Danda Nata or Punishment by Performance

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Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III

Gay Spirituality

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

Gay Perspective

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

Secret Matter

SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan

Getting Life

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods

The Fourth Quill

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

Two Spirits
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

charmed lives
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers

Myth of the Great Secret

THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

In Search of God


Unpublished manuscripts

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

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  Toby has done five podcasts with Harry Faddis for The Quest of Life

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  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Toby and Kip Get Married

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

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Gay Consciousness

Why homosexuality is a sin

The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

The Gay Succession

Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

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"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

You're Not A Wave

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

What Anatman means

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

Cutting edge realization

The Myth of the Wanderer

Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss

World Navel

What the Vows Really Mean

Manifesting from the Subtle Realms

The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse

The est Training and Personal Intention

Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven

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Gay Spirituality

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Two Loves

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

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The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

Having a Church to Leave

Harold Cole on Beauty

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Redeem Orlando

Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar

Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson

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Mystical Vision

"The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross & the Dark Night of the Soul."

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

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The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016

The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)

You're On Your Own


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Seeing Differently

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"

Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

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The Vision

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

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The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby

Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection

Part 4: A Course in Miracles

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The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

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Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube

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About Alien Abduction

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

Intersections with the movie When We Rise

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

Toby at the California Institute

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

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Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Mark Thompson

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

The Alamo Business Council

Our friend Tom Nash

Second March on Washington

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"

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Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter

The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen

War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar

The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre

Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak

A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey

Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes

The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes

Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour

In Walt We Trust by John Marsh

Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary

A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary

Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott

Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou

Internal Landscapes by John Ollom

Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks

Yes by Brad Boney

Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler

Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal

Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson

Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire

"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught

Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology

The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons

Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert

The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker

Out There by Perry Brass

The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan

It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja

ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake

Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson

Dating the Greek Gods
by Brad Gooch

Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan

The Substance of God by Perry Brass

The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols

10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe

The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long

Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner

Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard

Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak

Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan

Rising Up by Joe Perez

Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez

That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang

MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether

Double Cross by David Ranan

The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry

In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson

The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson

Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray

Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak

Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien

Queering Christ by Robert Goss

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage

The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato

Catland by David Garrett Izzo

Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson

Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main

Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd

Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza

What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett

Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans

Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen

Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden

The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood

Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman

The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak

3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak

Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon

Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message

Life Interrupted by Michael Parise

Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire

The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny

Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman

True Religion by J.L. Weinberg

The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer

Everything is God by Jay Michaelson

Reflection by Dennis Merritt

Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson

Hard Lesson by James Gaston

God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson

The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson

Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther

Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen

The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether

The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber

AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar

Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal

Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal

In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane

Walking on Glory by Edward Swift

The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey

Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire

Enigma by Lloyd Meeker

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:

Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe

Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here

Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness

Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here

charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman

secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction


Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance

Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 

The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE

The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here

Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams

Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth:
What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III

Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld

The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.

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Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.

Punishment by Performance

Toby Johnson

Soon after the Spring Equinox 1996, thirteen EarthWatch volunteers from the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain arrived in India on a mission to document and record "for posterity" the Spring/New Year's festivities in the region around Cuttack, Orissa, just inland from the Bay of Begal roughly a hundred kilometers south of the city of Calcutta. The festivities, which include both specifically religious elements and general cultural celebratory elements, are loosely called Danda Nata.

Danda Nata can be translated "Punishment through Performance." The religious side of the New Year's celebration, not unlike New Year's commemorations in the West, was focused on self-discipline and penance with the intention of making reforms in the future year and in the hopes of receiving blessings for oneself and for one's community as a reward for undergoing prescribed austerities.

Apparently, partly because the "austerities" involve performing rituals and feats of skill, the New Year's festivities also include theatrical performances and entertainments.

The Religious Observance

Thirteen young men, called bhoktas are selected from the village. They volunteer apparently because they have personal issues in their lives that they want to reform and/or because participation in the ritual brings prestige and respect. The bhoktas make vows of sexual abstinence, fasting, and retreat for the thirteen days of the festival.

