I’ve written plenty of articles about Warrior Women in ancient cultures – whether it be about Norse Shield Maidens, Celtic Warrior Queens , or the Onna-Bugeisha in Japan. Yet one thing that I have not really written about in depth is the prospect of modern women unleashing their potential as shield maidens. In many ancient cultures, whether it be the Spartans, Mongolians, Celts or Viking Raiders – the womenfolk were normally taught how to use weapons and to defend themselves. This training wasn’t just reserved for the occasional shield maiden or warrior princess who was the daughter of a king, even Stay at Home Moms learned how to use knives, shields and a bow and arrow to the best of their ability. Norse graves reveal that many skeletons with weapons (who were previously assumed to be male) were female.
The problems of violence against women are very real, and very serious. In a time where funding for police officers and 911 dispatchers is getting cut, you can’t always rely on other people to provide for your safety. The world is a very dangerous place, and when the average man is almost twice the size of the average woman – a gun is sometimes a great equalizer, don’t you think! (Guns can be a gal’s best friend! Diamonds can suck it!)
I understand this is a hot button topic for many people – (a hot trigger for some). People have very strong views about guns one way or another. But I ask you to approach this topic with an open mind. If you are interested in purchasing and learning how to use a gun for personal safety, I would recommend you read this article. If you disapprove of guns, reading this article may still be useful in terms of understanding guns better.
LEARN THE BASICS OF GUN SAFETY
First of all, it goes without saying that a gun is a weapon meant to kill – not a toy. Before purchasing a gun, you should always review your state/country laws about guns and research which weapon would be best for your purposes – this is to protect your butt legally!
Here are a few simple rules that might seem obvious, but they need to be said anyways:
- Never point the gun at anyone, unless you intend to shoot – even if there are no bullets in the gun. It’s just not a good habit.
- Keep your gun locked up when you are not home – especially if you have a roommate or if you have children around.
- Be aware of your state’s laws on “brandishing.” Waving a gun around in public when you are not threatened is actually a crime in many places. So try not to pull your gun out in public unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Write down your gun’s serial number. If the gun gets stolen, report the theft to the police immediately along with the gun’s serial number so you do not get blamed for any future crimes the person with your stolen gun commits.
- Don’t let anyone borrow your gun – this is for the reason I just mentioned above.
- If you plan on carrying your gun around with you, get a concealed weapon’s permit and research your state’s laws on this matter.
- NEVER put your finger on the trigger unless your eye is on the target and you are ready to shoot. Let’s say you are in the house and you hear something go bump in the night and you grab your gun for safety. Some people think putting their finger on the trigger will give them more time to shoot if there is a threat, but this is not true. Always assess the nature of the threat and shoot only as a last resort!!! You never know if that bump in the night is your spouse getting a midnight snack.
- Hold the gun with both hands and look down the barrel at your target, it’s very difficult to shoot one handed – most pros cannot even do this.
ALSO READ THE 10 RULES OF GUN SAFETY READING THIS LIST IS A MUST FOR GUN SAFETY
Guns can be an invaluable tool for protecting yourself in the case of a home robbery or assault – especially for women! However, there are many people who are too scared to get this valuable tool for self-defense because of some well ingrained myths in society. It is understandable if guns make you feel uncomfortable and you decide that they are not for you. Yet there is the reality that people fear what they do not understand. So allow me to correct some common misconceptions.
- “A gun is dangerous, because it might go off if I drop it!” Any gun built after 1901 was designed not to go off after being dropped. You can run over a gun with your car and you can drop it off a building (WOULD NOT SUGGEST), but it will only go off if you pull the trigger.
- “Gun violence is getting worse!” This is a very sensitive topic, I do not mean to make light of, or demean anyone who has been the victim of gun violence. However, there are certain levels of hysteria that are distorting logic here. The reality is that gun violence overall is actually lower (at least in America) than it has been in the past. The number of non-fatal firearm violence is at a 10 year low, and the number of gun related homicides has also fallen since 1993. Statistics on the National Institute of Justice.
