The Divine Hermaphrodite

by Jani Farrell-Roberts c2000

Taken from her book "7 Days: Tales of Magic, Sex and Gender."



In many pre-Christian religions the Deity was depicted as encompassing both genders and shown as an hermaphrodite. Their myths were metaphors for these deeper "mysteries". The Goddess Cybele, whose temple was where the Vatican now stands, was in some of the older stories about her described as hermaphrodite. She was at first the Creatrix who needed no husband because she had both genders - and then her male genitals fell to earth, became an almond tree and a nut of this tree fell by a river that was a Goddess and thus was born the male God. - a very different story to that of the Garden of Eden where the male came first. The ritual celebration of this Cybelle myth was held on May the First - the very day that we used to celebrate with phallic maypoles.

Another Middle Eastern Goddess was depicted as having both female breasts and a penis and was known as the Bearded Aphrodite. She was also sometimes shown as a woman warrior wearing horns and driving a chariot. She gave birth to Hermaphrodite after who are named all that are born with bodies that have both male and female aspects.

Around 2000 years ago, many pagan religions in Europe and around the Mediterranean, and particularly in Egypt, taught that the divine energy was one but so rich that it was best explained and visualised in the form of a small divine family and thus originated the idea of a trinity. Other manifestations were given other divine names - but for simplicity and elegance stake, these too were subsumed into this family. In Aboriginal society there were, it seems, similar concepts of the "All Father" and "All Mother". Christianity was shaped by the Mediterranean beliefs - and worked very hard in its early centuries to reconcile its having three Deities with Judaic and philosophical monotheism.

In very early Christian days, the Gnostic Christians, a major part of the Christian world before a more male-centred church supplanted and suppressed them, taught a gender balanced divinity. They believed in a Trinity that included both male and female aspects. Instead of speaking of a "Holy Spirit", they spoke of Sophia, the Spirit of Love. Many Jewish mystics also honoured Sophia at this time - and she was celebrated in such biblical books as "The Song of Songs". The gnostic Christian book "On the Origin of the World" contains a creation account that embodies a view of gender evolution surprisingly similar to modern ideas : "When Sophia let fall a droplet of light, it flowed onto the water, and immediately a human being appeared that was androgynous. That droplet she moulded first as a female body."

The best known of the books of the pagan Gnostics of that same time, "The Shepherd of Men" , had yet another creation account: " And God-the-Mind, being male and female both ...being Life and Light, did bring forth Man co-equal to Himself, with whom He fell in love, as being His own child; for he was beautiful beyond compare, the Image of his Sire. In very truth, God fell in love with his own Form; and on him did bestow all of His own formations."

Some of the gnostics spoke of the ultimate deity as being "the Primal Androgyne." The symbol of this was a couple embracing. The Hindu Indians similarly joined Shiva and Shakti and honoured "The Lord who is Half Woman." Even the Jewish Jehovah may have had a similar origin.

But Sophia, the female aspect of the Jewish and Gnostic Christian Deity, was in the early days of Christianity to become faded, near invisible, a flame but no person - she became a sexless ghost, the Holy Ghost. All Christian books that depicted a female divine person were excluded from the approved list of books for the New Testament drawn up under the Emperor Constantine at the 4th Century Council of Niceae. Yet these books were not part of a non-Christian or non-Jewish tradition - they were from the heart of both religions. The Christians who honoured the female aspect of the deity had also honoured women equally, allowing both into the priesthood just as women were also allowed into the Rabbinate.

The Irish in pre-Christian times honoured those born with both gender aspects as was recorded in their great epic "The Tain." Queen Melb, a War Goddess, had seven offspring - all called Maine. They are called "sons" (at least in my translation) but three had more male attributes, three female and one was androgynous. "There is Maine Mathramail the Motherlike, Maine Athramail the Fatherlike, Maine Morgor, the strongly dutiful, Maine Mingor the sweetly dutiful, Maine Moepirt . of the honeyed speech, Maine Andoe the swift, and Maine Cotagaib Uli - the Maine with all the qualities, who took the likeness of his mother and father."

