The Magickal Universe

Where Magick is a way of life!

The Gender Mysteries.

Since humanity began to understand the difference between the sexes we have begun to develop gender based mysteries, secrets understood only by those that share similar perception of the world created by the gender divide. These gender based mysteries developed into specific rites, rituals and traditions within each tribe or clan exclusive to one gender, often considered taboo for the opposing gender.
 
This gender separation allows each gender to reach a greater understanding of what it means within their culture to be male or to be female; it allows each gender to become comfortable within their role and to become fulfilled without traditional 'rules' about social interaction with the other gender to impede development. (when you are not concerned with trying to impress or live up to expectations from the other gender it is much simpler to connect within oneself to one's own divine nature. It is a time for bonding and strengthening the ties of each gender within the larger context of a coven, tribe or clan.

The mysteries of the Divine Feminine and Masculine are both as valid and required as each other, both reflect the divine nature of the Great Goddess and the Horned Lord. However not everyone fits the gender separation and there is in fact a place for those whose natures reflect a variance from the typical understanding of gender, there are specific groups, and covens who cater to those whose gender reflects a different aspect of gender, such as those who find themselves within the body of the opposite sex. This does not mean that a standard coven will not accept those with a different view of gender but that they may be offered the opportunity to participate within the gender mystery by which they feel drawn to, or that coven may insist upon each being a strictly physical division of gender. (obviously that is a decision by which the leaders of a coven need to come to in agreement before any decisions are required to be made, with much thought and discussion perhaps even with the decision being made by the complete coven (as everyone needs to feel as though their gender mysteries are respected).

In this day and age we hear much about the 'battle' between men and women, between patriarchy and matriarchy, between Goddess and "Church". There is in truth no division, no need for battle. Rather we need to be seeking understanding of difference, acceptance and where all else fail, tolerance of another's failings. Men and women are different! A man needs to be able to connect with his masculinity without being aggressive, a woman needs to be able to connect to her femininity without becoming clingy or needy. Each individual needs to be able to look within and seek the balance between masculine and feminine, to understand, accept and love both anima and animus within oneself.

Despite the struggles of our feminist ancestresses, men and women can never be 'equal', the two genders are too different to be equal, rather we are complimentary to each other, and our differences should be celebrated. Both genders are unique and their individual roles should be recognized as both holding value, rather than competing with each other, we should be looking at what we offer each other, sadly the patriarchal society in which most of us have grown up, is deteriorating both genders into the lowest common denominator, based upon the physical forms each gender is 'supposed' to display.

This is where gender mysteries becomes increasingly important. When each learns to be comfortable within oneself within the company of one's own gender, we accept ourselves and can simply 'be who we are'. Each can learn to be comfortable with their emotions, this is especially important in our western society for our men, who are often taught to suppress these natural states and in doing so miss out on a sense of depth in their relationships with others.

We also learn to stand on our own, by developing our 'gender power', the comfortable place of just being oneself without needing another, this is especially important for women who often see themselves as 'incomplete' without a man in their life, are hanging about looking for 'Mr right', or even worse are staying in a relationship in which they are unhappy, because 'being with him is better than being alone'. Gender mysteries instead teaches each gender that they are strong, independent, capable individuals who can make decisions by seeing them as a challenges, and to do so without fear.

However the mysteries are more than just discovering who we are, connecting with others of the same gender, they are deep and meaningful rites and rituals, they are bonding sessions, they are serious, they are fun, they are all we can make of them and then some. They are a way of connecting with the divine nature within us all.

The mysteries are begun to be taught in childhood, through to the last breath we take before moving into the Summerland. Children involve rituals in their life from a very young age, the desire to incorporate ritual and meaning in one's life is as instinctive as breath. To children rituals are part and parcel of growing up, morning rituals of waking, playing eating and getting dressed, the school ritual of leaving mum or dad and entering the realm of teachers, the play time rituals of games, hand clapping, jump rope, even choosing sides for a game all contain ritual contexts.