- Concerns over assault rifles are overblown: According to the FBI website, only around 300 people in the U.S. died from assault rifles in 2011. This means that more people were killed by knives than assault rifles. FBI Murder Data
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH:Certain guns are better for women due to a lighter trigger and small size that allows you to place the gun perfectly inside of a handbag. NOTE: Small guns have a more powerful recoil. A gun with a smaller barrel is not easier to shoot – it is actually harder! So keep that in mind!
So how do you figure out what gun is best for your purposes? Do you want something you can just store at home? Or do you want something you can conceal and carry around with you on a daily basis? These are all good questions to keep in mind when doing research on Google or talking to your local gun shop.
HANDGUNS – THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REVOLVERS AND SEMI-AUTOMATICS:
There are many technicalities that I could go into here, but let me just review the basics of what you need to know to make your personal choice about what to purchase.
A semi-automatic will be easier to shoot and have less recoil. Yet semi-automatics are a bit more complicated in terms of maintenance and loading the bullets. A revolver is a pretty simple weapon to use. I personally favor revolvers in terms of personal safety and home defense.
Some people may want to stick to a low caliber gun, thinking that it is good to have something that is easy to shoot. However, a low caliber weapon may not be enough to deter a serious criminal from attacking you. Therefore, when it comes to revolvers, I would suggest getting a .357 Magnum. It’s small enough to keep in a handbag, and deadly enough to do what you need.
While I don’t own a Semi-Automatic myself, I’ve heard that a Glock or Berreta 9 mm is the best fit for a woman’s hand.
Hollow point bullets will do the maximum damage needed to take down a target.
GO TO A SHOOTING RANGE!
Before and after you buy your weapon of choice, go to a shooting range! You want to go before hand to test out what kind of gun is comfortable for you. You want to go afterwards to hone your aim and practice your skill. A gun will not do you any good sitting on your night stand if you don’t know how to use it.
TAKE A GUN SAFETY COURSE:
I would highly suggest this action before any purchase of a weapon. In many states, taking some kind of safety course is mandatory for getting the concealed weapons permit anyways.
I hope this short gun guide told you the basics of what you need to know to buy a gun and defend yourself. If you are interested in additional research, check out the links below:
(Update: I recently gave permission to the Gay Life Newsletter to publish this article here)
Radicalization of violence and hatred towards homosexuals is getting worse in Africa. Today it is outlawed in 41 out of 53 African Common Wealth countries. In Sudan and Somalia, one can receive the death penalty for homosexuality. Law makers tried to pass a “Kill the Gays” – or rather a Death Penalty for homosexuality in Uganda as well, but the act was eventually changed to life in prison. Gays are also increasingly under fire in Nigeria. Same sex unions are punished by 14 years in prison.
Lawmakers in Nigeria are calling gays “Un-African” and state that homosexuality is a decadent import from the west.
Anti-Gay Laws: A Western Import
Yet the ultimate irony is that Laws Banning homosexuality are the Western Import – not homosexuality itself. The current Anti-Gay Laws are actually a remnant of British Colonialism, the laws were designed to punish what the British authorities saw as unnatural sex among the natives. Even today, much of the political push towards Anti-Gay laws in Uganda have received massive funding from Christian Evangelicals in America. A documentary published by The New York Times highlights how money from American Missionaries is funding some very dangerous ideology that demonizes members of the LGBT community (Gospels of Intolerance). According to Mother Jones, Uganda has been a hotbed of activity for Evangelicals who have failed to demonize the Gays in their own country (Mother Jones).
Ancient Homosexual Traditions in Africa
Before European Imperialism in the continent, there was a varying degree of Gay Acceptance in Africa depending on the tribe and culture. It is important to remember that there are numerous tribes and cultures in Africa, so we can’t lump them all together as if they were one big country.
