Core Shamanism- A Modern Embodiment of Ancient Traditions

drum  by Megan Funck

Shamanism’s roots extend deep within the history of the world’s cultures. Core shamanism, although technically a newcomer to the scene, extends just as deep, it’s concepts embodying the essence of all the various ancient shamanic traditions. Like all shamanic traditions, Core Shamanism is “grounded on a view of nature in which spirit travel is both possible and necessary” (Berry 2012:159). The name, idea, and practice of Core Shamanism was initially developed by Anthropologist Michael Harner, who had a significant amount of personal experience with various shaman traditions, especially the Hivaro  of the Ecuadorian Andes (Harner:1980:1). Core shamanism is not based on any specific cultural tradition, but includes and utilizes basic ideas and practices that are a common undercurrent in nearly all traditions of shamanism- such as employing certain techniques to enter altered states of consciousness, a general belief that aspects of the physical world can be affected or changed by taking action in a non-ordinary reality, and that everything has a spirit. The intention behind Core Shamanism is to bring the basic teachings and benefits of shamanism to individuals who lack a specific shamanic tradition in their own culture- at the same time respecting indigenous cultures by not “copying” their sacred traditions, ceremonies, and the language used to describe such traditions.

Unlike some other spiritual traditions or practices, Core Shamanism does not entail any creation story or concrete belief system-shamanism is a path of knowledge, not of faith, and that knowledgecannot come from anyone else in this reality. To acquire that knowledge, including the knowledge of the reality of the spirits, it is necessaryto step through the shaman’s doorway and acquire empirical evidence.” (Harner 2000). Shamanism is learned through personal experience, and even the specific beliefs that seem to be crucial to the concept of Shamanism aren’t concrete, end-all beliefs. There are individuals who practice and believe in the benefits of Core Shamanism, but attribute its effects strictly to placebo affect, or to some unknown psychological shifts that occur, rather to the idea of literal manipulation of unseen realms. Core Shamanism does however emphasize the implementation of various ethics to be practiced when a shaman is working with a “client”, such as working only with good, loving intentions, and keeping strict confidentiality with a client.

Michael Harner said, “Wherever shamanism is still encountered today, the shaman functions fundamentally in much the same way and with similar techniques- as guardian of the psychic and ecological equilibrium of his group and its members, as intermediary between the seen and unseen worlds, as master of spirits, as supernatural curer. The shaman is able to transcend the human condition and pass freely back and forth through the different cosmological planes” (Harner 41).
In Core Shamanism, these three different cosmological planes are referred to as the Lower, Middle, and Upper World. It is in these planes where the Shaman can meet and consult with personal spirit guides and animal helpers, retrieve missing “soul” pieces, find lost “power animals”, extract dark or unwanted energy that is attached to a person’s energetic body (which can cause physical or spiritual illness), and communicate with spirits of the terrestrial world- the plants, animals, mountains, rain, etc. To access these realms, the shaman enters into a non-ordinary state of reality, and goes on what is referred to as a “journey”. The process of entering these states of non-ordinary reality in different shamanic traditions, can entail the use of psychoactive plants, all night dancing, chanting, and drumming. In Core Shamanism, drumming is generally the most commonly used tool, as it is simple, legal (unlike some of the psychoactive plants), safe, and- it works. Drumming is said to be effective because it initiates changes in the central nervous system and affects activity in the brain. The low frequencies allow more energy to be transmitted to the brain, and it has been established that four to seven cycles per second is the most effective speed of drumming to enter an altered state of consciousness (Harner 51).

The Lower World, as described by Leo Rutherford in Way of Shamanism, is the “place of instinctual knowing where our animal-like powers reside…most helping spirits take the form of animals, some of humans, some mythical beings. Generally speaking, it appears just like the natural landscape does in this world. When journeying, everything one experiences is of relevance and has symbolic meaning” (Rutherford 1996:88). The Lower World journey is initiated by the in-trance shaman first envisioning a chosen “portal”, which may be something like a cave, a hole in the roots of a tree, or diving down deep into the sea. The shaman then continues “down” this portal until breaking through a noticeable veil or barrier, which signals the entrance into the lower world (Rutherford 88).

The Middle World is experienced as a parallel non-ordinary version of our own world (Wood 2001:51). It is believed this is the realm where a shaman can interact and work with the spirits of the plants, land, a crystal, a drum, etc. Practitioners of Core Shamanism generally believe that all things in the world have spirits, and can all be encountered in the Middle World (Wood 50).

