And [to achieve that we need to] reclaim and relearn female images of the divine. Authors Martha Anne and Dorothy Myers Imel emphasize this importance of reclaiming female mythic figures in the dedication to their book, Goddesses in World Mythology :. To all women who in the world who were unaware of their own heritage You are descendant from a long line of sacred females who have been respected and honored for thousands of years Remember and make it so. In other words, matriarchy's implausibility doesn't render it useless.
After all, most of western religious tradition rests heavily on myth—making. According to Eller, Anne, and Imel, women who respond strongly to the matriarchal myth do so, in part, because it promotes a sense of their own divinity, of their god—given goodness.
It instills self—confidence and reminds them of their right to fight against their oppression. Stories of ancient societies peacefully ruled by matriarchs, they argue, inspire present—day women to name and resist patriarchy. Myths matter. By upholding their own myth—making, marginalized communities can reclaim their stolen pasts.
transgender | Journeying to the Goddess
But Dr. Arora also reminded me about the need to critique essentialism when reclaiming feminine images of the divine. As supposed goddesses, women are narrowly valued for the nurturing capacities seeded in their wombs. Goddess worship reinforces stereotypes of women as caregivers, women as inherently empathetic, women as loving pacifists.
It's also tainted with trans—misogynistic tones of the second—wave, conflating feminine power with cis—woman biology. The notion of binary sexual polarity remained, but it no longer necessarily required heterosexual behavior on the part of par- ticipants. For Starhawk, the creative energy of the universe does not move between any two poles, but instead is a complex dance among many beings and forces. Explicitly queer theological for- mulations work to decenter heteronormative ideologies and create space for alternative sexualities to equally embody the sacred Aburrow In the s, queer-identified strands of Paganism began to make their voices heard more widely Urban , p.
Aburrow Queer Pagans also challenged the gender essentialism remaining in the sexual polarity still practiced though less prescrip- tively than before by some Wiccans Neitz , p. Pagans began to explore the possibility of queer and transgender deity Aburrow , p. In more recent studies, scholars have shifted from simply describing gender-essentialist practices in historical or social con- text—or praising their effects, as many feminist theorists did—to problematizing and cri- tiquing those lingering threads within Paganism.
With a few exceptions, however, gender has been approached with more analytical sophistication than sexuality, where scholars still tend to default to description. Following the theories of Michel Foucault , the notion that sexuality, or better, sexualities are also constituted by culture and its power dynamics is nevertheless nearly a given in scholarship that attempts to theorize Pagan sex- ual practices. This formulation of sexuality runs counter to the universalizing thrust of mid-twentieth-century British Wicca, but it resonates with the proliferation of sexualities celebrated by queer Pagans of the present day.
According to Christ, Goddess worship is empowering to women and promotes the equality of the sexes by sacralizing the traditionally devalued female body and the character traits associated with women. Further, little to no attention is given to the differing experiences of heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian women. Although Eller in particular argues that feminist spirituality can challenge gender essentialist attitudes and holds up Starhawk as one feminist Pagan writer who does so Eller b, pp. This trend continues even more pointedly in Kristy S.
In Enchanted Feminism , Jone Salomonsen divides her feminist Pagan subjects into three categories: sexual equality feminists, sexual polarity feminists, and sexual difference feminists p. In her view, sexual equality feminists treat gender as purely socially constructed, while sexual polarity feminists see gender as biologically based. Sexual difference feminists take a moderating view, seeing gender involving both biological and social aspects. However, gender essentialist models also put the community in danger of ranking the feminine over the masculine and imposing undesirable new hierarchies.
Eller argues that some forms of Goddess feminism simply give positive value to traditionally feminine roles and characteristics; they do not question whether these characteristics are inherent in all women. Further, such prehistoric narratives may encourage hatred of men and masculinity as the destroyers of Goddess culture and obscure the ways in which the traits that feminists value are shared by both women and men Eller a, p. In Hid- den Circles in the Web , Wise offers her own challenge to both patriarchal and femi- nist gender essentialism. Drawing on process thought in a way that resonates with Butlerian performativity, she describes gender as emerging from a series of life events rather than being based on an unchanging substance whether physical or spiritual.
