The Great Goddess, worshipped by all of the many nations across the ancient European/Mediterranean/Asiatic world for thousands of years, gave birth to Christianity, in full awareness that her power would be eclipsed for the duration of an astrological age as the male gods took over the heavens. Her avatar, Jesus, knew this too, and spoke of her eventual return as the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, whom he said would ‘teach all things, shall bring all things to your remembrance’. We have been told to regard Christianity as an outgrowth from Judaism, but this is not the whole story.
Lost on the modern world but certainly obvious to everybody in ancient times, the significance of Mary’s virginity was not that she had not had sex with a man, but that she was a holy priestess of the Goddess, probably Artemis, whose temple at Ephesus, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, and not far from Palestine, had been a huge centre of worship for thousands of years. It was to Ephesus that Mary retired to live after Jesus’ crucifixion.
It was also at Ephesus, after the temple had been destroyed by Christians, that a Church gathering of 250 bishops in 431 CE declared Mary ‘theotokos‘, the Mother of God, thereby opening the way for the devotional love that the populace across the Empire had long felt for the various Goddesses – such as Cybele, Isis, Artemis/Diana, Aphrodite/Venus – to be channelled into Marian shrines and kept within the Church, while at the same time it affirmed the divinity of Christ. Sacred imagery of a mother goddess and human son was nothing new to the ancient world, it was a very common motif from Cybele (who gave birth to Attis, later her lover), to Isis (mother of Horus), to Aphrodite (who was mother to many male gods, including Eros, Priapus, Hermaphroditus and the feminine male Dionysus), to Venus (mother to Aeneas, ancestor of the Roman people).
Jesus was born among the Jewish people, who had a thousand years previously marked themselves out as different from the other tribes of the region by rejecting Goddess reverence and making their Father God the one and only supreme being. The Christian Church regarded Judaism as its forerunner and shared its patriarchal attitudes, for example apopting the Hebrew creation myth, one of many that were told at the time, but the only one which put the woman firmly in her place as the servant of man. Most creation myths of the Middle East gave the prime place to the Creatrix Mother. But actually Jewish mythology also tells of Lilith, Adam’s first wife, who was thrown out of the garden of Eden because she refused to surrender to his will. Second time round Adam’s primacy was affirmed by claiming Eve had been made from his body, the opposite to the reality of childbirth.
The Genesis story of Eden would have been understood differently to ancient peoples than to most of us today, just like the Gospel’s tale of virgin birth. The snake was one of the most prominent images of the Goddess-centred pagan faiths, packed with symbolism, including sexual. The Genesis story is saying that, once again as with Lilith, the female lands them in trouble, this time because she has let the pagan faith lead her astray.
At the time of the birth of Jesus however the Goddess power was still in full sway. Cybele, the most ancient Mother worshipped since at least 6000 BCE in Anatolia, eastern Turkey, and known to the Greeks as the Mother of the Gods (that phrase again!), had been adopted as the Magna Mater of the Roman Empire two hundred years earlier. Her worship united the world from Britain to Turkey, and it was spread through the Empire by her itinerant, queer or transgender Gallae priest/esses, whose flamboyant, loud, erotic and bloody rituals were hated by the Church Fathers, not least because, for the first 300 years of Christianity, the Roman citizens were happy to go hear a Christian preacher in the afternoon then attend an orgy at the Cybele temple in the evening.
All the holy priesthoods of the ancient Goddess featured both virgin females and transgender or gay males. The Old Testament tells of repeated efforts over 400 years by Hebrew kings to stop their people sacrificing and building phallic poles to Asherah, their local version of Ishtar, Goddess of the region since 10000 BCE, also known as Inanna and Astarte. There were some kings who were more tolerant, such as Solomon, whose many wives came from many cultures, bringing their ways with them to his famous temple. The OT tells also of the Hebrew kings’ efforts to eradicate the Qedesha, translated into English bibles as ‘sodomites’ or, nowadays, ‘male shrine prostitutes’, but whose name meant in fact the ‘Anointed’ or ‘Holy Ones’.
The title of Mother of God moved from Cybele to Mary as the Christians set to wiping out Goddess culture once it had become established as the only official religion of Rome in the late 4th century. This move to name Mary Theotokos (as opposed to Christokos, the Mother of Christ – the heated debates over this at the Council of Ephesus led to a schism between Roman Christianity and some, mainly Persian, churches that was only finally addressed and healed in 1994) was a conscious act taken in full awareness that people everywhere held the Divine Feminine in the highest regard, taken because this would enable them to dismantle the worship of other female forms and bring more people into the new faith.
The Church was also busy changing the gender of the Holy Spirit from female to male, the means being the Greek language. In Hebrew ‘ruach’, the word for spirit, was feminine, also in Syriac ‘rucha’, and writers in those languages used maternal imagery to describe the third member of the Trinity. In Greek however, the words used were of either male or neutral gender, and this has of course fed into other translations. Most Christian writings today about the Holy Spirit use He pronouns, but there are some churches that do see a She, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Unity Church, whose founder Charles Fillmore said of the Holy Spirit, “love is always feminine”. What the Church declared and what people believed have not always met of course, and while European art of the Middle Ages depicted the Holy Spirit as male, there is one surviving fresco in Urschalling, Germany, in a church of St Jakobus, that shows her female.
