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 Zandee's brief notes on the many dangerous places of the netherworld lead into a longer section entitled "The Journey of the Dead". In the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts, the king ascends to the sky. The Book of Two Ways describes "a black land by road and a blue road by water, which is only part of the whole complex. Sometimes a whole labyrinth is mentioned."

The deceased's journey may take him or her to Osiris, who may be located in "heaven" or in the Ḥtp-field; and to Re and his solar barque. Like someone travelling from town to town, the deceased might have to pass gates, using spells to "impose his will" on the "demoniacal gate-keepers". Other spells protected the deceased from various demons and dangers, such as a pool of fire. Another spell gains the use of a ferry-boat and helpful spirits in order to cross a stream on the way to the ʾI3r-w-field. Zandee points out the parallel journey of "the funeral procession and the funerary voyage".

The dead also face judgement, on the basis of their actions towards other people, and towards the gods and their cults. The most famous scene is in the Book of the Dead Chapter 125, in the "hall of the double truth" and its forty-two judges / executioners, in which the deceased makes the "negative confession", Anubis weighs their heart against the feather, and The Devourer eats anyone who fails to be acquitted. Various versions of the judgement are based on real-life Egyptian court hearings, with a judge (Osiris or Re), an "opposing party" (called ḫfty, "enemy"), there's a verdict, and so forth. Multiple spells prevent the dead person's own heart from giving evidence against them. Apparently the dead could bring court cases against each other in the hereafter! The deceased could also bring a case against a living person who interfered with the tomb, winning the right to "annoy, as a ghost, the tomb robber still living on earth".

Zandee, J. Death as an Enemy According to Ancient Egyptian Conceptions. (Studies in the Histories of Religions, Supplement to Numen, V). Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1960.

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Continuing to read through Jan Zandee's book on Ancient Egypt. When the Egyptians wrote about death, they talked about its physical manifestations: decay; being motionless (rigor mortis; plus being tired, sleeping, and being bound, are used as analogies); the senses and limbs not working; to depart on a journey, or be carried off.

As "absolute destruction", death is like ceasing to exist; like being burned away to nothing (the netherworld is full of fire, and fire-breathing entities); like being cut with blades, butchered, beheaded. There are demons who devour the deceased, erasing them completely. These punishments were applied to the enemies of Re or Osiris or to "sinners". On the other hand, the deceased may also be tied to a post and subjected to torture (which Zandee describes as "eternal punishment"), imprisoned, caught in a net or with a lasso, or seized by demons.

A person needs all their different parts to survive - their body (ẖ3.t), shadow (šw.t), name (rn), heart (ib, ḥ3ty), b3, and aḫ are all subject to attack, as well as their magical power (ḥk3).

Various spells were intended to ward off all of these dangers.

Next bit: the journey through the netherworld, and the judgement of the soul.

Zandee, J. Death as an Enemy According to Ancient Egyptian Conceptions. (Studies in the Histories of Religions, Supplement to Numen, V). Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1960.

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I started this blog by reading an entire book and taking notes as I went along; I'd like to return to that process, at least more often, rather than quite so much scattershot stuff. So let's have a look at Jan Zandee's overview of thinking about death in Ancient Egypt.

He opens Chapter One by describing the two different ways in which the Ancient Egyptians thought about death. The "monistic view" is this: "Death is considered the necessary condition for eternal life... plants and crops mature and die down, but they spring up again from the seed which has been put into the earth and has died. After each setting the sun rises in the East through its own spontaneous power. This resurrection from death points to the fact that the secret of spontaneous life lives under the earth in the realm of the dead." This concept contrasts with the "dualistic view", in which "death is considered the enemy of life". Although Ancient Egyptian religion takes the monistic view, the dualistic view still crops up: the Egyptians enjoy life and want a long one. The various netherworld texts describe dangerous place where the soul risks complete destruction.

In the earliest writings about the afterlife, the Pyramid Texts and the Coffin Texts, only the king can ascend to heaven; the ordinary people stay in the lightless subterranean realm, where no-one eats, drinks, or has sex: "He who formerly walked on the earth, now walks with his feet against the bottom of the flat disk of the earth, as it were against a ceiling, head down." Spells in various texts help the deceased ward off this doom, and the similar topsy-turvy fate of having to eat excrement. Later, this condition is reserved for the damned.

Next: "Views based on direct observation of death as a physical phenomenon." Should be fun.

Zandee, J. Death as an Enemy According to Ancient Egyptian Conceptions. (Studies in the Histories of Religions, Supplement to Numen, V). Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1960.
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 The "sworn virgins" of the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe are women who, as children, as adolscents, or in adulthood, adopt male dress, take male names, socialise with men, and take on masculine jobs in agriculture and blood feuds. Traditionally, the farmers and herders of the mountain regions were organised into patrilineal households and tribes, which feuded constantly (I love the detail that, because the head of an enemy would be taken, the men wore topknots "for ease of carrying".) The details of the sworn virgin's life varied from place to place; different sworn virgins had different motivations. Some were "surrogate sons", whose presence in the household kept property in the family, let a widow stay in her marital home or let sisters avoid arranged marriage; some were themselves widows. Some may have helped make up for a shortage of men caused by constant feuding. Sometimes the sworn virgin seems to have chosen the role as a child, sometimes it seems to have been imposed by parents. They claimed not to menstruate. Some had female partners.
As Mildred Dickemann points out, women were valued in these societies as the primary laborers, inside and outside the home; as producers of children, especially male heirs; and for the bridewealth the brought when sold as wives. They were segregated, beaten, and regarded with contempt (often also expressed by sworn virgins). Escaping this life must have been an attractive prospect. Dickemann writes, "They seem to have enjoyed respect and even high esteem for doing what women were believed incapable of doing." (They also had an advantage in feuding; they could kill a man, but no man would kill a woman, even a sworn virgin.)
René Grémaux states that there are numerous records of sworn virgins from the mid-Sixteenth Century to the early Nineteenth Century; there were still some alive in the late Twentieth Century who she was able to interview.
Grémaux remarks on the special status of the virgin in many cultures: "Virginity is inherently an extremely ambiguous and ambivalent human condition, for it is considered to be neither a masculine nor a feminine quality, but rather a peculiar combination of both." An adult virgin doesn't fit into the scheme of men vs women, or girls vs women. "Virgins challenge common concepts of femininity," she writes, "of which motherhood and dependence on men are basic traits, and moreover they threaten the clear-cut demarcation of both genders." Classifying them as men partly resolves these ambiguities. Similarly, post-menopausal women in these cultures may behave like and be treated like men.
Grémaux describes the women of these cultures as "social outsiders" - it's interesting to think that, broadly accepted as what Dickemann calls "a subcategory of men", the "third gender" sworn virgins had become social insiders, the opposite of the fate of trans people in Western society. That makes this another of the numerous societies in which an established role for gender variant people offers some inclusion and protection.
The sworn virgin and the Ancient Mesopotamian "third gender" cult functionaries such as the gala have little in common, but I couldn't help connecting them when Grémaux remarked that, "Singing and making music for an audience that included males, activities traditionally considered improper for local women, was a kind of speciality of many Albanian sworn virgins."

