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Polarity Polarises & the Movement From Procreativity to Co-Creativity

September 25th, 2014

A year or so ago I  caught myself mid-thought. I had been at a meeting of our men’s group, and once again I was struck by how kind and nurturing we had all been to each other. I think it fair to say that in this group we are all ‘gentle men’. I was thinking, ‘We are all so open now to our feminine side,’ and then I thought ‘No – it’s not meaningful to allocate gender to these qualities.’ Over the coming months I started to see how pervasive the ‘gendered’ way of seeing things had become – particularly in Pagan and New Age circles, and I started to question whether this was helpful.
Is it helpful to think of aspects or qualities of my being as gendered? What is the ‘inner marriage’ really about? If it is to unite or integrate my heart and mind, is my heart ‘feminine’, my mind ‘masculine’? A nonsensical idea of course! If it is to unite ‘inner male with inner female’ then have we not created a tautology? I blame Mr Jung, but that’s for another post…
And then when we come to features of our world, is it really helpful to assign gender to the elements or directions? Is Air any more or less feminine than Water?
I shared these thoughts at an OBOD Samhain camp and there was a sigh of relief from the workshop participants. One man recounted how he had been told in a Five Rhythms workshop how good it was to see him ‘opening to his Feminine’, and his reply was ‘I was just dancing.’
Synchronistically we started to receive letters at OBD HQ from students who were raising these very issues. It felt like an idea whose time had come. Perhaps it just isn’t a helpful metaphor any more. I know it has an ancient lineage – Daoism, alchemy and then the more recent Wicca make great play of gendered polarity – but what I feel now is that an emphasis on polarity has the effect of polarising positions and people. And by stressing polarity when considering creativity, the emphasis naturally falls on procreativity. Today, as humanity moves into an extraordinary and challenging new phase of its evolution, I believe our interest should shift from procreativity to co-creativity, to echo that move from Me to We, from Ego to Eco, from a concern with Self or Couple, to a shared sense of community.
And then today I spotted a new addition to the OBOD library: author Joanna van der Hoeven’s essay ‘Paganism, Anthropomorphisation and Gender’. This way of looking at things really is in the air!
But what do you think?!

24 Responses to “Polarity Polarises & the Movement From Procreativity to Co-Creativity”

  1. Thank you so much for these words! One of the things I find deeply frustrating in paganism and druidry (including the OBOD Bardic course) is the emphasis on god/goddess, male/female and the ‘fertility’ or ‘procreation’ of the two.

    It’s an idea that I think has roots in Wicca with the whole ‘blade and chalice’ thing but as a childfree pansexual gender-fluid type myself I have always found it uncomfortable, exclusionary and heteronormative.

    So…Any plans on updating the OBOD course to re-interpret these images and ideas?

    • Ha Fruitbat! You’ve homed in on a sensitive issue! In 7, soon to be 9, languages and an audio version that’s a massive undertaking! So I’m spending time really pondering this, having great discussions with people, and we’ll get there in the end!

          • This has put into words what I have been thinking for some time – by assigning male/female attributes we are effectively setting limits to our thoughts and perceptions with them. I like the idea of a supplementary gwers to address the question of (non)gender and all its consequences – rewriting all the gwersi in all languages isn’t something you can do overnight!

  2. My idea about polarity is akin to knowing about each ingredient on its own before putting the cake together. Or if I want to do a painting, I need to know my pallet. I have found that I associate Earth with the masculine; Water is androgynous; Fire is feminine; and Air is both masculine and feminine – whatever “masculine” and “feminine” mean. These are my private attributions. I don’t argue about them or even share them much.

    That is probably the question. I am 61. So, I remember a time when this was very clear. Or, at least, there were very clear models which we were supposed to follow. I find the emerging right wing in the United States is fighting desperately to retain these models.

    I think there must be such a thing as “feminine” and “masculine”. If this were not the case, why would so many people acquire more happiness and stability in their lives after gender reassignment? I am (no longer) ashamed to say that I am in the middle. I am now comfortable being female as I was born. But, sometimes I wonder that if I had been born male with the same leanings to other gender, if I would feel as comfortable.

    Both men and women can be nurturing. But somehow there seems to be a feminine style to it and a masculine style.

    I think a lot of the “getting in touch” with one’s (usually a man’s) feminine side is an acknowledgement that women have value. I think there is a quite a bit of that guilt of having benefitted from being born into a privileged group involved. I see this as being similar to survivors’ guilt.

