Queer Spirit & the Craft

LE CORBEAU

On 3 October 2009, 15 000 people of all races, colours and creeds came together at Zoo Lake in Johannesburg to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride. It was one of the largest Pride events held in Johannesburg since 1990, when the first Jo’burg Pride march was held. I was there this year, amid the rainbow flags, feathers and sequins. My pentacle worn tight against my throat, I celebrated the Queer spirit as a Pagan.

For many LGBT people, Paganism provides a welcoming, safe, and non-judgemental spiritual environment, something not offered by many of the mainstream religions from which many of these LGBT people have come. Certainly they are offered ‘salvation’, but it is at the high cost of having to forfeit something I believe to be a fundamental part of the human experience, something to which every person has the right: to love another and to be loved by another. Love, I feel, is one of the most basic and beautiful aspects of life.

It is unfortunate, however, that many people (hetero- and homosexual) tend to remove ‘love’ from the equation, and reduce the Queer experience to nothing more than writhing, sweaty bodies, forgetting that sexual expression is only one aspect of what it means to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered.

Some religious institutions have set themselves up as the custodians of society’s ‘morality’ and they’ve done a pretty good job of it, too. There is a vast amount of control exercised not only through the threat of eternal punishment, but also through the systematic devaluing of human beings as human beings. People are denounced as abominations and their actions declared to be ‘intrinsically evil’, simply because they love differently to what is expected of them by patriarchal culture.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many LGBT people have found spiritual fulfillment in Paganism, with the generously loving Great Mother leading all and everything in the ecstatic dance of life, a dance in which all participate not because of who the Powers That Be say they are, but because they simply Are?

LGBT Pride 2009

LGBT Pride 2009

LGBT Pride is not about throwing Queer sexuality into the faces of heterosexual onlookers. It is not about trying to recruit troops to engage in some bizarre ‘pink agenda’ trying to overthrow the government. It is not an attempt to hold an orgy.

LGBT Pride is, for me (and for several people with whom I’ve discussed this), primarily about negating years of negative programming, casting off the debilitating shackles of self-loathing and fear (because I was ‘different’; a faggot, moffie, poofter, etc), and celebrating by myself and with friends that we ARE people of worth; that we’re a beautiful and diverse community who have so much to offer the world.

Homophobia and the Craft

The Craft of the Wise has played a very important role in my recovery of my self-worth. The fellowship of the Goddess, the Horned God, and my sister and brother Witches have helped me to love myself, as opposed to merely liking myself or, during some rough patches in life, only tolerating myself.

However, the Craft was not always so welcoming to LGBT people. Doreen Valiente (recognized by many as ‘the mother of modern witchcraft’) speaks of this in her book ‘The Rebirth of Witchcraft’.

“Homosexuality, we were told, was abhorrent to the Goddess, and Her curse would fall upon people of the same sex who tried to work together. For a long time I believed this, but today I question it.

Why should people be ‘abhorrent to the Goddess’ for being born the way they are? Whether moralists like it or not, it seems that nature has decreed that a certain proportion of the human race shall be homosexual instead of heterosexual… People have not questioned the conventions and ideas which we have come to regard as the bases of our society because they have got to used to them that they believe they have always been there, that they are something woven into the fabric of nature. But we are beginning to question them now and to find that they are not.” [1]

It should be pointed out that Valiente was initiated into Gerald Gardner’s coven in 1953, and wrote the above passage in 1989. Twenty years later, it would be untrue for me to say that the Craft is overwhelmingly open to LGBT people.  I have read a few passages written by Pagans in books and online which almost mirror certain Christian attitudes toward Queer sexuality.

Mark Ventimiglia, in his book ‘The Wiccan Rede’, mentions homosexuality in one of the notes in the chapter on love spells

“Since many say the duality of nature is supported by the universal male-female union… some feel that homosexuality is an affront to the God and Goddess, although many others disagree. In my personal opinion, Wiccans are not hedonists; we must not get caught up in stereotypes and fall prey to the old cliché ‘Do what feels good’. What feels good is not always what is right, moral, or ethical.” [2]

Perhaps I’m reading Ventimiglia incorrectly, but from the above statement, it would appear that he seems to think that homosexuals have chosen to be homosexual because they’re simply hedonists in search of sex? I can say, and honestly, that I’ve not met one LGBT person who was given a choice when it came to sexual orientation. In fact, seeing as Ventimiglia brought up the subject of morals and ethics, it is my strong belief that for a homo- or heterosexual person to pretend to be anything other than what he or she is, to live a lie because of what the dominant culture says a man or woman should be, is NOT ‘right, moral, or ethical’.