Jesus also said that people will know the Comforter when they come because the Holy Spirit already “dwelleth with you”. The Goddess in Judaism had been channelled into the concept of shekhinah, referring to invisible, divine presence, regarded and experienced as feminine. Yahweh was above the world, shekhinah was divinity moving through the world in all things – just as the Hindus see male Shiva as the overseeing Father and female Shakti as the Divine present in manifestation.
Note that Shiva is regarded actually as half male-half female, as he contains all within him, and this reflects the totally disregarded description of the Hebrew God in Genesis as being both male and female (which should in fact be clear from the Genesis verses that say he made humans male and female ‘in his image’). Arabic has the word sakina, translated usually as tranquility/peace but which actually indicates so much more, as is clear from its similarity to shekhinah.
In its efforts to evangelise the Roman Empire the Church also took on traits of the Goddess priesthood – such as the wearing of robes, its insistence on celibacy for priests (people were simply not used to holy servants having spouses and families, they were not ready to accept it) and of course built churches at pagan sites (eg St Pauls Cathedral in London at a site where Diana was worshipped) and the timing of Christian feasts to fit and replace the pagan calendar. The Archgallus of Rome, head of the genderqueer servants of Cybele, became the Pope, complete with the same style of headgear, the mitre.
The association of trans/queer people with the Goddess temples and rituals goes way back into pre-history, but from those times we have some myths that suggest we were created by the Goddess for that very purpose. A hero named Asushunamir, who was both male and female, was sent into the Underworld to rescue Goddess Inanna, a task they fulfilled, but not without suffering a curse from Inanna’s dark sister Ereshkigel, which was that they (and their kind) would be hated and feared by the world. Inanna could not remove the curse but appointed the queer/transgender people (known variously as kurgurru, assinnu, galatur at different times in the long history of Mesopotamia) to be her special, beloved servants, and promised a time when the curse would hold no more and they be recognised in their holiness again.
Jesus was aware of all this. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus saying that there are those who chose to become eunuchs ‘for the sake of the kingdom of God’. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas he speaks of uniting/transcending the male/female in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The future for transsexuality is also referred to by Isaiah in the Old Testament, who predicts, for those eunuchs who serve the lord faithfully, an ‘everlasting name’, ‘ better than that of sons and daughters’. Those joining the Gallae priest/esses of Cybele undertook public self-castration during a frenzied ritual on the Day of Blood, where Attis, the dying (through botched self-castration) lover of Cybele, was remembered. The ritual involved carrying an effigy of Attis tied to a pine tree through the streets raising the ecstatic energy and the next day celebrating his resurrection. This ritual predated Christianity by a very long time, and of course the Christian Church Fathers hated this ceremony, so timed the Easter festivities to replace it.
The Catholic Church encouraged the channelling of devotional feelings for the Goddess into the honouring of Mary, but of course throughout the Middle Ages the populace of Europe were not so quick to let go of their love of other versions of the divine feminine. Diana worship, which was especially associated with nature and the night, with the moon, continued among the country folk for centuries. It was generally Her that witches went to meet at their night time Sabbats, though the Inquisition and later the witch trials would use torture to force prisoners to say they were meeting with the devil.
For English female mystic Julian of Norwich in the late 14th/early 15th century Jesus himself became the Mother. She lived as an anchoress, living a life of prayer in an enclosed space, through a slit in the wall she would dispense advice and wisdom. She was very highly regarded but the nuns of her order kept her writing about the Motherhood of Christ secret for centuries after her death. ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ is now regarded as one of the finest works of medieval mysticism.
Protestantism, from the 16th century, regarded Catholic veneration of Mary and the saints as no better than pagan cult practice, and pushed the divine feminine further into the background. It shared the Catholic fear of witches however and the peak of the witch hunt craze came in the 17th century.
Then reason and rationalism rose to the fore, and religion gradually lost its dominant grip on our lives, but it has yet to release its power over our souls, for so much of the taboos it enforced were carried forward into the rational age – not least the prejudice against gay, lesbian, bi, queer and trans people, which is still far from dismantled as we progress into the 21st century. Religions still influence the attitudes of a large percentage of the world’s population, but without real historical knowledge of how faith was in the pre-Christian world, people today do not see much of the underlying significance of the stories in the holy books on which they base their faith, nor do they understand where their religiously justified, irrational and stubborn prejudices stem from. The long told story of Christianity’s ‘Triumph’ over paganism hides the fact that the religion was born from the Goddess-centred faiths of that past time as much as from the Judaic prophecy of the Messiah.
But the Goddess isn’t worried. She has never gone anywhere. Anyone who has felt the presence of expanded, vibrant, high vibrational, peacefully embracing love has met Her, even if they called it ‘Him’. The shakti-shekinah-sakina is present in all matter, in both ‘he’ and ‘she’.
