And suddenly, I’m very aware of gender bias in Neopaganism.

The whole Pantheacon “thing” really gets under my skin.

On the one hand, there are things about it I don’t think I’ll ever understand.  I’m unquestionably male in appearance and in outward personality.  I’ve never had to cope with many of the issues that those friends of mine who are transgender have had to cope with.  I’ve never had to look at the face in the mirror and feel like the person staring back at me “is not me.”

On the other hand, a significant part of my spiritual and cultural identity is decidedly transgender: my feminine higher self is always there, guiding my hands and words in often very subtle ways.  She is honored and cherished, and with some adjustments over the years is happy and content with the balance as it sits.

I am a member of a spiritual group that has sought out my divine feminine self, and nourishes her.  She holds a special place in their ritual structure.  They accept the fact that She is in a male body.  They accept that when she speaks the words may be coming from a male mouth.  And they honor and cherish both the male container and the female self.  They look beyond the physical into the spiritual, and see the Creature inside for what and who she is. And all are happy and content with the balance as it sits.

In a moment of clarity while meditating about the “Z Budapest Situation” last night, I bolted out of meditative state when I heard my internal voice say the following line:

As the athame is to the male, so the chalice is to the female.

.. and I realized the inherent sexual and gender bias in that very statement and in the way the Great Rite has been played out, time and time again, in just about every Pagan tradition I’ve ever been affiliated with.  And suddenly, I’m no longer content with the balance as it sits.

In the pagan display of the Great Rite as presented here, there’s no place for transgenderism.  There’s no place for non-heterosexual intercourse.  There’s two clearly defined roles: of the athame, the male, the phallus.. and the chalice, the female, the womb.  The implications are profound.  You either have a penis, and are male.. or you have a vagina, and are female.  And the only valid display of the Great Rite is a penis inserted into a vagina.  That is the Only Sacred Thing: there is no opportunity for two athames to interact, or two chalices, or any other combination.

I don’t know where I’m going with this thought, other than I’m actually now a little bit ashamed of myself for not seeing this sooner.  And I’m left with a lingering uneasiness that maybe it is time to reclaim a new ritualization of this act.. one that accepts that human sexuality isn’t black and white, isn’t just about the Pure Male penetrating the Pure Female.  One that can accept the paradigm of homosexuality, of transgenderism, and of transhumanism.

Trust me, there will be more.

EDIT: a slight change to the wording in a couple places was made at 1:15pm for prosaic flow.

23 thoughts on “And suddenly, I’m very aware of gender bias in Neopaganism.

    • It is a fertility rite.

      But it really is more than that. The argument can be made that the entire basis of most of Neopaganism (or, /ad minimum/ certainly any Wiccan tradition that descends from Gardner) is based upon this rite.

      And even as a fertility rite, is it saying that only heteronormative sexuality is fertile? It may be in the physical sense, but what does it say about spiritually and emotionally? What “magic” is it working against gays, lesbians, polyamorous families, or any others? At once, it invalidates every other form of sexuality as “non-fertile” by exclusion.

  1. Even “abstracting” the GR as “impulse meets form” still feels like little other than a dodge, especially since we specifically say in performing it, “The blade is to the male and the chalice is to the female.” I find myself constantly balanced between wanting to celebrate my transness and wanting to “fix it and forget it,” but I will always have had this history, long after surgical correction is a faded memory, long after the last of my surgical scars have faded to the point where they are virtually invisible.

  2. “And I’m left with a lingering uneasiness that maybe it is time to reclaim a new ritualization of this act.. one that accepts that human sexuality isn’t black and white, isn’t just about the Pure Male penetrating the Pure Female. One that can accept the paradigm of homosexuality, of transgenderism, and of transhumanism.”

    Welcome to one of my biggest discomforts with neopaganism: its complete inability to even comfortably encompass basic biology in its adoration of the procreative act. Nature has more bizarre and varied ways to accomplish this, and even more? It’s not the only damn thing worth paying attention to in nature-worship. Add to that the fact that sexuality as humans (and most mammals and birds, really) experience it is such a high-order implementation of what’s ultimately a low-level function, and it gets used for all kinds of non-reproductive stuff even in nonhuman animals, and…yeah.

    I listen to folks drone on about how the natural world recapitulates the divine in this manner. Then I think about the split-gill fungus (30,000 sexes, mates on contact, all possible combos are interfertile though same-sex is least-so), and I sorta find it difficult to take these folks seriously.

    And yeah, I’m a pedant, and I frequently think about irrelevant trivia that’s technically outside the scope of the popular understanding of human reproduction. But that’s the damn point — that popular understanding of sex, of gender, of procreation, of the importance of these things, leaves out large swathes of the human experience. The idea that they’re speaking to universal principles or deep truths of nature is a great big fragging *joke* in that light.