By the age of 3-4 most children are able to participate in ritual (although I have seen and 18 month old child trying to copy her mum's movements during rituals). This is the time a child is generally introduced to the gender mysteries appropriate to their gender, until then the children will either accompany their mothers, or be left in the care of the Crones (Elder Women), the Crones attend women's mysteries but after menopause their participation is often that of  an Elder - watching over the proceedings, in some cases leading them, as the Crones have passed through the Mysteries they may take it in turns to watch the children too young to participate to allow the mothers to fully experience the mysteries.

It is generally accepted that until the age of seven a child may accompany either parent to the mysteries, this is because esoteric studies accept that a child until obtaining the age of seven a child is gender balanced, age seven brings with it the development of reason and the requirement to attend one's own mysteries. Learning the basics of Pagan beliefs incorporated within the mysteries will stand children of both genders in good stead. Even children as young as four can experience stress, learning mediation and a connected to the Earth can prevent problems early on.

Children of both genders are often brought together while under the care of the Crones and Sages, when rituals not appropriate for their participation (such as rites of passage), they will be taught together through Magickal play, meditations, path workings and simple rituals, more about the religion and Mother Earth.

Gender Rites of Passage

There are many rites and rituals that may be incorporated within gender mysteries such as

Women:

Acceptance Rite - Once a child is old enough to participate in gender based rituals it is often a requirement that they undergo some form of acceptance ritual, depending upon the cultures, tradition and path the child is being raised within this may simply be a Wiccaning or Blessings Ceremony, it may include more extreme elements if the Paganism practiced is cultural rather than simply religious. This may include a permanent form of 'alteration' such as circumcision, branding, tattooing or scarification, or temporary such as hair cutting, skin marking or particular dress codes

First Flowing Ritual (beginning of menses) - The beginning of the journey into womanhood. So often in western culture we hear women complaining about their menses, saying it is 'disgusting', 'dirty', 'horrible' etc. Very few western women have any real idea on how their bodies work. Within Women's mysteries this is not so, Maiden's are taught that a woman in her menses are at the strongest energies at this time. A menstruating woman is powerful, truly one with the life giving Goddess. A young woman's fist menses is celebrated, she is held in higher esteem than she was as a child. She is given gifts to celebrate her new status within the clan (usually gifts suitable for a woman, this may include perfumes, makeup or may be more personal such as her first Moon Diary.
 
First Love - This is generally a solitary ritual a young woman may perform during an Open Rite (a gender mystery rite whereby the women meditate and may take it upon themselves to connect with the Goddess to give thanks, ask for aid, or perform small rites or magick). During first love a young woman will find herself confronting unexpected emotions, fears and concerns. This is a time when the other women are able to guide her through stories of their own experiences, advice or simply to allow her to express her emotions. They may choose to share her small rite, to simply be present should she have need of them.

Loosing the Kestos (giving of one's virginity) - The Kestos (virginity) is considered to be the most powerful gift a woman can give of herself to another. In our modern society parents fear this time, as the mysteries have been lost from so much of society the young men and women hide their feeling and relationships from their parents. This often results in a young woman giving her greatest gift away in a stumbling first experience in the back of a car with a young man who doesn't truly respect the immense nature of the act. As Pagans we try to encourage our young adults to wait - not until they are married or handfasted but until they are sure the other person is worthy of the gift they bring. We do this through the gender mysteries, our young women are taught the priceless Nature of this treasure, the gift given only to a woman by the Goddess (men are not considered to have this same power within their virgin state). A young woman may not give the gift of her Kestos without the approval of the Elders, this ensures she has discussed her choice and is sure in her own mind. It also protects her from coercion. The young man who shall receive the gift, must understand the gift he is being given, must value it and the woman who gives it. The gift is given in ritual (there are two versions - one which includes members of the young woman's clan, and one which is performed alone for older women who have chosen to retain their kestos longer. The shared ritual is a form of protection for the young people, to ensure neither is exposed to danger or later accusations of abuse in any form).

