Review: All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A Transmythology

“Then allow me to enter the grove:
I am the child of Panpsyche
and the offspring of Panhyle—
I am favored with a noble and extensive lineage;
I am desired of all and a joy to each;
I am the culmination of all love…
I am Paneros.
I am the love that conquers everything.
And I will enter this grove
for I already live there.

All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A Transmythology, p. 117


I’ll be up front and say that this book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If it’s yours, though, you’ll probably want to drink the whole pot.

A Transmythology is an original epic poem by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus. Its narrative involves the conception, birth, and awakening to self of a group of four transgender and/or fluidly-gendered deities called the Tetrad. Their names—Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, and Pancrates—translate literally to the English words of the title (All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power).

I have to admit that when I realized the book was an epic poem, I was skeptical, and not from lack of experience with the genre. My PhD specialization was in religion and literature, and I’ve read Homer, Chaucer, Dante, Milton and others with varying levels of engagement and enjoyment. In popular culture, epic poetry is often seen as so formal as to be inaccessible (and dry translations make it more so). This was often not the case with their original audiences, however. I remember what a revelation it was to hear Stanley Lombardo perform parts of his translation of the Odyssey. His interpretation aimed to help us hear the text as the Greeks would have heard it: and the Odyssey, my friends, is rough and raunchy, full of derring-do and heroism. The stiff nineteenth-century British translations that are often stuffed down our throats in school don’t capture its spirit.

Reading A Transmythology, you can tell PSVL has done eir homework. The poem is stately and gritty, erotic and erudite, and full of references to ancient and medieval myth and poetry—more, I’m sure, than I noticed myself. (The passage I quote above, I believe, is an allusion to a tale of the Irish hero or deity Lugh, who is admitted to the castle of the king because although the castle already hosts a master of each art, no one but Lugh is the master of them all.) The poem is also Not Safe For Work—so, dear reader, you have been warned. :)

Most obviously, A Transmythology contributes to the project of developing specifically transgender and queer Pagan traditions. The story itself explores some of the pain as well of the joy of being unconventionally gendered, and how the new gods come to terms with their natures is a significant part of the storyline. There is material here that can be used for healing as well as for empowerment, not just about what it means to be transgender or genderqueer, but also with regard to nontraditional families. PSVL makes it clear that e is doing ongoing devotion to these deities, and e invites the interested reader to do so as well.

The book also brings the reader face to face with the real mechanisms of religious innovation. As Pagans, I suspect we are all at least dimly aware that the roots of myth and ritual are in the spiritual experiences of individuals. Somewhere in the distant past, there was always a first time the story of a god was told, a vision or moment of inspiration or even just an imaginative framing of an important truth. Our gods come to us sometimes as revelation, sometimes as literary creation, sometimes as a tangle of both. In some strands of Paganism, in fact, artistic inspiration and divine creation are considered to be expressions of the same underlying life force–so the issue of whether there is a difference between “discovering” and “creating” a god becomes a complex theological question.

Lupus describes a uncomfortable process of bodily pain, uncanny dreams, and consultations with oracles ending in a burst of artistic production that became A Transmythology. Eir account is refreshingly lacking in attempts to legitimize eir work with shaky connections to historical traditions. And while it is possible to read eir account as claiming authority through this ordeal, I read it as a straightforward description of what being a devotional artist can look like—it may be harrowing, and it may sometimes look like madness, but if the process is successful, the results can be an inspiration to others.

PSVL’s work embraces process theology, a system of thought that sees the world and divinity as ever-changing, with human beings as a fully integrated part of the process. Eir fundamental vision is of new gods emerging from the old, yet not usurping them—these new and old gods are bound together by family ties. I hope that A Transmythology similarly inspires others to ground their writing in existing myth and literature, while also seeking new approaches to the questions of our time.

 

About Christine Kraemer

Christine Hoff Kraemer is Managing Editor of the Pagan Channel at Patheos.com. Christine holds a PhD in Religious and Theological Studies from Boston University. She has published widely on literature, popular culture, and Paganism and is the author of Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies (Patheos Press, 2012) as well as Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective (Routledge, 2013). Christine is also an instructor at Cherry Hill Seminary, where she served for two years as chair of the Theology and Religious History department.

  • http://summerisle.dreamwidth.org/ Ashley Yakeley

    The piece you quoted has a rhythm rather reminiscent of The Thunder: Perfect Mind.

    Being very “gendernorm” I should think this work wouldn’t necessarily speak to me, but I am fascinated by the idea as an act of creation, and the “mechanism of religious innovation” -

    “In some strands of Paganism, in fact, artistic inspiration and divine creation are considered to be expressions of the same underlying life force–”

    Yes. This is essential for making paganism worthwhile, and why paganism is more than just nature religion.

