Are the Gods of Nature Male or Female?
I didn’t get to go to PantheaCon last year, for the first time in the past few years; however, I did get to hear from friends about their experiences throughout the weekend as they blogged and tweeted. And so it was that I heard about the CAYA1 Coven’s Lilith ritual and the kerfuffle surrounding it. In a nutshell, the description didn’t make it clear that the ritual was meant only for women, and according to the ritual organizers, only cisgender (as opposed to transgender) women. Several people, both men and trans women, were turned away at the door with much hurt and confusion.
I’ve been watching the discussion since then, though it seems to have died down with not much in the way of a resolution. There’s been a lot of talk about what criteria are required for someone to be considered a man or a woman, whether it has to do with the genetics or the genitals or with self-identity. And there’s been debate over whether woman-only space should be allowed when it only allows cisgender women, and whether transgender women are spiritually women or men according to Dianic standards.
This, of course, brings up the issue of the sex and gender of the deities. Most Dianics only view the Divine as female, or if there is a male deity, he is considered lesser than the Goddess. In a broader context, there has always been discussion in the pagan community, at least as long as I’ve been in it (since the mid-1990s) about what constitutes the bailiwicks of male and female deities, as well as gender and sex roles among neopagans themselves.
One of the most frustrating arguments, as far as I’m concerned, is the assertion that the female/male split is “natural,” and since many forms of paganisms are nature-based, the deities ought therefore to reflect “true nature.” We make the gods in our own image. Our religions are anthropocentric. This isn’t surprising. Spirituality is a form of meaning-making, and we find meaning in that which we can relate to. So our deities are largely humanoid, and mostly sexually dimorphic (being either male or female).
But is this really what’s most natural? If we take a survey of individual living beings, from the tiniest protists to the great blue whale, thee sexually dimorphic beings are actually outnumbered by those that reproduce hermaphroditically (like the earthworm) or asexually (amoebas). Because almost all of these beings are either invertebrate animals which barely get a mention in totemism and animal magic, or plants which are often seen only as spell components, they’re not given nearly as much consideration. And they resemble us a lot less than cattle, wolves, eagles, or any of a number of charismatic megafauna that are often venerated by pagans of various sorts.
Yet there are more living beings on Earth that are not sexually dimorphic than those that are. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that the “most natural” manifestation of the Divine wouldn’t be male or female, but a being that reproduces by splitting itself in two? Furthermore, this sort of splitting is reflected in our very own cells’ mitosis/cytokinesis and meiosis (the two forms of cellular division). So we even have the template for that crucial form of reproduction within our bodies on a microscopic scale.
If we’re going to insist that the deities of nature must reflect common qualities in nature, then we need to keep in mind that we human beings are not necessarily the center of that universe, as much as we might like to pretend otherwise. From an evolutionary standpoint, while we might have wrought a lot of change on this world with our big brains, advanced vocal apparati, and opposable thumbs, these remain the adaptations we developed through generations of natural selection, the process by which all beings have become what they are today — and will become through future generations. Which means that we’re really not that special — certainly not special enough to impose our particular brand of reproduction on the Divine as a whole.2
Conversely, those big brains of ours help us to move past the less desirable elements of our instinctual heritage. While we may have an instinctual response to a stimulus that involves violence, for example, if violence is not the appropriate response we can override the instinct with reason and free will, again using the unique properties of our brains. In the same way, whereas we can look at our physical bodies, how the individual’s genitalia may be formed, the chromosomes in the DNA, and so forth, we are also capable of transcending a strict sex/gender corollary. This may be something as simple as rejecting tertiary sex characteristics “traditionally” associated with male and female primary and secondary sex characteristics, and instead embracing whatever proportion of feminine and/or masculine properties one likes. However, it may also be identifying fully as one sex while possessing the genetic material of the other. And this isn’t even taking intersex people, those born with genitalia that are not strictly male or female (and sometimes divergent chromosomes as well), into account.
This is all to say that just because historically people have generally seen the Divine as male or female doesn’t mean that this is the automatic most natural way, especially when one purports to follow a nature spirituality. If you’re going to worship nature manifest in archetypal beings, and especially if you’re going to feel compelled to impose your dogma on others, then be consistent about it. And if you continue in your inconsistencies, then be prepared to defend your chauvinism.3
- Ironically, this stands for “Come As You Are”.
- And there are plenty of phenomena in nature which do not reproduce—stones may fragment, but they are not properly reproducing.
- I asked my partner whether there were any Lovecraftian deity-forms that were known to reproduce asexually, since I couldn’t think of any amoeba gods, and the Elder Gods were about my best shot for having among their ranks some amorphous being of about deity status that split itself off every so often. While there wasn’t an exact match, I for one welcome our new Shoggoth gods and their unspeakable eldritch powers of regeneration.
Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at http://therioshamanism.com and see her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com.