Tag Archives: Ancient Greek

Producing a Lexicon of Queer Witchcraft

This post was originally written several years ago, while I was still in the Sunrise Temple.  For some reason I can’t recall – possibly because it didn’t tie in neatly with the Ceremonial Experiment – I decided to post it exclusively to my Tumblr.  I repost it here, now, because I was looking to link to it as I was drafting my response to the Ruth Barrett issue and was irate that I couldn’t find it.  It was, probably, my most popular Tumblr post, and I think that the discussion is still relevant, and I am still struggling to think clearly in the wake of post-festival and post-tragedy collapse.  The below post has been slightly edited for spelling and grammar.

This is a thing that has been on my mind for a while, and I’m going to float it here before I begin drafting a larger post for the main blog.

I know for a fact that I am not the only genderqueer witch who doesn’t fit comfortably under the trans umbrella.  I strongly suspect that many like me share my struggle to find language to describe their experiences.  The one word I know that comes close to describing the way in which my spirituality and gender identity intermix–Two-spirit–is not mine to use.  Being a Classicist, though, I have access to two whole lexicons from which to less problematically adopt words:  Attic Greek and Classical Latin.

Let me, therefore, propose a word for those of us whose spiritual genders embrace a combination of masculinity and femininity: digenes, from διγενής.  Literally, it renders as “two kind”, but is more commonly taken to mean “of dual or ambiguous nature”.  For those who wish to explicitly embrace a broader spectrum, the neologism polygenes (πολυγενής) can be coined: many-natured.  If you don’t like genes, phusis can be used: diphues (διφυής) or polyphues (πολυφυής): literally two- or many- natured.  Digenes is historically testified to describe Dionysus (citation pending), and diphues to describe Eros in the Orphic Hymn.

So: the proposal:

digenes, diphues, polygenes, and polyphues

Attic/Koine Greek borrow-words and neologisms to describe the experience of genderqueer spirituality for those of us whose traditions do not come equipped with such words.

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Orphic Hymn to Phanes

As my first solo attempt at translating Ancient Greek raw, the below represents about twelve hours of work.  I’ve included notes on some of the less clear choices I made in the translation, as well as some of the interesting subtext.  Unfortunately, I can’t find any modern or reliable translations to compare mine to—the Thomas Taylor translation, while pretty, is to poetic too aid me.

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Sappho Fragment

Diehl 94 / Voigt 168b / Cox 48 (Source for the original Greek)

Δέδυκε μὲν ἀ σελάννα

καὶ Πληίαδες· μέσαι δὲ νύκτες,

παρὰ δ᾽ ἔρχετ᾽ ὤρα·

ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω

The Moon has set

and the Seven Stars;

it is the middle of the night,

and the hour is passing;

but I sleep alone.

The translation is mine, albeit with a great deal of help from my professor and the rest of the class. I have done my best to achieve a balance between a literal translation and maintaining a sense of the poetry.  The “hour” (ὤρα) of which Sappho speaks conveys a strong implication of “opportunity”, much as it can in some English usages.


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Heraclitus of Ephesus

ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων. – Heraclitus, Fragment 199*

“ethos anthropo daimon”: a dative noun sandwiched between two nominatives.  No verbs, of course: the being verb εἰμί is often implied.  The first word in a sentence is often given a certain emphasis … but so is the last.  Heraclitus the Obscure, indeed.  The passage is traditionally rendered something to the effect of “A man’s character (ethics, moral standing) is his guardian spirit (fate, destiny, guardian angel, tutelary divinity)”, with the understanding that character (ἦθος ) is what is important here.  A man’s ethical nature determines his fate.  But this reading seems to take for granted that a man’s (and we’re going to use the male noun here because there was nothing like feminism in 6th Century Greece: when they said “man” they meant “man”.) δαίμων was not a real thing.  If one assumes, as I see no reason to believe Heraclitus did not, that individuals do, in fact, possess a tutelary diety who oversees their destiny, that implied being verb between the two nominative nouns works as an equals sign:

ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων.

ethos = nom. masc. sing. noun “character”

anthropo = dat. masc. sing. noun “for humans” (appears to be dative of interest)

daimon = nom. masc. sing. noun “guardian spirit”

esti = 3rd per. sing. active. “he/she/it is” (implied)

[for humans] character == guardian spirit

A man’s character is his guardian spirit, and vice versa.  A good moral character and a good fate/guardian are synonymous.

This semester, I am taking a survey class of Ancient Greek philosophy.  Last week we covered Heraclitus of Epheseus, a philosopher from southern Italy in the 6th Century BCE.  His work only remains in the form of testimonia, making everything a little sketchy, but his works seem to provide me with my first look at Hermetic thought—or, at very least, its predecessors.

Heraclitus’ core thesis revolved around the universal λόγος (logos: word, account, speech, reason), which governed all things.

“…[A]ll things come to be [or: happen] in accordance with the logos…”[1]

“Listening not to me, but to the logos, it is wise to agree that all things are one.”[2]

The λόγος was common to all, but most people could not comprehend it even after long study.  It governed a κόσμος (cosmos) which “…the same for all, none of gods nor humans made, but it was always and is and shall be: an ever-living fire, kindles in measures and extinguished in measures.”[3]

To those who could understand the λόγος, Heraclitus attributed noos**[4 ] , understanding, and σοφρῆν (sophren)[5], right-thinking.

He spoke of the gods in general and in particular, but also of το σόφον  (to sophon), Wisdom or the wise, which “…is one alone, both unwilling and willing to be called by the name of Zeus.”[6]

Clearly, I don’t know enough of Heraclitus or Hermetic thought to draw any stronger conclusions than “Hey!  Look!  Noos, logos, sophia!  A parallel!”  But it’s interesting, and gives me my first hints of the directions these ideas will later take.


* My source for the original Greek; I really don’t like their translation, though.

** Sadly, I cannot find the original Greek noun.

[1] Curd, Patricia. A Presocratics Reader: Selected Fragments and Testimonia. 2nd ed. Trans. McKirahn, Richard D. and Patricia Curd. Heraclitus1. (22B1) p. 40

[2] Ibid. 11. (B50) p.42

[3] Ibid. 45. (B30) p. 45

[4] Ibid. 8. (B104) p.41

[5] Ibid. 35. (B116) p.44

[6] 47. (B32) p.46

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