Recently, while at a book signing in the Castro, one of the popular gay districts in San Francisco, a wonderful older gay gentleman, brand new to witchcraft and very excited abut starting this journey, asked me, “What’s the difference between Gay Witchcraft and Straight Witchcraft?” I had to think for a moment and honestly answer, “not much,” because at its heart, I see witchcraft as an inclusive, multicultural, pansexual tradition. Even if it wasn’t called on witchcraft in certain times or places, wherever there were people looking to divinity as both feminine and masculine, Goddess and God, wherever people venerated nature, turned the wheel of the seasons, worked with unseen spiritual allies, performed healing and performed magick, witchcraft existed in some form. I see my witch ancestors in the traditional hedge witches of Europe, the classic archetype of the cunning woman or man, but also in the priest/tesses of Egypt, Greece and Rome. I see the Druid and the stone age shaman and I see my people. “Oh,” he replied. “So why did you write a book about it?” He asked me a very powerful question.
I wrote Gay Witchcraft because I felt there was a voice missing in modern popular witchcraft lore. Though at heart all witchcraft is practicing the same principles, making connections to the same fundamental forces, there are different mysteries. Gay Witchcraft is not a formal tradition, like the Gardnerian or Alexandrian tradition, though there are some modern initiatory traditions that are exclusively homosexual, such as the Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood, founded by the late Ed Buczynski, or the less formal Radical Faeries. Gay Witchcraft is an eclectic mix of modern lore, mythology and history, presented through the worldview of a practicing gay pagan. Contained in it is information I wish I had compiled in one place when I began the path. Its purpose is twofold. First, its designed to introduce Wicca, witchcraft and paganism to the general GLBT community, to present a potentially uplifting spiritual path to those called to it, as an alternative from thinking that there is no spiritual path that would embrace them as sexual beings. Second, to give voice to an aspect of pagan history, ancient and modern, to the general pagan community. I know I wouldn’t know many parts of our history if I didn’t actively seek out the information, since few mainstream published craft books contained information on homosexual or transgendered aspects of deities or ancient traditions.
Witchcraft is a mystery tradition that many homosexuals have found a voice in, though that voice hasn’t been heard much in the modern mainstream pagan community. I came from a Roman Catholic background, and deeply religious, yet skeptical of Christian mysteries because my Church did not encourage questioning or create many settings for direct experience of the divine, as well as being hurt because I felt rejected by the Church as a gay man. I felt I didn’t have a voice in my own religions, so I left it and began a search that included a wide variety of paths.
When I came to witchcraft, I was intrigued, yet still distrustful. I was blessed by the gods to find a tradition that was somewhat scientifically based, encouraging questions and combining modern scientific thought with traditional magickal philosophy. I wasn’t specifically looking to reconcile my sexual orientation with any spiritual system. At most, I was hoping for a tradition that just didn’t care either way. My teacher would drop these tantalizing hints, stories of openly gay high priests in her tradition, doing a love spell for a boyfriend, or her lesbian priestess friend who were just handfasted. She would mention, just in passing, the ancient pagan orders that we would now term lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual, who worshiped and served the gods in their own way, and how they were honored in their society for their unique and valuable contribution. And that was it. At the time, I was still in the closet, so I didn’t have the opportunity to ask more, but I felt very safe and welcome and it was my study of witchcraft, and the self development the training grants, that gave me the courage to come out of the closet soon afterwards.
Through my own research, and speaking with other Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transexual witches, I gathered together modern and ancient lore concerning pagan homosexuals. Our exchanges included much of the two spirit concepts found in Native American traditions. We shared rituals, spells and ideas that aided our own personal practice. I found a partner who identified as pagan and was a student of ceremonial magick, so we explored the path of the queer mystic together.
