Making Room for all Genders in Paganism
Author: Maggi Setti
In this age of women’s liberation, we still find a deep wound surrounding gender differences in our culture. How is gender expressed differently in the pagan community? Is there still a use for gender specific ritual spaces? Many of these questions are ongoing with many answers, but it is high time that we see these issues with new eyes as we approach a second generation of Pagan feminists, both male, female, and spectrum of gender identification in between.
At a public class I taught a couple weeks ago on developing energetic and psychic skills, I was surprised that that there was an equal number of male and female attendants. For Wicca, this is a rarity, as you will find the vast majority of Wiccans are women. The easy explanation for this is that women are more hurt by the patriarchal approach of mainstream religions and need the feminine divine more acutely than men.
In a personal conversation, a male Wiccan offered the idea that there are more women than men interested and involved in spirituality and religion in general. He used the example that most church functions, other than the priesthood itself, are run by women and often women are dragging their husbands to church rather than the men being self-motivated in attending. I think that if this premise is true, that women as a group are more spiritually focused than men in mainstream religions as well as Pagan denominations. We can infer that this phenomenon comes from at least two influences as follows.
1. Men are discouraged from being in touch with their soft emotions. It’s hard to be in touch with the greater picture and how one fits in to that greater whole, and at the same time, this suppresses much of one’s internal reality as well.
2. Much of adherence to the Christian religion, as it is currently expressed, depends on guilt and fear. There is more room for men to assert themselves, their ideas, opinions and what they want on other people in their lives. While this may be lopsided, it also allows for a greater development on one’s power and ego especially for men as a group more so than women. Women are more likely to struggle with fear and guilt, and feeling powerless, are therefore more susceptible to the disempowerment and subversion of the religions tenants.
Both of my points above would support that it is not the nature of women or men that make women more spiritually focused, but another example of how our culture is unhealthy and imbalanced. Unfortunately how the pagan community during the past 40 years has approached this is by creating overblown false egos for women and small-scale fiefdoms that breed infighting, confusion, and mistrust. I saw this in Sunday school as a kid, in the choir in high school, and still see it.
Women’s empowerment and healing the gap between the genders is not about the segregation of the sexes anymore though. It’s about building healthy egos, empowerment, self-esteem and ending the war of the sexes. Women’s only spaces were intended to be safe havens in which women felt supported rather than competing with other women. These spaces were meant as healing spaces to use ritual as a forum to connect with the feminine divine within each woman there, as well as the feminine divine of the group, the culture, and the Great Goddess Herself. Therefore these spaces are not about reliving the pain and hurt of what has been wrong with the system, but to encourage alchemical change within individuals so that they can build new paradigms of how they approach and express gender, but power, sexuality, self-expression, and self-worth.
All of this is about self-love and acceptance. Not acceptance that makes excuses for maladaptive behavior that is permissive our faults, but rather an acceptance to be gentle with ourselves so that we can motivate change, growth, and healing. “I love my body as uniquely my own. I am not flawed. I am as I should be.” Affirmations such as these help to let go of the cultural myth of the perfect feminine, youthful woman that does not exist.
Please note that I am referencing cultural expectations. Our culture oversimplifies definitions of qualities into white and black categories. If you can’t label someone, force him or her to go into a category until you are comfortable that you have him or her pegged. Much of the path of the witch embraces the grays of twilight and dawn and the myriad of shades of gray within continuum of many things. Where we fall on the continuum for many things including how we express gender, sexuality, our relationships, our connection to the Gods, will be different for all of us.
As Pagans we embrace our differences and still are able to work together, to manifest a new humanity. We need to be very cognizant of embracing each individual’s true expression of himself or herself: whether it be the gender labels they use for themselves in this case, or other expressions of self.
We can’t just look at women though. Women are not the only ones that have suffered from the imbalance of this “war of the sexes.” At Fall Frolic in Milford PA, I’ll be teaching a women’s empowerment class and leading a women’s only ritual. I’ve suggested to the organizers of Fall Frolic that we also run a men’s ritual at the same time. In fact, these rituals can do real magick upon the higher planes to interact in a spiritually fertilizing and polarizing way in order to heal the gender schism of the group mind of humanity. In my opinion, this magickal healing is the next step for building bridges for healthy intragender relationships.
How do we interest men in a way that retains their sense of strength, self-worth, respect, and power? How do we incorporate men into a religion that includes sparkly purple fairy glitter and witch Barbie? (Not my personal taste, but still an active stereotype) . How do we rebuild the archetype of the warrior for both men and women, working, fighting for a cause, and protecting their tribe?
I hope that there are Pagan men interested and willing to forge the way for answering these questions. We need all genders working together and creating new ways of relating to one another so that we can create a balanced future for our religion, our children, and our culture.