Into the Traumatic Breach: Radicalism, Paganism and Sexual Liberation

Rhyd Wildermuth —  May 3, 2014 — 27 Comments
Radical Faerie Sanctuary, Wolf Creek, Oregon (photo by Yavi Luminous)

Radical Faerie Sanctuary, Wolf Creek, Oregon (photo by Yavi Luminous)

I’m not sure if the stand of poison oak surrounding my campsite these last three days has gotten onto my skin.  I’m covered in dirt, sweat (my own and other’s), a few bruises, at least one small cut from rocks along a stream, and it will take me several weeks to shed all the plant matter which clung to what little clothing I wore during Beltaine week.

I’ve spent most of this week at a Radical Faerie sanctuary in southern Oregon, surrounded by queer Pagans of every gender imaginable, watching them dance, cry, laugh, eat, urinate, and unabashedly copulate amongst the grasses and trees of the land which hosts an indescribably serene and beautiful sanctuary from the world from which those of us gathered had come and must return.

The Radical Faeries are known for many things, but the one thread of their existence which is often most discussed is their embrace of queer sexuality. A sex-positive community of displaced and alienated left-leaning queers, informed by, composed and embracing of spiritualities which align well with other Pagan traditions, but without a specific central tradition, the Radical Faeries were the first pagans whom I encountered, and the first people with whom I truly felt a sense of home.

It is interesting, then, to consider their existence and what they represent through the current lens of tensions over sexual ethics and scandals in several Pagan traditions. It’s not my goal to address or critique these specific scandals, nor the accompanying reactions; rather, it seems better to address the legacy of sexual liberation within Paganism and to present a broader framework for understanding the position we find ourselves currently in, both internally and historically.

“Neo-Paganism” and the 1960′s

There are multiple ideas regarding Paganism and its particularly modern (and American-specific) iterations. While some hold to the idea that what we call Paganism now is particularly new and disconnected to the various Paganisms which existed in history, there seems such a preponderance of potential connections (if not direct continuity) to older traditions scattered about the western, “disenchanted” world that I do not hold to this reading. That being said, the specific iterations of traditions (many actually new or reformulations) which we call Paganism, at least in America, seem to have sprung up during a specific recent historical period—that is, the years we call the 60’s. While not precisely descriptive of the actual time period (several traditions started before the actual decade between 1960 and 1969, while many more started after), it’s a useful short-hand.

When speaking of this time period, however, one cannot ignore what else was also occurring during the time that Pagan-aligned traditions began to flourish and gain currency.  If one studies the social unrest and upheaval across much of the western (disenchanted) world in the 1960’s (strikes in England, the political union of leftist students and worker-unions in France, the rise of leftist and campanero movements in South America) and compares it with the radical political and counter-cultural movements in the United States during that same period (student anti-war coalitions, massive protests, black and indigenous rights movements), one becomes hard-pressed not to draw the conclusion–or at least follow a strong thread of suspicion–that some significant international anti-authoritarian movements had arisen, apparently spontaneously, in multiple places at once.

The legacies of these foments and upheavals is certainly mixed and this is hardly adequate space to discuss the successes, failures, and even impact of these movements and their politics; what shouldn’t be ignored though is the concurrence of Pagan spiritualities during this same period, particularly in America, as well as what is a more popular legacy of this time and the one which holds the most collective memory for those of us who were not yet born: sexual liberation.

Free-Love and Radical Politics

"The Barn," where meals are served at the Sanctuary (Photo by Yavi Luminous)

“The Barn,” where meals are served at the Sanctuary (Photo by Yavi Luminous)

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I encountered what seemed to be the buried legacy of those years, and I suspect I am not alone in this.  From history books I’d learned of the civil rights movements, of course, and of the protests against Vietnam and feminist bra-burnings, but more than anything, the theme which seemed to be most portrayed in those histories (and much more so through popular media portrayals) was that of sexual liberation and “free-love.” Still when I attempt to conceive of that time within my mind, it stands out more than anything, and I suspect it is not just my own mental failings. Witness most films and marketing campaigns using motifs birthed from that time period and try not to think about sex. Besides sex sells.

