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2 Spirit and Mayan Culture

Carolyn Marie

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I attended a seminar today on issues related to Mexican and Central American indigenous cultures. One of the speakers was a Mayan from Guatemala, who, among things, is a spiritual leader in the local Mayan community.

After the seminar, I had a chance to talk to him privately. He knows me from pre-transition days but we don't know each other well. I mentioned that I had heard that some indigenous and ancient cultures considered transfolk to be two-spirit and held them in high regard, and was curious what he knew of that from his own knowledge of Mayan spirituality.

He told me that there is no equivalent philosphy in the Mayan culture. Ones being, or soul if you will, is set at the time of birth and cannot be changed. What a person's future will be is largely dependent on the calendar, on the month, date and time of birth. The calendar plays an extremely important part in Mayan life and belief systems.

He did say that it is Mayan belief that a person should strive to find spiritual peace and oneness with the universe. I told him that my change from male to female has brought me such inner peace. He seemed to understand and appreciate that, and accept me for who I am without judgement.

I suppose I was a little disappointed, but I also know that no two cultures are the same. I also know myself well enough to know that validation of that type is not necessary for me. It was more curiosity than anything else.


Carolyn Marie

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Guest GinaInside

In the early 1970's, there was a movie with Dustin Hoffman, called "Little Big Man". By that time, I was very aware that I was very different...

In the movie, there was a TG/Two Spirit member of the tribe which Dustin Hoffman was staying with. I was rather shocked and amazed at the character, being brought up in a rather strict environment. I could not have dreamed that anyone, especially a tribe, would allow such a person to be open! I did'nt know how to process that, and did'nt learn about Two Spirit for many years. There is also another name, "Berdache".

It was not until many years later still, that I learned that many cultures around the world, since history was recorded, have had some equivalent to Two Spirit.

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In thinking about the cultures that I have learned about that did recognize the two spirit phenomena, all of the ones I am aware of were in the more northerly parts of the US and some in the northern European countries. I have a very small amount of Native American blood, and it is from the north central plains area. (A great great great grandchild relation.) I wonder if there is a reason or even really the pattern like what I see??? Then why would there be a development in one area and not the other???

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Interesting point Vicky! It is entirely possible that there is a genetic factor and not a genetic factor that causes one to be TG but rather a genetic factor that increases a females risk of giving birth to children not fully aligned with their birth sex. If so then it is entirely possible these anamolies could be isolated to more geographical regions in the ancient world but since they're not seemingly racially specific its hard to equate it to genetics alone. Obviously nothing is impossible.

And from something I read somewhere Mayans and Aztecs usually killed Homosexuals or transgendered people in their society. Much like pur modern society today they seemed to have very strict gender boundaries. I too was very dissapointed. I kinda hoped this thread would disprove that. Not even sure where I read that now.

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Guest Squallsong

South and Central American beliefs are indeed very different than Northern tribes. Even among the groups with "Two Spirit" there is discrimination against them that has developed since the rebirth of Native culture (which had been outlawed for three generations). Many shaman and medicine people refuse to acknowledge "Two Spirit" ever existed, refuse to minister to them, or simply hate them ("Two Spirit" have always been considered more powerful and that can cause envy from those who are mostly interested in financial gain). This is a current issue that has surfaced among plains and Northern tribes (one report I've read also indicates California as well). I myself have maintained my secrecy because of it, and having learned that it is an issue, I am struggling with the notion that I should stand up and declare my "Two Spirits", because I am quite respected for my apparent abilities...and my mandate doesn't allow me to profit from doing my duty. I want to make it easier for other "Two Spirit", but I also must continue to teach our beliefs, which will be difficult if I lose that respect...and very few true shaman remain. (then I think that maybe others out there like me will follow, and the argument ensues...and for some reason, I can never win in an argument against me...I gotta work on that! :banghead: )

"Berdache" was a term used in "New France", starting in Newfoundland Canada and swathing through North America, from New England to Florida (West of the Appalachians) encompassing the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes, Westward to Saskatchewan and Southward all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, Colorado and Nevada. The treaties of the day stated that lands with any rivers flowing into the Mississippi were "New France", so that included a lot of the Midwest and Western States. Prior to contact, these tribes were also settled all down the entire Eastern coast of the USA, possibly even all of Florida.

I've found that Algic, Iroquoian and Siouan* peoples were about as far South as the "Two Spirit" went. DNA typing sets these three very closely related, as well as apart from any others in North America. All of them also shared similar "religions".

Their legends and lore counter the "out of Africa" theory of migration as is commonly believed (and using Biology, Geology, and Tectonics, I would tend to think they may be right) Their stories all dictate that they migrated West and South from the area around New Brunswick, not East from Asia, over the Arctic, nor North from South America. If they are correct, South American peoples and Western peoples are both different people from them (as indicated by their DNA).

It is very plausible that genetics has some bearing on the gender issue...I know it runs in my family, through my Mother's Wabinaki-Algonquin lineage, back at least 5 generations in ALL of the males born of the maternal line. All of these tribes were matrilineal as well...when a woman married outside of her tribe, her husband was adopted into her community. This could maintain an X trait within the DNA of a population indefinitely.

Another theory that could explain it is wars among the various tribes...Southern tribes typically sacrificed their captives, while Northeastern tribes would adopt them, often feminizing captured warriors that would not serve their new tribe as warriors (they were made to do the women's work). This was more progressive from East to West, as the plains and Southern tribes were more nomadic and relied less on farming and more on hunting herd animals and raiding. It could very well have become a learned behavior, as these feminized males would have been tending the younger children.

Another theory is evolution. Assuming three separate peoples, some would have been settled, while others were busy migrating...some evolutionists have surmised that as a people evolves, gender does as well. Viewing Greek and Roman history, gender variance became pronounced as their civilizations developed. Those evolutionists explain that it is similar to human gender development as we age...women enter menopause (developing masculine traits), and men become less masculine when they age, and the evolutionists point out that it occurs as societies become stabilized. There was peace among the tribes of the Northeast that is said to have dated back beyond the last ice age.

Validation or acceptance among "Two Spirit" of these tribes would never have been an issue before contact, given their cultural beliefs.

*Algic, Iroquoian and Siouan are the language groupings, not individual tribes. There are over a hundred different tribes within just these three language groups.

Be well and take care!

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