THE NEW CULTUS OF ANTINOUS TIMELINE
130 CE: Antinous drowned in the River Nile, and the Emperor Hadrian oversaw the promotion of a cult devoted to him throughout the Roman Empire.
1984: Royston Lambert’s Beloved and God was published, bringing knowledge of Antinous and his late antique cult to wider awareness.
c.1985: Florida-born Pagan William E. Livingston began venerating Antinous in a private capacity.
2000: The American Antonius Subia performed a ceremony to demarcate his allegiance to Antinous.
2001: Antonius Subia consecrated himself a Priest of Antinous.
2002: The Ecclesia Antinoi was founded in the United States by Antonius Subia, Hiram Crespo, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.
2003: P. Sufenas Virius Lupus launched their own website, the Aedicula Antinoi.
2007: A schism in the Ecclesia Antinoi led to Lupus founding the Ekklesia Antinoou. Subia established a Hollywood Temple in his Los Angeles home.
2011: Subia founded the “Antinous the Gay God” Facebook page, bringing knowledge of Antinous worship to perhaps its largest audience.
2012: Lupus launched the Academia Antinoi (“Academy of Antinous”), providing online courses in Antinous worship.
Antinous [Image at right] was a young man from Bithynia, a Hellenic region in modern Turkey, who became the favorite of the Roman Emperor Hadrian during the 120s CE. Their relationship was intense, and almost certainly sexual. Antinous accompanied Hadrian on his tours around the Empire, and at some point, likely in October 130 CE, he drowned in the River Nile during the emperor’s visit to Egypt (Lambert 1984).
On Antinous’ death, Hadrian declared the youth to be a god and promoted his cult throughout the empire. A city named for him, Antinoopolis, was established on the banks of the Nile, and games were held in his honor. Statues of Antinous were produced, many hundreds of which have been revealed by archaeologists (Vout 2005; 2007:52–135). In the fourth century, the cult of Antinous was among those banned by the Emperor Theodosius, who sought to eradicate “paganism” and impose Christianity on the empire’s population.
Antinous was rediscovered by members of the educated classes in eighteenth-century Europe amid their growing interest in the classical world. The likely sexual relationship that Antinous had with Hadrian resulted in the former becoming something of a proto-‘gay icon’ among gay and bisexual men during the nineteenth century. In this context, displaying an image of the Bythinian youth served as a coded means of identifying one’s sexual inclinations to similarly inclined men without raising the ire of wider society (Waters 1995). This was similar to the way that Saint Sebastian, a figure in the Roman Catholic pantheon, was also (re)interpreted as a symbol of male same-sex attraction (Kaye 1996).
Since the 1960s, the modern Pagan milieu has grown within most Anglophone Western countries, encouraging individuals to look to pre-Christian Europe as a source of inspiration for their own contemporary spiritual or religious practices. In this environment, a range of different individuals have adopted Antinous as one of the deities whom they wish to venerate. The earliest recorded example comes from a Florida-based Pagan, William E. Livingston, who began venerating Antinous after learning about him from the 1984 book Beloved and God by Royston Lambert (Doyle White 2016:38–39).
In 2000, another American, Antonius Subia, [Image at right] who grew up in a Hispanic Catholic background, performed a rite to dedicate himself to Antinous. The following year, he declared himself a Priest of Antinous, and in 2002 he created a website devoted to espousing Antinous worship. He sought out like-minded individuals through the internet, discovering several other Pagans who were also venerating the deity (Doyle White 2016:39–40).
Among those whom Subia met were Hiram Crespo, a fellow gay man from a Hispanic American background, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a Euro-American academic who identified as metagender (a person outside the male/female gender binary). Both Crespo and Lupus had independently developed an interest in the worship of Antinous. Although the trio had yet to meet in person, together they formed the Ecclesia Antinoi in October 2002. They used the internet to further promote their ideas, founding a Yahoo! Group devoted to Antinous, and in 2003 Lupus created their own website, the Aedicula Antinoi (Doyle White 2016:39–41).
