Sacred Texts  LGBT  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 66


Hermaphrodism among Gods and Mortals

IN chapter ii. above, reference is made by one of the writers quoted to "the numerous stories of hermaphrodites related by all the old writers on America." That there are such numerous stories is quite correct. Jacobus Le Moyne, who travelled as artist with a French Expedition to Florida in 1564, left some very interesting drawings 1 representing the Indians of that region and their customs; and among them one representing the "Hermaphrodites"--tall and powerful men, beardless, but with long and abundant hair, and naked except for a loin-cloth, engaged in carrying wounded or dying fellow-Indians on their backs or on litters to a place of safety. He says of them that in Florida such folk of double nature are frequent, and that

p. 67

being robust and powerful, they are made use of in the place of animals for the carrying of burdens. For when their chiefs go to war the hermaphrodites carry the food; and when any of the tribe die of wounds or disease they construct litters . . . of wood and rushes . . . and so carry the dead to the place of burial. And indeed those who are stricken with any infectious disease are borne by the hermaphrodites to certain appointed places, and nursed and cared for by them, until they may be restored to full health."

Similar stories are told by Charlevoix, 1 de Pauw, 2 and others; and one seems to get a glimpse in them of an intermediate class of human beings who made themselves useful to the community not only by their muscular strength, but by their ability and willingness to act as nurses and attendants on the sick and dying.

It is needless, of course, to say that these were not hermaphrodites in the strict sense of the term--i.e., human beings uniting in one person the functions both of male and female--since such beings do practically not exist. But it is evident that they were intermediate types--in the sense of being men with much of the psychologic character of women,

p. 68

or in some cases women with the mentality of men; and the early travellers, who had less concrete and reliable information on such subjects than we have, and who were already prepossessed by the belief in the prevalence of hermaphroditism, leapt easily to the conclusion that these strange beings were indeed of that nature. De Pauw, indeed, just mentioned, positively refuses to believe in the explanation that they were men dressed as women, and insists that they were hermaphrodites!

In 1889, a certain Dr. A. B. Holder, anxious to settle positively the existence or non-existence of hermaphrodites, made some investigations among the Crow-Indians of Montana--among whom the Bardaches were called "Boté." 1 And Dr. Karsch, summarising his report, says 2:--"This word, bo-té, means literally 'not man, not woman.' A corresponding Tulalip-word which the Indians of the Washington region make use of is, according to Holder, 'burdash,' which means 'half man, half woman'--and that without necessarily implying any anomalous structure of the sex-organs. . . The Crow-tribe, in 1889, included five such Boté, and possessed about the same number before. They form a class in every tribe, are well-known to each

p. 69

other, and knit friendly relations with their likes in other tribes, so that they become well acquainted with the Uranian relationships also in the neighbour tribes. They wear female attire, part their hair in the middle, and plait it in womanly style; they possess or cultivate feminine voices and gestures, and live continually in association with the women, just as if they belonged to that sex. All the same their voices, features, and figure never lose their masculine quality so completely as to make it hard for a careful observer to distinguish. a Boté from a woman. Such a Boté among the: Crows carried on women's work, like sweeping, scrubbing, dish-washing, with such neatness and willingness that he would often obtain employment among the white folk. Usually the feminine attire is adopted in childhood, and the corresponding ways of life at an early age, but his special calling is not exercised by the Boté till the age of puberty. A young scholar of an educational establishment--a boys' school in an Indian Agency--was often caught dressing himself in secret in women's clothes; and although punished on each occasion, he nevertheless, after leaving school, transformed himself into a Boté--to which calling he has ever since remained true. A certain Boté, well accredited among the Crow-tribe, who belonged to the scouting-party of Dr. Holder, was

p. 70

a Dakota Indian; he is described as a splendidly built young man of pleasing features, perfect health, brisk alertness, and the happiest disposition. Holder attached him to his own service, and finally persuaded him--though only after much unwillingness on his part--to allow himself to be personally examined." The result of the examination was to prove him to be physically a complete man--and, moreover, an exceedingly modest one!

