Negotiating Gender Essentialism in Contemporary Paganism
Keywords:Contemporary Paganism, Gender, Gender essentialism
AbstractContemporary Paganism, a rapidly growing religious movement, has the potential to impact the gender ideology of the larger culture. This community is moving away from an initial gender essentialism in which qualities defined by the cultural community as feminine, though highly valued, were viewed as intrinsically distinct from masculine qualities, toward a more complex and less essentialist understanding of gender. This article is based on ethnographic fieldwork and interviewing, survey questionnaires, and analysis of core Pagan texts. It first reviews the importance to Pagans of conceptualizing the Divine as both feminine and masculine. Next it shows how in early Wiccan writings women and men, as well as masculine and feminine divinity and cosmic “energy,” are characterized in gender-essentialist ways. It then examines some of the rhetorical strategies used by Contemporary Pagans to mediate between essentialist and non-essentialist understandings of gender. Finally, it explores, through examples, current trends that represent a movement away from essentialist images toward a new representation of gender.
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