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Magic has been a fundamental part of humanity's development. It has existed since it's begining, and has been an essential part of its dominant religion which plays a role in the lives of millions around the world. Magic is seen as a gift from the gods, a way to secure humanity's future and a symbol of its dominance and mastery over the world. It is slow, complex, and ritualized, but has powerful effects.

Unfortunately, due to events in an ancient war thousands of years ago, men have lost their ability to perform magic. The reason for this has been forgotten by history, but the effects have been felt by all males currently. Whether it was given up as a noble sacrifice to stop a coming apocalypse, or taken from them as a punishment for some crime by god, or robbed by some curse against their will, continues to be debated by historians. Nevertheless, women have taken over the roles played by priests and church officials.

the idea that men cannot be trusted with magic has heavily weighed on the development of cultural traditions and normative gender roles in the world. even with some societies advancing and rejecting some of these notions, reversing the cultural momentum has been difficult. The religion teaches that men and women are equal in the eyes of god. However, Since the sins of the father are visited upon the son, all men share this debilitating factor with magic and are seen as "lesser" in the eyes of their diety.

There is one way around this no magic rule. In order to access the lost ability to access magic, men must go through a process that ultimately ends with them proving themselves worthy and being accepted into the church hierarchy. The process is long and grueling, and some do not survive to the end. The ones who do go through painful ritual scarring during the initiation ceremony which involves being castrated. the ceremony is where they enter into a pact with the diety. This is meant to symbolize their purity and devotion to god's will. These "eunichs" are some of the most powerful males in the world. They are represented as a third sex, taking aspects from both men and women and becoming a distinct gender altogether.

What role should these eunuchs play in the religion?

How do they make their position valuable and their role important to the church?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see where you say that they are actually castrated. Not castrated, not eunuchs. For an actual well-known historical example of the cult of a goddess with castrated priests see the cult of Cybele, a.k.a Magna Mater (Great Mother), which took Rome by storm towards the end of the 3rd century BCE and remained an important religious cult throught the pagan times. Note the difficult co-existence of the castrated priests of Cybele and the Roman state. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 23 '17 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ If you want some legit historical info, Wikipedia reports that the Greek goddess Hecate was served by eunuchs at her important cult site of Lagina, though that's about all it offers and you may need to make a trip to a library to find anything more. $\endgroup$ – SudoSedWinifred Sep 26 '17 at 14:22
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One thing I find hard to believe is that there is a cultural stigma attached to men when it comes to magic, yet, there are rituals that allow them to become mages.

One way to go around this is to start training of males in early age and castrate them early (before the onset of puberty), as well. In this case, eunuchs will not develop secondary sexual characteristics and it will be easier to see them as a third gender.

Male-to-female transgenders can be another approach to this problem. In this case, the church is looking for boys that identify as girls. This is quite rare and is seen as a God's blessing. Castrations will be voluntary and very much welcome because they would preserve feminine appearance.

Since you are stating that eunuchs are among the most powerful males in the world (although, if they are the third gender they are not male), they should have high positions in church hierarchies. This can be achieved two ways (or a combination of the two):

  1. These people are seen as blessed by the God(s), being closer to the God(s), etc. In other words, the society transfers the power of the deity to them. This is more plausible if only transgenders are allowed to be priests.
  2. Eunuchs have more power either magical or social. The former can be handwaved, the latter can be explained by the rigorous training, selection, and education.

Why are eunuchs important?

If they are powerful mages it is a strategical advantage for the church: They are able to control the population better.

These mages may be vital for connecting female sorcerers and/or increasing, concentrating, and focusing their power. It can be a huge advantage at war, during big construction projects, etc. (I do not know how magic works in your world).

If eunuchs are transgenders it allows society to integrate them without much drama, thus the society becomes more stable.

If regular boys are turned into eunuchs it can provide a career path for otherwise disadvantaged men. It can be a very effective control mechanism if used right.

Eunuchs also have the advantage of lacking sexual drive (or it being very low) and being sterile. They cannot establish dynasties. They also can be seen as more rational and impartial because of this.

Eunuchs, on average, live longer than non-castrated men. Depending on your world, it can also play a significant role. For example, if some information is kept only as an oral tradition and not allowed to be written down.

Without knowing more about your world and its culture I cannot come up with any more suggestions. But this should give you some ideas.

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I assume they also have no testicles, and are both castrated as well as emasculated.

Their traits will be:

  1. They are free of sexual drive
  2. They are non aggressive
  3. They can act as arbiter of gender – based disputes, since they are genderless or a third gender.
  4. They are weak, comparatively hairless, with voices that are high pitched (They sing with the voices of angels.)

Answer: Based on these physiological changes, which are rooted in their castration, eunuchs would play the role of the one who communes between the physical and spiritual realms.

A woman’s magic may be many things in this world, but always shrouded in divination and guesswork, due to her attachment to procreation and continuation of the species (even in a matriarchal society). A eunuch has a direct line to the divine, because the eunuch is not shackled by carnal desires.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would note that the first, second, and fourth traits you identify are associated more with eunuchs who are castrated while pre-pubescent. Once the larynx has been enlarged by testosterone, the voice is deep and only rigorous voice training will raise the pitch. Sexual desire and body hair are lessened (but often not eliminated) by post-puberty castration (indeed, it is often observed that other glands will take over production of testosterone in the absence of testes, albeit to a lesser degree.) As for aggressiveness, recall the role of trans women at Stonewall. $\endgroup$ – SudoSedWinifred Sep 26 '17 at 14:28
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For these eunuchs to be valuable to the society you described, and more importantly, to provide sufficient incentive for any male to consider going through that ordeal, they should be several orders of magnitude more powerful magically than the most powerful female mage.

