Childfree and Pagan

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So, yesterday I watched a documentary on the BBC about people choosing to be sterilised so as not to have children. The programme itself (available on iPlayer for those in the UK) was pretty awful. The people chosen, while all awesome and very much my sort of people, were to the mainstream viewer’s eye…well…weirdos. Nerds, aspies, people with mental health issues, non-binary folk etc. Again, they’re all brilliant people and brave for going on telly, but they were clearly chosen to fit a particular narrative about what childfree people are like.

The programme also interviewed a “bioethicist” (actually a theologian, not a medical doctor…yeah, let that sink in) who basically said that having children is what makes us human, sterilisation is mutilation, and “allowing” people to make that choice is “treating these people as if they were irredeemable”. So…thanks for that.

This got me thinking about the emphasis on childbirth in Paganism, as well as in the wider “life script” offered to us by society. In certain forms of Paganism I have experienced, there is a huge focus on “the God” and “the Goddess” coming together to create life. The Wiccan Great Rite reflects this idea (in either its literal sexual form or its symbolic athame & chalice metaphors), as does some forms of Druidry.

The idea of “male and female polarity” is part of this as well, suggesting that “male” and “female” are universal energies, that embody certain qualities (often seen in “traditional” hunter-gatherer terms) that are innate to one gender or another and that they need the “opposite” to be complete. Srsly, I’ve heard Pagans say that a man needs a woman and a woman needs a man to complete them…yeah.

This also often leads into a very heteronormative idea of sex and sexuality, where, despite Pagans talking a good game about sex-positivity, can boil down to basic biology of male seed + female womb. The elevation of straight, reproductive, penetrative sex as the Most Sacred Mystery of course necessarily involves the unspoken assumption that other forms of sex and sexuality are lesser. You don’t have to hold a “God Hates Fags” sign to perpetuate homophobia, even unconsciously.

And then there’s the perpetually-pregnant statues of the Mother Goddess, and the Maiden, Mother, Crone archetypes, and Ceridwen and Taliesin, and so on and so on.

All of which serves to make me, a childfree, sexually-fluid, not particularly “masculine” man happily married to an equally childfree, sexually-fluid, not particularly “feminine” woman, feel pretty alienated. I would love to know how it makes gay and trans* Pagans feel (I genuinely would love to know, if you are one please leave a comment!).

Of course, we now know that gender is a spectrum and that the roles and qualities attributed to “men” and “women” are largely social constructs. Women can be warriors and men can be homemakers. Shocking, right? It’s almost like it’s the 21st century or something…*snark*

One of the cool things about ADF Druidry, where I began my Druid training, is that they don’t do and any of that. They deliberately don’t do Wiccan-style “God and Goddess” gender polarity stuff, and they are pretty explicit in their openness to, and support of, the LGBT community. And while they do have a virtue called “Fertility” they go to some pains to point out that they don’t mean it as literal reproduction (think a fertile field or mind instead).

But it seems all to common for Paganism in its more generic forms to fall back on unquestioned 1950s concepts of gender and sexuality, which may have been truly revolutionary compared to the conservative Christianity of the time, but are now woefully out of touch with the wonderful diversity blooming in our modern, connected world.

What am I getting at with all of this? I don’t know, mostly it’s just a rant about something I find deeply irritating and unsettling. But also, I would like to look to a vision of Paganism that, yes, still holds childbearing and mothers as sacred, but also encompasses the sacredness of LGBT people, childfree people, non-binary people, asexual people, people who cannot have children because of biology rather than choice, and everyone in between.

For me, it is Nature which is most sacred. And Nature shows us infinite variety and diversity. Not only has homosexuality been observed in literally hundreds of species, there are eusocial insects and naked mole rats, where whole colonies are sterile apart from the queen and a few chosen suitors, there are fish which change gender depending on water temperature, there are trees which mate as male and female, and trees which are both and mate with themselves. There are single celled organisms that reproduce by dividing, aphids who make clones, galaxies born from the black holes of other long-dead galaxies.

