Four Catholic mothers are having brunch one morning. The first mother decides to brag on her son: “My son is a priest. When he walks into the room, women say, ‘Good morning, Father’.” The second mother says: “Well, MY son is a Bishop. When he walks into the room, women say, ‘Good morning, Your Grace’.” The third mother, not to be outdone, says: “Well… MY son is a Cardinal. When he enters a room women say, ‘Good morning, Your Eminence’.” The fourth mother just sits quietly, eating her food. The others keep looking at her and finally she takes a sip of her coffee and says: “My son is an antler-wearing, body-building, Goddess-worshipping and gorgeous Pagan. When he enters a room, women say, ‘Oh my god’.”
If someone was asked to describe Paganism in less than twenty words, I’m willing to bet that at least one of those words would have something to do with the Goddess. Many people choose to become Pagan specifically because there is a Divine being that is female. Women are especially attracted to a spiritual path that not only acknowledges their gender but revels in it.
Worship comes easier if a person has a strong sense of personal identification with the deity figure in their beliefs. It is much easier to have that feeling of rapport if your deity resembles you. No wonder every pantheon of gods and goddesses reflect the culture they belong to. As George Carlin says, we created God in our own image—every statue’s a humanoid!
When cornered on the subject, most Christians will tell you that their God has no defining physical characteristics of a sexual nature even though they refer to that God with masculine adjectives and name Him as Father and Son. Only the Holy Spirit is exempt from gender assignment, being referred to as an “it”. Pagans seem to have an easier time picturing the Goddess as a female being, complete with functioning plumbing, in no small part due to the many creation myths that involve Her giving birth.
There are literally hundred of books that glorify the Goddess, that encourage women to take back the power which was theirs at the beginning of humankind’s story, back when the Goddess was the first Deity we worshipped. The earliest carved iconic figures are of women, round and full of the fecund promise of fertility and creation. It is very easy to understand why this joyous validation of femininity is so appealing to women and to the men who respect and truly honor females. It also means that there is a noted tendency to ignore the God and masculine power, rejecting this because it seems too much like Christianity and that’s what many Pagans are trying to leave behind. For some, the Goddess becomes the ultimate form of deity, a sort of Goddess-based Christianity, with a lot of parallels to the very religion they are trying to escape.
To deny the balance of male and female within the Divine is to limit and lessen that Supreme Being. It diminishes not only the people who feel that way but it affects every aspect of their spiritual path when the parameters of what is sacred are this narrow. Somewhere between the blind adherence to Jehovah and the total worship of the Goddess there is a place that acknowledges both male and female, the God and the Goddess. It is a place that strives to understand and live the balance between two opposites. Deity, or The Divine, has no gender—or has ALL genders. And when I say all, I mean not only male or female; I mean homosexual, transgender, asexual, bisexual, even metrosexual—each and every shading of sexual behavior that exists.
Each gender has characteristics that are associated with it. Each gender has redeeming values that we should all try to have within ourselves. Every man needs to acknowledge the female part of him and every woman should know that she has masculine attributes that are hers to use. Part of our spiritual journey should be the avid seeking of being the very best “me” that we can hope to achieve. That should include learning how to accept and work with every part of ourselves, even those parts that we don’t understood or may not even know about. Unfortunately, many religions do not encourage this. Christianity pretty much ignores the female influences while Pagans can get so caught up in the concepts of the Goddess that they ignore the God or downplay his impact.
Now that we’ve identified the two extremes of the pendulum’s swing, let’s see what we can find here in the middle. We know a thing by its opposite. We would not need to name day but for the darkness that surrounds it, we would not know up except for down. Likewise, we are not female without male, male without female. Neither one is superior to the other, neither one has any precedence or implied power over the other. Choosing to ignore this is to be blind to the inherent balance in the Universe—and that balance is the God AND the Goddess, dancing in each other’s arms, sharing power, sharing love. Since many people are at least familiar with the concept of Goddess worship, I would like to explore just what it means when we talk about the God in a Pagan context.
The God is frequently symbolized as the Green Man, the Lord of the Forest, the Hunter. He is also known as the Father, the creator god as well as the Warrior, the protector god. He is often referred to as the Lover or the Bridegroom to the Goddess. He may be the chief form of deity in a particular tradition, or he may answer to the female leader of their group. Like the Goddess, He is called many names and is a part of every pantheon all over the world. He symbolizes strength and passion (not only sexual passion, but passion for anything!), and is generally associated with reasoning, logic and thought. (A side note here: part of the reason that the God is particularly associated with sexual passion is the simple biochemical fact that the male hormone testosterone triggers sexual desire, even in women.) If the Goddess is the emotional and intuitive feeler, the God is the logical and reasonable thinker. This is not to say that She doesn’t think, or that He doesn’t feel, only that each has His or Her own area of stronger abilities.
Like a perfect marriage, the God and the Goddess compliment each other in their personalities and skills. Where one is weak, the other is strong. Together, they are more than either one is alone. There are also no set expectations of who does what—it’s not written anywhere, let alone in stone, that the God will go out and earn the living or the Goddess will stay home and tend the children. Any description of either gender of Deity can be applied to the opposite. For example, if you want to talk about warrior gods, there’s Mars or Horus. But Athena is also a warrior even though she’s a girl. So is Kali. If you want to talk about the Divine birth experience, well we all know about the Creator Goddesses, like Isis, Gaia, and so on. But did you know that Lord Brahma brought forth out of HIS own body a daughter? Zeus also managed to produce a daughter without a 9 month gestation period, creating her “out of his own head”, just by thinking about it. By the way, that was Athena, born fully armed and ready to do battle.
