The age of Pisces: we swim around like fish in water, unaware that we are totally immersed in the element that gives us life. We fall for the illusions that rulers, religions, society want us to buy. We believe that we are limited and born to merely die.
The age of Aquarius: the soul of life has had enough of our misunderstanding of the play, and is constantly trying to reveal to us the Way, known as the Tao in the Far East and as the Wyrd in the Germanic West, but forgotten in a world driven by other creeds that conceal the truth of our existence here, reserving it for an elect few, or that deny the existence of the Way all together.
Gradually the skies brighten, higher visions open minds and hearts. Crisis creates compassion, limitation comes before growth, contraction before expansion.
In this shift of the ages, queer people play a crucial part. We are awakeners, healers, witches, shamans: genderbending is a transcendental portal, through our bodies we connect the worlds. We reveal the multidimensional nature of love, we restore balance to a humanity obsessed with polarity and power.
The mythology of Aquarius speaks of the role we play in bringing the love of the gods to the people of earth. Ganymede becomes the cup-bearer to the Gods, honoured and adored in Heaven. Our role here is to help this planet achieve its ascension, its multidimensional rebirth. To reconnect and resurrect the Goddess, the ancestors, the nature spirits and humanity’s soul to help life on earth enter the conscious awareness of Oneness, to become whole.
“The mythological traditions about Ganymede beautifully evoke the numinous dimension of same-sex love. The myth persuades that to love a youth with the passion, tenderness, and fidelity exhibited by Zeus is divine. It also expresses the sense in which the beloved is eternally young and beautiful, how what is literally true at the beginning of a relationship may for the soul, the psyche, remain true ‘forever’.” MYTHS AND MYSTERIES OF SAME-SEX LOVE, Christine Downing. Published 1989
Queer sexuality has historically been associated with magic, priestcraft, ritual and power. The suppression of gay and trans people was a power grab by the patriarchal male, part of their subjugation of the mysterious and mystical powers of the feminine. The most powerful shamans of the pre-religious cultures from Siberia to Africa, America to Australasia and East Asia, served the tribe (in some places into modern times, accessing their powers through their gender-variant, two-spirited, sexual natures. The Great Goddess was served by queer priest/esses in the temples of the ancient Empires and in the street festivals that celebrated deities such as Dionysus and Cybele.
400 BCE – 300 AD has been called by historian Will Roscoe a ‘renaissance’ of queer-led religions:
“At the time of the birth of Christ, cults of men devoted to a Goddess flourished throughout the broad region extending from the Mediterranean to south Asia.” (Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion,1996).
The philosophers of ancient Greece considered same sex love to be spiritually charged with heavenly potential, while heterosexual relationships were seen as much more earth-bound and mundane. The Renaissance philosophers realised the same thing, as Michelangelo recorded when he wrote in a sonnet to his male lover,
And if the vulgar and malignant crowd
misunderstand the love with which we’re blessed
its worth is not affected in the least
our faith and honest love can still be blessed.
Some 19th century gay men were thinking along the same lines when they adopted the word ‘Uranian’ to describe queer people. They were invoking the spirit of Aphrodite Urania, the Greek patron of same sex love – and Uranus means ‘heaven’. Oscar Wilde said,
“To have altered my life would have been to have admitted that Uranian love is ignoble. I hold it to be noble—more noble than other forms.”
This poetic term was competing with others such as ‘invert’ to become the general label, but of course ‘homosexual’, the preferred word used by the new science psychology, won out.
Yet while homosexuality was the term adopted by the 20th century scientific mind, there had always been words for both queer sexual acts and those who perform them, such as catamite, sodomite and molly. One of the most enduring of those words was Ganymede. The Glossographia Anglicana Nova of 1719 defined a Ganymede as,
“…the Name of a Trojan Boy; now it commonly signifies any Boy loved for Carnal Abuse, or hired to be used contrary to Nature, to commit the Sin of Sodomy”
However, in the High Middle Ages Ganymede had stood for much more than a young bottom. Historian John Boswell has called the period 1050-1150 ‘The Triumph of Ganymede’, because there was a “reappearance for the first time since the decline of Rome of evidence for what might be called a gay subculture” ( Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, 1980). Debates about the merits of gay vs straight love appear, which had been common in Greek literature until the 4th century. The earliest and longest of these is the “Debate between Ganymede and Helen” which was once recited aloud and known by heart by many educated people. An absolute acceptance of the normality of same sex love is reflected in the line about the Gods which says that “some are drawn by Helen, others by Ganymede“. Gay people were sufficiently important in society at this time to feel able to take a defiant tone in this text and others, such as “Ganymede and Hebe” which describes the boy as eclipsing the former cup-bearer “as the sun outshines the moon”.
