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Gendering the Divine: "Spirit" Versus "God/dess"


Why the God and Goddess in Wicca?
These archetypes have become so common that they are not found exclusively in Wicca, but throughout pagan systems all around. This is so much the case that if you attend any local pagan ritual, you can bet that 9 times out of 10 the God and Goddess will be invoked in the circle.

The answer is obvious (and I won't bog down this particular article with references, but feel free to add any in the comments section if you like). Wicca, to be specific (for all paganism is not Wiccan) is a modern religion. It is in many ways reactive; it was designed to correct the imbalance of the current monotheistic religions of the Western world, the biggest one being the focus on masculinity to the loss of femininity. Thus, the God and the Goddess, who are ever lovers, complements and parts of each other, are central to the Wiccan system.

But is it possible that these archetypes can have the opposite effect?

This pagan thinks so...and I claim full responsibility for that, because spirituality is a personal thing, and what means one thing to one person does not mean the same to another.

What I'm trying to say is, I personally find the idea of the God and Goddess to be somewhat useless. In fact, I actually find it just as stratifying as the idea of an only male God or female Goddess, and here's my take on why.

Sexuality and sexual identity are not so black and white, no matter what the most macho guys and the girliest girly girls insist. Trying to correct the patriarchal bias in religion by emphasizing a matriarchal "complement" may serve some, but if you really think about it, the God and Goddess archetypes in modern paganism still betray the same bias that assigns certain traits to the feminine, and others to the masculine. For example, the Goddess is still the nurturing, alluring, emotionally present wife and mother, while the God is still the kind but distant warrior, protector and sage.

Before my fellow pagans rise up in heated defense, don't misunderstand what I'm saying about these larger, general archetypes. These have been further balanced, you might say, by the pantheistic part of paganism, which covers almost the entire spectrum of human identity (Androgyne, Hymen and even Shiva/Shakti are great examples). But I'm not talking about the specific archetypes these earthy deities conjure to our imaginations; I'm talking about the larger concept of the nature of the inclusive All itself, whose various aspects are represented by these other archetypes, in many pagan philosophies.

Is the separation of genders the obvious solution for balancing the imbalanced biases any of us have had, for whatever reason? For a great many of us, I think not. For one thing, for as far back as I can remember, gender was a concept that came later for me. I have always thought of myself as a person, first, and a gender, second. That may be weird to some, but that's how it is. Looking at the spectrum of identities that are represented in the GLBTQ communities, for another example, you might even conclude that the insistence on a God and Goddess to represent the All could actually lead to a similarly narrow, exclusive theology...and that is the last thing paganism should be about.

I find no reason to separate the various aspects of myself into gendered categories. Each personality trait I have is not feminine or masculine...it's just, me. It doesn't personally serve someone like me well, then, to do the same to my idea of God. In fact, I find it rather confusing and even more distancing than when I used to think of God as the old universal Father, and yes, I do occasionally find it useful to think of God these days as Mother. But when I'm doing a solitary ritual?

No way.

God becomes "Spirit" to me, or the "Great Spirit," "Aum," or even the "Spirit of the Universe," because let's face it, it really is that epic, what we're dealing with when you're talking about the divine. When you want to invoke that sense of unity in the universe, perhaps it is more useful after all to return to that place in which all the parts we are familiar with are simply lost in the Whole. Why take them apart and put them back together to make an artificial whole?

That being said, I write this with those in mind who, like myself, don't find themselves served by the traditional traits that go with the feminine and masculine ideals with which we are all too familiar, but not to put down the preference of those whom the archetypes of the God and Goddess do serve. That is the wonderful thing about finding pantheism in this day and age; appreciating the aspects of the All, as infinite as they are, itself is the balancing factor. Most of all, though, it helps us recognize the Divine in Ourselves.