Sacred Androgyny; Integrating Our Inner Plurality

ANIMA ANIMUS by Danielle The Artiste

God & Gender

When talking about the concept of any “higher power” or God, is not uncommon for people refer to this concept as ‘He’. It has become so ingrained that many of us assign a male gender to God unconsciously without even thinking too much about it. Likewise, this mode of thinking has historically assigned holier attributes to men as well, with men being considered the “head of the household”, being able to hold religious authority through roles such as priesthood, and even in the common use of phrases such as “mankind”. Many of us are aware of how language shapes our beliefs — but how much of our beliefs regarding our own gender have been shaped by this type of monotheistic theme? How do these beliefs shape our economic, familial, political, and social aspects of our lives?

Interestingly enough, although a good portion of the world no longer ascribes to the pantheons of pagan religions with multitudes of Gods and Goddesses, the Hebrew Bible itself suggests God to be implicitly androgynous and multiple in nature. Even in the Bible, God is referred to as “Elohim”, which is a plural noun referencing multiple entities both female and male. Here we see the explicit reference to God’s androgyny, with the Biblical Genesis stating the famous lines, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Here God is repeatedly presented as a singularly speaking plurality of divine power; male, female, and one. Whether or not you believe in a higher power, this important translation in Genesis can shift everything regarding our thinking about questions such as “Does God exist?”, or, “What is God?” Whether we like it or not, religion has a great impact on how men and women are viewed within society — even in the more secular sections of a society.. After all, a religion tends to reflect culture and vice versa; our male-dominated hegemony in the West can be directly linked to monotheistic religion. Suppression of feminine or androgynous expression is part-and-parcel to male domination.

To understand this type of suppression, it can be useful to rewind history and take a closer look at some often glossed over themes within the major religions. Central to Hellenistic philosophy and Christian theology is the female aspect of God called “Sophia”, meaning “wisdom”. It is here we get the etymological root of words such as “philosophy”, or, “love of wisdom”. Sophia is regarded as the primordial sea before creation, the universal womb, and also the “holy spirit” of the trinity. She is representative of limitless, infinite darkness and creative potential. Upon investigation we find that even the monotheistic God is portrayed as a plural, androgynous and multifaceted entity. How did it come to be that we would refer to this God as “He”, and how does this separation of a gendered God consequently act as a mirror to how we view our own gender identity as individuals? Looking to history we see many examples of gender-bending myths and legends that directly challenge today’s ideas of how we conceive of both God and of ourselves. A myriad of cultures and mystical religions throughout history, including Kabbalah, Gnostic Christianity, Egyptian and Greek polytheism, Hinduism, and alchemical traditions have deified androgynous Gods within their modes of practice and worship.

Jesus in a 16th century Flemish painting depicted with female breasts.

It’s no mistake that Jesus himself is portrayed as championing typically feminine traits within the bible. He is described as a man that is loving, humble, nurturing, gentle, communal, forgiving, and spiritual to name a few. If one reads the bible you will find that it’s central figure behaves much like how women are socialized to behave. Even his image is often portrayed with a rather feminized, androgynous visage and sometimes even painted bearing female breasts — likely symbolizing his life-giving qualities.. Angels, which are beings existing above humans in the spiritual hierarchy, are also often portrayed as androgynous beings in Christian art, with long hair and soft, blushing faces. It is details such as these that often get glanced over when talking about a religion that has been distorted into a dogmatic and patriarchal tradition over 2,000 years of editing and revision to suit the needs of empires.

Integrating The Polarities

The hexagram found throughout the world.

According to ancient Hermetic philosophy — a spiritual tradition of antiquity believed to have stemmed from the mysticism of ancient Egypt — everything in the universe exists with polarities, yet all paradoxes may be reconciled through inner transmutation. The same is proposed within the modern study of dialectics, which, to put it in plain terms, is the study of contradictions and their solutions. This concept of polarity is illustrated in symbols such as the yin yang of ancient China, and likewise in the hexagram. The hexagram is a geometric shape used intuitively by people all over the ancient world due to its universality and simplicity, yet it is thought to have symbolically originated in ancient India as a sacred Hindu mandala called the satkona yantra or sadkona yantra. It has since been adopted by Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Chrstians alike for centuries.

