Recently there have been several discussions on the internet regarding the question of Gender in Ritual.
Before I am going into explaining my view, let me give you a disclaimer and some definitions.
I am by all means in favour of total equality of all genders. I do not see any superiority of one over another and am of the opinion that we all have to continue working on reaching the goal of total equality in all aspects of society and life.
When I am referring to male and female, I am referring to the common gender aspects in our human lifes. The terms masculine and feminine are used referring to the respective energies and forces and, in this context, do not relate to gender.
The question that has been discussed was, whether it is (still) ok to use gender specific language for Ritual indicating that specific parts of a ritual referring to the male and others to the female should be avoided. Why should not a priestess instead of a priest perform such parts of a ritual initially thought to be performed by a priest? Why should it not be possible that two priests or two priestesses perform the ritual instead of a pries and priestess?
What we see in these discussions is, in my opinion, a mixing up of different things which should be kept separate. From the way and language of argumentation we often see that people include their view of gender politics into the discussion. Those who support the, lets say traditional concept (keep the priest male and the priestess female), often are confronted with the label “sexist”. People explaining that the “sexist” language in rituals makes them sick. At the end there is the request for re-writing the rituals so that they meet gender neutral demands in language (and meaning). No one shall feel offended or left out, right?
Now is this all necessary? Is this all straight to the point or maybe rather missing it?
As I said before, we should separate the actual necessary discussion related to gender neutrality and equality from ritual – unless the reference to a specific gender is solely meant to be referring to power and dominance. However, I do not believe that most rituals intend this.
Throughout ritual we are attempting to balance forces and energies or to make use of a specific force or energy. Thus, the priest is not representing a male person being the priest but the masculine energy and force, solely for the very sake of the ritual’s purpose. Nothing more, nothing less. The priestess represents the female energies and forces, not a woman being the priestess. However, since by nature most of us are male or female by birth, it may indeed make sense to have a male person representing the priest because the priests purpose is it to represent the masculine, which is inherently stronger in a male priest than in a female. Now, I am not saying that it is impossible that a female person can take the role of the priest in ritual (thus representing the masculine) but calling her anything else but “The Priest” in this context would alter the ritual as this term is referring to the masculine aspect of the ritual.
But is it possible that gender and force to be represented in a ritual differ? If you want to work with Venus, you would not use the sigil and representations for Mars, declaring Mars in this context to be representing Venus, even if you follow the correct hour of day etc for Venus.
So does it indeed make any difference whether a masculine aspect within a ritual is represented by a female person? May it be sufficient if that person is wearing insignia representing the masculine, irrespective of gender? If you believe this is so, why?
We often see that people claim that rituals have to be followed by the word when it comes to detail but at the same time state it would not matter which gender represents a specific aspect of a ritual thought of representing masculine or feminine aspects of the ritual. Other than “it should be like that” and “we need to leave that sexist bullshit behind” and the like, I see no factual argument in these discussions. Now I am not saying that it is not possible that a female person represents the masculine in ritual. But I would like to see arguments for or against it which are other than the one used in mundane gender discussion. Why can we change the initial ritual (or better the understanding as it has been so far) here when we can not do the same with other aspects? Or are the rituals misunderstood and they do actually really only refer to masculine and feminine forces and energies irrespective of gender?
If a ritual calls upon feminine energies, would its intensity in result differ if being performed by a male representing the feminine instead of a female doing so when we (would) agree that within a woman, the inherited female energy is stronger than within a man?
Personally, I have no final opinion on this. However, at this point I tend to believe that a female person can represent the feminine in a stronger, more intense way and that the same counts for male/masculine. But as I said before, this should have nothing to do with any thought of superiority or domination but would be owed solely to the purpose of ritual and the forces represented. As I mentioned already, I am not really decided on this issue.
Finally, I would like to see that the arguments within this debate would center more around the questions raised above, focussed on the ritualistic meaning and purpose and if and how changing gender in relation to the force to be represented by the individual performing the specific aspect of the ritual would - or would not - cause a change of result or intensity within the ritual instead of using arguments from a different context related to gender politics.