Several times during those thirteen days they perform rituals that include the whole community in their observances and, not incidentally, entertain the villagers as the bhoktas  demonstrate prowess in certain manly activities. These consist of an opening ceremony in which the individual bhoktas and the members of the whole village determine hopes and intentions (which must parallel the West's "new year's resolutions") and then mystically enclose these in a consecrated "pot of desires"; several spontaneous events throughout the course of the thirteen days in which the bhoktas perform for the villagers, doing such things as hopping as one foot, rolling in the dust, and forming human pyramids, generally in response to challenges given them by the "high priest"/emcee/jester of the event, and then, after ceremonially washing at the ghat in the village pond and stirring one of the bhoktas into a trance state to become the goddess Kalika, parading through the village with torches while receiving offerings and bestowing blessings; and finally a particularly festive closing ceremony which includes yogic feats, such as firewalking and rolling in piles of thorny branches.

While the whole thing was predicated on a model of austerities and feats of bravery and difficulty, in fact, the performances of the bhoktas were far less solemn than their context would suggest. The Danda Nata seemed more like a Boy Scout Jamboree or a fraternity hazing than a solemn religious event. Young men the world over generally like to perform and show off as part of growing up and taking a place in adult society. It's not unusual for such an event to be presented in a religious context.

That the Danda Nata seemed to Westerners as less solemn than a Boy Scout Jamboree is perhaps primarily indicative of the Western dichotomy between things religious and things secular and between things serious and things festive.

The Theatrical Performances

 Perhaps simply because of the use of the term "performance" in the name of the religious ritual, the New Year's festival also includes theatrical and musical performances by acting troupes in the villages. These performances, accompanied by street fairs and bazaars, are generally conducted as competitions between troupes from different villages.

To the Western ear, these performances were difficult to listen to: the qualities of music-- harmony, rhythm, melody, etc-- between East and West are incompatible. What to the Indian ear must have sounded like appealing music and singing, to the Western ear, I fear, sounded rather more like unpleasant noise.

An interesting thing about the performance competitions was that, apparently, the order of skits in a competition is prescribed and the characters presented determined by tradition. What varies from performance to performance and from troupe to troupe, village to village, is the specific dialogue composed for each skit. Thus, for instance, the first skit is always an episode from the Ramayana, the second episode is always about a modern married couple fighting over the husband's drinking pattern. What varies is the kind of repartee that goes on between the characters.

Because this repartee was in a language the Westerners could not understand, a great deal of the novelty in the performances was unapparent and so went unappreciated.

It seemed to me that the theatrical performances were only tangentially linked to the religious ritual of the 13 bhoktas. This was New Years and many things come together to form the whole of the celebration.

Spirit Possession

One of the most interesting aspects of the Danda Nata was the conjuring of a possession state by one of the bhoktas. Through donning a special costume (that was increasingly more gender-crossed as the 13 days progressed) and then performing an induction through dance and gyration, one of the young men went into a possession state in which he "became" an incarnation of the goddess Kalika.

Trance induction seems to be a central part of many rituals. The induced state ranges from meditative concentration to full-blown possession by supernatural entities.

In the Danda Nata observed by the EarthWatch team in the town of Ponchugon, the possession seemed more ceremonial than real. The bhokta who became Kalika and was able thus to hear and respond to the villagers' petitions did not appear all that possessed. At least he did not seem out of conscious control. It is impossible, however, for an observer to know what the young man himself was experiencing.

What is certainly true is that central to the ritual and performance of the Danda Nata is the archetypal phenomenon of the god manifesting directly through one of the celebrants. It is in this wise that the whole village gets to participate in the mystical events of the festival.

The bhoktas were apparently practicing some sort of meditation/retreat/austerities in their personal roles. Thus they were likely to induce some sort of mystical experience in their own meditative trance. But it goes no further.

The ritual induction of the trance state during a public performance allowed the participants and observers alike to join in to the mystical phenomena by projecting into one of the celebrants the actual presence of the god/goddess.

I had quite an experience in India. I am still reeling a little.


There were 13 westerners on this EarthWatch-sponsored expedition to Tigiria, a little peasant village in the state of Orissa about 100 miles south of Calcutta on the plain sloping down to the Bay of Bengal. The Principal Investigators for the project were Chandrapanu Pattanayak and his wife Vibha Sharma. They are graduate students in Montreal. Chandra is the eldest son of the eldest son of the tribal warrior who was head of the village before the current government and modern society came to dominate India. While he's no longer legally a warrior lord, he's still at the top of the caste system and owner of most of the land that comprises the town's fields.

