Gender essentialism in the occult

“Woman is not born: she is made. In the making, her humanity is destroyed. She becomes symbol of this, symbol of that: mother of the earth, slut of the universe; but she never becomes herself because it is forbidden for her to do so.”

– Andrea Dworkin

Matriarchal societies have shown themselves to be egalitarian. From accounts of matriarchal societies, women were gatherers and sometimes hunters, while men were hunters. They developed a close relationship with the earth and nature and its healing herbs. Women were midwives, healers, psychics and witches. They had a high status and were respected as nurturing and having the ability to give life or not, and to choose their sexual partners. Uncles were chosen to father their children rather than the biological fathers, as a prevention against possessiveness and control. There were also Greek myths of islands that where only Amazon women warriors lived and loved. While a few matriarchal societies exist today, in ancient times it was said there a couple of societies where there were also occasional sacrifices of males (not a universal practice) (1) and there was no PIV sex except for procreation. (I can however say that the idea of sex without relying on PIV appeals to me and a number of other women).

Under patriarchy, however, which brought agricultural societies, women were Othered, like the earth and its animals. Like them they were domesticated into slavery and cruelty. Human females, like the Earth, were both colonized by men, and their fertility and sexuality exploited as resources and commodities. This patriarchy is not solely Biblical or Abrahamic in nature, but is based on the sexual contract itself, a contract which treats women as property and to which they were never a party. It is simply not the case that a misogynist is transformed when he takes on a new creed. However, since patriarchy does have its roots in Abrahamic religions we must examine its themes which persist to this day, even in secular societies and the occult. (2,3,4,5)

One of these themes is the virgin-whore dichotomy. This is based on chastity and the root word castus is the same for caste; the word means pure, race or breed. It is therefore a sexual caste system; virginity and modesty are prized and monogamy enforced for women, the male gaze dictating the terms of who she gets to have sex with and how. Blood from tearing the hymen was also prized, whereas menstruation was considered unclean. Although for women, they breathe a sigh of relief because it means they are not pregnant, but even secular men want nothing to do with a woman who is menstruating.

There is a connection between hymn and hymen:

HYMEN: Origin: 1605–15; < Late Latin hymēn  < Greek hymḗn  skin, membrane, the virginal membrane

HYMN: c.1000, from O.Fr. ymne  and O.E. ymen,  both from L. hymnus  “song of praise,” from Gk. hymnos  “song or ode in praise of gods or heroes,” used in Septuagint for various Heb. words meaning “song praising God.” Possibly a var. of hymenaios  “wedding song,” from Hymen,  Gk. god of marriage (see hymen). Evidence for the silent -n-  dates from at least 1530.

“”Hymen” derives from the Greek for membrane. Hymen was also the Greek god of marriage. These two facts summarize the conventional wisdom about this widely misunderstood tissue, that this fabled membrane covers the vaginal opening, and is “pierced,” “broken,” or “torn asunder” when women wed and have intercourse, presumably for the first time.” (source)

“HYMENAIOS (Hymen or Hymenaeus) was the god of weddings, or more specifically of the wedding hymn which was sung by the train of the bride as she was led to the house of the groom. Hymenaios was numbered amongst the Erotes, the youthful gods of love.

As one of the gods of song, he was usually described as a son of Apollon and a Muse.

Hymenaios appears in Greek art as a winged child carrying a bridal torch in his hand, such as in the image right, depicting the wedding procession of Herakles and Hebe.” (source)

The hymen is basically described as a type of veil. Note also, the wedding veil…historically the veil (not just hair/neck but the face) was used for queens and married women (usually wealthy) to distinguish them from prostitutes, slaves, the poor and ‘promiscuous’ women. They were kept from the public eye (no one except other royalty could see queens directly). Veils were not cheap and denoted class, since the wealthy could afford a marriage and other religious ceremonies and attend church often, nor did the women have to work; women went to separate churches and later were segregated and still supposed to wear veils. Veils also covered religious objects. Peasants (cf. “pagan”), on the other hand, worked on the church land for free and went on Sundays if at all and if there was a village church. Like makeup, veils signified that women could not go out bare-faced as men do; effectively masking them as the requirement for social and public mobility outside the home.

