The Feminine and Masculine Principle in Modern Paganism - a Non-Theist Perspective
Pagan theology can be extremely complex. Many pagans
recognise a variety of independent deities, known as polytheism. Others
subscribe to Henotheism, which is rather similar to polytheism, except focus is
only on a singular and supreme deity – a sort of chief god above other gods.
Other pagans subscribe to pantheism, a belief system that perceives God and the
universe as one and the same. Other pagans are Monist, a non-dualistic approach
that is not dissimilar to pantheism, and which places no distinction between
spirit and matter. Some pagans perceive God as immanent, rather than
transcendent in a monotheistic sense, with lesser deities and spiritual beings believed
to be aspects or emanations of the One. In other words, there is said to be a
continuity of “Divine Substance”, (for want of a better term) from the top to
There are also Goddess worshippers who identify only with a
female deity, said to be the Earth or the Natural World, and who have little or
no interest in transcendent-based theology, although there are exceptions to
this approach. But what all these various systems have in common is a belief in
Deity, or deities, in one form or another. A cursory glance at the complexity
of the issue with its conflicting interpretations reveals that any attempt to
make reliable sense of the universe and the world in which we live by
theological reasoning or mythological explanations presents profound
difficulties to those who are inclined towards rationality and scepticism.
Our distant ancestors, all credit to them, were equally
fascinated and intrigued by what they saw when gazing skywards and attempted to
explain the cosmos and its origin within the restrictions of their own
understanding. It seemed perfectly logical and rational to them that an
intelligent Creator must have designed the universe and all it contains, for
how could existence be explained otherwise? In European culture the idea of a Divine
Architect eventually developed, predictably resulting in an image of God
equipped with a celestial drawing board upon which the Grand Plan was drawn up.
Modern research in cosmology and quantum physics, however,
reveals an entirely different sort of universe to the orderly, mechanical, and
relatively parochial one envisaged by the Newtonian world-view. Modern science
tells us that the universe is a very strange place indeed, and all educated
individuals nowadays are aware that it is huge. But even so, a realistic
perception of its size is extremely challenging for most humans to comprehend.
According to current estimates, cosmologists tell us that the universe is
approximately ninety two billion light years in diameter. In other words, if we
could travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) it would take us
ninety two billion years to cross from one end of the universe to the other.
But even if that were possible, we might never reach our destination because
observation suggests that the universe is expanding. But what it is expanding
into is the big question. Can the universe expand indefinitely and therefore
potentially become infinite? On the other hand, if the universe eventually came
up against an impassable barrier restricting any further expansion what would
constitute such a barrier and what could lie beyond it?
It should readily be appreciable from this data that the
traditional idea of a pre-existing, transcendent, and anthropomorphic
creator/designer – one who made us in his or her image – is no longer tenable.
Such a human-centric “Being” cannot possibly be responsible for the complexity
and diversity of the Natural World. Fortunately from a pagan atheist
perspective, the concept of deity in any shape or form is not a prerequisite to
acknowledging the sacredness of Nature. In fact, such deity concepts are
nothing more than human constructs – graven images, so to speak, and which
constitute a major handicap in our quest for genuine enlightenment and esoteric
What then, are we to make of a deity to whom gender is
attributed? Nowadays many women have turned exclusively to goddess worship
because the concept of a male deity, they claim, fails to meet feminine needs.
An example of this is expressed in the following quote from Mary Daly: “If God
is male, then male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he
is allowed to live on in the human imagination”.
The flaw in such reasoning quickly becomes apparent simply
by swapping the gender bias in Daly’s statement, as paraphrased: “If Goddess is
female, then female is Goddess. The divine matriarch castrates men as long as
she is allowed to live on in the human imagination”.
Focus on gender, therefore, whether male or female, is
clearly a recipe for conflict and exclusivity. But no matter how objective,
rationally, and sensitively we try to approach the issue of gender-based
spirituality it is potentially provocative and controversial. This is because
much emotion is invested in the feminist belief that women are victims of
patriarchal dominance and this tends to find expression through a sense of the
“other”, resulting in the demonising of men, rejecting their male god and
replacing it with one made in the likeness of females. It is true that
throughout history men have exploited women – but men have always exploited
their own sex as well. It is a flaw in the human condition, rather than the
result of gender, that has led to such a deplorable state of affairs.