The Upper World is generally described as an ethereal, light, beautiful place, and is where one can consult with spiritual guides and teachers. The moon, stars, and planets are also associated with the Upper World (Wood 49). Shamans usually venture to the Upper World when inquiring about healing an aspect of themselves or others. By meeting with one of their spirit teachers, they can find out what specific work can be done and any relevant information that will assist in the healing process (Wood 49).
Shamanic journeys, much like dreams, “require interpretation…but they might also demand action” (Chedester 48). In shamanic journeys, everything encountered may have a possible deeper symbolic meaning. A shaman may be instructed or encouraged by his power animals or spirit guides to carry out a certain action in ordinary reality that will be beneficial to the shaman.

Two of the most common Core Shamanism techniques practiced are “power animal retrievals” and “soul retrievals”. In core shamanism, everyone is said to have at least one power animal. A power animal can infuse specific beneficial characteristics, strengths, and powers into a person and their life. For example, a lion power animal may bring an energy of fierceness into life, of loyalty, and power to manifest desired events. A power animal is retrieved by a shaman journeying to the lower world and “asking around” to any beings encountered where their power animal is. Usually a power animal will show itself quickly if that is the reason for the journey, and can be confirmed by the shaman simply asking the animal if it is his/her power animal (Harner 67). If a power animal retrieval is being conducted for a client, the shaman will consult his personal power animal(s) first, and ask them to help find the client’s animal. Once the animal is found, the shaman will inquire as to what specific powers or strengths it will bring the client. Next, the shaman will “cup” the animal in his hands, and returning back to ordinary reality, will blow through his hands onto the client’s chest and crown of head, transferring the energy of the power animal (Harner 84). A Soul Retrieval is believed to bring back missing parts of an individuals energy body, which unattached or escaped during periods of extreme stress or trauma. Symptoms of soul loss can be: disassociation, chronic depression, PTSD, addictions, and generally feeling “out of it” (Ingerman 2012). A Coma is considered to be extreme soul loss, with more soul missing than present in the body (Ingerman). A soul retrieval is performed very similar to a power animal retrieval, in finding and bringing back the energy. However, the “missing” soul piece may be anywhere, and the shaman is led by his power animals and spirit guides to the specific area of non-ordinary reality where it is. The missing soul piece may appear as the client, but at a different age. Sometimes it takes gentle encouragement to effectively convince a soul piece to “come back” to its owner (Ingerman). 

Shamanism, as ancient and distant from today’s world as it may seem, can still be integrated with relative ease. A modern shaman doesn’t need to be a jungle recluse or dedicate his or her entire life to the practice. Core Shamanism is an effective way for Westerners or others without a cultural shamanic tradition to learn beneficial techniques and instill a certain spiritual orientation towards the world. Shamanism persists because it produces results- whether they be “real” or purely a result of a placebo effect. Core Shamanism techniques allow people to explore perceived alternate worlds and realities.There is no distinction between helping yourself or helping others in Shamanism, for it is said that a deep realization that everything is one with the whole universe can’t help but rise to the surface of awareness during journeys. A shaman practices and works not just for his or her self, but for the broader purpose of helping all beings awaken to the reality of one-ness – and of seeing in the dark, and bringing a little bit of light back.


 Berry, Evan. “Nature”. Hecht and Bondo. Religion and Culture. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. 2012. pp 155-173.

 Chedester, David. “Dreaming in the Contact Zone”. Hecht and Bondo.Religion and Culture. Minneapolis. Fortress Press. 2012. pp 47-63.

 Harner, Michael. The Way of the Shaman. New York. Harper Collins. 1980.

Harner, Michael. “Core Shamanism Studies.” Foundation for Shamanic Studies. 2000. Dec 5 2012. <http://www.shamanism.org/workshops/index

 Ingerman, Sandra. “Soul Retrieval”. SandraIngerman.com (2007). 5 December. 2012.<http://www.sandraingerman.com/soulretrieval.html&gt;

 Rutherford, Leo. Way of Shamanism. Hammersmith, London. Thorsons. 1996.

