Adapted from Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe (Weiser 2003).
Gays and lesbians often feel outside of the traditional community for many reasons, ranging from bigotry to misunderstanding. Traditional society does not value our changes in life or recognize our relationships. Our passage into adulthood is different, and often more traumatic, from straight people. Our marriages are not legally acknowledged. Without complex legal agreements, our rights as spouses are challenged. People in the traditional world get to take place in a wide range of society’s rituals and rites of passage that gay people often do not.
Pagan communities, like gay communities, also fall outside of the range of traditional society. Pagans often acknowledge the GLBT community more than other spiritual traditions. Both communities share a similar history, and similar misunderstandings from the mainstream world. Both communities share the theme of Pride Day festivities. Many gay people are naturally attracted to paganism and Wicca as spiritual traditions. Through the rituals of modern pagans, queer people can find rituals of recognition and empowerment.
Coming Out: The Ritual of Rebirth
We are sorely missing the ritual of becoming an adult in our modern world. We grant adult rights at a certain age, but there is no real ritual to celebrate and recognize it, other than drinking, driving, or voting. No process leads up to it. All rites of passages are initiations of a sort, processes that change us. In times past, sometimes an initiate received a physical mark to signify the change, such as a piercing, to represent a deeper, internal change of worldview.
For women, the passage into adulthood comes physically, with the onset of menstruation. Though something to be celebrated, many girls enter this process with fear because they were not prepared for it. Menstruation signals the transformation into womanhood, but today the role of women can seem very confused. Although we are opening to an age of opportunities for women, the experience is still markedly different from the ancient Goddess cultures. Then, there was no doubt. Woman was life. Woman was wisdom and healing. Woman was the embodiment of the Goddess.
For men, the process is now even more nebulous. Boys have no first hunt, no vision quest, and no initiations into the secrets of being a man. We have great expectations and place responsibilities as to what it “means to be a man” but give no instruction, counsel, or wisdom.
For gay people, one of the most important coming-of-age rites is the process of coming out. Coming out is a combined spiritual initiation and coming- of-age ceremony, truly coming into adulthood, although it is not as respected or welcomed as a formal ceremony. Coming out is an initiation, a potentially traumatic situation that tests your resources. It tests your inner spiritual and emotional resources, your courage, and your relationships Afterward, you will never see life the same way. Like any initiation, you step through a door, and once you walk into the new world, you can never really go back to the old one with the same comfort. You can try, but you will fail. You have changed too much. Through the process, you come into your own truth, a very adult truth, and hopefully become the man or woman you wish to be, one who can be happy and well adjusted, living in the truth.
Although the coming-out process may become less difficult as we see a decrease of homophobia, the process itself is still initiatory. No matter how loving and supportive a family or society feels, it is extremely difficult to come to the internal realization, and then admission, that you are different from the majority of your peers. This occurs in the initiation of the shaman. The tribal healer would often experience something, such as a vision or fevered illness inducing vision. This experience would threaten to kill or drive the potential shaman mad. Not only must he or she seek out the truth and overcome the potential for disaster internally, the healer must heal and then return and offer the truth to the tribe.
The wise ones often lived on the outskirts of the village—in the world, but not of it, always slightly separated from the rest. The witches of Europe would gather together with their own kind for the major holidays, and form tight-knit groups, extended families of witches that have become known as covens. To me, it sounds strikingly similar to tight-knit gay communities, forming their own extended families outside conventional society, where comfort and then empowerment can be generated, by finding others who share your difference.
Gay practitioners of the art of magick, and witchcraft in particular, feel they have already had an initiation prior to their involvement in magick. Coming out was the experience that changed their worldview long before they understood spells and rituals. The study of magick simply added to it or acted as a secondary initiation, no less powerful, but still striking a similar chord. When hearing about the witches and shamans, and in fact, all mystics called to the path of initiation, they feel a certain kinship. I came to Wicca before I came out, so for me personally, the experience was a bit reversed. Both were initiations, filled with fear and doubt, but once they were completed, each in their own way helped me shed an old identity that no longer served, like the snake shedding its skin, and become a new person. Each process helped me get to the center of who I am and what is right for me.
I came to terms with my homosexuality, at least internally, at the end of high school. On my eighteenth birthday, I marked the time by piercing my ear. Although I didn’t tell anyone at the time, it symbolized that from this point forward, I could do what I wanted, and be who I wanted to be. I graduated from an all-boys Catholic school that had a dress code. I immediately wanted to do something to break myself from that, so the piercing, along with growing out my hair, helped me redefine my self-image in college. Later, through my mystical studies, I learned that piercing was often part of a coming-of-age ritual in tribal societies.
