"Now the Mother Earth
And the Father Sky
Meeting, joining one another;
Helpmates ever, they"
Navajo (Dineh) songwriter
"In Navajo teaching, in the old traditional world, there were four basic genders. Women are the first gender, because Navajo is a matrilineal society. Men are the second gender; and the third gender is the nádleehí, who is born as a male person but functions in the role of a girl in early childhood and in the role of a woman in adulthood. And it's just the opposite for the fourth gender, where they were born biologically female but function in the role of a boy in early childhood and mature into a man, and conduct their life in that gender identity."
"Two Spirits," PBS Documentary
Whenever I travel, hike and camp in Dineh country, I cannot escape a profound sense of the presence of both the Sacred Masculine and Sacred Feminine permeating the landscape and combining within my own personality. I experience the primary characteristic of "Father Sky" as transcendence or beyondness, the stable backdrop upon which all of the energies and forms of life are able to manifest themselves. In my own identity, this is the spacious awareness with which I identify during meditation practice.
On the other hand, I experience the primary characteristic of "Mother Earth" as immanence, the flowing sacredness present within the web of forms and energies that connects all things into a multi-faceted whole. In my own personality, I experience this Presence within my own thoughts, emotions and energies. I have an intense devotion to both Mother Earth and Father Sky - or "God" and "Goddess" in my terminology - finding myself in between the Two and tasked with joining the Two together in my daily life.
Although heterosexual in my life with other human beings, spiritually, I think of myself (and of all of us, really) as bisexual - having a love affair with both Transcendence and Immanence, God and Goddess, Father Sky and Mother Earth.
If I understand correctly, Navajo philosophy views male/female or masculine/feminine elements as permeating all things. For example, a driving rain is considered male or masculine, while a misting rain is considered female or feminine. Similarly, every individual is considered a composite of masculine and feminine traits. I hold this kind of philosophy in high esteem and find it very integrative and transformative.
My struggle this past semester with teaching at the university was the fact that some students now consider themselves completely outside the gender spectrum not only of male and female, but also of masculinity and femininity. Although I am male according to sex, I see quite clearly how my personality is a composite of masculine and feminine elements that have a multitude of relationships with each other. However, what I discovered this semester is that there is now a movement within universities to throw out all such experiences and replace them simply with the individual person and their own self-defined qualities.
While I value the newfound emphasis on individuality, I worry at times that the tendency to place ourselves completely outside the spectrum of masculinity and femininity may reveal a profound underlying disconnection with Nature - an alienation that is pervasive throughout our society. I wonder: can traditional Dineh culture help our overly-individualistic Western Euro-American culture regain its balance?
Photos: Landscapes from Ghost Ranch and Bisti De-Na-Zin Badlands, NM, May 28-30, 2016. The Navajo weaving is of Mother Earth and Father Sky, and the photo of the woman is singer Sharon Burch.
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.