Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Black Madonna becomes lesbian defender: Erzuli Dantor and Our Lady of Czestochowa

Left: Ezili Dantor Prayer Card from the Vodou Store. Right: The original Black Madonna of Czestochowa

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, one of the most famous Catholic icons, is the model for a Haitian Vodou goddess who protects lesbians.

Traditional images of Erzulie Dantor, the Vodou defender of lesbians, are based on the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, whose feast day is today (Aug. 26). They even share the same two scars on the dark skin of the right cheek.

Every year more than 100,000 people view the original Black Madonna of Czestochowa icon in Poland at one of the most popular Catholic shrines on the planet. John Paul II, the Polish pope, was devoted to her. Few suspect that the revered icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary has a lesbian connection.

Our Lady of Czestochowa is among dozens of Black Madonna icons remaining from medieval Europe. The reason for their dark skin is unknown, but people speculate that the images may have been created black to match the color of indigenous people or they turned black due to smoke and aging. Some see her dark skin as a metaphor for the earth or a reference to the lover in Song of Songs who declared, “I am black but beautiful.”

Black Madonnas are said to embody the shadow side of the Divine Feminine, the unconscious and unpredictable aspects that are usually buried or kept in darkness. Erzulie Dantor reveals Mary’s hidden bonds with lesbians.

Legend says that the Czestochowa portrait of Mary was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist while she told him the stories about Jesus that he later wrote in his gospel. The icon traveled from Jerusalem through Turkey and Ukraine, ending up in Poland in 1382. The painting is considered so important that it even has its own feast day: Aug. 26, the date that it was installed at its current home. In the 15th century looters pried two jewels off her cheek, leaving a characteristic pair of marks.

Events in Haiti soon took Our Lady of Czestochowa in a new direction. In the 18th century hundreds of thousands of slaves were brought from Africa to Haiti, where they were forced to do heavy labor and convert to Christianity. Through the process of syncretism, they developed a hybrid form of Christianity mixed with Vodou, an ancestral folk religion from West Africa.

Copies of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa were brought to Haiti by about 5,000 Polish soldiers who fought on both sides of the Haitian Revolution starting in 1802. She was transformed into Erzulie Dantor when Haitians merged her with Vodou.

Erzulie Dantor is a loa or lwa (Vodou spirit) who is recognized as a patron of lesbians. Her name has many alternate spellings such as Ezili Danto. She fiercely loves and defends women and children, especially lesbians, independent businesswomen, unwed mothers, and those who experience domestic violence. She has a reputation for taking revenge on abusive husbands and unfaithful lovers. Scar-faced warrior Erzulie Dantor liberated slaves by helping to start and win the Haitian Revolution. She is fond of knives, rum and unfiltered cigarettes.

“Erzulie Dantor” by Christie Freeman (christystudios.com)

Like Our Lady of Czestochowa, she holds a child with a book. But instead of the infant Jesus with the gospels, the baby on her lap is her daughter Anais. The Catholic Church in Haiti identifies these images as neither Erzulie Dantor nor Mary, but “Saint Barbara Africana.” Erzulie Dantor is a single mother who has given birth, but some believe she is bisexual or lesbian herself.

The two scars on her cheek are explained either as tribal scarification or wounds from a fight with Erzulie Freda, her light-skinned and coquettishly feminine sister. Erzulie Freda, the goddess of love and sexuality, is the patron of gay men, especially drag queens and those who are effeminate. She is associated with images of the grieving Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows.

Erzulie Dantor and Erzulie Freda are among many Vodou spirits who appear to be LGBT, androgynous or queer. Many others are described in detail in “Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Participation in African-Inspired Traditions in the Americas” by Randy P. Conner and David Hatfield Sparks.

These queer Vodou deities include La Sirene, a pansexual mermaid who rules the seas; La Balen, her mysterious butch lesbian intimate companion who is often depicted as a whale; transgender divinity Mawu-Lisa, patron of artists and craftspeople; androgynous Legba, a Christ figure who mediates between the living and the dead; Ayido Wedo and Danbala, a married pair of queer rainbow serpents who bring prosperity, joy and peace; the sexually complex Gede family that oversees the transition to the afterlife; and many more. Each loa or spirit can possess or engage in spiritual marriage with Vodou practitioners of either gender, leading to many queer possibilities.

