Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bears of Winter: Watch Out, Here Comes Santa...

Winter's coming. There's already snow on the ground where I am, and I'm sure more is on the way. That's OK by me. There's something magical about winter.

Maybe it's because the world becomes a little quieter this time of year, or maybe it's because the barren landscape has a clarity it lacks in other seasons. Or maybe the magic comes from those dark powers that spring to life as the days get shorter and the nights get longer.

I also feel there's a specific queer erotic energy that manifests at this time of year. Eros is on full obvious display in spring and summer, when beautiful men cast off their heavy winter clothes and parade through the streets and on the beaches. And there's gay witchcraft in the air during the fall, as the leaves change color and our kind gather together for Halloween celebrations.

In the winter, though, the erotic energy is more subtle. Winter energy is about what's hidden inside, ready to be discovered by the intrepid explorer, or to burst out like a wild beast...

I have a short story in the new anthology The Bears of Winter, which was published recently by Bear Bones Books. My story is called "Little Suzie," and it's about what happens when Santa gets kidnapped by his biggest fan. Let's just say there are some wacky hijinks. Don't mess with Santa.

When I was originally writing my submission for this anthology I tried to create something heartfelt and romantic. I worked on it for weeks but it never really came together. Then I decided to write something fun and sexy about Santa, and it came together in a couple of days. I guess it was holiday magic!

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Ancient European folklore is full of strange magical beings that are active in the winter. In Germany werewolves and witches roam the dark nights around the solstice, while in Scandinavian countries trolls are particularly active in winter.

Here in the US, though, it's Santa Claus who presides over the darkest winter nights. He's a powerful daddy figure who dispenses rewards and punishment. Although most Americans publicly say Santa is just for little kids, a quick search around the web will reveal that privately we believe otherwise. The jolly old elf who delivers toys is just one of his aspects. He's also a manifestation of the erotic winter energy queer men feel this time of year. Who is this strange older man who appears mysteriously in your house at night promising to give you just what you need? What's hidden under that red velvet suit or waiting for you in his magical bag of presents?

The Bears of Winter is edited by Jerry Wheeler, and also has stories by authors like Jeff Mann, Daniel Jaffe and Hank Edwards. There's plenty of good stuff in it to get you through winter.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hercules, the Animus, and Gay Desire

A great big animus is coming to a movie theater near you!

I just want to start off by talking about Carl Jung. Jung popularized the idea of archetypes, which he claimed were bundles of instinctual emotional energy. One of these archetypes, the animus, represents masculine traits.

Jung claimed that the animus appeared in different forms in women's dreams, the most primal form being the muscleman. It's obvious why a large, strong, bulging man would represent masculine energies in the psyche. Jung focused mostly on heterosexuals, but a quick look around the internet will make it apparent that the animus also appears to a lot of gay men in a musclebound form.

The word psyche comes from Greek and means soul. Unlike a lot of psychologists who take a medicalized approach to their work Jung thought he was healing the souls of his patients, not just their minds. Jung was a shaman with a leather couch and a framed degree. The soul is the focus not only of psychologists but also priests and occultists, and the primitive animus also likes to flex its muscles in the realms of religion and magic.

Musclemen appear in some of the oldest ancient myths and religious art. The Sumerians had Gilgamesh, the Israelites had Samson, the Norse had Thor, and the Irish had Cuchulain. The Greeks had Heracles, and the Romans adopted him and named him Hercules. He's been with Western culture under that name ever since, and this summer he's coming to a movie theater near you.

Hercules opens this week, and stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the muscular hero. From the trailers it looks like he performs classic cinematic Herculean feats, like fighting lions, wrestling dragons, battling armies, and flexing well-oiled biceps.

Most Americans probably just think of Hercules as that "strong guy," pure primitive male animus. The ancient Greeks and Romans did think of him that way, but also thought of him as an androgynous primordial snake god, a shamanic traveler between the realms, and a culture hero who founded dynasties and shaped the geography of the Mediterranean.

Fittingly for an archetypal male deity, they also thought of him as a sexual superhero with an unflagging libido. One myth tells how he bedded the forty-nine virginal daughters of King Thespis in one night. The fiftieth daughter who refused his sexual advances saw her sisters were having a religious experience and became his priestess instead.

Hercules was too much man to limit his affections to one gender - the Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Hercules's male lovers were beyond counting. His most prominent boyfriend was Iolaus, his cousin and companion on multiple adventures. Iolaus helped Hercules in one of his most prominent labors, slaying the multi-headed Hydra. The Greeks recognized Iolaus as an exemplar of what a male lover should be, and male couples would visit Iolaus's tomb to pledge their love to each other.

