The last few thousand years of human
history might be called the Age of Patriarchy, when heterosexual men
aggressively established their power over others. For this to happen
they first had to destroy the spiritual power held by women and
queers – at the time of Jesus Christ, religious life around the
whole of the Mediterranean Sea had long been led by women and
effeminate priests – the next few centuries would see straight men
gradually imposing their desire for order, structure and control via
the destruction of pagan temples and eradication of the memory of the
sacred roles of same-sex loving and gender-variant individuals.
The men of war shut down our temples,
rounded up the pagans and slaughtered them. The sexual practices of
the pagans were seen as a justification for doing this. This pattern
had begun in fact a millennium previously under the Hebrew kings,
some of whom took great offence to the continuing tradition of
Goddess worship, led by the sodomising, genderfluid Qedesha in the
temples of Asherah. Qedesha means Anointed or Holy Ones, but was
translated into the King James Bible as ‘sodomites’ and appears in
modern translations as ‘male shrine prostitutes’. The idea that
temples were where prostitution took place was planted early in the
first millennium by Christians in order to discredit the pagan faiths
– until that time sexual congress with deities, through the medium
of a priest/ess, had been a respected practice dating back maybe
10000 years in the temples of Ishtar/Inanna/Cybele throughout the
lands of the Middle East. Some have argued that Mary Magdalene was
part of this tradition and see her as being the conduit for Jesus’s
mystical revelations and growth.
The oldest term on the planet for
priesthood is the ‘Gala’ priests of Inanna, whose name in the
‘cunieform’ writing of the time was a combination of the symbols for
penis and anus. Similarly named, and extremely queer and
flamboyant, Gallae priests served Cybele – considered the Mother of
the Gods, her worship originated in Anatolia in the Asian part of
Turkey and became the official religion of the Roman Empire around
200 BCE. The Gallae’s camp and loud behaviour upset many Christians,
and, especially as Roman emperors converted to the new faith,
emphasising the prohibition of sodomy became a way of setting
Christianity apart from the pagan past.
The Hebrew persecution of the gay
temple priests lasted, on and off, for four centuries from 1000BCE to
600BCE, it seems that after that the atmosphere became more relaxed
again. Historian Randy P. Connor goes as far as to say that the
period from 2nd century BCE to 4th century CE
was the high point of queer-led religion, with the ArchGallus playing
a leading role in Roman life. The ArchGallus wore a tall mitre hat,
something that was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and still
worn by Popes today. The Gallae priests led the early Spring
ceremonies which were focussed on the death of their god Attis, the
lover of Goddess Cybele, who self-castrated in order to avoid
marriage to a human woman. He died from the wound but was
resurrected and became in the older stories Cybele’s daughter, in the
later versions he became, like Jesus, the heavenly avatar linking
humanity to heaven. The Christian Easter festival was timed to
replace this older rite.
When Europeans set out to explore and conquer the rest of the world they came across gender-bending, sodomising, shamans and priests on every continent. There are many examples from Africa of queerness being associated with spiritual power – eg among the lesbians of the Azande people of ……. or the Quimbanda wizards of Angola. When African politicians complain that homosexuality was brought to the continent by the white man they have a point – until the Europeans came sexuality was not associated with the taboos it is now, and the spiritual role of same-sex loving or trans individuals was recognised. The Native American shamans were given the name ‘berdache’ by the Europeans (the name basically means a bottom in sodomy), which stuck until the 1990s when the American shamans chose the name ‘Two-Spirit’ to replace it, a term much more resonant with the many original names that the tribes used for us. In China and Japan homosexuality was regarded as a privilege of the monastic class, this view fully supported by the populace, and in India the surviving example of the Hijras point to a time when the spiritual power of queers was better recognised. Examples exist also from Australasia, Polynesia, Hawaii….
Gay men and women have always been
drawn to the religious life in the Christian west as well, despite
the homophobic atmosphere. Medieval monastic life saw a flowering of
same sex love, and the Buggery Act was brought in by Henry VIII to
destroy the power of the Catholic monasteries. To this day gays are
drawn to service in the Church, and the arguments about us go on and
on. But even the Christian notion of a celibate priesthood is a hark
back to the ancient days when the gays ran religion. Celibacy had to
be brought in once straight men got involved, to control them.
Islam, for most of its history, has been less bothered about sexual
expression, with a long tradition of mystical poetry in which god is
known through same-sex erotic imagery. The savagery with which some
Islamic states treat queer people now has more to do with the
homophobia spread by Europeans over recent centuries than with
So the straight men kicked us out of
the temples and monasteries and took our jobs, but what does this
piece of the historical queer jigsaw mean for us today?
While some spiritually motivated queers
choose to be active in established religious circles, there are many
of us who are drawn to self-exploration in ways of our own choosing.
Many of us are drawn to witchcraft, shamanism etc because these
magical practices do not dictate a belief system – they instead
provide tools we can use for our own self-discovery, and to build a
relationship with the subtle energy fields all around us.