Black Madonna figures continue to inspire folk artists and fine artists such as Christie Freeman of Springfield, Illinois, who agreed to share her painting here at the Jesus in Love Blog. One of the best known and most controversial contemporary versions is the 1996 painting “The Holy Virgin Mary” by British artist Chris Ofili. He surrounded a stylized black Madonna with mixed media including elephant dung and images from pornography and blaxploitation movies. While using shock value to critique definitions of sacred and profane, it enraged the religious right.

Throughout history some church officials have attacked images such as Erzulie Dantor as illegitimate and incompatible with Christianity. But many Haitian Christians today see Vodou as a way to enhance their faith. Meanwhile Our Lady of Czestochowa is celebrated for revealing the dark face of God’s own mother.
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Related links:

Black Madonnas and other Mysteries of Mary” by Ella Rozett (interfaithmary.net)

Erzulie Dantor (Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife)

Christianity and Vodou (Wikipedia)

Read online: “Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Participation in African-Inspired Traditions in the Americas” by Randy P. Conner and David Hatfield Sparks

The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine” edited by Fred Gustafson (9 of 16 essays are on the Black Madonna with authors such as theologian Matthew Fox)

To read this article in Polish translation, visit the Don’t Shoot the Prophet website:
Czarna Madonna zostaje obrończynią lesbijek: Erzuli Dantor i Matka Boża Częstochowska

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This post is part of the LGBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bayard Rustin: Gay saint of civil rights and non-violence

“Bayard Rustin and Walter Naegle” by Ryan Grant Long

“Bayard Rustin - Pride” by Sean J. Randall

Bayard Rustin
(Wikipedia)
Bayard Rustin was a black gay man and chief organizer of the influential 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington -- which marks its anniversary next week on Aug. 28. A follower of the Quaker faith with its pacifist tradition, he brought Gandhi-style non-violent protest techniques to the movement for racial equality and become a close advisor to Martin Luther King. He died 27 years ago today (Aug. 24, 1987) at age 75.

Rustin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in a White House ceremony in 2013. “For decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King's side, was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay. No medal can change that, but today, we honor Bayard Rustin's memory by taking our place in his march towards true equality, no matter who we are or who we love,” President Obama said when he presented the medal for Rustin.

Pushed into the background because he was openly gay in a more homophobic era, Rustin has been called “an invisible hero,” “a lost prophet” and “Brother Outsider.”  He summed up his philosophy when he said, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”  He is honored here as a gay saint.

Rustin (Mar.17, 1912 - Aug. 24, 1987) rarely served as a public spokesperson for civil rights because he was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was criminalized and stigmatized. His sexuality was criticized by both segregationists and some fellow workers in the peace and civil-rights movements. In the 1970s he began to advocate publicly for lesbian and gay causes.

From 1955-68 Rustin was a leading strategist for the African American civil rights movement. His decades of achievements include helping launch the first Freedom Rides in 1947, when civil disobedience was used to fight racial segregation on buses. He helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and much more.

Rustin’s sexual orientation became publicly known in 1953, when he was arrested for homosexual activity in Pasadena, California. He pleaded guilty to a charge of consensual “sex perversion” (sodomy) and served 60 days in jail. It was not his first stint in jail. He had been arrested before for his pacifist refusal to participate in World War II and he served on a chain gang for breaking Jim Crow laws requiring racial segregation on public transportation.

Mug shot of Bayard Rustin (Wikimedia Commons) taken for failure to report for his Selective Service physical exam

Rustin saw the connections between racial justice, women’s equality and LGBT rights. He made it vividly clear in a controversial speech to the Philadelphia chapter of Black and White Men Together on March 1, 1986. The speech, titled “The New ‘N*s’ are Gays,” is one of several pieces about LGBT rights in his book Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin. Rustin states:

“Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “n*s” are gays. … It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. … The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.”

The following year Rustin died of a ruptured pancreas on Aug. 24, 1987. Late August is also significant for him because the March on Washington held on Aug. 28, 1963. Organized by Rustin, the March was where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. An estimated 250,000 people attended, making it the largest demonstration held in the U.S. capital until that time. The full synthesis of Rustin’s black and gay identities -- the “two crosses” of his book title -- came as the culmination of a life well lived.

