Gender-exclusive gods

This post from Aspis of Ares has inspired me into further thought about this topic. Though I have refrained from commenting on the activities of Pantheacon (largely because I was not there and have no relationship to Dianic Wicca), his post did make me think specifically about gender-exclusive worship practices and to what extent they had relevance in Hellenismos and the worship in the ancient world. As a disclaimer I would like to point out that in my youth I did read some on Dianics, and found it lacking on an assumption that there are historic cults which were gender-exclusive…in particular putting emphasis on one goddess from which the tradition takes its name: Diana, the Roman counterpart of the Hellene goddess Artemis. So it seems that the best place to start is in discussing the assumptions about Hellenic goddesses worshiped in this tradition. This should not be interpreted as an attack on Dianic Wiccans, they after all should feel free to practice as they like, but rather as introduction for addressing the problems with assumptions of male-exclusive gods in the worship of Hellas.

From my reading material on Dianics there are three particular Hellenic goddesses to which the femme-centricism is focused as goddesses associated with some kind of “feminine mysteries” which just doesn’t really exist in the way that seems to be assumed, nor holding any supremacy in relation to the masculine gods: Artemis, Demeter and Persephone. The relationship of Demeter and Persephone appears to be emphasized in Dianic Wicca as the sole purpose of the turn of the seasons, which is in contrast to forms of Wiccan in which the shift of seasons are attributed to the relationship of a masculine and feminine divinity. While there were a very small handful of festivals of Demeter and Persephone that were celebrated only by women, this really is more of an exception rather than the norm and took place during the autumn season. All other festivals were celebrated by initiates irregardless of gender or social status, which makes the cult of Demeter perhaps one of the most inclusive ones in Hellas, as the mysteries were equally available to all Hellenes and peoples who spoke the language. Additionally, unlike Dianic practices which move away from the participation of male gods in the mystery of Demeter such as Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hermes and Apollon to name a few who were honored at festivals of Demeter such as the Proerosia.

As for Artemis, I can almost understand the confusion about her. With the list of her nymph companions, her association with the legendary Amazons, and her abhorrence of Actaeon seeing her bathing after the hunt, could suggest that the goddess is of the kind which only appreciates the female company and excludes males. However, with the exception of the Brauronia, which was only celebrated by girls, all other coming of age rituals were celebrated for and attended by both boys and girls, and sometimes even exclusively by boys as in the case of the trial at the altar of Artemis Orthia during which the endurance of boys entering adulthood as a soldier was tested by whipping. Likewise Artemis was honored at the birth of girls, and honored by nurses of boys. Aside from the practical cult of Artemis, one also has to take the myth of Hippolytus into consideration: a hunting companion of Artemis who not only was honored via certain cult centers in Greece, but also in the myth of Diana at Nemi, a place to which the revived Hippolytus was believed to have departed and in the local cult was presided over by a priest. This doesn’t sound like a goddess who particularly excludes males and favors women. In fact aside from the process of childbirth, over which she would naturally preside as a goddess of the portal of birth, Artemis has very little to do specifically with women past the age of maturity, and even prior to maturity was equally concerned with the male.That Artemis also took on a slight masculine identity can also be seen in the case in which Artemis, like Aphrodite, has been portrayed as a bearded goddess.

This should be understood as many people like to set up Artemis and her twin Apollon into a dichotomy in which everything feminine is protected by Artemis, and everything masculine by Apollon. Yet with Apollon too we see many many instances in which females take part. The largest distinction seems to be made only shortly after an infants birth (7 days afterward, in which its birth was celebrated after surviving the first week of life) in which garlands of laurel were hung for a boy (or in some case the olive of Athena), and white fillets of wool for Artemis at the birth of a girl, and perhaps at the death of males and females in which we have examples of Apollon slaying males, and Artemis slaying females. But this seems more to be along the lines of gender distinction of the twins themselves, not necessarily of their worshipers, who are otherwise linked with each other, operating in most cases as a whole together, and reflecting each other and working cooperatively. In neither case can we say that either of these exclude the opposite gender, and each possessing very few celebrations or activities which are femme or masculine centric, and not necessarily among the same sex as Apollon had female only gigs like the weaving of his chiton by the women at Chiton for the Hyakinthia (which yes was celebrated by both men and women), and the previously mentioned whipping of boys for Artemis Orthia. Even festivals which seemed to focus on a specific gender weren’t necessarily as exclusive as we think…in which case the Gymnapaidaie of Apollon, while most references focus on the participation of male youths in vigor, athletics and dance, also included dancing girls and is called by as a feast of women.

