My understanding of archetypes comes largely from the work of C. G. Jung, who defined archetypes as unconscious psychic structures. When they enter the conscious mind, they do so in the form of characteristic images and figures. Jung found these images in the dreams ofdiverse individuals and in mythology and art from around the world. For this reason, Jung and others have concluded that archetypes are collective, a part of everyone's psyche, and therefore universal.
The concept of core images that represent psychological dynamics has been an important one in guiding my work with mythology. The basic types underlying the gods and traditional stories of diverse peoples are often strikingly similar. At the same time, I have always been uncomfortable with the readiness of Jungians to make sweeping generalizations about very different times and places. In my view, archetypal images are collective to the extent that they are widely shared among communities united through language and culture, but there are important differences in their form and emotional tone cross-culturally.
Ultimately, what makes a motif archetypal is the reaction that it triggers in people. People rarely react in a neutral way to genuinely archetypal figures. They tend to evoke irresistible attraction or instinctive repulsion--or, perhaps, a disturbing combination of the two.
The ambivalent reactions that archetypes provoke point to another common feature. The gods and goddesses of mythology have an unnerving way of straying back and forth across the boundaries we normally draw between good and evil. They come from a part of the mind/body continuum that isn't capable of making moral distinctions, and, as such, they encompass everything humans are capable of, every human potential. For me, this combination of positive and negative, good and evil, attractive and scary elements in a single figure or image is a good indicator of archetypal content.
As I have collected myths with queer archetypes, I've understood why our attempts to explore and define our gayness so often get stuck. Many of us in gay politics and spirituality have been trying to understand gayness as if it were a single, unified thing. Understandably, we felt that a shared sense of identity would provide a source of political unity and shine light on our presence in the past. I tried, for example, to find ways of understanding contemporary gay s/m experience and drag balls as aspects of some common underlying gay trait. After all, both involve images of gender carried to an extreme that reveals the artificiality of gender altogether, and many gay men I know are adept at both. But this was really forcing the issue. Gay men follow not one but many different paths--just as the actual practices of same-sex love and identity found throughout the world take many forms. The fact is, our present way of labeling people on the basis of sexual preference lumps together men and women with very different emotional and psychological orientations, gender identities, and sexual role preferences (e.g., top/bottom, butch/femme, etc.).
The work of anthropologists and the emerging voices of lesbians and gay men from non-Western cultures have contributed immensely in recent years to our understanding of the various forms that homosexuality and gender difference can take. Three of the most common are the following:
¥ a gender-based pattern, of which the North American third-gender or two-spirit role is the most well known;
¥ an age-based pattern, in which sexual relations between males of different age groups and at specific times of their lives are approved, of which classical Greek homosexuality is an example;
¥ an egalitarian pattern, characteristic of contemporary North American and European lesbian and gay lifestyles, in which individual erotic attraction, more than social traits, guides the choice of partner and relationships are based on reciprocity. Some of these patterns are more common in certain parts of the world than in others; each has a definite history. More important, each pattern is associated with its own system of images, stories, heroes, and gods.
The archetypal image associated with the gender-based pattern is the one I refer to as the Two-Spirit, borrowing the term used by contemporary Native Americans to describe the berdache or third-gender role of their traditional cultures. In contemporary gay slang, we might call such people queens, although this term conveys none of the spiritual meaning and social respect that two-spirits enjoyed. Other examples of social roles based on the two-spirit pattern are the mahu of Polynesia, the hijra of India, and the galli of ancient Rome. I use the term Two-Spirit to distinguish this archetype from the usual image of the Androgyne. The individuals who occupied two-spirit roles were not seen as men who had become women or as individuals who combined or merged male and female--although there are some examples of these. Rather, they were seen as being outside male and female categories. One of the most ancient terms for this kind of role, trhytiyam prakrhytim, comes from Sanskrit and literally means "third nature."
Problems of translation arise, however, whenever these roles are made to fit into a dual gender system. In this system, if an individual does not fit into one category, then he has to be assigned to the other. Non-masculine men are automatically assumed to be imitating women. What else is there? Because of these assumptions, two-spirits and others have been described as crossing genders when in fact they occupy a third gender. As the myths in this collection show, the power of these individuals derives from their paradoxical state of being neither male nor female.
The Androgyne, on the other hand, is usually thought of as half male and half female, not as something distinct from male and female. Such an image is most often a projection of a heterosexual longing for completion. For heterosexual men and women, sexuality and identity are based on distance and separation from their "opposite," but this separation is painful. The heterosexual Androgyne heals the wounds of gender, reuniting halves into a single, complete being. The Hindu deity Ardhanarisvara is the product of such a coupling between Shiva and Parvati, much as the Greek god Hermaphroditus is the result of his merger with the oversexed nymph Salmicis. The Chinese yin/yang design is the perfect symbol of this form of androgyny. These are Androgynes of union and resolution. They are typically depicted as sensuous and passive figures. They represent the release of tension between men and women and, more generally, harmony and balance.
The archetypal Two-Spirit, on the other hand, is the opposite of resolved and balanced. "She" is pure catalytic energy. The Navajo Indians recognize this in their term for two-spirits, nadleehe, which literally means "the one who continually changes." Two-spirit energy is chaotic and disruptive. Male and female are not united; rather, it is as if there were two entirely distinct, often incompatible people crammed into a single body. The archetypal counterpart of this is a two-fold Androgyne, a figure who is often frightening and monstrous. For those who can channel its chaotic energies, however, this archetype can be a source of immeasurable personal power. Two-spirits have a special energy, a way of attracting attention, a biting edge. Everyone knows when a two-spirit walks into the room. He/she is the center of attention. And if you want to organize anything, whether it's a party or a political organization, be sure to get a two-spirit on your side because no one knows better how to get people's attention and make things happen.
