It bothers me, sometimes: being a man (however queer) with aspirations to leadership in the NeoPagan community.
Witchcraft is supposed to be Womyn’s Religion. We honor a Goddess before a God, exalt the role of the High Priestess, assert that the “feminine principle” is the dominant power on the inner planes. And yet … too often our leaders and teachers are men. Gerald Gardner. Alex Sanders. Raymond Buckland. Carlos Castaneda and Michael Harner. Raven Grimmassi, Ed Fitch, Oberon Zell. There are great women, too, of course: Doreen Valiente, Margot Adler and Starhawk and Z Budapest. But what does it say that I – a man who once called himself Scholar Mage, who has read as many histories of witchcraft as how-too manuals – can think of so few ladies who had as much influence on modern NeoPagan witchcraft as these.
(I’ll leave alone entirely, for the moment, the overwhelming preponderance of gentlemen over ladyfolk in ceremonial magick which has been so influentialon the NeoPagan movement as a whole. I’ll also leave for another time the discussion of such inseparable couples as Gavin and Yvonne Frost, or Janet and Stewart Farrar, and the erasure of Rosemary Buckland and so many other influential wives and partners.)
To make matters worse, when we think of the grand disasters, whose are the names that come to mind most readily? Amber K, Edain McCoy, Silver Ravenwolf. Really, what makes Ravenwolf (whose work I won’t touch) so much worse than Penczak (whose work I’m embarrassed about, but make extensive use of)?
Witchcraft is supposed to be Womyn’s Religion. So where are the women? That’s a silly question: of the groups I’ve worked with, women made up a little more than half their number; of the solitaries I’ve known, women made a solid 2/3 majority (leaving Heathens and Not Wiccan Damnits out of the count for the sake of this discussion). Instead I should ask: where are the women leaders? The lady-writers reshaping the movement with their brilliance?
There’s a part of me that wants to cop out and take an easy answer: the good ones are at home, leading covens – too busy with the real Work to publish self-aggrandizing through publishing. But Deborah Lipp (brilliant and under recognized, at least in the circles I run in) manages both; that’s part of what being brilliant is about. An even easier answer is that they’re squeezed out by a sexist publishing industry that’s too afraid of risk to print anything but another idiot Witchcraft 101 – With a Twist! This feels closer to the truth, at least. Maybe a portion of the truth, a part of the problem.
But I wonder sometimes … if I’m not part of the problem, too. Not me, personally (I hope), but man-witches in general – still struggling (or not) to escape the patriarchal paradigm that privileges our worst ideas over any woman’s most brilliant. If the preponderance of male writers and leaders is a passive (or active) force keeping women out of the public sphere in this community, even as it is in the mainstream world.
What, then, is my role as a male witch? How can I serve the community that has sheltered me? How do I pass on the knowledge I’ve acquired after a decade and a half of struggling with Mysteries and a sea of mediocre books (spotted rarely with islands of genius)? How do I create the small, intimate, power magical community – the coven, ideally, or temple failing that – that I can’t seem to find ready-made? How can I do these things without furthering the problem?