Small numbers of individuals joined the Ecclesia Antinoi, or Temple of Antinous, over the following years. However, internal divisions also led to a schism in 2007. Crespo left the movement altogether, while Lupus split from the Ecclesia to found the similarly named Ekklesia Antinoou. Also in 2007, Subia established a Hollywood Temple in his Los Angeles home, attempting to encourage a small group of practitioners to assemble in the city. This, however, proved less successful than attempts to attract interest online. In 2011, Subia created the “Antinous the Gay God” Facebook page, which has proved instrumental in spreading knowledge of Antinous and his modern cultus to a wider audience (Doyle White 2016:41–43).
As a result of its largely decentralized nature, the beliefs of the Antinous worshipers are not particularly doctrinal. In Subia’s words, “we don’t really even have a published doctrine or dogma or system of belief, we are mostly preoccupied with trying to encourage people to worship Antinous however they see fit and let others do the same” (Doyle White 2016:45). In this it exhibits an ethos that is common to many, although not all, modern Pagan groups.
As part of the broader Pagan milieu, practitioners generally accept a polytheistic framework in which various deities are believed to exist. Many not only accept the existence of other deities, but actively venerate others alongside Antinous, including some that are female. These are not all deities that would have been known to the original Antinous worshippers in the Roman Empire, and can include entities drawn from, for instance, Hindu, Shinto and pre-Christian Irish pantheons (Doyle White 2016:47).
The nature of Antinous and other deities are an issue of disagreement within the community of Antinous worshippers. Various practitioners regard Antinous as having a literal, independent existence as a divinity with whom they can interact. Others suggest that he may not be an independent entity, but perhaps exists as a Jungian archetype for gay men (Doyle White 2016:45–46), in this reflecting the longstanding interest in Jungian psychology found in many parts of the modern Pagan and occult milieus. There are also beliefs that are present in certain sectors of the Antinous movement but not others. Subia’s Ecclesia Antinoi promotes an idea he developed known as Homotheosis, defining it in reference to “our belief that Antinous consciousness can change our awareness of the world, and of our inner selves, thereby creating a spirit of harmony within and without” (Doyle White 2016:45–46). In this, Subia seeks to describe an almost transcendent experience that he believes can be achieved through the veneration of this deity.
Most practitioners explicitly link Antinous with the concept of homosexuality, to the extent of referring to him as “the Gay God”. In this framework, he is understood as having a particularly special relationship with gay men, and sometimes also with gay women. An alternative interpretation is offered by Lupus, [Image at right] who sees Antinous not just as a deity for gay people but for all “queer” people more widely, encompassing anyone who is not heteronormative in terms of their sexuality and/or gender expression, a far wider and more heterogenous group (Doyle White 2016:46). The idea that Antinous is a “Gay God” raises interesting issues given that Roman imperial society had no concept of “homosexuality” as we now understand it, a factor that practitioners are aware of and have confronted. Practitioners do not feel that this undermines their understanding of the “Gay God;” as Subia has noted,
Gay has always been, and always will be, or so I feel. Antinous was gay in the way that gays were in Roman times, which is different from how gays were in the 1950s, which is different from how gays are now (Doyle White 2018:138–43).
While social categorizations shift and change over the centuries, many Antinoans suggest that there has been a fundamental inner sameness among men who are attracted to men throughout the ages.
Repeatedly, practitioners describe a personal relationship with Antinous; Livingston for example refers to the deity as “a spirit lover, brother and friend, one that comes to me when I need him to be there for me,” while another adherent described talking to Antinous “through thought, voice, or prayer” and feeling his “support, guidance, and Love” (Doyle White 2016:47). In this, the rhetoric of the Antinous worshippers parallels talk of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is expressed by many practicing Christians.
Another area where the new cultus of Antinous might be seen to be influenced by dominant Christian frameworks is in its reference to “saints.” Both major Antinoan groups have assembled lists of several hundred individuals whom they have beatified, some drawn from ancient mythologies and others from LGBT history (Doyle White 2016:48). The Ecclesia Antinoi, for instance, lists prominent gay or bisexual figures from history like Walt Whitman, Alan Turing, and James Dean as saints, alongside individuals who have been killed in acts of homophobic violence, like Matthew Shepard and the gay victims of Nazism.