Shiva & Shakti portrayed in unison.

Few know that this symbol of two interlocking triangles represents the unity of masculine and feminine, Shiva and Shakti, and the divine union of these elements as the source of all creation. It is the symbolic representation of life itself and of all polarities. This principle can be observed throughout all of nature. Plants, animals, and even cells utilize polarity and unification to allow for all life in the known universe to come forth. It is this paradox that can thus be turned inward on ourselves in analysis of our own psyche, and it is this symbol that has been passed down to us in various forms time and time again from many mystical traditions.

In a world that constantly seeks to compartmentalize and divide, we can instead work to integrate what seems to be diametrically opposed within us. I’d like to shift our thinking of the world around us from being comprised of opposites, to instead of being comprised of polarities — the difference being that polarities are united by a spectrum, and stem from the same source. Light and dark exist relative to one another. Likewise, hot and cold exist on a spectrum but stem from one energetic source. Thus, duality is transformed into a singularity.

Western culture pushes the narrative that men and women are biologically and metaphysically different, ie; men are strong, logical, and violent, while women are nurturing, emotional, and passive. This position does not at all take into account how our environments condition our behavior from the time we are born. The truth is that we all hold all qualities within us, just to varying degrees. Some qualities are repressed and others are emphasized, but this depends almost entirely on the environment one is raised within, as well as countless other factors including hormonal makeup of our brains. It is for this reason that what we call gender expression only exists because we give it meaning. In reality, we are all born androgynous beings and socialized into levels of gendered polarity. Our perceived inner contradictions are indeed eligible for transcendent unification and integration if we take the time to work with them.

Visions For The Future

Gender itself is incredibly difficult to pin down or define, and it typically changes throughout space, time, and culture. No trait is inherently masculine or feminine — only our cultures ascribe certain traits into tightly gendered boxes, as it is a construct we build to make sense of perceived polarities. My goal here is to express that what we commonly view to be polarities are instead fluid and harmoniously existing concepts. Gender has no boundaries — no beginning and no end. It is pure ideology and should be treated as such.

The common trope in the West of “finding your better half” in a romantic partner is another distortion of this truth. It is the idea that somehow finding the “male to your female” or “female to your male” which supposedly exists outside oneself. Through this union it is said that you will then somehow become complete or made whole. I would like to propose that we turn this concept inward and instead attempt to unify these parts of ourselves that have been repressed through years of social conditioning. For men it can be learning how to accept what is culturally considered “feminine” within you, such as being emotionally vulnerable and practicing giving nurturance to others. For women it can be learning how to invoke “masculine” traits like being assertive, standing your ground, or asking for what you need. While these acts seem simple, for most of us it takes a lifetime of unlearning and practice to uncover these crucial parts of ourselves. This is how we are made healthier people — not through seeking something outside of ourselves to fill a socialized void.

Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung postulated that nested inside the shadow of our psyche are the qualities of our opposite gender, called the Anima (feminine) and Animus (masculine). If repressed, these qualities existing within us can become distorted and mal-adaptive, creating challenges within all of our most intimate relationships. A man who represses his Anima might have difficulty nurturing or listening to another person. Likewise, a woman who represses her Animus may have a difficult time asserting her boundaries or needs, and can become trapped within unfavorable relationships. Through the integration of the Anima and Animus we may be able to have more harmonious relationships, and consequently a more harmonious life.

The mirrors between societies and their epistemologies are endless. 19th and 20th century philosophy, modern science, and the weakening of monotheism has allowed us to break down and dissect many of the old paradigms that often confine us. It is up to us what we decide to rebuild in its place. A new era is upon us and we have the opportunity to regenerate the parts of humanity we have been cut off from. The opposition, though it is strong, is not strong enough to defeat human nature itself. May we be brave enough to confront our many social conditionings in order to build a better future.

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Brigid Ó is an early childhood educator living in the United States. She is interested in the unification of psychology, history, and mysticism.

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Brigid Ó Coileáin

Brigid Ó Coileáin

Brigid Ó is an early childhood educator living in the United States. She is interested in the unification of psychology, history, and mysticism.

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