Spiritual liberation is the missing element in the modern journey of LGBTQ+ people around the world. Coming out about our sexuality or gender identity results from the need to be true to ourselves, we listen to our souls and from the soul comes the courage to be who we are. The same principle applies to spirituality – it comes from inside us.
External forms of spirituality, i.e. religions, are cultural manifestations of collective spirituality, but they are also controlling, often repressive forces, set up to bring order and cohesion to society, but often crippling creativity, self-expression and spontaneity. The fact that certain religions have got so caught up in their dark fascination with hatred of queer people should tell us something – perhaps that we have some power, some magic, in our souls – that they are very afraid of.
I have come to regard the development of Queer Spiritual Consciousness as being about the LGBTQ+ people of the planet becoming conscious of our crucial queer role in re-establishing the Unity of all Life: it’s not that we humans have ONE LIFE, it’s that there is ONE LIFE and we are it. What’s more our queer eye on the universe makes us highly suited to be ambassadors of this truth. We can use religious terms and imagery to describe this, but we can also find our own forms of expression. By being outside the mainstream norms of society queers are perfectly placed to work out our own answers, this applies to spirituality as much as to our sexual expression, the relationships and cultures that we create. Coming Out is an act of self-actualisation, and it should not be limited to our sex lives!
British biologist J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) famously said “My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” He was not talking about sexuality as such, but it’s a quotation I love: Life is a queer journey of constant discovery, most enjoyed when lived with passion. Everyone on earth is an incarnation of the Oneness, and deserving of the right to self-expression, to be who they truly are and to love whom they wish to love. This is the message Queer Spirit brings to the world, continuing that of the movement of Gay Liberation that began in the early 1970s, which from the start had the principle that there is no gay liberation until everyone is liberated – sexually, politically, spiritually.
Most coverage of LGBTQ+ spiritual matters in the media over the years has focussed on the religious debates about us, and the efforts some valiant queers are making to improve matters within faith groups. But there is another story – that of questing queers pursuing their own personal growth/evolution/enlightenment – and of them finding each other to explore what queer community could become with a major dose of spiritual awareness injected into it:
Queer Spirit Festival is such a gathering, the first of which in August 2016 brought together 400 queers from all parts of our rainbow tribe at a beautiful site in Wiltshire. The second festival took place at the end of July 2017 and the third, which 500 attended, in August 2019 – here we explored community, consciousness, group ritual and soul sharing with a packed programme of performance, workshops and activities over five days. The festival seeks to highlight the passion and creative spirit of LGBTQ+ people, and be a space where we can explore embodied, heartfelt, playful queer spirituality free from religious constrictions.
I teamed up to produce Queer Spirit Festival with three fellow creatives – Miqhael Kannemeyer, who had been serving the queer spiritual movement since his time with the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s; Al Head, whom I had met at Queer Pagan Camp in 2001, and whose activism stretches back to the Greenham Common anti-nuclear protests of the 1980s; and Buzzy Cnayl, tantric practitioner and founder of Quintasensual Festival. We four held the central vision and coordination roles for the festival, which also had the enthusiastic input of many radical faeries and other queer souls as volunteers. From the word go we wanted Queer Spirit Festival to be a place created equally by all parts of the queer rainbow community and not dominated by any one sub-group. This felt to us the natural next step to take in order to open wider the doors to cosmic, heart-centred community that Radical Faeries and Queer Pagans had been exploring in the UK for nearly two decades, and a fulfilment of powerful visions some of us had had back in the early 2000s when we first experienced the heightened rush of queer tribal energy in our gatherings. The energy flowed well for the festival, and the three events so far have been ground breaking, life changing, soul enriching experiences.
Testimonials written by festival attendees can be seen on the festival website.
“I have never in my life time (in this incarnation at least!) experienced a space where fellow humans and especially queer humans have felt so free to express themselves in all their beauty and magnificence, outside of what the matrix tells us this should look like. It was extremely moving to see our community reclaim our power and connect with each other from the heart.”
“I didn’t know what to expect when I came to Queer Spirit, Over the 5 days I experienced more love and acceptance than I have in my entire life and i felt like a flower slowly opening.
I loved the meditations, the singing the dance and the cabaret where all amazing.”
“I experienced a life changing 5 days at Queer Spirit Festival. I have never felt so accepted and loved in a space full of complete strangers. I loved running my own workshops and attending others. Both the food options were outstanding – I didn’t expect to be able to eat so well at a festival. So reasonably priced too! It was great that alcohol wasn’t for sale on site so that people were generally more conscious and consenting in what they involved themselves in.”
