Modern Pagan views on LGBT people
Modern Pagan (a.k.a. Neopagan) views on LGBT people, similar to other religious and/or spiritual traditions, vary considerably among different paths, sects, and belief systems. The minority nature of new religious movements makes it inherently difficult to ascertain perspectives and information.
Demographics and prevalence
A 2003 survey by Helen A. Berger found 28.3% of American neopagans identified in survey as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Anecdotal accounts corroborate those findings.
In 2013, a survey of neopagans in England, Wales, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand found 49.8% of women and 44.5% of men identified as non-heterosexual. Of the non-heterosexual female demographic, 78.5% of identified as bisexual and 11.2% identified as lesbian/gay; of the non-heterosexual male demographic, 55.2% identified as gay and 37.1% identified as bisexual.
Historically, there has always been a heavily gendered component to paganism and witchcraft. For many centuries, the Christian church and lay-people have believed that cisgender women are involved in paganism and witchcraft much more so than cisgender men, which can be seen as far back as 1487 with the printing of the Malleus Maleficarum
Several modern authors validate a female-dominant gender balance of the Western neopagan community. The aforementioned 2013 scientific survey of Western neopagans found that women were not only the dominant neopagan demographic, but the proportion thereof was increasing across the board in many countries surveyed. However, men tended to dominate certain traditions like Norse Heathenry, Druidry, Neo-Shamanism, Ceremonial Magic, and Thelema.
Philosophical and theological issues
Gender dualism and stereotypes
In the historically-gendered context, it is unsurprising that many modern pagan belief systems have some focus or basis on the human gender binary. This is commonly reflected in discussion about spiritual energy, which is often believed to be masculine or feminine in type. Specific deities many pagans invoke exist specifically in a binary-gendered (god vs. goddess) context. Dr. Christine Hoff Kraemer, a neopagan theologian and researcher, wrote:
The Pagan Federation of the U.K. provides a view into this gender dichotomy:
Pagan masculinity "is essentially beautiful, lithe, strong, burning with a deep passion calling out in the joy of creation." and "…reaching within to embrace a vision of wisdom, strength, and love." Pagan femininity is women who are "Priestesses in their own right, strong and proud, with their own vision." In addition, female "traditions have an especially powerful vision of the Earth as the Goddess and are deeply involved with caring for the Earth and protecting her from the rape of modern civilization. They are concerned with the healing of the Earth and with the healing of the image of women."
The stereotypical roles embedded in neopagan theology show themselves readily in the dichotomy of the traditional Triple Goddess and Horned God pairing. The Goddess's aspects are traditionally tied to roles of fertility/reproduction, nurturing, and receptiveness. In contrast, the God is represented as a wild, sexual hunter being. Storm Faerywolf, a follower of the Feri Tradition, summarized the effect this has on LGBTQ pagans:
"Even in traditions where this polarity is seen to be internalized… …we find that, ultimately, the model we have adopted is still a heterosexist one: that of polarized or complimentary forces being identified as male and female, thereby enshrining this model as the template for all real relationships whether they be romantic, magickal, or otherwise. For Queers this can be a dangerous practice."
Historical views on sexuality and gender
In the 20th century dawn of Neopaganism, heterosexual dualism was most exemplified in the "Great Rite" of British Traditional Wicca, one of the first notable neopagan ideological groups. In this Rite, a priest and priestess "were cast into rigidly gendered, heteronormative roles" in which the pairing performed a symbolic or literal representation of heterosexual intercourse which was considered vital for venerating entities and performing magic. Even in these roles, early neopagan views on sex were radical for their time in their sex positivity and tacit acceptance of BDSM.
As Wicca spread to North America, it incorporated countercultural, second-wave feminist, and LGBTQ elements. Kramer writes, "influenced by the writings of C. G. Jung, many Pagans of the 1970s and 1980s came to understand the Goddess and the God as energies that exist within each individual. The notion of binary sexual polarity remained, but it no longer necessarily required heterosexual behavior on the part of participants." Additionally, to improve mainstream acceptability, certain sexualities (such as queer or BDSM) were minimized.
By the 1980s and 1990s, this gender binary theological notion began being subverted. "Pagan theologians such as Starhawk began to discard the notion of polarity entirely, preferring instead to speak of ‘‘the erotic’’. For Starhawk, the creative energy of the universe does not move between any two poles, but instead is a complex dance among many beings and forces."
At the dawn of the 21st century, queer neopagans and their sects began to assert themselves more publicly. These LGBT-aligned groups "challenged the gender essentialism remaining in the sexual polarity still practiced" which remained in certain Wicca and feminist neopagan enclaves. Greater exploration and acceptance of queer and transgender figures began not only for adherents but deities and mythological figures as well. In addition, sex positivity and BDSM were brought back into active exploration and acceptance.
