Anthropocentrism: seeing human beings as the most significant beings in the Universe, or at least on Earth. I daresay that many pagans will argue that they aren’t anthropocentric, that perhaps they see the gods and spirits as more significant, or even all of us being equal, human and otherwise. However, in a broader sense, we are anthropocentric in that we have a tendency to align with and sometimes value what resembles us more over what resembles us less. We ally ourselves more with animal totems than plants, and even among animals we tend more toward liking or working with mammals than invertebrates.
And then there are our deities. With rare exception, all of the gods and goddesses are human in form, even if it isn’t their only form. And, with rare exception, all deities fall along a sexual dichotomy—female or male. Our deities are in our own form, whether we want to admit it or not. You can take a pantheon of deities and map out the human psyche to a great degree. (Whether or not the gods came from this mapping, or vice versa, is another debate for another time.)
I don’t feel there is anything inherently wrong with this. But when it is applied to specifically nature-based religions, which covers many neopagan religions, I have to question how much of Nature people really understand, and how much Nature is really being brought in as a basis for the spirituality in question.
Here’s why. We are most familiar with sexually dimorphic species, those that generally develop male or female reproductive structures, and we are a dimorphic species ourselves. Yet there are a wide variety of animals and plants that are not sexually dimorphic. Some, including but not limited to microscopic beings, reproduce asexually through division, budding, spores, parthenogenesis, and other ways of passing on genes without sex. And there are many species that either possess both male and female reproductive organs, or that literally change their physical sex as a natural part of their life cycle.
If we’re going by sheer numbers, sexually dimorphic beings are far outnumbered by the count of individuals—not just species—that are asexual or hermaphroditic. And if you want to include all of Nature, then you also have to include non-reproducing parts of nature, like stones and waterways.
So why do we persist in applying a dimorphic dominance to our understanding of nature and nature-based religion? Because we know that best. Because it’s comfortable. Because for most of us as humans, being a human animal means falling into the categories of “female” or “male”. I don’t think most people realize just how many species aren’t dimorphic, so it just doesn’t occur to us to think of nature in any other terms—hence the Wiccan (and co-opted by other paganisms) Goddess and God mythos, and pantheons of male and female deities paired off together.
I would challenge readers to look at Nature, and nature-based religion, in different terms. Put aside, for just a few moments if you will, the idea of paganism as being about a God of the wild animals and war and phallus-shaped mushrooms, and a Goddess of domestic agriculture and family nurture and having a bun in the oven. Think about how we are outnumbered by the non-dimorphic entities of the world. Think of Gaea not as a loving mother Goddess, but as an all-encompassing Both/And deity who is all things. Allow yourself to see the Divine as including all reproduction of all types, not having a specific form, but being manifest in everything, from stones to amoebas to helium to cacti. If you’re feeling really enthusiastic, perhaps even try creating mythology about deities that aren’t dimorphic, aren’t anthropomorphic, aren’t even necessarily animals. What might that look like?
Even if ultimately you prefer a female/male dichotomy and dimorphic deities, you may find value in appreciating that that’s not all there is. And maybe if we can expand our minds beyond sexual dichotomy, we can embrace other continua. So many of our magical and spiritual correspondences are based on either/or pairings—female/male, light/dark, cold/warm, good/evil, etc. Even if we personally may still feel comfortable with a Mother Goddess and Father God or other similar duality, what if we could transcend more of these as a way of expanding understanding and consciousness?