and Saint John. German, fourteenth century.
mentally ill people in contemporary North America, there are two
common delusions. In a manic manifestation of their illness,
schizophrenics often claim to be Jesus –
though no one else can recognize it. Alternatively, patients in a
depressed or paranoid phase of mental illness often imagine that
everyone thinks they are homosexual. “Jesus” and “the
homosexual” are cultural symbols that fit together, like two sides
of one coin: best/worst, powerful/powerless, exalted/despised. At
root Jesus and the homosexual only make sense as a single entity.
They are the contemporary faces of an ancient myth: the divine
child, born of the Virgin / Mother. Jesus and the homosexual are two
aspects of a vegetation god who rises unalterably from the earth,
only to be torn apart and devoured when the time comes. This god of
green and growing things is an archetype that appears around the
world, throughout time, in a multitude of myths, stories and
cultural practices. Madness can be a key to the mythic dimensions of
any culture. In this culture, it often points to the Tree God:
the homosexual, Jesus is born miraculously in a most unlikely place.
As a child he is exposed to threat and persecution, solitude and
loneliness. Jung writes of this archetype, “The ‘child’ is all
that is abandoned and exposed and at the same time, divinely
powerful; the insignificant, dubious beginning, and the triumphal
The mortal god leads a recognizably queer life. Jesus leaves home
too late or too soon, gathers a band of lovers, performs miracles.
He is crucified by the reigning powers and loved by a loyal
underground. Betrayed and abandoned, tortured, murdered, his death
is the sacrifice that brings the resurrection and the life. The
meaning of his slaughter is
the resurrection. His energy is life itself, and cannot be
contained. Like the homosexual, he dies, he is murdered. And he
continues despite his enemies. Miraculously born again and again, in
the face of every punishment and prohibition, the homosexual
Ribalta, Saint Francis
Embracing the Crucified Christ, 1620
a piece of wood,” says Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas. “I am
Jesus is the tree-god, as we can be: rooted, branching, infinitely
expressive. We soar –
“’scuze me while I kiss the sky” –
and we go dark and deep, drawing nourishment from the underground.
The tree is a sign for one, the unique and lonely individual, but
underground its roots entwine with other trees, with earth and
worms, and with the cyclic unity of life and death that is our world
the Taoist mountain spirit Shan Gui, through the Ancient Greek
Dionysus and the Navaho Begochidi, vegetation gods around the world
are androgynous. They have in common with Jesus and the homosexual a
conjoining of masculine and feminine qualities, a hermaphrodism of
body and soul. The androgyne symbolizes wholeness in a
gender-bifurcated society, pointing to a possible future – psychic and social – and evoking a mythological past. Jung comments, “Notwithstanding its
monstrosity, the hermaphrodite has gradually turned into a subduer
of conflicts and a bringer of healing, and it acquired this meaning
in relatively early phases of civilization.”[iii]
conjoining of male and female attributes does seem monstrous in a
culture based on gender difference and an economy fueled by the
unpaid work of women. Is it despite or because of this monstrosity
that the hermaphrodite is healer? Christ, like the homosexual, is
both the phallus and the wound. Uniting these opposites in a single
body, the Tree God takes us deep into the labyrinth of unconscious
processes. The Minotaur demands its tribute, and the hermaphrodite
also requires a sacrifice. When we embrace the monster and open its
gifts, we sacrifice all the self-certainty and social approbation
that gender identity affords. If we have hitherto been women, we
pick up the phallus. If we have hitherto been men, we experience the
wound. We become monstrous –
fabulous, horrible –
to everyone who stays outside the labyrinth, stuck on one or another
side of gender difference. Yet here we are – a beacon of hope, a symbol of wholeness, a reminder
of the repressed or forgotten moment of splitting into extremes with
women with dildos, album paining on silk, 19th C
conscious mind is always limited, narrow in scope, constrained by
personal history and social mores. If we are also the indefinite
extent of our unconscious processes, we are stronger and weaker,
bigger and smaller, older and younger than consciousness. Such
wholeness cannot be claimed by fiat nor won through achievement. It
can only be glimpsed and guessed at, lost and found, by exploring
archetypes and attending to dreams.
The Tree God –
as a symbol that is at once male and female, mortal and immortal,
powerful and vulnerable –
carries us deep into the earth and high into the sky. He is a way
in, a path through, and the monster at the centre of the labyrinth.
Joyous and suffering, exalted and despised, he reminds us to accept
paradox and eschew resolution. As the contemporary representations
of this ancient archetype, gays and lesbians suffer the scapegoating,
and we carry the possibility of healing. With our miraculous
persistence and our infinite complexity, we are a kind of catechism.
Holding opposites without seeking compromise or the cheap solution
of indifference, we pose a way to wash the world of sin. ▼
showing the wound in his side in this Florentine terracotta
sculpture for above a doorway. Christ’s wound is referred to as
the door, see John 10:9 "I am the door, by me if any man enter
in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out."
Carl Jung and Carl Kerényi, 1949, (98).
quoted by Thomas Moore, 1996, (28).
Jung and Carl Kerényi, 1949, (93).