(Essay 1) Divining the Masculine by Bart Everson

Lion
Photo by Bart Everson

[This essay was originally published in the book, Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral: Men in Ritual, Community, and Service to the Goddess (2016, Immanion Press)].

I was raised in a tradition that glorified a masculine image of the divine. The church fathers further stipulated that although this father-god loved us, we did not deserve his love. He would condemn us all to eternal torment for our failings. His son embodied a different sort of masculine ideal, one of love and forgiveness and sacrifice, but only within the context defined by the father-god. Our sacred text was held to be inerrant, the only source for correct thinking. Salvation was available only through faith in these doctrines; all other paths were invalid.

I was raised in a culture that reveled in images of violence and domination, of guns and militarism, in narratives of salvation through superior firepower. From the high school jocks to the commander-in-chief, male aggression and macho posturing were the order of the day.

As I came of age, as I grew out of childhood and into manhood, I found myself questioning many received values, including church doctrine and social mores. By my late teens I was an atheist. In my early 20s I was politically radicalized.

I was angry about many things, particularly the rape of our planet by capitalistic systems of exploitation, but also about being robbed of an authentic sense of my own gender identity. Many of the values closest to my heart — peace, cooperation, intuition — were labeled as traditionally feminine. I knew I was just as much of a man as any other male of the species, yet this sort of masculinity was marginalized at best, and often completely invisible.

For most of my adult life, I have felt alienated from both divinity and masculinity, and these twin disconnects have seemed closely linked in my mind: Jehovah the jealous punisher, the hegemony of Abrahamic traditions, the harms of patriarchy, the reckless exploitation of the natural environment, all seem part of the same system of domination and oppression.

I think I'm in love
Photo by Bart Everson

Nietzsche writes of three transformations in Western consciousness after the death of God, from camel to lion to child. I spent 25 years as a lion in the desert, doing battle with the great dragon. During this period of my life I had occasional encounters with the divine. These were confusing to say the least. I had no operative framework within which to interpret these experiences. When such encounters presented a male face, I had recourse only to the language of a faith tradition I’d rejected and abandoned. When I glimpsed the female face of divinity, I had no frame of reference for the experience.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I became a father that I became a child, to use Nietzsche’s language, and began to see the world in yet another way.

I felt a renewed connection to divinity, though I scrupled to use that language at first, and it still gives me pause. I’d been an atheist so long; what business did I have, talking about divinity? It’s easier for me to say that I felt a renewed sense of the sacred.

In the simplest terms, this change in my life might have stemmed from the advice a friend gave me: “Try to see the world through your child’s eyes.” I found myself doing just that, and with this perspective came a renewed sense of awe and wonder and reverence. The natural world seemed an interesting, mysterious, enchanted place; our human existence within the world seemed just as magical, just as miraculous.

I started learning more about contemporary Goddess religion. It is perhaps not coincidental that my daughter is named after an ancient Greek goddess.

I began to see the Earth as a source and sustainer of values, a sacred system which gives rise to mind, to consciousness, to humanity — an inclusive system in which we participate.

I’d been an environmental activist of sorts for many years. We are accused by some of worshiping the Earth as our divinity. And I thought to myself — why not? And why not be more explicit and intentional about it? Why not ground a spirituality in the ecosphere?

(To be continued)

Meet Mago Contributor Bart Everson