Does God care about gender? Transgender people and the Divine

Everyone is talking about Bruce Jenner at the moment. So here’s an interesting thought: does God – or do the Gods – care about gender?

Do our souls – if we have them – have genders?

You know, this never really occurred to me until recently. I remember reading somewhere that hardly anyone has a transgendered friend, and it’s something that few people connect with.

I must be different, because I can’t count the number of transgendered friends I have on one hand – I think I have eight or nine, last time I stopped to think about it.

The thing that strikes me most about people who transition is how little it affects who they are, to we people on the outside. To me, perhaps the most amazing feature of the whole process is how much they remain the same. They’re still the same people.

I remember being worried, when my friends have transitioned, that I’d lose my friends. But my friends have remained the same people inside. Their souls, if that’s the right word for it, have remained the same.

I suppose it’s naive to expect that gender should make such a huge difference, but before I knew people who had become male when they’d been female before, or female when they’d become male, I guess I’d expected their innate personality – the person they are inside – to change dramatically. It didn’t; it hasn’t.

So if it doesn’t matter to me, does it matter to the Gods?

A Goddess for everyone across the spectrum of gender

My patron Goddess is Aphrodite. Of all Goddesses she’s one to have a little fun with gender. She’s the Goddess of switching forms, of hermaphrodites and androgyny, and of playing games with gender roles.

A lot of people, when they think of Aphrodite, imagine this very, very feminine Goddess. But they forget that Aphrodite is also the Goddess who was spawned, so the legend goes, from the sea foam created by the castrated genitalia of Uranus, and her children include Hermaphroditus. She governs gender fluidity and transition, and is accepting of transition and non-traditional gender roles. The Gods aren’t necessarily easy to categorize.

Looks can be deceiving

Nor are people easy to categorize. Bruce Jenner, of all people, was portrayed as the stereotypical All-American male – the perfect athlete, the good-looking man who every man wanted as his friend and for his daughter as a partner. He was incredibly desirable and high-profile. Could anyone have seen this coming?

According to Jenner, it’s been here inside him all his life – inside him, waiting to come out. He started taking female hormones in the 1980s, 30 years ago. This isn’t a new thing for him.

That’s something you hear, again and again, from people who transition. The pressures to remain the gender they were born into are incredibly strong, and it is only once the pain of remaining who they are becomes too intense that they break the chains and push for the freedom to become themselves. Transitioning isn’t a kick, or a fad: it’s something they must do, and have needed to do for many years. It’s only society that has held them back.

We are all in transition

It’s both an indictment and praise to our societies that people feel such pressure to remain hidden for so long, yet are finally able to become who they feel they are meant to be. I think we’re societies in transition too, perhaps. But the signs are good that we’re becoming more tolerant, more accepting, and more positive for transgendered people.

We are transitioning too: we are learning, as a society, to be kind, open-minded, and to love unconditionally.

Do the Gods care? Personal perspectives

So – do our souls have gender? Do the Gods care? Will the transgendered be judged? Does any of it matter, apart from the happiness of the individual?

Or are the Gods, as the ancient Greeks might imagine, just playing games with us all, throwing the dice, making life more difficult for some than for others?

As a woman who, I suppose, is very gender-neutral, I’ve never felt the need to be a man. I can’t imagine what it is like. Yet I certainly fit more of a male stereotype than a female. I don’t own any skirts or dresses – at all. I wear a lot of men’s clothes. I’m a bodybuilder and weightlifter, spent time in the army, own a farm, castrate sheep and do most of the yard work around the property, work in tech, have tertiary experience in software engineering…the list goes on.

I can’t think of anything worse than knitting or sewing or quilting or wearing frilly clothes. But do I want to be a man? No. I’m just me. Somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum, I guess. I don’t feel confined by any roles. Why should I be? But my experiences are different to those of others. I have no right to judge. My right is that of support, and of friend.

If I have a soul, it’s not pink or blue. It’s probably orange, or yellow, or maybe lime green. I’m not really into the concept of souls anyway, but if the Gods care about gender, then I believe it’s a very small part of what makes a person worthwhile.

So my view is, if a person needs to transition to be complete and whole and happy, then let them. Support them. They’ll still be the same person inside. Because they always were that same person inside.

We just couldn’t see it.

My great-great grandmother knew Gerald Gardner!

I’m sure you’ve met one. Who knows – maybe you are one. You know, those Pagans who claim lineage.

Some claim to be descended directly from Gerald Gardner (Britsh Traditionals).

Still others claim to have been part of some hidden coven in the New Forest that taught them everything (oh wait! That’s Gardner again).

Gerald Gardner. Creepy looking dude, huh?
Gerald Gardner. Creepy looking dude, huh?