From her perspective, gender is embedded not just in society, but in history. A process approach to gender emphasizes its ever-evolving nature and opens the way to social change. Conventional and Transgressive Gender Roles in Pagan Traditions Other scholars have observed how religious practice can lead some Pagans to consciously confront difficult questions about the nature of gender, while at other times they slide back into strangely conventional gender roles.
Conventional gender imagery also lingers in communities of sexual minorities. Urban comments on the peculiar persistence of conservative, essentialist gender stereo- types in gay, lesbian, and queer-identified Pagan traditions. He observes the central role that the Great Goddess associated with menstruation, nature, and the moon continues to play in lesbian groups, while gay covens continue to honor Pan and gods of the hunt as symbols of tribal unity Urban , p. These traditional gender roles are even more dominant in more politically conservative Pagan traditions such as Heathenry.
Interestingly, when applied to women in ancient texts, ergi can also convey sexual promiscuity or forwardness, suggest- ing that the word generally connotes transgression of standard gender roles Blain , p. For some practitioners, this association is the foundation for religious and magical practice.
Prominent Northern Tradition prac- titioner Raven Kaldera, for example, has created a community of queer and transgen- dered practitioners who celebrate gender transgression as sacred service to the gods Goodwin , forthcoming. Whether conservative or progressive, Heathens and other practicing Northern European Pagans approach magic as an inherently gendered activity.
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Gender fluidity is celebrated in some Pagan communities, but in others it has created controversies around inclusion and exclusion. John A. Stover describes gender- based controversies in the loosely Pagan-identified gay male group known as the Radical Faeries, who have been holding gatherings around the United States and Canada since the late s.
These actions caused a split in the community between those who wanted Faerie space to be gay male space and asserted that gay male sexuality is inborn , and those who felt that Faerie gatherings should be inclusively queer spaces. The queer- identified Faerie gatherings have since grown to outnumber the gay male-exclusive gath- erings.
Stover considers both groups to be essentialist: using their own terminology to reflect their emphasis on male-bodied sexuality, he calls the exclusivists faggot essentialists, while he refers to the queer-inclusive Faeries as spiritual essentialists due to their assertion that queerness is an inborn but non-sex-linked trait Stover , p. Stover also reports a troubling development at a gathering in , where a faggot-only group ques- tioned the inclusion of an effeminate gay man due to his lack of masculinity. Elsewhere, the increasing visibility of transgendered men and women in Pagan com- munities has caused friction around women-only gatherings.
At the PantheaCon conference in San Jose, California, transwomen were perhaps inadvertently excluded from a Dianic women-only ritual Kraemer , p. The event sparked a formal discussion of gender discrimination at the conference and months of heated blog posts. Dianics defended the importance of biological women-only space while queer-identified and transgender Pagans criticized essentializing Dianic rhetoric around menstruation and childbearing.
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Some protestors claimed that transwomen should be included in women- only rituals due to having female souls or female energy either inborn or created by hor- mone therapy Oboler , p. Transgender activists countered that though the nature of transgender oppression is different from that of cisgendered women biological females presenting as women , they are a severely persecuted class; the physical safety of transpeople is at risk daily due to the commonality of hate crimes against them Kraemer , pp.
Not all Pagan transpeople are seeking inclusion in single-gender communities, however. As both Hugh Urban and Yvonne Aburrow describe, queer and transgender Pagans are beginning to articulate a distinctively queer spirituality, particularly by seeking out half-forgotten queer, androgynous, and transgender deities from ancient pantheons and from the Western mystery tradition Aburrow , p. Regina Oboler places these conflicts about trans- gender issues more generally in ongoing Pagan negotiations around gender essentialism.
