A Pagan's Blog

A Pagan's Blog

Men, Masculinity, and Spirit

There has been a lot of  good stuff written about the Goddess,
Goddesses, and the Divine Feminine,. 
The Wiccan Goddess is first among equals in traditional Wiccan circles.,
and in my view, should be.  Certainly
She has been the most important influence in my own life.  I have even recently completed a book
manuscript dealing with some of these themes.


By comparison, there has been
little attention paid to the Divine Masculine, the God, or male Gods as
male.  There are two good reasons
for this lack, but while they are good reasons why the Goddess has received the
most attention until now, I think it s time to give more attention to the
Divine Masculine.  The discussions
over Robert Bly, the men’s movement, sweat lodges and “muscular” spirituality
in some comments appearing in the preceding post have tipped me into entering
these perilous waters.

Speaking as a man who is pretty
non-sexist, the images of masculinity that women author/priestesses have put
usually forward in their writings have been pretty unappealing.  They are OK, but nothing to get excited
about.  I think most men would

More troubling, little distinction
seems to be made between men with traditionally one sided views of their
maleness, and the dominator types who see all relationships in terms of who is
on top.  There are many of the
former who are not only dominated, they honor the feminine and family responsibilities,
but look to those qualities in their wives and partners far more than in
themselves.  They do not denigrate
the feminine.

Our society is developing an
attractive image of strong creative and loving women. It is not developing an
attractive image of men strong enough not to be threatened by such women, but
who are still men rather than some unisex vision that does not appeal to many
women or men.

Into this void step the
pathological characters who define their ‘manhood’ by its NOT being feminine in
any sense.  These usually right
wing folks, some religious who worship a god whom rese,bles an abusive and
murderous husband, or secularists who fantasize that they will lead great wars
to make us an empire.  These guys
are exposed as pathological when we look at the men who serve as their role
models: Ronald Reagan (the Gipper), Fred Thompson, Chuck Norris, Mel Gibson,
John Wayne, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator).  All are distinguished by playing pretend heroes, never hearing a shot fired that might hurt
them (Wayne was the only male star of his generation who did NOT serve his
country and risk his life) and entering every ‘fight’ knowing they were going
to win, and get handsomely paid while doing so.  They are honored for the roles they played as actors.

Reagan and Schwarzenegger achieved
a lot as individuals, rising from poverty and obscurity to become politically
powerful leaders.  But they are
honored as much or more for the pretend characters they played than the real
accomplishments they achieved on the way up.  It’s weird until you realize that the right wing image of
manhood is a fantasy modeled in part on a brutal deity and for the rest on a
rejection of the feminine.  Thus
most Republican legislators do not think military contractors should be
penalized for aiding gang rape among their employees, and so vote against
punishing rape
in a company that condones it.

Thus major ‘conservative’ figures such as John
Derbyshire of National Review can
wistfully imagine a world where women cannot vote as better than today’s.  Thus these pathetic people’s eagerness
other people to fight wars
all over the place.

Against this degeneration stands
the sensitive male always careful of others’ feelings, always careful to know
his place. Yuck.

For many years I myself wondered
just what was so wonderful about maleness other than our contribution to
reproduction.  There was no very
available positive image of strong masculinity available in our society.  Happily for me, a powerful experience
with Cernnunos ended my confusion, though I am still striving to live closer to
what he showed me.  But in doing so
hHe made more obvious the severe lack of a vision of healthy maleness that
could attract a great many men.

These are complex issues, and even a series of blog posts
cannot do it justice, but let me leave this musing with two thoughts.  On balance a woman knows her most
common and very valuable role in the world is deeply connected to its
biological rhythms, especially to giving birth.  In traditional societies a girl becomes a woman,  and is honored for it, with her first

Little boys become men by
undergoing long and often complex and painful initiations.  Even here, many men will say their time
in the military “made a man out of me.” 
I doubt if any woman in the Service ever said it made a woman out of
her.  I am reminded of Medea’s
words in Euripides: “I had rather stand my ground three times among

the shields than face a childbirth once.”     

I will return to this Euripides’
point, but the point of this musing is that men’s identity must be more earned
in their own and society’s eyes than a woman’s must in hers and in
society’s.  This means it is more
insecure, and much flows from that. 
I think this is one issue that fantasies of politically correct unisexuality 
so popular on the left will never be able to address.

