Thinking About – Polarity and Inner Duality

793px-Limestone_seated_man_and_woman_CACOne of the themes on my blog is my ‘Thinking About’ series of articles. These little verbal mind-maps give me an opportunity to mull over aspects of my spiritual path and to re-question their validity for me. To see if these old ideas still hold water. So far I’ve looked at Magic, Pagan spiritual groups, and what we can do if www lose our connection to our path.

One of the topics that is coming up more and more is the concept of inner duality. The idea that aspects, personality traits, habits, ways of being can be assigned either to the masculine or the feminine. This goes even as far as assigning gender aspects to the Four Elements – Earth and Water being feminine, Fire and Air being masculine. Earth = nurturing, secure, homely; Water = emotional, flowing, soft. And Air =  thought, free flowing, intellectual; Fire = passionate, direct, focussed, taking action. So one of the quests of Inner Alchemy is to bring into balance the masculine and feminine aspects within us.

Let’s assign a few more concepts to gender.

Poetry – feminine, unless it’s angry, then it’s a masculine expression of a feminine quality.

Focus – masculine.

Dreaming – feminine.

As the years have passed this idea of inner polarity has bugged me more and more until now I think it could even be a damaging way of looking at the world.

Here’s why.

If a man is sensitive, emotional, a poet, a sensitive father or partner, he is said to be that way because he is in touch with his feminine side. If a woman is career driven, motivated, assertive she is said to be in touch with her masculine side. I find each of these utterly disempowering and insulting. It suggests that a man cannot be simply be a sensitive man, or a woman an assertive, strong woman, without somehow being in touch with their opposite nature. That somehow these attributes are exclusive to each gender.

I disagree.

You see, when I’m overwhelmed with emotion, it’s not my feminine side expressing itself, it’s the sensitive aspect of my masculine nature. And I would suggest that a driven assertive business woman is not going outside of her feminine nature by being that way, but instead she is opening to a very natural aspect of what it is to be a woman, a strong focussed woman in her own right, not a woman who is in touch with her masculine side. These concepts are degrading to each sex, and I no longer use that terminology.

Let women be focussed, driven, assertive women, who also can be emotional, sensitive and creative. Complete women.

Let men be sensitive, emotional, creative men, who can also be driven and assertive and focussed. Complete Men.

The associations of duality are not exclusive, and using them only confuses what it is to be a man or a woman.

We are multifaceted, complicated, emotional beings whether man or woman. For me these duality boxes and concepts are no longer helpful ways to understand my place in the world. I no longer feel any need to access a non-existent female part of my nature. No, when it comes to my emotions, my nurturing and creative nature, I’ll be at one with those, as a man, fully and completely.

What do you think? Are these concepts still useful for you? Have you, like me, discarded these dualistic way of looking at ourselves?

22 responses to “Thinking About – Polarity and Inner Duality”

  1. Hey Damh,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly. I am a strong woman, I fend for myself and my loved ones, yet I am also tender and loving, creative and a bit of a dreamer. Being strong tells me that I am supporting those I love and being able to love tells me that I am whole…. I think that we need to allow ourselves to feel, to be, to act and in this we will be all that we need, not just for others, but for ourselves as well.

    /l\ Blessings

  2. Thank you. I have been saying this for years. We are multifaceted. Dualism is the problem and no amount of balancing if will solve it. We need to speak in complexity. Because we are.

  3. This is what makes you such a great bard, you express things so perfectly. I agree completely. I am a woman, whatever mood I am in and whatever role I embody. I don’t believe an inner man lurks in me or that an inner woman hides in you.

    My father is a wonderful manly man with a deep sensitivity towards others. I’ve never seen that as evidence that he’s tapping into some female part of himself and I think people who do think that just have a low opinion of men, who, in my experience, are as capable of gentleness, compassion and sensitivity as women.

  4. Awen to all that. At some point there Damh, I think you have summed it up by saying its all pretty much “insulting”.

    I do personally get challenged by folks classifying what is male and family as if their are boundaries and exclusives for each.

    There seems to be yin and yang and ebb and flow in all things and all situations, a constant dance of male and female. If we try to take side in an experience we perhaps loose half of the experience.

    From the tales we hear today of ancient times there are a lot of gods and goddesses and certain things assigned to each of them. I wonder how much of that is from modern thinking that has been incubated and cultivated over the past 2000 years compared to what was believed and lived to at the times.

    I believe we have to take things as they are the moment we impact them without putting them in the ale of female box first – or we just miss out on the moments, miss out on the unconditional sensing of each moment.

    • … please excuse some errors as I rushed out this comment coming in for a quick cuppa from the garden, but for one “ale and female box” should be ‘male and female’, despite how some may say “same difference” 🙂

  5. You are so right! Duality is so limiting. Most things occur on a continuum. It can be so damaging to try to force “either-or” thinking. Even the categories of male and female are limiting.

