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Center for Action and Contemplation

Feminine and Masculine Principles

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Gender and Sexuality: Week 2

Feminine and Masculine Principles
Sunday, April 22, 2018

God is beyond gender, of course. Yet Genesis says that both male and female are included in “the image of God” (1:27). Throughout the Bible, both feminine and masculine images are used to illustrate the divine, although we must admit that the masculine ones dominate. [1] It is important that all people are able to recognize themselves in the picture we paint of God. When we over-emphasize masculine traits, many women, transgender, and intersex persons feel less-than, that their voices and bodies don’t matter as much as men’s, that God’s image is not in them.

As we saw last week, gender roles are fluid and somewhat arbitrary. But we can learn from the archetypal patterns called “feminine” and “masculine.” Let’s explore the unique gifts of feminine and masculine soul principles (regardless of one’s gender identification), recognizing how these characteristics are evident in the divine. I do know that I am entering a mine field here, and many do not like calling things masculine or feminine. Trust me, this is only a starting point.

In most mythologies and archetypal psychology, the feminine principle has greater interest in the inner, the soul, the formless, intuition, connection, harmony, beauty, and relationality in general; it is more identified with lunar subtlety than the over-differentiating light of the masculine sun god or the literalism and linearity of the left brain. Not all women fully identify with the feminine principle, and some men do, but these descriptors give you a sense of where I am coming from—and moving beyond, too. Many of the Prophets, the Wisdom literature, and of course Jesus himself illustrate these feminine qualities. Jesus is by no definition a classic patriarch. The Divine is often called “Sophia” or Holy Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures; and God is variously described as a compassionate mother, a hen protecting her chicks, and even “The Breasted One” or El Shaddai (Genesis 17:1, Exodus 6:2).

The masculine principle, as I experience it and have observed it, is more interested in the outer, the mental, exterior form, idea, the movement or action of things, the naming and differentiation of things one from another; solar clarity of individual things, as it were, as opposed to the relationship of one thing to another. It prefers the ascent of mind to the descent of soul. It often moves toward “agency” and action before relationship or intimacy. Just watch little boys play, and watch how men love to fix, build, and also demolish. It is often a more “focused consciousness” than the “diffuse awareness” of the feminine principle, as Carl Jung noted. We see examples of these characteristics in Moses, the Hebrew judges, the practical, eager disciples, and in many images of God as lion and king.

The dance of gender seems to be a foundational opposition in the human mind, which is why many languages (but not English) call even inanimate objects masculine or feminine. Our deep preoccupation with gender also helps explain why dualistic gender taboos are often the very last and hardest to be resolved, even among people who consider themselves quite open-minded, educated, and progressive. Gender seems to be a very deep archetype in the psyche. As long as we read reality in a non-contemplative, dualistic way, any gender identity that doesn’t follow our binary “norm” will invariably be challenging and usually resisted. Binary divisions seem to give the psyche both simplicity and some kind of comfort.

[1] See Richard Rohr and Marcus Borg,

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 120-122.

Image credit: Study of a Boy Turning His Head (detail), Jacopo Pontormo, c. 1529, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If Jesus shows us what the completed human being looks like in male form, Mary Magdalene models it for us in its female version; together they become the Christosophia, the androgynous archetype of human wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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