Back in March, I wrote about the “female” or “feminine”* for the Pagan Blog Project. The “female” or “feminine” in all of us represents things like nurturing, intuition, the unconscious, feelings, and the sensual. In order to really appreciate this, we need to see it in relation to its opposite: the “male/masculine.” I should point out, though, that these days, there are many who are against these concepts because they’re based on traditional ideas that no longer reflect our modern awareness of what personality is really about (kudos in particular to the LGBT community for challenging these gender ideas). Still, it’s useful to understand what these concepts are all about because they pop up constantly in art, myths, and dreams. The “male” or “masculine” involves rationality or structure, consciousness, actions, and the Spirit.
The “male” aspect is generally associated with rationality, as opposed to the irrationality represented by the “female.” When we sit down and reason out a problem, extracting the emotions from it and setting out a logical flow of thoughts, we’re using the “male” part of the mind. We can see here traditional ideas that men are better at things like figures, planning, judging, and decision-making.
The “masculine” aspect is also associated with structure and rules. This goes along with logic and rationality because it takes order and analysis to create a set of rules, both associated with the “male” part of us. We also see this in the traditional view of the father’s role. He sets down the rules in the family and enforces them, whereas the mother nurtures and nourishes, possibly even acting as a mediator between the lawmaker and the well-meaning but misguided lawbreaker.
Too much rationality and logic, though, can get us into trouble because human beings aren’t machines. Things get messy with us. Emotions get in the way. We gain knowledge through irrational means, like intuition, and although we can’t explain it logically, we know these things to be true. We can see this, for instance, when we deal with kids. No matter how many times you explain to a crying child that the video store is closed and it’s not possible to get her favorite movie, she won’t stop crying.
There’s also a moral issue here. As with the “female” or “feminine,” assigning morality to the “male/masculine” has always been tricky. On the one hand, logic, rationality, analysis, and rules can clear the fog of emotions or beliefs that have no basis in reality and help us make clearer decisions. On the other hand, too much distance from emotions can lead to immoral acts because logic can justify anything. Witness the slave trade: Blacks weren’t seen as humans; they were property. Thus, they could be sold like any other property. This is logic divorced from emotions, leading to inhumane actions.
While the “female/feminine” is associated with passivity and receptivity, the “male/masculine” represents action. This has something to do with the fascination humanity has always had with the phallus. It’s an independently moving part of the body that can be controlled by the will. It also represents the active aspect of fertility. Women may gestate and give birth, but the growth is initiated only when the sperm fertilizes the egg.
Socially, action and initiative are traditionally associated with men. Witness the countless myths, novels, films, and video games that feature a male fighter with the female being the motivation for the fight, the nurturer, the healer, or playing some other supportive role. This makes it easier for men in our society to be taken seriously. For instance, it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to be a millionaire, but a woman who’s earned millions from her work (such as Oprah Winfrey) still makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
This is detrimental, though, to both men and women because the will to take action and initiate is a human trait, not a masculine one. And the need to be receptive, traditionally a “female” characteristic, is equally necessary for a balanced life. Action isn’t always the right choice. But at the same time, the “male” within us can blast through resistance and fear, and it’s what we can call upon when we procrastinate and hesitate.
The “male” has traditionally been seen as representing consciousness, versus the “female” as representing the unconscious. This makes the “masculine” part of the psyche less frightening and mysterious than the female. We can also see how this jives with rationality and logic, faculties that happen consciously. Consciousness in this sense is full awareness, that which we process through the senses, remember, and acknowledge.
When we dream or meditate or go into a trance, we’re essentially moving between the “male” and “female” parts of the mind. Full consciousness is the “masculine” while everything experienced on a more visceral level is the “feminine.” This is one of the mysteries of experiences like lucid dreaming. We’re in the “female” and “male” state at the same time, a very unusual experience. Perhaps this is part of what makes lucid dreaming and similar states so illuminating. It transcends the usual duality between “male” and “female” that we experience (when they represent full consciousness and unconsciousness, respectively).
However, consciousness has its limits, and according to people like Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, severe limits. Jung believed that full consciousness occupies a tiny part of the full spectrum of consciousness, and it’s so throughout life. The unconscious, in other words, is so vast that we can’t hope to know it all. Joseph Campbell wrote that knowing all of what’s within the unconscious is enlightenment in that we travel to Spirit through the unconscious. They’re one and the same. The more we make conscious, the more of Spirit we know within the state of full consciousness.
Perhaps that’s what he was thinking when he claimed that women are where the (male) hero wants to get to and should be “fosterers” and not heroes. Taking away the real-world gender references (which I personally don’t agree with), the “female” part of the mind (unconscious) is where the “male” or hero part of the mind (full consciousness) wants to get to. What’s more, the unconscious supports us in that journey, though not in ways that make sense to the conscious mind. This is the special logic that belongs to the unconscious.
Recall that the “female” or “feminine” is traditionally associated with the body, the physical, and the senses. The “male” or “masculine,” in contrast, is associated with the Spirit. Monotheistic religious doctrine has elevated the nonmaterial above the material, but Paganism generally acknowledges the nonmaterial within the material. The unity of the Goddess and God in Pagan practice merely mirrors what occurs in nature in this sense, the material united always with the spiritual.
There’s a connection here both to the mind and to consciousness. The “masculine” part of the mind is associated with thoughts and language, which in many traditions is associated with deity. Witness the association of Christ with the Logos (meaning reason, word) and the Gospel of John stating that “the Word was God.” Beyond monotheistic religions, the concept of the Logos is that creative force that underlies all creation, just as thoughts underlie verbal expression.
Consciousness, we said, refers to full awareness. That which we’re fully aware of is in the light, so we see here also the link to illumination. When we’re enlightened, consciousness and Spirit are one. Many religions see this as pulling us up beyond the material world, freeing us from attachment to it. I prefer Joseph Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s Journey in that once the hero obtains enlightenment, he returns to the material world in a state of expanded consciousness. He does experience non-attachment, but he’s able to maintain a connection to the material world, which allows him to pass his wisdom on to others. The “male” is still consciousness, but it has united with the “female” for expanded consciousness so that illumination exists alongside darkness and not separate from it, as a simplistic conception of heaven and hell would imply.
In Paganism, the “male” or “masculine” is embodied in the God. We can call upon Him when we need clarity, to make a decision, take action, or become aware of something. Scott Cunningham has written that the God comes across as harsher than the Goddess, and certainly the image of the Horned God isn’t as warm and fuzzy as the large-bosomed Goddess. But he is a loving father to us, as the Goddess is a loving mother, and He’s there to help us with those areas of existence that are His.
* Because these are only concepts and not to be understood as referring literally to gender, I use quotation marks around them. If there are no quotation marks then I’m referring to something involving gender.