Monday, September 12, 2011

Paganism and Sex (Thoughts while re-writing a Horned God Workshop)

Next week I'll be giving a workshop on "The Horned God" at a conference in San Francisco (or "The City" as we refer to it out here). This won't be any ordinary horned god workshop, it's actually being filmed for a documentary movie on sex and religion. Out of a dozen workshops, the film maker is only filming two, and mine is one of them. Would I love to be in a movie? Hell yeah, and to be honest I've tweaked my workshop so that I talk a little bit more about sex than I normally would. (Gotta give 'em material so I don't end up on the cutting room floor ya know.)

Two years ago I presented a horned god workshop called "The British Horned God," it went amazingly well, even though a few of the deities I talked about were not particularly British. What I liked so much about that workshop was that it tended to trace the evolution of the idea of an archetypal Horned God better than anything I had done up to that point. Instead of just talking about horns and phalluses it began in France with the 15,000 year old figure known as "The Sorcerer" and then linked him to the Gaulish Cernunnos. I linked Cernunnos in turn to Herne, the Green Man, and eventually Robin Hood before spitting out a Horned God Archetype based on all three images. Are Cernunnos, Herne, and The Sorcerer related? Not originally, but they are now because people pasted them together on the same page in the modern age, but they don't emerge one from another in the archeological record.

So today I was merging bits and pieces of that British Horned God workshop into some older work, removing all the extraneous "horned gods" I usually mention (Kokopelli, Dionysus, Shiva) and instead placing the focus squarely on Cernunnos, Pan, the idea of linking radically different gods because of the horns on their head, and 19th Century Romantic Poetry. I did all of this while listening to the band T. Rex, a band who recorded songs like "Puckish Pan," "Raw Ramp," and "Jitterbug Love." When you stare at pictures of Pan all day, he of the erect phallus and army of maenads, you can't but help to think of sex a little bit.

Paganism is different from other religions in that it's "sex positive." When I talk about the Horned God I stress that one of his many attributes is "sex," but it's not sex for the purpose of reproduction. The Horned God celebrates sex for the sake of sex, for the pure enjoyment of it all. When it comes to sex the Horned God is a giver, he hands us that gift freely, it's not something to be entered into only after a ceremony and only on certain occasions.

Many gods are at least somewhat sex positive. I'm sure I'll have Christian friends argue with me that Yahweh is sex positive, and they'd be right, but the Bull of Israel's view of "sex positive" is a bit more limited. Sure a follower of Yahweh can enjoy sex, but the primary purpose of sex for one of his followers is reproduction, pleasure is a happy bi-product. For Pan, reproduction is a consequence (positive or negative depending) of sex, the primary purpose of sex is for pleasure.

Sex in the world of Jehovah also serves another purpose beyond reproduction and pleasure, it's a test. You can't have sex just because you are horny, you have to find a partner for sex and then bury your passions long enough to get married so you can then have sex. There is a barrier between you and the sex. The Horned God has a few requirements, but they are easy to follow through on. All he asks is that you do it safely and that you do it well. If you can wrap the weasel up, find a willing partner, and not make an ass of yourself, have at it.

When I read Christian critiques of Pagan Religion one of the most common is that Paganism allows people to do whatever they want, and one of those "whatevers" is often related to sex. Yes, it's true many Pagans have pretty open and liberated sexual lifestyles. I know many married Pagans who are not monogamous. Those Pagans tend to be honest and open about not being monogamous, and you can't "cheat" on a spouse if they wink at you before you slip off with a lover. I know many Christians who are not monogamous, and their lives revolve around nothing but lies. The majority of married couples have trouble staying monogamous, something that might even be related to our genetic programming, it's best to at least address those issues honestly, and to worship gods who are compatible with who we are as people. How do you pray about what troubles you when you when the god you are praying to is celibate?

The idea that Pagan sexual morays are unregulated is a bit of an over simplification. It's true that Pagans don't believe that there's a cosmic score card attached to sex, but there are rules to it. When you have sex with someone within Paganism it requires being truthful with everyone involved, yourself, your sexual partner, and anyone else your impending joining might effect. It also requires common sense, a clear head, and a full of understanding of the evening's and morning's expectations.

One of the more modern interpretations of the Horned God is as the "Ideal Pagan Man." In that context I've seen him playing with children, and looking at his Lady with giant puppy dog eyes that shine with love and devotion. While a god like Pan is certainly not about the joining of the physical (sex) with the emotional (love), it would be wrong to say that today's Horned God feels the same way. The Horned God (and Pan is just one part of the archetype) freely mixes love and sex, and knows how to honestly make one person the center of his world. There's a devotion to a partner there that's a part of Him, and a part of every strong and powerful Pagan couple I know.

One of the many strengths of Paganism when it comes to sex is that Pagans have a very strong ability to compartmentalize it. Sex after a Jim Morrison Ritual is almost always about pleasure, and filling an animal longing. Pagans also realize that sex can be about making babies, while still hopefully fulfilling some animal longing. Sex can also be about expressing true love and showing a partner how much you care about them, but sex does not have to always be related to love, it can just sometimes be sex. Sex is also a sacred act, a way to experience the union of Lady and Lord, Goddess and God, and in such a context it's often at it's most powerful. Sex can also be a mixture of any of those four components. I've had sex with someone I love while feeling the sex as a need, all while channeling Pan, but we weren't trying to have a baby.


  1. Good luck with the film, Jason. That's awesome!

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