Thursday, April 27, 2017

Whitewashed Rainbows

If you know how to decipher the rainbow beneath the whitewashing of history, you will see that there are a great many myths about homosexuality that can be explored and mined for the spiritual evolution of gay and bisexual men.  Some of the more common (and, dare I say, damning--for red blooded American men would certainly be appalled by this revelation!) examples of male mythic figures with homosexual leanings are Hercules and Gilgamesh.  Hercules had significantly more male lovers than female, and, when at home, he often wore garments traditionally reserved for women.  Homosexuality is so intertwined within the tale of Gilgamesh and Enkidu that it is genuinely surprising to me that it was ever doubted what their actual relationship was to each other.  (By the way, The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest written myth known to man!)

It is not just within "civilized" cultures, however, that we find myths about homosexuality.  In fact, the documented cases of homosexuality among indigenous peoples far surpass their "civilized" counterparts.  The Aztecs actually had a god who acted as a patron to homosexuals and male prostitutes, Xochipili.  In the mythology of Dahomey from West Africa, the creator deity, Mawu-Lisa, was formed by the merger of the god of the Sun and the goddess of the Moon, who were twin brother and sister.  This merger created an androgynous or in some accounts transgender spirit.  Even the indigenous population of Australia (as far removed from the other examples as it is possible to get) had their own homosexual spirits.  Chief among the many examples is the Rainbow Serpent, Ungud, who is described in some accounts as simply androgynous and in others as transgender.

Mircea Eliade famously said, "The main function of the myth is that of establishing exemplar models in all the important human actions."  The exemplar theory of psychology "proposes that human memory assigns objects and ideas into broad categories and when confronted with a new object, the mind is able to place the new object into its appropriate category. For instance, tables come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, yet they all have in common that they are solid objects with legs and a flat surface on top. Therefore, it is possible for a human to place a formal dining table, a TV tray and a medical examining table all into the exemplar category of 'table.' Being able to categorize objects in this way, rather than having to analyze and label each new item individually greatly simplifies the human thought processes."  Basically, for the purposes of this discussion, this means that if a model (say homosexuality in general) showed up in myth, it was prevalent enough between individuals within that culture that it needed to be explained in some way.

So what exactly were the roles of men who loved men within the various Indigenous Cultures around the world?

In order to give this question its full-due, let's address it as an independent post next time.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Couretes

Joseph Campbell is quoted as having said:

“Myth basically serves four functions. The first is the mystical function, realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery.  The second is a cosmological dimension, the dimension with which science is concerned – showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery again comes through. The third function is the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order. It is the sociological function of myth that has taken over in our world – and it is out of date. But there is a fourth function of myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try today to relate to – and that is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.”

I generally tend to agree with Joseph Campbell on almost everything he wrote.  The man was brilliant!  However, I do have to disagree with him on one part of this quote.  I do not think that the sociological function of myth is out of date when it comes to Gay people.  In fact, I think all four functions of myth are imminently important to the construction of a healthy sense of self for modern-day Gay people.

Our stories have been wiped from the pages of history by bigotry, hate, and fear, and that makes building a positive self-identity incredibly difficult.  Gather enough insecure people together, and you build a community of people who are potentially destructive to both themselves and others.  Ask any Gay man (who doesn't fit the ideal of what Gay male beauty currently is) what he thinks of the bars, the clubs, the Gay Scene, or the Gay Community in general, and he will undoubtedly have some pretty choice words for you.

I believe that reclaiming Gay myth and using it to encourage Gay People to embrace their innate power through those myths would be one excellent way to heal the damage that has been done to Gay People (individually and as a community) over the years.

Compare Campbell's four functions of myth with the Gay Community you know.  Wouldn't that Community have been better if gay men actually realized the wonder that they were and the power they have innately inside themselves?  What if they could find beauty, wonder, and mystery in the world around them, instead of feeling like everything was against them, or that it was lackluster, or that there was no joy to be had and nothing to be done about it?  How would the Gay Community be different if gay men had that kind of hope?  How about if Gay men could find a useful and APPRECIATED place for themselves within society, instead of being the bud of straight culture's jokes?  How would that have shaped the Community differently?  Finally, what would Campbell's fourth function of myth have done to help Gay Men persevere through the struggles?  How would that inspiration have united us instead of allowing us to tear each other down?

As I said, in general, I agree with Campbell, but because the Gay Community is just starting to emerge from its centuries of silence (in the cosmic order, we're relatively young), I truly believe that this budding community needs its myth, it needs a chance to reach its roots into richer soil than our modern culture has sown these last two thousand years.

So, let me start with the Couretes, because, through them, I think you gain access to a purpose for gay men that fits directly in line with the kin-selection hypothesis discussed last time.  When Cronus set about eating his children, Rhea was distraught.  There was very little she could do to stop him.  It wasn't until her baby Zeus was born that she had had enough.  During her contractions Rhea clawed at the earth in pain, and magically, five beautiful men emerged from the grooves her fingers made in the soil.  Rhea gave her new-born son over to these men (his brothers), who became known as the Couretes.

The Couretes were a band of dancing warriors who banged their spears against their shields as they danced around the fire.  It was this ritual, which they used to protect the infant god Zeus (and later on his son Dionysus).  As baby Zeus cried out in the night, the Couretes danced wildly to the sound of their spears clanging against the metal of their shields.  As the myth goes, it is only because of these dancing warriors that Zeus grew into adulthood and was later able to reign upon Olympus.

While nothing in the mythology itself comes right out and specifically declares that these men were attracted to other men sexually (at least not any more), there are two key indicators that seem to reveal this truth within the written mythology.  Whenever these keys show up in any mythic story, they generally tend to mean that the mythic figure being talked about has some sexual or romantic attraction to other men.

The first among these is the reference to these men being "beautiful."  Whenever the writers of mythology go out of their way to associate male beauty with a particular figure, that is the first indicator that he may very well be attracted to other men.  You see it time and time again.  Apollo (the god of music, truth and prophecy, healing, the sun and light, plague, poetry, and beauty), Xochipilli (the Aztec god of games, beauty, dance, flowers, and song), and Dionysus, the god who sat down on a thyrsos (a pine cone tipped staff) to symbolize Priapus's phallus, is often portrayed as a beautiful young man.

Second only to the beauty reference is the connection with dance.  Both Xochipilli and Dionysus have connections to ecstatic dance, and Apollo is connected to the music that generates it.  Another god with homosexual leanings who is connected to dance is Shiva.  In fact, dance is so instrumental in Shiva's mythology that the most easily-recognizable image of him portrays him dancing on the back of a demon.  Shiva's claim to homosexuality lies with the Hindu Fire God, Agni.  The two lovers play a game where Agni goes down on Shiva, attempting to get the god's seed.  In turn, Shiva attempts to hold back and enjoy the pleasure for as long as possible.

Assuming that my reading of this myth is right and that the kin-selection hypothesis holds true, the Couretes would make an excellent resource for modern day gay men who wish to reclaim their rightful place within their communities.  They are guardians of the next generation who have all the strength and power of male warriors, who choose to stay back and use their skill for protection and defense, instead of aggression.