Thus, when I first heard tales and read about the existence of the Students for Democratic Society, the Weathermen, the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement, I experienced what best might be described as utter disbelief. What I’d come to understand of that period through the history I’d been taught in school, as well as popular portrayals in film, television and music didn’t begin to match the ferocity and severity of these radical movements which existed at the same time as the sexual-liberatory currents. To the extent that these narratives seemed incongruent, I initially rejected them—had there really been a time in the United States where such a traumatic gap in hegemonic control over people had been so weakened? Had we really been so close to revolt?  And what did this have to do with sex?

A legacy of the Sixties can certainly be said to have been sexual liberation; however, this is hardly the only legacy, and as far as it related to the particular traditions of Paganism which gained currency during that same time period, this legacy should be examined. Many of the Pagan traditions which gained currency during this time bear very strong influences of the discourse around sexuality which arose during the sixties, and our conceptions of the sacredness of sex were undoubtedly influenced by those discussions.

To be clear, I’m not asserting these ideas and questions are new, specific to Paganism, or specifically resulting from the 60’s.  As a matter of fact, feminist and European critical theory writers have convincingly detailed that the “liberation” that seemed to be within grasp during that time of upheaval was likely a resurgence of early movements and tendencies which had earlier been crushed in the western world in the past several centuries.  Such research also offers tantalizing hints of Pagan continuity alongside discussions of these movements, particularly in the intersection of radical outbreaks, sexual liberation, and Pagan spiritualities.

Hegemony and Traumatic Gaps

That is, the repression of sexual desire, activity and expressions seems to correspond with the oppression of indigenous and non-hegemonic spiritualities. This particular process of oppression and repression, which Marxist-Feminist cultural historian Silvia Federici (and others, including Starhawk) have tied to the process of proletarianization (the creation of a populace whose primary identity is one of wage-worker, disconnected from ancestral, cultural, communal and spiritual identities) is remarkably recent in the Western and Disenchanted world (and is still occurring, particularly in Africa, South America, and Asia), each time involves violent demonization of sexual expressions and culturally-forced gender roles.

Hegemony is a political arrangement, but it also functions as a social and cultural force. In essence, it is the totalizing influence of an oppressive political center which becomes internalized by the people who are “governed” by its centrality. Similar to the notion of the superstructure, hegemony functions within each individual as an implicit threat against certain modes of thought and behavior. For instance, a queer Pagan is subject to hegemonic influence in their expressions of desire and spirituality because of the sense of threat or reprisal by society (or what some have labeled the “overculture”), and thus represses internal inclinations and tendencies, often unknowingly. Only certain sorts of identity are, in essence, “allowed,” and these, at least in disenchanted states of existence, tend to be those which make an individual more governable. A queer Pagan (particularly one who might also be trans*) can be a worker or an American with ease and without fear of reprisal and scorn; on the other hand, a queer male (but born female) gods-worshiper is a claimed identity which is an act of rebellion against hegemony.

There are times when hegemony breaks down, though. Such moments (akin to Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone theories) occur for short periods of time and are often geographically isolated.  In rare instances, however, traumatic gaps (that is, moments of opening for resistance) in hegemonic rule of society seem to occur in many places at once. These moments of traumatic gaps, times of weakness or crisis within the hegemonic and totalizing power of authority (in our case, Capitalist and “Liberal-Democratic” hegemony), often see strong cultural revolt as the oppression (and its internalized complement, repression) temporarily loses its grip upon the expressions of people within those societies. In such moments, Pagan spiritualities, radical/leftist political movements, and sexual-liberationist movements all seem to push back into that gap at the same time.

As such, we can then approach the mode of Paganism which arose in the 1960’s as a resurgence or reclamation of older forms of spiritual and cultural identity, and note that it occurred alongside radical anti-authoritarian revolt and attempts to reformulate sexual and gender expressions. Was Paganism responsible for this? Unlikely, but it isn’t surprising, then, that sexual liberation became central to many Pagan-aligned movements which began or gained popularity during this time, just as so many of the Pagan traditions have currents of leftist and anti-authoritarian politics woven into their spiritual understandings.

Rather than looking at sexual liberation as a core foundation of Pagan religions, or as an unfortunate intruder into a sympathetic spiritual movement, one can see it as an aspect of the same revolt against hegemonic control over the spirit, social-relations, and bodies of the governed during a time of traumatic opening.