Coming Out is a spiritual process of
self-affirmation, but it’s not the end of the story. In the 1980s I
was a young atheist seeking nothing from life but good times, but who
was quickly facing an HIV diagnosis and the onset of AIDS. This
experience awoke in me the wish to understand life, and the roles of
queers in the bigger picture, and kicked off a mystical journey that
continues to this day – a journey that includes uncovering the
forgotten or hidden history of the relationship between queerness and
spirituality. Until this history is understood, ignorant religious
preachers will continue to attack us, and spread their hate around
the world, providing justification to those who would persecute,
imprison or kill our kind. My journey since AIDS in queer spiritual
circles such as the Radical Faerie community convinces me that we
queers do have ‘magical’ powers – they come from our internal
fluidity and creativity, they relate to the heart and spirit, to our
relationship with nature and the unseen world.
I am one of the organisers of this summer’s QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL in Northamptonshire, UK, August 14-18th 2019. This third outing of the festival brings together a few hundred questing, evolving, seeking queers in a melting pot of play, creativity, sexuality, spirituality and magic for five days of magic and discovery, changing the story of who we are, remembering a hidden past, and creating a new, vibrant and more conscious future. www.queerspirit.net
Easter Weekend in London saw massive mobilisation of the British people. In sharp contrast to the childishness, bickering and arrogance of our political classes in recent years, the past week has given us a peaceful yet powerful expression of the true spirit of the Brits – focussed on respectful discourse, tolerance, collaboration, non-violent action and compassion. Just as with the massive pro-EU demonstration recently, the people took to the streets and showed the world how so many of us really feel.
Extinction Rebellion played their hand
skilfully, clearly having learnt the hard lessons of past actions
such as Occupy. The authorities have been spending money preparing
for post-Brexit riots, but instead found themselves faced with truly
peaceful protesters, who had no intention to cause harm to property
or persons – instead they sought simply to disrupt the normal flow of
city life to bring attention to the cause – to the Climate
Emergency that is reported daily in the news but which our
governments have no idea how, nor it seems the motivation, to tackle.
The activities of the past week have brought to the fore voices such
as George Monbiot that dare to say that the whole capitalist,
monetary, economic system has to be dismantled. The Tory environment
minister has been forced to admit they are not doing enough in regard
to climate change, and the opposition Labour party have offered to
sit down and listen to the campaigners.
Even more than this – at a time when
crime, homelessness, poverty are all on the rise, when teenagers are
murdering each other and terrorists lurk round every corner – the
headline news should be that here is a mobilisation of people who
sincerely believe life can be lived differently, we just have to get
together, listen to each other and work out how.
Here is a mobilisation of people who
come together peacefully, to explore and deepen connection, with each
other and the planet we live on. The right wing tries desperately to
pick holes in the movement, to attack it in any way it can – eg for
taking up police resources which are needed to keep down the rioting
hoards, and the islamic, irish and fascist terrorists. But it seems
the dark forces were all taking a quiet Easter. We should not
underestimate the effect that a few thousand determined individuals
making a clear and determined message, that so many others are
waiting to hear, can have on the collective spirit and consciousness
of the whole nation. After all, we have seen how the horrific acts
of lone individuals can unite us in grief – whatever the critics of
Extinction Rebellion might say, this is not a movement spreading doom
and gloom, this is part of a much larger and longer trend in human
society – towards greater awareness and connection.
These words I found
from an XR participant in a Facebook comment put it so well:
“Fundamentally our movement, not
limited to Extinction Rebellion… is about creating a society based
on connection, awe and love for all beings. You feel it, I feel it,
it feels right…. but we are rarely given permission to express it.
“There’s been a steady shift in
human consciousness for many years now and it is finally bubbling up
to an explosion. Too many people are tired of wasting our lives in a
society based on separation, fear, exploitation and depletion.”
But of course the opponents of XR, and probably the politicians too, believe it’s only a matter of time before the movement fractures and collapses, as other protests have done in the past. There are even signs of this happening already. The group’s Facebook page reveals that militant vegans, who like to insist everyone has to follow their example, are causing some to leave the movement. But also – the wonder of social media – we can see there how the overwhelming response from others, including other vegans, is to explain few things to the misguided but well-intentioned militants. Any movement for social, political, environmental justice doubles up as an intensive space of personal growth for all who get involved. The complex organisational co-creation that manifested as XR’s actions at Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Circus, or the mass die-in at the Natural History Museum, show that this is a collective with experience, talent, originality and the power to persevere. XR has staying power because all generations are involved here. Over 1000 people were arrested for obstruction, yet nobody was hurt, there was no criminal damage, no violence.
The same spirit of openness, tolerance
and freedom was celebrated in Hyde Park on Saturday 20th
April at the 4:20 Cannabis Rally. Now in its 8th year, the
warm sunshine brought out thousands – people of all ages, all races
and backgrounds were openly smoking across the park, and at 4.20pm we
all stood up and lit up together – the diversity of the modern
British nation celebrated in smoke. What an incredible mass ritual,
honouring the healing herb that has been used as medicine and sacred
tool in cultures the world over, but which the men in power in the
20th century made illegal, something they had no moral
right to do. Crucially, we were also standing up for freedom of the
individual, in mind, body and soul. The days of the state dictating
what we can or cannot do with our own bodies need to end. I’m a gay
man, I get this deeply. But as we move towards liberalisation of
attitudes towards cannabis in the UK it is crucial that the cannabis
campaigners are listened to – for the money-grabbing eyes of big
business are already excited at this huge future market. Cannabis
cultivation and dealing has been in the hands of the people during
this time of prohibition, taking risks with our own liberty to do so,
and it should remain the people’s plant.
