Friday, July 8, 2011

THE GENDERED ALTAR: WICCAN CONCEPTS OF GENDER AND RITUAL OBJECTS by JESSE DANIEL SLOAN






Many ethnographic accounts within the annals of anthropological literature describe the religious beliefs and magical rituals of peoples throughout the world. Fewer scholars have focused on the relatively young Neo-Pagan religious movement. “Neo-Pagan,” explains Helen Berger in Voices from the Pagan Census (2003), “is an umbrella term covering sects of a new religious movement, the largest and most important form of which is…Wicca” (Berger et al. 2003: 1). This thesis examines the relationship between practice and ideology by analyzing the material culture of Wiccan altars as used by Wiccans in Central Florida, USA. Particular attention is paid to beliefs concerning concepts of gender associated with ritual objects, and concepts of gender and sexuality as understood by practitioners. Many Wiccans see divinity as manifested in two complementary beings: the Goddess and the God. The fertility that these divine beings achieve through sexual union is the subject of an elaborate ritual called the Great Rite. A pair of Wiccans, often a masculine High Priest and a feminine High Priestess, conduct this ritual by manipulating specific objects, which are believed to be strongly gendered. I argue that Wiccan rituals reflect, construct, and reinforce the Wiccan precept of a gender-balanced cosmos through the interaction of these primary ritual actors and the gendered objects they manipulate. As a practicing Wiccan, my theoretical approach is aligned with that of the native scholar. The native scholar faces challenges distancing her or himself from research, but gains opportunities from insider knowledge. Wiccan ideology stands in contrast to heteronormative conventions of gender and sexuality. However, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Wiccans may need to actively negotiate for representation in this movement, where fertility is stressed. Wiccans continuously reinvent established practices in an attempt to create a more satisfying religious community.
















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