Photo by Yavi Luminous

Photo by Yavi Luminous

The Next Assault

This all begs another question, though. If moments of resurgence, of assaults into the breaches of those traumatic gaps often involve anti-Capitalist and sexual-liberationist trends as well as Pagan spiritualities, how are they linked?  And what happened to Paganism now, where discussions of sexual ethics and political analysis have become so fraught with anger and indifference? And why has it been so difficult to re-encounter the other currents of the sixties?

I don’t know the answer to this, but I do have a theory. If indeed the sixties were a time of a traumatic gap in hegemonic rule, and if the strength of the varying movements which fought to press into that breach truly threatened the existing Capitalist, disenchanted order, than it should be utterly unsurprising that the gap needed to be filled so that the current order could survive. That it is now difficult for us to connect the legacies of these anti-authoritarian, anti-hegemonic movements together except in simplistic motifs of “free-love” and peace marches shouldn’t surprise us, either.

That is, the traumatic gap was closed.  But if history teaches anything at all, these gaps occur again. It’s difficult for me not to see the survival and strength of groups such as the Radical Faeries and other sexually-liberated groups, the sudden resurgence in Pagan (particularly polytheist) spiritualities, and the rise of new anti-authoritarian movements as a marshalling towards another assault against cracks appearing in those walls which keep us from creating our own individual and collective identities outside of hegemonic rule.

Wrestling, then, with the legacies of our last rebellion and critiquing how those legacies have been diluted or even perverted away from liberation (and unfortunately also towards abuse and more oppression) is essential if we’re to learn this time to tear down the entire order.

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Rhyd Wildermuth

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  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    This is not intended as rebuttal but a different light thrown on the same subject, by one who did live through the ’60s (born 1941).IMHO the roots of the Sixties were the Great Depression and World War II. The parents of people who were teenagers in the Fifties and young adults in the Sixties, had grown up with habits of severe self-denial in the strained circumstances of the Depression, which was world-wide. WWII revived the global economy, and those habits of self-denial were no longer economically appropriate, howsoever the parents of those Fifties teenagers tried to inculcate them. And there were a lot of those teenagers; deferred reproduction during the Depression and the War was answered with the Baby Boom, and there were too many teenagers to control effectively.Then there was technology. Transistor radios made music portable, and the music industry began to offer product for teenagers. The Pill made women feel safer about sex. Television brought nonconformist images into family living rooms.And there were the Beats, poets who were young adults in the Fifties and discontented with postwar prosperity they saw as a soul prison with invisible walls. They weren’t quiet about it, and they inspired the younger set with the idea of rebellion of the spirit. One heritage of the Civil Rights Movement among young whites was the exposure of the law as sometimes unjust and prejudiced; those young whites began to examine the laws and customs purporting to instruct them and — surprise — often found them prejudiced and unjust too.The foregoing is way to scattershot to be called a theory; more like a collage. Several strains of history converged on the Fifties and the Sixties, including rediscovery of older rebellions that Rhyd mentions; it wasn’t a coincidence that the “heavy hippies” of the Haight called themselves Diggers. I’m sure it’s a fascinating time to research; even more so to have lived through it.

    • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

      An excellent collage!

      The one thing I’d tease out a little bit is that the threads of (and people involved in) those earlier rebellions never went away. Dipesh Chakrabarty made the point best, that it’s precisely because the past co-exists with the present that we are able to even talk about the past. For instance, the women’s rights movements and anarchist/socialist movements were huge in the 20′s and 30′s, and continued during the second big war. Radicalism in the 60′s was forged alongside people who’d been doing it for 30-40 years by then.

      Same with “modern” Paganism. There were queer polytheist-reconstruction type groups in Berlin in the 20′s and early thirties, naturalist/pagan-inspired wild-ing folks all over Europe and some in California during that same period, and, in England, there were hard-core leftist folks leading Druid orders, including the one I’m a part of now, OBOD.

      Mostly the work is uncovering streams that appear to have been buried underground during gaps in our collective memory. : )

  • http://anubisbard.blogspot.com Anubis Bard

    I’m just wondering whether comments here are moderated. I’d like to chime in, but each time I’ve tried the comment disappears – presumably into the spam folder.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Comments aren’t being moderated. So it must be a Disqus glitch. I’ll check the spam folder.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      I found your comment in the spam folder, I think it got caught because you included more than one link? In any case, I approved it, so it should be popping up in a bit.

      • http://anubisbard.blogspot.com Anubis Bard

        Thanks!

