Saturday 28 March 2020

Golden Marriages

Historians over the past few decades have been beginning to discover and understand many versions of marriage and same-sex unions around the world. The most well-known of these is the adelphopoiesis rite in the medieval Byzantine Christian church. This included a religious ceremony in which two men could pledge to “adopt” each other as brothers. There are also some vague references to church ceremonies in other parts of Europe which echo this practice. In particular, I’d like to mention the same-sex relationship between Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe, about which I’ve written several times. They may have had a form of ceremonial union, which was recognised on their deaths.

Over in the Far East there was a similar practice of recognising same-sex unions. The one I’ll write about today was exclusively for women.

Golden Orchid societies or associations, called “chin-lan hui” in Chinese, were groups of women who included couples who had gone through a union ceremony. They were centred round the Guangdong province of southern China. The exact origin of the name has not been determined, though Professor James Liu (d.1986) of Stamford University in America, suggested that it may derive from a passage in the “I-Ching”, a 3,000 year-old Chinese text. The passage reads, “When two persons have the same heart its sharpness can cut gold; words from the same heart have a fragrance like the orchid”.

In a Golden Orchid relationship two women go through a kind of courtship. One woman would prepare a gift of peanut sweets and honey dates for her intended “bride”. If the gifts were accepted so too was the proposal and the women would go through a ceremony where contracts were signed. They took oaths before the shrines of the goddess Guan-yin saying that they would never marry a man. This deity has some transgender qualities, about which I’ll write later in the year.

No-one is sure where or when the Golden Orchid societies were first formed. Their existence is implied as being traditional in a book called “A Record of the Customs of China” by Hu Pu’an published in 1774.

In Chinese society during most of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) women had little power or influence in a heterosexual marriage. As in European marriages wives were the property of their husband and bound by duty to obey them. The existence of the Golden Orchid societies indicates a move towards female independence. There could be several reasons for this, but the one most frequently given is the change in the social status of women in the silk industry.

The majority of silk workers in China were women and as the industry expanded more women were employed. This gave more women an income that was not dependent on having a husband. Other developments within the Chinese economy also gave women more independence. The two-fold result was that women didn’t have to accept arranged marriages in order to acquire financial stability, and that some women, and lesbians (as we might recognise them in the West), were more likely to refuse to marry altogether.

When some women were compelled by their families to marry against their wishes they would refuse to have any sexual contact with the husband. Husbands would often be physically abusive to their defiant wives, and wives who defended themselves were deemed to be unmarriageable. Rather than return to their parents home these wives would live in groups. In this manner they became known as “self-combing women” or “comb sisters”, called “zishunu” in Chinese.

Young unmarried women in Chinese culture wore their hair in long plaits or braids. Upon marriage they would tied their hair in buns behind their head. It was a way in which possible male suitors could tell which women were “available” for marriage. The zishunu were women of marriageable age who defied the traditions of their culture by never tying their hair up. Those who chose to have a same-sex union with another zishunu were members of the Golden Orchid societies.

There were still some zishunu and Golden Orchid societies at the start of the 20th century. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 affected trade with the Far East, and the silk industry was one of the hardest hit. Many Golden Orchid members and zishunu moved to other eastern nations, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, to work as servants or nannies.

The old feudal system of China began to disintegrate in the 1930s and more women were able to become financially independent. They were no longer seen as rebels against society if they refused to marry. Gradually the Golden Orchid societies diminished. Eventually the Communist regime banned both practices.

There may still be some of the zishunu and Golden Orchid wives still alive today, there certainly was in 2014 when The Guardian newspaper interviewed a couple who were aged 85 and 90. It mentioned there were 8 others. All of them had lived in a building with the romantic name of the Hall of Ice and Jade in Jun’an, a town in Guangdong province. It’s last inhabitants moved out to live with nephews, nieces, or adopted daughters many years ago, but the walls of the Hall still display memorial plaques to past residents, because they were not allowed to be remembered on their family memorials.
Courtyard of the Hall of Ice and Jade, the museum of the “self-combing women” in Jun’an.
Even if the number of Golden Orchid couples and self-combing zishunu may be zero, the Hall of Ice and Jade was preserved as a museum in 2012 in memory of all those single women and lesbians who fought for their own independent life.

