Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gender, Sexuality, and the Craft

I have been a religious seeker all my life and realized that I was "some sort of pagan" in 1989. Along my way of finding my place, I have encountered all sorts of traditions and groups, all interesting. Some have personally rubbed me the wrong way- after all, not every Path is for every person. But the issues that squick me the hardest have to do with theological biases and bigotries about gender and sexuality, which not only occur in Abrahamic, patriarchal religions- but in pagan ones, too.

Jai Maa!
When I first started seeking, it was a breath of fresh air to embrace religions that believed in the Divine Feminine. Most people I know in the US grew up with Christianity being the dominant cultural force*, and "diversity" simply meant acknowledging that other monotheistic patriarchal religions- Judaism or Islam- existed. Buddhists, people lumped together as "Hindu", and pagans were not really talked about or considered back in the days of my teens (at least in Indiana, where I grew up). So as I say, it was revelatory to learn of religions that had a Goddess (or several)!

I moved out of my parent's home in 1987 made my way to Chicago- the nearest city. It was in Chicago that I was exposed to more religious diversity- and had interactions and experiences with ceremonialists, gnostics, and Dianic traditions that continued as I moved around the country.

With each experience, it became more obvious to me what I was not, but I had yet to find what I was. My issue with ceremonialism is that it seems to place the most importance on humans, to the detriment of the rest of the planet and its inhabitants. The religion seemed to be mostly in the human head. I wanted a theology that put us where we were- no better than a bird or plant, just different in our roles- and I wanted a religion that embraced the planet we lived on and its inhabitants as equals. My issues with gnosticism were still some of the issues that I had with Christianity: the body being something to be transcended, their concept of evil, and a remote disengaged god.

The Dianic Witchcraft folks had me enthralled for quite a while, and I stuck with it the longest before becoming solitary for a long while. It was the closest that I had found to an earth-centered path that worshipped "the Goddess". It was amazing and empowering to be in all-women circles. The combination of feminism and religion was potent and intoxicating. But then I started to see cracks in the theology. First off, what about men? I mean, if a religion is going to do its job in the world, it should be less of a support group and more of a big tent experience that embraces the entire human population (as well as non-human inhabitants). These issues bugged me, but I enjoyed women's space and comforted myself with the fact for a good long while that all genders could come together with men when we chose.

And then I found out just how much of a small tent Dianic Witchcraft really was: in Boston, I met Ella**. Ella was a gifted priestess and a trans woman. She was more skilled in the Craft than I and comfortable in her own skin. She had a calm sense of purpose and a great sense of humor. She seemed like a great addition to our Dianic circle in more ways than one. And when I proposed her entry, I found out about the horrible bigotry that most Dianic groups have- they say that trans women are not allowed. The founder of Dianic Witchcraft (Z Budapest) has made some horribly bigoted remarks and intentionally uses wrong pronouns when referring to trans women.

Here are words that contradict themselves from a Dianic website
(contradictory words bolded by me for emphasis)
"The Dianic tradition is a vibrantly creative and evolving Women’s Mystery tradition, inclusive of all women. Our practices include celebrating and honoring the physical, emotional and other life cycle passages women share by having been born female."
It made no sense to me- Ella was a woman who fought long and hard to be recognized as female (and had to undergo a mandatory psychological and medical gauntlet to do so), only to have doors slammed shut in her face by her sisters. I learned how decidedly un-feminist Dianic trads were that day- they reduce women to mere biology ("She wasn't born a woman!") or experience (feminists of color have made this critique far better than I could). I was pissed off and confused. I decided Dianic Wicca was not for me, and never looked back.

So then I decided maybe Wicca was for me- after all, it was the root of the Dianic stuff that I was attracted to- and it included men and trans folk (if you found a progressive, forward-thinking circle). But the problem with Wicca, as it has come to be known in the US, is that it has become so watered down with books and fly-by-night, DIY religion folks that it has become almost meaningless as a term. Used to be, "the Wicca" was a word that defined a very specific priesthood with a specific theological lineage. Now it means almost anything and everything.

It took a long time to find a circle with theological substance. When I did find a theologically sound circle (not just feel-good, namby pamby, white-lighter stuff), I experimented for a while and again, came up with theological underpinnings that squicked me. Here I was, a young queer woman circling with other young queer people- and we had a heterosexual fertility dyad as our pantheon/ideal! Indeed, the whole of this tradition seemed to revel in fertility and heterosexuality as the ideal, leaving queer expressions of love and lust out in the cold. We queers in the circle would talk about "channeling that fertility energy" into "something creative", but for me, that was akin to a theological band-aid on open heart surgery.

I also thought that the reductionist "all Gods are THE God and all Goddesses are THE Goddess" was flawed. After all, all that does is remove culturally appropriate filters and flavors. It gentrifies ethnically and racially diverse experiences of the Divine, and that did not sit well with me. Oshun is not Brighid, if you catch my drift.

I was at a loss. I knew that the Craft was where I should be, but I was looking for a queer positive, progressive, polytheistic, trans inclusive trad. One that truly embraced the planet's diversity and had juice. I was so grateful to find my small strain of Traditional Religious American Witchcraft.

I am interested to hear from folks in other trads- what is it that attracts and squicks you? Do you have similar or different ideas and stories than mine? Are the things that bother me something that you embrace, and why? Please share.

*Religious diversity in my hometown meant that we never had spring break during Easter OR passover- so neither Catholics nor Jews (the two main religions where I grew up) had their way. (Tolerance through making each group upset! Genius!)

**Name changed, since I have no way to reach her for permission to use her real name.


  1. I know so what You mean I found that too that when I wanted to learn more about my aboriginal heritage ! There are some tribes I so would not have wanted to culturally belong to !! some women were treated horribly andf slaves were mistreated very badly.
    I have many neopagan / wiccan friends & family members which is kind of funny because I am the inority being the only catholic ☺
    some of my male friends who are embracing thier religion find it hard at times and have said there can tend to be a bias towards just the femenine when in fact there is to be equal balance .
    I also know several of my friends still have such pain in thier hearts from child abuse by men so the femenine was very comforting for them yet a few also use it as a reason to harbour hate within thier hearts towards men .
    I think it is hard when society and in fact even the religious societies themselves put labels on us it then gives people the wrong impression not seeing each human as a whole , as an unique individual.

  2. Wonderful post! I consider myself an eclectic witch for the same reasons you listed above. It is too difficult for me to fit into one path or traditional. I have mixed beliefs and practices, so I walk my own path. I practice some Wicca mostly Dianic, but because of the exclusion of transgenders I am not completely Dianic.I am not transgender, but I completely disagree with their policy of exclusion! I also work with Gods and Goddesses, not just the Sacred Feminine. I am not completely Wiccan either because I embrace other Pagan or witchcraft paths like Hoodoo and Yoruban-based witchcraft. I have yet to find a group that practices the same way I do, but for now I try to do both solitary and coven work.

    My solitary time is my time to be completely myself as a witch. During coven work I am there to learn what I can, teach, lead, and to have some social bonds with other Pagans. I find I fit the best in covens that label themselves as eclectic pagan, but even then I still prefer my solitary work.

    Thanks again for this wonderful post! I love everything you said! It is nice to see there are other people out there who have similar concerns as me when it comes to the craft.

    Have a great weekend!

    Love and Blessings,


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