The Père Lafitau, whom I have quoted before and who was a keen observer and a broad-minded man, says, in one passage of his Sauvages Américains: "The spectacle of the men disguised as women surprised the Europeans who first landed in America. And, as they did not at all understand the motives of this sort of metamorphosis, they concluded that these were folk in whom the two sexes were conjoined: as a matter of fact our old records always term them hermaphrodites." He goes on to say that though the spirit of religion which made these men embrace this mode of life caused them to be regarded as extraordinary beings, yet the suspicions which the Europeans entertained concerning them took such hold upon the latter "that they invented every possible charge against them, and these imaginations inflamed the zeal of Vasco Nugnes de Vabra, the Spanish captain who first discovered the Southern Sea (la mer 

p. 71

du Sud), to such an extent that he destroyed numbers of them by letting loose upon them those savage dogs, of whom his compatriots indeed made use for the purpose of exterminating a large proportion of the Indians."

On the cruelties of the Spanish conquerors among the Indian tribes--only paralleled apparently by those of modern Commercialism among the same--we need not dwell. What interests us here is the evidence of the wide-spread belief in hermaphroditism current among the early European travellers. That a similar belief has ruled also among most primitive peoples is evident from a consideration of their gods. Why it should so have ruled is a question which I shall touch on towards the conclusion of this chapter. The whole matter, anyhow, belongs to the subjects we are discussing in this book. For clearly bisexuality links on to homosexuality, and the fact that this characteristic was ascribed to the gods suggests that in the popular mind it must have played a profound and important part in human life. I will, therefore, in concluding this portion of the book, give some instances of this divine bisexuality.

Brahm, in the Hindu mythology, is often represented as two-sexed. Originally he was the sole Being. But, "delighting not to be alone he wished for the existence of another, and at once he became

p. 72

such, as male and female embraced (united). He caused this his one self to fall in twain." 1 Siva, also, the most popular of the Hindu divinities, is originally bi-sexual. In the interior of the great rockhewn Temple at Elephanta the career of Siva is carved in successive panels. And on the first he appears as a complete full-length human being conjoining the two sexes in one--the left side of the figure (which represents the female portion) projecting into a huge breast and hip, while the right side is man-like in outline, and in the centre (though now much defaced) the organs of both sexes. In the second panel, however, his evolution or differentiation is complete, and he is portrayed as complete male with his consort Sakti or Parvati standing as perfect female beside him. 2 There are many such illustrations in Hindu literature and art, representing the gods in their double or bi-sexual role--e.g., as Brahma Ardhanarisa, Siva Ardhanarisa (half male and half female). 3 And these again are interesting in connection with the account of Elohim in the 1st chapter of Genesis, and the supposition that he was such an androgynous

p. 73

deity. For we find (v. 27) that "Elohim created man in his own image, in the image of Elohim created he him, male and female created he them." And many commentators have maintained that this not only meant that the first man was hermaphrodite, but that the Creator also was of that nature. In the Midrasch we find that Rabbi Samuel-bar-Nachman said that "Adam, when God had created him, was a man-woman (androgyne);" and the great and learned Maimonides supported this, saying that "Adam and Eve were created together, conjoined by their backs, but God divided this double being, and taking one half (Eve), gave her to the other half (Adam) for a mate." And the Rabbi Manasseh-ben-Israel, following this up, explained that when "God took one of Adam's ribs to make Eve with," it should rather be rendered "one of his sides"--that is, that he divided the double Adam, and one half was Eve. 1

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (I Adhyaya, 4th Brahmana) the evolution of Brahm is thus described 2t--"In the beginning of this [world] was Self alone, in the shape of a person. . . . But he

p. 74

felt no delight. . . . He wished for a second. He was so large as man and wife together [i.e., he included male and female]. He then made this his Self to fall in two; and thence arose husband and wife. Therefore, Yagnavalkya said: We two are thus (each of us) like half a shell [or as some translate, like a split pea]." The singular resemblance of this account to what has been said above about the creation of Adam certainly suggests the idea that Jehovah, like Brahm (and like Baal and other Syrian gods), was conceived of as double-sexed, and that primitive man was also conceived as of like nature. The author (Ralston Skinner) of The Source of Measures says (p. 159) "The two words of which Jehovah is composed make up the original idea of male-female of the birth-originator. For the Hebrew letter Jod (or J) was the membrum virile, and Hovah was Eve, the mother of all living, or the procreatrix Earth and Nature." 1