That’s the first thought.

The second is to quote from Harvey
Mansfield, a modern pathological male writing on “Manliness” and then recount a
conversation I had with a Crow Indian, whom I first met when he returned home
from an elk hunt and laid his rifle down on the table in front of where I was
sitting.  I think he would be
qualified to be called “manly.”

Mansfied’s book Manliness   is rife with put downs on women as inferior to manly
men.  As he put it, a manly man
must be able to “look a woman in the eye and tell her that she is inferior in
important respects.”  His chivalry
observes the mask of equality and respect, but as he puts it, this is ” the
sort of equality that might result from being superior at home if inferior at
work.”  Having rea the entire
book, it is even worse than this, but not worth the pixels to explain farther

My young Crow acquaintance had
danced, and continues to dance, the Sun Dance. He does it in the traditional way, with skewers pushed through the skin of his
chest, attached to ropes that are tied to a pole at the lodge’s center.  Other – I do not know whether he has
done so – drag a buffalo skull behind them as the dance.  The skull is attached to the dancer’s
back, again by a rope and skewer. 
This would qualify as a “muscular” form of spirituality if anything
can.  He told me “We do this to give of our bodies and
pain to serve our community the way women do in child birth.” He did not look
down on women’s work, although he distinguished it from his own.

The pathological masculinity of those praising ‘manliness’ today
is as far from the real thing as the gelded masculinity so often praised in
politically correct circles.  And
because so many men are turned off by the gelded image, they are left with the
infantile ramblings and incoherent puffings of right wingers to give them a
sense of their value as men.  It is

Comments read comments(18)
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posted October 10, 2009 at 11:49 pm

You might find Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality of interest:

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posted October 11, 2009 at 12:36 am

You might also like this article of mine, in which Harvey Mansfield features in an unholy alliance with Messers Wilber and Cohen:
“the infantile ramblings and incoherent puffings of right wingers”: this is an amusing but accurate statement. As you say, tragic.

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Gus diZerega

posted October 11, 2009 at 11:45 am

Andrew Cohen impressed me as a kind of spiritual leninist when I read him years ago. That he has strong sympathies for a pompous authoritarian egotist like Mansfield says volumes about his so-called “enlightenment.”

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Aron Gamman

posted October 11, 2009 at 4:18 pm

From my perspective, I want to encourage people to learn more about masculinity and femininity by turning inward sometimes and learning about who they seem as men and women, as well as interacting with other men and women.
What I object to coming from conservatives has to do with a very narrow sense of what masculinity means, instead of a rich diversity of people who often will challenge our definitions. So I see male and female, masculine and feminine as continuums (sp?) that I want to see challenged often. But I think we can still have them, without defining them simply based the most extreme examples of these poles.
What do I envision a masculine spirituality as a conversation between men and men as well as women. I do think men can have their own space without it becoming some militaristic, chest-thumping exercise.

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posted October 11, 2009 at 5:31 pm

When I was an active member of the Beliefnet Community, I wrote a piece that had to do with the role of women in shaping things. I wonder what you, Gus, and others feel the role of the priestess is in the male relationship with himself and others.

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Hecate Demetersdatter

posted October 11, 2009 at 5:48 pm

a woman knows her most common and very valuable role in the world is deeply connected to its biological rhythms, especially to giving birth.
I love you, but, you know, this no longer works, if it ever did, to do much beyond oppressing women. Today, the world is overpopulated. Telling women that their “most common and very valuable role” should be to bear children is just wrong. And, in today’s society, it ISN’T valued. I got paid far more, got more respect, and received far more social approval of my role as a lawyer than I ever did for my role as a single mother.
Women can be “muscular,” as well.
You’re addressing important issues. As the mother of a son and the grandmother of a grandson, I long for men in this society to have a role other than corporate drone or destroyer. I’ll be interested to read what Cernnenos showed you.