In the most popular version of the Hercules myth, Hera forces Hercules to complete twelve labors for nasty King Eurystheus as a punishment. But one variation on the myth tells another story, claiming that Hercules actually completed the twelve labors to win the love of King Eurystheus. (Like Iolaus, Eurystheus was a cousin to Hercules.) I like this version myself. After all, attraction is the guiding force of the cosmos, so it makes sense that a cosmic hero would guided by a cosmic force.

The writer Ptolemy Khennos named other men that Hercules loved, including Adonis, Jason (of the Argonauts fame), Nestor, and Corythus. Hylas was another of his lovers, a  young prince that Hercules abducted after killing his father. Hylas apparently suffered from Stockholm Syndrome and quickly fell in love with his brawny captor, even sailing with him on the Argonauts' quest. But Hylas was abducted again, this time by water nymphs on the island of Chios.

Hercules frantically searched for Hylas and refused to leave Chios until he was found. The other Argonauts eventually left Hercules behind in his grief. Hylas was never found and remained forever with the water nymphs. In historic times the people on Chios revered Hylas as a demi-god and annually performed a ritual where they searched for him.

Abderus, another of Hercules' boyfriends, also met a bad end. For his eighth labor Hercules had to steal the flesh-eating horses that were kept by King Diomedes, and Abderus volunteered to help. Hercules successfully stole the horses but asked Abderus to guard them while he fought off some pursuing soldiers. After defeating the soldiers Hercules returned to Abderus, only to find that the young man had been eaten by the horses. In a fury Hercules fed King Diomdedes to the carnivorous equines as well, who must have been very hungry that day. Hercules founded the city of Abderus in his dead lover's honor, and each year its citizens celebrated the life of Abderus with wrestling and boxing matches.

These days you don't see a lot of people celebrating Hercules or his lovers through rituals. He's not particularly popular even among modern Wiccans and pagans, but I'm not sure why. Maybe a naked, musclebound demi-god with a giant club just too blunt for modern religious sensibilities. Aleister Crowley wisely included Hercules among his list of Gnostic saints, and some New Age groups include him on their lists of ascended masters, but he doesn't get the widespread neo-pagan veneration that gods like Thor, Pan, or Lugh do. Of course, bodybuilding and gym culture is now a global activity, so he's being unofficially venerated in other ways.

Hercules has been much more successful in modern pop culture, manifesting in countless movies, TV shows, and comic books. This week's movie is the second Hercules film this year - one starring Kellan Lutz appeared in January. In general these productions ingore his man-loving ways in favor of action and adventure, but still consistently portray the demi-god as musclebound, half-naked and glistening. That's what I expect from the Rock's film. I'll be completely surprised if there's any overt queer content!

Regardless of the medium or particular production, Hercules's body is consistently presented as an object of admiration, if not worship. Whether he's an archetype, a god or an action hero Hercules' inherent nature as an erotically charged male force remains obvious to those who look.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I'm Obsessed with Orphism!

I have been working very long hours the last few months, and my brain is feeling a little overheated. That may be why I've become obsessed with Orphism! When the spirits come calling they need to be acknowledged, hence this post. Maybe it will help my brain cool down.

Orpheus by Karoly Ferenczy, 1894

Orphism was a strain of Greek religious philosophy supposedly founded by Orpheus, the mythical bard. Orpheus was considered an expert on all things religious because he had descended to the underworld to retrieve his wife Eurydice, and learned the secrets of life, death and the universe while he was down there. After failing to bring Eurydice back to the world of the living Orpheus founded an all male religious movement in Thrace. This outraged the Thracian woman, who wanted their men back, and they tore Orpheus into small pieces. His head continued to sing and prophesy after death, however, until it was finally buried by the Lesbian (and lesbian) poetess Sappho. As if this all doesn't make Orpheus sound queer enough, he also supposedly was the lover of Calais, the winged son of the North Wind.

My recent obsession with Orphism started when I was poking around the Web for information about Hercules. I've been interested in Herc ever since I was a child. He's most familiar to us by his Roman name, but the Greeks called him Herakles or Heracles, and he's appeared in many forms. He's a mortal hero who gained immortality, he's a constellation, he's a god on Mount Olympus, he's a shamanic figure (according to scholar Walter Burkert), he's syncretized with the Phoenician god Melqart, and he's one of the Daktyls, the divine helpers of the great mother goddess Rhea Cybele.