  6. Damh, thank you for articulating this idea. The Wiccan-influenced idea of male-female duality is probably one of my least favourite aspects of modern paganism. I think it is insulting, especially to LGBT people or people who don’t feel a strong gender identity (or whose gender identity doesn’t match their biology). Nature is not dualistic either/or, it is multiform and so are people.

    What do you do as a Druid when you come across male-female duality language used in ritual (I’m thinking specifically of times like Beltane)?

    I’m struggling with this problem myself, and would love to know if you re-write rituals so as not to include it, or simply plough through even though you don’t agree with it?

    • Good question. For Beltane there seems to be two energies that seem complimentary, but actually might be conflicting. These are sex, and procreation. Sex is enjoyable, recreational, fun, and most people spend most of their time when they are having sex trying NOT to procreate. So Beltane, to me, isn’t about sex. Beltane to me is about procreation. The union of stamen and pollen, the stuff that sees through the continuation of life. The abundance of the fields, the continuation of the food chain, the celebration of continuing life. For that we still need male and female bits. So when we write our Beltane rituals we try to approach them from the angle of procreation, not just sex, or sexual preference.

      • Thanks, Damh. That makes a good deal of sense. I think I’ll try writing my own ritual for Beltane next year, instead of struggling with the scripted forms that are often too dualistic. Thinking about plants and fields and ‘life forces’ sounds like something I could get behind.

  7. I don’t have a real problem with the concept of duality……but I don’t see it as merely an interpretation of human femaleness/maleness.
    What I do believe is that in nature there are strengths and weaknesses and for humans dominant traits will be more successfully utilised if directed to those natural strengths……
    In all of us there will be a balance accessible for what nature designed us to experience.
    Yes women can be focused and direct and men can be gentle and nurturing……. but they will still need an internal balance……. this is always intensely personal….
    I have found the elements to be instrumental in my work on balancing for and wthin myself…..

  8. I see Beltane rather the opposite, as a celebration of sex, passion, blossoming, and all that involves, whatever turns you on. Procreation these days doesn’t always happen between one man and one woman: assisted reproduction can find various ways of combining egg, sperm and womb. And not all creatures procreate by male and female bits, some do both, some neither. So for me creativity is part of Beltane energy, but quite a small part.

  9. I have personally subscribed to the idea of humanity, not gender, since I was very young. I have taught this to my children and tried to impress this upon others through my own thoughts and actions. Everyone is in need of the same basics- to be warm when it’s cold, to feel needed and loved, to appreciate the beauty of the world around us, etc. It’s seemed to be the best route for me personally in my life, and I seem to be a more content, fulfilled, well-rounded, grounded and understanding individual than the majority of the people that I know.

  10. In my opinion you are right; we are multifaceted individuals, and trying to categorize male or female aspects only confuses things about our individual personalities. I struggled with this for a long time because I am a tom boy ( I love to wrench on my motorcycle when I can or anything else for that matter), as well as a woman who loves to wear lace and nurture those around me. When I quit worrying about the balancing of male/female aspects in my personality and what other people think is right; I became comfortable with who I am. I am different, but that’s ok.
    In addition, Beltane is all about creativity for me. The union of male/female aspects to procreate. Still, after reading the other posts I think this is also a concept that may be best left up to the individual. I gained some insight into things I hadn’t thought about before.

  11. Anything taken to the extreme is dangerous. If one over-thinks the concepts they can easily confuse themselves and render the process invalid. Without Duality or Opposite Polarities there would be stagnation, no growth. In Nature there are many things that are both Masculine and Feminine for survival yet, the Birthing Process is primarily Feminine. We ascribe Femininity to the Willow which bends in the storm while attributing Masculinity to the Oak, King of the Forest or Guardian yet both of these Sacred Trees can be Male, Female, or Both just as Humans. Duality is a Concept, like Many Concepts, we can use to describe Experiences. Concepts are a Way of Viewing Things. I can agree with some of Your Thinking but completely discarding these Ancient Teachings means we have to replace them with something else. What’s the Sense in This? It doesn’t offend me to consider myself Masculine in Ways or Feminine in Ways or Both. For Me Your Argument is Only Valid if You Ascribe These Attributes to Other Verbiage. This is Why I Think in Ancient Times to Now We Use Polarities and Duality to Be Able to Communicate Our Ideas. I know many Poets who are Not Sensitive, I wouldn’t call them Masculine or Feminine, therefore for Me Poetry is an Art and a Gift from the Muse which is Feminine, Not the Individual. Masculinity and Femininity Flow All Sorts of Ways as well as Intertwine, Just as the Yin and Yang. The Epitome of Duality is Separateness with a Portion of the Other Within Itself to Maintain Balance with Motion Allowing for the Life Force to Continue.

  12. I am a transsexual woman, unique, we all are unique, doing my thing that is right for me, which needs no justification or little box to tick, just being as i am, as i truly am. I recognise my strengths and weaknesses and work with them in as positive a manner as i can Thankyou for this post Damh. I am that i am.

