Review: Casting a Queer Circle

Thista Minai (2017), Casting a Queer Circle: Non-Binary Witchcraft. Hubbardston, MA: Asphodel Press.

Aimed at everyone who finds that binary and heterocentric approaches to witchcraft do not fit actual lived reality, this book is an outstanding guide to crafting an inclusive, non-binary approach to ritual. It contains a complete system of magic, ritual, symbolism, festivals, and ritual roles, all designed to be inclusive, safe, creative, and genuinely transformative.

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Review of Queer Paganism by Jo Green

Queer Paganism by Jo Green

Queer Paganism by Jo Green

I found myself nodding and smiling in agreement throughout most of this book. The author’s sensible and down-to-earth approach to magic and Paganism was very much in tune with my way of thinking. They [1] also have an exceptionally clear style of writing, which makes the book a pleasure to read.

The book’s subtitle is “A spirituality that embraces all identities” and the author has done their best to include everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community and heterosexuals too. This book would definitely be of interest to queer Pagans and open-minded heterosexuals. It is not only about queer Paganism, but is about inclusive practice. It is very Wicca-flavoured though, so if Wicca isn’t your thing, you might not like it.

Exploring Queer Paganism

The first chapter explores the meanings of Queer and Paganism. It explains that Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft are distinct but overlapping. The second chapter looks at how the standard binary thinking of many Pagans (male/female, light/dark, etc) doesn’t include those of us who don’t fit neatly into a cisgender and heterosexual view of the world. Each section of the discussion unfolds clearly and neatly from the previous section of the discussion. This could be very helpful for those people who still haven’t understood why many (perhaps most) queer people have an issue with the deification of the “masculine and feminine principles”. The next chapter goes on to explore concepts of deity and energy, and how these fit together in a worldview that is not based on the idea of a “masculine principle” interacting with a “feminine principle”.

Queer Magic

The second part of the book deals with Magic, and includes an excellent chapter on how magic works (again, very similar to my own ideas on the topic). It also looks at how magic and science interact.  The section on the Hermetic principles as described in The Kybalion, which explains how they relate to a queer worldview, is outstanding. This is followed by a chapter on ethics, which was excellent on the topic of magical ethics, but would have been better if it explored the Pagan ethics of life in general.

Living as a Pagan

The third section of the book deals with Pagan life, including living as a Pagan, the importance of balance, how to choose a magical name, and relationships with deities. The chapter on the festivals was disappointing, as it was mainly about the view of the Sabbats as the unfolding story of “the Goddess and the God” which I personally find unhelpful from a queer point of view. It does cover the folk customs associated with the festivals though, so you could build out from these to develop something more inclusive. It explains how to adapt the festivals for use in the Southern Hemisphere, which is good. It also mentions that you can choose to celebrate them on the day when the appropriate seasonal vegetation comes into flower, which I liked. I would have liked to see more information on how to adapt the festivals to be more inclusive of other sexualities (but I have covered this in my book, if you’re interested).  The chapter on the esbats and the phases of the Moon was helpful, though.

Meditation and Visualisation

The fourth part of the book covers meditation and visualisation.  This includes a technique which the author says is helpful for easing body dysphoria. I have seen this meditation before (and it’s the only technique that I find actually helps me to relax) but I didn’t know it was good for dysphoria, so that’s really useful to know. The section on building an astral temple is also excellent, as it points out that an astral temple doesn’t have to be a building, and can be a grove of trees. I had always assumed that it was supposed to be a building of some kind, and had terrible difficulty building one. I do however, have a grove of trees on the astral, and a rather nice stone circle, either of which could be my astral temple. So that section cleared up a longstanding difficulty for me! The chapter on the chakras is very good (and uses the proper Sanskrit names) but draws on the Western idea of the chakras, which is somewhat different from the Buddhist view of them.