Here is a link to an article on the website of the British Journal of Photography about a photographer who produced an exhibition in 2019 of images about himself and his zishunu nanny. The exhibition and accompanying book were called “Combing For Ice and Jade”.

Monday 23 March 2020

Out Of His Maternal Tree: Pete Buttigieg Part 1

I had intended to produce this article later this year nearer to the US Presidential elections, but recent events have prompted me to bring it forward.

The subject of today’s genealogical journey is Pete Buttigieg (b.1982), the openly gay presidential nomination candidate who pulled out of the race for the White House three weeks ago.

Pete Buttigieg’s ancestry can be neatly split into two. His paternal ancestry is almost entirely Maltese and Mediterranean, and his maternal ancestry is Euro-American. Today we’ll look at his mother’s ancestry. In May we’ll look at his Maltese ancestry. Almost as soon as Pete Buttigieg entered the race for the White House genealogists began looking into his ancestry.

Pete’s mother is a member of the Montgomery family. Her father was Col. John Willard Montgomery (1919-1973), a doctor in the US Medical Corps who served in Korea. The Montgomerys were originally from Ireland and probably arrived in America in the 1730s.

There are immigrants of several other nationalities in the Montgomery line. Through them Pete has English, German, French and Czech ancestry. One notable Czech immigrant ancestor was Augustine Herman (c.1621-1686). He trained as a surveyor and when he arrived in America he produced some of the most accurate maps of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bay areas. Augustine became an influential figure in shaping the map of the states of the USA, literally. He was instrumental in the purchase of Staten Island for the New Amsterdam colony, which is why it’s now in New York state and not New Jersey. He was also involved in the Anglo-Dutch dispute over colonial land ownership which led to the creation of Delaware.

Pete Buttigieg has slave-owning ancestors through Augustine Herman and several others. Millions of people have slave owners as ancestors, and with each new generation that number increases. It’s one of those facts of history that we cannot change and have to live with.

The ancestry of Pete Buttigieg’s maternal grandmother, Mrs. Zoe Anne Montgomery, née Neal, (1921-2002), illustrates one of the traps in family history, the misidentification of an ancestor. It’s easily done but a bit of extra research reveals the truth. Mrs. Zoe Montgomery’s maternal grandmother was Anne Elizabeth Wooley. Unfortunately, there was more than one person with that name living at the same time. One Anne Elizabeth Wooley was the daughter of a Choctaw Native American and has been presented as Pete Buttigieg’s ancestor on What I usually do is trace the family line down from each person of the same name until it is obvious that they are not from the same family. In this case I traced Choctaw Anne’s children down through the Penny family (as indicated on her father’s will), and they are not related to Zoe Montgomery or Pete Buttigieg.

Let’s go back to what we know has been proven. Through Zoe Montgomery’s other grandmother, Mrs. Lena Chase Neal (1877-1947), we can trace her ancestry to several significant immigrant ancestors from England. The most significant of these gives Pete some Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry.

Last year a highly respected genealogist, Christopher C. Child, discovered that DNA from Pete’s ancestor John Sprague proved that Sprague was the illegitimate son of Samuel Fuller, the son of Mayflower Pilgrims. What a pity that Pete dropped out of the Presidential race, because it would have been perfect for a Mayflower descendant to be US President in this 400th anniversary year of the Mayflower voyage. George W. Bush was the last Mayflower President. I’ll be listing some lgbt Mayflower descendants in September.

Another colonial settler was Peter Worden (c.1570-before 1639), an “average” colonial settler who arrived in America in the 1630s. Although he came from a family with small estates in Lancashire, England, and held several public and judicial posts in the colony he did not have as much impact on American history as some other colonists. Peter Worden’s significance comes from his position as a “gateway ancestor”. This is an individual whose ancestry is well documented and usually has proven royal or noble blood.

