Although it is more usual in mainstream religions to regard gods, goddesses, males and females as distinct and separate, there is a long history of androgyny in occult and mystical writings: that is to say, the assertion that male and female qualities were originally contained within one body. Some stories of androgyny refer to the gods and others to the early history of human kind. References to a race of androgynes which once inhabited the world occur in the myths of both East and West. In the Western tradition this primordial androgyne is to be found in the writings of certain of the Qabalists, Gnostics, Neo-Platonists, Swedenborgians and Theosophists. (1) Here, Adam was an androgynous being whose fall from grace was marked by splitting into separate genders. Redemption occurs when the duality of gender is transcended and male and female are reunited in wholeness and completion. The occult importance often given to the sexual act by magicians is that orgasm mystically reunites, momentarily, separated souls and brings the participants mystically closer to the absolute. The true joy of sex has little to do with physical pleasure and more with the temporary spiritual integration of separate individuals in the original condition of the complete human.
The overall nature of the myth is clear – a primordial wholeness, a splitting into genders and the search for an integrated future – but the details vary considerably. Writing from differing historical periods, differing cultural perspectives and differing theological frameworks, authors use the same words to mean different things and different words to mean the same thing. Hermaphrodite : androgyne; sex : gender are examples of words which now carry quite different meanings but which have sometimes been used interchangeably. In some writings androgyny refers to physical morphology, in others it is an allegory of spiritual perfection. Hermetically it equals harmony and balance, the healing of fractured halves. In others it signifies social egalitarianism.
And what will be the outcome be? Will the perfected human be double sexed, or no sexed? Will there be two sets of genitalia or none at all? For the medieval Qabalists redemption was a state in which the feminine was absorbed into the male. The penis was the locus of both masculinity and femininity: in the circumcised state the corona is feminine. (2)
Alternatively, some twentieth century esoteric theosophists posited a future without males in which females, with no need for genitalia, have the ability to reproduce pathogenically. (3)
This, in brief, was the context in which Colquhoun conducted her investigations into mystical gender.
1. Gibbons, B.J. 1996. Gender in Mystical and Occult Thought. Cambridge: University Press.
2. Wolfson, E.R. 1995. Circle in the Square. New York, State University Press.
3. Robb, G. 2005. Between Science and Spirituality: Francis Swiney’s Vision of a Sexless Future. Diogenes, 208, 163-8.
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