LGBT Egyptian Deities

September 21, 2016 in General

Seth was a storm god, and often associated with natural disasters such as frequent flooding of the Nile River. He was among the more colourful figures in the Egyptian pantheon. Researcher Mark Brustman notes that Seth, while married to his sister Nephthys, is usually also depicted as engaging in sexual activities with other male deities such as Horus. Seth is also described as having impotence issues, and he never had a child within the pantheon. This may not be a sign of great tolerance in Egyptian culture; Seth was cast in a terribly negative light in many stories. And while his childbearing siblings Osiris and Isis represent life, he represents the desert.

Horus was the child of Isis and Osiris. In one tale documented well in Richard Parkinson’s Homosexual Desire and Middle Kingdom Literature, Horus is either raped or seduced into a sexual encounter with his ruthless uncle. Seth intends to embarrass Horus by showing others Horus was the (stigmatised) unmanly “bottom” in the act. But Horus gets the upper hand, because he secretly captured Seth’s semen, then had his mother Isis feed it back to Seth in his lettuce during a successive meal. When the aforementioned semen is called forth by Seth in an attempt to humiliate Horus, it emanates from Seth instead. Interestingly, the tale shows that ancient Egyptian culture didn’t look down on homosexuality.

Although not strictly a traditional Egyptian pantheon member, Antinous has multiple ties to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures. Antinous was a real historical figure and the adolescent male lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian. The pair would voyage around the Mediterranean. Sadly, on one trip, Antinous drowned in the Nile on the same day that Egyptians commemorated the similarly aquatic demise of Osiris. Deeply affected by the death of his lover, Hadrian presided over the deification of Antinous, and cults sprung up around the Mediterranean honoring him. In some syncretist accounts, Antinous rose from the Nile after his death and was then revered as a form of Osiris reborn.

In the Egyptian pantheon creation story, the very first deity, Atum, was intersex, according to studies by researcher Mark Burstman. The ancestor parthenogenically had two offspring, Shu and Tefnut, through either a sneeze or their own semen, and it wasn’t for a few generations that the archetypal male and female gods of Isis and Osiris were born.

While there are fewer tales in Egyptian history and mythology about lesbianism than male homosexuality, many believed that the goddess Nephthys was a lesbian. The sister and constant companion of Isis, she married her brother Seth but bore him no children, which was either due to the fact that he was infertile and/or that she was usually not very interested in men. Scholars have debated whether the stories of Nephthys, who did bear a single son by Osiris, show that the culture held lesbians in greater esteem than gay men, because they could still be fertile despite their sexual orientation.

Isis was among the few goddesses worshipped both by the Egyptians and their Mediterranean neighbors in Greece and Rome. In fact, Isiacism transcended its Egyptian origins to become a major Roman Imperial religion, especially amongst women but also some gay men. The mother goddess was a protector of children and she also cared for society’s downtrodden, which may be why gay priests in ancient Egypt and elsewhere were so devoted to this deity. In one tale documented at Isiopolis, Isis appeared in a dream accompanied by an Egyptian retinue to calm the pregnant Telethusa, who feared she would deliver a girl against her husband’s wishes. Isis told the mother to carry the child, Iphis, who was born a girl but raised as a boy. Later in his life, Iphis called on Isis to change his gender to male, an ancient gender transformation granted by divine means.

While the sun god Ra in most mythological accounts was regarded as the father of the major gods, Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge wrote of clear indications of a transgender nature to the deity. As early as the fifth dynasty, Budge wrote of Ra’s female counterpart Rat, who was considered the mother of the gods.

Hapi, god of the Nile, is depicted in hieroglyphics as an intersex person with a ceremonial false beard and breasts. While usually designated as male, the god also was also considered a symbol of fertility. According to Richard Parkinson’s Homosexual Desire and Middle Kingdom Literature, the deity was often portrayed to suggest both male and female fertility.

Another intersex god widely associated with fertility was Wadj-Wer, S/he was another intersex deity depicted at a pyramid site in Abusir. Sometimes referred to as the “pregnant god,” Wadj-Wer held the same type of station as river gods in Greek mythology, representing the Mediterranean Sea in some accounts or rivers and lagoons of the northern Nile Delta in others.

The Egyptian god of fate Shai sometimes was depicted in male form, but other times she was represented as the female Shait. Related to both birth in the world and rebirth in the afterlife, Shai was born with each individual, constantly starting life anew but also an immortal god, according to ancient Egyptian belief. Wallis Budge suggests the deity was viewed in parts of Egypt as combining the facets of a male Shai, decreeing what should happen to humanity, and female Renenutet, the goddess of good fortune.

Source: Jacob Ogles: “LGBT Egyptian Gods” Advocate: 20.09.2016: http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/2016/9/20/15-lgbt-egyptian-gods