The Wiccan Mysteries of Gender
Author: nexy jo
Posted: On WitchVox January 1st. 2002
In my exposure to traditional Wiccan studies, I've come across several mentions of the 'Mysteries of the Goddess', and the 'Mysteries of the God'. Being transgendered, I began to think that I had somehow missed a part of both of these mysteries. Or perhaps I am simply part of a different set of 'mysteries' all together. Certainly, my own experiences of personal growth have been different than what most people, either male or female, encounter.
I found one of the first mentions of these mysteries on an Internet forum, and that sparked an interest for me. A Wiccan High Priestess posted a thread asking if any other Wiccan coven leaders had any experience in teaching a transgendered individual the 'Mysteries of the Goddess', even though this individual had never experienced the monthly cycles that most women go through. Not to mention the transition from childhood (girl) to adulthood (woman), or the potential for child bearing. As a transgendered woman myself, I have no personal experience in these matters, other than watching some of my friends going through this themselves.
The thought that I'd never learn these mysteries was not an issue for me. Of course, I know of them, but they do not have relevance for me. I'll never bear children, and I'll never menstruate, and frankly at my age, 45, I have no desire to do either. I imagine that personal experience in these areas would somehow change a person. So in that perspective, they will remain mysteries for me as I won't change in that fashion. Yet I don't see the lack of experience here as negatively affecting my contribution to my coven, the execution of my solitary practice, or drawing Goddess energy, or God energy for that matter, into myself.
As a young teenager, I experienced what most young men go through as they reach and pass through puberty. I experienced my body changing, as testosterone began transforming it (much to my horror I might add), and the emotional changes brought on by the same changes. Whether or not these are 'Mysteries of the God', or my life's experiences subsequent to that, I can never know. I suppose most people have a sense of their gender which coincides with their physical anatomy. I do not -- my mind and body, sense of gender and physical form -- have been at odds with each other since puberty. Whether or not this interfered with any 'mysteries', I cannot know. I don't know what it's like to grow up from a boy to a man, anymore than I know what it's like to grow up from a girl to a woman. I have only my own sense of confused gender identity in this area to draw on. I don't know what it 'feels' like to be a man or a woman. Sometimes I think I'm neither -- or both. So in this sense, I began to wonder what all this talk of mysteries was all about.
I began gender transition a few years ago. I started on hormone replacement therapy, continued psychotherapy, and I have surgery scheduled for later this year. The changes my body and mind have been going through were quite reminiscent of puberty. And still are, as my body and biology are still going through changes brought on by the intake of estrogen, and the blockage of testosterone. I wonder if one of the transgendered mysteries is going through puberty twice. Or, if the combined journey I've traveled makes me privy to both sets of mysteries. Or perhaps I'll encounter different mysteries, and more as my body is surgically altered later this year.
When I responded to the inquiry on that internet forum, I was curious about these mysteries of which she spoke. So, as the curious individual I am, I asked her specifically what she was referring to. She mentioned the monthly cycles, and other related woman's issues, and went on to say that these things were not spoken of in a public arena. I began to wonder how much exposure she'd had on the internet. Pretty much anything one wishes to find, it can be found online, in the world wide web. It was a mystery to me how she could think these issues were not spoken of in public. I was about to refer her to several women's issues websites I've visited, but I thought better of it, and just let it go.
I thought to mention the whole issue to my High Priestess. And I still may. Yet, I have to wonder how she'll explain the Goddess mysteries to me. I wonder how it's possible to relay experiences that are so deeply personal, and involve body parts that I don't have - some of which I'll never have. I suppose I'm ok with knowing that some things will remain mysteries to me. At the same time, I know that many of the things I've experienced in my life are more of a mystery to most people of the world, than any Goddess or God mysteries could ever be. Perhaps I may find myself in the position of explaining my own mysteries to others.
Regarding woman's mysteries, Raven Grimassi, in The Wiccan Mysteries, says:
'The Women's Mysteries Tradition arose from the fact that primitive women saw themselves as a mystery. There was a natural need to understand such things as menstrual bleeding, pregnancy, and childbirth. Clearly, these things separated them from the men whose bodies displayed no such powers. To primitive humans there must surely have been a magickal force at work, and apparently it was only concerned with the women of the clan. This mentality served to elevate women and established a sense of awe among the men.'
Of Men's mysteries, Grimassi writes:
'The Men's Mystery Tradition can be divided up into four categories: the Hunter/Warrior, Satyr, Divine King/Slain God, and the Hero. These mysteries associated with men best sum up the aspects of masculine mentality and behavior. Therefore we can separate most men into one or more of the types listed above. As with all generalizations (and stereotypes) these aspects of behavior or mentality will not apply to every individual.'