Their power should also be tempered by a removal of all base instincts: instead of considering them a third gender, you might as well go all the way and consider them an evolved version of humanity - they do have a sacred, magical pact with a deity, don't they?

So, if we go with the basis that the eunuchs are highly powerful and religious individuals, it becomes way easier to etch out their standing in the society. Being completely uninterested in the piddling affairs of mortals, they devote their lives entirely to serving the church. This, coupled with their awesome powers, means that they essentially perform miracles which reinforce belief, and strengthen the church's standing. Think miracle healing, disaster relief, etc.

Within the church, however, they are mainly regarded as tools by the highest echelons of leadership, forming no threat whatsoever to the women in power. In fact, the reverse is true: because the eunuchs are such firm believers, they do not hanker after comfort or material goods - they can be mistreated and abused, and will still remain completely loyal and obedient. Obviously, this treatment must not allowed to become public knowledge, or it is unlikely that any male would volunteer for the process (powers notwithstanding).

It is always in the best interest of the church to acquire more of these tools when possible, which may lead to eunuch farming - the ceaseless search for "willing" orphans to undergo the conversion. This also follows one of the most common tropes in YA fiction - some unfeasibly powerful organisation doing unspeakable things to helpless children for its own good. I'm sure you can take it from here.

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What were the roles men played in the religion before that ancient war?

It seems sensible to me that males who are willing to undergo castration, and thus become able to practice magic, would simply take on those roles that intact males did in ancient times. Modern eunuchs in this society have sacrificed one aspect of their masculinity (the ability to procreate) in order to regain another aspect of their masculinity (the ability to practice magic). And also, it would seem, the respect or regard of the deity, as the eunuch's self sacrifice has redeemed himself in the eyes of the god in question.

Why would they be understood as a third gender? Is this already a thing in the culture? In the ancient world (Mediterranean and Middle East), eunuchs were not a third gender. They were definitely masculine. Just a bit different under the tunic! But not sufficiently different to warrant some completely distinct gender label.

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There are a few things to consider:

  • nowhere in OP is said they are emasculated on top as being castrated.
  • magical inhibition seems to be linked to high levels of testosterone.
  • castration happens at the end of the initiation process, so, most likely, in adulthood.
  • contrary to popular belief castration in adulthood does not inhibit sexual urge, which is mostly fueled by ingrained habit (hormones are fundamental to set up the habit, but later play a relatively secondary role; negative reaction of males being castrated can be shown to largely depend on their belief they shouldn't feel the urge, similar to what happens to some women after menopause).

All this opens up "interesting" scenarios that might be explored:

  • Eunuchs are surely well tried and tested, so their "devotion" is beyond doubt. This puts them in a good position to become Arbiters.
  • Their low level of "disturbing" hormones makes them more stable; another good reason to chose them as impartial Arbiters.
  • Some, if not all, may be able to have sexual intercourses with female mages, probably much more satisfactory due to some magic linkage.
  • As in ancient time the "Harem Eunuchs" in the Ottoman Empire, they may hold a real power in the affairs of the congregation.
  • Eunuchs (or, at least, some of them) may be quite aged at the start of "initiation" process, so they may have had children before (possibly in secret).
  • Eunuchs, being males and having been harshly physically tried, could be be more physically fit than most (all?) Sorceresses and this might reflect on the strength and quality of Spells opened to them.
  • If we accept this "hormone-bound" magic, then even female Mages could have "cyclical interference" in their magic prowess. In that case having sex with a fellow Mage could restore their "normal" status.
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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean "cyclical interference"? Can you expand on that? $\endgroup$ – user32862 Sep 26 '17 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ Women experience a peak in estrogen once a month (about) shortly before ovulation. In "real" women having sex does not change the sequence at all, but there are mammals where sex stimulates ovulation and a sudden drop on estrogens; human female "orgasm" seems to be a vestigial remain of such a mechanism. You can revive the mechanism in your world to "counter" whatever (supposedly adverse) effect estrogens may have on Matriarchs (before menopause, of course). $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Sep 26 '17 at 13:47
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Obviously these males will have a certain amount of prestige, not only for their abilities but also for the commitment to the faith going so far as to castrate themselves. They will have a lot of sway over at the people especially the males oh but probably also the females as well. Much of the masses will consider them to be somewhat Beyond male or female but higher gender.

However I don't think that they will be given any tangible power or position within the church. The church elders we'll probably not want some random male coming in as an outsider and messing up the system. And since the person will also by their nature have sway with the people they want to limit their power as much as possible. The church Elders might even tried to discourage male from going through the ritual. I doubt they'll be able to make it illegal since the are essentially dedicating themselves to the gods they claim to represent, however I'm sure they'll find other ways to discourage people from doing it. I could see them be giving some sort of honorary position for the church something to keep him out of the public eye and keep them working so they don't try change the system maybe sending them off as some sort of missionary or sending them on some sort of quest or even sending them on a crusade. Whatever position they give them they'll be something to keep him busy and out of the public eye.

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I think any man willing to cut his own **** off for the sake of magic has proven far more commitment and dedication to the religion than any woman has in this society. It would likely be that such individuals would inevitably rise to be spiritual leaders.

Sure the society is matriarchally led (like as the nobility) but that doesn't necessarily have to be the same case for the religious leaders. As mentioned by the OP the religion clearly expresses equivalence in gender before the gods.

The nobility would likely not be threatened by such leaders as they wouldn't be able to reproduce and as such not be able to usurp any dynastic lineages.

Also, since they have in effect publically removed themselves of what mostly qualifies an individual as a man these eunuchs could very likely escape any social prejudices that affect men.

The likely conflict would be between female spiritual leaders not wanting to share or relinquish power to eunuch spiritual leaders. But it would be very hard for them to fight the argument of "what have you sacrificed for your god?".

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