Welcome to the latest in our on-going column, ev0king the Question. Here, we invite regular ev0ke contributors and guests to share their thoughts on a particular question. Sometimes, it will be silly. Sometimes, it will be serious. Sometimes, a little bit of both.
Below, find this month’s question, and answers from Pagans and polytheists from a variety of backgrounds and traditions. Do you have thoughts of your own? If so, please feel free to share them below.
The Question: Do the Gods have a gender? Do they recognize gender? Does gender have a place in human rites/sacred spaces in modern Paganism/polytheism? Should there be gender-specific rites/sacred spaces in contemporary Paganism/polytheism?
Laurelei Black is an American folkloric Witch, Aphrodite woman, and author. Find her Linktree here.
As a Priestess of Aphrodite and a Godd’s-Spouse to [my God], my experience has been that at least some Godds express That Which They Are in terms of gender. That being said, it has been my experience and observation that the Godds have as much fluidity and variety in their gender expression as humans do. Furthermore, I suspect that human perception of the gender of Godds is limited by our personal and cultural perception of gender. (It’s like being able to perceive the color purple — or red hair. We just can’t perceive the reality of some things until … we do.)
I feel that the Godds recognize gender in humans, yes. However, I don’t know that they care about it as much as humans do. I have seen very little evidence that They require their officiants or dedicants to be a specific-gender — although as humans we have certainly limited our own access and service along these lines. I think the Godds see us as we are; and if there is affinity, they will call us into service, companionship, etc — regardless of race, gender, social status, or any other factor.
Gender has a place, I think, because it is a part of our total identity. To deny the expression of this aspect of ourselves within rituals and sacred spaces would cut us off from something vital. However, gender shouldn’t be a limiting factor for a person. And always — ALWAYS — a person should be able to self-identify and self-select the ways that they participate when gender is a consideration within a ritual or sacred space.
I actually participate (host/facilitate) every year a Pagan women’s retreat — so, yes, I feel there is a place and need for gender-specific spaces and rituals. This is a safe space for me to do some of the soul work that I need to as an embodied spirit. We hold to the philosophies I’ve shared above, though. All women are welcome at our retreat. Indeed, non-binary and gender non-conforming folks are also welcome, if they are wanting and willing to sink deeply into women’s space for the weekend and explore those places that hurt, those places that bleed, those places that sing, those places that laugh as a result of their woman-ness/fem-ness. People who were socialized as women. People who live their lives as women. People who are perceived and treated as women. There are experiences that we share and opportunities to support each other that are difficult to open up or lean into when male-identified folks are present.
Again, though, being able to move in the spheres where we resonate, engage in the roles that call to us, and serve/honor/experience the Godds on our own terms is vitally important.
I’m here for the female Priests of the Gnostic Mass.
I’m here for male Priestexes of Aphrodite.
I’m here for the non-binary Hierdule and Hetaerae and Dames and Devils.
Rebecca Buchanan is a contributing writer and editor of ev0ke. A complete list of her publications can be found at Eternal Haunted Summer.
Our myths are filled with stories of Deities who can shapeshift. They assume a multitude of forms, from human to animal to natural phenomena. Why would such beings be limited by human concepts of gender?
For me, the answer is that they would not.
Do they have preferred forms? Or just forms that they normally assume when interacting with particular cultures or individuals? It would seem so, though I have no idea if these are forms the Deity enjoys or just a convenient choice; or perhaps they even pull these forms from the minds of their worshippers. Whatever the answer (and it may be all or none of the above), humans have come to associate particular forms with particular Powers — but that does not mean these forms are the Powers. They are an image, a means of drawing closer to the Deity, but not the Deity itself. Powers such as Deities are beyond such human limitations as gender and to attempt to impose our limitations on them is the height of arrogance.
Ashley Nicole Hunter is a founder and contributing writer to ev0ke.
Gods which were once human may have gender, but for most gods I think gender was something humanity ascribed to Them in order to better understand Them. Certainly it didn’t seem to matter what a god’s gender was when it came to their actions, as Ishtar concerned Herself with battle and Zeus birthed Dionysus. Gender was a story people told themselves to understand the world and assign meaning and structure, much as they told stories about maggots being created from rotting meat or a flat world you could sail off the edge of. We know better these days. We know that maggots come from flies, that the world is roughly spherical, and that there are more genders than two and being one or the other or another has nothing to do with what you can and cannot accomplish. Gender is an old, outdated story that serves neither us nor the gods, and it should be laid to rest.
