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The Masculine Principle in Paganism- Part 3: The Life Force


The Life Force is what is in each one of us; it is in all living things. Not just animals and plants, but down to our cells and all of them reproduce. They pass on what they are to the next generation, or in some cases, simply replicate each other. I could have just labelled this particular post as ‘Sexuality’ but that’s not just what this post is about. Ok, I lied. It is!

When talking about the Life Force as procreation, most species do require male and female parts in order to procreate. There are other species that do not. Cells replicate their DNA asexually, as does bacteria. Some species such Earthworms are hermaphrodites, beings that don’t require sexual partners because their biology enables them to create their own offspring.

For the sake of this blog series, I shall be referring to the Human Condition, already aware of how complex that already is. Yes we as a species require a sperm and egg to fertilise in order to reproduce, but not everyone who is born identifies with the simple male and female categorisations. It does indeed appear that the Human Condition is not as binary as we originally thought, but does need binary Humans in order for the Human Race to continue.

And reproduction was seen as the basic manifestation of the Life Force. The model of Sky Father and Mother Earth for example is something that was big in olden times. The sunlight and rain make the Earth fertile and grow millions of flora and fauna, feeding and housing countless species around us. Interesting then that in some cultures the Sun is seen as female (The Irish name for the sun is Grian, a feminine word. The Norse mythology has the sun and moon as sister and brother respectively as Sol and Mani. In the Japanese Shinto it is the deity Amaterasu). To counter this, some Neolithic monoliths have phallic features carved into the rock, the phallus of the earth pointing to the impregnable sky.

We also see this in ancient statues, the Venus type, for example showing the round image of a pregnant woman. In some cases images like these were carved to include phallic shape in order emphasise the male parts + female parts = life.

Ain Sakhri Lovers
Two lovers carved into a phallic object, the Ain Sakhri Lovers

Ritual & Magic:

In the Western Magical Tradition, this union of masculine and feminine energies is one of the most powerful acts of magic. The act of placing the wand into the chalice is extremely symbolic of the penis entering the vagina in order to create a magical outcome. Not every magical act requires this as there are thousands of ways to make a spell without any sexual connotations or symbols. That’s right, faithful reader, anyone who practices magic isn’t just going around shagging everyone and nor should they. Sex can be used in magic with consenting adults or just between a couple and not just limited to heterosexuals.

Modern Paganism is filled, saturated even with sexual celebration, even if only metaphorically. The ceremonial wheel of the year, for example, sees The Goddess bloom until the God has grown into adulthood, they marry and have sex as the Summer goes on until the God begins to wither and dies as Autumn turns to Winter, the Goddess gives birth during Midwinter after which she takes on her Crone aspect until she is reinvigorated at Spring. The Modern Pagan version of Beltane would have us believe that May is a time of sexual awakening and the whole of summer is about the celebration of the growing energy in our part of the world. This, despite that Human Beings don’t have a set mating season, but it’s all in the cosmology and symbolism of the Modern Pagan view of the awakening world around them.

Of course not all Pagan spirituality follows this imagery as there are different paths and interpretations of the seasons.

This imagery happens once again in the relatively recent personification of the Green Man entering his Oak (another phallic device, just think of the shape of an acorn) phase and as Spring grows into Summer he brings his Life Force into that of the Earth so everything comes alive.

The Elements

Even in the Alchemical Elements we have examples of the Life Force split into masculine and feminine in the energies of Air, Fire Water and Earth. This is most regularly seen in the Tarot:

Air: Masculine: Represented by the Swords, a piercing (phallic?) device with warlike connotations. The realm of air is normally associated with logic, thought and ideas. Supposedly these are the traits of the intellectual MAN.

Fire: Masculine: Represented by the Staff or the Wands. A more obvious phallic device, especially when the fiery qualities of dynamism, determination, passion are thought of as traits of MAN.

The staff has more phallic imagery behind it when we identify Bile (Tree) as being the name of the Irish father-god, the consort of the watery mother-goddess Danu.

