No, I haven’t lost my grammar marbles. I’m wondering whether the using the term “gods” contributes to some of the problems people have with the idea of deities, powers, or what-have-you.
When I was responding to M. J. Hall’s post, I tried to use the term “gods” where she did, but when I talk about my own ideas, I use terms like deities. The word “gods” presents male or masculine type deities as the norm, and female or feminine as the “other.” This is just as wrong as saying “men” when you mean “people.” It explicitly excludes half of all humans. And while the theaological questions of sex, gender, and deity are not simple, this gendered language is still exclusionary.
And while some people like Starhawk use “Goddess” to refer to an all-encompassing idea of the divine (and the divine within nature), I think that’s equally exclusionary and wrong. My partner has difficulty identifying with “Goddess.” I’m not going to cut him out, either.
More than the problems of exclusion, though, I think this gendered language persists because of patriarchy, and I wonder if the history of patriarchal monotheisms continues to shape our ideas of what “gods” might be in ways that are affecting the conversations we have.
In addition to saying deities, I also use the terms “powers” and “spirits.” I’m still sorting out what I think those things mean, and whether they’re different, but I have noticed that when I use these kinds of more open language, it expands the possibilities I can envision for what deities might be like. I don’t automatically assume that deities, spirits, or powers have to be omniscient. Or omnipresent. Or even eternal.
In some ways, I think a lot of polytheistic deities might be similar to what most Pagans would describe as nature spirits. Instead of being the spirit that epitomizes a place, though, they are anchored in a culture, or an idea, or an archetype, or a myth.
These kinds of conceptions of deity lead to entirely different possibilities for understanding power dynamics between people and “powers.” Even when we’re not explicitly discussing gendered power, I think the problems of a monotheistic masculine God as the apotheosis of patriarchal power-over continue to dog our possible conceptions of deity, especially when we continue to use limiting gendered language.
How do issues of gender and power play out in your ideas about spirits? Does it make a difference what words you use?