Extract from Coven Working by Carrie West and Philip Wright
Initially, it may seem strange that ‘straight’ magical partners are writing on the subject of gay magical practices in the context of general coven working, but on closer examination this is not as odd as it would first appear. We always try to adopt an approach that is integrated, non-judgemental and avoids the overtones of justification that often accompany the majority of LGBT writing, while still managing to examine gay magical energies from a purely practical and functional perspective. It is quite difficult keeping all the balls in the air (if you’ll excuse the expression) but it is also possible to integrate gay members into a mixed coven with the minimum amount of fuss, if folk are of a mind to do so.
As experienced practitioners, we have operated successful teaching groups for many years that have included men and women of all sexual persuasions without exclusion or bias. During that time we have, of course, encountered problems and prejudices on both sides of the ‘gay divide’ and would say right from the start, that the refusal to welcome gays into a predominantly straight group says more about the coven leader’s personal prejudices than it does about their magical teaching capabilities. There are a number of difficulties and misunderstandings that do arise with regard to gay and lesbian magical practice within Craft, but hopefully our ‘four-penny worth’ of advice will help to reassure both gay pagans and those straight pagans who claim (quite wrongly) that gays have no place in a modern coven.
Firstly: An individual’s sexuality is an extremely personal and intimate thing. Our sexual preferences are our own affair and not something that is up for open discussion – especially if our inclusion or exclusion from a group may be dependent upon it. In fact, all over the world there are thousands of ‘straight’ magical groups, covens, orders and organisations operating with members who, unbeknown to the majority, are gay. This secrecy usually stems from the homophobic attitude still prevalent within Western society and the mercurial reaction with which so-called friends can respond once the truth is out in the open. It’s not just in Craft that we hear the words: ‘I quite liked him/her until I found out s/he was gay!’ as if the person referred to was guilty of some heinous crime, or had some highly contagious disease.
Subsequently we now have a gay and lesbian community inside the wider pagan community because they feel the need for a separate identity. The result may have created a new pagan club-culture but it does nothing to solve the magical problems that arise from same-sex covens. This schism was widened a few years ago when a leading pagan journal openly announced that homosexuals could not be witches. It was a stance that the late Bob Clay-Egerton was quick to question in What You Call Time:
“When I first commenced my studies in the days of illegal witchcraft, I was taught before my initiation that anyone who commenced the practice of Craft in sincerity, formal initiate or not, was a witch. This would imply that a homosexual can be a witch. The homosexual, or trans-sexual will probably find major obstacles put in their path if attempting to join a coven and may find it easier to find acceptance among magicians than they will among witches.
“Sexuality, to my mind, is not a physical but a mental and instinctual thing. The problem is not in the mind of the trans- or homosexual pagan but in the early conditioning by socio-religious mores of pagans not yet sufficiently advanced to be able to stand apart and look with the eye – not of morality and sexuality – but with the eye of spirituality … I wonder if we all, male and female, do not have quite a bit of both sexes in our individual makeup. I do know personally of one High Priestess who, from firsthand experience of working with homosexual and heterosexual members, is prepared to consider such applications for admittance into the Craft based on ability rather than gender.”
Successful magical equilibrium, requires that everyone takes into account the dual masculine-feminine energy that is contained within us all. Those whose magical training has only been at a superficial level often have difficulty in looking at this aspect of god-power beyond the concept of god/goddess and man/woman. This is usually due to the ‘fertility’ aspect of most modern earth-based spiritualities not being able to see much further than the traditional gender roles and the fertility of the god/goddess in terms of Nature and procreation.
Secondly: We need to examine the viewpoints of gay pagans – and for this we are extremely grateful to the former editor of Hoblink for allowing us access to the magazine’s archive, which gives gay pagans the opportunity to speak for themselves. One letter struck a very positive cord, which may also cause a large number of straight pagans to think quite carefully.
“A few years ago, a couple of friends and I formed a gay coven. We had all met through a larger mixed group, but the formation of a specifically gay group aroused considerable opposition from the more traditionally-minded elements of the Craft. They really needn’t have worried. Firstly, the group included a number of individuals who left when it became clear that they weren’t likely to achieve their own ends. Secondly, and far more importantly, the group failed because it did not have a central myth around which to build the group’s identity, or to focus group-work.
