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The Divine Androgyne

Sleeping Hermaphroditus. Hermaphroditus: Greek marble, Roman copy of the 2nd century CE after a Hellenistic original of the 2nd century BC, restored in 1619 by David Larique

"When Shiva and Shakti are united, their union is sensual delight. Delight is their reality; their separate existence is only a fiction." ("Karpatri, Lingopasana Rahasya), "The Gods of India: Hindu Polytheism", Alain Daniélou "My other half", "My stronger half", "My beautiful half" are expressions that we utter and hear in daily lives, reflecting, at least in the West, the sentiment expressed in Plato's "Symposium" of love being the pursuit of the whole and: "Once upon a time our anatomy was quite different from what it is now. In the first place there were not merely two sexes as there are now, male and female, but three, and the third was a combination of the other two. This sex itself has disappeared but its name, androgynous, survives. At that time the androgynous sex was distinct in form and name, having physical features from both the male and the female, but only the name now exists, and that as a term of insult. (...) They were awesome in strength and might, and their ambition was great too. They made an assault on the gods, and what Homer says about Ephialtes and Otus is said about these too, that they tried to make an ascent to heaven in order to attack the gods. Zeus and the other gods deliberated about what they should do but found no solution. They could hardly kill them and annihilate the whole race with thunderbolts as they had the giants, for then they would be putting an end also to the worship and sacrifices they received from human beings, but neither could they put up with their insolence. After much hard thought Zeus delivered his conclusion. ‘I think I have a plan’, he said, ‘that will allow humans to exist but at the same time put an end to their outrageous behaviour by making them weaker. For the present I shall split each one of them in half, and that will make them weaker, and at the same time they will be more useful to us by being greater in number. They will walk upright on two legs, and if they persist in their insolence and refuse to keep quiet I will split them in half again, and they will have to hop about on one leg only." The notion of the Divine Androgyny or the existence beyond the bounds of engendered differentiation is repeated in many other traditions. Today's essay will explore how this manifests in different traditions and what does this attribution of Divine tell us about us, humans.


The Divine Unity

"One of the principal aspects of Shiva is the Ardhanarishvara, the hermaphrodite. In the process of creation, "the power to conceive (vimarsha) and the power to fulfil (prakdsha), when reunited, are immediately manifested as a limit point (bindu), or localization which is the starting point of space and time. From this point starts the vibration or sound (ndda) which is the substance of the universe. Space is a female principle, a receptacle, while time is an active, male principle. Their union, symbolized by the divine hermaphrodite, represents the Eros (Kama), the creative impulse." - "Karpatri, Shri Shiva Tattva", quoted by Alain Danielou, "The Gods of India: Hindu Polytheism"

As explained above, Ardhanarishvara is the aspect of Shiva, and one of the forms he takes in iconography. When Shiva is Ardhanarishvara, half of his body, that is, his right side, is male, and the other half, his left side, is female. The first human, or universal Adam, in Abrahamic religions also included both male and female, and from his side, came Eve. "He took one of his sides, and closed the flesh in its place… [And He made it into a woman] and brought her to the man (Gen 2:21), likewise, Muslims know of Jamal (Beautiful) and Jalal (Majestic) aspects of God, which usually corresponds to the feminine and masculine. The unifying aspect (the one that draws inside) being feminine aspect, the one who knows or the intellect being the masculine, and tangible forms being once again, feminine. The Unity of the two so becomes the ultimate Reality of everything. Whether the first principle is masculine or feminine may differ depending on the perspective or primary maxim the tradition takes. Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, mystic, and scholar of comparative religion, reflects on Sophia in Christian tradition: "The first thing to be said of course is that Hagia Sophia is God Himself. God is not only Father but a Mother. He is both at the same time and it is the "feminine aspect" or Feminine principle in the divinity that ist he Hagia Sophia. But of course, as soon as you say this the whole thing becomes misleading, a divison of an "abstract" divinity into two abstract principles. Nevertheless, to ignore the distinction is to lose touch with the fullness of God. This is a very ancient intuition of reality which goes back to the oldest Oriental thought... For the masculine - feminine relationship is basic in all reality simply because all reality mirrors the reality of God. The feminine principle in the universe is the inexhaustible source of creative realizations of the Father's glory in the world and is in fact the manifestation of His glory. Pushing it further, Sophia in ourselves is the Mercy of God, the tenderness which by infinitely mysterious power of pardon turns the darkness of our sins into the light of God's love. Hence Sophia is the feminine, dark, yielding, tender counterpart of the power, justice, creative dynamism of the Father."

