“We are a Separate People, with, in several measurable respects, a
rather different window on the world, a different consciousness which
may be triggered into being by our lovely sexuality."
Harry Hay, 1983
100 years ago, in the British seaside town of Worthing, the man regarded as a key player in the emergence of the radical faerie ‘development’ of gay life, was born. Harry, son of American parents – his father was a mining engineer and that work would take the young Harry to Chile before the family settled in California by the time he was 7 years old – preferred to call faerie life a ‘development’ rather than a movement, because his vision was of ongoing discovery and evolution, but believed movements become quickly ossified, losing their creative spark. As a campaigner for gay rights since the 1950s he had seen this happen, as the gay reform agenda quickly lost its radical edge and pursued a respectable, assimilationist line.
Faeries do not assimilate. We explore, expand and frequently become ecstatic. We love – a lot. We laugh – a lot. We revel in the infinite diversity and variety of the human body and spirit. And we dance, sing, dress up, drum, play and make love. We make lots and lots of love, and not only through sexual means. Our gatherings become zones of creative chaos, filled with colour, emotion, stories and revelations. Healing happens here as joy fills our expanding souls and the debris of past disappointments gets swept away. While much of gay life seems caught up in superficial connections, body fascism, drug indulgence, or campaigning for the right to imitate heterosexual relationships via marriage, faeries are pursuing the dream of gay liberation down that extra mile – until we liberate the childlike, genderqueer, radical soul within. What good is external political and social liberation if the internal self is still caught up in crucifying structures and suffocating boxes?
2012: I sense a momentum in the faerie circles of the world that speaks of self-confidence and determination. Recently the faerie world hit 30 years old, celebrating three decades since the first ‘spiritual conference for radical faeries’ which took place in the desert in Arizona in 1979. A compilation of reflections and visions was published to mark this anniversary – called ‘Fire in the Dark’ it reveals the expansion of faerie community across the planet – gatherings happen now on four continents and there are permanent sanctuaries on three. And it reveals that four decades on, faerie is still a developing phenomenon, it has not become a fixed movement. There are no rules to sign up to, no definition to ascribe to – faerie is a self-declared identity and is definable equally by each and every individual. While there is no rule book, certain principles have become associated with faerie – and these are principles that the world can truly benefit from.
My description of those principles might be:
– honouring nature and our part in it as natural beings
– aspiring and learning to meet other beings from the heart, through love not fear
– creating community in which the needs of the vulnerable and the passions of the creative can all be safely expressed
– exploring the intimate and intricate connections between sexuality, spirituality, love and bliss
In this centenary year there is a conference planned for late September in New York – ‘Radically Gay: the life and visionary legacy of Harry Hay’. This will bring together faeries and lgbtq academics and activists with the intention to explore developments in gay life – political, spiritual, arts and identity – over the past six decades.
Faeries is not the sort of movement to have gurus, so Harry is not lauded as our patron saint or father. He was a controversial character, known in his latter years as the Duchess, and there are voices who challenge the centrality to the faerie story that his name is usually given. Certainly there were several strands of exploration that merged into radical faerie gatherings. Faerie circles were appearing in the US and UK in the 1970s, and these were always spaces in which the spiritual aspect of our sexual nature was open to be explored. Arthur Evans’ influential book ‘Witchcraft and the gay counter-culture’ was one of the first to connect us to an ancient heritage of spiritual service and magic.
Yet without Harry’s explorations through the years of the Mattachine Society, the Circle of Loving Companions, and his close connections with native American culture, the radical faerie circles would have been different affairs. This man did more than most to initiate the search into the possibility that gay people have a ‘different window’ on the world that deserves opening, making us perhaps even ‘a separate people whose time has come.’
In the UK the Faeries of Albion will go to Harry Hay’s birthtown to wish him a happy 100. Situated on the south coast of England, only a short train journey from London. April 7th 2012 is Easter Saturday and falls nicely on a full moon. Details of the emerging plans will appear on the website www.albionfaeries.co.uk
In Europe we are celebrating two SEVEN year anniversaries as well this year. The seventh gathering of faeries at FEATHERSTONE CASTLE has already happened – we met to mark IMBOLC, the festival of earth awakening at the end of January/early February. At this gathering 45 faeries feasted, frolicked and found themselves in a radically free and queer time-space reality for 10 days. While the world around us shuddered and struggled through the winter we got cosy round the hearth fires and filled our souls with joy, light and hearty companionship. We spoke about our personal journeys, about earth changes and transformations, about our role within those. We embraced both the gaiety of life and its challenge, and for me it is an utter thrill to be with other queer people who sense the excitement underlying the trials that humanity and the planet are going through.
Our second 7 is at Folleterre – the first Eurofaerie sanctuary was purchased in 1995 after several years of landsearch by some dedicated faerie men. Eurofaeries brings together queer folk from diverse national and religious backgrounds. Unlike the American faeries we do not have a common spoken language, which has perhaps forced us to learn to speak the language of the heart clearly and honestly, and to embrace spirit through ritual, music and dance. Many American faeries who have joined our gatherings have spoken of how the sincerity and sparkle of our events reminds them of the early days of the tribe forming. Certainly we seem to strike a formidable balance between the energies of organisation, celebration and communion soul to soul. And as we stride confidently into our eighth year on the land the Folleterre Faeries will be offering community gatherings at Beltane and late summer, plus more informal periods on the land, time to work on crucial water and bathroom projects, and OUR FIRST WOMENS GATHERING (August 4 – 12, spread the word!)
Dates and information all available at www.folleterre.org
Folleterre summer gathering (august 20-30th) has as its theme ‘Our Faerie Teachers’, with an exploration not only of the contribution and ideas of Harry Hay and others who were around in the early days of faerie gathering, but looking back to the ‘grandfathers’ of gay liberation – Edward Carpenter and Walt Whitman. This year is an opportunity to shift the common story about what it means to be gay – to bring in the spiritual alongside the sexual, and start to heal the rift that has existed between them for so long, a division that has brought so much suffering to the world.
Faeries bring the opportunity to explore who we are as queer beings, to journey in the masculine, feminine and neutral aspects of our souls, to find our place on the planet as part of nature, not separate from it, and to create communities that reflect and boost the joy and light within us. Gay life is moving from the sexual and commercial into the realms of emotion and consciousness, and some of us are discovering our ability to create zones of healing, light and self-discovery that push forward our own personal growth and the story of human evolution.
Sometimes when I am with my queer brothers and sisters connecting blissfully, playfully, deeply with each other, I sense the feelings in the air – and can only call what we do magic. Sometimes I think our real purpose as ‘a separate people’ within the human whole, is to bring enchantment to the people and the planet – to reconnect souls to the bliss and joy from which we all came and which we came to this wonderful planet to enjoy.
for gatherings at folleterre go to: www.folleterre.org
more European faerie news at http://www.eurofaerie.eu
for global events check out www.radfae.org
the New York Centenary conference sept 27-30: http://web.gc.cuny.edu/clags/pages/hay.html
for uk activities: www.albionfaeries.co.uk
to join the albion faerie mailing list write to email@example.com