Today, gay and bisexual practitioners of Paganism and Witchcraft can readily find groups that accept us as we are and even those that affirm our unique identities. Groups such as the Radical Faeries, The Unnamed Path, and the Minoan Brotherhood offer spaces in which queer men can commune in the spirit of divine worship and exploration, without the need to hide who we truly are in order to touch the magic. But this was certainly not always the case.
When Wicca first came to the United States from England in the early 1960s, the vast majority of covens simply would not accept gay members into their covens, citing rules of gender polarity which formed the basis of their magical system. A heterosexual working partner was required in order to practice the religion, and those who didn’t fit the mold were refused, if not outright derided.
This standard, however, was really only enforced against men. In a religion in which the high priestess reigned supreme, a special dispensation would allow for all-woman covens, while the very thought of an all-male coven was openly ridiculed.
Prominent members of the Craft at the time even spoke out against the very idea of homosexuals practicing what was to them strictly a fertility religion, and one that didn’t want to be associated with “perverts.” (Or people of color, for that matter.) And in those few instances in which a coven would accept a gay member, they were expected to “act straight” within the circle, making the covens of the Witches no more accepting at the time than the Catholic Church.
Given the majority of modern Witchcraft’s current climate of acceptance and even celebration, it may seem difficult to believe, but Michael Lloyd has the receipts. His 2012 book, “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski And the Rise of the New York Pagan,” meticulously details the life of a lesser-known Craft luminary who founded a branch of Witchcraft for queer men at a time when no one would accept us. With historic insights on the level of academia, “Bull of Heaven” is also a fascinating read, a window into the evolving culture of gay men in the 1960s, through the late 80s, and where that culture intersected with the occult community through the sexual revolution and on into the horrors of AIDS.
In 1975, before the dark time of the so-called “gay plague,” Buczynski (1947-1989) founded the Minoan Brotherhood, a men’s initiatory tradition of Witchcraft that celebrates men loving men within a mostly Cretan cultural context. His vision was for it to be a vehicle for spiritually ministering to gay men, offering divine connection and healing to a community that was so desperately in need of it.
In this tome, we bear witness to the challenges that the gay community faced, not only in the occult community, but in the world at large, during a time when police raids of gay bars and spaces were commonplace, and drugs and the sexual revolution were in full swing.
“Bull of Heaven” is so much more than just a biography of a single man. It documents not only Buczynski’s life and loves, his failures and triumphs – it is also a striking look at the inner workings of Wicca, and the wars that ensued between the prominent teachers at the time that have influenced the direction of the modern movement. Fascinating to historians of the Craft will be the “behind the scenes” look into some of the then-common practices concerning lineage, “vouches,” and the interpersonal squabbles that grew into full-fledged “witch wars,” some of which spanned the entire country.
For modern gay practitioners, it provides us with a look at some of our queer ancestors, or “Glorious Dead”: those gay or bisexual men who were part of what then was a new struggle for inclusiveness in the Craft that we love and practice today. Several gay figures feature prominently, including Leo Louis Martello (1930-2000), the gay activist and Sicilian witch who founded the Witches Anti-Defamation League (of which I am very proud to be able to say that I was a card-carrying member until its eventual demise), and Herman Slater (1935-1992), owner of the infamous “Warlock Shop” (later “Magickal Childe”) and producer of occult books and references, and who was instrumental in the publishing of the “Necronomicon” (yes, that one).
Several other famous Witches make appearances in the text, such as Raymond Buckland, Monique Wilson, Margot Adler, and Sybil Leek, as well as lesser-known though influential Craft figures such as Gwen Thompson.
While some of the information given is not of direct interest to practitioners of the Craft, Lloyd does an excellent job of presenting a balanced and robust account of not only the personal life of Buczynski (presenting him as neither sinner nor saint but as deliciously human) but also of the changing times in which he found himself. This makes this an invaluable resource for the queer and Craft historian alike and makes this on par with Margot Adler’s much beloved “Drawing Down the Moon.” Gay practitioners of the Craft should make an effort to read this herculean achievement of documented queer history. I am so very glad that I did.