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The Horned God.
John Rowan.
Routledge and Kegan Paul.

John has been involved in the anti‑sexist men's movement since its beginning, and the many changes he has gone through make him an excellent person to write this book, which goes further in its understanding than most other men's books on sexual politics. The book contains a useful history of the anti‑sexist men's movement, and of the more politicised forms of therapy.

John argues that while men may intellectually accept what feminists say about the nature of society and the relationships between men and women, most men find that emotionally the challenge of feminism feels like a wounding. In order to progress past guilt and to make lasting changes it is necessary to find ways of healing this wound.

The first channel of healing is found in anti‑sexist men's groups. Here men can begin to understand the realities of women's and men's positions in the world, and can begin to change behaviour. The second channel is by therapy in various forms, where we can learn about the unconscious roots of our oppressiveness, and thereby make transformations which will lessen our needs to oppress (lessen, rather than remove, as the process is ongoing, and there is always more to be done).

But the difficulties are still immense. John is one of the few people who know that this is because there is a spiritual element that also must be considered. This spiritual element cannot be found in those religions we are so familiar with, which speak of divinity as male and deny or suppress the female, and John's third channel of healing comes from modern paganism, with its primary emphasis on the Goddess, with the God being seen in relation to Her. Many men, in an effort to move beyond domination, deny their own strength. The Horned God provides a way round this trap. Wild but not savage, strong but not dominating, sexual but not coercive, aware of his full power and vulnerability, placing himself in the service of the Goddess, his is a path of deepening wisdom for men.

Many of the specific points in John's books occur as quotations from other writers, but his approach links them together very well. He has an excellent bibliography, on paganism, on feminist spirituality, on therapy, and on sexual politics (by both women and men). One major omission from his bibliography were the books by Susan Griffin, who I find one of the most profound and moving feminist writers.

The book is primarily intended for those men who are already responding to feminism. I don't think men who don't already have some understanding will become aware of the necessity of feminism from this book. I say necessity quite deliberately; the atrocities committed against women are well‑documented, and the all‑pervasive nature of a culture (and language) in which men are treated as the norm and women as a falling‑away from the norm, make it clear that a total change in society is needed. Most pagans follow a religion which is either Goddess‑centred or includes both Goddess and God of equal standing. A spiritual practice which does not translate this into actual behaviour towards women and men is hollow and unreal. In my experience those pagan men who talk most loudly about equality of the Goddess and God meaning equality between women and men are usually doing so to attack those women who point out the inequalities that exist. Those who genuinely believe in equality do not make speeches about it but simply get on with doing what is necessary. Nor is it enough to claim that women are equal but have separate roles. The Goddess appears in many forms, as warrior, athlete, hunter, smith, poet, physician, among others, and women themselves can be whichever of these their interests and skills permit. Just as many pagans are, because of their beliefs, active in the ecological movements, so their beliefs should lead them to participate in or support feminist activities and awareness.

John Rowan's book is important reading for any man who is trying to face the impact of feminism, whether in his private life or in the public sphere. 

Wood and Water 22, Lammas 1987
© Daniel Cohen


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