The Toxicity Of Objectifying Women In the Craft And Other Occult Trads

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Not your Manic Pixie Occult Pin Up Dream Girl. Not your dream magical partner. Not your High Priestess. Not the avatar of your favorite goddess. Not your Scarlet Woman. Not your Babalon.

Women have historically been pinned down into either embracing the virgin or the whore archetype. It’s a long time holdover from Christianity and similar religions, and it desperately needs to die. And quite frankly, it belongs under that bucket of “things you need to rethink and toss out when you become a pagan or a polytheist“. In countless esoteric orders I was a part of I heard men projecting their images of the goddess onto their fellow sisters: “She’s Mary to me”, “She’s Isis”, “She’s Babalon”. I’ve had it done to me, and it’s not flattering–it’s creepy as hell.

The constant putting up women on altars and pedestals, even having them as the altars, the romanticizing and fetishizing of the divine feminine as being the pinnacle of ultimate receptiveness with zero boundaries and something any woman should aspire to attain to–none of it is healthy. None of it provides a safe atmosphere for women, and all of it is attention we absolutely do not want, especially coupled with sexual harassment and a total inability to regard our “No, I’m not interested” as being sacrosanct.

I am no longer in those groups and it is precisely why I left.

The over-sexualization and objectification of women in Western Mystery Tradition groups, traditional witchcraft circles, and in pagan and polytheist traditions in general is extremely pervasive and toxic to everyone involved. We cannot use the past or what other people tolerate as an excuse (whataboutism isn’t helping!), nor we cannot claim to be counterculture one moment then use the very culture we are supposed to be veering away from as an excuse the next, either. This is behavior that should neither be condoned or tolerated. Setting appropriate boundaries and having discussions on acceptable behavior need to happen, as well as steps to take for when things go wrong.

I shouldn’t have to attend gatherings where sex and fertility is the core of the reason for the gathering and/or tradition (ie., a Beltaine festival) and be subjected to the male gaze and sexual harassment while present, or have it be assumed that my presence there automatically means consent. I shouldn’t have to explain why magazine covers of Babalon Barbie are offensive, or why endless books by men describing witches as hypersexual women as the desired and only acceptable mold and model are problematic. And I haven’t even gotten into the issue of #Metoo and how that also ties into all of this. Our sexuality as women is constantly being both policed and made policy by men and the women who support those men, and it is not okay.

There is a massive, massive difference between supporting women’s sexuality and objectifying them for it, and that objectification comes in many forms, including the erasing of our humanity by pinning goddesses to us, the apparent entitlement to our sexuality, and not letting us define us. I don’t hear the positions ever reversed in these places; I have never walked into those same gatherings and groups and heard about women’s own relationship with the male component of divinity. Not without it somehow directly relating to the men present. It’s all about the male gaze in these sorts of groups, and it seems that only the straight and bi/pansexual women are the ones embraced. Interest in men by women is both assumed and desired as the default and the crippling heteronormative thinking remains. Somehow the notion that women just might fall under the category of “other” or “uninterested” gets left out of the discussion, and it’s alienating to those of us who aren’t a part of the het/bi/pan bucket.

And the fault of these issues rests not just with men but with women too. Women need to be less complicit in these affairs as well. Listen to your fellow women and stand up for them when they speak up. Just because you think you are comfortable, doesn’t mean that they will be–and their voice needs to be heard too. Too often it happens where sexism is so ingrained and institutionalized that it doesn’t even occur to us how wrong it is until we look at it with fresh eyes. I have been in the scenario where I was on the end of the table of that discussion due to both my boundaries and consent having been violated. The woman who was hearing me out accused me of being a prude. That is unacceptable, out of line, unconscionable.

Women: trust your sisters. Hear them out. Don’t dismiss them.

It’s time to rethink longtime honored thoughts on many things, and it’s okay to do so. Women are more than their bits and fertility status; this is offensive to cis and trans women both. This is why the “Maiden-Mother-Crone” model has always left me cold–I avoid it like the plague. Having genuine sexual freedom and being sex positive for all genders and sexual orientations means freedom to both do and not do. Regardless of whether or not you are an aromantic asexual or a polyamorous pansexual, no should mean no, and the circles and groups I partake of should be more than just for men looking for their Playboy Goddess or sex magic partner. We need to reconsider our language, our imagery, and how we communicate with each other in general.

 

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  • Samuel Wagar

    Well put. One thing that I am proud about and pleased with in my Temple is our embrace of sexual variety and a strong consent culture. It has taken time and struggle but it’s going well.

  • I add the Warrior to the MMC trinity to give a nod to the defender status that women have played forever. MMC is useful, but it is narrow and confining. With the Warrior She expands to as much as a woman is, mostly. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than “innocence, fertility, wisdom” being the only things celebrated.

  • Thesseli

    Yes, yes, YES.

  • Sarah C

    Really well put. So many fellow pagans seem to think we’re above all of the #MeToo type situations. This should be a wake up call.

  • 100% this! THIS is why we need to see our spiritual/religious communities evolving.

