A Study in Social Evolution
The Edward Carpenter Archive
by Simon Dawson

Part 1 - The Intermediate in the Service of Religion

Chapter 1 - AS PROPHET OR PRIEST | Comment and Feedback

Forward to Chapter 2 - As Wizard or Witch

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."

[2 vols. (Macmillan, 1908), vol ii., p. 458.]

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 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 diviination 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 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. (Footnote 1) '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 angakok 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 priest-hoods"(p. 71).

The pupil has to go through considerable ordeals :-

"Disciplined by abstinence and prolonged vigils, by hardship and constraint, he 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 angakok 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 Sidne, 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).

Allowing something for poetic and imaginative expression, the above statement of the ordeals and initiations of the angakok, and their connection with the previous career of the Choupan are well based on the observations of many authorities, as well as on their general agreement with similar facts all over the world. There is also another passage of Reclus (p. 70) on the duties of the angakok, which seems to throw considerable light on certain passages in the Bible referring to the kedeshim and kedeshoth of the Syrian cults, also on the kosio of the Slave Coast and the early functions of the priesthood in general:-

As soon as the Choupan has moulted into the angakok, the tribe confide to him the girls most suitable in bodily grace and disposition; he has to complete their education - he will perfect them in dancing and other accomplishments, and finally will initiate them into the pleasures of love. If they display intelligence, they will become seers and medicine-women, priestesses and prophetesses. The summer kachims (assemblies), which are closed to the women of the community, will open wide before these. It is believed that these girls would be unwholesome company if they had not been purified by commerce with a man of God."

Catlin, in his North American Indians (vol. i., pp. 112-114), describes how on one occasion he was in a large tent occupied in painting portraits of some of the chiefs of the tribe (the Mandans) among whom he was staying, when he noticed at the door of the tent, but not venturing to come in, three or four young men of handsome presence and rather elegantly dressed, but not wearing the eagle's feathers of warriors. He mentally decided to paint the portrait of one of these also; and on a later day when he had nearly done with the chiefs, he invited one of these others to come in and stand for him. The youth was overjoyed at the compliment, and smiled all over his face. He was clad from head to foot in the skin of the mountain goat, which for softness and whiteness is almost like Chinese crape, embroidered with ermine and porcupine quills; and with his pipe and his whip in his hand, and his long hair falling over neck and shoulders, made a striking and handsome figure, which showed, too, a certain grace and gentleness as of good breeding. "There was nought about him of the terrible," says Catlin, "and nought to shock the finest, chastest intellect." But to Catlin's surprise, no sooner had he begun to sketch his new subject, than the chiefs rose up, flung their buffalo robes around them, and stalked out of the tent.

Catlin's interpreter afterwards explained to him the position of these men and the part they played in the tribal life; and how the chiefs were offended at the idea of their being placed on an equality with themselves. But the offence, it seemed, was not on any ground of immorality; but - and this is corroborated by the customs of scores of other tribes - arose simply from the fact that the young men were associated with the women and shared their modes of life, and were not worthy therefore to rank among the warriors. In their own special way they held a position of some honour.

Westermarck says:-

"Among the Illinois Indians, the effeminate men assist in [i.e., are present at] all the juggleries and the solemn dance in honour of the calumet, or sacred tobacco-pipe, for which the Indians have such a deference. . . . but they are not permitted either to dance or to sing. They are called into the councils of the Indians, and nothing can be decided without their advice; for because of their extraordinary manner of living they are looked upon as manitous, or supernatural beings, and persons of consequence."

[vol. ii., p. 473]

He continues

"The Sioux, Sacs, and Fox Indians, give once a year, or oftener, a feast to the Berdashe, or I-coo-coo-a, who is a man dressed in women's clothes, as he has been all his life."

And Catlin says of Berdashe:-

"For extraordinary privileges which he is known to possess, he is driven to the most servile and degrading duties, which he is not allowed to escape; and he being the only one of tribe submitting to this disgraceful degradation is looked upon as medicine and sacred, and a feast is given to him annually; and initiatory to it a dance by those few young men of the tribe who can - as in the illustration - dance forward and publicly make their boast (without the denial of the Berdashe) that. . . . ."

then follow three or four unintelligible lines of some native dialect; and then

". . . such and such only are allowed to enter the dance and take of the feast."

[N.A. Indians, vol. ii., p. 214]

In this connection it may not be out of place to quote Joaquin Miller (who spent his early life as a member of an Indian tribe) on the prophetic powers of these people. He says

"If there is a race of men that the gift of prophecy or prescience I think it is the Indian. It may be a keen instinct sharpened by meditation that makes them foretell many things such precision, but I have seen some things that looked much like the fulfilment of prophecies. They believe in the gift of prophecy thoroughly, and are never without their seers."

