Beyond The Athame & The Chalice: Rethinking Gender Roles And Polarity

Beyond The Athame & The Chalice: Rethinking Gender Roles And Polarity July 24, 2018
Image from Pixabay


“The future is not just female; it is intersectional.”

As I posted the other day on why the “maiden-mother-crone” model is lacking and on the problematic nature of objectification and hypersexualization of women in the craft and in occult traditions, I’ve been touching repeatedly on a particular issue which deserves its own blog post, and it’s that in regards to gender roles and gender polarity itself. What has been traditionally thought of “female” and “male” roles within various traditional craft circles is entirely too rigid. When it comes to issues such as feminism, non-binary and transgender participants, and everyone’s individual ability to partake of many different energies and tasks, there’s no reason to be so restrictive in regards to “male” and “female”.

There’s plenty of historic precedent behind it, too. As someone who is a cis woman–assigned female at birth and identifies as such–and has been a priestess of Apollo for several years, I’ve never understood the whole “only women must invoke goddesses, and only men gods” nonsense. After all, in ancient times women were frequently possessed by Apollo as sibyls and in formal oracular roles such as the Pythia at Delphi. Why must the vessel’s gender identity match the deity’s?

The gods themselves weren’t even binary. Every time I hear people segregate in speech and writing deities into “gods and goddesses”, I twitch. There’s no need to spell out “goddesses” like they exist as some weird “separate but equal” category of deity, and there are quite a number of deities who either have no gender, are genderfluid, or could be considered to be both or either gender. Hermaphroditos and Phanes are two excellent examples in the Greek pantheon alone, plus there are a number of examples in the Hindu pantheon as well as others. In addition, there are countless tales in the Greek, Norse, and other pantheons of gods changing from one gender to another on a whim. So why are we still pretending the gods themselves are rigid standards of binary?

And why are we more backwards on gender issues than the ancients? Turning to the Sumerians, we have the goddess Inanna, who was associated with genderfluidity: To turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man are yours, Inana.Thousands of years later, we still have people arguing about male and female roles in the craft like it’s still the 1950s and we’re telling women to go back into the kitchen and informing men that staying home and taking care of children isn’t a task they should be doing and that showing emotions is a “woman thing”. Shouldn’t we have evolved well beyond this by now? Also, please note to people who are distributing this meme: this is not a transgender matter, it’s about genderfluidity. Trans men are not “women turned into men” and trans women are not “men turned into women”, and to pass around the quote on Inanna on this and say that it refers to transgender matters is inaccurate. The attempt to lend support is good and I know that comes from a good place–and I’m sure it’s appreciated–but we can do better. For both cis and trans people, to reduce us to our bits reduces us all. We are all more than just that.

Feminists: you cannot claim that we women are more than our bits and try to deny others their femininity due to theirs (or lack thereof). We are more than our wombs, whether their absence is by surgery or from birth. Men: you are more than your bits, too. If size jokes have ever bothered you, imagine how men who are transgender react. Let’s stop pretending that they have far more importance than they do. Forcing gender into the binary–especially by our sex organs–is a tool of the patriarchy that harms all genders. Trans men are men. Trans women are women. End of.

And none of our anatomical parts are required within any circle, spiritual or magical, in order to wield any particular tool or perform any specific magical act. All of us regardless of whether or not we are cis or trans contain within us a mixture of different energies, whether they are “male”, “female”, or “other”. I find strict gender roles in circle about as silly as pink razors for women. It’s still the same razor as men; they just made it pink and more expensive in order to market it to women. Why? And for the record, I hate pink.

It’s inane. And so are antiquated ideas on our sex organs having anything to do with our magic and/or spirituality. In the end, people should gravitate to their own strengths and dance to the beat of their own drum. If that includes traditionally “female” or “male” roles and energies, so be it. People are still well and entitled to having their own insular mysteries on the union of male and female in whatever they want to strictly define those things as. But why shouldn’t a man who has a female patron deity, regardless of whether he is cis or trans, be prohibited from drawing down that very deity and embodying her as her priest?

Why are we still forcing coded tools, gendered deities, and strict gender roles onto people based on either their gender identity or bits? And why does anyone still care which ones initiate who within that scope? Gender shouldn’t impact initiation either, let alone anything else. I can’t even imagine why in the world same sex initiation would continue to bother anyone. Fertility encompasses more than just the potential of making a baby; we need to expand our perception of it beyond gender.

