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What About The Men? 'The Spiral Dance' Revisited.

Author: Darrell
Posted: September 26th. 2010
Times Viewed: 6,922

I read Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance” about 20 years ago and I was immediately engaged by the possibilities of a new spiritual way of being which excited me. As a man in the mid eighties, I had been attending events with NOW and Take Back the Night and I was starting to look for a path with more spirituality for myself. Twenty years ago, the feminism in “The Spiral Dance” spoke to the feminist in me and my own anger towards men, having been a victim of childhood violence. Considering my own background, spirituality from the feminist movement made sense to me at that time. Being younger, naďve and impressionable, I took everything in this book as being accurate. I was filled with possibilities and I wanted to believe it all. As I matured, I have skimmed the book several times since I first read it and appreciated that historically, there are many unsubstantiated assertions, but that is not the premise of this essay.

Over the past years I have spiraled upward on a learning path in Paganism and I am still just as much a feminist, but now I am at a different place in my life. I do not have the same anger towards men. I am at peace with myself. I have a spiritual home. I have a spiritual practice. I have watched Paganism (Wicca) grow for the last 2 decades and become a more accepted religion amongst the major religions within the US. Paganism is one of the fastest growing religions in the US according to the "American Religious Identification Survey 2001, " by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Over the past 20 years, I have been active with various Pagan organizations and groups and have attended many Pagan gatherings and worked on staff for 17 years at one of the oldest Pagan gatherings in the US. During this time I have seen many changes occur on the Pagan scene. Most of these changes have been positive. But as a man, I still wondered why the Pagan scene was largely female.

While the numbers in the Pagan movement have been increasing significantly over the past 30 years, this increase has largely been by women. According to Covenant of the Goddess (COG) in the year 2000, 71% of all Wiccans were female. I have noticed that many of the men that have gravitated towards Paganism and show up at various open gatherings have been drawn towards Druidism, Asatru, Heathenry, or remain on the more generic Pagan Path, as I too had identified myself for over 20 years. The Pagan path for me, included different forms of personalized meditation, rituals, celebrations of nature, studies in nature, seeking of balance in life, connections to all, ecstatic dance, drumming and fire circles. I was aware that Wicca had not attracted many of the men that started to identify themselves as Pagan, though I do not have any numbers to say this conclusively.

Being on a learning path for ordination, I am reading “The Spiral Dance” again, and now I understand a little better why men may shy away from Wicca. I should preface this as stating that Starhawk does not patently say in “The Spiral Dance” that her book is about Wicca. However she does state that it is about Witchcraft, a word that is frequently used interchangeably for Wicca. On her web page is a quote: “Starhawk’s brilliant, comprehensive overview of the growth, suppression, and modern-day reemergence of Wicca as a Goddess-worshipping religion has left an indelible mark on the feminist spiritual consciousness.” Starhawk obviously sees “The Spiral Dance” as being a Wiccan read.

So as I conjecture why more men do not gravitate toward Wicca today, as it was quite popular with men in the 1930’s through the 1970’s, I start to wonder if the release of “The Spiral Dance” in 1980 did not discourage men from pursuing a path in Wicca. In reading Gerald Gardner, The Man, the Myth and the Magick by M.A. Howard, it would appear that in the 1930’s there was rampant interest in the occult, freemasonry, co-masonry, Druidry, witchcraft, and the creation of hereditary covens. This was of interest to both men and women equally throughout Great Britain. There is also evidence that the same attention was being awoken here in the United States at the same time as I read about Robert Cochrane.

Starhawk started writing “The Spiral Dance” during a period of time when women were rightfully standing up and fighting for women’s rights and protesting loudly. There was a strong feminist movement in the country with many active feminist groups from the mainstream organization NOW to the more radical group W.I.T.C.H. In 1968 the more radical movement W.I.T.C.H. formed as a mostly political organization. W.I.T.C.H. stood for "Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell" and its affiliates called themselves a coven. W.I.T.C.H. motivated many covens around the United States to become more politically active as well as being spiritual. Z. Budapest was a feminist activist during 1970’s and recognizing the need for a spiritual dimension within the feminist movement started the Women’s Spirituality Movement and formed the first feminist coven. With the current political climate in the U.S. it can only make sense that Starhawk would focus on feminism and want to exclude men, much as her early teacher Z Budapest. I do acknowledge that Starhawk’s Reclaiming tradition is open to men. Further, Starhawk does say that one of her teachers was Victor Anderson.