Gay and witches have much in common. Like the enchanted beings of the otherworld, both live on the liminal edges, between the worlds. Most move in worlds that others in the traditional worlds don’t understand or realize. Though both witches and gays fight for civil rights and often portray themselves being “just like everybody else” in many ways they are not and never will be. There is something fundamentally different, be it from the combination of blood, psyche or soul and one really doesn’t choose these paths as much as one accepts. Though we are different, this difference doesn’t need to be the basis of any persecution. One of the mantras of popular gay culture is “celebrate diversity” with the very magickal rainbow motif adorning flags and bumper stickers. Even with all the progress that has been made in the last decade, many witches and gays remain in the closet, hiding an aspect of their life because of fear, or simply because they prefer to remain private.
This life beyond the normal confines of society grants them both a unique perspective. Like the shaman living on the edge of the village, or the hedge witch near the forest line, those on the edge of society can have a sharper view of it. This potential detachment is one of the reasons the edge walking healer, straight and gay, was sought to help solve life’s problems. The witch archetype is associated with healing and creative arts, including herb craft, smithing and ritual drama. Many are associated with service, of aiding the community with their talents. The stereotypical male homosexual professions are in the arts and services industries, with painter, poet, dancer, musician decorator and nurse being at the top of the list. Less known lesbian professional stereotypes include mechanic, builder, landscaper, teacher and nurse. All are on the edge of society, aiding, creating and commenting in an effort to help the individual and the society grow. Some believe the ancient gay priestess and priests are reincarnating, remembering their lives of magick and seeking out the closest approximation in this modern culture.
It wasn’t until much later on in my pagan socialization, as I delved into other pagan traditions, did I find a hard core traditionalist view that didn’t make me feel welcome in the world of witchcraft. As a fertility religion, they saw the practice as strictly a tradition of male and female heterosexual energies coming together, as the Great Rite, in token through the blade and chalice, or through the physical union of the High Priestess and High Priest. They looked at energy being moved solely through the polarity generated by physical gender, and felt that group work must be done through alternating male and female witches in the circle. It was only then I found out that some witches felt homosexuals were cursed by the Goddess.
Though I can respect some of those views and teachings, they were contrary to my experience and teachings as being the sole way to make magick, or the sole definition of fertility. Most of the circles I attended were predominantly female. We didn’t have enough men, gay or straight, to alternate genders in the circle equally. No woman was asked to take on a “male” role, and our magick worked perfectly fine. Fertility comes in many forms, and through the union of these energies within you. You can be fertile in your creativity or your material wealth. Not all Wiccan ritual resulted in the conception of a child, or the raising of the harvest.
I was taught how to adapt group work in a solitary tradition, and was encouraged to perform the Great Rite alone. I was taught that we each have the Goddess and God polarity within us and can access it at anytime. When I hold the cup in one hand, I am identifying with the Goddess and feel her power in me. While I hold the blade in the other, I am one with the God, and feel his power in me. I can simultaneously hold both forces and bring them together in the Great Rite and in me. The identification and harmony of both forces in my own energy was a fundamental part of my awakening as a witch. I later learned that one theory that gay people were drawn to the magickal and psychic arts, was because they had a unique balance and comfort with both currents of energy. Ideally the bisexual was even more adept at working with these forces.
Though gay and straight witchcraft are not mutually exclusive, and contain the same fundamental truths, the ancient world knew the value of taking time to explore the mysteries with others of a similar nature. Then, when you returned to the larger community, you had a great self knowledge, and your role in the universe. Women gathered together to explore the mysteries only a woman could know. They were no appropriate for men. Today we have Dianic covens and women’s circles in a variety of traditions. Men have a resurgence of their own groups, seeking to reclaim the primal mysteries of manhood and their role in an ever evolving society. We also have the less talked abut Gay Mysteries, or Queer Mysteries. There are some forces that can be best explored by a group of gay men, as there are mysteries of lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals. I have attended a pagan gay men’s retreat, in Ohio called Between the Worlds, and its rituals and mysteries made it one of the most healing and transformative gatherings I have ever attending. These explorations are needed by each of these groups, men and women, straight and gay, and although they all fundamentally connect us with divinity, their energies and rituals get us to divinity in different ways, helping us understand who and what we are in this incarnation, echoing the traditions of our ancestors. It’s only with all the threads, like multicolored threads of a gay pride flag, can we weave the world tapestry and remake our tradition, and our society, for the coming age.