Age-based homosexuality involves a very different principle. In societies like ancient Greece, medieval Japan, and up to recent times Melanesia, youths, usually in their teens, have sex with adult men during a period of their initiation or education. The younger men (ideally) are receptive in either oral or anal intercourse, the older men taking the inserting role. Outside these boundaries, homosexuality was discouraged, even forbidden. This pattern is most closely associated with the archetype of Initiation. This is clearest in the case of New Guinea societies, where homosexual acts are considered a form of magic to be used specifically for the initiation of youths. The semen that youths receive from adult men is believed to help "grow" them into men; it is a symbolic substitute for their mother's milk and for her influence, from which they must be weaned. The most obvious manifestations of Initiation themes in gay culture today are centered around the figure of the leatherman and the exploration of sexual roles, such as top/bottom, master/slave, daddy/boy, and so forth.
The egalitarian pattern of homosexuality may be the most limited historically and geographically speaking, being predominant mostly in North America and northern Europe and only in modern times--both age- and gender-based forms prevailing earlier. Egalitarian relationships emerged as a conscious ideal in the nineteenth century with the poetry of Walt Whitman. But even Edward Carpenter, the gay English reformer at the turn of the century who helped popularize Whitman in Europe, preferred relationships with working-class men rather than men of his own middle-class background. Of course, there are plenty of examples of love between men of equal standing throughout history. But only with the emergence of gay liberation did an egalitarian pattern become an avowed ideal. "Gay" identities in other parts ofthe world--such as Latin America and Asia--are as much influenced by local traditions of age- and gender-based homosexuality as they are by the example of North American gays.
The egalitarian pattern is most closely linked to the archetypal figures of the Divine Twins, male couples who typically appear in myths as the slayers of monsters and the inventors of the arts, medicine, and social institutions. There are some striking examples of Divine Twins from around the world, such as the Iroquois Dekanawida and Hayonhwatha and the Old Norse figures Loki and Baldr. The power of these male couples comes from a psychological process unique to same-sex bonding, which Mitch Walker has described as "magickal twinning": "The action of Magickal Twinning is a kind of duplication where the spirit-essence of one object is infused into another, making spirit twins, yet where the two duplicates are bound together through their common spirit-essence into a third object, an indivisible unity." This unity, however, is not in the nature of a mixed thing, like the half-male, half-female androgyne. The bonds of gay love result in something more like twin stars, two independent and whole bodies locked in permanent orbit around each other so that they function as a unit.
Heterosexuality (and some forms of homosexuality, too) is based on difference and opposition between partners. In the best relationship, each of these partners brings something that the other lacks. This is how Aristophanes accounts for heterosexuality in his speech in Plato's Symposium. Doubled beings who were originally a man and a woman united in a single body were divided in half by Zeus. Since then, men and women forever seek each other, hoping to reunite with their lost halves.
But what's going on in the case of gay relationships in which the ideal is that of equality between partners? In this case, the power and mystique of bonding comes from the way in which partners of the same gender psychologically mirror and reinforce each other. They create a feedback loop that heightens self-awareness and enhances self-esteem, and this is usually an exhilarating experience. As my friend John Burnside likes to say, rather than complementing or completing each other as heterosexual men and women do, we gay people tend to supplement each other in our relationships. We structure them around an ideal that assumes that each partner is already a whole person. Our attraction for each other is not that of halves who hope to become whole again but that of two wholes who affirm, enable, and reveal the inner nature of each to the other-what Harry Hay means by subject-subject relating. In terms of sexuality, this translates into "enjoying each otherÕs enjoyment," an ideal that I think can be applied in all our relationships, whatever archetype inspires them. It might not seem like there is any connecting thread between these patterns and their archetypes--except for a couple of things.
First, one type of homosexuality sometimes changes into another. In premodern Japan, for example, an age-based pattern of homosexuality involving samurai warriors and youths evolved into a gender-based pattern, in which the youths who were the partners of older men were viewed as "feminine" because of their receptive sexual role. In earlier times, as in classical Greece, youths who were lovers of older men were not "feminized" as long as they switched sexual roles when they grew older.
A second observation concerns the variety of sexual expression and lifestyles that we see in today's lesbian/gay communities. If you look closely, I think that you will find examples of all the patterns of homosexual expression found in the past and around the world being pursued today. One can find relationships between men who differ in age, class, and race; between men of similar age, race, and class; between men who differ in terms of relative masculinity and nonmasculinity; and between men whose preferences for "top" and "bottom" roles sometimes do and sometimes do not conform to stereotypes of their socioeconomic status.
Further, the boundaries between these patterns are not fixed. In fact, the life path of many gay men today seems to involve a sojourn in the psychic worlds of all three archetypes at some point in their lives. Although some gay men may find a strong identification with a single tradition or image, many of us seem to find ourselves identifying variously with the Two-Spirit, the figures of Initiation, and the Divine Twins. It's possible to imagine hybrid figures as well--severe Queens who supervise initiations, Twins who are sissies, leathered Two-Spirits.
It is fitting that contemporary lesbians and gay men throughout the world should be the inheritors of all these traditions. If our generation has gained unprecedented freedom to lead gay lives, what better use of that freedom than to reclaim and reconstitute the time-honored insights of these social patterns within our lives, to find the best and the worst of them, and to use their wisdom to make choices about how we live today?
Will Roscoe lives in San Francisco.