Getting Right With The Boys

For those of us who are dedicated to female divine energy, to Goddesses, what is our relationship to the Gods–to the masculine?  This subject is something I have had in mind for some time, and as the Greek trip approaches, it becomes more significant.

In the 1980s I found myself very drawn to the ideas, and scholarship, and passions of what is sometimes called the Goddess Movement, or more poetically, the Return of the Goddess, or the acknowledgement of the Divine Feminine. I delved very deeply both into Goddess history and contemporary spiritual practice.

My book, the Body of the Goddess, expressed the idea that religion originated in awareness of the divine in nature and the human body, and that in such a state of awareness the female is very important, for new life comes out of the female body. Even today our language describes the Earth and the Sea as female.

The book drew on a great deal of scholarship, about such subjects as pre-historic cave art, mythology (my lifelong passion), ancient temples, and sacred buildings created in the shape of a woman’s body. As well as study, however, I went to many of these places, for as Heloisa wrote (quoted below in The Body In The Land),

One thing is to know by books that the Goddess used to be worshipped in those lands.. And another thing completely stronger is to actually go there, and, with a mixture of surprise, emotion and astonishment, see that it was really real.

During this time, I tended, like many women in the Goddess movement, to see the male deities, the Gods (or God, as monotheists quaintly refer to the divine) in something of a villainous role. A great deal of evidence suggests that in some places in the world a Goddess centered culture existed for thousands of years, without hierarchy of slaves and rulers, and without largescale violence. Excavations of very early cities and settlements find them without fortifications, and on sites that would be very difficult to defend. In other words, they were built without fear of attack, and an in fact existed for hundreds of years without mass violence.

The establishment of patriarchal social structures changes this. We find, instead of egalitarian societies, all the wealth going to a king, with slaves buried alive in his tomb. We find in some places a state of constant war between tribes that lasts–well, up to the present. Some people have argued that while a “Great Mother” culture (a misunderstanding of what Goddesses are about) is very comforting and stable, a dynamic male-dominated culture is necessary for progress and technology. This idea ignores the fact that the Goddess-centered Neolithic (“new stone age”), was the most creative and longest sustained period in human history. It saw the development of agriculture and cities, writing, astronomy, engineering, and all of these to a highly sophisticated degree. By contrast, when the warrior God Dorians invaded and conquered Greece, they ushered in a 500 year “Dark Age,” socalled because culture and technology came to an abrupt stop.

So it is easy to see the Gods as a force of dominance and destruction. The mythology seems to encourage this. The Egyptian God Horus cuts off the head of his mother Isis because he considers her disloyal to his military campaign against his uncle Seth. Zeus, the patriarchal ruler of the Greek Gods, seems to spend a great deal of his time raping women and nymphs up and down the countryside.

In the writing of The Body of the Goddess, Zeus’s favorite son Apollo emerged as a particular villain. I’ve tended to think of Apollo as Zeus’s enforcer, sort of like Sonny in The Godfather. My dislike of The Gods has never been absolute. I’ve long been interested in Dionysos, the God of ecstasy, who actually took over Apollo’s chief site, Delphi, in winter, when Apollo presumably went south to someplace warmer. And as you can see below, in Invocation To Hermes,” I feel a strong kinship to that Greek God of magic, invention, divination, con artistry, theft, lying, and guidance to dead souls (I tend to ignore his main function in Homeric myth, Zeus’s messenger). Recently it struck me that it would be fun to get legally ordained from one of those Ordain-Ur-Self websites and then open my own “church,” The Temple of Hermes the Swindler.

Ah, but Apollo? Not only does he assault as many women as Zeus, not only did he attack and conquer Delphi from the Goddesses who ruled there, but his main attribute, rationality, seems to me a way to narrow the wide spectrum of reality. And yet he also is the God of poetry and music, and even prophecy. Delphi, called the world’s navel, was the site of the great oracle, while behind it rose Mt. Parnassus, home of the Muses. And recently, a scholar named Peter Kingsley has been making a strong claim that Apollo is misunderstood as the calm rationalist lord of light. Kingsley describes Apollo as the ruler of initiations of death and rebirth. In Kingsley’s book Reality, he links Apollo to Persephone, the Queen of the Dead, whose Greater Mysteries are the theme of the trip I will be leading to Greece, now less than a month away.

And odd signs have been coming to me of Apollo somehow entering my life.. Often, when I teach a Tarot workshop I lead an exercise in creating what I call your “fortune teller identity.” This involves a series of steps in which you make up a fanciful name for yourself, a “tribal history,” outlandish claims of your past successes, and then speak in a stagey “foreign” accent, all of which allows you to get past your rationalist–Apollonian–filters and say things you normally would not dare to say. When I did this a few months ago (I always do it myself when I lead the exercise, it’s too much fun not to take part), and it came time to call myself something, “Dr. Apollo” immediately came into my head and refused to leave. I tried to think of something else, “Madame This,” or “Lady That” but Dr. Apollo was it. Later, I used this name for a mysterious fortune teller in one of the stories in my just-finished collection The Tarot of Perfection: Eight Stories (see below, Book Is Done).

