Thursday, March 27, 2008


In a world where Goddesses swim at the center, what role should male gods play?

In his fine comments re: my March 11 post, Mandos suggests that male gods should somehow relate to the male role in procreation.

But is this really a top-notch, primo role for guy gods? Could there be better roles? If deities are models for how we want to treat each other, the earth, and everything on it, what male god would be best?

1. The Mother Goddess’s lover?
2. Mother’s hubbie?
3. Mother’s son?
4. Mother’s friend?
5. One who helps Mother care for and protect the kiddies?
6. One who watches over the community and keeps it safe?
7. A Dionysian-type dude in charge of good times?
8. All of the above?
9. None of the above?

Of course there’s no getting around it: since daddy-war gods such as Jehovah, Allah, Yahweh, Zeus and others punched most of our good male gods into the dust long ago, we are forced to find new ones.

Personally, I think which gods we settle on should rest on what kinda world we want to live in.

For example, among the marriage-less Moso of China, the main male god is not the Mother Goddess’ hubbie, but her lover -- ‘cause the Moso put marriage in the same category with the 24/7 ingestion of red-hot, skin-dissolving chile peppers.

But among the daddy-war-god ancient Greeks, the main guy-god had a wife he treated like the floor of a pigpen.

And the early Indo-Europeans’ main god was a dirt-bag who incested his daughter, Usas, Goddess of the Dawn.

So unless we are dying for incester, rapist, and child-molester men, or dudes who’d rather slice rice all day than marry, I’d suggest we avoid gods such as the above.

But floating around out there are lotsa fine dude-gods with “pick me, pick me!” written all over them. Some of my fave are the helper, guardian and protector gods. Take Koyote of Native American fame, for example, or Faivarongo of the Polynesian Tikopia, or Tokoyoto of the Koryak of SE Siberia. And then there are Osande, the elderly guardian god of the Ovimbundu of SW Africa (Angola), and Tanuta, also of the Koryak, and guardian of the earth, plants and animals.

A great old Chinese child-guardian god, Chang Hs’ien, is sometimes shown aiming an arrow at the earth-threatening dog star, Tien Kou (Jordan, Encyclopedia of the Gods, p. 54).

And then there’s the Aztec Huehuecoyotl, “god of sexual lust,” as author Michael Jordan puts it in The Encyclopedia of Gods.

So, zee qvestion of zee veek, liebchen, eeze, “What other dude gods model the kinda human dudes you’d like to see walking the earth today?”
Thnx to aeroporc for the foto; go HERE to see a close-up and more of aeroporc's work.


Morgaine said...

You already named my favorite - Dionysus. The Eternal Youth, a pretty young guy raised by women and adored by them. He gave women a chance to get their ya-yas out - though later they claimed he made women go mad and kill their children, but that's bullshit. The only madness Dionysus ever caused is more likely to create children than destroy them. He might make women leave a bad or boring relationship, though, and the boy does know how to party. Hail Dionysus, Hail, Yes!

Aquila ka Hecate said...

That's odd -I've come to realise that I don't have any deep connections with male humaniform gods.
My primary allegiance on the male side is to Anubis. More of a guardian, really.
I have taken the spirit of the sacrificial god as a sort of generic slain-and-resurrecting-deity and lumped him under the name John Barleycorn - but he's not very personal.

This might be a fairly common over reaction to being a woman living in a world dominated by the YAJ bastards, I dunno, as my Goddesses are far more personal and humaniform.

Terri in Joburg

Athana said...

Yeah, Morgaine, I like Dionysus too. But after him, I had to go dig out an encyclopedia of world gods to get to any others I really liked. And I had to look to the non-Western cultures and the non-big-guy cultures to find them.

Dionysus is a lover-god. Should we have a husband-god, i.e., a god who is also a devoted, loving and dependable spouse? I mean if we want a society which includes marriage at all, shouldn’t we have a few gods who are good married men? Who reflect and model what good married dudes are like?

And then my next question: Are there any good married gods in our Western and/or Middle Eastern pantheons? You know – faithful, kind, loving, responsible, etc.? Ones who eschew rape, incest and infidelity?

Athana said...

Terri, maybe you don’t feel anything toward male humaniform gods because there are so few to feel good about. At least not among the gods we’ve grown up with. Zeus, Thor, YAJ, Indra, Seth, Ares, Pluto, Odin/Wodan, etc., don’t have much to recommend them, to say the least.

As I mentioned to Morgaine above, I had to go outside the usual pantheons to find gods I think would make good role models for the kind of men I’d like to live with: to Africa, Siberia, Asia, Tibet and the like.