The archaeologist Maria Gimbutas in her 1974 book "Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe" noted the wealth of female figures in ancient sites in Europe. She deduced from this that there was once a very active Goddess religion that was at the centre of a matriarchy. However more recent work has revealed an aspect that she was overlooking. Lauren Talalay at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in Ann Arbor, Michigan, reported that many of the "goddess" figures of the Neolithic are either neuter or hermaphroditic--displaying both female breasts and a phallic aspect - such as either a penis or a phallic shaped neck and head.(More on this below in "Saturday")

The oldest carved image of a person yet found in the British Isles is that of a hermaphrodite with female breasts and with penis - as once was I. Today, with the eyes of a crone, with my hair turning grey, I see my transexuality as a very real and wonderful blessing that has helped me to find some understanding of my people's ancient way.

In the societies that depicted the Deity as having both genders, having sex with one of us who worked as a priestess in a temple or sacred place was seen as a very special sacred joining with a person magically akin to the transgendered Deity. In what might be the earliest known literature, a hymn written by the priestess Enheduanna who served the Goddess Innana in Sumeria about 5000 years ago, we are told that part of her work as a priestess included both appointing homosexuals as musicians and changing men into women:

"I erected a temple;

Where I inaugurated important events:

I set up an unshakeable throne.

I gave out dagger and sword to...(? missing)

I gave tambourine and drum to homosexuals,

I changed men into women."

I do not however see myself as a male who became a woman. My instinct, my life experience, tells me that my spirit and brain were always female and dominant in giving me my identity although my genitals were male. Conditioning and peer pressure are for me clearly secondary events. Science now is coming to the same opinion. I do not see my spirit as ambiguously androgynous nor as a gender neutral being . Others may be androgynous. I was born with a female spirit who informed and shaped my brain.

One ancient and once much respected title for such people as myself was that of hermaphrodite - meaning a person born with the physical aspects of both genders. I believe that all transsexuals and wrongly assigned intersexed people are effectively hermaphrodites since they fulfil the above definition by having brains differently gendered to their reproductive organs.

One ancient Grecian legend about Hermaphrodites encompassed the ancient male fear of female power - and of never being able to separate from the woman after intercourse. Hermaphroditus, whose name is a combination of the parents' names, Hermes and Aphrodite, was born a boy. When he was 15 years old he discovered in a clear pool the Naiad, or Water Nymph, Salmacis She fell in love with him but he rejected her. So she pretended to accept this, turned away and left him. Thinking he was now alone, he then dived into the pool. But Salmacis re-appeared in the water, held him fast and stole kisses. The more he tried to escape the more she clung to him. At the same time she prayed to the Gods that they might never be separated. The Gods heard her prayer and merged their two bodies in one. And from that day they were "not two persons, nor was it possible to call them man and woman any longer, but being one they seemed neither, and yet both".

There are several aspects to this story. One is that humans are not complete until they consciously unite in themselves both their male and female aspects. Another is that men have to yield themselves to their female side to achieve this. Another is that the magic and trickery of women is seen as dangerous to men. The Jewish gnostic mystics expressed the first of these thus:

"When Eve was in Adam,

Death did not exist

When we are complete again,

A second Adam will appear called the Hermaphrodite."

We need the myths and legends that have been stolen from us. We need stories about transgendered heroes and heroines, spirits or divinities, that we can tell our children so they grow up with a richer understanding of the whole tapestry of human gender and sexuality. We need to make a start at reforming our mythic realities to suit a renewed world where women, gays and the transgendered have their proper place without a shadowing of fear.

I believe we will soon have again our sacred ceremonies to celebrate re-assigning gender roles as was the custom among many ancient indigenous cultures including those of the American Indian, Dyak and Siberian tribesmen. It was not a doctor or a surgeon who later made me a woman. I knew myself as female before I went to them. I could have celebrated my self-knowledge. I could have been reinforced in this by the community conducting a confirming and empowering ritual. But I was born into an impoverished twentieth century Western culture. It had no such ceremonies, no councils of elders skilled at recognising those that should change, no way of effecting such a change publicly and respectably. My parents and I were alone with no one to advise us. My girl nature went unrecognised. I had an enormous amount to learn before I could stand against my society and become myself.

As a child I talked of a male God. Today I prefer to speak of a female - but this is only because a language that has only male and female singular personal pronouns limits me. For me the divine energy encompasses both genders. I also spoke as I had been taught of one God meaning intellectually the ineffable God of the Philosophers that helped shape our monotheism. My experience was of a much more personal God. It was only later that I understood that people have named as Gods or Goddesses many different and personal manifestations of this primal energy - but more about this elsewhere.