The Consort: Silent Partner or Hidden in Plain Sight?
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Posted: June 7th. 2015
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Wiccan mythology is based on a duality of divine presences. There is a Great Goddess who presides over the growth cycle, love, and magic. Her companion is a pastoral God. The God in this partnership is described in various ways depending on oneís specific myth use, but is generally associated with Pan, Cernunnos, the Green Man, the Wild Huntsman, or even Dionysius. However unlike the Goddess, frequently the God of the Wiccan myth is relegated to the background. In ritual Iíve frequently seen him simply referred to as the Consort even though in theory he is also a God of equal majesty to the Goddess. So who is this God who is so present, yet so little known? What do we know about his role, his characteristics and finally how should he be venerated as a divine spirit? The question is important to me regardless if you consider him just an aspect of a single diving presence, a co divinity of masculine energy, or one of many Gods in the polytheistic pantheon.
Easy part first: even neophytes learn that his reign runs from Samhain through spring (variously attributed from Oestra to Beltane) and his domain is the Sun, winter, wild things and the hunt. However with such a central role in the myth cycle, it is puzzling that so little on Wicca is devoted to his veneration.
So if the Goddess is easy to approach why not her partner? He is fully her equal after all isnít he? Wicca in theory is about equality, and her Consort not merely the weaker half. Modern Wicca is a young religion and the ongoing practices of devotion are not as ritualized into formal protocol like it has been in the mainstream monotheist religions like Christianity. It does seem that in many followers of Wicca attempt to honor the Goddess, they have tended to miss out on the other half of the partnership. Maybe it is all a matter of perception and not reality. So the first step to change this is by becoming more educated in whom the Consort is and what he means.
A Pagan acquaintance of my wife and mine was once asked about the Consort said that he communicates through other ways. He said if you want to speak to him you have to shut up and listen. The Consort doesnít use words to speak, so you have to listen very carefully.
After more than ten years living surrounded by his works well away from suburbia, Iím still learning to listen. If there is one thing Iíve learned it is that I have to listen very carefully. When he speaks, it is not always in a way that we today are comfortable with. As much as Iím still going back and forth mentally over what name to use, this is really trivial. Of bigger import is how to characterize him. Iíve wrestled with how to exactly describe him for some time. I didnít want to simply say what I think the Consort is since that would make this yet another personal perspective journey of which there are so many on Witchvox. Iím fascinated by his role, but I want to be truthful about what he is and not just say what I think I want him to be.
Who is the Consort according to the myths? Well an exactness is hard to pin down. Much depends on whose myth cycle you draw from. If you study Celtic myth you get one version. You get a different spin from Germanic or Slavic influenced sources. There are still more interpretations from the Classical world and the many centuries of filtering through to societies who preserved the myths as lore, but not as religion. Adding to that, more and more Iíve been drawn to study myths outside the Eurocentric and Greco-Roman Classical point of view. One thing Iíve observed, the more Iíve read, the more it has made me aware of points of similarity across the whole human experience. No wonder James Frazierís Golden Bough ultimately spanned some many volumes! I recently read a wonderful storybook version of many basic Chinese myths and found it all amazing. Iím not going to say this is the same as saying that the primal Taoist Pangu or Fushi is an equivalent or even close, but it is a point of comparison. As an American, I feel an obligation to see the fusion of traditions instead of just stealing from this or that mother countryís myth cycle in trying to see what it means to know the Consort in a transformational Wiccan way.
Steering back to the European myth cycle as a starting point, veneration of a primal pastoral force is commonly associated with the ďGreen ManĒ, or ďCorn KingĒ. He is a myth figure that existed for well over a millennia within Christian society from the Dark ages forward to the modern day. So how far back do these myths go? Are they remnants of the original Iron Age religions of Europe? Likely, though I donít know and from the paucity of information, I canít say that this is a question that has been settled. One topic I want to steer clear of. If I begin the process of moving into the realm of Celtic Paganism and how much of modern Wicca is borrowed from or different from it, I am truly opening a can of worms Iím not qualified to go to. All I can say for certain is that under a variety of folk names and customs various venerations of a male divine presence associated with the hunt and harvest existed and nearly two millennium of Christianity could not suppress it.
