(Essay 2) The Terms 'Feminine' and 'Masculine' by Glenys Livingstone

This essay is the second part of an evolved version of an excerpt from Chapter 2 of her book PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion.

Beltaine flower
Beltaine flower

In the first part of this topic, I described dimensions of what I consider to be confusions about the terms “feminine” and “masculine”, and the general lack of clarity about the popular use of them to qualify aspects of being. I asserted that “wholeness” does not have to be understood in terms of a “feminine” plus “masculine” equation, and that the Universe was apparently not actually formed by “female” plus “male” energy, as is often loosely proclaimed: Cosmic creativity proceeded long before the advent of the male/gender (at about one and a half billion years ago),[i] and even before the advent of the biosphere  – the first cell (at about three point eight billion years ago).[ii] The qualities of femaleness and maleness may be something quite different from any cultural designations of “feminine”and “masculine”,  and do not appear to be essential to the Creativity of the Universe. I spoke for the unfolding of a cosmology wherein the Mother-of-All/Creatrix may be known to be a complete and whole unity of Creativity: characterised by a triplicity – not a duality, a “power of three”, as Marija Gimbutas described the apparently noted Creativity represented in ancient images of female Deity – Goddess.[iii] It is a triplicity that many cultures understood to characterize the essence of Cosmogenesis, and which has been identified frequently – in symbol and in anthropomorphic image – with female metaphor in a myriad of ways.

Another dimension to the confusion about the use of the terms “feminine” and “masculine” is the lack of clarity about the primordial nature of the cosmic power of Allurement – a “Power” that cosmologist Brian Swimme lists among others as “coursing through the Universe and each of us”[iv]: present primordially, before the advent of maleness or gender. Allurement itself, or Holy Lust as it may be termed,[v] unites the Cosmos: Desire itself unites the Cosmos, not the subject/object of the desire, and it is a reduction to imagine/assert that it is simply female plus male that unites the Cosmos, or our psyches. This may be lovely poetry – a metaphor and an experience, where the Power does occur, but it is not bound to this relationship. All being knows it – within the self and in relationship.

Medusa and Green Man
Medusa and Green Man

Masculinity or maleness is a particular physical expression that can give rise to its own symbolism – but the interpretation of that symbolism is something else. For example, the phallus can be passive, vulnerable and flower-like if the mind-frame is shifted. The Green Man metaphor may be developed as a deeply relational story – of “male-referring transformatory powers” as it may be termed[vi]: and there are some who are doing that well in recent times.[vii] The story of maleness as innately “active, dominant, inflexible”, by association with the phallus, is a patriarchal one that can be changed: and perhaps it was different in an earlier mythic era,[viii] and still so in some survivng Indigenous cultures. “Masculinity” and “femininity” are largely cultural developments – developed over time by story, belief systems, even the foods each sex have been allowed to eat in some cultures, the activities they each have been allowed, so that certain styles, physical and psychic, have been bred into and out of maleness and femaleness to suit the mindframe. “Maleness” and “femaleness” may be something quite different and more like a physical kaleidoscope: and it was a very creative move at a relatively recent point in the evolutionary story, that did enhance the Cosmogenetic enterprise of differentiation, communion and autopoiesis/subjectivity – a threefold Creativity unfolding the Cosmos.[ix] Both, and all genders on the kaleidoscope, are embraced and immersed in the  same Creative Dynamic of Being that preceded their evolution, and both and all may be described as exhibiting the three manifesting powers of Cosmogenesis.

Triple Hecate
Triple Hecate

In his book on The Triple Goddess, Adam Mclean discusses how the triple facet may present itself within the male psyche, or as I would put it – in male “story form”. McLean specifically identifies male versions of the Virgin, Mother and Crone[x]: as story forms of Knight, Husband and Artist. He briefly qualifies these images, restoring them with a sense of beauty, integrity and wisdom – as aspects of the Sacred. Generally I find that these images, as Mclean stories them, do mirror my own understanding of the triple qualities of the female metaphor. McLean however still uses such concepts as “masculine side” and “feminine side”, which I find unnecessary given his capacity to story the triple metaphor as a wholeness in itself – in both female and male form.

