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The Androgenous Shaman


עבודת סמינר בקורס תודעה שיכחה וחירות
מוגשת לד"ר יוחנן גרינשפון ופרופ' דויד שולמן
מגישה: אלה מירום

The Androgenous Shaman: About

Woman like the big eagle am I.

Woman like the opossum am I.

And woman like the wolf am I.

Woman like the hunting dog am I.

I'll Show my power.

Male saint I am.

Woman of pure spirit

I shall disenchant


Man who stays and stands, and

Woman root below water am I.


Whirling woman

In the whirlwind I am.

Male saint I am.

It's a holy man, says [the mushroom].

It's a holy woman, says [the mushroom]

By: Mazatec Shamaness, Maria Sabina

1 Halifax Joan. Shamanic Voices. Penguin 1971: p. 198 this is the second half of the poem

The Androgenous Shaman: Text

Table of Contents

1. Introduction p. 4-7

2. Ethnographic Accounts p.7-14

- Two-Spirit People, and the concept of gender in Native America

- Influences of the European Colonizing Culture

- The "Two-Spirit" shamanic tradition

3. The Androgynous Element in Rites of Passage       p.15-16

4. The Devine Androgyne and Primal existence p.17-21

5. Coincidentia Oppositorum or Our Long Lost p.22-23 

Subconscious Opposite

6. Conclusion p.24-25



Gender is one of very basic human classification, identification, and self definitions. As other socially and culturally constructed categorization systems, the arbitrary perception of gender is many times presented as "natural" and universal. The mythology, rituals, and practices which challenge the socially constructed perception of gender, is a cross-cultural phenomenon, many times related to rites of a mystical and religious nature. The exploration of the cultural and social construction of gender is usually done in the context of social liberation, but it is liberation of a deeper sense that I would like to touch on. 

In this paper I wish to explore the transcendence of gender categories as a means for entering a different state of consciousness through ritual, theurgy, trance, worship, and healing. I will try and show different ways in which the transcendence of gender categories manifests, and try to answer what purpose do these practices, rituals, and myths serve? My focus in this paper will be on shamanism, and shamanic cultures.

When I use the term "shamanic cultures", what I mean is the way shamanic culture prevailed through the years and in different parts of the world, and not necessarily in the way it prevails today. 

The usage of the word gender in this research paper will be to describe the set of characteristics, which defines maleness, femaleness, or any additional gender category, from the range of categories in any given culture. The term sex will strictly describe the biological reality of a person, and sexuality will be used to describe an individual sexual orientation and behavior.  

 I wish to go beyond the usual conception of androgyny. While androgyny itself is "a concept breaker", as it combines the male and female contrary concepts, it is quite easy to get caught in one manifestation of it, for example "crossdressing". The sexual diversity of shamanic culture, as well as the arising sexual diversity of current post-modern times allows us to open ourselves to the endless ways in which the gender and sexuality continuum manifests itself, outside of the dichotomous male-female categories. 

It is through shamanic cultures which maintain the archaic androgynous structure in their practice and worship that we are able to learn about this topic. Although the merging of the male and female forces, or rather the transcendence of them, is incorporated to a certain extent in all mystical traditions, it is in the shamanic tradition that we find a more explicit version of the androgynous practice. In the archaic level of culture, symbolism is sacred for it points to something which says something that is a "Truth" about the world and it's structure, a revelation of the this structure is a revelation of the divine, which the structure of the world is a reflection of. Archaic symbols always have an ontological significance. The androgyne as a symbol in shamanic cultures is usually given a very clear figurative expression, in contrast to, for example, the ying-yang Taoist symbol which points to the same truth in a much more abstract manner. 

 Ambisexual deities are known to have been worshiped since Upper Paleolithic times (33000 BCE and 17000 BCE). It is in those years which gender role started being linked to biological sex, and a kinship society was formed. Hermann Baumann has named thirty seven particular regions where mythologies and worship of ambisexual deities and powers existed. These beliefs and practices have spread from the Mesopotamian highlands west to the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, Europe, and Africa and east to Indonesia, South Asia, the Far East, Australia, Oceania, North America, and South America. He has also named 47 tribes in Eurasia, Africa, Madagascar, Burma, India, Indonesia, the Near East, Northeast Asia, the South Seas, and Americas who had ritualized transvestism. It is through countless archeological excavations that we learn of the place of androgyny in shamanic life, ritual, and myth around the world. The ambisexual shaman as healer, oracle, ritual leader, mirrored the image of the ambisexual deity.

