Attitude magazine this month has a colourful, somewhat teasing and intriguing, feature about some of the team behind this summer’s Queer Spirit Festival. The piece is appropriately enough entitled ‘Free Spirits’, making the point that here are queers finding our spiritual expression outside of formal religion. For some reason however the front page headline they chose to highlight the piece is ‘Meet the Queer Spiritualists’…..
Well spiritualism is generally associated with channelling the messages, wisdom and grace of the spirit world, with mediumship and sometimes trance possession. At first I was inclined to take some umbrage at the use of this word, after all a glance at the promotion for the festival will show that our focus is very much about this world – about healing, creativity, self-expression, love – about queer community, liberated from crippling religious structures, where our spirits can soar free. But of course what makes this experience so powerful and liberating, I believe, is that we include the trees, plants, animals, insects and invisible worlds in our expansive queer community cosmos.
I remembered how much we love to invoke the ancestors into our circles, how important it is to us to call in the power of the elemental beings, how much we love to invoke the unifying presence of our shamanic forebears in the indigenous peoples of the whole planet, and of the Goddess, of Pan.
Often we dance once the spirits are invoked, enjoying a space where it can come naturally to drop the chattering, questioning of the mind and move into synchronous rhythm with each other: rising gradually to peaks of ecstatic togetherness when the drumming takes off, when our dancing hits a frenzy, our voices open and the shouts reach to the heavens.
Attitude also used the term ‘HIGHER RAINBOWS’ – which I consider a peculiar choice of front page headline for the piece about us queer free spirits:
To me queer spirituality is about dropping the old patriarchal ways of hierarchy, of higher and lower, inferior and superior – and entering instead into the holoarchy of life, where every aspect of being has an integral part to play in the whole cosmic jigsaw of life. Astrology is one tool I use to understand that every part of who we are, that all of life and creation, is holy and has its own purpose, from the carnal and the banal to the cosmic and the blissful. Without one there cannot be the other, duality only exists to help us navigate the third dimension. So Queer Spirituality is not about getting to a higher, or better, place, than other parts of the lgbtq+ universe, it is about bringing in the missing element, the essential piece of the puzzle, that completes the whole.
I have written many blogs about the lost, forgotten or overlooked links between queerness and the sacred dimensions.. some links below.
Early May 2019 we are between the calendar Beltane MayDay and the approaching Beltane Full Moon in Scorpio on May 17th. The veils are thin.
We are between the worlds.
This morning the moon is in Cancer, water element, sign of the Divine Mother. So this queer spiritualist thought instead of being agitated by the label he would live up to it:
This is what I believe the energy of the Divine Mother that I feel within me is saying to us this Beltane:
From the heart of the Mother
from our ancestors enlightened
worlds connect and the message comes through
you are another me and I am another you:
we are not these bodies
not the ego-mind
not the turbulent emotions:
when we drop identification with form and thought and feeling
there’s much, much more to find
the dance of spirit on the earth
is reflected in patterns in the sky
and once we get that we are the dance
we can stretch our wings and fly:
to attune to the seasons, moon and planets
IS to find the way home –
is the way out of delusion, disconnection, disaffection –
it’s time for humanity to renew the pact with life Herself
love and spirit connect us all
through prayer and compassion
we answer the call, build webs of love, cones of power
invoking the return of Her magicians
bringing humanity back to the Way
in these dark 21st century days
The truth is within and it’s out there too
Christian gnostics and heretics, Kabbalists and Sufi mystics have long taught the way
Buddhist and Hindu sages were bringing the light of non-duality to the west since the 19th century
but the last thing the desire-driven, power-hungry west wanted to hear
was that the ego was controlling the show and out of control –
our own european earth wisdom so long suppressed
we’d long forgotten our intrinsic belonging –
yet now as Mother Earth shakes and and fear spreads round the world
soon everyone on the planet may scream out to be whole
and the people of the Goddess
will step forward – and take up once again their roles.
Queer Spiritualism WHY NOT?
To conclude, I offer this….
MAY THE SPIRIT RETURN TO THE PEOPLE
From whom She was ripped apart
May the Spirit return to the people
As the Queer Healers remember their Art
The Warrior swords of the Crucified Christ from the 4th century CE
Closed down our temples and slaughtered
Trans priestesses, women witches, genderfluid shamans and male sodomites.
Persecution of gay men and women witches intensified from the 11th century.
The political state took over this persecution from the 16th century.
The death penalty was in place for sodomy in the UK until 1861.
But the climate of fear, of arrests and blackmail hit another peak for gay men in the 20th century
And while the change over the past 50 years has been incredible –
No wonder we are a segment of humanity with health issues
Of course we are a people with emotional baggage that needs to be addressed
the issues arising from both HIV and CHEMSEX are the clear symptom of this wound
Still in the world today so many of our queerkind still have to live secret lives
have to live with fear, and the danger of arrest, violence, death
THE HISTORICAL PERSECUTION OF QUEER PEOPLE NEEDS TO BE UNDERSTOOD AND ADDRESSED.
OUR QUEER SPIRIT – REPRESSED FOR SO LONG – NEEDS ROOM TO BREATHE, ROOM TO HEAL, ROOM TO BECOME WHAT IT TRULY IS.
I applaud Attitude magazine for taking this important step in displaying through mainstream media that there are exciting developments going on in the world of queer spirituality. Thanks Guys!
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.
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.