Mythology of Twins

As spring transitions into summer and the sun entered the house of Gemini, the Mythical Writing Group met to explore the role of twins in mythology. 

We talked about twins among the gods, such as the Greek Apollo and Artemis, the Egyptian Geb (Earth) and Nut (Sky), and the Aztec Quetzalcoatl and Tezcalipoca. We talked about Romulus and Remus raised by wolves, and the Helen of Troy and her twin sister Clytemnestra, who each suffered tragedy in her own way.  We talked about the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux - whose constellation is the sign Gemini - one twin immortal and the other mortal.

Amidst our talk of mythological twins who represented archetypal pairs of opposites - sun/moon, good/evil, mortal/immortal - or twins who shared one soul separated into two bodies, we also talked about the phenomenon of human twins, of identical and fraternal, conjoined, separated at birth, hidden twins imbedded in the body as tumors, twin brothers marrying twin sisters, and the field of epigenetics, studying the gene expression in separated twins to distinguish nature from nurture. 

To inspire our discussion and our writing, we talked about these photos I found online - two girls, fraternal twins, born of biracial parents:


This photograph, taken when the girls were seven years old, inspired our first free-write:


Two Girls, Twins

One of my Dominican friends told me, "When the blood is mixed, who knows what the baby will look like?" She had said this with a snort and a flip of her hand, because I had just been talking to her about my then-boyfriend's concern that our children wouldn't be blonde and blue-eyed - as though I didn't have an elementary knowledge of biology, as though I'd never drawn a Punnett square in high school. I also knew my friend was referring to herself and her own two sisters, all three of them varying shades of their dark father from Santo Domingo and their light mother from Constanza.

But as for these two girls, these two heartbreakingly beautiful strikingly different and similar girls, a light and a dark twin who are the complexion of neither of their parents, I wonder what it must have been like to grow up together, the questions they must have been asked, not counting the questions to their poor mother pushing them in a double stroller who must have gotten tired of jokes about the milkman.

By some genetic alchemy the colors blended in their parents' palettes became separated in them - or like a chef's sleight of hand, cracking open the egg and shuffling apart the white from the yolk, the dominant from the recessive, each into its own bowl.

I wonder if they get tired of being called "as different as night and day" - if they manage to smile and roll their eyes at the expression but still feel the wounding dart. What if night would rather be day and day, night? Do they resent the clichés, the labels, each wishing to be the other, or thinking their own identity only makes sense as part of a set? I've known twins who often pretended to be each other - I wonder, do these girls ever pretend they are not twins? Pretend they don't even know each other at all?

Yet the contrast is so compelling, the archetypal pull so heavy, that it must be difficult to resist the pairs of opposites: light and dark, sun and moon, joy and grief, playful and pensive ...  But where do the archetypes end? When do they get tired of each being the foil for the other, and when can they start being real people, simply little girls who like different things and act different ways? And do they ever feel, beneath the layers of imposed images and racial tensions and conflicting roles, that each one only longs to be with her other half, the one who shares her blood just as they shared the womb?

-Hannah Custis