(Would that I had time to more than glance at Suzana Milevska's thesis Gender Difference in the Balkans. Into the infinite queue it goes.)
Dickemann, Mildred. "The Balkan Sworn Virgin: A Traditional European Transperson". in Bullough, Bonnie, Vern Bullough, and James Elias (eds). Gender blending. Amherst NY, Prometheus Books, 1997.
Grémaux, René. "Woman Becomes Man in the Balkans". in Gilbert Herdt (ed). Third sex, third gender: beyond sexual dimorphism in culture and history. New York, Zone Books; Cambridge MA, Distributed by MIT Press, 1993.
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The first chapter of Will Roscoe's book Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native America is a brief, general introduction to traditional Native American societies. I wonder if there's a correlation between the acceptance of gender variation and the fact that most of these societies were "only weakly stratified" and that "opportunities for women to acquire prestige and take leadership roles existed in every group". (These are generalisations; Roscoe is careful to note the wide variety of social arrangements in the ~400 different groups.)

Roscoe writes: "Alternative gender roles were amongst the most widely shared features of North American societies. Male berdaches* have been documented in over 155 tribes... In about a third of these groups, a formal status also existed for females who undertook a man's lifestyle, becoming hunters, warriors, and chiefs." These groups "occur in every region of the continent, in every kind of society, and among speakers of every major language group."

The "core set of traits" of these third and fourth genders were "[s]pecialized work roles", "gender difference [ie] temperament, dress, lifestyle, and social roles"; "spiritual sanction"; and "same-sex relations... with non-berdache members of their own sex". As well as taking on jobs usually done by the "opposite sex", there might also be special tasks reserved for gender variant people. Their "active sex life" meant they were "considered fortuitous in all matters relating to sex and romance" - matchmaking, love magic, curing STDs. Their same-sex relations were the result of their gender status, rather than the other way around. "... rather than an opposition of heterosexuality to homosexuality, native beliefs opposed reproductive to non-reproductive sex." "[K]inship-based social organization" dictated most people's sexual availability, but the same restrictions didn't apply to gender variant people; similarly, some of the elements of marriage, such as bridewealth and political alliances between families, didn't apply.

Third and fourth gender people both had roles in war, from "provid[ing] support, entertainment, and luck", to "joining in the fighting, handling enemy scalps, and directing victory ceremonies". Roscoe remarks on "[t]he associations of alternative genders with death", such as in war or as "undertakers or mourners". He says: "They point to a nexus of beliefs difficult to grasp from a Western perspective, in which nonprocreative sexuality and fertility, creativity and inspiration, and warfare and death are linked". (I think there's something similar in Aztec culture, which Peter Sigal talks about in The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture, of which more later.) In some groups, the alternative genders "enjoyed special respect in privileges"; in a few, their supernatural powers were feared.

In an overview of third and fourth genders in various groups, Roscoe mentions a study of "central arctic Inuit, in which arbitrary gender assignments along with individual preferences result in complex and varied 'gender histories' for many individuals. Boys and girls are raised in accordance with the gender of one or more names selected for them before their birth. Consequently, some children are raised with cross- or mixed-gender identities" which they may retain or change at puberty. Also "[t]he Inuit believe some infants, called sipiniq, change their anatomical sex at birth." My curiosity is piqued.

* Roscoe mounts a thoughtful defence of this term, but I think it's now largely been discarded.


Roscoe, Will. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. London, Macmillan, 1998.
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Multiple sources say the Chukchi people of Siberia have, or had, seven genders, citing a 1904 account by Russian anthropologist Waldemar Borgoras. For example, Sue-Ellen Jacobs and Christine Roberts in the chapter cited below say that "three were female and four were male". Looking at his account, I can only find four: man, "soft man" / "similar to a woman", woman, and "similar to a man". I'll pursue this - it'd be much more interesting if there really were three more.
Borgoras, Waldemar. "The Chukchee". in Franz Boas (ed). The Jesup North Pacific Expedition. Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History 11, part 2, 1904, pp 449-451.

Jacobs, Sue-Ellen and Christine Roberts. "Sex, Sexuality, Gender, and Gender Variance". in Sandra Morgen (ed). Gender and Anthropology: critical reviews for research and teaching. Washington DC, American Anthropological Association, 1989. p 440.

ETA: I thought this might be the case: Jacobs and Roberts count the intermediate stages of gender transformation as separate genders. Women start by changing how their arrange their hair, then begin dressing as men, and finally take on men's behaviour and tasks; men follow the same pattern. The seventh gender in this schema is the transformed person "feeling like" their new sex and taking on an appropriate spouse and domestic role.

Jacobs, Sue-Ellen and Jason Cromwell. Visions and Revisions of Reality: Reflections on Sex, Sexuality, Gender, and Gender-Variance. Journal of Homosexuality 23(4), 1992. pp 43-69.

