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Posted by on in Culture Blogs


My recent talk at the 2022 Current Pagan Studies conference treated primarily with the Horned God. Afterward, our esteemed Mark Green asked about Gender Essentialism in the Craft. I wasn't satisfied with my reply at the time, but his question has continued to work on me, and I would here like to offer a rather more considered response. Thanks, Mark!


Do gods have gender?

What does it mean to say “God/he” or “Goddess/she”?

What does it mean to speak of a deity as a gendered being?

Although Received Tradition habitually speaks of the Gods, both Elder (those of nature) and Younger (those of culture), as gendered beings, must we not accept this, in the end, as metaphorical language?

To speak for myself, I number among my gods a planet (Earth), a star (Sun), a satellite (Moon), and a meteorological phenomenon (Thunder). Since neither planets, stars, satellites, nor meteorological phenomena can rightly be described as gendered beings per se, ultimately, then, we must regard divine gender here as ascribed gender: metaphorical, a matter of relational utility. "Earth is like a woman, in that she...." In the traditional gender ascriptions, like addresses unlike-as-if-like relationally, i.e. for the sake of relationship.

Why ascribe gender to the gods? Well, we're human. As gendered beings ourselves, we find non-human others most relate-able when we do. As such, it's largely a matter of convention. The human mind is wont to project itself. To take only one example, humans are four-sided beings; thus, in culture after culture, we find the world divided into North, East, South, and West. It's the ultimate extrapolation of the human body onto the world around us.

Let me take specifically the case of “Him” that we call the Horned. “Him” I would see as a corporate being, the sum total of all fauna/animal life on Planet Earth. As such, then, “He” may truly be spoken of as a gendered being—as could “His” “Brother”, the Green, the sum total of all this planet's flora/vegetation—but, as a being thus made up of (inter alia) both male and female, one would say best, perhaps, by saying that “He” is pan-gendered. The same, I suspect, may be said—if in a rather less literal sense than here—of most other gods as well. How this may best find expression in iconography and ritual, as one would expect, continues to evolve as the new paganisms find their footing in the contemporary thought-world. One thing I do not fear: that our Received Tradition chains us to an unquestioning gender essentialism. The lore itself, in all its nuance and variability, belies any such claim.

A friend of mine (generally when twitting Wiccan unsophisticates) always says: If you think that the Horned God is only a boy, you certainly don't know him very well. We see this in the iconography of the Baphomet, which combines—if admittedly, for the most part, unbeautifully—both female and male in one.

As pagans, we habitually maintain a certain collegiality with our gods and goddesses, and—as is our kind's wont—we tend to treat them as we would treat other human beings.

But though as human beings we may participate in the gods, we wrong both them and ourselves to forget that, in the end, they are far other as well, and that our inherited god-language, love it as we may, is primarily, at thirteenth and last, a beautiful tapestry of shimmering metaphor.



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