Welcome to Discovering the Male Mysteries with Mel Mystery. This blog is a supplement to my podcast is for and about gay and bi pagan men. My podcasts are about what it is to be gay, what it is to be pagan, what it is to be men — sometimes as separate topics and sometimes all meshed together as one. I started this endeavor after seeing that there were few, if any, podcasts out there on this topic. The podcasts are informative, and present topics that challenge conventional thinking.

Mythology Musings

Conceiving Historical Homosexuality

I have often heard historians and historical writers on the topic of homosexuality suggest there was no such thing as homosexuals or gay people in ancient history, only homosexual acts. The implication is that there were no folks in the past with exclusive homosexual orientations and that homosexuality and gay identity are a fairly modern concepts. It’s become a trendy concept even among LGBT historians and writers. I say “bullshit” for a number of reasons.

While I see these historians and writers taking on the role of gay apologist, I get where these people are coming from. They’re just trying to show objectivity. A basic concept in scientific method and reason is that something can’t be said to exist unless it has been proven conclusively. These folks are just doing their due diligence, or are they?

Science and history are not entirely the same things, and historians and anthropologists frequently make inferences about history, ancient cultures, and the people who lived in them based on everything from existing primary source documents to comparisons of contemporary or similar historical cultures to making educated guesses about what might have been going on.

When reading historical or mythological stories about same-sex folks who were close friends or where homoerotic undertones can be read in, many would be reluctant to reach the full conclusion that homosexuality was actually involved. It’s all part of being objective after all.

I’ve been reading The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Society by James Neill. Very early in the book (I can’t pinpoint the exact page, but somewhere within the first three chapters), he makes a startling suggestion that I like very much. He suggests that in cultures where homosexuality exists openly and even in those cultures that just don’t condemn it, that it’s actually a bigger stretch to assume that these weren’t examples homosexuality and homosexual relationships.

There are several reasons to come at things from this angle:

  • For one, we come from a culture that assumes homosexuality and homosexual relations are unnatural and an exception to the rule, whereas homosexuality and ambisexuality are actually quite natural and common. They even exist in cultures that strongly oppose same-sex expression, though in such cultures they often must remain closeted under the ruse of being just close friends.

  • Early Christians went to a lot of trouble to destroy cultures, cultural references, and primary sources related to anything that went against their teachings – this included destroying people, cultures, and primary sources related to homosexuality especially where it was treated positively. Homosexuality and most other alternate forms of sexuality were effectively written out of history.

  • In many writings of the time, it was not necessary to say what people already knew or culturally accepted. It’s kind of like recent arguments over the term “gay” marriage. Once homosexuality is finally accepted into society, it may just be referred to as… get this… “marriage” without the “gay” qualifier.

  • There’s also the “none of your business” principle. The sex lives and sexual acts and preferences of most people regardless of their sexual orientation is rarely written about or accounted for unless there’s some overriding reason for doing so.

  • Heterosexual bias and heterosexism permeate most historical research into the sexuality and sexual norms of most cultures until recently and still permeate some pockets of historical researchers today. Even fairly recent anthropologists have brought this bias into their research into modern tribal cultures, and the people in those cultures are often reluctant to share practices they believe will cast them in a negative light to the researchers.

With all that said there are plenty of primary sources that suggest exclusive homosexuality and homosexual relationships did exist in ancient civilizations. Plato in his Symposium talks about how some people seek out their same-gender soulmates who are literally their “other half”, how some are drawn exclusively to one sex or the other, and how same-sex lovers have a higher and more spiritual love because they aren’t weighed down by reproductive obligations. The Native Americans had a special place for effeminate men who took on female roles including female sexual roles and women who took on male life and sexual roles. They were identified as children – suggesting some naturally occurring predisposition. Among the Norse, priests of the god Freyr took on feminine roles including passive homosexual roles in religious rites. Celtic warriors were reported to have male lovers, and perhaps even prefer them to females. Blood brotherhood rites in many cultures have been equated as homosexual relationships. The list goes on for many other cultures.

