Interested in Antinous?

If you find yourself more than a little intrigued with Antinous, the second century, young man who was the beloved of the Roman emperor Hadrian and was deified at his death, after drowning in the Nile River, and become interested in him as a spiritual figure, there is a tremendous reference work available:  Devotio Antinoo: The Doctors’ Notes, Volume One by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, published by the Red Lotus Library earlier this year.

It’s a thick compendium of the author’ writings, as well as translations of hard to find historical texts and related information. As always Lupus is scholarly and thorough and the book is full of references and resources for further exploration. It’s also exhaustively indexed, which is a great help in a reference work of this sort.

Devotio Antinoo features prayers and hymn that can be use in one’s own rites and practices, ones that have become familiar in the context of the Ekklesia Antinoo, but can be easily adapted for anyone’s purposes. These include, “The Antinoan Petition”, “Ave Ave Antinoe”, “Aratologia Antinoi”, “A Prayer to Antinous”, and the “Prayer Against Persecution”. There’s an extensive calendrical section of festivals and special days throughout the year which provide many resources.

A real treasure trove of translated ancient texts can be found in the Historical and Cultic Documents section. These include, “Hadrian’s Temple Inscription”, “The Obelisk of Antinous” (which is a key ritual text), the “Citharoedic Hymn of Curium”, and Pancrates’ “Poem on the Lion Hunt”. There’s also “The Poem on the Colossus of Memnon” by Julia Balbilla, the poet companion of the Empress Sabina.

Some of the author’s essays are “The Feast of the Senses”, a celebration familiar to Dionysians and “The Feast of the Mind”—which contains a great resources hoard of interesting books distributed throughout the year. I found lots of works to add to my list. It’s a good point that reading and study can be part of piety. Lupus is a poet also and quite a few of his devotional poems are included, which work very well in ritual. I recommend his book of poems too, The Phillupic Hymns. For me, perhaps the best came last: a provocative and insightful essay on what does devotion mean in a polytheistic context, with an exploration of Hindu bhakti, which although almost always translated into English as “devotion”, would perhaps better be translated as “participation”. I had a real semantic epiphany with this—for one thing the wall comes down between devotion and mysticism. I think this is such a key text here that it would have been better placed near the beginning. I should mention the books has lots of cool pictures too. Overall, Lupus has written a great resource for scholarly-inclined  and experiential pagan polytheists of various bents.

You can buy direct from the publisher here:

The Trouble With (Pagan) Humanism

Recently I’d been reading the Humanist Pagan blog and some of the interviews therein, including with Brendan Myers. There is much I can admire in their perspectives, even as a mystic. Then came the blog post by Dr. Myers at the Wild Hunt, which generated a lot of responses. I wondered what is left when you remove the sacred and ritual, but I was particularly troubled by this statement:  “Humanist paganism might be a powerful educational tool. It can show that a pagan can be a sophisticated, cosmopolitain (sic), and enlightened person, and that a pagan culture can be artistically vibrant, environmentally conscious, intellectually stimulating, and socially just.” I read this as referring to the present, and of course its suggestion that reconstructionist or Wiccan circles lack in the above traits is patently absurd. It has led me to think more carefully about the concept of humanist paganism, and unpacking some of its problematic assumptions (Note: this is based on Dr. Myers’ formulations; I realize there are other viewpoints among HPs).

While humanism actually was a Renaissance phenomenon and was centered on a revival of interest in the literary and philosophical works of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and was a powerful counter against the long centuries of dominance of Church scholasticism and denigrations of the natural world, the current humanists are not really using it that way. It also needs to be said that humanism caries a freight of anthropocentricity, that is the concept that the human is at the center of the world, and is what is centrally important. From an ecological viewpoint this is the resource-based view of nature—what’s in it for ‘us’, us being modern industrial Homo sapiens. For those of us influenced by deep ecology, this attitude is part of the problem; nature and all of the creatures we share the planet with have intrinsic value. The human centered view which historically brought various benefits (such as challenging the traditional Christian stranglehold on European thought), has also contributed to the mess we are now in.

Humanist Pagans seem to usually be asking ‘what’s in it for me’, that approach of individualism that Gus Dizerega has called a pathology of modernity. They also use reason in a highly restrictive usage, basically, the results of scientific method.  One of the great draws way back for me of Paganism, was that resonance of working with the magical, the ‘irrational’ forces, as well as the deep satisfaction that many of us feel from rituals and customs that don’t have a rational basis (in the restricted sense of that word). The humanist viewpoint uncritically accepts the modernist viewpoint that only the empirical, only the scientific are valid ways of knowing; everything else is relegated to entertainment at best. The mysterious, the invisible, the immeasurable are rejected.

But let’s consider it from scientific language: it is as if only the affairs of the neo-cortex are valuable, the deep underpinnings of the unconscious are relegated to ‘woo’. It’s not like these are either/or propositions; my work involves drawing upon both, the intuitive and the analytical; it’s often a dance back and forth. This is where I find it revealing that humanists say they don’t do ritual, or maybe just go along with it if they go to  a festival, perhaps because as play acting it is fun to cry, “hail Thor”. Yet whatever one’s theological bent, ritual is something that is part of human culture all over the planet (and perhaps intrinsic to being human), and could be seen as giving our complete mind (and body) a chance for involvement with something greater than our egos.