Bride-hood - This is simply when a young woman becomes a full woman and is permitted to marry, this may or may not be celebrated via ritual.

Betrothal - This is a shared rite between the couple, with elements of gender mysteries prior to the main event. In some traditions this is the wedding, within others it is similar to an engagement, the couple are 'married' for a year and a day (a kind of 'trial marriage') they are treated as a married couple, awarded all rights and privilege of a couple. On the eve of the last day (the day prior to the Handfasting) they are spoken to individually by the elders. They may express fears, concerns etc which will need to be addressed prior to the handfasting or they may wish to call it off. There is no recriminations should this happen as it is considered to be appropriate for either to speak up should they not want to proceed. This prevents marriages/handfastings from being taken lightly, as it is highly expected that once handfasted, the couple has made a lifetimes commitment to each other (this doesn't mean they can't separate should it become required however these issues are supposed to be faced and dealt with during the betrothal period)

Wedding/Handfasting - A major gender mystery, there may be an extended lead up to this day in some traditions. It may be expected that the bride to be will share much time with her 'sisters' as once she is married she will be expected to devote more time to her partner and less to her friends.

Divorce/Handparting - The agreement between a married or handfasted couple to end the relationship and part ways. This is a no recrimination process. The point is to accept that you are no longer destined to be together and to celebrate the love you shared by releasing each other with love and acceptance.

Warrior Maiden - This ritual is a celebration of a woman making a decided choice not to follow the traditional gender role in their society, culture, tradition or clan as is expected of them as a woman. This may or may not include a woman who has chosen to remain without a life partner, who choose to become celibate, who choose to take a same gender partner, who choose to pursue career over family and children, who chooses to marry and not have children. All of these women are choosing to follow their spirit and should not only permitted to do so, but also encouraged and supported. This gives them the opportunity to state their intention for those present, and gives those close to them time to absorb the decision and show their love and support. Some clans would mark these women out as different (perhaps all women had long hair - a warrior maiden will cut hers short to show her choice clearly defined as separate. This does not make her any less a woman rather she is seen as being strong enough to follow her true path.  

Conception - These rituals often include spell workings, however the first conception rite may be performed the night of the handfasting if the couple are seeking to start a family. These various ceremonies and rituals may be used several times in a woman's life but each individual ritual is adapted to ensure the greatest chance of success. Some of these rituals may be performed within a joint gender ceremony to encourage the couple to mingle their energy within the magick.

Pregnancy - These rituals may be held from the first sign of conception through until the moment of labour. These rituals welcome the coming child and ensure the child's spirit it will be welcomed by the family and the clan.

Childbirth - This is a very personal time for a mother and child, some women wouldn't dream of giving birth without the father being present, other women want it to be a women's mystery and their husbands are quite happy not to participate, for other women thiner life partner/s may or may not be present. For many women today they will have their partner and mother present, some will ask a close female friend or sister in place of their mother but this appears to be the most common arrangement. The birthing ritual is conducted around the mothers choices as she makes them, it may be as simple as soft lighting, a CD of chants playing, some essential oils for scent.

Motherhood - The first ritual for new parents is the presentation to the gods, this is basically taking the child out for the first sunrise and sunsets after they are born and holding the naked child up to the sun and moon, asking the Gods to watch over and protect them. Motherhood involves many rituals, some of which are deep and are linked with other aspects of pagan belief (such as rites of passage), others are simple moments with long lasting memories (such as your child's first smile).

Naming - A naming ceremony is simply the ritual at which a child's name is officially shared with those outside of the child's immediate family. This may coincide-inside with a Blessing (also known as Paganing or Wiccaning) which is similar to a Christening in appearances, however a Blessing ceremony does not bind a child to a particular Deity or tradition, rather it presents the child as a member of the tribe or clan (or family) and asks that they are watched over until such a time when they are old enough to choose their own path.