I will relent one point that is often made about historical homosexuality. In general, men in ancient societies had both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Often as young men, homosexual relationships were part of their education and rites of passage. This includes the ancient Greeks, the Norse, and many warrior societies. After a certain age, these men were generally expected to marry and have families, except some didn’t. There are historical reports of men who continued their homosexual relationships beyond the accepted age and were said to prefer the company of men. There have been reports of homosexual “marriages” or at least marriage type relationships in many ancient civilizations. There were always ways one could escape the heterosexual marriage obligation – joining the military or joining a priesthood are among the top options for such individuals and these institutions always have had more than their fair share of reported homosexuals and homosexual acts.

Now back to my original argument about the existence of historical homosexuality. Some say that no gay people existed, but I beg to differ. I will concur that modern gay identity is a new concept and but so is modern straight identity. We don’t argue that there were no heterosexuals in the past even though the modern nuclear family is a relatively new concept. In ancient times, heterosexual marriage was often a political arrangement, a barter of some kind, or an economic arrangement. Having many wives and many concubines was not at all unheard of. Women were often treated as property rather than equal partners. Marrying for love or even sexual attraction was not always the norm for heterosexuals, but we don’t claim a heterosexual orientation didn’t exist in the past.

I personally believe that there have always been people of both heterosexual and homosexual orientation and there probably always will be. There are probably also lots of bisexuals out there who blur the lines for those seeking an exclusive binary between homosexuality and heterosexuality. I recommend the works of Alfred Kinsey who suggested that human sexuality is actually on a natural bell curve with exclusive homosexuality or exclusive heterosexuality making up only a small proportion on either end of the scale. Perhaps as society becomes more accepting and open we’ll see many more bisexuals coming out of the closet, in addition to those who claim to be exclusively gay or straight. That’s not even touching on other sexual and gender orientations that may come to light once society stops viewing them as deviant and starts accepting them as human.


The Green Man and Gay Archetypes

Who’s that face watching from within the forest leaves and foliage? Perhaps it’s the Green Man. The Green Man is in many ways the counterpart to Cernunnos. Whereas Cernunnos symbolizes the wild and untamed animal nature of the forest, the Green Man is the embodiment of the wild and fertile vegetation of nature. The Green Man is often depicted as simply a face in the leaves. Branches or vines might sprout from his nose, mouth, or other parts of his face, and they may even bear fruit or flowers. He may have leaves for hair or a leafy beard. The face is almost always male. Green women are rare and green cats, lions, and demons are also found. Green man carvings and sculptures are often found as part of the architecture of churches from the 11th century to the present day. The paganesque symbol of the Green Man in Christian churches would seem to indicate the vitality of the Green Man and his ability to survive as a symbol of pre-Christian traditions despite the influence of Christianity while at the same time co-existing with Christianity. The Green Man is considered a symbol of growth and rebirth, as when forests sprout back to life in the spring. The Green Man is found in many cultures throughout the world and may have developed independently in these cultures rather than having a common root.

There are many characters that are related to the Green Man and they may even be a different representation of him. The Egyptian Osiris, the Norse Freyr, the Celtic deity, Viridios, are all gods that have green man aspects. Other possible mythic and folktale representations of the Green Man might be: the Green Knight in the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, John Barleycorn, Jack in the Green, Robin Goodfellow, Puck, and Robin Hood.

It should be noted that the Green Knight served as both a monster and a mentor to Sir Gawain, and helped in Gawain’s initiation from an idealistic youth into mature adulthood. There is also an undercurrent of possible homosexual relations in this tale, In one part of the story Gawain makes a pact with his host, Bercilak who is really the Green Knight in disguise. In the pact, Bercilak will share with Gawain whatever food he wins through hunting, and Gawain agrees that whatever he wins in the bedroom with Bercilak’s wife he will share with Bercilak. Since Knightly virtues idealize chastity and restraint, Gawain resists the overtures of Bercilak’s wife and Gawain is only bound to kiss Bercilak on the cheek to honor their agreement.

