The Kybalion, Gender, and Queerness
April 10, 2012 10 Comments
Disclaimer: I identify as a masculine, cisgender, homosexual man. In layman’s (and potentially brusque) terms, I’m a guy born a guy who likes guys. I have not, since puberty and self-recognition, identified as anything else. I have not experienced anything but occasional and minor social marginalization or confrontation based on this identification. Just in case this might come up later in this potentially touchy subject.
Lately I’ve been reading the Kybalion, a short text written by the “Three Initiates” back around the start of the 20th century. It’s definitely a modern text with roots in New Thought and Theosophy, but it has notable Hermetic influences as well. As a text of occult literature, it’s one of the most influential texts on modern occulture and occult philosophy, much as Agrippa’s Three Books and Fourth Book is on occult practice. It’s also a book I’ve been pushing to the side, seeing it as unnecessary and silly in my own life and practice, but since I found a cheap copy lately, I figured I may as well pick it up and give it a decent perusal.
The Kybalion lists and then fleshes out, in its post-Victorian, supercilious, and occasionally bombastic language, seven “Hermetic Principles”, aphorisms that describe the general function and workings of the cosmos and the All. The seventh one is the stickiest, the Law of Gender, which states:
Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.
For most people, and certainly for most occultists and occulture, this makes sense. There’s the Wand and the Chalice, the Holy Spirit and the Holy Grail, Father Sky and Mother Earth, the Yang and Yin, Fire and Water. Duality is a feature of many forms of occult philosophy or a tool in occult practice. In physical terms, there’s men and women, protons and electrons, positive and negative. Generally speaking, these things are all active and passive: one initiates, the other generates; one issues, the other receives; one wills, the other implements.
Also, like the Yin and Yang, there is a bit of the Masculine in the Feminine and vice versa. This goes along with the Law of Polarity (extreme opposites are essentialy the same quality, differing only in degree) and the Law of Rhythm (events and situations periodically and regularly switch from one extreme to another). Further, these two attract each other, Feminine to Masculine and Masculine to Feminine. It’s why electrons and protons join up to form atoms, Spirit and Body to create Life, the Wand and Chalice to complete the Great Rite, man and woman to create love.
…and that’s where I stumble. For me and many others that I know, that last bit doesn’t quite hold true. I’m often in social situations and contexts where people of the same gender love each other, or where a single person may identify as both genders, a gender in-between, or neither gender. Hell, I’ve known at least one intersex person (hermaphrodite, in slightly less PC terms), whose parents reassigned them one gender but who now prefers to be androgynous. I’ve known many people with gender identity disorder, and a number of people who’ve undergone gender reassignment surgery. And when it comes to sex, there’s no defined roles for people to play, even if they’re not queer in any sense; some people top with toys for some people and bottom with anything other times, some bottom not-at-all or prefer other forms of sexual arousal and play, and some people don’t have any sexual urge or drive to speak of. None of this contradicts or obsoletes the Kybalion’s Law of Gender, but it does make it awfully hard to generalize and apply in my human experience.
For instance, consider the joke “asking who’s the man or woman in a gay relationship is like going to a Chinese takeout and asking which chopstick is the fork”. It’s definitely got an element of truth in it: there is no defined gender role for partners to play when they’re in a queer relationship. Expectations like that tend to go out the window, and things often end up egalitarian or equal on most levels. In this case, it’s not that opposites attract, but rather that similarities resonate with each other. There isn’t as much a plus/minus dichotomy forming a unity, but a plus/plus or minus/minus harmony forming a unity.
Keep in mind, though, that the Law of Gender states that there’s Masculine in the Feminine and vice versa. Gay men can and often are seen as effeminate, and lesbian women can come off as butch. However, that’s definitely not always the case; plenty of gay men are straight-acting, if not outright bears and bikers, and there’re lipstick/femme lesbians aplenty as well. If you want to put Masculine and Feminine in sexual terms, there can sometimes be dedicated tops or bottoms in these relationships, but this can’t always be expected or relied upon. Heck, even straight guys can often be into pegging or getting blown by other guys. It’s not just a queer thing, after all. People do what they want.
But expanding that to other things besides physical bodies and acts, the ideas of Masculine and Feminine (in the chapter of the Kybalion called “Mental Gender”) reflect more of an initiating and generating idea. Just as in conception where the man emits semen into the woman, who then generates a new human being, the Masculine starts off a process and the Feminine procedes with it. Artists, for instance, are definitely Feminine in this sense, as they spend their whole works generating and creating; they can also be Masculine if they find their own initiatives and inspirations, or they can be strictly Feminine if they only take in what’s around them. Engineers, coders, and scientists do the same: they produce technologies, methodologies, and facts based on either things handed to them (like a passive machine executing commands fed to it) or based on their own curiosity and inspiration. Visionaries and those who inspire are often masculine in this regard, especially if they initiate in others but never initiate anything for their own generation or production.