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This year, I paid my first visit in a long time to the Library of Congress. Once I found a photocopier with paper in it, I was able to make myself a copy of Cecelia F. Klein's chapter on gender ambiguity amongst "the Late Postclassical Period (1250-1521) Nahuatl-speaking inhabitants of Central Mexico", of whom the most famous were the Mexica, aka the Aztecs.
Alas, it seems that the Nahua were about as tolerant of gender variant people as the modern West has been. Intersex people were considered to be women with male characteristics and held in low regard. As in many cultures, a man who permitted anal intercourse was considered "womanly" - although both partners were killed. Harriet Whitehead states that the Spanish accounts of Mesoamerican cultures "provide little more than allusions to effeminate male prostitutes and to sanctions against homosexuality", leaving us with no evidence of a "third gender".
"Unlike us today, however," writes Klein, "the Nahua harnessed the metaphorical power of ambiguous gender and turned it back upon itself." Mixing genders was a feature of numerous ceremonies performed at important turning points in the calendar: the end of the year, the end of the dry season, the end of the wet season, and at the end of each month.
Klein contrasts "gender ambiguity" with "gender duality", when an entity has both a male aspect and a female aspect - for example, the male-and-female deity Ometeotl, "Two God"; two genders are present, but "there is nothing uncertain, unpredictable, or incomplete about them." Gender ambiguity symbolised "inversion", "reversal", and the "in-between"; ambiguous beings have been "infused with traits of the other gender" and are therefore "incomplete, imperfect, unfulfilled, partially disguised or hidden". Gender ambiguity gave form to fears of "cosmic and social chaos, loss of direction and purpose, illness and madness, the recklessness of youth, impotence, barrenness and loss of reproductive energy, darkness and deception, the onset of poverty and powerlessness - indeed, formlessness itself." Given form, this chaos could be used to restore order.
In practice, gender ambiguity seems to have largely consisted of men wearing women's clothes. During the month of Tititl, male priests donned female clothing and danced with a slave woman before she was sacrificed to the goddess Tonan. The Codex Borbonicus depicts another ritual in which priests dressed as deities, including male priests dressing as goddesses. A female slave impersonated the goddess Cihuacoatl in her aspect as Ilamatecuhtli; she was sacrificed and a male priest donned her flayed skin and danced backwards with her severed head. Klein quotes Susan Milbrath, who describes this as a "transformation into a male persona". Milbrath remarks that an old man would take hold of the severed head, becoming the "likeness of Ilamatecuhtli" - a "gender change" for the goddess. Cihuacoatl herself has an ambiguous gender: she is  impersonated by a man dressed as a woman, and referred to with pronouns of either gender. This, plus other examples of the sacrifice of a lunar goddess who then becomes male, indicate that the moon was seen as changing gender as it changed phases. Milbrath also remarks on the gender ambiguity of the Tzitzimime and the iconography they share with Cihuacoatl.
Women who died in childbirth might become one of the Cihuateteo, the "Divine Women" - malevolent spirits of women who had died in childbirth, who caused disease and deformity. Obliged to wear "the costumes and shields of male warriors", the Cihuateteo returned to Earth to search for their female clothes and tools, in the darkness of midnight and eclipses, at crossroads. ("In Mesoamerican thought," says Klein, "crossroads appear to have represented an excessive number of paths or directions.") Their patroness was Cihuacoatl-Ilamatecuchtli; in ritual, they were impersonated by masked men. Milbrath also remarks on the gender ambiguity of the Tzitzimime and the iconography they share with Cihuacoatl.
In the month Quecholli, at the end of the wet season, rituals included "public, indecent women who were dressed for war" (I assume this means sex workers) and "effeminate men" dressed as women.
Discussing the syncretic deity Maximón, worshipped by modern Maya, Klein remarks: "What we are seeing... is the need to give a name and a physical form to socially unacceptable sexual behaviour. This need is felt at moments when an important time period has come to its end, necessitating the removal of those dangerous forces that have accumulated over its course in order for the next period to begin on schedule, with renewed vigor. It is precisely because the materialized being represents, and thus locates and crystallizes, those threatening forces that it is properly equipped to remove them... the ambiguously gendered embodies the very principles of transition and reversal. It is the ambiguous nature of Maximón's gender identity that makes it possible for him to safely 'cross over from the stable center into the world of spirits, sickness, and death - to leave the one true path for the crossroads at the periphery, where he can aimlessly mix with the forces of the wild and lawless. Maximon was described... as a 'great traveler' who traveled at night through every country..." (In a footnote, she adds: "in Mesoamerica the center is contrasted with the periphery, which is represented by the wilderness and represents, in turn, asocial, immoral behavior, danger, filth, and disharmony. Yet the periphery... is also a place of creativity and sacred knowledge." (p 218) I thought of the Descent of Inanna / Ishtar and the ambiguous assinnu, Asušu-namir, and the kurgarra and kalaturra, and their ability to journey to the underworld (and return?).
Klein discusses the association between deformed or missing feet and legs and deviant sexuality in Mesoamerican myth. Notably, Tezcatlipoca, the god with one foot, was in the habit of changing himself into a woman and seducing his enemies; he may also have been the god who taught humans how to have anal sex. In mythology he is often accompanied by "a male friend or a younger brother"; Klein wonders if this was the role of the young man sacrificed after Tezcatlipoca's impersonator, who lived with the "god" before his death. The physical perfection required of Tezcatlipoca's impersonator strikes Klein as "effeminate"; she notes that he broke his whistle and flute on the steps of the temple where he would be sacrificed - a symbolic self-castration. Tezcatlipoca is both the only god who has "sexual relations with goddesses", but also the only god "without a permanent female consort". To the Nahua, his sexuality would have seemed "immature, asocial and unpredictable" - the exact opposite of the "ideal, married man".
For the Nahua, sex and gender were slippery and might mingle or change; it was crucial to "stabilize a child's gender" so they could marry and reproduce. Rosemary A. Joyce writes that newborn boys were presented by the midwife with miniature weapons and dressed in tiny versions of the clothes of adult men; girls were dressed as adult women and given miniature weaving equipment. Now, as I write this, the government plans to poll Australians on same-sex marriage; the "No" campaign centres not on marriage, but on the teaching of tolerance of gender-variant people in schools. I think in some ways modern Westerners are not so different from the Aztecs: many of us believe that gender and sexuality are not in fact dictated by nature, but mutable. The Nahua parents anxious that their sons might touch a spindle and become effeminate parallel the "No" campaigners terrified that acceptance of LGBTIQA+ people will somehow create more of them.
Joyce, Rosemary A. Girling the Girl and Boying the Boy: The Production of Adulthood in Ancient Mesoamerica. World Archaeology, Vol. 31, No. 3, Human Lifecycles (Feb., 2000), pp. 473-483.
Klein, Cecelia F. "None of the Above: Gender Ambiguity in Nahua Ideology". in Cecelia F. Klein (ed). Gender in Pre-Hispanic America. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2001.
Milbrath, Susan. Decapitated Lunar Goddesses in Aztec Art, Myth, and Ritual. Ancient Mesoamerica 8 (2): 186–206.
Whitehead, Harriet. "The Bow and the Burden Strap: A New Look At Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native North America". in Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle (eds). The Transgender Studies Reader. London : Routledge, 2006.