 Serr, Dr. Steve. “Shamanism and the Upper World.”  Shamanism101.com. 2012.  5 December 2012.<shamanism-101/com/Shamanism_Upper_World.html>

 Wood, Nicholas. The Book of the Shaman. Hauppauge, New York. A Quarto Book. 2001.


Self-Medicating Behavior in Non-Human Primates

medicate by Megan Funck

Throughout history, humans have turned to various herbs, plants, and natural elements found in the environment to prevent and treat illness, and many of our modern pharmaceutical medicines are derived from plant sources. Scientists and researchers are constantly searching for novel compounds in plants that have the potential to cure, treat, and prevent diseases, illnesses, and various disorders. According to Michael Huffman, from the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University, it is likely that the origins of herbal medicines have their roots deep within the animal kingdom, and “our earliest hominid ancestors may have exhibited similarities in plant selection criteria with both extant apes and modern humans” (Huffman 2001). Zoopharmacognosy, or the study of self-medicative behavior in animals, can provide insights into our own species evolutionary past. In recent years, Primatologists have recorded a substantial amount of evidence supporting self-medicating behavior among non-human primates, including the ingestion of plants and pith seeds known for their medicinal properties, leaf swallowing, fur rubbing, and geophagy.
Primates engage in self-medicating behavior through the ingestion of plants known for their medicinal qualities. Many plants are high in secondary compounds, which hold little nutritional value and are generally toxic to some extent. African great apes have been observed ingesting plants high in secondary compounds, and more frequently during the rainy season. The rainy season is a period of time associated with a higher risk of parasitic/bacterial/fungal infections- due to the increased amount of moisture and humidity in the air, which is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and parasites.(Huffman 1997). The plant Vernonia Amygdalina (common name: bitter leaf) is known by African indigenous groups as a treatment for malarial fever, dysentery, and other intestinal parasites (Ijeh 2011). The plant is high in alkaloids in its pith, flower, bark, and leaf. When infected individuals from two groups of chimpanzees and a group of local human inhabitants were observed after ingesting the pith, there was a noted recovery time of 20-24 hours in both chimpanzees and humans. (Huffman 1997). After primatologists witnessed this, a chemical analysis of V. Amygdalina was conducted. They found the presence of four different types of secondary compounds. After further testing, two of the secondary compounds (vernonioside B and vernodaline) were found to inhibit the movement of adult parasites and the egg-laying capacity of female parasites. (Huffman 1997). These findings were consistent with the decline in nodular worm EPG level 20 hours after an adult female chimpanzee at Mahale ingested V. Amygdalina pith. (Huffman 1997). The secondary compound vernodaline was found to be lethal at higher doses. Vernodaline is abundant in the leaves and the bark of V. Amygdaline, but found in smaller amounts in the pith, which can explain why chimpanzees, when consuming this particular plant, tend to avoid the leaves and bark in favor of the pith (which has higher levels of the other secondary compound, Vernonioside B). (Huffman 1997).
Leaf-swallowing has also been observed in a number of primate species. Leaf swallowing behavior involving thirty plant species has been documented in groups of chimpanzees, bonobos, and eastern lowland gorillas across Africa (Huffman 1997). There is evidence that supports the hypothesis that these leaves are ingested for medicinal benefit rather than nutritional. For instance, studies conducted by primatologists revealed that plants from which the leaves are derived for swallowing were utilized infrequently and were not a regular dietary inclusion. The leaves were purposefully folded, then swallowed whole, without chewing (leaves are found intact and undigested in feces samples).The leaves were also utilized during periods of increased risk of parasite infection (rainy season), by primates with observable illness (and showed parasite infection in feces). Primates that seemed healthy (and confirmed as infection- free in feces samples) showed little interest in the plants. There was also a positive change in the health of the primates after ingestion. (Fowler 2007). In one study of chimpanzee leaf-swallowing, in Gashaka Gumti National Park in Eastern Nigeria, Primatologists identified parasitic worms attached to the surfaces of leaves found in the chimpanzees feces. The plant from which the leaves came is known as “takamahi” by the local indigenous groups, which means “the one that sticks to you”. (Fowler 2007). It was originally thought that the positive benefits from leaf swallowing stemmed from the pharmacological makeup of the plant. However, after discovering that there are many different species of leaves swallowed, which are composed of varying chemical makeups, it seemed unlikely that all benefit is derived from the pharmacological properties. However, the different leaves ingested share similar physical characteristics: they are spiky and rough. This feature could be a factor in expelling parasites; the worms becoming attached to the rough surface of the leaf, and the bulky, undigested leaf matter serving as a “plug”, cleansing and dislodging parasites, as the leaves make their way through the digestive tract (Fowler 2007). However, the most commonly view held today is that the benefits of leaf swallowing are due to the fact that by taking in plant matter that does not digest well, a purgative response (diarrhea) is induced in the system, and the transit time of the material in the intestines is quickened, which in addition to causing the expulsion of parasites, can interrupt their life-cycle (Fowler 2007).
