Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Androgynous Mythology

excerpt from article
by Thomas Gramstad

"One of the biggest and most prevalent mistakes in Western Culture is the idea that there exist two separate and "opposite" genders, masculinity and femininity.

This gender dualism is not only false and without any factual or scientific support, but also very harmful.

In the past many cultures have revered the average, the perfect & the gender less human form, For example Hindu paintings - The body is regarded as a temporary dwelling for a soul, and androgynous deities reflect this essentially sexless or multi-sexual aspect of the soul.

Many Of the oldest Religions talk of a third gender, that gender is not important. There is something else that makes you, you.

Ancient Egypt -

King Akhenaton

Conflicting opinions about him exist. Some say he was deformed at birth giving him an androgynous appearance, others say he was depicted as such because he symbolised the new figure head of the religion and therefore had qualities of the male & female. Akhenaten was often depicted with an elongated jaw line, wide hips and a round belly. This development was a complete break from all of the conventions of ancient Egyptian art, and has led to some fairly wide speculation. Was the pharaoh developing a new art form, or suffering from a physical affliction? Examples of the metophoric symbolism used in Hyroglypics, - a child is never illustrated as a baby form in Egyptian hieroglyphics , the child is represented as the man he will become even if at the time of the hieroglyphs creation he was still inside the womb.

Both Smith and Aldred attributed the "deformity" to an endocrine disorder called Froehlich's Syndrome. In males, this disorder is typified by an elongated face and an androgynous figure. However, it also hinders sexual development and causes severe learning difficulties, obesity and impotency. Pharaoh Akhenaten had many children, and while his sculptures may give him an androgynous appearance, he is not obese. Thus it seems unlikely he was suffering from Froehlich's Syndrome.

When I was in Egypt the generally accepted theory was not illness & all the Egyptologists I spoke with suggested that s. Egyptian art often employs symbolism to create layers of meaning for a scene. As the god Aten was hailed as "The mother and father of all people", and Akhenaten was the representative of the god on earth, he may have chosen the androgynous image to show that he was more than just a man; he was the embodiment of the Aten. As no mummy has yet been identified as being that of Akhenaten, and so the controversy continues.

- Elongated face and an androgynous figure.

An unfinished bust of an Armarna princess copyright Keith Schengili-Roberts

Indian & Hindu Religious Art

In Hindu mythology the power of the combined man/woman is a frequent and significant theme. In one instance, when the male gods were incapable of destroying the buffalo demon, Mahisha, they manifested Durga. She is the result of all the male gods combining their energy, so her gender could be interpreted as being rather ambiguous, although today she is worshipped as a female deity.

Besides manifesting as androgynes, some Hindu gods were also known to switch genders altogether. Usually the sex change occurred so gods could engage in intercourse with a being of their own gender.

The Hindu God Vishnu is considered the Lord of protection. Considered a male, he takes on many different forms, some with only two arms and others with four. His dark complexion is offset by his inner lightness which is considered to bring light and peace to the world. This duality is sometimes represented literally, as here, when Vishnu takes on the form of both man and woman split down the middle.

Androgyny Image


Of the Hindu gods, Shiva is considered one of the most important. While considered a man, he is seen as more symbolic of various spiritual qualities than male or even human characteristics. He is known as the God of destruction which has both negative and positive connotations in Hinduism. Since the Hindu faith embraces recreation, destruction is not the end of life, but the beginning of a new incarnation on earth. Shiva thus represents birth as much as he represents death. This duality is perhaps responsible for his depiction as a highly androgynous figure. His softened and painted features appear more feminine than masculine while his body appears to resemble a man more than a woman.

Of the many androgynous Hindu gods, Ganesha is one of the most well known. Referred to as a man, this half elephant, half human creature is the son of the God Shiva and his wife Parvati. He is considered to be the God of good fortune and wisdom. Ganesh's corpulent torso may suggest the male gender, but the trunk and face are indistinct. The high arching eyebrows and lush eyelashes suggest feminine grooming.Buhhdism

Androgyny Image

Third Gender of the Spirit.

The Hijra

In India, the concept of third gender was expressed not only through the language and the androgynous gods, but also through the eunuchs and hijras, who are regarded as potent beings, for, in standing between the genders, they are seen as being closer to the divine.

Many of today's hijras make a living bestowing blessings on new born male children, performing at weddings, or working as servants or as prostitutes. In dancing and singing they often outrageously parody women. A wedding, especially among the devout poor, would not be considered complete without the presence and blessings of the potent hijra.