The tradition that mankind was anciently hermaphrodite is world-old. It is referred to in Plato's Banquet, where Aristophanes says:--"Anciently the nature of mankind was not the same as now, but different. For at first there were three sexes of human beings, not two only, namely male and female, as at present, but a third besides, common

p. 75

to both the others--of which the name remains, though the sex itself has vanished. For the androgynous sex then existed, both male and female; but now it only exists as a name of reproach." He then describes how all these three sorts of human beings were originally double, and conjoined (as above) back to back; until Jupiter, jealous of his supremacy, divided them vertically "as people cut apples before they preserve them, or as they cut eggs with hairs"--after which, of course, these divided and imperfect folk ran about over the earth, ever seeking their lost halves, to be joined to them again.

I have mentioned the Syrian Baal as being sometimes represented as double-sexed (apparently in combination with Astarte). In the Septuagint (Hos. ii. 8, and Zeph. i. 4) he is called ἡ Baal (feminine) and Arnobius tells us that his worshippers invoked him thus 1 "Hear us, Baal! whether thou be a god or goddess." Similarly Bel and other Babylonian gods were often represented as androgyne. 2 Mithras among the Persians is spoken of by the Christian controversialist Firmicus as two-sexed, and by Herodotus (Bk. i., c. 131) as identified with a goddess, while there are innumerable Mithraic

p. 76

monuments on which appear the symbols of two deities, male and female combined. 1 Even Venus or Aphrodite was sometimes worshipped in the double form. "In Cyprus," says Dr. Frazer in his Adonis, etc. (p. 432, note), "there was a bearded and masculine image of Venus (probably Astarte) in female attire: according to Philochorus the deity thus represented was the moon, and sacrifices were offered to him or her by men clad as women, and by women clad as men (see Macrobius Saturn iii. 7, 2)." This bearded female deity is sometimes also spoken of as Aphroditus, or as Venus Mylitta. Richard Burton says 2:--"The Phoenicians spread their androgynic worship over Greece. We find the consecrated servants and votaries of Corinthian Aphrodite called Hierodouloi (Strabo, viii. 6), who aided the 10,000 courtesans in gracing the Venus-temple. . . . One of the headquarters of the cult was Cyprus, where, as Servius relates (Ad. Aen. ii. 632), stood the simulacre of a bearded Aphrodite with feminine body and costume, sceptred and mitred like a man. The sexes when worshiping it exchanged habits, and here the virginity was offered in sacrifice."

The worship of this bearded goddess was mainly in Syria and Cyprus. But in Egypt also a representation of a bearded Isis has been found,--with

p. 77

infant Horus in her lap; 1 while again there are a number of representations (from papyri) of the goddess Neith in androgyne form, with a male member (erected). And again, curiously enough, the Norse Freya, or Friga, corresponding to Venus, was similarly figured. Dr. von Römer says: 2--"just as the Greeks had their Aphroditos as well as Aphrodite so the Scandinavians had their Friggo as well as their Friga. This divinity, too, was androgyne. Friga, to whom the sixth day of the week was dedicated, was sometimes thought of as hermaphrodite. She was represented as having the members of both sexes, standing by a column with a sword in her right hand, and in her left a bow."

In the Orphic hymns we have:--

"Zeus was the first of all, Zeus last, the lord of the lightning;
Zeus was the head, the middle, from him all things were created;
Zeus was Man, and again Zeus was the Virgin Eternal."

And in another passage, speaking of Adonis:--

"Hear me, who pray to thee, hear me O many-named and best of deities,
Thou, with thy gracious hair . . . both maiden and youth, Adonis."