There are gods and goddesses for every season, every characteristic, each and every aspect of human life. Let me share a few of these with you. Rather than belabor the obvious ones, like Mars for war or Venus for love, I would like to introduce some of the gods who symbolize traits that are generally considered a bit more ahem feminine and some of the goddesses who are not in the least bit ladylike.
I apologize ahead of time for basically throwing a lot of names at you, and I may not pronounce them all correctly but it shows just how many faces the Divine has. I only chose a small portion of what I found in my research, which is, in turn, a small portion of what is out there—so this is definitely not an acceptable scientific sampling! And remember, it’s not always that important to be able to name that wondrous Being Who Created All. Sometimes the more abstract we are in describing our deities, the broader the words we use to try to describe the Divine, the closer we are to understanding what he/she/it truly is, insofar as we finite humans are able to understand the infinite.
I’ll start with the gentlemen. Kabta is the Sumerian god of artisans, Ptah is the Egyptian god of craftsmen. Chang Hs’ien is the Chinese guardian god of children—in other words, childcare! There is a long list of creator or Father gods for many pantheons. Some of the most familiar are Quetzalcoatl from the Aztecs; Ra from the Egyptians, Vishnu from Hinduism, and of course, Jehovah. Gaia may be Earth Mother, but Alisanos, a Romano-Celtic god, is also associated with the planet. Pietas, one of the Roman minor gods, is still in existence today in Rome as the god of family solidarity and patriotism.
Fertility is pretty evenly divided between male and female deities. After all, it does take two to make a baby, even if that baby is a field of wheat or an increase to the herd. There are representatives for either part of the fertility process with some gods giving birth, as I just mentioned or goddesses who bring forth new life without a male donor of any sort. The most common examples of fertility gods or goddesses almost always have an equal but opposite partner aspect within the pantheon.
While our modern world may have a predominance of women in the healthcare, there are also many gods who are associated with the healing aspect of medicine. There is Apollo, of course. But there’s also Esmun, a Phoenician god, as well as Lenus from the Celts. Even in the area of nurturing and home, typically a female’s job within our human societies, there are gods who are responsible for family life. Madulis is a Nubian sun god who is symbolic of the hearth and home. The chief house god of the Navajos is Hastehogan, venerated as well for His healing power. The Shinto god of the kitchen is Oki-Tsu-Hiko-No-Kami, being responsible for the caldron in which water is boiled.
The moon is honored for its connection to many goddesses, but there are gods who are also linked to it. There are Aglibol and Amm, both of pre-Islamic Arabic origin. There is Kasku, a Hittite god, as well as the Iranian version whose name is Napir. We could go on, but let’s not belabor the point. We can agree that there are male aspects of the Divine that represent ideas or areas that are generally considered to be female prerogatives.
Now let’s talk about those goddesses who have pursued a career instead of tending to hearth and home—so to speak. There’s Siduri, the Mesopotamian goddess of brewing. We know about Hades being the god of the dead, but Heret-Kau is an Egyptian underworld goddess. So are Libitina, Morta, Persephone and Proserpina, all Roman goddesses of death, the underworld or funerary processes. Guardian goddesses include the Arabian goddess, Allat, Mafdet from Egypt , the Roman goddess Britannia, and probably the most famous Buddhist goddess, Kuan Yin.
Not all the great hunters are male, either. We’ve got Artemis, of course. Her Western Semetic version is called Aspalis while the Celts honor Cocidius. One of the best known deities to represent justice is definitely female—the Greek goddess, Nemesis. Thor and Vulcan may play with lightning but the Shinto goddess Inazuma can throw bolts just like the big boys. So can the Chinese goddess Tien Mu. Kratos is the Greek god of strength whose partner, force, is represented by his sister Bia. And of course there’s that most masculine of pastimes, war. And there are goddesses who wage it as well as any male—Morrigan of the Celts, the Egyptian goddess Sakhmet, or the well-known Mesopotamian goddess Innana. As with the gods, we could talk all day about many other examples of female aspects of the Divine that represent various male tendencies.
So what are we talking about here? We’re still talking about balance, actually. We’re saying that women can be aggressive, men can be nurturing. We are not stuck in society’s expectations of behavior based on which public restroom we use. More importantly, it means that within our spiritual lives, we can look for those aspects of the Divine that speak to us, that strike with resonance deep within our souls. I count on Horus when I need warrior strength while Donna turns to Athena. We both get the battle won, even though I rely on the male aspect and she relies on the female. It‘s not important that we’re both females and theoretically should feel more identification with a female figure. What is important is that we find what works for us.
You see, your gender is immaterial. It’s irrelevant whether you’re talking about a god or a goddess. What is important, what truly matters is for each of us to find a way to connect to the Divine that can be grasped in our limited, human brains. We can learn to have the powers of the gods by finding those aspects that demonstrate the trait we want. Women can empower themselves and learn how to be firm in a world that often wants them to just shut up and be “good girls”. Men can find out how to express the deep love that they feel for their newborn child, even if it means crying a few tears. We can learn how to be a better person which inevitably leads to being a better companion to those around us. We learn how to have balance in our lives and this lets us join in the Universal dance we call life.
We’ve talked about how our lives are a circle and whatever we put as the center point is our god—or goddess. If our merry-go-round is not balanced, we are going to get thrown off. Pursuing only one aspect of the Divine, whether it’s male or female means you miss out on so much. Like the Divine, you present different aspects of yourself to each person around you. If you only ever exhibited one aspect of your personality, you would be boring—and bored. And you would not grow or change to become the being you are to be.
We are made of the stars, and like them, we are complex and marvelous—truly created in the Divine’s image. Explore the Divine, find all the faces he/she/it will show you and then you may have some glimmer of who you are.