A mythical history of LGBTQIA+
Sex & gender in spirituality & religion
Author Anne Rice spent decades writing a series of books about vampires & witches, using them to philosophise about how society always treats those who are "other". Gay and transgender people especially identified with her books - something she at first rejected, when she converted to catholicism - a tune that changed when her son Christopher came out as gay:
“Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always, but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being a part of Christianity. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti- feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti- Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti- science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
And again when a devoted fan of hers, who later became an ongoing pen pal, came out to her as transgender:
“She told me at the time that she believed transgender people were sacred; that we possessed a unique gift of life experience that few ever would, which would allow us to see the world from ‘a view from the greatest height’. She shared with me stories of trans figures in history that she had learned about in her own extensive studies. ‘The most fascinating figures in mythology were always transgender or genderless,’ she once told me. ‘And in so many cultures reaching back thousands of years, transgender and intersex people were deified, perceived as wise and powerful'.”
So, to give us something to say back to those who try to claim that gay equality and transgender liberation is some kind of new fashion or fad; that it's a disturbing sign of modern and postmodern times that goes against "what humans naturally are as a species", or "how humanity and society has always been", let's have a look at some of the cultures across the world who, throughout history have defined and demonstrated sex and gender in their own ways, especially those who venerate someone outside of the baby making binary.
A Samoan tradition in past generations was to raise a child without any gender markers til the age of 5, at which point onwards they were defined as whatever gender they naturally and intuitively demonstrated.
In indigenous Australian - what we used to call Aboriginal culture, though that's a term slowly falling out of use - a child who seems to be male but grows up into a more feminine adult, can be adopted by the women as one of them; likewise a child who seems to be female but grows up into a more masculine adult, can be adopted by the men as one of them - they're known as Brother Boys and Sister Girls.
In Japan, the original geisha girls were men - because if you were accepting a role given to women in a family, then you were accepting the defining of you as a woman by society.
In China, cave paintings - the Kangjiashimenji Petroglyphs - have been discovered where some figures are obviously meant to be men because of shapes drawn between their legs, and all wear one type of head dress; other figures are obviously meant to be women because of shapes drawn on their chests, and wear another type of head dress; and then elsewhere, men are seen wearing the head dresses of women, and women are seen wearing the head dresses of men, all in a circle where polyamorous sexual dances are performed together.
In India, there are gods and goddesses in their pantheon whose appearance is that of a husband and wife physically united into one single being, with male and female attributes mixed and joined; gods who can appear on earth as women, and goddesses who can appear on earth as men. And communities known as Hijra, where, if you are referred to by Hindi words which would translate into English as transvestite, hermaphrodite, or eunuch, you are welcomed because you are like those gods, and celebrated in cross dressing temple festivals.
In old Mesopotamia, the land that's referred to biblically as Babylon, priests and priestesses of the Goddess Inanna have been found in burials where the shape of the bones would suggest masculine, but the goods they're buried with suggest female, and vice versa: where the shape of the bones would suggest feminine, the goods they're buried with suggest male. From religious texts of the time it seems to suggest they performed sexual acts in the temple rituals, taking the masculine or feminine role in the sex act regardless of whether they were male or female.
In some branches of the Hebrew language used in Jewish scripture, where in English we only have the gender pronouns He, She & They, there are 5 or 6 gendered pronouns - one for men, the equivalent of Him; one for women, the equivalent of Her; one for men who appear to be women; one for women who appear to be men; one for someone who is neither, or both.
In the Christian New Testament, which adds in Latin or Greek books into that canon, we're told that after death we will "neither marry, nor be given in marriage, but will be like the angels in heaven", which has led to the teaching that angels are genderless and asexual. Jesus also makes reference to three types of eunuchs - those who were made to become eunuchs by others, those who became so by choice, and those who were born that way. Later on St Paul says in the kingdom of heaven "there is now no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus"; And the early Ecclesia - the philosophically united believers that eventually became formally "the church" - defined themselves as The Bride of Christ: they all, whatever boundaries of sex and gender were between them physically, were communally, spiritually The Bride; catholicism evolved this idea into itself as Mother Church, the earthly consort of the heavenly Father God.
In the philosophies that grew out of, but away from, Christianity, later denounced by the church as heretical - alchemy, hermetic science, the Gnostic gospels and the Rosicrucian order - androgyny is seen as the orginal heavenly state of humanity, separation into sexes being part of the fall from perfection, and the final state to which we are destined to return - the Divine Androgyne.
In ancient Egyptian art, we see queen Hatshepsut putting on the appearance of Kings in order to be crowned, including false beards, and noblemen putting on the appearance of noble women in order to to be able to make public displays of affection to their beloveds. Not to mention male gods being able to produce living things, parts of the human race, by procreation not involving any woman or goddess, and then the goddess Isis transforming the sex of one of her worshippers Iphis so they could be with their true love.