Irisanya Moon (she/they) is an author, witch, and initiate in the Reclaiming tradition. She has written books and blogs on magick, resilience, and dancing with grief. Irisanya cultivates spaces of self-care/devotion, divine relationship (whatever that means to you), and community service as part of their heart magick, activism, and devotion to the godds. She is devoted to Aphrodite, Iris, Hecate, and the Norns. www.irisanyamoon.com
Once upon a time, I started in Witchcraft with the idea that my altar should have something for a god and a goddess, that my rituals should honor the masculine and the feminine divine. This made a lot of sense to be, and it seemed in balance. I had come from Catholicism, so the idea of man and woman was expected, common, and ‘right.’
I read about the binary in magick books. I learned about it from multiple authors, so I didn’t question it. I just did it. Left for the god. Right for the goddess. Green and red, or something like that. It’s been a minute since I looked at those books.
I’m not sure where the shift happened, but at some point, I was less enthused by the gods. I was interested in the goddesses, so I went in that direction. It seemed more in alignment with my growing feminism to focus there. I wanted to make magick with Brigid and Freya, not the Dagda or Odr.
At one point, I was in a class where we were tasked with leading mini-classes with each other. One class was a discussion about our relationships with deities. The facilitators posed questions, and we all talked about our answers. One of the questions, as best I can remember it, was whether we must see ourselves reflected in the images of deities. Whether it is important that we see ourselves in the deities we call in ritual.
I think it is important, and that means there needs to be a space for many faces of deity. Many genders. Many expressions. Many shapes, sizes, etc. (Insert a similar discussion about BIPOC folks seeing themselves in rituals where white faces are more frequent.)
In my personal practice, I am clear that deity does not have gender. That said, I use ‘she’ when talking about Aphrodite because that makes sense to me. But I am not offended if someone were to use another pronoun. I personally think deities are far beyond gender and the definitions/limitations/assumptions humans put on gender. I see Aphrodite as desire, which is slippery (no pun intended) and not something that is categorized easily. If at all.
When I talk about deities, you’ll see me use ‘godds’ instead of ‘gods.’ For me, this helps remind readers (and myself) that deity is beyond form. While I will not necessarily get everyone to use this spelling (and I wasn’t the first), I think it’s wise to offer space for MORE than the assumed binary. This spelling and awareness offer a space for all to arrive. To be reminded that I don’t know everything, that I haven’t experienced everything. That I’m still (un)learning how my brain reverts to binary so easily. Binary thinking is still deep in my psyche.
I don’t think the godds even recognize gender as being anything more than something humans have clung onto to make sense of their world(s). My hope anyway is that godds in their expansiveness recognize and appreciate the same move toward expansiveness in humans. I imagine the godds honor genders and gender histories, and they are not beholden to them.
When considering whether there is a space for gender-specific rites and rituals, I think about this: who is defining gender for these rituals? What is the definition that is being used? If all participants are okay with that definition, carry on. My challenge is when the definition isn’t clear, and people enter into unsafe spaces without realizing it.
I think people should have rituals that support their needs and comfort. I think it makes sense to have safe spaces. But, like the conversation I have about cultural appropriation, you can do what you like, but you will get feedback on it, and you might not like the feedback you get. You might not like who forms opinions of you based on the choices you make about gender in your magick.
For me, if I were in charge of everything (thankfully, I am not, nor am I volunteering), I would encourage folks to expand beyond the binary. To have space for many expressions of gender. Not only because it provides safety for participants but it also offers space for the reality of human experience. There have been many, many genders for thousands of years, so why not continue that in our magickal practice?
Of course, no one is making you do anything. And what you do at your altar is between you and the godds, but maybe, just maybe, there can be room for more than what you were taught at the start.
Magick is inventive. Magick is the practice of suspending disbelief. Magick is subversive and can make room.
I believe there should be rituals that support who we have been, who we are becoming, and who is on their way. In expanding and widening definitions, I also make sacred space for descendants so they will be welcomed into a place that wants to welcome them just as they are.