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Gus diZerega

posted October 11, 2009 at 8:28 pm

I tried to be careful NOT to say this was a woman’s only role. Those who say as much are enemies to women and to men. Only that it was a role strongly, intimately, connected with being a woman – and that virtually every woman has to make a powerful and life long choice as to whether to take on that role or not. It is rooted in biology. As we become more and more a species shaped by culture rather than genes, this role is added to with other possibilities. But it is the primordial possibility open to all women as women. They start with that ‘base.’
There is nothing equivalent for men. That si why so far a I know, in tribal cultures manhood needs to be earned through initiation, war, something external to the boy.
That’s all I was saying.
As to Cernunnos – I can’t really do justice to it. Students in an old Wicca 101 class wanted to invoke him for Beltane. I work in a “possessory” tradition, which meant he’d be drawn down into me. In all honesty Cernunnos had never appealed to me, I had no felt connection or interest in Him. But they wanted to do it, and one had an invocation he wanted to try. So – OK. I figured I’d get some kind of ‘buzz.’
I was wrong. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. When He came and ‘we’ opened my eyes, everyone in front was in tears. His presence was that strong. He said some words – his own, not pre-arranged – and departed. During that time I was immersed in a maleness that had no scars, no fears, no injuries from the constant wounds all humans get while growing up.
But also no posturing, no ‘macho,’ no sense of comparing Himself to anything. Calm, powerful, peaceful, confident, those attributes were particularly strong. Not a trace of fear or worry about how He came across.
His was a very different flavor of care compared to my experiences with the Lady. More detached from intimate involvement, less strongly connected emotionally, but still quite involved in giving everyone there something of lasting value for their lives. Maybe another way to put it was that He needed nothing from our involvement – He was in a sense already complete. It was wonderful.
That’s the best I can do in describing His presence. After all, He is a God, and so beyond me. But he gave me a lasting sense of what male possibilities are – for these qualities could go with any number of interests, talents, roles, and so on.
I hope this is useful.

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posted October 11, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Well, if you can stand to read a female opinion on Him . . . . After a couple of longterm relationships went belly-up, I decided my taste in men sucked and I went over to the lesbian side. I thought I was through with men until I met my soulmate and had a spontaneous “great rite” experience on our first mating. We’ve been together for several years now, and I believe we were brought together by the Powers. So I tend to see the God in my husband, and for what it’s worth, here’s my take on male divinity:
The Lord is a happy warrior and a defender and champion of the helpless. He is also joyous and playful. He loves wilderness. He exults in music and dancing. He adores toolmaking. And, of course, he’s a very sexy beast.

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posted October 11, 2009 at 11:26 pm

“..they honor the feminine and family responsibilities, but look to those qualities in their wives and partners far more than in themselves.”
Perhaps they shouldn’t. Men have a role to play in family responsibilities, too, since women don’t get pregnant by themselves. That child is as much an expression of his biology as it is hers. If women have an important role to play as the mother, whether biological or in a non-biological way as creatrix, then men have an equally important role as father and creator. We’re co-creators.

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Gus diZerega

posted October 12, 2009 at 12:15 am

I was not praising that repression on their part, I was saying they are not anti-feminine in the way the Neoconservatives and Christian right is, and that the lumping of the two together has been a disaster for all sides. Except for the really misogynistic jerks.
As to Vesta’s point. No problem – those qualities are hardly contradictory to the ones I mentioned. What I described was what I experienced, and the experience was good for me and all others who were there. Others can make of it what they want.
The temptation to compare between different people is why I only described these encounters when asked, and in this case only by someone who had contributed wisely many times to this blog. I do not like relating my personal experiences of this sort, but I will say the Gods like diversity, pretty obviously.

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Hecate Demetersdatter

posted October 12, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Gus, thanks for your additional information. Sounds like an amazing experience. I’m glad you’re talking about these issues.

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posted October 12, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Blessed be, Gus.
It seems many people report that sort of experience of the Antlered One… And the same note of surprise. Don’t want to say too much, but I didn’t exactly start out on a dedicated path expecting to want anything in particular to do with male Gods. But, …It’s actually something that went a long way to *healing* a badly-abused relationship with the male part of the universe. For men, He’s there, too, among others.
I think that much of the difficulty in discussing how we as Pagans are to honor both our men, and our male Gods, on the Internet and otherwise in text, is that the nature of the medium is maybe best or most-easily suited in terms of *speaking of redressing balances or injustices,* and this often leads to a sense of ‘reverse discrimination’ out there that isn’t really the most operative thing in most communities.
Sometimes the talk seems to give some men the attitude of ‘I wouldn’t be welcome there’ or even that the primacy of a Goddess must by definition mean devaluing the male children. Mothers aren’t like that, though. One shouldn’t expect the Goddess to be seen that way as a rule, either. :)
A lot more Pagans ‘get it’ than some may think, is all… (And I think a fair number of Pagan men get it better than they think they do: the language for these things hasn’t really come back yet, I think, and a lot of what we have has taken on negative connotations and dynamics: this leaves gaps in expression and positive senses of identity, talking about role models and how… Ritual, of course, and whatnot. )
But it’s still there, as real as anything.
Strong and confident men don’t need to see anyone else as necessarily weaker than they are, never mind ‘inferior’ as if that really existed in our world in that way, don’t need to exaggerate aggression or defensiveness to be strong and brave or be leaders.
We’ve actually got quite a bit of material to draw on to deal with this as a community, and for men to develop their particular ways: sometimes it’s just about seeing it with some other eyes.

