• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Whenever you search in PBworks, Dokkio Sidebar (from the makers of PBworks) will run the same search in your Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Gmail, and Slack. Now you can find what you're looking for wherever it lives. Try Dokkio Sidebar for free.


Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Paganisms - part 2

Page history last edited by Yvonne 12 years, 10 months ago

(Short URL for this page: http://tr.im/LM4t )


Sex, gender and sexuality

Psychologically speaking, sex and gender are two different things: sex is your biological characteristics (chromosomes and genitalia) and gender is your psychological role - in which case there are as many genders as there are people. Many Pagan deities do not fit into patriarchal gender stereotypes. And now that we are emerging from the era of patriarchy, women and men are finding that they do not have to conform to the narrow and shallow definition of male and female purveyed by patriarchal traditions.


It has been pointed out by some feminists (e.g. Judith Butler) that sex is also socially constructed, given that we do not have to divide the world into the two categories of male and female, and that women's and men's bodies are differently developed according to gender stereotypes (e.g. men are encouraged to develop their muscles, and women are not).


Lou Hart (2005) has explored a variety of models of gender from other societies, and concluded that the conflation of sex and gender is a peculiarly Western idea. For example, in some societies, you could be a woman-man (woman living as a man), a man-woman (man living as a woman), cross-gendered (in modern terms, a gender-blender), a man, or a woman.


As we have seen, people's theological stance can affect their views of gender. There are various models available in magical discourse.


One of these is duality. As I understand it, duality is the presentation of things as opposites with no shared characteristics (dark and light, evil and good, left and right, etc.) where the different halves of the pairs then become conflated with each other (e.g. left = passive = female = dark = evil, hence the word sinister, literally left).


Another is polarity, which I have always understood as being either end of a continuum. The two poles are attracted to each other and a dynamic exists between them. Not only that, but each end of the continuum contains the other within itself (hence the Yin Yang symbol has a black dot within the white half and a white dot within the black half to represent Yin within Yang and Yang within Yin). This is sometimes also called complementarity.


A further possibility is multiplicity, the idea that there are many different forces and energies in the universe, just as there are many gender roles and many forms of sexuality.


Gender and sexuality in Wicca

In many covens, particularly Gardnerian ones, there is a tendency to work magic by using the polarity of sexual tension; and as the majority of members are heterosexual, this can lead to feelings of exclusion on the part of LGBT members. Some Wiccans are duotheist, that is, believing that “All the Gods are one God and all the Goddesses are one Goddess.” As the divine couple are then understood to be lovers, this again excludes LGBT practitioners. It is also a problem for those people of either gender who do not particularly identify with or relate to the predominant archetypes associated with the divine couple. In the past, some Wiccans even went so far as to suggest that because the primary dynamic of the universe was the sexual interaction between the God and the Goddess, this meant that homosexuality was “unnatural”. This was counteracted by other people pointing out the words from the Charge, “All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals”.


Nevertheless, even though polytheist Wiccans see the Horned God and the Moon Goddess (the two deities of the divine couple) as patron deities of Wicca, with a special relationship with the religion, rather than a conflation of a multiplicity of different deities, there is still a great deal of emphasis on duality and polarity in the rituals; and there are still plenty of people who insist that Wicca is a “fertility religion”, based on ideas gleaned from Frazer's The Golden Bough, no doubt. However, there is no implication in any Wiccan ritual that I have ever seen that all magical acts are about fertility (and even if they were, there's no need to take it literally and assume that it means the fertilisation of an ovum by a sperm, otherwise there would be a population explosion). I think also that 'fertility' should be interpreted in its widest possible meaning, namely fertility of ideas, spirit, etc. rather than just being about physical reproduction.


According to Dion Fortune (a big influence on Wicca), the female is passive on the outer planes and active on the inner planes, while the male is active on the outer planes and passive on the inner planes (she also emphasises that each of us has both male and female within us). Whilst I do not necessarily find her model of magical dynamics helpful, it is interesting how it imagines the 'male' and 'female' roles to change as you proceed from plane to plane, presumably also to infinity.


