Gays: Guardians of the Gates
An Interview with Malidoma Somé
Copyright © 1993 by Bert H. Hoff
This article appeared in the September, 1993 issue of M.E.N. Magazine.
Malidoma Somé recognizes that he learned more through his initiation as a Dagara tribesman than from his PhDs from the Sorbonne and Brandeis University. His name means "be friendly to strangers," and he is charged by his elders of the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso (east of Nigeria and north of Ghana) with bringing the wisdom of his tribe to the West. His book Ritual: Power, Healing and Community (reviewed in this issue) is highly praised by Michael Meade, Robert Bly and Robert Moore. If you were not fortunate enough to catch his reading at the Elliott Bay Bookstore last August, you can find out more about him through the book and tape reviews in this issue.
During one of the Conflict Hours at the Mendocino Men’s Conference Malidoma spoke eloquently on indigenous people’s views of gay men. He kindly agreed to elaborate on his views as he sat with me among the redwoods of Mendocino.
Bert: At Conflict Hour you told us that your culture honors gays as having a higher vibrational level that enabled them to be guardians of the gateways to the spirit world. You suggested that our Western view limits itself by focusing only on their sexual role. Can you elaborate for our readers?
Malidoma: I don’t know how to put it in terms that are clear enough for an audience that, I think needs as much understanding of this gender issue as people in this country do. But at least among the Dagara people, gender has very little to do with anatomy. It is purely energetic. In that context, a male who is physically male can vibrate female energy, and vice versa. That is where the real gender is. Anatomic differences are simply there to determine who contributes what for the continuity of the tribe. It does not mean, necessarily, that there is a kind of line that divides people on that basis. And this is something that also touches on what has become known here as the "gay" or "homosexual" issue. Again, in the culture that I come from, this is not the issue. These people are looked on, essentially, as people. The whole notion of "gay" does not exist in the indigenous world. That does not mean that there are not people there who feel the way that certain people feel in this culture, that has led to them being referred to as "gay."
The reason why I’m saying there are no such people is because the gay person is very well integrated into the community, with the functions that delete this whole sexual differentiation of him or her. The gay person is looked at primarily as a "gatekeeper." The Earth is looked at, from my tribal perspective, as a very, very delicate machine or consciousness, with high vibrational points, which certain people must be guardians of in order for the tribe to keep its continuity with the gods and with the spirits that dwell there. Spirits of this world and spirits of the other worlds. Any person who is at this link between this world and the other world experiences a state of vibrational consciousness which is far higher, and far different, from the one that a normal person would experience. This is what makes a gay person gay. This kind of function is not one that society votes for certain people to fulfill. It is one that people are said to decide on prior to being born. You decide that you will be a gatekeeper before you are born. And it is that decision that provides you with the equipment (Malidoma gestures by circling waist area with hands) that you bring into this world. So when you arrive here you begin to vibrate in a way that Elders can detect as meaning that you are connected with a gateway somewhere. Then they watch you grow, and they watch you act and react, and sooner or later they will follow you to the gateway that you are connected with.
Now, gay people have children. Because they’re fertile, just like normal people. How I got to know that they were gay was because on arriving in this country and seeing the serious issues surrounding gay people, I began to wonder it does not exist in my own country. When I asked one of them, who tad taken me to the threshold of the Otherworld, whether he feels sexual attraction towards another man, he jumped back and said, "How do you know that?!" He said, "This is our business as gatekeepers." And, yet he had a wife and children -- no problem, you see.
So to then limit gay people to simple sexual orientation is really the worst harm that can be done to a person. That all he or she is is a sexual person. And, personally, because of the fact that my knowledge of indigenous medicine, ritual, comes from gatekeepers, it’s hard for me to take this position that gay people are the negative breed of a society. No! In a society that is profoundly dysfunctional, what happens is that peoples’ life purposes are taken away, and what is left is this kind of sexual orientation which, in turn, is disturbing to the very society that created it.
I think this is again victimization by a Christian establishment that is looking at a gay person as a disempowered person, a person who has lost his job from birth onward, and now society just wants to fire him out of life. This is not justice. It’s not justice. It is a terrible harm done to an energy that could save the world, that could save us. If, today, we are suffering from a gradual ecological waste, this is simply because the gatekeepers have been fired from their job. They have been fired! They have nothing to do! And because they have been fired, we accuse them for not doing anything. This is not fair!