Nobody was arrested at the Cannabis
Rally. The atmosphere was positive and upbeat. The only violence in
the park that day was unrelated.
My personal journey through this
liberating weekend began at the Queer Spirit Full Moon Drum Circle in
Vauxhall, where about 70 radical faeries, questing queers and magical
souls gathered to dance and raise energy. We do this regularly– an
opportunity for emotional release and ecstatic expression at the peak
of the full moon. This time we dedicated our dance towards
empowering the message being put out by Extinction Rebellion.
At Heaven nightclub on Sunday evening
my weekend peaked as the 24 year old me was resurrected on the very
dance floor where he dropped his first tab of acid – thirty years
ago at Gay Pride 1989. For 3 or 4 years I was a Heaven regular,
spending my nights in ecstatic rapture, finding in house music (and
lsd) a doorway into myself that led me to an absolute sense of
freedom, love and connection. After 6 years of trips (and facing the
impending doom of full-blown aids) I was motivated to dive into a
mystical education in order to understand this freedom and connection
I had felt when high in Heaven. 24 years on from that, aids
survivor, queer pagan and radical faerie witch/shaman that I have
become, I got to go back to my playground – where in my 20s I used
to lose myself in music and light, become the dance, become pure
spirit. This time no lsd taken. Acid opened up in me the idea that
we are pure consciousness, free, eternal and powerful, and I have
used the intervening years to explore and deepen this within me –
30 years after my first trip I was dancing back in the temple of
Heaven, feeling my 24 year old self inside me glowing with joy, being
my 54 year old self beaming in gratitude for this journey called
life, and for the keys to mystery that the acid house wave of the
late 80s, that Heaven the nightclub and the amazing DJs who played
there, gave to me.
House music arrived as a soul-infused
development of disco and hi-nrg. It celebrated liberation, as disco
had done before – but perhaps while 70s disco revelled in
individual freedom and joy, 80s house held a vision of collective
liberation. Queers were at the forefront of disco – when disco got
tired and too commercial, we then held the pure dance spirit in our
hi-nrg tunes until it evolved into house. Heaven, London’s original
gay super-club now celebrating its 40th birthday, held
nights such as Spectrum, Garage and Troll that nurtured the uplifting
Queers were central to the dance revolution and we also have a big role to play in the ongoing liberation of humanity from the delusions, the mind control and soul-numbness that afflicts the world, but we are still a deeply wounded segment of the whole, finding our power only gradually. 30 years ago I was dancing in nightclubs, this summer I will be dancing out in nature at QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL, where 500+ fabulous, magical queers will get the chance to deepen our experience of community, of connection, of personal and collective liberation. There will be workshops, performers, fire circles, drumming, cafes, discos – we will be celebrating the potential in our sexuality and our seeking for love to open us to the heavens, to multi-dimensional reality, plus celebrating our ability to connect to and care for each other and the earth. The festival, like XR, like the Cannabis Rally, is a manifestation of people taking power into their own hands. We queers will no longer let ourselves be bullied by religion or anyone else, we are redefining who we are, from within ourselves. Www.queerspirit.net
It was so good to be in Heaven dancing
again to “Brothers, Sisters, we’ll make it to the Promised Land”,
to feel tears running down my cheeks as Robert Owens performed live,
to remember being in utter bliss in that place in my 20s – at a
time when part of my mind was stuck in the new reality of a deadly
HIV diagnosis, another part was experiencing the awesome, joyful
wonder of existence.
30 years on I celebrated my personal liberation on the dance floor where I first glimpsed it, during a weekend when the tide of liberation was riding high in London town. But let’s remember that Freedom is both an internal as well as external phenomenon. This summer I will be gathering with magical queers pulling together on the path to personal and collective liberation to our kind, and all humanity, through reconnection with nature, with the holiness of the body and sexuality, the transcendent potential of music and dance, with the ecstatic rites of Queer Spirit. Come play the liberation game with us.
London enjoyed a sunny and peaceful weekend, promoting the energy of communication, connection and harmony. Meanwhile terror did strike – in Sri Lanka, and we are left with this puzzling story that a number of affluent, educated, middle class Muslims went into Christian churches to blow up themselves and the Easter Sunday worshippers, showing how quickly and easily a country can be brought to horror, grief and fear. In our interconnected world the actions of hate affect all, but the forces and voices of tolerance and freedom do not get nearly enough of a look in – the media is always telling us the world is full of suffering and anger, but the hearts of the people of the world are drawn to hope, to peace and to love and liberation – as the activists of London have been showing loud and strong in the Easter sunshine.
The Spring Equinox arrives, days start to be longer than nights, the temperatures rise, the relief of Winter ending washes over us – then about a week or so later we might find ourselves wondering what the fuck is going on? Why isn’t Spring bringing joy and happiness? Why does life feel so challenging – so awkward?