Fur rubbing also provides evidence of self-medication in primates. Fur rubbing is commonly seen in primates, especially wild and captive capuchin monkeys (Huffman 1997). This is where plants are rubbed onto fur (in some cases, chewed first and mixed with saliva). Capuchins studied in Costa Rica were seen using five different plants for fur rubbing, engaging in both solitary and group rubbing (Huffman 1997). It is possible that the benefits of fur rubbing are the repelling of insects and ectoparasites, and skin treatment for bacterial infections (Huffman 1997). All plants used in fur rubbing have a pungent quality to them, and the plants contain various secondary compounds which have known benefits of: insecticidal, antiseptic, fungistatic, anti-inflammatory, and anesthetic properties.(Huffman 1997). Captive-born capuchins, when presented with onions and oranges, began fur rubbing, utilizing the resources each time. (Meunier 2007). There may be some non-medical benefits to fur rubbing, such as conditioning of the fur, group scenting, and the facilitation of social grooming (Huffman 1997). Capuchins have also been observed to frequently rub their fur with millipedes (this behavior is called “anointing”). Chemical analyses was completed on the millipedes, and it was found that they contained two different compounds called “benzoquinones”, which are potent insect repellants. (Valderrama 2000). Primatologists found that during a capuchin study, out of 87 bouts of self-anointing with millipedes, 40 of them were done in group settings. If one capuchin found a millipede and began self-anointing, others would approach, and attempt to take the millepede from its hand. If that didn’t work, they would then rub their tails over the fur of the self-anointing capuchin, and bring the tail back to their own body and rub it on their fur (Valderrama 2000). This has led Primatologists to believe that the sole purpose of this behavior is to acquire the insect repellant secretions of the millipedes. (Valderrama 2000).
Geophagy is another evidence of self-medicating behavior among non-human primates. Geophagy is the ingestion of soil-like substances, such as clay or chalk. Although providing no carbohydrates, proteins, or fats, these substances are very rich in minerals. In non-human primates, geophagy is beneficial for absorbing toxins that are acquired through a diet which is high in incidental secondary compounds (Huffman 1997). Clay soils ingested by primates were found to contain components which are similar to Kaopectate (medicine used to treat gastrointestinal distress). (Huffman 1997). Some primates, such as Red Colobus Monkeys, have been seen eating charcoal from leftover fires, which serves to counteract the heavy toxin-load that is present in their diet of leaves. An important question to consider is: what are the origins of self-medicating behavior? How do primates learn which plants and natural resources are effective in treating illness? Is it an innate, instinctual behavior, or learned socially? And if learned socially, how was the behavior initially started? The results of an experimental study of leaf swallowing in captive chimpanzees, conducted in 1997 at Kyoto University ’s Primate Research Institute, addressed this issue. A group of healthy chimpanzees were introduced to a leaf similar to the ones found and ingested in the wild in 38 different trial sessions. There was one interesting case of a male and female chimpanzee who were both born into captivity (eight chimpanzees in the group were wild- caught and brought into captivity by the age of one). When introduced to the leaves, they both folded and swallowed them whole, without hesitation. They had never previously observed any other chimpanzees exhibiting this behavior. There were six chimpanzees who rejected the leaves during their first trial session, but after two of them closely observed the leaf swallowing of one female, they followed suit, exhibiting the same behavior. (Hirata 2004). Two in the group chewed and swallowed the leaves, instead of folding and swallowing them whole. Four of the six who rejected the leaves continued to avoid the plant. The study concluded that “individuals born to wild chimpanzee mothers were no more likely to perform the behavior than captive-reared group mates” (Hirata 2004:113), and that “the acquisition of leaf swallowing behavior is based in part on a propensity to fold and swallow rough leaves, but that the acquisition and spread of leaf swallowing within a group is likely to be socially influenced.” (Hirata 2004:114). They also conclude that the results of the study supports that leaf swallowing is not an innate response to a parasite infection, since none of the chimpanzees that ingested the leaves had any kind of parasite infection. (Hirata 2004:117) Rather, they theorize that the rough texture of the leaves is what causes primates to swallow them whole, and that leaf swallowing “may have originated in the feeding context of a novel plant item”, and “the self-medicative function of leaf swallowing behavior must be a secondary adaptation of a feeding response brought about by leaf texture.”(Hirata 2004:117). However, this theory doesn’t explain why in the wild, primates only utilize these plants occasionally, and more frequently during the rainy seasons (high risk period of infection), which supports that these plants are purposefully ingested for their medicinal qualities.
It is still crucial to consider the way in which other forms of self-medication, such as bitter pith chewing, may have originated.. In bitter pith chewing, it is not just the species of plants that matters, but which specific part of the plant is ingested. The pith supplies the most medicinal benefit, while the other parts of the plant are sometimes too toxic too consume comfortably. Primates have learned to only consume the pith, the most beneficial part, and discard the rest of the plant. How do they know this? Michael Huffman hypothesizes that the specific selection of plants may be based on chemosensory criteria, and the similarity of the plants consumed between neighboring groups of primates may represent cultural traditions- information of behavior being exchanged between groups via female group transfer (Huffman 1997) He also asserts that “given the high degree of conservatism in chimpanzee feeding habits, random sampling of novel food items, especially when ill, does not seem likely to occur very frequently. If so, traditions must have started rarely, perhaps as a result of ill, hungry chimpanzees trying new foods during periods of extreme scarcity, recovering their health, and associating their improved health with the new item.” (Huffman 1997:192).
By observing and researching specific, non-nutritive plants that non-human primates (and other animals) consume and use topically, it is possible to discover novel medical benefits, and apply them towards modern medicine. The similarity between medically beneficial plants chosen by great apes to use, and the same use of these plants by humans to treat illnesses, is exciting evidence for the evolution of medicine. (Huffman 2001). Huffman said “humans have looked to wild and domestic animals for sources of herbal remedies since prehistoric times. Both folklore and living examples provide accounts of how medicinal plants were obtained by observing the behavior of animals” (Huffman 2001:651). By researching and discovering the self-medicating behavior and criteria among non-human primates (bitter pith chewing, leaf swallowing, fur rubbing, and geophagy), we can learn not only about our own evolutionary past, but discover exciting new possibilities applicable in the field of medicine, today.

