Carpenter’s Wisdom: Gays and God

In his 1914 book, INTERMEDIATE TYPES among PRIMITIVE FOLK: A Study in Social Evolution, English gay philosopher-poet EDWARD CARPENTER studied the connection of homosexuality with divination and religion, commenting in that “it certainly is remarkable to find – even from this slight study – how widespread the connection has been among the primitive peoples and civilisations.”

I present some juicy excerpts for your delight – and perhaps amazement that this knowledge was available and highlighted over 100 years ago but as yet the underlying truths to which this information points is still hidden and largely unknown, even to gay, lesbian, bi and trans people today.

From the Introduction:

It would seem – as a first generalisation on this unexplored subject – that there have been two main directions in which the intermediate types have penetrated into the framework of normal society, and made themselves useful if not indispensable. And the two directions have been in some sense opposite, the one being towards service in Warfare and the other towards the service of Religion. It would seem that where the homosexual tendency was of the robuster and more manly sort, leading men to form comrade alliances with each other in the direction of active and practical life, this tendency was soon reinforced and taken advantage of by the military spirit. Military comradeship grew into an institution, and the peoples who adopted it became extraordinarily successful in warfare, and overcoming other tribes spread their customs among them. Such was the case with the Dorian Greeks, whose comradeship institutions form the subjects of chapters v., vi., and vii. of this book and such also appears to have been the case in a somewhat different way with the Samurai of Japan (chapter viii.) in the twelfth and succeeding centuries; and in lesser degree with many Mohammedan peoples in Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

On the other hand, it would seem that where the homosexual tendency was of a more effeminate and passive sort, it led to a distaste, on the part of those individuals or groups who were affected by it, for the ordinary masculine occupations and business of the world, and to an inclination to retire into the precincts of the Temples and the services (often sexual) of Religion – which, of course in primitive days, meant not only the religious life in our sense, but the dedication to such things as Magic, learning, poetry, music, prophecy, and other occupations not generally favoured by the normal man, the hunter and the warrior. There are also some considerations which go to show that this class of Intermediate did actually tend to develop faculties like divination, clairvoyance, ecstasy, and so forth, which are generally and quite naturally associated with religion.

From Chapter 1 – As Prophet or Priest

Among the tribes, for instance, in the neighbourhood of Behring’s Straits – the Kamchadales, the Chukchi, the Aleuts, Inoits, Kadiak islanders, and so forth, homosexuality is common, and its relation to shamanship or priesthood most marked and curious. Westermarck, in his well-known book, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, quoting from Dr. Bogoraz, says:

It frequently happens that, under the supernatural influence of one of their shamans, or priests, a Chukchi lad at sixteen years of age will suddenly relinquish his sex and imagine himself to be a woman. He adopts a woman’s attire, lets his hair grow, and devotes himself altogether to female occupation. Furthermore, this disclaimer of his sex takes a husband into the yurt (hut) and does all the work which is usually incumbent on the wife, in most unnatural and voluntary subjection. . . . These abnormal changes of sex imply the most abject immorality in the community, and appear to be strongly encouraged by the shamans, who interpret such cases as an injunction of their individual deity.”

[2 vols. (Macmillan, 1908), vol ii., p. 458.]

Further, Westermarck says

“the change of sex was usually accompanied by future shamanship; indeed nearly all the shamans were former delinquents of their sex.”

[In regard to North American tribes Westermarck’s comments included:]

“There no indication that the North American aborigines attached any opprobrium to men who had intercourse with those members of their own sex who had assumed the dress and habits of women. In Kadiak such a companion was on the contrary regarded as a great acquisition; and the effeminate men, far from being despised, were held in repute by the people, most of them being wizards.”

“Among the Illinois Indians, the effeminate men assist in [i.e., are present at] all the juggleries and the solemn dance in honour of the calumet, or sacred tobacco-pipe, for which the Indians have such a deference. . . . but they are not permitted either to dance or to sing. They are called into the councils of the Indians, and nothing can be decided without their advice; for because of their extraordinary manner of living they are looked upon as manitous, or supernatural beings, and persons of consequence.”

“The Sioux, Sacs, and Fox Indians, give once a year, or oftener, a feast to the Berdashe, or I-coo-coo-a, who is a man dressed in women’s clothes, as he has been all his life.”

