The links to books and other resources in this post may be affiliate links.
While there are certainly religions under the Pagan umbrella that center around the feminine divine, it’s no secret that many– though not the majority– have a God and Goddess-centric model. This can be attractive to believers who find patriarchal religions to lack balance, or who don’t feel that a purely masculine deity is an accurate representation of their concept of a creator. Unfortunately, Pagan heteronormativity can leave LGBTQ Pagans feeling unable to fully connect with their faith.
What is heteronormativity? Wikipedia offers a definition and outline of why it’s problematic, but, for my purposes, I’ll give a condensed version: it’s the belief that people fall into one of two genders, and heterosexuality of some form is the only norm. While this may not be an issue for cis or transgender people who do feel comfortable as either masculine or feminine, it makes things difficult for those who are not accurately represented or comfortable in one of those two roles. The God and Goddess are typically portrayed as a couple– you see it with Shiva and Shakti, Zeus and Hera, Danu and Bile. While they may not be considered a traditional husband and wife in the way most modern societies define married heterosexual couples, Pagan heteronormativity is heavily implied.
One rationalization for this is the idea that the God and Goddess are intended to be a representation of human/mammalian reproductive sex, or a simulation thereof (see: the association between mistletoe berries and semen). For humans, a male and female participant are required to some degree– though one need only look as far as the Greek or Norse pantheons for tales of shape-shifting sex hijinks– and what was considered “masculine” or “feminine” in their cultural contexts was applied to them.
This is not to imply that heterocentrism should be accepted, and there are traditions where it definitely isn’t the case. Secular Pagans and Witches don’t worship deities at all, for one. Other traditions regard the God and Goddess as having sprung from a genderless singularity, commonly represented as a circle or egg. Some groups regard all Goddesses and Gods as being aspects of an ultimate Goddess and God, who have just as many expressions of femininity and masculinity as they do faces. Others regard their deities as knowable, but not corresponding to one of the representations offered by mainstream Paganism; in short, they ascribe names, faces, and behaviors to them that they feel comfortable interacting with.
While it can be hard to escape Pagan heteronormativity in mainstream paths, there are representations of non-binary figures within a number of them:
- Paleothea provides some stories of ancient Greek transgender figures.
- Witchvox has a list of gay or transgender deities from a range of traditions.
- Weekly Norse Myths offers this discussion of the many faces of Odin, including a brief description of his role as the Allfather in relation to non-binary seiðr.
- For practitioners looking for hard copies, I (and Witchvox) recommend Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Lore.
- For practitioners looking for a group of like-minded individuals, there’s Pagans Against Gender Binary and Heteronormativity (PAGBAH).
Is accepting heterocentrism necessary for understanding the divine? Not even a little bit. While sexual reproduction’s place in the cycle of fertility is arguably important, deities, at their heart, embody creation, protection, and destruction. There are more ways to create than having heterosexual sex, and figures of all stripes have been given the role of protector and destroyer.
On my path, I have found that the belief is more important than the face you ascribe to a deity. There are tens of thousands of gods and goddesses out there, and they all had to present themselves to the oracles, priests/priestesses, and shamans that passed them along to others. There were no books or lists available when the first deity made themselves known to the first person. If none of the representations of the God or Goddess ring true for you, He, She, or They may be trying to speak to you in a different way– being unable to relate to the Gods and Goddesses presented to you doesn’t mean you’re somehow “doing Paganism wrong.” Approach your idea of deity with an open heart and a receptive mind, and you may forge a deeper connection than you would with any preexisting concept of the divine.