Gay & Bisexual Archetypes in Classical Mythology
by James M. Martin
Jung long ago replaced Freud as the predominant school of psychological thought, just as surely as quantum theory has replaced the physics of Einstein. As with any revolution of ideas, the transition has not been without its excesses; for one thing, there has been a tendency to find archetypes of the collective unconscious at every turn. Some writers on the subject ignore Jung's most important theory: that there is a Goddess in every man a God in every woman, which notion happens to be Tantric in origin. Individuation, for Jung, was an alchemical healing process whereby the male recaptures his anima or female self while the female incorporates her animus or male sell, into psychic make-up
One of the most popular authors on Jungian theory as it applies to our everyday lives is Jean Shinoda Bolen a psychiatrist, who wrote Gods in Everyone: A New Psychology of Men's Lives and Loves. Her major thesis appears to be that in a patriarchal society such as ours, the inner needs of the archetype often come into conflict with the outer demands of the stereotype. While it is clear that her own therapeutic practice, Dr. Bolen has occasion to work with male homosexuals, her observations about homosexuality are superficial limited to comments upon the sexuality of men ' Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, and Dionysian archetypes. (In all fairness, she does comment briefly - far too briefly - upon Zeus's love of Ganymede, surely the apotheosis of Dorian homosexuality, a myth was practically invented to explain the widespread practice of pederasty so prevalent in ancient Greece.)1
It is sad that no one has come forward to write length about gay and bisexual archetypes, almost all of the better books on sexual individuation be written strictly from a heterosexual point of view. Two examples which come immediately to mind June Singer's excellent Androgyny: Towards a New Theory of Sexuality and Edward C. Whitmont's Return of the Goddess.2 Both of them far surpass one's expectations of the usual writing about archetypes, the sort of works with such drivel as to hackneyed idea that playboys suffer from the puer complex, condemned to live as a perpetual Peter Pan. Such Lilliputian thinking! Unfortunately though, both Singer and Whitmont touch upon and bisexual themes only in passing.
The erotic minorities aren't simply expressing paranoia when they complain that their myths have been ignored at best, and misappropriated at worst by straight, patriarchal society. The dispossession of gay and bisexual archetypes has been going on for a long, long time and shows no signs of cessation. Since Frazer, mythologists have focused their attention upon strictly Osirian deities, markedly heterosexual and procreative, while the New Aeon's pansexual Gods have received scant attention. Open any book on classical mythology and you will see how the homosexual or bisexual component of male deities has been swept aside or glossed over, necessitating a habit of reading between the lines.
I would like to take up the challenge and discuss here some "modes" of gay or bisexual sex-magic, taking certain key theoretical presumptions in mind and leaving the practical suggestions for ritualism for another essay. First, there is an ongoing conspiracy on the part of heterosexual occultists to deny the erotic minorities an esoteric tradition of their own. It ranges from snide remarks in pagan publications, ("Homosexuals cannot be true Witches ...we want no kinks in our circle...") to unenlightened pronouncements in such popular works as Sexual Secrets: The Alchemy of Ecstasy by N Douglas and Penny Slinger (who have the audacity to argue - in the 20th century! - that gays should "seek solutions to their problems" instead campaigning for wider acceptance).3
ln a moment, I would like to examine in detail the fate that has befallen one specifically bisexual archetype and offer some analysis of why I believe that its 'reconstruction' (an ongoing project of mine) would do much to restore pride and self-respect to those of us who've been victimized by homophobia among our own colleagues in the magickal arts.
In Magick in Theory and Practice, Crowley wrote that in order to fully appreciate the maternity of Isis. the magician would do well to cultivate 'those female virtues in which he is deficient without in any way impairing his virility". Methinks he doth protest too much; after all, it was Crowley who played the passive role in anal intercourse during XI° (homosexual) sex-magickal opera with Victor Neuberg during the so-called Paris Working, an attempt to invoke Hermes and other deities for prophetic purposes. And, while he was self-exiled in Cefalu, Sicily, it was Crowley who had a two-sided legend hanging above his bed, reading "Aleister is in" or "Alice is in," depending upon his whim or mood.4 So what is all this about "impairing [one's] virility"?
Considering that Crowley was to some extent a product of his times, and that he lived during the Victorian era, we should not be surprised that he was somewhat self-oppressed by his bisexuality. After all, he was well aware of the shameless and disgraceful treatment of England's most notorious sodomite, the 19th century novelist and playwright, Oscar Wilde.5 And there was always in Crowley a kind of pre-Hemingway cult of masculinity, whose most obvious manifestation was his mountain-climbing exploits, which take up fully a third of his "autohagiography."
