Goddess Worship Doesn’t Replace Feminist Praxis

There’s an assumption that pagan faiths tend to be more feminist than Christianity.

A lot of us also like to pretend that sub-cultures, such as the pagan community, are less misogynistic. Because if we’re questioning one or two societal beliefs, the rest fall like dominoes, right?

Except they don’t.

The overwhelming majority of pagans were raised either in specifically Christian households, or in secular households where the culture was distinctly Christian in character. If you live in basically any “western” country, that means you. You get time off for Christian holidays by default. The social mores you are expected to comply with are mostly of Christian origin. Your surprised utterances namedrop Jesus.

You are culturally Christian, and you carry Christian ideas into your paganism if you don’t examine them and pick them apart.

Similarly, you grow up in a patriarchy. You live in a society where men have decision-making power that is disproportionate to their actual needs and membership in the population. Ideas about men and women make appeals to a meaningless biological authority (and this is to say nothing about trans and/or non-binary people; patriarchy doesn’t consider them). Women are considered simply less capable, less intelligent, less rational, less trustworthy–less worthy, in general. Your angry utterances compare women to depersonalized body parts and dogs.

And pagan communities are not going to be an exception to this because, as religions full of converts, full of people raised in culturally Christian kyriarchy, we have been receiving that kind of training since we were born. It does not disappear without deliberate effort, and it definitely doesn’t disappear overnight.

The presence of a capital-G-Goddess, or a multitude of goddesses, would seemingly point to a collection of religious traditions in which women are valued. Women are more likely to have leadership roles in pagan communities, certainly, and we have a strong historical precedent for it in the traditions we’re trying to revive in modern paganism. It’d be out of line for me to say that’s not at least a little better than Christianity.

But if the existence of goddesses and gythjas was going to eliminate misogyny, don’t you think Heathens, who have more goddesses than gods, would have been the most feminist-y feminists to ever femin-exist?

And they’re not. A lot of those goddesses are known solely from a list of names. And if anything, we’re probably considered particularly misogynistic by pagan standards, which has a lot to do with the two centuries of our mythology being used and corrupted by the pan-Germanists. And the Theosophists. And the nationalists. And the Literal Fucking Nazis.

And this ties directly into the idea of woman-as-resource, woman-as-object, woman-as-weapon, woman-as-poison. Mentalities in which women are both a threat and a resource to be controlled and contained.

Because Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on being used as an instrument of hegemony, either.

But misogyny isn’t always that overt, that aggro, that in your face. Sometimes it’s subtle–if only because we are only trained to recognize and push back on the obvious, allegedly-abolished misogyny.

Your goddess-worship might not only be a distraction from the task of ending misogyny, but also a vehicle for misogyny.

Which seems impossible, at first glance. It’s very logical to argue that by recognizing the authority of a woman, you hold a mentality that women are worth listening to and taking instruction from.

But there is a very common mentality in people who want Feminist Ally Brownie Points without having to really change anything, who repeat certain ideas as if they were magical incantations. They respect women. Why, in fact, women are better! Smarter! More competent and capable! Except this role-reversal simply flips the script instead of addressing the underlying dynamics–which is that one class of person must be suppressed so that another class of person can flourish. And it also fails to acknowledge how misogyny pushes women to adapt by exceeding the standards that men are expected to meet, instead chalking it up to an inherent trait of being a woman.

Which is gender-essentialist bullshit, by the way, and only further entrenches the dynamic because it frames the goodness of women in terms of instrumentality.

Your worship is not worth a good goddess-damn if you do not relate to human women as people.

We will probably be in better shape if we give up all hope of a better past, especially when that hope manifests as nostalgia for some golden age of singular goddess-worship that never existed.

What we don’t have to do is try to dress it up in ways that make it palatable to beliefs and sensibilities we have in the present. We cannot make something empowering, let alone liberating, without recognizing the limitations of our source material and that it’s a product of the culture from which it originated.

Obviously, pagan traditions have much to offer, and plenty of potential for good works. “Protest is prayer” is a whole damn thing for me. It just doesn’t behoove us to act like the paganism is the work, or a proxy for the work, when the human work on human problems isn’t also being done.