    Creating new gods like this reminds me a little of William Blake’s declaration “I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s; I will not Reason and Compare: my business is to Create.” Blake also needed to express his highly particular visions, and presumably all the prior spiritual vocabulary available to him was “enslaving”. It sounds like Lupus’ work is in part a response to a similar problem of prior poverty; a lack of sacralisation of fluid and queer gender expressions and sexualities. The Wiccan Goddess generally doesn’t generally seem very queer-friendly, and I can understand if trans pagans eventually end up banishing the Dianic Goddess on sight…

    “–so the question of whether there is a difference between “discovering” and “creating” a god becomes a complex theological question.”

    It’s sort of giving a name to something sacred, isn’t it? There’s some part of the world that one has unconditional respect for, that one discovers as sacred, and then creates as a god to express it. Sort of.

    Is it possible for a work of literature to be mythology? I think technically not. Mythology has to be the product of many people. Myths undergo telling and retelling, and in the process they get changed and refined, some things are dropped, and other things added, and multiple variations arise. And the stories we end up with tend to be very “catchy”, that the mind likes to go over and savour. Some memetic evolution is a necessary factor.

    Blake of course did indeed Create quite a lot. But no-one else (as far as I know) ever made further use of his System, presumably precisely because he advocated creating one’s own. So it never became mythology. In these days of copyright and the social importance of authorship, no stories seem to undergo the retelling process anymore either. No-one tells new stories of the Valar and Maiar, not least because they’d have to get permission from the Tolkien Estate.

    • http://inhumandecency.org/christine Christine Kraemer

      > Blake of course did indeed Create quite a lot. But no-one else (as far as I know) ever made further use of his System, presumably precisely because he advocated creating one’s own. So it never became mythology. In these days of copyright and the social importance of authorship, no stories seem to undergo the retelling process anymore either. No-one tells new stories of the Valar and Maiar, not least because they’d have to get permission from the Tolkien Estate.

      You make a good point. Although… I would suggest that by this definition, mythology is busily being created in two areas: comics (where many authors and artists deal with one character, often in multiple timelines/universes) and fanfiction. Neither of these is usually done with any kind of intent beyond entertainment, though, so although being worked with by so many people may make the material more compelling, I think it tends to fall short as far as ultimate meaning-making goes.

      • http://heartofflame.blogspot.com Yvonne Aburrow

        Tolkien actively wanted fans to create fanfic in his subcreated world.

        Other authors prefer that fans refrain from fanfic.

    • http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      Thanks for your comparison to Thunder–it’s always been a favorite, and I had not consciously intended for there to be a parallel here, but I see what you mean! :)

      Of course, on some of the other points you’ve made, I’m far from unbiased in my responses; so, that having been said…

      Is it possible for a work of literature to be mythology? I think technically not. Mythology has to be the product of many people. Myths undergo telling and retelling, and in the process they get changed and refined, some things are dropped, and other things added, and multiple variations arise. And the stories we end up with tend to be very “catchy”, that the mind likes to go over and savour. Some memetic evolution is a necessary factor.

      Lots of things which started out as literature have become myths, and not vice-versa–a huge amount of Greek myth was not “myth” until poets like Pindar or Kallimachos or others gave it written form, and it wasn’t always things that they “copied” from oral traditions that already existed, and the same is true of pretty much everything we know of Irish and Welsh myth. Myth doesn’t always come before literature.

      I’m not saying that All-Soul, etc. IS mythology–well, actually by the subtitle, I kind of am…!?!–but, what it most certainly was intended to be is an invitation toward building a mythology. I fully expect other tellings of the lives of the Tetrad to emerge, and am actively inviting people to contribute toward that effort. Whether others take up that activity or not, of course, is up to them, but what becomes myth must start somewhere. If the greater community accepts it as myth, it will be myth…but, one of the reasons I called it “A TransMythology” is because it is one of many possible, and not THE trans myth, etc.

      (Some make a distinction between myth and mythology as well, which might be illustrative to consider here, but I’ll leave that aside for the moment!)

  • http://heartofflame.blogspot.com Yvonne Aburrow

    Wow, just wow, I will totally buy this book and add it to my library.

    Thank you for writing it, Lupus! :D <–excited face

    • http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on it once you get a chance to read it as well! Thanks so much for your interest! ;)

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/ Yvonne

        I have ordered it but it won’t arrive until March!

  • http://aediculaantinoi.wordpress.com P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Thanks so much for reviewing this, Christine! I’m glad you liked it!

    (I’m also always interested in seeing what bits different reviewers choose to quote, and that bit you started with above is actually one of my favorites!)

    • http://inhumandecency.org/christine Christine Kraemer

      Mine too! I hope the review helps the book continue to find its proper audience.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X