So with the release of “The Spiral Dance” interest in Wicca has since waned for men in the US. It seems to me that Starhawk had inadvertently, I suppose, suggested that men should not be on a Wiccan path unless they can kowtow to the feminine strengths. Starhawk is a respected voice for the modern earth based spirituality and her readers assume she is an authority. So when she states what “men” need to do in order to adopt Wicca into their lives she is setting the rules for Wicca. It appears that Starhawk would like to emasculate her view of men and direct them to become submissive men in order to participate; much the same way that major religions have done to women throughout history. I understand the pendulum effect for women having been in a subservient role in religion for centuries. I appreciate the need for women to want to have a religion that empowers them.

I accept that both men and women desire spiritual development and dimension, and that said, gender should be irrelevant to spirituality. I am confident that if Starhawk changed her language to be less gender specific, men could just as easily as women accept all the expectations of a Wiccan path. There is nothing in “The Spiral Dance” that states what women need to do in order to be Wiccan, hence Starhawk should have not taken on this burden of what men need to do, or be, in order for them to become Wiccan. Wicca offers an opportunity for both women and men to spiritually develop together harmoniously, and to discover how we can celebrate our differences, and our similarities as individual humans.

I chose to look deeper into Chapter 6, The God to make my point of how Starhawk may have alienated men from Wicca. The following paragraphs discuss some of her statements and show how Starhawk has brought an imbalance to Wicca.

In the very first paragraph in the chapter “The God”, Starhawk states, “He is the power of feeling, and the image of what men could be if they were liberated from the constraints of patriarchal culture.” This unconsciously implies that many men are bound by patriarchal rules that women are not, and could men break free of these binds they may understand the God as women already do. Men all know feelings, they are human…. feelings are human emotions and are not gender based….women and men all feel love, hate, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, pride, jealousy, and embarrassment. To imply differently is damaging to the growth of both genders.

Later in the chapter, Starhawk goes on to say “Although there are many men in modern Witchcraft, in general they are less immediately attracted to the Craft than women. No matter how simplistically or superstitiously the Craft is understood, it offers women a model of female strength and creative power; in that, it has remarkably little competition from other religions. But for men, it demands a giving up of traditional forms of power and traditional concepts of religion. What it offers men is more subtle and not always easy to comprehend.” I find that the first sentence is accurate now (post 1985) ; however, looking back into writings of the 1970’s and earlier in Great Britain and possibly the US this was not necessarily true. Goddess worship in college may not have attracted men, but that is not Wicca, and that is what Starhawk was creating then. Additionally, her studies with Z Budapest would also not have attracted men, as it was Dianic and exclusive. As stated earlier, Z Budapest was interested in the women’s spirituality movement during the potent time of the women’s liberation movement – not men’s spirituality. I agree, and am happy, that the Craft offers women a model of strength and creative power…as it does for men. Starhawk spends too much time writing and in assuming that men would not want to give up their patriarchal religions even after writing that those religions do not work for most men either.

As a self-proclaimed witch, Starhawk makes some questionable statements that do not resonate with my understanding of the Craft. Starhawk plays the victim and makes it evident that she feels men are the cause of her being a victim. If Starhawk followed her own self-empowerment, she would not need to be the victim in her story but rather have more energy to be the leader that she is instead. “Men are not subservient or relegated to second-class spiritual citizenship in Witchcraft. But neither are they automatically elevated to a higher status than women, as they are in other religions. Men in the Craft must interact with strong, empowered women who do not pretend to be anything less than what they are. Many men find the prospect disconcerting.”

