Mystery Religions and fertility cults arrived from the west via the Indian-Bengal corridor, spreading through Tibet and Southwest China, Southeast Asia and Japan

The Shinto Kanamara Matsuri (かなまら祭り “Festival of the Steel Phallus”) is held each spring at the Kanayama shrine (金山神社) in Kawasaki, Japan. The exact dates vary: the main festivities fall on the first Sunday in April. The penis, as the central theme of the event, is reflected in illustrations, candy, carved vegetables, decorations, and a mikoshi parade.

The Kanamara Matsuri is centered around a local penis-venerating shrine once popular among prostitutes who wished to pray for protection from sexually transmitted diseases. It is said that there are also divine protections for business prosperity and for the clan’s prosperity; and for easy delivery, marriage, and married-couple harmony. There is also a legend of a sharp-toothed demon (vagina dentata) that hid inside the vagina of a young woman and castrated two young men on their wedding nights. As a result, the young woman sought help from a blacksmith, who fashioned an iron phallus to break the demon’s teeth, which lead to the enshrinement of the item. — wikipedia: Kanamara Festival

Hōnen Matsuri (Harvest Festival), whose main features include a 2.5 meter-long wooden phallus.

Hōnen Matsuri (豊年祭 Harvest Festival) is a fertility festival celebrated every year in Komaki town, just north of Nagoya city on March 15 in Japan. Hōnen means prosperous year in Japanese, implying a rich harvest, while a matsuri is a festival. The Hōnen festival and ceremony celebrate the blessings of a bountiful harvest and all manner of prosperity and fertility.

The best known of these festivals takes place in the town of Komaki, just north of Nagoya City. The festival’s main features are Shinto priests playing musical instruments, a parade of ceremonially garbed participants, all-you-can-drink sake, and a 280 kg (620 pound), 2.5 meter (96 inch)-long wooden phallus. The wooden phallus is carried from a shrine called Shinmei Sha (in even-numbered years) on a large hill or from Kumano-sha Shrine (in odd-numbered years), to a shrine called Tagata Jinja.

The festival’s main features are Shinto priests playing musical instruments, a parade of ceremonially garbed participants, all-you-can-drink sake, and a 280 kg (620 pound), 2.5 meter (96 inch)-long wooden phallus. The wooden phallus is carried from a shrine called Shinmei Sha (in even-numbered years) on a large hill or from Kumano-sha Shrine (in odd-numbered years), to a shrine called Tagata Jinja…. where all sorts of foods and souvenirs (mostly phallus-shaped or related) are sold. Sake is also passed out freely from large wooden barrels. At about 2:00 p.m. everyone gathers at Shinmei Sha for the start of the procession. Shinto priests say prayers and impart blessings on the participants and mikoshi, as well as on the large wooden phallus, which are to be carried along the parade route.

When the procession makes its way down to Tagata Jinja the phallus in its mikoshi is spun furiously before it is set down and more prayers are said. Everyone then gathers in the square outside Tagata Jinja and waits for the mochi nage, at which time the crowd is showered with small rice cakes which are thrown down by the officials from raised platforms.  — Wikipedia Honen Matsuri

Many phallic shrines are usually paired with a female deity at a shrine in the vicinity.

At folk level, mithuna-like pair couple steles may still be found dotting the Japanese landscape today.

Mithuna images are amorously entwined couples featured on Indian high-reliefs and statues found in temples such as Khajuraho and Konarak Sun Temple. Maithuna or Mithuna have clear ritual contexts, used in Tantric teachings, to refer to the sexual union of male-female couples in the physical, sexual sense and is synonymous with kriya nishpatti (mature cleansing), and maithuna is effective only then when the union is consecrated. The couple become for the time being divine: she is Shakti and he is Shiva. However, some sects and schools e. g. Yogananda consider this to be a purely mental and symbolic act. It constitutes the main and important part of the Grand Ritual of Tantra variously known as PanchamakaraPanchatattva, and Tattva Chakra.

Mithuna Loving Couple

Mithuna Loving Couple

Pictured above is an example of a mithuna Loving Couple, 13th c. sculpture from Orissa now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum. Its webpage gives us an explanation of its cosmic significance and symbolism:

A Hindu temple was often envisioned as the world’s central axis, in the form of a mountain inhabited by a god. The temple itself was therefore worshipped. This was done by circumambulation (walking around the exterior, in this case in a counterclockwise direction) and by viewing its small inner sanctum. The outside of the temple was usually covered with myriad reliefs: some portrayed aspects of the god within or related deities; others represented the mountain’s mythological inhabitants. From early times, iconic representations of deities and holy figures were augmented by auspicious images, such as beautiful women, musicians, and loving couples (mithunas). Once part of the subsidiary decoration of a temple facade, the figures of this bejeweled couple embrace while peering rapturously into each other’s eyes. Their full bodies and broad, detailed features are characteristic of architectural sculptures produced in thirteenth-century Orissa, a region in northeast India that was noted for its temples, particularly those built from the tenth through the thirteenth century, often distinguished by figures in astonishingly acrobatic and erotic poses. Couples such as this pair are understood to have multiple meanings, ranging from an obvious celebration of life’s pleasures to the more metaphorical symbolism of a human soul’s longing for union with the divine.”

