Castration is the deprivation of the power of generation by removing the testicles, and also represents the deprivation of vitality. It is a practice that has been present throughout history and is present even today. Depending on the culture and era, there have been many different reasons for castration. For some cultures, castration may have religious value, while in others it implies a renunciation of reproduction. Although castration has been viewed differently among different cultures, there are some prevailing similarities in the motive for castration. In whole, voluntary castration is an act to improve the life, whether spiritual or physical, of a mortal man.
A eunuch is a man who has been castrated. For many ancient cultures, eunuchs were a symbol of holiness in a mortal world. Castration therefore served as a way to become more holy and god-like. In the years of Roman antiquity, the concept of the pneuma reinforced the idea that castration consecrated a man. Oribasius, doctor to the Emperor Julian during the fourth century AD, conveyed the idea that sperm contained a very concentrated and pure air that was the basis of the male vital spirit. The vital spirit formed the more elaborate pneuma, the purest form of spiritual vitality, and the loss of it therefore was detrimental to a man s spirituality. Castration served to prevent the loss of pneuma so that a man may have a spirit that was completely psychic, or holy (Rouselle, 13-15).
During the fourth century AD, Sallustius, a friend of emperor Julian, wrote about castration, saying, But since it was necessary that the process of coming into being should stop and that what was worse should not sink to the worst, the creator who was making these things cast away generative powers into the world of becoming and was again united with the gods (Rouselle, 125). By castrating oneself, and also by ceasing fertility, (which will be discussed later in this essay), a man was able to become closer to the gods, and therefore was more holy. The legend of Attis and the celebration of his castration also conveyed the cutting off of genitals as a way to appease the divine and become more holy. Attis was the lover of the Mother of the Gods. Despite this, it was The Mother of the Gods that castrated Attis, which ultimately caused his death. According the cult of Cybele, she did this because the nature of the divine and eternal beings wanted to make the masculine virtue of the soul rise up to her (Rouselle, 122). Castration, therefore, was an act that appeased the gods, and served as a method to bring a mortal man closer to divinity.
The voluntary practice of castration for religious celibacy appeared early in Christian history as a method to become a more spiritual being. It is important to understand ancient Christian views of marriage and sex in order to understand that castration was a choice that would lead a man to the gates of heaven. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul identified the immoralities of man, and made clear that those who were corrupt would not inherit the kingdom of God. Fornication, Paul said, was a sin against the body, for the body was a Temple of the Holy Spirit . Fornication, of course, was not forbidden in Christianity. However, because sex was a danger to man- since fornication was not a way to enter the kingdom of God- Paul recommended marriage only to suppress sexual urges. Marriage was recommended for the weak, those who were unable to control sexual desire, and only the spiritually strong were able to live as a eunuch. By completely renouncing fornication, a eunuch would become closer to god, and would therefore be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
The motive of castration in the Christian religion was to cut off the part of the body that caused a man to fornicate and commit sin. By committing a sin, a man became less like god and was therefore less entitled to an eternal life in heaven. Symbolic castration of body parts was a recommended punishment for adultery in Christianity. In The Gospel According to Matthew, Matthew wrote, If a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown in hell. Matthew recommended cutting off any part of the body that caused a man to commit adultery so that he may enter heaven and eternal salvation. In Christianity, therefore, it was clear that by removing the body part that was the most commonplace for sin, a man could become closer to God and heaven.
The hijras of modern India serve as a symbolic example of a castrated male. The hijras are Indians born as either men or as hermaphrodites- a person with the organs of both sexes. In order to enter into the hijra community, the person must be initiated by means of castration. This emasculation is a religious obligation for the hijras, and represents the renunciation of male sexuality through the removal of the male genitals (Nanda, 544). The hijras serve as an example of castration as a pathway to the divine because of the presence of androgynies, impersonators of the opposite sex, and individuals who undergo sex changes among the deities of Indian mythology (Nanda, 547). The god Shiva, although acetic, used the phallus as well as the yoni, or symbol of the vagina, as his most powerful symbols and objects of worship. Shiva s most common incarnation was Ardhanarisvara, the half-man half-woman that represented the unification of male and female. (Nanda, 548). More like their gods than the normal human, the hijra symbolize the spiritual achievement of sexuality; like Hindu gods, they are classified and respected as an alternative gender role, or third sex- as neither man, nor woman.
The Egyptian myth of Osiris also provided an example of castration as a connection with the divine. The god Re appointed his great grandson Osiris, the Lord of Eternity, as the Pharaoh of Egypt, and made Isis the Queen of Egypt. Jealously for the throne drove Isis brother Seth to destroy Osiris. Seth murdered Osiris by locking him into a box and casting him away on the ocean. Isis recovered the body of her dead lover, and after Seth discovered this, he tore the body of Osiris into fourteen pieces and scattered them throughout Egypt. Isis searched Egypt for the pieces of her husband s dead body, and recovered all but one piece: the phallus. Isis substituted a gold phallus in the place of the missing body part. Osiris, the Lord of Eternity, was brought back to life again, but his life was only to last for one last night so that he might conceive a child with Isis; he was forbidden to return to the land of the living because of the loss of his phallus. It was suggested in this Egyptian myth that the absence of this defining male feature disabled a man from being mortal. Castration, therefore, might have been motivated by a man s desire to become more like the gods.
