I’ve heard some pretty sweeping put downs of other people’s gods from some of my peers over the years. Blah blah old grey bearded man in the sky, how ridiculous. Abstract, disembodied ghost etc. It’s just a patriarchal man deified. A controlling talking head cut off from Nature and the world. Some of it is a line of analysis, but some of it is just being a little smug, in an angry kinda way.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think reasoned criticism of religion is not just acceptable, I think it’s often needed. What I’m a little weary of though is the unreflective and seemingly un-insightfully formulated alternative offered at times. Like, when does the brave new rebel turn into the Emperor’s new clothes?
In neopaganism we have often tried to go down new routes, often presented as ancient routes (imaginary or real), and I’ve appreciated a great deal of this. The popularization of sacred immanence is a wonderful key for many. The positive spiritual valuation of the body, sex and sexuality is I think a healing balm for our culture’s torturing of relationship and pleasure. Similarly the valuing of Nature and the web of living ecological patterns on our home planet is totally needed. I personally feel these are perennial strands and I welcome the modern exploration of them. But humans being what we are, we generated quite a bit of static in the process, and some of that static has got put on a pedestal.
One of the areas where we have I think got a lot of static is in the areas of gender and biology as “sacred archetype”, where social metaphors, aspirations and theories have become fused with a sense of the sacred, sometimes with less than lucid results.
I think I can see how we got here, when we remember what was being reacted against, both in that we would try to be different, and in part be defined by what we were differing from. In that sense it has been kinda dialectical.
We needed to get to a positive and spiritual valuation of the body, sex and sexuality; but we grew up in a world that says gender = male or female, that spirit and body are divided, that sex is for reproduction, that God is one and male, that life is spiritually less than death (or at least what comes after).
The earlier Pagan revivalists also reflected some of the limitations of our countercultural movement, or more accurately they prefigured them and helped to shape them. Dion Fortune has oft been quoted for her saying “all gods are one god, and all goddesses one goddess, and there is one initiator”. Now the most interesting part of this quote is the reference to the “one initiator”, but it’s the section about gods and goddesses that is remembered, and it’s a peculiar one.
Everyone is familiar, one way or another, with the sentiment that “all is One”, as a spiritual statement. Saying “all gods are one”, or that everything is One, seems to be the result of a relatively common mystical experience. But that’s not what Fortune is saying here. She is saying (with relation to deities) that all is one or another, dependent on binary gender. Of course this is to take her saying out of context, and ignore the unifying point of “the one true initiator” (the “higher self”, the “hidden god”, etc), but that is exactly what neopaganism seems to have done.
Taken in this form, is Fortune’s statement a valuation of the sacred, or a sacralization of binary gender?
This kind of attitude spills down throughout the strongly heteronormative world of Wicca and derivative forms of Witchcraft, and coalesces with what must be one of the most ubiquitous assumptions about our ancient Pagan ancestors, that one of their primary spiritual concerns was fertility. Now I ask you, was that really the pinnacle of our ancestors’ spirituality, or is it what 19th and 20th century revivalists were fascinated by, given their sense of “the laws” of Nature?
When you put this stuff together, and add people saying “thou art goddess” to women, and “thou art god” to men (and presumably having a slight pause at the intersexed and transgendered), and people exclaiming that they are the generic gender deity, then I think you have a fair recipe for the worship of specific types of sexual ego. At which point watch out, ’cause that sucker is gonna go nova, or work out a bigger game plan.
The spiritual problem here is that we have a bloated block on real spiritual experience, one prepared to take an awful lot of psychic juice in the interests of it’s self justification. We have a substitute.
And back to that issue of fertility. Asserting fertility as sacred is a recognition of something absolutely real. So is the sacredness of having a shit, or dying, or being infertile, or (surprise!) consciousness and intelligence. Holy! Holy! Holy! as the “footnote to Howl” said. But neopagans don’t do holy equality quite that well, and even in this grossly overpopulated world, people just got to treat pregnancy and childbirth like it was especially sacred. It’s not. It’s equally sacred. So come on folks, spread it around and give humanity’s wombs, and the ecosystem a break.
Biology is truly part of the signature of sacred powers. I loved biology as a youngster, and I think that is why. Let it be its true sacred glory, rather than carrying our issues in the name of our own sacredness.
You want a biological deity, go look at the mushrooms growing out of a cow pat. Try that on for size.
Blog post edited at first paragraph 16th April 2011.