Hundreds of stone images of the celestial couple called Uma-Maheswar (similar to those found in Japan’s countryside byways), are found in Kathmandu Valley’s lanes and bahas, but many have disappeared targeted by art thieves (see Stolen Statuary). Based on the Indian image of Shiva-Parvati couple in agreeable companionship atop Mount Kailash, they are said to have been sponsored around 900 years ago by the local nobility.
The mithuna feature in Indian traditional dances and plays, where a special Homa is dedicated to Lord Shiva (Maheshwara) and his counterpart Shakti (Uma) to resolve problems between married couples. It is strongly believed that Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti are the epitomes of mercy and compassion and the marital harmony between the celestial beings, considered the most inseparable and exceptional.  In the dance form of ‘Kuchipudi Prasasthi’, the origin of dance is called ‘Ananda Siva Tandavam’ — also called ‘Sivakalpa drumamu’ — and according to the tradition of the Kuchipudi Dance Academy, young students of dance are told by their guru (Dega Sambasiva Rao) that an ankle bell of Lord Siva fell on earth where Kuchipudi village stands now. According to another play sequence and a song Himagiri Adi Dampatula, set in Siva’s abode Kailasam, the cosmic dance of the celestial couple Siva and Parvati was the origin of dance.

The third zodiac sign in the Tropical Zodiac in Indian Astrology, which in India is not a figure of twins of Gemini (astrology) as in the West, but that of a man and woman representing Maithuna, derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Mithuna’, a couple. The only difference is that Mithuna is represented by a man, and a woman. The dates occupied under this sign is June 16 to July 15.

According to the Vedic principles of Marriage expounded by Sri Aurobindo Kapali Shastri Institute of Vedic Culture, Indian marriage rites are a performed re-enactment of the union between the celestial couple. During the Indian wedding event , the groom symbolically represents Lord Uma-Maheswara, lord Lakshmi-Narayan and Shachi-Indra while the wife is consecrated to Soma, then Gandharva and Agni. Rice grains are scattered over the couple’s heads after ceremonial washing with milk and sacred water from Kalasha. The groom ties a sacred thread around bride’s neck (a necklace), the symbol of the eternality of life and commitment and protection, and finally both bride and groom circumambulate the sacred fire in seven steps and offerings of rice corn are made to the fire god Agni. According to the Vedic system of marriage, the role of carrying out the chanting of prayers to the sun, is that the bride is first possessed by the deity of Soma, later by the deity Gandharva, and thirdly, the deity Agni becomes her master, who gives her to the humanly husband. Soma, the presiding lord for all plant life and the human mind, is the purifying force for woman, while Agni makes her fit for all sacrifices. 

Now, Japan has in its earliest chronicles, a royal myth of “Izanami and Izanagi” that approximates the elements of the Indian cosmic dance between Vishnu(Indra) and Parvati, in the tradition of the Samudra Manthan Churning of the Ocean of Milk.  In the creation myth cycle of Izanagi and Izanami, though a simpler and truncated and streamlined version of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk…  the key elements are there. The cosmic couple churn the briny ocean (with a phallic spear), they dance around a Cosmic Pillar, an allusion to Mt Meru or Mt Mandara found in the Hindu-Purana and Khmer Angkor Wat versions. The celebration of this ritual has been maintained through the ages in major related shrines in Japan.  The immortality motif is also evident in the Underworld cycle of the Izanagi and Izanami myth. Izanagi braves the Underworld following Izanami there.  Apart from the churning of the ocean, immortality (equivalent to regenerating and protective power) is implied in the power of the peaches that are thrown at the demon-asuras to hold death at bay as Izanagi escapes the demons of the Underworld.  In China, peaches are a part of Taoist the demon-repelling arsenal. The watery and purification element is further emphasized in harae rituals that have developed since those ancient times, and that are a central element of Japanese shrine and Shintoism practices today. See Churning of the Ocean of Milk Mt Meru-Mandara and elixirs of immortality for more.
Izanagi and Izanami is also performed as a dance, and part of the Takachiho Yokagura repertoire of 33 ancient dances. The dance is known as the Creation of Japan Dance or Goshintai (sacred object) Dance in which Izanagi and Izanami, the god and goddess, who created Japan, dance as they make and drink sake. Here, Japanese sake wine replaces the Soma as the elixir of life of the Indian Churning of the Ocean Milk tradition. The Yokagura is performed to thank for a good harvest, and as a prayer for next year’s harvest.

