unable to at present. Calling out may not always result in immediate response, and sometimes it is possible to get a "bad connection" which interferes with transmission; and even when a connection is made, sometimes the prayer or request doesn't occur and the situation doesn't end up the way one would hope. But, at least connecting across those divides of whole worlds can take place.

So, at this stage, I've outlined what "this" means; I've outlined why it is that one's deities don't have to be everything that certain mainstream religions believe about their own deities in order to be useful or effective (and how much more ridiculous it is that these divine beings in other religions are said to be all of these things, plus omnibenevolent, and yet prayers go unanswered and the problem of theodicy remains the biggest one for many of these religions, and the one over which "faith" is lost most often when it comes to actual people's experiences in life and with the inadequacies of the religions concerned). But, what is life? And why is it valuable?

This may seem like the most obvious of the questions I've posed here, but it is also one of the most fraught. Would this, for example, require someone of the Ekklesía Antínoou position, or another sympathetic viewpoint, to therefore be "pro-life" in the sense that it is used politically? No. To be truly "pro-life" means to be for the propagation and flourishing of all life, not just the possible lives of embryos and the continued lives of the elderly and people suffering in difficult diseases and persistent vegetative states. Life does not continue without death, and maintaining that discrete and respectful balance between them is necessary. Life is a good thing, and a gift, and a mystery, and an experience, and it comes in a process that involves pain, destruction, sorrow, upset of expectations, and a great deal of insecurity and uncertainty; but it's also a process that involves love, and compassion, and joy, and exuberance, and the heights of ecstasy and sensuality and other thrill-rides of many sorts. As a pagan generally, to affirm life in this way is to defy death when it is responsible and productive to do so, and to yield to it when it is responsible and productive to do so. This may mean ending the possible life of an embryo or a fetus before it can be born for the increased and improved life of the mother--whether that increase and improvement is due to physical matters, or to practical and financial matters, or even matters of social justice (is it wrong for a child to be born into a family that will be abusive and neglectful just because one must be "pro-life" in that narrow political sense?). This may mean yielding to the release of death when a person reaches their reasonable age limits and finds that they cannot continue to live without expensive and extraordinary medical measures that will only prolong the inevitable. This may mean eating meat (but hopefully responsibly and moderately and with overall health concerns in mind), or putting out rat traps in one's garage and weed killer in one's garden. All of these things are done, I would argue, in order to improve and to increase the zest in one's life, and they are not always easy or pretty or even popular. But, they can be the epitome of morality as well, if done with intention and knowledge and a greater sense of responsibility to the overall process of life-in-general.

And, I would also argue that "life" can be understood as the immortality of the gods--for what is immortality but the promise of persistence even despite death and other profound changes? While nothing is entirely free from change and ultimate non-existence (even if the gods somehow exist beyond the boundaries of our current universe, it has yet to be explained how or apprehended how this would work, and therefore we must assume that the gods as we know them will not continue to exist either...but is that such a horrible thing?), and indeed everything that currently exists at one time did not (including the gods, at very least as they happen to be known at present), nonetheless the gods have shown a particular knack for existing despite changes. Redefinition of the gods and their understanding has taken place in every period of human history. The supposed suppression of the pagan religions of late antiquity did not entirely work, and even though some things have been irretrievably lost, many others continued, in overt as well as covert forms, and in archaeological remains just biding their time before rediscovery as much as in names and characters known from literature. The Zeus we used to know is not the same Zeus as now; and yet, he's similar enough that he knows to respond to that name; and the same is true of the "you" who is reading this, since you're not the same now as you were when you were in grade school, or in high school, or last year, or last week, or even as you were when you started reading this. Everything is in a constant process of change...and that is life, and that is also the gods, and that is also (and most importantly, at least for an Ekklesía Antínoou perspective) beautiful.

Thus, Haec Est Unde Vita Venit--it can mean a great deal, depending on one's own interpretation and experiences. But, then again, what makes it different in that respect from anything else that is worthwhile?

I hope you've enjoyed this month of posts (though there are technically only a handful of them), and that they have been helpful! Please feel free to give me feedback or comments on any of them as you see fit!

May all of the love and the blessings of Antinous and the many other gods go with you in your own life, for the increase of your own life, and for the realization of the beauty in and of your own life, for as long as life persists!