Most recently, I attended a workshop from the wonderful Tarot artist, psychic, and teacher Johanna Gargiulo-Sherman (presented by Zoe Matoff, founder and director of the Rhinebeckian Institute for Tarot and Esoterica). One of the decks used was a very intense Tarot created by a German artist named Margarethe Petersen. At one point I pulled the card of The Hierophant. Now, this word is the name of the priest who officiated at the Mysteries, held in a city named Eleusis. The picture shows a powerful dimly glimpsed man, half in bright darkness, half in blazing light. He seems to be moving towards us, emerging from the cosmos itself, while at his feet, hard to see at first, lies a giant snake. As I looked at it I was struck by a powerful sense that this was Apollo, in all his complexity and power. And I remembered that the Mystai, the initiates in the Mysteries, passed two shrines as they left Athens, city of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. One was to Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Passion, to whom I self-initiated at a retreat many years ago. The other was to Apollo.

Published in: on September 2, 2006 at 6:44 pm  Comments (8)  

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  1. When I started out exploring Goddess concepts about 30 years ago, I worked (played?) with the idea of a female deity with a son/consort. I believe this is the most ancient paradigm of Goddess and god. Today I don’t pray, call upon, invoke male deity. But I don’t consider gods to be “villians.” Rather, I consider villainous the way they were manipulated, their roles changed, by various dominator (patriarchal) civilizations. In other words, it’s the humans who are the villains. I am concerned with the drift today among Pagan groups to worship these misogynist god forms rather than the original (?) helper-god. If I were to image a male god at all in my practice, it would be the one who helps the Goddess, not rules her.

    I am just as concerned about a related trend in some Pagan groups: assertions by men that they are treated unfairly and demands by men that they be given more powerful roles, while at the same time dissing and dismissing women’s and feminist contributions and viewpoints. Recently, has had several articles on how rough men have it in Pagan groups, and to Witchvox’s credit, it has also published an excellent response/refutation by Recluse Brown. Another example: On Sept 1, ABC’s Nightline aired a piece on the new version of the film Wicker Man. The piece contained a segment on American Paganism, which showed several different types of Pagans, including an interview at the end with Dianic priestess Susun Weed. On the forum on Nightline’s website, a Wiccan (I assume) posts an objection to including a Dianic Witch because, according to him, (1) Dianic is not “real wicca” (yes, by many definitions Dianic Witchcraft isn’t Wicca; Wicca is a type of Witchcraft, Dianic is a type of Witchcraft, but that wasn’t where he was coming from), what he was driving at, and what he says, is (2) that being Dianic means Susun is a feminist and being a feminist isn’t “real wicca.” We have posts and links to more material on both of these where I blog:

    My understanding is that these backlash views are becoming more common in Pagan groups–perhaps a reflection of other sociopolitical backsliding of our time. As long as this kind of crap is going on, I can’t be overly concerned with male deities.

  2. Thank you, Judith. It’s always great to get your perspective.

    I think the evolution of spiritual ideas often includes a cycle of rejection in order to free ourselves from an oppressive system, a liberation through a new vision, and then the liberty to seek what is genuinely meaningful in the rejected images and beliefs.

    This is my attitude to Judaism. For a long time I considered it so tainted with patriarchy and the deliberate destruction of all knowledge of Goddess that it seemed to me fatally flawed. i looked at the Adam and Eve story, for example, as a turned on its head story of a Goddess with her snake who gives her initiates the magical fruit of knowledge as the way into her garden of paradise. This was useful because the surface tale, with all its misogynist themes, had to be overthrown.

    But once that’s accomplished, once we have freed ourselves from those themes and interpretations, once we have gotten past the Sunday School version of religion, it becomes possible to look deeper and find very powerful meanings, even other aspects of tradition, for example, the rabbinic decision that Eve was not responsible for the disaster, Adam was, since he gave her the wrong instructions from God, and left her vulnerable to manipulation.

    More meaningfully, or simply beyond the simple level of politics, the tree is not actually called just The Tree of Knowledge, it’s the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that is, a limited duality, and being in an illusion of duality Adam and Even could not maintain the subtleties and constant shifts of the Tree of Life. One of the subtleties in the text is that everything created is called “Good.” “God looked and saw it was good.”

    There is no evil. Only duality leads consciousness to label certain things good and others evil. But these are subtleties. I for one could not come to them until I had freed myself from the outer layer of how that text has been used, and maybe even how it was originally set up and then perverted.

    So maybe this is possible with the aggressive male figures of mythic patriarchy, such as Apollo.

