Queer I Stand
Sphinxes in the Library: A Review of T. Thorn Coyle's "Make Magic of Your Life"
There was also a section in a later chapter on the importance of realizing how privileged one is if they are able to be doing this kind of deep self-reflective work at all: if you are reading this review, or are reading the book itself, you have a certain amount of privilege in many respects. As a person who is disabled, partially employed, and part of a gender and sexual minority, it is very easy for me to forget how lucky I am to be able to even admit those things publicly or to spend time on religion and self-development work at any level. There are (too) many who are far less well-off than I am, even though I'm aware of a great many who are also far better-off than myself as well. Thorn did a session on privilege in modern Paganism at PantheaCon in one of the hospitality suites (described here), which I didn't know about until it was over; but, again, having read her discussion of this in the book went some way toward making me feel as if I had not missed out.
As I stated previously, it is very hard to find any major faults or matters to critique in this book. Being critical comes naturally to me, and I am still finding it difficult to do so. I offer the following very minor points for further consideration, not as critiques, but instead simply as possible areas for increased awareness or attention in the future.
Theologically, I am polytheist, and not a monist. Thorn identifies as a "non-dual polytheist," but I did not see very much polytheism in this book, and there would have been ample opportunity to have introduced it, if desired. There are goddesses and gods and other divine beings that could be easily correlated as potential allies and exemplars for any of the Four Powers of the Sphinx (e.g., Angerona, the Roman goddess of silence, for the power To Keep Silent). It is possible that reference to various deities was left out simply to make this book more palatable to a wider religious and spiritual readership than modern Pagans and polytheists, a practical choice under the circumstances. Several portions of the book, particularly toward the end, go into what I would consider more monistic excursions than would be appealing or necessary according to my own tastes. I don't think having them there detracts, by any means, though polytheists who have an extreme monism allergy might better be warned of this before proceeding.
Thorn makes relatively frequent reference to "God Hirself," and explains that the latter reflexive pronoun is a gender-neutral pronoun (which, alas, in the pronunciation of most Americans is indistinguishable from "herself"). This sort of linguistic usage is good and appropriate. However, when referring to the readers and the potential audience, Thorn's usage is usually along the lines of "brothers and sisters" and other conventionally binary gendered usages. The wider audience of this book is likely to be one of those potential genders; a narrower audience, including myself, is not. Having images of deities that are affirming of our alternative gender identities is very useful and good; but then not having that gender identity recognized amongst the human sphere by someone presenting those positive and affirming divine models seems incongruous.
As a polytheist who draws from ancient Greek and Egyptian sources, I like sphinxes a great deal; the Obelisk of Antinous indicates that they were part of his temples, and I've seen some syncretistic Graeco-Egyptian temples that have both Greek-style and Egyptian-style sphinxes in their processional ways leading to the temple. The structuring schema of Thorn's book is based on the Four Powers of the Sphinx, which are identified with its different animal components. These four animal images are also found in the four symbols of the Evangelists of Christian tradition (Matthew the man, Mark the lion, Luke the bull, John the eagle), and also in images of archangels and other such beings. Three of the four images (eagle, bull, and lion) are also connected to the Tetrad, the newly emergent deities that I worship. For all sorts of reasons, I think this is an appealing schema; but, having reached the end of Thorn's book, I question how useful it was in the context of the book. Much of the discussion throughout the first three sections seemed to be parallel, if not in some places extremely similar, such that the subject of desire and its pursuit as interpreted through the powers of To Know, To Will, and To Dare began to sound quite alike. And, with the addition of the fifth power, To Manifest, which occurs often simultaneously with the exercise of the other four powers, it all begins to feel a bit infinitely recursive, and perhaps not usefully so.
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender and a founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist religious group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and other related gods and divine figures). E is a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the filidecht and gentlidecht traditions. Follow Lupus' work on the Aedicula Antinoi blog.