Category Archives: General Interest

Gay History: The Peculiar Position of India’s Third Gender

Hijras occupy a special place in Hinduism. But their relationship to modern Mumbai, where transgender people are legally recognized, remains fraught.

Radhika’s “daughters,” as she affectionately calls them, pose for a portrait near their shared settlement in Mumbai, India. The hijra community is hierarchical, such that more experienced and mature hijras act as guardians and superiors to younger hijras. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

MUMBAI, India — When Lord Rama was exiled from Ayodhya and his entire kingdom began to follow him into the forest, he told his disciples: “Men and women, please wipe your tears and go away.”

So they left. Still, a group of people stayed behind, at the edge of the forest, because they were neither men nor women. They were hijras, which in Urdu means something like eunuchs. Those people waited in the woods for 14 years until Lord Rama returned, which won them a special place in Hindu mythology. There’s a bit of a mystery about the story’s origin — scholars say it’s not in the early versions of ancient Hindu texts — but in the past century this folk tale about the hijras’ loyalty has become an important piece of their identity. Hijras figure prominently in India’s Muslim history as well, serving as the sexless watchdogs of Mughal harems.

Today hijras, who include transgender and intersex people, are hard to miss. Dressed in glittering saris, their faces heavily coated in cheap makeup, they sashay through crowded intersections knocking on car windows with the edge of a coin and offering blessings. They dance at temples. They crash fancy weddings and birth ceremonies, singing bawdy songs and leaving with fistfuls of rupees.

Many Indians believe hijras have the power to bless or curse, and hijras trade off this uneasy ambivalence.

Gurvinder Kalra, a psychiatrist who has studied the hijra community, recalled the time when a troupe showed up ­uninvited at his nephew’s birth.

“The first thing people said was, ‘Oh my God, the hijras are here.’” Then there was a nervous pause, he said. Then laughter.

“There is this mixture of negativity and positivity, a laughter, a fear, this sense they are oddities,” Dr. Kalra said.

Radhika, 24, originally from Andhra Pradesh makes a living in Mumbai by performing blessings, begging on trains and through sex work. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Behind the theatrics are often sad stories — of the sex trade and exploitation, cruel and dangerous castrations, being cast out and constantly humiliated. Within India’s L.G.B.T. community, the hijras maintain their own somewhat secretive subculture.

Radhika, a hijra living near a railway station in Mumbai, didn’t think of herself as different until she started school, a chapter of her life that did not last long. After being teased by other children, she realized she wasn’t exactly a girl, but she wasn’t a boy either. Her mother told her not to dwell on it.

“She told me, ‘You’re a girl. Stick to it.’”

It hasn’t been easy for Radhika. Her parents split up when she was young, and her mother died soon afterward. None of her relatives wanted to take care of her. After she was essentially abandoned , an older prostitute discovered her and put her to work in a garbage-strewn park selling sex. She was 8.

A decade and a half later, Radhika is still a sex worker. She wears dark saris, chipped purple nail polish, a gold ring in her left nostril and her hair down the middle of her back.

When asked how she feels each evening as she heads off to work, to stand in a line of other prostitutes along the railway tracks, waiting for customers, she shrugged.

“Ever since I was a little girl, I learned the world runs on money,” she said. “I learned that if I don’t have money, I don’t exist.’’

Honey, 22, originally from Hyderabad, outside of the room where she has been staying for one year near the Bandra train station in Mumbai. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times
Many hijras live and work around train stations in Mumbai because begging is more profitable in high-traffic areas. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

In many ways, Radhika’s story is no rougher, lonelier or more desperate than those of many other hijras. Many are engaged in sex work, locked into service for a guru who takes most of their earnings.

Radhika wouldn’t utter her guru’s name. She seemed scared to talk about her. Within the hijra world, gurus fulfill the hybrid role of den mother, godfather, spiritual leader and pimp. The gurus are hijras as well, usually in their 40s or 50s.

There is a bit of a pyramid sales scheme within the hijra community. Younger “chelas,” or disciples, are managed by midranking hijras who report up to gurus, who are often steered by their own elder mentors. For every hijra, the idea is to get as many chelas working for you as possible. The money flows up; the protection from abusive customers or police officers flows down.

Lata, 61, is known as a guru in the hijra community and has live-in disciples: younger hijras who look to her for guidance and survival. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times
Lata holding a picture of her guru. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

When I tried to interview a guru in Radhika’s neighborhood, the guru shook her head and said she had to get permission from her guru.

But one guru opened up. She lives on the second floor of a slum house in Mumbai, up a narrow metal ladder, like on a ship. Different from Radhika and most hijras, who spend their years in small, airless shanties with the smell of feces wafting through cracks in the walls, this guru, who calls herself Chandini, rents a relatively large apartment. She sat on a cleanly swept floor, slumped against a Whirlpool fridge.

“These days, it’s so much easier to be a hijra,” Chandini said. “Now there are doctors. When I had my sex change, we had to do it ourselves.”

In the past, she said with a sigh, countless young men died from sloppy castrations. They were often performed by people with no medical training.

India has come a long way from that. In some states, such as Kerala, in the south, a person can now get a sex change at a government hospital. A few years ago, India officially recognized transgender as a third gender, eligible for welfare and other government benefits. Not all transgender people are hijras or members of guru families.

Mita, 23, applies makeup and gets ready to go out on the trains to give blessings to passengers. In Hinduism, hijras were once revered as demigods. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Hundreds of years ago, under traditional Hindu culture, hijras enjoyed a certain degree of respect. But Victorian England changed that. When the British colonized India in the mid-19th century, they brought a strict sense of judgment to sexual mores, criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” That was the beginning, scholars say, of a mainstream discomfort in India with homosexuality, transgender people and hijras.

Rajni, 20, and Puja, 23, from Orissa pose for a portrait while waiting for the train at the Bandra station. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times
Feet symbolize the most impure part of the body in Hinduism. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times
Sapna, 23, originally from Andhra Pradesh has been living in Mumbai for six years. She went through part of a sex reassignment surgery last year: “My inside tells me I’m a woman, so now I feel nice.” She is still saving to have breast surgery which she estimates costs $1,500. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Many hijras feel a sense of alienation, of being looked at as freaks. They complain about being heckled, harassed and assaulted. Gurus help the young hijras navigate some of this; their networks of disciples are known as “houses” or “families.” The houses operate a bit like street gangs — they fight over territory for begging and prostitution and settle disputes among themselves, sometimes violently, in the shadows of train stations and slums.

Chandini made no bones about how it worked among her 15 chelas.

“They give me what they earn,” she said.

She even keeps a stack of receipt books, heaped by her TV, so anyone making a donation to a hijra in her neighborhood can keep a record of it.

A hijra showing off a tattoo. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Rithika, 23 and Ammu, 21, live with their Guru in the Koliwada area of Mumbai. They have adopted each other as sisters. “If we walk on the road or on the street, people watch us like an alien, as something differently created,” Ammu said. “That has to be changed, we have to be seen as an equal.” Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Puja, a 28-year-old hijra, said she felt a “sisterhood” with the other hijras in her house. Puja seemed a lighter spirit, happy in her own skin. She lives with three other transgender women and they cover their rent by dancing at temples and begging on the street.

“Personally, I don’t want to beg. Nobody wants to beg,” Puja said. “And the situation is worse now for begging. The police harass us. They don’t let us beg anymore on trains. But we aren’t given any other opportunity, and now you ask us not to beg? This is not fair. This is not justice.”

At end of interview, Puja looked at me and asked very earnestly:

“What do transgenders do in your country? Do they do sex work?”

Simran, 30, walks through the Banstand area of Bandra in Mumbai. Each day Simran visits this area and asks tourists and locals for money. She must give a portion of all the money she makes to her guru. Credit… Sara Hylton for The New York Times

(Jeffrey Gettleman is the South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi. He was the winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for international reporting.)

Reference

The Profumo Affair, Over 50 years on

Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler leave the Profumo trial hearing, 1963. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection

At Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers gave an eloquent summation of why a semen-stained dress and the manifold uses of a cigar had become of such absorbing interest: “HL Mencken said one time, ‘When you hear somebody say, “This is not about money” – it’s about money. And when you hear somebody say, “This is not about sex” – it’s about sex.’”

Many of those involved in Britain’s Profumo affair, which took place 50 years ago, also liked to pretend that it wasn’t really about sex. The allegation to which they repeatedly returned was that the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, 48 years old and married to former actress Valerie Hobson, and a Soviet naval attaché, Yevgeni “Eugene” Ivanov, were sharing the favours of Christine Keeler, a young, beautiful woman who eked out a living by combining erotic dancing and modelling with occasional sex for money. Keeler, who was raised on London’s fringes in a converted railway carriage, met both men at the Cliveden estate of Lord Astor on which her friend, society osteopath Stephen Ward, lived in a cottage. Profumo had been impressed when he and Astor encountered a naked Keeler, trying to shield herself with a towel, at the estate’s swimming pool on a warm July evening in 1961.

That a Tory minister had been involved in some naughtiness was the subject of rumour for several months. While there had been sly hints concerning that minister’s identity in the press, Profumo’s threat of a libel suit managed to keep all but a low-circulation Westminster newsletter in line. But several players in the affair – Keeler, Ward and Mandy Rice-Davies, another “party girl” – were already hawking their stories around Fleet Street. The scandal fully broke on 5 June 1963 when Profumo admitted that he had lied about his relationship with Keeler in an earlier parliamentary statement. Profumo immediately resigned as a minister.

The effect on a conservative government already seen to be reaching its use-by date was dramatic, especially after a blistering attack in the Commons by new Labour leader Harold Wilson. A bewildered Harold Macmillan, the Tory prime minister, never quite seemed to recover from the sordidness of it all, and soon resigned citing ill health (although he would live another 23 years). In the meantime, Macmillan had appointed the eminent judge Lord Denning to investigate the affair’s security ramifications. Denning took his duties seriously, to the extent of arranging for a doctor to inspect a government minister’s penis to see whether it matched one shown being fellated in a photograph. Denning’s published findings, unusually for a government report, became a bestseller.

It was a grubby little book. Richard Davenport-Hines’s fine new account of the scandal, An English Affair (HarperCollins; $35), justly describes the report as “awash with the spite of a lascivious, conceited old man”. Whereas Denning found kindly things to say about Profumo’s loyalty and Astor’s philanthropy, the best he could manage for Keeler was to acknowledge her “undoubted physical attractions”.

Denning could not ignore the fact that Profumo had enjoyed an extramarital affair with a woman less than half his age and then lied about it to both parliament and his party colleagues. Nonetheless, the war minister was spared the lashing that Ward received. An admittedly unattractive figure, whose hobbies included “collecting” aristocrats, celebrities and young, pretty working-class women, Ward served as a convenient scapegoat in the affair. Denning called him “utterly immoral” and a communist sympathiser, and elsewhere accused him of “vicious sexual activities”. In her memoirs, Keeler went so far as to claim he was spying for the Soviets. In August 1963, Ward took his own life during a trial for pimping, a trumped-up charge made to stick through police blackmail of witnesses.

Davenport-Hines has produced a lively book, more than two thirds of which is devoted to establishing the affair’s historical background and main players. Davenport-Hines has no time for the humbug that the scandal was about national security. Rather he sees it as a manifestation of a crisis in a class-bound and hypocritical Britain. In this respect, Davenport-Hines follows other recent scholarship, such as Frank Mort’s Capital Affairs. Mort puts much greater stress on the affair as a product of a changing city, but he is as insistent as Davenport-Hines that the episode was not primarily about its Cold War connections: the scandal crystallised wider apprehensions in Britain about sex, morality, crime, race and gender.

John Profumo

Anxieties about postwar immigration were a critical ingredient. Keeler had relationships with two Caribbean immigrants, “Lucky” Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe, an aspect of the affair that many would later find particularly shocking. In 1963, we are just five years away from Enoch Powell’s notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which the Tory politician warned of the likely violent consequences for British society of mass non-white immigration. The presence in the story of the Caribbean men affected public judgements of Keeler, Ward and even Profumo, connecting Whitehall and Westminster with the unsavoury suburb of Notting Hill. By the early 1960s, this centre of West Indian settlement had acquired a reputation as a hub of violence, prostitution and drugs. The adventurous Keeler and Ward couldn’t resist its offerings of pot and sex. In October 1962, arguing over Keeler, Edgecombe slashed Gordon’s face with a knife in a nightclub. Later, Edgecombe fired shots at Keeler and her companion, Mandy Rice-Davies, after they refused to let him into Ward’s flat.

Keeler and Rice-Davies were not the liberated young women of second-wave feminism, yet nor were they mute and passive victims of the men who wanted to possess them. They sold access to their bodies and their stories because they understood their market value. They were true children of the consumer age. Had Keeler been born 35 years later, says Davenport-Hines, “she would have starred on Celebrity Big Brother and consulted her publicist every time her footballer boyfriend knocked her about”. But, equally, had this troubled working-class girl landed in the Swinging London of 1965 instead of the very different city of 1957, she might well have fallen into a lucrative career in the media or fashion, for she had the look that model Jean Shrimpton was already, by 1963, turning to fame and fortune.

Instead, it was her destiny to be recalled as the “tart” who helped bring down a government. There is a brief comment in Keeler’s recently updated autobiography Secrets and Lies that neatly illustrates how these women were carefully fashioning themselves for the age of celebrity. On trial for perjury, she recalled of herself and Rice-Davies: “We were having our hair done every day for the trial, trying to look our best, at Vidal Sassoon’s in Bond Street.”

This attention to image was not in vain, for the scandal produced one of the most famous photos of the century. The Lewis Morley picture of Keeler sitting naked behind the back of a chair whose lines are almost as sensual and alluring as her own hints at the sexual liberation to come, while leaving enough to the imagination to evoke the more straitlaced era being left behind.

Denning remarked that scandalous material about the famous had turned into “a marketable commodity”. That market was now global. The Australian newspapers of mid 1963 were full of the affair, while models complained about the name of their profession being attached to Keeler: “That tramp never has been and never could be a model,” trilled a former Miss Australia, Patricia Woodley. Pictures of Keeler and Rice-Davies covered the tabloids. The case was debated in serious magazines such as the Bulletin and Nation, and less earnestly among Australia’s schoolchildren, who in a witty playground rhyme calculated that a half a pound of Rice and a half a pound of Keeler added up to one pound of sexy sheila.

