Articles of Interest
Sex, Man and Deities
One of the things which hindered my spiritual growth so much, when a young man growing up in christian dogma, was the rejection of my gay sexuality by the christian church. I was forced to explore my sexuality in secret under threat of eternal damnation if exposed. This, as many ex christians will no doubt wholly recognise, gouged into my being a terrible sense of guilt not only for having been born gay but also in every sexual thought or sexual act I engaged in from recognition of my nature till my rejection of this bigoted clamp on anything sexual by that faith.
As I develop in my pagan identity I have had to face up to the residual indoctrination on sex by the christian church and re-accept myself in the light of the joy that gay sexual acts give not only to the two ( or more ) participants but also to the deity or spirit as a gift of unity and brotherhood. The purpose of this article therefore is to examine the freedom of sexual expression not only amongst gay male pagans in the past but also between the gods and man.
So, let's look first at men. Before christianity in the middle ages grew more and more scared of sexual acts and started branding them as something inspired by their devil or Satan, other religions were far more tolerant and accepting of gay sex. In ancient Assyria a man seeking gay sex was thought to gain good luck. It was often part of temple ritual and the only censure seems to have been sex between men of different social classes. This particular thing seems to have been a widespread taboo throughout history and you do wonder if it was more to do with the elite maintaining superior power over others rather than a true criticism of sexual acts between two men. Ancient Egypt is highly contentious when it comes to discussions on gay sex. There is the case of two officials who were buried in the same tomb and who may have been gay partners but the evidence is rather scant and could be interpreted in different ways. Often this is the problem with ancient homosexuality. We rely on relatively few written sources and upon imagery from such as pottery to make reasoned conjectures. Also, written sources, as with all history writing, are tainted by the views of the writer and by the constraints upon them by societal norms. Hence in every age writers 'hint' at overt homosexuality without actually stating exactly what went on.
The Ancient Greeks are often examined on the subject of homosexuality and they are a particular interest of mine. Unfortunately they are famously known for pederasty ( under age sex with youths and boys ). However even here there is interpretation made on the basis of the mores of the modern world, governed predominantly, by either christian or radical islamic theology. It is often forgotten that before the 19th Century, when life expectancy was far shorter than it is now, both boys and girls grew up much quicker and married at a much earlier age than now. Looking at England, as an example, and the legal age of consent, for instance, in 1275 it was legally set at age 12 ! It was only in 1875 this was raised to age 13. One whole year in 600 years. By 1885 it was 16 and in 1950 it was raised to 17 years...in Northern Ireland. Male homosexual age of consent was conversely set at 21 in 1967, it having been unlawful before that date. It was lowered to 18 in 1994 and gain to 16 in the year 2000. It is good to review all these dates and ages to show how societal attitudes change as to what age a boy or girl was considered capable of freely agreeing to have sex, whether to procreate or indulge in a homosexual liaison. It demonstrates that to be a 'boy', 'youth' or 'man' is always the result of a particular culture's view of those terms at a particular time. In the case of Ancient Greece it is sometimes unclear where these progressions through to adulthood might always lie age wise. Also most sources on law involving homosexual sex ( remember the word homosexual did not exist then ) are Athenian and so do not always reflect the norms of all Greek City States. Certainly Athens liked to set out rules with regard to both pederasty and adult/adult male sex, not to mention that good old, well trod out, social class taboo. Many rules revolved around the gymnasia which were effectively the schools not only of classics and poetry but also martial skills, athletic ability and social skills. However even here, although men above a certain age were prohibited entry whilst boys were present, Socrates, as an old man, was allowed in ! Still, many aspects which are recorded of pederastic relationships were based more upon a teaching for life, a prohibition against male-female sex too early in order to control population, and the control of unwanted youthful aggression. The relationships were loving ones involving courtship and gifts, wooing and care in an almost parental manner and were mostly approved of by the boy's natural parents. However there were rules especially with regard to taking money for sex which had profound punishments.
On the subject of adult homosexuality the sources are far fewer. There seems to have been no problem if you, an adult Athenian man, wanted to have sex with a foreigner ( ie; a non Athenian ). However it was a crime if two free Athenian men wanted the same thing. In many ways the Athenians were a snobbish lot. You only have to read "The History of the Pelopponesian War" by Thucydides to realise how they looked down their noses not only at enemies but also at their allies too. Haughty would be a good word to describe them. So it is not surprising when you read of them calling Boeotians "Boeotian Swine" implying they were more lax in applying rules to homosexual acts. Unfortunately there are not many sources to give a counter view but certainly it was at this time when the idea of dominant/submissive roles became more mainstream in whether homo-sex was okay or not. Definitely if you were the Top you were more highly regarded than if you were on the Bottom. However can such texts truly reflect a whole picture of what went on? Even in the 19th Century the world of gaydom was a thing of the shadows and even famous homosexuals hardly ever wrote down about what they actually did in anything but that of a supposed 'classical love' and even this was mythical in nature as it did not deal with basic acts. So, Ancient Greece still holds mysteries about the true extent of adult-adult male sex.