LGBT Pride float 2009

LGBT Pride float 2009

In ‘Listening People Speaking Earth: Contemporary Paganism’, Graham Harvey says “It is arguable that some Wiccans follow widespread prejudices about gender and sexuality. Some suggest that this is because Wicca is built on the shaky foundation of Margaret Murray’s stress on fertility, the God, male leadership, and phallic symbolism. However, Ken Rees argues that the gender stress has little to do with any ‘fertility roots’ of modern Wicca and more to do with the tantric influences included by Gardner in his composition.” [3]

Praxis: Love-in-Action. Gender, Sex, Fertility

That said, Wiccans cannot ignore the concepts of gender and fertility in the Craft. They will – must – always be present. But we should never be fundamentalist in our approach to gender and fertility. Fundamentalism is what led to unspeakable crimes being committed against fellow human beings, whether it was an elderly woman tortured and burned at the stake several hundred years ago, or two hijacked planes being flown into the World Trade Centre eight years ago.

On the subject of gender, Starhawk says “we each have a complex and multifaceted self that embraces possibilities inherent in many different forms, including that of gender. We have animal selves and spirit selves and, for all I know, vegetable and mineral selves. Why should our imagination be limited by the shape of our genitalia?” [4]

It is in Starhawk’s Reclaiming Tradition that the Goddess is invoked into every member of the coven present at the Esbat, which to me speaks volumes about not only her understanding of the human person, but also about her insight into each Witch being a priest/ess of the Goddess.

If we as Pagans approach the subject of gender with the fundamentalist and patriarchal attitudes indoctrinated by Church and State, it could lead to the erroneous idea that “a deity’s gender and sexuality are the most important things that could be said about them…” [5] I feel that it is not in keeping with a Pagan worldview to limit the understanding of gender to only the physical body. And it is a sad state of affairs when the Craft of the Wise is reduced to nothing more than dominant culture playing at dress-up.

I do not mean that gender is of no consequence. In my understanding, gender does play a very important role. There are certain facets of the person that men are possibly more in touch with than women are and vice versa. I do think that through inner work, the ‘distance’ between what men and women are in touch with can be narrowed, allowing men and women to encounter different facets of the Self, which leads to a greater understanding and deeper unfolding of the individual. It could also be that Queer people are those who naturally inhabit the spaces between the genders. And if this living in the in-between spaces is done healthily, it brings added value to the human experience – for ALL people.

Sex

Sex is the bridge between gender and fertility and a subject from which I cannot shy away in this article, especially seeing as most homophobic behaviour seems to centre around the sexual acts of homosexual people – one only need think of some of the horrible names thrown at LGBT people. Sex has its role to play in the Witch Cult, whether we consider the symbolism of the working tools, the Great Rite or sex magic, sex is undeniably a part of the ‘Old Religion’ and must always be approached in ways that are healthy, positive and life-affirming.

If we consider some teachings on sex magic, with our focus on the understanding of why sexual intercourse has its place in the rites of the Craft, we can draw from that a greater understanding of the place of sex in our own lives.

In ‘The Wicca Bible’, Ann-Marie Gallagher writes “sexual energy is primal energy; it is a sacred form of energy which cultures believe brings humans closer to the Divine.” [6]

In the chapter on sex magic in her book ‘Natural Magic’, Doreen Valiente says “it is love and only love that can give sex the spark of magic. Love can take two quite ordinary people, and create something beautiful between them, that no money can buy. To approach magica sexualis in a cold-blooded, calculating, clinical manner, is ultimately self-defeating.” [7]

In Paganism, sex is not reduced to a ‘procreation only’ function. Sex is not only the instinctual drive to propagate the species. Human beings are somewhat more complex than that. Yes, we have our instinctual drives, but we also have reason and emotions and love which lead us to live our lives in a way different to the rest of the animals on Earth. To only follow instinct is to fall back into an atavism that doesn’t do anybody any good. The magic and blessing of sex is to be found in love, regardless of gender, because at its highest level, sex is sacramental: a physical expression of the love which two people share, a love which brings each of them closer to the Divine Source.

Zsuzsanna Budapest makes an interesting point in her ‘Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries’ when writing about the Goddess of Love. “The Goddess of Love has many names… Her favourite name is Isis, Who defines Herself as ‘She Who binds hearts together’. Notice that She does not mention sexual preference. She does not bind men with women exclusively, because a genitalia philosophy has no part in Her law or worship. Isis speaks to the hearts of people…”. [8] At the end of the day, one’s genitals are only a part of one’s body. There’s a whole lot more to what makes a person who they are.