    When some of these things gained popularity, they were quite progressive… for their DAY. In an era where a woman’s worth was solely tied to their ability to breed (and older women were thus seen as “lesser”), including the Crone with the Maiden and Mother was a strike at honouring women throughout their lives. Likewise, in an era where women’s bodies were still seen as “unclean” by most religions, having a woman as the point of veneration in a religious rite was also a form of progressive rebellion.

    However, those things were brought out EIGHTY PLUS YEARS AGO! Our society, and women’s places within it, have evolved. So, too, must we. Now, the old “Maiden/Mother/Crone” ideal can come off looking at restricting a woman’s role based on her age/looks. Being the object of veneration is still being an object. We cannot rest on our laurels… what was “progressive” 80 years ago isn’t really so progressive anymore.

    We cannot allow the “MeToo” movement to be merely a weapon against others (no matter how much they deserve it), we have to use this opportunity to look at our OWN practices and attitudes. That which does not evolve dies out. If we want Paganism and occultism to survive, we have to evolve.

  • MacKenzie Drake

    So much this. I’m solitary in part because I’m Ace. There is no place in the Traditional Binary for someone like me. Warrior isn’t the answer for this, either, because I don’t want to defend a system that sees me as nothing but a mask stand and a mana battery. We have to find another way.

  • Jason Lara

    Let this be a lesson to all the leaders of these groups. If you are currently a leader of a group that practices Sex Ritual or Sex Magick, or if you are thinking about starting such a group then you better get an attorney and have all the women initiates of your group, and any women visitors to sign a legal contract. I doubt if anyone has been sued yet, or has gone to jail but its best not to wait around. If this is the game these stupid women want to play, then we all need to start protecting ourselves.

  • Thesseli

    MacKenzie — you should look into Feri, if you’re interested in Witchcraft. It’s about as far from the old fashioned gender binaries as possible.

  • Brianne Ravenwolf

    I loved this article and completely agree! I was a co-faciltator of a Consent Workshop @ this years PSG, and only one transwoman, other than me, showed up. 3 co-facilitors, one attendee…WTF!

  • My own trads (Chthonioi-Alexandrian and Blue Star) are very okay with the non gender binary. 🙂 I’ve been curious about Feri myself, as I know they have some overlap with Blue Star.

    My HP in my Blue Star coven is a non-binary trans man.

    I’m ace myself, btw.

  • All this cannot be said often enough. Don’t get me started on the Barbie goddesses!

  • GORDON S COOPER

    Thank you for this. M/M/C is an a-historical Victorian construct imposed on all pre-modern Eurasian cultures. Triads were common, but never the M/M/C. The pernicious teenage-rage hormone binary deity coupling became the base paradigm for Western Esoteric Orders. As a species we have not needed fertility for a few centuries. Dumping 200 million tons a year of phosphates on land is a bad idea. Thriving and surviving would be better than fertility. Tou might consider using Propp’s folklore motif analysis methodology on rituals to identify themes, then decide what might be more appropriate to our needs.

  • Stella

    Yes. I am not even a little considering any kind of group craft for reasons like this.

    And meanwhile, on a recent podcast by a man interviewing two men who are leaders in their group trads, in an episode about magical appropriation and women getting recognition, on the topic of Hubbard, each man from that era was named by name, but not the Scarlet Woman (Marjorie).

  • nope nopeington

    Good article, but I take issue with your statements about bi women. They are also targeted by homophobia because men don’t just feel threatened by women who aren’t attracted to men, but women who are not *exclusively* attracted to men altogether.

    Bi women are more likely to suffer intimate partner violence than straight or lesbian women, and lumping them in with straight women really obscures that bi women are subjected to unique forms of violence, including in occult spaces.

  • Teleri

    SOME of us LIKE sex. Just saying. I don’t have ANY problems unless men show they don’t CARE about women as people. A guy seeing me as sexy does NOT automatically translate to ‘doesn’t see me as human’ at all.
    I have pics of gorgeous guys around, and my idea of Pan/Apollo is pretty darn hunky. Nothing wrong with that at all unless I somehow start judging men by their looks for reasons OTHER than sex.

  • Scarlet Magdalene

    Having your ability to consent respected by all has utterly nothing to do with whether or not you like sex. Just sayin’.

  • Sunfell

    Thank you for this article. I am also a solitary practitioner precisely because of the absence of respect for my asexuality and the constant emphasis on my reproductive system and its accessibility. I never resonated with the MMC paradigm- mine is Student, Explorer, Mage. I had to deal with the gendered/ sexual elements in the lead-up to my initiation in the Alexandrian Tradition, but I was very fortunate that my HPS respected my discomfort with the sexual element, and offered me an initiation which accommodated my needs. I felt that it was every bit as effective and profound as any traditional rite. Sadly, that was the only supportive interaction I’ve had IRT my sexuality (or lack of it) in my 40+ years of study and practice. There are far too few books, groups, or thinkers that have our corner- the Queer corner. This needs to be remedied.

    I feel invisible in the community because I am an Ace, and have withdrawn from it because of this. Your writing is making me re-think this, and while I may not return to the physical community, I may start writing (and maybe teaching) from a non-gendered/ asexual perspective.