Historiography Saturday: Loki

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Loki, the Norse trickster god, is credited with fathering a panoply of peculiar creatures (including the Midgard Serpent and the wolf Fenrir), but he is also on record as having given birth to one: Sleipnir, Odin’s horse. As the story goes, the gods commissioned a wall to surround their realm of Asgard, and promised an impossible fee to the builder if he completed the project within three months. Thanks to the aid of a powerful stallion the builder’s progress was rapid, and the gods demanded that Loki – who had suggested the stallion in the first place – sabotage the construction. He transformed into a mare and lured the stallion away, delaying the builder – actually a giant in disguise – from completing the project. When Loki returned he brought Sleipnir the colt as a gift to Odin, claiming to have given birth to it.

Although the story of Loki and Sleipnir is included in Wikipedia’s “LGBT themes in mythology” page, it is difficult to discern how it relates to contemporary terminology.Viking same-sex relations were stigmatized for the male receiving partner, adding a possible element of humiliation. While Loki does willingly engage in sex with a stallion, it is in the context of making amends for one of his mistakes, and there are no other direct references in Norse mythology to him sleeping with other male creatures; he does, however, change physical sex on several occasions. At least one prominent modern interpretation views him as bisexual, but – as ever – deities defy easy human categorization.

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Chin

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Very little is known about Chin, a Mayan god of death and the originator of homosexual intercourse, since the only surviving writings detailing his (or, per one source, possibly her) role come from conquistador writers scandalized by sodomy. Chin was said to have demonstrated male-male sex with another ‘demon’, and thereby inspired the practice of fathers gifting younger men to their sons for sexual relationships. These unions were recognized as marriages in the sense that if someone else slept with the younger man it was considered adultery. While the art above does not depict Chin, it does show a male being of some kind in an awkwardly erotic embrace with a Mayan nobleman.

 

Historiography Saturday: Set and Horus

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Set (on the far right next to Ramesses the Third) was the Egyptian god of the desert, disorder, and violence, the last of which he demonstrated by murdering and dismembering his brother, Osiris, the king of the gods, in a fit of envy. Osiris’s wife, Isis, brought him back to life just long enough for her to conceive a son: Horus, the sky god (on the left). When Horus came of age, he challenged Set to determine which of them would succeed Osiris. One of their many battles involved Set engaging in intercrural sex when he though Horus was sleeping. Horus, however, knew what was happening, and threw Set’s semen in the river; he then spread his own semen and spread it on lettuce, which he tricked Set into eating. The gods ruled Horus the victor in that round, and he went on to finally triumph by beating Set in a stone boat race.

The myth of Horus and Set is listed in the LGBT themes in mythology page on Wikipedia, though the story contains only a single sexual act between two male gods, and it occurs as part of an extended competition between them. How their contendings should be classified, then, remains an open question; certainly by contemporary standards, it would be inaccurate to define them by a single act of sexualized dominance.

 

Hi’iaka

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Hi’iaka, the patron goddess of Hawai’i, is one of several seemingly bisexual characters in the island’s mythological canon. She is featured in an epic (with several variations) that tells the story of her elder sister Pele‘s infatuation with a mortal man and Hi’iaka’s quest to retrieve him. Hi’iaka’s traveling companions – all women – are described in loving terms, and her request to her sister (the goddess of volcanos) in exchange for fetching her beloved is that she not destroy Hi’iaka’s companion, Hopoe. When her journey runs long due to encounters with demon snakes and other dangers, Pele takes action, murdering Hopoe and the man Hi’iaka was sent to find in a fit of jealous rage. Instead of flinching at the sudden violence, Hi’iaka brings the victims back to life and reconciles with her sisters.

Wikipedia describes the majority of the story’s participants as bisexual, though explicit confirmation is not available online.

 

Tu Er Shen

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In Chinese mythology, Tu Er Shen (兔兒神 or 兔神) is the god of male homosexual love. As the story goes, he was once an ordinary man named Hu Tianbao, who fell madly in love with an attractive imperial inspector, which he kept to himself because they were socially unequal; when he was caught watching the object of his affection through a bathroom wall and confessed to his infatuation, he was punished with death by beating. What might have been a tragic gay-bashing tale instead has a happy ending: The lord of the underworld judged Hu’s crime to have been love, which was no crime at all, and appointed him the deity of gay romance. He then appeared as a rabbit (hence the name Tu Er Shen, which means “The Leveret Spirit”) in a dream to a man from his hometown and prompted him to erect a shrine in the new god’s honor.

Worship of the Leveret Spirit has continued on and off since its 18th century inception. This website lists traditional methods of praying to Tu Er Shen, including offerings of paper charms and description of the deity’s generous nature. An online vendor now sells love spells named after Tu Er Shen (the website even includes handy instructions for determining if you are homosexual).

Zeus

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The Grecian “Father of the Gods and Men” gained his title after freeing his siblings from their cannibalistic father’s digestive tract, then banishing him and his fellow Titans to the underworld. As he is a mythological figure, there are no shortage of tales and variations on his deeds: Wikipedia’s list reads like a series of Chuck Norris jokes, with each legend more outrageous than the last. (“When Hera gave birth to Hephaestus, Zeus threw him off the top of Mount Olympus because of his repulsive appearance.”)

Zeus’s extensive (and often upsetting) sexual history is a story in itself. The mating practices of the Greek gods combined the drama of a human soap opera with the fantastical, creating scandals like the birth of Athena, goddess of wisdom, who sprung fully-formed from Zeus’s head after he swallowed her mother whole. Nowadays Zeus might be classified as bisexual because his liaisons included the pedaristic relationship he shared with Ganymede, the world’s most handsome boy, whose Latin name Catamitus was the origin for the term catamite. (Interestingly, Zeus also plays a pivotal role in Plato’s speech on the origin of love in his Symposium, in which he inadvertently creates both hetero- and homosexuality, along with the opening number of the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.)