Again, with regard to the latter, Ptolemaeus Hephaestius (according to Photius) writes:--"They

p. 78

say that the androgyne Adonis fulfilled the part of a man for Aphrodite, but for Apollo the part of a wife." 1

Dionysus, one of the most remarkable figures in the Greek Mythology, is frequently represented as androgyne. Euripides in his Bacchae calls him "feminine-formed" (Θηλύμορφος) or thelumorphos, and the Orphic hymns "double-sexed" (διφύης) or diphues; and Aristides in his discourse on Dionysus says:--"Thus the God is both male and female. His form corresponds to his nature, since everywhere in himself he is like a double being; for among young men he is a maiden, and among maidens a young man, and among men a beardless youth overflowing with vitality." In the museum at Naples there is a very fine sculptured head of Dionysus, which though bearded has a very feminine expression, and is remindful of the traditional head of Christ. "In legend and art," says Dr. Frazer, 2 "there are clear traces of an effeminate Dionysus, and in some of his rites and processions men wore female attire. Similar things are reported of Bacchus, who was, of course, another form of Dionysus. Even Hercules, that most masculine figure, was said to have dressed as a woman for three years, during which he was the

p. 79

slave of Omphale, queen of Lydia. "If we suppose," says Dr. Frazer, 1" that queen Omphale, like queen Semiramis, was nothing but the great Asiatic goddess, or one of her Avatars, it becomes probable that the story of the womanish Hercules of Lydia preserves a reminiscence of a line or college of effeminate priests who, like the eunuch priests of the Syrian goddess, dressed as women in imitation of their goddess, and were supposed to be inspired by her. The probability is increased by the practice of the priests of Heracles at Antimachia in Cos, who, as we have just seen, actually wore female attire when they were engaged in their sacred duties. Similarly at the vernal mysteries of Hercules in Rome the men were draped in the garments of women."

Such instances could be rather indefinitely multiplied. Apollo is generally represented with a feminine--sometimes with an extremely feminine--bust and figure. The great hero Achilles passed his youth among women, and in female disguise. Every one knows the recumbent marble Hermaphrodite in the Louvre. There are also in the same collection two or three elegant bronzes of Aphrodite-like female figures in the standing position--but of masculine sex. What is the explanation of all this?

p. 80

It is evident that the conception of a double sex, or of a sex combining the characters of male and female, haunted the minds of early peoples. Yet we have no reason for supposing that such a combination, in any complete and literal sense, ever existed. Modern physiological investigation has never produced a single case of a human being furnished with the complete organs of both sexes, and capable of fulfilling the functions of both. And the unfortunate malformations which do exist in this direction are too obviously abortive and exceptional to admit of their being generalised or exalted into any kind of norm or ideal. All we can say is that--though in the literal sense no double forms exist--certainly a. vast number of intermediate forms of male and female are actually found, which are double in the sense that the complete organs of one sex are conjoined with some or nearly all of the (secondary) characters of the other sex; and that we have every reason to believe that these intermediate types have existed in considerable numbers from the remotest antiquity. That being so, it is possible that the observation or influence of these intermediate types led to a tentative and confused idealisation of a double type.

Anyhow the fact remains--that these idealisations of the double type are so numerous. And it

p. 81

is interesting to notice that while they begin in early times with being merely grotesque and symbolical, they end in the later periods by becoming artistic and gracious and approximated to the real and actual. The Indian Siva, with his right side masculine and his left side feminine, is in no way beautiful or attractive; any more than Brahma with twenty arms and twenty legs. And the same may be said of the bearded Egyptian Isis or the bearded Syrian Aphrodite. These were only rude and inartistic methods of conveying an idea. The later spirit, however, found a better way of expression. It took its cue from the variations of type to be seen every day in the actual world; and instead of representing the Persian Mithra as a two-sexed monster, it made him a young man, but of very feminine outline. The same with the Greek Apollo; while on the other hand, the female who is verging toward the male type is represented by Artemis or even by the Amazons.