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The Kanamara “demon” and various phallic symbols enshrined in shrines around Japan are likely to have kinship or an origin in phallic and fertility sacred grove cults that worshipped the deities Dionysus- and Priapus, and such derived cults. The fertility gods were worshipped by the Greeks, Phrygians and the Romans.

Sara Peterson in her well-researched and argued “An account of the Dionysiac presence in Indian art and culture” traces the arrival of the Dionysus cult to actual attested events of the arrival of either Alexander the Great or a military leader called Dionysus in Nysa India, that set off thenceforth the recognizable Dionysiac related iconography and traits in Indian art and culture.

Priapus or Priapos was the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite. Priapus was the god of fertility and sex of human and animals. Priapus was normally portrayed in art as an ugly and deformed satyr-like creature with abnormally huge phallus. Of course the phallus was symbol of sexual potency and fertility. Priapus had been identified with another Egyptian god of fertility, Min. Priapus was sometimes called Ithyphallus or Tychon. –– Source: Anatolian Deities

The mystery religions and fertility cults are thought to have an origin in Anatolia, spreading to Thrace, Greece and Rome. From the Roman-Greek Hellenistic world, the cults with their priesthood caste may have emerged out of Fergana-Margiana (Bactria) to India and Southeast Asia (see Priests of the GoddessBlueprint of a Goddess:

At the time of the birth of Christ, cults of men devoted to a goddess flourished throughout the broad region extending from the Mediterranean to south Asia. While galli were missionizing the Roman Empire, kalû, kurgarrû, and assinnu continued to carry out ancient rites in the temples of Mesopotamia, and the third-gender predecessors of the hijra were clearly evident. To complete the picture we should also mention the eunuch priests of Artemis at Ephesus; the western Semitic qedeshim, the male “temple prostitutes” known from the Hebrew Bible and Ugaritic texts of the late second millennium; and the keleb, priests of Astarte at Kition and elsewhere. Beyond India, modern ethnographic literature documents gender variant shaman-priests throughout southeast Asia, Borneo, and Sulawesi. All these roles share the traits of devotion to a goddess, gender transgression and homosexuality, ecstatic ritual techniques (for healing, in the case of galli and Mesopotamian priests, and fertility in the case of hijra), and actual (or symbolic) castration. Most, at some point in their history, were based in temples and, therefore, part of the religious-economic administration of their respective city-states.”

The mystery-religions-phallic-tree-fertility cults flourished in the broad regions of the Near East spreading to South Asia and East Asia:

Anatolia and Mesopotamia

“Mother goddess. Cybele (Kybele) was a Phrygian (Turkey today) mother goddess, who was worshipped in Greece and Rome. She had often being equated with the two other Greek mother goddesses – Rhea (Ops) and Demeter (Ceres). Magna Mater was really no stranger to Roman religion, as the mate of Saturnus and with Tellus Mater, the traditional Mother Earth. Cybele was so revered that she was often called “The Mother of All” or “The Great Mother of the Gods“.– Mother Earth in Rome

“Attis, the Phrygian shepherd, whose worship became part of the cult of Cybele. In varying mythological accounts, Attis is killed or is driven insane and castrates himself, as the result of jealousy and passions arising from an ill-fated love affair. Attis’ fate served as the model for the galli priests, who underwent castration to become Cybele’s dedicated and chaste servants.”

Castration as part of religious practice, and eunuchs occupying religious roles have been established prior to classical antiquity. Archaeological finds at Çatalhöyük in Anatolia indicate worship of a ‘Magna Mater’ figure, a forerunner of the Cybele goddess found in later Anatolia and other parts of the near East.[42] Later Roman followers of Cybele, were called Galli, who practiced ritual self-castration, known as sanguinaria..” — Eunuch (Wikipedia)

“the Sumerian myth called “The Creation of Man” (ca. 2000 B.C.E.) relates how Ninmah fashioned seven types of physically challenged persons, including “the woman who cannot give birth” and “the one who has no male organ, no female organ.” Enki finds each one an occupation and position in society-the sexless one “stands before the king,” while the barren woman is the prototype for the naditum priestesses. These proceedings are echoed in the Akkadian myth of Atrahasis (Atra-hasis) (ca. 1700 B.C.E.), where Enki instructs the Lady of Birth (Nintu) to establish a “third (category) among the people,” which includes barren women, a demon who seizes babies from their mothers, and priestesses who are barred from childbearing (3.7.1).”

