Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Remembering and Reclaiming a Wise, Spacious, and Holy Understanding of Homosexuality

I'm currently reading The Essential Gay Mystics, a 1997 anthology compiled by Andrew Harvey and which Randy Conner, co-author of Cassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit, notes "is an illuminating anthology whose great value lies in the double revelation that many of the world's renowned mystics have been lovers of the same sex, and that the mystical impulse has inspired the works of a goodly number of the homoerotically inclined luminaries of the literary canon."

Further praise is offered by Ken Wilber, who, after observing that a mystic is "not one who sees God as an object, but who is immersed in God as an atmosphere," writes that the works collected in The Essential Gay Mystics] "are a radiant testament to that all-encompassing condition." Harvey, says Wilber, "has given us a cornucopia of mystical wisdom, tender as tears and gentle as fog, but also passionately ablaze with the relentless fire of the Divine."

The Essential Gay Mystics includes texts from the Greeks and Romans (Sappho, Plato, Euripides; Virgil, Horace, the "Galli"), the Native American berdache tradition, the ancient Far East (Qu Yuan, Kūkai, Bashō, and the Persian Sufi traditions, Attar, Sadi, Hafiz, Jami), as well as works from literary figures from the Renaissance (Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz) to the twentieth century (Frederico Garcia Lorca, Willa Cather, Dag Hammarskjöld, Audre Lorde), each presented with a short biographical introduction.

Given my great interest in both the mystical path of Sufism and evolutionary spirituality's emphasis on the interconnection of all things, and of course my own experience as a gay man of relationship with the "divine fount of things," I'm very much appreciating and enjoying Andrew Harvey's insightful anthology.

Following, with added images and links, is an excerpt from the introduction to The Essential Gay Mystics, an introduction written by Harvey.

In her masterpiece, Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill writes, "Mysticism offers us the history, as old as civilization, of a race of adventurers who have carried to its term the process of a deliberate and active return to the divine fount of things. They have surrendered themselves to the life-movement of the universe, hence have lived an intenser life than other beings can even know. . . . Therefore they witness to all that our latent spiritual consciousness, which shows itself in the 'hunger for the absolute,' can be made to mean to us if we develop it, and have in this respect an unique importance for the race."

There has never been a more important time for taking completely seriously the evidence and testimony of this "race of adventurers." Without a belief in, and radical cultivation of, mystical consciousness and the insights into the interconnectedness of all reality in sacred joy and sacred love it alone can bring, we will not be able to develop the necessary awareness to help us solve the terrible problems that threaten our lives and the very life of the planet.

In the great chorus of witnesses to the transforming power of direct relationship with the "divine fount of things," a surprisingly large number have been gay. Surprising, because the rhetoric of nearly all the world's major religions would have you believe that spiritual insight and achievement are incompatible with homosexuality. Homophobia has stained all the religions. . . . To those acquainted with the facts of contemporary homophobia in all its forms, and with both the blatant and the subtle ways in which religions of all kinds perpetuate it, there can be little surprise in learning that, according to Amnesty International, homosexuality is punishable by death in over forty countries, in many cases with the full sanction of religious law.

It is as a loving protest against this obscene and tragic state of affairs that I conceived of this anthology of gay mystics. I wanted everyone – most of all my gay brothers and sisters – to be fully aware that whatever the mullahs and gurus and archbishops and pseudo-avatars might say, there is no record of the Divine itself in any way excluding homosexuals from the direct contact with its love, which is offered freely and forever to every sentient being.

