Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Echoes of a Past Life - Is This the Boy Side of the God/dess?
This is another piece from Queer Pagan days, and another polemic, if you will, against the gender division central to much of modern Pagan belief.
My attraction to Paganism was initially to its idea of the immanent and female Goddess that is the living planet earth around us. I was attracted to the work of many feminist scholars (some of whose work has been discredited in "scientific" circles) who interpreted early human religious beliefs as worship of an Earth Mother, alive and present in the world around us. This, all in counterpoint to the Judeo-Christian concept of transcendent, invisible, and male God figure living somewhere up in the sky, ie, in heaven. Many of these feminist scholars portrayed human history as an extension of a struggle for male-female dominance, suggesting that modern alienated and male-dominated society was the fruit of the victory of "male" sky religion over "female" earth religion. As a gay person and a feminist I found a lot to admire in that concept; and I still think there is some validity in it. Certainly it's a fact that history is written by the victors, and it's tremendously productive to reexamine history through a lens that rejects the triumph of Judeo-Christian values over "primitive" ones as necessarily progressive.
But as my spirituality deepened I came to think that viewing everything through the duality of gender was about as productive spiritually and politically to me as it was to me personally, which is to say that as a non-heterosexual, flipping male-dominant spirituality on its head didn't get any closer to the way I experience the world as a same-gender loving individual. In Santeria, the religion I wound up adopting (although I would say my belief-system remains personal and idiosyncratic beyond somebody else's particular definition), gender is more fluid, and so to me a more accurate reflection of reality. It's not that I think my own gender is fluid, it's not, but that I think the world around us, especially its spiritual aspect, is not as easily split into clear male and female halves. I'm less interested in the division but in the unity. I don't see that counterpoint between sky God and earth Mother Goddess anymore: it's all one amazing, glorious, living presence, multi-faceted and miraculous beyond measure. It's not useful for me to see God the supreme being as an old man sitting on a cloud somewhere, though I certainly don't reject the image of Santeria's Obatala as an old white-clad man up on a mountain. And frankly it's no longer useful to see a Supreme Goddess as merely a fertile and fecund Mother hiding in the dirt beneath us (though again I don't reject the image of Santeria's Yemaya nurturing us from her ocean lair). All these ways of trying to describe the barely describable spiritual experience are simply not counter posed. They can all exist together. In unity. And in complete inadequacy for anything actually approaching accurate description of the mystery that is Life, that is God.
The halves of the yin and the yang, those are all present everywhere in us and around us. The productive tension of male and female aspects is not all external: it's not all about men and women. Sometimes it's about finding a unique balance point inside ourselves, as solitary individual beings, enabling us to find productive fulfillment in living out our lives, no matter the literal or metaphoric genitalia attached to ourselves or the ones we love.
Anyway, my original essay is below. I note, this time, the absence of a pseudonym!
(Artwork note: the photo above is from a gravestone in northeast Pennsylvania, photographed by me about 1995. The art below is a woodcut of witches dancing around the horned god).
Is This the Boy Side of the God/dess?
by Ian Scott Horst
Originally appeared in the Heartfire 9994 (Winter 1994) issue of Queer Pagans Newsletter
In traditional Wicca, priestesses are supposed to wear a moon crown to suggest their incarnation of the female Goddess, and male priests are supposed to wear a stag-horned crown to suggest their incarnation of the male God. Some time ago I took to wearing to certain rituals as a talisman a piece of antler I had long ago bought in Finland. The amulet is a piece of reindeer antler, and it became to me a powerful magical tool. Then I discovered something important about it: In reindeer, antlers are found on both the males and females. And this fact became emblematic of something for me, and this knowledge increased the power of the tool.
For me the idea of the Horned God is an idea full of paradox. His energy is energy I know I possess: energy I have felt myself channel in ritual, energy I have surrendered to whilst thrashing about in bed, energy I have faced as I stared into the eyes of other Priests. When I look at my own sexuality and mortality, I find in this idea of the Horned God tremendous strength in seeing my own sensual alive-ness as the presence of the Divine. Its presence within me in the fuse-short minutes that are this life, my life, is a gift. But I find myself questioning, who, or what, exactly, is this Horned God?
I spent years as a political person on a trajectory from hard-core leftist to queer activist, and so when I found in the convergence of my feminist principles and awakening spirituality the concept of God as Goddess, as Great Mother, as Cosmic Female, I found myself in a moment of harmonic epiphany. Like most of you, presumably, I found my rejection of an invisible male authority-figure-God and my embrace of a materially-present loving Goddess a liberating, empowering act. And here on this path I found not anti-sexual judgment but a commitment to the idea that all consensual acts of sexuality and sensuality were celebrations of Divine spirit.
There are many paths that might be considered Neo-Pagan. Orthodox Wicca holds that the Goddess is half of a male-female divine couple, the Lord and Lady. Wiccans love to divide everything into male and female correspondence: The Lady is, I suppose, the female Deity I've described above. The Lord is the Horned God. His images are powerful, based on an amalgam of ancient paleolithic art, Celtic and Graeco-Roman myth and medieval English folklore. He is represented as being half human and half animal. His stag horns suggest the vibrancy of the wild animal, the mortality of the hunted, and the literal "horniness" of a rutting beast.
I call myself a Priest/ess now. I am male: and like you, I celebrate my gender because it's who I am. I am proudly and openly Queer, and like you I celebrate my sexuality because it's who I am. Like you I find Divine inspiration, validation and connection in the way I live, in the way I will die; in the way I fuck or get fucked, in the way I walk down the street, in the way I eat, shit, and sleep. You, man or woman, are you different? Is this a boy thing? Or is the lesson of the Horned God more simple: you better live and fuck now while you have the chance. I don't know about you but I don't think the Horned God is half of anything.