We are now in late October, when many people are either getting ready for, or have already done, something in relation to the Irish quarter-day of Samain (I use the Old Irish spellings of many terms because they taste better to me–yes, I am a synaesthete!). Those who celebrate “astrological Samain” are doing something entirely novel from the last 40 years or so, which has no basis in Irish tradition or anything remotely Celtic whatsoever; but if it works for them as a modern innovation, that’s fine, as long as they recognize it is such, and don’t say it’s the “real Samain,” since Samhain in Ireland today is the name of the month of November. So, whether you celebrate it on November 1st, or on October 31st (since in Irish reckoning, a day began with the night that preceded it), it will be coming up soon.
But, also, in the Ekklesía Antínoou, we have entered the nine-day holy tide known as the Sacred Nights of Antinous, which span from October 24th through to November 1st. The most important date in this period is October 30th, Foundation Day, which is the day that Antinous’ cultus was first founded in 130 CE and the holy city of Antinoöpolis was also founded in his honor. It is a day to honor him and remember his death and deification, and to re-deify him in our rituals and welcome him in as Antinous the Liberator.
In Irish tradition, at least as recorded in Serglige Con Culainn, “The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn,” there is a period known as the “Thirds of Samain,” which encompasses the three days before Samain, the three days after Samain, and Samain itself, thus forming a seven-day festival. Of course, October 30th thus falls within the Thirds of Samain, and the Sacred Nights of Antinous generally speaking also overlap with much of it.
A reasonable-seeming person would suggest “combine your efforts in these matters.” Many modern polytheists, who have been critical of the notion of being “dual trad” and so forth (and rightly in many cases), might suggest doing likewise. In 2004, I even encountered someone in Ireland who came to our Foundation Day ritual who suggested that she thought Hadrian knew about Samain (since he had been in the northern areas of Roman Britain in 122 CE, and therefore knew “Celtic” things), and set the date of Antinous’ deification on that date around Samain purposefully, and that he likely died at some other point. While there are holes in that theory for a variety of reasons (e.g. Northern Britain did not necessarily have the same practices, month-names, or anything else that Ireland did, especially at that period; and Roman records are better on exact dates than pre-medieval Irish ones are), at the same time, for a polytheist and a syncretist to combine the holidays might seem like a good idea.
I never have done that before, and likely as not, I never will.
Granted, there is some slippage between the two in my own practices. The poem I wrote last year for the Sacred Nights of Antinous featured a Hibernian slave narrating events around the death of Antinous. When we have Foundation Day rituals, there is often a kind of “god-party” involved in it, where deities of any and all cultures are invited to take part and be honored alongside Antinous, and various Irish (and other Celtic) deities from my own practices and those of others often have been. Especially when I was in Ireland, this was the case, particularly with Cú Chulainn, who has a variety of connections to the Samain season and festival, as well as being in certain ways comparable to Antinous (a youthful death, connection to or control of the flooding of rivers, being an avid hunter, having homoerotic relationships, and connection to hounds, amongst many others).
But, other things have mitigated against me combining them in a comprehensive fashion for a variety of reasons.
The chief reason is that in polytheism, there is no such thing as “one-stop shopping,” as I’ve written in various other places before. The fact that “poly- means ‘many'” tends to suggest to me that thoughts, considerations, rituals, deities, and particular attentions to all of these should tend to increase rather than decrease, and they should rarely if ever decrease due to combination or some apparent notion of reduction being beneficial. Convenience on the part of humans should not enter into the considerations either (outside of the bare necessities and utter limitations of time and space themselves), and if it means having two rituals on two days, even if one of them is a work-day, then that’s what should happen. For the past few years, I’ve taken the day of Foundation Day off no matter what, because celebrating it on the actual calendar day is extremely important, and significant enough to warrant taking the full day for preparation and contemplation of the festival and the god.
There are other reasons, though, that are personal and particular for which I don’t combine the festivals. I’ll share one of them in relatively brief detail here. In 2010, when I was still a part of a local Celtic Reconstructionist group in Seattle, the date they decided to hold their Samain all-night vigil was on October 30th. I had to travel down to Seattle for this occasion, and was able to celebrate Foundation Day in the afternoon at one venue with several co-religionists, and then pack up and head to the house where we were having the all-night vigil just after that. I had brought something I had written on Antinous and Cú Chulainn to potentially read during the all-night storytelling that was supposed to take place. I never read it, because when I suggested that I do so, the suggestion was met with a rather deafening and negative silence. Instead, later we were treated to such things as excerpts from “Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blogge” and bits of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I honestly found a bit inappropriate to the day and occasion in a variety of ways.