- "Merton a Biography", Monica Furlong The famous Buddhist iconography of Yab-Yum, in which the female Buddha is usually sitting on top of a male Buddha is another example of this image. Yab-Yum, from Tibetan, literally translates into "Father-Mother". The male usually represents skillful means and compassion, the female insight and wisdom. Very often in Tantra traditions, the female may be on top or the active, while the male is the passive element. Even in traditions that are not part of Tantra, one can see the "inversion" of what people may traditionally associate with male or female. Gita Govinda, mentions the moment in which Radha, overcome by passion, begins to dominate Krishna: "At the onset of the love battle, Sri Radha, spurred by kama, initiated a vigorous assault, assuming the dominant role in an attempt to gain a hasty victory over Her lover." Also, deities often transform or take the different gender than their original one - in the Greco-Roman mythology Jupiter/Zeus transforms into Diana/Artemis in order to seduce one of her nymphs. Likewise, Shiva was enamoured by Mohini, the female avatar of Vishnu: " As Vishnu remained stubborn, the lord took him in his arms and brought him to the shade of a chdlam tree by the side of the sea, to the north of the continent of the rose-apple tree. There he united with him , still in the form of the Enchantress. The sap which they spilled was transformed into a river which took the name of Ganges... From the union of the Lord and the dark-skinned god was born a child with a black body and red hair, carrying a bouquet in his hand. The three-eyed god gave him the name of Son of Shiva-Vishnu (Arikara-puttiran)." - "Kanda Puranam" as quoted by Alain Daniélou in "Gods of Love and Eccstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus" While the metaphysical principle can be the one or the other, the fact that both male and female often assume both roles (the actor and the acted upon) is to speak above the duality of each. Depending on the relation, one can be the other, and they can change, as they both, in each other's embrace, represent the Unity. She is a he, and he is a she, and both are both. She is him in form, and she is his innermost truth. He is her knowledge of herself, at the same time, she is his mirror through which he knows himself, so she is nobody else but him and he is nobody else but her.

We see here, how the notion that Divine or God is both a mother and a father is a theme that repeats. The whole reality from the Invisible to the Visible, the Non - Manifest to the Manifest exists just because these two are in a constant embrace.


The Effeminate Youth

"The Death of Adonis", Nicolas Bertin (1667 – 1736), French

"The famous "hadith of the vision" ( al-ra'yil ), dream vision or ecstatic vision, in which the Prophet bears witness: "I have seen my Lord in a form of the greatest beauty, as a youth with abundant hair, seated on the Throne of grace ; he was clad in a garment of gold [or a green robe, according to a variant] ; on his hair a golden mitre; on his feet golden sandals. "- Quoted by Henry Corbin in "Alone with Alone" The above mentioned vision that the Muslim Prophet Muhammed had of God is quite known among the mystics. As it is evident, Muhammad had a vision of God in which God appeared or was manifest before him as a beautiful young man, with a golden hair and golden sandals. The first thing we connect to these images are Mediterranean deities and youths - Apollo, Adonis, Dionysus or some other. Or it can be said that it is a vision of the "Puer Aeternus" - The Eternal Boy. The image of the effeminate young man has fascinated many, including the photographer Baron Willhelm von Gloeden, who was known for his Dionysian portraits of South Italian youths.

