A friend who is a spiritual teacher speaks often “bringing back the values associated with the Divine Feminine.” For her this has to do with helping women to understand the beauty of our bodies and the importance of ways of being such as giving and caring for others that have been associated with the undervalued so-called “feminine” side of the masculine-feminine polarity. Though she also speaks about the Goddess, I think she prefers the term “the Divine Feminine” because of the implication that men too have their “Divine Masculine.”
This friend has a wonderful husband who is a teacher in his own right and who often ends up spending a lot of his time among powerful women who enjoy talking about the Goddess. In these conversations he sometimes speaks of the need for men to “recover the Divine Masculine” if they are to become whole.
I was reminded of these conversations when a two other friends, in different contexts, recently voiced their concern that Goddess imagery is problematic if it repeats sex role stereotypes. My response to them was that in the West, the feminist association of femaleness with power and value in Goddess symbolism automatically shatters the most important sex role stereotype: the notion that women are less powerful and less valuable than men. But, I said, after that, problems may arise.
I added that (for me) the categories of Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine are problematic because (it seems to me) that at their core these concepts are rooted in the notion that males and females are fundamentally different, and that the so-called “feminine” is relational, loving, giving, while the so-called “masculine” is independent, rational, aggressive, and sometimes violent and warlike. Those who speak of the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine as oppositional categories usually try to avoid categorizing men and women by stating that “we all have our masculine and feminine sides.” Still it is hard to avoid the implication that men are more masculine and women are more feminine.
Though I agree that men need new images of what it means to be men as much as women need new images of what it means to be women, I hesitate to speak of these as new images of the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine for two reasons. Although I recognize that others are inspired by images of the Sacred Marriage, for me it has been more important–and more possible–to find power within myself and in a wide variety of relationships, than to find it in a male-female heterosexual couple relationship in which the opposites are “joined.”
More importantly, I find that images of Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine often do justify patriarchal sex-role stereotypes. An internet search for “Divine Masculine” validated this fear. The first (and therefore most popular) website defined the Divine Masculine through six archetypes: God, King, Priest, Warrior, Lover, Sage.
The site’s author seems to want to help men learn new ways to interact with powerful women—as neither dominant over them nor submissive to them. The author writes: “The Divine Masculine represents an archetypal ideal, the best and most inspiring, elevating, and restorative aspects of masculine expression and manifestation in the universe. For those seeking an expanded understanding of the Self, the Divine Masculine is not a distant, detached, jealous and vengeful male deity. The Divine Masculine (along with the Divine Feminine) acts as a shining mirror of the Self, revealing aspects that need compassionate attention and support to become one’s highest potential.”
Following this insight, he redefines the God archetype as “unconditionally loving, inclusive, open, welcoming, heart-centered, spiritually focused, supportive and inspirational.” For him, the King archetype is “benevolent, evenhanded, calm, caring and thoughtfully present.” And the Warrior “finds his place in collaborative projects, being fulfilled and contented with the collaboration and not by ambition or competition.”
While I appreciate the ways in which this man redefines masculinity and male strength in terms that in the past have been associated with “the feminine,” I am concerned that he continues to view the six “archetypes” that include the King and Warrior as universal. He does not explicitly name patriarchy as a system of male dominance enforced through violence as the reason for redefining the meaning of the “archetypes.” I also worry that a good king is still a king, and that a warrior who fights for the good of others is still a warrior. From a feminist perspective, these archetypes are not universal, but rather are the product of patriarchy. Perhaps instead of redefining them, we should discard them.
New research suggests that in matriarchies, there is no divine masculine per se, because though men have their own important roles, both males and females are encouraged to embody the values associated with mothers and mothering—in other words to be loving, giving, caring, and generous. In this context there is no opposition or sharp contrast between the divine masculine, the divine feminine, and any other divine gender or transgender.
I believe that that we need a multiplicity of images for divine power that express the diversity and differences of our bodies and all bodies in the web of life. We also need new images of how to be strong and powerful, yet loving and caring above all, in male, female, and other bodies.
However, if the “highest” values are the same for both—and all–genders, then perhaps it is time to retire the oppositional binary of Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine and to speak instead of images of divinity in male, female, and other bodies.
Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter). Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and forthcoming next year, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Explore Carol’s writing. Photo of Carol by Maureen Murdock.