There is, as in the Vulcan creed (Trek nerd alert!) Kol-Ut-Shan: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.

And that is sacred. We are sacred. Our bodies and our choices are sacred. And above all, Love is sacred.

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law. Love under will”. -Crowley

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6 Responses to Childfree and Pagan

  1. Heather says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It is such a relief to find someone else who is irritated with the pervasive and limited gender dualities in paganism. Personally, I identify most as asexual/agender, and I find that many common pagan concepts such as the “goddess and god”, “maiden mother crone”, etc. just don’t make much sense to me. They don’t reflect who I am and what I think paganism is or should be about. (This is one reason why I was drawn towards Druidry rather than Wicca when I first discovered paganism many years ago, although Druidry is certainly not perfect either.) The more I learn about gender and sexuality, the more I realize that it is so much more interesting and diverse than the male/female duality I grew up with and that I thought I had to fit into. If paganism is truly a nature-based religion, then it needs to reflect that diversity that is present in nature. The pagan community needs more posts like the one you have written here!

    • Ryan C. says:

      Thank you for your comment, it’s good to know others feel similar ways when faced with the pervasive heterosexism and fetishisation of childbirth within some forms of Paganism. Like I say, not all Paganisms do this and many are moving to a more diverse understanding, but there does seem to be a cutural fixation around reproduction and god/goddess gender binaries.

  2. Platyzoa says:

    It makes some sense that there would be so much focus on fertility, from an objective historical and biological perspective. Plants or animals that don’t reproduce simply don’t survive as a species, so the plants and animals surrounding us today (including humans) are the result of plants and animals who focused their energy on getting food and reproducing. People in earlier societies also relied greatly on fertility for their survival. If their crops or livestock didn’t reproduce, they wouldn’t have any food, so it was a big deal for them if their cow got pregnant or the crops were pollinated. Having their own children meant there would be more people to contribute to the survival of the family or social group, plus there is probably just a genetic hardwired feeling that reproduction is ultra important; a remnant from our primal times. These days we are so much less connected to the origins of our food, but it is still entirely the result of reproduction, as are we.

    Having said all that, I think as a species humans have outgrown that primal need for every one of us to try and reproduce, since we’ve greatly reduced a lot of the natural limitations we would have had on our population and are now overpopulated from an ecological standpoint. Personally I have no interest in having children, and I’m what mainstream society would consider “normal”, for the most part. I just don’t see the point, and I feel like I can be a far more effective member of society without ditching my personal ambitions and dedicating the rest of my life to adding yet another human body to the swarm. I so agree with everything you said; it is time for us as a species to be a lot more open minded and to let go of the focus on our own reproduction and fertility. I acknowledge the existence of great diversity and open mindedness in nature, but I also see that fertility is ultimately the main reason life as we know it continues to exist on earth, and that is, in my opinion, why it’s still worth celebrating.

    • Ryan C. says:

      Oh, I agree that for ancient Paganism, the emphasis on fertility totally made sense, especially in times when people were much closer to the agricultural cycle and also when infant mortality was much higher than today. From an evolutionary and socio-cultural perspective, I understand where the impulse comes from.

      But as you say, I think we have moved to a different place as a society today where there is much more freedom of choice, and where overpopulation is one of the greatest existential risks to our environment.

      It isn’t “fertility” as a concept I take issue with in Paganism, it’s the way that fertility-in-nature (which is a great thing to celebrate) can sometimes be co-opted to a form of heteronormativity that places its emphasis on supposedly “traditional” male and female gender roles, including the having and raising of children.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

  3. Libra says:

    Yes! My husband and I are both not really feminine and masculine but both. We also don’t want children nor will children make us happy (quite the opposite).

    I grew up studying Wicca, but I threw away most of the beliefs along with the label years ago, but the underlining heteronormativity in modern pagan paths can be annoying. I studied biology in college and you’re right. There’s so many ways life can get it on!

    I feel that most pagans don’t realize that fertility doesn’t always mean sex between a person with a male genitalia with a person with the female one because that Wiccan concept is in a lot of New Age books nowadays.

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