The village was lovely: thatched roof huts of mud brick and/or concrete, built among coconut and mango groves. It was surprisingly tropical. I joked I had been expecting to find a land dotted with little Taj Mahals and white stucco houses like Greece, with everyone dressed in white pajamas, but instead I found myself in what looked like the South Pacific. The men dressed in sarong-like garments called longees which left the chest bare and scarves called shojis thrown over the shoulders in a variety of ways. The women dressed in saris, and did look more expectedly Indian than South Pacific.

Kip and Toby in longees shirtless

Here are Toby Johnson and his partner Kip Dollar, back in Austin
after Toby's journey, wearing the Indian longees

The accommodations were very rudimentary. We had electricity (for lights and ceiling fans), but not running water. The toilet facility was a little concrete trough to squat over. We washed with water we brought with us in a bucket into the "loo"-as we took to calling it, following the Britons' convention-carrying the bucket with the right hand. The water came from a stone tub in the "shower" which we filled by carrying water in from a pump outside the house. We "bathed" by throwing water from the tub over ourselves with a plastic cup.

The temperature was very hot. And the atmosphere very humid. I think this was because we were on the coastal plain and got lots of moisture blowing up from the Bay. There was a drenching dew most mornings. We sweated profusely--this was one of the hardest parts of the whole experience. Thank God for the ceiling fans.

The rituals we went to see were not all that spectacular, at least not for all the hardships. But they were interesting. The whole experience was interesting. I'm very glad I did it. AND I wish it could have been done in one week rather than three. There was really only about one week's worth of experience. But it was spread out over a much longer time of many hot days and nights with very little to do.

I liked the simplicity of life in India. I saw that as a kind of "life of the future": they are passing directly into the Electronic Age without having gone through industrialization. They haven't developed our dependency on machines and "labor-saving devices," most of which use lots of energy. Electronics can be powered with solar on a microenergy scale.

The townsfolk are not "primitive" or "backwards." They are somewhat sophisticated, I think, about the nature of the outside world: they have TV. Tho', in the village, there is not access to American TV which comes over cable and is available only in the cities; while in Calcutta on an overnight layover, I watched The Love Boat. The Indian government provides Hindi TV thru a stationary satellite that any TV set can pick up. 

At the same time, because Tigiria is off the tourist routes, most of the people -- and certainly the children -- had effectively never seen white people before. So we were quite a curosity and an attraction to them. Most everywhere we went, we were followed by crowds of children wanting to touch us, shake hands with us, slap palms (jive style) and/or practice their English--with phrases like "What is your father's name?" "What is your father's occupation?"

They were very preoccupied with father's name and occupation because those were indicators of caste status.

While under the current democratic, secular government, caste and social hierarchy no longer have legal status, they dominate life in the village. Even the arrangement of the houses, we saw, was determined by social status.

Part of the experience of India was seeing how relationships there work. Most marriages are still arranged--tho' apparently many parents are happy if the children will find mates for themselves (a la the western model) then they don't have to go through the difficult chore of finding a marriage partner. But they still expect the partner to fit all the requirements of an old-fashioned arranged marriage. And "love" is not one of the criteria. Nonetheless, sexuality is a vibrant part of the culture-if only in the sense of being clearly apparent in the iconography of the culture.

Erotic Temples

One of the places we visited on our way to the village was the Temple at Konarak. This is one of those Hindu temples decorated all over the outside with erotic art from the high Tantric period.

I remember renowned religions scholar Joseph Campbell, my friend and mentor, several times recounting his visit to this temple. He told how he asked people, "why the erotic art?" A religion scholar explained about the Tantric periodin Hindu history; a local tour guide declared the erotic sculptures were on the outside to keep the impure of heart out of the temple (cause they'd stay outside looking at the pictures instead of going in); an old holy man responded to Joe's question: "What else would you put on the outside of a temple?"

As he reached the punch line, Joe would always laugh heartily.

The men's sexuality was interesting to me as a politically active and psychologically sophisticated gay man. The Indians are very dark skinned, but are caucasian and have "white" features. Many are quite handsome (the Errol Flynn look), and deliberately so, some wearing kohl in their eyes to look more alluring. During the bright sun of the day they often wear modern shirts, but in the evening they change to the longees and go out barechested in the evening air. At least in the village where most people are vegetarian, relatively poor, and generally laboring class, they are frequently tall and thin with very good muscle definition and long torsos, often hairy. I was quite impressed with their sexual beauty. Even the older men looked fit and attractive.