Modern representations of the Green Man include Peter Pan, and might include superheroes as the Green Archer, the Green Lantern, and Robin from Batman and Robin.

Besides the tale of the Green Knight, I tried to find some other connections between the Green Man and homosexuality. Certainly the Green Man has sexual symbolism as a fertility deity, but I couldn’t easily find anything else that connected him with homosexuality. After much searching, I did stumble upon two books that might – The Path of the Green Man: Gay Men, Wicca, and Living a Magical Life by Thomas Michael Ford and The Secret Lore of Gardening by Graham Jackson. I haven’t had a chance to purchase or read either of these books, so I may put them down for future book reviews. While I wasn’t able to find out much about the first book, I did find a few good reviews on the Secret Lore of Gardening that shed some light on the Green Man archetype within gay life. I’ll take a little bit of time here to share what I found.

In the Secret Lore of Gardening, Graham Jackson talks about gay archetypes – particularly the archetypes of the green man and the yellow man. The Green Man is “athletic, body-based, sensuous, a gardner/domestic, quiet, dark, and earthy”. On the other hand, the yellow man is not body-identified, he’s awkward, cerebral, intuitive, a poet, light, verbal, and solar.

The gay men who embody the green man archetype are allied with the earth and the Primordial Mother. Green men can fall into further sub-archetypes known as the flower-boy, the gardener, and the prophet of the land.

The flower boy is young, playful, and innocent. He is at a stage in life that is full of possibilities. In mythology, Apollo’s young lover Hyacinth is a perfect example of the flower boy archetype.

The gardener is sedentary, a homebody, but also a man of common sense and practical wisdom. He’s very much a part of the physical realm. Mythologically, he might be Mercury, Dionysus, or Pan.

The Prophet of the land is the darkest of these archetypes, dark green that is. He’s the wise man, the elder, the sage. He knows the secrets of the earth and has great spiritual power that requires a lifetime of commitment and a strong connection to the earth. He mediates among members of the tribe. The prophet of the land is the shaman, and his role is central to the well-being of the tribe.

Gay men who embody the solar archetype are allied with the sun and the Sky father. Sub-archetypes of the yellow man include the golden child, the Hellenic, and the lunatic. Yellow men are men of ideals, order, systems, and philosophies. They tend to be somewhat detached.

The golden boy is the divine messenger. He is full of idealism and enthusiasm, and may have trouble dealing with reality and the physical realm.

The Hellenist is a philosopher. He seeks truth and constructs systems to embody that truth. He relies on order.

The last of the Yellow man archetypes is the Lunatic. He plays a spiritual role. His light is the yellow-white light of the moon, rather than the gold of the sun. He seeks wisdom to blend ideas.

In the book, Jackson also talks about initiatory relationships, in particular the Greek mentoring and sexual relationship between an older male and a youth. He uses the story of Apollo and Hyacinth as an example with Apollo representing the mature yellow man, the Hellenist, while Hyacinth takes on the role of the younger flower boy. Hyacinth’s death is taken as symbolic of his passage from childhood to adulthood. It is the death of his adolescence.

In the gay community, there tends to be a high percentage of men who are aligned with the yellow man rather than the green man. The yellow man tends to be urban and intellectual. Even groups that claim to be rural, such as the Radical Fairies, are often composed of a large number of yellow man types who moved out of the city to form their own communities and inadvertently brought urban culture with them. Those gay men who embody the green man archetype are more elusive as they are less likely to be frequenting gay bars and pride parades.


