Gender and the Pagan Community

This is a post that I’ve been wanting to write for awhile, but, as I’ve been finding out, it’s a pretty controversial issue. I know there are others out there who agree with my point of view, but there are just as many out there who either completely disagree, or don’t really think about it.

What I’m talking about is the fact that within the pagan community, there is both outright and subtle gender discrimination. And what I mean by “gender” is not just male and female (cis-gender), but transgender, intersexed, queer, genderfluid, and all the myriad forms that gender takes. Pagans like to think that they are above discrimination, but it exists. It is the “elephant in the room” at pretty much any pagan event, and never really addressed because of the assumptions that people make.

Let me give you a personal example from my first visit to Pantheacon in 2008:

There was a particular workshop that I was really looking forward to about worshipping male deity. I walked into the room, and a man was setting up for the ritual. I’m a rather butch looking woman and was looking particularly masculine that day, so the leader didn’t particularly peg me as female. As I sat there waiting, an obviously feminine looking woman came into the room. The man walked over to her, said something to her, and, after a moment, she left.

I thought to myself “Oh, no, I wonder if this is a men’s only ritual!” Not wanting to butt in where I wasn’t wanted, I gathered my stuff and went to talk to the man leading the ritual.

“Umm….excuse me,” I said, “Is this a men’s only ritual?”


“Oh, bummer, ok, thanks.”

As I turned to walk away, the man replied, “Well, there’s a Dianic ritual down the hall. You could always go to that!”

What? I turned around and said, with some heat, “My patron god is The Dagda!” and walked out. (The Dagda is the Celtic Father God, for the quick explanation, and very much a masculine deity.)

There were some assumptions made by the man who was running the ritual that I’ve found to be pretty rampant in the pagan community. The first assumption is that women always default to goddess worship. While this can generally be the case, it’s not always true. As I said at the time, my patron God is The Dagda, who presents to me as male. I do work with the Morrigan (who comes to me as female) as well, but it doesn’t mean that I always default to Her in all of my devotions.

The inverse of this is not always true, either (men always default to god worship), and can be looked down upon by some pagan women as “clinging to patriarchy.” I’ve also seen men’s magick and circles treated as if they were inferior (or insignificant) to mixed or women’s only circles.

The third assumption, because I presented as a lesbian, is that I would want to be, or that I would feel comfortable in, a Dianic circle. Not only is this not true, since not all Dianics are lesbian separatists (including Z. Budapest, who founded the tradition), but I personally would not feel comfortable doing anything in that tradition because of the tradition’s outright discrimination against transgendered women. The idea that somehow a woman-born-woman is superior to that of a transgendered woman is something I think has no place in pagan traditions today (and an idea I find personally disgusting).

I do understand that we have a past. My own tradition has its past with gender issues (Gardernarian and Alexandrian are really rife with gender discrimination, believe me), but I do not deny that those who practiced it before me have paved the way for me to practice my religion openly. I don’t deny that the Dianic tradition has it’s place in history by being one of the traditions to bring goddess worship into the fore. But this doesn’t mean we have to accept what we have been taught. It does not me we should be afraid to challenge the ideas of our Elders, or the community at large.

Most pagans claim to be in a religion that is Earth -centered. Doesn’t this mean that we have a responsibility to evolve and move past these these outdated and patriarchal notions of gender? Do we cling to them because it’s the way it’s always been, or are we willing to look inside ourselves, and our traditions, to find a way to change it? Change is never easy, nor will it happen over night, but if we don’t discuss it, we will end up falling into the same traps that other religious movements have fallen into, and now are struggling to get out of.