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Ekklesia Antinoou

Author: Phillupus Doctor Ekklesiae Antinoou
Posted: August 13th. 2006
Times Viewed: 10,041

The Ekklesia Antinoou was originally founded as the Ecclesia Antinoi in June of 2002, when three people—Antonius Nikias Subia, Sadaaya, and Phillupus Doctor—combined forces and organized themselves, each in their separate locations, as individuals working for the revival of the ancient cult of Antinous. As the result of irreconcilable theological differences in June of 2007, the Greek rather than Roman name was adopted by those who separated from the other group, and thus the Ekklesia Antinoou was born, and continues to be the prime working group for Sadaaya and Phillupus today.

Antinous was the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (princeps 120-138 CE) , who on a journey in Egypt drowned in the Nile. When his body was found, Hadrian immediately founded a city on the spot in his honor, the city of Antinoöpolis; but by Egyptian custom, anyone who drowned in the holy river was deified and received a small cult syncretized to one of the more common gods of the Nile. Antinous was worshipped as Osirantinous (Osiris-Antinous) immediately, but Hadrian spread his worship throughout the Empire, where it took hold especially in the Greek East. In addition to the holy city, temples were founded to him for certain in Lanuvium (near Rome), Socanica, Carnuntum, and Mantineia; the city of Neapoli (Naples) named a district after him; and Hadrian’s Villa at Tibur (Tivoli) near Rome also had a temple to Antinous, which was recently rediscovered. Wherever Antinous’ cult went, he became syncretized to the local gods and heroes of the area, and was portrayed with their attributes in his statuary; most commonly, he is given the attributes of Dionysos, but he also appears as Hermes in Rome and Delphi, Osiris in Egypt, Belenus at Hadrian’s Villa, Silvanus at Lanuvium, Adonis in Curium, Apollo, and other figures. In sacred texts and inscriptions, he is also linked to Narcissus, Hyakinthos, Hylas, and a number of other beautiful dying gods or heroic youths. Sacred athletic games were celebrated in Antinous’ honor into the fourth century. All of these various cults ended with the triumph of Constantinian Christianity, however, and Antinous’ worship disappeared. From the foundation of the cult on October 30, 130, it was severely criticized by the Church Fathers, possibly because the city of Antinoöpolis shows evidence of religious diversity that may have even included syncretistic forms of Antinoian Gnostic Christianity, and Antinous as a “savior” deity like Mithras or Dionysos was seen as a direct threat to Jesus, especially since Antinous started out as a human.

For certain details unpreserved elsewhere, the abusive statements of the Church Fathers can be very important sources for reconstruction of the ancient cult. Under Cardinal Allesandro Albani and his associates, the cult of Antinous had a brief secret resurgence in the 17th century, and his statuary (which survives in such plentitude that only Hadrian and Augustus have more extant portrayals from the ancient world) has been well-known in art historical and archaeological circles ever since. But, to our knowledge, an organized spiritual tradition since the 17th century honoring Antinous has not been attempted. (There have been individuals who have been devoted to Antinous in the last 30 years, and there are a few internet groups and sites that are not specifically-tied to the Ekklesia Antinoou, but none of these have memberships or activity-levels on the same scale as the Ekklesia Antinoou has for the past five years.)

The modern Ekklesia Antinoi is therefore reconstructionist and syncretistic in its practices, drawing from the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman religious traditions for its precepts, and firmly polytheistic in its outlook. However, because the ancient cult was founded because of a homoerotic relationship, and there is evidence that homoerotically-inclined people were attracted to the cult in the past (including an early painting from a tomb in Antinoöpolis showing two male lovers portrayed as a married couple, with the youth under the patronage of Osirantinous) , and the modern founders are all involved in queer spirituality, the current membership is primarily gay, and the queer mysteries are particularly honored in its practices (though people of all sexual orientations are welcome at rituals.) The use of the Greek term ekklesia is not here intended in the sense which Christianity has appropriated it, as “church,” but rather in the ancient Greek administrative sense of “entirety of the voting population of an area.” Thus, when we translate it into English, we usually use a phrase like “Gathered Believers/People of Antinous.” The current membership of the Antinoian groups includes over 200 individuals worldwide, mostly working as solitary devotees of Antinous, but keeping contact through electronic media and sharing information, and meeting in person whenever possible. Since the ancient cult was syncretistic, new forms of Antinous have been suggested which link him to the pantheons of non-Graeco-Roman cultures (including Skanda from India, Freyr and Baldr from Norse cultures, and Cú Chulainn and Mabon from Insular Celtic tradition) . Further, the Ekklesia Antinoou is not exclusive, and other deities or religions can be practiced along with it without difficulty—indeed, some of its current members include pagans of all stripes, as well as Christians and Muslims!