And, according to some Orphic texts described by a writer named Damascius, he was also a primal god who gave birth to the universe. According to these texts, in the beginning of time there existed only water and dirt. These two mingled to produce slime, and from the slime was born unaging Herakles, also known as Time. This version of Herc was a giant snake with three heads, those of a bull, a lion, and a god. Some accounts also give him a pair of wings growing from his shoulders. Nice!

Lou Ferrigno as Hercules, with egg, in one of the 1980s Luigi Cozzi Hercules films.

This primordial Herakles is described as bisexual, or hermaphroditic. He's a big musclebound snake deity, so naturally he makes love to himself. Be honest - wouldn't you do the same it you were the only being in the universe? This act of divine self-love produces a gigantic cosmic egg, which is filled with so much Herculean super-cosmic love power that it explodes into two halves. The upper half becomes the sky, or Ouranos (Uranus to the Romans) and the lower half becomes Gaia, the earth.

The Orphic creation myths then continue in a vein similar to the standard mythic creation described by Hesiod. Ouranos and Gaia make love and give birth to the Titans, including Rhea and Kronos. Kronos eventually castrates Ouranos and declares himself king of the universe. To prevent his children from castrating him, he eats them as soon as his wife Rhea gives birth. Rhea is not too happy about this, and tricks him into eating a stone rather than her last child Zeus, who she raises secretly in a cave. Zeus defeats Kronos and the Titans, and kicks them down into the deep underworld of Tartarus. And then....

Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1823

And then, the Orphic creation myths deviate from the standard Greek myth. In a big way. According to a recently discovered parchment called the Derveni papyrus, Zeus is aware of prophecies that he too will someday be overthrown by a son. But he figures out a way to avoid this fate! The giant severed phallus of Ouranos, "the phallus who had first ejaculated the brilliance of heaven," is still flying around in the atmosphere. Zeus grasps it and swallows it down. By this act of cannibalistic oral sex he absorbs the universe's generative power into himself and becomes the supreme god.You see, Kronos was simply eating his divine offspring, but Zeus actually eats the generative source of all the gods and goddesses. He's not just going to be another player in history - he's going to be history itself.

Well, my brain feels a little cooler after getting some of this down in writing. I think you can see why Orphism is interesting to me as a gay man. It was founded by someone who loved men, and the original lesbian has a role to play as well. A giant, hermaphroditic, serpentine version of one of my favorite deities creates the world through some self-pleasure. And Zeus absorbs the power of the universe through oral sex. It's a fantastically queer view of religion and the universe, and I can understand why it was so popular in the ancient world.

Underneath the somewhat lurid mythology, Orphism also has things to say about the nature of the human soul and how we should all act in the world. Hopefully I'll get to write about those aspects of it soon.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Horned Gods for Spring

Here are some great Horned God photos from this Tumblr blog, which is gorgeous, well-curated, and not safe for work. The final image is a recreation of the famous Cernunnos image from the Gundestrup cauldron.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

H.P. Lovecraft: Psychically Sensitive or Merely...

I confess! I love the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, the seminal early twentieth century horror writer. I'm an irredeemable Lovecraft nerd!

Lovecraft had very limited relationships with women (a short marriage to a New York milliner which they both agreed to end), hung around with gay authors like Hart Crane and made another, the anthropologist R.H. Barlow, his literary executor. Naturally, there is some speculation that Lovecraft may have been gay himself. 

"Mom and Dad, this is my friend H.P. Lovecraft!" Lovecraft (l), R.H. Barlow, and Barlow's parents.
The Barlow connection in particular is suggestive and redolent with connections. Lovecraft stayed with Barlow and his family in Florida when Barlow was a teen, and Barlow's family even built Lovecraft a cabin on their property. Barlow later became a professor at Mexico City College, where one of his students was William S. Burroughs. Sadly, Barlow killed himself when a student threatened to out him. 

Lovecraft wrote several letters to friends claiming he was revolted by homosexuality, but perhaps he was just covering something up. Lovecraft was a notorious xenophobe and wrote disparagingly of Eastern Europeans and Jews, but his wife was a Ukrainian Jew. To paraphrase the Bard poorly, maybe Lovecraft protests too much?

If Lovecraft were gay, he'd probably appreciate this fetish outfit inspired by his writings created by artist Bob Bassett.

