Intermediate Types among Primitive Folk
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Pages (PDF): 94
Publication Date: 1919
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In this ground-breaking study of homosexuality, Edward Carpenter reviews an extensive body of literature, including accounts of Shamans and Bedarches (transgenders) in tribal society, and same-sex unions in ancient Greece and feudal Japan. This book includes much that has a direct bearing on issues of gay spirituality, including a discussion of the Kedushim, the priests of the ancient Near Eastern Goddess religion, and target of the Levitical anti-sodomy and anti-cross-dressing regulations. There is also a mention of the sanctioned Christian male same-sex unions in the Balkans, which gives a new dimension to recent controversies. The chapter on same-sex unions in feudal Japan is also of particular interest, as it deals with a topic very rarely dealt with by western writers.
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A CURIOUS and interesting subject is the connection of the Uranian temperament with prophetic gifts and divination. It is a subject which, as far as I know, has not been very seriously considered--though it has been touched upon by Elie Reclus, Westermarck, Bastian, Iwan Bloch, and others. The fact is well known, of course, that in the temples and cults of antiquity and of primitive races it has been a widespread practice to educate and cultivate certain youths in an effeminate manner, and that these youths in general become the priests or medicine-men of the tribe; but this fact has hardly been taken seriously, as indicating any necessary connection between the two functions, or any relation in general between homosexuality and psychic powers. Some such relation or connection, however, I think we must admit as being obviously indicated by the following facts; and the admission leads us on to the further enquiry of what the relation may exactly be, and what its rationale and explanation.
Among the tribes, for instance, in the neighbourhood of Behring's Straits--the Kamchadales, the Chukchi, the Aleuts, Inoits, Kadiak islanders, and so forth, homosexuality is common, and its relation to shamanship or priesthood most marked and curious. Westermarck, in his well-known book, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, quoting from Dr. Bogoraz, says:--"It frequently happens that, under the supernatural influence of one of their shamans, or priests, a Chukchi lad at sixteen years of age will suddenly relinquish his sex and imagine himself to be a woman. He adopts a woman's attire, lets his hair grow, and devotes himself altogether to female occupation. Furthermore, this disclaimer of his sex takes a husband into the yurt (hut) and does all the work which is usually incumbent on the wife, in most unnatural and voluntary subjection. . . . These abnormal changes of sex imply the most abject immorality in the community, and appear to be strongly encouraged by the shamans, who interpret such cases as an injunction of their individual deity." Further, Westermarck says "the change of sex was usually accompanied by future shamanship; indeed nearly all the shamans were former delinquents of their sex." Again he says, "In describing the Koriaks, Krasheninnikoff makes mention of the Ke'yev, that is men occupying the position of concubines, and he compares them with the Kamchadale Koe'kcuc, as he calls them, that is men transformed into women. Every Koe'kcuc, he says, 'is regarded as a magician and interpreter of dreams. . . . The Koe'kcuc wore women's clothes, did women's work, and were in the position of wives or concubines.'" And (on p. 472) "There is no indication that the North American aborigines attached any opprobrium to men who had intercourse with those members of their own sex who had assumed the. dress and habits of women. In Kadiak such a companion was on the contrary regarded as a great acquisition; and the effeminate men, far from being despised, were held in repute by the people, most of them being wizards."
This connection with wizardry and religious divination is particularly insisted upon by Elie Reclus, in his Primitive Folk (Contemporary Science Series). Speaking of the Inoits (p. 68) he says:--"Has a boy with a pretty face also a graceful demeanour? The mother no longer permits him to associate with companions of his own age, but clothes him and brings him up as a girl. Any stranger would be deceived as to his sex, and when he is about fifteen he is sold for a good round sum to a wealthy personage. 'Choupans,' or youths of this kind are highly prized by the Konyagas. On the other hand, there are to be met with here and there among the Esquimaux or kindred populations, especially in Youkon, girls who decline marriage and maternity. Changing their sex, so to speak, they live as boys, adopting masculine manners and customs, they hunt the stag, and in the chase shrink from no danger; in fishing from no fatigue."
Reclus then says that the Choupans commonly dedicate themselves to the priesthood; but all are not qualified for this. "To become an angahok it is needful to have a very marked vocation, and furthermore a character and temperament which every one has not. The priests in office do not leave the recruiting of their pupils to chance; they make choice at an early age of boys or girls, not limiting themselves to one sex--a mark of greater intelligence than is exhibited by most other priesthoods" (p. 71). The pupil has to go through considerable ordeals:--"Disciplined by abstinence and prolonged vigils, by hardship and constraint, be must learn to endure pain stoically and to subdue his bodily desires, to make the body obey unmurmuringly the commands of the spirit. Others may be chatterers; he will be silent, as becomes the prophet and the soothsayer. At an early age the novice courts solitude. He wanders throughout the long nights across silent plains filled with the chilly whiteness of the moon; he listens to the wind moaning over the desolate floes;--and then the aurora borealis, that ardently sought occasion for 'drinking in the light,' the angahok must absorb all its brilliancies and splendours. . . . And now the future sorcerer is no longer a child. Many a time he has felt himself in the presence of Sidné, the Esquimaux Demeter, he has divined it by the shiver which ran through his veins, by the tingling of his flesh and the bristling of his hair. . . . He sees stars unknown to the profane; he asks the secrets of destiny from Sirius, Algol, and Altair; he passes through a series of initiations, knowing well that his spirit will not be loosed from the burden of dense matter and crass ignorance, until the moon has looked him in the face, and darted a certain ray into his eyes. At last his own Genius, evoked from the bottomless depths of existence, appears to him, having scaled the immensity of the heavens, and climbed across the abysses of the ocean. White, wan, and solemn, the phantom will say to him: 'Behold me, what dost thou desire?' Uniting himself with the Double from beyond the grave, the soul of the angakok flies upon the wings of the wind, and quitting the body at will, sails swift and light through the universe. It is permitted to probe all hidden things, to seek the knowledge of all mysteries, in order that they may be revealed to those who have remained mortal with spirit unrefined" (p. 73).
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