Jesus came to do a job, his inspirational life kicked off a stream of growth for humanity that has unfortunately utterly severed our connection to the actual presence of the divine in the world, except for rare, magical moments that become the highlights of our lives. To heal our disconnection from the planet, from love, from the god and goddess within ourselves, we need – as a species, but each of us individually can help that day come – to reconnect to the light-giving, loving, teaching, compassionate and comforting Divine Mother Presence in everything- the shekhinah, shakti, sakina: the Great Holy Goddess Spirit.
Sunday night was always my favourite day of the week to be on a dance floor. From the start of my London clubbing days in 1986 I noticed there was always an interesting vibe around on a Sunday. Friday was a night of people letting off steam after work, Saturday one of high expectations, intensive preparation and sometimes maximum pretension. But Sunday was the chill night of the week, where the Monday to Friday working crew were less in evidence, the collective rush to get high or wasted was exhausted, and so the real music lovers had room on the dance floor for our uninhibited revelry.
From ’86 I was to be found at the Bell in Kings Cross on a Sunday night, sporting a bleached blond flat top, checked shirt and denim. I was a new romantic / clone crossbreed, there letting myself spin and fly to Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees…. By the late ’80s my weekend nights were often spent in super-club Heaven, where I rode happily on the Garage sounds of Friday but often struggled with the hi-nrg and machismo of Saturday. Sunday at the Bell was always like coming back home.
In the early 1990s the Market Tavern in Vauxhall was my home for a Sunday afternoon, usually lsd-assisted, rave up, probably after tripping through Saturday night at Troll and Heaven. I’d arrive 3pm for the free lunch (by serving food they got round the licensing laws which kept pubs shut between lunch and evening sessions). I was a Market regular for 5 years, visiting several nights a week, getting to experience there the gradual dying out of the ’80s clone scene along with its hi-nrg soundtrack and the shift to house music, smiley face t-shirts, acid, ecstasy and raving.
After a 4 hour sociable dance in the Market a line of queers trotted through Vauxhall Cross for evening at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (and sometimes back to the Market for their late session) where i can recall seeing Adrella and Lily Savage on stage drunk, punk and anarchic, I loved it.
By the mid ’90s the RVT had replaced its Sunday drag show with a hard house rave, that had pilled up lads in trackies bouncing around on the furniture. This was the birth of the ‘Institution’, the legendary, and a lot softer ‘happy house’ Sunday dance sessions, that have been joy filled days of gay dance classics since the early 2000s. It was also the precursor to the much larger dance clubs that came to Vauxhall and the intense Sunday raving, indeed 24 hour parties, that became so popular in the 2000s. Crash. Action. Fire. Area. The disco room out the back at Bar Code used to be one of the craziest, most intense medleys of diverse guys on a variety of substances, pumped up with desire, dreams, testosterone and the wish to see and be seen.
Sunday nights in the late 90s I wasn’t going out , I was on a journey with HIV through the tunnel of AIDS. I took all the inspirations that I remembered from my ecstatic nights on dance floors, and rediscovered that sense of elation through an inner search for spiritual awakening. As I retreated from the scene ecstasy was really hitting the masses. Clubbing was no longer the intimate experience I had known, it was about mass elation, large numbers of people finding a higher level of connecting themselves and to each other. The love was flowing, and I felt I had become a student of love and wisdom in the background, this totally inspired by the visions and feelings I had known while dancing to music i loved and could become One with.
When I dipped back in to the London dance scene around 2000 I arrived at the dying end of the phenomenon that was Turnmills nightclub in Farringdon. I had missed the whole Sunday morning rush that was the groundbreaking club Trade, which so many of my friends still reminisce about, and also the Sunday night Warriors club, where dying men went to dance, because I’d been too sick to go. But I got to The Well (which went on to hold a few wonderfully weird Sunday nights at the Prince of Orange in Rotherhithe) and to Melt, where I fell in love with a beautiful punky Frenchman called Philippe (and we danced together for 4 years, on tropical beaches and in Radical Faerie sanctuaries).
From the mid 2000s to this very day the best Sunday night out for me was to be had at Horse Meat Disco at the Vauxhall Eagle. This pub with its marvellous beer garden and dance floor managed to revive something of the old Market Tavern spirit, and Horse Meat’s goal of invoking the heavenly vibrations of the legendary New York club Paradise Garage works. Disco was the soundtrack of our liberation days, of our innocent days before the ravages of AIDS to come in the 1980s. Sunday at the Eagle brings together all kinds of folks at the end of the weekend, but all share a laidback, positive, openness and generally take a ride into collective elation.
Well not this year. COVID-19 has stopped us dancing.
Most Friday or Saturday nights i’m not too bothered, but sometimes on a Sunday the magical delight of Sunday Gay Abandon arises from my memory and I think, what is not dancing together doing to us?
I am a Long Term AIDS Survivor, witnessing how dynamics experienced by the Gay community in the 1980-90s are being played out on a much larger, global, scale, for in the Age of the Coronavirus everybody is involved.