LGBT issues in specific sects and traditions
Wiccan traditions hold a wide range of differing beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity. However, Wicca is regarded by many practitioners as a fertility religion. Starhawk wrote in her 1982 book Dreaming the Dark, “Sexuality was a sacrament in the Old Religion; it was (and is) viewed as a powerful force through which the healing, fructifying love of the immanent Goddess was directly known, and could be drawn down to nourish the world, to quicken fertility in human beings and in nature.”
Most traditional Wiccans worship the Goddess and God, and a central part of Wiccan liturgy involves the Great Rite; an act of actual or symbolic ritual sexual intercourse between the two deities. This is traditionally carried out by a priest and priestess who have had the deities invoked upon them, and the conventional practice appears to be exclusively heterosexual. When performed 'in token' this involves the athame (representing the penis) descending into the chalice (representing the vagina).
Gardnerian and Alexandrian groups typically form their covens from male-female pairs exclusively. Kraemer writes, "The British Traditional Wicca of the 1950s and 1960s saw masculine and feminine energies as wholly distinct from each other, yet complementary. Although masculinity and femininity were to be valued equally, priestesses and priests were cast into rigidly gendered, heteronormative roles."
Gerald Gardner, the eponymous founder of Gardnerian Wicca, particularly stressed heterosexual approaches to Wicca. As Jan Van Cleve, former practitioner of traditional Wicca, wrote, "Much of Gardnerian magic is based on this notion that physical interaction between male and female is not only desirable, but also necessary." This practice may stem from Gardner's text (ostensibly quoting a witch, but perhaps in his own words):
The witches tell me 'The law always has been that power must be passed from man to woman or from woman to man, the only exception being when a mother initiates her daughter or a father his son, because they are part of themselves' (the reason is that great love is apt to occur between people who go through the rites together.) They go on to say: 'The Templars broke this age-old rule and passed the power from man to man: this led to sin and in doing so it brought about their downfall.' ... For this reason, they say, the goddess has strictly forbidden a man to be initiated by or to work with a man, or a woman to be initiated by or to work with a woman, the only exceptions being that a father may initiate his son and a mother her daughter, as said above; and the curse of the goddess may be on any who break this law.— Gerald Gardner, Witchcraft Today (1954)
"Gerald was homophobic. He had a deep hatred and detestation of homosexuality, which he regarded as a disgusting perversion and a flagrant transgression of natural law… 'There are no homosexual witches, and it is not possible to be a homosexual and a witch' Gerald almost shouted. No one argued with him."
However, the legitimacy of Gardner's rumored homophobia is disputable because Gardner showed much more evidence of an open and accepting attitude about practices in his writing which would not be characterized by the hatred or phobia which was common in the 1950s:
"Also, though the witch ideal is to form perfect couples of people ideally suited to each other, nowadays this is not always possible; the right couples go together and the rest go singly and do as they can. Witchcraft today is largely a case of 'make do'."
As the titular leader of Gardnerian Wicca, it difficult to determine of the above passages whether they represent a personal view of Gardner, Gardner's religious teaching for the sect of Wicca, both, or neither. It is also unclear whether or not whether these views/teachings changed over time.
Alex Sanders, the co-founder of Gardnerian offshoot Alexandrian Wicca, came out as bisexual later in life and created new rituals in which sexual orientation was irrelevant. However, a significant portion of Alexandrian belief is regarding heterosexual reproduction, best expressed by his wife and co-founder Maxine Sanders who is well-known to emphasize the concept of male-female polarity and the fact that Alexandrian Wicca is a fertility religion. She also expressed concern about a proper functionality of transgender people (referred to as "transvestites") within coven practices, saying it best to look at other traditions that suit them more. "These people", as she is noted to have said, "they're not happy people."
Dianic Wicca has become notable for the female-focus and anti-transgender stances of its founder, Zsuzsanna Budapest, and many members. This female-only, radical feminist variant of Wicca allows cisgender lesbians but not transgender women in Dianic covens. This is due to Dianic belief in gender essentialism, specifically "you have to have sometimes [sic] in your life a womb, and ovaries and [mensturate] and not die" according to Budapest . This belief and the way it is expressed is often denounced as transphobia and trans-exclusionary radical feminism.
Some Dianic practitioners, such as lesbian priestess Jan Van Cleve, see this discrimination as a reactionary impulse that will someday subside. Van Cleve writes:
"The relationship of the Feminist Movement to Dianic Wicca has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it liberated Wiccan women from patriarchal notions of paganism, which claimed that all energy comes from the male/female polarity. The early neo-Pagan leaders were all men and sex between sexes occupied a large part of their attention and sometimes even their rituals. This was rejected by feminists who sought a spirituality they could call exclusively their own. However, as feminism was a reaction to oppression, it carried with it a mindset colored by it. Feminists rebelled against the oppression of men but very soon began to oppress lesbians in their own ranks. The early years of the National Organization of Women, for example, were rife with bitter struggles between straight and lesbian feminists.
