Archives For Radical Faeries

Pioneering gay activist and writer Arthur Evans died on Sunday, September 11th, from a massive heart-attack. In addition to being one of the first openly gay men to appear on national television, heavy involvement in the gay liberation movement, and early AIDS-related activism, Evans was also a pioneering figure in the development of gay Pagan spirituality, publishing “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture” in 1978 and “The God of Ecstasy: Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysos” in 1988. The latter featured his translation of Euripides’ play “The Bacchae” along with commentary on Dionysus as patron of homosexuality.

Arthur Evans picketing against anti-gay policies at the NYC Board of Education.

Diagnosed with aortic aneurysm in 2010, Evans knew he didn’t have long to live and penned his own obituary. Here are excerpts describing his spiritual/religious work.

“In the fall of the 1975, Evans formed a new pagan-inspired spiritual group in San Francisco, the Faery Circle. It combined countercultural consciousness, gay sensibility, and ceremonial playfulness. In 1976 he gave a series of public lectures at 32 Page St., an early San Francisco gay community center, entitled “Faeries”, on his research on the historical origins of the gay counterculture. In 1978 he published this material in his ground-breaking book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. It demonstrated that many of the people accused of “witchcraft” and “heresy” in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were actually persecuted because of their sexuality and adherence to ancient pagan practices.

In 1984 Evans directed a production at the Valencia Rose Cabaret in San Francisco of his own new translation, from the ancient Greek, of Euripides’ play Bakkhai. The hero of Euripides’ play is the Greek god Dionysos, the patron of homosexuality. In 1988, this translation, together with Evans’ commentary on the historical significance of the play, was published by St. Martin’s Press in New York under the name of The God of Ecstasy.

In 1988, Evans began work on a nine-year project on philosophy. Thanks to a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, it was published in 1997 as Critique of Patriarchal Reason and included artwork by San Francisco artist Frank Pietronigro. The book is a monumental overview of Western philosophy from antiquity to the present. It shows how misogyny and homophobia have influenced the supposedly objective fields of formal logic, higher mathematics, and physical science. Evans’ former doctoral advisor at Columbia University, Paul Oskar Kristeller, called the work “a major contribution to the study of philosophy and its history.”

Evans work, especially “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,” would end up being influential in the formation of the Radical Faeries.

“Arthur Evans was asserting the role of queer spirituality in his book Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, 1978. His book was a strong initiative in the Radical Faerie movement, influencing gay men to examine their relationship between gay spirituality and the old Pagan Nature religions. In his chapter entitled “Magic and Revolution,” Evans writes that it is the role of gay men to look forward to re-establishing our communication with nature and the Great Mother, to feeling the essential link between sex and the forces that hold the universe together…We look forward to regaining our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans, and sorcerers. We look forward to an endless and fathomless process as coming out — as Gay people, as animals, as humans, as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos. (154-5).”

Today, as we talk about gay/queer Paganism’s second wave, with groups like the Brotherhood of the PhoenixCircle of Dionysos, and  Ekklesia Antinuou flourishing, it’s important to remember those who paved the way. Figures like Evans not only laid the groundwork for gay Pagan spirituality, they also anticipated the battles over gay marriage back in the 1970s. May he rest in the arms of his gods, and may his spirit be remembered.

Top Story: For the third time in recent memory a Canadian citizen has been charged with the obscure ordinance against “pretending to practice witchcraft”. The first concerned Vishwantee Persaud in late 2009 who bilked several people, including a lawyer, out of thousands of dollars, the second, from April of this year, was against Batura Draame of Toronto. Now a third case, involving Brampton resident Yogendra Pathak, has emerged.

“Police say Yogendra Pathak, 44 was “putting it out there that he had the ability to practice magic and by doing that he could solve people’s problems… for money.” … Police say they believe Mr. Pathak was operating for over a year and do not yet know how many people have been conned by his alleged scam. They are urging victims and anyone with information to come forward. Mr. Pathak is charged with fraud under $5,000 and pretending to practice witchcraft.”

Persaud, Draame, and Pathak were all charged under the fraud statutes so why the witchcraft charge? Is it really necessary? Canadian author and philosophy professor Brendan Myers finds the law deeply problematic.

“The key word in the legislation is the word “pretending” (in subsections (a) and (c).) As pointed out to me by my friend in London via private correspondence: the word “pretending” here suggests that the State does not believe that witchcraft could be real: anyone who says they are practicing witchcraft is only pretending. That can potentially include those who say that they are practicing the religion. With this in mind, it’s not difficult to imagine a religiously conservative or puritan judge ruling that anyone who practices the religion of Wicca is “pretending” to practice witchcraft.

Our religious practices are already protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of our constitution and thus trumps the Criminal Code. But a lot will depend on the eye of the beholder here. It is not difficult to imagine a future government much more conservative than our present one, declaring that witchcraft and wicca is not a religion, and that anyone who practices it is “pretending”. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s a religion: it matters if the law thinks so. I do not know if any judicial precedents have established wicca and witchcraft as a religion in the eyes of the law. So I’ve written to a lawyer that I know, and I await his response.”