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posted October 12, 2009 at 4:55 pm

His was a very different flavor of care compared to my experiences with the Lady. More detached from intimate involvement, less strongly connected emotionally, but still quite involved in giving everyone there something of lasting value for their lives. Maybe another way to put it was that He needed nothing from our involvement – He was in a sense already complete. It was wonderful.
Thanks for sharing your experience. Embodiment (as conduit for the Divine) is itself yin-yang. It has to do with the ability to be open & respectful. What comes through has to do with who we are becoming. It’s more than a soldier phrase this, “conduct becoming.”
If community posts and discussions are any indicator, there’s a growing collective awareness of the need for appropriate instances of more detachment (or less), more emotional connection (or less), especially wrt to issues like international conflict resolution and climate change. Works in progress, as they say.
What stood out to me was your experience of the Divine as “needing nothing from our involvement” and that “He was in a sense already complete.” What a healing occurrence with the Divine to appear and share the space with your and yours in this way (a triangle of sorts, btw). It’s noteworthy because it stands in stark contrast to cultures (cultivation & conditions) where relentless pursuits among people are triangulated by a wrathful, sacrifice-expectant deity. Instead, the instance you describe is one in which the mirror of completion and wholeness is held up to your fellow travelers and met with/rejoined by outpouring of pure, joyful tears. Yes, more of this, please :)
Your experience of this particular archetypal dynamic with Cernunnos is akin to the description of exalted, evolved Virgo (who is also whole unto herself). Cernunnos in your expression provided space which was met with tears of joy from being acknowledged as whole; similarly, Virgo in her archetypal expression is identified with the time when the harvest has grown in the space and nourishes us. It seems important that we’re able to experience this space-as-held-for-potential by both Lord and Lady, within and among our selves. Gender is both the seed of moment and the dynamic emergent dance of becoming. Blessings to you for conduct becoming giving rise to a message about conduct becoming (nested vortices much? ;) The root word for gender is the same a genesis and as such, when we are allowed to dance freely in that shared space, while celebrating the sacredness that we are already complete before ever entering, much abundant is born.
As you said, a different flavor of care.
bb :) zm

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Cheryl Hill

posted October 12, 2009 at 8:59 pm

I’m so glad we’re discussing this. I too had a powerful experience with Cernunnos years ago, and another last Beltane.
I don’t need to look far to find my own images of the Divine Masculine. It is so well represented for me in the memories of my own father.
My Dad was 6’4″ and powerfully built, but he wasn’t afraid to be gentle. I remember how, with his great love for Nature and all wild things, he carefully freed a bird entangled in a strawberry net, slowly and gently untangling and releasing it despite it pecking his hands bloody. Or the many evenings he spent helping me with my homework. A man with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering who was extremely skilled in mathematics, yet willing to help his young daughter with her ninth grade algebra over cookies and milk.
He was the one who spent the night hand-building the wooden coffin for our dog and then digging her grave in the snowy, hard ground so we could bury her in the morning before he had to leave for work. The bow hunter who would shoot a deer and then softly tell it “thank you” before field dressing it to bring home to us as food.
Embodying strength but embracing gentleness. Intelligent without ever making anyone feel stupid by comparison. Always encouraging, leading without pulling, knowing he would catch me if I fell but making me believe in myself so that I would NOT fall. Soft spoken yet with the ability to defend like a lion if I needed him. And teaching me how to defend myself against the day he’d no longer be with me.
I remember how he lovingly cared for my Mom as she slowly lost her battle with breast cancer. And how bravely he faced his own death just last year. He said once his spirit would come for me when it is my time to die so I wouldn’t die alone, and I believe he will be there.
THAT’S the way I view the Divine Masculine. That is how Cernunnos appears to me. Teacher. Protector. Provider. Defender. Someone who expects me to do my best, but also helps me to find that best within myself.
You Pagan men, don’t you believe for one MOMENT that you don’t have worth. That you aren’t important. You are the physical reflection of the Divine Masculine. The horns of the Horned God are a crown to be worn proudly by *all* of you. And we Pagan women NEED you there for us, even the ones who don’t yet know it. Don’t ever believe otherwise.

