Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gender and Divinity

I consider myself a witch.  When asked what tradition of witchcraft I practice, at this point I usually tell people I'm a Reclaiming witch.  I grew up Unitarian Universalist Pagan and found Reclaiming when I moved to California a little over 8 years ago.  I've been involved with the organizing of Free Cascadia Witch Camp for a number of years now and was a part of the teaching team at Free Camp for the first time this year. 

I love Reclaiming.  Where else can you find a community of Pagans who are both excited about magic and spiritual growth and equally if not more excited about social justice and the healing of the earth?  Seriously, the committment to both magic and justice that I have witnessed in Reclaiming has been deeply humbling and profoundly inspiring.

Every two years Reclaming witches from all over the world gather for the Dandelion gathering, a long weekend of magic, organizing, skill sharing, and process (what would a gathering of non-hierarchical Reclaiming witches be like without some processing?!).  At the last Dandelion, a more formal conversation began about the way we discuss divine energies and gender.  This conversation is slated to continue this year.  I'm sad to say that I am unable to make it to Dandelion this year and am sorry that I can't be a part of this conversation.  My friend Rain Crowe suggested that I write some of my thoughts down and share them with reclaiming folks as a way of participating in the conversation over such a distance.

I feel grateful for that suggestion and I hope that you'll take a min to read these thoughts and let them percolate in your heart as you journey to the 5th Dandelion gathering or continue to do magic with your home communities.

So here's the section of the Principles of Unity that I would like to see change:

"...Honoring both Goddess and God, we work with female and male images of divinity, always remembering that their essence is a mystery which goes beyond form."

First off, I just don't think this statement is true for many Reclaiming witches.  In the Free Camp community, while we do work with female and male images of divinity, we also work with images of divinity that go beyond gender.   I know this is also true in some Bay Area Reclaiming rituals, including the increasingly popular "Spiral Dance", where we have invoked the God, the Goddess, and the Transgender Divine for several years.  Additionally we already are working with divine energies that don't have a gender.  For example, this year at Free Cascadia Camp we wove a spell of healing and learning with the Salmon.  Where do the Salmon fall in these categories of gendered divinity?  How about transformation and healing--energies that are often invoked in our magic?  Are these energies male or female?

I believe that the divine is something(s) that is so great that our human minds can never understand it.  There are powers that are greater than anything we can imagine at play in this universe.  I have appreciated the reference to this as "mystery which goes beyond form".  The divine is beyond the tendrils of anything our monkey minds can create.  And yet it is in our human nature to try to make sense of the world around us.  We create stories or myth about the world and project images of the divine outwards--or as is so common in the ever popular Judeo-Christian traditions, upwards.  We need these stories and these images to be able to comprehend the divine.  Myth is one of the key lenses through which we can begin to connect with the vast mystery of the universe.  It is tragic that these myths have been warped and transformed into tools for genocide, cultural elimination, colonization, globalization, and oppression.  And yet, the ways that myth has been transformed into a weapon demonstrates its power.

It was a radical act when our foremothers asserted divinity as feminine and birthed this tradition that celebrates the goddess.  I believe that the magic that was woven by elders like Starhawk and Rose May Dance have been a driving force in women's liberation and I believe that it continues to be a radical act to assert divinity as feminine.  The feminist foundation laid by the struggles of our foremothers has created the fertile soil for the gender revolution that we are experiencing now, where trans and gender variant folks are stepping out en masse to demand inclusion in this patriarchal world.  Our foremothers fought against the dominant paradigm of the patriarchal world of the sacred.  They quite literally reclaimed the notion of divinity and engaged in the radical act of asserting the Divine's female form, the Goddess.  And so was the birth/rebirth of Goddess worship in the west. 

We can't divorce this revolution of spirit with the revolution of resistance to patriarchy and misogyny.

Today we find ourselves riding another wave of this revolution.  The gender revolution that is currently underway seeks to question the construction of gender itself.  We are continuing the struggle against patriarchy as we seek to dismantle the rigid gender institutions at the foundation of the creation of patriarchy.  As I look around the Reclaiming in the Bay Area and at Free Camp, more and more of us are rejecting the notion of gender as a set construct.  There is a growing community of trans and genderqueer people in Reclaiming--many of us are youth and young people.  As this new revolution permeates dominant culture and sends roots of change beneath the earths surface, sparking new crops of communities resisting rigid constructions of gender, we must not allow ourselves to be held back by old paradigms of gender and revolution.

And so then there's the question of where do those of us who don't fit well into the male and female boxes fit into a religious tradition that is focused on gender polarities?  Reclaiming and Feri magic has always held a draw for me over other traditions that hold male/female fertility at the core of much of their magic.  Reclaiming magic, which has roots in Feri tradition, is an ecstatic tradition rather than a fertility based tradition.  This is an element of our tradition that, for me as a queer person, has helped to make Reclaiming feel more like home.

I think it's our Feri roots that we must hold close as we enter into this conversation at Dandelion this year.  Additionally, we must also consider our values not just as witches and change agents but as Reclaiming Witches.  What is it that makes us Reclaiming Witches unique?  I believe it's our commitment to non-hierarchial magic and our ability to trust in each other and community through consensus and collaboration, at all levels, that sets us apart.

There's the larger question around gender that's been bubbling through much of the Pagan community over the past few years.  Where do trans people fit into a "Goddess tradition"?  My answer--anywhere trans people damn well please.  We have had to negotiate binaries our whole lives and are well adapt at figuring out where we feel belong and where we are not welcome.  I think the real question is where does a Goddess tradition fit into a revolution breaking down the very foundation of the structures of patriarchal oppression?  I think this is the question that is at the core of much of the fear underlying the conversations about trans inclusion in the pagan community.  This is the question we must grapple with.

I think we fit.  I think we need each other, desperately.   How do we hold lovingly the feminist roots of this tradition and live out the legacy of resistance to patriarchy at the foundation laid by our foremothers?  We must remember that this new revolution is the fruit of the revolution of our foremothers and we must not forget the reasons we gather together in community.  We pagans belong to an old tradition but we also belong to a very young tradition.  We must create spaces for all people who are passionate about healing our human relationships with the earth and protecting this sacred mother who gives us all life.  As global exploitation of human and non-human life increases, the hunger for profit continues to dump massive amounts of oil into the oceans, and indigenous ways of life continue to be attacked, each one of our magic is desperately needed.

In the words of the ancient Sufi chant, 

"The ocean refuses no river.
The open heart refuses part of me, no part of you"

All of our waters are necessary for the swell of resistance that is needed to heal this earth.

**UPDATE** The Principles of Unity were changed to be more gender inclusive after a long process at this years Dandelion!  Many thanks to everyone who shared their hearts and their vision to bring forth this transformation. 

Here are the new words that were agreed upon through consensus at Dandelion

 “Our diverse practices and experiences of the divine weave a tapestry of many different threads. We include those who honor Mysterious Ones, Goddesses, and Gods of myriad expressions, genders, and states of being, remembering that mystery goes beyond form.”

And this is what was added in another section

“We welcome all genders, all gender histories, all races, all ages and sexual orientations, and all those differences of life situation, background, and ability that increase our diversity.”

Here's a link to "The Wild Hunt" article that Abel Gomez wrote about the process.  


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