Men and the Goddess
Feminism and the Modern Pagan Male was the subject of a slightly controversial talk, first given at Pagan Pathways in 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 that was 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 many 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 now hardly surprising, because the subject is undeniably complex, and particularly challenging to women who consider that 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 at all, but to examine how men can find the Goddess, or the Feminine Principle, within themselves without attempting to seek Her in the opposite sex. In fact, men do women no favours by believing that women represent or symbolise 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. You might wonder what is the problem with polarising the sexes in this way? The response to that question is because of a focus on gender, which is essentially a dualistic approach. Unfortunately, human beings are fundamentally 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. It has to be said, however, that 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 that need “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.
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 man-made cultural stereotypes. An example of that would be the creation of God in man’s own image. Perhaps there is a danger nowadays in a reaction to so-called patriarchy, that women are creating the Goddess in their own image and falling into the same old trap.
A man must therefore 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 only 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.