For example, there is the Mevengu tradition carried out by the Beti people in Cameroon. Women would gather together and have rituals to celebrate erotic power and the clitoris.
In northern Nigeria, there are the Yan Daudu – men who dress as women, like to braid hair, do make-up and are famed for their playfulness and sexual ambiguity. The phrase “Yan Daudu” itself means sons of Daudu – who is a fun loving, gambling spirit that is worshipped in the Muslim Bori practice. For more than a century, Yan Daudu were tolerated in the Muslim North. Their trance and dancing rituals were associated with poor, marginalized women, sex workers and the disabled. They even sometimes accompanied politicians in their campaigns. Yet now there is a religious revival sweeping the area, and more Yan Daudu’s are findings themselves under attack for their lifestyle.
Further west, in Senegal, there is a minority group of men known as Gor Digen, which means “man-woman” in the native language. These men dress like women and sometimes work as prostitutes. Even back in colonial times, Senegal’s metropolis was famous for its open and tolerant homosexual prostitution market. In the 1930’s a traveler named Geoffery Gorer reported that these “man-women” were a common sight and suffered no form of cultural oppression – other than the fact that they were refused a religious burial. Yet now homosexuality is punishable in Senegal by up to five years in prison.
The Rain Queen
There is a fascinating custom among the Balobedu people of the Limpopo Province of South Africa called “The Rain Queen.” The Rain Queen is a woman who is believed to have special powers, including the ability to control the clouds and the rainfall. She is not supposed to marry a male, but instead has several wives. However, it is not clear whether she has sexual relations with these women or if they are merely her ladies in waiting. Regardless of the technicalities of the situation, this is a custom of same sex marriage that has existed for 400 years and is very obviously not a modern western import.
The Key to Tolerance? Perhaps It’s Time to Embrace Ancient Cultural Wisdom
I think a key to restoring the tolerance and acceptance that homosexuals once experienced in various tribes is for these cultures to embrace their ancient practices and beliefs. While Ethiopia was technically one of the first places to embrace Christianity (a few centuries before the Europeans did I might add) I will say that much of the variants of Christianity imposed in Africa these days are colonial in nature and intent. Evangelical Christianity itself is a very fundamentalist, American bred outlook that is foiling attempts to deal with the AIDS crisis in a sane manner and is throwing gasoline on the fire in terms of demonizing homosexuals.
However, South Africa shines as a beacon of hope, since it is the only country in Africa where Gay Marriage is legal. On April 9th of 2013, two men tied the knot in South Africa’s first official gay wedding. They had a traditional African wedding as well as a Western Wedding. The grooms dressed in their respective ancestral attire – Zulu and Tswana. You can read more about the wedding here.
A documentary in which a Gay British DJ investigates what life is like for gays in Uganda
One word that I’ve recently seen pop up in the Pagan Blogosphere is “God Spouse.” It means exactly what it sounds like: a person who marries a God. Is it possible to marry a God? Does the Honeymoon take place on Mount Olympus? And can you imagine an episode of “Trading Spouses” with this theme? But anyways, I digress. My quest to find more information on this phenomenon was limited, but I’ll try to cover the basics. I’m guessing that the amount of information on “God Spouses” is sparse because of how new the term is.
Yet while the term is new, the concept is as old as ancient history. In ancient primeval rites, there was the idea of enacting a sex act with a God or Goddess. There were also priests who stayed celibate and devoted their lives instead to the worship of a particular deity. This practice has continued today with the practice of Catholic priests, monks and nuns staying celibate as a devotion to God. (Does this mean that God is bi-sexual?) Well, that’s a whole other can of worms that this blog doesn’t have time to get into, but the internet is a big place – go look up that question for yourself.
