The Mundane Masculine and the Mundane Feminine
I just came back from a wonderful evening at the Rubin Museum from a talk by A.T Mann and Schuyler Brown called “The future of the Feminine”.
A well-crafted conversation to a primarily female audience (unfortunately) that explored many aspects of an emergent (or should I say ‘resurgent’) divine feminine sensibility. Great inspirations; directed meditations; much talk of Jung’s archetypes; the vagaries of time and space; the need to re-balance corporate and popular culture from patriarchal domination...
And yet, I was not convinced. I could not help but feel that the conversation was conflating two different dynamics for convenience and to some extent to pander to a populism that has emerged post the #metoo movement. (Please withhold judgement of this statement for a moment. I recognize that some people might jump to the conclusion that this aged, white, male is trying to diminish the cultural shift that is occurring... quite the opposite! Please read on).
There is an over simplicity and convenience to positioning everything that the patriarchy has quashed (intuition, feeling, compassion, love, nurturing, wisdom, balance, generosity etc) as the source of hope for the future. While at the same time positioning all that the patriarchy stands for (competition, order, logic, power, authority, assertion, survival, strength, discipline, argument, ambition etc.) as the cause of anxiety and suffering in the world.
In the Nockwood deck, I made a distinction between ‘Divine’ and ‘Earthly’ suits. ‘Divine’ being those sources of hope, aspiration and potentiality — ‘what could be’. In contract, the ‘Earthly’, concerned itself with ‘what is’ — resources, truths and actualities. This was an incredibly important distinction I had observed in almost all ancient religions. Two worlds. A duality of existence that distinguishes between the mundane, material and grounded world that captures most of our attention and the spiritual and unknowable world from which we source enlightenment and inspiration. Early Gnostic texts distinguish the Pleroma (divine powers) from the ‘earthly’ world created by the Demiurge. Similar distinctions can be found in Greek philosophical texts (e.g. Hypostasis) and in Hindu (e.g. Prakrti or Vyavaharika). Within both these worlds are masculine and feminine forces both good and evil.
What struck me from the discussion in the room, and after the event among friends, was that we seem to be conflating two different dynamics, the dynamics of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ and the dynamics of the ‘mundane’ and ‘divine’.
Much of the gender related conversation, gender fluidity, gender identity, gender roles and gender behaviors such as those exhibited in corporate culture and in society, are very ‘mundane’ in nature. Like the rest of the mundane world we perceive them to be concrete, fixed, absolute when in fact they are an illusion, a convenience, a deception of either our minds or of social conformity and convention. (Not dissimilar to the way as we construct time in our minds as a linear, objective dimension when all evidence from science tells us that it is indeed a subjective construct). Similarly, the mundane dynamics of masculinity and femininity, which dominated much of the conversation at the Rubin museum, are pretty arbitrary.
Of course, there are strong characteristics, values and behaviors that are associated with each gender. There are ‘collective conscious’ archetypes for both the masculine and feminine which play out in our sub-conscious and in our cultures. There are physical dynamics too in the different roles men and women have in sex that reinforce many of these mundane dynamics. The masculine nature of ‘assertion’, ‘direct-focus’, ‘active agency’ (“up and out”) are undoubtedly informed by the physicality of an erect, thrusting penis. The feminine nature of ‘receptivity’, ‘containment’, ‘inner depth’ and emotion (“down and in”) are equally evocative of the welcoming and hospitable vagina. And, while these dynamics are fairly well documented and ingrained into our psyche (reference: Piaget’s experiments that showed even very young boy tend to build towers and young girls tend to build enclosures when given toy bricks to play with) they are not as concrete as we believe them to be.
In truth, everyone has both dynamics within them. Both genders can, and often are, both “up and out” and “down and in”. These mundane representations of gender are no more, and no less than, convenient and consensual narratives that everyone tells themselves. There is no truth to them in absolute terms. As with most things in the mundane world, it is our choice as to whether we believe in them. We have complete control of how we choose to see this world and we have complete control of how we choose to respond to it. The more we believe in these gender conveniences and biases, the more we fortify them within our culture.
For me, the most interesting dynamic from the conversation was the conversation about the ‘divine feminine’ and the ‘divine masculine’. The former has garnered a lot of attention and discussion in recent years and the latter certainly deserves some attention too.
These divine, rather than mundane, inspirations and mysteries are interesting because they are the forces that might inspire us to act or behave differently. These are the forces that help us imagine what could be and how to pursue our ideals and intentions. Unlike the mundane dynamics, which are physical and tangible, the ‘divine feminine’ and the ‘divine masculine’ are, for me, forces of creation; forces of intention; forces of manifestation that we can all draw upon. These are the forces that might cause us to imagine the world differently and these are the forces that we can all draw upon to manifest them. While some of these forces may come easier to some than others, there is certainly no gender exclusivity. Our soul, spirituality, our sense of being (whatever you want to call it) is liberated from gender. Our enlightenment comes not from proficiency in one or the other, but from wholeness, completeness and balance. Our divine selves, our transcendent selves, have equal access to the forces of both masculine and feminine divinity and benefit from both in equal measure.
Which of course, led me back to the cards. In my discovery of the six suits of the Nockwood deck, I brought seemingly contradictory dynamics into each suit. These were intuitive for me and yet I find a few people struggle with these depictions. Part of this struggle seems to be that they approach interpretation of the cards from too singular a perspective (either masculine or feminine). It’s almost as if they are too immersed in the habits and conventions of their gender, that they fail to see the duality of each suit.
