My good friend P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, maintainer of the most excellent Aedicula Antinoi, has a new book coming out shortly so I decided to ask him a few questions.
A triad of questions about writing:
1a: What’s your latest book about and when can we expect it?
The book that I hope to release next is one I’ve been working on quite actively since last summer (and had hoped to have released by last autumn), Devotio Antinoo: The Doctor’s Notes Volume One. It’s essentially what it says on the tin, i.e. essays and texts to get one started on the path of devotion to Antinous, or at least to give a person some ideas in that direction so that they can build their own practice (which is the ideal thing, in any case!). I’ve already had some further delays on it, and I think it should be out by as early as August, but hopefully no later than the next Foundation Day on October 30.
1b: What role, if any, does writing play in your religious life?
Writing is a very big part of my religious life, actually! As the Doctor of the Ekklesía Antínoou, my primary role is to educate people about Antinous in a variety of ways. When I am not doing so in person, or in a workshop or lecture (and the latter are rare), the main medium via which I do so is the Aedicula Antinoi blog, and through my various print publications. More people, it is hoped, can get access to these pieces of information and interpretation through those means than can, for example, attend a session at PantheaCon.
But, further, both in my CR practice, and more generally, I’m a poet, and a big part of that is writing poetry for the gods. There’s a lovely line from a Hermetic text in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri that says “every gift of a votive offering or sacrifice lasts only for the immediate moment, and presently perishes, while a written record is an undying deed of gratitude, from time to time renewing its youth in the memory.” No matter how much a water offering or some food or flowers may be nice in a ritual, a poem or song that is written, and which can then be performed multiple times in the future, is a much more fitting offering to the gods from my own poetic viewpoint. The gods have given us beautiful words and sounds, and have inspired many of us to sing and to compose, and thus it seems fitting that we should use their gifts and the experiences they’ve given which prompt our use of those gifts as gifts to them in return.
1c: What are you going to be working on next?
After Devotio Antinoo, I’ve got several editing projects I’m working on, and a number of shorter articles and poems that I’ll be writing for various devotional anthologies, plus three more single-author books for certain, that I’d love to have finished by the end of this year (or no later than February of next year): the second volume of The Doctor’s Notes, which will be various essays I’ve written (or have still to write) connected to Antinoan topics, many of which were available on my old website; a book that sprang from International Pagan Values Blogging Month in ’09 (and also a bit in ’10) that is potentially of a bit wider interest on pagan theology generally; and then a very short book that is a book-length mythic poem plus an introductory essay and some artwork, about which I’ll say more when the time comes to reveal it. (I had hoped the latter would have been done in March, but it has taken a few interesting turns since then, thus I’ve had to delay it a bit.) I’m hoping there may be some multimedia collaborations possible on the latter as well, but again I’ll keep the specifics on that mum until the groundwork is more definite and the possible participation by other parties is more certain. Stay tuned!
A triad of questions about Antinous:
2a: Who is Antinous and what does he mean to you personally?
Antinous was the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who became divine because he drowned in the holy River Nile; he is a super-syncretistic deity, a hero, a daimon, an exemplary figure, and one of the foremost honored queer ancestors. Much more could be said about what he has been and what he could be in the future, but this gives at least some flavor of his overall picture.