They were very flirtatious. Often the whole village took on the look of an American gay men's resort, like Provincetown or Fire Island: all the men, no women in sight, out socializing with one another in the evenings, barechested, holding hands and hugging one another, standing shoulder to shoulder watching each other and smiling to all the passersby.

To add to the gay culture parallels, most of the "performances" we saw were done by men dressed in outrageous drag. Women don't perform on stage, so Elizabethan-style, the men do all the roles. Well, they certainly seemed to enjoy cross-dressing and camping up. They put on great drag shows.

I don't know if I was getting special attention because I was white tourist and a curiosity or whether at least some of them were picking me up on their "gaydar." One fellow came up to me and tried to make conversation. He said several times: "my house." Was that a proposition? An invitation for tea? Or were the words "my house" the only English he knew?

Another young fellow was clearly flirting and flashing his eyes at me. All of the other boys, I noticed, put their hands on him when they stood near, as tho' he were the village "boy toy" and beloved of all the men and boys.  I think he wanted me to bring him back to America with me and would have been happy to accept any sort of position for such a favor.

I did not know what to do with the sexuality around me. I understood that this culture had an entirely different take on sex from my native modern America and I definitely did not want to commit any cultural transgressions. I was a guest of the eldest son of the village's most noble family and, therefore, "on my best behavior." Besides, perhaps because of the hygiene compromises I was making, I had virtually no desire to touch any thing -- much less any one. For what seemed like a reasonable fear of catching something awful I was very wary of putting anything in my mouth-including the food. (In fact, I had no diseases at all, tho' did have hay-fever from the spring pollens.)

The Headmaster of the local school, who befriended the EarthWatchers, told me that "homosexuality" was forbidden by their religion, but he was quite interested in hearing how I thought Western gay consciousness differed from whatever the old religions would have made sexual taboos about and certainly didn't seemed judgmental.

The religion, nonetheless, often seemed to be more "superstitious" than holy. I was surprised by that. And was reminded that a great part of modernization is the development of perspective on religion-and with it transcendence of religion.

The local god in Orissa is Lord Jagernath--from which comes the English word "juggernaut" for an unstoppable force. We visited the temple--tho' could not go inside (only Hindus are allowed). Each year in mid-spring they bring out the god (and his brother and little sister) and carry them on the huge carts, six stories tall and pulled by thousands of people, that have come to be known as juggernauts.

Jagernath is an "idol" made of wood that looks pretty much like a toy penguin painted up with a funny face. Every twelve years, he is carved a new body. This year is such a year. And a major festival was coming up that would include the consecration of a new statue to be carried out on the procession.

The main avenue of Puri, down which the juggernauts roll, is crowded daily with pilgrims and beggars. We were surrounded by lepers and maimed supplicants who wouldn’t take no for an answer. (In one of the begging places, we saw a 10 or 12 year old boy whose penis had been cut off to elict pity--and more alms.)

The EarthWatch Team

Curiously there were 13 volunteers singed up for this mission, just as there were 13 bhoktas who volunteered for their roles in the Danda Nata. Like the bhoktas, the volunteers were effectively (de facto, though not de jure) deprived of sex, food, and privacy. We were undergoing a "punishment" and a purification.

The joke, of course, was that observing the theatrical performances in their alien style and difficult music was itself a "punishment by performance" and our central function was carrying out the spirit of the ritual.

The "scientific research" phase of the mission began with a presentation by the Principal Investigator, Chandrabhanu Pattanayak, about the ironies and contradictions of the "participant-observer" modality of ethnographic research. The presence of the EarthWatch team necessarily altered the experience of the Danda Nata by both the bhoktas and the villagers (both those who attended and those who deliberately did NOT attend). And, because we could only manage to comprehend a fraction of what was going on -- and that out of context, what we saw and how we reacted had little significance. My impressions don't matter for much, tho' here they are.

Nonetheless, we were ourselves experiencing danda nata and came away "purified" for having undergone a difficult experience, confronted aspects of ourselves we were likely unfamiliar with, and opened ourselves to be "possessed" by the culture of India into which we threw ourselves.

                                    Austin, Texas     
                                    May 21, 1996

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

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