While not all Pagans think the law should be repealed, there is a grass-roots movement building to work for the law’s repeal. It should be stressed that all the accused perpetrators were caught and charged with existing laws against fraud, so why has this little-used witchcraft charge been dug up again? What real purpose does it serve other than to sensationalize, muddy the waters of religious freedom, and create potential problems for ethical practitioners of magic and witchcraft who happen to charge for various services? How long before an otherwise ethical magic-worker gets charged due to a vindictive former client? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched a scenario considering the recent frequency this law is getting invoked.

Christine O’Donnell’s Lesbian Paganism-Studying Sister: Andrew Sullivan points to a Mother Jones piece regarding the sister of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party and Christian Right favorite who recently won an upset primary victory over the Republican party’s preferred candidate. Christine’s sister Jennie is publicly for many of the things O’Donnell is against (like gay marriage), yet is supporting her in her senate campaign. She’s also very different when it comes to religion.

“I have studied and practiced many therapeutic methods, as well as many different spiritual practices, such as; The Eastern Philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism, Sidha yoga with Brahma khumaris and other yoga practices for self realization. Western philosophies of Christianity, Science of mind, Course in miracles, Catholicism, Native American Spiritualities, Judaism, Muslim, Sufi, Ancient Alchemy of the Emerald Tablet, Metaphysics, Wicca, Pagan and many other world spiritualities.”

While it isn’t completely unusual for a family member to back a relative running for office who publicly works against their stated personal positions and interests on various issues, Sullivan wonders if the emergence of this sister might hurt O’Donnell’s standing with the Christians who supported her candidacy.

“Will the Christianist base support a candidate whose sister has studied Wicca and pagan spiritualities and supports marriage equality for gays and lesbians? Apparently, Jennie believes that much that has been written about her sister is untrue.”

It should be interesting to see how the campaign moves forward with this. Will they go big-tent and soften on some of O’Donnell’s past pronouncements on various social issues, sticking to the fiscal populism the Tea Party prefers? That seems to be the direction the political winds are currently blowing, but it remains to be seen if such a move is sustainable if it risks losing Christian voters who want/demand strong stands on social issues.

Witchcraft Worries Australia: A draft report on freedom of religion submitted to the Australian Human Rights Commission apparently ranks Witches as one of the groups that most worries other Australians according to The Age.

“Which groups of Australians most worry other Australians? Muslims, gays and – astonishingly – witches. That apparently anachronistic result appears in a survey of public submissions to a national inquiry into freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century, from which the draft report was submitted last week to the Australian Human Rights Commission … These views do not reflect mainstream opinion; it takes a certain passion and effort to make a detailed submission, so only those most involved or committed will do so. But they provide a fascinating window into contemporary concerns about religion.”

Some academics are concerned the results are dominated by conservative citizens, skewing the results towards the views of “elderly church leaders who happen to be male and anti-Muslim and gays and pagans and witches”. It remains to be seen what recommendations the Human Rights Commission can make from this draft that would please these respondents while ensuring the continued rights and freedoms of Pagan Australians.

A Look At Faeries Who Are Radical: The Texas LGBT publication Dallas Age profiles eclectic gay Pagan group the Radical Faeries. The article looks at their founding and history, but also notes the changes in attitude and inclusiveness they have gone through in recent years.

“But in more than 30 years of existence, the Radical Faeries have evolved — albeit gradually and with difficulty — towards embracing a more sexually diverse membership. Some Radical Faerie groups accept people of all genders and orientations with the idea that anyone who identifies as a faerie is one. However, many older members still require gatherings to be male-only and the issue of inclusion continues to be controversial. “As an oppressed people, gay men [have] had to overcome their own prejudices against women, bi, trans [and] intersex people,” notes Singleton, who at 28, is part of the younger generation of faeries.”

What role will the Radical Faeries play within the Pagan community as it becomes more open and inclusive? Will what was once a gay-male only tradition soon become something far larger and influential?

Fighting Utah Over Peyote Arrests: Religion Clause reports that the Oklevueha Native American Church has filed suit against the state of Utah in Federal Court to stop them from arresting and harassing church members for their use of Peyote.

“The lawsuit seeks to block state and federal law enforcement from arresting or bringing criminal charges against church members who “fear reprisal from both state and federal governments for openly practicing their religion,” court papers state. … The lawsuit was filed in Utah because since 1999, church members here say they have been harassed, arrested and prosecuted for using peyote, court papers say.”

This has been an ongoing issue in Utah, and one that will no doubt bring the issue of religious entheogens to the mainstream media once more. We’ll be paying attention to this case as it develops.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

If you pay attention to the political blogs, you may have heard about the ongoing controversy concerning Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education. Jennings, who co-founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), has been bombarded with accusations from the right-leaning blogosphere. That he (through GLSEN) promotes porn in the classroom (a claim that has been debunked), that he had covered up a statutory rape (proven untrue and retracted), and that he is/was a pedophile (also proven untrue and retracted). Having been unable make any of these accusations stick and create the necessary controversy that would bring about a resignation or dismissal, they are now combing through any statement he has made that could link him to their idea of who Jennings is (a perverted corrupter of youth unfit for a Department of Education job). Enter gay rights pioneer Harry Hay.