Through his mother, Isabel Worthington, Peter Worden is descended from King William I of Scotland (1142-1214). On the way the line of descent coincides with my own with both Peter Worden (and, therefore, Pete Buttigieg) and myself having Sir Richard Bayley Sherborne (1382-1440) as a common ancestor. Some of Pete Buttigieg’s relatives through Peter Worden include the Fonda acting dynasty, Bing Crosby, President Rutherford B. Hayes and President Calvin Coolidge. Lgbt relatives who are also descended from Sir Richard Bayley Sherborne include Cynthia Nixon, Divine, Rupert Everett, Michael Stipe and Jodie Foster.

I’m always on the lookout for unusual stories in people’s ancestry and the Worthingtons provide one of the more unusual. The Worthington coat of arms features three dung forks! Here’s why. “Worthing” is an old regional dialect word for dung and, as I’ve explained in my heraldry articles, puns on family names have influenced the design of many coats of arms. This stems from the times when few people were literate and needed something visual to help them remember whose arms were whose – a bit like corporate logos.

Pete Buttigieg may have a coat of arms which also illustrates a pun on his family name. Although I’ve not been able to verify that Pete has the right to a coat of arms, there are records of distant members of his family adopting a shield showing a chicken standing on a barrel. The Latin word for barrel is “buttis”, and the Maltese word for chicken is “tigieg”. Put them together and you get “buttis-tigieg”. Buttigieg actually means “owner of chickens” and its ultimate origin is Arabic, which gives a clue to the family’s own origins.

And that’s just a sample of Pete Buttigieg’s maternal ancestry. I’ll look into he father’s ancestry in May when some remarkable surprises will be revealed, including more royal blood, the Emirs of Tunis, and the Borgias.

Thursday 19 March 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 8) Life Becomes Deadly

Last time on “80 More Gays”: 19) Bilal Hassani (b.2000), an entry into the Eurovision Song Contest, had alarming similarities to a fictional character in a comedy parodying ISIS, whose flag has also been parodied and generated a reaction more often associated with the Nazi flag, whose swastika was adopted by 20) Alfred Schuler (1865-1923), who wanted to cure the madness of 21) Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) with a ritual dance to the Mother Goddess 22) Cybele.

22) Cybele originated as an Earth Mother goddess in Phrygia (the Turkey-Syria region) called Kybele and had been venerated for many centuries before both Inanna and Ishtar, fertility goddesses I mentioned in a recent article. With the spread of Greek colonisation, and later Roman expansion, a select number of myths about Kybele found their way into the Greek and Roman pantheons and she became known as Cybele, and Magna Mater, the Great Mother, and in this aspect she was impersonated by 20) Alfred Schuler in his neo-pagan rituals.

The cult of Cybele became the state religion of the Roman Empire at the end of the 3rd century BC. Natural disasters effecting the empire at that time were seen as omens of bad luck and the Senate sought advice from oracles. The advice given was to adopt the cult of Cybele and she will protect them.

In an event reminiscent of one I recounted in “The Meteorite Who Became A God” a black stone that personified Cybele, also likely to have been a meteorite, was brought to Rome from its home in Pessinos, Phrygia, and placed in a newly constructed temple. Cybele’s arrival in Rome was celebrated with an annual festival called Megalesia on 4th April, the date of her arrival.

With the cult of Cybele came her accompanying rites, priests and associated deities. Primary among these were the galli, her third gender and eunuch priests, and an associated deity called 23) Agdistis.

The Phrygians originally regarded Kybele and Agdistis to be the same deity. Agdistis was also introduced into Greek and Roman mythology as the intersex offspring of the Sky Father and the Earth Mother. The intersex nature of Agdistis disturbed the Greek and Roman gods and they removed Agdisits’s male sexual organs. The deity was then known as Kybele. I go into more detail about the origin of Agdistis in an article I wrote in 2013 called “The Gallae: Ancient and Modern – Part 1: Ancient”. Rather than repeat it all here I suggest you pop over to that article and come back to continue here.