While I have my own spin on the specific focus of how to view the Consort, it looks like there is much room for veneration from a variety of personal and coven traditions to honor him from a ritual standpoint. Many eclectics will pull from whichever Pagan traditions they feel called to, while other paths may wish to use a myth cycle more attuned to the tradition they follow.
Many if not most of the rituals from agrarian society involve the growth and rebirth cycle. For instance, one specific ritual that I find a wide range of expression is the death of the Corn King (as Frazier calls him in the monumental Golden Bough) . This is when the last sheaf of grain from previous seasonís growing it put into a poppet, then slain and cast into a bonfire or creek as part of the ritual casting out the old and welcoming the new growing season. This is but one example and there are many variations of it. Many of these rituals do involve ritual death, or sexuality expressions to bring new life. Even keeping in mind that most of these rituals are symbolic only, the blood and procreation theme permeates so many venerations of the male side of things.
I well remember the thrill at a Samhain ritual some years back where a wickerwork stag was made and we ritually hunted and slew him. When my turn came, I wielded an antique spear and thrust it deep into the heart space. At that moment felt the primal bloodlust for warm flesh and the food that this would mean. In researching the Wild Hunt, I found a citation from an event a group on the west coast USA that did a ritual of the wild hunt, though little else to say this had been done otherwise. Hopefully others have made symbolic expressions as well. Keep in mind these devotions are about what is ultimately a blood ritual. This is primal existence, not comfortable sedentary routine. As Iíve hinted at: there are some elements of veneration that will make a few people uncomfortable. However veneration does not mean you have to spill real blood, only that a celebrant be willing to acknowledge that blood was once the price of survival.
What is a pastoral God and how does he compare the patriarchal sky Gods? The Consort is a God of earth and natural cycles. Both sky Gods and earth Gods can have some similar characteristics, but they are not the same. However humans canít help but to adapt and adopt things they like, ultimately blending things. In the long history of Indo-European Gods before the Judao-Christian era, there were many layers of movement of peoples and their deities. Take the Norse for instance. Norse Gods are mix of Aesir and Vanir. At some point in the distant past the experts postulate there must have been a mixture of two different groups of people in Scandinavia. Instead of having one set of Gods come out on top, they ended up being mixed together into the same pantheon. Another example is Chinese mythology, which is a complete mishmash of ideas and has worked for the people there for thousands of years. To think that you must have an oppositional duality in the myth system is not true. This is a Zoroastrian notion that most misunderstand to think as being a Judao-Christian.
Based on what all the myths associated with being an earth God, the Consort is not a warrior God, but make no mistake. Any hunter knows how to kill when needs be. The Consort is a protector and will fight to defend his mate, his offspring and his home. He is not a pacifist, but is no conqueror either. The various myths that are the basis of the Wiccan ideal of the Consort reflect the pastoral values of the people that practiced them. Peasant peoples may end up fighting in other peopleís wars, but usually donít start wars themselves.
Being a North American, Iíd also love to find out more about Native American side of things, but from a more undiluted source than those Iíve read. Perhaps someday Iíll find a learned person who isnít afraid to teach me that side of things. Being connected to this land I feel I need to know it better from the perspective of its longest inhabitants. While most of my genetic heritage may be European, I was born and my soul is in this land, not Europe. I donít look to Neolithic structures to celebrate, I see a rolling tree covered landscape and I find places where nature is still essentially primal. When I think of corn, I think of maize. My land has a long and rich heritage, but like the Consort himself, much of its past is mystery and hidden in rich earth and green shadow that still has only seen a light touch of humanity.
Okay, so this is a starting point. So where to go next? The Consort is not so distant when one looks at the world from a different mindset, but his nature will definitely put some off. If a person uses the folk myths about him as a point to describe him, he is neither good, nor bad, but like the primal nature he reflects can sometimes seem indifferent and cruel. Every person at some point has to face a situation where they face a seemingly cruel and indifferent world. A point of comparison: In the Bible the book of Job is a chapter that has sparked centuries of discussion. When I studied it during my graduate program in intellectual history, those students who were not from a Jewish or Christian background were particularly bothered by it. To his credit and regardless of his personal beliefs, our tutor in the seminar did not try to justify it. He merely worked us through the chapter to explain how Jews, Christians and Muslims have come to understand it. Life can be cruel to people whoíve done nothing to deserve their fate. I have a very personal story of my own to illustrate this.
