My Minoan grove got together this past weekend to celebrate the Autumn Equinox, so my head and my heart are currently chock-full of brotherhood and queer spirituality. Which is a truly lovely feeling. Rainbows for everyone.
With all that going on inside me, and seeing as how LGBT History Month is coming up, I feel compelled to talk about a couple of lesser-known but utterly fabulous Greek Gods who are a) gayer than Christmas and b) deserving of exuberant veneration: Nerites and Anteros.
So Handsome, Yet So Shellfish
Nerites is the son of Nereus (the original Old Man of the Sea) and the Oceanid Doris, and He’s the brother of the 50 Nereids, which also makes Him the brother of Thetis. Although He only has a minor appearance in classical mythology, He was an important God to ancient Greek mariners.
According to some sources, Aphrodite was smitten with Nerites and tried to get Him to join Her on Mount Olympus, but He refused, preferring the ocean and the company of His sisters. She went so far as to offer Him wings, but Nerites was like, “Nah, I’m good. Thanks, though.”
Having never been friendzoned before, Aphrodite kind of overreacted and turned Nerites into a sea snail. But, because He was so beautiful prior to His transformation, His beauty lingered in the form of His shell.
So that’s the “confirmed bachelor” version of Nerites’ myth. In other accounts, Poseidon fell in love with Nerites, and Nerites returned His feelings. Poseidon appointed Nerites as His charioteer (which was a little nepotistic, but whatever), and He turned out to be really good at the job. So good, in fact, that Poseidon couldn’t help bragging to everyone who would listen that Nerites was the absolute fastest charioteer in the world.
Faster, Poseidon swore, than even Helios, the God of the Sun. (Who, incidentally, also had a thing for Nerites.)
And so, before Nerites could politely decline or attempt to manage anyone’s expectations, Helios was like, “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED, TWINK. BRING IT.”
The myths go in different directions at this point. Some say that Helios won the race but was a big jerk about it and turned Nerites into a sea snail to lord His victory over Him. Others say that it was Nerites, not Poseidon, who had done all the bragging, which prompted Helios to (literally) slug Him, taking away His swiftness and morphing Him into the slowest creature imaginable.
Which, y’know, fits that standard theme so prevalent in Greek mythology: The Mortal Consequences of Hubris. But an old covenmate of mine has a theory that some of these myths are actually about rewarding excellence, and I tend to agree with her.
Take the story of Athena and Arachne: The tale we’re familiar with has Athena changing Arachne into a spider out of retribution, but what if Athena had actually been like, “You know what? You are so damn talented at weaving, that I don’t want you to ever have to worry about anything else. Just focus on what you love doing, okay?”
Perhaps Aphrodite wasn’t seeking vengeance against Nerites. Maybe She was just like, “You’re right. You’re happier when you’re with your family. I see that now. Let’s make sure you get to stay with them.” Or maybe Helios’ response to Nerites was more like, “Listen, kid, no one’s ever going to beat you. Take a break and slow down. You’ve earned it.”
Or, even more amenably, maybe Helios was like, “I love you, dude, but I know you’re not into me, and I’m cool with that. But I am going to fix it so that you’re always with Poseidon, where you belong.” Which, truth be told, would totally help explain what happened next.
Anteros Has Two Daddies
Poseidon and Nerites loved each other so much, that they were able to produce a child, although the myths don’t give us much info on how they managed to accomplish that. It’s just like, “Thus through Their union did a Cherub arrive,” without any details, but that honestly might just be the result of repressed Victorian translating. My own Greek skills are way too shoddy to find out for myself, but it would be amazing if the original text was like, “Look, I’m not going to lie. There was butt stuff involved.”
Anyway, the Cherub was given the name Anteros, and He became the God of requited love, which contrasts with Eros, the God of desire; whereas Eros is depicted with feathered wings, Anteros is usually shown with the wings of a butterfly.
And, because of His parentage, Anteros is also the God of same-sex relationships.
I can’t speak for all of my LGBTQIA+ siblings, but personally, I find a lot of comfort in the knowledge that there’s a specific God watching out for us, who wants us to experience love. And I like knowing that one of the Olympian Big 12 and His male partner are also on our side: As far as I’m concerned, gay beaches are officially seaside temples.
But what I appreciate more than anything else is the message inherent in the myth of Nerites: We can stop rushing and find stillness and remain beautiful. There’s so much strife and toxic rivalry within the gay community, and because of that, it’s important to acknowledge that one of our primeval Deities doesn’t put much effort into anything other than staying present, keeping Himself safe, and moisturizing.
And He is a God, after all, so I have no doubt that he can change out of his snail form whenever He feels like it, and win any race He puts His mind to. But the competitions that actually matter to Him are few and far between these days. And I think there’s probably a really good lesson in that as well.
So I’ve just learned that most gastropods are hermaphroditic and can reproduce asexually, and that certain species of sea snails can situationally change their sex.
Does… does this mean that Nerites is genderfluid? I’m going to have to do some divination around that (and to confirm His pronouns), but I’m pricing out a home shrine and searching for aquarium gravel in the appropriate colors as we speak.
And while I’m working on that, I will say that my new submission for the Non-Binary Pagan Pride Flag is ambitious, but I’m confident that it will catch on: