Virgil’s Ecologue and Plato’s Symposium: A Greek View of Gender
In Plato’s Symposium Aristophanes talks about the origins of mankind. There were originally three species – male, female, and androgynous. Because of their pride, the gods punished them by dividing them in half so that they would always walk the earth looking for their other half in their quest to be whole. Those who were of the divided male species were always looking for their other male half – thus male-male homosexual love; those of the divided female species were always looking for their other female half – thus female-female homosexual love; those of the divided androgynous species were always looking for the other sex – male for female and female for male, or heterosexual love.
“Those who dwell in Arcadia seek out that secret Eden because of its isolation from the troubled world and its safety from the arrogant demands of those who would deny freedom, curtail human action, and destroy innocence and love.” – Byrne R.S. Fone
Arcadia as a Uranian Ideal
During the European Renaissance, Arcadia emerged as an ideal of unspoiled, remote, wilderness. It was further idealized by Uranian (their contemporary term for homosexual) men as a homosexual Eden or a utopia of male-male love. To these men, Arcadia was a metaphor for what homosexual life could be without the stigma and constraints of mainstream heterosexual society. They pictured Arcadia as a hidden and isolated leafy grove, a remote pastoral land, or even as an island far from the hustle and bustle and every day cares of the mundane world. For them, Arcadia feeds the homosexual spirit. The love of men for men is natural there. It is even divinely sanctioned as a means to understand all that is good and beautiful. In Arcadia, homosexual love and sexuality is the ideal. It is noble, inspired, virtuous, and spiritually uplifting. Arcadia features untrodden paths, secluded spots, and hidden waters. There are rivers flowing through the land and the element of water purifies and enhances the innocence of the place. Rites of the sea, purification, and transformation by water are central to the rituals of life in Arcadia. Symbolic sexual consummation takes place in or near the water. These rituals celebrate male friendship, our mythologies, the union and consummation of lovers, coming together in a loving and sexual fraternity of men, and washing away any sense of guilt brought on by society at large. These rites often include offering gifts from nature and purification by water. The men of Arcadia are naturally nude, or at least they wear skimpy clothing. The climate is such that this is comfortable.
These Renaissance men idealized Arcadia as a place where homosexual sensibilities, love, and sexuality can be practiced without fear or punishment. In Arcadia, it is safe to come out and to be gay. In this Utopia of male love and sexuality, gay and bi men are free from the stigma and the “outlaw” status that society confers on us.
Look out for part 3 coming soon… To find out more about the Arcadia Gathering, please visit:
What is Arcadia? Arcadia was an ancient Greek city with its own mythology and patron deities, but it was also the ideal of a homosexual utopia in European Renaissance literature. It is also the name adopted for an East Coast / Mid-Atlantic gathering of Queer Pagan Men that is set to take place October 9-12, 2019 in Cumberland, Virginia.
Arcadia: The historic place
Historic Arcadia was a region located in the central highlands on the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece. The Arcadian tribe that originally settled the area is considered one of the oldest tribes to have settled in Greece. Because it was a remote, mountainous place, Arcadia was a cultural refuge. Its language and culture remained unique. Arcadia had numerous towns in both the mountains and in its fertile valleys. The landscape included mountains, forests pastoral land, and rivers.
Arcadia is mentioned in works by ancient writers such as Herodotus and Homer.
Mount Lykaion is one of the major historical places of the region. Mount Lykaion is the home of the ancient Lycaean Games dedicated to Zeus and Pan. These games were similar to the ancient Olympics and took place very four years. The mountain featured an altar to Zeus which featured two pillars topped with statues of golden eagles.
Mythology related to ancient Arcadia
Arcadia is named after the mythological character Arcas. Arcas was a hunter who was the first king of Arcadia. He was the son of Zeus and Callisto. Besides hunting, Arcas is associated with weaving and baking bread. Arcus and his mother Callisto are also associated with bears. Arcus was later turned into a bear and put into the heavens among the stars as Ursa Minor, the Little Bear. His mother Callisto is Ursa Major, the Big Bear.
Arcadia is the home of the satyr God Pan. Pan is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, rustic music, fields, and groves. With his ever erect endowment, Pan is associated with sexuality and fertility. Pan was said to lust after and chase nymphs and shepherds alike.
Zeus also had a special place in Arcadia, especially at Mount Lykaion. The place is said to have been the birthplace of Zeus (aka Zeus Lykaios or the Wolf Zeus). Zeus and King Lycaon, the first King of the area, also play into one of the world’s first recorded werewolf stories. King Lycaon wanted to test to see if Zeus was really a god. To do so he invited Zeus to a feast and fed him the roasted flesh of the king’s own son. Zeus didn’t fall for it and punished Lycaon by turning him into a wolf. Speaking of wolves, the Lycaean Games mentioned earlier featured a secret rite of passage for young men. In this ritual, the men were said to become wolves for nine years. In some of these rituals, the youth would take off his clothes, swim across a river or marsh, and become a wolf on the other side – again for a period of nine years.
According to mythology, Atalanta, a Greek heroine, was the daughter of King Iasus of Arcadia. Atalanta was a virgin huntress who refused to marry. She was a fierce hunter who swore an oath of virginity to the goddess Artemis. She was so fierce that she slew two centaurs who tried to rape her. She also took part in the hunt for the Caledonian Boar and was the one who eventually killed it.
The god Hermes was also honored in Arcadia. One of Hermes oldest temples was on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia, and Mount Cyllene was said to be his birthplace.
The wilderness of Arcadia was said to be the home of various magickal and mythological creatures including satyrs, centaurs, dryads, nymphs, and other spirits.
Look out for part 2 coming soon… To find out more about the Arcadia Gathering, please visit:
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.
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.
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.