Holy art Thou, Lord of the universe!
Holy art Thou, whom nature hath not formed!
Holy art Thou, the vast and mighty one!
Lord of the light and of the darkness!
The above expression of honoring the Divine is found in rituals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It has been held up as showing that ceremonial magick is sexist. Some Golden Dawn temples have changed the vocabulary so it is not what they consider sexist. For example, the first line might be changed to “Holy are Thou, Source of the Universe!” and the last line might be changed to “Lord and Lady of the light and of the darkness!”
To discuss this I would like to introduce you to a philosopher named Jacques Derrida (1930â€“2004). Derrida pointed out that any structure must have a source, and the meaning of the structure must be associated with that source. Thus, the words above need to be taken in the context of their source: the people who wrote them. But it’s not quite that easy. The logic behind this is that the source is itself a type of structure, so to understand it you have to go back to its source. And that source goes back to its source. There is simply no way to know all of those sources, so we need to look at the structure (the words above, in this case) not as they were intended, but as we see them today. Structures, including language, are incredibly complex and have natural contradictions that make them ultimately meaningless. So we should look at language only from our modern point of view. This is known as philosophical deconstruction.
Receiving the Deconstruction Axe
A decade ago a man named David Howard described a person as “niggardly.” This is a perfectly good word meaning “stingy” or “miserly.” The source of the word is the Old Norse nigla which means “fussing about small things.” It’s related to the word “niggling” which means “small” or “petty.” Unfortunately, is sounds like a well-known derogatory term for people primarily of African descent. That word is so volatile in today’s world that I’m not going to even string the letters together here. Â The source of the negative word is a Latin term by way of the Romance Languages.
A person heard Mr. Howard’s use of the term and either didn’t know its meaning or its source or ignored it. He ended up equating it with the word that causes so many problems and pain. All he thought about was the similarity of the sound and considered it a racial Â slur. A furor erupted and Howard was forced to quit his job. The complainer and his supporters may not have realized it, but they put Deconstruction to its logical result: It doesn’t matter what you mean. All that matters is the way I interpret what you say.
Deconstruction and Magick
When people today look at expressions such as at the top of this post and see it as sexist, they are, knowingly or unknowingly, deconstructing the meaning. They would be absolutely correct in making such changes to the passages for the term “Lord.” By itself, that term certainly could be seen as sexist. But it does not say “Lord” in the passages above.
Huh? I can see the word right there!
In the first passage, it’s not “Lord,” it’s “Lord of the universe.” In the last passage it’s not “Lord,” it’s “Lord of the light and of the darkness.”
Both “Lord of the universe” and “Lord of the light and of the darkness” are titles. They are not descriptions of something male or female. They are titles for certain universal energies. This is similar to the way many women in movies and theater today refer to themselves as “actors” and not “actresses.” Even the famous woman Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh or the eighteenth dynasty, was called “pharaoh,” not “pharohette.”
The Lord of the universe is not the creator, creatrix or source of the universe. The Lord of the universe is simply the Lord of the universe. The same is true for the Lord of the light and of the darkness. As you can see, when it comes to magick, I am not a deconstructionist. Rather, I prefer to look the inner meaning of concepts and terms. If something better and more accurate is available, I say, “Replace it!” But I’m not in favor of change because of a deconstructionist attitude.
Sexism and Magick
So is there sexism within magick? A lot of times, as illustrated above, sexism is seen where it doesn’t exist. Many years ago, a friend who was a Wiccan told me she didn’t like the Kabalah because it was sexist. I asked her how it was sexist. She replied she didn’t know, but she had heard that it was.
The truth is, after years of study, I don’t see the Kabalah or Magick as being sexist at all. However, people are products of their environment and upbringing. The history of magick, unfortunately, has had people who were sexist or racist. Some of them were far less prejudiced than the rest of their society, but would be considered highly prejudiced today.
In each generation, we evolve in our thinking. I believe it’s important to take a stand against injustice, even if that stand is only that we will not participate in it. I also think it’s valid to abandon what is obsolete and no longer of value. But when it comes to magick, I don’t think we should change things without fully understanding them first.
What do you think?
Do you agree?
Have you been in a Golden Dawn temple that made changes like this?
What do you think of it?