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Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned
from Joseph Campbell: The
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:
Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods
THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Articles and Excerpts:
Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
EnlightenmentYou'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
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
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
Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love
by Will Roscoe
Originally published by Suspect Thoughts Press (2004), now republished in an updated 2nd edition by Lethe Press,
trade paperback, 236 pages, $15
March 1, 2013
Available from Amazon.com -- new and used -- paperback. Also available for Kindle.
Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love
This review of the first edition appeared in White Crane Journal #63 Winter 2004/05
As one of the early exponents of the Two-Spirit/berdache tradition in Native American cultures, with his first book The Zuni Man-Woman, Will Roscoe has played a key role in the development of contemporary gay spiritualities. Now in his new book he offers a welcome synthesis of ideas and myths from such disparate sources as berdache tradition, Gnostic Christianity, Plato, Siberian shamanism, Walt Whitman, early gay liberation, and modern day AIDS activism—all to demonstrate, convincingly, that “love between equals and sames—agape, subject-subject love—is heaven on earth.”
Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love begins with the obscure story from the New Testament about the naked young man, wearing only a linen cloth, who appears to have been praying with Jesus in the Garden of Gethesemane, while the apostle who were supposed to be keeping guard kept falling asleep, the night Jesus was arrested. Who was that young man? What was actually going on?
About the curious incident in the Gospel of Mark, Roscoe comments: “The religion so often cited today as mandating the condemnation of homosexuality and gay people originated in a mystery cult in which same-sex love was not only idealized, it was an integral element of its oldest rite.” That “oldest rite” was a form of baptism, performed “naked man to naked man,” in which the initiate was taught the mystery of the Kingdom of God.
Discussion of this mysterious “naked baptism” is not new in contemporary gay spiritual circles. Theodore Jennings’ The Man Jesus Loved also offered it as an example of an aspect of Jesus’s ministry that the mainstream churches tend to ignore. While Jennings uses this reference, along with the much more elaborated story of the so-called “disciple whom Jesus loved,” to make the case that Jesus was likely what today would be called homosexual, Roscoe takes the clue about this initiation rite of naked man to naked man to argue that “same-sex love was the chrysalis in which Christianity’ revolutionary ideal of a universal and redeeming form of love was forged.” Roscoe notes that the question of Jesus’s sexual orientation, while interesting, misses the revolutionary point by its modern focus on sexuality rather than the broader notion of love between equals (which can, of course, include opposite sexed individuals, but in a totally different way from how they treated each other in traditional, “patriarchal,” societies).
The story of this “naked baptism” actually comes down to us because of the effort in the early Church to deny it. (Does this sound strangely familiar?) In the 1970s, Biblical scholar Morton Smith reported discovery of a fragment of a letter by the Church Father Clement of Alexandria regarding an heretical Gnostic sect called the Carpocratians in which the raising of Lazarus is linked to initiation into the “mystery of the Kingdom of God.” Smith realized that Clement quoted from a hitherto unknown “Secret Gospel” of Mark and inadvertently revealed the practice of naked-man-to-naked-man initiation precisely by condemning the Carpocratians for apparently continuing it.
Roscoe questions just what is this initiation into the mystery of the Kingdom and what’s the mystery. Through an exhaustive analysis of early Christian teachings, including especially the writings of St. Paul, and the various Greek mystery religions that were popular throughout the Hellenistic world, he proposes that Jesus personally initiated his followers through a trance-inducing ritual—which certainly included a sacred kiss through which “spirit” was transferred, and which may have also included “a nude embrace [as] a method of transferring a spirit from oneself to another [and perhaps] intercourse or an exchange of bodily fluids”—by which “the initiate saw what the spirit saw: heaven in all its glory.”
The point here though isn’t homosexuality as we know it today, but rather love and respect (including sexual affection) between equals and sames as a revelation of heaven on earth. Roscoe early on notes that he uses the terms “same-sex” and “sames” rather than “gay” or “homosexual” to emphasize “the relative sameness and equality of the partners. The dynamics of such relationships are different from those of opposite-sex relationships, especially in societies where women have less status and autonomy than men. Further, these dynamics are present regardless of whether the individuals involved have sex or desire sex with each other, although they are especially likely to be present in intimate relationships.”
Behind the notion of “sames” is a mystical realization of oneness with the other. This “sameness” isn’t just political or legal egalitarianism, though at the time of Plato and Jesus et al that in itself was a radical and revolutionary idea (and in spite of Jefferson’s lovely words in the Declaration of Independence, it may still be). “Sameness” is recognition of and participation in the deep unity of all conscious beings as outflowerings of Cosmic Mind or the Jungian Self. It’s a realization of unity preceding polarization and duality. And there is something essentially “gay” about it, for we homosexuals live in a world in which the polarization between male and female—and the subsequent “battle of the sexes”—just isn’t a very important part of our lives or of our perception of the universe.