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I've just read some articles on alternative genders in non-Western cultures which each sound a note of caution, as well as providing more information on those genders. Oversimplification and misinterpretation are of course hazards of my cursory note-taking, so these warnings are relevant to my interests.
In "Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the 'Third Gender' Concept", Evan B. Towle and Lynn M. Morgan raise a number of problems with how Western popular accounts (in particular, those written by transgender people from the US) interpret alternative genders in potentially misleading ways. For instance, cultures with a "third gender" may be thought of as "primordial", as if all cultures "evolve" from more gender diverse to less gender diverse. Also, alternative genders from different cultures tend to be lumped together into a single category, into "a single, universal transsexual experience", one shared by trans Americans. "Third gender" categories may be depicted as homogenous and unchanging, and the extent to which they are accepted by their cultures may be exaggerated.
The authors ask whether the concept of a "third gender" actually protects binary gender rather than challenging it: "The existence of the 'third' category might imply - wrongly, in our view - that 'first' and 'second' categories are inviolable and unproblematic." Carolyn Epple makes the same point in her article "Coming to Terms with Navajo nádleehí" - that for there to be an alternative third gender, there must be a first and second gender which are not alternative or other. She asks: "But is it not possible that the existence of Navajo nádleehí is not in fact evidence of third genders but is instead constructed as such, given current theoretical interests?"

Moreover, adding additional genders doesn't guarantee a system in which individuals are free to express themselves. Towle and Morgan quote Anuja Agrawal re the hijra of India: "The greater the number of genders, the greater their oppressive potential as each may demand the conformity of the individual within increasingly narrower confines." A "real" hijra is a castrated man, not just a cross-dressing or effeminate one. Another researcher, Don Kulick, argues that the Brazilian travesti helps "solidify normative binary gender system, but not the Euro-American system that makes gender contingent on sex." Rather, the role in intercourse determines gender; the travestis "understand and position themselves as women". (Cf Unni Wikan's comments on the xanith.) So a "third gender" may uphold "a rigid gender system by formalizing variation."
Similarly, in "The Bow and the Burden Strap: A New Look at Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native America", Harriet Whitehead warns against confusing Western homosexual people with Native American gender-crossers, who were defined by "occupational pursuits and dress/demeanour" rather than sexuality. They occurred in some nations (such as the Yurok, the Crow, the Miami) but not others (including the Inuit, the Comanche, and the Maidu).
Discussing the cultural construction of gender, Whitehead writes: "A social gender dichotomy is present in all known societies in the sense that everywhere anatomic sexual difference observable at birth are used to start tracking the newborn into one or the other of two social role complexes." Anatomy creates the dichotomy, "but in no culture does it exhaust the ideas surrounding the two classes thus minimally constituted." Assumptions about additional differences between the sexes, along with beliefs about their "fate, temperament, spiritual power, ability, and mythical history" form a "cluster" of defining features, which vary from culture to culture, and make possible "a mixed gender or deficient gender status" - "a person of one anatomic sex assuming part or most of the attire, occupation, and social - including marital - status of the opposite sex for an indeterminate period."
A Native American gender-crosser (I'm avoiding the dubious catch-all term "berdache") might behave like a member of the "opposite" sex during childhood or adolescence, or might receive messages in dreams and/or visions telling them to do so. There were also male war captives who were given the status of "wife" in their captor's household, and made to dress as women and do women's work. Whitehead also mentions a Gros Ventre warrior woman who became a Crow chief and took wives.
Whitehead discusses why "the gender-crossed status was more fully instituted for males than females"; there were "[f]emale deviations in the male role", but not a "named, stable status category". There were two reasons: one, it's easier to move down in status than it wis to move up. Two, women were more defined by their anatomy, in particular their reproductive role, while this was less significant for men and made it easier for them to gender-cross. Female gender-crossers claimed not to menstruate. They were known for the "Mohave, the Cocopa, the Zuni, the Apache, and the Navajo"; the Kaska apparently had only female-to-male gender-crossers. Some had wives.
Without taking on this "fourth gender" identity, IIUC, women might also temporarily engage in male tasks (for example out of economic need), they might be trained in male skills by a husband or father, or they might "consistently cultivat[e] male skills from an early age". Women who were successful in the male domain were honoured as if they were men. OTOH, because "[w]omen's labour was not subject to total or even very extensive appropriation by men", a gender-crosser might make himself rich and respected with his expertise in female crafts.
The male gender-crosser was "a mixed creature", a "man-woman" or "part-man, part-woman". Whitehead remarks that "Navajo, Cheyenne, and Mohave lore about the berdache's exceptional abilities as a matchmaker, love magician, or curer of venereal disease again expresses the logic that the berdache unites in himself both sexes, therefore he is in a position to facilitate the union of the sexes." He might engage in male tasks as well as female, and/or have "specialized duties" such as handling corpses, carrying provisions for war parties, and looking after the sick.
Whitehead discusses why these cultures were "permissive" towards gender-crossers. She suggests this is because of the belief that peoples' characteristics, their talents, luck, and idiosyncracies, were unpredictably assigned to them by supernatural helpers (often via visions). The gender-crosser was just one of many types of person whose nature was decreed by forces beyond human control. (Carolyn Epple explains that the Navajo see an individual as the product of complex, cyclical natural processes, not "a handful of traits".)
Finally, Peter A. Jackson's chapter "Tolerant but Unaccepting: the myth of a Thai 'Gay Paradise'" does what it says on the tin, debunking the myth that Thailand is accepting of "non-normative sex/gender behaviours". Homosexuality is not illegal, nor considered immoral by the Buddhist majority, and gay-bashing is rare; however, homophobic rhetoric comes from both popular and official sources, pressure to conform comes from parents and from shaming through gossip, and "cross-dressing kathoey, like Thai women, are often subject to sexual harassment and even sexual violence by heterosexually identifying males." "Tolerance," Jackson writes, "denotes a preparedness to endure, put up with, or permit to exist, but does not necessarily imply the lack of criticism or the favorable or approving attitude connoted by acceptance."
The kathoey identity includes intersex people as well as cross-dressing and transgender men. They are assumed to take non-kathoey men as their lovers; they are more accepted than male-identifying gay men, whose existence seems to have come as something of a shock to mainstream Thai culture in the mid-60s. In turn, kathoey who "exhibit a high standard of feminine beauty and who adopt the reserved, polite manners and speech of a genteel Thai man or woman" are more accepted than those considered "loud-mouthed, aggressive or lewd". (Perhaps this is another example of a confining, rather than freeing, "third gender".) A heterosexual man can have sex with a kathoey without losing his masculinity, assuming he takes the role of "husband".
Jackson comments on the multiple masculinities present in Thai culture, remarking that "in classical and some contemporary literature it is not unusual for the ideal Thai man to be portrayed as soft-featured, occasionally being equally sexually attractive to men." There's a class component to this as well, I think, as in a 1991 story Jackson cites in which an "ambiguously attractive" refined nobleman, a kathoey, is contrasted with a peasant with "rough manners, a dark complexion and coarse features".
It's only natural that LGBT+ people would look to other cultures for evidence of their existence and acceptance. These writers are just cautioning against imposing Western ideas onto non-Western cultures. Even my slight reading has made it clear that Western assumptions about gender and sexuality - even the concepts "gender" and "sexuality" - are not natural and universal. That profoundly challenges sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.
Epple, Carolyn. Coming to Terms with Navajo "nádleehí": A Critique of "berdache," "Gay," "Alternate Gender," and "Two-Spirit". American Ethnologist, Vol. 25, No. 2 (May, 1998), pp. 267-290.
Jackson, Peter A. "Tolerant but Unaccepting: the myth of a Thai 'Gay Paradise'." in Peter A. Jackson and Nerida M. Cook (eds). Genders and Sexualities in Modern Thailand. Silkworm, Chiang Mai, 1999.
Towle, Evan B. and Lynn M. Morgan. "Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the 'Third Gender' Concept". in Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle (eds).The Transgender Studies Reader. New York, Routledge, 2006.
Whitehead, Harriet. "The Bow and the Burden Strap: A New Look At Institutionalized Homosexuality in Native North America". in Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle (eds). The Transgender Studies Reader. London, Routledge, 2006. (Originally published in Sherry B. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead (eds). Sexual Meaning: the Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality. Cambridge University Press, 1981. pp 80-115.)