Nature is growing fast now, and so are we. Life will offer new experiences. Our roots are deepening, our blossom is appearing, we are starting to put on our leaves, ie our summer energy. But growth hurts, it means disturbing the soil, the ground we are occupying, and it means stretching and pulling ourselves in some new ways, which, if we haven’t got the right mental framework in place, is going to hurt.
The appropriate mind-set for the first
month of the zodiac year is ‘I AM’.
Aries is an individualistic fire sign. It is a sign of leadership, but the first place we need to be in charge is within our own being. This is the moment of the year when the cosmos tells us to think for ourselves, to focus on ourselves, to follow our own nose, our own weird, our own path. Relationships can come under strain because most couples want to believe in the ‘WE’ more than they do in the ‘I’, and they perhaps fear giving their lover space to do ‘I’ for a while. But for individual and relationship health we need a bit of space this time of year, time to work out our own personal goals and work on our own personal issues.
Beltane is just round the corner – in
Taurus month the Sun moves into earth element and we become
fascinated with the body again. Aries month is about the individual
spirit – who am I is the focus. In Taurus we start to focus on
what we have and what we want, tune in more to physical reality of
our existence, and on the pleasures of connecting physically with
others, in celebration, in dance, in sex.
English poet T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruellest month” – and so it can seem, for at this time others may not meet our expectations and we may find ourselves needing to find plenty of self-reliance and self-determination. Changeable weather – rain, shine, warm, cold – mirrors the internal energy movements we inevitably go through. Aries is the awkward month of being who we are, pushed back into knowing ourselves as an independent entity after the cosmically attuned, collective consciousness, months of Aquarius and Pisces.
When Full Moon comes along, opposite Aries in the sign of balance and relationship, Libra – the bright moonlight illuminates how well we are doing on that axis of self and others. The Libra Full Moon reminds us we do not exist on our own, we exist in relationship with others, which demands things of us – such as compromise and surrender, things the Aries sun isn’t generally hot on. The key to navigating the full moon is to put service to others at the top of the agenda, realising that is how we also serve our own best interests.
So during Aries month the best thing to do is to embrace a new year of energy growth, to focus on one’s self, on health and well-being, on changing our thinking patterns to support that health and well-being, on our plans for the year ahead. Also to work on the balance between our self-focus and our relationships. And crucially, to see the Ram’s fire as the small flame within that it actually is at this time of the year. This is not the moment for gung-ho, uber-dynamic, action… this is the time for small steps and self-care, leading to improved self-awareness and a chance to move away from the awkwardness of Aries.
For two decades I have walked the pagan path – learning about existence through the language and practice of the elements, seasons, sun, moon and stars. What I have learnt is this path brings those who walk it improved health, awareness, compassion, understanding and wisdom. Why isn’t everyone on it?
My generation, born in the 1960s, was brainwashed from a young age to believe that the purpose of life was to get good grades, good job, a heterosexual relationship and debt. Religion was sometimes in the picture, but losing the battle in our minds rapidly in the fight with scepticism. Spirituality – pagan magic – metaphysics and mysticism were mainly ignored and certainly ridiculed when they did pop up. I came out at 21, failed to fit into the work and debt model either, and aged 30, while apparently approaching death, I woke up to the idea that life is a mystery to be explored, understood and then enjoyed to the max, not something simply to take for granted, led by the proclamations of religion or science.
Every day I hear of people’s struggles with their mental health. Depression, anxiety, BPD, DID, ADD, ADHD… As someone who was given an acronym 30 years ago – HIV – I strongly urge people to disassociate from the label, it’s absolutely NOT who you are. And, having turned my life around from the deathbed of AIDS aged thirty-three to being now a fairly-fit-fifty-four, strong in mind and heart and spirit if not always in body, having walked the path that the planet, the solar system and nature herself gives us to study, I gotta say – folks: there is a different, less toxic and disempowering, way of understanding life than the story most of the world is running – another paradigm is possible, a more revealing and evolutionary way of knowing ourselves and our existence here is possible. The scientific heights reached in the 20th century are not the end of the story. AIDS made me turn my attention inwards – I could not be out and about, active in the world. On the inside I found the gateways to other worlds, and my survival is dedicated to bringing human existence into alignment with the other dimensions. The only thing holding us back is the bullshit most people have in their minds, ie the life-crippling paradigm we have been sold.
The New Age has had a huge impact of human relations, communications and individual personal growth over the past few decades. The Internet reveals just how many awakened and purposeful people there are out there, how many groups sincerely seeking to serve the well being of the planet. Ayahuasca ceremonies have become popular in recent years, when just a few years before the practitioners had to be very secretive. Astrology is now more widely understood and practised than at any time before in human history – youtube enables astrologers to have a voice that mainstream media still denies them. Brian Cox is still the darling of the thinking classes, and he never misses a chance to ridicule the study of the stars. I would love him to wake up to the mysteries of consciousness – please somebody slip him some lsd or persuade him to go talk to Grandmother spirit Ayahuasca.
The New Age, a label knocking around since the 1980s, is a medley of teachings and practices from all the world’s cultures, spread and srengthened by the Internet. Cultural appropriation means little to me as we are all citizens of a new global civilisation, able for the first time ever to learn from all that has gone before – this is an incredible new horizon.