Fowler, Andrew. 2007.“Leaf Swallowing in Nigerian Chimpanzees: Evidence for Assumed Self-Medication”. Primates (2007) 48:73-76
Hirata, Satoshi. Huffman, Michael. 2004. “An Experimental Study of Leaf Swallowing in Captive Chimpanzees: Insights into the Origin of a Self-Medicative Behavior and the Role of Social Learning”. Primates. 2004. 45:113-118
Huffman, Michael. 1997.. “Current Evidence for Self-Medication in Primates: A Multidisciplinary Perspective.” Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 40:171-200. 1997.
Huffman, Michael. 2001. “Self-Medicative Behavior in the African Great Apes: An Evolutionary Perspective into the Origins of Human Traditional Medicine.” Bioscience. Volume 51 No.8. pp. 651-661.
Ijeh, Ifeoma. Ejike, Chukwunonso. “Current Perspectives on the medicinal potentials of Vernonia Amygdalina Del.” Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Volume 5. pp 1051-1061. 4 April, 2011.
Meunier, H. “Resource Influence on the Form of Fur Rubbing Behaviour in White-Faced Capuchins”. Ethologie des Primates, 7178 CNRS-ULP, 23 Rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasburg cedex 2, France.

Valderrama, Zilda. “Seasonal Anointment with Millipedes in a Wild Primate: A Chemical Defense Against Insects?” Journal of Chemical Ecology. Volume 26. Number 12. 2000.
Vitazkova, Sylvia. Huffman, Michael. “Primates, Plants, and Parasites: The Evolution of Animal Self-Medication and Ethnomedicine.” Ethnopharmacology Volume II.