This goes beyond cis and trans, beyond feminism–and yet these issues remain important too, and we can continue to fight for all of them simultaneously. We can have trans men in male roles, trans women in female roles, celebrate and honor fertility within those roles, and address gender issues when we see them. And at the same time, we can continue to reexamine these roles on that whole and what we think of as being them to begin with.

After all, it doesn’t matter in the end who is holding the chalice and who is wielding the athame; the results are the same. I have seen the union of the witches’ god and goddess in a cis man and a cis woman, two cis men, two cis women, a trans man and a cis woman, and so forth. In the end, all were fully capable of drawing the energies through in the rite and bringing forth the desired impact.

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  • Ann Hatzakis

    And if need be, an individual is capable of channeling both “male” and “female” energies simultaneously and as a solitary practitioner.

  • I’m a cis-man, and years ago I was invited to a “man making” ceremony for a friend of mine (he was caught up in a phony fam-trad at the time, and they did pseudo-rites of passage to bind people to the “tradition”). The only person of rank to do the rite was a woman, so she strapped on a sword (a common practice of Trad Priestesses they “borrowed”) and commenced the rite. In it, there was much arm-punching and grunting… I’m not kidding. It was like they put Tim Allen’s Tool Time into their Book of Shadows.

    Even though I’m a cis-man, I have never felt so awkward in circle in my life. I found myself thinking “THIS is what they think “being a man” is?!?”

    It’s common, in Alexandrian covens, to have the HP holding the chalice and the HPS wielding the athame in the symbolic Great Rite (at least it has been in the past). I have been involved in doing things this way as well, I pity the Wiccan Priest who has never experienced this powerful perspective.

    Perhaps it’s my occult training, but I’ve always thought as myself as having both masculine and feminine energies at play in my spirit. The principle of “anima” and “animus” teaches us that none of us are wholly one or the other, and that, at the spiritual level, we’re ALL fluid, gender-wise. That’s why we can incarnate in ANY gender identity… all along the spectrum. That has informed my occult work all along…

  • Brianne Raven Wolf

    I just love this article. A great followup to your MMC article! It really speaks to me. That’s how I came up with my blog title…Between Two Worlds. It was only because of Jason Mankey that I was able to write about my journey on The Agora. Many Blessings and admiration to you Scarlet. You a great writer and author!

  • Sol

    I have only recently learned how prevalent all this is. I have been a practicing Solitary for many, many years and as such, have always worked with whichever tool I felt called to work with and drawn down whomever I damn well pleased. I love how being a Solitary gives one the freedom to do that. Lately, I have been venturing out and working with groups more and more and have been literally disgusted by some of the practices I have come across. I was shocked to learn how much sexism is rampant in some of these circles, by people who claim to be “enlightened” in some form or other! It’s sad when people lose sight of the bigger picture and the “whys” behind doing what they are doing. If the intent is to create a beautiful ritual that honors deity and/or perform some type of working, limiting ourselves in such a way will only hinder our spiritual progress.

  • roberto quintas

    Children of mine, hear me. I AM, Babalon. Male is female, female is male. Sex is the Way. Love is the Law. Great things you realize in Great Rite, not set this aside because of your prejudice/trauma. Great things you realize in Same Sex Ritual, not set aside because your prejudice/trauma. Oh, Children of Me, don’t ever, never, draw limits in the Path. Know not boundary, rules or taboo. Love is the Law. “All acts of Love and pleasure” are the rituals of your growth.

  • Joy Phillip

    A long time ago, I was told by a “druid” that I was contemplating studying with in Texas, that part of Druidry was to invoke and wield the power of both the Gods and the Goddesses. If you couldn’t do that, then you weren’t welcome in the tradition. I believe that it was part of the lessons on control and self-mastery. I wound up not studying there, the aura of the leader was “skivey”, but that aspect appealed to me. As a transpriestess myself, I’ve had to hold the energies of both Herne and Rhiannon at different point, not only after my transition. And when I admitted my spiritual constipation and fear of losing Them if I transitioned, I got told, by BOTH, and many other deities besides, that the body is only a shell, it’s a wrapping paper around a package for someone. Change it, decorate it, mar it, change it around, that doesn’t change the contents of the package. All you did was change the aesthetics of the package to fit into the surroundings better.

  • Greybeard Wise

    More left wing nonsense from Patheos. Pathetic.

  • Mark Green

    Entirely agreed.

    It bears saying, though, that this conundrum is moot if you dispense with deity altogether.