Davenport-Hines shows that the Profumo affair was fundamentally a media event. Some newspaper proprietors had scores to settle with the affair’s key players and many journalists were fed up with the government and the self-serving establishment it was seen to embody. Chequebook journalism, which was commonplace, fuelled the scandal, as the major protagonists sought to cash in on their stories. Journalists adopted tactics, such as burglary, that make the phone-hacking scandals of the recent past seem unexceptional.

The media used the Profumo affair as a means of attacking the whole upper class and its way of life. If journalists and newspaper owners were ruthless in their methods, collecting too many innocent victims along the way, there was at least something constructive about the outcome. Old forms of class-based deference were eroded. Women would in future would be able to exercise more independence with less risk. There would be greater sexual freedom. A country that just a few years before looked to have settled in to a decline towards comfortable mediocrity, could once again seem – if only for a few brief years – dynamic, creative and exciting.

Reference

The Profumo Affair, 50 years on, The Monthly, May 2013, by Frank Bongiorno https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/may/1366950578/frank-bongiorno/profumo-affair-50-years#mtr

Gay History: Merv Griffin’s Bodyguard of Lies

When Hollywood mogul Merv Griffin died on Aug. 12, queer-savvy media watchers wondered whether notices of his passing would maintain his preference for passing as straight. In recent years, celebrity obituaries have continued the long tradition of burying the departed closet cases in journalistically closed coffins, taking the not-so-secret truth with them to the grave. Singer Luther Vandross, writer Susan Sontag and film director Ismail Merchant had all been accorded the privilege of “inning” by the press, however open a secret their homosexuality had been while they were alive. Nil nisi bonum appears to be the rule for editors, and noting that a deceased famous person was gay certainly seems to count as speaking evil.

In Griffin’s case, though, I was somewhat pleasantly surprised, as The New York Times, The Washington Post all noted in their obituaries that Griffin had been the target in the early 1990s of unsuccessful palimony and sexual harassment suits, both brought by men who claimed that he had done them wrong, though in different ways, and both dismissed in court. Still, these lawsuits brought out into the open, if briefly, what had long been known in Hollywood: namely, that the divorced father of one, and highly visible public escort of Eva Gabor, was also gay. In the years since his legal outing, Griffin was sometimes questioned about his sexuality and always deflected the question with a joke: “You’re asking an 80-year-old man about his sexuality right now! Get a life!” In 2005 he told The New York Times with a sly grin: “I tell everybody that I’m a quatre-sexual: I will do anything with anybody for a quarter.”

The Associated Press, however, played the game the old way, limiting its obituary to Griffin’s early marriage:

Griffin and Julann Elizabeth Wright were married in 1958, and their son, Anthony, was born the following year. They divorced in 1973 because of “irreconcilable differences.”

“It was a pivotal time in my career, one of uncertainty and constant doubt,” he wrote in [his] autobiography. “So much attention was being focused on me that my marriage felt the strain.” He never remarried.

Merv Griffin’s Beverly Hills funeral was a major Hollywood event, headlined by Nancy Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger and co-starring Larry King, Ellen Degeneres and a host of TV old-timers such as Dick Van Dyke, Jack Klugman and Steve Lawrence. For some, the event was reminiscent of the funeral of another famous tycoon, an occasion that played a key role in launching the controversial journalistic-political tactic that came to be known as outing.

The New York gay magazine Outweek introduced the practice of outing closeted public figures, mostly politicians and show business celebrities who were unwilling to enlist in the cause of fighting AIDS. When prominent publisher Malcolm Forbes died in February 1990, the exposure of his homosexual side was not long in coming. The March 18, 1990, cover of OutWeek showed a photo of Malcolm Forbes on his motorcycle, with the bold headline: “The Secret Gay Life of Malcolm Forbes.” The article, by Michelangelo Signorile, begins with Forbes’ funeral, noting the presence among the mourners of many prominent homophobes — Richard Nixon, William F. Buckley, Al Neuharth — and asks whether they knew “that they were coming to pay homage to someone who embodied what they ultimately detested?”

Signorile concluded his article with a defense of outing Forbes. First, he noted that, “All too often history is distorted,” and the fact that one of the most influential men in America was gay should be recorded. Second, “it sends a clear message to the public at large that we are everywhere.” The third reason Signorile gave was that this story illuminated a choice made by many gay people. In researching the story Signorile tried to interview a gay man who had been close to Forbes and his family, someone who could have shed light on “the real inner workings of Forbes’ mind.”

But, after considerable thought, he decided not to speak to me. Currently living a closeted existence with regard to his own family and business, he said, “My choice in speaking to you is between myself and the greater gay community. And — at this moment — I have to go with myself.”

The Outweek story set off a firestorm of controversy about outing, with most condemning the tactic. The L.A. Times, which also editorialized against outing, named only dead people: Forbes, Rock Hudson, Liberace, Roy Cohn, Terry Dolan, Perry Ellis and Oliver Sipple; Newsweek limited itself to Forbes (reproducing the OutWeek cover photo and headline) and Liz Smith, a “favorite target” of the outers who is quoted as saying, “I may be a gossip columnist, but I do respect the right of people not to tell me ‘everything,’ and I reserve the same right for myself.” The New York Times would refer only to “a famous businessman who had recently died.” Times spokesman William Adler took a hard line, saying that the paper would not print “hearsay” even if the subject is no longer living: “The thinking at the Times is that in most cases an individual’s private sex life should not be the subject of coverage by the newspaper unless the person wishes it to be so,” Adler said. “That perspective extends through their lifetime and even after their death.”Seventeen years later, the situation is vastly different, but celebrity closets remain dangerous journalistic territory, even when their inhabitants are deceased and therefore immune from being libeled. The day before Merv Griffin’s funeral, the Hollywood Reporter, one of the industry “bibles” read by everyone in showbiz, ran a front-page story by regular writer Ray Richmond that began, “Merv Griffin was gay.” Richmond, who had worked for Griffin in the 1980s, went on to note that “Merv’s secret gay life was widely known throughout showbiz culture, if not the wider America.” Richmond made clear why he thought it important to set the record, um, straight about Griffin’s sexuality:

He certainly didn’t owe us an explanation, but maybe he owed it to himself to remove the suffocating veil he’d been forced to hide behind throughout his adult life. Then again, Merv carved his niche in the entertainment world at a time when being gay wasn’t OK, when disclosure was unthinkable and the allegation alone could deep-six one’s career.

If you’re Griffin, why would you think a judgmental culture would be any more tolerant as you grew into middle and old age? Even in the capital of entertainment — in a business where homosexuality isn’t exactly a rare phenomenon — it’s still spoken of in hushed tones or, more often, not at all. And Merv’s brush with tabloid scandal no doubt only drove him further into the closet.

While it would seem everything has changed today, little actually has. You can count on the fingers of one hand, or at most two, the number of high-powered stars, executives and public figures who have come out. Those who don’t can’t really be faulted, as rarely do honesty and full disclosure prove a boon to one’s showbiz livelihood.

Nonetheless, the elephant that was his sexual orientation never really stopped following Griffin from room to room. He could duck it for a while, but it would always find him. It’s disheartening that Merv had to die to shake it for good.

Incoming editor Elizabeth Guider opined upon reflection that the column was not “malicious, mendacious or unfair-minded” and therefore [she] was comfortable not merely with its legality but its message as well. She understood that it’s sometimes the job of columnists to shake up the status quo as well as to “spark more discussion and deal with different viewpoints. That’s what free speech is about.”

Reuters, however, which had run the story when THR first posted it, took it down and did not put it back. Reuters explained: “This was a story from The Hollywood Reporter that ran as part of a Reuters news feed. We have dropped the story from our entertainment news feed, as it did not meet our standards for news.” Officials of the news service did not explain, however, why the article seemed to meet their standards when they originally ran it (Yahoo News, which picked up the Reuters story, kept it up even after Reuters took it down).

So, how far have we come in the years between Malcolm Forbes’ and Merv Griffin’s funerals? Quite a way, to be sure, but at least for many power-wielders, things are much the same. Hollywood, like its East Coast counterpart in image manipulation, Washington, D.C., is endlessly engaged in the selling of constructed personae on the mainstream media’s pages and screens. If, as Churchill said, in wartime truth has a bodyguard of lies, then Hollywood’s image factory is always at war. Its defensive strategy relies heavily on a fifth column within the ranks of the press: gossip writers. The progeny of Louella Parsons and heirs of Hedda Hopper follow in the footsteps of their infamous ancestors, “two vain and ignorant [columnists who] tyrannized Hollywood” in the 1940s, as they were characterized by historian Otto Freidrich. Early in the 20th century the component parts of the image-manufacturing complex were firmly in place: On the one side studio publicists, publicity agents and public relations flacks, and on the other side an array of media writers ranging from freelance stringers to writers working for supermarket tabloids and magazines, whose contemporary counterparts work for mainstream personality gossip magazines like People and US, television programs like Entertainment Tonight, syndicated gossip columnists that reach millions of readers through their local newspapers, and the latest venue, commercial and amateur websites. But despite the occasional adversarial pretense, these groups really collude in providing the sort of gossip they believe the public wants to know. Gossip may not have the journalistic respectability of “hard” news, but it is an increasingly visible feature of the media landscape.

It may be a commonplace of journalism courses that the ultimate standard for news media is honesty — never knowingly to report something that is untrue, even if the “whole” truth may not be reportable for a variety of reasons (such as protecting one’s sources). But when it comes to celebrity gossip, “The standards are different,” said Jerry Nachman, then editor of the New York Post. “That’s why I always say gossip pages should come with little warning labels: The rules of regular journalism were not followed in reporting these stories.”In the case of homosexuality, we begin with a topic that already puts a strain on the rules of journalism. Former New York Times columnist Roger Wilkins, the first black writer appointed to the paper’s editorial board, said that during his two years as the urban affairs columnist in the late 1970s, only three of his columns were killed — and two of them were on gay topics. So, it should surprise no one that one of the most common departures from the rules of regular journalism is the collusion of gossip writers, and other, more “respectable” journalists, in maintaining the security of celebrity closets.

During the outing furor of the early 1990s, gay journalist Randy Shilts, while not supporting outing, did describe the system clearly:

Hundreds of publicity agents in Hollywood and New York make their living by planting items in entertainment columns about whom celebrities are dating. Many of these items are patently false and intended only to cover up the celebrity’s homosexuality. Many newspaper writers and editors know this and cheerfully participate in the deception because the bits help fill their columns. Editors who would never reveal that a public figure was gay have no problem with routinely saying that same person is straight.

“Celebrity publications are lied to up, down and sideways,” said a longtime editor at Ladies Home Journal and US, but this is highly disingenuous and ignores the fact that celebrity writers and publications are willing participants in a process that might be called inning. The gossip writers, many of them lesbian or gay, who speculated about when Malcolm Forbes would marry Elizabeth Taylor, or when Merv Griffin would marry Eva Gabor, knew what they were doing.

When singer Luther Vandross died in 2005, the media obituaries politely ignored the widespread speculation that he was gay. Using familiar inning code in their Vandross obit, the AP reported that, “the lifelong bachelor never had any children, but doted on his nieces and nephews. The entertainer said his busy lifestyle made marriage difficult; besides, it wasn’t what he wanted.” As blogger Pam Spaulding put it:

The real problem is that the news media, which has no problem recounting the endless het romances of stars (real or alleged), is squeamish about even asking a star whether or not they are gay — how is this journalism? In Vandross’s situation (as well as in the posthumous media de-gaying cases of Susan Sontag and Ismail Merchant), the coverage bends over backwards, straining any sense of credibility, to avoid any fact-finding about the subject in question that might reveal they were gay, even if the person was openly gay in their social circles, but not to their fan base. Why is there a need to preserve a straight fantasy in death?

In the end, of course, the issue is not whether Merv Griffin’s secret would be buried with him. In the age of Wikipedia, it’s a given that anyone interested enough to Google Merv would quickly get the gist of the story, if not the gory details, or even the less savory details, such as those recounted by Michelangelo Signorile in his 1993 book, “Queer in America,” in which an unnamed Hollywood “Mogul” is described as firing men from his company for being openly gay. The real point of the episode is the enduring power of the Hollywood closet that held even a billionaire locked in its embrace, paying homage to the presumed prejudices of the public.

Reference

A World Of Pandemics: Part V

What Sex Was Like During The Black Death

Have you ever wondered what sex during the Black Plague was like? It sounds sick and twisted, but life goes on, as they say, even during an epidemic. People are still people, even when a ton of people are swept away (at least 75 million died during the epidemic). Engaging in physical relationships during the Black Plague (another common name for it) was in many ways a lot like how it was during the rest of the Middle Ages, but the extreme conditions led to some extreme expressions of sexuality.

“Bedroom activity” during the Black Plague was in some ways pretty wild, with some “revelers” deciding to hump the rest of their seemingly short lives away. But doctors at the time also told people to avoid overexerting themselves in the bedroom because they thought the “bad air” would reach them easier if they did. Read on to learn more about what making love during the Black Plague was really like.

There Were “Gatherings” In Graveyards

There Were

The Black Plague was a stressful time to be alive, for obvious reasons. One way to cope, according to historian David Herlihy in The Black Plague and the Transformation of the West, was by celebrating life in cemeteries. “Group activities” were one of the ways people celebrated life. At Avignon’s Champfleur cemetery, for example, things got so bad that a papal official had to threaten the “fornicators and adulterers” with excommunication for committing “unseemly acts” on the graves.

Street walkers even took advantage of this desire by hanging out at cemeteries. It wasn’t all fornication: revelers also dared to dance, fight, throw dice, and play other games among the graves as well.

Medical Experts Advised Limited “Physical Activity”
Medical Experts Advised ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list What Sex Was Like During The Black Death

Medical logic at the time said that too much “physical activity” “overheated the body,” according to Joseph Patrick Byrne’s The Black Plague, and this allowed “bad air” to enter the body through one’s pores, increasing the chances of catching the plague. Heavy breathing during the act might also lead to inhaling too much of that same “bad air.” A German physician even advised that “all physical exertions and emotions of the mind,” including running, jumping, jealousy, and promiscuity, should be totally avoided or risk catching the dreaded Black Plague. What could people do? They could spend their downtime “relating tales and stories and with good music to delight their hearts.”

