Eunuch of the Sun

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #104, Winter 2004.

by Tucker Lieberman

It?s not surprising that almost every culture has a form of sun worship. What does it mean ?to worship,? really, but to humbly adore an awesome beauty in recognition of our dependence on it? The sun is a natural object for adoration. It causes crops to grow and provides light by which to see. Beyond human reach, it reminds us of our dependence and ignorance. It symbolizes egalitarianism as it shines equally and without hesitation on people of all colors, shapes, sexes, and characters; paradoxically, it can also symbolize judgment, as if it were a fierce, all-seeing eye. Its heat can yield pleasure, or a slow death. And its daily death in the west and resurrection in the east symbolizes eternal life.
During my research on the symbolism of castration, I discovered that solar symbolism?and its ever-present sidekicks, bulls and eagles?follow eunuchs wherever they go. Castrated gods, ironically, come to possess hypermasculinity. They may acquire enormous, magical, replacement phalli. Their special male powers make them lords of fire and sun, symbols associated with the active, generative, masculine principle. And in the ancient world, castration often resulted in death, so it isn?t surprising that the castrated gods are also the gods of death and resurrection. As Rachel Pollack wrote in ?The Transsexual Book of the Dead,? the transsexual journey isn?t always a gentle healing process and is often best explained as a death and rebirth. In world mythology, castration symbolizes a rebirth to something uniquely powerful: the power of the sun.

Why does castration produce such strength? Overcompensation comes to mind, or, to put a more positive spin on it, the preservation of the cosmic balance. Maybe a special power inherent in the organ and the man is honored for sacrificing that power as a gift to create the world. Or maybe the artificial replacement organ is magical. It?s equally likely that the man achieves a special viewpoint as a gender outsider due to hormonal or social changes.

That a eunuch should be a superman is not as foreign an idea as it may initially seem. To this day, the Catholic Church still employs celibate priests to perform marriage ceremonies and offer spiritual support for issues related to sexuality and marriage, as if the priest gains special knowledge of, or power over, that from which he abstains.

Mahadeva, the Hindu creator, is always painted a fiery red. He was cursed by having his penis fall off. His adversaries cut it into thirty-one pieces, which were used to create the cosmos.

A similar incident occurred in a central Egyptian myth. Osiris was a powerful man whose jealous brother drowned him and cut his corpse into fourteen pieces for good measure. Osiris? sister and wife, Isis, tried to piece his body together, but to no avail: his penis had been tossed into the Nile and eaten by a fish. He couldn?t be resurrected to a normal man?s life, but the resourceful Isis sculpted him a penis of sycamore wood, fertile and eternally rigid, so she could conceive their son, Horus, while she was transformed into a hawk. All Egyptian pharaohs were thought to descend from Horus. And, imitating Osiris, the Pharaohs married their sisters. Osiris became the discriminating god of the underworld. As he grew in popularity and power, and because of his resurrection, he became associated with the sun.

The priests of the sun god Ra at the temple in Heliopolis maintained an eternal flame. It was said that the phoenix, a mythical gold-and-crimson-colored eagle that lived for 500 years and subsisted on frankincense and myrrh, immolated itself on that flame when it was time for it to die. Its child would be born from its ashes. As only one phoenix lived at one time, the bird was asexual, but its asexuality gave it unusual mastery over longevity and reproduction.

The spirit of Osiris was thought to reincarnate in a bull who was identified by a range of marks that included the shape of an eagle. Once identified, the bull, called the Apis (or Ephaphus to the Greeks) was floated down the Nile to Memphis, where he was pampered for the rest of his days. As the waters began to rise each year, a golden chalice was thrown into the Nile in Osiris? honor.
If the bull lived to be twenty-five, he was drowned, buried in the Temple of Serapis, and worshipped in golden effigy until his successor was found. Is this not, probably, the Golden Calf the Israelites worshipped just before receiving the Ten Commandments? Others have suggested that the Golden Calf represented Isis/Hathor, the woman who gave Osiris the powers of phallicism, resurrection, and sun.

A Gnostic text equates Osiris with
the Assyrian Adonis (a symbol of masculinity), Samothracian Adama (literally ?earth?), and Greek Attis (the self-
castrating son of the goddess Cybele), noting that their symbol is a green ear of wheat. Wheat, bulls?these are agricultural symbols of fertility and prosperity! Castrated males are protectors of fertility. This meaning is found in history, not just myth.

Men rendered infertile guarded women to ensure their sexual (and especially reproductive) fidelity to their husbands. The eunuch was a human being physi-cally tailored to manage other people?s procreation. The most prosperous men could afford to buy a eunuch slave to receive this blessing. Even today, transgendered women in India make a living singing at weddings and blessing newborn babies.