In writing this review of Will Roscoe’s book, I’ve focused on the arguments in the first couple of chapters (Will, after all, put the reference to Jesus in the title), but this is really only a small part of the book and his synthesis of mystical traditions. For after placing Jesus in the line of spirit-initiated shamans, the book goes on to elucidate how shamanic tradition derives its authority, spiritual and healing power, and socially-contributing role from the shaman’s personal experience of the unity of all life. In the same way that heterosexuality and opposite-sex love manifests the interplay of the polarities (light-dark, hot-cold, good-evil, male-female) that drive creation, so homosexuality and same-sex love manifests the primal unity that transcends creation—and that is God.
Roscoe goes on to investigate Plato’s notions of love (including that story about the original androgynes who got cut in half by Zeus as a punishment for hubris), the Orphic mysteries, and then, expanding well beyond the Mediterranean world that gave birth to Western Civilization, Siberian shamanic religion, and Native American religions. All these demonstrate the point that there is a mystical revelation that comes from transcending or escaping conventional gender roles.
This is the revelation of primal unity that I personally resonate so strongly with in the Mahayana myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, of whom it is said there are “three wonders”: the first wonder is that the bodhisattva is both male and female simultaneously; the second wonder is that to the bodhisattva there is no distinction between time and eternity, between the world of suffering and nirvana; and the third wonder is that the first two wonders are the same!
This is the secret knowledge to be discovered beneath the surface manifestations of our homosexuality. On the surface we have sex with other men (or other women) because we’re sexually attracted. In that, actually, we’re just like everybody else: we have sex with people we find sexy. Beneath the surface though is the secret discovery that being alive and being conscious, we’re in heaven now, right here, on earth.
Will Roscoe brings his arguments up to contemporary times and tells a little of his personal life and experience of modern gay life. In the early 1980s he and his lover, Bradley Rose, moved to Los Angeles and became friends and housemates with proto gay activists Don Kilhefner and Harry Hay. It was Kilhefner who presented Will with Morton Smith’s book on the Secret Gospel of Mark way back then and Harry Hay with whom Will and Brad studied the esoteric meanings of early Christianity and the homosexual subtexts of Walt Whitman’s poetry.
The notion of “sameness” is precisely what Hay meant with his idea that gay men experience “subject-subject” love rather than the conventional and socially approved “subject-object” love of heterosexuality, with all its emphasis on utility, reproduction, and social roles.
Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition is wonderfully readable. Only a few times did I find myself lost in the maze of italicized terms and foreign-language words. And even then it was OK. I was so captivated by the book, I just kept going. This book is a real contribution to the field of gay spirituality, in part because of the in-depth research and academic excellence which resulted in all those italicizations. Roscoe has indeed managed to synthesize a coherent spirituality that places same-sex love and modern gay consciousness at the heart of humankind’s religious/spiritual quest.
The most moving section of the book is the account of how AIDS has affected gay life. Will’s partner of sixteen years, Brad Rose, succumbed to the disease in 1996. That tragedy revealed to Will how gay community mobilization to support sufferers and combat the effects of the epidemic truly demonstrated the virtues of selfless love and generosity beyond familial bonds and social utilitarianism that Jesus—and all his shaman brothers and sisters—have been calling for.
The book ends with a series of short appendices which discuss in depth some of the scholarly issues raised in the course of the text. Placing them in such appendices (instead of long footnotes) allowed the body of the book to be more concise without entirely losing the discussions. The last of the appendices is a fervent call to Christian Churches to wake up and see that the gay issue demands them to turn back and discover what Jesus’s teachings were really about: not social taboos and conventions that support the political and economic status quo, but unconditional love and recognition of the unity of all humankind.
Scattered throughout the book are wonderful little gems. As I complete my review and urge you to go get this book right away, let me quote my favorite. What a delightful insight into one of the sore points of gay-lib!
“This very capacity for identification [with oppressed others] sometimes leads gays to decry the labeling of people as ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ as inherently restrictive. Their sexuality, they will say, is only a small part of who they are; they feel themselves to be part of humanity as a whole. In fact, such feelings of cosmic identification are rare in the general population. Gays are never more queer than when they claim to be just ‘humans.’”
Well, all us queer humans are likely to thoroughly enjoy this book. It’s being released in time for Christmas 2004. What an appropriate gift for your friends and what an appropriate recognition of Jesus’s gift of himself to the world—as one of us!
Reviewer's Note: I wrote this review for the book when it first came out in my capacity as editor of White Crane Journal. Several years later, as an editor/layout technician for Lethe Press, I helped prepare the revised edition for release. I'm "biased"—but that is because I've read the book.
Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of Gay Spirituality: Gay Identity and the Transformation of Human Consciousness, The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell and other novels and books
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.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
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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