In the Ekklesia Antinoou, we emphasize shared and sustained practice over stated belief, since the Graeco-Roman-Egyptian religions were religions of active devotional emphasis rather than religions of creed or of particular holy books. However, we do share a number of intertwined core “statements” by which most Ekklesia Antinoou practitioners distinguish themselves from other pagans, both of Graeco-Roman reconstructionist types as well as other sorts. One belief has been articulated as homotheosis, which has several simultaneous meanings. The element theosis means, essentially, “becoming divine, ” and is used in a number of words originating from Greek and Roman practice (including apotheosis, the belief that the Emperor and other important figures became divine after their deaths) . The prefix homo- is taken to mean a number of things. Firstly, in the Greek sense of homo-, “same, ” it means that the divine nature to which we aspire is the same nature as that which we already possess; our inherent divinity is a matter only to be realized rather than sought after or attained. Secondly, in the Roman sense of homo, “ (hu) man, ” we take this as the realization that it is within our wider and fuller humanity that we attain realization of divinity, not after death or at some future incarnation, but now, in this life, in a Gnostic-like or mystical realization; indeed, Antinous himself was human, and the term Homo Deus (“man-god”) is one that we also use as one of Antinous’ epithets. Finally, in the English sense derived from Greek but having some Latin influence, we use homo as the slang abbreviation for “homosexuality” or “homoerotic,” in the sense that most of us see queer male beauty as a manifestation of the divine, and that our attractions are to those of our same gender, and that homoeroticism is a source of divine splendor and indeed divine theophany for those of us who follow this path. And from this belief and practice of homotheosis, which has affected all our other beliefs and practices, the acclamation often used in ritual has derived: Haec est unde vita venit, “This is where life comes from!” For those of us who follow this practice, we feel that no statement better encompasses our approach to life and spiritual devotion than this.

Another, though at this stage minor, shared belief is that no one should take part in a religion in order to have material gain from it; thus, no one is allowed to receive money for anything they might do in the Ekklesia Antinoou and its rituals. Money is never to be used as a factor which can exclude anyone nor privilege anyone else in the worship of Antinous. Devotional material needs (like candles, oil, flowers, and such) can be contributed towards as the ritual-leader sees fit, but no one will ever be asked to bring money for contributions toward the costs of any ritual or for rental of the venues where these sometimes take place. As a result, anyone who can read and who has internet access can thus take part in Antinoian spirituality.

As to the relationship between clergy and group members, this is an area which may be difficult for some to conceptualize. Apart from the original founders, a further person, Aristotimos, was initiated in early 2004 as the Oracle of Antinous—a revival of one of the ancient sacred functions in the city of Antinoöpolis. Though formal initiation can be sought into the roles of the sacred functionaries of the Ekklesia, it is not necessary for its practice, and indeed few have come forward to do so. Mystery initiations can also occur for anyone who wishes to take part in them, but again, these do not confer an official membership or clerical rank, and are strictly optional. Like many ancient cults, the prayers and offerings given to Antinous at small shrines in the home or in major temples can be carried out by anyone wishing to do so. Indeed, most practitioners are solitary, and have found ways to incorporate Antinous into their individual practices on their own terms, with guidance from other Antinoians or from the current group members sought as desired. This is not a religious practice for those who need to be micro-managed or told what to do at every step of the way.

A number of calendars have been created by the Ekklesia members which commemorate various holidays important in the history of the ancient cult of Antinous, the lives of Hadrian and the Antonine Emperors, holidays of related Graeco-Roman-Egyptian deities, commemorations of important figures and events in the history of queer spirituality, and other holidays which have arisen as important in the lived practice of the Ekklesia and its members. All but two of these are optional. October 30 is Foundation Day/Dies Fundamentorum, the historical date on which Hadrian first proclaimed the religion of Antinous and founded his holy city. Four weeks after this, the Natalis Antinoi (Birthdate of Antinous) is celebrated on November 27. Both of these holidays were celebrated in the ancient cult, and are recorded on cult calendars found in Egypt and Rome. All of the important business to be enshrined in the cult ritually each year takes place on Foundation Day, including (but not limited to) adding new names to list of revered and important figures of the Ekklesia (which includes the names of priests of the ancient cult known from inscriptions and papyri, authors who have helped to spread the name and fame of Antinous, and spiritual exemplars and queer holy people and artists from many religious traditions). On that day, the foundation of the tradition is re-established, and the mystery of Antinous’ apotheosis is re-enacted.