An old love of mine died during the process of me writing this essay. She was a kind soul who lived through multiple bouts of cancer. Both her parents died likewise in the last few years. Her sister took care of them all, and while doing this even lost her beloved dog-also from cancer. So how do you consol a person who has lived through this? An entire family lost to the same malady, leaving just one person behind to go on? From a spiritual aspect, many find itís a faith shaking experience to believe in a kind and warm loving divine presence when this kind of thing happens. The Consort reminds us that life can be so unyielding because that it is all ultimately about living and dying. To put it more simply, the consort is about celebrating that you live today. Tomorrow is not certain. You are here now, you may die at any point and dying is something that is a fixed and unyielding event. You are born, you live, and youíll die. He is one part in the understanding what it means to live. The Consort is a partner in a dynamic relationship with the Goddess.
Wiccans revere the Goddess in her triple aspect of life as a process of change. She is about the continuously growing and changing nature of living. Her three aspects are about a celebration of how we as people grow though our lives, especially as played out from the feminine aspect. It has taken decades to bring out this understanding as the religion has grown matured. I think the rise of Wicca as feminist leaning religion has inadvertently also played a role in the slow recognition of the male side of the faith.
No, Iím not going to play the blame game. The Goddess lends herself to veneration and it was one of the things that drew my to the faith as well. She is approachable and warm and easy to relate to. In her maiden form she is the ideal of a young woman in the flower of beauty. In the mother form, is warm, caring, smart and lovely. As a crone she is witty, wise and welcoming no matter where you come from. It is easy to form attachments to her in any of her guises, and ritual magick around these forms comes naturally. My whole point in this is that if one accepts that She and He reign equally, then it is up to us to figure out how they fit together in partnership and are a spiritual metaphor of what it means to be human in a complete way. It is not easy to understand a truly complete, dynamic relationship, just like itís hard to achieve a good marriage. Marriage is about true partnership between two different individuals. It matters not if it is legally recognized, nor whether or not itís different genders or the same. An intimate partnership is sublime and beautiful in its depth and complexity.
So that said, where do we start with venerations that put the Consort on equal footing? There certainly does seem to be a need. Being in essence of scholarly bent I look to sources that discuss myths and myth cycles for my guidance. However in my heart I also look around and see a transcendent reality around me:
Where do I hear the Consort?
In the screech of foxes as they hunt.
In the gust front of an approaching storm.
In the sound of geese passing overhead in darkness.
In a red sunrise announcing the promise of a day to come.
In the trill of an owl calling in the night, announcing his domain.
When I see horses roll and play after they are turned out for the day.
When a buck proudly displays his branched crown at the start of the rut.
When I hear the call of the hunterís horn and bray of the hounds in winter.
In the red light cast by an open fire against the doppler of darkness in the woods beyond.
These are primal voices and deep in my heart, deep in yours. It is a voice of uncontrolled forces held in check by the slimmest of margins. Of life and death, blood and sustenance against an unpredictable world. It is about death held in check for living this one day, and no promise that tomorrow means anything more. It is dirt, sweat and blood. It is violence held back with restraint, and desire and passion are as raw as a newly born babe.
And who am I to write this? Well, Iím a guy who thinks that we express our ideals in myths. I see myths as a very human way to say things about our world and how we imagine our divine. Iím enough of an egoist to think my ideas can matter, not so much to think that mine is the only view that should matter. Iím a male view, no doubt. As male, Iíd like more acknowledgement of my genderís role in Wiccaís myth cycle. I feel a need to show how our human desire for unity allows us to balance the genders, with neither the greater, but not always exactly the same either. I see Wicca as being about gender equality, and want to celebrate it as exactly that.
Sanders, Tao Tao Liu. Dragons, Gods and Spirits from Chinese Mythology., (1980) Peter Bedrick Books, NY
Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson (1964) Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Hunt (reference to ritual at end in citations)
http://www.bartleby.com/196/ (Full text of the Golden Bough in the Public Domain)
Copyright: c. 2015 A. I. Mychalus
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