2SLGBTQ+ Stories in Ancient Mythologies
There is this misconception that the 2SLGBTQ+ community is a recent group in history when they’ve been a part of many ancient cultures and mythologies. Queer themes and figures can be seen all throughout the world in many different time periods and mythologies. In this article, we’ll be exploring different queer mythical and non-mythical figures across the world.
Queen Nzinga Mbande was the Ambundu Kingdoms of Ndongo and Matamba in what is now known as Angola. Nzinga only answered to “King” and was known to wear both men’s and women’s clothes. Nzinga also had a harem of men who dressed as women and were called her “wives”.
Chibados are transfemme people who were found in Ndongo cultures in modern-day Angola. Nzinga had more than 50 Chibados in her royal courts and many were said to be Nzinga’s concubines.
Mawu-Lisa was the dual creator deity in the Kingdom of Dahomey (now known as modern-day Benin) mythology. Mawu was seen as “female” and Lisa as “male” and they were considered to be twins who combined together into one deity.
Xōchipilli is the Mesoamerican Aztec god of summer, flowers, pleasure, love, dancing, painting, feasting, creativity and souls. He is also called the “Prince of Flowers.” He was thought of as youthful and carefree and followed whatever found him pleasure. He was also known for being mischievous. He has been interpreted as the patron of homosexuals and male prostitutes.
Two-Spirit is an Indigenous identity. It refers to a person who embodies both masculine and feminine spirits and is used by some Indigenous people to describe their gender, sexual and spiritual identity.
Tu’er Shen is a Chinese deity of the Daoist mythology who was the deity of homosexual love and sex and is also referred to as the “rabbit deity”.
He was originally a man called Hu Tian Bao who loved an Official who had him beaten to death and after he died he became a deity for homosexual men.
Shinu No Hafuri and Ama no Hafuri were figures in Japanese mythology who were lovers and said to have introduced homosexuality to the world. They were said to be servants of the sun goddess Amaterasu as well.
Also in Japan, during the Edo Period, it was common for young boys (around their teenage years) who just reached puberty to become apprentices to samurai. These boys dressed androgynously and would have a unique hairstyle that only they would wear. They were not just underlings but lovers to the samurais as well. This practice was referred to as wakashudo.
In Hindu mythology, gender non-conformity and queerness were very common as well. For example, the god Aravan is the patron god of many transgender communities, Shikhandi is an androgynous warrior who was born female but transforms into a male, and Agni, the god of fire is said to be married to the goddess Svaha and the moon god, Soma.
Lakapati was the transgender goddess of fertility and agriculture in Tagalog mythology and was said to have both female and male genitalia. Lakapati is also referred to as Ikapati and Lakanpati as well and was said to be the kindest and most understanding of all deities. In many myths, Lakapati married the God of Seasons, Mapulon and is the patron to the LGBTQ+ community (specifically the trans community), the souls of those that faced death and violence, farmers and also governs food, crops, and fields.
Attar is an ancient astral deity that was worshipped in the Middle East and East Africa. Attar is depicted as gender fluid with multiple variations of him being shown as male or female in different Semitic cultures. He was worshipped as the god of war, the morning star, and was identified with the planet Venus. In Ugaritic mythology, he was seen as the male counterpart of Astarte and was seen as a warrior deity, in Arabia, Attar was said to be the god of natural irrigation and in the Ethiopian Axum Empire, the Axumities considered him to be the god of heaven.
The Norse god Loki is one of the best-known genderfluid or gender-nonconforming gods of the Norse Pantheon. In many myths, he is a shape-shifter who has altered his sex numerous times. One of the well-known tales of this is when Loki shape-shifted into a mare in order to seduce a stallion that was helping a frost giant build walls around Asgard.
In Viking culture, straying from gender roles was generally looked down upon, and the word they used to call someone queer was ergi, of which Odin, god of war, poetry and death was accused of being a number of times in Norse mythology. In said mythology, practicing magic was something considered to be a women’s craft, which Odin practiced. He, despite being called ergi in a demeaning way, was one of the highly worshipped gods of Norse mythology.
GREEK & ROMAN MYTHOLOGY
Zeus was the well-known Greek god of thunder and God of the Gods. He was possibly more well-known for his numerous affairs with both mortals and other gods. One of Zeus’ affairs was with a mortal man named Ganymedes, who was a Trojan prince that Zeus carried off to heaven to accompany him and the other gods as cupbearers of the gods. This is only one of the tales of Zeus’ affairs, which he had with numerous men and women.
While considered Egyptian mythology, this story was written by the Roman poet Ovid. Born of Telethusa and Ligdus, Iphis was born a girl. Her father had wanted a son, however, so her mother raised her as such. The Goddess Isis visited the mother in a dream, telling her not to worry and to raise the child anyway. Once grown, Iphis was betrothed to a woman named Ianthe. She fell deeply in love, but this worried her mother who feared what would happen once the two wed. So, she went to the Temple of Isis with Iphis and asked her what to do. The god came to life and changed Iphis into a man, presumed to have lived happily ever after.
Apollo is the Greek god of archery, medicine and music. Like Zeus (and honestly most of the Greek gods) he pursued many lovers, and in a famous tale, he falls in love with a Spartan prince named Hyakinthos. A rivalry arose from this between Apollo and Zephroys, the west-wind god, who also loved Hyakinthos. In an act of jealousy, Zephroys blew the discus they were playing off-course so that it would strike Hyakinthos in the head, thus killing him. Apollo transformed the dying man into a flower, called Hyacinthus.
These are only three tales of queer Greek gods, but it is important to note that most of the gods were queer, or participated in same-sex relationships along with hetero-relationships. Homosexuality was broadly expected in Ancient Greece, and no one really cared who slept with who as long as there would be an heir to the family. It was also broadly accepted for men to have numerous affairs while in wedlock.
Ungud is the Australian Indengious snake god who is sometimes male and other times female. He is associated with rainbows and fertility. He is also associated with Earth and water and is said to make the rainfall. Ungud and the sky deity Wallanganda created living beings through their dreams.
Hi’iaka is the cloud-bearing goddess of Polynesian mythology and is depicted as having numerous relationships with other women. Hopoe was one of them and is credited with teaching Hi’iaka the hula dance. However, it had a tragic ending, when the volcano goddess Pele suspected that Hi’iaka was with a man she had sights on, and as revenge turned Hopoe to stone.
There are so many other queer mythical figures across the world, and we suggest continuing your own research on the matter. Mythology of course has an influence on how societies feel about certain things, and it is often a reflection of that. We also suggest you do your own research into queer historical figures, such as: the pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read of the 17th century, Sor Jauna Inés de la Cruz and Baudri of Bourgeuil of Medival Europe, King Mwanga II, Alexander the Great, Leonardo de Vinci, Julius Caesar, and Emperor Ai and Mizi Xia in Ancient China, as a few suggestions.
Happy pride month Gaels!
By Emma Assad and Bethel Eshetu