Part of this cultural development is the reclamation of the pagan practices of Europe, which were largely wiped out by the all-consuming ‘christian’ political-military machine from the Roman Empire onwards. It took a thousand years for the christian culture to tighten its grip, with much bloodshed on the way, and it never really succeeded in fully wiping out the pagan heart of european culture, as laws attempting to stop ‘pagan’ practices, passed from the 16th century onwards, demonstrate. In 1542 it was made illegal to practice witchcraft in England, further acts followed and the 17th century saw the peak of witch trials and executions. In 1736 in a new ‘rational’ age Parliament passed an Act repealing the laws against witchcraft, but imposing fines or imprisonment on people who claimed to be able to use magical powers. The Vagrancy Act of 1824 made fortune-telling, spiritualism and astrology punishable offences. In 1951 the laws against magical practice were repealed and replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act, and it is only since then that the pagan roots of our British culture have been truly accessible to the British people.
So is it any surprise then that the core healing paradigm that celtic paganism offers us is hardly yet noticed by the British people in general. Wicca, a reclamation of pagan ways dreamt up in 1940s-50s England, is actually now a world religion, much more widely established and visible in the USA than in our own anglo-culture.
Currently the British nation is hell-bent on driving itself to a collective nervous breakdown. Centuries of perceived stability, strength and tradition are crumbling fast. The Brits are on a fast course towards a mass healing crisis par excellence. The Brits, as so often in history, on this tiny but intensely magically powerful island, may well be setting the pace for the world once more. For we who study the stars know that the Gods Saturn and Pluto are shaking up the ‘system’ good and proper – for the global political-military-industrial machine does not serve the well being of the planet, of people, of the animals. The political-military-industrial system serves death, it does not serve life, so it must die and be replaced by something new.
something new is also something old. It is waiting in the wings.
IS THE PERENNIAL WISDOM.
told us we are sinners, they lied
tells us we are simply biology, they lie
Above So Below
are multi-dimensional beings
on earth can find health and well-being
finding balance in our selves between
BODY – EARTH
MIND – AIR
EMOTIONS – WATER
SPIRIT – FIRE
can know ourselves through our individual elemental mix
shown in our astrological birth chart
our connectedness with all beings through ceremony and meditation and
into internal harmony and balance through attuning to moon cycles and
who we are, what life is, how it all works
a central, crucial part of being alive, at least for some of us
for those struggling in darkness, it is the healing path, it is the
is the missing part of our culture, the blindspot in the modern world
pagan path is the path of the
seasons, the moons and nature
and also of the goddess, of Pan, of
ancestor spirits and the faerie underworld
it is a path of genderbending,
shapeshifting and nature loving magic
of dropping the pretence of being
normal, of being human
for inside everyone of us
is raw, animal, primal instinctual
energy, pure soul
which we get to raise through our holy
bodies, our open hearts
our free and enlightened minds
into ecstatic communion with the
spirits of creation
of which there are so, so many
we simply forgot how to see them, to
hear them, to speak to them
but they haven’t forgotten us
and when we get over our obsessions and
delusions about gods and holy books and scriptures
and about economics and consumerism and the latest scandal and fashion
and return to the simplicity of pleasure, connection, presence, love
they will be right there
ready to help us bring peace and
healing to our ailing planet home
It was round a queer pagan fire in a field in Dorset in the year 1999 that I first experienced the expansive joy of group energy united by the drumbeat – a circle of people all revelling in the feeling of being in union, connected by rhythm and emotion and something bigger, knowing that each is having their own experience of this, would describe it in their own unique way, and this fact is perfectly wonderful.
Each human is ultimately a mystic
having a relationship with their own inner divinity – and when
mystics merge their energy fields, in harmony with nature’s elements,
magic is the word for what happens.
Other words might include healing,
revealing, seeing, knowing
Uniting the human individuality with the spirit of the drum, the rhythm, the group can loosen blocked emotional energy, clear the mental frequencies, and liberate the spirit. It can rebalance the inner world, it’s good for our mental health.
Allowing the energy to rise and fall
Listening is the key to tuning in
The mind naturally takes a back seat
as the heart and spirit move into the
dance with the drum
The body revealed as ecstatic vehicle
of the lightbeing you are and always
Step into eternity
Allow the elements to restore and renew
All life is One Dance, One Power, One
Flowing through you, me, space, time
In the rhythm we find our way home
Humans have always communed this way.
join the mailing list of the radical faeries of albion for news of drum circles in London and much more…. sign up at www.albionfaeries.org.uk
At the Stonewall Riot in New York 1969 the Queers fought back. Enough of the persecution, enough of the shame and fear, enough of the denial of our Queer Spirit. We stepped into Pride and began a journey of self-acceptance that kicked off a global process, which, 50 years later, is in full swing. As our Pride gatherings around the world we declare loud and clear – we are a rainbow people who celebrate freedom, love and self-expression. A people rising from the ashes of a conflagration against our kind that has lasted for far too long and now has to end…
For gay men, 1969-1981 were the Gay Garden of Eden years, not that many on the planet actually got to enjoy them. Homophobia was deep-rooted in just about all the cultures of the planet by this time, having been spread by Christian European explorers seeking to break the spirit of the cultures they came into contact with – for as the world opened up, the shocked Europeans found cross-dressing, gender-bending, sodomising shamans, witches and priests everywhere. They did not know that in ancient times the religious life of Europe and the Middle East had been just as queer.