It is mostly through ethnographic material, and mythology that I will try and track different rites and practices prevalent in the shamanic world. In this paper I will try, and give an overview of the androgynous element of shamanism, and shamanic cultures as it is displayed in different cultures around the world. I chose not explore one shamanic culture, but rather shine a spot-light on the androgynous nature of the shamanic life and practice in it's different manifestations, today, in the past, and around the world, especially in: Asia, North, Central and South America, and Africa. It is my intention to show though a horizontal exploration of shamanism as universal phenomenon, that the androgynous element is central to shamanism, and shamanic culture, and that it is a means of transcendence from the ordinary, immediate view of the world, and has the potential to expand the usual epistemological capability. Eliade has said of  religious symbols that they are "capable of revealing a modality of the real or a structure of the World that is not evident on the level of immediate experience." Beyond this, what makes the androgyne such a powerful religious symbol is the fact that it actually can, through personification transform into an immediate experience through which the relative and the ultimate are bridged. The multitude of meaning inherent to a symbol are manifested become an immediate experiential reality, primarily by the person engaging in any sort of androgynous behavior, especially during ritual and spiritual practice. The people coming in contact with the individual are the secondary recipients of this experience. 

Shamans have been called "intermediate types", and it is usually the intermediation between the material world and the spirit world which is emphasized. It is through the example of the androgyne shaman that we discover, what may be a deeper aspect of intermediation: between realities reached through mediation and reality which is immediate. Through andronization mythical reality, grasped only through the mediation of symbols, becomes a tangible immediate reality manifested by the androgyne. 

 2. Haynes F. and Mckenna T. Unseen Genders: Byond the Binaries. Peter Lang Pub., NY. 2001.

3. Roscoa Will. Changing Ones: Third and fourth Genders in Native North America. St. Martin's Press New York. 1998: p. 5

4.   Mirchea Eliade. The Two and The One. Chap 2: "Mephistopheles and the Androgyne or The Devine Mystery of the Whole". Harvill Press London, 1962. p. 78-122

5. Jung C. G. Introduction to a Science of Mythology. Lund Humphories. London. 1951: p. 128-133

6.  Mirchea Eliade. "Methodological Remarks on the Study of Religious Symbolism" in The History of religions: Essays in Methodology. University of Chicago Press, 1959: p. 98-99

7. Jeter Kris, "The Shaman: The Gay and lesbian Ancestor of Humankind"/ Marriage and Family Review, 1989, vol. 14 (3-4): p. 318 and also see  Cucchiari, S. The Gender Revolution and the Transition from Bisexual Horde to Patrilocal Band: The Origins of Gender Hierarchy. Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality. Edited by S.B. Ortner and H. Whitehead. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

8. Baumann, H. Das Doppelte Geschlecht: Ethnologische Studien Zur Bisexualitant in Ritus und Mythos. Berlin, West Germany: Dietrich Reimer, 1955. in Jeter Kris (as above): p. 326

9. Roscoe Will. "Changing Ones". St. Martin's  Press. NY.1998: p. 203

10. Eliade M. History of Religions (as above): p. 98

11.  Carpenter Edward. Intermediate Types Among Primitive Folk: A study in Social Evolution. London: George Allen and Company. 1914.

The Androgenous Shaman: Text


Ethnographic Accounts

Most native North and Central American tribes have had a special, often shamanic position for individuals who have chosen, or been chosen to lead cross-sexual lives. In the next section we will explore the tradition of the "ambisexual" shaman as it prevailed especially in Native America. These examples can help us better understand the significance androgyny had in shamanic cultures, and in particular to the shaman himself. It is important to understand the difference in the ontology of gender when trying to decipher the meaning of androgyny in shamanic cultures. Eliade, for example, calls androgenic practices an "aberration", and apologetically asks us to distinguish between the end in view: obtaining the view of totality of man, and the means adopted: physiological, psychological androgyny. But it is precisely his categorization of the phenomenon as aberration and this separation of ends and means which shamanic cultures do not exactly adhere to and the shaman transcends. 

I will begin by giving an overview of the concept of gender and sexuality in Native America, and then go on to explore the special shamanic roles, practices, rituals, and myths created around the androgyne and the androgynous element. These two components cannot be completely separated, for it is in the particular foundation of these cultures' gender and sexual definition that these androgynous practices have grown. Never the less, the androgynous practices, although particular and unique in their manifestation, are universal in their aim to release humans from their, "one-sided", "differentiated consciousness" as Jung describes it.  

"Two-Spirit people", and the Concept of Gender in Native America

Alternative gender types termed: "third and fourth genders", was a wide spread phenomenon among the North and Central American tribes. This could be seen as a starting point of understanding the role of androgyny in shamanic culture, and of help in deciphering the role of androgyny in creating a different mental reality.  The Western conception of a polar division of the genders, out of which every deviation was considered at least "abnormal", and foul in most cases, did not apply to the Native American tribes before contact with the Western influence and oppression. It is in this cultural context that the androgyne shaman plays his intermediate role. 

Until recently tribal members of an alternative gender role were called by the general name: "berdache". The term, although not derogatory today, probably dates back to European colonialists who used it in a derogatory manner. The term means something close to "sex slave", and could testify to the way in which European society saw homosexuality, transexuality, bi-sexuality or any gender type which did not adhere to the dichotomous Male and Female genders. It was recently that Gay Native Americans and researchers have started to call the different displays of third and forth genders by the general name of "two spirit" instead of "berdache". This name, better describes the identity of these people, and is closer to the spirit of their role and name in the Native American languages.