ANCIENT SEX RITES: HIERO GAMOS
A sex rite between a mortal and a God is known as “Hieros Gamos,” or Hierogamy. This ritual took place in societies in every quarter of the globe: India, the Middle East, in Greece, among Tantric Buddhists and has some metaphorical relevance in The Great Rite practiced in Wicca today. One of the earliest recorded sex rites takes place in early Sumeria about 5,500 years ago. In this ritual, a high priestess acting as an avatar of a Goddess would have sex with the ruler of the society to show the Goddess’s acceptance of this man as the ruler and caretaker of his people. If the ruler was not capable of pleasing a Goddess, than he certainly was not fit to take care of a nation of thousands. (Can you imagine if the modern president was sworn into office with this technique? I bet most our current politicians wouldn’t be able to find the clitoris with a GPS.)
Here is part of the ceremony as translated from an ancient Sumerian poem. The High Priestess, acting for Inanna, is speaking to Dumuzi the new king. Text Source Here.
My vulva, the horn,
The boat of Heaven,
Is full of eagerness like the young moon.
My untilled land lies fallow.
As for me, Inanna,
Who will plow my vulva?
Who will plow my high field?
Who will plow my wet ground?
As for me, the young woman,
Who will plow my vulva?
Who will station the ox there?
Who will plow my vulva?
A further description of the ritual is at Goddess.org
One of the earliest concepts of religious marriage is that of temple prostitution: another practice that took place in several corners of the globe. Around the 5th century B.C. the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about how this custom worked in the Near East:
The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, “I invite you in the name of Mylitta” (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfil the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus.
This act is even carried out in some parts of the world today. In India, for example, “Devadasi” is a form of temple prostitution in which young girls from villages are married to a deity of a temple, and then function as spiritual guides, dancers and sex workers. Human Rights Watch also reports that young girls are sometimes forced into this practice to have sex with members of the upper caste.
HIJRAS (TRANSGENDERED FOLK) IN INDIA MARRY THE GOD ARAVAN
One particularly fascinating form of God Marriage that occurs today in India is the marriage of “Hijras” to their God Aravan. This is a festival that occurs every year. Men put on makeup, jewelry and a garland of flowers in preparation for their marriage to Aravan. See pictures of this festival here. Aravan is a brave hero who requests one night of marriage before his death. Since no other Gods were willing to marry Aravan for just one night, Krishna turned into a woman and marries the hero.
In the festival of Aravan, hundreds of Hijras gather to act out the role of Krishna, as they symbolically marry their God Aravan for one night. Sometimes even heterosexual men dress up like women and marry Aravan in order to gain his blessing, such as getting children in a sterile marriage.
THE GREAT RITE
As I mentioned above, there is an element of metaphorical Heiro Gamos in “The Great Rite,” which is a Wiccan ritual. For those who don’t know much about Wicca, the primary deities in this practice are The God and Goddess. Wiccans believe in a female and male duality that represents the whole of creation. Not all Pagans are Wiccans. Wiccans are different from other Pagans in that they believe in a primary God and Goddess, and that all other Gods are aspects of this male and female divine.
The Great Rite is a metaphorical representation of the union between the male and female divine. In this ritual, the high priest plunges the athame (a ritual knife and male symbol) into a cup or chalice (female symbol) which is filled with wine and held by the high priestess. This ritual is a fertility rite that is celebrated around Beltane. While the ritual is mostly metaphorical, there are a few situations where it is actually acted out sexually.
The history of Hiero Gamos and ritualistic sex with the divine brings me to the modern day phenomenon of God Spouses. It is a situation in which a person becomes so close to a particular God or Goddess that they actually want to have a marriage with this Deity – that they want to interact with this Deity as a spouse in their day to day life.
The most recent tale I read was a post on Witches and Pagans about a woman who felt called to marry Odin. At 35 she felt called through dreams and omens to marry Odin. In her own words, she states “This was the primary crossroads of my life: giving myself utterly to a god, and a god whose path is characterized by sudden, sweeping change, paradoxes, and the continual stalking of oneself in search of power and knowledge.”