Walter Naegle was Rustin’s life partner from 1977 until his death a decade later. As executor and archivist for the Bayard Rustin estate, Naegle continues to promote Rustin’s legacy by organizing programs and providing materials for books and exhibits on Rustin’s amazing life. Rustin’s biography is told in the film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin and books such as Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin by historian John D’Emilio. The new book "I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters", edited by Michael Long is a 2013 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

In the image at the top of this post, Rustin and Naegle hold hands as an interracial gay couple on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was created by artist Ryan Grant Long for his “Fairy Tales” series of gay historical figures. For more on Long, see my previous post Artist paints history’s gay couples: Interview with Ryan Grant Long. The second image was created by Portland artist Sean J. Randall. He adds rainbow colors to Rustin’s mug shot to emphasize his gay pride. Thanks to both artists for permission to share their work at the Jesus in Love Blog.
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Related links:
Bayard Rustin at Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife

Rustin.org

For Bayard Rustin’s partner, an effort to preserve legacy (Washington Post)

Bayard Rustin: One of the Tallest Trees in Our Forest by Irene Monroe (Huffington Post)
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts



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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Saints Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy: Honey-tongued abbot and the archbishop he loved

“Christ Embracing St. Bernard of Clairvaux” by Francisco Ribalta

See how I yearn, and longing turn to Thee!
Yield to my love, and draw me unto Thee!
--Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux was a medieval French abbot who wrote homoerotic poetry about Jesus had a passionate same-sex friendship with the Irish archbishop Malachy of Armagh. Bernard is best known for founding 70 monasteries around Europe and for his mystical writings. His feast day is Aug. 20 (today).

His first love was Jesus, but he showered Malachy with kisses during his lifetime. After Malachy died in his arms, they exchanged clothes. Malachy was buried in Bernard’s habit. Bernard put on Malachy’s habit to lead the funeral and wore it until his own death five years later. Bernard was buried beside Malachy, again in Malachy’s habit. Malachy (1094-1148) became the first native born Irish saint to be canonized.

Bernard (1090-1153) was advisor to five Popes and a monastic reformer who built the Cistercian order of monks and nuns. He is known as the last of the Church Fathers. The most famous saying attributed to him is: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

He was a man of his time who engaged in rigorous ascetic practices and supported church teachings on celibacy. People today might say that he had a homosexual orientation while abstaining from sexual contact. Medieval mystics created alternative forms of sexuality that defy contemporary categories, but might be encompassed by the term “queer.” They directed their sexuality toward God and experienced God’s love through passionate friendship with another human being.

Monasteries and convents provided a social structure outside marriage, attracting many people that today would be defined as LGBT. Medieval monks and nuns who lived in same-sex communities under a vow of celibacy developed alternative ways of same-sex living and loving.

Bernard’s strict asceticism was balanced by sweetly erotic visions that earned him the title Doctor Mellifluus (“honey-tongued doctor.”) He chose to use the Song of Songs, the most erotic book in the Bible, as a major vehicle for his teaching. He began his “Sermons on the Song of Songs” in 1135 and had completed 86 sermons when he died nearly 20 years later with the series still unfinished.

“Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart,” he wrote in his 15th sermon on the Song of Songs.

His lesser known works include “Life of Saint Malachy of Armagh,” which is his idealized tribute to the man he loved, and “Salve Mundi Salutare” (quoted below), a love poem to Jesus whose original homoeroticism has been suppressed. It became the basis for the popular English hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

He was unfortunately associated with the Second Crusade, but he spoke out against Christian mistreatment of Jews and supported another queer mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, in her efforts to get her visions published.

Bernard was born to a noble family in 1090 on the outskirts of Dijon in Burgundy. According to legend, his mother had a dream during her pregnancy that a white puppy was barking in her womb. This was interpreted to mean that she would give birth to God’s watchdog. The white dog became one of Bernard’s attributes, a symbol used in images of the saint.

“Bernard of Clairvaux” by Rowan Lewgalon

Bernard and a white dog, both with icy blue eyes, appear together in a striking contemporary portrait by Rowan Lewgalon. She is a spiritual artist based in Germany and a cleric in the Old Catholic Apostolic Church.

When Bernard was 19, his mother died and he decided to join a small new community that had just started in the area. They were called the Cistercians, and their aim was to reform monasticism with a return to the more austere rules of St. Benedict. Within three years Bernard was sent to found a monastery nearby in a place whose name has become part of his own: Clairvaux.