“Selling Yourself” Was Institutionalized

As the casualty toll of the plague increased, working girls benefited more and more, according to Jeffrey Richards. They began to enjoy a “seller’s market” due to a general lack of labor in the era, leading to “a general improvement of their conditions.”

Leah Lydia Otis wrote that as the Black Plague waned, there was a “quantum leap in the institutionalization of [working girls.]” Municipally-owned “parlors” were built, complete with “royal safeguards.” Otis did note, however, that the demand for girls began to wane at that time, as well.

Some Thought Immorality Helped Cause The Plague
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Joseph Patrick Byrne wrote that many lawmakers at the time adopted the “Christian belief that sin angered God, who expressed his divine wrath through plague,” and they turned those beliefs into legislation. Many older “moral laws” essentially became just plain laws. This meant sexual immorality was heavily legislated. This “sanitary” legislation targeted sodomy and selling one’s body in particular. In Florence, for example, working girls were “kicked out” of the city in the waning years of the Black Plague. When the industry reemerged in the decades that followed, they were still forbidden to work on the streets. Certain establishments, however, were still allowed to legally operate.

There Was Still An Active Gay Subculture
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According to the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, Volume 2, a “vital urban subculture” of homosexuals existed during the Black Plague. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that “more detailed records of the life and attitudes of homosexual men and women” emerged, but this vital subculture was alive, despite “only fleeting glimpses of it in the literature” of the period.

A few decades before the Black Plague, King Edward II of England was murdered, and centuries-old rumors say he was executed for homosexual activity. (Mel Gibson’s Braveheart received a lot of criticism for its negative portrayal of Edward.) The belief that “sexual immorality” such as “sodomy” helped cause the Black Plague surely was another factor in keeping the subculture hidden during the period.

‘Pseudo-Flagellants’ Performed Acts In Public
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So-called “flagellants” during the Black Plague were, according to Professor Mark Damen of Utah State University, “professional self-torturers” who went around whipping themselves for a fee in order to “bring God’s favor upon a community hoping to avert the bubonic plague.” They were literal whipping boys that people employed to buy “remission from sin.” The Church, of course, outlawed this behavior, but that didn’t have do much to stop the practice. There was also another group of lesser-known “pseudo-flagellants” that went from town-to-town performing “physical acts” in public for a fee. The Church outlawed them, as well.

Incidents Of Incest Increased
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In Domestic Violence in Medieval TextsEve Salisbury, Georgiana Donavin, and Merrall Llewelyn Price wrote that incest in England actually increased during the Black Plague. Why? Simple arithmetic. The plague “destroyed between one-third and one-half” of the population, making exogamy (marrying only outside their clan or community) “improbable.” The problem, Donavin wrote, wasn’t keeping cousins from marrying, but instead “finding living cousins with whom one might preserve the patrimony.” A lot of noble families died off during the plague years, meaning “intrafamilial marriages greatly increased.”

Fines For Fornication Increased
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Richard M. Smith wrote in Land, Kinship and Life-Cycle that the severity of fines for fornication in England increased as the severity of other legal fines generally decreased in the middle of the Black Plague period (1349). Smith interpreted the high fines during this period as a punishment for acts that were seen as morally improper. The courts, essentially, decided to ramp up the punishment for immorality in response to the Black Plague. Blame the fornicators, basically. Smith did note, however, that attitudes about unseemly acts such as fornication, and thus the inclination to increase the fines for such acts, may have been changing even before the plague struck.

The Most Intense Symptoms Suffered By Victims Of 14th-Century Black Plague

Responsible for eliminating anywhere between 30 to 60% of Europe’s population between 1346 and 1353, the bubonic plague was a cause of terror. Gruesome symptoms led to mass panic and widespread fear. What happened to people with the black plague? From oozing boils to decaying skin, gross symptoms of the black plague were a common sight in Europe during the 1300s. 

The disease occasionally crops up again today. While not always fatal, bubonic plague symptoms can have lasting consequences for sufferers. Early black plague signs include odd lumps and bumps, but also very common ailments. Many plague sufferers initially experience normal symptoms of a cold or flu, like a fever and chills, only to have their health start deteriorating rapidly. Learning about the black plague will leave you second-guessing waiting to see a doctor the next time you come down with a seemingly mild sickness. 

Gangrene Is An Unpleasant Side Effect

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Sufferers often end up with gangrene as a result of the virus, which is sometimes treated via drastic measures like amputation. Gangrene causes the skin to turn shades of blue, purple, green, red, or black. Swelling and blisters may also occur, and these emit a foul-smelling pus. Skin may also become cold and tender. 

One reason amputation is often necessary is that gangrene can lead to septic shock, an often fatal complication.  

Bumps And Boils Eventually Start To Ooze

After their initial appearance, the egg-sized lumps found on plague sufferers get worse. The bumps and boils spread throughout the body. Over time, they begin to rupture and emit blood and pus. 

One Complication Will Promptly Shut Down Bodily Functions

Photo: Paul Fürst (1608–1666)/Wikimedia Commons/Public Dom

Disseminated intravascular coagulation is a medical condition sometimes caused by the plague. This is a serious and potentially fatal complication in which blood clots throughout the body and – as a result – internals organs begin to shut down. This was a death sentence in the early days of the plague, and is often still fatal today.

However, the condition is sometimes successfully treated via a medically induced coma. 

Bumps The Size Of An Egg Present As The First Symptom

If you’ve contracted the plague, the first symptom is a little hard to miss. You develop what are called “buboes,” which generally develop a week after you’re exposed to the virus. These are large bumps, about the size of a chicken egg, that are found around the groin, armpit, or neck. In addition to being massive, they’re sensitive.

The bumps are also warm to the touch and tender.

Sufferers Engaged In Self-Flagellating Religious Rituals

Photo: Unknown 15th-Century Engraving/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

When you’re suffering intensely for unknown reasons, it’s not uncommon to look to the skies for an answer. In the 1300s, some sufferers concluded the Black Death was a punishment brought on by an angry God for the impurities in their own souls. Their solution? Intense acts of self flagellation.

Sufferers, especially those in the upper class, would march from town to town. In front of a public audience, they would beat one another and themselves with heavy straps of leather covered in shards of metal. This ritual was repeated three times a day for a 33-and-a-half-day period.

As more and more people began participating, the pope caught wind. Concerned the self flagellants could usurp his power, he condemned the practice. It fizzled out shortly thereafter.

Mutant Bacteria Was Especially Harmful

Plague bacteria spreads rapidly throughout the body, shutting down nearly every vital function. While complications like gangrene and dehydration often led to the end for sufferers, many people were more or less poisoned.

This is due to yersinia pestis, a mutant bacteria that causes the plague. This bacteria is particularly violent as it is unable to survive outside a host, and it can penetrate and hide in a host’s cells. In order to survive, the bacteria multiplies quickly and disables a sufferer’s immune system. Yersinia pestis bacteria then clot underneath the skin, in hopes of being picked up by a passing flea.

Even Survivors Have Lasting Side Effects From The Vomiting

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Dom

Vomiting is par for the course for a wide variety of common illnesses, but this is no minor ailment when it’s related to the black plague. Depending on the duration of the infection, the consequences of months of acid reflux and vomiting can last for years. 

Take the case of Katie Simon, a woman who caught the plague on a backpacking trip she took shortly after college in the early 2000s. Her stomach was afflicted that she had to stick to a strict diet comprised of mostly bland foods free of gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, and processed sweeteners. Her upper digestive system was completely inflamed, and she had ulcers covering her stomach and esophagus. Recovery took two and a half years. 

Sufferers Bleed Pretty Much Everywhere

In the disease’s later stages, bleeding is common. Septicemic plague occurs when plague bacteria begin multiplying in a sufferer’s body. They may bleed from the nose, mouth, rectum, or even under the skin. 

Extremities Blacken As Bacteria Multiply

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Doma

After an initial infection, bacteria begins to multiply in a sufferer’s bloodstream. This can cause a number of side effects associated with more common illnesses, such as fever, chills, and diarrhea. However, one symptom distinct to the black plague is a change in body color. 

Sufferers often experienced the blackening of their fingers, toes, and nose. 

Overall Skin Color Sometimes Changes

Blackening of the extremities is a common side effect, but some sufferers experience complete changes in skin color.

Take the case of Paul Gaylord, an Oregon man who contracted the plague from his cat in 2012. After the initial fever, his skin began to turn grey throughout his body. This caused his wife to rush him to the hospital, where he luckily received life-saving treatment. 

The Initial Symptoms Mimic Those Of Normal Colds And Flus

Photo: Leo Van Aken/Wikimedia Commons /Public Domain

One of the scariest things about the black plague is that initial symptoms aren’t really that different from the run-of-the-mill flu or cold. You may experience fever, shaking, general weakness, and increased sweating.

Next time you experience these symptoms, especially if you’ve been near rats or fleas recently, you might want to see a doctor just in case.  

Reference

Gay History: Remembering the Gay Man Who Saved 17 Million Lives

The WWII hero saved millions of lives before being chemically castrated for being gay. He killed himself two years later.

“[Alan Turing] was and is a hero of all time…a man who is a gay icon, who didn’t deny his nature, his being, and for that he suffered. … This is a story that celebrates him, that celebrates outsiders; it celebrates anybody who’s ever felt different and ostracized and ever suffered prejudice.”

—Benedict Cumberbatch

I usually find movie award shows to project primarily fluff and silliness, and they rarely stir deep emotions in me. But listening to Benedict Cumberbatch accept the award for Best Actor at the American Film Awards for his portrayal of Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game two years ago brought me to tears.

This stemmed from a sense of deep pride and an endless abyss of sadness. Cumberbatch’s commitment and passion shined through on stage as he talked about transforming Turing’s story, his brilliance, and his humanity to the silver screen, helping to give Turing the long-overdue wide-scale recognition he rightly deserves.

Alan Mathison Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, and he served as a mid-20th century British mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who, working during World War II at England’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, succeeded with his team of scientists and linguists in cracking the “Enigma code” used by the Nazi command to conduct covert communication operations.

Because of Turing and his colleagues’ efforts, Cumberbatch said, there is now general agreement that they shortened the war by at least two years, saving an estimated 17 million lives. Prime Minister Winston Churchill singled out Turing as the person whose work contributed the most to defeating the Germans.

The Imitation Game also highlights the enormous obstacles placed in the way of women entering the sciences, especially mid-century. In this regard, Keira Knightley made an equally moving speech at the American Film Awards in accepting theBest Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of Joan Clarke, who worked with Turing in deciphering the code.

“Particularly now, when women are such a minority in all fields, her story and the fact that she really perseveres, and she had space and time and grace, is really inspiring,” she said.

Though initially considered a national hero in Britain, in 1952, government officials arrested and prosecuted Turing on the antiquated charge of “gross indecency” when he “admitted” to maintaining a same-sex relationship. Rather than serving time in prison, Turing chose to undergo estrogen injections then considered in men a form of “chemical castration” eliminating sex drive. Turing took his life two years later by swallowing cyanide just two weeks short of his 42nd birthday.

I find it deeply ironic that while Turing and his team helped defeat the Nazi war machine, a nation intolerant of any form of difference including same-sex relations (especially between men), the primary “allied” nations fighting Nazi Germany – United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union – all maintained laws criminalizing homosexuality.

Under King Henry VIII in 1533, England passed a “buggery” (or sodomy) law, doling out the penalty of death for “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” Under the rule of Elizabeth I in 1564, death for same-sex acts between men became a permanent part of English law until the 1880s. British courts at the time concluded that sex between two women was impossible and, therefore, exempted women from the statute. By 1885, English Criminal Law punished homosexuality with imprisonment up to two years. This remained in effect until homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967.

In addition, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin criminalized homosexuality with eight years imprisonment or exile to Siberia. And in the United States, consensual same-sex relations were against the law at one time in all states, and remained illegal in some states as late as 2003, when the Supreme Court finally overturned such bans in its Lawrence v. Texas decision.

In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized to Alan Turing on behalf of the people of his nation for “the appalling way he was treated.” Parliament finally brought up a bill of “pardon” in 2013, and on 24 December, 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous pardon.

Though the English government never actually forced a physical stigma onto Turing’s body, they branded the symbol of the outsider, the pervert, the enemy deeply into his soul. This branding seriously deprived the British nation and the larger world community of his continued genius, his generosity, and the many additional gifts he could have imparted.

I agree with Benedict Cumberbatch that Turing’s wide-scale recognition is long overdue.

Reference

Slang For Penis And Where It Comes From

Americans rarely use the word “penis” in conversation. We say pecker or prick, willie or wang. Or whopper, wiener, wiggle stick, wrinkle beast, wobbly warhead, even wife’s worst enemy. “We, as humans, love to play with language, and mixing taboo language with clever wordplay to get coinages is a really common endeavor simply because it gets such a great reaction in others,” slang lexicographer Grand Barrett says. As a result, we’re always creating new slang for “penis,” and a lot of it can be traced back to these 11 words.

11 c. Sword

An instrument of death and destruction. A symbol of power and strength. A protector. An avenger. A slayer. The mighty sword is the ultimate symbol of masculinity. So, of course, it became one of the earliest slang terms for the penis, although a flaccid penis does not necessarily benefit from the comparison. Suddenly, swordplay is much less impressive.

 More derivations: arrow, lance, warder, pike, ramrod, bazooka, gun, pistol, dagger, cutlass

1610s Cock

While it’s possible that “cock” developed its sexual affiliation from its second meaning, “spout,” it’s more likely that it came from similarities to the wobbly red bits on a rooster’s neck. Just as a man’s penis reacts to arousal, an angry or excited cock’s wattles fill with blood, swell and brighten. Additionally, when a rooster crows, he arches his neck and tips his head back. Sound familiar? “Cock” eventually became so associated with the penis that the word “rooster” was created in the late 18th century to replace it.

 Modern derivations: pillicock, peacock, cockroach, cockaroony, doodle

1676 Penis

“Tail” has been used to refer to both male and female genitals since the 14th century, but “penis,” the Latin word for “tail,” was not introduced to the English language until 1676. And it wasn’t until 1965 that “schwanz,” the German word for “tail,” was assimilated. The usage creates an entirely new meaning to the phrase “tail wagging the dog.”

