paganism as fem-focused

Just to say that this is not a rant, but more of an observation. As a note, I am using popular paganism to indicate popular trends that are prevalent in paganism in general that are often generated from roots in wicca and goddess spiritually espoused by such authors as Starhawk that have between these two groupings have had a large impact in the so-called pagan community and what tends to be agreed upon by the largest population.

In a previous blog entry I noted that a big divide between popular paganism and polytheism is the more typical acceptance in the latter for the lay-worshiper, well here was another point that came to my mind as I was looking at so many things come into my Facebook feed about the Goddess and the Horned God consort, was that popular paganism is very much female orientated. So much so that in their duality the Goddess gets first chair as queen and their God is a secondary consort deity rather than a ruler. At least this is what is implied by language. As we have seen with Queen Elizabeth II the consort of the queen has very little functional power aside from ceremonial duties and tasks that she may decide to hand over to him. Therefore when pagans are talking of the Goddess Queen of everything and the Horned Consort, my first reaction is to think of this scenario. The male goes through his allotted roles, but everything is under the power of the Goddess ultimately.

Of course the establishment of this kind of deity pair in popular paganism isn’t too unordinary if we consider some of the early roots of the movement with authors, in rebuttal to society possessing a male-dominated religion, idealized matriarchy and thus developed a religious view in which the female was the ruling power and the male is attached to her as son-spouse in something quite near a subordinate position. Whereas I have no problem with people taking this religious view it does strike me a bit ironic when gods and goddesses are set into the system coming from beliefs that do not have this structure. And no, no matter how much a person argues, I will not accept the idea that in the way way ancient times that is how it really was before patriarchy. Especially given that the goddesses in these patriarchal ancient religions were often of equal power and standing as the male gods, and what we know of these deities come from these patriarchal societies particularly.

In polytheism it is not very often (and I will say that because I am not saying it couldn’t or doesn’t happen that people believe otherwise) that goddesses or gods are elevated over the other divine gender. We have a number of gods and goddesses who all do different things and interact with each other in diverse ways. And quite often the Queen goddess is on nearly the same level playing field (even if it is somewhat different) to her Kingly spouse. For instance in Hellenic Polytheism Hera is hardly a battered wife or wicked stepmother that people seem to get strange ideas of from interpretations of the myths. Ancient historians show a rich cult to her and that is demonstrative of her power. Her strength in fact carries through symbolically through the myths as the maker of heroes by testing their metal, as a shrewd and intelligent goddess, a warrioress in her own right (see the Iliad where she is the charioteer of Athena), and the only one among the host of gods and goddesses who was the complete confidant and counsel of Zeus. Granted Zeus is the king of gods and men, but Hera is entirely complimentary to his power and is herself bearing great power and strength…a balance between them which is necessary.

The interactions between the gods and goddesses are often about shared power or complimentary power rather than one ruling over a subordinate. Artemis and Apollon for instance are perhaps one of the best demonstrations of this as they are utterly aligned and protective of each others’ interests (Artemis kills Koronis for her betrayal of Apollon and Apollon with his twin confronts Herakles about the golden hind for instance). They are two torches burning bright, king and queen in their own rights, archers, wild ones, musicians and dancers. The irreverence of Artemis towards Apollon can also be found with some amusement in the Iliad in which Artemis gives an older sister’s sneer that Apollon doesn’t fight against Poseidon as he said he would and insults him.  And he just accepts the criticism in good nature.

The thing is that one of the reasons that I was never attracted to popular paganism is because how much the gods are downplayed. Everything is about the horned consort, and occasional mention of gods in a minor capacity as less important divinities in the cosmos. I like the balance in Hellenic polytheism and which I see in many polytheistic traditions as I do not favor either the placement of  a supreme goddess figure anymore than I care for the Abrahamic supreme god. To me it just seemed that a lot of wonderful and powerful gods were pushed out of the way or forgotten about, given a minimal position, or reviled in some cases (I have been surprised how many snarky stuff I have seen out there about Apollon and Zeus for instance though popular paganism does have a love for Dionysos and Pan who are generally adopted into the “image” of the horned consort. There are just so many gods out there that espouse diverse positive traits of masculinity in its various forms, but in their strength they tend to get beaten down or rendered powerless, that certainly boys are growing up to recognize the sacredness of a female divinity and likely translates over into their own esteem in regards to women, but they in turn have nothing particular powerful to celebrate.

Women find a home in popular paganism, in goddess spirituality, because it gives them something to celebrate within themselves and empowers females in a male dominated society. These are of course positive things. The celebrate their power, the sacred mysteries of the womb and so on. The problem that I see is that the male becomes a footnote. Males, however, have their roles and strengths, and while it is of course important to cherish and be respectful towards their female members in society, I truly believe that they too need gods that deliver a positive message about being male and the responsibilities of a man. That they too feel cherished and possessing their own power in relation to those gifts bestowed by the gods upon men. I feel it takes both strong goddesses and strong gods to make a balanced and healthy religious experience for all of a worshiping community and household.

For me polytheism does that. It gives us great goddesses and gods of various strengths and resources that are cooperative and complimentary to each other in their functions in the world and the cosmos. There is of course nothing wrong with popular pagan view of the gods as a valid belief for those who hold it, but I think it is quite distinct from the polytheistic one.

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6 thoughts on “paganism as fem-focused

  1. This is my sentiment as well. When i was still looking into Wicca (i.e. the neo-Wicca that infests the internet) that was also one of the main things I held against it and ultimately drove me away from it. It’s always “the Goddess this, the Goddess that”, with the God being rendered the sidekick basically who is absolutely nothing without the Goddess. I found this very hypocritical in regards to the claim of “equality of the sexes” in Wicca. I do off course understand this trend within it’s historical context as being linked to the women’s rights movement and all that, but like you, I find more satisfaction in Hellenismos in that regard.

    And concerning Hera, the Homeric Hymn to her even mentions in so many words that the Gods do not hold her in any less regard then they do Zeus.

  2. I think I’d moved away from Wicca-flavored paganism before I could get tired of the over emphasis on ‘the Goddess’. I went from wanting to believe in the gods, and having some interactions with a being I called “Mamma Earth” (and we’re surprised by my new-again interest in Rhea and Kybele, why again?) to having the epiphany (which sounds so much better than mental break) involving Poseidon, and was His from then on, so I was spared much exposure to this particular swing of the pendulum. It’s not a factor in my life, beyond annoyance at all the goddess themed art and the lack of god art — which is why I think *your* artwork is so important, btw.

    There is certainly a need for the focus on the feminine, in our society. This is good. But it makes those of us who are more god-focused a bit in the minority, and that can be frustrating.

    • I agree, there is a need for focus on goddesses and female divinities. It is a very good thing indeed. However I don’t think it should be so over powering that worshipers emasculate the gods either. I mean it is one thing for a person to hold the beliefs that she is more great and powerful, but it is unfortunate when it spills over onto others who are devoted to a god or making public statements about the nature of the gods from this perspective. And for me this is what is frustrating, not that there are people with this belief but that relays a unhistorical and inaccurate view of the gods…something that those who are devoted to them often have to spend time correcting.

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