About 25 years later Bernard met Malachy (whose Irish name is Maelmhaedhoc O’Morgair). He was primate of all Ireland when he first visited Clairvaux around 1139. Bernard was nearly 50 years old and Malachy was four years younger. They soon became devoted, passionate friends. Malachy even asked the Pope for permission to become a Cistercian, but the Pope refused.

Malachy traveled to see Bernard again in 1142. They were so close that Bernard covered him with kisses in a scene that is described well by Orthodox priest Richard Cleaver in “Know My Name: A Gay Liberation Theology”: “Bernard's account makes deeply romantic reading for a modern gay man. “Oscula rui,” Bernard says of their reunion: “I showered him with kisses.”

Their relationship had lasted almost a decade when Malachy reunited with Bernard for the third and final time. Malachy fell sick when he arrived in Clairvaux in 1148. He died in Bernard’s arms on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2. Again Cleaver tells the details based on accounts by Geoffrey, Bernard’s secretary and traveling companion:

“Geoffrey of Auxerre tells us what happened later. Bernard put on the habit taken from Malachy's body as it was being prepared for burial at Clairvaux, and we wore it to celebrate the funeral mass. He chose to sing not a requiem mass but the mass of a confessor bishop: a personal canonization and, incidentally, an example of using liturgy to do theology. Bernard himself was later buried next to Malachy, in Malachy’s habit. For Bernard, as for us today, this kind of passionate love for another human being was an indispensable channel for experiencing the God of love.”

After Malachy’s death Bernard lived on for another five years. He forbid sculptures and paintings at the monastery during his lifetime, but by the late 15th century the altarpiece at the Clairvaux Abbey had a painting of Christ’s baptism jointly witnessed by Bernard and Malachy.

Bernard died on Aug. 20, 1153 at age 63. He was buried at the Clairvaux Abbey next to Malachy, wearing Malachy’s habit. He had lived for 40 years in community with other men whose loving relations with each other brought them closer to God.

A prayer written by Bernard’s secretary Geoffrey shows how the community at Clairvaux understood and celebrated the man-to-man love between Bernard and Malachy. He thanks God for these “two stars of such surpassing brightness” and “twofold treasure.”

As a monk, Bernard naturally directed much of his erotic energy toward Jesus Christ. This attitude is beautifully expressed in his poem “Salve Mundi Salutare” (Savior of the World, I Greet You). He wrote seven sections, each addressed to a different parts of Jesus’ crucified body: his feet, knees, hands, side, chest, face, and finally his heart.

The poem is traditionally attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, although some modern scholars believe it may have been written by another Cistercian abbot, Arnulf of Leuven. It is also known as the “Oratio rhythmica ad singula membra Christi a cruce pendentis” (Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members of Jesus Hanging on the Cross), or more simply as the Rhythmica oratio.

The original poem, in all its erotic glory, is generally not included in books that collect Bernard’s “essential writings.” It lives on in ancient, hard-to-find editions and heavily edited versions and translations that remove much of the homoeroticism and sometimes even add heterosexual references that are absent from Bernard’s original Latin. The original is also blessedly free from churchy terms like “Lord,” speaking only of the love between “I” and “thou.”

The poem is the basis for important musical works such as the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” and the Baroque oratorio “Membra Jesu Nostri” (usually translated as “The Limbs of Our Jesus”) written by Baroque Danish composer Dieterich Buxtehude in 1680, more than 500 years after Bernard died. The cycle of seven cantatas is considered to be the first Lutheran oratorio. The entire oratorio can be heard on video at this link.

The rapture of this poem is expressed in the painting at the top of this post: “Christ Embracing St. Bernard” by Francisco Ribalta. The Spanish Baroque artist apparently painted this masterpiece for the Carthusian monastery of Porta Coeli in Valencia, Spain around 1625.

The website for Spain’s Prado Museum in Madrid, where it is now housed, states: “The scene is based on one of the saint’s mystical visions, drawn from one of the most popular religious books of the Baroque era: Pedro de Ribadeneyra’s ‘Flos Sanctorum’ or ‘Book of the Lives of the Saints,’ published in 1599.”

The whole poem contains 74 verses of five lines each -- way too many to reproduce here. But it is extremely hard to find, so a selection of the more erotic, lesser known verses are reproduced here in the original Latin with an English translation from by Emily Mary Shapcote. Her translation was published in the 1881 book “St. Bonaventure’s Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The online version of that book contains the entire poem in its appendix.