To a lesser degree there does seem to also be a femme-focus on Dionysos, due largely in part to the presence of the maenads. I have seen them in feminine mystery material compared as part of a feminine mystery that contrasts the Amazons. While it seems to be agreed upon that the first celebrants of Dionysos were female, and that the maenads (the first of which, and the actual original maenads) were his followers, it is also true that in the legendary history of Dionysos that males were not excluded either. For instance, in Euripedes Bacchae shows the king and the seer in full celebration of Bacchus, an activity of which returned their sense of youth, vigor, and general merriness. Likewise men took the part of the satyrs in the Bacchic processions in honor of Dionysos. And certainly the co-mingling of sexes during the Dionysia celebrated at Brauron (yes the same Brauron where the Brauronia was celebrated in honor of Artemis). In point of fact celebrating Dionysos doesn’t particularly work with just one sex in my opinion…it can be done certainly…but it seems to miss some of the features in which Dionysos, who often acts as a bridge between genders, not only as a fairly feminine male god but also in the act of his worship in a society, particularly among the Athenians, in which unmarried women and men spent a large part of their time segregated, is honored. In this manner his worship seems to fall in a similar line with that of Demeter in that it tends to be inclusive by its nature.

In general, I can’t think of a single god or goddess of Hellas whose worship is specifically exclusive. Even Ares, as Pete pointed out, cannot be considered a deity that excludes female worship, with the exception of very particular festivals. In this light I have a difficult time swallowing claims that any of the gods are by their nature gender exclusive…not among the most feminine of goddess nor the most masculine of gods. Therefore those who take up worship of these gods and attempt to modify them into male only or female only cults just isn’t personally agreeable to me, or do I find it particularly healthy. I have seen arguments in which women say that they need male-excluding worship in order to help them heal or to celebrate something particular to their biological function, but the downplay of the male gods (who do have close relationships with the goddesses) and exclusion of males regularly seems to inherently lacking as nature is not focused either way. So this goes the same in my consideration for female-excluding regular worship practices. Of course this is coming from someone who does not consider biological plumbing as something sacred or magical….neither male phalli or female uteri. Such is only sacred as it pertains to gods, and not always actively a part of the worship of every god or goddess either, especially when we consider that many of the Olympian goddess refrained from procreation altogether. In fact I see the honoring of the divine phallus having more to do with the penetration and fertilization of the mortal soul, and the fertilizing of the earth than any trumpeting of the male biological gender specifically. Women who reject “male energy” because of abuses carried out by certain men, as therefore associate the phallus with something negative and domineering, are missing out on something important. In fact there is nothing that can work to healing such abuses than accepting the love of males, especially male gods, that are introduced in a non-sexual manner. And before anyone gets huffy, this is coming from a person who experienced some really unpleasant stuff and found myself fulfilled by Apollon by accepting him during a period of vulnerability. This is perhaps why Dianic Wicca has never appealed to me, that even in my youth as a follower of Artemis.

That is not say that some few celebrations can’t be gender focused, typically set upon social situations of “gender” rather than celebrating biological functions, but the reality is that these were few and far between from what I understand, and not a regular mode of worship. Honoring the gods seems that it is best carried out in regular practice in the spirit of inclusiveness.



2 thoughts on “Gender-exclusive gods

  1. Pingback: Magickal Media Blog » Blog Archive » News for Pagans, Wednesday, 3-7-11

  2. Pingback: Homosexuality | A Young Flemish Hellenist

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