An article from our partners Anima Mundi Herbals
In celebration of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ Pride Month (a.k.a. Gay Pride!) we’re taking you for a swim in the deep ancestral waters of androgynous spirit guides, supportive herbs for queer folx, and some bonus plant allies for joy, pleasure, and mental health.
Sex, gender and sexuality have all historically shared a complex relationship with the knowledge, usage, and communal sharing of medicinal plants around the world. While these relationships ultimately come down to who is and is not given access to certain resources (like women only being able to know what applies to the home, cooking, etc.), they are also indivisible from race, class, socioeconomic status, and systemic factors.
How can queer folxs make the most of herbs to affirm their complex identities?
Entire doctoral theses could be crafted on the topic of supportive herbs for L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ folx. Indeed, there are even scholarly articles just unpacking the queer history of flowers. But as an herbal apothecary, we’re centering our sights on whole person wellness today, something that our queer communities are often denied when our humanity is seen as “other”, strange, dangerous, or “less than” by the society at large. We hope that by tackling a topic many would avoid and examining both historical and pleasure-centric parts, we can assist our queer siblings in leading fuller, happier lives in community with plants.
“People who leave behind traditional gender roles become bridges to the Other,”
writes Randy P.L. Conner in Men-Women, Gatekeepers, and Fairy Mounds.
Gender expression that breaks through the boundaries of the masculine-feminine duality isn’t limited to just one culture or period of history. In other words, they, them, and we have always been here, and have contributed to the deep healing of individuals and communities. One term for this phenomenon coined by the cultural anthropologist Victor Turner is “threshold persons”. Such deities are said to move fluidly between worlds and journeys; their erotic diversity manifests in both same-sex and transgendered intimacy, according to Conner. Most fascinating is the threshold persons’ ability to “traverse liminal regions which might otherwise prove unnavigable”, as these revered guardians and guides are not seen as pariahs as are queer folx in the modern world. Their special qualities allow them to float and weave between barriers, transgressing margins in service to the greater good.
Drawing from Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit, Conner opens the window into several different threshold archetypes across borders. Here, we highlight a few ancestral practices of queer shamanism from various cultures to learn more about:
1 :: kwih-doh Kanyotsanyotse – archetypal, androgynous shaman
Examples around the world include:
- The transgendered priestesses of the Mesopotamian Inanna-Ishtar, also known as sal-zikrum, “women-men,” or sinnishanu, “like women”
- The galli or 49 gallae of the Greco-Roman goddess Rhea-Cybele, a.k.a. semi-viri, “halfmen,” or anandreies, “not men”
- The Aleuts of northeastern Siberia’s gender-mixing shamans, called ne-uchica, “appareled like a woman” or yirka’la’ul, “males transformed into persons of the softer sex”
- The Ishquicuink in Guatemala, males who assist curanderas (female healers) among the Kechki people, or a male who “sometimes acts like a man and sometimes like a woman”
- The female-to-male shih fu (“stone maiden”) shamans of ancient China
- The male-to-female wikiga-winagu of Okinawa, who undergo a ritual of winagunati, “becoming a woman”
- The Dagara of Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Burkina Faso, androgynous, homoerotically-inclined, or bisexual individuals who serve their communities as threshold “gatekeepers” who ensure balance and peace between the sexes
- The gender-mixing, homoerotically inclined ha-na of the Mazatecs of Mexico
“You decide that you will be a gatekeeper before you are born,” writes the Dagara diviner Malidoma Some. “So when you arrive here, you begin to vibrate in a way that Elders can detect as meaning that you are connected with a gateway somewhere.”
But here is where celebrating Pride feels the most palpable: the Dagara Some is writing about also believe that without such gatekeepers, “Mother Earth will shake” and the apocalypse is near … a world without queer folx is indeed a troubled one!
2 :: Rites of Passage – becoming a ‘threshold person’
Examples across cultures include:
- The Tewa of North America traditionally held rituals to expand gender fluidity, which also incorporated metamorphosis, such as men and women collectively responding “yes” to being asked if they are a man, then again together to affirm they are a woman, to which the shaman responded: “If you are a man, and if you are a woman, then you can be a bear.”
- Western festivities such as Carnival, Mardi Gras, and Halloween, where transvestism is explored, though not always responsibly, even while the origins of such spiritual happenings have been erased.
3 :: Androgynous Deities in History
Examples from diverse religions and spiritual practices include:
- The Mediterranean Artemis/Diana, “the one who loses” or sets free, metamorphoses into wolves and bears, and patron of “all those who live outside the social order”
- The Legba of West Africa, revered in Voudon, guardian and guide to traverse the worlds of the living, the dead, and the Iwas (gods); their temple, the potomitan, has both phallus and womb represented in its central pole.
- The Hindu Ganesha blurs gender norms with the head of a female elephant and the plump torso of a human male. Also associated with homoeroticism.
For more information, read Queering Herbalism by Queer Herbalism blog founder, Toi. Much of the information above was adapted from the many voices included in Toi’s excellent queer revue.
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