Mystery religions and cults of the Greco-Roman world

“One could also find public cults not requiring an initiation ceremony into secret beliefs and practices. The Greek Olympian religion and its Roman counterpart are examples of this type of religion.
Each Mediterranean region produced its own mystery religion. Out of Greece came the cults of Demeter and Dionysus, as well as the Eleusinian and Orphic mystery religions, which developed later.” –Mystery Religion: What were the Mystery Religions?

Cults and mystery religions of Egypt, the Middle East and Persia

The cult of Isis and Osiris (later changed to Serapis) originated in Egypt, while Syria and Palestine saw the rise of the cult of Adonis. Finally, Persia (Iran) was a leading early locale for the cult of Mithras, which — due to its frequent use of the imagery of war — held a special appeal to Roman soldiers. Persia (Iran) was a leading early locale for the cult of Mithras, which — due to its frequent use of the imagery of war — held a special appeal to Roman soldiers. The earlier Greek mystery religions were state religions in the sense that they attained the status of a public or civil cult and served a national or public function. The later non-Greek mysteries were personal, private, and individualistic. —  — Mystery Religion: What were the Mystery Religions?

South Asia’s cosmic couple and divine (sexual tantric) union:

” ..in the story of Siva at the beginning of the world. Brahma and Vishnu had asked Siva to create the world. Siva agreed but plunged himself into the water for a thousand years to meditate. Impatient, Visnu gave Brahma the female power of creation, and Brahma created the gods and other beings. When Siva finally emerged, he found the universe already filled, so he broke off his phallus and threw it to the earth, saying, “There is no use for this linga except to create creatures.” This does not render him asexual, however. Rather, the circulation of his phallus through the cult of the linga extends his sexual power to the universe. In a similar way, the flow of blood during the castration of hijra is believed to empty them of both desire and gender. Because of this, they can serve as vehicles for the transmission of the sexual energy of the goddess-they become her phallus, as it were, erotic ascetics. Thus, the radically & ldquode-oedipalized” body of the priest of the goddess, in ways mysterious to us, is bound up with techniques of ecstasy…” — Priests of the Goddess | Gender transgression in ancient religions

Southeast Asia and East Asia’s Womb Mother-Goddesses and the Taoist yin-yang male-female principle:

“E. M. Chen (1974), in her article dedicated to the role of the female principle in Chinese philosophy, notes that some aspects of Lao-tzu’s concept of Tao makes it possible to propose that the formation of the teaching about Tao as a philosophical idea was preceded by the cult of some Mother-Goddess which was connected with the genesis of Taoism (Chen, 1974, p.53; Kravtsova, 1994, pp.208-213). She notes that in the description of Tao in the Tao Te ching there are all the meanings which are essential for the Mother-Goddess cult: Tao is like an empty vessel (§4); voidness (§5); mysterious darkness (§1); it is nonborn, but, nevertheless, it is the predecessor of the Heavenly Lord (§4); it is the Mysterious Female which is the gate of Heaven and Earth (§6); mother (§1, 20, 25, 52); female (or hen-§10, 28); female (§61); and Mother of all under heaven (§25, 34). … 

Two aspects or “hypostases” of Tao: about Tao as “mysterious womb” and Tao as mother-nurse of all beings. Here we can recall the words of the famous commentator and thinker, Wang Pi (3 A.D.), that “Mysterious” (or “Unnamed”) Tao nourishes and bears all creatures, and phenomenal named Tao feeds them; the analogous description Wang Pi gives to the character of the interrelations between Tao and Te.

What about the last sentence of the passage? It can be said that the character miao (mystery) of the sentence consists of two elements: “woman” and “little.” We can suppose that its use here is not arbitrary. It is not too difficult to “ascribe” its etymology (probably it is not a scientific one) as this:

“something, that is little inside a woman,” that is, embryo hidden in the womb, like the prototypes of things (see §21) are hidden in the “womb” of Tao. This opinion may be supported by the fact that the images of the womb and embryo are often used by Taoists to describe the “Tao-world” relation. So Tao can be metaphorically defined as the mother of the world, the source of life and being, and the universal female archetype. It is quite essential to understand the Taoist doctrine of immortality as well, because this doctrine considers Tao to be the life-giving principle which gives eternal life to the adept who has obtained unity with it. …