But then too there’s that notion that men will always resonate more with male gods and women with female deity.

Jane said...

I'm with Terri's John Barleycorn. Although I call him the Green Man. He's independent from the Goddess (unlike a husband, who is intimately connected to her) but supportive of her. I think the best thing for a society would be to have people who are independent and supportive. If marriage arises out of that, great. If it does not, great. I see so many unbalanced marriages that I can't help but think it might not be bad if we started all over without it...

Morgaine said...

Terri - maybe you relate impersonally to John Barleycorn because he isn't really intended to be human - he's a personification of crops of grain.

Athana - the thing about Dionysus is he gets a bad rap. You hardly ever hear of how Ariadne was abandoned on an island by a lover and Dionysus came to her rescue. Did you know that Ariadne is often called Ariadne-Aphrodite? I consider Dionysus and Aphrodite to be a couple like Isis and Osiris or Morgaine and Arthur. By the way, in both of the latter cases, the consort is also the brother of the Goddess and in matrifocal cultures, parenting is more the role of the male sibling of the mother than of the biological father, who may be completely unknown.

I say we go Moso and eschew the marriage bit altogether. True husbands that really love their wives unconditionally are so rare that maybe we should treat them as gifts rather than expectations. What do you think?

Athana said...

morgaine, I'm not sure what I think. I agree that "husbands who really love their wives unconditionally are so rare that maybe we should treat them as gifts rather than expectations." That's beautifully put.

The problem is, there's evidence that you can't have it both ways: either you make marriage sacred, or you make marriage taboo. There doesn't seem to be any inbetween state that works.

The Moso don't have a choice between marriage or affairs. Marriage among them is a no-no. The reason: live-in marriages upset the matriarchal household to the point it doesn't work properly or well.

If you do find someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, that's cool -- but they can't come live with you. You have to continue to meet them outside your home (or surreptitiously in your bedroom at night when no one's looking).

Grian said...

I think our society has a lot of couples in it who choose to live together but not marry. It's getting pretty common actually. Maybe that's an in between point?

AS for male gods: in my tradition we see them as Goddess too because the idea of oneness of all things and all aspects of deity is seen to be truth. When looking at the myths of these gods often we see a patriarchal spin. Maybe it's important to try and see them in what might be considered their original, Goddess-like form.

I don't think the Goddess was concerned with controlling her male aspect or taming him into a figure that is solely her husband without his own independence. From my perspective the male aspect of the Goddess was a man of nature, with instincts and freedom. I think his instincts included very Goddess-like qualities like protection, paternal-instincts, etc.

I think we should also think about men as a way to study the Goddess' male aspect. They are not made like women - both in the obvious physical ways and the not so obvious psychological ways. The key to this may be realizing which qualities of modern men are imposed by the society they live in and which are inherent.

Anti-thesisofreason said...

Why don't you just take all the qualities you like in a man and perhaps some of the bad ones (after all everyone has a dark side too) and create your own god?

Athana said...

Grian, but can your “in between point” remain stable for any length of time? The problem is, who helps takes care of the children if and when the bio dad decides to leave the household? It’s pretty hard for one woman to handle even one newborn on her own. Someone has to help. Right now it’s either the government or the woman’s parents – or both -- who step in. But neither of these solutions is seen as ideal by most.

Athana said...

Anti-thesisofreason, for some reason I'm finding myself wanting to create more than one god. How could one god ever contain everything I like in men? Dionysos for certain would make the list (including all his lesser-known, esoteric qualities described by morgaine above), but I'd also add a more overtly protector god -- and a god completely devoted to making me laugh.

Grian said...

Athana, the problem is relationships don't always last forever. Whether there's a piece of paper between two people or not the bio dad can and often does leave.

My mother (who is only 17 years older than me) had help from her mother and father - who were divorced themselves but still watched me whenever they could.She also had help from her brother who is a good example of the qualities we are looking for in god figures.

With this help my mother worked her tail off to make ends meat. Things were hard at times and I was a latch-key kid at eight, but after all her hard work my mother now makes a very good living.

I am a fan of uncles being the male figures as we've seen in matriarchal households, but I don't believe there should be some sort of mandate that says two people can't fall in love and live together either. I don't claim to have found the in-between-point. Only posed one example.

Anne Johnson said...

My personal favorite is Bumba of the Congo. He was alone in the universe, and the solitude made him vomit. Somehow I like a god who reacts to stress this way. Like, he's not trying to be Cool Hand Luke or anything. Oh, and by the way, his vomit was the universe. So there's your Big Bang.

Athana said...

