A Note to Traditionalists: The Principle of Polarity

As I write I’m more than halfway through Dancing Rabbit’s ‘The Horned God’ and reading a blog written by “Faune” on GWN, I’m struck by a common trend in modern paganism and witchcraft.
One of the things I find fascinating in terms of modern pagan expression is the tendency to still view the sacred in the system of binary sexuality. For me modern paganism ought to be an expression of one’s observations about life and the world around us. For me and many other neopagans life is not clearly defined into gender based paradigms. In most Western societies and even a few non-Western ones gender identity has four primary expressions; male, female, transgender and intersexed.
Most modern pagans seem to obtain their fixation of binary genders from the Hermetic Principle of Polarity, in one way or another. For many the presence of this principle is so ingrained in their core beliefs that it is represented in the dynamics of their gods. Everyone remember the Goddess and Horned God of many “Wiccan” books? Yep, this is the same idea. I know sometimes I come off as anti-Wicca on here and believe me thats simply not the case. My main issue is that of any religion or belief system of magic is the lack of progression. One needn’t change their core beliefs in order to develop the understanding surrounding them. Indeed for Iniatory or Traditional Wiccans I wouldn’t expect them to because they are initiated into a priesthood.
I’ve little doubt of the virtues of this principle but its a principle not a spiritual doctrine and is most certainly in need of further exploration. I gay Witch I know recently brought his partner to an open Circle, naturally he explained his intentions beforehand because his partner is not religious or spiritual in the strictest sense of the words. The High Priestess (to be honest not sure if this was an initiated system or one of communal presence but the Officiating Officer in any case) turned around and explained “so long as he’s okay sharing in the ceremony” i.e. basically that he and you know that there will be a girl between you as this conducts energy better than two blokes who bonk on a daily basis. The problem being that the partner of my friend was extremely uncomfortable with kissing strangers of any gender, so how is this conducive to the raising of energies? I’m also friends with another well known Alexandrian Wiccan who while officiating at a Naming Ceremony for some non-religious pagans (yes they do exist and its not contradictory!) decided the only way the Circle would work was boy-girl-boy-girl. Perhaps its my subversive tendencies resurfacing but I was delighted to hear how two of the lads identifying as bi-sexual responded by snogging ferociously. That was the end of that anyway.
Other spiritual paradigms practice the same sort of conditioning without fully understanding matters. Maybe its because I’ve never been privy to the initiatory teachings of Wicca or formal paganism that my understanding is gleamed solely from reading materials but the Wicca 101 books of my early days (which still feature on my bookstand) refer to this from a Hermetic perspective, meaning that the dual polarities of masculinity and femininity exist within us all. Just because I’m a gay man doesn’t mean that my sense of femininity or masculinity is more developed than others, especially if the social marker is down to societal markers. Since when has spiritual and personal development in magic been marked exclusively by societal norms?
I’m all for practical paganism which one can use in everyday life so this version of polarity which tells me not to hold hands with a guy because it’s spiritually ‘bad for me’ really doesn’t cut it for me. While Wicca may not be homophobic there is a distinct measure of bias within the movement/religion which pervades other aspects to the pagan community.
So to round-up, please don’t assume that your spiritual doctrine if mine even if we both on occasion use the label pagan/witch. Also if an LGBTQ person comes to you for initiation don’t judge from preconceived ideas of what it is sexuality/gender identity means in terms of their spiritual progression, I happen to know a few gay/bi lads who has terrible woman-issues and perhaps assuming that because they are gay/bisexual means they are perfectly identified with the feminine energies. Just because I’m a man doesn’t mean I can’t engage the creative forces of the Divine Feminine like any woman. Creativity is something different from fertility but now that someone’s brought it up to the best of my knowledge gay/bi men are capable and often do have babies. Since sexuality is largely considered to be fluid many people (men and women) have heterosexual experiences resulting in children. Same goes for transgendered people.
I’d love to hear from those more experienced than I on the issue of the Great Rite and same-sex unions within it? Anybody practicing sexual alchemy maybe?
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9 Replies to “A Note to Traditionalists: The Principle of Polarity”

  1. I've always read "the male and female principles" as a push-pull dynamic, the same as your average pair of magnets might have. Before the scientific age, male/female was a great way to describe this dynamic, and I'm sure it still has its uses, but to honestly believe that a person can't work a particular position in a ritual because of their sex is more than a bit anal-retentive.