Of course, we'll never know if Lovecraft was really gay or not but there is a definite queer sensibility to his fiction, even if it seems like a self-loathing one. For example, look at this passage from The Dunwich Horror that describes the body of strapping hillbilly wizard Wilbur Whateley (sort of a demonic Yankee Lil' Abner) after his clothes are torn off by a dog:

Below the waist, though, it was the worst; for here all human resemblance left off and sheer phantasy began. The skin was thickly covered with coarse black fur, and from the abdomen a score of long greenish-grey tentacles with red sucking mouths protruded limply.
Their arrangement was odd, and seemed to follow the symmetries of some cosmic geometry unknown to earth or the solar system. On each of the hips, deep set in a kind of pinkish, ciliated orbit, was what seemed to be a rudimentary eye; whilst in lieu of a tail there depended a kind of trunk or feeler with purple annular markings, and with many evidences of being an undeveloped mouth or throat... 

Poor demonic Wilbur dies, and his body shrivels up (Lovecraft uses the suggestive word "shrinkage"), leaving behind "only a sticky whitish mass.." Someone get a paper towel! 

Or think about the plot of the wonderfully titled The Thing On The Doorstep, where a bookish young man marries a young lady only to find out her body harbors the soul of her sorcerous father, who wants to take over his body next - because a male body suits his magical purposes better. It's a delirious piece of trash that is either misogynistic, homophobic or both. And isn't The Shadow Over Innsmouth a coming out story where the hero discovers he's gay evolving into a giant fish monster?

When I was a kid Lovecraft's stories terrified me, but now that I am older I can appreciate them on many levels. I love his relentless use of adjectives to describe the indescribable, and also his humor. Dare I say these stories can be read as camp? Just this week I was laughing at this dialogue from The Dunwich Horror where a gossipy country housewife discusses, in a ridiculous faux backwoods dialect, some supernatural shenanigans. It reminds me of that old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs chatters away while giving a manicure to a monster. 

'An' he says, says he, Mis' Corey, as haow he sot to look fer Seth's caows, frightened ez he was an' faound 'em in the upper pasture nigh the Devil's Hop Yard in an awful shape. Haff on 'em's clean gone, an' nigh haff o' them that's left is sucked most dry o' blood, with sores on 'em like they's ben on Whateleys cattle ever senct Lavinny's black brat was born. Seth hes gone aout naow to look at 'em, though I'll vaow he won't keer ter git very nigh Wizard Whateley's!... They's allus ben unseen things araound Dunwich - livin' things - as ain't human an' ain't good fer human folks. 
FYI - I've lived in New England my whole life and never heard an accent anything like that!

I also appreciate Lovecraft's stories because although he was an atheist and a staunch materialist, he is obsessed with religion, art, magic and encounters with the sublime. I'm interested in all those things as well, but while I view them as mostly positive forces for Lovecraft they are invariably sources of horror and madness. When his characters encounter the numinous it kills them, maddens them, or transforms them into a monster. No one said enlightenment is easy!

I recently performed a little thought experiment. I decided to read Call of Cthulhu as if Lovecraft really were gay. I was surprised at how many times the word "queer" shows up in this story of evil cultists, cephalapod deities, and rough trade sailors. I know the word queer had a different meaning in the 1920s, but just imagine if Lovecraft really had magically projected his mind into the future and actually wrote the story for modern queer men. It takes on a completely different meaning!

For example, here's how Lovecraft describes Henry Wilcox, a young artist whose dreams have been disturbed by strange forces:

He called himself "psychically hypersensitive", but the staid folk of the ancient commercial city dismissed him as merely "queer." 

Hasn't the same been said of so many of us?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Queer Fish Now Available

I woefully neglected this blog in the autumn, but I'm hoping to do more with it in 2012. But before the year ends here's a little self-promotion.

Queer Fish is now available. Brought to you by the nice people at Pink Narcissus press, Queer Fish is an anthology of speculative gay fiction, including one by yours truly called "The Hollow Hills of New Hampshire." It's about what happens when a modern urban gay guy inherits a brownie. No, not a little Girl Scout or a chocolate pastry, but an ancestral spirit from Scottish folklore! Needless to say supernatural hijinks ensue.

Queer Fish has lots of other great stories, including the very raunchy but funny "Mike Dies at the End (A Parody)" by W2, "Welcome to Anteaterland" by Nathaniel Fuller, and the tear-jerking "The Golem of Rabbi Loew" by Johnny Townsend.

Since I'm giving kudos to other authors, I don't feel guilty now about the self-promotion.

I'm hoping to have another story published soon, but I'm waiting to hear from the editor. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Have a happy New Year!