Gender in Paganism-The Body, Dianic’s, and Awareness

This topic was sparked off of a comment from a commentator on this post. I originally wanted to reply on that post, but then my response was overly long, and I didn’t want to hijack someones blog post with my own tangent, that is not directly related to the Pantheacon:).

This topic has been addressed briefly in my post on Rape culture but I feel that with my recent exposure to Posts and video’s on Dianic Wicca, and my personal encounters with Pagans online that it needs to be addressed in more detail.

Last night I was reading through my notes from Wicca: For the rest of us.  And one point bugged the crap out of me. The person who wrote the article firmly believes that feminist struggle is over.  What? On what planet is feminist struggle over?

I’ll again quote bell hooks “Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression”. Sexism does not only come in one form. It comes in many, Sexism against Gay men, sexism against Lesbian women, Sexism against the Gender Queer, Sexism against non-white women, non-middle class women and men, sexism against heterosexual men. Sexism is a pervasive element within the world, and Pagans are often quick to ignore it. Transphobia, Heterosexism and the pressures of Heteronormativity all affect us, even in the pagan community.

Another quote I’ve used before: “Perhaps the biggest difficulty with combining Feminism and any form of Wicca-inspired witchcraft is that Wicca is deeply essentialist in how it treats matters of gender” p55 (Traditional and Innovative Trends in Post-Gardnerian Witchcraft- Jon Hanna).

Wicca is highly essentialistic and it is fraught with its own nonsense such as the goddess statue belongs on the left because the left is passive and the god statue belongs on the right because it is active, and the feminine divine and females and nature, and the matriarchal myths, and the sun is masculine and the moon is feminine, and the one that really kills it for me The athame is the symbol of the male phallus and the chalice is the symbol of the womb and when the great rite is performed the Athame is placed in the chalice. Not only is that heterosexist in its own symbolism, it is also a rather violent image. A weapon, something sharp, used to cut, enters the womb. Frankly to my mind and a few others it echoes the violence of rape.

In Dianic Circles Trans-Women are often denied access to certain circles, due to the fact that they were not born a woman. Whatever being born a woman means I don’t know because gender is arbitrary and frankly today so is sex. For one of my third year projects in art we had to create a mock exhibition, and my focus was “the body”, in it was displayed the violence of racist classification, the violence of patriarchy, the violence of a society where sex and gender are the same and any gender queering on any level is viewed as abberent and deviant, and therefore wrong. It was my intention to show the inherent violence of this system, that frankly still operates today, within art, science, politics and yes, paganism.

My focus in first year was also on the body, the politics of hermaphrodism and the sex/gender debate in relation to a notion of monstrotising the genderqueer and double/no sexed individuals and how it was viewed through Greek Mythology and art and Modern debates, through the study of terratology. In second year, my focus was on expressionist art and the cold war and how gender was viewed through the lens of the dangerous woman or femme fatale or hag-monster. In my fourth and final year I focused on the body and how the body is used to violently classify race, gender and class, and how certain South African Artists have chosen to deal with their own personal struggles with curative rape, and racial classifications through photography and performance, which lead to debates around the relevance of feminism today.

The body is of large concern to me, as is gender, sex, and as a pagan how they affect my practice.  I’m not saying that all pagans should be as passionate about my concerns as I am, but they should at least be aware of some of these debates. Being aware of these debates makes for much less “Feminism is dead”, “Feminists are man haters”, “feminists are (insert stereotype here)”. It also allows us to be more aware of what the debates are surrounding Wicca, and Dianic Wicca.

I am a firm believer that any form of gender discrimination which includes transphobia and such is wrong, on all levels. Z Budapest the founder of Dianic Wicca, was operating in a very much second wave feminist environment. She firmly believes in the woman born rubbish and that has been a strong undercurrent in much of Dianic Wicca to date.

