Being Queer and Spiritual
There's so much to say about being queer and spiritual, here's an opportunity over 4 days to say it! Over 500 people are expected at the 4th Queer Spirit Festival, in beautiful Bridwell Park in Devon, 17-21 August 2023. We gather to relax, play and make new friends, absorb the healing energies of nature, to share our stories, discover new things, honour our ancestry, to dance, sing and dream new dreams...
Dozens of facilitators are sharing their skills in the Workshop Dome, Campaigns Area, Women's Space, Sacred Sexuality Temple and out in nature. There will be dance ceremonies, fire circles, drumming and two performance stages featuring singer-songwriters, poets, bands, drag, clowns and queer artistes of many kinds. Plus cafés, welfare space, crafts area, traders, healing garden, sauna...
At Queer Spirit Festival we are ‘Reclaiming Queer Nature’ as natural, spiritual and sacred: embracing the creativity, insight and joy that nature gifts us; exploring how the dance of the genders within opens gates to the spirits of nature and transcendent experience; re-discovering how same sex love was once regarded as mystical and magical; remembering how queer people were respected in cultures the world over that honoured the sacred feminine. In Africa queer people were known as Gatekeepers, in ancient Europe and Middle East we served in Goddess temples, in America the Two Spirits of the native tribes are reclaiming their sacred roles, which include community ritual, healing, communicating with land spirits, creating rites for the dying, acting as mediators between the genders, between nations, between worlds. The Two-Spirits (who had originally been given the label Berdache, meaning a bottom in gay sex, by European explorers -this term was ditched by the two-spirit community in 1990) are an example from which queer people across the world can learn, as we discover more about the talents and gifts our queer nature brings us, as we answer the call of nature to explore and reclaim our own spirituality, free from religious prejudice.
The idea that same sex love and gender fluidity could be Against Nature only developed in one strand of human culture, via the patriarchal monotheistic religions. A justification for this attitude was the supposed absence of these things in nature – a lie thoroughly debunked now by science: same sex relations have been documented in hundreds of species – 10% of rams only have sex with other rams, a quarter of black swan couples are male-male, albatross females couple up with other females to hatch and feed chicks, penguins and pigeons are known for same sex coupling – and in fact always have been: Aristotle wrote about gay pigeons in 4th century BCE! Other animals known for homosexual behaviour include dolphins, elephants, bats, lions, marmots, bonobos. Hermaphroditic animals include slugs, snails and fish.
In fact very much part of nature, both same sex love and gender fluidity were accepted, celebrated features of the pagan world, but with the rise of Christianity, hand in hand with patriarchal rulers that sought to suppress the power of the Goddess culture, homosexuality was declared a sin. In the Eastern Roman Empire, then in the late Middle Ages in western Europe, the state undertook to enforce religious rules - 'sodomy' became a crime (death penalty was in place in England until 1861), and from the 19th century same sex love, or gender variance, were defined by the medical/psychological professions as sickness. Homosexuality was only removed from list of psychological disorders in 1973, transexuality in 2013. As we well know, in parts of the world, insane punishments are still inflicted on queer people. The British Empire had a big role in spreading it's homophobic attitudes around the world, and it has taken a long time for attitudes here in Britain to really change: In the UK we had state suppression of homosexuality in form of Section 28 from 1987 until 2003. Brought in at the height of the AIDS epidemic, when gay men seriously needed support, compassion and understanding, this act of cruelty has since been copied in Russia, Africa, recently even in the USA, with horrific effects.
LGBTQ+ are a section of humanity only recently able to safely find each other in large numbers, declare pride in who we are, find our voice - but as a people we still have not had much space to tell our stories, heal our history and uncover the healing gifts that queer nature brings to the world. Many queer people are drawn to spirituality, and many find it through recovery from sickness or addictions. But religious attitudes can deter queers from exploring our connection to the spiritual side of life.
“It’s tragic that many in the LGBTQ community struggle with issues around spirituality. We confuse it with religion and, no wonder, given the treatment we have received at the hands of most religions, but what’s ironic about that is that before the patriarchal cultures and religions, people that we today refer to as LGBTQ were not only spiritually inclined, but were honored for the roles of spiritual service and leadership they played all over the world.” Christian de la Huerta, author of Coming Out Spiritually and Awakening the Soul of Power"
Religion suppressed queer nature because of the free and ecstatic ways of expressing sexuality and gender in the ancient worship of the Great Mother. Eventually the association of queerness and magic – and the link between sexuality and the sacred - was forgotten. The modern LGBTQ+ community emerged in a secular age, but religiously based fear and hatred are still rife in the world, their roots not yet understood and exposed. Gay Victorian writers, such as Edward Carpenter and John Addington-Symonds, at the time when homosexual became the new word on the block, had studied ancient history and called for religious homophobia to be revealed as part of the suppression of the pagan cultures that had celebrated sex, especially sex between people of the same gender, as 'heavenly' (while reproductive sex was viewed as necessary but mundane). These gay Victorians called themselves Uranians, after Aphrodite Urania, Greek Goddess of love and creativity.
Since the 1970s Radical Faeries have been exploring queer spirituality and nature-based community at sanctuaries and gatherings. Starting in the USA, there are faerie groups now across Europe, in the UK (Albionfaeries.org.uk), Australia and Asia. In 2020, at the first international gathering of Radical Faeries in Africa, more than half of the participants were lgbtq+ activists from African countries. Just this month another Global Gathering took place in Estonia. Radical Faeries create community centred in the heart, via sharing circles, nature ceremonies, drag, cooking together, crafts... among other things... adopting the philosophy of subject:SUBJECT consciousness, which faerie founding father Harry Hay believed to be the natural gift of same-sex loving people. Subject-SUBJECT consciousness is the ability to see people as 'same' rather than 'other' and this empathy makes us natural healers, mediators and mystics. Edward Carpenter wrote in 1913:
“This interaction in fact between the masculine and the feminine, this mutual illumination of logic and meditation, may not only raise and increase the power of each of these faculties, but it may give the mind a new quality, and a new power of perception corresponding to the blending of subject and object in consciousness. It may possibly lead to the development of that third order of perception which has been called the cosmic consciousness and which may also be termed divination.”
And, oh yes, Jesus said:
"When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner as the outer, and the upper as the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male shall not be male, and the female shall not be female: . . . then you will enter [the kingdom]." From Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.
Emerging from the grassroots work happening in Radical Faerie gatherings plus decades of community work in women's camps and communities, activist groups such as the GLF and ACT-UP, queer pagan camps, queer tantra and gay men's spiritual retreats...
AT QUEER SPIRIT FESTIVAL THE QUEER TRIBES GATHER
TO OPEN THE GATES TO NATURE ,
OPEN THE GATES IN THE BODY, HEART AND MIND,
OPEN THE GATES TO LOVE:
COME TO THE FEAST AND LET'S RISE IN JOY!
WE ARE RECLAIMING QUEER NATURE!
We're Here! We're Queer! We're Cosmic!