The name of the phallic god Priapus (or Apprius) is derived from the bull Apis. Pri means fertile or natural source; Priapus therefore means ?fruit of Apis.? Also called Bacchus or Dionysus, Priapus was honored with wine and licentious sex. Women strapped oversized phalli to their belts and paraded in the streets. I was surprised to notice that the Jewish prayer over the wine, which I?ve recited all my life, ends with the words boray pri hagafen??bringing forth the fruit of the vine.? It makes good historical sense that I should wear a prosthetic penis while I recite this prayer. Many males and females in the ancient world did so as they invoked Priapis, fruit of the bull, and opened the first bottle of wine.
The Biblical god of Israel, YHWH, had a love-hate relationship and even an identity crisis with the sun. Shortly after the faux pas with the Golden Calf, YHWH ironically requested a sacrifice of a real bull and appeared in a column of fire and a burning bush. The Israelites eventually strayed again and worshipped Baal-peor, Tammuz, and the sun, so YHWH commanded Moses to kill them. Yet before Moses died, he recounted for Israel how YHWH rose shining like the sun from Sinai with a ?fiery law.? The prophet Ezekiel claimed to have seen YHWH in a dream and to have received a lecture about the evil of worshipping Tammuz and the sun; YHWH himself appeared, however, with a phallus of fire. King Solomon was favored by YHWH despite the fact that he built altars in Jerusalem to an assortment of gods, including the Moabite and Ammonite Chemosh, ?sun? (the sun god was also called Samas for thousands of years throughout Babylon. The modern Hebrew words for ?sun? are chamah and shemesh.) The later King Josiah destroyed these altars. The scriptures make a point of his destruction of the horses and chariots dedicated to Chemosh; these were kept by a eunuch named Nathan-Melech near YHWH?s temple.

Psalm 19 and Psalm 84 allegorize the divinity as the sun. The use of the sun as a symbol for generational continuity appears in Psalms 72 and 89. In later Isaiah, the sight of the sun is supposed to impart confidence in the uniqueness and supremacy of YHWH. Late Isaiah also overturns the Hebrew condemnation of castrated males and assures eunuchs YHWH ?will give them an everlasting name better than sons or daughters.?

In the end times, it has been said, the sun will stop moving and destroy the earth with its heat. The Messiah is repeatedly described with celestial imagery in Revelation, having a face like the sun, wearing golden clothes, and holding stars in his hand.

Jesus was a eunuch or eunuch-like man who has been associated with the sun for its qualities of strength, omniscience, judgment, patience, purity, power, death and resurrection, and eternal life. ?Someone is coming who will baptize you in fire,? John the Baptist assured the faithful. The twelve Apostles gathered around their sun as the twelve months of the year.

As with Osiris, much is made of Jesus?s eunuch status, which was at least psychological and metaphorical (he was a celibate bachelor and a despiser of the body) and quite likely a physical reality. In one sermon, Jesus distinguished between ?eunuchs who are born that way, eunuchs who are made that way, and eunuchs who become that way for the kingdom of heaven.? He asserted that ?there is no male or female in heaven? and exhorts people to tear off parts of their bodies that tempt the purity of their souls. These words can be found in the canonical gospels. Much more about castration is to be found in the Gnostic scriptures.
One famous devotee of the Temple of Serapis (the Bull of Osiris) was St. Pachomius. He converted to Christianity and founded the first monasteries on the banks of the Nile. Hardline celibacy was the cornerstone value; without doubt, significant numbers among his thousands of Christian monks were castrated.

Modern Christianity has a relaxed interpretation of Jesus?s ascetic, anti-
sexual beliefs and seems certain that his eunuchism was merely metaphorical. But many early Christian Fathers, the most famous of whom is Origen, interpreted these passages literally and castrated themselves in an attempt to eradicate their sexuality.

Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) was Rome?s official religion in the late third century. On the calendar used at the time, December 25 corresponded to the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, after which the hours of sunlight begin to increase again. This was a holiday that represented the birth of the sun. Sol Invictus was blended with Mithraism, a religion popular as far east as Iran. Mithra was the ?sun of righteousness? who slaughtered a bull for the salvation of the world. He mediated between the human and the divine and promised
to mete out justice in the afterlife. His Sunday sabbath was celebrated with
wine and bread.

Both Sol Invictus and Mithra used crosses as symbols (the cross was a popular symbol for solar and phallic worship in many places, including Egypt, and some early Christians actually forbade crosses for that reason). Through the third and fourth centuries, Roman emperors merged these cults of sun and sacrifice with the newer Christianity in attempts to strengthen religious unity.

In the Talmud?the transcribed Jewish oral law?the rabbis discussed types of intersexuality. They identified a ?saris adam? (eunuch by the hands of men) and ?saris chamah? (eunuch of the sun). This parallels the distinction found in the Christian gospels, except that Jesus also included ?eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,? although Judaism has never approved of deliberate celibacy or infertility. The odd term ?eunuch of the sun? is defined in the Talmud as a man who was born without testicles and explained by the rabbis as a reference to the fact that ?the sun never shone on him as a man.? The fact that the rabbis have to explain the term at all is suspicious. ?Eunuch of the sun? is neither a commonsensical, informative, or witty phrase. It sounds like a pre-existing folk term the rabbis were unable or unwilling to explain. I was unable to find a single source that explained the history of the term. I like to think this essay provides a clue to its meaning. Perhaps the very first eunuch of the sun was Nathan-Melech, chamberlain and keeper of the horses dedicated to Chemosh. Perhaps there were others. Perhaps there are too many to count.

Tucker Lieberman is an FTM who
graduated from Brown University in 2002.
He is the author of