Practical Polytheism: A Review of Devotio Antinoo

There are few people in the world that I admire more than P. Sufenas Virius Lupus. He is intelligent, kind, patient, a clear and thoughtful writer, and has been a source of unflagging support in my darkest hours. I am not in the habit of placing Pagans on pedestals, but if Sufenas weren’t so tall already I might be tempted.

It has taken me a long time to get around to reading his Devotio Antinoo. At over 500 pages it is a tome, so I set aside hours to devote to nothing else this week, and I am very glad I did. Devotio Antinoo is a practical guide for anyone interested in the cult of Antinous, the deified lover of the Emperor Hadrian. Today, Antinous is a beacon for anyone interested in queer spirituality in the context of Paganism.

I am a heterosexual woman, but having a lot of GLBTQI friends makes me conscious of the diversity of the gods. I worship straight gods and bisexual gods and gay gods. I even worship transgender gods and genderqueer gods. To only view the gods as heterosexual is a bit narcissistic, and defies the old axiom “As above, so below.” As the realm of humans, so goes the realms of the gods.

So to say that Devotio Antinoo is an excellent resource for anyone interested in queer Pagan spirituality is a bit like saying rain is wet. If GLBTQI issues in a religious context are important to you, then you need this book. It’s just a fantastic resource. And a comprehensive resource. Sufenas is brilliant, but also verbose! It is not a light or a quick read!

However important Devotio Antinoo is for those interested in queer spirituality (and there is plenty of material in here for women looking for specifically lesbian spirituality) or Antinous himself, the book holds more resources than just those niches. That is what I want to talk about.

Sufenas is one of the best polytheist writers around today. He has the unique gift of thinking about polytheism in both ancient and modern terms simultaneously, of bridging the centuries in a way that makes clear, practical sense. He connects theology and practice in such basic and profound ways that I find myself marveling that I had not considered his ideas before:

Antinous is a god, but this does not mean that he is omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent. You can pray to him for whatever you like, but it may not be in his power to help you achieve whatever it is you ask for. Antinous can be anywhere, but he‘s not everywhere at all times, and thus one must call to him and get his attention. Antinous can know a great deal, but he cannot (and does not!) know everything, and therefore you can‘t assume that he knows what you want or need, or knows what you‘re thinking, or that he even knows you at all until you have been introduced to him. This means that in order to pray to him, you actually do need to speak out loud. It can be in a hushed voice, or even a whisper, but it does need to be out loud.

This is simply common sense. Pure and simple. It is such basic common sense that when I first heard Sufenas explain this I was absolutely astounded that I had not considered it before. Sit with this paragraph. Meditate on it. Consider the act of invocation, the power of prayer, the act of ritual, and the intrinsic power of the spoken word. It’s brilliant.

This book is about Antinous, but the approach can be applied and adapted to any god or pantheon. Besides being a wealth of information about the Antinoan cult, it is also a very practical primer on modern polytheism. Sufenas talks about how “no deity arises in a vacuum” and how to dedicate the basic things in your life to the gods. He talks about the root of the word devotion meaning to participate in something. He warns against placing too high a value on ancient interpretations of words and concepts, and advocates thoughtful growth and innovation.

…we live in the present, we function within our own semantic and cultural spectrums the best and most logically, and no matter how well we may understand the past on its own terms, we do not live in it.

He also advocates a spectrum of participation and involvement in polytheistic Paganism, as existed in ancient times. Not all of us have the time or calling to be full-time mystics or holy people.

However, many modern pagans and polytheists are more interested in the cultural aspects of paganism, the communal atmosphere, and of simply being a part of such a vibrant and interesting religious movement as modern paganism and polytheism happens to offer, without a desire to become initiated into a particular tradition. Indeed, this is exactly how things functioned in the ancient world: not everyone in Athens was an initiate of Eleusis. Therefore, a split between what has been called the ―devotional‖ and the ―mystical‖ has been proposed as a major problem that will impact the development of paganism and polytheism in the years to come.

This book has a lot of good sense in it. Even if you have no interest in Antinous or queer spirituality, there is plenty of good polytheistic thought, beautiful liturgy and interesting ritual ideas to give you food for thought. I very much recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in polytheism. Devotio Antinoo is an excellent addition to any Pagan library.

*I was provided with pdf copy of this book for the purpose of review, which did not influence my opinion of it. If it had sucked, I would have said so.

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About Star Foster

Southern polytheist in the Midwest.