Fertility

And what of fertility? Witchcraft undeniably does have a fertility aspect to it, and if we think of fertility solely in terms of agriculture and breeding, then we can understand the genital/gender emphasis and the view that same-sex relationships are not ‘open to new life’ (which, incidentally, is one of the Roman Catholic Church’s greatest objections to same-sex relationships). For the biological creation of new life, the male seed must fuse with the female egg. But is the Pagan understanding of fertility connected only with crops, livestock and babies?

In her final speech made at the Pagan Federation Conference in Croydon, England, Doreen Valiente said “We are told that Witchcraft is a fertility cult. In olden times, that is probably just what it was. It was concerned with the fertility of the earth through the four seasons of the year, and with the welfare of the land and its people. However, the idea of fertility is something that goes much deeper than the hope for good crops and increase of livestock, and I am sure that it always did. There is a spiritual fertility as well as a material fertility. There is a need for people to be alive and vital and creative. Life is here to be enjoyed, not just endured.” [9]

So, while a loving same-sex partnership might not be able to produce a physical child fertility is still inherent in that relationship, as those two people are nurtured by one another, enabling them to be “alive and vital and creative.”

Z. Budapest expands on this when she writes “We have massages – Love heals. We have discussion groups – Love touches. We have radical therapies – Love grows. We have spirituality, prophecy, and ESP – Love communicates. We have creativity and art – Love shows. We have our casualties – Love frees. We have information sharing through publications and many points of view – Love feeds. We have fun – Love plays, and to stay well, She must.” [10] To this I would add, We have friends and lovers – Love binds. If what Zsuzsanna Budapest has described above is not the creative fertility of the human being, then I don’t know what is.

As the Craft matures, so does its attitude toward sexuality and its understanding of the human person (physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually). To stick with the crops/livestock/babies and physical gender-polarity views of our ancestors is to be unfaithful to the pioneering spirit of the women and men who made it their life’s work to establish the Old Religion as a living spiritual path for our times, remembering that they as humans were people of the time in which they lived, and some of the views held would reflect that. Our understanding of what it means to be human is worlds apart from what it was five thousand, two thousand, even two hundred years ago.

If we do not integrate our ancient spiritual traditions into the here and now, the Old Religion won’t live on for very long.

Pagan Queer Spirit

It may be helpful to recall here that there are traditions of Queer spirituality within ancient Paganism; the priests of Cybele practiced ritual transvestitism and self-castration, the myths of Apollo, Dionysus, Hermes, Pan, and Zeus all feature homosexual relationships, and bi- or homosexuality, in some cultures, was a sign of being “two-souled”, marking one out as a shaman.

Freya Aswynn, in her book ‘Northern Mysteries and Magic: Runes & Feminine Powers’ discusses ritual transvestitism in Seith (Northern Tradition sorcery), saying that while it doesn’t necessarily imply homosexual practices, it doesn’t exclude them either. She also notes that, for the most part, most modern seithmen are gay and that they’re the best she’s ever worked with. [11]

There are many Pagan people today who understand this, and who are working to do something about this integration, especially within the LGBT context.

The Dianic Wicca tradition, founded by Z. Budapest, is a women-only tradition with a fairly strong Lesbian focus (although a woman needn’t be Lesbian to join or benefit spiritually from this tradition). Christopher Penczack has written a book on Witchcraft for young, Pagan, gay men entitled ‘Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe‘. The Minoan Brotherhood was founded for gay and bi-sexual men by Edmund M. Buczynski in 1975 “as a response to the heterosexist culture of most forms of Traditional Witchcraft”. Starhawk’s Reclaiming Tradition is “inclusive, politically active and outspoken on issues of all forms of social discrimination.” [12]

A very interesting movement to emerge from the USA in the late 1970’s is The Radical Faeries. The thinking of several leaders in the gay consciousness movement of the time, as well as a Marxist, Feminist, anarchist political perspective, together with Goddess-oriented, earth energy, neo-Pagan sensibilities, are what inspires and informs this exuberant, almost Dionysian, tradition.

Says John Harry Bonck, “The Faeries reclaimed the traditionally pejorative name in order to identify with the gender-variant sacred outsider that has appeared and reappeared in many cultures throughout human history.” [13]

Joey Cain gives his definition of the Radical Faeries when he writes, “We are a network of faggot farmers, workers, artists, drag queens, political activists, witches, magickians, rural and uran dwellers. We believe that, as a people, we have unique and necessary contributions to make, ones that we must make to help regain the lost balance of the larger human community here on the planet. Each Faerie is divine and speaks for himself. We join together with each other in mutual aid and love for play, work, self-discovery and nurturing. To be a Faerie is an act of self-definition.”