Although castration served as a way to become closer or more like a god, it did not always imply the renunciation of sexual desire, or even fornication. Although not a normal practice in the years of Roman antiquity, eunuchs still had sexual desires and fornicated even after the testes were removed. Archigallus of Tusculum and the priests of Pessinus continued their sexual life even after castration (Rouselle, 122). The motive behind castration for these men was not to renounce sexual desire, as was in the case of the Christians, but was to sacrifice fertility. Fornication after castration may have been permitted because these groups believed that a break in the vas deferens prevented the flow of the purest blood towards the penis for the purpose of fertilization (Rouselle, 123). There was, therefore, no loss of the pneuma, and fornication after castration was not considered harmful for these eunuchs. Furthermore, the Galli provide as an example of infertility as a motive for castration. The true Galli were castrated after they had reached sexual maturity, and their sacrifice also had to be voluntary. Only after reaching puberty, after becoming fertile, would a man have been castrated, for the goal of his sacrifice was infertility.
In ancient Hindu culture, the sacrifice of a man s fertility was also central to castration. This was evident through Hindu mythology, in a story about the god iva s experience with ascetic eunuchs. iva went to the forest of the eunuchs in order to show his grace to them. His image was coarse; he was naked and beast-like, dancing erotically and roaring like an animal. The eunuchs, unaware that their visitor was the god iva, thought that something evil had deluded the man, and advised him to cause his linga, his penis, to fall off. The god a kara caused the penis of iva to fall off. After this occurred, the world ceased to function as natural, The sun gave no heat, purifying fire had no luster the seasons did not come about (O Flaherty). In order to bring back the world s natural cycle, the ascetics made a phallic temple to iva. The castration of the Hindu god ended the earth s reproduction of nature. From this myth, it is possible to surmise that castration in the ancient Hindu culture symbolized an end of reproduction and a life of infertility.
The Indian hijras do not serve as an example of infertility as an essential motive for castration. The hijra are born sexually impotent or incapable of reproduction, yet they must initiated by means of castration before joining the hijra community. The sacrifice of fertility through castration was not central to the goal of the hijra, for they were already incapable of reproduction. However, not all hijra renounced the desire for reproduction, however. One tale describes how one hijra s prayers for a baby were answered. Although her pregnancy was a miracle, the doctors of the town did not want to administer a caesarean section to the hijra, and eventually she and the baby died. The story ended tragically, but it signifies the important point that hijra fertility was not accepted by society. It is a religious obligation of a hijra to be castrated, and although castration does not cause infertility of the hijra, it is required by their society that they do not reproduce.
In many cultures, eunuchs upheld a male role in society. In other cultures however, castration implied a change of a gender role. Li Y s story about Jifang and Ruilang demonstrated this change in gender role for the castrated in seventeenth and eighteenth century China. Jifang, the older male in the homosexual love affair, told Ruilang that, just as many cultures throughout history believed, the loss of semen would drain a man s vitality as well as his beauty. Ruilang, out of love for Jifang, castrated himself. After his castration, Ruilang assumed the role of Jifang s eunuch concubine. He dressed as a woman, wore his hair as a woman, and even bound his feet (Li Yu, 1-3). Because of castration, the male in the story changed his gender role to that of a woman.
Hijra also demonstrate a change in gender role as a significant part of their castration. Wearing women s clothing is a defining characteristic of the hijra. They also wear their hair as women, look, and act as women do. Most importantly, hijra are given women names, and use female kinship terms such as mother and sister to address each other (Nanda, 545-6). Even though they are born either as impotent males or hermaphroditic, the hijra assume a female gender role in society.
Castration has been both accepted and rejected throughout history and among different cultures. The acceptance of castration in a society has resulted in important social roles for eunuchs. During the Tang Dynasty, eunuchs served as personal advisers to Chinese emperors (Encarta, Tang Dynasty , 1). In addition, although eunuchs were not accepted in India, the hijra were ritual performers with an exotic sexual ambiguity (Nanda, 549-50). In contrast, in ancient Roman, society castration was against the law (Rouselle, 126). The Basil of Ancyra during the fourth century advised virgins not to meet with eunuchs, because they believed that they had a greater and less restrained desire for sexual union (Rouselle, 123). Furthermore, although the hijra of India have a special position in society, they are often ridiculed and maltreated (Nanda, 550). Castration has therefore received a mixture of both positive and negative reactions from different cultures throughout history.
Regardless of the culture, castration is the removal of the male genitals in order to attain a better life. The better life differs among cultures and time, but all castrates desired this similar goal. For the Christian eunuchs, a desire to please god and enter heaven was the motive. In the ancient Mediterranean, infertility through castration allowed a man to retain his pneuma, even though he did not renunciate sexual desire and fornication. In general, voluntary castration served to improve the spiritual life of a man. Different cultures accepted different ideals for eunuchs, yet all seemed to center around this main goal.