The Romans, yet again, imposed the Top-Bottom test as to whether you were a true 'man' or a servile prostitute. Of course there are famous examples of homosexual Romans. Hadrian was definitely one with his love for Antinous. Nero and Elagabalus were probably bisexual if not gay. However 'manliness' was growing as a 'yes-no' criteria so it is difficult to pinpoint whether gay sex was going on in the 'mysteries' or in normal life.
With the rise of orthodox christianity even this changed. Marriage and procreation became the focus for sex and gay sex became a sin and an abomination.
In medieval Islam there seems to have been a certain indifference to gay sex. Perhaps they were more pragmatic when thinking how important it was to stick your cock into a woman or a man? Certainly even into relatively modern times pederasty was being practiced and Turkish guys will happily engage in gay sex so long as they are the Top. Modern, more extreme, Islam outlaws gay sex. However, even here there is a fake foundation for some rules. Islamic belief is based upon the Koran and the Hadith ( or so called sayings of the Prophet ). In the Koran ( as in the Bible ) the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah is cited. However the story in both books is open to interpretation. Many scholars hold this as a story against the breaking of laws of hospitality rather than sexual proscription. Such rules of hospitality were entrenched in tribal custom and therefore were incredibly important. There is only one part of the Koran which enshrines a legal position and this applies equally to men and women, namely:
"And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them (15). And as for the two who are guilty of indecency from among you, give them both a punishment; then if they repent and amend, turn aside from them; surely Allah is oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful."
This is usually held to be talking about heterosexual relationships. The Hadiths came after the death of the Prophet but rely heavily upon a chain of 'handing on' from the one who heard the Prophet say these things. It has been proven that some regarding homosexuality are suspect, if not totally false hadith and yet they are still accepted and acted upon in the persecution of gay people in countries under islamic law.
So, what to think? It is a fact that it is often those in power who define attitudes on gay sex. They nearly always do not reflect what actually happened in that culture whether ancient or modern. Lesbians have often been let off lightly as those in power refused to believe that two women might even entertain having sex with each other ( ie: Queen Victoria's attitude on the subject ). However sex goes on in every culture and in every age and it is not a bad thing unless duress is applied to obtain it. It is , of course, up to every reader to come to his own opinion upon this question and I welcome hearing your views.
As to Gods and the semi divine? . Well let's concentrate on Ancient Greece once again.
Apollo appears to have been a right randy guy. He seems to have had an affectionate time in a wood with a shepherd called Branchus who was the son of Smyrcus. Carnus, the son of Zeus and Europa was, in some accounts, the lover of Apollo. Both the youths Cyparissus and Hyacinthus were lovers of Apollo. In one story Hymenaeus son of Magnus was beloved of Apollo.
Dionysus had several male lovers too as I suppose would befit such a god of pleasure. Apelos was a satyr and a love of this god. He had a rather unfortunate death and was transformed either into a constellation or a grape vine, the latter so his blood would create wine. A nice idea altogether. I do wonder whether this was where the transubstantiation concept in christianity came from; the transformation of wine into the blood of Jesus at consecration in the mass. Another shepherd called Prosymnus was this god's guide to the entrance to Hades, his rowing Dionysus there across a lake. He extorted a price of making love to the god on his return but died in the meantime. Dionysus kept his promise by carving a piece of fig wood into the shape of a cock and using it ritually to carry out his promise to the shepherd whilst sitting on his tomb. Could this be the first use of a dildo by a god???
Zeus famously fell for Ganymede and abducted him to become his cup bearer with all that involved. It is interesting because in Latin 'Catamitus' of which the english form is 'Catamite' was used as a derogatory term for homosexuals along with sodomite, derived from the Greek word 'Ganymedes'.
Heracles, who was semi divine, seemed to have dipped his wick practically everywhere be it in woman or man ! He is reputed to have had quite a few male lovers including Abderus and Hylas (although more like a father in the latter case). The case of Iolaus is particularly interesting for a related matter. Iolaus was the son of Iphicles and Automedusa in Boeotia. He was said to be the nephew of Heracles and he helped the hero with some of his twelve labours. Plutarch claims he was also the lover of Heracles. Whatever the case he was venerated in Boeotia and the gymnasia in Thebes ( Greece ) was named after him. His shrine in Thebes was said to be the site of worship and vows by male couples. I suspect this included the famous Sacred Band of Thebes, an armed force in Boeotia made up of paired gay lovers. Would it not be a fine thing if the location was still known and could be a shrine, even now, for the worship by gay pagan men the world over. If I ever find out I will let you all know :))
The god Hermes had a few liaisons too. In one version of his life the youth Crocus was killed accidentally by Hermes with a discus. The god being very upset about this turned the youth into a flower; hence a Crocus. The same can be said of Hyathinthus and Apollo, so was this a confusion of who turned whom into a flower??
