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Wicca

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In Wicca “the Goddess” is a deity of prime importance, along with her consort the Horned God. In the earliest Wiccan publications she is described as a tribal goddess of the witch community, neither omnipotent nor universal, and it was recognized that there was a greater “Prime Mover“, although the witches did not concern themselves much with this being.

Within many forms of Wicca the Goddess has come to be considered as a universal deity, more in line with her description in the Charge of the Goddess, a key Wiccan text. In this guise she is the “Queen of Heaven”, similar to Isis; she also encompasses and conceives all life, much like Gaia. Much like Isis and certain late Classical conceptions of Selene,she is held to be the summation of all other goddesses, who represent her different names and aspects across the different cultures. The Goddess is often portrayed with strong lunar symbolism, drawing on various cultures and deities such as Diana, Hecate and Isis, and is often depicted as the Maiden, Mother and Crone triad popularized by Robert Graves (see Triple Goddess below). Many depictions of her also draw strongly on Celtic goddesses. Some Wiccans believe there are many goddesses, and in some forms of Wicca, notably Dianic Wicca, the Goddess alone is worshipped, and the God plays very little part in their worship and ritual.

 

The lunar Triple Goddess symbol.

Robert Graves popularized the triad of “Maiden” (or “Virgin”), “Mother” and “Crone”, and while this idea did not rest on sound scholarship, his poetic inspiration has gained a tenacious hold. Considerable variation in the precise conceptions of these figures exists, as typically occurs in Neopaganism and indeed in pagan religions in general. Some choose to interpret them as three stages in a woman’s life, separated by menarche and menopause. Others find this too biologically based and rigid, and prefer a freer interpretation, with the Maiden as birth (independent, self-centred, seeking), the Mother as giving birth (interrelated, compassionate nurturing, creating), and the Crone as death and renewal (holistic, remote, unknowable) — and all three erotic and wise.

Some, but not all, participants in the Goddess movement self-identify as witches, Wiccans or Wiccens. (Likewise, some, but not all, Wiccans and witches consider themselves to be part of “the Goddess movement.”) Other participants in the Goddess movement call themselves Goddessians (Laura 2002). Still others use “pagan” as a generic label for their spiritual worldview, or no identifying label at all.

Some witches, especially Dianics, believe in a witch-cult hypothesis.[citation needed] This theory attempts to trace the historical origins of their beliefs to Neolithic pre-Christian cultures, believing that Wiccanism is a distillation of a religion found at the beginning of most, if not all, cultures. They consider wise women and midwives to be the first witches. Dianic witchcraft first became visible in the 1970s, with Z. Budapest’s writings.

Her feminist version of witchcraft followed a few decades after the founding (or discovery) of Wicca by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s. In its original and traditional forms, Wicca is a duotheistic pagan religion that honors a God and a Goddess equally. Gerald Gardner (1884–1964) who, with Doreen Valiente (1922–1999) founded Gardnerian Wicca in Britain, claimed to be initiated in the 1940s into a surviving coven of traditional witches, who worshipped both a male Horned God and a female Goddess.

For their time, Gardner and Valiente advocated a fairly feminist ideal of priestess authority in service to the Wiccan God and Goddess. Covens in ‘traditional’ Wicca (i.e., those run along the lines described by Gardner and Valiente) were and still are led pretty much equally by both a priest and a priestess; but the priestess is often considered “prima inter pares” (first among equals); according to the book A Witches’ Bible, by Stewart and Janet Farrar. (Other early authors on Wicca and witchcraft, such as Paul Huson in his book Mastering Witchcraft, and Charles Cardell of the Coven of Atho, and Robert Cochrane of the Clan of Tubal Cain, generally saw the male priest or magister as being of more importance.)

While virtually all Wiccans honor the Goddess as one of their two main deities, they may or may not consider themselves to be feminists. For this reason, they may or may not identify with the label “Goddess worshipper” when it is construed as connoting a feminist ideological position, or when it is regarded as an ideology that aims at elevating the Goddess to a position of more importance than the God. Thus, the worship of a goddess or even a Great Goddess should not necessarily be construed as a feminist position per se. (For example, the worship of feminine deities by both men and women in India was historically very widespread, as it was in ancient Greece; even though both of those cultures can be considered more patriarchal than most.)