The Greek interpretation of Agdistis gave rise to the myth of the creation of the almond tree. The almond is native to the region where Kybele, Agdistis and Attis were venerated, which would explain why the Greeks didn’t have their own native legends about its origin. Almond was a highly regarded plant with semi-mystical qualities which influenced even Hebrew belief. There is even a theory that the halo around saints heads often depicted in Christian art originated as an almond shape.
Almond blossom
The Bible gives several examples of how almond flowers indicated divine favour. One story involves Aaron’s Rod, the staff belonging to Moses’s brother. It sprouted almond flowers as a sign of favour from God as his choice of priests from the tribes of Israel. Also, if the Israelites followed God the flowers on one side would bear sweet almonds. If they didn’t the flowers on the other side would produce bitter almonds.

This dual nature of almonds, on the one hand a sign of favour and on the other a sign of displeasure, brings us on to one of the most well-known clichés in modern whodunit murder mysteries – the bitter almond smell associated with cyanide poisoning. How strange is it that a plant whose mythical origins come from severed sexual organs, the origin of life itself, can also be a means of death.

Cyanide poisoning is a frequent method of suicide. It is also the main component of the gas used by the Nazis in their horrific gas chambers. It is assumed that the gay computer scientist Alan Turing (number 1 in my original “80 Gays” series in 2015) took his own life by cyanide.

A less well-known suicide by cyanide poisoning occurred three and a half years later when a British climber, 24) John Menlove Edwards (1910-1958) took his own life.

Next time of “80 More Gays”: We climb new heights and go to the top of the world to fight sexual abuse.

Saturday 14 March 2020

An Elementary Achievement, My Dear Watson

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

Among the first coats of arms I painted several decades ago for a booklet on celebrity heraldry was the full achievement of Jeremy Brett (1933-1995), the actor who arguably gave the most definitive portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. In the end I didn’t have room for it in the booklet, so I’m pleased to be able to present it today.
I had the great pleasure of receiving a letter of thanks in 1989 from Jeremy Brett himself after I sent him a copy. Sadly, Jeremy died in 1995, so I thought the 25th anniversary would be a good time to pay tribute to him.

Jeremy Brett’s real name was Peter Jeremy William Huggins. He was the fourth son of Col. Henry Huggins of Berkswell Grange near Coventry, Warwickshire. The family had moved there in 1929 and Jeremy was the first of the family to be born there. When he became an actor his father said he’d rather not have the family name associated with the theatre, so Jeremy adopted the stage name Brett from the brand name of the first suit he owned. Jeremy first played Sherlock Holmes in the television series in 1984 and continued to play him for ten years.

Jeremy’s great-grandfather William Huggins founded a copper tube manufacturing business which made his fortune. Unlike several other successful industrialists in the 19th century William didn’t seem to have applied for a coat of arms. Looking at the coat of arms itself there’s little to indicate industry (except, perhaps, the brazier in the crest) and there is a more military look to the design. That might be a clue to which member of the family it was granted. I suspect it was Jeremy Brett’s own father, Col. Henry Huggins.

There are always clues to the identity of the person who was first granted a modern coat of arms. The crossed swords are a common device used in heraldry by military men. The green background, hunting horns and the stag’s horns could possibly indicate the ancient sport of hunting. Both Jeremy Brett and his father were members of the Woodmen of Arden, an archery society. The Woodmen have a tower in their badge to match the one in Jeremy’s crest, and the club jacket is green.

On Jeremy’s shield and crest is a bird called a martlet (a heraldic bird without feet) to indicate he was a fourth son. This is called a cadency mark, and the College of Arms (in England and Wales) has a set of symbols and devices assigned to specific sons of an armiger (the proper name for someone with a coat of arms). Generally, the colour of the cadency mark is at the discretion of the artist, as long it contrasts with the background.

Jeremy Brett married twice. His first wife was Anna Massey, daughter of actor Raymond Massey and niece of Vincent Massey, the Governor General of Canada. Vincent was granted arms in 1928 which, as is customary, was also used by his brother and his family. As a married couple Jeremy and Anne would be able to impale their arms on one shield. That means dividing the shield down the middle and putting the husband’s arms on the left half and the wife’s on the right. I haven’t been able to find a coat of arms for Jeremy’s second wife, Joan Wilson, but I’m still doing research into what arms his male partner, Gary Bond, may have been entitled to.

