This month I wanted to take a moment to look at what I feel is an essential resource for the queer Pagan community: the book Queer Magic by Tomás Prower.
Published by Llewellyn in 2018, this book is more than just a list of “queer deities” and their stories, though those are certainly included in this work’s globally-inclusive focus. What I most enjoyed about this well-researched and generously footnoted book was its multicultural approach, which includes the voices of queer practitioners and other members of traditional communities, each offering their perspectives to the tapestry.
The book has a strong focus on how colonialism has systematically erased threads of queer history and spirituality. It is not uncommon to find practitioners of indigenous traditions who speak out against queer people, citing their traditions as a sort of shield against public scrutiny. But what many people don’t realize is that many indigenous cultures actually embraced same-sex relationships, and at times even ascribed to them special status, before being colonized by European oppressors. Often, cultural minorities are forced into social compliance and will abandon their own history in order to survive. This is a persistent and recurring theme. Many cultures deny the existence of their own queer histories in order to better fit in to the colonial idea that homosexuality is unnatural, despite the clear evidence to the contrary. Sometimes the colonized cultures even adopt their oppressors’ bigotry (almost universally fueled by Christianity or Islam) in order to further eradicate what they now erroneously see as an invasive corruption of their cultural identity from non-indigenous origins.
When speaking specifically of sub-Saharan Africa, Prower writes:
Interestingly, these regions’ anti-queer sentiments are rooted in the populist idea that homosexuality and queerness are not native to Africa or the people of African descent. It is widely believed that LGBT+ people and behaviors are a product of Western colonialism wherein the European powers introduced gayness and queer culture into Africa like a disease.
He goes on to say:
While the information on pre-colonial queer Africa is very patchwork and not fully studied (partially due to modern Africa’s denial of such a past and refusal to research it, as well as academia’s own historical marginalization of both queer and African history), there do exist numerous albeit less fully fleshed out examples of our community in these lands[.]
Prower cites several examples from specific cultures who, at least at one time, embraced queer-oriented myths, listing stories of gods and goddess from many different lands who engaged in same-sex sexual activity, and very many more who – while not specifically listed as queer themselves — are associated with queer people and their protection. These includes figures such as Baron Samedi of Vodou (who is sometimes seen as transgender and is further associated with anal sex and obscenities), the Greek Apollo (who had a famously tragic love affair with a young man, Hyacinth), the Norse Loki and Odin (who both likely engaged in receptive intercourse; in Odin’s case, this is implied by his practice of seidr, a type of magic considered to be “womanly”), or the Samodivi, female Celtic deities who are depicted as bisexual and would seduce men and women, leading them to their doom.
Also included are explorations of Hindu, Asian, Polynesian, and Australian Aboriginal deities, alongside shamanic spirits and even queer-oriented saints from the Christian tradition. There are far too many examples given in the book to list them all here, but some of my favorites are Avalokiteshvara of Buddhism, Chin of Latin America, and even Count Dracula, sometimes known as “Vlad the Impaler,” whose story left me feeling that somewhere out there a gay pornographic parody is probably already in the works. (Hint, hint, Men.com.)
While the book does not go into specific rituals and spells, the information given here is both foundational and inspiring, opening up a whole new (and old) world of magic, myth, and queer spirit. Prower collects these hidden gems and offers them to us with a narrative that is both informative and touched with a healthy sense of humor. Let this book be your tour guide to the many different cultures from around the world that have embraced same-sex relationships and behaviors and included them in the vast sea of divine stories and the deep spiritual wisdom they bestow.
For this alone, this work is a boon for those of us who have otherwise been forced to search for scraps of our history hidden fast away.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.