Until the spiritual nature of queer people is understood, religious persecution of us will not end.
The world will not do this work for us, we find this understanding inside ourselves.
Only we can define our own queer spirit.
The journey of LGBTQ+ Liberation over five decades is taking place in a world that is struggling to emerge from the sex-phobic legacy of monotheism.
The roots of homo and transphobia are generally traced to the rise of patriarchal cultures but also deeply lie in the efforts of the Abrahamic faiths to distinguish themselves from the very sexual, queer and ecstatic religions of the ancient world. Which is why queer sexuality is still such an issue for religion today.
The most popular deities of ancient Europe and Middle East
– Dionysis, Attis and Cybele, Ishtar/Ashtoreth, Aphrodite, Apollo, Zeus, Isis, Diana, Pan –
were very sexual and very queer.
Long after Christianity was established as an official religion, the people in the countryside continued to honour their beloved nature gods. Cross-dressing continued to be a popular part of communal celebrations, as people remembered the old magical ways of ecstatic celebration of the Great Mother.
The oldest priesthood on the planet were the Gala servants of Inanna in Mesopotamia whose pictorial name was a combination of the symbols for penis + anus.
The flamboyant, genderqueer Gallae priest/esses of Cybele, originally from Anatolia, Turkey, (and so ancient she was considered to be the Mother of Zeus), followed the Roman army spreading their popular, ecstatic Goddess worship all around the Mediterranean and as far as Britain, once Cybele became the official religion, the Great Mother, of Rome around 200 BC.
Once Christianity supplanted the Great Mother worship as the religion of Rome, the Church grew in confidence. The first rules laid down by the Church against sodomy, from the 4th century on, were aimed at the priesthood, but - perhaps because of the prevalence of homosexual practices in the anti-Church heretical cults of the Middle Ages - from the 12th century this was increasingly broadened to include the general population. The Inquisition executed over 1000 men for sodomy.
In England the persecution did not kick off at this time - in fact we had several gay kings in the late Middle Ages and when a Church council in 1102 wanted a proclamation against sodomy declared loudly from every pulpit every Sunday, the archbishop of Canterbury Anselm blocked its publication, stating that sodomy was widespread, few men were embarrassed by it or considered it an issue.
Throughout the centuries gay men and lesbians have always been drawn to serve in the church
medieval monasteries and convents saw a flowering of spiritual same-sex love, peaking in the 11th century
but by the 16th century monasticism were seen as hotbeds of buggery and sexual abuse.
Henry VIII brought in the Buggery Act in 1533 to attack the Catholic Church
- the word bugger came from the Bogomil heresy,
which spread widely from origin in Bulgaria in 10th century, survived until 15th:
The Bogomils rejected church authority, didn't use the cross symbol,
considered the body to be the temple of the spirit
and didn't judge or condemn sexual expression
as did many, many other 'heretical' Christian groups over the centuries
The thing is,
The men who set up the christian church were themselves gay
for gay men had long led religious life, along with trans people and women, since millennia...
which is why celibacy became the expectation for catholic priests -
holy servants did not mess with the 'opposite sex'.
The Christian Fathers knew their spiritual power came from their orientation but in increasingly patriarchal, militaristic, homophobic culture they knew they had to hide this which is why the Vatican is the biggest closet to this day.
St Paul ranting about the long-haired, effeminate, loud Gallae priests of Cybele
is not so different the 20th century divide that emerged in gay culture between
those who wish to assimilate in the heteronormative world
and those who seek to release the unique essence of our inner, queer spirit
Henry VIII also brought in the first Witchcraft Act and three dark centuries of persecution of both sexual and of magical pagan ways began, peaking in the 17th century witch trials, when thousands of women, and also a large number of male magical practitioners, were executed across Europe.
Under Henry the English political state took over from the Church the regulation of people's sexual and magical practices. Only in the second half of the 20th century did this grip loosen, with witchcraft decriminalised in the 1950s and sex between men partially decriminalised in the UK in 1967, the closeness of these dates being an echo of their ancient historical association.