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With the ugly possibility of a pointless postal survey on same-sex marriage in Australia, with the inevitable attendant claims that marriage has eternally and universally between one woman and one man, it seems like a good idea to revisit the fact of woman-woman marriage in traditional African societies with a few notes from the book Male Daughters, Female Husbands, a study of gender roles and relations in the Igbo town of Nnobi, Nigeria.

In Nnobi, writes Ifi Amadiume, "'male daughters', first daughters, barren women, rich widows, wives of rich men and successful female farmers and traders" all might have wives of their own. The term for woman-woman marriage was igba ohu. "Such wives, it seems, came from other towns. The 'female' husband might give the wife a (male) husband somewhere else and adopt the role of mother to her but claim her services. The wives might also stay with her, bearing children in her name."

Wives and children were a kind of wealth, for both men and women - "a question of a large workforce versus a small workforce". Women's wealth might also include animals and crops, but not land, which was passed from father to son. What to do, then, when there was no son? As with the Hittites and Hurrians, the solution was simple: give a daughter the status of a son, with a ceremony in which the father summoned "members of his patrilineage and gave them palm wine".

Generally, men owned the land and women worked it; Amadiume notes that women's access to gardens and farm land depended on men. She writes: "On the death of a husband, a wife's continued access to farmland depended on her having a son, or a 'male daughter'. On the death of a woman as wife and mother, the continuation of her matricentric household depended on the woman's son, or a 'male daughter', or respected ada, first daughter, marrying a woman to take the place of the dead wife."

This is only one of many societies in which marriage was not defined as one man and one woman, with polygamy and woman-woman marriage both well-established customs.

Amadiume, Ifi. Male Daughters, Female Husbands: gender and sex in an African society. London, Zed, 1987.

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(One of these days I would like to go back through all these jillions of links and organise them by subject. "'I would like'? I would like a trip to Europe!" - Daffy Duck)

Anat: Autonomous Goddess Of Ugarit. Presented by Ellie Wilson at the Society of Biblical Literature's annual meeting, November 1993.

Artefacts found in Pilbara cave show Aboriginal life in northern WA dates back 50,000 years (ABC, 19 May 2017) | The extraordinary science behind an Aboriginal history discovery 65,000 years in the making (SMH, 20 July 2017). "Artefacts found in Kakadu national park show that Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for a minimum of 65,000 years, 18,000 years longer than the previous estimate."

The world's oldest observatory? How Aboriginal astronomy provides clues to ancient life (Lateline, 13 October 2016) | How astronomy paved the way for terra nullius, and helped to get rid of it too (phys.org, 14 October 2016)

Ancient Humans Liked Getting Tipsy, Too (Smithsonian.com, 10 July 2017) | What wine did Jesus drink at the Last Supper? (phys.org, 17 April 2017) | Barley dormancy mutation suggests beer motivated early farmers (phys.org, 21 November 2016) | Revealing the science of Aboriginal fermentation (phys.org, 24 October 2016)

Late last year the Brooklyn Museum's Tumblr posted about the use of "Visible-Induced Luminescence imaging to map the presence of Egyptian blue". Meanwhile, the earliest known use of Egyptian blue has been identified in a bowl from the time of King Scorpion.