"Two Spirit" members lived a lifestyle which was an alternative gender role to the male and female roles. The two-spirit specialized work roles, either of the opposite sex, or unique to the two-spirit; they were distinguished in their over all expected behavior, appearance and social role. Many married non two-spirit wives/husbands, of the same sex. Their identity was usually ascribed to divine/supernatural interference, and they usually had spiritual roles in the tribe. In most tribes they are a natural part of tribal life, and many times esteemed members. They were also as any other member of a culture were, each in their own tribe, bound to norms concerning their role and behavior; therefore they are described as a third/third gender. The general term of "Two spirit", which is not ascribed to one particular shamanic culture is not one rigid form of gender role, but a range of manifestation of the gender continuum, which are not strictly male or female. 

Man and women who partnered with same sex "two spirit", as the "two spirit" themselves (in most cases), could, before or after this relationship, have sexual and relationship partners of the opposite sex as well. This is further evidence that the archaic tribal tradition perceived sexuality as a fluid entity, not bound by the dichotomous definition given to it by the Western Christian world. From the following ethnographies it may also be concluded that even though shamanic cultures had a socially constructed concept of gender, there was also an awareness of its relativity, and the need to transcend it. This need was fulfilled by the role of the androgyne shaman, and ritual androgyny. 

It is according to Lawerence Sullivan that the Western polarity of nature and culture, presented as universal, has been one of the single most destructive forces of the last century.   Researchers often go on to link nature with male and culture with female, while Sullivan shows that shamanic cultures do not adhere to this. Males and females as well as plants, the stars, the rocks, and all dwellers of the universe disclose periodicity in a uniquely meaningful tempo. Males, for example are many times said to menstruate, and "menstruation is the best statement of the periodic nature of incarnate human life.  For example in order to give birth [to the initiates of the new generation], men must first be opened up and made to menstruate." Through this insight into the ontology of shamanic cultures we can understand better the inherent flexibility of gender in this system of thought which may be described as such: All dwellers of the universe are interconnected, and are dancing in their unique ways to the same drum. Therefore men and women are not rigidly opposite categories, as we see in the example of men who are said to menstruate. By this example we could also gain further understanding of the way in which shamanic cultures do not necessarily depend on sense perception of material manifestation to create their mental reality. It is actually the contrary; the experiential reality creates physical reality. While in the western system of thought a man cannot menstruate because he does not physically menstruate, it seems that in shamanic cultures physical evidence is not necessarily the first thing that needs to be accounted for. The experiential and ideal reality is just as important, if not more important. Therefore the physical anatomy of a man or a woman does not necessarily bind the person to one experiential existence or another to the extent that it does in western epistemology. 

Influences of the European Colonizing Culture 

As were other practices and lifestyles of the shamanic culture, androgyny and  ritual androgyny encountered at least dismay, at worst persecution from the white Christian dominant culture. Missionaries and colonizers ridiculed displays, of what they saw as sinful sexual deviance. The "two-spirit" people, including two-spirit shamans were usually the first to be killed by colonizers, as in the example of Balboa who set wild dogs to kill the homosexual medicine men of the California tribes. It is not a surprise then, that during mid to late 1800s, the cross gender institution was rapidly disappearing. In the 1900s the fear and indoctrination caused a change in attitude towards homosexual medicine men/women from within the tribes as well. Native Americans, out of fear or in an attempt to fit better within the dominant white Christian culture  that has a clear anti-homosexual agenda in school, army, and other institutions, has suppressed to androgynous element of their culture and religion, along with other elements that didn't sit well with the colonizers system of thought.

In spite of this, in some cases reminiscences of the "old ways" can be found in the new, often syncretistic version of shamanic culture. One example of this is in the case of the Araucanian Indian of South America. In this tribe where ritual transvestism and homosexuality was a prerequisite for the office of the most revered member the "machi" (shaman). Today though they are influenced by Christian values, their belief still preserves its androgynous archaic structure as they invoke: "Father God and old woman who art in Heaven".  

It seems that shamanic culture was perceived as one posing a threat to the colonizers of the "New World". Coming from a culture of a very rigidly polar categorization system, they encountered shamanic culture, headed by the shaman, which dared to live in a plain of consciousness where the polarities of Life and Death, Holy and Profane, sky and earth, pain and pleasure were to be bridged or transcended. The example of sexuality could be seen as a central and fundamental difference and challenge to the colonizers' conceptualization. 

Through the difference in perception of gender as a category of thought much could be learned about the ontological differences of the two cultures, and the dynamics created by these differences. While the western system of categorization is presented as a universal grasp of sexuality including all human kind, different shamanic cultures show a greater diversity of sexual behaviors, who are accepted and even revered through spiritual and shamanic powers attributed to them. The oppression of Native American perception of gender and sexuality, in ritual and in lifestyle is just one of the many beliefs and practices which have suffered serious degradation through contact with the European world.