Doreen Valiente became known in Britain as the ‘Mother of the Craft’ and contributed extensively to Wicca’s written tradition.[10][11] She is the author of The Witches’ Creed, which lays out the basics of Wiccan religious belief and philosophy; including the polarity of the God and the Goddess as the two great “powers of Nature” and the two “mystical pillars” of the religion. One way to characterize the central male-female divine dyad in Wicca is to say that it’s a duotheistic religion with a theology based on the divine gender polarity of male and female. Valiente also wrote both the Invocation to the Horned God and the Charge of the Goddess, the latter of which now exists in a number of variations, and is one of the most famous texts of the Neopagan movement.

The existence of witchcraft as the remnants of an old pagan religion as late as the early Modern Age was first suggested to a wide readership by Margaret Murray‘s books, The Witch Cult in Western Europe, The God of the Witches (1933) and The Divine King in England. Margaret Murray’s books were focused mainly on the worship of a male Horned God, but she saw witches themselves as being either male or female. Murray’s theories were widely discredited by experts at the time, and have been thoroughly debunked now, despite still having mass appeal. Gardner’s publications on Wicca followed her theories and argued that witchcraft had survived longer than even she had guessed. Gardner’s claimed history of Wicca is similarly discredited. See History of Wicca.

In formulating an outline of Wiccan theology and liturgy, Gardner drew not only upon the writings of Margaret Murray and her ideas about the worship of an ancient Horned God, but also upon the writings of Charles Godfrey Leland, author of Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches – who speculated that witchcraft involved the worship of a moon goddess. In combining ideas from these two authors, Gardner arrived at Wicca as a duotheistic religion that honored both the male and female deities, and that saw them as divine lovers, in a polar male-female dyad.

Wicca and Neopaganism, and to some extent the Goddess movement, were influenced by 19th-century occultism, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Greer 1995), and romantic nature movements in which both male and female were valued and honored as sacred, in contrast to and perhaps in reaction to mainstream Christian spirituality. Such views are described, for example, in the work of Robert Graves, especially The White Goddess (the origin of the neopagan ‘Triple Goddess’ concept) and Mammon and the Black Goddess.

Wicca was also heavily influenced by the ideas of alchemic symbolism, which emphasized the essential complementary polarity of male and female, and that characterized that basic duality or gender polarity as a partnership of the solar (male) and the lunar (female). In Wicca the moon is the symbol of the Goddess and the sun is the symbol of the God; and the central liturgical mystery and ritual act is “The Great Rite” or Hieros Gamos, which is a symbolic union of the God and the Goddess, as the primal male and female powers of the cosmos. In alchemy this was known as “the alchemical wedding” of the sun and the moon. In a parallel vein, traditional Wicca also draws heavily upon the Western Hermetic Tradition and its roots in the kabbalistic Tree of Life; where the twin pillars of masculine and feminine divine forces are joined by a Middle Pillar that encompasses and transcends both male and female. These “twin pillars” as they are shown in tarot decks are analogous to Valiente’s depiction of the God and the Goddess as the two “mystical pillars.” In this emphasis on the feminine as the equal and complementary polar opposite of the masculine, Wicca echoes not only kabalistic sources but also the polarity of yin and yang—feminine and masculine—in Taoism.

The main forums for the movement during the 70s and 80s were independently produced magazines and journals such as Green Egg in America and Wood and Water in the UK, among many others. These periodicals attempted to represent the diversity of thought and belief. Mention should also be made of the work of UK feminist groups such as the London-based Matriarchy Study Group which produced the Goddess issue of the feminist periodical Shrew (this was an occasional publication, produced by a different collective each issue) as well as the pamphlets Menstrual Taboos and The Politics of Matriarchy; these featured the early writings of Asphodel (Pauline) Long and the artist Monica Sjoo among others. Internal newsletters of the Matriarchy Study Group and the later Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network contained much discussion of goddesses and their significance to modern and ancient women, and some of their members produced the periodical Arachne, which brought similar material to the public.

Symbol of Wicca, version 1, golden version.

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One of the founders of modern American Goddess religions is Zsuzsanna Budapest, (Zee or “Z”), who started a women-only Dianic Craft or Dianic Tradition version of witchcraft; this was in the mid-1970s, a few decades after Gerald Gardner. She was a prolific author, and who twinned Tarot and witchcraft from her Hungarian background, with feminism. Z challenged laws in California against Tarot reading and won.
The Dianic view is that separatism, in a world where gender roles were once strictly defined, is sometimes considered dangerous because it challenges what they see as patriarchal assumptions of Western culture (Budapest 1980). Zee is considered by her sect to be the honoured Mother of the American Dianic Craft and a primary proponent of modern separtist Goddess theology.