Empty Nest (children moving away) - This is often seen as a sad time, as the role of parent passes onto our own children. It is also a time of discovery, of awakening, new experiences and freedom to pursue the dreams left over from our youth. For many it is a time to become nomadic, travelling with the seasons, or seeing the sites of the land, reconnecting on a deeper spiritual level with the world in which you have spent many years. A time of enriching one's spirit.

Last Flowing/Croning (end of menses) - This Celebrates the ending of Motherhood and the beginning of the Wisdom of the Crone. It is a Separation Ritual, designed to symbolically leave behind the days of bearing babies, caring for children etc and enter a time of reflection, of the passing on of knowledge and the gaining of wisdom. It is a time to immerse oneself in the spiritual and to indulge in life's pleasures after contributing daily to our family and society during the years before.Within a coven it is the time when a High Priestess hands over her role to her successor and joins the council of Elders. The Elders oversee the running of the Coven, they back up the High Priest and High Priestess and are the group who may remove a priest/ess who is a problem for a Coven (occasionally a megalomanic will get into the position of High Priest/ess and become a disruptive or destructive force within a Coven - and although these sorts of personalities are usually prevented from reaching this stage it can happen. The Elders have the final and ultimate say over the Coven as a whole).

The Death Vigil (in some cultures includes the 'Rite of the Crone') - this ritual is a chance for the person who is passing to spend time with loved ones, most specifically their life partner. Other people may come pay thiner respects and leave but the partner never leaves their side

Widowhood - A time of self reflection. A time to mourn and accept. There are specific expectations of someone who is grieving for a loved one dependant upon tradition. In many cultures it is expected that a woman will wear black, cover up her body, cut her hair or stay indoors for a set period of time. These expectations vary according to tradition but almost every culture, tradition or path includes a process by which a woman is supposed to grieve, accept and move on (although in some cultures they are not expected to move on in the sense of remarrying in others they are)

Passing Over - This is the individuals opportunity to say their last words, pass on any messages, mend would and fix fences between loved ones. It is a time for handing over property, saying goodbye and generally winding up one's life. Not all of us are lucky enough to get the opportunity to be a part of our own passing over ceremony, however if given the chance it is an experience to cherish, a chance to end one's life with dignity, and with a conscious effort to call around oneself the spirits with which you have worked in your life and thank them. It is a time to enjoy your loved ones before moving on into the Summerland.

Men:

Acceptance Rite - Once a child is old enough to participate in gender based rituals it is often a requirement that they undergo some form of acceptance ritual, depending upon the cultures, tradition and path the child is being raised within this may simply be a Wiccaning or Blessings Ceremony, it may include more extreme elements if the Paganism practiced is cultural rather than simply religious. This may include a permanent form of 'alteration' such as circumcision, branding, tattooing or scarification, or temporary such as hair cutting, skin marking or particular dress codes

Manhood Ritual - Traditionally within Paganism begins at age 13 (this may be different depending upon culture, tradition and path), one of many Rites of Passage, this particular rite is designed to take a young man through a series of trials which may include agility, strength, courage, fidelity and loyalty to the clan. In many cultures and throughout our own in ancient times, these rites may have included a ritual of circumcision (if was not performed at acceptance ritual), often performed by the boys own father, uncle or grandfather; Body Modification (such as piercing, tattoos, scarification etc); exclusion (commonly known in Australia as Walkabout); and First Blooding (this generally involved the young man being the first to 'blood' and animal during the hunt - though in some cultures it also involved the 'blooding' of the boy - most commonly via scarification)

First Love - This is generally a solitary ritual a young man may perform during an Open Rite (a gender mystery rite whereby the men meditate and may take it upon themselves to connect with the God to give thanks, ask for aid, or perform small rites or magick). During first love a young man will find himself confronting unexpected emotions, fears and concerns. This is a time when the other men are able to guide him through stories of their own experiences, advice or simply to allow him to express his emotions. They may choose to share his small rite, to simply be present should he have need of them.A young man may be 'tormented' by his peers - this originated in ancient times from the intention that a young man was required to be sure of his choice as often his first 'love' would become his wife, this 'torment' ensured he would stand firm on his decision, ensuring continuation of the clan.