The “Godbothered” Hairshirt

I’m seven years into this whole Heathenry thing, so I’ve encountered the “godbothered” phenomenon. I have also sat through the discernment discourse, through the admonitions to never, ever invalidate which quickly turned into never, ever express any semblance of doubt about the things people tell you…

And I’m tired. I am tired of the idea that we can’t call people out on blatant, self-serving lies–with the added veneer of helplessness and nobility. A high-fashion Heathen Hairshirt constructed of piety and narcissism.

When people go on and on and on about “the gods want this, that, these, those, and it’s so much work you guys” it almost always is finished with an unspoken, “look how special I am! The gods like me! I’m chosen and special!”

The gods want plenty of things. It doesn’t mean you have to hand them over. You’re not helpless.

I catch myself still kind of doing this, more than I would care to admit. I strolled through the same bookshop near my work, where I special-ordered an Edda translation simply because I felt like it, and then impulse-bought an ornament because it had feathers on it and a cutesy quote about “adventure!” that read to me as a wry joke, and, clearly, “Loki wants this.”

I wanted it, to go put it on Loki’s shrine. I balked a little at the fact that it was $6. I bargained with myself to justify getting it. I have zero indication that Loki was involved in this purchase at all. No weird bird sightings. No weird dreams. No suspicious inconveniences.

Just…feathers and a cute quote.

And, the fact that a quote about making every day an adventure read to me as a wry joke kind of illustrates the point. Like, yeah, Loki can and will do weird shit. The mythology is chock full of that. I am pulled out of my comfort zone on a fairly regular basis because of situations I suspect he had hand in.

It’s unhealthy, and honestly kind of ridiculous, for me to parse this as some kind of hardship. At worst, I am very inconvenienced. Usually, I benefit.

And also, anyway, Loki didn’t make me buy the damn ornament.

A lot of people in the pagan community seem to struggle with the idea that they can simply want things. And as someone who struggles with the idea that I can simply want things, I get it. As someone who has absolutely projected my own desires onto the gods, I get it.

But hanging it on the gods is when it’s time to stop.

Your willfulness, your ability to exert that willfulness, and your right to do so in the form of having even the simplest boundaries, doesn’t magically disappear just because you had some kind of godly contact. If you even had godly contact. Because in this woe-is-me-the-gods-want-something bullshit, there’s a failure to admit that maybe, just maybe, the gods aren’t that fixated on us.

They have other things to do than pester you.

This almost always boils down to simple human behavior. Wanting to be special, and happening upon a way to do it that our social groups allow. Lacking, or refusing to develop, the self-awareness that would make us stop doing this. Accountability issues, combined with an awareness that a human can be made to answer for their behavior, but a deity is an awful lot harder to pin down.

And so we get a situation where a human is very obviously out of line, but countering that behavior opens oneself up to questions of piety, ideological purity, rightness of thought and action. All of which are threatening. Nobody wants to be at the mercy of a wrathful god or kindred.

And people eager to manipulate are very aware of how many people buy into that.

When I was at Trothmoot, listening to Mindless Self Indulgence and getting drunk in the Loki ve because I didn’t want to go to the possessory rite, a dude with blatant boundary issues tried to pull “Loki wants you to go to this,” with a straight face.

“Sucks to be him, then,” I said. “Because I don’t feel like it.”

He didn’t seem like he knew what to do with that answer. He paced around the ve grumbling angrily and drinking wine for several more minutes. Eventually he went to the rite by himself, did a hilariously bad job faking possession by Loki, picked a fight because ~Loki made him do it~, I guess, and then got thrown out.

None of which surprised me.

You really can just tell a god “no,” or to come back later, or to leave you alone. There’s no guarantee they’ll respect any boundary you set. But humans aren’t any different, and we still give that advice for interpersonal issues all the time. You’re not a hapless victim of all the stupid little whims of a noncorporeal being just because they’re bigger than you. And the godbothered humblebrag doesn’t impress anyone whose opinion is actually going to matter.

Turn your hairshirt right side in.