Diagnosed HIV+ in 1990 I lived as a PWA (Person With AIDS) from 1995-8: I wrote articles for London based magazine Positive Nation and was very focused on exploring alternative treatments to the deadly medicine, AZT, that was killing my friends, and alternative understanding of the cause and nature of the condition to that of the medical-biological model. In the HIV world we had our outright virus-deniers, and many more of us who were just prepared to try anything we thought might help. I explored Chinese medicine, Kombucha, spiritual healing, flower remedies and dived into the ‘New Age’ ideas of Louise Hay (‘You Can Heal Your Life’). I took a pro-active, positive approach towards my own healing, did not simply surrender to the medical system, which, I came to realise, was limited by its materialist, entirely biological approach. As my journey with HIV progressed I woke up to the fact that this was not simply about an infection gained through sexual activity, this was a multi-levelled health crisis, of body, mind and soul.
2020’s COVID-19 PANDEMIC IS A COLLECTIVE CRISIS OF BODY, MIND AND SOUL.
Restrictions in place on where, how and how many people we can meet.
A battle raging for control of our minds, between beliefs, ideologies, conspiracies.
Our souls, like the planet, are battered by materialist, consumerist, conflict-driven paradigms, in fact the soulless, materialist military-industrial paradigm is killing life on Earth, we have to start caring for our home, and for each other, or we die.
These conditions remind me a lot of living with AIDS.
Physical illness restricted our movements; we listened to the conflicting messages of doctors, hiv-denying activists and of course the sometimes hateful words coming from ‘religious’ people and the authorities. (The Chief of Police in Manchester said the gay community was ‘swirling in a cess pit of their own making’). My own personal revelation was that my body was dying because my soul was seriously neglected. I was not seeking to understand life, to grow in knowledge or wisdom, to find my place in the bigger picture, to discover my own unique magic. I had bought into the idea that my ‘education’ was over post university and now I just had to function, being just a chance happening in a meaningless reality. I seriously lacked goals, but my saving grace was that I did seek love, more than anything – when I sat down to think after my diagnosis I worked out that the one thing on my bucket list was love. I found it with a wonderful French man, we met in a bar in Soho in 1993 and were together for seven years, lovingly caring for each other through the aids experience. Having achieved that goal, a new one appeared – I wanted answers.
I had become an atheist aged 12, when the rational, scientific outlook was educated into me. Up until then I had been quite as ease with Jesus and God, but I had worked out that the teachers did not really believe the religious stories that got trotted out in school assembly. HIV motivated me to sit down and think about life for the first time, in my late 20s. If I was going to die, why had I been born in the first place? What was the point? I suddenly wanted to know.
I had studied History at Churchill College, Cambridge in the mid 1980s, so I approached this question as a historian would – going to the source materials, and studying the evolution of humanity’s ideas about the meaning of life ever since we started recording them. At first I thought that was during ancient Greek times, or the Vedic scriptures of India, but in fact we have been leaving messages for future generations ever since the rock carvings, stone circles and pyramids of the Stone Age.
It soon became clear that you cannot simply study the meaning of life, you have to embrace the inner search and transformation that the world’s mystics and teachers have been talking about for millennia if you want real answers. I came to see, and experience, that, at their core, all the world’s great mystery traditions are speaking of the unity and interconnectedness of life, love, nature and spirit it became clear that this is a basic root fact of existence of which the modern world is in complete denial. Our ‘civilisation’ is built on the principle of separation, domination and division. We abuse the planet, we fight each other – in complete denial of the wisdom that the icons of our various religions and philosophies gave us.
More than this – there is an active energy in the world promoting the idea that there are no answers. It seems that the ruling and influential people in the world have entirely bought the materialist world views that life has no meaning, no purpose; that our consciousness is a chance by-product of our biology; that the universe sprang out of nowhere in a big bang, etc. I’ve noticed mainstream media loves an opportunity to mock astrology, criticise ayahuasca ceremonies, etc, though usually it just ignores the massive surge in interest in spirituality that is going on in the world. For example the BBC on a Sunday will feature god-denying humanists one moment, god-addicted Christians the next. The rest of the week secularism rules the roost. The voices of mystics, of astrologers and holistic healers, of those who have seen beyond the much-hyped differences between religion and science, or between the faiths, and perceive a united spiritual existence here on earth, don’t get airtime.
CONFUSION IS THE BIGGEST CONSPIRACY OF ALL
Life makes perfect sense when we live with an open heart and mind, when we allow the voices of the wise ancestors to inform us, when we accept that we are part of a oneness, not separate except through the illusion created by our own minds and bodies, these miraculous vehicles that exist for us to experience existence.
Crisis drives the search for answers, and the world has been plunged into crisis like never before – with much larger ones on the horizon if we do not address the very real question of how humanity’s actions are unbalancing the climate, in fact the whole eco-system. HIV was the kickstart I needed to wake up and see that life is a spiritual journey, not simply a material one, and that if I wished to heal and feel whole I needed to embrace all parts of being – body, mind, soul and spirit – as sacred. As an educated man it did not take long to work out that life is a mixture of reason and mystery – we need to welcome and operate in both fields to grasp life’s fullness. And yet our modern culture would rather we didn’t. It took that close shave with death for me to shift my mind from a mundane to a profound outlook on life, and that is why I can say that COVID-19 presents an opportunity for the whole species to get to a higher level of consciousness.