The religion of Antinous is a system with a strong material component in the form of its altars or shrines. Far from being unique to Antinous worshippers, these are a common facet of contemporary Pagan groups, reflecting in part a desire to imitate the societies of pre-Christian Europe (Magliocco 2001). Antinoan household altar-shrines are often idiosyncratic, reflecting the individual desires of the practitioner as well as constraints of space that they may face. In many cases, such spaces are not devoted to Antinous exclusively, but may focus on a number of deities considered important to the practitioner. Antinous worshippers engage with these altar-shrines in a variety of ways, but a recurring feature is the provision of offerings to an image or sculpture of the deity. The content of said offerings varies among practitioners; Crespo described offering cups of water, candles, and incense, while Livingston provided milk, honey, and red wine, the former two representing the idealized “land of milk and honey” and the latter the spilled blood of Antinous. As well as these material expressions of devotion, practitioners have described offering prayers to the deity, and in some cases also meditating upon his image (Doyle White 2016:48–50).
Both Subia’s Ecclesia Antinou and Lupus’ Ekklesia Antinoou provide a list of festival and holy days and although these lists differ in certain respects, both demarcate Antinous’ birth (November 27), death (October 28), and date of deification (October 30) as being of particular importance. It is apparent that not all Antinous followers mark each and every one of these holy days with commemorative activities, although observing Antinous’ birth and death days was common (Doyle White 2016:51).
Given the geographically diffuse nature of the Antinous movement, it has not been possible to assemble a ready congregation of worshippers for physical ceremonial or ritualistic activities. Thus, individuals have primarily carried out their ritualized actions in isolation. In various instances, they have however found ways of meeting up with other Pagans, who might not normally venerate Antinous, for ceremonies in which Antinous is celebrated. Lupus for instance has regularly attended the annual PantheaCon festival in San Jose, California, and there performed Antinoan rituals with as many as sixty people. Another manner in which this problem has been circumvented has been through the use of new internet technologies, specifically the audiovisual telecommunications system Skype, which has been used for the Ecclesia Antinoi’s group rituals since 2013 (Doyle White 2017:52–53).
The modern cultus of Antinous has no one single founder, but rather has emerged as a result of different individuals drawing upon similar sources and influences to create religious frameworks that sufficiently resemble one another to warrant categorization as part of one broader movement. This has resulted in it having a diffuse and largely decentralized organizational structure; there is no one single organization or individual in charge of the cultus as a whole.
There are, nevertheless, groups that have emerged under the leadership of specific individuals who, through creating formal organizations and websites, have been able to gain followings. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the aforementioned Ecclesia Antinoi, or Temple of Antinous, founded in 2002 and now led by Subia. A handful of individuals have been recognized as Priests of Antinous by this group, although there is a wider array of individuals sympathetic to its cause (Doyle White 2016:41, 43). The other major group within the Antinoan milieu is the Ekklesia Antinoou, which was founded as a result of a schism in 2007. Although its founder has now taken a backseat from their public role in disseminating Antinous worship, since at least 2016 the group’s distinct approach (which includes characterizing their variant of Antinoan worship as “queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian polytheist” religion) has continued as the Naos Antínoou, governed collectively by five individuals.
