In Christian theology, we are told that we are made “in God’s image and likeness.” Taking a broader view across all religions, it is more accurate to say that humans make gods & goddesses in our image and likeness – even where they are visualized in non-human form, their reported behaviour is frequently anthropomorphic.
This is especially obvious outside of the monotheistic religions. In these, the necessity for imagining gods & goddesses in relationships and interactions with other gods produces tales of jealousy, rivalry, and amorous adventures that look remarkably human. Reflecting what each culture sees in itself, the deities also reflect a range of interests, temperaments – and sexual preferences. Many pantheons, especially those from Classical Greece and Rome, China, India, South America and Oceania, feature prominent gods and goddesses who had homosexual relationships or adventures. (Hindu deities are especially notable for the ease with which many of them change gender from time to time).
This much I knew. But the biggest surprise for me yesterday, when I was reading some more about LGBT themes in mythology, was the discovery that in some mythologies, there are gods who are specifically designated not just as practitioners, but even as patrons of male homosexuality.
For the Aztecs, Xochipilli was the god of games, beauty, dance, flowers, and song – and also the patron of homosexuals. No room in the Aztec religion, then for the argument that “God Hates Fags!” Not only does he look after the homosexuals, but also homosexual prostitutes. Now, I wonder why they should be linking male homosexuals with beauty, dance, flowers and music?
Also in Latin America, the Mayas had a little (literally – physically small) god called Chin, who introduced homoerotic relationships to the Mayan nobles. The nobles obtained youths of the lower classes to be the lovers of the noble’s sons. Such unions were considered legal marriages under Mayan law.
Chinese mythology, like Greek, features several gods who themselves had homosexual affairs. One particular one, Tu Er Shen (literally, “rabbit deity”) is specifically designated as a protector who manages love and affections between men. He is said to have been originally a man called Wu Tien Bao who fell in love with an imperial official. When he declared his love, the official had him beaten to death. Because his “crime” had been one of love, the underworld officials decided to right the injustice by delegating Wu Tien Bao as the god and safe-guarder of homosexual affections. In modern Taiwan, a temple has been built by a gay Taoist priest and worship to the Rabbit deity resuscitated to cater to the needs of modern homosexuals. Other Chinese deities associated with same sex love or transgenderism are Chou Wang, Lan Caihe, Shan Gu, Yu the Great, and Gun.
In Japanese Shinto religion, homosexuality is said to have been introduced to the world by two servants of the sun goddess, and many deities participate in ritual pederasty. In one branch of Shinto (but not in the mainstream religion) “Shud? Daimy?jin” is recognised as a special patron.
Buddhist religion disapproves of any sexual relationships for monks, but not for lay people. Many stories of the Buddha himself in his previous lives include descriptions of close friendships with young men, including displays of affection (but not actual sexual intercourse).
Among an array of gods and goddesses in the vast Hindu pantheon with homosexual or transgender connections, the elephant-headed Ganesh is not only especially connected with homoerotic worship, but in some versions of his birth, he is said to have been born as the result of homosexual intercourse between same – sex parents.
In Europe, classical Greek mythology,where it is easier to track down gods who had male lovers than those (very few) who did not. Several, both gods and goddesses, were also considered patrons of homosexual love. Most favoured only men, but the Greek Aphrodite was a special patron of lesbians. Even in Norse mythology, which in many respects condemns (passive) homosexuality as unmanly, there are queer connections to one of the most important gods, Odin, the Viking “queer god of war“.
Not all mythological systems include gods specifically designated as patrons or protectors of homosexual love, but as shown above, many do. Nearly all, however, include at least some gods who have same sex interactions, and in many cultures the gods also have significant transgender associations, either in themselves, or in their human priests and priestesses. The widespread occurrence of homosexual themes in nearly all regions of the world simply reflects the ubiquity of homosexual practices in the cultures behind them – and the frequent occurrence of transvestite or transgendered gods in some mythologies emphasises the recognition in many cultures of a “third gender” closely associated with special spiritual gifts.
Despite the often – repeated claims that God as known to Jews and Christians is opposed to homosexual activity, this is simply not so. But, for those who are taken in by these claims and are bothered by them, perhaps they can take comfort from the fact that in many other religions, gods not only tolerate homosexuality – they indulge in it themselves, protect humans who do, or even introduce it to the world of humans.
- Connor & Sparks: Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Lore (Cassell Sexual Politics Series)
- Downing:Myths and Mysteries of Same-Sex Love
- Greenberg: Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions (2 Volume Set)
- Queer religious art resource list: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Paganism (jesusinlove.blogspot.com)