But, the following year, the real difficulty occurred when there was going to be a similar overlap, and I asked if it would be possible to have a short observance of Foundation Day for an hour out of the all-night vigil, the rest of which would be for the usual Irish (and other Celtic) matters. It was made known to me that certain people in the group objected to me ever mentioning Antinous during meetings or other occasions because it was a “waste of time,” as was any mention of Hanuman or Shinto on my part. As these were all things that I have a great interest in or involvement with, and had discussed over the informal dinner that would follow various meetings of the group in the past (where such edifying topics as The Venture Brothers or Cthulhu were also discussed), it seemed readily apparent to me that someone in the group had a personal problem with me and all that I was interested in, and decided to single those things out as wastes of time, while they would not even admit to having those problems with me directly.
Unfortunately, I have a bit of a geis where it comes to Antinous (now there’s some Irish-Antinoan syncretism for you!). If someone is actively hostile towards Antinous in some fashion, whether in a group or at a particular venue or event, then I cannot continue to be associated with that event, venue, or person (outside of any social or material absolute necessities) because it would be a violation of their hospitality, and even if I don’t speak of Antinous in such a setting or with such a person, he is still with me in various ways at all times by virtue of my mere physical presence. That incident, thus, ended my association with the CR group in Seattle.
Perhaps more importantly than this sordid personal history, though, there is another issue at stake. The two occasions of Samain and Foundation Day do not have themes that directly overlap without shoehorning one or the other festival into shapes that end up (if you’ll excuse the extended conceit) cutting off a few toes. Cú Chulainn was said to have had seven fingers on each hand and seven toes on each foot, and while that is unusual enough and cause for wonderment and marveling, and would make it hard to find standard shoes or gloves, it would thus not be wise to say “Sorry, you can’t come to our house unless you wear normal shoes and gloves, so you’ll have to cut off a few fingers and toes to make us more comfortable.”
Samain in the beginning of the Irish year, and is a time for divination and getting oneself in right relationship with the Otherworld. It is also a time when supernatural incursions into this world are likely, and thus the tribe comes together in solidarity for a feast and for mutual protection, which is why people stayed up all night in a vigil–doing so was especially effective in protecting the king from dangers that might befall him in sleep or dreams. Some people think that Samain is the time for honoring ancestors, which is not strictly true as far as Irish customs and lore are concerned until much later, and this is due to Christian influence with All Saints and All Souls Days in early November, and has little to nothing to do with actual Irish (or wider Celtic) practices associated with this time, at least as far as we can tell from the extant sources. (In modern paganism in the U.S., it is also due to cultural appropriation of Day of the Dead celebrations.) Honoring one’s ancestors is a good thing to do at any and all times throughout the year; suggesting it should be done only on this holy day, or especially on it, is not very good ancestor-worshipping methodology nor is it in line with what is known of “strictly non-Christian” Irish practice. If one has no problem with incorporating Christian syncretistic elements into those practices, however (which Irish and Scottish folk custom has done, definitely!), then one certainly can and should, and should also admit that this is where these things come from and that one is a practitioner of Christian-Irish polytheist syncretism.
Foundation Day is the beginning of a particular cultus that arose out of the tragic death and traditional Egyptian deification of a human, and the foundation of a city with that human as its eponymous hero. Death and deification (which is not the same thing as “resurrection” or “rebirth,” though rejuvenation is certainly a part of it) is a part of the festival intrinsically, and the possibility that this fate can await all of us is also hoped for. While sacred space (in terms of the city of Antinoöpolis) and sacred time, as well as “beginnings,” are thus a part of the festivities, it’s not quite the same as Samain as the “new year,” nor of the interpenetration of the Otherworld with this world implied by the Irish holy day.
Differences and distinctions are important to recognize in polytheism. Thus, papering over such differences for human convenience, and not having to have two big feasts or two big rituals as a result, is not what polytheism is all about, nor what syncretism should be used for. Making easy equations of “death” and “the supernatural,” “new year” and “beginnings of things,” and the famous deeds and near-death or actual death experiences of particular heroes (Cú Chulainn as far as near-death at Samain, and Antinous as far as actual death before Foundation Day), might seem clever to one extent or another, but it doesn’t necessarily make for good polytheist ritual praxis, or for contented deities and heroes. Cú Chulainnn always has a place at the feast of Foundation Day, and Antinous always has a seat around the fire for Samain, at least as far as I can see it and as my practices have occurred, and as the deities involved seem to suggest; but neither Antinous nor Cú Chulainn and all of the Irish deities and heroes are going to call their festivals off in favor of just combining with those of the other on the day before or after. It would be just as rude for someone whose birthday was the day before or after yours to suggest to you that you call off your own celebration and simply come to their party instead as it would be to tell either the Irish gods or Antinous and his divine companions that their day is being downsized into someone else’s whether they like it or not.
There are many gods in polytheism, which means there are many ritual obligations and cultural involvements (depending on the person who is involved in polytheism). Rather than seeing this as any kind of inconvenience or extra effort on behalf of humans, it should instead be seen as an opportunity to show how serious one is about one’s traditions and one’s deities, to honor both or each or all according to propriety and custom and tradition as fully as possible and expected given one’s circumstances. If it takes three efforts to please two gods, then it is worth each of those efforts being done as well as possible.