Oppression inevitably breeds oppression. The oppressed inevitably become the oppressors. It’s the old story of man beats wife, wife yells at child, and child kicks dog. The same thing happened in Dianic Wiccan circles between straight and lesbian Witches. Lesbians, in turn, oppressed Bisexual women, and today some feminists and lesbians are opposed to transgendered women in circle. These are normal growing pains of any movement and as straight and lesbian women have by now largely overcome their orientation differences, they will no doubt soon overcome their fears of their transgendered sisters as well."
Heathenry (specifically Ásatrú) has a complex relationship with the LGBTQ community. The diversity and gender fluidity of some Norse deities provides interest for some LGBTQ individuals in the pagan sect. However historical and modern interest in reviving heathen beliefs has struggled with certain factions with white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and other, similar far right-wing beliefs who view the Norse and Germanic beliefs to form the true Caucasian-European ethnoreligious group. Those factions express anti-LGBT sentiment historically associated with those beliefs.
LGBT-inclusive paths and traditions
Newer Wiccan traditions often dodge any historical aversion to LGBT individuals. These traditions sometimes cite the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess which says "All acts of Love and Pleasure are My rituals". According to professor and Wicca author Ann-Marie Gallagher, "There is a moralistic doctrine or dogma other than the advice offered in the Wiccan Rede… The only 'law' here is love… It matters that we are gay, straight, bisexual or transgender– the physical world is sacred, and [we are] celebrating our physicality, sexuality, human nature and celebrating the Goddess, Giver of ALL life and soul of ALL nature."
The Pagan Federation of Canada stated, "Over the last few decades, many people have thought that the emphasis on male/female polarity in Wicca excludes homosexuals." However, the Federation goes on to make the case for the validity of LGBT orientations even within traditional Wicca, suggesting that gay men and lesbians are likely to be particularly alive to the interplay of the masculine and feminine principles in the Universe.
The Feri Tradition, a modern branch of traditional Witchcraft has provided a home for many neopagan LGBT individuals. The Tradition is very open to non-heterosexual orientations and queer identities. Feri practitioner Storm Faerywolf writes:
"As any Queer practitioner can attest, there is a definite shortage of Queer-specific models that encourage the strengthening of ourselves as whole beings. In many Neo-Pagan Witchcraft traditions, we are told simply to adopt the pre-existing (and heterosexist) magickal modalities of polarity and fertility. In the Feri tradition we are given certain tools that enable us to have healthier relationships with our Divine natures, devoid of any such baggage."
Two Minoan traditions were founded in New York City in the 1970s. Minoan initiations and elevations are all conducted in single-gender circles. Both traditions continue to this day as oath-bound, initiatory mystery religions using a ritual framework descended from Gardnerian Wicca.
- Minoan Brotherhood founded in 1975 by Edmund Buczynski, an elder in the Gardnerian, WICA, and New York Welsh Traditions, in order to create a tradition for gay and bisexual men—one that would celebrate and explore the distinctive mysteries unique to men who love men.
- Minoan Sisterhood founded in 1976 by Lady Rhea and Lady Miw-Sekhmet, in collaboration with Buczynski, as the women's counterpart to the Brotherhood.
The Fellowship of the Phoenix (originally "Brotherhood") was founded in the summer of 2004 by seven gay men from diverse traditions such as ceremonial magic, shamanism, and pre-Gardnerian witchcraft in order to create an ecumenical neopagan tradition which serves the community of men who love men. The maxim of the Fellowship is "Find the Divine within your own experience." In 2017, the Seattle Temple began a reformation within the group to expand the tradition to be "open to all queer/LBGTQIA adults" which has been accepted throughout. Fellowship theology has been modified to fit an expanded, inclusive model.
The Radical Faeries began in the 1970s as a predominantly gay male-oriented movement. The Faeries today are a loosely affiliated worldwide network and countercultural movement seeking to redefine queer consciousness through secular spirituality; the movement also adopts elements from anarchism and environmentalism. Certain events may be focused on gay male spirituality, while others are open to all genders and orientations.
Secular, interfaith, and intersectional
Naturalist, scientific, and humanist
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) states "we not only open our doors to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, we value diversity of sexuality and gender and see it as a spiritual gift". The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (a.k.a. CUUPS), the pagan-aligned affiliate of the UUA, echoes those beliefs with bylaws that state covenant membership "shall be open, without regard to race, color, sex, affectional or sexual orientation, gender expression, physical disability, national origin, or social condition."
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