The 1970s tide of gay liberation was riding on the tailwind of hippy culture and the sexual revolution – so, while for many queers the new sexually free atmosphere was enough, for some this whirlwind of counter-cultural energies opened up a very radical vision of the role of gay, lesbian and trans/non-binary/genderqueer people in society. While many sought to fit in and be accepted by society at large, the radical edge of the queer community was seeking something more. Those on that edge found that the way into this exploration of our true, and long denied, nature was through our hidden spiritual history, and certain gay men were to push this search forwards.
San Franscisco was of course a hotbed of this essentialist wave – in 1975 the ‘Faery Circle’ was called into being there by Arthur Evans to explore the magical roots of queer consciousness. His 1978 book ‘Witchcraft and the Gay Counter-Culture’ (‘A Radical View of Western Civilization and Some of the People it Has Tried to Destroy’) opened up understanding of the connections between patriarchal religious control and the suppression of the feminine/mystical/magical pagan past. He argued that the role of gay men today is to re-establish our communication with nature and the Great Mother, to feeling the essential link between sex and the forces that hold the universe together.
Larry Michell‘s inspired piece of queer literature, also from ’78, ‘The Faggots and their Friends between Revolutions‘ spotted that the motives behind this suppression of the spirit were political,-
“The first revolutions destroyed the great cultures of the women. Once the men triumphed, all that was other from them was considered inferior and therefore worthy only of abuse and contempt and extinction. Stories told of these times are of heroic action and terrifying defeat and silent waiting. Stories told of these times make the faggots and their friends weep. The second revolutions made many of the people less poor and a small group of men without color very rich. With craftiness and wit the faggots and their friends are able to live in this time, some in comfort and some in defiance. The men remain enchanted by plunder and destruction. The men are deceived easily and so the faggots and their friends have nearly enough to eat and more than enough time to think about what it means to be alive as the third revolutions are beginning.”
Life-long activist Harry Hay founded the first gay rights group the Mattachine Society in the 1950s, but was edged out quickly as gay men who sought conventionality and assimilation into polite society took it over. In the ’60s he set up the ‘Circle of Loving Companions‘ and by the 1970s he was totally focussed on the unique gifts that queerkind bring to humanity. He had become convinced that our sexuality was intrinsically related to the spirit realms, –
“Our beautiful lovely sexuality is the gateway to spirit. Under all organised religions of the past, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, there has been a separation of carnality, or shall we say of flesh or earth or sex, and spirituality. As far as I am concerned they are all the same thing, and what we need to do as faeries is to tie it all back together again.”
These 1970s visionaries were getting bold. In Witchcraft and the Gay Counter-Culture, Evans declared, –
“We look forward to regaining our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans and sorcerers. We look forward to an endless and fathomless process of coming out – as gay people, as animals, as humans, as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos….. Like butterflies we are emerging from the shells of our past restricted existence. We are re-discovering the ancient magic that was once the birth right of all human beings. We are re-learning how to talk to the worms and the stars. We are taking flight on the wings of self-determination. Come, blessed Lady of the Flowers, Queen of Heaven, creator and destroyer, Kali – we are dancing the dance of your coming.”
Out of this swirling pool of potential was born the first Radical Faerie gathering, which took place in a desert sanctuary in Arizona in September 1979. It was billed as a ‘Spiritual Conference‘ aiming to explore “the spiritual dimensions of gayness” – 220 men got to this gathering, sat and listened to each other’s stories, found a common love of nature and the, now global, Radical Faerie Community was born. Arthur Evans described faeries as demonstrating a “gay sensibility, neo-paganism, and a sheer Whitmanesque celebration of the body and of sex.”
The reference to Whitman refers to the person considered to be America’s greatest poet, Walt, who in the 19th century had dared to write down his vision of a future democracy living in peace due to the strong loving bonds between men. He wrote, –
“Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.”
Whitman opened the doors to the celebration of the body as holy through works like ‘I sing the Body Electric’. As a gay man he saw that the denial of the pleasures of the flesh that religion imposed on society cut humanity off from its divine potential, –
“Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from, The scent of these armpits is aroma finer than prayer, This head more than churches, bibles and all the creeds… if I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body”
Mitch Walker carried this theme in the ’70s, publishing ‘Men Loving Men: Gay Sex Guide and Consciousness Book‘ in 1977, concluding it with a section on the mystical potential in gay love and sex to reveal to us the divine play of consciousness in the universe.
“When we fall in love with another man we’re getting in touch with an unconscious spirit-source, by evoking it in our beloved. We can follow this magic inside us back to its source, and use it to uncover our real nature.”