Un/fortunately I can see both sides of the argument. On one of the Tyra Banks episodes I think it was “gay for pay” (A highly hypocritical episode), one of the gay men, stated that they felt that straight men have no business in a gay club, as it was safe place for gay men to interact. The same is true for certain drag shows, although as with Butler I believe “all gender is drag”. The same can then be true for these Dianic circles. They are not meant to discriminate against trans women, but to keep a safe place for certain types of women. On the other hand I fully support LGBT, and therefore being refused entry into a public ritual or group because one is Trans sounds a lot like being not allowed to participate in annual Gay Pride Parades because one identifies as heterosexual.

The point is to be an active participant in these debates and/or be aware of the developments in these debates rather than blocking your ears and humming away because you refuse to understand, learn, read and critically look at these debates. Do I think Trans women should be denied access to a Dianic Circle? No, but I’m not a Dianic, and I don’t believe in being born a woman because woman is nothing more than a social construct. We are born people, and sometimes our bodies cause us so much distress because they may not reflect us that we choose to change them and that is our right, how is plastic surgery for a boob job or horns ok, but not surgery to change sex?*

I also often hear pagans say “be happy with what you have, don’t dress outrageously, don’t wear lots of makeup, keep your sex, etc.” I think these pagans are living in a sad, sad bubble and talking about things that do not affect them on a personal level at all, rather they perpetuate the fact of biology, and that gender, identity and our own perceptions of beauty are unchangeable, and therefore anyone who chooses to deviate from jeans and t-shirt, no makeup, and one gender identity are deviant attention-whores.

It has been my intention through this post to describe what for me is one of the white elephants in the room, as even when it is addressed it is not addressed by mutually critical parties, but rather often by those who have largely essentialist understandings of Gender. Lately the debate around Dianics is getting sparked, thankfully by many people who are aware of gender debates, but unfortunately it does not go deep enough as many people against the Gender discrimination and Transphobia of certain Dianic groups are still uncritical of their own “balanced” essentialist model of male/female and the gender constructs of Wicca and Neo-wicca.

* Just to clarify, I do not advocate cissexism either. If a trans-person wishes to not have surgery for whatever reason (and there are many reasons) they are still trans, and still deserve the respect of the gender identity they identify with.


All blog content is Copyright © 2012 of Nightshade unless otherwise stated


9 thoughts on “Gender in Paganism-The Body, Dianic’s, and Awareness

  1. I have always been repulsed by Dianic Wicca’s philosophy. A religion that is all Yin is just as unbalanced and soul crushing as a religion that is all Yang. With that said I personally believe that a persons gender identification has nothing to do with that persons ability to find spiritual fulfillment or simply being an awesome individual.

    • “With that said I personally believe that a persons gender identification has nothing to do with that persons ability to find spiritual fulfillment or simply being an awesome individual.”

      Very Well said!

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  5. I’ve been interested in various forms of paganism, yet I’m turned off by all the gender essentialism. It appears you don’t like the essentialism either. Can you point me towards some traditions that are not essentialist?

    • I am sorry for such a late response I have been super busy with work and my new pup that I haven’t visited my blog for a while. To tell to the truth I completely have left behind any Traditions and even completely lost interest in traditions. I follow a very eclectic path which is centered around nature, wildness, poetry and ecstacy. Much of my path is centered around devotion to spirits rather than paths themselves. Paths I can suggest to explore are Egyptian, Shamanic influenced paths, traditional witchcraft. The problem is that even with many earth based and pagan paths essentialism can be very difficult to escape. I cannot say to not explore traditions like Wicca etc. You just need to be aware that no matter what traditions you may come across there will be those who will allow essentialism to take over and those that will not, in every path. Where I live I have not encountered any non essentialist paths and therefore follow my own.

      • Congrats on the new puppy, always a handful of joy and lots of work training them. Like someone said “there are no bad dogs, only bad owners” and i am sure you will be a super (not “owner”) but pack leader and best companion. I agree with the paths comments though i still follow my Witchcraft lineage out of loyalty to my late teachers, like doing that funeral for a witch i never met, which i posted about. I agree whole heartedly about just being a natural shamanic wanderer, keeping one’s third eye, eyes, ears, etc open to the spirits who are out there contacting us and teaching and guiding us. I am and have been sick of the politics and ego drama of groups and have left my path and come back many times, but now consider myself both an elder in my paths AND a complete solitary. Blessings.

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