Queering Paganism: A Gay Practioner’s Perspective of Wicca-Craft

I have found more acceptance in pagan circles as an openly gay man both from other LGBTQ+ pagans as well as their straight/cis-gendered counterparts than I ever did growing up in the Christian church.

I stood outside in the darkness reciting over and over, “New moon. New me, New energy.” These words of affirmation are something you might hear from a pagan or someone who self proclaims themselves a witch. I am one of those people and as such, I honor the Old Ways abiding by the laws of nature. I worship the ever-changing cycles of the moon and the natural turnings of the seasons. I watch the ebbs & flows, and the death & rebirth of the world around us by participating in them accordingly.

The sacred ground of the earth mother we walk upon was beneath my bare feet. I took the time to remember this blessing as a child of Gaia like all other living things, including the plants and the trees. And in the shadows of night, I heard the crickets and the chirps of mockingbirds reminding me of the Horned One, a masculine fertility deity usually depicted as half-stag, half-man responsible for sowing the seeds of vegetation.

 The first known depiction of him is found painted on a cave wall in France around 13,000 BCE where he’s labeled ‘The Sorcerer’ and usually interpreted as some kind of great spirit. He is the master of all wild things and keeper of the dead. He is the consort of Mother Earth as Father Sky, lord of the sun. Together they create day, night, and the seasons.

Some know him as Pan, a Proto-Indo-European God adopted into the Greek Pantheon, while others call him Cernunnos, a Celtic variety believed to have originated in Gaul whose depictions are found in many parts of the British Isles and Western Europe.

I could feel the dew from the grass between my toes as I looked up at Aradia, queen of the moon, and her children—the stars. I marveled at them, physical forms of the divine.  The Gods are alive when magick is afoot. As their creations, ritual is one of our many rights. 

Before entering the sacred circle I had created using five outdoor Citronella candles, I had stripped down standing skyclad before my Gods as originally they had made me… naked and vulnerable. I could feel the grounding power of Gaia beneath me, incense burned on the altar laid out across an old wooden bench featuring a white & black candle, a chalice of wine, a bowl of water, a container of salt, and my athame. 

It was time to administer my rite. In my hands, I took my athame, and drew it from the leather sheath, casting a circle for spiritual protection with my consecrated dagger. 

I lit the long spirally grooved candles sticking out of the ground, dipped atop bamboo poles. One at a time the five flames flickered to life as I called the elements directing their energies through me with the athame.

 The first was Aether— the spirit,  ruler of Akasha that is the ethereal nature of magick itself. Then came Air, ruler of the east and breath of life. After that was Fire, rulers of the south and passions of our soul. Succeeding them came Water, rulers of the west, and the blood in our veins. And finally, there was Earth, ruler of the north, and our mortal bodies. 

Next came the charge and evocation of my God, “Lord of light, you who embody the vibrant energy of the God within. The wild hunter, keeper of the forests, horned consort of the Goddess, guardian of death and resurrection, I call your spirit to my rite!”

Picking up the chalice filled with wine, the symbol of life’s blood, I asked my Goddess to be with me, “Lady of darkness, you who embody the touch of the Goddess within. You who are the ever-changing moon; the hopeful maiden, the inspired mother, and the wise crone, I call your spirit to my rite!”

Ready with blessed blade and hallowed goblet, I continued the ritual, “Farther sky, Mother Earth. Your son comes before you, willing. Open for me the secret way, the pathway of intelligence, beyond the gates bound by time and space. Here where the Dagger and Grail unite, Allow me to administer your great rite.”

Then as athame plunged into the chalice these words I spoke, “As this goblet is my Goddess so this blade is my God and together they are one. So by my will, it is done.” 

This act constitutes the unification of yin & yang, spirit & matter, and creation & incarnation itself. Drinking the wine and taking it in me, I am made a child of the Goddesses and the Gods. I am one with the divine. They live in me, working through me every day. This union commemorates their Hiero gamos or “holy marriage” in a sacred partnership played out in a symbolic ritual where a humble human participates in representing their version of divinity. 

