Two Spirit People

I’d not  heard of “two spirit people” in native American culture until recently. I found the subject profoundly interesting, and was eager to learn more, although my knowledge about them is still limited. The you tube above is a history of “two spirit people” that covers facts from  both the present and past about  their tragic history.

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We-Wah, a Zuni Berdache, from New Mexico, who was born biologically male but lived as a Two Spirit woman.

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Excerpted from Walter L Williams article on The Two Spirit People

Rather than the physical body, Native Americans emphasized a person’s “spirit”, or character, as being most important. Instead of seeing two-spirit persons as transsexuals who try to make themselves into “the opposite sex”, it is more accurate to understand them as individuals who take on a gender status that is different from both men and women. This alternative gender status offers a range of possibilities, from slightly effeminate males or masculine females, to androgynous or transgender persons, to those who completely cross-dress and act as the other gender. The emphasis of Native Americans is not to force every person into one box, but to allow for the reality of diversity in gender and sexual identities.

Most of the evidence for respectful two-spirit traditions is focused on the native peoples of the Plains, the Great Lakes, the Southwest, and California. With over a thousand vastly different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, it is important not to overgeneralise for the indigenous peoples of North America. Some documentary sources suggest that a minority of societies treated two-spirit persons disrespectfully, by kidding them or discouraging children from taking on a two-spirit role. However, many of the documents that report negative reactions are themselves suspect, and should be evaluated critically in light of the preponderance of evidence that suggests a respectful attitude. Some European commentators, from early frontier explorers to modern anthropologists, also were influenced by their own homophobic prejudices to distort native attitudes.

Two-spirit people were respected by native societies not only due to religious attitudes, but also because of practical concerns. Because their gender roles involved a mixture of both masculine and feminine traits, two-spirit persons could do both the work of men and of women. They were often considered to be hard workers and artistically gifted, of great value to their extended families and community. Among some groups, such as the Navajo, a family was believed to be economically benefited by having a “nadleh” (literally translated as “one who is transformed”) androgynous person as a relative. Two-spirit persons assisted their siblings’ children and took care of elderly relatives, and often served as adoptive parents for homeless children.

A feminine male who preferred to do women’s work (gathering wild plants or farming domestic plants) was logically expected to marry a masculine male, who did men’s work (hunting and warfare). Because a family needed both plant foods and meat, a masculine female hunter, in turn, usually married a feminine female, to provide these complementary gender roles for economic survival. The gender-conforming spouse of two-spirit people did not see themselves as “homosexual” or as anything other than “normal”.

In the 20th-century, as homophobic European Christian influences increased among many Native Americans, respect for same-sex love and for androgynous persons greatly declined. Two-spirit people were often forced, either by government officials, Christian missionaries or their own community, to conform to standard gender roles. Some, who could not conform, either went underground or committed suicide. With the imposition of Euro-American marriage laws, same-sex marriages between two-spirit people and their spouses were no longer legally recognised. But with the revitalisation of Native American “red power” cultural pride since the 60s, and the rise of gay and lesbian liberation movements at the same time, a new respect for androgyny started slowly re-emerging among American Indian people.

Walter L Williams is the author of The Spirit and the Flesh (Boston: Beacon Press) and is Professor of Anthropology, History and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. His most recent book, Two Spirits: A Story Of Life With The Navajo has been released.

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Historic photo of Navajo couple from the collection of the Museum of New Mexico, 1866.

Native American notions of identity are communal. They depend upon community context, status and history. In many ways, gender is more fluid in Native American cultures in comparison to the rigid binary concepts of male-female that we know in Western societies.

Navajo scholar Wesley Thomas explains that Navajo culture has four genders:

  1. Given that Navajo culture is matrilineal , the first gender is feminine woman (asdzaan). They are born biologically female and function socially as women;
  2. Masculine man (hastiin), are born biologically male and adopt the role of men;
  3. Feminine man (nádleehí) are born biologically male and function socially as women; and
  4. Masculine woman (dilbaa) are born biologically female but function as men.

http://othersociologist.com/2013/09/09/two-spirit-people/

Thanksgiving, Another Viewpoint – Value Of Kindness

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” In years gone by America was, by definition, a kind of recapitulation and consummation of all human possibilities”Patrick Laude

America is no longer a place  to dream. Today, the once taken-for-granted dreams  for a better world for ordinary Americans seems to be fading, rather like roses in a scandalous wasteland. The fertile dreams of yesteryear have given way to dread for many of her citizens.

Once the guardian of the process by which the soul of man could grow and act upon the earth, America is surely being destroyed, not necessarily through war, but slowly from within like a hollowed-out-tree, standing tall in the desert of petrified life. In hindsight, perhaps the pilgrims who first set foot on the ‘new land,’ had already started the decaying process, when they refused to share with the indigenous inhabits, whose land they gladly settled on. Here is a small piece from a woman of the Dineh Nation.


“As a child of a Native American family, I was part of a very select group of survivors,  I learned early  that my family possessed some ‘inside’ knowledge of what really happened when those poor tired masses came to our homes. When the Pilgrims came to Plymouth rock, they were poor and hungry, half of them died within a few months from disease and hunger.

When Squanto, A Wampanoag man, found them, they were in a pitiful state. He knew English, having traveled to Europe, so could speak to them. Their English crops had failed. The native people fed them through the harsh winter and taught them how to grow crops.  They were not merely ‘friendly Indians.’ They had already experienced European slave traders, raiding their villages for a hundred years or so, and they were weary, but it was their way to give freely to those who had nothing. Among many of our people, showing that you can give without holding back is the way to earn respect. Among the Dakota, my father’s people, they say, when asked to give, “are we not Dakota and alive?” It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all, the exact opposite to the system we live by now, which is based on selling.