The "Two Spirit" Shamanic Tradition

Early writings by colonialists and missionaries marvel at the fact that the tribes were not only in acceptance of their two-spirit members, but that these members usually had a special spiritual or shamanic role. As it was written by the French Jesuit missionary Josef François Lafitau in a book about the American Indians of the western Great Lakes of Louisiana and Florida in a condemning, yet honest manner: "They believe they are honored…they participate in all religious ceremonies, and this profession of an extraordinary life causes them to be regarded as people of a higher order, and above the common man." The french explorer Facques Marquette reported that "they are predominantly present at all of the solemn ceremonies of the sacred Calumet pipe, and they are summoned to the councils, and nothing can be decided without their advice". 

In North and Central American tribes the "two spirit" people were usually given a special name, each in their own language, and in accordance with the nature and role of the berdache in that particular culture. For example: the Navajo call their homosexual priesthood "Nadle", the Oglala call homosexual magic men "wintke", the Acoma Peublo people say "Mujerahado" "Man-witch-woman". In every tribe the characteristics and roles of the "two spirit" were a little different; in many cases the "two spirit" was a shaman or had shamanic powers.  Beyond the variations the clear link of the two-spirit to spiritual, shamanic aspects of tribal life are something to be considered. Sue Ellen Jacobs did a study of the references to homosexuality in the written records of the North American tribes. She found that out of ninety-nine tribes which kept written records eighty-eight made reference to homosexuality. Jacobs lists the exact roles played by homosexuals in twenty-one tribes. In her study she discovered that in twelve out of the twenty-one  studied, described transvestites as the shamans of the tribe. In almost all the tribes homosexual men and women had special functions in ceremony, ritual, and healing. According to her study, all denials of homosexuality came from East Coast tribes which were in the heaviest and longest contact with "those segments of white Christian culture that severely punish people who admit to homosexuality." 

It is usually through a distinct initiation that a person becomes a "two spirit" shaman. The metamorphosis might start as early as infancy, as the parents recognize the child's special abilities. The person many times will have visions, of spirits or gods which communicate to her/him the special role which she/he will fulfill in the tribe. The person, at this point might endure injury and hardships during which the initiated shaman will have more visions. Many times a vision-quest supervised by the tribe's shaman was part of the initiate's path to his unique role. It is after these ordeals, that the gender-variant shaman will be initiated by the tribe. The initiation would be a highly elaborate ceremony, during which the tribe would recognize and accept the tribal member in his alternate gender, and his shamanic role. 

Edward Carpenter reports that homosexuals in the Bering Strait, Kmachaldales, the Siberian Chukchee, the Aliets, Inuits and Kodiak Islanders, flourished under the direction and leadership of the shamans. These unique tribal members often became apprentices to the shamans, sometimes becoming shamans themselves. Chukchee boys who put on women's cloths, took up women's work, and had relationships with men were called "Choupans" and often went on to become priests. Mirchea Eliade writes of the Chukchee shaman as one that undergoes a change of sex, and marries men. Although not all Chukchee shamans necessarily continued living as transvestites, having that experience was an inseparable part of the initiation of the shaman. He also reports that this was true (with variations) for the Asiatic Eskimo Kamchadal and Koryak tribes, the North American Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute, and the South American: Patagonians and Araucanian.

 The Araucanian "Machi", shamans, although contemporary reports describe them as women it is reported that in the past they were almost exclusively men who dressed and acted as women, and ritual transvestism and the homosexual experience was a prerequisite to become a Machi. The Mojave Indians have a special song cycle for the initiation of the sacred homosexual person, whose role was "highly elaborate and well integrated into Mojave cosmology".The "cross-dressing" shamans were considered exceptionally powerful shamans. One example of such shaman is Masahai. She was a very powerful shaman who specialized in love magic, and healing. 

We have an account of an Chiricahua Apache "woman Warrior" named Lozen who, beyond being a brave warrior, received in a vision quest the power to heal wounds and locate the enemy. She was considered a shield to her people. For many years she spent her life with her partner Dahteste. 

 In the case of the "Manag" (shaman) of the Sea Dyak, androgyny is a mandatory trait, and at the end of the initiation he keeps wearing women's cloths, they took a husband and devoted themselves to the occupations of women. In the case of the Ngadju Dyak of Southern Borneo the shamaness and the asexual priest shaman were bisexual because they were considered as intermediaries between the two cosmos, or "logical plains" the earth, which was regarded as feminine and sky which represented the masculine nature. In their own person they combined these two forces. 

The "two spirit" shamans were many times seen as seers, visionaries and dreamers. An example of such case is that of a Yaqui two-spirit from Northern Mexico, who gained a reputation a a dreamer by the time he was nine-years old. His position as a dreamer and a seer was formalized in a traditional ceremony. He was seen as one which through his dreaming abilities, which were revered by the tribe, bringing guidance and healing to others.