 Modern derivations: bobtail, tickle-tail, pee pee, peep, peeper, pee wee, pee nee, peanut, pencil

1790s Doodle

Before its induction into the dick-tionary, “doodle” was used to denote a simpleton. In the late 18th century, this became associated with a man who thinks not with his “big brain” but with his small one. Of course, “doodle” could also be a distant cousin of “cock,” born from a rooster’s crow—cockadoodle-doo. Either way, the word is at its best from the lips of Rainn Wilson in Juno, “This is one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet.”

 More derivations: doodad, doohicky, loodle, whangdoodle, wang

1800s Roger

While Richards everywhere have borne the modern weight of the penis-name burden, they aren’t alone. In fact, “Roger” was the first in a long line of names applied to the penis. “Thomas” was second, introduced in 1811, followed by “Dick,” “Peter” and “Willie.” In general, these poor gentlemen are simply victims of having a common name. But let’s be honest, all Richards who choose to go by Dick are asking for it.

 More derivations: Pete, Pepe, Rudy, Willer, Stanley, Johnson

1888 Dingus

The 19th century was a time of discretion and delicacy, not description. Americans were prone to replacing distastefully specific words with more general and thus less offensive ones. “Breasts” was replaced with “bosom,” a word that referred to a woman’s entire midsection. “Legs” was replaced with “limbs.” And “penis” was replaced with “dingus,” a word derived from Dutch dinges that simply means “thing.”

 More derivations: dinkus, dink, winky, winkus, tinky, stinky winky, winky wonkers, konk konk

1900 Dong

It is said that “dong” first became associated with the penis after the publication of Edward Lear’s poem “The Dong with a Luminous Nose.” As the story goes, a one-eyed creature referred to as The Dong attempts to find himself a lady using a long, red lamplike probe. Tragically, light-up noses are not great lady-finders, and all his searching is in vain. Good thing he has his flesh light to keep him company.

 More derivations: dangle, dingle, dingle dangle, ding ding, ding dong, dingleberry

1910 Wiener

Wienerwursts, literally “sausages of Vienna,” became familiar in the United States in the late 19th century. But the word “wiener” was not created until the “-wurst” was dropped in 1905. The wiener was not commonly associated with the penis until five years later. This means it took more than a decade for the most phallic food in history to be officially associated with the penis. How disappointing.

 More derivations: wienie, wee, weeter, wee wee, weedle, wenis, sausage

1932 Putz

German and Yiddish — both Germanic languages — share many of the same words. For example, “putz” and “schmuck” roughly translate to “ornament or decoration” in both languages. However, Jews used “schmuck” and “putz” to refer to a penis, and Germans used them to denote jewelry or Christ’s manger in a Nativity scene. Despite the inevitable miscommunications the holiday season may bring, Jews and Germans agree that there’s nothing like a good “putz” to put everyone in a festive mood.

 More derivations: wantz, schmeck, schmeckel

1986 Junk

While the exact origination of “junk” is unclear, there are theories that claim “junk” was a common word for male genitalia in gay culture in the early ’80s. During that time, “junk” was usually associated with being kicked. Since then, “junk” has ameliorated; it has lost some of its potency. Today, “junk” is commonplace. It could mean anything from male or female genitalia to worthless stuff.

 More derivations: package, lunch box, picnic basket

2009 Disco Stick

Although Lady Gaga’s homemade euphemism confused audiences at first, the infamous hook “I wanna take a ride on your disco stick” would carry “LoveGame” into top-ten charts in more than ten countries. Gaga cleared up any confusion on the words’ meaning in an interview with Rolling Stone, saying, “It’s another of my very thoughtful metaphors for a cock.” Barrett attributes creations like this to young people’s propensity to be “a hell of a lot more fun, which leads to lots more wordplay and goofing with language just for the heck of it.”

 More derivations: meat stick, blow stick, jolly stick

Even More Derivations

schlong, little finger, widgy, ting ting, tilly, hoo hoo, hoozee, mushroom, turkey, cookie, carrot, pudding, beans, tallywacker, goober, bug, buggy, flubbly, paddle wackle, hose, sprinkler, doohinger, baloney pony, trouser snake, uterus unicorn

Before A Penis Was A Penis: Sex Slang Throughout History

What word did people use for “vagina” in 1714? Or for “testicles” in 1300? Along with the rest of language, sex terminology has been evolving since humans started talking. Lest you assume that the vestiges of modern-day sex talk have been lost in the annals of time, the world’s foremost slang lexicographer is here to say it ain’t so. And, he should know; he can tell you exactly what a vagina was called in 1714.

Jonathon Green has dedicated his life to studying slang. His book, Green’s Dictionary of Slang, chronicles the march of English-language slang through the past five centuries — an epic Urban Dictionary for the ages that covers 10.3 million words (with citations) and has understandably solidified Green’s role as slang lexicography’s finest.

Now, Green and TimeGlider have graced us with interactive online charts that break out perhaps the most fascinating genre of Green’s research: sex slang. Humans have been “bumping uglies” since our cave days, but we certainly didn’t call it that back then. So, which period in history lays claim to the most inventive terms for genitalia and sex?

The Timeline of Slang Words for the Vagina begins in 1250, with the first recorded appearance of the (now-derogatory) word “cunt.” Fortunately, the vagina was eventually lavished with more poetic euphemisms, including “Venus’s honeypot” (early 1700s), “quim whiskers” (late 1800s), and, descriptively, “that thing” (early 1900s). The minds of vagina-label innovators apparently turned to food by the end of the 20th century, as evidenced by the monikers “bikini burger,” “hairy doughnut,” and “bacon sandwich.”
The penis slang timeline begins with the year 1300 and the first known usage of the word “ballocks.” This term’s proved its worth via longevity; you can find it on the lips of frustrated Brits even today, with a slight vowel adjustment. And, English speakers only got more creative from there. “Fiddle,” “spindle,” and “pulling prick” all cropped up in the Middle Ages to describe the penis, while “bush-whacker,” “cranny hunter,” “fornicating engine,” and “Captain Standish” (yes, seriously) are just a few of the nicknames born at the turn of the 20th century. And, the sexy-talk walk through history doesn’t end there.

For even more linguistic amazingness, explore the charts that track the evolution of slang for intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, orgasm, bodily fluids, and contraception. In honor of this week’s #tbt, why not sprinkle some seriously old-timey diction into your sexting? While the effect would be most dramatic if you delivered your message by horse (or raven), your iPhone will do just fine. And, if your partner asks if you’d like to “navigate the windward passage,” just be sure to consult Green’s chart before you agree. It may be safer to stick with the word “fuck” — thatone’s been around since the 1500s, and still means the same exact thing.

101 Funny Slang Names for the Male Penis

Did you know that Inuit people have 50 different words for snow? It’s an indicator that snow is an important part of their lives and has been for a long time. That’s really telling when you think about how many words there are for a man’s genitals. While “penis” is the technical medical term, it’s the one we use the least. This list has 101 different names for your junk (that makes 102). You’ll get a laugh out of at least a few of them.

1. Womb Broom
Any ladies need help cleaning their closet? Ok, that might not make sense, but this is still a good one. 
2. Womb Raider 
We’d play all 20 installments of this game series. 
3. Weapon of Ass Destruction 
This one speaks for itself. 
4. Vlad the Impaler 
It’s a classic for a reason. 
5. Uncle Reamus 
This probably has British origins. They’re still the masters of dirty language. 
6. Trouser Snake 
Sometimes this is a euphemism. Sometimes it’s a terrifying camping story. 
7. Tan Banana 
This is only true for the bold. Some might find the prospect of a sunburned penis terrifying. 
8. Sex Pistol 
Which came first — the band or the slang term? 
9. Russell the One-Eyed Muscle 
If you can think of another name that rhymes with muscle, feel free to sub it. 
10. One-Eyed Monster 
There are a lot of “one-eyed” slang terms. It’s important to have variety.
11. One-Eyed Trouser Trout 
Whoever decided to call a penis a trouser trout probably has an interesting story.  
12. Rumpleforeskin 
Be honest. You’re disappointed you didn’t think of this first. 
13. Richard and the Twins 
Speaking of Richard, a kid called us a Richard Cranium once. It took us a while to get it. 
14. Purple Helmeted Warrior of Love 
Any reference to the dong being a purple helmet is gold in my book. 
15. Puff the One-Eyed Dragon 
It breathes fire when it gets puffed! Well, sort of. 
16. Prince Everhard of the Netherlands 
This could also be the name of a band. Or an album! 
17. Pleasure Pump 
It’s accurate, simple, and effective. 
18. Moby Dick 
Every young boy in the world laughed the first time he heard this book title. It had to be on the list. 
19. Lord Hardwick 
Our penises are definitely nobility. How about yours? 
20. Long Dong Silver 
Have you ever read Treasure Island? Now you don’t have to! 
21. Lap Rocket 
Well, it can be explosive at times. 
22. Knobgoblin 
This has to be the most demeaning term you can level at another human being. 
23. King Dong 
I mean, obviously. Right? 
24. Just-in Beaver 
Easily the best thing to come from Bieber’s famed career. 
25. Herman von Longschlongenstein 
Remember it’s pronounced “Stine” and not “Steen.”

26. Heat Seeking Moisture Missile 
If this doesn’t make you rethink everything about your own penis . . . 
27. Frank n’ Beans 
It’s a weird mental image if you think about it too hard. 
28. Fuck Puppet 
Right to the point! 
29. Excalibur 
You’ve made this joke. Don’t lie. 
30. Energizer Bunny 
That ad campaign has been around for a long time. So has this nickname. 
31. Disco Stick 
This feels dated until you realize disco is still a thing in Europe. No, really.
32. The Dicktator 
You just chuckled, didn’t you? Welcome to your future. It’s all dad jokes from here. 
33. Cocktapus 
If you have eight members, you need to see a doctor. Or a publicist. 
34. Clam Hammer 
It even helps produce pearl necklaces. 
35. Cave Hunter 
It’s not the funniest name on the list, but it still feels appropriate. 
36. Blue Veined Aristocrat 
The little guy only has to be an aristocrat in public. Behind closed doors is another story. 
37. Atomic Turtle 
We’re honestly not sure why it’s atomic, but it feels right. 
38. Action Jackson 
Try not to conflate this with a Disney Channel show you watched as a young child. 
39. Mutton Dagger 
There seems to be a recurring theme of objects that pierce and meat. 
40. Yogurt Slinger 
An all-time classic. It’s funny. It’s gross. It has everything. 
41. Meat Scepter 
Remember gents, mushroom stamps are a form of harassment. 
42. Wedding Wrecker 
Oofa. This might be a little too true. 
43. Spam Javelin 
Another meat piercer. Cool. 
44. Tuna Torpedo 
The theme reigns. 
45. Dora the Explorer 
It’s a joke that had to be made. But at what expense?! 
46. Vagina Miner 
Is this a real occupation??? 
47. Jurassic Pork 
You’ll never watch those movies the same way again. 
48. Tiny Tim 
Hopefully, this doesn’t imply your Tiny Tim needs a crutch. Although, he probably has a nasty cough. 
49. The Bone Ranger 
Hi-yo Silver! 
50. Woody Womb Pecker 
At some point, you’re going to have to come to terms with your fear of children. 
51. Ass Opener 
You might not believe it, but this is actually a very old nickname. It stems from the 1890s. 
52. Ass Wedge 
This is also from the 1890s. It’s hard to say which is better. 
53. Bayonet 
Does this make implications about Bayonetta? 
54. Beard Splitter 
Great. Now we’re associating vaginas with dwarves or some shit.

55. Best Leg of Three 
This is just truth. 
56. Brat Getter 
Well, go get ‘em. 
57. Bum Tickler 
It’s ok if you giggled. It’s the right response. 
58. Bush Whacker 
This does not mean you should attach a hair trimmer to your penis. Put it down! 
59. Creamy Hunter 
Well, yeah. 
60. Customs Officer 
This is my new favorite. 
61. Dr. Johnson 
Let’s be real. The little guy has earned a title of respect. 
62. Eye Opener 
Sometimes it’s also an eye closer. 
63. Father Confessor 
If he can elicit cries to God, then this sounds about right. 
64. Foreman 
Yes, it’s a pun. You know you like it. 
65. Lance of Love 
An oldie but a goodie. 
66. Leather Stretcher 
Try not to associate this one with Leatherface. 
67. Life Preserver 
If someone is drowning, don’t throw them your penis. 
68. The Heimlich
The next time someone shouts “Giver her the Heimlich!” You know what to do. 
69. Love Dart 
It’s important to practice your aim. 
70. Manroot 
This makes an odd amount of sense. 
71. Master of Ceremonies 
He’s good at it too. 
72. Meat Skewer 
This one isn’t trying too hard, is it? 
73. Milkman 
What does this make the milkman’s daughter? 
74. Mole 
He does like to burrow into a hole. 
75. Pee-Wee 
This got meta when Pee-Wee Herman got in trouble for showing his Pee-Wee.

76. Skyscraper 
You wish. 
77. Tentpeg 
You shouldn’t be pitching a tent right now . . . 
78. Silent Flute 
Well, sometimes sound comes out. 
79. Skin Flute 
But it’s not always melodic. 
80. Sweetener 
If you tell this lie enough times it might actually work. 
81. Redcap 
Maybe purplecap would be better, but that’s not a pun. 
82. Majesty 
Forget aristocracy! He’s royalty. 
83. Charmer 
When the snake becomes the charmer . . . 
84. Champion 
He really is. After all that abuse you’ve put him through, it’s the only right word. 
85. Baby Fetcher 
You’re still flinching? You know where babies come from, right? 
86. Axe 
If the female counterpart is called an axe wound, then this one has to be on the list. 
87. Nightstick 
You can use it during the day too. It’s ok. 
88. Joystick 
There might never have been a truer name for a man’s junk. 
89. Gospel Pipe 
You just want to believe this one. 
90. Drill 
I took this too literally once. I’m still dizzy. 
91. Family Organ 
Get it? Eh? 
92. Crown Jewels 
Also known as the family jewels. 
93. Ham Bone 
I’ll never understand why the male member is associated with pork. 
94. Old Boy 
This is actually the most British thing ever said. 
95. Ambassador 
He is vital to foreign relations. 
96. Organ Grinder
Ouch. 
97. Bald-Headed Sailor 
We probably don’t relate to the baldness of our penises enough. 
98. One-Eyed Rattlesnake 
Thankfully he’s not venomous. 
99. Tonsil Tickler 
Only on a good day. 
100. Toothpick
It might imply a small penis, but the oral connotation is worth it. 
101. The Fantastic Four 
This name can be adapted to many forms: the furious five, the salacious six, the dirty dozen. The idea is that you’re implying the length of your penis in the joke. The key is to never use the same phrase twice. You want to keep people guessing.