  • http://anubisbard.blogspot.com Anubis Bard

    Here is the proper link to the Witchcrafting Selves article: http://anubisbard.blogspot.com/2012/05/i-follow-some-blogs-that-deal-with.html

  • Diotima Mantineia

    There is an astrological angle to this topic as well. The Sixties were marked by the
    conjunction of the planets Uranus and Pluto in the sign of Virgo, a pattern that well described the upheaval and transformative energies of that time. The conjunction – both planets coming together in the same section of the sky — was the ending/beginning of a long-term cycle between the two planets. The next major stop in that cycle is the waxing square, which we are currently in the middle of. This aspect will make its last exact pass in March of 2015, but the effects will be felt through about 2020.

    I’ve written about this Uranus-Pluto square extensively over on my blog at Witches and Pagans, and I don’t have much time to comment now, but suffice it to say that
    the terms, “cracks in the walls”, “traumatic gap”, and the breakdown of hegemony accurately describe the archetypal energies of this planetary alignment. Astrologers are expecting – and, as you have pointed out, we are already seeing – a time of hegemonic breakdown and a resurgence of issues that were brought to the forefront in the 60s and early 70s – particularly environmental concerns and issues of personal freedom.

    I can highly recommend this article (http://cosmosandpsyche.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/archaiworldtransits1.pdf) by cultural historian Richard Tarnas,
    Ph.D. – author of the phenomenal “Passion of the Western Mind”. He is also well-versed in astrology, and his book “Cosmos and Psyche” looks at history from the viewpoint of archetypal astrology. You may find this quote from the article of interest:
    “While the current Uranus-Pluto alignment is the first major-aspect alignment to occur since the conjunction of the 1960s, it is the first square to occur since the
    1930s(the square of 1928–37 being the closing square of the cycle that ended
    with the1960s’ conjunction). The intrinsic nature of the square alignment seems
    to intensify a quality correlated with destabilizing stresses, jarring events,
    power struggles, and increased concretizing, crisis-producing tendencies. In
    this respect, the 2007–2020period can be said to resemble a combination of the
    1960s and the 1930sin the constellated archetypal energies involved, but in the
    ecological, cultural, and political context of the twenty-first century. Given
    the length of this transit and the historical record of previous correlations,
    we would seem to be looking at a period of more than a decade and a half of
    worldwide intensified emancipatory and transformative activity, sustained
    social and political ferment and turmoil, environmental upheaval, heightened
    cultural and technological innovation, accelerated social change, and so forth,
    through and beyond the year2020.”

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Thank you for this very interesting look at an important issue. I think some of our current problems may be due to the fact that we still live half in and half out of what you appropriately call the Disenchanted World.

    • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

      Thanks! Definitely didn’t originate with me, but the idea of the Disenchanted World is utterly perfect to describe the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into!

  • Friday

    There’s a lot of interesting thoughts here, though, I’m not entirely sure that the perhaps-lamentory tone that Pagans today aren’t behaving sexually as some did in the Sixties necessarily applies. There’s simpler realities that we’re a bigger, broader, and if you will, more modern community. I’m sure many conservatives would disagree, but we’re not actually in general motivated by being ‘sexual radicals’ by any real stretch. (And certainly in most of the Western world, simply being non-straight or non-cisgendered doesn’t automatically qualify one as such anymore, never mind just having lots of sex, and all. )

    Certainly, especially in terms of spirituality and religion, we rather take for granted attitudes that mean sex and sexuality are sacred and good things, (If anything and by and large have embraced the notion that that doesn’t even define us, especially amid modern concerns. As well as having community Beltanes with like four generations of Pagans there.

    Basically, different times. We’re all under a lot of culture war assault, but even as an LGBT person I worry more about my home and employment and other mundania *over* that and *being* Pagan, than actual *sex* being a big issue, never mind act of rebellion, of itself. (Not that I don’t know the Right and dominant religion would prefer I felt repression that way: I just don’t happen to. If I wanted to have more sex, all I’d have to do is lower standards *about* the Pagan spirituality of it that I kind of have to insist on. What I hear from other Pagans on that isn’t about feeling inhibited and needing to ‘break free,’ but rather feeling like the ‘overculture’ is both repressed, repressive, exploitive, and tawdry about it all.

    In some ways, the ‘sexual revolution’ was actualy won, despite all the ‘culture war’ noise, and the real hardships it visits upon people. . It’s just that revolutions are simpler than building something lasting afterwards. Especially cause we still don’t live in a vacuum.