In ancient Greek, the word hermaphrodite comes from Hermes and Aphrodite, the deities related to the planets mercury and Venus, which, from our point of view, occupy the space between the Sun, which was seen as male or masculine, and the Moon, which was seen as female or feminine. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek founder or forefather of modern medicine, taught his pupils a "grey scale" of sex, recognising masculine and feminine men, masculine and feminine women, and an androgynous middle point. Partners in relationships were referred to as whether they were the active and dominant, or passive and submissive, partner in sex - the top or the bottom - regardless of whether they were men or women.
In Roman religion, ritual sex was performed in the temples; and men who'd been surgically altered to play the women's role, or women who'd been surgically altered to play the men's role, in the act, were revered in the ceremonies by being identified with a divine race of beings of a third gender, specially created by the gods, known as the Galli. Some historians speculate that even a Roman Emperor, Antoninus, who referred to himself as Elagabalus in deference to his god Helio Gabal, was such a person.
In Norse and old Scandinavian tradition, when men "went out a-Viking" (yes, despite widespread use otherwise, it's a verb) and women ran the home farms while they were gone, some men dressed as women and some women dressed as men, in order to fulfill that social role within their group. Genetic analysis of the remains of people buried in that way, has sometimes found evidence of chromosomes different from the typical make up, meaning they probably would have had a more androgynous appearance when they were alive. Not to mention the Norse sagas tell stories of Loki the trickster god, who shapeshifted into male and female animal forms, even becoming a mother; and Odin the warrior wizard god, who hung on the tree to master the secrets of a particular type of magic known as Seidr, whose practice was restricted to women.
Some Native American traditions recognise some people as Two Spirit, meaning they can have a male and a female spirit within them, whether they be masculine or feminine bodied. Lady Olivia Durdin Robertson, who founded the Fellowship of Isis in Ireland, told a Native American story in her teachings - and I only have it from her, so I don't know how authentic or how appropriated it is - of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who gave the secret of the peace pipe - a pipe full of smoking herbs that was shared at talks between tribes. There was peace if it was whole but it was a sign of war if it was broken. White Buffalo Calf Woman said, according to Lady Olivia, that the cup of the pipe is the female, the shaft of the pipe is the male; when they are joined, there is peace, when they are separate, there is conflict.
The Knights Templar were accused of practising demonic rituals containing sexual acts that would normally be done by a man and a woman, yet using only men to play both roles; and of worshipping Baphomet - an idol who is half human, half animal - the animal side being half goat, half bat, the human side being half male, half female, with lactating breasts and an erect phallus.
The artist Paul Gauguin, when he travelled to Tahiti, painted portraits of people there who actually required someone to be in some way nonbinary, intersex or genderqueer, before the tribe would let them serve as one of the priestly class in the religious and magical side of community life .
Many of the binary restrictions on these ways of defining and demonstrating gender, actually come from a missionary Christian point of view. When the church began sending out evangelising parties out to places like Africa and South America, it was impressed upon them that their godly assignment was to, putting it bluntly, create more Christians - they would overrule the moral objection of the pagan nations having the rights to be recognised as a native population, and therefore holding recognised sovereignty, by making sure Christian children were born and raised over there, so that Christian families could also claim to be the native population. So, whatever part you played in the baby making process - whether that be "delivering the seed", or "carrying the load"; - that was your role in the kingdom of God; that was what defined your identity in the eyes of God. And when those "savage heathen natives" began to capitulate, and dress in modern western ways which separated them into two in this way, it was seen as a great victory over their primitive beliefs, since they were no longer just paying lip service to their Christian overlords, or being grudgingly obedient to the bible, but had actually given up one of their key ways of defining their own identity, and demonstrating their own individuality, and surrendered to having their identity defined for them in modern western Christian terms.
In even more modern times, pink toys for girls that encouraged them to enjoy indoor things like cooking, and blue toys for boys that encouraged them to enjoy outdoor things like building, actually came into fashion in 1940s & 50s America, to rebuild society after the war by raising a generation whose whole way of life when they grew up would be based on the idea of women staying at home to raise children and men going out to work to raise money - it claims to be making the most of each gender's natural gifts, but it ends up with men having decision making authority and women being kept as servants.
Now, a lot of new age and neo-pagan spirituality is actually a reaction against this kind of patriarchal power structure, to rebuild a mythical matriarchy; but that's still based on a binary, which is ironic considering how much of it is based on sources with psychology that doesn't reinforce that.
A closer look at the sources of modern magic and mysticism will reveal that these binary ideas are surface level, with a deeper nonbinary wisdom underneath.