The importance of the transgender/bisexual experience as one that transcends the ordinary experience of the mind, can be drawn from these testimonies. According to Eliade, "ritual androgyny is a well known archaic formula for divine bi-unity", and Androgyny cannot be separated from the archaic structure. Truly connecting to the traits of the opposite gender is considered a special power of the shaman, just as crossing the barrier between life and death, the ability to fly and so forth. I will further elaborate on these themes in later sections of this paper.

 12. Eliade M.. (as above)

13. I will elaborate on Jung's theory later on in this paper

14. Third gender usually is ascribed to males who bared and alternative gender roles, and Forth gender types refers to the female. Roscoa Will. (as above): p. 7

15. A more in depth etymological explanation of the word could be found in: Roscoe, Will. Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America. St. Martin's Press, New York, 1998.

16.   In this paper I will refer to people which take on a gender role, alternative to male and female "two spirit". For more information about "two spirit" and "berdache": Jacobs S., Thomas W., Lang S. Two-Spirit People.. University of Illinois. 1997: p.2,3.

17.  The explanation of the changing semantics is important to our discussion because, language is one means to understand the changing and variance in the relative ontology of gender.

18. The characteristics of the two-spirit has been written by Roscoe W. (as above), who has lived with and studied for many year, the two-spirit role in Native American, shamanic culture. 

19. Many Native American tribes lived by the norm of serial monogamy, as written by- Roscoe Will. "Changing Ones". St. Martin's  Press. NY.1998: p. 141

20. An interesting fact is that "two spirit" people who were outwardly taking on gender traits of the opposite sex whether in cloths, behavior, and profession were given a special title, where as their same sex partners, were not even given a second thought as far as categorizing them into a gender type. This could be seen as powerful evidence to the "matter of factness", of the choice to be with a "two spirit" partner of the same sex.

21. Sullivan Lawrence E. Icanchu's Drum, Macmillan Pub. Company NY1988. p.445

22.  Sullivan Lawrence e. (as above): p. 264

23.  Roscoe W. (as above)

24.   Katz J. (as above)

25. Blackwood Evelyn. "Sexuality and Gender in Certain Native American Tribes: the case of cross-gender women". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 1984(10). p. 27-42.

26.  Sullivan Lawrence E. (as above): p. 445

27.  Eliade M. (as above) p. 329

28. Williams, Walter L. The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Beacon Press, London 1992. p. 17

29. Katz Jonathon. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA. New York: Harper and Row, 1985.

30. Jacobs, Sue Ellen Jacobs, "Berdache: a brief review of the Literature," Colorado Andthropologist 1 (1968), in Grahn Judy, "Strange Country This: Lesbianism and North Indian Tribes", Journal of Homosexuality, 1986, May 12(3-4). P. 43-44

31. A vision quest is not unique to the two-spirit shaman, it is a spiritual practice widely used by North American Natives. "the goal of the vision quest is to try to get beyond the rational world by sensory deprivation and fasting." Through elaborate rites and practices a person is prepared, and sent out to a retreat outside of the tribal area, where he awaits spiritual guidance and visions. Williams (as above): p. 27

 32.  Lang Sabine. "Men as Women Women as Men: Changing Gender in Native American Cultures". University of Texas Press. 1998: p. 302,136,235,347 and in Williams Walter L. the Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture. Beacon Press, London 1992: p. 25-30 

33. Edward Carpenter, Intermediate Types Among Primitive Folk: A study in Social Evolution (London: George Allen and Company, 1914), p.18

34. Eliade M., shamanism- Archaic techniques of ecstasy, Bollingen Foundation, NY 1964. p. 257

35.   Wilken Mike, Transformations: shamanism and Homosexuality" (unpublished) in Grahn J.

36. Katz J.

37.  Sullivan Lawrence E. Icanchu's Drum, Macmillan Pub. Company NY1988. p.445

38. Williams, Walter L. (as above): p. 26

The Androgenous Shaman: Text


The Androgynous Element in Rites of Passage

Eliade's definition of the function of the rite: 

"…a coming out of one's self, a transcending of one's own historically controlled situation, and a recovering of an original situation, no longer human or historical since it precedes the foundation of human society; a paradoxical situation impossible to maintain in profane time, in a historical epoch, but which it is important to reconstitute periodically in order to restore, if only for a brief moment, the initial completeness, the intact source of holiness and power."

As I have shown, there are many examples of third and forth gender types which have a central role as shamans, or as carriers of shamanic ritual. It seems that in many shamanic cultures androgyny is a distinct way of acquiring shamanic powers. In most shamanic cultures other practices can be found which use andronyzation rites to elevate one to a mythical level of the mind, which unites the differentiated opposites of the ordinary mind. These practices ask the participants to internalize perspectives of the opposite sex, as a means for spiritual progress, through the transcendence of immediate differentiated ordinary experience into a mythical universal and whole existence. Varied ritual androgyny can be found in almost every culture, especially in weddings ceremonies, rites of passage, and reenactment of the creation myths.