One medieval manuscript reads,
“The indiscriminate Venus grasps at any remedy,
But the wise one rejoices with the tender Ganymede…
Venus kindles all fires, but the greatest heat
Is in sex with males, whoever has tried it knows it”.
Arabian Islamic culture was also at that time embracing of gay love. Sufi poetry used homoerotic language and the collection of stories in the medieval Arabian Nights includes one similar to that of Ganymede and Helen, “The Dispute between the Man and the Learned Woman from Baghdad concerning the Relative Excellence of Girls and Boys”
Islamic countries are notorious today for their homophobic laws and attitudes, but these are a relatively recent arrival, brought on by exposure from the 19th century to the ‘civilising’ efforts of the Christian west. Gay subcultures existed and thrived in islamic lands until modern times, but In Europe the medieval gay surge was over by the start of the 13th century, to be replaced by centuries of virulent homophobic treatises, laws and punishments. These were fuelled in part by the Crusaders discovering just how queer things were in the Middle East and by the association of both Christian heresies and Pagan magical practices with same sex ritual. The Cathars and Bogomil heretics in Europe bequeathed their names to modern queers – Ketzer in German and Buggers/Bougres in English/French. The actual meaning of Cathar is Pure One, and of Bogomil is Beloved of God.
This twisting of meanings has been going on for a long time, all to serve the goals of a fem-phobic patriarchy. An example are the Qedesha of the Old Testament – their name also means ‘Holy’ or ‘Anointed Ones’ but, because of the sacred sexual practices carried out in their Goddess temples, Qedesha became ‘sodomites’ in the King James English Bible and ‘male shrine prostitutes’ in modern translations. Feminist historian Merlin Stone wrote in When God Was A Woman, 1976, that the,
“…anti-sexual stance of the Hebrews, and subsequently the Christian religions.. was not the result of a more inherent purity or lesser sex drive… it was probably developed and propagated for purely political motives”.
The noble spirit of transgender people and same sex love has been denigrated for so long by religion, made illegal by governments, analysed and pathologised by psychiatry and science, that queer people today have very little notion of the true picture of the history of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people – of just how widespread and normal bi + homosexuality and gender variant expression has often been, nor the special holy roles that people like us were once associated with.
Modern queers tend to look only to the 20th century for our history – but that is the century that gave birth to a gay liberation movement that tried to reassure the dominant hetero culture that we pose no threat, that claimed we are no different to them except for whom we love. This view of us as minority simply locks us into being a sub-class, assimilated into the whole, adopting their goals and ceremonies.
However, an essentialist view of our nature proposes that we have our own ways of being and our own destiny, that the sexual and gender subcultures bring something unique, powerful and necessary to the human whole: especially those gifts of vision, love and spirit that have been denied and repressed for so long – such long centuries in fact that we often have to some deep digging within before we even see them within ourselves.
The long lost spiritual history of same sex love and gender-fluidity can reveal to us what we might be in the world today as the Age of Aquarius begins, how our global liberation is actually a quest for the spiritual liberation of all humanity. When false notions of natural and unnatural sexual orientations and gender expression are dropped completely we have a new playing ground in which to explore the mysteries and discover the gifts of our human and queer nature. We get to redefine ourselves, in ways that supersede the limiting notions of sexuality imposed on us by homophobes.
“When Salome inquired when the things concerning which she asked should be known, the Lord said: When ye have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one and the male with the female is neither male nor female”. Clement of Alexandria, quoting Gospel of Thomas in his Second Epistle, 2nd century.