In a few cases a computer-generated English translation is also included here because it captures the directness and immediacy of the original. Much of the homoeroticism is implicit in the fact that this love poem was written by one man to another -- from Bernard to Jesus with love.

References to this poem and numerous paintings of Bernard with Christ are included in a whole chapter devoted to Bernard in the 2013 book “Saintly Brides and Bridegrooms: The Mystic Marriage in Renaissance Art” by Carolyn D. Muir, art professor at the University of Hong Kong.

___

To the Hands
Ad Manus

IX.
O Jesus, place Thy sacred Hands on me,
With transport let me kiss them tenderly,
With groans and tears embrace them fervently;
And, O for these deep wounds I worship Thee;
And for the blessed drops that fall on me.

Manus sanctse vos amplector,
Et gemendo condelector,
Grates ago plangis tantis
Clavis duris, guttis sanctis,
Dans lacrymas cum osoulis


To the Side
Ad Latus

VII.
Lord, with my mouth I touch and worship Thee,
With all the strength I have I cling to Thee,
With all my love I plunge my heart in Thee,
My very life-blood would I draw from Thee,
Jesus, Jesus I draw me into Thee.

Google translate version:
You happen to my mouth,
And I ardently embrace
SOAK you in my heart,
And a warm heart, tongue,
Me all over you.

Ore meo te contingo,
Et ardenter ad me stringo
In te meum cor intingo,
Et ferventi corde lingo,
Me totum in te traiice.

To the Breast
Ad Pectus

VIII.
Abyss of wisdom from eternity,
The harmonies of angels worship Thee;
Entrancing sweetness flows, Breast, from Thee
John tasted it as he lay rapt on Thee;
Grant me thus that I may dwell in Thee.

Tu abyssus es sophise,
Angelorum harmonise
Te collaudant, ex te fluxit
Quod Joannes Cubans suxit,
In te fac ut iuliabitem.


To the Heart
Ad Cor

VI.
O sinner as I am, I come to Thee;
My very vitals throb and call for Thee;
O Love, sweet love, draw hither unto me!
O Heart of Love, my heart would ravished be,
And sicken with the wound of love for Thee!

Per medullam cordis mei,
Peccatoris atque rei,
Tuus amor transferatur,
Quo cor totum rapiatur,
Languens amoris vuluere.

VII.
Dilate and open, Heart of love, for me,
And like a rose of wond'rous fragrance be,
Sweet Heart of love, united unto me;
Anoint and pierce my heart, O Love, with Thee,
How can he suffer, Lord, who loveth Thee?

Google Translate version:
Spread, open,
Wonderfully smelling like a rose,
Join you in my heart,
MARK and anoint it,
Who does what he loves you!

Dilatare, aperire,
Tanquam rosa fragrans mire,
Cordi meo te conjunge,
Unge illud et compunge,
Qui amat te quid patitur!

IX.
Mv living heart, O Love, cries out for Thee;
With all its strength, O Love, my soul loves Thee;
O Heart of Love, incline Thou unto me,
That I with burning love may turn to Thee,
And with devoted breast recline on Thee.

Viva cordis voce clamo,
Dulce cor, te namque amo;
Ad cor meum inclinare,
Ut se possit applicare,
Devoto tibi pectore.

XI.
Thou Rose of wondrous fragrance, open wide,
And bring my heart into Thy wounded Side,
O sweet Heart, open! Draw Thy loving bride,
All panting with desires intensified,
And satisfy her love unsatisfied.

Rosa cordis aperire,
Cujus odor fragrat mire,
Te dignare dilitare,
Fac cor meum anhelare,
Flam ma desiderii.

[Note that the original Latin has absolutely no references to brides or any gender at all. This is the only verse quoted here that is also included in Buxtehude’s oratorio “Membra Jesu Nostri”.]

XIII.
O Jesus, draw my heart within Thy Breast,
That it may be by Thee alone possessed.
O Love, in that sweet pain it would find rest,
In that entrancing sorrow would be blest,
And lose itself in joy upon Thy Breast.

Google Translate version:
Put in your pocket
Heart, that you should take a neighbor,
Joyful in pain,
With ugly and beautiful
That hardly contain himself.