Many shamanic cultures have, or have had in the past ritual androgynization in puberty rites of passage ceremonies. The male initiates often have to cross-dress, and in some cases such as in the example of Australian tribes, a sub-incision is made to symbolize a vagina.  In the Navajo tribe "all initiates in the yeibichai ceremony look through the eyes of the Yeii mask and symbolically acquire a female perspective". Experiences of homosexual relations are also a known to be part of the ceremony in certain cases. Eliade explains these rituals in the following words: " One cannot become a sexually adult male [or female] before knowing the coexistence of the sexes, androgyny; in other words, one cannot attain a particular and well-defined mode without first knowing the total mode of being." 

In Native American tenets Death is but another rite of passage, and transformation. This is beautifully displayed in the belief of the Yanomamo tribe of South America. At death all Yanomamo souls are said to travel to the moon which is considered an androgynous entity. The eastern part of the moon is considered female, while the western is male. The souls of men journey to the eastern, female half of the moon while the women souls travel to the western, male half of the moon. The souls are transformed, rejuvenated, and prepared for their next life, in which they will live as the opposite sex to what they were in their previous life. Members of the Yanomamo tribes say that they lived in their previous lifetime as a member of the opposite sex. It is not only in legend that we find the androgynous element; two-spirit shamans often had roles related to death and burial. They were the undertakers, conducted ceremonies, and supervised mourning rites. 

Although the male and female categories are set as opposites, it can be seen by this example that the Yanomamo perceive their ultimate way of being as something which is beyond their identity, in their present lifetime. Just as in the example of the puberty rites of passage, an awareness of the "total mode of being" (as Eliade describes it) through the element of androgyny in connection to death, is emphasized. 

39.  Based on Eliade, M. (above) p. 168

40. Eliade M. (as above), p.113

41. Jung C. G.. Lund Humphories. London. 1951: p. 112

42. Roscoe W. (as above): p. 209

43. Sullivan Lawrence e. (as above): p. 445

44. Roscoe Will. Changing Ones.  St. Martin's Press. NY. 1998: p. 16

The Androgenous Shaman: Text


The Divine Androgyne and Primal Existence: 

Creation myths have the ability to render reality in its ultimate, ideal form, as grasped by particular religious culture, yet it has been shown by Eliade and Jung that beyond the particular forms myths take, there are archetypical symbols that appear in the creation myths of all world religions, one of which is androgyny. It is through creation myths that we are able to derive two levels of reality, one is of the ideals and values that a particular culture holds to be true, and the second is a formula for the remembrance of the wholeness and the holiness of a place and time before place and time, a placeless place where divisions of any sort did not exist, and neither did particular value systems.  

The universal myth of divine androgyny and the primal bisexual person present models for human behavior. This model and myth are symbolically reenacted in shamanic ritual and behavior. The purpose of ritual and non-ritual androgynization is complex and manifold. It holds both the most tangible, manifest physical experience of the flesh, and the most abstract, virtual, spiritual experience of the ultimate.

The following will be three examples of androgyny as it appears in creation myths of different shamanic cultures. It is both the particular and ultimate universal levels that appear in these myths that I would like to explore. Each example of  a creation myth represents a primary aspect of androgyny as a means of transcendence of the ordinary manner in which the mind grasps reality: mediation, transformation, and creation.     


In the North American Zuni tradition the "lhamana" (two-spirit shaman) is considered a human representative of the spirit Ko'lhamana who has a special role in their mythological creation story. Ko'lhamana mediates and merges the spirits of hunting and the spirits of farming who are at war. The battle is reenacted by the Zunis in a special ceremony in which the "lhamana" has a central role. It has been shown by Levi-Strauss that the myth's main theme is the death and birth, the taking of life through hunting and the giving of life through agriculture. He states that "mythical thought always works from the awareness of oppositions towards their progressive mediation…" 

As a bearer of both male and female traits the "two-spirit" shaman was many times considered a peace-maker. The two-spirit shaman was often a mediator in the practical sense, being a delegate to other tribes, and bridging between fighting parties within the tribe. But his peacemaking skills were not confined to the practical sense, but were also considered to bridge between concepts within the human mind, which are in constant conflict such as life and death. And maybe more so the acts of "death", or aggression that one is inevitably made a part of in order to live, in the physical world. This is a paradox that is impossible to reconcile in the ordinary binary mind. It is through ritual that tribe is able to touch on the paradoxical reality, and the two-spirit shaman which mediates between the polarities enables the tribe to do so as well. 

The androgyne could be seen as one which is, on one hand in touch with the pairs of opposites, and on the other hand he transcends them, therefore he is able to mediate polar, inherently conflicting reality, whether it is in actuality or in the human. mind.  


In the Navajo creation myth the two-spirit shaman called "natle" is a creative innovator; the tribe depends on him for survival. The meaning of "natle" is "changing one", or "one who is transformed". During creation "natle" twins (a boy and girl), create, for the first woman and man tools which are necessary for their survival. Later in the myth, the world where people are living is flooded, and it is due to the natles' innovativeness that they survive and, arrive at the next world, which is where people are living at present.  

