More on The Need For Gender Diversity in Pagan Divinity
I'll be the first to admit that I still have some issues with the idea of God. For anyone who knows me, this comes as no surprise. But there are male Pagan deities who have managed to leapfrog my issues, mostly because they're so freaking cool. Hermes, for instance, who from the history and myths seems to have a congenial, egalitarian Friends-With-Benefits relationship with my patroness, Hekate. The coolness of that, and what it says about their relative power and their respect for each other, is a subject for its own post. Dionysus, who took the abandoned Ariadne, used and discarded by Theseus, as his wife and then proceeded to actually be FAITHFUL to her and show her love and consideration even though he was a god of fertility, indulgence, and inebriation - he had every opportunity and every excuse to be the kind of jerk who marries a woman and then leaves her behind while he goes and has his fun, but he didn't. He played against expectations and against type, and his and Ariadne's love affair became one for the ages, with no tragic Paris/Helen or Romeo/Juliet ending (of which I'm aware, the Dionysian mysteries are a path of their own). They lived happily ever after.
I'm also very attracted to trans* images of deities, such as Foxfetch described here: (warning, VERY explicit sexual descriptions, NSFW) The idea of a trans* Artemis or a pregnant Cernnunos is actually really cool to me. I think we have a ton of room for growth and expansion in our concept of the Divine. I think genuinely transgressive images such as these undercut the patriarchy and steal the strength from the hegemoney of masculine divinity. And let's be honest - patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity are the root of my problems with 'God'. That and the fact that the God of the Bible really seems to be a complete sadist.
Images of masculine divinity empower men, and a supreme image of masculine divinity seems to have helped to give rise to a society in which women are treated with outright contempt, but I don't think swinging to the opposite pole is a solution. Female-dominated societies do actually exist, still, in today's day and age, mostly among indigenous peoples of Eurasia and Africa. Forgive me for having lost the links, but in some such societies, men get much the same raw deal as women get in our society - their sexual consent is presumed, they're treated as property, they're underrepresented in their government and in employment, and most of the time their wives speak for them. As much as certain sects of Paganism might wish it, Matriarchal society would not be a blissful, war-free utopia. Some matriarchal societies such as the Musuo of southern China buck this trend, but closer examination reveals that the power disparity between men and women in the Musuo tribe is small - lineage is matriarchal because no stigma is attached to the sexuality of women. With no way to determine the father of a child, matriarchy makes a certain amount of sense. But the men are neither owned nor oppressed, and participation is near-equal for both genders.
What I see here is that even a certain amount of gender disparity can be done, as long as it's done without the concept of human ownership. As soon as we humans elevate ourselves above each other, as soon as we start thinking we can claim other people as property, whether slave property, sexual property, or familial property, the 'owned' group begins to suffer. This is true whether those owned are men or women. This is true whether the owners are men or women. When human beings exercise ownership over other human beings, human beings suffer. Not such a difficult concept, ne?
So we come back to the exercise of gender polarity in Paganism, and I apologize for such a roundabout logistical path. Emphasis on the female divine over the male divine may well be long overdue, and in our current society, giving women images of power, strength, and self-possession, honoring the functions of childbirth and menses, and reclaiming the divinity that rests in each of us is a worthy and beneficial endeavor. Women need that - we need to be reminded that we are stardust. We too are part and parcel of a grand and vast cosmos, so infinitely complex and awe-inspiring that it should leave us breathless on a regular basis. We have been told that we are lesser and unworthy and that our bodily functions are filthy and unclean and our brains irrational and hysterical and stupid and our characters untrustworthy and weak and cowardly for so long, we need, at our core, to be reminded that the essence of the Divine resides in us. We are stardust. We are sublime. But having said and done that, we also need to recall that we are people, and we are no less and no more divine than every other person around us, than the rocks and the trees, than the birds and beasts, than the air and the earth itself. We all exist together in one vibrant, thriving ecosystem (thriving significantly less of late, but still) and we cannot act without the ripples of our acts spreading to intersect with others. This is a beautiful harmony when it isn't discordant, when we are willing to listen and coexist.
It becomes a clamor when we do not listen, when we shut our ears to others, when we elevate ourselves over our neighbors even if sometimes it feels like we deserve a little elevation.
Because here's the thing - those needs I was talking about that women have, to be reminded of our divine origin and our worth? There are others who have those same needs. People of color have also been treated reprehensibly, as 'lesser', as 'other', as 'unworthy'. Trans* people have been treated as 'lesser' and 'other' and 'unworthy'. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have been treated thus, genderqueer people, disabled people, poor people, members of minority religions, members of religions that are in the majority here in the United States but not in Iran, or that are of the majority in Iran but not here in the United States. Within the Pagan community, I think it is extremely important that their divinity also be recognized in the faces of the deities we worship. I think, particularly in Wicca but also in many other Pagan sects, we made the mistake of transposing ourselves and our narrow cultural understanding of the world onto the Divine, instead of transposing the a priori truth of the Divine onto ourselves. It must sound really weird, I guess, for someone who wholeheartedly believes in magic to be demanding a religious culture that better reflects reality, but reality is not strictly Man/Woman, Black/White, or Gay/Straight. Reality is a vast field of infinite diversity in infinite form.
So when I search for the faces of the gods, when I wrestle with the progenitor philosophical inquiry - What Is Truth? - I first ask myself, 'what are the facts?' The facts reveal the truth if we can come to them having suspended our bias, open to what the statistics and the graphs and the numbers and the carefully charted trends actually tell us about the world we live in and the people we share it with. I'm not knocking experiential divinity - according to the statistics, that is one of the foundations of Paganism. Most people who live and worship under the Pagan umbrella have experienced something, or hold a gut belief, that meshes with Pagan tendencies towards polytheism, animism, place-association, and/or magic. We have seen something, touched something, felt something, that convinced us this was where we belong. But what we have seen and touched and felt is only a small portion of a greater truth. Our own experiences are not the definitive authority on the nature of the world. When we behave as though they are, we are exercising privilege and we are being closed-minded. We are not listening. We are not learning.
More importantly, we are not growing.