And even though I talk of Goddesses and Gods I am not talking about physical gender. The divine transcends everything physical, including gender. I am talking about yin & yang, about light & dark, and good & evil. Gender isn’t restricted to Gods or Goddesses despite how they may appear. Plus, many pagan Gods and Goddesses can be seen as bi or pansexual if viewing their historical canon through a modern lense: 

  • Zeus, King of the Greek Gods, had affairs with both women and men. His most famous male lover was Ganymede, the cupbearer. Zeus later turned him into the constellation Aquarius to protect him from Hera’s wrath.
  • Astarte, the Semitic Goddess of war and sexual love, had a caste of gay male priests in her temples called the kelabim.
  • Pan is famous for his sexual prowess with both maidens and shepherds. He is also reported to have had a relationship with his eromenos, Daphnis, after teaching him to play the panflute.
  • Inanna had a creature neither male nor female rescue her from the underworld, named Asushunamir. This is sometimes regarded as the origin of the queer ones.
  • Apollo is often been seen as queer due to his association with Hyacinth. When Hyacinth died, Apollo wept, blaming himself. From Hyacinth’s spilled blood Apollo created a flower, so named after his lover.  The Hyacinth flower is a traditional symbol of homosexuality.
  • Iolaus, while not a God was a Theban Divine Hero. He was one of Heracles’ many male lovers and acted as the demi-God’s charioteer helping him during the 12 Labors. Iolaus’s shrine in Thebes was often a place used to bless homosexual unions, where male couples worshiped and made vows. This was most famously done by possibly the world’s only gay army, The Sacred Band of Thebes, who swore soldiers into their legion at the tomb of Iolaus.
  • Also, Artemis and Hestia were specifically virgin Goddesses, possibly implying asexuality.

To put such mortal restrictions and implications onto the Divine is a falsity as they are wholly unknowable. True divinity will be neither black nor white. It will be both because nature is both. It shall be loving and cruel, at the same time. Life keeps its balance. The only good or bad is in the intention of the witch or pagan practitioner regarding which side of the Craft they will call upon in ritual.

Firstly, The word “Witch” is a unisex, gender-neutral term deriving from the Old English words “Wicca” and “Wicce,” masculine and feminine forms, respectively.  This later became “Wicche,” in Middle English, which meant the same thing as “Wicca” and “Wicce,” but didn’t distinguish between genders, being used to refer to both men and women.  

 Secondly, a witch or a pagan who is not open about the fact they are into paganism or witchcraft are usually referred to as being “in the broom closet” which is an obvious comparison to the queer practice of “coming out”.

The popular misconception of Wicca is that it is solely a Goddess religion and only for women. Such thoughts are simply untrue. Wicca embraces the sacred feminine alongside the power of the masculine. This is why being a witch and a pagan resonates with me as someone within the LGBTQ+ community specifically as a gay man. 

And I’m not the only one; examples would be Alex Sanders, the co-founder of Alexandrian Wicca, who came out as bisexual later in life and created new rituals in which sexual orientation was irrelevant & Edmund “Eddie” Buczynski who in the mid-1970s founded The Minoan Brotherhood as a Wiccan tradition for gay and bisexual men. 

A notable and influential homosexual Wiccan Author would be Scott Cunningham who wrote some of the most popular books on Wicca-Craft. His works Living Wicca and Scott Cunningham Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner are classics and still go-to’s for anyone new to Wicca. 

The first two books I read in regards to the Craft were Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe and Sons of the Goddess: A Young Man’s Guide to Wicca written by a nominee for the Lambda Literary Award for Spirituality, Christopher Penczak who found his pagan path after searching for a spirituality that honored and embraced his homosexuality.

Similar to other religious and spiritual traditions paganism varies considerably amongst different paths, sects, and belief systems.  LGBTQ+ individuals comprise a much larger percentage of the population in pagan circles than in any other religious population.

Some popular pagan traditions have beliefs in conflict with the queer community, and there are also traditions accepting of, created by, or led by queer individuals. The majority of conflicts concern heteronormativity and cisnormativity in certain traditions.