So, here goes at my attempt to parse out the ‘masculine’ from the ‘feminine’, the ‘divine’ from the ‘earthly’
The divine suits:
Hearts: (Red, inward facing triangle)
This suit combines the divine feminine forces of intuition and emotion with the divine masculine forces of passion and desire. Both of these forces are forces that are found from within. Both are intuitive rather than rational. Both are entirely subjective and individual. Both are powerful forces of imagination and creation but in different ways. In one sense these are the forces of love (Agape for the feminine and Eros for the masculine) but there is more to the suit than just Love. From the Feminine side there is an urge to feel, feel connections to others, evoke feelings in others. The desire for a depth of feeling, meaningful connection rather than superficiality. A heart felt knowing. From the masculine side, the suit of Hearts is much more about desire and passion. The urge to unite, the wanting and seeking of fulfillment and satisfaction. The divine masculine has difficulty knowing this ‘depth’ for he is unable to give birth himself and is, in some ways, just an observer to that creation, but he desires its mystery and explores his feeling through touch and sensuality. Divine masculinity intoxicates us and lights a fire within us that drives us to pursue our passions.
Coins: (Orange, sphere)
The suit of coins combines the divine feminine forces of wholeness, completeness (as represented by the circle) and the divine masculine forces of power, energy and authority (as represented by a gold coin). Both represent prosperity, achievement and aspiration. Both bring potency and energize us. Both are in some way never achievable and unknowable — ever expanding, infinite. In Alchemy a circle connects the 5 elements of a pentagram (Air, fire, water, earth and aether) to represent alignment and the power that comes when everything is connected. (Not to mention the concept of ‘squaring the circle’ an aspiration to achieve the impossible!). The divine feminine forces of Coins are those of alignment, complementarity and togetherness. The divine masculine forces are more of leadership, vision and authority.
Diamonds: (Yellow, forward facing triangle)
The suit of diamonds represents forward progress and the realization of potential. Within the suit there is a combination of both the divine feminine force of nurturing and growing potentiality (think farming, growing, feeding)and the divine masculine force of seizing it and hunting it. Both dynamics represent progress and transformation. Both dynamics require bravery and courage to evolve from where you are to somewhere new. Both represent a journey into the unknown and the belief in discovering or creating a desired future (praxis). The divine feminine dynamic for this suit has more of a sense of surrender while the divine masculine has more of a sense of fight. Surrender is not a weakness, it is an acceptance. An acceptance of what cannot be controlled and the patience to wait until the time is right to make a move. It is the magic of creating something new from what was already there (nurturing). The divine masculine by contrast, is much more ‘up and out’, exploring, advancing, forging into new territory and seizing opportunity, rather than waiting for it to happen.
The earthly suits:
Shields: (Green, Oval)
The suit of shields is intentionally vulvic. The shape of a shield to represent the masculine defense of honor and the vagina which represents purity and sanctity. As we descend in to the earthly realm, the meaning of the cards come to represent more material or tangible motivations. The suit of shields represents appreciating what you have that is good and valuable. The ‘mundane feminine’ dynamic here is that of a mother’s protection. A commitment and devotion to offspring or ideals. A focus on what matters over what doesn’t. An acceptance of vulnerability and therefore caution and prudence. The mundane masculine dynamic is equally born of commitment to ideals and a protection of what is valued, but it manifests itself in what we might call ‘a father’s protection’. Alertness, attention, focus, discipline, heroism, defender of virtue and loyalty to a cause.
Spades: (Blue, Pentagon)
The suit of shields was born of a pentagram. In alchemy, this 5-pointed star has two feet firmly planted on the ground, its points represent the elements from which everything else in the world is made. As the most grounded of symbols (yes, literally a spade) this suit represents the complexity and multi-dimensionality of reality. This suit was also inspired by the gnostic character Sophia, a word that literally means ‘wisdom’ in Greek, and who was also the bride of Jesus Christ and the ‘daughter of light’. Sophia fell from grace and was the person who brought the spiritual spark of enlightenment to the material world. The mundane feminine dynamic of the suit is that of wisdom. It represents balance and justice in a feminine sense, which remains open to the many sides to truth. Feminine knowledge comes from understanding, comprehension, seeing all sides and the discernment of fair from unfair, good from bad. From the mundane masculine side, the suit of spades represents the power of logic, intellect, reason and proof. This masculine dynamic includes that of argument, the assertion of expertise (yes, and mansplaining), the creation of order, rules and enforcement (i.e. judgement and policing).
Flags: (Purple, Square)
The suit of flags is all about people, community and collaboration. It represents the interdependence of people. How we organize ourselves and how we identify as a group. It’s this aspect of interdependence that gives the suit of flags it’s meaning. From the mundane feminine side, this suit is very much about compassion, care, kindness and empathy. From the mundane masculine side this is about organization, the gathering of people together to create community and the service of others (i.e. helping and assisting). Both sides share a generosity, benevolence, togetherness and an appreciation of shared destiny. This interdependence also spreads beyond people, to all ‘life’, and in this respect the suit of flags also represents an appreciation of the complexity and diversity of nature and our (individual and collective) role within it.
Now, when using the cards for diagnosis, reflection and pre-meditation (forward focused meditations), the cards are there as reminders, not instructions, and simply prompt us to consider these various dynamics. Divine, Earthly, Masculine and Feminine. It is this nudging into awareness that makes the cards powerful, rather than any dynamic of hierarchy or making choices between them. Nockwood cards aren’t prediction or prophesy, they are a tool for “guidance from our own being”.
I’m looking forward to the book that our hosts A.T Mann and Schyler Brown are working on. I hope they appreciate the degree to which their talk inspired me to articulate my own perspective on the divine masculine and the divine feminine (and how their event forced me to prise these apart…at least in my own head).