While facing AIDS I heard the message of the mystics that the deep seated beliefs we hold in our minds and hearts are always being heard by the cosmos as prayers to which it responds. So to believe in a pointless, random life is to conjure that experience. Equally, to believe in a dominating, angry Father God who judges everything you do is to create the experience of that. This is how religions have been used to control the people for centuries – we maybe think totalitarianism was invented in the 20th century, but in fact under the Roman Empire, Christianity, once it became the only religion permitted in the late 4th century, was already well engaged in this project. During the Middle Ages, alternative Christian outlooks to that of the Roman Catholic Church – such as those of the Cathars, Knights Templars, Bogomils and Free Spirits – ended up on the receiving end of Catholic swords, or Inquisition fires. So did many witches in the early Modern era, as the Christian religion, by then fired up even more by the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, as the Churches determinedly tried to stamp out any vestiges of the belief in the nature religions of ancient Europe.
The so-called ‘Enlightenment’ came along and the grip that religion held on power and belief started to falter, but as much as they keep trying, atheists have not taken over the world. The human spirit won’t let them. The search to understand life is humanity’s oldest quest, yet I was educated in the 20th century, brainwashed even, to believe this quest was pointless, that no answers could ever be found. Facing looming death I wasn’t satisfied by this deflection any more. As I dived into spiritual search my understanding and experience of life entirely changed. Yes it was very confusing at first, but I could sense a clear light source from which all humanity’s imaginings arise. I kept my focus on that light and walked through the darkness with firm determination until my entire being had transformed.
I believe that the human species is ready to make the leap to the next level of consciousness. This involves accepting we all share the same root consciousness, that we can create a world built on oneness, a world of peace, prosperity and harmony, if we recognise that oneness and make all our decisions and choices from that place. It doesn’t matter how we each perceive that Oneness, whether as a Father, a Mother, a Friend, a Lover or an entirely impersonal presence. But once we find that Oneness within ourselves we become a force for the positive evolution of the species.
There is way more evidence for the ongoing paradigm shift away from division and separation on YouTube and the rest of social media than you will ever find on the mainstream channels. There are a lot of confused ideas too of course. Our task becomes to find our own truth, make sure we are not being manipulated into ideas strongly espoused for others, and then to walk in it.
From the place of Oneness, a virus is not simply an enemy – it has a role in pushing the exploration and evolution of medicine, of community, of consciousness. HIV never felt to me like a simple sexually transmitted disease – it is much more than that, a life changing guest in the body that has the potential to assist us to open up and heal our minds, hearts and spirits. That was my experience, HIV revealed to me that Healing Is Vital – ie healing from the paradigm of separation and suffering that grips the world. The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for humanity to question the way we do things, to evolve quickly to better ways of living in harmony with each the planet and each other, but we have to grasp the opportunity and get on with it.
As a rational, educated human being who was faced with a crisis of mortality, I dived into study of humanity’s attempts to understand its own nature, from religion to magic to science and philosophy. After an initial rush of excitement about the wonders hidden from view in the modern world, I settled into a steady life pattern that generates health and well being through communion with nature, attunement to planetary and cosmic cycles, and knowing myself integrally as part of the planet, part of the solar system, part of the divine mystery. As far as I can see the biggest lies running on the planet today are that we are separate individual beings, that life has no direction or purpose, that life’s mysteries can never be solved. Try believing something else and see where it gets you, that’s my recommendation. Confusion is the biggest conspiracy on the planet today.
Monotheism has done its job: can those ‘ours is the way’ preachers please move along. A new age is coming to the earth the human spirit is ready to sing a new song.
Monotheism has had its day: we now know there are so many ways to pray the mystery of spirit, flesh, heart and mind there’s glory inside for us each to find in our own chosen way.
Salvation isn’t about life after death – Enlightenment can be found with each breath: there are infinite ways to approach the divine. Humanity’s paths all speak of this time of radical change, awakening and light – and some speak of disruption, terror and blight – but the power is in our hands and hearts to wake up to the plan of Creation and step up to play out parts – to form a future built as we choose, we are Divine Creators and there’s nothing to lose…
Except, religion, the Piscean legacy, keep people stuck in the trap thinking god is elsewhere and the world so bad… Spirituality is the Aquarian way of Self-discovery, of liberation, understanding and loving community.
There is nothing but human minds holding back the progress to unity…. What we conceive we create, we need a new global story that recognises our Oneness and the many routes to Glory.
Earth centred traditions once derided, are now respected For their wisdom and knowledge Of the body, of the stars, of other worlds, of the soul. The Union of all paths is the goal. We’ve tried living without God God knows we’ve tried But faith is something that we have deeply invested inside. Until the separate self unites with its deep core, the divine place in us that knows we are a part of so much more…. Humanity continues to create more and more Drama discord and disease…
In our struggles we’ve raped and pillaged the earth. 2020s is the decade where we become ready to give birth To an enlightened humanity and change our world.
The elemental structure of Nature Shows us the way to heal, to wholeness, balance, peace. Nature will find a new harmony When the madness in humanity has ceased.