I found it interesting that women's mysteries involve biological function, where men's mysteries involve behavior and social/gender roles. I suppose it could be argued, based on Grimassi's interpretation of the mysteries, that women could understand both sets of mysteries. There are clearly many women, through history, and especially today, who take on the traditional male gender role in society. Of course, as Grimassi is a male, one can wonder whether or not he understands women's mysteries well enough to be considered an authority. Certainly, based on his description, they are understandable by men, as well as transgendered individuals.
In Laurie Cabot's The Witch in Every Woman, she says on the introduction page:
"The Witch embodies a woman's natural ability to heal, enchant, intuit, teach, protect, initiate, and create. She is a powerful flow of life carrying the water, soil, and sun needed to make your precious dreams come true."
Here then are some specific examples outside of biology that distinguishes a woman from a man. Not that every woman and no men exhibit these attributes, but they are typically found in many women.
In Wendy Griffen's Daughter of the Goddess, she reproduces an essay by Vajra Ma on Woman's Mysteries of the Ancient Future Sisterhood, which starts by stating:
"Women, with her capacity to conceive, gestate, birth, and sustain life from her physical form, embodies the generative powers of the Universe in a direct and complete way. These female creative powers called "woman's mysteries" were integral to much of humanities earliest religious experiences, which included body-based, sexually ecstatic communion with each other and the cosmos. Today we are walking a razor's edge, ensconced in a cultural trance of arrogance based on spiritual ignorance; we flirt with self destruction and the devastation of the Earth. The illusionary schism between spirit and matter fosters sexual repression and violence. I believe the most potent antidote to patriarchal alienation and violence is to re-turn (religion means to re-link) to women's mysteries, to once again recognize woman's body as holy and deeply intelligent, to recognize and embrace sexuality as an essential spiritual power, and to revivify "women's mysteries"
In addition to the traditional women's mysteries, Vajra Ma adds sexuality to the mix. Certainly, many Pagans I have spoken with feel sexuality is a deeply spiritual power. From my own perspective, as someone who dates primarily men, I can imagine the sexual energy between my self and my partner is much like that which runs between any woman and any man when they express their sexuality. While at present, my body limits one type of expression, virtually all others are expressed. And judging from the men I've been with, I believe I experience my sexuality much like a woman does. Perhaps in this, I can experience a part of Women's Mysteries.
In September of 2001, I started a journey called 'full time' or 'Real Life Test' (RLT). Transsexuals typically go through this either as the goal of their transition, assuming they don't go for gender reassignment surgery (GRS), or as a necessary step before GRS, according to the currently prescribed medical standards of care. I began living all the time in my target gender -- female. Really, this was the culmination of what I had been working for. In effect, the major portions of my personal goal for gender transition have been realized. At this point, GRS is merely 'icing on the cake'. Most people I encounter treat me as a woman, and unless they are extremely observant, or see me skyclad, they see me as a woman.
Although I still am in 'process', as there are several other facets of transition I have yet to complete, I had traveled far enough on my path to find myself thinking about a rite of passage. In Wiccan traditions, and many other religious paths for that matter, rites of passage are typically performed for all major life events -- birth, puberty, marriage, and death, among others. In my life, gender transition is much like both birth and death -- or death and rebirth, as the case may be. So I began searching for any existing rituals on the internet, in books, and in other covens. There was nothing to be found; no rituals even close to commemorate as major a change as gender transition. The closest I found was the puberty rite for girls. But these spoke of the women's mysteries for the most part, and as I mentioned, those really don't apply to me.
I spoke to my High Priestess, and expressed my interest in performing such a ritual. Originally, I had been undecided in whether I wanted to perform this as a solitary ritual, or with the coven. Since we both pretty much saw this as an entrance into the community of women, we decided it should be a 'community' event -- so the coven would be involved.
I should also point out another related issue. In the transgendered community, there is some debate as to what we 'really' are with regard to gender, or sex. Some argue that after GRS, we are women in fact, despite genetics, surgical and hormonal intervention, and our upbringing. From a personal perspective, I don't believe I'll ever truly be a woman. I see myself as a 'transgendered woman'. In body and mind, I'm female, or will be; yet I can't deny my past, my upbringing and the social conditioning I experienced, or the fact that I have never experienced many women's mysteries. In this sense, I felt that a rite of passage was not for becoming a woman, but instead, entering into the community of women -- living as a woman. It may be a fine line, but I would never try to deceive anyone, even myself. I'm not on this path to be something I'm not, I'm on this path to change into something I am -- to bring my body in alignment with my mind. And the very path I'm on makes me different from virtually every other woman.
During the creation of the ritual, I found myself searching for a definitive explanation of what exactly a woman is, without mentioning physical attributes. It was an interesting exorcise. I found myself listing feminine attributes of behavior, and of attitude. Yet with each, I could also think of men who exhibited these same behaviors and attitudes. Certainly, as the list grew, a general sense of how a woman behaves and acts developed, but still, there are men who also behave and act at least in part, according to the list. And as our gender roles evolve in modern society, the line between the genders with regard to behavior becomes thin indeed.