The Navajo creation myth gives us another aspect of the role of the two-spirit shaman and the mythical image of the Androgyne. The meaning of the name natle: "changing one", and his role in the Myth and in tribal life, points to the fact that the sexual fluidity of the androgynous is only a symbol of his flexibility and creativity of thought and action. In this myth the natle is able to transcend people's conventional thought, and therefore change, transformation, and "dream up" change and progress. It is through his innovativeness that people survive and explore "new worlds", which may symbolize new modes of thought and existence. 

The shaman is one who has mastered the secret of transformation. He has, for example, the ability to experience himself in other body form, such as those of different animals. The ability to experience him/herself as the opposite sex follows the same logic although the transgender ability can be seen as a more fundamental one, because the male-female category is one, which is a metaphor for the primordial and creative forces of the universe, and are dealt with in all aspects of human experience.

Motion and change is a dominant characteristic of the Navajo language, and fluctuation and change is considered one of the deeper qualities of existence. As it is seen by the Navajo example, in shamanic cultures transgenderness, is not seen only as a trait or choice, but is very often seen as a special ability, as is the connection with the spirit word, the ability to heal, or x-ray vision. Because the male-female categories are so basic to human experience, the mastery of transformation in this area is many times grasped as a key to master transformation in itself. The androgynous shaman, doesn't only have the ability to transform, she or she embodies transformation. Abiding in the nature of transformation allows access to that which is beyond static conceptualized reality. 


In the shamanic tradition of the eastern Ewe tribes of Ghana the creator god is a half female half male called: Mawu-Lisa. It is said that "Mawu Lisa expresses together the unity of the world conceived in terms of duality." In another myth coming from the same area, the creator is made of Obatala (male), identified with the sky, and Oduduwa (female), identified with the earth. They are sometimes represented as the upper and lower halves of a calabash which can never be separated. Thus, it may even be said that Obatala and Oduduwa "represent one androgynous deity."


As in the example above, it is quite common for the "Great Spiritual Being" and the creator in tribal cultures to be conceived as neither male nor female, but as a combination of both. Eliade links "primal androgyny" and "the creation" structurally together. It is primal androgyny which symbolizes "the return to precosmogonic Chaos and immersion in the limitless ocean of power that existed before the creation of the world and rendered the creation possible." The time before creation was a time of totality, which had to be broken for the world to be created". Eliade also links and androgyny with eschatology, as it holds the return to primordial times, to an ideal world.

The shaman has access to that "limitless ocean of power" of pre-existence for he is fearless in abiding in the realm of ambiguity. Therefore he/she has the ability to create order from chaos. The shaman's powers through androgyny can be seen as having two unifying opposite functions: one as an agent to a reality, transcending ordinary, differentiated mental condition, and the other as a restorer of order from chaos. This description sits well with the role of the shaman who is usually on one hand a spiritual guide and on the other hand a practical tribal leader, or at least bears a role very much connected to leadership and advisory. 

An example of an embodiment of these qualities, resulting from the unique state of mind of the two-spirit shaman is in the Navajo Natle Hastiin Klah. Klah was a profound spiritual artist, a medicine man and a charismatic leader of complex ceremonies, yet he also led his people in the most practical, economic and organizational sense during a time of deep crisis. He was a light to his people through the time of devastation caused by colonizers violently moving Native Americans to reservations. While leading his people spiritually, and enabling them to touch that which is beyond their immediate physical experience, he tended to these immediate needs of the moment, making brave decisions in trade, and preservation of the Navajo culture, as to allow a restoration of new order.  

 The shaman, fearless in transcending pain and pleasure, flesh and spirit, male-female, uniquely transcends the duality of order and chaos, the ordinary and extraordinary, and is therefore a master of travel back and forth between them. He has the inner-wisdom to provide that which is needed in any occasion: the restoration of law and order, or the elevation away from the conceptions of them.  

45.  Eliade M. (as above). Jung C G. (as above).

46.  Levi Strauss C. The structural Study of Myth. In Myth: a symposium. Ed. By: Sebeok Thomas A. Indiana University Press, London. 1958: p. 99

47. Halifax Joan. Shamanic Voices. Pelican Books USA. 1980

48. Williams, W. (above) p.18-19

  Newell S Booth. African religions. Booth Newell S, Jr. "God and the Gods in West Africa".  Nok Pub, NY 1977: p. 162, 164

49.  Newell S Booth. African religions. Booth Newell S, Jr. "God and the Gods in West Africa".  Nok Pub, NY 1977: p. 162, 164

50. Mirchea Eliade, The Two and The One, Chap 2: "Mephistopheles and the Androgyne or The Devine Mystery of the Whole". Harvill Press London, 1962. p. 78-122

51. Klah lived 1867-1937. To this day the Navajo Native Americans, have preserved their culture in a way which is not found in any of the other tribes, and it is at least partly due to Klah's decision to write all the rites, beliefs and mythos of the Navajo tradition which was considered dangerous before then. He has also founded the Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art. Klah, all through his life was a mediator between the Native American and the white world, and cured countless people.  Roscoe W. (as above): chap. 3: The one who is changing: Hastiin Klah and the Navajo Nadleehi Tradition. P. 29-65

52. Orion, L, in Jeter K. (as above) writes: "Shamans with their ability to abide in the sphere of ambiguity uniquely empower them to restore order from chaos." 