Witchcraft being studied and practiced readily will have strong and empowered women and men. A person who is on the path to become a high priest or priestess will be a strong and empowered person…. this is not gender specific. Men and women will need to accept that their mentors have done the work and continue to practice and learn what spiritual seekers are also striving to do. Again, this is not gender specific. Basically, the more wisdom that one gains along the path, the more empowered that person becomes.

Again, Starhawk finds a need to state what men must do and almost implying that men need to be quietly submissive or subservient to women in the Craft. “Men in the Craft must come to terms with woman's power: the power of a whole woman, a completed woman, whose mind and spirit and emotions are fully awakened. A man must also know and accept the power of his own, inner, female self; to generate a source of nurturing and inspiration within, rather than demanding it exclusively from without.” If men are searching for a path that resembles Wicca, the basic tenet of the Rede: “Harm none, ” is enough for him to know that he will be held accountable. Starhawk’s rules only add perceived obstacles to the path for men. Women and men both need to equally realize they will be working with people who are growing spiritually and are always working toward becoming whole and complete, and to awaken their minds, spirits and emotions. The assertion that women who are in the Craft are automatically whole is misleading, as much as it would be to say that men are whole. A man needs to “come to terms” with his own inner female self as well as a woman having to “come to terms” with her own inner male self.

Starhawk seems to be fixated on how men relate to women and focuses on men finding the feminine within. The undertone of the book stereotypes men. “But the very aspects of Witchcraft that seem threatening also hold out to men a new and vibrant spiritual possibility: that of wholeness, connection, and freedom. Men of courage find relationships with strong, powerful women exhilarating. They welcome the chance to know the Female within, to grow beyond their culturally imposed limitations and become whole.” Witchcraft is about balance; men should understand their own masculine and feminine elements and qualities and this is no different for women. The result is we may each have more work to understand our own blind or unconscious connections to the cultural expectations and become more conscious in our own behaviors for satisfactory growth.

Starhawk is quoted, “The word "Witch" carries so many negative connotations that many people wonder why we use the word at all. Yet to reclaim the word "Witch" is to reclaim our right, as women, to be powerful; as men, to know the feminine within as divine.” Wicca, in my opinion, is about duality and balance. Should Starhawk rephrase her quote to remove the inclusion of gender and said: “The word "Witch" carries so many negative connotations that many people wonder why we use the word at all. Yet to reclaim the word "Witch" is to reclaim our right to be powerful; to know the feminine and masculine within as divine.” This is perfectly acceptable to all men, that I know, who are Pagan.

Unfortunately, I do believe that Starhawk has inadvertently placed obstacles in the Wiccan path for men and has made the pursuit of Wicca a major dissuasion for men who would have embraced this path if she had more balance in her language and include the male and female as equal beneficiaries from the practice of Wicca. To practice Wicca, one only needs to have a desire to follow nature’s laws and to be open minded with a willingness to learn.

If we understand “The Spiral Dance” as being a feminist text with a Wiccan approach to Goddess worship and not as a Wiccan text a lot of the male subservience requirements are much easier to understand. For me, since many people on the Pagan path espouse this book as being a “wiccan bible”, it seems that the message of the male subservience requirement is strong. In her own bio, Starhawk even acknowledges that “The Spiral Dance” is considered an essential text for the Neo-Pagan movement. It is a required reading for my own studies. I would therefore appeal that Starhawk consider a fourth edition to “The Spiral Dance” where she is inclusive in her language for all.

“The Spiral Dance” does set an attitude in Wicca and it should not make men new to the path feel excluded before they even start. Being one of the earlier modern day Wicca 101 books, this book is frequently recommended to people who are searching or starting initiatory work within a coven. I suggest that when recommending this book that we be honest about its limitations and offer other suggestions as well to balance any anti-male sentiments found in “The Spiral Dance.”

Men are welcome in Wicca as well as women.

Starhawk "The Spiral Dance"
"Gerald Gardner, The Man, the Myth and the Magick" by M.A. Howard
"American Religious Identification Survey 2001, " by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Copyright: Copyrighted to Darrell Moore



Location: Greene, Rhode Island


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