Do I believe this union is legitimate? It is not for me to judge or decide. The skeptic inside me naturally raises an eyebrow after reading such a story. Is this a true union with the divine or simply the desire for greater intimacy with someone powerful and wise? I’ll never know the truth. Yet I do know that sexual unions with the divine have been occurring for millenia and that men in India still marry Aravan to this day.
Some see the Gods as a divine masters, others see the Gods as guides and friends and there are a few who see them as spouses. It will be interesting to see how relationships to the Gods develop throughout the years as ideas about spirituality evolve and grow.
A documentary that tracks the history of the female divine, a brutal force of both life and death.
This documentary tracks the history of the Goddess from the beginning of human history to modern India
Throughout history, The Goddess was revered as a force of life and death.
Some of her rites were even bloody and involved self-mutilation.
One such rite was in Rome, where priests would castrate themselves before the “Magna Mater” – Great Mother, or when a priest would shower himself in the blood of a sacrificed bull. Twice, the “Magna Mater” saved Rome. The first time was against the invasion from Carthage. The second, was when Augustus Caesar ended the endless civil wars and ushered in the Pax Romana (100 years of peace).
This documentary ends in modern India, where the Goddess is still worshiped in a colorful and passionate display.
Can the great and terrifying Magna Mater help us with today’s problems in the modern world? I think she can.
Article contains some nudity and sexual imagery…you know, the fun stuff.
Do not control your wife in her house,
When you know she is efficient;
Don’t say to her: “Where is it? Get it!”
When she has put it in the right place.
Let your eye observe in silence,
Then you recognize her skill:
It is joy when your hand is with her,
There are many who don’t know this.
~ Advice from the Scribe named “Ani” in New Kingdom Egypt
Would you believe me if I told you that more than a thousand years ago, women in Ancient Egypt enjoyed many of the same rights that women in our current society enjoy today? A woman could own and sell private property, resolve legal settlements, write a contract, initiate a divorce, file lawsuits, have a profession and inherit property (of course these rights also depended on the woman’s social class). I wouldn’t say that Ancient Egyptian women had complete parity to men before the law. Yet they did have many rights that were out of reach for women in neighboring Greece or Rome.
This article will examine what it was like to be a woman in Ancient Egyptian society and the different rights and responsibilities that they had. Most women performed domestic tasks in the home. However, there were female midwives, priestesses, weavers, dancers, musicians and even professional mourners. (Hiring complete strangers to act sad at your relative’s funeral was pretty normal in Ancient Egypt). Also, even though most of the positions of authority were occupied by men, there were a few female pharaohs, such as Cleopatra, Nefertiti and Hatshepsut. It also wasn’t uncommon for a woman to serve as a regent (temporary ruler) when her husband died, until her son was old enough to take over. It was preferred for a woman with the right bloodline to be in power temporarily, than a man with the wrong bloodline.
In Egyptian Mythology, there is also a strong association with Goddesses as protectors. For example, when a body was mummified, the organs were placed into four different jars. Each jar was represented by one of the son’s of Horus, and each of these sons were protected by a different Goddess. If you’re curious about these jars, you can read more about the son’s of Horus here and their corresponding Goddesses.
The most obvious example to start with is Isis. Her name literally means “throne.” She is the symbol of the Pharaoh’s power. Isis was worshiped as the ideal mother and wife, as well as the patroness of nature and magic. She was the friend of slaves and the downtrodden, but also listened to the prayers of the wealthy. In addition to that, she was the protector of the dead and the Goddess of children. Her birth is significant because she was the first daughter of Geb (Father of the Earth) and Nut (Mother of the Sky).
She married her brother Osiris, who was the first son of Geb and Nut. Osiris was the God of the afterlife, vegetation and beer. He was a merciful God of the dead. Osiris’s brother Set grew jealous of his power, cut him into pieces, and scattered the pieces around the land. It was up to Isis to use her restorative magic to find the pieces of Osiris and piece him back together again.
Perhaps this story can serve as a powerful metaphor about love and marriage. At times when you’re falling to pieces, it is up to your significant other to help put you together again. There is also a powerful metaphor in this story about redemption, rebirth and eternal life.