Ten Words That Have Surprisingly Offensive Origins

Covered mouth image from Shutterstock

While the etymology of many words we use today has faded into obscurity, there are some that are more offensive than we can ever imagine. There may be some words you use every day without a thought to their original meanings. Here are ten that it pays to be aware of.

#1 Bugger

noun | bug·ger | \ˈbə-gər, ˈbu̇-gər\

1. sodomite

2. a worthless person

3. a small or annoying thing

eg. “put down my keys and now I can’t find the buggers”

As well as being a noun as described above, Australians tend to use this word as a tamer expletive than some of its four-lettered cousins. However, though many people know its secondary meaning as ‘a sodomite’ or ‘sodomy’, not many know that the word was originally racially charged as well. Bugger comes from Middle English bougre which was derived from Medieval Latin Bulgarus — a literal translation for ‘Bulgarian’. This came by through association with a Bulgarian religious sect called the Bogomils, whose ways were so unorthodox that they were accused of sodomy.

Use instead: Depending on the context in which you’re using the word, you might instead call someone a ‘nuisance’. If you’re use it as an expletive… well, there’s really no reason not to enjoy the four-lettered classics.

#2 Uppity

adjective | up·pi·ty | \ˈə-pə-tē\

•putting on or marked by airs of superiority, eg. “uppity technicians” “a small uppity country”

The word uppity is commonly used to put down someone who is seen to be acting above their station — putting on airs and speaking out of turn, generally being a nuisance. While the word can be applied to pretty much anyone these days, its origins were in the United States’ racist heyday, during segregation. In this period, Southerners used the term “uppity” to describe black people who didn’t know their place in society. The word doesn’t sound so casual anymore when you consider that people have likely been lynched at one point in history due to being too “uppity”.

Use instead: ‘Arrogant’ and ‘pretentious’ are both great words to knock someone down a peg, without those nasty racist overtones.

#3 Gyp

noun | \ˈjip\

•cheat, swindler, eg. “Is that all they give you? What a gyp!” “we were very disappointed when the “free weekend in Las Vegas” offer turned out to be a gyp”

“Gyp” or “gypped” has universally come to mean being cheated or swindled, and though there’s no solid evidence for the origin of this slang term, it’s highly likely that it is derived from ‘gypsy’, a derogative term for the Romani people. While many people know little of “gypsies” other than what we see in Disney movies and costume shops, the Romani people have a long history of persecution — including their attempted genocide at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Use instead: ‘Swindled’ is an oldie but a goodie, or if you’re feeling ripped off, ‘highway robbery’ is a fun phrase without the racist undertones.

#4 Paddy wagon

noun | pad·dy wagon | \ˈpa-dē-\

•an enclosed motortruck used by police to carry prisoners, eg. “The cooperative family was being escorted into the paddy wagon”

While the racist meaning of paddy wagon is more overt to anyone who stops to think about it, it’s also so ingrained in our lexicon that it’s hard to stop and think in the first place. For those who are blissfully unaware, paddy wagon is the slang term for a police car. And where it came from? “Paddy”, short for “Patrick”, was a pejorative term for any Irishman — a group who have been the butt of many jokes for much of the last century. Whether the term came into use because there were many Irish criminals or because of a large number of Irish policemen, the association is still not the best one to be making. Interestingly enough the similar term ‘meat wagon’ seems to be used by people misinterpreting this phrase as ‘patty wagon’.

Use instead: “Police car” or “police van” should suffice.

#5 Hooligan

noun | hoo·li·gan | \ˈhü-li-gən\

%bull;a usually young man who does noisy and violent things as part of a group or gang, eg. “shouldn’t you hooligans be in school instead of threatening old ladies?”

While the term ‘hooligan’ is fairly dated these days — I can only seem to think of that crotchety old man yelling “you hooligans get off my lawn!” — other forms of the word are still in common usage. ‘Hooliganism’ in particular is one that the media seems keen to trot out as often as they can. But as in the case of ‘paddy wagon’ hooligan originally came from some poor sod’s surname — Houlihan. The name was used for a rowdy fictional Irish family in a popular drinking song, and soon after the word came to be a catchall for anyone displaying rowdy, violent tendencies.

Use instead: ‘Hoodlum’ is a word with a longer, non-racist history. ‘Hoon’ is also a uniquely Australian take on the concept.

#6 Eskimo

noun | Es·ki·mo | \ˈes-kə-ˌmō\

•a member of a group of peoples of northern Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and eastern Siberia

Far from being those cute, fur-wearing, nose-kissing people of the Arctic regions, this is actually an offensive term for the Inuit people. The reason? The word ‘Eskimo’ comes from the Danish loanword ‘ashkimeq,’ literally translated to ‘eaters of raw meat’. Calling an extensive group of different societies by such a gross generalisation is a great way to limit understanding of the entire culture.

Use instead: The proper term is Inuit, meaning “the people”. That’s it, unless you know the proper name of each individual nation.

#7 Hip hip hooray!

•an exclamation of congratulations especially in response to a call for ‘Three cheers for’ the person.

The racist origin of this common celebratory cry is controversial, but it potentially stems from the Hep Hep Riots — anti-Semetic riots conducted throughout Germany in the 19th century. The participants in these demonstrations reportedly cheered “hep hep” as they chased Jews from their homes. “Hep hep” was a traditional German call that shepherds would use while herding their sheep, but was given another meaning entirely in 1819 when it was Jews who were hunted under this rallying cry.

Use instead: ‘Hooray’ by itself is completely harmless, or the more old-timey ‘hoorah’.

#8 No Can Do

informal + humorous

•used in speech to say that one cannot do something that he or she has been asked or told to do, eg. “Can you give me a ride to work tomorrow?” “Sorry— no can do. My car is in the shop.”

The game of Chinese Whispers has been renamed in the past few years for its racist connotations, but few know that the common phrase “no can do” is a similar riff on the idea that Chinese people speak broken English. While it has since moved into common parlance, this phrase was originally used as a mimicry of a Chinese person with a heavy accent — and the same is true of ‘long time, no see’.

Use instead: Going back to the origin of the phrase “I can’t” or “I can’t do it” would be your safest option.

#9 Basket case

noun

1. a person who is very nervous, tired, etc., and is not able to think or act normally

2. something (such as a company or a government) that is in very bad condition and close to failure

eg. “I was so worried about losing my job that I was a complete basket case.”

Oddly enough the term basket case is not commonly used by its dictionary meaning today, and seems to now have connotations of someone being crazy (perhaps being mixed up with terms like head case and mental case). As it was originally used, however, a basket case refers to someone who is useless or not functioning well. The reason for this has its origins in WWI, when a ‘basket case’ was someone who had lost all four limbs and therefore had to be carried around in a basket. Not the best mental image and potentially offensive to amputees.

Use instead: ‘Nervous wreck’ or ‘bundle of nerves’ are nicely evocative terms that don’t risk making fun of quadruple amputees.

#10 Hysterical

noun | hys·te·ria | \his-ˈter-ē-ə, -ˈtir-\

1. a state in which your emotions (such as fear) are so strong that you behave in an uncontrolled way

2. a situation in which many people behave or react in an extreme or uncontrolled way because of fear, anger, etc.

eg. “A few of the children began to scream, and soon they were all caught up in the hysteria.”

Hysterical’s modern usage is problematic enough by itself, with the word most often being applied to women — looking at the first dictionary definition, you might be able to tell why that’s an issue. However the connotations behind calling a woman ‘hysterical’ have far-reaching implications beyond even the 2011 film Hysteria.

The term comes from the Greek ‘hysterikos’, meaning ‘of the womb’ or ‘suffering in the womb’. The Greeks believed that the uterus was the direct cause of a number of female ailments, based on the premise that the uterus was essentially its own organism. The womb was said to be so obsessed with creating children that it would wander the body, pressing up against other organs and causing medical havoc unless it was pregnant. Yup.

Use instead: Try ‘overwrought’, ‘frenzied’ or ‘agitated’ if you really have to call someone ‘hysterical’ without resorting to womb-based comparisons.

Reference

Patron Saints of the Nerds…and Hackers

NEW ORLEANS – Here in the oldest church building in New Orleans, tucked into a dark corner by the door as far away from the main altar as possible, stands the statue of St. Expedite – the unofficial patron saint of hackers.

Unofficial because the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t know what to do about St. Expedite. He’s too pagan to be a proper saint, and too popular for his statues to be simply tossed out the door.

Statues of St. Expedite seem to appear at some churches, a puzzling phenomenon. Where do the statues come from? Who sends them? No one really seems to know who St. Expedite was in life or even if he ever existed.

But whatever St. Expedite may or may not be, geeks, hackers, repentant slackers, folks who run e-commerce sites and those who rely on brains and sheer luck to survive have all claimed the saint as their own.

In 2002, the Catholic Church offered up St. Isidore of Seville as the saint of computer programmers. Isidore seemed to be a fine choice – in the 7th century, he produced one of the world’s first databases, a 20-volume encyclopedia called The Etymologies, intended to be a summation of everything that was known about the world he lived in.

But Isidore somehow seems a bit too plodding for hackers, plus his life story includes none of the weird wordplay that makes so many hackers happy.

St. Expedite’s name obviously relates to his attested ability to deliver favors quickly to the faithful. But wait! There’s more – a joke about how St. Expedite manages to maneuver his statues into churches.

In 1781, or so the story goes, a packing case containing the body of a saint who’d been buried in the Denfert-Rochereau catacombs of Paris was sent to a community of nuns in the city. Those who sent the body wrote “Expedite” on the case, to ensure fast delivery of the corpse for the obvious reasons.

The nuns got confused, assumed Expedite was the name of a martyr, prayed to him, had a bunch of prayers answered amazingly quickly and the cult of St. Expedite was born. News of this saint who cheerfully dispensed quick miracles soon spread rapidly through France and on to other Catholic countries.

It’s a swell story, but Italians were asking St. Expedite to grant their wishes well before 1781, so either the date or the entire story is wrong. And the whole thing just screams urban legend anyway.

A different version of the same story is told in New Orleans. Supposedly, the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe received a big shipment of assorted saint statues. Only one didn’t have a proper label on the case identifying the saint whose statue was contained within. But the crate did have an “Expedite” label on it, so the locals decided that must be the saint’s name.

A century and a half later, according to the story, they found out there was no saint called Expedite. However, a little research turned up the obscure St. Expeditus, whose status as a possible Armenian martyr gave the Expedite myth legitimacy.

St. Expedite is typically depicted as a young Roman centurion squashing a crow beneath his right foot and hoisting a clock or, in later versions, a cross inscribed with the word hodie (“today” in Latin). A ribbon with the word cras (“tomorrow” in Latin) emerges from the squished crow’s mouth. The idea is that St. Expedite destroys people’s proclivity to procrastinate and vanquishes vague promises of joyous tomorrows in favor of making things happen right now.

Why a crow? English-speaking people tend to mimic the sound a crow makes as “caw caw.” Italians hear it as “cras cras.” In Italian folk tales, crows and ravens are forever yapping on about tomorrow.

St. Expedite is also widely considered, among people who consider such things, to provide real-time assistance on problems – he’s the saint of the fast solution. He is also is the patron saint of people who have to deliver work or products on a tight schedule.

While visiting St. Expedite in New Orleans, we saw half a dozen people come in and tuck notes and flowers by the saint’s statue, ignoring the official saints in the front of the church.

“St. Expedite got me a job fast after my company closed down last month,” said Letish Jackson of New Orleans, who’d come to the church to thank the saint. “If you knew how hard it is to get jobs here you’d know that me being employed is a very big miracle.”

She’s not the only one who turned to the saint for financial help. A recent article that appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal noted that St. Expedite has also become the patron of victims of outsourcing.

Jackson, and other Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners, said that “computer people,” as Jackson described them, often come to visit St. Expedite.

“I asked my friend who runs a computer repair service why those people come here, and he says Expedite is the nerd’s saint,” said Jackson. “My friend said St. Expedite is all about delivering information fast.”

Patron saints in general are broadband connections to the Almighty, passing along messages from the desperate or faithful. And the Catholic Church seems to have a patron saint for every possible need.

St. Joseph of Cupertino, the “flying friar,” is not the patron saint of Mac users – he’s appealed to by skittish air travelers (it’s said the good friar levitated whenever he was happy). Girls who live in rural areas can pray to St. Germaine of Pibrac, the patron of peasant females.

“I’m not a big believer in the saints, but St. Expedite is another whole story – he’s so good he’s scary,” said freelance computer support consultant Kathy Dupon, a resident of New Orleans. “My clients were forever paying me late until I taped a card with the saint’s picture behind my mailbox as a joke last year. Now my checks almost always arrive on time.”

ST ISIDORE OF SEVILLE

St. Isidore of Seville

Born: c.560 in Cartagena, Spain 

Died: April 4, 636

Canonized: pre-Congregation

Feast Day: April 4

Patron Saint of: computers, computer users, computer programmers, Internet

Isidore was born in Cartagena, Spain, about 560 AD, the son of Severianus and Theodora. His elder brother Leander was his immediate predecessor in the Metropolitan See of Seville; whilst a younger brother St. Fulgentius presided over the Bishopric of Astigi. His sister Florentina was a nun, and is said to have ruled over forty convents and one thousand religious. Isidore received his elementary education in the Cathedral school of Seville. In this institution, which was the first of its kind in Spain, the trivium and quadrivium were taught by a body of learned men, among whom was the archbishop, Leander. With such diligence did he apply himself to study that in a remarkably short time mastered Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Whether Isidore ever embraced monastic life or not is still an open question, but though he himself may never have been affiliated with any of the religious orders, he esteemed them highly. On his elevation to the episcopate he immediately constituted himself protector of the monks. In 619 he pronounced anathema against any ecclesiastic who should in any way molest the monasteries. 