[Drawing comparisons to the ancient pagan practices of Europe and the Middle East, Carpenter quotes famous British explorer Richard Burton’s explanation of the roots of Hebrew then Christian homo and transphobia:]

“The Hebrews entering Syria, found it religionised by Assyria and Babylonia, when the Accadian Ishtar had passed West, and had become Ashtoreth, Ashtaroth, or Ashirah, the Anaitis of Armenia, the Phoenician Astarte, and the Greek Aphrodite, the great Moon-goddess who is queen of Heaven and Love. . . . She was worshipped by men habited as women, and vice versa; for which reason, in the Torah (Deut. xxii. 5), the sexes are forbidden to change dress.”

[The Thousand Nights and a Night (1886), vol. x., p. 229.]

[On the Old Testament:]

The word … translated “sodomites” is the Hebrew word Kedeshim, meaning the “consecrated ones” (males), and it occurs again in i Kings xiv. 24; xv. 12; and xxii. 46. And the word translated “grove” is Asherah. There is some doubt, I believe, as to the exact function of these Kedeshim in the temple ritual, and some doubt as to whether the translation of the word given in our Authorised Version is justified. It is clear, however, that these men corresponded in some way to the Kedeshoth or sacred women, who were – like the Devadasis of the Hindu temples – a kind of courtesan or prostitute dedicated to the god, and strange as it may seem to the modern mind, it is probable that they united some kind of sexual service with prophetic functions. Dr. Frazer, speaking of the sacred slaves or Kedeshim in various parts of Syria, concludes that

“originally no sharp line of distinction existed between the prophets and the Kedeshim; both were ‘men of God,’ as the prophets were constantly called; in other words they were inspired mediums, men in whom the god manifested himself from time to time by word and deed, in short, temporary incarnations of the deity. But while the prophets roved freely about the country, the Kedeshim appears to have been regularly attached to a sanctuary, and among the duties which they performed at the shrines there were clearly some which revolted the conscience of men imbued with a purer morality.”

[Moving to Asia:]

Throughout China and Japan and much of Malaysia, the so-called Bonzes, or Buddhist priests, have youths or boys attached to the service of the temples. Each priest educates a novice to follow him in the ritual, and it is said that the relations between the two are often physically intimate. Francis Xavier, in his letters from Japan (in 1549), mentions this. He says that the Bonzes themselves allowed that this was so, but maintained that it was no sin. They said that intercourse with woman was for them a deadly sin, or even punishable with death; but that the other relation was, in their eyes, by no means execrable, but harmless and even commendable. And, as it was then, so on the whole it appears to be now, or to have been till very lately. In all the Buddhist sects in Japan (except Shinto) celibacy is imposed on the priests, but homosexual relations are not forbidden.

And to return to the New World, we find Cieza de Leon – who is generally considered a trustworthy authority – describing practices and ceremonials in the temples of New Granada in his time (1550) strangely similar to those referred to in the Hebrew Bible:-

“Every temple or chief house of worship keeps one or two men, or more, according to the idol – who go about attired like women, even from their childhood, and talk like women, and imitate them in their manner, carriage, and all else.” [La Chronica del Peru, by Cieza de Leon (Antwerp, 1554), ch. 64.]

These served in the temples, and were made use of “almost as if by way of sanctity and religion” (casi come por via de santidad y religion); and he concludes that

“the Devil had gained such mastery in that land that, not content with causing the people to fall into mortal sin, he had actually persuaded them that the same was a species of holiness and religion, in order that by so doing he might render them all the more subject to him. And this (he says) Fray Domingo told me in his own writing – a man of whom everyone knows what a lover of truth he is.”

Thus, as Richard Burton remarks, these same usages in connection with religion have spread nearly all over the world and “been adopted by the priestly castes from Mesopotamia to Peru.”

From Chapter 2 – As Wizard or Witch

Westermarck mentions the ancient Scandinavians as regarding passive homosexuals in the light of sorcerers; and refers to Thomas Falkner, who, in his Description of Patagonia (1775), says that among the Patagonians

“the wizards are of both sexes. The male wizards are obliged (as it were) to leave their sex, and to dress themselves in female apparel, and are not permitted to marry, though the female ones or witches may. They are generally chosen for this office when they are children, and a preference is always shown to those who at that early time of life discover an effeminate disposition. They are clothed very early in female attire, and presented with the drum and rattles belonging to the profession they are to follow.”