The reason usually given for a woman initiating a man (and vice versa) is that it is to ensure a balance of power in the group (e.g. if one gender or one person did all the initiations, they would have an unfair advantage). Generally, I feel that Pagan men are more “in touch with their feminine side’ than most non-Pagan men, so perhaps the original purpose of being initiated by someone of the opposite gender was to awaken one's anima or animus.


Wicca is generally very empowering for women. In the early days of Wicca, it was standard practice for women to lead rituals; and the Goddess was generally viewed as the 'senior partner' of the divine couple. This was heady stuff in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.


Now some men in Wicca are beginning to complain that they do not identify with the Horned God, and that the experience of Wicca has not been as life-changing for them as it has for women. However, it has generally been the case that Wicca for men is about 'discovering their feminine side' and seeking a new model of masculinity. Perhaps one reason why this quest has been less successful is that it is not so widely supported in society at large.


There is also some mention of the divine androgyne in Wicca, and the third degree initiation ritual is about achieving the hieros gamos, the internal union of masculine and feminine aspects of the psyche. So there is a resolution of the duality of masculine and feminine.


One of the key ideas in Wicca is the balancing of 'masculine' and 'feminine' aspects of the psyche (the anima and animus identified by Jung). This idea can be seen as problematic if there is a too rigid identification of a gender with specific qualities; but as the idea is to bring all these aspects into balance and achieve psychological androgyny (an idea borrowed from the Golden Dawn and alchemy), perhaps this is not too much of an issue.


It seems to work to some degree, either because people who like the idea of psychological androgyny are attracted to Wicca, or because it makes it easier for practitioners to express the side of themselves that is usually associated with the opposite gender.


Gender and sexuality in Druidry

As magic is less important in the practice of Druidry, the rituals contain less emphasis on gender. However, some Druidry focusses on the divine couple and the divine child, but as belief in these is optional (as it is in Wicca), and some Druids are also Christians, there is such a variety of theological positions among druids that it is probably less of an issue. The divine child is the product of the union of masculine and feminine, and perhaps also offers a resolution to this duality, though as an external product of a heterosexual union, rather than an internal product of a mystical union (i.e. the hieros gamos in Wicca).


Gender and sexuality in Heathenry

Heathenry is a revival of Northern European Paganism, and draws on the practices, writings, and beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons, Norse, and other Germanic tribes. It includes a form of magic known as seiðr, which was originally largely practised by women, though also by ergi men. Men regarded it as “women's magic” - cunning and underhand. This was the Norse term for a passive partner in homosexual sex. Seiðr has been enthusiastically researched and revived by Heathen women, and by some gay men. Heterosexual heathen men are starting to become interested in becoming seiðr-workers (Blain, 2001). There is also a certain amount of gender-bending in Norse myth. When Oðinn was initiated by the goddess Freyja into Seiðr, he became more transgendered. Loki transformed himself into a mare, and Thor disguised himself as a giantess.


Heathens do not view the universe as having a primary duality; they are more likely to believe in a multiplicity of beings.



In general, Pagans are very accepting of variation in gender and sexuality, and are very willing to challenge received societal norms on this and many other issues. There is also strong evidence that ancient paganisms tolerated a variety of gender and sexual roles, and a lot of Pagan mythology reflects this. Although there has been some difficulty in Wicca with adapting the rituals to be more inclusive, this has by and large been achieved, with new versions of traditional forms of words being introduced.



Jenny Blain (2001), Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-Shamanism in North European Paganism, Routledge.

Lou Hart (2005), Magic is a many-gendered thing, http://www.philhine.org.uk/writings/flsh_gendered.html

Philip Heselton (2003), Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration: An Investigation into the Sources of Gardnerian Witchcraft, Capall Bann Publishing

Ronald Hutton (1999), The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Alex Owen (2004), The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Ceisiwr Serith (2003), The Sources of the Charge of the Goddess, http://www.ceisiwrserith.com/wicca/charge.htm



Further reading



Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.