Ah, yes, Anne, good old Bumba of the Congo. Another god without a womb or vagina who had to wing it when he decided he was going to shove the Great Mother out of the way and confiscate her natural birthing abilities. Then of course there's Ymir of the Norse who created the first man and woman out of his sweaty armpit, and Atum of ancient Egypt who created the first two humans by masturbation and self-fertilization through his mouth. The list goes on and on, but you get my drift. The dudes were so jealous of Mother's abilities that they tried to con us into believing they were as talented as She was.

Athana said...

grian, let's look at the Moso of China. The Moso household consists of a woman, her progeny, and her siblings. The men of the household are the mother's brothers and the mother's sons.

In this arrangement, mothers and their babies are ALWAYS well taken care of -- no matter what.

But there are no permanent sexual liaisons in this household. Bringing one in would cause jealousy and might break up the household. At least if I remember correctly, this is the problem.

If you break up the household, you're back where you started -- with no one to help the mother care for her children.

Morgaine said...

I'm firmly in the oneness camp: "All gods are Goddesses and all Goddesses are one Goddess." We all begin as female - it takes a series of hormonal exposures to create a male, even if the Y chromosome is present. The physical differences between males and females are the result of these processes. Otherwise, we are identical. So far there is no evidence that nature accounts for the cognitive differences - all of them of which we are aware may be the result of the way boys are raised differently from girls.

The natural form of human family is a matrifocal kinship group - a mother's family. When people live communally that way, children are parented by the group, so no one individual is over-burdened. Our culture depends on the subservience of women and that's just not going to work anymore, so we have to consciously create a support system for single mothers who don't have familial support. It is absurd for us to continue to expect people to live in nuclear families - they're rare as hen's teeth and always have been. They really only became possible when we shifted from agrarian to industrial economies and even then, they depended on young people leaving the family to find work far away from home. When are we going to wake up and realize that our system really isn't working for the majority of people?

I just think we need a more fluid concept of gender, of family, and of how the government views its own people. Rules need to be flexible - we shouldn't expect men never to stay any more than we would expect them always to stay. People need options, but those options should always be predicated on placing the care of offspring at the top of the priorities. We don't make that a priority now - it's more of an after-thought, and our society is suffering because of this.

Grian said...

I can see the benefits of living like the Moso but I can also say that I don't think I would be happy in that life permanently.

I personally like the idea of being able to choose who I want to grow old with and who is going to be my partner. Yes there no guarantees that person will stick around forever, but life doesn't come with too many guarantees.

And what if I don't have any brothers? Or what if my brother is a real jerk? At least I can divorce my husband if I need to. What do the Moso do in these situations?

I'm playing devil's advocate here because I am still trying to think of where the solution might be. Nuclear families have their flaws for sure, but I think matrifocal ones might as well. Maybe both come with their ups and downs?

Athana said...

Grian, you *are* allowed to grow old with a chosen, beloved partner in the Moso tradition. You just can't (in most cases) have that partner living permanently in your home with you. A man is allowed to spend every night with you in your private room, but he must be gone by dawn. And you can spend all day together, too -- but out walking, or doing other activities outside the house.

If a family has no sons, they will try to adopt someone else's son(s), or, in some cases they do allow an unrelated male to live in the household as a husband to one of the women in the family.

I think you're absolutely right -- all kinds of household and family structures seem to have their flaws.

Mandos said...

Not sure I buy that "all things start with female" argument. I think it's based on a false analogy. Almost all of this seems subtly predicated on the notion of the womb. Practically speaking, it comes from the perspective of placental mammals.

Most other creatures, sexually reproducing and otherwise, simply release (spew?) low-effort gametes into the environment. In some sexually-reproducing species, the female gamete is a lot larger than the male gamete, but a lot larger than really small can still be pretty small (think frogs).

Those that do have higher-effort external gametes (birds?) very often don't have a great deal of differentiation between male and female offspring-care roles.

It's primarily placental mammals that have the huge difference, with a complex internal effort on the part of the female, and an often physically traumatic birth process.

But male mammals do what most of the rest of the environment does, and release low-effort gametes.

So in reality, I don't see any fundamental reason to accept the primacy of a "birth" metaphor for creation or divinity or anything else of that kind. It is purely a psychological preference. What consequences it has are debatable.

Mandos said...

As for the old question, what reproductive characteristics of the male ought to be reflected in divinity, I'd first like to say that I don't really relate to the question. I don't accept that human biological characteristics need to be reflected in divinity in the first place. Consequently, creation should be abstract.

However, taking the question at face value for the sake of argument, I'd say the act of creative instigation is the right metaphor. Athena being born of Zeus' head and all that.

Athana said...