Later, in America came Starhawk, activist and author of numerous books, is an influential author/priestess in the American Goddess movement. Her 1979 book, The Spiral Dance, played a large role in popularizing the Goddess movement as well as modern Witchcraft among committed feminists, and is considered a classic of modern Paganism.

Many non-Dianics, as well as Starhawk (herself considered to be one of Z Budapest’s students), who also reject monotheistic patriarchal culture, do not agree with Z’s justification for separatism. Starhawk’s paganism was more broadly based and also drew on the Feri tradition of Witchcraft which, itself, incorporated Hawaiian, European, and Middle Eastern elements. She was initiated into the Feri tradition in California by Victor and Cora Anderson. Starhawk is one of the founders of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft, which includes both women and men, and which honors both the God and the Goddess.

With love Solmaz Hafezi

Gender of God

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Solmaz Hafezi

Solmaz Hafezi

The gender of God can be viewed as a literal or as an allegorical aspect of a deity. In polytheistic religions, the gods are more likely to have literal sexual genders which would enable them to interact with each other, and even with humans, in a sexual way. In most monotheistic religions, there is no comparable being for God to relate to in a literal gender-based way, so the gender of this one-and-only deity is most likely to be an analogical statement of how humans and God address, and relate to, each other, with no sexual connotations. Although God is an intangible spirit in many religions and therefore has no gender, debate over his or her “actual” sex nevertheless has passionately raged in recent decades. The preponderance of references to God in both the Old and New Testaments are in the context of a masculine reference, often “father.” However, there are a significant number of feminine allegorical references to the Judaeo-Christian God, most often in some maternal role.

What is understood by words for god varies across cultures and has sometimes changed dramatically at various times. Buddhism challenged various ideas in Vedic religion, the monotheism of Judaism challenged its polytheistic neighbours, and in European history, the Roman Empireofficially adopted Christianity under Constantine I, later becoming the center of the Christian religion, but having this centrality challenged during the Reformation.

by Solmaz Hafezi

by Solmaz Hafezi

Evolutionary processA simple view of the history of religion as an evolutionary process was proposed in the 19th century—from animism to polytheism to monotheism, with some believing theism, atheism or agnosticism to be the most advanced approach. Such views are no longer widely current either in the study of religion. Comparative religion notes distinctive idiosyncrasies across major religions that are better explained by close historical scrutiny, rather than appeal to a simplistic theory.

Nonetheless, a hegemonic Western conception of metaphysics, influenced strongly by Judaism and Christianity is identifiable in European literature from Greek and Roman authors through to the present, such that English language betrays an inherent bias towards monotheistic thought. Where animist languages may not even have words for personal deities, but rather a nuanced vocabulary of spiritualism, and polytheistic cultures have lexis suited to articulating relationships between deities in a pantheon, some modern English speakers only recognize alternatives such as God, gods or no God, being unfamiliar with Buddhism and animism.

Literary comparisonsWhen considering the literature of the world’s religions and metaphysical philosophies, the diversity of the underlying conceptions of the spiritual realm is foundational to appreciating any points of comparison. Comparison of views of the gender of spiritual entities is no exception. Each religion or philosophy needs to be understood in its historical, social, linguistic and philosophical context. Thus, matters of gender do apply to animism, but not in the foundational way they do in polytheism and monotheism. Additionally, since animism is largely associated with preliterate societies, we are dependent on the ethnographies of cultural anthropologists rather than documented scriptures and later commentary. Shinto is a notable exception.

English: a Venn diagram-like symbol for the Ch...

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In the Hebrew and Christian BibleGod is usually characterised as male in Biblical sources, except: female in Genesis  1:26-27,Psalm  123:2-3, and Luke  15:8-10; a mother in Hosea  11:3-4, Deuteronomy  32:18, Isaiah  66:13, Isaiah  49:15, Isaiah  42:14, Psalm  131:2; a mother eagle in Deuteronomy  32:11-12; and a mother hen in Matthew  23:37 and Luke  13:34.

