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Between Mirrors

Page history last edited by Yvonne 9 years, 9 months ago
(originally published in Queer Spirit, now The Bezoar, in 1999)


I was very interested to read Seoras MacThearlaich´s article “Let´s Undermine Polarities’ in Queer Spirit 1.2. (1999)


As I understand it, duality is the presentation of things as opposites with no shared characteristics (dark v light, evil v good, left v 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’).


Polarity, on the other hand, I have always understood as being either end of a continuum. 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). So I think Jung was trying to help with the concept of the anima and the animus - he was almost certainly drawing on the idea of Yin and Yang, and trying to do away with the rigid definition of gender roles prevalent at the time.


I am left-handed, and I have always been interested in the two (seemingly unconnected) assertions that 10% of the population are left-handed and that 10% of the population are homosexual. It seems to me that the other 90% cannot be totally right-handed, or totally heterosexual. Rather, the left-handed 10% prefer to use their left hand for most things; there is probably another 10% at the other end of the spectrum who can only use their right hand, and the eighty percent in the middle are probably ambidextrous but culturally conditioned to use their right hand. It is the same with sexuality - 10% are homosexual, there is probably another 10% who are completely heterosexual, but the eighty percent in the middle is probably bisexual but culturally conditioned to be heterosexual. Again, there is a continuum between the two polarities, as bisexuals know.


As a child I was fascinated by the experience of standing between two mirrors, and looking at the room reflected in the mirror, reflected in the other mirror, and so on to infinity. I suggest that polarity is like this. As Seoras rightly says, where does female stop and male begin? The one is reflected in the other, to infinity. The black dot in the middle of the Yang half (and the white dot in the middle of the Yin half) can also be represented as another Yin Yang symbol, which also has its dots in each half, which are even smaller Yin Yang symbols, and so on into infinity.


According to Dion Fortune, 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 buy into her model of magical dynamics, it is interesting how it imagines the “male’ and “female’ roles to change as you proceed from plane to plane, presumably also to infinity.


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 - as Seoras points out, Macha and the Morrigan do not fit into “traditional’ (Christian and patriarchal) gender stereotypes. However, the society in which they lived would have had no problem accepting them as women, since (apparently) that was what most women were like in those days, to a greater or lesser degree. 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.


Homosexuality is a natural phenomenon - animals do it, plants do it. Many plants actually have male and female flowers on the same tree; some plants are androgynous; some have no sex at all; some change sex several times during their lifetime. Guppies (a species of fish) can change sex at will in order to breed. Male seahorses carry and give birth to their young, and female hyenas have penises. Let´s hear it for Sparky the Gay Dog. Anyway, as soon as the pleasure principle enters into a sexual relationship, it ceases to be purely about reproduction. So all those homophobes who think that gay sex is not natural because it doesn´t result in reproduction should not be using any form of contraception because it will make them unnatural.


One of the multifarious reasons that I chose to identify as a Pagan and a Witch is that our basic philosophy celebrates love in ALL its forms, including queer love. According to the Charge of the Goddess, “All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals’. There is no implication in any Craft 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). Gardner himself wrote some homophobic stuff in his Book of Shadows, but as far as most Wiccans are concerned, it is not a canonical document - he also wrote that women should stop being High Priestesses when they were no longer young and pretty, which was one of the reasons Doreen Valiente parted company with him.


Incidentally, 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). Interestingly, when Odin was initiated by the goddess Freyja into the usually female mysteries of Seidr, he became more transgendered (see Phil Hine´s article in previous QS). 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.


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. In the story of the Fisher King, it is stated that men´s minds were barren as well as women´s wombs (so were women´s minds and men´s balls, presumably) before the coming of the Grail Knight. It is also significant that the King was wounded in his “thigh’ (obviously an euphemism for his penis) and that it is a male knight “asking the right questions’ who restores him to full life, and hence also restores fertility to the land.


Personally, I feel that the “Great Work’ is to awaken the spirit in matter. In some traditions (e.g. Gnosticism), it is believed that spirit is trapped in matter, and must return to the Godhead, the divine source. I believe that the purpose of our existence is to become more conscious at all levels of being, and that as our awareness of the Universe grows, it becomes more aware of itself. We have all experienced the feeling that a particular place has a genius loci, has greater awareness, and the more we honour it, the more it responds to us.


On a more earthy level, it is connection to the land which is important. On one of my visits to the Queer Spirit e-circle, I was struck by the depth of people´s connection to the landscape (something I have only seen expressed by a few people elsewhere in Paganism). Fertility is important for the land, yes, but so is the full cycle of death and rebirth, the tides of sowing, growing, reaping, and resting. The land is the rocks, the trees, the earth, the wild places, the fields, the rivers - it´s not just about making the crops grow. For most of our history, we have been hunter-gatherers (well known for their shamanic activities, including gender-bending). This agricultural preoccupation with crops is almost as new-fangled as that funny religion imported from the Middle East. Of course, I like food, so I tend to be quite interested in crops growing, but it´s not the be-all and end-all of my magical practice.


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