Whenever a new Sherlock Holmes film or television series is produced there seems to be an obsession with claiming he and Dr. Watson were gay (except, perhaps, with “Elementary”). Long forgotten Victorian attitudes to male companionship are distorted into modern sexual practices. However, for those of you who wish to believe that Holmes and Watson were gay, bisexual or otherwise non-binary I’ve shown Sherlock Holmes’ achievement below.
This is also one of the illustrations I produced a couple of decades ago. This is called an attributed achievement and coat of arms because it is not referenced in any Conan Doyle book, was designed after the character’s lifetime, and is fictional.

This coat of arms and achievement originates in the writings of Sherlock Holmes societies in the 1940s. There were several attempts to devise Sherlock’s coat of arms but the one illustrated here is the most commonly accepted among Sherlockians. It was devised by W. S. Hall of New York in an essay contained in “Profile by Gaslight: An Irregular Reader About the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” published in 1944.

Hall based his design on arms already existing for a family of the Holmes name. There are many instances of people adopting the coat of arms of someone with the same surname even if they are not related. This has happened in places like the USA where there is no state authority to regulate heraldry. However, over the generations these adopted arms have generally become accepted though are unofficial.

One addition I’ve have made to Hall’s design is the addition of Sherlock’s cadency mark. We know he had an older brother, Mycroft. Since Mycroft is only ever referred to as “older” and not “oldest” I assume Sherlock has no other older brothers and is the second son. A crescent is his appropriate cadency mark.

Another addition I made is the badge of the Legion d’Honneur. In “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez”, one of the stories from “The Return of Sherlock Holmes”, mention is made of “… an exploit which won for Holmes an autograph letter of thanks from the French President and the Order of the Legion of Honour.” Unfortunately, Conan Doyle didn’t elaborate on the circumstances, nor indicate which of the classes of the Legion d’Honneur Sherlock was awarded. As a result I’m unable to place the correct badge under the shield. Instead I’ve used a version of the modern badge, taking my inspiration from the remarkable event a few years ago when Jeremy Brett, dressed as Sherlock Holmes, received a real Legion d’Honneur (for Sherlock, not himself). Sadly, I cannot find the newspaper clipping I saved of the event.

One final observation. Have you noticed that the arms of Jeremy Brett and Sherlock Holmes both have hunting horns in them? This is a very appropriate object for someone who hunts down clues and criminals. These horns are quite a common object in English heraldry so I can’t claim coincidence when the laws of probability mean it could easily happen, as I’m sure Sherlock Holmes himself would agree.

Monday 9 March 2020

80 More Gays Around the World: Part 7) Euro Controversy

Last time of “80 More Gays”: 15) Lisa Harvey-Smith (b. 1979) has worked to encourage knowledge of Australian aboriginal astronomy which includes stories of 16) Bimarri, one of the names of the indigenous Rainbow Serpent which 17) Noel Tovey (b.1934) incorporated into his cultural performances for the Sydney Olympics, in which 18) Sandra Forgues (b.1969) competed before forming her digital support company used by the EBU, whose Eurovision Song Contest attracted controversy for the inclusion of 19) Bilal Hassani (b.2000).

In January 2019 France chose its entry into that year’s Eurovision Song Contest, 19) Bilal Hassani (b.2000). You may immediately realise what kind of issues might arise from this choice when you learn that he is an openly gay French-born Moroccan Muslim, and that the Eurovision Song Contest was to be held in Tel Aviv, Israel. It comes as no surprise that some people objected to a gay Muslim being chosen as the national representative to Israel, and Bilal received threats and online abuse.

It’s often said that life imitates art, which is what seemed to have happened with Bilal’s selection for Eurovision.

The Israeli broadcaster KAN, the host broadcaster of Tel Aviv’s Eurovision Song Contest, produced a 3-part comedy thriller called “Douze Points”. Production began soon after the 2018 contest and filming began in the same month as Bilal was chosen as the French representative. Here’s the plot of “Douze Points”. See if you can spot anything that might be controversial.