  2. …linked over here from Niall's Facebook page. Good post, thanks. Good luck with this all. We tried to inject the same questions and ideas into the Australian pagan community over 20 years ago. Attitudes and practices (like the M-F-M-F reduction) are only now starting to change. Still you seem young and keen, so enjoy the long haul 🙂

  3. Care Pallas Renatus,First let me thank you for taking the time to post. I was so tempted to go on a rant about how Gardnerism began with a low-level civil servant launching a fertility religion where sex magic was religiously performed and advocated. And how Sanders was known to be boinking the new young men of the coven in some side-line rites.But I'm going to be bigger than that and try and focus on re-asserting that sexuality if approached in a healthy manner can work in ritual. The owness is on the officiating Priest and Priestess to realise that difference in sexual expression means a covert plan to alter core beliefs.For what its worth I do know many initiated Wiccans who actively support and aid the LGBTQ Community. So it's not universal.

  4. Care Peregrin,Thanks for posting as well. Well I'm certainly not alone as I know there are other LGBT people who are initiated into the Tradition of Wicca and from within and truly being able to relate to it hopefully things will change. There are some people that even still presume that being Gay I want to join a coven for le cock. Nope have one of me very own so not that needy thank you.Back when I used the label Wicca for social introductions (mind you occasionally do now too) I found it incredibly empowering and I don't want to see other young men and women who are sincerely called to the system to feel rejected even in part. Nor do I want to be subjected to another system's practices without being able to to choose myself.

  5. I think this rejection business is old news. As in doesn't happen anymore…and there are many GBLT Gardnerians who can attest to it. So I find the need to come to a bit of the defense here.First, realize that ol' Gerald was a product of his generation. His writings and commentary were a part of the social climate of that time period, and we all know that the world was a different, less accepting, less understanding place back then. So it isn't fair to judge his opinions and comments through the modern lens where folks have a more tolerant and open attitude. While I'm not saying I agree with Gerald’s policies (and for that matter, I’m not fond of his attitudes towards women either) one does have to look at things in the perspective of that point in history.Further on, by the time British Traditional Wicc made its way to the United States in the late 60s-early 70s, we know that the GBLT folks just starting to become more of a political force to be reckoned with. At this time, GBLT’s were becoming more vocal and making strides towards changing the paradigm long-held by the general public. To an extent, this was also played out in the world of witchery, where we had splintering factions who held onto the "old regime" ideas about strictly hetero combinations of folks as the Gards did and understood how that was critical to their energetic and magical practices….and then there were those who dissented from these ideas and instead branched off to form a more GBLT-accepting form of the Craft, like the Minoan Brotherhood/Sisterhood.Again, product of the times…necessity being the mother of invention and creation of forms of the Craft that previously hadn't existed.Flash forward a few more years and a whole lot of public awareness campaigns. I'm here to tell you, even the "old regime" Gards caught onto the idea that while the energetic polarity served a purpose IN CIRCLE, business of the individual members of the trad OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE was not an issue. The GBLT seeker would therefore have to accept the dual ethos, and many did come to know it just through participation in the rites. If the system was designed to operate with “innies and outies” each serving a specific function, then that’s the way the current flowed.So hooray, there were gay High Priests, lesbian High Priestesses, etc…all of whom understood that the working done in Circle had nothing to do with whom they chose to share their love with outside the specificity of the Gard rites. The "sex factor" was discovered to be different from the "energetic factor" as employed by Gards in their orthopraxis, and so it wasn't a big deal for GBLT participants to do that compartmentalization for the purposes of being a Gard initiate. No one forced them to do this. They understood and accepted that, to be a Gard, meant being willing to do things as a Gard does them, period. Today we are blessed with many other avenues of the Craft nowadays that don't work in this polarity fashion and GBLT folks are welcome to make a decision from the plethora of types of workings if they did not wish to follow something as regimented as the Gardnerian tradition.Also, folks who are GBLT Gards are perfectly capable of also engage in other forms of the Craft that did not employ that specific gender polarity pairing idea. They could be Gards in the Gard circles and also work as Minoans, Feri or any other expression of witchcraft that called to them when engaged in those rituals.In the end, the expectation is that if you wish to follow a specific Trad, you have to conform to fit the rigors of that Trad…not come with your own expectation that the Trad should rearrange itself to fit you and your personal comfort levels.