Then in the midst of darkness, Cave of Emptiness was born [K’ung tung]. In this Cave of Emptiness, Great Absence was born. Great Absence changed itself into three pneumata: Mysterious, Original and Principal. Being in chaotic mixture, these pneumata gave birth to Jade Maid of the profound Mystery [Hsuan miao yu nü]. After her birth joining pneumata twisted in her body and by their transformations they bore Lao-tar… When he was born he had grey hair. So he was called Old infant [i.e., Lao-tar]. This Lao-tzu is Lord Lao. By his transformation he created from his pneumata Heaven and Earth, people and things. Thus he has created everything by his transformations.
This passage clearly tells us that Lao-tar was his own mother. Another passage tells us about the “historical” birth of Lao-tar:

In the time of King Wu Ting of Yin dynasty, Lao-tar once again entered the womb of Mother Li . .. When he was born, his hair was grey again. Therefore he was again called Old Infant… What about his coming back to the embryonic state in the Mother Li’s womb?; it must be understood that he himself has changed his subtle various body into the body of Mother Li, entering thus his own womb. In reality there was no Mother Li. Unwise people now say that Lao-tar entered Mother Li’s womb from inside. In reality, it is not so. (Tao tsang, Vol.876; see also Schipper, 1978, p.365)

K. M. Schipper notes that none of the most ancient myths about Lao-tar’s birth tell about the father of Lao-tar. Even his family name (Li) Lao-tar received from his mother (“Li” literally means “plum”). According to some versions, Lao-tar was born because his mother ate the kernel of a plum (Schipper, 1978, p.365).[ recall the kernal of the almond image]

Thus, in Taoist texts, Tao is conceived of as a female maternal principle personified in the image of the male-female androgyne Lao-tar (Berthier, 1979; Seidel, 1969, p.64). Moreover, texts stress only his female aspect, because Tao bears the universe by itself; its “male” aspect does not participate in this process at all.

In the myths mentioned above, the founder of Taoism is conceived of as universal panantropos, the All-Man, who enjoys everlasting bliss in the maternal womb of Tao with which he is connected so perfectly-like a foetus and its mother constituting one and the same body. It is quite obvious that myths of this kind (myths of a rather early date, as we have seen), underline the importance of the theme of perfection as a prenatal state for Taoism. They also explain in great part why the authorship of such a basic (though not uniquely basic) text of Taoism was ascribed to the person called Old Infant. (I refer here to the traditional view of Lao-tar as the author of the Tao Te ching.) It is also interesting that the Taoists prefer to interpret the name of Lao-tzu as Old Infant or Old Baby but not as Old Sage. It seems to me that understanding the role and meaning of the prenatal symbolism in Taoism would serve as a general key to the right insight into the whole system of Taoist thought.

If the baby of §20 is a sage, Lao-tzu himself; who then is the mother? The information above makes it possible to conclude that this mother is the great Tao itself; it is the eternal and unspeakable Way and mysterious ground of every existence; the hidden depth of this Tao is the womb wherein the baby-sage dwells. This image directly correlates with Taoist cosmology and cosmogony. It considers Tao to be something like a cosmic womb which embraces the whole universe. —The Doctrine of the Mystery Religion

Northern Asia and Eastern Asia’s cosmic brother-sister (of the Underworld):

