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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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Pagan News Beagle: Watery Wednesday, February 24

The mixing of Western and Eastern mystical traditions is criticized. The Pomegranate discusses the state of contemporary Pagan studies. And a trial begins for Pagans accused of engaging in prostitution as part of their sacred practices. It's Watery Wednesday, our weekly segment on news about the Pagan community! All this and more for the Pagan News Beagle!

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When I first become a Pagan many years ago, I tried to find theological studies of What It All Meant within our literature.  I found many discussions of rituals, magick, and how Witches were correctives to patriarchy. But beyond some brief (and good) discussions in Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon and the Farrars' The Meaning of Witchcraft,  there was almost nothing on the underlying meaning of a Pagan reality.  As I learned more about the broad Pagan tradition I began exploring literature discussing African Diasporic and Native American Pagan religions. Here to, by monotheistic standards the pickings were remarkably thin.

In Brazil I learned most Pagan literature consisted of spell books and details about rituals.  Among the traditional Crow people in Montana, individuals had different interpretations of their practices’ deeper meaning and of the status of figures like Coyote, but no developed theology.  Within my own coven I learned my coven-mates had different beliefs about who the Gods were. Classical Pagan religious writing was rarely sectarian and the major one that could be so described, The Golden Ass, was more an adventure story than a treatise on the Gods.  Pagan cultures were not particularly peaceful, but I know of no adherents to a Pagan religion waging war on those of another for not worshiping the right Gods. Unlike the monotheisms, unity of belief didn’t seem very important in the Pagan world.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus
    P. Sufenas Virius Lupus says #
    Can you see the irony in the fact that you've defined Paganism as superlatively permissive, but then have marginalized an entire f
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    Absolutely no irony here at all. None. Beginning in your first paragraph you distort my argument. I wrote Pagan religion is room
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    I will add one more point about thinking theologically about our own experiences as a way to deepen them and perhaps improve on ou
  • Gus diZerega
    Gus diZerega says #
    I also tried to "like" your comment Macha, but it doesn't work either. So thank you!
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Thanks, Gus. I think I'll print this for the men in the San Quentin circle.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
AAR Annual Meeting - IV

I've promised to post my AAR Annual Meeting reports here, but since they are complex -- at least the way I write them is complex -- they don't adapt well to this blog format.  Therefore, until I manage to submit the final report, I will simply provide a link to a blog where they appear more or less as intended.  Thanks for your understanding.

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PaganNewsBeagle Airy Monday Dec 8

In today's Airy Monday post, we've got PaganStudies at the AAR; new classes at Cherry Hill; the New Alexandrian library; buzzards (tracked from space); and a look the Orion mission.

“The AAR annual meeting is a huge intellectual energy infusion, not to mention a social occasion with Pagan Studies scholars from around the world,” reports Chas Clifton, co-chair of AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group. The Wild Hunt has the rest of the story.

Cherry Hill Pagan seminary announced its slate of upcoming spring classes last week. They include offerings in subjects including Sacred Cycles; Ministering to Military Pagans; Paganism and the Body; and much more. Check the whole list out here.

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PaganNewsBeagle Airy Monday Oct 6

Happy Monday, Beagle fans! Today's Airy Monday post includes news from space -- Hayley's comet, GRACE satellite shows water cycles, building blocks of life in a distant galaxy -- plus an academic Pagan conference calls for papers and a scholarly collection of sources on witchhunting history.

First up: news from SPACE! (How much more Airy can you get?) October's skies will light up with some extra excitement 10 days before Samhain, courtesy of Hayley's Comet. Get the details here.

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PaganNewsBeagle Airy Monday 18

In today's dispatch we include "airy" topics both literal and metaphorical: two stories of NASA space science, and three accounts of Pagan topics in academic circles.

This story is a personal favorite: a team of amateurs and retired scientists have "recaptured" a NASA satellite in the first-ever case of "citizen" astrophysics.

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