Infer tuum intra sinum
Cor, ut tibi sit vicinum,
In dolore gaudioso,
Cum deformi specioso,
Quod vix seipsum capiat.
___
*Quotation at the top is Shapekote's translation of:
Cordis mei Cor dilectum,
In te meum fer aflectum,
Hoc est quod opto plurimum.

Direct translation:
Heart of my heart, beloved,
You bring in my feelings,
This is what I love most.

___
To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
San Bernardo de Claraval y San Malaquías: "el doctor meloso" y el arzobispo a quien amaba
It includes an original Latin-to-Spanish translation of the poem exclusively for Santos Queer by an important professor in Argentina: Dr. Luis Angel Sanchez, Professor of Latin Language and Culture at the University of Cordoba.
___
Related links:
Catholic Queer Families: SS Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy (Queering the Church)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s Life of Saint Malachy of Armagh (full text)

Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members of Jesus Hanging Upon the Cross” by Bernard of Clairvaux. Full text in Latin and English. (scroll down to find is as an appendix of “St. Bonaventure's Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs (full text)

Life of St. Malachy by Bernard of Clairvaux

Malachy of Armagh: Same-sex soulmate to Bernard of Clairvaux (Jesus in Love)
____
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

What if Christ and Krishna made love?

Above: “Krishna and Christ,” artist unknown

What if Christ met Krishna? They are two of the greatest teachers of love that the world has ever known. Would they speak of love, even make love? This delightful possibility is considered here today in honor of Krishna’s birthday or Janmashtami (Aug. 16, 2014).
"Jesus and Lord Rama" by Alex Donis
Many have noticed the similarities between Christ and the Hindu deity Krishna, but now the two god-men are portrayed as gay lovers in the work of artistic visionaries like artist Alex Donis, whose work appears at right, and poet Brian Day. His poem “Krishna and Jesus in Algonquin Park” is reprinted in full below.

Those who value love, sexuality and interfaith dialogue may find enlightenment by imagining an erotic encounter between Jesus and Krishna.

Like Christ, Krishna is a savior who taught love. Both are believed to be divinely conceived by God and a human woman, making them human AND divine. Each had a carpenter as his adoptive father. Jesus called himself a shepherd and Krishna herded cattle, but both healed the sick, worked miracles and forgave enemies.

One difference between the two is that Jesus is considered celibate in Christian tradition, while Krishna is a fantastic lover who is “all-attractive” to men as well as women. Legends glorify Krishna’s many amorous encounters with all kinds of admirers: female and male, milkmaids and cowboys, human and divine.

Would sparks fly if these two great teachers of love met? Toronto teacher Brian Day writes about their ineffable intimacy in “Krishna and Jesus in Algonquin Park,” a poem from his book “The Daring of Paradise.” The book, which explores the commonalities between multiple religions in a homoerotic way, was  released by Guernica Editions in 2013. Many thanks to Brian for permission to reprint the whole poem below. Algonquin Park is a provincial park in Ontario, Canada.

Another Day poetry book, “Conjuring Jesus,” features homoerotic poems about Christ. His book “Azure” includes “The Love Between Krishna and Jesus,” a poem that begins, “They approach one another with cool flowers of language…”

In a related work, California artist Alex Donis painted a sublime interfaith kiss in “Jesus and Lord Rama.” (Krishna and Rama are both blue-skinned incarnations of Vishnu.) It is part of his “My Cathedral” series of kisses between unlikely same-sex pairs.

The Donis exhibit electrified viewers when it opened in San Francisco in 1997. Heated arguments erupted in the gallery, followed by threatening phone calls and letters, and then physical violence. Vandals threw rocks and traffic barriers through the gallery windows—not once, but twice in three weeks. They smashed two of the artworks: first Jesus and Rama, and then Che Guevara kissing Cesar Chavez. The Christ-Rama image and its harrowing story appear in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. Many thanks to Alex for permission to post the controversial painting here.

The idea of a queer Jesus shocks and offends some traditional Christians, but he can be liberating for LGBT people and our allies. The bisexual Krishna may serve the same purpose among Hindus. People throughout history have pictured Jesus looking like one of them: black Jesus in Africa, white Jesus in the West, and Jesus who looks Asian or Latin American in those parts of the world. It’s OK to add queer Christ to the mix because he taught love for all and embodied God’s wildly inclusive love for everyone, including sexual minorities. Gay Jesus images are needed now because conservatives are using religious rhetoric to justify discrimination against queer people.