Many traditional Wiccans maintain the emphasis on male-female pairings and an acceptance of homosexuality. Often this is justified by arguing that male-female pairings are an important part of reproduction and, and as such, are of central importance to the fertility religion which traditional Wicca is, though some later forms of Wicca are not.

However many traditional Wiccans hold that they can venerate this generative aspect of heterosexuality without claiming it is the only valid form of sexual expression since no form of Wicca has ever made claims that sexuality should only be in the pursuit of reproduction, so there is no conflict between someone venerating the generative aspects of sex even if that does not directly relate to their own sexual experience. Some asexual Wiccans/pagans have issues with this sexual veneration in regards to their personal beliefs.

Margaret Adler writes in her book Drawing down the moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-worshippers, and other pagans in America, “Some will claim that modern Wiccans venerating a homophobic priest, living by his rules, and defending him dogmatically doesn’t have any effect on how they treat LGBT people. That would be the most obvious possible cause of a logical fallacy. Not to mention that Dianic Wiccans bar entrance to transwomen.”

I have found more acceptance in pagan circles as an openly gay man both from other LGBTQ+ pagans as well as their straight/cis-gendered counterparts than I ever did growing up in the Christian church. I feel that this stems from the fact that certain core tenants of belief in a lot of modern polytheistic and neopagan ideologies go against certain traditional dogma in more Abrahamic structures of faith such as Leviticus 20:13 which is used to attack LGBT+ individuals to this day because of its claim that, “If a man also lies with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: and they shall surely be put to death.”

Ann-Marie Gallagher, a professor of women’s studies and long-time author of many books related to Wicca states in her book The Wicca Bible: The Definitive Guide to Magic and the Craft, “There is no moralistic doctrine or dogma other than the advice offered in the Wiccan Rede. The only ‘law’ here is love. It matters not whether we are gay, straight, bisexual, or transgendered – the physical world is sacred, and we are celebrating our physicality, sexuality, human nature, and celebrating the Goddess, Giver of ALL life and soul of ALL nature.”

As Gallagher states, most pagans don’t have the universal doctrine that more organized religions preach. The closest thing to any doctrine that most non-pagans or those new to the Craft will see or hear in any public consciousness is the popular Wiccan Rede: “Do What Thou Wilt, But Harm None,” but even that isn’t a regulation for a witch/pagan to live their life by as opposed to the famously ancient Ten Commandments which are strict in their credo.

The Wiccan Rede isn’t a command given by a dominant, authoritative order or even a steadfast rule. It’s advice or counsel. It’s an ideal to strive for that derives from several historic precedents the oldest known asserted by St. Augustine of Hippo: “Love, and do what thou wilt.”

In Wicca, it is best known as the “Eight Words” couplet first publicly recorded in 1964 by the English witch, Doreen Valiente. Valiente was an author and poet responsible for writing much of the early religious and ritual liturgy within the Wiccan tradition. She most famously wrote the Charge of the Goddess, which says “All acts of Love and Pleasure Are My rituals”. Therefore all forms and expressions of sexuality, as long as they are otherwise healthy and consensual, are accepted.  She was trained and initiated into the tradition of Wicca by Gerald Gardner who is often credited as the “father of modern witchcraft”. 

Though most of Gardner’s ideas were derived, adapted, modified, and changed from other sources such as Freemasonry. He also took information from The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society that operated from the 19th to early 20th centuries in England, as well as the religion of Thelema which was founded by bisexual occultist Aleister Crowley whose theology and essential tenets are, “Love is the Law, Love under Will. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

Gardner got much of his inspiration for the rites and rituals for his witch-cult, which would later become the Wiccan faith from Aleister Crowley who was himself a former member of The Golden Dawn having been kicked from the order due to his open bisexuality. Crowley was one of Gardner’s colleagues. The two worked closely together, Crowley even wanted Gardner to be his successor for a time. 

Until 1951, England had laws strictly prohibiting the practice of witchcraft. When the last act was repealed, Gerald Gardner published his works on Wicca-craft and brought witchcraft back into the public eye without the threat of prosecution. Though Gerald devoted himself to promoting his newfound religion and was a pioneer in bringing paganism back into the spotlight, he was not faultless.