August 2000 at the third Queer Pagan Camp in the rolling fields of Dorset, UK, my five year AIDS trial of shadow and light, of spiritual renewal, physical collapse and resurrection came to its culmination point. At a peak moment of communion a gap in the sky opened for me, loving voices came through reassuring me that here in Britain, in the nature and with the people of the land I was born into, lay my path: my confusion about how to re-enter and engage with the world post AIDS, where to direct my energy having experienced such a profound transformation of my being – having come to know the eternal part of my soul, to regard myself as a spirit visiting the Earth – was cast away. In the magic circle with fellow queer witches, druids, shamans, faerie workers, in the arms of the elements, ancestors and the goddess, I felt a divine wellness and wholeness sweep through my being, I felt my spirit expand in joy from deep in the earth to the sun and the moon. The desperately sick years were behind me, the mental anguish about facing life again, having become so comfortable with the idea of death, fell away in that Dorset field.
Five years earlier in 1995 I had made a profound shift in my mind, which led me into a total inner transformation, by dropping the atheism I had adopted – or I might say I believe I had been brainwashed into – by the age of 12. Impending death can focus the mind like that, and five years since my HIV+ diagnosis, I wanted some answers as to why I existed in the first place. So, being a rationally minded graduate in history from Cambridge University, I applied some logical thought to this situation, and started to study. It dawned on me that the question of the ‘meaning of life’ had been humanity’s obsession for thousands of years, but somehow the education I had received and the culture I had been exposed to, had not encouraged me to think about this, quite the opposite – growing up in the 1970s, the backlash against the hippy culture was a big influence on me, religion was in decline and materialist science was the new god.
The search for my true self did in fact start in my early 20s when I came out of the sexuality closet, but it took the crisis of HIV/AIDS to push me to take that search deeper. Once I realised just how much effort humanity had put into this already, I approached the question as a historian – reading source materials, studying mystical teachings from throughout history and from across the world. The idea of just approaching the mystery of our existence through only one religious or spiritual path seemed illogical as we came to the turn of the millennium when for the first time in history all of humanity’s explorations of the spiritual are accessible to us and so the opportunity is there for an intelligent modern human seeking answers to obtain a broader view and understanding, if they put the effort in.
This was not a simply intellectual exercise of course. This was practical too. I learnt about the different forms of meditation – passive, dynamic, visualisation, mantra… I caught onto the idea that to know the divine reality we need knowledge, but also experience – so I practised creating ritual spaces, learning to open my heart as well as my mind to the spirit through devotional practice. Inner guides appeared and led me on totally unexpected, exciting pathways of discovery through my own imagination. At a time when I was expecting to be sad about impending death, I found myself on the most exhilarating soul journey, unlike anything I had ever known before. Not knowing if there was any chance at all that I might survive AIDS I kept hope in my heart and dived into spiritual practice and study, somehow sensing right away that I was on a five year path, but to death or life at the end I knew not.
My turn around from ‘dying’ to ‘living’ came early 1998. I was part of the Lazarus phenomenon at that time, as skeletal men, often, like me, with leopard like Karposi Sarcoma spots on our bodies, suddenly turned the corner. I had refused to take AZT as I had seen friends who were on it pass away, tried ‘alternative’ therapies and only took medication once the protease inhibitors were available. In ’97 my CD4 count was down to 3, in June I was hospitalised with PCP, but responded to treatment and spent most of the year home in my cosy south London flat with my French partner, we each taking care of each other through various states of sickness. The love between us kept us alive, of that I am quite sure.
Excited at the prospect of survival, by the end of 1998 I was riding high on my first attempts to combine my new inner magical discoveries with other people. There was a gay spiritual event in London called Connections, at which I met an American called Carl Shapley who was a channel for the Ascended Masters. I shared my story with him and we spent a lot of time together, he seeing me as a servant of the Divine Mother, as a person who had awoken to his purpose on this planet through a classic shamanic death-rebirth ordeal, and a sign that many more magical folk would soon be waking up too – especially amongst the LGBT community.
With Carl I took part in a few ceremonies around London, including a night where we opened cosmic gates at Piccadilly Circus. He took me to a meeting at the House of Lords, for even there at that time a buzz around spiritual change was in the air, and, along with places like the UN, these were the kind of circles Carl was working in to bring light.
It was walking home along the Thames from that meeting at Parliament that a sense of enormity at the challenge of re-entering the world as a mystical channel hit me hard, and that night back at my flat I experienced a complete overwhelm in the form of a loss of individuality, a merging into a non-physical reality that terrified me. I felt myself on the knife edge between life and death, felt my physical survival was far from assured. I went through an internal mental collapse, and had to spend the next few months lying mostly in a darkened room, slowly putting myself back together.