This brings me to the arts. As a poet, I am aware that this current ‘humanist’ line goes with a devaluation of aesthetic knowledge, again of other important ways of experiencing and knowing the world. The encounter with the Imaginal, with the imagination’s opening onto Mystery is left by the wayside. And so it is a very old story indeed—the moving away from the valuing of myth that can be seen as far back in the West as Plato. It’s noteworthy that Brendan Myers states that he is a type of pagan that hasn’t been seen since the latter days of the classical era of antiquity. This makes me wonder just what he is referring to. Even the rationalist philosophers of Greece  mostly wanted to encourage piety, of which ritual was a central component. Even in the late pagan days of Rome, it would have been unusual to ignore the rites.


Postmodern philosophers have called this type of thought logocentrism. It’s a mentality laden with colonialism, and also takes part in the condescending attitude (and actions) toward beliefs and practices of indigenous peoples*. So an important question here is just what kind of human are these humanists talking about? It would seem only their own kind. Human is a word with a peculiar pedigree. Its history was one of being applied only to a portion of Homo sapiens. There were the rational civilized men of the West—the ‘people with reason’ (for example, in the Law of the Indies enforced in colonial Latin America)— and there was the savage rest of the planet.

Also recommended: my friend Lupus’ post on Myers’ essay.

* The many cases of indigenous peoples fighting to keep or regain sacred land is not something reducible to resource claims (though, those are important too).

Berry Sunday (aka Lughnasadh)

In many traditional and indigenous cultures custom is something that is imbued with spiritual value; often it is where what westerners label the religious resides in daily life. In terms of cultures that convert to a formal, universalistic belief system this is often where a lot of the ground level spirituality of the old ways continue to exist, even if loosely formatted into new conceptions. This was certainly the case with the Irish and other Celtic peoples. Such customs can often become quite meaningful to those of living in (post)modern societies. Some are very tied to a specific locale, others will have greater resonance in diverse regions.

One I have found meaningful, and that has become a tradition in my family, is to go a-berrying around Lughnasadh. In my Californian home area berries are a marker that Lughnasadh is arriving, just as in Ireland. This brings us into the thorny topic of dates. Some want to strictly adhere to a calendrical date like the evening of August 1st for the holiday. Others feel that looking for signs in local nature are more important in determining the time of celebration, and waiting until late in the month if that seems warranted. Looking at Irish customs one finds that in recent times Lughnasadh is celebrated on a Sunday, usually the Sunday closest to August 1st, which is variously named Bilberry Sunday, Heatherberry Sunday, Garland Sunday, etc. (in some places there was offering of first fruits and flowers and also garlanding, such as of an old stone pillar at Grange, beside Lough Gur). While the festival is well-known in Pagan circles as a first fruits of the grain harvest, the gathering of wild fruits was also an important element into recent times.  In Ireland those who lived near woods and heaths gathered wild strawberries, whortleberries/blueberries and raspberries, and even small holders usually had gooseberries or currants in their gardens to pick for the holiday meal. Blueberry mashes were a popular holiday dish, which are simply blueberries mashed up with cream.

In much of the North American continent blackberries are prolific and ripening at this time. I find it delightful to pick them and then bake a berry pie for the holiday. Huckleberries, though small, are good for this too. Even if you don’t live where you can harvest wild berries, procuring some at a farmers’ market or store will work. But there is something especially resonant about picking wild food which puts  us in touch with the wilder side of our traditions. Picking wild berries connects us intimately with what the Land is doing at this time of year, and for many puts us back in touch with a popular summer time activity of our grandparents or great-grandparents, so there is the familial connection as well. In most places various types of berries were an important and healthful foodstuff for indigenous cultures—as well as for the bears. I think it interesting how often festival foods go back to pre-agricultural times, in this case even though there is obviously a strong agricultural component of first harvest of the cultivated fields at Lughnasadh.

Custom also calls for feasting on a high place, a hill or height of some kind, or besides water. It’s an excellent occasion for picnics. For those who celebrate with liturgical ritual such customs can greatly add in terms of context, mood and meaning. For those who don’t they can be stand-alone practices.

I find that this connects me both with customs in the ‘old country’ and with my own bioregion here on the Pacific Coast of North America.

 My blackberry nut-flour crust pie is chilling in the fridge. We’ll see how it tastes tomorrow. :’-)

Some resources:

Danaher, Kevin. The Year In Ireland: Irish Calendrical Customs. Dublin: Mercier Press, 1972. An indispensable look at 18th, 19th and early 20th century customs.

MacNeill, Máire. The Festival of Lughnasa. Oxford: 1962. This is back in print after a long time out.

Dames, Michael. Mythic Ireland. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992. Although Dames is overly-influenced by a matriarchal Goddess view of prehistory, this book is chockfull of interesting customs and lore.

I also recommend the wonderful film, Dancing At Lughnasa directed by Pat O’Connor, starring Meryl Streep (1998).