The following is an account given by Dawydow, the Russian traveller, of the quite similar custom prevalent in his time (about 1800) among the Konyagas in the Alaska region:-

“There are here (in the island of Kadiak) men with tatooed chins, who work only as women, who always live with the women-kind, and like the latter, have husbands – not infrequently even two. Such men are called Achnutschik. They are not by any means despised, but, on the contrary, are respected in the settlements, and are for the most part wizards. The Konyaga, who possesses an Achnutschik instead of a wife, is even thought fortunate. When father or mother regard their son as feminine in his bearing they will often dedicate him in earliest childhood to the vocation of Achnutschik. Sometimes it will happen that the parents have in mind beforehand to have a daughter, and when they find themselves disappointed they make their new-born son an Achnutschik.”

With regard to the attribution of homosexuality also to female wizards, or witches, I believe that, rightly or wrongly, this was very common in Europe a few centuries ago. Leo Africanus (1492) in his description of Morocco says,

“The third kind of diviners are women-witches, which are affirmed to have familiarity with divels. Changing their voices they fain the divell to speak within them: then they which come to enquire ought with greate feare and trembling (to) aske these vile and abominable witches such questions as they mean to propound, and lastly, offering some fee unto the divell, they depart. But the wiser and honester sort of people call these women Sahacat, which in Latin signifieth Fricatrices, because they have a damnable custom to commit unlawful venerie among themselves, which I cannot express in any modester terms.”

For myself, I think that there are two quite possible and not unreasonable theories on the whole matter. The first and most important is that there really is a connection between the homosexual temperament and divinatory or unusual psychic powers; the second is (that there is no such particular connection, but) that the idea of sorcery or witchcraft naturally and commonly springs up round the ceremonials of an old religion or morality when that religion is being superseded by a new one. This is, of course, a well-recognised fact. The gods of one religion become the devils of its successor; the poetic rites of one age become the black magic of the next. But in the case of the primitive religions of the earth their ceremonials were, without doubt, very largely sexual, and even homosexual. Consequently, when new religious developments set in, the homosexual rites, which were most foreign to the later religionists and most disturbing to their ideas, associated themselves most strongly with the notion of sorcery and occult powers.
For myself I am inclined to accept both explanations, and – leaving out, of course, the clause in brackets in the second – to combine them. I think there is an organic connection between the homosexual temperament and unusual psychic or divinatory powers; but I think also that the causes mentioned in the second explanation have in many cases led to an exaggerated belief in such connection, and have given it a sorcerous or demonic aspect.

…when the Jews established their worship of Jehovah as a great reaction against the primitive nature-cults of Syria – and in that way to become in time the germ of Christianity – the first thing they did was to denounce the priests and satellites of Baal-Peor and Ashtoreth as wizards and sorcerers, and wielders of devilish faculties. These cults were frankly sexual – probably the most intimate meaning of them, as religions, being the glory and sacredness of sex; but the Jews (like the later Christians) blinding themselves to this aspect, were constrained to see in sex only filthiness, and in its religious devotees persons in league with Beelzebub and the powers of darkness. And, of course, the homosexual elements in these cults, being the most foreign to the new religion, stood out as the most sorcerous and the most magical part of them.

Westermarck points out (” Moral Ideas,” ii. 489) that the Medieval Christianity constantly associated homosexuality with heresy – to such a degree in fact that the French word herite or heretique was sometimes used in both connections; and that bougre or Bulgarian was commonly used in both, though to begin with it only denoted a sect of religious heretics who came from Bulgaria. And he thinks that the violent reprobation and punishment of homosexuality arose more from its connection in the general mind with heresy than from direct aversion in the matter – more in fact from religious motives than from secular ones.

From Chapter 4: Hermaphrodism

Pere Lafitau (Jesuit missionary, 1681-1746) who was a keen observer and a broad-minded man, says, in one passage of his Sauvages Americains:

“The spectacle of the men disguised as women surprised the Europeans who first landed in America. And, as they did not at all understand the motives of this sort of metamorphosis, they concluded that these were folk in whom the two sexes were conjoined: as a matter of fact our old records always term them hermaphrodites.”