Male Homosexuality: An Adaptation


MALE HOMOSEXUALITY: AN ADAPTATION                       Megan Funck

Homosexuality is currently a hot topic, due to the recent calls for marriage equality, although it most certainly is not a new or unique phenomenon. Most (if not all) cultures around the world have traditions and evidence of engaging in forms of homosexuality. Despite its prominence in human (and non-human primate) cultures , homosexuality does not overtly and directly contribute to reproductive success, and thus is a puzzle in conjunction with current evolutionary theory. However, it is reasonable to hypothesize that because homosexuality is such a widespread trait, that it served, and does serve, some adaptive purpose(s). The following paper will explore possible models of homosexuality as an adaptive strategy, while discussing the effects it contributes in cultural and individual realms. The evolutionary hypotheses of homosexuality which will be discussed are alliance formation and bisexuality, homosexuality as a side-effect of advantageous feminine traits, parental manipulation, and kin selection. .

This paper will not delve into any of the specific mechanisms for how homosexuality comes to be expressed in the individual. It should be mentioned, however, that current evidence suggests that homosexuality is correlated with many different traits: some genetic, some developmental, and some experiential (Kirkaptrick 2000:390). Birth order, genetics, intrauterine environment, culture, and other factors can come into play in determining one’s sexual orientation. While these are important, they are separate from the evolutionary issue of the existence of homosexuality. Researcher Edward Miller asserts that even “if an “environmental” explanation [for homosexuality] comes to be accepted, there will still be the evolutionary question of how humans evolved so as to have a genotype in which environmental factors could cause certain individuals to have a phenotype so poorly adapted to continuing the genotype as homosexuals are”(Miller 2012: 3).When hypothesizing that homosexuality is an adaptation, it is being assumed that it is inherited in one way or another, but this does not necessarily mean that the only way it can be passed on is through genetics- culture too can be an effective way of passing on traits (Kirkpatrick 389).


Anthropologist R.C. Kirkpatrick argues that same-sex alliance formations are greatly beneficial to individual and cultural success, which is how homosexual behavior evolved.  Humans and non-human primates rarely have sex for procreation, and there are non-procreative benefits to sex. When  we have sex, feel-good hormones are released (oxytocin and prolactin) which facilitate bonding behaviors. Homosexual and heterosexual sex are both used as a form of exchange (Kirkpatrick 398).  Our primate cousins have been observed to engage in homosexual behavior for maintenance of social relationships, and it is rational to assume that since we share a common ancestor, same-sex alliances were an important  part of our pre-human evolutionary past, which would  result in a psychological disposition for same-sex affiliation (Kirkpatrick 397).  Kirkapatrick cites examples of societies in which homosexual bonds were beneficial, such as in Native American tribes, where those individuals in homosexual pairings had more reliable food intake (Kirkpatrick 393).

Kirkapatrick argues there is significant data which indicates that most individuals who have engaged in homosexual behavior are actually bisexual in definition, especially those in traditional societies where homosexual behavior is encouraged along with heterosexual marriage (Kirkapatrick 394). Bisexuality would clearly have more direct reproductive benefits than homosexuality, and can therefore be seen as more adaptive than strict homosexuality. Bisexuality would allow one to form strong same-sex alliances, while also simultaneously allowing one to produce offspring. In some societies, such as 17th century Japan, classical Athens, some societies in Melanesia, and among the Hawaiian ali’i,  it was expected that men be attracted to other men (Kirkapatrick 397).

In the Gebusi tribe of New Guinea, young men often engaged in homosexual relationships before they had any type of sexual experience with a female. Once married,  many men still participated in same-sex relations, and it was not taboo or discouraged by their wives (only when the men had sex with another woman was it considered an affair). This system was very adaptive- especially in this particular tribe where others were frequently murdered  on suspicion of practicing witchcraft- the probability of being accused and murdered would likely be less for those who had a higher number of strong bonds and alliances (Knauft:2010:72).