    I have on many occasions taken on roles traditionally assigned to a man. A couple of times with a male in the role traditionally assigned to a woman. This was simply because we each had a preponderance of the characteristics traditionally assigned to the gender whose role we took.

    From alchemy, using the traditional attributions: Is it feminine to be cold? Is it masculine to be hot?

    I will stop now, post this, then read Joanna van der Hoeven’s essay ‘Paganism, Anthropomorphisation and Gender’.

    • I tend to agree. I also think that what we see today through our world view, or cultural prism, is not how “gender” would have been seen in ancient times. “Gender” is polarized in our society today for all sort of reasons, commercial, religious, equity etc. and in many other cultures, but that may not have always been the case.

      There must have been a reason for the allocation of gender to things, and I don’t think that “feminine” and “masculine” had the same connotations as they do today.

      I do think it is important to try to step out of ones cultural conditioning, as much as one can, to explore the energies and mysteries. I listen to the earth, fire water and air elements and try to see how these are reflected in me. I don’t feel polarized I suppose, but I do recognise the qualities, I just don’t put them in a hierarchy …or on a pole….:)

  3. Since working with Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s 2004 book,
    “The Receiving: Reclaiming Jewish Women’s Wisdom”, I have
    dropped all the gender-specific language, assumptions – even
    de-Jungified myself (no more anima/animus), and now access a
    richer repertoire of language.

    There is a concept called “symptom repertoire” coined by psychologist
    Edward Shorter, that informs the reframing of accepted dogma, lore, mythology.

    We get to be the pioneers with bringing forth a more inclusive and
    compassionate way of voicing the preverbal.

    I use terms such as “receiving” and “selective”, which draws from
    our biology. How cells have receptor sites for certain elements whilst not being receptive to others, unless you know the secret handshake/password/Vulcan salute.

    Just my gazillion bucks worth.

    • That should be Edward Shorter not Edward Hunter. I am
      also wary of ‘culture bound’ conceits with ancient lineages.

      Mold on cheese has an ancient lineage. Just sayin’

  4. I feel that, I am both feminine and masculine. Given on the situation I am in, I used both for different reasons. Talking about polarity, the best is somewhere in the middle. Life in my mind is balance. You can go to far in one direction and to far the other way. The word polarity means the opposite to each other. Yin and yang are polarity, and want you want from them is balance and middle road. To much yin and to much yaug not good. It is a fight to get the balance in ones life. I feel that most people swings back and forward.

    • Humans are naturally “bipolar”. Hands up who is going to
      storm the barricades and reclaim that term from under the
      ‘hood of mental ill-health.

  5. Philip, I really enjoyed talking to you about these issues a while back and I’m thrilled to see you writing about them. If I can be of any help in future versions of the Bardic course please do let me know!!

    In the sociology and women’s/feminist/queer studies, we make a strong distinction between “sex” and “gender.” Sex is biological–whether we’re born with girl parts or boy parts. Gender though is a thing that cultures make up–what kinds of behaviors, thoughts, feelings, etc are associated with being male or female. It’s bad enough that we’re expected to conform to gender roles as humans, but applying gender to things like mountains and the sky and the directions and such has always struck me as pretty ridiculous.

  6. I read the interview with Kristoffer Hughes in which
    he referred to an “inner drag queen”.

    Are there Drag Kings or have they gone the way of
    the Ent Wives?

  7. as someone who struggles with traditional gender definitions and has never felt easy about socially constructed gender identity… I for one would be delighted to get gendered language out of Druidry. So much of what we imagine as ‘gender’ is nothing more than societal norms that tell us men are strong and earthy and women are… wet. We can do better than that!

  8. Even if we restrict ourselves to the biosphere, most organisms reproduce asexually and have neither the need nor the material for different genders. If we look at organisms that do have separate genders, what constitutes male or female behaviour is species specific and, even when we look only at the human species, we find that a huge amount of what we consider gender specific behaviour is socially, not biologically derived. So why do we constantly try to force the entire universe into reflecting our current gender stereotyping?