  • Discouraged

    And, this is on part of a conversation I was just having tonight. That there are disjointed sexual ethics in the Pagan community. That for survival, Paganism needs a singular ethics system. In my opinion, this needs to mirror mainstream ethics that discourage infidelity, promiscuity, and abuse, (among other ethics). And how the Radical Faery movement reportedly lead to a transmission in HIV that continues today. Apparently there is a group home of Rad Feys with HIV.

    Just as every other system in America, cheating, abuse, knowingly transmitting a sexual disease, theft, drub abuse, and other problems shouldn’t be swept under the rug. When people (especially LEADERS) engage in this behavior, it should be pointed out (even here on the Wild Hunt) and examined, not just ignored.

    • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

      I’d highly recommend reading Christine Kraemer’s Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective. She’s done a significant amount of work exploring a Pagan ethics of Eros.

      I’d also be cautious, though–much of what we understand of “infidelity” and “promiscuity” are so thoroughly based on American/Protestant monogamy and control of the body that it’s quite difficult to have discussion on it without first addressing how much we’ve internalized from the notion of bourgeois marriage.

      I think it’s beautiful that there’s a group home of Radical Faeries with HIV, and that should hardly be an indictment against them; rather, there should also be group homes for other Pagan-aligned peoples with HIV, as well as Christians, Mormons, etc. I’d hope that if I contracted it and became very sick, I’d be able to be in a place with others of similar spirituality.

      I’ve heard (and have been utterly unable to track down documentation of this, so if you can help that’d be great) that there was overlap between some radical faeries and some awfully dangerous ideas about HIV. But as far as them “leading to a transmission of HIV, I’m unaware how significant this has been, particularly around horrible initiatory ideas around it, or whether it was more significant than Storm Constantine’s (of Immanion Press) Wraethu series, which develops an entire fantasy world of physical and spiritual transformation by tainted semen.

      • Discouraged

        Infidelity is a situation where the agreed upon terms are disregarded. I say promiscuity here, but what I really mean is lots of sex without consideration for the consequences of one’s actions. I don’t care that someone has sex with a lot of people. I do care about what those actions do to the Pagan community.

        I look down upon this “community” of radical HIV-positive Pagans, because the promiscuity of those people… I know dozens of their partners from even recent years who did not know they had been exposed to HIV.

      • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

        I know Foucault was pretty much denying that HIV was anything more than [paraphrased] “a socially-invented discouragement from having gay sex” until his own case of it was pretty far along. I admit, my knowledge of RadFae history is kind of spotty, but Foucault has been popular amongst the Far Left, Queers, and Pagans for decades, so it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if some of those “dangerous ideas” that made their way into Radfae groups were a direct result of fan-boying on Foucault.

    • Lupa

      “Paganism needs a singular ethics system”

      Whose ethics? The ethics of a conservative heathen who feels monogamy is the only proper way for a family to live? Or of a radical queer pagan who thinks all marriage should be abolished for everyone? What about a Goddess worshipper who thinks open relationships are the best for everyone? I’d rather have diversity and disagreement than some monolithic THIS IS WHAT ALL PAGANS SHOULD DO EVER.

      Furthermore, you mentioned you think we should have a mainstream attitude toward “promiscuity”. What’s that mean? None of us can have one night stands or friends with benefits? Nobody can go to a swinger’s club or a kink party? No open relationships, and the only polyamory allowed is closed polyfidelity? I mean, the mainstream ideal is perfect monogamy where you don’t even *look* at other people lest you incur the wrath of your partner. Do you really want to inflict that on paganism?

      “Just as every other system in America, cheating, abuse, knowingly transmitting a sexual disease, theft, drub abuse, and other problems shouldn’t be swept under the rug. When people (especially LEADERS) engage in this behavior, it should be pointed out (even here on the Wild Hunt) and examined, not just ignored.”

      So you’re advocating for public shaming of private behaviors in some of these. With regards to abuse, then yes, that needs to come out in the open, and if someone has been *proven* to be a thief in settings where they may impact other pagans, then that’s good to know, too, because in both of these cases there is an immediate and serious threat to others. But some of these have a lot of gray areas, particularly within the bounds of privacy and personal choice. One person’s random toke may be another person’s idea of ‘drug abuse”–is that second person now justified in running around the community saying the first person is a dangerous druggie who should be avoided? And is the Wild Hunt going to become a gossip page with lots of “he said, she said” about the latest lurid scandals about which pagan couple is suffering from infidelity as though it’s everyone else’s business? And do you want it to become a public clearinghouse listing who has been diagnosed with what disease, and damned the HIPAA requirements?