Although God is referred to in the Hebrew Bible with masculine imagery and grammatical forms, Jewish philosophy does not attribute to God either sex or gender. At times, Jewish aggadic literature and Jewish mysticism do treat God as gendered, though these are not uniformly masculine or feminine.

Most Christian groups conceive of God as Triune, having the belief that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, but one being that is wholly God.

God the Son (Jesus Christ), having been incarnated as a human man, is clearly masculine. God the “Father” or “Creator” is interpreted as clearly masculine to Biblical literalists. Others interpret God as neither male nor female.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church #239 specifically states that “God is neither man nor woman: he is God”.

In Hebrew language, in the Old Testament the divine presence of God, the Holy Spirit, the Shekhinah is feminine.

The New Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit as masculine in a number of places, where the masculine Greek word “Paraclete” occurs, for “Comforter”, most clearly in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 to 16. These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a fully divine person, or some kind of “force”. All major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Spirit, as in John 16:13. Although it has been noted that in the original Greek, in some parts of John’s Gospel, the neuter Greek word for “it” is also used for the Spirit.

The oneness of God is of primary importance in the Qur’an and Islam. In Qur’an, Allah is most often referred to with the pronouns Hu or Huwa, and although these are commonly translated as him, they can also be translated gender-neutrally, as it. This is also true of the feminine equivalent, Hiya. Allah is neither male nor female. It is considered blasphemy for Allah to be placed in a human or animal sexual gender category. Qur’an 112:3–4 states: “He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him [It].” Other references include the first person pronoun, and the relative pronoun ma (that which), as in the phrase “the heavens and that which created them” (Qur’an 91:5).

The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Rigveda (2nd millennium BC). The first word of the Rigveda is the name Agni, the god of fire, to whom many of the vedic hymns are addressed, along with Indra the warrior. Agni and Indra are both male divinities.

The Rigveda refers to a creator (Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati), distinct from Agni and Indra. This creator is identified with Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman, the first cause), born of Vishnu’s navel, in later scriptures. Hiranyagarbha and Prajapati are male divinities, as is Brahma (who has a female consort, Saraswati).

 RigvedaThere are many other gods in the Rigveda. They are “not simple forces of nature”, and possess “complex character and their own mythology”. They include goddesses of water (Āpaḥ) and dawn (Uṣas), and the complementary pairing of Father Heaven and Mother Earth. However, they are all “subservient to the abstract, but active positive ‘force of truth'” (Rta), “which pervades the universe and all actions of the gods and humans.” This force is sometimes mediated or represented by moral gods (Āditya such as Varuṇa) or even Indra. The Āditya are male and Rta is personified as masculine in later scriptures (see also Dharma).

In some Hindu philosophical traditions, God is depersonalized as the quality-less Nirguna Brahman, the fundamental life force of the universe. However, theism itself is central to Hinduism.

While many Hindus focus upon God in the neutral form, Brahman being of neuter gender grammatically, there are prominent Hindu traditions that conceive God as female, even as the source of the male form of God, such as the Shakta denomination. Hinduism, especially of the Samkhya school, views the creation of the cosmos as the result of the play of two radically distinct principles: the feminine matter (Prakriti) and the masculine spirit (Purusha). Prakriti is the primordial matter which is present before the cosmos becomes manifest. Prakriti is seen as being “…the power of nature, both animate and inanimate. As such, nature is seen as dynamic energy” (Rae, 1994). Prakriti is originally passive, immobile and pure potentiality by nature . Only through her contact with the kinetic Purusha she unfolds into the diverse forms before us. The idea of Prakriti/Purusha leads to the concept of the Divine Consort. Almost every deva of the Hindu pantheon has a feminine consort (devi).
Irrespective of the native-language meaning of the Mantra, the standard English translation neutralises the implied gender role. Nonetheless, the Guru Granth consistently refers to God as He, even in English. He is also predominantly referred to as Father.

Animist religions are common among preliterate societies, many of which still exist in the 21st century. Typically, natural forces and shaman spiritual guides feature in these religions, rather than fully fledged personal divinities with established personalities. It is in polytheism that such deities are found. Animist religions often, but not always, attribute gender to spirits considered to permeate the world and its events. Polytheistic religions, however, almost always attribute gender to their gods, though a few notable divinities are associated with various forms of epicene characteristics—gods that manifest alternatingly as male and female, gods with one male and one female “face”, and gods whose most distinctive characteristic is their unknown gender.