If Jesus and Krishna met, would there be conflict or kisses? Brian Day’s new poem offers a beautiful glimpse into how they might love each other.


Krishna and Jesus
in Algonquin Park
By Brian Day

They hoist their canoe to the lichened rocks
and face the smooth light they’ve paddled across.

Shucking the weight of their pale-coloured clothes
and plunging to the knuckly cupped hand of the lake,

they meet in the green, share their scents with the water,
feel their bodies enlivened with cool liquid sensation,

and turn in the still black waters of their minds.
As they ripple the mirror between world and world,

each sights the stroking phantoms of the other’s limbs,
and touches skin as papery smooth as birch.

They climb the smoothed ladder of rocks at the shore,
their abdomens slick and quick with their breath,

and lie with their backs baked sweet with stone.
Blue and clouds tumble to creation in their eyes.

Leading each other down pine-cooled trails,
the air sultry with blueberry and warm golden grasses,

they step to the island’s needled shade,
and each scents the lake-sweet on the other’s skin.

When evening has come and their hungers are sated,
their senses warmed by the perch where they sit,

their thoughts float calm as loons on the water—
then plunge to surface, later, someplace else.

Their bodies as languid as the swaying of trees,
they listen to the applause of breeze in the aspens,

know the touch of each star as it plays on their skin,
and lie down in the circling of heavens on earth.



Reprinted with permission from the book “The Daring of Paradise,” published by Guernica Editions.) ”
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Krishna-like figures are shown in more sexually explicit homoerotic scenes by artist Attila Richard Lukacs. They can be viewed in his “Varieties of Love” series at the following link:

Diane Farris Gallery

Here are other popular images that add Buddha to the mix to depict interfaith friendship at the highest level.

“May Loving-Kindness Abound” by VisionWorks (www.changingworld.com)

“May Loving-Kindness Abound” from Changingworld.com shows figures from three religions offering blessings. Jesus holds a lotus blossom as he sits cross-legged between Krishna and Buddha.

Christ, Buddha and Krisha walk together. Artist unknown.

The above image of three religious figures is often posted online with a quote from bisexual spiritual teacher Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.”

For more info on Krishna and other Hindu deities who transcend sexual and gender norms, visit the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association at:
http://www.galva108.org
The GALVA website is packed with fascinating material on Hindu saints and deities who embody the full spectrum of gender and sexual diversity, including but not limited to LGBTQ and “third sex.”

“The Love Between Krishna and Jesus” by Brian Day is reprinted in a previous version of this post and in his book “Azure.”

Related book:
Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex: Understanding Homosexuality, Transgender Identity, And Intersex Conditions Through Hinduism” by Amara Das Wilhelm.

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Does anybody know who created the picture of Krishna and Christ at the top of this post? Or the one of Christ, Buddha and Jesus walking together. They are all over the Internet, but I haven’t been able to identify the artists. I would love to honor the artists by name.

Thanks to Mario Gonzalez for the tip about images.



Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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This post is part of the LGBT Saints and Queer Christ series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year. The queer Christ series gathers together visions presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.
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Friday, August 15, 2014

Mary, Diana and Artemis: Feast of Assumption has lesbian goddess roots

Mary, left, took over the Aug. 15 holiday from the goddess Diana, right

A mid-August holiday was once the festival of the lesbian goddess Diana (Artemis), but it has been adapted into a feast day for the Virgin Mary.

Midsummer feasts have celebrated the divine feminine on Aug. 15 since before the time of Christ. Now devoted to Mary, the holiday known as the Feast of the Assumption (or Dormition) carries the torch of lesbian spiritual power to a new generation on the same date.

Saint Mary, mother of Jesus, is honored by churches on Aug. 15 in a major feast day marking her death and entrance into heaven. Catholic and Orthodox churches call it the Feast of the Assumption or Dormition because they believe that Mary was “assumed” into heaven, body and soul.

The connections between Diana and Mary raise many questions. The concept of virginity has been used to control women, but sometimes it is a code word for lesbian. What shade of meaning is implied by the “virginity” of these two heavenly queens? Did the church patriarchs substitute wild lesbian Artemis with mild straight Mary -- or is Mary more versatile and dynamic than many thought?

