Images of the Divine Masculine
by K. C. Holt
In these times, the masculine seems in danger of being devalued. Examples of the masculine demonized as the patriarchal oppressor and destroyer of the environment and all that is good in society are all too easy to find. However, the feminist movement that gained momentum in the ’60s held out much hope not only to women, but to a great many men – men who not only agreed with what women were saying but realized that their own liberation from unrealistic and emotionally crippling stereotypes hung in the balance. In the following paragraphs, we will explore views of the masculine that are not new but have been lost to many in the mainstream of society and religious orthodoxy.
Looking at today’s spiritual landscape, it appears the image of the “Divine Masculine” is in a state of flux. The men’s movement has been late to start, galvanized into existence by some very patriarchal behavior within the women’s movement as well as by the need to reclaim what orthodox patriarchal religion has suppressed and persecuted. Patriarchal society has a numbing effect on the souls of men. Men now seek the door to their feeling, spiritual side with a renewed vigor unfettered by past convention, allowing them to love and work in ways that heal their lives.
Rites of passage for men have become little more than preparation for surrender to the hero image. Men find themselves sent forth to compete, to accumulate wealth, power and dominion over their environment. Dominion separates men from nature; they lack the immediate connection to the earth women gain through the cycles of menstruation and birth.
Men, instead, are linked to nature’s cycles through the activities of hunting and gathering or farming and agriculture. But these activities have largely been removed or distorted through the industrialization of society. Industrialization has helped lead to the incorrect and damaging association of nurture with the feminine and domination with the masculine. This pigeonholing of the male psyche by society and modern psychology has produced a shallow conception of the nature of masculinity. Furthermore, such an association ignores aspects of feminine psychology that do not necessarily fit the image of nurturer.
Aaron R. Kipnis, in his provocative book Knights Without Armor: A Practical Guide for Men in Quest of Masculine Soul, aptly states the problem: “Men in our culture today are undergoing a major restructuring of the basic paradigms governing masculine consciousness and behavior. It’s important to understand and uncover those aspects of the inner psychic life of persons that are essentially masculine in nature. We need to develop a working model that meets the needs of modern men on the basis of their own individual, personal experience. In many cases, this is very different from the constructs that have come out of heroic, monotheistic, patriarchal thinking or the revisions of feminist theory…. We need a more expansive psychology, which embraces the possibility of a moist, soulful, dark, authentic, mysterious, lunar, deep and earthy masculinity.”
Where might we look to find this concept of a mysterious, lunar, deep and earthy masculinity? Does it indeed exist, or does it need to be created? The answer is that it has existed for millennia. The evidence of its existence is carefully concealed by the orthodox monotheistic religions and the admittedly unbalanced patriarchal society we find ourselves in.
Wicca emphasizes polarity, worships the Earth God and has kept His memory alive. Most Wiccans see men and women as equal in spirit and intelligence but opposite in physical and emotional orientation. The practice and philosophy of Wicca is built around this polarity. I claim no authority to speak for any one tradition; Wiccans are as diverse as any religious group, ranging from what I like to affectionately call Fundamentalist Wiccans to Eclectic Wiccans. Some might prefer or better fit the title pagan or shaman. The point is that the gods associated with the deep and lunar side of masculinity are the gods of the earth and the sea.
Within the pagan and Wiccan philosophies, these gods find their emphasis, and as to their personal value to men, I speak from my experience as a son, father, grandfather and pagan. Men navigate their worlds through the powers of air (intellect) and fire (action). When they look to the depths of their souls, however, they find the earth and sea powers of love, attraction, affection, beauty, harmony, artistry and peace.
To turn inward to the subconscious, the feminine, in order to transform yourself does not mean to become feminine! The mistaken concept that one must become feminine has led many men astray from the God. A “real” man is one who lets the gods of the Earth teach him to understand his physical potential and limitations. He follows his heart with the warrior spirit to the depths of the sea, where he finds wisdom, sanctuary and the secrets of his strengths and weaknesses. The world problems we can attribute to the negative aspects of a male-dominated society cannot be solved by immersion only in the female aspects of divinity. They must include recovery of the forgotten and positive aspects of the God. The Great and Horned One, oldest of all the gods, sees women as equals and is a just and strong god rather than judgmental and vengeful.