From then on, of course, they’re infinitely better and so much more Pagan than you.

Feel insecure and insufficient yet? Yep. That’s the idea.

My potted history in Paganism

You want to know my Pagan lineage? Here it is: I got interested in Paganism through various books as a teenager, and then got together with a few like-minded friends. And we made stuff up.

We flew by pulling ourselves up by our shoelaces.

woman-flying

We knew nothing except that we wanted to learn. So we supported each other in the learning process, did a whole stack of courses and training, some more reputable than others, and gradually started figuring things out.

Some stuff worked, other stuff really worked, and a lot of stuff didn’t work at all. We were really, really eclectic! We read everything we could get our hands on, from Campbell and Frazer and Kramer to Starhawk and Fox and Buckland – and a whole lot besides.

I was involved with two main covens through the 90s and early century – MoonSpell Coven (which I originated) and then Akasha Coven, which I created and for which I was the HPS. Many of the members of those groups are still practicing, and almost all of them remain my friends.

Akasha in particular was very active in the wider Pagan scene in Melbourne, Australia, offering classes and public gatherings that attracted large groups of people and were very sucessful. My involvement in the Pagan scene wound down when I had children and just couldn’t keep up with the hours required for regular work.

But lineage? I have none. None of my friends do either – or they didn’t when I was working with them. Maybe they do now. But I still don’t. I’ve been in the Pagan scene since I was a teenager, I’m 43 now, so that’s about 25 years of practice, and I’m still unlineaged.

I’d say I’m pretty experienced now. I’m still considered a Pagan Leader in certain circles, and quite knowledgeable, but I feel like a novice in a lot of areas. I’m learning all the time. I love learning all the time! I’d never call myself an expert, although I know quite a bit by now.

Time is, change is…

That’s just it with Paganism though. It’s such a huge field that you never stop learning. Nobody is ever really an expert – not of everything, anyway. If anyone calls themselves an “expert” or starts giving themselves titles in my presence, my Bullshit Detector starts twitching. Like a Timey Wimey Detector, it goes Ding! when there’s Stuff.

timeywimey

bs

Does lineage matter?

The truth is, lineage doesn’t matter. Not one bit. The whole point of Paganism is that you do what you want, what works for you – without the need for a clergy. So you certainly don’t need someone Uber Important telling you what to do.

No practitioner is more important than the rest, simply because of who they happen to know or claim to know. Or claim to have learned from.

I’ve been fortunate in my time to have taken classes with some of the “big names” in Paganism. Did they teach me anything that was intrinsically better than what I figured out on my own? No. Maybe I’m just not someone with a “groupie” mindset, but although the experience of working with these people was generally good, it didn’t make me a better practitioner.

What has made me a better practitioner has been experience. Years and years of it. Making lots of mistakes. Learning from lots of different people from all different walks of life. Figuring out what works and what doesn’t – and doing the figuring out for myself.

I’ve made some big balls ups in ritual. Some of them at large public events I was running. I’ve stuffed up, screwed up, and ballsed up. It all helped me learn. I’ve had to learn humility, and I’ve had to have a healthy sense of humour.

Skills for becoming a better practitioner

I can’t reiterate it enough – a piece of paper, or a certain lineage, or a course from an education centre, no matter how reputable – none of these can make you a better practitioner.

What will make you a better practitioner is learning to listen to your own, inner self.
Learning to take in what works for you, and toss what doesn’t.
Learning to discriminate between the good and the not so good.
Learning to accept that everyone is different, and that what works for your friend may not necessarily work for you.

Having a sense of humour will make you a better practitioner, as will learning to not take yourself too seriously.
Learning that you will always, always be a novice in the world in most fields will help, while recognising that most of the people who claim to be adepts are actually novices too is also useful.

Learning to have a fully functional Bullshit Detector is a valuable asset. Learning that most people are just fumbling along in the dark is another useful asset. And being especially wary of anyone with titles or claims is a real, serious asset – hang on to that, no matter who you meet or what they claim to be!

Lineage isn’t important. The biggest fool can train, and the biggest fool can make claims. What is meaningful, in the end, is what you choose, what is purposeful and worthwhile for you.

meaningful

My path continues…

Like I said, I have no lineage. It is meaningless to me. I’m self taught, and taught by many, and taught by Life, and taught by the Goddess Aphrodite. That is humbling and empowering and enough for me.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to teach many, many others, and help them find their own paths, their own journeys.

I started on this path 25 years ago, maybe more. I’m excited to see where it leads me. But one thing I do know – I don’t need titles or claims or lineage or Big Wazoo outfits to impress anybody.

This journey is for my Goddess and for me.

path

Paganism, Sex, Ritual and Kink

Mainstream culture and religion have RULES about sex.