The Virgin Mary’s holiday was adapted -- some would say appropriated -- from an ancient Roman festival for Diana, the virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt. Diana, or Artemis in Greek, is sometimes called a lesbian goddess because of her love for woman and her vow never to marry a man. The ancient Roman Festival of Torches (Nemoralia) was held from Aug. 13-15 as Diana’s chief festival.

According to mythology, Diana preferred the company of women and surrounded herself with female companions. They took an oath of virginity and lived as a group in the woods, where they hunted and danced together. Homoerotic art and speculations often focus on Diana’s relationship with the princess Callisto. The god Jupiter (Zeus) lusted after Callisto, so he disguised himself as Diana and seduced Callisto in a woman-to-woman embrace. (For the full story, see glbtq.com.) The lesbian love scene is painted by artists such as Francois Boucher in “Jupiter and Callisto” (below).

“Jupiter (disguised as Diana) and Callisto” by Francois Boucher (Wikimedia Commons)
There are many more stories about Diana and the women, nymphs and goddesses whom she loved. The goddess Britomaris was another favorite of Diana. When the lustful king Minos pursued Britomaris, she escaped by leaping into the sea. Diana rescued her and, some say, fell in love with her. Diana also showed love for various princesses.  She gave the princess Cyrene a pair of magical dogs and granted the princess Daphne the gift of shooting straight. The princess Atalanta almost died of exposure as a baby girl after her father abandoned her because he wanted a son. Diana saved her and, with the help of a she-bear, Atalanta grew up to become one of Diana’s beloved companions. And this is just the beginning.

Diana’s main holiday was the Festival of Torches or Nemoralia. Hundreds of women and girls carried torches and candles in a night-time procession through the woods. They wore wreaths of flowers -- and even put flowers on the hunting dogs who walked with them. The group hiked a few miles from Rome to a sacred site, the circle-shaped Lake Nemi. The dark waters reflected the moon and the torchlight of the pilgrims. There they left offerings of apples, garlic, statues and prayers handwritten on ribbons. Click here for a vivid description of the festival. Ovid, a Roman poet who lived before Christ, described the magic of the festival:

Often does a woman whose prayers Diana answered,
With a wreath of flowers crowning her head,
Walk from Rome carrying a burning torch...

Click here for a beautiful painting of “Diana Asleep in the Woods” by surrealist Giorgio de Chirico. Diana sleeps beside an offering of fruit, her bow and arrow, and her large black-and-white spotted dog.

Artemis of Ephesus
Aspects of Diana and Artemis were taken over by the church more than 1,300 years ago. The Festival of Torches became the Feast of the Assumption. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Turkey was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, with an awe-inspiring statue of the “many-breasted” Artemis. The temple was destroyed and replaced by the Church of Mary. The Virgin Mary even assumed some titles once given to Artemis, including Queen of Heaven.

Books such as Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary by cultural historian Marina Warner show how the figure of Mary was shaped by goddess legends and other historical circumstances, resulting in an inferior status for women. In the novel “Mary and the Goddess of Ephesus: The Continued Life of the Mother of Jesus,” former seminarian Melanie Bacon explores the little-known tradition that after Jesus died, his mother spent most of her adult life in a community dedicated to worshiping Artemis.

Feminists praise Diana/Artemis as an archetype of female power, a triple goddess who represents all phases of womanhood. She is the maiden, wild and free, with no need for a man. She is the “many-breasted” mother who nurtures all life. She is the crone, the mature hunter who provides swift death with her arrows in harmony with the cycles of nature.

LGBT people and allies may be inspired by the queer origins of this midsummer holiday. May the Queen of Heaven, by whatever name, continue to bless those who remember her.
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Related links:
Tribute to Artemis

Are there any lesbian goddesseses?

The Nativity Project: Liberating new images of Mary and other New Testament women

Artemis” by Sudie Rakusin

Black Madonna becomes lesbian defender: Erzuli Dantor and Our Lady of Czestochowa (Jesus in Love)

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Image credits:

“Diana of Versailles,” Roman artwork, Imperial Era (1st-2nd centuries CE). Found in Italy. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Assumption of Mary” by Guido Remi, 1642 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Artemis of Ephesus,” 1st century CE Roman copy of the “many breasted” Artemis stattue of the Temple of Ephesus (Wikimedia Commons)
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Icons of the Assumption of Mary and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts




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