Sexing Up Gods

So, got another review over the weekend, this one from friend and fellow author Gord Sellar. Gord is an English professor, so as you might imagine his review was very thorough and deconstructiony and contained many 12-cent words, which I kinda loved. He warns of spoilers at the outset, and he’s not kidding, so be forewarned.

But his post triggered some thinking for me, on the topic of sex and gods.

I live in the US, and was raised Christian, of a particular variety of Christianity that pretty much had this to say about sex: “Sex? Where did you hear that word? Don’t talk about it ’til you’re married — to a man!!!11! — and want babies. Next question!” And even though I’ve since become more like an agnostic (except not skeptical — more in the “seeking” sense), that early upbringing still affects my thinking. So I will admit that when I was coming up with the cosmology for the Inheritance Trilogy universe, I found myself balking at making it, well, sexy.

Which was silly. One of the things that’s always fascinated me about older (than Christianity) belief systems is the fact that gods in those systems get it on with the quickness. When I was a girl, I read books about ancient mythology the way other girls read romance novels — and there wasn’t much difference, because mine were chock-full of “hot parts” too. I remember the tale of Osiris’ resurrection, and how his wife Isis was really upset that he didn’t have a penis when she undeaded him, so she frantically cobbled together a spiffy new clay dildo for him. And of course Greek mythology had Zeus, who would pretty much hump anything that held still long enough (or chase it down if it didn’t). I went to school in a conservative Southern town, so when we covered Greek mythology it was only certain stories — the Hercules stuff, mostly, sort of glossing over how he was born except to note that Hera was a horrible jealous shrew for no particular reason (yeah, I know). There was a bit about Athena’s virgin birth, and so on. But I kept reading on my own, and found out Zeus was just as quick to jump the pretty boys as the pretty girls, and Hera was Zeus’ big sister and could kick his ass, and actually Hera didn’t start getting described as a jealous shrew until the worshipers of Zeus started to worry that having a powerful wife made their boy seem weak. (As, somehow, his inability to keep it in his pants did not.) Homosexuality! Incest! May-December relationships! Defiance of traditional gender roles! Religion as a tool of power! None of this got covered in school. Who needed V. C. Andrews when I had stuff like that to play with instead?

And much later I started reading myths from other cultures, and found out most of them don’t stint on the sexxay. For example, I positively devoured stories about Shiva — some of which were Western distortions of original tales, note. But I will admit that what got my attention was the giant flaming penis. I mean, come on. To borrow from a more recent belief system, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar… but sometimes it’s a giant flaming penis.

An example of the stylized penis, or linga, as represented in art.  Shiva sits before it; Brahma and Vishnu are bowing to him.

What fascinated me particularly was the fact that the believers of these faiths considered these highly sexual stories to be just as important, just as sacred, just as spiritually uplifting and clarifying, as any other aspect of the faith. Which is perfectly understandable; sex is a quintessential part of mortal life. Why shouldn’t we study sex, venerate it, seek the deeper meaning in it, the same way we seek meaning in/venerate birth and death and all the other quintessential aspects of mortal life? And why shouldn’t our god/gods embody all these aspects of ourselves? Especially if we are, in fact, made in God’s image.

So when I constructed the pantheon of the Inheritance Trilogy, I built in both family politics and sexual politics. But as I considered the ways in which these politics might play out, I realized that the ancient myths had glossed over a great many aspects of mortal sexual life. For example, Hera kept putting up with Zeus, even though he cheated on her a bajillion times. Why didn’t she ever just divorce him and make a boytoy out of Hermes? Or stab him in his sleep, if she was really that crazy jealous, instead of going after his lovers? Or propose an open marriage so that at least they could both retain some dignity? Or ask Aphrodite for a cure for his obvious sex addiction? Granted, this is papering modern sensibilities over ancient social structures, to some degree. Except… it’s not. I’m pretty sure there were divorces and sex addictions and wives who got theirs back in ancient Greece. This, too, is part of the human condition, and many of those ancient mythologies fail to reflect this. This is probably because myths are also archetypal; the gods of these faiths aren’t people, really, with foibles and unpredictable behavior and traumas that impact their future behavior. They’re representations of the societies from which they’re born, so they’re restricted to behaving in ways those societies dictate.

So what I decided to do was simply take the archetype out of the picture. Oh, it’s there to some degree — each god in the Inheritance Trilogy represents a concept, or a state of existence, or several things at once. But beyond that, these gods are people. And people, IMO, can be far sexier than mere archetypes.

Then I just started having fun. Wouldn’t the god of chaos be kind of wild in bed? Changing shapes, manifesting, er, bits in odd places, and so on? Wouldn’t the god of order be a bondage dominant? The goddess of life and death could make her lovers feel more alive at the moment of orgasm than ever in their whole existence… and then they’d die, happy. What about the god of obligation? He’d prefer monogamy, and would literally lose it if his lover cheated. Could a trickster be a good lover, if you could never trust him? And the goddess of hunger, perhaps, would be the most dangerous lover of all.

I tried to get more complex than this, of course; people aren’t simple. But that’s how I started out, anyway.

Let me know what you think, once you’ve had a chance to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. (Not long now!)

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9 Responses »

  1. This made me think of “Talking Dirty to the Gods,” an excellent book of poems by Pulitzer Prize winner Yusef Komunyakaa — probably my favorite living American poet. Divinity, mythology, sex, and race get mashed up beautifully in some of the poems. And, um, check out the cover:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0374272557/pifaliterajournaA

  2. Hey!! I saw that image! When I went to Sicily a few years ago, we visited the Museo Archeologico Regionale, and I remember being amused by how many images I saw of men toting around, playing with, and even transforming into giant penises. That was one of them!

    Must read this book of poetry now. =)

  3. Just read the first 3 chapters and went straight to preorder on Amazon- can’t wait!

    I tried to follow you on Amazon but it won’t give me the option to for some reason… wonder if anyone else is having issues.

  4. Hi Cat,

    Glad you liked it! Hope you enjoy the rest.

    Not sure what you mean by “follow” me on Amazon. I don’t really have any running commentary there; I’ve been posting a few old blog posts there, but there’s nothing to subscribe to. I prefer for people to come here. =) So, hiya!

  5. That was a very informative post. Now I’m even more eager to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I needed only the first chapter to convince me that I have to read it

  6. ::huge grin:: I may never get over hearing people say that. Thanks!

  7. You’re welcome. I ordered the book last night. Now I look forward to read and review it.

  8. haha! This is a great post. I just read the smugglers review for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and I’m reading the second chapter on your site (after finishing the first). I’m totally sold. Would have bought it today if Waterstones hasn’t closed for the day. I live in the UK, btw :)

The Broken Earth Book Two:

The Obelisk Gate

Thumbnail of The Obelisk Gate cover

Read Sample Chapter 1


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