But I believe that this same sort of self-oppression, or something akin to it, has extended into our own times. In the 1960's, when 'gay liberation' transformed 'the love that dare not speak its name' into the love that wouldn't shut up, it became trendy to rant against the sexological tomes and homophobic tracts which characterized all homosexuals as sissified 'pansies' and effetes to a man. (Lesbians were given like treatment, all of them categorized as mannish, virile, 'diesel dykes'.) A long period of 'compensation' set in, leading to a 'cult ot masculinity' among gays, one not mirrored in the lesbian subculture since female homosexuals seemed perfectly comfortable with role-playing relationships in the first place. may the Gods bless them!
The male homosexual subculture, however, took this cult to absurd lengths, the phenomenon producing such types as the Harley Davidson-riding, S&M role-playing, all-out Super Butch, with his utter contempt for (and, I suspect unconscious dread of) effeminacy in any form. Passivity, or a tendency to it, became sublimated into games and ritualistic enactment of the sort of behaviour seen in alpha male primates. ("I don't mind your screwing me in the ass just so long as you tic mc up and whip me first.") A pecking order was eventually established allowing some illusion of superiority based upon masculine self-image. ("Look at that bitch in drag!") It was as if there were some unwritten but no less explicit 'hierarchy of perversions', gays having forgotten one very important factual reality: to the homophobe, we are ALL 'poofs', 'pansies', and 'queers'.
Even in the neo-pagan movement today, we see reflections of this anomaly: The Crucible, the major publication catering to gay pagans in the States - and it is a damned good one, I might add - regularly runs personal ads for 'tops' (active role-players in S&M) seeking 'bottoms' (passive partners) for ritualistic sexual workings. One possible cross-current, Wicca, it might be noted, has Craft traditions featuring 'scourging', sometimes in a sex-magickal context, yet all such witch cults arc not only strictly heterosexual but Tantric (at least to the extent that they are Goddess-oriented, the "God" being designated a mere "Consort").
I believe that the time has come for the sexual minorities to rediscover and reclaim their archetypes - a process made only possible by systematically stripping the myths of heterosexual gloss and examining them in their original contexts. To her credit, Dr. Bolen tells us that Apollo was 'enamoured' of Hyacinth (honey, he was absolutely smitten with the lad!) and that their homosexual relationship was one in which the couple 'mirrors' each other. She believes that this type of relationship, in which one sees oneself in another, represents self-acceptance. This is a rather astute observation. I know. My first male significant other was an Aries, like myself and we mirrored each other in many ways. Unfortunately, familiarity breeds contempt: our relationship lasted only ten months.
Looking back at it, though, 1 believe that the greatest problem we faced was an inability to settle upon our role-playing: both wanted to be Apollo at one time, or Hyacinth the next. But at least we had the freedom of will to be Hyacinth. Our break-up was archetypal too. Mythology says that Apollo killed Hyacinth accidentally during a discus competition, just as 1 'killed' my significant other by driving him into the arms of a young man I had brought home from a bar for a one-night stand. (This was an aeon before AIDS, mind you.) Foolishly, I sought solace in 500 milligrams of d-lysergic acid. After dropping it, I listened repeatedly to a new stereo record that was all the rage at the time. 1 can still hear the retrain of one song: 'Boy, you're gonna carry that weight, carry that weight, a long time...' McCartney was right, too: I did.
Robert Graves describes Ganymede as 'the most beautiful youth alive'.6 Homer, in the Iliad: Virgil in the Aeneid: and Ovid. in the Metamorphoses, all tell how Jupiter, disguising himsell as an eagle, abducted the boy and flew him to Mount Olympus. If this is the origin of the gay subcultural epithet for a boy-lover ('chicken hawk'), it is nonetheless a misnomer. (Interestingly, the ancient Egyptians made no distinction in their hieroglyphics between eagles and hawks.) Also, it is curious to find eagle symbolism so prominent in S&M circles - in tattoos, logos (e.g. Harley Davidson ). and the names of popular watering holes, almost every large American city in the 60's and 70's having a leather bar called The Eagle's Nest.
There is something homosexual in Zeus' promise that Ganymede will be exempt from old age and its attendant ills: in the gay subculture youth is put at a premium, which fact did not escape Wilde. His Dorian Gray (even the character's name is charged with symbolism) is presented with a portrait of himself only to find that while he remains young and handsome, the figure in the painting ages! Although one suspects that every person, gay or straight, would like to remain eternally pure, the dream is actually cherished by homosexuals. As cup-bearer, or wine-pourer to the Gods, Ganymede symbolizes as an archetype the often-seen bartender in gay watering holes: young, svelte, and outgoing. Graves notes that the Greeks embraced the myth of Zeus and Ganymede with great passion. since it 'legitimated' paederastic love.7 Nowadays, it's best to ask for identification.
