Transgender Divinity

“One reason the Virgin is semi-deified . . . is that ‘feminine’ functions of God—formation and nurturing of the church—are not assigned to the Father and Son, whose relationship is symbolically male. Some feminist theologians oppose this monopoly of male analogues by suggesting that Father and son be replaced by mother and daughter, which retains a gender monopoly by simply reversing it. The historical circumstances of New Testament revelation make that an arbitrary revisionism. The better course is to welcome a female analogy for God, but assign it to the third person of the Trinity. . . . The pronoun for the Spirit should be She, which will make clear that many of the functions assigned to Mary . . . truly belong to the Trinity in its female analogue. One should pray to Her as well as to Him.”

– Garry Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit

Anybody who’s remotely curious knows that, in orthodox theology, the Christian Godhead is composed completely of three divine Male Beings—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. God the Father is, well, God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth. God the Son is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior who sitteth at the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty. The Holy Ghost—always ambiguous—is nevertheless the Divine Third of the Trinity generated out of intense reciprocal love between Father and Son.

Trinity is a three-cornered hat of equal divine proportions, totally Male in supernatural composition. This summation (though expressed here a little glibly) is orthodox theology, both Catholic and Protestant.

Some Christian liberals—at least this is true on the Catholic side of the theological fence, as in the epigraph above from Garry Wills—have been proposing that the Holy Ghost should be granted Female status, thus shifting Trinity from three Hims to two Hims and a Her. The ecclesiastical establishments have not exactly embraced this proposal with open arms.

But there’s another way to think about this situation, although that way stretches our binary, analytical brain in a manner we typically find uncomfortable and even a bit disconcerting.

Let me put it this way.

Anybody who’s studied Greek mythology, for instance, no matter how thoroughly or superficially, gets it that the ancient Greek gods and goddesses were representations of male and female gender energies and cultural traits blown up as “divine” effigies to be believed in as “persons.” But now that we have that wonderful discipline we call psychology, we can interpret the meaning of these gods and goddesses for what they represented in the ancient Greek psyche.

But to get to the place where we felt free enough to utilize psychology in this manner, we first had to demythologize the Greek pantheon from Gods and Goddesses to gods and goddesses, from big G’s to little g’s. First we had to get past sacred supernatural awe of Real Divine Beings to a realization of these gods and goddesses as cultural constructs.

What enabled the Christian West to demythologize the Greek pantheon was a bit of complex intellectual juggling. First, of course, was the Christian—and, before that, the Jewish—assertion that the God of Israel (which is also God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth) repudiates the divinity of all other gods and goddesses. They’re all frauds, fakes, and impostors. This meant that the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece were not real Gods or Goddesses. Second, the veneration of Greek culture in the West demanded a certain magnitude of respect for Greek achievements. Therefore it was possible for Christians to recognize, discuss, and artistically depict Greek “divinities” so long as those “divinities” were understood as mythological and therefore open to rational interpretation.

But there’s a bit of trick mirrors to navigate before we proceed. I’ve used the conventional term demythologize to describe the turning of Gods and Goddesses into gods and goddesses, from Real Beings into cultural constructs. But demythologize is an inaccurate way to describe this shift in understanding.

How to explain this—?

Well, let’s jump into the hot tub with our own Divine Beings of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The quickest way to take this splash is to briefly convey how I got mythologically soaked—though I have friends, both orthodox Christian friends and analytical secular friends, who say I’ve only gotten wet behind the ears.

Anyway, I was reading Michael Harrington’s Socialism—this was about forty-five years ago—when Harrington introduced me to a twelfth-century Italian monk, Joachim of Floris, who had pulled Trinity out of the sky and given each of the Divine Beings a sequential age on Earth. The Age of the Father was depicted as the era of the Old Testament, an age of monarchy, discipline and law. The Age of the Son was of course Jesus, described as love institutionalized in the church. But, said Joachim, there’s a third age pending, the Age of the Holy Ghost, which will be revealed as holy freedom and consecrated anarchy.

