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Polarity and Misinterpretations Thereof

Dean Kirkland writes:

I am not an expert in these things, but the recent posts reducing everything to masculine/feminine active/passive, to me seem a bit over-simplistic and transendental in outlook. As Dani pointed out there are a whole range of celtic gods and goddesses, each of them an individual. So lumping them together saying that all goddesses are passive seems a bit of a generalisation.

I can't speak for everyone who works with the concept of duality, but for me, and most of the people I know and work with ritually, that's not the idea at all. There is a world of difference between male and female, in terms of physical gender or gender-identity, and masculinity or femininity as metaphysical currents or energies. Any individual human, deity or spirit is inevitably going to consist of varying blends of the two currents, on many different levels. Nothing is purely one or the other; it's a continuum, not an on/off switch.

In the tradition of Wicca I work in, we acknowledge that fact by using two pairs of candles on our altars: the pillar candles at the outer edges of the altar, which represent the energy poles of masculinity and femininity, and the god and goddess candles, which represent the individual, personal deities who have manifested in our lives.

It's an unfortunate fact that the plethora of fluffy, superficial books on Wicca, not to mention fluffy, superficial books purporting to be on other forms of paganism but based on Wicca, have led to an explosion of self-taught and self-initiated people who identify as Wiccan, or espouse ideas that would identify them as such to others, but having no actual traditional training, lack an in-depth understanding of the core concepts of Wiccan theology and cosmology. This is why misunderstandings and misinterpretations of Wiccan belief abound.

This isn't meant as a slur against solitaries or self-initiates; many of them have a sincere calling, but simply don't have access to enough information to really understand a lot of the ideas they're presented with in the books they read. To a certain extent, that understanding can be enhanced by individual ritual work and meditation, but it's a lot harder, takes longer, and there's no guarantee that the understanding they find will be at all similar to that of the traditions that developed these concepts.

Part to the problem is that terms like masculine and feminine -- and many of the other terms, imagery and ritual practices used by Wiccans -- are very easy to misinterpret. The important thing to understand is that these things were never intended for a mass audience. Wicca is an initiatory mystery religion, and traditionally, a student would learn the techniques and vocabulary of ritual in a slower, more controlled manner, where new things were shared in a sequence that built on previous work and experience so as to better contextualize them. Also, in a one-on-one teaching relationship, there is the opportunity to ask questions if you're unsure of what the teacher means, which is something you can't usually do when learning from books.

I'm not saying that the popularization of Wicca is entirely a bad thing -- my tradition has, after all, contributed substantially to it in our area, by holding open circles regularly -- but it does present new difficulties and challenges. Those of us who are in one way or another public with our Craft have an obligation, I think, to help deal with these difficulties by pointing out misunderstandings where they arise, and letting people know that what appears in books, even the better ones, is only about the outer 10% of Wicca.

Part of the problem is that people keep writing Wicca 101 books over and over and over again and very rarely moving beyond that, partly because a lot of the more advanced material is oathbound, partly out of laziness or desire for higher book sales (books geared for a mass audience sell better than those directed at a narrower market), and partly because many of them simply don't know any more than that, having learned what they know out of other people's 101 books. But I think, or at least hope, that eventually the market for that will be pretty well saturated, and people will have to move on to writing more advanced books. That, I suppose, is when we'll find out which authors actually know any more than basics and which don't. :-)

Déithe duit,

Liath Cadhóit
(a.k.a Lynna Landstreet)


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