A Pagan Aesthetic: Paganism Through Philosophy
A Pagan Aesthetic seeks to examine particular topics within Paganism through the various lenses of philosophy.
Shuffling the Deck, Part Two of Duality.
It would now be pertinent to address how a conceptual duality and a gendered duality could function simultaneously without one enveloping or overpowering the other. Regardless of how high an individual holds an intellectual concept, the individual is still bound to gender. How then can a conceptual duality that stresses balance of all things remain exclusively masculine in it’s metaphors? The short answer would be that the conceptual duality goes “beyond” gender, that the metaphors can potentially be applied to gendered concepts, but ultimately refer to concepts understood as antecedent to gendered concepts. While this answer is ambitious, as a reply to a question posed by a society that holds gender to be reverent and relevant, it falls flat and lacks the humanizing element so often craved in religious discourse. To maintain a conceptual duality that preserves gendered integrity, much like gender, a few different options are available.
Firstly, an individuals personal identification of gender and the appeals of other genders shape our perspective on deity. Though some might scoff at the idea of prescribing not only a gender but also a sexuality to deity, if one understands the world around them through the medium of a body and interprets their experiences with one's identity, elements of hetero and homonormativity will ultimately play a role in how one understands and connects with deity. Further, one might argue that a sexual duality is superfluous when considering deity, but for the audience of Neo Paganism (and more specifically the Wiccan demographic), the roles of pleasure and reproduction are interwoven into the broader metaphor of nature and the world.
With this in mind, there are at least four perspectives of conceptual, gendered duality. That of the masculine homo and heteronormative, and the feminine homo and heteronormative. As the Apollonian and Dionysian is originally a duality between two masculine metaphors, the masculine homonormative perspective is easiest to explain: For individuals that identify as gay men, the duality of two masculine metaphors, one receptive and one penetrative, is obvious in its physical translation of gendered understanding of deity. For the remaining perspectives, one can return to the brief answer given earlier about antecedent quality of conceptual duality.
As the duality between Apollo and Dionysus is assumed to be antecedent to gender, the consequence of replacing the namesakes of the dichotomy are minute so long as the qualities of the metaphors are preserved. The conceptual duality is not dependent upon the gendered deity, but the qualities it engages. It can then be said that the conceptual duality need not remain exclusively with Apollo or Dionysus, but other deities can fulfill the roles of the dulaity. One could replace Apollo with Athena, a Greek tactician goddess of wisdom, Dionysus with Aphrodite, a Greek goddess of love and sensuality. The metaphors are preserved in that the deity remains authentic to the qualities of the duality. In the Athena/Aphrodite exchange, Athena preserves the Apollonian in that she represents a structured and ordered understanding of the world, Aphrodite in that she represents the abandon of the individual for something outside our individual identity: that of the other. The goddesses employed in this example are incidental; so long as the qualities of the conceptual duality between the identity/order and the other/ecstasy remain within the concept, any deity could be applied to the metaphoric understanding of a conceptual duality regardless of gender. It is in this way that heteronormative men and homo or heteronomative women can apply the conceptual duality without losing the assisting gendered qualities of deity.
It is with all this in mind that one could understand the multiplicity of deity functions as a more idiosyncratic avenue for the individual to find connection to deity. A gay man is not bound to worshiping a “gay” god if he favors metaphors of terrestrial cycles of life, death, and reproduction, but by the same logic, he is not bound to those metaphors either. Likewise, a heterosexual woman is not restricted to worshiping an exclusively feminine duality if masculine metaphors resonate more closely with her spiritual perspective, but the option is also available if she finds spiritual credence without the masculine. Within the context of Neo Paganism, the individual finds the deity (or deities) with which an optimal personal connection can be established. It is by this act of finding resonance with a deity of particular qualities that the Neo Pagan can then substitute any variety of deity they find fulfilling into the Apollonian/Dionysian duality.
(Antinous is an interesting Deity in the case of finding an explicitly "gay god" but theres a small debate over the authenticity of his deification)
In all this talk of hetero/homo normativity and the heavy emphasis upon the gendered binary, one topic that must be addressed is the emerging understanding of gender as construct. With the rise of LGBT rights movement “new” gendered perspectives have come to light and joined the discussion for recognition and acceptance (“new” only in that the emerging demographics of transgendered, queer, intersex, and aesexual have previously not been recognized in the public discourse of sexuality, but surely have existed before now). Questions of how much emphasis we place on gender and the duality ingrained within us as products of contemporary western civilization are slowly guiding us to a more open interpretation and acceptance of alternative gender and sexual identities. With all of this in mind, though the proposed Apollonian/Dionysian experiment only mentions typical conceptions of masculine/ feminine and hetero/ homo normativity, these topics are not exclusive and the entire thought experiment is open to interpretation and modification for the authentic and valid expressions of trans, queer, intersex, and aesexual individuals. The only reason such avenues were not explored is by this authors ignorance of those perspectives and respect to not encroach or speak for individuals with whom I do not yet have an personal dialogue with (yet).
(A brief but honest portrayal over the situation of trans, queer, intersex and aesexual individuals)
As we have explored the metaphor of deity in terms of conceptual and gendered duality, one might pose the question of moving beyond duality and into a monism. Though some Neo Pagans admire the mystic’s complete sublimation with deity, that is not exactly the goal of Neo Paganism. While Neo Paganism is mindful and reveres deity as an omnipresent force, it is the manifestation of deity within nature that grants personal understanding and connection for the Neo Pagan to deity. With that in mind the symbols and metaphors of nature are heavily dual. It would then be theosophically backward to argue in favor of a singular deity when the representations and symbols adherents understand deity through are dual and multifaceted.
When speaking of religion and deity, an obligatory admonition of ignorance is crucial. To refrain from admitting the limitations of one’s knowledge when speaking of such enigmas is tantamount to sophistry and charlatanism. One would always do well to respect the evanescence of such spiritual topics. This essay has never attempted to give “the” answer, but merely suggest reflections on the topic of cultivating authentic relation between the self and how the self understands deity. To accept a perspective at face value as truth is a weak wisdom, and it is the hopes of this writer that these words will be taken as catalysts for new and invigorating discourse on deity, not as some flat, finished answer. Deity is the greatest mystery of our terrestrial phenomenon we call life and must always be explored, but ultimately, can never be solved.
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