Any exegesis of gay and bisexual archetypes in my would have to include Dionysus, who, probably of all the Gods comes closest to symbolizing the reintegration of his anima (which did not escape the previously mentioned June Singer). This may have been foreordained by Hermes's having stipulated that Ino - the true 'White Goddess' - raise the boy as a girl. (Whether, as some claim this was to fool Hera, who was jealous of Zeus' dalliance with the child's mother, Semele, or merely one of Hermes's celebrated Trickster-ish pranks, I cannot say.) In any case, Aeschylus, Euripedes, and other ancient writers describe Dionysus as 'womanly' or 'man-womanish'.8 In plain English, he was brought up as a girl and became fond of dressing as a woman. One encounters his archetype in the annals of what once was termed 'abnormal psychology', and in particular the young boy whose domineering mother enjoys seeing him dressed in her own garments, including shoes many sizes too large. I saw a newspaper story the other day saying that this behaviour in boys is normal, but that it becomes pathological after the age of five. Funny, priests get away with it, and it was good enough for Gandhi.
It is of critical importance, however, that the mythological Dionysus grew to manhood not as an effete drag queen but as a virile adventurer and husband to Ariadne. Very little is made by most mythologists of his relationship to the greatest of the Satyrs, Silenus, who was Dionysus's mentor. A famous piece of sculpture, however, depicts their relationship as anything but platonic: there are overtones of paedophilia in the satyr's leer.9 In the development of his cultus, Dionysus is depicted as mad and frenzied, followed everywhere by ecstatic women, the Bacchae. Dr. Bolen quite perceptively identifies the late Jim Morrison (lead singer for the rock group, The Doors) as archetypically Dionysian, but as books and movies about Morrison make abundantly clear, his androgynous appearance was deceptive, since he was strictly straight. (When I interviewed him, at least, Mick Jagger impressed me the same way - i.e., that the camp was strictly for record sales).
Chiron, the centaur, had a fling with Heracles (Hercules); Castor and Pollux enjoyed themselves incestuously, and the immortal love of Damon for Pylhia has been trivialized into something akin to a 'Close friendship'. Phaeton was so mourned by his mortal lover - classical mythology abounds in instances of Euphemism - that he was turned into a swan, giving rise to our phrase 'swan song'. I could make a good case for an affair between Apollo and Hermes, and another for a dalliance by Apollo with Sacadas (Marsyas), and of course the Biblical loves of David and Jonathan (in the O.T.) and of Jesus and John (in the N.T.) are well known.
But the most intriguing myth to have undergone a whitewashing by heterosexuals is surely that of Atys and Kybele (or Attis and Cybele). Had I not stumbled upon an account of it by Arnobius of Sicca, a North African convert to Christianity whose 4th century work The Case Against the Pagans was translated in 1949 by McCracken and, at least those sections dealing with Atys and Kybele, more recently by Marn W. Meyer.10 Although the tracts of the heresiologists sometimes suffer from narrow-mindedness and hyperbolic overkill, Arnobius's account seems objective enough. It could be argued that as bisexuality would be repugnant to a 4th century Christian, Arnobius's version of the myth, including an outright treatment of romantic love between Atys and the hermaphroditic Agdistis, may have been an invention. But Arnobius was closer in time to the last days of the Megalensia or festival of the Great Mother (Kybele), and, thus, its Phrygian sources.
ln any case, the tale told by Arnobius is not only bisexual, it illustrates a well-known psychological phenomenon in homophobic cultures: so-called 'homosexual panic'. The word 'panic' is derived from the myth of Pan, whose legendary ability to inspire sudden, unexplained, impulsive terror is a common feature in nearly all accounts of the deity. Homosexual panic is an overwhelming of the ego resulting from sudden confrontation of conscious wishes and unconscious dread. Repressed homosexuality - combined longing far, and fear of same-sex expression - is brought to the fore upon an encounter with someone who epitomizes the object of desire. In some, a breakthrough of sorts may occur, the repressed individual finally realizing who and what he is and, hopefully, accepting himself; in some unfortunate others, the result is psychosis.