“What a magnificent event this was. I did have some trepidation in coming as I wasn’t sure how I would feel at ease in such a mix of people. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have removed lots of taboos I have held and am well on the way losing more as the full impact of my experience settled in.”
“Wonderful, glorious, fantastic, ecstatic, deep, personal, inimitable experience! Immense gratitude.
the most beautiful and nourishing space i have ever experienced! So many things about it were really amazing: the range and quality of workshops, the performances, the emphasis on consent and heartfelt connection, the gorgeous and friendly volunteers, the love and care put into the set-up, decoration of the site and beautiful spaces created, the food…”
“Being unintentionally misgendered, and knowing it comes from a place of honest unfamiliarity, quickly and lovingly corrected, and not a withholding of acceptance.
Being so beautifully overwhelmed with diversity that my anxieties, in hindsight, were irrelevant.
Coming ‘home’ changed, just as my circumstances and path-choices are about to go into freefall.
Hearing the voices of trans men, and finding connection and recognition, surprising overlaps, delightful mirroring.
Taking the entire festival, and the journey home, to appreciate that my dysphoria and other anxieties can impact on each other, but needn’t, that the stretching out, expressing, and relaxation of our authentic, intersectional selves is enough, and that this is a safe place to do that.”
“I thought I was going to queer spirit to find a safe space to explore my spirituality, since i felt so secure in my gender and sexuality. Instead I found that after initial anxiety passed, the spiritual side was easy, and the exploration became about my identity as much as my beliefs. I want to thank everyone who created this space, and everyone who filled it. This past week has been the closest that I’ve ever felt to being at home in my whole life.”
“Loved how intimate it was.”
At Queer Spirit Festival we celebrate queerkind as creative, loving beings – exploring our spirituality and our hidden history, opening our hearts, minds and bodies with a rich and diverse programme of ceremonies, performance, workshops and play spaces – here we honour and yet also play with and dissolve the perceived differences and divisions between trans people, lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, the non-binary and other queers who cannot be defined or confined to any such category. Timed at the Aquarian Full Moon, in a magically held atmosphere that encourages engagement, open heartedness, communication and compassion, the Festival was a liberating realm of freedom of self-expression, of self-exploration and community creation… of soul expansion and of finding the inner peace that comes from communing with nature, and being able to fully be ourselves in an atmosphere of celebration and summer fun under the Leo Sun.
Lesbians, Gay Men and Trans people are the natural priests of humanity. Our bodies are not only temples, they are holy shrines at which to make offerings, they are sacred rituals in action! This is what we sexual and gender outlaws all have in common – our persecution since the rise of the patriarchal, monotheistic religions is rooted in the suppression of pagan faiths, where the Goddess and queer deities such as Dionysus reigned supreme, where sexuality was understood as a divine, sacred force within us, and ecstatic rituals kept the spirit connected, alive and real.
Will Roscoe wrote in ‘Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion (1996):
“At the time of the birth of Christ, cults of men devoted to a Goddess flourished throughout the broad region extending from the Mediterranean to south Asia.”
“Transgendered people have long been robbed of their own spiritual history, not knowing that there were once times and places where ours was considered a spiritual path in and of itself… We are all sacred and it is time that the world knew it.”
Malidoma Some, Dagara Tribe:
“The modern world was built by Christianity. They have taken the gods out of the earth sent them to heaven, wherever that is. And everyone who aspires to the gods must then negotiate with Christianity, so that the real priests and priestesses are out of a job.”
Sobonfu Some, Dagara Tribe in ‘The Spirit of Intimacy’:
“Gays and lesbians in the West are often very spiritual, but they have been taken away from their connection with spirit. My feeling is that without that outlet or that role in the culture, they have to find other ways of defining themselves. This could be one of the reasons why they would want to get married or make themselves look as though they do not have a unique purpose.”
Harry Hay, Radical Faerie:
“Our beautiful lovely sexuality is the gateway to spirit. Under all organised religions of the past, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, there has been a separation of carnality, or shall we say of flesh or earth or sex, and spirituality. As far as I am concerned they are all the same thing, and what we need to do as faeries is to tie it all back together again.”
Judith Grahn, Another Mother Tongue:
“The tribal attitude said, and continues to say, that Gay people are especially empowered because we are able to identify with both sexes and can see into more than one world at once, having the capacity to see from more than one point of view at a time.”
in the confusion and conflict of the 21st century…..