The virgin-whore dichotomy in light of the sexual caste system plays nicely into the “divine right of kings” later translated into “divine right of wealthy (men),” as exemplified by the Marquis de Sade. Men are after all considered to be stronger than women and this is also implied in the social Darwinist view of “might makes right” or “survival of the fittest.” Under such a view, there is a hierarchy of the powerful over the powerless; double standards abound, because the slaves don’t get to have the same rights and privileges since those would affirm their humanity and freedom. And women, apparently, were “made” to serve men sexually.

Occultists have attempted to reconcile this by saying that Babalon is a “holy whore” and denying that it is an oxymoron in terms, even the collective use and historical context of the word “whore” as a slur against women, or say that some women reclaim the slur. However, men have seen fit to attribute this slur to a female avatar so as to be above reproach . It is as oxymoronic as claiming the existence of a “virgin whore,” even if “virgin” is used in the occult or mystical sense (one-in-herself, not married, sexually independent, the witch’s “maiden”; the word coming from the Latin meaning strength/force/skill and later applied to men as virile). They go even further and claim that temple priestesses who engaged in spiritual sex were prostitutes even though that is the word we use for women in the secular sense; that is, those who sell sex for money (6). So we have a perpetuation of the dichotomy, not a transcendence of it. Babalon ends up being men’s mere wet dream even as goddesses are supposedly worshipped, and real-life women and secular prostitutes continue to be degraded and oppressed while “temple prostitutes” are idealized. The “holy whore” oxymoron/idealization is a way of pressuring women into having sex with men (sorry *cough* “sex magick”), either by implying it is their spiritual duty to do so or claiming to have knowledge of sex magick. Women’s bodies become men’s temples and territories to inhabit at will, and not their own.

Both Abrahamic religions and secular patriarchal institutions (and the men that support them) believe that females incarnate sexuality (7), that men just cannot help themselves, and therefore women’s sexuality is unnatural. This is dehumanizing, whether they idolize them on a pedestal or degrade and demonize them. Such men can often have these two very different views of women; one type that he respects and even marries, and another just for using to fuck. Yet even the good wives were expected to be saints in the streets and whores in the sheets. Whereas Eastern men believe women are sex objects that should be covered up lest they tempt men, Western men believe women are sex objects that should be publicized. The only question is whether women should be private or public property. If females incarnate sexuality then it makes sense to force upon them roles which put their “sexuality” to use, according to patriarchs.

Sure, they can argue that as “sex objects” women are desired, the objects of desire. But what does this mean, really? Men being sexually attracted to or finding women aesthetically pleasing does not mean they respect and value them, much less that they are not misogynists. Look at how slave masters raped female slaves; and they were somehow not racists? The flip side here is convincing women that they must have sex with men to show they “love” them and aren’t bigots, so they can’t get accused of being “ugly” and “dykes” which tends to happen when they reject men and express their freedom of sexual preferences. Even in both monogamy and polygamy (now rebranded as polyamory) we see this sexual possessiveness of and sexual entitlement towards women. Both are means to control women and guilt-trip them into having sex with the men harassing them.

Another theme is that of the “divine feminine.” On the one hand there are Jungian archetypes which state that females have an unconscious masculine archetype (the animus) and males a feminine one (the anima), and their respective qualities (feminine for women, masculine for men) are their shadow aspects. On the other hand, the divine feminine is ascribed to the Goddess and to women. So we have a dilemma:

– either feminine and masculine qualities exist in everyone, and gender is therefore not sex-based. But this has its own problems, like saying we each have a male/female essence, which is simply not true. You cannot simply replace gender with sex or equate the two, because that is what feminists have been fighting against. Womanhood, femaleness is a physical, lived reality; not an essence, a “lady brain” (neurosexism), an identity or a learned set of behaviors and practices. By “worshipping” women as idealized sacred/sex objects, men fetishize womanhood and turn it into feminine stereotypes that have nothing to do with femaleness but only with their own preconceived notions about how women should look like and behave, including erasure of fat fertility goddesses in favor of thin ones.

If masculinity is defined as aggression, violence, and emotional coldness, and femininity being caring, nurturing, having empathy and intuition, then in this sense femininity is far better to have as a human trait, and not a sociopathic one (8). If however gender is a hierarchy then it puts femininity (forced upon women, biological females) below masculinity as weakness, infantilization, masochism and submission. I see this in terms of social relations: women are not permitted to love and care for other women, but must do so for men at their own expense.


