Ritual vs. Convenience

Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend in how I interact and consume media in my life, and I’ve noticed I’m not alone. Let’s take.. music and records as an example.

I have access to Google Play Music, and I can listen to any song more or less ever recorded I want, pretty much everywhere I have a data connection. Even better, between Pandora, Spotify, and Google Play’s own algorithms, I can give it vague idea of what I’d like to listen to and get a complete playlist in one click.

I was one of those 80’s kids who made mixtapes and carried them around in my Walkman and in my car stereo. When Minidisc became a thing, I made the same mixtapes on Minidisc, and carried my goofy-ass Minidisc recorder pretty much everywhere. That escalated (quickly) to MP3s as data on writable CDs as soon as the first MP3 capable CD players came on the market. As the cloud has come into my life, I started uploading the more obscure stuff into Google Play, and made playlists of the stuff I used to make mixtapes of.

Recently I got one of those cheap-ass Crosley phonographs and I’ve been keeping an eye out at thrifts for old albums I might be interested in. Originally I was more interested in the novelty and nostalgia of having vinyl (a format I quite honestly avoided like the plague as a youngster, even though it was ubiquitous in my younger years) .. but yesterday I found myself doing something that I haven’t done in years.

I actually LISTENED to two albums. it wasn’t just background, it wasn’t an augment to what I was doing.. it WAS what I was doing. I found myself sitting at the turntable, doing nothing but actively listening to the music coming out of the speaker. And I was enjoying it. All the imperfections of the analog format, the pops and clicks, and having to turn the record over and place the stylus on the record… it was a complete experience.

While I could have searched for the same recordings and listened to digital copies on my smartphone, there was something .. real about handling the physical media.

I’m not saying it is the sort of thing I’d do every day, but as a ritual in and of itself it was a pleasant use of my time. Sitting down in front of the phonograph, gently pulling the record from its sleeve, gently removing as much dust as possible with a microfiber cloth, and putting this disk of plastic down in and of itself was a ritual.

And an enjoyable one at that.

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.