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Sunday 12 October 2008

Gaia and Her Children: Wicca and LGBT Rights

Posted in: Features
By Craig Young - 26th August 2007

Is Wicca the perfect spiritual pathway for women, and for lesbians and gay men? In investigating this, we need to take account of social change and spirituality.

Wicca, the Craft, neopaganism, radical faerie or earth-based spirituality all involve the 're-enchantment' of the world and renewed worship of archaeological reconstructions of deities that existed before the onset of western colonisation, including those within Europe itself. It began in the nineteenth century, but wiccan revivalism really began to take off in the seventies, within the United States.

Feminist post-Christian women's spirituality was one reason. Due to recurrent battles within unresponsive male-dominated religious institutions, heterosexual and lesbian feminists alike got tired of fighting and left. In response to the absence of female divine imagery, celebration of women's bodily experiences and honouring of lesbian sexuality and relationships, they established their own non-hierarchical circles that rehabilitated the worship of the Goddess. Some gay men agreed with this inspiration, and parallel radical faerie groups sprang up, consisting of alternative gay men who either worshipped the Goddess as related to gay male experience, or nonhierarchical and anarchic male deities like Pan.

Over time, the following foundation myth arose. Before the rise of current male-dominated societies, female-dominated nonhierarchical matriarchies ruled primitive human societies. Women were free to control their own fertility, as they were the only ones who understood it, and goddess figurines celebrated this fertility, while consensual polymorphous perversity existed before the institution of heterosexuality as somehow 'natural.' Anthropologists are critical that such matriarchal utopias ever existed, or that more than one hundred thousand witches were massacred in Europe when Catholics and Protestants alike went on a witchcraze to suppress popular midwifery and herbalism.

However, more recently, there has risen an alternative line of thought. According to this postmodern wiccan strand, it doesn't matter if progressive, feminist and inclusive Wicca is relatively new and lacks historical vintage. What is important is the existence of particular values that overcome the oppressive body/soul, straight/gay, male/female and other hierarchies of 'holiness' that exist in Christian-dominated societies, even as post-Christian fragments of that earlier belief system. The Goddess is a metaphor for feminist, LGBT and progressive community, and She dwells within and alongside us.

Is Wicca/Goddess worship/neopaganism just for women/lesbians? No, not really. There are some women-only goddess worshipper circles/covens, but that's only to be expected, given that women may deliberately want seperatist options to heal from the wounds of a male-dominated society, although there are also some mixed ones, and I've already mentioned radical faerie. More recently, some transwomen have revived the rites of Cybele, a North European goddess worshipped by eunuchs in Greco-Roman antiquity.

As time has gone on, feminism has intermingled with LGBT rights activism and more recently, green and antiglobalisation politics, as in the case of celebrated San Francisco bisexual witch Starhawk and her Reclaiming Collective, which includes some gay men and also some focus on alternative male god figures. However, the presence of the latter is open for debate. Some gay men don't feel particularly comfortable with male god imagery either, and find the presence of the Goddess more healing and appropriate for their psychological needs.

And in the meantime, Wicca has grown from a few circles to a major belief system. In the 2001 census, late adolescents and twentysomethings showed a strong inclination toward the Craft, which shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the strength of the green and peace movements here. There are now over five thousand who view themselves as followers of earth-based spirituality, which rivals the total population of New Zealand Jews.

Is this our perfect faith? Well,don't expect overnight consensus. I've had differences of opinion with younger pagans over their opposition to GM crops and my agnostic rationalist approach to that issue, to say nothing of the more earnest vegan fundamentalists. Still, insofar as Wicca goes, sexuality and gender are grounds for inclusion, not exclusion. It's a healthy option for us, and one which more LGBT folk are exploring, particularly our younger community members.


Margot Adler: Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids and Goddess Worshippers Today: New York: Penguin/Arkana: 1997.

Chris Pencziak: Gay Witchcraft: Boston: Weiser: 2003.

Jone Solomonson: Enchanted Feminism: London: Routledge: 2001.

Craig Young - 26th August 2007