Pesky Binaries and Being A Polytheist Inside Pagan Spaces

I find myself filling the role of “pesky polytheist” pretty well in non-religious-but-still-woo circles. Namely the tarot and divination community. I use my instagram (same name as the site by the by *wink wink*) almost exclusively to post about tarot and participate in divination challenges. I usually find myself either tweaking challenge questions to fit my polytheist (or specifically Gaelic Polytheist) needs. A question about connecting to Mother Nature? Change it to land spirits. Talking about a neopagan sabbat? Either skip that day or adapt it to my own holidays. Lil’ pesky things like that.

Sometimes though, I find myself getting… peskier.

There’s a lot that rubs me the wrong way in these circles, both as a polytheist and as a transgender disabled queer, and we’d be here all day if I touched on every single one. So today is focused on a little dirty word: binaries.

Even in a society that is slowly coming to accept non-binary genders, and even in a community that lauds itself as more progressive and accepting than mainstream religion, the gender binary is still deeply ingrained in some (if not most) traditions. Binaries at large are pretty common in most folk’s paradigms: white vs black, dark vs light, receptive vs projective, and of course masculine vs feminine.

I see some of people—namely people who are cis—who say that feminine/masculine isn’t a gender binary. Men can be feminine, women can be masculine, non-binary people can be either! Nothing wrong here! To which I say no: Lots wrong here, pal. Speaking as a femme genderfluid person: there are people who do not fit in these boxes neatly. There are people who do not want these boxes anywhere near them. While feminine/masculine isn’t THE gender binary, it is still a binary related to gender with often cissexist interpretations that many people just don’t fit neatly in.

So when I expressed my frustrations with those Empress cards that illustrate her as a pregnant earth mama, a few people tried to explain the metaphorical and spiritual meanings behind it, and told me to look past the cissexist (and let’s be honest: feminist) implications.

The problem is that people kept using religious and spiritual views that I frankly do not share. For instance, someone tried to tell me it was about the Divine Mother and to look at that aspect… But my religion does not have this. Gaelic polytheist lore has female deities, sure. Female deities that have had children, even. But none of them fit the Divine Mother aspect. They’re creators, sure, but creators of poetry, of weapons, of strife, of healing, of winter, of the very landscape my ancestors walked on.

Beyond this though, the real problem is that Gaelic Polytheism does not have strict dichotomies, especially in its cosmology. Most things deal in threes, not even 2s or 4s, and liminality is a huge part of understanding the world around us. Nothing is completely separate: the roles of specific deities, our world and the Otherworld, the difference between Gods and Ancestors and Spirits… There are few neat boxes.

This is not me saying that Gaelic Polytheism is the Best religion or that traditions and paradigms that include dichotomies are bad. But they’re not mine. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with pregnant Empress cards as a trans person, but I definitely don’t know what to do with it being a metaphor for a tradition I don’t even follow.

This is the issue with being polytheist in an extremely pagan space. People tend to assume that you have the exact same paradigms as them, while in polytheist spaces we try to acknowledge and even celebrate the religious and spiritual differences between us… Even within our own specific religious communities. (Emphasis on try, though. We got problems too.)

So we keep bringing up how our religious and magical practices differ, we keep listening and learning about traditions different from ours, and we keep being pesky polytheists.

I know it’s been, gods, like a year? Since I’ve posted anything on here aside from an introductory post. I can’t promise that won’t change, but almost 3 years on of being a polytheist I’m starting to develop some real praxis and opinions and feelings. Watch this space (but not too hard).

[I’ve edited this to fix some spelling and grammar errors, but the original message has remained untouched.]

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2 thoughts on “Pesky Binaries and Being A Polytheist Inside Pagan Spaces

  1. You should write about the other things that rub you the wrong way about these circles you frequent, too. I bet a lot of people will probably agree with you! (Myself included.)

    Also, is there a way you have seen or that you can imagine to represent the “Empress” card that might suit your needs better? Maybe that would be a good subject for another post; just throwing it out there!

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    • Haha, a lot of posts on this blog will probably end up being that. Even though it often feels like I’m preaching to the choir.
      I’ve seen quite a few Empress cards I like, honestly! The Rider Waite Smith one is pretty okay in my book, interpretations of passivity aside. My favorites are either ones who make the Empress someone other than a cis white lady (a trans woman, a black woman, even a guy or a non-binary person) or even take the focus off a figurehead and more on what the Empress is supposed to represent (like the Collective Tarot’s “Reception” and Slow Holler’s “The Kindred”). At the very least, I perfer them to focus on keywords like creation and nuturing… WITHOUT mentions of motherhood.

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