The Greeks

The term 'Androgyny' is Greek - "derived from the Greek words ανήρ, stem ανδρ- (anér, andr-, meaning man) and γυνή (gyné, meaning woman), referring to the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics."

Athena, the Greek Goddess of Heroes, is often depicted as an androgynous character in various renderings through the ages, a reflection of her demonstrated sexual ambivalence throughout her life. She bears an androgynous pedigree, born after her father Zeus copulated with Metis. Zeus, fearing that the child would be too powerful, swallowed Metis, however, Athena emerged from her father's forehead, similar to Eve's creation from the androgynous Adam. Athena never had a lover or mate, earning her the nickname, Athena the Virgin.

She was often called upon by mortals to accompany them in battle for luck. In her role as shephardess to warriors, she wore a breastplate bearing the image of a Gorgon, an androgynous creature (including the famous Medusa) with snakes for hair. The breastplate was a model for other female androgyne warriors, most notably Joan of Arc. Her other implement of battle was the male-like thunderbolt, also used commonly by her father in his various acts of mass destruction.

Androgyny Image

Bacchus, also known as Dionysus was the Greek God of wine. He was also seen as the promoter of civilization, peace, agriculture and theatre. He is often depicted in a sexually ambivalent manner perhaps due to his colorful upbringing. He was the product of an illicit affair between the God Zeus and the mortal woman Semele. Seeking to hide his infidelity from his wife Hera, Zeus placed the child in the care of surrogate parents and instructed them to disguise him as a girl to further protect him from Hera's jealous wrath.

His patronage of wine also led to Bacchus's representation of wanton revelry or release from onesself. Debauchery filled festivals called Bachanale were held in honor of this God as often as five times a month. These festivals represented a release from earthly concerns and responsibilities, perhaps even from traditional male and female family and sexual roles.


Bodhisattva ("wisdom-being")

The myth tells that the lovely, androgynous saint, Avalokitesvara, was on the verge of entering into nirvana, thus leaving behind forever the world of samsara. Just as his meditation was deepening and his insight into the transience of all phenomena growing, he was distracted by a great groaning, rising up all about him in the world. He came out of his trance and, looking around him, asked: What is this groaning I hear? All the birds and trees and grass and all sentient beings replied to him: O Avalokitesvara, our lives are times of suffering and pain; we live in a delusion from which we cannot seem to escape. You are so beautiful and so kind. Your presence here among us has given us joy and a reason for living. We all love you so, and we are saddened by the prospect of your leaving us. And so we groan.

To summarise the rest of the story he sacrifices his afterife and remained in a kinda of limbo in which he can watch over others passing over to 'enlightement' he is supposed to suffer here but keeps those who can feel his pure presence happy.


Akan people – Abrao (Jupiter) Aku (Mercury) Bothe seen as androgynous gods

Awo, (Moon), the perpetual child who's innocence is also depicted as androgynous.

Zimbabwe is ruled over by an androgynous creator god called Mwari, who occasionally splits into separate male and female aspects.

Australian Aboriginal

The rainbow serpent god Ungud has been described as androgynous or transgendered. Shaman identify their erect penises with Ungud, and his androgyny inspires some to undergo ceremonial subincision of the penis. Angamunggi is another transgendered rainbow-serpent god, worshipped as a "giver of life"

Pacific Island: Celebes, Vanuatu, Borneo and the Philippines

This prompted Menjara into becoming the worlds first healer, allowing him to cure his sister, but this treatment also resulted in Menjara changing into a woman or androgynous being

Mahatala-Jata, an androgynous or transgender god. The male part of this god is Mahatala, who rules the Upperworld, and is depicted as a Hornbill living above the clouds on a mountain-top; the female part is Jata, who rules the Underworld from under the sea in the form of a water-snake. These two manifestations are linked via a jewel-encrusted bridge that is seen in the physical world as a rainbow. Mahatala-Jata is served by female hierodules, and transgender shamans metaphorically described as "water snakes which are at the same time hornbills".

Androgynes have a significant place in the human religious imagination. Androgynes are people who embody both male and female characteristics. But this basic definition must necessarily be qualified by recognising the diverse forms of androgyny. For example, there are physiological androgynes—such as hermaphrodites—but there are also psychological androgynes. Wendy Doniger identifies three kinds of psychological androgynes: a “splitting androgyne,” who embodies male and female qualities but must “split” to become creative; a “fusing androgyne,” who must merge with a male or female side of the personality to become bisexual; and a “two in one” androgyne, often represented by a couple that unites in a perfect love. There are also androgyne-like figures such as eunuchs and transvestites.

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