At first, only the pharaoh was associated with the God Osiris in death. Yet eventually, most of the common people in Egypt were allowed to associate themselves with Osiris in death. Osiris and Isis were very popular among the common people of Egypt, because they offered the people a connection to eternal life.
CONNECTIONS BETWEEN ISIS/OSIRIS CULT AND CHRISTIANITY?
There are some theories that the early Christians were influenced by the themes of redemption and eternal life present in the Osiris and Isis myth. Pictures of Isis sucking her son Horus were common in the Roman Empire at the time of Christianity. For example, murals of Isis suckling her son Horus were popular in the Roman empire before the characteristic picture of the Virgin Mary nursing Jesus arose in prominence. Perhaps the former inspired the latter.
The Original Trinity, Brought to You By Egypt (Metal-Gaia)
A MURAL IN THE ROMAN ERA OF ISIS AND HORUS
THE “REGINA CAELI LAETARE”
OTHER POPULAR EGYPTIAN GODDESSES
Bastet: A feline Goddess. The daughter of the sun God Ra. She was worshiped for her protective and maternal nature.
Hathor: A cow Goddess associated with dancing, music and love. She was also known as the “Lady of Heaven.” She protected women during pregnancy, was worshiped as a Goddess of fertility, and was seen as wise and affectionate towards both the living and the dead.
Sekhmet: The lion headed Goddess of war, fire, hunting, wild animals and vengeance. She was called “The Powerful One.” She helped kings defeat their opponents. She was also associated with both disease and health.
Maat: The Goddess of truth, morality, justice, order and harmony. She represented the natural order of the universe. She was typically depicted with an ostrich feather on her head. The weighing of the heart ceremony that took place in the afterlife, which determined whether you were allowed to have eternal life, took place in the Hall of Maat. In Egypt there were 42 laws of Maat that one had to follow in order to enter the afterlife. These were a series of negative confessions, a list of “I didn’t do ____.” Law # 34 interests me because it relates to taking care of the environment: “I have not polluted the water.” Also, another interesting thing to note is that the laws of Maat don’t say much about sexuality, aside from mentioning adultery. This is probably because the Egyptians had a very mature culture when it came to sexuality, which we will discuss more below. A majority of these laws actually relate to emotional control, which is important for living a healthy and virtuous life.
MARRIAGE, FERTILITY AND SEXUALITY
…Revel in pleasure while your life endures
And deck your head with myrrh. Be richly clad
In white and perfumed linen; like the gods
Anointed be; and never weary grow
In eager quest of what your heart desires –
Do as it prompts you…
~ Lay of the Harpist
The Egyptians had a very natural view towards sexuality and the human body that was untainted by guilt. Walking around naked for example was not the taboo that it is today. Though I’m guessing part of this attitude was due to how unbelievable hot Egypt can be. The average temperature of an Egyptian summer is 120 degrees farenheit (48 degrees celsius). Children tended to walk around naked until puberty (about 12 years of age). Women of a lower social status walked around topless and wealthier women wore loose clothing that was sometimes transparent. Female entertainers frequently performed naked.
Egyptians lived in a Sex Positive culture. They did not have the same guilty associations with sex that those of us in the modern world have today. Before marriage, it was not wrong for a woman to take a sexual lover. Knowledge of contraceptives was also commonplace in Ancient Egypt, which probably explains why premarital sex and prostitution weren’t a big deal.
There is also evidence that homosexual sex wasn’t a big deal either. More information on Homosexuality in Ancient Egypt on Metal Gaia
A popular image of prostitution today is a woman sticking out a stilettoed heel and a fishnet clad leg to interest her prospective customers. Ancient Egyptian prostitutes did something similar, they advertised themselves in a blue faience beaded fish-net dress, painted their lips red and tattooed themselves on the breast and thighs. However, the modern idea of prostitute and the Ancient Egyptian one are very different. In the modern world, we typically have a negative association with prostitutes, even if they are high class “escorts” that make thousands an hour sleeping with the wealthiest CEO’s.
