Tuesday, March 24, 2009



[ Ishtar: the goddess of love and war in Akkadian (Babylonian) Civilization ].

Mythical Sexual Politics

As the term myth may suggest, it is something which is absurd or fictional. Or is it?
While these beliefs and stories need not be a literal account of actual events, they may yet express ideas that are perceived by some people and cultures to be truths at a deeper or more symbolic level. The word myth comes from the Greek word "mythos." The Greek Lexicon Liddell and Scott defines "mythos" as: word and speech. 1

In his essay “Did the Greeks Believe Their Myths?” Paul Veyne writes: "Myth is truthful, but figuratively so. It is not historical truth mixed with lies; it is a high philosophical teaching that is entirely true, on the condition that, instead of taking it literally, one sees in it an allegory." 2

In The Golden Bough (1890), Sir James George Frazer writes that all myths were originally connected with the idea of fertility in nature, with the birth, death, and resurrection of vegetation as a constantly recurring motif. 3

It is very interesting to note that though Mesopotamian, Greek and Hindu civilizations, religions and cultures existed in different parts of the world and were separated by great distances and time, but there are some amazing similarities between their fables and myths. The concept of goddess always lies with sexuality and we find great similarities in all the myths of goddesses in worldwide. In Sumer, the goddess was known as Inanna, and in Babylon and Assyria, was known as Ishtar. She was Aphrodite for the Greeks. The Egyptians called her Hathor, Quaddesha and Aset. To the Phoenicians, she was Astarte. To the Hebrews, she was Ashtoreth and Ashera. And to the Philistines, she was Atergatis.

Though in all these cultures, sex is so suppressed in social conversation that if any one tries to have a conversation about sex or sexuality, some may think of it as "dirty" or "perverted." But in case of myths (if we consider myths as tales of the people), we find a fascination towards sexual orientation has made these myths more attached to sexual fantasies than to other aspects of life. In his book Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe, Christopher Penczak, an author in the fields of paganism and magic, has elaborately discussed some gods and goddesses created by these myths with the sexual fantasies. For instance, the Greek king Oedipus unwittingly married his mother after killing his father, putting out his eyes when he discovered their identity. The Candomble deity Orungan ravished his mother, Yemanja, who then gave birth to a dozen children as well as the sun and the moon. In one version of the Aztec myth about their mother goddess, Coatlique’s husband physically abused her until one of her several hundred sons took action, killing his father and becoming his mother’s lover. The South American Panare mythology contains an example of father-daughter incest: Whenever the Sun and his daughter the Moon have intercourse, there is a total eclipse. Zeus, who occasionally dallied with handsome human males, was so sexually voracious that he would be positioned near the boiling center of the circle or in other words, at the torrid “heat” of sexual passion. Poseidon, the Greek god of the seas, was not far behind Zeus in his sexual proclivities. He ravished numerous women including the goddess Demeter. He raped Amphitrite, although he latter married her.

In mythology, the gods are often transsexual or can switch sexes in an instant. For example, there is the Balinese god, Syng Hyang Toenggal; a Hindu equivalent would be Indra, the transgendered sky god; and the Nordic equivalent would be the two-gendered Ymir, whose sacrifice was necessary for the creation of the Earth. Quan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion, is often pictured with Buddha. She is seen as beyond human conceptions of male or female, and can change her gender at will, as the occasion demands. Hermaphroditus, the son of Aphrodite and Hermes, is a hermaphrodite, giving his name to those whose physiology incorporates both a penis and female breasts. The concept of Ardhanariswara, the “ambisexual” creator god in Hindu mythology, is also compared with the Aztec god Ometecuhtli, who could give birth to the deities of the four directions. Candomble, an African-Brazilian religion, venerates Oxala, the “ambisexual” god of purity and wisdom. Baron Samedi, the Vodoun deity both of death and sexuality, typically is portrayed wearing both male and female garments, and is often pictured inviting men to engage in anal intercourse with him. Another “ambisexual” Vodoun deity is Damballah, the god of rainbows, peace, and prosperity. 4