He goes on to say that though the spirit of religion which made these men embrace this mode of life caused them to be regarded as extraordinary beings, yet the suspicions which the Europeans entertained concerning them took such hold upon the latter

“that they invented every possible charge against them, and these imaginations inflamed the zeal of Vasco Nugnes de Vabra, the Spanish captain who first discovered the Southern Sea (la mer du Sud), to such an extent that he destroyed numbers of them by letting loose upon them those savage dogs, of whom his compatriots indeed made use for the purpose of exterminating a large proportion of the Indians.”

On the cruelties of the Spanish conquerors among the Indian tribes – only paralleled apparently by those of modern Commercialism among the same – we need not dwell. What interests us here is the evidence of the wide-spread belief in hermaphroditism current among the early European travellers. That a similar belief has ruled also among most primitive peoples is evident from a consideration of their gods.

Brahm, in the Hindu mythology, is often represented as two-sexed. Originally he was the sole Being. But,

“delighting not to be alone he wished for the existence of another, and at once he became such, as male and female embraced (united). He caused this his one self to fall in twain.” [Quoted from the Yajur-Veda

There are many such illustrations in Hindu literature and art, representing the gods in their double or bi-sexual role – e.g., as Brahma Ardhanarisa, Siva Ardhanarisa (half male and half female). And these again are interesting in connection with the account of Elohim in the 1st chapter of Genesis, and the supposition that he was such an androgynous deity. For we find (v. 27) that

“Elohim created man in his own image, in the image of Elohim created he him, male and female created he them.”

And many commentators have maintained that this not only meant that the first man was hermaphrodite, but that the Creator also was of that nature. In the Midrasch we find that Rabbi Samuel-bar-Nachman said that

“Adam, when God had created him, was a man-woman (androgyne)”

The tradition that mankind was anciently hermaphrodite is world-old. It is referred to in Plato’s Banquet, where Aristophanes says:-

“Anciently the nature of mankind was not the same as now, but different. For at first there were three sexes of human beings, not two only, namely male and female, as at present, but a third besides, common to both the others – of which the name remains, though the sex itself has vanished. For the androgynous sex then existed, both male and female; but now it only exists as a name of reproach.”

Venus or Aphrodite was sometimes worshipped in the double form.

“In Cyprus,”

says Dr. Frazer in his Adonis, etc.,

“there was a bearded and masculine image of Venus (probably Astarte) in female attire: according to Philochorus the deity thus represented was the moon, and sacrifices were offered to him or her by men clad as women, and by women clad as men (see Macrobius Saturn iii. 7, 2).”

This bearded female deity is sometimes also spoken of as Aphroditus, or as Venus Mylitta. Richard Burton says:-

“The Phoenicians spread their androgynic worship over Greece. We find the consecrated servants and votaries of Corinthian Aphrodite called Hierodouloi (Strabo, viii. 6), who aided the 10,000 courtesans in gracing the Venus-temple. . . . One of the headquarters of the cult was Cyprus, where, as Servius relates (Ad. Aen. ii. 632), stood the simulacre of a bearded Aphrodite with feminine body and costume, sceptred and mitred like a man. The sexes when worshiping it exchanged habits, and here the virginity was offered in sacrifice.”
[The Thousand Nights and a Night (1886), vol. x., p. 231. 76]

The worship of this bearded goddess was mainly in Syria and Cyprus. But in Egypt also a representation of a bearded Isis has been found, – with infant Horus in her lap; while again there are a number of representations (from papyri) of the goddess Neith in androgyne form, with a male member (erected). And again, curiously enough, the Norse Freya, or Friga, corresponding to Venus, was similarly figured. Dr. von Romer says:-

“Just as the Greeks had their Aphroditos as well as Aphrodite so the Scandinavians had their Friggo as well as their Friga. This divinity, too, was androgyne. Friga, to whom the sixth day of the week was dedicated, was sometimes thought of as hermaphrodite. She was represented as having the members of both sexes, standing by a column with a sword in her right hand, and in her left a bow.” [Jahrbuch, pp. 735-744.]

