Gender and Sex Rules in Paganism

Thinking beyond male/female sex and procreation. Written 8.1.06.

A lot of paganism involves the same sort of thing: earth, moving in cycles, the system of male and female, moon and sun, the two poles and the rotation of the world.

It's a traditional image, one which has a lot of power to it, and which is effective for a whole lot of people. For a few reasons, however, some are disconnected from it: they're asexual, or they don't fit into a binary gender system, or they don't have or want children. Doesn't make them a bad pagan. It's just another way of being.

Take the Gallae, for instance. They were priestesses of the goddess Cybele, transgendered women who castrated themselves for their patroness. The Gallae are a grey area between genders. Their very most sacred action of worship, this castration, clearly separates them from male/female fertility-based dualism. Someone who chooses not to have children may walk a similar path.

At the root of it, child-bearing sex—or even any sex at all—is neither a crime nor a joyous ritual, unless you make it so. It is certainly not inherent to the practice of paganism. There are mysteries associated with sex that a person who remains celibate will be ignorant to, but by the same token, can't a celibate person learn mysteries unique to their own experience?

Sex-positivity is important. It is ridiculous and puritanical to be anti-sexual. But it may be equally important, among pagans and in the very sexual context of modern culture, to recognize asexuality and child-free-ness as legitimate (albeit different) ways to get in touch with the gods. A balance is crucial. Odd, isn't it, how there are multitudes of balances within balances? Male/female, asexual/sexual, pagan/not.

Even that polarity of male and female, beneficial as it may be among some groups, is not crucial. Certainly there have been single-gender groups, particularly ones composed of all females. There are people, however, who simply are not male or female. Androgynous, bigender, agender. Transsexuality is something of a different matter, since a transsexual person generally identifies with one gender, although it is different from the one they were assigned at birth.

Transgenderism can and does have a sacredness about it. The Gallae are a good example; some Native Americans and people of the First Nations have viewed transgender or gay people as two-spirited, part masculine, part feminine. (Balance within balance....) It seems likely that this bit of spiritual culture can apply to LGBT pagans as well. European-based religion is quite polar and fertility-based, which can be difficult to live with for asexual, queer, or child-free folks. Especially if they're trying to stick to that kind of tradition exclusively.

A good way to start is to take a look into other traditions or deities, ones that are generally less concerned with polarity and fertility, if you've already been heading in that direction. There is a movement of modern Gallae, for instance; some of them don't quite consider themselves pagan, but a fair number of them do. Their worship of Cybele can be taken in either a reconstructionist or neo-pagan context. Bahuchara Mata is a Hindu goddess, the patroness of hijras (male-to-female transgender women who have formed their own subculture in India). Artemis is a goddess without children; Loki is a shapeshifter god who takes on female roles in many myths. Feri is a strongly queer-positive witchcraft tradition.

Taking it less literally is also a beginning. Beltane, just one example, could be interpreted a fairly heterocentric and sexual holiday, the beginning of spring where lots of new things are fertilized and born. It's a bit alienating for me to celebvrate this—I don't have children or work with them all that much, and I don't go out and do anything sexual on May Day, or even anything romantic.

Still, every year I attend a local Beltane celebration.

Thinking about sex and male/female roles is certainly a central part of the holiday, but I can carve out a place for myself if I think of it in different terms. The conception of a child is not the only kind of fertility I can celebrate. It's rebirth. It's the sun over the horizon, the potluck where we laugh and tell stories, the cauldron of fire we jump over and shout wishes.

My Beltane happens to be more about metaphysical renewal than literal birth, and Beltane is only one example. This diversity of views is not a conflict as such. People are different from each other, pagans are different from each other. All sides—and there are more than two—are equal in the sense that none of their beliefs are "inferior," and their traditions are equally effective if used by people who feel comfortable with them.

Do you prefer black-and-white, or pure grey, or something beyond both? It doesn't matter. Just as long as it works for you.

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