The Androgenous Shaman: Text


Coincidentia Oppositorum or 

Our Long Lost Subconscious Opposite 

Coincidentia Oppositorum, the simultaneous reality of the opposites, has been described as "the least imperfect definition of God." Mirchea Eliade in his book "The Two and The One" describes the way in which the Coincidentia Oppositorum is dealt with universally by all religion, and especially that part of religion which is concerned with ultimate reality. Eliade shows the universality of androgyny in myth and especially in theogony. He gives examples of the Jewish Midrash, Gnostic Christian tradition, Greek philosophy and mythology, and more.  Along with the pairs of coexisting opposites of good and evil, light and darkness, chaos and form, virtual and manifest, the Female and Male are considered inherent to the divine mystery the ultimate existence of The One: "As an exemplary expression of the creative power, bisexuality is ranged among the glories of divinity". 

Jung's theory of the conscious and subconscious mind reveals to us the way in which the theological universal analysis is translated to the aspect of the human mind. According to Jung Coincidentia Oppositorum is the ultimate aim of the psychic activity. He describes the conscious mind as one which act according to what we have been taught is the "correct and sensible manner", and it is inevitably one-sided, and not in touch with the whole of our existence. It is especially in the "civilized" world that the differentiated conscious mind has gained much power, for it is a tool for the practical realization of the world and has the ability to use (and abuse) it at will; But getting caught in the one-sidedness of the conscious mind causes deviation from the natural roots of wholeness of our being. It is in the subconscious that we keep what is considered unwanted, untrue, impractical in our being, it is the opposite of who we think we are, of who we want to be considered. The subconscious mind is the opposite gender of what we consider ourselves to be. "The hermaphrodite means no more than a union of the strongest and most striking opposites". As such, the androgyne as a myth, a symbol, or a person which embodies the symbol whether in life or ritual, represents the possibility for the union of that which we think we are, and that which we think we are not. It represents, the transcendence beyond differentiated existence within our conscious into a full existence which is able to contain contradicting aspects in ourselves, and in the world (if those could really be separated). "…The bisexual "primary being" turns into a symbol of the unity of personality, a symbol of the self where the war of opposites finds peace". 

53. Mirchea Eliade. The Two and The One, Chap 2: "Mephistopheles and the Androgyne or The Devine Mystery of the Whole". Harvill Press London, 1962. p. 78-122

54. Jung C. G. (as above): p. 128

55. Jung C. G. (as above): p. 130

The Androgenous Shaman: Text



In shamanic cultures we find that practices and rituals which aim at the merging of the male-female dichotomy are quite common, and even central to religious life. While in Western culture, as Jung has theorized, the conscious mind received extravagant cultural preference much beyond its true credibility, leaving a human "as a fragment of himself".  It seems that these fading shamanic cultures have had more humility in the credibility they attributed to their conscious immediate experience. They have mediated between the conscious and subconscious through myth, ritual, and many times with the help of a shaman who was able to be in touch with his own gender as a continuum. The interrelatedness of the universe is one of the basic tenets of the Native American religion. The tension between the continuum of inter-connected universe and the binary categories which exist in the ordinary human mind is resolved by a mediator, one who is able to transcend this binary reality. In many cases a being which is able to spiritually combine the forces of male and female is seen as one who can bridge other polarities.

The shaman in his/her ideal form, is a master of ascension. The shaman’s ability to fly is not just a display of his/her supernatural power, it represents the ability to perceive and act beyond usual human historical and cultural categorization. Eliade writes of the androgyne shaman: "[he]unites himself in two contrary principles; and in his own person constitutes a holy marriage." Through this "holy marriage", he marries and makes holy other contrary principles therefore: "This bisexuality is lived ritually and ecstatically; it is assumed as an indispensable condition for transcending the condition of profane man".

It is through the perceptions and spiritual practices of shamanic culture that we are able to see what we have lost through conscious categorization of the world, and of ourselves. The radical objectification of the colonizing Western world has brought the demise and even ruin of countless cultures, but it is only a derivative of the objectification of our own mind, and the rigid classification systems we impose on members of society. The revered position of the two-spirit shaman, compared to its western counterpart who not long ago was often hospitalized in mental institutions for his/her "condition", could represent the way in which we "put away" those parts of ourselves which don't adhere to "normal" behavior. It seems to me that it is in the last three centuries that due to post-modern theories and the exposure to the presence of the world's endless variety of ontologies, that we are more tuned in to the relativity of our categorization systems. It is my prayer that globalization and the encounter with indigenous cultures will be, not a destructive force, but a means by which we could find humbleness and receptivity to the infinite variety of human experience and the infinite realities within ourselves.

56.  Levi Strauss C. The Naked Man. The University of Chicago Press, 1971. 

The Androgenous Shaman: Text
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