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posted October 13, 2009 at 5:31 am

I understand what you mean by ‘Little boys become men by undergoing long and often complex and painful initiations.’ For me, such a combination was made between the ‘war’ at school, the Catholic upbringing, and the gaining of knowledge. Although it is cliche` to say, many of our rites of passage have gone. Whether it is something as deceptively simple as acknowledging ‘manliness’ and the responsibilities it brings, or teaching our children how to prepare for their first lovemaking experience, most parents and society in general has let these steps to accepting and working within life go by the wayside.
Sure, I had First Communion, but all that entailed was me learning about Christ and accepting His Eucharist. There was little responsibility involved. The same was true of Confirmation. Again, nothing was asked of me, nothing challenged me, nothing put me into the mindset that Confirmation, as I was told, was supposed to: become an adult member of the Catholic Church. A good portion of what these experiences taught me, was that I could go through motions and still be a man. The ‘war’ at school was a daily ritual of being beaten when getting off the bus, sometimes before getting onto it, which through its initiation taught me many things: you are worthless if you can’t fight, if you show emotion you’re a target, if you’re different you’re not welcome or loved, and even if you are a victim, the system does not care. What my Dad taught and still teaches me is another matter entirely. He instilled in me a sense of responsibility for myself and others, the proper use of power when you have it, the love that values life equally alongside your own, and how to cooperate with others, especially those I intensely disagree with. To say his teachings and those of society/my school experiences clashed is an understatement.
It is in Neopaganism that I find hope for these rites and modes of accepting and placing responsibility back on the shoulders of young boys and men. It is through Neopaganism that I find hope that we can find better, more refined definitions of masculinity and male responsibility. We find that our rites of passage can be more impacting, more penetrating than those offered by secular society and many organized religions. To me, manliness isn’t when you swing a sword in your hand, or when you learn to fire a gun; it is when you learn and know for what, when, how, where, and why you draw it, or shoot, or better yet, when you know you do not have use either at first draw and have the knowledge and capability to use words and actions to stop short of conflict. With rites of passage, we can again draw a more diverse, personal, responsible and co-habitable way of life into those of our young boys and men of all ages.

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Cheryl Hill

posted October 13, 2009 at 10:47 am

Sarenth, you’d shared that: “The ‘war’ at school was a daily ritual of being beaten when getting off the bus, sometimes before getting onto it, which through its initiation taught me many things: you are worthless if you can’t fight, if you show emotion you’re a target, if you’re different you’re not welcome or loved, and even if you are a victim, the system does not care.”
For what it’s worth, those types of “initiations” aren’t limited to boys. I got my first period the week I turned 8 years old. And with that comes outward signs such as breasts. It’s miserable being the only girl in third grade with boobs. I still have a scar on my left breast where a (female) classmate grabbed me and dug in her nails, thinking I was “stuffing myself”. The physical and emotional abuse was simply awful until everyone got older and the other girls caught up in development. In retrospect, I should have let my parents know what was going on but I wanted to deal with it myself. It did serve to make me tougher though.
Being different makes for being a target; boy or girl. And this was during the 60’s when being an individual was supposed to be encouraged. No one was teaching the children who tormented us to behave any better, and from what I’m seeing that’s not changed much.

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posted October 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm

If it helps…..yes, there are at least pockets where folks ARE teaching children to behave any better. In that, nothing like that would have happened at my son’s school (he’s now 20).
Can’t promise about some girl grabbing another girl… sorry that happened to you. I can relate being “early-boobed” myself.
But the beating up at school kinda thing: no way. Don’t know if it’s regional? Size? Rural vrs urban? (ours is a very small rural school where there aren’t many choices for friends because the school’s so small) or what. But it’s happening in small pockets anyway. Hopefully that’ll expand.

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Cheryl Hill

posted October 13, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Helen/Hawk, thanks for the encouraging news :)

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