The Inuit – Adam and Steve

Some anti-gay Christians say that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, but one of the Inuit creation stories involves a male couple and transgenderism. I found this in Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit. Unfortunately, the story given is brief only giving the major events and it doesn’t cite its source materials. I was not able to find much on this story through online searching either. So I’m going to reimagine the story taking a bit of creative license here and there.

In the beginning, the gods created all that there is. They created the land, the sky, and the sea and all the creatures that inhabited these realms. And it was good. Seeing their creation, the gods felt that it would be nice if it were inhabited with creatures similar to themselves so the gods created the first two human men, Aakulujjuusi  and Uumarnituq. I’m going to call them simply Akul and Umar. Akul and Umar lived on the beautiful island of Igloolik. They enjoyed their lives, but they were alone in the world. They saw how there were many animals, birds, and fish in the world, but only two humans. They desired the company of other humans and they desired each other. Following the examples of the animals they shared the land with, Akul and Umar mated. I’m guessing they mated a lot. In the process Umar miraculously became pregnant. As the pregnancy went on, it became obvious that Umar didn’t have the right equipment to give birth, and they didn’t know about C-sections back in those days. Desperate, Akul chanted a spell that changed Umar from a man to a woman. Akul gave birth to a boy whom the Inuit trace their descent.

At the time, neither war nor death existed and the human population increased steadily. The gods and spirits feared that the earth would be overrun with humans and might be destroyed. In order to appease the gods’ fears, Umar, now an elder crone figure, chanted a spell that now there should be death and now there should be war. Akul tried to stop his mate from chanting this spell, but it was too late and the fate of human-kind was forever sealed. Now war and death existed in the world. Akul did however find a loophole to preserve the continuance of human souls. Human bodies would die, but human souls would reincarnate and thus keep their previous immortality.


Mercury on my mind

With the recent news about the NASA Messenger probe orbiting the planet Mercury and today being the first day of a Mercury retrograde period, I’ve got Mercury on my mind and thought this might be a great time to post something about the ancient Roman god Mercury, or more specifically his Greek counterpart Hermes.

Hermes is the Greek god of crossroads, boundaries, communication, travel, commerce,  shepherds and cowherds, orators, poets and writers, athletes, and thieves. Hermes is a messenger between the gods and men and also a psychopomp escorting the dead to the Underworld. Hermes is one of only a few gods who could cross to and from the Underworld without hindrance. He is also a trickster god.

Hermes is most often portrayed wearing a winged cap, winged sandals, and carrying either a caduceus (staff entertwined by two serpents) or a kerykeion (a staff topped with a symbol similar to the astrological symbol for Taurus).  His other symbols include purses or bags, roosters, and tortoises.

Hermes protects and takes care of travelers, miscreants, harlets, crones, and thieves. As a runner himself, he is also always looking out for runners and athletes. People would offer him sacrifices before taking a trip to ensure a safe and easy journey.

Originally, Hermes was an older, bearded, phallic god of boundaries.  Piles of stones called herms were placed at boundaries and as wayside markers. Later these were replaced with  rectangular pillars with a Herme’s bearded head and an erect phallus. In Athens, these were even placed outside houses for good luck.

Hermes later became the youthful athlete that we are most familiar with.  His realm included the gymnasia and Greek artists revised his statues to reflect a handsome, athletic youth and his statues along with those of Eros and Heracles were often found in the gymnasia.

Eros, Hermes, and Heracles made up a homoerotic trinity of gods presiding over homosexual relations.  Eros bestowed the blessing of physical beauty onto male lovers. Heracles offered strength to male sexual partners. Hermes bestowed lovers with the gift of eloquence.

Like most Greek gods, Hermes had both female and male lovers. Hermes male lovers included Amphion, Antheus, Chryses, Crocus, Perseus, and Therses.

Later on in the third century CE Egypt, Hermes was invoked as “Hermes of the Underworld” in both homoerotic and lesbian love spells. This is evidenced  in a collection of texts known as the Greek Magical Papyri used in a Hellenistic system of magic.