    I fear we won’t escape from this until we stop believing that humans are somehow special; specially privileged; near the apex of some evolutionary and spiritual path. Modern human society is hierarchical (not least in gender hierarchy) and so we demand that everything be placed in an hierarchy and add spiritual hierarchy and spiritual evolution (if we follow the rules we’ll all evolve to a “higher” plain) to our (false) concept of physical hierarchy. Physical evolution isn’t heading towards some final, perfect destination, it’s simply a record of ongoing changes and experiments, a constant process of change. If physical evolution has no final destination, is it not another human misreading to assume that there is a spiritual evolution that mirrors this non-existent journey?

    If we could give equal value, both physically and spiritually, to all of existence and stop seeing humans as specially privileged and evolved then we might be able to stop forcing the very human concept of male and female “characteristics” onto a whole multiverse.

    • This topic lead me to do a bit of looking into sexual reproduction on the web because way back when I was taught that when sexual evolution arrived, genetic variation increased resulting in an increase in the rate of evolution. I found that this idea has been somewhat discounted. The thinking now seems to be that sexual reproduction has a role to play in protection from parasites. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. I also read that most plants and animals reproduce sexually. Maybe its all those organisms that do not fit into the Plant or Animal Kingdom that bump the numbers of the asexual reproducers. (“Kingdom”?!)

      If there was an emphasis on sexual reproduction in early religions, it was probably because they needed to keep the numbers up. We don’t have that problem today. Our lives are less nasty, brutal and short.

      I love your last sentence. It’s a web, a sphere, not a triangle or pyramid.

      I would like us to have diversity without this perplexing need to assign hierarchy.

  9. I have been thinking about this ever since I read a lovely essay which reminds us that in the Egyptian pantheon, the Earth is masculine and Nut the Sky goddess is feminine. As an astrologer I have also been thinking about the ease of sexual identity, which is very much part of our entry into the Aquarian Age. Aquarius is an interesting mix of water and air without much concern for the designated sex of either element. All occult systems teach us that polarity must be transcended, and now we seem ready to this! Thanks for a great blog on the subject. Sarah

  10. Al Pesso, PBSP Co-Founder hypothesized about ‘holes-in-roles’

    …infants arrive with an in-built knowledge of, and preparedness to meet, all the different familial and relational roles such as mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, siblings, mates, and peer figures. Also, they have within themselves – albeit in rudimentary form, regardless of their sexual gender – an innate capacity to act as (take on the functions of) mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, etc. One could call those innate categories of capacities “stem selves” which could be cultivated by external circumstances to reproduce, or “take on” every single kind of role function seemingly called upon by the outside world.

    …there is an innate neurological and biological time-line for the ripening of each one of those potential roles. It is optimally useful, evolutionarily speaking, that one becomes a husband or a wife when one reaches the age (and capability) of adult peer responsibility and contractual reciprocal partnership. This implies that one best becomes a parent when one is a sexually and emotionally mature person, fully capable of being a parental care-giver and taking on the serious responsibilities of that role.

  11. In attempting to sort out stressors that may be worsening a condition, many, many people have confided in me in my daily work (in a medical, and therefore confidential capacity), that they are not totally comfortable in various ways with the cultural attributes assigned by society to their biological sexuality, and/or that they have found strictly enforced social roles demeaning and restrictive to the expression, of their talents and financial stability, or that they have never felt that they fit the emotional and psychological designations that have been dogmatically assigned to one or the other, or in some cases, either gender. Indeed, many do seem to describe themselves in non- or pan-gendered terms, as well as in other ways such as gay or transgendered. This seems to me to be more common than generally acknowledged; it creates a lot of suffering. This also seems reflected here in responses to this blog, a small, and possibly biased sample perhaps– or not?

    Certainly an emphasis on Human procreativity was very useful earlier in our history, it is really not such a great thing anymore. As a Druid, this need not obviate giving thanks for the fecundity of the rest of nature on which we depend for life itself, and inspiration, and joy, for many of us. However, in this era in Human history, it may in fact be seen as somewhat selfish to plan to have more than one or two children at the most. Human overpopulation has fairly recently in our evolutionary history begun to drive our most threatening problems, through an imbroglio of both direct and indirect mechanisms causing habitat loss, extinctions decreasing diversity of species, pollution, and global warming. The biggest threat to our survival as a species, and the greatest threat to the survival of all the rest of Life on Earth has become our own great and ever burgeoning numbers.

