It seems that nobody, not even Nostradamus, could have predicted that same sex marriage would become the law of the land in the entire United States—at least not this fast. Just two decades ago, it was unimaginable—and then, an idea was born. Or so we are told.
In reality, same sex unions are not a new idea. In fact, they are very old. They were recognized in various forms throughout antiquity in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, Europe, and other places. During the Roman Empire, same-sex marriages were common. Even Emperor Nero, who had strange sexual proclivities by almost any standard, was said to have married a young boy. It is only after strict new laws were established prohibiting same-sex unions that the practice was nearly vanquished from memory.
What is the origin of marriage anyway? We really don’t know. But from watching the animal kingdom, we can speculate that there must have been some kind of mutually beneficial arrangement established long ago in hunter-gatherer communities that enabled partners to optimize the procurement of food in exchange for companionship, sexual favors, and protection. These kinds of arrangements are not restricted to opposite genders in the animal kingdom, so there is good reason to believe they were not in humans either. After all, we are animals.
The most vociferous objections to marriage equality are on religious grounds. While I respect people’s rights to practice religion and I don’t doubt their sincerity, it is also naïve to not realize that the church is often an instrument for controlling the people. The concept of control is often reframed as “maintaining the social order,” which sounds neutral, but never is. The institution of marriage does maintain a form of order, but one that enables those in power to maintain their dominance, not unlike alpha males or alpha females in nature (and there are alpha females: see elephants, bonobos, etc).
Significantly, the acceptance of “gay marriage” became predictable only after the public began using the phrase “marriage equality” in its place. There is power in words, and this new term was enormously appealing to many people, but particularly to women (70% of women favor marriage equality compared to only 50% of men). I find this disparity highly significant. Could it be that women realize that they have been fighting all along for their own form of marriage equality and are still doing so? I would say yes. And I support their cause. In my view, as long as there is unequal pay for equal work in society, heterosexual marriage will never be equal. But the society and the institution of marriage are not done changing.
In fact, the institution of marriage is much more malleable than we are led to believe. It has been changing all along with shifting mores in society. The modern version of marriage has undergone such rapid change that it is hard to remember that for more than the first century after the formation of the United States, the woman was essentially considered chattal, the property of the man, a vestige from English common law. And until a few short decades ago, a marriage ceremony ended with the pronouncement of “man and wife!” —one clearly implying a rite of passage, the other merely a role. Far from equal, the woman was expected to be subservient to the man, who was unquestionably the head of the household even as the woman did most of the work (at least within the household). Such inequality has caused some to speculate that marriage originated in a similarly unequal manner, as a way for men to acquire female slaves.
My intuition tells me this is not so. If anything, an unequal power structure might have once favored the female partner. The archaeological evidence is clear: there was a preponderance of female deities in ancient, Neolithic cultures. At the very least, the life-giving, nurturing properties of women were highly respected, if not revered and worshipped.
The mainstream modern worldview has tended to ignore or dismiss this archaeological evidence discovered by Marija Gimbutus and since popularized by Riane Eisler (author of the classic work The Chalice and the Blade). Instead, it has created a different narrative, emphasizing only the aspects of Greco-Roman culture that validate our current worldview — specifically, a belief in the superiority of modern, linear rational thinking. It is not a coincidence that these qualities are hallmarks of masculinity. It is the advent of patriarchal culture that we have been actually validating.
To a certain degree, this validation is understandable. The rise of modern technology is enormously impressive and has the power to seduce the mind into equating technology with progress. But the future will not be determined only by what things we have. It will also be about how we think, feel, and act. In fact, if there is to be a future for humanity, it will be about re-thinking what it means to be human and how we behave toward each other and other beings in which we share this Earth. Even the very notion of progress must be reconsidered. The Pope, in his recent encyclical, realized this. He wrote, “A technological and economic development that does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.”
To rethink progress, we have to rethink the very notion of time, recovering some of the ways we used to think about time that have since been dismissed. In truth, the ancient idea of time is grossly misunderstood. It is not circular time, but “fractal time,” as Gregg Braden calls it, for the ancients carefully observed the patterns of nature, and these iterative cycles in a particular place were integral to their worldview. They knew when it was time for the return of the berries, seeds, fruits, and nuts, as well as the patterns of migrating animals. With the advent of the agricultural revolution, they remained beholden to natural rhythms, planting by the stars.
We dramatically changed our notion of time only five hundred years ago, in the Renaissance, with the advent of linear perspective in art. Perspective, as any art student knows, is the technique of drawing a landscape from the single point of the eye in sight lines that recede away from its vantage point. The lines of perspective literally represent the future, which is off in the distance; in other words, the future is facing forward. Once humans became convinced that we could see the future in front of us, we began to think we could bend it to our will. The scientific and industrial revolution that followed were both based on this notion of linear, forward progress.
The symbol of the masculine is the line; the symbol of the feminine is the circle. The whole concept of linear human progress—a journey away from origin—is a distinctly masculine adventure, sometimes called the hero’s journey. But even the hero eventually returns. Odysseus comes back to his wife and children. In this way, the hero’s journey is ultimately a circle, just as every line on a curved Earth is if given enough distance.
In the patriarachial era, Western science rose to new heights, as did our confidence in the supremacy of the human being. Something else occurred, which is that we sacrificed Mother Earth because we came to believe that human progress was independent of the rhythms of the land.
Real progress, like all of nature, takes place in a circle, or spiral fractal progression, just as a seed becomes root, bud, and fruit, and then goes to seed again. Even revolution, as the word suggests, takes place in a circle, as what has been suppressed for too long rises again. The Supreme Court has made a revolutionary decision; there is little doubt about that. But in the big picture, same-sex marriage is not about progress as much as it is about coming full circle to a more inclusive way of thinking. Long before the country of the United States was founded, gay people were accepted on this continent, even honored, as twin-spirits, amongst many Native American tribes. Twin-spirit people were understood to contain both masculine and feminine qualities within themselves. And, in truth, we all have, in varying degrees, masculine and feminine characteristics within us, regardless of our gender.
The cold truth is that the modern institution of marriage has long been one of the instruments men have used to subvert women. Men sought not only to control women, but to exert control over nature, and by extension, over Native peoples. Thankfully, these attitudes are now beginning to change, and I am a man who welcomes that. My own belief is that feminine wisdom, suppressed for centuries in both women and men, is exactly what the planet needs at this time.
The sacred masculine path of initiation will always be needed. I am not arguing for feminine domination. But the patriarchal era reached its zenith at the end of the nineteenth century and we are now entering the era of the reemergent feminine. Even our science has come full circle. The twentieth century brought with it the quantum revolution in physics, and we are rediscovering what we once knew: that the world is radically interconnected. To understand that all is interconnected is a feminine insight. All of us, men and women alike, need to think and act with this in mind. We are connected to everything—to the trees and plants that give us the breath of life that we give back to them in a sacred circle—and to the elements: the light, air, water, and earth that make up the planet and us in equal proportion. All is interconnected. This ancient understanding has now come around again and is being reborn in our hearts. And this is cause for celebration.
Image by Elvert Barnes, courtesy of Creative Commons license.