Queer Correspondences

The next section explores magical correspondences, including deities, non-binary deities, queer deities, moon phases and the menstrual cycle (but described in an inclusive [2] way), orgasm mysteries, the four elements, days of the week, colours, and magical tools. This provides the basis of a system of magic that is properly queer-inclusive. I particularly liked the section on colour symbolism. This section also explains the difference between widdershins and deosil, and why they are different in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

Queer Ritual

The section on ritual was very helpful, as it goes through how to set up the circle, cleansing the space, calling the quarters, and consecrating the tools and the participants. One caveat on this section though: the author mentions that the high priestess and high priest have absolute authority in the circle (p. 128). I wouldn’t go that far, as they do not have the right to ask you to do something that the vast majority of people would be uncomfortable with, such as French kissing, sex with other people in the circle, or anything massively humiliating. Some of the things that ritual involves may be slightly outside your comfort zone, but that’s why it is a really good idea to have a quick chat beforehand about what is going to happen in the ritual. Other than that, this section is really great and has lots of excellent ideas like having three ritual leaders, one for the God, one for the Goddess, and one for non-binary deity (the Universal, as the author refers to it).

Divination

The final section of the book deals with divination, including gematria (finding the magical number of your name), Tarot, runes, scrying, and palmistry. This section was also very good, especially the section on the magical meaning of numbers.

An excellent addition to your Queer Pagan bookshelf

All in all, a very enjoyable read. The book is well-thought-out, and it is very easy to find things again when you want to use it as a how-to guide for magical practice. There were a few typographical errors here and there, but they didn’t detract from my enjoyment or understanding of the book, and they were more than made up for by the exceptionally clear writing style. The author’s lovely drawings also grace the text, and help to explain the magical concepts being discussed.

The book is an excellent contribution to the literature on inclusive and queer Paganism and witchcraft, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in making their practice more inclusive and welcoming to LGBTQIA+ Pagans.

Where to get the book:


Notes

  1. The author’s preferred pronoun is they [Back]
  2. The male brain also has cycles governed by the hypothalamus [Back]

I was not sent this book for review. I bought it myself and reviewed it of my own free will and accord. Please do not send me books for review, as I generally dislike writing book reviews, and only reviewed this book because I thought it was important and worth drawing attention to.

 

Polarity and Diversity

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the concept, polarity is the idea that magical energy can be created by bringing together two things which are opposite in nature.

A friend of mine described polarity as the most overused word in Wicca. There are, after all, other ways of making magic. There is resonance, which is the energy created when two similar people come together. It was given the name resonance by Ed Gutierrez of the Unnamed Path. Then there is synergy, which is all the energies in the circle coming together.  I think I probably experience synergy in my magical practice more often than polarity.

Polarity is what happens when you work with a magical partner, to be sure, but often everyone in the circle works together to create energy.

In my experience, magical polarity can be created by any pair of opposites. Inner and outer, up and down, spirit and matter, lover and beloved, dark and light, masculine and feminine, camp and butch, air and earth, water and fire, and so on. And each pair of opposites is unique and cannot be mapped to other pairs of opposites.

Polarity exists on a spectrum, too. (It is not the same as duality, where two absolute qualities are seen as opposites.) A person can be more yang than another person, but can be yin in relation to a different person. People become a different polarity in relation to different people.

We need a more complex view of energy than a simple binary. As Linda Haggerstone writes:

Polarity is a natural world phenomenon, and it would take me a while to explain how I experience the world, as it relates to both my physical senses and my spiritual perceptions. Here we go: Polarity is not the same as magnetism. All aspects of the world lie on a spectrum, for which there are poles or extremes, if you like. However, as nature is circular or cyclical, so are its spectra. There is a continuum involved here as well. The Tao. The whorl or wheel of life. Slowing, speeding up, forever spinning but never yet stopping. It would be a wacky world for many humans if they did not attempt to exert control over Chaos via categorisation and ends to the spectra. I think that perhaps those who find beauty, energy, succor in the Chaos or the pan-ness of things do tend to move toward Shamanism, while those who find these in a more concrete binary world might prefer or be instinctively drawn to polarised or oppositional practices. Neither is wrong. Neither is flawed. And neither is immovable or immutable. Not sure this made sense, but there ya go. (By the way, I am not Wiccan but I am a Shaman.)

So polarity is a spectrum, and is not immutable; it can shift and change depending on your mood, on the situation, an on who or what you are interacting with. If you are heterosexual or bisexual, it is a lot easier to make polarity with somebody of the opposite biological sex. That is not to say that it’s impossible for a gay or lesbian person to make polarity with a person of the opposite sex, but it is much easier for them to make polarity with someone of the same sex. Why? Because creating polarity has many components: the erotic, romantic, respect, friendship. So it can be done without any erotic attraction, but the more of these elements are present the easier it is to make a connection.

