Norse pagan · Norse paganism · northern tradition · polytheist community

Do Pagan Women NEED Goddesses?

(A brief disclaimer: I’ve tried to make this clear within the post itself, but in case I’ve failed in that: when I refer to “women,” “men,”, “females,” or “males” within this post, I am in no way excluding trans or non-binary persons. As you were.)

One quibble I’ve always had with Heathenry is the notion of adhering to traditional gender roles–which I see from some of the newer Norse pagan channels on YouTube is very much still a thing. And part of this whole notion is the idea that men SHOULD naturally gravitate towards male gods, while women SHOULD gravitate towards goddesses.

It was partly for this reason–because I found this idea to be inherently sexist–that I fought for years against what I felt to be the expectation, within both my local community and my extended online community, that I needed to “find my goddess.” Especially since at the time I was so laser-focused on my relationship with Odin–something that I think made my co-religionists uncomfortable at best.

For the record, I still find this whole idea to be sexist. People should follow whatever deities they have the strongest connection with on a personal level, regardless of the gender of either the deity or the worshiper. (This also begs the question of what, exactly, we mean by gender when applied to deity in the first place–let alone the complexity of the gender issue when it comes to humans–but I digress.)

Now, I am aware that in elder pagan/heathen times there very much WERE traditional gender roles, consisting of the males leading war bands and raiding parties, while the females stayed behind to run the farms, bring in the crops, raise the children, preserve food, and produce textiles to be used in making clothing, ship sails, and shelter (via those “traditionally feminine” arts of spinning, sewing, and weaving).

Most of the above roles are no longer needed in our 21st century society, and others have altered dramatically. With women just as capable of working for a living as men, men just as capable of raising children and maintaining a home, and people of all genders shopping at Walmart rather than making their own clothes, most of the traditional chores are no longer practiced, or if they are, they’re done as hobbies rather than necessities. 

But I do find that the older I get, the more the traditional arts of the home and hearth appeal to me. This is not at all a gendered issue, but I have come to accept that I am a hearth witch at heart, and that the old world arts of spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, and cooking are all very dear to me. Again, I am certain that there are people of all genders out there who feel the same! (And as a reminder, I say all of this as one half of a same-sex marriage, and with the awareness that just being allowed the time and tools to practice these arts is a privilege.)

Which brings me to Frige (aka Frija, aka Frigga–but I’ve always leaned towards the Anglo-Saxon side of heathenry, so I think I’ll call Her Frige, which is pronounced Free-ya). Years ago, as a baby heathen/Norse pagan, when older and wiser priestesses urged me to befriend one of Odin’s wives among the goddesses as a way to counterbalance the intensity of His influence in my life, I fought them. I dragged my heels. I protested that although they might need this, I most certainly did not. My ego was on high alert, ad in full feather. (And yet, with the benefit of hindsight years after the fact, which of us burned out and suffered a multi-year spiritual crisis? I know I did. I’m betting they didn’t.)

And because I recognized in Frige an introverted kindred soul not unlike myself–Someone who was very capable of running the kingdom of Asgard (Osgeard? aka the home turf of Her Husband’s war band) while Woden was away, but who preferred to sit and spin in Her marshy hall by the sea–I fought especially hard. Because who was I to identify myself with Her, even privately? And on the other hand, how dare anyone suggest that I needed an intermediary in my relationship with Woden? (Again, for the record, this was NOT what anyone suggested, nor was it what Frige Herself offered. It was what I, in my ego-fueled indignation, assumed.)

But the people who advised me to befriend one of Odin’s divine wives or girlfriends were not wrong. And I think it’s having taken up hand spinning again that’s led me to this conclusion.

Spinning is a slow art. It requires patience, a cool head, and steady but nimble fingers, as you scour the dirt and grease out of the wool, wait for it to dry (a lot of fiber processing consists of “hurry up and wait”), comb and card the fibers to recombine and reorganize them, twist and smooth them to give them form, all the while keeping the strands in order, untangled, so that they can, finally, be wrapped into a skein or a ball to be used in the creation of fabric (whatever may be your preferred method of doing that). Spinning is no longer a necessary art or craft; it is a privileged one–but doing it successfully still takes a certain temperament, a certain kind of person. It is tedious, requiring long hours spent alone or with like-minded and similarly-occupied people. It is repetitive, downright boring at times; it requires a love of the feeling of the fiber moving between your fingers, of the way the wool smells, of the way it looks when, having been soaked to set the twist after spinning, the original crimp of the sheep’s fleece reveals itself once again. And when you have mastered the process to the point that your fingers and hands move through it on their own without input from your conscious mind–well, that’s when the magic comes in. That’s when, as pagan writers have fantasized and as some of us who have practiced the art can attest to, Woden Himself looks on in wonder as Frige spins the threads that keep the universe turning.

Again, spinning is not a gendered art; let me be clear, none of the traditional household arts are. But they do require a certain temperament, and it is NOT that of the person who needs to claim the spotlight, who needs to be the center of attention. By and large, these are not arts for the extroverted, the charismatic folks whose mere presence draws the rapt attention of crowds. This is, in brief, why Woden does not spin, but Frige does. They are not gendered arts, but I believe that in past ages society assigned what we now call extroversion to men, and what we now refer to as introversion to women. To be fair, people didn’t know any better, and were laboring under thousands of years of misguided tradition. 

So, do women NEED to worship a goddess? No, absolutely not. But, depending on the other influences in your spiritual life, and depending on your own temperament, you may find, as I am finding now, that it’s helpful to have a counterbalancing influence, Someone who can act as a tether for you, an anchor, a mooring. Much as Frige Herself does for Her wandering Husband, Woden.