The Flowering Wand by Sophie Strand is a gorgeously poetic exploration of the masculine & cultural stories of divine masculinities. The book specifically takes aim at the way popular divine masculinities are often uninspiring, rootless, and lacking in connection to life and nature. The book offers a survey of the boundaries that the collaborative forces of patriarchy, capitalism, and Christianity have built around the masculine.
In that way, it is an incredibly inspiring book. It points to the cracks in that edifice and points the reader to places where we might begin to root into new stories and possibilities. By turning old myths on their head, looking at their original cultural context, as well as our present cultural context, it begins to sketch a vision of the possibility of healing these old rifts.
The deep poetry of the book is at once a strength and a weakness. The poetry of the writing is gorgeous and inspiring. It primes the imagination and softens the knee-jerk responses of the capitalist-patriarchal conditioning we all inherit from this society. The book offers critiques of the rational, linear, and progress oriented. In all these ways, its poetry is a strength.
However, it is also a book that is deeply in need of an intellectual framework to ground it. Throughout the book I found myself wondering what qualifies the author to speak on divine masculinity, or masculinity in general. There’s almost no discussion of the frameworks they are using to understand “masculine” and “feminine”. The reader is left to assume that they are referring to the general society understanding of these terms, but as any trans person who has delved deeply into gender exploration will tell you, our societal definitions are not particularly consistent, well-defined, or all that helpful in thinking about gender.
The author mentions that they began their interest in divine gender with the Divine Feminine, but found it limiting and restrictive. They offer a lovely essay that pushes against the sufficiency of the Divine Feminine/Masculine when truly engaging deeply with an animate world. But ultimately, deep gender analysis is lacking from the book and it would have benefitted from it.
Without that grounding analysis, the author makes some missteps of bio-essentialism & transphobia that I don’t believe are truly their intention. In chapter 32 – an exploration of masculine safe havens – the author writes:
“But we also need to get in touch with that gold hearth inside ourselves that is not tied to progress and is not tied to one human lifetime. That part of us that remembers the first acorn and the first raindrop. That settles low, into the roots, when strong winds blow. This is the table within us that we set with wine and food and fresh flowers. People with wombs have an easier time imagining this inner sanctum – this ‘hut of intimacy.’ But the masculine has it, too.”
The fact that the author doesn’t recognize the transphobia present in such a statement is a deep disappointment.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the transphobia present in this statement. I know that on its face it appears inclusive. It doesn’t say women. It says “people with wombs.” But inclusive language does not necessarily make an inclusive statement.
As a transmasculine person, as a person with a womb, I can tell you in absolutely no uncertain terms that my womb is not a ‘hut of intimacy’. It is not a ‘safe haven’. It is a constant source of dysphoria, a reminder of the ways that my body does not match my gender and the ways society will punish me for that. It is an internal prison. If it is a safe haven, it is a safe haven for the gender norms and oppressive logics, not the sort of liberatory analysis this book seeks to put forth. To the extent that I could say that I have cultivated an inner safe haven, it has nothing to do with the physical structures of my body, as discernable & nameable by science.
Furthermore, if one does interpret this bio-essentialism as non-transphobic, that would mean that my womb, if it does function as a ‘hut of intimacy’, then, as the womb of a transmasculine person, it does so in a masculine way. Trans masculine people have masculine safe havens, by the author’s argument, which undermines her point that the masculine needs to cultivate it. The masculine already has it. Trans masculine people and trans men are leading the way in creating it.
Ultimately, The Flowering Wand shows us the crack in the empire’s enclosure around masculinity. Yet, it is a rather passive exploration of masculinity that inspires, but does not empower the reader. In so many ways it suffers from the binary it seeks to evade & subvert.
As a reader, I couldn’t help but wonder what more might be possible if the book had the framework to expand these cracks, to let some sunlight shine in, or to offer the reader a vision of how they might not simply observe these cracks, but deepen them into fissures.
The Flowering Wand is perhaps the single best book on gendered archetypes I have read. It’s certainly the least transphobic one that I have read, since even researchers of gender archetypes who make claims of progressive politics seem unable to leave behind a devotion to gender essentialism, rigid gender roles, and bio-essentialism. For the most part I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it thought provoking. However, I think the fact that even this most radical attempt still runs into issues of transphobia should prompt us all to reconsider our continued willingness to entertain gender as a meaningful spiritual metaphor. Let’s stop trying to rehabilitate an oppressive system. Let’s stop trying to polish a turd. If the wild is truly beyond gender, as the book claims, I don’t think we’ll miss out on too much in our rewilding if we ditch divine gender altogether.
Enjoy this essay? Want weekly explorations of various topics in spirituality, spiritwork, & mysticism? Subscribe to my free newsletter & receive a weekly love letter from the liminal!
Stay in touch and make sure you never miss a post!