On the death of Leander, Isidore succeeded to the See of Seville. His long incumbency to this office was spent in a period of disintegration and transition. The ancient institutions and classic learning of the Roman Empire were fast disappearing. In Spain a new civilization was beginning to evolve itself from the blending racial elements that made up its population. For almost two centuries the Goths had been in full control of Spain, and their barbarous manners and contempt of learning threatened greatly to put back her progress in civilization. Realizing that the spiritual as well as the material well-being of the nation depended on the full assimilation of the foreign elements, St. Isidore set himself to the task of welding into a homogeneous nation the various peoples who made up the Hispano-Gothic kingdom. To this end he availed himself of all the resources of religion and education. His efforts were attended with complete success. Arianism, which had taken deep root among the Visigoths, was eradicated, and the new heresy of Acephales was completely stifled at the very outset; religious discipline was everywhere strengthened. Like Leander, he took a most prominent part in the Councils of Toledo and Seville. In all justice it may be said that it was in a great measure due to the enlightened statecraft of these two illustrious brothers the Visigothic legislation, which emanated from these councils, is regarded by modern historians as exercising a most important influence on the beginnings of representative government. Isidore presided over the Second Council of Seville, begun 13 November, 619, in the reign of Sisebut. But it was the Fourth National Council of Toledo that afforded him the opportunity of being of the greatest service to his county. At this council, begun 5 December, 633, all the bishops of Spain were in attendance. St. Isidore, though far advanced in years, presided over its deliberations, and was the originator of most of its enactments. It was at this council and through his influence that a decree was promulgated commanding all bishops to establish seminaries in their Cathedral Cities, along the lines of the school already existing at Seville. Within his own jurisdiction he had availed himself of the resources of education to counteract the growing influence of Gothic barbarism. His was the quickening spirit that animated the educational movement of which Seville was the centre. The study of Greek and Hebrew as well as the liberal arts, was prescribed. Interest in law and medicine was also encouraged. Through the authority of the fourth council this policy of education was made obligatory upon all the bishops of the kingdom. Long before the Arabs had awakened to an appreciation of Greek Philosophy, he had introduced Aristotle to his countrymen. He was the first Christian writer to essay the task of compiling for his co-religionists a summa of universal knowledge. This encyclopedia epitomized all learning, ancient as well as modern. In it many fragments of classical learning are preserved which otherwise had been hopelessly lost. The fame of this work imparted a new impetus to encyclopedic writing, which bore abundant fruit in the subsequent centuries of the Middle Ages. His style, though simple and lucid, cannot be said to be classical. It discloses most of the imperfections peculiar to all ages of transition. It particularly reveals a growing Visigothic influence. Arevalo counts in all Isidore’s writing 1640 Spanish words. 

Isidore was the last of the ancient Christian Philosophers, as he was the last of the great Latin Fathers. He was undoubtedly the most learned man of his age and exercised a far-reaching and immeasurable influence on the educational life of the Middle Ages. His contemporary and friend, Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa, regarded him as a man raised up by God to save the Spanish people from the tidal wave of barbarism that threatened to inundate the ancient civilization of Spain, The Eighth Council of Toledo (653) recorded its admiration of his character in these glowing terms: “The extraordinary doctor, the latest ornament of the Catholic Church, the most learned man of the latter ages, always to be named with reverence, Isidore”. This tribute was endorsed by the Fifteenth Council of Toledo, held in 688. 

As a writer, Isidore was prolific and versatile to an extraordinary degree. His voluminous writings may be truly said to constitute the first chapter of Spanish literature. It is not, however, in the capacity of an original and independent writer, but as an indefatigable compiler of all existing knowledge, that literature is most deeply indebted to him. The most important and by far the best-known of all his writings is the “Etymologiae”, or “Origines”, as it is sometimes called. This work takes its name from the subject-matter of one of its constituent books. It was written shortly before his death, in the full maturity of his wonderful scholarship, at the request. of his friend Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa. It is a vast storehouse in which is gathered, systematized, and condensed, all the learning possessed by his time. Throughout the greater part of the Middle Ages it was the textbook most in use in educational institutions. So highly was it regarded as a depository of classical learning that in a great measure, it superseded the use of the individual works of the classics themselves. Not even the Renaissance seemed to diminish the high esteem in which it was held, and according to Arevalo, it was printed ten times between 1470 and 1529. Besides these numerous reprints, the popularity of the “Etymologiae” gave rise to many inferior imitations. It furnishes, abundant evidence that the writer possessed a most intimate knowledge of the Greek and Latin poets. In all, he quotes from one hundred and fifty-four authors, Christian and pagan. Many of these he had read in the originals and the others he consulted in current compilations. In style this encyclopedic work is concise and clear and in order, admirable. Braulio, to whom Isidore sent it for correction, and to whom he dedicated it, divided it into twenty books. 

The first three of these books are taken up with the trivium and quadrivium. The entire first book is devoted to grammar, including metre. Imitating the example of Cassiodorus and Boethius he preserves the logical tradition of the schools by reserving the second book for rhetoric and dialectic. Book four, treats of medicine and libraries; book five, of law and chronology; book six, of ecclesiastical books and offices; book seven, of God and of the heavenly and earthly hierarchies; book eight, of the Church and of the sects, of which latter he numbers no less than sixty-eight; book nine, of languages, peoples, kingdoms, and official titles; book ten, of etymology: book eleven, of man; book twelve, of beasts and birds; book thirteen, of the world and its parts; book fourteen, of physical geography; book fifteen, of public buildings and roadmaking; book sixteen, of stones and metals; book seventeen, of agriculture; book eighteen, of the terminology of war, of jurisprudence, and public games; book nineteen, of ships, houses, and clothes; book twenty, of victuals, domestic and agricultural tools, and furniture.

In the second book, dealing with dialectic and rhetoric, Isidore is heavily indebted to translations from the Greek by Boethius. Caelius Aurelianus contributes generously to that part of the fourth book which deals with medicine. Lactantius is the author most extensively quoted in the eleventh book, concerning man. The twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth books are largely based on the writings of Pliny and Solinus; whilst the lost “Prata” of Suetonius seems to have inspired the general plan of the “Etymologiae“, as well as many of its details. 

Similar in its general character to the “Etymologiae” is a work entitled “Libri duo differentiarum“. The two books of which it is composed are entitled respectively, “De differentiis verborum” and “De differentiis rerum“. The former is a dictionary of synonyms, treating of the differences of words with considerable erudition, and not a little ingenuity; the latter an exposition of theological and ascetical ideas, dealing in particular with the, Trinity and with the Divine and human nature of Christ. It suggests, and probably was inspired by, a similar work of Cato’s, It is supplementary to the first two books of the “Etymologiae“. The “Synonyma“, or, as it is sometimes called on account of its peculiar treatment, “Liber lamentationum“, is in a manner illustrative of the first book of the “Differentiae“. It is cast in the form of a dialogue between Man and Reason. The general burden of the dialogue is that Man mourns the condition to which he has been reduced through sin, and Reason comforts him with the knowledge of how he may still realize eternal happiness. The second part of this work consists of a dissertation on vice and virtue. The “De natura rerum” a manual of elementary physics, was composed at the request of King Sisebut, to whom it is dedicated. It treats of astronomy, geography, and miscellanea. It is one of Isidore’s best known books and enjoyed a wide popularity during the Middle Ages. The authenticity of “De ordine creaturarum” has been questioned by some critics, though apparently without good reason. Arevalo unhesitatingly attributes it to Isidore. It deals with various spiritual and physical questions, such as the Trinity, the consequences of sin, eternity, the ocean, the heavens, and the celestial bodies. 

The subjects of history and biography are represented by three important works. Of these the first, “Chronicon“, is a universal chronicle. In its preface Isidore acknowledges, his indebtedness to Julius Africanus; to St. Jerome’s rendering of Eusebius; and to Victor of Tunnuna. The “Historia de regibus Gothorum, Wandalorum, et Suevorum” concerns itself chiefly with the Gothic kings whose conquests and government deeply influenced the civilization of Spain. The history of the Vandals and the Suevi is treated in two short appendixes. This work is regarded as the chief authority on Gothic history in the West. It contains the interesting statement that the Goths descended from Gog and Magog. Like the other Historical writings of Isidore, it is largely based on earlier works of history, of which it is a compendium- It has come down to us in two recensions, one of which ends at the death of Sisebut (621), and the other continues to the fifth year of the reign of Swintila, his successor. “De viris illustribus” is a work of Christian biography and constitutes a most interesting chapter in the literature of patrology. To the number of illustrious writers mentioned therein Braulio added the name of Isidore himself. A short appendix containing a list of Spanish theologians was added by Braulio’s disciple, Ildephonsus of Toledo. It is the continuation of the work of Gennadius, a Semipelagian priest of Marseilles, who wrote between 467 and 480. This work of Gennadius was in turn, but the continuation of the work of St. Jerome. 

[ Source: The Catholic Encyclopedia ]

So, how does Saint Isidore of Seville become the patron saint for the Internet? The Observation Service for Internet, who drew it’s mission from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, researched the Internet and related technologies to select a patron saint that best reflects the concerns and ideals of computer designers, programmers and users. The saint chosen by the Observation Service for Internet was Saint Isidore. “The saint who wrote the well-known ‘Etymologies’ (a type of dictionary), gave his work a structure akin to that of the database. He began a system of thought known today as ‘flashes;’ it is very modern, notwithstanding the fact it was discovered in the sixth century. Saint Isidore accomplished his work with great coherence: it is complete and its features are complementary in themselves.

ST EXPEDITE

Expeditus with his typical iconographical attributes

Reference

Buddhism 101: More on Hand Mudras; Mudras: Meaning of Sacred Hand Gestures

Mudras are sacred hand gestures or positions that used to evoke a state of mind. The Sanskrit word “mudra” means “seal”, “mark”, or “gesture”. In Tibetan the word is ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ or “chakgya”. Each of these sacred hand gestures has a specific meaning. Many of them symbolize major moments or events in the Buddha’s life.

In this beautiful photo by Olivier Adam, an elderly nun in Zanskar shows a novice nun how to make the Mandala Offering Mudra.

8 Mudras and their Meaning

Sacred hand gestures or mudras are often depicted in Buddhist art. In this blog we’d like to share descriptions and images of some common mudras. The list here is not exhaustive.

The Earth Witness Mudra

When Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, was meditating under the Bodhi tree, he was assailed by the demon Mara, who tried to disturb his mind. Mara represents the passions that trap and delude us. Siddhartha refused to be tempted from the path to enlightenment and he called on the earth to witness his worthiness to become enlightened, saying, “The earth shall be my witness, I will not let myself be seduced.” In the Earth Witness Mudra, (also known as the Bhumisparsa Mudra or Gesture of Witness), the historical Buddha is seated in the meditation posture and touches the earth with the fingertips of his right hand, palm facing inwards. The left hand is placed in the lap with the palm facing upwards.

In this detail from a thangka print, the historical Buddha is depicted seated in meditation and calling the earth as his witness.

The Mudra of Meditation

The Mudra of Meditation (dhyana) is made by placing both hands on the lap, right hand on the left, with the palms facing upwards, the tips of the thumbs touching, and the fingers fully stretched. This mudra helps to calm the mind for meditation and is used for deep contemplation and reflection. The mudra of meditation is a characteristic gesture of the Buddha Shakyamuni.

This ancient stone sculpture shows the Buddha with his hands in the Mudra of Meditation

The Namaskara or Anjali Mudra

This mudra, while not found in representations of the Buddha or other deities, is commonly used by nuns, monks, and lay people to symbolize devotion, prayer, and admiration. Called the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra, it is used as a common form of greeting in most Asian countries. Anjali is a Sanskrit word which means “salutation” or “to offer” and Namaskar is Hindi for “good day”. To make this mudra, you bring your palms together in front of your heart space, fingers pointing upwards, and thumbs close to the chest, to symbolize honor, respect, and devotion.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama holds his hands together in greeting and in offering respect to others. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Mudra of Holding the Jewel or Manidhara Mudra

The Mudra of Holding the Jewel looks very similar to the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra shown above. Also called the Manidhara Mudra, it is made by holding one’s hands together in front but with the palms and fingers slightly arched, holding the precious, wish-fulfilling jewel. This jewel or gem is also depicted in Tibetan prayer flags, carried upon the back of the Lung Ta  or wind horse. This sacred hand gesture of holding the jewel is a mudra of Avalokiteshvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. The Tibetan word for Avalokiteshvara is Chenrezig (སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་). The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Chenrezig,

An elderly nun in Zanskar places her palms together in devotion, holding the wish-fulfilling jewel, a mudra associated with Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezig). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

The Mandala Offering Mudra

The Mandala Offering Mudra is a complex and sacred hand gesture that acts as a symbolic offering of the entire universe for the benefit of all sentient beings. Performing the Mandala Offering Mudra helps to reduce one’s attachment and to purify the clinging mind. Although this mudra is usually made together with prayers and Buddhist chants, non-Buddhists can also perform it to receive its spiritual benefits.

A Tibetan Buddhist nun performs the Mandala Mudra with her mala (Buddhist prayer beads). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

To make this complex mudra, sit in meditation pose with your back straight. Calm your breathing and visualize offering the mandala – the universe – to the Buddha, bodhisattvas, and all holy beings, giving with great joy and with purity of heart. Place your hands palms up and intertwine your fingers. With the tips of your thumbs, press down on the tips of the opposite little finger. Then, with the bent tips of your index fingers, press down on the tip of the opposite middle finger. Finally, take your ring fingers, unclasp them, and put them back to back, pressing the backs together and with both fingers going straight up through the center. Together the ring fingers symbolize Mt. Meru, the sacred mountain, and the four continents described in Buddhist cosmology.

A Tibetan Buddhist nun in Zanskar performs the mandala offering mudra. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Vitarka Mudra or Teaching Mudra

The Vitarka Mudra (the Mudra of Teaching or Discussion) is a common mudra representing the discussion and transmission of Buddhist teachings. It is formed by joining the tips of the thumb and index finger together to form a circle, keeping the other three fingers pointing straight up. The circle formed by the joined fingers symbolizes perfection with no beginning or end.

