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.

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