In the northern area of Sumeria known as Akkadia, later called Babylonia, women were not confined to the home but instead had a role to play in public life. This was especially true of the priestesses, who owned property and transacted business. Property from family estates was inherited equally by sisters and brothers. A daughter, when she married, was given a dowry that she was allowed to keep in the event of a divorce. Sometime around 2300 BC, all this began to change. The patriarchal form of society began to empower more and the masculine world took a more authoritarian role. A woman might still own property but it was no longer hers to dispose of freely. Now she must first consult her husband and obtain his permission. When Hammurabi formulated his code known as Code of Hammurabi in around 1760 BC , the position of women had obviously been greatly eroded. Sarah Dening 5, the noted dream expert of noted Kingdom, tries to shape sexual roles in different social sequences cited above through myths in her much acclaimed book The Mythology of Sex. 6

Dening pointed her finger to the Sumerian myth of Inanna. She was the goddess of love and procreation, similar to the Hindu goddess Rati Devi; Anath of Canaan, Isis of Egypt, and the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar. All these goddesses were rejoiced in their sexuality. Inanna is often depicted resting her foot on the back of a lion, offering the king the symbolic objects indicating his ruling power. Lions, when associated with feminine deities, represent the other side of their character manifesting undomesticated, fierce, aggressive aspect of the female like the Hindu deity Durga.

Although Inanna was the goddess of love and sexuality, she was also called Mother of Harlots and the Great Whore of Babylon, and she declared of herself as a prostitute. Her holy city of Erech was known as "the town of the sacred courtesans." In no way, therefore, was prostitution in the Babylonian era considered a shameful profession. On the contrary, temples to Ishtar were inhabited by sacred prostitutes or priestesses known as Ishtartu or Joy-Maidens, dedicated to the service of the goddess. Their sexuality was seen as belonging to her, to be used therefore only in the sacred rites undertaken in her worship. Indeed, the original meaning of the word "prostitute" was "to stand on behalf of," that is, to represent, the power of the goddess .7 Curiously perhaps, from a contemporary standpoint, Ishtar was often referred to as "Virgin," implying that her creativity and power were self-engendered and not dependent upon masculine power.

Unlike to the Devdasi system among ancient Hindus where the unmarried maid disciples got married to the gods, in Babylonian culture, the priestesses would undertake the sacred marriage with any male worshipper who wanted union with the goddess. The man, whom the priestess had not met before and would not meet again, spent the night with her in the temple precincts. Their intercourse would put him in contact with the rejuvenating energy of the Goddess, mediated through her priestess who would bestow on him an ecstatic experience. For the priestess, the sexual act represented a ritual offering to the goddess. A very real benefit was therefore enjoyed by all concerned, not least the temple itself which could expect to earn considerable income from such worshippers. Apart from their sexual and commercial activities, temple prostitutes demonstrated considerable gifts in other areas. Because their natural secretions were considered to have a beneficial effect, they were greatly respected as healers of the sick. One clay tablet dating from this era tells us that diseases of the eye can be cured by a harlot's spittle. These women also acted as seers and were skilled in sorcery and prophecy. 8

As a result, priestesses often engaged in commerce and might be involved in import and export, land management, and other profitable endeavors. The modern brothel of our own culture, with its "madam," might perhaps be seen as a somewhat pale reflection of the temple of Ishtar.

According to author Sarah Dening, the myths of Inanna were created when patriarchal milieus had not been in dominant form.

After Hammurabi, comes another myth, the Sumero-Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. Enkidu and Gilgamesh were two friends having a homosexual relationship. Later they meet the goddess Ishtar, who offers to marry Gilgamesh, promising him untold delights. He, however, preferring his friend Enkidu, rejects her advances in a deeply insulting way, referring to her in derogatory terms:

“Listen to me while I tell the tale of your lovers. There was Tammuz, the lover of your youth. For him you decreed wailing, year after year. You loved the many-coloured roller, but still you struck and broke his wing. You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him, and seven . You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him, you decreed the whip and spur and a thong. You have loved the shepherd of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day and he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd-boys chase him away. His own hounds worry his flanks." 9

Enraged, Ishtar asks her father to create a heavenly bull to destroy the insolent hero. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull and Enkidu throws its organs into Ishtar's face. This is too much for the assembly of the gods, who decide that Enkidu must die. This will be the punishment that Gilgamesh must bear. Later, Enkidu is allowed to emerge from the underworld for a visit and Gilgamesh begs him to reveal what death is like.

Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and beauty and was famous for her erotic nature. When we compare Ishtar with Aphrodite, we find the former is more free to her will than the later. For example, Ishtar was never forced to sleep with any one against her will, but in case of Aphrodite, we find she had to sleep with many gods even against her will. Ironically, Aphrodite was wed to Hephaestus, who was lame and considered to be the most unattractive of all the gods. This marriage was through no choice of her own, but instead, was arranged by Zeus in order to keep Aphrodite out of trouble. The goddess of love did not take her wedding vows very seriously and was accustomed to having many affairs involving both gods and men. She had constant relations with Mars. Her children by Mars were Harmonia, Deimos (Fear) and Phobos (Panic). She was also the mother of Hermaphroditus with Mercury (Hermes), Priapus with Dionysus (Bacchus), and Beroe (after whom the city Berytus in Lebanon was named) with Adonis. Aphrodite was also the mother of Eryx and Rhodes by Poseidon, Aeneas and Lyrus with Anchises (a mortal king killed by Zeus for drunkenly telling of his affair with Venus), Astynois with Phaethon (a beautiful young boy whom Venus ravished), Eryx with Butes (of Jason and the Argonauts), and Eros (Cupid) and Anteros (the avenging spirit of spurned love) by unknown fathers.

Referring to the transformation of ethical values of myths with the change of milieus in society, Dening writes “Given that myths tend to reflect aspects of the culture prevalent at the time, we may surmise that intimate relationships between men were not considered unusual. This could perhaps be expected in a society where archaeological evidence has shown that women had, by now, a very inferior role. Dual standards existed for married life, where a wife might be put to death for adultery, while a husband was free to enjoy as many women as he chose, provided he did not seduce the wife of another man.” 10

If the myths are in any way to be considered as the reflection of ‘social ideas’ of any group or society, then we can say that with the development of patriarchal control over feminine civil rights, the sexual freedom described in those myths was cut down from the women’s world and transferred to the men’s world with anti-feminist moral milieus which gradually made the female a sex object, however powerful they might be in their goddess perspectives. This is a strapping point, I believe, that the sex negative feminists have to think of before raising their voice against the sex role attitudes of the female.


Bibliography:

1. Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon is the world's most authoritative dictionary of ancient Greek. Indispensable for biblical and classical studies alike, the world's most comprehensive and authentic word list.
(An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon,( 7th edition), published by Oxford University Press, USA; (December 31, 1945), ISBN-13: 978-0199102068.

2. Veyne, Paul (1988). Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? An Essay on Constitutive Imagination. (translated by Paula Wissing). University of Chicago. ISBN 0-226-85434-5.


3. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion is a wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, written by Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer. The book was originally published in two volumes in 1890.Now it is available with Touchstone , published in December 1, 1995, ISBN-13: 978-0684826301.

4. Penczak , Christopher : Gay witchcraft: Empowering the tribe, published by Red Wheel/Weiser, Boston, 2003, ISBN-13: 9781578632817

5. Sarah Dening, a psycho therapist of UK, began her career by studying for a degree in Philosophy at London University and subsequently went on to work in film production, PR and then to run an art gallery. In the early 1980's, she set up the first public floatation tank facility in the UK whilst working towards becoming a Jungian psychotherapist. Many people had extraordinary experiences whilst floating including being reunited with a long-dead father and meeting an angel! For the last eighteen years she had been busy developing therapy practices in London and York. Dream work is an important aspect of Jungian therapy and she had worked with hundreds of clients, helping them to understand how their dreams can further their personal development. For nine years she had written a weekly national newspaper column interpreting readers' dreams in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and, latterly, in the Daily Mirror. She died in August 2007 with cancer.she wrote several books like Healing Dreams, The Everyday I Ching, Dreams made Easy, The Mythology of Sex etc.

