I identify as a queer man. Part of what makes me so queer is that although gender variance is a fundamental part of my worldview and spirituality I am as solidly male as you can get without being neurotic about it. I am comfortable in my body which is big and strong and hairy. I’ve never done drag or cross-dressed. I’ve never been curious to see how the other side lives. I’ve never felt like my inner and outer selves were in conflict. And I don’t really have a feminine side to get in touch with. I’m sure there’s plenty about me that doesn’t fit our society’s narrow conception of masculinity. I enjoy sex with men as much as I enjoy it with women. I frequently paint my fingernails and will wear eyeliner if the occasion calls for it. I can be emotional, nurturing, intuitive, kind and generous. I’m not very good with my hands and have zero interest in sports, cars or electronic devices. But I don’t think any of this makes me less of a man — I’m just a complex person.
But as I said gender variance is a fundamental part of my worldview and spirituality. Considering what I worship how could it be otherwise? My primary god is Dionysos, the dissolver of all boundaries. The god who was raised a girl, wears women’s clothing, leads the maenads out of domestic drudgery to hunt in the night and manifests as a virile bull celebrated with phallic hymns. He embraces the whole spectrum of gender and sexuality. Likewise there is a form of Aphrodite that is bearded and Arlecchino and Columbina often swap costumes and roles. Then there’s Spider. While I most commonly refer to her as female the truth is I’ve encountered her as often as not as a male or in a form that makes our human conceptions of gender seem quite ridiculous and inadequate. And those are just the obvious examples. More generally I perceive the world as fluid and constantly shifting. Everything we encounter is temporary and in a transitional state between what it was and what it will become. The world is a ballroom filled with masked dancers whose masks change to reflect their dreams, their desires, their destiny. Gender is but one of the identities we have to play around with — and by no means the most interesting.
All of which is a lengthy way of explaining my profound interest in a slender volume that was published a while back by the esteemed theologian and founder of the Ekklesia Antinoou P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.
Of course such a defense is entirely unnecessary. Everything that comes from the pen of that man is brilliant, provocative and supremely artistic. The release of a new volume in the Red Lotus Library is always cause for celebration. Rarely in the realm of contemporary polytheist publishing do you find such clarity of thought, such broad learning, such mastery of prose and poesy, such profound devotion and insight that can be gained only through years of serious and committed practice. I am not in the habit of envying others, but I do envy this man his gifts.
So it pains me to think that there are those out there who would be interested in Sufenas’ other works on the revival of the worship of the ancient Greco-Roman-Egyptian divinities but might avoid All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A TransMythology thinking that it has nothing to say to them.
If you feel this way you are wrong. Simple as that.
This book contains mysteries for everyone.
I do not use the word “mystery” lightly, but it is appropriate in this case.
Truth be told, that is why I have been so hesitant to review this book up to now.
Sufenas actually gave me a copy upon its initial release and asked me, as a favor to him, to do a write-up. Though he is one of my oldest and dearest friends and I wanted nothing more than to please him, I simply could not do it. The book is full of mysteries. Modern and strange mysteries, to be sure, but mysteries nonetheless. And I remain enough of a Greek that when I encounter a mystery my instinct is to retreat into holy silence. Mysteries are too big, too true, too powerful to be contained by words. My life revolves around words and yet I am acutely aware of their impotence in the face of mystery. They can only allude, suggest, point the way — they can do no more than that. Mysteries are to be experienced. They must enfold and overwhelm and transform us. They are not to be dissected and analyzed and forced into a single corrupt, gross meaning through words. Die Übersetzung ist der Tod des Verständnisses.
But Sufenas recently asked if I would give it another shot and I could not deny him once more.
“If the gods would know where gender resides
and whether it is window or revelation…”
“…then the gods must be the window,
must undergo the revelation…”
All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A TransMythology is an important work. It is different from anything else that he has written and though Sufenas goes to great lengths in the introduction to reject the title of prophet, I’m sorry, but that is exactly what he became with this book — a prophet heralding the emergence of new gods into the world. Fascinating gods who become even more so as their story unfolds in these scant hundred and seventy odd pages. And the reason I am writing this is because I think you will find them just as fascinating, even if you are not trans or gender variant yourself.
In the introduction Sufenas discusses what it is like to be gender variant within the mostly heteronormative world of contemporary Paganism and the genuine need that many queer people have for gods that resemble them and myths that speak to their own unique experiences. Many, I am sure, will see this book and the Tetrad it delineates as a response to that need, a step in the right direction even if it doesn’t perfectly conform to their lives and longings. But to me it is so much more than that. Honestly, if it was just a bit of poetic wish fulfillment I wouldn’t have bothered reading it let alone writing this much about it. I take a fairly dim view of therapy masquerading as religion, loathe politics of all varieties and generally thought the trans advocates and Dianics comported themselves poorly in the aftermath of Pantheacon Hullabaloo I & II. (Actually, I thought the bunch of them acted like twats for the most part but that’s not very PC so I’m sticking to “comported themselves poorly.”)
So yes, the Tetrad are trans deities. Their nature and conception are decidedly unconventional. Much of the book is concerned with their emergence and reception and relationships to the established deities of the ancient Mediterranean pantheons (among others.) But if that’s all you’re getting out of this book you need to read deeper because Sufenas raises some mighty interesting questions along the way.
What are gods?
How do they come into being?
What is birth? Being? Form? Appearance? Power? To the gods and to us?
How do we know anything about the gods, about the world, about ourselves?
What is the relationship between myth and reality?
What happens when the lines blur?
And so very many others.
The book isn’t even two hundred pages and yet every time I’ve read it it has taken me days to finish because I keep having to stop, put it aside and follow some errant train of thought it sparked.
Another thing that makes this not an easy book to read is the writing itself. I almost said that it was difficult, but it’s not. The language is clear, precise, elegant and flowing. And so fucking beautiful! That’s the problem, really. You’re going along and then all of a sudden this perfectly formed line just stabs you in the heart with its loveliness and truth. I was originally going to share some of my favorite quotes from it to excite your appetite but then the list got to be too long and I just couldn’t choose between them. This is real poetry, folks. The kind of stuff that Milton and Blake, Baudelaire and Artaud, Pound and Eliot wrote. There’s nothing else like this being produced in contemporary Paganism — even I feel like a dabbler in comparison, and you all know how enamored of my own work I am!
One of the things that this master poet really gets right is the voice of the gods. So often when people write of the gods it’s like second-rate fanfiction. Rarely does what is put in their mouths sound even remotely like what actual people say let alone the gods! Clumsy, wooden, each character sounding exactly like the others, always filtered through ironic and clever pop culture tropes. Not so with this book. I know many of these gods and I believe this is how they would converse and act in such a situation.
So, before I get even more profuse in my praise, let me end it here by saying that you should give this book a shot. Even if you have no interest in picking up the cultus of the Tetrad I think there’s a lot in here you’ll benefit from being exposed to. This is work that makes you think and think hard about things. What more can you ask of great literature?