A young openly gay Muslim singer called TJ wants to represent France at the “Eurotone Song Contest” that is to be held in Israel. He wins the French final with the “help” of a childhood friend who has become a member of ISIS, the terrorist organisation. In return TJ is forced into helping him blow up the Eurotone finals. The terror plot is discovered by Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad. Here’s a taster of what “Douze Points” looks like.

So, has life imitated art? There’s nothing unusual about a Muslim French singer. France has a large African Muslim community dating from its colonial days. Having an openly gay singer in Eurovision is also not a great surprise. And what more obvious possible terrorist threat could there be to Israel than from an extremist Muslim group like ISIS? Put these together and you get “Douze Points”. Honestly, anyone could have thought of it.

Some critics dug around Bilal Hassani’s social media accounts and family background to find hints of anti-Semitic evidence, even if it wasn’t there.

In response to the controversy TAN agreed to broadcast the series on 19th May 2019, the day after the Eurovision finals instead of the before as planned. In the end Bilal finished in 16th place. The whole point about “Douze Points” was to make fun of all parties – the French, Eurovision, Muslims, ISIS, the gay community.

Any hint of ISIS in anything brings out some over-reactions. In 2015 I wrote about another ISIS parody and the embarrassment of an alleged competent journalist who reported seeing the ISIS flag at London Pride. I pointed out the ease with which one flag can create a strong reaction. Another flag I mentioned a while ago was the Nazi swastika flag.

In that particular article I explained how the swastika was first adopted as a symbol of white racial supremacy by 20) Alfred Schuler (1865-1923). His neo-pagan, anti-Semitic ideas were a mixture of ancient Roman beliefs and contemporary mysticism. I also mentioned that Schuler was keen to perform an exotic dance in order to cure the madness that had befallen 21) Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).

Nietzsche is one of those people who gets mentioned a lot in academic circles. To the man in the street his name probable means nothing, yet he was a hugely influential philosopher, writer, poet, cultural critic and aspiring composer. It’s difficult not to hype him up into a great figure.

Unlike Schuler, Nietzsche was not open about his sexuality, which makes it difficult to put a modern sexuality label on him. Many lgbt biographical lists include him though there is still some debate amongst Nietzsche scholars.

Nietzsche’s career came to crashing halt in 1889 when he had some sort of mental breakdown. There are still new theories being put forward to explain and diagnose his illness. The most common and longest lasting theory is that he had syphilis. More recent theories have suggested cancer or bipolar depression. Whatever the cause it created concern among many people and acquaintances.

Doctors and medicine proved ineffectual in treating Niezsche so Alfred Schuler believed that an erotic corybantic dance would be the only cure. It took two years for Schuler to arrange the dance, though it all came to nothing. For one thing, Nietzsche’s sister and carer refused to allow it. Another reason was that Schuler had difficulty finding any nubile young men willing to dance naked around wearing nothing more than a copper bracelet.

But, you may be asking, what is a corybantic dance? It was dance performed by corybantes. But then, what are corybantes? Well, in Schuler’s neo-paganism not only did he take from Roman mythology and rituals but also selected some from other ancient religions and cults. One of them was the cult of the Great Mother Goddess of ancient Phrygia in Turkey. Schuler sometimes dressed as the goddess in his reconstructions of ancient rituals.

This Great Mother Goddess was an amalgam of several deities, among them Inanna-Ishtar, the goddess featured in my previous article. The Phrygian Mother Goddess was another who was merged with Inanna-Ishtar and she became known to the Romans as 22) Cybele.

Next time of “80 More Gays”: We meet the Mother Goddess with two genders, and a deadly almond tree.

Wednesday 4 March 2020

Springing Out Of Winter

We’re beginning to get signs that spring is on its way. Many cultures have myths and legends about the coming of spring. The Greek version, in which Persephone is abducted into the underworld by Hades, is perhaps the most familiar. Her rescue and subsequent voluntary return to the underworld for six months of the year helped to explain the changing seasons.

There are many older myths that are so similar that it’s hard not to believe that they had no influence on the later ones. One of the oldest accounts of such a myth comes from the Sumerian empire of ancient Iraq some 6,000 years ago.

