Coven & Queer Thought: How Mainstreaming Paganism Damages Queer Voices

When I began to explore my identity as a gay male I knew early on that I would be closely looking at my spirituality. It is this dual way of having to process both queer identity and queer spirit that led me to understand the complexities inherent in coming out.

Boudoirs and Broom Closets

When I first came out as a gay man it was with a sense of terror and relief, all wrapped into one, that greeted me. It was like jumping from a plane, you both want to and do not want to all at the same time. I graduated high school and moved to study at my four year university where I met several other people deeply interested in the occult, as I was. They came from every end of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, from cis-gendered and heterosexual to pansexual and trans*. We would meet and share stories of magic, tarot, what we did on the important calendar days, and how we worked with our various beliefs (we didn't all subscribe to the same beliefs per se) when surrounded by people who may not understand.

Life is a series of closets and I went from one where I talked about love, specifically my love of others, to spirituality and consequently my love of self. I felt frustrated that I didn't have a place to call my own, my own ground to stand on. To this day, stories of gods and goddesses engaging in same-sex affairs, relationships, and marriages fascinates me to no end.

But where could I take this exploration? It wasn't meant to stay within the small community of people I had befriended at school, graduation approached for many of them and we all parted ways amicably. I continued to study both academically and spiritually, often staying up until the very early morning in order to finish reading one thing or another.

Then I met a small group of people who had formed a coven. They invited me to join and I eagerly accepted. This was to an eye opening experience in many ways for me, when it came to community and voice.

Around the time I joined I began to notice a pattern to our ritual events, we would come in and complete the ritual from scripts given to us by the HPS. Communication was often a topic of discussion as we all had busy schedules and sometimes things happened. But this seemed to set off a tirade that itself became scripted over time. It wasn't as if I didn't have anything to say, I wanted to often talk about ritual, history, and mythology as well as spellwork. But that was ultimately left to the wayside for a consistent discussion of group dynamics. The HPS on one side and everyone else on the other. It began to feel like a parent often scolding a child and the child sheepishly agreeing that they were bad and could do better.

No Title Needed, We Are All...Equal?

Of course, for this to be true, we all need to have our voice be heard. I knew that the people I was calling my coven family felt similarly and that even the leader of this eclectic mix had experience being silenced in spiritual organizations. If you've come to Paganism from just about any mainstream religion, then you'll know the feeling well.

But rather than operate the coven differently, as had been suggested on many occasions, it was said ad nauseam that this is the way it's always done, this is the way we always do it. Red flags to anyone who has even a passing experience in Women's and Gender Studies courses. Heteronormative, euro-centric thinking can be insidious and so it was with a fair few people I encountered in the local Pagan community.

From the man who touted himself as a high priest and yet scoffed at the idea of trans* women wanting to discuss trans* deities.

To the pair of gay men who had been together for some time and faced many instances of anti-LGBTQIA+ attitude but actively allowed bigotry and racism to go unchecked for the sake of friendship.

But if anything, magic and the pursuit of magical paths is in itself subversive and there can be no more a radical act than that of calling for unification. But that means equal voice. That means discussing trans* stories and deities, black history and the gods they have carried with them from not too long ago, and that means calling each other in when we need to do so.

There is NO authority that can be exempt from that. No age, no amount of magical training, no length of time spent studying that can excuse not doing this important work. I called these people out and when it came to dealing with my grievances in my own coven, I tried to solve it in small ways at first.

There was the time when I suggested we go off script and try something more free-form, but that was met with more naysaying. There was the time when the leader was agitated that no one had replied to their text about supplies in a timely manner (an easy thing to address, or it should be). At that time they were incensed and bemoaned the fact that they didn't have time to rewrite the group ritual—despite 2/3rds of it coming from the same template again and again. I offered to write it, having written before this coven. I was told that I was not qualified as I did not have the degrees required by our tradition. But we weren't billed as any one tradition, but eclectic. We also proclaimed to be a teaching coven. But there was little to be done by way of learning, except by sight at this point.

If we are an eclectic coven and a learning coven then damn the rules because you've just said in less words that we are there to learn from all points of view. But the only view being broadcast was cisgendered and condescendingly ageist.

Things came to a head when on Yule the HPS, who had agreed to my suggestion of a yule log prior to ritual, and one where Partner could attend. I was eagerly awaiting this, as was my partner. He went so far as to volunteer to make food for our communal feast portion. All was well.

But the HPS claimed to not remember agreeing this any of this and insisted that the yule log was to be a part of ritual and therefore kept private. HPS and I traded words and they informed me that I need to show up anymore, and we parted ways in one of those "You can't fire me, I quit." situations. It was messy but I was fine with it, having decided some time ago that if they were unwilling to bend in any direction that I would pursue my own path again.

And then Partner cried. Not only did the HPS condescend to myself and others, but their actions made my partner upset, sad, embarrassed, and frustrated. That was and is the line.

Witch, Please

If anything was learned during that time it was that even with more to learn, even with only a few years of study and much of that fluffy bunny, hardly questioned at all and instead taken at face value, experience; those in authority will continue to cling to their power structure out of fear of the unknown. They don't want to approach anything that makes them uncomfortable. Instead of withstanding a few moments of discomfort, or combating emotions they may not have known they would feel—anxiety, anger, frustration, embarrassment, are common.

Fast forward just under a month and I am talking, once again, to LGBTQIA+ pagans and feel a sense of understanding, a sense of belonging even as we all work our own paths. I may never pursue a coven again but finding people who encourage your voice, who want to hear what you have to say and who do not balk when discussion turns to unfamiliar waters, it's damn refreshing.

The path of Paganism should not, nay, cannot, emulate the structures of our current society, either spiritually or otherwise. That is using poisoned water to feed the masses and it does no one any good at all. If you're pursuing a pagan path, then dare to be different, dare to think outside the box. Dare to question—no matter what you do, dare to question. And in the end do not back down when you are told to sit there and be silent and let the adults take charge.

I am twenty-six years old, do not think I come by this age easily and I will not have my voice stifled. But, I want to clarify, I am willing to give up space when needed, I know what it can feel like as a white man to come to the table and feel that righteous indignation, to feel that anger and frustration. But that isn't me, that's the conditioning talking. My lens is not the only one.

Sit and be still while others are talking, because if they support you then they will show that. If they don't they will show that too.  It's about balance and it always has been. Without it, we fall.

In the end, I seek my tribe and find them in places all over, we may not come together often but we are able to come together. And we have much to teach one another. The best part?

We have no qualms about letting each other get down to it and teach.

I don't even have to worry about my degree.