[This issue, we sit down with Merri-Todd Webster. Here, she discusses her personal practices, her new devotional collection in honor of Antinuous, and her upcoming projects.]

ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name or is it more intuitive and eclectic?

Merri-Todd Webster: *smothers a laugh* I have tried for years to pin myself down to a single name, path, practice, and I’ve never succeeded. I may just have come up with a good self-designation the other day: I’m an amateur monastic. I’m also a devotional polytheist and a Buddhist.

ev0ke: Which Deities, spirits, or other powers do you honor in your practices?

MTW: First and foremost, Antinous, and everyone else came along with him. Antinous is, I think, a unique deity in being connected to three different cultures and pantheons: Kemetic, Hellenic, and Roman. Through celebrating his festivals, I connected mainly to the Roman pantheon, but I also honor some Kemetic netjer; Melinoe, the daughter of Zeus and Persephone who is in the Orphic Hymns; and the Forest God, who is … not Cernunnos or Herne or Pan, but he has antlers. And I venerate assorted buddhas and bodhisattvas, especially Avalokiteshvara, Tara, and Medicine Buddha.

ev0ke: You recently released Loving the Beautiful Boy: Hymns and Prayers to Antinous. First, congratulations! Second, why a collection about Antinous? What draws you to Him in particular?

MTW: Well, for one thing, have you looked at his butt?

I say that in jest, but also seriously, because this turns out to be a difficult question to answer. I know it’s not obvious what would attract someone to worshiping a dead gay teenager, if they’re not a gay youth or a gay man. It’s not self-explanatory like someone in the armed forces calling on Mars, or a professional craftsperson calling on Vulcan, or a witch calling on Hekate.

But the first thing that drew me to Antinous was his physical beauty, preserved in so many images of him. I grew up Episcopalian, and one of the things I learned in my church that still holds true for me is that beauty is holy. Divine reality, whether you conceive it as singular or plural, is not only good and true, it is beautiful. Episcopalians are not the type of Christians who would condemn Michelangelo’s David; they’re the type who would have a reproduction of it in the living room and admire it while having cocktails.

The second thing that drew me to Antinous was discovering that he was a god who shared my values. A sometime mentor of mine gave me the useful frame that rather than thinking of the gods as departmental managers (the god of wine, the god of war, the goddess of marriage, etc.), one should think in terms of what they value. Dionysus values ecstasy, personal freedom, altered states freely chosen, sexual consent, among other things. Antinous values art, poetry, music, dance, sports, hunting, prophecy, queer love, queer lust, queer joy. I don’t hunt or play a sport, but there’s still a considerable overlap between what’s important to me and what’s important to him.

ev0ke: The collection contains dozens of hymns, poems, and prayers. How long did it take you to write all of these? And how did you decide which to include and which to leave out?

MTW: All of these works were written between 2014/2015 and 2018, roughly. The ones for festival days were usually written on that day, and I’ve attached the year to some of those. The 31 Hymns were written in May 2015, one each day in order; I planned out the topics for those in advance, but then I just sat down and wrote them, usually in the evening after dinner.

I planned to compile a collection of my devotional work fairly early on … it’s just been a long time brewing.

ev0ke: Which poem was the most difficult, but ultimately most satisfying, to write?

MTW: I really don’t have an answer for this one. Tragic confession: I am terrible at revising. I usually either get something right the first time, or I drop it. This is not necessarily a problem with my writing, but it is sometimes a problem in life.

ev0ke: If someone feels drawn to Antinous, what is a good first step for building a relationship with Him and getting to know Him?

MTW: I think a good start for devotion to any deity is to get an image of them and start regularly making offerings with prayers. In the case of Antinous, we’re lucky because there are more surviving images of him than of any other person in the ancient world (if memory serves). Do a search for his images, print out one that you like on photo-quality paper, and set up a little shrine. Make an offering regularly and say hello. (You could use a prayer or hymn from my book!) An offering does not have to be a big deal: a little water, a little wine, a tea light, a stick of incense. He also likes chocolate.

And, of course, do some research, too!

ev0ke: For those who are curious, which resources would you recommend on Antinous? Books, websites, journals?

MTW: Well, my own book, of course, as a practical resource. But again, we’re lucky because Antinous is a historical person as well as a deity, so there are secular as well as devotional resources to be found. Beloved and God by Royston Lambert is still the standard historical work, I think, and while it’s fiction, I’d also recommend Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian. Any historical work that goes into some depth about Hadrian and his reign is bound to include a discussion of Antinous. There are also many, many works by queer poets who were inspired by Hadrian and Antinous’ love story, such as Oscar Wilde.

For websites there’s my own little cult’s site, the Naos Antinoou and the online home of the much larger and more widespread Temple of Antinous, which is based in Brazil.

ev0ke: You self-published Loving the Beautiful Boy through Lulu. Why that distributor? And what advice can you offer to other authors who are considering the self-publishing route?

MTW: I’ve had so many people tell me, as my devotional writing for Antinous accumulated, that they would love to have it all in one place, in a book. My motivation for publishing at all was, first, to meet that demand, and second, to say to myself, This is your work. This is significant. All those blog entries, those moments tapping the keyboard in between work and meals and sleep and drifting through social media — they were not in vain, they added up, they amount to something. Self-publishing seemed like the swiftest and easiest way to satisfy both those desires.

I’m afraid I don’t have a master plan or any grand advice for people who want to self-publish, except perhaps for this: It’s worthwhile to pay for professional editing and design of your manuscript. It can make your life so much easier.

ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?

MTW: I am starting to put together a collection of stories and poems written between 2019 and 2021 centered on the mysterious Forest God. Once I have the manuscript assembled, I have an illustrator lined up to adorn it. I’m also brewing a couple of ideas for new writing projects, including one inspired by the Orphic Hymns.

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