The Horned God predates civilization. His image first appears in a Paleolithic cave in France, the meager beginnings of what we know as recorded history. He is the Wild Man, the Green Man, God of the Forest and Animals and Consort of Nature, the Goddess. The Horned God of Wicca, Cernunnos, is pictured holding a ram-headed serpent in his hands. He wears an open neck-ring or torque, in which we can see the symbol of the moon. He is the guardian of the cauldron, the lover and son of the Goddess who is Her partner in the sacred dance of creation.
With the shift in consciousness that led to patriarchal monotheistic thought, something was lost. The polytheistic pagan and matriarchal society’s concept of the one universal consciousness or deity that is expressed through a multiplicity of forms, both male and female, was forgotten or more likely totally ignored by the patriarchs. Cernunnos was devoted to Nature and the Goddess. He taught his sons to hunt, protect, nourish and cherish His mother, sisters, daughters and mate. The monotheistic patriarchy now vilified him as a devil.
The concept that sexuality leads men to confuse mystical ecstasy with eroticism led to the lie that the Goddess would seduce men to their folly. With the Horned One demonized and the Goddess expelled from the heaven of the patriarchs, Nature was open to plunder and rape. Is it any wonder that we see the anger of the Mother in the eyes of her female worshipers?
While Wicca has kept the memory of the Earth God alive, there are other places we may look to reclaim positive images of the Divine Masculine. In the pantheon of ancient Egypt, we find Nu, goddess of the night sky and stars, arching her naked body over Geb, god of the earth. He is depicted hard with desire, reaching upward for union with the stars. He strives towards Her, knowing that She will come to Him at Her need: a knowledge all men hold in their hearts.
Osiris was Geb’s heir. Sometimes he is depicted colored red for the earth, and more often green for vegetation. The Atef crown he wears sometimes is shown with a pair of horns sprouting from its solar disk.
Pan of the Greeks was linked to Aker of the Egyptians. A horned god who guarded the entrance to the Underworld, Assur was an Assyrian supreme god, who while associated with war was a fertility and moon god also. The moon has not always been the sole domain of feminine deities, nor the sun of male deities, for that matter. Osiris was referred to as Lord of the Moon in numerous instances. In Sumer, in the city of Ur, Nanna was worshipped as the Moon Father. In India, the Moon Father is referred to as Soma. The Babylonians knew him as Sinn.
Celtic mythology is also full of gods associated with the earth and the sea. Dagda brought back the cauldron of abundance and led the Tuatha De Danan underground to the faery mounds. He is associated with sexuality and fertility. Cromm Cruaich is known as the Lord of the Mound and associated with the harvest. Manannan Mac Lir was the Irish god of the sea, who separated the world of the faeries and humans.
The image of solar gods is lofty, dry and remote. The other side of masculinity, which is moist and deep with feeling, is to be found in the gods of the sea. Poseidon or Neptune was god of the sea. Poseidon conspired with Hera and Athena to overthrow the sky god Zeus. Most have seen Neptune as a patriarchal god, but this story shows us how the watery, earthy depths of our masculine feeling side can work to overthrow the Sky Father, high above the earth.
Whereas the sky gods often have hidden if not absent sexuality, the earth and sea gods are sexually well-endowed. Poseidon’s trident symbolizes his phallic nature. The trident is also associated with the wild dancing god Shiva of the Hindus. These are just some of the examples of where one may look to find a soulful, dark, lunar and earthy masculinity.
We are the sum total of all that has come before us: the Mesolithic hunters, gatherers and Neolithic farmers of matrilineal culture (7000-2000 B.C.); the Indo-European warriors emphasizing the male sky gods in the centuries of the Bronze and Iron Age (2000-800 B.C.); the turn of the millennium with the advent of Christian mythology and its concepts of dualistic division between body and soul, world and spirit and Original Sin; and finally the age of scientific rationalism. Rationalism allows for nothing supernatural and reduces the universe to a language of numerical abstraction – mathematics.
No one of these periods surpasses the other. They all possess a unique imprint on the human experience. Any one of them taken alone represents but a fraction of the evolutionary progress of the human soul. The earth gods, born in the distant past, still prove necessary to us; they are the force whereby the land springs forth in an ever-changing cycle. We must identify and nurture the positive aspects of maleness embodied in our God or gods and unite the God to the Goddess.
In a time when the orthodox concept of God has become sterile and sexless, the deities of the earth and sea await all men. They possess the ability to guide men to a fuller meaning of what it is to be sons, fathers and grandfathers. They offer a positive alternative of what it means to be male in a world that has lost sight of the good nature of Man. As men, we have the task to reclaim the divine masculine and unite with our sisters in perfect trust and perfect love.