However, Steve Dee writes,

basing polarity on erotic attraction doesn’t work so well for those of us on some part of the Asexual spectrum. Personally I find myself moved by the mystery and otherness of anyone or thing I work with (plants and animals as well). My own journey away from Wicca and towards other, Queerer forms of magical practice was in part due to my discomfort about what my perceived maleness would mean about who I was and what I would be within the circle.

So why would we restrict people to making polarity with only one of these possibilities (male body + female body) when there are so many other possibilities available, and when so many people just don’t fit into the categories provided?

What if your partner (magical and/or sexual partner) doesn’t feel like an “opposite” for you at all?  Camilla Kutzner says,

For me – femme-loving femme (and increasingly feeling “femme” as my gender identity more than “woman”) – erotic attraction is not based on gender polarity at all. It took me a while to figure out that my notion of generating power and magic works without polarity.

Clearly in this instance, some other magical connection is at work, or perhaps just the simple and beautiful polarity of lover and beloved, constantly interchangeable between the two partners.

Why would people hamstring LGBTQIA participants in ritual by preventing us from using the whole spectrum of polarities, energies, and connections available? And why privilege heterosexual polarity over all other forms of polarity? Why make magic and ritual much easier for heterosexual participants and place a barrier in the way of LGBTQIA participants?

Every time someone says that we must stand boy-girl-boy-girl in the circle, I feel that my bisexual and genderqueer identity is being erased and denied. It must feel even more erasing if you are gay or lesbian. Naomi Jacobs describes her feelings about being asked to stand boy-girl-boy-girl in a circle:

My partner is non-binary gender (that’s sometimes called ‘genderqueer’). Their pronoun is ‘they’ rather than she or he. I feel uncomfortable any time there’s a boy/girl type division in a ritual, thinking of how it would exclude their (extremely sexy!) energies and identity. As someone who is primarily attracted to women, the polarity stuff doesn’t work for me either. I wonder if there are many people it DOES work for.

No one is saying that straight people have to learn new ways of making polarity if they don’t want to, but LGBTQIA people want to be able to make polarity in all the ways available to us. And we would like for our sexuality not to confer second-class citizen status in the circle.

In many spiritual traditions, the goal is to transcend the gender binary and create a new synthesis of energies in the psyche. Kumar Devadasan writes:

The polarity issue in previous pagan and Wiccan paths [is] due to a fertility-based approach and centred around reproduction as generally seen in nature; therefore a male-female polarity. However, if one progresses, one transcends or one follows a path that leads to a transcending stage then the issue of polarity becomes irrelevant. However, I suspect that it will no longer be a magickal path as we know it if at that stage. I am not saying that there will be no magick; but that it will be knowledge and ability as we know the mundane now and so become second nature and no longer sought.

As Lynna Landstreet so brilliantly put it, for her the ultimate polarity is not male and female, but the lightning striking the primordial waters and creating life. For me personally, the ultimate polarity is spirit and matter, which is a similar idea. And the most inclusive way to express the concept of polarity is to talk about the lover and the beloved.

Marriage equality: All you need is love… or is it?

All you need is love, all together now
All you need is love, everybody
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need – The Beatles – All You Need Is Love

I am immensely heartened by the legalisation of same-sex marriage across the United States of America by the Supreme Court ruling, and by popular referendum in Ireland. Even the Pitcairn Islands have legalised it, despite not having any gay couples living there. This makes the US the 23rd country to legalise it. Given the large number of people in same-sex relationships who want to get married, it seems like a very good idea, especially when it grants access to all kinds of other benefits (the ability to visit your spouse while they are dying in hospital, the ability to be named as their spouse on a death certificate, and so on). And we should celebrate our victories along the way. However, it does not mean that the struggle for equality is over.

All of the above is why I would urge you to support the LGBTQ Bill of Rights.

Love wins

I really the enjoyed the fact that my Facebook feed was full of rainbow profile pictures, as loads of friends, both straight and LGBTQIA, rainbowed up their profile pictures. Because they were celebrating with the LGBTQIA community, and they didn’t care if anyone else thought they might be gay. Could you have imagined that, twenty years ago? Ten years ago?