Most of 1999 for me was a time of nervous anxiety as I tentatively met the world again. That summer saw my first time at Queer Pagan Camp, and the effect of meeting experienced gay, lesbian bi and trans pagans was utterly inspiring. My study of the religious paths to the divine had left me challenged by questions around sexuality as I returned to life. But here were happy, spiritual queers who embraced sex and all life’s pleasures with passion. I learned the Goddess creed “All Acts of Love and Pleasure are My Rituals” and I took it to heart. My internal opening to the spirit realms had brought me first to the presence of the Divine Mother and her angels -at that time I had no idea of the rich and ancient, global, history of queer people as servants to the Goddess, but in that Dorset field over the next few summers I was to get many direct and powerful experiences of what it actually means to be that, and how queer people reclaiming our natural spirituality, which religions have spent so many centuries suppressing, is a crucial part of the global shift in consciousness that humanity is undergoing.
In 2000 I made two pilgrimages, the first to the ashram of the Mother of Immortal Bliss, Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Amma the Hugging Mother, in Kerala, and the second back to the English fields with the Queer Pagans. At the ashram I received powerful healing, and being in the company of other spiritual seekers was incredibly affirming. I came back to the UK feeling much stronger and more confident, but before I left India, a few days in the stunning nature and free spirited atmosphere of the Goa beaches brought me even more sense of belonging and ‘home’ than had the ashram. Then a few months later at the Dorset Camp I found that HOME in the English countryside amongst the most inspiring, talented, unique and magical queers I had ever met.
I have spent the last 20 years seeking to meet other queers on their own path of self-discovery and awakening, joining the global Radical Faerie community, where in sanctuaries and gatherings we reclaim the sacred power inherent in queerness, explore our gifts as healers, transformational artists, midwives to the dying, walkers between the worlds. In London I set up the Queer Spirit Circle in 2005 with a lesbian friend named Anna, offering the space as a meeting point for queers of any spiritual persuasion, which continues 15 years later as a Full Moon Drum Circle, a non-commercial event where sometimes up to 100 people gather for spiritual and social interaction. The rapid growth of the network in the UK led to the birth of Queer Spirit Festival in 2016 – five day camping festival of queer magic, the third of which took place in 2019.
I have also spent the last 2 decades living my life in tune with the planet’s natural cycles and with ever growing understanding of the interplay between the cosmic forces of the solar system and our human experience. Paganism gives us the tools to live in a state of self-acceptance and harmony – the four elements give us a map of the human being that is expansive and health-giving, helping us to engage all the parts of our nature (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) as equally important; the solstices and equinoxes are natural planetary turning points that occur within our bodies and minds also; the zodiac year maps out the journey of the soul in symbolic language (showing us the way home); the moon guides and influences our emotional fields all the time. By giving these aspects of life our attention, eg by making ceremony to align ourselves with the divine rhythms of existence such as full moons etc, we bring our personal energy fields into harmony and alignment with life itself.
When faced with death I turned to the world’s great religions for answers to the meaning of life. I found that at their core they all said the same thing, about the unity of consciousness, how its nature is love, that it emerges through nature and becomes us. But religion in the world was not teaching these things, not spreading this simple divine perspective, certainly not living up to it. Eastern religions taught me much, particularly the complex and fascinating philosophies of Hinduism – which, we had been told at school, is a ‘pagan’ faith, where many gods are worshipped just as the old ‘primitive, foolish, ignorant’ people of Europe had once done before the arrival of glorious Christianity – what a lot of lies we were told back in those Religious Education lessons. Pagans were mocked for worshipping the Sun and Moon, rocks and trees, and I’m not sure the fact that paganism was reviving in the UK rapidly since the 1950s was mentioned.
When, during my AIDS study years I discovered the glorious, universal light contained in Hinduism I figured out that our own European paganism must come from the same ancient source, contain the same wisdom and joy (features that seemed so lacking in the patriarchal monotheistic religions), and when I got to meet Queer Pagans and as I have celebrated with Radical Faeries I have found this to be true. As I have walked the Wheel of the Year and found a relationship with the spirit of the land in which I began this lifetime, I find that Celtic paganism gives the tools to create our own lives as a well-rounded, love filled, adventure – plus the tools to heal ourselves from the wounds we have gained and the belief in separation we have had to endure in a world that is in a serious, soul-numbing state of mental madness.
Once the whole world was ‘pagan’. The word implies attunement to nature and the planetary cycles, a recognition that we are part of those too, not separate from or above them. Pagan reminds us we know within ourselves how to talk and commune with trees, plants, animals and ancestors, that deities are there to reflect to us and help us discover the divine power in ourselves, that divinity is feminine and non-binary as well as masculine, and that the body is holy, with pleasure its natural way to worship existence itself. Religion taught me a lot about humanity’s long search for Self but Paganism is about embracing, being and manifesting that Self, about becoming an individualised, independent, self-actualised divine entity within the greater whole, not better than any part of it in any way, but simply and perfectly, eternally AT HOME in it.
I remember Religious Education lessons at my school during the late 1970s in which indigenous pagan traditions of old Europe and the rest of the world were mocked for their primitive worship of the Sun and Moon. Our teacher was a Christian, and although I recall him giving a reasonable introduction to the great religions of the East, nature based faiths, we were firmly told, were superstitious nonsense.
Since I have become aware of the rich spiritual culture and inner growth that paganism offers, I’ve wondered whether that teacher, Dr Surin, really had so little understanding of nature spirituality or his attitude was a conscious ploy to direct the development of our 13 year old minds.
