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The Christ of the early Christians.

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love

by Will Roscoe

Suspect Thoughts Press

232 pages, $16.95 (paper)

THE RELIGIOUS-SOUNDING title of gay liberation scholar Will Roscoe's important new book, Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love, might give anyone who has cast off Judeo-Christian monotheism the willies. But readers starved for better fare in gay discourse than the one served up by today's approaches to gay life--political assimilation, New Ageism, postmodern deconstructionism--will find in Roscoe's scholarly yet accessible book a preliminary taste (but just a taste) as to what shamanism and its connection to homosexuality are really all about in the first place.

Roscoe takes us back 2,000 years to the contentious, apocalyptic politics of a multicultural Jerusalem overrun with Roman rule, to the ministry, death, and deification of Jesus, and to the eventual rise of competing Jewish-Hellenic-Christian sects (Gnostics, Carpocratians, and others). Some of these sects were so libertine that they engaged in agapai (love orgies), including wet kisses and naked baptisms, in religious orders designed to transfer the holy breath from one body to another. The rich image we get of early Christianity is that of "a mystery cult in which same-sex love was not only idealized, [but] was an integral element of its oldest rite," a hint of which can still be located in the unexplained verses in the gospel of Mark, in which a "certain young man [neaniskos] was following [Jesus], wearing nothing but a linen cloth," who flees naked just as Jesus was being captured in the garden of Gethsemane. Who was this young man and what was he doing with Jesus?

Roscoe may have a realistic answer. He focuses on the goldmine of an ancient letter fragment found in 1958 by an American scholar, Morton Smith, written by an early church father, Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-213 C.E.), the contents of which, according to Smith, "were nothing less than sensational." Clement was upset at Church expansion and those "wandering stars," those "slaves of servile desires" whose teachings were "unspeakable." In his epistolary hysteria, Clement reveals that the Alexandrine church was actually in possession of a "Secret Gospel of Mark" (a mustikou euaggeliou) which was read "only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries [megala musteria]." By arguing vehemently against it, Clement reveals that esoteric Christian practices involved something called "gumnos gumno," which means "naked man with naked man." In so doing, Clement inadvertently divulges juicy material about the private life of Jesus.

Roscoe does not use this to "prove" that Jesus was homosexual. He says only that he's studying mystical same-sex bonding practices of a kind that have existed since time immemorial. We learn from Roscoe's own careful translation of Clement that Jesus' manner of raising the dead can be read in ways that demonstrate that he and his followers did not mind close contact with another man's flesh, that in fact they saw same-sex love as a model for the initiation of all people. Roscoe lets Clement speak for himself on this crucial matter:
 And being angered, Jesus went with her into the garden where the tomb
 was, and immediately a great cry was heard from the tomb, and entering
 immediately where the young man was he extended his hand and raised
 him up, holding his hand. But the young man, looking at him, loved him
 and began to implore that he might be with him, and going away from
 the tomb they came into the house of the young man, for he was rich.
 And, after six days, Jesus instructed him. When evening arrived, the
 young man, came to him, having wrapped a linen cloth around his naked
 body, and he remained with him that night. Jesus taught him the
 mystery of the Kingdom of God.

It is important to note that, despite Roscoe's title, much of the book is actually not about the Jesus story per se, but about the "myth" of homosexual death and rebirth vis-a-vis the archetype of the twins and what it means historically. Using the twin symbol as his "gay window," Roscoe compares and contrasts antique spiritual traditions (Platonic, Kabalistic, Hellenic, Mithraic, and Orphic) in which the twinship consists of either a student and a teacher (the naked boy and Jesus) or the student and a god in human form (such as Ganymede and Zeus) dying ecstatically to be reborn in a new incarnation. In a chapter titled "The Throne of God," Roscoe shows the story of Ezekiel being abducted into heaven by God to be a twinship romance. Likewise in the Mithraic tradition, the initiate encounters a similarly libidinal god who is "immensely great, having a bright appearance, youthful, golden-haired with a white tunic and a golden crown and trousers." The primal path of initiatory shamanism, he suggests, is as archetypal as it is homosexual, no matter what culture you study: an adept wishing to climb a spiritual ladder experiences a fall into the underworld and therein achieves, through a transforming dismemberment process, a hard-won resurrection of magically renewed personality. "[T]eachers like Plato and Jesus," writes Roscoe, "perceived a special form of love, one that drew on powerful psychological processes of identification and empathy, and bonded humans in equal and reciprocal relationships with each other and with the divine, a way of loving with potential to transform society."

Here Roscoe is moving away from the emasculating "andro-gynization" of the "double" emphasized in his earlier work (such as 1991's The Zuni Man-Woman), and has clearly adopted psychologist Mitch Walker's foundational idea of the creative masculine doubling nature of the psyche in gay men, even quoting Walker on "the action of Magickal Twinning" in the culminating argument of the book. By entering into this rich psychological territory, a new advance for Roscoe, he is not merely advocating for a shamanic liberation of gay spirit in our own modern world as a reclamation of our long-lost ancient heritage. He is also entering into a new field of historical inquiry: the study of homosexual symbols as manifested through the ages and in our own psyches. Roscoe says he's not writing a psychological book, but he most certainly is. This is evidenced by his different way of analyzing history, his use of Walker's work and that of Carl Jung, as well as his grounding of his research in his own subjectivity, shown in his moving self-disclosures about meeting Harry Hay and losing his lover to AIDS

The problem is that this autobiographical sharing comes too late in the book to make the necessary intellectual link for readers that: a) shamanism starts inside one's personal subjectivity; and b) we need a psychological mechanism to transform the unconscious ongoingly into a more fully developed gay spirit consciousness. Roscoe's unresolved ambivalence about psychology amounts to a serious problem in that it oddly tilts his discussion to the side of a pseudo-Christian celebration of the light rather than a true exegesis on shamanism. In addition, he both moves toward and then runs away from Walker's seminal idea that homosexual twinship involves ever-evolving mutual relationship between the "light" ego side of the psyche and the "dark" unconscious side of the soul, by never really tackling what this dark side entails (inferior feelings? childhood trauma? unfinished family business? internalized homophobia?). While Roscoe's vision of gay love is inspiring, informative, and well worth investigating, it is important to read this book with its psychological limitations in mind.
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Title Annotation:Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love
Author:Sadownick, Douglas
Publication:The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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