19th century European pioneers of queer consciousness also had grand visions of our role in society, and from the first stirrings of self-conscious gay sensibility proclaimed a link to the spiritual. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in Germany and Edward Carpenter in England used the term ‘Uranian‘ to refer to gay men, lesbians and all, what they termed ‘intermediate types‘, seeking to connect us to the perceived nobility of ancient Greek culture – Urania being a form of the Goddess Aphrodite particularly concerned with spiritual love. Carpenter published the results of his research as ‘Intermediate Types Among Primitive Folk’ in 1914, exploring examples from America, feudal Japan, the cross-dressing, sodomising Qedesha goddess priests of the Middle East so hated by the ancient Hebrews, and also same sex Christian unions in the Balkans. Carpenter dared to write about the link between same-sex love and the shamanic practitioners in tribal cultures – although this link had not been lost on the European explorers arriving in the New World from the 15th century onwards: discovering that the spiritual power in the tribes was held by gender-bending, same sex loving individuals they set about destroying that power by spreading their Christian judgement of effeminacy and sodomy – they called the holy shamans ‘berdache’, a French word for the passive partner in that act. This term stuck until the 1990s when the shamans chose the word ‘Two-Spirit‘ to replace it, this term having resonance with the some 500 words Native American cultures had once used.
By 1990 of course the gay male community was deep in the middle of a crisis that threatened every gain we had made. AIDS ravaged our world, making the magical promises of the 1970s seem far away. “Come, blessed Lady of the Flowers, Queen of Heaven, creator and destroyer, Kali – we are dancing the dance of your coming” said the emerging queer witches of the Eden decade – and She came: dark, ferocious, deadly. The Goddess came as darkness because she had been banished into darkness by patriarchal religion for a very long time. We, her queer priests, servants, lovers and fools no longer knew who we were, we no longer knew what we could do with our sexuality, what it could bring to the world. In a secular, religiously conflicted age, nobody seems to remember who the queer ones are. Which is why we need time and space, in our own sacred groves and healing sanctuaries, to explore within ourselves, to find out.
Harry Hay said, –
“Out of the mists of our long oppression,
We bring love for ourselves and each other,
And love for the gifts we bear,
So heavy and so painful the fashioning of them,
So long the road given us to travel them. A separate people,
We bring a gift to celebrate each other,
‘Tis a gift to be gay!
Feel the pride of it!”
In the 1980s and 90s our energies had to be channelled away from potential and into pure survival, and this period also revealed just how deep-rooted was societal homophobia and how much work there was to be done on political, legal and social levels before we, or the rest of the world, could really start to take on board the journey to spiritual liberation that is the logical and ultimately inevitable end place of the journey of sexual liberation that began in the 1960s. This political work has continued since the advent of effective medicine to treat HIV, with equal marriage rights spreading through the western world – and producing a backlash in Africa and other countries, which has served to put the question of our rights and our identity into a global focus.
The quest for queer spirited conscious community has been going on on the sidelines of gay life throughout this time. Two years after the first Radical Faerie gathering the first permanent Faerie sanctuary was founded, at Short Mountain in Tennessee, and in the four decades since there have been other sanctuaries established in the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe, plus gatherings in Israel, Thailand and China. As a group of mainly gay men, the Faeries have been one of the few outfits celebrating the feminine, cissy side of our nature, in contrast to the enduring machismo obsessed mainstream gay culture, and over the decades the Faeries have become more diverse, and how could they not, since themes of gender play and transcendence of limiting human beliefs are a big part of faerie magic.
In fact as we approach the 2020s there are way more gay men involved in the spiritual search than there were back in the 1970s, a fact that is reflected in the number of books on gay spirit that have been published since, by authors including Toby Johnson, Mark Thompson, Andrew Harvey, Christian de la Huerta. Men’s spirituality is growing up and there is perhaps now a chance for gay male spirituality to join with the other tributaries of queer spirituality to find their common ground.
In this essay I have had a lot to say about the gay male journey through these decades. The parallel stories to be told are those of the lesbians in the Goddess movement, of their radical history of protest and community building at Greenham Common and through Spiral Camp and Women’s Land etc, and of the emergence of the Trans/Non-binary identities, with the subsequent reclaiming of the spiritual power going on there also, via the work of Raven Kaldera, Bright Daffodil and other. The vision behind the brand new Queer Spirit Festival, which launched in 2016, is to bring together all the queer tribes under the rainbow of our united quest for spiritual knowledge and liberty. The joined prayers and healing that we experience when we come together are for ourselves and for all our kind across the planet.
Meanwhile the mainstream gay universe has not woken up to any sense of spiritual growth yet, it generally continues its flirtation with the commercially driven, marriage-approving, patriarchal military-industrial complex and doesn’t give attention to the magical paths of self-discovery that many queers choose to explore. Gay media over the years has looked at the efforts of gays in established religions to find acceptance, but little to the radical, nature-based pagan faerie celebrations or to gays who seek self-awareness through magical practices, yoga or meditation, or even psychedelics for that matter – the sacraments that our gay culture subtly promotes encourage us to self indulgence not self discovery. In London the Connections conferences of the late 1990s and LoveSpirit in the early 2010s brought hundreds of queers together to share their spiritual interests, but against the huge tide of intoxication and indulgence that continues to sit at the centre of gay culture they had little impact.
The trend was clear from the 1970s – an obsession with the physical aspect of who we are puts sex firmly in the centre of the picture for gay men, and things are not so different at the end of the second decade of the 21st century. For trans people also, the focus on the physical aspect of the process can mean the ancient, spiritual roots of trans nature are completely overlooked. But now the gay mainstream is increasingly aware that the superficial is not after all supreme and is looking for answers to the ongoing sense of crisis in gay life – some go so far as to say that the spread of drug use among men who have sex with men, with resultant addictions, crises and deaths is a second plague amongst us.