    After a long period of freeing ourselves from the dominator rapist conqueror Apollo it becomes possible to consider something more subtle, something powerful and deep, perhaps older and truer. If men in Pagan circles are whining that they’re not treated as important enough, well, as far as I’m concerned that’s their problem. I don’t know about Apollo, but I imagine Hermes would find the whole thing hilarious.

    It’s amusing to me that people were criticizing Susun Weed as being a man-hating feminist, and therefore not Pagan. As far as I know (I haven’t seen her in some while), Susun is still enjoying her long and deep relationship with Mickey. That relationship in many ways fits your model of the Goddess and her helper/consort God. it also does not preclude her from following her even older practice of being a Dianic priestess. One of the things I like about her is that she’s able to function with more than one set of concepts and practices, something so many people seem to find impossible.

    High Priestess of the Temple of Hermes the Swindler

  3. Here’s a further thought in response to Judith’s comment.

    Why shoud our primary concern with any deity be in how she or he relates to the others?

    Isn’t the Joy Of Polytheism (to coin a book title) that we can take the Goddesses and Gods on their own, each with their qualities?

    So why should our main concern about a God be whether he dominates, submits to, helps, or rules equally with a Goddess?

    I suppose for many Pagans, having a ritual practice based on that relationship, it is of great importance to have a good working model.

    As for me, I’m not a Pagan, I’m a Polytheist. So there, this discussion has finally given me an idea what to say when people ask if I’m a Pagan.

    I may have mentioned somewhere on this blog my only partially tongue-in-cheek description of my spiritual beliefs (actually, interests and experiences, since the whole concept of “beliefs” puzzles me): a Goddess-loving radical Jew with a Taoist temperament.

  4. Like Judith, I’m unnerved, annoyed, saddened, enranged (depending) by the culture-wide backsliding as present in pagan contexts as elsewhere these days – here’s an additional point of view I’ve come to as an issue distinct from the current political moment (though surely worsened by it):

    To my mind, any time there is biological essentialism, there is oppressive sexism. Forgive the jingo-ist language – there’s no good alternative at the moment.

    I do not beleive that human souls are determined by their reproductive apparatus; biological determinism has been thoroughly disproven by science, but it continues to be a media honey and a lazy-thinker’s excuse for limiting and judging others to their own benefit.

    I like Rachel’s discussion of a distinction between pagan and polytheist beliefs for this reason: I hear so many paganas – mostly men – wax rhapsodic about women as biologically determined ‘nurturers’ (nurture me!), ‘gatherers’ (gather for me and don’t you dare shoot better than I do!), etc., etc., that I could just puke.

    We all carry strengths, inclinations, affinities which are not determined by our born-biology. I have never – once I really started looking at it closely – seen or heard biological essentialism that wasn’t self-serving and geared to keep people in their ‘place’ – ie: in gender roles that limit, lie, and give some more power and ‘authenticity’ and value than others (or at least severly limit allowable expression).

    So in terms of pantheons OR behaviors OR lifestyles OR expressions of my identity, drawing from the best of all, as affinity and need determines, is the only honestly representative thing for me – and allowing others the same freedoms without presumption that I can look at their gender expression and know who they are at spiritual core based upon it – a presumption I find to be absolute horsecrap.

    A very complicated, deep subject I’m touching on in a short comment, I know, but for what it’s worth.

    Anyway, stoipped by to say hi and see if you’re in Greece, Rachel – thanks for the train of thought!

    Also wrote a post today I thought you might get a kick out of:

    Not initially inspired by your exercise of using a tarot card for writing inspiration, but that’s where it went on its own, and it made me think of you.

    Happy equinox to all.

  5. Hi, Jessamyn. Thanks for your comment. The subject of “The God,” as some Pagans refer to the masculine aspect of the divine, can certainly stir some passions. I was thinking earlier how I sometimes find myself on the far side of something in contrast with much of my culture. For so many people today the discovery of the divine feminine is like a whole world opening, whether it comes from reading The Da Vinci Code, or some other source. For me, I have been living in that world, and now it seems like time to re-consider the divine masculine!

    Thank you too for sharing your blog post. I enjoyed your Fool’s Journey. It just struck me, it would be interesting to do a take on the Tarot called A Fool’s Errand.

    Happy Equinox, Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan

  6. […] I begin with with the ceremony I called The Opening to Apollo. Readers of this blog may remember that I wrote an entry before I left called Getting Right With The Boys, about the need to find a deeper relationship with some of the male dieties, in particular Apollo. In my book, The Body of the Goddess I tended to see Apollo as a villain, the detached Sky God who conquers the female powers of the Earth. […]

  7. but your much on my mind, you often get declin. Hale Mauricio.

  8. Very interesting, Safe travels. I look forward to news and reflections from your journey. Divinity abounds.

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