Men and the Goddess




Feminism and the Modern Pagan Male was the subject of a slightly controversial talk given at Pagan Pathways earlier this year (2010) by Silverspear. As a result, some members of the audience expressed their desire to explore in greater detail the interesting question of how modern pagan males can successfully embrace the Goddess while still remaining faithful to their masculinity.

That opening paragraph is an extract from an email sent to individuals on Pagan Pathways mailing list inviting them to take part in a discussion based on an earlier talk. The intention was to explore how pagan men could best relate to the Goddess, or the Feminine Principle as some describe it. Having spent several years studying this issue the debate for me was rather frustrating because I felt there was a reluctance to explore the issue in any depth.

With the benefit of hindsight that is hardly surprising because the subject is undeniably complex, and especially challenging to women who consider they are victims of a patriarchal culture and feel passionate about defending the role of the Goddess in modern paganism. However, the purpose of the discussion was not to undermine the Goddess or attack Feminism, but to examine how men can find the Goddess within themselves without attempting to seek Her in the opposite sex. In fact men do women no favours in believing that women represent the Goddess, and a perusal of some Feminist websites confirms that many women indeed share the view that men have no right to regard women as token goddesses.

All this certainly seems at odds with the position of some pagan traditions in which women are regarded as priestesses and therefore embody the Feminine Principle, and men of course represent the God or Masculine Principle. So what is the problem with polarising the sexes in this way?  The difficulty arises from its focus on gender, which is essentially a dualistic approach. Unfortunately human beings seem so entrenched in the idea of opposites that envisaging an alternative paradigm becomes almost impossible. Pagans in particular tend to perceive the whole of Nature in terms of opposites, such as active/passive; male/female; dark/light, and so on, that any consideration of an alternative and holistic approach is often regarded as tantamount to heresy.

However, some feminists actually prefer 'difference' to 'opposite' because the use of the latter term tends to reinforce the idea of conflict, which creates its own set of problems. Some feminists, and some male psychologists too, consider the anima/animus hypothesis of Carl Jung, and which is a central doctrine of some pagan traditions, as fundamentally flawed. Indeed, Robert Bly in his book Iron John says that if a man tells a woman he has found his anima within her she should run out of the room as fast as she can. It seems that men, driven by romanticism and testosterone, are prone to idealising women and think that women constitute a vital component absent from maleness; a component a man often feels will make him whole if only a woman will surrender her love to him, or for that matter simply submit to him sexually. Unfortunately this is a delusion because both men and women must look to themselves in the quest for wholeness. When a male externalises this need and projects it Don Juan style on to the 'opposite' sex then this really is a recipe for disaster.

This quest for wholeness is the subject of the aforementioned book Iron John, which takes the fairy tale of the same name as its inspiration. The book is aimed primarily at men as it deals with male spirituality, though the ideas expressed by the writer would be useful to women also. One of the points the author Robert Bly makes is that the initiation of men can only be undertaken by men, and similarly the same applies to women. The writer cites many ancient pagan cultures where this was the practise. Such an approach is the direct opposite to some modern pagan systems where a member of the 'opposite' sex always conducts the initiation and which might tend to reinforce in an NLP sort of way that union with the God or Goddess can only be found externally.

So if men deceive themselves by seeking the Feminine Principle in women, then how can they succeed in finding it within themselves? Perhaps the first point to recognise, as many feminists remind us, is that often what we regard as Archetypes, and therefore universal and timeless qualities, are really only cultural stereotypes. As such, they are man-made in the literal sense because many of these stereotypes are the product of male thought at any given time, an example being the likelihood that man created God in his own image and not the other way about.  Perhaps there is a danger nowadays that women, in creating the Goddess in their own image, are equally polarising Nature.

A man must also understand in his quest for wholeness that integrating the Feminine Principle into his being has nothing to do with 'going soft'. The idea that that which is feminine is soft is based on a patriarchal delusion. Consequently a man must learn to shed along the way all male posturing and macho tendencies because these are guises or masks many men feel they must wear to conceal their vulnerability lest they be seen in society's eyes not to have essential 'maleness'. Every man already possesses within himself the qualities described as 'feminine' and which are not to be confused with the erroneous, gender-centred and condescending patriarchal ideas of femininity. The quest might take a lifetime, or many lifetimes, but it is after all the only way for a man to become whole.