Cain also lists some ‘clues’ to who the Faeries are, which I’ve summarized here:

THE GREAT MOTHER

Faeries feel a special love of nature, whose part in nature is exhilarating, awesome and humbling.

MAGIC

Meditation and group ritual are used by Faeries to celebrate themselves. Magical awareness is the connection to one’s own immanent power.

SEX

Faeries’ sexual relations are characterized by an enjoyment of each other’s enjoyment. In this regard, every sharing of energy between Faeries is sexual, whether or not it involves genitalia.

GENDER

Faeries are sharply aware of the inappropriateness of society’s gender expectations when applied to themselves.

FEMINISM

The Feminist movement is a beautiful expansion of consciousness, and Faeries enjoy participating in its growth.

POLITICS

Politically, Faeries incline toward co-operation, protesting against abuse of power. Decisions made in Circle are preferably based on loving, caring, sharing consensus.

THEATRE/COSTUME

The play of life and its myriad possible permutations bring ceaseless delight to Faeries, who feel that fantastic colourful costuming is one of their gifts to the world.

SUBJECT-SUBJECT CONSCIOUSNESS

Faeries see the universe as wholly alive and sacred. Faeries relate to others as they relate to themselves – as subjects. Subject-SUBJECT consciousness is the essence of Faerie vision. It underlies their respect for nature, their magickal practice, their sexuality, and their relationship with women.

For those interested in learning more about subject-subject consciousness and its effect on the human person, I can direct you to Martin Buber’s book, ‘I and Thou’.

SHADOWS

Faeries aren’t all light and clarity. They have anger and rage within them too. Faeries come together to examine their projections and their sense of wrong and evil, working to integrate the ‘dark side’ of themselves into their awareness.

It is true that the emphasis of the above description of the Faeries and their philosophy is on Gay men, but Faerie Harry Bonck says “…some of the founding Faerie fathers held gender-specific and essentialist views that now seem exclusive and discriminatory [but] the Faerie movement has actually been more inclusive than many people realize. People of all genders and orientations now find and identify themselves as Faeries.”

The Ninth Sabbat. Pride: Personal and Communal

LGBT Pride float 2009

LGBT Pride float 2009

So what does gender, sex, love, fertility and faeries have to do with me attending Jo’burg Pride?

As a Pagan, my spirituality embraces my life and vice versa. As mentioned earlier, the Craft has played a very important healing role in my life. It is through walking with the Goddess and God that I’m being awakened to what it means to live as a human being in this incredible world of ours (no better or worse than any other creature). I am being enabled to be proudly Pagan, proudly Queer within community – whether it’s my coven or a wider social context.

LGBT Pride is a celebration. A celebration of those who are true to themselves by loving ‘differently’. A celebration of ‘otherness’. A celebration of the humanity of LGBT people, with the recognition that we have a valuable contribution to make to the planet.

LGBT Pride day is a day on which people of all colours, creeds, genders, sexual orientations, senses of humour, political ideals come together to walk together, laugh, dance, play, admire, dress up, frolic, get drunk, stay sober, eat and drink and celebrate who they are: human beings, often marginalized by dominant culture, but who nevertheless are people.

It is precisely in this bedrock spirit of Pride that I, as a Pagan, find tremendous value. It whispers to me of the cauldron of potentiality. It speaks to me of the creativity and vitality to be found in the Web of Wyrd; me connected to everything else. It sings to me of the Great Goddess whose law is love unto all beings and whose rituals are all acts of love and pleasure. Pride Day, for me, is the ninth Sabbat.

But Pride takes place on only one day of the year. For the rest of the year, and this sometimes comes as a surprise to people who have been indoctrinated by the patriarchy, LGBT people are living ordinary lives; Going to school, sitting in lectures, working to keep a roof over the head and food in the stomach, raising children, looking after parents, trying very hard to not thump the office idiot, paying taxes, sharing in the joys and sorrows of life with family and friends. But there is more. Many LGBT people are faced with discrimination on a daily basis. It might not be an act of physical violence committed against a Queer person. It could be the loud-enough-to-hear whispers. It might be the mocking laughter. It is possibly the hurtful comments disguised as humour, often with the excuse that the person making the jokes couldn’t possibly be homophobic, because they have a gay brother /sister /friend.

Certainly, in South Africa, discrimination and hate crimes based on sexual orientation are a criminal offence. I’ve heard it asked whether, because LGBT people in South Africa have recognized rights, there is still a need for LGBT Pride? My answer to that question is a question: When last (if ever) did you see a same-sex couple expressing affection in a restaurant, bar, or nightclub that does not have a predominantly LGBT clientele?