The myth tells the story of Inanna, Queen of the Heavens, who was also goddess of war, justice, fertility and sex. During the later Akkadian period 4,000 years ago Inanna became associated with another goddess, the more well-known Ishtar. The two goddesses quickly became merged into one (not unlike Zeus-Serapis, the merged Greco-Egyptian god I mentioned several weeks ago).

The earliest Sumerian version of the myth goes like this. Inanna had a sister called Ereshkigal who was the Queen of the Underworld. When Ereshkigal’s husband died Inanna decided to go and visit her. The underworld was a dark place and Inanna knew that going there was risky so she asked her servant to ask the gods to come and rescue her if she hadn’t returned in three days.

Three days passed and Inanna hadn’t returned. Her servant appealed to the gods for help and only Enki responded. Enki was aware that as goddess of fertility Inanna’s presence ensured that crops would grow. Without her nothing would grow, and plants were already beginning to die. He scraped the dirt from under his fingernails and shaped it into two intersex beings called a gala-tur and a kur-garra.

These beings need to be explained before we go any further. A gala-tur was a type of junior priest in a temple of Inanna, a sort of trainee gala or high priest. The original purpose of a gala was to sing laments, a profession traditionally carried out by women. By the time of the Akkadians men were gala and gala-tur as well, though they were feminine, intersex or eunuchs. A modern lgbt interpretation is that they were transgender, though perhaps the best identity to give them is third gender. The gala gained a reputation for same-sex activity, but this may be because the literal translation of the term gala (or ga-la) is “penis-anus”.
Statuette of two gala priests found in a temple of Inanna. It dates from around 2450 BC. The statuette is currently on display at the Louvre in Paris.
The kur-garra was another type of priest of Inanna. These were the leaders of religious processions and ceremonies and were usually seen carrying a dagger or sword. In later centuries the kur-garra came to be seen as bestowing luck, or providing charms to ward off evil. Like the gala and gala-tur the kur-garra was a female role that was performed by third gender individuals.

Looking at the attributes of the gala-tur and the kur-garra it is clear what Enki’s intention was in creating these beings. The gala-tur would offer laments to Ereshkigal in sympathy for the loss of her husband. The kur-garra would ward off evil spirits, which Enki knew they would encounter. This myth probably developed to explain the roles the real life gala, gala-tur and kur-garra had in the veneration of Inanna.

The mission was simple. The gala-tur and kur-garra would lull Ereshkigal into persuading her to let them take Inanna back to the surface. Well, to cut a long story short, the beings were successful. However, Ereshkigal sent her own demonic gala spirits to follow them to the surface to ensure that someone returned in Inanna’s place. The gala demons tried to seize Inanna’s servants, but Inanna refused to let them take them because they had mourned her absence. Inanna’s husband, on the other hand, hadn’t. The demonic gala seized him and dragged him back into the underworld.

Inanna soon felt guilty about letting her husband go so she planned a rescue of her own. Again, long story short, Inanna rescues her husband by arranging with Ereshkigal to let him return for six months of each year. This is how the Sumerians explained the seasons.

This myth of Inanna was transferred to Ishtar when the two goddesses became merged in the Akkadian period. The basic plot remained the same. The Queen of the Underworld was still called Ereshkigal but Enki is called Ea. He also created a third gender being from the dirt under his fingernails, a being called Asushunamir. It was a being of light and beauty and was clothed in stars. Rather than use sympathy to persuade Ereshkigal to release Ishtar-Inanna Asushunamir used his/her charm, and Ereshkigal yearned to have sex with him/her.

However, Asushunamir tricked the Queen of the Underworld and enabled Inanna to escape. Ereshkigal’s lust turned to hate and she cursed Asushunamir. But Inanna offered to give her protection and decreed that all those who were like Asusunamir, i.e. intersex or third gender, will be her priests – the gala, gala-tur and the kur-garra.

From these two variations of the same myth we see how the ancient Sumerian and Akkadian cultures explained the seasons and third gender priests of Inanna.

The cult of Inanna-Ishtar later became associated with the Phrygian goddess Cybele, whose own third gender priests were called galli. More about Cybele and some of her worshippers will be covered later this month in “80 More Gays Around the World” Part 8.