Starhawk develops the qualities of three aspects of the male form in her chapter on “The God” in The Spiral Dance, and states that “like the Goddess, the God unifies all opposites”.[xi] Starhawk tells a story of the God moving through an equivalent three faces over the period of the Wheel of the Year along with the Goddess: and in the Creation story of the Faerie tradition there are three evolving aspects identified as male  – “the Blue God, the gentle, laughing God of love”, then “the Green One, vine-covered, rooted in the earth, the spirit of all growing things”, and “the Horned God, the Hunter whose face is the ruddy sun and yet as dark as Death”.[xii] These images may be identified as a male form of the triple faced Creative Dynamic, present within all. There is a dire need for the re-storying of creative and regenerative male forms; the patriarchal context has not provided participatory stories of males that serve and nurture Life, as the triple-faced metaphor may do.

Organic Power
Organic Power

Whereas many women have been finding ways of re-empowering femaleness, re-identifying their organism with a creative potency innate to the Cosmos, men have been lagging in this enterprise it seems, perhaps more confused about what real power is, what organic power might look like. In recent decades some men have been re-storying themselves, feeling for their own experience as “life-enhancing” beings. One example is doctoral work, inclusive of personal art, poetry and imagination, by Philip Costigan in Australia. He describes a “re-positioning of men in a more life-enhancing engagement within the Sacred Network of All Beings”, coining a new term to express this sense of male embodied sacredness – the male in “life-giving relationship with the Sacred within a cosmos imbued with this Sacred”.[xiii] His term is “virism”, derived in part from the Latin word for a specific man, ‘vir’, and the Latin word for green, ‘viridis’: and also from ‘viriditas’ meaning greenness or verdure – a term coined by Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth century German mystic, to name “the greening power of the universe”.[xiv] Such work may invoke a participatory male sacrality within the context of a Sacred Whole.

Beneath the form and chemistry and stories of sex and gender, there are more primordial powers at work: perhaps the most potent being Desire/Allurement which courses through the Universe unbound and multivalent, beyond binary stereotypes – worth further contemplation. It is a Creative Potency which draws all being into action, into relationship, into communion – into essential Creativity.[xv]

© Glenys Livingstone 2013

Read part 1.

Read more of Glenys Livingstone’s work.


Anderson, William. Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth. Helhoughton FAKENHAM: COMPASS books, 1998.

Costigan, Philip.  An Australian Man in Search of an Embodied Spirituality. https://www120.secure.griffith.edu.au/rch/items/cec1dcc1-6ca8-7d8a-5be8-ac5959811216/1/

Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. NY: HarperCollins, 1991.

Liebes, Sidney, Sahtouris, Elisabet and Swimme, Brian. A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us. NY: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1998.

Livingstone, Glenys. Cosmic Walk Script: http://pagaiancosmology.com/articles/cosmic-walk-script/

__________________ PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion. Lincoln NE: iUniverse, 2005.

Raphael, Melissa. Thealogy and Embodiment: the Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sexuality. Sheffield: Sheffield Press, 1996.

Rothery, Andrew. “The Science of the Green Man”, Gatherings: journal of the international community for ecopsychology, June 28 2004.

Swimme, Brian. The Powers of the Universe. DVD series http://www.storyoftheuniverse.org/dvd/the-powers-of-the-universe/

Swimme, Brian and Berry, Thomas. The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era. NY: HarperCollins, 1992.

[i] See SidneyLiebes, Elisabet  Sahtouris and Brian Swimme, A Walk Through Time:, pp. 89-94.

[ii] For some dates on the evolutionary story see: http://pagaiancosmology.com/articles/cosmic-walk-script/

[iii] Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, pp. 89-97.

[iv] Brian Swimme, The Powers of the Universe, program 2.

[v] See Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology, p.143.

[vi] This is inspired by Melissa Raphael’s term “female- referring transformatory powers”, Thealogy and Embodiment, p.8.

[vii] For examples: William Anderson, Green Man: the Archetype of Our Oneness with the Earth,  Andrew Rothery, The Science of the Green Man, Philip Costigan, “An Australian Man in Search of an Embodied Spirituality”.

[viii] See Starhawk, Truth or Dare, pp. 40-47.

[ix] Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, pp.108-109 and pp. 71-79.

[x] Adam McLean, The Triple Goddess, pp.121-122.

[xi] Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p.113.

[xii] Starhawk, The Spiral Dance, p. 31.

[xiii] Philip Costigan, “An Australian Man in Search of an Embodied Spirituality”, p.38-39 of draft.

[xiv] Philip Costigan, “An Australian Man in Search of an Embodied Spirituality”, p.36 of draft.

[xv] For more on “Creative Potency”, see Glenys Livingstone, Re-Visioning Mythologies of Gender/Sex in Goddess Pages issue 9 http://www.goddess-pages.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=539&Itemid=1&ed=13