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Cosmic Andogyny

Lanier Graham

Sacred Works of Art

Wooden Nommo Figure from the Dogon tribe. Mali, 19th/ 20th century

The best known Androgyne figures in all of Africa were carved by the Dogon in Mali. This excellent example is filled with male/female symbolism. The genitalia are male, the breasts are female. The spoon in front symbolizes ideal womanhood, the quiver in back symbolizes ideal manhood. The beard represents both. The stool is made up of a round top, symbol of the sky god, and the four legs of the earth goddess. The Dogon came to Mali from the east, probably the Sudan, just south of Egypt. Curiously, their mythology has much in common with that of Bronze Age Egypt. One of their myths is very close to the myth of the Isis/Osiris.

The Dogon creator god is a self-created sky god called Amma (Ammo) who created the world with the vibrations of his words. He mated with the earth goddess to produce Nommo, who is the primary focus of Dogon worship. Nommo and the bisexual paired offspring of Nommo were self-fertilizing Androgynes who produced the Dogon people and taught them how to live. Dogon rituals celebrate the mutual respect of the genders for each other and for their shared cosmic Androgyny.

Originally published in Global Vision: A Survey of World Art, Part 2, 2008

The sacred art objects shown in this series come from the collection of over 200 works donated to the Graduate Theological Union by the Lanier Graham family and the Institute for Aesthetic Development in 2014-2015. The collection represents most of the world religious traditions including tribal or indigenous art.  The GTU intends to photograph and curate this collection as an online resource accessible by the public.