[Life among the Modocs" p. 360]

In this connection we may quote the curious remark of Herodotus, who after mentioning (i. 105) that some of the Scythians suffered from a disease of effeminacy (*********), and were called Enarees, says (iv. 67) that "these Enarees, or Androgyni, were endowed by Venus with the power of divination," and were consulted by the King of the Scythians when the latter was ill.

Editor's note - the convention (*******) will be used by me to indicate where Carpenter has used greek text which I cannot (yet) reproduce in this website.

The Jesuit father Lafitau, who published in 1724, at Paris, an extremely interesting book on the manners and customs of the North American tribes among whom he had been a missionary, after speaking of warlike women and Amazons, says:-

"If some women are found possessing virile courage, and glorying in the profession of war, which seems only suitable to men; there exist also men so cowardly as to live like women. Among the Illinois, among the Sioux, in Louisiana, in Florida, and in Yucatan, there are found youths who adopt the garb of women and preserve it all their lives, and who think themselves honoured in stooping to all their occupations; they never marry; they take part in all ceremonies in which religion seems to be concerned; and this profession of an extraordinary life causes them to pass for beings of a superior order, and above the common run of mankind. Would not these be the same kind of folk as the Asiatic worshippers of Cybele, or those Easterns of whom Julius Firmicus speaks (Lib. de Errore Prof. Relig.), who consecrated to the Goddess of Phrygia, or to Venus Urania, certain priests, who dressed as women, who affected an effeminate countenance, who painted their faces, and disguised their true sex under garments borrowed from the sex which they wished to counterfeit."

[Moeurs des Sauvages Ameriquains, compares aux moeurs des premiers temps,
par le P. Lafitau (Paris, 1724.) vol. 1, p. 53].

The instance, just quoted, of the Enarees among the Scythians, who by excessive riding were often rendered impotent and effeminate, is very curiously paralleled in quite another part of the world by the so-called mujerados (or feminised men) among the Pueblo-Indians of Mexico. Dr. W. A. Hammond, who was stationed, in 1850, as military doctor, in New Mexico, reported that in each village one of the strongest men, being chosen, was compelled by unintermitted riding to pass through this kind of metamorphosis.

"He then became indispensable for the religious orgies which were celebrated among the Pueblo-Indians in the same way as they once were among the old Greeks, Egyptians, and other people. . . . .These Saturnalia take place among the Pueblos in the Spring of every year, and are kept with the greatest secrecy from the observation of non-Indians." (Footnote 2)

[Wm. A. Hammond in American Journal of Neurology and Psychiatry (August, 1882), p. 339.

And again,

"To be a mujerado is no disgrace to a Pueblo-Indian. On the contrary, he enjoys the protection of his tribes-people, and is accorded a certain amount of honour."

Similar customs to those of the American Indians were found among the Pacific islanders. Captain James Wilson, in visiting the South Sea Islands in 1796-8, found there men who were dressed like women and enjoyed a certain honour; and expresses his surprise at finding that "even their Women do not despise these fellows, but form friendships with them." [First Missionary Voyage to the South Sea Islands (London, 1799), p. 200.] While William Ellis, also a Missionary, in his Polynesian Researches, says that they not only enjoyed the sanction of the priests, but even the direct example of one of their divinities. He goes on to say that when he asked the natives why they made away with so many more female than male children,

"they generally answered that the fisheries, the service of the temple and especially war were the only purposes for which they thought it desirable to rear children!"

[2 vols. (London, 1829) vol. i., p. 340],]

But one of the most interesting examples of the connection we are studying is that of Apollo with the temple at Delphi. Delphi, of course, was one of the chief seats of prophecy and divination in the old world, and Apollo, who presided at this shrine, was a strange blend of masculine and feminine attributes. It will be remembered that he was frequently represented as being very feminine in form - especially in the more archaic statues. He was the patron of song and music. He was also, in some ways, the representative divinity of the Uranian love, for he was the special god of the Dorian Greeks, among whom comradeship became an institution (See chapters v., vi., and vii.. in this vol). It was said of him that to expiate his pollution by the blood of the Python (whom he slew), he became the slave and devoted favorite of Admetus; and Muller describes a Dorian religious festival, in which a boy, taking the part of Apollo,

"probably imitated the manner in which the god, as herdsman and slave of Alcestis, submitted to the most degrading service."

[History and Antiquities of the Doric Race, vol. i., p. 338.]

