Wiccan Theology and Sexual Equality

This is a guest post by Eric Steinhart, Professor of Philosophy at William Paterson University.

An intriguing feature of Wicca is that sexual equality is built directly into its theology.  The Farrars stress the balance of male and female polarities in the divine (1981: ch. XV).  Buckland urges gender equality: “both the God and the Goddess are important and should be equally revered.  There should be balance” (1986: 22, his italics).  Cunningham affirms the equality of the male and female manifestations of the ultimate deity: “The Goddess and God are equal; neither is higher or more deserving of respect.” (2004: 11)  Cuhulain states that gender equality is part of Wicca: “A natural and logical consequence of our duotheistic approach to the Divine is that men and women have an equal place in our religion” (2011: 14).  Silver Elder writes that Wicca “identifies the chief Deities as male and female, reflecting the equal power of polarity” (2011: 18).

Some Wiccans prioritize the female over the male; they prioritize the goddess over the god.  Thus Starhawk presents witchcraft (Wicca) as a monotheistic goddess religion, in which the male god is derived from the female goddess (1979: ch. 1).   This female monotheism seems to be little more than a reactive inversion of Judeo-Christian male monotheism.  And indeed Starhawk’s theology resembles Judeo-Christian monotheism in many ways.  The main difference seems to be the inversion of male and female.

The Farrars criticize the reactive elevation of female principles over male (1981: 161-162).  Buckland criticizes the focus on the goddess in many Wiccan groups: “A general complaint about Christianity by Witches is that there is the worship of male deity to the exclusion of the female. . . . And yet it is a strange paradox that many – if not the majority – Witchcraft traditions are guilty of this same crime of Christianity, if in reverse . . . they laud the Goddess to the near, or even total, excusion of the God!” (1986: 22)  Cunningham also criticizes the excessive focus on the goddess in many Wiccan groups: “Religion based entirely on feminine energy, however, is as unbalanced and unnatural as one totally masculine in focus.  The ideal is a perfect balance of the two.  The Goddess and God are equal, complementary.” (2004: 11)

Several Wiccan texts indicate an acceptance of homosexuality.  The Principles of Wiccan Belief, presented by the Council of American Witches in 1974, affirm that Wiccans will not deny religious participation based on “sexual preference” (quoted in Cuhulain, 2011: 29).  The Farrars are open to homosexual Wiccan practice (1981: 169-170). Sabin affirms that the Wiccan interest in polarity does not entail an exclusive focus on male/female polarity (2011: 32).  She writes that “Polarity is expressed whenever two consenting adults come together to make love, and gay sex is as much about enjoying our earthly humanity as heterosexual sex is.” (2011: 32).

Much could be written about the struggles to include femininity into the divine in Christianity  or the struggle to include homosexuals in Christian communities.  But the main point is that these are both struggles.  They are efforts to introduce types of sexual justice that appear to be contrary to the founding text of Christianity, namely, the Bible.  Sexual justice for males and females, as well as for heterosexuals and homosexuals, is not directly and explicitly found in the basic documents of Christianity; it must be read into those documents, by way of complex interpretations.   Thus fundamentalists, who insist that the Bible is literally inerrant, will always be able to resist these forms of sexual justice.  As long as Christianity is based on the Bible, Christians will have to struggle for sexual justice against the most direct readings of its own primary text.  No such struggle is necessary in Wicca, which enshrines sexual justice directly into its theology.

References and some (but not all) other posts in this series are listed below the fold:

Atheism and Wicca

The Wiccan Deity: An Initial Philosophical Analysis

The Wiccan Deity: Related Concepts in Philosophy

On Atheistic Religion

Nine Theses on Wicca and Atheism

Atheistic Holidays

Criticizing Wicca: Energy

Some Naturalistic Ontology

Criticizing Wicca: Levels

Atheism and the Sacred: Natural Creative Power

Criticizing Wicca: Rationality

The God and the Goddess

Wicca and the Problem of Evil

The Wiccan God and Goddess: Reality and Mythology

On Participation in Being-Itself

Criticizing Wicca: God and Goddess

References:

Buckland, R. (1986) Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft.  Second Edition Revised and Expanded.  St. Paul, MI: Llewellyn Publications.

Cuhulain, K. (2011) Pagan Religions: A Handbook for Diversity Training (Shamanism Paganism Druidry).  Portland, OR: Acorn Guild Press.

Cunningham, S. (2004) Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.  St. Paul, MI: Llewellyn Publications.

Farrar, J. & Farrar, S. (1981) A Witches’ Bible: The Complete Witches’ Handbook.  Blaine, WA: Phoenix Publishing.

Silver Elder (2011) Wiccan Celebrations.  Winchester, UK: Moon Books.

Starhawk.  (1979) The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Goddess: 20th Anniversary Edition.  New York: Harper Collins.

  • http://infinitegames.tumblr.com infinity

    Sure, fine, so Wicca is better about sexual justice than Christianity. What I’m still not convinced about is that it is *good*. Wicca, even the most egalitarian versions, promotes male-female as polar opposites, and, as far as you’ve demonstrated, the only options. What about biologically intersexual people? Trans* people? And how clearly does Wiccan theology distinguish between biological sex, cultural gender, and sexual orientation (you seem to be conflating at least the first and last above — you talk about equality between biological sexes [or possibly genders also] and homosexuality under “sexual equality”).

    I realize I keep bringing this up, sorry, and I recall you saying at one point that you aren’t sure about the answers, but these seem to be questions that need to be answered before arguing that Wicca builds sexual equality directly into its theology.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      great questions

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    Saying Wicca is better than Xianity on sexual equality does not imply that it is good.

    Don’t be sorry about bringing up issues of gender vs. sex. I can only apologize again for just not having any texts or data to deal with those issues. Wiccans will need to address them.

    So here’s a shout out to Wiccans: how does Wicca answer these questions?

  • Gregory

    There is a whole tradition of Wicca, the Dianic, which is basically a theology supporting militant separatist second-wave feminism. In comparison to most Dianic circles, Starhawk’s group is pretty egalitarian.

    Also, there are several traditions that reject homosexuals even as they claim to support them. “Orthodox” traditions such as Gardernian and Alexandrian are based very firmly on male-female interplay; the Great Rite (in fact or by ceremonial proxy) is an important part of the sabbat rituals. Gay people “upset” this interplay, and are directed to join other groups.

    @infinity – There is no monolithic Wiccan theology: every tradition, every coven and circle, makes things up as they want or need within the very broad boundaries of what defines Wicca. Some consider only a person’s birth sex, others consider gender identity; some accept intersex or queer-identifying people, others do not; some require heterosexuality, most do not.

  • jesec

    Ditto on the concerns about male-female roles (I believe I spelled out my concerns in a comment on the last Wicca post). Many branches of Christianity claim that men and women are equal, but that the have different roles. It almost never works out in practice that way, not to mention the lack of acceptance of gender non-conforming people. I would be wary of any duality that represents male and female ideals as opposites.