A product of his time, Gardner was known by others to be racist, sexist, as well as being homo/queerphobic.  Lois Bourne, another High priestess who was initiated by Gardner had this to say in her book Dancing with Witches, “Gerald was homophobic. He had a deep hatred and detestation of homosexuality, which he regarded as a disgusting perversion and a flagrant transgression of natural law…. ‘There are no homosexual witches, and it is not possible to be a homosexual and a witch’ Gerald almost shouted.”

Gerald’s research and scholarship today are considered highly questionable and he had extremely problematic stances on LGBTQ+ people, gender, women, male-female polarity, and sexuality.

The Gardnerian Book of Shadows states, “As a man loves a woman, by mastering her, so the Wicca should love the Gods, by being mastered by them… for the Gods cannot help man without the help of men.”  This means that the only type of love Gardner considered valid was based on heteronormative domination and unequal power dynamics. 

In a section titled The Priestess and the Sword he says, “A woman may impersonate either the God or the Goddess, but a man may only impersonate the God.”  In other words, if you are assigned male at birth, you cannot embody the Goddess, and any attempt to do so would be illegitimate impersonation.

 Here are some more quotes from Gardner himself from a portion titled `To Gain the Sight,  “It has been found that this practice often causes a fondness between aspirant and tutor, and ‘tis a cause of better results if this is so… And it is for this reason that a man may only be taught by a woman and a woman by a man, and that man and man, and woman and woman, should never attempt these practices together. And may all the Curses of the Mighty Ones be on any who make the attempt.”

 Gardner is saying that homosexual acts of ritual in which men initiate each other, or women initiate each other,  should be cursed by the Gods and Goddesses of Wicca-craft. This doctrine in Gardner’s work would include a huge portion of the witchcraft and Wiccan communities, such as, but not limited to:

  • The Dianic female-only tradition of Wicca known for their radical feminist leanings
  • The Feri Tradition of witchcraft
  • The Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood which descends from Gardnerian Wicca
  • Fellowship of The Phoenix, a tradition that is open to all queer/LBGTQ+ Adults
  • And those in The Radical Faeries movement

According to Gardner, everyone in these groups and more is evil because they are men initiating men and women initiating other women. Goddess forbid anyone who identifies as non-binary or gender nonconforming. 

Furthermore, the requirement of intimacy and touch built into the rituals in the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, namely the traditional 5 fold kiss, which includes the vagina. Coupled with the idea that homosexual initiations are ‘evil’, means that a cis-female, regardless of her orientation, has to be initiated by a cis-male. Gardner is clearly stating that the reason why initiations must always happen in a heterosexual context is that the rites produce “great love,” but is afraid of “great love” between same-sex partners. 

If you see issues with Gardner, but you think the core of Wicca is good, and you want to build a tradition out of it which is LGBTQ+ inclusive, I respect that. 

If you’re a Gardnerian and see how he was a problematic figure, but due to investing your whole life in Gardnerian Wicca you feel you need to change it from the inside rather than leaving it entirely, I respect that. 

If you are part of another Wiccan group, such as the Feri Tradition, that seeks to keep the ‘good’ and discard the ‘bad,’ I respect that.

 There is no way that homophobia, a heavy focus on male-female polarity, and heteronormativity did not in some form bias in the rituals and affect the way they were performed and put together.

 If you insist on believing, despite the evidence, that all Wicca is flawless and perfect and that no one made mistakes in its creation, you’re not a queer ally.

Aleister Crowley who lived during an even earlier more repressive time was openly bisexual and wrote about it at great risk. Admittedly he was a problematic figure too, but I don’t worship anyone as a hero. I look at what’s good and what’s bad, doing my best to salvage the past to build something healthier for today in the now.

 What Wiccans hold to so desperately is this idea of a whole, intact, complete witchcraft tradition, but the reality is there’s no such thing. It’s all ripped up bits & pieces, collaged together with whatever remnants were left. Accepting that is the only logical starting point, in my perspective.

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