As long ago as 1851 American archaeologist and historian E.G. Squier wrote in ‘The Serpent Symbol’ that the active and passive principles of nature, –
“symbolised by the sun and the moon, or the sun and the earth, was recognised in the mythological systems of America”.
Those religion lessons skimmed over paganism in less than one session, and no wonder, for there was a crucial central feature to nature based spiritual paths the world over that the teacher did not want to mention – the centrality of pleasure, the inclusion of sex in pagan ritual worship and their regard of the genital organs as holy. This was surely a very conscious decision to hide all this, for British paganism was back in the open by this time, and far back in the 19th century historian H. H, Bancroft, in the Native Races of the Pacific States of North America (1874), had understood that, –
“the life-giving and vivifying principle of nature has been always symbolised by the human organs of generation”.
Traditional faiths were mocked by my religious teacher as ‘fertility religions’. We were told the stupid people used to make ceremony to ask the gods to bless the crops, and that was about it. But back in the 1940s George Ryley Scott was already pointing out (in ‘Phallic Worship: A History of Sex and Sexual Rites’) that the pagans were also honouring pleasure itself, for they regarded sexual ecstasy as a state of communion with the gods. And for this reason the phallus was an almost universal holy symbol across the world. Where the patriarchal phalli did not completely subjugate the feminine the vulva was honoured equally.
From Roman times the Christians began to call the sacred sex workers who had operated for millennia in the temples of antiquity (throughout Middle East and Asia) ‘prostitutes’. But George Ryley Scott pointed out that, –
“It is important to note that these temple prostitutes… were not looked upon with disgust… They were “brides of God” or “slaves of the idol” and were accorded a degree of respect far in advance of anything given to the ordinary female member of society. It was considered to be an honour to serve the gods in this way.”
In the 1970s feminist and gay historians such as Merlin Stone (‘When God Was a Woman’) and Arthur Evans (‘Witchcraft and the Gay Counter-Culture’) were going as far as to call the traditional, ancient faiths ‘sex religions’.
There is a crucial connection between the virulent homophobia that developed in European Christianity and which it then spread around the world in the last 500 years and the destruction of the ancient sex positive cultures. To achieve this, women’s sexual power was turned into something dark by the adoption of the misogynistic Hebrew creation story and the gradual association of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah with gay sex instead of it being about hospitality and the rape of strangers (a process begun by Christian thinker Philo in the 1st century CE). The Christians followed the example of the Hebrew Kings of the period 1000-600 BCE whose efforts to stop the worship of phallic symbols and the sexual temple practices carried out by women and the Qedesha (meaning the ‘Holy Ones’, the word was translated into English as ‘sodomites’) had been only partially successful. From the 4th century onwards pagan statues, temples, sacred groves were all attacked by Christians, again following the instructions of the Old Testament Yahweh (such as Exodus 22:20 “He that sacrificeth to any God, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed”), backed up by juicy lines from the New such as Luke 10:19 “Behold I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy”.
The religions of the Father God caused a separation of the spirit and the flesh, and over the centuries of the Middle Ages destroyed rival Christian groups that accepted sexuality, that gave power to women, that refused the authority of the established Church. By the Early Modern era the repression of gay sex in Europe, was being taken up by the political lawmakers as well as the Catholic Inquisition. Europeans were utterly shocked by the open expression of sexuality they found on their world explorations. On every other continent they came across people who had no shame about sex, who had not thought of the concept of obscenity, and they found sexual rites of worship, same sex couples, transgendered souls held in high regard, and sacred phallic imagery, all of which they set about doing their very best to destroy.
George Catlin wrote about the Sioux Buffalo Dance in 1867, recording the climax when O-ke-hee-de (owl spirit) came into the scene: “In his hands he carried a sort of wand – a slender rod of eight feet in length, with a red ball at the end of it, which he slid about upon the ground as he ran”. Professor Gerard Troost of Tennessee wrote of a statue of a priapic kneeling man (he switched to Latin in his work to describe the ‘membrum generationis virile in erectione‘) that was ‘considered too indelicate to be preserved’. Phallic imagery was common throughout the Americas, and in Africa and Asia too, as it had once been in pagan Europe (as the modern world realised with shock when the ruins at Pompeii were revealed). For example, 19th century British explorer Richard Burton wrote that phallic worship in Dahomey, west Africa, “is uncomfortably prominent; every street from Whydah to the capital is adorned with the symbol.”
The cultures of Asia show many examples of phallic worship…..
In the western world the 1960s brought the ‘Sexual Revolution’ at the same time as an explosion of interest in all things mystical and occult. The still prudish atmosphere of the mainstream at the time, plus the materialist backlash against spirituality that has been raging since the 1980s, has prevented as yet a proper reunion of the sexual and spiritual sides of our humanity. When it comes to sex, we as a species are still learning about the basics of respect, equality and consent, and maybe we have to get these properly in place before we can truly embark on the pagan, tantric, embrace of life in all its pleasure giving glory, before we can access all the potential of the life-giving, pleasure-giving sexual organs, symbols and tools of the divine creation, and of the divine creative presence within us.