A reader recently commented on one of my blogs dealing with sexuality that I was being pursued by the “Erinyes of Victimhood” (a felicitous phrase), who certainly were never going to believe anything I might say. I have been accused of “mansplaining,” of being a “leering chauvinist,” and so on. I do not believe any of my wives or lovers have ever thought of me that way. Perhaps he’s right, but I hope I can bring a message to those who are still suffering: there is a solution. I hope they can believe that they have the power to end their suffering. Perhaps a man cannot fully understand the trauma of rape—even though men get raped also—but I have tried. What I do know is that no person need let a trauma in the past determine the quality of all future life.
Soon after my abrupt and spectacular expulsion from being a Catholic at age 14, I found Leland’s Aradia. I was fascinated by the concept that the ultimate deity was a Goddess, specifically, Diana. Later I wondered why Apollo’s sister, the Virgin Huntress, came to be considered the Queen of the Witches. A clue lies in the myth of Actaeon, killed by his own hounds as punishment for spying on Artemis; the clue is that Artemis was bathing to renew her virginity, which shows that she must have lost it, which shows there is another side to her.
When I had the immense privilege of taking the Sather seminar from Walter Burkert at UC Berkeley, one day we viewed a surviving Greek painting, a scene having to do with the Mysteries. In it were two identical young women holding torches. After much discussion, we agreed the picture was equating Artemis and Hekate, the Goddess of Witches in Greek belief, who guided women’s souls to the underworld, as Hermes did for men. As Sappho wrote,
When golden Hekate, handmaid
To Aphrodita, leads me
Into Persephone’s dark bedroom . . .
But what was Artemis doing? Regrowing her hymen? Changing her social status? Let me suggest that virginity is not a physical state or a social status, but an attitude toward oneself: you are a virgin because you believe you are. In many chauvinist societies, a woman who has never had sex is a commodity. In many other societies, unmarried women, like Pocahontas, have been free to have active sex lives (a fact not even hinted at in the Disney movie, of course), and only married women were expected to be monogamous. In such societies, often a man would not marry a woman until she had borne a child, thus proving her fertility in a world where most children died before age five, where the survival of families and society depended on her fertility.
When I discussed this curious story about Artemis with one of the most talented Witches I know, she commented casually that restoring one’s virginity was a traditional power of a Witch, and that she had done it many times. When I asked if she was free to tell me any more about that (it certainly sounded like a Third-Degree Secret to me!), she said it was simple, not secret, but also not easy: after every relationship and every trauma, she let go of all the old feelings, gave them to the Goddess, and began with a clean slate. What an astonishing concept! I thought, because letting go of all such connections is almost impossible for me.
The psychological event that expelled me from Catholicism also disentangled me emotionally from my narcissistic mother, but by age 14 my personal boundaries had become like a semipermeable membrane, as is typical of women in America, not like the hard edge that most American men develop, that causes them to clash like rams butting heads. Many men find it hard to discuss emotions at all or to feel intense empathy, where the latter is far easier for most women—and for me. I merge with people all the time, especially with women. When I make love to a woman, it is the psychic openness, bonding, sometimes even oneness that is the greatest and lasting pleasure, far more so than the fleeting pleasure of orgasm. As a result, I have at least a tenuous psychic bond with every one of my lovers—but with some still a powerful one. That has not always improved the quality of life, but life certainly has been interesting. And as another result, I don’t understand how rape is possible, at least not for me. I cannot reach orgasm if the woman is not enjoying it or is psychically blocking me. I could not even achieve an erection if a woman were terrified. I also think far more men are like me than many women want to believe.
To believe that all men are potential rapists is pathological, is a symptom of the endemic mental illness that Wilhelm Reich called the Emotional Plague and that I prefer to label Aphrodiphobia, “fear of sex.” It is just as pathological as the millennial Christian heresy that sex is evil, which is why the Catholic Church was teaching (until Vatican II) that having sex was always a sin, unless you were married, and even then it was a sin to enjoy it. I am sure that was not what Rabbi Joshua the Nazarene taught, because all Rabbis have believed they must fulfill the very first commandment in the Torah that God gave to humans: Be fertile and multiply. Since sex is the only way to fulfill that commandment, sex is not in itself a sin in Jewish theology. The negative attitude toward sex actually came from the dualism of the pagan Greeks, whose general attitude, as the Orphics phrased it, was the “The body is a tomb.”
Any belief or attitude that prevents one from fully and freely enjoying sex as a gift of the Gods is a symptom of that pathology. Certainly being haunted by the trauma of rape fits that definition. No matter how badly we have been hurt, no matter how low one has sunk, we are always free to make the decision to change, to stop being addicted to our own suffering. Perhaps you do not believe in the concept of free will, but I do. You can be free of that suffering by making a 100% unconditional decision to stop suffering, and then actually stop, by turning your will, your life, and all the baggage of the past over to the Goddess, the Gods, or however you conceive of your Higher power.
When my third wife, Lady Epona (who first connected with me because we have the same AA birthday), was explaining the Steps to some young men Witches in Palo Alto, they objected, “I can’t turn my life over to anyone!” she replied, “What do you think you did at your initiation?” The reply was usually, “Oh!” (She is also the author, under her non-Craft name of Nora, of “A Pagan/Polytheistic Interpretation of the Twelve Steps,” which you can find online.)
Of course, you cannot turn your life, etc., over unless you believe the Gods are real, that Someone is there who is willing and able to accept it and to do the impossible for you. If you think that the gods are fictions created by humans, or that the Ultimate is an impersonal force (impersonal means “not caring”), or perhaps that the gods are finite spiritual entities with limited powers, then it won’t work. But actually you need only be openminded and admit that you do not and cannot know much about the Gods at all. Face it, women have the right and the ability to enjoy sex as much as, or even more than, men do. If you are still suffering, if your sexuality is not a source of power for you, that’s because you are choosing to suffer and because your faith is weak. It is your choice whether you cling to your addiction, or whether you give all the suffering of the past to the Goddess, take your own power back, and become as innocent, virginal, optimistic, and energetic as a teenager again. If you do not yet know how to do that, then you have not mastered your Craft.