Alcestis, in fact, the wife of Admetus, said of Apollo (in a verse of Sophocles cited by Plutarch): (**** **** ** ****). When we consider that Apollo, as Sun god, corresponds in some points to the Syrian Baal (masculine), and that in his epithet Karneios, used among the Dorians, (See infra, ch. viii., p. 12.) he corresponds to the Syrian Ashtaroth Karnaim (feminine), we seem to see a possible clue connecting certain passages in the Bible - which refer to the rites of the Syrian tribes and their occasional adoption in the Jewish Temple - with some phases of the Dorian religious ritual.

Says Richard Burton,

"The Hebrews entering Syria, found it religionised by Assyria and Babylonia, when the Accadian Ishtar had passed West, and had become Ashtoreth, Ashtaroth, or Ashirah, the Anaitis of Armenia, the Phoenician Astarte, and the Greek Aphrodite, the great Moon-goddess who is queen of Heaven and Love. . . . She was worshipped by men habited as women, and vice versa; for which reason, in the Torah (Deut. xxii. 5), the sexes are forbidden to change dress."

[The Thousand Nights and a Night (1886), vol. x., p. 229.]

In the account of the reforming zeal of King Josiah we are told (v. 4) that

"the King commanded Hilkiah, the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron. . . . And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the Lord, where the women wove hangings for the grove.

[2 Kings xxiii.]

The word here translated "sodomites" is the Hebrew word Kedeshim, meaning the "consecrated ones" (males), and it occurs again in i Kings xiv. 24; xv. 12; and xxii. 46. And the word translated "grove" is Asherah. There is some doubt, I believe, as to the exact function of these Kedeshim in the temple ritual, and some doubt as to whether the translation of the word given in our Authorised Version is justified. (Footnote 3) It is clear, however, that these men corresponded in some way to the Kedeshoth or sacred women, who were - like the Devadasis of the Hindu temples - a kind of courtesan or prostitute dedicated to the god, and strange as it may seem to the modern mind, it is probable that they united some kind of sexual service with prophetic functions. Dr. Frazer, speaking of the sacred slaves or Kedeshim in various parts of Syria, concludes that

"originally no sharp line of distinction existed between the prophets and the Kedeshim; both were 'men of God,' as the prophets were constantly called; in other words they were inspired mediums, men in whom the god manifested himself from time to time by word and deed, in short, temporary incarnations of the deity. But while the prophets roved freely about the country, the Kedeshim appears to have been regularly attached to a sanctuary, and among the duties which they performed at the shrines there were clearly some which revolted the conscience of men imbued with a purer morality."

[Ibid., p. 67.]

As to the Asherah, or sometimes plural Asherim, translated "grove," - for which the women wove hangings - the most generally accepted opinion is that it was a wooden post or tree stripped of its branches and planted in the ground beside an altar, whether of Jehovah or other gods. (Footnote 4) Several biblical passages, like Jeremiah ii. 27, suggest that it was an emblem of Baal or of the male organ, and others (e.g.,Judges ii. 13, and iii. 7) connect it with Ashtoreth, the female partner of Baal; while the weaving of hangings or garments for the "grove" suggests the combination of female with male in one effigy. (Footnote 5) At any rate we may conclude pretty safely that the thing or things had a strongly sexual signification.

Thus it would seem that in the religious worship of the Canaanites there were male courtesans attached to the temples and inhabiting their precincts, as well as consecrated females, and that the ceremonies connected with these cults were of a markedly sexual character. These ceremonies had probably originated in an ancient worship of sexual acts as being symbolical of, and therefore favorable to, the fertility of Nature and the crops. But though they had penetrated into the Jewish temple they were detested by the more zealous adherents of Jehovah, because - for one reason at any rate - they belonged to the rival cult of the Syrian Baal and Ashtoreth, the Kedeshim in fact being "consecrated to the Mother of the Gods, the famous Dea Syria." (Footnote 6) And they were detestable, too, because they went hand in hand with the cultivation of 'familiar spirits' and 'wizards '- who of course knew nothing of Jehovah! Thus we see (2 Kings xxi.) that Manasseh followed the abominations of the heathen, building up the high places and the 'groves' and the altars for Baal. "And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, (Footnote 7) and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards, and wrought much wickedness. . . . and he set a graven image of the 'grove' in the house of the Lord." But Josiah, his grandson, reversed all this, and drove the familiar spirits and the wizards out of the land, together with the Kedeshim.