      It’s pretty obvious you have an axe to grind against particular people. Don’t start swinging it at everyone else.

    • Ericius

      “Paganism needs a singular ethics system”
      “And it harms none, do what thou wilt.”

  • Kirk White

    This is a fantastic article and makes a great point that I have been mulling – that part of our community’s discord over sexual ethics/ predation recently is in part due to our inheritance of sexual freedom and anti-authoritarianism from our 60′s spiritual ancestors. These strong values makes us “sex positive” (often seen as a sacred act) while being wary of any oversight or non-legal accountability. And while I think these values are fundamental to Paganism as a movement, I believe this also, in large part, explains why we have apologists who argue that unless a person is arrested and convicted for sexual assault then we as communities should not demand any accountability for words or borderline sketchy deeds.

    For my part, I think there is another community that is grappling with many of these same issues that we can learn from. While lacking some of the “tradition” baggage of the Pagan communities (that is, “we have to do it that way because it is tradition”), they are sex positive, creative, accountable, inclusive and engage heavily in ecstatic practices. The main difference is that instead of mead and drumming, they are doing molly and psy-tran. I am, of course, speaking of the “Burner” community built up around Burning Man and its various regional events.

    The Burner community is also grappling with how to be sex positive while encouraging a culture of consent and respect. I belong to a few of their “Bureau of Erotic Discourse” (B.E.D.) lists where they explore issues around consent (what it is, how to get it), handling creepy/awkward people in a respectful, inclusive manner, how to handle crossed boundaries, rape and regret issues, legal liability, community-enforced accountability (calling people out on their behavior, banning, etc.).

    The New England regional burner group sponsors trainings on sexual assault, safety, consent, etc. for its volunteers and any attendees. At events, they try to have education and creative signs and other things to remind people about consent. At the big burn they always have professional trauma and mental health personnel on 24-hours/day.

    Don’t get me wrong, they have their problems but one of the things I have always been impressed with was their willingness to courageously look at their problems and try to come up with creative and maximally inclusive (but with firm boundaries) solutions.

    When I first created Cherry Hill Seminary, the very first course absolutely required for everyone was on boundaries and ethics. As a spiritual community I believe that addressing these issues are the next critical step in our maturation process. Unlike another poster here, I don’t believe we need to or should adopt the mainstream’s morals and ethics nor do I think we need to resort to some kind of one-size-fits-all new “Pagan Ethics”. If we do that, we lose one of the features that distinguishes us from the overculture.

    But I _would_ like to see the Pagan communities stop pretending that this stuff doesn’t happen… that there aren’t creeps and predators and non-consensual sex (too much mead and magick to make a clear decision that won’t be regretted in the morning) moving in and between our communities, and start to actually tackle these issues in the light of day. We should have discussions, training, and festival onsite education on sex positivity and consent at every festival. We could set that up… it would just take some people interested in making it happen. I’m willing to help.

    • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

      Yes. Some of the difficulties come from the legacy of sexual liberation; that being said, I think it’s also an inability of certain old-guard American Pagans to understand the intellectual and social critiques also born from that period, particularly non-American ones, or to see how they apply. I’ve encountered some rather frustrating conversations with “old-guard” Pagans who, for instance, belittle trans* folk, without understanding that the gender liberation that they themselves helped build freed some of the space for folks to embrace these other-gendered identities.

      Likewise, the critiques of certain sexual relationality within (specifically American) Paganism of the 60′s are hardly assaults on the foundations of Paganism, but rather the continuation of the very project in which those folks were engaged. Confronting power-relations within gender, particularly from the Feminist and Marxist approaches in the 60s, is precisely what led to the deepening of those critiques that many are addressing now (sexual initiations being abuse-of-power, etc.).

