Opening Old Gates
from Two Flutes Playing, published by Alamo Sqaure Press
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In the four volume set called The Masks of God, Joseph Campbell calls all the myths, legends and literary creations after the classical period "Creative Mythology." Surely we are continuing to create new myths (in addition to reinterpreting and renewing old ones). Andrew Ramer is one of the creators of such new myths for gay culture.
You measure civilizations by their remains, as if what is left can tell you how it was to be alive then. You turn to literature, you look at art, you measure beauty and say, This was a high culture, here they were experiencing a renaissance of culture. But I say, What of the things you cannot see, what of the aspects of life that do not remain? You turn to ancient Egypt, to Greece, to Italy and fill yourself with artful dreams. But I say, There were times in your history when civilization was total, and real. People suffered and starved while Renaissance painters mimicked the world of fullness to perfection on flat surfaces. But what of the true human life of perfection, what of the ideal of happiness? Who dreams the grandest dreams, who paints them the largest, is that one the most happy?
I will tell you of another time, another way. Of a great civilization to which all of you are heirs. A civilization however that left few remains. Here a knife, there a picture, here a bone carved, there a cave discovered. A cold, a distant civilization. One that hovered on the edge of Europe's ice age. When half the continent still slept beneath its glaciers, when one could still move easily from Europe to Africa. I will tell you of that time and place. For all your dreams of perfection, of classical Greece, eternal Egypt, your balmy white-robed Atlantis dreams, and your inscrutable sense that happiness and fullness and freedom are real and can exist in a world of chaotic changes, those ideas are memories of that distant place. And you turn the cloaks of fur to silks, the heavy boots to sandals, you call the feeling of inner warmth by its outer face. But each time one of you stops and sighs and says, "Why does it have to be this way?"--the memory of the ice age has stirred in you. The mind is about to remember.
You measure your civilizations by their remains. A poem, a potsherd, a ring, a foundation. You divide your human world into history and prehistory. You divide cultures into primitive and civilized. So I want to tell you of a time when humans lived nomadically, in tents, in caves, in temporary villages, whose houses were built of trees and reeds on piles that could be abandoned at the end of a season. This was a culture that did not have the wheel, although it had fire. It had no written language, no king, no leaders. To the outer eye those people would be called primitive. But to the inner seeing eye theirs was a culture of extreme sophistication. A tribe whose children by the age of three had already memorized vast song cycles, whose recitation around a camp fire took the night hours of three weeks to tell. A people so well attuned to nature that weather changes, earthquakes, floods were all known in advance, by smell, by hearing, by the feel beneath one's feet. This was a time when people would heal by singing, by manipulating the body's healing process through sound alone. But a time when people were rarely ill, who lived full lifetimes under adverse conditions. Whose moment of death was freely and consciously chosen. A people who lived and loved and worked in tribes. Where people of common affinity bonded together. Where no interest or desire was stifled. A people who lacked the word for war in their language. Whose powers of mind-connection were so advanced that they were in contact with unseen people half a world away. Talking and sharing their perceptions. And you say, "How nice a world you made up." And I say, not made up. I remember.
You find it acceptable to believe in saints, in great teachers of the past, in enlightened beings. But then you keep them "out there," in the distance, flat as a picture, lifeless, without thinking how active we still are, how vital, how deep a source of comfort we can be and also a source of constant information. Some of us are known, others unknown. All of us waiting to help, guide, love.
My name is Yamati. I was born in a village in what is now the south of France, in a year you would call 9098 B.C. My parents were of the tribe of artisans, craftspeople. "As a bird flies," my mother used to say, "so do we weave." We had no word in our language for "tree." We called each by its own name. Nor did we think all people were the same. The diversity of all was respected, expected. And part of the process of growing up was to seek the clan or tribe of your own affinity. This may not be the picture you have of tribal existence, where children follow their parents, on and on, generation after generation. We were not primitive. Our language for example had 32 ways to say "be," depending on age, experience. situation, time, and included the relation to the speaker. So we had fisher tribes, healing tribes, storytelling tribes, clothing-making tribes. We had people who raised children and people who didn't. We had priestess and priest clans. We had many tribes of gay people.
To hear that may sound strange to you, "tribes of gay people." First remember that the tribe of your birth was seldom the tribe of your adulthood. What your parents did was not necessarily what you yourself did. We had no division of labor by sex, we had division of labor according to interest. If you wanted to be a weaver, you joined the weaver tribe. And something in the nature of people was such that not everyone wanted to be a weaver. And if by chance it happened that more young people sought the weaving clan than in times past, it surely followed in the future that there would be extra need for nets, ropes and cloth. So we had weavers, and hunters, and gatherers, and gay people living in groups.
Let me explain that we had no marriage as you know it. We had no ceremony, no public rites. Our people did mate, did live together, and this mating was usually for life. But it came after a period of sexual randomness, and it did not preclude sexual activity, in addition to the mate relationship, in ceremonies at the equinoxes and at certain full moons. So we generally paired for life, but from the beginning men and women paired with their own sex as often as with the other. What was important to us in a relationship was how two together could aid and enhance each other's work. So that part of mating was finding someone in your own tribe to work with, and came at a time when you had found your tribe. And be it woman or man, that didn't matter. What mattered to us was the churra, what you would call the resonance, the spiritual harmony. Love we saw as a way to keep the work-fires burning.
We had many saints, many heroes, both female and male, but I want to speak here of the saints and heroes of the gay tribes. For this is a period of human history that has been lost through time, whose return is vitally needed. For you know the heroes of the other tribes. But of this small, sacred tribe, whose history has been obscured, you remember nothing.
Tayarti, who lived long before my time, was the greatest saint of the gay tribes. He was our christ, our buddha, our benefactor and our channel to Spirit. I leave it to others to tell the tales of the lesbian tribes, and the story of Nazimadriad, the greatest of the lesbian saints of our era. Tayarti did not discover gayness. Men have loved men since the beginning of time. And up till the end of our era there were men who loved men, who lived with the hunter or carver or arrow-maker tribes. But it was Tayarti who first, in the caves, in the cold, at the edge of the dancing grounds, would gather about him other gay men, to teach and to chant. For he saw that in his time a new healing was needed. And he saw that the power of that healing had existed all along, in the love, in the mate-bonds, in the sharing that exists between two men.
It was Tavarti who gathered about him the first gay tribe. Not all gay men came to him. Only those men came who heard the call. And the call was spirit.
Andrew Ramer is author of Two Flutes Playing: A Spiritual Journeybook for Gay Men (from which the above gay mythology was excerpted with permission). Two Flutes Playing is published by Alamo Square Press and is available at lesbian and gay community bookstores nationwide and on the web.
Last update Dec 15 2000