Tribalism in general has become a strong influence in contemporary society. Starting in fashion trends, tattoos, and body piercing, I hope some of the more spiritual and societal aspects of tribalism enter our consciousness. As we swing into the modern world, with our cities and technology, it’s ironic that we’re creating a kind of urban tribalism and urban shamanism to assist us in these challenging times.
My friend Jessica has taught me a great deal about merging magick and body modification as parts of rites of passage. She pierced her tongue to remind her to think before she speaks, since in the past she has tended to do the opposite. She has had many of her animal totems tattooed on her to remind herself of the lessons she has learned, and the medicine she carries in this world. To her, they are not just trendy fashion statements, but magical rituals. As I write this, I’ve experienced a year of lessons in regarding the body and physical health. I am contemplating piercing my navel to remind me of my relationship with food and exercise!
You may want to make body modification a part of your ritual celebration of coming out. It can signify acceptance of queerness, acceptance of being outside the mainstream, or empowerment of finding your true self. Although tattoos and piercings are permanent modifications, you can use less permanent modifications. Temporary henna tattoos, face painting, and other forms of temporary body art are wonderful tools to make this ritual special for you.
Although coming out is not often celebrated by family and friends, it should be. No traditions that I know of have formal rites for coming out. I suggest using this simple ritual to inspire your own. Even if you came out years ago, the ritual acknowledgment and celebration of your own gayness can be a very powerful experience. It brings your sexuality into the sacred when so many others would leave it in the realm of taboo. In many ways, coming-out rituals are like traditional baptisms or welcoming ceremonies. They welcome you into your new life and new community. It doesn’t mean you necessarily leave the old. You simply gain a new sense of belonging from this baptism. Coming out is a rebirth.
If you can gather your friends and “family” with you, or even have them participate in the ritual, so much the better. Or you can do it alone, reminiscent of the lone shaman’s initiation. The choice is up to you.
• You’ll need a mirror that you have consecrated for this ritual.
• Prepare for the ritual celebration by cleansing yourself on all levels. Start with a magical bath or shower. Honor and accept your body. Let all stress and tension wash away. If possible, do some simple breathing exercises and meditation before you do the ritual, either prior to gathering with others, or doing it on your own.
• If you desire and know how, cast the circle and call the quarters in the traditional way.
• Invite any particular gods, goddesses, spirit guides, and power animals into the circle.
• Light any incense or candles you have. Use protection potion or anointing oil.
• If you have something that symbolizes your time in the closet—an article of clothing, jewelry, book, magazine, or even an old nickname written on a piece of paper, hold it up. Think about what this symbolizes, and what you are leaving behind. Once you walk out, there really is no going back. You can ritually offer up the item. If it is something small and flammable, you can burn it. Or you can simply cast it on the floor now, and bury it after the ritual. If you don’t have a physical symbol, simply visualize a “shedding of your skin,” of your past identity and self-image, to enter a new freedom to redefine yourself in any way you choose.
• Hold up your ritual mirror, or have a friend or family member hold it up to you. Gaze deeply into the mirror. Gaze into your eyes. Look at who you are and love yourself wholly and unconditionally. While looking in the mirror, say this or something similar:
I thank the Goddess and God for my unique blessings. I thank them for all the gifts and talents they have bestowed upon me. I accept my magical heritage fully and completely. I accept myself as a [use whatever word you may identify with—gay man, lesbian, bisexual, or perhaps gayness or queerness; use whatever you like]. I love myself unconditionally. Blessed Be.
• If gathered with others, pass a pink, purple, or rainbow candle around the circle. Let each person say a blessing, words of encouragement, or anything else that spirit moves him or her to say while holding the candle. If you are alone, say a word of encouragement and blessing to yourself. When you start to pass it around, light it. Let its magical light shine on you.
• Complete the circle, thanking all present, release the quarters, and release the circle.
Gay people are not the only ones who need rites of passage and empowerment rituals. Coming Out rituals mark a time of claiming personal identity and freedom that few straight people recognize either. Mainstream society only seems to acknowledge it with legal drinking and voting ages, but coming to your adult power is much greater than having a drink, and more encompassing than political or economic power. It’s about claiming spiritual power. And gay adults have the added dimension of coming to terms with sexual identity and the possible bigotry one will face. Rituals are a way to both empower and prepare for this great shift in power and perception. What is magick, if not a shift in perception and the flow of energy, of power? Use this magical ritual, and other gay themed rituals found in Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe to explore your spirituality and your sexuality identity.