Same Sex Marriage

The Church of England has been divided on the issue of SAME SEX MARRIAGE for a long time, with the issue threatening to split the global Anglican community. This week the Church’s General Synod has voted to allow blessings of same sex relationships but retains its ban on marriage services.

There is a glaring, unacknowledged historical fact missing here, which is that – far from being an innovation – soul unions between same sex couples were actually a feature of European life for thousands of years, even until relatively recent times.


A person without a soul friend is like a body without a head.” Celtic saying

Aristotle recorded that the Celtic people “hold in honour passionate friendships (synousia) between men”, he was the first classical writer to mention loving relationships between men among the Celtic people, in Politics, 4th century BCE. He calls it synousia. The statement comes while he is arguing for the inclusion of women in politics, because when excluded they exert their influence over their husbands:

The inevitable result is that in such a state wealth is highly esteemed, especially if the men are dominated by the women as it is with most military and warlike cultures, except the Celts and certain other groups who hold in honour passionate friendships (synousia) between men”.

This line has also been translated from the ancient Greek as: ‘openly approve of sexual relations between men.’ He also mentions Scythians, Persians and Thracians as feeling the same.

500 years later, Ardaisan of Edessa wrote in the 2nd century CE that:

“In the countries of the north — in the lands of the Germans and those of their neighbors, handsome [noble] young men assume the role of wives [women] towards other men, and they celebrate marriage feasts.”

Eusebius of Caesarea, wrote in the 4th century CE that “Among the Gauls, the young men marry each other (gamountai) with complete freedom. In doing this, they do not incur any reproach or blame, since this is done according to custom amongst them.”

To the early Celtic Christians, friendship continued to be a sacred encounter. It was considered a path to contemplation, a discipline to uphold, and a treasure of the highest value. Friendship and family ties were the foundation of Celtic society and sometimes associated with St Brigit is the saying “a person without an anam cara is like a body without a head.”

A strand of Classical pagan culture, under the influence of Pythagoras and the Stoics, had increasingly moved away from other groups that celebrated sexuality, coming to view all sexual relationships as physically harmful, and recommending sexual abstention as the wisest course. This also influenced early Christians and during the fourth century of the Common Era, Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome were pushing their own view of sexual morality, which severed love from sex and equated any expression of sexuality with sin. For both of these fathers of the early Christian faith, virginity – or at least chastity – was the only path for a good and holy life. Not everyone saw it this way, however: an alternative viewpoint came from a Celt, known to history as Pelagius, the heretic. True to his Celtic heritage, Pelagius was a Celtic voice in competition with the anti-pleasure views of Augustine which eventually came to dominate the Church. Pelagius did not separate love and sex, and his vision of human life did not include Original Sin, which Augustine claimed was transmitted from parents to children at birth. And nor did most of the northern European people – in 1102 when the Council of London proposed harsh punishments for sodomy, Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury prevented publication of their decree, saying the practice was widespread and few were embarrassed by it or aware it was even an issue.

John O’Donahue (1956-2008) author Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom:

“In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam cara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara is the word for friend. So anam cara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam cara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam cara you could share your inner-most self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.” The Celtic understanding did not set limitations of space or time on the soul. There is no cage for the soul. The soul is a divine light that flows into you and into your Other. This art of belonging awakened and fostered a deep and special companionship.” “Main sources for an understanding of the anamchara are the Lives of the early Celtic saints. For more than six centuries, from the 600s to well beyond 1200 C.E., monastic hagiographers in the Celtic churches of Ireland, Northern England, Cornwall, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and Brittany composed the Lives of literally hundreds of Celtic saints. As well as the two traditions of spiritual guidance that shaped this form of ministry, hagiographies provide a wealth of information about soul friendship and its immersion in the everyday life and spirituality of Celtic Christianity. These writings reveal how common soul-friend relationships were between men and men, women and women, and women and men…

“Finnian, who established the great monastery Clonard, about 520 C.E., was considered the patriarch of early Irish monasticism…mentored from boyhood by Foirtchernn of Britain … had, as an adult, a number of other soul friends: Caemon of Tours in Gaul, and David, Gildas, and Cathmael, sages of the Celtic church in Britain. Finnian calls his student Ciaran “O little heart” and “dear one” and blesses him before Ciaran leaves the monastery of Clonard; Brendan and Ruadan build their cells near one another so that they can hear the ringing of each other’s bells.”