Historians like to maintain there was no gay identity until modern times, but perhaps even in the dark homophobic Middle Ages some of our ancestors left us clues to how how they saw themselves, such as this from Michelangelo, back in the 16th century Renaissance,-
“And if the vulgar and malignant crowd
Misunderstand the love with which we're blessed,
Its worth is not affected in the least;
Our faith and honest love can still feel proud”
Pushed out of the monasteries, queer sensibility found a home in the growing cities, a queer subculture emerging strongly in the London bars, gay brothels and cruising areas (the Mulberry Garden, now part of the grounds of Buckingham Palace in London, was the site of a gay brothel), molly houses (where feminine men gathered to dress up and play) and theatres of the 16th to 18th centuries – one third of the the surviving plays from the early modern era deal with queer sexual themes, and theatres were very erotically charged, well known as pick up joints.......
Also in the early modern era, having eradicated the European memory of the connection between gender-variance, same-sex love and the sacred realms, when the Europeans set sail to explore the world they discovered gender-bending shamans serving the communities on every continent. The Amazon river gained the name because of the fierce warrior women leading the tribes there. There are examples too from Africa of powerful lesbian couples and gay male witches, as well as the more well known Two-Spirit shamans of the Native Americans (whom the Europeans named 'berdache' a French word for a 'bottom', a passive partner in sodomy, a name that stuck until the 1990s). The Europeans were puzzled that in China and Japan homosexuuality was regarded as a privilege of the monastic classes, and was totally accepted by the populace.
Over time, Christian Europeans spread their fear and brutality around the world,
poisoning the minds of people everywhere:
setting up a binary of normal vs unnatural about sex and gender
that had not previously existed in the more holistic, tuned in to nature, cultures.
They also stamped out ecstatic ritualistic behaviours, forbade the frenzied drumming and dancing -
for they saw this was how the tribal people built connection and power
and it made the white man very, very afraid.
The first modern 'gay' thinkers in the 19th century saw a spiritual dimension
to transsexuality and to same sex love
Ulrichs, Carpenter, Whitman had big dreams of the roles queers would play when the deadly effects on Christian attitudes to the body were overcome, but at the same time uptight Victorian attitudes were hardening
they saw the examples of the Berdache, and knew the history of the Qedesha and the Gallae as well as the ideals of ancient Greece
but the culture was gripped by homophobia, with over 50 men executed for sodomy in the 19th century and many more imprisoned, put in the stocks for the angry crowds to punish, or transported to Australia.
The Oscar Wilde trials spread fear of a witchhunt against gays that didn't actually materialise
but the Labouchere amendment of 1885 brought Gross Indecency onto the law books -
now all forms of sexual activity between men were illegal, not just sodomy,
creating a climate of fear that lasted a century – in fact more charges were brought under this law
after the partial decriminalisation of gay sex in England in1967 than before
The gay Victorian philosophers drew on the ideas of the ancient Greeks,
as had the artists of the Renaissance, but what we need to remember today
is that the Greeks were already a patriarchal culture and queer spirit has a much older history...
the Greeks were themselves shocked by the prevalence and acceptance of all forms of homosexuality
in the northern European and Asiatic cultures
the modern gay rights movement has been able to emerge thanks to the increasing secularisation of society
but the thorny issues around religion and us remain in high focus
as we open the gates of queer spirituality
we can learn from the examples of the roles played by queer souls in cultures around the world
(such as India, recently released from the anti-sex laws imposed by the British, where the Hijras have endured since ancient times as a living example of sacred queer community)
as we take the steps to uncover the hidden history of sacred queer sexuality in the west.
Until the spiritual nature of queer people is understood religious persecution of us will not end
The world will not do this work for us, we find this understanding inside ourselves
Only we can define our own queer spirit.
THIS AUGUST AT QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL.....
you are invited to gather with a few hundred queers to
explore the essence, creativity and power of queer community
liberated from society's norms and expectations
we meet to share and celebrate our hearts and bodies
to open our minds and liberate our souls
to unite our queer spirit with the worlds above and below
to come together to heal and to grow
to ignite the fires of our global cosmic tribe
expand in love and come to know
what it means for us today
to be queer and cosmic
to be born this way
QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL
14-18 AUGUST 2019