Let us look at the earth differently, and we will find out gradually that these people that are bothering us today are going to start taking their posts. They know what their job is. You just have to get near them, to feel that they don’t vibrate the same way. They are not of this world. They come from the Otherworld, and they were sent here to keep the gates open to the Otherworld, because if the gates are shut, this is when the earth, Mother Earth, will shake -- because it has no more reason to be alive, it will shake itself, and we will be in deep trouble.
Bert: Christianity has separated spirit from body and spirit from Earth. And earlier you talked to us about Christianity suppressing your culture. So there’s a suggestion here that suppression of homosexuality would be the way for the Christians to shut down the gateways, shut down the spirit, and shut down our connection with the Earth.
Malidoma: Yes! That’s right! Christianity stresses postponing living on earth, as of we are only here to pack up our baggage and prepare for a life somewhere else "out there." Jesus Christ is right here, man! And of course anyone else who knows more, who knows better, will be suppressed.
And you start with the gatekeepers. You take the gatekeeper and you confuse his mind. You threaten him and you throw him in the middle of nowhere. Then nobody knows where the gate is. As soon as you lose the whereabouts of the gate, then you have a culture going downhill. What keeps a village together is a handful of "gays and lesbians," as they call them in the modern world. In my village, lesbians are called witches, and gay men are known as the gatekeepers. These are the two only known secret societies. These are the only groups that will get together as a separate group and go out into the woods secretly to do whatever they do. And if they find you during their yearly symposium, they have the right to kill you.
Unless they go out on their yearly symposium, the village cannot be granted another year of life. They have to go out to do what they do, in order for the village to feel safe enough to live the way it has lived before. This is why, to me, we’re playing with our lives.
Bert: So our culture may not be granted another year of life.
Malidoma: That’s right! Every year it feels like the number of years that this culture is entitled to live is getting smaller. So God only knows how close to the chasm this culture is. This constantly- reiterated discomfort and hatred for the gay person is again another indication that every year we might as well be prepared for the apocalyptic moment when the stars start to fall to the earth.
You see, unless there is somebody who constantly monitors the mechanism that opens the door from this world to the Otherworld, what happens is that something can happen to one of the doors and it closes up. When all the doors are closed, this earth runs out of its own orbit and the solar system collapses into itself. And because this system is linked to other systems, they too start to fall into a whirlpool. And the cataclysm would be amazing!
Ask the Dogon, they will tell you that. The Dogon. They’re a tribe that understands this so well, it’s amazing, mind-boggling. And it is a tribe that knows astrology like no other tribe that I have encountered. And the great astrologers of the Dogon are gay. They are gay. There is a dull planet that, in its orbit, is directly above the Dogon village every 58 years. Who knows that, but the gay people.
I mean, I’m not just trying to make gay people look fine. This is the truth, man! I’m trying to save my ass!
Why is it that, everywhere else in the world, gay people are a blessing, and in the modern world they are a curse? It is self-evident. The modern world was built by Christianity. They have taken the gods out of the earth sent them to heaven, wherever that is. And everyone who aspires to the gods must then negotiate with Christianity, so that the real priests and priestesses are out of a job. This is the worst thing that can happen to a culture that calls itself modern.
Bert: That theme came up earlier with you and Martín, the Mayan shaman here, that if a modern society wants to shut down another culture they will go out and kill the keepers of the ritual.
Malidoma: Oh, yes! Because they know that this is where the life-pulse of the culture is. This is where the engine room of the tribe is. So if you go and bomb that place, then the whole mechanism shuts down. That’s pretty much what’s at work in the third world, and what has happened here with the Native American culture. And the thing about it is that humans are going to be begetting gatekeepers, no matter what. This is the chance that we’ve got. So maybe that means that sooner or later we’re going to wake up to the horror of our own errors, and we’re going to reconsecrate our chosen people so that they can do their priestly work as they should. Otherwise, I just don’t understand. I just don’t understand. My position about it is not so much that gays be just forgiven. That’s just tokenism. But that they serve as an example of the wrong, or the illness, that modernity has brought to us, and that we use that to begin working at healing ourselves and our society from the bottom up. That way, by the time we reach a certain level, all the gatekeepers are going to find their positions again. We cannot tell them where the gates are. They know. If we start to heal ourselves, they will remember. It will kick in. But as long as we continue in arrogance, in egotism, in God-knows-what form of violence on ourselves, no, there’s that veil of confusion that’s going to continue to prevail, and as a result it’s going to prevent great things from happening. That’s all I can say about that.