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Sunday 12 October 2008

Spiritualism and LGBT People

Posted in: Features
By Craig Young - 17th July 2007

At a time when orthodox religion was conservative and male dominated, spiritualism offered a haven for those with feminist, antislavery and leftist politics in the 19th century. What about us, however?

Having read about the subject of feminist involvement in the spiritualist faith of the nineteenth century, it seems obvious that the chief attraction to independently minded women was its nonhierarchical nature, and its endorsement of a leading spiritual role for women as mediums. In spiritualism, there is an afterlife, but the spirit evolves through it, ascending multiple heavens.

Spiritualism had its share of debunkers who exposed fraud within the ranks of unscrupulous mediums, but the faith provided solace for the lonely and empowered those who challenged the conservatism of established Christian denominations. During the twentieth century, spiritualism has become increasingly syncretist, and absorbed aspects of other faiths. Given the absence of a punitive afterlife, it is not surprising that some forms of spiritualism embrace lesbian and gay membership, and that one such congregation performed a committment ceremony for two of its gay male members.

However, unlike spiritualism and nineteenth century feminism, we know comparatively little about the role spiritualism might have played in the lives of past generations of gay men and lesbians. Granted, Sarah Waters has written a novel on the subject (Affinity, 1999), but this aspect of the LGBT past remains obscure to us.

How can we be sure that some LGBT spiritualists existed in the past? Mostly because of the existence of out lesbian and gay followers of Santeria and Voudoun in the Caribbean and Latin America. In both New World syncretistic faiths, there is a place for queeny gay men and lesbian butches who are possessed by particular transgender deities, and many Afro-Carribean and Latin American lesbians and gay men have found social networks and personal significance within this form of spiritualism. So, if it exists there, could it have existed here? And does it exist now?

We don't know. Granted, there are some prominent gay mediums around together, particularly Britain's Colin Fry. However, there are no analogous lesbian and gay spiritualist organisations to those that exist for LGBT Christians, Jews and Muslims. What remains to be discovered, and what will it be like?


Sarah Waters: Affinity: London: Virago: 1999.

Feminism and Spiritualism:

Alex Owen: The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2004.

Diana Barshom: Trial of Women: Feminism and the Occult Sciences in Victorian Literature and Society: New York: New York University Press: 1992.

Jenny Hazelgrove: Spiritualism and British Society Between the Wars: Machester: Manchester University Press: 2000.

Gays and Santeria:

Salvador Vidal-Ortiz: "Sexuality, Gender and Race: LGBTs at the Croosroads of Santeria Practice and Beliefs" in Scott Thumma and Ed Gray (eds) Gay Religion: Walnut Creek: Alta Mira Press: 2005.

Craig Young - 17th July 2007