A notable creation myth originating in China’s western Shaanxi and TianshuiGansu provinces include the flood legend, of the only survivors Fu Xi and his sister Nüwa of a great flood, after which they retired to the mythological Kunlun Mountain, where they made an altar to and prayed for a sign from the Emperor of Heaven. The divine being approved their union and the siblings set about procreating the human race. In order to speed up the process, Fu Xi and Nüwa used clay to create human figures, and with the power divine entrusted to them made the clay figures come alive. Fu Xi then as progenitor became ruler over China’s descendants. A stone tablet, dated 160 CE, shows Fu Xi with Nüwa. A painting of Fuxi and Nuwa from the Astana tombs, in Xinjiang is dated to 8th c.(Tang dynasty) while the Fuxi and Nuwa motif found on wall mural incised decorations of the Wuliang tomb in Jiaxiang county, Shandong province, is dated to 2nd c. AD. Eastern Han dynasty (206 – 220 A.D.).”  The Astana tomb painting has clear sacred geometry motifs of compass and square, while the cosmic nature of the couple is evident from the sun and moon and astral  dipper star motifs (see Nuwa and Fuxi in Chinese Mythology: Compass & Square) for more.
Cosmic brother-sister couples of Northern Eurasia often found in marriage dirges are associated with the otherworldly Land of the Dead, world of gods, see excerpt below from Aado Lintrop’s “The Great Oak and Brother-Sister” (Electronic Journal of Folklore, Vol. 16  ISSN 1406-0957)
…the fact that no-one except for the sister recognises the brother may also be associated with returning from the Land of the Dead.
One of the common beliefs of North-Eurasian people is that those who have passed on to the other world are invisible to all but humans with supernatural powers. Hence the deceased brother remains invisible to all the living except for his sister, who could in fact foresee his going to war (and death?). Madis Arukask (1998: 40–43) has suggested in his thesis that in some Setu songs the war is not merely an event, but symbolises “certain mythological substance, elemental forces”. The younger brother seems to be out of luck – once he is drowning, then he is caught into war. As mentioned above, in ‘The Drowned Brother’ song the sister uses her jewellery to foretell her brother’s fate.
In the runo-songs the sister always appears to be more active than her brother is. She is the one who looks for him, calls him for help, sends him to war, welcomes him back, recognises him, etc. Consider for example the opening of a randomly picked song:
The brother makes woodwork, fells trees, builds bridges, and fights the war, but always on the request or prediction of his sister. This is also manifest in the motif of visiting the underworld. Sister/ maiden/Sun goes herself and brings her brush, finds the sword and returns with it, but the brother leaves home only because his sister has brought the tidings of war, and when he returns he again needs her help to get accustomed to living among people. At the same time it seems that the sister cannot always control the powers she has. In such cases (like in ‘the Great Oak’ song) the brother comes to help her and functions as a certain balancing force, which will restore the shaken world order. The greater activeness and independence of the sister in the runo-songs could also be explained by the fact that runo-songs were sung by women. However, in the ObUgrian folktales concerning the mythical couple it is also the sister who seems to trigger the events. But those stories were mostly told by men The sledge that was started on St. John’s Day was finished by the winter solstice, when visitors from the other world were expected.
In a version of ‘The Crying Oak’ from Haljala parish the brothers are asked to build a bridge from the chips of the Great Tree A more well-known motif, often linked to ‘The Miracle House’ is building a sauna over the swamp:
“The moon for a door / Golden roosts inside,/Silver perches.”
I believe that originally the motif of building a sauna or bridges over the swamps had a mythological background, emphasising the connection between the worlds of the living and the dead. The mi-52 grating birds that bathed in the sauna served as mediators with the other world and messengers from the Land of the Dead. Balto-Finnic death dirges suggest that even the souls of the deceased were called back in the form of a bird. The sauna as the remotest and the least used facility of a farm was closest to the creatures of the supernatural spheres. The Udmurts also believed that the solstice visitors lived in the saunas.
The motif of bridge appears in a number of calendrical winter songs of the Slavonic people. E.g. the following extract from a Belorussian folk song (Vinogradova 1982: 159):
All the above arguments do not necessarily mean that all the runo song motifs of building the bridge or sauna and making the sledge are mythological. Yet I would like to point out that in Udmurtia, where the family is still honoured, the last sacrifice to a deceased mother or father has been celebrated as a symbolic wedding where the family of the deceased and the inhabitants of the other world attend as equal parties (as guests from the bride’s and the groom’s sides at real weddings). It is possible that several Estonian song motifs connected to wedlock and marriage may have been used at death and funeral customs …”

Concepts of offerings or service by castrated and virgin agents

Japan’s miko and the concept of the virgin priestess:

The origin of the miko virgin priestess of Shinto shrines in Japan may also have had an origin in the caste of impotent/virgin/ prostitute/priests and priestesses that supported the mystery religions and fertility cults:

“The frequent references to priests of the goddess as “eunuchs” or “impotent” males points to another important commonality in the ancient construction of male and female genders. A little known episode in Roman legal history is especially revealing in this regard. In 77 B.C.E., a slave named Genucius, a priest of Cybele, attempted to take possession of goods left him in a will by a freedman, but this was disallowed by the authorities on the grounds that he had voluntarily mutilated himself (amputatis sui ipsius) and could not be counted among either women or men (neque virorum neque mulierum numero) (Valerius Maximus, 7.7.6). Presumably, only women and men qualified to exercise inheritance rights, and this privilege of their gender identity was, in turn, a function of their ability to reproduce. This seemingly minor case nonetheless underscores the way in which gender identity and citizenship were linked in societies of the Oikoumene region-that is, in patriarchal, agrarian city-states. Gender, to borrow Judith Butler’s terminology, was performative, or rather, to be even more specific, productive. Gender identity hinged not on the degree of one’s masculinity or femininity, the direction of one’s sexual orientation, nor even one’s role in the gendered division of labor but on one’s ability to produce children, in particular males. In a patrilineal kinship system, it is the labor of male children on which the paterfamilias has the greatest claim. As anthropological research has shown, peasants around the world typically seek to improve their lot in life by having more children and thereby increasing the supply of labor for family-based production. Having male children is the central imperative of gender, as a social category, a role, and a personal identity in most patriarchal agrarian societies.