This mudra is usually made with one hand, most often the right one, with the hand held upward close to the chest and the palm facing outward. However, the mudra may also be made with both hands held in front of the chest, with each index finger and thumb joined in a circle. When two hands are used, the left palm faces inward and the right palm is turned outward. The Teaching Mudra represents the Buddha’s first teaching after becoming enlightened. It also symbolizes the “Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma” or Dharmachakra. There are a great number of variations of this mudra in Mahayana Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the mystic gesture of Taras and bodhisattvas.

This sculpture shows the mudra of teaching or the Vitarka Mudra, with the tips of the thumb and index finger joined to form a circle.
In this detail from a thangka print, White Tara is holding an utpala flower in her raised left hand. The tips of her thumb and fourth or ring finger are touching. This is a gesture of good fortune and shows that, by relying upon her, one may accomplish complete purity of mind and body.

Generosity Mudra or Varada Mudra

The Varada Mudra is the gesture of generosity, charity, and compassion. It is commonly found in representations of the Green and White Tara. This sacred hand gesture represents the granting of blessings, wishes, or even pardon. It also symbolizes the “gift of truth” – the precious gift of the dharma or Buddhist teachings. In the Varada Mudra, the palm faces out and hangs down, usually touching the right leg. This mudra is often used in conjunction with another mudra. The five fingers represent the five perfections: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, and meditation.

Detail of a thangka print depicting White Tara and showing the outward facing palm and downward hand of the Varada Mudra or Mudra of Generosity.

Mudra of Fearlessness or Abhaya Mudra

Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. The Mudra of Fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra symbolizes the dispelling of fear. It can look to Westerners like the common hand gesture for “stop”. The mudra is made by raising the right hand to shoulder height, with the arm bent and the palm facing outward. This mudra is more commonly depicted in standing images.

This very ancient hand gesture is also a sign of peace and friendship. Placing one’s hand up and open in this way indicates that one is free of weapons and comes in peace. In Buddhism, the mudra shows the fearlessness and therefore the spiritual power of the Buddha or bodhisattva who makes it.

It is said that the historical Buddha made this sacred hand gesture immediately after gaining enlightenment. At a later time, the Buddha was about to be attacked by a mad elephant. The poor animal had been fed alcohol and tortured by one who hoped to use the elephant as a weapon against the Buddha. The elephant, enraged and in pain, charged at the Buddha and his followers. While others ran away, the Buddha stood calmly, raising his hand in the gesture of fearlessness. He felt great love and compassion for the stricken elephant. In response, the elephant stopped in its charge, became calm, and then approached the Buddha and bowed its head.

A giant Buddha statue in Hong Kong shows the seated Buddha with the mudra of fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra

A note about the images of mudras: The thangka prints shown in this blog post were donated to the Tibetan Nuns Project by a generous donor. A range of thangka prints are available through our online store, with all proceeds from sales going to help the nuns. We are very grateful to Olivier Adam for sharing his beautiful photos. Many of his photos are available as cards through our online store. Prints of Olivier Adam’s photographs are available through his Etsy shop, Daughters of Buddha.

Additional Sources

YouTube links to videos of some Buddhist hand mudras.

Reference

Buddhism 101: Hand Mudras

Fancy/Veer/Corbis / Getty Images

Mudras are a silent language of self-expression used in Hindu and Buddhist teachings. Mudra hand gestures or poses are often used in yoga practice, meditation, and for healing purposes.

Anjali Mudra
Alternate Name: Namaste Anjali. photo © Joe Desy

The Anjali mudra is used as a salutation or greeting such as gassho or namaste.

How to form the Anjali mudra: Hands are held together in prayer fashion directly over the heart/chest. 

Pushan Mudra

Give and Take Gesture Pushan. photo © Joe Desy

The Pushan mudra demonstrates the understanding that life energy moves with ebb and flow motion.

How to form the Pushan mudra:
Right hand: Thumb, index finger, and middle finger touch at tips. Ring finger and pinky fingers are fully extended.
Left hand: Thumb, middle finger, and ring finger touch at tips. Index and pinky fingers are fully extended.

Apana Mudra

Earth Connection Apana. photo © Joe Desy

The Apana mudra has a grounding force to help you connect with the earth’s energies whenever you are feeling off balance or flighty.

How to form the Apana mudra: Tips of thumb, middle and ring finger are joined. Pinky and index fingers are extended.

Hakini Mudra

Rememberance Mudra Hakini Mudra. photo © Joe Desy

The Hakini mudra helps thinking and concentration. Powers the brain.

How to form the Hakini mudra: Hands and fingers are open and spread apart. Join hands together at the thumbs and fingertips.

Mantangi Mudra

Hindu Goddess of Peace Mantangi. photo © Joe Desy

The Mantangi mudra reates an atmosphere of calmness and serenity. Tames conflicts. This hand gesture resembles the trunk of an elephant.

How to form the Mantangi mudra: Fold both hands together with fingers inter-twined. Extend both middle fingers outward and point them toward the skies.

Akash Mudra

Heart Mudra Akash. photo © Joe Desy

The Akash Mudra helps to “center” your energies. It nourishes any part of your body that is lacking.

How to form the Akash mudra: Thumb and middle finger are joined. Index, ring, and pinky fingers are extended.

Vajra Mudra

Alternate Name: Fist of Wisdom Vajra. photo © Joe Desy

The Vajra mudra transforms ignorance into wisdom. Symbolizes the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and metal.

How to form the Vajra Mudra: Right-handed fist surrounds left index finger. Remaining fingers of left hand also form a fist below the right hand.

Gyan Mudra

Grounding Gyan. photo © Joe Desy

The Gyan mudra represents the starting place or home. It takes you back to your roots, or a simpler time. Clears the mental facilties.

How to form the Gyan mudra:Thumb and index fingers touch at tips. Middle, ring, and pinky fingers are relaxed, curved slightly.

Ushas Mudra

Stimulates Sacral Chakra Ushas. photo © Joe Desy

The Ushas mudra gesture helps to spark creativity and enliven sexuality. Good catalyst for new projects.

How to form the Kubera mudra:
Females: Interlaced fingers with palms facing upwards. Encircle right thumb between left thumb and index fingers.
Males: Interlaced fingers with palms facing upwards. Right thumb rests on top of left thumb with gentle pressure.

Garuda Mudra

Mystical Bird Garuda. photo © Joe Desy

The Garuda mudra is used to heighten intuition and enable communication with the spirit world.

How to form the Garuda mudra: Place right palm over the top of left hand, spreading fingers apart and crossing thumbs.

Vitarka Mudra

Reasoning Mudra Vitarka.

The Vitarka mudra, a symbol of wisdom, is a variation of the Dharmachakra mudra.

How to form the Vitarka mudra: Thumbs and index fingers of both hands join at tips forming circles. Left hand sits upon lap palm facing upwards. Right hand is held at shoulder height with palm facing downwards.

Prana Mudra

Symbolized Life Force Prana. photo © Joe Desy

The Prana mudra can be used whenever you feel drained or need an extra boost of energy. Good to use in the morning to awaken and fully embrace the new day.

How to form the Prana mudra: Thumb, ring, and pinky are touching. Index and middle finger are extended.

Buddha Mudra

Receptivity Buddha. photo © Joe Desy

The Buddha symbolizes being humble and learning to be grateful. Palms are open to receive gifts.

How to form the Buddha mudra:Both palms open. Rest one hand inside the other hand’s open palm. Thumb tips are touching (traditionally, right hand rests on left for men, left on right for women).

Shunya Mudra

Alternative Name: Heave Mudra Shunya. photo © Joe Desy

The Shunya mudra assists listening and speech. Primarily a remedy for ear afflictions.

How to form the Shunya mudra:Lower the middle finger and place finger pad on the fleshy mound area of your thumb, cover it with your thumb. Index, ring and pinky fingers are extended.

Kubera Mudra

Manifestating / Wish Mudra Kubera. photo © Joe Desy

The Kubera mudra is used for creating wealth and reaching your goals.

How to form the Kubera mudra: Tips of thumb, index, and middle fingers are joined. Ring finger and pinky are folded into the palm.

Uttarabodhi Mudra

Enlightenment Uttarabodhi. photo © Joe Desy

The Uttarabodhi mudra is a gesture that identifies with a supreme power. Symbolizes perfection.

How to form the Uttarabodhi mudra: Index fingers touch one another and are extended, pointing toward the skies. Remaining fingers are crossed and folded down. Thumbs are cross or held next to each other. Clasped hands are held over the head.

Dharmachakra Mudra

Teaching Dharmachakra. photo © Joe Desy

The Dharmachakra Mudra symbolizes the role of the teacher.

How to form the Dharmachakra mudra:Thumbs and index fingers are joined. Middle, ring, and pinky fingers are extended in a relaxed fashion. With left palm facing the body and right palm faced outward join thumbs and index fingers of both hands.

Bhutadamar Mudra

Protection – Wards Off Evil Bhutadamar. photo © Joe Desy

The Bhutadamar mudra serves as a shield keeping negative energies away.

How to form the Bhutadamar mudra: Palms are facing outwards away from the body. Wrists are crossed. Ring fingers are placed down toward the palms.

Ahamkara Mudra

Self Confidence Ahamkara. photo © Joe Desy

The Ahamkara mudra can be used when you are feeling “less-than” or fearful.

How to form the Ahamkara mudra: Index finger is bent slightly. Place thumb on the middle of bent index finger. Middle, ring and pink fingers are extended.

Dhyana Mudra

Meditation Pose Dhyana. photo © Joe Desy

The Dhyana mudra is universally used during meditation and relaxed states.

How to form the Dhyana mudra: Hands form a cup or bowl. Thumbs touch at the tips or comfortably overlapped.

Yoni Mudra

Femininity Yoni. photo © Joe Desy

Feminine Adi Shakti Primal Power Mudra – The Yoni Mudra represents getting in touch with female energies. Symbolizes a woman’s vulva.

How to form the Yoni mudra: Hands form an almond shape with joined thumbs extended upwards. Fingers are joined at tips extended downwards.

Prithivi Mudra

Alternate Name: Earth Mudra Prithivi. photo © Joe Desy

The Prithivi mudra recharges the root chakra aligning it with earth energies.

How to form the Prithivi mudra: Tips of thumb and ring finger are joined. Remaining fingers are extended.

Kapitthaka Mudra

Happiness Kapitthaka. photo © Joe Desy

Smiling Buddha Mudra

How to form the Kapitthaka mudra: Index and middle fingers are held beside each other while extended. Ring and pinky fingers are tucked inside the palm. Thumbs rest on tucked fingers.

Shankh Mudra

Alternate names: Conch or Shell Mudra Shankh. photo © Joe Desy

The Shankh mudra is commonly used during worship or prayer.

How to form the Shankh mudra: The left thumb is placed on the center of the right palm. The right hand forms a firm grip around the left thumb. The left hand rests against the right fist. Right thumb touching the left index finger.

Kalesvara Mudra

Calms Anxieties Kalesvara. photo © Joe Desy

The Kalesvara mudra calms anxious thoughts and agitated feelings.

How to form the Kalesvara mudra: Place both palms together pairing thumbs and all fingers at tips. Fold index, ring, and pinky fingers downward. Middle fingers are extended outward. Point thumbs toward your body.

Linga Mudra

Protective Mudra Linga. photo © Joe Desy

The Linga mudra is used as a remedy for the lungs, guarding against colds and cold weather. Strenghens immune system.

How to form the Linga mudra: Interlace fingers of both hands, extending one thumb upwards, encircle extended thumb with the index finger and thumb of your other hand.

Mukula Mudra

Closed Lotus Mukula. photo © Joe Desy

The Mukula Mudra’s appearance resembles the bud of a lotus flower. Represents new beginnings or start up a new enterprise.

How to form the Mukula mudra:All fingers and thumb are joined together, pointed upwards.

Surabhi Mudra

Alternate Name: Dhenu Mudra Surabhi. photo © Joe Desy

Balances the five elements: Air Fire Water Earth and Metal

How to form the Surabhi mudra: Fingers and thumbs are joined at tips. Thumbs touching each other. Left index finger joins right middle finger. Right index finger joins left middle finger. Left ring finger joins right pinky finger. Right ring finger joins left pinky finger.

Mida-no Jouin Mudra

Dual Worlds Meditation Pose Mida-no Jouin. photo © Joe Desy

The left hand mirrors the right hand representing two worlds: Enlightment and Illusion

How to form Mida-no Jouin mudra: Middle, ring, and pinky fingers create a flat or slightly curved bed resting upon the lap. Two circles are formed with index fingers held together while extended upwards meeting the tips of both thumbs.

Suchi Mudra

Releasing Suchi. photo © Joe Desy

Helpful for chronic constipation. Tames uncontrolled behaviors such as impatience, temper tantrums, clinging to others, etc.

How to form the Suchi mudra: Form a fist, extend index finger pointing up and out away from the body, preferrably arms are extended over the head.

Abhayaprada Mudra

No Fear Abhayaprada. photo © Joe Desy

Abhayaprada mudra is a protective hand gesture symbolizes strength or being fearless.

How to form the Abhayaprada mudra:Hand is held upward with palm facing away from your body.

Varada Mudra

Charity Mudra Varada. photo © Joe Desy

The Varada mudra pose is customarily used whenever a blessing is being offered.

How to form the Varada mudra: Fingers and thumb are downwards. Flattened palm facing outwards away from the body

Ganesha Mudra

Overcoming Obstacles Ganesha. photo © Joe Desy

The Ganesha mudra can be employed whenever you are struggling. Symbolizes strength when facing troubles. Eases tension.

How to form the Ganesha mudra: Palm of your right hands facing your chest. Left hand grasps the right hand forming a locking grasp, tugging firmly.

Mahasirs Mudra

Tension Reliever Mahasirs. photo © Joe Desy

The Mahasirs mudra is used to help give relief for head-related afflictions. Headaches, stress, tension, etc.

hHow to form the Mahasirs mudra: Thumb, index and middle fingers are joined at tips. Ring finger is folded into the palm and tucked into the fleshy part of the thumb. Pinky is extended.