As a small and geographically diffuse grouping, the Antinous worshippers have received little attention and thus little outright hostility from other sectors of society. This stands in contrast to members of certain other modern Pagan religions, such as Wicca, whose higher public profile has opened them up to broader prejudice and even persecution. At the same time, this diffuse scattering has also posed real challenges for practitioners. Members often live far from each other, making face-to-face interaction and group activities difficult. As noted above, to some extent this problem has been circumvented through the use of Skype and social media, but whether these are adequate alternatives to physical communication and interaction is debatable. Notably, this is not a problem faced by various other gay and/or queer oriented modern Pagan groups. The Minoan Brotherhood, a tradition of Wicca established in New York City in 1977 by Eddie Buczynski (1947–1989), spreads through a lineaged system that involves face-to-face initiation into the order and group-based ritual activities (Lloyd 2012; Burns 2017; Tully 2018). The Radical Faery tradition, created in 1979 in the United States, does not operate along a lineaged system, but has always organized events where large numbers of gay men meet, often camping together for a period of several days (Timmons 1990; Kilhefner 2010). In lacking these physical connections and being based largely online, the new cult of Antinous differs from other forms of gay-oriented and/or queer-oriented modern Paganism
Another issue facing the cultus of Antinous is the differing interpretations that exist regarding the deity’s relationship with the LGBT community. As specific above, the Temple of Antinous group led by Subia presents Antinous as “the Gay God” and emphasizes the deity’s associations with gay men. Conversely, Lupus proposes that the cultus is suitable for all those who identify under the “queer” rubric. While the cultus remains diffuse and divided into separate groups, it can cater to this diversity of interpretation, but such divisions might pose issues for any attempts at broader unity that might be attempted in the future. This is a similar situation to that which can be seen among the Radical Faeries, who have also faced internal debates as to whether their movement should cater primarily to gay men or whether it should be inclusive towards all ‘queer’ identified people (Stover III 2008).
Image #1: Antinous sculpture on the grounds of the New Palace in Potsdam.
Image #2: Photograph of Antonius Subia,
Image #3: Photograph of P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.
Burns, Bryan E. 2017. “Cretomania and Neo-Paganism; The Great Mother Goddess and Gay Male Identity in the Minoan Brotherhood.” Pp. 157–72 in Cretomania: Modern Desires for the Minoan Past, edited by Nicoletta Momigliano and Alexandre Farnoux. London and New York: Routledge.
Doyle White, Ethan. 2018. “Archaeology, Historicity, and Homosexuality in the New Cultus of Antinous: Perceptions of the Past in a Contemporary Pagan Religion.” Pp. 127–48 in New Antiquities: Transformations of Ancient Religion in the New Age and Beyond, edited by Dylan Burns and Almut Barbara-Renger. Sheffield: Equinox.
Doyle White, Ethan. 2016. “The New Cultus of Antinous: Hadrian’s Deified Lover and Contemporary Queer Paganism.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 20.1:32–59.
Kaye, Richard A. 1996. “Losing His Religion: Saint Sebastian as Contemporary Gay Martyr.” Pp. 86–105 in Outlooks: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities and Visual Cultures, edited by Peter Horne and Reina Lewis. London: Routledge.
Kilhefner, Don. 2010. “The Radical Faeries at Thirty.” The Gay and Lesbian Review 17.5: 17–21.
Lambert, Royston. 1984. Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. London: George Wiedenfeld & Nicolson.
Lloyd, Michael G. 2012. Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan. Hubbardston: Asphodel Press.
Magliocco, Sabina. 2001. Neo-Pagan Sacred Art and Altars: Making Things Whole. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
Stover III, John A. 2008. “When Pan Met Wendy: Gendered Membership Debates Among the Radical Faeries.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 11:31–55.
Timmons, Stuart. 1990. The Trouble with Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement. Boston: Alyson.
Tully, Caroline J. 2018. “The Artifice of Daedalus: Modern Minoica as Religious Focus in Contemporary Paganism.” Pp. 76–102 in New Antiquities: Transformations of Ancient Religion in the New Age and Beyond, edited by Dylan Burns and Almut Barbara-Renger. Sheffield: Equinox.
Vout, Caroline. 2007. Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Vout, Caroline. 2005. “Antinous, Archaeology, History.” The Journal of Roman Studies 95:80–96.
Waters, Sarah. 1995. “‘The Most Famous Fairy in History:’ Antinous and Homosexual Fantasy.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 6:194–230.
The Temple of Antinous website. Accessed from http://www.antinopolis.org/index.htm on 12 June 2018.
The Naos Antínoou website. Accessed from https://naosantinoou.org/ on 12 June 2018.
19 June 2018