In Celtic culture women held power along with men, and marriage came in various kinds. As Christianity spread monogamy became the norm and all non-procreative sex was condemned, but the tradition of “special friends” and the importance of love did not die out. Monastic penitentials from 600 to 1200 CE set out various punishments for inappropriate acts between over friendly monks, such as kissing, passionate kissing, interfemoral and anal intercourse. Punishments were no harsher however for monks engaging in sodomy than for married couples doing the same, and a typical punishment at this time might be an enforced period of fasting. An old Celtic habit of men sucking on each other’s nipples to affirm friendship, particularly after a quarrel, was slow to change and medieval monasteries were for some havens of safety where same sex affections could be explored.

Seventh-century theologian Maximos the Confessor reflects on what it is that binds communities together, stating that it is “sensual affection” and “desires” (erota) that causes creatures to flock as one. It is from this “erotic faculty” that animals flock together, being drawn “toward a partner of the same kind as one.”

Aelred (1109-1167), abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in northeastern England, found divine love through friendships with other men. His treatise “On Spiritual Friendship” is considered one of the best theological statements on the connection between human love and spiritual love. “God is friendship… He who abides in friendship abides in God, and God in him.”

Aelred’s own deep friendships with men are described in John Boswell’s book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, who wrote“It was Saint Aelred of Rievaulx who gave love between those of the same gender its most profound and lasting expression in a Christian context.”

Aelred supported friendships between monks, comparing them to the love between Jesus and his beloved disciple, and between Jonathan and David, and he allowed the monks at his Yorkshire monastery to express affection by holding hands, a practice discouraged by other abbots.

You are good and loveable as you are. God is Friendship and all the loves of your life are part of that great friendship for which you are eternally destined. Cherish your friendships for they are the best this world has to offer. Create a small piece of paradise here on Earth by loving and embracing each other; by loving and embracing the whole world. The cruely, chaos and pain of daily living cannot dim your vision of everlasting, perfect love as long as you cling to your precious friendships.” From Spiritual Friendship.

It was not only in monastic communities that loving same sex relationships continued to be acknowledge in the medieval world. The Rite of Adelphopoiesis (in Greek this means literally the making of brothers) refers to a number of ceremonies, used by various branches of the Christian church in the middle ages, to bind two men in spiritual brotherhood, continuing what seems to have been a very ancient, pre-Christian tradition in Celtic and other lands. The rite was controversially described by historian John Boswell as a medieval “same-sex union.”

Known as affrèrement (‘enbrotherment’), legal contracts between men committing to live together, jointly own property, were still around in late medieval and 16th-century France, the new ‘brothers’ pledged to share “un pain, un vin, et une bourse” – one bread, one wine and one purse. While this was was shaped by a need to legally formalise the status of brothers who jointly inherited a family home and continued to live in it together, and many participants entered such an agreement for practical reasons or at most in recognition of deep friendship. However, as scholar Allan Tulchin argued in 2007, affrèrement provided a means by which homosexual partners could normalise their relationship, noting also that they “frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another”. He also observed that, though sodomy was punishable by death in France at the time, prosecutions were extremely rare, suggesting that homosexual relations were largely tolerated.

Reports about the the Molly House subculture in 18th century England tell of gay marriage ceremonies in back rooms of bars, followed by orgiastic celebrations of the union. Why would weddings have been a feature of this, apparently new, culture, unless relationships between men were already long known and recognised, maybe not by the powers that be, but for sure by the same sex lovers themselves, who were quite often aware of ancient myths and histories in which gay love was honoured and celebrated.

Looking at this historical picture, far from being an innovation, same sex marriage gaining some recognition from the Anglican Church is actually a restoration, a return to noble, ancient principles, and a reclaiming of the sacred nature of love between people of the same sex. The nobility of same sex love was honoured and respected in ancient Greece, and same sex relationships were accepted as entirely normal in pre-Christian Europe. Christianity did not have to become a homophobic monster – there were always alternative voices in the Church to those who preached hellfire against ‘sodomites’, and through the centuries, and still today, the religious life has attracted many caring, kind, gentle men who are drawn to be of service to the world. Sexuality is not a barrier to this kind of service, not a hindrance. Sexuality is not a sin. Pleasure is no crime. It is God-given grace.

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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