Mandos, when you say, “I don't accept that human biological characteristics need to be reflected in divinity,” I have to agree.

We could make our major god a giant male spider. Another could be a gigundo female earthworm. Or hows about just a sexless crustacean?

Or are you in favor of doing the disembodied bit the YAJites have done for three millennia: deity is just a big, disembodied brain in the sky?

Athana said...

Mandos, that’s a very interesting and seductive bit of reasoning: in the zillions of lower life forms, the generation of new life doesn’t seem to be a province dominated by one sex over the other, so why should we build deity around it?

But what would you have us build deity around? What is more important and awesome to any of us than the miraculous generation of new life? Or the generation of new anything – a new star, ocean, mountain range or solar system?

And in the more complex life forms like us, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that one sex plays a 20x larger role in the generation of new life than the other sex does: carrying the new life in her body for months and months; giving painful birth to it; feeding it from her own body; risking her life to save it’s life. Come on! Admit it: This is AWESOME!

Medusa said...

I would eliminate "marriage" of Goddess to God altogether because historically, legal marriage is patriarchal and involved ownership rights of the man (and none for the woman). The "marriage" of deities developed along with patriarchy. However, I have no problem with goddesses having consorts.

Anyway, Athana, I also like the helper, guardian, image. This doesn't limit it to any specific relationship (can be son, brother, consort, etc.), but it does show what a god's role is in relation to a Goddess.

Athana said...

medusa, do you think we can eliminate Goddess-God marriage and still keep marriage as a societal institution? Are you in favor of eliminating marriage in America? If so what would you replace it with (i.e., for care of birthing mothers, babies and children)?

YAJ doesn't marry, of course, and that's not eliminated the institution of marriage. But YAJ commands men and women to marry, even though he refuses to.

Medusa said...

I think the idea of Goddess-God marriage did not occur until the transition to patriarchy, or even when patriarchy got fully entrenched. The earlier idea was Goddess and consort. When the Goddess became "wife" she had already lost power. So whether you have Goddess/God marriage depends on what time period you are discussing. As far as today goes, as I said, I prefer seeing the god as a helper, and wouldn't used the term husband (I mean, who's performing the marriage ceremony?).

As far as marriage between humans in America goes, I think there are two ways to go: change the institution of marriage so that it is more of a partnership. And this does seem to be the way we are going now in many cases. The other is to eliminate marriage entirely (but NOT eliminate the obligation of the man to help care for his offspring and also do the dishes). You know about a decade or so ago there was a trend to call spouses "partners" rather than husbands or wives. I don't know if this is as common today.

Another way is to eliminate "marriage" as a legal institution and replace it with "civil union" as the binding legal partnership for both het and gay/lesbian couples. In the U.S.this could be similar to what goes on in other countries, where the civil ceremony is separate from the religious ceremony, but the legally binding ceremony is the civil one. Separating the "civil union" from the "marriage ceremony" could work the in a similar way: All couples (straight and gay) would have a civil union--with attendant and equal legal benefits-- while religious institutions (in their separate ceremonies with no legal status) could decide whether they want to limit "marriage" by gender or not. In the US I think this goes better with our supposed separation of church and state than our present system.

Waddya think?

Athana said...

medusa, I love the idea of wrenching the institution of “marriage” away from YahwehAllahJehovah and his churches. Or, rather, the legally binding part of marriage. Why should he get to decide who can and cannot be legal in this country?

Of course it goes without saying that we’d have to sweat bullets to get him to unclench his big, fat fist and let go of this institution. The first thing we need to do is wrench the American government in general away from him.

But my first overwhelming response to what you wrote is, “Jeez. Why in the world does anyone need to be “legally bound” to anyone? For any reason? Anywhere, anytime, anyhoo?

I’m getting this cartoon in my head of two people bound together with tons of rope, from shoulders to knees, and trying to walk down the street that way.

Medusa said...

Well,the "legally bound" (big emphasis on bound--as your image suggests) came about because men had to assert their rights to their progeny. Therefore, the women they had babies with had to be bound to them, so that they had what amounted to ownership rights over both the mother and children. A second reason was so that they could control any money their wives had inherited (or in some cultures, get money for marrying her). Romance had NOTHING to do with it.

Ah big thunderstorm coming. Thunder god ANGRRRRRY!!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an inspiring post! It is fantastic to see my own thoughts of the import and role of male divinity reflected back at me from a strong feminist goddess-woman!

My favourite god is Finvarra the Faery King of the tuatha de dannan, though he historically has a womanising rep whilst being married (it's king Finn and Queen Oonagh), though I do not experience him as a cheating git, I am thinking it's time to find out the facts.