  13. It seems to me that a lot of Pagan assumptions probably go back to early Wicca, which was very much “of it’s time” in theorising that magic is created by the coming together of the polarities of male and female, much as electricity needs two poles to spark between. Therefore, any ritual needs a God and a Goddess, a high priest and a high priestess, an athame and a chalice etc, and these assumptions have not been much re-evaluated since..
    It seems to me though that when sex magic has power, which it usually does, the magic comes not from the polarity but from the energy of orgasm itself, regardless of how many penises and/or vaginas were involved in creating that orgasm.

  14. The scientist in me says; in many phyla masculine and feminine exist and males and females differ from each other in various ways. Genetic differences (in mammals XX & XY chromosomes) result in anatomical and physiological differences which in turn can lead to behavioural differences BUT most behaviour in humans is learned and socially conditioned rather than predominantly innate as it is in many organisms. Personally, I think most of what society commonly assumes to be masculine or feminine behaviour/attributes is learned from the prevailing culture rather than having any inherent biological basis (or use). Worse still, we have a tendency to attach value judgements to many of these culturally derived patterns of behaviour.

    So, I agree with you that stereotyping is restricting and potentially harmful for those who cannot or will not be shoe-horned into a stereotype but I do think it might be a step to far to deny that Nature saw some advantages in having the majority of the population designated as male or female and that some differences do exist for most of the population. Far more important though is the generally agreed biological principle that a healthy population is one that shows a wide range of variation; it’s that which gives it the flexibility to continue to evolve.

    When I saw the heading of your post I wondered if you were going to address spirit/matter dualism. I’m still trying to decide about this myself but, whether the “energy” (spirit/soul/etc) that animates me is separate from the matter that produces my physicality or an integral part of it, I can see no way that this “energy” should/could be bound by the limits of male/female sexuality any more than it is in microbes, oaks (which, by the way, are monoecious I believe) or rocks. It is that animating energy that is important to me; far more so than the physical body which it is animating.

    • Nice to have a scientific uinput into this discussion, and a reminder of the difference between sex and gender. I also agree that with most things human, the differences within a category tend to be greater than the ones between categories. Always worth remembering.

  15. Wow. Thank you so much for your replies. Some very inspiring and thought-provoking comments. You’ve all got me thinking even more, which is exactly what this series of posts is all about for me.

    This topic is, of course, very deep and in places complicated. My post was really approaching dualism from one angle, and that is the concept of ‘inner dualism’. The idea that aspects of my personality and actions can be attributed to an inner male and female duality. This is the idea I have a problem with and was talking about in my post. My view of the spiritual world isn’t a dualistic one, I’m more a polytheistic, pantheistic, animist, so my view of Deity does include Gods and Goddesses, stones and rocks with personalities, a Goddess of the Moon, and God of the Sun, a Green Man. Cernunnos, Blodeuwedd, ways of connecting with the world of Spirit and the Gods. So gender is there but no in a strictly dualistic way.

    So thank you. Thank you for your considered responses. I know this topic can be tough for people and I’m thankful that this thread of comments have been considered and on topic.

  16. It’s funny-I landed on your post by way of searching ‘inner duality’ on Google. I expected to come across a perspective on duality in the sense of having two, sometimes opposing, sides to ourselves. Not necessarily as distinct as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’. Anyway, I really appreciate how you have addressed this with your words, and couldn’t agree with you more on the topic!

    Specifically, the way you deliver the idea that we are one and whole as individuals.

    Do you think this has become a more popular idea as of late?

    Thanks for sharing!

  17. I recently started a blog called Divine Feminine Living. However, I agree with you. My motivation for the blog was not to create stereotypes between genders but to promote the importance of feminine qualities in humanity as a whole. If you study the chakra system, you will see that there are two spirals of energy rising from the base of the spine: one masculine and one femine. It is important to note, both males and females have this energy flowing up the spine. So both energies are innate in all of us regardless of gender. Have you wondered why God is reffered to as the masculine? Or who was Mary Magdelene? Why was she hardly mentioned in the bible when she played such an important role as the sole witness of the resurrection of Jesus? Now I’m not a preaching Christianity, but my point being is that it wasn’t that long ago that our society evolved from patriarchy into an era of strong women living in the masculine. Since then society has become more harsh, more corrupt but the answer is not for women to get back to being barefoot in the kitchen but for both men and women to realize the masuline and feminine qualities within them. That is the purpose of yoga or meditation to circulate the prana from the base of the spine up to the crown chakra so that we clear duality within ourselves and ultimately all of humanity. So this concept of divine feminine is not emerging to bash masculinity but to bring balance to men and women so that we can arrive to the Golden Age that was once before. At least that is what I was taught after being in Sedona for 4 months LOL. But it’s not a bad thought I don’t think.

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