Tag Archives: gender

G is for Gender Essentialism

Our father who art in heaven; mother earth; Lord and Lady; Odin all-father…

It’s familiar language, but it doesn’t really apply or appeal to me for a couple of reasons. I am not keen on the gender binary, so the mother/father divide does not fit me well. Personally I had a father, mother and stepfather. I don’t know about the concept of deities as parents, either.

Firstly, the gender divide. Most people I know (including me!) don’t fit neatly into the gender binary, and I don’t know what to make of deities’ genders, if any. I know that genders can be fluid, changeable, across lifetimes and across afternoons. I call Brigid ‘my lady’, though this is just habit. I sincerely dislike the ?Wiccan concept of two deities, male and female (but what about all the other genders?) who epitomise masculine and feminine respectively, in a completely-defined-by-their-biology kind of way. It’s not my experience – male as masculine, female as feminine: gods, how boring. I have been masculine and feminine and neither, all in the space of a hour or a fleeting moment.

Second, deities as parents. Not too sure about that, either. Parents aren’t concepts or archetypes; they’re individuals and can’t be generalised. I was brought up by a depressive alcoholic – but with love and affection. My childhood cannot even be compared with that of my siblings, not really, let alone others. The concept of parents is archetypal (biology again!), but your actual parents aren’t archetypes. My mum isn’t defined by the fact she is a mother, though she is my mother. I don’t think I want a deity to be my mother when I already have a mother – not even if the deity is flawless and your archetypal mother, not a real human person with flaws and differences.


It’s all just pondering, really. I know lots of others will have written about this with far more expertise than me, but I like getting my thoughts down in writing. Also, I realise I’ve been writing a lot about things I don’t believe. I find it helpful to be able to outline what I don’t believe in order to work out what I do believe. Paganism is absolutely bloody massive, as many different beliefs as different people, and it can be hard to get a handle on where you want to focus.



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C is for Cailleach and Crones

Some tales portray [the Cailleach] as a benevolent and primal giantess from the dawn of time who shaped the land and controlled the forces of nature, others as the harsh spirit of winter

Rankine and d’Este (2008)

The Cailleach (pronunciation almost as variable as that of Brigid; I have settled on CAL-y-ACH with the ‘ch’ like ‘loch’) is described as “the goddess of the harsh winter months” (Rankine and d’Este 2008), known for her giant size and for dropping rocks to shape the landscape. The name Cailleach has several meanings, including old woman, hag, crone, nun and veiled one (R&E 2008). She is most associated with shaping the landscape, her giant size, her vast age, associations with water, guardianship of specific animals (deer, cows), and her ability to shapeshift (R&E 2008).


She is of the wild, of the cold harsh days of the year, of icy water, elemental stuff. I strongly associate her with winter, and with power over the weather and the earth.

I felt myself calling out to her over winter, as my seasonal affective disorder threatened to drag me into [more] depressive places, and as I struggled with the lack of light. I turned to a being of great expanse and great age, who represents the thing I fear the most – the lack of sunlight. And I found warmth, and wisdom, and another, different kind of beauty in the winter months. I found things to admire and to love, not simply to fear.

Part of depression (for me) is acceptance. I learn to accept the bleakness as part of life, rather than struggling against it, and it makes it easier for the warmer times to come back round. If I have patience the spring and summer will return, and I needn’t spend all winter fighting against the unchangeable. (I reiterate: this is something that I personally have found helpful; I am not for a second suggesting that if other people with depression ‘do what I do’ then they’ll get better. It’s simply something that works for me some/most of the time.)

I haven’t been through a year with my newly-found pagan beliefs yet (I am most definitely a tiny!Pagan), so I think any relationship between the Cailleach and Brigid will become clearer as the wheel turns. I’ll keep revisiting old posts throughout the year, and if my beliefs significantly alter I will post an update.


I sometimes wonder about age and deities. I have been a child, and an adult, but not yet an old woman, so I haven’t had to think about how age is represented (because I’ve occupied the favoured ages). I do notice that it tends to be female deities who are categories into “maiden, mother and crone”, which makes me uncomfortable for many reasons, but briefly:

  1. The definition of my existence is not related to whether I’ve mushed genitals with another human being.
  2. Not all women have vaginas; not all people-with-vaginas are women. Most people I know live outside of that conceptual framework, so maiden-mother-crone are irrelevant categories.
  3. It insinuates that women’s purpose and function is entirely and completely relational to her reproductive abilities. Just… ew.

I do not think that way of women, and I am not about to start regarding deities by those standards. I mean, can you imagine?

“Ok, Cailleach, so you’re a several-thousand year old shapeshifting land deity of winter. Whatever. Now! Can we talk about the shape and function of your genitals?”

At this point, I image the Cailleach would drop a mountain on the speaker’s head. 😉


Rankine, David and Sorita d’Este (2008) Visions of the Cailleach – Exploring the Myths, Folklore and Legends of the Pre-eminent Hag Goddess Avalonia Books: London


Filed under pagan blog project