Tag Archives: political paganism

In Pursuit of a Queerer Witchcraft

For those who haven’t caught on yet: I’m fucking queer.  This shapes my experience of magic every bit as much as it does my interaction with the rest of the world.  Sometimes positively.  Sometimes negatively.

I live in Kansas City, where the Pagan community is “cool” with people like me  …  just as long as we never complicate their gender binary, or challenge the gender dynamics of their power structures.  Sunrise, Indiana, was worse: excepting Sannafrid, they had that awful Viking vibe of aggressive heteronormativity.  Lawrence, Kansas, where I come from originally … well, honestly, it’s hard to say.   I was pretty closeted and ignorant back then, and the world ten and twenty years ago was a very different place.  Although I have known a variety of other LGBT witches, pagans, and sorcerers in my time, barely a handful  of them have been politically queer, and most of those from the …well, to be blunt, from the anti-radical cis gay political end of things.

Literature has largely failed me, as well.  The things I have found in print largely pigeonhole Pagan queers: speaking exclusively to cisgender gays and lesbians, and framing them guides and teachers for the pagan community at large, a teaching tool for others but of no value to or in themselves.  They also tend to be very appropriative, stealing language from First Nations peoples, and poorly researched in terms of the ancient peoples they point to for comfort and inspiration.  There are some explicitly radical and trans-positive Pagan ebooks available in the world (interestingly: almost all anthologies) but I find it increasingly difficult to read from a screen, and strive to spend most of my digital time producing content rather than consuming it.

I know  that there are,  in the world, traditions of witchcraft more friendly to queer ethics and politics than any I have seen in person or in print.  I hope, someday, to find a teacher.  A coven.  A community.

In the meantime, however, I must write the book I want to read.  I must create the community I wish to find.

What does it mean, to me, to be a witch?  What does it mean, to me, to be queer?  What does it mean, to me, to be a queer witch?  I have been asking these questions for fifteen and twenty years.  So far my answers are still ephemeral, less than satisfactory.

Witchcraft is both a being and a doing: to be a witch is to practice witchcraft.  Not all forms of magic are witchcraft, though, and sometimes it’s hard to say what is and what isn’t.  Often, it’s a sort of “I know it when I see it” sort of thing.  But what I can say is this: it is transgressive.  It is an explicit rejection of one’s assigned place in the world, particularly with regard to sanctity and blasphemy, but also with regard to class and caste.  It is movement outside the boundaries.  It is reaching too high, and stooping too low.  It is addressing gods as equals and cavorting with forbidden powers.

To be queer is likewise to transgress the boundaries assigned by society.  To be queer is to reject traditional limits of masculinity and femininity.  To be queer is to engage in forbidden loves and lusts.  It is to take your identity into your own hands – and, by doing so, often putting your life at risk, as well.

To be a queer witch, then, is doubly transgressive, doubly marginal.  It leaves practically no area of my life safe from public condemnation.  I cannot be a model minority.  Even if I were to otherwise submit utterly, the very fact that I exist is a challenge to the system.

I am Outside.  I am Other, even among Others. Everywhere I go, I find … “No, not this, either.”

And yet … what I am not is an unsatisfactory exploration of what I am.

I must clear new paths, pave new roads, perform new rites, write new books, dedicate new temples.

But it’s so, so hard to travel alone.

I am one mad, damaged queer.  My vision is insufficient to tear down the edifices of the Patriarchy.  These two hands are not enough to destroy the gender binary.  Alone, even with my friends and lovers, I cannot find or create new gods adequate to the new age which we must build together.

Our predecessors walked away from the One God.  They found a new Goddess and her Consort.  They found that the Old Gods had never truly left.  But our peers are too complacent, looking too much to the past and the present.  We must look to the future.  We must be transgressors and innovators.  We must complicate witchcraft.  We must queer it.

So I beg you: come forth, and follow with me. Lead me, if you will.  Let us make witchcraft a wilder, stranger place than it has ever dreamed.

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Apolitical Paganism Must End

At its inception in the first half of the 20th Century, modern neo-Pagan witchcraft was inherently political.  It was a new religion for a new age.  Disdaining the One God for a Goddess and her consort.  Challenging mainstream religion with (then new, albeit now discredited) interpretations of historical fact.  Giving religious authority to individual worshipers and, more frighting, to women.

In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, Pagans of all stripes were closely allied with the environmental and animal rights movements.  Witchcraft traditions, in particular, were almost synonymous with feminism.  The Feri and Reclaiming traditions, just to name two, were political protest organizations as much as religious ones.

When I joined the movement in the mid 1990s that was still the case.  The Satanic Panic was “officially” over, but the echoes had not yet died down.  We were fighting for the right to serve openly in the military.  Every Pagan web page on the internet had a link to, or the full text of, Isaac Bonewits cult identification rubric, and/or a disclaimer addressing law enforcement, assuring them that we did not believe in Satan, curse anyone, or perform human or animal sacrifices.  A presidential hopeful (who went on to win) scored points with his base by condemning us as “not a real religion”.  There were an increasing number of people who resisted calling any of that “political”, but that didn’t change the reality that it was.

In the 1990s and 2000s, though, an underlying current of assimilationism made its way to the forefront.  I don’t know, exactly, what happened.  Perhaps, like we’ve seen in the Gay Rights movement over the last few years, those with the least to lose decided that they had won enough recognition that they are prepared to throw everyone else under the bus in order to keep it.  My own belief is that, in the wake of, first, the Satanic Panic, then the 9/11 attacks, fear and nationalism took over: “we’re just like everyone else” stopped being a strategically deployed shield, and became a goal.

People stopped looking quite so askance at Neo-Nazi Norse Pagans, and that – combined with the spikes in racism and sexism in mainstream society – backflowed into the Pagan mainstream like an overflowing sewer, reinforcing the underlying racism and swank pedestal sexism that had always been a part of the movement.  Explicitly nationalist (and often implicitly heterosexist white supremacist) reconstructionist Paganisms emerged in both Europe and the United States.

Now event organizers pride themselves on their political neutrality.  When Pagans discuss what they need to to to achieve greater “mainstream acceptance”, more than half will tell you that Paganism needs to keep out of politics.  When trans folx demand to be included in gendered rites, half the opposition is from pole who don’t want their religion politicized.  When others among us demand un-gendered spaces, or try to complicate gendered archetypes, we are accused of “overthinking things” or dismissed as having “an agenda”. When some of us point out that Native Americans have asked not to be counted among our number, have asked us to stop stealing their language, to stop aping their their rituals, to stop copying and selling their tools, we are accused of being too political.  When some of us speak up against police brutality, against war, against rape culture, we are shouted down as being too negative, too divisive, too political.

That doesn’t work.  Literally everything is political.

For Paganism to stay out of politics, it must become empty and meaningless.  And, even then, it’s still political: it’s become a product to be sold, a lifestyle to be aspired to, an aesthetic without ethics or ecstasy.

Politics is ethics in practice.  If our religion does not inform our ethics (and vice versa, for that matter), then it is nothing.

Paganism must be political.  Pagans must take public stances, as Pagans, on the issues of our day.  We must agitate.  We must argue.  We must take action.

 

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