The alliance formation hypothesis has some holes, as it does not directly deal with the issue of there existing men who identify themselves as solely homosexual and who never engage in heterosexual sex, but asserts that nearly all men who engage in homosexual behavior are bisexual. However, it could be that humans are not either one of three sexual orientations (homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual), but that all humans are innately bisexual, with the potential to be attracted to either sex. Freud argued that “neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality is learned; it is bisexuality that is forgotten” ( Kirkapatrick 397). In relation to this, it could be considered that somewhere along our human evolutionary path, it is likely that some men who had a  homosexual orientation were in cultural circumstances where they were convinced (or coerced) to marry and produce offspring (and possibly engage in same-sex relationships in addition, or suppress their homosexual instincts).  In this scenario, the potential negative reproductive effects of their homosexuality were not realized, but the positive effects potentially were (such as forming same-sex alliances and/or the benefits of possessing adaptive feminine traits), therefore homosexuality became adaptive under those circumstances.  There are many modern examples of men who identify themselves as homosexual who have married and had children. For example, it was a common suggestion several decades ago in the Mormon religion for men who were “struggling” with homosexuality to try to “cure” it by marrying. Many of these men married and had children, and ended up suppressing their homosexual desires. It seems that non-attraction to females does not mean that a homosexual man can not still perform sex with a woman and pass on his genes . However, in cultures such as these, there are increased suicide rates and depression among homosexual male adolescents and men, due to extreme social pressures, stress, and possibly from the belief instilled in them that their homosexuality is a “sin”.  Today, it is possible that some individuals who are engaging in solely homosexual relationships may be doing so now because it is becoming more culturally acceptable- whereas if they were living in a different culture/time/place, they would conform to social pressures and end up marrying a woman despite their sexual orientation.


Some researchers hypothesize that feminizing traits are advantageous in heterosexuals who carry them (Zietsch: 2008: 425), and that homosexuality is  a less-common side-effect of the possession of these traits (Dewar:2003:228). In males, there a number of alleles which affect levels of femininity. If only some of these alleles are possessed, then reproductive success is enhanced. If many of the alleles are inherited, then even the feminizing trait of male attraction is produced (Zietsch 425).

Researcher Colin Dewar hypothesizes that with the arrival of agriculture 10,000 years ago, humans, especially men, were under new and different selective pressures. Prior to the advent of agriculture, humans typically lived in smaller hunter-gatherer groups, and  men would have had an advantage if they were more aggressive, daring, and competitive (typical masculine traits) (Dewar 228). Engaging in physical combat with other males may have been a frequent occurrence. In the new world of agricultural production, humans began living in larger populations and were in close social contact with one another. Whereas previously, success may have depended on more typically masculine traits, these traits were now maladaptive. In turn, more feminine traits (such as better language skills, patience, and the ability to carefully plan) were now adaptive.

Having these feminine traits in this environment would assist one in “getting ahead” and gaining a higher social status, rather than aggression or competitiveness. As civilization further developed, financial wealth and social status became the markers of success. Women are naturally drawn and attracted to (and in turn, mate with)  males who are successful. There is evidence that women are also directly attracted to men with feminine traits such as tenderness, kindness, and feminized faces (although this fluctuates with the menstrual cycle) (Zietsch 425). Therefore, if these beneficial feminizing traits were expressed in a heterosexual man, who then become successful due to these traits, and in turn produced a lot of offspring, these traits were adaptive.  Dewar asserts that even for men who carry these feminizing traits, it would not automatically mean they will be homosexual, but that many environmental factors (including intrauterine or after birth) come into play in ultimately determining sexual orientation (Dewar 230).There is some evidence which could support this hypothesis, including the fact that the brains of homosexual men function differently than those of heterosexual men- they function more similarly to those of heterosexual females in many specific ways. For instance, research showed that homosexual men and heterosexual females had more connections from the right amygdala, while homosexual females and heterosexual males had more connections from the left amygdala. (Gooren: 2006:597).  Homosexual men have also been shown to have superior language skills compared to heterosexual men- similar to the language skills possessed by heterosexual females (Dewar 229).


The parental manipulation is one evolutionary hypothesis for homosexual behavior which has little support, but some anecdotal evidence  The premise of parental manipulation is that parents can manipulate their selected offspring by encouraging them to take non-heterosexual roles in life, which would bring benefit to the parents by increased social status, which would enhance their success. An extreme example of this would be when parents castrate their sons to qualify them to be eunuchs in the Byzantine Court (Kirkpatrick 393). Another example is parents who would make their sons be sexual servants to influential leaders (in 15th century Florence). This again raises the question of how much culture can influence an individual’s sexual desires. It is apparent in the case of some homosexual men, culture influences sexual orientation very little. They are homosexual despite the ideals of their culture, which ostracizes, condemns, and judges those who are homosexual.