In the Orphic hymns we have

“Zeus was the first of all, Zeus last, the lord of The lightning;
Zeus was the head, the middle, from him all things were created;
Zeus was Man, and again Zeus was the Virgin Eternal.”

And in another passage, speaking of Adonis

“Hear me, who pray to thee, hear me 0 many-named and best of deities,
Thou, with thy gracious hair . . . both maiden and youth, Adonis.”

Again, with regard to the latter, Ptolemaeus Hephaestius (according to Photius) writes:-

“They say that the androgyne Adonis fulfilled the part of a man for Aphrodite, but for Apollo the part of a wife.”

Dionysus, one of the most remarkable figures in the Greek Mythology, is frequently represented as androgyne. Euripides in his Bacchae calls him “feminine-formed” or thelumorphos, and the Orphic hymns “double-sexed” or diphues; and Aristides in his discourse on Dionysus says:-

“Thus the God is both male and female. His form corresponds to his nature, since everywhere in himself he is like a double being; for among young men he is a maiden, and among maidens a young man, and among men a beardless youth overflowing with vitality.”

Apollo is generally represented with a feminine – sometimes with an extremely feminine – bust and figure. The great hero Achilles passed his youth among women, and in female disguise. Every one knows the recumbent marble Hermaphrodite in the Louvre. There are also in the same collection two or three elegant bronzes of Aphrodite-like female figures in the standing position – but of masculine sex.

…we can understand this representation of intermediate forms from actual life, but we do not see why such mingling of the sexes should be ascribed to the gods, unless it might be from a merely fanciful tendency to personify the two great powers of nature in one being – in which case it is strange that the tendency should have been so universal. To this we may reply that probably the reason or reasons for this tendency must be accounted quite deep-rooted and anything but fanciful. One reason, it seems to me, is the psychological fact that in the deeps of human nature (as represented by Brahm and Siva in the Hindu philosophy, by Zeus in the Orphic Hymns, by Mithra in the Zend-avesta, etc.) the sex-temperament is undifferentiated; and it is only in its later and more external and partial manifestations that it branches decidedly into male and female; and that, therefore, in endeavoring through religion to represent the root facts of life, there was always a tendency to cultivate and honor hermaphroditism, and to ascribe some degree of this quality to heroes and divinities. The other possible reason is that as a matter of fact the great leaders and heroes did often exhibit this blending of masculine and feminine qualities and habits in their actual lives, and that therefore at some later period, when exalted to divinities, this blending of qualities was strongly ascribed to them and was celebrated in the rites and ceremonies of their religion and their temples. The feminine traits in genius (as in a Shelley or a Byron) are well marked in the present day. We have only to go back to the Persian Bab of the last century or to a St. Francis or even to a Jesus of Nazareth, to find the same traits present in founders and leaders of religious movements in historical times. And it becomes easy to suppose the same again of those early figures – who once probably were men – those Apollos, Buddhas, Dionysus, Osiris, and so forth – to suppose that they too were somewhat bi-sexual in temperament, and that it was really largely owing to that fact that they were endowed with far-reaching powers and became leaders of mankind.


From the Conclusion:

…the foundational occupations of human life – such as fighting, hunting, child-rearing, and agriculture having been laid down by the normal sex types, it was largely the intermediate types who developed the superstructure. The priest or medicineman or shaman was at first the sole representative of this new class, and we have seen that he was almost invariably, in some degree or other, of Uranian temperament.

His work, to begin with, was prophetic or divinatory; but this soon branched out on the one hand into rude poetry, drama, dance and song – what we should call Art – and on the other into elementary observation of the stars and the seasons, medicine and the herbs – what we should call Science. The temples became centres of learning and of the development of the arts and crafts. And a god who combined in some degree the attributes of both male and female was commonly worshipped in their courts.

Published by shokti

i am shokti, lovestar of the eurofaeries, aka marco queer magician of london town. i explore the links between our sexual-physical nature and our spirits, running gatherings, rituals and Queer Spirit Festival. i woke up to my part in the accelerating awakening of light love and awareness on planet earth during a shamanic death-and-rebirth process lasting from January 1995 to the year 2000, and offer here my insights and observations on the ongoing transformation of human consciousness, how to navigate the waves of change, and especially focusing on the role of queer people at this time.

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