“That experience left quite a deep impression on me and so for the last few years I have worked solo. However, I believe that the same dilemma still faces almost all gay men who become involved with the neo-pagan groups. Whether the same problem confronts lesbians, I don’t know … Sadly, one sees so many groups today that attempt to revive ancient religious ‘mysteries’ that don’t have any relevance to the lives of their members. In the end they become fancy dress parties, performing sometimes charming, but utterly meaningless rituals.
“I say this because I believe the danger of gay men falling into this trap is very real. Once again, I can only speak from my own experience, and I know only too well that I find it very difficult to relate to a culture dominated by heterosexual values. But I also know that I am not alone in this. My personal belief is that gay men are physically and psychologically different from straight men. Moreover, we have our own distinctive patterns of behaviour and our own cultural values (however shallow some may appear!). They do not always sit well with the accepted values of conventional society, hence the charge of moral turpitude so often levelled against us …”
Our reaction on reading this particular piece, was how tragic that such a magically perceptive young man had been forced to work solitary when his concept of magical energy was probably more heightened than most straight pagans (both male and female) we’ve encountered. This latter point was driven home by the claim in a subsequent issue, that magical energy didn’t ‘give a monkey’s who it is flowing from and to, as long as those people are in tune and have ‘perfect love and trust’ for each other’. Sorry … but yes it does. Just like the positive, negative and earthing wires in an electric plug need to be channelled correctly, or you run the risk of short-circuiting the whole house!
One young man who applied to join our coven, bit the bullet and admitted right from the start that he was gay. This wasn’t bravery … he simply didn’t want to waste any more time attempting to integrate with a group of people who may possibly reject him if, and when, his sexuality became common knowledge. For us this wasn’t a problem. Over the years we’ve worked with every permutation of sexual persuasion including hetero- and homosexual, hermaphrodite, lesbian, bi-sexual, transsexuals and transvestites and each one has been a magical challenge – for us, as well as our students.
At the moment, within the coven we just happen to have a transsexual, a bi-sexual and two homosexuals – and each one requires a different perspective on their own particular approach to magic. Don’t think for one moment that we get it right every time – we don’t – but at least we’re willing to give it our best shot! Our way is to treat each person as an individual, and get them to operate initially within the Coven as normal men and women, and to forget about the subtle nuances that make them different from the ‘straight’ members of the coven.
What we have found is that ‘straight’ people are frightened of homosexuality, simply because it makes ’em nervous. A man may normally engage in physical contact in the form of back-slapping but if the recipient was known to be gay, he would immediately refrain from any bodily contact in case he was: a) thought to be making sexual overtures, or b) any onlookers might assume him to be gay. We also know that people always fear what they don’t understand, and the thought of joining in The Mill, holding hands with a homosexual, would probably give most heterosexual males a fit of the vapours! Women tend to be less paranoid, but there are still a large number who would it offensive if they found a gay man in their group. Lesbians, on the other hand, tend to excite prurient curiosity rather than revulsion.
In the beginning we found ourselves having to combat members’ stereotypical attitudes that gay men were automatically ‘pansies’ (to coin an old-fashioned phrase), i.e. the limp-wristed, girlie types caricatured by stand-up comedians. One of our gay lads is a six-footer, built like a brick lavatory and works as a scaffolder, balancing precariously hundreds of feet above the City pavements – anyone want to call him Alice!!? The other is a stockbroker, with a beautiful home and a partner with whom he’s lived for the past 15 years, and without any outward sign that he happens to be gay.
Contrary to popular belief, not all gay men are hairdressers or in the least bit ineffectual, and on a superficially magical level, there’s nothing different about them at all. For group working they participate in just the same way as any straight man. Similarly, the first year of study is identical for anyone joining the coven, regardless of gender. This doesn’t mean that we blithely carry on as if there were no differences at all, but because of the way individuals respond to the set selection of tasks and magical exercises – again regardless of gender – we are able to gauge the direction their magical leanings will take. And it is on this level that the magical dissimilarities of the individual will manifest. It is not unusual, for example, for a perfectly normal, ordinary woman to exhibit decided masculine traits on a magical level, but this does not mean that she has any latent lesbian tendencies!