Archaeologists discover earliest monumental Egyptian hieroglyphs (phys.org, 26 June 2017)

DNA from ancient Egyptian mummies reveals their ancestry (Washington Post, 30 May 2017)

The origin of the tabby coat and other cat mysteries revealed (ABC Science, 20 June 2017) | No, Those Aren't Male Lions Mating. One Is Likely a Female. (National Geographic, 18 April 2016)

The Amazon Women: Is There Any Truth Behind the Myth? (Smithsonian Magazine, April 2014) | The kingdom of women: the society where a man is never the boss (The Guardian, 1 April 2017) The Mosuo of Tibet.
What ancient Egypt tells us about a world without religious conflict (The Guardian, 30 October 2015) The Faith After the Pharaohs exhibition at the British Museum.

Information-age math finds code in ancient Scottish symbols (Scientific American, 31 March 2010)

How we discovered that people have been cooking plants in pots for 10,000 years (phys.org, 24 January 2017)

Scientists find advanced geometry no secret to prehistoric architects in US Southwest (phys.org, 23 January 2017)

Why we'll always be obsessed with – and afraid of – monsters (Medical Xpress, 31 October 2016)

Inscription About Ancient 'Monkey Colony' Survives [Daesh] Attacks (LiveScience, 9 December 2016)

Women Are the Backbone of the Standing Rock Movement (Time, 29 November 2017)

This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits (Medical Xpress, 29 November 2016)

Pristine pressed flower among 'jaw-dropping' bronze age finds (The Guardian, 30 September 2016)

“Gay” Caveman Wasn’t Gay… (En|Gender, 7 April 2011) "... she was trans." Or third gender. Or...

Unearthing the origins of East Africa's lost civilization (CNN, 19 October 2015). Kilwa in Tanzania, part of the Azania trading society.

Gender and the Generic in Divine Acclamations (a series of Tweets from Edward Butler, 28 November 2015).

Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae
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OK, but is the Mesopotamian goddess Išḫara (apparently the name given to Ishtar on her marriage) the same as the Hittite goddess Išḫara? Why, yes:

Išḫara "was the main goddess of Ebla during the third millennium" (Kura was its main god), where she was the personal goddess of some kings. Her worship was more widespread than that of Ishtar; she had temples in the city of Ebla and throughout the kingdom. After the "first destruction" of the kingdom, however, she was replaced as main goddess and royal goddess by Ishtar, who was assimilated with Šauwuška.
Aha. "The cult of Išḫara spread from the region of Ebla as far as the Babylonia of the Akkadian period." She appears there in personal names, alongside Išḫara in a love spell, and "plays the role of Ištar" in the Epic of Gilgamesh and in Atrahasis. She had temples at Ur and Nippur, and also became part of pantheons elsewhere in Syria and in eastern Anatolia.
Išḫara has an important role in the Hurrian "Epic of Freeing", which describes her as "skillful in speaking, a goddess renowned for (her) wisdom. She "was the tutelary goddess of oath taking... This was the Išḫara the Hittites knew."

ETA: Here's Išḫara at Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East.
Yener, K. Aslihan and Harry A. Hoffner Jr. Recent developments in Hittite archaeology and history: papers in memory of Hans G. Güterbock. Winona Lake, IN, Eisenbrauns, 2002.



Jul. 26th, 2017 07:01 pm
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Two interesting snippets, from:

van Wyk, Susandra J. The concealed crime of the naditu priestess in §110 of the Laws of Hammurabi. Journal for Semitics 24/1 (2015) 109-145.

"I translate MÍ.É.GAL as 'consort' or 'wife' rather than 'queen' because it is clear that the Assyrians themselves conceived of a 'queen' (šarratu) as either a goddess, or a woman (always foreign) who actually ruled, such as the queen of the Arabs mentioned in Esarhaddon's annals."

"Another emblem associated with MÍ.É.GAL as the scorpion, a motif that has been found in both official and private contexts on numerous items from the women's quarters of various palaces. The scorpion symbol is associated with Išhara (the goddess representing Ištar in her married state) and is usually found only on items related to women."
In pursuit of Išḫara the married Ishtar, I followed van Wyk's reference about the scorpions to three articles:

Herbordt, Susan. "Neo-Assyrian Royal and Administrative Seals and Their Use." in H. Waetzoldt and H. Hauptmann (eds), Assyrien im Wandel der Zeiten, 39 RAI Heidelberg July 1992, HSAO 6 (1997) 279-283.

"... there is good reason to assume the scorpion to be a symbol associated with the administration of the queen -- at least in the reign of Sennacherib. A symbolic meaning of the scorpion in this context is not clear. Since late Kassite times, it was used as a symbol for the goddess Išḫara, who shows a variety of characteristics from being a goddess of love, mother goddess and goddess of extispicy to being war goddess."
(Herbordt's references are in German, alas.)

Stol, Marten and F. A. M. Wiggermann. Birth in Babylonia and the Bible: Its Mediterranean Setting. Styx, Groningen, 2000.

This book quotes a passage from Atrahasis:

"At the moment of (their) marriage,
let Ištar rejoice in the House of ....
Nine days let there be made merry,
let them name Ištar 'Išḫara'."

And remarks: "We know from other texts that Ištar, the goddess of love, in marriage has the name Išḫara. Incantations show that she was a married goddess under this name: 'What Ištar does for Dumuzi, what Nananja does for her mate, what Išḫara does for her husband.' In a number of 'bed-scenes' we also see a scorpion; we assume that in these scenes the couple thus indicated is to be married. Her temple has the name 'House of the womb (šassuru)."

(Curse my inability to read German, or I'd be able to further pursue the references...)
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You read something over breakfast thinking, this is short, it'll only take a minute, and before you know it you're embroiled.

This short article from the year 1900 suggests that Ishtar was originally an androgynous deity before being "split" into male and female aspects. Similarly, Barton argues, Enlil and Ninlil were originally one and the same god. This intriguing idea is based on three pieces of evidence: one, in South Arabia, the goddess Athtar became the god Athtar, the deity's female aspect becoming a separate goddess, Shamsu; an inscription which Barton argues should read in part "the king of countries, the god Ishtar, the lady, the goddess Ishtar"; and an incantation in which both Enlil and Ninlil are called "mother-father". Barton also mentions Phoenician inscriptions referring to "Ashtart of the name of Baal" and "Tanit of the face of Baal".