She suggests that opposition to patriarchy is only the beginning of the process of subvert- ing gender norms, and that Paganism is actively in the process of envisioning a gender egalitarian culture and retheorizing the nature of gender p. Queering Pagan Sexuality As Mary Jo Neitz points out, it is impossible to speak meaningfully of gender without also speaking of sexuality.
Why It's Time We Drop Gender from Our Goddess Worship
The Dragon- fest is attended by many Wiccan practitioners, and in Wiccan iconography, horns are associated with the masculine Horned God, a phallic deity of fertility Neitz , p. When Neitz attended the Dragonfest in , horned men were in evidence, but no horned women; in , the horns were a common adornment on both women and men Neitz , p. In interviews, Pagan women at the festival spoke of the way their Paganism allowed them and their male partners to subvert traditional gender norms and have more freedom in social roles.
However, when asked directly about sexual relations, many of the women still made heteronormative assumptions: they spoke of women as identifying with the receptive earth Goddess and men identifying with the active Horned God Neitz , p. Yet their practice belies this simple, dualistic system.
She concludes that although these Pagans were continuing to use traditional Western gender stereotypes, they were placing them in the context of an imag- ined prepatriarchal heterosexuality, where women and children were not owned by power- ful males. She concludes that despite the continuing dominance of heterosexual imagery among Pagans and particu- larly Wiccans , the horned women and men in skirts suggest that Pagan practice as observed at the Dragonfest actively supports gender and sexual fluidity: there, one need not be simply male or female, homosexual or straight Neitz , p.
Of the scholarship glossed above, Tosh and Keenan give the most succinct treatment of contemporary Pagan sexuality in its historical context, although they gener- alize heavily from Wiccan and Wiccan-influenced groups.
Yvonne Aburrow , however, charts the likely future for scholarship on Paganism and sexuality. Based on studies of GLBT Christians and several different contemporary Pagan groups, Aburrow makes an argument that queer spiritualities have separate discourses within the mainstream of their host religions. Throughout, however, Aburrow puts Pagan theology and practice on a level playing ground with progressive Christianity. She documents how members of each religion use different strategies to articulate a shared queer spirituality, one with elements that appear in both religious subcultures.
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Aburrow ultimately argues that both Christianity and Paganism have an inherently queer element that has been suppressed in the case of Christianity or ignored in the case of Paganism. She sees sexual and gender transgres- sion and androgyny as central to the history of Wicca, although these elements are often de-emphasized in contemporary Wiccan and other Pagan practice Aburrow , p. As of , The significance of queer spirituality in contemporary Paganism today cannot be overstated.
Conclusion Although gender and sexuality are central theological issues for many contemporary Pagan traditions, scholars are only beginning to move from mere description to critical treatments of their role in the movement. Further, Pagan studies scholarship on gender has focused almost entirely on women. Wiccan A. Such sentiments suggest that despite the stated intent of many Pagans to subvert tradi- tional gender roles, Pagan communities largely lack the language to speak about power dynamics without perpetuating gender stereotypes. The continuing attachment of many Pagans to Jungian concepts of gender leads some Pagan men to experience the loss of tra- ditional gender roles as disempowering rather than freeing.
Neitz suggests, however, that although images of gender in Paganism can appear hetero- normative and typical of Western culture, there are subtle differences in Pagan construc- tions of masculinity that may develop into a workable alternative vision of what it means to be male p.
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Pagan masculinity is being redefined by both heterosexual and queer Pagans working together in community, and scholars approaching the subject should be sensitive to the way this context shifts a superficially normative discourse. The study of contemporary Paganism has much to offer students of gender and queer studies. As controversies over sexuality and gender roles continue to rage in American politics and around the world, scholars should bring sophisticated theoretical tools and a critical eye to a religious movement that is both rapidly growing and preferentially attracting sexual dissidents.
She holds a PhD in Religious and Theological Studies from Boston University, where her dissertation focused on sexual minorities and religion in contemporary American literature and film. David Lewis Continuum, What is an unconscious urge with nature is transformed into conscious love with human being.