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To the newcomers, the Wampanoags were heathens, and of the Devil. They saw Squanto not as an equal but as an instrument of their God to help his chosen people, “themselves.”  Since that very first sharing of food, nearly seventy percent of all crops grown today were originally cultivated by Native American people. I sometimes wonder what they ate in Europe before they met us. Spaghetti without tomatoes? At that first Thanksgiving, the Wampanoags provided most of the food, and signed a treaty granting Pilgrims the right to the land at Plymouth, this was the real reason for the first Thanksgiving. What did the Europeans give in return? Within twenty years their disease and treachery had decimated the Wampanoags. “Least we forget,” let me tell you a story.  In stories told by the Dakota people, an evil person always keeps his or her heart in a secret place separate from the body. The hero must find that secret place and destroy the heart, in order to stop the evil.. I see, in the first Thanksgiving story, a hidden Pilgrim heart. The story of that heart is the real tale that needs to be remembered this Thanksgiving.”

Small excerpt from New America Media

Fly Like A Butterfly – Inspirational Parables And Quotations

When living creatures come into contact with Divine Light, three kinds of defilements disappear in them. Their bodies and minds become supple and gentle. They become full of joy and enthusiasm, just like a butterfly that has descended on a pollen filled-flower.  🙂

There is a legend, one of many from the Native American achieves, that  if  you want your wishes to come true, first you must capture a butterfly in your hands, cradle it gently not to harm it, whisper your wish, then let it go.  Since a butterfly can make no sound, the butterfly can not reveal the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who hears and sees all.

In appreciation for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom back, the Great Spirit will grant your wish.

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Taken this summer in Kent,England, at the butterfly sanctuary

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Photo of caterpillar taken by the roadside in France on the journey to England…

Probably the most well-known Butterfly Parable from the Zen Tradition.

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The most well-known of Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu) parables is the Butterfly Dream anecdote, which (in translation by Lin Yutang) goes like this:

Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awakened, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.


This short story points to a number of interesting and much-explored philosophical issues, stemming from the relationship between the waking-state and the dream-state, and/or between illusion and reality: How do we know when we’re dreaming, and when we’re awake? How do we know if what we’re perceiving is “real” or a mere “illusion” or “fantasy”? Is the “me” of various dream-characters the same as or different from the “me” of my waking world? How do I know, when I experience something I call “waking up” that it is actually a waking up to “reality” as opposed to simply waking up into another level of dream?4

Love Its Meaning In The World By Rudolf Steiner – Inspirational Quotations

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Rudolf Steiner lived from 1861-1925. The greatest initiate of the 20th Century, he is one of history’s most original thinkers. Rudolf Steiner’s work is largely unknown in the world today.

Rudolf Steiner once said, “people in the future are not going to get much fun out of  development on the physical plane. They will find that further evolution is possible  only through “spiritual forces.”  This can be accomplished only by surveying a lengthy period of evolution and applying what is discovered through our experiences. This process will become more and more general in the future.” ~ The post today is from my young friend, Jake Murray.

LOVE & ITS MEANING IN THE WORLD by Rudolf Steiner

“One could say that the male body now has a female soul, the female
body a male soul. This inner one-sidedness of the human being is
compensated by fertilisation through the spirit, which abolishes the
one-sidedness. Both the male with the female body and the female soul
with its male body become double-sexed again through fructification by
the spirit. Thus, men and women are different outwardly; internally
their spiritual one-sidedness is rounded out to a harmonious whole.
Internally, spirit and soul are fused into a unit. The spirit’s effect
on the male soul in woman is female, rendering it both male and
female; the spirit’s effect on the female soul in man is male, making
it, too, male and female. The double-sexedness of human beings has
retired from the outer world, where it existed in the pre-Lemurian
period.

One can see that the higher essence of a human being has nothing to do
with man or woman. The inner equality, however, does result from a
male soul in woman and from a female soul in man. The union with the
spirit finally brings about equality; but the fact that a difference
exists before the establishment of the equality involves a secret of
human nature. Understanding this secret is of great significance for
all mystery science and is the key to important enigmas of life. For
the present we are not permitted to lift the veil spread over this
secret…

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/231334.Love_and_Its_Meaning_in_the_World

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There is immense complexity & subtlety here & this passage repays careful scrutiny… The wording is very specific… All I would say is: when talking about subtle bodies – which is what he is doing here when he gets onto spirit & soul – he is not talking about ‘male and female’ in the sense we usually mean…

To me, this passage, which connects with Gnostic, Kabbalist, Alchemical, Platonic, Taoist & Hindu Tantric ideas of the Soul & Body, opens the possibility of understanding ourselves fully as physical men and women, souls and spirits and ultimate something beyond all of that, which preserves the specialness of each domain. It chimes with Jung’s ideas of the Anima & Animus and the universal idea of the Divine Marriage, while preserving the essence of our physical gender in an image of ultimate Wholeness on all levels of our being.

It also, in its vision of the androgynous Self, embraces other combinations of gender- specifically lesbian, gay and transgender. Steiner is saying we are all things, with Wholeness being found in the Divine Union of all of them, but with each unique and special to itself.

And even here, he is tentative. Note he says ‘One could say’ in the first sentence and not ‘The male body has a female soul etc’. Right from the start he is talking not in literal but in metaphorical terms…

~Jake Murray.