“Harry Hay, who “inspired” Obama-appointed Education Department official Kevin Jennings to lead a life of homosexual activism, was not only a supporter of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) but a prominent member of the Communist Party USA  and “Radical Faerie” who believed in the power of the occult. Hay’s influence is relevant not only because Jennings is a top Education Department official, but because Hay is considered by homosexuals to be the founder of their movement. A Stalinist and Marxist until the day he died, Hay defended NAMBLA’s participation in “gay rights” marches and its membership in the International Lesbian and Gay Association.”

Wow! Jennings, like his inspiration, must support NAMBLA, the Radical Faeries, and communism? Well, not really.

“In fact, Jennings’ praise of Hay has only “led to questions” among those determined to mischaracterize that praise. Jennings praised Hay’s role in helping start “the first ongoing gay rights groups in America” in 1948, which has nothing to do with NAMBLA. (Just as unacceptable to Kincaid, it appears, is that Hay was also “a prominent member of the Communist Party USA and ‘Radical Faerie’ who believed in the power of the occult.”)”

The truth is that sometimes noteworthy activists have flaws and feet of clay. People can do something you admire, like starting one of the first gay rights organizations, and then later do something you completely disagree with, like calling for the inclusion of NAMBLA in gay rights parades. I bring this up, because I’ve indirectly praised Hay, along with his partner John Lyon Burnside III, for their work in founding the Radical Faeries.

“Needless to say, the Radical Faeries have had a huge impact on Gay Pagan spirituality, and the movement has done much to help integrate Gay voices into the wider Pagan community since the early 1980s*. Burnside, along with Hay and other pioneers in the Gay spirituality movement, have left an indelible mark on Gay and Pagan culture.”

Does this mean I also support NAMBLA or pedophilia? Of course not. The notion is absurd, but that’s the kind of logic that is being thrown around here. Kevin Jennings is not into “the occult” because he praised a RadFae co-founder, any more than I’m transphobic for acknowledging the work Mary Daly has done in furthering feminist theology. Has our political discourse become so tainted and mean-spirited that anyone we praise or acknowledge must be blemish-free lest we risk being associated with any controversial word or deed they have committed? If so, I know a lot of Pagans that are in trouble, because I’m not the only one who has praised the work of Harry Hay.

John Burnside, inventor of the teleidoscope, Gay rights activist, and co-founder of the Radical Faeries, passed away on September 14th due to complications from brain cancer. Burnside was the lifelong companion and partner of Harry Hay (1912 – 2002), another co-founder of the Radical Faeries, and a seminal figure within the Gay rights movement.


John Burnside, photo by Rory Cecil.

After meeting in the mid-sixties, Burnside and Hay blazed a trail for the still nascent Gay rights movement. They were protesting the exclusion of Gays from the military back in 1966, and appeared on television together two years before the Stonewall riots. Unlike some Gay rights advocates, Burnside was not an assimilationist, preferring that Gays develop their own unique culture and spirituality. This impulse lead to the creation of the Radical Faerie movement in 1979.

“In 1979 John and Harry joined with fellow activists Don Kilhefner and Mitch Walker to call the first Spiritual Gathering of Radical Faeries. Fed up with the Gay movement’s steady drift towards mainstream assimilation, the gathering called to Gay men across the country. Since that time dozens of Faerie gatherings have been called around the world and permanent Radical Faerie sanctuaries have formed across the country. The movement helped to nurture and create a specifically Gay centered spiritual exploration and tradition.”

In Burnside’s 1989 essay “Who Are the Gay People?”, he illuminated the idea of a “Gay consciousness”, and described Gays as people who make a “continual reference to inner vision and insight”.

“Refusing to be products of the man/woman-making machine, Gay people must undertake to create themselves. Having no models to imitate, Gay people are free to adopt what they like from among the many ways there are to be. They search everywhere for promising leads, and, like spiritual magpies they take what they like from any system of religion or philosophy without feeling obliged to take the whole of it. Gay people continue to work on themselves all their lives, moving from stage to stage, growing in spirit, living in change, and rejoicing in being themselves.”

Needless to say, the Radical Faeries have had a huge impact on Gay Pagan spirituality, and the movement has done much to help integrate Gay voices into the wider Pagan community since the early 1980s*. Burnside, along with Hay and other pioneers in the Gay spirituality movement, have left an indelible mark on Gay and Pagan culture. His voice and unique spirit will be missed. May he be reunited with his loved ones in the Otherworld.

Obituary Links: SF Gate, Gay Wisdom, LA Times, Queensland Pride, Bay Area Reporter

* This process was partially documented by Margot Adler in her revised and expanded edition of “Drawing Down the Moon”.