Words and phrases like nurturing, compassionate, intuitive, emotionally expressive as opposed to logically expressive, sympathetic as opposed to reparative, supportive verbally and emotionally, came to mind. Yet still, I felt they fell short. Surely, there's more to a woman, and a man for that matter, than physical attributes. The women I spoke to of this seemed to agree with my perspective -- there is more to a woman than her body. But we also agreed that gender role behaviors didn't express fully what it was.
One woman added that her definitive factor of womanhood was their struggle. Facing the discrimination and oppression in society through the ages, and still finding the strength within themselves to forge ahead and excel. While another pointed out the danger in defining ones self in terms of oppression, this rang true to me. Discrimination and oppression are issues I face as a transgendered woman in our society, so in this, I can wholly identify. Further, some argued that woman are generally vulnerable. While this caused somewhat of an uproar - some women do not see themselves as vulnerable, and took offense at the suggestion - the fact that women seem to be more in touch with their bodies, as well as their emotions, would in part support an inherent vulnerability. "Women's intuition" requires an openness, a sensitivity, a connection to ones emotional, spiritual, and sense of connectiveness with the universe. And this, by definition, I believe causes some degree of vulnerability.
I came face to face with this vulnerability the first weekend I began my RLT. I had met a neighbor in front of my place as he rode by on his bicycle, and he struck up a conversation with me. We spoke at length, and I invited him in for coffee. Before long, I found myself sexually assaulted. While I was able to escape with no damage, besides my pride and psyche, it was a wake up call for me. Living as a woman, I had become vulnerable pretty much immediately. The sense of helplessness and oppression I felt was almost overwhelming, until I could find the strength to push him away, and threaten to call the police. While I didn't report him - my embarrassment and shame got in the way - I learned an important lesson I will never make again. Because of this experience though, I do see woman as vulnerable to a certain extent - both physically and emotionally.
In Dianne Hales' Just Like a Woman, in the chapter "What is a Woman", she says of the medical analysis of gender differences:
"...I have watched the pieces of the puzzle come together and a new image of woman as unique in body, mind, and spirit come into focus. As a woman, I behold this creature - so much more complex and compelling than the stereotyped females of the past - and I think" 'Yes, this is who I am'"
She goes on to say:
"We're aware at a certain level, of "something" neither purely biological nor wholly psychological, something that affects not just how we function but how we feel, that influences us inside and out. Our female reproductive rhythms no longer constrict the steps we can take and the moves we can make, but they remain the chemical choreography of our lives"
It's pretty clear that Hales sees women as more than the traditional "Women's Mysteries" as well, though remaining a part. Since I take estrogen and progestin supplements, I am not totally unaware of women's cycles. For a while, I was receiving estrogen shots every other week. As the estrogen level in my blood began to wane, toward the end of the second week, I experienced significant mood swings - what my doctor identified as PMS symptoms. They became so extreme, that she decided to give smaller shots weekly, to reduce the amount of change in my estrogen levels. That helped significantly. Yet still, I was able to experience the cyclical nature of hormonal changes, and still feel them today, though less pronounced. Do I truly *know* what it is to be a woman? I say no, but clearly, I am not a man. And within the constraints of our society, I am forced to check one of the boxes - either "M" or "F". I've been going with "F".
In any event, the ritual was created, by the High Priestess, the other women who joined in the ritual, and myself, each contributing a part to make a functional whole. Perhaps there was my definition -- each gender is made of many parts, each part contributing to the whole. The parts may overlap between genders, suggesting a gender continuum as opposed to a polarity, but combined with the individual's internal sense of who they are, makes up what we are in respect to gender. Another mystery revealed...
 Grimassi, Raven. The Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins & Teachings, Page 222, Llewellyn Publications ©1997 by Raven Grimassi, ISBN 1-56718-254-2
 Grimassi, Raven. The Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins & Teachings, Page 233, Llewellyn Publications ©1997 by Raven Grimassi, ISBN 1-56718-254-2
 Cabot, Laurie, with Mills, Jean. The Witch in Every Woman, Introduction Page, Dell Publishing ©1997 by Laurie Cabot and Jean Mills, ISBN 0-385-31649-6
 Griffen, Wendy. Daughters of the Goddess, Page 201, AltaMira Press ©2000 by AltaMira Press, ISBN 0-7425-0348-8
 Hales, Dianne. Just Like a Woman, Page 7, Bantam Books ©1999 by Dianne Hales, ISBN 0-553-37818-X
 Hales, Dianne. Just Like a Woman, Page 11-12, Bantam Books ©1999 by Dianne Hales, ISBN 0-553-37818-X