Loosing the Kestos (receiving of virginity) - The Kestos (virginity) is considered to be the most powerful gift a woman can give of herself to another. In our modern society parents fear this time, as the mysteries have been lost from so much of society the young men and women hide their feeling and relationships from their parents. This often results in a young woman giving her greatest gift away in a stumbling first experience in the back of a car with a young man who doesn't truly respect the immense nature of the act. As Pagans we try to encourage our young adults to wait - not until they are married or handfasted but until they are sure the other person is worthy of the gift they bring. We do this through the gender mysteries, our young women are taught the priceless Nature of this treasure, the gift given only to a woman by the Goddess (men are not considered to have this same power within their virgin state). A young woman may not give the gift of her Kestos without the approval of the Elders, this ensures she has discussed her choice and is sure in her own mind. It also protects her from coercion. The young man who shall receive the gift, must understand the gift he is being given, must value it and the woman who gives it. The gift is given in ritual (there are two versions - one which includes members of the young woman's clan, and one which is performed alone for older women who have chosen to retain their kestos longer. The shared ritual is a form of protection for the young people, to ensure neither is exposed to danger or later accusations of abuse in any form).

Groom's Eve (translated these days as a Bachelor Party) - This is simply when a young man becomes a full man and is permitted to marry, this may or may not be celebrated via ritual, with young men groom's eve is often celebrated as a bachelor party however a Pagan bachelor party generally begins with a Ritual followed by the more common activities (drinking, friends silly pranks etc)

Betrothal - This is a shared rite between the couple, with elements of gender mysteries prior to the main event. In some traditions this is the wedding, within others it is similar to an engagement, the couple are 'married' for a year and a day (a kind of 'trial marriage') they are treated as a married couple, awarded all rights and privileges of a couple. On the eve of the last day (the day prior to the Handfasting) they are spoken to individually by the elders. They may express fears, concerns etc which will need to be addressed prior to the handfasting or they may wish to call it off. There is no recriminations should this happen as it is considered to be appropriate for either to speak up should they not want to proceed. This prevents marriages/handfastings from being taken lightly, as it is highly expected that once handfasted, the couple has made a lifetimes commitment to each other (this doesn't mean they can't separate should it become required however these issues are supposed to be faced and dealt with during the betrothal period)

Wedding/Handfasting - A major gender mystery, there may be an extended lead up to this day in some traditions. It may be expected that the groom to be will share much time with his 'brothers' as once he is married he will be expected to devote more time to his partner and less to his friends.

Divorce/Handparting - The agreement between a married or handfasted couple to end the relationship and part ways. This is a no recrimination process. The point is to accept that you are no longer destined to be together and to celebrate the love you shared by releasing each other with love and acceptance.

Warrior - This ritual is a celebration of a man making a decided choice not to follow the traditional gender role in their society, culture, tradition or clan as is expected of them as a man. This may or may not include a man who has chosen to remain without a life partner, who choose to become celibate, who choose to take a same gender partner, who choose to pursue family duties over career, who chooses to marry and not have children. All of these men are choosing to follow their spirit and should not only permitted to do so, but also encouraged and supported. This gives them the opportunity to state their intention for those present, and gives those close to them time to absorb the decision and show their love and support. Some clans would mark these men out as different (perhaps all men wore very short hair - a warrior might have a long single braid to show his choice clearly defined as separate. This does not make him any less a man rather he is seen as being strong enough to follow his true path.