This is appealing, but I don't quite know what to do with it. I can't find any citations of this article (which makes me wonder how I found it in the first place); apparently no-one else has built on this idea (although Barton discussed it further in his 1902 book A Sketch of Semitic Origins: Social and Religious). Connections suggest themselves: the primordial Aztec creator deity Ometeotl, both male and female, who can also appear as a male god, Ometecuhtli, and a goddess, Omecihuatl. OTOH, the Egyptian god Atum seems to have started off male and acquired female characteristics as a necessary part of being a creator.

There's also a mention of a Phoenician idol of a bearded goddess (Tanit, but with Baal's face?). I tried randomly searching for "bearded goddess" and came up with various examples, including a bearded Isis (which I will ETA), and the bearded Aphrodite / Aphroditus / Hermaphroditus, and his/her festival in which men and women swapped clothes - shades of the transvestism apparently involved in Inanna's rituals. Scholars have argued over whether Anat wore a beard. (Which I will also ETA because I can't lay hands on the photocopies right now.)

ETA: After much faffing about I found a section on Anat's beard in Neal H. Walls' book The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth. There's a description of the god El mourning the slain Baal in a series of ritual actions, which includes shaving his beard and whiskers. Then Anat goes through the same series of steps. IIUC what El does, literally, is to "cut his cheeks and chin", where the word for "chin" is also used to mean "beard". So in Anat's case, she "gashed her cheeks and chin". Walls remarks: "the comparative evidence for bearded goddesses is dubious". I shall pursue this question. (Does Sekhmet's ruff count?)

ETA: Here's bearded Isis (click for larger size):

This is a plate from Symbolik und Mythologie der alten Völker: besonders der Griechen (Symbolism and mythology of the Ancient Peoples, Especially the Greeks) by Friedrich Creuzer. This in turn reproduces an illustration from Nachträge zu meinem Werke betitelt "Reise zum Tempel des Jupiter Ammon in der libyschen Wüste" (Supplements to my work titled "Journey to the Temple of Jupiter Ammon in the Libyan Desert) (whew!) by Heinrich Karl Minutoli. Here, alas, the trail runs out: Minutoli tells us that this is a relief in the Palazzo Grimani in Venice, and that is Graeco-Roman, but gives no further information.
Barton, George A. An Androgynous Babylonian Divinity. Journal of the American Oriental Society 21, 1900, pp. 185-187
Walls, Neal H. The Goddess Anat in Ugaritic Myth. Scholars Press, Atlanta GA, 1992.
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These figures appear on the back pillar of a magical healing statue, Turin 3031, which portrayed a man holding a Horus cippus. Only the lower part has survived.

If that's an accurate rendering of "Sekhmet the Great, beloved of Ptah", then her phallus seems to have slid down to her knees. Kákosy compares her to other lioness-headed, ithyphallic figures, from Karnak and Hibis, and also "the statue in Naples inv. 1065 back pillar right side ref V.1.", which alas I seem to have neglected to photocopy.

There are enough examples of this figure - the ithyphallic lioness-headed goddess - to say that it was definitely A Thing, a rare example of androgyny in Egyptian religion. But what did it mean to the ancients? If it's a syncretism between Mut or Sekhmet and a specific male god or gods, then why not name them? Perhaps it was comparable to pantheistic figures - showing that the deity in question had the powers of all the gods, male and female?

ETA: Figures labelled as Sekhmet appear elsewhere on the same statue - which makes sense for a goddess associated with sickiness and healing. The goddess takes various forms: holding two snakes; holding a long double-headed snake ("Sekhmet who subdues the Rebel"); as a lion-headed uraeus, presented with the wedjat by a baboon (presumably a reference to the tale of the Distant Goddess); and as a lion lying on a shrine, wearing the atef crown ("Sekhmet the Great who dwells in the City" (perhaps Thebes)).

Nefertum also makes multiple appearances, firstly to the left of Horus on the cippus, in the form of a lotus with tall plume hung with two pairs of menits. The texts on the cippus which refer to this symbol name "Horus the Saviour", who Kákosy speculates was identified with Nefertem in this case. Kákosy writes that this symbol was "a potent emblem" and says that Nefertem and his lotus often appear in magic; Horus on the papyrus, which appears on the right side of the cippus opposite Neferterm's symbol as its "counterpart", "may have been the symbol of rejuvenation and freshness of health" as well as the union of male and female (many goddesses hold a papyriform sceptre).

There are several other interesting figures, such as Sobek pulling a snake out of his mouth and two cats flanking a sistrum. "Khonsu the Great who came forth from the Nun" appears in the form of a crocodile on a pedestal with a falcon-head and sun-disc emerging from its back.

Kákosy, László. Egyptian Healing Statues in Three Museums in Italy: Turin, Florence, Naples. Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali, Soprintendenza al Museo delle antichità egizie, 1999.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
This chapter by Donald B. Redford discusses the "ever-present struggle between land and sea, fair weather and storm", which "dominat[ed] the mythology of the maritime cities of the eastern Mediterranean", in the form of stories of hero vs monster - tales describing creation and providing "an archetypal rationalization of kingship". The version of the story from northern Syria, with Baal defeating Prince Sea on the coast near Mount Saphon (modern Jebel al-ʾAqraʿ / Kel Dağı), was the most influential: Greek myth placed the battle between Zeus and Typhon in the same area, Athena and Poseidon's rivalry is based on Anat and Yam's, and Marduk's defeat of Tiamat in the Enûma Elish is also drawn from the story.

Variations of the story occur further south, in cities where the worship of the goddess, called Astarte, "seems to outshine" her male consort. ("This may hark back to the Bronze Age when the cult of Asherah, the mother of the gods, as more prominent in the Levant. In the hinterland of the south, indeed, she continued to dominate as the consort of Baʿal and Yahweh.") In Byblos, "the goddess reigned supreme". She was known as "the Mistress of Byblos" - probably Astarte. Byblos also had the tale of the battle with the sea, but he "is worsted, killed and has to be revived by a loyal partner". (The story of Adonis and the Egyptian tale of the Doomed Prince, among others, show traces of this myth.) There were further variations at Sidon and Tyre.