We cannot plumb the depths of the Divine Mind. Sometimes (all of the time, really) we have to trust that Life unfolds as it should, even if it is not quite to our taste. The Goddess knows what She is doing. She gives people wonderful gifts for the good of our world. The Goddess has given LGBT people special gifts of the benefit of all, just as She gives special gifts to heterosexual people for the same reason. Pride Day is essentially a self-affirmation party. For Heterosexual people to support LGBT Pride is to acknowledge LGBT people as People, uniquely gifted and endowed with the capacity to love as people, with a love that has its own fertility. In supporting LGBT Pride, Heterosexual people affirm their own dignity as people (coming back to subject-subject consciousness). Pride should not only be about one day in the year, just as our Sabbats are not only about one or two days in a season. Pride should form part of a consciousness that is found in everyday life, in the cities and in the countryside, at work and at home, in solitude, in community, and in the Magic Circle.

In recognizing the value inherent in ourselves as children of the Goddess, we are able to recognize that in others, too. But sometimes we lose focus. There are those among us Pagans who are very quick to point the finger of blame at the Christian Church for the burning times, when the death of many innocent people was caused through ignorance and fear of the ‘other’. We need to be very careful that we, out of ignorance and fear, do not perpetrate a burning time of our own upon our own.

To me, the Magic Circle is not only the place between the worlds. It is not only the temple of the Lord and Lady, the Meadow of the Old Ones. It is not only a microcosm of the universe, at the centre of which is the World Tree. To me, the Magic Circle is the womb of the Great Mother: safe, life-giving, forming potential and possibility into manifest reality – all through the incandescent love of the Goddess and the Horned God.

Gaia is more complex than we would care to admit (something else many of us do not readily admit to is that we don’t actually know everything), and the steps of the Dance of Life are more intricate than would first appear – but the Lord of the Dance does not ask us to learn them all in one day (or, even, all in one lifetime). He does, however, require that we DO make an effort to learn the steps as best we can.

These are not the times for division and exclusivity. Surely our world has seen enough of human arrogance and the destruction that ensues from it?

As Doreen Valiente said in her final speech, “In every period of history, in every country in the world, there have been gay people, both men and women. So why shouldn’t Mother Nature have known what she was doing, when she made people this way? I don’t agree with this prejudice against gay people, either inside the Craft of the Wise or outside it.” [14]

Doreen Valiente is quite right. There is no place for bigotry, prejudice and the like in Paganism today. Anything of that nature is ignorant wrong-action against the God and Goddess of Life and Love.

The Craft of the Witches is not for just anyone. It is for those who wholeheartedly choose to embrace initiation into the Deep Mysteries of the Goddess, to be immersed in Her bubbling cauldron of transformation. It matters not whether those who embrace this initiation are young or old, black or white, gay or straight, men or women. The Circle must be a place of perfect love and perfect trust, where the children of the Goddess can undergo the experience of spiritual birth-death-rebirth, beautiful, unnerving, terrifying and exhilarating as it is. The Circle is also the place where we recognize, appreciate, and nurture one another’s potential as human beings. One of our aspects as human beings is sexuality, and this must always be treated with the respect, sensitivity and reverence it deserves. The Circle is not a comfort zone.

If you would rather cling to a petrified Old Testament worldview, blind fundamentalism, and the patriarchal need to divide and conquer, then I am sure that there’s a Church out there that would be more than happy to welcome you as a member.

References:

[1] The Rebirth of Witchcraft; Valiente, D. Hale, 2007, pg 183-184
[2] The Wiccan Rede; Ventimiglia, M. Hale, 2006, Notes, pg 116
[3] Listening People Speaking Earth: Contemporary Paganism; Harvey, G. Hurst, 2007, pg 42
[4] The Spiral Dance; Starhawk. HarperSanFrancisco, 1999, pg 245
[5] Harvey, 2007, pg 42
[6] The Wicca Bible; Gallagher, A. Godsfield Press, 2005, pg 274
[7] Natural Magic; Valiente, D. Hale, 2007, pg 110-111
[8] The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries; Budapest, Z. Weiser Books, 2007, pg 175-176
[9] Wiccan Wisdomkeepers; Griffyn, S. Godsfield Press, 2002, pg 38-39
[10] Budapest, 2007, pg178
[11] cf Northern Mysteries and Magic; Aswynn, F. Llewellyn, 1998, pg 208
[12] Gallagher, 2005, pg 98
[13] This quote, and the information following is taken from the following websites:
http://eniac.yak.net/shaggy/faerieinf.html
http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/radical_faeries.html
[14] Griffyn, 2002, pg 34-35

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