It may be said:--we can understand this representation of intermediate forms from actual life, but we do not see why such mingling of the sexes should be ascribed to the gods, unless it might be from a merely fanciful tendency to personify the two great powers of nature in one being--in which case it is strange that the tendency should have been so universal. To this we may reply that

p. 82

probably the reason or reasons for this tendency must be accounted quite deep-rooted and anything but fanciful. One reason, it seems to me, is the psychological fact that in the deeps of human nature (as represented by Brahm and Siva in the Hindu philosophy, by Zeus in the Orphic Hymns, by Mithra in the Zend-avesta, etc.) the sex-temperament is undifferentiated; 1 and it is only in its later and more external and partial manifestations that it branches decidedly into male and female; and that, therefore, in endeavoring through religion to represent the root facts of life, there was always a tendency to cultivate and honor hermaphroditism, and to ascribe some degree of this quality to heroes and divinities. The other possible reason is that as a matter of fact the great leaders and heroes did often exhibit this blending of masculine and feminine qualities and habits in their actual lives, and that therefore at some later period, when exalted to divinities, this blending of qualities was strongly ascribed to them and was celebrated in the rites and ceremonies of their religion and their temples. The feminine traits in genius (as in a Shelley or a Byron) are well marked in the present day. We have only to go back to the Persian Bâb

p. 83

of the last century 1 or to a St. Francis or even to a Jesus of Nazareth, to find the same traits present in founders and leaders of religious movements in historical times. And it becomes easy to suppose the same again of those early figures--who once probably were men--those Apollos, Buddhas, Dionysus, Osiris, and so forth--to suppose that they too were somewhat bi-sexual in temperament, and that it was really largely owing to that fact that they were endowed with far-reaching powers and became leaders of mankind. In either case--whichever reason is adopted--it corroborates the general thesis and argument of this paper.


66:1 Indorum Floridam provinciam inhabitantium eicones, etc. (Frankfurt, 1591). Also translation of the same with heliotypes of the engravings (Boston, J. R. Osgood & Co., 1875.)

67:1 P. F. X. de Charlevoix, La Nouvelle France, 2 vols. (Paris, 1744).

67:2 De Pauw, Recherches sur les Américains, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1768).

68:1 See for his Report, The New York Medical Journal, Vol. L., No. 23 (7th Dec., 1889).

68:2 Jahrbuch für s.Z., Vol. iii., p, 138.

72:1 Quoted from the Yajur-Veda. See Bible Folk-lore: a study in Comp. Mythology (London, 1884), p. 104.

72:2 See Adam's Peak to Elephanta, by E. Carpenter (1903), p. 308.

72:3 See drawings in Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism, by Thomas Inman (London, 1874).

73:1 These and some other references are taken from the learned and careful study "Ueber die androgynische Idee des Lebens," by Dr. von Römer, of Amsterdam, which is to be found in vol. v. of the Jahrbuch für Sexuelle Zwischenstufen (Leipzig, 1903).

73:2 Sacred Books of the East, vol. xv., p. 85.

74:1 See H. p. Blavatsky, Secret Doctrine, vol. ii., p. 132, quoted in vol. v., Jahrbuch für S. Z., p. 76.

75:1 Inman's Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism (Trubner, 1874), p. 119.

75:2 Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson (1908), p. 308.

76:1 Ibid., p. 307.

76:2 The Thousand Nights and a Night (1886), vol. x., p. 231.

77:1 See illustration, Jahrbuch für S.Z., vol. v., p. 732.

77:2 See his study already quoted, Jahrbuch, pp. 735-744.

78:1 See Jahrbuch, as above, pp. 806, 807 and 809.

78:2 Adonis, etc., p. 432

79:1 Ibid., p. 431.

82:1 Compare the undifferentiated sex-tendencies of boys and girls at puberty and shortly after.

83:1 Ali Muhammed, who called himself the Bâb (or Gate), was born at Shiraz in 1820. In 1844 he commenced preaching his gospel, which was very like that of Jesus, and which now has an immense following. In 1850 he was shot, at Tabriz, as a malefactor, and his beloved disciple Mirza Muhammed Ali, refusing to leave him, was shot with him.

Next: Chapter V. Military Comradeship among the Dorian Greeks