6. Dening, Sarah: The Mythology of Sex, Publisher: Batsford Ltd (5 Nov 1996), ISBN-13: 978-0713481112

7. Sandars, N. K. ( Translators): The Epic of Gilgamesh, published by Penguin, 1960,. ISBN-13: 9780140441000

8. Marling, Roderick W: VAMACARA TANTRA, KamaKala Publications, Portland , Oregon , 1997

9. Sandars, N. K. ( Translators) : The Epic of Gilgamesh, published by Penguin, 1960,. ISBN-13: 9780140441000, p. 86

10. Dening, Sarah: The Mythology of Sex, Publisher: Batsford Ltd (5 Nov 1996), ISBN-13: 978-0713481112

6 comments:

  1. Shameela11:52 PM

    Thank you for the interesting read Sarojini. So much depth and insight. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Most definitely food for thought!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dinesh Kumar Mali11:11 AM

    The detailed description over the subject "Mythical sexual politics" made Dr Sarojini Sahoo is really interesting and noteworthy due to acculutration of world emanating from various civilization. Although myths may be not scientific or historical ,but the significance and symbolism of myths have a lot of impact over human civilisation. I am proud of such indian feminine writer who is inventing new vistas for the unexplored subject in India till the time. Unique essay made by her. Kudos to Dr. Sarojini Sahoo.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous12:17 PM

    This is erudite and far-reaching in its consideration of myths from so many different cultures. I think it's intriguing in Gilgamesh that Enkidu, who at first lives wild with the animals, is introduced not only to the ways of civilization but to human relationships though a "prostitute." Her sexuality is an education for Enkidu not only in the body of (an)other but also the culture she inhabits.
    I'd have to agree with your suggestion that mythologies in the West have shifted over time from those in which female powers (including sexuality) are either primary or of equal power with masculine ones, to the patriarchal model in which male power rules and female power is at best the hand- or nurse-maiden.
    I wonder if Freud (reincarnated for current times) might suggest that the male feelings on inferiority around not being able to bear life offer some explanation for why this has occurred.
    -- John Oughton from Red Room

    ReplyDelete
  4. A Very informative article I must say. Well written too with lot of researched material.
    Thanks.
    Looking forward to more
    CP

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous2:33 PM

    Yes,I do not know but I reliz but! She she is not,Yes.....My memories!
    Memories about Amrita pritam....
    Those were the days of reservation i called her ! why you are here,Than Amrita response was horiffing to me (JALTE HUYE LOGON KO Main DEKHNA NAHIn CHAHATI HOn) LATER She knew me personaly and for instance we met BUT i can t recall! IF IMROZE and then "SHAHIR" I CAN;t Concenntrate about the reasoning and happinings of those times.So I Am not about to Approch to recall about those times so later discus about "LEO" and "SHEMON" and then SARTE I love his words so SHEMON I cant THINK SHE is FEMISTIAL having A Approchto a feministic world ON ACCOUNT TO COURT "THE SECOND SEX "WHy are we here " IF EXTISMlism is before Essenc then very the thought.Later if Amrita is here "Gargi" "Maitrea" were their,,,,,If you are then I am , if you are not, I am B`ecause "I am"That`&" I AM NOT " So AMRITA HERE is in my sense verever she is I AM Fair complection tilted nose I LOVE HER!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous2:52 PM

    Yes,I do not know but I reliz but! She she is not,Yes.....My memories!
    Memories about Amrita pritam....
    Those were the days of reservation i called her ! why you are here,Than Amrita response was horiffing to me (JALTE HUYE LOGON KO Main DEKHNA NAHIn CHAHATI HOn) LATER She knew me personaly and for instance we met BUT i can t recall! IF IMROZE and then "SHAHIR" I CAN;t Concenntrate about the reasoning and happinings of those times.So I Am not about to Approch to recall about those times so later discus about "LEO" and "SHEMON" and then SARTE I love his words so SHEMON I cant THINK SHE is FEMISTIAL having A Approchto a feministic world ON ACCOUNT TO COURT "THE SECOND SEX "WHy are we here " IF EXTISMlism is before Essenc then very the thought.Later if Amrita is here "Gargi" "Maitrea" were their,,,,,If you are then I am , if you are not, I am B`ecause "I am"That`&" I AM NOT " So AMRITA HERE is in my sense verever she is I AM Fair complection tilted nose I LOVE HER!

    ReplyDelete