An outfit that may have been worn by sex workers. Source for picture
The reason why the modern idea of prostitution can’t compare with Ancient Egyptian sex workers, is because their profession wasn’t tainted by guilt. Many sex workers were associated with Goddesses of fertility and were regarded with respect. Also, it is not certain that all prostitutes slept with people for money. Some were temple prostitutes who had a connection to the divine. Others were entertainers who would dance, play music and perform sexual acts all in one.
There are some theories that men slept with prostitutes before marriage, in order to learn how to please their wives, and that young girls engaged in prostitute related acts, in order to learn about sexuality in marriage. However, these are just theories and we don’t have any real proof for these ideas.
Take a wife while you are young,
that she may make a son for you
while you are youthful.
~ The Egyptian Scribe Ani
A woman generally could get married at any age, and typically married after she started her period around the age of 14 or 15. Men got married when they were around 17 or 20. This may seem very young to the modern person, however we must remember that lifespans were shorter in Ancient Egypt. Documents written in the Ptolemaic Period reveal that the average life expectancy was 58 for women and 54 for men (tour egypt). This doesn’t seem too bad, but we must remember that in the modern developed world, the average person lives to be about 70 or 80, which naturally drags the average age of marriage up to mid 20’s or early 30’s.
Consent from the parents was also needed to get married. This was especially important in the upper classes, since marriage determined the division of property and social status. However, as religious and ceremonial as Egyptian society was, what is surprising to note is that there was no ceremony for marriage: no special dress, no exchange of rings and no exchange of vows. It was a fairly simple affair where the wife moved into the house of her husband. He would either be living alone or with his parents.
While this doesn’t sound very romantic, there is much literature and poetry that suggests that the ideal marriage was filled with affection, love and tenderness.
However, one thing that made the Egyptians much smarter than those of us today, is that they usually drafted up a contract before the marriage about how property would be distributed, and what would happen in the event of divorce. That’s right, they had a prenup power up! This was more relevant to people in the upper classes, who had more property and land to fight over.
A Marriage Contract from 219 BC
“The Blemmyann, born in Egypt, son of Horpais,
whose mother is Wenis, has said to the woman
Tais, daughter of the Khahor, whose mother is
Tairerdjeret: I have made you a married woman.
As your womans portion, I give you two pieces of
silver. If I dismiss you as wife and dislike you and
prefer another woman to you as wife, I will give you
two pieces of silver in addition to the two pieces of
silver mentioned above and I will give you one third
of each and everything that will accrue to you and me.”
Divorce: Divorce was not hard to get. Both a man or a woman could initiate a divorce and write up the divorce contract. Men divorced their wives if they were incapable of baring children – or baring a son. He may also divorce his wife if she stopped pleasing him. A woman could divorce her husband for mental and physical cruelty. In some cases, if a woman initiated divorce, she forfeited her right to communal property. Also, as you can see from the statement above, women got spousal support in the case of a divorce, which was about 1/3 of her ex-husband’s earnings.
However, there were other options if the parents were childless: adoption and polygamy were two. Sometimes men had concubines, and these women did not have the same rights as their wives. However, polygamy was uncommon for most people. It was mainly practiced by the pharaoh so that he could display his virility and sire several children.
Incest: One taboo topic that comes up when talking about Ancient Egypt is that of incest. Incest is another one of those things that was allowed for the Pharaoh, in order to keep the royal bloodline in place, but not commonly practiced among most people.
Adultery: Now, throughout most of this article I’ve waxed on about the sexual openness of Ancient Egyptian society and women’s freedoms. However, adultery was a completely different affair (get it…affair…it’s a pun! okay sorry). While sex before marriage wasn’t a big deal, an extra-marital affair was completely off the table. The bond of trust and fidelity in marriage and family were highly valued by the Ancient Egyptian people, so valued in fact the worst punishment for a woman was death. This was described in the Egyptian Tale of Two Brothers. For a man, on the other hand, the worst thing that could happen to him is that he would be forced into a divorce.
