Posted by: aediculaantinoi | November 12, 2013

Some Preliminary Thoughts on the “Two-Spirit” Dead…

Recently, when Galina Krasskova spoke about a particular ancestor-honoring ritual she and House Sankofa did, she mentioned various groups or types of ancestors that are honored, including the military/warrior dead, and also (and this was the first time I’d heard her mention this) the two-spirit dead. That intrigued me, needless to say…

While I fully support Galina and House Sankofa in this endeavor, for my own part, I’m not 100% comfortable with the term “two-spirit.” Yes, it “kind of works,” in many respects, and is an easy shorthand for a variety of things that aren’t easy to categorize, but it is itself a kind of conflicted term in many Native American cultures–it was a meeting amongst representatives of those cultures in the early 1990s that generated the term, and they weren’t all happy with it, because when translated into their various languages, it didn’t always work very well. In modern Native American contexts, it can mean anything from the gender-variant spiritual functionaries of a wide variety of identities and understandings across many different Native American cultures, to anyone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual in modern Native American cultures. Many use it as shorthand for “Indian transsexual”; others use it to describe what many people would call a type of genderqueer identity. It almost poses more questions than it solves, unfortunately…

While that’s not any reason to say “It shouldn’t be used by non-Native Americans,” at the same time, it’s not exactly an unproblematic or unambiguous term, either.

No matter…the real crux of the question is: if this is a spiritual priority in one’s ancestral practices (and, I’d say, for the present Ekklesía Antínoou and Tetrad++ Group-reverencing context, it is!), what form can it take other than offerings made to these collective ancestors on various occasions?

As a side note–and yet, you’ll soon see it isn’t entirely tangential–I was reading Peter Grey’s The Red Goddess this past weekend, which was published by Scarlet Imprint. I will not be making a full review of it, here or elsewhere (though I was considering doing so initially); I will only say a few things about it in brief here. It is a work of devotion, and it has some really good and powerful parts in it; other parts didn’t strike me as being quite as useful, comprehensive, or powerful. There is certainly some great information in it on John Dee, Crowley, and Jack Parsons; there are also some systematic errors (e.g. if one is going to talk a great deal about the Book of Revelation, which Grey does, then one should get its name right, and not call it “Revelations”). The main reason that I am not going to review it is because, at the end of the day, no matter how many good things can be said about it, it’s androcentric, heterosexist, and not a small bit homophobic at several points–Grey prefers to use the word “sodomite” for queer persons on more than one occasion (an ideologically loaded term, to say the least!), which is sad, because in other publications, he has seemed to be open to and accepting of queer people. I think even despite what he says at various points in this book, he’d still claim to be accepting–and, I would believe him if he said so; unfortunately, the wording in parts of this book doesn’t really convey such accepting sentiments.

That having been said, at one point he does mention various eunuchs (though he’s not really very supportive of that particular spiritual path–though, in the context he’s discussing, it probably wasn’t a consensual decision), and in particular seven eunuchs who are mentioned in the biblical Book of Esther 1:10.

When he mentioned those, I got a strange idea, partially inspired by the great Tess Dawson and her honoring of the biblical Jezebel as a spiritual ancestress. Perhaps these seven eunuchs should also be honored as the spiritual ancestors (particularly since they have no genetic ancestors, as is the case for many gender-variant people) of modern-day gender-variant spiritual practitioners.

The names of these seven eunuchs, according to the Book of Esther, were:

Mehuman
Biztha
Harbona
Bigtha
Abagtha
Zethar
Karkas

I wish I knew more about Hebrew names and the language generally, as I’m sure these names have very interesting meanings…

By their spiritual descendants, may Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas, and all of the gender-variant dead, be honored!


Responses

  1. The thing about the term ‘two-spirit’ that most folks fon’t get is that, like hajira, it doesn’t translate to trangender/transsexual. it is a cultural term that has a specific cultural meaning and applying other labels to that meaning is missing the damn point. Two-spirit folks are two-spiri like hajira are hajira–they don’t need extra qualifiers to explain their identity to outsiders of the culture, and it’s insensitive to do so.

    I’m all for two-spirit dead being remembered, but in the context that is culturally relevant, meaning not assigning them as some kind of exotic trans* or genderqueer folks.

    • Yes, I fully agree…

      It’s one of these things that is difficult in so many modern queer identities, i.e. the desire to find precedents in other and/or earlier cultures which suggest that we’re not “just making these things up” and that we have a kind of “authority” to exist based on tradition, and some subtle thread of “universal” human recognition of gender variance, homoeroticism, etc. It’s the essentialist interpretation of queerness that tends to get highlighted in queer spirituality…and then gives a green light to all kinds of cultural appropriation, misinterpretation, and so forth, which I tend to be against personally (especially when gay men then conclude, from the existence of hijras and two-spirits, that therefore they are more spiritually advanced than straight people, when they’re not even gender-variant, etc.).