Water: Feminine: Represented by the Cups or Cauldron. The watery world of emotions, of dream, of the heart has been assigned to the qualities of WOMAN. The Cup has been used as a device of the vulva and the Cauldron as the womb.

Earth: Feminine: Represented by the Stones, Coins or Pentacles, although not sexual in imagery, the stone is symbolic of the Land. And with the land comes Sovereignty. Mother Nature, the Mother of All: She gives and she takes. This is the realm of the physical; the malleable and tactile.

Interestingly, given the masculine attributes of the symbol of the sword it is in Arthurian Legend we find the sword as being temporarily given to man. It is loaned from the Lady of the Lake and must be returned before the user dies. The sword known as Excalibur originally came with a scabbard (vaginal device?) which protected the user from harm, but this was stolen from Arthur by Morgana La Fey. In the story of Balin and Balan, a sword of power was drawn by Balin, a knight of Arthur and Camelot. He was supposed to give it back to the Lady of the Lake, but in his hubris he kept it and beheaded her! His life was then cursed until both he and his brother died fighting each other. A prime example of the Masculine Principle being too out of flow with the Life Force and not heeding the request of giving the power back to its source, the feminine.

Being a part of the Arthurian world, which takes its themes from the Celtic myths and legends that came before, the Lady of the Lake not only represents the Divine Feminine, she is also the Goddess and guardian of Sovereignty. In the Celtic stories, Sovereignty could only be passed on to the chief by the Goddess. In other words, it could not be taken, the women chose the men to give it to!

Ultimately, when talking about the Alchemical Elements, Air, Fire, Water, Earth or even the universe itself: Planet Earth, the moon, the sun, planets, stars….. None of these have gender. It is only us, the Human Beings that assign such things to them. Yes, it is fascinating when different cultures have different names for the sun or even different genders for it, but at the end of it all it is a great big star in our sky.

What we have to bear in mind here is that this particular system of Masculine and Feminine energies became widespread among the known world during medieval times, of which the mindset was utilised by the Church and saw Masculine as dominant and the Feminine as submissive. Because my main spiritual focus is of the Pre-Christian peoples of this land, I can share that they saw things differently. Both men and women could be chiefs and warriors and they could also be hunters and Druids. Quite often in the old tales, it was the women who would initiate courtship or sexual relations. Even the gods shared similar powers but there is one thing women could do that men could not: bear children. For that reason alone, for the mothering of future generations, can we see why the Celts traced their blood through their mothers? As previously mentioned, women could give their sovereignty to a man of their choosing making him chief. Indeed, it was normal for the chief to marry the goddess of their land. This was an act that our Celtic ancestors shared with our Germanic ones. Our Germanic ancestors even had a magic called Seidr which was said to be for women only. It involved speaking to the ancestors, healing and divination and was priestess led. It was considered taboo for a man to learn this and any man who did was considered feminine. Curiously enough, Odin, the Germanic All-Father god in his quest for wisdom learned this. I am no expert when it comes to the Germanic lore, and if I have got this wrong, then that is my own ignorance.

So what have we learned about the Masculine Principle in the Life-Force? According to this particular paradigm, it is but one part of a whole in our species. The example of Balin shows what happens when the Masculine Principle becomes too dominant, it becomes aggressive. Without the temperance and sustaining rationale of the Feminine Principle to balance the cold, hard logic and powerful dynamism, it becomes destructive and harmful. One half is needed to balance the other, without both halves, the whole dies out. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the idea.

Cormac had already lost his wife and children to The Stranger who had exacted his price, it wasn’t just his woman or his legacy that he had lost; it was what completed him. His reason to keep going, his cause to be the best chief he could be. Yes, he had material wealth, but what is that without his family to share with? Only too late did he learn this, and so he went in search of them. Not just in a rescue, but a quest.

And here is the aptly named Part 4: The Quest.