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Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Paganisms – Part 1

By Yvonne Aburrow

[Snip] Gender and sexuality have been key concerns for modern and contemporary Paganisms, ever since the first stirrings of the revival were felt in the 19th century. Two key ideas from the perspective of the women’s movement were the reclaiming of the concept of “witch”, and the reinstatement of the divine feminine (recently re-popularised by Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code). Gay and lesbian practitioners were initially inspired by the idea of sexual freedom in ancient Greece, epitomised for women by Sappho and for men by the god Pan and the satyrs, and later by the discovery that many ancient cultures were accepting of a variety of sexual orientations.

A recent study, (Owen 2004), emphasises the importance of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn for the creation of modern occultism, and the centrality of modernist discourse in their views. The Golden Dawn was largely a magical order, but combined so many different forms of mysticism and magic that a wide variety of people got involved. The founder of the Order was married to Moina Bergson, sister of the philosopher Henri Bergson; WB Yeats, Arnold Bennett and other well-known figures were members. If you were anyone who was anyone and you weren’t in the Golden Dawn, you were probably a Theosophist instead (Oscar Wilde was a member of the Theosophical Society). One of the stated aims of Golden Dawn practice was to achieve psychological androgyny (though this did not necessarily mean they were tolerant of homosexuality). Many of its most enthusiastic members were women (and treated as equals by their male colleagues) and were also prominent in the socialist movement and the suffragette movement, along with members of the Theosophical Society. The Order also created a highly eclectic synthesis of previous magical traditions, which became the basis of much subsequent magical and Pagan practice in the 20th century, including Wicca and Thelema.

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