  6. Hey Albiana,Many thanks for posting, I have several issues to address with you. I've read your post and your recent blog entry at http://broomhandle.blogspot.com/2010/08/gblt-gardnerians-ins-and-outs-of.htmlFirst, please re-read over my blog post carefully. It is you the has read into my post and "seen" me being refused entry into Traditional Wicca (British Traditional Wicca includes groups not included in Traditional Wicca here) or some such. On the contrary I've been head-hunted many times by Alexandrians here. Gardnerianism isn't so strong but does have a presence here. I'm friends with a lot of Traditional Wiccans but I'm not an initiate of Traditional Wicca so therefore have no need to assume various paradigms within the various Traditional Wiccan groups.Your blog does nothing to clarify this point. I have only briefly discussed initiation into a Gardnerian Coven last year and even then it was presumed that I wanted to "change" the system. It was highly defensive a trait most common when someone perceives an "other" in the room and feels compelled to mark the boundaries. They, like you, let their own preconceived notions around gender and orientation denote their interactions with me.It is this issue I seek to address. If Gardnerians and Alexandrians have witnessed, as you said in your blog, how energies and gender are not codependent then why insist on male-female pairings? And why especially in Open Circles or Circles they aren't even hosting? Are we clearer now?

  7. I've reread your post and your comments over on my page. In a round-about way think we're actually closer in collusion than at odds with what we're trying to express.I think I get what you're saying about the whole dichotomy with male/female being somewhat a problematic view for those who are GBLT because so many of them do not see things as being that cut-and-dry, that definitive. So, correct me if I'm wrong, what you're proposing here is that Traditionalists should "get caught up with the rest of the class" and see that the gradient gender situation makes for a more progressive practice than does compartmentalizing folks as "either/or"? Ok, did I get your point right there?Assuming I did (ha!), here's what I pose in response…and although it may sound harsh, it isn't meant to be a personal commentary: that the older, more established traditions have no interest in altering something within their systems that has proven to work admirably for this length of time. For them, the idea of "it isn't broke, why fix it?" seems to be the thought process.But yes, I get it that like the Earth no longer being thought of as flat…sometimes a hugely radical mindset comes along that causes even the oldest of established schools of thought to have to revamp themselves to meet with the changing needs of the constituency.I would counter that we, perhaps, haven't reached that event horizon yet from a traditionalist perspective. This may be evidenced by the fact that so many GBLT folks have found a way to comfortably fit into the old reliable polarity mold and make it work…or else they created a whole new denomination that doesn't rely on the polarity system and that, side-by-side, both version appear to be functional, stable and fulfilling a purpose amongst the pagan populace.So in summary (now that I think I've gotten your points! Sorry for being slow before!), I would say that we have different ideas about what defines progression and evolution. At least at this time, there is enough room for growth and expansion for these two very different paradigms to operate within the Craft, each based in a different….theology? uh, not sure of the right word….but I hope you get what I mean here.It ends up being like "home court advantage" depending upon which of these core ideas is in play. I agree with you, it was inappropriate and arrogant for those of Lexie/Gard origin to "impose" their dichotomy upon the proceedings of a rite that wasn't theirs to host. Poor taste on their part. And the converse would have been true if a bunch of Lexies attended a more progressive rite and had difficulty working in the constructs of the other event planner.I don't know…things are a bit less stringent in "open circles" here. Those that I've attended (with Celts, Alexandrians, Gards, Pagan Way and eclectic folks), everyone just sort of adapted to whomever had the "home court" and didn't really fuss.Hope we're back on an even keel now too.~Albiana

  8. I think we are indeed! I've really got no inclination to alter a Tradition (bit of an oxymoronic statement anyway) for me traditions are a source of deepening our shared understanding. "Home court" is certainly a good way to put it. Regardless of one's personal tradition, insofar as it's personally conscionable (and legally of course), one should adhere to the social etiquette of group in home court.I have to confess that in recognizing your own Tradition as Gardnerian I was flummoxed as to why for the second time in as many months there was the need to jump to the defensive regarding the Traditions' stance of the role of polarity in the Coven. Another Gardnerian HPS friend of mine did the same thing as yourself and assumed I would want to change the tradition… just doesn't make sense to seek initiation and then change the very trad one is seeking to join. At the time I presumed that it stemmed from experiences involving people uncomfortable with heterosexuality and wanting to turn the tables. But given your response here and on your blog I wonder how strongly the LGBT movement [internationa] is linked to the neopagan mindset?I've had similar issues with individuals in the LGBT movement presuming that because I'm gay I'm an activist like them when I class myself as an advocate more so than an activist. My life experiences are different than others.Thank you again for rereading my posts for clarity.

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