Fertility Rites - These rituals often include spell workings, and are performed in conjunction with conception rites which may be performed the night of the handfasting if the couple are seeking to start a family. These various ceremonies and rituals may be used several times in a man's life but each individual ritual is adapted to ensure the greatest chance of success. Some of these rituals may be performed within a joint gender ceremony to encourage the couple to mingle their energy within the magick

Birth of Child - This is a very personal time for a mother and child, some women wouldn't dream of giving birth without the father being present, other women want it to be a women's mystery and their husbands are quite happy not to participate, for other women thiner life partner/s may or may not be present.This is the time for Fathers to show support for the Mother's choices and to ensure the birth is carried out in the manner that the Mother desired. (Many time well meaning family do not respect the boundaries set by the Mother in regards to who is present, visiting times etc - it is up to the Father to ensure these wishes are respected)

Fatherhood - The first ritual for new parents is the presentation to the gods, this is basically taking the child out for the first sunrise and sunsets after they are born and holding the naked child up to the sun and moon, asking the Gods to watch over and protect them. Fatherhood involves many rituals, some of which are deep and are linked with other aspects of pagan belief (such as rites of passage), others are simple moments with long lasting memories (such as your child's first smile).

The Empty Nest - This is often seen as a sad time, as the role of parent passes onto our own children. It is also a time of discovery, of awakening, new experiences and freedom to pursue the dreams left over from our youth. For many it is a time to become nomadic, travelling with the seasons, or seeing the sites of the land, reconnecting on a deeper spiritual level with the world in which you have spent many years. A time of enriching one's spirit.

Eldering - For a man there is no defined time for Eldering, it is a time where he is respected for his age, wisdom and ability to pass on his knowledge. Within a coven it is the time when a High Priest hands over his role to his successor and joins the council of Elders. The Elders oversee the running of the Coven, they back up the High Priest and High Priestess and are the group who may remove a priest/ess who is a problem for a Coven (occasionally a megalomanic will get into the position of High Priest/ess and become a disruptive or destructive force within a Coven - and although these sorts of personalities are usually prevented from reaching this stage it can happen. The Elders have the final and ultimate say over the Coven as a whole).

The Death Vigil - this ritual is a chance for the person who is passing to spend time with loved ones, most specifically their life partner. Other people may come pay thiner respects (the persona passing may choose this time to perform their final acts - handing over of property, saying important messages, instructions for burial etc) and leave but the partner never leaves their side, in some cultures the partner will not participate in any of the usual daily activities such as eating, sleeping, bathing etc (the only moments they leave are to go to the bathroom), a partner may be required by tradition to cut their hair, wear specific clothing or act in a particular manner. Upon the persona passing, some traditions require that words be said, or actions performed before an outsider attends to the body, in other traditions it is required that the family members all assist in preparing the body for burial, cremation or entombment. The death vigil ends after the Wake (one of the major aspects of a passing ceremony, or funeral service)

Widower -  A time of self reflection. A time to mourn and accept. There are specific expectations of someone who is grieving for a loved one dependant upon tradition. In many cultures it is expected that a man will wear black, or stay indoors for a set period of time. These expectations vary according to tradition but almost every culture, tradition or path includes a process by which a man is supposed to grieve, accept and move on. In most cultures it is expected that a man will remarry - most often a younger, vital woman who is seen as sharing her youth (this is not so true for Pagans who, seeing a balance between the male and female permit either gender from remarrying or not as is their wish)

Passing Over - This is the individuals opportunity to say their last words, pass on any messages, mend would and fix fences between loved ones. It is a time for handing over property, saying goodbye and generally winding up one's life. Not all of us are lucky enough to get the opportunity to be a part of our own passing over ceremony, however if given the chance it is an experience to cherish, a chance to end one's life with dignity, and with a conscious effort to call around oneself the spirits with which you have worked in your life and thank them. It is a time to enjoy your loved ones before moving on into the Summerland.

Note: Many of these rituals are 'shared' such as a wedding/handfasting by both genders, however it is the lead up to the 'main event' where the gender mysteries become important. The preparation of each gender for the coming ritual by those of the same gender allows for concerns to be met, last minute questions to be resolved, confidence to be restored. It also allows a special time to allow the separate genders to reflect upon the event. Each of the pages above will have the rituals presented for each gender where appropriate.

Sources and Resources.

(1999) Lady Rohanna Ravenswing CMM/Terra Sphere Coven "Introduction to Paganism Course"