Puer Aeternus is also an image of the unity of the both masculine and feminine. He looks like a man but is barely differentiated, his features are still in many ways, soft, his bones are lean and narrow, his muscles elongated, he lacks a beard and if someone were to put make up on him or give him a long hair, he could easily pass for a girl. Venus is connected to refinement, and we generally, relate graceful and beautiful as opposed to powerful and penetrative to the feminine. The effeminate youth is a young man that has virility and strength, but it not being authoritative, lustful or predatory as raw virility or strength may often appear. Apollo, who, in the West has become a whole metaphor for masculine beauty, and Michelangelo's David who appears to take Apollo's image, is depicted with beautiful and elongated muscles, instead of broad ones, and Apollo's dominion includes much of what mainstream culture may consider feminine such are poetry, music, beauty, healing or prophecy. An average macho boasting of his strength will easily pejoratively label those interests or fields as "gay". Muslims describe Prophet Muhammed to have had gentle features as well. Although Muslims cannot paint images of the Prophet, he is said to have had almond eyes, long hair that even reached his navel, that he was of medium height, that he had rosy cheeks and curved eyebrows. That Beauty is one of the Faces of God, is also mentioned in the famous hadith: "Jabir reported: "The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty." The effeminate youth may have gotten the adjective "effeminate" because the conceptual mind associates these with femininity, but ultimately, he is simply beautiful, and that which is beautiful points towards Divine & invites Remembrance.


The Inner Human "The final goal of Tantrism is to reunite the two polar principles, Shiva and Shakti, in ones own body." - "Mephistopheles and The Androgyne", Mircea Eliade Exoteric world is the world of limits and boundaries - it is the world of space and time by which each and every being is limited. As Leo Tolstoy said in his "War and Peace", one may choose to move the hand in either direction but you cannot move your arm beyond the limits of the wall on your right or left. You may crush one wall, but ultimately, another wall will appear. The limitations of exoteric world can be burdening and exhausting. At the same time, this burden and exhaustion are exactly the pointers towards the wholeness that humans seek. And while exoteric world limits us by biology or by the social or cultural roles it imposes upon us, and which may change through different eras and places, the esoteric world offers freedom - a freedom not found in an external identity, but freedom found in the knowledge of one's eternity, the self which exists beyond time and space, beyond, sex, gender, language, nation, name, last name and everything else. The journey of Shakti towards her consort Shiva, begins at the lowest chakra - there Tripura Bhairavi sits, embodying the fear and effort, and once she is released, she moves up one's spine, finally becoming Tripura Sundari, who transcending all the triads of states of consciousness, gunas and action, meets the corpse-like Shiva who waits for her in the crown chakra to put him in motion. Once they meet, the two are one and the journey is complete. That said, to be Divine Androgyne is beyond the external gender identity which is highly bound by social and cultural notions of the masculine and the feminine. It is also not about the character or about embodying "feminine" and" masculine" energies or characteristics we associate with each. To become Ardhanarishvara means to realise the innermost truth of entire reality. "The sage Narada began to play the vina. He said, Shiva is the Supreme Being. He has no ancestors, nor family; his only family is the divine word. He is the primordial Sound (Nada)'." - "Shiva Purana", as quoted by Alain Daniélou in "Gods of Love and Eccstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus"


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Andre Audet
Andre Audet
Aug 09, 2021

Metaphysics of Sex by Julius Evola is very interesting on this subject.

Hugo Smith
Hugo Smith
Aug 14, 2021
Replying to

Yep, it was definitely worth reading, though I wasn’t quite prepared for the material at the time.


Hugo Smith
Hugo Smith
Aug 05, 2021

I'm having difficulty grasping how an initiate can achieve this without a member of the opposite sex. If I were to represent Shiva, how would I achieve Ardhanarishvara without a woman to embody Shakti? At the same time, I can't imagine a man and a woman coming together in such a way without their awareness their own separate Self intact. Thoughts?

Also, the thoughts here remind me a lot of the author Miguel Serrano, especially his works El/Ella and Nos: Book of the Resurrection.

Replying to

Without the member of the opposite sex, it is usually (in Tantric practices), done through meditation & visualization - a man visualises himself as a woman and vice versa. But I agree that it is very difficult, and that's why usually there's an external Shiva or Shakti, as it is much easier that way. They come with awareness of separate self but also with intent to overcome the separation & achieve the non-dual state of mind. Thank you very much for your thoughts, kind works & for taking time to read this essay.

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