The kin selection hypothesis was first constructed by Trivers and Spith, who hypothesized that although homosexual men did not reproduce directly, they reproduce indirectly, by channeling resources and energy to relatives (Bobrow 362). Other researchers (Ruse and Weinrich) who supported this theory assert that males who are homosexual are those who had poor mating prospects from early in life, and that homosexual men were lower in weight and did not carry as much muscle mass and bone density as heterosexual men (Bobrow 362). Researchers Bobrow and Bailey conducted surveys that included men who identified as homosexual, and men who identified themselves as heterosexual. The survey asked questions such as “Have you contributed financially to a relative? How much?”, “How often do you talk on the phone with your mom?”, and many more similar questions. The results found that homosexual men were not more generous to their relatives than heterosexual men, and that they were more emotionally distant from their families (Bobrow 366).

Although there isn’t yet sufficient evidence in support of the kin selection hypothesis, it should not be completely dismissed as a possible model. It is important to consider that the tests conducted to gather data for this hypothesis were done in modern America, where there has been a strong bias against homosexuality, mostly due to religious persuasions (Adamczyk:2009:339). This is most certainly not representative of all human history and may be a completely different environment from the one in which this trait first became adaptive. If a person who is homosexual belongs to a family who ostracizes and is non-accepting of him or her due to their sexual orientation, it is not likely this individual will want to contribute extra energy (money or time) to benefit them.  In other cultures, past or present, where homosexuality is not seen as something “wrong” or “unnatural”, it seems much more likely that a person with homosexual orientation would contribute to their relatives.

In conclusion, there is not yet a definitive answer to the question of why homosexuality is a trait which is so widespread. It is possible that it is being approached from the wrong angle- as it is “a fallacy to assume that all components of a behavioral act are under equal selection pressure, and [to treat] behavioral acts as discrete adaptive units when in fact they usually have both adaptive and nonadaptive and neutral components (Dickemann:2000: 399). The current adaptive hypotheses require more research. The hypothesis that homosexuality is a side effect of other genetic components which were adaptive includes the most direct evidence and provides the strongest argument, due to the fact that homosexual men have similar traits as heterosexual females, such as similar brain function and language skills. Kirkpatrick’s alliance formation hypothesis can provide much insight on the adaptation of bisexuality, which is much more widespread than homosexuality. There is strong evidence that same-sex alliances were very important in our evolution as a species, and bisexuality behavior could be used as a viable vehicle to strengthen same-sex bonds while still allowing for direct reproductive success. However, the alliance theory does not address the existence of individuals who are solely homosexual (and who have differing brain function of heterosexual men to illustrate it). The parental manipulation model seems weak and needs more evidence. It is difficult to imagine that parental influence could affect sexual evolution so drastically. The kin selection hypothesis, which asserts that homosexuals would have channeled more resources to their relatives, may have been true in the past, but there is no evidence today that this is or was the case. All of these adaptive hypotheses of human homosexual behavior are valuable in providing potential models of the evolution of homosexuality, but can not be made into more solid theories until there is more concrete evidence.







          • REFERENCES

Adamczyk, Amy. 2009. Social Science Research Volume 38. “Shaping Attitudes about homosexuality: The role of religion and cultural context”. Pp338-351


Bobrow, David. Bailey, Michael. 2001. Evolution and Human Behavior volume 22. “Is male homosexuality maintained via kin selection?” pp 361-368


Dewar, Colin. 2003. Medical Hypotheses “An Association Between Male Homosexuality and Reproductive Success”. Pp225-232


Dickemann, Jeffrey. 2001. Current Anthropology volume 50. Review of “The Evolution of Human Homosexual Behavior”. pp385-410


Gooren, L.2006. Hormones and Behavior volume 50. “The Biology of Human Psychosexual Differentiation”. Pp589-601


Kirkpatrick, R.C. 2000. Current Anthropology volume 41. “The Evolution of Human Homosexual Behavior”. Pp385-410


Knauft, Bruce. The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World. 2010. McGraw Hill Publishing.


Miller, Edward. 2000. Archives of Sexual Behavior.Volume 29. “Homosexuality, Birth Order, and Evolution: Toward an Equilibrium Reproductive Economics of Homosexulity”.

Zietsch, Brendan. 2008. Evolution and Human Behavior volume 29. “Genetic Factors Predisposing to Homosexuality May Increase Mating Success in Heterosexuals”.pp 424-433