“Come down, placenta, come down! I am Horus who conjures in order that she who is giving birth becomes better than she was, as if she was already delivered. Look, Hathor will lay her hand on her with an amulet of health! I am Horus who saves her!” ~ A Spell for a Healthy Delivery
Fertility was a big deal in Egypt because the child mortality rate was so high. In some Egyptian cemeteries, a third of all the buried were infants. However, this statistic depends on which region of Egypt we are talking about. It’s hard to say exactly why the infant mortality rate was so high, but some historians believe it was due to the common occurrence of infection and the Egyptian diet. Their diet was high in cereal grains and deficient in Iron. Even the wealthy did not eat meat everyday. Many Egyptians used amulets, spells and the protection of the Gods to try and protect their children from death.
However, despite the large infant mortality rate, Egyptians still had large families and showered their children with much affection. It is theorized that the average mother raised 4-6 children. Some families even managed to raise 10-15! Both a woman’s femininity and a man’s masculinity were judged by how many children they could create.
In addition to being obsessed with fertility, Egyptians were also obsessed with life after death. We obviously know this since Egyptian tombs are the richest sources of Ancient Egyptian culture. Children were necessary to perform burial rites for the parents. Which was another incentive for rearing a large brood of children, this increased the likelihood that at least one child would survive long enough to perform a parent’s burial rites.
There’s obviously much more that I could say about this topic, but I’m trying to write an article here about the basics, not a book. One of the great things about Ancient Egypt, is that much of their culture was written down. Unlike many other Pagan societies in the ancient world, the artifacts of their society remained intact. Part of this is because they had some of the most comprehensive burial practices out of any culture in the world. In the tombs of the pharaohs, they recorded the events of his/her life and buried the pharaoh with all the items they used in their day to day life so that they could use these items in the afterlife.
Thanks to these methods of preservation, we have a window into ancient values that Abrahamic Religions tried to erase from the ledger of time. We see a culture that had healthy ideas about gender, the human body and sexuality. We see a culture that valued women as protectors and mothers, and respected them enough to give them legal rights.
As we become a culture more open about sexuality, there is certainly much we could learn from the Ancient people who lived on the Nile. And the great news is that most of it is written down and available to read! So do some internet searches, watch a few documentaries and read some books! Get informed!
What do we believe about the Cavemen? They were a primitive and barbaric people who spent their time killing each other and beating women over the head with clubs when they wanted sexy times. However, one reality that Archaeological remains recently unearthed is that a primitive tribe in the Czech Republic may have been pretty tolerant towards their gender queer folk. (I know this article is two years old, but I think it’s still relevant)
We’ve heard it all before. Homosexuality is unnatural! It’s a plague of the modern age! Blah, blah blah. Maybe the real plague of the modern age is how poorly we treat those with nuanced gender and sexual orientations.
In many different tribal cultures around the world, gender deviance was an acceptable part of life. The Europeans who wrote about Native American tribes stated that there were a few men who would dress and act like women, and were treated as perfectly normal people by the tribe. In some cultures around the world, there are more than 2 accepted genders. In parts of Indonesia, there are five accepted genders. I discuss this more in a previous post: more than two genders?
With regards to the skeletal remains mentioned above, they are a male skeleton who was given a woman’s burial rite. The archaeologists do not believe that this was a mistake, since the culture they were studying was very careful and precise with burial rites. Men in this culture were traditionally buried lying on their right side with their heads pointing west, but this man was instead buried on his left side with his head pointing east, which is how women were typically buried. He was also buried with female items, such as an egg shaped pot.
Now, we can’t jump to conclusions here. This evidence doesn’t necessarily prove that this caveman was transexual or gay. However, it does shed light on an ancient culture’s willingness to bend gender norms. Definitely some interesting food for thought.