Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thoughts on the gender binary and religion

So, when looking up Beltaine stuff recently I came across something called The 13th Principles of Wiccan Belief which I found quite interesting.  As the webpage is blue text on a black background (whoever thought that was a good idea?) I will repost the principles here:

1.     We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the Moon and the seasonal Quarters and Cross Quarters.
2.     We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility toward our environment.  We seek to live in harmony with nature in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.
3.     We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than that apparent to the average person.  Because it is far greater than ordinary it is sometimes called ‘supernatural’, but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.
4.     We conceive of the Creative Power in the universe as manifesting through polarity – as masculine and feminine – and that this same Creative Power lies in all people and functions through the interaction of the masculine and the feminine.  We value neither above the other knowing each to be supportive of the other.  We value sex as pleasure as the symbol and embodiment of life, and as one of the sources of energy used in magical practice and religious worship.
5.     We recognize both outer worlds and inner, or psychological worlds sometimes known as the Spiritual World, the Collective Unconsciousness, the Inner Planes etc – and we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for paranormal phenomena and magical exercises.  We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfillment.
6.     We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership.
7.     We see religion, magick and wisdom in living as being united in the way one views the world and lives within it – a world view and philosophy of life which we identify as Witchcraft – the Wiccan Way.
8.     Calling oneself ‘Witch’ does not make a Witch – but neither does heredity itself, nor the collecting of titles, degrees and initiations.  A Witch seek to control the forces within her/himself that make life possible in order to live wisely and without harm to others and in harmony with nature.
9.     We believe in the affirmation and fulfillment of life in a continuation of evolution and development of consciousness giving meaning to the Universe we know and our personal role within it.
10.Our only animosity towards Christianity, or towards any other religion or philosophy of life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be ‘the only way’ and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practice and belief.
11. As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions.  We are concerned with our present and our future.
12.We do not accept the concept of absolute evil, nor do we worship any entity known as ‘Satan’ or ‘the Devil’ as defined by Christian tradition.  We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor accept that personal benefit can be derived only by denial to another.
13.We believe that we should seek within Nature that which is contributory to our health and well-being.

As you can see, it's an American charter.  More info on the background regarding how it was drawn up etc can be found on the website.  I should also point out that wiccanism is a sub branch of paganism, so not all pagans refer to themselves as wiccas, but all wiccas refer to themselves as pagans.

Anyway, what particularly interested me was principle number 4 -
"We conceive of the Creative Power in the universe as manifesting through polarity – as masculine and feminine"

See, this is where I fall out with most pagan teachings.  So much reference is made to the polarity read: binary) of masculine and feminine gender.  What about intersex people?  Trans people?  Those who regard themselves as gender free?  This polarity doesn't seem to allow room for them.

I think that most pagans would argue that the masculine and feminine labels are ways of understanding human and divine nature and don't mean that only male and female people (or Gods) exist.  That, for example, a man can identify with feminine traits and a woman identify with masculine traits (or that many people will identify with both).  Certainly pagans believe that both the masculine and feminine are worthy, that one isn't superior to the other and that both are important facets of life and should both be embraced.

My issue is that we are only human and we frame our ideas and understanding with human values and experiences.  We cannot know the absolute divine truth because we are only human.  Along with that, we (in the West at least, I am not qualified to talk about different cultures) live in a patriarchal society which is obsessed with the gender binary and tries to rigorously enforce it.

So, when pagans talk about the masculine and feminine aspects of the divine, I can't help but feel that
they are feeding into this ciscentric view of gender.  It prioritises conventional gender presentation over other 'hidden' genders (intersex, trans, gender free etc).  Either/or.

Ok, so there are some Gods who are a mixture of both sexes, Hermaphroditos (the son of Hermes and Aphrodite) comes to mind.  However, this God is mostly referred to by the male pronoun and often is presented as being more about a mixture of sex (and sexuality) than gender.  Of course the confusion between sex and gender and their linkage tends to confuse most cis-gendered people (I include myself in this) and I think helps feed into this obsession with the male/female binary.

I am just not comfortable with that.  This creates a conundrum in my mind and I have trouble rationalising where I fit amongst these beliefs.

In my (limited) readings I've come across some authors who state that past pagan societies weren't sexist, women were revered and not treated as second class citizens and part of the evidence for that is the worship of the Goddess.  It will surprise no one to read that I think this view demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of history, culture and gender relations.  Having said that, I haven't found another religion which has as much pro-feminist leanings as this one.  Plus, the lack of structure and ability to choose your own way is very appealing to me.

I don't know, if anyone reading this considers themselves pagan and has thoughts on this masculine/feminine binary I'd be really keen to read your thoughts.  Please no one comment to the effect of paganism being wrong, or cisgendered people being the only real people.

Note: I really hate the way blogspot's spellcheck doesn't recognise 'cis' or 'cisgendered' as words.  Rubbish.


Ragnell said...

I'm of the labels view, but I find masculine and feminine confuses the issue. I always liked the school of thought that goes with projective for masculine energy and receptive for feminine energy, because I know people who are balanced or have either dominant and it's got nothing to with their gender.

Saranga said...

Thanks for the input Ragnell.