Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gods, Men and Ritual Androgyny in Pharaonic Egypt

The choice of Jaye Davidson to portray the ancient astronaut Ra in the movie Stargate may have been derided as stunt casting at the time, but it speaks to a recurring motif in Ancient Egyptian history and iconography.

  The work of Stargate synchromystics like Jake Kotze and Goro Adachi has often focused on the bizarre career of Pharaoh Akhnaten, whose hermaphrodism was recently in the news, appropos of nothing.

And of course, the hermaphroditic heirophant brought recorded history's first monotheistic religion, based around the worship of the Sun. Art also took a strange turn during his reign, depicting the royal family looking more like aliens than Egyptians. Artists didn't shrink from depicting Akhnaten's womanly figure, perhaps since androgyny was well familiar to them already.

There are any number of paintings or sculptures where Egyptian men and women are distinguishable only by the smallest details; small breasts, fake beards, somewhat longer skirts. Men and women - at least of the upper classes - were both portrayed wearing wigs, skirts, jewelry and makeup. We take this for granted, but the fact remains that in Egypt as well as other high civilizations highborn men tend to feminize themselves as a mark of status. 

 We saw the same exact practice among the (Masonic) Founding Fathers, who wore their hair long (or wore wigs) and frilly accoutrements to their garments. Dandyism was even more prevalent in Europe and was very much part of the vigorous pursuit of heterosexual relations. 

The same motif repeated itself with Rock bands like Motley Crue and Poison. There surely is a psychological and evolutionary dimension to this, but there's also a strong ritual dimension, since Rock and Roll is merely the unconscious revival of the Ancient Mystery cults, with their loud music, drugs and screwing.
This well-known image of Hathor and Pharaoh Seti almost gives the impression of a mirror image. Their accessories are different and Seti's shoulders are wider, but the artist seems to be conveying a unity of the two genders. This of course ties back to the hermaphroditic creator god, Atum, whom we'll be looking at in the context of modern ritual drama in the future.

This image of Horus leading a nobleman to the Afterlife almost seems like a groom leading a blushing bride to the altar. This has echoes in Jesus' parables about the Church being the bride of Christ. Of course, homosexuality itself was officially frowned upon in Egyptian religion and there is very little record of its practice, but we all know that means nothing. 

It seems that androgyny in Egypt- as well as other cultures- largely had a non-sexual ritual connotation. This would emerge in Gnostic sects that preached abstinence as well as androgyny. Of course, many of these sects would emerge in Greek Egypt.
"When Salome inquired when the things concerning which she asked should be known, the Lord said: When ye have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one and the male with the female is neither male nor female." Clement adds, "In the first place, then, we have not this saying in the four Gospels that have been delivered to us, but in that according to the Egyptians."- Clement of Alexandria