One reason I study myth is because I believe these ancient stories (told and retold over millenia) can help us better understand ourselves. And as a gay man, seeking stories which allow us to make better sense of our situation, seeking intimate relationships with those of our own gender, rather than with those of a different gender as do the great majority of our species.
I have studied the so-called berdache tradition of the Native American Indians, only to find that while many of these traditions allowed same-sex unions, they always required one of the partners to assume the role, including costume and social obligations, of the other gender–and not always by choice.
As I study the role of the goddess Athena in the lives of the Greek (male) heroes, I am doing some background reading on the goddess culture that supposedly held sway in pre-literate Europe. In reading one such book, Jean Markale’s The Great Goddess: Reverence of the Divine Feminine from the Paleolithic to the Present.* In his introduction, he makes an interesting observation which leads me to wonder about ancient attitudes toward sexuality:
It is plausible, though not certain, that the first humans were unaware of the exact role of the male in procreation, not having established a causal relationship between coitus and parturition.
Assuming that this conjecture is accurate, would our preliterate forebears then have accepted homosexual relations as natural when they occurred or did they already have fixed notions of gender?
Once our ancestors discovered the link between heterosexual intercourse and progeny, perhaps they began to devalue same-sex relationships, relegating homosexuality to a variety of initiation rituals, some of which were still practiced in the last century in a Melanesian cultures. (And may well still be followed in some isolated tribes.) For it does seem that many of the proscriptions against homosexuality serve to promote procreation.
Perhaps anthropologists have studied this and have provided research to support their theories. And given this blog, I can post an idea that came to me while reading the book. That said, we’ll never really know how our primitive ancestors treated sexual difference. But, we can wonder.
*The book seems to lose focus after its solid introduction. Not only that, he discusses numerous archeological artifacts without providing any illustrations.