A second storyline involves the "sexually-avaricious Sea who turns his attention to the beautiful goddess, the Baʿal's consort". Derivations include Typhon's pursuit of Aphrodite, the abduction of the Phoenician princess Europa, and Perseus' rescue of the Ethiopian princess Andromeda. Redford drily remarks: "There can be no doubt that the prospect of the innocent, voluptuous beauty ravished by the monster had an irresistable appeal to the collective subconscious of many a community in the Aegean". There are related stories of the goddess Atagatis / Derceto turning into a fish (along with her son) after being thrown or leaping into the water.

At Gaza, Anat, Astarte, Dagon, Reshef, Arsay, and Marnas were worshipped (later as their Greek incarnations, Athena, Aphrodite, Zeus, Apollo, possibly Persephone). "A Ramesside ostracon speaks of a festival of Anat of Gaza for which a 'cover' (? for a shrine?) seems to be one of the requirements". Redford links Plutarch's story of Isis and Osiris with Gaza. As Isis returns from Byblos, bad weather on the River Phaedrus provokes her to dry it up. Next, as Isis inspects Osiris' body at a "deserted spot", a prince of Byblos, Palaestinus, sneakily observes her and is struck dead by Isis' angry look. Plutarch writes: "Some say that... he fell into the sea and is honoured because of the goddess... and that the city founded by the goddess was named after him." Gaza is described with the same Greek word for "deserted spot" in Acts 8:26, and "Palaestinus" is derived from "p3-knʿn", "the town of Canaan".

(Bit more to come from this article; but now it is time for pizza!)

(OK pizza and "Game of Thrones" now complete)

Redford compares the stories from the southern Levant, which feature the water monster, the goddess, and her child, with Egyptian versions, including Astarte and the Sea (the Astarte Papyrus), the Story of the Two Brothers, and Set's hunt for Isis and Horus. "In Egypt, however, the motif has been largely separated from a maritime venue, and is now informed by the denizens and landscape of the Nile valley. The monster now takes shape as a crocodile, or serpent; the hero as ichneumon, falcon or scorpion. Horus defeats the serpent, the creator god subdues the water-monster (crocodile)." So for example, "the great battle... when Re had transformed himself into an ichneumon 46 cubits (long) to fell Apophis in his rage." (That's over 21 m fyi.)

Redford concludes by reminding us that it's impossible to draw a simple "family tree" of these stories, due to "the very general nature of the basic plot, and the mutual awareness and ease of contact enjoyed by eastern Mediterranean communities."
Redford, Donald B.. "The Sea and the Goddess". in Sarah Israelit-Groll (ed). Studies in Egyptology: presented to Miriam Lichtheim. Magness Press, Hebrew University, 1990.
ikhet_sekhmet: (ankh-mi-re)
A long, copiously footnoted, often technical, and frequently filthy dirty article, "A Cloud Roams and Beautifies by Spitting Out Her Brother" discusses a Ugaritic composition called KTU 1.96. The author, Matthew S. Tarazi, discusses prevous interpretations of the hymn, and gives his own: it describes the goddess Anat, acting as the "servant-messenger" of the storm-god Baal, collecting the rainwaters and distributing them to the freshwater springs which are essential for civilisation. Here's his translation of the first 9 1/2 lines:

"A Cloud roams and beautifies by spitting out her brother —
And her brother is beautiful, how very beautiful!
May she devour his flesh without a knife,
May she drink his blood without a cup:
May she face the spring of shame.
From the spring of shame may she face the spring of the market, the spring of the assembly, the spring of the gate."

Tarazi interprets this as Anat performing fellatio on Baal to obtain his semen, which she then distributes to the underground springs and brings to the surface, fertilising ("beautifying") the land. Baal's "flesh and blood" is his "entire essence and nature", the rainwater; the "spring of shame" is Baal's penis. The market, assembly, and gate are all "components of civilized life in Ugarit", so Anat's visit "vivif[ies] these sectors of life and civilization." The title of the hymn can be less poetically interpreted as "A cloud roams and irrigates by emitting out rainwaters", fertilising the earth "so that it brings forth magnificent life, vegetation, and civilization".

The Ugaritic word 'nn means both "cloud" and "servant, messenger"; it makes perfect sense for the storm-god's servants and messengers, including in this case Anat, to be clouds.

"Shame" seems like such an odd word in such a positive context. I wonder if it's really the right translation. Tarazi points out that Anat herself might not feel ashamed, even if "she is shameful by certain social standards".

Tarazi argues that it's Baal who does the fertilising here; although she acquires his waters in an *ahem* active manner, Anat is his agent, not a fertility goddess in her own right. He believes this is a deliberate change from an older view of Anat as having the "innate capacity to fertilize the earth". ("It also accords well with iconographic images depicting her with small breasts, thus internally deficient of life-sustaining fluids." OTOH, Ishtar is depicted proferring full breasts, and yet is arguably a goddess of sexual desire rather than fertility per se*.) I guess that would fit with the image of Anat taking Baal's semen in her mouth, rather than her vagina. (This is not the same thing, but I thought of Atum, who is what Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty would call a "male androgyne", producing Shu and Tefnut by taking his semen in his hand and placing it in his mouth.)

The author discusses at some length "a literary convention wherein [poet-scribes] would pluralize a term that denotes a particular person, typically a deity, to refer to the essential manifestation of that person". (He argues in particular that the word "brother" is actually "brothers".) "... deities are construed as ultimate sources of certain constituents and phenomena of the natural world [which in turn are] construed as coming out from the body of the person of the deity himself, and embodying that deity's essential nature." The point of this convention was to show that the god and their essence were different, but intimately related. It also addresses the idea that a god can manifest simultaneously in multiple places; similarly, in the Hebrew Bible, "plural forms of deity names... can be used to refer to idols of that deity [because] an idol is construed as sharing in the very essence and nature of the god whom it represents."

* I can't remember for the life of me who made this argument.

Doniger O'Flaherty, Wendy. Women, androgynes, and other mythical beasts. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Tarazi, Matthew S. A Cloud Roams and Beautifies by Spitting Out Her Brother: KTU 1.96 and its Relation to the Baal Cycle. Ugarit-Forschungen 36 2004, pp 445-509.


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