“The Double: Men Loving Men”

Aisling Magazine is an online publication since 1989, edited by Dara Molloy and Tess Harper, devoted to social issues, spirituality, and ideas behind the Aisling Arann project, an Irish initiative the objective of which is to work to create a transformed church and a transformed society based on right relationship. They further write,

This sounds more like a dream or “aisling” than a project. However, the objective is to create this first on the island of Inis Mór. That is, to create on Inis Mór, among those who choose to live there and participate, a possible model of what a transformed church and a transformed society would look like if it was based on right relationship and rooted in Celtic tradition.

Edward C. Sellner, Ph.D., a professor of theology and spirituality at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote a remarkable piece for Aisling Magazine entitled “The Double – Men Loving Men.” The editors’ summary of the article is tantalizing indeed, especially for celibate gay Christians:

One of the many sad legacies of patriarchy is the taboo put by Western society and churches on mens’ love for other men whether genital or not. For a man to become whole a close, intimate friendship with another man is important for reflecting his deep maleness back to himself.

Sellner draws on the concept of anam ċara when he asserts that “When we love another of our own gender, we are getting in touch with an unconscious spiritual reality, the Divine within us that can teach us understanding and compassion.” After drawing on ancient Greek philosophy and Jungian psychology, he then introduces the concept of the Double, which he describes as “a soul figure with all the erotic and spiritual significance. . . . The Double works like a mirror, reflecting back to us and drawing out of us our own beauty, strength, and wisdom.”

The problem is that in the West and in the Western Church, finding one’s Double arouses severe suspicion. As Sellner puts it, “Emphasis is consistently placed . . . on the belief that male–female relationships should act as containers of all eros. . . . Such expectations of intimate exclusivity can lead to marital conflicts and breakdowns. No one relationship can contain everything.” He contrasts this suspicion in the West with the male–male bonding evident in non-Western cultures. “This bonding . . . is honoured by the community, who consider it normal that a youth be ‘married’ at least twice in his life, ‘first to his buddy, then to his wife.’”

Further excerpts:

I found myself reflecting upon a little-known archetype the Double that shed much light upon the dynamics among men, the fountain of grief from which all of us drink, and the arena of eros in which every male struggles.

The Double is a psychic pattern of male relatedness that exists in the history of humankind and lies within the soul of every man. (Since archetypes are blueprints of basic human drives and qualities that we all share, this archetype of same-sex love exists in women as well.) It is reflected in a man’s eros, that inner drive for connection, for giving and receiving love. I believe that not only are those who call themselves “gay” in search of a Double, but all men need to find the Double within themselves and to express that inner figure in friendships and mentoring.

Every male needs to find a Double, a soul mate or soul friend with whom he can communicate openly, with warmth, affection, and love.

By examining and claiming the Double archetype in human history and our own psyches, all of us can come to see that eros and our attraction to beauty, both physical and spiritual, are gifts, and that we are much more complex sexual beings than our society and churches let us acknowledge. All of us need to touch and be touched; all of us need to give and receive love. Wherever we find genuine love, and whatever physical form its object takes, it becomes an epiphany, a revelation, a numinous experience that changes us profoundly. Our culture needs to create a new man, a new humanity, one more fully conscious of and in harmony with the gift of same-sex love, more open to drawing upon eros for creativity, for companionship, for transformation of oneself and the world in which we live.

Men in our culture need to become more conscious of their innate capacity and need to love deeply and tenderly other males.

Finally, I leave this article pondering what exactly the negative effects are caused by “our society and churches that refuse to endorse committed, long-term relationships between men.” These committed, long-term relationships need not be sexual! But it seems even platonic friendships between men that veer into “too serious” or “too romantic” categories (ill-defined by the subjective whims of the viewer) are immediately and harshly condemned without even the façade of a desire for understanding.

Read the original piece here.


Update, 23 March 2018: As great follow-up reading, I recommend “Christianity and Same-Sex Eros” from Spiritual Friendship. Many thanks to Anthony Trent for recommending both these!

Update, 27 March 2018: In addition to the concept of the Double, Sellner has also expanded on his description of the anam ċara. See “Soul Friendship.”

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