When from the Shrine of Eros launched the project of the Pagan Observatory of Eros and the first survey for the Study on Sexuality and Gender in Paganism received, in a majority way, support from the great part of the pagan community. And I say “part” because we found ourselves with some comments that told us that all this was totally unnecessary, that questions about sexuality and gender are private things and that they do not have to mix with religion. We believe that this thought couldn’t be more wrong.
One of the things we learn when we go into Wicca and into almost all the traditions within paganism is to work with the shadow. Our shadow is that dark part of ourselves, which we have hidden, which is not pleasant or which is repressed. Fears, prejudices, what embarrasses us, what makes us angry… These are all those things that we do not like about ourselves, that do not have any positive sense that harms us in any way because we do not want it in our lives .
Religion gives us very powerful tools to work with the shadow, to intregate it, to transform it, channel it so that all things bother us or we are happy in strong points or change to make way for new patterns, new emotions or attitudes. If, for example, part of my shadow is having a complex for coming from an environment with few resources working with it can make me see what really makes me happy and stop obsessing with things that others have and that I do not really need or even convert that feeling in something that drives me to change my situation. There is not always a single answer for each part of our shadow, there are as many as people and shadows.
But the shadow is not only part of each individually, it is also part of society. Injustice, inequality, racism, diversexphobia (hatred of members of the LGBTQ+ collective), machismo, ecological problems… Think of all that you consider harmful or negative in society and you will be seeing different aspects of the shadow that we all carry as a society. So, if we can work the shadow on a personal level, why are we not going to be able to work the shadow on a social level?
This is precisely where the public work of all pagan traditions comes in: in producing a positive change in society to the extent of our possibilities. Each ritual is an opportunity to transform us, whenever we want to transform ourselves at any level. On a personal level it is clear that each one depends on himself in this sense, if you do not want to transform yourself through the ritual you will not do it, but at a social and collective level things change. There will be some who do not want the change because they still do not see that part of the shadow, they do not recognize it, they do not want to recognize it or it benefits them that that part continues in the collective shadow.
Any spiritual path should help us to recognize our interconnectedness with the world, to feel our power to change and heal, to call us into action. Paganism, and specifically Wicca, calls us to do, we should not expect a miracle or a divine intervention, we are part of that divinity and therefore we must fight (or at least start) that change we want in the world.
When we become more aware of what is happening in the world around us and we find things that we do not like or that we know are not good we must embrace that pain. That pain is a manifestation that we are connected, that, together with other human and non-human beings, we form a whole. But this pain, as in working with the personal shadow, should not paralyze us, it has to affirm our participation in the web of life. As John Halstead says in The Spirituality of Protest: “protesting is an opportunity to collectively honor the pain that we feel, rather than repressing it or trying to distract ourselves from it.”
Accepting this type of pain gives us a power, but a collective power, that we can only carry out in collaboration with others. Starhawk explains this beautifully in Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority and Mystery. When we begin to work for change, to change or integrate our collective shadow we can begin to feel that we are part of something much greater than ourselves, whether divine or not. Brian McLaren wrote in Naked Spirituality: “There is nothing more radically activist than a truly spiritual life, and there is nothing more truly spiritual than a radically activist life.”
Then, returning to the situation that triggered this article, we can say that issues related to gender and sex are private as soon as we refer to the personal scope of each and we must respect the desire of each person when making or not public the issues related to it. But as soon as we talk about things that affect us all, from social causes we must involve religion because it offers us magnificent tools to be able to achieve a change in the collective consciousness, in integrating and transforming the shadow that is still not damaging today because we want that it continues being something private when in fact it is collective.
While there are murders, discrimination, harassment, marginalization and violation of rights in all matters relating to sexual and gender diversity, these are things that should be mixed with religion. These are things that we must take charge of, it is part of our collective shadow and we must work to integrate it and to transform it so that we can all live with the same conditions and opportunities.