The Kybalion distinguishes a thinking entity into the Me-part and the I-part. The Me-part is the conception of self and its trappings, its body, appearance, thoughts, wants, emotions, and so on. These are ephemeral, passing, and transitory; once they leave, the underlying self is unchanged and still there. This underlying self is the I-part, the part that actually guides and experiences the Me-part as its self. A lot of people tend to focus on the Me-part and tone down or tone out the I-part due to our conditioning (my sister would have a field day explaining this concept in the realm of Human Design), and so occultists work to work up the I-part in order to get a sense of who they really are and what their True Will is, through e.g. meditation to clear the mirror of the mind or by K&CHGA. In this sense, the higher cosmic portion of the Self (Tiphareth and above) can be seen as the masculine I-part, and the lower material portion of the Self (Tiphareth and below) as the feminine Me-part.
This leads to an interesting reversal (cf. Law of Rhythm) of normally-accepted symbols in Qabbalah. If you look at the Qabbalah, you might notice that the entire glyph can be contained within the ankh or symbol of Venus: sephiroth 1 through 6 fit in the circle above, and sephiroth 6 through 10 fit in the cross below. The circle is generally seen as a feminine symbol, like the yoni in Hindu symbolism, while the cross can be considered masculine with its straight and penetrating lines, almost (but not quite) like the lingam. However, we noted above that the cosmic I-part is Masculine, and the material Me-part is feminine. Again, Masculine in Feminine, Feminine in Masculine. Interpretations of this abound, but one I might select would be that the masculine I-part acts (able to influence) on the feminine macrocosmos (subject to influence); this is transformed once it becomes more manifest into the masculine microcosmos (able to influence) acting on the feminine Me-part (subject to influence). And, once one attains unity with the All (going past Kether into Infinity), one suspends notions of gender entirely…I guess. For here and now, though, there’s the Law of Gender to contend with.
On a more human level, this can boil down to a matter of drives (Me-part) and desires (I-part) in terms of “mental” action. Drives are what our bodies, our lower functions, and our sensations lead us to do; desires are what lead our mind, our soul, and our comprehension to do. I desire unity with another human; I am driven to be with a man (preferably a masculine one who also likes men). Works well enough for me, but why am I not driven to be with a woman, if opposites attract? After all, the idea of resonance certainly postdates the Kybalion, having come about (as far as I can tell) to deal with same-sex pairings in the Great Rite. Whence this drive? Is this a drive at all, or a desire instead?
I know that, in at least one occult tradition designed for queer men (the Unnamed Path), its concept of the God is helpful to this discussion. Unlike many other pagan paths with a single God and Goddess, the Unnamed Path has two gods, a Light God and a Dark God, and two goddessess, a Light Goddess and a Dark Goddess. The Light God and the Dark God will periodically meet and mate, with the Light God as masculine and on top and with the Dark God as feminine and on bottom. However, at climax, the two shift roles: the Light God becomes the Dark God and the Dark God becomes the Light God. They maintain a periodic equality, where both are on the same level, but constantly shifting between themselves. (I’m tempted to make a joke involving the transferral of divine essence as cosmo-sexual snowballing, but I’ll let your own nasty minds do that.)
In that way, according to the Laws of Gender and Rhythm, things become a little more clearer. In my experience, some people like to top here and bottom there; some people roleplay a more masculine character now and a feminine character then; some people like being the dominator and dominated in different settings. Artists draw, then observe, then draw, then observe. Developers code, then analyze, then code, then analyze. The Masculine becomes Feminine, the Feminine becomes Masculine, repeatedly and endlessly. Still, why should a person of one sex and gender be attracted to another of the same, especially one of similar temperament (two butch lesbians, two twinks, etc.)? Mental state, productive stage, and sexual mood may change back and forth over time, but bodies don’t tend to do that.
In the end, I guess I don’t have enough information or experience to answer this. Maybe the Law of Gender is just poorly thought out, or doesn’t fit in the queer framework I want to apply it in, or I’m trying to apply something too broad to something too specific. Queer occultism is definitely a topic to be discussed further, both by myself and those interested in it. What do you think? Feel free to discuss this and offer your (respectful, polite, well-thought-out) comments and ideas.