    Socially defined gender roles, do maintain a traditionally male-dominated balance of power in general, and are also centered about promoting procreation. As such, they not only lack survival value specifically for our species at this time, ( not for other gendered species, however), but may also be contributing to a lack of awareness of the problem, in my opinion. Promotion of these is rife in Western culture. Perhaps as Sarah Fuhro notes, things are a bit better than they have been in this respect, but I find that most of us have been barraged from an early age with all sorts of blatant commercial, religious and other “normative” gender discriminative advertising and instruction. Those who don’t/can’t/won’t conform are driven underground by the mainstream. Some non-Christian religions effectively enforce such restrictive cultural norms, and sadly, the Christian church has been a driving force in this since the Roman version became ascendant, throughout much of Western history.

    The organization “The Population Connection” http://www.populationconnection.org, has lots of evidence-based information on the problems caused by Human overpopulation, and ways to help. It is wonderful and encouraging to read all of the truly thoughtful posts responding to this blog! As a newish Obod member, I am continuously gratified and amazed!

  12. I’m glad to hear this raised. I’ve always found the aggressive reclaiming of “women’s” whatever to be a bit difficult to get along with, even though it’s often very necessary, because of the expectation that as a woman I also want all the whatevers. As it happens though I come from a family which is comparatively ungendered, and dislike the idea of being put in *any* box because I’m female whether it’s the quiet and nurturing one, the warrior woman one, the “chalice of the Mother” or anything else. I just want to get on with what I’m doing, be that guarding, watching, making explosions, planting seeds, solving maths problems, drawing pictures, whatever, without having to emphasise all the boundaries between them. Those boundaries and limits give you a framework that can let you climb further than you might have if you never thought about things at all, but there’s a Diana Wynne Jones quote I like from one of her short stories – “if rules are a framework to climb on, why can’t you climb right out?”. There comes a point where you have to see the boundaries as non-existent and artificially constructed, and that the method of construction of the boundaries itself is part of the picture/teaching. It’s kind of integration not by joining separate parts, but by seeing that the parts were never separate to begin with.

  13. It may be helpful to consider the Gnostic view regarding the human place in the cosmos (see the Nag Hammadi library, especially the Secret Book of John). In their view, spiritually, we are androgynous, as are all heavenly beings including Spirit him/herself, and are of Divine origin. Physically, we are the product of the Demiurge’s botched material creation, and therefore split into two polarised sexes, similar, but with just 1% of our body area, the genitals, different from each other. This 1%, however, is just enough to create tension and division between people, exaggerated by an over-sexualised and hormonalised society, driven by a lust for money.

    Incidentally, Drunvalo Melchizedek in ‘The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life’ (page 375) mentions eight sexual directions: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and neutral for both male and female, so there are many more polarities than just the supposed two.

    The role of an alchemical path, such as the OBOD course, would seem to be the coagulation of the separated polarities into what we were meant to be by Spirit – androgynous. The ‘solve’ part has already been done on the physical plane by the Demiurge in the differentiation of the genitals.

    Philip has convincingly demonstrated in ‘The Druidcraft Tarot’ (page 98) that the Major Arcana can be divided into three groups of seven to show the Fool’s journey through the three grades of Druidry and Wicca.

    As the divine plane in gnostic cosmology is separated from the Demiurge’s realm by waters, is it fair to understand the Soul’s entry into the gendered physical plane through the gateway guarded by the High Priestess, down to the beach and into the waters, only to emerge again from the waters alchemically transformed (and symbolised by the crab!) in The Moon to re-assume her former androgynous self through the same gateway?

    It is interesting to see that the Lovers in card 6 in their first naked encounter succumb to their animal instincts, the Divine Self watching in the background as a white hind. Compare this with the numerological equivalent 15 Cernunnos, when they are equally naked, but totally relaxed with each other. This time their animal instincts are relegated to the background in the shape of the watching Cernunnos. The Rider-Waite Tarot displays the same concept – both of them are chained to the Devil with a loose noose which they can remove any time they wish. They are now in control of their own situation, not the Devil. All subsequent characters in the Major Arcana are naked but completely unaware of it. The alchemical procedure has borne fruit, showing that it is possible to transcend our physical identity to become whole again – as above, so below.

    Two relevant quotes from the Gospel of Thomas:

    Jesus said to them, ‘When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female…then you will enter the kingdom’.

    Jesus said, ‘When you strip without being ashamed and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample them, then you will see the child of the living one and you will not be afraid’.

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