  3. Hmm. It might be worth it to look into various gay, lesbian, and otherwise queer Wiccan groups to see how they deal with the Great Rite, because you make a really good point about the chalice/blade thing. Gardner was REALLY heterosexual, and while Crowley was bi, his imagery was also heavily hetero, and so those are the influences that we have carried down to us in the 21st century. Granted, I speak of this as an outsider to traditional Wicca, but that’s my understanding based on what I know.

    • Both Gardner and Crowley lived in a time and a place where sexuality was pretty rigid, so I don’t necessarily blame them for this (and you can add Anton LaVey to this list of Dead White Men while you’re at it). To paraphrase a bit of redneck wisdom, when the only tool you have is an athame every problem is going to look like a chalice.

      However, we’re living a postmodern age.. and we’re supposed to be ignoring the hegemony anyway.. which is why it strikes me so hard. There’s an almost unnerving orthodox view of sexuality hidden just under the surface: further reinforced by Z Budapest’s statements and actions regarding transwomen specifically. It strikes me as a paradox of belief at its fundament.

    • Heh. I remember when I was gearing up to join an Alexandrian coven. Kinda ditched on that around the point the HPS decided, in her *boundless spiritual wisdom*, that unless I’d had SRS I would have to do the Great Rite from a male role.

      It would’ve been a terrible fit anyway, for so many reasons (and that occasion served mainly as a barometer of that fact for me), but I shudder to think that this is what cis neopagans do and then turn around and consider themselves inclusive.

  4. It is a helluva clunk when this realization hits, but better now than never.

    Radical Feri groups changed around chants and rites to speak from non-hetero-normative places to be inclusive specifically because of this issue. There may be Google searches to reveal some their phrasing. The ones I know of were shared in private so I cannot copy them here.

    Just wanted to let you know others have adapted, I feel certain you can too if you so wish. 🙂

      • Uumm … Feri and “open group” might not get you what you’re looking for, but I know nothing of the Portland area population in relation to Anderson’s Feri. You could message Elf on Dreamwidth, explain how your interest came about and maybe she’ll have some ideas for you.

        And, if you’d like some reading on it’s history and such:

        Etheric Anatomy: The Three Selves and Astral Travel by Victor Anderson

        Thorns of the Blood Rose also by Victor

        And 50 Years in the Feri Tradition by Cora Anderson

        • Yeah, I was more going to look in the more “traditional” fashion, by asking around the community. I know a lot of people who are in some GLBT-friendly traditions here in Portland, so that was going to be where I started.

          I’ll check out some of those books as I can find them.

        • My initiator started me with those books and we met in a non-Reclaiming/Feri group so I generally recommend them straight off. Your local library may have copies.

          Best of luck. ~smile~

    • Sadly, even as liberal as Portland’s library system is they don’t have any copies. And neither does the “Other Portland Public LIbrary” (Powell’s Books). I will keep my eyes open, however.

    • Precisely the point, actually. Our thoughts are often guided by the tools we use to engage with the world, be they words or objects. That’s part of what I’m referring to when I say a potentially new paradigm is required to liberate our minds from a hetero-normative viewpoint.

  5. Consider the Great Rite of Water and Earth – How the Water poured upon the soil soaks into, and is enveloped by the Earth. How the Earth and the Water are changed – combined. And their combination brings blessedness. Their mud is the primordial soup from which we came. It is the mud-brick of shelters. It is the sediment that becomes stone – that which fossilizes and hardens to form the world around us.

    Consider the Great Rite of Air and Fire – the forge which makes the blade. The union of the Spark and the Breath which creates the Soul. How fire dies without air to consume, and how air becomes the lover of ice in the absence of fire and covers our world in white death.

    And ‘Course, the Rite of All – union of two bodies (earth), their kiss (breath), their lust (water) and their spark (fire). Irrespective of gender.

  6. The Coven I trained in and its successor groupings had this come up quickly back in the late 80s/early 90s: Our founder and High Priest was a Gay man who himself had trained under a Lesbian couple. Our membership included heterosexuals, (obviously) Gay man, Lesbians, and transgender folks and non-binary folks.

    Our consensus was that the ritual should reflect the desires and realities of the celebrants. My HP commented “the tools don’t change much for me, I just get creative about what the Chalice represents.” When two Lesbians in our group married, they performed Great Rite with two chalices. And there was all kinds of work around Etheric gender/waking gender splits.

  7. Yay! I love this post! I completely agree, and in fact was inspired to come up with an alternative that shows more of the full spectrum of human and divine sexuality. At Pantheacon this year I led a Gender-Bending Ritual, and we did what I called a “Broad Spectrum Great Rite” that included interactions between “wand to wand”, “cup to cup,” and “wand to cup”…I really hope this idea catches on! My ritual at Pantheacon was the first time I’ve had the joy of trying this idea with others, and I thought it worked very well thanks to my amazing helpers! 🙂 I found it more expressive and personal than it feels sometimes just going through the motions of the male-into-female symbolism of the typical Great Rite. Anyway…thanks for bringing this issue to light! 🙂

Leave a Reply