Mushti Mudra

Releasing Mushti. photo © Joe Desy

The Mushti mudra is used as an outlet for “letting go” or releasing pent up emotions or energies.

How to form the Mushti mudra: Hold hand in a fist with thumb placed over the ring finger.

Bhudy Mudra

Intuition Bhudy. photo © Joe Desy

The Bhudy mudra helps you get in touch with your innermost feelings.

How to form the Bhudy mudra: Pinky and thumb tips are touching. Index, middle, and ring fingers are extended.

Mudras Poster: 36 Healing Hand Gestures– Download Free PDF format
Mudra: Gestures of Power DVD – Buy Direct

Reference

  • Desy, Phylameana lila. “Mudra Photo Gallery.” Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020, learnreligions.com/mudra-photo-gallery-4051990.

A World Of Pandemics: Part IV

How Humanity’s Response To Epidemic Disease Has Stayed The Same Throughout History

For millennia, societies have faced destructive epidemics that caused a major loss of life. Although the germs that cause epidemics change over time, and people may pretend humanity has too, responses to epidemics show startling similarities across centuries. During Justinian’s Plague, 40% of Constantinople’s population perished. When the plague of Athens struck, it took out up to 30% of the city. And when the Black Death swept Europe in the 14th century, it ended the lives of millions, with population losses of over 50% in some areas. Even epidemics with lower mortality rates cause major disruptions, like the Spanish flu of 1918. But regardless of era or disease, people have shown many of the same responses: flee from the source of the danger, look for a scapegoat, propagate pseudoscientific cures, and question scientific authority.  

In a time of crisis all bets are off; we fall into the most primal fears and patterns. And though people will do what they can to save themselves, not all behaviors are bad. Some may even better prepare humanity for future epidemics and crises.

People Try To Find A Scapegoat, Leading To Instances Of Extreme Prejudice And Racism

Photo: Michel Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

When epidemics spread, communities often look for a scapegoat. During the Black Death, Europeans blamed Jewish communities for spreading the disease. One chronicle reported, “Death went from one end of the earth to the other, on that side and this side of the sea . . . In some lands everyone died so that no one was left.”

In Strasbourg, the plague took out thousands, and Christians blamed the city’s Jewish population. “On Saturday – that was St. Valentine’s Day – they burnt the Jews on a wooden platform,” the chronicle recorded. “There were about 2,000 people.” The same happened in other cities. “In some towns they burnt the Jews after a trial, in others, without a trial.”

Just as the Jews became scapegoats during the plague, racism against Chinese people increased during the 2003 SARS epidemic and the 2020 coronavirus epidemic because they both originated in China. In New York City, during the 2020 epidemic, tourists have even avoided Chinese restaurants for fear of catching the virus despite there being no evidence to suggest people of East Asian origin are more likely to spread the disease.

These are not the only cases in modern history, however, and people of East Asian origin are not the only targets of prejudice. During the Ebola outbreak of 2015, people from West Africa were targets of xenophobia; while the LGBTQ+ community was stigamatized during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. 

People Peddle Pseudoscientific Cures And Spread Disinformation

Photo: Pluto Water Company/Wikimedia Commons/Public Doma

In 1900, the bubonic plague reached the shores of America. An outbreak in San Francisco threatened to spread the disease. Doctors warned that bacteria spread the plague, but government officials undermined their efforts by questioning the science.

In California, Governor Henry Gage was skeptical about germ theory. He couldn’t personally see the bacteria that caused plague, and thus denied its existence. As the plague swept through Chinatown, white San Franciscans claimed they were immune from the disease, blaming its spread on poor hygiene. But they, too, soon faced a plague epidemic, regardless of their scientific skepticism and denial. 

Similarly, during Justinian’s Plague in the sixth century, people turned to cures with no basis in science. Some claimed taking cold baths protected people from plague, while others sold magic amulets. 

Similar pseudoscientific claims continue into the 21st. During the 2015 Zika virus epidemic a rash of conspiracy theories made their way through social media platforms. One such claim blamed one of the viruses symptoms, microcephaly, a condition which causes babies’ heads and brains to develop abnormally, on MMR and DTAP vaccines in an effort for pharmaceutical companies to profit off of Zika vaccines. 

Psedoscientific claims can cause adverse effects to individual and societal health. In the case of the Zika virus, doctors and scholars looking to limit the disease’s reach claimed the disinformation threatened the legitimacy of healthcare institutions, potentially exposing more people to the disease as people refused to trust healthcare professionals. In other cases, the pseudoscientific claims and cures, like drinking bleach, have caused more direct health issues.

Due To Extreme Population Loss, Affected States Experience A Loss In Military And Political Strength

Photo: Edward A. “Doc” Rogers/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In the sixth century, the Byzantine Empire experienced a horrific plague that caused a massive drop in population. Under the Emperor Justinian, the Byzantines had expanded their borders and fought to regain parts of the western Roman Empire. But Justinian’s Plague threatened to destroy the empire.

Thanks to population loss, the Byzantines could no longer defend their overseas territories. In addition to the military losses, the Byzantines also endured economic and administrative problems that decreased the empire’s political power. Though the empire survived the plague, it never again achieved the reach it had under Justinian.

Justinian’s Plague was not the only Ancient historical case. In the fifth century BCE, the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta faced each other through a nearly 30-year war. During the second year of the war, however, while Sparta had laid siege on the Athens, the defending city was swept by an unknown epidemic disease, which ended a third of its entire population including the states leader, Pericles. 

Some historians and scholars have attributed this unexpected loss of life to Athens’s ultimate defeat and the eventual decline of Ancient Greece’s cultural output. Others would not go that far, citing Athens’s eventual regrowth and victories throughout the battles, but they do agree the city state did lose prestige and power due to the political aftermath of the disease.

Similarly, historians have attributed Germany’s loss at the end of WWI to the emergence of the Spanish Flu epidemic in the summer of 1918. Beginning the year with a military advantage against the Triple Entente and looking to end the war before American soldiers could be deployed, the Germans launched an offensive in hopes of breaking through enemy lines and reaching Paris. They, however, lost about half a million men due to the virus, making it impossible for the army to make that final charge.

Because They Feel A Personal Responsibility To Help, Healthcare Personnel Experience The Worst Of The Disease

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers often experience high mortality rates during epidemics. The famous plague doctor costume, developed in the 17th century as the bubonic plague continued to ravage Europe, attempted to protect doctors from miasmas, or disease-transmitting clouds. In modern epidemics, doctors wear personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves. 

Due to the close proximity and extended time healthcare personnel spend among epidemic diseases, the high mortality rate among healthcare workers is still the norm despite technological advances.

In the fifth century BCE, Athens experienced a horrific plague that took out one in three Athenians in a single summer. As the Peloponnesian War raged, Athenians battled against an unknown enemy riskier than combat. Doctors experienced an even higher mortality rate during the plague of Athens. That year, according to Thucydides, “Neither were the physicians at first of any service, ignorant as they were of the proper way to treat it, but they died themselves the most thickly, as they visited the sick most often.”

But during the 2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, doctors and nurses also perished at a much greater percentage the rest of the population. The World Health Organization attributed the high mortality to fairly regular problems within epidemics, including shortages of both medical supplies and staff, improper use of equipment, and longer than recommended exposure to the disease most often due to a sense of duty to help.

Societies Affected By Major Epidemics Have Resorted To Mass Burial

Photo: S. Tzortzis/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

When the Black Death swept across Europe, millions perished in its wake. And the disease’s mortality rate left societies with a troubling logistical problem: How should they dispose of the bodies piling up in the streets?

In Lincolnshire, England, Black Death victims were buried in a mass grave. Discovered in 2013, the grave contains the bodies of nearly 50 people. The community apparently left the grave open and filled it as people perished. According to a journal article in Antiquity, the grave was “filled over the course of several days or weeks.”

Large cities experienced an even more critical problem. According to a 14th century Florentine chronicle, bodies were thrown into deep trenches every night. “The next morning, if there were many [bodies] in the trench, they covered them over with dirt. And then more bodies were put on top of them, with a little more dirt over those; they put layer on layer just like one puts layers of cheese in a lasagna.”

Similar action was taken during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. In 2015, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation contractor looking to widen the 61 Freeway dug into a 2.25 acre field in Schuylkill County, 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Many of the regions residents who perished from the Spanish Flu were found to be buried without caskets. Historians and archaeologists believe there was such a high mortality rate the grave diggers and casket makers could not keep up with the demand, forcing them to unsystematically bury the victims in a large pit.

A Certain Contingent Of People Resort To Hedonism When Death Seems Inevitable

Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In an era before people understood bacteria and viruses, epidemics brought even more confusion. And when succumbing to the disease seemed inevitable, some people cast off social restrictions and turned to hedonism.

Boccaccio described the response to the Black Death in Florence. Some shunned the sick and avoided any contact with them. “There were those who thought that to live temperately and avoid all excess would count for much,” Boccaccio related. These people secluded themselves from society while “eating and drinking moderately.” 

Others took the opposite tactic. They believed “that to drink freely, frequent places of public resort, and take their pleasure with song and revel, sparing to satisfy no appetite, and to laugh and mock at no event, was the sovereign remedy for so great an evil.”

These hedonists traveled from tavern to tavern, “drinking with an entire disregard of rule or measure.” 

Boccaccio reported that many of the hedonists perished – but so did those who chose to live moderately.

Similar behavior transpired during the Plague of Athens in the 430 BCE. According to Thucydides:

Men now coolly ventured on what they had formerly done in a corner, and not just as they pleased, seeing the rapid transitions produced by persons in prosperity suddenly dying and those who before had nothing succeeding to their property.

So they resolved to spend quickly and enjoy themselves, regarding their lives and riches as alike things of a day. Perseverance in what men called honor was popular with none, it was so uncertain whether they would be spared to attain the object; but it was settled that present enjoyment, and all that contributed to it, was both honorable and useful. Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them.

In The Wake Of Epidemics, Artists Focus On Macabre Themes

Photo: Schedel’s Chronicarum/Wikimedia Commons/Public Dom

Throughout history, epidemics shape culture as well as society. After living through an epidemic, artists in many eras turn to macabre themes. 

During the Black Death, artists emphasized the end of life itself. Historian Frank M. Snowden says that the plague “had a transformative effect on the iconography of European art.”

Artists drew the “dance of death,” showing skeletons reveling, and also emphasized perishing through including hourglasses in their art. Art reminded viewers that there was no escape from the inevitable.

People Change Their Personal Religious Beliefs And Practices

Photo: Elihu Vedder/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domai

A dangerous epidemic can either shake people’s faith or reinforce it. During the Black Death, Europeans worried the disease had been sent by God as a punishment for their sins. Although many flocked to church for protection, faith didn’t protect Europeans from the plague. 

In the 14th century, the plague swept through religious communities, wiping out entire monasteries and convents. The pope himself withdrew from society instead of stepping up as a religious leader. Zealots like the flagellants swept across the continent, atoning for sin by publicly whipping themselves.

During modern epidemics, backed by knowledge of germ theory, religious communities modify traditions to stop the spread of disease. Others simply stop attending church to avoid exposure to large crowds.

Societies Isolate And Quarantine Those Infected

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For centuries, people separated the sick from the healthy. The Old Testament even lists rules for isolating lepers. 

But quarantines in the modern sense began in the 14th century during the bubonic plague. Venice, a trade hub in the Mediterranean, established the first quarantine by banning ships from the city for 40 days after arriving. Our word for “quarantine” comes from the Italian word “quaranta” which means 40. 

The idea quickly spread. In the second major plague outbreak in 1374, Milan adopted a quasi-quarantine by sending plague victims to a field outside the city, where they remained until they recovered or perished. The coastal town of Ragusa on the Dalmatian coast created its own quarantine station, an idea that quickly caught on. Several islands in the Venetian lagoon were used as quarantine stations for centuries.

Quarantines continued into the 20th century. During the Spanish flu, one city protected itself from influenza by shutting down the roads and quarantining anyone who arrived by trains. In that city, Gunnison, Colorado, no one perished from influenza.

People Practice Healthier Behaviors

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Educating the public about the spread of disease has been an important tool in fighting epidemics. In the early 20th century, public health campaigns warned people not to carelessly spit, cough, or sneeze, since these helped spread infectious diseases like influenza.

In the 1980s, public education was an important tool in fighting the AIDs epidemic. To slow the spread of the disease, these campaigns focused on changing at-risk behavior. These efforts warned against sharing needles or having unprotected sex. After peaking in the early 1990s, the number of HIV cases in the US dropped in large part thanks to public education.

People Migrate En Masse To Escape The Disease

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During epidemics, large groups of people often migrate to avoid disease. Boccaccio’s Decameron tells the story of Italians who fled Florence during the plague. 

In 14th century Egypt, the bubonic plague destroyed villages and forced many from rural areas to migrate into Cairo. In one district in Upper Egypt, a survey counted 6,000 workers in the fields before the plague. Thanks to those perishing and migrating, only 116 laborers remained after the plague. 

Similarly, in January 2020, about 5 million people left the city of Wuhan, China, before the lockdown. According to Mayor Zhou Xianwang, millions fled days before the quarantine went into place. However, migrants fleeing an epidemic potentially spread the disease, undoing the impact of quarantines.

While Bad For The Economy In The Short Term, Epidemics Tend To Bring Positive Long-Term Economic Changes 

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In the short term, epidemics bring massive economic disruptions. During Justinian’s Plague, trade nearly came to a halt and agricultural prices soared thanks to fewer farmers. In Constantinople, where up to 40% of the population perished, the Byzantine Empire faced an economic crisis when tax revenues collapsed. 

During the Black Death, the high mortality rate meant fewer laborers in the fields. In the short term, that meant higher prices. The bubonic plague, however, brought some unexpected long-term improvements to Europe’s economy. Thanks to a labor shortage, wages rose in the decades after the plague. In England, wages roughly doubled. In Suffolk, laborers made 67% more for reaping after the Black Death. 

Increased wages for the laboring classes meant higher spending and a greater standard of living. Agricultural workers could suddenly afford “luxury” items like butter. In cities, people benefited from more disposable income. In effect, the Black Death redistributed wealth from the aristocrats to the peasants and urban workers, helping drive Europe’s economic engine for centuries.

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