To the atheist pagan, however, the issue of gender in
“spiritual” matters should be irrelevant because Ultimate Reality transcends
biological differences. This does not mean that in dispensing with god and
goddess concepts the atheist pagan also dispenses with, for lack of better
terms, feminine and masculine energies. What it does mean is that feminine and
masculine energies are recognised as intrinsically a part of every human being,
regardless of one’s biological sex. In this context that which is described as
either feminine or masculine simply relates to polarity, which is also a
feature of electric current, for example. A car battery functions by polarity.
It is self-contained – gender neutral, if you like – and possesses both
negative and positive terminals. Disconnect any one terminal, negative or
positive, and the battery cannot function. Consequently a person of either sex
who seeks to become a fully integrated human being must develop and harness the
negative (feminine) and positive (masculine) energies within all of us.
It cannot be stressed enough, however, that in this context
the terms negative and positive are not qualitative; they do not imply either
inferiority or superiority. They are as equal as Yin and Yang. Nonetheless, one
can readily see why women are offended when the description “negative” is
applied to that which is feminine and the term “positive” applied to that which
is masculine, and assume the classification is the result of male chauvinism.
But the real reason has less to do with patriarchal prejudice and more to do
with simple mathematics, as strange as that may seem.
The Ancient Greeks regarded the nine primary numerals as
either feminine or masculine, and the reason for this was not arbitrary; it was
based on the fact that when an odd number of pebbles or dots, for example, are
arranged symmetrically one is left over. To maintain symmetry the additional
pebble or dot was placed in the centre of the formation, and the Greeks saw
this as symbolic of the phallus. Consequently the odd numbers were described as
male. On the other hand, the even numbers when arranged in the same symmetrical
pattern leave a space in the centre of the formation and this space was equated
with the womb. Furthermore, odd numbers were considered active because when
added to even numbers the result is always another odd or active number: 1+4 =
5, and 1+6 = 7 etc. On the other hand, adding a male number to another male
number simply produces a female number: 1+1 = 2, 1+3 = 4 etc. and likewise
adding female numbers together results in the same: 2+2 = 4, and 2+6 = 8.
What the Ancient Greeks extrapolated from this is that odd
numbers, unlike even numbers, possess specific active and male generative
qualities that reproduce more of the same when added to female numbers, and
these so-called masculine and active qualities have tended unfortunately to
imply superiority. Number 1, for example, is equated with being first (a winner
or leader). The passive, so-called feminine numbers, on the other hand, easily
lend themselves to be seen as less desirable and even inferior. Number 2 is
secondary and equates to a runner-up. It also relates to second-hand,
second-rate, second class, and represents duplicity, hence the term “speaking
with forked tongue”. Number 2 also is associated with the Devil where he is
frequently depicted with two horns and cloven feet. Although the Devil is said
to be male, it once was believed in some Christian cultures that women were
more predisposed to temptation by the Devil than were men, which indeed is an
example of chauvinism. One can see, therefore, why various number descriptions
exacerbated prejudice when attributed to human gender.
The nature of living things, of course, is not that simple
in practise. Although one’s birth certificate will be clear-cut as regards
one’s sex, individuals are a varied combination of both male and female
influences and this is perfectly natural and should be recognised as such. Like the aforementioned car battery, we
cannot function normally otherwise. In addition to that, some men are fairly “feminine” in
nature, whereas some women are more “masculine” in nature. But feminine and
masculine energies are indeed subtler than that. When a female is being assertive or
taking control of her life, then she is displaying features that correspond to
active qualities. Conversely, when a male is nurturing, empathic, or intuitive,
then he is displaying features that correspond to passive qualities, which
illustrates that human behaviour cannot be gender categorised in the way that the
Greeks classified numbers. From an esoteric perspective, this means that no
person should feel a need to manufacture a deity in his or her
own image because every man and woman already possesses masculine/feminine
qualities as a consequence of being human. How we seek to recognise, integrate
and balance these polar energies within each and every one of us is, of course, all part of
life’s demanding and challenging quest.