So far with regard to Syria and the Bible. But Dr. Fraser points out the curious likeness here to customs existing to-day among the Negroes of the Slave Coast of West Africa. In that region, women, called Kosio, are attached to the temples as wives, priestesses and temple prostitutes of the python-god. But besides these "there are male Kosio as well as female Kosia, that is there are dedicated men as well as dedicated women, priests as well as priestesses, and the ideas and customs in regard to them seem to be similar [Adonis, etc. p. 60] "Indeed," he says, "the points of resemblance between the prophets of Israel and of West Africa are close and curious". [Ibid., p. 66.] It must be said, however, that Dr. Frazer does not in either case insist on the inference of homosexuality. On the contrary, he rather endeavours to avoid it, and of course it would be unreasonable to suppose any invariable connection of these "sacred men" with this peculiarity. At the same time the general inference in that direction is strong and difficult to evade.

Throughout China and Japan and much of Malaysia, the so-called Bonzes, or Buddhist priests, have youths or boys attached to the service of the temples. Each priest educates a novice to follow him in the ritual, and it is said that the relations between the two are often physically intimate. Francis Xavier, in his letters from Japan (in 1549), mentions this. He says that the Bonzes themselves allowed that this was so, but maintained that it was no sin. They said that intercourse with woman was for them a deadly sin, or even punishable with death; but that the other relation was, in their eyes, by no means execrable, but harmless and even commendable. (Footnote 8) And, as it was then, so on the whole it appears to be now, or to have been till very lately. In all the Buddhist sects in Japan (except Shinto) celibacy is imposed on the priests, but homosexual relations are not forbidden.

And to return to the New World, we find Cieza de Leon - who is generally considered a trustworthy authority - describing practices and ceremonials in the temples of New Granada in his time (1550) strangely similar to those referred to in the Hebrew Bible:-

"Every temple or chief house of worship keeps one or two men, or more, according to the idol - who go about attired like women, even from their childhood, and talk like women, and imitate them in their manner, carriage, and all else."

[La Chronica del Peru, by Cieza de Leon (Antwerp, 1554), ch. 64.]

These served in the temples, and were made use of "almost as if by way of sanctity and religion" (casi come por via de santidad y religion); and he concludes that

"the Devil had gained such mastery in that land that, not content with causing the people to fall into mortal sin, he had actually persuaded them that the same was a species of holiness and religion, in order that by so doing he might render them all the more subject to him. And this (he says) Fray Domingo told me in his own writing - a man of whom everyone knows what a lover of truth he is."

Thus, as Richard Burton remarks [op. cit., p. 243] these same usages in connection with religion have spread nearly all over the world and "been adopted by the priestly castes from Mesopotamia to Peru."

It is all very strange and difficult to understand. Indeed, if the facts were not so well-established and so overwhelmingly numerous, it would appear incredible to most of us nowadays that the conception of "sacredness" or "consecration" could be honestly connected, in the mind of any people, with the above things and persons. And yet it is obvious, when one sums up the whole matter, that though in cases Cieza de Leon may have been right in suggesting that religion was only brought in as a cloak and excuse for licentiousness, yet in the main this explanation does not suffice. There must have been considerably more at the back of it all than that: a strange conviction apparently, or superstition, if one likes to call it so, that unusual powers of divination and prophecy were to be found in homosexual folk, and those who adopted the said hybrid kind of life - a conviction moreover (or superstition) so rooted and persistent that it spread over the greater part of the world.

Is any explanation, we may ask, of this strange and anomalous belief possible? Probably a complete explanation, in the present state of our knowledge, is not possible. Yet some suggestions in that direction we may perhaps venture to give. Before doing so, however, it may be as well to dwell for a moment on the further and widely prevalent belief in the connection between homosexuality and sorcery.


  1. See also Bancroft's Native Races of the Pacific States, vol. i., p. 82. - Return
  2. See Dr. Karsch, Jahrbuch Sex. Zwisch,. vol. iii., p. 142. - Return
  3. See Frazer's Adonis, Attis and Osiris (2nd edition, 1907), pp. 14, 64 note, etc. - Return
  4. See Frazer's Adonis, p. 14, note, etc. - Return
  5. See a full consideration of this subject in Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism, by Thomas Inman (2nd edition, 1874), p. 120 et seq. Also a long article by A. E. Whatham in The American Journal of Religious Psychology and Education, for July, 1911, on "The Sign of the Mother-goddess." - Return
  6. See Westermarck's Origin and Development of the Moral ideas, vol. ii., p. 488. - Return
  7. All this suggests the practice of some early and primitive science, and much resembles the accusations made in the thirteenth century against our Roger Bacon, pioneer of modern science. - Return
  8. See T. Karsch-Haack, Forschungen uber gleichgeschlechtliche Liebe (Munich), Die Japaner, p. 77. Also The Letters of Fr. Xavier, translated into German by Joseph Burg (3 vols., 1836-40). - Return

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