Many sacred texts from the ancient tradition have survived, and more have been found in recent years. The most important of these, an inscription on an obelisk now located in Rome, is read as a part of most major Ekklesia Antinoou festivals, and in fact is used as a “sacred enclosure” with four sides whenever important Ekklesia-wide rituals take place, in a manner similar (but with different significance) to a circle-casting and calling of the quarters in Wicca. Other pieces of devotional poetry are holiday-specific, including Hadrian’s inscription on a bear hunt used on the April 21 holiday of Venatio Ursae (Hunt of the Bear) , and texts by Athenaeus, Pancrates and other poets on a lion hunt which Antinous and Hadrian had near Alexandria in the months before Antinous’ death (Venatio Leonis, celebrated on August 21) . Further poems, ritual texts and hymns have also been created with inspiration from other inscriptions and texts that have survived.

The basic Antinoian ritual is much like any from the Hellenic or Roman traditions, involving adoration of a sacred image, and offerings of incense, wine, or oil, with poetry or hymns also recited for these purposes. Sacred drama is also performed on certain occasions, and the Antinoian Sacred Games (Megala Antinoeia) are also enacted yearly, with an agon (contest) of devotional artwork (which can include poetry, songs, prose, or visual art) as well as athletic practices, which were at the heart of many ancient Antinoian celebrations. The practice of magic is an “elective” rather than a “requirement, ” and can be used by anyone who so chooses, in the Graeco-Roman-Egyptian tradition; a spell by the poet Pancrates given to the Emperor Hadrian, as well as a love-spell invoking Antinous, have survived from the ancient cult. We also know that Hadrian was an avid astrologer (horoscopes for himself and several members of his family have also survived) and because Antinous was said to have undergone catasterism (“becoming a star after death”) as well, attention to the movements of the heavens and to the constellation Ganymede/Antinous in Aquila is also of concern to many members of the Ekklesia Antinoou. Solitary devotion and group ritual can occur as the practitioner sees fit, and those group rituals held by Phillupus Doctor and Aristotimos have been open to anyone who may wish to participate, regardless of religion or sexual orientation.

The Ekklesia Antinoou does not have any official statements of ethics, codes of conduct, or rules in the sense that many religious paths do. A generalized concept of virtue-based ethics rather than proscriptive negative ethics, much in line with the Classical tradition as a whole, is held by most members, but again, this is something that individuals must work out for themselves. We value consensus and community, but also diversity and difference, and above all things, we feel that all people should be free and liberated to the extent that they can live their lives as they see fit. Therefore, anything that works for the liberation of the individual and of others is seen as positive, and anything that might oppress or prevent people from realizing their inherent beauty and divinity is seen as negative.

One primary website serves the Ekklesia Antinoou's membership:

The Ekklesia Antinoou Yahoo Group
The main forum for discussion in the group, which also has a files and photos section with many items of interest therein. The group is only accessible to members, and membership is moderated due to problems with spammers in the past; however, a short message detailing your interest in the group (however great or small) is all it takes to be approved as a member.

Much has been written in academic journals and anthologies of classical inscriptions on Antinous and the remains of his ancient cult; and a few books on this subject have been produced, but most of them are in German and are fairly difficult to obtain. Some reference books on queer spirituality mention Antinous, but to date no devotional work or writings on Antinous from a spiritual perspective have been produced. Books that have some useful material on Antinous, which are easily-accessible and in English, include:

Royston Lambert, Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous (1984) . The standard book on the subject, filled with information (though some references are faulty) on Antinous and the development and demise of the ancient cult.

Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian (1951) . Though historical fiction, this book by an acclaimed lesbian author captures the personality of Hadrian quite well, and details his relationship with the Bithynian youth quite plausibly.

Anthony R. Birley, Hadrian the Restless Emperor (1997) . In the Imperial Biography series, this book gives an excellent historical portrait of the emperor, and extensive references for further research.

Mary Taliaferro Boatwright, Hadrian and the City of Rome (1987) . The remains of the Hadrianic hunting monument that depicts Antinous, as well as other Antinoian artifacts in Rome, are discussed herein, including an appendix on the Obelisk of Antinous and a provisional translation.


Phillupus Doctor Ekklesiae Antinoou

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