Before I read Socialism, I’d been up to my eyebrows exploring the origins—and fate—of agriculture. As an acutely alienated farm boy, I was determined to find out why small farms were dying, why they were disappearing from the physical and cultural landscape. I’d learned that, after the last Ice Age, female gatherers had, over a period of umpteen generations, developed gardening and horticulture, which eventually led, with the domestication of specific animals, to agriculture. The village got bigger and more socially complex. Men gave up hunting and became farmers.

But an additional big discovery hit me hard: the spirituality of the agrarian village, owing in large part to the prestige of women as founders of this unprecedented abundance of food, was feminine. Various scholars called it the Age of the Mother.

Well, okay. Those were the historical facts. But it was a playful, whimsical impulse that prompted me to play the Queen on Joachim’s chessboard. If Joachim could make historical eras out of Christian Trinity—sequential ages of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—I did the historically logical thing of placing Mother in front of Father. Before the Father’s Age of monarchy, discipline and law, there had been a long, long period of a Mother’s Age of agrarian villages.

I was enjoying the insouciant construct—not so much demythologizing Trinity as deliberately expanding it as a mythology—Trinity to Mandala—when I noticed an anomaly.

There are two things to unpack here. First, it’s really hard for both conventional believers and conventional unbelievers to get the mythological significance of the enlargement of Trinity to Mandala. Conventional believers resist—even resent—having their factually true Trinity played with: not so much demythologized as mythologized. The ancient Greek pantheon may have been mythological, but my Blessed Trinity is spiritually factual and sacred. Conventional unbelievers, many of whom got their spiritual sensitivities brutally trampled on as children or adolescents, are so sick and tired of Christian yakity-yak that any exploration into these constructs is an instant and acutely aggravating turnoff. This resistance and turnoff renders both camps disinclined to poke their heads out of their respective binary bubbles. Neither gets the mythological significance.

Take a close look at the Garry Wills epigraph. Notice what he’s doing when he says “Some feminist theologians oppose the monopoly of male analogues by suggesting that Father and son be replaced by mother and daughter. . . .” Wills is a Catholic liberal. He wants the Holy Ghost to be She. But he demotes Son to son so that his refusal to capitalize mother and daughter isn’t so abrasively obvious. (But note that Father continues to get a big F.) This is an excellent illustration of how religious liberals feel free to play around the edges of Christian orthodoxy while refusing to recognize Trinity as a peculiar—and powerful—mythological construct. If conservatives are hard-nosed believers, liberals have softer snouts. But both conservatives and liberals are sniffing and snuffling in the same spiritual confinement. Neither is willing to recognize that the orthodox Trinity is a mythological construct representing the divination of male supremacy.

But the anomaly I noticed, once Mother has first position and the sequence becomes Mother, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is that the construct then depicts one Divine Female, two Divine Males, and one Acute Ambiguity. Given that I was—and am—an American small-d democrat who not only believes in gender and racial equality, a psychic and spiritual condition compatible with Joachim’s Age of the Holy Ghost, but also a small-d democrat who thinks all religious pantheons need to be explored mythologically, I realized that to make Trinity-cum-Mandala fair and balanced, so to speak, meant recognizing that the ambiguous Maleness of the Holy Ghost was actually a mythological disguise for Daughter. The Holy Ghost may have been officially registered as Male in sacred ecclesiastical theology, but the mythological enlargement of Trinity to Mandala reveals that the presumed Male Holy Ghost is, instead, a Female whose disclosure represents the opening of the Age of the Daughter.

My spiritual comprehension has never been the same since.

Paul Gilk lives in the woods of northern Wisconsin. His home is a reconstructed nineteenth-century log cabin, without electricity or running water. He is the author of several books including Green Politics is Eutopian, Nature’s Unruly Mob: Farming and the Crisis in Rural Culture, and Picking Fights with the Gods: A Spiritual Psychoanalysis of Civilization’s Superego.