Tag Archives: queer witchcraft

Ancestors for the Alienated

On the subject of ancestor worship, I find myself deeply conflicted.

Its provenance, of course, is undeniable: it is attested across the whole of the world and the whole of human history, from some of the oldest archeological sites to cultures across the world today.  There are those who see its traces in the roots of all religion, though that is always a bold and, from a scholastic standpoint, unprovable claim.  Its efficacy, also,  as both magic and religion, is well attested in both ancient and modern times.  As Gordon White has said, and others have said before him, who among the Otherworld could care as much or as well for human affairs as those who have, themselves, been mortals?

And yet … I find the notion of ancestry … troubling.

To lay the facts bare: I am a witch from a family of Christians.  I am queer from a family most of which I never felt safe coming out to.  I was assigned male at birth and, for all that I am both more and less and other than that, look the part enough that I am generally ascribed the privileges associated with it, and know first hand exactly what sort of monster men are trained to be.  I am white in a world where white supremacy has brought low every people and nation it has come across, all in the name of profit and purity.  I am not proud of the people I come from, nor should I be.

The one attempt I made at “ancestor work” (for lack of a better word) was a visionary journey undertaken at Heartland Pagan Festival 2009, my first with Aradia.  I was only at the beginning of my visionary studies, then, but visions of that strength have remained few and far between.  The drumming began, and I entered the trance.  When the time came to leave my body, though, things went awry: a column descended from the sky, squares and circles and triangles and other shapes stacked one atop the other, all scribed in bright blue light, poured down and pinned me where I was.  The message, I feel as strongly now as I did then, was clear.  “You are not wanted,” it said.  “Do not call upon us.”

And yet … one without a past has no future.  And witches and queers alike have always sought strength in both the facts of history and the mythic past.

Who are the Mighty Dead that I call upon come Samhain?  Who are the ancestors of the alienated?  Several names come readily to mind.  Doreen Valiente.  Gerald Gardner.  Margaret Murray.  Pamela Coleman Smith.  Aleister Crowley.  Frieda Harris.  Frida Kahlo.  Margot Adler.  None of them perfect people, of course.  But … I wonder.  Would they answer if we called?  We, their spiritual heirs, those who draw strength and inspiration from their life’s works?

I could have the answer to that.  I have tools for divination.  And yet …

Frankly, I fear the answer.  I am, as I said, deeply uncomfortable even with the notion of ancestry and, by extension, ancestor worship.  And then there’s the part where necromancy has a certain (perhaps undeserved) reputation, which was ingrained in me deeply early on.  And, were I to ask, and be told “yes, you may call upon us” … then I would be rather obliged to follow through.

And then there are the basic logistical questions: what do the rituals look like?  Having been raised in the heart and soul of White America, a land where Protestant Christianity has done its best to scrape all the ritual and ecstasy and tradition from even its own religion, I have no native rites to turn to for inspiration.  Nor do I wish to engage in any appropriation of others’ cultures: I am seeking to undermine my ancestors genocidal legacy, not participate in it.  Perhaps the dead, themselves, might instruct me.  That would be the best option, but it still leaves me floundering for a place to begin.

Who are the ancestors of the alienated?  What are their rites?

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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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Producing a Lexicon of Queer Witchcraft

This post was originally written several years ago, while I was still in the Sunrise Temple.  For some reason I can’t recall – possibly because it didn’t tie in neatly with the Ceremonial Experiment – I decided to post it exclusively to my Tumblr.  I repost it here, now, because I was looking to link to it as I was drafting my response to the Ruth Barrett issue and was irate that I couldn’t find it.  It was, probably, my most popular Tumblr post, and I think that the discussion is still relevant, and I am still struggling to think clearly in the wake of post-festival and post-tragedy collapse.  The below post has been slightly edited for spelling and grammar.

This is a thing that has been on my mind for a while, and I’m going to float it here before I begin drafting a larger post for the main blog.

I know for a fact that I am not the only genderqueer witch who doesn’t fit comfortably under the trans umbrella.  I strongly suspect that many like me share my struggle to find language to describe their experiences.  The one word I know that comes close to describing the way in which my spirituality and gender identity intermix–Two-spirit–is not mine to use.  Being a Classicist, though, I have access to two whole lexicons from which to less problematically adopt words:  Attic Greek and Classical Latin.

Let me, therefore, propose a word for those of us whose spiritual genders embrace a combination of masculinity and femininity: digenes, from διγενής.  Literally, it renders as “two kind”, but is more commonly taken to mean “of dual or ambiguous nature”.  For those who wish to explicitly embrace a broader spectrum, the neologism polygenes (πολυγενής) can be coined: many-natured.  If you don’t like genes, phusis can be used: diphues (διφυής) or polyphues (πολυφυής): literally two- or many- natured.  Digenes is historically testified to describe Dionysus (citation pending), and diphues to describe Eros in the Orphic Hymn.

So: the proposal:

digenes, diphues, polygenes, and polyphues

Attic/Koine Greek borrow-words and neologisms to describe the experience of genderqueer spirituality for those of us whose traditions do not come equipped with such words.

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