Delving into the truth of homosexual history, one begins to understand that homophobia is a purely human and relatively recent cultural construct, and it has no basis in divine ordination. In earlier times, up until the Roman era, contemporary cultural historians such as Riane Eisler and Randy Conner make clear in their calmly groundbreaking work, reverence for the Sacred Feminine and the Divine Mother led to reverence for all forms of life and love. Many shamans were and are homosexual; many of the worshipers of the Goddess under her various names and in her various cults all over the world – from the Mediterranean to the Near East to the Celtic parts of northern Europe – openly avowed their homosexuality and were accepted and even specially revered as priests, oracles, healers, and diviners. Homosexuals, far from being rejected, were seen as sacred – people who, by virtue of a mysterious fusion of feminine and masculine traits, participated with particular intensity in the life of the Source. Th Source of Godhead is, after all, both masculine and feminine, and exists in a unity that includes but transcends both. The homosexual was thought to mirror this unity and its enigmatic fertility and power in a special way. The tribe or culture gave to him or her specific duties that were highly important and sacred, acknowledging this intimacy with divine truth and the clairvoyant help it could bring to the whole society. This wise and spacious understanding of what some cultural historians and sociologists have called the third and fourth sexes continues, however fragmentarily, in the Native American traditions in which the berdache or gay, cross-dressing shaman (known in different tribes by different names) holds an honored, essential place in the life of the tribe.

Many ancient cultures, especially those devoted to celebrating the Mother, recognized and honored the holiness of diversity. The homosexual was seen not as a figure excluded from ordinary cultural life and the embrace of the sacred but as holy as anyone else, and with a special access to sacred understanding by virtue of falling outside the "normal" categories. What we are beginning to learn about the early homosexual priests of Asarte, about the Roman "Galli" (gender-variant priests who served and worshiped the Roman mother goddess, Cybele), about the sexual lives of the early shamanic tribes of Neolithic Europe and Siberia, and about the different North American native traditions makes it clear that in past times humanity was far less divided against itself than it is now, and people were able, by worshiping the unity of all life and so the holiness of all lives, to realize both the value and the potential sacred function of the homosexual in society.

The continued resistance to this information in political, academic, and religious circles of all kinds can only mean that allowing for and accepting the holiness of the homosexual choice and personality would effect a revolutionary change in existing conditions. Allowing the wisdom of the third and fourth sexes to be fully vocal in our culture would dissolve the false, rigid categorization of "male" and "female," and the male-centered, male-dominated, competitive, exploitative, war-and-power obsessed mentality that it keeps alive. The return of the Sacred Feminine that is everywhere trying to occur is, in part, a return of the uncanny, of those insights and aspects of ourselves that have been banished from our awareness for too long, repressed or demonized. The Mother is preparing a revolution [or perhaps better yet, an evolution!] of consciousness for the whole human race, but this revolution will be possible only when we invite the wisdom of the feminine, with its instinctual understanding of the sacredness of all life and of all true love, back into our hearts and minds in its full radical splendor.

In mystical terms, what is being prepared for humankind – if we are brave enough to embrace the challenge – is our birth into a wholly new unified cosmic consciousness, what many mystics call divine childhood: that state of naked and elemental freedom beyond all barriers, dogmas, and conventions, the final reward of long years of prayer, discipline, and ordeal in the crucible of mystical transformation. Many mystics also believe – as I do – that this birth into divine childhood under the direct inner guidance of the Father-Mother is the one remaining hope for humanity. Unless this transformation takes place on a vast, politically and economically radical scale, the race will not survive.

– Andrew Harvey
Excerpted from The Essential Gay Mystics
pp. 1-4

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Gay People and the Spiritual Life
In the Garden of Spirituality – Toby Johnson
The Gifts of Homosexuality
Same-Sex Desires: "Immanent and Essential Traits Transcending Time and Culture"
North America: Perhaps Once the "Queerest Continent on the Planet"
A Return to the Spirit
Recovering the Queer Artistic Heritage
Quote of the Day – November 12, 2011
The Sufi Way
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

Related Off-site Links:
Andrew Harvey – Institute for Sacred Activism
Shokti: Tales of Queer Mystical Emergence

Opening Image: "Shiva" (Model: Paulo Pascoal; Photographer: Francisco Martins.)

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