Sex should be…

– private.
– between a man (singular) and a woman (singular).
– in a bed.
– between married people.
– for procreation only.
– in the missionary position only.
– penis in vagina.
– between people who love one another.
– a relationship where women are submissive and men are dominant.
– between people of the same race, age (roughly) and demographic (roughly).
– something that men initiate, and women never ask for.
– something that women don’t actually enjoy, desire or actively search for.

The list goes on. It’s all so confining and restricting that you have to wonder that a) any sex ever happens at all and that b) when it does, people are able to enjoy it.

Then there’s Paganism and Kink.

What If?

What both do is ask, What If?

What if we throw out the rules that somebody, somewhere told us we had to attach to sex and communication?

What if we just explored our bodies and our minds with curiosity and fascination, and experimented with what feels good, what feels bad, and what our responses to various stimuli are?

What if we made our own rules, instead of accepting, without question, the rules that society has given us and expects us to accept in our lives?

Hieros Gamos
Hieros Gamos

Throw away the rule book

Mainstream religions, to my way of thinking, are about accepting dogma and rules. They give us guidelines and boundaries, and say: Here you go. This is how things are. Accept these rules, and give us your money, and we may choose to accept you. Or not.

Yes, that’s a very cynical viewpoint, but I haven’t seen anything to discredit it.

And mainstream sexual ethics tell us, from that first sex ed class in school through to what is reinforced in movie love scenes and advertising and cultural tropes everywhere we look, that some ways of enjoying sex are more equal than others. Anything outside a fixed set of narrow practices will mark you as a pervert, as a deviant, as somehow wrong.

If you’re a man that finds other men attractive you’ll be scorned. If you’re a woman that loves women, you’ll be abused. Experimenting in bed is frowned upon. Anal sex is sodomy and a sin. Sex between partners of different ages and cultures is disgusting. Women who actively seek out sex are whores, and those women who enjoy sex and are open about the fact are sluts.

Men who prefer the submissive role are unmanly, and sex where there is no penis in vagina penetration – well, that isn’t sex at all, as the thousands of so-called virgins in the Bible Belt who are enjoying regular anal sex with their partners will be quick to point out.

Why we have these rules is an interesting question. I think it’s all about control. Not content with control our finances (job laws and taxes) and our living arrangements (through marriage laws, housing laws etc.), governments and mainstream religions have sought to control our sex lives too.

Telling people how to behave sexually is just another form of control, of subservience, of domination. Do what you’re told, even behind closed doors. Controlling what people think and want to do is the highest form of absolute manipulation.

Aphrodite
Aphrodite

Finding connection

Paganism and kink are, for me at least, intrinsically connected. They’re both forms of free thought and experimentation. You don’t have to like or accept eveything available – not by a long shot. They’re not about conforming to the Church Of Wicca or to the House of PVC, if that doesn’t float your boat. When you enter the world of Paganism, you don’t have to go buy your cape and wand, and when you start in kink you don’t have to go buy a set of handcuffs to be accepted. Everything is valid between consenting adults.

Paganism doesn’t have to be kinky, but it’s a lot more fun when it is. Because, in the end, life is about sex. And so is religion. Religion should be sexy. For too long we’ve been used to the stale, sexless, Godless churches, which thrive on taking away the physical from the spiritual – separating the two and neglecting the needs of the body.

Yet our bodies are Temples – beautiful, sacred temples. To ignore their needs and their desires is foolish and ignorant.

I’m not suggesting that every ritual needs to contain a sexual element. It doesn’t. Or that religion is always about sex. It isn’t. But sex does need to be recognised within religion in order for us to be whole, complete, satisfied beings. Our bodies need to be recognised and fulfilled for religion to feel complete and whole.

With Perfect Love and Perfect Trust

I believe it’s time to put the sex back into religion. Yes, I’m a sensualist, but I do believe it’s time to put the curiosity and the bliss and the spirit back into sex. It’s time for Paganism and kink and sex to all come together within sacred space, and to connect again. It can be done, and it can be done well. “With perfect love and perfect trust” not just as empty words, once again having real meaning in our lives.

Paganism has become tainted by puritanism and consumerism. So you see circle after circle, coven after coven, all geared up with the nicest of trinkets, yet afraid to talk about sex. They’ll discuss everything and anything but. They’ll comment on one another’s latest greatest toy scrying mirror, but won’t share any deep ritual that can truly help them find the Divine God and Goddess within.

Sex is a scary topic. It should be. We bare our souls, and who we are, when we go deep and open with others. We show others who we truly are, and that can be a frightening prospect. There is no turning back, once another person has seen the light that guides you within, in a sexual, spiritual setting. Yet there is so much more to be gained than lost, the fear is worth the risk. Because we risk losing so much more if we remain forever afraid to share who we are.

