Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Goddess and What She Has to Do With Feminism

[TW for misogyny, patriarchy, erasure of identity]

As many people are well aware of, I am an out and proud Pagan as well as a feminist. These two paths, while seemingly unrelated on first glance, actually have quite a bit to do with one another. When I was first starting out on the Pagan path, part of what drew me to it was the fact that there was a Divine Feminine as well as a Divine Masculine (which in the mainstream religions is all that there is). I wasn't yet consciously a feminist, but even as a child, the idea of being represented by an omniscient, omnipresent, all-controlling male deity didn't sit well with me. I often found myself asking myself (and anyone around me who would listen) why it was that if we were all supposedly created in God's image, then how could it be possible that there was only a male deity? There would have to be a female deity as well, because clearly women exist! As I learned more and more about Paganism, I became intimately acquainted with the triple goddess, this ultimate representation of all things feminine, and all seemed right with the world.

And then I became a feminist.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Paganism and/or the triple Goddess concept, the basic gist of it is that there is one female deity with three different forms: Maiden, Mother and Crone (think of this as the Pagan version of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit). The Maiden personifies youth, purity, innocence, etc., the Mother personifies fertility, sexuality, the cycle of creation, etc., and the Crone personifies wisdom, endings and death. The triple Goddess in all her forms is also represented as being nurturing, caring, passive: all qualities that are traditionally identified as feminine. When I first started out on the Pagan path, I had no qualms about or issues with the triple Goddess, but as I got more involved with feminism, I realized just how restrictive this concept of the Goddess can be, especially considering that most Wiccans and Pagans look to the Goddess as a representation of all women.

The fact that the Goddess is given the traditionally feminine qualities that supposedly "belong" to all women helps perpetuate the stereotype that this is how all women are "supposed" to be; I mean, if the Divine Feminine is just that, feminine, then shouldn't all women emulate that femininity? Shouldn't all women seek to be nurturing, passive, dainty, etc.? It is also pretty observable that most, if not all, artistic portrayals of the Goddess are devoted to conventionally beautiful women; even the Crone aspect of the Goddess is often simply the Mother archetype with silver hair and maybe some crow's feet around her eyes. I have yet to see an artistic portrayal of the Goddess that features a woman who might not be considered conventionally beautiful; a Mother with a pear-shaped figure rather than an hourglass, a Crone with sagging arms and cellulite and varicose veins on her legs, a Maiden with what amounts to an explosion of acne covering her face. According to the popular Pagan song, "We all come from the Goddess," and yet from what I've seen of the portrayals of her, apparently only conventionally beautiful women come from the Goddess; the rest of us are fucked.

Ultimately, the triple Goddess concept restricts a woman's life cycle to three roles; innocent youth, fertile adult and old woman. Obviously, most of us will fit into these three roles at one point or another in our lives, but women are so much more than just youth, fertility and age rolled into one body. We are artists, dancers, students, teachers, academics, lovers, thinkers, creators, doers, actors, therapists, warriors, champions, destroyers, healers, deconstructers, lushes, partiers. We are all of that and more, and we simply cannot fit every single woman, every single aspect of our womanhood, into only three roles. Many people have tried, of course; for example, any act of creativity, of personal fulfillment, is often neatly filed under the Mother category. Any goddess of fertility or creativity is filed under the Mother category and left there. The logic is that motherhood doesn't necessarily mean giving birth to a child and raising it (e.g. you could "mother" a pet or someone else's children) and that fertility doesn't just apply to the creation of new life; it also applies to the creation of everything else.

I agree with this, to a point. While I agree with the sentiment that nurturing and fertility should not be restricted to the act of procreation, I also don't feel that these other acts of creation should simply be filed under the role of Mother and forgotten. In my opinion, it oversimplifies the varying goddesses of the different pantheons, as well as each and every act of creation and fulfillment, and forces women to embrace the role of Mother, regardless of whether or not she agrees with that role. It also erases transgendered women in that physical fertility, while often argued as not being the be all and end all of the Mother aspect, is often touted as the ultimate sign of embodying that aspect of the Goddess. Evidence comes in the form of the fact that, despite many people's insistence that fertility is not cemented to procreation when it comes to the Goddess, I have never seen a depiction of the Mother archetype where she was anything other than heavily pregnant. I have never seen a version of the Mother archetype in which she was taking care of animals, painting a picture, writing a thesis, etc. In other words, the archetype of the pregnant Mother overshadows and erases the copious other roles that women fill each and every day, and for the women who do not feel comfortable identifying with the Mother aspect, they are forced to either identify with the Maiden aspect or the Crone aspect, which many women also do not identify with. For example, at this point in my life, I would technically fall under the Mother aspect of the triple Goddess, but that is not a role I identify with. I would identify more with a Goddess of academia...perhaps Athena? Or a Goddess of kicking ass...Sekhmet or Artemis, maybe? Try filing Kali the Destroyer under one of those three aspects and see what happens!

Once upon a time, I belonged to a Pagan forum where I was told by a fellow Pagan woman that I would never truly know the love of the Goddess because I had not had children of my own nor planned on having any. She then went on to say that I would die alone and unhappy, so I really didn't put much stock into the rest of what she had said either, but she did help to demonstrate how some Pagan women, many of whom come to Paganism as a middle-finger to the patriarchy and who would normally never adhere to the patriarchal demand that all women must become mothers, will readily follow and perpetuate that exact same stereotype as long as it's packaged neatly in a female/Goddess figure. It's much easier to recognize sexist tropes when they come from a recognizable source, but when that same stereotype enters into your belief system, one that you believe is an affront to the horribly sexist system you left behind, it's much harder to identify.

Honestly, in my opinion, the concept of the triple Goddess is vastly outdated. Obviously not every Pagan will agree with me on this, and I don't expect them to, nor do I demand that they do; the beauty of Paganism is that you have the freedom to believe whatever fulfills your spiritual needs. It is simply my personal belief that there are just too many differences between women (and men) for there to be one deity (even one with three aspects) to cover them all. Does this mean I look down upon mothers? Not in the least. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for a woman who wanted me desperately. Does this mean I look down upon the triple Goddess? Not in the least. Just because my understanding of the triple Goddess goes one way doesn't mean I hold a grudge against her. Does this mean I look down upon women who will continue to honor the triple Goddess in their Pagan practice? Not in the least. Just because my personal understanding of the triple Goddess goes one way doesn't mean that every woman on the planet is going to understand her in the same way, nor would I expect them to do so. Every woman's experience on this planet is going to be different, ergo their understandings of divinity and Paganism in general are going to be different as well. I simply believe that we should honor all forms of the Goddess, the warrior Goddesses and the academic Goddesses and the artistic Goddesses, etc., on equal footing with the mother Goddesses.

My personal vision of the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine is that they are created from the collective unconscious of every single woman and man (cisgender and transgender) on the planet. In my vision, the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine do not encompass women and men, respectively; they encompass whoever feels drawn to them. In other words, an effeminate man who identifies more with the Divine Feminine is just as much a part of the Divine Feminine as any woman could be, and a masculine woman who identifies more with the Divine Masculine is just as much a part of the Divine Masculine as any man could be. A genderqueer person with no specific gender identity is welcome in both the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine without question, while a person who identifies with both genders is accepted just as readily. In my mind, the Divine Feminine and the Divine Masculine are comparable to those ripples of oil that you sometimes see in puddles. With every drop of rain that hits those puddles, with every footfall, that oil swirls and changes; so, too, do the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine, and with each person that makes hir way into existence, they change ever-so-slightly in order to meet the needs of the people seeking them out.

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