WHAT DO WE DO WITH THIS KNOWLEDGE?
We bring healing…
“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.”
Andrew Ramer, Two Flutes Playing:
“The work of the past, the work of the spiritual teachers of the past, has been about love. But as we evolve it is time for us to explore who we are as beings of joy. Joy is the name for the single energy that we have seen as two distinct ones, as spiritual energy and sexual energy. The sharing of joy will be the major healing tool of the future. Dolphins and whales understand this, that free-flowing joy is the balance to love, the cross-weave in the fabric of life, able to hold all our pain and sorrow in its embrace. In our evolution as a species we have moved away from joy. In exploring our minds and the world we have divided, dissected, defined, and destroyed. But we are coming back to wholeness again, to Oneness, and to joy. Down through the dark ages of our history, it has been love that allowed us to survive. And in the next era of our history, it will be joy that heals us and renews us as a people.”
Sobonfu Some, Dagara Tribe, The Spirit of Intimacy:
“Gatekeepers are people who live a life at the edge between two worlds—the world of the village and the world of spirit… . The gatekeepers stand on the threshold of the gender line. They are mediators between the two genders. They make sure that there is peace and balance between women and men…
“In the village, gatekeepers have an eye of both genders. They can help the genders to understand each other better than usual in their daily life. That’s why a group of women, for example, might gather and bring a male gatekeeper to help them understand certain village issues. The same things happens on the other side, with a female gatekeeper coming into the middle of the men’s circle.“Gatekeepers hold keys to other dimensions. They maintain a certain alignment between the spirit world and the world of the village. Without them, the gates to the other world would be shut.
“On the other side of these gates lies the spirit world or other dimensions. Gatekeepers are in constant communication with beings who live there, who have the ability to teach us how to deal with ritual. And gatekeepers have the capacity to take other people to those places.“
We seek understanding…
Mitch Walker ‘Men Loving Men: Gay Sex Guide and Consciousness Book‘ 1977:
“When we fall in love with another man we’re getting in touch with an unconscious spirit-source, by evoking it in our beloved. We can follow this magic inside us back to its source, and use it to uncover our real nature.”
Elsa Gidlow (1898-1986) Sapphic Poet
“What if we smashed the mirrors
And saw our true face?
What if we left the Sacred Books to the worms
And found our True Mind?
What if we burned the wooden Buddhas?
Gave the stone Buddhas back to the mountains?
Dispersed the gurus with a great laugh
And discovered the path we had always been on?”
Larry Mitchell, The Faggots and their Friends Between Revolutions (1977):
“The first revolutions destroyed the great cultures of the women. Once the men triumphed, all that was other from them was considered inferior and therefore worthy only of abuse and contempt and extinction. Stories told of these times are of heroic action and terrifying defeat and silent waiting. Stories told of these times make the faggots and their friends weep. The second revolutions made many of the people less poor and a small group of men without color very rich. With craftiness and with the faggots and their friends are able to live in this time, some in comfort and some in defiance. The men remain enchanted by plunder and destruction. The men are deceived easily and so the faggots and their friends have nearly enough to eat and more than enough time to think about what it means to be alive as the third revolutions are beginning.”
Sobonfu Some, Dagara Tribe, The Spirit of Intimacy:
“The life of gay people in the West is in many ways a reaction to pressure from a society that rejects them. This is partly because a culture that has forgotten so much about itself will displace certain groups of people, such as the gay community, from their true roles.
“In the village they are not seen as the other. They are not forced to create a separate community in order to survive. People do not put a negative label on them, they are regarded no differently than any other child of the village. They are born gatekeepers, with specific purposes, and are encouraged to fulfill the role they’re born to in the interests of the community.“
We look forward…
Arthur Evans, Witchcraft and the Gay Counter-Culture: (1978)
“We look forward to regaining our ancient historical roles as medicine people, healers, prophets, shamans and sorcerers. We look forward to an endless and fathomless process of coming out – as gay people, as animals, as humans, as mysterious and powerful spirits that move through the life cycle of the cosmos….. Like butterflies we are emerging from the shells of our past restricted existence. We are re-discovering the ancient magic that was once the birth right of all human beings. We are re-learning how to talk to the worms and the stars. We are taking flight on the wings of self-determination. Come, blessed Lady of the Flowers, Queen of Heaven, creator and destroyer, Kali – we are dancing the dance of your coming.”