Same sex marriage has been a stunning success in so many places because it is not particularly complicated, and it is easy to get behind it. BECAUSE LOVE. Everyone can get behind it, everyone can understand it. Two people in love – awww, right? Obviously it is a bit more complicated than that, because marriage is all tangled up with property and legal status and all that kind of stuff – and until relatively recently, marriage was a massively patriarchal thing designed to ensure that a father (who owned the property) could be sure that his biological offspring would inherit his property, because he knew his wife had not had sex with anyone else.

However, it was the concept of romantic love that changed heterosexual marriage for the better. Before the rediscovery of romantic love, and the invention of chivalry, women were mere chattels who could be exchanged as part of a contract. That is why so many of Molière‘s plays champion marrying for love against marrying for the furtherance of parental property deals.

Chivalry, and the accompanying tradition of courtly love, schooled the uncouth knights of Europe in the art of behaving like somebody who actually read books and knew one end of a lute from the other. Prior to this, they had been too busy indiscriminately raping, pillaging, and looting their way across Europe and the Middle East, all in the name of Christendom, in an activity usually referred to as the Crusades.

In fact, it may have been contact with the Muslim world that started the tradition of courtly love, according to Wikipedia:

The notions of “love for love’s sake” and “exaltation of the beloved lady” have been traced back to Arabic literature of the 9th and 10th centuries. The notion of the “ennobling power” of love was developed in the early 11th century by the Persian psychologist andphilosopherIbn Sina (known as “Avicenna” in Europe), in his treatise Risala fi’l-Ishq (“Treatise on Love”). 

It took a good few centuries, and the subsequent introduction of the concept of companionate marriage, followed by the impact of feminism, but eventually heterosexual marriage started to be more equal. But it was the concepts of courtly and romantic love that started the process.

"Codex Manesse Bernger von Horheim" by Meister des Codex Manesse (Grundstockmaler) - http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/cpg848/0351. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Codex_Manesse_Bernger_von_Horheim.jpg#/media/File:Codex_Manesse_Bernger_von_Horheim.jpg

Codex Manesse Bernger von Horheim” by Meister des Codex Manesse (Grundstockmaler) – Universität Heidelberg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The other day someone commented on Facebook that same-sex marriage is important because, “for some straight people, it is the only thing that makes them realise that queer people are human too”. I would argue that the concept of love (courtly and romantic) achieved the same thing for women.

Contrasted with the slow progress of equality in heterosexual marriage, the rise of same-sex marriage has been meteoric, and that in itself is quite an achievement – in England and Wales, homosexual activity between consenting adults over the age of 21 was legalised in 1967. It was not legal in Scotland until 1981, and in Northern Ireland, not until 1982. I was gobsmacked recently by an article by Colm Tóibin, in which he commented that some otherwise liberal people were unaware that same-sex relationships involve love:

I met a prominent Irish feminist, someone had been at the forefront of the women’s movement, and she too expressed surprise at the intensity of the relationship between the two men in the book. “They sound like straight people,” she said. I told her that that was because they were like straight people, that they wanted intimacy and love, they wanted each other, they wanted ease in their domestic and family lives. They also wanted their relationship to be publicly recognised. They wanted to move out of the shadows and into the light.

I am unsure of how anyone could be unaware of this, as it seems kind of obvious to me – but then I recall how, when I published a piece celebrating the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK in a magazine of which I was the editor, someone commented that “you already had one article about sex in that issue, did you really need another one?” I was appalled by the assumption that same-sex marriage is only about sex, and not about love and equal rights.

Progress is incremental

So, you think same-sex marriage is not enough? That we need polyamorous marriage, marriage that is not entangled with property rights, and an understanding that not everyone wants to get married? Well, yes, but let’s celebrate this milestone on the road to equality, because it’s all about love, and that is worth celebrating. Recently, it was the anniversary of Loving vs Virginia (1967), the Supreme Court case in which laws against people of different colours marrying were struck down. Someday, the idea that two people of the same sex were not allowed to marry will seem as bizarre as the idea that two people of different colours couldn’t marry. It was particularly apt that the couple bringing the case were called Mr and Mrs Loving.

Today we celebrate, tomorrow the struggle goes on.