Take, for example, Carl Jung, who took the images and symbols of alchemy and astrology and gave them new modern meaning as a psychoactive healing technique. A big foundation of his work on the mind, which he also believed to work on the soul, is that every outer man has a secret inner woman, and every outer woman has a secret inner man, with peace between the two being what's needed for happiness and health.
One of the people influenced and inspired by Jung's teachings of this kind, was locally-famous Glastonbury metaphysics teacher Dion Fortune, whose own teachings all show the need for the female spirit to complement any male, and the male qualities to complement any female, practitioner who wants to touch the highest heights or deepest depths of magical mystical work - whether that be working as a co dependent pair on an outer level, or making peace with your own denied masculine or feminine inner properties to become a more balanced being within.
And, one step on from that, one of the people who was influenced and inspired, in turn, by Dion Fortune's work on this was Gerald Gardner, founder of modern Wicca. In his original books on witchcraft he makes clear almost at the very beginning that witches can be of any gender, but that he will always refer to witches in his writing as She, as being a witch is a feminine thing to be - it is a veneration of a Goddess over a God, it is the restoration of matriarchal ritual circle over patriarchal hierarchy, and it is the raising of what he calls Feminine Intelligence within oneself and within each other. He makes a point of special provision in ritual rules that as long as the male god energy is represented as present, by the use of male symbols such as a horn or a sword, it can still be a woman who carries it - both God and Goddess presence can be performed by the Priestess. His take on the crimes of Templars, as we mentioned earlier, was not the homosexuality of it in itself, but the fact that it cut the goddess out of her own ritual.
Take also the modern traditional Tarot. The designs of the Rider Waite Smith deck were drawn by the illustrator Pamela Colman Smith, who, according to her short biography in the guidebook to the deck, never married or had children, but left everything after she died to an elderly female companion, who lived with her in her flat; and I'm sure I don't need to spell out what Victorian historians meant when they said that! Apparently everyone who knew her called Pixie, for that reason. Her designs were based on the writings of spiritualist teacher A E Waite. His writings, in turn, were very much based on the teachings of Eliphas Levi, a French occultist philosopher, the one who first gave us the detailed description of Baphomet I mentioned before - half human, half animal; the animal side being half bat half goat, and the human side being half man half woman, with lactating breasts and an erect phallus. He (Levi that is, not Baphomet!), in his turn, was influenced and inspired in his philosophy by Simon Ganneau. This eccentric French mysticist adopted the title Mapa; a combination of Mama and Papa; wore traditional women's ceremonial robes and a long beard when performing in public; and, according to his critics, saw himself as the prophet of a new religion "Evadaism", a word derived from combining the names of Adam and Eve. In truth he was influenced by a school of feminist socialist thought known as Saint- Simonian, which saw Christianity as preaching liberation in theory but being oppressive in practice, and the need for the rise of a "female messiah" to restore the balance needed for true social reform towards the equality of sexes modelled by Jesus. Simon Ganneau made a living selling sculptures of God with an "androgynous, bisexual" appearance.
If we're into our chosen spirituality to find freedom from the Christian conservative patriarchal hierarchy, we can find it by looking back at ancient cultures who held queer, nonbinary views of gender and sexuality before the Christian view was imposed upon them to define themselves purely by what baby making equipment they have.
If you're looking for it in paths like Wicca, you'll find - despite the homophobic and transphobic forms of Wicca that have risen up more recently - that it's rooted in a bending of the rules around sexuality and gender; influenced by teachings about the psychic energy raised by recognising the male in the female and the feminine in the masculine.
Inspired, in turn, by the teaching that every male must make peace with his inner feminine and every female with her inner masculine.
If you're looking for it in the Tarot, you'll find the Tarot designed by a queer woman, following the writings of a man influenced by the philosophy of a queer god; which was inspired, in turn, by the social reforms of a queer magician.
It's a whole other subject that I don't have time for now, to say basically that science is more on the side of this view - The reality and rationality of the Brotherboys & Sistergirls, the Geisha, the Hijra, the Galli, the 2- Spirit - than it is on the side of those claiming binary baby-making one is the "scientifically viable" one. Despite people saying homosexual people are "going against nature", or transgender people are "denying basic biology", the deeper you go into the actual sciences of human nature like biochemistry or neurology, the more you find that being, say, nonbinary, or polyamorous, is actually just as "natural" as the cisgender, heterosexual and monogamous model we're all taught is "normal" - if not more so, in fact!
I want to finish by saying how much I enjoy seeing the bisexual androgynous Baphomet image being used right now by the Satanic Temple in the USA, as a symbol of their efforts to stand up and campaign for the rights, freedoms and equality of the LGBTQIA+ community, against the supposedly-Christian authority figures trying to take it away.
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