Nowadays, it is politically incorrect to entertain the notion that such a thing as homosexual panic even exists. (To me, this is redolent of Queen Victoria denying the existence of lesbians because she didn't believe in such a thing!) The argument against homosexual panic is advanced (and not without justification) by gay liberationists who get tired of seeing judges and juries mete out minimal sentences to young men convicted of murdering homosexuals. I have witnessed this sad, strange phenomenon in my own community. A gay male who brought another young man home from a bar one night was bludgeoned to death by the relative stranger, whose defence at trial was homosexual panic. The jury which convicted him assessed punishment at 20 years. (Had the victim been straight no doubt the time would have been much more severe.) Since no deadly weapon was used, there was no set minimum number of years he would have to serve, and due to prison overcrowding in my home state of Texas, he probably would get out rather soon. It is no secret that in this state, jail inmates know that they'll only serve one month for every year of their sentence. This is a proverbial travesty of justice. (Another murderer, who killed a straight wino, got life.)
Unfortunately, homosexual panic is a very real psychological phenomenon. I recall a party that I attended during my college years, when I was still hiding my bisexuality. Unconsciously, I began to 'cruise' a good-looking fellow who seemed to encourage my unknowing attentions. It was he who panicked, however, not me. At some point, he turned on me and began shouting, "You queer!" &c. I cannot recall ever being quite so embarrassed. The other guests, however, thought that the had gone mad, and, in the sense of his being caught up in the 'sudden passion' which gets some persons convicted of manslaughter, he actually was.
Atys's encounter with Agdistis is a classic example of homosexual panic. Arnobius tells us that both the hermaphroditic Agdistis and Kybele, 'the Mother of the Gods', loved Attis, but that the latter rejected the male's advances. In retaliation, Agdistis inspires Kybele's wedding guests to madness. Now mad himself Atys castrates himself beneath a pine tree. In grief Agdistis importunes Jupiter to bring the youth back to life, and although the Father of the Gods refuses, he makes a concession: Atys's body will not decay, his hair will continue to grow, and perpetual motion will animate 'the very smallest of his fingers' (which latter bequest. Meyer believes, I think correctly, a reference to Atys's phallus).11
Arnobius, in another section of his treatise, refers to the 'eunuchs and effeminates' who mourn the death of Atys in annual springtime festivals celebrated in Rome as late as the 3rd century. These were the Galli, who are almost always referred to as the 'priests of Kybele'. Nothing could be more obvious but that they were mystai of the cult of Atys. Castration in emulation of their God, rather than as sacrifice for the Goddess, is the only interpretation that makes sense. Although we now know that Fenichel's explanation of how a homosexual 'comes to be' - i.e., castration anxiety - is for the most part false, a certain segment of the gay subculture at any given time actually dreams of self-mutilation. And castration as part of an S&M session is not unheard of.12 I have seen actual eyewitness accounts of it in such subcultural publications as Drummer.
The castration complex, or fetish, may also help explain transsexualism, which has gained wide notoriety in the 20th century thanks to the pornography industry. But it is in transvestism that we see the most obvious survival of the Atys archetype. In very few culture however, is the religious significance of this phenomenon fully realized. The Sakhibhava sect in India comes to mind as an isolated example. They were featured recently in a remarkable documentary film by Michael Wood, Darshan.
I could go on, but I think I have offered ample evidence for
my contention that the mythologies of all peoples at all times in
human history have had gay and bisexual archetypes that should be
examined in greater detail by both mythologers and psychologists
alike. When research into the matter has been completed and
essays and books written on the subject, perhaps our neo-pagan
and occultist brethren will come to a better understanding of
why, gay, lesbian and bisexual witches and magicians
"matter" too. In the meantime, a little tolerance and
acceptance would be greatly appreciated.
- Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Gods in Everyman: A New Psychology of Men's Lives and Loves (San Fransisco, 1989).
- Singer, June, Androgyny: Toward a New Theory of Sexuality (Garden City, N.Y., 1977) Whitmont, Edward C. Return of the Goddess (New York, 1984).
- Quoted in Hoblink Newsletter
- King, Francis. Sexuality, Magic and Perversion (Seaucus, N.J., 1974)
- Crowley, Aleister. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography (Boston, 1983)
- Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths (Harmondsworth, England, 1973).
- Quoted in Otto, Walter F. Dionysus Myth and Cult (Dallas, Texas 1986).
- Actually, if memory serves, this is Dionysus in his aspect of Bacchus-Diphues. Crowley hints at some very important arcana with respect to this myth in his chapter on The Fool, in The Book of Thoth.
- Meyer, Marvin, W. The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook (San Fransisco, 1987)
- Over the years, before it became a 'slick' publication
and jettisoned its sexual ads, The Advocate carried
several such ads.
Reproduced with kind permission of the author. James Martin can be contacted at:
P. O Box 1219, Corpus Christi, TX 78403-1219, USA.