A Queer Pagan Reading List

Here are a bunch of books for the LGBTQ Pagan reader. I have either read these and can recommend them, or I have read another book by the same author, and can therefore recommend the ones on this list.

Collection of some Contemporary Pagan & Male Nude Sculptures created by Malcolm Lidbury

Collection of some Contemporary Pagan & Male Nude Sculptures created by Malcolm Lidbury (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Gay

Inclusive

Kink

Lesbian

LGBT

Polyamory

Queer

Transgender

Other people’s lists of recommended books

Online resources

Review: All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A Transmythology

“Then allow me to enter the grove:
I am the child of Panpsyche
and the offspring of Panhyle—
I am favored with a noble and extensive lineage;
I am desired of all and a joy to each;
I am the culmination of all love…
I am Paneros.
I am the love that conquers everything.
And I will enter this grove
for I already live there.

All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A Transmythology, p. 117


I’ll be up front and say that this book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If it’s yours, though, you’ll probably want to drink the whole pot.

A Transmythology is an original epic poem by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus. Its narrative involves the conception, birth, and awakening to self of a group of four transgender and/or fluidly-gendered deities called the Tetrad. Their names—Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, and Pancrates—translate literally to the English words of the title (All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power).

I have to admit that when I realized the book was an epic poem, I was skeptical, and not from lack of experience with the genre. My PhD specialization was in religion and literature, and I’ve read Homer, Chaucer, Dante, Milton and others with varying levels of engagement and enjoyment. In popular culture, epic poetry is often seen as so formal as to be inaccessible (and dry translations make it more so). This was often not the case with their original audiences, however. I remember what a revelation it was to hear Stanley Lombardo perform parts of his translation of the Odyssey. His interpretation aimed to help us hear the text as the Greeks would have heard it: and the Odyssey, my friends, is rough and raunchy, full of derring-do and heroism. The stiff nineteenth-century British translations that are often stuffed down our throats in school don’t capture its spirit.

Reading A Transmythology, you can tell PSVL has done eir homework. The poem is stately and gritty, erotic and erudite, and full of references to ancient and medieval myth and poetry—more, I’m sure, than I noticed myself. (The passage I quote above, I believe, is an allusion to a tale of the Irish hero or deity Lugh, who is admitted to the castle of the king because although the castle already hosts a master of each art, no one but Lugh is the master of them all.) The poem is also Not Safe For Work—so, dear reader, you have been warned. 🙂

Most obviously, A Transmythology contributes to the project of developing specifically transgender and queer Pagan traditions. The story itself explores some of the pain as well of the joy of being unconventionally gendered, and how the new gods come to terms with their natures is a significant part of the storyline. There is material here that can be used for healing as well as for empowerment, not just about what it means to be transgender or genderqueer, but also with regard to nontraditional families. PSVL makes it clear that e is doing ongoing devotion to these deities, and e invites the interested reader to do so as well.

The book also brings the reader face to face with the real mechanisms of religious innovation. As Pagans, I suspect we are all at least dimly aware that the roots of myth and ritual are in the spiritual experiences of individuals. Somewhere in the distant past, there was always a first time the story of a god was told, a vision or moment of inspiration or even just an imaginative framing of an important truth. Our gods come to us sometimes as revelation, sometimes as literary creation, sometimes as a tangle of both. In some strands of Paganism, in fact, artistic inspiration and divine creation are considered to be expressions of the same underlying life force–so the issue of whether there is a difference between “discovering” and “creating” a god becomes a complex theological question.

Lupus describes a uncomfortable process of bodily pain, uncanny dreams, and consultations with oracles ending in a burst of artistic production that became A Transmythology. Eir account is refreshingly lacking in attempts to legitimize eir work with shaky connections to historical traditions. And while it is possible to read eir account as claiming authority through this ordeal, I read it as a straightforward description of what being a devotional artist can look like—it may be harrowing, and it may sometimes look like madness, but if the process is successful, the results can be an inspiration to others.

PSVL’s work embraces process theology, a system of thought that sees the world and divinity as ever-changing, with human beings as a fully integrated part of the process. Eir fundamental vision is of new gods emerging from the old, yet not usurping them—these new and old gods are bound together by family ties. I hope that A Transmythology similarly inspires others to ground their writing in existing myth and literature, while also seeking new approaches to the questions of our time.