Poseidon had a good time too. Nerites, who was a minor sea god, is supposed to have been a love of Poseidon. You often find that these youths were all so very beautiful and often ended up as charioteers to the gods. Beauty in youth was highly prized in Ancient Greece however the concept of 'beauty' was not always that of an outward beauty. Often it was the inward qualities that were elevated even more than that of the body. It is said their love was the basis of the term Anteros or mutual love. Poseidon is also supposed to have been the lover of Pelops, son of Tantalus, as a boy. Poor lad as he was, his father cut him up and made a stew of him for the gods. Although Demeter had a piece whilst distracted, the other gods smelled a rat and did not eat the stew. They banished Tantalus and Pelops was put back together and brought back to life. Poseidon then took him to Olympus and gave him driving lessons with the celestial chariot. The good times didn’t last long however as Zeus felt the stew had been a gift and so the boy made whole was, in fact, stolen goods. He expelled him from Olympus. Many adventures happened to Pelops but he did draw on his former relationship with Poseidon to help him try and win a chariot race to win the hand of a maiden, Hippodamia.
Orpheus had male lovers. Calais, one of the wind brothers from Thrace is said to have been a lover of Orpheus and that ( in one version ) Orpheus was murdered by the Thracian Women, in jealousy of his only choosing men as lovers, whilst he besottedly was thinking of this same Calais.
Harking back to Hyacinth, the god of the west wind, Zephyrus was said to have killed Hyacinth rather than Apollo out of jealousy of the affair. If it was not enough for the said Hyacinth to have been Apollo's lover, he is thought to have been the lover of Thamyris too.
One of the greatest semi divine heroes of Ancient Greece, if not all time, was Achilles. Famously he lamented the death of his close friend Patroclus. It is difficult with Homer to say whether this was a homosexual relationship however the later writers Plato, Aeschylus, Pindar and Aeschines all portrayed it as being so. Here again, later cultures did not ascribe the same interpretation to the relationship clearly uncomfortable with such thoughts. They play more on the manliness and honourable nature of Achilles. I think the ancients knew better the culture in which Achilles lived !!! In a Latin work by Dares Phrygius called 'Account of the Destruction of Troy' Achilles, torn by the beauty of a brother and sister called Troilus and Polyxena, decided to have sex with the brother. The boy refused and either was accidentally killed by Achilles himself or found himself decapitated by person or persons unknown. Not a good result for him in either case was it ?
The semi divine son of the nymph Axioche ( or perhaps Danais ) and Pelops, Chrysippus was a divine hero of the state of Elis. He was kidnapped and raped by the Theban Laius. This crime, it is alleged, is the source of the beginning of all pederasty in Ancient Greece and it is often a marker for historians ie: before or after Laius. His descendants suffered as under a curse from the gods. Most notable was Oedipus who was the son of Laius and who killed his father and had sex with his mother Jocasta.
Last in the greek list is Pan. Many gay pagans venerate Pan the god of the wild and shepherds. Pan is said to have fallen in love with Daphnis who although a Sicilian shepherd was the son of Hermes and a nymph. Pan taught him to play the pipes. Pan, unfortunately, like the Celtic god Cernunnos, was converted into Satan by the christian church and all horned gods were made evil in christian dogma. Far better to see them for their natural care of nature, pasture and woods. Also their highly sexual nature. Pan is said ( even if it was in a joking manner by Diogenes ) to have learned masturbation from his father Hermes and then taught the skill to shepherds. That is a good justification guys for a pleasant pastime.
And here we come to the crux of the matter. What is our view on sex as a possible ritual offering to the gods and what do the gods think about it? Initiation rites can have sexual elements in them even if they might sometimes be in jest ( such as frat initiation ). However deep mysteries once practiced by the ancients may well have had a homosexual form. After all female prostitutes were often used in ancient temple ritual. Perhaps we should accept that deities in the past hardly differentiated between enjoying sex with men or women and so any sexual act used by two men in ritual worship would be equally appreciated by our deities now. It can be seen from the above that major gods enjoyed homosexual acts and, indeed, if a priest or shaman was possessed by a god during a ritual, he would be acting as the god within him, in having sex with another man.
All this is important as many have been conditioned, as I was, to abhor any idea of such a thing happening in worship. However the time has surely come to shatter the chains and shackles of this 'inherited' prudery. We need to both accept and appreciate our bodies and sex between man and man or man and god as a natural and positive thing instead of something to cast into the shadows of a dirty back street. Its nobility should be attested too and not criticised. Perhaps we gay folk have too long tried to fit ourselves into a judeo-christo-islamic mould of acceptability, adopting their sacraments and ways simply to be accepted at best or tolerated at worst. Our Pagan Identity should be our own and not borrowed from other religious traditions.
It is time to be ourselves.