From this perspective, males or females who are unable to reproduce, who are impotent, whether for physiological or psychological reasons, or who lack or forswear heterosexual desire, including those who desire the same sex, all fail to qualify for adult male or female gender identity. Being neither, they tend instead to be categorized together as members of an alternative gender or of subdivisions of male and female genders. Like male and female, these roles are also attributed specific traits, skills, and occupations. In the same way that men’s activities are “male” and women’s are “female,” what galli, hijra or gala do comes to be seen as intrinsic to their alternative gender identities.” — Priests of the Goddess | Gender transgression in ancient religion

Evidence of such “castrated” or “impotent” castes:

Out of Ur, Sumeria:

The earliest records for intentional castration to produce eunuchs are from the Sumerian city of Lagash in the 21st century BC, according to “Animal and human castration in Sumer, Part II: Human castration in the Ur III period“. Zinbun [1980, Journal of the Research Institute for Humanistic Studies, Kyoto University], pp. 1–56 Maekawa, Kazuya (1980).

Mesopotamia and Egypt:

Eunuchs were familiar figures in the Assyrian Empire (ca. 850 until 622 BCE) in the court of the Egyptian Pharaohs (down to the Lagid dynasty known as Ptolemies, ending with Cleopatra). —Eunuch, Wikipedia

Out of Ancient Greece, Rome and Byzantium:

The practice was also well established in Europe among the Greeks and Romans, although a role as court functionaries does not arise until Byzantine times. The Galli or Priests of Cybele were eunuchs.

In the late period of the Roman Empire, after the adoption of the oriental royal court model by the Emperors Diocletian and Constantine, Emperors were surrounded by eunuchs for such functions as bathing, hair cutting, dressing, and bureaucratic functions, in effect acting as a shield between the Emperor and his administrators from physical contact, enjoyed great influence in the Imperial Court (see Eusebius and Eutropius). Eunuchs were believed loyal and indispensable.[citation needed]

However, it was not uncommon for wives to have sex with partially castrated eunuchs (those whose testicles were removed or rendered inactive only), hence the bitter epigram: “Do you ask, Panychus, why your Caelia only consorts with eunuchs? Caelia wants the flowers of marriage – not the fruit.” — Eunuch, Wikipedia

“Eunuchs, like oxen, were useful. The word itself comes from a Greek compound of “bed” and “guard.” Eunuchs had the responsibility of guarding the marriage bed. “They were qualified for that social function by being disqualified from a biological one.” Eunuchs promoted the harem system because a dominant man could thereby ensure that his harem would bear only his children. Importantly, it must have been realized that eunuchs were capable of desire, of erections, of orgasm, and even of ejaculation, but any semen produced contained no sperm. Diddling within the harem would have meant little, since there could be no issue. The Romans and Ottomans used eunuchs for centuries but eventually introduced the sensible precaution of importing rather than manufacturing them” — Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood

Out of Byzantine:

“At the Byzantine imperial court, there were a great number of eunuchs employed in domestic and administrative functions, actually organized as a separate hierarchy, following a parallel career of their own. Archieunuchs—each in charge of a group of eunuchs—were among the principal officers in Constantinople, under the emperors.[8] Under Justinian in the 6th century, the eunuch Narses functioned as a successful general in a number of campaigns.

Following the Byzantine tradition, eunuchs had important tasks at the court of the Norman kingdom of Sicily during the middle 12th century. One of them, Philip of Mahdia, has been admiratus admiratorum, and another one, Peter the caid, was prime minister.”– Eunuch, Wikipedia

“Over the centuries we see eunuchs, essentially castrated men, employed as guards for the mighty in many cultures including ancient Egypt, China, Japan and the Muslim Caliphate. Court eunuchs, who were viewed as exotic, highly prized for their soft skin, high-pitched voices and hairless bodies, were also seen as safe in the sense that they could not produce heirs. Crusaders from the West were amazed and horrified when they saw how plentiful and even powerful Eunuchs were in Byzantium…” — Eunuchs in Byzantium

Eunuchs in China and Chinese eunuchs in the Middle-East recall the abovementioned Anatolian concepts of castration:

“It’s hard to trace when exactly the first eunuch appeared in China, but the [Eunuch culture] museum shows a picture of an oracle bone inscribed with the hieroglyphic word that means “eunuch” – a penis-shaped character with a blade right next to it. Hieroglyphics evolved during the Shang and Zhou dynasties (17th century B.C.-256 B.C.), but it wasn’t until the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 A.D-220 A.D.) that only castrated men were allowed to serve in royal families.”A museum dedicated to the cruelest cut (NBC news world blog)

“… eunuchs could rise high in the social order. They were trusted as officials, because they could have no heirs (Juynboll 1912, Meinardus 1969, Hambly 1974, Marmon 1995). Originally employed to watch over harems, they became involved in palace administration, and in turn came to run many Muslim states (Toledano 1984). Caliph al-Amin also created three corps of military eunuchs, on Chinese lines, in the early ninth century, but his successors did not follow his example (Pipes 1981: 142, 145). One particularly exalted group of eunuchs guarded the holiest locations of Islam from the eighth century, the Prophet’s tomb in Medina and the great mosque of Mecca…”Eunuchs and Concubines in the history of Islamic Southeast Asia

Further reading on mystery religions:

Characteristics of a mystery religion according to Mystery Religion: What were the Mystery Religions?

“Other than Judaism and Christianity, the mystery religions were the most influential religions in the early centuries after Christ. The reason these cults were called “mystery religions” is that they involved secret ceremonies known only to those initiated into the cult. The major benefit of these practices was thought to be some kind of salvation. Out of Greece came the cults of Demeter and Dionysus, as well as the Eleusinian and Orphic mystery religions, which developed later.2 Asia Minor gave birth to the cult of Cybele, the Great Mother, and her beloved, a shepherd named Attis. The cult of Isis and Osiris (later changed to Serapis) originated in Egypt, while Syria and Palestine saw the rise of the cult of Adonis. Finally, Persia (Iran) was a leading early locale for the cult of Mithras, which — due to its frequent use of the imagery of war — held a special appeal to Roman soldiers. The earlier Greek mystery religions were state religions in the sense that they attained the status of a public or civil cult and served a national or public function. The later non-Greek mysteries were personal, private, and individualistic. …
Mystery Religion- Basic Traits
One must avoid any suggestion that there was one common mystery religion. While a tendency toward eclecti­cism or synthesis developed after A.D. 300, each of the mystery cults was a separate and distinct religion during the century that saw the birth of the Christian church. Moreover, each mystery cult assumed different forms in different cultural settings and underwent significant changes, especially after A.D. 100. Nevertheless, the mystery religions exhibited five common traits.
(1) Central to each mystery was its use of an annual vegetation cycle in which life is renewed each spring and dies each fall. Followers of the mystery cults found deep symbolic significance in the natural processes of growth, death, decay, and rebirth.
(2) As noted above, each cult made important use of secret ceremonies or mysteries, often in connection with an initiation rite. Each mystery religion also passed on a “secret” to the initiate that included information about the life of the cult’s god or goddess and how humans might achieve unity with that deity. This “knowledge” was always a secret or esoteric knowledge, unattainable by any outside the circle of the cult.
(3) Each mystery also centered around a myth in which the deity either returned to life after death or else triumphed over his enemies. Implicit in the myth was the theme of redemption from everything earthly and temporal. The secret meaning of the cult and its accompanying myth was expressed in a “sacramental drama” that appealed largely to the feelings and emotions of the initiates. This religious ecstasy was supposed to lead them to think they were experiencing the beginning of a new life.
(4) The mysteries had little or no use for doctrine and correct belief. They were primarily concerned with the emotional life of their followers. The cults used many different means to affect the emotions and imaginations of initiates and hence bring about “union with the god”: processions, fasting, a play, acts of purification, blazing lights, and esoteric liturgies. This lack of any emphasis on correct belief marked an important difference between the mysteries and Christianity. The Christian faith was exclusivistic in the sense that it recognized only one legitimate path to God and salvation, Jesus Christ. The mysteries were inclusivistic in the sense that nothing prevented a believer in one cult from following other mysteries.
(5) The immediate goal of the initiates was a mystical experience that led them to feel they had achieved union with their god. Beyond this quest for mystical union were two more ultimate goals: some kind of redemption or salvation, and immortality.
Mystery Religion- Evolution
Before A.D. 100, the mystery religions were still largely confined to specific localities and were still a relatively novel phenomenon. After A.D. 100, they gradually began to attain a widespread popular influence throughout the Roman Empire. But they also underwent significant changes that often resulted from the various cults absorbing elements from each other. As devotees of the mysteries became increasingly eclectic in their beliefs and practices, new and odd combinations of the older mysteries began to emerge. And as the cults continued to tone down the more objectionable features of their older practices, they began to attract greater numbers of followers.

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