So yes, I’m advocating our putting down of the capes and the wands and the pretty knick-knacks on the shelves. To truly connect with the Divine, we need to start by exploring our own bodies – what they do, how they respond, how we can connect with others. The human body truly is a miraculous, Divine thing.

It’s time we learned, once again, how to experience our own Divinity.

Beltane! Yeehaw!

I’m celebrating Beltane this Friday, with a few Pagan friends from around the community.

If the rain stops, we’ll even be having a HUGE bonfire.

If… 😉

It’s rained for weeks on end now, with hardly a break, and our whole property has been flooded out. The wood that I was hoping to burn is saturated, and the place is a mudpit. I’ve warned people to bring their gumboots, as they will probably be needed, but at this point in time I’m just hoping that we don’t get hail, snow or sleet while we’re down in the paddock celebrating this fantastic cross-quarter Sabbat.

So – what’s Beltane about?

Beltane is one of the Pagan festivals that a lot of newbies relate to with gut instinct. It feels “right”. For me, it has always felt “right”. It was the first Sabbat I really connected with when I started working alone over two decades ago, and it is still a “home point” for me in the great Wheel of the Year – it’s a place that feels like noon on the clock face, a stopping point where I pause, take breath, and note that the Wheel really has turned.

Even more so because here in the Southern Hemisphere, Beltane’s timing coincides with the rest of the world (those northern hemisphere friends of ours *waves*) celebrating the overly commercial sleazeware festival of Halloween.

But you have to think that the Gods are on our side after all, Because Beltane in the southern hemisphere also coincides pretty neatly with Guy Fawkes Day (5th November). So we sneaky Southern Pagans never get a second glance with our bonfires – everyone just thinks we’re a bit weird for celebrating Guy Fawkes a bit early. And if some fireworks happen to go off – well, whoops!

Beltane is, as I said, a cross-quarter festival. What that means is that it fits in between a solstice (the date when the sun is highest in the sky (summer solstice) or lowest in the sky (winter solstice)) and an equinox (a date when the day and night are of equal length – there are two of these, the autumn equinox and the vernal (Spring) equinox).

Beltane is the cross-quarter festival that fits between the vernal (Spring) equinox and the winter solstice.

So Beltane is pretty much all about Spring. It’s about fertility, fecundity, horniness (if you want to call it that), and new life. All the good, fun, positive stuff that we Pagans (and other folk) love so much. We celebrate the differences between the genders, and their similarities. And we celebrate the ways in which we can connect and cherish one another, and create new life and connections between ourselves with our physical and emotional selves.

Sounds good, huh?

A lot of Pagan weddings happen around Beltane. A lot of Pagans also choose to renew their vows to one another around Beltane. There is also the flip side of the coin – some couples choose to open their relationships at Beltane, and take lovers for the season, after which they return to one another if they choose. This doesn’t mean it’s an all-out slutfest – respect and (in our society) discretion, as well as honesty and openness, are more important than anything. But it is a common thing, and it does happen.

So why the fires?

Fire is, and always has been, a symbol and very real connection to purity and renewal. The word “Beltane” literally means “bright fire”. Fires have been lit for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years in the hopes of appeasing the Gods for a good harvest.

Fire-related traditions followed in time, including jumping the fires, dancing around the fires, bedding down with lovers by the fires and, particularly in modern times, fire-eating and fire twirling.

In a more practical sense, burning before the dry of summer also makes sense, to clear the land for planting, removing last season’s debris and cuttings.

What we’ll be doing

We’ll be lighting a beltane fire, of course, and dancing the fire. The theme of our event is “Beltane 2012: Disco Inferno” so I’m expecting everyone to cut loose after the serious ritual stuff is out of the way with their funky 70s disco moves!

We’ll also be maying some of the local trees with the four colours of the elements – yellow (air), red (fire), blue (water) and green (earth). It’s fun to leave ribbons and wool around local trees, after having danced the maypole dance around trees in public places, knowing that locals will wonder what it is all about the following morning!

Naturally, we’ll also be doing some wishing for good stuff to happen to us in the coming year. So we’ll be cutting hawthorn branches (our whole road is lined with a beautiful hawthorn hedge in full bloom at the moment), putting our wishes on them (written), and throwing them on the fire.

Should people wish to cut new willow wands from our willow tree for themselves, now is a great time to do that as well. We’ll crown a Beltane Queen (bride). And of course there will be cakes and ale.

Regardless of the weather, it’ll be a good night. I’ll post our Beltane rituals up here as soon as they’re done. But I’m looking forward to it.

If only it will stop raining!