As the young man pointed out earlier in this chapter, gay culture does have its own distinctive patterns of behaviour and values, and it is not until we get onto the next level of magical practice that any real problems may arise. Contemporary paganism has become imbalanced, inasmuch as the Goddess is all, and we can see where gay men would have a problem sublimating a female ‘fertility’ image. As he also pointed out, gay culture does not have a ‘central myth’ around which to build an image for the purposes of belief/worship, and this can play havoc within group work in terms of coven harmony and equilibrium. This is why Bob Clay-Egerton suggested that ritual magic might be a more appropriate Path … we would add that shamanism is also an area where gay men can come into their own … as it were.
For these reasons, it is not possible to offer any off-the-cuff, quick-fix solutions about the correct way to integrate gay men (or lesbians) into a predominantly straight group, since much depends on their own personal magical energies and how they handle them. An experienced magical practitioner will have little difficulty in analysing the best way to proceed with a programme of learning, but those with little or no true magical ability may cause more harm than good, both on the personal and psychic levels. Again, we can only reiterate that the refusal to welcome gays into a predominantly straight group, says more about the coven leader’s personal prejudices than it does about their magical teaching capabilities.
Trans-sexuals, on the other hand, can have even the most experienced practitioner scratching their head. During the period of change (both chemically and surgically) a trans-sexual’s body and mind has a lot to cope with on the physical, never mind trying to experiment with altered states of consciousness while being pumped full of hormones! From personal experience, we would say that it would be inadvisable for anyone undergoing a sex-change to indulge in any deeper levels of psychic or magical working until all the ‘i’s’ have been dotted and the ‘t’s’ crossed. Magic can be dangerous and this is one of those areas where even experienced practitioners can get it wrong, so keep things on a superficial level until there are distinctly recognisable energies to channel.
The bi-sexual girl in our group, didn’t have any problems with magical identification, simply because she is a pretty, feminine creature, who merely enjoys sex with both male and female lovers. What she does bring to the coven is a happy, relaxed attitude to sexuality, which results in a lot of good-natured banter between everyone, without anyone feeling threatened or uncomfortable. And laughter is the key to solving most problems within any group, magical or not.
The main problem (apart from unavoidable personal prejudices) cited by people who become irritated by the gay issue, appears to stem from pseudo-historical arguments concerning various different cultural views on homosexuality to present cases for and against, totally disregarding the fact that witchcraft, paganism and homosexuality have all been classed as a social aberration by the Church in its time. Anyone doubting this should spend some time reading the non-pagan Sex, Dissidence & Damnation by Jeffrey Richards, former Professor of Cultural History at the University of Lancaster. Also citing the historical evidence of homosexual relations in Sparta, and feudal Japan, or claiming every well-known historical figure had homosexual tendencies, does nothing to validate the acceptance of gay men and women in Craft.
The ‘real’ problem, however, has nothing to do with an individual’s sexuality and everything to do with the personalities involved. As one coven leader of our acquaintance exclaimed: “I couldn’t care less which side of the divide people come from, providing they behave like civilised human beings. I recently had to boot one chap out, simply because he was a thoroughly unpleasant character and was hell-bent on disrupting the group at every turn. He started screaming that we were homophobic, and couldn’t get it through his thick head that he was being chucked out because he was an objectionable little shit! The fact that he was gay didn’t enter into the equation.”
Of course, the problem of homophobia is not going to go away and for anyone who is gay and who wishes to join a group, we would say keep your personal life under wraps until you’ve sussed out the magical capabilities of those running the coven. With the best will in the world, we cannot force folk into welcoming others into what is, to all intents and purposes, a private, close-knit group. If the magical group dynamics are going to work, then it will only do so if all the participants are comfortable with each other and in harmony with their magical energies.
Those operating covens and other groups should again be honest with themselves about their policy over admitting gays. If you are operating a purely devotional group, as opposed to a magical one, then ‘gay’ energies will make very little difference to your festivals and celebrations.
Coven Working: How to Join or Set Up a Working Coven by Carrie West and Philip Wright is published by Ignotus Press UK and available from Amazon or direct from the printers at a discounted price. Go to: https://www.feedaread.com/books/Coven-Working-9781786971234.aspx