  • Gus diZerega

    I feel a little awkward about self-promotion, but my book “Faultlines: The Sixties, the Culture War, and the Return of the Divine Feminine” (Quest, 2013) explores the historical context of the rise of American neoPaganism. It argues that the 60s were a continuation of a theme in American society that first flowered in the time between the War of 1812 and the Civil War with nearly every theme of the 60s being present. Modern Wiccan NeoPaganism encapsulated those currents better than any religious alternative when it arose and spread and inspired new traditions to arise. Thus we represent something deeply transformational in modern society, even if our numbers never get really large, because our influence outweighs our numbers. As an example I explore Starhawk’s role in empowering religious feminism in Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism. The nihilism of the religious right is a counter current against all this.

    If my argument is correct there is a deep connection between our orientation to sexuality, our focus on the divine feminine, and our focus on the sacredness of the world. As we grow there will be efforts to ‘mainstream’ us- to eliminate what makes us most distinctive – and we need to be clear about the issues at stake.

    • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

      promote all you want. : )

      By the way, I sent you an email a few months ago…maybe I had the wrong address?

      • Gus diZerega

        Oooops. Found you and have replied.

  • Bari Mandelbaum

    This is a good analysis, and overall I agree. Living in the Bay Area and having been involved with some progressive political organizing, I’m not sure I agree with you that it is difficult for encounter some of what you call the other currents of the sixties. The Black Panther Movement radically impacted the kinds of community based services that are currently available in Oakland, for example. And sone of the anti-authoritarian critical thinking has directly resulted in some great world wide programs looking at mediation and conflict resolution in war-torn communities.

    But as for the free love movement and its influence on current day paganism, yes absolutely. When I first got involved with the pagan community in the Bay Area back in the early 90s, quite a few of the local “elders” talked very frankly about their groovy free love histories, and the distrust of authority thing very much impacted the way groups were created and run, for better and for worse. Because we weren’t supposed to believe in authority, there was a huge resistance to things like religious training and the ordination of clergy, because we should all get to decide for ourselves whether or not we were priests (to the point where the title basically lost any meaningful definition).

    As for the sexual freedom piece… I certainly knew many folks who found their way into the pagan scene looking to get loaded and laid. And hey, if we could put some glassy-eyed spiritual overlay over the whole thing, groovy. Worshipping the goddess makes for a good pick-up line. I know this may sound cynical, but honestly, these kinds of attitudes sent me out of the pagan community for a number of years.

    It’s a mixed bag, for sure. Lots of good sexual healing and meaningful spiritual expression has come out of this legacy as well, for individuals and for the broader community. It’s complicated stuff, for sure.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      It helps to have lived through the Fifties to understand the restrictions, both sexual and general, breaking out of which the Sixties accomplished. In the general-restriction area, I firmly believe the spirit of “revolution for the hell of it” grew directly out of an (at least perceived) environment of “regulation for the hell of it.” Sexual liberation and defiance of authority were in the air; they happened to fit theologically into emerging Paganism like hand in glove. This is why I always mention the Fifties in any discussion of the Sixties; they formed the backdrop.

  • http://paganarch.blogspot.com/ rhyd wildermuth

    Interesting work you’ve done there!

    Can I recommend a book which might help fill out your analysis? Lela Ghandi’s Affective Communities (a short but brutally fascinating book) discusses earlier such intersections in fin-de-siecle England and France, particularly amongst homosexuals, occultists, anarchists and early anti-colonialists.

    There’s a lot of work on the continent (and amonst post-colonial scholars, particularly from India) which offers threads which can connect the process you saw in Eugene to the same thing which occurs repeatedly elsewhere. Someone just needs to interweave those threads…. : )

  • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

    This is actually a major annoyance of mine: Conflating the Free Love movement with the sexual liberation and / or polyamoury. Free Love is an anti-marriage movement that goes back to the mid-Victorian. Especially at the early points in the movement, Free Lovers actually were especially disdainful of promiscuity and multiple partners, but despite this, the general public tended to assume “anti-marriage = extremely liberal with the sex”. Regardless, Free Love remained an entirely separate movement, one based on the idea that marriage is unnecessary to relationships based on love (this was especially important in the Victorian era through mid-Twentieth, when even many Anglophonic countries had and enforced laws that basically meant a married woman was the property of her husband), only to be repeatedly associated with sexual liberation and polyamoury.

    http://www.bing.com/search?q=free+love+movement+history&qs=AS&sk=AS1&pq=free+love+movement+&sc=6-19&sp=2&FORM=QBLH&cvid=09040e05881541d6879c1a79ce411124