– the divine feminine should really be divine femaleness and is a misnomer (9)

Yet women cannot be said to partake of divine femaleness if they are not even considered fully human and are in fact blamed for their oppression. (10) So-called “masculine” or “manly-looking” butch women in a certain sense are still feminine; that is, they are womanly, because they are women (biological females). But they are not feminine in the sense that they do not conform to their gender or sex-role assigned to them, and are therefore seen as less than, even less than gender-conforming women.

Even so, the concept of the “divine feminine” is gender essentialist. It serves patriarchal interests because women are said to be inherently nurturing, caring, emotional, and sexual. They are expected to love men unconditionally, even if they hurt them. They cannot have boundaries (like using their freedom for rejection) because that would be Restriction in men’s eyes and Restriction is a Sin. This is no different than the Christian doctrine telling followers to “love their enemies (as they love themselves).”  Women cannot establish boundaries, much less healthy boundaries, under this ideology. It is abusive.
Gender essentialism makes it so that the “feminine” is negative and “masculine” is positive, and we have the literal Good vs. Evil view all over again, in the same way white people are “good” and black people as “bad”. When it comes to souls, women are said to have none. Not having the inner light, they are No-thing, the Not-I, the Other. Inferior to men, they do not have any power in themselves but derive their power from them, as long as they conform to gender and beauty standards. If it sounds like benevolent sexism, that’s because it is. And don’t be fooled: “benevolent” doesn’t mean the sexism comes without a price, just a non-violent one.(11)
Under this ideology it is impossible to explore homosexual and bisexual practices in magick because it is fixated on gender-conformity and by extension, heterosexuality. After all, the Scarlet Woman and the Beast are huge icons in Thelema, even though they are not the only ones, but they are originally attributed to Crowley and his wife Rose Kelly as avatars of the New Aeon. By association there is the practice of magickians having several Scarlet Women, or championing Babalon as a purely heterosexual goddess. There is no fun in being unable to reduce Babalon to a man’s wet dream or to excite straight men without the prospect of having many female sexual partners. So they have to convince women that they are sexual “goddesses” or “gatekeepers of sex” in order to play the game; women then become responsible for men’s sexual behavior. This extends to pretty much any group working where men insist that the planes have heterosexual polarity, and so it is necessary to work with men. (I do not see why we cannot simply refer to feminine energy as “receptive” or “passive” instead and masculine as “active” or “aggressive.”)
The desire to change the world, like gods, is traditionally associated with men – the default humans, the real people, even the gods – who make it into something to conquer and destroy, as they do with women and earth. As for the belief that women are somehow more psychic, empathic, or intuitive, part of that may be because they menstruate and normally their cycles are attuned to the moon, but men are not immune to monthly hormonal changes themselves. It may also be because of neuron mirroring: abuse victims (including the oppressed, and hostages with Stockholm Syndrome) learn to empathize with their abusers and intuit their desires and needs. This leads to a development of increased empathy, as a survival method. If women need to acquiesce to stay alive, then acquiesce they will, until they as a whole are able to revolt.
I think if women were liberated from patriarchy, wild and untamed, they would be able to express this empathy and intuition naturally as fully free human beings and not forced by difficult circumstances or for pure survivalism. Men shouldn’t have to ascribe some ‘cosmic’ quality to women in order to respect them as human beings – or pretend to, anyway. Every time they look to the skies they refuse to look women in the eyes.
While the “divine feminine” has been a model since time immemorial, it ascribes an inherent “feminine nature” of women where women are passive, and so it is not a truly accurate model. Instead, we must look to the reversal which patriarchal fathers have wrought. Biologically, only females can give birth but in reversing this truth, it is the masculine and the men who are the creative force. Once that is cleared away, there is another model which can bridge the gap between “femininity” and “femaleness” and make it so that “feminine” is womanly – not in the gender-role sense but femaleness. By doing so we can further see that with the biological reality of femaleness, it goes right down to our DNA and beyond. This is where the view “women are active on the astral, while men are passive” view comes in. Because while “women as passive, men as active” on the material plane holds true, it is only a social construct and does not reach beyond that plane.
There is no art in turning a goddess into a witch, a virgin into a whore, but the opposite operation, to give dignity to what has been scorned, to make the degraded desireable, that calls for art or for character.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Neither saints nor whores, just women
Other references (besides those linked):

About Cammy

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One Response to Gender essentialism in the occult

  1. Pingback: Differences between witchcraft and ceremonial magick | Your god is a fraud

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