As to what he means to me personally…that’s a much more difficult question to answer. My relationship with him is not a conventional one, even for devotional polytheists who have things like deity marriages and the like (which, in case there is any doubt, Antinous and I do not have!). He is not my “patron deity,” nor is he my divine parent, nor is he my teacher. I love him very deeply, I respect him greatly, I take great joy in my interactions with him, I am enriched in innumerable ways by his influences in my life, I worship and honor him with the utmost devotion…
And yet, I feel there is something likewise quite different in our relationship, almost as if in myself having been a devoted student of all things Antinous, he in turn has become a student of mine, to whom I am devoted (as most good teachers are to their students) and for whom I am doing the utmost to improve and enlighten. Some may find that sort of talk shocking, and some may perhaps even think it is hubris, and yet it is my understanding that he’s learned as much from what I’ve done for him and what I’ve been able to give him as I have learned from him. He is a divine being of incredible power who has existed for over 1900 years, and yet at the same time, he’s still someone who died on the eve of his twentieth birthday. He had seen wonderful and amazing things in his short life, and had done feats that people like me can only daydream about, and yet he’s still a late teen with all the angst and uncertainty of that stage of life, with no experience beyond that point upon which to build, and who never got a chance to be recognized as a full adult and to assume many responsibilities of that stage of life. As a god, he has further changed, shifted, and grown since his apotheosis, certainly, yet there are people his age and older now who are involved with him that have their own experiences and unique viewpoints and wisdom to bring to the table, and it seems to me that he honors and values that in a way that many other deities have not, at least in a manner of which I’m currently aware. I feel that being involved with his devotees in the Ekklesía Antínoou, now, in the early twenty-first century, when polytheists are a tiny minority and the ancient manners of cultus are mostly untenable, is as much a learning experience for Antinous in terms of how things in the world today work and how devotion to him can thrive in such a context, as it is a learning experience for those of us who rejoice at every further scrap of papyrus or temple foundation or inscription fragment that comes to light from his ancient cultus’ remains.
2b: What do you think the Ekklesía Antínoou has to offer to a non-queer individual?
A great deal—tons, even! Firstly, Antinous has never shown any distaste for, or lack of interest in, any individual I know of that has approached him with respectful inquiry, based upon those individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and this seems to have been the case throughout the history of his cultus. So, first and foremost, what we have to offer is Antinous; true, though, that Antinous is available to people besides and beyond the Ekklesía Antínoou, and no one group or individual has any sort of monopoly on access to him. Our particular practices and methods are often appealing to some types of people, though, and have produced results for many, and thus if one finds them amenable and interesting, they would be very worthwhile to pursue.
But, beyond that (though the “that” in this case is a very big “that” indeed!), I think it is also profoundly liberating for non-queer people to have an experience in queer-positive and queer-based space that does not single them out as non-queer, nor does it exclude them for any reason. I have tried very specifically to make the Ekklesía Antínoou a truly welcoming and affirming environment for everyone, queer or not, and I think I have been fairly successful in that thus far. Not everyone who is queer will find what we’re doing appealing, nor should they in any manner feel as though they ought to; likewise, not everyone who is non-queer will find what we’re doing useful or applicable to themselves either. But, we are not the ones to make those decisions; our main role is to do what we do as best as we can, in the service of Antinous and our other gods, and to present it in ways that are as exemplary of inclusivity as we can manage. By doing this, I hope we are creating a model of what, in my opinion, all religious groups should be like in terms of their radical acceptance of the great variety of human diversity in all its dimensions.
2c: Describe, in as much detail as you like, your ideal Antinoan festival.
Unfortunately, much would depend upon the budget involved. Let’s assume that one had an unlimited budget for the matter initially…and let’s assume that a Foundation Day festival was the one in question.
I’d want it to begin by the side of a river—in fact, a purpose-built fountain/canal with side pools and such that is like a river, but which would actually not pollute a working waterway or harm a natural ecosystem with our activities in relation to it—where the participants would gather and after making offerings to the Nile gods, we would drop stones and coins representing what we would like to purge from our lives into the river in silence. From the depths of the river an image would come up, which would be uncovered to reveal an icon of Antinous in white marble, which would then be placed on a bier and carried in procession with hymns chanted by a choir, with torch-bearers in front and behind the image, libation-bearers, and people carrying censers burning fragrant storax, lotus, and narcissus. We would all proceed up a processional way to a lavish temple, where the image of Antinous would be installed in a shrine and offerings would be made to him, followed by more songs and the various parts of our usual ritual. A great deal of incense, sumptuous food offerings, and singing would accompany every stage of the ritual in far more prominent manners than has been possible previously, and musicians and professional actors in full costume would act out the liturgical drama pieces on the occasion. It would all end with a sharing of all the food offerings in a grand feast involving everyone present eating together, preferably reclining on comfortable dining-couches with amenable table-companions, listening to sweet music played and sung for the enjoyment of all.
