Column: Liminality, Sex, and the Queer Craft

Witches are often portrayed as being at the very edges of society, either philosophically or in actualality. Whether their separation from civilization is one of geography or more subtly evident in terms of a non-adherence to social norms and values, the witch has historically been “on the fringe”; never quite gone, but conveniently shoved as far away as humanly possible.

Never quite gone because, like it or not, the witch serves a necessary purpose. The witch is someone who can act outside of the restrictions of that which is “normal” and so becomes very valuable to those whose needs surpass their own agency. When one has exhausted all other rational avenues to address a grievance, secure a blessing, or heal a wound, witchcraft suddenly becomes appealing, even to those who might previously have offered only condemnation.

Magic, to the non-magically-minded, would seem to go against the natural order, and so the witch becomes unnatural or supernatural, further driving them to the societal edge: something to fear, to respect, to despise, and even to desire. In that liminal space between love and hate, the witches live and make their magic.

Three glamorous young witches seated around a glowing cauldron. Author’s note: The most supernatural thing about this photo is the prodigious use of lens flare. [DepositPhotos]

Witchcraft has also been historically linked with sex, to the degree that the two ideas really can’t be extricated. Whether it is in the scandalous details of the witch trials that alleged copious sexual acts, seen as wanton depravities to a sex-obsessed church, or in the modern Pagan views of sexuality as expression of divinity, sex is a core power through which many witches – both old and new — learn to connect to the underlying power that is of the utmost importance in the Craft: ecstasy.

When I was a boy, I was deeply drawn to witchcraft. If a movie, TV show, or comic book had anything to do with witches, I was first in line, front row, center. Blame it perhaps on the cliché of a queer kid feeling outcast and then turning to the occult for self-empowerment. (I’m sure those episodes of Bewitched in my formative years may also have had something to do with it.) Whatever the true origins of my interest, it was deep and ever-present. And as it was fed over the years, it became a personal calling, outlasting any “phase” my parents or peers assumed I was experiencing. At fourteen, underneath a full moon, I formally dedicated myself to the ancient powers.

The rite itself was simple enough – a ritual of my own design involving a candle, an apple cut in half to reveal the hidden star, a written “contract”, and basking naked in the light of the full moon. My intention was to commune with the goddess Diana, with whom I had been building a relationship for some months. While that did happen, the focus of the rite spontaneously shifted. While focusing on the light of the moon, my attentions were turned toward the darkness. I began to feel it as a living presence, and that presence felt masculine to me.

In this darkness, I could feel desire. My own, as well as what I felt belongs to this being. A deep longing, like a need that was crying out to be met. I instinctively engaged in sex with this being, who appeared to my minds’ eye as a horned god made from what felt like tangible darkness. He took form in my mind, but I felt that he was the darkness. All around me. Touching my skin. Entering me through my breath. I felt exhilaration, excitement, pleasure, and a good dose of fear.

Soon that fear melted away as I began to feel connected to the air around me, and to the land, and to the stars. In a state of ecstasy, it was here that I officially became a Warlock.

In my minds’ eye the vision looked like this, which helped to inspire this piece years later.
Detail from “The Royal Darkness,” 2004, depicting a bull-headed winged deity holding a skull, a flame blazing between its horns. [Storm Faerywolf]

The experience left me changed. A seed had been planted, and I decided to nurture it. Back in those teen years as I was exploring my spiritual leanings, I ran across books on the subject of Witchcraft that were written by actual Witches, still a somewhat novel phenomenon at the time. The concept of magical polarity would be consistently asserted, invariably in a male/female gender binary. Sex magic was said to be strictly between lovers (or between a High Priest/ess and the new initiate, yikes!) and would take place only after the rest of the coven had left the room. Homosexuality, when even addressed at all, was presented as “less than” a heterosexual working, and most of the time was discouraged, if not outright prohibited. It all seemed very prim and proper – though to be fair, they were British authors, so who could blame my assessment?

Not only did this do nothing to satisfy the sexual longings of a queer teenage boy, to whom the thought of witches’ orgies around a sabbatic fire seemed like the obvious choice of religious devotion, but it also seemed to be somewhat of a smokescreen. Why were Witches portraying themselves with the same values and mores as their Christian counterparts? First, they came for the hexing. Then they came for the sexing. De-fanged and neutered, the Craft was presenting itself publicly as friendly, harmless, and non-offensive, ostensibly removing from the general public any logical reason to further fear and hate us.

While books and covens emphasized a model of magical sexuality that was restrictive and exclusive, my own experiences taught me that this power was available to everyone, and not just to heterosexual couples. As I matured, I began to rethink certain ideas, challenging assertions such as fertility as being the foundation of the Craft. I began to look at certain rituals through another lens; the Great Rite becoming a celebration of ecstasy and harmony for any or no gender, rather than of any specific polarity or gendered symbolism.

“Her chalice, his athame: A symbolic Great Rite,” 2010 [Shylah Anderson, Flickr, CC 2.0]

These were the issues about which I would write, and when I began my website back in 1999, these were the things that people would write and ask me about. Some were outraged that I might dare to reinterpret the sacred rituals of the Craft and would admonish me for trying to “make Witchcraft gay.” Others were appreciative to know that they were not alone in their philosophical and magical propensities.

For me, it’s not so much a “queering of the Craft,” as it is a recognition of the queerness that has always been at the heart of it. In the lore of Aradia, the goddess Diana is the Queen of the Witches and the Faeries, but she is also considered to be a goddess who proves solace and protection for thieves and outcasts. Going against the grain is part of a Witch’s DNA.

My personal theology can be summed up in the now famous passage from the late Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess:

“All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.”

This simple statement had a profound effect upon my teenage psyche. In it I found a religious value exalting pleasure, happiness, and a radical self-love. In the Craft I found a place that not only tolerated my desires, but encouraged them. Love and pleasure. Like two pillars between which we position ourselves, one foot in each world.

Between Two Worlds [DepositPhotos]

All Witches are creatures of liminality. We walk between the worlds of logic and dream, drawing from the magical well of the irrational and then allowing that to help inform our rational decisions. But the queer practitioner has a potential advantage here that our straight covenmates do not. We are already forced to live in two worlds, often from an early age. We learn to reinterpret and reimagine the myths and stories that transmit culture and history, making them relevant to our lives as queer people. We learn to hide ourselves, to protect ourselves, to project an outward image that complies with what society expects from us. We can be strangers in our own families, and, as painful as that can be, surviving it gives us an inner strength.

We have had to question ourselves in ways that most straight people simply never do. We have had to strive to claim our own identity and when we do it is a powerful thing. To step out of the closet is to throw off chains and vowing to never again live in emotional bondage. It is an initiation, and we are both changed and strengthened by it.

Let these words be a reminder and rallying cry for our fellow queer practitioners to always continue to question, to reinterpret, and to expand our views on what the Craft is and can be. Let us see our queerness not as a liability, but as an asset in our magical work. We are not deviating from that great work. We define it for ourselves. We offer another perspective, a different view, a distinctive type of magic that sometimes goes against the grain, stirring things up and making things interesting. All acts of love and pleasure. Let this be the motto that unifies us in our diversity. Blessed be.

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