      There is the (I think) valid desire to want to connect with parallel identities, especially those that still exist; but, they’re clearly not the same thing, and probably shouldn’t be classed in the fashion many have, as you’ve rightly suggested.

  2. May they be honored.

  3. Ah, but the eunuchs are Persian, not Hebrew. The whole Vashti thing takes place before the king looks for a second wife/queen and finds the Jewish Esther.

    BTW, go Vashti! I think she’s awesome.

    • Yes, there’s that…Though, I wonder if their names are Persian-derived, or are Hebrew-derived (and I wish I knew enough to be able to investigate that matter!). The writers of the Hebrew Bible didn’t always give their “foreign” characters names that were from their cultures/languages (e.g. the Midianite Zipporah, for example).

      • I can tell you just looking at the Hebrew that they aren’t Hebrew language names. They seem to be Persian, or in some cases names from the general Near East region that were adopted by Persians.

        Mehuman= Vahuman

        Biztha= corruption of old Persian Mazdana

        Harbona= the Peshitta apparently has the name as Rachbona. The name means ‘Bald One’.

        Bigtha= didn’t find much on this one, but the Vulgate has Bagatha instead and alternate forms are Bigthan and Bigvai.

        Abagtha= didn’t find much aside from that this might be the same person as Admatha- compare Sanskrit adāmayita ‘unconquered’ or perhaps meant to be read Armatha (in Hebrew ‘r’ ר and ‘d’ ד are very similar looking letters) ‘devout submissiveness’- in Est. 1:14.

        Zethar= perhaps same as Shethar in Est 1:14. From Old Persian hšatra ‘empire’. I’m wondering if this is related to the word ‘satrap’.

        Karkas= from Avestan kahrkāsa, MPers. karkās ‘vulture’.

      • Fascinating! Thank you for that!

      • I’ll admit, as a vestige of my former academic life as a student of Hebrew, I still keep a copy of the Tanakh in Hebrew as well as Koehler/Baumgartner’s Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament and Jastrow’s dictionary for Rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic at my desk so they’re always at hand. :)

      • I envy you!

        I have my Greek New Testament, Septuagint, Hebrew Tanakh, Vulgate, and all of the lexical aids for those out in storage somewhere…there isn’t really room for them at present in my working/living space.

        And, sadder still, I don’t even have room for my DIL (the giant Old Irish dictionary), and only have a book on verbs, Paradigms and Glosses, and the good resources of the e-DIL to hand at present, alas…And, nothing for Welsh. Drat.

  4. May their names be not cut off, and remembered once more!

    It so happens there is a Bible verse that casts eunuchs in a positive light. Isaiah 56: 1-8, YHWH* is specifically aware of the eunuchs’ plight: “I am only a dry tree”. To foreigners who would enter into covenant with YHWH, offer sacrifices and worship, the eunuchs would gain “a monument in (my) house, better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/isaiah/56.html)

    I found this verse fascinating especially in light of some movements (such as the Quiverfull movement) that favor reproduction as a Christian duty, and shames those who can’t/won’t have children. It’s also a clear record that YHWH needed sacrifices, worship, and devotions much like polytheists offer to our gods today.

    • Ah, yes! Thanks for reminding us of that!

      Jesus likewise has some nice things to say about eunuchs in Matthew (if I remember correctly), whether they were “born that way” or were “made so for the sake of the Kingdom,” etc. Some have read this as a self-admission by Jesus that he may have been intersexed…I don’t personally think that’s necessary, but it’s nice to know it’s in there all the same.

      Paul, in Galatians, unfortunately, doesn’t quite have the same opinion–at least when he suggests that those “Judaizers” amongst the early Christians who think that Gentiles should get circumcised in order to become Christian should just go and castrate themselves…and, I think his comment on such may have been inspired by the nearby (to Galatia) Galli of Phrygia (especially since Galli can mean “cock,” “Galatian,” “Gaul,” or “priests of Magna Mater”).

      • Ah, I do remember that verse (yup, in Matthew) of Jesus’s words about why a man would be a eunuch. (No mention of what the ladies get up to!) I can’t say I’ve ever considered the verse was an admission of intersex status (am I using the right words??). I do think that he was saying that there are people “born that way” (that I think would be the GLBT community) long before it was made into a song. ;)


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