So many reasons underlie this drug using trend, and are much discussed elsewhere – but one underlying factor that isn’t yet properly grasped is that humanity has always used substances to open the inner being and commune with the spirit realms of existence. Gay men, liberated sexually in age that doesn’t recognise the spiritual reality within us, using Tina etc are turning their own gifts on themselves, cutting off their natural ability to commune and empathise with others soul to soul, using drugs that feed the ego (as opposed to those which open the heart or consciousness). The drugs enable some men to forget their minds, their issues, their fears and enjoy the moment of ecstatic connection, but they gradually lose the ability to find that natural bliss through empathic loving connection to others. Only nature can restore this gift to us once lost, and I believe that in our faerie sanctuaries, and our queer spirit enclaves wherever they may pop up, we offer the healing, the insight and understanding that is needed to bring the LGBTIQ+ community to a level of self-awareness that will change things, and that will reverberate strongly around the world, bringing a revolution in understanding and a new mythology about Who We Are on a global level.
It is in Chechnya, and Uganda, Nigeria and Egypt, in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and too many other places that our queer sisters and brothers are most in need of this change of consciousness, in places where the homophobia imposed and justified by religions is still having its evil effects. We in the west have our issues to sort out, but we also have a freedom to explore our queer spirit that was never there before – and this time round, unlike the 1970s, when the queer spirit was first attempting to burst forth, we are five decades into a journey of liberation. We survived the AIDS holocaust, and grew through the experiences of that time, we have had a chance to mature somewhat and accept this journey is a longer one than some at first thought.
Queer Spirituality is the next step for the global upsurge of difference that has for five decades been daring to proudly declare its name… but it is slow to make an impact on mainstream gay male life because MANY OF THE PIONEERING, RADICAL QUEER MEN WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN PART OF THIS REVOLUTION IN CONSCIOUSNESS DIED OF AIDS.
This was history repeating itself. The shamans were culled and as a result the people, ie the wider gay community, has become lost in an ocean of substance abuse, just as happened to the tribal peoples when the Europeans took over. But shamans are born in every generation, and some of us – just a crucial few – survived the plague, and we are here to tell some tales.
I am an one such AIDS survivor who used my sick years to question reality, to become aware of Kali, the Great Mother, shrouded in darkness for so many centuries, and to receive her visions of gay love, seeking to find fellow explorers of the Goddess mysteries and be ready for the next resurgence of the queer phoenix, of queer spirit, calling us to know, love and BE our true, liberated, horny, magical, queer Selves. As an organiser of Queer Spirit Festival I am excited to sounding this call, on behalf of queerkind of all genders, sexualities, races and nations.
hiding in temples, then theatres,
monasteries, molly houses
we knew all along
our time would come again.
In Mesopotamia, in the temples of
the God Enki created the Galla, the
name means penis-anus,
priests made to serve the Great Goddess
of Love and War
In Turkey we were Gallae, serving Great
Mother Cybele for millennia,
spreading into Greece, Rome and around
long haired, bejewelled, loud and
leading ecstatic, raucous celebrations
for hundreds of years:
beloved of the people and feared by the
crushed to extinction by the Christians
in the 4th century –
but the Jewish Kings were at it first –
over 1000 years before…
in Palestine we were Qedesha, Anointed
Ones, and sodomy was our service
in the temples of Asherah, we were
rounded up and massacred.
Muslim leaders did the same, wiping out
goddess worshipping people
and her genderqueer priest/esses as
they spread the
dictatorship of the Father God.
YET HERE’S THE THING…..
A sacred black meteorite was worshipped as Cybele’s symbol in her temple in Anatolia for thousands of years
and was brought to Rome in 200 BCE,
installed with great fanfare in a new temple
as the Magna Mater was welcomed as the official deity of the Roman Empire.
She was served by the genderqueer Gallae priest/esses who spread her worship across the whole Empire, Cybele was loved as the Great Mother from Turkey to Britain, across north Africa as well as southern Europe, and her long-haired, bejewelled, loud and lewd queer priests were loved by the people, feared by the authorities because of the wild, sexual and bloody dionysian-like ritual celebrations they threw.
This Goddess religion was the major rival to Christianity – and the Church adopted a fiercely homophobic attitude to distance itself from the hated pagans. But its priests had to be celibate, because priests were not expected to have partners and children (they’d always been gay), and the Pope adopted and still wears the mitre headdress of the arch-Gallus, the High Priestess of Rome.
When Rome collapsed the Great Mother’s holy stone ‘disappeared’
But a sacred black stone, which “came down from Jannah (Paradise).” (At-Tirmidhi, Sunan, hadith no. 877) was installed by Mohammed at the Kaaba in Mecca not long after, in 605 AD –
this oldest mosque itself was placed on
the site of an ancient pagan temple –
and to this day, Moslems flock to visit
that may well be the meteorite held
sacred to the Mother Goddess for many millennia.
Note too that in India the great god Shiva, who is both male and female, is worshipped as a black phallic rock, the shiva lingam.