Just change the scale to “a good bit smaller,” the cost of things to “almost nothing,” the music to “whatever those present can produce themselves,” and the location to “whatever we can find,” and you’ll have an idea of what most of the major Antinoan festivals I’ve celebrated in the last few years have been like. We don’t need the temples and purpose-built structures, the rich furnishings, and the hundreds of people involved to do a good festival…but, one can dream, can’t one?
A triad of randomness:
3a: If you could arrange a symposion with 7 people from any culture or period in history – who would you invite, what topics would you give them to discuss and what would be on the menu?
Hmm…difficult! Well, my first four nominees are rather predictable: Antinous, Hadrian, Hadrian’s friend Herodes Attikos, and (Herodes’ foster-son) Polydeukion. The remaining three would have to be Oscar Wilde, Pancrates of Heliopolis, and Favorinus of Arles. (I’m afraid the H-Interpolator of Lebor na hUidre would have to be relegated to the alternates list, alas. I’m sure I could come up with others, but for what I want to know at present, these would be the right people for the job!) There would be three topics for the evening, with the expectation that one would bleed into the other: the nature of love, the nature of heroic virtue, and the nature of the gods. As for what would be on the menu, a mix of Moroccan and Ethiopian starters with mint tea, the tried-and-true chicken tikka massala for the main course with naan bread, pilau rice, and mango lassis, and perhaps something utterly ridiculous for dessert like a big pile of those $.99 ghetto chocolate pies from Safeway with milk. A shot of absinthe between each course might make things a bit more interesting…!?!
3b: Suppose they are making a movie about your life. What does the soundtrack consist of?
Oh, crikey…Well, actually it would be somewhat boring in comparison to many soundtracks, I suspect. I’d prefer there to be a very dramatic and sensual grand orchestral score for much of it, composed specifically for the film and highlighted almost as its own character in it, but punctuated with songs that are more widely known. Some of the artists involved in the latter would include Krishna Das, Loreena McKennitt, Lady GaGa, Abney Park, Fleetwood Mac, Jefferson Airplane, The Chieftains, Ruslana, Bon Jovi, Mark Knopfler, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and probably at least one Weird Al Yankovic song. Yeah, pretty fuckin’ weird movie, huh?
3c: What’s your favorite end-of-the-world scenario?
I suppose a great deal depends upon what you mean by “end-of-the-world.” I mean, literal “end-of-the-world,” in which it actually ends? I don’t know if I have a favorite one like that, but I suppose I’d have to go with the old standard of “sun goes nova, everything burns up before being atomized.” (Something involving Cthulhu or some unnamed horror from Buffy the Vampire Slayer just doesn’t have the same appeal any longer…) If you mean “nothing will ever be the same any longer after THAT happened,” I’d have to go with anything involving the sudden eruption into the world of psychic forces and supernatural entities—dragons and elves roaming the streets, and so forth. If that were to happen, as my older brother used to say, I’d be the most popular person in town suddenly. I’m not partial to zombie apocalypses, for example, mainly because we’re living amidst one at present (I mean, have you seen any Tea Party rallies?). But, in reality, the one that I’d have to say is my favorite is the one I happen to take part in every single day: closing my eyes to sleep, and then waking up again, during which time the world that I had been awake to experience earlier has in fact ended, and a new world waits to be encountered before me—and even though it’s mostly the same world, nonetheless the circumstances in which its conditions upon waking could have been altered have passed, and thus it really has ended. (If you’re not rolling your eyes right now, I have failed in my task, alas.)
And lastly, what’s one thing you’d like to tell my readers?
“Hey, Readers of Sannion’s blog! Keep reading it and commenting, and keep giving him donations and buying his books! And, if you still have money you want to give away after that and would like to buy some other books, come over to my blog and check out what I’m offering, and if you have time and the interest to do so, read and comment on my blog, too!”
(I would like to have said “You’re all beautiful, and I want to make love to you all,” but Roberto Benigni got to that one first, dagnabbit…)